A Dead Simple Hack for Calculating Multiples of 9

I hate to admit it, but I never really memorized my multiplications tables as a kid. I was more concerned with playing video games and music. But as an adult, I find myself faced with basic math problems every single day. I’m all about taking the path of least resistance when it comes to learning, so I figure, if I want to get better at math, I’m going to exploit as many tricks and shortcuts as possible.

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The beautiful thing about math is that it’s full of patterns. If used correctly, these patterns can make memorization a breeze (or even unnecessary). I recently found a really easy technique for calculating multiples of 9. After just a little practice, I’m able to easily calculate the answer of any basic multiplication problem where a 9 is involved.

First let’s identify the patterns. Here are the first few multiples of 9:

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The first pattern I notice is that the tens place is always one less than the multiple.

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So if you’re trying to solve 9x6, you know that the answer starts with a 5 in the tens place. Simple! We’re already halfway to the answer. But how can we easily calculate the second number?

This pattern may be a little harder to spot, but if you subtract 10 from the multiple, the difference is the same as the number in the tens place!

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Most arithmetic hacks involve taking a complex problem and breaking it down into smaller, simpler problems. Using the technique above, we break a single multiplication problem into two simple subtraction problems. It may take some practice before you’re able to use this technique without hesitation, but stick with it and the answers will start to come naturally.

Have any math hacks of your own? Share them in the comments section below!

Image credit akash_k

How I Memorized The Location Of Every Country On Earth In a Single Weekend

I never cared about geography as a kid. I just couldn’t rationalize how this information would be useful as an adult (oh how silly I was). So I cheated my way through geography tests by hiding a little map inside of my jacket. I’d just open it up, take a peek, and write the correct country name on the paper.

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Well, fast forward 13 years, I now live in San Francisco, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the US. I meet amazing people from all over the globe every day. When they tell me where they are from and I can’t even point it out on a map, I just feel like I’ve disrespected them.

I feel I owe it to these other cultures to, at the very least, know where their homeland is located. So I set out to learn the location of every country on Earth, all in a single weekend.

My Strategy

I thought long and hard about my own personal learning style and decided that my iPad could be the perfect tool. The touch interaction really fits my visual learning style. So I set out to find the perfect app for this task. Here were my requirements:

  1. I must to be able to record my progress so that I know the information has been retained.
  2. I must be able to focus on single continents at a time.
  3. For larger continents, they must be broken up into smaller sections (No way I was going to study every single country in Africa at the same time!)
  4. Canada provinces must be included.

Finding the right app

I spent a good deal of time simply searching for the right app that would satisfy my criteria and provide an interface where I could really feel like I was learning, retaining, and having fun too!

I played around with quite a few apps, but there was one that stood out above all the rest for me. 

TapQuiz Maps - Free on the App Store

TapQuiz Maps provides a really simple “Question and Answer” mode which simply gives you a country name, and a few seconds to tap it’s correct location on the map. 

What’s great about this game is it calculates your percentage of accuracy and gives you a speed rating. I found that if I was learning a new area, my percentage would look something like this:

  1. 1st try - 20% accuracy
  2. 2nd try - 35% accuracy
  3. 3rd try - 65% accuracy
  4. 4th try - 80% accuracy
  5. 5th try - 95-100% accuracy

This was a huge breakthrough for me. It meant that I could quantify how long it would actually take to learn all of the countries, since each section took anywhere between 5-7 tries for me to have complete mastery, quicker than I thought!

TapQuiz also breaks up continents like Europe and Africa up into smaller chunks, making learning the entire continent a breeze!

The Cons

TapQuiz gave me everything I needed to learn the location of every country on Earth. But there were a few pain points:

  1. All countries on the map view are colored. This is really helpful during the learning process but makes it difficult to point out the actual country on a map where every country is the same color. I fixed this by pulling up a version of Google Maps with country labels turned off and testing my retention.
  2. It’s absolutely amazing that TapQuiz breaks up larger continents like Africa up into smaller regions. But once I had all of a continents countries memorized, I wanted to be tested on the continent as a whole. For this I used GeoExpert, another really solid iPad app. When used in conjunction with TapQuiz Maps, you have a really powerful learning tool.

Going even further

Since I learned the location of every country in the World I decided, why not learn a bit about them! So a couple times a week I’ve been thinking up a random country, pulling up it’s Wikipedia entry and learning all about it’s history and current events. It just seemed like a logical next step in my search to better understand our World’s geography.

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My goal is to give everyone out there a sense of just how easy it can be to learn the location of every country in the World. It can be intimidating at first, but you must be persistent. I can’t explain how satisfying it is to be able to recall the location of any country out of thin air. 

Give it a try, I think you’ll be shocked by how easy it actually is!

Photo Credit Ernesto Huang

The Best Way to Simulate Photoshop Designs on Your iPhone, iPad or Android

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For years I’ve been a slave to the classic mobile design workflow: render a PNG in Photoshop, save it to dropbox and load it up on my mobile device or tablet. 

There’s no doubt it’s hugely beneficial to be able to see your designs on the target device during the design process, but this workflow is extremely limiting and makes for a very arduous process.

Over the past year I haven’t had the chance to do much mobile/tablet design, but we recently started working on our iPad app here at Sqwiggle, so I was able to pop my mobile designer cap back on. But I decided this time I was going to change things up and seek out a new workflow, one that would give me the freedom to preview my designs while I create them, without having to save any images or transfer any files.

Skala Preview

This is by far the best app I have found for persistently previewing designs on a device. It automatically generates a preview directly on your device every time a change to your file is detected. Sounds magical right? It is.

Skala works by establishing a remote connection to Photoshop, which generates and sends still images in the background as you work on your design. The beauty is that it only shows exactly what’s in your Photoshop work area regardless of zoom level.

Simply install the app on both your Mac and your mobile device or tablet, then setup your remote connection to photoshop. Learn more here.

Download Skala Preview for Mac - iOS - Android

Cons

While this is a truly amazing app, it’s not perfect. On my MacBook Air it can sometimes cause my Photoshop to lag, it’s mildly annoying but the benefits still hugely outweigh the disadvantages. 

There are also occasions where previews stop sending and I’m forced to restart the app on my desktop. Still, a small price to pay for such a huge improvement to my workflow.

Using Linked Smart Objects

Another improvement I found was using linked smart objects to preview various states of the app. For example, if you have an app with 3 main states:

1) The main content area of the app
2) Left menu opened
3) Right menu opened

I’d have 3 PSDs total, one main PSD for the content of the app, one for the left menu, and one for the right. But in both the menu PSDs I would insert the content as a linked PSD. This means that any change I make in the main PSD will be reflected on the others. Here’s an example of my layers palette:

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You can see the the main content area is simply a linked PSD. Any change made in that PSD will be immediately reflected in this one.

Creating a linked PSD is dead simple, just go to File » Place Linked… and select the file

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My Setup

Another step to improving my workflow was giving my iPad some permanent desk space. I went out and purchased the Halter Portable Rotating Stand for my iPad. Now my iPad has a nice, comfortable spot where I can easily preview designs as I build them in Photoshop.

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This setup has lead to a huge increase in my productivity and ultimately allows me to produce even better work much more quickly.

Room for Improvement

There’s always room for improvement so if you have any other ideas for improving my mobile design work flow, let me know in twitter or in the comments section below! Thanks a lot for reading.

This Is What Investors Are Looking For in a Startup

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I’ve bumbled around the startup culture for the last decade, pursuing all sorts of ideas, some really stupid and others potentially brilliant. I’ve also sought funding quite a few times, only to hear pretty much every type of “no” in the business. 

However, after raising my very first seed round for Sqwiggle, I gained a much better perspective around why investors get up in the morning, what makes them tick, and most importantly, what attracts them to an idea. I am by no means an expert, but here are some things I’ve learned:

They must be excited about the space

Seek out investors who are interested in the space you’re working in. Follow them on Twitter and Quora and learn what gets them excited. Look them up on AngelList and research their past investments and connections. It’s all about finding investors that will understand the space you’re playing in and will be able to bring the most value to your company.

They rarely invest in ideas

Ideas are great, but they don’t get investors up in the morning. Investors want to know that you have the drive and scrappiness to actually create something. I wouldn’t even think about an investment without a working prototype that can demonstrate what you’re trying to accomplish. Bonus points if you actually have people using it. Double bonus points if they are paying you.

They want to see traction

With Sqwiggle, we were able to secure funding because we were able to show at least some market interest in the form of 40 paying companies.

Even small amounts of traction can help investors to feel more confident in the space and the product. It also shows your ability to hustle.

They invest in the team

Investors love solid teams. Background counts for a lot here but so does ability. Typically, the closer to the hustler, designer, developer dream team you are, the better.

They want someone they trust to vouch for you

An investors network is everything. If someone they know and trust tells them they should pay attention to you, almost nothing speaks louder. Don’t be afraid to ask for a friend for an intro. It’s super common and, as long as you’re polite, people are often happy to send an introduction if they find what you’re doing interesting.

When raising our round for Sqwiggle, we sent cold emails, engaged with influential people on Twitter, and reached out to pretty much everyone in our own personal networks. 

They love prior success

Nothing says more about a founder than having a successful startup under his or her belt. This basically puts a halo over your head and, while it doesn’t guarantee a successful raise, it is a huge indicator of potential future success.

So there you have it. I really hope this is helpful for any entrepreneurs who would like to raise funding but aren’t exactly sure how to grab the attention of investors.

Have any tips of your own? I’d love to hear them, share them in the comments section below!

Photo credit Simon Cunningham

How My Startup Got Thousands of Beta Signups

In the early days of Sqwiggle, we knew how important it would be to get as many beta testers on our early prototype as possible. We weren’t even close to being ready to launch publicly, but we knew that user feedback would be critical in helping us craft the product and get it ready for an official launch.

It was tough getting those initial eyeballs on our beta signup page, but here are a few techniques that ended up working really well for us. 

Submit your site to Betali.st

Betali.st is a great site created by Marc Köhlbrugge which showcases new startups that are looking for beta testers. It’s a great way to tap into the early adopter market and can end up driving hundreds of beta signups from a single post.

Submit your site to Product Hunt

Product Hunt is another great site for driving some initial traffic to your site (and getting some very constructive feedback!). Products are posted daily to Product Hunt and ranked by the community. Generally, they prefer sites which are currently open to the public, but they do make exceptions:

"Generally we encourage submissions of products that are available to download or buy immediately; however, the occasional crowdfunded, pre-launch, or private beta submission is acceptable if it’s awesome!"

Post on Hacker News

As soon as we had a working prototype for Sqwiggle, we threw together a quick video demoing the product and posted it to youtube. Then we submitted it to Hacker News under “Show HN”. The video got some attention, which lead to some high quality signups.

Someone from Techcrunch also reached out and was interested in doing a write-up, which subsequently drove even more signups. This article ended up playing a key role in getting our early product out the door publicly since it afforded us a base from which to launch our public product.

Ask other founders and thought leaders for help

Sometimes it’s as simple as reaching out and asking other founders or thought leaders in your industry to take a look at your site and give you some feedback. If they like it, there’s a good chance they will share it out to their network.

This one has huge potential but may take you out of your comfort zone (which is a good thing). It definitely worked out well for us and lead to some really solid relationships with other like minded and well connected people.

Answer questions on Quora

Quora can be a great tool for driving high quality traffic to your product. If you provide intelligent, well thought out answers to the community, some users may pay a visit to your site. Since Quora attaches your bio to every answer you give, this is a great spot to share what you’re working on.

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So those are some of the techniques that worked well for us here at Sqwiggle. If you have any other tips for driving traffic to your beta signup, let me know in the comments section below!

Thanks for reading.

Our Insanely Realistic Green Army Man Halloween Costumes

My wife and I decided to actually put some effort into our halloween costumes this year. After racking our brains trying to find something unique and fun, we finally settled on green army men. Our goal was to look as realistic as possible. I think we did a pretty good job!

Here’s one of the first shots of the night. We stopped by the party store and created a bit of a buzz!

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Of course I have to keep a good look out when we’re this close to the Tenderloin :)

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Afterwards we headed to a friend’s halloween party, just up the street. We decided to make a stand in the kitchen:

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Then it was off to the streets! Overall the reaction to our costumes were really positive. Lots of people wanted to stop and take photos which was fun but a lot of work since it actually took some time to strike a decent pose.

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So that’s our DIY green army man costumes. If there’s enough interest I might post a how-to. It definitely wasn’t easy but the costumes were actually fairly cheap. And hopefully you could learn from our mistakes hah.

So what do you think about our plastic army man costumes? Any improvements we could have made? Would you like to to see a how-to so that you can try it out next year? Let me know in the comments section below!

Less is More

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In a world with so much noise, where everything tries to be bigger and better than it’s competitor, less has truly become more.

Many software products seem to become increasingly bloated throughout their lifecycle. The need to stay competitive inevitably leads to an overblown feature set where the core of the product is overshadowed. This has brought us into an age where feature requests take precedent over smart product design decisions and customer feedback drives product design.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This happens because, when entrepreneurs set out to solve a problem, they ask “How can I improve X” when they really should be asking  ”How can I make X drastically simpler”. Products like Square, Stripe and Medium have ushered in a new age of “Do one thing and do it damn well”. My Co-founder Matt Boyd actually wrote an excellent post on this topic. I highly recommend checking it out.

Use the noise to your advantage

Contrary to what you might think, all this noise actually makes it easier to stand out. Well designed and thoughtful products almost always get the spotlight over the crappy ones, because they dare to be original and stop trying to be something they’re not.

"Pinterest meets Dribbble for pets"

If this sounds even remotely like your startup pitch, I’d highly suggest taking another look at the problem and how you are trying to solve it. Stop trying to be all things to all people and just do one thing extremely well. 

Conclusion

If you want to stand out, do less but do it damn well. Less is more.

What do you think? Do you agree with my point of view or maybe you see it a different way? Leave a comment below and let’s chat about it!

Thanks for reading!

Why You Shouldn’t Use Code Tests When Hiring an Engineer

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I’ve been off the job market for a little while but I’ve been thinking about it lately and wanted to share some of my frustrations. One thing that irked me in particular were the code tests. Somewhere along the line it became standard to challenge a candidates abilities in person during an interview.

These technical evaluations are typically in the form of pair programming challenges, riddles, code problems, even written tests! You may be thinking “Well if a programmer is good they should be able to do fine on the tests!” Wrong.

Here are a few of the big problems with on-site testing:

That awkward feeling of being watched

You don’t typically write code with someone looking over your shoulder. It can be very nerve wrecking and greatly skew your perceived skill level.

Who codes on a white board?

During many technical interviews I have been asked to solve a programming challenge on a white board. First off, my handwriting is atrocious. Kind of hard to solve a problem when you can hardly read what you’re writing. A white board is also really awkward for writing code. If you’re not an experienced white board programmer you’re certainly going to slip up here.

You are out of your element

A couple years ago I was doing a technical interview and was given a crappy IBM laptop, told to sit in a conference room and solve a coding challenge that was written up in a text doc. The whole experience was extremely awkward. I use a particular browser, IDE, OS and specific tools that have become integral to my workflow. If you take those away from me, obviously my results are going to suffer, especially in the speed category.

Most interviewers ask the same questions

The last time I was interviewing, I began encountering the same questions over and over. When this happens, the questions no longer have anything to do with skill level or critical thinking ability, they just become a game of memory. I’ve literally been handed a job offer during an interview after solving a couple puzzles which I had failed that same day at an earlier interview. I just don’t do well under that sort of pressure, but once I had time to work them out on my own, I aced them.

So how do I find the right engineer for the job?

Review their Github

Any programmer who wants to be taken seriously on today’s job market should have a flourishing Github. It’s an easy and painless way to get a quick and overall sense of the candidate’s history and technical ability before even scheduling an interview.

Hire for culture

Sure it would be great to find an engineer who really knows his/her stuff and can write amazing code, but if no one gets along with them, they have no passion for the product and aren’t excited about learning new technologies, how long would you really keep them around?

Instead focus on hiring great learners who mesh nicely with your team dynamic. Personalities can’t usually be changed, but coding skills can always be learned.

Give them an assignment

There’s no harm in giving the candidate a coding task. This is something they can complete on their own terms and timing. Afterwards you should be able to review the code and get a great view of the programmer’s abilities.

Passive testing like this is so much better because it allows the candidate to complete the assignment in their own environment, in their own time, which inevitably leads to higher quality engineers.

It doesn’t have to be anything super complex, time consuming or challenging. It’s just to get an overall picture of the programmer’s level. Is their code dry? Are they writing less code wherever possible? Are their comments smart and useful? These questions should be easy to answer after the assignment is complete.

Conclusion

You should be striving to hire smart people who are fast learners, if you do this the rest will fall into place. The best way to determine this is by engaging with candidates to establish cultural fit and by examining their engineering history to determine their experience and ability to learn.

Couple this with an at-home assignment and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be completely confident in your next engineering hire!

So what are your thoughts? Have you had luck with code tests? Have an even better method than mine? Let me know in the comments below!

How My Startup Raised 1.1 Million From a Single Cold Email

When Matt, Tom and I began working on Sqwiggle back in February of 2013, we initially decided to see how far we could get while bootstrapping. The beautiful thing about working on your startup full-time and hardly having enough money to live and is that you really have incentive to get to revenue as quick as humanly possible. 

So we bootstrapped the product to an MVP and started charging about 3 months in. Once we saw that businesses were willing to pay for the service, even in it’s early stage, our thoughts on funding began to shift a bit. We started talking more and more about possibly raising a seed round and, before we knew it, Tom and Matt had booked flights to join me out in San Francisco so we could start the hustle.

A single email that changed our lives

To begin the funding process, the team began shooting emails out to everyone in our network, setting up coffee meetings and asking for help in any way. This lead to some great advice and a few helpful connections, but was certainly giving way to a slow and arduous fundraise. 

So, late one night Matt decided to embark on a coffee fueled emailing frenzy, literally cold emailing every influential person that he thought might be interested in what we were building. Naval, co-founder of AngelList, was one of them.

We were extremely excited when Naval replied and invited us down to the AngelList office to demo Sqwiggle in person! During the demo, his eyes lit up and he made the decision to invest in Sqwiggle then and there. He even pitched us on being the first company to do an AngelList Syndicate, which we gladly accepted :)

Network power

Naval was an amazing ambassador for our product. Having his personal network and AngelList behind him provided us an amazing opportunity to get in front of some great Angels and VCs. We received 55 intros in total and had meetings lined up for the following 3 weeks!

We also began trending on AngelList shortly thereafter, which really helped to jumpstart the fundraising process even more.

The right way to send a cold email

There are a few things I would recommend trying if you really want your email to stand out. Long, cookie cutter emails are destined for the trash. If someone is considered influential, chances are they don’t have much time. Keeping your email short and to the point shows that you are mindful of their time.

Subtle flattery goes a long way. Mention something cool that you read on their blog, ask a question about their company or mention something they tweeted about. This shows that you are putting in the effort to actually get to now the person before you contact them. And if you think they are a rockstar, don’t be afraid to let them know! This is how we were able to raise $1.1 million for Sqwiggle.

What has your experience with cold emailing been like? Id love to hear your perspective, let me know in the comments section below!