Ninjas and Robots

Figuring out what’s next. CTO/CMO of Rockstar Coders. Makes the awesome writing software Draft. Previous: CEO of Highrise. Also founder of two YC companies. Engineer for President Obama’s re-election campaign.

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Somersault - A vlogging camera for your phone.

I wanted to show off a preview of what I’ve been working on. It’s a better Camera App for vloggers. I call it Somersault.


I started a vlog about 2.5 years ago, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of sharing stories and lessons. But it’s hard. It’s tough to craft stories on top of making great looking video. Adding music. Keeping the pacing from becoming boring. Avoiding the look of Blair Witch Project outtakes.

Through all that work I’ve learned a ton about making better videos. Lessons about keeping shots short, establishing where you are, talking to the camera vs watching yourself, editing in camera vs the extra work in Post.

And now, I can offer some of those lessons through a Camera App itself. So regardless of if you need Somersault, here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and what I hope Somersault can help guide people to do better.

 Keep your


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I don’t have enough


It’s been a rough week. We’ve been migrating our file storage for Highrise and you can imagine how difficult that is for a product running since 2007 with millions of users.

And it hadn’t gone that well.

Fortunately, we had enough backup procedures in place to handle most problems. But still, on Thursday morning at 3AM I was nervously watching the error queue for more fires.

How’d I get here?

I don’t mean that in a negative sense. This barely raised my blood pressure. I’ve been in this same situation many times before. I and our CTO, Michael Dwan, cooly fixed our problems in the middle of the night.

But, I mean, how on earth did I get to this point where I’m helping successfully troubleshoot this crazy large system of technology and code when…

All I was trained to do was Chemistry?

I remember the panic I had nearing the end of college. I had just spent 4 years and tons of...

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A decade or so ago, a young musician couldn’t get anyone to play his music. He had some raw talent, and just recorded his first album, but all the gatekeepers thought he just sounded too young. Without Disney or Nickelodeon marketing his stuff, he was a dud.

What does he do?

I bet you know the names of a few famous impressionist painters. Monet. Manet. Degas. What makes them famous though? Are they really the best? Do you know a bad impressionist painter?

What about Gustave Caillebotte?

Caillebotte was an interesting impressionist. I don’t think anyone would say he’s bad, but he sure isn’t as popular as Monet.

Caillebotte also has a quirky story. Upon his death he requested his art collection be hung in the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. His art collection was about 70 paintings he had collected from his friends, also impressionists.

They weren’t popular. They were actually...

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Lazy creative


James Vanderbeek stars in an episode of Room 104 on HBO. The series is in the middle of its first season, but it’s already done so well that HBO’s renewed it for a second season.

It’s a curious show, as it takes place in a single hotel room every episode. The same hotel room over and over and over again. The room itself is also extremely uninteresting. When the design team went to Mark Duplass, the creator of the show, with tons of ideas on what the room should look like, Mark shot them all down.

“No, I want the room to be as bland as possible.”

So how did Mark Duplass create such an interesting and succesful show with this limited pallette?

Our brains are lazy. Well, that’s not exactly fair. Our brains are great at conserving energy.

They’ve evolved to reserve the juice necessary to deal with things in our environment that are novel and potentially life altering. Hence why...

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How to be interesting

A couple months ago a video made its viral way around the internet as some videos do. It was a mashup of the Sesame Street movie Follow that Bird and the Beastie Boys’ song Sabotage.

Mashups aren’t uncommon. Afterall, that’s a huge lesson most of us already know about creativity. Great ideas are often the collision of a couple different disciplines, technologies, inventions, etc.

But is that all there is to it? Or is there something a bit deeper about that video and why it became so viral.

Why was it so interesting?

Murray Davis was a professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University. In 1971, he published an interesting paper. Literally. It’s called “That’s Interesting!”

Davis investigated why some researchers and their theories get people’s attention and others don’t.

He found that ideas don’t become interesting because they are simply true. “All of the interesting...

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A writer had a rough go of getting a book published. Even after he’d written plenty of short stories for magazine publications, he started his hand at writing books. But nothing hit.

His fourth attempt at a novel really gave him some fits. He finally finished a manuscript for it, but he still didn’t like it. The story didn’t move him, he was writing about people he didn’t know very well, and he didn’t like the characters. He threw it away in the trash.

Dean Simonton is a Professor of Psychology at UC-Davis. The guy has studied what makes people creative and smart his whole career with over 300 publications and more than ten books.

In 1977, Dean explored how time affects greatness. By studying composers, do we see if they peak and get worse as they get older?

Afterall, isn’t that what we expect? Don’t we expect to see that graph of a U upside down?


But, that’s not what Dean...

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Mickey D’s - What startups and small business owners can learn from the giant’s struggles

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What should I name my company?

If you’ve been around any old school SEO advice it included naming your company something with the letter A. That’s because just like the “Yellow Pages”, lists of things on the internet were always alphabetical.

Obviously things have gotten better. You don’t have to just pick A-names for your company because the internet is so much more sophisticated now. We have all these algorithms and all this AI research. Right?

No. Not just one, but two papers from independent research teams have just found that stock trading is heavily biased by a company’s name. Since stocks are generally listed alphabetically, folks pick stocks earlier in the list rather than giving equal opportunity to discovery.

We find that early alphabet stocks are traded more frequently than later alphabet stocks and that alphabeticity also affects firm value.

Even more striking is that this effect has gotten worse...

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How do we get better at making things people want?

We strive to better discern the needs of our customers, so we reach for a number of tools. Surveys. User testing. ‘Jobs to be done’ interviews (an interview process I highly recommend). But in our effort to understand our customers, we often miss sight of something much more basic and integral to those things working well.

The University of Edinburgh Medical School, one of the best medical schools in the United Kingdom, was created in 1726, also making it one of the oldest medical schools in the English speaking world. Given its age, it has quite an interesting group of alumni. Like Joseph Bell.

He was a graduate and professor at the school in the 1800s. Bell had an uncanny ability to determine things about his patients from what seemed to be unrelated and insignificant details. For example, without even talking to the man, Bell...

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I’m not good enough - Discouraged

Uranium hexafluoride — I used to make this stuff

I’m currently trying to teach myself coding and feeling a bit discouraged at the moment. Trying to hear of other’s success stories to see if it’s worth it to see it through to the end.

zeexik asks on Reddit.

Who hasn’t felt like this about something. We’re out of school, but there’s things we want to still learn to get where we want to go. But it’s daunting. Are we too old?

17 years ago I spent my summer in Paducah, KY. It was friggin hot. It was even worse because on a lot of days I was wearing an acid proof suit - those things are made of an unbreathable plastic something that doesn’t react with acid; see Breaking Bad and why you don’t use acid in your bathtub :)

Why was I in this suit? Because I was doing experiments at a Uranium processing plant where we used a lot of Hydrofluoric acid. If that sounds dangerous, it was. We’d...

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