Well, a very cool trend is happening at Hacker News - people are posting "Offer HN" threads offering advice and help. The first one seems to be "Will Work for Karma" by todayiamme, which kicked the whole thing off. My favorite is "Tax Help for Startup Entrepreneurs" because there's a lot of insight and analysis just in the thread itself. I like learning about law, but it's damn expensive to learn about either in time or money. That said, learning law can save you a lot of money when you write a contract correctly or when you have a company buyback shares instead of purchasing them yourself when buying a partner in a two person partnership out.
After a bunch of "Offer HN" threads started kicking up, there were two discussion topics, both by guys I respect. "Please stop offering your services" and "Please keep offering your services" by Swombat and Jacques. There seems to be a few themes going on:
1. Some people think this is really cool and nice of people.
2. Some people are skeptical of the intentions of people doing this.
3. Some people don't want to see HN get bogged down/clogged up by this.
Let's cover those in reverse order.
First, if it gets out of control and you want to see news without offers, Paul Graham implemented http://news.ycombinator.com/offerless - no offers there. So that solves that problem.
Now, let's talk about intentions, which is why I wrote this one. There's some skepticism of people's intentions, so I wanted to explain why I've made offers to help people in the past generally (though I haven't made an Offer HN), why I did it, and how they've been received.
If you look at any profile of mine anywhere I spend time online, you'll see "Drop me a line, email me, let me know how it's going, let me know how I can help." Surprisingly, not many people reach out to me even though I get quite a lot of visitors to sebastianmarshall.com (70,000 unique or so in the last five months, 250 to 650 per day on a normal day, some more on RSS). I really, really encourage people to drop me a line, and it doesn't happen so often. I haven't kept track of the exact numbers, but definitely less than 500 times.
I had a lady reach out to me maybe a month ago about putting together some basic tracking and measuring of habits. This is something I've spent a lot of time on personally, am pretty good at, and always enjoy helping others with. I wrote, "Hey, drop me a line" on a tracking post, she did, and we had a nice back and forth on email. At the end, I said I was glad she dropped a line, because not many people do for some reason. I remember her response - something like, "Well, most of the time someone says to contact them, they're not really trying to help, they're up to something, so people get kind of skeptical."
Something like that. Then I was like, oh yeah, duh, I should've realized that. Look at all the free offers out there for stuff - most of it isn't designed to actually help, it's just whatever marketing with "FREE" painted on top of it. It's got the letters f-r-e-e, but no real spirit underneath it.
So, when someone offers to help, they're oftentimes met with skepticism. I get that. Which is too bad, because I've made some really cool connections with people when they reached out, really cool people like Sami Baqai and Sam Snyder and Stefanie Zobus and many, many other smart and cool people.
Why do it? This is why I wrote this post, to explain people's motivations. Here's why I do it - first, I figure if I connect with and do something nice for 100 people, 90 of them will be ungrateful and not even notice really (if this seems high, start paying attention to to how often you receive great service without explicitly showing appreciation for whoever gave it - when I started paying attention to this, it was much higher than I had thought). 9 out of 100 people will be very gracious and cool and thank you, and that's the end of it. But 1 out of 100 people you really make an awesome connection with, and they become a close friend or colleague or someone you do amazing stuff with.
One of my best friends I met when he wrote me asking a difficult technical question at a company I was running. For whatever reason, I was inspired and wrote him a many-pages, two-hour-long reply. There was no indication that there'd be any work or anything to come out of it, but he later contracted me for a job, we had a good time and I did good work, and that might have been the end of it - except he said I was welcome to stay with him if I'm ever in Los Angeles. Later, I did as his guest, we really hit it off, and now we've done tens of thousands of dollars of business together, cross-shared tons of knowledge, gone skiing together in Japan, lots of good stuff. That one experience and connection alone is worth all the time I've ever put into helping people x1000. Then he was cool and offered to have me as his guest, I took his offer, and that's when we became close friends.
I've got other stories like this, plenty of 'em. I try to spend my entertainment time connecting with people. It's more interesting than watching TV. Usually I learn quite a bit sorting through someone else's marketing, or logistics, or contracts, or recruiting, or management, or strategy, or goal setting, or health/fitness, or writing/editing/creativity, or whatever else. And yeah, it benefits the world, but really that's a distant secondary consideration. I offer to help people because it's more interesting than watching TV, and 1 out of 100 people I connect with are going to become close friends or colleagues or we'll otherwise have adventures together.
Which brings me to the final point - I think the Offer HN threads are awesome. I hope it continues. I've got a hell of a week coming up, I'm heading to Malaysia this morning, and I've got tons of stuff to do upon arrival, but I'll probably post an Offer HN myself in about a week when things settle down. In the meantime, everyone's always welcome to drop me a line. Yeah, I'm busy, but I'm always busy, and there's no better time than the present. I'll clear the inbox with a massive blitz in a couple days or so.
I foresee one challenge coming up with Offer HN - people who say, "Limited supplies available! Act now to get a free piece of junk!" - that one's no good. But if people are putting forward legit offers to connect with others and do interesting stuff, and ideally share/feature some of the lessons and results from it - that's going to be awesome.
So I say party on, Offer HN, party on.
You can see all the Offer HN threads at:
HN users getting driven crazy by them can bypass them here:
Nice- I agree with you on the Offer HN posts. There will probably be some great stories that originate from those.
Interestingly, the other day you said "drop a line" to me, and I thought that was awesome. However, I also thought "This guy has so much going on and probably gets a lot of email from readers..." so it was interesting to hear what you had to say about it. I never thought "This guy has a motive... maybe he's going to hit me with a pyramid scheme or other garbage!" Now you have a (new) reader's perspective.
Have a good one!
Two days ago I wrote the Genius and Tragedy post. It was extremely controversial - very popular on one hand, but got some very strong visceral negative reactions. I'd like to share with you what I've learned about writing, so I can step my game up and improve. Also, I got some downright hateful comments made about me, some really bad and terrible stuff. If this has never happened to you, maybe you don't know what it feels like, and I've got some advice on how to deal with it. I also did some detailed reading and analysis of the kinds of comments I got, and there was some fascinating results that I'll share.
So, first and foremost, I made a mistake - If you're writing to help someone, it can be pretty presumptuous to do it without touching base and clearing it with them first. I made that error for a few reasons - first, two of my best posts have come from the same format, and both achieved their desired objective. ("How do I write so much, you ask?" and "I think greatness is something you do, not something you are" both publicly called people I like out - and both times it worked) - so that's the first thing, I'd had a good track record with this, however those were people I'd been touching base with already.
Second, as a general principal I believe in working really quickly. I analogize it to "fighting out of formation" - quick, lightly edited writing is always worse than well-edited best practices. But, the more you do of it, the better you get at it. And by producing anything really quickly, you get better faster. If someone produces 10 times as much content, how long until their lightly edited work is superior to the other person's highly polished work? This isn't a rhetorical question - check out "Quantity Always Trumps Quality" on codinghorror.com sometime. If you produce quickly and of lower quality at first, you can iterate and improve, and eventually your quick production work is better than the obsessively refined person's work who isn't getting as much done (and thus not learning the lessons). Pablo Picasso talked about this quite a bit, if you're particularly interested on the topic.
The downside, of course, is that you make mistakes. And I did - I should've touched base before writing that post, or had it vetted, or at least, spent more time editing it to be clear, concise, and unambiguous, and even more polite. Mea culpa - my mistake! It's okay for me to work quickly and bring errors upon myself because of it, but I need to be more careful when involving others.
Then, why is that post still up? This is what I wrote as the episode was winding down, it was well-received by the community -
So, a few days ago I decided to drop everything and focus on Life Nomadic. I've done the focusing, now it's time to do the dropping.
I'm hoping that some or all of my businesses can be taken over by readers. As I've met readers over the years I've been really impressed with most of them and would trust them to run my businesses.
For each I'm happy to stay involved in a minimal role, offering advice and strategy, doing interviews to promote things, etc. I just can't be involved in running them or worrying about them. When I've been in this role in previous businesses, things have gone very well.