This newsletter and the podcast are our “behind the scenes” diary of building Metacast, a podcast app that reimagines listening to podcasts. We’re building “in public,” sharing our learnings as we go. Join the 383 readers who follow our journey on this newsletter.
In this issue
A case study on making decisions with documents
December was a lazy period for Metacast. The three of us took vacations — Arnab traveled to India, Jennie spent some time with the family in the U.S., and I traveled to South America and South Carolina.
Upon coming back, Arnab and I had a common thread going on. Feeling of guilt.
We felt guilt about different things:
Unable to be 100% productive. You’re back from vacation, and you make the mistake of telling everyone that you’ll be at full capacity immediately. You fail to keep the promise day after day, and it eats you from the inside… Getting back to a full-on startup mode after a break is no joke. It takes a few days; it’s important to be honest with yourself and others, and set realistic expectations.
Not pulling enough weight. You’re out, but the rest of the team keeps working. They’re adding value; you are not. You work like crazy before the vacation to overcompensate. You work like crazy after the vacation to overcompensate. The latter is particularly damaging and leads to frustration and burnout. To help everyone relax more, we implemented a “policy” that all of us take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off at the same time.
Although productivity experts and LinkedIn influencers may say otherwise, negative emotions are counter-productive. We’ve all heard stories of someone achieving great results out of jealousy, anger, frustration, guilt, etc. They sure did, but at what cost? I can guarantee you that countless people tried to ride negative emotions, but ultimately failed and felt miserable. They’ve not survived to tell the success story.
Rather than drown in guilt, we prefer to work through it individually and sometimes as a team. “What are we doing this for?” is the ultimate question that we ask ourselves every time we wrestle with guilt.
Let me give you a specific example.
I had an unexpected family obligation arise out of nowhere. Last week was the Martin Luther King Jr. day here in the United States, and my kids didn’t have school. My wife was going to take them to a fair, but our younger son felt unwell.
I faced a choice — do I take my older son to the fair while his brother stays home with mom, or do I ignore the family, retreat to my office, and work? To reframe this in terms of guilt, do I feel guilt about not working, or do I feel guilt about the unhappy kids?
Arnab’s words rang in my head:
We're doing it for ourselves, for our families, for our friends… If we are going to hold ourselves to the same shackles [of a job at big tech], then why are we taking this extra risk of not earning money and trying to do [the startup]?
— Arnab Deka, co-founder of Metacast (see this segment on video)
We didn’t start Metacast to build a unicorn. We didn’t start it to be rich and famous. We started Metacast to be free. To be free of corporate bullshit, endless meetings, and accounting of vacation days. To be free to spend time with our families on our own terms. There’s no place for guilt in the world we envision.
Un-conditioning from old habits takes time. It’s been ~8 months since we started the company, and some bad habits haven’t died out yet. But they will, because we are intentional about choosing happiness.
When in doubt, write a doc; a case study
Two weeks ago, we decided to change our content strategy in a major way. Today, we’ll share the process and the internal document that helped us make the decision.
Let’s start with some context.
We create content to build personal and company’s brands. The hypothesis is that the publicity will help us earn trust with users, create an organic distribution channel for Metacast, and build a platform for meeting people from the podcasting industry.
It dawned on me that the effort we’re putting into content creation is higher than the ROI. I believe one of the root causes is the positioning of the podcast — is it a podcast about building Metacast, or is it a podcast about entrepreneurship in general? It’s both, which also means that it’s neither, because you can’t be everything for everybody.
We allowed the content strategy to evolve organically, and it was time to do something about it. To “professionalize” it.
Our entire team cut teeth at Amazon where we worked together on AWS Chatbot. So we did what a typical Amazon team would do — wrote a document that laid out the problem and made a recommendation. Here is the redacted version of the doc that I put together in less than half an hour and reviewed with the team in 10 minutes.
The document lacks polish of an Amazon-grade internal document. If I were to write it for AWS leadership, it would’ve had the same content but different presentation.
Prose, not bullet points. Docs should be written as prose, period. Bullet points make you a lazy thinker, because it’s easy to bullshit your way around a couple of words in a bullet. It’s much harder to bullshit your way around a full sentence that needs to convey information to the reader. I always start with full-sentence bullet points as an outline and evolve them into coherent prose after the structure is finalized. For this document, I never got past the outline stage.
High quality writing, not a brain dump. I didn’t proof-read or edit this document, because I didn’t have time. I started writing it only 30 minutes before the meeting where we ultimately made the decision. It did the job though.
Polished artifact, not abandoned notes. At Amazon, I’d host a few reviews with the team (or collect feedback offline), make the doc perfect, and store it forever as evidence of the decision that we made. At a startup, polishing an artifact that has served its purpose is a waste.
Why write a doc? Why couldn’t we discuss this topic verbally?
Perhaps we could, but documents help me clarify my own thoughts. I wrote it for me. The doc helped me offload my concerns on paper, see the full picture, and consider all variables to make an informed recommendation. It helped me convince the team to follow my lead. Now the document can go to trash, we no longer need it (except for recycling it as “content” for this newsletter!)
The doc helped us quickly made the decision and change our content strategy for the long-form content.
Behind the scenes. Every two weeks on Wednesdays, we send out a behind the scenes newsletter that covers the same topics as the Metacast: Behind the scenes podcast episode released on the same day. The audio is also attached to the newsletter email; you can listen to it on Substack.
Builders Gonna Build. This is our new interview-only podcast where founders, engineers, and product managers share their insights about building tech products. We’ll do a few re-runs to give ourselves some runway. Next week, we’ll re-publish our interview with Justin Frankel, the creator of Winamp. Stay tuned.
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