Design and Learning To See…

We all talk about Design, I have spoken about Design…this video from Inge Druckrey is both breathtaking and eye-opening.  If you are involved in building a physical product, if you design websites, if you make software I encourage you to take the 40 minutes to watch this entire video.

Inge explains that we need to learn to look.  That we cannot just focus on the object we are designing or looking at but we need to not only SEE the void but also DESIGN the void.  The negative areas are just as important to the eye as the control as the positive areas.

This Beethoven poster she designed for Yale in the late 70′s in artistically beautiful…study it for a minute, look at the lines, the voids, the message, the simplicity…


The video also takes a good amount of time to discuss typeface and how and why it is important and how to craft it.  Inge instructed at Reed College where Steve Jobs dropped in on calligraphy and typography classes and learned to understand and appreciate the value which later was internalized into Apple culture.  Midway through the video it demonstrates the evolution and perfection of typefaces using a stroke brush, which is beautiful and amazing to watch unfold.  The attention to small details, to spacing and the difference they make in the final product is both noticeable and meaningful.

I am truly trying to see things different.  The subtle metallic shine on my coffee mug, the typefaces used on websites and software, the light in the candle on my desk, my MacBook Air…it is everywhere and it matters…detail matters.

Grab a coffee, take 40 quiet minutes and watch this, I PROMISE you will not be disappointed…begin Learning To See…

Design Thinking…

I’ve been spending a lot of time just thinking, reading, observing design lately…trying to train my eye and mind to be better.

This is a great piece and would draw your attention to the video with Jony Ive at the bottom (just bought the book “Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products”, which I will be starting in the next day or so).
He talks about the hierarchy of product components and determining and following that hierarchy through the design process which I found fascinating and insightful.

While he is talking about a ‘product’ I think the same can apply to software, websites, etc.
Hope you enjoy, let me know your thoughts…

Poor design post from @Pandodaily

Dieter and Jony video


Marc Andreessen, Chris Dixon, and Eric Ries

So many great insights for entrepreneurs and business builders in this video with two of the smartest VC’s in the business.  Grab a pen and paper and watch…let me know your favourites nuggets of knowledge in here.

“Car companies output is cars, soup companies output is soup, technology companies output is innovation” `@pmarca

via Marc Andreessen, Chris Dixon, and Eric Ries @ The Lean Startup Conference 2013 – 12/10/13 – YouTube.

Love the Hard Conversations

Sometimes in life and in business there are hard conversations that are had and that need to be had. You know…the ones that make you wake up in the morning knowing you have to have that day but cringe about and actually look for ways to avoid them.

Honesty can be a very hard thing.

Honesty on topics that you are deeply and personally connected to can be agonizing.

As difficult, awkward and painful as these conversations can be I want to PUSH you to have them. In time I want you to seek them out and initiate them. Those conversations often hold the key to your business. Each difficult conversation about your product, your service, your UI, your website, your business model, your team, etc, etc. is an opportunity for you to learn and to improve.

In my early days running our company I had a customer who would call. I shuddered when I saw the call display…I knew I was going to hear how something we were doing was crap or how we had messed something up or how we were making his life miserable in some way. In the beginning I would sometimes let it go to voice mail (thinking I would call him back when I felt ‘up to it’) and sometimes I would answer and take my medicine and politely try to get off the phone as fast as I could thinking ‘this guy is an asshat and a complainer and doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about’.

After a couple months I was at a conference and met up with him and we had a drink. Over drinks he said ‘Paul, I know you think I am a pain in the ass but here is the thing…we are in this together. Your product/solution HAS to work. I have my personal equity tied up in this, I believe in your product and we are having huge problems with our equipment that I need us to fix together and you aren’t pulling your weight.’

This was a moment of ‘personal pivot’ for me. I realized that what he was saying was true. I thought back on the calls we had and in each case what he was calling to complain about wasn’t a complaint…it was a shortcoming. It was a way that I was NOT delivering a solution that truly SOLVED his problem. the problem he had partnered with me to fix.

From that day forward I looked forward to our calls. He would still rant and rave at times if he was really worked up…but I listened to every word…challenged him…asked questions…understood…and we got better.

Hard conversations can suck!

Look for them. Seek them out. Meet with people who hate you more than people who love you…there is much more to learn from them.

No Room for Excuses

No Room for Excuses.

Thought I would share this with my readers as a follow on and reinforcement to my post from a couple days ago Busy is Bullshit.

Brad does a great job with a real life example of why it is always easy to focus on the reasons why things are NOT done or not going as planned.  I have no doubt Brad was very busy.  It was upon reflection of what he was doing and focussing on the REALLY important things that were going to drive results that he was able to achieve success.

Thanks for the post Brad.  What are you not accomplishing right now?  Really sit down and look at your day and what fills it and focus efforts on doing the right things at the right time.

Don’t Flip Your Customer the Bird!


Communication is a two way discussion.

Telling is a one sided soliloquy.

There were three great tweets last night (see below) from @subimage that got me thinking.

Tweet 1: @subimage “Do-not-reply” email addresses imply that you will dictate the relationship. Conversation is not welcome here.

Tweet 2: @subimage “Do-not-reply” email addresses tell your customer that you don’t give a fuck what they have to say.

Tweet 3: @subimage The “do-not-reply” email address is an ultimate #fuckyou to your customer. Don’t do that.

EVERY interaction you have with a customer is an opportunity for you to build a new champion for your product and your brand. These ‘do-not-reply’ emails are a wasted opportunity. What if the email sent is the biggest piece of crap ever and it completely pisses the customer off…wouldn’t you want to know that so you could not do it again, learn from it??

What if what you have emailed them is the most brilliant thing they have ever seen??

Do NOT waste any opportunity for an iterative communication with your customer. Every interaction is a chance to learn, change, improve, stop doing something and be responsive.

You are trying to solve THEIR problem…they know more about it than you…every opportunity to communicate is of huge value, so don’t flip them the bird!

Busy is Bullshit


What are you doing today?

Look at your list of to do’s for the day and get ruthless. Anyone can be busy but being busy has ZERO correlation to being successful.

Let me say that again…being busy has NO correlation to being successful.

We must get better at focussing our efforts on the things that are actually going to drive success. Differentiating busy work or fun work or interesting work and distilling that from the actual work that will drive success requires a number of things.

  1. What are you trying to accomplish…be specific.
  2. What are the steps/tasks required for that accomplishment to occur.

That sounds so simple but is so hard. There is so much noise in our lives that yes, may be urgent and neat and cool and fun but ultimately does NOT get us closer to our goal. This applies to personal goals, startup goals, business goals, life goals.

Lets get disciplined and ruthless with our calendars folks.

Look at your schedule today…this week…tie each item directly to your goals and if there isn’t a direct correlation ask yourself why you are doing it and what the opportunity cost of that time and mental horsepower are.

Don’t be busy, be effective!

PUSH the Boundaries…Always

I have to admit that I am an Amazon fan.  I admire them and more importantly what they have been able to accomplish and create in areas that continue to push them outside the box.

I have included a good post from TC below but no doubt you have seen what has gone on with the drone announcement over the weekend.

The Amazon Future | TechCrunch.

Regardless of your thoughts on the drone solution and its feasibility I ask you to focus more on the internal culture and process that allows the inception of the ‘drone delivery’ solution.  The pushing of boundaries and the stretching of the core competencies are truly impressive in an organization with a market cap in excess of $180b!  They are set up internally not just to allow people to ‘think’ of these new and revolutionary business models and solution but to also allow those to be ‘prototyped and built’.

Last night I retweeted a post by Alex Osterwalder (who, if you don’t follow you should go do so right now) that was as follows:

u r probably not working on a big challenge If ppl don’t look at u weirdly when u tell them what u r working on :-) #bmgen

I’m sure when people starting thinking about and working on ‘drones for delivery’ they got some peculiar looks and as Alex points out…thats a good thing.

Dream big! Push Boundaries! Never be satisfied with what you have accomplished and where you are…be more!

When you tell people what you are working on…what do they say?

What Do I Do Now?

I feel like I am starting over.  It is a good feeling.
The place and things that have consumed most of my waking hours is no longer my concern.  As a driven, high achiever who has never been without work it is an odd feeling.  Awaking in the morning to a phone without voice mails, emails or tasks that require my urgent attention leaves one feeling frankly, a bit lost and insignificant.
I have spent a few weeks catching my breath which I highly recommend and am now starting to turn my attention on What Do I Do Now…
I decided I would approach starting again like running a business.  Strategy and execution.
I have thought through a strategy I am following.  For others who may be going through or about to go through what I am, I thought it was worth sharing and getting comments and feedback on.  While each process step below could be its own post I summarize my process as follows:

Professional Reflection

  • what have I learned from my experiences
  • what mistakes did I make and why did I make them
  • what were some of my best decisions and what were the circumstances
    • were they risky decisions?
    • did I have lots of supporting data or little?
  • who did I surround myself with
    • what did I learn about people, motivating, leading, hiring, firing
  • what new ideas do I have
    • are they worth pursuing myself? startup?

Know Thyself

  • What excites me?
  • What do I have no interest in?
  • What am I really damn good at?
  • What do I suck at?
  • Where can I have the most positive influence and outcome?
  • Really build a picture of the type of company , the situation, the industry, the size you think makes sense for you…as many details as you can

Inbound/Outbound Marketing

  • where am I likely to find opportunities that match what ME
  • how do I get to them
  • My past Board members
  • Professional and Personal Friends
  • Other CEO’s who are searching…network
  • Recruiters *who really know the space*
  • VC’s
  • Twitter
  • Contacts
  • LinkedIn
    • Go where they are…conferences, events, etc
    • Set up meetings, grab coffee, buy them lunch, drinks, etc
    • Do noticeable stuff that they give a crap about…blog, write a paper, speak at a conference, etc
  • how do they find me
    • if you have been successful in past endeavours…they will find you through one of the ways outlined above that you are trying to find them
    • in some cases same as above
    • WOM
    • Blog, twitter, social


  • I CANNOT take a job to have a job…and fortunately I don’t need to
  • It has to fit the criteria I determined above and be a fit on a personal level with the people I will be working with and for or it just won’t work.  I will hate it and they will end up hating me and I will crush my credibility for the next time


  • plan my work and work my plan
  • be focussed and be disciplined
  • adapt strategy as additional insight and knowledge is gained about myself and about the industries and companies I can help

Like in business I have had success because I am a huge believer that success in NOT in the blinding brilliance of your strategy but in its EXECUTION.  I have a strategy, am building the plan and will begin executing now.

Would love thoughts and experiences from others!

Whether you Die Quickly or Slowly you still Die!

I have been fortunate enough to be sought out by a number of folks who are looking for someone to lead their early stage tech companies and I have seen some consistent practices that I wanted to address here generically for anyone in the tech/software space.

Things Change! Always! If you are not moving forward you are moving backwards as a business. Be honest with yourself on where you are at and what is happening in your world. It is the only way to actually FIX what is wrong and survive and thrive moving forward. It is easy to naval gaze and convince yourself that everything is ok…DON’T! EVER! It isn’t ok.

If it is not you then someone is talking to your customers, understanding their problems, their pains, their needs and wants and then building good shit to simply and elegantly solve that problem.
Whether you are starting up or already launched or more mature you MUST continue to act like a start up and reinvent and disrupt yourself. If you don’t do it, it will be done To YOU and you will slowly die on the vine.

Before you build product, before you add features or functions, before you release…go talk to your customers to ENSURE they give a shit about what you are doing. There are many ways to get product market fit. Just search the net for ample stories and assistance.

I’ve had too many conversations and meetings lately where all people want to talk about is how cool their product is or what awesome UI they have or, or, or. But if I push and probe on the whys? the for who’s? the what did they specifically tell you’s? the how did they say it? the did they preorder? it becomes painfully clear that they haven’t been outside of the office to do validation.

Market first, product second. Product is important and can make or break you, please just sequence them in the right order so you don’t risk spending countless dollars (of yours or worse other people) and weeks, months, years of your life building something that will quickly or slowly die.