219: TZ Discussion – Confessions of an Overcommitter

Justin and Jason talk about how Justin bought the percentage of Pluggio he didn’t own, what Buffer did right and what can be learned from their success, why Jason moved on from Appignite, what’s happening with AnyFu and why Jason doesn’t consider Catalyst to be a startup project, why it’s better to focus on process rather than on specific goals and how small wins build momentum, the importance of engaging in deep work and the difficulty of getting small things done, the difference between trading and investing and why Jason wouldn’t use an investment advisor, why Iceland is succeeding and Ireland is strugglinghow AngelList is allowing accredited investors to invest in startups onlinethe uncovering of Intellectual Ventures 2,000 shell companies and how EFF’s Patent Project got a half-million dollar boost from Mark Cuban and ‘Notch’, what’s been working and not working with Catalyst, Jeff Bezos’ regret minimization framework, and finally why it’s good to do things.

15 Comments
  1. Justin says:

    The first 20 mins of the audio are bad but then it get’s better. Just an FYI.

  2. Jon says:

    You mentioned you didn’t know who ‘Notch’ was — he’s the creator of Minecraft.

    Odlly enough Minecraft may be one the biggest influencers getting kids to interested in low level hardware. See this video intro to ‘Redstone’ Circuitry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oc6spHvGPtQ

    Essentially if you want to ‘program’ stuff in your personal Minecraft world you have to build it out of low level stuff like flip flops.

    Minecraft might make a good platform for teaching this in school, actually, and people have already used these basic building blocks and build entire computers in Minecraft:

    16 bit ALU in Minecraft: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LGkkyKZVzug

    Full CPU: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sybOqi_dgX0

    And in Notch’s next game those same kids are going to have to learn assembly programming to keep the lights in their spaceships on (literally):

    http://i.imgur.com/XIXc4l.jpg
    http://0x10c.com/story/

  3. Navi says:

    Had to stop and comment 33 minutes in Jason said, “and i think one of the key ways to get people to the site aside from different marketing strategies is JUST making an awesome product”. To me this sounds awfully similar to that old misconception, build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door, which sounds true at first but when you think about it cant be more wrong.

    Awesome product and awesome marketing are two sides of the same coin you cant have one without the other,if you make awesome product you will get word of mouth MAYBE and that is the best form of marketing, true but that is just one marketing avenue that runs out and then you’re up the creek.

    To illustrate my point , two guys sell tea, at 2009 they sell 100 000$ worth, 2010 they sell 350 000$ worth.What happened ? Oprah happened ,they got to Oprah because they had an awesome product but the product didn’t sell after Oprah (after marketing) awesome product sold like crazy.

    Talbott Teas on Shark Tank
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex3ZqpCP4g4

  4. Stanislaw Pitucha says:

    It really made me laugh when you criticised the investment advisors / portfolio managers and then 10 minutes later wanted to do pretty much the same thing to invest via angel list :)

    I hope that you’ll do the Catalyst class for a long time though. I’d really like to go to meetings like this when I was younger, but there wasn’t anyone both experienced and engaged enough to do them. The closest I got to a similar idea was much later – joining a Solaris group/lab at a local uni while I was still in high school. Lots of fun, but not the early start you’re trying to provide. Good luck with the future lessons.

    PS. I think you broke the linkedin recommendations with that accidental mass-invite some time ago. I see both Jason (~top 15) and Justin (~top 30) on my “People You May Know” list even though linkedin shouldn’t know anything about you. (I didn’t get one of those invites at the time)

  5. Jason says:

    @Navi – That’s very true. I just meant that if you build an awesome product then at least you’re stacking the odds in your favor in terms of the marketing. Depending on how things play out, sometimes you can get pretty far by just word of mouth, especially if a few things fall your way in terms of blog coverage, etc. Yes, you might still need to write some attention-seeking blog posts and pitch a bunch of bloggers, but in the big scheme of things, it’s not like it overwhelms the amount of time and energy required to develop a great product (which is what Justin was claiming).

    The other thing I was hinting at in our discussion, but which I never really got around to stating explicitly, is that I believe developers tend to overweight the effort required for marketing because they simply lack the skills to do it right. So, for example, in Justin’s case (and to use a martial arts analogy), I think he’s about a third or fourth-degree black belt in software development, but a yellow belt when it comes to marketing and as a result is much more daunted by marketing than product development. If he were say a brown belt in marketing, then he’d have enough tools, tricks and know how that the marketing strategy would seem much more straight-forward.

    As a counter-example to the “word of mouth is a myth” theory, Uber has done very little (if any) formal marketing. They don’t even have a marketing or PR person and never have, much less a department, thus their growth has been almost entirely via word of mouth. Yes, you could discount Uber as an aberration or outlier, just like you could with all counter-examples, but then you’re just messaging the dataset to give you the answer you want.

    That said, I think that vast majority of products created by bootstrappers as well as funded YC-like startups, will require a significant marketing effort to gain traction because they’re generally just not that interesting, special or useful to survive on word of mouth alone. With that being the case, it’s probably safer (if not entirely accurate) to tell people that word of mouth marketing is a myth.

    Sorry for the long response. It almost turned into a blog post there for a minute. ;)

  6. Jason says:

    @Stanislaw Pitucha – It’s not that I don’t think one can outperform the market, it’s just that due to survivor bias and the inherent randomness of the market, it’s extremely difficult to determine which investment advisors are good and which are just lucky. And while I believe that the vast majority of people won’t be able to outperform the market on their own, if they simply bought the market in terms of a market index ETF, at least they wouldn’t do worse than the market and it would remove the agency cost of utilizing a professional advisor. Considering that most investment professionals do worse than a passive investment in the market, the market ETF strategy seems like a pretty good bet to me (at least for some portion of your investment capital). In case you’re interested, here are two recent article on the subject:

    * Why Smart People Fail to Beat the Market
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickferri/2012/03/12/why-smart-people-fail-to-beat-the-market/

    * Most fund managers are underperforming in 2012
    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865567576/Most-fund-managers-are-underperforming-in-2012.html?pg=all

    In terms of angel investing in startups, I think while most people will probably fail at that this since most people suck at most things), I believe that if you do it right (by working hard to try to understand the market opportunities, the startups themselves and then of course spread your bets), then you might be able to do pretty well. Here’s one article that influenced my thinking on the subject

    * Angel Investors Do Make Money, Data Shows 2.5x Returns Overall
    http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/13/angel-investors-make-2-5x-returns-overall/

    Also, thanks so much for the positive feedback on Catalyst. I don’t see us quitting anytime soon, so it should be around for a while. Whether it remains local or goes global though, still remains to be seen. )

  7. Jason says:

    @Jon – I haven’t has a chance yet to figure out how we’re going to take advantage of Minecraft, but I agree that there might be something extremely interesting there that we can work with.

    Also, thanks for clearing up who ‘Notch’ is. ;) He seems like an interesting guy.

  8. jordy says:

    Guys, really enjoying this show…..this is an instant classic. Thanks for being so open.

  9. Jason says:

    @jordy – Thanks! ;)

  10. Thought you might like to know… I’m another person who bought 25 shares in Tesla because of Jason talking about it : ) It’s not something I’d ever done before (buying shares), but it turned out to be really easy and, well… fun. I’m glad you mentioned it!

    With Solar City having just IPO’d, I’m now tempted to double-up on Musk-related investments and buy a handful of those too : )

  11. Jason says:

    @Alex Edwards – Cool! I hope it works out for the both of us. ;)

    Also, I wasn’t aware that Solar City had IPO’d. I think I might have to buy some shares myself. Thanks for the heads-up on that.

    If SpaceX ever goes public they’ll have to offer the Elon Musk ETF. ;)

  12. Ignacio says:

    This was a good episode. The topic about finishing projects is interesting, there’s always that question that should you invest time in the idea or will be a waste.

  13. Amir Mendela says:

    hi Jason I was listening to the most recent techzing and I got a kick out of your comments regarding accomplishing things. You suggested not focusing on the destination (ie setting goals) but rather focusing on the task, as a means to make better progress. You gave an example of wanting to lose weight, so rather than say you have a goal of wanting to lose 20 pounds, just focus on the going to the gym several days a week. Or rather than making a goal of releasing a software project on some date, focus on the work itself.

    You’ve essentially taken the generally accepted notion that you are more likely to accomplish things if you set goals and turned it upside down, saying don’t focus on the goal but rather the stuff along the way to the goal.

    This is the biggest bunch of nonsense I’ve ever heard. The vast majority of people who accomplish a lot of things or have big accomplishments are goal-setters and goal-makers. REALISTIC goals help you focus – they gave you a target. Not making goals is akin to looking at the hood of your car when you drive – all you are doing is reacting and avoiding rather than going somewhere. If you made your comment in a room of entrepreneurs you’d be laughed out.

    I wish you could listen to yourself as someone else hears you. Probably not possible for any of us to too but if you could do it, what you’d hear in that episode is you making this ridiculous argument as a way of rationalizing why you start a lot of big things and fail to finish most any of them. Are you fooling yourself? Because you aren’t fooling anyone else.

  14. Jason says:

    @Amir Mendela – You’re actually not arguing with me, you’re arguing with Oliver Burkeman, the author of the piece “The New Year’s Resolutions That Won’t Fail You” (pages 46-49) in the December 24th issue of Newsweek. In the article, Burkeman cites John Elliot, author of “Overachievement: The New Model for Exceptional Performance”

    http://www.amazon.com/Overachievement-The-Model-Exceptional-Performance/dp/1591840554

    and the cognitive therapist, David Burns, an adjunct professor emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_D._Burns

    If you think they’re wrong and can point to research that supports your position, then please feel free to post it. I really don’t have a dog in this fight and would love to see any academic literature that contradicts the claims made in the article. I’m merely curious about how our minds work and, of course, am always looking for ways to hack my own performance and productivity.

    But your last paragraph was an especially nice touch. While I freely admit that I haven’t finished everything that I’ve ever started, and that I start more things than should (please see title of episode – Confessions of an Overcommitter), overall and compared to most people, I have a pretty strong track record in that regard.

    Happy New Year!

  15. Jason says:

    @Amir Mendela – While I’m pretty sure you’re a coward using a fake name, I’m going to help you out anyway. Here’s some counter evidence to the claims made by Burkeman, Elliot and Burns (cited above).

    “Research recently conducted by Matthews shows that people who wrote down their goals, shared this information with a friend, and sent weekly updates to that friend were on average 33% more successful in accomplishing their stated goals than those who merely formulated goals.”

    http://www.dominican.edu/dominicannews/study-backs-up-strategies-for-achieving-goals

    And here’s some discussion about Derek Sivers’ claim that announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them.

    http://www.colipera.com/csi-ted-talks-what-derek-sivers-was-really-saying/

    The article ultimately concludes that it’s all somewhat nuanced (big surprise).

    “So make your goals public, but make sure they are the right kind of goals and the people you are sharing them with can hold you accountable to those goals.”