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Reflections ūüí≠

Rambling about business, life, and love.

Because 280 characters isn't enough.

Gratitude 8/23/2021 in Las Vegas, NV

Humans are remarkably well adapted to adjusting to changing circumstances. Throw us in a war zone and we'll find a way to deal with it and make it our new normal. Throw us in a pampered lifestyle and we'll find a way to feel the same amount of happiness/grief as we did in the war zone.

So then how can we really deploy gratitude? What's the first step towards being grateful and not chasing the next high? 

If I find out I'll let you know... For now, maybe gratitude isn't the actual goal; maybe sitting back and enjoying the show is the real goal.

The greatest wealth is to live content with little. - Plato

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You 7/24/2021 in Las Vegas, NV

Opening ourselves up to serendipity is about more than simply putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations. It's about listening to the little voice in our head that tells us we need to put one foot in front of the other every once in a while. Something brought us together, and I think the timing couldn't be better. It's up to us over time to open our minds and our hearts to love; you make this effortless.

I'm carefully attentive to every word. Because I know you care. I know you're passionate about the world around you and passionate about making it a better place. And not in the way tech bros talk about "making the world a better place." You have a sincere compassion for your fellow human. One that can't be taught. An internal drum that beats on around the clock, driving your energy towards an end state that is beautiful. One that is selfless. You make me a better person. The world doesn't deserve everything you give. Yet you give and you give regardless. Stay you.

And I’ll be waiting for you, for you, for you; on the dark side of the moon - The great warrior poet Lil Wayne.

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Keep it Movin' 6/3/2021 in St. Louis, MO

Every new experience is an opportunity to unlock a new trait in our skill tree. I don't personally buy into the idea that travelled people automatically understand the world better than the untraveled. But I do believe that travel, meeting new people, and trying new things does trigger more opportunity for growth. Keep it movin' and don't be afraid to engineer serendipity. Make a promise to yourself to try a new restaurant instead of going to the same spot; schedule some time with your new colleague; learn how to say yes to challenges. And perhaps just as important, learn how to say no to enable more opportunities to say yes. Either way, keep it movin'.

It drops deep as it does in my breath. I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death. - Nas.

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Reflect but don't schedule change. 5/14/2021 in St. Louis, MO

Reflection is important. We do ourselves a favor by regularly auditing our life. Ensuring we are happy, healthy, and constantly learning is something we owe to ourselves. However, don't reflect so much that you become a robot predetermining every minor change in your life. Control what you can control. Sometimes the tech mantra move fast and break things is just as applicable to our lives. Sometimes we owe ourselves the opportunity to take a little risk and act on impulse. Some of the most beautiful things in life can't be created in a planner or journal. Live, love, learn.

One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar. - Helen Keller

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Find critics. 4/23/2021 in St. Louis, MO

I'm in a blessed position where much of my work is public and open for criticism. I get constant emails with questions, ideas, and reflections. What I struggle for, however, is finding productive criticism among the noise. In all the positivity of the responses I get, there's always a handful of alarmingly negative replies. They are incredibly rare, but when they come through they're filled with hate speech and other nonsense. In my own bubble of self-reflection and aspirations to continuously improve, I'm prone to believing that if that's the best my critics have to offer, then I'm on the right track.

With that in mind, we are all so imperfect that even if we are generally on the right track, there's such an unbelievably open opportunity to learn and improve. I recently ran into a fellow crypto researcher/analyst who has been reading my writing and helping me iterate on my ideas. He is brutally honest in his feedback and incredibly thorough. If you get the opportunity to find someone like this, please don't waste it. Realize that their criticisms are a rare opportunity for you to learn and improve. If someone is willing to put in loads of their own time to help improve your work, that means they deeply care in some capacity about either you, the work, or a combination of the two. Don't squander that opportunity with your ego.

To avoid criticism - say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. - Elbert Hubbard

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Be kind, prefer wealth over riches. 4/20/2021 in St. Louis, MO

It can't be understated that perhaps the most important quality in a person is their capacity to love themselves and consequently be kind to others. Growing up we see varying degrees of strife depending on our lived experience. Growing up in a blue collar family I naively saw the wealthy white collar class as above strife. I believed that since they made morre money, required less physical inputs of labor, and generally had more time to spend on their health that they would be kind by default. I couldn't have been more naive.

I'm consistently disappointed that in white collar America we are more divided than ever. Whenever I return home to rural Missouri I'm floored by how welcoming and kind everyone is to a stranger. People work hard for what they have, and they can generally see the fruits of their labor. In white collar America it is more difficult to quantify this value. Strong communities are born in rural communities around family, jobs, sports, and religion. In white collar America I'm disappointed by the general lack of community. We are in a constant rat race and need to chase riches. We feel a need to flex our wealth, stand out as an individual, and chase glamor over philanthropy.

True wealth is born out of strong relationships with family and friends and sufficient money to spend on good health. We also can't understate the value of positive opportunities for philanthropic contributions to our family members in need and community members in need. Nothing is more empowering than bringing others up with you, and when possible propelling others to levels of wealth past you. ūüöÄ

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Mimesis rules everything around me. 4/15/2021 in St. Louis, MO

Culture is one big imitation game. Equities are one big imitation game. Crypto is one big imitation game. This mimetic tango we all dance is a fascinating one. Even those who stray from the norm still follow the mean behavior pretty closely. If we plotted a time series graph of human behavior across a society, we would see a relatively tight distribution of behavior around the mean. A tiny portion of the society would exist as outliers, and sometimes it's these outliers that lead the mean towards a new normal.

Take Bitcoin as an example. Most Bitcoiners were considered very strange. They were largely a mix of highly idealist libertarians and cryptopunks. Their memes were so strong that a mimetic process shifted the mean behavior to conform with a new outlier norm. I'm not deep in how fashion evolves, but I would venture the progression of fashion over the last century has similarly progressed. We thought a look was absurd and a decade later it was the norm.

It's fascinating to watch how quick sentiment shifts. The mob is fickle.

"Imitation is human intelligence in its most dynamic aspect." - Rene Girard

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Pseudonyms are undervalued. 3/25/2021 in St. Louis, MO

Since publishing under a pseudonym my cadence for writing has gone up considerably. One of the magic elements of the early internet was how you could have a PhD researcher and a 12 year old holding a conversation on some esoteric topic. There was no consideration of credentials or intent, purely an earnest conversation between 2 curious individuals. We've since lost much of that magic.

We've gone to a world where our identities all exist online in some form or another. Our own identity is shaped by an online persona that struggles to balance with our own. Does the online persona lead the real life persona or is it the other way around? I would say it's somewhere in the middle depending on how much time you spend online. Pseudonyms are unlocking the potential of many individuals by allowing them to live out exactly what ideals they wish to share without feeling the backlash on their personal ideals. I can think of countless advantages and very few cons. I imagine if someone purely exists to clout chase and garner popularity then pseudonyms aren't the right play. But if you're looking for earnest engagement, consider removing your identity from the equation altogether.

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self. - Ernest Hemingway

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Lost in the Sauce 2/17/2021 in St. Louis, MO

I'm accustomed to managing multiple priorities at once. If I'm passionate about something I'm always able to find the time in my day to make it work. However, if I have a key priority that I lack enthusiasm for, the other priorities get dragged down with it.

Don't get lost in the sauce.

Constantly reevaluate your priorities and what is taxing your energy. Find those pain points and snuff them out. Free up your mental energy so you may tackle many things without negative energy. Often those pain points require extraordinary effort to close out or get out of the way. Do not be afraid to set other priorities aside to push through the pain; the other side is well worth the trouble.

There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. - Nelson Mandela

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Writer's Flow 1/1/2021 in St. Louis, MO

Cultivate flow. No matter what you're interested in. Find that flow state. When I have an idea that I've successfully fleshed out and thoroughly understand the material, forming thoughts comes naturally. But you must first put in the work of truly understanding what you're writing about. Only then can you enter flow state. I suppose it's possible to enter flow without proper knowledge of the material, but then you're going to end up with a bunch of incoherent thoughts on paper with little value to the reader.

Writing words and writing code are the two experiences I can find flow in this world. It's a purely meditative state, and I believe that comes from confidence in your work, conviction in your idea, and a positive environment in which to create.

Writing is the purest expression of one's soul. Your mind lives on the paper. In that way, the paper becomes a living object and readers can share in a piece of your soul. Take that opportunity to inspire earnestly.

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Outsized Returns 12/27/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I used to self-identify as a quant. More and more I'm diverging from this label and self-identifying as a Data Scientist and Engineer who happens to like markets. I spend most of my time digging through data to create unique insights. Where I differentiate from typical quants and draw from more traditional investors is in my approach to the human side of business. I don't stop at the data. I take that data and figure out why it's meaningful to a tangible human perspective. Why was revenue down in Q2 and debt up in Q3? If we assume it's a troubled business we might miss the bigger picture. We might miss that X company divested a key short-term asset for a more interesting long-term opportunity. Or maybe they're truly troubled. We can't find out unless we dig a bit deeper.

Oftentimes the data is meaningless. But when it's meaningful it always comes back to people. Somewhere in the business an individual or small group of people derived a unique insight that drove the business to a unique insight. It's the job of great investors to dig through publicly available data to uncover that insight before the rest of the market. This data surfaces itself in many different forms. Sometimes an S-1 can surface interesting data, sometimes the price action provides an interesting signal, and sometimes a clever manager publishes their unique insight after securing a strong position. Find your signal. But remember, the root of outsized returns is almost always tracked back to the people.

When someone shows you who they are believe them...the first time. - Maya Angelou

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Existence 12/16/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Sometimes when I think about the experience of conscious life I go into a mini panic. That brief moment of grappling with complete lack of understanding for why one exists is terrifying. Good luck finding first principles on existence and the meaning of life. The more I engage with this idea I'm swayed towards thinking of Earth as a big playground with limited meaning. My human experience is completely nonsensical. Yet because of the chemicals in my brain and the magical feelings of the human experience I see my existence as infinitely valuable and precious. How can I be certain I will ever have a conscious experience after my x years on this planet? So in the meantime I'm going to live it up. I'll live as many awesome experiences as possible, and support as many people as possible in sharing in these great experiences.

Exist.

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Persistence 12/14/2020 in St. Louis, MO

One doesn't accomplish their goals without sustained effort and persistence. Just when you're ready to quit, push harder. Success isn't satisfying if it comes easy.

Persist.

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Feeling 12/1/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Don't disregard feeling. Art is feeling, and life is dull without art. Surround your space with items that give you inspiration and feeling. It's such a hard thing to pinpoint, but there's this weird thing that exists when everything around you fits together just right. It just snaps into place and gives off a magical vibe. It's abstract to the examiner and so visceral to the person experiencing that magical feeling.

Creativity is an inherent human quality of the highest order. When we create, we become more than the sum of our parts - Yanni

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Why? 11/25/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Too often we (I) place ourselves in echo chambers, especially when things are going well. We don't ask ourselves "why?" nearly enough. After a conversation I had today I've really opened my eyes to the value of having people around you who can poke holes in your logic, find truth, and make you uncomfortable in your strongly held views. I think we're also responsible to do the same for others, respectfully and earnestly.

As traders and investors this is especially important. Going forward I plan on making a conscious effort to surround myself with (more) smart people who can challenge my ideas and introduce "why?" into the conversation. Seek truth, the returns will follow.

People who fit don’t seek. The seekers are those that don’t fit. - Shannon L. Alder

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Write More. 11/8/2020 in St. Louis, MO

The value of writing longer form can't be understated. Having to organize your thoughts over a longer span is incredibly valuable. In a world of 280 characters, many of us can no longer organize complex thoughts or keep interest/attention for long enough to complete long form writing tasks. For me, writing a book has been an awesome experience. I've gotten the opportunity to better understand my mind, the way I best work, and how to analyze and curate information around a complex technical topic. I'm so stoked to finish this adventure and share my work on this book with the world.

Writing is a true vitamin for your brain.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Remove distractions. 10/29/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I've started to develop a laundry list of strongly held personal opinions about bootstrapping early-stage companies. Most of this comes from making every mistake in the book. My favorite realization - remove all distractions. Learn to focus.

It's one of those things that seem obvious. But it's really not. And it's so so easy to get distracted. There are shiny things everywhere you look. There are potential helpers, investors, media, advisors, and a whole host of other opportunities. There are shiny tools, new design paradigms, and the newest database. Along the way you're tempted to cut "core" features to ship faster. There are so many distractions.

Since committing all these mistakes I went and bought a pair of blinders. I take very few meetings with VCs and only talk with potential customers. We're building faster and are on a better path towards building the product we know will bring massive value.

Build incredible products.

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Don't predict the future, create it. 10/27/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Anyone can make predictions on the future when they have a view of the fully investable universe of new technologies. From there we can build a sort of venture or equity portfolio with the whole range of technologies. Those technologies that don't represent future innovation will die and go into the L column while the technologies that represent the future create outsized returns. But ultimately, this is a form of indexing. What if instead we have such an outsized impact on the market that we personally can in many ways pick the technologies of the future. This is the story of some iconic investors and entrepreneurs. Anyone can index their way to success. Let's instead create the future. Don't predict the next wave, create it.

Are you a contributor or a bystander? 

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Build for yourself. 10/19/2020 in St. Louis, MO

More often than not the death of startups happens at the point where the founding team gets demotivated. One of the best ways to find startup ideas is in areas you have deeply rooted passion. Building products that serve your own needs almost always results in a product that will serve others as well. Our own needs are generally not unique. This doesn't always mean a $1B outcome, but it generally means a real business with real customers and a high likelihood of long-term motivation to build and innovate. Once you've narrowed in on a small feature to build, you can always expand around that industry you're building for into more features, more products, and more wins. Your first features don't have to be $1B ideas. Your first features simply need to create momentum. Momentum is the lifeblood of healthy startups.

Conquer the anxiety of finding product market fit by going on an adventure that is core to your interests.

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Hard resets. 10/17/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Get better at hard resets. Sometimes things are getting messy and your brain is getting tangled. Do a better job of recognizing this and giving it some space to breathe. Step back, look at what's in front of you and recalibrate. I was given this opportunity recently, and it's given me a totally new perspective on many things. Get better at taking a few days off to reset when you're getting overwhelmed. Come back renewed and ready to take on the challenge of tomorrow. You'll find it's a different challenge than the one you let go yesterday. This will be a great relief.

Don't mistake activity with achievement. - John Wooden

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Communicating effectively. 10/8/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Do you listen intently when others are speaking, or are you waiting for your turn to speak? The best conversations happen when two people are engaging with the flow of the conversation, rather than waiting to get their next word in. Good conversation is a two-way dance in which two people are talking with each other, rather than at each. Don't let ego get in the way of an opportunity to learn.

If you want to be a good conversationalist, be a good listener. To be interesting, be interested. - Dale Carnegie

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Maximizing energy. 10/7/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I think about this so often, and it's an ongoing journey for me. What actions can I take to maximize my energy and attention each day? 

It's so important to me that I'm able to lock in, focus, and really deliver on my objectives each and every day. Days where I'm not productive my mental energy slips and I'm not as enthusiastic going into the evening. I noticed this in college and set out to fix what was causing inconsistent energy levels. It's my firm belief that I owe it to both myself and others to always be alert and full of energy each and every day.

The core tenants of maximizing energy for me are: exercising often, a regular 7 hour schedule of sleep, and eating moderately healthy. As a skinny guy I could stand to gain a few pounds. For me, eating healthy is about making sure I get plenty of calories. I've had issues in the past with working past meals so my focus is on ensuring I can get 2 solid meals each day with plenty of protein and greens. For sleep I don't really need a ton. What's most important to me is a regular schedule. As long as I'm going to bed at a consistent time my energy levels are high. Obviously all of this is completely personal to your body type, age, activity level etc. Figure out what works for you.

I love exercise so that one's relatively easy. The eating and sleep are what I'm really focused on. Sleep can be hard for me because I'm maximally productive on busy work in the early morning and late at night. Because of this, I appropriately set my work schedule to optimize for coding and writing during those times. During the general daylight hours are when I set my interpersonal hours and most optimally work with others, perform meetings, etc.

I also avoid selfish actions that will drain my energy. I understand that an extra hour or two working into the night may feel good in the moment, but unless it's a truly magical idea then it will negatively impact tomorrow. I also understand the early morning hours are when I am most productive and can not waste my peak productivity hours catching up on sleep.

Focus on your health lest you live your life on autopilot.

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Scattering brain bits. 10/5/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Every piece of content you write is a manifestation of what was on your mind in that period of time. Over time you scatter little bits of your brain all over the internet. Scatter enough little bits and you may just have a lasting impact through the parts of the internet you inhabit. But most importantly you have an impact through the millions of people you will inevitably touch. It's hard to realize it now, but consistent spread of ideas and evolution of evergreen content and thought will always find its way into the hearts and minds of individuals. You're looking to become top of mind for those readers, not a passing glance or unengaged clickbait.

That single individual you influence may very well go and influence another 1,000 people on their own. And those 1,000 will go touch another 100,000. Without realizing it, your ideas may very well change the world. Do not measure your impact purely by number of views or engagement but rather by pride in the quality of your work. If fully understood, do your ideas have the potential to influence the reader? If so, take pride, regardless the # of views. If not, recalibrate.

Your writing today may very well impact the next great builder tomorrow.

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Create Serendipity 10/4/2020 in St. Louis, MO

They say risk takers create the most opportunities for themselves and those around them. This is simply because they're rolling the dice as many times as it takes to roll snake eyes. Taking a single big risk may pay off, but taking many repeated risks can play out much better. Play the game enough and you may just create serendipitous moments.

How do I create serendipity? I play by my personal guiding theory: dart board theory. Dart board theory says that if you throw enough darts eventually one will stick.

As an example, when I first started writing I had about 5 readers/article, 4 of which were friends and one my mom. This went on for at least the first half-dozen articles. Eventually I threw enough darts that I had 100, then 1,000, then 100,000. And 1,000,000 came and went. But what do those #s mean? Each read is an added possibility of serendipity. In the last x months these views created outcomes like: 1 book deal, 2 partnerships with major companies, 6 cold emails and meetings from investors, 5 open source contributors, and dozens of new contacts and fresh ideas from readers.

Playing a game with a .1% chance of success? Play the game 1,000 times before considering defeat.

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On Thesis Driven Investing 10/3/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Everyone's a thesis driven investor until great opportunities come along outside of their thesis...

Thesis driven investors might invest in a specific sector, technology, location, or some other combination of criteria. They believe a specific criteria has potential for outsized returns. Thesis driven investors in private markets often show similarities to factor investors in public markets. For example, a biotech investor may believe drug discovery has the most potential exits. They might even refine to only investing in companies promoting longevity. Typically they keep it broad in nature so they can break stride on occasion but figure out how to weave a narrative. I.e. someone focused in longevity might invest in a new cancer drug; this seems to break thesis, but you can make the case it's increasing average life span. In some cases it might be because that's where they have the strongest network. They might have expertise that lends to their ability to pick companies or have a pre-existing network.

However, many private market investors lack the same restrictions or commitment to their systematic approach. Peep the portfolio of these so-called thesis driven investors and you can find all sorts of examples that break their thesis. Look at the cap tables of valley darlings (Haus, Superhuman, etc.) and find all sorts of breaks from typical investments. Hot and trendy rounds cause investors to break thesis consistently. A thesis is a nice way to signal favorite types of companies. But just like many public market investors, private market folks panic into rounds and have the same FOMO as the rest of us.

Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. - Warren Buffett

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On Ego in Startups 10/1/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Removing ego from internal decisions is so important. It's almost impossible to have a team-driven innovation environment if there are massive egos in the room. Encourage quiet voices to get involved; they may be sitting on the best ideas. And if you're a quiet voice, don't be afraid to interrupt. If you're a loud voice, realize you're keeping the quiet folks from sharing their ideas. Unfortunately, those loud voices are often accompanied by egos. Though many times they're not. Don't confuse honest excitement for ego. Fortunately, we can typically tell the difference between ego and earnest interactions.

If you identify egos in an early-stage culture, make sure you have the necessary difficult conversations early rather than later. Big egos have a few key hiring flaws: a.) they don't hire the best possible talent because they feel threatened and b.) they hire other ego-driven personalities because they struggle to identify quiet talent.

If you're in a later stage culture, it will probably take some time to fix a culture. Egos tend to permeate quickly through the org if not handled with care.

Receive with pride, let go without attachment. - Marcus Aurelius

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Be Open 9/30/2020 in St. Louis, MO

The best thing to do in life is shut up and listen. Everyone has a piece of knowledge you don't. So it's in your best interest to learn from their knowledge and expertise. Be open to new ideas. Don't be overly malleable, but always listen to advice with an open mind and a smile. Shutting yourself off and letting your ego do the talking never helps you grow or prosper.

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change. - Albert Einstein

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Build Motivation 9/28/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I'm struggling to fully understand why design tends to have such a profound impact on the velocity of code. And perhaps even more interesting, a design style can sometimes even be the basis for imagining entirely different products. A fringe product in a fringe design style will tend to spawn other fringe ideas. While a mainstream design template will tend to spawn other mainstream ideas. A few projects ago I was building a personal finance app with extremely plain/mainstream SaaS tendencies. That product resulted in an additional product for managing go-to-markets that copied its relative design aesthetic. It was a pretty boring mainstream product.

In a similar vein but completely different approach, my current build has many fringe aspects. It's another finance app but a bit more niche, and the design aesthetic is especially fringe. It spawned ideas in DeFi and other niche markets. I don't expect many mainstream SaaS products will result from this design style. And perhaps that's for the best.

Every reform movement has a lunatic fringe. - Theodore Roosevelt

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Hard Stops 9/26/2020 in St. Louis, MO

This one took me a while to figure out... Pre-Covid I didn't realize the value of my commute; it gave me a hard start and a hard stop to my work day. Hard stops are important! The best way to prevent yourself from drowning in 24/7 work is to set hard stops on your work. When you have kids, a wife, and other obligations this is relatively easy. I used to have hard stops because I would mark the end of my day with a much needed trip to the gym. But then Covid happened...

So how do we get back to setting a hard stop? Just the recognition of how essential a hard stop is can be the first step. Once you've recognized it's essential you can mark your hard stop with a transition. But that transition needs to be enticing enough for it to be a proper marker. It's easy to say, "I'll stop at 6." But if you have no real reason to stop at 6 you'll fly right by. If instead your 6 is time for a daily run, you and your spouse's hard stop, or some other generally important time, then you'll find it easier to let go.

I found hard stops especially difficult when I transitioned to startup land. Whenever my partner asks what I have left to do for the day I'm always dumbfounded. That's an impossible question to answer when there's always more to be done.

"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about." ‚Äď Charles Kingsley

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Importance of good early stage design. 9/24/2020 in Rural MO

I'm amazed by how easy it is for engineering when the UX makes sense and the UI is simple, clean, and beautiful. When the UI gets bloated but beautiful builds take far too long. When the UI gets simple but ugly, momentum and dev enthusiasm can stall. When you hit the trifecta just right of simple, clean, and beautiful is when the magic happens and momentum stays strong from build to release.

Design is content with intent. Content without intent is noise. Intent without content is decoration. - Joe Sparano

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Get away. 9/23/2020 in Rural MO

There's something magical about getting away from your normal working desk. Here in the middle of nowhere on a small farm chopping wood, fishing, and living life a little slower I've had a much needed change of pace and chance to breathe. And among that, I still have access to the internet so am thriving. A simple change of scenery can sometimes make all the difference towards sparking a little bit of renewed creativity.

It's an intangible feeling I love about mixing the old with the new. Mixing technology with farming. Mixing AI with manufacturing. I've always been attracted to the interface of antiquated industries and bleeding edge technology. On the farm I'm building and ideating on ways to take overhead drone images and measure ground water with computer vision techniques. I'm wondering about the best ways to install sensors throughout the property to create live feeds of important readings for soil quality, temperature, pressure, humidity, etc.

Reimagine what's possible. "We've done it this way for decades" is a key indicator for much needed disruption.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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First principles career alignment. 9/22/2020 in Rural MO

Align your mental models for work to yourself. Don't let your career be a gravity well of your time and attention. Start from first principles and work up towards a framework for taking action. It's always interesting talking to folks who have never even considered what they enjoy doing, what their goals are, and how to align passion and goals to work and career. I especially enjoyed Julian Shapiro's article What you should be working on.

My first principles framework for work and career looks like this: 

  • Exploration - work that enables me to explore and find new/exciting experiences that weren't otherwise possible.
  • Flexibility - openness to work on multiple projects and fields. As well as openness to timing, no strict 9-5 schedule.
  • Impact - have a profoundly positive impact on as many people as possible. This doesn't have to be curing cancer. It can be as simple as a smile or a laugh.
  • Wealth - money enables investing in others with similar views on impact and morality. It also enables good health, stable living, and opportunity to save more time by spending money.
  • Autonomy - no strict plans or guidelines. I¬†prefer large open questions that require deep exploration and new approaches to find the answer or reach a product/solution.
  • Innovation - I prefer to work on cutting or bleeding edge. I do not like previously solved problems.

Without labor, nothing prospers. - Sophocles

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Things change so quickly. 9/15/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I'm consistently amazed at how quickly things change when you're willing to take a few risks.

Build that product. Meet that potential co-founder. Go on that date. Take that new job. Build that side hustle. Hang out with a new group of friends. Actions both small and big outside of your status quo can reverberate through your life in massively unexpected ways.

I've noticed that in the last few years I've created a habit of constantly putting myself in uncomfortable situations. It has been unquestionably the largest contributor to my success and ability to try new things and figure out what I enjoy. And even more importantly it has shown me what I don't enjoy.

Step into situations you're not used to and lean into the discomfort of new ideas. You will be amazed at the opportunities that arise, the amazing people you meet, and the opportunities to positively impact the world that step into your life.

Let new experiences guide you to new realities.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Building great products takes time. 9/12/2020 in St. Louis, MO

It takes more time than you think. Great products you know and love were not built over night. Time to market is getting reduced substantially by the availability of APIs for damn near everything, the rise of no-code, and a massive ecosystem of tools and ready-made software for startups. Not to mention a decreased cost of labor; finding a talented frontend and often full stack dev for $30-40/hr is pretty easy these days.

All that said, building products takes time. As long as you're making continued progress each day in either product or distribution, you're on the right track. Keep building, keep testing, keep finding loyal early users and testers. Many companies can take long drawn out months and years to make it to a glimpse of product market fit. The glaring issue: some can work for years out of their parents' garage, others don't have that luxury. You might have a significant other and kids you need to feed. So we typically turn to raising capital.

Hard truth: raising early stage capital is difficult. It's a massive process. Outsiders think VCs write companies massive checks at the snap of their fingers. We like to make it seem like one can wake up in the morning and decide out of the blue it's time to raise money. For experienced entrepreneurs and folks with massive networks, this might be the case. But if you're a first time founder without connections in venture, angels to lean on, or even other entrepreneurs to help you get intros, it's hard! VCs are portfolio managers. Venture capital isn't a game. They have LPs that need to see returns or the future isn't bright for the firm.

So what's the solution? 

Investors need a sign of traction. Unless you're building something incredibly capital intensive like a piece of hardware or software in a heavily regulated environment, getting to an MVP and a few early customers is very doable on a bootstrapped budget. If you're a normal person without a prior exit, you almost have to have a very promising MVP or some early traction to attract a seed stage investor. In 2010, 9% of seed stage companies were post-revenue. Now that number is at 51%, only 16 points lower than the 67% of Series A companies generating revenue. [1] And of the companies not generating revenue who are raising big rounds, you better believe they either have great backgrounds or are well connected. For the 51% who have revenue, lots of their products are very rough early versions. Build that darn early product before spamming a bunch of cold emails to folks who have never heard your name and have no interest in your lack of product.

There are of course some options we oftentimes ignore. The privileged answer might be to wait until you have enough money saved up to go after this. Keep building after or before work, and once you've saved up enough money or the business has signs of growth you can consider leaving. In the meantime you can additionally fund the business or maybe hire part-time developers out of your day job's salary. Other options include biting the bullet and downsizing your life. Used to living in a $3,400/mo apartment with 2 bedrooms? How about a 1 bedroom for $2,400 in a less prestigious neighborhood? How about eating out less and wearing less expensive clothes? 

I wish we would be a little bit more honest about finances and the hard realities of building companies in startupland. Sh*t's hard and usually requires lots of sacrifice. If you're not ready to make a few sacrifices then maybe solving some problem isn't as important to you as you thought. Maybe you just love that type of work. In this case, identify high-growth startups and hop on rocketships. Join later stage startups with better guarantees. Newsflash to startupland: Series B startups are still very early and risky with a very high chance of failure.

All this shouldn't be discouraging. This should be further encouragement to focus on product. Build something spectacular and win the hearts of early customers. Then and only if you absolutely need it, think about giving a piece of your company away to an investor. Until then, keep that equity close to the chest like it's the ring of power. And once you've got the beloved product and positively growing base of early users, raising a seed round will be that much easier.

Buidl.

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2018/04/24/new-numbers-illustrate-how-fast-fundraising-has-changed-for-young-startups/

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Strategy doesn't acquire customers. 9/11/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Are you attacking a big problem? Let's define big. Big is that problem that plagues an individual or an organization. If it plagues an individual it may be a relevant problem for a B2C company to attack. If it's plaguing an organization it may be time for a great B2B product to free up some of that labor or potential cost. In any event, passion for solving some problem is what will get an idea from point A to point B. And if you realize once you've arrived that your product is solving a problem for only a small set of people then congrats, you've quite possibly built either a great small business or a bunch of tech you can use in your next pivot. And testing your market and building great tech are always value creating activities.

One thing that isn't a value creating activity is constant strategizing. 24/7 pivoting, strategizing, and never getting a win can kill your momentum. And momentum is everything in those early days. There are some interesting models for getting and keeping momentum. Some are small product drops prior to a bigger launch, customer partners building and testing early/glitchy releases, and building in public to attract testers, early users, and waitlisters. These are all activities that will help build momentum and build some early indicators of future success. Internal strategizing won't do that. Find your north star and execute.

Buidl.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Offense or Defense? 9/10/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Are you busy securing your flanks or attacking the flanks of someone else? If you're at an incumbent you're probably busy securing your flanks. If you're a startup you're probably focusing on designing for delight or building the future; maybe you're less worried about competitors. Fun fact: plenty of the incumbents are also ignorant to competitors. Many believe their businesses, deep wallet, and brand advantage are enough for their business to last forever. Fun fact, they're not. Smart incumbents are constantly innovating, taking out or acquiring competitors, and reinventing their businesses over time.

Idle incumbents are built to be disrupted. Either disrupt or be disrupted.

You see? Death comes to us all. But before it comes to you, know this: your blood dies with you. A child who is not of your line grows in my belly. Your son will not sit long on the throne. I swear it. - Queen Isabella, Braveheart

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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It's happening, whether you like it or not. 9/10/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Bad things will come your way. Your workload will be doubled, horrible viruses will sweep across the globe, and politicians will do stuff you don't align with.

There are certain things you can influence and control. Focus in on those areas you can impact and bring about change. Build the skills you need to be effective, make the relationships you need to move mountains, and put in the work required to realize the change you want to see in the world.

We're in this together. Let's build the future we want to see.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Tune out noise. 9/9/2020 in St. Louis, MO

In pursuit of signal sometimes we get blasted with an overwhelming amount of noise. Noise leads us down paths taken by the crowd. Noise causes us to chase distractions, credentials, and short-term satisfaction.

Signal cuts through the noise and shows us trends before they surface. It helps us find meaningful experiences, predict future outcomes, and even sometimes discover true parts of ourselves. Finding true signal takes work. It takes a willingness to spend long hours in the mud or in a haystack finding the needle. Get yourself in the right mindset to accept signal when it comes. We all are faced with a series of important challenges in our lives; make sure you're ready when your next challenge comes.

Predictions are hard, especially on the future. - Mark Twain(?) 

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Enable creativity. 9/7/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Hard work is important. The mission is important, and it takes hard work to execute on difficult things. However, stretching yourself too thin can hurt your creativity. For creatives who want to be productive it's a constant balancing act between letting your creative brain run and working on the stuff that matters.

Equally important to creativity are your physical and mental health. Read fiction, watch great films, eat great food, and exercise often. Good health encourages a healthy creativity muscle.

Ideate. Create. Reflect. Repeat.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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"Free your mind and your ass will follow." 9/6/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Focus.

Find your purpose and go after it. Minimize the distractions keeping you from your core purpose. 

Create positive change.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Do Something That Matters 9/5/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Learn. Teach. Grow. Repeat.

Build cool stuff. Create happiness and prosperity for others.

Create positive change.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Differentiating Content 9/3/2020 in St. Louis, MO

As content gets crowded by professional marketers and folks looking to make a quick buck, the play is no longer to maximize audience size (not that it ever should have been). The SEO folks dumping their listicles have that game covered. The goal is to write content that attracts a real audience. I've personally sourced all of my project help from email clickthrough after technical articles. I've built my newsletter with high quality readers from deep dives on Data Science, book recommendations, and other directly related content. And the quality of the discourse in the comments sections and my email inbox has a direct correlation to the quality of the article. If the article was even the slightest bit clickbait the quality diminishes exponentially. I've never received an email worth ignoring on the back of a highly technical topic. If someone takes the time to carefully understand a technical topic, they're likely the exact kind of reader you want to engage with personally and professionally.

Write something that matters.

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Rural America 8/30/2020 in St. Louis, MO

We've seen the broad decline of rural America for the greater part of the 20th century and certainly the entire 21st century thus far. About 99% of both job and population growth from 2008 to 2017 has belonged to metropolitan areas across the United States. [1] This isn't necessarily a bad thing on its own. But when we throw poverty levels in the mix it paints a far worse picture.

When we think about underinvested areas, rural America sits atop the list. Do we have a strategy for rural America? While population growth has stalled, down to 3% since 2000, about 17% of our population still lives in rural areas. This isn't some small group of retired folks who will pass away and solve the problem. This is about 50 million people, and they're not going anywhere any time soon. As a capitalist I can't help but think there's an opportunity here. Venture scale businesses certainly aren't going after this opportunity. The only real building we see in these communities are more gas stations serving as pit stops for our ever increasing shipping industry. The number of ag labor and other farmworkers in this country is a very small percentage of the rural occupants. The ag industry employees under 800,000 farmworkers total.

What sorts of opportunities exist for building businesses in/for rural America that will create opportunity both for a profit-generating business and a small community? Distribution is difficult because each community represents another place siloed from its neighbors. A shocking percentage of rural America doesn't have access to high speed internet. This might be a place to start. However, setting up infrastructure has high cost for little return in rural areas, so innovation in satellite and other alternative connectivity solutions seems preferred.

There's an opportunity here for profit seeking businesses to help lift folks out of poverty, improve access to education, and make a buck. Though I understand that these are hard problems and chasing another 0 marginal cost and high margin SaaS business is much more attractive to the average entrepreneur.

Some ideas that are top of mind: 

  • Better internet access for rural and remote communities. Work from companies like Loon is promising. Loon is a Google subsidiary that provides access to remote areas with high altitude balloons. There are a number of startups also working in this space.
  • Renewable energy - plenty of opportunity for on-ramping some of these open areas to the energy superhighways we're already building across the country. Putting folks in rural America to work building solar and wind is an opportunity for retraining -->¬†skilled worker -->¬†high output towards sustainability.
  • Community building - most rural communities are very tight knit. If you can build activities around the community and find a way to make it scale with easily repeatable infrastructure small town to small town you've got an opportunity. What would be the modern and higher margin version of a pool hall?¬†

Probably plenty of other lower startup cost ideas out there.

‚ÄćTowards a higher standard of living for the ~8 million rural Americans in poverty.

[1] https://theconversation.com/most-of-americas-rural-areas-are-doomed-to-decline-115343

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Is User Knowledge Important? - 8/29/2020 in St. Louis, MO

How important is a user understanding the end product they're using? What level of onus is on the product's creator to ensure intelligent onboarding, guard rails, and continuous information and teaching? Obviously products can't drape the sides of their apps vertically with disclaimers and privacy information (or can they?). But how is burying your privacy information in the footer a better solution? In complex environments like DeFi how do we keep the users informed on how their money is actually being allocated? How long before the SEC tries to limit some of this stuff to accredited folks? Is "protecting" investors really worth limiting access? DeFi will carry on regardless of the regulation; take down one node and another will replace it.

We're seeing billions of $ in inflows to some of these financial instruments that are quite sophisticated. Many of these instruments look like those which would only be available to institutions in traditional finance. Once we've placed insurance contracts and swaps and a whole host of other instruments in the hands of anyone with an internet connection, how do we ensure the end user understands the minimal amount of information to realize the potential risks? The inflows are from a mix of pure dumb money, intelligent tech but not financially literate money, and then some very sophisticated smart money. How do we set up systems that inform the dumb money without hindering the UX of the smart money?

This is applicable across all industries, but how do we decide which industries or which products should be held to higher scrutiny? And if we start to regulate some of these things, what sort of harm will we inflict to each type of user? What inequality will we create by prohibiting retail users from getting access to sophisticated financial instruments? What capability will we be stopping by forcing invasive policies and development time on startups building miscellaneous consumer apps? And how much will this regulation give players that don't care about the rules a competitive advantage? I'm fascinated by the multitude of critical questions that remain unanswered, largely those of ethics that exist across tech. I'm going to try to answer some of these questions in the coming weeks...

Towards a combined approach of creator transparency and end-user autonomy.

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Decentralization = Unbundling - 8/27/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I'm seeing a lot of interesting parallels between decentralization and unbundling. Decentralized Finance (DeFi) is naturally unbundling all sorts of financial services and I'm all about it. At the same time, it's creating friction that didn't exist previously. It's creating opportunity by removing barriers to entry for those who wouldn't qualify in traditional finance. But it's adding friction to the UX of those who would.

As we move towards more decentralization we may eventually see the great rebundling and centralization of many of these services (provided DeFi catches on) when things like rates stabilize. Many users simply don't subscribe to the same north compass that the libertarian leaning crypto maximalists may subscribe to. It's the same scenario as people who are perfectly fine with the privacy infringing hardware and services we invite into our home. "I don't do anything horrible where I should care if they're listening" is oft spoken in these conversations. They are willing to forfeit their privacy for the convenience the experience creates. Similarly, most are willing to sacrifice decentralization for the merits centralization often provides. Let's continue to improve the UX of DeFi and get to a place where we're at friction parity + some added perks. At that point we can market the decentralized future every day of the week.

Experiences make products, not platitudes.

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Don't Be A Hypocrite. - 8/25/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I'm doing some consulting for a startup looking to focus its product vision. It was a hugely valuable experience because in the process I realized I was being a massive hypocrite.

In my own startup adventures I had to seriously look inward at the product and be honest with how bloated some of our services and engineering efforts were starting to become. How could I possibly sit here and advise someone's team on focusing a product when I'm running a seriously bloated engineering effort? In a few short days I was able to start trimming where it matters, focus the product with my co-founder, and ensure we can better hit timelines without continually encountering scope creep.

My favorite read recently on engineering best practices and code management: https://klinger.io/

Look inward.

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Inspiration - 8/24/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Inspiration comes from many different places. It's personal.

As I wandered into the business world, especially into startups and early stage technology, I got caught up in the business podcasts, the addiction to revenue and metrics like CAC and LTV, and cohort metrics, and all sorts of other madness. And while these metrics are core to a business, they aren't core to my inspiration. Listening to business podcasts and reading business book after business book has dulled my brain and inspired imitation rather than originality and creativity.

I'm starting to rediscover the true sources of inspiration for everything I create. Sports motivate my work ethic and love to compete. Movies, music, fiction, and art inspire my creative muscle. Nature inspires my inner calm and ability to appreciate simple beauty. The city at night inspires minimalism. Hearing a story about how some business grew its revenue by 11% in Q3 inspires you to mimic someone else's behavior. We don't create a better world or magical moments through imitation.

Rediscover your true inspiration.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Product Minimalism - 8/23/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Unbundle. Take some key feature bundled up in an unfocused product and create something minimal that highlights the magic of that feature. Take the classic example of Craigslist unbundling listings from the newspaper.

But to be frank I'm far more interested in product minimalism. Bundling is too focused on unwinding a product or service from its companion products or services. Sometimes products are meant to be bundled and live with another product. It's hard to tell what features truly will live well on their own. Instead, build minimalist products that focus on solving an individual problem, and focus on solving it well. In the end you may find out you've built a tool that already exists but exists in a bundled form.

Keep building magical moments.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Batch vs Continuous - 8/22/2020 in St. Louis, MO

My Chemical Engineering, Manufacturing, etc folks will get this one. Treat life like a continuous process that needs constantly tuned. We far too often treat our lives like batch processes. Get the process going and keep moving and tuning and creating momentum. And when you really need to then shut the machine down and fix the recipe, lubricate your pumps and valves, and tune your setpoints just right. Once you've got it ready to run then start the continuous process again and build momentum.

Too often we treat life like a batch process and create highs and lows. We're happy in one moment and sad in the next. We turn on and turn off our brains and throw ourselves at something full force and then stop and then go again. Be more continuous and purposeful.

Foster more momentum.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Intangibles - 8/19/2020 in St. Louis, MO

It's the intangibles that count. It's possible that there are feelings we can't experience because we can't yet describe them in language. I can't quite describe the feeling I get from collaboration. Many people fail to appreciate its value and the special feeling it creates. I can't quite describe the feeling I have for the grimy dial up days of the internet. I can't quite describe the feeling after a long day of chopping wood or helping someone fix their car. Most of these feelings are intangible.

But in the end it's oftentimes the intangibles that have the most meaning.

Embrace the intangible.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Regulatory Nightmares - 8/18/2020 in St. Louis, MO

In navigating frontier tech, I've seen lots of folks in industry who are horribly discouraged by the barriers to innovation in their field. They become so used to roadblocks that they stop trying to innovate. I find some of these industries the most attractive, because in some cases they're decades behind less regulated industries. Technology that has fundamentally disrupted the rest of the world hasn't touched these insulated areas of our economy.

In particular, navigating QA and a slough of safety considerations in Manufacturing is often a large roadblock. Similarly, navigating regulatory and auditing requirements in Banking and Finance can be a blocker to innovation. How do you unlock decades of missed opportunity by carefully navigating safety and regulatory requirements? 

Let roadblocks represent opportunity.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Seek Discomfort - 8/16/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Push past limitations. Absolutely don't let expectations of others set boundaries on what's possible inside your mind.

I've found lots of strength in business, engineering, and writing because of leaning into discomfort from running, weightlifting, and other uncomfortable challenges. Similarly, taking a leap in business has helped me push past hurdles in sport. A life of comfort is a life of stagnation.

No pain, no gain.

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Information Exchange - 8/13/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I can't stop thinking about the importance of quality mediums for information exchange. How do we build better systems for delivering the content users are looking for. How do we tastefully push the boundaries of what a user is ready to consume? How do we help beginners flirt with intermediate content? And how do we help intermediate consumers start to flirt with expert ideas? How do we tastefully introduce the listener of x genre to y genre that shares certain sonic characteristics? 

Across all mediums of information exchange (text, audio, video, image, etc) we are constantly presented with this idea. Stopping at "related content" is copping out. The modern consumer of content is begging to be challenged. They find fulfillment in content that challenges them but doesn't overwhelm them. Podcasts reminded us that we love to engage with authentic voices that we first resonate with and then are willing to get challenged by. How do we enable that same boundary pushing across all mediums of information exchange? 

Tailor better experiences.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Modern Businesses Behave Like Curators - 8/11/2020 in St. Louis, MO

New SaaS companies are built on the backs of countless open source projects; they're acting like curators by picking the packages best fit for consumption. Consumer goods companies curate the most popular music, celebrities, and icons to represent their brands. APIs like Plaid curate the banks, brokerages, and other institutions for their API and then its customers curate Plaid as their interface to users' accounts.

Online businesses, software, and commerce in general are these massive graphs of underlying value creation, curated and consumed by the customer who then provides a unique service for the end-user. This in many ways is the modern equivalent to a Bill of Materials (BOM) in industries that have been consuming services and raw materials to create something fresh for decades. Very different medium and output, similar approach.

In a world of too much information, curators are essential service providers for the modern age.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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On Brands in Open Source - 8/10/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Authenticity wins out. But not authenticity for the sake of authenticity. Authenticity for the sake of, "I'm just gonna build cool stuff and if people like it then that's great. If they don't I'm gonna build anyways." Open source thrives on this concept. And open source doesn't just mean GitHub. It means any open information sharing on the web.

I've been exposed to this concept in open source for the last few years. Those articles I write which include sample code are always well received. Folks can take your micro contributions and build stuff on top. Those articles in which I spew platitudes, no matter how clever I may think they are typically get less engagement. Words are hard to build on; actions are a playground for new creations.

Build authentic interactions and moments in time.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Build Experiences - 8/8/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Don't build products, build experiences. How does your product make the user feel? Are you building a messaging app or a means of expression? Are you building a stock screener or helping someone become an independent analyst? Are you building a productivity tool or helping someone make their dreams a reality? 

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Drip Value - 8/3/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I've been building and sharing most things I do as open source code + articles since I started writing. Easily the highest engagement and highest amount of positive feedback has come from content that explains some concept and includes sample code. Nothing is more infuriating when someone makes a programming concept seem extremely approachable but writes some super vague pseudocode that only half matches up with their explanation.

This goes to a broader theme - drip value. People love these sorts of articles because they're pure selfless value from the writer. You are handing thousands of people the keys to the castle directly. It's amazing how many people are scared to do so because a.) they feel they will be judged or b.) they horde work. I promise that the outcomes of sharing your projects in the open will far outweigh the negatives of someone taking your code and building something cool with it. Oh wait, how's that a negative again???

Wealth is created by providing value to others.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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Curators - 8/2/2020 in St. Louis, MO

More content is being created than ever before. Thousands of video creators, bloggers, newsletters, journalists, and outlets programmatically pump out their next piece of content. Carefully crafted to hit the right keywords, reach the right audience, and tap into that sweet SEO juice. To find the content you wish to consume, it's important to find the right curators. Algorithms will recommend you that which you most click and spend the most time consuming. They will stop at nothing to serve you the content that best allows them to get you to click to the next piece of content, serve an ad, and capture your attention.

However, algorithms are woefully ill-equipped at finding you the niche article that sates your deepest desire for exploring the fringes of your interests. They often sacrifice standards for clickthrough and leave the reader burnt out. They favor title over content and listicles over narrative.

To better satisfy our curiosity and level up our content palette we need great curators. Curators are more important than ever. We can broadly throw curators into one of a few buckets: 

  • Content quality:¬†these curators will find you the content that best matches your definition of quality, regardless of topic. This can be a platform that sets a specific set of standards or an individual we might refer to as a tastemaker.
  • Subject matter:¬†these curators are experts in their field and act as gatekeepers to the badge of highest quality content in their field. They are well-connected and anyone who's anyone in their narrow field knows who they are. This can be a niche media outlet or an individual with deep expertise.
  • Gatekeepers: we mentioned gatekeepers for subject matter. We also have a broader class of gatekeepers who act to put on new creators. One of the fastest ways for a new creator to gain relevance is to orbit these gatekeepers. Their DMs are typically open and their standards typically aren't especially high. Some are true gatekeepers with high standards, others are more than happy to push distribution for any new creator.

Algorithms rule everything around me.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

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On Identity - 8/2/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Does your identity shape your decision making or do the decisions you make shape your identity? Is your identity reflection of who you want to be or who you are? 

Do you ever catch yourself after some action, speech, or thought wondering why you said such a thing? Is it possible that the voice in that moment was your true identity that you've buried underneath a sea of what you idolize instead of the values you truly embody? 

If you let a set of personal morals and truths guide your actions then perhaps the identity is born from whether or not you live out those truths. Or perhaps the identity exists irrespective of whether you live out your self-prescribed morals. Perhaps this partly explains the often wide gap between self-perception and how others may perceive you.

If someone could watch your every move and hear every thought, how different would their perception of your identity be from who you think you are?

Do you.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Build Products With Spirit - 8/1/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Keep in touch with what's in. Understand it and stay relevant. But stay on the edge of the bowl; don't let yourself drown in the milk. Hang out on the fringes and be ready to hop off the edge of the bowl when you can tell you are teetering. Following the crowd to a check is boring. Create markets, reinvent markets, and reimagine markets; don't bite at the heels and grasp at the coattails of trends.

Keep dreaming.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Find Someone Who Cares - 7/31/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Fully dispassionate people and cynics (usually) aren't worth your time. Even if you're attracted to fringe ideas (like I am), don't waste your energy on people without optimism for the future. We all have a part to play in building the world we want to see.

Don't settle.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Get Inspired - 7/29/2020 in St. Louis, MO

A life of going through the motions isn't worth living. Get passionate. Get inspired. Find others with that passion. Find others who you're willing to get in the trenches with and go to war with. Get passionate for your family. Get passionate for your friends. Get passionate for the world.

Let's get to work.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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On Tradeoffs - 7/28/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Engineering at startups can be largely summed up with one word: tradeoffs.

Every part of startup culture is ingrained with shipping quickly, fast iteration cycles, and moving fast + breaking things. And so as an engineer you're constantly presented with decisions with relatively clear short-term outcomes and potentially hazardous long-term outcomes.

"If I use this tool I can save a few days of dev time, but I'll have to pull it out and build it from scratch in a few months when we start to scale." 

This scenario plays itself out over and over again. We default to the technologies we're most familiar with, the paradigms we're most comfortable with, and the decisions that save the most time. But we also have to make these decisions without sacrificing security, meaningful usability of the product, and drowning in technical debt.

Much of this decision making depends on the nature of the product and the industry. You can imagine that in highly regulated industries or mission critical products we cut no corners and can't imagine being okay with only one 9 of reliability. But in a social media app or a productivity tool maybe you're okay with one 9 of reliability. Maybe you're even okay with no 9s of reliability if it means you're shaving a month off your estimated ship date.

Important technical decisions hit you square in the face every single day in an immature product and early-stage development cycle. Some don't like this level of variability and occasional lack of control. Me personally? I wouldn't have it any other way.

Embrace discomfort.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Why Write? - 7/27/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I started writing technical articles on quant finance and data science in college. A few years later I've grown and expanded as a writer, and it has served me in more ways than I would have imagined at the time. It has: 

  • Built me an audience of 500k+ peak monthly readers
  • Gotten me full-time jobs and freelance opportunities
  • Prompted cold emails from some talented folks who are now close friends
  • Exercised my brain and evolved my thinking
  • Helped me grow as an individual, constantly ideating and questioning my place in the world
  • Acquired the first users for my startup, the first subscribers to my newsletter, and the first clients in my personal consulting

And writing is just too darn important to overlook. Good writers can communicate well through text, the most important medium of communication in the corporate world. Good writers can change the thought process of their readers and leave a significant mark on the world. Good writing teaches us. Good writing transports us. Good writing inspires us.

Good writing lives on in the hearts and minds of readers for the duration of its relevance. Great writing has no such relevance boundaries - great writing lives on forever.

Write more.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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On the Appeal of the Individual - 7/26/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I'm deeply impacted by the personal stories of builders and dreamers who sacrifice much to conquer grand objectives.

I'm finishing reading The Infinite Machine by Camila Russo. It's deeply moving, not only because of my own development activities in the Ethereum ecosystem, but because the origin story revolves around a collective of individual actions by individual actors. Each contributor, with all their flaws and their capability, played an essential role in taking Ethereum from zero to one.

The real magic of startups is this individualism. We see it in the way we glorify founders. We see it in the way prominent VCs become deities and gatekeepers. We see it in the way success stories are told like they are that of ancient legend. But the real allure here, the lasting allure, is not in that of glorification. The real allure is in the sweat of a small group of committed individuals that creates something magical. The real allure is in that small group accepting the opportunity cost of leaving their jobs to chase a dream for a future where their ideas are realized at scale.

Dare to dream.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Good Tech is an Augmentation - 7/26/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Good tech acts as an extension of one's self. It enables human productivity and creativity in ways not previously possible. It seeks to unlock instead of contain. Products like AR/VR, AI assistants, and hardware like Air Pods are the most obvious examples.

But software can easily do the same - great productivity tools help us boost output while staying sane; personal finance apps save time by handling chores previously done each week; commerce apps help us distribute and acquire goods in more efficient ways, goods that we might not have otherwise had access to. Tech at its best in each category is a human enabler.

Good tech brings out the best in humankind. Build good tech.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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On Organizing Chaos - 7/25/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Good companies are chaotic. Great companies organize that chaos into controllable microservices. Standard employees play in a few connected microservices. Some go very deep on individual microservices. As you go up the chain of leadership individuals become more broad the deeper. The flatter your organization the more you can preserve leadership that have the depth to be useful.

In a chaotic company with poor structure the roles in massive companies don't really mean anything. In well organized companies, individuals can go deep in one area and step into another without immediately feeling overwhelmed. I only half joke by calling the preferred approach microservices. This approach really can work for any kind of hierarchy, from marketing, to product, to engineering.

Let all-stars start in their assigned box and gradually expand into 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th or higher degree chunks of the organization. A good leader/boss will know when to pull that person back and make sure they're not stretched thin to the point of burnout.

Build better models of your org to increase productivity.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Limitations of Human Creativity - 7/25/2020 in St. Louis, MO

Our rules, hierarchies, and approach to both work and creativity limit the total universe of possible outcomes. It's possible that in a world of different hierarchical structures and processes the outcomes are drastically different. Not necessarily better, but different.

Startups should do whatever they can to differentiate their process from the incumbents wherever possible. Many ideas are shaped by processes, not always the other way around.

Try on nonconformity every once in a while.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Take Time to Ideate - 7/25/2020 in St. Louis, MO

My best time to come up with new ideas is in the shower. I'm completely isolated from electronics and in a safe space that is perfect for ideas to live uninterrupted. But I noticed a problem.

The reason the shower is my default for ideation is because it's the only time I'm perfectly alone and isolated with my thoughts. There's an ideation muscle that's just begging to be flexed. My creativity is screaming to come out. It's only when I take a shower each day that it's able to express itself. Find times throughout the day to let it further express itself; do a better job of disconnecting and having more 1:1 time with yourself.

"You can't use up creativity. The more you use the more you have." - Maya Angelou

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Forget Remote, Let's Go Async - 7/24/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I'm thinking a lot about how best to build our startups team and culture as we grow. For now we're a handful of dreamers and some mercenaries, 8 strong. And we've been thriving as an asynchronous workforce from all over the globe. Covid benefited our culture because it saved us from: 

  • Expensive offices
  • Limited regional talent pool
  • Pressure to be in the office
  • Isolating contributors who can't be on-site

Being headquartered but remote first allows us to reap many of the benefits of officially working in a city and keeping our work remote.

Default to async for knowledge workers and reap the benefits: 

  • Higher productivity
  • Happier workforce
  • Lower employee churn
  • Lower costs of labor

Let workers define their schedule and leave or arrive when they see fit. Let them keep it fresh and mix it up or keep a routine. Let them define the work that best suits them and you've just flipped the narrative of boss from an act of parenting to an act of teaming up. You're there to empower your employees, not enslave them. Mission first.

Empower workers through better text communication and documentation.

Work smarter, not harder.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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On MBA & VC Platitudes - 7/23/2020 in St. Louis, MO

New things should be built using new processes.

MBAs, VCs, management consultants, and others shout best-practice platitudes 24/7. All of your favorite products and services were built with one general platitude in mind - how can we create outsized value for the users in the industry or vertical we're trying to conquer? And how can we reach those users and get as many to understand what we're building/what problem we're solving? Product and distribution.

Great companies happen to employ great business practices. Great companies do not exist because they employed great business practices. Great companies exist because they intimately understand how to build a great product and distribute that product. Empathy is their greatest strength. Empathy provides them with the feedback they need to iterate. And empathy provides them with the ability to identify best possible messaging and distribution.

When looking for investors and sources of advice, look for people with the skills to help you build or distribute, the networks to help you find the help you need, and the determination to help you best compete.

Be original. Be empathetic.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Career Gratification - 7/22/2020 in St. Louis, MO

People want to know they're having an impact. Good teachers get into teaching because they want to help kids. Good engineers get into engineering because they want to build a better future. At some point most people get disillusioned in their career because of various roadblocks: bureaucracy, life changes, a bad apple, and other common roadblocks.

One of the best things you can do as a former member of their network graph is show gratitude for the impact they had on your life. Send them an email, nominate them for an award, do whatever it takes for them to realize that they're appreciated and their contributions aren't going unnoticed. You would be absolutely amazed at the boost a simple email of gratitude can provide to someone who's stuck, or even the added boost it can give someone who's crushing it.

Stay grateful.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Corporate Innovation Culture - 7/21/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I enjoy talking with other early career friends who have spent some time in corporate innovation settings in the past. One theme that appears super lame is the general lack of interesting work that breeds a competition for the cool work.

In moving to the startup world it's a beautiful thing to see the opposite. The general sentiment is that there aren't enough people to work on the sheer number of problems we need to get to work solving. In our field of FinTech there are so many problems to solve with so many questions in regulatory, security, etc that people tend to shy away from pushing boundaries too much. Totally different narrative from the in-fighting in corporate America for the cool projects.

As they say, innovate or die.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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On Education and Learning in Startups - 7/20/2020 in St. Louis, MO

I've realized the reasons I hated school are the same reasons it's valuable. I hated school because I constantly felt like what I was learning was not necessary. School is valuable because it forces you to learn things you may not yet perceive as necessary.

Startups are so valuable as a method of learning because they force you to learn everything about everything by nature of necessity.

What will you learn from your next adventure? 

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Foster Magical Moments - 6/24/2020 in Cincinnati, OH

Taking a startup from 0 to 1 is about crafting a narrative that creates enough momentum to brute force your way into the conscious of customers and users. Powerful stories and products that give the user a magical moment are what create passionate early adopters.

The impact the dial-up days, early bulletin boards, and Warcraft 2 had on me will stick with me for the rest of my life and impact my future purchasing decisions. These were magical moments.

What magical moments will you create? 

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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I'm grateful for you. - 6/19/2020 in Cincinnati, OH

You're messy and flawed and sometimes lost, but you're wildly passionate, creative, and relentless. You dive right in and never feel threatened by not knowing the right answer. You believe barriers are meant to be broken and stand up for the bullied.

You have tons of ideas and frequently share them, but you also know when to shut up and listen, and you have deep empathy for others. You aren't afraid of your emotions and let your true north guide you to the right answers. You don't know how to take no for an answer or conform to the expectations of authority. You constantly reinvent yourself and believe identity is highly mutable. You've never wanted to be a part of any club that will let you in. You don't try to be different, you are different. You're you.

I'm happy for who I am and where I'm going.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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Pivot Your Way to Success - 1/14/2020 in Boston, MA

Don't get married to your idea. Don't let ego and fear of external perception control your roadmap and development time.

Be flexible.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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On Collaboration - 1/13/2020 in Boston, MA

This week I spent time with my co-founder whiteboarding after a few months of remote ideation. Our remote ideation creates magical moments, but our in-person collaboration tends to produce something else entirely, something a little more tangible and special.

Collaboration when nurtured correctly between true ideators is incredibly powerful. Create ideation safe spaces where decisions are passion-driven but impersonal. Do everything you can to squeeze out the deepest fringes of creativity in your partner(s).

Collaborate more.

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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On Networking - 11/19/2019 in San Francisco, CA

Your value is largely derived from your network. As a startup founder this rings especially true. I can't imagine starting a company without the friends, contacts, and acquaintances I've picked up along the way.

Two unique examples:

Co-Founder's past life was in film, because of this he has tons of connections we can lean on for VFX, sound design, etc.

Through my writing on Medium I attract engineers and Data Scientists with similar interests to contribute to projects.

How will you build your mafia? 

You can email me at: luke [at] spawner [dot] ai

Or reach me on Twitter / LinkedIn

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