I Quit My Job to Start My Own Company

My own firm!? Wow, pretty excited and eager to get to work but wanted to take a minute to memorialize the start.

Day One

This is day one. Literally the first official day of business for Copeland Building Envelope Consulting. I have spent the last week and a half transitioning out of my role as Director of Building Envelope Sciences at Gorman Richardson Lewis Architects and today I’m on my own.

People keep asking if I’m at least a little nervous, but honestly I’m not. I feel prepared and I’m excited more than anything. But more than that, I’m just confident that whatever happens, at worst it will be a great learning experience.

I plan to use this blog as a way to write about the process of starting and running a small professional services business. I know that in the lead up to doing this, I found a lot of great resources and I’m thankful to all the folks that took time and energy to make them (and I’ll definitely share what I’ve found useful in future posts). I’m hoping that someone may find my experiences along this road useful too, so I’ll write them down and see what happens!

What Exactly Am I Doing?

I’m starting a building envelope consulting firm.

For more info you can read this post about what a building envelope consultant is, or check out the services that Copeland Building Envelope Consulting will offer.

The Startup Process

So what have I done so far?

As soon as I decided for sure to make this move I gave notice to my former employer that I was going to be starting my own firm. We discussed an appropriate transition timeline and agreed that yesterday would be my last day. The whole transition was about a week and a half – a longer transition didn’t make sense given my role with the firm, which included a lot of business development.

I’ve setup a “doing business as” or “DBA” with my town which allows me to do business as Copeland Building Envelope Consulting rather than just my own name. I’ve decided not  to incorporate or form an LLC, at least for now, because I don’t think it actually provides a great deal of personal protection for me given my type of business (professional services performed by me) and it adds a significant level of complexity.

That’s a key point for me in this whole startup process: I’m trying desperately to avoid barriers to action. I don’t want to hold up the whole process of getting started to figure out LLC paperwork and coordination. If it makes sense in the future, I’ll do it.

I think a far more important step to protect myself is professional liability insurance, or E&O (errors and omissions) insurance. Getting that in place is where I have spent my energy, rather than on forming an LLC or corporation.

In addition to setting up the DBA and E&O insurance, I’ve made a basic website, setup email and productivity software (Google’s G Suite). I haven’t gone out to buy a bunch of equipment or computer hardware yet – I’m typing this on a $180 Chromebook that I had kicking around – hoping to take a “get it as you need it” approach to most things.

I have also begun to reach out to my network to announce the news and see how I can help people solve their building envelope problems. I’m fortunate enough to already have a couple of amazing clients who want to work with me and my new firm so I’m pumped about that!

Speaking of, being kick-off day and all I have a lot on the agenda and have to cut this off. Much more to come!

Still Fasting

All of a sudden a month has gone by without me publishing anything on here. I’ve drafted a couple of other, longer, posts but nothing ready for prime time yet (if any of this jibber jabber can be considered ready for prime time… but that’s another discussion…)

Anyway, perhaps “still fasting” isn’t quite accurate. My intermittent fasting experiment has been very intermittent. I practiced a 16 hour +/- fast for a couple of weeks pretty steadily. Then I tried a few days of 1 meal per day with about 23 hours of fasting. If 18 is good then 23 is better right?

Not really. At least not consistently in my (limited) experience.

I started feeling run down, got a cold, and then resumed shoveling pretty much whatever food I could find into my gob for the next few weeks. I have no idea whether getting sick had anything to do with fasting, but eating more felt right at the time.

But for the last week or so I’ve been back on the approximately 16 (fasting)/8 (eating) schedule and it’s been working well.

This time I’ve tried to be a little more lenient, especially on days that I lift weights. On rest days I will eat lunch around noon, then shut down the food train after dinner (around 6 to 6:30 p.m. usually). But days that I lift I will eat again after my workout, around 9 to 10 p.m. Usually a tin of sardines and some peanut butter with oats and honey (sort of a homemade granola bar mush – trust me it’s amazing).

I’ve also tried to put some intention towards cycling both carbs and calories. On rest days I try to eat less – both in total amount of food and of carb heavy stuff. On workout days I pretty much eat everything I see, but try to focus on good proteins and fats.

Much of my effort here is inspired by this James Clear post on fasting lessons learned.

How Can I View This As a Gift?

I was listening to The Tim Ferriss Show podcast earlier today (I think it was the episode The 4-Hour Workweek Revisited) and Tim was talking about how he always has this question queued up in his mind for when difficult situations arise:

How can I view this as a gift?

It really connected with me as a great way to flip the script when you’re first reaction may be frustration, annoyance, or anger. Instead, how can I learn from this? How can I see this as an opportunity?

This is in line with other Buddhist teaching I have come across, in terms of seeing Buddha, as a teacher, in others and looking at challenging situations as opportunities to learn. It reminded me of this quote as well:

In a work situation, if you have a particularly cantankerous boss who you think is a complete idiot, can you look at that person as the Buddha? As a manager, can you see that person who is working for you as the Buddha?

-Gerry Shishin Wick Sensei, “Zen in the Workplace”

I’m Trying Intermittent Fasting

After stumbling on some articles discussing intermittent fasting (like this one) a week or so ago I decided to give it a try. Started with a rough 16-8 routine of 16 fasting hours and 8 eating hours. I noticed that was pretty easy and it was more like 18 to 20 hours fasting most days. So the last two days I’ve done a full 24 hours, eating just one good sized meal each day and feeling great. It’s been an eye opening experiment from a mindfulness standpoint, challenging many assumptions I held about food, diet, and nutrition. Much more to come on this.

DIY Blown-In Fiberglass Insulation

I spend a lot of time trying to improve building performance on other people’s buildings through my day job, but I especially love experimenting on my own house. I’m in the middle of renovating what will be the kids’ playroom, and wanted to add some insulation to the attic above. Here’s the story of my experience with DIY blown-in fiberglass insulation.

Geared up for blown-in DIY

My attic already had some fiberglass batts. Of course they were a little sporadic and didn’t fit tightly around things like recessed lights. The lights are IC rated so the gaps just represent heat leaks.

To deal with this as efficiently as possible I figured blown-in insulation was the way to go. It’s easy to transport up through the small hatch into the attic (it travels through a hose) and fills in all the little gaps nicely.

I had to choose between cellulose and fiberglass blown-in insulation material.

While cellulose probably does a bit better job at reducing air flow, I’m not too concerned about this as my intent is to create an air barrier at the ceiling plane anyway. I didn’t love the idea of a bunch of fire retardant chemicals in the cellulose, but the real clincher for the fiberglass was the machine and the mess (or lack there-of).

About 500 square feet of insulation at R20 plus the installation machine easily fit in my minivan

My local Lowe’s gave me the Owens Corning AttiCat machine to go with the fiberglass material at no charge. There was no minimum purchase or other strings. The machine was easy to transport in my minivan (best work truck ever) since it easily came apart into two pieces. The bottom was a little heavy to lift into the van but nothing too bad.

In the YouTube videos I watched of other installs, cellulose looked really dusty. I’ve been in tons of attics with cellulose, but had never seen it installed before.

The videos of blown-in fiberglass, by contrast, looked shockingly clean. Normally I associate fiberglass with itchy four-letter-word-inducing misery, but this looked half decent.

Turns out, the videos were pretty accurate. The blown-in fiberglass was really low dust and I didn’t have any reaction other than some slightly red eyes despite my safety glasses. Full coverage goggles would probably have been better.

My excited assistant insulation installer

Setting up the machine was a breeze. It was supposed to come with a remote control on the end of the hose, but mine didn’t for whatever reason. Luckily I had a capable assistant to push the buttons. I still fed all the bags in.

There are good instructions and a video on the Lowe’s website and I don’t have much to add to that, so I won’t get into details here. But suffice to say it pretty much lived up to the marketing portrayal.

I did the whole job, including pick-up/drop-off of equipment and installation of insulation, in about 3 to 4 hours.

This was a rare DIY project that was as easy as expected, perhaps even easier.

Insulation ready to be fed into AttiCat machine

I’m Starting a Photography Side Business for Fun

I love photography and I love business, so I’m indulging my inner entrepreneur and starting a photography business. I also love my day job so it will be a photography side hustle and a fun experiment.

I’m a tinkerer. I’m the person who is constantly moving furniture around to optimize a room layout.

I like testing ideas and seeing what works.

Photography has been a hobby of mine for years, going back to a little Olympus APS film camera that I had as a kid. I get a lot of satisfaction from both the technology – the equipment and processing tools – and the art.

Over the years I’ve amassed a modest collection of basic DSLR gear and learned a bit about a variety of photo processing software. I still have a lot to learn but know enough, and have the tools, to make some engaging photos.

Since I’ve become a dad my subject matter has skewed heavily towards portraits. I find people are more interested in photos of other people too, so it’s practical both from a family documentation standpoint as well as entertainment value.

As a result I have quite a collection of family portraits to draw from, and creating a simple portfolio wasn’t too much effort.

I started looking around for a suitable WordPress theme and stumbled on this awesome tutorial for creating a photography website. I loved the minimalist look right away and jumped into making my own site.

After a couple hours of work over the course of several days, I came up with what I think is a pretty decent site to showcase my portfolio and solicit clients looking for a photographer in Stow, MA.

Now that the basic framework is in place I will start optimizing for organic search and other marketing. As it stands, no one would ever know it’s there!

First on the list is a more SEO-friendly main page, and then some location-optimized landing pages for surrounding towns.

Once someone finds it and decides to try out the service, then I can get some feedback and start optimizing the customer experience too. It’s all sort of a shot in the dark at this point.

I’m excited to have a platform to experiment on, and just see what happens. I have no real expectations, other than to have some fun and learn a few things – both about photography and about business.

I’ve already really enjoyed getting back into some simple WordPress website construction after taking most of the last couple of years off from working on my family travel blog. Not to mention the fun of going back through years of family memories!

How Not to Review Products on Amazon

I recently learned that Amazon reviews are not the idyllic community of engaged shoppers that I had subconsciously assumed. Naive me.

The Story

It all started with headphones.

I got a pair of earbuds as a Christmas present this year. In the box there was a little piece of paper with the typical “register for extended warranty” type stuff. It also said there were other perks for registering.

I usually throw those things right in the recycle bin. But on a whim I went to the website.

I couldn’t register for the extended warranty (since it was a gift I didn’t have the order number). I could, however, indicate interest in reviewing future products. I figured, why not?

A few days later I got an email saying they would like a new product reviewed, offering to refund the purchase price of a new pair of over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones. The email didn’t say anything about the review needing to be positive, or even that it needed to happen to get the refund.

So I took a chance and bought the headphones, thinking I could just return them if I didn’t get the refund (I don’t need another pair of headphones).

But to my shock the refund showed up in my PayPal account within hours of me submitting proof of purchase. Wow.

I used the headphones for a week or so and then wrote a review. I did give them 5 stars, which to me means a product I’m happy with and is a good value for the price, with no significant deficiencies (again given the price context). I think I was pretty balanced in the review text and I did my best to review as if I had paid for them.

I disclosed in the review that I had gotten a refund for the headphones.

the offending review

What I did not know is that Amazon does not currently allow compensated reviews of any kind.

Whoops.

Here’s Amazon’s policy, including a prohibition on the following:

Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.

Here I was thinking I was doing the right thing by acknowledging that I had received compensation for writing the review. Turns out I was breaking the rules already anyway.

The company that asked me to do the review actually reached out and let me know about the policy – and they asked me to take out the disclosure.

Um, no.

So I deleted the review and offered to send back the headphones (they declined and said to just keep them).

I tried to let Amazon know what happened. The representative I chatted with didn’t seem too interested, but thanked me nonetheless.

Learning Experience

I was honestly shocked that this company was so brazenly trying to undermine the review system. I was very naive – apparently this is a thriving industry.

I don’t have a problem with compensated reviews (clearly). Reviews take time, especially decent ones that say more than “nice product” and I don’t have an issue with someone getting compensated for their time.

But the compensation needs to be disclosed. Then people can make of it what they want, and everything is in the open. Incentivizing people to hide their compensation sucks.

Amazon isn’t helping things here. Apparently compensated reviews used to be allowed, as long as they were disclosed. I think by forcing this underground they’ve made the situation worse. Data from this article in Forbes about “Amazon’s Fake Review Problem” supports my gut reaction here:

Since the announcement [that compensated reviews would be banned], though, there’s been no improvement. Indeed, ReviewMeta’s data indicates that the average review weight – the measure of how trustworthy reviews are overall – has almost halved since Amazon announced its strategy for dealing with the problem.

In any case, my overall trust in Amazon reviews is way down.

Having said that, though, I’ve rarely bought a well-reviewed product and found it to be lacking. It’s even true with my infamous headphones – they’re a legitimately good product.

Anyway, I’m done with compensated Amazon reviews.

But I am going to try to review more products that I buy for myself – do my part to counterbalance the system of undisclosed compensated reviews.

Yuck

Overall the experience felt gross and I didn’t like it at all. I should have been more skeptical and checked the rules first.

Actually, there is a bigger take away:

Had I recognize fully that I didn’t need the headphones, and therefore getting them at no cost represented minimal, if any value, I would have ignored the offer. I wouldn’t have missed out on any happiness (the headphones didn’t solve any problem I had) but would have avoided the trouble and anxiety that resulted from the experience.

Ecology of the Mind

I read this article today which excerpts a section of a talk by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu on the relationship between the human mind and nature. Buddhadasa was a Thai monk who lived between 1906 and 1993, and he was known as a “forest monk”. I found a lot of resonance with the main concept of the piece – “the ecology of the mind”:

In other words, Dhamma is the ecology of the mind. This is how nature has arranged things, and it has always been like this, in a most natural way. The mind with Dhamma has a natural spiritual ecology because it is fresh, beautiful, quiet, and joyful. This is most natural. It is calm and peaceful because nothing disturbs it. It contains a deep spiritual solitude, so that nothing can disturb or trouble it. Its joy is cool.

Check out this page for some additional reading on “dhamma”.

Weightlifting: Not So Scary After All!

Weights are scary right? I always thought so. Even in college when I actually went to the gym on a semi-regular basis I never strayed much beyond the various machines with little silhouette figures that show how to do each exercise.

Even that stopped when I dislocated my shoulder on the fly machine. That’s a story for another day, but the point is until recently I hadn’t been in a gym in like 15 years.

But great news! As it turns out, weight lifting doesn’t actually seem to be scary, and is actually pretty fun.

I had been running a lot since last spring, but with winter now fully upon us I’m finding it a lot harder to get out on the roads. Between the snow banks and earlier sunset it’s just not working. So I’ve been looking for another way to get some regular exercise (besides chasing my 3 kids and fixing up my dilapidated house).

I saw a chance to win a 3 month membership to a local gym at a fall festival and gave it a shot. With some luck I won and decided to use it as motivation to learn to use the free weights.

I got started on the idea of lifting weights reading one of my current favorite blogs Mr. Money Mustache. He’s a big fan of weight lifting as a tool for general fitness and the logic made sense to me.

Not wanting to pay to join a gym, but also not wanting to invest in fitness gear left me doing mostly pushups, pullups, and the occasional 6-year-old curl. So the free gym membership was the perfect segue.

I told myself if I used it, and liked it, then I’d look out for some cheap weights to use at home.

Turns out I did like it, and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought.

For some reason it’s intimidating to jump into the free weights area and start lifting. Much more intimidating than using the machines.

Not going to lie, it took me a couple of trips to even venture into the free weights area. My routine was something like: warm up on treadmill, walk confidently towards free weights, see that some else was in that area, make abrupt turn like I was actually going to the water bubbler the whole time. Repeat.

There was always like one other person. Not empty, so I could try things without fear of being judged. Not a bunch of people so I wouldn’t be noticed. But one other person. Always.

But after lots of self-talk and studying of YouTube videos I managed to drag myself in there one night. I grabbed some dumbbells and did my best impression of the guy I had seen doing curls a few minutes before. No one laughed – call that a win.

After that I went to the gym pretty regularly for a couple of months before starting to look on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for home weightlifting gear. It took about 2 weeks of scouring ads and several near-misses on good deals before I scored a complete package of bench, squat rack, bar, and plates plus some random other bits and pieces for $160.

weight-bench-and-squat-rack
My private gym.

That getup is now sitting happily in my basement where I cleared a space, and I’m loving the 30 second commute to the gym whenever I want to workout. That convenience has drastically increased my workout frequency.

I got everything  before my 3 free months ran out too, so no gym membership fees either! Suffice to say I’m pretty happy with how this whole weightlifting thing is working out so far.