What fighting taught me about my career

Cross post from my personal blog – this also applies to life and business.

I’d like to start by saying that I’m more of a hobbyist and fight fan than an actual fighter. My record of amateur and pro fights is an impressive 0-0. I have however been training in various martial arts over the past 20 years ranging from Tae Kwon Do, to Judo, to Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, to Muay Thai Kickboxing. In all of these classes I have learned some valuable lessons that I’ve been able to apply to many other facets of my life, most specifically my career.

1 – Belts don’t really matter with few exceptions – just like degrees, certificates and awards

I am kind of embarrassed I didn’t figure this one out earlier. I remember being an athletic 15 year old taking Karate lessons where the “teacher” was a skinny 12 year old black belt. I honestly thought that because the kid had black belt he could kick my ass. I also thought that because I had trained a lot of karate and had won several no contact “point fighting” tournaments I was pretty bad ass.

Let’s just say my world came crashing down when a drunk kid started throwing punches that he actually intended to hit me with.
The honest truth is that most martial arts belts don’t really signify much in terms of fighting ability with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Judo, Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu and a few others).

All that they really mean is the person awarded with the belt has paid enough money to get it and meets some basic knowledge requirements. The same can be said for degrees, certificates and most awards.

What really matters is the person.

2 – You need to have contact, otherwise you might as well be learning to swim on land

Now, you should learn the basic movements first, otherwise you’ll just flail around and tire yourself out first, but you should always have a target of getting into the ring and into live sparring.

Training to fight without contact is like training to swim while on land. Learning some basic movements while on shore is helpful, but you wouldn’t want your first actual swimming experience to be when you were potentially swimming for your life.

In your career you need to push yourself. If you never do, then you won’t be ready for it when someone/something pushes you (e.g. a competitor).

3 – Quit being afraid. With hindsight, few things are as bad as you thought they would be, including getting punched in the face

Now, I’m not talking about real violence here. I’ve been lucky enough to have never been involved in a situation where someone truly wanted to take my life. I think it’s pretty safe to say that a gun fight is something that could easily become much worse than you ever thought possible. I’m talking about getting into the ring with boxing gloves on and sparring with someone full contact. Most people are afraid of this. I was the first time I did it.

It’s really not that bad

I didn’t feel the punches during the session, but I did have a headache that night and the next morning. I was pretty bad at blocking when I first started real contact sparring. Turns out that blocking punches that were never really intending to hit you is easier than blocking ones that are. The only way to get better at it was take a few punches to the face.

Don’t be afraid to jump into new projects, move on from a shitty situation, or change careers. It could be the best thing you ever did, and you shouldn’t ever let fear be the deciding factor as to why you don’t make a positive change for yourself.

4 – Hard work pays off

People starting out at my gym ask me how to kick or punch with a lot of power. They often don’t like the answer, because people often don’t like to put in the time and work. Your kick will become powerful by going through the following process: learn the basic technique, kick the bag a few thousand times (over several days), got pointers to refine technique, kick the bag several thousand more times (over days/weeks), repeat for many years. The more smart work you put in, the better you will become. It really is that simple.

Note that a key part to the process is refining the technique. In your career this equates to working hard and working smart. Having a mentor and/or colleagues who have complementary skill sets which can be cross trained is hugely beneficial to success.

5. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not getting better

You shouldn’t be the best person at everything at your gym unless you’re the instructor and aren’t actively fighting. If you are, you will never learn anything. The best place to train at is a gym where you are the least skilled person there. The first Judo club I tried as an adult had several kids in the class, and I found that I was able to beat most of them based on strength and some rudimentary skills alone. I was a fairly competent striker at this point, was an athletic 22 year old man, and wanted to learn a bit about this grappling stuff I had seen in those early UFC’s.
I thankfully tried another gym that had adult only classes and was thoroughly destroyed by everyone in the class that I went up against.

It was an uncomfortable, frustrating, difficult, and humbling experience, but I have never experienced that level of rapid learning since.

In your career you need to seek out challenges. The fastest way to succeed is by being brave and trying difficult things. You will fail more, but it is well worth the effort.

WordPress Plugin Marketing and Usability

I’ve been doing some research on my competitors and I think that I have a major strength that they don’t have.  Marketing and Usability skills.

Yes I have some significant development expertise, but honestly many of my competitors are probably better at it than I am.  Thankfully, my career took a wild swing several years ago and got me exposed to marketing expertise at the highest level.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best digital marketing groups in North America and the UK for more than 3 years so I’m intimately familiar with what is required to sell products.

What my competitors are doing, is not it.   I’ll break this into two major themes.

1. Usability – of lack thereof

Without exception, every paid gallery plugin I reviewed was a usability nightmare.  So many needless options exposed on the first  settings screen that won’t be used by 98% of users.  Very complicated workflows, requiring all sorts of manual effort.  Why isn’t it simplified?  These are blog plugins.   The majority of bloggers aren’t technical.  In the day and age of smartphones and macbook pros, even technical people don’t like to have to learn a silly workflow and which options they have to pay attention to in order to get something basic out of a plugin.  If you have to spend 30 minutes reading documentation or watching videos on how to configure a plugin so it will do something basic for you before you buy it you have lost an astounding amount of customers.  If your plugin truly needs a lot of options – fine.  Just hide them in an advanced tab.  There isn’t any excuse you can make to me that your plugin can’t have default settings and you can’t make it easy enough that your mom/grandma/<some relative that needs help getting email> can figure it out.

Most admin interfaces seem to be an ad-hoc mess.  I’m sure there weren’t paper mock-ups, wireframes, or user stories/paths at any stage of the development process.

2. Marketing/Growth Hacking

The extent of the majority of the gallery related plugins seems to be to put it on code canyon and hope for the best.  I can’t imagine putting in all of the work to create a great product, and then leave the likelihood that it will sell to chance.  If there is a free product, where are the links to give it a five star review?  Where is the content marketing – guides to tell people how to solve pain points (with a handy paid plugin), customized for industry and vertical.  Why isn’t everyone with a free/pro version adding a pro-lite version where the only requirement to get it is an email address (to generate recurring eyeballs for that content marketing).

If I were a more underhanded type of person I would be tempted to fork some really good free plugins, make minimal updates, market the shit out of them and laugh all the way to the bank.  It would be perfectly legal according to the GPL license – I would just have to provide the source code on demand, but it would not matter, because the audience that I would be marketing to is not the type to be installing things from source, plus I would own the conversation with them, not the original developer.  Alas I am not that  type of person.  At the minimum, I will make massive usability improvements to existing plugins.  I believe that marketing/selling those would both add value and benefit the community.  In the end all wordpress plugin authors who want to be paid are standing on the back of the wordpress platform, so we’re all benefiting from someone else’s work.  Once I get a little more familiar with the code base it will likely be easier for me to make most of my ideas from scratch anyway.

If someone forks my GPL code then so be it.

Committed to starting a software business

I’ve decided to start a software business on the side.  I have a full time job right now, but I feel like I want more.

I have experience as a software developer as well as a marketer/analyst.  I think I’m well suited for it but I know it will be a lot of work.

My first product will be a wordpress plugin called visual recipe index.  I quickly forked an existing plugin and made several modifications to simplify it and make it much easier to use.  My plan is to make a pro version that goes along with the free version.  The pro version will incorporate many new features and a streamlined interface.  You can sign up for information and early access to the pro version at http://kremental.com/visual-recipe-index.

I originally designed the free version in an attempt to build links for my wife’s food blog: Strawberries for Supper.  I’m not sure how well it will work out, it was definitely worth the effort just to get something out the door and establish a quick win to keep me motivated.