Business

A 15-post collection

Move fast

“A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.” – Charles Darwin

I shared the above quote in my last piece on Silent Meetings, but it continues to be at the forefront of my mind.

I’m in the last year of my twenties, and I’ve been thinking a lot about time – it’s a rather limited resource.

The longer I’m on this planet, the more I realise that the time it takes to achieve things is very often an attitude or a viewpoint, rather than an immovable fact.

Somewhat proving this point is this list of “examples of people quickly accomplishing ambitious things together” from Patrick Collison of Stripe.

Patrick’s list includes the first version of Amazon Prime (six weeks), the first iPod (approximately 290 days), and Disneyland (366 days).

This weekend I also read a profile on Elon Musk in Rolling Stone – this quote stood out to me (emphasis mine):

Beyond all this, most maddening or exciting for Musk’s employees, depending on which one you ask, is the time scale on which he often expects work to be done.
For example, one Friday when I was visiting, a few SpaceX staff members were frantically rushing back and forth from the office to the parking lot across the street. It turns out that during a meeting, he asked them how long it would take to remove staff cars from the lot and start digging the first hole for the Boring Company tunnel. The answer: two weeks.
Musk asked why, and when he gathered the necessary information, he concluded: “Let’s get started today and see what’s the biggest hole we can dig between now and Sunday afternoon, running 24 hours a day.”
Within three hours, the cars were gone and there was a hole in the ground.

Not everyone is comfortable moving fast, but I don’t think there’s any option when running an internet business: you have to move fast or you die.

When someone says something will take two weeks, you can either take them at their word, or you can challenge them to think: what would it take to achieve this in two days? What needs to change?

The folks at Basecamp made this point better than I ever could in this short chapter of their original book Getting Real – keep time and budget fixed, be flexible on scope.

How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time. —Fred Brooks, software engineer and computer scientist

Speed isn’t the only thing that matters when running a business, but it’s often treated as optional, and it’s easily lost one hour at a time.

Hours add up to days. Days cause weeks to slip. Weeks drag out into quarters. Quarters impact entire years. And we don’t have many years to waste.

Silent Meetings

Since remote working became default, we've all been trying different ways of working – from those adopting Slack or Teams for the first time, to doing one-on-ones over Zoom.

There's never been a better excuse to try radical changes to team collaboration.

The weekly kickoff

Every Monday morning we start the week with a kickoff.

We have a Notion doc that everyone has access to, with a clear agenda and structure.

The person who owns each “department” of the business outlines how they're doing against their objective for the quarter, and their action plan for the week to get closer to achieving it.

We used to do these kickoffs in person in our office. And then one of the team moved to Scotland (who can blame them!), so we started do do our kickoffs with one person on a video call and the rest of us in the office.

And then 2020 hit and we were forced to all join our Scottish colleague and communicate via Zoom in these Monday morning meetings.

Lack of engagement and no lack of chaos

We started to notice a few trends in these meetings:

  • Some people would speak for more than they needed, while others would speak less.
  • We saved questions to the end and found many of the team would not have the opportunity to ask what they needed.
  • Regardless of Zoom it was often hard to digest numbers and explanations on the spot when spoken aloud.

Most of all, we started to question the very purpose of these meetings – what's the point of us all getting together at the same time on a call if we aren't going to interact? If we are just going to speak at each other?

Meetings are expensive.

“A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.” – Charles Darwin

Take an hour for the meeting (assuming it starts on time and finishes on time), plus the hour before to prepare, plus the 30 mins after to fully get back into your flow, multiplied by the number of people in the meeting.

Add all this up and you quickly realise you're taking 15+ hours of the team’s time.

Every member of the team is incredibly skilled, ambitious, and driven. One resource that is impossible to replace is their time – once it’s spent they’re not getting it back. So I try to be extremely cautious of any time we take from anyone on the team. In that time, does every member of the team feel like it was valuable to help them grow, perform better, and achieve their goals? Or do they feel like that meeting just robbed them of an hour of their life?

15 hours is a lot of collective team time, and when you also consider that everyone is being paid to be there, a lot of money being spent too.

Efficient, well run meetings not only matter morally but they make financial sense too for

Speaking on the Scaleup podcast

The Scaleup podcast is led by Charlotte, CEO of Equalture, as she chats with other founders and CEOs from all over the world about their journey of building a team and the impact that their teams have on their businesses. Milestones, failures and lessons learned.

I was honoured to speak with Charlotte earlier in July, and we had a fun discussion about some of the highs and lows of running GoSquared, about mistakes we've made along the way, and we dug into the back story of starting GoSquared in the first place.

Be sure to check out the full series for many other honest and open discussions with founders.

Thanks to Charlotte for inviting me on the show!

General Magic

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to see one of the first screenings of General Magic in London.

Since seeing the movie, I've been telling everyone I meet about it.

It’s a story of one of the greatest teams of product, engineering, marketing, and leadership people coming together to build a device eerily similar to the iPhone, but in the early 90s.

Sketches of the original Genral Magic device

The movie pieces together with original footage how this incredible team came together, worked their socks off, and ultimately failed to deliver what they set out to achieve. It’s a story that makes you question the definition of failure – a ridiculous number of people from General Magic went on to practically define the world we live in now, and the ideas behind the device were spot on – they just took longer to get here than orignally thought.

Just a few of the people who were involved with General Magic:

  • Tony Fadell – joined General Magic as an intern, co-inventor of iPod and iPhone, founder of Nest.
  • Marc Porat – the CEO of General Magic, and visionary of the original device.
  • Megan Smith – became CTO of US, and VP at Google.
  • Andy Hertzfeld – member of original Macintosh team, also co-created Google Circles.
  • Joanna Hoffman – another member of original Macintosh team.
  • John Sculley – former Apple CEO, also launched the Newton to compete with Genral Magic.
  • Kevin Lynch – former CTO of Adobe, creator of Dreamweaver, VP of technology at Apple.

Huge thanks to Emma Sinclair for arranging a screening of this movie, and to Sarah Kerruish and Steve Jarrett for the fascinating Q&A after the movie.

If you're interested in the history of computing, you want to see a wealth of on-the-ground footage from one of the most influencial teams of people in technology, or you just want to be inspired by the willpower and hard work of an incredibly smart group of people, you have to watch this movie.

Learn more about General Magic the movie

Give praise

It’s so easy to take the hard work of others in your team for granted – to just expect people to do great work day in day out.

It’s also so easy for good deeds to go unnoticed, and to simply say “thanks” and move on with your day.

But think about the last time someone specifically spoke to you to tell you how much they appreciated something you did. It felt good, didn't it?

Being aware of what you think and what you actually express to others will likely cause you to realise that others around you aren’t aware of how much you appreciate them.

At GoSquared, for a long time we’ve put specific time aside each week to share thanks and praise within the team.

Every Friday it’s the best way to start the weekend – knowing others on the team appreciated something you did.

Next time you’re wondering whether or not to call someone out to thank them in front of the team, don’t wait, don’t hesitate, just do it.

Be your own customer

It’s so easy to think you know what your customer experience is like.

Whether you sell a piece of software, you run a government department, or you’re putting on an event, it’s all too easy to think you’ve catered to your customer’s needs.

But we are all customers. And we know how many businesses don’t cater to our needs.

Today I had to go to the passport office in London.

I had an email to the head to the apartment office – it told me I had an appointment to collect my passport at a specific time, and to get there no earlier than 10 minutes before my appointment, and obviously no later.

But upon arrival, I found there were two entrances – one for “appointments” and one for “collections”. Where does one go for an appointment to collect their passport? For those waiting in suspense, the answer, apparently, is collections.

The whole situation made me realise – it’s so obvious in my shoes how this could be improved. But within the organisation – especially one as complex as the UK passport office – I assume nothing is obvious or easy.

I would imagine very few people speak to each other between departments, and I would imagine it’s a rarity that anyone who can impact the situation ever experiences the flow from a customer’s perspective.

The same concept applies to almost every business – at your event, is the agenda clear upon arrival? In your cafe, is it clear where the restroom is? In your restaurant, do you sit at a table or wait to be seated? When you sign up for your software product, is it clear what you should do first to get value?

It’s not hard to know what your customer experience is like, but it’s very easy to think you know it.

Try being your own customer today and see what you find – you’ll be glad you did!

Over-communication

Within a team – whether you’re five people or 500 – bad communication is often the top reason for things to fall apart.

If you can communicate better you can operate better.

But it’s extremely easy to under-communicate. To assume that everyone knows the plan, everyone knows the reason we exist, everyone knows the pricing, everyone knows the roadmap, everyone knows the mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learnt from them.

But in reality, most people on the team don’t know the same information. They probably have far fewer things clear in their heads.

If you’re in a position of leadership then you’re probably in a position of immense power to communicate more, and to communicate better, with your team.

I’ve made this mistake too many times – to assume everyone “gets it”. To not repeat what you feel is already obvious.

But what you think is obvious as a leader may be clear as mud to some on your team – especially if they’ve just joined your company.

Communicate the big and important stuff clearly. Communicate frequently. Then make it clearer. And then communicate it again some more.

Communicate the same thing over and over and over until it’s painful to repeat it again.

It’s extremely hard to over-communicate as a leader. And the risks of under-communicating far outweighs the risks of over-communicating.

Obey the rules or exceed the rules

I had an encounter with a business the other day where I felt frustrated by their marketing approach.

They sent me snail mail without my consent, and even had the misfortune to send their mass mailing out with a typo in the headline.

I messaged them to tell them about the typo but also to politely ask them not to send me such mail in the future. Aside from being mail I didn’t want, I thought it was against the GDPR ruling we’ve had in Europe for over a year now.

Apparently their approach was still legally compliant with GDPR, and they have no intention of changing it.

But it made me realise – some individuals, and some businesses choose to scrape by and meet the rules.

While some people and some businesses think the rules don’t go far enough – they choose to set the example, and enforce a higher standard than the laws ever could.

Some rules are there to be broken, but some rules and laws are there to protect customers, society, the environment, and more. Those kinds of rules can be obeyed, or they can be exceeded by each of us.

The companies that exceed the rules, tend to exceed customer expectations. And those companies have a bright future.

The customer is right

Not every customer has the same problem, the same opinion, or the same reason to buy from you.

But if they’re your customer, they’re yours to keep. Or to lose.

You lose a customer by taking their money, and moving on to the next customer. You lose a customer not through actively annoying them, but through neglect.

You keep a customer by listening. By seeking their feedback. By understanding them. And then by acting. By making your product or your service better for them based on their needs.

If you can keep that feedback loop frequent and efficient, it’s hard to go wrong.

Just don’t stop seeking feedback, and don’t start thinking you know better than your customer. They’re usually right.

Giving and receiving feedback

When was the last time you gave someone you work with feedback that was more than just “nice one!” or “great!”?

If you don’t give direct, constructive, helpful feedback you’re doing your team a disservice.

It’s so much easier to keep your thoughts to yourself – to hold it in and move on with your day, or to try to do the task yourself next time. But neither of these options help you build a great team, and neither of these options help the individual who needs the feedback most.

Two sides of feedback

There are two sides to feedback – the giving and the receiving.

Something we are always working to infuse within the team at GoSquared is a shared understanding of why feedback is so important – it enables each of us to improve and be the best we can be.

The following talk from Kim Scott on Radical Candor is a helpful step in the right direction for understanding why feedback is important and how you can encourage everyone on your team to get better at giving and receiving it.

https://youtu.be/MIh_992Nfes

If you can sell one, you can sell two...

My sister recently started her own business – selling beautiful, handmade, refillable candles.

I'm incredibly proud of her achievements so far, and I can't wait to see where her business goes next.

The whole process has been a huge learning curve for me though – having run GoSquared for so many years, it's refreshing to see a business from inception again.

One key misperception I see with founders just starting out, is that they hold too much back for too long – they wait until everything's perfect before sharing their creation with the world. They believe there will be a sudden influx of customers that will buy their perfect product the moment they launch.

Even for established businesses, having a queue of willing customers is a challenge – for a fresh new enterprise, it's as good as impossible.

Don't hope or even plan for the flood of customers. Time spent planning for that is time you could spend elsewhere.

Stop perfecting.

Just sell one thing to one customer.

Then do it again.

And then again.

You have to start one by one. You'll learn a lot this way, and you'll be making progress each and every day.

If you can sell one candle, you can sell two. And if you can sell two you can sell many, many more.

For the record

Meetings changed recently at GoSquared.

They got quicker.

They got clearer.

They started more promptly.

The need to be in every meeting reduced.

And the amount of “he said she said” reduced to zero.

What happened?


We started recording meetings.

At first, it was an alarming change – it felt weird.

Was it a step towards overbearing surveillance? Could this be used against me in the future? We all had concerns when starting out.

But a few months in, and the results have been undeniable.

The inspiration came from learning of Ray Dalio’s approach to running Bridgewater Associates. At Bridgewater every meeting is recorded, and direct, clear, honest feedback is strongly encouraged.

As with Bridgewater, recording meetings is part of a wider understanding across the team that we want to grow as individuals and as a team, and if we don’t hold each other to a high standard then we’re letting everyone down.

Now every individual in a meeting is aware that anyone else in the business has the opportunity to listen at a later date. It encourages everyone to bring their best to every meeting.

Why do we do it?

The key reasons we started to record meetings:

  • If someone can’t be present and wants extra detail on why a decision was made or how an idea came to be, there’s a place to understand that.
  • So anyone in the meeting can reflect on their own performance – just as a sports team reviews their performance after a game, it gives us a chance to review our own performance.

How do we record meetings?

There’s nothing complex:

  1. Start the meeting.
  2. Remind everyone the meeting is about to be recorded. If someone isn’t OK with it they can veto the recording any time. Consent is required.
  3. Open the Voice Memos app on your phone.
  4. Hit Record.
  5. Remember to hit Stop at the end of the meeting.

To be clear, we don’t record absolutely every internal meeting – private one-to-one catchup conversations with the team and similar situations where discretion is critical are not recorded.

Customer conversations are a different ballgame entirely. There's a huge benefit to recording conversations with customers and potential customers. The emphasis on consent is even greater here, and is a topic for another day.

It’s worth noting that we’ve evolved how meetings are run at GoSquared a heck of a lot over the years. Those learnings are also for another post – stay tuned.

I hope this is helpful, and reach out to me on Twitter if you have questions about our approach.

Don’t change your birthday on Twitter

On Friday I changed the birthday on the @GoSquared Twitter account.

It was set to 3rd February 1991. Correct date, wrong year. I thought “🧐 that looks odd” so changed the year to 2006 – the actual year we legally started the business (unlike 1991 which was the year I was born).

I received a warning saying “you can only change this a few times” – in itself a poorly worded error. Why can I only change it a few times, and what definition of “a few” are you going by, Twitter?

Either way, I thought this would all be fine. After all, why would I need to change the date again after this? So I went ahead and confirmed.

“Your account is locked.”
Your account is locked

This was literally the next thing I saw. A blank screen with one link to a support doc. No buttons or options to undo the change, or change the date again.

What did this change cause?

  • It locked everyone out of the @GoSquared Twitter account – you cant read the timeline, you can’t post, you can’t do anything.
  • It instantly hid our profile so it didn’t exist publicly – we didn't show up in search results, and if you went directly to the profile it just told you it didn't exist.
  • It paused our active Twitter Ads running – of which we spend a not-insubstantial amount of money on every month.
  • It cut our access to all related Twitter tools including the Twitter Analytics product.
  • Any Tweets mentions or quoting our own Tweets showed a lovely “This Tweet is unavailable” message.

We were deleted from Twitter.

All this, despite being an active user of Twitter since February 2008 with over 6,000 followers, being a verified Twitter account, and an active paying customer of Twitter Ads having spent many many thousands of dollars over several years.

To make matters worse, the issue arose at around 10:30am London time. I immediately took their recommended action of uploading a scan of my ID, and also submitted a support ticket to Twitter Support. I also reached out to the Twitter Business team via an email address they shared in previous communications. A number of people also mentioned @Twitter, @TwitterUK, @verified, and @TwitterSupport in various tweets to try to drive attention of the issue. We even reached out to any contacts we had at Twitter. But nothing.

Nothing until 8:30pm, and only after calling in a favour from a couple of very helpful people: @KeaneJoel and @Jonah.

I’m not writing about this to moan, I’m writing about this with the hope that no one else goes through the same stressful ordeal.

Don’t change your birthday on Twitter.

Twitter – you have got to improve on so many fronts here:

  • This is very nearly the most destructive action one can take on their Twitter account. You have to make that clearer to the user at the point they are making the change.
  • Is there any such

What can you be the best in the world at?

And what can you not?

In a recent chat with a good friend of mine, we discussed the fantastic book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. The key focus for us was assessing what you’re great at, and what you’re merely good at.

We took some time to each go through areas of our businesses, asking each other where we believed we could truly be “best in the world”.

At first, my desire was to say "yes" to multiple suggestions – "sure, yeah we can be the best in the world at that!", and "yeah, we can be the best in the world at that too!"

But you can't be the best in the world at many things* – and the more "things" you try to be the best in the world at, the lower your chances of being best at any of them.

To build a world-class, truly successful business, choose what you want to be the best in the world at. And stop spreading your energy thinly across the stuff you're merely "good" at.

* We focused primarily on features and product areas when discussing what we were great or not great at. On reflection, I think it'd be more useful to focus on the customer-focused solutions and use cases – or the "jobs" your product is hired for – than the features themselves here. Focusing too much on a specific feature can lead you down a narrow and dangerous path and ignore the true requirements and desires of the customer.

What Starbucks can teach us about consumer behaviour

“A tall skinny macchiato with syrup and 4 shots please.”

On a recent visit to Starbucks I spent some time watching and listening as customers flowed in, collected their drinks, and left to head to their busy work days ahead.

One gentleman walked in and if I had to guess I’d have put him as a standard cappuccino kinda guy. But I was wrong – instead he asked for a tall skinny macchiato with syrup and 4 shots.

I always enjoy people watching, but after hearing a few orders – even within the rush hour in the centre of London in a coffee shop – something blindingly obvious struck me: people can be so very different from each other.

It’s pretty obvious when you think of anywhere that has a menu as extensive as Starbucks, but it made me reflect on assumptions we often make throughout the day when running a business.

It’s easy to think people are “like you”. And it’s easy to think “no one would do that!” Or “why would anyone ever ever want that?!”

Figuring out what people want doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hold a bunch of user groups or feedback sessions or do extensive research.

Sometimes all you need is a reminder – get out of the building and just watch the world go by for 10 minutes.

Starbucks is a great place to observe consumer behaviour in all its wonder.