I'm fascinated by independent work and lifestyle design. Spencer Fry is an entrepreneur who has been working for himself for the last 15 years. His recent startup is helping independent creators make a living from their passions.
I've been following Spencer's work for quite some time and connected to talk more about his habits and routines, work ethic and principles in life and work.
Spencer Fry has been building SaaS startup for fifteen years. He specializes in building consumer products and understanding people. As ad revenue started to dry up for individual content creators, he founded Podia in 2014 to help creators earn a living online through selling online courses, memberships, and downloads on their own digital storefront.
What Are the Most Influential Habits in Your Life?
I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life, and what still scares me the most is a fear of the unknown. To fight that fear, I rely on consistency in everyday things.
I wake up at the same time every day of the week (weekdays and weekends), I eat meals at roughly the same time every day, I have recurring meetings with the same entrepreneurs every two weeks, I play squash every week with the same two people on the same days, and I do the same cycling class every Thursday with the same friend.
For me, having consistent routines help me structure my day to minimize the unknowns wherever I can. My routines act as anchors for my job, which is highly unpredictable day-to-day.
How Do You Set Goals and Manage Time?
I’m a big fan of iA Writer for setting my personal and work-related to-do’s. For everything else, I use Trello. We’re big fans of Trello at Podia and I think we have a unique way that we use it that works really well for us.
In terms of iA Writer, I have an ongoing document titled “today’s to-do’s” which is really just a collection of all the current ongoing to-do’s I have, regardless of whether I finish them today or not. The document is split into two categories: “Personal” and “Podia.” Under each category, I have checkboxes that I try and check off throughout the day.
In Trello, we have one centralized board called “Podia Current Sprint” that the team uses split across four lists:
- In Progress
Throughout the day, and week, we move things down the list from Backlog → Done. Then at the end of the week, everything in “Done” gets moved into a “Victory” Board.
How Are You Modeling Your Life?
I believe that everyone should follow their own path. So rather than looking at my own mental models, look within and figure out what’s important to you.
I constantly think about how people are so different from one another. No two people are alike. While it can be helpful to take inspiration from others, it can also be harmful if you spend all of your energy trying to be just like someone else.
Can You Describe Your Work Process and Thinking Behind It?
My work process is rather straightforward. It all comes down to being able to distinguish what’s important from what’s not important. It comes second nature to me after having worked in SaaS for over fifteen years, but it’s pretty easy to put into practice.
Here’s my internal checklist that I go through in my head — I’m not actively doing this each time, but this is roughly what I think about:
- How big of an impact will this have on the product?
- Does this help us reach our goal?
- Is it the appropriate time to build this?
- Do we risk negatively impacting our future by not doing this?
- Is this category-defining or setting us up for something that is category-defining?
Anything that doesn’t match most of that criteria gets removed from the list. If it proves to be important in the future, it will bubble back up to the surface.
For me, that’s the hard work. After that, it’s all about managing whatever you choose to take on from start to finish and minimizing any snags. We use Trello for the process part, but mostly I rely on the amazing Podia team.
What Do You Eat for Breakfast?
During the week, I mainly eat oatmeal. Here’s how I prepare it:
- Cook the oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon and cardamon.
- Put a dollop of apple butter in the bottom of a bowl.
- Pour the cooked oatmeal on top of the apple butter.
- Add fresh berries (usually raspberries or strawberries).
- Add dried berries (usually raspberries or strawberries).
- Add chopped almonds.
- Pour a little bit of unsweetened almond milk over the top.
That’s it. And it comes out delicious.
When I’m not eating oatmeal, I’ll have eggs, avocado, and bacon on the weekend, or a smoothie.
A lot of people skip breakfast, but for me it lets me stay full until lunch so I can focus for a solid 4-5 hours before leaving my desk.
Oh, and coffee. Usually one cup with breakfast. Black.
How Do You Train Your Body and Mind?
I read a lot of books (I’m big into Sci-Fi), the newspaper (NY Times), and occasional long-form articles on the Web. I find it exhausting to spend all day working on software and then to spend more time reading about tech, so I stick to reading non-tech related content for the most part.
Exercising is another great way that I’ve found to escape tech when I’m not working. I play squash twice a week, go to a cycling class, and the occasional yoga class.
For me, the best way to train my body and mind is to completely disconnect myself from my work, because only then can I let new experiences in.
How Do You Meet and Connect with People?
I’m 34 now, and I moved to NYC right after college at 22. The NYC tech community was completely different back then. Much smaller, only founders, and everyone knew everyone. Almost every relationship I have to this day in tech is from those first few years (shout out to the NY Tech Meetup when it was only ~20 people).
Because of all the amazing people I met back then, I don’t attend as many conferences and events as I once did. What’s important to me is keeping in touch with everyone I’ve met over the past 12 years, and I do that by being very persistent about meeting up. I’m constantly going for coffee, breakfast, lunch, and drinks with these people. It’s important to see people in person rather than just on the Web.
I still do tweet quite often and do meet the occasional new person at the 1-2 events I go to every year, but it’s different now. I really like the small tight-knit communities that existed in NYC back when I first got here more than what it feels like today: a commercialized industry where everyone is pitching themselves and their product rather than just getting to know one another.
What Are Your Sleeping Rituals?
I make it a habit of waking up at 7 AM every day of the week, no matter what time I go to sleep. It just helps me keep my day consistent. I’m almost always asleep by midnight and often closer to 11 PM if I’m able.
Sleep is really important to me and (thankfully) I’m a deep sleeper, so I rarely get woken up during the middle of the night despite living in an apartment in the East Village of Manhattan.
What Are Your Investing Habits?
I mostly “invest” in travel. My goal is to get out of the country once per year. The last few years I’ve been to Sweden, Spain, and England, and this summer I’m off to Italy.
These days I don’t invest much in the stock market. I used to in the past, but some smart hedge fund friends of mine turned me against it, because I’m already heavily invested in stock with my own startup.
The remainder of my investment is in my apartment, retirement funds, and savings accounts.
What Books, People, Experiences Shaped Your Thinking?
People have had the biggest impact on my life, but nobody in particular more than anyone else. I’ve always been fascinated with people — I majored in Psychology at Yale.
I really try to get to know everyone I meet, learn from them and engage with them. You can learn something from everyone no matter what, and that can help shape you more than anything else.
The more people you meet, the faster you can understand the world and human behavior. And understanding the world and human behavior is how you become a successful entrepreneur with a successful product that people want.