Weekly Review #44: Stranger gatherings, NewCo festival, and LA ostentation

I went to a lot of socializing with strangers events this week (I suppose you could call it networking, but it wasn’t specifically job related). First was the Stanford Salon, a casual and intimate affair on Stanford campus every Monday facilitated by a few CS graduates who have taken it upon themselves to present their lifehacking knowledge to others. Accordingly, we played some theatre improv games and listened to a management consultant talk about influence.

Next up was a Tea With Strangers Open House, that service started by a Penn grad who just wanted to meet more  interesting people. Both this event and the Salon were very effective at curating exclusively high achieving intellectual clientele while being technically open to the public, which is no easy feat. I theorize it is because both are based around the social networks on one key person, who started the event, told their friends, who then told their friends. Thus while everyone is indeed strangers, they are only a few connections away from one another, which means they’re all similar open minded, tech savvy, and curious. Plus anyone who is interested in meeting strangers is going to like others interested in meeting strangers.

Last up was the SF NewCo Conference, where the city’s startups open their office doors to attendees and talk about what they’ve done, their strategy, and roadblocks surmounted. I learned about how mountain lion sighting drive user engagement at Nextdoor (and how they would mail expensive postcards at the behest of neighbors in order to get non tech savvy households on the site), how Betabrand uses patently ridiculous marketing schemes to drive virality (like only using women PhDs as models), and saw both Pinterest and Soundcloud’s sweet SF digs (Pinterest has big TVs displaying Pins in real time with themed days like Mondays are men, Tuesdays as UK pinners, etc). Great opportunity to see the faces behind the product.

Then it was off to LA for the weekend to visit high school friends. I learned that the visible horizon is only 3 miles away on flat land, (I know, right?) built sand castles on Manhattan Beach with a diverse array of toddlers, and visited the preposterously ornate USC student apartments known as The Lorenzo. They’ve got 3 rooftop pools, a colorful fountain, arcade, and sand volleyball courts, all styled like Caeser’s Palace in a rather sketchy neighborhood near Downtown. Really highlights the disparity between white privileged USC kids and the surrounding denizens.

Not much on the online front, except for Bootstrappers.io, a nascent site along the lines of Hacker News, Growthhackers.com, and Product Hunt. Then there’s Gawker theorizing that Aspergers is an essential part of Silicon Valley, and some solid learning resources, namely:

No Booze, No Masturbation – One Month Later

I recently partook in Tim Ferriss’s NOBNOM challenge for the month of August – no booze or masturbation allowed.  The challenge intrigued me because these are two activities done reflexively without thinking, yet can become powerful negative addictions if indulged wantonly. Just like true alcoholics, everyone says “I can stop whenever, but I don’t want to.” Thus NOBNOM was a perfect chance for me to test exactly that over the course of a month.

And so I signed up to track my progress with Lift, a habit tracking app. I quickly found that while I could successfully avoid both proclivities every day, I was not as good as logging that fact with Lift every  day, despite it’s incessant (and annoying) push remainders to do so. (Indeed the whole challenge was a clever onboarding hack for Lift, which Tim advises. See the Tim Ferriss effect.)

Even though checking in was one big easy button, and even though you’d get ‘Props’ from other users on your accomplishments – I just couldn’t fit the act into my daily routine.  I didn’t care what strangers thought about my achievement, I just wanted to do it for myself. This need to unobtrusively track offline activities is the problem all lifelogging apps face –  since not all of us are meticulous personal historians like Nicholas Feltron.

Anyway, Lift aside, I found that the simple knowledge of the challenge was enough to quell most urges. Normally I have no reason not to indulge, and thus do so without much thought, but for this month there was a secondary ‘No, you can’t, it’s NOBNOM’. And that was that. The simple presence of the challenge and my public participation in it was enough to hold me off, even though nobody would know if I snuck in one or two breaches. Here’s some thoughts on each aspect:

Masturbation

There were a few close calls here, mostly within that half hour before bed when you can’t fall asleep and have nothing to distract yourself with. Usually I would try to channel it to nonfiction reading for personal growth and to make me more tired. But it was very tempting to give up in order to get short term payoff (fleeting pleasure and sleep) at the cost of long term betterment (self discipline and time).

I won’t detail the effects on my libido here since this is a professional blog, (the web claims there’s all sort of health benefits like higher testosterone, higher ambition, and so forth) but I did feel like there were upwards effects in stamina and confidence. It could have been the placebo effect, though.

Booze

The drinking aspect was surprisingly  easy. I had been thinking about quitting alcohol after reading stories like that of James Swanwick and Sam Parr, who cite many positive changes, but again, there was no external reason for me to do so. Now there was NOBNOM, and the presence of a scapegoat I could blame as an excuse to my friends proved to be enough. I only drink socially anyway, and so the whole month boiled down to only a few social moments in bars with friends where I’d have to stand strong again the social pressure. My friends respected it, I was still out with them, and it really wasn’t as big of a deal as past me had made it out to be. As long as you have a drink in your hand, you can fit in with the buds – and a nonalcoholic drink is almost preferable, what with the positive effects on the wallet, your mindset, and the morning after.

In the weeks since August ended I’ve only drank twice; with two beers to fit in with friends each time. And it felt horrible the next morning. It was incredible how low my tolerance had become after the abstinent month – and I find that now the results don’t justify the means. I’ve never truly enjoyed the taste of alcohol to be honest; I just binge drank in college to get drunk.

So from now on I’m going to try avoiding unnecessary beers whenever possible, barring sips from new flavors here and there. The confidence is all in your head, and NOBNOM taught me that if you can stick to your promise, the real confidence is much preferable to the liquid kind. You just have to excommunicate the option of drinking entirely.

Summary

So why was NOBNOM a legitimate reason? I hazard that is was my conviction to stay true to something larger than myself. This may be the same conviction that grips nationalists and religious fanatics, who place the needs of a ‘greater power’ above their own needs for life or personal liberty (or a cold beer). Add in fellow adherents for group strength and repercussions for failure and you’ve got yourself the same recipe. Though in this case the only repercussion was letting yourself down – Tim’s money prize wasn’t even enough to keep my checking in on Lift. What do you think are the minimum requirements towards getting someone to stick to something?

The lack of NOBNOM going forward means I’ll have to find another greater power to keep me going – assuming I decide to continue. I don’t regard masturbation or social drinking in moderation as truly harmful, but they are insidious distractions from other, better uses of my time. And it is another great way to build self discipline (which is strengthened like a muscle), which is important to me.

So we’ll see how it goes in the future. But at least this NOBNOM has taught me that yes, I really can stop if I want to. That fact alone, and the accompanying self respect upon success, has made it worthwhile for me. I encourage all to try cutting out something you think is needed from your life and see what happens (although you don’t need to be as serious as Leo Babuta, who experiments with going without big things like sitting, computers, or cell phones.)

Weekly Review #43: Clever startups, Harry Potter Rationality, and liberal housing flaws

Lots of clever startups this week: ShareSomeStyle contracts stylists by the hour, StoryWorth emails relatives weekly questions and aggregates a family history, MineMyMail extracts everyone you’ve ever emailed into a contact list, QuitBit is a lifelogging cigarette lighter/app that tracks your quit attempts, Detour guides you on immersive walks using location aware tech, Shake auto populates legally binding agreements, Knowtify auto populates digest emails for you, and PaperLater turns the web into a physical newspaper. I’m also intrigued by Bop.fm, which lets you listen, share, and discover music from any service with any other. In a world where I discover on Soundcloud, share with Spotify, download from Youtube, and store on iTunes, this is becoming increasingly important.

I’m completely engrossed in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which is an unlikely HP fanfiction written by one of the geniuses trying to puzzle out Artificial Intelligence at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. In this version Harry is raised by an Oxford biochemist to become the ultimate rational scientist, and goes on to demystifiy magic, get sorted into Ravenclaw, and un-break the game of Quidditch. It’s incredibly well written (I’ve never given fanfics the time of day before), is a fun primer to rationalist thought, and does a fantastic job of playing by Rowling’s rules while still making drastic changes. I can’t recommend it enough!

This Vox article was interesting, claiming that American liberalism has a mortal flaw in the form of housing laws, which make blue cities so expensive as to be unlivable, prompting a mass exodus to cheaper red (conservative) cities. There’s just not enough semi dense mid rise housing in the cities where everyone wants to live. “Whatever else Blue America has going for it, it’s done a terrible job of generating enough housing supply.” Food for thought.

Another Medium ‘X things I learned at X age’ article has popped up, and despite the vanilla title there’s still great learnings here. She stresses the importance of gratitude, exercise, freedom from fear, openness, curiosity, spontaneity, reading, presence of now, travel, lack of TV, and self improvement – all things I can get behind.

Sam Parr put the principles behind the 4 Hour Workweek’s side business plan to work for him with a clever anti-itch cream that nets him 2k a month. Check out how he did it.

Mark Manson’s 5 things learned from 5 years on the road was great. I especially like the idea that the best things about countries are also the worst (American consumerism, Brazilian devil may care attitude, German efficiency), and that the fact that nobody cares about you in the world is empowering.

Jason Evanish is another avid reader who writes down what he’s learned from all his books, in a huge list way more comprehensive than my own. Lots of new To-Dos found here, as well as overlapping interests.

Marketing Job Hunt

I’ve been neck deep in the online job search for the past week, and yet it feels just wrong. My personal experience and all the business blogs I’ve ever read dictate that the best roles are found through personal networks, not on a classified listings site. So I’m reaching out to you, dear readers and peers, to see if you know somebody who could make use of me.

I’m looking for a marketing role at a small to medium sized company near San Francisco, with a Software as a Service or website/app based product (B2b or consumer). That’s the Minimum Viable Position – I want to work for a company I believe in, which (probably, not necessarily) fits within those specifications. Everything below this is just details.

You can read more on my qualifications on LinkedIn, but in short, I’m a tech-savvy creative marketer who thinks like a hacker, writes solid digital content, and has a proclivity for perpetual learning and efficacy. I have product managed a successful Kickstarted self published book, and helped grow a two sided marketplace startup to 10 employees and regular weekly transactions. Hopefully my website and Twitter speak for themselves as well.

Location – Like the rest of the young technorati flocking to the city, I prefer San Francisco to the peninsula, but if the position is easily reachable from Caltrain then that’s no issue. Mountain View is right next to my parent’s house where I’ve lived the majority of my life thus far, which makes it unappetizing. If you know of something in NYC, I’d consider that too, but I believe the balance of power in this industry is definitively tipped towards the West Coast at the moment.

Role – Almost all of my career experience has been marketing related in some way, which combined with my nontechnical background and distaste for sales (convincing is cool, but not running through  the same script every day) essentially limits me to marketing for this particular search. Sales/marketing combo roles fit into this, as do ‘Growth Team’ positions, although I think the latter is just a buzzword for modern high tech marketing. I’m intrigued by Product Manager positions, but doubt that my current experience would let employers consider me. A bit of customer service is fine, but if that’s the whole position it’d have to be a really cool company.

Company size- The size of the startup is important because it it’s too small, then it’s unlikely for there to be a need for nontechnical me (as was the case at my last job), and if it’s too big, things get bureaucratic. Many startups in the Valley today are scaling massively (Box, Nest, Zenefits) and looking for bright young people to swell their ranks. But who you are doesn’t matter to companies like that – they’re nascent corporations, where bureaucracy creeps in and employees are prided on their ability to execute rather than be creative. Not my style – too small is better than too big.

Company type – Some phrases that keep popping up in the listings I’m looking at are ‘growth hacking’, ‘data driven’, ‘analytical’, ‘optimization’, ‘content marketing’, ‘product’, and ‘project manager’. Some words that describe the companies include ‘software as a service (SaaS)’, ‘B2B or consumer’ (not enterprise), ‘mobile app’, ‘lean practices’, and ‘agile methodology’. An ideal employer is one that would be featured on Y Combinator’s Hacker News, Growthhackers.com, or Product Hunt.

Options I’m considering so far have been companies like Mattermark, Patreon, Pinterest, Gumroad, Vayable, Zoomforth, Hellosign, Quirky, Detour, Fixed, Humin, IFTTT, and Good.co.

For my entrepreneurially minded friends who ask why I don’t just start my own company, well, it is tempting. I’ve got plenty of ideas, but none that I’m really invested in at the moment. I believe I can learn greatly at a role like the above in the heart of Silicon Valley, which would make me even better equipped to do my own thing in a few years. The mentor relationships gained outweigh the thrill of blundering forth alone, in my mind.

If you know of a role, company, or person that comes to mind with the above framework, please let me know at ‘corey at breiers dot com’. Much appreciated!

Weekly Review #42: Pigeonholed by a reporter and keys to social media success

I was featured in a New Republic article this week questioning the results of  the self development movement. Kinda cool to get media coverage, but kinda worrisome considering I talked to that reporter for maybe 5 minutes, and that she pigeonholed me as the entitled white tech guy. I’ve heard this about reporters- they fit you into their agenda with no room for your own views. At least I’m proud to be described as ‘caricaturistically West Coast optimistic’ and compared to the gods of Silicon Valley.

I just discovered Newsle through the above – it’ll alert you when your friends make the news. Another fun little app is Tinyletter, which makes making a newsletter super easy.

Salman Khan doesn’t tell his son that he’s smart, rather, he says he is clever. That way he can always attack new problems and learn, instead of thinking of knowledge as static. Reminds me of the superiority of focusing on systems rather than goals.

Growthhackers.com analyzed why the #icebucketchallenge has been so effective – it’s phrased as a challenge, rather than an offer, you challenge more than one other person, and it’s easy to do yet fun to watch.

My good friend and talented game designer Ben Goldman has a new game out called Timber! Check it out – you compete as a lumberjack to cut down trees, but if you die you can come back as a bear.

Lewis Howes’ interview with Tucker Max about his personal life was actually quite enlightening. Weird to hear Tucker compare his current life to the one he used to have. Never thought I’d be quoting him on love:

  •  “The only two things that matter in life are work and love. And I don’t mean your job, I mean the things you do that matter to other people.”

Lewis’s interview with Branden Hampton was also enlightening, albeit in terms of social media.

  • He chose which categories to tweet in through which are the most easily monetized – mostly fashion, fitness, and inspirationals
  • Start with big categories that everyone likes, then ratchet it down to specifics, so you know demographics (like location or gender)
  • Social Media has marched towards laziness – from FB posts to 140 characters to a simple picture you can glance at. Instagram engagement is way bigger than anything else as a result.
  • When @fitness was taken, he nabbed @FlTNESS, which looks close enough to work
  • All the engagement and news is now received from social media, then you go to longform news/content to learn more
  • As a business, you are your industry,not your product. Talk about everything in the industry except the product, and then you become a trusted broadcaster in that space, and can safely go for the ask to buy. Think of it as a tv show vs the ads – nobody wants it to be all commericals.