More of a question than something I have an answer to…
Tried playing the Wii Fit game the other day and found that I weigh 15 lbs more than I did at the beginning of last summer! My goal is to lose it by the end of this year.
There’s only one other time in my life I’ve tried to lose weight before. It was during college, and I was trying to lose 10lbs. It was a dismal failure. Losing weight is HARD! Shortly after that, I went to live on a tall ship for 5 weeks and ended up losing all of that weight plus more, because I was so seasick, I could not eat anything. Perfect way to technically lose pounds, though eating just a few Saltines a day is probably not the healthiest.
Public shaming has helped me reach my exercise goals before, so I’m hoping that by posting my progress (or lack of), I’ll be able to get there. :)
Please comment if you have any ideas on how to lose weight (in a healthy way). Thanks!
Every TechCrunch article makes raising a round look easy, but behind most rounds, it’s a real uphill battle. I struggled with deciding to write about our fundraising story, because I’m a fairly private person. But, since I know so many people trying to raise a seed round right now, I thought this might be able to help a little.
500 Demo Day
Last week, we announced our first birthday at LaunchBit, an ad network for email, as well as our seed round of funding at LaunchBit. We started fundraising just after our Demo Day at 500Startups — *last year*. I think a common misunderstanding is that if you come out of an accelerator such as 500 or YC/TechStars/AngelPad, life is a walk in the park. I don’t know whether I speak for most entrepreneurs, but there’s a lot of persistence that goes into raising a round. I do think that these accelerators can really help A LOT with connections and introductions (from which we’ve benefited immensely), but we still had to hustle our way to and in meetings.
Prior to Demo Day, I spent a few days researching investors on Angel List. I tried to find investors who had portfolio companies in the ads and email verticals. Initially, I created a spreadsheet of ~200 investors, both VCs and angels, whom I thought would really like our round. My co-founder Jennifer and I had decided that I would do all the hustling, and I’d only rope her into meetings if necessary. Afterall, we’d been told that fundraising would be a full time job, and someone needed to work on the actual business. And it was a full time job.
I’d been advised to keep a pipeline full of meetings for about 2 weeks in advance. I didn’t personally know a lot of the people on my list. Our advisor Andrew Chen was immensely helpful in doing introductions, and that’s primarily how I was able to schedule my first two weeks of meetings. While taking those meetings, I knew that I had to schedule more meetings for the following two weeks to continue to keep my pipeline full. So, I started reaching out to people in the 500Family, who were running portfolio companies of investors who were on my list. Sometimes I would meet with entrepreneurs who knew other entrepreneurs whose investors were on my list. In the end, I took 3-6 meetings everyday for about 6 weeks, heavily front-loaded in the first 4 weeks. This means that I went to meetings during the day, sent emails to schedule/coordinate more meetings in between meetings, and caught up on work at night. Lots of nearly all-nighters for 4 weeks. In the end, I met with about 90+ investors, both angels and VCs.
Keeping my pipeline full of meetings was critical for two reasons. 1) I soon learned that lots of investors liked to reschedule meetings at the last minute to meet with other seemingly “hotter” entrepreneurs. Having a full pipeline gave me leverage to say, “Well, we can move our meeting, but my schedule is so booked — I don’t know if our round will still be open by the rescheduled date.” This ultimately caused some investors to un-cancel our meetings. Conversely, 2) by keeping our pipeline full, it also gave us leverage in setting up meetings. If a VC told us the soonest they could meet with us was in 3 weeks, I would say that “I’m not sure if our round will be open by then…” This would cause the VC to move other meetings with other entrepreneurs to meet with us sooner.
I had one very well-known VC partner move my meeting with him 3 times. On the third time, I told his executive assistant that it wasn’t worth meeting at all and that it didn’t seem like he respected my time. All of a sudden, I had a meeting with him that very moment. He told me to follow up with his executive assistant for a second round meeting, but honestly, the disrespect for my time left a bad taste in my mouth, so I didn’t. I was looking for a partner who could help us with more than money, and this was not a good way to start. It’s mind-boggling to me that I get more courtesy from all the prospective customers that I cold-call than from some potential investors.
Urgency is absolutely critical in raising a seed round. Think about it from a pseudo-game theory perspective. Even if an investor loves your deal, what incentive does he/she have to invest right away? He/she is better off waiting to get more information and invest later. The only reason for an investor to invest today is if and only if he/she doesn’t have an opportunity to invest later — because a round is full. So, the only way to encourage investors to invest today is to create urgency — create a possibility that there may not be a chance to invest later.
After taking meetings during the day and catching up on work at night, day in and day out, I was starting to get really exhausted. (Honestly, I have no idea how single founders do this.) By week 4, I went into a meeting with an angel investor. By the end of it, I asked him what he thought. He said, “I don’t want to say the wrong thing and call you a “meek Asian woman”, but I wonder how you’ll lead a company of 100 people.” I was shocked — did I really just hear that? I perked up and asked him what he meant. I looked at him squarely and told him loudly that I have no problem confronting people in difficult situations. At first, I was pissed. What a dumbass! But later, I realized he did me a favor — how many other people consciously or subconsciously thought this about me?
At this point in this blog post, it would be easy to try make a statement about race or gender (or both). Maybe he thought that because I am an Asian woman? Maybe it was because I was tired-looking? Quite frankly, I can speculate all day why he thought I was meek or meek-looking, and I’ll never know. But, what I did know was that it didn’t matter. People will always think what they want, but the important thing was that I realized that I needed to be on my A game — 100% — in my subsequent meetings no matter how tired I was. I had to exude extra excitement and passion in a loud way — more than usual — to combat this opinion, in case others were thinking the same.
By the time week 5 rolled around, I was already sick of fundraising. Stay tuned to find out what happened next…
Special thanks to Omar Seyal of Tagstand, Cathy Edwards of Chomp (acq by Apple), and my teammates Audrey Cu and Jennifer Chin for their feedback and edits on this post.
Photo credit: Pedro Belleza
I run an ad network (for email) called LaunchBit. These days, our advertisers run the gamut — some of our advertisers make billions each year while others are bootstrapped individuals who don’t earn anything right now.
But in beginning, all of our advertisers were startups. I had the rare opportunity to see how some of the fastest growing companies do paid customer acquisition (and compare it with other startups who barely had any customers). This is what I’ve learned from our advertisers:
1) Don’t go for a sale right away
When comparing our “best” advertisers (as defined by successful customer acquisition) with the rest of our advertisers, I noticed a big difference in the kind of landing page advertisers would use. Most of our advertisers would send traffic directly to their home page. In contrast, our best advertisers would create special landing pages with much easier calls to action than a purchase. They would create whitepapers or webinars or have a special freebie that was related to their product/service that people could get simply by signing up for it. Once someone was added to a mailing list, the advertiser would then reach out through email marketing to try to educate and eventually upsell the reader to buy.
If you assume that you can get a direct sale on average 0.1%-1% of the time (depending on the cost of your product/service), in contrast, landing pages with a simple signup will do 10-25% conversions. Assuming our best advertisers can eventually convert just 10-25% of signups to paying customers, you’re still looking at at least a 3-60x increase in eventual conversions over trying to send people to a home page. (obviously very fuzzy math but you get the idea…)
This is not a ground-breaking strategy, but what surprises me is that so many advertisers still try to sell their products/services off a generic homepage. Admittedly, we’ve been guilty of doing this too with our own campaigns on other ad networks! So why do we do this? Because it’s the easy thing to do. Creating extra collateral or content takes time. But, it turns out, this is a big factor in what distinguishes advertising success or not.
2) Test like crazy
The best advertisers test all kinds of marketing channels. But, not only do they test lots of different channels, they also test lots of creative. I mean A LOT. They’ll try images with people’s faces in them, images of nature — there are a million and one permutations. And then, they’ll test changing the hues on each image, taking the same image and slightly dimming it. Not to mention, they’ll test lots of text creative.
Turns out all that effort isn’t in vain. In many number of cases, split testing lots of images will result in a clear winner, sometimes performing an order of magnitude higher click-through-rate than other images, even if the text-copy is the same.
But, that brings me to my last learning, which is that the best advertisers…
3) …Invest $$ to test quickly
The best advertisers think of paid marketing as an investment not an expense. They do paid marketing to quickly get a new cohort of customers to try their product improvements right now - they are ok with the fact that initially their campaigns will likely not be profitable. They are not worried about that. They think of paid marketing as an extension of product development — to get new customers to feed their data pipeline to shape their product. That’s not to say they don’t care about profitability — they certainly do. But, they are just not worried about the initial losses. They know that to make money, you have to invest it. They’ll optimize their campaigns. And, then after trying for a while, they’ll narrow to the channels that are profitable for them and scale their investment in those channels.
How do you become one of the best advertisers?
Take the time to create landing pages with simple calls to action (such as an email signup) for something really compelling AND relevant to your product. (Note: giving away say free money as an enticing factor will NOT help you upsell your product later unless you are in the business of giving away free money.) You’ll get access to more potential customers.
Set aside time to not only make the landing page but also to try lots of different marketing channels with lots of creative. You might need at least $1k to do this well with an statistically significant results — I know it’s a lot for a bootstrapped startup — I’ve been there. But, it’s an investment in product development — to get you more customers for more quantitative and qualitative feedback to improve product.
I see campaigns all day and have learned a lot through our advertisers. Happy to discuss more about all this over email. Feel free to shoot me a note at elizabeth [at] launchbit [dot] com.
Photo credit: steve conry
One thing that surprised me about running a startup is how much I would get to fly, and I usually love it. So, I figured out how to get free flights inadvertently — just by flying a lot for my startup, LaunchBit. My most notable achievement in this realm was when I got 3 free roundtrip flights for one trip.
I’m going to tell you EVERYTHING I know about how to do this, which admittedly isn’t a whole lot. But, getting free flights isn’t as glamorous as it sounds — in fact, it’s quite painful. But, this can save you a lot of money if you are running a startup.
1) You can get a free flight when an airline can arbitrage your seat.
This is obvious math, but it’s crucial to all this. If you buy a flight for $200 and an airline can turn around and sell that a ticket on that same flight for $700, it makes sense for them to overbook and bump people onto other flights. They can afford to give out vouchers for a couple hundred dollars or a free continental flight with lots of limitations and move people to flights that are not as booked — those would’ve been lost seat-dollars for them.
So if you want to get bumped, you need to increase your probability of getting bumped by flying on the busiest days of the year — days when people are willing to shell out a thousand dollars for a cross-country flight or equivalent to just to hang out with friends or family. Note: I can’t guarantee that you will be bumped — I can only help you increase your odds.
Ok, so busy days include the day or two before most holidays: Christmas and Thanksgiving come to mind. Being bumped means that you will probably miss the actual holiday itself (such as Christmas or Thanksgiving), so you have to be willing to forgo that. Many people might not like to miss the big holidays, but think about “less popular holidays” including the 4th of July, for example, or Memorial Day weekend. A couple weeks ago, I had a flight on July 2nd and got bumped to a later flight with a layover. When I went over to the other gate to check in, my new flight was also overbooked (not sure how they booked me on an overbooked flight?). So, I had another chance to pick up another voucher to be bumped again! This year, I had plans for the 4th with some friends, so I could not continue to be bumped, but this is how you can rack up vouchers and credits. The summer, in general, (outside of holidays) tends to be a busy travel-season, so you also have a high probability of racking up vouchers and credits just by traveling during the summer.
The flip side is that if you keep getting bumped, it means that you can have layovers like crazy and your total trip can take forever! (which is why it’s painful) One way that I’m able to stay productive during these long trips is to buy wifi in the airport (for long layovers) and on the flights themselves. Basically, the airport/airlines becomes your office for the day…
1a) Fly by yourself
This seems obvious, but I’ve rarely seen a scenario where a family of 4 can get bumped. Sometimes, I’ve seen a pair of people traveling together get bumped, but this really works best if it’s just you. Usually, the blocking point for groups is that it’s hard to get everyone in a group rebooked on a new flight, which may only have a 1-2 open seats.
1b) Being first in line to get bumped makes this less painful
As soon as they make the announcement asking for volunteers to be bumped, you should jump to the counter. This means they will get you settled first on the next available airline to your liking. Usually, there are few seats available to bump you to, so you get the dregs of which flight you get bumped to if you are not first in line.
1c) Make sure to get a verbal guarantee that you will get X
X can be a hotel compensation if your bumped flight is the next day. X can be on a flight with no layovers. X can whatever you ask for (and they agree upon), but make sure that someone at the airline company verbally promises this to you. I’ve been burned before by not getting a verbal guarantee.
The way you get your voucher/coupon is by waiting until the flight has left and then the airline books you on a new flight. Once the flight has left, you have no leverage — you are stuck at that airport. Then, since the computer systems at most airlines are so archaic, it may take the airline employee(s) a long time (like 30 min or more) to book you on another flight. And, very often, those limited seats on the flight they told you about may not be available by the time the airline employee is about to book you. So you end up on some much crappier, later flight, and I’ve been burned by this a lot of times. By getting the guarantee — saying you HAVE to be on that flight you agree upon — you either force the airline into getting you on that flight OR you have a reason to complain later to the airline company (keeping reading).
2) Complain to your airline about their mistakes
Like I said, I can only increase your odds of getting bumped by encouraging you to travel during busy times, but I can’t guarantee it. Another way to get vouchers/coupons is to complain to your airline about their mistakes. They will make it up to you by sending you a voucher. This is the most consistent way I’ve been able to get free flights and where the majority of my vouchers come from.
Note: don’t cry wolf — don’t do this if you’ve had a good flight. I’ve never complained to JetBlue, for example. JetBlue knows how to treat its customers. Even if they are behind schedule due to things out of their control, they will make it up to their passengers by doing things like giving out free movies or rolling out snacks in the terminal. They know how to keep their customers happy.
That said, there are a lot of other crappy airlines out there that mess up all the time. If your airline messes up, you should definitely write to them. It is not hard to end up on a crappy airline where they mess up big time. I had a crappy flight experience coming back from SXSW this year. I decided that I wasn’t going to write to the airline to complain, because I didn’t want their free flights/vouchers since I was pretty fed up with my experiences on their airline. Guess what — they sent me a voucher anyway!!
What do you do to hack free flights?
Photo credit: Gary Brownell
Hello world. After a long hiatus from my short-lived blogging career, I’ve decided to come back.
If your startup is anything like mine (LaunchBit, an ad network for email), I’ve found that we’re constantly zig-zagging in various directions. Even if you’ve decided on an idea and have set a general course for your company, there are so many zigs and zags that happen everyday. For example, a few months ago, we were trying to decide what ad formats to support in our network. We started with standard display ads, and then zagged to experiment with something completely different: text ads. And, after those experiments, we ended up adopting that format and building support for it into our platform. Other experiments we’ve tried have been complete failures, and so we’ve entirely scrapped those. When you compound decisions like these multiple times a day over the course of weeks, your startup ship ends up zig zagging a lot from its original position. And, this can be hard for a team — it seems unfocused and like we don’t know what we’re doing.
The truth is — we don’t know what’s going to work until we try it. So how do you message this to your team? How do you get everyone onboard with the idea that you don’t know what you’ll end up doing? I’ve thought about this a lot for the last couple of years, and so I’ve introduced a Ship-Raft(s) framework and tell my team this:
We’re on a tall ship — it’s our current product as we know it. We’re headed for the New World. We think the New World is generally in X direction, but we don’t have a fully resolved map for this. Since we don’t know how long it will take to get there, we need to make sure our ship is well maintained - immediately patch up any leaks that happen and stock up on enough food and resources to keep us going. But at the same time, since we don’t have a nuanced map, we need to build rafts that we can quickly launch into the water to help us explore better routes. We should spend about 20-30% of our time working on rafts, because it’s these rafts that will continuously help us improve. At this stage, we need all of our rafts to be focused on helping us find a better route for our only ship, but someday, when we grow our armada of tall ships, these rafts may be used to explore completely new directions and products. We should absolutely sink our rafts if they aren’t helping us and incorporate the knowledge we learn from our rafts into making our tall ship sail in a better direction.
In our bi-weekly goals meeting, which I structure similarly to my former employer’s OKR meetings, we decide what we need to do for our ship and our rafts. Yes, that’s literally what I call them when I write them down: “ship” and “rafts”. Our ship objectives are about executing more efficiently. We have learned X either from running our ship or from the learnings of our rafts, and so we’ll decide to incorporate Y to make the ship run faster or in a better direction. In some cases it may mean *removing* Y from our ship. Our raft objectives are about discovery — we want to learn more about A, so what’s the minimum that we need to do to accomplish this?
With this Ship-Raft(s) framework, I think we’re able to have a lot more structure amidst the zig-zagging chaos. The ship is supposed to plod on efficiently, and it does. The rafts are supposed to be running around all over the place and get dropped in and pulled out of the water quickly, and this happens too.
How do you keep everyone on the same page amidst chaos at your startup?
The customers we serve at LaunchBit are entrepreneurs, so they tend to be pretty creative in getting what they want. I thought I’d share some of the ways they’ve taught me to be a more effective customer.
1) Just show up. At LaunchBit, we often speak in public, and almost all of our events sell out quickly. When all our tickets are gone, we often get a barrage of requests asking if there are extra tickets. Unfortunately, the answer is almost always no. However, most events, even paid-ones such as ours, have a no-show rate of 5-10%. So for the 1-5 entrepreneurs who just show up to our events on a whim hoping to get a ticket at the door, we always let them in. How can I say no? I can’t say no to someone who tells me they’ve just battled traffic for 30 min dying to see me talk. For free events, your chances are even better, because the no-show rates I’ve seen in a prior life have been upwards to 40%. I now use this trick all the time — don’t ask if you can attend, because the answer is no — just show up.
2) Ask how, not if. Speaking of asks, if you do have to ask for something, ask how, not if, something can be done. Some of our entrepreneurs ask for all kinds of things. I’m opening the floodgates here…but for example, “How can I get the early bird rate?” (even though it’s past the deadline) And again, how can I say no to someone who says he/she really would love to take my class but can’t afford the higher price? I’ve even heard an account of someone who asked the founder of Balsamiq for a free copy of Balsamiq software. The asker mentioned he/she couldn’t afford it but had heard so many great things about the software and wanted to write a raving review on his blog. The Balsamiq founder, of course, sent him a free copy — how could he say no to that? Most rules that companies set up to structure price are arbitrary and are meant to be asked how they can be changed. Obviously, not all asks will work with all companies — you probably can’t write to Bill Gates asking for the newest copy of MSFT Office. But, can you ask for other things of large companies? Most certainly. For example, every time I have a bad experience with a product, I always write to the company asking how I can get a replacement or ask what the company can do about the situation. It doesn’t matter if the product is past warranty or whatnot. The key is to explain how much you love(d) the company and either convey that you want to see how they can help you tell all your friends about their product or convey just how disappointed you were that they had let you down. Obviously, this has to be genuine, so it’s not like you can use this all the time. But, more often than not, people don’t do this when they really should — most companies want to keep you happy, so just ask how they can help you. This is how I’ve received things like hundreds of dollars in travel vouchers, a new cheese grater, a new blender, a new cast iron skillet, a new non-stick frying pan, and all kinds of fees waived or reversed across multiple services in the last two years.
3) Make questions/critiques public. If you are having trouble getting in contact with a company, in this day and age, there are multiple ways to escalate your complaint publicly. Recently, I had an issue with Comcast — after sending them multiple letters/communications over the course of months without any response, I dropped one quick email to the Massachusetts Consumer Complaints department, and that week, I received a phone call from the executive office at Comcast, which took care of the problem right away. Consumer Complaints really works — it took just 10-20 min to write the email, and in a 20 min phone call with Comcast (who called me), everything got resolved. Contrast this with the hours I had spent on-hold with Comcast’s customer service and writing letters and emails to their customer service department. Taking your problem to a 3rd party can expedite issues. An even less time consuming way to do this is to tweet on Twitter. After getting the run around from Sprint for a while, I decided to tweet at Sprint’s Twitter handle to publicly air my issues. Needless to say, they responded within seconds. On the flip side, when people tweet us questions/feedback to our LaunchBit handle, we also respond immediately, because it’s so important for us to be transparent. Every company wants to make sure they look good to the public, so they are much more responsive to these public questions/comments.
I wasn’t at the talk yesterday that spurred on so much ire. So, I’m not going to speak to it. But, I can say this: as the rare entrepreneur who moves from the Silicon Valley to Boston, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the reverse-move and wonder what other web entrepreneurs are thinking when they move to the Valley?
Admittedly, I was skeptical in moving here. We moved to Boston for my husband’s career. Having grown up the in Valley for most of my life, I’d been indoctrinated with the belief that there is no where else in the world so nice and wonderful — both personally and professionally. So, I thought that moving to Boston would be a step-down for my career and my startup, LaunchBit.
Now that I’m here, I’ve been plesantly surprised by what I’ve found, and I had just been plain wrong. Sure, the Valley is a wonderful place. I personally love it because of my family and friends, and I certainly keep my loyalties there when I do things like keep my 650 phone number. But let’s be honest, there are some unspoken big big big problems that make it terrible for the Bay Area web startup community.
1) The traffic. Oh do not even get me started. You have to slog through traffic for 1-2 hours on 101 just to go 5 feet while giving everyone the finger at the same time. Not to mention that as much as I hate MASSholes, California drivers plain and simply can’t drive — slow people always hog the left lane with their granny-styled driving. I am so glad not to have to do any commuting anywhere anymore. These days, I can get to meetings / meetups / work without having to do any of that. I walk for just a few minutes or take the T for just a few minutes. Most convenient thing ever. Sorry BART and Caltrain — I’ve had a relationship with both of you at some point, and you just aren’t all that. Losing hours of your day to traffic is the biggest waste of time ever that I can’t believe entrepreneurs (and other people) put up with.
2) The entrepreneurial community. I’m not sure what the Boston consumer web community was like before I got here. But, there’s a lot of high energy these days that I didn’t realize existed. The consumer web community here is smaller compared to the Bay Area, but it’s very friendly and ambitious as whole. And, I like that. In just the short two months that I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to know a lot of folks in this community and am starting to get to know them better. Though I was quite connected in the Bay Area, the web startup community out there is so big, I never felt like I got to know anyone well whom I didn’t already know. Everyone and their mother is starting a company in the Bay Area, making it less personal. From a selfish perspective, I almost don’t want other entrepreneurs to make the same reverse-move that I did, because I enjoy how the Boston web startup community is today. Because of the small size, there’s a lot greater attention to the camaraderie amongst entrepreneurs that simply isn’t possible in the Bay Area. Entrepreneurs help each other — even people they don’t know — out here.
Case in point: I went to the best entrepreneur-event ever in January. Hands down, the best (and I’ve been to a lot). It’s called the DART Family dinner, organized by Flybridge’s Victoria Song here in Boston and sponsored by a different company each time. It’s a dinner event that happens monthly to bring entrepreneurs and investors together.
On the surface, the concept behind the dinner I attended wasn’t unique, but the execution was. We were seated for dinner at tables of 4 people with a good mix of entrepreneurs and investors at each table. This allowed us to really talk with everyone and build connections that lasted beyond 3 minute conversations. Before and after dinner, people mingled, and I was amazed by just how helpful people were. According to DART co-founder Cort Johnson, the premise of DART is that everyone should leave the dinner having gotten to know almost everyone in the room. And, it really showed — I had never been to a mingling event where everyone was so pro-active in making sure that everyone knew each other. I’m sorry to say — although there are lots of private events in the Bay Area, tight-knit networking events (with the purpose of meeting and getting to know new entrepreneurs) just don’t happen in the Valley.
2b) A central hub. I think one last reason the Boston community has so much energy is that Greenhorn Connect brings it all together. Just like anywhere else, there are always lots of fragmented entrepreneur events, job listings, and blogs. You really need a hub to bring it all together, and Greenhorn, which is about a year old, does that for the Boston area. Founded by Jason Evanish, Greenhorn is basically my way of finding out what is happening in the web startup community around town. There isn’t anything like that in the Bay Area. I used to find out about awesome events through word of mouth, through my friends. And, I have to admit, while it was a bit awesome to learn about events in an underground manner, when you think about it, it really isn’t a great way to bring an entrepreneurial community together.
So, as someone who has grown up and lived in the Bay Area off and on for about 25 years, I want to set the record straight for aspiring web entrepreneurs. Yes, the Bay Area has tons of tech, entrepreneurs, and innovation. Totally agree. You will find great opportunities out there, but the flip-side is that it’s so huge — you can easily get lost/un-noticed amidst all the noise, and as a result, its web startup community is remiss in a number of areas where Boston has managed to excel. So, if you’re web entrepreneur who loves a nearby, close-knit entrepreneurial community, Boston is definitely the place to be.
Happy to chat more in person in either location. I work on LaunchBit at the Cambridge Innovation Center and will be in San Francisco this month speaking at Web 2.0 Expo.
Ok, let’s be honest, I’m a lousy cook. Not only is my food terrible, but I also don’t enjoy cooking — I would prefer to spend my time doing other things. Case in point: before people come over for dinner, they want to know if I’m cooking or if my husband is cooking. And if the former, people suggest going out to eat. For the longest time, I thought the solution was just to work harder at my cooking even though I didn’t enjoy it or enjoy the progress I was making.
But, since I’ve started bootstrapping my internet business with my friend Jennifer, I now think about the world entirely differently. As a bootstrapper, life is about getting the most value out of your limited time. Contrary to what we’re taught as children (or even as adults), life is *not* about hard work. It’s about only doing the things that people will appreciate the most and deliberately deciding *not* to do anything else. (Note: people who work for other people can follow this philosophy at their own risk. :) ) (Double note: this is not to say that bootstrappers should be lazy. They should certainly work hard at running experiments to figure out what valuable activities they should be doing. They just should not be pouring their time into activities that have little to no value. But that’s a whole different blog post.) So, when it comes to cooking, instead of working more or harder at getting better at cooking, I came to realize I was thinking about this all wrong — I should spend *less* time.
In an ideal world, I should spend zero time, since I don’t enjoy anything about cooking. In an ideal world, I would make Curt cook all the time, or order out, or buy frozen dinners, or go out to eat. But Curt can’t cook all the time, and the other meals are just too unhealthy and bad in other ways to be a solution most of the time. So, I had to figure out how to run experiments to hack together meals. These meals would need to 1) Take no more than 20-30 min of my time to make (i.e. if a meal required letting the oven spend 1 hour cooking it, that’s fine, as long as I can leave it be) 2) be healthy, 3) be good enough to serve to other people (i.e. not just cereal out of a box, though too much cereal for dinner might violate #2), and 4) needed to be super simple to make (that’s a technical term).
Most of the time, the things that I find as clever discoveries in life directly pertain to my venture, so it absolutely pains me that I can’t share my “cleverness” with anyone. (not that most normal people find online affiliate arbitrage exciting at all) But, today I can share with you my clever cooking experiments — 2 awesome recipes that fit the above.
1) Roasted asparagus in < 10 min inclusive of prep and cooking time. Yep, this takes less time than baking a frozen pizza, faster than making crappy spaghetti with pre-made sauce from a jar, and faster than running through any Google cafeteria to get food. And, it will taste more awesome than any asparagus you’ve ever had even at a top notch restaurant. (It’s not my recipe — I don’t take the credit — it’s a hodge podge of recipes from the internet that I mixed together)
Things you’ll need:
Get a bunch of asparagus (or more), olive oil, salt, pepper, 1 lemon.
1) Pre-heat oven to broil on HIGH or some high heat like 400 degrees. 2) Chop off bottom hard ends of asparagus. 3) Lay asparagus flat on a foiled baking sheet. 4) Pour a nice heaping of good olive oil all over the asparagus. Make sure all pieces are coated. 5) Pinch salt over them. 6) Grind pepper over them. 7) Cut 1/8 - 1/6 of lemon and squeeze juice on. 8) Optional: if you have an extra 30s, take a knife and scrape some lemon zest on top of the asparagus. Doesn’t matter if it’s sloppy and not on every piece — it’s a great touch that’s the key to making this taste better than any other asparagus dish.
Ok, the oven should be pre-heated by now. This all should’ve taken you < 3 min. Remember, just be sloppy about throwing all these ingredients on the asparagus — no biggie — it will turn out just fine. Put asparagus in the oven. In 7 minutes, it’s done — look for crispy, slightly charred tips to make sure.
2) Baked Tilapia in < 18 min inclusive of prep and cooking time.
Things you’ll need:
Get Tilapia filets — as many as you want to eat/cook. Butter, salt, pepper, 1 lemon.
1) Pre-heat oven on bake to 400 degrees. 2) Lay all your Tilapia pieces flat in some pyrex rectangular container thingy. 3) Cut 1/3 lemon and squeeze juice over about 3 pieces of Tilapia. 4) Put a bit of butter in the microwave for about 30s to melt it. 5) Meanwhile, pinch salt over the Tilapia. 6) Grind pepper over the Tilapia. 7) Butter should be melted — pour over Tilapia. All pieces should be coated with butter.
This should take you < 3 min. Oven should be preheated now. Throw in oven for 15 min. Pull out and eat.
Ok, here’s the other thing about bootstrapping. The strategy is to find something that works in generating value quickly, take advantage of it, and then try to use that same skill or technique in other areas. You’ll notice the recipe for this Tilapia is nearly identical to the asparagus (i.e. salt, pepper, lemon, and some fat), because we already know that flavor combo works. Guess what — this combo works for a whole ton of other foods as well. :)
Have fun not spending time cooking!
Before we moved out of Berkeley office, we had a large sign on our wall that read “What would a frat boy do?” People who came by would always ask about it, and I never really knew how to explain it. But, today I saw an excellent video of a TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg that really sums up this sign. Sandberg’s talk really hit home, because I could relate so well to her points on assertiveness:
I love her example of how she gave a talk at Facebook on this exact topic and told everyone she would only take 2 more questions. But after the two questions, while all the women put their hands down, several men continued to raise their hands. It’s this kind of assertiveness that is so key to getting ahead in business but yet so unnatural to people/women like me who are taught to “play by the rules”. It’s this same assertiveness that turned a startup called Google into a major company, when then VP of sales Tim Armstrong lead his team to camp out at AOL’s headquarters for an entire week until AOL finally agreed to do an Ads deal with them. It’s this same assertiveness (for 21 days) that enabled startup Excite do a deal with Netscape even after Netscape told them no.
This kind of assertiveness doesn’t come naturally, because I was raised to be nice, play by the rules, not be obnoxious, and not annoy people. But, oftentimes when you’re running your own company, you have you break all those rules if you want to be successful. You have to annoy people (in a nice way and sometimes not in a nice way). You have to invite yourself to things when you’re not invited. You have to call or email people a thousand and one times to get attention — all the things my mom taught me not to do. (I suppose my mom never taught me how to use email.) Meanwhile, over the years, both my co-founder and I have noticed that a number of frat boys (not to generalize all frat boys) have shown they’re really good at doing all of those things. So, when it comes to thinking about whether to call XYZ person for the 100th time and it feels like an annoying thing to do, we always check the sign before picking up the phone.
I usually don’t like to post about super personal issues on my blog, but I’m curious if anyone else has bad upper back pains / repetitive stress issues like I do and what you’ve done about it?
Since post-college, I’ve had *terrible* shoulder/upper back pain, on occasion so bad that it would hurt to get out of bed. Some days that pain shoots through my right arm making it hurt terribly to type. Other days it’s just simply manageable but still there. Not to mention that without a good keyboard, there is just no way I could function in my line of work. It pains me to think that I’m only in my 20s, and I have worse back pain than my parents do. Does anyone else have this problem?
I’d seen a couple of doctors and have done some of their back stretches/exercises, but nothing really seemed to work. After struggling with this for 5+ years, I decided I needed to take more drastic action. I decided that I would force myself to go to a gym and pump iron every day until the problem went away (or until I had other pains to distract me :P). Well in just two days, amazingly it’s gone. I don’t want to jinx it, because I’m sure it will come back and be terrible again on some days, but just tons of repetitions of the weight-rowing machines has amazing results! I’m convinced that lifting weights (or rather the result of muscle strengthening) is a great cure to lots of aches and pains. Would love to hear ppl’s thoughts.