Tag Archives: career

Learn by Doing

Learn by DoingWhile people learn different things in different ways, business is one activity that I firmly believe is best learned while engaging in the activity. In fact I feel that most people learn more in one year on the job than they do in multiple years of school as so many facets and nuances of business really cannot be taught in books or a classroom setting with fictional stakes. The rubber meets the road when working with real people (who have real families), real clients, a real balance sheet, and a real income statement.

It is with that in mind that I picked Learn by Doing as the title of my latest (10th!) collection of notes from Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders lectures.

The book contains a wealth of insight from startup founders and business owners such as Ben Horowitz (Andreessen Horowitz), John Collison (Stripe), and Joshua Reeves (ZenPayroll). While it is free do not let that influence your thoughts on the value. These lectures have provided me tons of inspiration as well as great career advice. I urge you to give it a read and then follow up by listening to any lectures that strike you for even more insight.

Best of luck.

Join the Conversation

You might, like many of us, have some goals or dreams, personally or professionally, that you have yet to fulfill. Sometimes you feel stuck in a rut and wanting more. Often the feeling is one that is self-perpetuating as you lose enthusiasm and the energy to get out of it. Sometimes without taking action to dig yourself out you can end up burnt out or depressed.

Action is the key.

One action that I’m advocating for today is to join into the local, national, or global conversation that it happening around the goals you have both personally and professionally. I believe that participating in, rather than listening in, is a sure fire way to pull out of a rut, reenergize yourself, and getting your brain to work creatively again.

Conversations happen in many ways and in many places: in the open, behind closed doors, in meetings, over the phone, email, on message boards, and in the media. Some of those are available to you and some of those you have to force your way in.

I have an example of the latter from my job. Our company had started working on a web portal for our clients which is an idea I had long advocated for. For reasons I do not know (I was the only person at the company with a technical background) I was not included in almost any of the discussions leading up to the development nor any of the discussions during the development process. The development was outsourced and, while there technically was one person leading the project, in reality there were eight different people who were trying to control the project.

If the project was a human I imagine it felt like this:

I have eight bosses, Bob.

When the portal was finally launched it was something that neither our internal people nor our clients wanted to use. In fact, only one person logged in and interacted with the software in the first four or five months it was live. Obviously there was a problem.

I took this problem to be an opportunity and forced myself into the conversation. The first step was to write up nine pages on what I thought the issues were and ways to improve them (basically it all boiled down to vision and software being a tool that people use to solve a problem). I followed that up coding a different vision of the portal (in 1/20 of the time and for 1/1000 of the cost of the original). I demoed that and also created a forty slide presentation that highlighted the ways it would streamline things for our staff and would scale as we grew.

It was some of the best work I had done in a long time. It had dragged me out of the rut I had been in at the job and got my brain firing on all cylinders. New ideas were popping up as I was trying to sleep and I even had two dreams about it.

What brought me to that point was that I felt that you can only be ignored for so long. I responded by taking voicing my opinions and taking a lot of action. I did not see a downside. By forcing yourself into the conversation the worst case scenario is that you build up a body of work that you can repurpose into a blog, book, podcast, product, or company.

On that project, while I think I did get some people to ask the questions that should have been asked at the beginning, all of my efforts and suggestions were generally acknowledged but not acted upon. For whatever reasons the powers that be decided to continue down the path they were on.

It was not the wasted effort it seems to be. Out of it I have come up with a great idea for a company, an idea for a book, learned Ruby on Rails, and had some amazing discussions with some of my colleagues about the future of the industry.

This blog is another way that I am joining in a conversation. I am using it as a way to reach out to potential customers for StartOpz. I believe those people to be either entrepreneurs or employees at startups or small businesses. They are interested in starting and scaling their efforts to build a successful business. Hopefully some of my posts help them do that in some way. I know I have already learned a lot from them.

When things settle down a bit I also hope to get further engaged in the conversations around the various issues that are important to me and to find ways to help whether that be through charity or more hands-on efforts.

Words can be leveraged more than money can ever be. They are powerful in that they can incite action in others and that other people can pass them on thus reaching more people that you have ever met in your life.

The conversation is happening right now on the web on sites like Twitter and Reddit. It is happening on blogs (write posts and leave comments), in books (write one and self-publish), and in emails (find people in your field of interest and just write to them). It is happening at conferences around the world and at your local coffee shop.

Talking about what you do and what you want to do will get you excited and keep you excited about the efforts you are making to reach your goals. It will incite the action you need to get out of a rut or avoid it completely. It will keep you feeling alive.

Working From Home vs. Working From Home as a Parent

In the summer of 2008 my company ran out of space at my office so my boss asked me if I would mind working from home. I said no though I would miss the amazing view of the Pacific Ocean just feet from the window.

Santa Monica Bay RainbowI had already setup a Windows Terminal Server for the people that spent a lot of time travelling to clients. I had access to everything at the office so there were no challenges technology wise. I forwarded calls to my cell phone and was set.

i loved it. I was more productive than ever. I was also more relaxed due to not having a commute as well as having the physical buffer from the bit of office politics that every company has. I enjoyed it so much that I kept working from home after we downsized a bit in November of 2008. (That was an interesting time. I took a trip to India that month with a new assistant in line to start when I returned and when I did not only was that off but a few other people had been let go. I think they all rebounded quickly though.)

I’ve continued working from home since even as my home life has changed with getting married, having two kids, and moving from my rent-controlled apartment to a house half the country away. Of those changes the only one that has had any effect on my daily routine is the kids.

Working from home is completely different than working from home with kids.

That is true whether or not the kids are physically at home with you. When you have children they are ever present in your home. They can be loud, demanding, and sweet as candy (which they might be demanding). And for the most part they can’t be ignored. They are always in the back of your mind even if they are playing quietly in the next room.

Another way they leave their presence is, as soon as they can walk, leaving a wake of toys and crumbs (good practice for venturing into forests). Without having a separate office with the door closed I would feel compelled to clean all of that up before starting work as physical clutter (a polite term for mess) makes it hard for me to concentrate.

Clean Desk

I’ve always worked more than the forty hours a week required of me (sometimes a lot more) and one thing working from home enabled me to do was to make sure that my best waking hours were spent on productive tasks (the morning commute killed that). Now getting the kids up, dressed, fed, and driving them to daycare has undone that. I love dropping the older one off though.

Working with the kids in the house can be even more challenging. Before my wife went back to work full time after the birth of our second child the older child only went to daycare two days a week. My favorite part of the day was when he came into my office to say hello following his naps. My least favorite part was the six to ten times he got up and came in after he was put down for his nap but before he fell asleep. (I’m becoming convinced that the bedtime story where the child falls right asleep is a Hollywood fantasy.)

On the other hand I did get to see them when I took a break for some food and was able to look out the window to see the older one playing in the backyard (at which point I would give anything to go out and play with him rather than return to my spreadsheet).

I’m learning that organization and adaptation are some of the key traits of being a busy parent. Your obligation to work comes after your obligation to your family and it is a difficult juggling act. Both under one roof has unique challenges and rewards.

I still love working from home and wouldn’t voluntarily return to office life.

Books for your business and career

A blog with no content isn’t much use so I thought a good first post would be to point you to some great content–some of the books I’ve read that have shaped the way I think about business.

Harvard Business Review on Managing Yourself

This book is a compilation of advice from business leaders on how to manage your life and career. I found it to be a great read as having been in the business world for a while it caused me to take a step back and reevaluate where I was and where I wanted to go.

(It looks like this book is out of print and has been replaced with this.)

Entrepreneur’s Toolkit: Tools and Techniques to Launch and Grow Your New Business

A comprehensive guide to starting a business which covers everything from identifying an opportunity to finding financing to growth. The business plan (I know there are questions about them in some circles) section is quick and no nonsense.

Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist

This biography of Warren Buffett provides a look at his background and some of the lessons he has learned to get where he is today. Some of those lessons are as applicable to business owners as they are to investors.


A Sense of Urgency

My biggest takeaway from this book was that we create a false sense of urgency in business. We get so bogged down with “important” emails that we cannot fully focus on the bigger projects that actually build the business. I ended up turning off the new email notifications in Outlook and trying to spend some time on a project before responding to emails in the morning. Still a struggle at times.

Founders at Work

The stories in this book are definitely more focused on Internet startups but many of them have insights into problems that all businesses have such as hiring, operations, growth, etc. This definitely can be used as a source of motivation during challenging times.

The Intelligent Investor

I included the Intelligent Investor on this list as while part of being an entrepreneur is to take risks you still like to have a safety net for your family and future. Benjamin Graham eschews trading in favor of fundamental investing which many might consider a wise move for your retirement account.

The Interpretation of Financial Statements

Every business owner should be able to read a balance sheet and profit and loss statement. Needs to be able to. It helps you look at your business as a business. You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you stand.


A quick read (most chapters are only a page or two) that will get you moving forward on your business before you even put it down. Includes a lot of no-nonsense advice. Stop having meetings and start creating.

(You can download their previous book, Getting Real, for free.)