Working on my new meditation app full-time for the past four months has led me to realize that an entrepreneurial style I like is that of a gardener. I like having a “garden” of multiple projects, each of a different kind and at different stages.
I made my first dollar from my speed reading browser extension in June 2020, in the depths of the pandemic. I had created the extension several years before that (but didn’t monetize it). My product has grown to the point of being able to cover my basic living expenses, ramen profitable, some might say, and I think there’s more potential. It’s a seed that I planted a while ago which has now sprouted, bloomed, and is starting to fruit.
I wrote the first lines of code for my meditation mobile app during a 14-day quarantine in Taiwan four months ago. I launched it recently. Thanks to some great early user feedback and my own vision for the product, I have a bunch of features I want to build. It’s a seedling that I will water and nurture until one day, it breaks the soil and sprouts.
Why did I start these projects at all? I created them to scratch my own itch. To use the gardener analogy, I wanted to plant the vegetables that I’d want to eat myself.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been splitting my work time between these two projects, tending to my garden as a whole. I’m still experimenting with the exact time allocation, but switching focus throughout the week gives me time to marinate on problems and develop a fresh perspective. I also get to face a diverse set of challenges and feedback that helps me grow.
Who knows what’ll happen in the future. Maybe one of my projects will turn into something so compelling that I feel like I have no other choice than to go all-in. I trust myself to know when that moment arrives.
But least for now, I’m having a lot more fun indie hacking like a gardener—isn’t enjoyment the point, once all is said and done?
I felt battered around by the seas. I never quite felt like my full self.
Right after college, I went into finance, then moved into software engineering, then data science. And in between, I experimented with freelancing, worked on startup ideas with friends, and even considered going into product management.
By day, I was exploring and steering my career through the waters, trying to find myself in the paths that others presented to me. And I struggled. I got rejected. A lot.
This time, I had gotten past the gatekeepers and got hired for a cushy tech company job. But by night, I persisted in following a stream of hope, one that, looking back, I had started following in middle school: crafting software as an independent creator to solve problems for myself and other people. I had no idea where this passion would take me, but the joy of using my unique combination of strengths to solve problems, without having to seek the permission of someone else, propelled me forward.
Then, the COVID pandemic hit. The seismic shifts in the world made me and my wife question some assumptions about our careers. Our work was entirely digital: why did we have to go into an office every day? Carol makes brands come alive because she’s really good at both brand strategy and design: why did she have to offer her valuable services to just one company? I made this free productivity Chrome extension a while ago to scratch my own itch, and it now had a couple thousand daily active users: why couldn’t I build out a new set of value-add features and offer a paid plan?
We got to work. Putting one foot in front of the other on our uncertain journey to becoming independent creators, full-time. In six months, we had some side income flowing in. It wasn’t much—definitely not enough to cover our expenses in New York City, but enough to cover our expenses if we traveled abroad. Perfect: we also always wanted to travel the world together. The results of these small experiments gave us enough confidence to take the plunge. So, we quit our jobs and are roaming the world as digital nomads.
I decided to focus on building a meditation app as my main project. I came up with the idea because I saw others around me struggling to stick to meditation, or not knowing how to make progress with it, things that I struggled with myself before. We all intuitively know that the largest benefits from any habit come if we stick to it and get better at it. I’ve been meditating for a decade now and it has made a life-changing difference on my peace, confidence, and openness. The goal of my app is to help others experience the lasting impacts a meditation practice can bring by making it easy for anyone to stick to and deepen a habit of meditation.
We still have down days of doubt and imposter syndrome, and boy is it an emotional roller coaster. We’re also putting ourselves out there, joining communities to meet new people and learn new things, while also sharing our story. All this felt unnatural to us at first, but we’re getting better at it. Our challenges, both real-world and mental, teach us about ourselves, other people, and our place in the world.
Though we are traveling to unfamiliar places, I finally feel like I’ve come “home” in my career. We’re working a lot, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world. We get to work on what we want and use all our strengths to their maximum potential, all while sitting in our underwear and making a living. During the day, we work. On nights and weekends, we explore.
We’re finally free to be our full selves, with no limits on what we can create and what kind of life we can design together.
Listen for that thing that calls you to be yourself, to live life on your terms. Take the next step. Keep learning. And don’t give up hope.
I’m building my meditation app in public and sharing my founder journey on Twitter. Follow me at twitter.com/troyshu.
I hope everyone has been doing well during these unprecedented times.
I spend a lot of time learning about how to improve my experience in life. As a result, I wanted to introduce a new writing experiment I cooked up to share more of what I’ve learned. The series will be short, somewhat regular (monthly?) updates on life-improving ideas or tactics my wife and I have recently learned about or experienced and are trying out ourselves.
I strongly believe that the right seed of information at the right time can be life-changing, as long as you’re curious, open, and action-oriented. Our hope is that at least one seed in this series will become a new tree and eventually a forest of new possibilities for you.
Here are the ideas we’ve been toying with over the past month:
🖥 Standing desks. Sitting all-day is bad for your health. I don’t know about all the longer-term cancer and heart disease stuff but I do know that it messes up my lower-back and posture: I see and feel that first hand now. In the first few weeks of working from home, because I sat so much I actually felt a kind of lower back pain that I haven’t felt in ages (I have and use a standing desk at the office). Sitting causes tight hip flexors which pulls on your lower back, and I had injured my lower back a while ago so I definitely felt pain this time. I decided to get a monitor and set up my own standing desk at home (see photo above).
🌻 The Power of Now. My former coworkers at Squarespace got me this book because I had the Kindle version and always wanted a physical copy to reference (such a sweet gift!). Carol’s been reading it and has had some moments of insight about how attachment to what the author calls “form” causes suffering in her own life.
🤴 How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer. I’ve never read Montaigne before. I’m enjoying reading him and find his style philosophy refreshing, entertaining, and thought-provoking. And what better question to try and answer than “how to live”? Except he never answers that question directly. In contrast to other kinds of philosophy, Montaigne doesn’t tell you how you should live. He just observes and studies life’s experiences through his own stories and adds his own flavor of insight, producing gems like “Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.”
🏄♂️ Living in Flow: The Science of Synchronicity and How Your Choices Shape Your World. A great book about living more authentically and how intention coupled with action produces meaningful outcomes. I’ve already put some of the tactics in this book into practice (namely “LORRAX”: listen, open, reflect, release, act, repeat) and have seen first-hand how it helps me turn initially challenging situations or emotions into opportunities. The book gets a bit too speculative and “woo woo” sometimes which loses me for a little, but I’ve already learned at least one tactic to authentic living that I’ll take away for the rest of my life.
🧠 Learning How to Learn Coursera course. I’ve heard a lot about this course over the years and finally had some time to take it. Learning is the ultimate meta-skill so I was looking forward to it: getting better at learning means accelerating your development. It only took a few hours, speeding through the videos and skipping some of the less interesting topics. Takeaways I was reminded of include the importance of practicing recall, even just taking a moment after reading something to recall something you learned, and the importance of using both focused and diffuse-mode thinking. Which brings me to…
🌁 More diffuse-mode thinking. Diffuse-mode thinking happens when you let your mind wander and make connections “all over” the brain. Whereas focused-mode thinking occurs when you’re focused on a specific idea or problem. Both modes of thinking are required for optimal creativity and learning but I definitely spend way more time in focused-mode. I wrote a little about my “most important question” practice which engages the subconscious and diffuse-mode thinking to help me solve problems. I’ve also started experimenting with hypnagogic naps like Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali used to do to harness diffuse-mode thinking for insight. I’ve seen some interesting results so far.
Did you know that when I worked at a hedge fund, I used to meditate at my desk after lunch? People who walked by my desk thought I was taking a nap. At the end of the year, my team gave out bogus awards to various people as a joke. I got the “Sleeping Beauty Award”.
😊 Science of Well-Being Coursera course. Speed through this one. Still, it’s a great review of the well-being practices we all know and love—like a gratitude journal, spending time with people, and spending money on experiences over things—and why they work.
This prompted me to buy some Jackbox Games and now I host a fun virtual game night with friends and family every Friday night. Mafia / Secret Hitler in space, anyone (the game’s called Push the Button)?
🍳 Carol and I have basically been cooking every meal and trying out new recipes. Cooking and learning its principles serves as one of our creative outlets and it’s healthier and less expensive. I think we’ll be cooking a lot more meals ourselves and being more self-sufficient after this pandemic is over. Here’s Carol’s favorite easy bread recipe. Also, did you know that growing your own scallions is super easy and only requires water? Look it up.
🧘♀️ Carol started meditating with me regularly in the mornings. We use Sam Harris’s Waking Up app which I’ve happily paid for over the past few years. I know I’ve already talked about this app a lot on this blog but it’s the best meditation app I’ve tried. Sam’s guided meditations are relaxing and easy to follow while containing nuggets of insight about consciousness and how we experience life. He also has a lot of other thought-provoking content on his app, like guided loving-kindness meditations and a lecture on why he thinks we don’t have free will.
🏋️♀️ Peloton app for home workouts. I really miss the gym and all the equipment. I also missed the boat on buying dumbells, kettlebells, even sandbags before everything sold out. So, I’ve resorted to bodyweight workouts. I had built a sort of ritual with going to the gym but now that I can’t, I found myself reluctant about doing body workouts at home. Then my co-worker introduced me to the Peloton app, which is offering a 90-day free trial! Catchy music and a person guiding and yelling at you is definitely motivational (I see why “social fitness” like Crossfit and Orange Theory are so popular). They have a good amount of bodyweight workouts, and while I’m likely losing a lot of strength (oh well) the Peloton bodyweight workouts are decently intense and only require a yoga mat.
🤯 The High Existence podcast is one of my favorite podcasts because it’s focused on self-improvement but through a more “thoughtful” lens. Some favorite episodes this time:
Learning The Ultimate Meta-Skill and Bending Reality (HEx Dialogues #3). This one’s all about getting better at learning. It has similar concepts to the Learning how to Learn Coursera course, but one takeaway that sticks with me is to have a balance of “consumption, production, and stillness” time in my life. Learning requires consuming information, but it also requires putting it into practice and producing. Lastly, periods of stillness, not even meditation or napping but sitting in silence and staring out the window, induce diffused-mode thinking, which as we learned complements focused-mode thinking for better learning and creativity.
On Engineering Your Own Luck and Surfing Serendipity with Eric James (HEx Podcast #31). The interviewee shares some pretty awesome stories about how he manufactured his own luck to meet Elon Musk and Richard Branson, and how he got his photography featured in National Geographic. The takeaways are: set ambitious goals, live authentically, put yourself out there and don’t be afraid of rejection, be open to the potential opportunities that come your way, and then take bold action.
Have you been experimenting with interesting ways to improve your life? Or just have questions or comments? Reach out!
And remember to subscribe to my newsletter if you want to get these updates and other future posts in your inbox.
What things, experiences, and ideas have impacted me the most in 2019
Similar to what I did in 2018, I wanted to record what things, experiences, and ideas had the most positive impact on me in 2019 (and beyond).
I married my best friend and love of my life! People always ask, “has anything changed since you got married?” And my answer is: “Yes!” Things changed subtly. For example: we both started going to the gym more, eating healthier, and putting more emphasis on our health. We’re both pursuing our passions with even more vigor and alignment to our core selves. I describe some of these changes in more detail elsewhere in this post, but basically we both agree that getting married has encouraged us even more to strive to do all that we’re capable of doing, for each other and for our future together.
In March, I got a new job at Lyft as a Data Scientist, which has definitely impacted my life positively. I have great co-workers, I love that I get to focus on product and user-oriented challenges, and I’m learning a ton about myself, how to work with others, and of course the art and science of learning from data. I joined right before the IPO, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the success of the company itself, and how well it’s run, plays a huge role your experience of working at that company.
What about my side projects? I launched ShiftReader this year! I’m excited to keep improving it. I’m also exploring a different side project, and want to keep it a secret for now, but let’s just say that I’m more excited about it than almost all other similar experiences in the past. It’s also a direct result of some of the “inner-strength” practices I describe below.
I changed my workout routine and diet a bit this year, and as a result I’ve lost fat, gained muscle, and feel more energized on most days. What did I do?
Firstly, I introduced supersets into my workout routine. The idea of supersets is to move quickly from one exercise to another, without taking a break, thus making your workout more intense and shorter. I pair exercises for opposing muscle groups together, so that my muscles don’t get fatigued too quickly between sets. For example, I’ll do a set of bench presses (7 reps) which work my chest and triceps. Then, I immediately do rows (7 reps) which work my back and biceps.
I used to work each muscle group once every week. I’d have a push day for biceps and back, a pull day for chest, triceps, and shoulders, and a leg day. Now, with supersets, I work the “push” and “pull” muscles twice a week. Because with supersets I can work opposing muscle groups on the same day. I’ve experienced noticeable strength gains and physique changes after implementing supersets, while also shortening my workout a little.
I also implemented a form of intermittent fasting this year, technically called time restricted eating, which has metabolic health and longevity benefits. Basically, it means only eating during a certain range of time every day: for me, I only eat during the 8 hour timespan from noon to 8pm. I just skip breakfast in the morning and make sure to bring it to work so that I don’t decrease my caloric intake too much (my breakfast was Soylent anyways).
Lastly, I started doing light cardio when I can on my weightlifting “off days”. I only do around 15 minutes on the treadmill or stationary bicycle, making sure to keep my heart rate in zone 2 to burn fat while doing light enough exercise for recovery. Just getting my heart rate up and working up a sweat re-energizes me for the rest of the day.
I call this theme “inner-strength” because I’m referring to the power of your mind–conscious and subconscious–your spirit, and your energy. While I’m a big believer in having balance in life, I think that living a good life starts with inner-strength. Your thoughts manifest themselves as behaviors, which then change your reality.
Here are the experiences that have and continue to have an outsized impact on my inner-strength:
Meditation continues to benefit my life. I still try to do every day (in the morning). This year, a “newer” benefit of meditation emerged more prominently, and that is being able to recognize potential opportunities better. See point 4 here. I’ve used Sam Harris’s Waking Up app all year.
I also journal more regularly now. I set a goal to journal every morning, and I write in a balanced, structured and unstructured way. For part of my daily journal, I just write what’s on my mind, which is incredibly therapeutic. For the rest, I 1) brainstorm on the “Most Important Question” and 2) write down three things I’m grateful for.
I learned about the “Most Important Question” practice from an interview Josh Waitzkin did with Tim Ferriss (show notes). For the “Most Important Question” practice, you ask yourself a question about where in life you feel stuck, preferably before bed. The next morning, you brainstorm around this question in a journal. By doing so, you train yourself to focus on the “most important questions” throughout your life. At every moment, there is always the One Thing that you can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary.
This “Most Important Question” practice also helps open the channel between your conscious and subconscious mind. Asking yourself the Most Important Question before you sleep puts your subconscious mind to work on that question.
The Habit app (iOS, maybe Android) has noticeably helped me stick to and develop habits that I’m less consistent at. For me, there’s something about seeing my progress over time as a line that goes up and to the right. I only have a few key habits on it though, including journaling and meditation. Developing too many habits at once overwhelms me and I fall off the bandwagon for all of them.
Tim Ferriss always mentions that he re-reads The Magic of Thinking Bigwhen he needs to feels doubt and fear creeping in. So I re-listened to it on Audible. Afterwards, I immediately felt more confident and optimistic. I noticed it in how I carried myself and interacted with people that day. I realized that I had been living in a “background haze” of doubt and negativity for a while. Listening to The Magic of Thinking Big again brought me out of it.
Lastly, I spent several days journaling and chatting with my wife and brother to discover myself more. I felt like I had lost sight of my true self a little, and that I needed to get closer to it again. I kid you not, I Googled “how to find yourself again” and followed some of the prompts that a WikiHow article suggested. Some particularly helpful ones included “Distinguish your thoughts from the thoughts of others”. Another one: “If I had all the resources in the world — if I didn’t need to make money — what would I be doing with my life and why?”. That got the juices flowing.
Those are the things that changed my life the most in 2019
What were yours? And what does becoming the best version of yourself look like in 2020?
I love carving out R&R time. It is time for “reflection and re-alignment” (in addition to rest and relaxation), and it always leaves me feeling refreshed and re-energized.
I try to reflect and re-align at the end of every year. But instead of doing the traditional “New Year’s Resolutions” (we all know how well those work), I’ve improved the process for better results.
I go through a process where reflection, not just resolution, is the core. Because to create our future, we must learn from the past. I also ask a few questions that serve the following purposes:
Create pride and gratitude, emotions shown to be associated with more perseverance.
Focus on what matters most, e.g. using the 80/20 principle.
Promote outside-the-box thinking to break out of normal thought patterns.
Major thanks to Tim Ferriss’s tips and all the research on how we achieve for inspiring my version of “New Year’s Resolutions”–or should I say “New Year’s Reflections”.
So what is my process?
I run through the reflection and goal-setting questions in a Google Doc template I created. You can copy and modify it for your own use.
Tips for R&R time
I do it least a few times a year, and want to do it once a quarter, so that I don’t veer too far the path I want to be on.
It’s best to try to leave your normal environment for at least a few days. Changing your environment changes your thought patterns.
Do nothing but R&R while away (or at least carve out a few days to do nothing but R&R on a longer trip). Save the minute-granularity itinerary planning, rushing from one destination to another, and adrenaline (or cortisol) producing activities for your other “vacations”.
What does one actually do to R&R? Here’s what I do: pen and paper journaling (stream of consciousness, about the past, about my dreams, anything), meditate, read, walk a lot in nature, eat, spend time by myself but also with loved ones.
Do you have any New Years rituals that help you start the year off right? Reach out and share them!
As 2018 comes to an end, I wanted to reflect and write down some of the things that have impacted me this year, and into the future. I made these thoughts brief, as I want to be concise and prioritize what had the most impact. Hopefully readers find my thoughts useful in a practical or thought provoking way. I’m happy to talk more about any of these topics, just reach out or comment!
The following thoughts are roughly categorized, and not in any particular order. Disclaimer: this page does not contain medical advice, every individual’s body and mind is different.
Stretching (before and after every workout) and continual rehab/strengthening (after every workout) has completely eliminated the re-emergence of weight training related injuries *knocks on wood*. As well as avoiding certain exercises that naturally aggravate old injuries. Stretching and softening muscles is one of Tom Brady’s secrets to his longevity. And LeBron’s too: “play hard, have fun, and stretch”.
Some of my favorite stretches and rehab/warmup exercises this year:
Medicine ball rolling (as an alternative to foam rolling), self explanatory
Zinc supplements have staved off oncoming colds several times for me this year. This is my go-to immune health supplement, which I “superdose” (i.e. 3-5 tablets a day) when I feel a cold coming.
A cup of coffee (caffeine) works wonders for me. I never realized how much more energy and alertness it gave me before this year, when I started drinking it more often because it’s free and tasty at work. I can only have one cup though, and earlier in the morning, or else I stay up all night. I’ve been using it together with L-theanine. I like to save this combo for special situations (also so that I don’t develop caffeine dependence and withdrawal).
Floating has helped me relax and stay centered. It’s also given me some thought provoking experiences. I like Lift in Brooklyn. Sign up for their mailing list, they have deals/coupons a few times every year.
I’ve really enjoyed Sam Harris’s Waking Up App. His meditations and lessons are educational and thought provoking, in addition to being very relaxing of course.
Speaking of Sam, I found his recent podcast with the TV mentalist and hypnotist Derren Brown fascinating; hypnosis can be powerful. I’m exploring self-hypnosis, as well as acupuncture, after hearing of a friend of a friend having allergies “cured” from it. I expect the placebo effect—namely the power of expectation and belief—to play a huge role in why these things “work”. Even if that’s true though, it means these practices can still be beneficial.
The mind and body are so connected that all of this might as well be under Health.
I continue to love building digital products that people use. Some of the things I created in 2018:
[in progress] ShiftReader: a better speed reading training tool than what Spreed was. The link is just a landing page with fake pricing (I’m doing price testing), so click “Sign Up” and enter your email if you’re interested in email updates.
[sorta dead] CryptoMint: was previously a paid subscription newsletter for crypto news with automated sentiment analysis on scraped articles, which actually had a good amount of subscribes. After deciding I did not want to be in the business of selling “predictions”, esp. in a market like crypto, I turned it into a free crypto newsletter (where the articles are still being scraped) that I only sometimes send out. I have about 430 people on the mailing list.
[dead] CryptoSaver: a web app that automated dollar cost averaging into crypto. I killed it after realizing that users were still terrified of some web app placing crypto buy orders automatically through Coinbase, even though it was via oauth, each buy order had to be manually approved, and that the app wouldn’t have any permissions to do anything else on the account like sell or transfer. I didn’t invest much before talking to users about this idea (and I try not to with most of my ideas): I only put up a legit looking landing page and did some light Python work to understand how the Coinbase API worked.
I’m really happy to have found “solo entrepreneurship” communities this year, like the Indie Hackers community and Microconf, and specific people in that community I can talk to, like Christian
I’ve been working at Squarespace as a Data Scientist for a little over a year and a half now, working closely to support Product. The thoughts below are primarily about that kind of Data Science, vs. machine learning engineering type roles, or Data Scientists that support other stakeholders like Marketing or Sales. I’ve gotten a good chance to learn and think about:
How Data Scientists and PMs should work together: more of a partnership and less of a conduit for data access. Like any good relationship, it takes time and effort to develop that partnership.
Event data standardization, event tracking “grammars” that are intuitive and self documenting, and the importance of data governance in a truly data-driven organization. And by data-driven orgs I mean orgs that use data (and Data Science) in a meaningful way to drive product-level and even company strategy-level decisions, not an org that only looks at if metrics are going up. 📈 Like all things in life, a balance of both is necessary.
The power of quantitative + qualitative research in understanding users i.e. what Data Scientists (can) do + what User Researchers do. Data shows what users do. User interviews get at why users do what they do, or what they couldn’t do (which you can’t observe with data). Together, they are the voice of the user.
I’m very bullish on Segment, and the massive and growing value they provide for Product orgs that want to be data driven (which is also a growing number). For example, I love what they’ve created with Protocols and Typewriter. Now that they’re the centralized data hub for companies, they can build powerful analytical products like Personas too.
As always, you can follow along with what I’m reading on Goodreads.
A few of the most impactful ones I read this year:
We all know how hard making decisions about own own lives can be sometimes, such as decisions about your career, or your relationships.
Here’s a list of several thought experiments I’ve come across over the years that have personally given me more perspective, making hard decision making a little bit easier sometimes. Though they’re all slightly different, they seem to operate similarly, cutting out fear and external influences to drill into what our deepest personal values are.
Ruth Chang’s idea that every hard choice is an opportunity to “become the authors of our own lives”. Watch her full TED Talk (15 minutes), it’s amazing.
I’m not sure if any of these will always give the “right” answer, and I also think that these thought experiments are just part of the puzzle to improve decision making about one’s own life. As Kahneman, Mauboussin, and Munger suggest, we should use a rational decision making framework or even a checklist* because humans are very prone to cognitive biases and shortcuts that can lead to bad decisions. Even as just a piece of the puzzle, these thought experiments have allowed me to think about decisions from different perspectives, which is always valuable.
Please add any other relevant thought experiments, and/or thoughts about decision making!
*I personally use a checklist similar to WRAP, which is simple to remember and covers a majority of the most common cognitive traps we can fall into. The Heath brothers describe WRAP more in Decisive. Using their terminology, the above thought experiments could belong to the “A” step of WRAP, or “attaining distance/perspective”.
I have not been at all regular with my blog. I also have a bunch of draft posts on various topics just sitting there, partially written, mostly because I started writing and got stuck, or distracted, or ran out of time. Noticing that has made me want to write this, a short blog post about blogging (meta-blogging?).
Trying to blog somewhat regularly forces me to structure my thoughts, to come up with a cohesive, brief story that allows me to get my point across and hopefully get others thinking. This is something that I haven’t mastered yet–as evidenced by my collection of half-written draft posts–but I guess that’s the process of becoming a better writer, and where editing comes in. I wonder: do all the best bloggers edit their blog posts? Because I remember editing and revising essays for school over and over again, a process that took a lot of time. Some of the best bloggers that I follow seem to write off the cuff while maintaining brevity and an easy to follow structure in their posts.
The process of regularly structuring my point of view for writing also leads to the discovery of both holes in my thinking and also areas of opportunity that I can do more research on. Blogging also acts as a sort of accountability tactic: if I blog about doing something, then I feel even more compelled to do it. It certainly is a learning experience for me, and hopefully others can learn (about blogging, and about whatever else I talk about and share) along with me.
He’s brilliant, humble, focused, self-confident, and frugal. He started his own “golf ball” business as a kid, employing an army of friends to fish out golf balls from ponds in local golf courses, and then to clean, organize, and resell them. During his short time at Penn, Buffett joined a fraternity. He would spend parties at his frat house sitting on the ledge by a window, expounding on investing, the gold standard, and other economic concepts–a throng of guys and gals would always gather on the floor in front of him, hanging on his every word. In the early days of running his first fund, Buffett was insanely secretive about his investments, working from his home like a hermit, only wearing t-shirts and underwear, and refused to compromise on his fund’s 6 month lock-up period and $50,000 minimum investment (a lot at the time), even for celebrity investors. Those are just some of the captivating insights into Buffett’s character.
Buffett’s vast amount of wealth does not necessarily intrigue me that much–it is about how he build it: with self-reliance, focus, discipline, and authenticity.
He is also obsessed with “other people’s money”, or OPM, and OPM is essentially how he was able to build such a great fortune. One of Buffett’s first outright purchases of a company was an insurance company–he owns the well known GEICO today–and he used the float to fund his investments. That early purchase is said to be worth half of Berkshire Hathaway’s value today–this insightful post by Noh-Joon on Quora explains that, as well as how Buffett is able to essentially turn a 5% increase in actual investment appreciation into a 15% return (hint: leverage and effectively negative interest rates from insurance underwriting discipline). Not to mention, he’s a great stock picker.
Ever since I got my Kindle 3 years ago, I’ve been reading more. A lot more: before my Kindle, I’d probably average less than one book a year (not including those required for school). For me, it seems that the convenience of reading was a big factor.
Why do I read? As Newton said, to “stand on the shoulder of giants”. So much of mankind’s history, so far, has been recorded in physical writing–not online. Books are still the best way to see into the minds of the greatest scientists, philosophers, leaders, businessmen, etc. of all time.
It’s a balance of course, between actually taking action, and sitting down to spend time learning. The two behaviors are not mutually exclusive: one does learn from taking action, usually skills. Experience–success and especially failure–can teach very important lessons. One can’t meet new people by reading books all the time either. Sometimes though, one can discover brand new ideas and ways of thinking by reading books, ideas that are only talked about in-depth through text, by those in our history who have made a big impact. It is a different way of broadening horizons and gaining perspective.
Onto a few of the favorite books that I am reading, or have read recently, and a short reason why:
The first/original biography on Warren Buffett. Intriguing insight into who he was–and is–as a person, and what characteristics of his personality and events in his life made him so successful, walking the reader from early childhood through the rescue of the Salomon Brothers
Khan, the founder of the successful and impactful Khan Academy, makes convincing arguments for school reform, and talks about his project and how Khan Academy is the start of an educational revolution. He also talks a little bit about his childhood and subsequent path to the founding of Khan Academy. Inspirational and informative.
A very practical and impactful book on building habit forming products, products that have fiercely loyal customers who come back to use the product day after day, from someone who has lots of experience doing so. I’ve heard this one recommended a lot by my start-up friends, and it’s one that I often recommend as well, to entrepreneurs looking for a more practical, “business” book.
Basically, the science behind Hooked. I believe habits are one of the greatest “force multipliers” in life (definitely a post for another time), and in his book Duhigg presents the science behind them so we can better understand and utilize the power of habits.
You can see I prefer non-fiction, the reason why is pretty utilitarian.