Much Ado About Nothing

For my own record, some tweets worth keeping from 2013:

But, what do you do?

We’re excited to see the number of companies and people listed on Rabble growing.

We’re now up to 360 companies and 558 people in the directory.

We’ve just added Clean Tech and Life Sciences categories, in addition to Hardware and Services categories which were added a few weeks ago, so please feel free to add your listing to those.

If your company isn’t listed you can add it right now using the Add a Company button in the top right.

If your company is listed, please check to make sure that all of the people associated are also listed. It’s excellent to see some companies with their extended management team, investors and advisors all listed – e.g. Vend, Parrot Analytics and Timely. We’d love to see more!

Anybody already associated with the company can add the names and details of others who should also be listed, or you can click the “+ Add me to this company” link.

One of the things we’re very keen to encourage is a short and succinct description of each company, so that anybody browsing the directory can get a quick idea of what you do and if that is something they are interested in.

As it says on the form:

“Please no marketing bullshit! This should be a plain-English, no nonsense description of your product or service from a customer’s perspective.”

When we were putting together the initial list of companies we added the descriptions ourselves – generally starting with the description from the companies websites. It was amazing how often we would read all of the words (sometimes hundreds of words!) on the home page and still be left with the questions “But, what do you actually do?” and “Who is this for?”.

The best descriptions, in my opinion, have this form:

[Description of your product/service] for [Description of your target customer]

So simple!

And, some have done a great job of this:

Rabble-RedSeed Rabble-GoVocab

Rabble-Mindscape Rabble-AcuteCrew
(especially Acutecrew – rules are made to be broken!)

And, last but not least, my current favourite:

Rabble-CropLogic

But, many seem to struggle. It’s amazing to see otherwise intelligent people suddenly develop verbal diarrhoea when they come to try and describe their business.

We reserve the right to edit descriptions, to keep the site looking clean and usable.

The first thing we do is remove the company name, which just about everybody starts with. The cards already display the company name in a big bold font, there is no need to use up precious space in your description by repeating that. Likewise, we don’t need full legal names so you can leave off the “Limited”/”Ltd”.

Next we try and remove the nonsense words. It’s staggering how many people describe their service as “an online blah” or “cloud-based blah website” (really, as opposed to the non-cloud based websites also providing blah?) We also see lots of “world class this” or “unrivalled that” or the ever popular “beautiful and simple to use whatever” (interestingly, nobody ever describes their product as ugly or complicated).

Finally we edit anything which is written from the companies perspective rather than from the customers. We want these descriptions to appeal to people who might buy your stuff, or to those who might want to work with you or invest in you.

We all just want to know what you do, so please help us out and make it easy!

Enjoy! :-)

PS we still have a small number of orphan companies from the initial list please let us know if you can identify the correct people to be associated with any of those and we will link them up.

The cake is a lie!

Busy Busy

Here is a little thought experiment…

How do you feel about somebody who fills their house to overflowing with stuff, shuffling clutter from one room to another just in time as each space is needed during the day, leaving no spare room to take in anything new?

How do you feel about somebody who manages their finances right on the edge, spending every last cent of their credit card limit, transferring money from one account to another just in time to cover repayments, never quite sure if their next purchase will tip them into the red?

Neither of those sound ideal, right?

What about somebody who manages their time like this – i.e. fills their days with work, constantly juggles their to-do list as urgent tasks come and go, and leaves no spare time to do things well?

That’s also not great.

So, why do we romanticise our busyness?

Them: How have you been?
Us (said with pride): Oh, you know, busy busy!

I’ve caught myself replying like that a lot, over the last few months especially. I’ve been keeping an unsustainable number of plates spinning, and often finding myself lacking the time to do as good a job as I can and should on any one plate without exhausting myself. And, it’s clearly irrational when I put it like that, but people are generally impressed when I explain how I fill my days, rather than asking why I would possibly want or need so many plates.

Why do we do that?

Maybe it’s what we expect each other to say? Like the exhausted and knowing nods exchanged between two parents of newborns, safe in the knowledge that neither is getting enough sleep, perhaps we take comfort from connecting with others in the same situation.

Maybe it’s just easier to measure inputs, than to look for evidence of outputs? It’s easy to assume that if lots of work is being done then lots of things must be getting completed and completed well. It’s even easier to confuse activity for progress.

But, the cake is a lie.

Doing a good job nearly always means focus, and focus means saying no.

You can be busy or remarkable, but not both.

What do you choose?

Unavailable

A while back I made myself unavailable for a week. That is, I was still connected and online, but I turned off all of the various services which make me visible and available to others.

This was a bit of an experiment, and these were the three things I learned:

1. I was much more available than I realised

I made a list of the various apps that needed to be disabled, and was slightly shocked by how many things I had given permission to interrupt me:

  • Phone (even in a normal week I normally only answer calls from people in my address book, but in this week I decided to turn my phone off completely for most of the time)
  • Email (I use Triage, which makes it easier to disconnect, but if you have push mail setup on your iPhone you’ll need to turn that off, and turn off the unread count badges if you didn’t already – I also set an out of office auto-responder, so anybody who did email me would at least know I wasn’t paying attention)
  • Calendar
  • Twitter (I took the slightly extreme step of deleting the app from my phone, so I wouldn’t be tempted to check in during downtimes)
  • iMessage (if you have this setup on multiple devices you’ll need to disable each independently – on OSX you’ll need to delete the account from iMessage completely otherwise you’ll still get notifications)
  • Skype (if you have the Skype app on your iPhone/iPad make sure it’s not running in the background)
  • Google Chat/Talk/Hangout, or whatever it is they are calling it at the moment (I had this installed and logged in to both of my Google accounts on both my phone and laptop browser)
  • Dropbox/Google Drive (I disabled the notifications which pop-up when others update files in shared folders)
  • WhatsApp

There were a bunch of others which I no longer use, but which were still setup for notifications – including Facebook. LinkedIn, Trade Me, Game Center (which I only ever really used for LetterPress), MessageMe, and Podcasts.

I also made an effort to contact everybody who was likely to try and get in touch during the week in advance, so they wouldn’t be frustrated by my unavailability, and left an out-of-office notification on my email accounts suggesting people call if it was urgent (I only got one call during the week).

2. The withdrawal symptoms were worse than I expected

I intentionally did some properly offline jobs the first day and a long run the second morning, to give myself a clean break from staring at a screen and all of its tempting distractions.

But, even then I was surprised how often I would reach for my phone to quickly check emails or tweets, including first thing in the morning and when I was in the middle of a conversation with people physically present. That’s not good behaviour, but useful to have that habit highlighted and hopefully now broken.

3. It wasn’t an entirely positive experience

It was lovely to be able to focus and be without distraction for a while, although in most cases I only made a minor dent in things which have languished on my to-do list for ages. At the end of the week they were quickly replaced again by more pressing things.

The main thing I discovered from the week is that very little of what I normally fill my days with is actually urgent and nearly everything that I defer is important.

That’s a little depressing…

Inconceivable

Sometimes the internet can make you smile in quite unpredictable ways.

For example, this conversation on Twitter yesterday evening, starting with an innocent tweet from Sacha at the Auckland Geek Girls Dinner:

To which there was only one possible response:

(Su Yin has been here in person, so I know that she knows the truth, and I have to say I appreciate her help in keeping the crowds away with this misinformation!)

At this point, this chap joined the conversation:

I’ve seen him before. There are good bots and bad bots and this is easily my favourite.

And so it went…

Would it surprise you to learn that my grandfather’s name was Wesley?

So, there you go. Who said Twitter has killed blogging!

Somebody I Used To Know

2012 Annual Report

This is a thing, isn’t it?

While I have struggled to find time to blog much at all over the last 12 months, and only managed a handful of posts, for some reason maintaining the streak of annual reports seems important.

The first, back in 2008, was pretty uncertain. I don’t feel like that much any more.

Since then I’ve taken pride in having a wide and varied list of things to talk about. But towards the end of this year I’ve started to judge myself on how well I’m doing the much shorter list of things that I choose to focus on. I’ve found that a whole new challenge, and a work in progress.

As somebody pointed out to me earlier this year, there is a class of opportunity that requires an unbounded time commitment but there is only time in each day for one of those. I’ve struggled through 2012 with two or three (depending how you count them).

For those of you just picking up the story, I’ve spent the better part of the previous two years on a couple of bigger projects: building a new house and, in parallel, some new ventures to work on.

I naively thought 2012 might be the third and final year in that cycle…

Home

It’s coming up to 5 years since we found the land where we now live. It’s taken a long time to get here. As with a large software development project, there has been a trade-off to navigate between on spec, on time and on budget (i.e. choose two, at most!) So I’ve worked hard to stay patient. As some things are completed and we have an opportunity to think slightly further ahead, I recently realised we may be only half-way through.

I’ve also belatedly understood that a new build is the equivalent of writing code from scratch – when it’s finished it’s shiny and new, but is also untested and as a result hasn’t yet had all of the bugs worked out. There have been a number of one step forwards, one step backwards moments this year, including several times when I could easily visualise Kevin McCloud looking on with an arched eyebrow.

Having said that, I’ve throughly enjoyed the rare opportunity to design and build somewhere to live – a place with its back to the world, which we love, with lots of mindfully created spaces. It’s been work, but fun to be close to it. We’ve been pleased to have a great team of architects, engineers and tradespeople, who are hopefully proud of what they created.

It’s been great to start sharing our place with family and friends in the back half of 2012 and we’re looking forward to properly warming it up (literally and figuratively) in 2013.

Work

It was also a year too full of work, which broke me at times. I spent a lot of time feeling like I was chasing it all, and never quite catching up.

Mostly I did email. I sent just over 6000 email messages and received more than 12,200 (not counting spam or junk mail). I burnt way too much precious time fighting my inbox.

And also flew. I was away for 132 days and clocked up 101 individual flights. It wasn’t all business, but still I think I’d rather be a Gold Elite husband and father. The cat’s in the cradle.

The various ventures I’m involved with spread themselves right across the spectrum in 2012.

Vend is kicking ass and taking names. We grew by 400%, passed $1m of recurring revenue, raised $2m of new capital, hired a bunch of great people and had quite a bit of fun in the process. 2013 promises to be a defining year, and I’m looking forward to being part of it.

Despite seeing the patterns repeated several times now, it still surprises me just how much you can differentiate yourself by doing the simple stuff well. The best example of this from 2012 is the recognition that Vend got in November for being a company that trusts staff to dress themselves.

Sonar6 was sold to Cornerstone On Demand in April. My only contribution was as an investor, but even so it’s good to be involved in another success story. Congratulations to the guys who lived and breathed it over the years – I look forward to what’s next for you all.

Xero continues to defy gravity and takes the pressure off my other start-up investments by promising to return the fund and then some. It was no surprise to see Rod win the NZ Herald Business Leader of the Year – daylight was in second place.

Powerkiwi came second at the Deloitte Fast50 awards. That’s a little embarrassing given the anaemic amount of capital invested and razor-thin profit margins, but it’s still good to be back on that list and something we’ll look forward to repeating with other ventures in future years.

At the other end of the spectrum, it was a difficult year for Pacific Fibre, before it was finally shut down in August. Putting aside the money we lost as investors, it’s mostly just sad and frustrating that the project won’t go ahead with the change that it could have created.

Outwardly, it was another quiet year at Southgate Labs. I’m hugely excited by the team we’ve built, and we continue our search for a product of our own to get excited about. We have a couple of things we’re working on as the year comes to an end which are promising. Creating space to focus on these has required some tough decisions, so hopefully one becomes something to justify that effort. I may have said the same last year?

Most of the other ventures fall somewhere in the middle. I’ll watch with interest for progress next year, and hopefully contribute in a small way where I can.

Everything Else

I got an early taste of winter in January, visiting New York, Chicago and Ottawa with Vaughan from Vend, including a memorable birthday dinner stuck in a departure lounge in a snow storm.

I enjoyed three excellent weeks in the heat of Singapore at JFDI. It was the first opportunity I’ve had to spend more than one or two nights there and get to know some locals. I squeezed in side trips to Palu Ubin in Indonesia and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, where I enjoyed a dinner of Tarantulas with Sam Ng.

I also visited the Cook Islands for the first time, but not the last.

I kept moving, ending the year where I started in terms of weight, but feeling a lot fitter. I did quite a lot of running and cycling and a bit of swimming. In the second half of the year also got bitten by the mountain bike bug. But, unlike previous years, only once felt compelled to do any of that in an event against the clock (10km off road, with Koz, in 46m 15s) I cancelled my Les Mills membership, after 8 years and $7000 of subscriptions.

I attended a wedding (my youngest sister) and a funeral (my wife’s grand-father).

I learned to drive a tractor.

I soaked up a day amongst the art and animals at Gibbs Farm, climbed Ben Nevis and Mt Ellis in the Richmond Ranges, joined the Geeks on a Plane on a helicopter to Minaret Station near Wanaka, spent a day skiing in pretty ordinary winter conditions at Coronet Peak in July and in great spring snow at Rainbow in September (and even got in some water skiing last week), watched a lot of the Olympics on the big screen, walked the first part of the Able Tasman walkway with our boys in July (!), enjoyed the celebrations around the Hobbit World Premiere in Wellington and saw Radiohead live in Auckland.

My first-world life is tough.

With luck 2013 will be more of the same but different.

We’ll see.

Previous Annual Reports: