Tag Archives: Career

Darling, You Are One In 107 Billion

Congratulations! You are the 107,000,000,000th human born on Earth!

Click here to redeem your prize*

* Your prize is the BBC article from which I got this estimate.

Don’t mention the Work

A surprising weekend recently – we went away to visit family in Paris, and met 20+ new people, but didn’t talk about work once.

Work is such an important part of identity, and of conversation, for me and in the lives of those around me that I was somewhat surprised – and rather delighted.

That weekend not a single person asked us what we do for a living, where the office was, were we busy at the moment, how did we get into to doing that, or anything of the sort. And we in turn did not ask those questions back.

No quick-matching of a new friend with an old one who happened to have a similar job. Less shorthand, more longhand.

In his Life of Alexander The Great (and, indeed, Julius Caesar), Plutarch said that:

When a portrait painter sets out to create a likeness, he relies above all upon the face and the expression of the eyes, and pays less attention to the other parts of the body. In the same way, it is my intention to dwell upon those actions which illuminate the workings of the soul, and by this means to create a portrait of each man’s life. I leave the story of his greatest struggles and achievements to be told by others.

Meeting someone new is like inching open a box of secrets. You don’t know what will emerge first or, when it does emerge, how representative it is of what remains hidden. Knowing that person’s job or chosen career might provide a glimpse into what’s inside. But only rarely does it allow you to remove the hinges and see the whole.

So it was lovely to build up a picture of our new acquaintances more gradually – to be removed from our own professional identities – by exchanging not a single word about work.

I can’t remember the last time that happened. Really.

Plutarch has the last word:

My preamble [to the Life] shall consist of nothing more than this one plea: if I do not record all their most celebrated achievements or describe any one of them exhaustively, but merely summarise for the most part what they accomplished, I ask my readers not to regard this as a fault. For I am writing biography, not history, and the truth is that the most brilliant exploits often tell us nothing of the virtues or vices of the men who performed them, while on the other hand a chance remark or a joke may reveal far more of a man’s character than the mere feat of winning battles in which thousands fall, or of marshalling great armies, or laying siege to cities.

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Photo credit: Laura Liberal.

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VC School

Best ways to learn about something new, in order:

  1. Start doing it
  2. Help someone do it
  3. Listen to someone who knows about it

For #3 I have recently built myself a VC School.

I downloaded Digg (now an excellent RSS reader) and connected it to my ten favourite VC blogs. Now, online and offline (important in London since half my commute is on the tube), I have a constant stream of high-quality posts available on my phone.

Posts I read today:

  • Web vs. native apps for consumer startups
  • Sticking with struggling investments
  • Dealing with recruiting mistakes
  • Bitcoin prospects
  • Snapchat/no revenues debate

Why VCs in particular? Three reasons:

  1. Connections: they know lots of entrepreneurs with new ideas
  2. Incentivised to be open: their aim in blogging is partly to attract interesting new cos, so they have good reason to share what they know
  3. Long-term perspective: unlike tech news (mostly ephemeral and therefore dull), VCs want to invest in ideas that have long-term relevance

So I’m finding Digg + VCs’ RSS feeds a great way to learn. It’s also an efficient way to discover new products, since they’re always plugging their portfolio companies. Combo bonus.

Sounds interesting? Here are the blog feeds, in alphabetical order:

Bill Gurley, Above The Crowd – blogRSS
Paul Graham, Essays – blogRSS
Chris Dixon – blogRSS
Mark Suster, Both Sides of the Table – blogRSS
Fred Destin – blogRSS
Fred Wilson, A VC – blogRSS
Andreessen-Horowitz – blogRSS
Semil Shah – blogRSS
Tom Tunguz, ex post facto – blogRSS
Dave McClure, 500 Hats – blogRSS 

Enjoy.

Here’s what I learnt from my first teaching job

“Yeah ok, why not?”

I was in the middle of the Canadian woods when I got the call. With those inauspicious words I began my teaching career, and two weeks later I was teaching my first class.

Those poor kids were paying £13k a year (ok, maybe not so poor) and I don’t think it took long for them to realise that I hadn’t done any teaching before.

But we stuck at it – them as much as me – and it worked out well in the end. I’m happy to say I had the best feedback of all the new lecturers, though since one of them sounds like a total deadbeat and the other had a petition raised against her by the class, there wasn’t much competition.

On the day of the first lesson, I was terrified. I really felt doubt in myself – that black hole emptiness, like your stomach is being sucked back in on itself. I was sweating, ugh. I rehearsed my first words over and over, like I was going to ask someone out on a date (thirteen 20-year-olds in this case).

I was teaching a course on how to make web projects – everyone started from scratch and in the first lesson we all built websites (based on WordPress, like this blog), then in each lesson after that we looked at a different way of trying to attract people to our sites – e.g. how to run Facebook ads or find customers through Twitter. There were projects on everything from movie food recipes to unusual furniture designs, Oriental beauty tips and ‘Living on the Edge‘ (mine was more prosaic, Advice for Media Students).

I’m not sure that all of them quite understood everything, but they did get the hang of posting stuff that would prompt a response.

At the end of the course I asked the students to write a report on how their own project had turned out, what went well, what went wrong, etc.

The last question was ‘What was the most interesting thing you learned during this project?’.

Here’s what one of them answered.

Funnily enough, that’s exactly what I learned too.

 

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How to become a world-ranked sportsman (just like me)

In 2010 I was ranked #705 in the world. Heady days!

I also made it to #105 in Britain. I won a bronze medal in the British Championships and had beaten a couple of tricky opponents at the English Open.

But then I quit.

Why?

Not burn-out for sure. No injuries to speak of. No drug rumours swirling! (My agent took care of those.)

I quit because I didn’t want to practice. I was playing 2-3 times a week but I was getting tired of the late nights, it meant a lot of travelling, and winter was coming.

So I quit, and abandoned my world ranking.

But how did I get it in the first place? Skills + Niche.

1) Skills

I’ve been playing tennis since I was a kid – I’m not great (ok club standard at best), but it means my hand-eye coordination is decent so I’ve always been ok at other racket sports.

2) Niche

My world ranking came in a sport called racketlon. ‘Racket-l-o-n‘. It’s a Finnish sport: you play the same opponent in table tennis, then badminton, then squash, then tennis (with a two-minute break between sports). It’s first to 21 points in each sport, and you add up all the scores at the end to see who won.

Racketlon is pretty niche. My friend Jo told me about it and the next day I discovered I could simply sign up on the internet to play in the British Championships, which were happening the following weekend. I got my British Champs bronze by beating one guy – there were only four entrants in the amateur category, so by winning one match I came 3rd and got the bronze.

Skills + Niche = World ranking!

That’s probably true in lots of areas outside Finnish sports. Wikipedia’s list of sports is enormous. Maybe you would be a world-class player of Hooverball, Yukigassen or Old Cat? Figure out what you’re good at, and apply it to a niche.

The same must be true outside sports as well. It’s pretty cool to be the best damn recycled pencil maker in the world. Or the finest mandolin stringer in the world, or the funniest fridge poet. And if you combine >1 thing you can create all sorts of other niches – I’m sure someone out there is the greatest maker of brail for packaging, and there must be world-class manufacturers of shoelaces for football boots and utterly brilliant writers of jokes for Christmas crackers.

Who knows who they are – who cares? So long as they know, so long as they get the rewards of a feeling of mastery, and so long as they can hang out with the other best guys and girls around, it will still be a pretty cool feeling.

It’s not so hard to be one of the best in the world if you combine Skills + Niche.

So if you want a game of racketlon, come and get me.

But be warned: I’ve got this little bad boy in the trophy cabinet already, and your head is next.

 

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21st-century job hunting

On Thursday I started a new job at King.com (woohoo!). I spent the last few weeks of last year looking for work and I want to share 5 things I found out about modern-day job hunting.

Maybe everything below only applies to finding mid-level media jobs in London, or is specific to me in some way, but I don’t think so.

1) It’s a job, not a career

You’re not looking for something to do for 50 years. So don’t worry about finding it. It’s like dating. Don’t worry about whether you’re going to marry the girl when you’re on your first date. Just find someone interesting for the time being and see what happens.

2) Crossing borders

I’ve moved out of TV and into games. I also spoke to companies in tech and in music. No-one ever asked why my TV experience would be useful. This was a surprise to me – but it was just assumed that transferring skills to a new industry won’t be a problem. So I don’t think there’s a need to fret about staying the same exact industry. Don’t restrict yourself to changing lanes if you want to crash through the central reservation (NB this analogy cannot be safely applied to driving).

3) Metcalfe’s Law

‘Networking’ is a horrible word and some people who are good at it actually suck at being people. But if you think about it as building a network, instead of spinelessly fawning over the most powerful person in the room, it’s much easier to digest.

A couple of days ago I read about Metcalfe’s Law: the basic idea is that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users in the system. If you have two telephones, there’s one connection. But five telephones make 10 connections. And 12 telephones can make 66 connections.

So the value of the network increases as the number of people in it goes up. The same could be said of email or Facebook. And it could also be said of your personal network, because each person you know and trust has another set of people that they know and trust. I don’t have a huge network. But 80% of the jobs I considered came to me through it.

4) DIY track record

The most interesting projects / skills / experiences are the ones you developed in your own time. With free tools and free publishing you can build a DIY track record (see Start a project now – here are 5 tips). Back in the old days this would have been hard; now it’s easy. Most people don’t do this, but luckily I’ve done a few spare-time projects over the past few years so even though most of them were dumb, I think I got some marks for persistence.

5) One Direction

Last year when I was looking for a new job I went around asking for advice. That worked ok but it didn’t produce a lot of job opportunities. This year it’s been different – at the outset I chose a small number of directions to explore. That made my discussions 10x more productive, because I was asking about specifics rather than general stuff. And that makes it much easier for people to help you out.

I hope this post helps you out. Good luck!

 

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So I applied to be an astronaut

My life’s ambition is to go into space, so a few years ago I applied to be an astronaut.

At the time anyone could apply to ESA (the European Space Agency), so I went to the doc and to the hospital, had a bunch of tests done, filled out the application form and sent it off.

There was little chance I would succeed. But it made perfect logical sense to try.

There are two ways of getting into space: (1) become a billionaire, or (2) get hired as a professional astronaut. Maybe one day I’ll be a billionaire but I don’t want to count on it. So I just applied.

Actually, all my best decisions are made when I ignore the chances of failure and just do it.

  • Want to learn how to code? Ok, build a website.
  • Want to try building a business? Ok, start one now.
  • Want to find out if teaching would be a good career move? Ok, do it part-time and see whether it’s fun.
  • Like that girl a lot? Ok, ask her out.

These simple decisions are the best.

A) You can’t regret them

If it doesn’t work out, no big deal. You did the logical thing and tried. Your mind is at rest. Ssshh now little brain.

B) You know exactly why you made them

It’s a simple formula. You won’t get confused about your motives. Want something? Ok, have a go.

C) You always gain something unexpected

Building a website taught me how the internet works. Starting a business taught me a million things that I put into a recent post (How I lost £1,500 when I was 23). Teaching part-time right now is making me 10x better at explaining stuff and speaking in public. And the last girl I asked out is going to become my wife next summer, so that one worked out pretty well too.

Worrying about failure kills good decisions. Whenever I worry I lose the magic power to make simple logical decisions and I waste my life fretting. I’m glad that didn’t happen with applying to be an astronaut.

The physical tests and most of the application form were ok, though I couldn’t really disguise my lack of a PhD in astrophysics or biology. The weakest bit though was when I had to describe my experience in radio communications:

I did hospital radio for two years when I was at school. I was a presenter and had my own weekly show.

But since I haven’t actually heard back from ESA, I assume they’ve got me on the reserve list.

Hopefully someone will drop out soon.

 

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How I lost £1,500 when I was 23

I lost £1,500 when I was 23.

I spent it on a website called whatsitliketo.com – a Wikipedia for experiences.

I did everything: I made a limited company (I started putting ‘Todd Green, Director’ at the bottom of my emails, that felt good), got a registered address, set up a business bank account, got an IP lawyer to advise me how to draw up the contract with the developer, even got a qualification in Small Business Financial Management.

I had no idea what I was doing – all my time and money was spent on the company stuff, but I had almost zero users or retention or revenue or marketing ideas.

(Actually, I can blame my friends for having no marketing ideas because I cooked them a three-course curry dinner in order to get their ideas, and none of them were feasible or worked.)

I thought I would make money from putting Google Ads on the site, because if someone is reading what it’s like to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge they should be interested in ads for flights to Sydney, tours of Sydney, hotels in Sydney etc.

I earned $1.10 from those ads, but since Google won’t pay out until you earn $100 I never actually got it.

So in the end I killed the site and felt like a complete goon. £1,500 is still a lot to me now; when I was 23 it was everything I had saved by living cheaply at home with my parents when I first started working. I could have saved that money for a mortgage or a car or a shirt with no stains on for work or something. And now it was all gone.

But I’m glad about it now. Yesterday I showed a colleague how to use Google Ads. Today I’m going to add a new page to a little site I built to solve a problem at work. And between now and Christmas I’m teaching 15 classes on how to get people to come and look at your website.

All that began when I was 23, and I realised I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to create something on the web.

Turns out I made a good investment completely by accident.

 

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Fear and death

On Robben Island, the prisoners had a contraband copy of Shakespeare’s Collected Works. Nelson Mandela marked this as his favourite passage:

Cowards die many times before their deaths:

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I have yet heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear,

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.

 

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The hard yards

The hard yards are actually the easiest to cover.

But in order to cover them, you have to stay put.

You do the hard yards by sticking at it, by staying focused – when you want to get up from the desk, open Facebook or Twitter or email, put the TV on, do the washing up – anything to avoid what you know you should be doing.

Those are the hard yards.

Few people can stare down the hard yards. Often I can’t.

But I’m pretty sure they’re the ones that make a difference.

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