Rework: There Isn’t One Right Way To Work

March 31, 2010

The morning before my copy of Rework arrived, Josh (my co-founder) and I were joking about how we seemed to be breaking all the rules for startups.  Josh was making the final preparations to move back to Boston.  We aren’t seeking funding.  And we haven’t been working 100 hour weeks.

Rework, by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals,  is a reminder that there isn’t one right way to work.  It challenges many popular ideas of working and startups in a series of 2-3 page entries.  I was pleased to see entries like:

  1. Workaholism: “Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done.  It just means you work more.”
  2. Outside Money is Plan Z: “No matter what kind of business you’re starting, take on as little outside cash as you can.  Spending other people’s money may sound great, but there’s a noose attached.”
  3. The Best are Everywhere: “Our headquarters are in Chicago, but more than half of our team lives elsehwere… Geography just doesn’t matter any more.  Hire the best talent, regardless of where it is.”

I saw Jason Fried interviewed yesterday on Mixergy.  I was impressed with his radical approach to business.  But I did have some feedback after reading the book and seeing him live.  First, he says not to quit your day job for your startup, but he split client work with his projects, which wasn’t exactly a full-time job.  Working at Microsoft full-time while also working on LazyMeter was a very different experience, and I found I had to leave Microsoft to be successful.  Jason didn’t work for a large company, so I wonder if his recommendations will scale (while everyone at Microsoft complains that there are too many meetings, they’ll never be cut down).  I was also disappointed when the interviewer asked Jason to talk about lessons learned from mistakes – Jason responded that people should focus on successes, not failures.  But clearly there are lessons to be learned from mistakes.  In an interview situation, someone who says they have no weaknesses or failures will rarely get the job.

Rework is a great quick read.  I read it in one sitting.  I recommend it for entrepreneurs, managers and employees.

(Update 10:45PM – added link to Mixergy inteview)


Game Mechanics

March 29, 2010

Gabe Zichermann wrote a good techcrunch article on the topic of game mechanics.  “What if everything we did was a little more fun?” he asks.  Features such as points, badges, and scoreboards have been growing in popularity.  Example: the badges on foursquare.  Zichermann coins the term Funware for game mechanics applied outside of games.

While I don’t know about the term funware, I do agree with Gabe that game mechanics will be applied more and more.  What impresses me about these features is the way it can motivate users.  It’s not about fun as much as calling on  the competitive human spirit to drive usage of a product.  It also shows us that users want credit for their contributions, and users want feedback on how they are doing.  It’s very pavlovian – users are more likely to return to a service that gives them a reward, even if that reward is virtual.

Task management is probably one of the least “fun” topics out there.  We think we can make it less painful by adding an element of game mechanics.  For those of you wondering about the name LazyMeter, this may start to give you more context.  We believes we can deliver an experience that feels more like a game; but unlike most games, it will actually be a productive use of your time.  Mission impossible?


Microsoft to Startup: Another World

March 24, 2010

Today I want to share one of my favorite poems by the 13th century poet Rumi.  Looking back, I am amazed by how much my life has changed since I left Microsoft.  It’s easy to get stuck thinking that the world you are in is all there is.  But when you step outside the comfort zone, you won’t just find a completely new world – you will also find that the old world which consumed your whole being can be completely left behind.

Wean Yourself

Little by little, wean yourself.
This is the gist of what I have to say.

From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,
move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food,
to a searcher after wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game.

Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say, “The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheatfields and mountain passes,
and orchards in bloom.

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.”

You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed.

Listen to the answer.

There is no “other world.”
I only know what I’ve experienced.
You must be hallucinating.


LazyMeter on BillShrink.com

March 22, 2010

LazyMeter recently received its first coverage in a blog post on BillShrink.com. The post is titled “Using a 401k to Start a Business” and gives an overview of our decision to fund ourselves instead of seeking investors.

The decision to fund LazyMeter from our savings was driven by our commitment to put the product first, and money second. We wanted a funding strategy that enabled us to solve the task management problem as quickly and effectively as possible. Using our savings had many benefits compared to fundraising:

  1. Total creative freedom.
  2. Motivation to deliver quickly.
  3. Establishing an atmosphere of responsible spending.
  4. Owning 100% of an idea we really believe in.
  5. More time spent on building the right solution. Think of it this way: if a 2-person team requires $100,000 for a year and raising the money takes 3-6 months, you’re spending $12-25k raising that money. Add in legal fees, payroll taxes, and the loss of time that could have been spent building the product, and the money really does not go very far.

Despite the title of the article, we did not break into our 401k accounts. We are using personal savings that is more readily available, and a little less risky to our long-term retirement plans. Breaking into a 401k is not something we would do, unless maybe there is a 99% certainty that it will be replenished.

On a personal note, I made a decision to invest in myself. While it can be seen as a substantial amount of money to risk losing, I see it as a good deal for the experience and potential payoff. The fact is an MBA would cost more; an MBA has never interested me, and so I feel it is a better investment to have this time to learn, network, and return to code. I also just don’t feel comfortable taking someone else’s money yet. Unlike many entrepreneurs, I’d rather lose my own money than someone else’s.

We have a theory that we believe will solve the task management problem. Fortunately, we have enough personal resources available to test that theory. If our theory proves to be correct, then it will make sense to focus on growth and scaling through investors. If our theory proves to be incorrect, we will iterate or ‘fail fast’ and move on. But first thing’s first: we’re here to fix a problem. I look forward to testing our solution with you.


Creating More Entrepreneurs: It’s not big companies that are the problem, it’s leaving them.

March 15, 2010

Last month, Chris Dixon wrote a blog entry titled “Every time an engineer joins Google a startup dies“.  The general topic is why there aren’t more startups.  He believes it is a cultural problem, saying “As much as we like to think of our culture as being entrepreneurial, the reality is 99% of our top talent doesn’t seriously contemplate starting companies”.  I agree that there should be more emphasis on the startup as a career option, but at the same time I feel that many entrepreneurs are specifically inspired by the culture Chris is challenging.

If startups were more mainstream, there could be side effects.  Some entrepreneurs may never begin at a big company and be inspired to go off on their own.  The startup world would attract even more individuals who aren’t the right fit, such as those trying to make a quick buck (there are already enough of these folks today).  I liken it to living in Seattle: it is an absolutely beautiful place to live, but outsiders only hear about the rain.  If outsiders realized how beautiful it is in the summer, that the cost of living is very low, and that the rain really isn’t that bad (especially when compared to snow), the city could be over-run, and I probably wouldn’t want to live here any more.

There is a lack of respect for entrepreneurs working at large companies before working for a startup.  Chris says:

Whenever I see a brilliant kid decide to join Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, or Google, I think to myself: a startup just died, and as a result our world is a little less wealthy, innovative, and interesting.

I rarely disagree with Chris, but I believe this statement is out of line.  I think Chris himself worked for a financial firm before venturing into the startup world.  There’s an assumption that all entrepreneurs should go into the startup world right out of college.  That working for a large company is always bad.  I worked at a startup for 8 months after college, and it was a negative experience – I was overworked and underpaid.  When I moved to Microsoft, I learned every day – everything from online marketing to managing customers to running a business.  It’s fine to work for a large company, as long as you’re learning/benefiting.  Where the problem lies is people not realizing they can walk away.  It’s almost impossible to walk away from that kind of salary and comfort.

I believe much more than 99% of our top-talent in large companies seriously contemplates starting a company. When I gave notice at Microsoft, I couldn’t believe how many colleagues told me they were going to leave to found a startup – “soon”. Despite a desire to be an entrepreneur, they do not leave because of the risk and little support. They have too much to lose, and there is no equivalent to a halfway house available to them.

A startup does not die each time an engineer joins Google.  A startup dies each time an engineer wants to leave Google, but doesn’t because they have too much to lose.  Investors have traditionally focused on those with a successful track record, and programs like Y-combinator and TechStars have expanded to recent graduates. What’s missing is a focus on talented individuals working for large companies. This group is where the focus to increase the number of startups should be.


Aaron’s Networking Tips

March 12, 2010

Networking has never come naturally to me. I was always one who preferred to be known for my great work, and I found time at my desk to be the most productive. In my new role as a startup co-founder, great work alone isn’t enough. Networking will be critical to the success of LazyMeter.

I’ve been forcing myself out of my productive computer mode to various networking events in the Seattle area. Two months later, I’ve already built some very valuable connections. Just this week:

  • I was invited to present our idea to a group of investors. While we aren’t actively seeking investors, it’s great to build these relationships now, and presenting will be great experience.
  • I was invited to a consulting shop to meet the partners. In case you’re wondering, I’m establishing myself as a consultant for two reasons. First, cashflow is nice. And second, should the startup not work out, it’s the world I’d like to be in.
  • I’m getting coffee with a successful local entrepreneur and investor.
  • Here’s what I’ve learned in my first 2 months of schmoozing:

  • Force yourself to every event. It’s easy to make excuses not to go. Just remind yourself that you can always leave after 5 minutes if it’s not worth your time. I almost didn’t go to the event this week, and if I hadn’t the three wins above would not have happened.
  • Talk to as many people as you can. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to avoid it. Don’t get stuck talking to one person or group the whole time. Don’t just approach the people you’ve heard of. It’s too easy to miss meeting new contacts. And don’t make assumptions about people as an excuse not to meet them – these can be the most valuable contacts. Which brings me to the next point:
  • Especially talk to the people that blend in, perhaps even more so than the people who stick out.
  • Read the rest of this entry »


    The Next Software Revolution: Productivity

    March 11, 2010

    In a TechCrunch article The Facebook Imperative Cannot Be Stopped, Marc Benioff (CEO of SalesForce.com) declares that the next revolution in computing will be productivity:

    It only strengthens my conviction that we are about to see the greatest revolution in enterprise software, ever. Well, really, the most exciting revolution in computing, ever. It will create more value for users, customers, and vendors by an order of magnitude over what we saw in the last wave. And, it’s really starting to happen right now. It is realtime. It is social. It is mobile. And, it is about time. Literally, it is about productivity.

    It’s time that social computing is expanded to productivity. While LazyMeter is not built specifically for the enterprise, I’m glad to see some validation that we have chosen the right space. And the enterprise would be a natural extension of our product. Based on my experience at Microsoft, I see the potential to not only increase productivity in the workplace, but also to enable accurate measurement deliverables versus commitments for the first time. It’s time for the productivity revolution.