Joining another startup!

The Streak team!
The Streak team!

Five years ago my wife and I made the long move out to Silicon Valley from Houston settling in Mountain View, California. After returning home to Houston in 2013 I joined my second startup, Streak.com, earlier this year!

The Hustle

Back in 2011 I moved to Silicon Valley with zero connections and hustled my way into a job at a small ad tech startup called isocket thanks to meeting the author of an awesome blog post I read on Hacker News, Jason Shen. Jason was leaving isocket to join Y Combinator’s summer 2011 batch as a co-founder of RideJoy and he intro’d me to isocket’s CEO/founder John Ramey, who eventually hired me as Jason’s replacement.

Working at the isocket office in Burlingame I would frequently ride the CalTrain to work. Each time I took the train I would walk down Dana Avenue, past the Hacker Dojo, and past the Y Combinator offices on the corner of Dana and Pioneer Way on my way to the station.

The YC offices

I’ve been a daily Hacker News reader since 2010 and Y Combinator has long been an inspiration to me. Walking to the Mountain View train station I would often think about all of the entrepreneurs working on awesome innovations inside those walls. AirBnB, Reddit, Dropbox, and Stripe are just a few of the hundreds of startups that went through the YC program that have shaken up industries and simplified life for millions of users around the globe. Walking by those offices I would dream about one day working for a YC startup and perhaps eventually starting my own company in the future.

View from the isocket office rooftop, looking out towards the Burlingame CalTrain station
View from the isocket office rooftop, looking out towards the Burlingame CalTrain station

The Road Less Travelled

After my position at isocket was eliminated in 2013 and moving back to Houston, I worked some different jobs while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do next. Even though I was initially burned out on startups at the end of my first startup experience, over the coming months I had plenty of time to reflect on my two years living and working in the Valley.

Though I thought I had understood this five years ago, it took me to nearly the age of thirty to fully grasp that I’m not cutout to work in cubicles and in a normal 9-5 environment. I’m not built to thrive in the strictness and formality of large companies in modern day corporate America. Startups are vastly different than normal corporate jobs because they’re not yet successful businesses and may or may not be profitable. Startups move at lightning fast speed and I like to think it’s a 1:10 ratio: 1 year in startup life is the equivalent to 10 years in the typical large tech company.  Startups and the products they make change rapidly. But working for a startup also comes with a big degree of risk, but without risk there’s no personal growth.

Some people aren’t built to rock the boat and need a certain deal of certainty in their lives. It took me a long time to realize that I’m not built for that certainty: I need and thrive on chaos and constant change that startup life provides. I can’t do the same thing over and over again every day: I need to be learning every day and constantly challenging myself to improve.

When I moved back to Houston I tried to work a 9-5 and be content with collecting a paycheck and living a bland existence, but eventually something kept gnawing at me: I was restless because I wasn’t challenging myself to get better every day in my job. That Bill Burr quote above always serves as a reminder to me: We only have one life to live and we don’t get a do-over, so we might as well live the life we want and not the life that other people live or the life that other people think we should live.

Just When I Think I’m Out

Once I realized I wanted to join another startup, I realized the best option for me was to try to find a remote customer support position since my wife and I were happy in Houston and not ready to leave behind our family to head back to SF (and SF isn’t exactly cheap). I decided to focus on support because support workers at small startups work closely with the founders and engineers in communicating product feedback and documenting bugs. I spent nearly two years and sent out over one hundred extremely targeted resumes and did some freelancing on the side to help bolster my resume.

Eventually I met the awesome folks over at Streak.com and they hired me back in April. I went out to work in their San Francisco office for two months to get to know the team and learn the product. I hadn’t been back in SF since we moved three years ago so it was incredible rush to be back in the Bay, surrounded by other startup geeks like myself.

Interestingly enough the Streak team was part of the same, summer 2011, Y Combinator batch as RideJoy.

Right At Home

I’ve worked at larger companies before where I absolutely hated being around certain colleagues because they would go on not-so-subtly racist political rants that would make me very uncomfortable to have to listen to them all day long. I remember chatting with a colleague at one of my previous corporate jobs, telling him about how awesome Google Fiber will be once it comes to Houston and that I can’t wait to see the awesome innovations that come from having ubiquitous fiber internet around the country. This colleague replied that he thought “all this technology might not be a good thing” because his teenage son already spent too much time on his phone. I wanted to respond, “You want to impede technological progress because you can’t control your shitty kid?”, but I think I was too incredulous and stunned to even respond.

When I joined Streak I loved the random conversations colleagues would have about cool stuff like the future of virtual reality and companies like Oculus. As a sports fan, I could chime in with how Stanford’s football team is pioneering the use of virtual reality to train their players and nobody would look at me like I have three heads.

There’s a saying that goes, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” and I think it applies to careers as well. If I want to be on the forefront of technology and startups I need to surround myself with like-minded people. If I find myself in a situation surrounded by luddites complaining that they don’t think the growth of technology is a good thing, then I need to change jobs. It may sound pretentious but it’s true: You are who you associate with.

The Future

I’m fascinated by technology and how web development works and I’ve been working hard picking up some front-end web development skills. If I’m the smartest person in the room, from a technical perspective, then I need to find another place to work because I’ll likely not be learning anything.

Sometimes you have to work bad jobs at bad companies to realize exactly what you want out of a career. I’m glad I’ve had the experiences I’ve had to keep me focused on exactly the type of future I want. I plan to write even more over the coming months about why I enjoy startup life and the differences between startups and corporate life. I’m not saying I’ll never work in a large company, but likely only startups that were formerly startups themselves, the Googles and Facebooks of the world.

Hanging onto the reins

Houston vs SMU via Redditor appling_green. Click to embiggen

My UH blog has been exploding rapidly in growth over the past few months. I’m mostly writing this blog post to keep track of the growth over time so I can look back many years from now and see how much has changed. Since December 30th the blog has grown from 189 Facebook followers to 640 and 1,892 on Twitter to 3,026. January was also my biggest ever traffic month with 36,929 page views. It’s al pretty wild! I’ve got to grab the reins and hang on this wild ride!

Building the largest UH blog on the planet

jetpack

January 17th of 2015 I launched my Houston Cougars fan blog, Cardiac Coogs, and it quickly become the dominant UH blog on the planet.

I wrote in this blog post a few months ago more details about my motivations for creating it. The simple version is that there wasn’t anyone who wrote about the Houston Cougars football and basketball teams from a fan’s perspective. So many other schools are also covered by SB Nation and Bleacher Report and UH gets minimal coverage. I decided I knew enough about college football to start my own blog just for fun with no clue anyone would actually read it. Boy was I surprised!

Since launching in January I’ve published 414 blog posts and I’ve had over 100,000 visitors to the blog in 2015! Not bad for a hyperlocal blog. The blog now has 1,892 followers on Twitter, 189 on Facebook, & 37 subscribers via email (as of Dec 30th). Pretty good for not spending a single dollar on marketing!

I’ve learned a lot about how to write quality content to build an audience and how to keep the audience engaged and coming back for more. I’ve primarily spent my social media efforts on Twitter (which is reflected in the above numbers) and learned how important of a tool it is for media. Without Twitter, Reddit, and Google Alerts running the blog would be nearly impossible.

Reddit has also been instrumental for reaching a larger audience within the University of Houston as well as the greater college football landscape. Also, I’ve learned how to break news anonymously on Reddit: I submitted a post with the link to the original author (as opposed to re-creating the content on my own blog) and the article went viral. Soon every major college football outlet was covering the story: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, CBS, as well as countless blogs. I nearly fell off the elliptical one morning seeing Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones discussing the same story on their ESPN show! Pretty cool stuff.

I’m running the blog mostly for experience instead of looking at it from a potential revenue stream. It’s more important to me to retain 100% control and to focus on content and the audience as opposed to aligning with a larger media company and/or to sell advertising for a small paycheck. Unless someone is willing to hire me to do this full-time or wants to purchase the blog outright, I’d rather stay independent and do everything on my own terms. I had brief discussions with a large media company earlier in the year but it quickly became apparent that I would have to give up too much control and wouldn’t get much money in return. I’ve already got a job where I have to follow orders and unless I can make enough money run the blog full-time, it’s not worth it to give up control for another boss.

For 2016 I plan to continue to work hard on adding more quality content and also growing my social media audience.

Learning Bootstrap, GitHub, and building a portfolio page

For the past few weeks I’ve been diving in to learning how to be more technical. I’ve always worked in technology and with programmers and developers, but I figured it’s time a get a bit more technical so I can better communicate with coders. Even if I don’t decide to pursue a career on the programming side, just being able to communicate effectively will help me tremendously in my career. Another benefit to learning some code is to be able to mockup my ideas and even build my own side projects for fun.

I decided learning some web development basics was a good first step in learning some code. I’ve already been using HTML for years and have been learning some CSS on the side. In the past few weeks I started learning some JavaScript and jQuery to increase my skill set. I’ve been diving into some lessons from Codecademy, Free Code Camp, and Khan Academy. After doing many lessons I hit a wall and decided to try something else to clear my head… with the goal to come back to these lessons in the near future. I then got the idea that I needed to learn how to use GitHub and learn how to use GitHub Pages to host some test websites.

Enter Bootstrap

I figured learning Bootstrap would be a good idea as well while I learned how to use GitHub. Instead of just putting a basic HTML+CSS landing page, I wanted something that actually would look semi-decent. I found these excellent videos on YouTube by a user named Microwave Sam on how to use Bootstrap. There’s lots of hand-holding involved, which is exactly what a n00b like me needs! He not only tells the viewer to do something, he does a very good job explaining why he’s telling us to do it.

GitHub

Then, I watched his videos on how to use GitHub and learned how to create a repo and upload files onto the website. Being non-technical and logging into GitHub the first time and trying to figure everything out was very overwhelming. So, I just watched a bunch of videos and did lots of Googling until something finally started to make sense.

I followed his guides and ended up realizing I could actually make this project into a portfolio page to show off my n00b web dev skills to other people. As I learn more and more web development, I can go back and update the original source code and have new items listed on my portfolio page. Now I’ve got some basic GitHub and Bootstrap skills under my belt! Double-Win!

Conclusion

I’ve still got a long way to go learning all of these new tools, GitHub especially, but I’m so excited I finally got up and running! Check out my project page here: westonludeke.github.io.

Resources:

Microwave Sam’s Bootstrap Tutorial
Microwave Sam’s GitHub Tutorial
This guide to push an existing project onto GitHub Pages

Diving deeper with WordPress

I’ve been using WordPress for over five years now, which is hard to believe it’s already been that long! This website (westonludeke.com) was the first site I launched on the WP platform. I was just a simple blog I created on the WordPress.com platform.

One of the original reasons I created this website was because I found out there was someone else out there in the universe named Weston Ludeke and I didn’t want him to be able to have WestonLudeke.com. I also wanted to take control of my name: I didn’t want him to do something stupid and have it hurt my chances of obtaining a job. The goal of this site would be for me to give myself a voice and so I can control the “branding” of myself… for lack of better term.

Over the years the Automattic team has been adding advertisements on blogs on the free WordPress.com to help cover costs of those free websites. The downside is publishers on the WP.com platform don’t receive any revenue from those ads. To remove those ads publishers have to upgrade to the WordPress Premium plan which runs $99/year. Ugh. I’m already playing about $10/yr for the domain name (via NameCheap) and $13 to map the domain via WordPress so visitors see westonludeke.com and not wordpress.westonludeke.com. So, instead of paying $23 per year I’d be paying $109 (domain name + WordPress premium). Multiply that by many websites and that starts to add up quick!

I decided it was time I look into self-hosting my own WordPress websites via a web hosting service. Doing some research I decided to go with Bluehost. I did a lot of research on how to do the migration from WordPress.com to WordPress.org via Bluehost and created a game plan. I did the migration first on some small websites I own before the bigger websites. Some good resources I recommend for anyone thinking of migrating:

Bluehost Customer Support – Their support team is available 24/7 and was extremely helpful with me getting my account setup. I used their live chat which was great because I was able to ask all of my questions and email myself a copy of the chat transcript to reference later.

• WordPress Forums – The WordPress forums were a very valuable tool for me as well to read through other questions users had around migrating.

WordPress Sub-Reddit – The WordPress sub-Reddit was super helpful as well. I was able to ask questions on there and get very helpful responses quickly. Also, I found myself helping out others users as well who asked questions. Gotta pay it forward!

I still have a lot to learn about the different best practices and plugins, etc. on WordPress, but I’m so glad I dove in feet first and got most of my websites migrated over. I’m using the Bluehost Plus hosting plan and I can host all of my websites for only $5.95/month.

100 Days of Writing

2015-04-17 18.37.40-1

A few months ago I realized there wasn’t a good football blog written by a fan for my alma mater, the Houston Cougars. The feedback and growth of the blog in such a short period of time has been pleasantly surprising.

An Idea Is Born

I’ve been a hardcore fan of the Houston Cougars football team since my freshman year at UH in 2004. Frequently over the years I’ve shared UH news and blog posts on my personal Facebook page, which naturally is limited in scope since it’s private. I’ve always been a bit obsessive with my fandom for the Coogs and football as a whole. I spend countless hours reading about football in my free time. I’m okay with baseball and basketball, but football is an obsession.

In one evening late December of this past year (2014) I started coming across rumors that the head coach of the Cougars football team was going to get fired. I posted that to Facebook and sure enough the next morning he was fired. I then started thinking about it and realized that there really isn’t a good fan blog for the Houston Cougars. We have a local beatwriter covering the team for the Houston Chronicle and occasionally get written about in other local and national publications, but nobody had really done any posts from a fans perspective. I’m by no means a professional journalist, but since I read constantly… everything from books, to articles online, to magazines… I knew that I have enough of a grasp of writing to be a blogger. I also have an insatiable appetite for learning about things. When I get interested in a topic I become obsessive trying to become an expert and wanting to learn every little detail. The Houston Cougars and college football has been one of those topics. Might as well put all of this otherwise useless info to good use!

Since I couldn’t find a good Houston Cougar sports blog out there I decided I needed to start my own. I did some brainstorming about finding a good name and decided on “Cardiac Coogs”. Cardiac Coogs is a nickname people have given the Houston Cougars for having several close games go down to the wire, giving their fans a heart attack or cardiac arrest in the process. I had my idea cemented and then I was off to the races!

Take Off!

When I was starting the blog I was wondering if I’d have enough content on the Houston Cougars football team to write about them during the offseason. I figured I may have a month or two where I scrounge up only one or two blog posts during the dog days of summer before football season kicks off. I had no idea how wrong I was!

Today marks 100 days since I published my first blog post and I’ve already successfully published 88 blog posts in those 100 days. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and a little shocked about how much content is out there about the Cougars. We hired a new head coach, Tom Herman, in January who was the offensive coordinator of the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Since the hiring everything has snowballed. Many national media outlets (Fox Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, to name a few) have written extensive articles about the Cougars. It’s all surreal how much momentum the program has now.

The blog has mirrored the football program’s rise since launching in January. I’ve built up a pretty strong following on Twitter (500+ followers) and every month I’ve had more visitors than the previous month:

CardiacCoogs Traffic Jan-April

Very cool! We’ll see how long I can keep those graphs increasing. It’s a very specific hyperlocal website so there’s definitely a ceiling on how high those numbers can climb; but I intend to keep pushing very hard to see how high I can make that ceiling.

Getting Noticed

I’ve submitted things myself to other websites, like Reddit, to help the blog gain traction. But, I think one of my “holy cow” moments was when I posted a blog article to a small subreddit and it got re-posted by another user to a larger subreddit which in turn drove a lot of traffic to the blog. When your users are sharing your content on their own, you know you’re doing something right!

Another “holy cow” moment happened two weeks ago. I shot an email to the some people within the UH athletics department trying to see I could get a media pass to cover the Houston football spring game. To my pleasant surprise, they approved my media credentials and I was able to go in the press box and onto the field during the spring game. That was probably the highlight of my Cougar fandom so far. I was able to get some awesome photos and videos of the spring game, click here and here to view the two different blog posts where I wrote about the spring game. The picture at the top of this blog is my press pass for the spring game.

What The Future Holds

It’s now been 100 days since I published my first blog post and the feedback and results I’ve gotten has been awesome! I finally have turned a passion of mine into something useful that other people enjoy. I plan on writing more and more and I’ve got a few new ideas up my sleeve for the future.

Let this serve as a lesson for others: Don’t feel bad about your hobbies, passions, or obsessions if they don’t immediately make you money. You may find a way in the future to use those passions to bring value to others who share the same interests.

Finished the Codecademy HTML and CSS course!

code

I finished the Codecademy course on HTML and CSS! I’ve known how to write HTML for nearly 8 or 9 years and never got around to advancing my computer knowledge. I was able to finish the course pretty quickly and was able to pick up some basics of CSS.

I’ll probably take some CSS courses from some other sources before moving on to another programming language. But, this was awesome so far to have finished this course!

A recap of 2014 and looking towards the future

I haven’t done a recap of my 2014 yet and February is almost over but no is as good as time as any. I’m very proud of myself and what I’ve been able to accomplish. I don’t write this to brag but if it motivates one person to go out there and kick some ass then it’s worth it!

Loving the Bookworm Life

Last year I had a goal to read more books and I was able to finish 29 of them! I read constantly and I’m almost obsessed with learning more about the world and things I know nothing about. Reading is very relaxing and if I didn’t have to work, I’d probably spend the majority of my days reading.

A special thanks to the Houston Public Library and their excellent selection of books.

The Push Towards Fluency

I also wanted to learn as much Spanish as possible. I got started practicing with Duolingo consistently in November 2013 and got hooked and fell in love with studying and seeing incremental improvements. I was able to study for over 350 days during 2014. The progress I’ve made in the Spanish language is monumental compared to when I started. I’m a long way from fluent, but I’m now super motivated to continue my studies.

In the first two months of 2015 I was able to complete the Spanish Duolingo tree and I recently started the reverse tree (English for Spanish speakers) to keep my knowledge fresh.

Another Blog

As 2015 got underway the Houston Cougars football team hired Tom Herman to be the new head coach. I’ve been a rabid Cougar supporter since I came to UH in 2004 and I frequently post many things about the Coogs to my Facebook friends. I soon realized that there aren’t any good Cougar fan blogs out there so I decided to start my own. I named my blog CardiacCoogs.com and I’ve been cranking out posts since then. The new blog is also one of the reasons why my 2014 recap took so long for me to write. It’s fun writing just for fun and for friends and not having any expectations of making money; it’s really liberating.

Looking Forward for the Rest of 2015

For the rest of 2015 one of my biggest goals is to be more consistent at the gym and keep pushing myself physically and mentally. I probably won’t finish 29 books in 2015 due to spending more time weight-lifting, still doing my Spanish lessons, and the new blog, but I’m okay with that. Thank you for reading this far and I’ll leave you with an awesome quote and video from Arnold to keep you motivated:

“When you’re out there partying, horsing around, someone at the same time is working hard, someone is getting smarter and someone is winning, just remember that”

Duolingo Completed!

Duolingo Trophy 2-17-2015

Hooray! After fifteen months of consistently studying Spanish via Duolingo I finally finished the program! It took a lot of hard work and consistency but it paid off in the end.

Doing Duolingo every day helped me stay focused in other areas of my life: Working out, eating healthy food, and reading lots of books. Turn off your TV and get busy accomplishing your dreams!

More posts about my journey with Duolingo:

How To Stay Motivated With Duolingo

After consistently studying Duolingo Spanish since November 2013, I finally was able to reach the 200 consecutive day mark a few weeks ago. Along the way I’ve picked up some good tips and hints to stay motivated, organized, and increase my success rate learning.

Early Frustrations While Studying

After doing my Duolingo lessons for a few months I began to plateau and feel frustrated at the increasing complexity of the lessons. New words were being introduced very fast but I was having a hard time remembering all of them and staying focused and motivated.  I knew that I needed to use some sort of flash card system to keep those new words fresh in my mind and to help me memorize them. I tried using old school index cards like back in high school, but those soon became too numerous and they aren’t exactly convenient for quick and easy travel. There also isn’t a good way to organize them or make quick changes on the fly.  :: cue the dramatic voice-over :: There has to be a better way!

Finding An Awesome Solution

I figured with all of the advances in technology and learning in the past several years there had to be some convenient app that I could use to digitally make flash cards.  I did some research online and tried out a few different study apps before settling on a pretty cool one called StudyBlue.

StudyBlue is awesome because there is a web version, tablet, and mobile allowing me to create flash cards quickly and study whenever is convenient for me. Stuck waiting on someone (like in a doctor’s office)?  I simply whip out my phone and do a quick 20 question quiz to jog my memory. Anytime I come across a new word in my Duolingo lessons I add it to my StudyBlue deck for review later. This has helped me memorize countless vocab words and keep them fresh in my mind. Because I’m reviewing flashcards outside of my Duolingo lessons, it also has helped me stay motivated with the Duolingo lessons and progress faster.

In addition to the awesome level of convenience, StudyBlue also allows you to group your flash cards into separate folders based on different topics.  My folders are based around each section of my Duolingo lessons (ex: adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, etc.).  Any time I come across a new word I don’t know I simply make a flash card of it to review later.  StudyBlue also has quizzes for each folder you make so you can test yourself to he how you’re progressing with your learning.

Don’t Forget a Good Translation App

Another tool I realized I soon needed was a good translation book or app.  Again, I prefer something online for ease of access and Google Translate is one of the most popular ones online. But I soon found Google Translate isn’t as accurate as I want. I remembered using a site called FreeTranslation.com over ten years ago back in high school. Luckily enough, not only is FreeTranslation.com still up and running but it seems far more accurate then Google Translate.

When I’m using Duolingo, often times I’ll type out an answer to a Duolingo lesson and run it through FreeTranslation to see how close I am to the accurate translation. FT has helped me realize where my sentences are very close to being accurate or very far off.

Conclusion

Since incorporating both StudyBlue and FreeTranslations.com into my Duolingo lessons I’ve found myself much more motivated and I’m moving much closer to completing the course.  The flash cards have helped me keep new words Duolingo is throwing at me fresh in my mind.  I’m still a ways off from being fluent but I’m so much further along in my understanding of the language than when I started.

Notes

The above tools work for me, but they are by no means the definitive answer to how to stay motivated and succeed at Duolingo.  If you have any suggestions or other ideas leave a comment!  My other posts on trying to learn Spanish via Duolingo are here, here, and here.

Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter… just let me know you found me via this post.  🙂