I was 174 pounds when I started Y Combinator. By the end I was 156. It was the result of a combination of factors: 1) Pat, my cofounder, is an amazing chef who made us home cooked meals every night, 2) I went to the gym every day just to manage stress levels, and 3) sometimes I’d get so caught up in work I’d miss lunch. But I’ve maintained my weight—even after leaving San Francisco—because of the ways running a business has taught me to track and quantify progress.
Weight is an imperfect metric. For one, I fluctuate about 5 pounds (3% change) in a day depending on what my hydration is like and how recently I’ve eaten and worked out. My Junior year of college I was 168. It’s the fittest I’ve ever been. My freshman year I was 155 and felt like crap. To me, weight never seemed to me to be an accurate measurement of anything.
A lot of time in business we get caught up in looking at the numbers, trying to make them go up and down, without paying attention to what they actually mean.
What are your fitness goals? Despite what most people say, it’s probably not to get to a certain weight. Most people want to look good naked, get stronger, or feel healthier. Some people want to do all three.
A lot of times lower weight is correlated with how good you look sans clothing. But sometimes it can be negatively correlated with strength, and how good you feel.
So is weight the one metric that matters for you? Maybe.
Here are some other metrics you might want to look at depending on what your goals are:
-How much can you lift? / How far can you run?
-How do you quantify what you eat or drink?
-What is your waistline in centimeters?
-How much sleep do you get?
-What are positive/negative actions that have an effect on your goals? When and why do you do them?
So weight is an imperfect metric. Well, the world is full of those and sometimes that’s all you can use. Weight is also a really easy metric to track, and a lot of times (especially when you work in a startup and have limited time & resources) easy is best.
So how do you use an imperfect measure? You get a baseline. Write it down every day. If you fluctuate, try and measure at the same time every day. You can also aggregate your data up to the weekly level to remove some of the noise.
Two big measurements are shown affect on weight loss: writing down what you eat and weighing yourself every day. If I wake up in the morning and I know that I’m at 163, I’m going to have different emotional reaction to being offered a chocolate filled-croissant than if I didn’t weigh myself that morning.
Also, if I know I have to write down every single brownie I eat in a in a food journal right after I eat it (I don’t keep a food journal) then I might only eat one or two instead of six.
The key is making a conscious informed decision about your actions and not just blindly following your instincts.
“Yeah, I know brownies are bad, but I went to the gym today, they’ll cancel each other out” is different than “Those 6 brownies are 792 calories and I burned about 500 at the gym today.”
And hey—if you consciously decide that you want those 792 calories worth of delicious baked treats then eat those suckers.
First I started tracking my weight. Then Pat showed me how to actually cook vegetables so I made a conscious effort to have approximately ½ non-starch vegetables and only ¼ carbs at every meal, as suggested by a guy at the gym I was going to:
Then I started looking at my caloric intake.
Did you know a 5 guys cheeseburger and fries is 1,793 calories? I was eating that for lunch almost once a week before I moved to SF. That’s not happening anymore:
Did you know Panera isn’t really healthy? That lattes (190 cal.), mochas (330 cal.), beer (100-190+ cal.), and wine (120 cal.) really really really add up at the end of the day? I had no idea. I mean, I knew, deep down. But there is something much more visceral about computing the actual numbers.
Now I’m keeping a daily log of my weight, caloric intake, approximate servings of vegetables, whether I went to the gym or not, how healthy I feel on a 7 point Likert scale, and how much I squat (I tried to keep track of my all of my progress in weight lifting but it was too much. I’ve decided to focus on squats as an imperfect metric of my overall strength).
After I get 6 months of data I’m going to run some regressions to see what has the biggest impact on my weight, strength, and how I feel. Once I get that info it will undoubtedly open some doors as to other things I should be tracking.
Even after a few weeks I can tell how much better I feel when I go to the gym consistently and eat enough vegetables, which is no surprise.
What’s surprising is how powerful a motivator filling in those little boxes can be.
What’s worked for you? What hasn’t? I’m new to this and want to hear what other people have tried. Toss in a comment, hit me up on twitter, or shoot me an email.
It took us just under 8 hours to move everything out of our apartment, as opposed to the 3 days it took us last time we moved (when we had even less stuff).
I assumed (correctly) that the worst part was not going to be moving all of our stuff, but dealing with the 1-3 month displacement afterward. But spending time thinking about that, or yelling at maintenance people, or generally freaking out while the water came down would have just distracted from the task at hand and forced us to lose more stuff.
We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the supplies friends brought us, or their help moving all our stuff into the temporary apartment.
Not many people would keep a cool head if they came home to water flowing out of the ceiling vents and light fixtures. Fortunately my fiance did. Make sure, in business, friendship, and love, you’re choosing someone you want to be around when all hell breaks loose.
This seems painfully obvious, but you might be surprised what you choose to save when you only have a few minutes to decide what lives and what drowns.
My parents made my purchase renter’s insurance. I grumbled. Now it looks like a pretty smart move.
I have unplugged from the Matrix.
It’s a relatively easy thing to do, but a very hard thing to maintain.
A few weeks ago this brilliant film made the rounds online (warning, NSFW). This video, in conjunction with a hilarious yet wisdom-packed clip by Louis C.K., prompted my company to have some long, heartfelt, moderately beer-induced conversations about the addictive power of social media and how it’s impacting the way our brains are functioning.
A few of my colleagues went into some serious detail about the addictive power of Facebook and how it had taken over their lives in the past (about half of them either don’t have a Facebook anymore, or interact with it very rarely). I, on the other hand, am at least a daily user but
don’t didn’t consider Facebook to be an integral or invasive part of my life.
After listening to all the absurd ways my coworkers have obsessively manicured their digital reputation, I allowed myself a self-satisfied chuckle and posited that, all things considered, I’m not really that addicted to Facebook, and given the chance to socialize with plenty of people on a day-to-day basis, I wouldn’t even really even need internet (apart from playing videogames).
“So quit Facebook and Reddit for two weeks.” —Everyone in my company.
The rationalizations in my brain started erupting at full speed. I found myself (internally) mimicking lines i’ve heard from my nicotine/caffeine addicted friends: “I mean, I could stop if I wanted to, really. I just don’t see any reason why I should. I just don’t feel like it’s really hurting me.”
Realizing how ridiculous that sounded, I decided this was probably a worthwhile experiment. I gave up my Facebook password to a trusted friend, and blocked reddit and imgur on my browser.
It’s the end of day 5, and already I have gained some new insights.
1) I clicked on the Facebook bookmark icon on my computer 6 times in the first two days. These were not conscious decisions on my part to visit Facebook, but merely a trained reflex that triggered when my brain got tired.
2) I have never had a stronger urge to log on to a random computer and do absolutely nothing but dick around on the internet for hours. Seriously. It’s a craving. And I’m getting agitated that I can’t get my fix.
3) Since Facebook “breaks” have become unavailable to me, I actually get up out of my chair, walk around the office, talk to people, and get out from behind the computer when working. This is probably a healthy thing.
4) The main reason I finished this blog post is that I really really want to go online, but I can’t, so instead I’m using my free time to pursue a hobby. A hobby that is productive and makes me feel like I have contributed something to the world rather than just being a passive consumer of mass amounts of content, a high percentage of which is pretty much irrelevant to my life.
5) Blocking this stuff in conjunction with a pretty fun meditation 101 program has given me a much higher level into of focus. Days have become much shorter because I get into a groove that makes the time zoom by and helps me finish complex tasks quicker.
I’m asking for my password back at the end of the week. I could probably make it to two weeks if I tried, but I’m getting more and more agitated and I’m afraid my mood is going to suffer too much.
I have decided to limit my use of social media to nights and weekends in hopes that I will maintain my newfound level of focus—we’ll see if this is true.
Though frustrating, this has been an awesome experiment and I highly recommend you try it, especially if you don’t think it will make any difference in your life. You might be surprised.
One of our customers recently wrote this post on his experience with us.
Maybe it’s because my first job was as a bartender, maybe it’s just my personality. But to me, no other area of business is as important as the happiness of your customers.
In the service industry, there is a direct correlation between how happy your customers are and the money you make. Apart from a few bad apples (sorry, pun intended) if you care about your customers, listen to their needs, and provide what they want (or even just put in your best effort) you’re going to make a hell of a lot more money than workers who do the bare minimum. You’re also going to bring customers back, spread good word of mouth, and help your establishment grow.
There are too many businesses out there who either don’t understand this, or don’t care. Customer service is seen as a feature that you can decide whether or not to provide. It’s not a core foundation of business. And that’s a problem.
Take my local hardware store down the street. They go out of their way to help you fix your problems: they’ll make a custom part for you, take time out of their day to give you explicit instructions, and call a few days later to check in, just to make sure that everything went smoothly. Why? Because they are acutely aware that if you don’t treat your customers well, they will take their business elsewhere, and your business will die.
But say you’re a giant megachain, or you’re providing something that your customers can’t get anywhere else, chances are you don’t give a **** about your customer’s happiness, so long as they are still paying you.
What are they going to do? Go write an angry post on Facebook? Customer service costs money, and that puts a drain on profits, which puts a drain on the bonus checks that executives can write themselves at the end of the year. Not worth it.
…Unless, you remember that we live the digital age, where customers DO complain on social media, you WILL build a reputation for bad business, and a competitor IS GOING to come along and actually treat them well.
No matter how much you scramble at this point, the damage is done. You’ve built an empire that is drowning in profit, but your foundation is weak and your company is going to crumble—fast—because customer happiness is not a cornerstone of your business model.
But what if you HAD invested in good customer service? What if you listened to your customers, and tried to fix their problems? What if you built a relationship on trust? Even if a competitor comes in with a superior product, your customers will be hesitant to leave because of the experience they’ve had with you. (Humans are very risk-averse. The rule of thumb in business is that your product must be 10x better for a customer to switch. If you have crappy service, it’s much easier for a competitor to hit that mark.)
I got my first checking account with my local credit union when I was 11 years old. I’ve moved to all sorts of places around the country, opened and closed a lot of bank accounts, and never have I even considered dropping them. Even when it means I have to pay a fee to use another bank’s ATM.
Why? Because they give a sh*t.
They’ve waived fees when I’ve screwed up, they’re always available to talk to, and they constantly ask for feedback on how to improve. Try getting that kind of service from a big bank.
So how does a megacorporation implement wide-scale customer service? It starts with not being greedy (happy employees=happy customers).
Then, it’s up to the executives to put customer happiness as a core foundation of their business model. If you ran a giant cable company with bad service, lets just call it, I don’t know, Comcast, for the sake of this story, and you wanted to improve your service, just spend five minutes browsing social media and you’ll find the problems you need to work on: An obnoxious phone tree, long arrival windows for installation, stupid bundling options, and way too many hidden fees.
It’s not hard to fix these things, it just costs money. Yes, you’ll see your profits drop in the short term—and *gasp* maybe you wont be able to retain a 370:1 executive-employee salary ratio—but keep track of your retention rates and you’ll see your CLV rise. More importantly, you won’t have to worry about crashing and burning the second a competitor starts offering TV and internet that is 100x faster.
But, you say, my giant megacorporation has WAY too many customers, I’ll never be able to make everyone happy. Well congratulations. Having too many customers is a damn good problem to have. If you serve never ending title waves of customers, then identify the ones that make you the most money. Every business has them (airlines do this very well). Find your VIPs and treat them like gods. Then treat your regular customers as equals.
Speaking of airlines, BE INNOVATIVE. Look at Delta airlines. They took the risk of making their customer support open to the public on Twitter. This allowed people to see how awesome they are, it cut call center costs and made both the company and customers much happier.
The issue of scaling customer service isn’t wide-scale implementation, it’s short-sightedness.
What you give you will receive. And if it’s beer, all the better.
My mother reinspired me to chase my dreams and all it took was a lego set and $20 worth of chocolate.
You know the story: a group of 20-somethings in Silicon Valley trying to get their company off the ground. Working days, nights, weekends, riding the startup rollercoaster. The ride where leaving the house for a workout or to run a mundane errand is a rare moment of blissful vacation, until your phone buzzes and your email notifications pop up.
I’ve learned a lot in my time here so far, but nothing quite as important as this: no matter how old you get, your parents love will always ground you.
Sure, you become much less dependent as you grow older. You start living with other people. You get a job. You start paying your own bills. You move across the country. You might go weeks without talking to loved ones, but at the end of it all, knowing that there is someone, somewhere, who cares deeply about you is a fundamental requirement of being human. And if you lose sight of that, life becomes an arduous and draining experience.
I’ll admit, I lost focus. In the midst of trying to build a business away from home, away from friends and family and loved ones, after working late nights and early mornings, after focusing on customer acquisition and feature requests and bug fixes, all I could see in front of me was a mountain of email and how far we had left to go.
Then the doorbell rang. My housemate went to answer it and returned with a large package addressed to me, sent from my mother. I opened it on the spot and saw that it contained a collection of small lumpy objects individually wrapped in tissue paper.
I began to unwrap them one-by-one and caught myself savoring the moment—really savoring it. I wanted to slow down and enjoy the process of methodically unwrapping each item, while simultaneously wanting to tear off all the wrapping paper like a kid post cake-binge on his birthday.
In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that much. It was an assortment of candy bars, chocolate chip cookies, and a small lego set.
But holy sh*t did it make my day.
I got up, away from the computer (a rare event in my house), went over to the dining room table and assembled my new lego motorcycle (a Mario Kart bike with a Luigi figurine). I ate some cookies (even though I hadn’t had breakfast yet), and in a final moment of glorious satisfaction I made a mountain out of my presents and perched Luigi atop it. Smiling, I sat back and snapped a photo.
It was probably 15 minutes out of my day, but taking that small bit of time to do a mindless task helped me reflect on what was really important.
Suddenly I could see the bigger picture. I am part of a company that had done—and is about to do—some really incredible things. I am working at a job that is fun and challenging and which I love, even if it is exhausting. A lot of people I know hate their jobs. A lot of people I know can’t even find jobs. I have a great one, and a network of friends and family who are all pulling for me to succeed.
We’re about to make a damn dent in the universe, and if it weren’t for my mother, I wouldn’t have been able to see it. I would have just dragged on through a trough of sorrow, with my head down, forcing my body and mind to perform tasks they didn’t want to do, which I know only leads to burnout. Thanks to her small gesture, I found my purpose again.
If you work in startups, or even if you don’t, take the time to step back, pick your head up, and evaluate where you are in your life right now. You might find that you need to make some changes, or you might remember why you are where you are in the first place.
While I browsed the internet over my morning cup of coffee I got a hopeful glimpse of the future:
Google is on the cusp of creating a truly worldwide network.
Rap Genius took a stab at dismantling what can only be described as propaganda in the NY times.
Yet when I took to Twitter to give them both props, I realized that the rest of my network is busy uploading Vine videos of their breakfast.
Such is the future of humankind.
I’ve discovered a new favorite pastime: looking up previous predictions of future technology. Sure, there are things like pink hoverboards or MIB’s prediction about the future of Compact Discs (I am still patiently waiting for the pizza hydrator from Back to the Future II, by the way), but what is more interesting to me are the short-term predictions and, specifically, how terrible we are at even looking a few years into the future.
My Grandmother, bless her heart, still doesn’t understand how to operate a mouse: she can never remember which side she is supposed to click, and to her “double clicking” means hitting both the right and left mouse button. In all fairness to her, imagining the progression of technology that she has lived through is a hell of a mind-bending exercise.
But my kids, let alone my grandchildren, are going to have a much harder time stretching their brains to imagine what life was like when I was a kid: no Google, no wireless internet, no cell phones, no iPods, no tablets, no laptops—hell, when I finished elementary school only something like half of all households even had a computer in their home.
We went from inventing flight to landing on the moon in 60 years, but I’m sure whatever internet technology exists 40 years from now is going to trump that accomplishment by an order of magnitude.
I have young, smart, well-informed friends who don’t understand half the things that are happening when they open a web browser; I just introduced one to Ghostery, and it was quite entertaining to see him count out loud in disbelief the number of ad targeting and analytical tools that pop up on some of his most visited websites. He was oblivious to the level of basic ad targeting he was exposed to, and it’s because we’re innovating at a speed greater than ever before in the history of human existence (the recent NSA scandal, of course, being the dark side of this realization).
But what does this speed of innovation mean for marketing professionals? Well, for one, forecasting the future is incredibly difficult. Look at what bloggers were saying in 2009 about the future of the internet marketing: 3 ½ years ago it was a “prediction” that “in the future” social media might integrate itself into business websites.
Listening to this in 2013, it sounds like a bit of a “no s*** Sherlock” moment, but back then—especially within the larger corporate world—higher ups were arguing over whether or not Facebook was a fad, and the idea of opening an online channel that could potentially expose one’s business to public criticism seemed like a terrible idea. Now these companies are scrambling to catch up.
In 2009 we were also making predictions about the future of web design, and the iPad hadn’t even been released yet. Smartphones weren’t a mainstream device, and the idea of mobile-friendly sites was only being thrown around in very tech-forward industries. Mobile marketing has blown up in the past year, and yet we’re starting to realize that fitting tiny banner ads on an iPhone screen isn’t really that effective.
The speed at which we innovate means that as a marketing professional, you’re going to be a student for life. There is always something new to learn, to experiment with, to perfect. Even if you’re just following the herd, you’re going to be changing the way you do business every few years.
In the past, you could go to school or work at an ad agency for a couple years, learn the ropes, and spend the rest of your career essentially repeating the same tasks, while you tried to schmooze your way up the corporate ladder. Occasionally, a visionary would come along and change the game, but the small number of channels and the confines of each channel limited a marketer’s creative potential.
These days it’s a different story. You still need to go to school or spend some time working at the entry level to understand the basic principles of psychology, communication, interaction, etc., but your “marketing tool belt,” that is, the technology and channels through which you interact with consumers, is an ever-changing landscape. Which means regardless of how much experience you have, you’re going to need to have an open mind and keep a close eye on emerging technology, because what happens next week might very well be a game changer.
What does a website look like in 2016? How is it made? What do search, advertising, and social media look like? How are they integrated? How are technical innovations (hardware or software) going to change the way we do business? These are questions that no one has a definite answer for, but they must be questions that you consider if you are running a business or working in marketing. Don’t be afraid to experiment, because the benefits of early adoption often outweigh the risks of being left in the dust.
It’s metaphor o’clock. You ready?
When I was in middle school I joined a competitive tennis club. Occasionally the top player from the high school division would come help out with our practice and play against some of us 1-v-1.
He was the top seed in the region, and I had personally witnessed him destroy some excellent high school players with his 88mph serve and blistering forehand. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous the first time I squared off against him. And by a bit nervous, I mean I was sweating so much that it was hard for me to keep a good grip on my racket.
But then an amazing thing happened. He didn’t break me with his serve. He took some heat off those blistering forehands and placed his returns just within my reach. He hit drop-shots and lobs, forcing me to work to get the ball back to him, rather than blowing me away. In essence, he played down to my level.
When I talked to my dad about the match later he said, “That’s the mark of a good tennis player: someone who can participate at any level.”
Recently I came across this meme on the internet.
It struck me, because so often in my experience (especially within academic settings) the jargon-filled “experts” who’ve read this, built that, and done X, Y, and Z are zealously revered, even when they can’t explain a concept in under 20 minutes without using esoteric terms and vocabulary.
“But, Chris,” you say, “there are times when an expert is so knowledgeable in their field that getting everyone up to their level is a nearly-impossible task. For example, a developer, explaining technical hurdles to their CEO who has been the CEO since before the company even had a website. A physicist explaining their research at a cocktail party. A Literature professor diving into the historical significance of a specific word of a specific line of a specific stanza of a Romantic poem from the 19th century.”
I’m going to defer to Dr. Einstein on this one:
Pretty sure he worked with some complex concepts. Even if your knowledge base/research/product is more complex than the theory of relativity, that shouldn’t prevent you from communicating it’s core concepts to the average Joe.
This isn’t to say that an astrophysicist who can only explain his or her research to other physicists isn’t intelligent, just not as intelligent as one who can explain it to their bus driver.
This “type” of intelligence is a necessary skill in marketing. You have to talk to customers, developers, designers, executives, etc. The range of intelligence, personality, skills, and experience is broad and having the empathy to understand where each person is coming from, and what their specific skills and limitations are, will allow you to adjust your conversations accordingly.
And you need to do your homework. Learn about code, learn the politics of upper management (or the politics of founders/VCs if you’re in startups), understand why spending 3.5 hours making tiny 1-2 pixel borders around the objects on your website might be worthwhile. I’m not saying you have to get to the level where you understand how every single bell and whistle operates, but if you know enough to get the bigger picture it becomes that much easier to communicate the value of your business, product, or service to your (potential) customers. Which is, after all, pretty much the whole point of marketing.
I’m not going to write a full review of this book. The breadth and depth of the information contained within the relatively small number of pages of this book is quite extensive, and covering it all would make for a long and rambling post.
Lean Analytics is an extended walkthrough/tutorial/guide that breaks down and examines important metrics across 6 of different business models (eCommerce, SaaS, Moblie App, Media, User Generated Content, Marketplace) and 5 different business stages (Empathy, Stickiness, Virality, Revenue, Scale). It also contains practical advice to help businesses set goals and plan for success. In essence, it really dives into the MEASURE and LEARN components of the build>measure>learn cycle. And it does it in language that is accessible even to readers who don’t have a statistical, marketing, or technical backgrounds.
Different readers will get different things out of this book. One of the best features, in my opinion, is that after the authors explain the theoretical aspects of a concept, they feature a real-world example to highlight everything they just talked about. Then, they give a short paragraph and/or bullet point breakdown of key lessons learned so that if you didn’t find the section particularly relevant to you or your business (if, for example, it was a section about an early-stage SaaS company and you run a late-stage eCommerce company) you can skip over the tiny details and still get the big picture.
There were a number of small but important facts scattered throughout the book that elicited a small “huh” from me as I read. For example, I learned the speed at which a user invites a friend to try a service is an order of magnitude more important than the number of friends he or she invites total, and without taking this speed into consideration the Viral Coefficient is relatively pointless.
Near the end of the book the authors catalogued a number of baselines for metrics broken down by business model and industry. I had been searching for many of these over the past few months, both for work and for school consulting projects, but I hadn’t had a lot of success.
The authors did a great job of listing baselines for different metrics, but also going a step further to examining what those baselines meant. The most useful for me was their evaluation of the signup rates and subsequent conversion rates for a SaaS companies who ask for credit card info upfront vs. those who don’t.
The Lean series has been adopted by many companies of varying sizes, but the examples used in the books, at least in my limited experience, (I’m only beginning to make my way through the series) pretty much always focus on small startups. Lean Analytics touches, if only for a chapter or two, on the bureaucracy, politics, and special challenges of being a disruptive innovator within a larger organization.
Unless you’ve spent a serious amount of time building startups in many different areas of business (and possibly even if you have) this book is going to teach you something valuable about tracking, evaluating, and improving your business model.
Buy the book it’s worth it.