Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights

I’m so glad I brought a decent camera. This is an unprocessed pic: F3.5, ISO 800, 30-second exposure

I’m writing from Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, Canada.

My wife and I recently decided to take a sabbatical from our Silicon Valley lives to focus on travel and new experiences for the rest of this year. For our first stop, we left sunny Northern California to travel North to the edge of the Arctic Circle in the Yukon Territories.

We’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights. And we saw them every night we were here (very lucky, it’s a crapshoot)! But what has been really surprising about Whitehorse is that there is so much to do even beyond just looking at the skies at night.

Here are some highlights from our trip:

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40 liters

REI Vagabond Tour 40 Pack = Freedom

This REI Vagabond Tour 40 Pack is all I need for the next 6 months.

For a long time I could stuff everything that I owned into three boxes. It was fantastic. I moved ten times during my early 20s, and each move was a breeze because it would take me about 30 minutes to completely pack up and get out of dodge. Not owning anything provided me remarkable freedom to travel and live anywhere I wanted.

But by the time I was in my late 20s, I started to buy stuff. I was newly married and wanted to set down some roots. Somehow my spending rose proportionally with my income growth. I soon became trapped by the junk I was collecting.

I started to buy nice stuff too. But instead of the nice stuff making me happier, it actually made me more anxious – like how I would internally shriek whenever someone would rest a glass of water directly onto my beautiful wooden coffee table (use a coaster, asshole!).

Owning nice stuff just freaked me out because I was always concerned about what would happen if something bad happened to it.

A few months before my startup was acquired, I created a list of things that I would buy with my newfound wealth. My list included some awesome stuff like: a Tesla Model S; upgraded bedroom set from Room&Board; 60-inch Samsung TV; and other crap – all things that I wanted at one point but couldn’t afford with my meager startup salary.

Then the acquisition went through and something funny happened: the moment I was able to afford all these fancy new items, I no longer wanted any of it. If a ding on my 2005 Honda Accord drives me nuts today, can you imagine what a paranoid freak I would be as a Tesla owner?

I didn’t want to buy new fear into my life.

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My pathetic Profit & Loss Statement from 2006

This is a snail

Photo source: Wikipedia

Businesses take time to grow.

What I hate about Silicon Valley is that this ecosystem puts a lot of pressure on entrepreneurs to grow their companies at unnaturally fast speeds, across all dimensions: user acquisition, headcount, revenue, even expenses.

I’m not saying that growth is bad. But I do believe that more often than not, a slower and more deliberate pace of growth early on can set an entrepreneur up for success later on.

What is the root cause of this pre-mature growth pressure among founders? It’s investors. When you raise money, you buy into a rat race that compels you to show progress toward a huge ROI for your investors. Some investors are patient, but many are not and want to see fast returns on their investment in a startup, pressuring founders to raise more funds or take quick exits. The way to get to higher valuations fast for the investor is fast growth.

I chose to bootstrap my last startup because I didn’t want to deal with investor pressure. I wanted to grow organically, at a speed that I dictated.

Today I’m proud to say that my company pulls in substantial revenue and is highly profitable. But the earliest days were ridiculously modest in terms of performance. The following screenshot is my company’s actual Profit & Loss Statement from 2006. Keep in mind this is eighteen months after I started my startup:

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Leaving the startup I founded 9 years ago

The Beat The GMAT Team

Today is my last day at the startup I created.

Nine years ago this month, I was in my dorm room at Stanford with a laptop on my lap and a credit card in my hand. I was about to make a $4 purchase for a domain name that would change my life:

At the time, I had no intention of building Beat The GMAT into a business. All I wanted to do was blog about my experiences studying for the GMAT test as a broke college student.

That blog would later turn into a discussion forum, then a niche MBA news network, then an online community, then a social media platform, then a recruiting platform for MBA service companies and MBA institutions, then a highly profitable bootstrapped business, then an acquisition by an incredible education company.

It was the best $4 I’ve ever spent.

When I told friends this week that I would be leaving my startup after 9 years, they asked whether it is a bittersweet feeling. It doesn’t feel bittersweet at all. The business, the community, and our clients are all in great shape. It was simply time for me to let go and move on.

Rather, the primary feeling I have right now is gratitude.

I’m grateful to have worked on a project with a deep social stewardship mission, helping millions of people achieve their dreams with higher education;

I’m grateful to have collaborated with amazing team members who sacrificed blood (literally), sweat, and tears to make this venture succeed;

I’m grateful that Beat The GMAT could find a home with such an amazing parent company, who has done so much to further invest in the growth and potential of my startup;

And, I’m most grateful that I could share this journey with my wife, who quit her job and joined my startup right after our honeymoon.

Now that I am at the end of the road, I find myself reflecting a lot on Beat The GMAT’s long history. Here are a few moments that come to mind:

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