All posts by nancyhua

Apptimize S5E5: SF Office Move

People care about office location. Conflicting priorities and the existential danger of commitment charge the question of office location with powerful emotions, emotions I’ve been both agonizing over and toying with since Season 1 Episode 1. San Francisco, the South Bay, and our Apptimize office have formed a multi-year long “will they or won’t they” love triangle, a staple source of dramatic tension in the context of our startup growth- growth fueled by our industry revolution, a revolution set in the backdrop of our species’ social and technological revolutions. Exciting! This month, our team committed to a move away from our original pairing.

To recap the past: we started Apptimize in Mountain View in 2013. Our first office was in a building on the Google campus rumored to be scheduled for tear down. Trust was so high and the weather so mild in the Google garden of Eden that the building was unlocked and nerds wandered in and out freely. Khan Academy was in our building (I snuck food from their office often (not often enough)), as was Clinkle. We did not pay rent but lived off the land in Jeremy’s old company’s suite even as another company moved in, surely eating of any fruit of any tree we chose. In our purity as a proto-person, we dared to ask the new tenants if we could continue to use their furniture and office space for free. And we dared to continue working there for weeks after their awkward silence hardened into awkward post-it notes tagging, “These office chairs came with our lease.” Jeremy told me, “I think they’re too scared to approach you but that one guy whispered to me that we should probably go.”

Robot Invader’s office was in the same office complex and they took us in and ultimately became our first users. We took money plants with us in the move because Jeremy assured me that the new tenants wouldn’t have gotten those as part of the lease, and I loved free stuff and plants (although they died immediately because I don’t love caring for them). I did our office move by myself one night, lugging Jeremy’s monitor up and down various staircases by taking rest stops. Jeremy told me, “I appreciate you doing this but you should have asked for help because you cracked the monitor. A piece of it fell off and people who know me know my monitor is my baby.” I was unapologetic, a recurring theme in the recurring chaos I caused in our recurring moves.

After we got into Y Combinator, we split time between my house and Robot Invader because some of our early developers lived with me for free for years. We had a 5 bedroom house 5 minutes from Google that was sometimes our office especially when we worked weekends for the first few years of Apptimize.

We also worked out of a fellow Y Combinator startup’s offices in SF out of a compromise for our SF contingent- the dozen of us alternating days between South Bay and SF. I asked Y Combinator what they thought of this dynamic arrangement and Justin Kan told me, “When you’re small you can do whatever you want,” advice I overly liked and recalled.

After raising our seed, we moved into a 10K square feet office across the street from Facebook owned by one of our angel investors Massy and Sateez. They used to house 100+ people in this building and now it was for our team of 12, so we had lots of room to grow. An instance of startup karma, our users Robot Invader moved into our Menlo space, turning the tables from the days when we stayed with them at the old Google Building.

We slowly eventually tore down the cubicles after a few years. One executive recruiter told me a candidate called our office dark (following his linkedin since interviewing him, he’s been a trainwreck- I maintain that cubicles are good), but we were already contemplating a redesign. Shauna helped us redo everything [photos]. I loved that this office was right across the marsh where we did walking meetings.

apptimize menlo cubicles

When I moved to SF personally, I assumed we’d move the company to SF soon. We’d been discussing it for months and the SF people, while a minority in the company, were annoyingly vocal complainers (is that any surprise to anyone?). I said we’d do it after the Series B because I needed to focus on our funding strategy first and the move could be tied to a celebration of not dying.

We raised our Series B during a hard fundraising time. 2016 started with the SaaS-pocalypse where public markets were getting pounded, Silicon Valley SaaS technology paragons like LinkedIn and Salesforce were dropping, startup founder darlings like Zenefits’ CEO were getting ousted, reporters were unhelpfully speculating the venture “correction,” and only the highest conviction VC’s so confident in their records that they didn’t read tech blogs were in the game. Our deck was coming together in January 2016 and my Series A investors kindly told me that it was not good. Undeterred and without Lynn to make our deck, I went out into the market and started taking meetings. For the first time, I envied bootstrapped startups. After decades of being straight edge and using clean language, I re-learned my middle school habit of swearing and gained 15 pounds in 1 month.

I’m not going to detail the drama of this time here. Despite the climate, we did well. The result was that this round was awesomely good to us. Within a few months, we raised >$15M with top investors such as Glynn Capital, Goldcrest, USVP, and Stanford Fund.

After we started getting term sheets, I turned back to the business and saw we had major stuff to focus on. I lost 15 pounds in 1 month because I had so much energy around all the work there was to do. When I said I was really happy during a meeting where it was clear everything needed work, Lisa said, “You’re happy because and you’re really busy.” Yes! Good-busy, like making-progress-energizing-busy, not gain-15-pounds-stressing-over-cat-herding busy.

Everyone was doing multiple jobs. I’m proud and inspired by how our team stepped up, how much we accomplished and learned. I had my ordered list of priorities, promising Chris I was going to un-fuck X after first un-fucking Y. So our long suffering SF contingent who I had hardened my heart against (with the taunting refrain, “You knew what you were getting into when you joined”), got their hopes shelved into “I can’t think about anything else especially a move until after this next milestone” purgatory.

Late last year, our team had a hard time hiring to scale. Here’s the thing with running a company predicated on the idea of data, testing, and iteration: you feel guilty if you don’t run experiments so people manipulate you into all kinds of things unless you’re consistently clever at poking holes in their hypothesis logic and test design. “Maybe you guys suck at hiring,” was my guess, but I entertained the idea of an SF experiment as a solution for accelerating hiring. Thus we opened up an SF satellite 6 months ago in Hiplead’soffice to test if this helped us hire salespeople. Adam said, “Wow, that was fast after you said you were going to do it,” a recurring theme in our moves. I forbade the non-sales team from venturing there and had strict rules of engagement around when and where meetings and candidates had to be, rules which my insubordinate team irritated me by increasingly flouting as they settled into SF. Brazen requests for catered lunch and dinner in the SF office to match the Main Office basics were admonished, “This is a test and we’re treating it as such so perks such as free food are not a priority.” After a few months, it did appear that our hiring pipeline was much improved, so we started the search for an SF office.

I optimized on one thing: being close to Caltrain to minimize marginalization of the South Bay loyalists who were having the rug pulled from under them. I checked the place our broker Brandon found closest to Caltrain and said we’d take it. Thus we’ve now moved into the one place I looked at because it best satisfied my Caltrain criteria by being literally across the street.

Looking back at the history of our office locations, from Google campus, to alternating days between the Mission and Mountain View with weekends at my house with Gemma cooking for everyone, to Menlo Park, to split between Menlo and Mission, to now everyone together in SOMA, I see consistent themes in our moves.

I’ve learned people care a lot about office location. Uncertainty and flux over office location was endlessly distracting for the team. I was pissed off by how people harassed me for information, lobbied, speculated, and irresponsibly promised SF timelines to team members. Part of me wanted to stay in South Bay so as to not seem to reward SF politicking, but I also blamed myself for not being 100% clear. I always had a soft spot for watching out for South Bay interests because they are uncomplaining and selfless about doing what’s best for the whole team, thus I optimized 100% for Caltrain and ignored Bart. I don’t know what this teaches anyone about interacting with me other than that I make decisions fast by focusing on what I want to optimize and I worry about sticking up for people who don’t stick up for themselves.

After the location factor, all our moves optimized for cost. Our gigantic space in Menlo Park was a great deal because our investors are generous and supportive. I learned a lesson from the various dead startups we got most of our fanciest furniture from: we did not want to live in an opulent palace as though we’d won when we were still in the midst of fighting a war.

The underlying theme is that we do what lets us increase velocity to hire the teammates we want to hire. Are you or someone you know a potential fit because I’d love to talk? Let me know your information! Also, our office warming is tonight. Come to 330 Townsend!


2016: A New Era

Hart asked if I still write. I do, but I can’t blog as openly about life because of work. War stories are classified. Part of me wishes we’d followed through with filming everything with GoPro necklaces so we could carve the 99% that’s talking to computers to expose the gristle of business drama. But what’s the point? Nothing’s like what anyone can tell you.

Apptimize crew sailing around San Francisco
Apptimize crew sailing around San Francisco

Much work is objectively boring and hard for a long time. That’s what it takes to win, tens of thousands of hours of work that more reasonable people are unwilling to endure. It takes a wizard every hour of every day for years and years alone in a dark tower to draw the spell to craft and mark a new world. It’s pain, loss, sweat, time, boredom, all while fervently believing you must triumph.

More and more, I find myself saying, “I can tell you more in person.” I’m swimming the strange intersection between business and personal, because a startup is water that touches every part of you. In the ocean you feel the reality of constant motion, relentlessly pushed, engulfed by the smell and sound of the heavy waves. Fixate on the mission and row with boundless energy, lest you’re wrecked instead of carried. All your customers and friends and teammates swim together, making the same waves.

The amount of change Apptimize has gone through this past year is staggering. We’ve all changed. I was always ambitious, but my drive was as nothing to my fresh hunger, now that I know more what’s possible. Interviewing an executive candidate, he said, “Your words make me restless,” probably a funny reaction to debating the nuances of sales pipeline definitions.

A year ago, Apptimize was totally different. We made less than our server costs. Much of the impossible stuff we did, we were only able to do because we had no idea what we were getting into. I’ve seen us get so much stronger operationally, starting with learning the difference between strategy, plans, and goals. We’ve rebuilt again and again. We’re now about 25 people, long past fitting around the dinner table at my house, even with all the leaves in.

I’m different. After my previous life of prop trading our own money, I realized I love sales and the responsibility of customers. After 30 years of disdain, I started wearing high heels. I bought a brass rat; maybe one day I will consider actual jewelry. I finally started drinking alcohol. I’m learning more how to wield my weirdness: once upon a time, minutes after meeting someone I’d be ENTJ-ing them towards increased efficacy. Now I give it more time.

The last time I changed a lot was when I moved from NYC to the Bay. That was hard because I loved NYC. No matter how deep you get, NYC shows you something that takes your breath away, realizing you didn’t begin to know her yet. Deep was my love was for New York, the people, myself. I’d take the train down weekends to see my mom in Princeton. When Mom died, one of my best friends since 6th grade drove into NYC from Pennsylvania and I took her to my favorite foods. I had no hunger for food. A few months later, I moved from NYC to Palo Alto because I felt useless. You can’t be useless.

An addiction, NYC poisoned SF for me. I’d plan clandestine visits around NYC wishing we could get back together if it’d change just 1 thing. I’d fantasize about a bicoastal relationship, a modern jetsetter, brimming with love for everyone and no one, ready to forsake town whenever it threatened to get tiresome.

What is a home? I find my home whereupon returning from a journey the smell of the street fills me with gladness and relief and I restrain my haste in knuckling keys into a door to find a friend waiting inside to swing me in her arms and bring me tea.

For the last 3 years I swore I couldn’t find such a home in SF. The homeless people: that’s one of the first shocks. It still astounds me, the looks on their faces, approval through our mute acceptance. I drown in disgust and shame for them, myself, all of us. I lash myself to the mast and sail through the tempest. I staunchly ignore them and consider my own fortune. I resolve, “One day I will fix this pain. I’m still getting stronger and one day this will be simple to correct.” I retort, “Another empty, foolish, impulsive promise.” I rationalize, “This isn’t the most important thing.” I anguish, “But how do you know?” How much can you harden your heart before you’re no longer human? How much can you reach back towards suffering before your life is no longer yours? Torn and bloodied I reel until another of my multitude rips me from the centrifuge, sighing in my ear, “Enough, enough.”

Contemptuous and hating SF, 3 years ago I moved from NYC to Palo Alto. The South Bay has its own sedate majesty. Driving down from SF it’s like descending from Mount Doom into an Eden of sweet, warm air. Understated and grand, even the woods are a suburban paradise. Everyone’s changing the world in their garage- NBD. I plucked giant, perfect fruit from yielding trees, sucking the juice from my wrist. But I can’t stay still no matter how comfortable and serene- onward, onward, pushed out of paradise by the waves of the world.

In December 2015, I moved from my house in Mountain View to an apartment in SF. It rained and the streets were unprepared so I took off my wet socks at Plow. My soaked book crumbled. It rained as we explored an abandoned nuclear site. Nick reassured, “I’ve been over this area with my geiger counter and it’s not that bad.” I like cold, I like temperamental weather, I like Land’s End, the way the wind blows the water white and black. I don’t live next to water or eucalyptus; I’m tabling that until after I settle this next thing with my business. Today I live in the Mission, a place Dan took me years ago and I instantly hated. Love blooms more lustily out of the ash of initial, prolonged dislike. Love: you don’t say it yet but you start thinking it. NYC has much of the best of today, but SF is the swan of our hopes for everything in 100 years.

That’s what you discover in a startup- even after sighting product market fit, you never stop pushing the market and product and reinventing everything. I love my startup. I love SF. Join my SF crew! Come away with us to navigate this life together! Shall we press forward together no matter how comfortable each stopping place is? Shall we strive and adventure together until we die?

Seed Fundraising in 2013 after Y Combinator

Raising our seed was totally different from raising our series A, which I did 12 months later. Our fundraising history might look ok from the outside, but I messed up a lot. Even though our situation was atypical because of Y Combinator, hopefully some can learn from what I wish I hadn’t done for our seed, and what I’d do again. This is the story of how, when Apptimize was 6 months old, composed of consultants and 2 unpaid employees (me and my cofounder), and had zero revenue, I raised $2M in convertible notes.

I. How we started
II. What to talk about
III.  The week of demo day
IV. Who to talk with first
V. Closing the deal
VI. Mistakes with VC’s
VII. What I pitched

I. How we started

The first money into Apptimize was $50K that I put in before we incorporated. We wanted to pay our consultants: my friends around the Bay and people from hacker news. When we got into Y Combinator ~2 months later, they gave us ~$100K.

During Y Combinator, my MIT and trading friends were the first people who gave us money, not because they knew anything about what we were doing but because they knew me and know I’m a smart bet. Our founder friends also introduced us to a ton of investors.

The majority of the money we raised was through introductions through friends, such as Adi who introduced us to a bunch of amazing investors including Merus. One of our investors and friends Tom was the one who introduced us to Google Ventures during Y Combinator. He also led our Angellist syndicate. Friends were invaluable in helping us raise our seed because of the connections and advice they gave. Looking back over my notes, I’m struck afresh by how right they were about everything.

II. What to talk about

When talking with investors, I had 2 areas of discussion: topics that would lead to closing the investment, and topics that would not. Everything was either a selling point, or not. Non-selling points were barriers to go around so that we could go back to talking about Apptimize’s unique advantages. I visualized the conversation as a ride to the mobile monetization bank. I was talking with someone who, like me, believed that putting money and other resources into mobile monetization was a great idea, and I was taking them with me on this journey. If we started detouring into topics that weren’t going to lead to an investment decision, I figured out how to get us back to the freeway towards the goal. Before the end of the conversation, they had to believe that riding with me was equivalent to going to the mobile monetization bank by seeing enough signs that Apptimize would take them there.

Questions like “How much are you raising?” “What are the terms?” “How much are you going to charge your customers?” “How many people are you going to hire?” “Will some competitor do this?” were in the category of “not selling points.” There was little chance of any answer causing them to decide to invest, so the point of the answer is just to say something normal that allowed me to transition to talking about something that will improve the investment decision. The worst type of answer is the type that risks lingering over something that isn’t going to improve the investment decision, because this would waste time. Wasting time is the deadliest sin.

My strategy for these distractions was to answer in a way that didn’t invite more questioning, and transition back to the path to a decision. For example, I didn’t want the amount I was raising to be a topic of conversation because it wasn’t likely to affect the decision, so I gave a normal answer. For our fundraising environment, this was ~$1.5M. I kept all the non-selling point answers short so I didn’t derail and detour into irrelevant weirdness; non selling points were not things I had time to talk about. I didn’t want to linger at the stop signs or create unnecessary stop signs because nothing is happening there. I wanted to just check it off and pass go.

III. The week of demo day

During Y Combinator, PG made ominous remarks to me and my batch mates about how I would have no problem fundraising. It was nice that PG was so confident, but I was unsure. Preparing for demo day, PG told me, “Say in your presentation how successful you were in algorithmic trading. That’s frightening.”

A week before demo day, Tom introduced us to Google Ventures and they were the first institutional money we got for our seed. After 1 meeting, the next day MG emailed to say they were investing.

“We’re getting money!” I showed Geoff the email on my computer while jumping up and down.
“An email is not money in the bank,” he said.

In between demo day rehearsals, banking this money became my #1 goal. Google Ventures’ legal team said, “This was the fastest turnaround we’ve seen.” I kept on top of everything and made sure I got whatever docs they needed within minutes because I was optimizing for getting the money ASAP. Waiting for the wires to hit, I refreshed our bank account every hour. The few weeks I was raising, every morning when I woke up, I’d open the banking app to check for the money.

Going into demo day, with $500K+ committed but little of it banked, I was paranoid because a million things could happen- another financial crisis could destroy the global monetary system and wipe out all our would-be investors, even Google! However, I decided to always talk as though we were definitely getting all the money so that I was in a position of power while raising. In private I was preparing for the worst and called everyone I knew to ask them to invest. Until we had banked the whole $2M, I was still calling people.

We obsessed over our demo day deck. Rehearsing, I paced the Computer History Museum for hours. We kept changing our pitch up until the last moment. Asking PG to listen to an updated pitch, he exclaimed, “No, I don’t have time for this.” We slunk away as he grumbled, “You’re already doing well with investors.” We’d deviated significantly from the PG approved pitch, but we had our plan and felt good.

Demo day happened.

On demo day, after my pitch I stood at a table while investors crowded around. I did some handshake deals and enjoyed myself. Demo day was really successful for us, and we raised all the money on the most founder favorable terms possible. In the week following demo day, I had more than 25 investor meetings. Jeremy said, “Maybe you should be more selective who you meet with because we’re closing money as fast as you can take the meetings.”

I was still paranoid and almost didn’t go to burning man because the money hadn’t been banked yet.
My friend said, “You’re leaving me hanging here.”
“I can’t think about burning man right now. This raise is my #1 priority and I need help with that.”
He instantly connected me to a ton of investors. He’s amazing.

IV. Who to talk with first

Because we did well on demo day, we were connected with about 100 investors. How did I decide who to meet with in what order? I first figured out if they wanted to go where Apptimize was going. If they weren’t clearly into mobile, I put off the meeting. I also figured out how much they tended to invest. If I couldn’t figure out if it was >$50K, I would put off the meeting. The common theme behind all this was optimizing for my time. If I met with the bigger, more interested investors first, I’d have all the money sooner.

V. Closing the deal

From my experience, there are 2 main types of decision makers: fast and slow. Signs of fast decision makers include talking fast, irritability if you wander off topic, and indifference towards details. Signs of slow decision makers include lists of detailed questions, talking carefully, and wanting more of your time. Slow decision makers might be the first investors I started talking with for my series A, but they were the last ones I talked with for my seed.

Fast decision makers were my targets because my seed was about getting the money as fast as possible and moving on with life. I wanted people who could decide fast, in 1 meeting. When I met most investors, it was clear to me they were fast decision makers and had already largely decided to invest in Apptimize the instant we met. My goal was to go in there, verify their instinct was correct by being badass and answering what they wanted to know, and then getting the money.

I was constantly preparing for the moment when they investor has decided whether Apptimize was the path to the bank. The instant I sensed they’d decided, I asked for the money. This was usually 30 to 45 minutes into the meeting. It was different for different people. I didn’t try to change anyone’s mind, because changing someone’s mind (and keeping it changed) wasn’t an efficient use of my time. I just wanted to get them to decide anything, and then to get them to tell me their decision.
When I sensed they’d decided, I’d say, “Are you interested in investing?”
“How much do you normally invest?”
If they didn’t have 1 number, and said something like, “A range,” or “It depends,” or “I have to run this by whoever,” I would assume they decided not to invest and figure out how to leave for my next meeting.
If they gave me a number, I’d say, “Great, I’ll send you over the docs tonight via Clerky,” and figure out how to leave for my next meeting. Easy. Despite my worries, no one ever backed out.

VI. Mistakes with VC’s

As soon as we started Y Combinator, VC’s asked mutual friends to introduce us. I was torn on whether to take the meetings because during YC you’re supposed to focus on building, not fundraising. Plus there was overall an antagonistic vibe towards VC’s. It was weird because on one hand they’re mocked as herd animals that string you along, waste your time, and pass your information to competitors. On the other hand, they’re everywhere and clearly an important part of the ecosystem.

I hated the idea that someone might waste my time, so I was often suspicious and impatient with VC’s. This was unproductive because I should’ve been either not meeting at all or figuring out what I was looking for in a long term partner. I didn’t understand anything about how venture capital worked, how VC’s are incentivized, or what they cared about. If I went into it thinking this was going to be a waste of time, it did not go well. In addition to naiveté, it was a culture clash because in algorithmic trading everyone is incredibly secretive. I’d often say, “I can’t answer that.” Thus the VC meetings only went well when it was through a warm intro or if I felt a personal connection because I became less guarded.

After we raised $2M, I should’ve stopped raising but we had VC’s who wanted to do our series A. We didn’t need the money then and I was clueless what a series A and having someone on our board really meant.
PG said, “Nancy, don’t get addicted to fundraising.”
“How did you know I’d be good at it?”
“Duh, I’ve seen more than 550 startups. Try to do the A now if you can, but stop if it gets hard.”

It took a few weeks for me to realize it was getting hard, but looking back I could’ve realized it faster if I’d known how VC’s work. This experience is what led me to realize that raising seed money is like consumer sales, whereas raising a series A is like enterprise sales. This is not to trivialize the seed- I lost 5 pounds in 1 week going to all those meetings.

After we raised our $2M, I had 40 more VC meetings over the next month that were largely a waste of time because they did not result in much additional money. We were debating whether we should just do our series A at that moment because we had verbal offers, but in retrospect we should’ve stopped, I shouldn’t’ve been so cagey, and I should’ve learned enterprise sales and how VC’s worked. I didn’t fully understand everything I’d messed up here until after our Series A, and that’s another post.

VII. What I pitched

Above I describe avoiding the non-selling points. What were my selling points? What did we actually talk about during the meetings?

My team is the first thing I explain when I introduce Apptimize to anyone. I confess my team is the best team in Silicon Valley (and thus the world) and that getting to choose exactly who I want to work with is one of the main reasons I started my own company. It’s one of my favorite things about being CEO. It’s why I’m dedicated to building the best team in the world and why the best people want to work at Apptimize. Seriously, check out and message me if you want to join us.

The next thing I’d do was show our kick ass demo. Every single person told me they were amazed. Their jaws dropped. They called over their partners to come over to look at it. They’d never seen anything like it, no one they knew had seen anything like it, and there was more magical technology where that came from.

I’d always talk about the vision. Apptimize is about reinventing mobile development. Making and maintaining native apps is totally broken and Apptimize shows people a better way. Anyone who develops on mobile can tell you all the things they hate about it because there are barriers like the app store approval process, the release cycle, the app being installed on a device that doesn’t always have internet, every minor change needing to be put on the roadmap, the difficulty in rolling back a suboptimal change, the mounting challenges in dealing with the fragmentation and variety of mobile users, the opacity in figuring out what’s working and what’s not. Is this how people are going to be making apps in 10 years? Are today’s apps anything like what apps will be in 5 years? Of course not, of course not. Apps will be better and smarter than they are right now. Mobile development will be faster and easier. Apptimize is 10x better than anything else out there and we’re going to be the drivers of that change. Apptimize allows people to innovate 100x more effectively.

The reason I started Apptimize is because we’re enabling mobile teams to innovate more intelligently and efficiently. We enable an effective process for continuous innovation. Right now I see the pain app developers deal with. I see so many apps that flounder despite a lot of work and creativity. It hurts because it’s such a waste of life. Apptimize is fixing this. It’s a no brainer. Do you want to invest?

Good “For My Age”

As a kid, I should’ve broken more rules. I knew so little about what mattered that I couldn’t even imagine how little anything I did mattered. Everything from brushing my baby teeth to “fitting in” was a wasted, once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity to act without consequences. I knew baby teeth fall out, but I didn’t connect the dots. I should’ve stowed away on airplanes, hacked into the FBI, and snuck into the white house. Nothing matters when you’re a kid! You’re held to the standard of a circus animal and anything you do remotely adult-like is extra, like how we applaud dogs for sitting. Why was kid Nancy role-playing her fake idea of an adult- like a chump!- when she had no idea what being an adult meant? Kid Nancy took on random burdens without realizing the potential benefits.

I guess if I had actually been a kid hoodlum I might not’ve transitioned fast enough into a law abiding adult, so better safe than sorry. But you can see there’s some sort of inefficiency there. Transitions are hard. Our minds are slow to update. The change from kid to adult is painful. You don’t move so much as get dunked from high school into college, college into yuppy real life, yuppy real life into Real real life where family and team members depend on you. Your actions acquire more and more consequences and you affect a bigger and bigger impact on the world.

At least earlier in life you’re alerted to these boundaries and in some ways prepared for them. In high school we noticed that standards were changing. We became aware we had to get our acts together at least by junior year because that stuff would be sent off to colleges. We started doing extracurriculars and conducting pretend lab work during the summer. In college, you know that the pressure is on for you to get stuff down on paper that looks legit enough for you to get a job. You apply for internships and participate in leadership.

But after college, no one warns you about the next transition. There’s no ceremony to ascend, so the post-college life boundaries sneak up on you. No one tells you there’s another event horizon in your late 20’s / early 30’s when you’re undramatically dunked into yet another category of human and the laws of gravity change again. After high school, I stopped celebrating my birthday and the years blended together. After college, I stopped seeing age as a thing. I have friends ages 18 to 70, and I don’t think about their ages (you find that nerds don’t really age).

It wasn’t until this “30 under 30” stuff started happening that I realized how close I was to the boundary of having an unflattering age. If I’d recognized that 29 would be my last laudable age, I would’ve tried to beef up my resume. I might’ve done more public speaking and maybe written a book. I’d probably have tried to get more twitter followers () and set some world records. But I didn’t glimpse this horizon until I was within its radius. I didn’t look up until I saw this “30 under 30” thing and the light hit that if I hadn’t won this year, I never would’ve gotten it.

I was ~22 when I first thought, “Oh crap, I now have to become legitimately accomplished instead of just accomplished ‘for my age.’”

All the stuff I didn’t know as a kid: was I dumb because of my age or was it my role as a person that age? It’s hard to imagine people used to get married at 13. Maybe that’s why human history’s so messed up; for millennia we had teenagers running things. It took me way too long to realize that the line between kid and adult was just not real. I was Hermione: “That’s not fair, Harry!… You can’t put that on people! It’s not our job to do that sort of thing, we’re kids!”

I think I lived my childhood ok. If I had to do it again, I’d say here’s how to be a successful kid:

  • Learn languages while your brain’s language centers are plastic enough to instinctively feel out everything natively.
  • Play with a variety of kids of different ages and learn to deal with different types of people.
  • Get into a moderate amount of trouble (not via boring stuff like drugs/alcohol/vandalism/theft but good original stuff like science experiments) because nothing that bad can happen to you.
  • Take initiative bc adults are nice to precocious kids.
  • Own a differentiated hobby so you can carnally know the direct relationship between relentless hours of practice and excellence.
  • Surprise people with some skill so that you realize no one knows anything and you can decide reality.
  • Deviate from what’s popular and set some trends so you can exercise knowing that human ideas are impermanent and aren’t like the laws of nature.

What does being an adult mean? I think it means realizing the extent of the consequences of your potential ideas and actions, and then figuring out how to navigate that to affect change in the world. It’s amazing the amount of impact you can have on the world.

Here’s everything I’ve figured out about how to prepare for your late 20’s. I’ll check back in a few years, but for now feel free to start altering the course of your life and career based on my advice:

  • Figure out what’s unique about you.
  • Figure out your niche target audience.
  • Expand beyond this niche.
  • Find the biggest problem you can plausibly successfully attack.
  • Talk about it and commit so that if you don’t at least make a dent in your problem it’s really mortifying.
  • Network with people who share ambitions similar to yours, possibly via some kind of incubator. Don’t just befriend or live with whoever happens to be around you because the people you spend the most time with matters and can set the trajectory of your life.
  • Get mentors and advisors.
  • Inspire strangers to give you resources, whether it’s charity, investments, crowdfunding, etc.
  • Identify the attributes of people you admire and sketch out a plan for acquiring those for yourself.

At 30 the bar gets higher. It’s like when you turn 18 and suddenly you’re kicked out of the house and into the army. I haven’t figured out that part yet and will keep you guys updated.

I’m 29. I’m turning 30 in the fall. I have 8 more months to get awards for not yet being 30. After that I will no longer be cool for “my age” until I’m 100 and will have to become legitimately cool for the next 70 years. Publications and societies, THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO CONSIDER ME FOR 30 UNDER 30 AWARDS. Won’t it be embarrassing for everyone if I turn out to be a bazillionaire and I never won your x under x award? Better to be safe and consider me! You’ll be in good company; here’s some publicity I’ve gotten during the last year of my 20’s:
MIT Alumni Profile,
Startup Beat,
Female Founders,
Forbes 30 under 30,
Alley Watch Women in Tech,
Fox Business News (I still haven’t watched this video- too embarrassing).