Cultivating a culture of empowerment (podcast interview)

Earlier this year, Victoria Downing and Mark Harari interviewed me for the Remodelers Advantage’s PowerTips podcast. Though PowerTips is intended specifically for owners of remodeling businesses, Vic and Mark were gracious enough to let me spend the entirety of the interview discussing leadership philosophy (one of my favorite topics).

GuildQuality Crew: Highlighting the talented people in the building industry

GuildQuality Crew.001

For the last year, the GuildQuality team has been building a new product called Crew. Unlike our core offering (which is for companies—specifically remodelers, homebuilders, and home improvement contractors), we’re building Crew for all the people who work in the field—skilled laborers and trades.

Our plan is to give every person working in our industry a free profile with which they can post pictures of their work, share their skills, and check in to job sites. Importantly, they can also endorse others and receive endorsements, and show up in location and skill-based searches.

We want to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals working in our industry, make it easier for them to be found by prospective employers and clients, and make it easier for them to find work.

While Crew is certainly a service that homeowners might be interested in, we intend to focus on serving professionals, i.e. general contractors who are always seeking talented workers and the skilled trades who are looking for work opportunities.

To give you a better idea of what Crew looks like, check out my own profile. Interested in finding a carpenter in Atlanta? Or a painter near Washington, DC? Try searching on Crew. And very soon you’ll be able to post jobs and respond to job postings.

The skilled labor challenges in our industry are painfully acute right now, and we’re working to ease that pain by shining a spotlight on the work of the best skilled laborers and trades out there. Moreover, by highlighting their great work, we can make it more obvious to ambitious young people that a rewarding career awaits them in construction.

I’ve loved watching the GuildQuality team build an entirely new product. They’ve accomplished a lot, and have a ton of great stuff in the pipeline. If you work in the building industry, sign up for Crew here and follow along with our progress.

(Really) Young Entrepreneurs

Thou shall not pass without buying some lemonade or iced tea

My kids are always starting businesses. They aren’t often successful businesses, but I love their effort and their indomitable spirit.

The lemonade business has been pretty good, but only when they time it right. The front-yard restaurant was surprisingly successful despite them selling only imaginary food. But the rock business! That one was horrible.

Both my kids love rocks. They don’t love rocks so much that they’d be willing to buy one, but their love for rocks is so strong that they believe other people would gladly pay 50¢ for any one of the small stones they’ve pulled from the creek behind our house.

Two winters ago, when the lemonade business wasn’t really a good option, they set up their rock stand and tried selling to passers-by. Whenever anyone would get close, Alex would shout, “Rocks for sale! Get your cool rocks here!”

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough foot traffic for them to get any real traction, so they decided to take their game on the road. They bagged up the rocks, and started walking around the neighborhood. I tagged along.

Read the rest of this entry »

My EOx talk on empowerment, trust, and freedom in the workplace

EOx is a quarterly event put on by the Atlanta chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization. They invite entrepreneurs to give a brief talk on “entrepreneurial ideas worth sharing.”

Outside of Forum, EOx is my favorite EO event, and I was honored to have the opportunity to speak to this crowd. Joining me at the podium that night were Robert Dreesch, Benjamin Rudolph, and Reid Smith-Vaniz of Reliant Technology (one of my forum mates). Last quarter, two other forum mates shared their stories: CBQ of Big Nerd Ranch and Sean Cook of ShopVisible. Set aside an hour, and listen to what they have to say.

For my talk, I decided to share the short version of how our company switched from a rather conventional organizational path to the path we’re on today. To pack it into eight minutes, I left out a ton of stuff, but I tried to hit all the high points. Let me know what you think!

Speakeasy deserves some special thanks. They are one of EO’s sponsors and helped all the presenters (me especially) avoid looking and sounding like complete fools. ATV hosted us, and Friendly Human aced the video production.

Some entrepreneurship studies I’d like to read

I have searched for these sorts of studies and been unable to find anything. If anyone knows anyone who might help me uncover these answers, please let me know:

1) Is there a correlation between starting your career with a large business vs a small business and ultimately going on to start your own business?

2) Are people who start their own companies after working at small businesses more or less likely to achieve success than those who start their own companies after working at large businesses?

3) Are software companies started by software developers more likely to be in business in ten years than those started by non-technical founders?

4) Are companies started by MBAs more likely to be in business after ten years than those started by non-MBAs?

5) Are companies started by 18 year olds more likely to be in business after ten years than those started by 50 year olds?

Technical Talent & Entrepreneurial Spirit

In technology, people talk a lot about how we need more programmers in order to have more innovative companies, and more innovation in general. When I started GuildQuality, it never occurred to me that I needed to be a programmer. I knew I needed to work with programmers, but I never entertained the notion that I needed to be one. Up to that point, I’d made my career in construction and real estate – professions where every player contributed their part, and no one was particularly more valued or critical than another.

And now, more than a decade after launching a SaaS business, I still think the software industry’s similarities to the building industry are greater than its differences. Great neighborhoods are no more built by carpenters than they are by masons. And great software companies are the same way.

Every single day, my team gives me a reminder of their awesomeness. I get sales and marketing reminders; I get operations reminders; I get design reminders; I get service reminders; I get reminders of empathy and emotional intelligence; and yes, I also get brilliant programming reminders. I get these reminders every day from thousands of wonderful acts by all sorts of great people. Together, in concert, the business works. If the business tries to stand on a single leg, it collapses.

Today, the startup rate and the rate of self-employment are at all time lows. That’s a mentality issue, not a skills issue. Simply focusing on creating more programmers isn’t going to change that. To see a real change, we’ll need to cultivate in our children an adventurous spirit, a respect for those who blaze their own trails, and a humble appreciation for the beautiful diversity and value of every artisans’ skill.

Non-technical founders seeking technical cofounders

If you’re a non-technical founder like me, think long and hard before seeking a technical cofounder to help you launch your vision. I’ve found that most people (whether they are developers, designers, salespeople, marketers, carpenters, masons, doctors, soldiers, or pugilists) simply aren’t cut out for owning the responsibilities of building a business.

While just about everyone harbors some dreamy notion of launching their own venture, when it comes down to it, few have the disposition to embark upon the entrepreneurial journey, and fewer still have the temperament to run a business. Programmers are no different. Great programmers are talented craftspeople. They have precious skills that they’ve invested years in cultivating. But, rare is the craftsperson who can build a business.

Perhaps just as important, there is essentially negative unemployment* among developers, which means there are huge opportunities for capable developers and lots of pressure for them to leave for greener pastures if/when things aren’t going so great.

Instead of convincing artisans to leave their gig to help you launch the next great thing, consider hiring them to work on it in their spare time. If your scope is too large for you to afford to hire them, then reduce your scope until you can afford to do it.

I hired an agency to build the first iteration of GuildQuality. At $40,000, I way overpaid them to execute an over-scoped vision. We could have come to market with half the functionality (the half that our first users actually valued) for half of that cost in half the time. Even so, $40,000 isn’t all that much. If you have a good idea and you’re compelling, you can raise that much money on good terms (or even better, you can save it up while getting paid by someone else).

Two years after we launched “GQ 1.0” (“GQ 0.1” would have been a better name), I paid $25,000 to a freelancer with a full-time gig to re-build the second iteration of GuildQuality.

Soon after, that freelancer joined our team, and we officially brought all development “in-house.”

* I don’t know if Negative Unemployment is a real economic term, but I define it as when there is so much demand for a particular type of worker that all the qualified people have work and many unqualified folks do as well. Of note, I think the big demand for programming talent is a major factor driving the disproportionate amount of workplace innovation that’s happening in the tech sector.