Physically distant, but socially close

I don’t love the term ‘Social Distancing‘ that’s being thrown around by the media as it implies that isolating ourselves will leave us devoid of meaningful social interaction.

I’ve been physically distant from my family for over a decade – I live in NYC, my parents are in Mombasa (Kenya), and my sister lives in London. We are physically distant but still have a lot of social interaction primarily over WhatsApp and FaceTime.

I FaceTime my mum (and dad) for about 2-5 minutes every day during my office commute and we chat on our ‘Family WhatsApp’ on a daily basis. This allows us to maintain close social bonds despite being physically distant.

I don’t think this is a substitute (or better) than in person interaction. Being in person socially gives you more data points (3D vision, touch, smell) and is more engaging. It’s also easier and more engaging to have a group conversation in person vs. over video calls.

I’m quarantined in my apartment in NYC away from my wife (who’s with her parents), as I recently traveled internationally (from Kenya) and am probably at risk.

We now have lots of amazing communication tools (e.g. Zoom, Slack, WhatsApp) and good internet which allows for better, more engaging social interaction when physically apart. I’d be excited to try and use these tools (and others) to connect with friends, family and colleagues and be intentionally even more empathetic and compassionate with each other during this time of required physical isolation.

I’m personally going to try to make time for meaningful social interaction – e.g. having ‘dinner’ with my wife over FaceTime, or a glass of wine with my cousins over Zoom, scheduling a Peloton class with a friend and playing games over Zoom with a large group of friends for their virtual birthday party.

Mental Models for Giving

I’ve been thinking more about giving over the last few years, and have been trying to develop my own mental models. This is a deeply personal subject and each person will think about it differently – I’m sharing this to learn from others and record my thoughts at this point in time.

I have been listening to a few podcasts on the topic and gravitated towards Peter Singer’s work on Effective Altruism (if interested his Ted Talk, and Vox Podcast are a good start). Peter talks about how we are all probably consuming too much and not giving enough away. I found his point on applying yourself towards what may make you a higher income (and hopefully you enjoy) and giving these earnings away to the poorest people in an efficient way vs. spending your time running a charity as a more impactful path to giving (per hour invested) quite interesting.

My parents have also been involved in our community in Kenya for many years – my father runs our small family foundation which supports healthcare and education, and my mother started the Elimu Foundation which supports primary education in Mombasa.

I have a couple of mental models that I’m currently exploring below.

Time vs. Money

It may make sense to give your time away or your money away or give a little a bit of both depending on your circumstance.

  • Money may be more effective than time: If you make a very high income, it may make more sense to spend more hours making money, and then give away that money – 1 hour of your time volunteering may be way less impactful that 1 hour of the value of your earning power.
  • All time given away is not equal: If you have a lot of expertise in venture capital / startups it might be much more effective to mentor entrepreneurs vs. go to a village and use your body/time to dig a well.
  • Non-outcome orientated factors matter: What is most effective may also not be the most fulfilling or enjoying to you personally. This is something to take into account when you decide if and how you’d like to give.

Efficiency vs. Community

A fundamental principle is that ‘every human life is equal’ and that an additional dollar given to someone in extreme poverty (<$1.25 a day) would have a larger impact than an additional dollar given to someone who is not living in extreme poverty.

  • Heart vs. Head: There is an interesting tension between giving away in the most effective and efficient way (more data driven) and giving away your community (less data driven).
  • Community giving: Giving to your local community can have additional benefits beyond the impact you’re having to the end cause. It can improve social bonds (supporting a colleagues charity run), give you a regular emotional boost (giving money to the homeless person you pass every day), improve the quality of service (tipping your building doorman a little extra) or improve your standing in your community (being thought of as generous or kind).
  • Efficient giving: There are good resources online like GiveWell that take into account levels of funding, the efficiency of the organization (what % of capital reaches the end person) and the impact of each dollar donated. This is a more rational way of investing but you don’t get the benefits of giving to your community beyond the knowledge that you are probably having more impact per $ given away.

My Current View

I personally like a barbell approach. For example, one could volunteer in a local shelter (100% time + 100% community) for a few hours a week and also donate 10% of their income to Give Directly (100% money + 100% efficiency). This helps to satisfy both heart and head.

I support Give Directly, as I worked on the product and with the folks behind it very closely and can vouch for both their character and their data driven (impact and efficiency) approach to giving. It’s an added bonus that much of the money goes to E.Africa, which is where I’m from and I’ve personally visited the communities and homes of the beneficiaries.

I also try to give, to a lesser level, time to my community (e.g. mentoring entrepreneurs), and money (school fees for a tennis coach, or paying for a porter’s guide training course).

When and how much to give?

I don’t have refined mental models for how much (money) to give and when to give. Right now, I only really have a set of open questions which I’ll lay out below:

  • The biggest question I have is “give now vs give later“? Warren Buffett famously argued that it was more impactful for him to compound his money at 20%+ and donate it at the end of his life. Earlier in life, some personal wealth can also enable you to take entrepreneurial risk, or invest in your or your children’s education. On the other hand, giving now could mean that problems of today don’t spiral (i.e., social time value of money). There may also be tax benefits in the US (e.g. donor advised funds) to giving earlier in life.
  • How much of your excess capital goes into saving vs. unnecessary additional consumption as your income grows? I’m certainly guilty of this, and need better methods to quantify.
  • When you are later in life or die, how much will each additional dollar left to your family/children benefit them after a certain amount vs. the impact of an additional dollar given away? I think it’s human nature to bias towards self preservation vs. giving, for most people.
  • How much does this calculus depending on your stage of life (younger vs. older) and your total income and capital base? If you have $1,000 vs $100m in your bank account the percentage of your net worth that it’s rational to give away will change (see below for a suggestion).
Peter Singer’s Giving Scale” in the appendix of “The Life You Can Save

My thinking is still evolving and think it will continue to do so – my main motivation was to clearly articulate my thinking and learn from others in the community.

Thanks to my friend Kai Wu for reading a draft and making this post better.

Setting up for Distributed Work

I work at Automattic where I lead a distributed development team. I shared a few thoughts from my first few months working at a distributed company. Working remotely is currently a topical issue (March 7 2020) given the spread of the Coronavirus, and many companies asking employees to work from home.

I wanted to share some additional thoughts and resources for:

1) Why distributed work is going to become even more important and mainstream
2) Tips for setting up and running your distributed team

Why Distributed?

The availability of high quality collaboration software combined with the availability of fast, reliable internet all over the world is making distributed work easier and more common by the day, especially for technology companies.

Many amazing technology companies in the world have set themselves up as ‘distributed first’ including Invision, Gitlab, Zapier, Basecamp, Upwork, Stripe (later) and Automattic to name a few and have grown to significant scale (1000+ employees). As companies reach significant scale and become even more global (e.g. Google and Facebook), they run more and more distributed teams collaborating towards the same goal.

Distributed work has a lot of advantages for your business; you’re able to recruit globally, your teammates have more flexible hours, working environments and mobility which ultimately expands the available talent pool and improves employee retention.

You’re also able to set up systems and institutionalized knowledge for your company that do not rely on synchronous, in person interaction which are more durable over the life of your company.

Here are a few good resources about distributed work:

Running distributed teams

If you’re thinking about setting up your company to be a distributed company, then the most important thing to do is set up your company as ‘distributed first’ from first principles. Even if you do have one or many offices you need to set up your culture and systems to make all employees feel like first class citizens no matter their location. At Automattic, we have a written creed and one of the ones I really like is ‘Communication is Oxygen‘.

Practical advice

Set of common tools and norms: Decide on your norms are for the business – this does not have to be perfect in the beginning, but write something down then iterate. For example, we don’t email each other at Automattic – Slack is for synchronous discussion, P2 (our internal blogging tool) is for long form writing and roadmapping, and Zoom is for video communication (we never have audio calls). Here is a minimum set of tools you’ll need all functions:

  • G Suite: This is a no-brainer as you get email, calendar, storage, document and spreadsheet capabilities all easily shared in your organization.
  • Long form communication/collaboration: Basecamp, Notion, and Confluence are all good workplace solutions and the first two are more opinionated wheras Confluence is a bit more flexible and connects better with external tools but needs more set up and customization. Google Docs is also an alternative.
  • Chat: Slack is the most common, and works generally well. It’s not great when you have poor internet and I’ve seen folks use WhatsApp as an alternative given the speed and reliability.
  • Meetings: If you’re going to have meetings, choose a tool like Zoom that everyone uses. For recurring meetings or 1x1s, like to add a Zoom link to the calendar invite and a synced Google Doc for that meeting to it so that notes can be taken and shared more broadly if necessary.
  • Project management: There are lots of good project management tools but I like Asana the best. Trello is great for simple boards and many engineers like GitHub Issues as it’s close to the code but works less well for non-development folks. Jira is the most customizable and robust product for complex and established workflows but requires a fair bit of set up to be useful.
  • Standup: Many teams like to do asynchronous standups. I like the following questions and a tool like Geekbot is easy to use to administer in Slack:
    • How are you feeling? Colors (R/Y/G) or Thumbs (Up, Down) to give this structure.
    • What did you do yesterday?
    • What are you doing today?
    • Where are you blocked?

Async and written: Set up your systems to be “async and written first” and have clear escalation paths to notify your colleagues if something is urgent or you are blocked. Long form, written content forces you to think and communicate clearly and exposes the gaps in your own thinking. It takes more time to write, but ultimately the trade off is worth it especially at scale.

Public by default: Many companies communicate privately or in small groups by default. In reality, most communication which is not about sensitive topics (usually people/hr) should be public, especially if it about product or priorities. Defaulting to public first allows more people across the organization to learn from each other and to dive in and get more context rapidly if they require it. There is some risk of information overload or separating out what is important from what is not, but this is something that you get better at with practice.

Quality video and audio matters: I still think synchronous communication can be important, in particular 1x1s with your direct reports, managers and close peers. When you do have synchronous meetings having quality video and audio matters. Good lighting and a decent mic (I recommend a boom headset/mic combo like this Jabra Evolve) do matter when having video calls.

Time zones are hard: Even if you set up good systems for distributed, asynchronous work, a very large spread in time zones can be hard for building a team’s culture, feelings of isolation and unblocking colleagues. If you can set up teams with reasonable time zone overlap, it’s easier.

Onboarding guide for new employees: Invest in a written onboarding guide for new employees with a checklist they can complete themselves. Ask each new employee to improve this onboarding guide for the next person.

When being in person is better

There are times where being together is superior to working distributed and asynchronously. It’s also worth trying out virtual meetups – synchronous and distributed versions as well (time zone permitting) which can be less expensive and time consuming for everyone.

New teams / new projects: For new teams working on new projects together, it can be helpful to have some time together to kick off the project, especially if it’s a substantial investment from the company. Group conversation can spark creativity and being in person helps accelerate the process of team bonding, creating alignment and hashing out the inevitable differences between vision, personality types or different working styles. It is be great to summarize this in a co-written document of priorities and team norms and roles.

Change Management: If the company or team needs a change it can be harder / slower a distributed environment. It’s more challenging to rapidly understand and improve the energy and output of teams rapidly as some of the feedback loops from in person real time communication do not exist in the same way. It requires adapting or replacing your mental models as a manger to a distributed working style (an area I where I personally need to develop).

Building human connections: When working with people, it’s simply easier to build trust and better human connections in person. Sharing a meal or a drink and laughing with them in 3D is much more engaging than a 2D Zoom call or Slack exchange.

Personal: Working from home can lead to feelings of isolation or lack of separation of work/life. I’ve seen good results from spending more time with friends and family (and being fully present) and shutting off your work notifications (closing Slack, Email etc) in pre-set windows.

Helpful resources

There are a lot of good articles and guides out there for remote work and here are a few of my favourites:

Manage Energy, Not Time

I remember reading the HBR article in 2009 called ‘Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time‘ and it really resonated with me as it’s something I’d felt for a long time but did not have a framework to describe it. I’ve since shared this article and this method of thinking with dozens of colleagues and friends.

I find that creative individual work or complex problem solving goes poorly when forced into a strict time slot. This this is much of what highly compensated knowledge workers get paid for and we are often forced to do this during 9-5 and in our office environment.

There are three main takeaways for me and how I’ve applied it to my own life:

  • Understand my own energy level before starting a task, and if I’m not in the right mindset switch the task to something that requires lower energy (e.g. submitting my expenses, or other administrative tasks) or take a break to restore energy.
  • Understand what drains energy and what generates energy – a nap, some exercise or a walk with a podcast are all restorative for me personally and so if I’m unable to get something done, instead of staring at my screen I’ll often do one of these and come back more refreshed and ready to complete the task at hand.
  • Work on creative or complex tasks during high energy times – I usually feel most creative and productive in the mornings and try and do most of my IC work during the mornings. In my current job it’s challenging as I work with many folks in Europe so I block out a few mornings a week without meetings.

When you’re a people manager or have meetings that you have to attend for the benefit of others and (not yourself) you often have to compromise on these principles because you’re optimizing for a larger group which is rational but not always pleasant if you’re low energy.

It is much easier to apply these principles a distributed environment (e.g. at Automattic where I work) as we can work from wherever (and mostly whenever) we feel most productive and, in my opinion, is one of the best advantages of distributed work over a traditional office.

Guide to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Summit Day

In January 2018, my wife Tej and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do since I was a kid (at least since my mum climbed it when I was 16) and I’m really happy I was finally able to make it up the mountain.  Kilimanjaro is the largest free-standing mountain (not surrounded by a range) in the world and the tallest peak in Africa. Uhuru peak, the summit, is very high at 19,000 feet / 5900m.

I’m writing this to document my own experience and make it easy to share with friends. I’ve already shared some of my research with at least 3 people who’ve ended up doing a similar trip and all had a great experience.


In preparation for the trip, the most important things to do are to reach a base level of physical fitness and to get good gear. The weather can be severe and the last thing you want on a tough day is to have the wrong equipment and make your day even harder.

A German guy on the mountain said to me on the mountain:

‘There is no such thing as bad conditions, only bad equipment’

In terms of gear for the trip, I put together this spreadsheet inventory with everything you need for the trip. I would go through it line by line and make sure you bring everything that is a must have. I pulled this gear list together from the following sources:

A couple of high level points:

  • Ski gear: I used my ski gear and it worked out great – merino wool base layers, insulation mid layers and waterproof outer layers are exactly what you need.
  • Snacks: Bring some tasty snacks – e.g. dried mango, nuts, chocolate, energy gels (especially good). As you get higher you will lose your appetite and snacks come in really handy as small energy bombs.
  • Wipes: This is how we ‘showered’ every day before changing and getting in our sleeping bags.
  • Leisure: I’d suggest bring a kindle and some cards to pass the time at camp.

In terms of training, the hike is not super physically challenging so I’d work on your general fitness and walk on a stair master or at incline a few times a week if you’re worried about it.

Operator and route selection

Tour Operator

We considered a number of tour operators including Zara Tours, Monkey Adventures, Popote and Kilimanjaro Brothers. We narrowed it down to Kilimanjaro Brothers and Popote and chose Popote in the end because they were better priced and still seemed to have a first class operation. I highly recommend Popote, they were great and we were really happy with the service they provided.


Tipping can be a very stressful time for folks at the end of the trip, but it does not have to be. You build a bond with the people you helped you up the mountain and it’s a nice moment to appreciate them. I made this spreadsheet with the amounts we tipped each person (in 2018) on our trip in case it’s helpful for others. Make sure you bring cash and USD is probably the easiest.

We ended up sponsoring guide training for our ‘waiter’ who is now a guide with Popote as we really liked him and wanted to do something small to help.


We ended up picking the 7 day / 6 night Lemosho route which was wonderful. The other option we considered was the 6 day / 5 night Machame route but ultimately decided to go for the longer more picturesque route to help us get better used to the altitude and increase our chances of summiting. We also figured that 1 day extra was not a big sacrifice given the time and long travel invested into the climb. I would not recommend any longer than 7 days though – by the last day we were pretty excited to get off the mountain.

Time of the year

There are two main seasons for climbing Kilimanjaro. January-March are the ‘warm’ (it was still -15C when we summited) but slightly wetter months and August-October are the colder and dryer months. I don’t think it really matters too much which block you choose.

Climb experience

The climb is a great out and back experience and we really enjoyed spending time with our guides and each other and enjoying the changing terrain as we made it up the mountain. Overall it was easy/moderate difficulty except the ‘Summit Day’ which is challenging.

On ‘Summit Day’, we started the ascent at midnight so it’s dark almost the whole way to the summit which we reached around 630am. It’s a demanding day mentally and physically because of how much you walk (50k steps walked, 3k vertical feet up and 6k feet down), the altitude (dizziness, nausea) and the cold (-15C and windy). Both Tej and I had moments where we felt like we would not make it but we helped each other through it – most of the actual difficulty on summit day is mental but you’re rewarded with all the endorphins when you make it to the top.

Here are some photos of our trip:

Day 1: On the way to the start of the climb with our crew
Day 3: Lava Tower (altitude acclimatization)
Day 4: Climbing the Great Barranco,Wall
Day 5: Our tent in Barafu Camp just before the summit day
Cheesy Summit Day Photo – a must!

Gamification for your product

I spent 5 years working at Pocket Gems, a free to play mobile gaming company in product management where I helped design, develop, and manage most of our products.

Nail the ‘Core Loop’ first

I often get asked by friends about how they can incorporate gamification techniques into their products. Most of the time, folks are asking about these tactics prematurely before they have a ‘core loop  established and before they’ve reached product market fit. 

The core loop is the set of actions that a user completes over and over again and this must be inherently satisfying and / or useful before applying gamification tactics. 

Some examples of core loops:

  • Instagram: Take Picture, Post/Share/Tag picture, Review / Respond to likes and comments
  • Uber: Request ride, Take ride, Rate driver
  • Candy Crush: Play level (consume life), Complete level, Progress to next level, Request/Buy life

Once you’ve defined your core loop and this is already inherently satisfying (or provides utility) to your users, then tactics from free to play gaming can be very helpful in improving core metrics such as retention and monetization which ultimately drive improved LTV.

Understand user goals and motivation

When designing products always start with the user goals (short, medium and long term goals) and design the meta-experience around these goals.  Once you understand user goals (and ideally map them to business goals) you can then design a set of tactics to help incentivize behaviors that help users achieve these goals.

Here are a few principles of player motivations in games that can also be applied to lots of other products:

  • Purpose: All great games have a meta-objective (e.g. Save Princess Peach in every Mario game) that players can easily understand. This gives players purpose, and these principles also apply to utility products where purpose is already clear and does not need to be manufactured.
  • Progression -> Completion: People enjoy the feeling of progression. The simple act of completing a level, or filling up a progression bar is very satisfying to many players and is a very tangible feeling of making progress towards a meta objective.
  • Mastery: People like improving at the core action in any skill based game. It’s important to communicate to players explicitly when they reach different mastery tiers as these are typically moments of great satisfaction.
  • Status / Peacocking: People like to show off their status to their community – I’m a VIP or important in some way and there are lots of examples of this both online and offline. Some examples include – Yelp Elite, Instagram Verified, League of Legends Platinum and Rank/Awards on military uniforms.
  • Expression / Creativity: People like to create and to express themselves with easy to understand constraints. Lego or Minecraft are both great examples of having some constraints but also allowing users to be incredibly creative within those constraints.
  • Collection: People like to collect things and we’ve been doing it for a very long time – coins, stamps, etc. They like to be able to see what they have collected and admire it, as well as identify what is missing and know how to find it. Loot drop mechanics combined with collection can be very powerful. A game like Hearthstone does this very well.

Not all of these principles or motivations apply to every player, and many of the best games pick a few and execute them very well vs. trying to be all things to all players.

Apply Gamification Tactics

There are a number of effective tactics in gaming that appeal to some of the player motivations described above.

  • Levels: Even a simple leveling up system allow us to hit a lot of player motivations – Progression, Mastery, and Status. It’s a relatively cheap way to reward behaviors in your product and incentivize continued engagement in the core loop.
Candy Crush leveling system is simple and clear
  • Ranks / Tiers: Ranks are quite useful to differentiate between players and allow them to also communicate to others that they have a higher status (either earned or purchased) in their community. In League of Legends, players rank up by playing competitive matches and it’s used to both signal skill as well as find other players with similar skill levels. This can be applied to users outside of gaming with ‘VIP’ Tiers or ‘Elite’ Tiers for customers who are either highly engaged or high spenders.
League of Legends Tiers
  • Rarity: Collectors, Expressionists and Status seekers all enjoy finding items that are exclusive and rare. When combined with randomness this can be a very powerful mechanic. Some of the most successful free to play games like Hearthstone allow rare items to be both earned through skill, purchased (usually through loot drops), or crafted (usually very expensive).
  • Randomness (loot drops): Packs or Boxes which have an unknown set of rewards are very appealing to players. Sometimes just the act of opening these packs as just as satisfying as the rewards. You can integrate mystery / loot drops into your products by running a mystery sale for example where players need to open a box to reveal their custom offer.
Pack opening / Loot drops in Hearthstone
  • Quests: Quests are one of the most useful tools in free to play games to incentivize user behavior. They allow us to guide the user in a specific direction for a clear reward. Quests are quite easily applied to lots of products outside of games – e.g. 3 blog posts in 3 weeks for for $10 of credit towards your next purchase or 10 rides in your first month for Peloton for a badge displayed on your profile.
An example of a quest screen from Clash of Clans by Supercell
  • Badges: Badges are a very quick and easy way to reward ‘good behavior’ from players. In the example below from Peloton, you get badges for beating a record, cycling with a friend, or working out 10 days in a row. I like to look at user behaviors that result in improved retention (or another metric) and then create rewards for those behaviors – badges are one way to do that.
  • Gating: Gating prevents users from accessing parts of your product until they have completed certain tasks. Level gating or item gating are a simple way to do this in games. For example, in Links Awakening, you can’t access any of the water areas of the map until you’ve found the flippers which allow you to swim. You could apply this tactics to many complex products where users need to have complexity exposed to them gradually.

I hope that folks find this useful – it’s not meant to be a playbook but talk about some of the principles and tactics that we use in games. Remember none of this is a substitute for having a product which is inherently satisfying or useful at its core but act as a multiplier instead.

My top 5 products of 2019

Last year, I wrote up some of my favourite new products of 2018 and I thoughts I’d do the same this year. For each product, I’ll summarize what it is and why I like it.

Nutzo Butter ($20)

Nutzo butter is a mix of different nuts, when all put together has a pretty delicious flavor. It’s made up of all natural ingredients as well, with no preservatives.

It’s good as a snack by the spoonful, in smoothies and with bread. Of all the nut butter varieties I’ve tried, this is definitely the best. Like all nut butter it’s super caloric though, so go easy 🙂

Outdoor Voices ($55-85)

Note: Referral Link (20% off)

Outdoor Voices make workout and Athleisure clothes. It’s a Direct to Consumer (DTC) brand founded by 30 year old Tyler Haney (How I built this podcast episode here). Outdoor Voice is a play on not using your indoor voice and being free / playful.

I’ve tried the cloud knit t-shirt, hoodie and track pants. They are stretchy, very soft and wick moisture well (but not as well as performance tees). They are very comfortable and have become my go to lounge wear and travel clothes. The tee is quite good for hiking, lounging and working out which makes it a pretty versatile piece.

Freshly ($10/meal)

Note: This link is my referral link (Give $40, Get $40)

When I’m busy during the week it’s easy to come home and order food instead of having a healthy meal. I always over-order or order something that is not healthy enough. I started ordering 6 meals a week from Freshly which take about 3 minutes to prepare in the microwave and eat them mostly for dinner but sometimes for lunch when I’m home.

They are the equivalent of outsourcing ‘meal prep’ with a bit more variety and range between 400-600 calories per meal. My favourite is the Cauliflower Bolognese but many of the chicken breast with veggie options are also really good.

1Password ($60/year for family)

1Password is a password manager that keeps all your passwords in a vault. This lets you have unique passwords for all the services you use and also share passwords with your family or colleagues.

I did not realize how many random products and services that I sign up for and try. 1Password let’s me try these without thinking about what password I should use and they have desktop, chrome and mobile apps so that you can access your passwords on the go – sometimes they are a little buggy, but overall this is a way better experience than remembering a few passwords and using them everywhere which is what most people do.

I also use Authy for all the accounts with 2-factor authentication – basically anything with lots of personal data or finance related which I like as well.

Buffalo Jackson Walker Satchel ($250)

I’ve been looking for a slim, casual leather satchel for a long time. Most of the ones I tried were too formal, too big or felt too cheap / or were too expensive. I wanted this satchel to replace my gym bag or backpack which I felt were both too big to carry when I literally just wanted to carry my laptop around.

I’ve had the “Walker” satchel for about 4 months now and really like it. It’s well made, feels good quality and has a low profile. I’m able to carry my laptop, charger and another item like my lunch or an umbrella without a problem.