Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Work Done at Work

An interesting talk I saw on, from the founder of 37 Signals. It's not a great talk, and not inspiring, but it is interesting in a few ways.

The biggest thing I got out of it was the first few minutes where he talks about how little work gets done at work. People want to work elsewhere, and it's hard to get un-interrupted time. For some jobs (creating, programming, etc.) this makes sense. For others, I'm not sure it's true.

If you have creative types, really try to avoid bothering them. Give them large stretches of time (3-4 hours) to work and get things done without any interruption.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What You Practice

37slogo-transI saw a very interesting blog at 37 Signals on this quote

“The things you do more often are the things you’re going to get good at. So if you get really good at spending money, you’re going to be really good at spending money. If you have to work on making money from day one, you’re going to get really damn good at making money. And that’s what you need to be as an entrepreneur…

The problem I have is when companies’ business model is free only. And then they say, “We’ll figure out how to make money later.” As if there’s going to be this magic switch they can flip…If you’re not practicing making money, you’re not going to be able to flip that switch and just know how to do it really well. You need to have some time. You need to have some experience at making money.”

It’s by Jason Fried from an interview on the new workplace for the new normal.

In all of my businesses, we’ve had an idea on how to make money from day one. We haven’t always been successful at it, but we knew in a few of them that we were going to depend on advertising. In another we knew that paying students were important.

I think that often someone is looking at another business and think they they will duplicate the revenue model at some point, even if they don’t state it or even consciously realize it. For many companies on the Internet, advertising seems to be the default model, or maybe fallback model, if nothing else works.

There are a few companies that have grown very large without an overt revenue model (Google, Twitter), but that’s the exception. Counting on being an outlier is a good way to fail.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I think there’s a lot of timing that comes into success in business. More and more as I learn more about companies and see management in action, I think that luck and timing plays a part in success more than people care to admit.

I think it’s far more likely that bad management can ruin a company than good management can save it. Good management has some influence, but mostly I think it’s taking advantage of opportunity and making investments when you can.

I saw this post about timing, and it makes a lot of sense to me. Your ability to succeed can come down to some amount of timing. I used auction sites, search engines, and video sites that existed before the current market leaders (Ebay, Google, and YouTube), but for some reason those died and didn’t succeed. I don’t think it was technology, or even management, though some of that might be true. I think it’s more that the timing was better for market leaders.

So what does that mean for you? First it means you can’t predict or count on a blockbuster, so don’t try. Second, it means build a sustainable business so you’ll be around if the opportunity for you to grow comes around.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Embracing Fair Trade

Most small businesses don’t have global supply chains, but they do consume products, and they are under pressures to compete effectively. As they grow up, some of them continue to grow with that same fire and competitiveness, forgetting that social responsibility is still important, and can exist alongside profits.

I saw the video above at TED, and it was amazing to me. There are human rights abuses all over the world, and it’s nothing new to many of us. Large companies have used sweatshops for years. What is amazing, is that President Clinton convened a summit with many large multi-national corporations when he was in office. They managed to get many companies to agree to write a code of conduct into their contracts with suppliers.

This results in many of these suppliers actually being able to enforce better human rights issues in the workplace than the local governments can. Private enterprise helps to enforce global rights; that's amazing to me. You can check on companies at

I think this is something you should consider when you purchase products, and run your business. Embrace some social responsibility alongside your profit motive.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How I like to work

This is a great sign. I see if every time I go to Brother’s BBQ in Denver and it never fails to make me smile.


I snapped a quick picture last week, and in case you can’t see it because of the sun, the sign says:




Those are great hours, especially for restaurant. A little flexibility is good, especially if business is good. Why knock off if things are going well, but why commit to longer hours if there’s no business.

These could be great hours for your business as well. Give employees a little flexibility. Let them think they are deciding when them come into work. I know some businesses that have “core hours” that are something like 10-2 and allow employees to flex around those hours.

Just don’t say your core hours are 9-5. That’s not fun, or fair. In essence you’re not allowing any flexibility and expecting employees to work more.

It’s also fun, and fun should be a little more part of our lives.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Negotiation Worked

When my partner called to say that our landlord had agreed to the reduced rent, I was amazed. I was sure that he might hold out for more money, or even counter, but apparently our argument worked. A soft real estate market didn't hurt as well.

So now we have a few more months to try and turn things around, see if we can kick start something. I'm not terribly confident since it's hard to work on your own, and my partner is on his own to a large degree. That with a soft market where companies don't necessarily want to spend much on training means that this is an uphill battle.

However we'll give it a try, and schedule out some classes to see if we can get this thing going.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Negotiating Rent

We were coming up on the end of our lease for a business I own recently and were debating what to do. The business hasn’t done well, but the fourth quarter is typically the worst time for us, and have been debating about giving it through Q1 or so next year.

However rent was an issue. We have a space that costs a couple thousand a month, and over six months, that’s not an insignificant amount of money. It’s not make or break money, but it is funding that we could do something else with. It’s also potentially money that could fund another month of salary for my partner.

Our primary need is space for people to meet and learn, and we have alternatives. If we only schedule a few classes, we could rent hotel space for a few days at a reasonable rate and conduct things there. A little more setup, but not unreasonable.

One thing we’ve noticed over the last two years is that there are spaces in our building that have been vacant the whole time. It appears the economics of commercial real estate are such that a landlord can survive on 50% or less occupancy, so we decided to approach him and ask for a short term lease and reduction in rent.

Our goal was $500 a month to hold the space for six months and then we’d take a new lease, or leave the space. Our landlord came back with a $1000/month “bottom line” figure.

On the surface, it seems silly to us. He could get $0 for 6 months, and not necessarily a better deal. He’s not going to renovate our space until he has a tenant, and the electric/water/utility stuff is negligible. We pay a little rent and try to see if we can revive a failing business.

From his side, I can see he’s negotiating, looking to get more $$, and also possibly not looking to get trapped in a long term cycle of “6 month extensions” at a low rate. Likely lots of tenants would do that, but we wouldn’t, and I guess this is a case where our reputations aren’t strong enough.

We’ll see if he comes down, or we close things down sooner.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Startup Articles

I wrote about now being the time to start a business recently, and included a blog link to a post. Here is the main place where I found the link, with a number of technology related startup posts. Some are worth reading, some not, but I’ll comment on some over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Now is the time

I was reading a very interesting post called You’re a developer, so why do you work for someone else? and it got me thinking. Now is one of the easiest times for someone to start a business because there are so many tools, cheap tools, to help you get started. And these aren’t just tools for technical people.

We have a ton of books at the library, free hosting accounts, free email accounts, any number of things that can help you build a business outside of technology. Want to build a horse training business like my wife? Get outside with horses, and then spend a few minutes blogging about it. She gets a lot of interesting traffic on her blog, and when she’s ready, I bet her blog will be one of the best marketing items she’ll have.

There’s good advice in that post. Spend a few minutes, and hour here and there, and work on your own idea. Now is a great time to get started, and follow his advice of trying to get on base. Don’t go for the home run, but instead build something small.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It’s the Journey

I saw this on the 37 Signals blog as “I’ve already got the prize" and found it to be both true, and a little annoying. It refers to the Nobel Peace Prize, who Richard Feynman is apparently in consideration for.

The speaker comes across a little arrogant, and a bit of an ass, but what he's saying makes sense. He’s not necessarily a fun guy to be around, but I think many brilliant people, especially teachers and researchers, aren’t.
However he’s saying that the journey, the fact that you are learning and figuring things out, is what’s important. It’s not the award, it’s not being a part of some group that recognizes your efforts that’s important.
I agree with that. It is nice to be recognized, to get kudos, maybe some reward for your effort, but if you shoot for that reward and it’s the best part of your work, then I think you are going to be constantly disappointed.
Enjoy the journey, smell the roses, take pride in your effort and what you do. If there is some recognition or reward later, that should be a small part of you enjoying what you do.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Do You Have To Grow?

I was on vacation recently with a friend that works at a large (5000+ person) company. This person was talking about the issues with growing the large company because they didn’t have a large impact on how things might change or the business might decide to enter into a contract with someone. They pined for a smaller company where they could have an impact and achieve that year after year growth.

But is that necessary?

Do you really need to grow your business year after year? It seems that in modern American business we’ve gotten caught up in this constant growth cycle and not ever looking at business to see if it’s viable and sustainable. Sustaining zero growth, or low growth, but having regular, repeat customers, seems to be a failure.

After all, if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind.

I see that quote often, but I’m not sure it’s true. I think it is valuable to reassess where you are, how your business is doing, but I don’t think that this is a race. It’s a journey, and I think you can continue on that journey in business and be fine. There are plenty of people that want to run a business, not just make an investment that they’ll sell in 5 years.

Monday, May 17, 2010

See the Forest

I was recently talking with a friend that works at a fairly large company, over 5,000 people, about an issue with their clients. They have a few large clients who spend upwards of US$10M a year on services that my friend’s company provides.

(names withheld to protect the guilty)

In any case, my friend is a salesperson and had a deal closed last year that would bring in about US$15million in revenue each of the next few years. This deal included a lot of services, and was based on certain usage targets of the services his company provides.

The deal consists of smaller projects, and each of those is scoped out, and has it’s own allocation of costs and revenue. In one of those situations, one of the people working on that project questioned the way in which this project was being charged. Since each of these projects contributes to revenue from some departments, but not all, they have some P&L associated with them. In this case, the department was essentially losing money and it would look bad for that department.

But not for the company.

Overall, this deal gains some goodwill, it’s a minor deal, and the people at the customer don’t want to renegotiate this smaller deal, in the $10k range, when they have larger, multi-million dollar deals they have in place.

There’s a disconnect somehow in how parts of deals work. The chargebacks and costing internally at my friend’s company doesn’t handle things like this. And it should.

In my mind, while a part of your business might be involved in just a piece of a larger deal, they ought to get some credit for the larger deal. It’s a case of worrying about the trees without looking at the forest. Don’t be short sighted, looking at each deal on it’s own. Companies started to do this with customer service in the 80s and 90s and it burned some of them. They got bad reputations because MBAs came in and worried about each piece of the business being profitable and forgetting that they are parts of the whole.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A 96 hour meeting

I didn’t think about it this way, but it made perfect sense after I read an essay. Recently my team at my day job had an offsite gathering for brainstorming and evaluating our group’s place in the company. We met for two days away from the office, and 6 of us were in a meeting room for 8 hours a day.

That’s not a two day meeting, or a 16 hour meeting. It was for me, but for the company that was a 96 hour meeting.

Just think about the loss of productivity from that two days. Across 2 major sites, that’s a lot of work lost. True we did get some things done, and we had the chance to each hear what the others think of their business and how to improve it. However it also added a lot of stress. In addition to the need for me to work nearly twice as hard for the time of the meetings (2 days), I also had to take more time to prepare for the meeting, in my case, about 3-4 hours, which was twice as long as I presented.

That’s stress to be prepared for the meeting, but that meant that essentially the 2 hour meeting time for me meant a 6 hour increase in work. Two hours of work, two hours of extra work to handle things, and two hours of prep.

Imagine how many meetings you have in your company, even in small companies. Taking a couple hours of each day for a meeting between 2 or 3 people and it’s no wonder that 12 hours days are needed to get many companies going. That lowers creativity, adds stress, and doesn’t necessarily accomplish a lot.

What can you do instead?

What I’d recommend is that you empower people to make more decisions. Don’t require meetings to get things done, and when you do need people to get together, make it minimal. Schedule time and limit the number of people, and solve things quickly. Don’t take a half hour for a meeting. Start on time, get the issue out there, debate it and make a decision in half the time to allotted.

Then go back to work.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sunk Costs

I was reading a book recently (Rework) and there was a chapter in there about assessing the relevance and impact of the things you work on. I had heard this before, but hadn’t thought about it in some time. I have a few projects underway, and I should assess if they are still worth it.

The basic idea is that whatever you’ve done, whatever resources you’ve invested (time or money), are gone. It isn’t relevant for trying to decide if you should continue. If you continue on because you’ve invested in the project, it’s ego. It’s saving face, and not necessarily productive.

I first heard about this during the Cold War. There was a defense contractor that invested $20million in some weapon. However they reached a point where it wasn’t working and there was some concern if the military would buy it. One engineer wanted to scrap the project and start over with a new idea. There were others that said since $20million was invested, they needed to continue.

Someone in management finally said that the $20million was irrelevant in the decision. That money was gone whether they continued on or started over. The question was what is the best decision now.

It’s easy to get invested in a project, either emotionally, or because of the money. It’s also easy to let that investment drive you, rather than re-assessing your current situation.

Don’t consider the sunk costs. Don’t consider anything as being thrown away. If a project needs to be scrapped, take away a learning experience, however expensive, and move on. Do your best not to get trapped by previous bad decisions and make the best decision for this point in time. If you can reuse things do that, but don’t force yourself to reuse things because you invested in them.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thinking Time

Our business has struggled over the last year, and recently my partner and I sat down to talk about things. One of the issues we identified was that while we were getting work done, it was day-to-day work, the operational stuff that needs to be done. It brings in revenue, but only in a short term way. At least in our business is doesn’t help build a bigger business and grow revenue.

It’s easy to get bogged down it the day to day work of your company, doing the same things over and over that need to be done. That’s the in-the-forest, seeing-the-trees work that you get used to. However there are times you need to step back and take a wider view and try to think strategically.

How you do that is a complex subject, and the process might be different for each person, but the important point of this post is that you need to make time to do it. You need to set aside time periodically. You can do it every week, once a month, or maybe a few days a year, but you need to spend some time away from the day to day tasks with a longer term view towards the future.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Goals for 2010

Most people set their New Year resolutions for the new year at this time. We know from history that many people don’t stick to those resolutions, often failing to get in better shape, eat better, or other similar personal changes. I think the average person has bailed on their efforts by Feb 1.

I think some of this is precisely because they’re not goals that are specifically written down and committed to. It’s easy to say you want to make some grand change, but the reality is that you need to focus on one small goal at a time and make a concentrated effort to achieve it.’

It’s no different for business. I haven’t been heavily involved in my side venture over the last few months, and I’m not sure I will be more in 2010 since my life is somewhat moving in a different direction. However I still talk regularly with my partner, and we are talking about some specific changes for the business in 2010.

I don’t know what kind of goals we’ll set, but he is big on them, and so I’ll try to help him pick a few specific ones that make sense for the next year and we’ll work on implementing them.