Hours + More Hours = ?

productivityaccount.pngIt’s baffling that Mr. Productivity Crusader myself didn’t figure this one out earlier: it pays to organize and catalogue where my Bonanzle hours are being spent. I’ve done it at my day job for the last six months or so. I keep an open Excel spreadsheet that provides me a minute-by-minute breakdown of where my time is being spent during a given day, week, or milestone. Using Excel’s Pivotcharts, I can then aggregate results from my spreadsheet to reveal meta-patterns such as “Mondays are usually administrative-heavy” and “Milestones where I have the time to program go more smoothly.”

The other simple-stupid and supremely insightful fact from these spreadsheets? How much time I really spend each week working. Since I’ve held myself strictly accountable for my minutes, I’ve reduced my garbage Internet time from about a half hour a day to basically none.

But I hadn’t thought to apply any of these techniques to Bonanzle. Partly because there is some energy-overhead in being that responsible. Partly because I have had too many things to do to be able to precisely define what I ought to be doing and what I am doing. But that changes now. Partner or none, there are enough different areas that require my attention at this point that I’m going to start maintaining a simple list of what I plan to do for the week, and how much time I’d like to allocate to it. And what do ya know? Blogging got two hours this week!

I’m looking forward to determining just how much time I am dedicating to this site on a weekly basis. From my rough (and somewhat conservative) projections for this week, it looks like I’ll be spending about 30 hours on it. Add that to my 40 hour work week, and that goes a long way toward explaining some of those rough mornings. It also goes a long way toward explaining how I know that this site will work out to the extent I can be disciplined to spend my hours smartly; particularly since my hours are matched by those invested by the growing Bonanzle cadre.

Profiteers, Continued

The philosophical side of me woke up a bit disgruntled this morning. It had processed that last blog post during my 6 hours of rest, and it concluded that what I had written ultimately spelled the unraveling of capitalism as we know it. “For you see,” says philosophical side, “if a company’s profit represents only the gap between the contributions of its workers and their actual pay, then any company that isn’t losing money is operating unjustly. And any company that is losing money won’t be operating for long.” Ah, guilty as charged. So how’s about I speak more precisely?

The root of that equation remains true. A company’s profit still represents the difference between the contributions of its workers and their pay. The crucial detail here is that in this definition, a company’s “workers” also includes its top brass — the people making the deals (the other crucial detail is that some of that profit is mitigated by taxes, risk, etc. boring!). In a perfectly just company, the gap between workers’ contributions and compensation represents the value that the company’s principal shareholders bring, because they are ultimately the ones that will reap that profit.

What had induced me to carelessly paint profit as an illustration that high performers were not fairly compensated was that it’s usually true. But only of high performers. This axiom can be witnessed at most any company, but it is perhaps easiest to illustrate at technology companies, if only because that’s where I’ve witnessed it. The gap in productivity between a company’s most productive programmer and least productive programmer is usually around 10x (This is not an exaggeration; if anything, it is an understatement. Unless they are damn good at hiring, a gap of 10x is usually observable by the time a company reaches 20 or so programmers. See Paul Graham’s earlier linked articles for some exlanation of how this is possible).

The gap in salary between a company’s most productive programmer and least productive programmer? Perhaps 2x, at most 3x. Blame methods of evaluation, blame economies of scale, blame the rain, but the reality is that a programmer who is 10x better than another programmer who makes $40,000 is not getting paid $400,000. They’re probably getting paid $70,000, and hopefully, working with a boss who lavishly praises their contributions on a regular basis.

But the bottom line is that $330,000 of that programmer’s productivity is being manifest as profit for the company (or $330,000 of that programmer’s productivity is paying for the 8 overcompensated crappy programmers, if you prefer). This is not a “good deal” for the highly talented individual. But I admittedly mispoke in attributing all profit to inequity. In actuality, some profit is absorbed by future investment, some by past and future risk, and some by the shareholders who will take that profit. The rest? That is inequity.

The Hunt Continues

I still need a bona fide “second in command”-type partner.

How much time to invest on this search and how to go about in on a day-to-day basis? I’ve gotten some interesting opinions on this from different people I’ve asked. When I started a thread about it on Biznik yesterday, I got one opinion (from the esteemed Mr. Pierre Leonard) that I should become a more active presence in community boards to make the people come to me, and one opinion (from the esteemed Mr. Kelly Hobkirk) that I’d be better off to just focus on building the business. Of course, both of these opinions were coming from people who don’t have an intimate knowledge of the business or its current state of affairs. But independently of my situation, they make excellent points to be weighed in the overall argument of how much time to invest, and where to invest it.

However, my prevailing opinion remains that, despite the small army of helpful consultants and rad programmers and able web designers that are already contributing to this project, having an equally-contributing, self-motivated co-founder is a critical path requirement to get where we’re going at the rate I want to get there.

The next frontier of exploration was actually proposed to me by none other than my girlfriend, the lovely KT. And it’s a damn good idea: students. Yeah, they aren’t going to step in with years of experience or a rolodex of industry contacts. But as I’ve found, those assets tend to go hand-in-hand with financial responsibilities and monetary expectations. I think there’s a reason that young co-founders flock together (Bill Gates and Paul Allen, anyone? Or their arch-nemeses, Sesnoopynontranparen.gifrgey and Larry?): it’s that they’ve got fire and they’ve got freedom. Of course, more seasoned co-founders can make something work if they’ve got a cache of money and cred piled up between them, but whuppersnappers on step 29 of 800 don’t have such frivolities (observe: blog sarcasm) at hand.

In the next couple days, I’ll post a link on here to my newest student job listing. But in a nutshell, my pitch to students will be the same as my pitch to every bright person employed by a company they don’t have a share in: why do you think you’re getting paid? So few smart people seem to “get” that their salary is inherently less than their value. If their salary equalled their value, then “profit” for their company would not exist. I find it ironic that when most people hear their company is profitable they will rejoice in this fact, perhaps boasting about it to their friends; when in fact, this profit represents the difference between what the sum of the employees are earning and what the company is reaping from those efforts. The bigger the profit, the bigger the discrepancy in what people earn vs. what they produce (and in a perfect world, would be entitled to). So my pitch, quite simply, is that join us and you can be the benefactor of your excellence.

It’s the pitch that ultimately persuaded me to stop thinking like an employee.

Exploring Limits v. Self-Destruction

Along with productivity, one of the topics that perpetually fascinates me is “how much time/effort is enough to have ‘given something your all’?”

On this topic, Paul Graham says,

Startups are not magic. They don’t change the laws of wealth creation. There is a conservation law at work here: if you want to make a million dollars, you have to endure a million dollars’ worth of pain. For example, one way to make a million dollars would be to work for the Post Office your whole life, and save every penny of your salary. Imagine the stress of working for the Post Office for fifty years. In a startup you compress all this stress into three or four years. You do tend to get a certain bulk discount if you buy the economy-size pain, but you can’t evade the fundamental conservation law. If starting a startup were easy, everyone would do it.

During this time [when creating a startup] you’ll do little but work, because when you’re not working, your competitors will be. My only leisure activities were running, which I needed to do to keep working anyway, and about fifteen minutes of reading a night. I had a girlfriend for a total of two months during that three year period. Every couple weeks I would take a few hours off to visit a used bookshop or go to a friend’s house for dinner. I went to visit my family twice. Otherwise I just worked.

Like Paul’s “animal” test for finding the best people to work with, this analysis has been the stickiest that my brain has encountered so far. But I resent it like hell. Because I have a very goldfish-like ability (or even predisposition) toward being able to eat and eat and eat without noticing that I haven’t been hungry for days. Working 7 days a week until 3 A.M. seems to me quite dangerous, both physically and mentally. But I am crazy/stupid enough to try it, and I hear it beckoning.

So how much of that work is actually necessary?

Hell if I know. This is still step number twenty-something of 800.

But here’s what I do know. I do know that one has to push themselves further than seems possible. Rationing sleep is a start. Then you have to learn to be creative and productive and diplomatic despite the fact that you are tired and it’s hard to think straight. Then you have to dedicate yourself to consistent improvement at the same time you’re trying to get two feet on the ground. You can mess up sometimes, but it means you’re probably going to have to work twice as hard later to fix your mess up and do things better.

Add all that energy up, and how much do you have left over for the rest of your life? If it’s a pittance, is that OK with you? If it’s not, do you really think you stand a chance against those who are OK with it? Herein lies the paradox of dedicating oneself to an idea. Or really, dediating oneself to anything. There are other aspects of life that must be omitted, and you are making an implicit bet that you’ll get around to those things later. “The bet” calls the downside of passion “exploring your limits.” Most psychologists call it “self-destruction.” I’ll take the bet.

What Flavor Businessman?

Over the course of creating Bonanzle and during my previous entrpreneurial pursuits, I’ve frequently asked myself what “good business people” do. For every component I identify, my mind reflexively poses the immediate follow-up question, “so, do you do that?” Business Always Fun

So far, the answer is often “no, I don’t.” The example I currently feel the most guilty about is that “no, I don’t do conventional business networking.” What’s worse, I don’t possess the desire to start doing it. The reasons are numerous, but in a nutshell, my least favorite part of getting to know someone is the first 10 minutes, and that is the time frame that is repeated ad nauseum at most of these “meet person, exchange business card, repeat”-type events. Furthermore, these events seem to me to be imbued in protocol, which, as a rookie, I am largely not hip to. Eventually, I consciously realize that I’ll need to change my tune on business breakfasts, but I’ll be holding out as long as possible.

In the meantime, I have to ask myself what it means about my skill set vis a vis the skill set of the successful business person. Is there a better determinant of success than correlation to what business people do? I like to think so. I think that the better question is “what a business person is?”

This question seems to me to lie at the root of what a business person does. So instead of “do you do business breakfasts?” I ask “what is a business person that causes them to attend the business breakfasts?” I’d posit that they are people who can use their communication skills to interest potential clients and partners while attending these events.

In this light, my business side shines. My greatest delight so far in making this site manifest itself has been meeting such an unfathomable number of intelligent people with diverse backgrounds and opinions. One of the most recent people I’ve met, Darren Dalasta, is a great example of a new acquaintence who has come from a totally disparate background (marketing, SEO) and has shown me an entirely different side of the web…. in one email he sent to me. This single email contained links to the Creating Passionate Users blog, eBay’s new UI, a failed Web 2.0 Post-Mortem and many other links more specifically relevant to Bonanzle’s activities. His background has allowed him to create an email that might have taken him a few minutes to write up, which has in turned kept me following links for hours upon days since receiving it.

And Darren is but one example from tens of effective, like-minded people I’ve encountered over the last few months. I think that for everyone, but especially for someone as fascinated by people as me, there are oodles of lessons and successes to be derived through being what a business person is, rather than simply following what they do.

The Joy of Rollin’

Good times in Bonanzledom.

We’re hitting on all cylinders. Web design is zipping along with geoffco delivering daily iterations of some of the site’s most key pages. Web development has proceeded at an impressive clip, with everybody getting their Ruby legs under them. Dan has pulled (and almost pulled) some pretty fancy tricks with the server. And we’ve been fortunate to continue getting significant contributions from a variety of other design and marketing sources. With this week’s progress, the tangible nature of the site is beginning to manifest, and I’m itching to keep it rolling so I can start using the site as a buyer and seller. I think this is the site that bridges the gap between my game and web experience in that it offers the productivity of a web app while it plays like a game. It’s going to be a surprising experience for the web masses who’ve become accustomed to visiting similar sites that provide either fun or needs-meeting services.

Best of: Productivity Tools

Hi my name is Bill and my passion is productivity.

These are three tools I’ve found myself repeatedly using lately to stay maximally productive:

1. Google Desktop. God help you if you are still searching for files on your computer using Windows XP search. I can distinctly recall that when running DOS 3.1, about 15 years ago, I could recursively search for a file in about half the time XP search takes (and don’t even get me started on the 30 seconds XP takes to delete a file (must…avoid…turning blog entry into tirade… deep breath and)). Google Desktop indexes every email, document, and file on your computer to provide search results across your entire computer as you type words into it. Being as that you are currently visiting a high tech “blog” I assume you are probably tech-savvy enough to already have Google Desktop installed, but if not, godspeed to Google.

2. Firefox Bookmarks Synchronizer. I first saw this on Craig Babcock’s blog, and have since seen it many other places, which is no surprise, because it’s that good. In literally less than one minute, you can download it, install it, and setup an account that will henceforth keep the Firefox bookmarks for all of your computers in sync. I have about four computers I use regularly, and I am certain this tool is a Very Good Thing for people like me.

3. Office OneNote. No download link because you can’t download this because it ain’t free. But it is handy. It’ll let you do productive stuff like hold “Windows Key-S” and drag a box around any image on your page. This cropped image will immediately be pasted into a OneNote document (even if OneNote wasn’t open), where it can be labeled and organized into a page of your choosing (see example of the screenshot+note in image at right). It also has a lot of tools that make creating tables easy, as well as generally promoting order in an habit (note taking) prone to chaos. If it’s sitting idle in an installation of Office on your computer, open it up and give it a shot.

Steps 2-799: Not Important

I’ve been progressing through the highly lauded Maximum Achievement by Brian Tracy. It’s a pretty good book, and you would probably be better off if you read it. But if you’re like me, that is also true of 1,024 other books you won’t soon have the time to read. So I’ll let you in on its best tricks as I find them, and you can just send me the $12.00 you would have sent to Amazon for it… deal?

My favorite idea so far has been the Affirmation Technique. The basis of this technique is that you will considerably accelerate your progress toward your goals if you can visualize their end result while ignoring the steps between where you are and where you’ll be when you achieve the result. Tracy uses an example comparing how you would take in a movie if you watched it from beginning to end vs. how you would take it in if you watched the last 10 minutes, then watched the rest of it. His contention is that if you already know what the outcome is, you are calm and relaxed, and generally more able to witness the cinematography, dialogue, and the way the scenes are connected.
So it is with business. I am currently applying this technique to the increasingly deadbeat renter in one of my investment properties. I’ve had to call him the past couple months to get rent paid, and while he has presented a variety of plausible reasons why the checks arrive late, the bottom line is that they’re late (or in the case of this month, very late). Thus, my first inclination is to experience annoyance or unease as I think through what next steps will be necessary to either get rent from him or get him out of the house.

Applying the Affirmation Technique to this situation has helped me see that, even in a worst-case scenario, I’m still going to be making many thousands of dollars from this house. As distracting as the situation is now, the result of this house will still be a net positive. As such, I can experience today from the perspective of a successful investor who, in a matter of time, could be sipping down thousands of mojitos for his trouble. And in the meantime between now and then, I’m confident that I’ll be able to take the necessary steps to reach that goal, because I see it so plainly.

Likewise with Bonanzle, where there are daily challenges that, taken outside of the big picture, can be fatiguing. But zoom out, and there is plainly visible a site that people need, and I know how to make it. Put aside whatever challenge today will hold, and its easy to imagine a number of scenarios where things are going to end up very, very positively. In that reality there is a well of confidence to draw from while the finer details of the plan are worked into place.

Now Hiring: Animals

When posting the Bonanzle co-founder job opening on Jobster this evening, I found myself remembering one of the very first and very best articles I read on entrepreneurship, authored by Paul Graham, back in the Spek days. This article makes more brain-sticky points on entrepreneurship than any other I’ve read. It’s good stuff, but lengthwise, the article might as well be an article of the Constitution. For today’s discussion, I’ll discuss Graham’s suggestion for how to approach the most important (and challenging) element of making any startup work: selecting the right people to work with.

The short answer: “hire animals.” Specifically, Graham says,

One of the best tricks I learned during our startup was a rule for deciding who to hire. Could you describe the person as an animal? It might be hard to translate that into another language, but I think everyone in the US knows what it means. It means someone who takes their work a little too seriously; someone who does what they do so well that they pass right through professional and cross over into obsessive.

“What it means specifically depends on the job: a salesperson who just won’t take no for an answer; a hacker who will stay up till 4:00 AM rather than go to bed leaving code with a bug in it; a PR person who will cold-call New York Times reporters on their cell phones; a graphic designer who feels physical pain when something is two millimeters out of place.”

As I’ve considered this since first reading it, I’ve found that this characterization rings true with many of the top performers I’ve known, regardless of their discipline. Of course, if someone asked me what a “programming animal” was, I’d probably stammer and be slow to find the words to explain it. But when you work with them, and you see them cut through logic problems like a hot knife through butter (borrowing the analogy I used to describe Jordan Phillips when I first met him), you know you’ve found yourself a programming animal.

A very common question I’ve received from fellow entrepreneurs when I talk about Bonanzle is “Where did you find these bad-ass programmers that are working with you to create Bonanzle?” The answer is that I am fascinated by people who are excellent at what they do. In a nutshell: fascination leads to inquiry, inquiry leads to friendship, and friendship leads to working together. Of course, I’m also fascinated by and try to learn from people who I will probably never work with. But when there’s something to be done, you best bet the first people I’ll be talking to about it are those people I respect most, who also happen to be best at what they do, who also happen to be friends.

My long-term dream? I’m hoping that I can meet more people who are great at what they do every year. As I meet more and more such people, I want them to join me and each other at my weekly summer barbecues. It’ll be like Hollywood for nerds, where the common thread amongst attendees will be the respect we have for one another and the shared intent to make good happen to each other and the world around us. Then we will drink too many margaritas, Jordan will lob his three-egg hamburger into the pool, and we’ll double-dog dare whoever’s drunkest to jump into the pool immediately and save the hamburger before the 10 second rule applies.

Go-Go Gadget Design!

Another milestone in Bonanzle’s history was reached this week when we finally found a design partner up to the task of imagining the site’s design future. So without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemens, I present to you Bonanzle’s deity of design: Geoff Harrison of geoffco. His site is filled with a number of attractive and well-thought-out sites that geoffco has created as part of its design portfolio.

In his relationship with Bonanzle, Geoff will help us lay out seven of the site’s most critical pages. He will also assist us in creating a design template that can be reused across the site as new pages arise during development. We like to believe that Bonanzle will be a defining site in geoffco’s portfolio, and that we can continue to work with geoffco as the site reaches its future development milestones, expanding its reach with each month that we draw closer to beta.

** Posthumous Update **

Summary. I see this is pretty high in the search results for “geoffco design,” so let me comment posthumously on the experience we had working with geoffco. First of all, we are a CSS-heavy, web 2.0 site whose design emphasis is on simple, simple, simple. When we worked with geoffco (from about March to July of 2007), Geoff was one of the most impressive designers I could find from the Seattle freelance mailing list. Plus, he gave us a great price on what we were doing. He stuck Adam Faja on our project, while Geoff worked in an overseer/advisory role. I will henceforth refer to the Adam/Geoff combination as “geoffco”, though I worked more closely with the former.

Results. I was very satisfied with the overall process of working with geoffco. I entered the relationship with geoffco only having a vague idea of what our site might look like, and geoffco was very patient with the many iterations it took to get the design looking the way I wanted it to look. Our process was usually that I would give geoffco a high-level overview of the requirements/goals I had for a certain page, and geoffco would send me back a PDF (presumably created with Photoshop) to get us on the same page. The first pass usually wasn’t what I was looking for, so I would either ask geoffco to revise things (which they grew a bit weary of toward the end, given that I did it quite a bit), or get into Photoshop and re-arrange things myself to send back something that was more in line with my vision (they seemed amendable to this arrangement).

After a couple design revisions, geoffco would create the HTML for the pages. At first this was something of a touch and go process, as I believe Adam didn’t have a lot of experience writing HTML (the HTML we received appeared to have been auto-generated… lots of font tags, spacer gifs, entirely table-based layouts, all the good web 1.0 stuff). After talking with Geoff directly about our needs (div-based layout, well structured markup with nothing extraneous) we reached a compromise and Adam started learning CSS-based layout. He was a quick study, and after a couple pages, the quality of the markup was consistent with other design-first web designers I’ve worked with (which is to say, not all that great, but serviceable without all that much tinkering).

In the end, I thought that for the price we paid, we got a great deal, and I would work with geoffco again. If we needed our design to ultimately end up in HTML, I would probably double-check that the designer we were going to be working with had some experience with tableless layout. But other than that, it was a good experience, and the design we ended up with was sound starting point, especially since they really had to start from square one in figuring out what our design was going to look like*.

* At this point, about 6 months later, we’ve revised (I believe) every page that geoffco had given us, but the skeletal layout for what-goes-where on those pages are still very similar to what geoffco had provided us, a sign of their knack for UI.