Paul Ford: Rich.
Rich Ziade: Yo, Paul.
Paul: I’m Paul Ford.
Rich: Rich Ziade.
Paul: We’re here and we are Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight, a product studio in New York City.
Rich: Yes we are.
Paul: And today we’re going to talk a lot about a lot of stuff. First thing we’re going to talk about is… [sing-song] your letters. We get your letters.
Rich: Silly that we still call them letters.
Rich: Just an email.
Paul: People write us emails to [email protected].
Paul: Letters. Then we try to think about them and reply to them.
Rich: We do.
Paul: We don’t reply to all of them because we can’t, because there’s lots, but let’s pick a couple.
Rich: Yeah. Let’s go.
Paul: All right. So…hi.
Rich: Should we use voices? No, that’s not nice.
Paul: I’ll be one. I’ll be one. I’ll be Brendan.
Rich: OK, go.
Paul: I’m Brendan. “Hi, my name is Brendan.” We don’t know Brendan’s last name. Hi Brendan. “I was curious to hear more about Rich’s comparison of small teams of software developers to architects’ offices, wherein he says that if you walk into an architect’s office and say, ‘Play around a little. I need this to be better,’ it’s going to be a very open-ended enterprise and you can’t be sure that anything good will come of it. Is this to illustrate the uneasiness of the architect or the client? Because I’m an architect and if a client came in and said, ‘play around’ early on in the design process, we would be thrilled.” First of all, do you remember what you were talking about with architects’ offices?
Rich: I use this analogy a lot, actually.
Paul: Ahhh. Maybe I heard it before.
Rich: I don’t remember the context, I’ll confess. First off, I don’t want to represent that I know exactly how the rapport goes between a client and an architect, a traditional architect. I’m sure they may tell an architecture firm, or a team at an architecture firm, to play around.
Paul: No, there’s a real blueprint for that communication.
Rich: [normal reaction to someone telling a bad pun] Ohhhh. What I was getting at was that the architect eventually will need to firm up and come up with a level of detail, and that there is an assumption that that detail will not change very much.
Paul: Because you can’t build a skyscraper and say, “You know what? Let’s make it…”
Rich: The escalator would really look great on this other side.
Paul: You can change things like color. You might be able to change some materials. That happens a lot. I want this to be…you know, like…
Paul: This kind of marble instead of this kind of marble.
Paul: But structural things, those elemental things, you can’t fool with those at all.
Rich: You can’t fool with those and frankly, you don’t really want to fool with those. Usually it is the aesthetics that people have an opinion about. Now, the comparison to software was, what I was trying to get at is that it is the artifact that comes out of the process, it’s so wide open and so difficult to really…you’re creating something that others are going to interact with and their interactions with the thing will make or break it. It’ll either fail or succeed.
Paul: Give me an example.
Rich: Based on engagement.
Paul: This is so abstract. We gotta help the people.
Rich: Yeah. Let’s say I’m going to make a new kind of commerce application where you just put in your mood.
Paul: OK. A little grumpy today.
Paul: A little grumpy.
Rich: It’ll actually search through products that fit your mood, so that you’re not searching for blue pants, you’re saying, “I’m grumpy.”
Paul: “I want my grumpy pants!”
Rich: It won’t show you an umbrella. Whatever, right? This is an idea.
Paul: Literally I am a big grumpy pants today.
Rich: I am a big grumpy pants today. No product designer should say, “OK, got it.” And they disappear for three weeks and they come back with an exact full-detailed blueprint of what they’re going to build for you.
Paul: Of the grumpy pants API platform.
Rich: Terrible mistake. Terrible mistake.
Paul: Wait why is that a bad mistake?
Rich: There is no way to conclude at that moment, which is at the idea phase, that what you’ve…you didn’t solve a problem here. It’s essentially, it’s an exploration to a larger extent.
Paul: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: What you really should be doing is creating lower-impact representations of the thing that you can test and play with and see visually and just get a first person perspective around.
Paul: OK, I come to you, first of all, mood-based shopping, it should happen, now that you’ve said it out loud. I kind of want —
Rich: That’s a free idea available to the world.
Paul: What would it be like? What would happen? You’d say, like, I’m grumpy today. My worry is that it would just give you, like, in the same way that I go into Shutterstock.
Paul: I have these very obvious ideas, like DESIGN, and then there’s the same thing show up for design you’d exactly expect, like —
Paul: Shutterstock probably has 30 or 40,000 — this is a stock photography service that we use for the newsletter.
Rich: It’s very nice.
Paul: Apparently it has 30 or 40,000 lightbulbs.
Rich: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Paul: To indicate ideas.
Rich: Lots of that stuff.
Paul: What I love too, actually, and just a quick digression, is that there’s also this thing going where people will just basically superimpose words into really ridiculous scenarios. So it’ll be, like, BLOCK CHAIN, and then there’ll just be lightning.
Rich: Yeah. [laughter]
Paul: Then it’ll be innovation, and it’s the exact same lightning.
Rich: That could just be a gallery right there.
Paul: Yeah. That’s a thing they have. They’re like, “We have 20 million images,” and you’re like, “But you could actually only have one image and then 19 million…” Anyway. OK, so I come to you, and I want mood-based stuff. Go ahead and build it for me. And I’m worried that it’ll be like Shutterstock where the first word you type in, “grumpy,” suddenly this shows you things that have the word “grumpy” in it, like, does a keyword match.
Paul: That’s the problem with Shutterstock. If I just do the word — if it’s like, you need to think a little harder and come up with related concepts —
Rich: Better, yeah.
Paul: That connect and…
Rich: Correct. Really what I was getting at was that getting software right is hard, and the cost of change increases as you go further and further down the process of designing and building something. So if you do decide that that was a bad move, and it’s really late in the game, and they’ve built everything, it’s very costly to sort of pull the machinery out, move the wires around, move everything around, and try again. So you really, the more you can test and play, the better off you’re going to be. Any product shop that tells you, “We know exactly what you want. See you in three months,” and doesn’t have that dialogue with you? The risk is a lot higher. Mind you, there are solved problems, like commerce and…
Paul: Sure, I’m going to give you my credit card. You don’t want to reinvent that.
Rich: Yeah. Actually, yeah. You should actually lean on those conventions, if anything. But very often it’s an idea and it’s this sort of new terrain. And nobody should take a pencil out, sketch it out, and say, “Yup, here it is. Go build it.”
Paul: You want to know the fundamental paradox of our industry?
Rich: I do, actually. I do want to know this.
Paul: It’s that the best way to cut risk is to play.
Rich: Yeah. Yeah.
Paul: And it’s incredibly difficult. Most agencies, most product design studios, whatever, when you’re doing your sales process, and you can’t go in there and say, “I need you to give me a huge amount of money so that I can let these well-educated, bright people go off and have fun on your dime.”
Rich: Yup. Exactly.
Paul: This is what they love to do. They want to obsess about this problem. They would do it for free.
Paul: But they happen to be with us and we pay them.
Paul: And we’re going to let them go away for a couple weeks and just, like, there might be a day where they don’t do a damn thing.
Paul: They’re just going to be looking at the, look, kind of out for a walk. You know, one of our developers likes to go through a walk through the park every morning and then —
Rich: I think it’s the woods, actually.
Paul: Talks to the deer in Tennessee.
Rich: That I can’t confirm, but he does go through the woods.
Paul: He may not talk to the deer, but —
Rich: Yeah. You’re making a great point. Look, when you pitch by the way, when you’re like, “OK, give me a proposal, Rich,” and then we draft this proposal, if I put a phrase in there that says, “Our team is going to play,” that’s scary, right? You got an idea —
Paul: Well people dress it up with, like —
Rich: You decided to take the leap and spend money on that idea — exactly.
Paul: They dress it up with ideation.
Paul: Stuff like that.
Rich: Design iterations, or…
Paul: Really what you’re asking people to do is say, “Here’s a risky scenario, OK. Here’s a problem that’s expensive and difficult, and no one’s been able to come up with an optimal solution that we’ve identified that we can just copy.”
Paul: “So can you go off and pretend? Can you go into a world of make-believe and create this problem in a little constrained, you know, like, magical way?”
Rich: Make it real.
Paul: Yeah, and then see —
Rich: Solve it.
Paul: If you can get from the playful silliness —
Rich: To something…
Paul: To something real.
Rich: Viable. Hey look, Brendan ends it with a great point, which is if someone, look, I work in an architecture firm, if someone came to me and said, “Play,” we’d be thrilled. It’s true. You really would be thrilled and it does happen. Sometimes it is a partnership where the client isn’t just saying, “Here’s exactly what I want, here is this grid paper, and just do this.”
Paul: Usually that’s someone comes out of your industry, right? That’s the architect who started a general contracting firm and now is this big thing that they have to do.
Paul: They’re going to come back.
Rich: It’s very concrete.
Paul: They’re going to be like, “Guys, I understand, just literally…” Here’s the problem, right? Are there any worse words for anyone in a client service business of any kind to hear than, “Have fun with it?”
Rich: It’s a dangerous, dangerous, dangerous proposition.
Paul: That never is a good thing, right?
Paul: That’s really tricky. You would have to, from our point of view, you would have to convince me that you have a lot of domain knowledge before I would hear the words, “Have fun with it,” and go, “They really want me to have fun with it.”
Rich: Yeah. Exactly. It’s just rare. It’s rare. You have to a) have that relationship with that, like, rarely, I mean, what we’re trying to do in a broad sense is build that reputation, that hey, if I give these guys the keys, and tell them take me there, they’ll take me there, right?
Paul: There’s an —
Rich: That exists for certain high, high-end…like, Pentagram is that for branding.
Paul: That’s right. I’m going to go there, I’m going to say, “I need a logo.” And they might go out and do all this research and put all these pictures together, and you have to, you know they’ve gotten there before.
Rich: Exactly. They built that reputation.
Paul: They know the route.
Rich: Exactly, and we would love to — we are quickly sprinting towards building that reputation where we’re truly, we’re a design partner. We are a…we think and process the problems with you. Rather than just to your term, a general contractor, where it’s, “I know exactly what I want. Just please just go do this.”
Paul: The trick thing here too, right, is that we are —
Rich: Don’t get me wrong, we do that kind of work, but —
Paul: We do.
Rich: We would be thrilled and the teams would be thrilled if we were asked to just, “Hey, here’s the blue-sky challenge.”
Paul: We’ve had challenges to do projects like that, and they’ve gone well, but what I’ve noticed is that the amount of communication, when somebody says, “Go for it. See what you can come up with.”
Paul: The amount of communication necessarily…necessary triples, or quadruples, because suddenly they’re making a different kind of bet.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: And it’s almost like they fall back on me a little bit as a technical communicator, someone who can — because I can explain these guys are over here and it looks like they’re playing or it looks like they’re not checking in too much code right now, but this is going to accelerate here. This is going to move here.
Paul: This is going to happen here.
Rich: Yeah. Exactly.
Paul: There’s all these give and takes and it’s really, I think being in client service, you start to become very aware of how you look to others, and it’s been interesting for me in the last year of this company, because I’m suddenly way more aware of how engineering looks, how design looks, how product management looks, when someone from outside of these industries looks in.
Paul: I was already pretty aware. Like I mean, it’s what I write about, but it was just…it just looks like a lot of risk.
Rich: It is a lot of risk. And we’ve had conversations with prospects where we’ve told people, “That’s too risky.” And you know, as a shop, you want to somehow steer people towards business, towards, you know —
Paul: Yeah, but we lose our reputation if we stop shipping.
Rich: Exactly. So we’ve had many conversations where it’s just pretty much advice.
Paul: It’s not just reputation, too. We also lose employees.
Paul: If people aren’t satisfied putting stuff across, over the line?
Paul: That’s the only thing we really do.
Rich: Right. True.
Paul: Nobody wants to work on something for 18 months and then watch if go away.
Rich: Absolutely. So Brendan, thank you for your question. It’s an excellent one. And it’s really a clarification. We’re going to read another question.
Paul: It’s either from No-el or Noel.
Rich: They’ve got the two dots over the “e.”
Paul: It’s an umlaut over the “e.” It’s two dots.
Rich: Oh, look at the English major now.
Paul: Should I read it?
Rich: Just go for it.
Paul: “Hi Paul and Rich. I’m struggling (and have been struggling) with the phenomenon I call the Facebook Event Horizon, and I thought it was just the sort of thing you both would have opinions on (and maybe even want to dabble in a solution for). In short, the Facebook Event Horizon is the point at which you’ve locked so much content into one social media platform that extracting yourself (and your content) from that platform requires increasing amounts of energy and effort, until you despair and have to abandon the last 10 years (or more!) of your online life in a drunken midnight point-of-no-return DELETE ACCOUNT catastrophe. I understand why Facebook doesn’t have a WordPress equivalent of “export content;” it wants to lock you in. What I don’t understand is why nobody else has created an app or a plugin or a service that can extract all your content in an easily manageable interface, so that you can easily go through and figure out what posts, links, photos, etc. that you want to save and trash the rest. I am assuming it’s very difficult.”
Rich: To build it. It’s not difficult. [laughter] That’s the reality. Facebook has some really lovely APIs and Facebook’s output to the screen is quite predictable, and there are some very visible patterns. So it’s actually not difficult.
Paul: You know who’s good at this, actively good, is Google.
Rich: Extracting the content?
Paul: Google Takeout is really good. You can go get all your email and download it in one zip file.
Rich: And look, hats off to Google for providing that power and control. Noël…No-el, it’s not difficult, technically. What is at play here is I think the commercial interest of Facebook. Having a tool that is, you know, $3.99 in the app store that allows you to hit a button and see a nice export utility kick in would definitely take a lot of power and a lot of influence away from Facebook. So it is not a technical challenge. It is a, Facebook has a particular commercial interest in not letting that happen.
Paul: You can actually get all of your connections out of LinkedIn in a comma separated value file.
Rich: Is that true?
Paul: Yeah, you can get everybody —
Rich: Hundreds of people I’ve never met and probably will never meet, I can get in a CSV?
Paul: I’ve done it. I did it when we started the company so that I, we could make a mailing list.
Rich: Oh, nteresting.
Paul: Yeah. Actually, as much as we rag on LinkedIn. I should point out by the way that recently, there’s a bug I love to complain about, about LinkedIn, where they have the same person and I could never actually make the connection with that person. They fixed it.
Paul: They fixed it.
Rich: That’s very sweet of them.
Paul: Something triggered that change. So I mean, but here’s the thing, Rich: you have not just all your friends on Facebook. I think they would be pretty trivial for Facebook export.
Rich: You have your life.
Paul: It’s also —
Rich: Photo albums…
Paul: Yeah, exactly. Even once you downloaded it, you can’t do anything with it. Now I think you should be able to.
Rich: I mean, to say, hey, take my photos out and put them into an album, or take my posts out and put them into a document. There’s a lot of things they can do.
Paul: This is the thing —
Rich: The point is —
Paul: It’s a little bit like —
Rich: That technically it’s not challenging.
Paul: Imagine if Gmail was one side, over here or is the Gmail images product, where all the images that people email each other live, and over here is the Gmail chat product. You know, and on and on. Imagine if Gmail, instead of sending you emails, had all the parts of the emails in separate products.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: And they were all linked together.
Rich: I’m sure there are probably tools that do that. I’m sure…
Paul: It’d be hard.
Rich: There are clients that do that.
Paul: It would be hard to pull it out. This is where really nice well-known things, like the email message format that’s been around for 20, 30 years, are pretty great.
Rich: Yeah. I don’t mean to go back to sort of the latent intentions of corporations, but I think the reason Google is cool with it is because this is not core to Google’s business. Gmail is a pay service. They’re doing very well, but part of the offering is control over your information, especially for businesses. As far as Facebook is concerned…
Paul: Most people don’t pay for Gmail though.
Rich: In any case, it’s not core to, like if you look at Google’s quarterly earnings, Gmail…
Paul: That’s a good point.
Rich: Is not core, it’s not their oxygen.
Paul: Everybody —
Rich: Whereas for Facebook, it is exactly that.
Paul: Yeah, I’m praising Google, but at the same time, every time there’s been an API to actually directly address and work with their search engine, it just gets taken away from you.
Rich: That’s the jewel, right? That’s the crown jewel.
Paul: That’s the whole story of Twitter, right? You can go get your archive from Twitter, no problem, but it’s very hard to build an API client that hits it more than, you know…
Rich: That’s right.
Paul: Ten times every —
Rich: They need to control the experience.
Paul: 15 minutes.
Rich: These are publicly-traded companies. In fact, it’s not that they’re sitting there with a sinister plan. They have an obligation, in fact, to not jeopardize and marginalize their core value that makes them all this money.
Paul: It is a little tricky though because —
Rich: They’re trying to make money.
Paul: So much of your life value is locked up in Facebook.
Rich: It’s deeply personal, right? That’s where we are now, right? I mean, people, I don’t know if they go elsewhere. I think it’s there.
Paul: You know what they’re saying, and by “they’re,” I mean Union Square Ventures and Fred Wilson and his blog posts about this.
Paul: They’re saying that there is going to come a revolution in protocol design. Like, think about the email as a protocol, right? And that the block chain, all the bitcoin stuff, is going to allow people to create new kinds of protocol for information exchange that have a little bit of currency and scarcity built in. So that if you were to build your API client on top of, like, let’s say a block-chain-style Twitter, one that was not built on just “Hey, here’s a little bit of internet. Do you want it?” But rather, like, “Hey, I’m going to give you these tweets and they’re authenticated this way, and it’s going to cost you this much to access them.” If that stuff was going to be all built into the protocol, then you’d have this tremendous impetus for more protocols and more kinds of exchange like this to be created, and that there would be money built in in that weird bitcoin way.
Rich: Meaning to get at that information, you pay.
Paul: You pay. Yeah, you pay, probably you would pay some real money into the system, but basically it’d be built in.
Rich: I got to say, for Facebook, that’s not for sale. I would never…I don’t think I’d ever put it for sale, even if you’re willing to pay.
Paul: If you were Facebook.
Paul: You would just never…
Paul: Even if I was like, “Can I have $50 to download all of my data?”
Rich: Yeah. It’s not worth it.
Rich: Yeah. Unfortunately.
Paul: Would you ever, would you pay for Facebook?
Rich: Maybe. Possibly.
Paul: I think that would be —
Rich: I like seeing my cousins’ pictures.
Rich: In San Diego. They don’t know how to make sushi in San Diego, by the way. It’s weird.
Paul: Tell me about that.
Rich: It’s just,it’s just kind of bulky and there’s a lot of sauces.
Paul: They have really good fish though. They’re on the ocean.
Rich: They have beautiful fish. I just don’t know if, they call it sushi, but it’s just sort of…I don’t want to judge.
Paul: You don’t want to judge? [laughter]
Rich: Thank you, Noël, for that question.
Paul: OK, that was some good Q&A. We’re sorry we can’t get to everyone, but those were good questions. So we should talk a little bit about, because like to talk about the business we’re building.
Rich: Let’s set it up, though. You ever see in James Bond, the movie doesn’t start. The credits don’t come in.
Paul: It does start eventually. [laughter]
Rich: There’s an opening scene.
Rich: Where he’s hanging out of a plane or whatever.
Paul: Yeah, no. They always —
Rich: Then they go… [sings the James Bond opening chords]
Paul: It probably has a really annoying name that is only James Bond-specific.
Rich: What is that?
Paul: The fidget. The pre-guffin.
Rich: The pre-graphics.
Rich: It’s a thing.
Paul: The title-prior. I don’t know.
Rich: Yeah. There’s probably some name for it. So maybe we could do that for this next bit we’re going to talk about.
Paul: All right, what do you want to do?
Rich: Just set it up.
Paul: [impressive trumpet noise to mimic the James Bond theme]
Paul: Sorry, I’m just trying to be…
Rich: No. Yeah.
Paul: [apology trumpet noise]
Rich: So we are an agency.
Rich: We started in a very unusual way because we did not start as four people, or three people.
Paul: We started as…
Rich: We’re talking about Postlight, the product shop consultancy in New York City.
Paul: We were born 35 pounds.
Rich: We were a large baby.
Paul: We were a large baby. We were 35 people.
Rich: 20 to 30 people. We were 30 some-odd people.
Rich: We felt an enormous challenge in front of us to staff those people, so that revenue could start coming into the business so that it could be a viable, healthy business that can then spread its wings and go.
Paul: You and I just sat down, we’re like, “We got to sell.” There are two things that you —
Rich: We got to sell.
Paul: As co-founders, there’s sort of three things we do. We set the overall strategy for the company so that other people can know what they’re doing. We recruit when we can. And we help everyone else in the organization to recruit.
Paul: We sell services. I would say an enormous amount of our time in the last year have been —
Paul: Selling services.
Rich: Yes. And when we would land opportunities, and that business would come in, we would staff people.
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: So what didn’t we do? What didn’t we mature into?
Paul: A lot of the stuff that you walk around for six months talking about.
Paul: When we get this going…we didn’t, we didn’t write a business plan.
Rich: We didn’t write a business plan. We didn’t talk about what the place represented. We’ve talked a lot, so there’s a lot, of, there’s sort of…
Paul: We leaned very heavily, I have a lot of client service experience and you ran a business along this rough template.
Paul: This is a different company than the one that you used to have, but —
Paul: You founded an agency before.
Paul: So we really fell back on, like, the idea that even though there wasn’t a written constitution.
Paul: We could have an effective governance.
Rich: And a lot of our outlook was very short-term, which was get business, staff people, make some money, put the money away so that you can survive as a business and thrive as a business, and keep going.
Paul: I would say for the first six to nine months, we had what I would call like a three-month outlook.
Rich: Three-month outlook, but it’s extending now.
Paul: It is now, but for a while, if it was May, you were looking at June, July, you were kind of thinking, “Let’s get through to August.”
Rich: Correct. Quite, I use this word a lot, reactive.
Rich: So it was like, whoa, I think we may land this one. If we do, we’re going to need five people, so let’s get going.
Paul: People need to understand too, the goals of a business like this, you want to have three or four months of salary in the bank. You want to have —
Paul: There’s like a —
Rich: Not be in a harried state. The visual I keep thinking of is that Lucille Ball, the “I Love Lucy” episode where the chocolates are passing by.
Paul: Yeah, that’s right.
Rich: She can’t wrap them fast enough, so she starts stuffing her face and stuffing them down her shirt, and she’s losing control.
Paul: That’s us —
Rich: Not a healthy place.
Paul: That’s us getting clients.
Rich: That’s us, I mean, honestly doing well enough. It’s a classic good problem to have.
Rich: But now as we’ve turned the corner to some extent and have a little bit of daylight, we’re finding that this isn’t the way to run a business. That’s not a long-term perspective for —
Paul: Can I make an observation though which is it’s a good problem to have, which is sort of, that happens. We’re doing better and we’re doing quite well in a lot of ways, and you go, “That’s a good problem to have.” I find problems of growth to be more challenging than, things are contracting, let’s beat the —
Rich: Calm down.
Paul: Bushes and get some business in here. That was actually —
Rich: That I think is correct. It gets more complicated. I think that’s right.
Paul: Yeah because suddenly you’re thinking broader and longer term and there are…you know, when we had a couple lean months and we were out there just selling, that was very clarifying.
Rich: It was one goal.
Paul: Yeah, and it was also —
Rich: Go do it.
Paul: We just were like, “The home fires are going to keep themselves lit. We’ll do the best we can.”
Paul: That was as good as we could do and it was good enough. Now we’re in a position where we’re able to go, “All right, what do the next…five years look like?”
Rich: I think that’s right. That’s right. Not only what do the next five years look like: what do we represent?
Rich: When we’re recruiting and we’ve gone through five or six conversations with someone, they’re not just thinking, “Oh this seems like a cool place.” They’re thinking, “I want to be a part of a place that represents these values and aspires to be this.”
Paul: This is the thing about starting a company as…we’re just both a little older. We assume that people will align their lives with us, not that they will come in and immediately absorb our mission and live the dream. That’s what startups do. Startups are like, “You’re going to come in and we need about 70% of your personality. You need to live it and breathe it.” And we have, if you’ll notice, we have moms and dads and we have people who are like, their identities are…the thing that I always say is I’m going to need 5%, maybe 10% of your personality on a big day.
Paul: But the rest is yours. I might need you to go into a meeting and just be like, talk about Postlight, be into it.
Paul: Enthusiastic and hand people a business card with the logo on it. You need to give us that much.
Paul: But the rest of it, if you want to go home and get really into “Game of Thrones” and…
Rich: Go for it.
Paul: You’re just…whatever you want to do, that’s your life too.
Rich: Yeah. And there’s no doubt that we want to talk about people we’re trying to recruit. Sharing those values is important. But also the people that are already in the place, to provide a particular direction and a particular path that represents them, personally, like I’m not going to assume that Jane, employee 26, is going to —
Paul: We don’t have anyone named Jane right now.
Rich: We don’t.
Rich: Is going to internalize and become an evangelist for what Postlight is. What I do want Jane to be able to do is take that broader mission and translate it into something that she values personally for herself professionally.
Paul: This is the thing, we want to give people an environment that they can…we want people to find us and if they identify with us, we want them to come in.
Rich: Yeah. We want them to come in, and if they’re already in, we want them to see, not think, “OK, I’m off this gig in November, and then they’ll probably put me on another gig.”
Paul: That’s not sustainable.
Rich: That’s not sustainable. You have to, I mean, where do you want to go professionally? Where do you see yourself relative to others? Do you want to lead? Do you want to build a particular set of skills? Do you want to make sure that you get this out of it? What do you want out of it, also? It’s yeah, OK, we pay you a salary and you get benefits, but what, like for some, I get it. They want to be here for three years, and they want to get X, Y, and B and C out of it, and then they want to go and do a thing.
Paul: Well what happens is —
Rich: I respect that.
Paul: They’re going to make a decision at that point.
Paul: They’re going to go, “You know what, I gave it those three years I said I would give it.”
Paul: “Now I got to decide if it’s going to be right for me to stay or if I should go do this other thing.”
Paul: What I want, what we want is for people to make that decision feeling, like, good about the basics.
Paul: “They treated me with respect and I was able to do good work here. I’m proud of the work I did. Now I’m going to figure out my next thing.”
Rich: Yeah. I have a friend who works for a small, about 40-person architecture firm. And the firm, which I’m not going to say the name, gained its reputation because of its founder. There is no partnership, it’s one person, and he is internationally acclaimed.
Paul: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: He has young architecture school students working for him because he has all these projects going on. And he has no interest in building a partnership, but beyond that, he has no interest in really providing a path for the people. He’s already done the math. He gets a 21-year-old who’s willing to do 70 hours a week right out of architecture school because he knows that that 21-year-old wants this architecture firm on their resume.
Paul: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: OK? He also knows that at around 24, 25, they’re going to get frustrated and angry and exhausted and leave. He’s actually figured out the formula to just churn through young people.
Rich: He’s not interested —
Paul: I’m sure, like, there are certain ones where they figured out it’s in their best interest to stick around.
Paul: They don’t burn out. They get a big raise and then they stick around.
Rich: Not only that —
Paul: Law firms are like this a lot.
Rich: Law firms are like this. They churn through people.
Rich: Not only that. He’s actually support — he knows the best ones are going to leave sooner. He knows the really talented ones are going to fish around. He actually builds relationships with them such that he almost becomes like a career mentor as they exit his firm.
Rich: So he’s already decided that his shop is his.
Paul: This is also like the McKinsey thing, which is you up and out, but then there’s alumni network that’s going to bring McKinsey business.
Rich: Right, right.
Paul: You get McKinsey on your resume. They formalize it to the point that it’s a cultural thing.
Rich: My cousin was a management consultant for Booz Allen for a couple of years and they were sending him to the most difficult places to do work.
Paul: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: They knew that within 18 months, it was greater than 50% chance he was going to leave. And he left. They were, in a way, Booz just decided hey, this is the math. We just have to go back to Columbia and the Ivy League schools and get new people, and just keep churning through because nobody wants to be stationed in particular countries where it’s a pain in the ass.
Paul: I don’t know how big they are, but I’m going to guess it’s at least 20,000 people, right? It really is at the highest levels.
Rich: Yeah. Paul, I haven’t talked to you about this, so we should probably talk it up, but I don’t want that architecture firm model as part of my organization. I actually want to cultivate leadership. I want to give people a path where they’re feeling connected to the success of a place rather than chewing them up and spitting them out and getting more people.
Paul: I think it’s —
Rich: You agree, Paul. Let’s get this out there now.
Paul: I absolutely agree. I think that, so it’s been a real lesson for me actually in that the last year, because I’ve never been in charge of an agency or a studio before.
Paul: And it’s been a real lesson for me to figure out how not having something, not having things in place, is not a failure. That there’s progress for an institution. And I think, what I get is a lot of people, I have a lot of people in my ear because I have a certain culture and I have a lot of, I go out for coffee with somebody and they’ll be like, “How come you don’t have X, Y, and Z?” I’ll be like, “We don’t have it yet.” We just haven’t —
Rich: We’re still forming.
Paul: We’re still forming.
Rich: We’re back-filling in a way.
Paul: I feel that there is a consumer model for institutions, for how people see organizations, that has emerged. That I’m very suspicious of. I am suspicious of crossing things off the list, because we need to give things time.
Paul: But at the same time, it’s definitely, this last year and these last few months, as we start to take a breath, look at the business ahead of us, we’ve started getting getting more advice.
Paul: I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but we both have. We both go out, we talk to people.
Rich: Sure. Of course.
Paul: Who, I’ve been calling my brother more often because he’s a senior HR exec. Getting him to tell me about things of his scale and —
Rich: I’ve been talking to a Slackbot.
Paul: Yeah, I talk to that one, too.
Rich: He didn’t want to take it forward.
Paul: Bot, what do I do? What do I do? Sometimes they make ridiculous spreadsheets.
Paul: But it is time to, we’re hitting a point where we can codify what we want to be.
Paul: We’re drafting a mission statement. What’s funny is we’ve started to do this.
Rich: We finally got to the mission statement. This was the pre-intro James Bond scene.
Rich: It ran a little long. What is a mission statement? Define it, Paul Ford.
Paul: See, this is the thing. Typically a mission statement is kind of useless. It’s a statement of our values and so on, but it’s very cookie cutter.
Rich: We had a couple of drafts where we were like, “This is nonsense.”
Paul: I’ve been taking it and working on it, and it’s very, very hard. A typical mission statement is, like, “We stand by our values and our people.”
Paul: And it’s just like, that sounds great.
Paul: What I want the mission statement to be is a little more constitutional, a little more, like —
Paul: One of the things —
Paul: Maybe this is what we talk about here. One of the things that we’ve been talking a lot about is, I wouldn’t call what we have now, except in some cases, a mentorship culture.
Rich: Yeah. You’re being kind. It’s an incredibly talented group of people. There’s not much structure in place to mentor others.
Paul: That’s right. And so the tricky thing is what you want to do with the mission statement is say, “You know what? We are a mentorship-driven culture,” because that sounds and feels really good. Let’s get out of this box where we’re just bringing in only the most talented people.
Rich: That’s a big statement.
Paul: That’s right. Except then you start to back that out and you’re like, “Are we…what does that really mean?”
Paul: Yeah. Mentorship, all this stuff, is, there’s five or six things that we’re putting in it, right?
Paul: This week, we’re going to go in and what I want, what I’m hoping, is that we present this mission statement to the people in the company, and that they give us feedback, and that we start to see over the next week or two someone take some ownership. You know, people take ownership and start to say, “Yes, that does represent me.”
Paul: So what we’re going to do is we’re going to stop now, we’re going to come back in a couple weeks, share the mission statement itself, not just talk about it.
Paul: Tell you how it went in the company.
Rich: I think that’s a great idea.
Paul: All right, let’s do that.
Rich: All right.
Paul: This is Track Changes. I’m Paul Ford.
Rich: Rich Ziade.
Paul: If you need to get in touch with us about anything, [email protected], subscribe on iTunes.
Rich: Have a great week, Paul.
Paul: All right, Rich, let’s get back to work.