The Hacker Chick Blog Looking at the edge & wondering what's beyond... 2017-11-20T01:34:06Z https://hackerchick.com/feed/atom/ WordPress Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[The Creativity Lab for Tech Misfits (Join us!)]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=5118 2017-10-11T18:00:16Z 2017-10-11T17:37:25Z The Lab is now live! For techies who are done with being unappreciated cogs living on auto pilot and ready to start doing the work that they love.

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The Creativity Lab for Tech Misfits is now live! Click here to join us.

Join The Rebellion

Fuck being an unappreciated cog in the wheel. I created The Creativity Lab for techies who are done with all that and ready to claim their place as the legit, creative badass that they are.

Because, here’s the thing. As techies, we create the magic that powers the world. No one should be able to hold us back from that. And yet, as soon as we get really good at what we do, it’s like the world doesn’t know what to do with us. Where we fit. We end up in roles that don’t even begin to tap our full potential.

SCREW THAT.

Hello, Walmart?

You can call up Walmart and ask about their career opportunities for greeters.

OR you can get out of your comfort zone, create something that actually uses your true potential, and use that to step into the work that you really want to be doing.

The work that the world really needs from you.

The Legit, Creative, Badass You

When you picture the legit, creative badass version of yourself – what are you doing? What are you known for? What are you creating?

It could be technical or non-technical. Software or robots. Books or businesses. Blogs, videos, podcasts. Art, music, design. Leading communities, teaching…

Life is not an adventure till it starts scaring you shitless - gapingvoid

The Creativity Lab

The Creativity Lab is a community of people in tech who’ve replaced living on auto-pilot with living their adventure.

It’s a place to bounce ideas around, share what you’re doing, get advice, gain encouragement, get feedback, and Get Shit Done.

It’s our sanctuary away from the naysayers of the world who don’t like anything different.

Tech Misfits Facebook Group

Join The Creativity Lab for Tech Misfits

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[The Era of Creativity]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3896 2017-09-10T21:17:35Z 2017-09-10T19:40:01Z Forget everything you think that you know. None of it works anymore. 

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Forget everything you think that you know. None of it works anymore.

What if we don't change at all and something magical happens? (Comic from Chargify)

The cereal killers

WAH! I’m so sick of hearing people whining about how millennials are killing off napkins and golf and Tony the Tiger. Who gives a shit?

Millennials are killing everything off because nobody cares about the old, “traditional” ways of doing things. Maybe the rest of us have just been doing it that way for so long that we don’t stop to think about all the ways in which it no longer serves us.

But millennials have come of age in a world where anyone with a basement can disrupt an entire industry and turn it on it’s head into a better answer.

Uber and the taxi system. 

Airbnb and hotels. 

Amazon and brick & mortar stores.

Spotify and radio.

Yelp and the… I don’t even remember anymore.

Millennials killing the 9-5 workday. Millennials killing bosses. What's next?!@

 

What isn’t serving us anymore? That will be next on the list.

It doesn’t make any sense to millennials to put up with it. And it shouldn’t make any sense to the rest of us either.

The age of the machine people

There’s all this talk of AI taking over. But I think Elon Musk has it wrong.

Terminator

Software may be eating the world, but underneath it all, it’s people (not skynet) who are taking control back from things that have been running on auto-pilot for way too long. We’re saying we’re fed up and we’re not going to take it anymore, and we’re doing something about it.

In the age of creativity, hackers rule the world

A hacker, in my definition, is a person who’s able to take a thing and twist it to make it do more than anyone ever believed was possible. When Galileo took a piece of curved glass and used it to look at the stars – no one had ever done that before. Before then, glass was just glass. And stars were just little dots of light in the sky.

But Galileo wasn’t satisfied with that. He wanted to see the stars up close. And so he found a way to take boring old glass and turn it into a telescope with which he could view the stars up close and personal.

Galileo, in other words, was a hacker.

I’ll never forget a trip I took to San Francisco during the height of the dotcom boom. As a geek, I was crazy excited to visit Cygnus (a bad ass tech company that was later bought by Red Hat). And was dutifully awed by their huge playroom complete with air hocky, foosball, and over-sized bean bag chairs.

But the best part of all was that painted, REALLY BIG on the wall, in bright happy colors, it said:

 

Ang at Cygnus - Hackers Rule the World

Hackers rule the world!

I believed it was true then. And I believe it is even more true today.

I believe that our world belongs to those of us who are creating new things and putting them out into the world. Things that disrupt the old, fix the old, compliment it, ignore it, embellish it, replace it – it doesn’t matter.

New things that move this world forward and allow us to create the world that we want to be living in.

Validate your existence

I love how artist Catia Chien describes the act of creation as the means by which we create our sense of belonging. The way that we etch out our place in this world and validate our existence within it.

I couldn’t agree more.

Catia says:

“I have long ago understood that [earning a paycheck] is not where the gold is. You know,

you will chase [money] forever, and then, at the end of your life, you think, what have I done?

The feeling of actually belonging, it’s self-created. Arriving at the process of creating something from the inside out, it’s really just a validation of existing. It matters that we add to the conversation, so it’s not just one voice that’s being told. It matters.”

How do YOU matter?

What are you creating to add your own voice to the conversation?

(or are you just roboticly going through the motions on auto-pilot?)

What are you spending your time on that’s making you feel ALIVE and worthy and allowing you to create your mark and contribute a piece of yourself back into the world?

What is calling to you to create RIGHT NOW?

And what are you planning to do about it?

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[What are you afraid to admit you’re afraid of?]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=4199 2017-08-20T04:17:12Z 2017-08-20T03:55:09Z I'm afraid that I will never find my zone of genius because this one thing leaves me terrified...

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9 days until I move into this beautiful sanctuary that will be my new home!

And, as I look to push myself to the next level — new & improved home, new & improved business — I want to do something that is uniquely me. Something wonderful and delightful that I can do while looking out over my koi.

Something that follows Jeff Goins’ advice in If you can’t be the best, change the category,

“You are either the best or you’re irrelevant. So why not be the best?”

YES!

Only… what would that look like?

What am I the best at?

And so I’m reading books and listening to podcasts.

What what what?

I joined a group for – okay, please don’t laugh – spiritual coaches. In my defense, I didn’t realize that’s what it was for when I signed up. I just liked what the lady who runs the program had to say. And it’s actually pretty cool hearing a completely 180 degree different perspective then what you hear as an engineer.

And so I’m trying to listen to all of these different perspectives but it’s like having something right on the tip of your tongue… I feel like I know it, only… I don’t. Why is it so hard to figure out what our own beautiful thing is when it’s so easy to see it in others?

I keep hearing this term “zone of genius.” I don’t know what that means so I googled and found this TEDx talk from Laura Garnett:

“We each have a unique approach to the work we do that is specific to us. This specificity is our super power. It’s what we do best…. it’s living up to our full potential.”

Yes! This. If I can just figure this out, it will all become clear.

Only… here’s the catch.

To uncover your zone of genius, Laura says we need to ask the people we’ve worked with before what they think our super power is.

I’d need to go ask people, “how has working with me impacted your life?”

And I fear, as I hear this, that I will never uncover my zone of genius.

Because I am too terrified of this question. Too terrified to ask people, because… what if I’ve had no impact on their life at all?

I’m too terrified to ask… so I thought I’d try instead announcing my fear to the world.

Because sometimes, when we do that, it loses it’s hold over us. And then maybe I’ll be able to go find my zone of genius after all.

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[How To (Not) Get VC Funding for Your Startup]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3970 2017-09-07T15:51:24Z 2017-08-15T23:00:49Z ... with a bit of How To thrown in for good measure. So! This just happened...

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with a little bit of How To thrown in at the end for good measure…

So…. this just happened

There’s this company that I won’t name here in this text that I’m typing. But let’s just say I’ve gotten into not one, not two, but three pretty big fights with them in years past cuz I really don’t like people coming in and fucking with startups.

The last fight got SO gangsta that Scott Kirsner, Phil Beauregard, Jeremy Weiskotten and myself teamed up and…  created the awesome that is Unpitch, which has now connected hundreds of startups with Boston’s top investors. ALL FOR FREE (suck on that, pay to pitch!). And cuz economics is sometimes wrong, the investors have picked up the lunch tab time every single time (thank you, Boston investors!).

So, technically, I owe them a thank you.

But… it’s been a few years, so! I guess it’s time for Round #4.

Ding!

Message from Evil Corp

 

 

It’s all about the thoughts

Are you looking for funding for your startup?

It really is all about having the right mindset, so I’ve put together a visioning exercise to ground your mind for wealth.

Ready?

Ok first, close your eyes.

See No Evil Baby Buddha

(okay. well. yeah. you know what I mean. shuttup)

Now, I want you to imagine that you’re sitting in front of your computer, your laptop, your phone… whichever you use most often to check your messages.

And you open up your inbox, and…

You’ve got mail!

Right Up Top is a very personalized note, addressed directly to your first name. Albeit from someone you’ve never met before. Yet in DIRECT answer to your very desire!:

 

Hi Abby – Wanted to know if you’re actively seeking venture funding.

 

(Actively seeking venture funding? WOW! Do you have some candy for me too?)

Got it?

Can you picture it really clearly?

Okay.

Now. I want you to imagine

RED LIGHTS FLASHING ALARMS BLARING BZZZZZZZ BZZZZZZZ BZZZZZZ BZZZZZZZ SO PAINFUL WON’T STOP MUST GET AWAY

 

 

Here are some things that you need to know about funding

#1 Most investments are made with people that the investor has known for at least 15 months. Not 15 minutes at an assembly line pitch event. Definitely not because they responded to a cold call from an investor.

(who does that? what kind of investor would be like “I have all this money I want to give away but nobody will talk to me!” None of them. Not a one.)

 

#2. Most investments are made with startups that the investor chose to talk to because the startup is doing interesting things. Not with startups that… seemingly have so few redeeming qualities that their only option is to pay large sums of money for the VC’s time.

(which seriously makes me cry. please don’t be that startup)

 

If you’re serious about your startup, don’t wait until you’re actively seeking funding

Hell, even if you’re just having fun and following your curiosity with no serious plans for this particular project/idea anywhere in site (said many a founder before they got wildly crazy seriously successful)…

If you’re serious or interested or excited about startups in general, get involved in the community right from day one. Meet people, make relationships, and (ahem, shameless pitch) go to awesome events like Unpitch that put you in the room with amazing people that are going to help you on your journey. If not today, then at some unknown point in your future. Or maybe the tables will flip and you’ll end up helping them in a way that inexplicably makes your life better. 

Even if you never end up doing a serious startup. Startup people are, hands down, some of the most awesome people EVER.

And unbelievably infectious. Just try to spend time hanging out with startup peeps and not get crazy inspired to go do, be, create things that you had never even thought were possible before.

Seriously, being around startup people can only make you better. 

And so – don’t go and be a wantrepreneur, cuz nobody likes that. But if you’re really willing to get out of your comfort zone and try new things and give this startup thing a try, then go!

Meet. Greet.

Tap into your city’s startup community and get visible.

Make relationships.

And – if you do decide to seek funding (actively or, um, whatever other kind of seeking there is?) save your money for things that turn your startup into just exactly the kind of startup that investors seek out to talk to.

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[Evolution is the ultimate hacker]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=2296 2017-08-11T21:45:39Z 2017-08-11T21:43:53Z If you’re interested in pushing the edge on what’s possible then you should look to evolution as a role model, because evolution is the ultimate hacker.

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I think if you’re interested in pushing the edge on what’s possible. If you’re thinking about changing the world. Then you should look to evolution as a role model,

because evolution is the ultimate hacker.

Where good ideas come from

There’s this amazing book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. And in it, author Steven Johnson talks about these parallels between innovation that occurs in nature – like how we evolved and or how our planet evolved, and innovation that’s human made –- like the lightbulb and the steam engine.

In the book, Steven Johnson talks about this pattern we see when we study innovation, which he calls the adjacent possible. This is the notion that, at any point in time, there’s a set amount of what’s possible in this world. Things that can be done with the technology and resources and knowledge that we possess today.

Therefore, all successful innovation is going to happen at the adjacent possible. Meaning, just BEYOND what’s possible today.

(try to go too far out and you get Charles Babbage inventing the computer in the early 1800’s. Which is fucking brilliant. Only, we didn’t have the pieces – literally – available to us at that time to actually make his invention real)

In nature, evolution is the embodiment of the adjacent possible. As Johnson says,

Evolution is a tinkerer, not an engineer.”

(I think that might be one of my favorite quotes ever).

Evolution as tinkerer

Evolution doesn’t wake up one day and say, “I want birds to be able to fly, so here’s my detailed step-by-step plan for how we’re going to take to get there.”

Remember we talked about how entrepreneurs, being the good tinkerers that they are, don’t actually start off with any idea where they’re going?

Well, there’s no causal reasoning going on here. Evolution has NO IDEA where it’s going to end up.

What evolution does have is this awesome innovation engine called sex that it uses to throw a bunch of different pairs of DNA together to see what comes of it.

And through that mechanism, evolution advances by taking the resources, skills, and attributes that are available to it today & randomly throwing them together to see what happens.

Druid by Gustavo Rinaldi
(Druid by Gustavo Rinaldi)

Stayin alive, stayin alive (ah-ah-ah-ahhhhhhh….)

In dinosaurs, their wrist bones evolved in a certain way because it gave them more flexibility. The dinosaurs that were more flexible were able to survive by getting away from their enemies.

The ones who weren’t flexible… got eaten.

These flexible wrist bones in turn evolved over time into what now constitutes the wings of a bird. And along the way feathers evolved in birds for temperature regulation.

Bird landing on water

It wasn’t like evolution said, “HEY, I want to create wings so that birds can fly.”

It was more like evolution stumbled into the fact that, one day, it had all of the pieces to allow for flight. And so therefore, flight became possible.

And the realm of what was possible expanded a little.

Playing god

Johnson’s premise for the book is that man-made innovations follow the same patterns as those innovations that occur in nature (aka from evolution).

And, sure enough, when we really look into the history of some of the greatest man made inventions we see this same pattern of the adjacent possible – and things evolving little by little, not in leaps and bounds.

When we look at the 50 years leading up to the invention of the telephone, for example, we can see a series of discoveries and innovations. Each one building upon one another until suddenly, one day, Alexander Graham Bell had all of the pieces in place to allow him to create the telephone.

Telephone

(the first “telephones” actually started being developed in the 1660s! 220 years before Alexander Graham Bell patented the device we use today)

But it’s hard to see that with innovation.

We see these shiny things and we think they somehow just… popped into existance.

Okay, sure – but what about, like, self driving cars?

Well, what if we look at something that’s totally brand new, like self-driving cars?

I mean, nobody was doing self-driving cars before Google and Tesla started to. Right?

Trump. WRONG

 

The first driverless car was built in 1925.

An actual Full Size Car. That was driven via remote control. Up and down the streets of New York City during rush hour.

First Driverless Car

I feel like that would be frowned upon today.

In the 1950s, General Motors built a driverless car that traveled off of electrical impulses in the road.

GM self driving car

And by the 1980s, computer vision had advanced to the point that Mercedez Benz built a driverless car – in the 1980s (!) – that used computer vision to navigate.

We’re all wrong

I feel like we get this very skewed view of innovation that

a) people have this great idea and just go do it, and

b) we totally miss the past 90 (or 220!) YEARS inventions and discoveries that led up to it.

 

If you want to learn more, there’s a great history of self-driving car innovation on inhabitat.

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[What motivates you to create?]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3775 2017-08-11T06:43:01Z 2017-08-10T16:52:25Z I've been asking developers what it is that motivates and excites them to write code in their spare time. The best answer I've gotten so far is from Brendan Kohler. To which, I exhibit zero surprise.

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Programming and poetry

I’ve been asking developers what it is that motivates and excites them to write code in their spare time.

The best answer I’ve gotten so far is from Brendan Kohler. To which, I exhibit zero surprise. This is the guy who, upon meeting, his very first words to me were around how programming in python was like writing poetry.

(we have, of course, remained friends to this day)

“I’d say for me the motivation is the desire to create some perfect jewel; if not art, then artifact. Before code it was poetry, but the desire to create something executable overwhelms any other artistic impulses. I think what’s neat about code is the sheer breadth of possibilities: as with poetry, you can create something designed to move someone emotionally or challenge their way of thinking (like games), but in addition you can explore science, mathematics, and other realms.”

Bryan Cranston. Mic drop(mic drop)

I really can’t possibly add on to that.

But! It did get my brain going on the broader question of what motivates us to create whatever it is that excites us.

The secret to happiness

I started thinking about the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (highly highly highly recommended) and how author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research into happiness found that this state of “flow” is, well… The Secret to Happiness:

I think this is one of my favorite things about coding. I love the challenge of solving problems and making computers do just what we want them to and writing beautiful, elegant code. Coding never fails to put me into what Csikszentmihalyi describes as nothing less than a state of ecstasy…

A state which is motivated by something far more pure than money or power:

“I began to look at creative people — first artists and scientists… — trying to understand what made them feel that it was worth essentially spending their life doing things for which many of them didn’t expect either fame or fortune, but which made their life meaningful and worth doing.”

And, of course, what Csikszentmihalyi found was this state of flow:

There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.

I love this.

Why we struggle to create even when we want to

I think Flow can also explain why sometimes, even though we really want to create, we can’t seem to get out of our own way.

We sit down to write or draw or paint or code and… nothing.

To really achieve that state of flow, we have to have the right level of challenge to match our skill level. And, I know for me, I love drawing and painting but I’m still such a beginner that every new piece can feel like a huge ordeal. And, not helped by my perfectionist nature (!), I can get so overwhelmed that I psych myself right out of creating at all.

It’s only when I’m able to find a way to break through and focus on a piece that is within my abilities that I can really get going. And then boy, look out! Because I won’t step away for hours and hours and hours. My house could be on fire and I probably wouldn’t even notice.

On creating more

Csikszentmihalyi says we need to have 10 years of experience with something before we can achieve true flow, but that isn’t my experience, is it yours?

I think if we can find a way to set the right level of challenge for our skill level (not so hard that we’re too overwhelmed to do anything, but not so easy that we’re bored) and – maybe this is the harder one – not set these expectations that our first ever paintings should match those hanging in a museum – then we can allow ourselves the joy and… ecstacy of creation.

What about you – what motivates you to create?

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[How can I help you to push the edge on what’s possible?]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3708 2017-08-09T05:04:11Z 2017-08-09T03:59:35Z In packing to move to my new home (3 weeks!!!) I stumbled over a pile of thank you notes I’ve gotten from student hackers & entrepreneurs that I’ve worked with (seriously, students are the best. Hand-written thank you notes! Who does that?!). And all these memories came flooding back… I’ve been so crazy, over-the-top, fortunate […]

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In packing to move to my new home (3 weeks!!!) I stumbled over a pile of thank you notes I’ve gotten from student hackers & entrepreneurs that I’ve worked with (seriously, students are the best. Hand-written thank you notes! Who does that?!).

Thank you letters

And all these memories came flooding back…

I’ve been so crazy, over-the-top, fortunate to have been in roles at both Microsoft and Harvard Innovation Lab where my entire job was dedicated to helping hackers and entrepreneurs with their craft. With creating things that no one had ever created before and putting them out into the world to expand the realm of what is possible for all of us.

I honestly can’t think of anything more incredible.

Creating the world you want to live in

As I look forward to my whatever-is-next, I’m equal parts excited, fascinated, and terrified to do it on my own terms. To start all over from scratch and put together… something that’s designed specifically to help people push the edge on what’s possible.

To help people really create (because I think we’re all a little dead if we’re not creating) the clever and inventive and quirky and useful and wonderful things that I know every one of you has inside of yourself. And to help you share your creations with the world. Because that, I believe, is what makes the world such a colorful and beautiful place.

That is the world that I want to live in.

And, as my friend Ange Friesen (she’s amazeballs, you should check her out) says, “I want to create the world I want to live in.

Create amazing and share it with the world

I want to help techies, makers, creative folks who are looking to push the edge. To do more then you ever believed was possible. People who are looking to discover this unique creativity and inventiveness that you all have inside of you so that you can use these gifts to create amazing art/software/hardware/companies/whatever(!) and put them out into the world. To help you create the world that you want to live in.

I want to share what I’ve learned about innovation and creativity and getting out of your comfort zone to where the magic happens.

Where the Magic Happens

I want to help you to do things that equally fascinate, excite, and terrify you. And to help you make that leap from where you are today… to where you want to be.

I know I’ve talked about it before – but I am so inspired by this TEDx talk by Caroline McHugh called The Art of Being Yourself.

In the talk, Caroline is flashing all of these larger than life people up on the screen — Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Eleanor Roosevelt, The Dalai Lama.

And as these faces are flashing behind her she says, “What is it that all of these amazingly successful people have in common?”

“The ONLY thing they have in common… is that they have nothing in common.

These are people who’ve figured out how to use the unique gifts that the universe has bestowed on them.”

And our job, she says, is NOT to be better versions of them. Our job is to be as DIFFERENT from them as possible.

“Our ONLY job while we’re here on this planet is to be the best damn version of ourselves that we can be.”

How can I help you to CREATE with those gifts that the best damn version of yourself has to offer?

So this is what is keeping me up at night. Keeping me up when I realized “oh shit! It’s almost midnight and I haven’t done my post for today yet. What the hell am I going to write about?”

(side note – does anyone else’s level of profanity rise and fall with their level of excitement? I spoke to someone today who said I was a little “edgy” for them. By which, I realized, was his polite way of saying I was cussing too fucking much. oops)

And then I thought duh, cuz I’m not super smart sometimes.

I have YOUR bad ass selves. I don’t know how you guys have hung in with me through all of my ups and downs, but I love you all for it. You’re the ones that I want to be working with.

So… can I ask you a favor?

Would you tell me where YOU struggle when it comes to creating what you want to create?

And what can I do to help you to push the edge and do more than you ever believed was possible?

Reply in the comments below or, if you want to keep it on the down-low, you can tweet at me or shoot me an email (abby at hackerchick dot com).

Thank you thank you! You all rock! I will keep you posted as things unfold.

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial?]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=2290 2017-08-06T05:43:30Z 2017-08-07T12:30:16Z Ever wondered what makes some people natural entrepreneurs while others can... well, hold down a real job?

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It’s all in your head

Have you ever wondered what makes some people natural entrepreneurs? Lemon aid stands at the age of 5, starting their own companies out of their dorm rooms, getting fired from every “real” job because they could never quite get the knack of working for others…

Saras D. Sarasvathy at the University of Virginia did some research into this question of what makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurial and what she found was that entrepreneurs think differently than normal people.

When, er, “normal” people imagine what could be – or what they want to be, they employ what the researchers termed causal reasoning. That is, they figure out what they want to do, set it as an end goal, and come up with the step-by-step plan for how to get there.

Very straightforward. Very what we’re taught in school and what big companies put a lot of money into place to perfect the art of.

The art of tinkering

Entrepreneurs, however, don’t think like that at all. They use effectual reasoning. And in effectual reasoning, we don’t even start with a real end goal. (gasp)

Instead, entrepreneurs take a hard look at where they are TODAY – who they are, what they know, who they know… and they start to tinker (YaY!). They start exploring the possible things that can be created out of all of this.

And so entrepreneurs make progress by allowing their goals to EMERGE over time, rather than defining them up front.

(Not) planning for serendipity

Here’s the thing. If you define up front where you’re going – there’s not going to be innovation there, because you already know where you’re going.

Road

And even if some interesting ideas come up along your way, you’ve got a path that you’re busy following. Success for you is reaching your end goal, and so it’s not in your interest to veer off and look at these others things.

Which could be fine.

They might not be anything. And you’ve got places to go.

But it doesn’t leave you open to things like serendipity.

Serendipity

Whereas the entrepreneur’s goal is NOT to get to a certain known place, or accomplish a known thing.

To the entrepreneur, success is learning, not execution.

And when your goal is learning, and allowing what you learn to guide you – well, you’re exactly open to serendipity. And to discovering things that are so far off the beaten path that nobody else would ever get there.

And that is where innovation comes from.

Mind reading contraption

If you want to be entrepreneurial – stop making plans and start following your curiosity.

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[What do you want to add to your life?]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=2309 2017-08-06T16:01:28Z 2017-08-06T15:50:36Z The next 30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not, how are you going to use them to improve your life?

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Thank you, Matt Cutts

I’m realizing I never gave proper cred to my 30 posts in 30 days challenge.

You have to watch this TED Talk by Matt Cutts – Try Something New For 30 Days.

Go ahead, I’ll wait. It’s only 3 1/2 minutes.

Matt says,

“Think about something you’ve always wanted to add to your life and try it for the next 30 days. It turns out 30 days is just about the right amount of time to add a new habit”

And. BONUS. He learned that by doing 30 days challenges, the months stopped flying by in a blur and instead starting becoming much more memorable. He did one challenge where he took a picture every day and he could look at those pictures and remember exactly where he was and what he was doing when he took it.

And what’s even cooler is I went to look up his twitter to thank him for it. He actually did this talk in 6 years ago. And the first thing I see in his twitter feed?

Matt Cutts starting his next 30 day challenge

WHAT?!

6 years later and he’s still doing 30 day challenges.

That is amazing.

30 posts in 30 days

As soon as I watched this I immediately knew what my thing was that I wanted to add into my life.

I wanted to get back into writing.

And thus was born my 30 posts in 30 days challenge.
(psst, feel free to send me topic ideas under Ask Me Anything)

What is YOUR thing?

 

The next 30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not, how are you going to use them to improve your life?

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[Embracing imperfection]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3626 2017-08-06T05:32:29Z 2017-08-05T16:23:58Z So if you’ve been following along, you know I’m in the middle of this 30 posts in 30 days challenge. Which, as a die-hard perfectionist who tends to blog more like 30 posts in 30 months…. well, is a challenge. My biggest challenge is allowing myself to put together a quick post to share my […]

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So if you’ve been following along, you know I’m in the middle of this 30 posts in 30 days challenge. Which, as a die-hard perfectionist who tends to blog more like 30 posts in 30 months…. well, is a challenge.

My biggest challenge is allowing myself to put together a quick post to share my thoughts, as opposed to spending 5–6 hours to fully flesh out every idea to the nth degree, complete with perfect accompanying art work, before posting it.

and a bit of irony…

My third-ever post on Hacker Chick was called More Pots Make Us Better. It tells the story of an art teacher who divided her pottery class into 2 groups…

For the first group, she told the students that their final exam was to make the best pot they possibly could and they’d be graded on its quality.

pottery

For the second group, she said that for their final exam they were to produce as many pots as they possibly could. Quality didn’t matter, their grade would be based solely on quantity.

So, the semester comes to an end and the teacher is grading the assignments and wouldn’t you know but the absolute best, most exquisite pots were created from that 2nd group — the ones who were told not to worry about quality.

You see, in creating so many pots, their skills improved at an alarming rate, they got better and better with each one — without even trying!

Clearly, ten-year-later-Abby is still struggling with this one. Clearly, I need to make more pots.

So — here goes!

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[The Shame of Creativity]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3610 2017-08-05T04:14:27Z 2017-08-05T02:55:55Z It’s clear, yet weirdly unspoken, that I confused a lot of people when I decided to go from being Hacker in Residence for Harvard Innovation Lab to creating websites.

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My fall from grace

It’s clear, yet weirdly unspoken, that I confused a lot of people when I decided to go from being Hacker in Residence for Harvard Innovation Lab to creating websites.

I kind of expected it from other devs. I realize that creating websites ain’t writing code for the NSA (my first coding project out of college) or developing the bleeding edge tech for startups that I earned my name for.

But I was really surprised by the equal (if not stronger) adverse reaction that I got from non-developers… and my subsequent fall from grace in the eyes of the community.

If I’m not creating, I might as well be dead

I’m a developer. I get a rush out of figuring out how to make things work. I get great joy out of writing beautiful, elegant code to power the things that we want.

I’m also an artist. I love making beautiful things and unique things and things that make you go Hmmm.

 

But most of all, I’m a creator. If I’m not creating then I might as well be dead.

Startup guardian angel

Of all the accolades I’ve received, this is one of my proudest. I’ve spent the last 7 or so years dedicating myself to helping hackers and entrepreneurs who were creating the next generation of awesome.

And I’ve loved it.

But… it’s really tough for me to spend all of my time helping others create without getting to create myself. I managed to cut off a really large part of myself, and while it took me way-too-long to make the connection as to what was going on with me, I suffered greatly for it.

I don’t have to fit into this image you’ve created for me

I guess everyone assumed that going back to creating meant going and doing another startup. But, sorry, not sorry.

I’ve already done several startups. I’ve spent my whole career working 100+ hour weeks. Now I’m ready to take more time for my art, and to read and travel and enjoy nature. To play with my (soon to get!) big beautiful dogs, to hang out with friends, and, to simply Have. Fun. And. Enjoy. Life. (dammit)

Websites were perfect. I could develop — but for short, fun, low stress projects that left me time to do other things. I could create beautiful, unique things. And I could continue working with entrepreneurs, helping to show off their awesome to the world.

I’m also a pretty hard core introvert, and so being able to just work alone from home, without being in the middle of 100 students and startup events was really good for me.

How to go from influencer to nobody in 30 days or less

I pretty quickly devolved from being someone viewed as an expert (Harvard’s Hacker In Residence! Top woman in Boston tech! MIT guest lecturer! blah blah blah) to being viewed as… the hired help.

And I couldn’t understand what the hell happened. I mean, here I was just following my creativity and working on what excited me. I was still the same person. With the same knowledge and skills and experiences.

But suddenly nobody was terribly interested in what I had to say.

And I couldn’t figure it out until I read this article by Pia Silva

Service providers vs experts

I’m super paraphrasing Pia here, but her message is basically that…

Service providers are a necessary evil for completing a job you need done. Your interaction with them is primarily about: a) making sure they do what you asked them to do, and b) making sure they don’t rip you off by billing for more hours then they actually work, or working more hours than are actually needed to do the job. Many are interchangeable so make sure you get them for the lowest price possible.

Experts, on the other hand, are the best of the best at what they do and a privilege to get to work with. When you pay them, it’s all about the thrill of (and the value you get from) being able to work with THE expert. You pay them for their expertise and results, not by the number of hours they spend with you. Make sure you let them know how much you want to work with them so they’ll consider working with you.

Holy shit!

I went from being an expert that people would call to ask and hope that I might be able to do them the favor of coming in, to a lowly service provider to be haggled with over minutiae if they felt like doing me the favor of contacting me.

Dr Who - oh my god

The shame of trying new things

In trying something new. Something that I was drawn towards as it allowed me to express my creativity, I fell into this hole of shame.

I went from loving talking about what I did to dreading anyone asking me about it.

It makes me wonder. Especially in a community of people who embrace experimentation and trying new things, why is it looked down upon to try something new that falls outside of the little box that the world has placed us into?

Stay inside the lines

I mean, it’s not like I left Harvard to go clean toilets. Although even if I did, if that’s really what I want, then what’s it to you?

The burden of creativity

I’ve written before about Escaping Success. About how, as soon as we get good at something, the world starts holding us back. They only want to hire us for, or see us doing, the type of work that we already do.

But if we keep doing the same thing over and over, we get bored. And we stagnate. And we stop creating.

And so, if we want to keep creating, we’ve got to keep reinventing ourselves to be something that may not always fit with what the world expects from us, or from what they view us as experts at. It may even mean falling down down down to the level of hired help as we figure out how to weave this new thing into what we are already bad asses at.

Does that mean that if we want to continue to create, we all need to keep falling from grace – time and again? 

If so, it sure says a lot about why so many artists and entrepreneurs live bipolar roller coasters of lives.

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[Which do you want to be: perfect or innovative?]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3591 2017-08-06T17:12:17Z 2017-08-03T12:49:46Z Do as I say, not as I do This is a quote I tweeted out last week with the comment A good reminder for us damn perfectionists: “It is easy to begin once you have accepted that what you produce may not be very good, and that’s normal.” — Megan Mcardle But, clearly. As I sit here at 5am […]

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Do as I say, not as I do

This is a quote I tweeted out last week with the comment
A good reminder for us damn perfectionists:

“It is easy to begin once you have accepted that what you produce may not be very good, and that’s normal.” — Megan Mcardle

But, clearly. As I sit here at 5am because I’ve been up all night trying to put together a perfect blog post for my 30 posts in 30 days challenge. Well, clearly… I’m not remembering that at all.

A bit of back story…

Einstein and Newton and Neo, Oh My

I recently took the 16 Personalities Test and came out as an INTP, aka “The Logician.” That’s the same personality type as Einstein and Newton and Pascal and… wait for it. Neo.

Neo

(there is no spoon)

Too cool!

Right up until I read the description…

“The one thing that really holds INTPs back is their restless and pervasive fear of failure. INTP personalities are so prone to reassessing their own thoughts and theories, worrying that they’ve missed some critical piece of the puzzle, that they can stagnate, lost in an intangible world where their thoughts are never truly applied.”

Yikes!

Okay, yes, there are several pages describing INTP on 16 personalities.

But all I could see was “pervasive fear of failure.” And all I could think was, without failure, there is no innovation. Where does that leave me?

I kept thinking about all the times I do that: reassessing my own thoughts and spending forever hunting down that critical missing piece of the puzzle before allowing myself to move forward.

This endless searching for better, more complete, perfectly bullet-proof ways of doing things… it really gets in the way of Getting Shit Done.

Just put something out there!

I tell this to all of the startups I advise. But, again, do as I say, not as I do.

We don’t have to have the perfect answer. We just have to have a reasonably good guess that we can use as a stake in the ground from which to start.

To get our name out there, to kick off our project, to get involved in the space that we’re interested in, to share our idea. Whatever it is. We can’t get anywhere if we don’t ever allow ourselves to start.

And just because we start with something, that doesn’t lock us into it. Once we start, we can evolve what we did, continue to make it better if we choose. Or we can simply enjoy the fact that we put ourselves out there, shared a bit of our gift with the world, and feel proud of that before moving onto our next thing.

From imperfection comes learning

And, here’s the thing. If we can, as Mcardle suggests, truly embrace that what we put out there may not be very good. Well, then that leaves us open to so many new ideas and gifts of insight and learning.

Gifts and knowledge that we may have been closed off to if we decided that what we’d put out there was “perfect” or “complete.”

If we share something where we’re missing a crucial piece of the puzzle, then we open ourselves to the possibility of being enlightened by others who have different viewpoints and different knowledge to share. Things they might not have had an opportunity to share with us if we hadn’t allowed our imperfect creation to go out into the world.

That’s kind of awesome, right?

Pretend…

I love this advice by James Altucher,

“Pretend everyone was sent to this planet to teach you.”

I try to remind myself of this regularly. It’s amazing what you’ll learn when you open yourself up.

What were YOU sent to this planet to teach? I’m ready to learn!

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[What would you tell your 14 year old self if it wouldn’t break the universe?]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3472 2017-09-02T17:09:10Z 2017-08-02T13:13:57Z From Ask Me Anything -- What would you tell 14 year old Abby about being a girl/future woman working in Tech?

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From Ask Me Anything (ask your question here!) — What would you tell 14 year old Abby about being a girl/future woman working in Tech? (You won’t cross your own timeline and break the universe)

Okay, well as long as I won’t break the universe.

Never tell a 14 year old girl what to do

Okay, so first off. My 14 year old self was not going to be a programmer.

My Dad taught me to code when I was 8 on our Atari 800 (48K RAM!).

Atari 800

It was fun. I’d write little games. When I got to programming class in High School (okay, side rant – this was in the 80’s people – HTF did they teach programming in the 80s in grade school but not today?!), my teacher literally called up my parents to tell them that I had to go into programming because I was so good at it.

Okay. Right there. Never tell a 14 year old girl what she has to do.

But, it didn’t matter. Programming was something that my brother and my Dad did.

I was an independent woman. I was going to do my own thing. I was going to be a huge fabulous success. I was going to be…

manager.

Seriously, if you picked all of the possible occupations that I could have, I’m not sure that you could pick one I’m less suited to.

The list

When I was 14 the real world was completely incomprehensible to me. I had no idea what I should be aiming or hoping for. I’d just latch on to what I heard other people say. I think I had a list:

  1. Be rich – I needed $1 Million because, duh, that was the gateway into “rich”
  2. Be successful  – I needed to be a manager, because if you were successful, then they made you a manager
  3. I don’t know but I’m sure it had something to do with boys. Cuz, 14.
  4. again, something with boys
  5. most definitely more things having to do with boys

Honestly, the only thing I knew that I wanted when I was 14 were boys. Very cute boys.

John Stamos

Suspending disbelief…

Okay, but for the purposes of this post, we’re going to suspend disbelief and just pretend that my 14 year old self would have listened to a single word that came out of the mouth of an adult. I mean, adults are so dumb. I thought Logan’s Run was actually a pretty good idea.

There is excitement in the unknown

Your life has not been defined for you. There’s not some black & white version where you’re either rich and successful or you’re a failure. You don’t have to be a manager to be successful. You don’t have to be rich to be happy. You don’t have to know what you want right now, and even if you do know what you want right at this moment, it’s okay for that thing to change over time.

In fact, it’s actually like totally awesome to just follow your curiosity and let life unfold before you rather than having some specific set things that you have to reach (manager – check, $1M – check…) like a robot.

AND. Bonus. Following your curiosity rather than the “path you’re supposed to take” will very likely piss off the adults and the boring, normal people. Whereas, becoming the stereotype of success pretty much guarantees you’ll become one of those boring, normal adults. Like, gag me with a metrobus.

Being the only girl in the room… can be badass

I know everybody is all “oh, there’s not enough girls in programming” and I’m definitely going to piss some people off with this. But, let me be clear. Being the only girl in a very male field was never a deterrent to me getting into the field.

In fact, it was a bonus.

It was really important for me to be my own person. And… that I was. In 15 years of programming jobs, there was never a single other female developer on any of the projects I worked on. Sure, there were other women – as managers or designers or testers. But never another female coder.

I felt like a total bad ass.

I definitely had to adapt. But that’s not a bad thing. I learned very early on that people wouldn’t consider me a real programmer if I didn’t prove myself. I actually had a boss who would not talk directly to me (I kid you not) because I was literally the only girl on the entire floor who wasn’t a secretary and I guess little twenty-year old me fresh out of college was a threat to his manlihood. Or, something. I don’t know.

And I’d get the occasional “you’re a programmer? funny, you don’t look like a programmer” comment. Yeah, go ahead, you can be indignant. Personally, I loved it.

I wasn’t going to fit into anyone’s mold of what could or couldn’t be and if you were so ignorant as to have such a narrow world view then I was thrilled to put a crack in it.

But, it also became clear that I better be the best damn programmer in the room if I was going to be taken seriously. If I was standing around with a bunch of devs (obviously all guys) then unless I could keep up with every one of them, it would pretty much be assumed that I was in one of those other roles. I made it a point to make sure I had the biggest geek cred in the room from what I knew and what I was working on.

I made sure that I worked on the hardest, most bad ass projects that I could find. Which ended up being really cool because it got me building bleeding edge tech for a bunch of startups. Building things that nobody else had been able to figure out how to do before. And I loved it. I still love that!

Model your heroes, but ultimately be YOU

The downside to all of this was that I was forever trying to live up to some standard of what I thought other people thought was bad ass.

I think maybe… maybe that’s not a terrible thing when you’re just starting off your career. People keep telling students to “follow your passion.” What passion? When I was a teenager my passion was kissing cute boys. I don’t think that would have led anywhere good.

My senior year of college I became fascinated with Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. With these programmers who were able to build things nobody had ever built before. I started hanging out with really hard-core programmers and thought they were So. Cool. And as I got further in my career, I got super inspired by people who were figuring out how we could develop software better – people like Jim McCarthy and Bob Martin and – OH MY GOD (screaming fan!!) – Kathy Sierra (shhh! she’s another grrrl who codes).

I think everyone should have heroes. They inspire us to be more than we are today, to do more than we even realized was possible. And I think they help us to figure out what we are passionate about and what we’re so excited jump-out-of-bed-first-thing-in-the-morning to work on.

But, I think what we have to realize is that we also bring beauty and knowledge and greatness to what we do. And until we allow ourselves to be our own version of what we love, then we’re never truly living for ourselves. And we’re never being all that we were put on this planet to be.

So find your heroes, be inspired by them, imitate them. But ultimately, find your own voice.

Josie and the Pussycats

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[Ask Me Anything]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3455 2017-08-01T04:49:33Z 2017-08-01T04:48:21Z I've challenged myself to 30 posts in 30 days. So.... what do you want me to write about?

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I’ve challenged myself to 30 posts in 30 days. So…. what do you want me to write about? Give me questions and each day for the month of August I’ll write a blog post on the most interesting question I’ve received to date.

Leave your question in the comments below or use the Ask Me Anything page. If you use the page, I’ll email you a reply even if your question doesn’t make a blog post.

And let me know if you’d like a shout out, ala

“This question comes from long time listener, first time caller Joe Shmoe. Thanks, Joe! Joe wants to know…”

Challenge on.

 

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Abby Fichtner <![CDATA[Fuck what other people want. What do YOU want?]]> https://hackerchick.com/?p=3374 2017-07-31T08:47:16Z 2017-07-31T12:59:28Z I have a confession to make. There's something that's never quite resonated with me about Lean Startup.

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I have a confession to make.

There’s something that’s never quite resonated with me about Lean Startup.

It’s so focused on what other people want.

Which, I get… if you don’t have a market, you’ve got nothing. And if you don’t understand that market’s burning desire, they’re never going to give up their hard earned cash for a never-before-heard-of product by a completely-unknown company. And… again, nothing.

But what about what YOU want?

Isn’t that the joy of entrepreneurship? That you can say fuck what everyone else wants to do/say/be/have. THIS is what I want to do.

Isn’t that the burning passion that you need to keep yourself going through the 25 hour work days? Through staying true to your vision despite all the naysayers. Because, let’s face it, if you don’t have any naysayers – then you’re not being very innovative.

In fact, let’s examine that thought right there for a moment. If the “right” way to do a startup is to look to other people… but the only way to innovate, by definition, is to come up with something that no one else has ever thought of before. Well… how exactly does that work?

“What fun is it building something that nobody wants?”

This is a quote from Lean Startup’s creator, Eric Ries, that I’ve used myself in numerous lean startup presentations where I warn developers against the dangers of creating things with an if-you-build-it-they-will-come mindset.

And… okay, let’s just lay it all on the table.

Despite having said that line many times.

To rooms full of hundreds of people.

I actually think it’s really fun.

Macaulay Culkin

I mean, maybe it’s not fun because nobody wants it. But it’s just freakin fun to build shit that you want to build.

There. I said it.

This ain’t no field of dreams, honey

Okay, so what about all the startups – you know, the 9 out of 10 startups (that I also dutifully include a slide for in every one of my lean startup presentations) – that failed because they weren’t able to build something that others wanted.

Okay, well. First I want to make a distinction.

Innovation != Startup

For all you non-devs in the room, this means that innovation and startup are not the same thing (people keep telling me that normal people can’t read code, so I’m trying to do better at using my words – you’ll have to tell me if it’s working).

As devs/techies/hackers/engineers, a lot of us love the thrill of making shit that’s never been made before. And THAT is the very definition of innovation.

A startup, by contrast, is defined as “a newly established business” – one that’s built to scale very quickly. I suppose, if you want to get technical about it, a startup doesn’t even have to be innovative.

Macaulay Culkin

But if you build it they won’t come… or will they?

Here’s what Phil Libin, Co-Founder of Evernote, thinks about that in this video titled (spoiler alert) Build Something For Yourself:

“If you were starting a business even 5 years ago [ed: said in 2013], it would have been stupid advice to say build it for yourself. If you’re starting it now, it’s stupid advice to do anything else.

If you build something for yourself, if you build something that you love, that you think is sufficiently epic, there’s probably another billion people in the world that love it as well. Unless you’re like a spectacular weirdo. But, even if you are several standard deviations away from the center of the bell curve on weirdness, there’s still probably 10 million people that love something just as weird as you.

if you’re making it for yourself, if you’re making something great, you’re at a huge advantage over somebody who’s making something for somebody else, because you can at least tell when it’s something great. You know. You’re making it for yourself. You can be an honest critic and an honest judge of your own products. And if you’re not doing that, it’s just much harder.

The video then confusingly cuts, without any explanation, over to other successful startup founders talking about why they created their startups for themselves.

For the record, I wouldn’t have picked Ben Silbermann for this since his target market is, like, soccer moms – a fact he really struggled with getting Pinterest off the ground precisely because it wasn’t twenty-something-male-techies like himself. But, I digress.

Several standard deviations of weird

Who I would have used is Drew Houston from Dropbox.

When Dropbox came out, I was So. Freaking. Excitedabout it. I’d try my best to explain to others why it was the most amazing thing ever, but I couldn’t ever seem to get anyone else as excited as I was about it.

And now I understand why.

Drew Houston created Dropbox because he kept finding himself with the problem of needing files on one computer, but realizing they were on another, different computer. A problem I struggled with a lot. So when Dropbox came out suddenly it was like my entire life got easier. My less-techie friends would be like “no, it’s cool, I’ve already got backups.”

What?!

I don’t know, maybe normal people only have one computer??

When it came out, I think I had 40 computers in my house at the time. And, ok, perhaps that’s several standard deviations from the average number of computers that people have. But! Here’s the thing. It wasn’t just me and Drew. When he posted his idea to Hacker news, he got 75,000 signupsOvernight!

Now, 10 years later, Dropbox has 500 Million users.

Weirdos indeed.

Do what you want to do

Even if you’re not convinced – I still think you should do what you want to do. Because… it’s what you want to do!

Life is too short to waste it trying to make other people happy.

Fuck that. Go read some Ayn Rand and get selfish (I know I’m going to get some haters for that but boo on you! I love Ayn Rand. And, uh, talk about several standard deviations of weird).

Rand’s philosophy is that the only way we will really do great work and create great things is if we’re doing what we want to do. And therefore, the only way to have wonderful things in this world is for us all to be selfish and do what we want.

Not what we think others want.

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive acehivement as his noblest activity, and reason his only absolute.” - Ayn Rand

 

Now go build something that you don’t give a damn if anyone else wants.

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