After skipping on New Year’s Resolutions last year, I think it’s time to go back to what worked: writing them down and making them public. Two years ago I made these 3 resolutions. I stuck to two of them, and cooking / eating healthy ended up becoming a habit.
To keep the same structure I am going to share my two resolutions as a 5-year vision and a 3-month plan.
5-Year Vision: Be able to answer questions about India
3-Month Plan: Learn something about Indian culture every week
My trip to India last March made it clear to me how little I knew about the country and my heritage. It’s embarrassing how many times I’ve been asked to confirm something about Indian culture, only to google the answer like everyone else. I have made it a goal to learn something new about Indian culture every week. To keep myself to task, a friend and I have started http://www.culturejoy.com, a mailing list where we share a few facts about Indian culture each week. The mission is simple – help people to understand more about India and then expand to allow everyone to understand their heritage. If you are interested, please subscribe!
5-Year Vision: Be equally as likely to pick up a book as to turn on the TV
3-Month Plan: Read 25 pages a day
I have never been a book worm. Reading was always something that school forced me to do. Perhaps it was a combination of books I didn’t like and strict reading requirements, but reading became something to avoid. In high school, since I never expanded my vocabulary by reading, I actually had to memorize the definitions of thousands of words for the SAT.
This needs to change. Reading not only improves creative and critical thinking it is also one of the best ways to learn from the experiences of others. While it’s unlikely I’ll be the person that reads a book a week, I’d like to simply be in a place where reading a book is just as enjoyable as anything else. This will also help me plow through the books I have collected as gifts over the last couple years!
That’s it – I tried to keep it simple. Did you make a resolution this year? I’d love to help you think through a 3-month plan and a 5-year vision.
This week I shot my first live TV segment for FOX on the Napwell (http://www.napwell.com), the world’s first napping mask and a Kickstarter project I launched with one of my longtime friends, Justin Lee.
Having never been on live TV, here are 11 things that I learned:
News anchors are fantastic speakers. The teleprompter moves quickly, and they are consistently poised and speak slowly and clearly. There is a lot to learn.
Plug, baby plug. Don’t assume that people will know what your website is or how to buy your product. In our case, they did not show the website address on screen so make sure to say it out loud.
Know your themes and frame the conversation. The anchor will naturally guide the segment but have 2-3 things that you want to say and work them in. In our case it was our Kickstarter success, the fact that we iterate to solve real problems, and our target customer scenarios.
News teams are a prime example of operational efficiency. The team is lean and without redundancy.
Know which camera you are supposed to look into. There were a few of them and I wasn’t sure where to be looking.
Be yourself. I tried to sprinkle in a few jokes because that’s what I do normally. It put me at ease, and hopefully you chuckle at one of them.
Wear something with pockets. They give you a little microphone box that needs to go somewhere so make it easy for them.
Time goes by very quickly.
Wear solid colors. A pro tip picked up from my new friend and airplane rowmate and Director of Public Relations at Reputation.com. Thanks Leslie!
Smile, you don’t get to be on TV every day. It will remind you to be less nervous and have fun.
My typical day is filled with 3 kinds of conversations.
2-10 seconds. I like to call this a “freshmen dorm conversation.” I’m now five years removed from college so I’m not sure if I’m still allowed to make college analogies but here it goes: you see someone who you lived with in a freshman dorm and haven’t seen since. You say hello, and the conversation follows a set pattern: “Hey, how’s it going?” They reply “Good, how are you?” and you move on.
30 seconds – 3 minutes. This is someone who you see on a semi-regular basis and you start the conversation with general questions and maybe have time for a weather-related or current events topic. Then, you close up shop and move on.
3 minutes+. This does not seem like a lot of time, but how many of these types of conversations do you really have? To keep a conversation going longer than three minutes there has to be mutual interest and at least one meaningful topic of discussion.
I generally tend to have Type 2 conversations. This could be because I help run a startup and meet a lot of startup people; everyone I meet has his or her elevator pitch or talking points well rehearsed. In fact, I have a lot of conversations that are abridged versions of “the show,” which to me means anyone describing his or her startup with a positive spin.
I don’t know about you, but to me these Type 2 conversations are frustrating – especially when talking to interesting, intelligent people working on startups. It’s not really a secret that every startup is horribly broken anyways.
Entrepreneurs are eternal optimists, so I understand the impulse to use a positive word shield to hide what is really going on, but I wonder how helpful people would actually be if you let them try. For example, whenever we had office hours at Y Combinator, the partners would always ask what our most pressing problem was, and those sessions were incredibly productive. This made me wonder, what if I did this with people who I see every day?
After having any idea, I run it by my “Am I crazy?” filter: my mom. She lives in a no B.S. world and is the perfect first person to run any idea by. Her response, “you are probably crazy. People don’t have time for your problems.” Since both of these are probably true, we created an important rule for a potential experiment. Don’t tell people my most personal problems, yet. Until I have a better idea whether this works or not, my shared problems will strictly be work related.
Like any supporter of the lean startup philosophy, before talking to anyone else or even writing this post, I decided to test this idea once. I’ve been going to the gym pretty regularly for the past two years and there is a guy who I see there a few times a week. We’ve probably had hundreds of Type 1 conversations and at least twenty Type 2 conversations. I still didn’t know his name or where he worked. He was a nice, anonymous gym guy.
This time, however, when he asked “How’s work?” instead of responding “Going great,” I replied that we had just launched our new app, Clippo, in the app store and were having a real problem with our user acquisition strategy. Namely, that paid apps and gaming companies had driven user acquisition costs so high that it made it very difficult for a consumer product without an extremely high budget to be competitive.
Gym guy didn’t respond with “that’s tough, good luck,” which is what I half-expected. In fact, he explained how the company that he works for created an optimized system for AdWords that would help us reduce costs and create a framework for user acquisition.
To quote Eminem, “Ah wait, no way, you’re kidding. He didn’t just say what I think he did, did he?” An insight and a strategy in my first Type 3 conversion experiment!
I made sure that I really understood what he had just explained to me. I asked at least five to ten follow-up questions, and gym guy answered each one patiently. I could tell he really enjoyed talking about his strategy and was excited to share it with someone who he knew was obviously grateful. How did I know that? I asked him.
I actually will be implementing his Adwords strategy over the next few weeks and, depending how it works for us (his company is in ed tech), will potentially write a post about it.
But my favorite part came after that – he told me one of his problems. For privacy sake, I won’t share what it was but am happy to report that I had a couple ways that I thought might help him. By approaching him with my problem, I think it made him comfortable enough to share something with me. Again, it is important to remember that before this we had never had a conversation for longer than 2 minutes. I wouldn’t say we are friends now, but I do know his name.
That exchange is what gives me real confidence that this can work. Another question my mom brought up was, “Is the average person going to know or care about your startup problems?” At first I had no answer, then I came back thinking “probably not and that is a good thing”. One thing we struggle with from time to time is uniformity of ideas. Christian and I work so well together and think so similarly that sometimes we are too close and too involved.
I’d love for some of my friends or anyone, maybe someone who works in finance or materials research, to tell me how they think I should acquire users. Maybe it will be awkward and they won’t care or have ideas, but maybe they will come up with something or some accessible group that I would have never considered. That to me is an exciting outcome.
This brings me to my plan: try and take one Type 2 conversation and move it to a Type 3 conversation every day. (My philosophy to stick to a plan is to take them one small step at a time.) Then, in every one of these conversations, I am going to lead with my most pressing work problem and write a post about how it went.
If the first couple weeks go well, I’m going to add personal problems to the mix. If it’s a disaster, I can always record them, make a reality show, and drive viewer growth using strategic Adwords placement. Someone asked me what my goal for this experiment is and honestly I don’t have something I’m trying to learn. I just want to see if it works for me. Am I missing something, how do you drive meaningful conversation in your life?
On the way to my first meeting during my sophomore year summer internship, my boss stopped me in the hall:
Boss: Neil, where are you going?
Me: I thought we have a weekly meeting…?
Boss: Where’s your pen? Notepad? Always be prepared to offer something at every meeting.
I was startled. It was only my first week at the mutual fund, Dodge & Cox. I had no real experience– what could I possibly say in a meeting full of seasoned investment pros?
Two weeks ago, Christian and I spoke to a group of Stanford freshman to give practical advice on how to get an internship at a startup. When we got the question, “What can I do as a freshman to get a job at a startup?” the answer was simple: always offer something.
We get a lot of resumes from students looking for internships. Most students say they want to work at a startup to gain experience and start their own company someday. That is totally fine– you don’t need to tell us you are going to work for our company forever. But, think about who you are speaking to. We would love to help you gain experience, but find a way to do that while accomplishing what we are doing right now.
That “something” can be big or small, whether it’s a way to measure the results of a social media campaign, a strategy to create a list of thousands of potential customers in a new vertical, or a plan to stand outside Starbucks and make everyone that goes by download an app. My point is, do your homework, think about the company’s most pressing problems, and offer something. What really differentiates you from the stack of resumes is how you are ready to make a tangible impact.
Interested in being an intern at ReelSurfer, send me an email: neil at reelsurfer.com. We look forward to hearing what you have to offer.
Who invented the New Year’s resolution? If Hallmark invented card-giving holidays, maybe the resolution was invented by 24 Hour Fitness?
There is nothing wrong with having large, ambitious goals – it’s just sad to see so many discarded because people don’t know where to begin. For me, the only type of New Year’s resolution that is worth making consists of small, attainable goals that result in sustainable habits.
At ReelSurfer, we always have a three-month plan and a five-year vision. It allows us to dream big and still wake up every day with a manageable list of things to do. It also helps us monitor our progress. Why don’t more people do this in their personal lives? This year, I am going to use this framework to make my three New Year’s resolutions. By sharing them publicly we can all monitor my progress together (to do so follow me on twitter).
5 Year Vision: Keep learning new skills
3 Month Plan: Write at least one new blog post every 2 weeks
Like a lot of people, I find writing something well takes lots of hard work. I survived English class because I spent countless hours proofreading and rewriting. When I wrote my first guest post for CBS Interactive a few years ago, I was terrified before submitting it. A post published on another site felt so permanent – was it good enough? I probably had 10 people proofread it and still had that roller-coaster-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feeling when I submitted it. To become a better writer, I must make a concerted effort to practice.
My goal is to write at least one blog post every 2 weeks to develop my own voice and become more comfortable as a writer. My hope is that after a period of 3-6 months, blogging will become a habit and I can move on to developing another skill.
3 Month Plan: Meet one new person (face-to-face) every week
I have now lived in the bay area for almost 9 years. Most of my friends from college still live in the area and I have a tendency to stay in my comfortable social circle. While having a strong support network is amazing, having one makes me less likely to meet new people. It’s time for a change, not only from a professional standpoint (where being able to connect with all types of people is really important) but also from a personal one. I’m not sure how I am going to find all these new people (if you want to meet me leave a comment), but we’ll leave that for another post.
My goal is to meet someone new (face-to-face) every week and have at least a 15-minute conversation.
5 Year Vision: Be healthier
3 Month Plan: Bring lunch to work 3 days a week
I already do a decent job of going to the gym, but my eating habits leave much to be desired. Startup life keeps me pretty busy, so I don’t have much time to cook for myself. This means that I eat out a lot, almost 10 – 12 times a week. That is pretty outrageous considering there are only 14 opportunities to eat lunch and dinner every week. No matter how often you go to the gym, you will never be able to accomplish any health related goals by eating fast food.
My goal is to make and bring lunch to work 3 times a week. I hope this first step leads to making dinner and improving my cooking skills as well.
Please let me know what your resolutions are in the comments below. Working towards goals in groups is a great way to stay on track.
Having given a few lectures now, I want to share 3 tricks that can make anyone a more effective speaker. In my eyes, the ultimate goal of a lecture is to make sure that your audience leaves with ideas that they can actually use:
1.Don’t give a presentation – have a conversation
I don’t like the word ‘presentation’. It reminds me of waking up at 7am, riding my bike across campus, and being crammed into a small desk in an auditorium. Then comes the worst part – watching the clock, wiggling around in my chair, and trying to pay attention. For me, it’s really hard to sit and listen to something for an hour and a half without losing focus.
This puts the burden on the speaker to be engaging so that he or she doesn’t lose the audience and keeps the cell phones away. The solution is to not give a presentation, but to make it a conversation. So, how can you do it?
·Open by explaining that everyone should feel free to interrupt you (respectfully, of course) at any time. Don’t the most interesting anecdotes always come from answers to questions? Speakers can’t prepare for all possible questions so answers are more likely to be off the cuff and real.
·Repeatedly ask if anyone has questions. Even if you offer the opportunity to be interrupted, few people will take it. It’s a bit intimidating as an audience member to raise your hand and ask a question that interrupts the speaker’s flow. As Jerry Maguire said, help them help you by asking for questions.
2.Speak in your voice and style
This one is pretty simple – play to your personality. Back in college, I played a lot of poker and to help improve my game I read almost every poker book ever written. The best advice I got, besides learning the odds, was to “play like your personality.” When I first started playing, I was extremely conservative and would only play with the strongest hands. It made me nervous and honestly made playing pretty boring; I would sit for hours and not say a word.
I like to talk, so a more aggressive, playful style fit me better. This was backed by results as this strategy led to more winning sessions and ultimately more enjoyment from the game.
I think the same goes for speaking. You don’t need to be stiff to look professional and prepared. This is easy for both Christian and me because we generally have a pretty casual style. Speaking in your natural style makes you more comfortable, which makes you more confident and trust me, your audience can tell. Find what fits you and own it.
3.Tell personal stories
The best way to make a connection with your audience is to be genuine. I’m 26 years old and don’t really have the experience to spout clichés like “stay the course” and “fight the good fight.” Someday I hope to, but I’m not quite there yet. All I have to back up my credibility is personal experience.
But wait, why would you want to tell your embarrassing stories to a group of complete strangers? Aren’t you supposed to be some sort of expert who makes no mistakes? For me the answer is simple I’m not an expert yet. The reason I am speaking to anyone is to help others learn from my mistakes.
Luckily for me, I do not get embarrassed easily. Countless sales rejections have given me a tough skin. If you are speaking to entrepreneurs then chances are they have a tough skin too. People in Silicon Valley fail all the time. I’ve learned the mistake you make is not nearly as important as your reaction to it. The key is to make sure it never happens again. In fact as a personal goal, I try to make a mistake every single day.
Some of my favorite stories to tell are about how we built (and painfully removed) features, and how we (almost) reached an agreement with a key customer. Personal stories elicit an emotional response from the audience, your real goal as a presenter. To avoid awkwardness you can remove specific names and some of the more sensitive details (that is what a journal is for).
Emotional reactions lead to discussions both during your lecture and after. I have learned that it is the discussion after the lecture that is sometimes the most illuminating. I hope that some of my experiences with public speaking will be helpful to you next time you get up on stage.
So, good luck with your next conversation – and let me know how it goes!
A startup is a lot of work. Sometimes I get so bogged down in what we are doing that I don’t stop and take the time to say thanks. In fact, I just read this article about Shervin Pishevar and one of his secrets to success is that he frequently thanks people publicly.
So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving week, I want to say thanks to:
My friends – for NOT being startup people and keeping me relatively sane
My parents – for supporting my decision to not work in finance and take a job that paid nothing
Cee-Lo Green – for inspiring our infamous “forget-you” list
Jim Harbaugh / Andrew Luck – for making Stanford football relevant
My sister – for being my #1 editor / copy writer / promoter
Y-Combinator (and my batchmates)– for challenging me to make something people want
My girlfriend – for being a sounding board for crazy ideas and late night brainstorming
The AMC network – for allowing me to try new lines of work as an advertising executive, meth dealer, and zombie
Our advisors – for supporting our growth not just as a company but also as individuals
Our investors – for fueling our dreams and supporting our long-term vision
ReelSurfer team – for making every day exciting, inspiring and fun
But, the thing that I am most thankful for is that our journey is just beginning.
Who do you need to thank? Stop what you are doing right now and tell them.