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Goodbye 2016, Hello Bluetick.io

The first and last two weeks of each year tend to be when many people decide to post their “year in review” blog posts and/or publicize their goals for the following year. I decided to instead write a short note to the previous year.

Dear 2016,

You were awful. And not just a little bit. You will not be missed.

Mike Taber

In December, my Mastermind group reviewed our year-end goals and all three of us fell woefully short. It was a combination of personal shortcomings for each of us and as a group, we didn’t have a system in place for holding ourselves accountable to those goals throughout the year.

My Biggest Failing of 2016

Personally, my biggest failing was the new product I started working on in January of last year called Bluetick. I pre-sold it to over a dozen customers(more on that process in the future), charging credit cards along the way to establish solid commitments and to validate the idea. My goal was to get an initial version of the product into the hands of these customers in April, which amounted to roughly four months of development time.

I assumed the role of ‘manager’ and let the team get to work as I tried to coordinate between them and work with my prospective customers to figure out whether we were meeting their needs. My development team was able to get something minimally functional ready by April and we started putting it in the hands of my users by May.

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that it wasn’t anywhere near being ready for serious usage. There were numerous bugs, partially-implemented features and some major design flaws. Within a few months of that initial release, I made the painful decision to let the entire development team go. At that point, I dug into the code base myself and either rewrote or refactored the majority of the application.

Fast forward six months to December and Bluetick is roughly where I wanted it to be last April. I had effectively hit the reset button on the application development. It’s not a decision that I’m happy about. However in retrospect, I wouldn’t have made a different choice.

It sucked, but it was completely my fault.

I could try to sugarcoat it somehow. I could try to place the blame elsewhere but it wouldn’t do any good, nor would it change anything. At the end of the day, my responsibility was to keep the product moving in the right direction but too many things fell apart along the way and for a variety of different reasons.

Some shortcomings were personal failures. Others were bad choices. In any case, the blame for what happened rests solely on my shoulders.

Fortunately, 2016 is in the past and Bluetick is substantially better off today than it was six months ago.

Reset Button… Again

The thing I like most about each new year is the ability to wipe the slate clean and start over. Conceptually, you can make the decision to start over and wipe the slate clean at any time. Psychologically it’s more difficult to do that if you don’t have a mental starting point.

People don’t start going to the gym on a Thursday because it screws up the arbitrary weekly schedule. For most people, this schedule starts on either Sunday or Monday. New Years resolutions are all based around a seemingly arbitrary date, but that arbitrary date is universally rooted in our heads as a “new year” so it tends to work well as a new starting point.

New year. New beginnings. Hit the reset button.

Unfortunately, the reset button fails from time to time. That’s not uncommon. I said as much last year when I hit the reset button. Sometimes it fails immediately. Other times it works for a little while and then sputters out. Software runs perfectly every time but it’s the humans that put bugs in it and by our very nature, we are fallible.

2017 is looking pretty good so far, even if we’re only a week into it. I’ve exercised a few times, written a new blog post, started some new marketing campaigns, gotten up each day at a reasonably decent hour and most importantly: I’ve set an initial launch date for Bluetick for the end of January.

Yes, I mean January of 2017. Damn you engineers and your lousy attention to edge cases and loopholes.

What’s Bluetick?

Bluetick is an email-based sales automation tool. It’s used to systematically follow up with people in your sales funnel in an effort to move them to the next step of the process. It does this by hooking into your mailbox and monitoring for replies to emails which are sent on your behalf.

If the person doesn’t respond to an email, then the system sends the next email in the sequence. These emails are sent directly from you and replies are received directly in your mailbox. The main difference between something like this and an email service provider is that it uses your mail server, not someone else’s, so it really is coming directly from you without any weird “Reply-To” fields.

The other difference is that emails are sequenced to achieve a goal. By default, the goal is for the other person to reply to the email you sent. However using either our API or our recent Zapier integration, that goal can be triggered based on an action in any of more than 700 other applications that Zapier is integrated with.

An Example: Scheduling a meeting

Let’s say that someone fills out a form on your website requesting more information and you capture that information into a CRM or a project management tool that supports tagging people.

Using Zapier, you could configure it to look for a specific tag to be applied to a contact. When this tag is seen, the information could be sent through Zapier to Bluetick, which would then fire off a series of emails to the person with links to your calendar to schedule a meeting.

When your prospect schedules the meeting, Zapier can then send information back to Bluetick telling it that the goal has been reached and it should stop sending emails. Otherwise, Bluetick will keep following up until the person replies to the email, schedules the meeting or the sequence of emails ends.

If the email sequence finishes without a response, Bluetick can send this information into your CRM indicating that the contact never responded to your requests for a meeting. That may be the end of your attempts, but you could optionally build other mechanisms for reaching out to the person.

Bluetick helps you systematically follow up with people so that you don’t have to.

Bluetick.io Limited Public Launch

My initial launch of Bluetick.io is going to be intentionally small. There are a TON of moving parts to the product and it’s substantially more complicated than I thought it was going to be when we first started building it. Fortunately, I have a good engineer helping me with some of the technical pieces and while I expect the infrastructure to hold up well enough, I still want to be cautious in the early days.

The last thing I want to do is have it fall apart because I added too many customers all at once. That would get me more revenue, but the tradeoff would be that I would burn through too many prospective customers before I figure out the best marketing approaches and the friction points in product adoption before I could fix them.

To avoid that problem, the initial launch is going to be limited launch to no more than 20 people beyond the current people who’ve placed preorders. I’ve talked it over with a few people and this has a number of advantages. First, it allows me to ease into adding stress to the back end of the application. At the same time, it gives me time to fix bugs, implement new features, provide good customer support and help to onboard users into the application.

If I do too much too quickly, that wouldn’t be possible. I’d rather be slow and methodical while staying on the path than to go too fast too quickly and careen out of control. There’s something to be said for moving quickly, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your current customers.

Once I’ve onboarded the initial batch of customers and gathered more information, I’ll then be in a better position to determine what the priorities are moving forward and when we can schedule the next batch of customers.

It seems like a reasonable plan. Let’s hope it survives contact with the enemy.

Interested in learning more about Bluetick? Head over to the website. There’s a free, 5-part email course on how to automate your followups.


6 Steps for Implementing Marketing Monday

Are you a technical entrepreneur or a developer who likes the idea of building your own software company? If so, chances are good that you enjoy writing software but hate the idea of marketing. It’s not your fault. Like sales, marketing carries connotations of being a sleaze-infested cesspool of rotten people and you probably don’t want any part of that.

I don’t blame you. I used to be a lot like that. In some cases, I still am. For example I refuse to be an affiliate for or promote products that I don’t believe in. I won’t intentionally email people after they’ve unsubscribed from one of my mailing lists. If we’re discussing working together and what I’m offering isn’t something that I think you’re going to benefit from, I’ll tell you straight up that it’s probably not for you. I simply don’t feel comfortable selling a product to someone that isn’t going to be a good fit.

For me, most of this boils down to basic honesty and a sense of human decency. I won’t sacrifice my moral compass in an effort to make a few extra dollars. It’s just not worth it.

But if you’re anything like me, you probably spend a lot of time on the internet. Between your desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone, you’re probably online more often than not when you’re awake. And as such, you see some dark corners of the internet that are downright ugly. You know what I’m talking about. My Spam folder has thousands of emails in it. I remember a time when I might get one or two each week. Now I get more than 50/day and that’s on an extremely slow day.

The shady side of marketing is why developers shy away from marketing. They don’t want to be put into the same bucket as sleazy marketers and salespeople and developers tend to be inundated with the amount of sleaze they see on a regular basis. A good product should sell itself, right? There are lots of good products and services out there like DropBox or Airbnb that aren’t all up in your face. You might think: “They sell themselves and don’t do any marketing!”

Just because someone isn’t overly pushy about their product doesn’t mean that they don’t do any marketing. It’s a matter of how overt they are about their efforts and how much you recognize it as marketing.

The core of DropBox’s marketing efforts in their early stages were to allow you to get more disk space by sharing it with your friends. They engineered a viral program to an astonishing efficiency. Those words are very deliberate… they engineered that marketing effort.

Airbnb leveraged the audience of Craigslist to grow quickly. Some people look at it in retrospect and believe it was a bit further than they would have been willing to go, but its users didn’t notice, nor did they really care.

Both of these are prime examples of doing marketing in a way that’s closer to the middle of the road rather than either end of the spectrum. Let’s talk about that.

At one end of the spectrum, you have Super Sleazy Steve. He’ll sell anything to anyone and do whatever it takes to make that sale. At the other end, you have Zero Marketing Joe who wants to stay as far away from Sleazy Steve as possible. Self promotion of any kind is unthinkable.

Unfortunately, Zero Marketing Joe launches a product, nobody hears about it and then he has to go get a full-time job because he can’t pay his bills.

Poor Joe.

What Joe really needed to do was be a bit more reasonable and set aside some time to do some smart marketing. That’s where Marketing Monday comes in.

What is Marketing Monday?

Let me state for the record right now that the idea of Marketing Monday isn’t mine. I first heard about it at MicroConf several years ago and repurposed the phrase in one of my talks the following year to indicate a day of the week that you do nothing but marketing for your business.

As developers, we have a predilection for wanting to write code at the expense of all other tasks because we feel comfortable doing it. Writing code is enjoyable for many reasons. We get to see our changes almost immediately so our feedback loop on whether something is working is super-short. We get to be creative and solve hard problems. And we get to focus on stuff that makes sense to us and is interesting.

But it’s the first thing that’s really appealing about writing code. Getting feedback on what we’ve done is often no more than a compile or browser refresh away. This satisfies our ever growing need for immediate gratification and if we’re honest with ourselves, we really need that.

As a society, we’ve become accustomed to everything being made better over time. From smartphones to internet bandwidth, if you can make it better, do it. And so we’ve become accustomed to really short iteration loops. We crave them because results generate an endorphin rush which becomes addictive.

The downside to this is that when you’re doing marketing, it takes radically longer to get that feedback. You can get that feedback immediately when you’re writing an article by looking at what you just wrote. But what about promoting the article? How many shares did posting it to Reddit get you? How many people visited it from your email list?

It’s frustrating to do those activities and see no quantifiable results for days or even weeks after the fact. The effectiveness of an article you write isn’t measured by how well you write so much as how many people see it. Most of your efforts should be spent doing promotion, yet without the immediate feedback it’s difficult to motivate yourself to spend that time doing promotion. Not to mention the feeling that you’re being sleazy when you self-promote.

Marketing Monday Alleviates Open Loop Feedback

Looking at traffic stats from one day to the next for most entrepreneurs doesn’t help you make decisions because those statistics on a day over day basis are generally meaningless. They can fluctuate wildly from one day to the next. I would challenge you to find a B2B company whose internet traffic isn’t generally high Monday through Friday and then significantly lower on the weekends. I know they’re out there, but most small B2B companies are open five days per week and their website traffic reflects the days of the week that their target customer base is working.

Comparing Thursday’s traffic to Wednesday’s traffic means very little. But comparing Wednesday’s traffic to the previous Wednesday can show a growth pattern. And comparing the last several weeks of traffic together is even more meaningful than that.

Marketing Monday helps to alleviate the pain of open ended feedback loops because it forces you to consider the effects of your efforts over a block of time. By considering these effects at only one point during the week, you eliminate the mental anguish caused by looking at your key performance indicators in the middle of a cycle. If you use Marketing Monday, then you’ve arbitrarily chosen one week for that cycle.

You could just as easily choose the 1st of each month or the 15th. But by choosing a single day of each week, you accomplish several other objectives simultaneously.

Marketing Monday Blocks Off Dedicated Marketing Time

When you set aside a specific block of time for marketing efforts, you’ve artificially created a scenario where you will perform some level of marketing activities each week. Marketing is a constantly evolving problem that requires regular maintenance. More about that later but for some of us, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. Personally, I’m not a fan of routine maintenance.

Most of us prefer code. Code doesn’t rust. You write it once and if it works, you don’t need to touch it again until something externally breaks it or the user requirements change. Code just runs over and over again and so long as it isn’t negatively impacting anything else, it’s fine the way it is.

With marketing, you need to be constantly measuring, experimenting and doing different tasks to keep on course. Marketing is a little bit like riding a bike. If you stop pedaling, eventually the bike is going to stop moving. If you’re not constantly making course corrections with the handle bars, you’re going to crash. The bike isn’t going to ride itself. You need to assist the mechanical system to help keep everything under control.

And just like riding a bike, you can can coast for quite a while if everything is going smoothly. You might catch a strong tailwind or go down a hill. A well timed PR piece on your company or product can do wonders for your publicity. But as with riding down a hill, eventually that’s going to end and you will need to keep pedaling. You need to perform those course corrections or your bike will crash.

Additionally, developers going down the path of entrepreneurship have a tendency to code first and do marketing later because marketing is uncomfortable. Setting aside dedicated time to marketing not only ensures that you at least do something, but you will get better at it over time. As you get better, you become more comfortable and the positive impact of those marketing efforts becomes more pronounced.

What Does Marketing Monday Look Like

If you’ve made the decision to set aside a day of the week for marketing, congratulations. You’ve taken the first step away from being Zero Marketing Joe. Now what?

The first thing you will need is a checklist that tells you what to do each Monday. Remember that part of marketing is performing routine maintenance on your marketing efforts to keep them on track. To do that, you need to know where things are at now. Here’s where metrics come into play.

Step 1: Gather Your KPI’s

The first step on your Marketing Monday checklist should be gathering the key performance indicators (KPI’s) for your business. Those KPI’s might be website traffic, email subscribers, trials, sales or a variety of other statistics.

The specific metrics you gather will depend on where you are in your business. If you’re just launching a product, then website visitors, email signups and visitor to email conversion rates will be more relevant. If your business is later stage, then the number of trials per week or the trial to paid conversion rate will be more relevant.

Each of those numbers should be gathered over a set of specific time periods so that you can compare apples to apples. The following time periods make sense as a starting point but again, if your business is in later stages, other time periods may be more appropriate.

– Past 7 days
– Past 14 days
– Past 28 days
– Past 3 months

Step 2: Compare Trends

Now that you have your data, start comparing how well your KPI’s are trending against previous time periods. Now ask yourself two questions about them:

  1. Are they moving in the right direction?
  2. Is it a meaningful difference?

Obviously if the numbers are going in the wrong direction, you have a problem. A more subtle problem is whether or not the numbers are showing a meaningful difference. This is partly based on percentages and partly based on gut-feel.

For example if you have 100 website visitors one week and 125 the next, it’s moving in the right direction and raw percentage-wise is a 25% growth rate. That sounds promising. But do a gut check. Is adding 25 website visitors week over week really meaningful? It’s not. You can get thousands or even tens of thousands of visitors in a single day if you post a relevant link in the right place.

If you multiplied everything by 100 and increased from 10,000 visitors one week to 12,500 the next, that would be meaningful. The percentage growth is an important indicator, but the base number must be a meaningful number too.

Speaking of meaningful numbers, look for sudden spikes in your data. These can be either positive or negative spikes and depending on the KPI can be good or bad. You want to know if these spikes were caused by dumb luck or your marketing activities. Try to trace each spike back to its source. You might be able to replicate good effects by doing more of whatever activity caused the spike.

Step 3: Identify Poor Performers

Some of your KPI’s are either underperforming or going in the wrong direction. It should be easy to identify these and treat them as problem areas that need to be addressed. Once you have this list, ask the following:

  1. What explains the behavior of this KPI?
  2. What things can I do to influence the behavior?
  3. Which of those things will have the most impact and take the least amount of work?

Step 4: Identify Top Performers

Any of your KPI’s which are performing well for this time period should be analyzed and have an explanation applied to them. If you can attribute their performance to your activities from previous weeks, that’s fantastic. You most likely need to do more of those activities, especially if your KPI’s are performing much better than anticipated.

If you can’t explain it adequately, then either it was a fluke that you probably can’t replicate or you need more data to identify what happened. It’s not likely to be obvious from your KPI’s alone what caused the trend you’re seeing so you’ll need to dig a bit. The KPI is going to dictate where you look. If the KPI has to do with website visitors, then digging in your Google Analytics account is appropriate. If the KPI has to do with paid acquisition, then your paid acquisition channel is the place to start looking for answers.

When searching for answers, be careful that you don’t get stuck going down a rabbit hole. Find the answer to the cause of your KPI trend and move on. Don’t get distracted by “interesting, but non-relevant” data points.

Step 5: Reinforce and Execute

Now that you’ve identified what’s working, what’s not and the causes of the trends you’re seeing, you need to execute on your marketing activities. Many times, it’s appropriate to double down on the things that are working and abandon the things that aren’t. If you’re going to abandon a marketing strategy, make sure that you’ve given it enough time to work.

Something like paid acquisition should yield immediate results, while content marketing or SEO could take months to see any noticeable effect. The point is that abandoning a marketing strategy should be a conscious and calculated decision, rather than something you stop iterating on because you are afraid isn’t working. If you’re unsure of what to do, run it by a colleague or a mastermind group the next time you meet. Those people are there to help you.

Most marketing activities are a result of continuous repetition. Posting new blog posts, link building, adding pages to a website, tweaking or redesigning different content, etc. These are things you simply keep doing more of. Over time, the results compound themselves and become more effective.

Step 6: Sanity Check Your Marketing Strategy

At this point, you’ve validated the data from your KPI’s. You will have analyzed the data to make sure things are working and replaced anything that isn’t. You’re probably close to the end of your time allocated for marketing.

The last step is to look at your KPI’s and consider whether those KPI’s still make sense for you. Are those data points still the most important aspects of your business or should they be replaced?

If something is working well and you’re getting diminishing returns from the tweaks you’re making, perhaps it’s time to move on to something else. The idea is to make the entire system better and if you’re getting 90% efficiency from the second stage of your marketing system but the third stage is only at 5% efficiency, working harder on stage two won’t make stage three any better.

Put stage two on the back burner and make stage three your KPI instead. That doesn’t mean you should stop tracking that data from stage two. It only means that it’s no longer a focal point for Marketing Monday where you’re trying to adjust that number.

Another big mistake that many people make when choosing KPI’s is having too many of them. There’s a difference between tracking a data point and treating it as a point in your marketing system that needs to be adjusted. There’s a lot to be said for having just a single KPI that you’re completely and utterly obsessed with but in many businesses, that’s not realistic. Usually you will have three or four that you’re looking at with one being more important than the others.

Once you get over five or six KPI’s, things get messy. It’s really difficult to make changes in a half dozen places and expect to be able to narrow down exactly what changes caused what results. Don’t try to do too much all at once.

Bonus Step

This bonus step is brought to you by Jacob Thurman of TwoDesk Software.

Keep a journal of everything you do on Marketing Monday. Write down each experiment you start, what you were thinking when you did it, and then later, the outcomes. Spend a little bit of each Marketing Monday going back and re-reading a portion of that journal, so you only have to learn lessons once, and you don’t spend your precious marketing time re-learning or re-deciding something you already figured out months or years ago.

That’s a fantastic addition to this six-step process. The last thing you want to do is have to run an experiment again because you didn’t adequately document the results the first time.

The Goal is to Maintain Your Marketing System

What comes to mind for me when I think of a marketing system is something along the lines of the machines in a manufacturing line you might find in a semi-automated bakery. In a bakery like this, you will have a bunch of raw materials that need to be fed into the machines. Some are materials are refined and ready to be used immediately while others needs to be mixed up or massaged a bit.

If the incoming materials in the bakery are not quality ingredients, you won’t get the results you want. Either the resulting bread is completely unusable or it will be of poor quality. If it’s an intermediate step where the materials from that processing stage need to be fed into the next, the effects will cascade down the manufacturing line. The same is true of your marketing efforts. If your incoming leads are not well qualified, the results of your efforts to turn them into paying customers will be poor. You may see those effects immediately or you might not see them until the end of the line, which could take days or weeks.

In a bakery, you can try to substitute different ingredients that cost more or less and then measure the effects on the final product. The same goes for the leads you gather into your marketing system. The raw materials in your marketing system take the form of blog posts, emails to your mailing list, paid advertisements, the prospects who enter the marketing system and more.

When you think of your marketing efforts as an assembly line with lots of little switches, dials and inputs, suddenly marketing makes a lot more sense. Your job is to fine tune the various inputs and intermediate stages so you can get more performance out of the system. This produces a better system and ultimately a better business. However to accomplish that, you need to spend the time maintaining the system.

Use Marketing Monday perform regularly scheduled maintenance on your marketing system. Click To Tweet

Hitting the Reset Button

Ahhh, the first week of the new year. It’s the time we get to hit the reset button on the previous year, forgetting all of the commitments and lies we told ourselves a year ago. Many of us will excitedly proclaim “This year will be different! I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to get in shape and I’m going to launch product XYZ!”

This initial excitement doesn’t usually last long. Most of us last more than a week but not even half of us make it to mid-year. A mere 8% of us are able to make it to the end of the year and claim those goals as having been reached. That’s a pretty abysmal failure rate. But we all do it to some extent and the question of how this comes to pass bears some discussion.

Reflecting on 2015

I set aside some time in December specifically to reflect on my accomplishments for the past year. My most notable accomplishment was publishing The Single Founder Handbook. I was and still am proud of this accomplishment. It’s the single longest piece I’ve ever written and while I know that I’m biased in saying it’s a good book, plenty of other people have said the same thing. It’s the book that I would have wanted to read before I started down the path of being an entrepreneur a full decade ago. Some of the topics I wrote about, I learned from other people. Unfortunately many others were ones I learned from hard experiences. In some ways, I wish I hadn’t had to run into them myself, but at the same time, I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not encountered some of those challenges.

On the other extreme of the spectrum, this was also the year that I made the painful decision to stop working on AuditShark. This was a product I had dedicated the better part of the last several years to building and after extensive consideration, I felt that it was best to move on. I wanted something where I would be more successful faster and AuditShark just wasn’t going to do that for me. It was more of a situation of “maybe eventually successful” at something that was ridiculously difficult. But I had to be honest with myself about where things were at and what was realistic. You don’t get extra points for succeeding at something that’s ridiculously successful.

This particular decision involved far more personal turmoil than I’ve commonly experienced in the past. You can listen to the podcast episode where Rob Walling and I discussed this decision here, but I won’t bore you with the details of it today. That’s not the point of this post. I’ll give a post mortem on it some other time but suffice it to say, it wasn’t easy to let go.

Why do we set annual goals?

Vast numbers of people set annual goals at the start of each year because it’s an opportunity to hit the reset button on a part of our lives that we’re not happy with. We want these changes to happen but the undertaking for each one is big enough that it feels like there should be a line in the sand to mark the starting point. Nobody starts a new workout routine on a Thursday. It doesn’t make any real difference in the long run, but it “feels” better to start on a Sunday or Monday.

Similarly, the beginning of the new year feels like a good time to set goals so we have a concrete and memorable starting point from which to measure all of our progress each year.

For most “normal people”, these goals tend to be personal or career focused. These types of goals include things like getting into shape, losing weight, looking for a new job, finding that special someone, a new hobby or taking more vacations.

For the insane people entrepreneurs among us, the new year is a chance to do better than we have in the past. The new year is an opportunity to move past some of our prior failings and shortcomings so that we can build a better future for ourselves and for our families. Our goals tend to be more business oriented. These goals might include growing a mailing list by 100%, increasing revenue by 20%, quitting your day job or even just making an extra $1k/month on the side.

Very few people set goals that are completely and utterly unattainable. And yet, each year so many of us fail to reach what should otherwise be reasonable goals that countless articles are written about it. This begs the question…

Why do we fail at meeting our goals?

Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich points out three reasons in particular.

Here’s why New Year’s resolutions fail:

  • They’re unspecific. We say “I want to get healthy this year” but when faced with the birthday parties in March, the overtime in June, and the family vacation in August, that goal falls by the wayside.
  • They’re unrealistic. “I want to go the gym 5x/week.” Really? You averaged twice a month last year. Setting unrealistic, highly aspirational goals is a quick way to guilt and failure.
  • They’re based on willpower, not systems. We say, “I want to walk more” instead of parking our car 10 minutes away. We say, “I want to stop messing around and go to sleep earlier” instead of testing different ways of falling asleep (like leaving our laptop in the other room, unplugging our TV, quietly covering our partner’s face with a pillow, etc). Hey, it’s a test.

It’s difficult to take serious issue with any of the reasons that Ramit lays out. Oh, you can certainly nitpick at them but calling them flat out wrong is rather difficult. As an example of nitpicking, an unrealistic goal of going to the gym 5x/week is totally doable. Last December, I made it to the gym 6x/week for nearly the entire month. Unfortunately, I tore something in my shoulder which ended my workouts a few days early but I didn’t stop early due to lack of motivation or any personal shortcomings. I was able to manage going to the gym every day because I had a good motivation system in place for getting there.

What was that you ask? I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but one of my fatal flaws is that I have something of a “prove you wrong” streak and on this particular occasion my wife had said “I don’t think you can do it”. More on that some other time, for sure.

There are ways to do accomplish just about anything if you put your mind to it, even if it might seem on the surface to be unrealistic based on historical performance. Which again begs the question: Why do many people regularly fail to meet some of their annual goals?

There are many factors involved but if you study extremely successful people to identify the secret to their continued success, whatever their “field” might be, you’ll find the same thing over and over. If you study a marathon runner to understand how they’re able to compete in so many marathons, you’ll find that they run a lot. If you study a professional musician in an A-list band and analyze how they became successful, you’ll find that they practice playing music a lot. If you study a professional programmer, you’ll find that they write a lot of code and build a lot of side projects.

Consistent progress towards a goal is one of the key differences between people who are successful and people who aren’t. Knowing this is a key data point but it doesn’t help people to make consistent progress. After all, not everyone is born a marathon runner. And therein lies the problem.

The key to making consistent progress boils down to your motivation to do the work Click To Tweet This is an extremely subtle difference. I might really want to be a rockstar but if I don’t enjoy practicing, then what I’m really looking for is the benefits of being a rockstar without any of the work required to get there. Motivation to do the work generally distills down to enjoyment of the work itself.

You Must Enjoy the Journey

Consider the marathon runner. She runs because she enjoys it. The musician plays his instrument because he enjoys playing. The software developer doesn’t need encouragement to write code because to her, it’s fun. I call these things “practice” and successful people don’t need to be motivated to practice. They enjoy practicing for the sake of practicing.

The rest of us see their achievements and believe those achievements to be their goals but that’s not the case. The reality is that what they want is to experience the journey and practice their craft. Their goal is to do what they love and they’re doing it every day. The achievements we recognize are a byproduct of that practice and while they’re a nice perk, those achievements are not the goals in and of themselves.

If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, then a lack of motivation will inevitably follow. Click To Tweet To combat this, people use a variety of systems, accountability partners, personal trainers, weight loss coaches, software tools and depending on the goal, any number of other mechanisms to help motivate them to “practice”. These are band aids to the problem of not enjoying the journey.

The inherent problem with using these band aids is that very few types of goals have a hard-stop at the end. There’s almost always a certain amount of effort required to maintain the results you were originally looking for. If your goal is to lose 25 lbs come hell or high water, you will find ways to motivate yourself to lose the weight.

But if you hate exercising or dieting, once you’ve achieved your goal, then what will happen? Are you going to continue doing the things you hated to keep the weight off? Probably not. It’s far more likely that you’ll scarf down Cheetos on the couch and gain most of it back within six months because after you achieved your goal, you stopped doing the things that got you there. Then you’re right back where you started. It may not happen right away, but the end result of that neglect is inevitable.

Do a Mindset Check

Before you set a goal for yourself, use the 5 Why’s method to help get to the root of what you’re really looking for. Then ask yourself if the activities involved in reaching the goal are ones that you can maintain, even after achieving that goal. If they’re not and your goal requires some level of extended maintenance, then you have a problem and need to make a decision.

Should you:

  • Push through it anyway, knowing it’s going to require a ton of extended effort and several systems to keep you on track?
  • Modify your goal to make it easier?
  • Outsource parts that you don’t enjoy?
  • Pick something else entirely?

None of these options is incorrect. However if you can’t see yourself performing maintenance effort, then chances are good that you either won’t reach your goal at all or you won’t do the work necessary to maintain that level of success afterwards. Either situation is a cause for eventual failure and that failure could very well put you in exactly the same position a year from now.

Before Setting Your Annual Goals

Ask yourself just one question about that goal. Do you want to do the work? Or are you just in love with the benefits of doing the work?


Entrepreneurship often feels like a sliding scale between science and complete guesswork. It’s preferable to be absolutely sure of the result of every action you’re taking. Unfortunately that’s impossible. It would take too long to be sure of every result and it’s not worth testing every possible action.

Therefore, we make a lot of assumptions when the impact of being wrong is small. If the impact of being wrong is large, we often run tests to be confident that we know what’s going to happen.

Risk vs. Negative Impact

This highlights a very important fact about assumptions that most people don’t think about. There’s a difference between the risk of being wrong and the negative impact of being wrong. It’s critical that you’re able to know and recognize the difference.

Let’s start by talking about risk. Most people consider entrepreneurs to be risk takers but the ones I know aren’t. In fact, being an entrepreneur isn’t about taking risk. Being an entrepreneur is about minimizing risk and thereby maximizing the chances of success. As you analyze a course of action, the best way to go about it is to identify what the chances are that specific events will take place or which outcomes may come to pass. You should at least spot-check the risks and impact associated with the assumptions you are making.

Assumptions are ideas that we accept as true without proof. In our everyday life, we make plenty of assumptions, most of which are trivial and the negative effects of our incorrect assumptions are usually limited. For example, I assume that when I get up in the morning, there’s probably going to be coffee, half & half, sugar and a Fiber One protein bar available for me.

Most of the time this is true but when that assumption proves false, the impact is small enough that it doesn’t make a material difference. Sure, it can be annoying to run out of sugar for my coffee. But, I can make small adjustments or go without if I really needed to so the negative impact is minimal. Running out of coffee is worse than running out of sugar, but I tend to keep track of that more than the sugar in an effort to minimize the downside.

Every assumption we make has the potential to be correct or incorrect and there is an impact which will be felt if we’re wrong. If the risk of an assumption being incorrect is high, we tend to gravitate towards running validation experiments before accepting those assumptions as fact. If we don’t verify our assumptions, we are more likely to lose precious time correcting the situation after we discover that we’re wrong. In addition, there’s the added risk that we may spend time and effort trying to correct problems that wouldn’t exist if we had taken the time to validate our underlying assumption.

This is a very subtle, but very important point regarding faulty assumptions.

Faulty Assumptions Increase Negative Impact

Here’s an example. Let’s say you believe that a paid advertising campaign might be effective for increasing revenue and profit for your product. You run a series of experiments to test the idea that paid advertising might be a valid opportunity.

In this case, you’re using science and hard data to help produce the proof which will validate the idea one way or the other. However if you start running paid ads with the intent to keep tweaking things until it works, then you’ve made an implicit assumption that it will work and you just haven’t figured out how yet.

It’s critically important to recognize you’ve made the assumption that paid advertising will work and have intentionally moved on to the next step. Knowing this will prevent you from going down a rabbit hole looking for a solution that can’t be found for any problems you might run into that may simply be the result of a faulty assumption.

If your assumption turns out to be wrong and you didn’t recognize that you made the assumption to begin with, it will take exponentially longer to identify that you have a fundamental problem which stands in your way of success. You’re putting yourself in a position where another marketing channel could get you the results you’re looking for dramatically faster, but you can’t achieve those results because you’re hyper focused on a local maximum rather than the global maximum.

The assumption you’ve made will increase the negative impact felt from being wrong because it will take substantially more time, effort and resources to identify the actual problem and then backtrack to identify a solution.

A rather simplistic example of this is that a customer calls to say their credit card is being declined on your site for a new order. After hunting through your code and the API calls to the credit card processor, you realize that the database server wasn’t running and thus the credit card payment couldn’t be logged in the database. You assumed the database was up and running without even thinking about it. Then you wasted time looking at unrelated aspects of the application.

If you hadn’t assumed the database was up and running to begin with, it would have taken a fraction of the time and effort to fix the problem.

Unquestioned Assumptions Lead to Inaction

So far, we’ve talked about the time and resources you could be wasting because of actions taken based on faulty assumptions. Now let’s talk about how to deal with the opposite problem.

How do we contend with actions we don’t take because of assumptions we’ve made? Furthermore, how do we recognize when we’re making implicit assumptions that discourage us from taking those actions?

The most dangerous assumption is one that we’ve made that we don’t even think to question because we don’t realize that we made that assumption in the first place. Fortunately, there’s an inventive technique you can use to to quickly identify these previously unknown assumptions that prevent you from taking action.

Bear with me here, but we will need to take a quick detour on this path. We’re going to examine three different types of people in three different situations so as to provide a base set of reference examples. Then we’ll come back to the technique and show how it applies to all of them.

Unquestioned Assumptions of the Non-Entrepreneur

For someone who’s never tried to be an entrepreneur, you can identify the assumptions they make quickly by asking one simple question: Why haven’t you started your own business yet? The answers are frighteningly common:

  • I don’t have the time
  • It’s too risky
  • I don’t have any ideas
  • I’m not technical
  • I don’t know how I would find customers
  • I have a good job
  • My spouse would kill me
  • I don’t know what to do
  • I didn’t think it was possible
  • etc

Each of these answers basically says that they’ve never really considered it and don’t have a good reason. There’s no data to back any of it up. There’s a fundamental assumption at work here which says that that they can’t be an entrepreneur. Sometimes, parental expectations are at work while for others, it’s the fear of being different than the people around them or the fear of doing something that they really don’t know much about.

What’s more is that they’re not willing to explore these avenues to find out for sure because they’re afraid. Some people are afraid of failure and thus choose a path they feel is safely outside of their control and shields them from having to make what are viewed as risky decisions. That path is typically the full-time employee.

Keep in mind that just because someone is an employee doesn’t mean they actually WANT to be an entrepreneur. There’s nothing wrong with that path if it’s what someone wants it and actively chooses that path. However, most of us started out on the path of a full-time employee because we accepted an implicit assumption from the people around us that getting a full-time job is what we were supposed to do. Never questioning that path is the assumption we’re challenging here.

Unquestioned Assumptions of the Wannapreneur

What’s less commonly talked about is that many people are afraid of success. This is a common theme in the wannapreneur crowd. They want to build a business and will do a multitude of things that look like and make them feel like they’re building a business.

Unfortunately in the early stages, most of these activities won’t contribute to making the business successful. They go through the motions but never really try to get paying customers. This lets them do seemingly entrepreneurial things, but without the hassles of having customers.

This includes things like:

  • Ordering business cards
  • Designing a company website without a product
  • Getting a business phone
  • Setting up an office
  • Attending meetups
  • Configuring servers
  • Building processes
  • Hiring a VA
  • Optimizing code, infrastructure or engineering efforts

This is a common mistake. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been guilty of most of these at one time or another. After all, it’s hard to be criticized if you don’t actually launch something… unless you take so long building it that people criticize you for not shipping.

When someone pays you real, honest money for a product or service you’ve created, then by definition you’re providing value. That matters more than anything else at this point and is the key driver behind every successful business. If you’re not providing value, you won’t stay in business for very long. Find the fastest way to deliver value and you’ve identified the fastest path to revenue.

The most important questions for people in this situation are these:

  1. What will it take to get your first X paying customers?
  2. What’s stopping you from doing it now?

Unquestioned Assumptions of the Entrepreneur

It would be a mistake to think that once you have multiple paying customers, you have it all figured out. I’ve spoken with plenty of people who don’t do something because they’re afraid it’s going to work. In a way, this is tied to a fear of success but it’s hard to recognize unless you look for one very specific symptom.

Someone objects to a course of action because of the problems that success is going to create.

Sometimes, we try to solve all of those resulting problems first, which seems like we’re working on the business, but in reality, we’ve simply made an assumption that this particular course of action is going to work. That hasn’t been proven yet and this is the root problem for almost everyone, whether you’re just starting out or have a successful business you’ve been running for the last decade.

If you’re trying to solve problems you don’t have yet, then chances are good that you’ve come full circle and are making an assumption that what you’re doing is going to work and that success is going to create other problems.

Let that happen. Don’t solve problems you don’t have because doing so is merely delaying your success. The fact of the matter is that if your assumption is flawed, you might never have to solve those problems at all.

Identifying Your Unquestioned Assumptions

Now that we’ve gone through those three different scenarios, here’s what I want you to do. We’re going to help you identify your own assumptions that you’re not even aware of that you’re making. In order to accomplish that, you need to do two things:

  1. First, write down 3 things that you aren’t doing right now that you probably should be.
  2. Then, for each thing you “should” be doing, write down why you aren’t doing it.

As you write down each reason, it should become clear that there are certain assumptions you’ve made that you’ve never thought to question. Eliminate these assumptions and you’ll find that your roadblocks to success will move out of the way.

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If there’s one thing to be said for a corporate software developer career, it’s that it’s a cushy job. I know this because I’ve had a few of them in my time and done consulting work with a number of corporate software developers.

Don’t get me wrong, you still have deadlines to meet and work to do, but it’s not as if you’re in a constant state of total disarray because you have far too many responsibilities and not enough time in the day to deal with any of them. Corporate developers have something that entrepreneurs don’t and that’s a layer of management over the top of them.

Software developers need time to get their work done and so it helps to not be interrupted every 2 minutes with interruptive requests that suddenly take a higher priority. The managers help keep the distracting stuff out of your way so you can focus on writing code. They attend meetings so you don’t have to. And they talk to everyone in the organization so that you don’t have to. Basically, they insulate you from the rest of the company so you can do what you’re best at which is writing code.

As a result, software development in a corporate environment also tends to be very isolating. You might have a couple of meetings each week with a manager or coworkers to discuss the status of the project you’re working on or chat with someone for a few minutes when you’re getting a cup of coffee but generally speaking, you don’t get out much.

You watch as those “slackers” over in sales and marketing are constantly chatting it up about one thing or another while you hunker down and build the stuff that they’re supposed to be selling. But that’s not even the worst part and most people don’t realize it.

The fact is that corporate developer jobs subtly condition you to fail as an entrepreneur. Click To Tweet

Hear me out on this. Let’s look at the attributes of a corporate job and compare them to the things that as an entrepreneur will help you succeed.

Corporate Developer Entrepreneur
Isolation Social networking with peers
Separation of responsibilities  Jack of all trades
Do one thing very well Constantly learn & work on new things
Write resiliant & tolerant code  If it “generally works”, ship it
Narrow scope of focus/visibility Has a view of the entire business
Follow the rules, be rewarded Break social norms and be a bit rebellious
Failure can hamper your career Failing helps you learn faster
You don’t need to know about sales/marketing You need to know EVERYTHING about sales/marketing

It’s pretty clear that as a corporate developer, your job responsibilities are probably limited to architecting and writing code. Yes you may be building a product, but generally speaking you do what the project/product manager tells you to do.

You have neither the visibility nor the influence into any other parts of the business which makes it very difficult to learn how to do anything other than writing code. And speaking of learning, have you ever asked to help the sales or marketing teams and been told no?

Let’s look at this from the company’s point of view and put yourselves in the shoes of management for a couple of minutes. What incentive is there to allow a developer to work on anything related to marketing? That developer most likely has no marketing skills and more likely than not, costs twice what an entry level marketing graduate costs.

So not only do you cost twice as much, you have half the skills, making it 4x more expensive for the company to have you work on marketing stuff. The same basic math applies whether you’re trying to learn more about sales, accounting, HR, customer support, etc. In relation to other positions in the company, software developers tend to be paid substantially more than other employees, with the exception of management or specialty research positions.

If you look at the list of attributes of a corporate developer listed above, it’s in the company’s best interest to keep you locked into a single position because it’s what you’re good at. In fact, it’s why they hired you to begin with. You’re good at something and they want to maximize their upside in that specific area.

Feeding you information about sales data or marketing tactics which aren’t directly relevant to what you’re working on today isn’t cost effective for them because it takes time away from building software. Since you don’t get to perform any other responsibilities, you’ll never get experience with them so you’ll never be as good at those activities as someone they would hire from outside the company or promote internally.

In addition, there’s a disincentive for you to attempt to do things that you’re not good at within the company. If you fail, then it can reflect poorly on your future at the company because you took a risk and failed. You weren’t able to come through and that loosely translates to the fact that you can’t be relied on to do things that are important to the business. The end result is twofold.

First, your reputation will suffer to some extent within the company. Second, you won’t be asked to do things that are important because of a perceived risk of failure. And third, when it comes time for yearly reviews, you’ll probably score lower because of “past performance”.

We both know that basing reviews on failures outside of your primary field isn’t exactly fair, but it still happens. There are reasonable ways you can stretch your experience at work without impacting your performance reviews, but unfortunately many HR departments don’t see it that way. The fact is that some initiatives just aren’t going to work out. That happens in every aspect of a business. But penalizing someone’s career for trying out something new in an effort to grow as a human being is just asinine.

Adding everything up, you quickly realize that the typical corporate environment isn’t set up to help people become entrepreneurs. And if you think about it… why would a company have any incentive for their workers to learn how businesses really work and then go out and set up potentially competing companies? Do you want to start growing competitors within your own payroll? My guess is probably not.

The end result is that when someone decides to take the leap from corporate developer to entrepreneur, they’ve been conditioned to not only do certain things, but to act in a certain way. You never payed any attention to sales & marketing in the past and you still got a paycheck every week. So why bother paying attention to it now? You never did it before so it couldn’t have been that important, right?

Most businesses are like icebergs. To the naked eye, there’s some subset of the company functions that are highly visible to any observer but the vast majority of it is hidden under the surface. Since you’ve never seen any of those pieces, you don’t know how they work. Even worse, you might not even be aware that they exist at all!

This leads to a neverending stream of developers who leave their cushy corporate jobs thinking that business can’t possibly be that difficult. Heck, if Adobe can make it work, then surely you can too, right?

Wrong answer.

There’s so much that goes on that you aren’t even aware of at a large company. Individually, most of those things don’t mean very much. But when you aggregate them, they create a substantial business. It’s a machine. A machine that generates money to pay its employees and generate revenue to the tune of six figures per employee. Even a small, 50 employee tech company probably has revenues exceeding $10 million/year.

This information is all well and good, but what’s a corporate developer to do? Is there a way around this seemingly stacked deck of cards? Fortunately, there is.

Don’t Ask Permission

One of my earliest jobs was at a wireless ISP called Clearwire. Someone bought the name and now they do something entirely different, but back in 1999, we sold line-of-sight fractional T1 internet access at ranges of 10-25 miles. It was pretty neat technology and while I helped a few of the engineers talk through some high level architecture problems, I didn’t write a lot of code for the product. Mostly, I was involved in working with the IT group to help support the engineers and make sure their desktops were always available.

One day while I was between jobs, I decided to play around with Perl. A very short time later, I built an internal webpage where engineers could request support for their desktops for things that weren’t working. Pretty soon, it was a company-wide tool.

Later, I was having a conversation with one of the field engineers about their jobs and he was complaining about how hard it was to keep up with the orders that were coming in via email because they always had to go back and forth to get more information that was inevitably forgotten. I threw together a couple of web forms and before long, the sales team and field engineers were routing all of their sales through the internal web portal I built.

Clearly I was young and naive, thinking that I could build an internal sales tool for the company from nothing within a couple of short weeks. But the fact is that I did it and everyone loved it. This wouldn’t have been possible had I done what most people would have done in that situation.

I didn’t ask permission. I just did it.

When you ask permission from management to do something, you’re forcing them to make a decision based on facts. And the fact is that you have nothing to show them and you’re asking them to commit resources towards something that quite literally has no groundwork, no traction and nothing going for it. That’s a risky proposition for a manager.

On the other hand, if you just start working on something and show them the results after the fact, you’ve walked right by the gatekeeper and he didn’t even know it. Now you’re farther along and the manager will start to see the potential upsides rather than immediately thinking of all of the potential downsides. There’s still the risk of the project getting shut down but if you’re up to date on all of your other work, then there’s very little downside to allowing you to continue working on something in your spare time, especially if it looks as if it can significantly help the company be more efficient or make more money.

In addition, you’ve proven yourself as an individual who’s driven to and capable of contributing to other areas of the company. You’ll develop a knack for getting involved in other areas of the company and learning how they operate. Eventually, it will become clear to management that you not only have the skills, but the business knowledge to make these endeavors succeed and they will start asking you outright to contribute in those ways.

Most of the time, it’s not a matter of knowing how to write code. It’s knowing how a business operates. That’s one of the major chasms that exists between a corporate developer and an entrepreneur is that understanding of how the business operates and where it makes money.

Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for “good enough to learn from”

One mistake that many developer-turned-entrepreneur make is trying to make everything bulletproof. Some people simply aren’t capable of making their code bulletproof which is a “lack of skills” problem. But most developers have a hard time developing the ability to know what it would take to make your code extraordinarily resilient and consciously choosing not to do so. Developing this ability will help you as an entrepreneur because the first thing this does is allows you to ship a product faster.

That doesn’t give you a license to ship something that is barely functional, but neither does it mean that you need to have everything perfect before you do decide to ship something. This is an extremely valuable skill to develop because it translates very well to being an entrepreneur.

Many times, you simply don’t know the best way to handle a particular problem so going with a half-baked solution can help you to either learn that you’re on the right track or find out faster that you’re on the wrong track so you can double back before implementing a full-blown solution that isn’t going to solve the problem.

Learn as much as possible about every aspect of the business

Don’t get me wrong. There are some things that companies do which are more than a little bit dumb. But companies are in business to generally do one thing: make money. If a procedure isn’t directly or indirectly making money for the business, it will usually go away at some point.

What that basically means that everything a business does serves a function for the business. In aggregate, all of those things add up into creating profit for the company.

The fact that you don’t understand why something is being done doesn’t make it dumb nor does it means the actions are unnecessary. You probably just haven’t learned enough about it yet to understand the impact to the bottom line.

Ask questions and be inquisitive. Not in a “I’m going to rob this company blind someday” kind of way. Just pay attention to what’s going on around you and figure out how all of the different pieces fit together. More importantly, pay attention to why they fit together that way.

Most businesses are structurally like software. They tend to be modular and different parts of the business perform specific functions at different levels of efficiency. Those functions have an impact on other parts of the business and in how the company acquires sales leads, keeps existing customers happy, keeps employees happy, etc.

The role of the CEO is to identify individuals with the talent to oversee operations for different parts of the business. The job of those people is to eliminate errors (debugging) and increase efficiencies (optimization), which ultimately improve the bottom line for the company.

By learning how the different pieces of the business work, it will give you insight into the importance of each of those business functions. By virtue of that, you’ll understand how businesses work in general in such a way that as you’re building your own, you’ll have ideas about how to make things work and be able to identify the gaps in your own profit machine.

There’s no substitute for experience

You can read all the books on entrepreneurship you like but there’s no substitute for experience. This experience in the corporate world can put you in a better position when you decide to make the move into entrepreneurship, but only if you branch out and learn how real businesses work. There’s a big difference between looking at the cogs in the wheel and understanding how all of them work with one another.


The Single Founder Handbook Public Launch

One of my life-long goals going back to my early days as a kid was to write a book. I remember spending entire summers going back and forth to the library checking out books. I was a voracious reader and would sit at home for days at a time, sometimes as much as 12-14 hours/day reading. Three 400 page books in a day? No problem. I’m sure that’s where my aptitude for reading, writing and the itch to be an author comes from.

The Single Founder HandbookBack in early December, I decided that I wanted to give this a shot. I started a mailing list dedicated to the book that I was calling The Single Founder Handbook, set up an autoresponder to ask people what their top 3 challenges were in building their business and started writing. The first few weeks of December and into January, I made a huge amount of progress. Then I sat down one day to review all of the responses I was getting to my question and categorized them.

The direction I was going wasn’t the one that people wanted to hear about. That meant some of my work would need to throw away so I could get back on track. *sigh* This isn’t a lot different than building a product before talking to customers to be honest. I tried to do the writing and customer development in parallel but just like building a software product, there are always things that you learn along the way that will invalidate some of your previous work.

Fortunately, I wasn’t dramatically off track and so I corrected my course and kept going. In March, I was essentially done writing and started on the editing and formatting process. I busted my tail for several weeks, getting all of that work completed and shortly before MicroConf ran a private launch to the people on my mailing list. Then I shut down sales for a month so I could get through MicroConf, mail out the physical books I’d sold to people, analyze what went right/wrong during the launch, and then gear up for the public launch.

This week is the culmination of that labor. The Single Founder Handbook is here and it’s available to the public. Head on over to the website if you want to pick up your own copy. It’s on sale until Thursday at 5pm EST for 20% off.

However, I wouldn’t expect that you’re quite ready to buy it today, even with the 20% discount. That being the case, you should at least download the table of contents and the sample chapter while you’re there so you can get a feel for it. I’ll follow up with you in the near future with a bunch of free information about starting down the path of entrepreneurship that I think you’ll find useful.



It’s About Starting, Not Finishing

One of the more common challenges that many people have emailed me about over the past few months is the problem of motivation. It’s relatively easy for most people to get started on something new, but somewhere along the way, they get lost. They drop into a funk and it’s difficult to make forward progress.

Instead, they find themselves sitting at their desk doing not much of anything. They waste the one or two precious hours they had being “busy”, but not necessarily making progress. This is called thrashing. Lots of movement, but very little forward motion.

Sitting in your chair provides the illusion of productivity. Click To Tweet

So what do most of us do? We search the internet and ask people we know about productivity hacks because we’re not being productive. But is that the real problem? I would argue that it isn’t. Not in most cases anyway. If you are being unproductive, that’s a symptom of the problem, but is not the problem itself.

If you step back and look at the situation from a macro level, you’ll see that the person has stopped moving forward. So it’s clear that they’re not making progress. It seems rational to assume that the problem isn’t getting started, but rather it’s finishing.

But that’s not the problem either. Zoom in to a micro level and analyze minute by minute rather than by weeks or months at a time and you’ll realize that finishing isn’t the problem. The real problem is getting started.

Every work session starts with the same basic pieces in place. You sit down in front of your computer, turn it on, log in, pick something to work on and then get started. Dating back to the beginning of any project, all of those things are in place every time you sit down except when you find yourself getting stuck.

The place you’re getting hung up might be occurring as early as sitting down in front of your computer, as late as actually doing the work or anywhere in between. This is a sequence of operations and each operation is almost entirely dependent upon the last. If you always leave your computer on, that’s one less thing to do in the sequence but you have to follow that sequence of events.

Where are you getting hung up? What are you having trouble getting started with? Because you can’t finish unless you get started.

Finishing is not an act. It is a byproduct of following the process. You need to consistently start up again day after day, week after week. You can finish anything if you consistently start working on it every day.

This is what productivity hacks are designed to do. They’re designed to force you to start working on things. For example, consider the Pomodoro Technique. Anyone can work on something for just 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. As another example, look at “Don’t Break the Chain”. This idea with this technique is to work on something a little each day and establish a chain of work efforts. Sooner or later, your job switches from getting something done each day to not breaking the chain.

These are what are called forcing functions. They create rules under which you must operate. Follow the rules and you will make forward progress. Disregard them and you won’t. Simple as that.

So we need to analyze the process of starting and restarting our tasks. It doesn’t matter whether you have one task or fifty to complete. You have to get into work mode as quickly as possible because you don’t have a lot of time to waste. What does that look like? There are three basic prerequisites for getting into work mode consistently.

The first prerequisite is that you have to have a good reason to get started. Human beings generally don’t like doing meaningless work. I remember back in my consulting days, I would work really hard for certain customers to provide great solutions, only to have them pull the plug at the last minute. It was a waste of my time and their money. What’s worse is that I could usually see it coming weeks in advance. Eventually, this happened too many times and I got burnt out.

So the work itself can’t be meaningless. In the case of building a product, you need to be reasonably sure that the work is going to pay off. If you’ve done marketing upfront and have an email list of 1,000 people, it’s much easier to justify starting to work on something again because you know that people are interested. If that same entrepreneur has an email list of just 10 people after six months, it quickly becomes a motivation problem. Deep down, you know the idea isn’t going to fly so you stop working on it and blame motivation, rather than poor marketing.

The second prerequisite is that you have to explicitly make the decision to start working. According to Parkinson’s law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. If you give yourself all day to get something done, it will generally take you all day to get to it because you will wait until really late in the day before making any real progress.

To help solve this, set a specific start time. Even better, start a timer. This is part of why the Pomodoro Technique or time boxing strategies work so well. Without an explicit start time, you will waste the time that you do have until very little time remains. Then you either make the decision to quit for the day, or work really hard for the last hour, having wasted the previous three.

The third prerequisite is that you need to commit to starting the work. If you have good reasons to do what you’re doing and a specific starting time, then this part should be easier to manage. But you can’t fake this. If you do, the only person you’re cheating is yourself and it will be obvious that you didn’t by the lack of forward motion.

Every day is made up of a series of tiny steps towards your goal and its those steps that will help you reach the goal. Finishing is a result of starting each of those steps, each and every day. It’s not a to do item on your task list.

Get started.


Free Landing Page Reviews

unnamedIn case you haven’t heard about it, I’m partnering up with KickOff Labs tomorrow to offer up some free, professional website and landing page reviews. This will be a live webinar that starts at 2PM EST/11AM PST.

If you’re interested in throwing your website into the mix to be reviewed, there’s still time. Click Here to sign up.

Oh… and did I mention that it’s free?



The Death of Moon River Consulting

There are generally two reasons why a business ceases to exist. Either it went out of business or it was acquired by another business. In most cases, the founder would rather it be acquired rather than shuttered because at least that way you can say that you had a “successful exit”.

I’m in the former camp. The bad one, so to speak. And you know what? It feels freaking fantastic.

At the end of each year, I give thought to what I should do with Moon River Consulting and every year, I never seem to come to a solid conclusion so I end up simply thinking and thinking until the end of the year comes and goes. Once January 1st hits, it becomes significantly more difficult to shut it down due to tax reasons. Shuttering a business in the middle of the year is like stubbing your toe. For me, it’s like doing that twice.

The problem is that I have Moon River Software(MRS) and Moon River Consulting(MRC). Ideally, I’d move everything from MRC into MRS, thus combining the companies and it would be easy. But with taxes and the government, nothing is ever easy. In order for me to shut down MRC, I’d need to move my payroll to MRS. But if I do that in the middle of the year, then I have to pay unemployment taxes twice: Once for MRC and then again for MRS. So my best bet is to wait until the end of the year and then shut down the business.

What to do With That Business?

However there’s always been this lingering thought in the back of my mind: “what if I need that business entity?” Indeed. What if.

That nagging uncertainty is exactly the type of ailment that insurance is supposed to resolve. You buy insurance to help mitigate risk. If something bad happens, you’re reimbursed for it. And insurance premiums are based on the likelihood of that event ever happening. Funny enough, there’s no insurance for government ineptitude. Doubtless the insurance companies would go out of business.

But I digress. I’m here to tell you about why I’m happy to be closing my consulting business. The fact is that it has helped me to bring closure to a part of my businesses that I’m not particularly happy about. I’m not a huge fan of doing enterprise level consulting. I haven’t been for several years. The money was fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But the highs of any accomplishment are disproportionately tempered by the lows. Numerically, it only takes 1 low to outweigh 10 highs. I feel like I encountered more like 5 lows for every 1 high. Not a good ratio.

I suspect that part of this is to blame on the fact that I was good at what I did. More often than not, I was the resource of choice for overly challenging projects and overly challenging customers. Yes, they are different and yes, sometimes the two overlap to make for a “challenging engagement”. Not that I got paid any more for those types of projects, but that’s what happens when you make the choice to do independent contracting. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting into until it’s too late.

Starting in January of 2010 and ending in June of 2014, I would travel for work an average of 30-45 weeks/year. I generally would leave Sunday evenings to fly or drive to my customer location. I’d work from Monday to Friday and then fly or drive home Friday evening. On rare occasions, I’d stay the weekend but I can count (barely) on one hand the number of times I did that. Typically, flying home simply wasn’t worth it because I’d get home, do laundry, and then have to fly out again to the same customer. I did this overseas a couple of times and in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona due to the length of the trip home.

While all this was going on, I was building AuditShark on the side. Needless to say, my life was rather “full”. I felt like I worked constantly, yet never seemed to really get ahead. Near the end of 2013, I could feel myself starting to break. Some of it was product related and some of it was “challenging customer” related. In either case, I knew I was severely burned out. I was about to ask for an extended time off when suddenly, I found myself assigned to another lengthy project for what I knew would be a challenging project. I could feel my motivation and my entire sense of self-worth and motivation sink.

I committed to the project but took the steps I needed to clear out my schedule once that project was over. At the end of June, I took an official sabbatical from consulting. For the next six months, I worked on getting AuditShark to the point that it was a marketable desktop application, rather than the unmarketable cloud based application it had been the previous year.

Coping With Burnout

Unfortunately, I was still recovering from severe burnout. I took time off. I stopped working. I started working again. I spent time with my family. I took a personal retreat. I did some independent projects. I started going to the gym. And various other things.

Coping with burnout isn’t nearly as easy as I thought it would be. It seemed like time was the only thing that might help.

Recently, things have gotten significantly better. My motivation has started to return. My will to persevere has strengthened. However, I still felt something was lacking but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

About three weeks ago, I began giving thought to how I would handle the problem of multiple business entities yet again. This time, I decided that I needed to make an intentional decision, rather than simply accepting the current situation. Was I going to move forward with two businesses or was I going to shut one down?

Ultimately, I made the decision to shut down Moon River Consulting. I didn’t see enterprise consulting in my future any longer. It wasn’t something I was interested in pursuing or continuing to do in the future. I checked with my CPA about the logistics and tax implications, knowing that anything worth doing, the government is going to make painfully obscure to do. Fortunately, if you do the homework and know what to do it doesn’t take all that long to do.

After filing the paperwork and paying the fees, Moon River Consulting was no more. But even before filing the paperwork, something interesting began to happen. My burnout seemed to be withdrawing rapidly and my motivation began to not only return, but to increase quickly. Previously I could spend days making relatively futile attempts to do work, only to have the end of the day come with almost nothing to show for it. Since making the decision to shutter my consulting company, what I want has come into focus in sharp contrast with what I didn’t.

Quite some time ago, my wife and I were reminiscing about how we ended up together. I remarked that when we got together, I was at an age where I didn’t really know specifically what I was looking for. But I was fairly certain about what I didn’t want.

It occurred to me that in shutting down Moon River Consulting, I was closing down a business that I knew that I didn’t want. It was like a bad relationship that I was ending. It was something I didn’t want. It was closure. And that act of closure created a sense of well-being and focus on the path forward. It’s something that I’m incredibly happy about.

Today marks the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. Many people use the end of the year as an opportunity to reflect on the previous year and set their goals for the new year. I’ve done that recently myself. But it’s interesting that I also did the opposite by considering exactly what I didn’t want and feel like I came out better for it. I’m really looking forward to the new year with a lot of renewed invigoration because the path forward is a lot more in focus than before because I know what I don’t want.

Know What You Don’t Want

It’s documented that knowing what you want can be a powerful motivational factor because you have goals to work towards. Surprisingly enough, knowing what you don’t want can be just as powerful. So if you haven’t set your goals for next year, think about what you don’t want. It will help you focus on what you do.


Announcing The Single Founder Handbook

This past August, I took a trip to my cottage in Edwards, NY. The trip was primarily intended for me to be on-site to show the place off to potential buyers and was successful in that regard. However, I also took it as an excuse to do a 3 day personal retreat. As part of this retreat, I gave a lot of thought to what I liked about my life, what I didn’t, what I wanted to do in the future, and how to get from here to there.

One of the things that came out of that personal retreat was the intense, burning desire to teach people some of the things I’ve learned over the years that have really helped move the needle to help save them from some of the painful experiences I’ve endured.

It took a long time for me to get here, but I realized that teaching, writing, and making a living are not mutually exclusive. Writing a book doesn’t mean a career change out of computers, any more than running a conference like MicroConf makes me a professional event planner. I can do different things and still be the same person.

So I’m officially announcing The Single Founder Handbook.

My challenge in the past hasn’t been the writing itself, rather what to write about. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before now but writing a book isn’t really much different than doing customer development for a new software product. Ask what people want and tailor your offering to what they need. Simple, but astonishingly effective. *facepalm*  So here it is.

How can I help you? Do you need help finding a product, getting started, are you somewhere in the middle, etc. What processes would be helpful for you to know about or better understand? What are you afraid of and why do you think that is? What are your biggest challenges and what have you done so far to get over them? What’s worked for you, and what hasn’t?

All of these questions and more are fair game. But I can’t write about them if I don’t know more about you. If this is something you’re interested in hearing more about or want to help give me some direction regarding what YOU would want to see, sign up for the insider notifications and reply to the questions in the email you receive.

That’s it for now. Hope to hear from you soon.