30 by 30

Bill at Breckenridge, staring down a double black diamond

I travelled back to my hometown for Christmas this year and took the time while I was there to enjoy the company of old friends over drinks in familiar pubs. I spent one such night with a former colleague and great friend whom had always provided me with a sounding board and personal “level” during our time together in banking.

As we sat alternating rounds at one of our old haunts, he described to me a renewed outlook he had developed over the past several months of particularly long hours at work. He had come to the realization that in addition to professional success, personal zest for life was an equal contributing factor to one’s happiness. Accordingly, he resolved to inject some life back into his waking hours, and that began with a definition of what living meant.

When he sat down to define the things that make us happy, it became apparent that so many of us think that happiness is defined by “having”. That is to say having a 56″ TV, having a nice car, having an arbitrarily high account balance. What my friend realized is that “having” is a poor substitute for “doing”. Thinking back, I realized he was right. The happiest times in my life have not stemmed from things I had, but from things I did. The state championship my senior year of high school. The spontaneous overnight drive with roommates to Florida for a weekend in college. A wild weekend in New York City with my brother and a close friend. Experiences pay dividends far richer than possessions.

So, rather than medicating with shiny toys, we resolved to spend money “having” remarkable experiences with friends. We sat down to write out 30 things we each wanted to experience while we are still young and relatively unencumbered by family, mortgage, and age. We made plans to accomplish at least three of them in 2010 together. My list is titled “30 by 30″, and these are the things I wrote down.

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Use your “What” to find your “Why”

Recently, Philip Kaplan (aka “Pud”, founder of Adbrite and FuckedCompany.com) was emailed a question by a single mother looking to get her life back on track. Philip answered the question on his blog, and I found his answer particularly fascinating and relevant. The full text of Philip’s answer is replicated below:

Some people know what their passion is. Unfortunately, you do not. But I’m going to help you find it.

Here’s what you do:

Ask yourself, if you could do ANYTHING in the world, what would it be? What’s the ultimate fantasy that you’ll probably never actually achieve, but would be awesome? Rock star? Movie starlet? Teacher? Birthday party clown? Brad Pitt’s wife? That’s the “WHAT.”

Now ask yourself, “WHY?”

For example, my “WHAT” was “be a rock star heavy metal drummer!” Upon further analysis, my “WHY” was “I want to do something creative. I want freedom. I want to affect lots of people.”

As it turns out, there were about a million different more tangible things I could do, that would satisfy my “WHY.” That’s why I became a freelance web programmer: creativity, freedom, and the opportunity to reach the masses.

What’s your “WHAT?” What’s your “WHY?” You’ll be surprised how easy it is to satisfy your WHY, once you’ve figured out what it is.

I found that, as a college student rapidly approaching graduation, Philip’s advice to identify your “why” instead of focusing on your “what” was especially pertinent as I considered my long term career and happiness goals. I also think that his advice is helpful to entrepreneurs casting about for some direction in life. Many are so focused on becoming the next Web 2.0 darling, that I think they may have lost sight of why they embarked on an entrepreneurial career path in the first place.

Do what you love. Follow your why. The rest will fall into place.

What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur?

This post sponsored by:

Hours of banter, pages of writing, and thousands of dollars of research have been devoted to answering one of the most popular and elusive questions about entrepreneurship: “What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur?”. Is it a personality trait? Can entrepreneurship be learned? Can it be taught? What kind of person does it require? Can anyone become this kind of person, or are certain people born for the entrepreneurial life? These questions can be answered by examining anecdotal evidence, industry trends, and scientific research. And in short the answer is – it depends.

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Costs and Benefits of Taking Venture Capital Funding


To begin, I will direct you to a study done by Wells Fargo entitled “How Much Money Does it Take to Start a Small Business?”. The study found that the average small business needed only $10,000 to launch their venture, an amount easily attainable via bootstrap financing, without giving away any equity in your company. In fact, the Wells Fargo survey shows that 73 percent of entrepreneurs funded their startups primarily with personal savings. This indicates that you really don’t need a lot of money to start a small business, and the money you do need is probably within your personal reach, through personal savings or credit cards.

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17 Tips for Startup Founders and Employees

I came across a great pair of posts over at onStartups.com titled:

There are a few points in each article that I thought were particularly resonant (at least with me) that I’d like to point out and comment on.

Tip for Founders: Startup founders work long hours for a reason. There’s more work than there are people. If you’re seeking balance, seek it elsewhere.

This couldn’t be more true, there are never as many people to churn out your ideas as fast as you think them. However, I think the author makes the long hours and late nights seem dismal, when I think this is the most invigorating part of starting a company. When it’s 1AM and everyone else has gone home, and you have that spark, that great idea that keeps you up ’til 3, that’s the moment you don’t get anywhere but working for yourself, experiencing the entrepreneurial process. Which segways nicely into my other favorite from the Founders article:

Tip for Founders: At the end of each day, ask yourself: “Did the product get better for customers today?” If you don’t have a good answer, stay up until you do.

Haven’t we all felt that satisfaction blended with utter exhaustion after a late night of coding or brainstorming? How many companies have the motto “Better everyday” or “Improving all the time”? How many of those companies do you feel really improve every day? As a small company, an entrepreneur, you have the chance to actually make it happen, to improve everyday. You can make tangible, positive changes for your business everyday – make a new contact, add a new feature, write some documentation (I know you’ve been avoiding that one for months), re-evaluate your budget, have your partners over for some beer and brainstorming. When you turn in for the night, know that you’ve taken a stride toward success.

Now onto the tips for employees (and how different are they than the founders really…we’re all employees at this point) –

Tip for Employees: Startup founders are usually quirky people. Get used to it.

Quirky perhaps, but I think the better word would be driven. Startup founders are usually so excited for the success of his company, so wrapped up in his vision, that they sometimes come off as a bit, er…different. However, it does take a certain kind of obsession to make a startup work…

Tip for Employees: Wear as many hats as possible. Help out where you can.

What a great piece of advice. If you’re a programmer, program. If you’re a designer, make your sketches. But don’t be afraid to chime in with your business advice (as long as you’re ready to take some criticism), or sit down and help revise the business plan. You coworkers will love you for it, and you’ll be glad when they pitch in to help you when your deadline is tomorrow.

Tip for Employees: If you’re not having fun, you’re in the wrong place.

Probably the most important of all the tips, both for founder and employee. One of the best things about working for a startup is that it isn’t your typical 9-5 (as we’ve seen above), there’s a culture of fun and adventure you get with a small company that doesn’t come elsewhere. If you’ve lost that, you ought to quit now and go to work for a bank.