Welcome to Kick Ass Interview Number 5!

Today I bring you a very motivated and prolific student / social entrepreneur: Ted Gonder. This one’s a bit long but I can assure you that A) I’ve already cut it down a bit and 2) it’s worth it. Here’s a quick peek at what you’ll learn:

  • The surprising lessons he learned from becoming an Eagle Scout
  • The movie that triggered his inner social entrepreneur
  • Where the idea for Moneythink came from and why it works
  • The best advice he’s ever gotten for living a balanced life
  • The four things he does every day to keep his energy and productivity high

1) You were an Eagle Scout – I know that earning this honor is a huge commitment and quite difficult. What did you learn from reaching the top rank in the Boy Scouts?

Scouting was a huge part of my childhood, but as I got into middle school, I started holding it closer to the chest. If the cool kids at school learned I was a Boy Scout, I thought, I’d be the laughing stalk of the school. My insecurity about what others thought of me increased my ambition to achieve the honor of Eagle Scout as fast as possible.

I hopped on the fast track to Eagle, going to every merit badge workshop, camping trip, and local event there was until I had fulfilled the necessary requirements to earn the rank of Eagle. By age 14, I had achieved my goal. This was right before I entered high school, where other commitments drew me away from the activity of Scouting.

It was not until later in high school and college did I understand how large of a service opportunity I missed by rushing through things with achievement-oriented tunnel vision.

That said, I have no regrets. Scouting shaped me as a person, hurling me into a variety of uncomfortable wilderness situations few young people have the opportunity to experience in this ever-increasingly technologized world. I’m grateful for that and honored to be part of the Eagle community.

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This is currently my modus operandi.

What would someone who was the opposite of hapless be like? They’d be relentlessly resourceful. Not merely relentless. That’s not enough to make things go your way except in a few mostly uninteresting domains. In any interesting domain, the difficulties will be novel. Which means you can’t simply plow through them, because you don’t know initially how hard they are; you don’t know whether you’re about to plow through a block of foam or granite. So you have to be resourceful. You have to keep trying new things.

Paul Graham (Founder of Viaweb & ycombinator)

Photo courtesy of R’eyes.

Whenever someone signs up for my email newsletter, they get a personal email reply from me thanking them for signing up and asking them if there’s something I can do to help them. I get to meet a lot of interesting people that way, learn new things and hopefully provide some value.

A while back I got an email from a reader who works as an analyst at a multi-national bank and asked me this:

Quick question for you. A lot of times I come home from work and I’m too exhausted to work on my side projects. How do you manage your energy to get the most out of your day? – Thanks, Josh

With his permission, I’m reprinting his question and my response. I thought readers of this blog would find in valuable since I find that many of you have very cool side projects that you’re working on.

Great question. I think there is something about people’s baseline energy levels that plays a role here – some people are just naturally more energetic than others. But outside of that, here are a couple ideas to have the energy to work on your side projects:

1) Reduce your commute.

Commutes add a lot of stress to your life and suck up your time. Instead of driving, could you take a bus or train and sleep / work on your project? Or work from home one or two days a week?

2) Wake up earlier.

If you’re tired at night, why not go to sleep earlier and wake up an hour earlier than normal. Take that 1st hour to work on the things that are important to you. It’s like investing in yourself before paying others.

3) Exercise.

Are you working out consistently? I know that if I don’t work out, I can start feeling sluggish and slow. Taking the time to work out might feel like it’s detracting from your time to do stuff, but it can add a lot more spring to your step later on in the day – and if done consistently over time, give you more energy on a regular basis.

4) Quality food.

What kind of food are you eating? I know that when I get stressed, I eat a lot and mostly junk, and it tends to make me feel like crap. Drinking lots of water and eating more fruits and vegetables, and being *slightly* hungry (instead of stuffing yourself) can give you a lot more energy.

5) Energy “vampires”.

There are certain people that we hang out with (boss, coworkers, friends) that can really suck all the life out of you. If you’re hanging out with a vampire, see if you can reduce the time you spend with them or maybe even cut them out of your life.

6) Better projects.

Maybe you’re just not that excited about the side project you’re working on. I know people often will “want to want” something but not actually desire to do it. Be honest with yourself and see if this is something you’re really passionate about doing and enjoy the process.

7) Get a partner.

If you can partner up with someone, it makes the project a lot easier and more enjoyable (if you find the right person). See if there is someone at work, or a friend, or even an online contact who might want to work with you on the things you’re doing. That startup post is 10x better because I coauthored it with another guy, Derek, who I first met on Twitter and now is a really good friend.

This post is about why you might want to start taking cold showers.

I’ve been doing it for over a month now and I really like it.

The seed was planted in my mind after reading an article about it on a blog called Getting Stronger. The thesis behind Getting Stronger is that rather than damaging you, that stress can, in the right conditions, make you stronger by forcing you to adapt and thrive under tougher conditions. Its an interesting premise and one I can easily get behind.

By the way, I love taking really hot showers and hate being cold in general so when I first read the lines:

Want to experience the benefits of hormesis very directly? Take a cold shower! And don’t just try it once, make it a habit and take cold showers daily. I have been doing it daily for the past six months and am loving it!

I was like “This guy is nuts. Why on earth would you take a cold showers every day?” But then there was a little voice inside my head that said “Well, if you don’t want take cold showers and he likes them, then maybe he’s just tougher than you.” Then of course I’m like “No freaking way. I’m not afraid of a little cold water. Maybe the guy IS crazy, but you know what, you have to be a little crazy to win“. And so a few days later I pumped myself up enough to try taking one.

It sucked.

I was gasping for air the entire time, my skin felt freezing. I was shivering. I couldn’t think about anything except how cold it was. At one point I honestly wondered if this is what it was like to die in the freezing cold water after the Titanic sunk. Yes – it was that bad.

Eventually I had to turn the water to warm because I couldn’t stand it.

And then I noticed something interesting – the act of warming up felt really really good. Way better than just in a regular hot shower. It was like defrosting. And because I was all tightened up from the cold water, I was able to relax twice as much when the water got warm.

After that, taking a regular shower just was never the same.

If you do a Google search for cold showers, you’ll find all sorts of articles about why they’re good. They supposedly boost wakefulness, increase your metabolism, make your skin better, etc. I don’t know about all this – I think for a lot of these claims, the data is just not there.

What I do know is that I like cold showers because I am actively putting myself in an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation. Like Rejection Therapy, I am actively exposing myself to a stressor and thereby building up my tolerance for it.

As Sebastian Marshall says:

Give me strife and suffering. And once I have grown stronger, tempered, hardened by the strife, give me MORE.

Cold showers suck, but every time I do one, I grow stronger. I can feel my self-discipline increasing. To be successful as an entrepreneur, I know I will have to make hard decisions, do things that are uncomfortable and work under stressful conditions. Cold showers are like pushups for my self-discipline.

It also helps me temper my emotional responses to things. I no longer have the panicky feeling that a ton cold water on your skin gives you for more than a few seconds when I take my cold showers – I’ve trained myself to calm down and overcome this natural response. And I’ve noticed this ability to temper my response overlap into other areas of my life.

The other day I was in a bit of a rush in the morning and when emptying out my coffee filter, hit something and dumped wet coffee grinds all over the floor. I felt my heart rising to my chest and I started to get really pissed at myself for being so clumsy – but then instead of exploding and swearing profusely – I suddenly felt calmer. I realized that my body had recognized this growing outburst and applied the same tempering response that it uses to help me relax during my cold shower.

So you could say I’ve become a cold shower believer.

You should give it a try. You don’t have to end cold – I don’t. I start cold and after a few minutes, switch over to warm. (I tried finishing cold but after getting out, I was more than just uncomfortable – I felt hypothermic – not a good feeling.) Anyway, I think the key is steeling yourself for that moment when you’re standing in the shower and you switch it on, knowing that cold water is about to blast onto you. That’s how you get stronger and build your grit and determination. And that leads to more ass-kicking.

So give cold showers a try and let me know how it goes in the comments!

Edit – August 8th 2011

There was a heated discussion of this on Hacker News.

As an update, I’ve continued to take cold showers all through June and July. I keep it on cold for two minutes before warming up – every single time. And yes, because it is warmer, it sometimes is more refreshing than miserable, but if I take them late at night or early in the morning, I am still sometimes shivering to the point of shaking because it’s so cold. It’s been great and I don’t anticipate stopping anytime soon.

Edit – December 28th, 2014

I ended up taking cold showers regularly (almost every day) for about two years and I think it was a valuable experience. They get better over time — it is really the first 30 seconds that sucks the most. I’ll throw one in here and there when I feel like toughening up a little. Still recommend it!

The final strip of my favorite newspaper comic: Calvin and Hobbes. This is how I feel right now. (click image to see full size)

I recently hit two major life milestones:

  • I turned 25 – meaning I’m halfway through my twenties and getting old [1].
  • I cofounded a startup – meaning me and two friends have taken a leap and started work on something we hope will 1) add significant value to the lives of lots of people and 2) be profitable.

I didn’t grow up wanting to be an entrepreneur, but I definitely caught the bug when I was Stanford. I initated all kinds of projects and started a nonprofit organization. It was then that I began to think that someday I’d start my own tech startup. I never imagined it’d be so soon.

I spent the past year cutting my teeth at an early stage startup and will be forever grateful to isocket for taking a chance on me and helping me grow. The company is in a great position: the number of publishers we work with has grown by 16.6x and our total monthly revenue by 10.5x. We also just launched BuyAds.com – a premium marketplace for display advertising. I’m very proud of what our team has done.

But now it’s time for me to move on to something new. There’s not much to tell you at the moment, but I promise to share more when I can.

I plan to continue blogging (though probably not as frequently) and I hope you’ll stay with me and share in my startup journeys as my cofounders and I push our little toboggan off a giant hill covered in fresh snow.

Thanks for all your support and feedback thus far – I wouldn’t be here without you.

[1] Cue actual old people (40+) groaning about how 25 isn’t old. Though honestly, I think age is mostly a mindset. I’ve seen that attitude is a much better indicator of how a person behaves than their biological age. I still feel very much like a kid much of the time. You can decide for yourself whether that’s a good thing … =)