While we’re on the topic of awesome … wanted to post this great video from a few years ago. The world we live in is such a diverse and interesting place with all kinds of cool stuff going on. MythBusters, Dirty Jobs, Storm Chasers, Man vs Wild, the Deadliest Catch … these shows are all about exploring the weird and crazy.

By connecting us to that sense of wonder, curiosity and exploration, the Discovery Channel strengthens their brand significantly with the people they who should be watching Discovery Channel shows. Good for them.

It seems like only yesterday that Zach Burt released AwesomenessReminders. (In fact, it’s been just a little over a month since he asked the Hacker News community to review it). When I saw it, I immediately sent it over to my colleague Ryan because I thought it was hilarious. He had already checked it out.

“I can’t believe it already has 100 people signed up!” I said. We decided that there was probably some people out there who were buying it as a joke, or as a gift to someone else. A few days later it had doubled. We debated getting it and finally curiosity got the better of me and I bought one for our awesome team at isocket. I also got one for  a friend as a birthday present.

However, not everyone was so enthusiastic about it. Here’s an example of an HN comment on his initial post. (There were of course more positive comments but my point is that it was definitely not a universal “this is the best idea evarr!!1” kind of thing.

Since that fateful post though, AwesomenessReminders has blown up. Featured in Thrillist, Time and other fine publications, 1000+ subscribers and more – it’s becoming pretty clear (at least to me) that this thing is awesome. Here are some the reasons why I think so:

1) The callers are actually really good

If you were thinking that AwesomenessReminders was going to be robo-calling people or outsourcing it to India, think again. The two people we’ve had – Joe and Jen – are both really upbeat and sound great on the phone. They go out of their way to not just say “You’re awesome!” but things like “I talk to lots of  awesome people today and you’re the awesomest!” and “I hope you have an amazing day!” It’s those extra comments and infectious enthusiasm that make this service great.

2) It boosts office morale

When Ryan and I set up AwesomenessReminders, we had it rotate through our team – so everyone would get a turn at being awesome. You might think it’d be lame but actually people really like it. We all like to stop what we’re doing, put the call on speakerphone and cheer when they tell us we’re awesome. It adds a little humor and fun to the day and because we rotate through, it doesn’t come often enough to get annoying.

3) The employees love working there

On Friday, we got called by Jen and after celebrating our awesomeness and tell her that she’s awesome too, we actually had a little conversation. We asked about how she got the job (job posting on the site), where she was from (North Carolina I think?) and whether she liked doing it (definitely!). I think she might have said, word-for-word, that it was “the best job ever” because it’s so pleasant and fun. I can only assume the same is true for Joe.

4) 90% of people have a good experience

I wanted to write and thank you for your awesomeness. I subscribed to your service for my wife and one of my best friends from college. … My best friend from college called me to tell me that when my personalized message was given to him that it was the best call he had ever received in his life. I’m not exaggerating. Those were his exact words. In this world of insults and epithets, it is nice to see someone promoting happiness and encouragement.

That was a real letter that Zach got from an AwesomenessReminders customer. He’s posted a couple up on his blog. When we talked to Jen she said that about 10% of people are put off by the call or just confused by it, the vast majority of people actually really love it. She said she’s actually heard a ton of really touching stories from her calls – probably like the one above. I mean – how can you really get upset by a happy person telling you you’re awesome?

5) It’s pulling in 10k+ a month!

Beyond all this touchy-feely stuff, the fact is, there are over 1000 people subscribed to AwesomenessReminders and with most of them on the $10/mo subscription, this service is likely generating over $10,000 a month! I haven’t asked Zach directly and obviously he’s gotta pay his callers and for the calling itself, but still – I bet he’s cash flow positive (which is a lot more than most VC-backed startups can say!). EDIT – sadly the Live Counter on the site has gone away so I hope the number of subscribers aren’t dropping!

6) It is still innovating and improving

When the site launched there was just a sign up form, a few questions/answers and that grossly bright yellow background. Since then the background is still yellow but Zach’s added a blog, sample calls, international calling and more. He’s definitely not resting on his laurels but working to make the product better and better.

7) Inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere

Seriously, I think this is the biggest part of it. How many times have you thought of an idea and then dismissed it as silly or dumb? What in the world is “dumber” than a business around paying strangers to call people and tell them “You’re awesome!”?? You never know until you launch and get people to pony up cash. AwesomenessReminders is a testament to the fact that 1) you don’t need a good looking site for people to give you money and 2) just because an idea seems silly doesn’t mean it can’t also work!

My quora post on: What Kind of Jobs Exist at Startups for Non-Technical People?

My friend Jae asked me to answer a question on Quora with this title – and I ended up writing a decent sized post on the topic that’s currently the top answer to the question. (This is the magic of Quora!) I thought I’d share and expand on my answer for the benefit of my blog readers so here goes:

It’s obvious what technical people do at startups – they write code. More specifically with web app firms, there are usually front-end engineers (that configure how the user interacts with the app) and back-end engineers (that deal with stuff like the database that holds all the app’s information & the business logic of the app that runs core functionality). It’s sometimes less obvious what roles exist for non-technical people. I’m guessing that’s what the person asking this question is wondering.

Startups typically have a high technical to non-technical ratio in their staff. I’d say it varies from 1:4 to 1:10 or greater, depending on the business. For example, a business like Groupon relies heavily on having lots of non-technical people (mostly sales staff) on the ground at various cities calling up businesses to get them to offer these mega deals and marketing people to get consumers to sign up for the mailing list. On the other hand, a startup like Wolfram Alpha will be looking almost exclusively for technical people to help them build this insanely AI-heavy app.

Typically an early-stage startup will have one founder or early employee doing almost all of the business stuff (see Spencer Fry’s amazing post: What’s a Non-Programmer Do?) They’ll focus on hiring technical talent until maybe they’re around 8-10 people and then start adding some more business openings. As the company grows, the ratio of Technical : Non-Technical employees will get smaller. One of the commenters on my Quora answer said that Google is now at about a 1:1 ratio. Interesting!

But enough talk – on to the actual positions.

  • MARKETING – this is an umbrella term to cover all sorts of channel: email, social media (facebook/twitter), blogging/copy-writing, events/tabling, community management (for forums or other user-generated-content focused startups), public relations, SEO & SEM (search engine optimization & marketing) to name a few. This is a big area for non-technical people to get in, especially in B2C sites that need to get a lot of broad adoption by a wide variety of users.
  • SALES – B2B companies especially are looking for people to work in sales. B2C companies, less so, except for bigger ones like Facebook, Yelp, etc. This can be a tough position – you have to be aggressive and get sh*t done as your performance is extremely measurable. On the other hand you learn a lot and are directly responsible for growing the bottom line, which is really cool.
  • SUPPORT – it takes a special person to really like support, but for both B2C and B2B sites, having great, dedicated support people who go all the way for users/customers is essential. Think about Zappos – people LOVE them because they’re support is unusually awesome. This is a great place for non-technical people to get a foot in the door.
  • BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT – People think this is a sexy position/title/department but it’s often a nicer way to describe sales. *Real* biz dev is about forming partnerships with other organizations that augment your business. Think Nike + iPod or Foursquare + SF Giants, etc. Typically these go to people who have contacts and “executive presence” and can charm potential partners while also making deals that add real value to the company.
  • RECRUITING – startups usually start with contract recruiters to help them hire, but as they get bigger, they may look to hire someone to work in house. This role is typically filled by someone who has a lot of contacts with technical people and has some experience in the industry in hiring/evaluating talent. It’s a hard job to do well.
  • ANALYTICS – this role is usually found in more established companies. People to crunch numbers to help sales, marketing or product development  make decisions. Good for ex consultants/bankers but rarely are these decision-making roles
  • PRODUCT MANAGEMENT – some might dispute my putting this in “non-technical” but it is true that most product managers do not *actually* write code. Granted most of them *have* written code in the past. But it is possible to be a product manager without having a technical background. You have to quickly learn some of the language, understand how software development works, write really clear specs and mostly importantly – have a powerfully vision of the product that users will love.

As most of you know, I work at isocket, an 8 person B2B company that powers self-serve advertising for web publishers. I came up with the title myself and it is “Customer Scout”. I do a lot of Sales and definitely some Marketing and Support, plus a smattering of everything else. One of the great things of startups is that you get to do a little bit of everything.

Did this get you psyched up about joining a startup? Read the mega-blog post me and Derek Flanzraich did on how to get a killer startup job – it’s specifically geared towards non-technical people!

I’m lucky enough to have some great friends, including Can Sar (who cofounded Apture) and Tony Wang (who’s getting a JD/MBA at Duke). We’ll trade emails on various topics from time to time – and I wanted to share one set of philosophical exchanges on the topics of personal endeavors and how they relate to a life focused on adding lots of value to society (which is a goal we all share). So Can starts the discussion off with a question:

Jason, one thing that I’m curious about is how you feel Gymnastics plays into this [discussion about how to lead a good life]? I know that Gymnastics is clearly not all that you are/were doing but how do you think pursuits like that play into it? I used to be against most sport as a distraction from improving the world (Soccer as opium for the masses) but now view at as one of the things that gives meaning to life and makes it worth protecting/improving but how do you feel about it from a personal perspective. I’ve been meaning to ask Jason Dunford [an Olympic swimmer we know] the same.

Great question. Before I could really answer, Tony jumped in…

Hey everyone,

I’ve been meaning to jump into this thread for a while now, but I also found Can’s question very difficult one to answer without pause for reflection. And I apologize in advance for writing a little formally (not sure why it turned out this way, probably wrote too many philosophy papers as an undergrad). Anyway, to reformulate what I think Can is asking Jason, the generalizable question is how do we justify activities that, on face value, are not about creating a positive impact in the world. The assumption is that gymnastics in Jason Shen’s case and swimming in Jason Dunford’s case look more like distractions from improving the world rather than reinforcements.