You’re Fired

Steve Jobs never let things linger at Apple. For a big company there were some huge leaps taken in months time. The best products were big bets, but also fast bets, where years weren’t going to have been wasted if they’d failed.

It meant they didn’t have time to babysits people, features, or customers.

“You guys don’t know what you’re doing. I’m going to get someone else to do the ads because this is fucked up.” – Steve Jobs

This applies to all of you bootstrappers out there.

Fire People

You can’t afford to baby sit someone at their job. Don’t tolerate it. If you have a bad feeling about a contractor or employee in the first couple of days… trust your gut and just move on. There are plenty of other people looking for work.

Fire Ideas

Say no a lot more than you say yes. You have to. Saying yes too many times makes it impossible to focus.

Fire Features

Is there a feature you’ve been working on that just isn’t working for whatever reason… stop working on it and move on. Shipped a feature that you loved, but only a couple of your customers use… turn it off. Make what’s already working well work 10% better instead.

Fire Customers

Don’t lead anyone on. Make it clear who you’re product is for and who it’s NOT for. Trying to be all things to all people will create tough situations for you trying to please someone who would be better off with a different solution.

If the wrong customer gets in the door, pays you money, and insists you make radical changes in order to please them… don’t be afraid to issue a full refund and fire that customer.

Just remember… to all the people, ideas, features, and customers getting in the way of your dreams…

You Are Fired

Nail the experience beyond your product

“When you open the box of an iPhone or iPad, we want that tactile experience to set the tone for how you perceive the product.” – Steve Jobs

Steve knew that most people start forming opinions about your product before they’ve ever seen it. They may have heard about it from a friend, seen an ad on Google, read one of your blog posts, etc.

Before using your product they read your home page, look for reviews, and maybe go through your online guides. What they do in the first 5 minutes of using your product may not even be the long term benefit… but it will be a main selling point because the ads, your marketing site, and your on boarding experience are all part of the complete product experience.

It’s that complete product experience that has to be great… not just the meat and potatoes of the product. In fact… it’s best to start thinking about all these things as a part of your product so they get the right amount of attention.

Your Product

2014 Goals: 3X KickoffLabs, Travel, Read, Write, & Simplify

What if you could triple your income, work less, & travel to spend more time with your family? It’s possible.

2014 Water

Triple KickoffLabs monthly recurring revenue. Over the last year we grew MRR by 73%. Our work in 2013 went into building a product that’s now ready to handle a much wider set of use cases and greatly increase the lifetime value of a customer. Follow us in 2014 to see exactly how.

Expand our international work-life integration adventure to two months. In 2013 we spent exactly one month living and working in Ireland. It was extremely rewarding. That month even ended up being one of the best for business in 2013. We’re going to take what we learned and expand this adventure to two months in 2014.

Read 12 books. I feel like I replaced a lot of crap TV in 2013 with crappy social media. Did staring at my TV get replaced by staring at my phone? I’m sure I’m not alone in that feeling. The quality of media you consume has an enormous impact on the quality work you produce.

So far so good. I bought a Kindle Paperwhite and I’m 27% of the way through the Steve Jobs biography. The best Kindle feature… not having Twitter and Facebook apps.

Write and publish a book. My goal to write more in 2013 just wasn’t inspiring enough. Having a huge target… a published book that generates revenue… is extremely exiting and motivating. There’s an english major in our family so you’d think this would have already happened. Guess I’m going to have to pick up the slack here. :)

Continue to simplify. Last years challenge still applies with some bullets.

  • End 2014 with less “stuff” than we started with. Continue selling and donating things we don’t wear or use regularly.
  • Simplify my garden. The last couple of years I’ve converted our front yard into a vegetable/fruit garden. Last year we weren’t around to enjoy the late harvest anyway. Just berries & quick growing cherry tomatoes this year.
  • Digitally I’d like to reduce the amount of photos in our library by at least 50% by removing the crap.

Outsourcing 2014

  • I’m looking at you 2014 Christmas lights. :) Gabe and I are going to design what we want on an iPad and have professionals install them because “I’m worried daddy is going to fall off the ladder and I can’t catch him.” – Said Gabe.
  • Leverage a meal planning and preparation service. I love cooking… but only so many times in a week.
  • Get a pool guy until Gabe is old enough to clean the hot tub. Make sure he isn’t too attractive.

If you wondered how I did on 2013 goals you can read this. What are your goals for 2014?

Grading my 2013 Resolutions

I made a lot of resolutions public on this blog for 2013. Lets see how I did…

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Move my family to Ireland for at least a month

This fell under the concept of scaring yourself with one big goal for the year. My big goal was to try out the “New Rich” concepts of location independent work + life experiences. Easy if you are single… a lot more challenging with a family. How did it go?

We spent a month living and working in Ireland and it was a blast. There’s going to be a similar goal set for 2014 if we can ever decide on a location. Of course there are improvements that could be made, it could be done cheaper, but what we did was approachable for just about anyone.

I’ll give myself a solid A- on this goal.

Simplify life in 2013

In order to make room for big goals we have to let go of the physical and mental distractions that keep us from making real progress. I’m going to say I succeeded here with room for improvement in 2014.

I killed off virtual distractions

  • Killed off the Evolvingwe and Ledgards.com websites and simplified down to this domain and blog. I also killed those email accounts.
  • I have 50% fewer apps installed on my phone.
  • I stopped selling my app development training series and now just give away the iPhone apps I developed. For some reason I couldn’t let go enough to sell those businesses.
  • We no longer have cable TV in the house.
  • I unsubscribed from the blogs, newsletters, and searches I had setup to monitor our competitors. I care about our success and if they do something interesting my customers tell me about it anyway. :)

We finished 2013 with less physical stuff than we started with

This was no small feat with two small children that are showered with presents on Christmas, birthdays, and other random events, but I believe we did it.

  • We donated a good percentage of our clothing and found it liberating.
  • We sold off Skis, Snowboards, TVs, TV Stands, baby stuff, and just about anything we could find in our house that didn’t have a purpose.
  • We employed friends and relatives to focus their gift giving on higher quality toys with a higher lifetime value like legos.
  • We cleaned out our kitchen and sold/donated anything that hadn’t been used in months. Same for the garage and the utility room. This makes what we do have easier to find. :)

I’d like to go further in the next year. Living with fewer, higher quality, things is liberating. I’ll give myself a solid B here.

Outsourcing life in 2013

My goal to outsource more personal and professional tasks in 2013 was a mixed bag.

On one hand KickoffLabs was able to hire a great support engineer, designer, and someone to help with marketing by the second half of the year. Without this my trip to Ireland would have been a LOT more difficult.

On the other hand personal outsourcing didn’t go well at all. We did find a friend to handle some of the initial research on our trip to Ireland, but ended up doing too much of the work ourselves. My “honey-do” list remained a “honey-do” list and is still a distraction.

Professionally I’ll give myself a B for removing myself from a lot of basic tasks. Personally I’ll have to give myself a D-.

Learning Writing, Photography, & Guitar in 2013

This set of goals would have been better off unspoken.

Writing?

You can tell I didn’t write much on my blog and the general goal of “publishing” something every day just became un-interesting. Yes, I wrote a LOT of copy and marketing emails for KickoffLabs, but I don’t think it was a big or specific enough goal to be motivated. Just wait for the updated version of this goal in 2014.

Photography

I didn’t end up taking a class. I did take a lot of great pictures throughout the year and I’m enjoying seeing people create KickoffLabs pages with some of my shots as background images.

We did a great job taking pictures around Ireland… but the concepts of shooting in raw mode, post production in lightroom, etc just became overwhelming. Not sure what I’ll do here.

Guitar – Finishing Rocksmith

The less I write here the better.

Bonus Goal Achieved – Better Health

I was sick for months at a time last winter and topped out at 17% body fat. I resolved that something had to change so I could survive having two small children that are effectively mini-biological weapons living in our house.

No more diet soda

Or soda of any kind really. Working with Scott has the effect of becoming a better eater through osmosis. The big thing was just to realize that crap in is crap out. Most sodas are crap and diet sodas aren’t healthy for you at all. I’m onto teas, coconut water, and just more water in general.

Switch to more high intensity workouts

Last winter I topped out around 17% body fat and I’ve made it down to around 13%. A lot of this probably comes from eating a little better… but honestly I haven’t changed my diet much other than the soda change and perhaps being a little more “paleo”.

It’s not that I wasn’t putting in the time to workout so I decided to change HOW I worked out. A crossfit box opened up down the street and the research on high intensity workouts was compelling.

The difference in muscle strength and endurance is simply amazing from three to four 5 to 15 minute workouts combined with some lifting every week. For example: I was lucky to have been able to hit 3 proper pull-ups at a time before and now can knock out 20-35 without assistance in most workouts.

That’s it. Look forward to seeing my 2014 goals soon. Did you look back on your goals for 2013? How did you do?

Paul Graham misquoted… but still wrong

Recently, Paul Graham was misquoted in an interview. Judging by the public reaction people believed he was some sort of sexist admissions officer that runs the Harvard of startups. Some people called for him to simply admit more women to change the face of startup founders at YC. But changing faces isn’t the problem.

It’s time we started to think about diversity a little differently. Lets look at what Paul was really saying from his response

“We” doesn’t refer to society; it refers to Y Combinator. And the women I’m talking about are not women in general, but would-be founders who are not hackers.

I didn’t say women can’t be taught to be hackers. I said YC can’t do it in 3 months.

I didn’t say women haven’t been programming for 10 years. I said women who aren’t programmers haven’t been programming for 10 years.

I didn’t say people can’t learn to be hackers later in life. I said people cannot at any age learn to be hackers simultaneously with starting a startup whose thesis derives from insights they have as hackers.

Paul is basically saying that there is one type of person, the “hacker”, that YC believes makes for the perfect startup founder. He’s indifferent when it comes to race or gender. As long as the person has the same thought patterns and mentality as the founders they’ve seen succeed in the YC program to date.

It wouldn’t matter if the entire next batch of YC founders was women… it wouldn’t be a diverse set of creative thinkers if they followed the same thought pattern “hacker” profiling they do today.

Diversity

You can’t take away the success that the YC fund has had following this model. Looking for a group of people that all think alike is an asset for a fast moving accelerator program. Hell, if I were them, I’d ride it to the bank and keep exploiting the success.

The real question isn’t whether or not more woman could have success within YC. I’m sure they would. The question is whether or not a VC fund would be better off funding a more diverse set of thinkers. Whether or not true diversity of thought would lead to greater riches by coming up with a broader set of solutions to the world problems.

Is the specific “hacker” that YC seeks truly the type of person that’s going to drive the next 20 years of growth in our economy?

I don’t expect YC to change any time soon. It would mean changing up the curriculum and the accelerator process they put people through. A diverse set of thinkers would need a more diverse accelerator.

Don’t stop moving

It’s hard to catch something that doesn’t stop moving. Just ask the hare.

In my vain quest to improve Crossfit scores I realized I was losing the most time resting and switching between exercises. It was faster in the end, to lower the intensity of each exercise and just keep moving. You can’t make any progress staring at the weights.

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Going all out was just forcing a longer rest period between sets.

The same lessons apply to your business. We didn’t get to our current revenue mark by sprinting. The best work has always been done with slow and steady progress. You just can’t stop moving.

Even if you are investing in larger feature work that might not ship for two months you can’t stop making small tweaks every day. Improving the customer experience, increasing the effectiveness of your ads, getting more of your content in front of new eyeballs, etc. You can’t stop those trains.

Momentum is killer. When you stop those trains it’s hard to start them back up again. If you keep them moving you get to watch steady improvements that keep you motivated while you are working on long lead efforts that won’t pay off for a while. The point is to show up every day and push continuous improvements.

Sprinting yourself or your employees into the ground with max-effort pushes will lead to burnout. You’ll need to take breaks and that’s going to cost you the race. It ends up being the slower path. The tortious is going to dust you in the end because he never stopped moving.

Avoid Your Cave

It’s easy to get into a rut. We’re creatures of habit that crave routines. For me it’s easy to come in, help with customer support emails, try and optimize some part of our marketing, experiment with a new feature for hours on end and call it a day. I call this my cave.

We all have caves we retreat into. Our caves are warm, cozy, and inviting. Living in your cave won’t hurt your chances at a steady job, but caves are deadly to entrepreneurs. Your cave is a place where you can completely avoids tasks that could be truly impactful.

Customers don’t live in your cave. You can’t fix broken strategies from your cave. You can’t create partnerships from a cave. You can’t grow your business from a cave.

cave

So get out. Do something difficult. Do something different. Make an impact in your business. Every day you spend in your cave is a day you really aren’t growing anything.

Everyone Needs a Rabbit

I don’t know George, but he goes to the same Crossfit gym I’ve been frequenting. Competition, if you didn’t know, is a part of the Crossfit culture. Everyones scores for the days workout are posted on the whiteboard and on Facebook for everyone to see.

What I know about George is that he consistently puts up times that are 1 minute, 10% better, or just ahead of what I can manage. Everyday I show up and he has set a score for me to beat.

Rabbit

For all I know George is some sort of bionic superman out of a military experiment.

 

I really don’t care if he’s real or not. George is my Crossfit rabbit and I’m going to take him down one day.

It’s important for everyone to have a few rabbits in their life. It’s particularly important if you are running your own business. You need to know who your rabbits are, how you compare, and leverage them as motivation to improve your own offering. It’s important to benchmark, but there are a few things you should know about these rabbits.

  1. There is always a Rabbit. I don’t care who you are there is always someone better than you at what you are doing.
  2. They don’t give a fuck about you and you can’t obsess over them.
  3. You need to run your own race. You can’t beat a rabbit at the rabbits game.
  4. You probably can’t out-sprint the rabbit, but perhaps you can out-wit, out-lift, or outlast them to change the game into one you can win.
  5. If you “catch” one rabbit there is always another one just ahead of you.

Resize, Create Thumbnails, and Watermark Images Easily on a Mac

We just shipped an update to our image picker on KickoffLabs. We made it simpler and added over 150 great images that can be used as landing page backgrounds!

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To do this we I had to make all those images consistent. I needed to shrink them and create cropped thumbnails that were a consistent size. For this task I tried out a few different batch image processors. Then I found QuickScale in the App store.

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For a few dollars this app let me:

1. Select a directory full of original images.

2. Export them with a max width setting to make them smaller and keep proportions.

3. Do a second expect with a specific height/width to create consistent looking thumbnails without changing the proportions.

4. Add watermarks for images that are under creative commons as required. :)

I’m sure you could use Photoshop for this too, but it just felt too complicated.

People who value “FREE” don’t succeed

“I’ll have a grande vanilla latte and then pay for whatever he’s having”

A stranger paid for my Starbucks last week. He didn’t want anything in exchange other than the implied social contract that I’d pay it forward to someone else soon. He’s probably glad I drink black coffee. :)

“This is just what we need! A tree for our family just in time for the holidays.”

I’ve been selling stuff on craigslist recently. For a week I’d been trying to sell a fake Christmas tree and I’d almost given up when someone excitedly messaged me about it.

I arranged a pick up time for them, made sure I was going to be home, and then gave out our address when they said they’d be leaving soon. Still feeling the holiday cheer from my free coffee I thought this was the perfect time to “pay it forward” and let them know…

“BTW – The tree is free when you get here. Merry Christmas!”

Ninety minutes passed when it should have been a short drive over. So I texted to see if they were still coming and received the following reply:

“I want it badly, but I live (20 minutes away) and its dark outside. Any chance you make it over here anytime?”

Sorry – a free tree doesn’t come with free delivery.

Feeling frustrated I realized that I created this mess. I took away all the value by declaring it was going to be free. Now this wasn’t something of value they needed. Maybe there was something wrong with it. Maybe it was just junk.

Either way I had removed the incentive to pick up something of value and replaced it with FREE. Free doesn’t lead to effort.

No one places any value on FREE.

People don’t respect the price of zero and tend to believe it comes with strings attached. The people that ARE attracted to “free” aren’t generally the ones you want as customers anyway. They’re always looking for another way to save money at the expense of the time and resources of everyone around them.

This is why we charge for KickoffLabs. It has value. It saves time and creates opportunities for people who actually place value on their time.

People who value FREE don’t succeed.

They just don’t. We’ve recently started letting our free customers use their own website domains to launch their businesses. The stats don’t lie. People that aren’t paying us just don’t have success with their sites that they paying customers do. It’s effort they aren’t investing because they, themselves, aren’t investing in their own success.

They probably spend so much time looking for the next FREE way to save a buck that they don’t have the time it takes to promote their business, their own success, and truly take advantage of the free opportunity, or christmas tree, in front of them.