My First Week In Startup World

It was 5PM on a Friday and my first week at my first startup was over. Our small office was clearing out hitting a local bar for happy hour. I slumped in my seat, exhausted.

“What a week, it’s so frantic here,” I muttered under my breath as the CEO walked by.

He chuckled and said, “Well Tom, you asked for it. This is what you wanted.” He put in his coat and headed to the elevator.

Poof! Bad Tom whispered, “Fuck that you party pooper…

When I finally pulled myself up, I closed my laptop and packed up. I walked over to the elevator and thought about what I was going to do tonight. My Acela train was scheduled for Saturday morning and my Best Western hotel room had a lumpy bed.

At 43 years old I was debating just going to my hotel room to recover but the devil in me wanted to go hang out with the “youngsters.”

Poof! Good Tom whispered in my ear, “Just go get some take-out and chill out in your room. You’re too old.

Poof! Bad Tom whispered, “Fuck that you party pooper, go out and have fun with your team. It’s what you do in the startup world, you sissy!

There I sat pondering my dilemma. It didn’t take long, maybe 5 nanoseconds of thinking but Bad Tom won.

The waitress places a beer in front of me, I watch the foam spill over the sides.

Fast forward an Uber ride to a “hip” bar in Porter Square where I meet up with my coworkers.

“Hey!” The scream from across a table, the new AE raises his beer glass so I can see him.

I grab a chair at the end of the table as the appetizers arrive. I look at one of the beer menu cards and motion for the waitress to come over to take my order.

The AE looks over to me, catches my eye.

“Hey! I hate to tell you this but we’re going in a new direction for that account as of 3 PM today.”

The waitress places a beer in front of me, I watch the foam spill over the sides. He’s speaking words but they’re not registering in my mind right now.

“So all the stuff I worked on for the account is toast?”

He nods, “Let’s circle up Monday morning. Great job though, you wowed them at the presentation!” He slaps me on my back and goes back to a smaller group of guys.

All guys, a lot of young ones, and only a few old fucks like me.

I note it’s all salesmen and no saleswomen.

I take a long pull from my beer and munched on a quesadilla. We’re in a standard Boston bar, kind of darkish but modern with an open floor plan. It’s cool enough to attract the hipsters but too loud to have a good conversation.

I realize I’m that old, I’m more interested in having a conversation at a quieter bar. This place was built for one thing, to get you and your buddies stone-faced drunk, Boston style.

Things get loud throughout the evening as two distinct groups form. One is a group of introverted software developer types and the other is a small group of loud extroverted salesmen types.

I note it’s all salesmen and no saleswomen.

I sit there lost in thought, taking in the moment. Just over a week ago I was saying goodbye to my coworkers. They all thought I was nuts to quit my 20-year career as a civil engineer. To quit and join a startup that they didn’t understand. Machine learning? What is that? Is that like the Terminator?

…did I make the right choice?

I made one of the largest leaps in my entire life, I switched careers midstream in what would make a normal person faint.

I take another drink from my beer. I think about my partner, how she encouraged me to take the risk. She was my support, the one person who believed in my dreams and helped sail the ship when I couldn’t.

But this all made sense. I knew I was destined to break out of the chains that held me down. I knew I had to shed my anchor and get out of a job I hated.

Now I was a freshly minted Sales Engineer and a Data Scientist. A whatever you want me to be guy to help close a sale. I was always a nerd, an Engineer, a tinkerer.

I would’ve never in a million years thought that I would end up in Sales.

Never.

I looked around the table at my coworkers laughing and drinking the night away and I could help but wonder, did I make the right choice?


A lot of events have been changed to protect the “innocent”, even if they deserved it.

The Startup World is Nuts

I’ve been thinking long about whether or not I should write about my experiences in startup life or not. I have four startups under my belt, one never getting off the ground, the other I ran successfully for a year, and the last two were 100+ person startups, one of which I’m currently gainfully employed at.

Startups are the rage now, everyone wants to start one, work at one, and exit as a filthy millionaire. There are long nights, alcohol-fueled events, good and bad decisions, and in some cases a venture capital windfall.

You can hack it, you’re strong, young, and smart.

I’ve seen products get killed in their infancy and I’ve seen products that were considered a joke sell for millions of dollars.

I’ve seen coworkers come and go, upper management replaced, and middle management told to pack their shit and leave, only to be hired 5 minutes later because their replacement has no idea where anything was.

You’re probably wondering that this sounds like a job for you! You can hack it, you’re strong, young, and smart. You can’t wait to answer “how high” when the 25-year-old CEO says, “jump” and points to a cliff.

Don’t get too comfortable.

Best check your head the door first. Working at a startup requires a special type of person. It requires someone who thrives in the unknown and gets the job done. You might have the technical chops.

You might have an idea about scaling, and repeatable processes, maybe how to really move the needle, and you believe in the mission of the company.

You might be a great fit for that startup and that’s awesome! I’m so excited for you, but remember that the only thing constant in this space is change.

Don’t get too comfortable. I’ve seen a new hire arrive on his first day only to be told to go home because his offer was rescinded. His crime? Showing up after a Board Meeting where it was decided to wipe out 30 people to cut costs and he was caught in the crossfire.

Working in a startup isn’t for the faint of heart and hopefully, you’ll learn a most important skill. To work in this space you need to be flexible.

It’s nuts and I advise you to become a boring dentist instead.

I’m not the smartest guy in the room but I think I do alright, and part of my success is because I’m flexible. I try not to get set in my ways. The people that are too rigid to process, their “way or the highway” approach to things, will get eaten alive in this space.

I have seen new management come in and puff their chests out and call everyone losers because they had the right way to sell. A year later they scrapped their entire plan because it didn’t work.

I’ve seen companies triple nearly overnight with newcomers only concerned about building their fiefdoms and not fixing underlying problems. Many of those newcomers are long gone.

Just remember to be flexible and realize that it’s nuts.

I’m not trying to scare you, but the startup space is chaotic. It’s nuts and I advise you to become a boring dentist instead. Drill teeth, make money and go home every night. If you like a stable life, go do something else that works in a startup.

But, if you’re like me and thrive on challenges, chaos, and trusting your abilities to get shit done, then by all means try one out. Just remember to be flexible and realize that it’s nuts.

It’s all nuts, all the time, and will get even nuttier the longer you’re in one.

Don’t Buy the Meta Hype — Facebook Still Sucks

I hope it dies, get out while you can

I am on Facebook (FB) but I haven’t been active much since 2015. It all started when Trump rolled down that escalator and some people that used to be my friends revealed themselves to be fascists, racists, and downright shitty people.

I thought I knew some of my friends, but I was wrong.

Facebook revealed itself for what it was, a cesspool of the worst of humanity under the guise of connecting people, and it got considerably worse during the Trump years.

I wasn’t surprised when whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed the engagement algorithm and how it amplifies negative messages. I wasn’t surprised when she revealed how Facebook was used to crush people in 3rd world countries.

I hope it dies. I hope Zuckerberg loses it all because the anger that I feel is shared by millions.

I wasn’t surprised one bit.

Now, Facebook is fighting to keep its image clean but it’s slowly being branded by the marketplace as a platform for hate.

So what does Facebook want to do? Clean itself up and do the right thing? Nope, it wants to change its name and hope all this goes away.

Bury your head in the same much Zuck?

Yes, Facebook wants to do just like what Philip Morris (MO) did. It changed its name to the Altria Group, a nice safe name that would hopefully shed its sordid past.

Remember those days? Cancer? Cigarettes? Hiding scientific evidence and internal reports that its products were harmful? Yes, Phillip Morris was the Facebook from the 1990’s.

Instead of fixing the problems it had, Facebook wants to become Meta.

Facebook (FB) stock chart with support and resistance lines

Investors seem to be taking this name change in stride and hope it’ll give them a shiny new image.

Sure it’s been on a bumpy road since mid-September and there’s a lot of resistance to overcome, but maybe they’ll pull it off because “money talks” and there are a lot of hedge funds that own FB.

I hope it dies. I hope Zuckerberg loses it all because the anger that I feel is shared by millions.

Facebook changing their name is like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig no matter how pretty you make it, and that’s the rub. We’re letting him do it because we have no real alternatives to what we crave.

Social media stickiness

I get it, Facebook and social media are incredibly sticky and that’s the problem. We are conditioned to get “likes” and crave interaction. We are socially driven apes and it’s in our nature to seek this out.

The problem is that Facebook and its sister, Instagram, are zoos. You think you’re free and get to walk around the zoo, but in reality, you’re the attraction. Facebook and Instagram mine your data and spit back exactly what you want to see.

On the surface that’s nice, they’re catering to your likes and wants, but down below in the murky water, it reinforces your insecurities. It amplifies racism, hate, fascism, and division. It turns us into the worst people.

Oh, how’s Altira Group doing these days? They’re still there, selling cigarettes and delivering an impressive 8.08% dividend yield to shareholders.

The Altria Group (MO) stock chart with support and resistance lines

Yes, it’s quietly earning money for its shareholders and it successfully shed the bad press it once had.

Don’t let this happen to Facebook. Don’t let them change their name and churn out more hate and reward shareholders with gains. Make them the pariah they deserve to be.

They deserve to die and if you have shares in the company, get out while you can.

Disclosure: No FB positions.

Street Photography and Startups

If you’ve been following my blog posts, you’d know that RapidMiner isn’t the first Startup I’ve worked for. My first one was straight out of school for an engineering firm in New Mexico. It was the best of times and the worst of times. I am who I am today from the lessons I learned there.

What many people don’t know about me is that I like to take photos in cities. I fancy myself a hobby street photographer and I like to roam around and capture small slices of life in the streets. It’s a very personal and lonely endeavor but I’m fascinated by the undercurrent of people interacting with places, people, and things.

It’s also very therapeutic! It gives me time to think when I roam around AND it sharpens my senses to opportunities. You have to be quick to get that shot!

I recently stumbled across some street photography tips by a prolific street photography blogger, Eric Kim. I watched this “kid” go from shooting bad street photos to shooting really good ones. He experimented, he networked, he tried new things, and dropped things that didn’t work. Now he’s traveling the world and hosting street photography workshops. He’s like this own “startup” and despite what all the haters say, I like the guy!

I gleaned a few of his tips. Some of them contradict each other, but I can overlook that. Why? Because life is one big contradiction. What ultimately matters is learning to see an opportunity, evaluate it, and then take it if it makes sense.

Fulfill Your Personal Maximum

I am certainly not a “master” myself; just a humble student dedicated to a life-long pursuit of learning.

The Startup is you and your people. Without all your brains, you’d be dead in the water. Life-long learning is important to keep all those brains sharp and creative. Always remember, your employees want to contribute to something larger than themselves and if they feel like their work becomes too rote, then you’ll lose them. Invest in lifelong learning.

Shoot 25% more than you think you should

If you see an amazing character once in your life, realize that you will never see them ever again. So live life without regrets and make the photograph.

This tip reminds me of not missing a good opportunity AND under promising but over-delivering. In the Startup world, you have gone above and beyond for your potential and existing clients. You are the reason they are taking a chance on your startup, so don’t blow it.

Kill Your Master

Remember that after learning from the masters, you need to know when to ignore them or when to go against their teachings.

As you journey through Startup land, will meet and have great mentors and influencers. I still talk to my old mentors, which I affectionately call “Tor”mentors. They will have great wisdom share but what you need to do is learn as much as you can and then chart your own destiny. You’re the captain of this Startup, you take their teachings and set out on your own into uncharted waters.

Kill Your Ego

By detaching your ego from your photos, you can judge them more honestly and objectively.

Don’t get hung up on something and lose your objectivity. I see this happen a lot when teams are formed to make new products. They lose themselves in the product that they forget who it’s really for, the customer. If you can’t honestly and objectively evaluate how good or bad your product is, well then you got a problem. Be prepared to kill your creations.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Many photographers become jaded after years of shooting. They lose a sense of their hunger and passion. This is what leads to artistic death and stagnation.

This is a tough one. At times you can get tired and things just seem to be going all wrong in your Startup. You have to be vigilant against losing your hunger and passion because it’s really tied together by a thin thread. If you feel jaded or burnt out, take some time off and detach for a bit. Then come back and be a force to be reckoned with.

By getting to know your subject, you connect with them on a deeper and emotional level, which might help you uncover some hidden truths about them, which might manifest in the photos that you take.

This is about your customer or clients. You have to get to know them to understand why they’re involved with you. Don’t be that selfish lover that only thinks about your orgasm, think about theirs. Once you build a strong relationship, everyone feels “in it together,” and that goes a long way to building your brand.

Unlearn

I want to leave you with the last lesson it would be this: unlearn.

If something doesn’t work, toss it. Start again. Don’t be tied to dogma.