Freakonomics Peak Project
This morning I listened to the new Freakonomics podcast, How to Become Great at Just About Anything, and was especially intrigued when they announced an open application to people who are willing to set aside the time and effort to get great at something. This is my “application” – which I’ve decided to make public in the spirit of committing to my endeavor, whether I’m accepted for the Freakonomics side project or not.
A little about myself
Hi, I’m Andrew Bellay, a 29 year old living in San Francisco, CA. I work with young start-ups in the bay area to plan, design, architect, and ultimately develop their mobile apps. I’m a Texas boy who spent 8 years studying in the woods with Cistercian monks at an all boys prep school. I was the first UT Austin student to graduate with a Plan II Honors (liberal arts) degree and a Chemical Engineering degree in just 4 years (the ChE degree alone is typically 5 years). While I was earning my undergrad degrees, I was also a co-op at ExxonMobil where I was in charge of blending the entire gasoline supply at the nation’s largest refinery when I was only 19 years old.
After graduating from UT Austin, I moved to California in 2009 to complete my formal education with a more business-focused masters degree from Stanford’s engineering school. I took nearly every class with the word ‘entrepreneurship’ in the title and promptly started my own company. My co-founder and I taught ourselves to code and built an app that incentivized students to get to class on time. Despite a lot of initial success we ultimately failed to build a sustainable business – a failure I can chalk up to a flawed strategy and our lack of experience.
Over the past few years, I’ve been working with young start-ups (and the occasional bigger name: Sacramento Kings, UCSF, Stanford) to help them launch their mobile apps. Along the way I’ve worked with another 125 start-ups through an organization called FounderSoup (now defunct) that paired technical and non-technical founders to form new ventures.
I love my girlfriend, our pet squirrel, learning new things, steak, dark chocolate, burnt coffee, malbecs, worrying about our education system, skiing, and exploring SF on foot.
What do I want to get great at?
Strategy. I see life as a game. Well really it’s a lot of games all jumbled together. The stakes may get high at times – even life or death – but I firmly believe that most situations can be seen through the lens of a game. Games have players, rules, tactics, and – of course – strategy.
I want to become a great strategist. I want to be able to identify & analyze the games around us and to create & deploy winning strategies. And if I’m able to become good enough, then I’d probably shut down my lucrative mobile app design and development boutique and become a professional strategist, working with individuals and companies that could use my expertise.
What progress have I made so far?
Many of my masters-level courses had a strategy element and one was entirely focused on strategies in technology-based companies. Since then, I’ve thought and read a lot about strategies, but not in a very formal way.
Recently I’ve written about a few strategy-related topics: The Raisin Racket, Lessons learned from McCormick’s Pepper, When playing by the rules just doesn’t work. In 2013 I outlined my approach to strategic problem solving in this long, but popular, Quora post. My work has been featured in both Mashable and Fast Company for projects and thoughts tangentially related to strategy.
I went head-to-head with JetBlue a few years back when they mistreated my fellow passengers on a flight to Florida. I was able to quickly deploy some clever ideas that turned out to help make sure we were ultimately taken care of: My $99,342 Tweet And How It Saved JetBlue Millions
So I would say I’ve made some progress, but I’d like to clarify what it means to be a great strategist and double down. Maybe I’ve spent 500 to 1,000 hours practicing strategy – but primarily in a casual way.
Why I’d like Freakonomics’ help
I’m going to continue to march towards this goal whether I’m selected as one the Freakonomics case studies or not. But if I were selected, I would likely get better access to an expert who can help direct my deliberate practice. I don’t really know how to measure progress in strategy or create the right feedback loops that appear to be essential for effective practice (board games? war games? simulations? business case studies?) so some coaching would be awesome to moving faster. I’m also excited by the opportunity to document the whole process and share it with others.
I also think I’d be a good investment for the Freakonomics team. I’m clearly willing to work hard for the things and people I care about. And since I own my business, I’ve already carved out the time I’ll need. Finally, even if I fail, we’ll document the whole thing and produce a great story.