Delivering My First Keynote Speech

In September of 2015, I received a short email with an invitation:

Hi Jason,

I am part of a non-profit public relations association that is interested in having you speak at our annual conference. Are you currently accepting speaking engagements for 2016? We don’t have an exact date but are looking at spring and would be willing to work with your schedule if we find that we can afford your fee!

Thank you for your consideration!

The email was from Robyn Bridges, the Vice President of the Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau, and a member of the East Alabama chapter of the Public Relations Council of Alabama (PRCA).

So began a fascinating journey which culminated with my giving a 90 min keynote presentation at the Auburn University Hotel this past Wednesday to kick off PRCA’s annual state conference. Here’s how it happened.. Continue reading…


StartupAdventure.co — A Fun Nerdy Side Project

Edit May 28th: StartupAdventure was reviewed by PSFK!

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…

If You Don’t Have Time for a Side Project, You Are Probably Just Lying to Yourself


side projectsHaving a side project to work on is a tremendously powerful way to develop new skills, improve your career capital and recharge from the repetitive tasks you do at work. In a couple of months (or less) you could learn how to code, or train to run a marathon, improve your social skills or write a novel.

Despite these advantages, most people never even get started with their side projects.

They make excuses, saying how they don’t have time, how next month will be less busy or how they’re more dedicated to their job or their families to embark on such extracurriculars. Look, I know it can be tough to find the energy to embark on a side project. But unless you are working 100 hours a week (and you’re probably exaggerating) or the parent of a newborn child, you are probably just lying to yourself.

Stop Watching So Much TV

Most Americans watch around THREE HOURS of television per day. Sure, there are probably a few people watching like 10 hours a day, but that’s still a lot of people vegging out for over an hour a day. For a lot of folks, TV can be swapped with social media or video games to the same effect.

You really only need average 35 mins a day on your side project to net 4 hours a week on your side project. That’s 200+ hours over a year – which would allow you to do a tremendous number of things.


The Mayor of Newark Has a Side Project

Cory Booker is the well-known mayor of Newark, NJ and unofficial Senatorial candidate, has also co-founded a video sharing startup called Waywire. Now, I don’t care what your political stance is, being the mayor is a lot of work. And if you believe even half the stories that make him one of the “hardest working mayors in America” you’ll understand that Booker is not just punching the clock on his public service duties.

Yet that has NOT stopped him from creating something new from scratch – on the side.

Paul Graham Spends 3-4 Hours a Day on Hacker News

Paul Graham is the cofounder of Y Combinator, which funded my startup Ridejoy and other, far more successful startups like Airbnb, Heroku and Dropbox. In addition to running Y Combinator as a partner and being a husband and father, he also spends a lot of time working on Hacker News, the Reddit-like community he created that gets 1.6M pageviews daily.

How much time? Three to four hours per day, according to a recent article on TechCrunch. Sure, Hacker News is tangentially related to his job running Y Combinator, but most side projects do provide real tangible benefits to your main work responsibilities.

Start Slow

Swayed? Thinking about buckling down to really take on that side project? Cool. But don’t start too hard.

From my research on human behavior change, I think one of the big missteps of human psychology is that we’re overly optimistic about our own abilities to change. We bite off more than we can chew.

Instead of diving in for hours one day, try spending 10 minutes a day on the project for a week. Consistency is great than intensity. You’ll make more progress in the long run if you keep at it a little bit each day, than if you immerse yourself once every few weeks.

I estimate it took me about 100 hours over many months to learn enough programing to build the first version of RewardBox, but there’s no way I would been able to do it over 50 hrs/wk for 2 weeks.

What’s a side project you’ve wanted to start? Let me know what’s holding you back in the comments.

How to Give (Negative) Feedback Effectively

Getting honest and useful feedback is a wonderful gift. Obviously positive feedback (“You’re doing a great job with this project!”) is awesome because it makes you feel good and motivated to keep up the good work. Negative feedback, (“Your site is extremely hard to navigate and I wasn’t able to complete the signup process”) can be painful to hear, but if you can swallow your pride, it’s actually an amazing opportunity to improve what you’re working on.

On the other side, being able to deliver good feedback (especially negative feedback) means you have the opportunity to influence the people and projects around you to make them better. But because many people shut down when recieving negative feedback about themselves or others, it’s important to deliver that feedback in the right way.

As a startup founder, I give and receive a ton of feedback both positive and negative, so this is something I think about a lot. Here are some suggestions I have for delivering negative feedback effectively. Follow them and watch your feedback’s influence increase.


  • Show you care about the project/person
    “I’m totally behind your efforts to help disabled athletes in China…”
  • Show you understand and are aligned with the projects goals
    “I know you are focusing on just one market at this time…” 
  • Show that you’ve thought through reasons why the implementation might be what it is
    “I bet you saw good reasons to use three buttons instead of two…”  Continue reading…

Launching always takes longer than you think (Guide to YC)

One lesson I’ve learned is that launching always takes longer than you think. If I got paid every time I heard a founder say their product was “two to three weeks away from launch” I could start angel investing.

Case in point: it’s been over a month since I said I was almost done with my cool YC-related project.

Well, better late than never is my motto. Last week I put up what I called the Unofficial Guidebook for Y Combinator Applicants at http://guidetoyc.com. In it, I shared everything I’ve learned from applying to Y Combinator, getting in, going through the program, understanding more about how the YC partners think and connecting with other founders.

I had friends who were applying to Y Combinator and asked for my advice so I would review their application. But I felt like most of my best advice was about how think about applying rather than specific feedback on their application. I wrote up a Google Doc on my thoughts on each section (team, idea, distribution, video, etc) and over the past few months have fleshed it out to what it is now – a 20,000 word guide on every aspect of the YC application process.

I put it up on Hacker News and in 24 hours got 6,500+ unique visitors spending over three-and-a-half minutes per visit. It was really great to know that people were digging my stuff.

After that, I worked closely with the awesome team at Hyperink, (a YC company that’s transforming publishing) and we were able to put together a beautifully laid out and carefully edited 92 page document that’s available as a free PDF download and also in mobi and epub versions in just 10 days.

It took longer than I expected – because I went through and re-edited several sections to make it as clear and readable as possible. I also integrated feedback from various YC partners who commented on the content. The Hyperink team did an amazing job turning things around quickly and professionally.

The result is something I’m proud to share with you.

Get your free copy of Guide to YC here.

I hope you enjoy the guide and I’d love to hear any feedback you have on the book. Please rest assured: regular blog posting will resume shortly.

Photo credit by Nils Öhman