Startup Vitamins is an eCommerce site that takes business quotes they create themselves, quotes from famous startup founders and entrepreneurs, and even quotes from some fictional characters (Yoda's "Do or do not; there is no try") and puts them on t-shirts, canvas wall posters for offices, coffee mugs, stickers, etc. It is the veritable startup swag extravaganza that you would expect to find at any large industry tech conference. It is a brilliant and cynical business that takes the quote, idea or principle that drove disruptions and innovations that have transformed our world in recent times and turns them into a commodity that can become fodder for endless corporate office spaces around the world. They are the modern day inspirational cat posters .The ideas embodied in the gear represent the passionate, crazy, and incredibly smart culture that I love about the startup community and the attitude that I try to bring with me to work every day because at the end of the day, whether you work for a startup or not, you are trying to innovate and grow the business.

I wanted to write a series of blogs on some of the ideas and quotes that they represent in their merchandise. These blogs will look at what these quotes mean to me, my experience with them in my business career, and the memories and thoughts they evoke. In some blogs, I'll try and get guest commentators to send me thoughts about their own experiences with these ideas and feature them. This first post, however, is just my own thoughts. Many of the posts in this series will take a look at an individual quote. Others will look at a constellation of ideas that resonate on the same emotional frequency for me as a quote. This first post starts by examining the concept of "Never Stop Hacking".

This particular quote or idea is not attributed to a particular person or company. Rather is represents a mantra or life philosophy inviting its practitioner to never stop hacking. What is hacking? Hacking can mean many things but in this case it's most closely related to a couple of the meanings of the word. The first is the "act of gaining unauthorized access into a protected system." The second is the "act of cutting or breaking up something into smaller pieces." Both of these definitions involved breaking something solid into something that can be exploited. One talks about the physical aspects and affects of the word; the other talks about the informational and technical aspects of the word. However, both of these definitions do not quite capture the zeitgeist of this word as it relates to startup culture.

Hacking in startups is the act of taking big, daunting problem and breaking it down into its component parts and re-assembling something out of the mess in order to build an innovative technology solution. It is the constant experimentation, build-measure-learn cycles, and repetitive failures in search of success and product-market fit. It is hacking out a solution that is a complete sham from a technical perspective but is meant to validate a core premise of your business model; this coincidentally sometimes makes you feel like a "hack" but it is often the first step of the journey. It is where the old phrase "fake it until you make it" comes into play. It is all of these things and more but it ultimately represents a tenacious pursuit of taking the status quo and smashing it until it bends to your will and allows you to mold it into a new creation.

It also bears to mind the startups communities obsession with hackathons as a way of inspiring innovation and spurring the next generation of inventions that will change the world. Hack-a-thons are exactly what they sound like sounded out. They are a group of individuals from across various disciplines and skillsets hacking to solve a problem and build a viable and functional prototype of a broader solution over the course of 1 or many days, the "thon" part coming from the marathon-like mental endurance to continuously work for a couple days straight. There are many reasons to do a hackathon: spur internal innovation within an enterprise, connect a local community, rally around a cause or particular problem set, build apps for or point out security flaws in a particular platform or OS, etc.

Hackathons have always been valuable experiences in my life where I have learned two things about business: a) Simplicity and the basics matter - something about the time constraint and the viability requirement of a hackathon makes you realize the power of stripping out everything that is necessary and focusing on the core value prop of the solution you are building. b) Practice like you play - hackathons are not a recipe for innovation because something magical is bound to happen when you lock a bunch of people in a room for 3 days. It is because you have to focus on fundamentals, focus on collaboration, focus on delivering that you realize you do not have access to anything you would normally not have, you are just being deliberate and intentional in doing things right. Therefore, I'm always reminded to adopt the mantra an NBA 2k21 analyst once expressed to me, "That's why they say you play the possession and not the score." No matter the situation, a championship, a hackathon, practice, or your every day work day you should play the same. We are not better able to be more innovative because we are in a hackathon; hackathons just help us focus on building the habits necessary to spur innovation.

Beyond what I have explored above related to the startup community, three areas of my life right now resonate with the phrase "never stop hacking".

  1. My job as a VP of Product for a cloud security company reminds me of this phrase daily! Everyday my team and I at Armor Cloud Security are building products to stop hackers from smashing the systems of the business we are hired to protect. In this way, I have to simultaneously look at the ways in which hacking activity can be used maliciously and think of how I can use a hacking mindset to stay ahead of the hackers and deliver to market solutions that tackle the hardest problems businesses have to solve today as it relates to securing corporate infrastructure against security threats. My job reminds me that just like with any power, hacking can be used for good or evil and there is great responsibility that comes with wielding it.
  2. I've begun working out and training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) again in my life. I am incredibly fortunate and blessed to work for Josh Bosquez, Armor's CTO. Josh is also a 3rd degree black belt in BJJ and has a gym and dojo built out in his garage. During this pandemic, we have been fortunate to keep up a fitness routine and use his garage to work out and practice BJJ. For me, it was an opportunity for me to implement the hacking methodology in a physical manner and look at ways I could hack my body to become more fit and push itself to the limit in competitive activities. Your body is a miracle and which exercises you are doing, what you are eating, how you are sleeping, etc. all have an effect. But most importantly it is about never stopping hacking, experimenting, trying to get better, improving your personal bests day in, day out and breaking your body down so you can reassemble it into a better version of itself.
  3. My daughter is a little over a year old. One of the things I love doing is watching her learn how to navigate her world. Currently, her life is the embodiment of the phrase never stop hacking because she does not understand things at the level, for example, that I do yet. So when she encounters a new object in life she has to figure out what it represents to her, how to interact with it and what value it has in that moment. She is constantly experimenting, getting frustrated and crying when failing, smiling and laughing when succeeding, and hacking her way to a new understanding of the world. Hacking leads to learning, which in turn equates to joy and for me this is how I view the thrill of hacking as well. The emotional joy that comes from never stopping hacking things in my life is the last thing that spoke to me as I thought about the phrase.

I hope you have enjoyed my exploration of the phrase "never stop hacking" and learning more about its impact on my life. What does the phrase mean to you? How do you experience this phrase? What comes to mind when you hear it? Leave comments below; I am looking forward to the discussion!

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