If you started it, you will make it

This weekend I went to the small village Gela, in the Rodope Mountains in Bulgaria. There was a bagpipe festival. All good.

At the top of the hill however was a small chapel. I am not religious so I rarely go in, but this past week a member of my extended family passed out, and I decided to light a candle. When I went, this whiteboard attracted my attention:

Basically, on the left it lists all the people that helped the renovation and how many days they worked. On the right are all the people and companies/institutions that donated money and the respective amounts.

Looking at this, you immediately get an incredible sense of community, drive to make it, creativity in organizing it.

It is exactly what my project www.touchsofia.bg is meant to facilitate online – finding people with common interest and donating their time, energy and money towards achieving a goal.

I asked around about this story and it turned out, the man behind it was right next to me, so I happily stole a few minutes from his time and got the following story:

His name is Nikola Beevski [Никола Беевски]. Here is an image of him in the chapel, that I stole from his portfolio page:

Nikola Beevski

His dad and him decided to renovate this chapel named “st. Ilia” [св. Илия]. There was no one to paint it and draw all the saints on the walls, so Nikola taught himself for 3 years how to do that. He read every book from every library from around on how to draw saints on church walls and icons. During the 6 years of drawing (before that was full renovation, foundations, roof etc) he would check the paint quality by testing it on weather conditions. If he wasn’t satisfied, he would ditch the crappy paint and get another one. He drew and redrew everything until he was happy with the results. Eventually it was done. Wonderful, pretty. I asked him, “Do the people around know about it?”, “Yes, all the villages and cities around know about St. Ilia”

I thought there was something extraordinary in this one man setting on a goal with no knowledge, competences, or money and achieving this full-scale renovation of a Chapel.

I mentioned to him that I was doing a web project that aims just at that – organize volunteer work and money to get a job done. I am not sure if he really understood it, but the one sentence that came out of his mouth was,

If you started it, you will make it. [ Ако си го почнал, ще го направиш. ]

Incredible person.

Where to?

By annie-a flickr user
[pic source]

I was thinking about most of my friends and how they are doing in life. Some of them have their business and are making lots of money and they love it, or alternatively have jobs that make them happy. Others are not so lucky, and have not really achieved much in those couple years out of college. I was trying to draw a pattern on the successful ones and what came out was the following:

Know what you want, plan steps to achieving it, and stay on your course

Now, this is more or less obvious, but what strikes me is that most people that don’t know what they want, or where they are going don’t put any effort in fixing this problem. However,

Knowing what you want is incredibly important, because no matter how much energy you have, if you don’t put it in the right direction, you’ll lose it.

Hopefully if I try to illustrate this in an unusual way, it will help a bit. I will use the wonderful image of the blue sea and the boat. You are the boat. The sea is your life, full of unlimited directions and long travelling to the shore (life achievements). Now there’s two things you can do:

You don’t set firm and desireable direction. The sea will take you every day in a random direction. One day the waves are going to take you north, another – south. You can be skillful with the sails, and use them every day, but if you don’t have a unified direction, all effort will be canceled out in the end by the randomness that life offers you. In real world terms, you will be getting a job, you are good at, then switch to a completely different thing, then you will decide to travel a bit and this way years will go by, and there will be nothing very permanent or meaningful. That could be just fine if you liked your life and they way it slips by.

Alternatively, you can look around, choose the best beach you want to go to through objective analyzing. You can then set your sails every day according to the wind and waves. You will won’t be going faster than #1, but every day will get you closer to the shore. It will be a long ride to cross the sea, but you will eventually, with dedication and energy, get where you want to be. In real life terms, that would mean buying a house, getting an amazing job or business, creating a wonderful family etc.

Both cases look similar in that the amount of energy put in sailing was the same. However, couple years down the road person in #1 will be right about where he was, while person in #2 will have already gotten some or all of the targets set in the beginning.

So I talked to people and I ask them what they want and where are they going. Often times, the ones that seemed lost to me did not surprise me with the answer. Here are a couple answers I get often and the problems with them:

I want to go to grad school
That could be a good answer if you knew exactly what you wanted to study, and what you will be doing with it. Most people go just for the idea of grad school, or because they can’t get a job. They also don’t know exactly where and why to go, nor how to actually get there

I want to travel
That’s another of the top choices around. Essentially it’s another thing you can do to pass time when you don’t know what you are doing. Travelling is fun and gets you awesome experience, just like grad school, but it doesn’t build you a stable life to keep doing it for a long time. It also gulps huge amounts of time/money.

I don’t know
I also get the honest “no idea” answer. Those people usually have a collection of things they could “maybe” do, but they are never good enough to be done. This answer I usually get from people that have always been like that. In other words – It’s okay to not know for a short period of time exactly what you are doing, but if you get stuck for weeks/months in this mental state, it means you are not making effort to figure it out. No effort is put into finding the answer.

I am doing X, and Y, and also Z…
That’s more or less the opposite of the previous case. I have friends that are always, always up to something. One, two, three projects. And each time I meet them for a dinner, their projects have changed and they have new ventures they are so excited about. After a while, you stop being interested in their things, because you know you’ll most probably never hear again about it. This case is not as bad, because it means at least that a person makes short term plans and a couple small steps towards them. Those get-rich-quick schemes or temporary desires are quite useless if not pursued over long term.

Do you know what’s your direction?If you can’t answer right away, you’d better sit and brainstorm on paper for life, or else you’ll be floating only where life takes you, which is usually not too far and back.

Purging Brain Resources

[pic source]

I take long morning showers. I get many great ideas under the running water. Sometimes though, I catch myself thinking about useless stuff. That is, stuff that doesn’t make me happy, doesn’t make me feel any better, doesn’t improve my life or anybody else’s life. Here are a few recognizable examples:

  • Worries: “worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum”. You achieve nothing when you worry, unless you start solving the problem constructively
  • Past: Dwelling on past events [without analyzing and applying it to current situations] will help you with nothing. Whether something good or bad happened, won’t matter if you keep looping it in your head.
  • Future: It is good to plan ahead, and try to predict situations, but creating in your mind an array of possible outcomes and analyzing it becomes quite useless at some point, when it takes more energy thinking about it than actually asking someone or simply doing it.

Engaging with those thoughts is a process that needs to be recognized on the spot and cut out. It is not always easy to do so, since it is a habit that needs to be unlearned. But with the right energy and effort, it can be achieved and the result should be a more focused, meaningful and purposeful life.

Here’s what I purged today:

  • Thinking about an ex-girlfriend.
  • Worrying about a client not liking the current design
  • Imagining a billion different scenarios about this client never liking anything and the problems arising from there
  • Worrying about why someone I care didn’t return my call for almost the whole day
  • Imagining a creative assortment of reasons that this person couldn’t or didn’t want to call me back
  • Things that are not important or urgent or relevant at least for another year. Example: What will I do when my computer is outdated?

I urge you to start doing the same. Or at least for once note down the free flowing thoughts and objectively grade their usefulness/uselessness.

You Slurp The Soup You Make

[pic source]

I am beginning to see a certain pattern across the people I know. Hitting the first years of settled life (late twenties), I notice that over long term everybody gets what they deserve. Whoever really wanted a certain job got it, whoever wanted to be at a certain location is there and whoever didn’t really care or put effort in something, failed at it.

There can only be 1 conclusion: In the long term it all depends on you.

So if you came to me and told me about a problem you had, I’d say….I’d say nothing. But in my mind I will think, “You really want that problem solved? Go fix it. And if you can’t or don’t know how, ask someone explicitly for help!”

Bad grades. Have you thought of of learning in a different way?
Bored with my job. Find another one, or make it yourself.
No money. Have you ever planned on making a lot of money and followed the plan?
I am hungry. Go eat!

So every time you catch yourself whining about something, figure out if it’s worth fixing, and if it is get your ass on it. Otherwise, stop wasting energy and time by whining.

Help Me Not

Pic By vtdainfo flickr user


Some furious people got in touch with me to let me know how much they disagreed with my post. After conversing with some of them, it turns out they actually agree with the points I make, but were thrown off by my *cocky* tone. So here are the points in a more humble version:

1. I am suggesting that sometimes there might be a reason why someone might have a problem, and this reason is lack of flexibility in the approach to solving it.
2. I am noting to myself: I should probably stop helping people that have not asked me explicitly for help, since I might be doing the opposite of helping.
3. I am noting to myself: I should probably think about problems in which I am on the side of the inflexible thinker.

I also learned something very important from one of the comments – The fact that someone shares their problem with you DOES NOT necessarily mean they want help. They might be just venting out, or they might just not be ready to tackle it.

I have this incredibly strong urge to help people. Occasionally I see a friend who has serious troubles. And I am not talking about a temporary problem, but a generally flawed area in their life such as, “I never have any money” or “I don’t have any friends really” or “I have always wanted to do X but I don’t know how…”

Sometimes, when I feel I am doing much better in an area they are complaining about, I try to explain what I have done to get where I am. I give tips, I even sometimes go as far as trying to draw a step-by-step plan for them. Usually those are simple things, but need time and consistency. Sometimes they just need to be reminded of a fact or be turned in the right direction so they can get the “aha!” moment.

I have noticed though there is a certain type of character that is impervious to such help. Sometimes they argue and fight back, defending their vision. Other times they say, “Yes, totally, of course!” and then go on doing the same old thing. Helping both of those types is like pouring water into a leaky bucket. You pour all your heart in them, and give them all the possible help, and you just see how it goes wasted. Naturally, you then try to fix the bucket before you continue, but that itself turns out to be another endeavor of pouring water in a leaky bucket.

3 different friends have been really bothering me, because I just can’t seem to find a way to penetrate the shield that keeps them from improving. And the most important thing I realize is that it is no random occurrence that they have this major long term issue. It is just the outcome that has been fed through the years exactly by this inflexibility to listen to others, to take new points of view, to give up on their wrong beliefs, and to change strategies in life, when it hasn’t work out till the moment.

And so:
1) I give up trying to help those people for the sake of my peace and theirs. At least until they start their own process of taking down the shield.
2) It’s now time that I myself think of things in my life that have been going wrong, and think of what I have been told over time again and again…

Good *luck* to all of us.

The Zebra Crossing Dynamic

Zebra Crossing by Flickr.com/heiwa4126

It was very interesting to see that in small US towns as soon as a pedestrian approaches the zebra crossing, cars slow down, stop and wait patiently.

In Sofia there are now zebras painted too, but signs of stopping nowhere to be seen. Cars swoosh by and people stay forever waiting for cars to run out.

And this is a problem. People stay forever waiting for all cars in sight to go by and only then walk. What bothers me is another problem i notice around – no one does anything to change that. Instead of waiting, all you have to do is put your foot on the asphalt, and make 1 step. This comes as a reminder to the cars, that pedestrians actually have the right-of-way and they stop. All you have to do is one step to claim your rights, and yet no one does it and all I hear is “Cars never stop, we’ll wait forever because of those assholes…”

If you put yourself in the shoes of the drivers, this makes sense again, “This pedestrian doesn’t look like he is ready to cross, he is not on the move, i can squeeze by and save time” vs “Oh, he is crossing, I gotta stop”

And it seems to me that everything in life follows that same dynamic. No one is going to give you anything if you don’t ask for it. It might be yours, you might be entitled to it, but you have to ASK for it. To get what you need, you need to start walking, to do work, and make an action statement that you are claiming your rights and you are about to get what you are after. That’s when people notice you and are willing to trust you and give you an extra push. If you are entitled to the thing, they give it to you. If you are not, they support you in getting it. No one is going to give you financing/help for the startup, if you don’t firmly step on the ground, get moving, show ambition and determination on that zebra path…

Reflections: Leap of Faith

Recently I stumbled again on this moving story of a snail:

snail faith

The Leap of Faith has this curious characteristic of being unknown, unsure, obscure – this is way it’s called so – you are based on FAITH and nothing more. So far – Duh.

Comes the day you want have to make a choice – you gonna do this startup or not? The only way to determine the success is to list the risk factors that can bring it down, and to list the good things that can make it live. I want to turn your attention to one fact – the risks are clearly visible, but the steps to success are not. Consequently your natural instinct is NOT to start a venture, because you see so many risks. This is the moment where you have to close your eyes and Leap. Example:

The first thing I started was a web development company. Client sites for cash. Here is how it looked to me at the decision moment:

  • I didn’t have any support, which I only realized lately.
  • I had no knowledge on how to spread the word about the new player on market for websites -> I couldn’t see how to get clients
  • I had no money -> I couldn’t hire anyone
  • I didn’t have money for real office or extra equipment -> couldn’t look professional in the eyes of clients
  • I didn’t know how to make sites fast and professional -> didn’t have the right self esteem

These are all very specific problems that I can name, explain in details how they relate to my future failure. However none of the good stuff could be well defined to draw the steps to success. I did pay all taxes for a company, did form it, and did open my living room as an office. Here is what happened:

  • It turned out I had huge support from friends, family, relatives. All of them helped me in any way they could. Found friendly lawyers, accountants to do work almost or for free, found clients. Could I have listed those specific situations in calculating the success? No.
  • I know that even without professional full blown ads, I get constantly new clients from friends of friends. I could have included some of those specific clients forwarded by friends in my initial calculations? No.
  • So it turned out I did have some clients, and I did have money I couldn’t have predicted => I did have a programmer I couldn’t have predicted.
  • It turned out I did not need an office and extra equipment. Still operating from my apartment.
  • I stumbled upon a few people that really opened my eyes on how to improve on the process – make it fast and efficient. Could I have predicted this stumbling? No.

In the end, mgPePe LLC is growing, getting clients, making cash – what it was born to do. But slowly I am realizing that the people I have attracted around it now give me the possibility to develop all kinds of inhouse projects that most probably will turn into beautiful startups that will one day change the world.

Did I predict the difficulties that would be associated with my business? Yes. Could I have seen all the things that helped me get through? No.

Take the Leap of Faith. You will find that Faith is not the only support you will find along the way.

Year ‘09

In 2007 I wrote a review of what I have completed and failed during the summer vacation. I meant to do it yearly, but I missed 2008.  I am not a student so here is the 2009 1-year summary:

thefeelgood logo thebetastartup TheFeelGood.com
Aaaaah. The Feel Good has been a great project.  We have users that come to listen and upload songs every day.  The moment the site is down, they call us and scream that they haven’t gotten their daily ration yet.  I learned a lot from it, but I think I am losing it.  Little by little I have been learning about the industry and how things work. It looks like this project will not get much further development, or if it does, it will be mostly for the current user base, without further expansion. We just don’t have the time resources. We’re also paying decent hosting fees (my partner pays them EVERY time) and that’s another limitations. We need to recognize when to drop something. So I guess we flopped on this one. TODO 2010: keep it alive, fix it to be really nice for current user base.

2neshta.com logo2neshta.comI
wrote earlier that we did  launch with Irena a classifieds site. It’s been very slowly growing. I worked to make a marketing campaign, which didn’t work out for few reasons. I learned. Next one will be much better. Spent some cash too. I am going to keep pushing. We have still great ideas for marketing. I just need a bit of time and money. Achievement for launching, flop for the marketing campaign. TODO in 2010: Make 3 good marketing campaigns.

mgpepe logo thebetastartupmgpepe.com
So in the winter of 08/09 I formed my first legal entity. I needed to generate some cash by making sites for clients. Have done a few that kept me going. Though constantly struggling for money, I have been generally independent. I had a part-time employee, and I just hired a very decent programmer. I am barely writing code. I think that being able to cross the boundary between making a site yourself and hiring permanently an employee is HUGE. Now we execute times and times faster. I am also learning lot’s of new things so I think…great achievement. TODO 2010: hire an in house designer. Stabilize/expand cashflow/clients, begin working on 1 or 2 of the many startup ideas from our database.

planner logo thebetastartupplanner.bg
This one is big. Ilian and Svilen partnered with me and we formed Planner Media LLC. Basically what it does is print colorful student planners for high school kids, fill them with ads and give them away for free. Somewhat promising startup. It’s been evolving quite a lot lately in my head though, and I expect it to be successful. I award myself achievement on this one for starting it and keeping it move at a good pace. TODO 2010: i will skip this for reason, i will myself forget when i reread it.

question marktheProject
I always keep a pot of random business ideas. Some evaporate the moment they are in, some burn out after lot’s of cooking, some linger for quite a long time. There is one idea though that stays forever in there and though quite challenging from money perspective, it’s doable. And even more so, now that I have real things moving on. I am pretty sure I have partner on it too. Flop for having so many ideas, that probably distract me, achievement for keeping my fire for theproject live. TODO 2010 (that would be very ambitious): Launch by the end of 2010.

butchers bar thebetastartupButcher’s Bar
Yes. I did get a job. It wasn’t for the money, it wasn’t for the fame. I just always wanted to be a barman and I did do it. Had some fun time, figured out I didn’t actually want to be a barman and I was out. Nice experience, made some friends, made some connections… all good.  Counts as achievement.

food thebetastartupFood
Last but not least, I did do quite a lot better on food. Been eating significantly more healthy. Been learning about what to buy and what not to. I have the habit now of checking the nutrition labels to see what’s in and what’s not. Those are all great improvements towards my diet. I have also been very strict on not missing breakfast or any other meal for that matter. Stomach still hurts sometimes, but generally I am well. Today I ran in the park too. Taking long baths for meditation. Just taking care of health. Great achievementTODO 2010: learn significantly more about food, what substances are in, and what those substances costs to us. Maybe start a movement that will teach people to look for and value quality food.

Things are being done, and future seems quite busy. SO excited! It’s kurrrraaaaazy!

Lesson from Prince of Persia 1

So I got my hands on Prince of Persia 1 (DOS version) and I started playing it. Unconvetionally, this game does not limit you in lives you can lose, but in time to beat the game – 1h. Part of the game is maneuvrability, part of the game is mazes you have to roam, and part of it are puzzles you have to solve. Every time you play for an hour and don’t complete the game, you have to start from the beginning. And there is no SAVE, just PAUSE.

So I did make a few tries to beat the game, each much better than the previous. But then I got pissed and decided to read about it in the net. First thing I found is that there is save. You just don’t have a menu and it’s a weird shortcut – CTRL+G. Well that changes a whole lot the concept, because if I waste a lot of time, I can loose the current play and keep playing from the good save (there’s only one save, no slots). Second thing I found is a walkthrough. What I found in the walkthrough was a few solutions to things god-knows-how-long-it-will-have-taken-me-to-solve. The guy that wrote the walkthrough actually said it took him and his dad 2 years to figure this one thing, and another 3 to figure out what to do next. So I did save countless hours of wandering and dying. The third thing i found was a speed run, in which I saw a few good shortcuts and tricks. So I beat the game and had sex with the princess…

Prince of Persia thebetastartup

But the point is – how long would I have kept playing if I didn’t do my research on the web, and didn’t find the walkthrough/speed run? I can’t imagine. And honestly it would have been a shame wasting so much time of my life. Which makes me wonder, why the hell are we so resistant to finding walkthroughs for anything else we do in life? If a 5 minute walkthrough saves us 1/2h every day, it’s tremendous advantage. If a 5 minute walkthrough saves us 1/2h once, but you do it all the time, it’s also a tremendous advantage.

The problem is that walkthroughs for life are not named ‘walkthroughs’, and we rarely make the right association to recognize the situations that can be much improved by a short googling of the problem. Have you ever googled folding a T-shirt? You fold at least 1 T-shirt a day average. How about keyboard shortcuts in Gmail? Or how about marketing your startup?

Like anything else is that you have to intentionally start forcing yourself to think about it, and try to recognize more often those situations. You have to actively pursue it and put effort in it. But boy, how do we do that…


2neshta.com logo

It’s really only one but it’s called 2things. We just launched a new beta –


It’s a wonderful site for classifieds for Bulgaria. Sgot some bugs more to cleanup, but generally it’s pretty stable and well done [excl ie6 of course, which will be fixed later].

The story goes like that – there are 30+ sites that do the same thing and all do it really badly. So there is no mentality for posting ads, nor a good platform that makes posting easy. So there’s the classic chicken-or-the-egg question – is there no mentality because there is not decent platform, or is there no decent platform because there is no mentality and market for it? We will finally be able to tell that – there is a not only decent but great platform for classifieds – free, easy, fast, well designed, ad-free, registration free. What more can you ask?

So let’s cross fingers and start working out the steps from the guerrilla marketing.

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