The past 30 days
Shipping > Starting > Idea.
If you aren’t sure what that means, ask a software developer.
Potential CEOs, please do not ever utter the words “and then we’ll hopefully get in to an accelerator” when pitching me to be your CTO.
You just sound incredibly naive.
After founding six start-ups, after being early hire at six other start-ups, after advising, mentoring and helping grow dozens more start-ups, and after delivering hundreds of digital product experiences and services, joining an accelerator is the last thing I am interested in.
I still have a lot to learn, but I am not going to learn it joining an accelerator.
I am going to learn it by getting my hands dirty and building something.
“But… but… the connections! We get access to people.”
Oh really? Who do you want to talk to? I’ll call them for you – I keep their direct numbers and Skype names in my phone.
And if I don’t know them, I’ll figure out a way to get to know them.
If you ever find yourself in a meeting where you cannot identify the person who can make a decision, leave as quickly as you can.
What you have stumbled in to is a committee.
And committees are only really good at deciding what colour the bike sheds should be.
Never listen to a start-up CTO that cannot configure a build file by hand.
Oh the start-ups you will grow.
The networks you will sow.
You are here. You are there. You are disrupting everywhere.
You’re at a meeting in L.A., in Portland and then again in the South Bay.
You are here, month after month, do you not have a life?
“No,” I reply,” I am avoiding my wife. My in-laws are in town, and every conversation I have, ends with a frown.”
A small trick I use on LinkedIn.
I added a few unusual tags that I use on profiles of people I am connected with. I have a set of tags called “first strike”, “second strike”, and “third strike.”
I also have a tag called “Facebook drivel.”
Whenever someone I am connect with likes, comments or sends prayers on the latest tear-jerking nonsense, political diatribe, “solve if ur genius” or other social media bullshittery, I tag their profile appropriately.
And then they eventually get disconnected.
I use the fact that people engage in this nonsense as a litmus test of their value.
Donkeys don’t monetise.
Donkeys are fungible.
You can replace a donkey with another donkey, and other than the attitude of an individual beast, the output, the work product, is exactly the same.
When a resource, product, or output of a process is fungible, i.e. completely replaceable with a different product or service that provides the same utility, then the output is always used to create value for someone else.
And the moment that value is only be created for someone else, there is an intense downward pressure to reduce the cost of the product or service to as near zero as possible.
Profitable businesses build non-fungible products or services, even if the underlying product or service, without its differentiators, is inherently fungible.
Impromptu coffee meeting with an investor on Sunday.
One of those “how the hell did we both get here?” moments.
It started as a “oh great, another starry-eyed entrepreneur, I can give you five minutes” and ended after a hair over three very long hours on some exceptionally uncomfortable chairs.
I got to re-use a classic line I haven’t used in almost 30 years.
“I’m not really looking for you to invest in this.” I said, showing off the website on my little Surface Pro 3.
“You’re the first entrepreneur I’ve met who doesn’t need money.” responded the VC I was un-pitching.
“Ah, you misunderstand me,” I countered, “I never said I don’t need money. I just don’t need YOUR money.”
In a start-up there’s no room for “after.”
“After we are generating revenue, we’ll figure out what our next product will be.”
“After we advertise to our customer, we’ll figure out how to generate revenue.”
“After our product is launched, we’ll advertise it to the customer.”
“After our product is perfect, we’ll launch it.”
“After this feature is complete, our product will be perfect.”
“After we make this key hire, we’ll develop this new feature.”
“After we have raised more money, we’ll make this key hire.”
“After we have developed our MVP, we’ll raise capital.”
“After I have found a unicorn CTO, we’ll develop our MVP.”
In a start-up, there should never be “after.”
The excitement of a fresh project, there is nothing like it.
The unexplored horizon, completely pristine, untouched and unsullied by another’s hand.
A land where towering architectures stretch towards limitless skies.
People who create live for those moments.
The real work on a project begins when you have to reach for the broom and sweep up the sawdust left behind, fix and maintain the parts that will inevitably break during everyday wear and tear, and you have to keep a little squeaky bottle of oil around to lube up the engine parts on a regular basis.
That’s what separates the successful from the playing around crowd.
“How much money do you have?” is usually considered impolite.
I have developed, over several years, techniques and skills to figure out if:
a) you have any money, and…
b) how serious you are about this project.
The secret to getting started?
Just do it.
The secret to getting done?
Keep doing it.
The secret to not failing?
Keep persisting at it.
There you go, every single “success” book summarised in 25 words.
Non-technical co-founders, unless they get exceptionally lucky, will eventually learn the lesson of developer burn out without ever understanding why that happened.
It is a rare non-technical entrepreneur that can carefully manage their desire for “more of everything” that they won’t burn out those people around them.
Good software developers don’t apply for jobs through CyberCoders.
If you’re desperate to fill a seat with a warm body, sure, go ahead, use CyberCoders to recruit developers.
But if you need good developers, round file anything that comes through from that domain.
Start-ups are an emotionally charged endeavour that can easily lead to pouting and shouting.
Hey, would you look at that.
Another “marriage proposal” from someone I just met.
“What is it you do?” asked the business contact at the networking mixer.
“I sell sand to Arabs and snow to eskimos.” I responded.
“You’re in sales?”
“No,” I shook my head, “I’m an entrepreneur and an engineer. But all successful projects begin with the selling of something the other party doesn’t want or think they need.”
Ohhhh, you’re in stealth mode… No bro, that’s cool! I cannot wait to get my hands on your imaginary product once it launches.
Bosses and leaders.
Too many people want to be the latter but act like the former.
Is your product or service adding value to people’s lives?
Or is it consuming value?
Either one is okay.
But be very clear about your value creation (or consumption) as it will determine your marketing strategy, your product development strategy, and ultimately, your user acquisition strategy.
Not all investments are created equal.
Neither are investors.
Water carriers in tribal cultures fulfill an important role, they carry water from the river to a storage pool so that everyone can drink.
Water carriers don’t make a decision about where the water comes from.
Water carriers don’t care how much water they carry.
Water carriers don’t care who gets to drink.
Water carriers don’t care about water quality.
Water carriers don’t care if the company is proceeding forward fast enough.
Water carriers don’t care if the company is heading in the right direction.
Water carriers just carry water.
You tell a water carrier, “Carry water from here to there.”
And they continue to carry water until you tell them to stop.
Water carriers carry water at the speed they carry water.
Not enough water? Hire more water carriers.
Too much water and the holding tank is overflowing? Keep carrying water until told to stop.
The water well ran dry? Stand around until told where to get a new supply of water from.
Don’t make a decision and you won’t make the wrong decision and someone else won’t have to correct it for you.
It is all too easy for your company culture to devolve in to hiring water carriers.
The reason that water carrier culture enters an organization is that someone, from some level in the company, middle-management and up, at some point, decided to try and make all the decisions.
It didn’t matter if other people below them were making proper and correct decisions, at some point, someone decided they should be making the decisions.
Whatever decisions below the manager are being made, are wrong, even if the decisions happen to the be the same decisions made by the manager.
It’s not the decisions that are being made that are wrong. People making decisions below the manager is what is wrong.
If all decisions are made by a single person, they become a choke point.
It doesn’t scale.
And water carriers will stand around idly until they are told what to do next.
Good employees capable of autonomy will leave, and the ones that remain will stop making decisions.
Once a company culture has moved to a majority of water carriers, that culture will seep (like water) in to all the other areas of an organization.
Until the water carriers, if they are involved in the interview process, are hiring more water carriers.
Not a pain in the arse + you have money + you need my services = unicorn client.
I delete about 80% of emails.
I delete an email in less than 3 seconds.
Rambling emails don’t get read.
I know of a lot of busy people who do exactly this.
Think about that. 80% and 3 seconds.
Remember those made up statistics the next time you are trying to get an intro, cold emailing, pitching or just looking for advice.
When hiring exceptionally experienced software engineer, you’re really paying them as much, if not more, for the code that they never write than the code that they actually write.
The code that they don’t write is highly optimal, never has bugs, doesn’t require documentation, and never, ever requires maintenance updates.
When people say they want to “gamify” their app or website or curriculum or service, what they are hoping for is that somehow, magically, a thing that isn’t a game will take on the characteristics of a game if they add in enough of the tertiary characteristics of a modern game, i.e. achievements, notifications, and other “pull” mechanics.
Which is a bit like saying they want to be a woman by adopting the tertiary sexual characteristics of a biological female that society deems are acceptable gender identifiers, e.g. long hair, make-up and so on.
When I look at an app or a website or service that has been gamified in this way, all I see is something that looks like the back end of a bus wearing a pair of evidently false tits and a low-budget wig.
I launched this blog in January 2001, right at the cusp of the popping of the first internet bubble.
Impeccable timing of course.
But I like to think that where other people see adversity and pain, I see opportunity.
Even if the opportunity is going to be painful.
One day your developer will walk away.
Not everyone is your soulmate.
The last ten percent of effort in anything is the signal we, as consumers of the product or service, are looking for, to say “this is better than that.”
The last ten percent of effort put in the designing, building, optimizing and marketing the product is the fit and finish of a product or service that permits us to distinguish amongst several similar products.
The last ten percent of effort is also where the true connoisseur lays in the consumption of their particular interest.
Inbound business leads are great and you can never have enough of them.
But unless you know a secret nobody else does, or you want to artificially throttle your business growth, outbound sales needs to form a significant part of your overall strategy.