Farewell 2020, it has been a year for the books. All the more reason to make note of things.

Here are my 2020 spark-notes, this includes things I’ve learned about work and life, thoughts I’ve had, habits I’ve formed, products I’ve used, podcasts I’ve listened to, things I’ve read, and more.

I enjoy when people share guidelines and learnings that you can cross reference with your own experiences and learnings. You’re only reading what has worked or not worked for me and shouldn’t be taken as an instruction manual for your own life or company.

I hope that you will find a golden nugget or two in here that will help you level up your 2021 and beyond.

Startups

Yes indeed, it’s that time again. The time you came to a party I was at, asked about work, and I got a 20 minute soapbox about it. No regrets!

Also, what’s a startup? If you have teams of people serving a single function with over 10M in funding – in my books – that’s not really a startup. Ten people or less, under 2M funding, and a year or two old, there’s my criteria. Views are my own and based on my experiences!

I’ve found myself most energized when working on small teams in large companies or in startups that enable engineers to build, invent, create, and scale however they need to in order to make the best product possible for their customers. It’s something I’m planning to do for the forseeable future as a contributing engineering lead as well as founder and engineering exec.

I’ve been working in startups for about 3+ years now and have plenty of advice to share, with more coming each day. I’ll try to trim this down to the bits that have resonated the most with me.

Optimize for your value-chain.

Customers first. Employees next. Then shareholders.

It always starts with the customer. If you aren’t delivering value to someone who will happily pay you to do it again for someone else, then you’re missing the point.

Once you have built relationships with customers, and revenue starts rolling in, now you have to find people to join you in delivering on the promise that you made to those customers; and I’m sure you want the best people to help you along that journey. Note people not resources. Find people that actively seek out to do the same things you’re doing. It will make the relationship between you and your early hires amazing.

Finally, don’t take investment if you don’t need it. A startup of five people that makes five million dollars per year is a pretty sweet situation. Is a mid-size company without a product and 50 million in investment really making an impact?

If you do decide to partner with investors, make sure it’s evaluated as a relationship, not a transaction. What are these investors promising you, your customers, and employees? How will your company and products grow with this partnership? Some things to keep in mind with these relationships are valuations; will the deltas here resonate well with your value chain – or split it in half?

Food for thought.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

When something isn’t working, don’t fool yourself into thinking that it is.

Trusting your gut, your team, and the numbers are the best (and sometimes hardest) things to do.

“We were right, things have changed, and now it’s time to move on."

Becoming a founder.

I function best where I’m either a founder of a startup or the founder/ tech lead of a small product/ team in a much larger org.

Too often I’ve found myself over-investing as if I was a founder in companies where I was not.

Heads up engineers; if you feel like you’re giving more than you’re getting, make a list of your goals and keep a count of how many days over the next two weeks that move you towards your goals – if you don’t move towards those goals after too many days in a row – it’s time to make a change.

If you’re a growing software engineer that’s found a groove, and can deliver serious business value to a startup, thats when you have to consider how you’re being compensated in return.

I cannot stress enough just how important knowing that value is. Know how to cut the founder’s pie.

For me, I’ve come to the realization that I just needed to freaking do it.

In 2019/2020 I started my first venture that puttered along and yielded plenty of awesome learnings. It gave me the confidence and clarity about the product offering and customer development I needed for the company’s next phase of product and shipping.

Negotiate everything.

For engineers, and I guess anyone else, know how to negotiate.

For engineers, know your ranges.

Work hard. Work smart.

Only working hard will burn you out.

Only working smart will distance you from others.

Working smart and hard teaches how to harmonize dedication and creativity.

Being nice isn’t enough. Be real too. Be direct and emphasize a narrative that includes empathy and forward progress.

Life and Work

Are you asking someone for energy or are you asking them for time?

If you give someone your time, you can just walk in, take a seat, and walk out. Nothing has been done, energy over time is zero.

Learning how to direct and allocate your energy over time is also important to contemplate. You could spend lots of energy over your time doing things you don’t like to do.

Work, life harmony is a vector not a scalar;

$$ wlh(\theta,E,t) = \theta \left( \frac {E} {t} \right) $$

Where $\theta$ is the direction in which you’re allocating energy over time, e.g. work assignments, projects, relationships, activities, learnings, etc.

I’ve learned that if work is headed in a direction that creates positive resonance in my mood, frees me from reinventing the wheel, and is growing my skill-set; it will manifest in positive ways in life outside of work, e.g. relationships, family, friends.

I’m the kind of person that resonates with the fact that I have to love what I do every day and end each day with a significant accomplishment and learning. It’s amplified if I’m doing this with a team.

This can be tricky for your relationships, friends, and family if things aren’t headed in a positive direction.

You have to harmonize.

Asking for permission to share frustrations in order to address anything that’s bothering you or others in your life has been a great way to share what’s going on so that everyone is aware of how you’re working through something that’s taken you off-key.

Be results oriented. Each time that you set aside time to talk about what’s going on, have a clear objective result that you will bring back into the relationship so the chance of the frustration occurring again decreases.

Focus on harmony, not balance. Balancing can lead us to be strict listeners of our monkey-minds. When you do this – then do that. If I can do this then I can do that – and repeat. Never stopping to think – is even doing these things going to change the status quo?

Forget where you want to go and instead go where you’re wanted and where incentives are aligned in professional and personal relationships.

If the narrative isn’t working, well, why don’t you change it?

Habits and Thoughts

Some quick one liners.

Beware virtue signalers. Does it matter if you meditate if you don’t ask others if they do it?

Fasting is awesome. I can do 18 hours without a meal and get way more done than I could ever imagine. Cut out all processed foods, refined sugars, and eat more blueberries.

I drink 1-2 liters of water before I start my day – your body will operate in a new gear range you never had before if you drink lots of water each morning. Check out japanese water therapy.

Learn something new every day. If I can’t code it or explain it in two ways or more, then I don’t understand it yet.

Allow yourself room to fail and learn, and extend that learning opportunity to others.

If you level up financially, help others do the same.

Workout each day. You don’t need a gym membership (even though it is nice). A few kettle bell pairs, yoga mat, and a pull up bar will do wonders. For folks on the east coast, get a rowing machine for those cold winters when you cant run – I challenge you to 2000m in 7 minutes 4 times per week.

Mental wellness. Eliminate anxiety by addressing it immediately. Why let it linger?

If you’re not growing your skills and reinventing the wheel too often professionally, it’s time for a change.

Check in with your family and friends often. Every day if you can. Consistent levels of energy over time that grow relationships is a habit I’m working to improve.

Go into things with a spirit of contentment and purpose. Ask yourself if it’s really worth it and if you really want to be here.

Books

Podcasts

A couple of Tim Ferriss podcasts really rocked it this year.

I have plenty more saved on Spotify’s dedicated podcast playlist so if you’re looking for more please let me know. Maybe Spotify will have a podcast playlist sharing feature someday.

Awesome Things

Magic Spoon. A great post-workout or late night snack without all the sugar.

Crowd Cow. Local, sustainably farmed, high quality fish and meats. I’ve been cooking up their NY Strips with jalapenos, garlic, and grape seed oil.

First Hand. Firsthand levels up your shower 20x. Please try it.

Soulection. I know you’ve been thinking that you need to listen to something new. I think you’ll like this. Their Instagram is great too.


I’m planning to write blog posts on a much more frequent basis than before. I’m inspired by Seth Godin in how he writes, curates, and delivers content in a singular and purposeful way.

You may find me tweeting less, writing more, posting less awesome black and white shots on Instagram (I love black and white photography. If you do too, you must checkout David Yarrow’s work).

I certainly won’t stop sharing awesome music and playlists I’ve discovered and curated, so be sure to keep an ear out. The waves you put out into the universe usually resonate with more than one person. You’d be surprised just how many people are waiting to hear something they haven’t heard before.

More coming soon. Probably in smaller doses.

Cheers.