Understanding HTTP Basics

One thing that always surprises me when teaching a security class to developers is how little they understand about HTTP. Sure, everyone knows that a HTTP 500 error is a problem on the server, and 404 means the file is missing, but few actually understand how HTTP works at a lower level. This is critical to understanding most web application vulnerabilities and will help you be a much better web developer, so lets dive in!

Skip this if you have a decent understanding of HTTP. Otherwise, it will be a great refresher. First, let’s start with the super-basic before we quickly move into more advanced topics — HTTP. HTTP is the protocol that is used by web servers and browsers to communicate. HTTP is based on a request and a response.

When the you type in a webpage URL in the browser and hit Enter, the browser makes an HTTP GET request. Here is an example of what that looks like:

There are a few things worth noting in the screenshot above. Let’s take a look at the first line. First, the HTTP “verb” is GET, which is generally used to retrieve a document, image, or other internet resource. We will look at the other verbs in a minute. Next, the webpage being requested is “/home”. Anything after the “?” are parameters, which come in key/value pairs. Finally, the HTTP version is provided, which in this case is 1.1.

The rest of the lines are HTTP headers, which do things like: tell the webserver what website to retrieve, based on the domain (Host:); report the user-agent and acceptable encoding and language; and other browser-specific options.

From a security perspective, we need to be aware that parameters in the querystring get logged all over the place, so we want to make sure nothing sensitive or important goes there (think passwords, email addresses, or API keys).

Another HTTP request is the POST, which works almost exactly like the GET request except the parameters are sent in the body of the request instead of on the first line. This is good for security since these values are generally not logged by default on webservers, proxies, or other software as the request is transmitted over the internet.

Other request types are OPTIONS, HEAD, PUT, DELETE, and a few other more obscure values, however GET and POST are the most common. Let’s take a look at the HTTP response:

HTTP responses are similar to HTTP requests in that they are text based and contain HTTP headers. On the first line above, the HTTP response returns the HTTP status code. When everything is going right, this will be 200 OK. Below are the list of status codes which can be returned:

After the status code, some server headers are sent, including information about the type of server and software it’s running. Next, the body of the response contains the data we requested, which is generally HTML, CSS, Javascript, or binary data like an image or PDF.

Since HTTP is a text-based protocol, it’s easy to make HTTP requests. You can try this by running telnet and connecting to an HTTP server and then manually making a HTTP GET request. Try it yourself by typing “telnet google.com 80”.

Then, when telnet connects to the webserver, you can manually make an HTTP request by typing:

“GET / HTTP/1.0 (return, return)”

This should return the HTTP response for the homepage.

That’s it, now you know the basics of HTTP. Here are the important parts:

  • HTTP is a text based protocol
  • HTTP is made up of requests and responses
  • HTTP responses have a status code

Now that you have that covered, check out some hacking tools in the blog post Web Hacking Tools: Proxies.

What People Really Mean When They Say “I Want To Learn How To Code”

There are two important things to know about coding education:

  1. Most people don’t actually want to learn to code
  2. Learning to code doesn’t mean one thing anymore

It’s important to know these two things because otherwise the way we teach people about coding is wrong, and people won’t learn.

The first point I’ve seen over and over again. People who tell me they’re going to learn how to code, then they start learning, and they think it’s boring as hell.

I call it the coding fallacy. People think they want to learn to code but what they really want to do is build a product.

When we think about it, this should be fairly obvious. Knowledge of code in and of itself is not valuable if you can’t do anything with it. So for most people the biggest motivation for learning to code is building something (although a close second is getting a higher paying job).

That brings me to point number two. Learning to code doesn’t mean the same thing anymore.

It used to be that in order to code you had to know almost everything about computers (hence the term “Computer Science”). Then things were abstracted to the point where you didn’t really have to dive into certain topics unless you really needed to. For example, as a web application developer at this point I need to know very little about system administration because it’s mostly done for me by tools like Heroku and Amazon Web Services.

So when people say they want to learn how to code, most teachers start where they assume they should (where they always have), with data types, the various structures of a language, and help students develop a deeper understanding of computers.

The problem is that’s not what people want. They want to build something. And we should no longer take for granted that in order to build something you have to learn everything about computers or even coding in general.

For example, if someone is already working with a great back-end developer, it would make sense to just teach them the front-end, because that’s going to be the most useful thing for them. They will actually get what they want done faster, and they will be able to learn the back-end at a later point in time. By doing so we reduce the cognitive load on the student and enable him or her to learn faster.

There’s so much that could possibly be taught about coding that we need to start identifying at least semi-complete subsets that someone could learn. At the very least I want to pose the following important distinction I’ve learned:

  1. Web development
  2. Non-web development

When you’re developing for the web you specifically have to deal with:

  • HTML
  •  CSS
  •  Routing
  • Databases
  • Hosting/DNS
  • Application structure

There’s a lot here to learn. And most of it is pretty irrelevant to non-web development (except databases and application structure obviously).

The way I see it, most coding education involves a bait and switch. It goes like this:

Student: “I want to learn how to code.” (But what they really — but don’t know enough to ask — is I want to build a web or mobile application.)

Teacher: “Okay let’s start with data types.”

Student: “…”

(2 weeks later)

Teacher: “Now we can design efficient algorithms.”

Student: “But I just wanted to make a cool-looking website!”

As teachers, we need to recognize that when people say they want to learn how to code, they often really mean that they want to build a web or mobile application.

That’s because to them, that’s what coding IS. It’s all they’ve ever been exposed to about coding. The problem is that they don’t know how to ask for it! So we shouldn’t just be taking everything they say at face value. It’s our job as educators to read between the lines.

I remember watching a play a few years ago in which a priest says that you have to tell the truth even in difficult circumstances. The person he’s talking to asks: “but what if someone asks you a question and you know the truth will hurt them?” The priest responds: “When someone asks you a question, answer the question they are REALLY asking.”

In education as well, you have to read between the lines to figure out what people really want. If they’re asking some specific thing, you have to guide the person towards what’s going to lead them towards their ideal learning experience.

So it’s up to us as educators and as experts to guide people in the right direction and not just let them flounder. If we can do this, then we can empower a lot more people to do amazing things.

As a student: learn what you want to learn.

One of the best things you can do in your own learning adventures is learn a little bit about a lot of things — so you know what you want to dive deeper into later. Here at One Month, we’re launching a Learning Library in the new year, a free resource of videos, essays, and information on topics related to coding, design, and entrepreneurship. It is your first 1 minute, 1 day and 1 week of content for any subject.

Why Should You Incorporate Your Startup In Delaware?

Startup Series: Why Delaware?

Why should you incorporate your startup in Delaware, even if you’ve never been there?*

A whole lot of companies in the US are incorporated in Delaware, even if the company doesn’t actually exist there. One Month, for example, is incorporated in Delaware, even though we’re headquartered in New York (and we’ve never been to Delaware)!

The reason? There’s a body of law in Delaware where many court cases have already been tried, so companies and potential investors have more certainty about how different legal disputes will turn out. It’s riskier to incorporate your startup in a state where the outcomes for legal problems don’t have any legal precedent, and it’s unclear what would happen if a case were to go to court.

For investors, it’s also more attractive for them if they know you’re incorporated in Delaware, because this gives them more certainty. If your business has a legal question and it needs to be figured out in the court system, investors prefer the certainty of knowing that previous cases have established precedent (known as case law) in this state.

*Of course, for questions specific to your particular situation, it’s best to seek the advice of an attorney or accountant.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ideally, you’ll be incorporated in Delaware (you don’t have to live there to incorporate there) because many of the laws and cases have already been figured out
  • The steps to incorporating a business are fairly simple, and there are people who can do it for you.
  • If you try to do it the manual way, it can be more complicated, but still do-able.

More Links:

Startups + Fundraising Series:

The Newbie Guide to Ethical Hacking

I hack websites. I’ve been doing it for a long time, across various industries, tech stacks, and programming languages. When I tell people what I do, especially those in the tech community, they often ask how I started and how can they learn more. So today, I’m going to give you a quick intro into the tools and tricks to get started with web hacking. The best way to start is to dive into the details, using some hacking tools.

Here’s how I recommend starting:

  1. Understand the tools of the trade
  2. Understand common attacks and defenses
  3. Practice on test sites

Since we will be focusing on web hacking, a basic understanding and/or refresher may be useful. If so, check out my post on, “Understanding HTTP Basics,” then come back. Don’t worry, its pretty simple but lays the groundwork for later.

Tools of the Trade

The first thing I think anyone trying to get involved with web app security needs to know is how to use the most common web hacking tool, the proxy. Proxies let you intercept HTTP requests and responses, allowing you to fully understand how a website works and lets you uncover security issues. I wrote a post, “Web hacking Tools: Proxies,” which walks through installing and using the most common web proxy used by security people, Burp.

After you spend some time using a web proxy, it’s pretty eye opening to see how some of your favorite sites work, under the covers at the HTTP layer. This is also super-useful during normal development to debug and troubleshoot web application problems.

Common Attacks

Next, you need to gain an understanding of the common attacks hackers use to break-in, so you can test your sites and code for these vulnerabilities. You should check out my article on the iCloud attack here. OWASP provides a list of the top 10 attacks. This is a great place to start, although I should warn you that some of them get into the weed fairly quickly. Once you understand those, you can review sites you build to make sure they are protected.

Practice makes perfect

Armed with your first hacking tool, the web proxy, and an understanding of common attacks, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge to the test with a few hacking challenges. There are a few great sites out there where you can learn and try out hacking techniques without being worried about breaking the law. These are a few of my favorites:

After you brush up on your skills, you can take it to the next level with a few public bug bounty programs. These programs are great because they pay for you finding vulnerabilities in public websites, such as Google, Facebook, and Paypal. Make sure you read all the rules before starting:

If you don’t want to deal with these companies directly, you can also join a bug bounty program through a dedicated bug bounty company. These work with various businesses to test security using a pool of freelance hackers, including you! These two are the best:

Some People Say Ruby Is Too Complex for Beginners…

Is Ruby the right programming language for beginners?

One of the biggest criticisms I hear lobbed against learning Ruby as a beginner language is that Ruby has so many different ways of doing things. People say that these different ways of doing the same thing makes it hard for beginners to learn.

To be specific, here’s one example of this argument that I read on reddit recently in response to my earlier post, Why Beginners Should Learn Ruby on Rails:

“Ruby almost always has 100 ways of doing any problem, and frequently the user-submitted examples on Stack Overflow are meant to dazzle rather than instruct.”

or

“So much shorthand and so many options that when I’m trying to learn one particular function, I get 100 different users telling me to do the problem 100 different ways, none of which helps me understand the thing I’m trying to learn.”

This is true.

Ruby in particular has lots of instances where there are multiple, equally good (and sometimes not equally good), ways of solving the same problem. But rather than that being a weakness of Ruby, I actually think the flexibility of the language is an incredible strength, especially for beginners.

But rather than that being a weakness of Ruby, I actually think the flexibility of the language is an incredible strength, especially for beginners.”

You see, there’s no one way that you learn something, and whichever way sticks is usually the best for a beginner.

Here’s an example.

In Ruby, there’s the select method (in Ruby, functions are called “methods”), which lets you take a list of things and pull out a sub-set of that list.

It looks like this:

list_of_numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]
list_of_numbers.select { |number| number.even? }

Even if you’ve never coded in Ruby in your life, read that second line and take a guess at what you’re going to get. That’s right, you’re going to get the sub-set of even numbers: [2, 4, 6, 8, 10]

There’s a second way to do the same thing. It’s called the find_all method.

So instead, you could write:

list_of_numbers.find_all { |number| number.even? }

What do you think you’ll get here?

Right! It’s exactly the same result as the select method.

So why does Ruby have at least two ways of doing exactly the same thing?

It’s because the people who created Ruby were inspired by a few other programming languages — Perl, Smalltalk, and Lisp are a few — and they borrowed the different names for doing things from those languages. Also, it happens to be really easy to write a method once in Ruby and just point other methods to it. That’s not as easy to do in other languages.

So why is this an advantage?

Well, because you don’t have to remember both of these ways of doing things! You just have to remember the one that works for you. I almost always use select.

Doesn’t this get confusing? Maybe, if you’re looking at lots of different people’s code. But by that point you’ve already learned that select and find_all are the same, and it’s not so hard to figure out. Language is a lot like this. There are many ways to say the same thing in English:

Language is a lot like this. There are many ways to say the same thing in English, which enables creativity.

I’m happy, I’m cheerful, I’m pleased, I’m delighted, I’m jolly, I’m beatific, I’m glad, … do I needto keep going?

The flexibility actually opens up creativity, which I think is one of the coolest parts about a language like Ruby. Meanwhile, in most other languages when there’s only one way of doing something, if you don’t remember that way then you’re screwed.

Another clear example that people like to hate on all the time: parentheses.

In Ruby, parenthesis are optional in methods. So are brackets { } a lot of the times, and you can basically use either single quotes or double quotes interchangeably.

Take that same list from before:

list_of_numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]

What if you wanted to see if it included a particular number?

You could use the include? method:

list_of_numbers.include?(2)

But you could also leave out the parentheses in this case (and lots of Rubyists do) because it’s prettier and easier to read:

list_of_numbers.include? 2

Sure, there’s a few rules about this. You have to put a space beforehand instead of parenthesis (otherwise Ruby would think you were trying to run a method called include?2 which doesn’t exist).

The point is, you can try many different ways of getting at the same issue, and get an answer to your question in many ways. Rather than get stuck on needing to know the exact way to write something, you can solve your problem in more than one way.

The same is true for software applications, like AutoCAD. As a user, you can type into the command line, navigate towards a button, or use drop-down menus. In addition, you can choose to draw a line with at least eight different tools (line edit, polyline, arc, points, etc). One way isn’t better than the other — they’re just all different tools for drawing. Having many different ways to get shit done makes it easier for people to remember the technique that works best for them.

Flexibility! It’s a beautiful thing.

I’ve never understood why people thought that having multiple ways of doing something was a bad thing. When you’re first learning, you have to grasp and understand whatever concepts you can, as a starting point.

Meanwhile, a language like JavaScript is a truly hard language for beginners to learn, because there are so many specifics that don’t come naturally to a beginner, and you have to do them that way. I’m not saying you can’t learn it, but the amount of times I’ve heard beginners so frustrated they were ready to give up because they’ve forgotten a “;” somewhere and have no idea where.

If you’re interested in reading more about why Ruby is a great language for beginners, check out Why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby. It’s one of the most beautifully and interestingly written pieces about programming, and is one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with Ruby in the first place.

And then, if you want to learn more about Rails, watch our free one-minute video or check out our Rails course to go build your first app.

Learn How to Launch An MVP In One Minute

Key Takeaways

A Minimum Viable Product centers upon the idea that you should release a new product ASAP. Don’t spend nine months building all the features. Instead, build the most important features — just enough to learn whether or not people even want the thing you’re making.

Repeat after me: an MVP means getting the most learning for the lowest amount of effort. Ask yourself, “How can I get this product in front of people as quickly as possible?”

Example of Minimum Viable Product in action

  • Dropbox started as an MVP
  • Here at One Month, we use Launchrock to build a landing pages, and to collect email addresses for classes that aren’t yet in development. This helps us learn which classes are most in demand.

How to Learn to Build an MVP Today

  1. Steve Blank, and Eric Reis: Read about the experts and follow them on Twitter (5 minutes).
  2. Data Drive Products Now! (slideshow): Check out this cool case study from on Etsy developer Dan McKinley (12 minutes).

Additional Resources

If You’re Not Embarrassed By Your Startup, You Launched Too Late

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” — Reid Hoffman

If your startup is successful, no one will remember how ugly your product looked the day you launched. (And if it’s not successful, no one will care.)

When we think about successful companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, we tend to forget the modest beginnings from which they came. As Paul Graham recently wrote, “Think of some successful startups. How many of their launches do you remember?”

In celebration of modest beginnings, here’s a dose of reality: I recently came across the landing pages of some of the most successful companies we know. This is something everyone should see.

The moral of the story: don’t name your company BackRub. Also, don’t worry about making something pretty, worry about making something people love. As Reid Hoffman (the founder of LinkedIn) once said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

It’s easy to say “have a growth mindset,” and “follow lean startup principles.” It’s a lot harder in reality, when you have to launch quickly, and put out versions of your product that feel unfinished, raw, or even ugly. Take a look at the startups below, and how they launched their first product — and maybe you can launch a little earlier. Or a lot earlier.

(Credit goes to Phil Pickering for finding these.)

Twitter’s first landing page:

Early Facebook screenshot:

Early Google homepage (from 1997):

The precursor to Google, BackRub:

An even earlier Google homepage:

Yahoo!’s homepage in 1994:

Early tumblr dashboard screenshot:

Early Amazon homepage screenshot:

Apple circa 1997:

AuctionWeb before it became eBay:

Burbn (a Foursquare clone) before it pivoted to… Instagram:

The first ever prototype of Foursquare (shown at SXSW in 2009):

Reid Hoffman’s original LinkedIn:

And finally… Reddit (some things never change):

What stands out to you? How would you have designed things differently?

It’s easy to think that you need to have a great design and get everything polished before you release it to the world. In reality, you should launch things as soon as you can, as quickly as you can, to get validated learning. The Lean Startup talks about this as validated learning — getting immediate feedback from users as to what they actually want, not assuming you know all the answers.

How can you launch a beta version earlier? Why is getting feedback on a somewhat-shitty design more valuable than perfecting a design that no one wants? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

Creative Email Campaigns: Why an Online Education Company Sent an Email About Football

Can a coding company send a relevant email about football? Or will we just spam our friends and students?

Every week, over team brainstorms how to reach out to people in clever, funny, and interesting ways. We don’t want to clog up your email inbox (annoying!) or send messages that just push sales (boring). Our aim is to inspire, delight — and just maybe deliver something unexpected in your inbox. Our company is focused on accelerated learning, experimentation, and a little bit of quirkiness.

Last week, our team had to think about how to connect over football. (At least American football, because the Super Bowl was this weekend — some of us are soccer fans, or what the rest of the world knows as “football.”)

“I don’t understand football, honestly,” I admitted sheepishly to my colleague.

He laughed — “Me neither!”

“Wait,” I said. “Can we go with that?”

What if I sent an email about football and asked people to teach me what they knew? We crafted an email to reach out to people and sent the following:

What happened next was pretty cool. Over 200 people wrote back to me, and I spent Saturday morning hanging out and writing replies back to folks.

A lot of people had REALLY funny things to say, and I have to say, you taught me a lot about football. Moreover, I got to know several hundred faces in the One Month community and get to know a lot about who reads our blog, what they’re interested in learning, and — of course — what they know about football.

The thing is, we’re always learning here at One Month, and when there’s something we don’t know much about (like football), we want to learn from each of you. Thanks for taking the time to write in and teach us. It was a great way to learn about y’all.

Here are some of the highlights of what you shared and taught us about football:

“Football to me is all about memories, nostalgia and loyalty. Just like a group of developers get together and nerding out over the latest grunt or rails package, football is a common thread that we can all get behind to rally for — regardless of race, religion or any other preference.” — Andrew

“It’s like a new episode of a TV show every Sunday and Monday, except it’s a very real business with very real people.” — Shafiq

“The Super Bowl is like Thanksgiving in February: Your family wants to do a big dinner and bring everyone home for the weekend while you secretly wish you were drunk with friends watching the game without having to talk about what you’re thankful for.” — Saif

“I felt similarly to you, until I was watching the Ravens take on the 49ers in the 2013 Super Bowl. Suddenly, I saw the strategy, the patterns, how each team used each play to advance further along the board. Each player had a role, a specific skillset and position. The coach and quarterback coordinate to take control of the game. The game is even more complex, as each position is dynamic with injuries and individual player performance. In order to win, you must keep track of a strategy that is constantly changing in response to the other team’s moves, players, and the end objective to move along the board and win the game. I’m now a fantasy football addict.” — Melinda

“It’s a national ‘Sickie’ day in the UK on Monday for those that stay up to watch.” — Howard

“You mean the Katy Perry concert? The show opened and closed by some soccer thing?” — John

“Loving a football team is like working at a company. So when your company/team does well you feel like you did well. Even if all you did was cheer in the stands or write emails asking about football, you share the glory of your team’s success.” — Taylor

“It may not look like it, but there is real grace and skill behind it, both individually and on the field and as a team. The things these players execute are as athletic and sometimes as elegant as figure skaters or gymnasts, even on the Offensive or Defensive lines (the pile up).”

“They are trying to open up or close down gaps where someone might run or throw the ball, and like sumo wrestlers, they push against each other to do so, leveraging their bodies to knock the opposing blocker down. The game is also deeply rooted in American history. Listen to this week’s Radiolab for the full version, but it does come out of a tradition where guys had to show they were tough…because previous generations of men had The Civil War and wars in the west against native Americans to really show their toughness. Teddy Roosevelt had to intervene to make the game less brutal (people were dying on the field playing the game)…the biggest thing to come out of that era was the forward pass.” — Ian

“Every play is an opportunity for strategy. It’s like playing a more complicated version of rock, paper, scissors. Whatever both players just picked will affect each player’s decision in the next round. And both anticipate the other side’s anticipation of their own behavior, leading to a sort of strategy arms race.” — Peter

“I’ll probably get punched for saying this, but one of my favorite things about football is honestly the food and beer/whiskey, then onto friends and family and lastly it’s the game.” — Brandon

“At a basic level movies are great because they transport you to a different world (the willing suspension of disbelief). Football fans experience something similar; when your team is on the field nothing else matters, you’re in a different world.” — Michael

And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe these videos will:

In addition to all of the helpful commentary, we also got a bunch of links, videos, and references. Radiolab did an exceptional piece on American Football, and the YouTube videos we got were hilarious. Here’s a few of the best:

Andy Griffith explaining football in this 1953 commentary:

Bad British NFL Commentary:

And a Guide to American Football:

What about the haters?

As Taylor Swift says, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate …”

You can’t please everyone. As a marketer and a long-time communicator, I’ve learned this through trial and error. You simply cannot please everyone. One of my favorite branders and designers says that it’s better to have a brand that’s both loved (and hated) than to have something that people feel indifferent about.

With emails — the only way you can have zero unsubscribes is if you have no one on your email list, or if you never send any emails at all. We track all of our open rates, subscribes, engagements, and unsubscribes and we learn from every campaign. (The highest opened email of all of our blog campaigns so far has been the “Drunk Mode” video release.)

Everyone has different opinions, and for the football email we got a couple of replies (just a few, thankfully) that sounded like someone got out of bed on the wrong day. (In that case, I just crank out the T-Swift and keep going).

In one instance, someone said:

“Who the *bleep* is Sarah?”

Right. So, hey y’all. I’m Sarah. I joined the One Month team to help them with creative writing, copywriting, marketing, and content creation. You can see all the awesome people on the One Month team on our about page or check out the recent talk Mattan and I did on content marketing last week in our free webinar (info below). I’ve been writing a few blog posts and I’ll be writing new essays on accelerated learning, growth, and ideas here on the blog. (If you want us to cover anything specific, or you have a question, just leave a note in the comments or reach out to me by email, happy to chat).

Another person more politely asked: what’s the point of this email?

Emailing is a conversation — it’s not just blasting information and shouting at people. If you use it creatively, it can be a way to get to know more of the faces at One Month, including many of our students, friends, and alumni.

Out of 200+ responses, we had three grumps, hundreds of awesome explanations, and a lot of conversation. As a marketer — which to me, means conversationalist, you’ve got to hold space for dozens of conversations with tons of customers, students, and people engaging with your brand. How do they interact with you? What’s the overall tone and reaction?

Several people cheers us for not selling anything —

“Great (and engaging) email. Way to not sell anything, and not be offering anything, but still be interesting. Well done!” — Josh

“I admire your willingness to dive in and learn about this wonderfully complex game. I hope that you received some clever tutorials.” — Jay

In addition, being able to explain a game — a process, a strategy, a theory, a team — is much more similar to understanding coding and creation strategy than you might expect. Here at One Month, we think learning new things is fun, and we might continue to surprise you every now and then — with new classes, interests, ideas, and questions.

Or email campaigns.

In all the responses I got, I learned so much from everyone, which resonates with our own spirit of wanting to learn, well, everything. Lee is practicing to become a world-champion DJ, and Mattan is teaching himself to play piano. Chris and Mattan take improv classes and I just signed up for my first singing lesson. What can I say? We’re nerds who like accelerated learning.

Thanks to everyone who played along! Hope you enjoyed the sport, the entertainment, and the conversations. We had a blast doing this.

We’re constantly experimenting with what we send people — developing a style and then testing out new things to see what we can tweak, improve, and better. If you want to learn more about content marketing and how to communicate in a way that’s different, unique, and fun — check out our content marketing free webinar or our upcoming class launching the last week of February.

In the end, the highest email open rates come from creative emails.

In our free webinar, Mattan and I chat about our top ten quick-wins for making content that actually gets shared. We break down the definition of content marketing and share ten strategies for engaging with your audience in a more meaningful way. In our upcoming class, we’ll be breaking down what content marketing is, who’s doing it really well, and how to construct email campaigns, experiments, and incentives so you can grow your own business, brand, or project.

And last but not least, the email winners:

Also, I have to announce the winner!

We had so many creative replies. Congrats to Craig Morrison for having the funniest response. You made me laugh out loud.

Here’s what Craig wrote:

The best part about football is the singularity of the sport.

It’s just you, versus your opponent.

You’re both surrounded by thousands of people, staring down at you as you play, all intensely watching your every move.

It’s intoxicating, knowing those players and the pressure they’re under.

Seeing them play what is much more a mental sport than any kind of physical one.

The sweat on your hands, the racquet slipping from your grip as you swing.

The pain in your knees you barely notice as you sprint across the court to take a last ditch effort at hitting the ball back to your opponent.

Wait that’s Tennis, football sucks.

PS: Don’t get me started on football, with all those different clubs and the tiny white balls. It’s barely even a sport.

And congrats to the following people who also sent amazing emails:

Also, bonus congratulations to Melinda Pandiangan for your awesome storytelling and sharing that football is about patterns, strategy, and complexity. Scott Johns explained that that football strategy is more like game theory than crushing humans, Caroline Bagby for sharing her evolution from not caring to learning all about the game to becoming a marketer for the Patriots (and subsequently learning all about the game), Jeff Charleston for giving some insight into the game (having played a super bowl himself!), and Yonathan Ayenew for reminding me to stick to my guns and read a book if that’s what I want to do next. You all rock!

What’s the best email campaign you’ve ever received? What do you love getting in your inbox?

Take Control of Your Career And Create Your Own Learning Curriculum

Learning online is overwhelming. How many times have you started a class and flailed about, looking for the right next steps?

In today’s rapidly accelerating world, we’re all trying to learn as much as we can as quickly as possible. If you’re anything like me, however, this means you can quickly get overwhelmed by all the choices.

Today we get to learn from Mathias Jakobsen, Internet entrepreneur, creator of Think Clearly, and Learning Designer at Hyper Island. Mathias has also curated workshops and learning sessions for the entire team at One Month, and helped our team find our own way as we grow. He took time to share with us his thoughts on learning, online education, making your own career path, and what to do when the transition feels clunky and uncomfortable.

How to chart your own learning path — An interview with Mathias Jakobsen

Sarah: We have a lot of students who are in the middle of career transitions — they’re learning new skills so that they can either get a new job or start an entrepreneurial project on the side. What is some advice you have for students who want to learn new skills but aren’t sure how to begin, or where to start?

Mathias: Make sure to check in with your motivation.

Why do you want to learn this skill? Is it because it might make you money which might give you better life conditions? Or is it because you are truly fascinated and want to learn because you are curious? Or something else? Of course, they are not mutually exclusive, and just because you are motivated by curiosity doesn’t mean that you can’t use the skill to make more money. But I think you will always be better off if you can dare to be honest with your motivation.

I think you will always be better off if you can dare to be honest with your motivation.

If you know that your main motivation is to make more money, then you need to keep that in mind when it gets challenging. How will you deal with getting stuck when it feels like you are not making progress for hours or even days? That’s when you are most likely to give up.

Perhaps you can give yourself a set number of hours and trust that if you truly spend 100 hours trying to learn this, it doesn’t matter so much if you feel stuck for parts of it. It’s a mindset shift from certainty to probability: you will never know in advance if you will be able to learn a new skill and make money from it, but you can define clear steps and conditions that will certainly increase your probability of succeeding.

If you are truly motivated primarily by curiosity, then it will be less challenging.

But if you are not honest with yourself and tell yourself it will be easy because you are curious but actually you are motivated by something else, then when it gets difficult, you will get discouraged and give up.

It’s important to dare to dream precisely about the future you truly desire.

In my coaching work with entrepreneurs I have often helped people dream about what could be possible instead of being stuck on all the things that are currently not possible. The trick here is to be very specific and precise. For example, someone might say that they dream about more money. They also have lots of other ideas and visions, but most people I meet seem to also have this idea of “more money.”

But they have never radically considered exactly how much more money they really want, what exactly they would do with it and what that might concretely look like. Do you want $200K annual salary? Do you want a million? Why not ten million?

So I ask people to tell me how they would spend their money if they had unlimited funds. What exactly would they buy? Most people start off making variations of the same list of all the things that society teaches us that we should desire: one or more luxury homes in a various metropolises, a boat, a plane, a fancy watch or two, some cars, some people are into helicopters, all organic food from Whole Foods, a private chef and so on.

Then I ask people to be more precise and to look up the price tags on all these items so that we can figure out how much money they would actually need to get everything they can dream of. But you can’t look up the price tag of “a fancy car” so you need to decide: is it going to be an old Ferrari F40, a Mercedes AMG SLS or a Bugatti Veyron? All three?

Do the research. And where will you park them? Who will clean that beach house when you are not there? It takes time, but what happens when you keep pushing yourself to see the specific details and make all those little choices, is that suddenly the dreams begin to feel more real, and when that happens, you can begin to realize that most of these are actually not your dreams.

Imagine that life with the specific things in it that you want. Draw it. It can be very motivating.

And then you can begin peeling off the layers and uncover the things you actually want in your life. Again, with the same precision. And don’t be ashamed if you (like me) dream about a vintage Rolex GMT-master. It’s a beautiful watch. Imagine that life with the specific things in it that you want. Draw it. It can be very motivating. But you need to dare to shamelessly let your desires run wild first and go as far as you can into the wanting. See what happens.

You need to dare to shamelessly let your desires run wild first and go as far as you can into the wanting.

Why is it important to continue to re-invest in higher education as you grow older? What are the smartest leaders doing that other people aren’t doing?

Change is happening very fast today.

And the only thing that we know is that it will never again be this slow. It will only get faster. Companies have shorter life cycles. Technologies are being adopted faster. Information travels further and faster. Our skills are getting outdated all the time and need constant updating.

As I see it, learning is the only solution.

And not just this course or that course. But learning as a fundamental attitude is the only sane way to approach the future. Investing in education is just a piece of the puzzle.

What are some of the key tools and aspects of ongoing growth that you see people engaging in?

There is no tool for this. The tool of today may be outdated before I’m done with this sentence. It’s the attitude that matters.

An attitude of curiosity and openness to what’s new. You don’t need to like it or love it. But try it once or twice before making up your mind. I recently tried the new Periscope app. I thought it was stupid. But I pushed myself to try. I had so much fun. I was so surprised by how truly engaging and interesting it was. I was just walking down the street, filming, live-streaming my life and telling the camera that I was on a mission to buy ice cream for my wife. Suddenly there were people from all over the world watching, commenting, interacting and I felt like a human. I felt they cared. I truly felt that. It was incredible.

Three days later I deleted the app and I haven’t used it since. Was it a failure? Does it matter? I spent a total of about 30 minutes playing with it and now I at least have some sense of what it can do and particularly I can understand why others might love it. I explored. Get curious.

Do you see common mistakes people make when digging into self-learning and/or career transition?

People get stuck in all kinds of places. Most often people get stuck in one of these four places:

  • Trying to do it alone, and thinking that they need to (and are supposed to) know in advance, rather than going into it with an explorer’s attitude and taking notes along the way as they uncover, discover and figure it out.
  • Second, not taking the time to properly understand their true motivation. They set out to do something — a bit like a New Years resolution. They want to “lose weight” or “implement a new strategy” but they don’t put in the time and effort to understand why it truly personally motivates them to do this. You need to keep asking yourself “why is this important to me?” And for each answer you ask again “and why is that so important to me?” It typically takes at least seven steps, and often more. And often there are forks because there are multiple answers and each must be explored.
  • Third, people fail to clearly and precisely specify the goal: how much weight to lose. What exactly they want to see as a result of the new strategy. A good guide is to ask yourself: “is the goal so clear that I could give the instructions to someone else and hire them to unambiguously judge if the goal is achieved or not?” It must be something they can actually see with their own eyes. You must be able to track your progress, even if you don’t know exactly the results you will have in advance.
  • Finally, people don’t break their goals into small enough steps. They overestimate their own ability to change and they underestimate how powerful it can be to make tiny changes. If the steps are not clear enough it’s super difficult to act on it.

“Being more organized” is a great ambition to have, but what’s the step to take? Perhaps the first tiny step is to schedule just 10 minutes every week to make a list of what has been most disorganized that week. If you do that for five weeks you may not instantly become more organized but you will have better insight into what specifically is disorganized in your life.

Then the next step may be to pick one of the smallest things that kept showing up. Then, treat yourself. You are on the way to becoming a lot more organized by taking this first small and incredibly crucial step. You are shifting your perception of yourself from being disorganized to being someone who slowly but surely will become organized. And yes, this will not immediately solve your inbox and the clutter on your desk, but remember you’ve lived with the mess for years now anyway, so it can probably wait another few months.

If you could teach people three things, what would it be?

To seriously explore their own wants and desires in a precise, honest, ongoing and systematic way. Not to act on every desire, but to know what they are. And to get rid of all those that have simply been pushed onto you, as I wrote above.

I also strongly believe in taking notes and using tools that help you slow down at least temporarily. This shift in mind tempo seems to be very beneficial for seeing the longer threads that get lost in the haze of rapid (but small) changes that we see day to day.

To reflect regularly in order to integrate thinking and feeling and to discover and learn about yourself in whatever situations and experiences you go through.

To be kind to others. Both for the benefit of the other, but mainly for the benefit of oneself. Part of this is learning about yourself and what situations where you find it more difficult to be kind. Being late for a meeting and waiting on a busy subway is not a situation where I personally find it easy to be kind and let others on the train first. So I try to always be very early for things. If I haven’t eaten properly I also find it hard to be kind and sharing with others, so I try to ensure that I get proper meals. This sounds stupid when I write it, but it’s really important.

You are a learning designer with Hyper Island, a company that focuses on the development of individual and company leadership growth. Can you tell us a bit more about your work at Hyper Island and the process? What do you do, and how does it work?

Hyper Island is a creative business school, and we consult with extraordinary individuals around the world. We enable organizations and individuals to see the bigger picture, engage, and act on opportunities that arise in our digital and technological age.

My primary job is to create a learning journey for the participants, which takes them from where they are and to where they can be, using whatever resources I have available in the form of speakers, sessions, workshops and our methodology.

The first step is to know where the participants are in their lives, companies, and experiences. I often do interviews with them or others do the interviews and I read the results. For some of our open classes, there is also bit of a filter for who signs up in the first place, so it’s not completely random. However, for some of our tailored programs for companies, the interviews are absolutely crucial to understanding where they really are and what they need.

The journey has several stages and we design different experiences and elements to best suit each team. There can be a lot of variation from one workshop to another, but some of the recurring elements are:

  • Build trust amongst the group. This is important for everything that comes after.
  • Set a clear precedent or example of the type of participation that is expected (this is not a class where you get to lean back and just listen, you will be asked without warning to discuss a question that seemingly has no definite answer, and still come up with one clear answer in a small group, in just 120 seconds, so get used to it) This might make people uncomfortable at first. That’s part of it.
  • Encourage space for self-assessment. Where am I in relation to X? Where are the others in the group?
  • Gather input. This can be powerful stories, ideas, concepts.
  • Lead exercises and workshops. Building on the input, pushing participants to do something with the material. Putting material into context and applying the skills they are learning enables them to take it home with them more permanently.
  • Self-reflection. Participants learn “what does this mean for me?”
  • Group sharing of reflections.

These are the elements of a learning journey, and within this journey, we can go through stages like “opening up and seeing the big picture” into “experimentation with a new attitude” and finally “planning, execution and implementation.”

Take us into the transformation of a participant. What are they like when they arrive, and what has changed when they leave?

People arrive with expectations.

Maybe they expect a traditional class with lectures. Others come on the recommendation of a friend, and while they have no clear understanding of what will happen, they have very high expectations because their friend told them it would be incredible.

One of the first things we ask people to do is to share something that they normally would never share with others. It catches people off guard, and with little time to prepare, most people simply go for it. They are pushed to be vulnerable in front of a whole group. I think it’s pretty intense for the participant. But it also opens up the space so much after.

Some of our speakers are really good at pushing your thinking. To let go of some of your ideas and beliefs and judgements. Or at least consider how the world would look if you saw beyond your own judgement. That others might see it differently.

By the end of the first day most people express that they feel that their head is spinning. People report not being able to fall asleep.

The morning of the second day it’s time for quiet reflection and introspection. I love this part of the journey. We ask people to write down their answers to a set of questions that gently guide people into their memory, then into their emotions, then into critical thinking and eventually to consider larger implications of their new insights. It all happens individually, in silence at first.

Because most people don’t take the time (or have the time) to sit quietly and reflect, it can be super powerful.

It’s legitimate because the facilitator asked you to do it, and everyone else is doing it. I personally hate when some senior executive feels that he is so important that he must check his e-mail during those minutes. It’s like pissing on everyone else.

The second day of the journey is very creative and the experience for most people is that they suddenly tap into creative resources they never knew they had. It’s hugely empowering. The climax is typically at the end of day two.

On the last day it’s time to gather the new learnings and come back down to earth. To devise concrete action plans for putting the new stuff into practice. To solidify the learnings into an understanding or a framework that they can take with them.

When they leave they are less afraid.

They often say this out loud, but even if they don’t I can feel it. That’s probably one of the main reasons why I work here. It’s so hard to think clearly when there is fear. We help people leave lighter, less afraid.

As a school, you do this predominantly through face-to-face interactions. Tell us more about why in-person interaction is such an important tool.

Most people have really bad habits when they are in front of a laptop. The rapid Cmd-tab multi tasking shortcut is so hardwired into my brain that if an app or site is remotely unresponsive I will instinctively jump to another app or site while I wait.

Even if I have nothing to do there I just do it because it feels like I’m wasting time waiting for something else. This might be rational from a certain efficiency perspective. Back in the day when downloading a large PDF might have taken 50 minutes, I’m probably better off writing a few e-mails rather than waiting for the file to download while staring at the progress indicator.

But today the lag might be half a second before I switch. All it does is make me feel scattered and it’s simply a bad habit that I haven’t managed to change. I think we all have such habits, which most of the time are not that big a deal, especially if we are doing lots of little admin-style tasks, responding to tweets and other things that require no more than 3 second bursts of concentration. But for learning we often need more focus. Especially if we are trying to learn something that is not easy.

Face-to-face is by no means a silver bullet for this. Many learnings environments are so dull and boring and disengaging that you are probably better off just randomly surfing interesting Wikipedia articles on your phone than paying attention to the lecture or training that is being presented. We have all been there. It sucks.

You can make both online and offline teaching boring as hell.

However, let’s consider a session that is highly engaging but with content that is also difficult, challenging and hard to comprehend. For this I think that face-to-face sessions with a group, the way we do it at Hyper Island and many other places, can significantly help people stay focused and engaged because there is interaction and because it’s very easy to see that nobody else is “checking out” with their phones so it creates a social pressure to not do so.

The room creates a certain force of attention which both fuels the presenter with energy but also makes it less demanding for the participants to hold the attention because it’s already flowing in the room.

The other thing that can be much more effective in person-to-person, is building trust, which can be crucial if you want to have an engaged and engaging conversation or discussion in a learning environment. Trust can of course also be created online, but in my opinion it just takes a lot more time and effort. Probably because we have less non-verbal communication (body language, scents, touch etc.).

One of our challenges at One Month is in building this type of community online: in your perspective, what are the pros and cons of online education? When does each thrive?

I obviously love doing live, in-person learning experiences, but I am also realizing that it has so many limitations. It really doesn’t scale well: if you add more than 30 people in the same room you begin to lose the interactive experience, and it becomes like a conference instead.

It’s also geographically limited to people who are in close proximity to each other, or who are willing to travel. For brief learning sprints of 2–3 days this is not an issue, but if you want to really go deep in something it’s usually better to come together as a group on a weekly basis and then do individual exploration in between.

At Hyper Island we don’t believe that online education can replace some of the personal and organizational transformation work we do through our courses, but we do believe that integrating the online and offline can be tremendous. By using both, you can create a blended experience where some of the early trust building work happens in person and most of the deep dive and implementation happens virtually.

This allows us create much more valuable learning experiences. We are curiously exploring and experimenting in this space. We definitely haven’t solved it yet, but the opportunities are so massive and the fact that it has transformative potential on a truly global scale makes me really excited.

When does online learning excel? What is special about being online and connected in a way that we can’t do in person?

What online can do much better is to make the learning path individual. Each person can move in their own tempo and it can even be non-linear. One might choose a different order of learning.

What online can do much better is to make the learning path individual.

You can also do a lot of things that are not synchronised. This allows people to learn together from completely different locations and time zones.

I think online learning can excel when:

  • It’s social — an actual group of people who are learning together and who are committed to getting to know each other just like you would naturally do offline. This means taking the extra time to build trust. To small talk. To talk about the stuff we care about personally outside of the stuff we are learning. Who we are as people. What we dream about. I think it’s best when it’s a pretty small group. Even if the small group is also part of a huge group, I think a sub group of 5–10 people is ideal online. Everyone takes the time to have 1:1 conversations. Using something like the NYTimes 36 questions to fall in love, could be a simple 30 minutes activity that everyone does with each other (that’s two full hours for each person in a group of five)
  • What is to be learned is already well documented on the Internet at large (most stuff is today)
  • The teacher’s main job is to give the group the questions and directions for exploration.
  • Assignments that the group must solve together or maybe in pairs and which has some form of creative output. The teacher knows that it can be solved. The teacher has defined a reasonable format and time frame for the task. And the teacher is available for support if anyone gets really stuck.
  • The groups present their findings to each other.
  • The teacher also designs the experience so that there is a reasonable progression and adjusts based on the feedback of how well the groups solve the challenges. So the initial exercises are simpler and require few steps but they build up resources, knowledge and confidence which can be incorporated in later and more complex challenges.

You also write a newsletter, Think Clearly, based on your years of work with entrepreneurs and business leaders. What is the process you use when working with entrepreneurs? How do you help them clarify the noise and focus on what’s important?

I listen and ask questions.

More concretely, I have also used certain spaces and places that are not so ordinary, in order to help people get out of their normal habits.

A busy coffee shop can be fine for some meetings and for long time clients where we have built our habits and ways for working, we can do the conversation in the most distracting place and still be 100% focused.

But when you are first starting out, a quiet and slightly strange place can simply be more effective. I have used the lobby in the TriBeCa Grand Hotel for years. They serve great coffee, the staff is super friendly, and it’s quiet with high ceilings and skylights, yet, dark and intimate. It’s perfect.

You recently had a brand-new baby. How has she helped you reconsider the world? What do you see about the world through your children’s eyes?

The three things I want to teach everyone (above) are probably what I will teach my kids.

I think being a father is amazing for me. I feel so grounded in that experience and in having a family where there is so much love flowing around. My wife is incredible.

No matter how many miles I fly away to the other side of the planet to run some workshop, I feel grounded in them and I am happy that I both get to go away and then to come back home.

I learned that it’s very important for me to be doing work that I truly care about. Because then I take the energy I get from home and invest in my work, and I get a different kind of energy from doing the work which I can then bring home.

I also realize that while I have very reasonable hours at Hyper Island (I work pretty much exactly 40 hours per week), I still don’t see my kids that much. I see Noah for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening and then on the weekend. But I know that when we are together, I’m a dad that brings home energy from doing something that matters to me. I work because it matters. It also pays for our rent, but I honestly feel that’s an added bonus. If I were independently wealthy I would still go out and do work that I care about because I want my kids to see that.

We’ve talked before about the magic in the mundane — how the smallest of things can make the biggest difference in life changes. What mundane things are magical in your own life? Can you give a few examples?

Magic: baking bread. Mixing flour and water and salt and making delicious food. Baked loaf 326 yesterday.

Changing a diaper can be such a rewarding experience. When I pay attention it has a lovely mix of intimacy but also efficient choreography of moves and swipes which can truly be mastered as an art form.

Sometimes just seeing the lit up NYC skyline from the packed subway car passing over the Williamsburg bridge after a long day.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned this year, personally?

That my kryptonite is that I want to be liked by others.

I realized this a few weeks ago and it is so hugely liberating to know that this is the case. I think it is quite common actually, but I never knew for myself, and it limited my scope of action. From now on I may still limit my scope of action, because I still want to be liked.

But now I know it and it is my choice, and I know I can also choose a different action outside of that scope if I am just willing to risk not being liked. I tried it recently and it was hugely empowering even though it was such a tiny thing.