On the surface, Starting up is about creating new things using what we have learnt and experienced. When I set out to create a new tool that I envisioned, I immersed myself solely on that project: didn’t we all have learnt that focus is important for any startup effort?
However, one of the biggest drawbacks of being a business oriented entrepreneur is this: we focus so much on the “market”, “customer”, “BUSINESS” etc., all these commercial “beings”, that we forgot how big the real world is.
While I was waiting on my partners to work on their parts, I slowed down and had the opportunity to meet new people, see what others are working on, read more, watch more…in turn, I grew the desire to learn and do more.
Here is my normal trajectory before slowing down: home, coffee shop, coworking space, home
Here is my new trajectory when I had more time: I would walk to SoMa area every other day with my friend, hitting different startup office, going to different meetups, even “creating” happy hours with new people I met. This otherwise “slow” period actually made me busier, both physically and mentally. For example, I came across incredible people like personal development writer Steve Pavlina; Introvert genius Bret Victor, the beautiful mind behind Apple’s many products and so many ground breaking inventions; Early engineers, designers at flickr, movity, trulia, see the incredible data visualizations projects they are working on; I would meet a 22 yr old business prodigy who is re-inventing physical map, first aid kit, and tell the insider story about San Francisco’s private “public space”… I would find these people on twitters and see what other stuff they are working on, who they are tweeting with. Not surprisingly, I would discover @triberr this way, an genius way for small bloggers to reach out to bigger audience accumulatively; I would then compare triberr to other fast growing social media utility tool like @bufferapp and @onlywire…and draw some kind of conclusion that a genuinely useful social media utility tool such as these three tend to see exponential growth in short period of time, reaching global alexa ranking of top 5k, which is more than credible for any legitimate online business entity.
My mind is roaming like crazy as I am writing. Internet super marketer John Chou tweeted a couple days ago: write when you are emotional.
A supposedly slow period completely overwhelmed my mind with all these new things and I suddenly realize: this is my feeling and this is the stuff I need to write about. Before this slow period when I “focus” on my own project, I was struggling to find more interesting websites to look at and I usually have no more than three browsers session open at any given time. Little did I know that I was missing out on real people. Once I “met” and “learnt” about these new people and new ideas, I can relate much more to what they are doing than those read from techcrunch. As I am writing this blog post, I have more than a dozen browser sessions open and more than plenty stuff to read, draw insights and inspiration from.
So, is this information overload a good or bad thing?
To me, It’s more than a good thing. It drives me through these cycles:
seeking out new people and idea –> review and digest new info –> draw insights: 1. How can I apply what I have learnt to my “business”; 2. What new knowledge should I get my hands on learning? (in this recent case, I am considering data visualization application.
Going back to the subject: starting up: is it about learning or creating?
I think both: an entrepreneur sets his/her sights on a specific problem to solve: that is creating. However, without intentionally reaching out to creative source and learning from new, creating process could soon become less interesting, less motivating: I guess that is when doubts are coming back to us especially those with short attention span. I would argue that learning is equally, if not more important than creating. Learning makes us imagine; learning propels us, making us more resourceful;
Learning makes us more emotional; If nothing else, learning makes us become a good story teller – after all, without story who would we become?
Entrepreneurs who give it all to change the world are bold, upbeat, relentless, most of the time. But, sometime, panic moment , the thought of “what if it does not work out” does hit us. It’s the vulnerability side of us. Many things could lead us to think like that, such as others’ comment, project’s status, or maybe even the stock market. It hit me this morning at 2am. I was debugging, testing and speaking to my developer. I am aiming at beta launch within a week, but the site’s UI/visual design problems became more and more visible as it is closer to the deadline. I kept hearing two voices in my head: one being “it’s ok, just launch as is and tell everyone we are improving and this is only beta”, the other being “holy shit, this looks ugly, no one will ever use this shit.”
I went to bed with these scary thoughts, and woke up in the morning only to find the debt ceiling nonsense kept dragging down stock market and my otherwise upbeat portfolio with 15%-profit-in-three-month since I started trading was hit hard and saw profits almost entirely wiped out.
The doubts about the future that consists of uncertainties about my startup and “do I have to sell my stock portfolio” hit hard this morning. It does not help that I am an entrepreneur working from home alone and no one to talk to when it hit.
What would U do? The following is what I am trying:
1. Focus on my startup project: do not let noise such as stock market gets in my head. Focusing can also give me clear pictures about the problems, hence focusing on solutions. Stock wise: as long as your portfolio is solid, do not panic, let it sit and value will show when market calms.
2. Think about the reason I work on my startup project: before the down moment hits, I have full confidence in what I do, I believe in it. Where is that belief? I have to find that back. I find reading my own mission statement, viewing site like mixergy, think about those guys who work on their startup with just 10k to 50k investment from YC, think about exactly how airbnb got started, the difficulties they met, the multiple launches they had, the creativity they showed facing uncertainty. Thinking about all these makes me believe I can do this and I will win.
3. Take a deep breath and take a relaxing walk outside, see real people on the street, hear people talk, smile.
4. Be fearless, be bold, do not be afraid
5. Nourish myself with knowledge: spend 1 to 2 hours a day to watch Techcrunch’s interview show (short), and other leading blogs such as allthingsD, I particularly value listening to what very smart people have to say in the interviews, I can gain tremendous knowledge. Secondly, learn a little new technology 1 hour a day. It makes me feel I am growing. Knowledge will in turn help me to become more fearless (calculated), bold and visionary, which is critical to someone like us who runs our own startups.
I am feeling better already!