A couple months ago, GuildQuality introduced a new service that helps homeowners or prospective homebuyers find a builder, remodeler, or home improvement contractor. Internally, we’ve been referring to it as Find.
This is a pretty big expansion from our core bread-and-butter service of customer surveying for contractors. Since 2003, the best contractors in North America have relied on our surveying to help them deliver great service. When we launched way back when, we focused solely on surveying homeowners and homebuyers on behalf of builders and remodelers. We quickly found that our information was useful to anyone interesting in learning more about the great companies we work with. So that led to us in 2004 to introduce company profile pages for our members. Over the years, we added more and more to those pages: pictures of work, social media integrations, public reviews. Etc. etc.
We realized that there were byproducts from serving our GuildQuality members that we could repurpose in new and valuable ways. We created member profile pages after we realized that we had a ton of feedback that, if repackaged, was really useful for the prospective clients of our members. We introduced reviews after we realized that we were already going to the effort of prompting a customer to share their feedback in our surveys, and we could easily give them the chance to share a review as well.
Now, years later, we find ourselves with tons and tons of great information from both homeowners and contractors from all over the United States and Canada. We have enough that we can now share powerful information about who’s doing what sort of work in which locations. If you’re in Seattle and need a new home or renovation, we can help. If you’re interested in finding a Charleston remodeler, we’ve got you covered. If you’d like to replace some windows in your Bethesda home, we know who you need to speak with.
We’re really excited about Find. Check it out, and don’t hesitate to share your feedback.
What are your byproducts? What assets are you developing that you’re not leveraging? What are the sorts of things that you’re leaving on the cutting room floor?
P.S. Here are some more ideas about using your byproducts from the folks at 37signals, circa 2009.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
My eight year old son and I are reading Starman Jones (a first time for both of us). I highly recommend it. This is his second Heinlein, following Orphans of the Sky. Every few years, I revisit The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, one of the author’s all-time great works.
When an employee of a small business acts maliciously or negligently while working on the business’ behalf, the business owner shoulders the responsibility and liability. While the owner enjoys personal liability protections via the veil of the LLC, the business loses it’s profits, pays damages, and suffers in all sorts of ways. In the shorter term that means sleepless nights and painful expenses for the business owner. In the longer term, the owner’s reputation, the business’ reputation, and the ability for the owner to earn a living is impaired. In extreme cases, their livelihood might be destroyed.
This isn’t necessarily top-of-mind when business owners are considering new hires. Instead, they’re really thinking about all the great things a talented person can bring to the company. But in the back of their minds, they’re still asking themselves, “Might this person do anything really horrible that would jeopardize the strength of our business and/or my personal reputation?”
Nassim Taleb calls this attachment to outcomes “skin in the game.”
In the case of small businesses, the biggest beneficiary of the business’ success is generally the owner or owners, and those are usually the same folks who feel the most pain in the case of failures.
But if a high-ranking politician’s employees cause a bunch of innocent people to die, or if they single out a group for persecution, or if they wreak havoc on our environment through cronyism and misguided policy, then the worst outcome is they don’t get to ride on Air Force One for another term. The more likely outcome is the issue will go away after they deny responsibility or (if it’s too glaringly undeniable) promise to crack some skulls.
The small business owner doesn’t deny responsibility or promise to crack skulls. The small business owner says, “I’m sorry. Here’s how I screwed up. I won’t do it again. Please forgive me.” They do so because they have skin in the game, they are attached to the outcome, they feel personally responsible, and they act accordingly. Sometimes they handle it poorly. Sometimes they handle it well. Rarely do they avoid the consequences for a poorly handled mistake, and often they enjoy a reward for handling a difficult situation with aplomb.
But that’s not how it is everywhere. Wherever people benefit from socialized risk and privatized reward, you’ll see responsible agents avoid the risks associated with bad decisions and (even worse) benefit from immoral acts. It happens in government. It happens in finance. It happens to our environment. It happens with war. It happens in education. It happens in agriculture. It happens in health care. Even in small business, it can happen. It happens anywhere people don’t see it for what it is and prevent it from happening. And when the insidious dynamic finally weasels its way into a society, leaders must have the courage to root it out and eliminate it before it metastasizes.
Are you an advocate for greater regulation of the remodeling industry? If so, add your name to the list of business owners duped into arguing for more competitive advantages for giant companies, more sprawl, continued erosion of quality and craftsmanship, less professionalism, less competition, and less innovation.
I’m always surprised to hear small business owners take up the torch for increasing barriers to entry, tightening licensing requirements, and adding to the bureaucratic burden associated with building, improving, and maintaining homes. While many are simply out to limit their competition (understandable, if perhaps a little underhanded), the great majority of entrepreneurs who advocate for a more stringent regulatory environment have noble intentions: they seek to encourage sustainable building practices and protect the interests of clients. But before you accept that the annoying hassles associated with more regulation are worth it, consider the following few arguments.
There are always horrible unintended consequences. Take the example of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation, Repair and Painting rule: It encourages people to leave older, walkable, in-town neighborhoods in favor of newer, car-dependent, suburban homes. This not only accelerates the rate at which we consume undeveloped land, but it will likely end up killing more people in auto accidents than it will save from lead poisoning.
One’s ability to pass a test has no correlation with one’s ability to serve a customer. The top complaints of remodeling clients (in states both with and without licensing) are service-related, and not measured by a licensing test or a building inspector: things like miscommunication, failure to show up, failure to complete the project on time, messy job sites, and dishonesty. Even worse than being a useless measure, regulatory credentialing confuses customers by bequeathing a stamp of approval on someone who may have done nothing more than pass a test or follow a prescribed process. It elevates the unqualified contractor to the same level as the most qualified contractor.
Regulation is corporatism masquerading as consumer advocacy. This is why large companies — who almost always struggle to innovate — favor regulated markets. Case in point: I recently listened to an analyst present his thoughts on which regions hold the greatest opportunity for the nation’s largest construction and real estate companies. “Look for markets with especially stringent regulatory requirements,” he counseled, “because that’s where you’ll have the least amount of competition from small businesses and new businesses.”
And what’s going on in the least regulated segment of our economy? Not surprisingly, our technology sector attracts our brightest entrepreneurs and remains one of the few areas where we outperform the rest of the world in the quality of our services and our pace of innovation.
So the next time you hear someone say our industry needs more restrictive licensing or more prescriptive building regulations, remember that they might as well be saying that the nation’s largest homebuilders need more protections against nimble competitors, that future entrepreneurs should enter different industries, that small-businesses need more challenges, and that customers need to pay more for less.
I’m seeing a lot more beards lately. I don’t have any stats to back it up (though Google does!), but my gut tells me that beards per capita has skyrocketed. If I’m right, then this is a great sign for the future of innovation. Read the rest of this entry »
We don’t have a policy about where, when, or how people should work. This flexibility is pretty easy to manage with only a half dozen folks, and it takes great effort to scale. We’re now at 18 full time people, with about half working remotely most or all of the time.
In my experience thus far, making the return greater than the investment requires a focus on hiring the right sort of folks, onboarding them in a way that makes them a fully-engaged part of the team, and fostering a culture that supports both remote and on-site employees.
When remote working breaks down, I believe it’s a product of bad hiring decisions, missteps in the onboarding process, an unsupportive culture, or a combination of all three.
When considering whether or not to restrict employees’ freedom to work in the manner and location they choose, managers and leaders must make a decision about where to invest their time: Do they wish to invest in policy and oversight or in culture and empowerment? Both require a great deal of effort, carry their own risks, and produce different sorts of rewards. Neither is right for everyone. In my experience, the empowered work environment requires considerably more effort, and is considerably more rewarding.
We’ve doubled our full-time headcount in fifteen months, going from 9 to 18 at the start of February. Three of those hires joined on February 1. That was the first time in a long time that we’ve had more than one person start on any one day, and it got me thinking about how to systematize the onboarding process. We’re particularly interested in having all of our new additions strengthen our culture.
With a third of our team working remotely, and so many folks working heads-down on their own projects, I have some concerns about people drifting away, not contributing to the evolution of our culture, or not feeling a part of the team. Fraternities have the same sort of problem and then some–a quarter of their people are churned and replaced every year. That got me thinking, How do they help new folks get engaged?
I looked back on my days as a pledge, discarded the horrid parts, and zeroed in on what I felt was one of the best and most healthy pledging activies: a practice we called “getting sigs.” Every pledge had to meet with all 75 or so brothers at the brother’s convenience and get his signature. I liked that the onus was on the pledge to schedule the meeting, but I disliked that the brother had some power over the pledge. Brothers could withhold their signatures in exchange for silly tasks like shoe polishing. Few did this, but the possibility was always there, and it introduced an unnecessary component of power and authority into an activity that could have been solely about forging or strengthening bonds.
After discussing it with a handful of existing team members, I decided to ask our new people to meet with every employee on the team at some point during their first month, and then spend their fourth month revisiting those meetings (no signatures required). On their first day, I posted the following to our Basecamp thread under the “Culture” project, copying everyone:
Dear [names of new people]:
This will likely be one of the first basecamp posts you read once you get your email up and running! Attached is a 2012 End of Year Roster showing all of GuildQuality’s full-timers, plus the three of you.
We’ve been mulling over how to help y’all get to know the more tenured folks on the team, and help all of them get to know you as well. The goal is to lay the groundwork for good communication, and help you get the lay of the land as fast as possible. We want you to be comfortable reaching out to anyone on the team, and we want them comfortable doing the same. Here’s what we’re thinking:
In your first thirty days, please reach out to every member of the team (including the other new folks), and schedule a brief conversation (at least 15 minutes, but as long as you want). You can do it face-to-face, over lunch, or via video conference, but it has to be one-on-one and it has to be scheduled in advance. If you like, print out the attached list and check folks off as you go along. Please wrap up all these conversations by the end of February.
You’re going to be pretty fresh at GuildQuality in your first month, but I expect you’ll have a pretty good idea of how things operate three or four months from now. With that in mind, please plan to have a second round of roster conversations with everyone in your fourth full month (May).
This is meant to be a conversation rather than an interview. Come to each meeting with questions of your own. Also, be thinking about what you’d like new folks to know about what you do here at GQ, and what you can do to help them get their legs underneath them.
Yesterday, I posed to all the new folks the following question: “Y’all are the first to endure this sort of exercise. Please tell me how it’s coming along. Is it weird? Helpful? Awesome? Horrible?”
I think it’s awesome and helpful. I’m a people person so I like getting know more people! Although, I haven’t met with everyone yet- I still feel at home within my first month. So with that being said -all who have not met with me/I have not met with.. Lets! Other than that I am very happy to be here and more than satisfied with the company culture.
I agree that it is super helpful. Specifically for getting to know the individuals who don’t work in the office. I also found it helped me better understand the development team’s day-to-day responsibilities (which there are a plethora of!). I still have 3 or 4 people that I need to meet with but up to this point the exercise has been successful!
I still have a few more to go as well but I think it has been very helpful. It feels slightly weird to ask someone to just sit down and talk but it is better than the alternative of going many months and never really talking to a majority of the team. I think it was a great idea.
All in all, I’m liking this exercise so far, I’m looking forward to seeing how the meetings in the fourth month go, and I expect we’ll refine and repeat the process with our other new hires. It’s a meaningful investment of time for the new people, and I believe it’s helping us to strengthen the ties that bind. What do you do to help new people get the lay of the land?