2016: A Year in Review

Tomorrow is January 1st, 2017. I sit here today, on New Years Eve, in a state of reflection as I look back on the past 366 days. I am thinking about how fast and slow this year has gone. About how much has changed.

I am writing this Year-in-Review-Style Post for a few reasons:

  1. I want to remember 2016 – both the good and bad parts
  2. I hope my learnings can inspire/help at least one person
  3. I want to say thank you

I’ll start with my last, but most important reason, and that is to sincerely give a big thank you. A thank you to my family, my friends (new + old), my mentors, classmates, coworkers, enemies, and everyone who stood before, with, and against me. Thank you for making 2016 an incredible year. I am standing on the shoulders of giants. 25 years from now, I have no idea what I, or any of us, will be doing. But I hope, and can at least imagine, that I’ll still be surrounded by such incredible people.

And so…”Here is to the crazy ones…the misfits, the rebels, the ones who see things differently…” Here are some of my learnings.

2016: A Year in Review

If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter

This is a story of naivete, hard work, metaphors, many failures, celebrating little wins, and growth.

Things I learned and hopefully you can take away from this story:  

  • Success = (a bunch of little things over a long period of time) * LUCK
  • Doing > Talking
  • External validation is a distraction
  • Do one thing really well

Flashback to Jan. 1st, 2016.

I had just completed my first semester of college. I was 18. Professionally, I was quite naive. I had started a few business things in the past, but nothing huge. I knew no one and had 0 connections to anyone in the big “tech community.” I had no real “technical skills.” I did not have a twitter account. I had never had a real internship. I had no big goal. I really had no way of providing value for other people. I was kinda (okay, very) lost.

I had always been a hard worker. I did have that going for me. At this time, though, I just needed to find a place to direct my energy. An environment/community that would reward determination.

Luckily. Emphasis on the luckily. Someone took an irrational chance on me.

I sent a cold-linkedin-message (the worst kind) to a partner of a Venture Capital Firm. Long story short – we met, and he said I could start interning as a “technology investment analyst.” Essentially, I got to look at new deals and value them/make recommendations.  Sure I was probably not qualified, and by years the youngest person at the job, but – he gave me a chance. 

And it was awesome. I made connections and 10x’d my understanding of the space.

After I “struck gold” with Cold Email #1…I was hooked on continuing to find ways to get myself into the most interesting places possible, even if I was inexperienced, untrained, and ill-equipped.

So I made a what I believed to be a heroic effort and started reaching out to more and more people from all over the tech community. I probably sent thousands of emails, made a twitter account, and talked with hundreds of people in a span of 4 months.

In February, one of those “hey my name is Jordan and I’d love to chat” messages landed in the slack inbox of a guy who was starting a new company. He ended up bringing me on as a remote intern ~ I learned a ton.

Around the same time – on February 24th, 2016 – I took a leap of faith and published my very first public blog post. In that short article, I committed to writing every single day.

Since that morning, I have missed 0 days. 308 blog posts every single day.

I am not the world’s best writer. I am actually not even very good. But the exercise and thought of sitting down, reflecting, creating, and sharing a piece of public content has been perhaps the single biggest driver of growth for me.

I’d like to emphasize – I am not a great writer. I make typos, my sentences jumble up. Idk what I am even saying sometimes.

But, because I committed and stuck with something, a ton happened.

Well, let me rephrase that. For the first 2 months of blogging, not much would have appeared to have happened. I had been writing about the cost of college, all things failure, and pretty much whatever came to mind. Most of my articles got me somewhere between 5 and 25 views.

From a numbers/return on my time investment perspective – that was depressing.

But from an intangible, kind of hard to describe metric, things were going great. I was improving my storytelling ability, becoming better at thinking out loud, and starting conversations with more and more people via my blog.

Let me pause here. It was at this time – now around March – that another one of my lucky emails landed in the right inbox at the right time. I got a summer internship at a fast growing company in San Francisco. Here is the story on that one. It was another chance to catapult and hopefully greatly accelerate my growth.

From March to May…I continued writing every single day. I also kept on “networking” and talking to more and more interesting people. I went from being a true stranger to having a real network, before I even went to Silicon Valley.

I can thank places like Product Hunt and the team at Twitter for creating platforms that reward “hustle” and help people connect.  Though I had not met any of these people from “the cyber,” I felt as if I had knew them.

In may, after finishing my second semester and turning 19, I traveled to Israel and Greece for 3 weeks. It was incredible. I ate a ton of shawarma and hummus and had loads of fun. Would recommend.

It’s now June 10th. I landed back in Arizona, and with a 12 hour turn around packed up and moved to San Francisco.

That was a risky, uncomfortable decision. I knew no one there. But I think it was the right one.

The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks. – Mark Zuckerberg

I lived there alone for two months. My rent was something stupid like $2000 a month. I paid like $20 for salads. I took the public bus to work every single day.

The buildings downtown were nice but the people were all I really cared about.

I worked like 45 hours a week for that company I had an internship at. I also ended up “moonlighting”(I think that is where you work like unofficially at other companies) at a few other startups.

All in all – it was a great experience. I met lots of people, many of whom were very different from me. I also learned a lot. Mainly about myself.

It is about July now and I am still writing blog posts every single day. I started to get more attention for them. It was humbling and inspiring knowing that other people benefited from my thoughts.

I published on Forbes, Fortune Magazine, Startup Grind, Business Insider, and many more. I am not a journalist by any means. Like I said before, I am not even that great of a writer. You can write daily too. Whatever your goal is – go for it!

Now it is towards the end of August. I got my wisdom teeth out the day I returned home from SF. 6 Days later I went back to school.

I have a lot of thoughts on college. Everyone’s experience is different but overall I find most the most value from the people. Old Friends.

During the school year, I continued working for RealtyShares and Inside. I also became a student fellow at Chicago Ventures.

One day in September, I had a random idea. I called a few of those friends that I had met from Twitter & Product Hunt and we launched this card game called Disrupt Cards. You can read the story here but essentially we just went for it, did not follow any rules, and now we’ve sold a ton of the games and they are super fun.

It’s now October. I stopped remote interning for those two companies. But knowing me, I could not sit still – I love working on interesting problems and helping companies grow. I started helping Pluot and doing some “growth consulting” for other projects.

It was at this point that I realized that a lot of what I had been doing was really distracting myself from my goal. I was getting a lot of external validation – but I have come to realize that all of that is really worthless. It is there to fulfill ego.

I wanted to build important things that people would love to use. I also wanted to work with awesome people and have a lot of fun. I cut out most habits that distracted me from that goal.

If by sheer luck alone, I found a really cool opportunity to do just that. I joined a small team (2 people, and yes, still remotely) at Scaphold (just starting YC now). We are building a way for people to build apps faster. Growth is super exciting and it’s been a really fun ride.

And that brings us to today – to the final page of 2016. As you just read, this year was crazy for me.

Clearly I need to focus more. I made a lot of other mistakes in 2016, many of which I did not list out here. Perhaps another day I will. But today, I have so much to be thankful for. I have so much to look forward to. I know there are a lot of problems in this world ~ and lots of people equipped to solve them.

I wish you a happy new year and an awesome 2017. Dream big for 2017 because this next year is going to be the best.

I am always here to help. email me jordangonen1 at gmail dot com.