How Online Communities Thrive: An Interview with Fizzle

What does it take to be a thriving online school with an engaged, active community? We’re not the only ones building online schools here at One Month, and we frequently reach out to our friends and neighbors to ask them what they’ve learned along the way, and how we can be doing better.

We sat down with our friends at Fizzle, because we love what they’re doing with online community building. (Confession: I’m a member of the Fizzle Community, as well as about a dozen other online schools. I’m sure you are, too).

Fizzle is an online education platform and community for independent entrepreneurs building businesses they believe in.

Tell us about the Fizzle journey: how did it get to where it is today?

Fizzle is the brainchild of Corbett Barr, Chase Reeves, and Caleb Wojcik.

Corbett and Caleb were previously running a site called ThinkTraffic.net, where they used Corbett’s startup and programming background to help online entrepreneurs understand how to build a successful business by growing their traffic and email lists.

Their original vision was “to teach people how to build fun, profitable and sustainable independent businesses, creating a community of smart ambitious micro-entrepreneurs.”

Corbett and Chase met at a conference over a shot of Fernet (yes really, over Fernet). Corbett hired Chase to redesign Think Traffic, and they worked so well together on the project that they talked starting a new company together.

Their original vision was “to teach people how to build fun, profitable and sustainable independent businesses, creating a community of smart ambitious micro-entrepreneurs.”

We’ve stayed true to that vision to this day.

What do you teach?

Everything we teach is centered on helping independent entrepreneurs make progress in their business week after week. Our ultimate goal is to build an end-to-end curriculum to help independent entrepreneurs at any stage and across many different business archetypes.

Specifically, our courses include things like Choosing a Topic (business idea), Defining Your Audience (target market), Email Marketing (build a list), Podcasting (beginning and advanced), and the Just Ship it Challenge (for building and launching products).

How are your classes shared? How do people learn with you?

People take classes through monthly membership at Fizzle.co. Our courses live in a library and students are guided through them by the small business roadmap. We created the roadmap to help link different resources together to help our customers reach a specific milestone, like launching a website, or earning their minimum viable income.

How our students share what they’re learning with each other is every bit as important as the courses.

We’re also big on community at Fizzle, so how our students share what they’re learning with each other is every bit as important as the courses.

How many members have you had in your community to date? How many active members do you work with each month?

We’ve had over 8,000 members to date and we work with more than 2,000 members every month.

Who is responsible for community management? How much time does it take, and what does it involve?

We think of community management in terms of “member success.” In 2014, we hired Barrett Brooks to be our first director of member success. He took on that role for a year and just recently passed it off to Steph Crowder, who joined the team from Groupon, where she was leading their sales training team.

We think of community management in terms of “member success.”

Steph wears a lot of hats around Fizzle, so the rest of the team helps balance the community management workload to give her a bit of a break.

It’s been said that people “come for the content, stay for the community” — what are your thoughts on this quote?

We’ve definitely seen this to be true. We’re big believers in “just in time learning,” which means our customers should only take courses when they need them to make the next breakthrough in their business or to learn a new skill that will help them make meaningful progress.

We’re big believers in “just in time learning,” which means our customers should only take courses when they need them to make the next breakthrough in their business or to learn a new skill that will help them make meaningful progress.

When you encourage your customers to avoid just in case learning, it means you have to have something else to keep them around in between courses. That’s where our community has been so crucial for our business model and so valuable for our customers.

The relationships our customers have formed with one another thanks to our community has been remarkable. Whether it’s using the forums to find a mastermind group, encouraging each other in their progress logs, or showing up to local meetups, our community has been invaluable.

Chase shared a story in one of his podcasts about reading through all of the comments and getting to know every person in the community when he was getting started. Can you share a bit about this story? What did you learn? Why is this so important?

To Chase, the purpose of design is to make something useful for a specific group (or groups) of people. Chase read every comment to get inside the heads of the audience for Think Traffic. He wanted to know what they were struggling with, what their dreams were, what they were saying in comments vs what they had actually accomplished in their own businesses and why they were coming to the site to begin with.

That process helped him decide what was most important on the site and led him to emphasize the resources that were most valuable to the reader while still keeping Corbett’s goals in mind.

He also made it look very pretty, which was a bonus.

Tell us a little bit about how people’s lives are transformed when they use Fizzle. What are people like when they first join your group, and what changes when they ‘grow up’ or ‘graduate’ from the community?

Our customers always say it better than we can, so here’s a quote from one of them:

“The content provided on Fizzle exactly fits where I’m at, and more importantly it fits who I am. I have developed more expertise in the past three weeks than I had in the previous 6 months. The confidence that comes from doing technical things myself, like setting up auto responders and adding a payment button, is empowering. Fizzle leaves out all the fluff. The tutorials cut to the chase (no pun intended… well… maybe a little bit). Your team boils down huge concepts into essential, practical, achievable steps without alienating the most important component: my driving passion to serve the way that only I can.

I have been introduced to inspired, passionate people through Fizzle: Chase, Corbett, and Caleb to start with, but also Leo Babauta, Chris Johnson, Scott Dinsmore, Seth Godin (indirectly), and more. As a result of those connections, my voice, and the accompanying message, is clearer and more confident than ever.

“While I find great value in what I learn on Fizzle, what makes it most valuable to me is how it creates an environment where I can learn from myself.”

While I find great value in what I learn on Fizzle, what makes it most valuable to me is how it creates an environment where I can learn from myself. Your team creates that learning space exceptionally well in regard to online business. I do that exceptionally well in regard to personal growth. My own story of personal transformation has inspired me to create that space for others to learn from themselves, and with the resources provided on Fizzle, I will succeed.”

This story is similar to so many we see in the way our customers develop through their learning and connection at Fizzle. Many entrepreneurs come to Fizzle a bit jaded by what they see across the web about “making money online” and overnight successes as compared to their firsthand experience. It’s our job to help them set more realistic expectations and then give them the support and education necessary to reach their goals.

The most common story we see is that of an entrepreneur who has just gotten started. She has launched her business, perhaps even built a product, but has not seen the kind of results she hoped for. She joins Fizzle to find out where she went wrong and to get support from like-minded entrepreneurs.

She joins a mastermind group, finds her place on the small business roadmap, and then starts to see small improvements. She interviews customers to understand their fears and dreams. She redesigns her website and rebuilds her product based on what she learns. She writes copy from a place of authenticity and trust.

Each week, we see another success story where another entrepreneur has just had her first month earning enough money to support her family. In that moment, it’s incredible to see the realization that this whole business thing really is possible. It just takes hard work and the right support system.

Each of these little changes adds up. And each week, we see another success story where another entrepreneur has just had her first month earning enough money to support her family. In that moment, it’s incredible to see the realization that this whole business thing really is possible. It just takes hard work and the right support system.

Technical marketers (us at One Month included) can get really geeky about churn. We’re always trying to figure out the best ratio for how many subscribers we lose in a month versus how many we have joining. There’s an idea about churn that says, “If churn isn’t in the single digits, that’s the only thing you should be focused on.” Do you agree? What do you think is a “healthy” level of turnover? How do you know when people are ready to leave your community?

We’re still exploring what healthy churn means for a business like Fizzle. More than shooting for someone else’s standard, we focus on getting better. We believe the better we make our product, the lower our churn will go. Whether we ever reach the holy grail of single digit churn is anyone’s guess.

We think we can provide value to entrepreneurs across their entrepreneurial life cycle — from business idea to sale or retirement. Over time that may mean different products or communities for different stages of entrepreneur, or it might mean building micro-communities inside of one larger Fizzle.

We’re not scared to say when we don’t have all the answers and the realm of healthy churn metrics is definitely an area where we don’t have all the answers. We think we can provide value to entrepreneurs across their entrepreneurial life cycle — from business idea to sale or retirement. Over time that may mean different products or communities for different stages of entrepreneur, or it might mean building micro-communities inside of one larger Fizzle. We’ll see.

Do you have any special celebrations or delightful surprises that you love giving to your community?

The more we can delight our customers, the better.

At World Domination Summit 2014, we made up a short-run shirt that we gave away to our customers and friends of Fizzle. Chase hand-lettered a beautiful “Heart and Hustle” slogan for the front and we added a little tagline of “Fizzle — Make Your Thing” on the back.

We’ve had people ask us on a weekly basis where they can get one of those shirts, but the point wasn’t to make a shirt that we could sell over and over. It was to make something our community would love and give it away so they didn’t have to worry about paying for it or having it shipped to them.

Any big no-no’s in community building? What would you never do, or what do you see people doing that ticks you off? (Like not being able to cancel or unsubscribe, etc).

We’re constantly taking the long-view on our business.

It sounds cliche, but we really do try to operate from a standpoint of, “What experience would I want to have?” If you can honestly use that as your north star in building a community, I think you’ll be ok.

How to Generate Great Content Marketing Ideas

Today we have an awesome guest post from super-star student and entrepreneur Alex Kehaya. Alex has been with us for a long time, and he’s taken quite a few of the classes at One Month. He’s an entrepreneur, a writer, and an all around kick-ass human. We’re excited to have him joining us today to teach more about how to build an audience, generate content ideas, and find your early users.

How to use your business contacts to generate content ideas

Hey One Month, Alex Kehaya here! I’ve taken a bunch of the classes here and recently finished Sarah’s course on Content Marketing. Right now I’m taking time to focus on my audience: first-time entrepreneurs (building startups and/or small businesses) and I set out to come up with ideas for content that would appeal to this audience.

I’m a market validation and product launch expert, and I take tons of coffee meetings each week with entrepreneurs who need help getting started with their ideas. I started to see a pattern in the types of questions that they were asking, and decided to follow up with a couple of them to find out what kind of value I’d created for them.

Create maximum value and leverage existing networks

There is a lot of literature on the process of customer development: in essence mapping out your idea and gathering evidence to prove out your business model. But, there’s not a whole lot of business specific and actionable advice for how to actually execute the process of customer development. This is the type of guidance that I’d been giving entrepreneurs at our coffee meetings.

I needed specific scenarios to write about. I set out to discover as many problems faced by real entrepreneurs as I could. In less than 24 hours, from this research, I also generated what will probably be at least a month’s worth of content.

Here’s how I did it.

1: Leverage an existing network

When finding and testing new ideas, it’s always good to look for existing platforms and networks with built-in audiences. I’m a huge fan of the subreddit R/Entrepreneur, and it’s where I’ve learned a ton from others on the forum. I know there are a lot of first-time entrepreneurs there, so I decided it would be a good place to test the waters.

WARNING: being spammy and not adding value is not well received on reddit, so avoid this at all costs. Adding value is very welcomed (more on this later).

To test whether my posts would be well received, I tried posting on the weekly thread in R/Entrepreneur dedicated to people seeking help. My screen name is gtgug8 (I don’t care about the anonymity thing) so take a look at the first post that I wrote:

I meant every word. I’ve had so much help as an entrepreneur and think it’s really important to give back.

2: Create as much value as possible

I was blown away by how many people sent me private messages with very long, very detailed questions. These were the themes of most of the questions:

  • “How do I find my first customer?”
  • “How can I monetize my site?”
  • “What are some things I should watch out for when validating my idea?”
  • “How do I start?”

My goal with the post was to add as much value as I could for the other redditors. This is a really important point when leveraging an existing network. You want to be authentic in your approach, otherwise no one will want to follow you or interact with you.

My goal with the post was to add as much value as I could for the other redditors.

3: Engage thoroughly and add value (yes, it takes time)!

I considered the first post a success, so I decided to open it up to the main forum with a repeat post:

Note how long my responses were. This might seem like a lot of work (it was) but I was able to repurpose all of this content for my blog, medium account, and other channels. I’ll also be turning much of this content into a screencast series.

Finally, make sure you record all the ideas and feedback you get. I’ve kept notes in a google doc of all the interesting stories and questions that I read for future reference.

4: Ask yourself: What networks exist that my audience visits regularly?

How can I create value for them in a place where they’re already interacting? How can I use conversations as fodder for blog posts and additional content? While it may seem like a lot of work in the beginning to write personalized responses to each question, you’ll notice over time that these become great resources to build out blog posts, screencasts, and tutorials. Instead of staring at a blank screen, asking “What might my customers want to read about?” you can figure it out by engaging with people first, and using your conversations as building blocks second.

What is Javascript?

Key Takeaways

JavaScript is a programming language. It’s one of the three front-end languages. JavaScript is responsible for the “behavior” of your Website. It’s how HTML elements and CSS style animate and move around on the page.

There are many popular JavaScript frameworks (i.e., free code to help you succeed). Some of the popular JavaScript frameworks include: jQuery, AngularJS, Backbone.js, and Handlebars.

Your Assignment

Additional Resources to Keep You Learning

One Month Challenge: Composting

Obviously, here at One Month we like learning, and we’re always trying to learn new things ourselves.

After watching the documentary Trashed, we started thinking about composting. For the next 30 days, we asked ourselves: could we compost and would it stick?

What is composting?

Compost is organic matter that has decomposed and can be recycled as a fertilizer. The idea is simple: put your leftover fruit, veggies, bread and other kitchen trash (see below) into a compost pile. Keep it moist, and turn it periodically to allow air to circulate into the compost pile. Wait a few months, and it turns into nutrient rich soil.

Why compost?

  • Composting is healthy for the planet.
  • It saves tons of trash.
  • The soil from composting is in demand for growing healthy new plants
  • It acts as a natural pesticide
  • It’s useful for erosion control, land and stream reclamation, wetland construction, and as landfill cover.
  • It can be used to produce biogas, a renewable energy source with a small carbon footprint.

What can you compost?

  1. Fruits
  2. Vegetables
  3. Bread
  4. Rice
  5. Tea bags
  6. Coffee grounds

What can’t you compost?

There’s practically no fruit, vegetable, or meat product that can’t be composted, but some materials are likely to produce unpleasant odors, attract vermin, or take an extra-special long time to break down. And of course, plastics and metals don’t decompose. So unless you’re really hardcore, you might want to avoid these items:

  1. Meat
  2. Oils
  3. Dairy
  4. Bone
  5. Plastic
  6. Metal

Do you have any more resources?

This guy explains composting like a boss.

If you’re looking to get started, you can visit the US Composting Council site to find your local composting drop-off: http://compostingcouncil.org/state-compost-regulations-map/

What We Learned About Learning: Clarity

Nearly everyone on the planet knows that vegetables are healthy.

But how many people are eating broccoli for lunch? It’s not enough to know something, you also need clarity.

What about setting a lofty goal like: “I want to reduce pollution?” But where to start?

To inspire change I could have sent an email with the following facts about the benefits of composting:

But knowledge by itself does not change behavior.

“If you want people to change, you don’t ask [people] to act healthier”, according to Chip & Dan Heath in Switch. What that means, is if you want to be healthier you need to give yourself clear instructions on how to act, for example, “Next time you’re in the dairy aisle of the grocery store, reach for a jug of 1% milk instead of whole milk.”

So we did just that. Instead of saying “let’s help reduce pollution this month” we gave clear instruction for our One Month Challenge,

“Every time you eat a piece of fruit, vegetables, or bread… throw it in the freezer bucket instead of the trash”.

The directions were crystal-clear and the best part was that the results were visual: at the end of every day the pile of compost grew. (And conversely, the trash cans were less smelly and didn’t have to go out as often.)

As a group, we collectively saved 40 pounds of trash by composting. Here at One Month we also love metrics, so we made this Google Doc to measure our progress.

Now it’s your turn:

What can you learn from composting for one month? Leave a comment below to let me know!

How to Raise Money for Your Startup

I wanted to follow up one of my previous posts about How to Get into Y Combinator — in which I talk about the four kinds of risks investors look at when deciding to invest in your company — with a much more practical post about how to raise money from investors.

I’ll caveat here that in my own experience with One Month, we were fairly fortunately to have been accepted into Y Combinator, and so the process of fundraising was significantly easier than it would have been otherwise. That being said, I truly believe that’s because the partners at Y Combinator, including Paul Graham, have distilled some important truths about fundraising that they were able to pass along.

The first lesson is that the first investment is the hardest.

When you start fundraising, if you’re lucky you’re going to get a lot of “soft” commitments. These sound something like, “I really like the company and I’d like to invest, let me know when the round’s about to close.” In some cases, they may even say that they’re in, but they’re just putting up a little resistance to actually giving you the money.

You need to recognize that it’s not an investment until you actually have their money.

And it’s also in their interests as investors to wait as long as possible to actually invest. If they believe they can commit now, and put the money in later, they will always do that. Why? Because sometimes more information will come up and investors will back out. It happens all the time.

As an entrepreneur you need to apply a strong pressure here.

One of the advantages to using a convertible note or Y Combinator’s SAFE financing document as your fundraising tool in the seed stage is that you can collect money immediately as it comes in instead of all at once at the end. This is called a “rolling close.” It alleviates some of the risk of having to get buy-in from a bunch of people simultaneously and then having one person or problem fuck it all up.

The strategy that I learned at Y Combinator was that as soon as I got a soft commit from an investor, I wrote up a convertible note (using Clerky) for the highest amount they mentioned they might invest and sent it to the investor with the following email:

Our round is getting pretty tight, be we should have room.

I’ve sent over the standard YC convertible note docs using Clerky for a $100k investment at a $6M cap. Take a look and let me know if you have any questions and either [lawyer’s name] (legal counsel) or I can get back to you. Otherwise, just sign and we can guarantee your spot in the round.

So you really have to do whatever you can to close the first investment in a round. The first $25k or $50k or $100k. In terms of focusing your energy, don’t spend a ton of time on small investments like $5k or $10k (we actually didn’t accept any investment under $20k in our first round).

The momentum builds after you get your first investor, because it’s likely that investor will introduce you to other investors, and so on. Like a chain reaction. Sometimes that doesn’t happen but in a large enough round it will.

The second lesson I learned was don’t create a pitch deck or a business plan.

You’ll hear, “do you have a deck?” from investors all the time. The stock response that the YC partners told us to give was (roughly):

We’ve been too busy running the company to prepare a pitch deck. I’m happy to meet in person to tell you more about the company.

In the early stages, if an investor asks for a pitch deck, he or she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It just turns out it’s not really necessary. And it saves you a ton of time doing something that isn’t important.

Instead of a pitch deck, prepare whatever short document you think the investor will need to see in order to invest (a simple Google doc will do), but only send it to the investor after your first meeting.

The later in stages you get, the more documents you’ll need to prepare, but in the seed stages you may not need to do any.

The third lesson is that with a “rolling close” you can change the amount you say you’re raising.

This can be helpful for applying pressure to investors that are on the fence.

At first we told investors we were only looking to raise about $250,000, and we had already gotten $150,000, so if they wanted to guarantee a spot in our round they would have to do it immediately.

This helps counter that investor feeling of, “I can still wait it out and get into the round right before it closes. I have time.”

The major caveat here is that it’s important to know how much the person or fund you’re talking to needs to be able to invest. This is a major mistake we made. We said we were raising the same number ($250,000) for angel investors and funds initially, but that essentially ruled out the funds.

Many funds have to be able to invest large amounts of money (anywhere from $500–750k to $3–5 million) for it to even be worth considering you as an investment. If you say you’re only raising $500k and you already have $250k, that essentially rules you out as an investment.

Find out what terms the fund typically invests in, the size of the fund, and how far through the fund they are. Almost all VCs are willing to tell you that information almost immediately.

But you don’t really need a lead in a seed round. It can be helpful for filling up the round faster, convincing others to get on board, and later for strategic stuff like introductions and advice, but it’s not really necessary. You can raise the entire round in checks like $50k or $100k if you need to.

And as time goes on, you up the amount you’re raising. You can even theoretically up the valuation cap on the note as you get more interest.

Take easy money.

If someone wants to invest, and you like the terms, take it. But be discerning. Talk to some of the companies they’ve already invested in, especially the ones that didn’t succeed, to see how the investor relationship worked (you may have to reach out to these companies yourself).

The last thing you want is an investor that’s going to cause trouble or be difficult to work with. (For example, we had one investor who asked for his money back after three months and didn’t want to sign a standard convertible note extension even after all our other investors had.)

At the end of the day, investors often aren’t as helpful as you’d like them to be. Their helpfulness comes in waves. If you reach out, they may offer a hand, but most of the time the intros they’ll make come right after they invest, and trails off as the excitement wears off. That’s okay. Money is money. And you wouldn’t want them too involved anyway.

Finally, don’t talk to associates.

It’s a waste of time. Insist on communicating with partners and getting partners involved early on. If you’re talking to an associate at a fund you like, ask which partner would really be interested in a company like yours and then ask if they can put you in touch with that partner.

Because some firms know this, Associates often go by the name of “Investor,” or “Venture Partner” instead.

What is Payment Processing?

Key Takeaways

Payment processing allows you to accept payments online. Here are three options to get you started:

  1. Easy: Services like Gumroad or Shopify are easiest; they come with basic themes and customizations.
  2. Medium: The Stripe checkout button. You’ll need basic development skills, but in exchange you can customize the experience a lot more.
  3. Advanced: The Stripe API or Paypal API. You’ll need expert development skills, but you’ll have 100% control over customization.

Your Assignment

  • Decide which payment processing option is best for you. To get started, read about GumRoad, Shopify, and Stripe Checkout (20 minutes). If you have questions about getting started, contact us at teachers [at] onemonth.com.

Additional Resources to Keep You Learning

How to Develop A Daily Writing Habit

One of my health habits is a daily writing habit. Last year, one of my goals for 2014 was to write daily. I’m happy to report that I only missed a total of three days in 2014. I’m currently on a 350-day writing streak, and it’s become kind of addictive.

Here’s some of what I learned about cultivating a writing habit.

Why write daily?

The idea came from a book called The Artist’s Way (which admittedly I haven’t read — but I’ve heard it’s good). They call it morning pages, which consist of three pages of writing done every day. It can be about anything that pops into your head — and it’s important that you get it all out of your head without editing or censoring in any way.

A daily writing habit helps clear your mind and gets ideas flowing for the rest of the day.

I initially started writing every day because I eventually want to write a book, but it’s become so much more than that. I use my daily writing as a way to think out loud, and troubleshoot problems, thoughts, and anxieties I have. It gives me something to look forward to in the morning and actually puts me in a really good mood.

As my friend Dev says, “Developing a daily writing practice is about deepening a conversation with oneself.”

“Developing a daily writing practice is about deepening a conversation with oneself.”

A really tangible benefit is that I’ve written way more blog posts since I’ve started writing every day.

Before, writing was something that I often needed to do — whether it was writing an email, a blog post, or a letter I’d been meaning to write — but never really found the time for.

Figure out why you personally want to write more often.

Is it to start a blog, to build a following, to become known as a thought leader, to connect with your inner voice, to develop a creative outlet, or to write a book? These are ALL good reasons, but it’s good to know which ones are most important to you and which ones aren’t. These will be your guiding forces that propel you forward when things are tough.

Pick some accountability metrics

It’s easy to say “I want to start writing more” and then fudge it at the end of the year. It’s tempting to come up with a loose goal — one that isn’t tied to a specific number or action — because it doesn’t require much thought and is almost impossible to fail. (Because what does “write more” even mean? Does sitting down to write once or twice count?)

But goals like that are almost meaningless and unlikely to help you create meaningful change in your life.

Instead, come up with one or two trackable goals. My trackable goal this year was to write 750 words every day. Seven hundred and fifty words is about three pages handwritten (or one page typed single space). But there’s another reason I picked that number which will become more obvious in a second.

Specificity matters. If you want to change your behavior, you have to know how to measure it.

Make it a regular practice

This is the really hard part, but in order to hit a big goal you have to develop regular habits in your life. When a friend introduced me to 750words.com, I was blown away. It’s a simple site where you go to do your daily writing. 750words isn’t a publishing platform, it’s a personal tracking tool. It keeps track of your writing streak and gives you some really cool daily stats on your writing as well as badges for your accomplishments that keep things fun.

Keeping track of streaks is a very powerful tactic for developing any new habit. There’s a story about Jerry Seinfeld that says he used to keep a big calendar by his desk and mark an X for every day that he sat down and worked on his routine. Eventually his streak became so long that he kept going just because he didn’t want to break it.

Althought this is a misattribution — Seinfeld said in a Reddibt conversation “This is hilarious to me, that somehow I am getting credit for making an X on a calendar with the Seinfeld productivity program. It’s the dumbest non-idea that was not mine, but somehow I’m getting credit for it.” — the idea is still powerful.

Like I mentioned before, I’m currently on a 300-day writing streak and the thought of breaking it pains me.

At first I started by writing whenever I had time during the day. Sometimes it was in the morning, sometimes it was at night, journal-style, just before going to bed. The problem with this haphazard approach was that a whole day would pass by without me finding any time to write. Indeed, those three days of writing that I missed, I didn’t even realized I missed them. I thought I had written on those days.

Eventually I settled on writing my 750 words first thing in the morning every morning.

Do you feel like you don’t have time to accomplish your goals every day? Make time.

Lao Tzu says, “Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have have time,’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to.’”

The best thing I ever did for writing and habit development in general was start waking up earlier. Recently there has been some research saying that seven hours of sleep per night might be better than eight. So now I try to be in bed by 11:30pm and wake up at around 6:30am every morning.

Find ways to make it fun and easy

On top of the badges and stats that 750words.com gives me, I’ve had to find other ways to make it fun and kill the tediousness I sometimes feel.

Some of the badges I’ve collected on 750words.com

Initially I started by writing in different styles every day. One day would be murder mystery, then science fiction, then romance. Sometimes I write letters to my parents or my friends. They really appreciate those.

It might sound weird to write in a different genre or style than you’re used to, but three pages goes by pretty quickly, and then you get to never look at it again if you don’t like it.

Find a friend to keep you accountable and make it more fun.

For a while, my friend Mathias and I sent each other prompts to kick start our daily writing. One person would send the other a single sentence of a story to use as the first sentence and also a style to write the story in (to push us out of our comfort zone). Then the other person had to finish it in that style. Here’s an example:

Pippa eyed the watermelon two over from the end on the left because it reminded her of her ex-boyfriend. “This one will be perfect,” she thought.

Style: Realism

Though most of the time I just write in free-form every morning. I’ve been able to get the total time it takes to write 750 words down to about 10–15 minutes.

Keep a notebook of prompts for later days.

I’ve started keeping a notebook of writing prompts in Evernote in case I’ve run out of ideas or I want to finish a blog post (this is actually one of them). During the day, I come up with ideas, add them to Evernote, and then I write about those in the morning.

Right now, the list includes “What I’ve learned so far in 2014,” “There’s no expectation of privacy on the Internet,” “On people holding subway doors,” and other random thoughts I have on the subway.

One Month is sending out a daily writing prompt for 30 days to help encourage a daily writing habit. If you want to join in, click here to sign up to get an email reminder every day for 30 days.

Don’t worry about editing

It will take you forever (about an hour) to write 750 words if you worry about format and editing while doing the creative stuff too. Most people recommend separating the two actions.

Ernest Hemingway said, “Write drunk; edit sober”

Get comfortable with having tons of typos and your writing being mostly nonsense. If you want, you can edit it later.

This can be hard so a trick I’ve learned to accomplish this is to turn the brightness down on your computer screen so that you can’t read what you’re writing.

A lot of times, I’ll pick an idea from my Evernote notebook of blog post ideas and write about it for 750 words. Then I’ll take that writing and upload it to Medium for editing. I usually do one round of personal editing and then send it around to a few friends (using the “share draft” feature) before publishing.

Some of my most successful blog posts have been developed in this way (including How to get a busy person to respond to your email and How to never forget anything ever again).

Want to write more? Here at One Month, we’re all trying to write (and blog) more. Join us in Sarah’s Content Marketing course to get creative ideas for content, learn more about marketing, and become a better writer.

Do you have any other tips for developing a daily writing practice?

Have you read anything about techniques famous authors used to write every day? Post a comment! I’m going to compile a list of best practices.

What is Arduino?

Key Takeaways

What is Arduino? Arduino is a micro-controller that’s great for hardware prototyping. A micro-controller is kind of like your brain — it processes inputs and sends out outputs.

A micro-controller (noun) is a small computer on a single integrated circut containing a processor core, memory, and programmable input/output peripherals.

With a micro-controller like Arduino, you can control circuits, LED’s, and so much more.

Examples of What You Can Make with Arduino:

How to Get Started with Arduino and Micro-Controllers Today:

The possibilities are endless with prototyping hardware — it has a low barrier to entry and a really high ceiling. Take a look through some of these beginner projects and the online community around Arduino to start learning how to build your own projects!

  • Getting Started with Arduino: What it is, why you’d want to use it, and an overview of the community (5 minutes).
  • Foundations: Dig in a littler further and understand the elements of Arduino hardware and software, and how each of the components work (8–10 minutes).

Additional Resources

What is Meditation?

Key Takeaways

We suggest a quick meditation technique known as Mindfulness of Breathing. Here’s how it works in three steps:

  1. Sit comfortably. You don’t need to do any special pose, just sit in a way that is relaxing.
  2. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of the breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. And just observe the breathe.
  3. Don’t worry if your mind wanders — it’s part of the process. Each time your mind wanders just return to your breathe (step #2).

Additional Resources

12 Podcasts Every Entrepreneur Should Be Listening To

Podcasts are a great medium for learning about, well, almost anything — but they’re especially useful for learning about starting and leading a company. After all, most future entrepreneurs are super busy, so you need a way to digest information that’s easy, flexible, and accessible.

To help you get started, we’ve put together the entrepreneur’s podcast starter set.

These shows each meet the following criteria:

Actionable: Although theories are good, concrete tips you can implement right away are better.

Engaging: Unfortunately, it’s hard to pay attention to even the most fascinating interviews and conversations if they’re presented poorly. Each podcast on this list has high-quality audio and dynamic hosts.

Innovative: None of these podcasts will cover things you already know. You’re listening to learn, not to rehash the same tired lessons.

Focused: As previously mentioned, your time is valuable. If you’re listening to an hour-long podcast, it should have six times the information as a 10-minute one — not just six times the talking.

1. To learn how to start a startup…

Listen to How to Start a Startup. Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, originally taught this 20-part series as a Stanford class. He starts with the basics, like how to create a team and build a product, and ends with advice for after you’ve achieved product-market fit. Altman is brilliant — and he also brings in many startup heavyweights, including Reid Hoffman, Marc Andreesen, Aaron Levie, and more.

You’ll learn:

  • How to develop a great idea
  • How to build a high-quality product
  • How to put together a winning team
  • How to execute on the first three

Start with:

Episode #1, in which Sam Altman gives an overview of the course.

2. To learn how to pitch to venture capitalists (VCs)…

Listen to The Pitch. This podcast is essentially an audio version of Shark Tank: Each episode, a different startup comes on to give their elevator pitch to a panel of investors and answer their follow-up questions.

After the investors have quizzed the founders, they’ll discuss whether or not they’d invest and why.

You’ll learn:

  • What goes into a good pitch
  • What types of questions VCs ask (and how to answer them)
  • What makes or breaks their decision to invest

Start with:

Episode #10, in which Dollar Beard Club founder Chris Stoikos pitches his startup to Marvin Liao, Howie Diamond, and Ryan Hoover.

3. To learn how to get traction…

Listen to Traction. Coming to you from NextView ventures, this show delves into the weird, inspiring, unexpected, and ultimately genius ways startup founders have made progress in the very early days of their companies. It’s a great antidote when you’re in the “startup trough of sorrow,” which is what entrepreneurs go into when they have a major failure.

You’ll learn:

  • How to pivot
  • How to ignore the disbelievers
  • How to forge on through the worst times

Start with:

Episode #7, in which Jay Acunzo talks to Kathryn Minshew, co-founder and CEO of The Muse.

4. To learn how to grow your business from an idea to an 45-person company…

Listen to StartUp. In 2014, public radio veteran Alex Blumberg decided to start a new podcasting company. He also decided to record his entrepreneurship journey and produce it… as a podcast. (Very meta.) StartUp is now heading into its third season, and Gimlet Media — Blumberg’s company — has six podcasts in its roster, $7.5 million in funding, and 45 people on its staff.

You’ll learn:

  • How to write (and rewrite) your business plan
  • How to handle inter-company conflict
  • How to figure out equity, organization, responsibility, and more

Start with:

Episode #1, in which Blumberg pitches famous Silicon Valley investor Chris Sacca.

5. To learn more about the startup world…

Listen to This Week in Startups. Once a week, host Jason Calacanis and a rotating group of guest experts sit down to talk about their experiences, their future plans, and of course, the latest news in entrepreneurship. Calacanis has a blunt, straight-forward style, which means the conversations are usually extremely interesting and sometimes controversial.

You’ll learn:

  • What’s happening in Silicon Valley
  • How insanely smart people see the world
  • How to be more innovative

Start with:

Episode #423, in which Calacanis talks to Mark Cuban about which startups he’s excited about and why he still invests in new companies (despite having billions in the bank).

6. To learn how to be more creative and grow faster…

Listen to Seeking Wisdom. This show comes from David Cancel, a five-time entrepreneur and former Chief Product Officer of HubSpot. Cancel is a highly respected fixture of the tech community, and you’ll understand why once you hear his innovative leadership and learning techniques.

You’ll learn:

  • How to hire the right people
  • How to organize your teams
  • How to find awesome mentors

Start with:

Episode #4, in which Cancel discusses why you should give your employees more autonomy.

7. To learn what goes into an ultra-successful company…

Listen to Collective Wisdom for Tech Startups. Founder Collective is a well-known venture capital fund that’s invested in Uber, Buzzfeed, HotelTonight, and SeatGeek, among others. In this podcast, Founder Collective’s leaders talk to founders whose names you’ll definitely recognize: Phillip Crim, the founder of Casper; Sam Yagan, the CEO of OkCupid; Stephen Kaufer, the cofounder and CEO of TripAdvisor, and many more.

The wisdom is definitely useful, but this show also stands out for its digestible format. Each interview is available both as a full-length show and in roughly one-minute clips.

You’ll learn:

  • How to get tech reporters to cover your startup
  • How to set your own salary
  • How to build a culture that survives an IPO

Start with:

Episode #4, in which Scott Belsky talks about founding and growing Behance.

8. To learn how to be a stronger leader…

Listen to the Growth Show. As you can tell from the name, this show is focused on growth — and because growth is such a broad topic, you’ll get suggestions on everything from designing a happier life to balancing innovation and competition.

The guests are equally varied. Although founders feature pretty heavily, authors, speakers, executives, and even a violinist have all appeared on the show.

You’ll learn:

  • How to grow almost anything (your team, your abilities, your brand, your idea, your business, etc.)

Start with:

Episode #52, in which HubSpot CMO Kipp Bodnar talks to Canva’s co-founder, Cliff Obrecht, and its head of growth, Andre Pinantoan.

9. To learn about design and product management…

Listen to Inside Intercom. In a unique twist, the guest and the host change every episode. The two things you can count on? The host will be an Intercom employee, and the guest will be a leader in product management, design, marketing, or startups.

When you’re fairly new to any (or all) of these worlds, it’s really beneficial to get first-hand insight into from some of the best, most experienced practitioners.

You’ll learn:

  • How the design process works
  • How to start and scale a marketing team
  • How to sell before you have sales reps

Start with:

Episode #12, in which Emmet Connolly, Intercom Director of Product Design, talks to Mike Davidson, former VP of Design at Twitter

10. To learn how to start, scale, and fund your startup…

Listen to Startup School Radio. Every week, host and Y Combinator partner Aaron Harris talks to two guests to get their practical advice on running an early-stage company. His guests are always fascinating, intelligent, and wildly successful; for example, past guests include Peter Reinhardt, CEO of Segment; Suhail Doshi, CEO and co-founder of Mixpanel; and Solomon Hykes, CTO and founder of Docker.

You’ll learn:

  • How to launch a startup
  • How to overcome major obstacles
  • How some of the most successful entrepreneurs think

Start with:

Episode #35, in which Aaron Harris interviews Paul Graham, author and co-founder of Y Combinator.

11. To learn how to build an amazing culture…

Listen to Mission & Values. Host Bryan Landers explores, as he puts it, “the ‘why’ behind startup work, and the ‘how’ behind their decisions.” In practical terms, that means asking CEOs questions like, “Do your employees have a shared characteristic — something that makes them a good cultural fit?” and “Can you tell me about your transparency value?”

You’ll learn:

  • How values impact the day-to-day of your startup
  • How to assess cultural fit
  • How to scale your values

Start with:

Episode #1, in which Landers talks to Zapier CEO Wade Foster.

12. To learn the best startup advice and latest tech trends…

Listen to a16z. You might not’ve heard of this podcast, but you’ve probably heard of Andreessen Horowitz, the VC firm that produces it. Some of the episodes cover tech news, others delve into trends, and the rest (and frankly, the most useful) provide how-tos. There are three to four episodes per week; we recommend only listening to the ones most relevant to you.

You’ll learn:

  • The most important industry news
  • Where the software world is headed (and how to prepare)
  • How to run a startup