Archive for 2012
Here’s a post for the handful of people out there who haven’t seen Caine’s Arcade. If you have seen it, it’s worth another watch. It’s a great story that resonates on so many levels; the power of creativity and imagination, entrepreneurship, social media, and the determination it takes to build a startup. This is for those out there that have the hunger and desire to create something. For those who have been on the rollercoaster ride starting their own ‘arcade’.
For those who have made the hard decisions, sacrificed, bled, laughed and cried ….and wouldn’t have it any other way.
In case you haven’t checked out some of the materials from Tony Hsieh (founder of Zappos), I urge you to do so. Tony has done a terrific job on building his company’s culture. His focus on culture happened after he founded Linkshare and discovered how much he disliked working there. The company’s culture had taken a turn for the worse and, in his opinion, was beyond repair. He made sure to avoid making the same mistake. There’s a new video post today on techcrunch with some fun history on Tony’s early days.
Here’s another great video from a preso given a few years ago.
Design is not just about a company’s logo, brochure or website. It’s not limited to the interface or code architecture. Design, and more specifically good design, is all encompassing. Good design can be found in product ecosystems where technology is used to provide information to the end user and control over product functions through different interfaces. Apple won with the iPod not solely on the merits of the device but because they also made it incredibly easy to purchase music. Innovation is now fundamentally linked to good design. Many companies now recognize how crucial design is to their success and fighting off commoditization. Good design can help a company, business, or even person reach their full potential.
Phase one of even some of the worlds most important innovations have been able to get away with less than perfect design. The first browser with the minimal capabilities of left justified text and images, a mobile phone that weighed 5 lbs. or a computer that did basic addition. The luxury of time to create incremental improvements in design is dwindling.
The amount of dollars and time that it takes to create a new startup has become cheaper and faster. Open source software, the cloud and libraries of code at your fingertips are the fuel in this race. The iPad was an important innovation that came out of the blocks with a significant investment in design. Look at how quickly the market has responded and imagine what would have happened if apple hadn’t made that investment before its release. It’s the difference between fighting the commoditization wars and maintaining better margins.
The online advertising space, and the ad tech companies that support it, have maintained growth in spite of ourselves. One need only glance at the Lumascape to get an idea of how complicated our world is. It’s easy to understand why brand dollars sit on the sidelines. Good design is as much reductive as anything else. Figuring out what can be simplified and taken out is usually more important than the new feature that can be added. We have to design our way out of this.
The advent of the DSP is a prime example. Within months we saw competitors rise, each with their own spin. It wasn’t a year, but months, before you could see that the space had already reached the level of commoditization and a fierce fight has been going on for differentiation. There are examples where the winners of such battles did so on a single feature, a slightly better design to their interface or business model. Good design can be the make or break. I’ve worked with several account managers that love to complain about how complicated some of the DSP interfaces are to use. When you think about the daily decisions made by these individuals, which company do you think has a better chance of winning the war?
What’s the answer? Companies have to be design led. We must employ not only the brightest engineers but also outstanding designers that have a real voice in the company. If you think it’s difficult to find great engineering talent, the war for great designers who can have a voice in product development and business models has surpassed it. The war for these individuals in Silicon Valley area is reaching a fever pitch. This talent can’t be relegated to the lower levels of the company. They must have a voice in the C-suite and even board level. They have to have the ability to persuade those who can make the final call or ideally they have to make the call themselves.
Some of the most recent standouts have been companies that have led with design. The team behind Pinterest spent significant time on the overall design of the service before fully launching to the public. Focus on the details, such as the grid layout, ‘help make the boards on Pinterest beautiful and it’s the fundamental reason why they enjoy their current success. The average person would look at the site and say ‘what design?’ They just know it looks great. It is the difference between a massive hit and ‘another ran.’ Realmac receives kudos from the press and end users for their simplistic and elegant design to some of the most basic utilitarian tools you can imagine. Great design, being applied to a to-do list?
Facebook is a product led company and one of the best. Good design is starting to have its influence but is it enough? Do they have the proper designers that are not only leading the charge on the product front, but in the current initiatives to monetize mobile? Path has one of the most elegant design solutions out there in the mobile social space. I would argue that companies like these, real design led entities, are the biggest threat to Facebook.
Microsoft is anything but a design led company, but it’s now recognizing it has to become in order to survive. This isn’t solely about for-profit companies. Charity Water has produced one of the most sophisticated charity sites I’ve seen. Smart in the look and feel as well as the integration of producing your own charity drive.
Ad tech has to get out of our own way. We have to reach the next level by simplifying the purchase, measurement, creative production process. Individual companies have to invest heavily or risk being an also ran or worse dying off. As a whole, we have to design our way out of the Lumascape through reduction. Those that come out on top will be able to say it was by design; good design.
We’ve been very purposeful in setting the culture at Adhesive. Every company has a culture that either forms without purpose or you take an active role in setting it. In our culture map we have outlined our culture and it includes specific examples to help guide us. This is and should be a living document.
One element that I believe stands out more than the others is the desire to have all “A” players. We all want the some of the same things. We desire to belong and have a purpose. We want to contribute and we want to do it our way. We desire a place where we can produce something great and go home feeling good about ourselves. We don’t want someone standing over our shoulder directing us on how to do it. Unfortunately, too few want to do what it takes to have that level of freedom.
We’re building a culture where people can have that level of autonomy; where you can do it the way you want to. You can’t have a healthy culture with that level of freedom without “A” players who are willing to be held accountable. Individuals who stand up and say; “I’ll take that task on and I’ll have it done by next week.”
What are some of the diseases you find in a company where the culture is out of alignment with the type of individuals filling the roles?
• Excessive use of rules. Rules put in place to mitigate damages that can be caused by “C” players that love to break things. Often times, the actual financial damage from these errors is minor and the rules are much more stringent than they need to be.
• Excessive meetings.
• Lack of accountability with the “A” players ending up with a disproportionate amount of work on their plate while the person sitting next to them avoids being noticed.
• No clear metrics or goals by which the company or individuals in the company are being held to.
The list is long and I can keep adding to it. One thing is for sure; a true “A” player will not last in a culture like this. They will attempt to change the culture within their group or company-wide and if they’re not effective they will quickly move on. They will seek a place where the company or their manager will give them the freedom to do their job how they see fit. They will strive to meet goals. They will put themselves on a growth path. They will make it happen.
I’m very lucky. I’m lucky to be surrounded by “A” players at Adhesive. We have a terrific group that’s out to make a mark in our industry. They want to develop an organization where they grow, challenge, and be challenged. I’m proud to work with such a wonderful team can’t wait to launch our solutions and strive to reach our clients goals. Thanks to each and every one of you for letting me play along.
I get it. It’s a form of validation. An outside funding source has given you their blessing and you now have some cash in the bank. You’re now ready to get the company to then next level and you have guilt by association. Your idea must be a winner.
There’s too much money chasing too few good deals these days. We live in a tech-bubble when the majority world’s economies are hurting. There’s significant cash sitting on the sidelines looking for a home. This creates a lot of unhealthy situations. I scratch my head on a regular basis at some of the rounds going to non-differentiated Pinterest wannabes. What’s more concerning is the cash being invested into companies that really don’t need it. VC’s have been taking the place of M&A and public offerings by providing liquidity for founders and key managers. Depending on the stage of the company, this can be an even more dangerous.
I’m curious as to what point in time it became a celebration to sell part of your company? Is it the feeling of validation? Is it the media asking, “Who have you raised money from?” with the obvious implication you can’t be real without it. When did it become more important that an analyst likes what you’re doing vs. a live customer? Raising a round might be necessary to reach your goals but you just gave away part of your company. A tear should be shed and heads immediately focused on the task at hand ensuring that it doesn’t have to happen again vs. corks popping at a $100,000 party. Too much money in the coffers can create a culture of excess and a feeling of false security.
Customer acquisition is expensive. Ten years ago, Harvard Business Review estimated that the average customer acquisition costs for an online retailer is more than $100 and some spend as much as $500. It’s safe to assume that estimate has increased since then. Entrepreneurs looking to build the next great consumer product on the web often overlook one of the most important line items in their financial model; customer acquisition costs.
How many VC pitches have been given that contain the generic phrase, “we’re going to be just like company X but better because we’ll do this and that and this…” Being better is a much more difficult than being different. It’s a challenge to purchase precious mental real estate that someone else already occupies. Attempting to displace a Google or a Twitter is a task that most underestimate. Creating or locating a new and vacant lot where someone else doesn’t reside is the way to go.
Let’s look at some of the recent success stories out there like Pinterest or the not so recent Twitter. These were both ideas that created new niches and tackled problems that didn’t exist yet. Why is that so important? Their customer acquisition costs are negligible compared to the upstart that looks to displace them. It’s difficult to track how many Pinterest clones have launched in the past year. It’s the freshness of the idea that carries the company and product to notoriety. Companies that can execute reap huge benefits by taking this approach. Look at cash Google prints each quarter. They have significant brand equity and next to nothing in marketing expenses. They acquired customers by investing in technology. Google’s also an interesting counter point to this post. They were not really ‘that different’ when they first started. Companies like Yahoo, Lycos and AltaVista had already established themselves. I would argue they succeeded because they did have better approach and their competitors gave it to them. You can’t always count on your foes handing you the keys to the castle.
Imagine you’re looking to make some money by investing in the movie industry. You have a choice and dollars to fund the potential next big superhero blockbuster or a movie about a crass teddy bear that talks, drinks beer and enjoys other unspeakable adventures with the man-child he grew up with. If you ignore any issues you might have with the content, which would you choose based on risk and potential return? I’m choosing “Winnie the Crude”. My decision is based on which one has the least risk and strongest potential to give me a return. The superhero flick is going to be incredibly expensive, it will be difficult to stand out in and it has to be a hit in order to make any money. The alternative is going to be cheaper to make, less risk and it hasn’t been done before. I’m going to bank that it will be far cheaper to buy that mental real estate.
How companies market their products and services is changing every day. The cost to buy your way into a consumers mind is increasing and the length of time you can hope to retain your position is decreasing. You have to be focused on the product and offering. The more you drive a great experience and put every bit of energy you have towards developing unique and well designed products, the better off you are. If you can create that which is new and different you stand a greater chance of success. Be different, not better.
Author: Jeremy Stanton: Coder, team-builder, writer, philosopher, posthumanist technology fetishist, and prankster.
I’ve been doing the agile thing for ages. My first real programming gig was for a guy who had a background in manufacturing so we were doing Kanban and Kaizen before people were lumping it all under the single banner of Agile. I’ve worked with no fixed cadence and I’ve worked with two and four week sprints. I’ve never worked a single week sprint. Until now. I’ll never go back.
Everywhere I’ve worked before, whether I was managing the team or otherwise, the team as a whole would collectively decide on the most comfortable cadence and go with that. Most of the literature I’ve read seems to think this is a good idea. If not a good idea, at least not a patently bad idea. But consider this. If I were to fill a room with random people and took their vitals, how much of their body mass would be fat? A fair amount I’d wager. Then ask them to start running together everyday. What pace would they choose at first? Slow. Pin whatever number you want to that word but the reality would be a pace not much quicker than a fast walk.
Now what if those people ran together five days a week for a year? 5 years? 10? They would be lean. They would be running and often sprinting. The problem with software processes is that slow sprint cadences get institutionalized and rarely once a pace is chosen does the team try to go faster. Oh sure. Occasionally there will be an urgent problem or feature that the team will have to push through quickly but overall they’ll be moving fairly slowly through a process bloated with overhead they don’t know is unnecessary because they aren’t moving fast enough to feel how much it hurts to carry the extra weight.
I speak from experience. I recently joined a start-up where I get to help drive decisions like this. As an experiment I asked the team to try running one week sprints to see what happened. I asked them to hang with it for two months to see if we could make it work. The first month was painful. We made mistakes. We broke sprints. But what we found was as we challenged our assumptions about how the dev process should work an interesting thing happened. Rather than defending how much time we thought we needed to test a build for a sprint we found ourselves pushing more and more of our testing into continuous integration tests. Rather than insisting we needed longer meetings to spin up or close out a sprint we found ourselves cutting out conversations which didn’t get us deliverable demonstrable value.
I know what you’re thinking. “By having twice as many sprints aren’t we doubling our overhead?” Well, you can go that route, but then you’re missing the whole point. Yes. You’ll be having more meetings, but it will be about half as many stories. You’ll be twice as focused because you’ll have half the distractions. The tendency to slack at the beginning and cram at the end will vanish. It’s easier to focus in meetings that are half as long. You’ll spread out your test time more evenly rather than jamming it in at the end because you’ll have to and your quality will improve. Suddenly CI becomes a necessity and CD becomes a possibility. What I’m trying to say here is the effect of doubling your sprints is equivalent to cutting your diet in half and seeing your effective caloric intake drop to a third. And that’s one way that the fitness metaphor breaks down. In life when we want to cut out a lot of fat it takes determination but it also takes A LOT OF TIME. With your development process, as long as the whole team is on board it takes determination, but tremendous positive effects can be felt as quickly as two or three single week sprints. You get back more than you cut out because all the focus and efficiency that creates work TOGETHER. Want specifics? You can find more here and here. But don’t stop there. Hit the Google.
One more thing worth pointing out is that when I say work faster I’m not talking about working 16 hour days 7 days a week. I’m talking about increasing sprint cadence and efficiency. If you’ve been in this dev game for decades we see few reasons why you’d have an excuse for going slower than two weeks. Sure if you need to transition from four to two before you can switch from two to one we’ll cut you some slack, but you can do it. And you should.
It’s been three months. We couldn’t be happier. Before this experiment I would have considered a one week sprint a pipe dream. Having gotten our team to run smoothly on one week sprints, having cut out so much overhead, it makes you want to achieve even more. We feel like a room full of former fatties on the fitness infomercials. Running a marathon is easy. For us, Continuous Delivery is no longer an impossible goal. Like I’ve read with other teams that have gotten down to one week you wish you could shrink the cycle down to a day. The urge is strong. You want to go farther, faster, now.
So for those of you out there considering your options in terms of sprint size, or contemplating smaller sprints, there is no time like the present. Stick with it. It will be hard at first. Push through the pain. You’ll be glad you did. There is no reason not to go faster and you’ll be much healthier for it.
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Author: Jeremy Stanton
Coder, team-builder, writer, philosopher, posthumanist technology fetishist, and prankster.
I have been inspired over the years by watching some amazing leaders cultivate and develop their company cultures. They recognized just how important it is to driving results creating an environment where people love to work. The slide deck in this post outlines the ‘Culture Map’ we’re establishing at adhesive. It’s an amalgamation of many things we’ve learned over the years as well as ideas from others like Netflix, Patagonia, and Zappos to name a few.
Our vision is to build a home for those who want it. A place where people can choose to stay for as long as they want and they don’t feel stifled after 2 years of service. An environment where employees can find happiness in bringing new ideas and products to life on a continual basis. Please let us know if this sounds like a place for you.
This is a living document outlining the desired culture for our company. We intend to change this based on what we learn. Feel free to make comments and provide your own insights.
We officially have a new home.
adhesive is opening it’s office doors this week in downtown Scottsdale, AZ.
We’re replete with what every lean startup should have.
- Cheap, used office furniture – check
- Glass table that was taking up essential garage space – check
- Short-term lease in non-descript red brick office building to accommodate rapid expansion – check
- Starbucks within walking distance – check
- Costco chairs (wanna make dad proud) – check
- Lots of great bars within walking distance – check please
- Air conditioning as part of lease in August – check
- Mini-fridge, white boards, water cooler, excited new employees – check
- Internet connection – god willing
Come down and see us sometime.
I’m very proud to announce the formation of adhesive, our new company in the online advertising space. While we can’t be specific on the product offering quite yet, we’re more than happy to discuss our long-term vision.
Our goal is to become the “3M of online advertising”. No, we’re not going to be producing digital post-it notes. We do, however, aspire to build a company that has the following attributes:
- An Enduring and Independent Company: Something we don’t see often in our industry. There have been a few that have risen to the top and are aggressively plowing forward to build a sustainable business. These are the exception, not the rule. Too often, the goal is to build something for acquisition. While this can be successful, I believe it can also be very expensive and risky. I, by far, prefer the route of properly defining your client and working your ass off to provide value for them. To me, this is the goal— not the sale of a company.
- Systematic Innovation: It’s hard to argue 3M’s achievements here. They were a company that originally set out to mine mineral deposits, but had to change their business when their first stab didn’t pan out. Very few companies have been able to accomplish what 3M has. At the core, I would argue, is a culture of innovation that’s not driven alone by a single individual. You might argue that in our day and age, Apple is a far more appropriate company to aspire to, and I would tend to agree. Apple is the current poster child for innovation, and it’s yet to be seen if they can stand both the test of time and the loss of Steve Jobs. Apple is also an iconic consumer brand. adhesive is meant to be the brand in the background— the company powering innovative solutions for advertisers, not the brand every 3rd grader on the planet knows about. Let me put it this way: it has to be a culture of innovation to survive in this space.
- Engineering at the Core: The geeks are in charge, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a wannabe hacker myself, this world couldn’t function without bright minds wrapped around great code. There are entities that manage to kick up a little dust and make a few bucks, but have little to show in the tech department. They’ll more than likely be a flash-in-the-pan. If you can’t develop a solid foundation that’s your own, it’s difficult to maintain a defensible, enduring and independent company.
- A Home for Employees Who Want It: Those who know me know my feelings on the importance of company culture. I imagine that in this world of two-year job stints, quite a few people get tired of watching what they have built get disassembled, thrown away or rapidly fall into a state of irrelevance. We work hard. We put our hearts and souls into the products we build. Nobody likes seeing their projects and products die. We want to build a place where people can choose to stay if they want. A place that attracts “A-players” and keeps them motivated through big, meaty challenges. We know that not everyone will want to stay, and I get that. Many have a need to seek out something new and different. Our goal is for each and every individual to have the choice to stay if they want to.
Over the coming weeks, I will be writing additional posts on our values, as well as detailing our culture map for those who would like to learn more.