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A Year in the Life of a Founder After Shutting Down His Startup

I don’t know if this has always been happening but I noticed this year that a lot of people were sharing a summary of 2013 on Facebook around New Years. They’re usually a little “braggy” but honestly, I don’t mind that at all. I’m happy to celebrate all the wonderful things my friends have done or experienced this year and don’t feel particularly envious or annoyed. We are all on different paths.

I very much enjoyed reading a recap of 2013 through my friends’ eyes  and decided it would be a good exercise to reflect back on the last 365 days myself.

As you might know, Ridejoy announced that it was no longer being supported – a decision that my cofounders and I made this spring, after months testing new ideas and soul-searching. It was a hard decision and marked the psychic end of my first startup.

But life goes on and I went on to have a wonderful year in 2013, which I shared on Facebook. Continue reading…

Around the Web: The science of “practice makes perfect”, Are Asians the new Jews at Ivies? and more

While this blog is where most of my content goes, from time to time, I’ve written articles for other websites and it’s nice to be able to share those with you. Here are five articles ranging from neuroscience, higher education, digitization, fitness, and personal development for you to enjoy!

~ Jason

Buffer – Why practice actually makes perfect: How to rewire your brain for better performance

rewireOne of my favorite blogs out there is run by the social sharing app Buffer. As many of you know, I’m very passionate about behavior change, new skill acquisition, and research on improvement. So a few months ago I did some research on how practice actually changes the way our brains work and how a fatty tissue called myelin super-charges our neural connections. My post was published on the Buffer blog and then picked up by Lifehacker, which is always a neat thing.

A quote from the post:

One compelling piece of evidence comes from brain scans of expert musicians. There’s been a lot of research done on how musician brains differ from the brains of ordinary people – and one specific study used a particular brain scan called Diffusion MRI, which gives us information about tissues and fibers inside the scan region in an non-invasive way.

The study suggested that the estimated amount of practice an expert piano player did in childhood and adolescence, was correlated with the white matter density in regions of the brain related to finger motor skills, visual and auditory processing centers, and others — compared to regular people. And most significantly was that there was a directly correlation between how many hours they practiced and how dense their white/myelin matter was. [4]

Read more on the science of practice here. Continue reading…

Notes on @acroll’s Lean Analytics presentation to Presidential Innovation Fellows

One of the great things about my current gig is that we bring in smart folks from all over to share their thoughts on innovation within government. Recently, Alistair Croll (@acroll), coauthor of Lean Analytics, flew in from Canada to share some of the highlights of his book and how we could apply a metrics-driven mentality to our projects as Presidential Innovation Fellows.

My coworker Sarah Allen and I pair-captured notes on the talk and Alistair’s given his blessing to share them publicly. Having glanced through the book, there is WAY more depth than even these extensive notes cover and I plan to read the whole thing. Enjoy!

alistair croll PIF

Part 1: What is the Lean Movement?

  • Silicon Valley hates failure more than the alternative: making something nobody needs.
  • Waterfall: Building a Nuclear Reactor: the spec is not going to change months from now
  • Spec – Build – Test – Launch
  • Agile: Requirements change before you launch if you are engineering things like software applications today.
  • Unclear how to satisfy requirements
  • problem – build – test, viable? → (yes) Launch
  •        → (no) Adjust
  • Reality: There is no clear set of requirements

Most startups don’t know what they’ll be when they grow up.

  • Paypal (first built for Palm Pilots)
  • Freshbooks (invoicing for a single web design firm)
  • Wikipedia (was going to be by experts)
  • Mitel (lawnmower company)
  • HotMail was a database company, Flickr (massively multiplayer game), Autodesk (desktop automation)

Consumer demand is the biggest risk

  • Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams) was a LOUSY entrepreneur
  • Reverse the idea: if they come, you should build it
  • You should not sell the thing you can make, you should make the thing you can sell.
  • “build just enough to quantify the biggest risk.”

CASE STUDY: Rubber trees

  • social entrepreneurs want to create rubber tree marketplace, couldn’t wait 20 yrs for rubber trees to grow
  • Risk was not “can rubber trees grow?”
  • Risk WAS “can you build the marketplace if you have rubber trees”
  • Focus on where the RISK is — validate that part. Continue reading…

A Little Angry, A Little Cocky

angry and cocky

I was talking to some folks about applying to Y Combinator [1] and preparing themselves to found a startup more generally. One point that I found myself talking about, especially in terms of timing, was the two distinct emotions that I that many founders seem to posses, especially in the early days. [2]

They have an intense dissatisfaction with something in the world and an irrationally large sense of confidence about themselves.

As any founder will tell you, doing a startup is hard. Being passionate about the market you’re tackling, having a love for building great products —  that’s all well and good. But when push comes to shove, there are few things more motivating than being a little pissed off.

When you’re mad, you work harder, you hold out longer, you move faster. You might be mad at the big players who are screwing over consumers, mad at your old boss who turned down your promotion request, mad at all the investors or media people who don’t get what you’re doing.

And that anger is fuel.

Paired with the anger is thinking you are the shit. To take the plunge and do a startup is to implicitly say:

“Despite the fact that most startups fail, I think I can succeed. And thus I believe I’m smarter, more capable, more persuasive than the majority of founders.”

It takes some cockiness to say that. Think about Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Paul Graham, Jack Dorsey. [3] In their own way, each had a tremendous belief in themselves: their vision, judgement and abilities.

When I started Ridejoy, I had a chip on my shoulder, in part because the CEO of the startup I worked at once told me I was “a bit junior”. And yet he had dropped out of college to start that company and was the SAME AGE AS ME.

I’ve always had a unreasonably large amount of confidence and I did believe that I was better than other founders. Getting into Y Combinator certainly supported that thesis. [4]

By no means were these qualities “everything you need” to be a success. In fact, you’ll still most likely fail. But if you were thinking about making the leap asked me if NOW was the time to start your company, I’d ask: “Are you feeling a little angry? And a little cocky?”


FOOTNOTES

[1] If you don’t already know, I’ve written a 92 page guide to applying to Y Combinator – you can get it for free if you sign up for my email newsletter

[2] Clearly this is anecdotal evidence —  and yet our brain is wired to respond to stories and data of this nature. Take from it what you will. [3] Same deal as [2] – correlation doesn’t prove causation, but sometimes it can suggest it. [4] I say that at the risk of sounding like an douche, but I’m just telling the truth. When you’re in the top 7% of thousands of teams who apply to YC, you start to feel a little special.

Data-Obsessed Guy Seeks Technical Cofounder via Hilarious YouTube Video

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I normally don’t write about random stuff I find on the internet but this was too good to pass up. I was on Facebook and came across an ad that asked “Will you be my cofounder?”

Amused, I clicked through and I hit a 5+ minute YouTube video of a guy named Daniel Vitiello who’s looking for a technical cofounder for his business. Here it is below:

I’m torn: on one hand, it’s a great example of hustle as Dan talks about the 166 pages of research he’s done on “the data ecosystem”, the industry leaders he’s networked with and the MVP he’s set up — a service that allows consumers to sell their own grocery store reward data directly to data companies and advertisers.

On the other hand, it’s full of awkward/painful moments, like when he does the “Oh hey! Didn’t see you there” walk by, or throws out cheesy lines like “I’ve tested and failed fast with eleven different business models” and “If you are Googling me and see a mug shot, don’t worry. It’s all been taken care of.”

Ouch.

Finding a cofounder is hard as hell and I admire the creativity, but I’m not sure this is going to work out for Dan. The video is a hidden gem though.

Are you a developer? What would be your reaction to this kind of a recruiting pitch?