Startups without a product are always asking me to sign a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), and everytime I think about refusing. It just seems misguided. There is a time and a place for an NDA but starting a company is not one of them. I realize lawyers are advising their clients to play it safe. This is poor advice, it does not holistically help your company succeed. Lawyers are focused on protecting you. They are not focused on building a great team, marketing to the masses, and building buzz around your company and product.
When you are starting a company you want everyone in the world to know about your product and service. Marketing is expensive and time consuming. Why not get the ball rolling? Why not tell everyone in the world what you are doing? The sooner possible customers, partners, and employees start to engage with your company and get energized, the better.
Most people think they are protecting some great idea. I would guess 99% of all ideas have already been thought of by someone else and someone is already working on it. If your idea is so powerful you should be filing a patent to protect it, not NDAs. It is about how you execute. It is about the million decisions you make day in and day out that leads to the special DNA of your company and your product.
Again, if your idea is so special, go apply for a patent. In all other cases start focusing on how you are going to build a great company with great products. Rather than hiding behind NDAs, stand on the tallest mountain you can find and tell everyone about how you are going to change everything with your company. Rally the troops and start building!
In a world where building the next social network or some random deal site is the hot thing to do, why on earth would a company choose to build an accounting system? Has accounting even changed in the last 100 years? Before I can explain how Skyclerk came to be, I should give some personal history.
I am a fourth-generation entrepreneur. As a kid, I watched my father keep his books by hand, using nothing more than pencil and paper. I watched him spend hours every day to keep track of the financials. He would wake up early, stay up late, or work all weekend long just to stay organized. By watching him, I personally witnessed how time consuming and labor intensive it is to run a small business.
Intuit to the rescue? I do not think so!
Finally, Quicken / QuickBooks was born. This seemed like such a game changer for my dad’s free time. But I’m afraid in terms of time, it never saved him much – it just created a brand new list of challenges: installing the software, keeping backups, figuring out all the advanced features, data entry, and so on. Life seemed easier but my father was still spending the same amount of time doing his books.
Now fast forward to 1998, when I started my first company. Just like my father, I had to keep books. I did what most business owners do: I purchased QuickBooks, installed it on my computer, and spent my nights doing bookkeeping. Every bookkeeping session just seemed more and more painful. The software was too complex, it never did what I wanted it to do, and input just took forever. I kept thinking the same thing over and over – there had to be a better way.
Taking Matters Into My Own Hands
In early 2004 I finally snapped. I had to build my own bookkeeping system. I had to speed up the process of accounting so I could focus on growing my company, not taking care of the books. Skyclerk was born from my frustration with the existing systems and my determination to find an alternative. From 2004 to 2010, Skyclerk was nothing more than an internal tool that I kept enhancing to make better and better.
It took a while to realize, but in late 2007 I finally concluded that if I hated other accounting systems, other people must too. Why not offer Skyclerk to other business owners? I have shaved hours and hours of bookkeeping time from my life. Time is too valuable. Why not share with the world?
Now people around the globe use Skyclerk. Accounting may never be “hot,” but Skyclerk is a valuable tool that saves people time so they can build their businesses, enjoy their families, or even browse their social networks.
The moral of my story, and Skyclerk’s story: Don’t just settle. There is always a better way.
I hear the term “It’s business” over and over again. It seems to be this universal way of saying “I know I am doing the wrong thing but I can justify it because it makes my company more profitable”. It seems to be a crappy way of saying loyalty is not relevant in the business world. In my world loyalty has a higher currency than “it’s business”. To me “it’s business” is short term and loyalty is long term.
Let’s first define loyalty. Loyalty can be found in many different forms. Personal relationships are just one example. Loyalty is much deeper. An employee can be loyal to a company or its mission. A vendor can be loyal to a customer. A company can be loyal to a supplier, and so on. It is easier to talk about loyalty in terms of people and their actions, so I will stick with these examples, but organizations as a whole can be loyal to each other.
Loyalty is about being 100% dedicated. I don’t mean by this that your entire life is consumed by the relationship. I mean that you are always going to do your best work when in a loyal relationship. You are always going to prioritize based on loyalty. You are not going to jump ship for a brighter future when you are truly loyal. You are going to continue to think about how you can make the loyal relationship stronger via continued growth.
A great example of loyalty is Sheryl Sandberg COO at Facebook. She has made her money at Facebook. She could move on to bigger and better things. It is publicly known she has been offered many CEO jobs. It appears she is loyal to Facebook. She is committed to the mission. She is not going to leave a company that has been so good to her. Loyalty is going to vend off temptation. Maybe she will jump ship someday, but it does not seem to be something she is going to do anytime soon. I am sure Mark and the Facebook board recognize this and are giving her the same level of loyalty back.
Loyalty has always been very important to me. Something I have learned over the years is you can’t force it. Everyone has their own level of loyalty. Just because you feel loyal to a person it does not mean you can expect it back. True loyalty is not something that just happens. As a manager, as a friend, as a husband, when loyally binds it is truly a magical thing and the long term dividends will be big.
The story I am about to tell happens almost monthly.
I needed to add some complex functionality to a project I was working on. I did what any good programmer would do and searched the web for a library that already did what I needed. I found a great library and got to work. I was really excited this library was going to save me hours and hours of time (in the end it still did). As I was moving forward I discovered some bugs in the library. I was hoping to just be able to make a few fixes and continue on. After diving into the library I found the code very hard to read. By many standards the code was pretty well written, but you really had to go through the code with a fine tooth comb. You could not just easily skim the code and figure out what was going on. Functions were very cryptic and variables were short in nature and not very descriptive.
I get it. Programmers do not like to type. Saving keystrokes saves on finger pain. Again, I get it. We all learned that a line of code should never be longer than 80 chars long (well that was when monitors had tubes).
Everytime I find a library just like the one I mentioned above I end up just rewriting it. At the end of the day the logic is nearly the same. I have just written the code to be more descriptive and easy to understand. I like code to read like a book. You can quickly skim the code and understand what is going on. I also like my code to look pretty. If you printed it out and hung it on the wall it would be pleasing. I find code starts to look like crap when people wrap too many lines, or add too much logic without a few comments to break it up. There should be some symmetry to code.
Love me or hate me for it, I am going to continue to write very long descriptive functions, clearly define my variables, crazy long database column names, and add some sexxy curves of symmetry to my code. Oh, I almost forgot, don’t give me crap about code bloat and performance. There are always bigger performance fish to fry.
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People say business is cut throat. It is a snake or be snaked world. If you run a business you are in a dark silo where it is you against the world. As far as I’m concerned, these are just strong statements that get thrown out into the wild to get people’s attention. Companies like Wildbit are proof this is simply not true. Wildbit, the makers of Beanstalkapp and Postmark, are working hard to help out fellow bootstrapped companies.
The team at Wildbit knows how hard it is to grow a company without piles of cash in the bank. To help bootstrapped companies they are willing to give away extra services for free (contact Wildbit for more information). Wildbit is also building a mentoring community called Think Strapped. Think Strapped is “A mentorship community for encouraging sustainable growth in software start ups”. You can learn more about Think Strapped at their website http://thinkstrapped.com.
It is not every day we highlight other companies on our blog, but we was overly compelled to express our gratitude to Wildbit for their support of the bootstrapped community.
Thank you Wildbit.
If you’re a fan of communication, this is a great time to be alive. Between Twitter and Facebook and texting and email and blogs and old-fashioned phone calls, it’s nearly impossible not to be in touch with others.
We love all that stuff, sometimes it can be too much of a good thing. Cliché? Maybe, but also true. We’ve decided to consolidate our feeds, so from now on, here’s where you can find us:
In the near future, you’ll also be able to stay in touch with us via our redesigned website.
Why the change? Mainly, to make things easier – for us and for you.
As we were putting some of the finishing touches on our newest product, we realized we’re trying to communicate on too many channels. We had different accounts for different products, and it was starting to take up a lot of our time to keep up. More importantly, we thought our customers probably had a hard time figuring out the best way to interact with us, too.
When it came to communication feeds, we weren’t being simple or efficient. Which is to say, we weren’t being true to ourselves.
Things feel better now. So please, drop us a line/post/tweet. We may have fewer accounts, but we’re still easy to find, and ready to listen – no matter how you chose to get in touch.
I am currently reading Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen.
First of all, what a great book! Second, the book mentions two explorers on a quest to hike to the South Pole. Each explorer leaves at the same time to try to beat the other to the South Pole. The two journeys have a great deal of parallels to running a business.
One explorer uses amazing focus and discipline and hikes 20 miles a day every day regardless of weather or conditions. He progresses 20 miles a day. Never more never less. The other explorer would sit in his tent on bad days and hike big long days on nice days. One day he might hike zero miles the next day he might hike 40 miles. The first explorer made it to the south pole and back. The other explorer died.
The point is, being disciplined and focused every day (in business) makes for a better outcome. Trying to grow too big too fast is a mistake. Continue on a 20 hike every day. Even if you think you can do more. Even if it is tempting to go faster.
I think in general at Cloudmanic we have maintained a pretty good 20 mile hike, but I am going to be more aware of our pace after reading the above book. Sometimes I get frustrated that we are not moving fast enough. Sometimes I want to add more features or products. Sometimes I want to be all things to all people. Sometimes I want slow down and relax. I think if we stepped on the gas pedal or became complacent we would not build great products. We would get lost on our hike.
I am writing this post after making the decision to kill months of hard work around adding invoicing to Skyclerk. We have decided to scrap everything and start over as the road we were driving down showed not to be the right path. We almost made the decision to finish up what we were working on, launch it, and then make it better over time. Iterative software development is a notion we grasp onto and practice, but then again, our first release should be something we are at least proud of.
The problem is we made a big mistake. We have been telling customers for months invoicing was coming soon. By opening our big mouths and not delivering we are letting our customers down. For that we are sorry!
Keep Our Big Mouth Shut
Last year we made some big mistakes. We exposed our product roadmap with timeframes of when we thought we were going to have things done. This included our mobile apps, invoicing in Skyclerk, and more. Then we were stuck between delivering on our commitments to our customers and building the best darn product we could. I am afraid the product suffered because of the added stress of hitting targets we announced. If we just kept our mouth shut we would have had the freedom to take the time it needs to release when we knew we were ready, not when we felt we had to get something out of the door.
We like to be a transparent company. We like to talk to customers about what we are doing and where we are heading, but more importantly we like to build impressive products and features. We feel we can serve our customers better by delivering something that is “freaking amazing” than giving them an outlook into where we are heading.
I am afraid as of today we will no longer publicly give insights into where we are heading. We will have to keep our product roadmap private. Please disregard any timeframes or roadmap announcements we have made in the past.
Please don’t be afraid to send us your thoughts and comments. While we may no longer respond with “great idea we will start working on it”, we do listen to all our customers, and use as much feedback as we can when building our products and features.
And rest assured, because we do not brag about working on what is important for you, it does not mean we are not doing exactly that.
Over the last year or so Google has rolled out a new consistent look and feel across all their properties. While I am not in love with the design, I am in love with their consistency. One aspect that I think all start-ups should learn is being consistent between the apps and the marketing sites. Every google property has a marketing site that tells you about the application and convinces you to sign-up for it. Every software as a service start-up has the same thing. So many start-ups do not carry the same look and feel all the way through from the marketing site to the application to the mobile app and beyond. Here at Cloudmanic Labs we are guilty as charged.
Most users do not know what a marketing site vs an application site is. Nor do they care. They just want to be able to get what they want when they want it. So when you start with one look and feel and transfer to another look and feel users might think they have left the site. Imagine driving down the road in a desert. All of a sudden, you blink and you open your eyes to find yourself in the middle of a city. You are still driving down the road. You are still fine. However, you would have to take a few moments to process the change.
I think we owe it to our users to focus on a consistent experience across all our properties at Cloudmanic Labs. Users should be able to flow between our sites and apps fluidly without having to recompose when going from one site to another. It might take a while (well over a year) but we are going to start refactoring our properties to be more consistent.
From a young age all the way up through college I was completely addicted to snowboarding. Every day I was not snowboarding felt like the world was coming to an end. I used to be on the first and last lift ride up for the day. I was competing. I was talking to possible sponsors. I was working for the mountain as a snowboard instructor. Sadly, in recent years that drive and passion for the sport have gone away. I visit the mountain less each year. I spend less time at the mountain when I do go.
Today I was reflecting on why I lost the passion. I have become complacent in my snowboarding. I have peaked. I don’t see myself landing more complex tricks as life goes on. I am just going to the mountain to enjoy a nice day. I do not have any goals such as to learn a new trick. There is not something new and exciting for me to conquer. I feel I have mastered snowboarding as much as I ever will.
Clearly, the period in my life where I really wanted to grow and progress in snowboarding is past me. This is ok. I will find new challenges in life.
There is, however, some drawback to losing my passion for snowboarding. I don’t think I will be winning any future competitions. I don’t think sponsors will be knocking on my door. I don’t think mountains will be fighting to hire me. As I am no longer bringing passion and excitement to the table my “return on investment” as a snowboarder has declined. Simply put, my snowboarding career is a declining asset.
The same relationships apply to hiring software engineers. I want to hire a programmer while they are still in the growth period of their career. I want engineers that feel every second they are not programming is a wasted movement. I want to hire engineers that are always challenging themselves to learn something new. After an engineer peaks they are a declining asset; they lose the passion. They stop spending the weekend keeping up on the latest technologies. They stop looking for new and exciting ways to solve problems; they stick to what they know. When the passion and excitement wear off, the employer’s return on investment decreases.
I am not suggesting that every engineer peaks. I think more times than not engineers lose the passion. Everyone is different. Some peak early and some peak later, some don’t peak at all.
Also, I am not suggesting we fire every employee that has already peaked. I’d rather work with a good employee to give them new challenges and to find areas they have not yet mastered, but for which they can use the expertise from the previous years, such as managing a team of programmers. I am, however, suggesting that, when hiring, years of experience can sometimes be a bad thing, even though not always.
To find engineers who will grow with the company, what I look for when I hire is engineers that consider programming a way of life not just a job - just like snowboarding was a way of life for me.