Observations from a 1st-time Entrepreneur

It’s the beginning of a new year and I resolved to blog more — mostly for posterity-sake. So I’ll start from the beginning of what I call “Act II” of my career.

During the Fall of 2011, I was canned from my job as a Product Manager at a company where I spent the better part of my twenties (8 years!). Things were pretty rocky towards the end of my tenure (which I won’t get into), so I was pretty relieved when the cord was cut.

I spent a lot of time trying to rediscover myself: I traveled, took up long-distance running, and hiked for hours in unclaimed forest. After months of trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, it was only after Steve Jobs’ death where it really started to sink in. After immersing myself in the numerous online tributes to the visionary, it was his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address (an amazing piece of oratory) that made me vow to never take a “job” ever again. I need to “do what I love.” Life is too damn short.

It was also around this time where I expressed my desire to work on starting my own company. But before getting there, I wanted to educate myself. So I took on two jobs helping two startups get off the ground (and working 100+ work weeks). I immersed myself in startup culture: I learned how to code, read Lean Startup cover-to-cover, attended meetups, hackathons, and fireside chats with Silicon Valley luminaries. In the Fall of 2012, I decided to take the plunge, quit my jobs, and work on my boot-strapped startup full time. 

The journey, to this point, has been enlightening, testing, and rewarding. While my words will sound familiar, I thought I should jot down some practical lessons I’ve learned over the past few months:

  • Start-ups are hard. This is something that people say, but you won’t really understand why startups are hard unless you’ve been through it. There are so many facets of building a business that you continually find yourself outside your “comfort zone.” You learn to become a better sales person, to build products, and find talent — not because you want to but because you have to/forced to in order to succeed. All of these activities have a way of grinding/gnawing away at your mind and body, which, I think is why many entrepreneurs have problems sleeping and find themselves in general poor health.

    Advice: If you are going to work on a startup, you need to be willing to put everything into it (time, money, relationships) because startups will literally take everything out of you. Exercising is a great way to clear your head, be productive, and kick a sedentary habit.

  • Rejection & loneliness. Being an entrepreneur is kind  of a lonely road to travel. Most people you talk to won’t understand your idea, no matter how good your pitch is. Investors sort-of understand what you’re trying to do, but they want to see who will lead your fundraising round before signing a check. Your parents think you’re crazy to give up financial stability to go chase a dream. Sometimes you even question yourself if you’re doing the right thing. It takes a different type of person to dismiss/accept rejection and continue marching down a path with no clear end in sight.

    Advice: Find yourself a co-founder who shares your vision. Surround yourself with supportive people. Rejection is quite possibly the biggest source of motivation to prove people wrong.

  • Figure out what’s important. Bootstrapping a startup makes you ultra-conscious about your lifestyle choices. Do you hang out with friends or do you spend time working on user on-boarding processes? Do you go out for sushi or will ramen suffice? Should a button have a 5-pixel radius edge of 7? All of these little decisions affect how much sleep you get, the balance in your bank account, and your relationships with people. 

    Advice: Life is full of decisions. Time is a luxury. Choose wisely.

* * *

I’ve found these past few months to be the most scary, frustrating, exciting, fun and self-enlightening experiences in my life. In fact, I recommend that everyone should try to make something of themselves, because life is too short to NOT find out. There’s no harm in trying and you’ll learn lots, promise.

PS. If you want a preview of what I’m working on, check out www.dandilyapp.com

KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!

image

   ”Wh-what do I doooo?”

Her skin is crawling with goosebumps from the horrid experience bestowed upon her. It sucks living alone with just a cat in you home. Vanitas is her only form of comfort as a large band of newly hatched eight-legged creatures known as what some would call an insect roams her hall and possibly her bedroom. She was lucky to have her cellphone in her pocket when she booked it for the bathroom. Now there’s a family of spiders including the larger one she thought she’d killed two weeks ago prancing dandily making webs in her living room for all she knew.

[Text: Mass text]
Help me. I’m shaking
They’re everywhere
Someone save me
I’m gonna cryyyy

noveltystickers said:

Burn/read/rewrite; 'Elsewhere' by Gabrielle Zevin 'Ella Minnow Pea' by Mark Dunn 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime' by Mark Haddon

Haven’t read any of these- going on reputation, Goodreads descriptions and whatever hazy mental image I have of them.

People have told me that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a really great book that describes autism just dandily, but those people weren’t autistic and the few autistic people I’ve seen the opinions of consider it not terribly good. In fact, the author didn’t bother to do more than cursory research, and from what I’ve seen it’s just a kiddie-Sherlock-Holmes take on the Rain Man stereotype. (There’s even a Big Finish Doctor Who audio based on it, which I haven’t bought because the autistic character is completely deadpan in the trailer and I don’t want to spend 12 bucks to risk having a company I actually like throw this in my face.)

So, first order of business, I’m rewriting the shit out of that book. The main character’s still an autistic teenager investigating a dead dog (and I’ll still keep the really-good-at-math thing, but it’s not going to affect the plot or the chapter-numbering), but he’s going to have a special interest in noir fiction. And I mean noir noir. One form of stereotypy for him is to put on a gruff voice and start narrating the last few hours in the most dismal, wistful, trying-to-get-by-in-the-harsh-city terms possible. He uses the word “dame” a lot, even when it’s really stretching the definition. He wants to be a private investigator once he graduates college, and he spends a lot of his time learning whatever he can about forensics, practical psychology and the like. He’s awkward around people his own age but likes the company of older people, and he has a huge sensory trigger for white meat- he completely breaks down at the texture of chicken, but will eat a full rack of ribs in one sitting. And because he’s not a one-trick pony, he also plays the piano, unironically likes late-night talkshows, and has a giant crush on one of his peers- a blonde guy who will probably never notice him.

This kid, Christopher, is trying to find out who keeps killing and disappearing dogs. The police are too busy (and they don’t really care, although he wants to believe outside of the whole 40s-noir-cynicism act that they just have their hands full), and it falls to him to gather some evidence and bring whoever’s doing it to justice. It winds up being a man who eats them and travels from town to town doing so, named Mark Haddon, but although Chris knows this he doesn’t have any proof. The two of them play mindgames for a little while as Mark tries to intimidate Chris into not going to the police while Chris tries to get him to let something slip. Outside of those conversations, Chris is nervous as hell, but very few people are willing to believe him.

The climax of the novel happens when they confront each other for the last time, a showdown where Haddon admits everything and reveals that he knows about Chris’ autism. He then starts shouting “This sentence is a lie!” and “The next statement is true. The previous statement is false.” and other logical paradoxes. He looks puzzled when this gets no reaction, and starts shouting about love and emotion and sympathy, and Chris realizes that Mark views hm as a supercomputer instead of a person, and that he’s trying to pull a logic bomb. This makes him laugh his ass off.

Eventually, the dog-devouring villain resorts to playing really loud music on a boombox, at which point the police arrive to investigate the disturbance and Chris hands over a complete audio recording of the encounter to the police (done by a concealed tape-recorder) and a small portfolio he’s collected of Mark’s criminal history. He testifies in court, where the defense lawyer tries to poison the well by talking about how the witness has special needs, is completely robotic and can’t possibly be sure of what he saw or didn’t. Responding to this, Chris makes a joke at the attorney’s expense which is funny enough that the jury giggles a little, and the defense’s arguments slowly fall apart.

Haddon goes to jail, and maybe there’s a subplot where Chris actually asks blondie out and puts some flowers on the dogs’ graves, but either way the whole thing ends with him pretending that his flat soda is whiskey and taking a bitter swig as he looks out on the nighttime town and sighs in contentment.

Ella Minnow Pea looks like the sort of book that lets an interesting form hold too much sway over its function. The idea of letters being removed from the setting and the novel is interesting, but I prefer my censorship fables much closer to home, and much more anarchic, than a teenager dealing with individual letters falling out of the setting. I’ll burn it.

And Elsewhere is in the “read” category by exclusion from the other two, but I did want to point out that it sounds like a significantly simpler version of a novel I started writing earlier this year called Afterlifebirthers. The biggest difference was that instead of a reverse-aging wonderland, the afterlife was exactly the same as the universe we now live in, and people still live and breathe and shop on Earth.

There’s even death, and when a person dies, they’re just shunted off into another afterlife identical to ours (although it takes a few times for people to get it). Reality is, ultimately, a big line of afterlives being forever churned out by strange living beings, and if you die fast enough you can see where Neanderthals have eventually started their own civilization, or try really hard to convince the Romans that slavery isn’t a good thing, or sit at the beginning of the next universe in the queue, at a time where death cannot yet happen, with an ever-shifting congregation of the lost, the depressed and the insatiably curious.

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