Category Archives: Startups

Money, the value of a human, and what it means to apply empathy at scale

I made a lot of money last year.

I don’t have any of it, but I made it.

A significant amount went to the staggering cost of living in San Francisco for close to a year.

Another large chunk went to friends and family for various reasons – art and music projects, trips to see relatives, etc – in other words, I gave it to people who were engaged in growing their careers / passions, their families, and their hearts.

I also tipped more frequently / in higher amounts than I ever have, gave money to charitable orgs, and regularly bought food and other items for folks living on the street (most of the time I do these things quietly and quickly – there’s a more nuanced point about why, which I’ll get to later).

Then, about a month ago, I was laid off. While it wasn’t my favorite moment of the year, it certainly wasn’t the worst either.

Losing a job will definitely make you consider what growth, personal and collective, is about
Losing a job will definitely make you consider what growth, personal and collective, is about

As I write this, I’m helping bootstrap a journalism startup from $0, have a bank account in the low hundreds, and am scratching together freelance writing & content planning/strategy to make my bills.

Oddly, I’m fairly comfortable with the situation – something that surprises even me at times.

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On legacy, and building things that matter

I’m in the midst of a short leave from work to focus on personal matters (my dad is older and I am spending some time thinking about his living situation). 

As I was wrapping up projects and handing off responsibilities before Christmas, my boss half-jokingly said she was afraid that things would fall down while I was gone. I grinned, because, yeah, I’d like to think I’m that valuable…but the truth is that if things did fall apart, I would know I hadn’t done a good job of building structure.

This is something I believe in strongly. I tend to live in the present and don’t spend a lot of time considering what people will think after I’m gone, or hey, really even what they think once I’ve left the room. But I do give a lot of thought to how the things I build will enable others to learn, think, and create structures of their own.

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How scale actually works, becoming more human, and the power of (re)negotiation

Some of the most important things I’ve learned in life were absorbed outside of a classroom or traditional setting.

Most entrepreneur types I’ve met have said the same thing – while other people were following rules, they were making their own.

Of course, I’m more into building models than making absolute statements (“books are dead!” “social media is making us zombies!” “Instagram is making all food taste [better] [worse]”) so you won’t catch me raining fire and brimstone down on anyone.

But I do believe that curiosity, inspiration, and looking for less obvious connections can give us great value.

Here are three things that no one taught me directly, but that I’ve picked up in my travels and that have been immensely useful.

It’s all about scale, but not necessarily scaling up.

In the startup world one of the questions constantly in play is: “will it scale?”

Simplified, this just means that you always want to know if something you are doing now will work when you are much bigger.

It’s a great question, and it’s part of a bigger picture concept that is often overlooked:

To build a company (or life) of consequence you need to understand ecosystem connections, big and small.

This doesn’t mean that you’re stuck on a one-way street when it comes to scale…some things are meant to be small. And even if they aren’t, the building blocks are always worth knowing about.

In science, the relationship between neutrons, protons and electrons is just as important as the relationship between stars and galaxies. Brilliant minds like Einstein, Michio Kaku, and Richard Feynman all understood the importance of this, and in a more modern example you can see it at work in companies like Google, too.

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Men, Women, Tech: Building structure that acknowledges how things are + how they could be

I have a hard time watching women cut other women down to size.

For me it’s painful because I recognize that the hardest thing to overcome in any group of humans is when an insider or influencer calls out someone else as “not a real [line in the sand of your choosing].”

I wrote a more personal piece about this back in April when I addressed my discomfort with Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign.

In that model the very thing that’s supposed to ensure legitimacy — hey, this is someone who’s been there and done that, truly one of us — is used as a weapon against or seperator of other people in the group.

For women in American culture this is a constant problem and it’s embedded in a variety of forums, including the workplace.

As a member of the startup / tech ecosystem, I think about these things a lot. Even in a very far forward part of the economy the concepts of access + “how it’s done / what’s normal” are still strong currents, and instutionalized “isms” are at play. I won’t get into a huge discussion of how that works here, since there are other people doing it better (for a thought provoking, but NSFW [language + trigger warning] run down, check out @Shanley’s piece on how women in tech end up reinforcing patriarchy. I don’t agree with everything she has to say, but there are some indictments there that are hard to refute.

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3 ideas you can steal from startups and use to hack your own life

The word “hack” has a lot of meanings.

If you’re accused of being one, it means you’re churning out poor quality content (either in a more professional environment, or just as a human being generally). The phrase was invented as a way to describe someone who’s working hard, but not adding value. A good sister/brother phrase would be “sucking at life.”

In the startup world it most often refers to anything designed for one purpose that you re-appropriate elsewhere. Think jailbreaking, which is when tech savvy users take a mobile device and make it do something that it wasn’t originally designed for. Another common variation is “growth hacking” which is about finding creative ways to add volume in production, sales, content, etc…

But you can also hack things to work in any part of your life.

Continue reading 3 ideas you can steal from startups and use to hack your own life