startupadventure-jasonshen

StartupAdventure.co — A Fun Nerdy Side Project

Back in 2013, I spent a good deal of time learning how to code on Ruby on Rails, I used Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial and the learning platform Treehouse (referral link) and hacked together RewardBox, an app that helps you build habits through variable reward reinforcement. It was a great education to the MVC mental model and those ideas help me as a product manager at Percolate.

Since then, I’ve had a few opportunities to code here and there — I wrote a little Ruby script to call an API during the Smithsonian Hackathon at the Luce Center, and wrote a little code using Squirrel to govern the Electric Imp for Team Ghostfinger at Hack Day 2015. Still, I’ve been itching for more. (Because I’m trying to be a good chef). Continue reading…

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How Other People’s Choices Influence Our Own

This is an excerpt from my book, How to Get What You Want (a primer for ambitious people).

We all know that teenagers are highly susceptible to peer pressure. That’s why parents are often concerned when their children are hanging out with “the wrong crowd”. But eventually we grow out of that phase, and learn to make decisions on our own right?

Not quite. Consider something as simple as purchasing a snack or a film on an airplane. Continue reading…

The Alliance

My Reading Notes on The Alliance

I recently finished The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh. It’s a book about rethinking the relationship between employees and employers. I’d say the audience is primarily executives and managers, well as HR leaders. Both as an employee and as a founder, I found it an interesting read. It’s a fairly quick read, which is nice as most business books drag out their ideas for far too long. There’s also a companion website that allows people to follow up and learn more about their ideas. Continue reading…

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How I Ended Up Setting a Guinness World Record in Aztec Push-Ups

(Want to just watch me break the record? Click here to skip the back story)

Have you heard of an Aztec push-up? It’s like a clapping push-up, except you explode off the ground with both your hands and your feet and your hands touch your feet. Here’s how that looks in GIF format:

jason-shen-aztec-pushup

On January 18 2014, I set a Guinness World Record, completing 50 Aztec push-ups in one minute. This is the story of how it happened.

Always Looking for New Challenges

In 2013, I embarked on a series of fitness challenges, training for various exercises for 30 days and seeing how much I could improve. Some of my exercises included pull-ups, one mile, tuck jumps in one minute.

In late July, I stumbled across a video of challenging push-up variations and discovered the Aztec push-up, which was listed as the most difficult type push-up. If you happen to know why this is called an “Aztec” push-up, please let me know because I have no clue. Anyway, I decided to use that as my August challenge. Here’s my pre-trained video:

Mid way through the month, I found out that there was a Guinness World Record for most number of Aztec push-ups completed in one minute. Brandon Collofello, a junior at University of St. Francis, completed 31 Aztec push-ups in one minute in November of 2012. He broke the previous record of 20, though I don’t know who set that record, or when it was set.

I thought that I was making pretty good progress with these Aztec push-ups and wondered if I could maybe beat his record. At the end of August, I was able to complete exactly 31 Aztec push-ups in one minute. I surprised myself here as my typical “gain” in a month for my fitness challenges was around 25-30%. Here’s the video of my one-minute attempt at the end of the month.

Getting the Go-Ahead from Guinness

At that moment, I knew I could break Collofelllo’s record, but I had no ideas how to go about making it official with Guinness. In order to challenge a GWR, you have to contact their organization and request a claim number for the specific record you are challenging. It can take several weeks for them to get back to you with that number, and a list of all the criteria necessary for breaking the record.

Here’s what I needed:

  • a cover letter summarizing the challenge
  • photographic evidence and video footage from two different angles
  • two independent signed witness statements from qualified experts

Finding Witnesses

At least one of these witnesses had to an “expert or qualified member of the international body, association, group of reference governing the category under which the record takes place”. It was a reasonable request, but who could I get? How about a gymnastics judge?

To judge USAG or NCAA gymnastics competitions, gymnastics judges have to go through significant training and certification and the F.I.G. was an international body that most judges are a part of. They have to make accurate evaluations of complex acrobatic movements in real-time. They’d be perfect.

But where would I get one? I couldn’t just ring up two judges and ask them to show up somewhere and judge me. I would have to go to them. I would be visiting the SF Bay Area in January and that’s also when the NCAA season started. I reached out to my old college coach, Thom Glielmi, and asked if they could do a little “intermission” during a home meet for me and let me recruit two judges as witnesses.

He agreed.

A Breakthrough Discovery for Technique

Guinness also provided a two page Record Guidelines document which laid out a very specific definition for what counts as an “Aztec Push-Up”

One Aztec push up consists of the following: the participant is to begin in a standard push up position on the floor. At a given signal, they are to propel the entire body off of the floor, thus lifting both the hands and feet in the air in the process. Whilst suspended in mid-air, the participant must touch their toes with the fingers and then return back to the floor into the original push up position.

The Record Guidelines also provided seven additional details, including one that was crucial to my high score:

It is not required to complete a full dip of the chest to the ground in between each touching of the toes and fingers.

I realized that I could go a lot faster if I locked my arms and used my shoulders to “block off” the ground. It saved energy and allowed me to go faster. I moved on to other fitness challenges throughout 2013 and continued training the Aztec push-ups. You can see how my training evolved by the time I reached December.

jason-shen-aztec-push-up-progression


The final performance

In January, I spent 12 days traveling solo through Peru, continuing my training along the way. I flew from Lima to San Francisco mid month and on January 18th, headed over Stanford University with a few friends, and entered Burnham Pavilion and for the first since I retired from gymnastics in 2009, saluted a judge. The announcer did a great job of stirring up the crowd about my world record attempt.

I can’t deny that being back in the arena, with a cheering crowd at my bad and a big challenge in front of me was immensely exciting. I was so fired up that I beat my personal best by a significant margin:

I ultimately completed 50 Aztec push-ups in one minute. That was even more than I had completed on my best day of training.

aztec-push-up-world-record-chart-progression-jason-shen

Making it Official

I was really lazy about getting all the paperwork in, so it took me a long time to actually submit all the paperwork and video footage. I waited almost six months, mid June, before sending it all in. It took a while to hear back and finally in September, I got an email back saying I had secured the title.

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I was supposed to receive a certificate in the mail but because I had moved around a bunch, I never got anything. Finally, I just ordered some off the website. Here it is.

So from start to finish, this whole thing took about a year and a half. Part of that was me, part of that was how world records are processed by Guinness. It’s been a fascinating experience and I’ve learned a ton.

I may write more about how you can go about setting a world record in a future post, but I’ll end with this important lesson:

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I think the fact that I did 50 in one minute after not a crazy amount of training means that there is still a lot of room for someone else to come in and break my record. In fact, I expect it to happen eventually. There are so many records out there (Guinness says they have 40,000 of them, but only 4,000 make it into the big book they publish each year) and it’s about knowing that a record exists, being capable of beating it, and having the free time and patience to make it official.

I happened to possess all three for this record. I’m really proud of the achievement and at the same time acknowledge that being in the right place at the right time made a huge difference.

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Thinking Out Loud about Product Management: Early Observations as a PM on the Demo

When I moved to New York City a year ago, I had a plan to become a product manager in a technology firm. After interviewing for PM roles at Pivotal Labs and Meetup, I met with Noah, the CEO of Percolate. He told me that they didn’t have a PM function and but that he was looking for hackers on the marketing team.

I jumped in with two feet — producing blog posts, case studies, white papers, webinars, films, and independent research — and learned a ton about marketing enterprise software. But I continued be passionate about directly building technology products. And in 2015, I finally got my chance to do it. Continue reading…