Keeping Perspective

Yesterday was the AFC Championship and your’s truly is a big fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. I won’t get into the details of the game because that would become a post of it’s own and the loss is still raw. Luckily work has been a welcomed distraction today and I’ve had a great, productive day.

It’s been a somber day for Jaguars fans, no doubt. Still, it was a season to remember for a franchise that’s had a rough 10 years. While I believe they should be in the Super Bowl, sometimes things just don’t work out as you’d like them. Such is life.

What’s funny is how much a sports game can impact your emotions. In the grand scheme of things, the game means very little. But sports have an incredible way of bringing people together. I was lucky enough to watch the game with a great group of people and had a Sunday afternoon I won’t soon forget. While the loss sucks, it’s helpful to keep that perspective.

Also — watch out for the Jaguars next year. They’ll be back 😏.

New Opportunities

Early stage startups are busy. It’s not difficult to fill your schedule each day. I’ve talked on this blog before about saying “no” to some of those things and clearing your schedule to focus. Clearing space to think and create.

But this doesn’t mean you should completely cut yourself off. Thinking and brainstorming alone can only get you so far. You need other inputs. You need to read things. You need to meet with new people. You need to learn about other businesses and emerging technologies.

Doing this opens you and your business up to new opportunities. Keeping pace with competitors isn’t enough. You need to innovate. You need to create new efficiencies. You need to find ways to provide value to customers.

You do that by taking yourself out of the industry and out of the assumptions of the incumbents. Learn from the outside and innovate on the inside. Above all, put your customers first and provide them with a great experience.

Cut The Fluff

Last year I signed up for Audible. I listen during my commute and, as a result, have dramatically increased the number of books I consume.

The majority of what I read is non-fiction. One theme across many (not all) of these books is that they could be much shorter. There’s one or two strong arguments and the rest of the book is filled with stories of how that argument was applied by somebody.

Examples are useful up to a point. After that, it’s fluff. Extra filler chapters to make the book longer and pricier. I don’t need the fluff. Give me the good stuff. Cut the fluff. It’s useless and repetitive.

Now as I start to see signs of this I’ll fast forward a bit and eventually drop the book if I feel I’ve gotten the point. That’s what makes services like Blinkist popular.

In general I’m not a fan of fluff. I try not to consume it or produce it. Writing without fluff is stronger. A product without fluff is more effective. Life without fluff is just… better.

Cut what doesn’t matter. Keep what does.

The Power of Deadlines

I learned the power of deadlines when I was beginning my career as a product manager. A core responsibility of a PM is to ship product. It seems obvious but it’s easier said than done.

Shipping earlier means getting value to your customers and learning faster. Beyond that, setting a release date provides a deadline for the team. This deadline acts as a forcing function. The constraint of time forces you to focus on the task at hand, rank what’s most important, and cut what’s not.

I’m seeing this now with a big project we’re working on at Moved. Not only are we shipping new product but we’re making big changes to the way we operate internally. The project involves everyone in the company, making communication and coordination essential. Each person has their role and we’re all focused on getting to the finish line. Even after the “finish line” (launch) there’s a lot of work to make sure all goes well into the future.

Deadlines can be stressful but they can also create moments of magic. Seeing everyone rally and execute in crunch time is a thing of beauty.

There’s more work to do but it’s useful to take a step back and appreciate the big moments as they’re happening. Thanks to this blog for allowing me a few minutes to do that. Now back to work.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Last week I tweeted this.

A friend asked me to elaborate on this. Why is that the theme? What does this mean for me?

My Answer

To me, focus is more of a mindset than a verb. It’s a way of operating that guides your actions and decisions.

It’s a mindset of prioritization. Setting a goal and creating a prioritized list of actions that will cause you to achieve it.

It’s being relentless in pursuit of that goal. Delegating more and understanding how to best use the resources you have.

It’s force-ranking everything. Eliminating anything that distracts from achieving the end goal.

What This Means For Me

This means changing how I spend my time. There’s a lot of calls and meetings I would have said “yes” to that I’ll now say “no” to. It means being protective of my calendar, rather than at the mercy of other people’s schedules. It means structuring my day in a way that optimizes my time and moves the company closer to our goal.

Nothing great in life gets accomplished without focus. So focus.

Structuring A Day

I didn’t publish a blog post yesterday. An urgent request upended my morning. It took me until 2:30pm to finish before doing any other work (or eating).

This is not the way I like to start my day. Unfortunately, it happens in a startup. It’s the nature of the beast. On all other days I have a specific day structure I like to stick to.

The optimal structure of one’s day depends upon who that person is and how they operate. I’ve designed mine to take advantage of the creative thoughts I have in the morning. I then batch my meetings, phone calls, and “manager time” in the afternoon.

If you’re not familiar with the idea of a maker’s schedule vs a manager’s schedule, I recommend this post (and/or this one). If those are too long, here’s a great video that I showed our team this morning when discussing this very topic.

The Structure of My Day

I like my mornings to be for making. I write. I work on product. I think and problem-solve. I try not to check email until I’ve completed at least one big “maker to do”. I’m not always successful in that but I’m getting better.

Around noon I switch from maker to manager. The rest of my day breaks up into 30 and 60 minute blocks of calls, meetings, and administrative work.

Each week I audit how I spent my time and adjust from there, optimizing for the highest yield activities. I break those activities into inputs and outputs.

My highest yield inputs = talking to people (to gather information), reading, and research.

My highest yield outputs = talking to people (to deliver information), writing, and product work.

I work to structure my day and my role to optimize for these as much as possible. It’s an exercise of continual iteration and improvement. Time is a finite resource. It’s the most precious thing we have. How are you spending your’s?

The NFL Playoffs

From time to time I’ll write about sports in here, especially when it’s top-of-mind like it is today.

The NFL Playoffs are an awesome time of year. While the series format (e.g. NBA) has merit, the “win or go home” nature of the NFL Playoffs raises the stakes. It makes each game that much more important.

Today my team, the Jacksonville Jaguars (I was born in JAX) are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. They’re hosting a playoff game in Jacksonville for the first time since 1999. Needless to say… I’m excited.

Content Begets More Content

On January 1, 2018 I started writing this blog with a specific goal in mind. The goal is to “write everyday and/or publish 300 posts”.

I phrased the goal in this way because “write everyday” isn’t a well-structured goal. While that is what I’m doing and it’s a habit I’m working to form, it doesn’t set me up for success. If, for whatever reason, I have to miss a day and can’t publish a post — I’ve failed and missed that goal for the year.

By saying “and/or publish 300 posts”, I give myself room to have days where life gets in the way. And should I miss that day, that’s okay. I’m still on pace for the 300 mark and the daily ritual of writing will get me there (and likely above it).

Today is the sixth day of this ritual and I’ve already found an interesting side effect. The more I write and publish, the more I have ideas for other things to write and publish.

I wrote in the initial post (of writing)…

“It allows me to offload the top-of-mind thoughts and make room for the interesting ones hiding below the surface.”

Not only has this proven true, but it feels phenomenal. I’m more energized and stimulated mentally. It’s having the desired effect, which only motivates me to keep it up.

Do You Shovel or Do You Wait?

After yesterday’s snow day, I noticed something during my commute home. Some businesses had their sidewalk shoveled, while others didn’t. A gesture like this, although minor, tells you a lot about a business. About how they operate and treat their customers.

In the world I live in (software startups), the snow is harder to see. But have no doubt — every business has snow at their storefront. Issues arise and impact the customer’s experience.

When your customers run into an issue that wasn’t cause by you (the business), how do you respond? Do you go out of your way to make it right? To clear a path and make sure their experience is positive? Or do you throw up your hands and force the customer to deal with it?

Hospitality is hard work. Putting customers first isn’t always easy. But it is the right path. Customers notice when businesses go out of their way to provide a great experience. And they express gratitude for that through loyalty and referrals.

Don’t wait for the sun to melt the snow. Shovel, shovel, shovel.

Snow Day

Here’s a glimpse of the Northeast today.

And my walk to work.

As a kid I loved snow days. It was an anomaly. A day that interrupted the regular routine of school. A day to go play outside with friends. A day with a hint of chaos as the “adults” always seemed to be a bit panicked and unsure of what to do.

To me it was all a welcomed change. No class was great. Playing in the snow was fun. Warming up inside with soup and TV was (and still is) one of my favorite feelings.

Now, as an adult, snow days are less fun. It’s not the precipitation I mind. Rather, business closures and transportation issues can make life more difficult and potentially dangerous.

With that, to my friends here in Northeast… stay safe, stay warm, and enjoy your snow day.

Getting to sleep

I’ve always had issues getting to sleep. Without a doubt — I’m a night owl. When it’s time to go to bed, I struggle to shut my mind down and get the rest I know I need.

In the past I’ve always had the TV on and/or been messing around on my phone. Clearly not effective. I’ve tried a number of tactics and hacks throughout the years to fix this. The only one that seems to work for me is reading.

Everyday I read on my commute via Audible. But that’s not effective at night because, if I fall asleep, I completely lose my place in the book. A physical copy is the way to go.

The next issue to get past is the light. My fiancé goes to bed earlier than I do. She puts her head on the pillow and is out. It’s almost as if she has an “OFF” switch… a true gift. I don’t want to put on the bright lights because 1) it may wake her and 2) I don’t want to have to get up to shut them off as I’m falling asleep.

So I’m going to try the Phillips Hue lightbulbs. The ability to dim is a plus because it won’t wake my fiancé and the different hues you can set will allow me to “set the stage” for sleep. Finally, when I’m primed to drift away into dreamland, I can turn them off completely via my phone.

At least that’s the plan anyway… I’ll let you know how it goes.

Investor Updates

Yesterday I wrote a company update to all of our investors. This is something I send each month on the 1st. It outlines where the company is at, what we’ve accomplished, what we’re focused on, and what we need.

I’ve come to appreciate these updates more with time. They serve a number of useful purposes.

1) Reflection.

Looking back at the previous month (or year) allows me to gain perspective about all that we accomplished. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds and continually push towards the next goal. While that’s not necessarily a bad mindset, it’s important to look back and celebrate wins. Not just because it makes you and your teammates feel warm and fuzzy inside (it does), but because there’s valuable learnings in that reflection exercise.

Each month, while setting goals, our team reviews that last 30 days. What did we do well? What didn’t we do well? We take those learnings and create specific actions that reinforce the positive and embed those learnings into our company.

2) External Communication.

Keeping investors updated is a good thing. First, it can save you redundant check-ins because curious investors know they’ll be getting the email soon anyway. Second, it establishes an open line of communication. It’s an email overview of where the company is at (often with an “Ask” in it), not only providing an update, but also creating a thread that they can reply on top of — if they can help with something or have a question. It also makes investor meetings easier because nobody is in the dark about what’s happening with the company. There’s no multi-month lapse where they’re not sure what’s been going on.

Finally, if your updates are thorough and forthcoming, they can serve as an excellent sales tool with new investors. You can forward last month’s update to an investor who is interested in the company. Not only is it a great overview but you can illustrate what it’s like to work with you as a founder and how you’ll communicate once they’re on the cap table.

3) Internal Communication.

This takes form in a couple ways. When creating the email, it’s necessary to get updates from colleagues throughout the company. It’s an opportunity to dig into the numbers, learn more about projects in progress, and hear what’s working and what’s not.

Perhaps even more important is sharing context. In my job as CEO, I have a more holistic view of our company than anyone else. I’m a bit of a curator in that way. I receive inputs from everywhere (customers, sales, marketing, product, operations, investors, other founders, lawyers, research, etc.) and my output is synthesizing and prioritizing those to create a direction for the company. It’s crucial that I share my context with our team internally. Providing them not just with the “what” but also with the “why”.

This takes shape via our weekly all-hands meeting but also through these investor updates. Each employee at our company is on the distribution list so they too can see the holistic picture and understand how our progress and status is being communicated to investors.

Perhaps I’ll share the template I use for our investor updates in a future post, if people find it useful.

New Year, New Blog

I imagine I’m not the only one starting a blog today. It’s January 1st. A day many kickoff new habits, routines, diets, etc.

I’ve also blogged before. I’ve written a number of posts for different publications over the last few years. So what’s different now? Why am I doing this?

1) To flex the muscle.

My main objective is to write more. I love to write. It’s cathartic for me. It allows me to offload the top-of-mind thoughts and make room for the interesting ones hiding below the surface. It’s also an exercise for me to better understand myself and make sense of all the information I take in on a daily basis.

2) Increasing frequency.

To achieve the above, I need to make this a habit. Something I do everyday. And to do that, I need to change my style.

3) A new style.

In the past I’ve spent way too much time editing and revising posts before publishing them. No more of that. I’m pushing outside my comfort zone and spitting in the face of the need for perfectionism. No individual or blog post is perfect. Accept that and publish.

What this also means is that my posts will vary in length. Some will be a paragraph or two. Others will be 1,000+ words like most of my previous posts. It will depend on the day, the subject, and my schedule. I’m not committing to a certain style — I’m committing to the frequency. Making the exercise a habit and forcing myself to hit ‘Publish’.

So, no, this blog isn’t for you. It’s for me. It’s to get myself in the practice of writing everyday and ridding myself of the debilitating search for perfectionism. And if, along the way, some of the posts prove to be valuable to others… then great. That’s my new definition of perfect.