Monthly Archives: December 2008

Eight Ways to Unwind From Work and Relax

Writer: Christian Perry

Cassie recently wrote an awesome post on Self-Motivation and Productivity. (Thanks, Cassie!) I thought I’d follow up by writing a complimentary post on relaxation.

As anyone who’s ever started a company knows, startups are challenging work. Not only do they demand a huge amount of time, but they can also absorb you in emotionally and mentally, such that it gets difficult to separate yourself from your day job. (Or more accurately, your day-and-night-and-weekend job.)

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love my work, and I wouldn’t be doing anything differently. That said, I feel that I do my best work when I’m calm, collected, and relaxed — and all those things require a wee bit of not working. So with that said, here are eight things that help me unwind from a busy day at the office:

Take a Computer Sabbath
walterrollonshabbosFollowing in the footsteps of The Big Lebowski‘s Walter, I take off every Saturday as a sort of Computer Sabbath. The rule is simple: no laptop, and no email. By taking off one day a week, I can decompress from a long workweek, and focus on all the things that can’t be done in front of a computer screen.

Take a bath
One night, when I was feeling stressed out, my girlfriend suggested I take a bath. She swore by them, she told me, and promised that I’d feel better the moment I got in. I gave it a shot, and never looked back. Moral of the story: listen to your girlfriend.

Play an instrument
For a number of years I’ve played the Irish flute. On a good morning, I’ll hop right out of bed, and spend a half hour playing a lively set of reels, jigs, and airs. I’ve noticed a subtle but consistent boost in my mood when I start the morning off with music, as oppose to the dread-inducing drone of the alarm clock.

Meditate
My mom started practicing Zen meditation before I was born, and introduced me to the practice when I was a lad of 16. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked. I sit a half-hour a day, usually at night before going to bed. No matter how intense a day I’ve had, it’s amazing how quickly all those thoughts and stresses melt away.

Stretch and do Yoga
The human body isn’t meant to sit in a chair for eight hours a day, but apparently this rule hasn’t been communicated to startup founders, whose habits would make you think the human race is slowly evolving to be tetris-block-shaped. After a day of sitting, stretching pays amazing dividends: it loosens up my body, improves my mood, and guards against nasty things like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Read for fun
I love non-fiction. On the weekends, you’ll usually find my nose in some meaty text or another. (Check out my GoodReads bookshelf for a list of what I’ve been perusing recently.) That said, I also love fiction — in particular, a juicy, pulpy fantasy novel — and nothing helps me drift off to sleep better than reading a few chapters in a book that stokes my imagination. (Check out A Game of Thrones and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, two of my favorites.)

Exercise
After hours upon hours of sitting sedentary, nothing quite beats the feeling of moving around and breaking a sweat. Since I work in downtown San Francsico, I got a membership to Crunch, a decent gym where I hit the treadmills a couple times a week. Exersize seems pretty close to a too-good-to-be-true type of deal: it makes you lose weight, look sexy, feel better, AND might even make you smarter. What’s not to love?

Get out of town
With everything I’ve just written about, I probably sound like a pillar of serenity. The reality couldn’t be farther off. Despite all the things I do to relax, I still face the same stress as anyone living a busy life in a busy city. My days are long, my schedule is packed, and there are ten times as many things as I want to do as I have time for. So what do I find to be the best way to break out of city life? I leave! I’m rarely as relaxed as when I’m back home with my family in Princeton, New Jersey, or leaving the Bay Area to visit friends.

Everything on this list is easy to do (besides the musical instrument), and comes to you highly recommended. By incorporating relaxation into your schedule, you’ll give yourself the necessary steps to work hard without burning out.

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Self-Motivation and Productivity

Before joining my partner in the world of entrepreneurs, I worked as a theater manager for a little over a year.  It’s certainly not the corporate world – I worked on contract and could never expect a stable pay check – but it was a predictable structured work environment, a strict schedule, and a well established routine: I knew what I was doing well, what I had to learn, and what I messed up.  The hardest thing I found, and continue to encounter, in this new world of self-employment is self-motivation and productivity.  Without a boss giving me directions, without a detailed to-do list and set of short and long-term goals, I flounder.  So, here are some things I have found that help.  I welcome other advice people may have, since I still have problems getting started some days.

Have A Routine
Okay, well duh!  I know, easier said than done – that’s what the rest of this entry is about, but I wanted to reiterate it here.  You’re a start-up, so you don’t need to work regular hours.  But I try to get some sort of routine developed.  I know my peak work hours are right after I wake up for about an hour, and then from 11am – 6pm.  So I am trying (note that I haven’t gotten there yet) to develop a routine where my alarm goes off at 8am.  I proceed to snuggle in deeper, and snooze for 30 minutes.  Then I’m up, leaping up, and skipping into the kitchen to start preparing breakfast (oatmeal or cereal) and getting coffee, usually a day-old…meh.  I head to my laptop in the living room (see below) and check on the world according to the blogs, Facebook, and the New York Times (okay, my perspective is skewed)  I check how myFarm is going, whether I’ve caught any mice, what article of clothing has been removed at what world leader, and where my friends spent the night, and who is talking with whom about the cost of oil, rice, and million impressions.

Stay Active
Knowing I’m about to spend the day sitting in a terrible chair (if you have the money, GET A GOOD CHAIR.  This is ALMOST worth it’s own bullet point), I try to make it to the gym for a good 30 minutes on the elliptical.  This only actually happens 3-4 times a week…but still.  I’m then walking back home, seeing if the any new wars have started, breakups occurred, or emails sent, and finally heading to the office.  I am sure to walk about a mile of the trip, delaying my eventual settling into The Chair…

To Do Lists
From there, I hit the To-Do list I wrote (hopefully) the day before.  If I didn’t, I mentally flail around for some time, trying to get focused and figure out what I am supposed to be doing.  I do need someone giving me directions, even if it is my past self.  My past self loves writing To-Do Lists, making short-term goals (1 – 3 work days to complete) and long term goals (2 – 4 weeks), and generally trying to keep my present and future self motivated with notes left every which where (my past-self knows my present self gets no satisfaction stronger than that felt when drawing a big X in a box and dark line across an item on a page).

Find a Good “Office”
So now I’m in the office.  I constantly try to stay on this now less strict routine.  I’m going to disagree with Charlie and say you should keep most distractions at bay, but I agree you need to make it your own, and they may include quirks (like Blood Red Walls…).  I found that having an office, where I kept work 80% of the time, was incredibly helpful.  But I’ve begun to grow tired of it, and it has begun to strain our budget.  So here are some things I take into account when finding new places:

  • Lighting:  At home, I work by a wall of Bay Windows, with Christmas Lights surrounding them for when it gets dark.  In the office, we have overhead lights (which drain your soul, I swear), a warm-hued desk lamp, and a sun lamp.  These are wonderful.  Lots and lots and lots of nice, soothing, silent, light.
  • Temperature: I cannot work without a small space heater and, as I said before, a window that can be opened.  I find it impossible to work if I get too warm or cold.  (Though personally, I like to stay a bit chilly, as it encourages me to type faster.  But that’s just me…)
  • Space: I must be able to spread, to conquer all available land around me with my oh-so-important things.  But I also must know where all is at all times.  I keep bookshelves right by my desk in my office, and right above it at home.  I keep a waste basket on hand, so I don’t have to worry about not-so-important things taking over valuable space.  I keep a few trinkets on hand to claim my space as my own: a statue of Nightcrawler, a tea candle, my current comic series of choice.  I do not have this at the office and it hurts.  😦  However, I keep nothing that encourages play or distraction: DS is put away, TV is turned off, unfinished book is in the bedroom.
  • Variety:  I like changing up my environment about once a week.  I keep two separate desks in my home for work, as well as a wonderful assortment of cafes around San Francisco that I know have wireless and space for me to spread out.
  • Sound: This is personal taste.  I find that if an environment is dead silent, it leads me to day dream.  If it has one or two conversations going on, I immediately listen in and can’t focus.  If there is music with lyrics, forget it. I work best in cafes with a nice amount of background noise but no overpowering voices (but this is out of my control) or put headphones in and listen to lyric-less music.  I tend to listen to Joe Hisaishi from Studio Ghibli, Imogen Heap (who has lyrics, but they are more musical than words…), Blue Man Group, Cirque Du Soleil, or Stravinsky.
  • Plants: So, I find that having some plants around me is refreshing.  Not a necessity at all, but it helps me stay energized and chipper, especially if they are flowering but not smelly.  And for me, who sucks at staying focused, every little bit helps.

Sleep Well
Every night, I try to hear my mother in my head.  I can’t oversleep, but I need enough.  I don’t want to go to bed and lie there aimlessly, but I don’t want work to the point of exhaustion (and neither should you).   I put on quiet music, keep the room very dark and the sheets clean, open a window to get a nice breeze, and never bring my computer into my room (Sleep Foundation has more on this…)

Tabs
So I had a section about not keeping tabs open, but instead using separate windows…because I think it would be better then though I don’t do it.  But my partners think it is better to keep tabs open and stay organized that way.  I’m open for discussion on this point…

Pros and Cons of Building a Site Around FBConnect

fbconnect1FBConnect is one of Facebook’s newest initiatives; it lets you login to third-party sites using your Facebook login and password. Further, if you’re logging into a site for the first time, it’ll auto-fill the page with your existing information (such as name, interests, and location).

Up until now, most of the sites that use FBConnect, such as Digg, give you the option to login with either a local account or your Facebook account. We’re going to go a step farther, implementing FBConnect as our exclusive login system.

While FBConnect is powerful, it isn’t perfect. Here are the Pros and Cons that factored into our decision to use it:

Pros
Faster development time. Our goal is to launch Trogger as quickly as possible. By choosing to use FBConnect, we cut out the time it takes to build our own registration form.

More context and specificity for users. Since everyone logs in using FBConnect, we can fully incorporate all the rich, structured data that Facebook has to offer. This means you can find out more about what your friends are doing, incorporate Trogger activity in your newsfeeds, and even be shown relevant conversations based on your list of interests.

Viral growth on steroids. One of my favorite parts of FBConnect is that it lets users publish their activity to their Facebook newsfeed. For example, if you start a conversation on Trogger, you can post it to your feed in a single click. Instantly, all your friends will see a prominent feed item when they visit your profile: “John Smith has just started a conversation on Trogger,” complete with link and description.

Simplified login and sign-up. Long sign-up forms are a great way to discourage visitors from signing up and becoming full-fledged members. FBConnect helps solve this problem by allowing you to login with your current Facebook account. If it’s your first time signing up, your Facebook information gets transferred over, so that there’s no need to fill out page after page of fields describing yourself.

Cons
You’re locked into a single system. By relying on Facebook as our sole point of entry, we face several potential pitfalls. Facebook’s servers might go down for minutes, if not hours, effectively preventing anyone from logging in. Some people may object to entering their Facebook information on a third-party site. Not to mention, Facebook might decide, for whatever reason, to prevent us from using FBConnect, to start charging exorbitant access fees, or to shut down the service altogether.

Limited user base. Lots of people use Facebook, but not everyone. Their user base is roughly 100 million people, which, while large, could certainly be higher. If someone comes to Trogger and doesn’t have a Facebook account, I imagine that most of them will leave deterred.

No email addresses. When a user signs into your site with FBConnect, Facebook provides you with some information about them, but leaves out one crucial data point: their email address. The only way to get someone’s address is to ask for it separately, adding an extra step to the sign-up process. While this isn’t the end of the world, it does add an extra step to what is supposed to be a streamlined login process.

Limited photo caching. Facebook lets you cache a user’s photo for a maximum of 24 hours. As a result, when you’re visiting a page with a lot of photos obtained via FBConnect, a distinctive “pop” appears as they suddenly all show up,  2 to 10 seconds after the rest of the page loads. This is distracting, obnoxious, and utterly preventable. A friend of mine within the company tells me that they’re working on a way around this, and I’m hoping it comes soon.

Overall
We decided that the Pros of FBConnect outweigh their Cons. We’ll be opting for FBConnect’s speed, engagement, and deep integration in exchange for a smaller base of potential users, less control of the login process, and restricted access to user data.

As we grow, we may look at incorporating other authenticated login systems, such as Google Friend Connect. For now, though, we’re sticking to FBConnect so we can build our site faster, and focus on integrating with Facebook’s powerful News Feed distribution.

WordPress has the ugliest password-strength gradient ever.

The password is strong. The tastefulness is not.

From the Department of Misplaced Holiday Cheer.

The First Investor Meeting

So we are thinking of raising a round of angel investment in the next few months.  While we’ve been reading up on Cap Tables, Executive Summaries, Slide Decks, and things needed for official suit and tie meetings, we aren’t sure how to get that first cup of coffee with potential investors.  Here’s some great advice our adviser told me:

You Are The Star:
Think of yourself as a talented high school quarterback.  Maybe you aren’t the best of your state, per say, but you are clearly ahead in your team and ready to try for the big leagues.  Before you start applying to colleges and selling yourself to recruiters, you first visit the schools you are interested in and see if they would be a good fit for you.  You should start the same way with investors: they should want YOU by the time this phrase is done, not vice versa.

Pick your schools: The Ideal, The Acceptable, and the Fallback
Ask around and get a long list of investors (angel or otherwise.): at least 15, but 20+ would be safe.  Research ALL of them: get an idea of what sort of companies they invest in and if they appear, on the surface at least, to be a good fit for your company or idea.  Categorize them as Poor Fits, Decent, and Ideal.  Your first coffee meetings should be with the investors you know you don’t want.  This is just to get you practice, and to spread the word in the investor world about you.  Don’t meet with your top choice investors until you really feel ready and have had at least 5-10 practice rounds.

Introduce Yourself in a Neutral Environment
Next, see if you can find someone in your contacts who can get you a personal introduction to them.  If not, don’t be afraid to blind email them.  Let them know you are working on a new idea, have XX amount of experience, and want to ask them about the investment industry, their experience, etc.  Be sure you do NOT meet them in their office.  This sets a precedent for professional attitudes, poker faces, and non-disclosure crap.  Buy them a coffee, be laid back and conversational, be polite but not reverent.

Interview Them
At this meeting, ask them about their interests, what they are looking for, how involved they like to be with their companies, how much money they have invested in the past, and, if they can share it, what sort of success their portfolio companies have encountered.  If they are at ALL interested in investing in new companies, they will inevitably ask what you are working on.  Here you should have one sentence that sums up everything concisely, but leaves them wanting to know more.  If it feels right, you can follow this up with a brief description, under 2 minutes.  If they dont ask about your company, they probably aren’t worth your time.

A Subtle Sale
Inevitably they will then ask, “Well, when are you looking to raise money?”  Your answer should be about 2-3 months further out than you truly think, so you don’t sound desperate or needy (IOW: “Oh, in 4 – 6 months).  They will then ask “Well, how long could you go without funds?” You respond, “Well, money isn’t really an issue.  My (last company, parents, relatives, loans) are supporting me for a fair amount of time.”  They look surprised, “Well then, why are you interested in raising money?”  You calmly retort, “Well, I don’t want people to look at this as just some pet project of mine.  I want it to be legitimized, able to stand on its own to feet.  We are working with (list companies they may have missed out on funding) already, and I know we can get even stronger people with the right funds.”  This keeps you from sounding like you are begging for money, but also lets them know specifically how an increase in funds would help you.

Network
As you wrap up, be sure to ask if they can introduce you to anyone they think would be interested in the idea.  This not only lets them know that you are talking to other investors and people, but also gets you some great new contacts, and lets them feel especially helpful and more invested in the idea.

Make sure you are aware that, from these meetings to the moment you receive the cash can take anywhere from 3-6 months (and that is, of course, assuming you raise funds in this economy.)  It certainly isn’t impossible, but it’s pretty damn hard.