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

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.

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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.

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.

Why I Believe In Revenue

I believe in revenue and profits for startups.

Revenue is good.

Revenue clarifies priorities.

Revenue builds momentum.

Revenue is not a vanity metric.

Growth does not equal revenue.

Revenue is good for customers.

Recurring revenue is the best revenue.

Revenue is a signal that can be tested.

Revenue is addictive and that’s a strength.

Real businesses solve customer problems for profit.

A startup without a revenue source is a ponzi scheme.

If a business isn’t taking your money you are being taken.

If you want to control your own destiny, you need revenue.

No revenue = out of business soon with disappointed customers.

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Sign below or share this article if you agree.

You need to quit living someone else’s dream

It was the year 2000. I graduated college and got a job. My mom was so proud. I worked for Microsoft. If was wasn’t going to be President or play Major League Baseball then the next best thing was to work for greatest software company in the world. And it was an amazing opportunity.

But there was a tangible divide in the workforce as the company shifted from 90’s style hyper growth to blue chip stock. On one side there were people that had been there for 10 years before I started in 2000. These people had the financial freedom to take exotic vacations, own yachts, enjoy 6 months at a time off, and work only when they really wanted to. This was a small group, but it felt like they had absorbed most of the companies wealth. You ran into them all the time.

On the other side were people like me. People were just starting new careers. People who had been told the next 10 years would be just as good. You knew it was a lie. We were the 97% and in some ways it reflected the nation on a higher scale.

The economy had started shifting. The first sign came before I even started working. I knew people whose job offers were revoked after the 2000 bubble hit the tech industry. I’ve had (bad) managers work hard to convince employees they are lucky just to have jobs… so enjoy whatever little we pay you.  The message was that you weren’t going to have it as easy or as good as the generation of workers that came before you… even in the tech industry.

There are some larger trends at play here. Trends that effect every job across all industries.

The rich get richer.

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The message to me is clear to me. You know what side of the curve you want to be on and it’s not the 95% part who’s take home pay is worth less and less every year. If you can’t beat-em… join em. Living someone else’s dream can provide you with an educational opportunity in the short term. But long term it only helps the owners jump up another percentile in the graph. Note: This video does it way more justice than my chart.

College Means Less

Going to college isn’t a good bet. College graduates used to be harder to find for employers. In the last 30 years we’ve made it easier for more people to go to school, but job growth hasn’t kept up. I’m sorry, a degree in Ancient Roman History doesn’t trade as well as it used to.

Organizations are Getting Flatter

Software is making it easier for managers to keep tabs on a larger number of employees. When I started at Microsoft it wasn’t hard to find a lot of “silly leads” with one or two reports. This meant more opportunities for people to “climb the ladder” and earn higher salaries. That’s going away across all industries. This means, for the employed, the average salary growth potential is slowing down.

The World is Getting Flatter

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“Those jobs aren’t coming back to the US.”

That’s what Steve Jobs told President Obama when asked what it would take to manufacture the iPhone in the US. As the worlds population starts to catch up on education and infrastructure they are going to consume a higher percentage of employer spending.

Even Software Is a Factory

Don’t kid yourself if you work in the tech industry. Building software is a manufacturing process that just happens to involve electrons. It can be done successfully anywhere. Not just silicon valley. I worked on software, at Microsoft, that was designed to reduce the barrier required to write complex applications. It gets simpler every year.

The Rest of the World is Hungrier than Ever

I once spent a week in Shanghai working with some amazing Microsoft teams and I was amazed at how dedicated their culture was to success. They were also laser focussed on educating people for the technical skills they were going to need to compete in the next 20 years… not on degrees that mattered in the previous 20 that are being eaten by software. I don’t see that same level of universal desire and focus in the US culture.

9-5 means a lot less than it used to. 

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Putting in your time is just that. Putting in time. Hard work is just that… work. Sadly most companies still believe that “butts in seats from 9-5” works best. They are wrong. It’s not success anymore. It used to get you somewhere. You’re now required to work smarter. You’ll have to. Like I said, the rest of the world already is.

This doesn’t have to be bad news. You have a choice. 

You think CEO pay is unfair and you’re not being promoted? Promote yourself and try your hand at being CEO. At least start acting like the CEO of your life.

  • Worried that someone overseas can do your job? Hire them to do it.
  • Your education doesn’t cut it? Start learning online.
  • Feeling like you work in a factory? Stop building the solutions and start designing them.
  • Not motivated? Start designing the life you want and get hungry for it.

You get to decide what rich means to you and how you get there. It’s cliche’, but the old rules are more like suggestions now and soon they’ll sound like a strange, twisted, fairy tale.

My choice was (and is) to take advantage of these trends rather than let them take advantage of me. I really had no choice. I had to make a plan, learn new skills, save money, and take a chance. Maybe I could achieve my personal definitions of “rich” as well as move up the curve a bit.

What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll see you right back in the 97% pile… and try again.

Selling out your kids for fun and profit

I’m blessed with two amazing kids. My oldest was a big motivation for me to quit my job and start KickoffLabs. I think they’re my bootstrapping secret weapon. They need to eat. Lets not even talk about diapors or college funds. Point being… kids are expensive and can’t live on Ramen Noodles.

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We decided, at KickoffLabs, that we weren’t going to be ashamed of our size. We wanted it to be a strength. We wanted to appear boutique… which is what our service is right now… a niche boutique. The opposite of something like GoDaddy.  We needed to make it personal, so we got our kids involved.

They are featured on our company page and when we ask customers to tell people about us we say:

“Would you like to put a huge smile on the face of two scrappy co-founders with beautiful young children who like to eat three times a day? Do you like saving money?…”

Most companies are in a rush to grow up, look, and act bigger than they are. People expect more out of a big service (even if they shouldn’t). Why raise the bar too early? Embrace your size.

KickoffLabs is just Scott and Josh today, but our families took the plunge with us. We’ll take every advantage we can get. 🙂

I wish I’d thought of that. Operation Starbucks.

I should have thought of it first. I walked into Starbucks one afternoon. Ok. Ok. I do this every afternoon, but something was different this time. Something really neat was going on.

At a large wooden table sat a man with a laptop. I’m sure you can picture that. But this man had a stack of Starbucks gift cards laid out neatly to form an arrow. The arrow pointed to an iPad that was being used as a sign. The sign read “Test my App and Coffee’s on Jim.”

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I’ve never been shy of giving people feedback. I don’t have a great filter and before KickoffLabs made any money free coffee sounded good to me. Jim saw me coming out of the corner of his eye and stopped what he was doing to introduce himself. He was working on an educational iPad app to teach kids basic math. He asked me to play through a couple of levels and tell him what I thought.

He got an earful. I hope it was useful for him because I enjoyed the free coffee. It was such a great idea. I watched him go through the same process with about 10 people including some parents with kids that afternoon. So, for $50, he got a ton of great feedback and only had to drive to a local Starbucks. Everyone should do it, but if you do…

1. Don’t forget to get email addresses for people that come by. They could become customers and evangelists.

2. He never asked if I’d give him money today for it. He got feedback from someone he didn’t know would be a paying customer or not. He didn’t even ask me if I had kids.

I’ve also heard this works just as well before you write any code. Use the cards to get people to take a survey and validate some of your assumptions before you build anything. I wish I’d thought of it sooner.

Where do you find the best advice?

I work at home alone so it’s not lip service to say that I have to go outside of the office to get the best advice.

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I learned, launching Kickofflabs, that you need to avoid your personal networks at all costs. Those people are too nice to tell you the truth. Even my wife. I could tell Gretchen was skeptical.  She was too nice to tell me what she thought about our business. I think she believed that my silly experiment would just end one day and I’d be back to a normal job.

Even strangers are too polite to tell you what they really think. So… who can you trust for advice?

People voting with their dollars.

Someone can tell you that you have a great idea or they could pay you something for it. Which tells you more? That’s why I’m happy we launched KickoffLabs without a lengthy free beta. Talk to the people voting with their dollars and find out why they did. Then find out why others didn’t.

Investors.

Kickofflabs is not a funded company, but we’ve had a lot of investor meetings. What I love about pitching and taking investors through our pitch is that they don’t hold back the punches. Perhaps I’ve just met good ones… but I wouldn’t describe them as polite. I think they are just understand how to vote with their dollars.

People who’ve been there before.

If someone has done what you’re working towards and is close enough to your stage that they remember what you’re going through and the solutions that worked for them well enough to dispense advice.

Beyond that you should have a hard time trusting what people tell you. They may have good intentions… but you can’t sell good intentions.