6 min read

First Landfall

I moved to New York City.

Actually, that's not quite true. A backpack, a carry-on, two check-in bags, and a 27 year old homeless male nestled deep within Alaska Airlines 294, en route via same-day shipping to a warm couch waiting somewhere in Kips Bay (that's me). So not yet, but soon.

I like writing on planes. Sometimes when I sit down to write, the blank page looms menacingly, an American Ninja Warrior course of distractions and writer's block. Other times, the keyboard feels like an instrument of prose, and that's how it feels today. I'm enjoying a mildly drunken, pleasant veneer of sleep deprivation from a late night of packing. In Your Arms by Disclosure looping on repeat in my Sony XM3's, vocals and drum machines buttressing my keystrokes with a rhythm that pulls the words from my fingers onto the page. Best of all, if I need to dramatically stare into the distance for inspiration, a quick ninety degree swivel to the left provides.

Something about being isolated with 200 other people 8 miles above the Earth's surface does wonders for my little writer's brain.

It's been a while since I've published on this blog, longer than I intended. It's just that, before, when I was posting a lot, I felt like I was talking the talk, but not walking the walk. So I decided to shut up until I made some moves.

Right around then, two months ago, I started building an idea. And today, I'm going to show it to you. It's called Athenareader, a tool that allows you to read long-form content on the web over time by delivering it in bite-sized pieces to your inbox: https://www.athenareader.com/

I've always wanted to read Paul Graham's blog, but it was just too inconvenient. I didn't want to bookmark the website and keep track of the posts I'd read vs didn't read, and I didn't want to binge the blog either. I wanted to digest it over time, like I would with a good book.

And it's not just Paul Graham. James Clear, author of Atomic habits. Paul Millerd, author of the Pathless Path, Tim Ferriss, Naval, Palmer Luckey, Vitalik Buterin, and on and on. All of them have written blogs I thought I'd never read - until now.

All you have to do is tell Athenareader which blogs you want to read, and it sends the posts of those blogs to your email over time. Simple as that.

Oh, and it's completely free (for now).

Go check it out then come back to this post. I want to hear your honest first impressions.

Here's what I learned, building this over the last two months by myself:

  1. Build the landing page first. I put the landing page together after I built the app. Big mistake. The second I started showing folks the landing page, I received feedback about how I could modify the approach of the product. I felt like an idiot - how had I wasted so much time building the app and not shopping the idea to potential users? I think it came down to fear - I wanted to just build something, anything, even if it wasn't useful. And that's fine for a first time, I guess, but next time, I want to prioritize the landing page first.

    Why? A landing page is your hardest working salesperson. It talks to every customer, works 24/7, and can handle hundreds or thousands of customers per day. It's a valuable partner in pitching and distributing software, so its worthwhile to invest in it upfront.
  2. I can learn almost anything thanks to ChatGPT. Over the last two months, I learned frontend frameworks, authentication strategies, database schema design, serverless backends, DNS record management, and on and on, all thanks to ChatGPT. Usually, my lesson would often start off as a problem in my code. I would run into a bug I didn't understand, or I'd be faced with a decision I didn't know the answer to. Of course, ChatGPT always had a good answer.

    However, and this is critical: I didn't just blindly copy-paste. When ChatGPT gave me an answer, I'd continue asking it followup questions until I understood the underlying concept. While this slowed me down slightly, it saved me a ton of time later on because I wasn't asking ChatGPT for the same help over and over again. I didn't delegate work. I used it as a mentor and teacher, and in doing so, I learned a lot in a small amount of time. Now, I can build a similar web app in half the time or less.
  3. Building in public means walking AND talking at the same time. I know how to be write online. Now, I also know I can build cool shit. My challenge for the next project will be doing both simultaneously.
  4. In the early stages of a project, milestones should be time based, not feature based. I'm embarrassed to admit that my initial estimate for this project was one weekend. ONE WEEKEND! I missed that estimate by more than an order of magnitude. Despite my failure to hit that unreasonable deadline, I believe I had the right approach. Timeboxing forces clarity and conciseness, and acts as the opposing force to perfectionism.

    But that's not what I did. When I didn't finish the project on time, I stubbornly pushed myself (often late into the night) to finish the initial scope I had "committed" to (all in my head), despite the lack of user feedback. This led me down an implementation path that was not hyper-aligned with user problems, and more importantly, it wasted precious time and runway.

    All execution work should be timeboxed, because the biggest source of error this early in my entrepreneurial journey is direction, not magnitude.
  5. Be a painkiller, not a vitamin. As I shopped my landing page around to potential users, the most common reaction was: "I don't want more information. I have too much already, I want less!" That was a big aha moment, because I had discovered the real pain. But Athenareader was not painkilling. Instead, it solves an inconvenience that only some people have.
  6. I will completely burn out alone. I'm not the lone-wolf-hacking-in-my-bedroom-late-at-night type. I'm the I'll-talk-to-seven-people-a-day-for-30-days-straight type. I'm at my best building for others, with others. It's no surprise I felt unmotivated after seven weeks by myself without any user feedback.

Entrepreneurship at this stage is so damn honest. There's no team to distribute the blame. No one to prove that I'm doing a good job or not. Either I got the results I wanted or I didn't. It's a mirror, and it's forces me to confront the weaknesses I could ignore before.

I love it. Living or dying by my own sword.

So what's next?

First is the move to New York. I wasn't sure about it at the beginning of the summer, but after a few months living mostly alone in San Diego, I'm convinced. I'm at my best when surrounded by other ambitious, curious, driven people and the best places for that in the US (and perhaps the world) are New York and San Francisco. I chose New York, and there are a ton of reasons for that, but that's a topic for another post. Deep down, it feels right. It's my first time living outside of California. I'm excited.

Second is that aside from major bugs, I can finally step off the gas pedal with Athenareader. It completely consumed my focus for the last eight weeks, but now, it's time to see if it does well in the wild. Launching this product to you guys is a big step in that direction. So go use it! Tell me what you think! It's rough around the edges, but the basic value of the product should be clear.

In the meantime, I'll be reading, writing, and tinkering with new projects. The wonderful thing about creativity is that the more ideas I pursue, the more I seem to have.

Three months ago, I set sail onto the pathless path, not knowing where the adventure would take me. Now, I've discovered a new aspect of my identity, making landfall as an incoming Brooklyn resident after shipping my first big web project.

It'll be time to set sail again soon, but first, it's time to rest. That friend's warm couch in Kips Bay? I'm sitting in front of it now, typing up the last few words of this post. It looks so warm and cozy and inviting, and I'm tired. I think I'll sleep in tomorrow morning.

P.S. Thankfully, this mailing list is still small enough that I can say this: If you're receiving this email, and you're in New York City now or anytime in the future, this is a standing open invitation to grab a coffee or hangout. Yep, looked through all the names, I'm serious. Most likely, I'll invite you to something I'm organizing or we'll hit up a local spot. See you in the city!