Joel Always one syllable, sometimes "@jayroh"

One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure

03 Dec 2023

an illustration where there is a man, on the left, throwing out an old bike, and on the right is a child marveling at that same bike, restored
Generated image via ChatGPT/Dall-E illustrating the phrase "one man's trash is another man's treasure"

T’is the season and all that. The most wonderful time of the year where we feed capitalism until it’s forced to loosen 2 notches on its belt. Your national and local news are just now sending their reporters out to local malls for “person on the street” interviews about people and their spending habits this year. LFG, consumer spending! 📈 Buy, buy, buy!

Of course, I am not exempt. A trip to Newbury Comics last night ended with me walking out with new kitschy socks, 2 records, a comic book, and for my son, a manga book and a single pack of Pokemon cards. Retail therapy is real. While my tone may be sarcastic and somewhat (read: entirely) cynical, I am self-aware. I admit: I enjoy giving and receiving gifts. At the same time, maybe there’s an opportunity to stem the tide of further dumping cheap plastics into our landfills? (I promise. I can be fun at parties.)

So here’s a thought: make a few trips around your home, grab anything and everything taking up space, anything you no longer need or want or have given thought to in months, if not years, and ask yourself “would someone else want or use this”. If the answer is “yes”, then put that thing up on CraigsList, Facebook Marketplace, or Ebay. Or all three. Get it in the hands of someone who wants it, for less money than on Amazon, and get it out of your house. You make some money in the process, and make some further space in your home. Win, win, and win.

For the past month I’ve gotten rid of unused video games, comic books, electronics, toys, and sneakers. Somewhere there’s someone receiving those packages in the mail, happy to have them, while I’m happy to NOT have them. The funds from these sales have gone towards my ability to purchase a new iPad, something I use every single day for entertainment and productivity. No wasted space or unused utility there.

Seriously, there’s just so much crap everywhere! 😩

Last thought: selling on eBay has improved considerably over the years. I’m genuinely surprised at how quick and easy it is these days to get something up there and ready to go. The “use AI to write a description” feature, while obvious and transparent as to the results’ origins, is SUPER helpful. I always disliked that step in the process, but also did not want to lazily write “just look at the damn photos” for all listings. I consider this generated content a reasonable middle ground.

Challenges in Solopreneurship

14 Nov 2023

A man, alone, looking out into the distance, down a very clear and empty road.
An illustration of what solo entrepreneurship, in retrospect, would feel like.

Nine years ago, I embarked on a journey with Shubox, a solution to simplify uploading to, and working with, Amazon’s S3. This venture not only evolved along with my career but offered rich lessons worth sharing. In addition to my day job, I work on it my nights and weekends. This is some background information for the basis of a story I’ve participated and observed throughout my career.

The story looks a little like:

  1. You move on from full-time software engineering employment.
  2. Hang a shingle out your door, advertising your new, independent contracting/consulting business.
  3. Work with great clients, get paid (well). Make ends meet.
  4. Leave enough time for yourself to build your own product, perhaps launch your own SaaS.
  5. …?
  6. Make enough money off your SaaS to devote 100% of your time to that product.

I’ve done this and currently remain at step #5. I’ve known many colleagues and friends who’ve also done this. The ratio of people who get to step 5 and never manage to see step 6 is, most likely, in the 98% range[2]. It should go without saying that this particular hustle is way way more difficult than we would want or expect. I guess if it were different, we’d have every tech-hub over-populated by wealthy, bootstrapped, side-hustle-preneurs.

Would I discourage anyone from following this path? No, absolutely not. The likelihood they catch the right wave is slim, but the probability they learn an extraordinary amount is high. If learning is a goal, then you are inherently set up to succeed. With that, here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way while building Shubox.

Being “Solo”

I started Shubox because I saw a problem (uploading files from your website to S3) more than several times that grew to an “itch” that compelled me to “scratch”. Why was there nothing better? Surely there was something to fill my requirements that took less time to wire together? After building the POC I was convinced I was onto something. This was now doing what I wanted!

Building something you are so certain the world needs - that feeling is intoxicating. “The world needs this! I can’t believe this doesn’t exist! It’ll sell itself!” …Maybe? Coding it is just the beginning. A semi-functional POC will get you only so far. What about design? Marketing? Product management? Social engagement? User research?

In addition to being a strong engineer, if you are equally skilled in any of the above, you are fortunate. I’ll tell you what? I am not. So let’s talk about being “solo”. When it’s just you, you are all of those functions. If you can’t, or don’t want to, fake it, then you’re going to pay for it. Literally. Even so, that is a singular transaction. Those partners will only be around for so long. What happens then?

Solo. Alone. No one to bounce ideas off of. No one to share in defining strategy. No one to lean on, or hold you accountable. No one to review your work. No one to tell you when something is a bad idea.

It’s lonely. The experience of trying to build Shubox has been lonely. If I could go back and change something, I wouldn’t have gone down this road without a partner, and will most likely never do that again[2].

Know Yourself

How well do you know yourself? I mean, really know yourself? Have you done the work to inspect the depths of your strenghts and weaknesses? I find self-awareness to be an incredibly underrated trait. What are your flaws? Are you clear on what motivates you? What discourages you? What you’re terrified of, but would never in a million years admit to? You may not be familiar with these unknown unknowns yet , but putting yourself through the process of starting and running a business will surface these, over time, almost certainly.

For example, I now know I have a distaste for marketing me, putting myself “out there”. I am modest to a fault and would much rather play hype-man for friends, and colleagues. Building in the open? Why would anyone care? I’m just some random guy!

I also know I’d rather work on “this technical thing”, than pour effort and cycles into the marketing, promotion, selling. It’s so much easier to be neck deep in code building something.

And - this one’s tough - do you know you can never really fail if you don’t really try? Not gonna lie, this one hurts. It’s taken me a long time to confront this in particular. There’s a voice in the depths of the back of my brain, haunting me: “If I don’t allow this get big, then will I ever truly fail?” It’s a process to recognize and confront those voices, one truth at a time.

Accountability

As mentioned previously, the lack of accountability remains one of the more profoundly affecting missing pieces of the puzzle. When there’s no one to report to, where do you go? Who is there to keep you honest? Over the years upon reflection, the biggest challenges I’ve managed to overcome had accountability as a central tenant, providing me a ballast to keep my ship upright, to stay on course. If you are accountable to no one, then you are accountable to no one. Find that person, those people, even if they don’t really care! Email them! Say “I’m going to do this”, then follow up. If you do not accomplish what you set out to do, be honest, be vulnerable, know yourself, and truly know why you did or did not do what you said you would.

Finally

This post has been living in my head for months while I work through how I’m moving forward. My publishing this, in and of itself, is a large part of the process where I come to grips with those fears, uncertainties, hard truths, while allowing myself to feel uncomfortable. I am at peace knowing that failure isn’t truly failure if I’ve set out on that journey, did my best, learned something, and can look back with no regrets.

So, here we are!

Stay tuned.

More to come.


Footnotes:

  1. Let’s pick an easy arbitrary number for that population of “smart friends who went solo-preneur” - 100 people. Of those 100 people I know 2 people - TWO! - who have made a thing, bootstrapped it, and had successful exits.
  2. What do you think of what I’m doing with Shubox? Any interest in talking about what the future holds for the product? Hit me up! (My email is easy to find, or on Mastodon @jayroh@ruby.social.) I would still love to find that co-founder!

Terrificon '23

30 Jul 2023

If I’m lucky, I manage to get to about one comics convention a year. Typically that’s FanExpo here in Boston, but this year it was Terrificon down in CT at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

The main draw for this was absolutely the creator guest list, which was – I won’t mince words – for me, staggeringly good. As a kid, I got into these books in the late 80’s, early 90’s, at the height of the “mutant” craze. Some of the names most ubiquitous during that time – Chris Claremont, Alan Davis, Walt and Louise Simonson, Arthur Adams – were all in attendance this weekend, among many other heavy-hitting artists and writers.

As a result? I had to go.

I pulled together a small stack of books I wanted signed, and made my way down to CT. The day was long, the lines were longer, but thanks to the folks at the CBCS booth I was able to wrangle witnessed signatures and get them submitted for grading. It’s not something I do often, but this time around I went the “treat yo-self” route. YOLO, and all that.

The Terrificon crowd
There was no shortage of people. My anxiety didn't let me forget it 😅
Me and Arthur Adams, smiling
Arthur Adams - a personal GOAT, an absolute legend.
Freshly signed Art Adams comic books
Four of the Arthur Adams books I had signed
Chris Claremont and I
Speaking of legends! Mr Chris Claremont, the creator of who most (myself included) would consider the canonical Uncanny X-Men.
Chris Claremont signing an absurd number of books for a single attendee
No signature limits for Claremont so ... shoot your shot, attendee guy.
Walt and Louise Simonson
Walt and "Weezy" Simonson (!!!)
Ryan Ottley
Ryan Ottley, one of my favorites current artists, holding Hulk #1
Tom King and Mitch Gerads
Tom King and Mitch Gerads - two of DC's best modern-day creators
Rick Leonardi
Rick Leonardi at work
Comic books being prepared for sending off to CBCS
Several of the books I'd gotten signed, getting ready to be shipped off to CBCS for grading, and slabbing
Me and Tim
And finally, my very dear old friend Tim, who drove up from his side of CT and that I don't get to see nearly as much as I would like

ezCater summer sweetness '23

21 Jul 2023

Last week we learned that our CEO of 16 years, Stefania Mallett, would be stepping down as CEO of ezCater. After next month she’ll be embarking on the next chapter of her life, retirement(-ish?). I mention this because this week we had the company’s summer party, AKA “Summer Sweetness”. So it’s fitting that we all got together to celebrate the last year+, and her time as the leader of a company which I consider the best in my 20+ years-long career. The past 4 years have been some of the hardest, and some of the most rewarding of my work life. An inordinate amount of credit should be paid to Stefania, as the company she’s built is built on core principles that align well with my own. No place is perfect, and each individual’s journey is their own, but I’m grateful for my time here. To that, I say congrats to her, and I am forever grateful for all she’s done. Kudos!

Aaaaaanywho – “ezCater Summer Sweetness ‘23”! There’s not much that I may say with words that I can’t better express with photos. The people I work with make it the place it is. So here are some photos with my co-workers from the several days this week where we all got together.

(If anyone from my team ever reads this? Thank you for everything you do. Day in. Day out. You are all remarkable people!)

Group photo in Post Office Square (Boston).
07.18.2023: After lunch group photo in Post Office Square.
Our captain, and tour-guide, Scott.
07.19.2023: Our captain, tour-guide, and knower-of-all-things "Boston Harbor" -- Scott.
Fellow passengers on the SS Ez -- also, co-workers!
07.19.2023: My co-workers, friends, and fellow Harbor-sailers enjoying a leisurely ride.
Me, on the boat, giving the thumbs up to a good trip on the water.
07.19.2023: It was a good trip! 👍
Group photo of several ezCaterers enjoying themselves on the Tall Ship.
07.19.2023: Members, past and present, of a team I'd previously lead, but forever comrades.
Joel and Derek, all smiles.
07.19.2023: Myself and Derek. All smiles.
Joel and Marco, at a bar, with big smiles.
07.19.2023: Myself and Marco. Also all smiles, and potentially clearly quite tipsy!

Covid, Finally ... I Guess?

03 Dec 2022

After 9871 days the inevitable happened and Covid-19 got Sara and I. If we’re completely honest, there’s almost no way people are going to escape this thing. The opportunity to extinguish it, in the time of social media, misinformation, and buffoonery, had come and gone in a zeptosecond. So, that leaves folks like us to be ultra-vigilant with precautions, get the vaccine as soon as we could, get boosted whenever allowed and/or recommended, and be sensible when it comes to packed indoor spaces with people we don’t know2.

And that last point is where Covid had its opportunity to nip us - “Gotcha bitch!”

We’d seen Boyz II Men in concert several times in the past (Yes, that’s right. Those Boyz II Men.) So when we saw that they were playing at Foxwoods the night after Thanksgiving, we said “Sure! Why not? Let’s go!” and made our way to Connecticut. It was a fun night. We got some take-out from one of the casino restaurants, ate it in our hotel room, walked around a bit, had a drink at a bar while we waited for our meal. And then went to the show, which was pretty great. 112 and Dru Hill opened up for the main act. I know maybe 3 songs between the two of them so 🤷, whatever. Fine. Boyz II Men are great live, though so - go see them if you’re a fan. After the show, we made our way back to the room and called it a night. It was late. We’re old. We’re terrible at “the gambling”.

I realize it’s a fool’s game to try and figure out “who” and “where” and “how”, but humor me. We had been wearing masks the entire time we were inside. That leaves me with 2 possibilities:

  1. The 15 minutes at the bar where we both had a single drink. Masks off.
  2. The concert where a few thousand people were screaming at the top of their lungs for 2+ hours. Masks still on – mostly!

Again, a fool’s game. It doesn’t really matter. We’d made it through the weekend feeling fine until Sara started feeling off later on Sunday, early Monday. On Monday afternoon, while I was on a conference call, she knocked on my office door, opened it and exclaimed that the home test she just took was positive. Covid: “gotcha bitch!”. I still tested negative at that time. Thus began the home quarantine scramble - masks around the clock, doors closed, me sleeping on the office pull-out couch, G spending all his time at home in his room, door closed. We’d been together 24/7 for days so it was inevitable that I would be the next domino, and I was. I started feeling crappy Tuesday night, when I ultimately tested positive.

Mind you, through all this, G has tested negative every day and has not once exhibited any symptoms. Covid is weird. Sure, we’ve done everything in our power to keep him safe from it, but still. Bizarre. Kids are exceptionally resilient.

Lastly, what was it like for me? In a phrase, “exceptionally uncomfortable”. Flu-like? Bad cold? There’s no way around it, the experience was shitty. Fever for 3 days and nights – Tuesday night through Thursday night and into Friday, when I must have sweat out the last of the worst of it. I did not get a decent night’s sleep until Friday night. Chest congestion was bad, sinus pressure, terrible cough, chills, muscle aches. Sense of smell and taste were completely gone through the worst parts but that could be chalked up to the congestion in my head instead of the covid side effects. I can (sort of) taste things again, albeit somewhat muted.

Looking back on this experience (and most of the reason I am writing this, because I would like to refer to my own thoughts if [and when] this happens again) I am left with two thoughts. First, we are exceptionally fortunate and lucky to have scientists who can create the vaccines and therapies that help keep the worst at bay. That’s all we can hope for at this point – just dull the worst of it! And the shots did the job. With my own, and my family’s, medical history I can’t imagine what sort of catastrophe would await me in the absence of a vaccine. Second, while I do not want to get this again, I hope the near-term future affords me the opportunity to enjoy the next month or two without fear of catching it. Antibodies, and all that.

I’d like to be able to say “Wellp, glad that’s over! Done with Covid”. But, dear reader, that too is a fool’s game.


1: “987 days” because we consider Mar 13, 2020 as the day Covid shut everything down for us. It was the Friday we received an email from our son’s daycare stating that they would be shutting down “for the next 2 weeks”. Haha - “the next 2 weeks”! Oh man, that is rich! Anyway, 987 days between Mar 13, 2020 and Nov 25, 2022.

2: Like raw-dogging rides on the MBTA. #Sorrynotsorry but I am never riding the T without a mask again. No thank you.