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…


17 Essential Best Practices for Making Things Happen

Note: If you enjoyed this post, I share more strategies for achieving significant growth in mindset, health+fitness, and quality of work in my free newsletter.

After reading through Sarah’s little rules of working life, which I thought was pretty useful stuff, I decided to think through some of my own rules, or as I’m calling them, “Best Practices for Making Things Happen”.

The idea is that these are all maxims that I live and work by, that I’ve learned over time and that I believe have made me more effective in accomplishing meaningful things.

The list is neither complete nor fully elucidated, but that’s totally in line with BP #2 and #7. =)

Would love to hear what you think: questions, feedback, etc.

Jason’s 17 Essential Best Practices for Making Things Happen

  1. Keep the promises you make to yourself. I learned this one from Stephen Covey – we make little promises to ourselves all the time (“I’m going to stop working on weekends.” or “I’ll definitely get a workout in tonight.”) These promises are in fact more important to keep than the ones you make to your customers, your boss or your family. Because private victories come before public ones.
  2. If you’ve got a good idea, try to take some kind of action on it right away. Too often good ideas slip away, either due to momentum (it was exciting at the moment, but less so now) or just through forgetfulness. So when you have a good idea, send an email to a potential collaborator, sketch out some designs, or at the very least, make an Evernote note for the idea. Continue reading…

These 3 Federal Government Jobs Might Actually Just Change Everything

presidential innovation fellows

Round 1 + Round 2 Presidential Innovation Fellows

What does it mean to be an artist? It means to be creative, to take risks, and hopefully, change everything. The Beatles. The Piano Guys. Frida Khalo. Kyle LambertDa Vinci. Karen X Cheng.

A typical government bureaucrat is NOT an artist. A bureaucrat follows the rules, isn’t very skilled at what he or she does, and never accomplishes anything particularly remarkable.

But not every government employee is a bureaucrat.

As a Presidential Innovation Fellow, I’ve met some amazing people in Federal Government (not just the other fellows, but career government people) who do creative, difficult, and meaningful work. And yes, I would call them artists.

Right now, there is an amazing opportunity to do some really innovative work within “USG” and show that the word “government artist” is not an oxymoron. If you really care about making federal government more tech-savvy and innovative, then I dare you to put your money where your mouth is.

And if you can stay flexible and creative in the face of red-tape jungle of the federal government, and bust your butt in the service of something greater, then you just might change everything.

The 3 Roles

  • Presidential Innovation Fellowship Director - We need someone who is going to lead the Presidential Innovation Fellowship. The program has done very well with its first two rounds but needs a visionary who can turn an emerging and promising program into a powerhouse within government. They need to be able to articulate their vision, create buy-in within government agencies, and select & incubate good projects. They need to also be a leader for the fellows – helping unite groups of diverse talent. Ideally they have experience in government, in startups, and with managing fellowship programs (tall order, I know, but ).
  • GovX Program Director – There has also been a program created that will work side-by-side with the Presidential Innovation Fellowship that needs a leader. This role will require more sales, marketing, and business development chops since it is newer and thus less defined / known. Note that the specialized experience sought after is: “using efficient and cost-effective approaches to integrate technology into the workplace and improve program effectiveness; developing strategies using new technology to enhance decision making; utilizing analytical methods to gauge the impact of technological change on an organization; utilizing technology to improve work processes; identifying the concept of minimally viable product, and the steps needed to develop plans and/or processes to meet organizational goals. “
  • Communication Specialist – We also need a marketing, communications and PR specialist who’s going to work with the fellows, the PIF + GovX directors, and the communications teams at various federal agencies. As a fellow, I saw first hand how much great work was happening with this program, but it was difficult to figure out who could really help us get the word out about our efforts. Additionally, these programs are in major need of brand strategy and marketing collateral, and this person would lead the creation of those assets. This person would report to the head of the Office of Comm / Marketing but would work side-by-side with the other two people.


How long will these jobs be open?

Unfortunately, the timing is very tight. I encourage you to apply ASAP if you are interested. The Communication job will stop accepting new candidates at 11:59pm Eastern on Wednesday December 4th, 2013.

The PIF and GovX director roles end not much later, Tuesday, December 10th and Wednesday the 11th (also 11:59pm Eastern)

Is there anything special I should do with my resume?

Great question! I would advise you to really flesh out your resume.

The way government jobs are evaluated require them to map the requirements of the job against things that they can find on your resume. So while you might be used to the one-page resume for industry, it is not unheard of to have 15 page resumes in government. Not saying you have to make yours that long, but consider expanding on the work you’ve done in your career and find way to map those to the job requirements.

What’s the deal with GSA?

Some people are confused about why a program called “The Presidential Innovation Fellowship” is sitting in something called US General Services Administration.

Well, GSA is basically the institutional home for the program. Fellows work very closely with the White House’s Office of Science Technology and Policy, but the White House itself is not the ideal place to be hosting a rotating group of professionals who get deployed across government. But GSA can. Just to be clear, this is the norm for government. The White House Fellowship and Presidential Management Fellowship, which are separate from the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, are hosted at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Acting with Power: a Stanford Business School Webinar [notes]

Many entrepreneurs will say they started their own companies because they couldn’t stand to work for anyone else. They’ll often say that they “have a problem with authority” or “are terrible employees”. I think this is in part because entrepreneurs often struggle to fit into existing hierarchies or power structures. I sometimes struggle with this myself. I think in part it’s because we prefer an egalitarian relationship over one where they have lower (and often, when they have higher status) with their coworkers.

And yet Deborah Gruenfeld, a professor at the Stanford graduate school of business, argues that all groups require some kind of hierarchy to be effective. Gruenfeld believes that all individuals (this includes entrepreneurs!) must learn how to operate well within a hierarchy if they want to be successful and have impact.

Stanford Business School Executive Education puts on a variety of training webinars and I tuned into one recently taught by Gruenfeld called “Acting With Power” and it provided some great insights into how our behavior and non verbal cues affect pur ability to influence, persuade and lead others.

Reading Intent and Emotion from Moving Dots

BioMotionLab 2013-11-30 13-43-13

We intuitively recognize that people reveal much more about their state of mind through their behavior and non-verbal signals than the actual content of their words. To really make this point, Gruenfeld showed us an interactive visualization created by a group called Bio Motion Labs in Queen’s University.

In playing with it, what you quickly find is that even with just a few dots moving on the screen, we can get a sense of emotion, sense of aggression, sense of what this person might be thinking or feeling. Continue reading…

Becoming a Free Agent

On December 16, 2013 I will complete my Presidential Innovation Fellowship at the Smithsonian. And as I don’t have another gig lined up, it means I’ll be a free agent starting on 12/17.

I’ll be a bit of a moving target for a month: packing up my Washington D.C. studio, spending the holidays with my family in Boston, traveling to Lima (Peru) in early January, seeing friends in San Francisco, and relocating to NYC in late January. After nine amazing years in the Bay, it’s time to give the Big Apple a chance.

Seeking Serendipity

Earlier in my career, having no job lined up would be a scary prospect. But at this point in my career, I’ve done enough interesting things and created a lot great relationships to the point where I know a new adventure will soon open up.

I’m a big believer in serendipitous opportunities. I’ve argued that a blog is one of the best ways to create your own luck. So here I am, taking my own advice. Of course I’m talking with a few folks directly as well, but I’m not limiting myself to that.

If you’ve ever wanted to work with me, or know of a person/team/company that might, this blog post is my way of saying “I’m all ears.”

What I’m Looking For

Of course, this all works better if you have a better idea of what kind of work would be the best fit.

Short-term: Consulting Work: In the past few 6 months, I’ve engaged a handful of companies in various consulting roles, mostly around content marketing. Its been everything from training a 50 person communications team at an international bank on content strategy, to running interviews, writing and visual design for a series of case studies for a B2B startup. I anticipate having bandwidth for a few projects as I figure out my medium-term plans. More on my consulting work here.

Medium-term: Full-Time Work: For the next few years, I’d like to be in a growth and/or product role a post-seed stage tech company that’s either based in NYC, or truly embraces remote workers. Areas I’m interested include website builder / blogging platforms, consumer education, SaaS products that serve small-to-medium sized businesses, and in general, products that enable people and organizations to be more capable and empowered to do great work.

Statistically Improbable Experiences

To help sell books that you couldn’t flip through (like you could in a store), Amazon once had something known as “statistically improbably phrases“. Comparing a particular book to other books in the same category, you could get a sense of what was unique about this particular book. Certainly you can learn a lot about me through this blog and through my LinkedIn profile, but here are a few elements you’re unlikely to find in other product/growth people.

Get in Touch

I’m pretty easy to get a hold of. My Gmail address would be: jasonyshen and I tweet at @jasonshen. Look forward to hearing from you!