My 2018 highlights — Max Deutsch

2018 was a bit different for me. In 2016 and 2017, I wrote ~500 blog posts, intimately documenting my life, projects, and ideas, growing the blog to nearly 15k visitors per day.

In 2018, I took a break from blogging, focused on growing a business, spent as much times as I could outside, read a lot, and enjoyed the little surprises along the way.

In this post, I summarize some of my highlights from 2018. While I leave most things out, these are the things I’d most like to remember looking back.

January

At the end of 2017, I left my job at Intuit to work full time on my education company Openmind.

In January, I reached my first goal of 17 subscribers or about $2,000 per month in revenue (subscribers pay $29 per week for daily 1-on-1 mentorship from an expert).

While this was still not enough to support myself long-term, it was a good start.

What the Openmind app / branding looked like around this time.

At the beginning of January, I started getting really into music by Francis and the Lights. I like both his Fairwell, Starlite and Just For Us albums.

The two other albums that I got most into during 2018 were Daniel Caesar’s Freudian and Lawrence’s Living Room.


In January, I found out that I had became a case study used to teach about childhood development and education in a few Doctorate programs around the country. (Mainly, based on my Month to Master project from 2017).

Here’s the first email I got about my foray into academia from professor Brenda Tufte:

Later in the year, I found out that she gave a TED talk about me, which I found both flattering and pretty uncomfortable (she hyped me up more than even my mom would)…


January started off a year of a lot of hiking and exploring the Bay Area.

My favorite hike of January was a 14-mile hike to Stinson Beach north of San Francisco, which has a little bit of everything: a wooded trail, open rolling hills, and finishes at the beach.

I repeated this same hike again in September.


In January, as my New Years Resolution of sorts, I thought it would be a good idea to start writing a book, called the “Generalist Manifesto”, which would be an extension of some of my ideas from the Month to Master project.

Additionally, I thought it would be a good idea to, not only write the book, but also document my entire book-writing process through daily blog posts for an entire year.

I called the project Yearbound.

The project lasted for 27 days until I realized that writing a book while trying to get a company off the ground was a little too much at once.


As for finished books (by other people), I read one of my favorites of the year in January called “Why We Sleep”. It’s a compilation of the most up-to-date research on, well, why we sleep — as well as the purpose and benefits of sleep/dreams.

One fact from the book that has stuck with me: You’re more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime than to be a short sleeper (someone who can healthily survive on just 6 hours of sleep per night).


February

In February, I had the urge to create/paint, and given that Bitcoin was still at peak hype, I thought it would be cool to create some kind of Bitcoin painting.

Here was my idea: In November 2017, Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi sold for $450 million, making it the world’s most valuable painting. I wondered if I could somehow use crypto to make an even more valuable painting.

Here’s what I ended up painting:

And here’s the full blog post on how this painting is actually “the world’s most valuable painting” (which is of course a bit tongue and cheek):


In February, I also celebrated my 25th birthday.

Blowing a couple candles out before bed

To celebrate, I spent the day hiking in Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.

The view from the peak is super good, but doesn’t show up too well in photos. I’d highly recommend the trip.


In February, I also somehow found myself as the “guest of honor” at a Silicon Valley dinner party of mega-investors / billionaires (thanks to a connection made by my friend Cliff).

Two things came out of this dinner party:

  1. While all the attendees were incredibly smart and nice, it’s a good reminder that all people are just people. They aren’t gods — they are normal people still figuring it out like everyone else, just with a little more money in the bank.
  2. The idea for the Bitcoin painting was partially inspired by an impromptu lecture at the party by Naval Ravikant about the historical significance of crypto. I was particularly impressed by his ability to speak simply, logically, and free-flowingly about something as narratively complex as human history. It definitely made me reflect on how I had presented myself earlier in the night and inspired me to improve.

February was the first time I went to Bernal Heights Park. It’s one of the best views of San Francisco and a nice place to relax and think.

I visited many times in 2018.


As February came to an end, I experimented a bit with rock climbing / bouldering. This climbing theme briefly returns in November.


On the last day of February, someone recognized me from this blog on the street, which was one of the weirdest things to happen in 2018.

Here’s the text message I sent to my sister after it happened.

The even weirder thing is that this happened another 6–7 times during 2018.

It’s pretty cool the reach that this blog has had.


March

In March, I thought it would be fun to produce and sell my own protein bar as a side hobby business to support Openmind.

In particular, as a peanut butter junkie, I wanted to create a high protein, low sugar yet super tasty, peanut butter bar positioned as “the protein bar for the peanut butter obsessed”.

I started by mocking up the label…

…and ultimately settled on this design and the straightforward name of PB BAR:

Then, around this time, my mom was visiting San Francisco, so we conducted a blind taste test of the top selling peanut butter bars to determine what we liked.

Finally, I contracted a commercial kitchen in L.A. to help make some iterations on the recipe and this is where we ended up:

I placed an order for the first mini-batch and waited.


While my mom was in town, we also visited San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, which was my first time going.

My favorite paintings were the portraits by Chuck Close, like the one below. Particularly, since I’ve previously experimented a bit with using geometric constraints to aid my art, I was most inspired to try to paint something in this Chuck Close style.

There was also a temporary exhibit with hanging lightbulbs that I thought was visually satisfying.


Mid-March, Openmind reached another milestone: We reached 100 expert mentors on the platform.

It was also cool to see that many mentors were proud enough of their role at Openmind to add it to their LinkedIn profile.


Towards the end of March, I took a sushi making class. While the sushi tasted good, my rolls weren’t the tidiest. I need more practice with a knife.

A week after the class, to see how the pros do it, I went for an 18-course dinner at Hinata, a Omakase sushi restaurant on the edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin.

If you live in the Bay Area and like sushi, I’d highly recommend you go.

I must admit that I went to Hinata around 5 times in 2018 (which is a sharp contrast to my usual smoothie or Whole Foods dinner).


Towards the end of March, I got a brand new acoustic guitar, which I played almost every day following in 2018. A guitar must be one of the highest possible ROI purchases (if ROI is measured in play, joy, and creative exploration).


April

Early in April, the first prototype PB Bars arrived. They honestly tasted bad, so I worked with the kitchen to iterate on the recipe and placed another test order.

After a few iterations over the next few months, I still couldn’t get something that I personally liked and put the project temporarily on hold.

A handful of my friends actually like the bars though, and request a few whenever they come over, so maybe there’s still something here…


After the WSJ article from November 2017 about my Month to Master project, I received a lot of requests for speaking engagements.

I turned most down due to the time commitment, travel, etc., but in April, I officially confirmed my first professional speaking gig at a conference in San Francisco called PCBC.

This conference was cool for a few reasons:

  1. My talk would be on the main stage of the Moscone Center, the largest conference center in San Francisco, where conferences like Apple’s WWDC and Salesforce’s Dreamforce are held. This felt like the dream spot to give my first paid talk. (Also, it’s about a five minute walk from my apartment, so the time commitment was pretty minimal).
  2. I would actually be giving two talks, not one, on two different days of the conference — one to a room of about 200 and the other to a room of 1000+. If I was going to prepare a great talk, I might as well perform it twice while it was still fresh.
  3. I was going to be speaking after popular author Charles Duhigg (whose books I’ve read and enjoyed), so I was getting to see his talk for free.

During a conversation in April, my runner friend Avesh seemed pretty convinced that I could run a sub-6 mile if he paced the run.

I don’t run at all, so was skeptical, but figured it would be fun to try and would be cool to say I ran a mile “in the 5s”.

So, we set our sights on 5:59 and headed to Kezar Stadium one Thursday after work to give it a go. I decided to make a short video about it:

Spoiler: After 3 surprisingly on-pace laps, I don’t make the final lap

At the end of April, I took a trip to Sedona, Arizona with my girlfriend Hannah for some beautiful hiking. The town is a bit touristy, but the trails are awesome.

Also, in April, I took a day trip to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes — another highly recommended spot.


In April, The Brown Alumni Magazine published a feature about my Month to Master project, which I had fun working on. I hadn’t done too much press since 2017, but I was very happy to share my story with the Brown community.


To close April out, I read the new Ryan Holiday book Conspiracy, which I highly recommend. The book chronicles billion investor Peter Thiel’s secret orchestrated takedown of Gawker Media, but also weaves in other historical conspiracies and context.


May

In May, Openmind reached 100 paying subscribers, we updated our look, and launched a new freshly-designed homepage.

Openmind was starting to become a reasonable business.


In May, I received an unexpected text from my cousin: Apparently, during one of the ad breaks in a podcast she was listening to, I came on to sell a subscription to the New York Times crossword puzzle.

I had completely forgotten, but back in April, Gimlet Media reached out to me about the ad, ultimately hiring me to do the spot.


Other than Openmind and the podcast, May was mostly uneventful. The only two other things to note are:

  1. I had a close encounter with a brown bear while hiking in Napa.

2. I flew back to the East Coast to celebrate my sister’s college graduation.


June

June started off with a week-long family trip to Peru.

It was the first time in a long time that my entire family went on a trip together, so it was particularly nice.

We fit in a lot, so here are a few of the most memorable parts:

Here’s the view from the Inca Trail as we hiked to Machu Picchu. Somehow, I was the only one not affected by the altitude (apparently it’s fairly random), so I ended up carrying most of everyone’s stuff.

Here’s Machu Picchu just as we’re approaching. I found it most fascinating to imagine and appreciate how it was built*.

(*This kind of structure is simple enough to understand how it was built, yet complex enough to appreciate the human achievement. In San Francisco, it’s easy to forget that everything is human-built and “made up”, so this was a nice reminder).

Here’s me snapping some selfies while mountain biking, one of my favorite excursions of the trip.

And finally here’s two alpacas enjoying each others company.

It was a great trip.


While in Peru, I finished and launched Openmind’s web app (up until this point, Openmind was only an iOS app). It was a hit.

As soon as I got back to San Francisco, I launched the new Openmind on Product Hunt and the business magically doubled overnight.

Openmind gained the most upvotes for the day…

…eventually eclipsing 1000, which was a first for me (previous projects maxed out around 800).

The feedback from the launch was also overwhelmingly positive, both from mentors and students.


During the last week of June, I finally gave my two talks at the Moscone Center.

Here’s Charles Duhigg presenting on Day 1. I immediately followed with a 45-minute talk. The audience for this one was CEOs and executives, so I did my best to tailor the talk to the room.

Here’s the room on Day 2. I gave the opening talk of the session. This time the audience was a bit more general, looking for inspiration and something to think about.

During the second talk, a live illustrator named Silent James made this nice graphic of some of the stories I spoke about.


While in Peru, I read the book Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, which is about the rise and fall of biotech company Theranos. It reads just like a movie (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s made into one). I’d highly recommend it.


July

In July, Openmind reached 300 subscribed users. At $116/mo per user, we were starting to generate enough money to grow the team. I brought on three additional remote team members. (The team was still fully remote, which meant I was still working solo from my apartment).


In July, I read The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang. Andrew is a fellow Brown grad, is running for President in 2020, and has a lot of interesting ideas.

So, I invited him over to my apartment, along with a couple interested friends from Brown, to learn more about his campaign and help him with campaign strategy / intros in the Bay Area.

Andrew is still a long-shot, and mostly unknown right now, but he’s very smart and articulate and understands the problems deeply. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes it far in the race.


Towards the end of July, my cousin Matt visited San Francisco and we essentially spent an entire weekend playing ping pong at SPIN. It was my first time going (even though I only live a few blocks away), and it was a highlight of the summer — I got to relive my summer camp ping pong dominance.


August

In August, my super talented friend Valentin moved to San Francisco and joined Openmind as a cofounder.

This was a big and welcomed change to my routine — with Valentin nearby, I had someone to work next to every day, adding much more desired structure to my life.

A few weeks after Valentin joined, we launched hundreds of new categories on Openmind, allowing students to find mentors for over 400 different subjects.

Here are some of the high-level categories:


In August, despite living in San Francisco for 3 years, I visited Lake Tahoe for the first time. I finally understood the hype… The water was so clear and nice. Something about it was just perfectly relaxing and peaceful.

One of my highlights was kayaking across Lake Tahoe with Hannah, which I was strongly reminded of afterwards for the next couple of weeks by my badly sunburned legs and arms. I sunscreened many times, but 4 hours in the sun on the water was apparently a little too much for my skin to handle…

My POV from the kayak

In August, I was interviewed on Max Hertan’s YouTube channel. Max takes on month-long learning challenges and creates awesome YouTube videos documenting the process.

If this sounds similar to Month to Master, it’s because Max’s channel was originally inspired by the M2M project, which is super cool. A lot of people adapted the Month to Master format, but I think Max has taken it further than anyone else. (He’s also now inspired me to try out YouTube, which I may give a go in 2019).


Lastly, although I’m not much of a musical festival person, I did go to one day of Outside Lands in August. The most memorable performances were by Bon Iver and Florence and the Machine (Florence especially put on an amazing show).


September

In September, we decided to rebuild much of Openmind using a framework called React. Up until this point, I was mainly focused on design, community building, operations, and marketing (leaving most of the product development to the rest of the team), but this gave me a good opportunity to jump back into product.

It took a couple days to learn React, and then I was cruising. Since the change, we’ve been able to iterate on our product about 5x faster.

10 minutes into my React journey

In September, I took a 3-day weekend trip to Yosemite and slept in a cabin in Half Dome Village. This was probably my favorite hiking of the year.

Over the three days, I managed to reach a collective 100,000 steps, which was a first for me.

Day 1 of 3

In September, Part 2 of my interview with Max Hertan dropped. In this one, we address my chess match with Magnus Carlsen.


My app Rightspeed (which I launched in April 2016) was still getting press, now in September 2018. Wired wrote an article taking the side against Rightspeed and “podfasters” in general.

Nevertheless, I saw a big uptick in website visits after the article, even though Rightspeed is no longer available (it was acquired at the end of 2017).


October

In October, Openmind surpassed 5,000 mentors on the platform, with dozens of applications per day. This required us to rework our process for interviewing/vetting mentors, which planted a seed for a new product we began to work on at the end of December. More on this in 2019…


During the long weekend in October, I flew back to the East Coast for a family occasion. While at my parents house, I found a saxophone and was curious to learn.

After fooling around for a couple of minutes, I figured out how to play a major scale…

I wanted to bring the sax back to San Francisco so I could practice, but forgot it. In 2019, I have plans to change that.


Occasionally, I watch the YouTube talks published by Y Combinator, a seed accelerator in San Francisco that has become a centerpiece of startup culture.

In October, while watching a talk by Daniel Gross, I was surprised when my picture came up on the screen.

I think this was more based on the result of a Google Image search than Daniel knowing who I am, but it’s still cool.


Finally, here are two random photos I like from October.

This is what I would look like if I wore glasses (the beginnings of my Halloween costume).

And this is what the bottom of the thermostat in my bedroom looks like.


November

November was fairly uneventful. I mostly just worked full-time with Valentin.

Towards the end of November, I flew back to New York to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. I took Alaska Air for the the first time and was amused by the “budget ticket” I received…


While in New York, my family went to see The Magician at the NoMad, a magic show featuring Dan White, which I enjoyed. I grew up doing card tricks at summer camp, so this was right up my alley.

There was one woman in the audience who was so mind-blown after every trick that she would very audibly freakout in disbelief. This added a nice element of comedy to the show.

We also went indoor ski diving as a family.


While I rarely go to the movies, in November, I went to see Free Solo in theaters and it didn’t disappoint. It’s about climber Alex Honnold preparing for and climbing El Capitan (a rock face in Yosemite) without a rope.

It’s hard to explain just how good it is, but I’d highly recommend you check it out (especially on a big screen if you can).


December

In December, Openmind continued to grow, but we started investing more resources into our new Talent Assessment idea from October. We decided to call the product Symbol.

While Symbol will help aid Openmind expansion, we see it being used to grow other teams as well, not just our mentor-base. I’m excited to see where Symbol goes in 2019.


Back in 2016, I used machine learning techniques to generate a new 2000-word Harry Potter chapter. The chapter was mostly non-sensical, but people seemed to enjoy it and the article made its rounds on the internet.

In December 2018, the educational YouTube channel CrashCourse (which has about ~9M subscribers) converted a couple of the sentences from my Harry Potter chapter into a little animated movie, which I think is really creatively done.


In December, I tried my first hot yoga class at Ritual Hot Yoga in SoMa. While I wasn’t super confident that I’d like the heat, I felt really good after the class (despite my major botching of the actual yoga).

I’ve never sweated so hard for so long before, so I had to capture the damage to my light grey teeshirt:


I finished the year by visiting my extended family in Florida. While in Florida, I listened to the book Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda, which I’d recommend, especially to anyone who likes to write software / build products.

The book chronicles the author’s time as a software engineer at Apple (including his invention of the iPhone keyboard and autocorrect) and discusses Apple’s creative process under Steve Jobs more generally.


What’s Next in 2019?

In 2019, I plan to spend most of my time working on the business with Valentin, and hope to continue finding as much time as possible to be outside.

Additionally, I want to do some kind of project in the music production space and maybe experiment with YouTube. I feel very comfortable writing these blog posts, but am super uncomfortable on camera (mainly when it’s only me in the room), so we’ll see if I can conquer this fear by next year.

Overall, there’s a lot of momentum from 2018, so I mainly plan to build on it in 2019. Let’s see how it goes.


Max Deutsch is an obsessive learner, product builder, guinea pig for Month to Master, and founder at Openmind.