Office Hours: I’m Wes Kao. I’m the co-founder of Maven. Previously co-founded the altMBA w/Seth Godin & built new products for Scott Galloway, Outlier, and Morning Brew. AMA!Featured

Hi everyone,

I’m Wes Kao, the co-founder of Maven, a platform for live online courses. Our instructors include Pomp, Sahil Lavingia, Li Jin, and more. We’re funded by First Round and a16z.

Before Maven, I co-founded and built the altMBA with bestselling author Seth Godin. I grew the altMBA to thousands of students in 500 cities and 45 countries. If you had asked me back then, I would be shocked that the learning format we designed would kick-off this growing category of cohort-based courses.

After the altMBA, I wanted to know whether we could replicate the cohort-based course format with other verticals and creators. So I worked directly with Professor Scott Galloway at Section4, Outlier (by the co-founder of Masterclass), co-founders of Morning Brew, etc to design, build, and launch their course products.

In the early days of my career, I was in brand management marketing at L’Oréal. At Gap, I did a rotational training program, which taught me business fundamentals I still use today. Then I led digital marketing at Flite, an adtech platform later acquired by Snap. I went from big to increasingly smaller orgs over the past 14 years until starting my own company!

Since 2010, I’ve written on my blog and newsletter. I share my spiky POVs about marketing, education, leadership, positioning/framing, startup life, and rigorous thinking. I care a lot about sharpening my craft as a founder, operator, marketer, etc. I see every situation as an opportunity to get buy-in and I believe all great founders/operators are constantly “selling” ideas, even to their direct reports. Also, I love competence and think the world would be a better place if people were more competent. :]

I was very shy as a kid. A lot of what people assume I was naturally good at didn’t come naturally to me. Sharing ideas in public. Writing. Being detail-oriented. Giving direct feedback and embracing conflict. I believe what doesn’t come naturally to us isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. I learned a lot the hard way. If I can do it, you can too. And I’d love to share anything that can help pass it forward.

Ask me anything about

  • edtech
  • cohort-based courses
  • community building
  • marketing
  • turning bugs into features
  • reducing decision fatigue
  • being a non-CEO/non-technical cofounder
  • teaching your team how to think rigorously
  • being a “get it right” leader in a “get it done” startup culture
  • getting your ideas heard
  • having boring routines and work uniforms
  • how I’m attempting to pace myself and avoid burnout
  • how I learned to worry less despite being a naturally obsessive person

…or anything else!

ElphaStaff's profile thumbnail
Thanks so much for joining us @weskao!Elphas – please ask @weskao your questions before Friday, January 28th. @weskao may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
AmandaWangValentine's profile thumbnail
Hi @weskao, would love to hear more about what you mean re "teaching your team how to think rigorously". What does "rigorous" look like and how you started this and scaled it company-wide? And how you tested it for this skill (if you did) at interview level? Thank you for sharing your experience.
weskao's profile thumbnail
As managers, we want our teams to think for themselves and stop just doing exactly what we say. But how do you get your team to think like an owner with good judgement?This is where rigorous thinking comes in.Rigorous thinking is asking critical questions about strategies/tactics, and having a systematic way of making decisions. For example, let's say you manage 5-6 direct reports. In a culture where rigorous thinking is expected, any idea goes--but each team member should be prepared to advocate for their idea and defend it. They should be prepared to walk through the upside, downside, data points rooted in reality, and how it works given your assets and constraints.It's the opposite of lazy thinking. Lazy thinking is making assumptions that you don't even know are assumptions. It's having a black box of logic where "suddenly it works and we have thousands of sign ups."Here's an example:Lazy thinking: "Hey boss, can we do [insert random tactic that competitors seem to be doing]?"Result: You have to think through everything, which leads to decision fatigue. You are constantly correcting your team’s mistakes that range from minor to major oversights in strategic thinking. Half-baked ideas come across your desk, so you have to think of polite ways to say why this isn’t a good idea without discouraging your team. Your team doesn't understand why you always say no to their ideas. You look like the bad guy.vsRigorous thinking: "Hey boss, I think we should do [insert tactic]. Here's the upside and why it's worth the time, budget, and effort: ____. The downside is ____. But we can minimize the downside by testing this out in a small way, like this ____. I've seen other organizations like X and Y try this, so I used them as a frame of reference. If you agree, the next step would be ____. I can manage this and report back on how it goes."Result: You rarely say no to an idea, because it's not about saying yes or no. It's about vetting an idea. You ask strategic questions, so your employee ends up realizing the idea won't work in its current iteration. They excitedly go back to the drawing board and come back to you with a stronger idea and next steps. They become sharper thinkers over time. You use less brain power and get better results.Here are 12 questions that promote rigorous thinking across your team:1. “This is a great start. How do you see this working?”2. “Who is this for? Why would they be excited to do the thing you want them to do?” (The thing could be to sign up, download something, attend an event, share on social media, make a purchase, etc)3. “What is this for?”4. “What's the hard part?”5. “What would success look like?”6. “Who do we need buy-in from in order for this to move forward?”7. “Can we do this ourselves, or do we need to tap into resources from engineering, sales, etc?"8. “How can we experiment with this idea in a way that requires less overhead? And even less overhead? And even less overhead?” (I usually ask this question three times. You'd be surprised how small you can make an experiment while still getting what you need from it.)9. “What models did you look at? What are you using as your frame of reference? This is probably not the first time someone has attempted a tactic like this, so we should learn from what worked or didn't for them. How is our unique situation different?”10. “How does this tactic play well to our assets and our brand?”11. “What constraints are we working within?"12. “If we decided to move forward with this today, what would you need to make it happen?”I wrote more about this here: https://www.weskao.com/blog/rigorous-thinking
sarahdevereaux's profile thumbnail
Amazing to have you here @weskao! Q: What are your top tips for community building, and what resources (books/blogs/newsletters) would you recommend for someone looking to build community around a SaaS product? Context: I lead marketing and customer success for an early stage startup (murmur.com) and I'm in the process of finalizing our GTM strategy. We've landed on content and community as our main levers and I'm just jumping into the research on community building and community flywheels. There's a lot of advice out there! I'm finding some good stuff, but nothing great. It all sounds pretty status quo. I'm looking for great and novel.
DariaSupergirl's profile thumbnail
Hi Wes! Thanks for sharing your story :)What do you think prevents big (huge!) experts with a big audience to create their own info products instead of just doing promos for other in kind brands? I see that many of them are missing out on impact and serious margins.
weskao's profile thumbnail
Thanks Daria. There's definitely opportunity and upside with creating your own products. It also takes time, effort, capital, etc to build a strong product and a sustainable business. So I can see some experts thinking they'd rather promote other brands instead of creating their own.It's a bit like speaking at a conference vs hosting your own event. If you speak at a conference, you just show up and do your talk. If you host your own event, you're responsible for the strategy, planning, production, execution, etc. It's a different dynamic and level of skin in the game.One thing I'm seeing across the 100+ creators I've worked with at Maven is many experts are starting to explore multiple revenue streams. They have a "portfolio" of products and projects. Some are revenue-generating, some aren't. So they might do brand partnerships and sponsorships--and also have their own community, newsletter, courses, etc.At different points in time, an expert might value different things. One expert might optimize for flexibility and freedom, i.e. the ability to do what they want, when they want. Another expert might optimize for growing their brand. Another might optimize for revenue. I think this is best time in history to be a creator. There are so many tools/platforms to help experts monetize, build with their community, and reach their audiences on their own terms. It's an exciting time to be alive!
tiffanytrifforiot's profile thumbnail
Wow! Amazing to hear your story! I have a question relating to pivoting your career from education to EdTech -- right now I currently work as an inclusion teacher for a non-profit (start-up-like) school. I'm thinking of pivoting and switching from teaching to an HR Role in tech. I was thinking EdTech may be a good transition. My question is -- per your experience in EdTech, what have been some successful career transitions for teachers into the tech world? Thanks a ton!
weskao's profile thumbnail
Hey Tiffany--how exciting that you're exploring a new role within education. The experiences you bring as an educator will add a fresh perspective to any edtech company you end up joining. The principles I have for transitioning from being a teacher into the tech world are the same principles I think can help anyone make a career switch. Some thoughts below:1. Connect the dots for the hiring manager. The hiring manager has a lot on their plate and doesn't want to think hard about any single candidate. If your skills don’t look obviously relevant, you’ll need to connect the dots for them. Make your previous experience look obviously relevant.2. Frame your experience only through the lens of the new position/industry. You’re proud of your previous work, but you’ve moved on. Don’t get caught up in what you did before. Focus on the 20-30% of what you did that’s most relevant to your new role. Sometimes we're so proud of what we did before, that we end up talking too much about that--and we forget to sell why we can do the new job.3. Act as if you’re already in your new role. Most people think, “I’m in retail trying to break into healthcare" or "I'm a teacher trying to break into HR in edtech." No. The secret is to convince yourself you’re already in healthcare or you're already in HR. Update your identity and how you view yourself. Once you convince yourself you're already doing HR... You'll look back through your prior experiences and likely be shocked at how much HR you were doing as a teacher!You might need to do some side projects, read up on your industry, and have recommendations ready for what you’d do if you were hired. That’s all doable. Act “as if,” then work backwards to get those proof points.4. Create proof points and evidence of your experience in the new industry. - Write 3-5 Medium articles about your analysis of the industry you want to break into.- Do a small side project and put up a microsite.- Host an online event and ask industry experts to be guest speakers.- Post your insights on social media.- Start an interview series with folks in the industry.If your experience doesn’t look relevant on paper, these proof points help show you’re plugged in.These tips were pulled from my newsletter/blog in case the full post might be helpful:https://www.weskao.com/blog/you-dont-need-to-start-at-entry-level
paigeomura's profile thumbnail
Hi @weskao, thanks for the amazing intro! On getting your ideas heard (especially as a not-naturally-loud person), do you have any tips & tricks that have made you effective at building this skill set / sticking to it?Has there been anything surprising through the learning process that you’d want to share?
weskao's profile thumbnail
A lot of good people are too busy actually doing the work to spend energy managing the optics of that work. Unfortunately, this means well-deserving people often get the least credit. I know many amazing operators who are depriving the world of their brilliance because they don't speak up enough. Here are a few ways I get myself to speak up and share more publicly:1. Put yourself in situations where you're not competing for the micI love doing podcasts because the dynamics are clear. The host is asking me questions & I'm there to share helpful stories and advice. There are only two of us: me and the host. If the host isn't talking, I'm talking, and vice versa. I know introverts who don't do panels because the dynamics are tough--you're competing with other people for the mic, you barely have time to assert your thesis, and the next person who talks hones in on one random thing you said and misses the point.Teaching a course or doing a guest lecture are other ways to showcase your expertise without competing with louder people.2. If you need to compete for the mic, prepare go-to phrases for speaking up in meetingsGet ready to unmute yourself on Zoom and say "Yeah to add some color on that..." and say what you want to say. Or "That's a great point. My POV on it is..." If you're armed with a few go-to phrases, you'll be able to jump in before the moment passes. 3. Do the work in batches so you limit self-consciousnessI write 3 months worth of tweets at a time, then queue them up. As a founder, I'm in operator mode 99% of the time. I find it very hard to switch between operator and content creator. Some people can do it, but for me, it's two different parts of my brain. I write a ton on a daily basis, but it's usually feedback to my team, explaining decisions, pitching creators, etc. It's not writing for social.So when I queue up a few months of tweets at a time, I circumvent the dreaded moment of anxiety when I have to hit publish. I make that decision once every three months, then go about my day and don't stress about whether I'm sharing enough online. It happens without me. Thanks Past Wes!4. Embrace digital meetingsI actually think Zoom meetings have been amazing for introverts like you and me. In an IRL meeting, it's easy to get freaked out that there are 10 or 15 or 20 people sitting around a table. And if you speak, all of them are going to turn around and stare at you... No joke, in elementary school, I used to not raise my hand to use the bathroom during class because I didn't want 30 faces to look up when I came back into the classroom. But in Zoom, everyone is in a Brady Bunch style grid. You're all kind of looking at each other all the time. So I find it a lot easier to unmute and chime in.Also, sit higher in your chair so you don't look tiny on camera & get a box light. When you fill the frame and look good, you'll feel powerful and remind yourself you have a lot to share.5. Decide if being not-naturally-loud is a problem or a constraintProblems are meant to be solved, and constraints are meant to be worked around. Before, I used to try really hard to be more extroverted. I read advice from extroverts and could never really put their tips into practice--it didn't feel natural. Now, I embrace that I'm an over-thinker. I'll never be someone who just shoots from the hip and tweets something off the top of their head. Once I acknowledged this, it actually took a lot of mental load off my plate. I could then rely on systems to still LOOK like I was more extroverted without actually being more extroverted.I realized I didn't actually want to be louder. I wanted what being louder usually brings: more people listening to your ideas, more visibility, the ability to make a bigger impact, more opportunities for serendipity, etc. So I relied on the other tips on this list to still get those results/outcomes without needing to change my personality.
Careeragility2020's profile thumbnail
I recently became a board member for the first time. How do you develop executive presence when you have no previous experience?
weskao's profile thumbnail
Hey Candice, I believe executive presence comes from deeply-rooted conviction that you have something to valuable share. And remembering there's a reason you're at the table.You say you have no previous experience, and I don't know your background... but I do know that this organization chose you to be on their board. THEY CHOSE YOU TO BE ON THEIR BOARD. I usually don't use all caps but I want you to remember your own greatness. You were not a random wahoo they plucked off the street. You are the prize. This organization is lucky to have you.Once you remember your greatness, the next question is: Why did they ask you to be on their board? You can probably instantly think of a few reasons. Those are the reasons you should think about and fully feel. Let yourself bask in those reasons. Beyond this, there are a few tactical tips I've found helpful for myself. First, in terms of body language, I try to keep my head straight, not tilted to the side. Tilting your head is a sign of warmth and is usually a sign of playing low re: power dynamics. There's a trade-off between perceived warmth vs a competence that women deal with more so than men. I taught myself to keep my head literally straight because you look more authoritative. It's a small thing but keeping my head straight also reminds me to sit up straight.Second, sit higher up in your chair so for Zoom meetings, you fill the frame. If you look tiny and the camera is literally looking down on you, you'll feel smaller. If you fill the frame, you'll look powerful and it'll remind you that you are powerful. Third, I like to know where I can add value--I don't believe in faking it or making claims I can't back up. If you know where specifically you can speak from authority, you can derive confidence knowing the content of what you are saying is valuable and rigorous.
Careeragility2020's profile thumbnail
This is excellent feedback and I’m certainly going to apply this to my next meeting. It’s important to get in the power pose on calls. I’ve noted the difference between standing and sitting in meetings. The main take away I got from this is starts with me remembering who I am and why. Don’t slink into self doubt. Be authentic and share the wisdom that I’ve gained from experience good and bad. Looking forward to applying this. Thank you again Weskao.
kayleeyarrow's profile thumbnail
Thanks for joining us, @weskao! As someone who has also followed a nonlinear career path, loves building cohort-based learning experiences and is looking to go smaller / eventually start my own business, I’ve really connected with your journey and your writing. Congrats on all you’ve already accomplished with Maven! Curious about the leap from digital marketing in AdTech to developing cohorts. What sparked the move to EdTech? What did your journey look like to build credibility and confidence in the new space? I admire your courage for not only changing industries and company size, but also roles and responsibilities at the same time. I’m sure the imposter syndrome was very real! How did you overcome it? What advice do you have for those of us who are currently navigating a similar moment of transition and reinvention in our careers?
weskao's profile thumbnail
Amazing question Kaylee. In hindsight, my career might look like there was a direct line from A to B to C, but at the time, it wasn't so planned! It was much more serendipitous. I didn't think about going into adtech or edtech or different functions. I made most career decisions by asking myself these questions:1. Do I believe this is a challenge worth solving?2. Am I interested in solving it? (Would this be fun to do?)3. Am I uniquely suited to solve this problem and add value?In terms of being uniquely suited for a role, it's not necessarily based on your existing background or skill set. It's just as often based on your personality, personal interest, orientation, instincts, etc.At the time, I was so focused on the new challenges in front of me and trying to step up, that I didn't consciously think about changing industries, lacking a certain skill set, etc. I had skin in the game and wanted to use everything in me to do what I wanted to do.There is a difference between convincing others you can do the job vs convincing yourself. With convincing others, there's a set of steps you can take and repeat until you break down the door. But with convincing yourself, it's an internal/mindset issue. You could objectively have all the skills to do the job or make the transition, but internally feel like you don't. I don't have a shortcut around this and struggle with this myself. I actually tried for years to "become more confident." I read books and researched how to be more confident. After several years, I gave up. Or rather, I realized I WAS ALREADY CONFIDENT in some areas. Not at everything, but enough things. So I leaned into what I was good at and what I could be best at. I still lean into those areas and continually look to sharpen my skills/judgment so I can add more value.When you attempt anything new, you're doing something you haven't done before. No one knows the right answer. The good news: You've already navigated so many changes in your career. You picked an industry/function when you first started out, you've worked in different organizations or situations. You've navigated transitions before and came out on the other side as a wiser, sharper professional. And you can and will do it again. You have everything in you to do it as many times as you'd like to.It's always harder to be in the game than to watch the game. The most transformative experiences in my career were when I chose to be "in the arena." Having skin in the game and owning the outcome sharpened me as an operator in a way that books, advice, research, etc couldn't. Only being in the arena can. The fact that you are actively seeking opportunities that scare you is a sign you're in the arena. Keep going.Here's a short post I wrote about how I thought Seth Godin knew the answer, but even he didn't know--and why we should be our own mentors:https://www.weskao.com/blog/be-your-own-mentor
lorihebert's profile thumbnail
Hi @weskao– I'm excited to learn more about Maven and how your approach/model could influence the work I do. I lead the BlendEd Consortium (www.blendedconsortium.org/) and enjoy helping high schools join forces to blend the best of online learning, in-person connections, and local area experts/organizations. I am a champion of high-touch, small-cohort, flexible, experiential learning and feel called to make an even farther-reaching impact... ultimately, I want to make remarkable, engaging, forward-thinking teaching/learning experiences possible/accessible for everyone in both public and private school spaces. I'm in touch with the folks at Outlier and we are discussing how we might partner to blend their curriculum/resources with a high-touch, live cohort model. I am also looking into developing/vetting a directory of experts and organizations that teachers can partner with to enhance student learning via virtual guest speaker Q&As and field learning experiences. Right now, the work I am doing benefits 7 independent schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, but our model could really be leveraged on a much bigger scale. How would you go about making an even bigger impact in this space? I am curious to hear if you have any advice or thought-partner suggestions for me? Many thanks!
liztalago's profile thumbnail
Hi @weskao! Thanks for being willing to share your wisdom with our community. My question is about Edtech and digital learning.I've heard Seth say that folks complete his programs at a rate that far surpasses the average. I'm gearing up to launch my first course (to help women leverage the Great Resingationn for personal and professional growth) and I'd love to hear your thoughts on what makes a digital product "sticky." What can individual educators do to create courses that more folks finish?
weskao's profile thumbnail
"I'd love to hear your thoughts on what makes a digital product 'sticky.' What can individual educators do to create courses that more folks finish?"1. Add more interactivity. Not more content.I believe more interactivity is almost always better. When I ask students of cohort-based courses what they want more of, they rarely say “more lectures." Instead they say, “I wish there were more chances to meet each other, get feedback, try putting the lesson into practice, discuss ideas, etc."Monotony causes audiences to tune out. Movement forces audiences to become alert. It's especially important to think about pacing for Zoom meetings because it's hard to sit still and stare a screen for long meetings.This is what inspired me to create what I call the State Change Method: Aim for a state change every 3–5 minutes to break up the monotony. A “state change” is anything that punctuates an instructor’s monologue and causes students to snap to attention.Examples of state changes include:• Q&A• Breakout rooms• Group discussions• Asking students to comment• Switching speakers• Cracking a joke & adding humor• Switching from screen share to gallery viewIf you're group is smaller (5-10 people), you'll naturally have more chance for everyone to talk, so the Zoom session feels personal and engaging. If you have 150 people, most people won't get a chance to share--so that's where putting people into smaller breakouts helps. Many people feel shy sharing in front of large groups, but are super engaged in smaller groups. So varying the types of interactions increases the chances most students stay engaged.2. Focus on "how," not only "what and why"Books, articles, blog posts, and tweets all focus on ‘what’ and ‘why’. So if a course focuses on what/why, it feels light because it reminds students of content lower on the Content Hierarchy of BS. It comes across as a surface treatment on a topic instead of a deep dive because the student could have gotten most of what you taught via a blog post.Blog posts are free. Udemy courses are $9 to $200, and some folks say Udemy students have been trained to expect deep discounting and will only buy courses for $10. By contrast, cohort-based courses are $500-$5,000/student.When a student is paying so much more for a cohort-based course, their expectations are a lot higher, which means their patience runs out quickly if your course is a blog post masquerading as something more.Cohort-based courses should focus on ‘how,’ not ‘what’ and ‘why.’ The reason students take a course is because they want to learn a skill or mindset, and ultimately to improve their work or lives. They’re looking for behavior change and transformation--but they can’t change if they only know the ‘what.’ They have to learn the ‘how.’3. Tactical, Actionable, Concrete, Specific (TACS)Students should learn something they can immediately put into practice when they leave the Zoom room after your workshop is over. Print this list of questions to keep by your desk to remind yourself to constantly focus on how you can help your student get closer to their goals.Ask yourself these questions as you create/edit your course:What are students learning to do?Is it necessary?Is it as hands-on as possible?Is it as direct as possible?Could this be turned into a visual?Could this be turned into an interactive experience?Where might students be confused and how can I proactively address that?How can I be more tactical, actionable, concrete, and specific?What screenshots, scripts, or examples can I share?More on how to do this in the essays below:https://www.weskao.com/blog/the-state-change-methodhttps://www.weskao.com/blog/super-specific-howhttps://future.a16z.com/cohort-based-courses/If you want to put this into practice, I teach a 3-week course on how to build engaging live courses. It's very meta! It's called Maven Course Accelerator and it's free, but by application only.https://maven.com/maven/course-accelerator
liztalago's profile thumbnail
Wow @weskao, thank you for this incredibly thoughtful and thorough response! I am for sure going to copy/paste/save and refer to it often and I'll definitely be taking your course. Your response was the encouragement I needed as I gear up to launch my very first course this week. There are so many bad courses out there that seem to be so popular, but what you said is true, that " patience runs out quickly if your course is a blog post masquerading as something more." I'm on a mission to give my clients so much more than a canned blog post course experience, and your insight will definitely help me get there. Thanks again!
chelseajpaige's profile thumbnail
Hi Wes, great to meet you and thanks so much for sharing your story and the opportunity to pick your brain! I'd love to learn how you've managed to keep your blog and newsletter going for over a decade. How do you stay motivated and do you have a set writing/editing schedule for yourself? I have a personal website myself that I seldom post on because I never seem to have the inspiration of motivation to post. Thanks again! 💙
weskao's profile thumbnail
Great question. There are some months (and years) where I write more vs less. For example, in 2020, I wrote 43 essays. In 2021, I wrote 5 essays. In the past, I would have beaten myself up for letting my writing habit slip. But now, I know there are phases and seasons and it's natural for priorities to shift. In 2021, I wrote less because I co-founded a company, raised $25 million, grew from 3 to 20+ employees, worked with 100+ creators, and was heads down as an operator. I'm actually super proud of the 5 essays I wrote because they were meaty pieces--some took 5 months to think about and figure out. Some were on ideas I had thought about and tested for years, then finally turned it into a framework. I also focused more on writing tweet threads and less on my newsletter last year. You can set writing intentions and goals, but be gentle with yourself too.I don't have a set writing schedule. I know I'm supposed to have one but it has never worked for me. I have 75+ drafts of half-written essays in Google Docs. In terms of inspiration and motivation, I usually jot down ideas when I feel strongly about something. Anything that sparks a reaction in you is fodder for writing. I can only write about ideas I feel strongly about and want to convince people of. I rarely do summaries because I don't find them intellectually stimulating. But I love trying to convince my reader of my spiky points of view that I think will improve their work or life. Then it's about figuring out how to craft the argument, share examples, consider their objections, etc. I don't write for the sake of writing. I see writing as a vessel for persuasion.What are your spiky points of view? A spiky point of view is a perspective others can disagree with. It’s a belief you feel strongly about and are willing to advocate for. It's almost impossible to imitate and it's unique to each person, which is why it’s such a powerful competitive advantage. More on that below in case it's helpful.https://www.weskao.com/blog/spiky-point-of-view-lets-get-a-little-controversial
chelseajpaige's profile thumbnail
Thank you so much for this thoughtful answer! It's great to hear more about this from someone else who writes, and it makes a lot of sense. I appreciate it again!
katyapavlopoulos's profile thumbnail
Hello @weskao, thank you for letting us pick your brain! I'd love to know what you do to pace yourself and avoid burnout as a leader in "get it done" startup culture.
madisonpollardshore's profile thumbnail
@WesKao - thanks so much for doing this!As someone who is working 2 full-time jobs, completing an MA and interviewing for an MBA at the moment, burnout feels almost inevitable.How do you manage to pace yourself, and stay focused?
Susie's profile thumbnail
Hey @weskao big fan of your content and Maven (also altMBA alum). Wondering how did you pivot into the "startup" world and meet your cofounder to be part of the tech ecosystem
BennyContreras's profile thumbnail
Thanks for giving us your insights and time @weskao :)Would love to hear more about how you are attempting to pace yourself and worry less. In today's overwhelming flood of notifications, communications channels and, in some workplaces, "rocketship" mindset, how can you keep yourself grounded in "peace"?
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This is a constant work in progress for me. I love what I do and tend to obsess, so I have to make a concerted effort to chill out.This is for all my overthinkers, over analyzers, and worriers out there: A few years ago, I was struck with a realization. In the middle of my usual cycle of worrying where I could barely hear my own thinking, a little voice inside said, "You don't get paid enough to worry as much as you do."Of course, what I'm saying depends on your starting point. If you're too nonchalant, crank it up a notch and take more ownership. But if you’re an overachiever who cares too much, making a conscious effort to worry less can improve your work and life. For me, I was able to:+ Solve problems faster and more easily+ Have more energy because I wasn’t running on a hamster wheel in my own head+ Improve my relationships because I didn’t let things fester in my mindIn terms of how to track if I’m worrying less, I mentally note the amount of time spent worrying. And any number of minutes is too long.1. When I start to worry, I remind myself to stop - This is probably a not as exciting answer, but it's practical and honest. There's not a solution that has just removed worry for me. I have to remind myself daily. It was my new year's intention for the third year in a row to worry less--and I can say it's gotten easier over time.2. Walking meetings whenever possible - This has been huge. It allows me to get outside, get fresh air, and get exercise while on phone calls. Before, I would get antsy sitting all day and now, I can work for much longer and feel energized. I realize the question was about relaxing--not finding ways to work longer lol. But I'm mentioning this because for me, feeling energized isn't just about time. It's about how in control and empowered I feel during the day--and this has made each day feel more balanced. Think energy management, not only time management.3. No notifications - I don't have notifications for anything turned on. For texts, emails, Slack messages, etc. Don't worry--if you turn off notifications, you're not going to forget to check Slack. You probably check Slack obsessively so without notifications, you'll just check it a little less obsessively.4. No meetings on Wednesdays - I get so much done on our no meeting Wednesdays. It's sacred time for deep work. And set certain windows for meetings. I have no meetings before 12pm noon. I reserve 12-6pm for meetings with some breaks in between. The breaks allow me to check Slack and do non-meeting work. I'm shocked at how many people's workdays start at 5/6pm when their meetings end.5. Decide if you're going to take action - If I'm not going to take action, then the worry stays in my head and nothing changes in the external world. So what's the point? I ask myself that question. To be clear, there's a difference between worrying vs thinking about how to solve a problem. If it's the latter, I allow myself the space to think about what I want to do, potential second order effects, etc. Talking about your problem out loud helps too. Sometimes your partner, spouse, friend, etc doesn't even need to say anything, but the act of verbalizing your worry can instantly make it less heavy. And because you feel less alone in that worry, sometimes your brain ends up coming up with a solution. I'm all about empowering my subconscious to think about solutions and come up with breakthroughs.
BennyContreras's profile thumbnail
Thanks @weskao, appreciate it. Love your tips and indeed this will always be a work in progress and it always helps to know we are not alone!
bewithcassandra's profile thumbnail
@weskao You have shared multiple ways of working that I have accidentaly stumbled upon and reading them reflected by you is very helpful.
FeatherstoneNP's profile thumbnail
What are the main principles you use to avoid decision fatigue?AndYou mention community building. I am helping organize and grow a mentorship group for healthcare professionals in my subspecialty. We meet via Zoom monthly, with a focus on reviewing the recent literature on a specific topic and sharing difficult cases for input/help. There is an informal 'introduce yourself for the new people' at the beginning of each meeting. We also have an asynchronous Google Group for questions outside meetings. Any other particular insight into how we might further grow the collaborative nature of this educational group?Thank you for taking the time to answer questions!
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To avoid decision fatigue, I try to make fewer decisions overall. Part of this involves teaching my team to make good decisions and think rigorously. 1. If I'm the bottleneck for decisions, that's not efficient or effective because I might not be closest to the work or have full context. So empowering my team is a long-term way to reduce decision fatigue. Linking to another AMA question here about rigorous thinking:https://elpha.com/posts/lj48ra2n/office-hours-i-m-wes-kao-i-m-the-co-founder-of-maven-previously-co-founded-the-altmba-w-seth-godin-built-new-products-for-scott-galloway-outlier-and-morning-brew-ama#zrai3ljo2. Task switching can lead to decision fatigue too. I batch similar activities so I'm not interrupting myself to switch gears. If I'm doing one 30 min call, I'll try to stack three of them so they're back-to-back--versus doing a call, then right as I'm getting into flow, needing to stop what I'm doing to hop on another call.3. In my personal life, I try to limit the number of unnecessary decisions. I'm all about work uniforms, I eat roughly the same types of food, and listen to the same sleep playlist every night. I found my favorites in these categories and stick with it. Not because I have to, but because it brings me the most joy. For example, I've tried many Spotify sleep playlists and am glad I found the one I like best.People assume "same = boring." But if you've picked what's best for you, it's exciting to be consistently surrounded by good choices your past self already made.
bewithcassandra's profile thumbnail
@weskao very cool invitation! I took part in the Podcasting Fellowship through Akimbo (formerly led by Seth Godin, now its own entity).My question is about the relationship between co-founders and idea originators. Many ideas start as one person's and then expand, shift, and develop into being ideas that several or many people buy into as their idea just as much as the originator. I'm not sure whose idea AltMBA was at the very beginning, when it was the twinkle in someone's eye... but whether it was your's or Seth's or ?? I'm curious about the process in which it was "owned" by you and Seth -- and likely others alongside you.Much thanks for your presence and responding to any questions you have the capacity for.
iynna's profile thumbnail
You’re incredible @weskao thank you for joining us this week! I really want to know about your routine (which I bet is far from boring)! ♥️
weskao's profile thumbnail
Hey Iynna! One of my favorite quotes is from Gustave Flaubert, who said, "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." Startup life can be unpredictable, so I intentionally create predictable routines for areas within my control.--> Deep work from 9am-12pmIt takes time to get into flow and do creative work, which is what most operators at most startups do. It's not just about not having meetings during this time--it's about knowing I'll never have meetings during this slot. I get to start my day grounded.--> Meetings and conversations from 12-6pmIf you're in an outward facing role, you'll always have more meetings. Meetings have a bad rap nowadays, but these are usually highly-leveraged conversations where I'm selling up/down/laterally/internally/externally, giving feedback, offering input, gathering information, discussing solutions, and shaping ideas. And because we're an early-stage startup, 20% of the week is a surprise. It might be internal (involving team members, processes, stuff that was working that unexpectedly stopped working) or external (a prospect who said yes sooner than we expected, a creator who's situation has changed).--> 6pm onwards for work that requires less mental energyI'm honestly not the most present person. I know being present is all the rage and there are many benefits, but I'm present enough for my liking and grateful for my life. During and after dinner, I'm often checking Slack and email. These are "easier" items I triaged earlier in the day--they require less focused effort. That's pretty normal and I think most founders do this. I've been in roles where being always-on wore me down, but I love obsessing about what I love thinking about. And I love obsessing about the problems I'm solving for my startup. Also, I think there's a huge difference between feeling like I can't step away for a second without chaos ensuing vs feeling like I'm mentally engaged. The former is terrible and the latter is gratifying.--> Chill hobbiesI hear a lot about founders, leaders, etc who love waking up at 4am, paragliding, and submerging themselves in cold baths. I'm not about that life lol. My workweek is way too intense and I get all the thrill I need from solving hard challenges at work. So I have chill hobbies, like 75+ plants that I bottom water on weekends. You know what I find thrilling? Seeing new leaf growth. You haven't lived until you've seen an infant leaf unfurl and know you helped create the conditions for that to happen.--> Work uniforms:I wear the same thing almost every day. I love solids. I love neutrals. I love crewneck merino wool sweaters. I wear navy, grey, and black. I only wear what makes me feel confident and powerful. I don't own anything I only semi-like. I only buy things that I love fiercely. Not deciding what to wear is wonderful because decision fatigue is real.
Sambhavi's profile thumbnail
Hi @weskao,Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom and experiences. There are some great questions from fellow elphas as well. I'm curious to know about turning bugs into features, trying to think what made you specify that point as it seems a bit non-traditional. If you could share your thoughts about "getting your ideas heard", that'd be great. Ideas heard in a small team, in a mid-sized team, in a larger team, I'm sure there has to be different approaches.
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For those who are new to the phrase, turning bugs into features means the things you thought were errors, constraints, or liabilities can actually become selling points.I used to think being an introvert was a bug. I wished I were more extroverted like other leaders and founders. If only I were more extroverted, everything would come more easily to me. I'd be better at sales, putting myself out there, etc. By thinking being introverted was a bug, I kept beating myself up and lamenting my circumstances.As a thought experiment, I challenged myself to turn a bug into a feature. I realized being introverted had contributed to my success--it allowed me to bring a different POV in a world full of extroverts. I was actually pretty good at sales and could connect with folks differently because I wasn't trying to be slick. I cared about thinking intently about the prospect's problems and how to solve them. I'm not good at a lot of things, but being introverted helped me be great at some things that have gotten me far in life. I began to appreciate this trait about myself and stop wishing I were someone else.Besides turning bugs into features for my own personality, I turn bugs into features literally every day at work. If you're going to do something anyway, frame it as an intentional choice and a feature. It helps sell your ideas so your recipient sees how the situation benefits them. Often, when we make requests, we explain why it's good for us--but forget to explain why saying yes benefits the other person.Example 1: Bug: "I don't want to do X. I don't enjoy it."Feature: "I could do X. At the same time, that's not highly leveraged and you mentioned wanting me to focus on Y. With Y, I recommend doing..."Example 2:Bug: "Ugh. Writing a 10 page proposal is a lot of work.”Feature: "I wouldn’t want you to have to read a 10 page proposal. How about I create a 1-page summary and we can go from there?”I'm a big proponent of owning the responsibility to help other people care about our ideas, so I've written a lot about this. Here are a few other posts you might like:Tweet threads on turning bugs into features:https://twitter.com/wes_kao/status/1479845468645507072?s=20&t=qo--JT_nfQxJeQhjH9lU_ATwo minute video on turning bugs into features:https://www.linkedin.com/posts/weskao_marketing-brandstrategy-positioning-activity-6669638558120259584-2N8gFramework on how to get an enthusiastic yes:https://www.weskao.com/blog/how-to-get-an-enthusiastic-yes
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Thank you so much @weskao for taking the time to reply. What you've written is just super practical, and I was able to instantly see my "bugs" and now my mind has started to think of how to turn them to "features", you won't believe, I started to make pointers on my notion page. Thanks for that. 💖On getting an enthusiastic yes, after reading the link you shared, I was just reflecting on the cover letters that I wrote to a couple of places last week. It clearly showed what I missed, and why my application was rejected. Gonna write another one now, will apply the tactics you mention. I'm sure the response will be positive 🤞Thanks again for your useful/powerful replies to all other questions above. Truly appreciated, and really helpful !