Hiring and the AAA Player

In the summer of 2003, before I started my senior year at Georgia Tech, I found myself pitching to a room full of executives at IBM Headquarters in Armonk, New York. I was finishing my internship in IBM’s Extreme Blue, a startup-esque program designed to lure top talent into working for IBM.

Immediately after my pitch an executive walked up and asked if we could meet the following morning.

That next morning he was pitching me. He told me his hiring philosophy and the attributes he looks for in the best candidates. He said, “attitude, aptitude, adaptability, and experience — in that order.”

He emphasized to me that even though “experience” is obviously an important factor in making a hiring decision, it was a distant fourth. And he had seen enough of the first three attributes to make me an offer to work anywhere within his group.

I was taken aback. It meant a lot that a Director of a product group — a 3rd-level manager in IBM — had hand-selected me. I accepted the job a few weeks later even though I had just started my senior year and still had other interviews (including one with Microsoft) pending. I didn’t dare negotiate the offer either as I didn’t want to ruffle the relationship with this executive.

By the time I joined IBM full-time the following summer, he had already moved on to work for another group. Such is IBM.

The AAA hiring framework

Although I never crossed paths with that executive again, his hiring philosophy stuck with me and I think it’s mostly right. Especially the “in that order” piece. Looking back I’d make a couple of tweaks:

  • Pull “adaptability” into Attitude
  • Replace “experience” with Accomplishments

This gives us a simple mnemonic for evaluating hires for any role in any company: AAA

It starts (and ends) with attitude

I think of attitude broadly as how a person approaches things, which then drives their behaviors.

  • How do they approach work?
  • How do they deal with challenges and opportunities?
  • How do they treat the people around them?

The attitude check is as much a check against company culture as it is an evaluation of personality traits that dictate performance. To me getting this right is a non-negotiable: you must be excited about a candidate’s attitude in order to hire them.

Aptitude is essential but comes second

Of course, you have to determine if a candidate has the skills and abilities to do the job. But in this framework a candidates ability is only relevant if their attitude is a fit.

Let accomplishments validate your assessment

We all know that it’s bad form to fill out a resume by only listing the responsibilities you had in each role. Your resume really needs to convey the impact you made. In the same vein, I’d rather think about a candidate’s accomplishments than their “experience”.

Nonetheless, I still put accomplishments last in the order of evaluation. In fact, I’ve learned that you have to be careful not to let a candidate’s past accomplishments override your own evaluation. There’s a lot of factors that go into why a person might have encountered success in a past role, and I believe that you first have to trust your own direct assessment of the candidate. In other words, their past accomplishments should mostly serve as a validation of how you rate their attitude and aptitude.


There’s a lot more that can be said about making a hiring decision. For example, there are a handful of personality traits (from the Attitude category) that I always look for. There are also some factors — like diversity — that don’t exactly fit the AAA acronym, but can be very important and influential when trying to select between multiple qualifying candidates.

But I like the simplicity of AAA as a high-level framework and the organizing principle it provides. Attitude, Aptitude, Accomplishments — in that order.

Back to the blog (I quit my job round #2)

It’s been 3,379 days since I last posted on this blog. A lot has happened in life since.

Here are a few personal updates about what happened after I last tried to compare building a startup to raising a baby in 2013:

  • I became a serial father. Our second son, Asher, was born in 2015. He’s now almost eight and is an amazing kid full of happiness, creativity, cleverness, and love. And Dilan has since grown into an equally wonderful 10 year old.
  • My startup idea worked! Our software has now helped thousands of cities, counties, law enforcement agencies, and other government entities more transparently engage with citizens. We even took on the President of the United States as a client…and yes, that other President too.
  • I quit my job, again.

OK, this time was a little more glamorous than the job quitting that launched this blog. Here’s what I wrote about it in late 2019 to my friends and family on Facebook:

Eight years, ten months, and eight days ago… I wrote a post on my personal blog called “Call me crazy. I quit my job.”

Well, call me crazy again. But this time is different.

In December 2010, I stepped away from IBM to chase a dream. Somehow, and unbelievably, I have had the great fortune over the last eight years to fully realize and surpass that dream.

It wasn’t easy. To be honest, it was absolutely grueling. But it was led with purpose and more rewarding and fulfilling than anything I could have ever taken on.

The company I founded continues to grow rapidly and amplify its impact on the world. And I am honored to continue to be a part of its story.

Like in 2010, this was my decision and exactly the right one for myself and the people I care about most — which now includes nearly 70 people in downtown Durham!!

I am deeply, deeply grateful to all of you who have supported me throughout this journey. Thank you. The greatest fortune I’ve had in life is the opportunity to spend my time with extraordinary people — and none more extraordinary, inspiring, and supportive than my partner in life, Varsha.

I don’t know exactly what’s next, other than pursuing what feels like yet another incredible dream: spending as much time as possible with Varsha and our two super sweet, rapidly growing boys. After all, I’d be crazy not to 😉

So why bring this decade-old blog back to life again? I know that Google bot is likely to be my most avid (and perhaps only) subscriber.

That’s why… I’m doing this for me.

Yes, there is hope that others will occasionally find value on this blog, and perhaps I can even use it to build out my personal brand. But more than anything, I’m at a point in my life where I kind of want to restart the cycle; to go back to where I was (in a professional sense) in 2010. Exploring, building, and journaling the journey. I am the “archiving guy” after all.

Because when I look back, I see now that this sparsely populated blog was an important outlet for me; it served as a personal (yet public) ledger of the growth, progress, and learnings I experienced over a time period during which I often felt like I was failing and flailing.

I don’t know yet if I will start another company like ArchiveSocial. But I am itching to find my next purpose in life and to get back to creating value in the world.

In the meantime, some topics I might share perspective on using this blog:

  • Hard founder decisions, like choosing to sell a company and stepping back as CEO
  • Life after exit — including all the stuff (good, great, bad, & ugly) you encounter but nobody with wealth and professional freedom talks about because your life is supposed to be perfect
  • The marathon-sprint of raising little kids while pursuing demanding careers (and how to be a better husband)
  • The entire basket of learnings from scaling a company from $0 to over $10M in annual recurring revenue — including some fun and crazy stories
  • Figuring out what’s next when (conceptually) you can spend your time on almost anything you want to

To my friends, colleagues, and family who might run across this post: let me know if any of these topics grabs your attention. I might write about it here. Or at the very least, I can credit the relaunch of this blog for motivating us to grab a beer.

Raising a baby vs raising a startup

A friend of mine recently asked, “What do you find the same about raising a baby and building a company?” To be honest, the question caught me off guard. It felt like a question I should easily be able to answer, but I kept struggling to come up with a decent response. Each is a time sink and will destroy your sleep, but saying “you get busy” or “they’re both hard” felt like lousy responses.

There is definitely a process of learning involved in both fatherhood and entrepreneurship, but to me, they are still very different. Figuring out what works for your child takes a bit of trial-and-error, but the general practices are well known and eventually things fall into place — even if it means having to try over and over, or waiting until your baby gets older and matures. Our first child has been a crazy challenge, but given that we as humans owe our entire existence to cave people, I’d say that parenting is still a relatively intuitive practice and hard to completely screw up.

Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, does not come quite as naturally. It’s a process of learning that requires you to challenge, and potentially disregard, what you thought you knew. You have to question everything, and you’ll often find yourself on a lonely island on which everybody is questioning you. Even with the right methodology, knowledge, and passion, you might just be at the wrong place at the wrong time. In other words: babies generally grow and thrive regardless of parenting styles, whereas startups tend to fail even when led by strong entrepreneurs.

Reflecting back on my friend’s question, I realize now that maybe I was too caught up in the mechanics. Yes, progress might not come as automatically with a startup as it does with a baby that is naturally growing, but there is a way in which the two are very similar: it’s the manner in which you approach them. Here’s the best way I can figure out how to say it:

Raising a baby and raising a startup both require making difficult sacrifices in order to enrich your life in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

Having a baby changes everything. We barely sleep, go weeks without watching TV, and generally can’t do anything on a whim anymore. It requires constantly putting someone else ahead of our own selfish desires. Yet, it’s completely worth it. There is a type of love, and a part of life, that I never knew existed until we had Dilan. And I can no longer imagine life without him.

Similarly, quitting a good job to start a company can be a a brutally challenging experience. It’s the act of trying to create something out of nothing, and there are a million ways you can fail. It’s the choice to be continually uncomfortable. I really believe it is the hardest thing I could have chosen to do. Yet, it’s also incredibly fulfilling. It gives me a tremendous sense of purpose and satisfaction. And I can not imagine spending my life doing anything else.

When I think about this way, I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to answer my friend’s question.

Mixergy Megatip: Tim Ferriss on being an outlier

If you have heard about the book The 4-Hour Workweek then you probably know who Tim Ferriss is. You might also know about his other books: The 4-Hour Chef and The 4-Hour Body. Entrepreneurship, cooking, and physical health are three very different topics. From the outside, some folks might look at Tim’s books — at least the latter two — and assume they are gimmicks. After listening to a relatively recent Mixergy interview of Tim, I no longer have any doubt: Tim is brilliant. And he is legit.

Tim’s interview is one of the best Mixergy interviews I’ve listened to. Since it was supposed to be about his new book, and my wife Varsha and I often think of ourselves as amateur chefs, I had lined it up for a road trip together to Charleston. Although the interview barely covered the book itself, Varsha and I were in stunned silence soaking it in. There were a number of huge take-aways from the interview, but there is one that has stuck in my mind more than any other; it’s the secret of how Tim is, time and time again, able to master anything.

We’re not all born superstars

The most obvious and intuitive approach to becoming better at something is to imitate the best. To most of us, this means copying the superstars. For example, if you want to become a better golfer, you might try to mimic Tiger Woods. If you want to be an Olympic swimmer, why look any further than Michael Phelps? Tim implies that this is a mistake. Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, and most other superstars were born with natural talent and ability that very few of us possess. There is a reason why so many professional athletes grew up dominating multiple sports in their youth.

Tim’s advice? Find the outlier. Look for the person that probably shouldn’t have made it, but did. Keeping the sports analogy going, you might want to learn from John Stockton — not LeBron James. The person who succeeded despite a lack of natural advantages. The one who had to take an unconventional approach, figure out some tricks, and take some shortcuts. The one who had to find some way to do what nobody thought they could do. It’s likely that you will benefit more from studying his or her approach, than by copying a natural-born superstar.

The Mixergy interview with Tim is full of several other awesome take aways, like how your should really apply the 80-20 rule, and why systematizing everything actually creates more freedom in your life. If you are still doubting that Tim could actually become an expert at so many different things, then all the more reason to listen to him. He might be the outlier you need to imitate. Listen to the interview here.

How to hire an intern for your startup

The first two “hires” for my company were two part-time interns. I was drowning in responsibilities as a one-man-show, and one of my advisors told me, “Stop trying to do everything yourself. Just hire an intern for your startup.” So I did. I remember posting the position and being blown away with 40 resumes within the first day. I was even able to hire my top two candidates. Sounds like #winning, eh?

In reality, I was successful at hiring those interns but did a fairly poor job at orchestrating the actual internship. We’re now on our fifth intern in the past two years, so I thought I’d share some tips to consider when you think you want to hire an intern for your startup.

Tip #1: Don’t hire for an internship. Hire for a project.

More than anything, here is where is I screwed up those first two internships. It’s really tempting to have a smart, cheap, and eager resource willing to help on anything and everything you might throw their way. Don’t be fooled. If you are in a strtup, chances are that you are way too busy to come up with new tasks and projects on a continual basis. You might think that you can hire a intern for your startup to take on all of the stuff you can’t get to, but what you are really doing is just trading work. You’ll spend substantial amounts of time dictating those tasks to them and reviewing the results. It’s also likely that “come up with new stuff for the intern” will keep falling to the bottom of your TODO list, which really ruins the experience for both you and them.

I fell in this trap with those first two internships, and once again with one of our subsequent internships. The internships were not a waste by any means: all three of those interns made huge contributions, and I believe they gained a lot from the experience as well. It was just kinda painful.

The better approach is to come up with a mid-sized project that will last about 6 weeks and can easily be handed off to someone else. Ideally this project will have some high-level goals and requirements, and can be broken down into several sub-projects and tasks. This allows you to invest some time up-front and them mostly guide and delegate the rest of the way. As the intern makes progress, the next set of tasks and projects naturally become obvious. Why 6 weeks? Hey, if you can run about that long with one project, it’s easy to stretch it a few more weeks and end your brilliant, industry-standard “two month internship”.

In fact, I’ve decided that the only time we are going to hire an intern moving forward is when we can identify such a project. It makes sense when you think about it: let the work dictate the need for an internship, rather than the other way around. Starting with a project focus is also critical in determining the exact skill-set you want your intern to possess when you are recruiting.

Tip #2: Poke the career center for an email blast.

Assuming that you are hiring interns from local colleges and universities, it’s extremely helpful to have a contact at the respective career centers. We have some great schools in the Triangle but I particularly have great luck working with UNC. The key is to go one-step beyond just posting the job on the online career center. After the job is posted, reach out to your contact and ask them to email blast the student body. The resumes will start rolling in if the career center is willing to put your job posting in every (applicable) student’s inbox for you.

Tip #3: Sell the startup sizzle.

An obvious tip but it’s worth emphasizing. Chances are that you are not going to offer the best compensation package when hiring an intern for your startup. So sell them on the experience. After all, one amazing experience on a resume can transform a student’s entire career trajectory coming of college. And there’s no better way to get experience than working in a startup.

So back to my original story: how did I get 40 resumes in one day? Well, I was right in the middle of an accelerator program and I made sure I sold the startup sizzle. “We were selected out of more than 100 nationwide applicants for this accelerator, and this is your chance to be a part of it.” “You’ll have direct access to countless startup CEOs and investors.” “You can help define the end-to-end strategy for an entire company.” You get the picture. It was all 100% true, and it was the kind of experience no other internship was offering.

E-file an 83(b) election

If there is one thing a startup founder needs to know about the tax code, it’s the 83(b) election. An 83(b) election essentially allows a founder to recognize income on the stock at the time it is awarded (which generally means zero income) versus at the time the stock vests (which, if things go well, could be a substantial amount of income). Discussion about the 83(b) election comes up quite frequently in startup circles, and most everyone knows that the election must be made within 30 days of the stock purchase date. That said, people often forget to mention that you also need to include the 83(b) in your annual tax filing. I recently completely my personal tax return with my wife, and was ready to e-file, when I got stuck with the question: How do I e-file an 83(b) election?

Can TurboTax e-file an 83(b) election?

I now have the answer, but first a little background: I used Turbotax Home & Business to fill out our taxes this year and did not see any call outs for the 83(b) election. Given that I have zero income to report from the stock purchase (again, this is the point of the election!) I wasn’t too concerned about missing a number in the income section. Rather, I was nervous about e-filing knowing that the 83(b) election was supposed to be included with my return. I was hoping that there was some way to electronically replace the need to include a copy of the election. Yes, I am that lazy.

In the hopes of having to succumb to the worst option of all — printing out our return and mailing it manually (yuck!) – I took to Google. It was comforting to see the auto-complete fill in “efile 83b election” and a number of results pop up from Intuit’s site. Unfortunately, after reading the top five results, I discovered that nobody had a clear answer. Some answers indicated that it is not possible to e-file your return if you need to include the 83(b). Other people seem to know how to e-file an 83(b) election, but are actually using some super version of TurboTax for real tax professionals (…and those of you who bought TT Premier thought you were badasses). It quickly became clear that neither Intuit’s forums or TurboTax-for-regular-people were going to help me.

Yes, I called the IRS

I had no choice but to call the IRS —  the week that taxes are due. I actually got someone on the line right away, but I made a critical mistake and ended up waiting about 90 minutes for someone who could help me. When I dialed the number, I should have selected “Complex personal tax questions”. I kept asking about how I could e-file an 83(b) election and they kept redirecting me to someone else. It took talking to three representatives before I figured out that I was simply waiting in the wrong queue.

I should say that the folks answering the phones at the IRS were extremely nice and I ultimately did get a clear answer.

How to e-file an 83(b) election

Drumroll tax nerds, here is the solution:

  1. Go ahead and e-file your return like you normally would
  2. Then, snail mail the following to your appropriate tax filing center
    • A cover letter with a explanatory statement (see below)
    • A copy of your 83(b) election
    • A self-addressed, stamped envelope so that the IRS can mail you back confirming receipt

Here is what you need to include in the cover letter, word for word from the agent helping me:

Pursuant to treasury regulations section 1.83-2C per section 83 of the internal revenue code of 1986 as amended, enclosed please find a copy of an election under section 83(b) of the code.

And that’s it. Although this is technically not a way to e-file an 83(b) election itself, it is a way to e-file your entire return while only mailing in two simple documents. I hope this helps!

* Note: I am not a tax professional. Trust me at your own discretion. Better yet, call the IRS 🙂


Entrepreneurs don’t know anything

It takes a fair sized ego to become an entrepreneur. You have to believe that you are capable of accomplishing something that most never dare to try and very few achieve. In many ways, stubborn self-confidence is a necessary personality trait because so much of entrepreneurship is about perseverance. That said, I’ve come to believe in a greater truth: in the grand scheme of things, we as entrepreneurs simply don’t know anything. Yes, we must swallow our egos and admit it. Entrepreneurship is a constant state of learning.

It’s not that we are not skilled in our respective craft (e.g. engineering, marketing, etc) or that we aren’t subject matter experts in our problem domain. Rather, building a business from the ground up involves so many other internal and external factors that it is virtually impossible to have all of the answers from the start. For example, you might be…

…a genius product designer, but…

  • Is what you think is important also important to the customer? How much does the customer even care about the technology itself?
  • What really separates you from competitive solutions? Will your customers see it the same way?
  • Which product capabilities are really nice and interesting, and which ones actually impact your ability to acquire customers?
  • Do you need a user interface to start selling? What about a real backend?
  • What does your customer need in the product despite what they think they want?
  • What key ingredient is missing from your product that nobody is talking about?

…a marketing mastermind, but…

  • What are your key market segments? Which one should you target first? What about next?
  • What marketing channels are relevant to your audience and which ones aren’t?
  • In what ways must you change your approach over time as you increase brand awareness and acquire reference customers?
  • What messaging resonates most with your target audience? If certain messaging is ineffective, how might you tweak it to make it effective?
  • What can you optimize to achieve the most bang for the buck? And when do you move on to the next thing?
  • How can you best impact the sales process? Are there objectives that could be better achieved via marketing rather than direct sales, or vice versa?

… a sales superstar, but…

  • Who is your ideal customer contact? Is that the only person you should be interacting with during the sales process?
  • What is your customer’s overall process for making a purchasing decision?
  • What is your actual sales funnel? Where are sales getting stuck? How, if at all, can you impact the purchasing timeframe?
  • How price sensitive is your customer?  How can you tell that you are pricing correctly? Perhaps price is too high? Or too low (yes, really)?
  • How should you best qualify a lead? Are there non-obvious patterns and characteristics among those that buy?
  • What questions should you be asking your prospects? What do their answers actually tell you?

…a passionate and determined CEO, but…

  • What is the most important thing you should be doing right now? Today? This week? This month? This year?
  • Who and when do you need to hire? How will your hire impact the short term, versus the long term in this business?
  • How applicable is the unique expertise and experience of each team member to the current situation? Are you empowering them correctly while ensuring that they too are continuing to operate in a state of learning?

The reality is that the answer to each of these questions is a function of who you are + what problem you are solving + who you are solving it for + how you are doing it + the current market conditions and timing + … + a host of other other factors. The first step in getting to the truth is admitting that you don’t yet have the answers. This is both humbling as well as empowering. It allows you to stop worrying about who is wrong and who is right; if nobody knows the answer, then trying and learning means that you are making progress towards the end goal. And, ultimately, creating real knowledge — rather than preaching assumptions and beliefs — is a much better way to stroke your ego.


Mixergy Mega Tip: PR without pitching yourself

I absolutely crave hearing the back story of how an entrepreneur built his or her company. For this reason, I am a huge fan of Andrew Warner’s Mixergy. Now that I have a daily 20+ minute commute to our office in Durham, I’ve been trying to catch up on the archive of Mixergy episodes. Not only do I find each founder’s story fascinating, but there is often an “aha moment” or two that really stick out. I thought I would start recording those here as a catalog I can refer to in the future.

I’ve spent a bit of time these past few months reaching out to journalists (mostly cold) and trying to drum up some “free” exposure for the company. I’ve had a couple of hits — including a nice article in InformationWeek, as well as exposure in a few key industry publications — but, by in large, it has been a time consuming and draining effort. That’s why I was really excited to recently listen to Grasshopper’s David Hauser talk about his approach to PR in a Mixergy interview from about 18 months ago.

To me, one of the hardest things about “organic” PR is the concept of building a relationship with a journalist. It sounds simple but how exactly do you do that well? The most obvious thing to do is comment on their articles and try  to engage them on Twitter. But doesn’t everybody do that? And how do you avoid coming off like you are just trying to pitch yourself? In his interview, David mentioned three examples that I thought were instructive.

The Thank You card

In the interview, David talks about how he sent a physical thank you card via snail mail to a journalist they wanted to engage. The thank you card was in response to an article that the journalist wrote, but here’s the kicker: the journalist’s article wasn’t about David or his company. Instead, it was just an article that David genuinely enjoyed reading. Furthermore, in the thank you card, David did not pitch his business or make any sort of ask. He just said thanks, and included a business card.

Pitching the company

Another example he gave was how they would pitch journalists about the culture at Grasshopper. That’s right. Not the product, or even the core mission of the company (at least directly). Instead, they would pitch something like a charity effort that Grasshopper was involved in. Or perhaps how they FedEx’d 5,000 chocolate covered grasshoppers to influential people across America.

Pitching someone else

This was a very subtle point in the interview, but it’s something that really stood out to me. If a journalist is not ready to write about you and your company, you can still help them write about what they are actually interested in. In David’s case, he could connect journalists with other entrepreneurs (i.e. Grasshopper’s customers) to help them fill out their stories. In essence, he made himself a resource to them until they were eventually ready to write about Grasshopper (or perhaps even felt slightly obligated to!).

Although not completely earth shattering, it’s helpful to step back and think of PR in this way. All too often we are eager to pitch ourselves and get exposure as fast as possible. That seems to be the wrong approach. PR is a long game, and it takes patience. Thank-You-card-sent-via snail-mail-kind-of-patience.




What a crying baby taught us about customer value

Not long after our son Dilan was born, my wife downloaded a free iPhone app from the App Store called White Noise Box. It’s an incredibly simply app: there are 5 different images you can tap that each play a specific variant of white noise. For example, tap the image of rain for soft white noise, or tap the image of water rapids for more harsh white noise. Tap again and the white noise stops. About 8 weeks in, I asked my wife, “If Noise Box was a paid app, how much would you be willing to pay?” Her answer: “Thousands.”

Draining my iPhone battery playing white noise all day

OK, so realistically speaking, I would spend a Saturday learning Objective-C and hissing into a microphone if I thought my wife was really about to drop a couple Gs on an iPhone app. Nonetheless, her response is instructive. Despite the fact that the app is nothing more than a couple of images and .wav files, the value of the app is immense. Why? For the longest time, the harsh white noise of water rapids was the only thing that would calm our excessively challenging newborn. We could change his diaper, swaddle him, sway him, sing to him, and fall to our knees begging for mercy to no avail. Tap the image on White Noise Box, however, and instant calm. It still works like magic 80% of the time.

For an entrepreneur, customer value is one of the most critical concepts to understand. It doesn’t matter whether it takes a day or a decade to built it. What really matters — at least in the case of “painkiller”-type products —  is the degree of your customer’s pain, and how well you alleviate it. Now to be fair, there are certainly other factors that come into play when setting price and assigning a value to your solution. In this case, it is fairly obvious that customers would evaluate competing products and alternative solutions (like running the vacuum cleaner) if buying White Noise Box meant wiping out the college fund. Even still, that doesn’t mean that an app this easy to replicate has to be free or super cheap. Imagine this for a moment: White Noise Box is called “The Baby Soothing App” in a sea of other generic white noise apps in the App Store.  It was featured in the latest issue of Happy Baby Magazine, and it popped up in at least 10 different forum answers you read between 3 and 5am last night (one-handed on your iPhone while trying to calm the little one). All of the moms on your street swear by it.

Now… look at your crying and consistently cranky baby. You can try your luck sifting through dozens of two-and-a-half star white noise apps in the App Store because they are all free, or you can succumb to the miracle $20 Baby Soothing app. I think you drop that Andrew Jackson and never look back.

Two lies I was told as a new father

Nearly three months ago, my wife gave birth to an incredible baby boy named Dilan. One of the great things about becoming a new parent is that there is an abundance of people you can turn to for advice. After all, 6+ billion children didn’t just appear out of nowhere!

Unfortunately, despite all of the tips we were equipped with, our first several weeks with Dilan turned out to be exceptionally rough. In fact, there were two key pieces of advice that I now realize sent us totally in the wrong direction. Now, it is probably a bit unfair to refer to the advice we received as “lies” because it was surely well-intended (and truth be told, we are extremely grateful for almost all of the tips and suggestions we were given!). I am calling it out, though, because it was advice that we heard very consistently and yet it was fundamentally flawed. Also, I realize that every baby is different, but hopefully this helps some other parents out there.

“You can’t overfeed your baby.”

Wrong. I can’t tell you how many people explicitly said this to us, including nurses, lactation consultants, doulas, and pediatricians. It turns out that virtually all of the advice a new mom receives in regards to breastfeeding is based on the assumption that breastfeeding will be impossible. Fortunately for us, Dilan figured out how to breastfeed rather quickly and is really darn good at it. The boy was born to eat.

The problem is that we were consistently told to keep him on the breast as long as he wanted… and he wanted to stay the entire day. As a result, he kept overeating. I can’t tell you how many times milk gushed out of his mouth. It is really hard for a baby to sleep, or be happy, when he’s constantly spitting up all over himself.  It wasn’t long before we began asking questions about his ridiculous amount of feeding, but we were always told the same thing, “Ah, let him feed when he wants to. Newborns can’t overfeed.”

It turns out that half the time he was feeding, he was just feeding to soothe. He didn’t need to eat — even if it seemed like he was “rooting” or showing some of the other typical hunger signs (I think he began to associate those behaviors with soothing). He just needed to suck on something, or simply receive some other form of comfort. It sounds obvious now, but I am surprised that nobody ever brought this up to us. We are now very careful about trying not to overfeed him, and he is a much happier baby.

“Newborns sleep almost the entire day.”

OK, this is not completely untrue, but it is misleading. It should be, “Newborns need to sleep almost the entire day.” The problem with the above statement is that it implies that the sleep will just happen on its own. Maybe it does for some babies (apparently for all of the baby girls our friends are having!), but not for our boy. For the first few weeks, we thought we would just hold him or swaddle him while going about our usual day, and that he would pass out as needed. Instead, he was wide awake most of the day and very, very unhappy. It is called being overtired. And despite all of the advice we were given, nobody ever mentioned this to us.

The solution is that we had to soothe him to sleep. And by soothe, I mean spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours working (not kidding!) to convince him to fall asleep. We’ve nearly perfected it to an art now — and can sometimes get him asleep in under 10 minutes — but essentially the process involves the following:

  • Monitor him closely when he has been awake between 1 – 2 hours. That seems to be his limit. He’ll stop playing as much and will start to get fussy. The sooner you detect he is tired, the easier he will be to put asleep.
  • Get him out of the noise and lights. When he is tired, it means that he is also overstimulated.
  • Swaddle so that he won’t keep driving himself crazy by flinging his own arms and legs everywhere. This was the one piece of advice we heard from the very beginning. It is a must, but not the silver bullet we thought it would be.
  • Cradle him and rock, swing, or sway. This is why Fischer Price sells a lot of swings. Again, not a silver bullet for us either.
  • Play loud white noise. This is the final ingredient, and the true secret weapon. When he is fussy, nothing other than feeding him can get him quiet like white noise. It works like pure magic 80% of the time.

Like I said, every baby is different and perhaps the above two statements actually ring true in most cases. Regardless, my wife and I are really surprised that nobody ever told us about overfeeding and overtiring. After figuring this out on our own, we have since come across some great resources online like these sleep guides: http://www.troublesometots.com/baby-sleep-guides/. It is actually kind of funny to see our crazy routine spelled out almost exactly in these guides.

A baby that eats properly and sleeps properly, is a happy baby. For those of you still trying to find your happy baby, I really hope this helps. I’d love to hear your comments!