Why Work at a Startup?

With the Streak.com team at our 2017 company offsite in San Diego

It’s been a little over one year since I started working at my second Silicon Valley-based startup, Streak.com. I thought now would be a good time to write about what it’s like to work at a startup in case there are people out there interested in potentially joining a startup one day. Like many of you, I was once on the outside looking in at the startup community. Thanks to the many different startup founders, investors, and employees who have written blog posts about their experiences over the years, I was able to learn a lot about the industry before joining. This is my chance to pay it forward by sharing what I’ve learned. I’ll discuss in this article to discuss some thoughts I have about the differences between startups and larger companies, what it’s like working at a startup, and why one might join one.

What Is a Startup?

There’s seemingly almost as many definitions of the term “startup” as there are actual startups, but there are a few things that startups have in common. In my opinion, a startup is a company that is privately held, hasn’t yet had an IPO, and likely hasn’t yet reached product-market fit for their product. Steve Blank says, “A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

My own definition of what defines a company as a startup is by using what I call the “Sam Altman Startup Test”. Before Sam took over as President of Y Combinator for Paul Graham, Sam founded a startup in Mountain View called Loopt. When I first moved to Silicon Valley in 2011 and was looking for a job, I interviewed with Loopt. Sam came up to me during my interview to introduce himself and wish me luck during the interview. I didn’t get the job, but that brief chat with Sam left a big impression on me. Here was someone I looked up to and he took time out of his day to shake hands with me and chat for a few minutes. I now use that as a rule of thumb when interviewing for startup jobs: If you can, at a minimum, meet the CEO of the company you’re interviewing with during the interview process, there’s a good chance you’re interviewing with a startup. There’s always exceptions: Maybe the company is too big for the CEO to interview candidates but maybe you can still chat with the CEO on a frequent basis. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to get a feel for if the company still feels like a startup or not. When in doubt, feel free to use the Sam Altman Startup Test.

How To Make a Big Impact

If you have a goal to work in a job where you can make a big impact on the future of the company you work for, then joining a startup might be for you. There’s always reversals to the rule, but generally speaking the smaller the company the better if you want to have a big impact in your workplace. Yes, there’s a huge amount of innovation happening at large companies, but bigger companies have a lot of built-in inertia and it’s harder to pivot the direction of a luxury cruise ship as opposed to a swift and nimble cigar boat. At a small startup, one person can make a much bigger positive impact on the trajectory of the company.

Joining a team with less than ten or twenty employees means you can also potentially position yourself to be in a high-level position if that startup grows to several hundred employees or more. You’d have a much harder time moving up from entry-level to a VP or C-Level role in a company that already has several thousand employees than getting in early in a smaller company and being there as it grows.

The smaller the company, the more likely you will be able to talk on a frequent basis members of the entire company, especially with people working in different areas of the business. Someone who works with customers, like me, will be more likely to socialize or go to lunch with engineers and designers when we all work for a smaller company. The more time you spend with people working in different areas helps with company communication and learning about the different challenges each group faces. Support and sales can give the engineers interesting user feedback and engineering can discuss product roadmaps and future products in the pipeline.

When a customer writes in with a new idea to our support team at Streak, or if I think of a new idea, I can immediately send the feedback to an internal Google Group we have explaining the idea to our entire team. This group also serves as a direct line of communication with our founders who give immediate feedback on ideas or ask us to gather more data or context from the users. You can join a big 20,000 employee software company but the chances you’ll be able to have frequent conversations directly with the CEO are slim to none unless you’re already a high-level executive.

Lean Product Development

As Eric Ries so excellently describes in his game-changing book, The Lean Startup, there’s been a huge movement in software towards the concept of lean product development.

The older method of product development meant spending 12 months building out a new product feature with dozens of different permutations and preparing for dozens of different use cases. The problem is founders would spend so much time in development, by the time they actually talked with customers, what the market wanted was often different than what the founders assumed it was, and thus the founders were often to start over from scratch.

Lean product development is the method of building a very small, limited feature version of a new product in as short as time as possible… then getting that “lean” version into your customers’ hands. By quickly building and releasing the lean version of a new feature or product, a company can get immediate feedback on the new product from users. You can do the best QA testing in the world, but customers will always find broken things that the dev team missed. Customers are also not shy about requesting new features so they’re a crucial part of the early development process of a new product.

Developing lean will either confirm that your assumptions are valid and that it’s worth further developing the product, it’ll prove the opposite that nobody would actually use the product, or even force the product in a different direction due to unforeseen usage and/or feature requests.

One of the coolest things about working in a startup is how fast small companies can crank out updates to existing products and release brand new products to the market. Larger software companies take months just to discuss ideas, going through a maze of middle managers who have to debate and sign-off on every major decision. It isn’t necessarily bad that large companies take more time to make decisions because there’s often much more at stake (thousands of employees and billions of dollars in revenue that can be affected). A small startup can make a product change in a flash and with only a very small number of people that need to be included in discussions on the merits of the change.

One thing to note about joining a small company is the product is likely not going to be anywhere near complete. You’re likely going to notice that the product is only a fraction of it’s potential and where it needs to be. It’s going to be frustrating at times that the product doesn’t have all of the features it needs or things frequently break, but that’s the nature of startups and part of the fun of the journey. Working on the customer side, one spends a lot of time communicating to users that the product is in its very early stages and that the company greatly appreciates all feedback. If ambiguity, uncertainty, and occasional product bugs concern you, go join a larger company that has already “crossed the chasm”.

Startups exist in the “Early Market”. Established companies are further to the right. Diagram via Innolution.com

Focus On Learning and Personal Growth. Take Risks.

One of the best aspects of startups is that they tend to have a lack of formality and have little or no hierarchies so employees can touch many different aspects of the business. Experience in many different areas of the startup’s business will likely pay dividends in the future. If you want to spend all of your workdays doing a very narrow task and not learning much outside of that small window, join a larger company. If you’re comfortable wearing many different hats, dealing with ambiguity, and want to get your hands on as much as the business as possible, a startup is probably what you’re looking for.

When you’re young, you’re in a much better position to take risks. There’s a lot of new college graduates who are only focused on joining whichever company offers them the most money. While I agree with making the most money possible, I strongly disagree with the notion that taking the highest paying job is always the best course of action for one’s career trajectory and to build the most wealth over one’s career.

When you’re just graduating college, you’re likely to not be married and probably don’t have any kids. Unless you’ve been living with your parents, you’ve probably been living a rather spartan college lifestyle in a small apartment or dorm room… possibly with roommates. You probably don’t have the nicest car and your overall spending habits are somewhere between checking under couch cushions for beer money and buying ramen noodles and Sriracha in bulk. This is good! Having very frugal spending habits means you have a low personal burn rate which means you don’t need a lot to live on.

A low personal burn rate is the perfect time to make some bold career and life decisions. You can afford to screw up and make mistakes because you don’t have to worry about feeding any mouths other than your own and you don’t have a mortgage. There’s always couches to crash on at friends’ apartments if shit hits the fan and a couch wouldn’t be a huge step down in your standard of living. One of the bold risks is to turn down higher-paying jobs to work at a small startup. The money will come but you’re not always going to be young, unmarried, without children or a mortgage, and living with a low burn rate. Take advantage of that opportunity while you can.

One of the biggest misconceptions about startups is equity. If you get equity, it’s great, but consider it as likely to give you a great monetary return as a lottery ticket. You don’t join someone else’s startup to get rich, you do it to learn. Keep this in mind when weighing different job offers and discussing salaries.

How To Get Hired

Now that you’ve decided a startup is the right place for your next job, the next steps are to figure out how to get hired. If you’re not an engineer, consider becoming one or at least start learning some of the basics. The smaller the startup you work for, the higher the likelihood technical skills can be brought into non-traditional technical roles (such as sales, marketing, and support) and have a huge impact. An aptitude to learn different skill sets, get out of your comfort zone, and get one’s hands dirty will take you far in your career.

If you’re still a few years away from having good hacking skills, even good enough to apply to a non-technical role, consider looking for a startup that needs helps on the customer side, in sales or support. Support (where I work) is good if you want to get used to working very close with engineers and also if you want to learn how to communicate better with them. Knowing how to articulate customer-speak to programmers, and vice-versa is a very valuable skill in the tech industry. If you want to eventually become a developer, being able to clearly articulate yourself to other engineers will help you tremendously in your career.

Also, and everyone will have a different opinion on this, but consider moving to Silicon Valley to be at ground zero of the startup community. The Bay Area is incredibly expensive so it’s good to have a decent emergency fund saved up. Don’t be afraid to network like crazy and go to meetups and chat with locals. Tell everyone you meet that you’re looking to join a startup. Be as what Paul Graham calls “relentlessly resourceful” and an “animal.” Taking an animalistic, hustler mentality (without being an asshole or being annoying) will leave any good founders impressed. This is what I did to join my first startup, isocket, back in 2011.

Startups have a “get shit done” mentality which means the smaller the company, the more they need to hire for people who can accomplish tasks with very little direction or oversight. Big companies tend to hire people to accomplish one thing and nothing else outside of the job description. Startups are just trying to survive and anything you can do to push the company forward is needed.

Startups will often post job openings on sites Angel List, WeWorkRemotely.com (remote only), and the Hacker News jobs section for Y Combinator-specific companies. Keep in mind that many openings don’t get posted and this is where networking comes in handy. It also might be okay to email employees at different startups and introduce yourself and see if they have any openings not listed on their careers page. Even if they say no, thank them for their time. You may end up making a good connection with them and, considering how fast startups change, they may have an opening in just another few months.

Conclusion and Resources

Now that you’ve finished reading this post, hopefully you know a little more about why someone would join a startup and what it’s like to work for one. Your mileage may vary, of course, so don’t take my word for it: Keep reading and learning as much as possible and decide for yourself.

Some good resources are Hacker News and Paul Graham’s Essays. Also, be sure to check out Paul’s book “Hackers and Painters“, Jessica Livingston’s “Founders At Work“, the aforementioned book “The Lean Startup“, Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Things About Hard Things“, and Alexis Ohanian’s “Without Their Permission.” Good luck out there! (PS: Stay in touch on Twitter!)

Training at the Wichita Falls Athletic Club

via the WFAC Facebook page

Using the Non-Zero Day method to continue to stay disciplined and work towards my goals this year, I decided to seek out some help from experts in weight lifting and strength training to help me progress. This led me to the mecca of strength training, the Wichita Falls Athletic Club in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Starting Strength

The WFAC is owned by the godfather of modern strength training, Mark Rippetoe. “Coach Rip” has tons of great articles and videos online on his website, StartingStrength.com, for those looking to increase their strength levels and learn about basic weight training. Coach Rip and his staff developed the best beginner strength training program in the country, known as Starting Strength, which is used by hardcore lifters and athletes down to the average desk jockey, and even many seniors who want to lessen the effects of old age. He and his staff also do seminars on his program all over the country, but primarily they use Rippetoe’s gym in Wichita Falls as their home base for training.

I’ve previously done Starting Strength for a long time so I can attest to how well it works. I saw incredible strength gains in both my deadlift and squat numbers in only a six-twelve month period. If you’re looking to make some solid progress in basic weightlifting and strength training, Starting Strength is an excellent starting method. I encourage you to purchase the namesake book on Amazon.com and read it for yourself. In addition to learning the Starting Strength programming, there’s tons of excellent knowledge about how to correctly perform all of the major powerlifting lifts: Deadlifts, squats, bench press, press, and power cleans. Even if you don’t have goals of being a powerlifter, those are some of the most important exercises any amateur should incorporate into their workouts if they want to build muscle mass and avoid being a weakling when you get older.

Moving Towards Mastery

Fitness and strength training has been a part of my life for over a decade and I’ve spent thousands of hours devouring countless articles, books, and Reddit posts on the subjects of fitness, bodybuilding, weight training, and nutrition. In spite of all of that time I’ve spent learning about fitness, I’m always amazed at how much I still have to learn. No matter what subject you’re working towards mastering (fitness, sports, a foreign language, a musical instrument, etc.) never be afraid to sit down with a coach or an expert to improve your skillset and to get feedback. Even the best athletes in the world, from LeBron James to JJ Watt to Phil Heath, all spend countless hours seeking out additional coaching and feedback from experts in their field.

Having family north of Wichita Falls and knowing I was going to be in the area this past MLK weekend I decided to call up the WFAC and see if I could schedule a workout session. I scheduled a session with coach Nick Delgadillo and coach-in-training Joey Gaona and a few days later I headed to downtown Wichita Falls for my workout session. Both Nick and Joey were extremely helpful in helping me tweak and improve my form for all of the major Starting Strength lifts: Deadlifts, Squats, Press, and Bench Press. Unfortunately, coach Rippetoe wasn’t in, but I still got in an awesome workout and learned a lot in my coaching session.

Non-Zero Days At The Gym!

I’ve previously discussed how I use the Non-Zero Day method to stay disciplined and on track to reach my goals. One of my goals is to continue to build strength and stay in shape via strength training and cardio. In the original post, I discuss how one should never have any days where you don’t do anything towards your goals. With fitness and strength training that becomes a little difficult as one needs sufficient rest days to allow the body to recover, the amount of rest days depending on the specific training program. Bodybuilders may train 5-6 days per week and powerlifters may lift only 3 or 4 days per week, taking every other day off to rest. With the Non-Zero Day method, I don’t mean you should get your calendar and hit the gym 7 days per week or 30 days per month. That’ll quickly lead to burnout! Instead, if your goal is to do a program like Starting Strength that has you train three days per week (ex: Monday, Wednesday, Friday) then use the Non-Zero Day method to make sure you train every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday! You can use a calendar or spreadsheet to track your workouts, just make sure you have no zero days on the days you’re scheduled to hit the gym!

My Training Regiment

While I swear by Starting Strength’s program, today my goals and daily schedule are slightly different. I’m now doing a PPL routine (Push, Pull, Legs) which hits one of the major lifts every session (splitting deadlifts and squats on different days) and I shoot for six days a week at the gym with one day of rest. I have no plans to compete, so I’m not as worried about my numbers in my lifts and am more focused on lifting as consistently as I can but also releasing stress and gaining endorphins. I prefer a six-day schedule as opposed to three, but your mileage may vary. I still do the big three lifts twice a week.

Come With Me If You Want To Lift!

Now that you know all about Starting Strength don’t take my word for it! Go purchase the book and get started on the path towards success and remember Coach Rippetoe’s wise words as you continue along your journey:

“Stronger people are harder to kill than weak people and are more useful in general”

Now go pump some iron!

The Power of Non-Zero Days: The Best Productivity Method I’ve Ever Used

image made by Redditor u/aryeo

We’re nearly halfway through first month of the new year and New Year’s Resolutions posts are slowly starting to fade away on social media. Eventually many of the grand plans and goals people have set for themselves will slowly start to wither away and another year will be wasted. It doesn’t have to be this way; often many people who’ve failed to reach their goals in years past simply need a better system.

I myself was in the same boat a few years ago, having large goals but never really accomplishing anything. Or, I’d have random bursts of productivity but ultimately nothing consistent enough to really accomplish the lofty goals I had set for myself.

All of this changed three years ago reading a comment on a Reddit post and my entire life has changed. I’m far more productive and I’ve made far more progress towards my goals than I’d ever previously thought possible.

Rule #1: No More Zero Days!

The system I learned reading that Reddit post three years ago is called the “Non-Zero Day” system. What the heck is a “Non-Zero Day”? I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED! A zero day is when you don’t do anything that day towards accomplishing the goals you have for yourself. A Non-Zero Day is where you do something, anything towards your goal. Want to learn guitar? Then practice every single day. Even ten minutes of practice is better than zero. Want to learn a foreign language? Do at least one lesson on Duolingo or Memrise every day, even if you’re just reviewing stuff you’ve already learned. Why? Because that repetition will add it to your memory. That one lesson worked on each day is better than zero and much better than infrequent, sporadic bursts of practice.

By working towards your goal every single day you’ll build the habit and you’ll start to progress towards your goal. It is said that it takes 21 days to build a habit, so string 21 consecutive days of working towards your goals and eventually the habit will be formed and you won’t want to break it. Okay, so the 21-day-habit theory might not be based 100% in science, but the point still remains the same: Consistent actions breeds habit, regardless whether it takes 21 days or not.

Some days you may only have time for ten minutes of guitar practice, and others you may spend a few hours: The key is to be consistent and practice every single day! Maintaining the habit is far more important than doing it ‘properly’ or focusing on how long you practice the habit for. You’ll make far more progress towards your goals by making small, incremental progress every day as opposed to random, infrequent bursts of productivity.

Pro Tip: The Seinfeld Calendar Method

Jerry Seinfeld wrote that when he was an aspiring comedian he would force himself to write one joke every single day. He would mark on a calendar every day he did something towards his goal. Eventually, he had so many days marked off as completed it would serve as motivation because he didn’t want to break the chain. That daily action builds the habit of practice and improvement.

I made myself a simple Google Sheet with a list of everything I want to accomplish every day: Hit the gym, practice Spanish, and learn some code. Stringing together enough non-zeros and I want to keep the chain from breaking! You could also buy a calendar or print one off online and stick it on the wall if you think you’d forget to check the Google Sheet. It’s really cool having the progress chart to look back at all of the work you’ve put in along your journey towards success!

Rule #2 – The Three Yous

There are three yous: Past Self, Present Self, and Future Self. First, you have to be grateful for your Past Self and everything you’ve done up until this point. Spent every day last month working on your jumpshot and today you hit the game-winning basket? Thank you Past Self for working hard every day at practice! Studied a little bit every single day all semester long and then you were able to ace the final exam? Thank you Past Self for planning ahead so I could good night’s sleep the night before finals instead of pulling an all-nighter like everyone else!

Then, you have to train your Present Self that all actions you do today affect your Future Self. Tired after work and want to sit on your butt and watch Netflix and not do those Spanish grammar lessons? Screw you present self! I’m going to bust out some lessons today in my Spanish textbook so next time I’m visiting Mexico I can speak to the locals in their native language. That alarm clock is going off way too early, but my Present Self is going to have to drag myself to the gym instead of hitting snooze because Future Me wants to be in awesome shape when I get older! Future Me will greatly appreciate the work I’m doing today to prepare set myself up for an awesome future.

Rule #3 – Forgive Yourself When You Slip Up

By now you’ve working hard at stringing together a string of consecutive Non-Zero Days and you’re using the Seinfeld Calendar method to keep track of your progress. But oops, you slipped up and forgot to run 6 miles today to train for that 10K you want to run. Forgive yourself and move on!

It’s so easy to get sucked into the trap of thinking, “Man, I’ve wasted all of this time not doing xyz. If only I had gotten started ten years earlier I’d be so far along today!” You’re probably right, but you have to forgive yourself and convince your Present Self to get started today! Future you will greatly appreciate that you forgave your Past Self and focused on accomplishing your goals instead of negatively dwelling on the past.

Rule #4 – Books!

Ryans01 says (more on him in a sec):

As for books, almost every fucking thing we’ve all ever thought of, or felt, or gone through, or wanted, or wanted to know how to do, or whatever, has been figured out by someone else. Get some books Max. Post to reddit about not caring about yourself? Good first step! (nonzero day, thanks younger me for typing it out) You know what else you could do? Read “7 habits of highly successful people”. Read “emotional intelligence”. Read “From good to great”. Read “thinking fast and slow”. Read books that will help you understand. Read the bodyweight fitness reddit and incorporate it into your workouts. (how’s them pullups coming?) Reading is the fucking warp whistle from Super Mario 3. It gets you to the next level that much faster.

I like that analogy a lot. Humans have been on this planet thousands of years and we’ve been writing printed books since the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440. Mankind has been good about documenting dang near everything these past 577 years, so why not learn from people who’ve gone through the same situations that you’re going through? Books are the bee’s knees. Can’t afford to buy lots of books? Public libraries are excellent resources: I love using the Houston Public Library system and, as an alumnus, I frequently check out books from the Anderson Library at the University of Houston.

I’ve always been an occasional reader but in 2013 I started really getting into reading. To stay motivated I created a simple Google Sheet to keep track of every book I’ve already read and every book I want to read. Some people use GoodReads for this purpose as well. In 2016 I read 35 books and wish I had time to read so many more because I now have several hundred books on my Google Sheet that I want to read. Quality is certainly more important than quantity, but I like to keep track of my progress to make sure I’m consistent in my reading. r/books is a great place where fellow bookworms to congregate and discuss the love of reading.

35 books may sound like a lot, but break it down into smaller increments: An average book is 300 pages which would take you 300 days to read at the pace of 1 page per day. If you can read 10 pages per day, you’re on track to read 1 book every thirty days or about 12 books per year. You can handle that!

Recap

Motivation is fickle, something that comes and goes. The Non-Zero Day technique is about cultivating discipline regardless of whether you’re motivated or not. Motivation is all about how you feel; discipline is about ignoring how you feel and doing it anyway. Forgive your Past Self for any mistakes while being grateful to your Past Self for everything you’ve accomplished. Then, tell your Present Self you’re going to front-load a little pain in order to become the best version of your Future Self that you can possibly be. If you need help tracking your progress, check out the Seinfeld Calendar Method and don’t be afraid to read as many books as you can.

Origins

I’d love to take credit for the Non-Zero Day method, but I got the idea from a comment made by a Redditor under the username Ryans01 three years ago in the r/GetDisciplined subReddit. If you liked my blog post above, please read his original comment here.

In this next section I’m to share how I apply the Non-Zero technique to different areas of my life to learn different things.

Learning a Foreign Language

Want to speak a foreign language? Duolingo is a great, free resource to start! My goal is to be completely fluent in the Spanish language so I started doing Duolingo a few years ago. I completed the Spanish course in 2015 so I started doing the reverse course: I switched the app’s language to Spanish and started learning English through Spanish. Fun stuff! It challenged me to read through the Spanish language then translate to English. After finishing that course I decided it would be fun to pick up some other languages on the side so I then added the Italian, German, and French courses to my Duolingo profile, all while keeping the app in Spanish. Learning another foreign language through Spanish forces me to test myself to see how strong my Spanish is and the best part is I can’t use English as a crutch to fall back on. I’m actually learning some new words through this method and increasing my vocabulary. It’s also fun seeing the similarities between languages.

Duolingo is fun because it keeps a streak of how many consecutive days I’ve been using the app. That streak keeps me motivated to do my language lessons every day and not to give up. It also motivates me in other areas of my life, keeping me focused and motivated, much like the Seinfeld calendar method. In addition to Duolingo, I also use the Practice Makes Perfect book series to improve my vocab and other fun stuff like verb conjugations, etc. I also use Memrise from time to time and I really like it a lot as well.

Be sure to check out the r/LanguageLearning subreddit as well as r/Duolingo and other, language-specific subreddits like r/LearnSpanish and r/Spanish.

Computer Programming

One of my biggest goals is to teach myself front end web development and computer programming. Luckily some awesome people developed the internet and there’s tons of free resources online.

To learn some of the basics, Codecademy has been a super valuable tool to understand some of the basic syntax. I’ve done their courses on HTML & CSS, Javascript, and Ruby on Rails and all of those courses are great starting points. After finishing Codecademy be sure to check out The Odin Project, Free Code Camp, and Upskill – All free resources on taking your coding skills to the next level. I’ve done a bit from all three resources but haven’t finished any of them yet, so I’m not going to recommend one here… just check them all out and pick one and get started!

Then head on over to subreddits like r/LearnProgramming and r/WebDev and check out the posts from those awesome communities. Bring your questions, they love to help! Also, Stack Overflow is a great resource to look up and/or ask questions.

Writing

I created a blog on my favorite football team two years ago, and using the Non-Zero Day technique I managed to write over 700 blog posts during that time period. I didn’t write every single day, but some days I managed to write multiple times per day. Pro-Tip: Once you feel like you’re making some solid progress with the Non-Zero Day technique, you can take some time off here and there because you’re so focused on the end results it won’t stop you from accomplishing your goals.

By both increasing the amount of books I’ve been reading and then writing a lot about a passion of mine I became a better writer. No, I’m not going to go toe-to-toe with Tolstoy any time soon, nor is my grammar and punctuation 100% perfect, but I can much more clearly express my thoughts through writing then before I got started. Ironically, before hitting publish on this blog post, I realized I had written about this same topic three years ago. You can see how much my writing has improved since then!

Get Your Swole On!

Want to get in shape for 2017? Great! A good trick I use to keep myself motivated is I made myself a Google Sheet to keep track of my progress at the gym, but a simple old school notebook will do the trick if you prefer pen to paper. After taking some months off, I got back into a consistent workout schedule in 2016. Due to a huge amount of people who like to go to the gym after work, I prefer to go to the gym in the mornings before work or on my lunch break. I’m not always the happiest person at 5am waking up to go lift and do my cardio, and some days I’m not at a 100% performance level, but I’ve never had a day where I leave the gym and regret going. Motivation is futile; discipline is everything.

One of the big things for me last year in 2016 was getting my nutrition game on point, and even though I don’t have plans to compete, I decided to follow the same diets as bodybuilders. Bodybuilders work hard to have a the most amount of muscle with the least amount of body fat, so I try to imitate them as much as possible. So I don’t get lazy, I cook a bunch of food in advance. I’ll bake some chicken, cook up some rice and veggies, all so I have food ready and don’t have to think about it when I’m hungry. r/MealPrepSunday and r/FitMeals are great resources!

r/Fitness is a great resource for general fitness info, and be sure to check out r/bodybuilding and r/weightroom for more advanced knowledge. Want to lose weight? r/nutrition has tons of great info and the communities at r/LoseIt and r/ProgressPics are super motivating and supportive as well.

And no, I’m not suggesting you have true Non-Zero Days with the gym. You need to schedule some rest days because your body needs to recover so your muscles have time to grow! Also, you may be working on a specific program like Starting Strength that has you doing strength training three days per week. The key is to not have any Non-Zero Days on your training schedule: If your training plan has you training three times per week then you better not have any zeros on those three days!

The End!

You’re tired when you get home from work. I completely understand, I am too. But if you have any sort of goals for yourself in life that doesn’t involve hitting old age, wondering where the hell your life went and wishing you could have your youth back so you could accomplish something, I encourage you to take a look at the Non-Zero Day method and and see if it helps you. Of course, there’s several excellent subreddits for Getting Motivated, Getting Disciplined, and of course Non-Zero Days! If you find any better methods, please leave a comment!

I don’t write this post to brag and impress anyone. Frankly, I’m too busy trying to maximize every single moment of my life than to worry about what others think. I don’t compare myself to others because everyday I face the toughest competition possible: My Past Self.

New project: Building the Google homepage in HTML and CSS

A screenshot of my Google homepage project.

In my quest to learn front end web development I’ve been bouncing around some different free courses online. The Odin Project seems to be a very good, free collection of resources to learn web development.

I had previously gone through a bit of their HTML & CSS resources as well as some of their JavaScript and jQuery resources. As part of Odin, the course has students build some different projects. I had previously skipped the HTML/CSS project around building a copy of the Google.com homepage as I’ve already been using HTML for ten years. Big mistake. When I finally decided a few weeks ago that I should build the project, I had a mild “oh shit” moment looking at the blank page in my text editor, Sublime Text. Apparently just going through courses online, via Codecademy and others, is a lot easier than actually building a project from scratch. I had no idea how to actually start a CSS file! Some furious Googling and a lot of humility later, I managed to figure it out!

I got the project completely finished, but as soon as I resized my browser window, all of the elements on the page moved out of order and generally looked terrible. Dang it! I spent hours trying many different methods to get the elements to stay in place and to move together in unison when resizing the browser window, all to no avail. I eventually went to StackOverflow to ask for help and submitted my code to JS Fiddle. I got some decent answers, but eventually couldn’t get it to work perfectly.

I ended up realizing I should completely scrap my code and start over. Let me rephrase that: I did a very good job using comments in my HTML to explain the different sections of code, which made it easier for me to find which code referenced the specific sections that weren’t working correctly. I didn’t truly throw out my old code: I simply made a new file and only copied over the parts that weren’t working. By isolating the problem code in a new file, I could play around with it and try different methods to get it to work. Once I got it working I was able to copy over the working sections to the new file.

In addition to learning CSS and learning how to build a CSS file from scratch and one that’s connected to an HTML file, I learned some more GitHub basics. I had learned some a few months ago, but I forgot a lot of what I had learned. After finally getting my project to work, I uploaded to my personal GitHub, then pushed the code public via GitHub Pages. Check out my Google homepage project here or click the image at the top of this blog post!

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 introed 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 disrupted 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 Traveled

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.

What’s fun about startups is they 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 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 it, 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 regular jobs just for a paycheck and not trying to find something that I thought I would really enjoy, 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 an 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

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 can chime in with how Stanford’s football team is pioneering the use of virtual reality to train their players and nobody looks 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.

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 many jobs in different positions and/or in different fields 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 for companies that were formerly startups themselves which are now mid-sized companies or larger like 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.