Tag Archives: Startups

Start + Up

(This piece was originally distributed in my email newsletter. Thanks to everyone who contributed feedback.)

My first business venture was a lemonade stand. Cliché I know, but worth exploration because I did things a little differently…

My grandmother cared for me through my elementary school years.  She lived in a tiny apartment with a public swimming pool right across the yard. At the pool was a beautiful woman named Jamie who worked there as a lifeguard. She would babysit me regularly and I referred to her affectionately as “my girlfriend”.

During the summer months, I would impatiently wait for precisely 12:00 PM. Then I’d sprint out my grandmother’s back door, across the green grass to the gate of the pool. Jamie would be there testing chlorine levels and doing whatever lifeguards do to prepare for their day. I would help her in whatever way I could and she would teach me how to swim and hold my breath under water.

I’d stay from noon when the pool opened to 8pm when it closed. This was my summertime routine for years.

At some point, I became aware of lemonade stands as a rite of passage.

My first attempt was a stand right in front of my parent’s house. This was in autumn and the setting was a quiet suburban street. Nobody bought my lemonade.

I was bored and broke. I quickly gave up on selling lemonade after school in front of our old 1950’s-style rancher.

Then summer rolled around and an idea struck me.

I took my family’s lemonade stash to Grandma’s pool, set-up shop by a table with an empty tin to collect cash, and increased my prices from a quarter to a buck fifty. The apartment complex supplied a steady stream of thirsty pool goers and we quickly burnt through the first tub of lemonade.

We increased prices and I convinced Jamie to buy me some Maryland crabs so I could sell steamed them for several dollars a piece.

Of course, all good things come to an end, as my lemonade stand did when the fall came around. That was ok though, because we’d be back next year.

Boy, did that tiny business change my life.

I learned resilience, perseverance, and how to reinvest in a profitable process. I learned how to count change and how to handle customers. I knew how to get a loan (thanks Jamie) and manage inventory.

I learned how to iterate on a model. I learned that timing and location matters. I learned that there is seasonality in every market. I learned that a business doesn’t have to be an app with hockey stick growth. It can be a plastic table and a pool umbrella with some cool beverages and ice borrowed from the community club’s freezer.

It was my first business, but not my last. Since elementary school, I’ve been a freelancer, a CEO at a design firm, and the head of software at one of those hockey-stick startups.

Now I’m in the process of starting again. This time, I’m building the first Zombie Strategy FPS for SteamVR. The VR ecosystem is on the verge of a massive explosion in popularity. I love games and designing for new paradigms. This platform affords a litany of frontiers from interface to engineering. I can’t imagine a more dynamic industry.

If you have an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, please sign up for SURVIVE: VR now to be the first to play it when we launch our beta in the next few weeks.

Advice for New Startup Managers

This is a short list. Not extensive. Just the first things that came to mind.

1. Standup.

Check in with your direct reports on a daily basis. Ask these questions every day: “What did you do? What are you about to do? What’s blocking you?”. Your direct reports should meet with you in a group daily if possible. If not possible, check in with everyone. Encourage daily cross-pollination of ideas by asking simple questions that lower the bar on Slack. Nobody should be afraid to ask anything.

2. Stick to a schedule.

Meet with the same people at the same times. Create meeting rhythm.

3. Work on yourself.

Leaders who inspire growth have high personal growth aspirations. Read more about this in The Extraordinary Leader.

4. Take heed of the pygmalion effect.

Your expectations beget reality so expect great work from people. If your expectations are not met, take close analysis of where the discrepancy occurred.

5. Record your results.

You’ve heard it before: What gets measured, gets managed. I’m here to reinforce the lesson, and make it as easy as possible.

You don’t need fancy technology to record commitments and keep track of KPI’s. You can do it on paper. At Pavlok we used an excel spreadsheet to keep track of the team’s daily Most Important Tasks (MITs). I use a *paper* calendar to keep track of what I put in my body. Start simple and only adopt new technology if it makes the task 10x easier.

At every meeting, someone should take minutes. This is your responsibility as a manager but you can delegate it.

6. Only delegate things if you’ve established a thorough understanding of what will get done.

If you can’t understand what you’re asking someone to do, then you cannot realistically hold them accountable to get it done. This can be hard with technical assignments, and I think it should be done anyway. Your team will respect you more for having a birds-eye understanding of their jobs and skill sets.

7. Make a lot of lists.

8. Set a lot of reminders.

Make calendar events for everything. Even the daily items. Block more time than you think you’ll need. Meditate or journal when you have a free moment between items.

9. Study communication.

Read Difficult Conversations and Nonviolent Communication. Practice these in everyday life. They will be useful to you in all facets of your daily interactions.

Practice active listening.

10. Hire slow. Fire fast.

Use trials and auditions to qualify recruits. It’s ok to spend money on experiments. It’s better to pay someone for a 2 day experiment and then not hire them than to get nothing done or worse: hire the wrong person.

Auditions are great because your hiring process can end up contributing to product development, DevOps, or whatever you’re hiring for.

11. Read.

Scaling Up by those Gazelle people and High Output Management by Andy Grove. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham.

There are obviously a lot more than this but the key is to simply get started.

12. Ask a lot of questions.

Write down the answers and things that you learn. Keep a book and when one or more people give answers that contradict, follow up. Ask “Why” until you really understand it.

Asking questions is so important. It’s OK, even desirable, to look stupid. You should ask the questions you think a total beginner would ask. Even if you think you already know the answer. You learn about the problem and about your team that way.

13. Schedule regular times for reflection.

Preferably on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Review what you’ve done and what you’re about to do. Note the discrepancies and find sticking points.

Call me when you hit the sticking points and we’ll go over them together.

14. Ask for feedback.

Send out a 360 review to people who work directly with you. You will learn a lot about yourself.

15. Think of every meeting as a performance.

Have a script for how things will go. Stick to the agenda, take notes on the agenda, and share with the team.

Primer’s browser tab notification UI got me to opt in

If I had a list of top ten blogs for startup entrepreneurs, First Round Review would be near the top. They caught my eye with an article on designing mobile apps for explosive growth featuring Kamo AsatryanOf course I had to check out his latest project so I navigate over to http://goprimer.com

I’m met with a…



Here’s a closer look at the tab:


First of all, I was so impressed by this conversion tactic that I immediately went back to the page and signed up. Sure, I probably would have signed up anyway given the fact that I help startups build apps for a living. But maybe not? It’s certainly not uncommon for me to just kill every tab for sake of killing tabs. This little UI feature reminded me that this tab is important.

Now, I’m on Primer’s wait list and I sent the product to several of my colleagues. All because of a red dot on a browser tab.

Good job Primer 😀