Five years

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Yesterday marked five years that I’ve been at WebpageFX.

It’s been an awesome ride so far and I can’t believe it has already been five whole years. The company has grown so much since I first started. I remember touring the decked-out but tiny offices in a business incubator and getting grilled by an Internet marketing team that consisted of two (!) people at the time.

I remember holding an iPad in my hands for the first time ever in the office while waiting for my interview to start. I remember stopping at Applebees in Altoona for a self-congratulatory dinner after accepting an offer. I ordered the most expensive item on the menu. I think it was a steak.

I remember moving furniture into new office space when our tiny offices were bursting at the seams. Our new space seemed so massive. I remember thinking that we couldn’t possibly need more space. Ever. Then a couple years later we ran out of space and did it all over again.

Most of all, I remember how wonderful all of the people are at WebpageFX. Especially my wife…who I met when she started working on the exact same day as me.

Here’s to the next five years…and maybe an even bigger office. 😀

Caught in the Web’s Trap

We’re being force fed information on the web. Emails, tweets, shares, pins, IMs, phone calls, etc. It’s equal parts awesome and overwhelming. I like to read and like to be an early adopter so I have this nagging need to constantly refresh my Twitter stream and email inbox during my free time.

Reading, watching and listening to stuff online has taught me so much. I wouldn’t have a job right now if I didn’t absorb information from the Internet on a regular basis for most of my life.

The perpetual need to feed information into my brain comes with a few problems though. With so much content noise, it’s easy to fall into the trap of consumption instead of creation and of reading about things instead of doing them.

I fall into this trap often:

– I’ll read dozens of articles about new affiliate marketing tactics and not try a single one
– I’ll watch workout videos on YouTube for a couple of hours instead of going to the gym

Consumption is an important part of learning but it’s void of any value without experience. Others may think I’m more productive and more in tune to what’s going on in the world when I’m active on email and social media but the opposite is true. I’m most productive and engaged when I’m doing things in real life.

Being from Punxsutawney

Groundhog Day

“What’s your name and where are you from?”

They are two of the most boring questions, but they are how most conversations start when meeting people for the first time. While the answers are usually boring, my first few seconds with somebody new is usually much more entertaining.

“My name is Trevin and I’m from Punxsutawney.”

A lot different from the usual “Steve from Columbus, Ohio” that most people hear, a polite introduction with me usually ends up in a full-fledged Q and A session.

When I was younger I didn’t like my name and I didn’t like where I was from. I was a kid with a weird name nobody could pronounce from that weird town with the groundhog.

I’ve grown to love and embrace my name. People might mispronounce it, but nobody forgets it. Trevin is an awesome name.

My hometown was a different story. Like most kids who grow up in Punxsutawney (or any small town), I always thought that any place would be preferable over Punxsutawney. It was small, it was sleepy and once a year every February the entire world reported what Punxsutawney Phil said while thinking silently that we were all insane, Groundhog-worshiping folk. Being from Punxsutawney automatically made you a freak show to a lot of people from neighboring areas.

We were all famous because we were…strange.

At some point when I was in high school, though, my feelings towards my hometown started to change. It didn’t happen all at once, but the more I saw of the outside world the more I appreciated where I came from.

I remember going to track meets in Pittsburgh and getting strange looks from people we were running against. I suppose people were surprised to see real, living human beings from Punxsutawney out in the wild. In a strange way, though, I loved getting that extra look from people we were competing against. We used it as motivation. Yes, Punxsutawney is a real place. Yes, we live there. Yes, we are going to beat you to the finish line.

The first time I really “got out” of Punxsutawney was when I left headed for college in central Indiana. I was shocked initially to learn that the things everybody hated about Punxsutawney — gossip, close-mindedness, boredom — weren’t confined to the southeast corner of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.

In fact, all the other places I’ve called home since high school have all been pretty similar. They have mostly good people and some bad people. Every town has gossip and drama. Every town has construction.

The difference, I’ve learned, was that Punxsutawney has an identity. It might be a weird one and we might not have liked it, but there was always something that united everybody who lived there. We all had one thing in common — Groundhog’s Day — and we all knew it. The population of the town might continue to shrink and our local economy might worsen but no matter what we still have Groundhog’s Day and we’re still going to get our moment in the spotlight whether we like it or not. If you have ever rooted for a terrible sports team for an extended period, the bond you feel with your fellow fans is a lot like the bond you feel with other people from Punxsutawney. No matter how bad last season was, THIS YEAR IS GOING TO BE OUR YEAR.

Plus, being from Punxsutawney has some other perks:

  • We never had school on February 2nd.
  • Tourism money
  • Laska’s Pizza
  • Sega debuted Sonic the Hedgehog  3 on Groundhog Day when I was five years old.


Other than being around to visit my folks, I haven’t lived in Punxsutawney since summers during my college days. While moving back doesn’t appeal to me, I appreciate it a lot more than I ever have.

I used to think of Punxsutawney as a strange, isolated place famous for a groundhog. I still think all of those things are true but now I think of it as a strange, isolated place famous for a Groundhog that has blessed me with wonderful friends and experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Punxsutawney gave me both pride and a chip on my shoulder.

Nowadays when I meet people, I don’t mind at all talking about Gobbler’s Knob, Phil and Phyllis or weather prognostication. Most of the time, I can even recite some interesting Groundhog Day facts.

It took me 25 years to realize it, but being from Punxsutawney is more blessing than curse.

My Side Projects In 2013

I’ve always loved side projects. I was trying to think back to the last time that I didn’t have one and I honestly can’t remember. I sold homemade finger skateboards in elementary school. I made websites for friends in middle school. I started blogging in high school. I kept blogging in college and haven’t stopped. Side projects are a nice change of pace and give you a creative testing ground where you are free to fail without any consequence.

I built a bunch of small and mostly crappy things in 2013…a couple of websites and a handful of “SEO Tools.”

Here is how a few of them turned out: Continue reading

My favorite reads of 2013

I’ve probably read more books, articles and studies in 2013 than I have in any other year. My company generously launched an incentivized reading program and has a fully stocked library full of wonderful reads on marketing, usability, management and more. It’s helped me get back to ready on a daily basis outside of the articles and news I stay pretty consistent with.

I’ve tried to read a chapter of a book every day this year. I probably only made it around 100 of the days but it’s a goal I’d like to keep for 2014 and beyond. You can’t find many things that are a better use of your time than reading a good book.

Here are my favorites from this 2013:

 

Paterno by Joe Posnanski
A huge Penn State fan who grew up pretending to be Bobby Engram and Joe Jurevicius, I’ve long been fascinated with Joe Paterno. A man who stood for good for so long ended his life as one of the most reviled characters in the world. Posnanski takes a fair look at Paterno’s entire life and puts together a beautiful look at a wonderful man who made a grave mistake. A good biography recognizes that people aren’t as black and white and we often think they are and Posanski takes that approach here.

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver
Nate Silver’s popularity has never been greater than in 2013. I’ve always known him as the creator of PECOTA, an advanced statistical model for baseball, but Silver drops some knowledge on politics, finance and other large statistical models in this book. With so many people relying on big data, Silver’s insight into predictive models and their potential pitfalls is a timely read.

Favorite Web Reads

Black Friday by Joe Posnanski
Another wonderful piece by Posnanski (a favorite of mine) on what Black Friday means.

The Night Tony Soprano Disappeared by Brett Martin
The actor who played my favorite television character of all-time passed away this year. This is as in-depth look into James Gandolfini as you’ll find.

High frequency dating by Rob Rhinehart
The funniest piece I read in 2013, this satirical look at online dating meets hacking will make you laugh until you cry.

The Trouble With Johnny by Wright Thompson
ESPN’s long piece on Johnny Manziel made me question lots about college football.

Truly great work is sustainable

If you work in a creative field (or any field, really), it’s super easy to start feeling burnout. Demanding new ideas, strategies and talking points from your brain day after day is taxing.

Don’t get me wrong. Our bodies are pretty amazing and we can work 12 or 14 or 16 hour days for a long time and get a remarkable amount of work done. But it’s not great work.

Truly great work is sustainable. You’ll get a lot more done working 8-9 hours a day while being consistently inspired for 10 or 20 years than you will going all out for a few years until you reach your breaking point.

Take long distance running in track and field, where the guy who sprints out the lead early on is rarely the first to cross the finish line. The smartest and most well-trained runners know to conserve their energy and the anxious runners will come back to them later in the race.

I think one of the most important aspects of doing great work is being present. Our culture is so focused on multi-tasking and GTD that it can be pretty rare where we even have a conversation with another person without constantly distracting ourselves with email or tweets or the weather.

People who are building great things and who are the greatest leaders are able to give 100% of themselves in each interaction. But you can’t achieve that if you are running yourself into the ground. You need consistent energy and passion that you can only get from taking a break every now and then.

P.S. – Andrew Dumont has some really good tips on avoiding burnout. It’s a great read.

Keep shipping

The people that we look up to are no different than we are. They still wake every morning with their own routine and their own ambitions for the day. They have the same fears, challenges, set backs, and epiphanies.

The difference is that they ship. Even if it’s something incremental, the people that we admire ship some form of work almost daily. They write, code, build, make, paint, draft, and anything else related to producing something of note.

A great reminder to focus on doing and building things. It’s too easy to get stuck thinking too much about the process of creating something.

If you wait for the perfect opportunity, you’ll never get started. I’m rarely in the perfect mood to write. Lots of days I absolutely don’t want to go to the gym. On most days, I make myself do it anyway. I always feel accomplished in the end.

The people we admire don’t formulate excuses. They finish things. You learn more and become a better person by finishing what you start.

Building a crappy widget is more enriching than sitting around talking about building a really good widget.