Ada Developers Academy and Life Pivots

I had the amazing fortune to meet the charter class of Ada Developers Academy students when they took a tour of my office today.

Ada Developers Academy is a tuition-free programming school for women. The only pre-requisite (other than “for women”) is that you can’t already be a programmer.

In other words, every woman I met today woke up one morning and said “I’m going to quit my comfortable job (or education-path) and become a programmer.”

In addition, the software industry is dominated by males (unfortunately, for everybody who uses software), so not only did these folks make a risky life-pivot, they also pivoted into an industry where the deck is stacked against them.

This takes an amount of moxie that I may never comprehend, and meeting the class was very inspirational. It got me thinking about how the metaphor of startup pivots (i.e. a course-correction designed to test a hypothesis about the business) can be applied to life.

The common (and incorrect) definition of a startup’s “runway” is “the amount of time a startup has until it runs out of money.” A more accurate definition is “the number of pivots a startup can make before it runs out of money.” In other words, the number of new things it can try, the number of experiments it can run.

Perhaps the “runway” of your life isn’t the amount of time you have left to live, but it’s the number of interesting, experimental things you can do before your time is up?

Just as a business should structure itself to get to each pivot faster (by finding ways to learn at lower cost and in a shorter time), one should structure one’s life to get to get to the interesting parts faster!

How can you structure your life like this? There are probably countless ways, but here are a few that come to mind:

  1. Have interesting friends (and the harsh corollary: don’t waste your time with boring or uninspiring people)
  2. Live someplace interesting where you can make lots of interesting friends (and do interesting stuff with them)
  3. Double-check your life assumptions every once in a while. Who knows what you’ll find?

PS: Registration for the next ADA program is almost open. Check it out if you’re a female in the Seattle area (or willing to relocate).

(I tried something new on this post and didn’t spend much time editing it. The result is probably more raw and train-of-thought, but also closer to the original vision in my head. What do you think?)

Get your tickets to the first ever Camp Mustache

We rented out this lodge
We rented out this lodge

Update: SOLD OUT! See you in May!

I’ve been writing a series on planning a retreat, but it fell to the wayside, because I’ve been pretty busy planning a retreat!

It’s been hard work but very rewarding. A few things are still up in the air, but the main deets are already locked down, so I can share them now:

May 30 – June 1, 2014
On An Undisclosed Lake in Graham, WA
$200 for adults, $100 for children

Tickets are on sale here:
http://campmustache.brownpapertickets.com/

Here are a few of the many reasons that this retreat is going to be awesome:

  1. We rented an entire lodge on a picturesque lake, along with some adjacent cabins (for those who need a bit more privacy).
  2. The price includes lodging, activities, and a weekend of meals prepared by experienced chefs, including James from How Pickle Got Out Of A Jam.
  3. Friday night interactive entertainment hosted by Ben from Yawp Club.
  4. This is a non-profit event, so every last penny is going towards making it an unforgettable weekend.
  5. Attendees include Mr Money Mustache, JD Roth, and other surprise guests.
  6. Space is limited to 50 attendees, so everyone will get the chance to get to know everyone else in an intimate setting.
  7. Mustaches
  8. A mix of structured sessions, nature activities, and free time for chillin’

This is going to rock! MMM and JD Roth are both going to blog about the event, which will probably cause it to sell out, so if you want to get tickets, you should get ‘em while you can!

Let me know if you have any questions!

Wizards Rule! Join the Good Judgement Project

The Good Judgement Project is a large-scale, government-funded prediction game. Similar to the markets where you can bet on who’s gonna be elected president, but with no actual money. You can read more about it in this Freakonomics article from a few years ago.

The project only accepts a limited number of participants at a time, because participating includes free, ongoing training on becoming a better prognosticator. You see, the researchers behind the GJP have actually distilled prediction down to a science, and they’re happy to share it with you.

Perfectly predicting the future still requires a crystal ball, but their training has helped me realize that good forecasting is a skill that one can cultivate, with practice and guidance. In other words, anyone can become a wizard.

I’ll give you a little peak into what I’ve learned: non-wizards tend to focus on the unique qualities of a situation, but wizards increase their forecasting accuracy by abstracting the situation and looking at outcomes of similar past situations. This is called reference class forecasting, and it also involves learning how to reframe problems and hunt for the right information.

Forecasting is a really awesome talent to have, so I’m totally pumped about leveling up.  The GJP is open for enrolment now. Register if you want to become more wizardy: http://www.goodjudgmentproject.com/

Just a heads-up,  registration includes a timed knowledge test that is rather rigorous. It mostly covers politics and current-events, and also includes brain-teasers and a few “personality test” questions. Nobody ever said becoming a wizard would be easy.

How to Plan an Awesome Retreat – Step 2: Don’t ask for permission

IMG_9815 This step is more of an anti-step, or a “what not to do.” But sometimes it’s just as important to not-do something as it is to do something. Just ask Miles Davis.

The next phase in the journey is probably where most people get stuck in the doldrums: getting the “green light” to go ahead with a retreat.

Here’s the secret: you’re a grown-up* and you don’t need anyone else’s permission to do things any more. You get to wake up every morning, decide what you’re going to do, and face the consequences! Most people (including me) decide they’re going to spend the day working for the man, but ultimately it is a choice.

One day not too long ago, I decided it would be fun to plan a retreat for folks who are into frugality, badassity, and generally being awesome. And since I thought it out loud on the internet (in the Mr Money Mustache forums), it’s preserved for the world to see. Forever.

MMM had just hosted a very private and very expensive retreat in Ecuador, and wrote about duplicating the event on a more modest scale all around the country.

His biggest takeaway from the trip was “you really give your life a boost by meeting the right people.” I thought, why do I need to wait for him to get around to planning a Seattle event? I’ll just start planning one myself. It doesn’t take any special superpowers to arrange a weekend of “meeting the right people.”

I don’t have much more to say about this “anti-step” so maybe this can serve as a segue to book I recently read that was really inspiring, and very relevant.

The book is about how the internet is making traditional “gatekeepers” obsolete. It’s called Without Their Permission, by Alexis Ohanian.

Ohanian is the creator of Reddit, one of the world’s most popular websites, which he created with a few bucks, a ton of elbow grease, and a metric boatload of gumption.

The book is part memoir, part business how-to, and part political manifesto. The common thread of the book is that the internet is a giant filtering system, and as long as it’s kept free and open, the coolest stuff will get filtered to the top, regardless of who created it. (That also happens to be the gist of Reddit)

On the internet, the differentiating factor is no longer money, connections, or birthright. It’s “who gives the most damns” about their work, according to the author.

Ultimately, the book’s about no longer needing to ask permission before creating a webpage, or starting a business, or planning a retreat.

So stop reading this, turn off the laptop and start giving a damn! What are you going to build? Let me know, I’d love to help.

* Probably? If you’re not, do your parents know you’re reading this blog?

How to Plan an Awesome Retreat – Step 1: Get pumped about something

camp cabinAlong with a few internet friends, I’m planning a retreat for fans of Mr Money Mustache and JD Roth, two awesome bloggers. It’s going down in the Spring of 2014, here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

This isn’t the first retreat I’ve planned, but it has been a while. As a teenager, I planned a retreat for my youth group. Like any large event, it went off with only a few snags, that were mostly invisible to participants. I still get ribbed by old friends about the schedule for the weekend. I made a silly one as a rough draft and turned it in as a placeholder. Whoever was in charge of photocopying thought it was the real deal, so they made copies of it and handed it out to all attendees.

What that old retreat and this new one have in common is that in order to put in the time and energy to making any dream into a reality (whether it’s a retreat, or a startup, or making balloon animals), it’s essential that you pick something you’re really passionate (or pumped) about. For me, that’s financial badassity. Or whatever you want to call it.

I’m gonna do a few posts while I figure this retreat-planning thing out (again). At least I know how not to make retreat schedules this time around.

Leave a comment if you’re interested in attending and want the deets when they’re available. Or if you have questions about planning your own retreat.

Twitter IPO and diversifying your portfolio

Good to GrrrrreatYay for the upcoming Twitter IPO and congrats to Buster for being a part of that story!

The stock market is the world’s most profitable money-making engine, and investing in it (as part of a diversified portfolio) is almost a prerequisite for the lazy early-retiree. But if you’re looking for riskier investments or unique ways to diversify, investing directly in early-stage companies seems lucrative.

And whenever a company goes public, or a major acquisition makes headlines, the idea becomes even more salient. For instance, Baylor3217 asks:

I’ve been a pretty avid [twitter] user the last 4 years or so. Had I wanted to invest $100,000 – $200,000 3-4 years ago, could I have done that as a nobody and what could it have entitled me to in the upcoming IPO?

At the $100k level, you’d be considered an angel investor in the tech world, meaning you are investing a relatively small amount of cash into a very-early-stage company. You’d be given equity and expected to advise the company, make connections to potential clients and Venture Capitalists, etc. To put this in perspective, by the end of 2009, Twitter had already raised over $100MM in venture capital, so a $100k investment would have been laughed at, to be honest.

VC rounds usually start at around $1MM. Like with angel investment, VC is not just a money/equity swap. Venture Capitalists sit on the boards of the companies they invest in, so they are expected/required to have decades of relevant business/entrepreneurship experience. Even more importantly, VC is about connections, as startup founders don’t only look at deal terms when comparing VC deals. Since money is the fuel that will propel their company out of “startup mode”, they want the highest octane fuel they can get, meaning a sharp VC who will give good advice, connect them to potential clients, and eventually help them through a liquidity event (acquisition, IPO). It’s called “smart money.”

The answer to “what could it have entitled me” would have been totally up to the terms of the investment deal you made with Twitter. These are some VERY complex arrangements, involving esoteric clauses like liquidation preference and “capped participation”. Google those terms and if you’re not falling asleep reading their definitions, you might make a good angel investor.

Lastly, it’s easy to look at Twitter’s IPO and say, “I should have invested 4 years ago.” What you should really ask yourself is “Do I know what will be making headlines in the business papers 4 years from now, and do I have access to these people?”

If all the above doesn’t deter you from angel investing, you still have that $100-200k, and you wouldn’t mind never seeing it again, you may have what it takes to become an angel investor.

[This content was originally published on the Mr Money Mustache forum]

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