Not too long ago, I remember strolling home with the thought of a bounty on my mind. A bounty that Moz paid for referring an engineer (which we no longer do). It wasn't the thought of cashing in on the bounty that clogged my mind, it was the question of why bounties weren't paid for businesspeople, or those of us that work outside of an engineering function – but I wrote it off and continued walking.
Then I saw this tweet from Joe, and the thoughts reemerged.
A lot of developers think businesspeople are dead weight. It's as if they have no fucking clue who signs their paychecks. Pure hubris.
It's not that I like the idea of a bounty. In fact, I really dislike the idea of paying out for referring talent. It was the greater message behind it, that there was such a gap between demand and supply. A gap that didn't exist anywhere else in the organization.
There's a talent shortage in tech, but it's not limited to developers. Good businesspeople (ie. marketers, operators, dealers) are just as hard to find, and just as important. But if you look around, you wouldn't believe it.
Businesspeople are tossed around like they're worthless; interchangeable.
So, why is it that businesspeople are so devalued? There's a few reasons.
1.) Quality is difficult to measure and often subjective. The closest thing that exists to a CV for valuing businesspeople is past successes, which typically means an exit or rapid growth. However, even that has its flaws. In some cases, the success of the business (as a whole) is out of their control. And sadly, most startup companies fail, which isn't necessarily at the fault of a businessperson, unless they're the CEO. The same concept applies to successful companies. Some businesspeople are overvalued for successes that weren't necessarily a result of their efforts. It's the same problem, just from a different angle.
Measuring the value of businesspeople is hard, with a lot of different factors that play into it. There are metrics that exist around business line growth, but even that can be flawed with creative number crunching. It's not as cut and dry as whether or not someone knows a certain programming language. There's no Dribbble or Github for businesspeople.
2.) A few bad eggs spoiled it for the rest of us. There's a lot of very poor businesspeople around our industry that prance around like hot shit, with no idea of what they're doing. Therein lies the problem, most of us can't tell the difference. You can fake business knowledge. You can't fake programming knowledge. Many developers that have worked with a bad businessperson in the past now write the entire function off as deadweight. That's pure hubris, as Joe so elegantly described. The few (typically the ones that talk the loudest) have ruined it for the rest of us.
This isn't to say that developers are incapable of being great businesspeople, and vice versa. There's countless examples of that.
But, it's not ideal. Yes, we can limp around outside of our core competency. I could fight my way through the terminal, and a developer could hack their way through a P&L, but's it's neither efficient nor intelligent to do so. I'm a businessperson because that's where I can be most impactful. I can write code, but I don't enjoy doing it, and frankly, I'm not very good at it. I'm sure a lot of developers feel the same way about the business side.
Developers and businesspeople live in harmony when they place equal value on one another. The key to which is understanding – investing the time to understand the function of each side.
If you're a businessperson and developers view you as dead weight, you're either not very good at your job or you're working with the wrong people.
It was my first startup. I was 18 and we had just raised our first real financing round – $250,000 from a local angel group. A lot was riding on us, even though the scale seems minuscule in hindsight.
We had just upgraded from a basement to an actual office, and we were on top of the world. Numbers were rising and the team was growing, it felt like we were invincible. We were pushing hard, but it didn't feel that way. We were fueled by constant adrenaline from the latest press hit and the signing of a big new customer. We didn't need a break, we felt great. Better than great.
After the highest highs, the good times started to fade. We began burning a lot of cash and couldn't stay on the path we were headed. The days got longer and the adrenaline bumps were few and far between. A fresh Red Bull only got us so far. The only way out was to push even harder, so we did. We were all topping 80 hour weeks. It just wasn't sustainable.
Eventually, I burnt out. Hard.
I remember coming home and curling up into a ball. I was so emotionally and physically exhausted, I couldn't even move. My productivity was cut to nothing. The next day at the office, I found myself just staring into my computer, for hours. No movement, just staring.
I was shot.
It was a terrible feeling that took me months to shake out of. I guess I was a victim of my own immaturity. In the startup world, we push hard. It's part of “the hustle” that we so commonly refer to. Thousands of people burn out each week, and I can assure you that number is very highly concentrated in the startup industry. So, how do we avoid it?
Each person has their own limit, and I was completely oblivious to mine. I love to work, so spending countless hours in an office wasn't crazy, it was normal. But burnout crept up on me, so I had to find a way to avoid it from happening again.
After much trial and error, I did, and here's how I did it.
I start out each day with a workout. It doesn't have to be long, and it doesn't matter what kind of workout it is. Some days I run, other days I lift weights. The method is irrelevant, but doing something active each morning clears my mind and provides a fresh dose of endorphins that puts me in the right physical state for the rest of the day.
An Evening Walk
Evenings were tough for me, I wasn't sure how to turn it off. Hence, the “Always On” blog title. I would come home and hop on my computer, right after leaving the office. It wasn't that I needed to, it was habit. I didn't have closure to my day, so I simply extended it. To help with this, I started going for walks each evening before heading home after work. Not long, just enough to digest the day and clear my mind.
I was never a big fan of fiction. But there's something about it that helps in avoiding burnout. Allowing your mind to think creatively and wander outside of your everyday routine can be extremely valuable. Each night before bed, I try to read a bit of fiction to remove myself from my traditional business mindset.
A Day A Week
The past few weeks, I felt myself getting close to burnout again, so I instituted a rule for myself. One day a week, work is off limits – answering email, writing a blog post – anything. For one day a week, it's off limits. I tend to rotate between Saturdays and Sundays, but it's completely up to your schedule. To ensure that I stick to it, I tend to save errands and personal obligations for the weekend, forcing myself into a schedule without work.
I recently bought an espresso machine because I needed to nerd out on something other than work. Roasting coffee beans, playing with the granularity of the grind, steaming the milk, it's all part of my new intellectual hobby. Whether it's discovering the science of taking the perfect picture, mastering your golf-swing, or studying the art of roasting an espresso bean, we need intellectual hobbies outside of work to cleanse and stretch the mind.
So much of burnout is mental. In order to avoid physical burnout, you need to show your mind progression for all of the effort that you're exerting. I've found that one way to do this is to set small and easily attainable goals that you can reach each day. This can be parsing down larger goals into smaller chunks or just going though the motion of checking-off completed operational tasks. Anything to show your mind progression towards a finish line can do wonders.
A Healthy Diet
We all know that we're supposed to eat well, but it's especially true when you're pushing yourself hard. Eating the right food can help extend your runway and give you the needed nutritional energy to stay strong.
After reading this article in Vanity Fair on Obama, there was one piece that stuck out to me. As the author interviewed the president, he said “You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy. Operationalizing decisions in your life that are less impactful (like the clothes you wear and the fruit you pair with your cereal) allows you to invest that energy elsewhere.
Finally, a yearly unplug is a must. Especially when you work in technology. Having a set time each year where you can turn off the cell phone and go off the grid is a way for you to hit the 'reset' button on your body. I'm still working on extending my yearly unplug to more than four days, but even with that, I feel refreshed when I return.
You're going to have to read your body to sense when you get close to burnout. Just like driving a car, using these maintenance techniques can help, but it's up to you to know when to ease off the gas.
My immaturity got the best of me, but I'm hoping this will help you avoid the same fate. I used to feel guilty for pacing myself. I felt that if I wasn't sprinting all day every day, I was doing myself and my team a disservice. Hitting rock bottom burnout was the only way to make me believe otherwise. Hustle is good, but it can't be blind.
It's taken me years to realize that overnight success is fictional. Overnight success comes after years of hard, sustainable work.
Almost daily, I run into the misconception that the function of sales and business development are interchangeable, from co-workers to industry peers. This stems primarily, I believe, from the shift in titles of salespeople to business development – which has been done in an effort to avoid the negative connotation that surrounds it.
In reality, the two are very different. Hence, this tweet.
If you use the terms Business Development and Sales interchangeably, you’re doing it wrong.
But 140 characters just isn't enough to explain of the subtleties, so here we are.
When you think about the function of business development, it should be thought of as a marketing function. Yes, there are some soft sales skills (qualification, negotiation, etc.) that are necessary to become a good business development professional, but at the end of the day, it's a marketing function.
If you were to think about it on a sliding scale between a pure function of sales or marketing, it would wind up somewhere around here.
The reason behind this, is that typical goals of business development include brand placement, market expansion, new user acquisition, and awareness – all of which are shared goals of marketing. The slight slide towards sales is simply because of the tactics business development employs to achieve those goals.
Which is where we get into the meat of it.
Regardless of the company, business development tends to hold the same structure, which I sketched up quickly below.
Simply stated, the function of sales is to sell directly to the end customer. The function of business development is to work through partners to sell to the end customer, in a scalable way.
That last part is key.
Scalability is the differentiator. It allows a company to use pre-existing sales teams or communities that a partner has developed to reach new audiences. Sales is very much an equation of capacity, which is why sales teams tend to grow so large. Business development teams, on the other hand, are typically very small, maintaining their small size by working through existing partner infrastructures. The art of business development comes in identifying partners that fit that description, while finding a way to provide value to the partner's end customer and business.
Now, all of this isn't meant to de-value the function of sales. Truth be told, I really respect good salespeople. It's an extremely difficult career, one with constant denial and pressure to succeed. Sales is hard, and should be respected when it's done at a high level.
But the two are very different, despite their apparent overlap.
Productivity is an addicting thing. Having control over how much you can achieve is extremely gratifying. I'm obsessed. It's why I try to squeeze an extra two hours out of each day. Consider it a constant quest to make each day matter just a bit more than usual.
But productivity poses a challenge.
For me, as more time opens up, my plate gets more full. I inflate the importance of tasks that accompany those added responsibilities. My effectiveness drops, and so does my level of sanity. I finish each day exhausted, without the satisfaction of production.
I find myself working just to work.
When I think back to my first startup, I realize that I was a slave to my work. The team and I commonly pushed 100+ hour weeks. There was so much riding on success, so much peer pressure to “put your time in” that those of us that left before 7pm were berated – we were letting the rest of the team down. I was just a kid, I didn't know any better.
This is commonplace in the technology world. It's why investors tend to put their money in young founders, those who are in their early to late twenties, are free of family commitments, and don't have the relative experience to know otherwise. I fit the bill.
In hindsight, although I worked more than I do today (in terms of raw hours), I didn't actually produce more – fuel for the working hard vs. working smart debate. You see, our bodies can only handle so much heads-down production. It's the law of diminishing returns, and it's very real. It's something that downing a few more cans of RedBull can't solve. Trust me, I've tried.
I was 18 then. I'm 25 now. It's taken me seven years to comprehend the topic of pacing myself. This isn't because I'm incompetent, although one could make the argument. It's because I want to achieve so much, and guilt overwhelms me when I'm not working toward reaching those goals. Just sitting on the couch for more than 30 minutes raises my blood pressure. Mind you, this is with the realization that as I work more, I become less productive.
As you'll notice in my 26-hour day, I've tried to build breaks into my schedule that allow me to recharge. Gym in the morning, a large dinner block in the evening, and time to read before ending the day. But it's not nearly enough, I still feel the strain of the busy requirement.
Some people have it figured out. They've perfected the art of turning it off and turning it on when they need to. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting better.
Let's stop glorifying over-work, and start congratulating smart work. The truly brilliant people in the world are those that elegantly balance a heavy-workload and the rest of their life. They're also the most satisfied.
This industry is a race, but it's not a sprint. It's a marathon, one that I hope to be running for a very long time.
It's New Years Eve. Another year gone, another on the horizon. Around this time, you'll likely see posts on predictions and resolutions. I'll spare you that. Instead, I want to focus on the thing that prohibits our ability to reach our goals – time.
There's just not enough hours in the day.
True, but what if you could make more? Of course, I'm not speaking literally. Well, kind of.
My 24-Hour Day
Just a few months ago I struggled with the issue of time. I was treading water. My day stacked up like this.
7:00am - Roll out of bed, make breakfast, get ready for work, handle a few emails and consume several cups of coffee
8:45am - Arrive at Moz
5:30pm - Leave Moz
5:45 - Go to the gym
6:30 - Eat dinner
7:30 - Blog, answer emails or hack on Stride, depending on the day (Interruptions abound)
11:30pm - Read, then head to bed
Seems like a fairly productive day, right? That's what I thought too, but it just wasn't cutting it. I couldn't get ahead. Replace my tasks with whatever it is that you do, and I bet you're used to a similar schedule.
My 26-Hour Day
Here's what my days look like today, after some simple shifting.
5:00am - Roll out of bed
5:15am - Go to the gym
6:00am - Make breakfast, get ready for work and consume several cups of coffee
7:00am - Blog or hack on Stride (no emails)
8:45am - Arrive at Moz
5:30pm - Leave Moz
6:00pm - Eat dinner
7:00pm - Answer emails, return calls
8:30 - HOLY HELL, FREE BLOCK
9:30pm - Read, then head to bed (shifted two hours earlier to maintain sleep length)
Wait a minute, didn't I just wake up two hours earlier? Well, yes. But I optimized my day, significantly. Along with waking up earlier, I segmented out the thing that caused the greatest distraction, emails and calls. By waking up a few hours earlier and creating more granularity, I avoided the krypotonite of productivity – context switching.
Each time you answer a call or check an email, you lose time.
According to studies, it can take up to 23 minutes and 15 seconds (on average) to get back on task after an interruption. Studies also show that we're interrupted an average of 6-7 times per hour. On the high-end, that's over 5 hours that we can lose from context switching in just a two hour period, which doesn't make any sense, but you get the point.
Mornings are different. Email slows down. Distractions fall away. Productivity increases.
You're probably thinking, “I'm not a morning person.” Well, I wasn't either. But I trained myself to become one. As is true with anything, you get used to it. The first two weeks are the hardest. After that, it's smooth sailing.
I assure you, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more addicted to increasing productivity than me. I've taken GTD courses, blocked out each day on my calendar and fine-tuned my task applications. Yet, nothing has had a more profound impact on my productivity than the simple habit of waking up a few hours earlier.
I'm well aware that this isn't an earth-shattering phenomenon. However, it is something that we can all do to become more productive. And it works, like you never imagined it could.
By shifting and optimizing your day, you'll have a one to two hour block that you didn't have before. A free block to spend with family, get that side project off the ground, take a course or just relax. If you're into that sort of thing.
I've been trying to avoid the discussion of gender and technology. Really trying. As with most delicate topics, there's a lot of strong opinions, which typically means it's better to walk away.
It's not that I didn't have an opinion on the topic, it's just that I wasn't sure how to put my thoughts into words, as I'm sure was the case with many others.
Earlier today, Richard Barton, the iconic founder of Zillow, Expedia, Glassdoor and Trover, came to the SEOmoz offices for a fireside chat, where the topic of gender came up. Specifically, the question of whether he thought a gender bias existed in technology was asked, and his answer echoed exactly what I had been trying to put into words for so long. Simply, he said this:
There's a gender imbalance, not a gender bias.
Imbalance and bias. The two may sound similar, but in fact they're quite different. Paraphrasing, an imbalance is a lack of proportion between two things. Bias on the other hand, is an inclination towards a perspective at the expense of alternatives.
When you look at the words in context of the gender discussion, it elegantly describes where we stand. As a society, we want equality. We want a level playing field. We all want more women in technology, regardless of gender.
Competition breeds quality. It's what's best for technology.
The problem, however, is that historically those interested in technology have skewed in favor of men. That's not to say that there's not any women that shared those interests, it just means that there were less of them. Fewer in comparison. The result is an imbalance today.
Looking around, groups are popping up that are dedicated to female programmers and technologists. Computer science departments are becoming more evenly distributed between genders. Women are taking powerful positions. The transition is happening, and it's a beautiful thing.
Therein lies the point. We've been mistaking the issue of imbalance as an issue of bias.
There will always be an ignorant asshole that insinuates bias or prejudice, but it's the way of the world. That's not independent of technology. It's those few ignorant assholes that have tarnished the true thoughts of the technology industry, leaving an imaginary gap between the opinions of many and the irrational thoughts of few.
A bias doesn't exist, an imbalance does – but not for much longer.
“I just want to build something again.” My infamous last words behind the start of two side projects in the past two years. One was built during Rails Rumble, the other simply out of a love for the rush. The rush of creating, the rush of launching, the rush of building. It's not that I'm reaching for things to fill my day. No. It's that the rush takes precedence, over everything else.
Looking around the web, I know I'm not alone.
Side projects sound so appealing because they mitigate risk. They take something that's traditionally very scary, starting a business, and make it seem less daunting. The fear of failure and personal finance woes fall away, because it's just a side project.
Deep inside, we all want to be entrepreneurs, but very few of us have the balls to make the leap. Myself included. So, we satisfy our aspirations and mitigate risk through side projects.
The problem, of course, is all of the many unintended consequences. When the day job, school, or whatever it is that we do just isn't enough, we typically tell ourselves that we're starting a side project for one of four reasons: continued learning, additional income, validation of an idea or just for the hell of it.
When Rails Rumble came around, I fell into the just for the hell of it category, but ended up spending countless weekends and evenings for over 8 months, only to abandon it. I don't look at the experience as a waste, but I do look at it as a case study in what not to do.
We launched with a bang, kept building, ran on fumes of adrenaline and tried to make it up as we went along, hoping for the best. We didn't think about the end-state we were trying to achieve. Because of that, it failed. Not in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, we failed because we sacrificed other obligations, sanity and a service that some people came to rely on.
Know that when you start just a side project, you're starting so much more. It'll completely consume you. The worst failure in any side project is to devote time, energy and sanity for any sustained period only to close the doors.
Side projects are a means to an end.
They need to start with an end-state in mind – create a passive income stream, validate my idea. They need to have deadlines and key metrics – six months to profitability, 10 paying users to validate my idea. But most importantly, they need to be a sprint. The longer a project lingers, the harder it becomes to keep morale high and pull the plug if it's not working out.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger startup fan than me. I got into startups at the age of 18 and have been addicted ever since. I live and breathe startup culture, day in and day out. It completely consumes me.
Startups are an amazing thing. They provide a pace of learning that is unmatched anywhere else. They don't discriminate on age, color or creed. They have the potential to change the world, and they do.
But I'm a bit worried.
This isn't about bubbles. It's about a trend and it's side effects. Countless accelerators, free-flowing capital, TV shows, movies – startups are all the rage. It's like nothing we've ever seen before. The most common perspective is that the more startups there are, the better.
More innovation, more job creation. Everybody wins.
But let's think about it logically. All startups are vying for the same thing. Visibility, traction, and funding. As the number of startups grow, those resources become disproportionally distributed. It'd be great to think that the cream of the crop rises to the top, and all is well. That's just not the way it works.
Thinking back just 5 years ago, startups were a novelty. Now, everyone has a startup. The number of startups are growing, but the number of people solving real problems is shrinking. More people are getting into it for the wrong reasons, rather than a pure love for technology.
What's the true effect of startup saturation? I'm not sure, but I guess we'll find out soon.
When you think about these three words in succession, it's likely that they blend together. They did for me.
That was, until a personal mentor of mine, Bruce Jaffe (to which Bruce adds that his framework was helped by one of his mentors, Jim Collins), put some additional context behind them. The discussion was around tying a bigger vision to a project that I've been working on and how these three words prove to be crucial along the way.
Whether you're starting your own company or grinding for somebody else, they dictate everything, from product development to market positioning to hiring.
The practical breakdown that he provided was extremely valuable, so I couldn't help but share. Instead of trying to regurgitate Bruce's email, I've added the key points of each term below, edited down a bit for consumption purposes.
Vision is an end state that you can articulate. It is a purpose for why the company exists. These do not have to be foundational. The most famous of visions was Bill Gates’s ‘a computer on every desktop, in every home’ – that’s all he had to say, and everyone knew why Microsoft was the place to work 20 years ago. Ted Turner had a vision of a 24-hour news channel, and Henry Ford had the vision of cars being driven by everyone, not just the
elite. You don't have to have a vision that is this big, but you should have something that describes an end state of the world that you are building a service to enable or tap into.
Mission is the big challenge ahead of everyone, which is hard enough to get all the competitive juices flowing, yet it is also a challenge which everyone knows they can and will achieve. Reebok’s ‘Beat Nike’ mission was a fantastic example. What did every employee of Reebok want to do every day? Well it was pretty clear. Missions are generally met, and then a new mission is set out.
For a startup, the mission is the most important thing – I’d argue more important than the vision or the strategy. Key metrics are generally the sign of achieving a mission. However, sometimes it is simply
financial (go IPO, Make $100m in revenue, etc. have all been fine missions).
Strategy is the set of tactics that you use to achieve your mission or vision (or both). It is critical for success of the company and without a strategy the vision and mission are not achievable. That said, it is the easiest to articulate, yet the least valuable when it comes to creating your dream team.
As an entrepreneur, it's tough to get out of your own head. There are so many day to day tasks that prevent long-term thinking from happening. In that vein, hopefully this provides an exit from your own mind and an outlet for the future.
It's what we've come to expect from Twitter, leaving us on eggshells until the next announcement. As I allow the subtleties of the latest sink in, I can't help but think back to my Seesmic days.
Really, not much has changed. Only the calendar year. Looking back, I vividly remember the uncertainty that came with each day. With every positive conversation we'd have with Twitter, an equally negative action resulted. The interaction was always the same – concern from our end, followed by confirmation of support from theirs.
My issue isn't with Twitter making these tough decisions. Twitter is a business, like any other. They need to protect the network and userbase that makes them valuable.
We are confusing these decisions with a need to make money, but that's not the case. It's a need to stay relevant and a need to keep their most precious assets close. Money is the result of that. Tumblr is a competitor to Twitter, and the data provided through their social graph can make or break the Tumblr experience for first time users. Logically, cutting them off makes sense, if you ignore the current state of volatility with the developer community. The question of whether or not that'll work is to be determined.
The issue I have is with how the game continues to be played. The reverberations have been cyclical. Shock and fear, followed by affirmations of support.
What are we to do? The information is immensely valuable, the data is one of a kind, and the positive implications of building off of the data can be significant. So we continue, sucking from the teat of Twitter until the hammer comes crashing down.