A long time ago, I did a Lean Startup talk on “fake door testing”, which is a technique we use to figure out if our product ideas are good.
The talk is in the Ignite format, which means there are 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Great for audience members who want concise, information-dense, 5-minute-long talks, but it’s super stressful for speakers! I hate public speaking.
Startups are incredibly stressful. I know many founders whose companies are doing great, but they are still stressed and unhappy. Polyvore is doing great (growing fast and cash-flow positive!), but I still have my moments of extreme unhappiness. Here’s my theory on why this happens.
The trajectory of a successful startup looks something like this, up and to the right:
It’s not a smooth, straight ride though. There are ups & downs along the way. These ups & downs can be caused by seasonal traffic changes, bouts of good or bad press, employees leaving or joining, etc.
If you’re lucky enough to have gotten from point A to point B on this graph, you should be happy, right? After all, B is much higher than A.
Unfortunately, humans are terrible at understanding absolute values. We are best at understanding acceleration and deceleration, or rate of change. For example, when you are on a plane it is hard to tell if you are moving at 300 mph or 500 mph, but it’s easy to tell if you are accelerating from 300 mph to 500 mph.
My theory is that a founder’s happiness is tied to the rate of change of their startup’s success. In other words, your happiness graph is the first derivative of your success graph.
Even though point B is 2x better than point A in terms of success, it is a deceleration from the moment before. You are happiest when your growth is accelerating. When growth slows down, you start to become less happy. When you’re not growing, you are in unhappy territory.
Some tips to keep from drowning when your happiness is below the line —
1) Remember where you came from. Celebrate your wins and remind everyone of how far you’ve come. When we opened Polyvore’s New York office, I made sure to remind everyone of how we used to work out of Pasha’s living room and in an old bike shop. You can see a big increase in the absolute quality of our offices and our furniture:
2) Great culture and great people are your glue. They keep your startup from falling apart in those moments of deceleration. Have fun events where people get to know each other. Create silly traditions. Enjoy the people you work with.
3) Don’t let your self-worth be completely defined by your startup. My friends keep me grounded because they always treat me exactly the same, no matter how good or bad things are at Polyvore. When things are bad, they are my support network. When things are great, they still troll me anyways.
Strangely, this comforts me :-)
4) Get out there and talk to other entrepreneurs. I’m an introvert. I hate networking. I’m awkward at dinner parties. For the first 3 years at Polyvore, I kept my head down, worked my ass off, and hardly ever spoke to other entrepreneurs. In hindsight, this was one of my biggest mistakes. Without any perspective from other founders, my only data points on startups came from TechCrunch, which is filled with overnight success stories and positive spin. Therefore, every one of Polyvore’s problems felt like the end of the world to me. After I started talking to other founders, I got the benefit of their wisdom, their encouragement, and their suggested solutions. It was a huge relief and good for my mental health. If you’re an introvert like me, I recommend that you meet other entrepreneurs 1:1 for coffee, instead of going to startup networking events. Silicon Valley has a very nice “pay it forward” mentality, so I find a lot of people are willing to share. Whenever I am forced to go to networking events, I look for the other most uncomfortable, awkward-looking person in the room and try to talk to them. :-)
I got married to my best friend last year. The wedding was beautiful on the outside, but very nerdy on the inside. Our vows mentioned emacs. There were guests dressed in Star Wars cosplay. It was the perfect day, shared with all my favorite people in the world.
Going to try to blog more, at least once a month. Especially about startup stuff. I feel like what’s missing from the Silicon Valley dialogue is the authentic, honest truth about how hard it is to run a startup. All you read about on TechCrunch is the glory.
Healthy living. Those of you who know me know I subsist on coffee and small quantities of very fatty foods. While I can’t promise to start eating vegetables, at the very least I’m going to try to exercise regularly. Yoga Belly, anyone?
Drawing. I will produce 1 drawing a month and post it here. No promises about the quality of said drawings.
Hong Kong / Tokyo / Stanford / Google Maps / Polyvore / Comic Book Geek / Love to Draw / Enjoy Very Small Quantities of Very Unhealthy Foods / Fascinated by Internet Memes / Lover of Bad Action & Sci Fi / Commonly Dressed in Skinny Jeans, Black Jacket, Black Boots.
Disclaimer: I don’t support or partake in any of Anonymous’ protests.
Anonymous fascinates me. It’s amazing that a loosely connected group of internet users can suddenly band together and launch a coordinated protest.
Today Anonymous declared war on the RIAA and MPAA, after learning that the MPAA had launched its own DDoS attack on everyone’s favorite torrent site The Pirate Bay. Anonymous launched Operation Payback is a Bitch, a coordinated DDoS attack on Riaa.com. Riaa.com has been down for the past 3 hours.
I was curious, so I joined the IRC channel where the attack is being coordinated. Here’s what I learned:
The attack is surprisingly well coordinated. There are 3-5 key coordinators who are telling the other 150+ people in the IRC channel what targets to hit and how to use LOIC. Right now the main target is the RIAA, but there’s a countdown until the next target will be announced (probably BPI, the British version of the MPAA). In terms of publicity, there was a press release of sorts (see below, it even has a logo) and the group even has its own Twitter account. Pretty savvy.
4chan is distancing itself from Anonymous. m00t, the owner of 4chan, has disabled all posting to 4chan so that it can’t be used to coordinate the attack. Interestingly, most of the people in the IRC channel are sympathetic to m00t and understand that he doesn’t want to take the fall for the attacks — “I’m sure he’d probably be behind this – but he is a likely target for retaliation whereas we are anon.”
Some members of Anonymous seem interested in protesting social issues. The media often portrays Anonymous as juvenile delinquents causing mayhem just for kicks, but I saw some discussion indicating otherwise. One person piped up suggesting a DDoS attack against Senator Frank Lautenberg in protest of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and in support of gays in the military. Another person suggested Anonymous take on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement because ideas should be free.
When people talk of the great day that the RIAA servers were down, when people spin tales of the brave souls who fought for freedom, they are talking about us, We are the holders of our future and rebels that inspire change in a system corrupt and inconsiderate, we are the freedoms we fight for incarnate, resistance is everything, defeat is impossible!
I did a short interview for Tory Burch’s blog that was published yesterday. The one representative quote that got pulled out and enlarged was “One day I’d love to publish a graphic novel”. Yes, I am a comic book geek, haha :-) Thank you to Honor Brodie and the Tory Burch team for featuring me.
I’ll never forget that Tory Burch was one of the first designers to give Polyvore a chance. Back then, Polyvore was only 6 people and I handled our ad sales. I was trying to find a big-name client to help validate our advertising programs. Tory was willing to experiment with us (she’s always been at the cuttingedgeofsocialmedia) and her community challenge turned out to be a huge success. That challenge became one of our flagship case studies, and it even got written up in the New York Times. Fast forward one year and now we’re on the radar of a lotmoredesigners.
Co-founder and CEO of style & social commerce platform Polyvore. Before that, I worked on Google Maps. I'm fascinated by internet memes, weird YouTube celebrities, and 4chan. I enjoy doodling and own way too many comic books. I'm half-Chinese, half-Japanese, grew up in Hong Kong and studied computer science at Stanford. More »