Enjoy The Process

Enjoy The Process

Most of the time, I write because I want to provide value to others.

I want to provide value to others through my blog posts because I want people to read them. My assumption is that most people prefer to read articles that are useful to them.

I want people to read my blog posts because I want to be known as a thought leader, like Ryan Hoover for products.

I want people to read my blog posts because I want to be known as a good writer (and hopefully to earn some money).


Today, I had an epiphany. I felt that writing to achieve those goals seems to make writing a means to an end. I think wanting to be a thought leader and a good writer is not wrong. However, when I focus only on the final result, I miss out the joy during the process.

I want to write popular blog posts. I would be happy when I feel that I wrote a useful post and irritated when I couldn’t produce a post I’m satisfied with but I would have forgotten to enjoy the writing process.

While writing is tough, the process can be quite enjoyable. Writing helps us think, learn and remember.

Hence from now on, I hope to adjust my attitude to writing. I want to remember to enjoy the process of writing. I know that I would continue to judge my posts; but the two are not mutually exclusive. I think I can enjoy the process of writing and eventually produce a quality piece.


When I started this post, I only thought about the process of writing. As I wrote the post, I realised that this attitude could be applied to many other aspects of my life.

I realised that so often, I chase for the end goal and judge myself based on the result; but would have forgotten to enjoy the process.

I want to be able to build products. I would be delighted when others praise my simple website and disheartened when I feel that I am far from building a useful product; but I would have forgotten to enjoy the learning process.

I want to become a faster triathlete. I would be exhilarated when my timings improve and frustrated when I become slower; but I would have forgotten to enjoy the training session.

Just like for writing, I want to remember to enjoy the process of doing things and not just focusing on completing them. It might not be easy, but I think being aware is a good first step ☺

Over to you! I would love to hear your thoughts about this!

(This is my 20th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

4 Ways Of Making Good Friendships Online

4 Ways Of Making Good Friendships Online

Being in Coventry, United Kingdom, means I do not get as many startup events as in cities like London. Hence, I seldom meet people beyond my school mates in University of Warwick.

However, I don’t let this limit me from making new like-minded friends, especially those who are interested in startups. Thanks to the Internet, it has become so easy to connect with others online.

Note: This is my advice on making genuine friendships and not networking and knowing as many people as possible. In fact, I would recommend the opposite — make as little friends as possible at the same time. I would rather have 5 close and genuine friends than 500 acquaintances. I would only think about expanding the circle after the 5 new friends have become close friends, without compromising the existing friendships by too much.

Value Of Making Friends Online

If, like me, you are living in a remote area or your city does not have much startup activities, being able to make friends online would be very helpful. The best outcome is the genuine friendships you create.

For me, making friends online has brought me several benefits.

The first and most important benefit is simply the joy of having a close friend:

  • Someone whom I can talk to, share ideas with and possibly hangout with
  • Someone whom I can help and support
  • Someone whom I can ask for advice, suggestions or help

Also, these friends constantly inspire me with the things they do. And as an added bonus, some friends have helped me to open doors to wonderful opportunities that I could only imagine previously.

Please do not make friends just for the potential benefits they could bring to you (such as connections). That’s just making use of them! And that’s not what friends are for!

4 Ways To Make Genuine Friends Online

As I have benefited from making friends online, I would like to share the 4 ways I adopt to make genuine friends online.

Note: Friendship is a 2 way thing. If the other person does not reciprocate the interest to be friends, please don’t force it.

1. Twitter

Twitter is my favourite channel out of these 4 that I am recommending. Most of the friends I’ve made recently were through Twitter.

Okay, how I use Twitter to make friends is slightly cheeky as it isn’t entirely online only.

What I normally do is after they know me on Twitter (read: are aware that I exist via Twitter), I would ask to meet them for coffee if I can travel to their place to meet them.

Here’s examples of how I got to know Kosta Mavroulakis:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.03.48 Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.04.52 Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.05.41

and Thomas Dunn:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 13.28.12

While it is not a must, I found that meeting them in real life really helps with strengthening the friendship.

I feel that being willing to travel to where they are based shows my sincerity to know them. Also, if they are offering their time to meet me, the least I could do is to travel over to meet them.

Of course, it’s not always possible to meet them in real life. They might be living in another country or a city far away from yours. I’m lucky that my house is an hour to two hours train ride away from London where many startup people live.

For this, I could think of 2 possible resolutions:

  • Choose people who lives near you or in places where you could easily travel to. I would love to meet the Buffer team and startup people like Ryan Hoover but I know I cannot afford to travel to their place to meet them.
  • Skype (or other forms of chat). Twitter might not be the best place for a chit-chat and meaningful conversations due to the 140 character limit. While it would not be as close as face-to-face meeting, moving to a messaging platform allows deeper conversations. When I first got to know Thomas Dunn, we started with chatting on Skype.

Other amazing people I’ve gotten to know through Twitter recently are Lucas Gordon, Keefy Yap and Dave Chapman. (Come and say hello AFTER you read this article :P)

2. Online Chats

The second way I would recommend is to participate in online chats.

2 main forms of online chats that I participate in are Twitter chats and Slack chats. For Twitter chats, it’s mainly #bufferchat and for Slack chats, I’m in #startup and Support Driven Chat.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 15.19.56

There is also #nomad Slack chat but I was too slow in signing up for it and I can’t afford to pay the membership fee they are charging now. You could also check out Slack Chats, a place to discover and join private Slack groups, to find Slack chats that interest you.

A downside to these chat is the pace and volume of messages. For me, I find it quite hard to keep up with the conversations, especially when a lot of people are chatting at the same time.

Fortunately, I could tweet people directly and send private messages via Slack. When I find interesting people that I would like to connect with, I would approach them using these 2 methods. This is because I prefer getting to know someone better through one-to-one chat than through mass group conversations.

3. Emails/Volunteering

The third way is the old school method of emailing people whom I love to connect with.

I included volunteering as part of this method because all of the time when I emailed someone, it was because I wanted to offer my help. It usually started with me wanting to help the other person. And through helping them, we became friends.

One example is me volunteering to help Rodolphe with community management of Remotive. I’m not sure if we are at the stage of being close friends per se as we have only been chatting for a few weeks. However, I would really love to get to know him better eventually as he is an really interesting person!☺(Note: I’ve not met Rodolphe in real life.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.44.36

A disadvantage of using emails is that you might not know the other person’s email address. I use tools like Rapportive and Full Contact to help me. I discovered another tool recently called Anymail Finder. Here’s a way to find out people’s email address.

Another disadvantage is that your email might be buried under other emails that they receive. This is understandable. Hence, I would usually send a follow up email a few days later.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 13.14.09

If I still do not receive any replies after the second email, I might send a third one a week or two weeks later. There might be a chance that the other person is not interested to connect with me and if I could sense that, I would stop.

A possible resolution is to reach out to them via other channels such as Twitter or Instagram.

It is up to individuals how persistent they want to be. If you want to be very persistent, I would recommend that you be polite with it and not annoy the other person. The last thing you want from trying to make a friend is to make the other person dislike you.

Other wonderful friends whom I’ve made through this method are Salim Virani, Ben Aldred, Kumaran Veluppillai and (only very recently) Chase Clemons.

4. Online Communities/Forums

The last way is through online communities and forums. I’m not really good at this yet and it’s something I would like to work on.

The few online communities that I visit are Product Hunt, Growth Hackers and Inbound.org. As I do not visit and participate in them very regularly, I find it much harder to make any friendship through them. Also, I don’t want to be using these platforms to make friends without making much contribution to them.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 15.24.37

One good aspect of such online communities is that the pace of conversations is much slower than that on Slack chats, though the volume can be quite high too. Nevertheless, it is easier to join the conversations.

However, you cannot private message anyone via the platforms at the moment. So you would need to find other avenues to reach out to them. My preferred choice is Twitter.

Maintaining The Bond

All good friendships require maintenance. The way you choose to maintain your friendships is really up to you. Different people have different ways of doing this.

For me, I feel that the basics of maintaining friendships offline apply to that online as well:

  • I want to have regular contact with my friends. So every now and then, I would chat with them and see how they are doing. (Or stalk them on Facebook and Twitter haha)
  • I know that I can depend on my friends when I need help so when they need help, I would try my best too.
  • I find that meet up in real life and shared experiences really strengthen friendships. So I would want to meet up with them whenever possible.

I wouldn’t say that I’m good at this and I would really want to improve how I maintain my friendships.

Conclusion

Being in a remote city does not mean that we cannot get to know like-minded people. Most of my like-minded friends do not live in the same city as me. Because of the Internet, it is a lot easier to “meet” people online.

The 4 ways I would recommend to make like-minded friends online are:

  1. Twitter
  2. Online Chats
  3. Emailing/Volunteering
  4. Online Communities/Forums

Do you know of any other ways to make like-minded friends online? I would love to know them.

(This is my 19th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Starting A Startup In College

Starting A Startup In College

This is something I debate with myself a lot. Many of the articles I’ve read suggest that college students should start a startup in college because of reasons like the resources available in school, abundance of potential co-founders and how it is alright to fail.

Last night, I watched a video of Paul Graham giving a lecture titled, Before The Startup, where he discouraged college students to start a startup in college. I was quite surprised because he started Y-Combinator, an accelerator for startups, and that advice is the opposite of what most people say. After listening to his explanation, I realised that his advice makes sense.

It made me think about whether I want to start a startup now while I’m in college.

Why Do I Want To Start A Startup In College?

There are 2 reasons why I am so eager to do it now, instead of after I graduate.

The first reason is that I don’t want to get a regular corporate job. I’ve done it in the past for 8 months and it was really boring. Also, I’m not quite sure if my work has an impact on the company as a whole. The idea I have is that if I am able to start a successful startup in college, I do not have to worry about finding a regular corporate job after graduation. (Of course, there are other ways to avoid a regular corporate job.)

The second reason is that it is way cooler to graduate while having a successful startup and go straight into working on something that matters to me than to try to find a corporation to hire me and build my resume. To me, working on a startup is better and more interesting than working in a large corporation.

Should I Start A Startup In College?

So going back to the debate, should I start a startup in college?

After watching the lecture by Paul Graham, I went to read his essays. There are 2 advice in Paul Graham’s essays that made me feel that his advice against starting a startup in college makes sense.

Startups Are All-Consuming

That brings us to our fourth counterintuitive point: startups are all-consuming. If you start a startup, it will take over your life to a degree you cannot imagine. And if your startup succeeds, it will take over your life for a long time: for several years at the very least, maybe for a decade, maybe for the rest of your working life. So there is a real opportunity cost here. — Paul Graham

I ask myself if I am willing to go all in for my startup, if I have one. Not really. I can’t see myself quitting school for it, unless it is making thousands every month. Realistically speaking, the chances of that happening is small, especially without a high level of commitment. It is still possible if I am super lucky but I don’t really want to leave it up to chance.

Desire To Prevent A Startup From Failing

I now realize that something does change at graduation: you lose a huge excuse for failing. Regardless of how complex your life is, you’ll find that everyone else, including your family and friends, will discard all the low bits and regard you as having a single occupation at any given time. If you’re in college and have a summer job writing software, you still read as a student. Whereas if you graduate and get a job programming, you’ll be instantly regarded by everyone as a programmer.

The problem with starting a startup while you’re still in school is that there’s a built-in escape hatch. If you start a startup in the summer between your junior and senior year, it reads to everyone as a summer job. So if it goes nowhere, big deal; you return to school in the fall with all the other seniors; no one regards you as a failure, because your occupation is student, and you didn’t fail at that. Whereas if you start a startup just one year later, after you graduate, as long as you’re not accepted to grad school in the fall the startup reads to everyone as your occupation. You’re now a startup founder, so you have to do well at that. — Paul Graham

Paul Graham feels that graduates have a greater desire to succeed when they start a startup because there is a pressure on them to do so. When they fail, people around them would judge them differently from how they would judge undergraduates.

I don’t see myself being able to give up everything to prevent my startup from failing because I prioritise other commitments at the moment. While I’m happy to study less to work on a startup idea, I won’t give up my exams to save the idea from failing without having any certainty the idea would work.

So I concluded that it would be better to wait till I graduate. I am not being unambitious or deterred because it would be hard. I am being honest with myself, being pragmatic and choosing what seems to be the best path for me now.

Of course, these are my own considerations. I don’t want to stop anyone from starting a startup in college if they have a huge desire to do so and would sacrifice some things in their lives for it.

What Should I Do Now?

If I don’t want to start a startup in college, what should I do now?

1. Stop Thinking Of Startup Ideas

The very first thing that always comes to my mind is that I should think of startup ideas which I could work on after I graduate. I would always be thinking of what would the Next Big Thing be and become frustrated when I could not think of any. However, it seems like that is not the best thing to do.

The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. — Paul Graham

Paul Graham suggests that this is the counterintuitive thing about startups. He wrote a long essay on this. He suggested to think of problems, instead of solutions. In the essay, he gave many other advice as well.

2. Learn Skills That Would Be Useful In A Startup

I think that one of the best ways to prepare for starting a startup is to equip ourselves with skills that would be useful in a startup. There is a huge range of skills that a startup would require — coding, marketing, writing, designing and so on.

It is always handy to have some useful skills than to learn from scratch when I want to work on my startup idea in the future. It would help to speed up the process too.

The verdict: it takes a while to do this stuff [starting a successful business]. In fact, to build anything valuable will take years. So if you’re young and have no experience, spending 6 months learning skills like programming and design and sales isn’t a waste of time. It’s an investment. — Dan Shipper

Having a skill would also allow me to freelance and make some money on the side. It would be helpful if I’m bootstrapping my startup.

Also, I would suggest to learn things that you are interested in, not simply whatever seems cool and to focus on one or two areas, instead of spreading yourself too thinly. I’ve tried to learn many things at once and I ended up not learning much.

3. Work On Side Projects

An alternative to starting a startup is to start side projects. However, I feel that the mentality has to be different. Work on side projects for the sake of learning, instead of trying to create a successful startup eventually.

Otherwise, it would be the same as trying to start a startup. Side projects are meant to be free of any pressure while starting a startup is very stressful. Kevan Lee from Buffer wrote an article about The Science of Side Projects, which I would recommend reading.

4. Avoid Entrepreneurship Classes

I’m very bad at this. Since 14 and only until recently, I’ve been signing up for such classes which gave me a taste of starting a business using the very traditional method (eg. having a business plan first) but not much on making a startup successful.

Based on the classes I’ve attended, I feel that the way we are assessed in class is very different from how the market would assess a startup. Scoring well in an entrepreneurship class is likely to have zero relevance to how well my startup would do.

Also, I think that students are not given enough time on work on their ideas before they are being assessed. Usually, classes are a few weeks long or at most a year long and students’ work would be assessed by then. However, as we know, startups usually take some time to take off.

Hence, I’ve learnt to avoid such classes as I feel that they would give me a distorted image of starting a startup.

5. Make More Friends

This is something I need to work on more. College is a good time to make more friends and there are 2 benefits to this.

First, having like-minded friends would allow us to inspire one another to keep up the desire to start a startup in the future, to encourage one another to keep practising our skills and to keep one another accountable. Also, to me, it’s simply more fun to work with friends.

Second, we might find a potential co-founder.

Because of group projects in college, we can get a sense of others’ working attitude. We can then decide if they are people whom we are willing to work with. Through projects in my school, I’ve gotten to know people whom I will most likely not work with on any of my startup ideas.

Another great avenue for making like-minded friends is Twitter. I have made many good friends through Twitter and then meeting them face-to-face. While it might not be possible to meet people on Twitter physically, I found that it strengthens the friendship much more.

6. Find A Job In A Startup

The last but definitely not the least thing I could do is to find a job in a startup. Working in a startup would allow me to experience the pace and pressure of a startup. Communication and teamwork skills from working in a startup would be valuable for running a startup in the future.

Most startups are flexible enough to allow students to work part time, as long as they produce work. Having an useful startup skill (point 2 above) would make one more attractive to startups.

Here’s Paul Graham’s advice for getting a job in a startup:

The way to learn about startups is by watching them in action, preferably by working at one. How do you do that as an undergrad? Probably by sneaking in through the back door. Just hang around a lot and gradually start doing things for them. Most startups are (or should be) very cautious about hiring. Every hire increases the burn rate, and bad hires early on are hard to recover from. However, startups usually have a fairly informal atmosphere, and there’s always a lot that needs to be done. If you just start doing stuff for them, many will be too busy to shoo you away. You can thus gradually work your way into their confidence, and maybe turn it into an official job later, or not, whichever you prefer. This won’t work for all startups, but it would work for most I’ve known.

The debate on starting a startup in college would never end. I think ultimately, it is dependent on the individuals. While some might choose not to start a startup while in college, like I’ve decided, there are several things that we can do at the moment to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead.

Do you have any advice for college students who want to prepare themselves for starting a startup after they graduate? I would love to hear them ☺

(This is my 18th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

What I Learnt From Missing 3 Days Of Writing

What I Learnt From Missing 3 Days Of Writing

Since I publicly committed to writing daily for 30 days, I felt that I should explain why I missed 3 days of writing last week.

Last Thursday, I wrote a draft in the morning and planned to complete it on the train home that night. On the train, I developed motion sickness and could not work on the draft properly. I decided not to press on and hence, did not publish a post that day.

I know that it was simply due to bad planning. Had I allocated more time to writing that day, I might have been able to publish the post.

The day before, I had a bad day for my writing too. These 2 days made me lose much motivation to write. Therefore, I decided to take a break from writing. As I was travelling to Oxford for 2 days, I decided to take the 2 days as a break from writing.


Looking back at those 3 days, I feel that it might be a mistake to miss those days of writing. Instead of looking for excuses, I decided to analyse what happened and see if I could learn anything.

Better Planning

I missed my daily writing deadline last Thursday because I didn’t want to publish drafts that I’m not satisfied with. Despite knowing that, I did not allocate sufficient time to write and refine the post.

That day taught me 2 lessons.

First, I underestimated the amount of time I need to write a post that I’m satisfied with. Looking back, I realised that I would spent at least 3 hours to write a post that I’m happy with. Some days, I took up to 6–7 hours.

There are 3 things I could do about this moving forward:

  1. I could speed up my writing process, which I’ve tried without much success. I guess speed would come with more practice.
  2. I could allocate more time for writing. Allocating 6–7 hours for writing each day might not be feasible considering that I have other commitments apart from writing. However, this would be less of a problem after my challenge to write daily as I could break up my writing process into a few days.
  3. With my current challenge to write daily, it might be better for me to write shorter posts on days when I have less than 3 hours available for writing. Of course, this does not mean that I should compromise on the quality of the posts.

Second, I learnt that I do not write well under time pressure. When I have 30 minutes or less to write, I found it hard to pull my thoughts together to write something meaningful. So instead of having pockets of 30 minutes throughout the day to write, I might be better off having blocks of 1–2 hours.

Be Consistent

As mentioned earlier, I decided to take a break because I had 2 bad days for my writing, which demoralised me quite a bit. I felt that taking a break might allow me to be motivated to write again and perhaps think and write better.

I’m not quite sure if the break was helpful as I’m still finding it hard to write today. Perhaps it might have been better if I wrote regardless of my mood or motivation level.

In her post, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers, Alexis Landau wrote:

There is no “writing mindset” — if I waited for that, I would never write. The only thing that helps is sitting down every day, at the same time (roughly) and having peace and quiet, even if it is just an hour, to think, without the pressures of the outside world. I don’t check email or take any phone calls. It is a reserved time, just to ponder and explore various ideas, scenes and characters. Mary Oliver once said something about how if you show up for the muse consistently, then she will start showing up for you consistently, as if the psyche knows that you are writing and preparing, and so after time, you get something back, but you have to be there to receive it, no matter how painfully slow or awful you think it’s going.

Having read this, I am determined to “show up” daily for the remaining 13 days of my challenge.

While it might have been a mistake to miss 3 days of writing, I’m glad that I took away some valuable lessons.

Have you had days when you lose motivation for writing? I would love to hear how you deal with it 🙂

(This is my 17th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Mr Lee Kuan Yew, My Inspiration

I said that I would not watch the state funeral of our first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew because I would just keep crying. And there I was, for the last 4 hours, watching the procession and crying.

As I listened to the 10 eulogies, I learnt more about Mr Lee Kuan Yew and many aspects of his life really inspired me. Below are some of Mr Lee’s quotes and quotes from the eulogies.

Putting Others Before Himself

“I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.” — LKY

I’ll always remember this quote by him. He selflessly prioritise Singapore before himself.

Making The Right Decisions

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.” — LKY

“If you want to be popular all the time, you will misgovern”. — LKY

“I have never been overconcerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just watching the wind…you will go where the wind is blowing. And that’s not what I am in this for.” — LKY

He made hard decisions which he knew was better for Singapore. Many decisions were unpopular such as increasing working hours and reducing the number of public holidays. Others were painful for him. He had to cut short the political careers of his old colleagues so that a new generation of leaders could be nurtured.

Visionary and Courage

“‎Lee Kuan Yew‬ was a consummate and far-sighted leader who had courage to realise his vision.” — Former Cabinet minister, Ong Pang Boon

Looking at what we have today, I really respect Mr Lee for having his vision for Singapore decades ago and to have the bravery to fight for it for so long.

Conviction and Flexibility

“I put myself down as determined, consistent, persistent. I set out to do something, I keep on chasing it until it succeeds. That’s all.” — LKY

“Papa was firm in his convictions, but open minded enough to accept fresh evidence and change.” — Lee Hsien Yang

Apart from being determined, he is also flexible enough to change when circumstances have changed. He stopped the “Stop at Two” policy when the birth rates were falling below the replacement level. He also reversed his views and supported building casinos in Singapore, despite having said that casinos would only be allowed “over his dead body” a few years before.

Integrity

“He demanded complete integrity from himself, family and colleagues.” — President Dr Tony Tan

While he demanded complete integrity from others, he also led by example. I feel the integrity is a form of respect for others.

Life Long Learning

He started learning how to use a computer at the age of 70. The last appointment he had before he fell ill and was taken to the hospital the next day was with his Mandarin tutor.

Appearance and Frugality

“I am of a different generation. I’m not interested in changing either my suit or my car or whatever with every change in fashion. That’s irrelevant. I don’t judge myself or my friends in their fashions. Of course, I don’t approve of people who are sloppy and unnecessarily shabby or dishevelled. You don’t have to be like that. But I’m not impressed by a $5000 or $10,000 Armani suit.”

So often, I feel the “need” to buy new clothes and new training equipment and would fall for the temptation. It’s time to change that mindset. Mr Lee wore the same exercise shorts for 17 years. Whenever he tore it, he or his wife would patch it up.

Doing His Best

“I have no regrets. I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do.” — LKY

“All I can say is, I did my best. This was the job I undertook, I did my best, and I could not have done more in the circumstances. What people think of it, I have to leave to them. It is of no great consequence. What is of consequence is I did my best.” — LKY

As long as we do our best, it does not matter what others say or think. When we do our best, we can live with no regrets.

As the national period of mourning is coming to an end, I guess it’s time to move on.

Thank you for being such an inspiration, Sir.

LKY

(Photo taken from Remembering Lee Kuan Yew Facebook page)

All eulogies can be found on Channel News Asia’s website.

(This is my 16th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Writing for myself

I find it hard to get over the idea in my head that every blog post needs to be really valuable to other people. I’m not yet comfortable with the balance of writing for myself versus writing what other people would find valuable.
– Hiten Shah

This is how I’m feeling now.

I wrote a draft on the train to London. It is about the passing of our first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. It started out as an article to encourage people to look at the positive side of things. Eventually, it turned into more of a rally to get people to do something for our country, Singapore.

I showed it to my girlfriend as I was hesitant to post it. She gave me good feedback but I eventually decided not to post it. I think it’s quite horrible.

As I didn’t want to break the promise of blogging everyday, I kept thinking about what to write throughout the day.

Despite that, nothing came to my mind. Well, I have many ideas on what to write. I thought of the titles but I just didn’t know what to write. I guess this is writer’s block.

Nevertheless, I’m writing now.

I’m pretty sure this post wouldn’t make much sense; but I just want to write it as a reminder for myself that there are days like these, when I’m stuck, when I’m not sure what to do.

But this will pass. And it doesn’t matter.

I’m reminded of a post by Leo Widrich, Days When You Suck:

It doesn’t matter

Joel, the awesome guy I am working together with says: These days don’t matter.

And they don’t. What matters is the consistency. It matters that you get up every day and enjoy building this thing which will make other people’s lives a bit easier and solve some pains.

If you have a few of these days, so what? I learnt that I am far better off to admit it to myself, take the day off or do whatever it takes to suck less again.

Today is that kind of day for me. I’ll be back tomorrow.

(This is my 15th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

How I Almost Gave Up On My Side Project Only After 2 Weeks

And made a friend along the way.

How I Almost Gave Up On My Side Project Only After 2 Weeks

Imagine launching an idea only to find out 2 weeks later that someone has already been doing it and seems to be doing it a lot better than you are.

That is close to what happened to me last Friday. I started a weekly newsletter, Be Nice, curating customer service and support articles 3 weeks ago. On Friday, I received Support Driven’s weekly newsletter and my heart sank.

(My Newsletter, Be Nice (Left) vs Support Driven’s Newsletter (Right). These are only part of the newsletters.)

Newsletter Comparison

Not only does their newsletter has more content than me, they have built a community of customer support pros. They have regular AMAs and Google Hangout, podcasts and also a slack chat group!

I, on the other end of the spectrum, have no expertise in customer service or support yet. I started the newsletter because I wanted to learn more about the field (more about this below).

Give up? Pivot?

Persevere

I could have easily given up after realising how my newsletter seems pale in comparison. However, I didn’t want to give up so easily on my side projects again. I’m embarrassed to say that I have stopped working on many side projects because I met tiny obstacles along the way.

So this time, persevere, I must!

I sat down and gave this issue some thought. The first thing I was reminded of was the comment by Ben Rubin, founder of probably the hottest app now, Meerkat, on Product Hunt:

Ben Rubin's Comment on PH

Indeed, it would be a very sad world if people easily give up on ideas.

Compete?

“there’s a very good chance that anyone in the world would come up with a better product / perspective”

The next thought that came to my mind was that perhaps I could find a niche to compete.

See, personally, I sign up for more than one newsletter for a topic; say, marketing. As long as I provide additional value to the audience, they would subscribe to my newsletter too.

Also, I can always fall back to the classic Facebook vs MySpace example.

Seeking Clarity

I know that writing out my thoughts helps me think more clearly so I typed out the reasons why I started the newsletter:

My Thoughts

2 is better than 1

Through the process of typing out the reasons, it became clear. I realised that my ultimate aim for starting the newsletter is to improve the customer service and support field. I have had too many bad customer service experiences and I wanted to do something about it.

Instead of competing head on with the Support Driven Community, I want to complement them. This is not a zero sum game.

So I emailed Chase of Support Ops who sends out the Support Driven Community newsletter every week:

Email 1 to Chase

When I sent out the email, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I mean, isn’t it unconventional to email a competitor and say, “Hey, I know I can’t beat you. Let’s join forces?”.

I received Chase’s reply the next morning and was taken aback slightly! He is such a lovely person and was so transparent and open with me. I was really glad that our mindsets are quite alike:

Email 1 from Chase

So I shared my thoughts on how I would modify the newsletter (it’s quite lengthy. You can skip this screenshot, if you want haha):

Email 2 to Chase

After reading my suggestions, Chase nicely invited me help him curate article links for the Support Driven weekly newsletters, which I gladly accepted!

Email 2 from Chase

For a start, I’m sharing a customer service and support related article a day, which would add up to 7 links a week. I feel that this is a good and manageable starting point, considering my other commitments.

Be Nice???

For all the Be Nice fans reading this, fear not! I am not stopping my weekly Be Nice newsletter.

After thinking through properly, I realised that Support Driven’s newsletter serves a slightly different purpose from mine. Their newsletter is mainly focused on informing the community members what happened in the past week and what’s going to happen in the following few weeks. My newsletter focuses on providing customer support pros with useful and quality articles related to their field.

In my newsletter, I’m also sharing articles about surprising and delighting customers/users, a funny article/video to brighten your day (because support is tough) and my thought of the week.

I’m still playing around with this format and would alter it to suit the needs and preference of my readers.

So despite my contribution to the Support Driven community, I would continue my work with Be Nice and curate valuable content for you!

Read Now and Subscribe

I’ve just sent out Be Nice Issue 3 yesterday. You can check out all 3 issues here.

If you want to get better at customer service and support, subscribe here:

Be Nice Landing Page

 

(This is my 14th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Thank you, Sir

Whenever Singapore is mentioned in my classes, I would always feel a great sense of pride within me.

It doesn’t have to be only praises. For instance, a few weeks back, my Economics lecturer talked about composition of imports and exports as a proportion of a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). He commented that the sum of Singapore’s imports and exports is more than 300% of its GDP.

It might simply be an interesting fact for most students in the lecture hall; but to me as a Singaporean, I felt a huge sense of pride because I know that where we are today did not come easy.


Where Singapore is today would not have been possible without a legendary man, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore.

As our first Prime Minister, Mr Lee transformed Singapore from a Third World nation to a First in a short span of 30 years.

Sadly, he left us yesterday.

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

(Image taken from Channel News Asia.)

Until now, I’m still lost for words.

I spent some time today reading about him and am immensely grateful for what he has done for us.

I would just like to leave you with some of his quotes from the 24 page tribute to him:


“I’m very determined. If I decide that something is worth doing, then I’ll put my heart and soul to it. The whole ground can be against me, but if I know it is right, I’ll do it. That’s the business of a leader.”


“If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind… you will go where the wind is blowing. And that’s not what I am in this for.”


“We had been entrusted with the people’s fate. The first duty of the leader is to fulfil this trust whatever the danger to himself personally, or he should not have sought this position.”


“Leadership is more than just ability. It is a combination of courage, determination, commitment, character and ability that makes people willing to follow a leader.”


“All I can say is, I did my best. This was the job I undertook, I did my best, and I could not have done more in the circumstances. What people think of it, I have to leave to them. It is of no great consequence. What is of consequence is I did my best.”


“If there was one formula for our success, it was that we were constantly studying how to make things work, or how to make them work better.”


“Let me give you a Chinese proverb: ‘Do not judge a man until you’ve closed his coffin.’ Do not judge a man. Close the coffin, then decide. Then you assess him.”


“I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.”


I am proud to be a Singaporean.

Thank you, Mr Lee.

(This is my 13th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Everything Happens For A Reason

Everything Happens For A Reason

I always believe in this mantra — Everything happens for a reason.

I use this mantra usually when things turn out badly or in a way I didn’t expect.

When bad things happen, I would tell myself that it happened for a reason and I should take them in my stride and have faith that they would lead me to somewhere better.

Here’s 2 story to elaborate my point:

Steve Jobs and Typography

Steve Jobs famously said during his commencement address at Stanford in 2005,

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

The story behind this quote was that because he dropped out of college, he didn’t have to take normal classes. He could attend any class that he was interested in, so he took a calligraphy class as he was mesmerised by the beautiful calligraphy around his campus.

He never expected that it would be of any practical use in his life; but it did. He put what he learnt about typography into good use 10 years later, when Apple was designing the first Macintosh computer.

If he didn’t drop out of school, he would not have attended the calligraphy class.

If he didn’t attend that calligraphy class, he would not have learnt about typography.

If he didn’t learn about typography, he would not have designed multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts into the first Macintosh.

And he believed that since Windows copied the Mac, if he and his team didn’t design typography into the first Macintosh, it is likely that no personal computers would have the beautiful typography they have today.

Dropping out of school might seem bad at that point in time but it turned out to benefit Steve Jobs later in his life.


Peter Thiel and PayPal

If that was not convincing enough, here’s another story. This story is about Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, whose net worth is US$2.2 billion as of January 2015.

When he was studying in the Stanford Law School, he was competing for the highest prize regarded by law students — a Supreme Court clerkship. Only few dozen graduates out of tens of thousands get the opportunity each year.

He made it to an interview with the Justices and felt that he would be set for life if he got the clerkship.

But he didn’t. He was devastated by the outcome.

10 years after he graduated from the law school, he and his team took PayPal to public and sold it to eBay for US$1.5 billion. It’s not just how much he made eventually but also how PayPal revolutionised internet money transfer.

In his book, Zero to One, he acknowledged that,

“winning that ultimate competition [getting the clerkship] would have changed my life for the worse.”

He went on to say that, “Had I actually clerked on the Supreme Court, I probably would have spent my entire career taking depositions or drafting other people’s business deals instead of creating anything new. It’s hard to say how much would be different, but the opportunity costs were enormous.”

If he had gotten the clerkship, PayPal might not exist today.


In our lifetime, many things might not turn out as we expected; but have faith that they would lead you to somewhere better.

When my application was rejected by Buffer, I was sad. But I got over it quickly as I trust that it happened for a reason. It has lead me to challenge myself to write a blog post everyday. Who knows what this might lead me to? ☺

Everything happens for a reason.


Steve Job’s story is based on his commencement address at Stanford in 2005. Peter Thiel’s story is extracted from his book, Zero to One.

(This is my 12th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Why I Started My 30-in-30 Writing Challenge finally

Why I Started My 30-in-30 Writing Challenge finally

I’ve seen a few people do the 30 in 30 writing challenge. Off my mind, I can remember that Hiten Shah and my close friend, Tomas Laurinavicius, have done the challenge. The challenge is to write a blog post everyday for 30 days.

Recently, I have also started the challenge and I’m into my 11th day of the challenge today. I have been wanting to do the challenge for a long time, to satisfy my desire to write more and improve my writing. But I have never gotten round to do it.

I never had the habit of writing much online. I’ve tried and failed. So I have been quite surprised that I’m not just writing everyday for the past 10 days but also writing close to almost a 1000 words for each post. (My original plan was to write only 500 words a day.)

I decided to dig deeper into this. After researching online, I found an explanation.


The Fogg Behaviour Model

Dr BJ Fogg explains that there are 3 elements that have to converge at the same time for a behaviour to take place — Motivation, Ability and Trigger. When a behaviour does not occur, it is because at least one of them is missing.

The Fogg Behaviour Model Diagram

Now, let’s go through them one by one.

Motivation

The first factor is having the motivation. The Fogg Behaviour Model highlights 3 core motivators: Sensation (pleasure/pain), Anticipation (hope/fear), and Belonging (acceptance/rejection).

They are a good way to explain motivation. However, in my case, I would like to look at motivation in terms of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

In his book, Psychology of Motivation, Lois Brown describes extrinsic motivation as “our tendency to perform activities for known external rewards, whether they be tangible (e.g., money) or psychological (e.g., praise) in nature.”.

On the other hand, he refers to intrinsic motivation as “the reason why we perform certain activities for inherent satisfaction or pleasure; you might say performing one of these activities in reinforcing in-and-of itself.”

For my situation, I feel that my intrinsic motivation for the challenge outweighed any extrinsic motivation. I’m not paid to do the challenge and I do not get any financial rewards for completing it. The case of a psychological reward in the form of praise (or recommendations on Medium) isn’t very strong as this is the first time I’m writing so much online, so I wasn’t expect much of those.

Intrinsic Motivation

In his TED talk video, Dan Pink explained that there are 3 main factors that drive individuals, from within themselves, to work hard.

  • Autonomy: “the urge to direct our own lives”
  • Mastery: “the desire to get better and better at something that matters”
  • Purpose: “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves”

The factors apply to my situation.

  • Autonomy: I wasn’t force to do the challenge. In fact, no one asked me to the challenge. I took it up myself.
  • Mastery: I wanted to get better at writing and articulating myself. The skill of writing matters to me because I want to be able to think and express myself better, which I feel writing would help. Also, I hope that it can help to feed me someday.
  • Purpose: Apart from improving myself, I hope that sharing my stories would inspire and help others who are a few steps behind me, like those who are ahead of me have been doing.

When looking at Hiten and Tomas, I realised that the factors could be applied to their situations too.

  • Autonomy: While Hiten was challenged by his friend and mentor, he had the freedom to accept or reject it. Tomas took up the challenge himself after reflecting on his achievements.
  • Mastery: Hiten had “a constant desire to write more” while Tomas seemed to want to get better at accomplishing his goals.
  • Purpose: Hiten tries to write blog posts that are really valuable to others and Tomas’s “mission is to inspire and be inspired”.

If we were to use Dr BJ Fogg’s model to look at motivation, it would most likely be the pleasure (sensation) and hope (anticipation) from writing that motivated me to start the writing challenge. The core motivator of belonging would not apply here as I would not be social accepted or rejected by doing or not doing the challenge.

Motivation? Check!

Ability

The second factor is the ability to take the action. Without the ability to take an action, we naturally can’t do it.

The level of ability matters too. The higher my ability to write, the more likely I would start writing, provided that I have the motivation and there’s a trigger.

I believe that ability here does not only refer to my writing skills but also other conditions such as environment and convenience. For me, I just started my 5-week Easter break with no plans at all so it was great timing. I have lots of time to spend on writing.

Also, using Medium made it a lot easier for me to write because of its user interface and design. There’s few things on the website that would distract me while I write on Medium and I do not have to bother about formatting. That’s why I have been writing on Medium and reposting it here.

For Hiten and Tomas, it would be hard to assess their situations from their blog posts. Nevertheless, I don’t doubt that they have great writing skills because of their background. Hiten is a long time entrepreneur and startup advisor while Tomas has been blogging for more than 7 years.

Ability? Check!

Trigger

The third factor is trigger. Fogg’s Behaviour Model explains that without a trigger, a target behaviour would not happen.

For this, I also went back to what I was taught in Physics — Newton’s First Law of Motion, or sometimes referred to as the Law of Inertia:

When viewed in an inertial reference frame, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force.

In simpler terms, it means that an object that is stationary would remain stationary and an object in motion would remain in motion at the same speed and direction, unless there is an external factor acting on it.

Extrinsic motivation like financial incentive could be an external change-inducing force (or trigger) since by definition, it is something from the outside.

However, for my case, the effect of extrinsic motivation was not strong enough to induce the change in my behaviour (ie. start the challenge). I feel that my trigger was a spark, one of the 3 types of trigger in the Fogg’s Behaviour Model.

Trigger Diagram

The spark came from the application rejection from Buffer. Along with the feedforward (feedback) I received, it triggered a strong desire in me to improve my writing skills.

For Hiten, I reckon that his friend and mentor’s challenge was probably a spark for him to take up the challenge too.

For Tomas, his trigger might be either a signal or a spark. His reflection on his achievement might have signaled or sparked him to start the challenge.

Trigger? Check!

Behaviour

As mentioned earlier, if either of the elements were missing, the behaviour would have likely not taken place.

If I didn’t have the motivation, neither the time and ease to write nor spark from rejection nor both could have made me start the challenge.

If I didn’t have the ability to write, having the motivation and the rejection would not have changed me too.

If I didn’t have the spark from the rejection, having the motivation and the perfect conditions for writing would not have made me start the challenge too. And that’s probably why I didn’t start it in the past, despite having the time. (Everything happens for a reason.)

To sum up, I started the 30-in-30 challenge because all the 3 elements — Motivation, Ability and Trigger, were present. Without any of the elements, I would probably not have started it.

(This is my 11th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)