Birthday Wisdom (2^5 Edition)

I figure that, since it's my birthday, I'm allowed to disseminate a little bit of wisdom (not that I ever refrain from doing that). Particularly because I'm 32 today, which makes me about twice as old as most of the other people floating around the Valley. Ok, maybe not twice as old, but most likely I'm 25%-50% older than most of the people reading this. I remember when I graduated college and was working with a 25 year-old. He was ancient. Now I work with 25-year olds and think about how little they are.

On Work-Life Balance
This has been on my mind a lot recently. Basically, you read a ton about the glory days of engineers sleeping under their desks and having no life outside of work. It seems awesome and all, but one day you wake up and kind of wonder what's going to happen if you keep going down that path. Honestly, even though we know the names of the entrepreneurs who succeeded, we probably couldn't name 90% of the ones who failed. And some of the ones who failed worked just as hard as the ones who succeeded. I'm not going to say that the ones who succeeded just got lucky, because that isn't true (although there is some luck involved in every success). Just that it might take a lot of tries to get it right, and you don't want to be lonely and miserable while you are trying to find something that might never work for you personally. Again, I'm not saying that it won't work, just that after a while, you may want to figure out how to hedge the bet that you will sell your company for $10 million in 18 months. I meet plenty of people who tell me "yeah. I used to have a startup when I was younger. but then I got older, and wanted a job that actually paid me something and let me have a normal life." And I understand exactly where they are coming from, and why they made that choice.

So, if you want to be in startups long-term, you have to make it work for you in a long-term way. Figure out how to do the things you want, and keep the relationships that are important to you. There is nothing more important than family. If you aren't on great terms with all of your family, do whatever you can to mend things. It's hard when you are living across the country from them, like when I was living in Silicon Valley, and everyone else in my immediate family was in New England and Baltimore. But phone calls, emails, and Skype are an easy way to stay in touch (although the 3-hour time difference means that you are getting off work as they are getting into bed).

Figure out how to do the things you want. If you want to go to salsa, force yourself to get out of the office at 6:30 every Monday so that you can do it. Don't work 7 days a week if you can help it. Your overall productivity is actually lower than it would be if you were working 5, you just work slower to make up for the extra hours. The only way to get people to work 7 days a week is with a whip, and eventually they die of exhaustion. This is not to say that you shouldn't work all the time if that's what you want to be doing, just that there are many more things to be doing, and you WILL regret the things you won't do (just like you would regret not doing a startup if all you did were corporate jobs).

Building A Life Around Your Startup
I actually known some entrepreneurs who managed to build a life around their startup that worked for them. Dave Zhao, founder and CEO at the last startup I worked for (Zecter), seemed to do reasonably well. He worked a lot, so he hired his girlfriend (now fiancee) as UI Designer and office admin (she did a pretty good job at both, and definitely made the office a happier and more fun place to be). And at least she got to see him a lot. They got a (hypo-allergenic) puppy, and made sure that the office building was dog-friendly so they could bring him in every day. When people were tired of working, they could play with the dog (so it turned into a plus for everyone who worked there).

I'm sure that there were lots of hard times and downturns, but he seemed to stick it out ok through pretty much everything. After almost four years (and at least two major pivots), the company had a nice-sized exit to Motorola, and the founders made out quite nicely. My point is that success wasn't guaranteed at any point, and they needed to be able to stick it out for long enough to get to the end. If you are miserable, how do you expect to get there? Honestly, Dave's cofounder didn't hedge his bets nearly as well as Dave did, and I think that the startup took a lot more out of him.

On Being Happy
Being smart is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because you realize that you can do pretty much anything you dedicate yourself to, and there are fewer exceptions to that rule than you would expect (so long as you follow certain basic guidelines). It's a curse because you beat yourself up for all of the things you didn't do, and because you actually want to change the world. I saw Malcolm Gladwell speak quite a while ago (at the Googleplex), right after he had published Blink. Like any intellectual, he didn't talk much about his last book (which was old and boring to him by that point), but what interesting stuff he was working on at the time. He was looking into child prodigies, and whether they did well as adults. Interestingly, he didn't feel like the smartest people were the most successful, but he did comment that a lot of them ended up being happy later in life. This work later tunred into his book "Outliers," although the eventual focus was a bit different.

My theory is that the people who are super-successful tend to be the ones with fatal flaws. You don't work 90 hours a week for 20 years if you are already satisfied - you must be looking for something down that rabbit hole. I think that smart people can choose to either dig one rabbit hole really deep, or they can dig a bunch of shallower burrows (work, family life, hobbies, community, etc...). I'm not going to comment on which one is better (because we clearly need both types), but realize that the choice is yours to make. And if you don't like the choice at any point, you are free to change it.

On Working At Home (How Did I Get This Far Off Topic?)
It doesn't really work for me. That's all I can say. I find that it's a collosal waste of time 90%. I might as well just have taken the day off and had fun, rather than getting nothing done and feeling guilty about it. There are just too many distractions at home, including one that I won't mention here but is probably at the back of every guy's mind. 

I know that some people are different, but if a lot of people were honest with themselves, they would realize that productivity sucks when they work from home. I had a desk at home for years (complete with a second monitor and everything else I had at work), and it didn't really help much. After a while, I reclaimed my kitchen table for eating. Plus, home should be for "home" things, not for working. I think it's important (necessary) to be able to leave work and relax for an hour or two before bed. I'm even toying with the idea of not having a computer at home (other than my smartphone and iPad).

This is not to say that working from a coffee shop is a bad idea - I find that works fine, so long as it is quiet (bring noise cancelling headphones) and I only do it once in a while. But, for me, I need a dedicated desk in a quiet space to get anything productive done longer-term.

On Rebranding
This is more of a cautionary tail than "wisdom" per se. Even if you think that your blog or web site's name sucks, you probably shouldn't change it. You spent a lot of time and effort building that brand, and by changing your name, you compromise it. I have been blogging for several years under "Third Year MBA," since I started my blog right after finishing business school. Over time, I decided that it was no longer appropriate, since I had been out of business school for longer than I was in it, and because I never really felt like an MBA (despite having a degree from one of the best programs in the world). So I changed it. Twice. Page views plummeted, and I wasn't even happy with the new name. A bunch of people who I didn't even know read my blog told me that they liked the old name better. So I changed it back. It's Third Year MBA for good now.

On Birthday Cakes (Thank Goodness for Mono-Spaced Fonts)

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|      Happy Birthday to Dana and Alissa (my twin sister)     |
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