Why defining your company's values early on is important

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"If there’s one piece of advice I can give early stage founders, it is to take the time to write down who you are, and who you want to be."

This quote is from a good post from Reece Pacheco (Shelby.tv) on “Surviving the [startup] climb.” One part that resonated with me is the importance of defining your company’s culture and values early on. Shelby’s can be found here. Some good examples from some other companies here: Amazon, Google, Whole Foods, and most famously, Zappos.

Going through a process like this can feel frivolous and counterintuitive to many young companies as you can count on everyone who’s there early to just get It (and early on, they will, which is why they’re the best equipped to help you codify what It is for your company). No one is saying you should shut everything down for weeks but taking some focused time to uncover and articulate what you all feel is most important will pay back tenfold down the road. 

While any time not spent building the product might feel wrong at that stage, exercises like this are not about what they give you now but about building a strong foundation for your company to be successful as it grows, evolves and inevitably goes through both good and bad times. Most of the time you’ll find that your culture just is but the times you’ll find yourself most aware of it will be when times are either really great or really bad.

If there’s a company-wide shared understanding of the things that are most important, you create an environment where the team is better equipped to just know what the right call is in a given situation — whether that’s a strategic/product/design decision or determining whether an employee’s behavior is what you want as part of your team — both are things you’ll absolutely benefit from as your organization scales.

FWIW, this process is exactly what parents go through when raising children (the parallels between raising kids and building companies could fill a book, btw). They’re going to have to thrive on their own and you can’t predict the situations they’ll be faced with, nor can you always be there yourself, so you try to best equip them with the values and tools to do the right thing in any situation. You can tell the parents who feel completely confident in the values they’ve instilled in their children and I’ve seen that same confidence in CEOs with regards to their companies. 

Articulating one’s values is only one part of what goes into shaping a company’s culture but it’s a big one. Even though it might not feel like you need to articulate them right now, trust that you don’t want to wait until you wish that you had back then. Once you hire your first employees you are officially building a company, not just a product, and you should plan accordingly.

Finally, thinking about all this stuff reminded me of a great old post from Ted Rheingold on the role a strong culture played for him and his team at Dogster when they went through tough times. 

Great look at David Letterman's retirement announcement from Bill Simmons

If you’ve been following Letterman these past few years, you know his son was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. That bird story was really about being a father, about the day-to-day stuff that makes you realize your kids matter more than anything else. You begin your life and it’s exciting, and then it starts to get boring, and then your kids show up and you get to relive everything through them. The point of the story wasn’t the bird. He wouldn’t have cared about the stupid bird 10 years ago; he only cared about his show. Everything had flipped. Even his wife couldn’t see it. That was the point.

Having grown up during the Late Night hay day of Carson + Letterman, this brought back a lot of memories. Piece also does a great job highlighting how much has changed with the overall format. 

Want to help us design hardware & software that empowers people to improve their health?

A little over a month ago I started working at Project Florida as Head of Design. We’re building an ecosystem of hardware and software products that will help people better understand their health and empower them to act on it. The health and fitness space is a crowded one and while the tools for collecting data continue to get better, the experiences built on top of that data are still falling short. There’s a reason why the shelf life of current offerings is so limited - data without meaning, without soul, will not move people to change their behaviors over the long term. In order to move this space forward, we believe a new approach is required. 

We’re a small, experienced, team with a big mission - to help people change their long-term health outcomes for the better through the power of data and design. 

I'm looking for a Visual Design Lead to help us design software & hardware products that empower people to improve their health. If you think that might be you, read on for some more details about the role and please reach out to me at alex@projectfla.com if you're interested.


About the role

You know the critical role Design plays in building products that become part of people’s daily lives. You are someone who believes that data, used intelligently, paired with thoughtful interface design and a deep understanding of the nuances that make genuine behavior change possible, will move people to change their futures.

Responsibilities

  • Take our identity and establish a visual design system across software and hardware

  • Establish and enforce our visual language and design patterns

  • Create elegant design solutions to complex and nuanced user problems

  • Clearly communicate the rationale driving your design decisions

  • Collaborate with a wide variety of teammates - from UX Designers and Mobile Engineers to Data Scientists and Clinical Experts

About You

  • 5+ years designing on multiple platforms

  • Passion for products in the health/behavior change space

  • Experience with, and love for, mentoring other designers

  • See the forest and the trees

  • Fluency with and passion for typography

  • Familiarity with existing best practices and the ability to recognize when they need to be broken

  • Know the right level of design fidelity for the problem at hand

  • Love giving, and receiving, thoughtful and productive feedback

  • A portfolio that includes projects for which you had complete creative control

Extra Credit

  • Prototyping skills

  • Branding experience, animation experience, illustration chops

  • Experience with hardware products

  • Hobbies outside of work that you can teach us about

Qualified candidates will be asked to present an end-to-end walkthrough of their process solving a particular design problem.


Interested? 

Please write a little bit about yourself, what excites you about this role and this space, links to relevant work and send it all over to alex@projectfla.com.

I look forward to hearing from you.

- alex (@arainert)

"Always remember to put the glass down."

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A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience.

As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face she inquired, “How heavy is this glass of water?” The answers called out ranged from 8oz to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed.

In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stress and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them for a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed - incapable of doing anything.”

Always remember to put the glass down. 

As someone who has worked to manage stress and self-imposed anxiety for a long time, I appreciated this metaphor/tool.

Diving back in...

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Over the past few months I’ve gotten to slow down a bit, spend some more time with my kids and enjoy a lot of coffees with a wide variety of people here in the city. The range of interesting new people I got to meet and projects I got to learn about was inspiring, particularly as lifelong New Yorker who cares deeply about continuing to grow the consumer product presence and community here in New York City. 

While I really enjoyed taking a bit of a break, I knew that soon enough I’d find something that got me super excited and I’d be itching to dive back into making things and building a team again. 

About 2 months ago, I was lucky enough to be introduced to an incredibly talented, experienced, team working on solving big problems that sit at the nexus of a few of my personal passions — mobile technology, health and the power of insights derived from data. 

Over the years, the product work I’ve done has always mirrored needs that I’ve personally had. In 2002, I was 26 and spent a lot of time going out so building software that helped me know where my friends were hanging out made sense — hence, dodgeball. In 2009, I was 33 and about to have my first child. I was no longer going out 5 nights a week but I had started to care more about the quality of experiences I had when I did go out for a meal or a drink — hence, foursquare. Today, I’m 37 with a 4 year old and an 8 month old and something I carry with me every single day is: how can I be around and healthy as long as possible to see as much as possible of the lives my children create for themselves — hence, Project Florida

Over the past 5 years, I’ve owned every major wearable on the market, through multiple generations for each. I’ve used smart scales and smart apps. I’m intimately familiar with where all of these succeed and where they fall short. Before we had wearables to record our actions, I built an Excel doc to help me manually track my weight, diet and fitness. That document helped me understand what my habits were and how different variations produced different results over time. It also helped me go from 252lbs down to 209lbs before my wedding (details here). That understanding and change in my core habits also had a material impact on the critical numbers reflected in my blood work (quantitative results here). 

Inside the mind of an OCD tracker.

I believe deeply in the power of really understanding your health, developing and reinforcing habits that help you become the better version of yourself. The combination of the technology many of us are lucky enough to carry around with us and our ability to turn heaps of data into accessible, personalized, and empowering insights is finally at a place where we can push the space forward past data for data’s sake to a place of profound impact and I’m really excited to get to work with this team to make that happen. 

As of 3 weeks ago, I joined the Project Florida team as Head of Design. We’re a small team with a big mission to help people better understand their habits and live healthier lives. In order to tackle our mission, we’ve built an incredible team and are actively growing it (Hello Drew Conway!)

I’m personally looking to meet Senior Product Designers who share our passion and want to build something great here in NYC. If you’re interested in joining our Design team, drop me an email at alex@projectfla.com or if you want to learn more about all of the roles we’re hiring for, email weare@projectfla.com.

Giddy up!

"If Twitter has the guts, it could improve the service with a few counterintuitive tweaks."

Good post outlining some of the hurdles Twitter faces and touches on something I've felt for a long time. While there are certainly services that benefit from pure network effects (where more connections directly translate to a better experience), I'd argue that many of the most popular feed-based products (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) walk a thin line between "enough varied content to be interesting and something you want to check regularly" and "so much content that you have a difficult time extracting the signal from the noise. " The stream is a consumption vessel with clear limitations and I worry that Twitter's approach is encouraging pure volume over better signal, especially for lightweight users who they need to stick around.

I know it's a personal thing but I don't understand how people follow thousands (I'm genuinely fascinated by it and would love to read any blogposts people have of their consumption workflow with 1000-2000 followees). I know I'm always on the hunt to prune my feeds across services in an effort to keep it to content I care about (and can reasonably keep up with) and people I engage with. Attention is time and time is a finite resource so there's no time for hurt feelings if people get unfollowed. If I unfollow you it's because the content you're sharing isn't for me, it isn't because I think you're a shitty person.

Pro tip alert! I visit a site called Manage Flitter every month or so to help me keep the people I follow to what I've learned is a manageable number for me which is ~450 (YMMV). The free version of Manage Flitter gives you tools to help you slice and dice the people you follow by different criteria (Not Following Back, Inactive, Talkative/Quiet, etc.) and then easily unfollow folks right from their site. I suggest everyone give it a try at least once and see what you learn about the people you follow. It's fantastic. 

While a service like Manage Flitter can give you coarse ways to manage the people you follow based on aggregate data, I'd love to see Twitter (and other services in a similar predicament) leverage what they know about me to help me follow the people that will give me the best/most informative/most engaging Twitter experience. If Twitter made sure I was following the right people (and unfollowing the ones that were just generating noise in my feed), I suspect it would become an overall stickier experience for everyone,  even if it meant following fewer people.

The power of solving a real problem and making your users feel smarter

(cross-posted from Medium for archive purposes)

How I’ve learned to rely on (and love) Waze.

During the month of December my wife and I made our regular trips to and from family members’ houses to celebrate the various holidays. Over the past year (especially since we moved outside of the city) Waze has become a part of all our trips, even when we know exactly where we’re going because you never know when there might be an even better way to get there, but Waze does.

Thanks to all the Waze users out there, Waze (now Google) operates from this panopticon-like vantage point, knowing where all the cars are and how fast they’re moving (sidebar: in my more cynical moments, I’ve imagined how they can use this information to control the traffic, and not just respond to it but I digress…). This means that it has the information to help you get from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible based on the unpredictable real time conditions on the road, making a standard GPS (that felt pretty special only a few years ago), feel dumb.

In fact, Waze solves that core problem so well that it didn’t matter that the design has long been a hot mess of chunky lines, more buttons than you know what to do with and costumed, fleshy pink dumplings. To be fair the redesign this Fall offered some nice refinements. All that aside, the reason people love using the product (and as a result, Google loved buying the product) is because it takes a bunch of genuine pain points that everyone who’s driven a car (giant addressable audience) has experienced and makes them go away.

I’d like to call out examples of my two personal favorite features: avoiding traffic (obvs!) and sharing your trip:

Back to our travel adventures… Last month we were headed to the in-laws for Christmas, we hit bumper to bumper traffic before the Throgs Neck Bridge and Waze suggested a crazy, borderline non-sensical, looking maneuver .

Since the product has earned my trust I just went with it and found that the unorthodox move — pulling off the highway and getting right back onbefore the bridge — helped us avoid a huge chunk of stagnant traffic. We had two similar experiences that same week. Not only does the product help you get to where you’re going faster but it makes you feel like you’re in the know along the way — using Waze can feel nothing short of magical, almost like you’re cheating the system. That emotion is a powerful one and over time builds a really strong bond with the product. We’ve always felt that Foursquare Tips (especially now that you get them serendipitously) often offer that same kind of unexpected magic that makes users feel like they’re getting more out of the world around them thanks to the product.

My second most-used feature is sharing my drive. It’s a dead-simple way to, once you’ve set off on a trip, share that trip with someone else. The best part is that when they click on the link, they’ll get a map in a mobile web view with 1) a little dumpling moving its way across the map and 2) an accurate estimated ETA based on how far away they are and the traffic between them and their destination. All of this replaces the age old “What’s your ETA?” use case for all parties involved and you’ll be surprised at how nice it is to know exactly where a loved one is on a long trip to/from you as you see that plump little dumpling inch its way across the screen.

I’m personally partial to Mario’s raccoon suit but you get the point.

There are a bunch of other things Waze does a good job of (and many that feel superfluous ) but they’ve done an amazing job in ensuring that their core features solve real problems and in the process make their users feel more powerful — that is ultimately what building a great product is all about.

How is your product helping your users become a better version of themselves?

If you’re someone who drives, I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Getting through 2013 & looking forward to 2014

2013 was as eventful a year as I can remember. We sold our apartment in Brooklyn and bought a house in Westchester. We added a new member to our family, Oliver, in June and moved the whole family up north 3 weeks later to the first house I’ve ever lived in. In November, I left Foursquare after 4 years and spent the last month and a half of the year hanging with the kids and having a wide variety of conversations with people exploring different possibilities for what may lie ahead.

Reviewing 2013’s goals.

Last year I wrote out my goals and they broadly fell under the umbrella of Living Better - physically, intellectually, creatively and emotionally. Overall I did just ok (ps: scores below map to Google’s OKR - Objectives and Key Results - grading process which you can, and should, learn more about here.

  • Physically (0.1) Unfortunately this was the one I was least successful at and it’s absolutely the most important one. It was an incredibly hectic year and while I successfully curbed my alcohol consumption, I slipped into lazy habits when it came to eating and exercising and my weight and overall fitness (both physical and mental) reflect that. For myself and my family this is my #1 priority heading into 2014.
  • Intellectually (0.6) My broad goal was to cut down on my time spent consuming negligibly valuable information via the multitude of never-ending streams out there with the hope that it would clear the way for a different kind of “slow” consumption. Frank Bruni does a good job of articulating why I value wanting to make this tradeoff. I feel pretty good about where I ended up.
  • Creatively (0.5) I wanted to start writing more and taking more photos with my “real” camera. Writing was just something that I seldom felt like I had the mental space for after everything else so I fell way short here. Taking photos with my camera, on the other hand, became a regular activity for me and I expect that to only get stronger this coming year as I’m starting to find my groove with the new Fuji X100S I picked up this Fall. Giddy-up!
  • Emotionally (0.6) This one was just about being present and more deliberate about how I spend my time. I definitely made some improvements here over the course of the past year and I plan on taking the little break I’ve got now as an opportunity to reset and establish new habits across the board, with focus and presence being a big part of them.

Setting some goals for 2014

Overall, I only feel like I did OK on the goals I laid out for myself in 2013 but do feel like I was able to establish some new micro habits that I plan to build on going forward.

As I look to 2014, the things I want to do to live the way that will make me happy haven’t changed a ton. I’ll just be in a better position to execute on them:

  • Sleep better. It’s never going to be easy with 2 kids but I can do much better here and I firmly believe that getting adequate sleep is the lynchpin to making a dent in all my goals (Goal: get in bed at 10:30 5 nights a week)
  • Be in better shape. Work out at least 4 days a week - run, row, lift weights, whatever. (Goal: 200 workouts)
  • Lose Weight - Currently 230lbs (blergh). Get under 210lbs (and stay there). This will obviously be a combination of diet and exercise. (Goal: lose 20 lbs)
  • Read more books. Continue to refine the amount of people I follow and content I consume online and chip away at that long list of books I want to read. (Goal: 20 books)
  • Go deep in a couple of new areas of interest. After spending 7 of the last 10 years deep in mobile, local and social, I’d like to get intimate with a few new areas/spaces. Right now BluetoothLE/iBeacon, the next generation of health + fitness tech, apps for kids are the leading contenders for me.
  • Write more regularly. Write at least 1 blog post a week. (Goal: 60 posts)
  • Be more ruthless about how I spend my time. As the only truly limited resource I have, I plan on being much more selective about how I spend my time, which will mean saying no a lot more and not feeling bad about it.

I plan on tracking all these using a combination of the following: Day One, RunKeeper, Lift, Tumblr, and my trusty WiThings Scale.

Having the first break in my life in as long as I can remember, I don’t have a clear picture of what the year ahead will hold and that’s what makes it so exciting. Let’s go!

Twitter let me know friends are talking about a TV show. What does it mean?

This morning I received this notification from Twitter:

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While Neil and Tony were in fact talking about Grey’s Anatomy first thing in the morning (strange? yes, but that’s not what this post is about) it wasn’t relevant to anything happening on Grey’s Anatomy on TV right now (also, I could personally care less about GA, which made it even stranger to get pinged about it). I did a little digging to see if these have been around awhile and couldn’t find anything so I’m going to assume they’re something new/being tested (if I’m wrong, holler at me and I’ll update)

As we know, Twitter has become absolutely indispensable - for many, it’s the 1st screen - for live events (Breaking News, Sports, Awards Ceremonies, etc.) but in order to benefit from and participate in the discourse, you need to get there in the first place which is why notifications are so important for the company (< great piece by BuzzFeed’s John Herrman on why). It’s why they’ve been cranking up awesome experiments like @eventparrot and @magicrecs

After Twitter shipped their update earlier this week, I had a quick exchange with Matthew Panzarino about the possibilities the new Timeline UI enables and what they could potentially do with dynamic timelines based on real-time TV, Sports, etc. as well as how they could pull you into them:

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It’s one thing to be pulled into the app because “something is happening in the world” but it’s much more enticing to know “…and your friends are here talking about it.” Perhaps there’s some other reason I got that notification this morning (after all, I do have the obscure Other toggled in Twitter’s Notifications Settings) but I can certainly imagine how seeing that people you know are talking about a thing you’re potentially interested in (Miley going off at the VMAs, a crazy comeback in the Pats game, the World Cup Draw, etc.) being a very compelling way to pull you into the app. Finally, since Twitter has a pretty great idea of what I’m interested in, they could also use that to fine tune when and about what they try and get my attention.  

Update: @kroosh passed along an article detailing Twitter’s ability to target ads based on conversations are TV shows. This seems to be leveraging the same tech but geared towards pushing user engagement. 

 

 

The Guide to NYC Tech 2.0

schlafnotes:

At Lerer Ventures I created the first version of The Guide to NYC Tech after dozens of people asked me the same dozen questions, over and over. What are the best co-working spaces? Which lawyer should I hire? Where are good places to take a meeting? Who are the key investors to know? How do I…

There’s never been a more exciting time to build product in NYC and Steve’s got a great take on the whole landscape.

How I use The Hype Machine for music discovery

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Over the past year, I’ve found myself discovering more and more new, great music thanks to The Hype Machine. You can do a whole lot more on the service but I tend to stick to a pretty simple workflow that yields a lot of value with minimal effort (always a big product win) that hopefully others can benefit from.

That workflow is as follows:

1. I go to the Popular tab, hit Play

2. When I hear something I like, I give it a heart/fave

3. Over time, my Favorites list becomes a great playlist of music I often can’t find anywhere else

Extra Credit: the Hype Machine iOS app (iTunes link) is nicely designed and really smart about syncing the favorites you listen to the most. One day I opened up my app on the subway and noticed that while the rest of the app wouldn’t work without a connection, I was still able to play my Favorites, even though I’d never actively synced them. I don’t know the details of the witchcraft they use to choose which tracks to sync and then sync them in the background but it felt a little magical to have my music with me without having to go through some heavy handed syncing process. An example of something truly “just working” the way you’d want it to.

Two minor nitpicks: 

1.  I wish they made My Favorites a top level nav item rather than nested in the Profile menu where people might never find it.

2. I would love more clarity on how I can influence the music I see. They recently added a callout for a Blog Recommender based on the music you favorite but it didn’t seem to work for me right now. 

I recommend you head over the site and give it a go. If you fancy yourself more of a desktop app kind of person, I recently discovered a simple + elegant Hype Machine client called Plug, that you can get at http://www.plugformac.com/. Enjoy!

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What qualities do you look for in terms of what you think will produce effective collaboration?

You look for people that are not political. People that are not bureaucrats. People that can privately celebrate the achievement, but not care if their name that is in the one in the lights. There are greater reasons to do things.

You look for wicked smart people. You look for people who appreciate different points of view. People who care enough that they have an idea at 11 at night and they want to call and talk to you about it. Because they’re so excited about it, they want to push the idea further. And that they believe that somebody can help them push the idea another step instead of them doing everything themselves.

I’ve never met anyone in my life, maybe they exist, that could do something so incredible by themselves in companies with global footprints. In our world, in Apple’s world, the reason Apple is special is we focus on hardware, software, and services. And the magic happens where those three come together.

And so, it’s unlikely that somebody that’s focused on one of those in and of itself can come up with magic and so you want people collaborating in such a way so you can produce these things that can’t be produced otherwise. And you want people to believe in that.

I like this answer from Tim Cook a lot. No one thinks for a second that Apple is in any way devoid of politics but this captures an ideal to strive for, a spirit you want people to embody as any organization building integrated product(s) grows and inevitably goes through both great and tough times and evolves as a result of it. This is part of what defines the fabric of your company’s culture.

If you’re working as part of a team, no matter the size, building something together, this applies to you. As a team grows, and distinct “departments” take shape, it’s easy to start to slip into more politically-driven thought. To a large degree it’s human nature and people dynamics at work but remembering and having leadership reinforce that “there are greater reasons to do things” is a good way to stay focused on the bigger, more important, things that ultimately will have the biggest impact for your whole team. 

 (some more thoughts + video from Cook over at Geekwire

After 4 years, taking a breath.

After four incredibly intense and rewarding years at Foursquare, it’s time for me to move on. Leaving a team I’ve helped build, in a space I’ve been passionate about for over 10 years isn’t easy, but it’s the best thing for me to do.

Four years of going full throttle as our company grew from 10 people to over 150, rapidly shipping and evolving the product from a “check-in game” to a set of products that are paving the way for the future of mobile social software has taught me a lot about process, people and product design and I look forward to bringing that to bear on whatever’s next.

I’m so grateful and proud to have had the opportunity to work with an amazing team that consistently punched above its 150-person weight and always brought it in a space crowded with companies 100X our size. I have no doubt they’ll continue to do so and I look forward to watching Dennis and the rest of the team keep pushing to realize the vision we’ve always known to be true.

As for what’s next? I’m not sure, and that’s the point. The past four years have been the most intense professional experience I’ve ever had. I’ve learned a ton—some lessons that I’ve applied along the way and others that I’ll be taking with me. I also know I’m not going to be able to go too long without diving back into a brand new set of problems to solve. However, before I do that, I want to slow down and take a deep breath for what feels like the first time in four years.

Why now? The team is in a great place and we’re at a good point in the product cycle. On a personal note, my wife is two weeks away from returning to work after maternity leave so there was an opportunity for me to spend some more time with our new son. This is something I didn’t get to do with our daughter when she was a baby as I started full-time at Foursquare right when she was born. I’m excited and grateful to get to spend a little more time with both of them while I explore what’s next.

I’ve got my Citibike and am eager to explore the city on two wheels so if you’d like to grab coffee, lunch or a drink and talk shop, hit me up. You can drop me a note at hello@alexrainert.com and @arainert.

- alex

 

The Game Of Thrones Opening Credits

parislemon:

John Axelrod of Forbes:

How to construct one? They have approximately three months to produce the credits, and create the sequences for all 10 episodes in one batch. The credits change weekly as campaigns expand or end in ignoble defeat, and all every location in the episode must appear on the atlas. 

The music alone might make it the best title sequence in all of television, but the intricate animation work — which changes week-to-week — just puts it over the top.

An oldie but goodie on evaluating potential and current talent as you build out a team

From Elad Gil:

I have found that the two biggest causes of having to fire an employee at an early stage startup are a lack of culture fit, and the inability to Get Shit Done. I don’t care how smart someone is - if they are unable to work hard and crank out a large amount of high quality work, they will weigh down your startup.

Lots of great stuff in this post anyone building a team.

My goal for 2013: Live Better - physically, intellectually, creatively & emotionally

It’s been a couple years since I wrote down some explicit goals for myself heading into a new year so I wanted to bring it back for this year, knowing that writing them down (and sharing them) make them much harder to punk out on. 

Essentially my goals boil down to being more deliberate about how I choose to spend my time and they fall into the following buckets…

Physically

This one is the “easiest” in that the steps to being successful, though by no means easy, are definitely the clearest for me - eat better, exercise more and sleep better. For me, the last one is somewhat of a lynchpin in that when I find myself not getting enough sleep it makes it so much easier to eat poorly and so much harder to find time/motivate myself to work out.

After having lost 42 pounds before my wedding in 2006 (going from a robust 252 down to an in-shape 209), the past 3 years have seen me push me back up to a soft 233 and regressing like that makes me furious. I also recently got my annual blood test and while none of the numbers are super alarming (yet), they’re definitely trending in a bad direction. Let’s go to the numbers!

  • Total Cholesterol: 199 (160 in ‘06)
  • HDL Cholesterol: 37 (41 in ‘06) *higher is better
  • LDL Cholesterol: 119 (92 in ‘06) *lower is better
  • Triglicerides: 213 (137 in ‘06)
  • Vitamin D 18.1 (didn’t test in ‘06 but it should be above 30)

So with all that in mind, I need to take better care of myself and here’s what I’m planning on doing:

  • Get in bed by 10:30pm (not to sleep but to read/wind down. More on that below.)
  • Work out at least 3 mornings a week. Ideally 4.
  • Eat better. I’ll be periodically consulting with a nutritionist as well as doing periodical weigh ins, biggest-loser style to keep me honest.
  • Cut back alcohol a lot. Have 1-2 drinks when I’m out socially and cut out the evening glass of whiskey at home “just because”.

My goal is to lose 25 pounds by June 1st, and ideally settle between 205-210 as well as get those other numbers back where they should be. I love the fact that this goal is so easily measured.

Intellectually

I’d go as far as to say that I’m addicted to information. That, paired with some of my OCD tendencies (including an affinity for completeness), compel me to want to “keep up” with all the various information channels I have at my disposal (Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, etc.). The first thing I do in the morning is check them and it’s often one of the last things I do at night. There’s some sort of psychological comfort in the fact that there’s always going to be something new there to check out. This is not normal, productive or healthy.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months thinking about the time and effort I put into these various social channels and whether I’m getting out value that’s commensurate with the time I spend with them.

Time is an incredibly (and increasingly) limited resource and I often find myself spending much of my “consumption” time reading about internet minutiae who’s interestingness has a shelf life that can be measured in hours and is often devoid of any meaningful lasting value. While I maintain a list of books I’d love to read, I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t remember the last book I actually finished because I spend all my “reading” time consuming things that provide enough contentment for a moment but seldom much more than that.

On a somewhat related note, Ryan Block recently wrote a great piece for the New York Times outlining why he’s quitting Facebook and Instagram and it touches on a lot of what I’ve been feeling of late. While I’m not ready to completely pull out of these services, I’m going to take a much stricter approach to how much I let myself be consumed by them. If the containment strategy doesn’t work for me over the next 6 months, I’ll be happy cut some of them out altogether.

Here’s the plan:

  • Dramatically prune the people I follow on each of the services I frequent to a point where I can realistically keep up with and engage with the people on them.
  • Read books. I’ll start with a goal of reading at least 1 book a month for the first 6 months and then I will re-asses. (Good news: I’ve already read 3 books since Jan 1)

Creatively

The balance of consuming/sharing content vs. creating content has gotten way out of whack for me over the past few years.

On the creation side, I’d like to focus on taking photos (with my actual camera) and writing more. Instagram has been a great tool for taking lots of photos that look beautiful on my phone and are great to quickly share or email to a grandparent. However, while the quality of mobile photos is nothing short of amazing, they’re not the photos that are going to still look good 20+ years from now. So, while I don’t expect to move away entirely from iPhone photos, I plan to take more photos with my Panasonic GX-1. Relatedly, Marco Arment articulates the reasons for doing so quite well in this post.

As for writing, while the platforms have changed for me since 1996 (Blogger to Moveable Type to Wordpress to Tumblr), I’ve always kept a blog going but the amount of time, effort and thought that has gone into it has gotten lighter and lighter through the years. The problem is that it’s become so easy for bite-sized micro-thoughts (hello Re-blog!) to masquerade as “writing”. With that in mind, I’d like to get back to writing more regularly and I’ll be doing it here after recently resetting my old Tumblr account so I can start from scratch. This feeling is also what makes me really interested to see what Medium and Branch can turn into as they present really interesting approaches to pulling interesting content out of people that might otherwise remain undiscovered.

Here’s the plan:

  • Get this blog up and running by the end of January and start with the goal of posting at least 2-3 posts per week and the re-assess after 6 months.
  • Shoot more photos with my GX-1.

Emotionally

Generally this one is just about being present. When I’m home with my wife and daughter, my mind should be 100% with them - not checking email, futzing around with my phone or doing something else. When I’m at work my mind should be 100% there, focused on the tasks at hand. The reality is that the latter happens much more reliably than the former and that’s not a healthy long term strategy.

Here’s the plan:

  • I’m not going to check email while my daughter is awake and I’m at home with her. Obviously, if there’s something pressing, I’ll excuse myself, tend to it and then return, but my goal is to eliminate the partial-attention that is so alarmingly easy to slip into.
  • This applies just as strongly at work as well. No laptop/phone fiddling during meetings, etc.  
  • Make sure that I am spending my time on the most important/rewarding things. This will involve saying no to more things that don’t meet that bar.
  • Worry about capturing less and focus on enjoying more.

Having a family (that includes a toddler) and working at a startup has resulted in an incredibly rewarding, if not frenetic, past few years. Rather that get swept away by it and constantly react to what are two always changing situations, I’m going to work hard to be more deliberate about how I spend my time - with family, colleagues, friends and for myself.

For me, these goals will help me become a more balanced person and will ultimately result in being a better husband, father, friend and leader at Foursquare.

Making Design part of the culture at Google.

In stark contrast to Eric Schmidt’s tenure as CEO where data-driven product invention and design was standard operating procedure, Page’s Google is more willing to let humans make design decisions instead of algorithms. “At some point the engineering and product organizations were just focused on solving big data problems,” say Doronichev, “but as time went on the organization became more mature, and we started focusing on the little things.” And so far, it’s paid off. Google’s had a fantastic run of over a year and a half releasing core web and mobile product redesigns that are competitive with anything on the web, Android, and iOS.

Google’s process is quintessentially Google and happened in a quintessentially Google way. Larry Page mandated that there be a new design focus to get the ball rolling, but instead of micromanaging at every step he let his employees to do the rest — guided by an empowered, core team of designers. They organized themselves in a typically Google structure: cross-discipline, informal, but driven to achieve a goal.

Making beautiful, useful, things is really hard but systematically doing so at a place like Google (both in size and pedigree) means you have to change the culture of an entire organization, and that has to come from the top.

This piece does a nice job detailing how Page drove that cultural change and how that’s manifested itself internally and in the products they’ve pushed out.

"This is all there is" or What it means to live your life as a designer.

Aral Balkan of Breaking Things:

Objects have value not because of what they are but because of what they enable us to do.

A beautiful and profound post that will make you hate yourself just a little bit for the corners you know you’ve cut when designing a product, and that’s a good thing because hopefully you’ll think twice next time you contemplate taking the easy way out.