The 10X winners (those who beat their industry indexes by ten times or more) didn’t generally out-innovate everyone else; they combined creativity with discipline so that the discipline amplified the creativity rather than destroying it, all the while remaining productively paranoid so as to stay alive in the face of big, unexpected shocks.

– Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and the new book: Great by Choice, when asked what surprised him most about the findings in his new publication

There’s only a week left in November so it’s a little late for doing a NaNoWriMo post but I figure better late than never…

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the awesomeness that is National Novel Writing Month, it’s exactly what it sounds like – people from across the US (and now abroad) get together and collectively write a novel. It’s a great experience and I highly recommend it. (So does Lifehacker!)

For those of you going through it now, here’s an email I wrote to a family friend (middle school student) looking for advice on her first NaNoWriMo. Might be just what you need to get across the finish line. Keep writing!

NaNoWriMo Poster

Hey Family-Friend’s-Name,

Thanks for reaching out! It’s great to hear that you are doing Nanowrimo. I tried and failed to do it in 2006 (got to 35,000 words) and tried again in 2009 and was able to do it successfully.

The hardest part for me wasn’t finding the time to write, it was coming up with enough words to actually get to 50,000.

1) Give your story a lot of twists and turns.

I’m not someone who likes to do a lot of description. I’m a dialog and action kind of writer so I really needed a lot of side plots to the keep things going.

A piece of advice I often hear about fiction writing is to make sure your main character is always has a goal in mind and keep throwing obstacles at him/her that they have to overcome. Don’t make it easy for your character to get what they want!

2) Write what you know

My first novel was a modern sci-fi thriller which I found interesting but there was too much I didn’t know to write a good book. For example – if you are a regular person, what’s a reasonably realistic way for you to get a bunch of weapons on the black market? I’ve never done this and would have to spend a lot of time researching it on the internet. I had a lot of questions like this in my first novel and this slowed me down. You gotta keep pumping out words!

My successful novel was a fantasy novel. This worked a lot better because I read a lot of fantasy growing up and you really do get to just make things up as you go a long since it’s your book and your world, things can work however you want (with regards to magic, dragons, trolls, etc)

If you read a lot of a certain type of book, it’ll be easier to write a book in that style. Also it’d probably be a bit easier to have a main character close to your age or younger, than to write about someone who is 50 or 60, since it’s harder to understand what kind of stuff they deal with / think about.

3) Go off on tangents.

This is similar to lesson number one, but more specific. I think I had a couple sections of the book that were totally random. Sometimes I got really into describing something – like the history of an ancient tribe of elves. Almost like a story within a story.

But you can get even more random. I think in one part of my novel some random character starts talking and all of a sudden its a list of stuff I have to for work or a journal entry about how I’m feeling about living in San Francisco. Totally random, doesn’t make any sense.

But again, it’s your book and you’re allowed to do that if you want.

4) Write consistently.

Its 1667 words a day. That’s a good amount, but not crazy. I wrote basically on my train to work, my lunch break and my train home, plus spent time at night and on weekends writing. You will have to spend a lot of time writing, ideally with a keyboard instead of by hand, to get this book done. It’s a lot easier of you just do 1667 a day and not have to play catchup. That’s really demoralizing. So write everyday!

I hope this wasn’t too long and was helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions.


This is a multi-part series on Sales, Marketing and Persuasion. To see the blog post that inspired this series, click here. To see a list of all the blog posts on this topic: How to Sell Market and Self Promote.

I recently gave a talk at the Stanford Marketing Group on building a personal brand and doing self-promotion without being a douchebag. As this is part of my grand “how to sell” program, I’m including the presentation here along with some presentation notes.

The Definition and Purpose of Building a Personal Brand

When you think about traditional marketing, there are three major elements – identification of user/customer needs, building a remarkable product that fulfills those needs, and finding ways to communicate your products value at scale. Your product’s brand plays a huge role in how people talk about, buy and use the product.

All you have to do is swap product/service for person and you’ve got a system for doing personal branding.

At the end of the day, your personal brand is one of many tools (others being skills, location, network, knowledge, experience, technology) that you can develop to achieve your goals. Your brand is never the goal, it is the vehicle for getting to your destination, whether that’s finding a job where you can be successful, or spreading an important message via your blog or improving your child’s school as PTO president.

Seven Ideas

I also discussed seven strategies to help you build that personal brand with integrity. Here are the highlights (I’ve adjusted the titles a little since the talk):

[1. Work on Interesting Projects]

This is the heart of it. It’s difficult for me to overstate the value of working on interesting projects — in general, but particularly for building your personal brand. When you work on interesting projects, you develop your interests, your passions while gaining great experience, learning new skills and interacting with the right kinds of people.

Follow your nose and you will be amazed to see where it takes you. Many of my projects –  the nonprofit I founded at Stanford, the videos I made for my gymnastics team, this blog even – these things have been invaluable to my career and my happiness. I use the things I’ve learned and network I’ve built from these projects everyday at Ridejoy.

[2. Build Relationships with Great People]

This is a natural extension of working on interesting projects, but it deserves its own section. Building a personal brand necessitates having relationships with people. By working with smart, passionate, nice, ambitious and innovative people, you gain so much. Their awesomeness rubs off on you, and your awesomeness will be shared with others through them.

If you run into someone you think is really awesome, find a way to work with them. Create a reason for you two to do something mutually interesting/beneficial together. It’s worth being proactive here – the payoff is enormous.

[3. Discover Your Mission]

This might sound cliche, but understanding what your deeper mission is is essential for building your personal brand. Great brands stand for something. Nike. Apple. Starbucks. Target. They all stand for something — they have a mission that is beyond profit, and their businesses are aligned to work toward that mission.

Similarly, when you understand your mission (which can and will change over time) you can better orient your activities and your network to help you move toward it. Remember – your brand is a tool for helping you achieve your goals. What is the larger purpose behind your goals? That is where you find your mission.

[4. Give Freely]

Perhaps you wish to be seen as an aloof,  disinterested mogul. This guide is not for you. This might be a little normative but I believe that you want to be known as someone who is a valuable resource who gives freely. Someone who has a great deal of knowledge, skill, experience, contacts and wisdom – and is willing to share that with the world.

This is the natural way to spread word of mouth. When you help someone do something with no direct compensation asked, not only will they think more highly of you, but they will spread the good word. “So-and-so is amazing – she totally saved my butt when I needed help with Project X”. This works both internally (inside a department/company/organization) and externally (helping people who don’t directly work with you).

This doesn’t mean you can’t charge for things or make money or ask for help/favors to be repaid. But always try to keep a positive balance – give more than you get back, all the time. It’s like a magic bank account, the more you spend on others, the more you’ll get back for yourself. Keep sending good stuff out into the world.

Of course, the danger is that you get taken advantage of. Be mindful of that, but don’t let a few leechers ruin it for everyone else. Protect yourself, but err on the side compassion and forgiveness. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of

[5. Be a People Hub]

Again, I find myself repeating the people things. One of the most valuable things you can do for someone is connect them with the right person. But there’s a huge difference between handing Person A the contact info of the business card you have of Person B — and gracefully facilitating a mutually beneficial connection / relationship. The former is almost worthless, the latter is priceless.

I’ve written about how I do email introductions and how carefully I craft them. I do this because I think it’s worth the time and effort. Nurture your relationships (you know, the ones you’ve earned from working with great people on interesting projects) and look for opportunities to connect those people together when it makes sense. This is an incredibly powerful way to build your personal brand.

[6. Build a Distribution Platform]

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty. You need build a platform. To really scale your personal brand, you need to be attached to something greater than yourself. Whether it is an important company initiative, a blog or email newsletter, a senior executive (careful on this one, can be dangerous) or a YouTube channel, Twitter feed, interesting project, SOMETHING.

What you have to remember here is to be careful what you attach yourself to. Ideally it’s something in your control. My blog is my public face to the world and if I post something horribly offensive here, my brand goes with it. On the other hand, with work and diligence, I’ve been able to nurture the community here and blogging benefitted me enormously. This is my distribution platform, but for others it could be Twitter, it could be a private newsletter or something else. Find your channel to scaleably add value to the world in a visible way.

[7. Present Strong]

Presenting strong is two things – it’s standing up for yourself and it’s caring about how you come across. Let’s start with the first:

At the end of the day, it is no one’s job to make sure you get credit for the work you do, get paid what you should or meet the people you want to meet. (Unless you have a publicist, in which case you are not reading this guide). YOU have to stand up for yourself and sometimes that means being a bit more aggressive than you normally are. This is the way of the world. You don’t have to be overbearing or disrespectful, but if someone attacks you/your work or tries to dismiss what you’re doing, you have to to stand up.

The second point is on the presentation. Take some time to review fashion literature and try to dress at least somewhat nicely. Get haircuts, trim your nails, shower regularly. Smile, say their name, be polite and be interested in others. These details matter a lot more than you think when you are interacting with people.

This focus on presentation spills over to your platform. Make sure your business cards are nicely designed, your blog has an attractive theme, your emails are formatted with headlines for readability, your resume is impeccable and subtly stands out with its formatting. Human beings judge books by their cover all the time – so make sure yours looks as good as it can be.

Case Study on Amit

A big part of my talk was devoted to Amit Gupta and his campaign to find a bone marrow transplant. I think this is a great example why it’s important to develop your personal brand. It just might save your life someday.

Amit has built up a great personal brand over the years through his great work at Jelly, ChangeThis and Photojojo. He’s worked with some amazing people like Seth Godin and by all accounts is a kind and thoughtful person. He’s got a great sense of design and a wonderful online voice as well.

All these things have contributed to the outpouring of support for him during this crisis. People are going out of their way to help him because they’ve been touched by something he’s said, done or built and not because he’s paying them or begging them for help.

The final point about the troll is basically that you can’t please everyone. No matter what you do, when you start standing up for yourself, there will be people who will tear you down. You have to ignore them. Treat others with respect and act with integrity and you can sleep soundly at night no matter how much the critics howl.

I run for that final sprint at the end of a race, when it feels like I’m holding my breath (even as I pant madly) and the world tears apart at the seams.

I run for the sense of accomplishment after conquering a hill, and for the easy speed that comes with going downhill.

I run to explore new neighborhoods, new street corners and new sights.

I run for second or third mile, when the early fatigue, aches and soreness are gone and all that’s left is pure movement.

I run for the extended glance a cute girl gives me when I’ve got my shirt off on a hot day.

I run for the moment my favorite song comes on my iPod, filling my legs with strength and sending forward.

I run so that next time I really have to catch a bus, I can make it no problem.

I run because I like passing other people.

I run for the feeling that I could run forever.

I run to stay connected to my ancestors’s hunt for dinner across the savannah.

I run because an IronMan is on my bucket list.

I run because I can.

Warrior Dash Bib

I ran my first Warrior Dash about a week ago. It’s an adventure race / mud run that’s around the length of a 5k and held and locations all around the country. I got muddy as all hell, jumped over fire and pitched my startup to a cute girl during the run.

It all started from a Facebook photo.

My buddy Ted Suzman has had a great FB profile pic where he’s leaping over a wall of flames. It’s pretty awesome. To be honest, half the reason I decided to do Warrior Dash was for the chance to get a photo like this. =)

Anyway, Ted had a group of friends going to this one, in Hollister CA and I told him I wanted to tag along. I was hoping to use my own rideshare site Ridejoy to find a ride to Hollister (instead of riding with Ted’s group). I actually got two ride match emails, but they were going too late in the day for it to work for me.

So I ended up driving alone. Which kind of sucked because the cell phone reception by Warrior Dash was poor and I couldn’t reach him when I got there.

Warrior Dash is supposedly the “party one” of all the different adventure races out there (Tough Mudder, Muddy Buddy, Spartan Race) and the reputation is accurate. I’d estimate at least half of the people there were dressed up in some kind of costume. Also noteworthy – lots of cute, fit girls. My goodness.

The Race Begins

I arrived at noon for a 12:30pm start so I barely had enough time to change into my running gear (remembered my shorts this time!) check in, put on my bib and hit the portapotty before they were doing a 10 minute countdown. I walked up and down the 12:30 wave trying to find Ted but unfortunately he was nowhere in sight. I jostled my way into the group and almost trip when some girl behind me stepped on my shoe. Pre race shenanigans!

Warrior Dash 2011 Jason
The starting group for the next wave up froms up ahead.

I took off on my own. They blast flames at the starting gate as you head out. It was a hot day and about 5 minutes into the race you could really feel the heat beating down on you. I picked my way through some of the slower “fun-runners” and locked on to a girl who seemed to be moving at a pretty good clip.

There’s something funny about chasing someone. It’s almost like you’re getting pulled, instead of pushing. I just kept trying to stay pace with this girl and probably ended up running 7 minute miles for the first half of the race. [1] There was a water break about 1.5 miles in where staff actually poured water into your mouth from pitchers. It was awesome.

Obstacles Ahead!

I lost my pacer when we hit a pretty steep hill, which I walked starting halfway up. After coming down, we started hitting obstacles. There was a tighrope-like obstacle over a small pool of muddy water where you had to inch your way across on one rope with another rope above that you could hold on to for balance.

There a couple different “scale the wall” obstacles where you had to scramble up an incline or climb a rope up a wall and then ladder your way down. My favorite was the tire stepthroughs followed by climbing over and running ontop of wrecked cars. Come on – you’ve always wanted to be Hulk and jump on the hood of a car … right? Just me?

Anyway, you can see a list of all the obstacles on the Warrior Dash website.

Pitching Ridejoy MidRace

“So we meet again.”

I was a bit startled to hear someone say that as I jogged in between obstacles. (They really take the wind out of you!) I turned around to see a 20-something girl in shorts and a tank top right behind me. I realized it was the girl who had almost tripped me while we were waiting at the start.

We had a brief conversation and when I heard that she had driven from Sacramento all the way down to Hollister, I was like – “Ok, well, now I have to pitch my startup”. And so I found myself 3/4 the way through a mud race and pitching my ridesharing startup.

She was a strong runner and started to pull ahead, but I’d reel her back in when we hit an obstacle which I could usually do a lot faster. It turned out she had only started running 3 months ago – and started by training for Tough Mudder. Trying to make myself feel better I was like “You seem really fit, what sports did you do before running?”

The answer? “Oh, nothing really. I was always athletic but never training anything seriously.” Doh! And the final stake in my racing heart – “I just did the Merrell Night Mud Run for fun yesterday.” She had been racing less than 12 hours ago!

Mud and Fire!

Eventually freakishly-talented-and-cute Sacramento girl had enough conversation and blazed on. I was pretty exhausted and unsure how much farther we had to go. And then I saw the fire pit.

Went all out and gave that wall of flames my best shot. Of course, the resulting photo STILL isn’t as cool as Ted’s but I guess that’s just something I’ll have to live with.

The final obstacle was the mud pit. I was able to make pretty good progress on this just by not flailing and crawling smoothly through the mud. Climbing out is another matter. Every emerges totally brown and that mud is heavy!

My final time: 31.17 on a 3.5 mile course, putting me 88th out of 797 guys aged 25-30 competing that day.

I’m actually really happy with this time because those 9 minute miles – and given there were at least 5 minutes of energy-draining, non-distance covering obstacle stuff, this suggests my fitness is definitely better than my last 5k and had I run a regular 5k, I maybe even beaten my first 5k results at the SF Marathon.

Final Thoughts

Warrior Dash was a lot of fun. It would have been even more fun if I could have found Ted and the gang. I also had to jet right away so missed the beer and turkey legs that came after the run. Still – a good race and highly recommended!

My next race is next week – The Stanford Habitat for Humanity Home Run. I’m doing the 10k – my first ever!

Learn more about Warrior Dash:


[1] I didn’t have my iPhone on me (because of the mud) so I don’t have any analytics from RunKeeper updates.