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Big ideas create tribes

What makes a good software product work is the ability to build a business around a compelling idea. And while this seems obvious in America and especially in Silicon Valley, in almost any other place, people say “Well if you wanna build a business, how are you going to make money tomorrow?”

In the Valley, businesses are built around an idea and then they’re figuring our how they’re going to make money. And this is really important, because if you want to make something work, something that’s really complicated, you cannot hire people that are motivated by a paycheck. They have to live it and breath it and they have to do it over a long period of time.

And it’s not a problem of venture capital. Risk capital exists everywhere. But the companies that have been the best at using that capital, exist in the Valley, and that’s about it. And it’s not because they’re smarter. It’s because they work better together. They’re more likely to be compelled by a big idea and put monetization second.

Stop deciding what people want

Google’s the perfect example of a company that has a great ability to make meaningful products, but, like never before, they produce concepts that force non-existing behaviors into people’s lives.

It was funny to read Michael Arrington’s  post this morning and I remembered this idea that Professor Clayton Christensen expressed during his “Jobs to be done” talk , that companies shouldn’t decide what people want, but fulfill existing needs.

“I would say, without any background or substance, that the probability of any software company to be successful is somewhere near 0(zero) if the concept was developed in a company that has decided what the customer wants. And you develop a product and then you find that people don’t buy it so then you have to hire, I don’t know if you ever heard of people like this, they’re called marketers :). And the reason you have to have a marketer is you’re trying to convince the customer that they need to buy the product that you decided they need. If instead you understand the job the customer’s trying to do, you actually don’t need much marketing because customers will pull it into their lives. And almost always, those companies had somebody that was on the other side who knew the job. And it’s understanding the job that’s critical, in short supply. It’s not the ability to make products.”

I don’t think it’s about Facebook finally treating it’s users as customers. It’s about Google that’s developing ideas that are intended to shape user’s needs, as opposed to fulfilling them.

ADHD explained

First brain wave test for ADHD gets FDA approval

If your friends ever say they have ADHD, just show them this

ADHD is about having broken filters on your perception.

Normal people have a sort of mental secretary that takes the 99% of irrelevant crap that crosses their mind, and simply deletes it before they become consciously aware of it. As such, their mental workspace is like a huge clean whiteboard, ready to hold and organize useful information.

ADHD people… have no such luxury. Every single thing that comes in the front door gets written directly on the whiteboard in bold, underlined red letters, no matter what it is, and no matter what has to be erased in order for it to fit.

As such, if we’re in the middle of some particularly important mental task, and our eye should happen to light upon… a doorknob, for instance, it’s like someone burst into the room, clad in pink feathers and heralded by trumpets, screaming:


It’s like living in a soft rain of post-it notes.

This happens every single waking moment, and we have to manually examine each thought, check for relevance, and try desperately to remember what the thing was we were thinking before it came along, if not. Most often we forget, and if we aren’t caught up in the intricacies of doorknob engineering, we cast wildly about for context, trying to guess what the hell we were up to from the clues available.

On the other hand, we’re extremely good at working out the context of random remarks, as we’re effectively doing that all the time anyway.

We rely heavily on routine, and 90% of the time get by on autopilot. You can’t get distracted from a sufficiently ingrained habit, no matter what useless crap is going on inside your head… unless someone goes and actually disrupts your routine. I’ve actually been distracted out of taking my lunch to work, on several occasions, by my wife reminding me to take my lunch to work. What the? Who? Oh, yeah, will do. Where was I? um… briefcase! Got it. Now keys.. okay, see you honey!

Also, there’s a diminishing-returns thing going on when trying to concentrate on what you might call a non-interactive task. Entering a big block of numbers into a spreadsheet, for instance. Keeping focused on the task takes exponentially more effort each minute, for less and less result. If you’ve ever held a brick out at arm’s length for an extended period, you’ll know the feeling. That’s why the internet, for instance, is like crack to us – it’s a non-stop influx of constantly-new things, so we can flick from one to the next after only seconds. Its better/worse than pistachios.

The exception to this is a thing we get called hyperfocus. Occasionally, when something just clicks with us, we can get ridiculously deeply drawn into it, and NOTHING can distract us. We’ve locked our metaphorical office door, and we’re not coming out for anything short of a tornado.

“Ok Brian, draw a straight line on the wall!”

Medication takes the edge off. It reduces the input, it tones down the fluster, it makes it easier to ignore trivial stuff, and it increases the maximum focus-time. Imagine steadicam for your skull. It also happens to make my vision go a little weird and loomy occasionally, and can reduce appetite a bit. Hope this helps and please do share this so that more people can learn what its really like to have ADHD.

This was originally posted on Tickld. You can view the original version here .

The truthful lesson

Today I remembered to be truthful.

First, let me tell you about one lonely afternoon, when I was in high-school. That was the day when I decided to be truthful to others.

While listening to my form master, I had a small but powerful moment of clarity and decided that no matter the situation I’d find myself into, I would always tell people the truth. Don’t think I was excessive in terms of “not telling the truth”, as against other friends or kids the same age. I was normal. But, out of the blue, I concluded that any version of the truth except “reality”, was a waste of time. Mainly I came to that conclusion because I was always forgetting what I previously said. I also saw it as an unnecessary load that I didn’t want to carry on even at a small level.

It was a rule of mine that helped a lot and strangely enough, I stuck with it since then.

Today though, something strange happened. I had a casual meeting with a friend who’s also an entrepreneur. We were talking about my company and for the first time, for the first time in quite a while(years), I felt completely dishonest. While talking, I was trying to make logical connections that didn’t exist between unfinished pieces of my work so that it would enhance the “vision”. When I realized that some of those connections weren’t there, I pushed them to be. I knew it’s not good and I panicked. The feeling became so intense to a point where I saw every single thing that was coming out of my mouth as a complete chain reaction of odd, illogical set of words that go up against each-other in the most obvious possible way. My stomach turned upside down and I entered into a state of anxiety that blinded the conversation and sent me at a 3rd person, observer level of the situation. When I got out, literally, I couldn’t even talk. I was blank.

That didn’t happen to me before and I will never let it happen again. As a Founder and CEO of any company you have a big vision, a vision that you’re always selling to other people. You know/see every detail of your work and try to make it, so that it reflects the future and the “grand plan”. This is very common between entrepreneurs. “Fake it till you make it” they say.

My simple advice: don’t fake it. You either make it or not.

Be aware that faking could lead down a slope where you try to convince other people that something you believe in is true(even if you don’t know for sure). You will come up with details to enhance your point of view and you will not be honest with yourself. You will start defending against simple questions that come from people with good intentions and you will start protecting the image of your work in an aggressive way, to its complete detriment. As with the high school story, faking, it’s more complicated than making it. So focus on making it.

Be patient with the things you create. It takes time for them to become “big”. You should love them even when they’re small and ugly and people say they’re useless. It’s your work.

I don’t think I will ever forget this day. If back then I decided to be truthful to others, today i remembered to be truthful to myself(and my work included).

Just focus

What constantly keeps you up at night is the thing you’re going to eventually end up having. And as an entrepreneur, it better be your company.  If it’s anything else, you’re in trouble.

I’m saying it and I’m writing it here but I won’t tell anyone how to do it. And no one can. What I can tell you though, is that the ability to deeply concentrate,  for a long period of time, on a problem that you want to solve, will bring results along itself. I just came from San Francisco and Silicon Valley, after a month and something of staying there. It was pretty amazing. Demoing the product in front of all those people, getting the chance to take part in the Disrupt Conference organized by Techcrunch, visiting offices of some of the most notorious tech companies out there and getting to meet their founders.

Anyway, except the fact that it’s California and everyone’s full of bullshit, I’ve learned two things here. I think they’re as important as someone explaining to you how to scale your system in a middle of a viral boost:

I. FIRST: They’re the GODS. And things happen there. And you know why? Not because they have a 60 year ecosystem meant to support innovation and tolerate failure or because people are willing to take risks.  Not because their knowledge is far greater that anyone else’s or that they’re the only ones that could execute correctly. Not because they have an immense talent pool that allows you as an entrepreneur to meet and work with great people with great backgrounds. And definitely not because they have VC money.

It’s because they’re able to get shit done. Period.  And to be able to do that, they focus on what they have to do. Everything else means distraction. And those are the people you’re competing with. People that work for 12 14 16h/day for a whole week for something that they believe in. Two or three guys in a 2 bedroom apartment that iterate and learn things faster than you or your mid-sized organisation can issue press releases. They don’t care about any other stuff. They don’t even know about it’s existence(VC, marketing, legal, parties etc). But they do know their users’ problems, they know what’s wrong and they figure out how to fix it. And that’s how they win. Everything else falls into place afterwards.

II.SECOND: You’re no different! So please believe me: it’s nothing that differentiates you from any of the guys that made it. NOTHING! You’re both smart humans and you’re both passionate about your ideas. Most likely the knowledge base that you have accumulated is greater then theirs. But when you think about maserati problems or dates or you plan the marketing for the launch date, the others execute. So, as Paul said here.. “Stop Fucking Around”.

As a tech entrepreneur you constantly see headlines of things happening and people making it. You always think that one day you will be there, on your moment of fame, with millions using your product and money pouring from VC’s and all the other bullshit. The reality: “It probably won’t happen”. Believe in what you’re doing bla bla… NO: build a great team, be perseverant, eyes open all the time, execute, stay lean.. etc.

Going in the Valley and spending some time with people that you didn’t thought you’ll ever get the chance to see, it’s kind of exciting.  Again, you’re no different. Build up your case, it will take time.

So these are my thoughts. If they’re worth anything, share them.

I will tell this story to all my CEO and entrepreneur friends because I think they’re great and their projects are great. But.. they need stuff, the same as I need it. Also bare in mind what Max, very well explains here.  ”Life is a juggling act of developing not just these 2 dimensions(the distractions and the good life) but dozens of them.”

Good luck guys 🙂

The overthinking pain

We’re constantly complicating every single part of our lives. And that reflects on the actions that we take on a daily basis.

I am becoming a more and more experienced writer. Not a good writer. The point is that i was a very bad writer five years ago. I was the kind of writer that thinks he could eventually write good stuff but ends up spending hours and hours in front of a two paragraph blog post or e-mail, only to eventually discover that is too late to send or publish. :) It’s funny, i know. And why? Because I was constantly thinking it was not good enough. Of course, that happened without any input or feedback from none of my recipients. I had this constant thought that what I say/write/express could be done better. I was challenging every part of my writings to become “perfect”. So every time I had to write something the message I wanted to deliver lost its essence for the simple fact that too much thought was being put inside of it. And that made me a bad writer.

Then, when I started to build products and to design processes, I noticed that the same problem appeared. And that freaked me out. I knew I was probably smart enough not to under-think stuff, so the issue was that I involuntarily over-”thought” them. And it’s a big pain. However, as any major self induced bad habit, it could be solved if you started pushing yourself. And that’s what i did. It’s like waking up in the morning. Initially it’s a pain, but when you start analyzing it and push yourself every day, a new habit emerges and waking up in the morning becomes a delight.

Anyway, that freaked me out. And the more freaked out I became, the more I started to realize that it’s a huge connection between the product development process and the way I was deeply analyzing everything I had to do in my daily routine work. That had to stop. So I started to push myself.

So life became much better. No more over thinking meant releasing more often, meant that people stopped waiting and that feedback came quickly than ever. I started to just send that email. Just publish that article/paper/post. Just launch that product. Just cut-down that feature, that feature list, that process. Just do things the way you naturally tend to do them and then see what happens or be concerned about the results. Then improve. And if you do it enough times, you’ll automatically start getting things right and a new habit will emerge. It’s a great way to become better so that you can reach that level of self satisfaction you’re instinctively trying to reach.

So if any of you guys is like me, stop over-thinking stuff. It only helps you on loosing more time and people won’t notice it. Frustration will occur and deadlines will be lost.

Imagine start-up teams

Start-ups don’t have the smallest clue on which is the right way to build their product or services. Who to sell to or how to do it specifically? There are only a few that could scream, after sweat and hard work, things like “those are the 5000  people that will buy from us, no matter what!  We’ve found them, we know everything about them and we have a long term relationship with them. And they won’t leave for whatever reason”. So it’s a huge, BIG, enormous difference between a start-up and any other organisation that knows what to do, how to do it and who are it’s customers. Start-ups don’t know.

So people working in start-ups(or the ones that should be working there) are different. They must accommodate with daily change, with things that must be redone and with ameliorating processes through iteration and fast failure. They must agree that only one set of ideas will still be standing after all the pivots and iterations. Those are the “Lessons learned” (from the ecosystem in which they activate). That’s what everybody should be interested in.

A good friend of mine from Bucharest was complaining that those type of individuals are very hard to find, especially in that region. At a given moment i would’ve agreed with him. Meantime i change my opinion. I see the problem linked with a good sense of management, for things to head the right way in a start-up. But more than that, it’s about experience, the ability to collaborate and determination. A team’s main asset is agility. There’s no such thing as departments, it’s just a handful of people and each of them represents a specific entity. Every single one deals with something: development, product, sales etc. They have to be accounted for their moves and they should test everything. They must collaborate to be able to take better decisions in the future and to build a better product.

If that raises an issue inside the company, if everybody expects a set of instructions, something surely doesn’t work. Keep looking for the right people that could stay put on their positions and bring the whole organisation to new heights.

And you’ll find’em.

Understanding the job

Products vs. Jobs done. Hmm.

I would say it, without any necessary background or substance, that the probability of any software company to be successful is somewhere near 0(zero) if the concept was developed in a company that has decided what the customer wants.

And what happens then is that you develop a product and then you find that people don’t buy it. So then you have to hire(I don’t know if you ever heard of people like this), they’re called marketers. And the reason you have to have a marketer is that you’re trying to convince the customer that they need to buy the product, that you decided they need.

If instead you would’ve understand the job the customer’s trying to do, you actually wouldn’t need much marketing because customers will pull it into their lives. And almost always, those companies had somebody that was on the other side who knew the job. And it’s understanding the job that’s critical, in short supply. It’s not the ability to make products.

After Clayton M. Christensen