Back in February, I had a routine. My light alarm would turn on. I’d chug some water, put on my shoes, and head outside. There wouldn’t be cars on the road yet. I’d watch the sun rise somewhere around Van Ness. After 2.7 miles, I’d be at Industrious.
The office would be empty. The lights would be off. Nobody was expecting an email from me. No calls on my calendar. No nagging tasks.
I’d pour myself coffee. Sitting by the window with a steaming mug waiting for the world to wake up was the best part of the day.
Since March, we’ve been making French Press every morning. We buy nice beans. We grind them ourselves. We use an electric kettle to hit 212° water.
The coffee doesn’t taste any good.
Perhaps I’m waking up too late. It’s tough knowing New York is getting ready for lunch by the time I fill my mug. Or perhaps I’m checking my email too quickly.
I’ve tried getting out of bed, walking around the block, and then coming in for coffee. It doesn’t help it taste better.
I’ve tried taking the coffee with me on a morning walk. I’ve tried drinking the coffee while wearing a robe. I’ve tried drinking the coffee in jeans. I’ve tried reading while sipping. I’ve tried writing. I’ve tried programming.
I end up staring out the window, my mind jumbled.
I don’t know how to make it taste good again.
Most of my friends growing up had the same hair style: long bangs, swiped across the forehead. The style is often paired with boat shoes, Costa Del Mars, and golf shirts. Brodie Croyle and John Parker Wilson both have vintage “Southern Swoops.”
I have a version of the swoop.
Like the dropping of R’s from “Harvard Yard”, bangs over the forehead give away people’s childhoods. Dressing and talking are identities. Identities grant access to tribes.
The problem with identities is all the maintenance. It’s like trying to trim all the bushes in the Biltmore gardens. Endless.
However far you can run, somebody can run further. However much Vonnegut you’ve read, somebody has read all his books and essays and personal letters. However many fish you have caught, somebody has caught more and has epic stories to tell about all of them.
If somebody sacrifices even more for their kids than you, are you a bad parent? If you take a day off work, are you a bad entrepreneur?
Exhausting. So I swore them off. “I Am Nothing,” I pronounced in the words of Paul Buccheit.1
I like this viewpoint. Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and Munger teach others how to reduce the surface area of their identities. I am me, nothing more.
But recently I discovered a positive use case for identities.
If you’re standing in front of the fridge and trying to avoid packaged food, ask yourself, “What would a healthy person eat?”
If you’ve got a pile of Amazon boxes and you’re sick of tripping over them, ask yourself, “What would an organized person do?”
James Clear suggests using identity in this way in Atomic Habits. Our human brains try very hard to be consistent. By defining who we want to be, we can drive our behavior.
If we tell ourselves we are studious before deciding how to spend our time, we’re more likely to read Slaughterhouse Five than to binge Schitt’s Creek.
Here goes nothing: I am disciplined.
We moved to SF in October. After 18 months of lugging my Osprey around, I wanted an office to walk into and a coffee shop to meet new friends in.
Industrious is now closed.
Bean Bag is closed.
So much for having an office and meeting new people.
Our one bedroom is $3,400/mo, not including the internet, water, electric, and trash. We aren’t allowed to sublet. It’s a two-month penalty for breaking the lease.
Bottle is remote. Elizabeth is now indefinitely remote. We are mulling three options.
Option 1: Leave. $
We break the lease, suck up two months of rent, visit family and friends, and then move somewhere new in the fall. Maybe we move across the country. Maybe we build an a-frame in Idaho.
Option 2: Wait it out. $$$
Stay in the lease. Visit some family this summer or rent a house for a week or two somewhere just to get out of our little apartment. Recognize that people will be willing to make new friends again, perhaps sooner than we think.
Option 3: Create a hacker house. $$
We break the lease, find a four-bedroom, granite-countertop home in a climate where it cools off at night, convince 4-6 other people to join us, and spend the summer with a tightknit group of people* who want to work during the day and split cooking duties at night.
*Romantically this would be either close friends or people who are also building companies.
I feel like I’ve been late to everything in life.
I was late to learn to talk.
Late to walk.
Late to start kindergarten.
Late to learn phonics.
Late to read Harry Potter.
Late to get an Xbox.
Late to black out.
Late to choose a major.
Late to make real friends.
Late to start programming.
Late to buy a suit.
Late to get a job.*
Late to drink coffee.
Late to open a 401(k).
Late to start writing.
Late to learn design.
Late to get married.*
Late to move to a new city.
Late to thank my parents for everything they’ve done.
Late to start blogging.
Late to start tweeting.
Late late late late late late late.
It’s why I like this quote: “Don’t mistake speed for precocity. The world doesn’t need wrong answers in record time.”1
Michael Arndt wrote the script for Little Miss Sunshine in three days in May of 2000. He didn’t think the movie would get made. “Just too small and indie.”
Seven years later, he gave an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards for “Best Original Screenplay.”
In an interview, Arndt said he thought he’d write maybe 50 scripts in his life. Perhaps five of them would make it to the big screen. Maybe one or two would amount to something.1
“What an analytical mindset,” I thought. “So does he think his career is nearing the finish line?” Then I forgot about it.
A couple years ago I read a New Yorker profile of Trump. “He considers exercise misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.”2
It’s the same mindset as Arndt’s “fixed production” guess. “You have a limited amount of good ideas. Once you use all those good ideas up, you’re done!”
Arndt at least is aligned with show business folklore.
In NYC in the 1960’s, comedians would gather at Lindy’s Deli to chat about the industry. If somebody signed a deal to do a weekly or monthly show, the comedians believed their career would flame out. The way to have longevity was to stick to guest appearances.3
Careers were like candles. If you burned them from both ends, they were over twice as fast.
Okay, but how do you explain Michael Crichton or Quentin Tarantino?
Or take Louis CK, who spent years putting together an hour of material. Once he had his hour, he’d give it over and over again every night. It was good enough to get him gigs and pay his bills. Then, in 2005, George Carlin suggested he throw his hour away and start over. Not this one time, but at the end of every year.4
I hesitated to start publishing a blog. What if I ran out of things to say?
His “hits” include Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so he’s tracking a little above his prediction.↩
A few years ago, I woke up in Sunriver, OR, and went to make coffee. The house had one of those bed-and-breakfast-type coffee trays. Drip machine. A stack of filters. Three bags of French roast coffee.
I picked up one of the bags of grounds and dumped it in the machine. Power on. As I trashed the wrapper, I noticed “Royal Cup Coffee” printed on the front.
Royal Cup is a family-owned business based in my hometown. I always thought it was a regional company. It made me smile that they had processed, roasted, packaged, serviced, sold, and delivered packets of coffee to this little house in the Pacific Northwest.
Then I googled them. I told my uncle how big they’d gotten. “Wait until you find out about the $100 million company that chops all the pre-cut fruit you buy in supermarkets,” he said.
There’s a thrill in finding quiet companies, operating in the background, cashing checks. Software has exploded the number of these businesses. Ten people working remotely can make millions of dollars a year.
No giant warehouses required.
My favorite example is ConvertKit. None of my friends have heard of ConvertKit. They ended 2019 with $20 million in ARR. Revenue is growing 30% year-over-year. They have 48 employees.2
Back to Patio11’s Law.
Austen Allred shared how, when matching Lambda graduates to jobs, he’ll discover software companies he’s never heard of in Oklahoma pocketing $10m/year in profit. Doing things like “making actuarial software for funeral homes.”3
It’s not surprising. Of the 3,000+ software companies acquired over the last three years, only 7% got TechCrunch, Recode, HN, or other mainstream tech coverage.4
Most software businesses are silently marching along in the background. The best ones won’t be acquired any time soon. Why would you get rid of a $10 million/year annuity?
Patio11’s Law: The software economy is bigger than you think, even when you take into account Patio11’s Law.
"patio11's Law": The software economy is bigger than you think, even when you take into account patio11's Law. https://t.co/8WA7e65UzT— Mark McGranaghan (@mmcgrana) May 12, 2020
One of the most interesting things about Lambda School is running into all the little software companies you’ve never heard of quietly pulling in $10m/yr in profit with a team of 25 in some city in Oklahoma you’ve never heard of— Austen Allred (@Austen) May 12, 2020
I actually have numbers on this: I found > 3000 software firm acquisitions over 3 years, and then looked at how many got a “mainstream tech” outlet mention (eg TrchCrunch, ReCode, HN, etc): ~7%— Einar Vollset (@einarvollset) May 12, 2020