In my last post announcing my EIR role at American Family Ventures, I mentioned how much I value working shoulder to shoulder with smart people.
Today, I want to highlight another method to surround yourself with brilliant people that can teach you, inspire you and drive you, even if you don’t have the opportunity to work directly with these experts in your day job. And it’s (mostly) free.
Push and Pull, Push and Pull
Google has put the world of information at our fingertips, but it’s also made us complacent. Don’t know the answer to something? No worries, just Google it. Or ask Siri. And sure, it’s amazing that the answer to any question is a few milliseconds away, but there is a huge limitation to this method—it assumes that you know the right question to ask. You also need to think about what information can be pushed to you. It’s the other side of the pull coin. And it’s neglected by far too many people once they leave their traditional school education behind.*
Your Very Own Panel of Experts
What I’ve found is that it’s pretty easy to assemble your own customized panel of experts, thought-leaders and super smart people in almost any field. And, once assembled, this panel of experts will supply you with a daily dose of wisdom, no strings attached.
Let me repeat: A continuous push of thought provoking, inspiring, and insightful content is waiting out there for you—it’s pretty incredible when you think about. And the fact that most of it is free means that you’re an idiot if you don’t take advantage of this great gift from the Interwebs.
By way of example, here’s a small sampling of the sources that I’ve set up to push me information. You’ll note that most of this is related to technology, entrepreneurship and business innovation, but you can find similar experts in almost any field of interest (say Meditation, or Sailing, for example).
Curated Emails & Lists. It amazes me how many people and organizations will now hand pick the best information out there on any subject for free. Here is my cherished group of curators.
Jason Hirschhorn’s @TechREDEF. REDEF curates daily mixes of information around a number of themes. The Tech mix (tech + innovation + culture) is simply outstanding. I receive a daily email newsletter of these mixes and they never disappoint.
Mattermark Daily. A fantastic daily email, “The Mattermark Daily is a hand-curated newsletter compiled daily to bring you first-person accounts of entrepreneurship, investment and insights from the startup ecosystem.” I especially love Mattermark’s selection of insights from operators (e.g., those in the trenches starting companies).
StrictlyVC. The Silicon Valley editor of TechCrunch produces this daily curated email that tracks recent company fundings and other important news in the Venture Capital space. She calls herself “your very own venture capital concierge.” I agree.
Jitha So it Goes. A weekly newsletter for start-ups, delivered each Saturday morning, it makes for great weekend reading.
Farnam Street Brain Food. A weekly digest curated by Shane Parish each Sunday that explores “new posts, books I’m reading, and interesting things I find across the web on subjects like art, history, science, philosophy, psychology, and human misjudgment. It’s basically brain food.”
TechCrunch Crunch Daily. The grand-daddy of Technology and start-up news. I like the quick email summary of their most important posts of the day which keep me in the loop with minimum effort.
Vox Sentences. This daily email does a wonderful job of describing the top three to five big news items of the day in simple, clear language with links to more in-depth reporting. I read it each night before bed and it feels like my librarian friend is telling me everything important that happened that day.
Twitter—By Way of Nuzzel. Like many, I stopped visiting Twitter on a daily basis because it can be overwhelming and time consuming. But Twitter remains THE source for timely news. Thankfully, there is now a wickedly brilliant and simple service called Nuzzel that enables you to get the best of Twitter in a daily email. Trust me, you need to sign up and use this service (even if you haven’t invested in following the right people—just pick the Nuzzel stream of someone with similar interests). I can’t believe Twitter hasn’t either copied this service or purchased it yet. I get a daily email of my Nuzzel feed as well as the feeds from several other people that have similar interests. You can read the simple concept behind Nuzzel here.
Podcasts. Oh how I love you Mr. Podcast. You enable me to fill the dead parts of my day, commuting, mowing the lawn, etc., with the voices of brilliant people. And you give me a break from the screen, which is an extra bonus. It appears I’m not the only one that loves me some Podcast (see here and here).
a16z. Produced by VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, these podcasts are short and cover some of the leading topics and trends that are top of mind in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of my profession.
The Tim Ferriss Show. Tim Ferriss does deep dive/long interviews of elite performers in fields as diverse as music, government, start-up investing and big wave surfing. I sometimes struggle with the “dude factor,” but Tim is a great interviewer and many of these podcasts genuinely inspire me, uncover new insights, and identify people that I now follow.
Common Sense with Dan Carlin. So much of being an entrepreneur is being contrarian. Dan Carlin is brilliantly contrarian in his take on current events, politics and society.
The Writers Almanac. I wake up my brain every day with this five minute reading by Garrison Keillor.
Exponent. I’ll say more about Ben Thompson below, but this is his weekly podcast with friend James Allworth. The podcast is a fantastic way to tap into Ben’s thought stream on technology and corporate strategy. I love it Ben, but please stop saying “fundamental” so much.
Ben Thompson-Stratechery.com. Ben Thompson is a great example of the theme of this entire post, so I’m giving him an entire category. His site, Stratechery.com, is an embarrassment of riches for business strategy, innovation and technology. In addition to the Exponent podcast, he offers a paid Daily Update email and associated member forum (of which I subscribe, the only thing in this entire list that I pay $ to receive), and he also publishes a free weekly article. Here is Ben, at his finest, describing the Uber opportunity and developing a framework for disruptive technology. I can’t believe this information is free.
Communities. In addition to Ben Thompson’s member forum, I’ll highly two other communities in my field of entrepreneurship—ProductHunt and Angelist.
ProductHunt is an amazing community of entrepreneurs and product makers that debate and discuss almost every newly launched technology start-up. The community provides me with insight, competitive intelligence and inspiration on a daily basis. One of my favorite features is a set of curated startup lists that any Product Hunt member can create. For example, I’m interested right now in the Invisible Web, and sure enough, ProductHunt founder Ryan Hoover keeps his own running list of Invisible Web start-ups right here. Thanks Ryan!
AngelList has essentially democratized the start-up funding process. It gives any start-up founder unprecedented access to investors, and highlights the best and most interesting start-ups, leaving you feeling very plugged in regardless of your geography. One of my favorite things is to check the Trending Startups, which AngelList is nice enough to push to me in a weekly email.
Blogs. A lot of the content above is driven by an underlying blog to which I subscribe. Here are a few I haven’t mentioned yet that I find super valuable. But I have to mention that lots of my attention lately has shifted towards the curated content rather than visiting my RSS reader:
AVC, by Fred Wilson.
Feld Thoughts, by Brad Feld.
Steve Blank, by-you guessed it-Steve Blank.
Essays, by Paul Graham.
Online Courses. This post is getting too long, but I can’t neglect to mention the fact that you can use services like Coursera and others to sign up for university and graduate level courses, as well as find folks that are posting their summary of courses online (like this one I’m following from Chris McCann who is posting his notes on Reid Hoffman’s new Stanford Business School course “Technology-enabled Blitzscaling”).
So there’s my highlighted list**. If you’ve spent the time to create something similar (or better) in your field of interest, kudos to you. I hope you agree with me that it is well worth the effort.
If you haven’t, what’s stopping you?
What’s Your Excuse?
I don’t have time. I suspect many of you are thinking that you don’t have time to assemble and digest information like this. For many of you, I’m calling B.S. The average American watches 5 hours of T.V. everyday. Add in passive screen time for things like Facebook and I’ll bet that hourly total goes up a lot. Could you take 10% or 20% of your T.V. and leisure screen time and devote it to building your expert panel? Could you organize your day differently, say to get up 20 minutes early each day for your experts?
In my own life, I discovered that I was listening to entirely too much sports talk radio. It was like bubble gum for my brain. Once identified, I was shocked at how much time I spent listening to debates about who is going to start, get a contract extension or win the next game. I quit it cold turkey and substituted all of that time with the podcast material I highlight above. It was a fantastic trade off. Do you have a bubble gum for the brain habit that you could substitute?
I don’t know where to start. In addition to asking friends and colleagues for recommendations and searching for a few podcasts in your interest area (see the Podcast articles I link to above), I’d start with Nuzzel. Pick anyone that shares similar interests with you and that uses Twitter regularly and follow their Nuzzel feed (for example, here is super investor Chris Sacca’s feed). It will lead you on a journey of personal development that you won’t regret.
I’ll leave you with a quote I heard Naval Ravikant, the founder of AngelList, say during a podcast interview on the Tim Ferriss show (seeing a trend here?):
“If you want to be happy, surround yourself with people who are less successful than you, but if you want to be successful, you need to surround yourself with people who are more successful than you”
There are lots of successful people out there, ready to push you. What are you waiting for?
*Still in school? Start building your daily push of experts now and you’ll have a HUGE advantage over your peers.
**If you’ve got a favorite expert or source that I haven’t mentioned, please leave them in the comments below as inspiration.