Year In Review & Using Systems For New Years Resolutions

This post is adapted from an update I sent to my Upstart backers. You can learn more about my Upstart campaign here.

This past year has been filled with a lot of firsts, great learning experiences, and remarkable life lessons. Here were some highlights:

  • Graduated from Dartmouth & said goodbye to many good friends. Until our paths cross again!
  • Moved across the country to start a new life in SF with my first apartment lease and started my first full-time job at creativeLIVE, focusing on user & customer acquisition.
  • Grew in my role at creativeLIVE and became exposed to just about how every part of the company works including marketing, product, engineering, and content.
  • Attended my cousin’s wedding in China (first non-American wedding I’ve attended) and spent a week rediscovering my family’s heritage.
  • Expanded my knowledge via reading 20+ books — some of which that have significantly shifted my world view & business approach including Black Swan by Nassim Taleb, Influence by Robert Cialdini, and The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.
  • Lots of fun firsts too including surfing & skydiving for the first time with co-workers & friends.

Moving into 2014, I have a lot of goals I’d love to tackle, but I realized it’s actually more important to me to develop healthy daily habits. Since I’m no longer in a collegiate environment, I have a lot more unstructured time. It’s very important to me that I make good use of this time. Ben Franklin is my inspiration in this regard. He was a big proponent of cultivating daily habits that aligned with his values and used them to help steer him toward his big visions.

So instead of goals, this year my New Years Resolutions take the form of systems:

  • Write for at least 15 minutes a day
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Build something for at least 30 minutes a day

I chose these systems because I want to 1) become a stronger writer 2) improve my swimming/surfing and 3) become a more apt creator. As you can see, my resolutions are a little broad, but I’m interested in seeing if I can hold myself accountable in spite of that. If this experiment fails (which I’ll define as 5 missed days in a month), then I’ll either narrow these habits down or change them altogether.

What do you think about using systems instead of goals for New Years Resolutions?

Have a Happy New Year!

Life Lessons From The Alchemist

A while back, I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It was a great story that artfully communicated many of the values I hold closest to me.

Below are 18 quotes from Coelho that I found most memorable:

Choice & Action

  • “At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie” (18).
  • “You must always know what it is that you want.”
  • “Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision” (68).
  • “There is only one way to learn. It’s through action” (125).

Balance

  • “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon” (34).

Connection & Understanding

  • “If I can learn to understand this language without words, I can learn to understand the world.”
  • “Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there” (74).

Destiny

  • “There was a language in the world that everyone understood. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired” (62).
  • “The closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend, the more the Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being.”
  • “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow” (129).
  • “When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed” (134).

Living in the Present

  • “If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man.”
  • “The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.”

Courage

  • “Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World.”

Love

  • “Love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love… the love that speaks the Language of the World.”
  • “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are.”

Failure

  • “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

Misc

  • “The darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn.”

Creating Habits For User Engagement

Yesterday, I attended Nir Eyal’s talk on how to drive user engagement by creating habits. Nir is an author, educator, and entrepreneur who builds and analyzes products that influence human behavior. Below are some notes from the event that I took and wanted to share:

With habit-forming apps like Facebook and Twitter increasingly fighting for our attention and feeding our technology addiction, it’s more important than ever to understand how habit formation really works. By alleviating our loneliness, confusion, anxiety, and other negative emotions via the kick of a dopamine rush, habit-forming technologies do a great job hooking us in.

That’s why Nir calls his framework that he uses to describe habit-forming products, The Hooked Model.

What’s the Hooked model exactly?:

  1. Trigger
  2. Action
  3. Reward
  4. Investment

One example we can walk through is email. Let’s try to apply the Hooked model to email products:

  1. Trigger – The trigger can be anything, such as trying to avoid the glance of that person in the elevator or getting a push notification on your phone from the email application.
  2. Action – The action is to open your email application.
  3. Reward – Rewards are everywhere in your inbox. You can pick any number of emails to read to start alleviating your anxiety immediately.
  4. Investment – The investment kicks in when you respond to the email, star it, etc.

Nir mentions that you should make actions easier, but the user should also get invested in your product. In other words, the more the user puts into the product, the more valuable it becomes to her. In this case, the value of the product appreciates over time unlike the value of most non-digital products which depreciates over time.

Another thing Nir said that was interesting was that creating habits is a misnomer. All it does is displace existing behavior. Novelty is a liability.

The most important steps to creating a habit are:

  1. Leverage an existing behavior
  2. Make the behavior frequent
  3. Change the attitude of the person

If products are habit-forming, they may not start off as painkillers. Instead, they may start off as vitamins and end up as painkillers as people become more and more hooked and need to use the product to alleviate their pain.

Life Lessons From The Happiness Hypothesis

The Happiness Hypothesis

I just finished reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis and loved it.

From the several hours I spent immersed in the stories (and facts) Jonathan shared on ancient wisdom and human psychology, I learned so much about other people and myself. It’s rare to find a book that explains vast, life-altering topics so concisely.

By connecting the lessons gleaned from philosophers like Socrates & Plato with the modern psychology experiments done on topics like relationships, love, adversity, and judgment, Jonathan made me felt like I was building my knowledge on top of centuries of wisdom that came before me.

Let me try to retell some my favorite lessons in the book:

 

Lesson 1: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” – David Hume

Our thinking is a collaboration of automatic and controlled thinking. In analogy, we are the elephant (automatic) and rider (controlled). It is impossible to control every aspect of our lives, but our rider can advise and lead our elephant in the right direction. By realizing that your reason is influenced by your emotions as much as it works the other way around, it is possible to become more sensitive to your biases and how you think about things.

Lesson 2: “The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it.” – Marcus Aurelius 

After millions of years of evolution, we developed fight or flight responses that trigger when we experience a negative event. In the past, that could have meant the difference between getting eaten by a bear and escaping with the skin on your back, but these days it is often triggered by more trivial things that are not a matter of life and death.

We are blessed with a negativity bias – where the bad results in stronger, more compelling emotions than the good. We feel that a negative thing is worse than it really is. As a result, we have to adjust for this bias in our decision-making if we want to make better, more informed decisions.

Lesson 3: We have a biologically assigned average level of happiness.

Happiness is a highly heritable trait. Twin studies have proved that 50-80% of the variance in a person’s average level of happiness can be explained by genes rather than life experiences.

Lesson 4: “It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.” – Buddha

While we may be reasonable at judging others, we are terrible at judging ourselves. We use base rate information to revise our perception of others but not our self-assessments.

Lesson 5: “All was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 2:11

There are pleasures and gratifications. Pleasures include things like the dopamine rush you experience after finishing a 5-Michelin-stars-worthy meal, buying a new car, or making love. Gratifications are more about activities that get you into a state of flow. While pleasure only lasts momentarily and beckons us for more, gratification challenges us and ask us to grow.

Pursue a healthy balance of both pleasure and gratifications in everyday life.

Lesson 6: There is a formula for happiness and it is H = S+C+V

Breaking it down further:

  • H: level of happiness you actually experience
  • S: Biological set point of happiness
  • C: Conditions of your life
  • V: Voluntary activities you do

While there is little you can do about your biological set point of happiness, you have much more control over the conditions of your life and the voluntary activities you do. The most important things are the number & strength of relationships and finding opportunities to get into a state of flow.

Lesson 7: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne 

We need relationships in order to expand the meaning within our lives. We are compelled by things that help us feel like we are a part of something greater than us separately and individually.

Lesson 8: Happiness comes from alignment across the 3 levels of personality — your basic traits, “characteristic adaptations”, and life story.

Division within us gives way to confusion, toxic thoughts, and internal turmoil. Consistency – “vertical coherence” – amongst all the levels of our personality helps us make sense of our lives and infuse us with meaning. According to Dan McAdams, the lowest level are your basic traits. The second level are “characteristic adaptations” including personal goals, defense and coping mechanisms, values, beliefs, and life-stage concerns. The third level is your life story.

Lesson 9: “One can live magnificently in this world, if one knows how to work and how to love, to work for the person one loves and to love one’s work.” – Leo Tolstoy

Meaning in our lives comes down to our work and relationships. As well as our spirituality and contribution to the world. You can view work as your job, career, or calling. I would prefer to view my work as my calling.

Lesson 10: Wisdom comes from balancing when you adapt (changing the self to fit the environment), shape (change the environment), and select (choose to move to a new environment).   

It takes maturity and wisdom to know when to move to a new city, quit your job, or change the direction your team is taking. Practicing this decision-making process will pay off a hundred-fold in the long-run as you will have to make many of these kinds of decisions.

Finally, the question of “What is the meaning of life?” may be misleading. Ask instead, “What is the meaning within life?”

Will Engineering Replace Marketing?

Julien Smith recently covered this topic, which led to much discussion in his post’s comments section. While I definitely agree that the trend that technology marketing has become more engineering-dependent exists, I disagree with Julien’s evaluation of the impact of this trend on the future.

 

The Status Quo: An Engineering-Dependent Marketing World

In my own (limited) experience in the technology startup world, marketing is currently heavily dependent on engineering to execute. The most impactful marketing strategies and tactics require some degree of engineering skill, e.g. landing page creation, product optimization, attribution tracking, etc.

However, since marketing projects are typically lower priority than most items on the product roadmap (and rightly so), these projects get put on the back burner unless if you can get things done yourself.

What I have discovered is that in my current role as an internet marketer — especially focused on acquisition, activation, and engagement — is that the more technical skills I have, the exponentially greater impact I can have on our marketing strategies and tactics. Why exponential? Due to the high-leverage nature of technology solutions to marketing problems.

For example, on a regular basis, my projects may require me to:

  • Code front-end HTML/CSS/JS to develop landing pages and e-mail templates
  • Write Python scripts to pull, clean, and organize data from Google Analytics via its API
  • Answer business analytics questions using Excel, Tableau, and other tools available

You would be delusional to think that you don’t need technical skills to execute high-value marketing projects.

 

The Future: A Tool-Driven Marketing World

However, unlike Julien, I believe that the markets will respond to the current trend by creating new tools that enable marketers to execute without software engineering expertise. These tools have already emerged and will continue to make it dramatically easier for marketers to operate without consuming engineering resources. For example, in today’s world, you can use Unbounce to create landing pages, Optimizely to test them, Google Analytics (along with KissMetrics, Mixpanel, etc.) to run analytics, Google Tag Manager to track your scripts related to your conversion data, etc. etc.

In the near future (next 3-5 years), I expect many more astute entrepreneurs to take advantage of this major pain point felt by marketers and create new technology solutions to their problems.

Where this entrepreneurial response would be especially useful would be in the product optimization discipline of marketing. Emerging tools I have seen in this category enable you to create gamification systems (Badgeville) and easily add social plugins (Gigya) — amongst other growth-related use cases.

In this kind of world, while it is still important to have a fundamental understanding of technology, it becomes less critical to rely on development cycles to execute.

 

So, Will Engineering Replace Marketing?

Short-answer is no, not completely. But you better polish up your technical skills fast if you aspire to grow your technology marketing career.

Life Lessons From the Autobiography of Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin was a renaissance man.

In public life, Monsieur Franklin was a printer, inventor, scientist, statesman, writer, postmaster, and diplomat amongst countless other professions and roles. He also had a strong internal life, holding himself accountable to his 13 virtues and the lifestyle of a mensch.

What was so captivating about his autobiography was that it contained not only vivid stories from his adventure-filled life, but also incredible insights into how to lead a good life.

Early on in his book, he details some hilarious experiences from his youth. For example, maybe you knew he ran away from home at the rip age of 17 via booking passage on a ship to New York (his home was in Boston). But did you know that he secured passage on this ship by telling the ship mates he had accidentally knocked up a girl and now her friends were forcing him to marry her? Incredible.

Flipping to a few dozen pages later, he opens up to us about his struggles in leading a good, moral life — struggles many of us all share and resonate with. One of my favorite quotes from him is on humility and how extremely difficult it is to stay completely humble:

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself ; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility (p. 139).

This blog post is starting to turn into a lengthy book review, so I’ll stop sharing the nitty-gritty details of the book now and say I strongly recommend you read it. It’s a timeless classic that will give you entertainment, amusement, and deep wisdom at your disposal.

Now, turning to the real purpose of the post, there are so many life lessons from the Autobiography of Ben Franklin. Here are a few of the most important lessons I took away from the book and feel are worthwhile considering:

  1. Create a set of personal virtues to live your life by - In an effort to become more actionable in leading a moral life, Ben Franklin committed himself to 13 virtues that he would follow everyday for the rest of his life. These virtues provided him powerful heuristics for his everyday decision-making: he only made a decision if it was aligned with his personal set of virtues.
  2. Hold yourself accountable to your goals - He put down his personal set of virtues on paper in writing. He then recorded his successes and failures in abiding by his 13 virtues everyday using a grid. As a result, he molded what were abstract and fluffy concepts into very concrete and discrete goals that he could measure his life by.
  3. Live the life of a mensch - Ben Franklin was very giving. He constantly gave money to his friends without demanding repayment and donated his time to help his countrymen improve the state of their lives. Not only was his behavior in line with his virtues, but it made him more likable by other men and sought after to work with.
  4. Start a junto – He organized a group of friends to meet every Friday evening to discuss politics, philosophy, business and other topics that often led to highly fascinating conversations and the development of robust social networks. Its members included authors, scholars, businessmen, statesmen and others that discovered relationships in the Junto that transformed their careers and personal lives. Do the same in your life by holding frequent conversations with folks that can supplement your thinking with fresh ideas and collaborate with you in the future.
  5. Persuasion begins with humility - Ben Franklin was put in many demanding political situations in his career where he had to persuade an individual or group lest a conflict breakout or a deal falter. He never started these conversations with the impression that he knew more than others or was more important. Instead, he always assumed he knew nothing and approached persuasion with reasonable deference to other parties.

Lean Startup Circle’s Growth Hacking Event Notes

Startups = growth, or so Paul Graham once eloquently stated.

I attended Lean Startup Circle (for the first time) for their Growth Hacking/Marketing event where several folks were speaking on growth topics. Amongst the speakers were Sean Ellis (first marketer at Dropbox, Xobni, etc. etc.), Andy Johns (growth at Facebook, Twiter, and Quora), Gagan Biyani (co-founder at Udemy, where I interned), and Stephen Edmondson (client services manager at ROIworks) — several of whom I really admire as thought leaders on the topic of consumer internet growth.

All of these folks shared their learnings and war stories from over the years, discussing what is growth hacking (I know, it’s an overused term), what growth looks like at different stages of development, and how to achieve more growth in your startup.

What follows are the notes I took at the event. Please let me know if you attended or are interested in growth & engagement in startups. I’d love to chat and share notes.

Gagan Biyani

Q: What is growth hacking?

A: Growth hacking is really just marketing. There are 3 trends that have emerged that instigated the use of the term growth hacking:

  • Use of analytics in marketing
  • Product-driven growth (e.g. feature development)
  • Use of other networks

Q: What does it take to get to 100 users in an early (early) stage startup?

A: Word of mouth and hitting the streets. You won’t have enough data to do any quantitative analysis at this point, so conduct interviews and get qualitative feedback about your product. You should not be doing paid acquisition at this point.

Q. What about 1000 users?

A: Learn everything about the users. What are their demographics? Their pain points? What are they already doing to try to solve their problem? Use this information to determine what channels to use engage users. Also read a lot — there are many growth resources online.

Q: What about 100,000 users?

A: This is the time when you can bring in a marketing expert who has scaled channels at other startups. At this stage, you have to figure out what channels work and don’t work.

Q: What do you look for when hiring a growth hacker/marketer?

A: The ideal profile is a corporate America type who is good with spreadsheets and quantitative work. Has demonstrated an entrepreneurial bent through either side projects they have started before or companies they have started (may have failed). It would be great to find an engineer, but this is just unlikely. They should be super passionate about the company’s mission in order to be successful on a day-to-day level. In terms of skills, they should have strong quantitative analysis skills and be comfortable with analyzing messy data. They should have good intuition/empathy about how people think and feel. They should be relentlessly resourceful, especially in the early days of a startup.

 

Stephen Edmondson & George Revutsky

Paid channels are good (unlike what Gagan said) for the following purposes:

  • Find your target audience
  • Test your value proposition
  • Increase conversion and test profitability
  • Testing scalability

GDN is better than Facebook for testing demographics because Facebook users don’t necessarily see the same news feed.

Test two pages with different price points in order to see what the threshold on price point is.

Use Impression Share to see the remaining inventory.

 

Sean Ellis and Andy Johns

The company needs data-driven DNA, and the point of bringing in a growth lead is to help the team become more data-driven.

Growth is whatever brings the eyeballs in. Product is whatever happens after the fact. The growth team informs the product team about the product needs to do. Growth is value delivery at scale.

The company needs to have the DNA of experimentation and make it a goal to run experiments faster. The difference between running 50 experiments in a month vs 5 is huge. Start by betting low at the start, get better at pattern recognition quickly and then bet higher.

Think of growth as finance where there is compounding interest. Never look at absolute numbers, always look at rates. Growth is compounding.

Paid channels are harder to scale. There are significant diminishing returns. Unpaid channels scales better, e.g. Dropbox and feature development.

A good exercise to do is to look at the (first) 20 users’ session logs. It’s the next best thing to actually watching people use your product. Go click by click to see what users are actually doing and see if you can come up with any unique/unexpected insights while doing it.

I asked the question of what do successful growth strategies look like in consumer internet companies v.s. e-commerce companies?

A: E-commerce marketers were the original growth hackers. There are a smaller list of strategies that are relevant to e-commerce: SEO, PPC, etc. etc. It comes down to about 4 strategies. In consumer internet, there are a lot of other strategies to consider, e.g. leveraging other networks to drive viral growth. There is a huge opportunity to suck audiences out of top internet properties to drive your growth. In consumer internet, product experiences matters. Amazon, for example, was likely built up through SEO and had an acceptable bid it was willing to pay on every keyword then constantly bought up keywords.

An e-commerce growth equation would have 3 variables for growth: A x B x C (A = rate of product inventory growth, B = average traffic to each product, C = average conversion rate on each product)

Startup Career Advice From Silicon Valley Luminaries

Recently, I went to a very worthwhile Q&A where Ben Horowitz (Andreesen Horowitz), Dustin Moskovitz (Asana), Justin Rosenstein (Asana), and Matt Cohler (Benchmark Capital) all gave an excellent Q&A on questions students had about career advice, life, startups, leadership, culture, and goals.

My friend Aatash* and I compiled some of our notes from this event, which you can find below. Enjoy.

—–

Why do you do what you do? Why do you wake up in the morning?

  • Matt
    • “I don’t have any meaningful strengths.”
    • It’s more important to think about what not to spend time on than what to spend time on. Figure out what you shouldn’t be doing.
    • Ask yourself 3 questions:
      • What are you passionate about?
      • What matters to the world?
      • What is your competitive advantage?
  • Ben
    • You may ask yourself, should you be working so hard instead of drinking beer in college?
    • Studies show that people are happier after working really intensely than not working. After doing something rather than nothing.
    • He also echoes, don’t do something you hate doing
  • Dustin
    • Dustin has a broader vision and asks himself how can he best support the global community/humanity given his unique set of skills?
    • What infrastructure is needed to help make the world thrive? Then go and build that.

 

How do you balance short-term vs. long-term goals?

  • Dustin
    • It’s become a joke at Asana that I answer everything with “mindfulness and balance.” Same thing here.
    • “All code is scaffolding” (see Ben’s comment)
  • Ben
    • It’s situational. Usually long term is better. But in certain cases, when an engineer says “this code will be obsolete in 3 years!” it’s better to think short-term in order to actually ship.
  • Matt
    • Ideally you want to have both in 1 person or at least 1 company.
    • He always asks his portfolio companies’ employees when he goes to visit – “What are the top 3 things you’re working on right now?” to everyone in the company.
      • A great company usually has everyone providing similar answers.
    • Do things that you’re the best at.
    • Ruthlessly prioritize what you’re doing – ideally get everything down to 1 goal and 1 metric that you can evaluate yourself (your company) on.

 

What does a CEO do?

  • Ben
    • A CEO is someone who knows what to do (prioritize) and gets the company to do that.
    • Spend time understanding the world, so you can communicate what needs to be done to your company.
    • CEO’s should spend time only on things where they’re learning something new.
      • “If you’re not getting smarter, you’re getting dumber.”
      • I.e. don’t do operational things, UNLESS they increase your knowledge set (i.e. occasionally doing customer support)
  • Matt
    • Exception to Ben’s rule: A CEO who’s a creator or who has some unique skills. A CEO be sure to utilize those unique skills. If you have a niche that you’re really great at, make sure you spend some time with that.
    • What’s interesting is that a CEO who is a product visionary, e.g. Steve Jobs, may be really bad in terms of a traditional management sense (b.c. they get super hands-on in niche product areas that they may have special skills in)
  • Dustin
    • CEO is a “white space role” or one whose responsibilities are not clearly defined. Everything that doesn’t go into a defined area of responsibility goes into the white space.
      • Justin: ideally as soon as you define this work more clearly, you can pass it on to someone else. But not always.
    • At Asana, they use Asana (surprise!) to divide up areas of responsibility amongst people.
  • Justin
    • Always ask, Am I the BEST person—in the world—to be doing what I am doing?
      • If not, you should NOT be doing it.

 

How do you get better as a leader?

  • Ben
    • He thinks a Colin Powell quote best encapsulates what leadership is: “A leader is someone who can get people to follow him even if only out of curiosity.”
    • 3 things:
      • Ability to incite curiosity in others (the colin powell quote) (Jobs did this well)
      • Do people believe you have their interest at heart?
      • Are you competent?
    • All 3 of those things can be developed.
  • Dustin
    • 10,000 hours model. You just got to jump in and do it a lot.
    • And you have to get a lot of feedback too. From peers and mentors. He likes 360 feedback.
  • Justin
    • He told the story of how when he was at Facebook, Yishan (his manager) gave him the opportunity to step into a management role. However first Yishan asked co-workers anonymously for their opinion of Justin and produced a long document of feedback. Yishan: “So it turns out you’re an asshole.” Justin goes back home, separates out the feedback into themes, and wrote reflective notes on how he would improve himself in each theme.
  • Matt
    • All leadership is leadership by example.

 

How do you create a great company culture?

  • Ben
    • Culture is what do you want to stick?
    • Ben gives the example of fining people at Andreesen Horowitz $10 per minute for every minute they are late to a meeting with an entrepreneur. This policy shows how they have respect for the entrepreneur.
    • People will leave your company when the times get bad. The number of people that leave during that time is often a negative reflection of your company culture.
  • Matt
    • There are three aspects people should focus on for company culture:
      • Be in tune with values from the beginning.
      • These values should inform whom you bring into the organization. Often easier to hire based on whether someone will match culture/values rather than trying to indoctrinate later.
      • Continue to reinforce these values over and over and review them down the road.
    • Be very transparent about
    • Put up propaganda (posters, signs) – it works very well.
  • Dustin
    • Says Justin started working on Asana’s culture doc within their first week. Even when it was just the two of them.

 

What is the hardest thing about doing a startup?

  • Ben
  • Matt
    • Don’t start a company unless if you can’t help yourself.
    • Must be comfortable in ambiguity.
    • He gives the example of Mark Zuckerberg with the FB newsfeed. When it first came out, many respected and brilliant people told him to turn it off. Mark just could not even fathom that idea. For him, the FB newsfeed was just meant to be.
  • Dustin
    • You can’t just say you’re going to start a company. It’s something that you feel like you must do.
      • They were ALL really stressing this. They said doing a startup is NOT fun, entrepreneurship is not a career, and you should not do it unless you feel you have NO choice.
    • Silicon Valley culture around entrepreneurship is not healthy.
  • Justin
    • All of us deserve to be doing something we HAVE TO DO.

 

How much of being successful is luck? [sic]

  • Matt
    • Timing is everything in life, but you can put yourself in a position to be lucky.
    • However, you also have to recognize when luck is happening and do something about it.
    • Most people have a hard time seeing good vs. great opportunities.
    • We have all already had at least 1 instance of a rare and great opportunity pass by and we don’t even know it (black swans). More will come. But you don’t get too many shots.
  • Dustin
    • You must have persistence to survive unlucky times to get to the lucky break.
    • Gotta put on that lead suit for when others don’t believe.
    • It’s why unless you HAVE TO DO IT, you’ll quit.
    • Failure happens when 1) You quit. 2) You miss your black swans.

 

How do you stay motivated?

  • Dustin
    • He looks at the twitter feed, e-mails, etc. etc. from Asana users and customers to see the impact he’s creating for them.
  • Ben
    • People will leave your company and others will hate on you while you’re working on your company. You have to be willing to get through that.
    • When things go wrong, the kind of place it is to work at can make all the difference. Some people will stay just for that.
  • Justin
    • He keeps asking why – it is easy to lose the forest in the trees.
    • He gave an example of when he was talking to an engineer who was struggling with an if statement and was frustrated as to why he was doing what he was doing. He asked, Why are you doing this? To write this function. Why are you writing this function? To make this change. Why are you….etc. etc. He kept asking “Why?” until he got all they way to “To make humanity thrive” – which is Asana’s mission.

 

Parting words to passionate interns

  • Dustin
    • Get the experience early of making something of value, even if it means working at big company (but not necessarily).
  • Matt
    • The most important thing about your first job is to focus on who, not what and where. That was the most important thing in Matt’s career path.
  • Ben
    • Don’t let your insecurity get to you because it will lead to bad decisions.
    • Have the discipline to follow yourself and your goals.

*Credit goes to Aatash for contributing his notes to this post.