Tag Archives: startups

Eric Weiss: Building Products People Love



Joanie interviews Eric Weiss, founder of Full Cycle Product Development.  Eric has led massive development projects worth billions of dollars, including the Sony Playstation 3 and Qualcomm’s $9 Billion patent licensing machine. Eric is a product technology consultant and startup advisor and the author of Build the Right Things: How to Design and Build a Product People Will Love.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us how you got to where you are now and how you came to write your book.

“I’m an engineer by trade.  I’ve been writing code since I was very young, went to school for it, and started to work as a software developer.  But I really quickly learned that my passion was in product and leadership and startups and so I went and got my MBA.  I got certified to be a project manager and a Scrum Master and all this stuff.  I bridged the gap between the technology and engineering side of things and the product and business side of things.  I spent much of my career at very large tech companies driving very large engineering projects.”

“But then I’ve had this consulting practice on the side now, for over 10 years now, working with early stage startups and growth stage startups to validate their business model, to gain traction, to raise early capital, and then ultimately scale up and grow and get acquired.  I’ve been a CTO and completely owned the delivery model.  I discovered through experience that, while I was so focused on the efficiency of my development team, and having clean and clear Agile methodologies, nothing was less efficient than working on the wrong things.  I started really heavily leaning into product management and the user experience to make sure we were focusing on the right things.  This culminated in the book.”

Q: How do you get engineers to care about the customer experience or to see it from the customer’s perspective?  How do you understand what features your customers really need?

“Yes, engineers love technology, but more than anything, they want to have purpose.  They want to know the work they do has meaning and impact to benefit real people.  The other thing is that engineering is a really creative endeavor.  They don’t like to be told what to do.”

“The challenge is that too many teams are structured in a way and too many leaders lead in a way that puts engineers in this mode where they’re decoupled from the purpose of their work.  They’re not given creative freedom and they almost become beaten down and they get to where they don’t care and just want to play around with the technology because it gives them some enjoyment, but they’re disconnected from the larger picture.”  To hear Eric’s solutions to this problem and to hear answers to these other questions, listen to the episode.

Other questions that Eric answers: How do you build effective Agile teams?  How do the people on the teams survive a “never-ending marathon” of Agile?  What common people issues do you see in the startups that you advise?

Get a free copy of Eric’s book here.  Watch Eric’s talk on Agile First Principles here.

Words of Wisdom:

It’s not the velocity of our Scrums, it’s that we don’t understand our customers or ourselves well enough to know what the user experience should be.

People are the most difficult part of building products.  Technology is very rarely the thing that holds us back.

CEOs are an interesting bunch and have to be dealt with delicately.

Be fearless and go out and do things.

Contact Eric Weiss:

Website: FullCycleProduct.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericmweiss/


Sean Ferrel: Growing a People-Oriented Company



Sean Ferrel founded Managed Solution in 2002.  They provide consultative IT services for small-to-medium and enterprise clients. Sean tells his story of literally growing the company from his living room to a flourishing downtown San Diego enterprise. Hint: it starts with, “I was going to be a lawyer…” Within 3 years, the company was recognized as one of San Diego’s 40 fastest growing companies, awarded one of the 40 companies with owners under 40 years old and recognized as the 27th fastest growing IT company in Southern California. His secret sauce? Keeping it people first.

Highlights:

Q: How did you come to found Managed Solution?

“When I got out of school, I realized what I loved was people.  If I applied my people skills, I could take into any business, but what did I do in college?  I really got into the tech thing.  Tech was really interesting at that time, around 2002, and I started Managed Solution.  To be honest, I hadn’t done anything else.  We started with the idea of let’s find great people.  I was looking for three things: (1) soft skills, (2) accountability, and (3) technical skills.  And we started hiring.  I printed business cards in my dorm room.  I hired my best friends, who lived on my couch, and family members.  Then we realized we had to get serious.”

Q: How did you decide you needed to get the people skills in early on as a priority?

“I’ve always believed if you do the right thing in life, the money will come.  That means acting with integrity, being accountable, and teamwork.  Whether it’s in sales or in engineering, we want everyone to find themselves accountable to customers.”

“We follow the concept of RACI—responsible, accountable, contributor, integrator.  It’s a term we use in business to say, who’s accountable for this customer we’re dealing with?  Or who’s a contributor for a project for this customer?  You find the person who is responsible for the customer receives the credit and that makes them happier.  That’s what gets them driven to do better in our business.”

Q: How do you find people who have these skills?

“The first thing we do is look internally.  We look at recruiting like sales.  We need to attract good people.  Most of our people come from recommendations from people we know.”

Q: What do you do to train people?

“There’s a lot of burnout for engineers, if you’re doing the same thing for a long time.  We give them a lot of opportunities to train, to earn different certs and vary what they do.”

Listen to the episode to learn more about what Sean does to develop his people and himself to be and even stronger leader.

Words of Wisdom:

“Our success is driven by our people.”

“In so many ways, running a business is like running a family.  You have to nurture, grow, and enable people to do great things.”

“Employees get better on the tech stuff because they feel empowered.”

“When people feel you’re going to take care of them when in need, that’s the best gift ever and that’s what creates culture.”

Contact Sean Ferrel:

Company website: managedsolution.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sean-ferrel-6427a45/

Or stop by anytime!


Will Marshall: Improving Your Relationship with Your Lawyer



Will Marshall is a co-founder and partner of UBM Law Group. He drafts and negotiates commercial contracts, especially SaaS and traditional software licensing agreements and takes care of all sorts of legal things that come up for businesses.  He is also especially knowledgeable in issues that come up with small businesses and startups.  If you are avoiding talking to your lawyer, have ever had a bad experience with a lawyer, or are curious about the issues that can come up when technical people deal with lawyers, listen to the episode.  Will gives tips for technical people on how to communicate with lawyers and save money by doing so.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us your story of how you came to work with tech companies.

“I had an unusual career where I started as a General Counsel of a company—so I did the whole startup thing—and then I went into private practice, for about the last 10 years or so.  Usually, it’s the reverse.  That’s important because I learned to be a lawyer in a business context with limited resources.  Even though my company was a technology-based manufacturer, not a tech company, I seemed to gravitate toward tech companies when I started my practice, doing software as a service and software licensing and that sort of thing.  I can’t say why that went that way.  Maybe I just liked that type of work or maybe I did a good job of it.  I’m not sure.”

Q: Why do technical people interact with lawyers?

“Sometimes it’s them coming to me and sometimes it’s me coming to them.  It can be pure technical matters, like negotiating an agreement for technical services.  It could be dealing with employee issues.  It could be dealing with raising money and startup-type issues.  It could be implementing policy issues, compliance.  There’s a whole slew of things where I might be interfacing with technical people.  Sometimes the technical person is the founder so they have a broad view of all the legal issues and sometimes they’re a junior technical person where we’re hammering out a lot of really technical issues and granular issues.”

Q: What hesitations and concerns do technical people have with lawyers?

“First of all, there’s the cost.  The costs when you’re working on an hourly basis can run up, particularly if you don’t know how to manage your lawyer and use them efficiently.  That’s really about building trust.  I cut my teeth as a co-founder, paying outside lawyers and seeing their invoices and knowing what aggravated me about them.  So, a key part of my customer relationships is building the trust that I’m as worried about spending their dollars almost as much as they are.  For example, I’m not going to suggest that they burn up all the profit on the deal having me make the perfect contract if it wipes out the profitability of the deal.”

“The other concerns are that law can be very confusing and not jive with common sense and, when lawyers aren’t doing their job right, they can be the sales prevention unit or the Doctor No.  When you’re talking to startups, for example, they have their foot on the gas and anything that stops them is terrible.”

Q: How do you help technical people understand the legalese?

“That’s more of a contract drafting scenario.  Legalese can be archaisms, like whereas, witnesseth, and that stuff.  Those things just need to go away.  If your lawyer is saying witnesseth in your contract, you need a new lawyer.  The other part of it is not as obvious.  Contract language needs to be precise, to a level of precision that is not common, certainly not like when we talk to one another.”

To hear more about navigating legalese, managing your lawyer to be efficient, and how to communicate effectively with them, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“When we talk, we say things that are 10 ways ambiguous.  In a contract, we don’t have the luxury of doing that.”

“Employment law: it’s not a risk until it blows up in your face.”

“Technical people don’t like to be told how to do things without an appreciation of the complexities; lawyers don’t either.”

“Be careful when you grind your contractor or your attorney on fees because you might become the disfavored project.”

Contact Will Marshall:

Email: wmarshall@ubmlaw.com

Website: ubmlaw.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/will-marshall-9979242a/


Vladimir Baranov: Startup Stressors for CTOs



Joanie interviews Vladimir Baronov, who is a Founder and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of AdvisorEngine.  They build powerful and intuitive technology for financial advisors. Vladimir oversees the company’s software development and technological operations. He has nearly 15 years of experience designing and building successful technology solutions.  Vladimir shares keen insights on the stressors that arise for CTOs and others in startups and how to manage them.  We also dive into overwork, how to talk about it, and how to maintain your health in a startup environment, and how to prevent burnout.

Highlights:

Q: What does a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) do?

“The CTO role is very differently implemented depending on the organization, but generally you’ll see a mix of technology strategy, software development practice, with the infrastructure, internal applications, data compliance and security.  Sometimes it’s shared with a CIO.”

Q: What does a CTO do differently at a startup?

“In larger companies, the role of a CTO is better defined.  In startups you have to wear many different hats throughout the day to be successful because you don’t have people in those roles to delegate that responsibility to.  At a startup, you also have to exercise hands-on skills more frequently.”

Q: What kinds of stressors come up for CTOs in startups?

“Let me start out by saying that everyone experiences stressors in startups, not just the CTOs.  Where the stress is the most concentrated is in the product development process, interpersonal issues, the inability to delegate, and overwork.  I have personally experienced these kinds of stressors and I’ve seen others experience them too.”

Q: Let’s start with product development.  What stressors come up there?

“Scope and client needs get merged.  A lot of translation is needed for both sides.  Business speaks to the client, then business speaks to the CTO.  Then the information that flows through the business gets converted into something else then when the CTO takes in the information and shares it with the team.  That’s another step when it gets translated for the developers.  It takes a period of time to fix that.  Basically, it’s the case of a broken telephone.”

“In a startup, process terminology is very different because most people have come from different companies.  Different companies have different processes and bringing that terminology can lead to a number of misunderstandings.  People may think they understand each other but find what they have agreed to has a very different meaning.”

“Another one is roles and responsibilities.  In a startup, you’re oriented around a specific problem, not necessarily a responsibility and things may fall through the cracks if they’re not the responsibility of a specific person.”

Q: What kinds of stressors come up with the people?

“The personal conflict that comes up in a startup is different than in a bigger company because the conflict between two people is right in front of you and not in a different office, or in a different region.  In a smaller group, any conflict between two individuals is a conflict for everybody else.  Everybody takes part even though they are passive observers.”

Q: How did you get good at resolving conflicts?

“It’s a lot of pain.  As humans, we experience it on ourselves and we think, how can I get away from this pain?  I dabbled in a little self-education.  I’ve read books on negotiation, on self-improvement, on emotional control.  I’ve taken acting classes on improvisation.  I’ve read books in psychology and on peace negotiations.”

Q: Is this typical of CTOs or do you stand out?

“I may stand out as a CTO, but not as a leader.  All leaders require this kind of skill set or they will not be successful.”

To hear what books Vladimir reads on leadership, how he manages conflict, delivers feedback, and reduces overwork, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom

“A startup only has a certain number of attempts to get it right before the client walks away.”

“Most conflicts have three sides: one person is right, the other person is right, and they both are right.”

“I think all of us are running our own startup of giving feedback, experimenting on the best way to give feedback.”

“Any feedback has to come from a place of empathy.”

Shout Outs:

7CTOs and Etienne de Bruin (for good people!)

RescueApp (for reducing screen time)

Contact Vladimir Baranov:

Vladimir@AdivsorEngine.com