I was writing an application to Daily Candy’s Make Your Mark contest and came to the question about what my inspiration is for the mark that I wanted to make (which I will not reveal yet for certain reasons).

I thought about it for a second and remembered an article that a good friend of mine YC sent on October 20th last year, which made me think hard about what I want to do in life. At that time, I had no idea who Paul Graham was. But now I think he’s a legend. This article changed my entire perspective on work and I can never go back to my former state after taking the leap into this new exciting world of discovering the kind of ‘work’ that makes me jump out of bed each morning.

Then just tonight, a young girl JF who’s been following my life story and old college blogs for years, messaged me for advice as she was lost on what she ought to do in life. She’s just finishing up her 2nd year in college and majoring in finance. She claims that she doesn’t know what she wants to do. This was what I responded:

“Girl, no one really ever knows what they want to do in life. You could be 10. 20. 30. 40 and still not know what you want to do. But what you DO know is what you DON’T want to do. And that’s sometimes enough.

Life’s like trial and error. You’ll just have to try different things and switch around quickly if you realize you don’t belong. Eventually, hopefully one day, you’ll discover something that you really like to do. That you LOVE to do.”

I forwarded her the link to Paul’s essay (copied below). Then I began to realize how similar this concept of trying to discover what you love is to Eric Ries‘ lean startup philosophy, which stresses on the process of (i) rapid hypothesis testing (ii) iterating or “pivoting” your model accordingly based on learned responses (ii) creating true value that people actually want (don’t build awesome features that nobody uses).

In real life, when applied to the idea of creating your career (which is essentially like creating your company), one should go out to the world as soon as possible to test if their ‘hypothesis’ about what they’ve chosen as a major is anything like what they thought it’s like in their minds. If you realize it isn’t, don’t fret, get upset or feel as though you’ve wasted your college degree. It’s sunk cost. No one knows what they want in life, remember? What makes you think a high school kid does?

Now, just ‘iterate’ quickly and repeat until you find something that is of true value to you and your community/society. At the end of the day, most people want to contribute back and do something that has an impact. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘building out perfect features before launching’ (as is the problem with most failed startup) i.e. don’t get sucked into a job because of prestige/money/laziness, thinking that you’ll hang onto it until you save up enough money or until you are ‘ready’ to take the leap to do something you love (eg. writing a novel). What if you then realize, at 40, that you don’t actually like writing novels? You wasted all those years only to now have to discover again, at 40, what you truly love doing?

This comparison between lean startup and what I now coin as a “lean career path” might seem like a stretch, but what the heck. I truly believe in it!

Here’s the full feature of Paul Graham’s essay. Quite a long read, but worth every minute.

How to Do What You Love
by Paul Graham

January 2006

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We’ve got it down to four words: “Do what you love.” But it’s not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.

The very idea is foreign to what most of us learn as kids. When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing. Occasionally the things adults made you do were fun, just as, occasionally, playing wasn’t—for example, if you fell and hurt yourself. But except for these few anomalous cases, work was pretty much defined as not-fun.

And it did not seem to be an accident. School, it was implied, was tedious because it was preparation for grownup work.

The world then was divided into two groups, grownups and kids. Grownups, like some kind of cursed race, had to work. Kids didn’t, but they did have to go to school, which was a dilute version of work meant to prepare us for the real thing. Much as we disliked school, the grownups all agreed that grownup work was worse, and that we had it easy.

Teachers in particular all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn’t fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodgeball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn’t just do what you wanted.

I’m not saying we should let little kids do whatever they want. They may have to be made to work on certain things. But if we make kids work on dull stuff, it might be wise to tell them that tediousness is not the defining quality of work, and indeed that the reason they have to work on dull stuff now is so they can work on more interesting stuff later. [1]

Once, when I was about 9 or 10, my father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water. Whatever I thought he meant, I didn’t think he meant work could literally be fun—fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that.


By high school, the prospect of an actual job was on the horizon. Adults would sometimes come to speak to us about their work, or we would go to see them at work. It was always understood that they enjoyed what they did. In retrospect I think one may have: the private jet pilot. But I don’t think the bank manager really did.

The main reason they all acted as if they enjoyed their work was presumably the upper-middle class convention that you’re supposed to. It would not merely be bad for your career to say that you despised your job, but a social faux-pas.

Why is it conventional to pretend to like what you do? The first sentence of this essay explains that. If you have to like something to do it well, then the most successful people will all like what they do. That’s where the upper-middle class tradition comes from. Just as houses all over America are full of chairs that are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of chairs designed 250 years ago for French kings, conventional attitudes about work are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of the attitudes of people who’ve done great things.

What a recipe for alienation. By the time they reach an age to think about what they’d like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one’s work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. Having a job is said to be even more onerous than schoolwork. And yet all the adults claim to like what they do. You can’t blame kids for thinking “I am not like these people; I am not suited to this world.”

Actually they’ve been told three lies: the stuff they’ve been taught to regard as work in school is not real work; grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork; and many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids’ own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. [2] Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house. [3]

It was not till I was in college that the idea of work finally broke free from the idea of making a living. Then the important question became not how to make money, but what to work on. Ideally these coincided, but some spectacular boundary cases (like Einstein in the patent office) proved they weren’t identical.

The definition of work was now to make some original contribution to the world, and in the process not to starve. But after the habit of so many years my idea of work still included a large component of pain. Work still seemed to require discipline, because only hard problems yielded grand results, and hard problems couldn’t literally be fun. Surely one had to force oneself to work on them.

If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong. That about sums up my experience of graduate school.


How much are you supposed to like what you do? Unless you know that, you don’t know when to stop searching. And if, like most people, you underestimate it, you’ll tend to stop searching too early. You’ll end up doing something chosen for you by your parents, or the desire to make money, or prestige—or sheer inertia.

Here’s an upper bound: Do what you love doesn’t mean, do what you would like to do most this second. Even Einstein probably had moments when he wanted to have a cup of coffee, but told himself he ought to finish what he was working on first.

It used to perplex me when I read about people who liked what they did so much that there was nothing they’d rather do. There didn’t seem to be any sort of work I liked that much. If I had a choice of (a) spending the next hour working on something or (b) be teleported to Rome and spend the next hour wandering about, was there any sort of work I’d prefer? Honestly, no.

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

Unproductive pleasures pall eventually. After a while you get tired of lying on the beach. If you want to stay happy, you have to do something.

As a lower bound, you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure. You have to like what you do enough that the concept of “spare time” seems mistaken. Which is not to say you have to spend all your time working. You can only work so much before you get tired and start to screw up. Then you want to do something else—even something mindless. But you don’t regard this time as the prize and the time you spend working as the pain you endure to earn it.

I put the lower bound there for practical reasons. If your work is not your favorite thing to do, you’ll have terrible problems with procrastination. You’ll have to force yourself to work, and when you resort to that the results are distinctly inferior.

To be happy I think you have to be doing something you not only enjoy, but admire. You have to be able to say, at the end, wow, that’s pretty cool. This doesn’t mean you have to make something. If you learn how to hang glide, or to speak a foreign language fluently, that will be enough to make you say, for a while at least, wow, that’s pretty cool. What there has to be is a test.

So one thing that falls just short of the standard, I think, is reading books. Except for some books in math and the hard sciences, there’s no test of how well you’ve read a book, and that’s why merely reading books doesn’t quite feel like work. You have to do something with what you’ve read to feel productive.

I think the best test is one Gino Lee taught me: to try to do things that would make your friends say wow. But it probably wouldn’t start to work properly till about age 22, because most people haven’t had a big enough sample to pick friends from before then.


What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know? [4]

This is easy advice to give. It’s hard to follow, especially when you’re young. [5] Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

That’s what leads people to try to write novels, for example. They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you’re going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies.

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.

Similarly, if you admire two kinds of work equally, but one is more prestigious, you should probably choose the other. Your opinions about what’s admirable are always going to be slightly influenced by prestige, so if the two seem equal to you, you probably have more genuine admiration for the less prestigious one.

The other big force leading people astray is money. Money by itself is not that dangerous. When something pays well but is regarded with contempt, like telemarketing, or prostitution, or personal injury litigation, ambitious people aren’t tempted by it. That kind of work ends up being done by people who are “just trying to make a living.” (Tip: avoid any field whose practitioners say this.) The danger is when money is combined with prestige, as in, say, corporate law, or medicine. A comparatively safe and prosperous career with some automatic baseline prestige is dangerously tempting to someone young, who hasn’t thought much about what they really like.

The test of whether people love what they do is whether they’d do it even if they weren’t paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?

This test is especially helpful in deciding between different kinds of academic work, because fields vary greatly in this respect. Most good mathematicians would work on math even if there were no jobs as math professors, whereas in the departments at the other end of the spectrum, the availability of teaching jobs is the driver: people would rather be English professors than work in ad agencies, and publishing papers is the way you compete for such jobs. Math would happen without math departments, but it is the existence of English majors, and therefore jobs teaching them, that calls into being all those thousands of dreary papers about gender and identity in the novels of Conrad. No one does that kind of thing for fun.

The advice of parents will tend to err on the side of money. It seems safe to say there are more undergrads who want to be novelists and whose parents want them to be doctors than who want to be doctors and whose parents want them to be novelists. The kids think their parents are “materialistic.” Not necessarily. All parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would for themselves, simply because, as parents, they share risks more than rewards. If your eight year old son decides to climb a tall tree, or your teenage daughter decides to date the local bad boy, you won’t get a share in the excitement, but if your son falls, or your daughter gets pregnant, you’ll have to deal with the consequences.


With such powerful forces leading us astray, it’s not surprising we find it so hard to discover what we like to work on. Most people are doomed in childhood by accepting the axiom that work = pain. Those who escape this are nearly all lured onto the rocks by prestige or money. How many even discover something they love to work on? A few hundred thousand, perhaps, out of billions.

It’s hard to find work you love; it must be, if so few do. So don’t underestimate this task. And don’t feel bad if you haven’t succeeded yet. In fact, if you admit to yourself that you’re discontented, you’re a step ahead of most people, who are still in denial. If you’re surrounded by colleagues who claim to enjoy work that you find contemptible, odds are they’re lying to themselves. Not necessarily, but probably.

Although doing great work takes less discipline than people think—because the way to do great work is to find something you like so much that you don’t have to force yourself to do it—finding work you love does usually require discipline. Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to do when they’re 12, and just glide along as if they were on railroad tracks. But this seems the exception. More often people who do great things have careers with the trajectory of a ping-pong ball. They go to school to study A, drop out and get a job doing B, and then become famous for C after taking it up on the side.

Sometimes jumping from one sort of work to another is a sign of energy, and sometimes it’s a sign of laziness. Are you dropping out, or boldly carving a new path? You often can’t tell yourself. Plenty of people who will later do great things seem to be disappointments early on, when they’re trying to find their niche.

Is there some test you can use to keep yourself honest? One is to try to do a good job at whatever you’re doing, even if you don’t like it. Then at least you’ll know you’re not using dissatisfaction as an excuse for being lazy. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll get into the habit of doing things well.

Another test you can use is: always produce. For example, if you have a day job you don’t take seriously because you plan to be a novelist, are you producing? Are you writing pages of fiction, however bad? As long as you’re producing, you’ll know you’re not merely using the hazy vision of the grand novel you plan to write one day as an opiate. The view of it will be obstructed by the all too palpably flawed one you’re actually writing.

“Always produce” is also a heuristic for finding the work you love. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you’re supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. “Always produce” will discover your life’s work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.

Of course, figuring out what you like to work on doesn’t mean you get to work on it. That’s a separate question. And if you’re ambitious you have to keep them separate: you have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible. [6]

It’s painful to keep them apart, because it’s painful to observe the gap between them. So most people pre-emptively lower their expectations. For example, if you asked random people on the street if they’d like to be able to draw like Leonardo, you’d find most would say something like “Oh, I can’t draw.” This is more a statement of intention than fact; it means, I’m not going to try. Because the fact is, if you took a random person off the street and somehow got them to work as hard as they possibly could at drawing for the next twenty years, they’d get surprisingly far. But it would require a great moral effort; it would mean staring failure in the eye every day for years. And so to protect themselves people say “I can’t.”

Another related line you often hear is that not everyone can do work they love—that someone has to do the unpleasant jobs. Really? How do you make them? In the US the only mechanism for forcing people to do unpleasant jobs is the draft, and that hasn’t been invoked for over 30 years. All we can do is encourage people to do unpleasant work, with money and prestige.

If there’s something people still won’t do, it seems as if society just has to make do without. That’s what happened with domestic servants. For millennia that was the canonical example of a job “someone had to do.” And yet in the mid twentieth century servants practically disappeared in rich countries, and the rich have just had to do without.

So while there may be some things someone has to do, there’s a good chance anyone saying that about any particular job is mistaken. Most unpleasant jobs would either get automated or go undone if no one were willing to do them.

Two Routes

There’s another sense of “not everyone can do work they love” that’s all too true, however. One has to make a living, and it’s hard to get paid for doing work you love. There are two routes to that destination:

The organic route: as you become more eminent, gradually to increase the parts of your job that you like at the expense of those you don’t.

The two-job route: to work at things you don’t like to get money to work on things you do.

The organic route is more common. It happens naturally to anyone who does good work. A young architect has to take whatever work he can get, but if he does well he’ll gradually be in a position to pick and choose among projects. The disadvantage of this route is that it’s slow and uncertain. Even tenure is not real freedom.

The two-job route has several variants depending on how long you work for money at a time. At one extreme is the “day job,” where you work regular hours at one job to make money, and work on what you love in your spare time. At the other extreme you work at something till you make enough not to have to work for money again.

The two-job route is less common than the organic route, because it requires a deliberate choice. It’s also more dangerous. Life tends to get more expensive as you get older, so it’s easy to get sucked into working longer than you expected at the money job. Worse still, anything you work on changes you. If you work too long on tedious stuff, it will rot your brain. And the best paying jobs are most dangerous, because they require your full attention.

The advantage of the two-job route is that it lets you jump over obstacles. The landscape of possible jobs isn’t flat; there are walls of varying heights between different kinds of work. [7] The trick of maximizing the parts of your job that you like can get you from architecture to product design, but not, probably, to music. If you make money doing one thing and then work on another, you have more freedom of choice.

Which route should you take? That depends on how sure you are of what you want to do, how good you are at taking orders, how much risk you can stand, and the odds that anyone will pay (in your lifetime) for what you want to do. If you’re sure of the general area you want to work in and it’s something people are likely to pay you for, then you should probably take the organic route. But if you don’t know what you want to work on, or don’t like to take orders, you may want to take the two-job route, if you can stand the risk.

Don’t decide too soon. Kids who know early what they want to do seem impressive, as if they got the answer to some math question before the other kids. They have an answer, certainly, but odds are it’s wrong.

A friend of mine who is a quite successful doctor complains constantly about her job. When people applying to medical school ask her for advice, she wants to shake them and yell “Don’t do it!” (But she never does.) How did she get into this fix? In high school she already wanted to be a doctor. And she is so ambitious and determined that she overcame every obstacle along the way—including, unfortunately, not liking it.

Now she has a life chosen for her by a high-school kid.

When you’re young, you’re given the impression that you’ll get enough information to make each choice before you need to make it. But this is certainly not so with work. When you’re deciding what to do, you have to operate on ridiculously incomplete information. Even in college you get little idea what various types of work are like. At best you may have a couple internships, but not all jobs offer internships, and those that do don’t teach you much more about the work than being a batboy teaches you about playing baseball.

In the design of lives, as in the design of most other things, you get better results if you use flexible media. So unless you’re fairly sure what you want to do, your best bet may be to choose a type of work that could turn into either an organic or two-job career. That was probably part of the reason I chose computers. You can be a professor, or make a lot of money, or morph it into any number of other kinds of work.

It’s also wise, early on, to seek jobs that let you do many different things, so you can learn faster what various kinds of work are like. Conversely, the extreme version of the two-job route is dangerous because it teaches you so little about what you like. If you work hard at being a bond trader for ten years, thinking that you’ll quit and write novels when you have enough money, what happens when you quit and then discover that you don’t actually like writing novels?

Most people would say, I’d take that problem. Give me a million dollars and I’ll figure out what to do. But it’s harder than it looks. Constraints give your life shape. Remove them and most people have no idea what to do: look at what happens to those who win lotteries or inherit money. Much as everyone thinks they want financial security, the happiest people are not those who have it, but those who like what they do. So a plan that promises freedom at the expense of knowing what to do with it may not be as good as it seems.

Whichever route you take, expect a struggle. Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail. Even if you succeed, it’s rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight you’ll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you’re in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you’re practically there.


[1] Currently we do the opposite: when we make kids do boring work, like arithmetic drills, instead of admitting frankly that it’s boring, we try to disguise it with superficial decorations.

[2] One father told me about a related phenomenon: he found himself concealing from his family how much he liked his work. When he wanted to go to work on a saturday, he found it easier to say that it was because he “had to” for some reason, rather than admitting he preferred to work than stay home with them.

[3] Something similar happens with suburbs. Parents move to suburbs to raise their kids in a safe environment, but suburbs are so dull and artificial that by the time they’re fifteen the kids are convinced the whole world is boring.

[4] I’m not saying friends should be the only audience for your work. The more people you can help, the better. But friends should be your compass.

[5] Donald Hall said young would-be poets were mistaken to be so obsessed with being published. But you can imagine what it would do for a 24 year old to get a poem published in The New Yorker. Now to people he meets at parties he’s a real poet. Actually he’s no better or worse than he was before, but to a clueless audience like that, the approval of an official authority makes all the difference. So it’s a harder problem than Hall realizes. The reason the young care so much about prestige is that the people they want to impress are not very discerning.

[6] This is isomorphic to the principle that you should prevent your beliefs about how things are from being contaminated by how you wish they were. Most people let them mix pretty promiscuously. The continuing popularity of religion is the most visible index of that.

[7] A more accurate metaphor would be to say that the graph of jobs is not very well connected.

Thanks to Trevor Blackwell, Dan Friedman, Sarah Harlin, Jessica Livingston, Jackie McDonough, Robert Morris, Peter Norvig, David Sloo, and Aaron Swartz for reading drafts of this.

Building Custom Web Apps Right and Fast: Why rapid prototyping with Sketchflow and user research are the keys to success

Format: Free Webinar
Instructor: John Whalen PhD, Director, User Experience & Design, e.magination
Date: Thursday, May 27, 2010
Time: 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm EST
Place: Online Webinar
Fee: Free! Limited availability so register early.


In many cases the exact business requirements are ill defined, but the deadline for completion is not. We’ll demonstrate new software – Microsoft Sketchflow – and rapidly create a clickable prototype live with real transitions and flow. We will describe how the combination of rapid “sketching” combined with end-user research can rapidly move your project forward and provide the requirements needed for the actual build. Learn how prototyping can shorten your development lifecycle and simultaneously improve customer experience.

Read the rest of this entry »

Are you ready for an unforgettable evening of entrepreneurial drive, wine, social media, passion and hustle? Entrepreneur, New York Times & Wall Street Journal best-selling author, and self-trained wine & social media expert, Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) will be talking with 85 Broads on June 22, 2010 about how to Crush It! and why now is the time to cash in on your passion.


Bloomberg LLP
732 Lexington Avenue
(Between 58th & 59th Streets)
New York, NY

Date: Tuesday, June 22, 2010
6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Members: $45.00
Non-Members: $75.00
Member + Guest: $80.00

Guests welcome.
RSVP by June 14, 2010.
No registrations will be accepted after this date.

Read the rest of this entry »

If you have aspirations to start your own business, watch the video as Ravikant discusses:

  • The three traits you need to look for in a partner
  • How important it is to be in Silicon Valley
  • How to get a meeting with an investor
  • Whether you should be public or private with your idea

Some excerpts that I love from the video:

3 Traits of a Successful Entrepreneur:

(i) Passionate (ii) Irrationally Optimistic (iii) Highly Committed

Best Advice Ever:

It’s the people, stupid

Find a great partner:

(i) High Intelligence (ii) High Energy (iii) High Integrity

Keep your ideas private or public?

Always public. That’s what separates the amateurs from the experienced.

Why most companies fail:

It all comes down to people problems. Interpersonal conflicts. Surprising, but ironic.

Show. Don’t tell. Be a doer, not a talker. (what have you built, how much have you accomplished with limited resources?)

Watch the video here.

One of the most important indicators of how well someone will do in their career is how strong their circle of mentors is. Those who have mentors are twice as likely to be promoted as those who don’t.  You need a wide range of mentors, and you need different mentors at different times in your life.

I’ve been very very lucky to have recently found mentors that I highly respect, trust and look up to. You want to build a network of mentors whom truly cares about your well-being and success and vice versa, not just someone that you go to when you need them.

Never ask someone if they can be your mentor. The thing is that having a mentor is nothing but asking questions. So why waste time asking a question like “Will you be my mentor?” You get no value out of the answer. Just ask a real question. Almost anyone will answer a good question. Successful people genuinely want to help others succeed.

Establish a good relationship to start, maintain & build an engaging relationship, ask enough intelligent well-thought-out (but concise) questions throughout, and your mentor will become your mentor before you even know it.

But above all, leverage your network and be brave. You will only get mentors if you really want them.

I’m signed up for this although I’ll be in Beijing…

The Subtleties of Customer Acquisition

Wednesday, May 26, 10-11am PDT
Speaker: Gene Hoffman, Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Vindicia
Much has been written about customer acquisition in an online business. There are entire books devoted to this topic. However, an area not fully explored is the close connection among the worlds of payments, billing, and online marketing, and the resulting impact on digital merchants.  Read more and register.

Space is limited!  For more information and to register to attend, please visit our 2010 Webinar Series page.

Diana Sonis and I had the pleasure of presenting Danielle LaPorte (of White Hot Truth) as our first speaker in 85 Broads Entrepreneurship Forum Spring Calendar yesterday at noon. The jam session was very successful; we had a great turnout online and many excellent questions were asked during the QandA session.

Danielle is truly one charismatic and inspirational speaker. What she has to say speaks volumes to the bare truths out there; her presentation was succinct but powerful, memorable and relatively easy to apply.

The Problem

Before she started with her presentation, she mentioned that the reason why most people are unhappy with their jobs is because:

We’re not being intentional with what we’re good at. We don’t focus on our innate and true strengths. These are things you do that strengthens you. Stop doing things we’re mediocre at. Our weaknesses are things that makes us feel drained.

I find that extremely true. I’ve always had this mantra that people can only contribute back to the community (in a creative and value-added way) if they do what they’re good at or what they’re passionate about for a living. Unfortunately, most of us are trapped in the path that we unintentionally set for ourselves ever since we graduated from college with that first job that we took. After 3 jobs in different companies (small, mid-sized and now large), I cannot say that I have a successful career so far and neither am I proud of what I do for a living right now (as a management consultant with a Big 4 Accounting Firm). And that’s because I feel like I am ‘faking’ it. I’m not doing what I’m naturally good at. I’m not even doing what I’m remotely interested in. And this is how I know that I need to pursue that “dream” job of mine and fulfill my entrepreneurial spirit and hunger.

Definition of an Entrepreneur

Sure, one could say that an entrepreneur is “someone who doesn’t want to be told what to do.” But really, it’s just anybody who just wants to start.

Read the rest of this entry »

I just registered for a few free classes at Noble Desktop, located in SoHo. I figured that since I’m starting a web-based company, I should learn some basic graphic and web designing skills/tools so that I can easily make changes to my website instead of relying on an outsider.

Let me know if you are interested in attending any of these with me.

Here’s what I signed up for:

How to Get Started in Web Design, Wed, Jun 9, 6-8pm
Easy Ecommerce: PayPal Shopping Carts, Ads & Analytics, Thu, Jul 8, 6-8pm
HTML Email, Mon, Jul 12, 6-8pm
Dreamweaver and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), Thu, Jul 15, 6-8pm
Intro to Adobe Fireworks, Wed, Aug 4, 6-8pm
Marketing Through Google (Free and Pay-Per-Click), Mon, Aug 9, 6-8pm
Expert Typography for Print and Web, Thu, Oct 21, 6-8pm

I received my first landing page web design mockup this morning and words couldn’t describe how ecstatic I felt about it. My start up is slowly inching its way to reality and I can finally visualize it. I can almost smell it!! I couldn’t help but grin all day… this is how I know what ignites the fire in me, what creates that sparkle in my eye. This is what I call passion projects. It makes me whole and I now know this is what I’m destined to do. I am no longer an aspiring entrepreneur. I am an entrepreneur.


p/s: If you can offer me advise and guidance on alpha/beta testing, please kindly reach out to me at http://www.deliciouslyhaute@gmail.com if you’d like to help! Thanks!!

Just reposting this blog entry from Adam’s Blog since I think it’s a pretty good summary of Eric Ries’ lean start up concept:

Startup Lessons Learned

entrepreneurship leanstartup methodology organizations

Fri Apr 30 12:19:55 -0700 2010

Like many folks in the startup crowd, I’m a reader of Eric Ries’ blog (some links), and I’ve read Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany. What I didn’t know is that these guys have joined forces to build a movement they are calling “lean startups.” After attending the Startup Lessons Learned conference last week, I now believe this methodology is on its way to making a major impact on the world of entrepreneurship.

Lean startup methodology has a lot in common with agile. But where agile applies to software, lean startups applies to customers and markets. Customer discovery, validation of markets, iteration on product, and intensive customer feedback are all part of the lean startup.

The energy at the conference reminded me of what Ruby conferences were like a few years ago. Charismatic, passionate, opinionated leaders draw together a crowd of strangers; and then those strangers look around to realize they are surrounded by people that share their passions. It’s the birth of community.

I took some notes during some of the talks. What follows are some of the quotes I jotted down, and some commentary.

Randy Komisar on Pivots

Randy Komisar wrote Getting to Plan B: Breaking Through to a Better Business Model. His thesis is: your first idea never works, but that’s ok. What’s really important is getting to the next idea, and the next and the next, zeroing in on something that will work – and all of this as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Transitioning between plans is called a pivot, a word that was in heavy use by most of the speakers at the conference.

Some quotes from Komisar:

  • “Plan A never works”
  • “‘Lean’ means get to the right answer with as little time and money as possible”
  • “I invest in people irrationally committed to a purpose” – Founders believe in a vision; maximizing their personal wealth is a side-effect, not a primary purpose. Being an entrepreneur is not a good way to make money, even though some people strike it rich.
  • “Leap of faith question” – The premise your startup is built on. What question can you ask, where the answer will make or break your business? For example, “People will pay more for outstanding design” might have been Apple’s leap of faith in the 2000s. “People will switch to using personal productivity software on the web” could have been 37Signals’ leap of faith.
  • “Once you decide to change, you will always wish you changed earlier”
  • “Everything is derivative – that’s not a bad thing. Steal liberally”
  • “We’ve got to zig and zag through the realities of the opportunities in front of us and the information they are giving us” – Founders aren’t founders because they know what to do. They’re founders because they can figure out what to do, quickly, in the face of rapidly changing information. This is why, for example, fixed business plans are of no use in a startup.

During the discussion with Randy, Eric Ries used the term “success theater” to describe what happens in boardrooms when plan A starts to go south. Instead of admitting “what we’re doing isn’t working, we need to try something else,” founders dress up the trajectory of the business in false clothes. This doesn’t help anyone in the long term.

Pivots are what startups do. The sooner that investors, founders, early employees, and early customers come to grips with this, the less heartache needs to surround each pivot, and the quicker you can get to the right answer.

Steve Blank on Entrepreneurship

Much as I like Four Steps to the Epiphany, I’ve never gotten much value from Steve Blank’s blog – so I wasn’t expecting much from his talk. To my surprise, I was absolutely riveted. While Eric Ries is the father of the lean startup movement, Steve Blank is a very active and hands-on grandfather. His presentation was both enlightening and inspiring.

There was so much good stuff in this talk it’s hard to capture it all. A few quotes:

  • “A startup is a search for a scalable, repeatable business model”
  • “No business plan survives first contact with customers”
  • “Startups search and pivot. Large companies execute.”
  • “Founders make order from chaos”
  • “Lean startup is the first business methodology that is being crowdsourced and developed iteratively – we’re collectively getting smarter at a scary rate”
  • “My personal goal is to change the state of entrepreneurial education in the United States”
  • “In the 1950s, Venture Capital was called Adventure Capital”

Blank lays out the lifecycle of a scalable startup in three phases: search, build, grow.

  • Search – The one and only mission of the company in its early life is to search for a scalable business model. Nothing else matters. Small team, little to no management, very little of the formal trappings of a company. Staying lean, nimble, and chaotic is how you search rapidly. Formality and structure only slow you down.
  • Build – Once the business model is found (in technology, this usually comes in the form of a software product that people love and have demonstrated willingness to pay for) the company starts to build out. Here the team is expanding, infrastructure is being put in place, branding and market position clarified. The organization goes from feeling like a ragtag band of buddies working on something made out of passion and elbow grease, and to something that feels like a “real” company.
  • Growth – Everything is figured out, the company’s direction is decided: it’s now a matter of turning up the volume and continuing the business model on increasingly large scales. This is generally where the founders and many of the early employees of the company will make an exit. There are examples of founders who have stayed on through the final phase: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison. But these guys are the exception, not the rule (and that’s part of what they are famous). Founders need to be aware of, and prepared for, the likelihood that success means they have made themselves irrelevant in the organization they have built.

A Tale of Two Businessmen

Blank closed with a fascinating story about two figures involved in the early life of General Motors. The first was Alfred Sloan. Sloan was the CEO of GM Motors in the early part of the 20th century. He’s widely recognized as the man that took GM to being the largest company in the world. Many business schools are named after him, and his managerial style was considered to be a pioneering approach that defined the new business of the 20th century.

The other player in this story is virtually unknown: Billy Durant. Durant founded GM and took it up to $3.6 billion in revenue (that number is adjusted for today’s dollars, if I’m recalling correctly). He was then fired by the board of directors, and he left to found Chevrolet. He quickly grew that company until it was bigger than GM, and then he bought GM. This guy was the Steve Jobs of his day – why don’t we remember him?

The answer is that the last century of business education has focused almost entirely on the last stage of a company’s life. Business degrees are MBAs, which Blank cautions are useless or perhaps even harmful in the early life of a startup. (MBAs working at a startup will try to apply their knowledge, creating structure and formality at a time when that’s the worst possible thing you can do.) Blank feels that entrepreneurial education should be separate from business education – B-schools can give out MBAs, and E-schools should give out MEAs.

He argues we’ve seen the first glimpse of this in the past several years, pioneered by Y Combinator. Blank points out that there are now over 100 (!) YC clones in operation, proof of the huge thirst for startup-focused education. He has a goal of bringing this entrepreneurial education into a more academic setting as well.

While he hasn’t done this yet (though he sounds quite serious about it), he offers up a small bit of entertainment to tide us over: the Durant School of Entrepreneurship, available in T-shirt form.

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