Taking stock after one year: this week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade assess the company they founded last year and what they’ve learned in the intervening months. They detail Postlight’s origin story, talk about philosophies around hiring and building a diverse workplace, meditate on success and achievement at the management level, and critique things they could have done better — and what they’ll keep working to improve in the future.
Paul Ford: Hey, I’m Paul Ford.
Rich Ziade: And I’m Rich Ziade.
Paul: This is Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight, a digital product studio in New York City. Today we’re going to talk about what it’s like to be a one-year-old.
Rich: There’s a lot there, right? There was a parental thing we’re going to talk about. There was dad, and then there’s leaving home, and then there’s growing up a little bit. It’s going to be interesting.
Paul: Let’s have that conversation.
Rich: You’re sitting on the porch and you’re drinking lemonade, and you’re reflecting on the year, Paul Ford.
Paul: I mean, it’s been a year, Rich.
Rich: What a year.
Paul: We are a year old, this company.
Rich: I mean, we can speak in nostalgic tone.
Paul: Let’s talk about some of the things that happened this year.
Rich: All right.
Paul: Let’s actually, so I mean —
Rich: We started, which was a big deal.
Paul: We started the company. You and I —
Rich: You almost had a moment where you said, “I don’t know, man.” [laughter]
Paul: This was a funny one, right, because we started the company — we can start to tell the story a little bit now. You had a company called Arc90. It got bought by a company called SFX.
Paul: SFX Entertainment.
Paul: Electronic dance music company, and you built a great —
Rich: Which was logical.
Paul: Yeah. Your team — you were chief product officer — your team built a great, big, music platform.
Rich: Music streaming service, live video streaming service. I mean, to be fair, we had the content. We had to build the streaming service.
Paul: You had millions of electronic music tracks.
Rich: Which were for sale before we showed up.
Rich: At Beatport, which is one of the most respected —
Paul: Like if you’re —
Rich: Revered by DJs.
Paul: If you’re a DJ, you know what Beatport is —
Rich: Hell yeah.
Paul: And you know that you can buy uncompressed audio that you can use in your own mixes there.
Rich: Or live sets.
Paul: All the licensing, all that stuff.
Rich: Sort it out. So the magic trick was to get a lot of those music content owners to agree to let the music stream. That was worked out not fully, some said no, but still, we had millions of tracks that could stream.
Paul: Lots of lawyers involved, including you.
Rich: Well, I wasn’t involved in that end of it, but I was in the room listening to some of it. And we were going to ship a music streaming platform, and it would work on the web and mobile…then there were other pieces to it as there was Beatport News, which was going to give up-to-date news on what’s happening in the music scene, in the electronic music scene, and then — it was just a lot of stuff.
Paul: You and I had met because I was an advisor to Readability, one of the products that Arc90 had built. Then, you brought me in as an advisor to SFX.
Paul: I think that it is fair to say that SFX was cookytowns.
Rich: Cookytown is…I mean, I don’t know if the Wall Street Journal would phrase it that way, but it was a crazy…crazy…it was way more than BeatPort, let’s put it that way. They owned a lot of stuff.
Paul: Yeah, there was a big roll out.
Rich: It was a big, complicated company.
Paul: Ticketing companies and live event companies and so on and so forth.
Rich: It was a lot.
Paul: You were in the middle of that. You were like, “Hey, can you come in? You seem like a sensible fellow. Maybe help me make some sense of this.”
Rich: Yes. It was a tornado. It was a lot happening in a very short —
Paul: I’d never seen anything happening like that before. Not even on TV.
Paul: I mean, it was just complicated. And there was a point — you shipped your product.
Rich: The product shipped. This was a publicly traded company, and there was a lot of the typical quarterly pressure to meet numbers and the like. And there was a lot of pressure around the business. It was a lot of chaos.
Paul: It was not a place that was conducive to the orderly patterns and rituals and structures of shipping software.
Rich: No, software was a very small part of the business.
Paul: Yeah, and also —
Rich: There was a grand vision of one day you could buy, like, we bought ticketing companies.
Rich: So eventually you just hit a couple of buttons on the music streaming service app and buy the tickets, things like that. You’d get notifications because you had albums for certain artists. If you had Zedd’s album in your favorites and Zedd was coming to your vicinity, you’d get a ping. That was the bigger vision —
Paul: It was a real vision. I mean, I remember the scope of it was audacious. The tools were there, but again, we’re not really giving much away to say that the platform shipped. People were using it, but the company had a lot of problems.
Rich: There were, there were broader organizational challenges, and the numbers were starting to hurt after a while.
Paul: This company went into chapter 11 bankruptcy, like, it’s not —
Rich: You know…yes.
Paul: I’m not sitting here going, like, talking out of school.
Rich: We’re not talking shit. Yeah. No. Even way before that, it was, my purpose in the company, I think, had waned and I had given notice. You and I had been talking already, for months.
Paul: This was trickier, because you kind of need fundamentally to be building something. You get a little bit lost. Actually, you’re good at corporate politics if it’s in the service of building and shipping a product. And you’re bad at corporate politics for the sake of corporate politics.
Rich: Yeah, I can’t excel purely on the ability to latch onto the right tribe or the right leader and then hop to the next one, because that one’s power seems to be waning. I don’t work well in that setting.
Paul: No, so even though you had the C in your title.
Rich: Yeah, I have to say I learned a lot from the CEO, Bob Sillerman. I mean, he is a —
Paul: Sort of one of the great wild men of business in the last 20 years.
Rich: I think that’s a way to put it, but also an incredibly calculating strategic thinker.
Paul: It’s both of those things, right?
Rich: It’s both.
Paul: He’s…occasionally he would just set the chess board on fire.
Rich: Occasionally, and then occasionally, he’d look at the pieces very carefully and make a very — I had a lot of interaction with him, unusual amount. I’d meet him numerous times a week often, which was unusual. Everybody wanted to talk to this guy. I actually had a pretty good relationship with him. So when I sat down with him and said, “Look, I think my purpose here has kind of passed. It’s time to go.” And then it turned into another conversation around, you know, software became not the key thing for this company to get on its feet.
Paul: They’d shipped their product, they didn’t have —
Rich: They shipped their product.
Paul: There wasn’t an other product to ship.
Rich: He was thinking about bigger issues than software. And I said, “Look, you know, how about I just take back graft out of the company, the 25 or so designers and engineers you have, and I’ll start my own thing and you become my client? And then this way, if you need to sunset or part ways, it’s actually way less painful. I get an opportunity to get a head start on starting this.” So I came back to you —
Paul: The strategy there, too, for people: we had been talking kind of casually about, you know, because you were getting aware that your role at SFX was going to wind down. And so you were like, “Let’s go get a shop in Gowanus. In the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn.”
Rich: Like a former auto body…garage.
Paul: My idea was that you would have a garage door that would open and I could ride my bike straight to my desk. That was my whole plan.
Rich: Maybe stay on your bike.
Rich: Maybe you don’t get off the bike.
Paul: Just kind of get off right under the chair and just start typing. It was going to be maybe four people.
Rich: Yeah, and that was very attractive.
Paul: Especially after shipping this big product in a big, multi-national company, right?
Rich: So just to fast forward through this a little bit, I come back to you, I’m like, “Paul, what do you think? 26 people. What a head start. Isn’t that fun?”
Paul: Then, see, you’d run an agency at that size before. I never had.
Rich: Problem one. Issue one for Paul Ford. Issue two for Paul Ford is this was feeling, I was looking a little too — here’s something that happens in contract negotiations. If the other side’s looking a little too chipper —
Rich: The opposing side starts to wonder what they missed.
Paul: Yeah, there was a little…well, I —
Rich: It was looking a little too easy. I was like, “What am I missing here?” So SFX started to throw all kinds — it took way, way longer to close this deal.
Paul: Oh yeah, no, it was supposed to be like this will take a week. Also, I’m sitting here looking as the co-founder, but it’s kind of your company.
Rich: Yeah, yeah, but still —
Paul: That was complicated.
Rich: It was, but that took care of itself over time.
Paul: Yeah, no, it did. I kind of knew that. I was like, that was actually where us having spent years building trust. You were like, “We’re going to see where this goes.” You were very clear. “You are my co-founder. These are my people. They’re going to be loyal to me on day one. But you’re going to shape this company — ”
Rich: Which turned out to be not entirely true. We’ll get to that in a second. [laughter]
Paul: Yeah, so — just a tornado.
Rich: We hired, unnamed, one of the best, most thoughtful law firms to get this done. We overpaid.
Paul: They’re one of the ones where it’s like if there’s something going to the Supreme Court that’s really good or something involving corporations that’s really bad, this is —
Rich: This is the law firm you hire.
Paul: It was, what, like $400 an hour.
Rich: When the guy called me I would get sweat. I’d just start sweating.
Paul: Oh yeah. I’ve got to say, though, the thing is when you pay for a lawyer of that quality, this guy came in — first of all, it was just a great shirt. He just had a great shirt.
Rich: It was incredibly crisp. My acid reflux went down.
Paul: Oh yeah.
Rich: Your physical health improves.
Paul: This guy, he had literally been hatched in a lab at Yale. [laughter] It just was like they were like, “Hey, this one’s for law. He’s an alpha.”
Rich: Absolutely no regrets getting that kind of representation for what we needed to do.
Paul: The contracts were beautiful. Contracts were usually horrible. You, especially as a former litigator, you got these contracts back and you’re like, [low, impressed voice] “Man, you just got to see what he’s done here.”
Rich: The quality of the paper, it had that shimmy to it.
Paul: Everything was so good.
Rich: It was really good.
Paul: We went and hired a lizard king lawyer.
Rich: Yeah. And it was painful. It was rough. It was a hell of a wind down.
Paul: I think people, you wouldn’t expect it, but the deal dropped out five times.
Rich: Oh, I walked, twice.
Paul: Meanwhile, all your equity in the company was, like, the company was having a really rough patch. The stock went from, like, $7 to maybe $0.32 over that span of time.
Rich: And then some. Yeah. It was a rough —
Paul: It was a bad time.
Rich: It was an insane, an insane few months, but Postlight came to life. They were our client.
Paul: They were also our landlord.
Rich: We were subletting. Absolutely, because we just stayed where we were. We said, “Hey, you don’t need all this space. Why don’t we just pay you rent?”
Paul: The thing to understand here is the original deal was kind of like, well, we’re going to take the whole team, graft them out, and then we’ll have the whole team work on this project, and then Postlight will kind of incubate itself inside of this giant project as we bring people on.
Rich: It was a huge engagement.
Paul: That did not happen. In the terms of the contract negotiation, they halved the size of the engagement.
Rich: There was that. But that, I could live with that.
Paul: That meant we had 16 people we needed to staff promptly.
Paul: That was a bad day.
Rich: You know what? This was a lot of good people. What you wanted to do, this is what is highlighted here: recruiting is really, really hard. Finding good talent is really, really hard.
Paul: This is the thing: people from my world are like, “What and why is this organization so big and what are you doing?”
Rich: Yeah, people are wondering what the hell happened.
Paul: But senior executives were like, “Yeah, that totally makes sense. If you can keep a cohesive team of engineers together and working steadily?”
Rich: Uh huh.
Paul: This happens in Silicon Valley. At bad companies, a cohesive team will stand up and go like, “Hey, we’re available. Do you want us?” Over to another company.
Paul: We’ve had a few people actually apply as teams. It’s confusing us, because we’re like is this an agency? What are they? It’s just a team saying, “Hey, we’re here.”
Rich: Yeah, we work together well.
Paul: We get our stuff done.
Rich: Right. Now, mind you, look, once things settled and the dust settled, there was a fair amount of turnover. A lot of people left.
Rich: First of all, people thought they joined a dance music software company.
Paul: Suddenly, we’re like, “Hey, let’s go to Time Inc and build media websites.”
Rich: Right, and so next thing you know, we’re an agency.
Paul: How are your WordPress skills?
Rich: Yeah. So that was, that was a little bit of a bait and switch for some people. They left for that reason. I didn’t sign up for this, and I need to go. That’s fine, that’s fine.
Paul: We had a lot of toasts.
Rich: We had a lot of toasts. [laughter] A lot of champagne.
Paul: A lot of farewell toasts. Company started with a lot of people leaving. That was fun.
Rich: There were other reasons people left, which are more complicated that probably aren’t worth getting into.
Paul: Well, I mean, people like to know. We can be very broad about it. There were dynamics with you. I think there were people who expected a different outcome because you were still in charge.
Rich: No doubt about it.
Paul: Because it was a company that was you and me and it was going to be a different…your old company, Arc90, had a different kind of culture.
Rich: Very different.
Paul: Very different than Postlight.
Rich: I think what people didn’t realize is that this wasn’t mine.
Rich: This was much more of a partnership. Not just with you. You surfaced over the months after.
Rich: It took you a bit of time, because the deal was effectively my deal.
Paul: It was. Also, I don’t mind the audience knowing: you have more money than I do. You were able to put a little money into this to get it kicked off that I could never have done.
Paul: Paying the rent, just writing that check, I can’t take that out of my —
Rich: We needed some cover.
Paul: That couldn’t come out of my checking.
Rich: Right, right, right.
Paul: We take that as loans and we pay you back.
Paul: But there’s a reality there, right? This is why, it’s funny to me, because occasionally people in your world, because they see you as a rapacious capitalist, kind of because you —
Rich: I don’t know what rapacious means, but I’m assuming it’s flattering.
Paul: It’s very flattering.
Rich: It means they dress well? I don’t know.
Paul: Yes, very well-dressed capitalist.
Paul: It’s kind of funny, because you’re actually the easiest, like, you don’t ask for much. Like, if you give a loan, it’s going to be paid back almost with no interest or with very, very low interest, like, you’re not —
Rich: You know…yeah, agreed. I am not, there is no wickedly-defined…
Paul: You could have put me over barrel on this.
Rich: …razor sharp spreadsheet anywhere.
Paul: You could have been like, “Paul, I want you to be co-founder. I’m going to take 70%. You’re going to take 20%, and we’ll give 10% to the guy who, you know, tends the goldfish.”
Rich: This is actually something that I think people, if we state this, will discover that even work within Postlight don’t know, that we are equal partners.
Paul: We are equal partners in this organization.
Rich: That’s right.
Paul: There’s like one or two things because we are partners that, because we —
Rich: This is actually worth sharing. This is pretty hilarious. We shouldn’t give the reveal, but the fancy Yale law partner said, “We gotta still answer a couple of questions.” We’re like, “What’s that? We’re equal partners. Isn’t everything great?” He’s like, “Well, sometimes you’re going to have to make a decision, and how do you break the tie? Like, if it’s something major you’re deciding about the company, equal partners doesn’t help us a whole lot here. We need decision-making power. You guys could stare each other down forever and make no decision. So somebody’s got to be able to make that decision.” I don’t think we should reveal who can make that decision, but that actually was a decision we had to make.
Paul: No, there was a few fundamental things. I mean, things like —
Rich: It’s just basic stuff to run the operations.
Paul: Yeah, like, let’s say we needed to shut the company down because there had been a giant financial implosion.
Rich: Whatever, yeah, could be something crazy.
Paul: And one of us was like, “I don’t want to do it,” and the other one was like, “I do want to do it.”
Rich: Somebody’s got to be able to make a decision to run a business.
Paul : So that —
Rich: This is turning out to be more revealing than I expected.
Paul: I think it’s — we’re a year in. We have our legs under us.
Paul: This story doesn’t feel —
Rich: I’m also very rapacious, so that’s cool. [laughter]
Paul: You’re a rapacious capitalist.
Rich: I’m a rapacious capitalist.
Rich: So, we get on our feet. You surface. You become a much bigger presence over time at Postlight.
Paul: I get involved.
Rich: You get involved.
Paul: And you know, it’s funny, because I think people around me expected me to be more of, like, the guy you could come and talk about feelings with.
Paul: I think that was the early expectation.
Rich: I mean, you have been exposed to the inside of the machine.
Rich: For the first time in your life, I think, like, truly exposed to it. I think when you’re exposed to it, I think not you, but anyone who is exposed to how these things work, I think their perception shifts.
Rich: Because you see what’s at stake, and you see the hard calls you have to make, and there is no exactly right call based on your personal beliefs or your belief system or whatever.
Paul: You know the hardest thing — the hardest thing for me after a year is, so the way I describe it is that my beliefs haven’t changed, but my assumptions have. Certain things that I believed about the world, about politics, about human equality, those are all the same.
Paul: But they’re hard to implement inside of a company.
Rich: Very hard.
Paul: Things take time. It takes time, to, you know, we had a meeting yesterday, we were talking about diversity. Diversity and inclusion and all that stuff is probably years before it really starts to feel like we’re there.
Rich: It’s hard.
Paul: Because the only way to change things is through growth and — or also attrition, and then, you backfill, right?
Rich: What you’re describing is…I had a friend I did some work for. He was in a turnaround environment. Essentially, the company was struggling, and you had about 60 employees or whatever, and you had some older people in that company, people that had been there for years and years. He’s sort of sweating over the numbers and looking at what he’s got to do, and he fired, like, 20 some-odd people to sort of start the righting of the ship. Some of those people had been there a long time. It was rough. It was a very rough scene.
Paul: A friend of mine who’s a senior exec, she has a really good formulation here, which is that when she refers to having to lay people off, she says, “I’m going to disrupt families. I have to disrupt X number of families.”
Rich: It’s terrible.
Paul: You need to keep that in mind. It’s horrible.
Rich: It’s bad.
Paul: It’s horrible.
Rich: I sat him down, and this guy is a spreadsheet capitalist, just computer brain person.
Paul: Your friend who has to fire 20 people.
Rich: Fire 20 people.
Rich: I said, and we’re out drinking wine and talking. Some rough days we had to sort of witness. I was a consultant, so I actually wasn’t in the company, but I saw it all, and he was dealing with it.
Paul: You were handing him the knife to stab other people.
Rich: Not…somewhat, yes, on the tech side. And he said, “Rich, it is rough. It’s hard. But I came into this thing, and it’s literally slipping off the mountain. If I don’t do this, all 60 go home. The whole thing goes into bankruptcy, and everybody gets sent home and, like, some blue shirt consultants come in to just…”
Paul: Sell the chairs.
Rich: “Sell the chairs, right? It’s rough, but if you look at what my mandate is, my mandate is for this to turn around, and then I will hire another 100 if this thing is on the upswing.”
Paul: The back your head, you’re going, like, “Couldn’t he have figured out how to save those 20 if he’s so smart to know how to hire the 100?”
Rich: He had $11 in the bank.
Paul: No —
Rich: And he needed a certain level — a certain amount of runway to get to the point where he can get it on an upswing. That was revealing to me. I’ve never seen the inside of that.
Paul: Well this is what I would say: it’s hard because really you want to manage to avoid that situation. You want to manage for growth, and you want to manage to avoid that situation. One of the things I’ve come to realize over the last year — we’ve had a lot of actual luck. We just had, like, networks where people popped up where people were like, “I need you now.”
Rich: And we’re smart.
Paul: Yeah, good for us. But like, there’s also luck involved. The thing I’m realizing is if you want to change the world, you have to create growth.
Rich: Yeah, absolutely.
Paul: Because otherwise, it just is going to be so slow that everyone’s going to roll their eyes at you.
Rich: That’s right, and the way I would boil it down is that business doesn’t have any time or space for your principles. It’s just a very big machine.
Paul: We’re externally dependent as an agency on people coming to us and saying, “Can you do the thing I need you to do?”
Rich: That’s right.
Paul: We can say no, or we can say yes. That’s kind of it. If we say yes, we’re in there.
Rich: So you look at the pat year, and SFX eventually filed for bankruptcy, faded away as a client. We found ourselves in a particular situation.
Paul: We have absolutely no SFX work now.
Rich: We have absolutely no SFX work today. That’s correct. And if you look at, I don’t know the analogy, it’s like when you’re hopping on the lilies and they fall into the water as you hop off of them, you’re sort of just —
Paul: I don’t really know that analogy.
Rich: Just ignore…forget it. Essentially, we were able to continuously find the next fuel pod as we progressed, meaning we didn’t compile a lot of it, we just found new relationships. We did the thing in a very short amount of time. It’s actually credit to everyone as Postlight for what we’ve been able to do in year one.
Paul: We threw so much random stuff at people.
Rich: This was crazy town. We believed in what it was, and we knew we needed to land business to make it grow and subsist and thrive, and we were able to do it in a year, and I will say actually build this brand in a year. Credit to you. At one point, we stared at what was ahead, and you said, “We need to get out there and make some noise. Let’s do a podcast.” That just wouldn’t have come into my head. I thought podcasts were, like, all about politics and sports, and I didn’t really think that would be — and it turns out this has been an important part of our marketing strategy, and here we are. It’s been a hell of a year one.
Paul: What’s year two look like?
Rich: Very different from year one, actually.
Paul: Yeah, I agree.
Rich: Quite different from year one. A stabilizing year, a year where we start to put…we didn’t have time to pause and say, “Let’s think about process.”
Paul: Yeah. We’ve always had some money in the bank, but it’ll be good to get some money in the bank, like just to be feel really, like, OK I know how the next couple of months could go.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, the truth is we don’t, we don’t run it that way.
Paul: Put some art on the walls. [laughter] Literally, just make it a home.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, the new office — that’s the other thing we didn’t mention: we moved.
Paul: Well we mentioned —
Rich: We left.
Paul: Yeah, we mentioned in a prior podcast, we talked about it.
Rich: Yeah, true, but that was a big event for us in year one.
Paul: Yeah. We had to.
Rich: Was leaving.
Paul: We had to move.
Rich: It’s like moving out of the parents’ house.
Paul: We lost our lease.
Rich: We actually probably could have hung around, but we smelled…
Paul: It got too much.
Rich: We smelled a need to really get out of there, and really…it wasn’t ever our own. Our signage was weird, it was always kind of hacked together.
Paul: It’s very frustrating when you can’t hang the name of your company up.
Rich: It meant something, right? I mean, you want to make it your own place.
Paul: We had it in like, a banner.
Rich: Right. And so now we’re in this great space just north of Union Square. So great first year. I mean, I say this a lot. You have your patches where you don’t know what’s — you can always say, if you look at what was pulled off, that, in and of itself — there is no arriving. You don’t arrive.
Paul: No, you’re never done.
Rich: You’re never like, “Oh, we’ve arrived.” There’s none of that. That just never happens.
Paul: That’s been the lesson of the year, right? The lesson for the year for me has been we’re never done.
Rich: You’re never done.
Paul: I used to do things where there would be a metric of success.
Rich: That’s just —
Paul: I shipped a thing and it got a ton of attention, or I wrote a thing and it got a ton of attention. All this stuff would happen.
Paul: And I would get direct feedback. I’d be like, “All right. Done. On to the next one.”
Rich: That is the single best piece of advice, is when we ship something big —
Rich: Or when a client tells you, “Great work,” or someone comes on that we’re excited to have join the company, take a minute and, like, actually enjoy that event, that moment. Because there is no grand moment. There is no…
Paul: No, you’re going to come in the next day and there will be 20 other things —
Rich: There’s another bunch of other stuff.
Rich: Just take a second. That’s advice I wish I took more myself.
Paul: We should do that more. We should take the minute.
Rich: So Paul, this all sounded like up to this point, you know those crappy Hallmark cards with the cursive and…
Rich: You did this and you did that and I couldn’t go through the day without you.
Rich: What did we do terribly —
Rich: In year one that we should have done differently?
Paul: Oh boy. I mean…this is a long list in my head. I didn’t communicate anywhere near as well as I needed to. And this, I think, is just permanent. You can never communicate enough. You can never anticipate enough about where people are, what they need to hear, what they need to know.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm. We were busy, right? That was our ace. That’s the excuse we kept pulling, which was we’re busy. We can’t talk to everybody right now. Everybody’s got a lot going on, so we can’t talk to everyone. Meanwhile, people want to know. This is a brand new thing. What’s happening? Is it going well? We’ve gotten into a cadence now where we have these all-group meetings, but at one point, there would be swaths of time where it was like, “Shouldn’t we talk to everyone?” I would turn to you, or you’d turn to me and we’d be like, “We should probably talk to everybody.”
Paul: We failed completely at telling people what it would mean to work in an agency.
Paul: And to sort of say, “Here’s what this culture should look like.”
Rich: Go, go do the work was the ask.
Paul: We didn’t give people real goals. We just were like, “Can you just go work on this project please?”
Paul: What do you got?
Rich: I don’t know if it’s we could have done this better. It was very reactive, like, we had this lull and then we landed a bunch of business and then I turned over to recruiting and I said, “For Christ’s sake, I need people! I just sold a bunch of business. Go figure that out!” That’s just not a healthy way to work.
Paul: You we were just like, “Hire!”
Rich: Yeah. These things didn’t happen in a day. They would go through a process. So when I started at least on the contract part of it, I should have probably gathered everyone and said, “This is feeling more likely than last week. We should probably start to get things rolling.” So again —
Paul: Tricky side, that’s more meetings, right? So you’re like, “Aw, man, do we need more meetings? People just need to be doing work.”
Rich: Meetings is communication and is some level of empathy. I didn’t have, I felt like I had the card to not really worry about empathizing with other parts of the company. I just had to go and figure out how to get more business.
Paul: That’s the thing when we were under pressure, true pressure to literally just get enough work so that people could be working, that was the easiest time of the company.
Paul: It felt hard, but all we had to do was just keep sending emails, keep calling people, keep like — keep things alive and then get money in.
Rich: I feel like the thing we’ve said the most in the last few weeks as we think about next year is how do we be less reactive?
Rich: We say that phrase a lot, and I think we should keep saying it, because it’s not healthy. It’s not a good feeling for anyone, whether you’re HR recruiting or whether you’re biz-dev trying to get new business to feel like you somehow all the sudden woke up one morning and you’re really badly behind.
Paul: You know —
Rich: That’s just not a good way to work.
Paul: It’s terrible.
Rich: It’s not a healthy way to work.
Paul: It’s terrible.
Rich: And it shouldn’t be…it shouldn’t be the norm.
Paul: We came up with a pretty good rule, which is if we find ourselves talking about someone, we need to sit down with them.
Rich: There’s that too.
Paul: We got a little gossipy. We got a little crabby about people. Then we’d be like, “What about this person?” You and me in particular.
Rich: Yeah. We felt like we had, we felt like, rough year, we scrambled, we’re scrappy, we had the right to do that.
Paul: Oh yeah. We —
Rich: I feel like there’s a bit of that.
Paul: Oh, we think very highly of ourselves, right? It’s very easy, I think, for co-founders and for people in our role to describe themselves and define themselves as the savior of the company.
Paul: I think it’s very easy thinking to slip into. Meanwhile, you got almost 40 people working like hell, trying to get their careers on track, and we’re sitting there going, “Well, they couldn’t do it without us.” Look, there’s some truth to that, right? We brought this company together. But at the same time, without them, we’re just —
Rich: It’s very dangerous.
Paul: We’re pointless! You and I are garbage without those people. We’re just two, like, annoying old men talking about technology.
Rich: You can get real comfortable with your position and your status.
Rich: For sure.
Paul: Super easy, and I think that we’re vigilant about that, but you got to fight that from slipping in.
Rich: We’re checking ourselves.
Paul: The way it slips in is you’re just like why can’t they see how hard we’re working? [laughter]
Rich: That’s true.
Paul: When you’re in this role, you don’t get a lot of people coming up and saying, “Good job.” I wrote a memo for a client not too long ago —
Rich: My mom thinks I’m really, really good at what I do.
Paul: I wrote a memo for a client, and I got, it was a tough client. It’s the only kind of piece, I’m not billable, but it’s kind of a piece of billable work normally.
Rich: Uh huh.
Paul: But it was a very complex analysis that is kind of something I’m good at about big archives projects.
Paul: I went and did it. I wrote this 20-page brief, because I kind of knew what I was getting into.
Rich: You had some spring to your step after that.
Paul: Oh man, I got that phone call, and the client, a pretty high-level person was just, “This is the level of depth and coverage that we needed to address this problem.” I was just like —
Rich: You took a victory lap.
Paul: I was like, “Yes! Yes!” It’s entirely the wrong thing for me to be doing that work. I should be empowering other people to do it.
Rich: What are you doing? I saw you working on it. I said this is not good use of your time.
Paul: No, I know, but God, it just was so satisfying, to go from — and also it was like the first, the first discussion had been pretty rough. I was like, “Woof, OK.”
Rich: You know, you don’t achieve a lot of stuff at our level. So here, I have a friend —
Paul: It’s slow.
Rich: —who has this theory —
Paul: It’s a year by year.
Rich: He has this theory about how executives love fixing IT stuff, because it’s these little wins.
Paul: Oh yeah.
Rich: They love fixing their router at home.
Paul: Oh right.
Rich: Because once it’s up and everybody’s got five bars in the house —
Paul: Aw, getting your stereo right.
Rich: All of that — there’s a sense of achievement around that little project, that little win, because we don’t see a lot. It’s hard for us to see that.
Paul: Not only that. The context is often, like, how does this flow back into the business?
Paul: I might go do something interesting in the media, or I might be working on a big project or, like, some sort of side artsy thing. How does this flow back into the business? On the minute it’s done, I’m like —
Rich: This podcast.
Paul: Yeah, this podcast. Does this have impact on everything else?
Rich: Right. We don’t get a score sheet at the end of it.
Paul: This is the tricky thing, you’re like —
Rich: We’re starting to compliment ourselves again.
Paul: Here’s the thing.
Rich: We’re starting to get sympathetic about our lives. We screwed up.
Paul: Here’s the thing, what did you do right, what did you do wrong, ultimately kind of don’t matter. What matters is where do you want to go and how are you going to get there? Can you effectively get there? We give ourselves report cards all the time. We’re at year. We are not the company we want to be yet. If we were, it would be ridiculous. We have years of hard work to truly get this to be a machine. Because what do we want to do? We want to ship products at a global scale that millions of people use. We want to work with the best companies. We want to do, like —
Rich: All of that.
Paul: We want to help —
Rich: Find the best people.
Paul: We want to work with giant organizations that have a cultural impact. All of that. So are we there yet? We’re close than we thought we would be, so we get some credit there. We’re communicating as much as we can, but we need to do a lot better. But it’s in the service of that. It’s not this random report card. It’s like we’re trying to get somewhere.
Rich: Yeah. Totally.
Paul: And we’ll never get there.
Rich: You don’t ever get there. You don’t ever. I will never get there.
Paul: No, I’ll be on my —
Rich: I’m a flaw and probably a strength at the same time.
Paul: Yeah, I’ll be on my deathbed going like, “You know…”
Rich: Should have sent that email.
Paul: “God, we really should have made that move to hire him.” You know, where just…
Rich: It’s terrible.
Paul: I’m never going to be able to let it go.
Rich: All right, we found some levity here. I’m glad we turned it…
Paul: Yeah, that’s good.
Rich: In this direction. [laughter]
Paul: Look, we could always do better.
Rich: We can always do better.
Paul: That’s a year, but I think that’s been, for me, the thing after a year is leaning backwards into that.
Paul: Just all right, you know what? People are going to be pissed at the decisions I make, I’m going to make mistakes. We put into our mission statement, our charter for the company, that when you screw up, it’s OK. People should just tell you you screwed up.
Paul: And then the next statement in our charter is that…just apologize. Just move on, right?
Paul: I want to get that into the DNA of the place, that it’s OK.
Rich: I think that’ll happen. I don’t know who’s going to tell me I screwed up. That’s part of the issue.
Paul: Honestly we —
Rich: Clients do.
Paul: We’ve hired a lot. Clients do. We’ve hired a number of people who I think are pretty comfortable telling us that we could be doing better.
Rich: That is a plus. If you’re willing to do that, I don’t need the, “Wow, Rich. That was a tremendous email you wrote. Those three paragraphs really hit home.” I don’t need that feedback.
Paul: You know the feedback I want is, “I’m happy in my career and I think I’m growing.” That’s what I’m going for here, because if I can get that from an employee, if I feel that their actual self interest is being taken care of, then I know that the whole place can move forward.
Paul: I need them to be like, “Yeah, this was a good step for me. I’m glad I’m here. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. It’s going to be a little confusing and challenging. And I need to figure that out in order to keep moving in my own career.” If I know I’ve got that, then I’m like, great, we can go out, we can sell new stuff, we can do new things.
Paul: If I hear, like, “I don’t know,” then I’m worried.
Paul: All right, Rich, well you know what? If anybody wants to talk to us about what it’s like to be one-years-old —
Rich: Is it one-years-old or one-year-old?
Paul: God, I don’t know.
Rich: If they have feedback, like, we’ve just talked about ourselves reflecting for an hour, but if you have thoughts about what you think about us.
Paul: God, especially if you’ve been through this process and you have any wise counsel.
Rich: Yeah, yeah. Send us a note to [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.
Paul: [email protected]. We get lots of emails. We like it. We also made a little book called Practice, which is excerpts from the podcast, and we’ve been sending them out to people who send us their mailing address, so if you send us one, we have a couple left actually. We may go back for a second run.
Rich: Act now.
Paul: Send us your mailing address to [email protected]. We’ll send you a copy, and people have asked, “Will you send them internationally?” And the answer is, “Of course, yes, no big deal. Whatever.”
Rich: We don’t discriminate.
Rich: All right.
Paul: Let’s go.
Rich: Have a great week everyone.