The Lizard Brain

Dexter’s got some mad gut instincts

I’ve always thought the “gut” instinct was anatomically misplaced. My decisions tend to spawn from my brain, and the thought of clutching my stomach and drawing a decision from there seems all wrong to me. 
This might be why I tend to shy away from the idea of gut instincts.
It’s not gut, it’s the lizard brain
But here’s where the idea sits incredibly well with me. I was watching Dexter (a deliciously clever and twisted show), and I had an a-ha moment when he began explaining the feeling he has when he senses a killer. The process for Dexter’s maniacal ways goes something like this:
  1. He senses something in his lizard brain.
  2. He backs it up with hard evidence.
  3. He kills the bad guy.
Interestingly, I find this process often analogous for start-ups. We spend so much time trying to make our business a science of success, but what took us down the path in the first place? Why did we decide to do the industry we do?
  1. We felt something compelling in our lizard brain.
  2. We found data points and customers to support market opp, pain/solution, etc.
  3. We killed it (in the best way possible).

So, what is this lizard brain?
The classical “Triune Theory” from the 60’s claims that humans have three layers to their brains: the evolved mammal, the ancient ape, and the most basic of beings, the reptile. The reptile brain is this lizard brain.

It’s associated with the area of the brain that houses the amygdala. Go ahead: reach far back into those awkward days of high school, when you had braces and biology classes. Now remember that this region is associated with emotion, memory retention, and fun things like sexual orientation, social interactions, and drinking problems (the fun things being speculative studies that suggest assocations).

But the INTERESTING thing is that abnormally large amygdalas have been linked to heightened creativity. Think about it. At first glance, the suggestion is that more emotional people are more creative (though looking at actors and artists, this corollary seems to make sense). But I would argue that the more in touch we are with that deeper, almost volatile side of our instincts, the better we are at creation. The better we are at startups.

Look, startups are difficult. And not just because probabilities are stacked against you, resources escape you, and competition rises at every corner. It’s how we DEAL with those things. It’s how we RISE to the occasion, and get inspired to put our asses on the line everyday to move forward. This takes instinct, it takes thrill, and, occasionally, it takes embracing your fears.

While people like Seth Godin focus on quieting the fear that lives in the lizard brain, they also forget the creativity, inspiration, and instinct that are so essential to unlock creativity.

So go ahead, be yo badass lizard-brained self.

Startups are part art, part science
I certainly applaud efforts in the startup community to quantify the startup game to a science. To make a scientific method out of it. I myself agree with a lot of principles from Eric Ries’ Lean Startup, and think they are key to taking the passion and give it definition and life.

But it doesn’t say much about the actual conception of a startup. Forgive the birth metaphor, but it’s the best way to describe it. Pre-data, pre-customer interviews, we had a different kind of fuel that…lit our fire.

Let me ask you: What’s that initial feeling that drew you to your idea? Was it all data, or was there something more than that?


Clarity of the Run

Last week I spent some time laying out the 500 Startups mantra to give some context to my journey. I’d like to share with you what the rest of my NorCal life looks like.

Sadly, no — this isn’t me.

Why I lost weight working harder than ever
I’ll admit, I’m somewhat of a workout fanatic. Not in intensity, but certainly in frequency. I do 20-minute jogs daily, usually paired with 20 minutes of strength or yoga. Or Pop Pilates (pictured above). She is as close to organized workouts/religion as I get.
I recently read this rant on work-life balances, which essentially argues that balance is a highly individualized assessment. While some people need 9 hours of sleep, others can crank out with 6. Some people work their best in the morning, while others have 10 snoozes set on their alarms. Ultimately, I agree: your life’s balance is dependent on what gets your body revving.

Here’s how my routine has shaped up, and I’m embracing it:

  • 8am morning runs — Paul Singh, a kick-ass partner at 500, shared with me the secret of morning runs: they actually clear your mind. There’s science behind the chemicals that get released when running, and how they provide clarity. So clearing the day in the beginning vs. at the end seems to make solid business sense to me.
  • 10am work starts
  • Shit happens
  • 8pm dinner at home
  • More work happens

And I feel pretty nicely balanced. And stronger than ever. And more focused. Maybe this startup thing can actually be good for you?

Embracing the 10am – 8pm office times
I used to feel strange thinking of the workday starting at 10am. Perhaps it’s the residual influence of my corporate business education (or just too many episodes of The Office) but I was more a 9 – 6er. 
I’m certainly energetic in the morning. And this was before I read the Forbes article on The Secrets to Being a Power Woman, which not-so-subtly states that consistently rising at the armpit of dawn makes you successful. But I’m also just an energetic person period. And people energize me.
Suddenly, I’m pumped to shift my work schedule to a time when more people are in the office. And I’ve worked with more focus than ever before. 
Here’s what they don’t tell you about startups…
Starting a company with a co-founder in an apartment is a highly creative, incredibly freeing experience for sure. But if you’re not a programmer/designer (or even if you are), sitting in a living room with near silence is really draining. I’m an extravert in the Meyers Briggs sense, so having others around me definitely recharges my battery. 
500 Startups is absolutely the most energizing environment I’ve ever worked in. 

(Check in with me in 2 months. I might hate everyone then.)

Acceleration is Emo

There’s an acuteness of emotion here. An acute feeling that if you cannot survive this program, you cannot survive the real world. Sadly, the inverse isn’t true. Just because you survive, does not mean you will survive in the real world. All roads seemingly go towards the death of your company, and you must fight like hell to pave a new one. 

All this focus is pumping me full of energy. Odd thing, that this impending doom can be so incredibly motivating. 


Team @ 500 Startups

Say what’s up to my NorCal family!

I’ve decided to move up to the Bay to accept an offer from 500 Startups. That means Chewse flies north for the winter (with Jeff, my co-founder, in tow). For those of you who may gush over celebrities back in Hollywood, consider these guys the stars of the Valley. For a local Angeleno, I have little sentiment for celebs back home. Here, I’m utterly starstruck.

The incubator ecosystem is a relatively new one (for those who don’t know, here’s a high-level overview). If Y-C is the Harvard of incubators, I’ll make the argument that 500 is USC. Some striking similarities include:

  • Being welcomed into the “500 Family,” the phrase posted on almost all USC promotional materials and lovingly referred to as the “Trojan Family”
  • Tapping into an incredibly powerful alumni network (Day 1 had us attend an Alumni Panel and hazing of sorts…)
  • Fratting out (or being a band geek, if you agree with founder Dave McClure’s estimation)
    • Caveat: We actually enjoyed GOOD beer and hard apple cider the first night of pitching. No Nadi Light or Keystone here. Togas seem to be optional.
So what can you expect to hear from me here? Certainly no references to sunshine, sunbathing, or sunlight. Possibly a little startup nerdiness (overuse of vocabulary like “optimizing” and “hustling”). Plenty of good eating. I’ve started a map of places to eat near the offices at 500, as I make my culinary journey down Castro St:

Love to all my LA homies I leave behind. You’ll be tanner than I am in 4 months.