Be good (the startup version)

Yesterday, I wrote on a big lesson that consistently pops up in my life: be good. The lesson is simple: if you want something, the only thing that matters is to be good.

Most recently, I have been learning this lesson with respect to startups.

When I quit my job in April 2012, I had no idea what I was doing. I only knew that I wanted to create an impact in the world, and that I probably had to figure it out on my own.

The first thing I did was consume everything I could find on the web and in the bookstore. I devoured books and blog posts. I watched as many videos as I could find from founders I respected. I browsed Hacker News daily, reading a good fraction of all the posts on the front page. At the same time, I started doing a lot. I picked up web programming. I started blogging. I continually networked as best I could, taking coffee meeting after coffee meeting.

In the first year, I met a lot of people, and learned a great deal about the VC and tech world. However, I hadn’t built anything worth anything. I had built and scrapped three prototype products. So where was my startup? At ground zero.

After I scrapped my third code base, I remembered that lesson that I always seem to come back to: be good.

Since then, I’ve browsed Hacker News a lot less. I’ve drastically cut back on coffee meetings. Instead, I spend almost all of my time building and iterating on product.

Why?

A startup is defined by it’s product. Build a great product, and you’ve built the beginnings of a great startup. Fail to build a great product, and there is no startup.

You can have the greatest network in the world, but without a good product, you are just simply good at schmoozing and connecting with people.

You can figure out a way to raise millions of dollars, but without a good product, you aren’t a startup. You are just a bank account.

You can churn out thousands of lines of code, but if it doesn’t turn into a good product, those lines of code are going to be thrown away.

You can build your Twitter and blog following, but without a good product, you are a talking head.

You can read all of Hacker News, Techcrunch, etc. but without a good product, you are just a listener.. most likely listening to a bunch of talking heads.

You can learn all you want about growth hacking, but without a good product, you have nothing to grow.

Only one thing matters in building a startup: being good at building product.

And how do you build a great product?

I wish I could answer that one. I only know that the start of that answer again is to be good. I don’t think there are any tricks. Great products don’t just pop out of thin air. They are created by people who are good at building product that people want.*

Knowing this, there is only one thing to do: focus on understanding great consumer web/mobile products. I’m not good yet, but hopefully if I keep focusing and working, I’ll get there one day.

* One may say there is some luck involved, and I would agree. But it isn’t all luck, and the best way to maximize your luck is to be good, and be persistent.

* You may ask why I am blogging. First, I am rounding out this 100-day challenge. Second, and more importantly, I have learned that blogging everyday forces me to reflect and think about the big picture on a regular basis. This forcing function has actually been great. So even if I write horribly with typos and grammatical errors all over the place, the writing is really good for me. I’m not sure what I’ll do when the blogging challenge is over, but I may keep writing everyday.

P.S. This is post number #82 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project Soulmix.

Be good

I like the idea of using this blog to note big lessons that I have learned in life. I have already written about the most important lesson I’ve ever learned (just do it!), as well as another important lesson on how the world is gray.

There is another big lesson that consistently pops up in my life: be good.

There are so many things some we may strive for in life. We want to be happy. We want to attract the opposite sex. We want that girlfriend/boyfriend, and that great wife/husband. We want that awesome job. We want that next promotion. We want to be socially aware. We want to be great leaders. We want to be powerful speakers. We want to be charismatic.  We want to have a close group of friends. We want to truly connect with others.

There are many ways we can go about striving to attain each of these things. People will give you advice. Experts will publish online, and magazines and books. You will hear tips, tricks, and lifehacks. These are all fine, but there is only one thing that matters: be good.

What does it mean to be good? Simple. Be genuinely good at whatever it is that you want. If you aren’t good, then the only thing that matters is to get good. Tips, tricks, hacks, and advice can be good, but can also be a distraction. They only matter if they help you get good at what you want.

Here are a few examples

Happiness.

Everyone wants to be happy, but many expect it to happiness to happen to them. That isn’t the way life works.

If you want to be happy, you have to get good at being happy. It means actively recognizing and finding reasons to be happy. It means creating happiness, and exchanging it with others.

You are only happy when you get good at being happy.

Career.

We all want great jobs. We want that promotion. That great title. That startup exit. Or that position of respect and influence.

To get there, you will hear all kinds of advice. Dress this way. Network this way. Communicate with your boss like this. Manage your team like this. Build your product like this. Follow these steps to gain leverage in your organization.

What always gets lost in the mix is the most important thing: be good.

That is all that matters. So many people are looking to be promoted to that specific job title so that they can have influence. They have it the wrong way around. You gain a position of power when you have influence.. when you are good.

Whatever our job is, you will almost always be best served by focusing on your craft. Be good. And when you are good, figure out how to get better.

Personal relationships.

People spend an amazing amount of time thinking about how to attract a partner. They will expend an incredible amount of energy, change how they dress, how them act, how they talk, etc. As an example, just take a read through The Game, a fascinating book on the world of pickup artists.

Again, only one thing matters: be good. In this case, simply be a good person. Have a set of values. Stick to them. Genuinely care about others. Respect others and respect yourself.

If you want that great girl, be a great guy. If you aren’t a great guy, she will find out. And vice versa. You can’t trick someone into thinking you are someone else.. at least not in the long term. If you are smart about it, your best bet is to just focus on being awesome.. and then that awesome person will like you.

See the pattern here?

I could go on and on.

I often go through the same pattern. First, I find myself wanting something. I find myself thinking about it, reading material, and trying tips and tricks. After investing some time in it, I realize that only one thing matters: be good.

It happens time and time again across many aspects of life.

I’m now in the process of trying to imprint this lesson into my head. Writing it down helps.

Is there something you want to be or achieve? Be good. That is all there is to it.

P.S. This is post number #81 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project Soulmix.