If you enjoyed this post, share it.

2013’s theme: getting out of my comfort zone.

“Imagine immensities, don’t compromise and don’t waste time.”

This year was truly remarkable and sets the bar for 2014.

“If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.”
– Debbie Millman

A. My 2013 in review:

  1. What was your greatest accomplishment this year?
  2. What was your biggest disappointment?
  3. What surprised you most this year?
  4. What did you set out to do that you didn’t accomplish? What happened?
  5. Looking over the last year, what are the moments that shine the most?
  6. When were you the happiest?

B. My blog in review:

  1. Snapshot of traffic this year with commentary
  2. Top 5 articles published in 2013 by traffic

A. My 2013 in review

1. What was your greatest accomplishment this year? 

I’ll say my greatest accomplishment was two-fold:

1) working at Evernote in my dream job at my dream company, and 
2) starting Cusoy to fulfill my lifelong dream of starting my own company. 

I feel truly blessed to have done both last year alone, even now as I am just 23.

1) Working at Evernote in my dream job at my dream company
I started my first job out of college as an associate product manager at Evernote for the first half of 2013. I was their first ever associate product manager—and I got there through hustle and luck in successfully pitching myself to them cold, without any prior connections with employees.

They weren’t actually hiring for APM’s and actually decided to create the position for me.

Looking back, I am truly amazed I was able to land my dream job and able to move straight to the San Francisco Bay Area—where I’ve always wanted to be—right after graduating from Rice in Houston.

I’ll never forget the insurmountable odds—of me, an undergrad majoring in economics who did not have an CS/EE/engineering background and/or an MBA, no local roots of being from Cal or Stanford—trying to break into product management in Silicon Valley (I didn’t even know how to code, but did have some basic front-end HTML/CSS knowledge).

Not to mention at a company of Evernote’s stature, not even a 5-man unknown garage band startup.

It seemed near impossible.

Landing my dream job in my dream location was 1-1.5 years in the making and took tremendous hustle and hard work, incredible luck and serendipity in being at the right place at the right time — as well as the immense generosity and kindness of all the people who I sought advice from and who have helped me along the way. I could never have accomplished this on my own.

Moreover, I will always be eternally grateful for the fantastic experiences Evernote provided me, the opportunity to work with the amazing people there and most importantly, that they took a chance on a young person like me, given my background.

Thank you all so much.

Silicon Valley has always had the reputation of having a culture of selflessly helping others; I hope to pay it forward.

2) Starting Cusoy to fulfill my lifelong dream of starting my own company

Then, I started my first startup Cusoy for the latter half of 2013. Even as I had just landed my dream job at my dream company straight out of college, I had always seen it as a stepping stone to starting my own company.

I never had a set “clock” to when I had planned to exit, but ultimately the circumstances aligned that I told myself to take the plunge.

I won’t spend too much time writing about this—you can read all about my experiences with Cusoy on this blog (in case you haven’t noticed already).

It’s been a wild, crazy ride but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

I’m also glad I did it now, at age 23, rather than wait five years later to have “all my ducks in a row” before taking the plunge.

There is no “perfect” set of circumstances. There is never a “right” moment. Life is short. Don’t waste time.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have had the savings and runway to be able to work on Cusoy for six months (and now in 2014, I plan to work on a new venture in B2B SaaS for the entire year).

Even though it may have been unsuccessful by metrics of revenue, traction, growth, funding — it was a truly priceless experience for me to go through the trials and tribulations of starting a B2C startup and accomplishing all that I did:

  • Successfully validated a market need that also solved a personal pain point
  • Narrowed initial broad focus (vegetarian/vegan, Paleo, gluten free) to owning the gluten free space
  • Researched gluten free via books, medical lectures and conversations with healthcare professionals
  • Collected 100+ quality customer research surveys
  • Sourced 80+ beta testers through organic user acquisition
  • Designed a 3-week email experiment to study user interest vs. intent to purchase
  • Built 3 MVP iterations despite being non-technical
  • Product activation (sign-up & meaningful action) in first 30 days: 50%
  • Product retention in first 30 days: 25%
  • Conducted 10+ in-person usability tests in San Francisco/Greater Bay Area
  • Scheduled 6 meetings with Rock Health over the course of 5 months for product/application feedback
  • Invited to pitch practice with Greylock Partners and learned how to best pitch Cusoy for seed funding
  • Consulted an informal advisory board of current tech employees, former and present entrepreneurs

In the two respects of Evernote and Cusoy above, I’d say 2013 was a massive, massive success for me in my career path and dream goals.

2. What was your biggest disappointment?

Ha, I’m a big believer in self-improvement, so I’ll talk about three big disappointments, rather than just one:

1) Making tradeoffs in lifestyle and relationships regarding work
2) Personal realizations of areas of immaturity and inexperience
3) Not succeeding in finding a cofounder/team sooner to work on Cusoy

1) Making tradeoffs in lifestyle and relationships regarding work

My first big disappointment was having to take tradeoffs in my lifestyle and relationships when it came to work.

I half regret my decision to not live in San Francisco; rather, I live in Foster City—it was much closer to Redwood City where Evernote was in terms of commute time—as well as for a relatively cheaper rent (easier to bootstrap this way).

However, it is much harder to meet people in Foster City without either going up north to SF or south to Palo Alto—I suppose it’s good that I live at the midpoint of those two cities? Most people my age who work in tech either live in SF or Palo Alto. Certainly not in Foster City. That’s not a knock to Foster City—it’s a really beautiful and amazing enclave here, but it’s very family-oriented and suburban.

When I was still at Evernote, I made a big effort to meet other people here (since I’m an East Coast transplant and not a native) — but ever since I started working on Cusoy, that time and effort significantly dropped, obviously, since my complete focus was on Cusoy.

I know I can’t have my cake and eat it too — but living in Foster City allowed me to be able to bootstrap to work on Cusoy; it 100% would not have been possible if I was in SF or Palo Alto.

Ultimately, I want to get to a point where my venture is successful enough that I can move to SF, either in late 2014 or early 2015.

2) Personal realizations of areas of immaturity and inexperience

Another big disappointment in myself were personal realizations of where I fell short and areas of immaturity and inexperience that I could immediately identify as needing room for improvement.

I think those areas will only be improved as time goes on and perhaps with additional opportunities to improve and training and help.

At the same time, I feel there is always room for personal growth — this is only a reminder for myself to constantly reflect upon my experiences and if I am learning and growing (or if not, why? and how do I keep learning and growing?).

3) Not succeeding in finding a cofounder/team sooner to work on Cusoy

This is cautiously said as a disappointment, though I think it might’ve gone either way.

I really think I could’ve made a bigger effort to try to get a cofounder and/or team together, but given the limited time frame I set for myself (six months) and how I could already go ahead—despite being non-technical—to start and work on Cusoy, I didn’t really try to find a cofounder or a team.

It’s such a huge investment, as I’ve said in previous posts, that it’s almost akin to a sexless marriage with the startup as the “baby,” that I didn’t want to deal with unnecessary drama and potential conflicts.

I hope to remedy that with my next B2B SaaS venture.

3. What surprised you most this year?

Honestly, that I was able to accomplish the two big accomplishments I mentioned above: landing my dream job at Evernote as an associate product manager and fulfilling my lifelong dream of starting my own company with Cusoy.

On a deeper note, that I actually took the plunge to start Cusoy.

It’s one thing to constantly tell your friends, family and even yourself that “I’m doing X, Y, Z in preparation to start my own company down the road…” and see them just smile and nod at you (“She’s probably not going to do it, that’s so risky, but we’ll see”) and then another thing… actually do it.

No shit, this is for real, guys.

Yeah.

I’m very surprised at myself and moreover, want to tell anyone else who is on the outside looking in that while it is a very crazy, chaotic and scary time, it’s also incredibly exciting and exhilarating. Forgive the cliches here, but it’s all true.

Starting a company and taking the plunge is perhaps one of the most fulfilling experiences you’ll ever have in your life, and definitely the most teachable moments of learning about yourself and your character in times of trial and tribulation.

Whatever happens in the end—most likely that your startup will fail, for whatever reason—it probably isn’t so bad.

Fear of failure is tremendous but not impossible to overcome. It’s also not something that will ever go away, not even to the most successful people in the world like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, but entrepreneurship is something that you’ll only get better in time and with practice.

The greatest risk is in doing nothing at all. By doing nothing, you learn nothing.

4. What did you set out to do that you didn’t accomplish? What happened?

I set out to travel out of town once a month this year to someplace new I haven’t ever been before — I accomplished it for the first five months (Santa Cruz, San Diego, Vegas, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe) but didn’t for the rest of the year because of Cusoy, which is understandable.

I set out to constantly meet new people and also keep in touch with my friends and other acquaintances I’ve met here in SF and the Bay Area — I did a good job of it the first half of the year, then kind of dropped off of it because of Cusoy, which is understandable.

I set out to read 25 books this year, but only ended up reading three. I hope to actually do this in 2014 and have a set plan to do so.

I set out to regularly exercise and start lifting heavier weights. I definitely went through phases of regular exercise and not exercising at all. Embarrassingly enough, I went from lifting 50 lbs in dumb bell bench presses this year only 80 lbs. 30 lbs improvement over 12 months is embarrassing. I hope to be more consistent this year in exercising.

I set out to learn how to properly do barbell squats, deadlifts and bench presses. I have not done this yet; I want to hire a professional personal trainer who is certified by USAW and/or NSCA to teach me, but as of right now do not have the funds to hire someone at a $100-$140/hr rate. Ouch.

I set out to raise funding for Cusoy with Rock Health that I didn’t accomplish.

I set out to find cofounders and a team through Meetup events, Hackers and Founders lunches, etc. that I didn’t accomplish.

I set out to see what I could do in six months by starting Cusoy… but unfortunately didn’t accomplish making it “successful” in terms of financial sustainability and traction and growth. Granted, given my circumstances of working alone, Cusoy’s B2C nature, giving myself only six months, that was a near-impossible goal as well.

5. Looking over the last year, what are the moments that shine the most?

The moments that shined the most were when I took the plunge to start Cusoy and also interacting with users and doing user research.

I’ve always enjoyed doing user research and usability testing, both at Evernote and with Cusoy, as well as in previous work experiences with RetailMeNot and Square.

It never ceases to fascinate and amaze me to watch users interact with products and learn things from observations and use cases that may not have been clearly evident to me before.

6. When were you the happiest? 

When I was working on Cusoy. My time with Cusoy were some of the happiest—and also shittiest—moments of my life. It was an emotional roller coaster, every day, multiple times during the day.

Connecting with my users and getting real feedback that Cusoy would tremendously help them solve a pain point of eating out with gluten intolerance or celiac disease and/or with food allergies was very fulfilling. It gave meaning to my work that I was making a positive difference in their lives.

As I’m writing this, I also feel incredibly happy and blessed as I remember and reflect upon my past experiences this year, both at Evernote and with Cusoy… and I look forward to working on a new B2B SaaS endeavor for the entirety of 2014.

B. My blog in review

1. Snapshot of traffic this year with commentary

Since starting this blog in 2013, I haven’t had an incredible amount of traffic by any means, but here’s a snapshot:

2013blogreview

So a little over 2,000 people visited my blog in 2013.

It didn’t really take off till mid-July when I first began writing about Cusoy.

The first spike in late July 2013 was soon after I announced my six month challenge, as my friend Joel from Buffer kindly tweeted it out and drove traffic to my blog.

The second spike in mid-August 2013 was when I published my blog post in learning how to pitch and my experience pitching Greylock Partners to HN, which ultimately put me on the 2nd page of HN and drove traffic to my blog.

I hope to grow my blog traffic in 2014 and continue building my email list.

2. Top 5 articles published in 2013 by traffic

  1. Week #4 – Building out my MVP, talking to advisors, learning how to pitch VC’s and pitching Greylock
  2. Week #1 – Choosing an idea, validating a market need and bridging focus
  3. What can you do in six months?
  4. Week #2 – Talking to others, building an MVP and focusing on value versus growth and monetization
  5. Six month challenge (table of contents)

All in all, I’d say 2013 was a very successful year in my life 🙂 and I can’t wait to see what 2014 holds!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *