Today’s web apps commonly overlook if a customer knows what’s going to happen when they start the service. They tell the customer why to use the service, but not what will happen once they start. And face it, even if you have the perfect product, it won’t matter if the customer can’t start somewhere. (more…)
Topic: Inside Printfection
There’s a lot of GTD and productivity talk in the startupsphere. All fine and dandy, but for most us there’s a laundry list of productivity hacks much simpler than GTD. Things so simple, David Allen would be laughed off the bookshelves if he wrote about them! But since I don’t have any books to sell, let me share my little secret with you… (more…)
Every single thing you do in life, every new skill, new concept, new whatever, you’ll never be the best, at least at first. You’re never going to be the fastest runner on day one. You’ll never know the most about business the day you graduate. You’ll never have the best blog, ground breaking book, any of it. You’re never going to have any of it, until, all of a sudden, you do. (more…)
Everybody gets tired. Especially in the fast paced, ever-changing world of a startup. But you can’t just stop. You can’t go on a vacation for a month, or even a few days. It’s critical you, and your team continue to push forward. But some days, weeks, projects, you just can’t. It’s too much.
This is exactly when the basics and your core habits become so important. When you’re too tired to do customer service, just respond quickly and succinctly. If marketing becomes overwhelming, just write a short blog post or do a tweet. If programming, finances, project management, whatever, becomes too much, do the absolute minimum. Fall back on your most basic habits.
Then come back and kill it the next day. You’ll feel so much better for doing even a tiny amount versus ignoring it all together. Or worse, pushing yourself to continue to run at a sprint. It’s okay to slow down, and even required, as long as you’re okay with it and realize it’s all part of the game plan.
The basics are so important because they get you through those exhausting days. They take the pressure off and make your job really easy, until you’re ready to jump back into the fire.
Be all you can be. A huge cliché, but very true. It’s amazing what happens when you truly focus on yourself, for the sake of yourself. You find what you’re passionate about and do it. You create habits which make you the person you want to be. You’re able to accomplish goals regardless of any external support or criticism you may or may not receive.
How about your company? Is your company the best it can be, purely because it can be? Are you building a culture of ‘catch-up’ or a culture of leadership? Are you partnering with other companies or customers who feel the same way? Do you sway to the whim of every customer complaint or do you solve the core problem the best way possible? It can be very hard to keep the focus of a company on the idea of being the best it can be. Customers are distracting, revenue is distracting, everything is distracting. Instead of solving problems the best way possible, you find yourself solving problems quickly so you can move onto the next problem. The goals change from being a great company to being what your customers need and that’s it.
Building for yourself can be extremely hard. It sets you up for failure and leaves you no one to blame but yourself. Yet if you’re able to keep that core ideal of being the best you can be, and internalize that mindset across your entire company the results are amazing. You’ll magically solve all your customer driven issues much faster and much more preemptively. You’ll add features and solve problems better than you could have otherwise. And you’ll have a lot more fun and satisfaction doing it.
Live for yourself. Build your company for yourself. And do it because you can, not because of any external reason. If you do, you’ll create something no one else can.
If you look around the business blogosphere you hear a lot about goals. Track everything, know what winning is, quantify every action, etc. It’s all data and finite, quantifiable actions. I have nothing against this, in fact, I agree. I think it’s hugely important to track your actions and have definable goals to know if you’re winning or not. The problem I’ve seen though, is, what happens when you reach your goal? What happens when you figure out if you’ve won or not? How do you keep winning?
The obvious answer is, create another goal. Figure out what worked and repeat. That’s all well and good but let’s call a spade a spade, you’re creating habits. You’re figuring out what’s working then repeating your actions to get the same or better results.
Why not step back from the continual rat race of chasing goals and figure out what habits you, and your company as a whole, exhibit which make you successful? What habits were required to win that big deal? Or revamp your website? Or create an awesome customer experience? And on the flip side, which habits hindered your ability to reach your goal?
Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at another industry, the diet industry. What works and what doesn’t work. Every year there’s a new fad. Don’t eat meat, eat only meat, eat organic, cut calories, whatever, there’s always a fad. And every fad is marketed by the end result, the goal. A guy, 200lbs overweight, then a picture of him with a 6-pack. What an awesome goal, right? Get fit, get healthy, look like him. And a lot of times the fads work, people do get heathy, well at least they get skinny.
The problem is, after they reach their goal they usually bounce right back, they gain back most of their weight pretty quickly. Why is this? Simple, they didn’t create the right habits. They were so focused on the goal they forgot what happens after they reach it. So once they reached it, they had a big sigh of relief and then started eating again.
Back to businesses. Once you reach your goals, what then? Have you created a sustainable process? Have you created internal habits which will not only allow you stay at your goals but to continue building them? Or do you have to go back to the drawing board each time around?
The more I learn about culture, communication, goals, revenue, and just life in general, the more I’ve realized it’s all about the right habits. Do the little things really well and just keep building on them. The best businesses all rely on great habits, even if they don’t say it out loud.
So my question to you is, what habits do you have? How about your company? Are they helping you or hurting you?
In a bootstrapped startup every second counts. Every day worked, every project has a huge impact. With low capital and high risks, it’s imperative that every resource is executing efficiently. A huge problem presents itself when you need to increase your resources. The simple answer, assuming the money exists, is to hire another employee to help with the load. The problem with this is two fold though.
First, the flexibility. When you hire, you will always hire for a specific expertise. The new hire will be passionate about, and an expert in, a specific area. You’ve hired this person because you think increasing resources in this area of the company is where you’ll have the highest ROI. The problem in a startup though, is the areas with the highest ROI change constantly. Your highest priority today will most likely not be your highest priority tomorrow. Yet an employee is a fixed cost, a fixed passion. No matter how willing they are to change, their passion and expertise wont.
Second, a new employee takes time to train. They may be experts, but they’re not experts in your business. They may be passionate but they’re not yet passionate about your business. This takes time. It can easily take 3 to 6 months to have a new employee fully operational. Longer if you don’t yet have solid processes in place. On top of that, it takes another few months for them to execute on a project and see the resulting return on that project. This means, each new hire has a minimum of a 6 to 9 month lead time until you see a return. That’s a life time in a startup!
So how do you get around this problem? Freelancers. Figure out what requirements you have today and outsource. You can increase or decrease time spent on various parts of your company relatively easily. You can repeat actions which work with a very low overhead. And if your business takes a little longer to take off than you had thought, you’re still financially okay as you can easily pair down your freelance spending.
The really cool part is you’re preparing every single one of your freelancers to be a full time employee. You’re talking about your vision with them. They’re understanding what works and what doesn’t to grow the company. You’re figuring out if they fit culturally. And when you start seeing your growth. When you know with 100% certainty what you can replicate to bring in a huge ROI, then you hire your freelancer. The freelancer you’ve already been working with for months. The one who knows your culture, knows you, knows how to be successful from day one. You’ve now cut your ROI on this person from 9 months to tomorrow.
We used to keep lists. Every feature request, new product request, items we wanted to do internally, we tried writing them all down. The problem is, we never used any of the lists. (I apologize to every customer who was told their suggestion was “on the list”. They were! We just didn’t really use the lists.) Occasionally we’d look at one list or another but we would never do anything with them. What ended up happening is the lists would be come so large they would be overwhelming and become useless.
Instead of keeping lists, especially when you’re a small company, focus on your current needs. If something needs to get done, it’ll come up again and again and again. If it doesn’t, then you probably don’t have to do it. The scary part about not keeping lists, is you feel as you might forget something. You wont. If it’s important you’ll know it. Or someone on your team will know it and advocate for it.
Not only are large, long term lists useless, they’re actually harmful to your company. They’re overwhelming, distracting, confusing, purposeless. It’s nearly impossible to rank items in a large general list and even harder to come to a consensus across the entire company as to what to do on the list. Plus, looking at a list 50, 100, 500+ items long is just plain demoralizing.
Project task lists and daily to-do lists are okay. They help each person accomplish their tasks. But, if you don’t plan on doing an item in the immediate future, then forget about it. You have too much to do right now. Focus on the here and now, not the millions of other things you could be doing. It’s more important to be successful today than to know what you have to do 3 months from now. Only work on and think about, the items which fit into your current focus.
Now of course you have to have a vision to ensure all your daily tasks and projects are moving you in the right direction. But once you have your vision, don’t worry about item number 273 on your task list. In fact, don’t even have an item number 273 on any task list. Figure out the top 5 most important tasks to do, do them, then repeat.
No one likes to tell be the bearer of bad news. It’s not easy to be negative or to just say no. Why do you think so many relationships drag on and on? It’s hard to let someone down, or be completely honest when you know you’ll cause pain.
So the question is, how often do you lie to your customers? I’m not talking shady business practices or manipulation. I’m talking about the simple truth. For instance.
- When a customer asks for a feature you know you’re never going to build, what do you say?
- When a customer outside of your market wants better pricing or has trouble using your service, what do you tell them?
- When you mess up and ship a bad or buggy product, how do you handle it?
Do you make excuses? Do you tell them the feature is “on the list”? Do you try to talk your way out of a mistake? Or help a customer even though you know you’re not the right fit?
One of the questions we used recently when hiring for customer service was, “When should you fire a customer?” It’s a hard question. We got a lot of “Never!” answers. That’s just plain wrong. Of course you’re going to fire a customer, whether you like it or not. The point was, we were looking for someone who was willing to be honest. Take the blame, take the heat. Tell the customer, “Hey, we’re just not the right fit for you. Try this other great company instead.” Or, “That feature just isn’t going to happen any time soon, or ever.”
It can be harsh but this attitude and honesty creates such a better relationship than dragging someone along. I recently had a call with one of the companies we use and had a very frank conversation with my account rep. Since last year they had grown at an astounding rate and the market they were going after had changed. Although we could still use their service at the same (heavily discounted) price we really just didn’t fit into where they were headed. He was great about the pricing but very honest about their future. This was hard to hear, and caused some additional work on our part, yet we parted ways on great terms and I’ll continue to support and recommend that company. The alternative could have been much worse.
Be really honest with yourself for a minute. When you interact with your customers how honest are you? Do you tell them the truth or do you sugarcoat it? If they’re not a great fit do you say it and help them move on or do you tweak your sales pitch to compensate? In my opinion, life’s way too short to BS. Tell the truth and move forward. Your business will benefit and we’ll all be happier in the end.
It’s so easy to add that one additional feature, read that one extra blog post, figure out that one extra optimization. This also makes it really easy to never actually accomplish anything. You’re not perfect. Neither is your team. And you never will be. Once you accept this you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
When I first started writing these blog posts I had no idea how to do it. No idea what the title should be, how to optimize for SEO or what type of format is best to use. And honestly, I still don’t, at least not very well. So I have three choices. I can really think through how to solve those problems, do some basic learning, or just ignore it and write anyway. You should always ignore your hurdles to start off with.
Getting stuff out the door is the hardest part of starting a company. It’s very easy to get bogged down because there are so many opportunities and possible improvements. The more you can focus on just doing the basics the better you’ll be. Trust yourself to fix the bugs that come up, or your ability to learn what you need to know, when you need to know it. I’m very confident I’ll figure out how to do SEO or title my posts once it becomes necessary. But for now, it’s just one more excuse not to write them.
It’s easy to fix something that’s broken, very hard to fix something which doesn’t exist.