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I hear about the idea of ‘choosing to be happy’ frequently. When we talk about improving our lives during our short existence, it’s oft-repeated advice.

Here’s the idea: when you’re not happy, or when you’re not satisfied, or even when you’re depressed, you can make the decision to be happy instead. You have the choice to be happy or sad – and, given the fact that you only have limited time on Earth, which one do you want to pick? Happy, of course.

So, ‘always choose to be happy.’

I find this approach to be extremely ineffective. Although it’s nice to acknowledge that you always have the choice to be happy or not when dealing with a situation, I think that there is less value in simply ‘choosing to be happy’ and more value in choosing to be unhappy and doing something about it.

Choosing to be unhappy

In my personal life, changes have often stemmed from my unhappiness with something and making a decision to change it. I’ve made positive changes because I chose to be unhappy (or even angry) about something that needed to change.

I feel like the idea of ‘choosing to be happy’ is simply a temporary escape, a band-aid that treats the surface, but not the root cause. It solves the symptom of unhappiness, but not the problem itself. That mindset robs us of the anger and impetus we need to make a change and attack the root of the problem.

For example, you might not be happy because you’re out of shape, which is making dating difficult. In that instance, you can choose to reject being unhappy and be happy instead, which allows you to relax and feel not so bad about the problems you’re facing.

But what does that change? What progress have you made? In this instance, choosing to be happy is only a temporary solution to the symptom, not the actual root cause, of your unhappiness. Here, choosing to be happy only solves, “I’m unhappy because I’m overweight”, the symptom, not “I’m overweight, and need to start exercising and eating better”, the problem.

Being unhappy is difficult, and it’s far from satisfying. However, I think some of the most important developments in your life can come from being unhappy and choosing to do something about it. Choosing to do something about the root cause of your unhappiness isn’t the same as choosing to solve the symptom of unhappiness itself. Lasting happiness comes from understanding that root cause and making something happen, not from numbing the resulting unhappiness by ignoring it.

When you’re unhappy, there are three things you can do

  1. You can choose to be happy, but that only solves the symptom temporarily and doesn’t result in any long-term resolution – it just makes you feel better for the moment.
  2. You can choose to continue being unhappy and wallow in sadness (which is addictive), but that also will change nothing – and it will continue to make you more and more unhappy.
  3. You can change something that actually attacks the cause of your unhappiness, not just the effect of unhappiness itself, and try to eliminate the reason you are unhappy.

Conquering the root causes of unhappiness is very difficult to do, because it requires so much willpower, and the alternative options – wallowing in sadness, or choosing to be happy for the short-term and treating the symptom – are so much easier to do (and are so much more tempting) than working to cure the true underlying issue.

But choosing to be unhappy and doing something about it is the only way that you will solve the actual problem. It’s the only way you can make progress in your life, by solving the real problems that are holding you back.

Thursday, January 27, 2011
Microsoft NERD
  • “Most of you are entrepreneurs, which means most of you are going to fail.”
    • we’re wasting time by pouring smart people into ventures set to fail.
    • remember when Web 2.0 was still cool?
  • we have to get better about talking candidly about failure
  • waterfall methodology/traditional product management
    • all entrepreneurship is difficult to manage, so we manage it by a metaphor
    • why doesn’t waterfall work?
      • we successfully can execute the plan, but we don’t know if the plan is good
      • metaphor: drive at the right speed, on schedule, but we drive off a cliff
    • three “shadow beliefs” that we don’t really know
      • #1: “we know what customers want”
      • #2: “we can accurately predict the future”
      • #3: “advancing the plan means progress”
        • if we’re building something nobody wants, who cares if it’s high-quality? is it progress to advance the plan, or do your job, if the plan is failure?
    • main idea against waterfall/traditional product management: “If we’re building something nobody wants, what does it matter if we accomplish it?”
  • Lean Revolution
    • in Japan, started the lean manufacturing mantra
      • old mantra is wrong
      • if we go lean, we can drive waste out of the process
    • Ries picked up Agile Product Development
      • despite the name, agile still has its roots inside larger companies
      • Agile works when the problem is known, solution unknown
        • (this doesn’t work in startups)
  • we need a iterative, waste-free customer-based way
    • Lean Startups’ unit of progress: validated learning
    • Eric Ries at IMVU: his really good idea (interoperability with instant messaging + 3d avatar system), used 6 months to build the product, which actually turned out to not be a good idea
    • had to throw it out and pivot – all of the code was thrown away
      • he built something that nobody wanted, so it was of no use
    • If my goal in the last 6 months was to learn this important bit about customers, why did we need 6 months? we would have learned the same from less code. or… even any code?
      • we could have basically learned the same with a fake landing code with a spec. we would have known people didn’t want the product because we didn’t get any clickthroughs on a landing page
    • job #1 in startup: do whatever it makes to make the company successful period.
      • need new vocabulary for what entrepreneurs “do”
  • entrepreneurship is management
    • institution-building: the coordinated building of something
    • we’re prejudiced about “management” – we need something called Entrepreneurial Management
      • design and build institutions under situations of high uncertainty
    • Eric Ries apologies for the overhypedness of this word.
    • What do successful startups have in common?
      • they know the process on how to tell good function from bad function
      • systematically re-evaluation of your startup until you achieve product-market fit (PMF)
      • what is runway? it’s how many pivots you have left
      • pivots powered by learning
      • lean startups are all about speed.
        • if you have fast cycle times to tweak until you achieve product-market fit, you can get to PMF faster than others – speed
    • startup: catalyst for ideas -> code
      • customers interacting with code: qualitative and qualitative data
    • Apple found a balance: don’t overinvest into something that doesn’t matter, but put in just enough to get to the next pivot (more learning)
  • Lean startup principles
    • 1. entrepreneurs are EVERYWHERE
        • “we can find entrepreneurs everywhere we seek out uncertainty”
        • no “safe industries” – “waves of destruction” went through industries
      • innovation accounting
        • the most boring topic in entrepreneurship
        • today: accounting -> accounting where money goes
        • not what it was made for – accounting was invented to drive accountability for managers
        • it’s a mathematical model for management
        • at GM, they had mathematical models – accounting was meant to separate what managers did versus the random environmental factors that happened
          • (if a manager exceeded their sales estimate by 10%, but it was a 10% better year for cars all year, they’re at parity, not exceeded)
        • we need a new accounting paradigm for entrepreneurs
          • actionable metrics, not vanity metrics
          • not what happened in the past but the future
        • test of value in the startup: customers engage in a voluntary exchange with the startup
          • time, attention, referrals,
          • Facebook: viral growth, value component, because there was customer engagement and interaction
      • need an accounting paradigm for entrepreneurs to demonstrate quantitatively that we’ve done validated learning – real experiment
        • we can affect customer actions through our own actions
        • actionable metrics: our own actions affect customer actions (mark’s notes: this is repeatable)
        • vanity metrics: random environmental events, press spikes, etc. (mark’s notes: this isn’t repeatable)
    • how do we know when to pivot?
      • we know when to pivot when our product experiment efforts don’t really move the needle
      • we can make excellent decisions 3 years ago, but if our current experiment efforts aren’t doing anything, there is a problem
    • the automobile revolution: 500 other companies before Henry Ford that failed because they didn’t have the right process that Ford had
    • when we pivot, we DON’T pivot the VISION, we PIVOT the STRATEGY
  • should a feature be in your MVP?
    • good rule of thumb: no
  • http://lean.st/LeanStartupBos


  • #1: Jason Evanish: how do you keep your engineers having faith in the process when so much is done without them initially for mvps? #leanstartups cc @msmamet
    • keep them calm
    • abandon the crutch of the reality distortion field to keep them calm
    • dishonest to do that ^ — accept uncertainty
  • #2: questioning the usage of the word “movement”
    • it’s not religion, it’s science
    • ……. still going
    • used to think VCs are the way to evangelize to entrepreneurs
      • (though they want to advance their portfolio)
  • #3: How do you test a product people aren’t actively searching for?
    • when does it work?
      • solves an acute problem
      • … that customers know they have
      • … that customers know the name of the problem
    • what if it doesn’t work?
      • need another way
      • outbound advertising to inbound learning
        • IMVU: adjacent markets
        • “world of warcraft chat”, etc.
        • didn’t want to know anything but: what are the differences in conversion rates across channels?
          • they found out who the customer wants
      • dropbox’s video: an MVP on Digg and etc
      • Ries works with MBAs. why?
        • process/discipline oriented
        • predisposed to learn a new management paradigm, since they’ve already done that
        • entrepreneurs are a bit sloppy about it
      • we need to know what exactly is making things go up or down – reject vanity metrics
  • #4: innovation accounting: know what to measure? consistent across all startups?
    • the right things to measure are clear and consistent across all startups (but only at a high level of abstraction)
      • measure two things:
        • value test: does it make value?
        • if yes, does it have an engine of growth that is working?
      • driving metaphor
        • engine: constant revolutions
        • driver: build-measure-learn
          • you can’t build a list of step-by-step actions of how to drive a car to a destination (with every action, turn on steering wheel, etc.), because you respond to the environment
          • however, that’s how we do product development, right now — build a plan, execute on that plan, without responding to the environment
        • compulsive behavior with Facebook, like photo tags (viral)
      • sticky growth: engine of growth that is addictive
    • engines are all feedback loops: they have compunding effects
      • we can have hockey-stick improvements but we don’t know what is driving it
      • that is what we’re trying to prevent – control over the actions that really make change and results
  • #5: advice for getting to market first if your product is easily replicated?
    • exercise
      • take your second best idea.
      • try to get somebody to steal it.
      • contact a product manager and try to get them to implement it in their next version.
    • <over-repeated>ideas have no value</over-repeated>
    • you have to go through the process of REFINING a good idea
    • first-mover advantage: extremely rare in reality
  • #6: how to get this into a company that isn’t really built on lean startups?
    • work is a system, and systems are perfect at what they do today
      • what is the organizational change process we want to do?
      • implementing cold-turkey lean startup methodologies won’t work
    • find one areas where there is a stress/pain point in the company
      • there are a community of people that might be trying to solve the problem
      • try an experiment – lean startups are a science
    • can’t have high expectations – have to measure the actions with validated learning
  • #7: how does lean startups affect the world of sales force?
    • four steps to the epiphany – Steve Blank
    • sales people aren’t really paid at listening – they don’t take no for an answer
      • entrepreneurs: no is powerful: we want to figure out why
      • Mark’s notes: to sales people, no is a dead end. to entrepreneurs, no isn’t a roadblock or a dead end, it’s an opportunity for validated learning to take place – why did they say no?
    • entrepreneurs should start out doing their own sales for validated learning

Off of the coattails of the Delicious shutdown scare, bookmarking service Pinboard, who had the idea of adding a one-time charge to their bookmarking service, has gained a good amount of users—paying users, at that. The payment model, $0.001 * number of users, is apparently del.icio.us founder Joshua Schachter’s idea. I worked out how much they made:

Bing’s web cache shows the price being at (least, since we don’t know when Bing took the cache) 6.87 yesterday (http://cl.ly/0A1N0K0C2Q2W2H0U3h43) and now it is at 8.35. That is a difference of 1.48, indicating a gain of (at least) 1,480 customers. Every user x signing up past the point that the cache was taken generates (6.87 + 0.001x). Thanks to Gauss, we can find the total revenue using (6.87+8.35)(1480/2), and we can calculate roughly that Pinboard made something on the order of $11k yesterday, and probably a bit more since they probably round up instead of charging tenths of cents. Sweet! (comment link) (calc)

$11k for having a good service and charging for it. Web startups, take note. Succinctly summed up with Pinboard’s tweet to Xmarks, a bookmark sync service with 2 million users that was about to shut down:

@xmarks the model that has worked well for us is ‘charge people money for a useful product or service’

Y Combinator‘s Startup School 2009 was an incredible learning experience for new and experienced entrepreneurs alike. There are ten talks. Here are their key points.

  1. Paul Graham, Founder, Y Combinator: What Startups Are Really Like
  2. Greg McAdoo, Sequoia Capital
  3. Jason Fried, CEO, 37signals: Funding and Charging for Your Product
  4. Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, Wired: Freemium
  5. Paul Buchheit, Creator of Gmail and Friendfeed: What I’ve Learned
  6. Twitter Founders Biz Stone and Ev Williams: Q&A with Jessica Livingston
  7. Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO, Facebook: Q&A with Jessica Livingston
  8. Mitch Kapor, Founder, Lotus: Startup Culture
  9. Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos: Delivering Happiness
  10. Mark Pincus, CEO, Zynga: My Startup Experience

Paul Graham, Founder, Y Combinator: What Startups Are Really Like

Below are some key points about his talk, but there are a lot more great soundbites in his transcript of What Startups Are Really Like.

  • in his research, people have sometimes said that in a co-founder, character is more important than performance
  • expect failure with deals.
  • be optimistic about things you can control. you can’t control deals, so don’t be optimistic about them.
  • having a founder is like you’re married but not fucking.
  • luck is a big factor in startups. founders/programmers are more surprised than normal founders because programmers are used to concrete cause-and-effect
  • sorry, guys: being a startup founder does NOT make you more attractive to women.
  • quitting your job to start a startup depends on the age. harder at 35 with wife and kids. but at 21, your entry-level job is useless anyway, so go start a startup.

Greg McAdoo, Sequoia Capital

  • the 70s and 80s economies performed just like the current economy: recession, unemployment on the rise, etc. however, Apple, Oracle, and many others came from it too
  • likewise, the 2001 crash spawned companies like A123, Rackspace, and Aruba and Zappos
  • it’s definitely possible to start a startup in a down economy, as some of the best businesses still around today started in recessions
  • the demand environment in a recession: your competition is less irrational in their purchases and doings
  • recessions create a lot of discipline.
  • in startups, you have to start small, and stay focused, especially in a recession.
  • good recession-era startups “buy the cash register early,” — they execute their pay business model earlier to generate revenues earlier and bank earlier
  • Re: “RIP Good Times”: it didn’t say that everything was fucked, but rather that you have to run your startup like other past recession winners, and cut and be lean
  • enterprise sales tip: promote and talk about the HARD DOLLAR ROI. it’s the most important thing to talk about. make them scared to reject your product. make them think “if my boss ever found out we could have saved 50% on software X, he would be pissed.” make them fear that the competition get the product in their hands and beat you out.
  • startups that gain revenue early are disciplined earlier, and get used to being an actual business earlier, and generally are better and more recession-proof

Jason Fried, CEO, 37signals: Funding and Charging for Your Product

  • the difference between a boostrapped and funded company is easy to understand.
  • the bootstrapped company starts off thinking: we need to make money.
  • the funded company starts of thinking: we need to spend money. these investors have given us x million dollars—we should spend it!
  • the funded company detracts away from doing final execution of the product and making revenues.
  • start as early as you can. you don’t become fantastic at piano by starting at 20 or 25. you do become fantastic at piano if you started at age 5.
  • price forces you to be good and better than the rest. the pressure of price is very, very good.
  • pricing your product will give an avenue for the people buying your software to give you feedback on it.
  • if a product is free, you don’t get that feedback.
  • if a product is free, it’s just “good enough.” people will take it and say it’s just “good enough” to use for free.
  • the most intimate transaction between people: money. I’m giving you this money earned by hard work because you offer something that I want.
  • funding is like crack. it’s an addiction with names like Series C. Don’t keep going back for more and more funding; it’ll make your addiction worse.
  • planning is GUESSING. figure out stuff as you go, because you never really know. plan some, but improvise a lot.
  • I promise you’ll still be using post-it notes in 20 years. Usefulness trumps innovativeness; usefulness stays while coolness deteriorates over time.
  • all the art in the world in one room won’t make a museum. the fact that it rejects 99% of art makes it a museum. apply this to software features.
  • 37signals’ byproducts include Getting Real, the job board, and more. they have generated 37signals more than $1M in revenue. the job board itself has made $1.5 million.
  • “we apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused you” is the worst way to say “I’m sorry”
  • the best are everywhere, even outside Silicon Valley, don’t think you HAVE to be here. 37signals is based in Chicago.
  • sorry, failure is not a rite of passage. you don’t have to fail. failing once doesn’t prevent another. Fried thinks the idea of “you have to fail once” and having to “learn about failure” is ridiculous.
  • learning a lesson from failure is learning what not to do. learning what to do is a lot better than learning what not to do.
  • other peoples’ failures are other peoples’ failures. don’t worry about them.
  • anyone know how to sell things for free? you can’t. you can only sell things for money.

Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, Wired: Freemium

  • freemium is a great way of marketing. 90% try 10% buy. digital freeloaders are affordable, too. the freeloaders are paid for by the paid users.
  • conversion from free to paid means loyalty. freemium conversions hold the lowest churn rates.
  • Club Penguin was free to play. children USE the service and SEE VALUE in it, and subsequently purchase the premium options. sold for $700 mil to Disney.
  • types of freemium: feature limited freemium. people already familiarized. ex. iPhone apps.
  • Anderson hates 30-day trials. ticking clocks discourage uptake. hmm.
  • capacity limited freemium. like Google or Flickr, for file storage limits. unfortunately doesn’t work for all products.
  • when Gmail launched, the Gmail free was more than Yahoo! Plus. Yahoo! shat themselves, but it turned out that they had experienced low churn in that period: subscribers tend to stay. not the least of which reasons is that your email is on the provider still.
  • Bill Gates didn’t crack down much on Chinese piracy because they were a developing country. they much rather would have people pirate their software than other peoples’ software, and Gates believed that they would pay later because of the then-majority of software being Microsoft. and—they did pay later and is now a huge market for Microsoft
  • (btw!) Jason Fried isn’t against Chris Anderson. 37signals products are all based on freemium. the idea is to charge $!
  • make sure you articulate the free deal clearly to the customer. communication is the risk.

Paul Buchheit, Creator of Gmail and Friendfeed: What I’ve Learned

  • “limited life experience + overgeneralization = advice”
  • Buchheit started working on Friendfeed at 30 years old
  • He worked at Google since 1999ish, after Intel, and did internships at Microsoft and Sun in college
  • working at Google was his best education he received from anywhere
  • after Google, he took a one-year retirement period to chill
  • however, he “wanted to do things that mattered” – and started friendfeed
  • it’s toxic to think that when you’re done with school, you’re done learning
  • are you in startups for the money? if so, when (that’s a when, not an if) the startup feels hopeless and the rollercoaster is at the low, you’ll give up easily.
  • if you’re into startups not just for the money, you’ll focus on external rewards and harder to give up
  • “if you really care about something, do it now.”

Twitter Founders Biz Stone and Ev Williams: Q&A with Jessica Livingston

  • Obvious was bored of Odeo and wanted to do something new. they weren’t passionately engaged in the product and rarely used it
  • motivation behind Twitter: two week hackweek at Obvious. they built, used it over the weekend, and they were passionately engaged
  • Twitter was incubated in Odeo, then spun out. Fred Wilson was first investor. they were lucky: they were able to choose investors
  • SXSW 07 was big: people started using it for afterparties
  • one guy said that one bar was crowded and to go to another one and posted it. before he got there, the line was out the door
  • they realized WOW – this product actually had users, people loved to use it too
  • some people said, it’s fun but it’s not useful. Ev responded: well, so is ice cream.
  • going public with Twitter a possibility, they’d like to go big

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO, Facebook: Q&A with Jessica Livingston

  • addressed the audience as “my people”
  • first social hack: making an online study tool that had people fill in notes for him to pass a final
  • first version of Facebook was about 10,000 LOC, release early release often worked really well for Facebook (employees push a lot)
  • definitely build something people want. Facebook wasn’t a business at start, was a tool and project
  • moving to Silicon Valley provided a lot of infrastructure for an early entrepreneur like himself
  • launched Facebook at the least receptive schools and they still caught on
  • Facebook is by definition is a naturally viral product: your friends are there. Lots of organic word-of-mouth happened at campuses.
  • Half of Dartmouth College joined in one night, probably due to an email that went out from the student government.
  • he says he never pitched Facebook a lot. Just got introduced to people because already had x00,000 users
  • “we used register.com, which was a mistake”
  • have to go through a lot of steps and iterate, no problem with mistakes, like being too perfect
  • Facebook was very focused on keeping the management technical, vs. nontech folks running the company
  • if a ‘technology’ company has a management that isn’t really technical, it’s not a tech company
  • keeping a smaller team means leverage. 300 mil users and 300 engineers. FB: a company composed of hackers. look elsewhere, and the ratio of engineers to users is incredibly different
  • cognizant of the fact that engineers tend to move around companies. Facebook is a place to learn; he’s cool with moves.
  • he talked with classmates about big industry trends. One was more data and interaction.
  • sometimes you shouldn’t listen to other people. Lots of people told him he had no experience etc
  • we’re trying to get the world to be more open. openness and transparency is going to be important in the future
  • not taking any risks is the riskiest thing you can do.
  • Values are worthless if they’re not controversial. What are you willing to give up for them?

Mitch Kapor, Founder, Lotus: Startup Culture

  • what kind of legacy do you want to leave? It’s about having impact.
  • startups see themselves as more open, less politicky, but they aren’t actually better in some ways
  • startups have more public humiliation and bullying than regular companies, says research
  • some startups value face-time more than productivity, and some value rumors as the best source of info
  • lots of tech startups see themselves as meritocracies. Research : “diverse teams are better”
  • inaction is an action, too. Both what you do and don’t do affects your startup’s culture
  • in startups, hold people accountable. Be serious about keeping a tight leash.
  • Angel investors are really disruptive. Characteristics: smaller chunks of money, more favorable terms, often entrepreneurs themselves

Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos: Delivering Happiness

  • sold LinkExchange because the culture with employees wasn’t good.
  • the list of core values of Zappos was really important to culture and the co. Wish they did it at first
  • “people tell us we should start an airline… or run the IRS”
  • Zappos has three C’s: Clothing, Customer Service (what they experience), Culture (and core values)
  • recommend Good to Great (Jim Collins) and Tribal Leadership (avail online at zappos.com)
  • “chase the vision, not the money–and the money will end up following you”
  • “what would you be passionate about doing for 10 years regardless of money made?”
  • Inspire employees: culture and greater visions. Came up with Committable (!) Core Values.
  • Zappos’ Committable Core Values are grounds for hiring and firing, very serious about it
  • one hire that goes against the core values is fine, but making a habit of letting it slide all the time is detrimental
  • more important to have core values and committing to them, rather than the specific values.
  • “vision and culture can inspire passion and performance” (yes!)
  • Zappos aims to deliver happiness to customers AND employees AND vendors
  • When Zappos employees leave, they often go and hang out with other Zappos employees.
  • Zappos recommends that 10%-20% of time outside of office w/ coworkers, and Tony said that it improves communication and happiness by 20-100%!
  • what is your goal in life? then ask why? then ask why again? and again? it all leads to HAPPINESS
  • happiness components: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness, and higher vision/meaning
  • give bonuses every 6 months vs every 18. Equivalent but happiness higher
  • 3 types of happiness: pleasure/rockstar, passion/flow (time flies), meaning/higher purpose (long lasting)

Mark Pincus, CEO, Zynga: My Startup Experience

Check out this writeup on VentureBeat too.

  • you probably have to have a screw loose if you want to be an entrepreneur
  • at one point he was funded and the funder wanted the company to be “independently controlled” (disaster)
  • they brought on an independent person on the board (would become CEO, independent person, and VC.) however, they realized that in a decision the independent person basically pointed to the VC and says, it’s their money.
  • what really matters is that YOU CONTROL YOUR BOARD. Mark Zuckerberg claps.
  • “Who gives a shit what your valuation us? Only your ego!”
  • A lot of the time, the people that are dealing with your startup on the board of directors are junior VCs.
  • if you go to the senior VCs, they’ll understand what you’re saying.
  • however, the junior VCs aren’t very smart, and they’ll want to control your board a lot
  • to first-time entrepreneurs, they’ll mark you as an investment risk and you lose more control. ironically, this is probably a first-time VC/board member as well.
  • at some point, you’ll have to hire someone to be COO. however, you’ll then find that the COO that you may find will look at you saying: you’re a first-time entrepreneur. I don’t want you managing me. I want to be CEO.
  • Fake CEO days: speaking at conferences, etc: he almost took one by speaking at Harvard Business School but instead went to Facebook and worked with his team to fix Zynga’s problems