Category: On Startups

Learning by fixing

Drago Crnjac:

Breaking things and fixing them again is one of the best ways to learn. I learned this lesson early, thanks to my younger sister and her Japanese robotic toy dog. Somehow, I convinced her to let me take apart her robodog so I could see how it works.

“I’ll put it back together. Don’t be such a baby!”

How wrong was I? It would probably have been easier to put back together a Volkswagen Beetle than this toy dog. There I was, sitting clueless on the floor, surrounded with plastic parts and electronics. My sister was crying and I was sweating, trying to fix everything before our parents returned home. In the end, just in time, the dog was put back together (albeit with some mysterious spare parts hidden in the bin).

Fixing things and building things are very different to one other

Still, I learned a lot that day. I learned that engineering is hard. I learned that breaking things feels bad. I learned that trying to fix things can be stressful. I learned that fixing things and building things are very different to one other. But above all, I learned that trying to fix things is actually a great way to learn.

I often think of that incident because I’ve found many of those lessons resonate with the way we do things at Intercom, particularly in the way we separate the different processes of building and fixing.

Triage Engineering is an interesting approach and Drago’s article was a nice way to introduce the process.

Source: https://blog.intercom.com/learning-fixing-value-triage-engineers/

The Little Trade-Offs

Claire Lew:

I was running a leadership training a few months ago, when a CEO said this to me…

“I think I know why it’s so easy to become a bad manager, even when we don’t mean to be: It’s because of the little trade-offs.”

I nodded and smiled. I knew exactly what he meant by “the little trade-offs.” I’d made so many myself as a leader, across my own career.

The little trade-offs are the moments when we succumb to what feels most pressing in front of us, at the expense of what our company needs down the road to be successful. We swap “The Thing That Will Help The Team in the Long-Run” for “The Thing That Needs To Be Done Right Now.”

As a leader, we make a dozen of these little trade-offs every week (if not every day!) We negotiate in our heads: “I need to finish this critical project, so I’ll postpone my one-on-one meeting with this employee. We can talk next quarter.” Or, “I need to be heads down on selling to this new client, so I don’t have time to explain the recent company changes. We can announce them later.”

“Next quarter.” “Later.”

In the moment, the little trade-off seems like the right one make. Executing on “The Thing That Needs To Be Done Right Now” feels like the top priority. It’s what will pay the most dividends. And when it’s such a little trade-off, how much does it really matter?

Well, here’s the rub: Little trade-offs are not so little. You might make just one or two, in the beginning. But when you’re stressed, busy, and operating on tight timelines, the frequency of those little trade-offs inevitably increases. The little trade-offs you make as a leader become big trade-offs over time.

Source: https://m.signalvnoise.com/the-little-trade-offs-7b31043b8584

Clark Kent’s shoes

Seth Godin:

Back when Superman used to change into his outfit in a phone booth, the question was: where does he put Clark’s shoes? Because even if he could compress them with his super strength, they’d be ruined.

Organizations that need to adopt different personas often get into trouble.

On one hand, most of the time, they’re invisible. They’re a boring bureaucracy, optimized for stable jobs, predictable if not low-cost processes, mediocre customer service and average (or below average) user interface design. They’re a monopoly and they act like one.

But then, when things break, they’re expected to act like heroes, like people who truly care. They are expected to hustle, to find the edge of the performance curve, to really step up.

Unfortunately, their shoes don’t compress very well.

We know it can be done. We see heroic organizations do great work.

Small businesses sometimes wrestle with the opposite. They get their accounts by acting like heroes, performing miracles on an emergency basis. But when it comes time to regularly do the work, to show up and show up and show up, they don’t have the resources or the patience to do so.

The opportunity is to choose. To truly embrace one and buy precisely the right kind of shoes.

Source: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2018/03/clark-kents-shoes.html

3 Marketing Techniques Every Startup Must Master

Remember Pokémon GO? Of course you do because it was all you heard about for a few quick months in the summer of 2016. With millions of people downloading and playing the game, retailers and restaurants leapt at the opportunity to sponsor in-game experiences. Players flocked from location to location to virtually battle one another or to catch new Pokémon, and numerous companies were able to cash in on quick marketing wins.

There’s a lesson here, though. It’s most likely been a while since Pokémon GO was part of a recent conversation. Chances are that businesses are also no longer investing a significant portion of their marketing budget into the app’s in-game advertising opportunities. Short-term wins absolutely exist, but instead of spending time and money searching for them, early-stage companies should formulate repeatable, scalable marketing techniques.

Source: https://www.startups.co/articles/marketing-techniques-every-startup-must-master

Let’s bury the hussle

I love Gary Vaynerchuk dearly. So much of his message about patience and perseverance is completely in line with how I view the world. But I can’t take any more odes to “the hustle”. Like most banners, it either dies in obscurity or lives long enough to become perverted.

In the early days, I chose to interpret “the hustle” as a way for those with very little to outsmart those with a lot through clever steps. Finding leverage where you had none. Doing things that weren’t supposed to scale or even work, and making it happen.

But even if my original interpretation was once connected to the term, I can no longer pretend that it is. The hustle has become synonymous with the grind. Pushing through pain and exhaustion in the chase of a bigger carrot. Sacrificing the choice bits of the human experience to climb some arbitrary ladder of success. I can’t connect with any of that.

The grind doesn’t just feel apt because it’s hard on an individual level, but because it chews people up and spits ’em out in bulk. Against the tiny minority that somehow finds what they’re looking for in that grind, there are legions who end up broken, wasted, and burned out with nothing to show. And for what?

Even more insidious about the concept of the hustle and its grind is how it places the failure of achievement squarely at the feet of the individual. Since it’s possible to “make it” by working yourself to the bone, it’s essentially your own damn fault if you don’t, and you deserve what pittance you may be left with.

It’s origin from a dog-eat-dog world has been turned from a cautionary tale into an inspirational one. It’s not that you need to hustle to survive, it’s that you seek the hustle to thrive, and still at the expense of yourself and others.

Now this opposition mainly comes from a lens focused on the world of creative people. The writers, the programmers, the designers, the makers, the product people. There are manual labor domains where greater input does equal greater output, at least for a time.

But I rarely hear about people working three low-end jobs out of necessity wear that grind on their popped collar out of pride. It’s only the pretenders, those who aren’t exactly struggling for subsistence, who feel the need to brag with bravado about their beat.

It’s the modern curse of having enough time to try to find a meaning to it all. And when an easy answer isn’t forthcoming through shallow inquiry, you just start running from the void. But you can’t outwork existential angst. At best, you can postpone it. Or temporarily burrow it. But it doesn’t go away.

The truth is you’re going to die, and it’ll be sooner rather than later, the more feverishly you devote your existence to the hustle and its grind. Life is tragically short that way.

What really gets my goat, though, is that it doesn’t even work. You’re not very likely to find that key insight or breakthrough idea north of the 14th hour. Creativity, progress, and impact does not yield easily or commonly to brute force.

You want to be more productive? That’s great. First, of course, figure out what you’re actually trying to be productive at, and whether that’s something truly worth doing well. But if you have, here’s my cheat sheet and counter to the hustle

We’ve all been there, getting stuck in the hussle, that’s what I wanted to share this post from David.

Source: https://m.signalvnoise.com/lets-bury-the-hustle-9d8aee8ffe1a

Before You Launch A Startup, Learn This

Nathan Kontny:

My 2011 startup with Y Combinator imploded, largely because we couldn’t get enough traction. What was I going to do next? And more importantly, how was I going to avoid repeating my mistakes?

[..]

It’s happened for me. I went from that miserable failure of a startup to realizing I needed to get better at audience building before my next venture. And so I practiced my craft of writing and storytelling on my blog. One article a week. Tell a good story. Me or someone else figuring out some problem through some conflict. My audience grew.

Source: https://m.signalvnoise.com/my-2011-startup-with-y-combinator-imploded-largely-because-we-couldnt-get-enough-traction-d900976d7bbc

How To Build A More Candid Think Tank Culture At Work

When was the last time you got completely unfiltered feedback? Do you dread presenting your big projects to your team because you fear their harsh critique?

With so much at stake, it’s no wonder that so many people choose to play it safe rather than to take a risk. The problem is, playing it safe leads to work that’s average at best.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Research into feedback abounds, and countless companies are stepping forward to share what works for them. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and the author of Creativity, Inc., introduced the concept of Braintrusts as a means to encourage more fruitful team feedback.

In his words, “The Braintrust is our primary delivery system for straight talk [at Pixar]. Its premise is simple: Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with each other.” He attributes the animation powerhouse’s 14 consecutive box office hits back to this think tank team.

Source: https://blog.trello.com/braintrusts-build-a-candid-think-tank-culture-at-work

Excuses, excuses

Claire Lew:

I was on the phone with a CEO the other week. He wanted my advice for how he could cultivate a more open, transparent company culture for his team.

This CEO seemed to be already doing a lot of the right things. He held monthly all-hands meetings to get everyone on the same page. He also regularly asked questions to his employees about what could be better in the company.

However, when I recommended one question that he ask his employees, he was a bit taken aback.

“You want me to ask my team: ‘Are there any benefits we don’t offer that you think we should?’ Hmm, I dunno, Claire,” he told me.

This CEO assured me that he welcomed and valued feedback from employees. But asking about company benefits? And asking about them so publicly? He started to feel nervous about it.

“I don’t want the feedback to be a distraction,” he shared. “There’s so much we already do around benefits — I think this could set the wrong expectations and derail people from getting their work done.”

He continued:

“And, I don’t think we’re ready to act on that feedback. If we ask that question, it implies we need to implement something. But it might not be cost-effective. If we can’t do it, I don’t want to let people down.”

I get it. I’m a CEO myself. No CEO wants her employees to be distracted. No CEO wants to make false promises.

Here’s the reality, though: If you dig deeper, those two statements are actually excuses that are keeping you from building the open, transparent company culture you’re keen on.

We work with everyone to build a better product, but I’ve seen this happen at other companies I’ve worked at and with over the years.

Source: https://m.signalvnoise.com/excuses-excuses-3a25cdafe06b

Cracking the Code on Startup Product Pricing Strategies

If idea validation is about taking your business idea for a test-drive, then pricing your product is where the rubber really hits the road.

This is it. You’re done piloting. You’re done validating. You’re really done living on Ramen in an apartment you share with five roommates. You’re ready to come out and tell the world: “I have a product or service that provides value – and this is how much my product is worth.”

Needless to say, product pricing strategy is an essential piece of the startup puzzle – and it’s a notoriously tricky piece to get right. There are about a dozen moving pieces you have to take into account. Getting them all aligned just right is like unlocking the most complicated combination lock ever.

The crew at Startups.co wrote a great piece on figuring out Product Pricing Strategies, worth a read, and a bookmark and share.

Source: https://www.startups.co/articles/startup-product-pricing-strategies

Write like you talk

Nathan Kontny:

A handful of years ago I was volunteering for an organization here in Chicago where we helped high school kids prepare for their college applications. These kids were the first in their families, often underprivileged, to be applying to college.

One Saturday I met a student who wanted help editing his application essay. We went over to the computer lab and he pulled up a draft he’s been struggling with.

The essay was fine. It read grammatically well.

But it was terrible. It was dry and uninteresting. Artificial intelligence could have probably auto-generated it from a history of other applications.

I doubt any recruiter would remember him. How were we going to fix this?

Most of us trying to write to gain an audience, inspire people, market ourselves, etc. are all doing it wrong.

We stick with the education and rules we learned in high school and college: “Don’t end sentences with prepositions.” “Don’t start sentences with conjugations.” “Sentences have subjects and predicates.” We focus on the perfect paragraph and essay structure.

And if I asked most people to write an essay about their day. It’s likely going to come out a lot like my mentee’s. Stiff, formulaic, unoriginal.

But if we had an intimate conversation over coffee, the story about your day would be remarkably different. You wouldn’t worry about the word you used to start a sentence, or which of your sentences made up paragraphs. Instead, your struggles, achievements, and thoughts would hit my ears before you had a chance to think about: “Can I end a sentence with ‘at’?”

And because you weren’t worried about a hundred rules of grammar while you were talking to me, I’m that much closer to your internal voice.

The voice that makes you unique and interesting.

I wanted to share this post, as this is something I try to stick to when writing tutorials, I find it makes things sound better and smoother.

Source: https://m.signalvnoise.com/write-like-you-talk-633defd7f7c2