In The Startup WayEric Ries’s sequel to his best seller The Lean Startup, he raises a key question to entrepreneurs and startup founders. As these founders tell him how much they hate big companies he asks:

If you hate big companies so much, why are you trying to create a new one?

I get it. I’ve been there and have the same feelings about the red tape, politics and endless meetings that you see in big companies. But if you peel back the onion, the underlying issue isn’t the size of the company.

I’ve talked to many people about this sentiment – from both sides, the founders and the big company employees – and have discovered that when an entrepreneur says they hate big companies, what they’re really saying is, “I hate the culture the comes along with big companies.

To help articulate this clarification, Ries creates much better labels for the startup and big company. Instead he refers to the two company cultures as the modern company and the old-fashioned company, where modern companies are innovative and growth-oriented, while old-fashioned companies succumb to the innovator’s dilemma.

In my conversations, I’ve found that the differentiator between these two company cultures is the ratio of what I’ll call talkers to doers.

  • A Talker is a paper-pusher, a middle manager, someone who measures output, and thus success/value, by the number of things done (ironic!).
  • A Doer is a problem solver. They measure output, and thus their success/value, by the size of problems they solve.

12 Characteristics of Doers VS Talkers

The cultural change that startups go through as they transform into a big company is that the number of Talkers, and more importantly the stated value of Talkers in the organization (through title, salary, etc), grows at the expense of Doers.

So to counter the strong corporate forces that push your company from modern to old-fashioned, here are 12 characteristics of Talkers to avoid.

1. Meetings – Talkers measure value in the number of meetings they attend; Doers measure value in the number of meetings they skip because they don’t need to be there.

2. Email – Talkers check email at all hours of the day and humble brag about how full their inbox is; Doers close their email, going hours without checking.

3. Code – Talkers measure value by the number of lines of code they write; Doers measure value by how few lines of code it takes to create a solution.

4. Decisions – Talkers don’t want to make a decision without statistical significance; Doers are comfortable making decisions with imperfect information.

5. Deliverables – The result for a Talker is a deliverable; the deliverable for a Doer is results.

6. Poking Holes – Talkers try to poke holes in other people’s hypotheses and solutions; Doers try to poke holes in their own hypotheses and solutions.

7. Documenting – Talkers always document, and do that before doing; Doers do first, and only document afterward when needed.

8. Scaling – Talkers worry about building a solution that scales; Doers worry about getting enough customers that scaling will ever matter.

9. Edge Cases – Talkers account for all the hypothetical edge cases that will likely never occur; Doers focus on lessons from past problems they’ve experienced in real-world scenarios.

10. Knowledge – Talkers’ knowledge comes from reading about others’ experiences, which typically only highlight the “happy path” scenarios; Doers’ knowledge is based on lessons learned from their own, often failed, experiences.

11. Failure – Talkers make excuses when faced with failure; Doers look for validated learning and opportunities to pivot when faced with failure.

12. Success – Talkers celebrate trivial increments and items crossed off the project plan; Doers celebrate validating their leap of faith hypothesis.

This is not to say that Talkers don’t bring value to the organization. Talkers play a critical role in helping manage the growth as your startup gains traction.

However, to ensure your company remains a modern, innovative and growth-oriented company, make sure your company culture continues to celebrate these characteristics of Doers.

Awhile back I discussed some of the flaws in the business model for online news subscriptions. Namely, where sites like the New York TimesWall Street Journal, and HBR require you to subscribe to their site to access content.

The reason subscriptions work in an offline content world but not online is that The Long Tail principle of the internet significantly (exponentially even?) increases the amount of sources individual readers will read content from. And this is a good thing!

And while you could argue that most of these sites give you a few free articles such that only dedicated readers would subscribe, it can still lead down a path we’ve gone down before. Managing multiple subscriptions leads to bundling multiple providers, where all of a sudden you’re subscribing to and overpaying for 194 channels of which you only watch and want to pay for 5…oh wait, were we talking about cable TV or web news subscriptions?

Micropayments as an Alternative to Subscriptions

One alternative to a content subscription model is to allow micropayments.

Here’s how micropayments would work. Instead of a small % of users paying a large, recurring, subscription fee (e.g. $10/month), the theory behind the micropayments model is that you can make this up by extracting a very small, optional, one-time payment from a very large % of users for individual articles they like (e.g. < $1/article). To be sure, this hasn’t worked well to-date, but improvements in online payment systems and even the rise of cryptotokens might make this more feasible.

(I also think micropayment models will eliminate clickbait, as content providers will only be able to make money on good content, not manipulative headlines.)

The Guardian’s Approach

Recently reading an article from the Guardian, this footer caught my eye:

Support the Guardian from as little as $1.

They’re acknowledging the problem and offering a solution, “Support the Guardian from as little as $1.

Clicking the link I see that the Guardian quickly falls back into old habits, enticing you to sign up for a monthly subscription:

However, look closer.

One-time payments!

Yes, the Guardian doesn’t appear to be interested in “micro” payments, however the structure is now in place.

I’d love to see data on the revenue generated and the number of users who opt into either payment option (monthly vs one-time).

Until then, I’ve gone ahead and supported the Guardian with my first content micropayment in the hopes that it is not the last. If you also have concerns with online content subscription models I encourage you to do the same!

A couple months ago I added an extra layer of security to this site by adding SSL encryption. However, it wasn’t on by default so we weren’t really getting the full benefit.

Then this weekend I saw an article to that point explaining that Life Is About to Get a Whole Lot Harder for Websites Without HTTPS.

Well, with that I decided to turn on HTTPS by default. And turns out it was a lot easier to do than I expected, with just three quick steps:

  1. Login to your WordPress panel
  2. Use the SEO by Yoast plugin, which I conveniently already had installed, to locate and access your .htaccess file
  3. Finally, edit the file by adding the following:
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} !=on
RewriteRule ^ https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [L,R=301]

Easy enough.

Going forward should always automatically load securely. To tell that it’s working just look in the URL bar. For example, Chrome will show a Secure tag like this:

And I suppose I’m also curious…are there any downsides to forcing all site traffic to use HTTPS? Granted this site is about 99% content with little to no form entry or data being transferred but still, what’s the harm in adding this extra layer of security? Let me know your thoughts…

A mentee of mine has a fortunate dilemma – too many job offers – so she reached out to me asking for advice on how to trim down the list. Great question!

Here are a few questions you can ask to try and find product/market job/market fit.

1. Ask yourself, would you be a user of the product?

If you would use the product, dog-fooding will be much easier and you’ll have much more customer empathy. And frankly you’ll be more excited to go into the office every day.

2. Ask yourself, are there people you can learn from?

Everyone, even great leaders like Musk, Bezos or Jobs, have an opportunity to learn more. And one of the differentiating factors between good and great leaders is that great leaders embrace continual learning. Look for a company where there are good mentors and senior leaders that can help you grow.

3. Ask the employer for key company metrics.

Ask to see things like revenue growth, churn, LTV, user counts, engagement, etc. This will not only give you a sense for the health of the business but also show you what type of metrics they value. Do they care about top line numbers (e.g. sales $$) or are they more focused on engaging customers? This will also help you vet whether they are a data-oriented company. I’d raise a warning flag for any company that isn’t willing to share some key data points or even worse, doesn’t have any to show.

4. Ask the employer what success is in your role.

It’s important to level-set expectations so their version of success should align with what you’re looking for out of the employment relationship.

5. Ask yourself, is the leadership team experienced?

All else being equal I recommend working with a team that’s already “been there & done that”. Yes, first-time leaders and entrepreneurs can be successful, but the odds are lower. Unless you’re specifically looking for a high-risk, high-reward opportunity seek out seasoned teams that will provide more stability.

6. Ask the employer if they have product/market fit AND why.

Note that the answer doesn’t have to be “yes”. The important thing is that the leadership can confidently articulate whether they do or not, how they know, and what they are doing to achieve product/market fit (if they haven’t reached it yet). Similarly, you’ll want to ask yourself what stage of company you want to work for. Do you want to be part of the team that is still finding product/market fit, do you want to help scale a company that has fit, or do you want to join a mature, well-oiled machine?

7. Ask the employer who the competition is.

This will help tell you how good of a market the company is in. If there are no competitors this is a warning flag. If there are dozens of competitors, how does the company plan to differentiate itself?

8. Ask the employer what their funding situation is.

What is the company’s runway and how much risk is there that you won’t have a job 12 months from now?

Of course there are many other considerations like the people, culture, work environment, commute, and on and on. However I’ve found that most people are already asking those questions. The thoughts above are often overlooked yet can be the most important to determine how successful and how happy you’ll be at your next job.

You’ve likely seen something like this at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, HBR or one of countless other online news and content sites.

I’ve only got 9 article remaining – better make them count!

Making readers subscribe to online content is broken

This isn’t about trying to avoid paying for content, but rather a simple exercise in scale.

When newspapers were the norm you had a handful to pick from in town so there wasn’t an issue choosing the one you liked the most and subscribing to it. You might have even been an overachiever and had a weekend subscription to the WSJ or USA Today too!

The model of the internet, however, gives us the wonderful benefit of the long tail. We no longer only have two or three papers to choose from, but rather thousands and thousands of papers, blogs and more. And that’s an incredibly good thing! The problem now is that there’s too much choice, presenting a separate problem of finding the content you want.

Enter newsletter aggregators. I see a new one pop up every week. Possibly my favorite, Hacker Newsletter, perfectly exemplifies why online article subscription doesn’t work. This past week’s newsletter contained links to articles from 43 unique sites.

Three Cases Against Online Content Subscriptions

1. It’s simply not financially reasonable nor logistically a pleasant experience to manage subscriptions to even a fraction of those 43 sites.

2. Perhaps more importantly, especially as we’ve learned in the US with our last Presidential election, when you get your content from a single source you get trapped in a Filter Bubble. We should make it easier for people to expand their perspectives, not the opposite.

3. Again looking at our last election’s issue with Fake News, I have a suspicion that when you pay for content you subconsciously become more likely to believe it without critique or skepticism.

To be sure these are businesses that need to bring returns to their shareholders, but a content subscription model in an online world is the wrong way.

Guess I’m guilty of not “dogfooding” enough and I should spend more time actually reading articles on the site here.

I was shocked when I saw this load time for tonight:

not the best screenshot but we were seeing 30-60+ second page load times. gross.

So I got to work and did a bit of tuning. I’m not an expert though so wanted to share what I did, what I learned, and leave room for additional ideas.

  1. First, I learned what TTFB is (hint: time to first byte).
  2. Looks like I can improve TTFB by using a WordPress caching plugin. Here are some options.
  3. Ended up choosing WP Super Cache…because turns out I already had the plugin installed, but deactivated. Who knows why?!?
  4. Decided to look up my hosting details on DreamHost and compare to other options like WPEngine and Kinsta.
  5. In the process noticed that I didn’t have SSL on. Whoops! Should be fixed shortly.
  6. Deactivated and deleted plugins I wasn’t using.
  7. Turned off the Jetpack Admin Bar, which was throwing a nasty, page-load-time wasting error of its own

The result?

3-4 seconds…much better. Sure there’s plenty of room for improvement still but this is still just a lowly old blog.

The wp-admin portal is still slow (this is where you can write posts, etc) but I can at least put up with that for the time being as it only impacts me.

If you’re still seeing anything slow on your end let me know. Always open to other ideas and recommendations…

There are a few things this post is not.

…it’s not a debate about a universal basic income.

…it’s not a philosophical discussion about the self-worth that comes with your job.

…and it’s not an argument about whether current technology/automation advancements will be different than previous technological revolutions like farming or factories, where those movements produced as many new jobs as they wiped out.

Let’s simply ask ourselves:

If you were a graduating high-school senior this spring, what career paths should you pursue to avoid “getting automated”?

To answer let’s think about where robots might struggle.

1. Jobs Where You’ll Make Rules

Robots are fantastic decision makers. They’re faster than us, completely unbiased, and don’t suffer from decision fatigue. But they don’t specialize in the creation of new rules (which the robots will ultimately be able to apply better than us).

Career ideas: Politicians & policy makers, CEOs & strategy makers

2. Jobs Where You’ll Make People Laugh/Cry/Cheer

The less we’ll work the more time we’ll have on our hands to be entertained. Or so it goes in WALL-E, which might not be far off. To clarify, this is live entertainment.

Career ideas: Athletes, Musicians, Actors, Comedians

3. Jobs Where You’ll Make New Stuff

Robots are excellent factory line workers but we still need someone to come up with new products, designs, and services to fill our factories with.

Career ideas: Entrepreneurs, Inventors, Creatives/Designers

Create, Don’t Do

The theme is obvious at this point. Take a look at your job today and ask, are you creating, or simply just doing?

There are many layers to make continual learning an integral part of your life. First, decide whether there’s value in doing so!

Somewhere down the line though it becomes a logistical question. You’re busy and have a million other priorities, so how do you infuse learning into your everyday? I’ve found two things you can do.

1. Find Your Sources

At a simpler level, here are some specific things you can do today:

  • Listen to Podcasts in your downtime. Driving, running, cooking, cleaning…even in the shower.
  • Watch less TV.
  • Read, including fiction, which can boost your mind’s creative capacity. Regular newsletters and blogs count too. Hacker Newsletter, AVC and Bloomberg’s Daily are some of my go-tos.

2. Change Your Perspective

At a deeper level, you’ll need to leave your immediate circle and build new habits. Unsurprisingly you’ll also see these changes can have the biggest affect:

  • Travel. As Trevor Noah comedically states in his latest stand up, Afraid of the Dark, “See another place. Discover a different point of view. Traveling is the antidote to ignorance.” I couldn’t agree more.
  • Spend time outside of your bubble. Try to get as many perspectives as possible by expanding the variety of sources of your news and learning. Diversity wins in the end.
  • Ask questions to your friends and colleagues to see their perspective. What do they know more about than you do, which they can teach you? What do they know less about than you do, which you can teach them (by the way, teaching is a great way to improve your own learning by forcing you to simplify & clearly articulate an idea – that’s one of the reasons I blog).
  • Become more humble, which in turn increases your self awareness and openness to new ideas.

It’s worked for me, although following my own advice I’d love to learn what’s worked for you!

A friend sent me this email today from Google fiber:

His first response to me says it all:

Didn’t know there was an issue but thanks Google!

Meanwhile I had similar issues this past week with Comcast.

Did they get ahead of the issue and reach out to me before I was aware of the issue? No.

Did they offer me a credit as “paying for something while it doesn’t work, just doesn’t work”? No.

Did they even apologize for the outage? No.

No product or service is perfect. Issues will happen and I’m ok with that. The difference is all in how your company handles them.

You can tell your customers that you care until you’re blue in the face, but I’d recommend building companies that spend their time showing their customers that they care by their actions. In the meantime, since I don’t have another high speed internet alternative, I hope you’re listening @ComcastCares.

At the time (back in the 70s) was IBM the best option? Ehh, there were probably some upstarts that could have potentially been much better.

But did that matter to the guy who was putting his reputation or even his career on the line? Nope, not a bit! Fear, uncertainty and doubt led rational people to continually opt for the safe and conservative option.

Today we have a new president.

In the liberal tech world Hillary Clinton was IBM. Would she be the best President? Ehh, probably not. She was the safe & conservative option; with her at the helm the chances of the US self-destructing would have been slim. Instead, America interestingly said that it’s ok with a little fear, uncertainty and doubt, in the form of Donald Trump.

So what will Trump be? Will Trump be the garage upstart that disrupts the entrenched political machine and gets us out of our democratic rut? Or is he just a conman selling us vaporware, that hopefully won’t take the rest of the country down with him?

Let’s all hope it’s the former…