Category Archives: startup

Looking for our next equity hire!

Still working on an official job posting, but unofficially: at AdaptRM we’re looking for our next equity hire!

 

Do you know a web infrastructure/optimization guru who enjoys the prospect of:

  • building a shiny thing with a small team of awesome people
  • trying on lots of hats
  • helping independent professionals leverage their own data to manage their time and reduce business overhead

 

Drop me a line or an introduction if you know someone who might fit this bill. Bonus points for people who can be in the SF Bay Area at least once a month.

There are more things….

There are more things in my to-do list, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

 

This was my thought as I reached midday today.  Yesterday’s accomplishments are about a page long, and today’s are rapidly approaching a similar length.  But as we’re prepping for the LAUNCH competition (at the Santa Monica pier next Thursday!), prepping for loads of Erli Bird users to come on board, and getting the initial release lined up for about a month from now, we add at least 3/4 of a page of items daily.  I’m really just treading water.  The full list is soooo loooong.

 

Such is the life of a startup founder.

The best kinds of feedback

As we ramp up the number of invitations, we’re getting more and more feedback from customers.  I’ve been very happy with it!

 

Bug reports

As you expect with an Alpha release, a lot of it is “This piece isn’t working quite right in this case”.  My Alpha users have been fantastic about the level of detail they put into their bug reports.  Most of the time I can immediately write up a ticket, assign it, and let them know we’re on it.  It’s great!  I really lucked out.  But really, in the Alpha phase, I’d settle for any quality of bug reports.  And even if we already have the bug filed, it helps me adjust the relative priority levels to suit the customers’ needs.

 

Questions

The questions are usually “How do I….?” or “What is this piece for?”  I do love those!  I know users usually feel a bit sheepish when they ask these questions, but they are invaluable for designing a user experience that works for a wide variety of customers.  We’ve made some well-informed guesses about what our users will want to do with the service, but we can’t predict every desired workflow.  If the user can’t immediately see how to accomplish a task, we need to change something.  If they don’t understand why some piece exists, we need to change something.  In terms of long-term usability and growth, these are the most important feedback we can get!

 

Positive comments

I didn’t expect to receive positive comments so early.  We’re only in Alpha!  And I have sooooo many tickets in the system right now.  But it’s really nice to hear that people find it reasonably intuitive, or that a feature they didn’t understand at first is really cool and useful, or they are pumped about some other aspect.  It’s particularly nice for me because my entire job is focused on “What’s not working?  What’s missing?  How can we make this better?”  It’s nice to step back and see that we’ve done something other people can appreciate already, even if it’s not completely ready for prime time yet!

 

I am so grateful for my Alpha users right now!

 

Oh I suppose this is the part where I’m supposed to promote my service.  I’m still not used to that!

If you or someone you know might be interested in a service to automate time tracking and invoicing, please check out AdaptRM.  If it looks interesting, you can request an invite!  Beta will be coming out in early October, and we’ll be opening the floodgates to a lot more users at that time.

What does a startup CTO do during Alpha release?

Until a couple months before the Alpha release, on most days I picked 2-4 from a platter of about 8 largish tasks that could further my project significantly.  I had the luxury of picking the types of tasks I wanted to focus on that day.

 

Shortly before Alpha release, and through the Alpha, I have not had that luxury!  About 3/4 of my time is spent on requisite QA, project management, and communications (with my contractors, with my partner, and with my Alpha customers).  The rest is spent on whatever is the most urgent need: HR, finances, additional bugfixes, competition research, marketing items, etc.  At this point, time schedules me.  It’s all reactive.

 

During the Beta, I expect this to be almost the same, but with more time spent communicating with customers (because there will be more customers!  Yay!).  Fortunately, I can share some of the load with our Community Manager during that time.

 

I’m not sure what my focus will be after MVP.  I expect it will be reactive for a couple months, and then I will have time to get more proactive again.

 

This is a really interesting experience!  I love how varied it is, even if some days are a little overwhelming.

Least favorite hats

My second least favorite hat to wear as a startup cofounder? Nag.

I’m constantly having to ping and re-ping people about this, that, and the other thing.  I find myself expending a fair amount of creativity coming up with “reasons” to ping.  A tiny piece of new information or an inconsequential question that’s tangentially related to the thing I’m actually pinging about.  It would technically be more honest to just say one of the following:

  • Dude, I think you forgot the thing.  Please don’t forget the thing!
  • I know the thing seems small to you, but to me it’s critical for {planning, marketing, customer support, etc}.  We needs our precious now!
  • You keep saying you’ll have this thing ready for me “tomorrow” or “soon”, but you are clearly the worst at estimates.  Just give me an accurate estimate and I’ll let you be until that date rolls around.
  • Please stop avoiding me and just finish the thing!!  I’ll get off your back when it’s done.  Pinky swear.

Yes, that would be more honest.  But not only does coming up with tiny excuses for the nudge make me feel less dismal, it makes the people I’m talking to feel less dismal.  And that makes both of us more likely to muddle through and lead a cooperative existence.  Which in many cases leads to less need to nag.

My least favorite hat is still CFO.  As soon as that starts to take up more than a couple hours a week I’m hiring someone to do it for me.  It’s not difficult.  I just get incredibly impatient and tense that I’m not getting anything done.  Which I am.  But I feel like I’m not.  It’s weird.  Totally worth paying someone else to take those feelings off my hands.

Progress

Last week I had a day when I received major deliveries from 4 different contractors.  I knew immediately that I wouldn’t be making any progress on my own to-do list, but obviously it was great progress for my product.

Today I have no deliveries to review (though I received a pre-approved final delivery on one contract, woo!).  You might think I’d be bummed about the lack of progress, but that means I finally get to trim my own to-do list, which grows rampant every time I receive deliveries.  And there sure have been frequent deliveries as we near the Alpha release….

Progress comes in many different forms!  It’s good to have some balance.

On startups and hiring

Genius Hiring Feedback

How you know your recent hiring decision was genius:

  • Your “urgent tasks” list is dramatically reduced to the point where you can start working on “things that need to be done soon”.  And all the tasks you transferred to the new hire are getting done.
  • You find yourself with a little bit of “free” time to step back and look at the big picture.  Especially as you approach release, it’s so easy to get mired in details!
  • You find yourself with a little bit of “free” time to work on the pieces that will really differentiate your product or service.  It’s easy to let these slack a bit, because the competition isn’t providing them at all, but at the same time it’s important to make sure they really stand out!

Wishlist hires

I have been the only full-time, committed person on this project.  As such, there are many people I have grown to appreciate even more since founding this startup.  Everyone who works in/as:

  • Operations
  • Infrastructure
  • Marketing
  • Accounting
  • CEO
  • committed tech minions

These people are all amazing, and while I can do a passable junior-to-intermediate level job at all these things, my life is greatly improved when experienced professionals do them and I can focus on my areas of expertise and passion.  But it can be difficult to identify the next role to hire that will clear up my time to work on other things.  This is complicated by some challenges that are unique, in my experience, to this experience.

Startup hiring challenges

First, my employees are all consultants.  Actually, technically, I’m a consultant!  For my cofounder’s umbrella corporation, until we spin off.  That means the people I hire are relatively independent of each other, even if I occasionally put two of them in contact for a collaboration.  I’ve managed and integrated the work of a half dozen people before, but it’s a very different experience with a lot more integration work when they’re all functionally independent.

Second, I have to think carefully about how long it will take me to get them up to speed for these tasks.  If it will consume too much of my time, and I’m not guaranteed to have a long-term contract with the hire, it’s a no go.

Third, if the work I want them to do can’t be cut off from others’ work very easily, I don’t want to hire someone new to do that.  I might be able to grow someone into an integration role, but it’s best for me to oversee that until I have confidence in the employee.

Fourth, if it’s work I’ve been hired to do in the past, and I don’t mind it, it can be difficult to give it up to someone else.  After all, I may be better and faster at it, and I don’t need to be brought up to speed.  But in reality, I spend easily half my time coordinating everything, and the rest of my time is better spent on tasks I can’t reasonably dole out to anyone else.

Celebrate good decisions

You get the idea.  There are a lot of considerations, and identifying the most appropriate new hire is complicated.  I recently hired a developer to do some of the more separable integration, improvement, and bugfix tasks for me.  Best decision I could have made.  It’s exhilarating to have all three of those genius hiring feedback items within two weeks of a new hire!

Saved from smart technology by antiquated technology

In order to test something for a contractor, I needed to make a successful call from my Droid to a contact whose name was in Unicode in my contact list.  

 

I installed a multilingual keyboard and added Cyrillic, then added a new contact.  My housemate was standing right there, so I filled in his number and hit the “call” button.  And of course, my phone immediately displayed his real latin-character name and his photo, because I have 7 entries for him in my contact list (!), several of which are linked to that number.  For a user, this is a great feature.  For a developer, it was a little distressing as I tried to think of someone whose number I had who didn’t have social network entries automatically syncing their contact data to my phone, thus ruining my test plan.

 

Suddenly, I remembered an antiquated technology that could help: automated services that you can call for free, very popular during the era when even dumbphones were rare, but verging on useless as smartphones dominate.  I just plugged in the number of a regional weather service and was able to place a successful call.  Yay!