The mind as a lever

I was having to talk with a good friend of mine last night about business, the things we work on and when we work on them.

We started on the topic because he was explaining how he's been waking up early lately, and as a result it's easier for him to work on the things he thinks are the most important, and that they get his freshest mind with less interruption.

Beyond this, what we started realizing, and we we were using Tula and it's growth as an example, is that in order to accomplish something important and significant, you do need to believe that you can do it. But our minds require ourselves to provide a certain amount of evidence that something can be achieved before we can truly believe that some other step can be achieved.

This was a fascinating conversation to me because the implication is that if you can truly believe something is possible, then you are probably more able to achieve those things. Then, once you are able to achieve an initial set of 'things', the sooner that you can believe greatness is possible, which in turn makes it more  likely that greatness happens. This process creates a positive feedback loop because as you start seeing more evidence to the potential greatness, it in turn makes the realization of said greatness more likely.

But there were two things that kept running through my head that I'm still thinking about about and somewhat troubled by. The first is thinking about the mind as a sort of lever, and that there is a certain amount of training we can do to our brains. In the same way that you can change the fulcrum on a diving board to get a different spring, so too can our thoughts can have an impact on what we are able to achieve.

But just like you can move the fulcrum on a diving board so much that you actually miss the bounce, we can also be delusional. The problem is that it's not so easy to differentiate between big ambitions and delusions of grandeur, especially when it's all happening in our own brains.

So it seems to me if the mind is a lever, the most important thing we can do is figure out where to place the fulcrum.

A new definition for SaaS

The Software as a Service model, in large part because of it's name, has incorrectly led a lot of people to believe there's a fantasy universe that exists where they can light up some code, sit back, and collect some of that elusive passive income.

It's a ridiculous notion that needs to be shot in the face.

I know people questioning promising businesses because they're worried about the fact that there are humans involved with the running of the business. It's becoming an epidemic in the software industry that people think the goal is to reach some finish line where they can sit back and collect cash and have nothing running their company but a few servers.

It's insanity.

Moving forward, to me, my company and anyone that works with us, SaaS stands for Software and amazing Service. They cannot and they should not be separated.

Amazing service is server uptime. It's rapid fixes to bugs. It's responding to customer requests quickly. It's building new features that you know your customers want, it's experimenting, it's trying things, breaking things and trying again. 

Too many people in our industry have built once solid products that have become stale (not simple, stale) and have not advanced with the web in the way they should have. The worst culprits are bootstrappers who got a taste of victory and instead of working their asses off while they were gaining momentum had the delusional thought that they could sit back and collect monthly payments forever.

And then they learned about a thing called churn.

If you're not willing to get into the services business, don't bother getting in the software business.

The SaaS model only works for companies that understand that the software can only provide so much service.


Everything is hard

It's taken me a while to learn this reality, and I often forget it, but it's something that helps bring me back to center when I feel like I'm dealing with something that's more difficult than it ought to be.

Everything is hard.

I don't mean 'everything' obviously (it's pretty easy to take a nap), I mean anything we work on. Anything we're trying to improve, any thing of value that we're trying to preserve, any meaningful gift we want to impart to the's all hard.

Writing one blog post is easy, building an audience of millions is hard. Going to startup weekend is easy, building a SaaS product that can sustain a team of people is hard. Kissing a baby is easy, being a parent is hard.

The trick of course is figuring out when something hard and worthwhile, or whether it is in fact being harder than it should be - and listening to what that is telling you.

But that's hard.

Because everything is hard.


It's all just construction

For the first time in years, I went on a proper backpacking trip and disconnected completely for a week. Maile's studio was putting on a retreat in Yosemite, and I had the good fortune of being able to tag along (I was also the van driver!) with her and the students.

From Monday morning through Saturday afternoon I completely disconnected from the internet, my mobile phone, and even my children. It was Maile, myself, 8 students and 2 guides.

It was heaven.

We did yoga, swam in the streams, day hiked, sat around the campfire, ate good food and had an entire week where the mind was freed from just about all the cognitive load that comes with daily life. During the course of said wonderfulness, I had a conversation with one of the guides who was a very kind man named Jesse. I pondered something about how we could take the lessons from this beautiful land and make it relevant in our homes and our day to day lives. 

Jesse's response was great: "It's all just construction."

It really struck a chord with me. As hard as we might try to separate ourselves from the laws of nature, the earth and anything that might get us dirty, in the end, it's all just construction.

What's interesting is when you look at things like this, you start to see a lot of other kinds of construction. Not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, but something interesting to notice. Our financial system is a form of construction, businesses are construction, our legal system and even to a certain extent our relationships.

Maybe only be taking a step back to see the construction can we see something a little bit deeper and more meaningful, whatever the context might be.

Bootstrapping is thinking long, not small

Adrian Holovaty, the founder of Everyblock and one of the creators of Django, put up the notes for a talk he gave about how Chicago needs to stop playing by Silicon Valley's rules.

His points are extraordinarily well articulated and he outlines the case for why the Chicago tech community should brand itself as the city for bootstrappers. 

I wanted to just stand up an shout out loud 'THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU' as I read his write up.

I loved just about everything he wrote and a lot of it reminded me of the commentary I had on past hack job press coverage of the Chicago tech scene.

But there's one particularly disturbing thing I noticed happening in conversations after his talk - which is that some people equate bootstrapping to 'thinking small'.

And in fact - bootstrappers often seem to give in and accept the meme that bootstrapping equates to thinking small.


But this is wrong.

Bootstrappers don't think small, we think long

This is an important distinction because thinking small implies that you've set limits on your growth and the impact you want to have. I know a lot of bootstrappers, but I know of none who want fewer customers or who care any less about wanting to make their dent in the world.

What we do care about however is how we get those customers, who we have to partner with on our way to acquiring these customers and what kind of day to day existence we have as we build our companies.

This is thinking long, it's not thinking small.

When you start having a time horizon for success that spans 15 or 20 years, you look at the world and the opportunities it presents differently.

You know that in order to be strong you need deep roots, which are unsexy and usually go unnoticed and unappreciated until they finally take hold when suddenly everyone recognizes your 10 year overnight success.

It's silly to accept the notion that bootstrapping is thinking small, especially when the very people who claim that it is are building their products with a framework created by bootstrappers (Rails or Django, take your pick) and committing their code into a central repository created by bootstrappers (GitHub).

Bootstrapping definitely isn't easy, it certainly doesn't hockey-stick and it probably won't save an otherwise worthless portfolio of investment assets.

But to call it small is to misunderstand the very mindset of the bootstrapper.

We think long, not small.