John B Petersen III

Success by Failure: First Quarter Progress Report

I really hate failing. It is the opposite of succeeding and winning, and I really like winning. Sometimes though, in order to succeed we must fail. This is a tough lesson to learn and one that I’ve been struggling with just about every single day this first quarter of 2014.

How Does Success by Failure Happen

At the beginning of the year, I published 31 goals in the 7 different areas of my life that are most important to me right now. This is my operating framework for success this year. This was overly ambitious, and I was well aware of this from the start.

This should come as no surprise — I succeeded at the goals that were most important to me and failed miserably at the things that weren’t. I’m still coming to terms with this, but I think I’m ok with that. If I can consistently succeed at the things that are most important, then it just becomes a matter of priority and focus.

Where I Focused, I Succeeded

There are certain goals that I absolutely crushed. Lose 15 lbs. Wake up at 5am. Eat Paleo and no fast food. First Quarter Sales Target. Pay off Credit Cards. Read 2 books a month. Totally crushed these goals.

We smashed our Q1 Sales target at Firehawk Creative by 34%. This sales target was something that we agreed was “very ambitious but achievable” back in December although we had no idea how we’d get there at the time. Giving myself a 34% “raise” over an already ambitious target is a monster success.

Reading. Reading has simultaneously a wonderful source of pleasure and the bain of my existence. On the business side, I read The Ultimate Sales Machine — complete (best book I’ve ever read on sales and marketing), Jab Jab Jab Right Hook and Built to Sell (and even Go Pro as a bonus). Those 3 books were amazing. The Ultimate Sales Machine is the best book I’ve ever read on sales. On the personal side, I read the first 3 Game of Thrones book. Equally amazing. The only problem is that they are 1000 pages each and I only had 2 weeks to read each one to stay on schedule. I love the idea of “binge reading” but this is definitely not ideal. I found myself stealing time to read instead of doing many of the things on my list that I failed at. I have 2 Game of Thrones books left and I’m committed to getting through them by the end of May. After that though, my pleasure books are going to be supremely tiny :)

I also succeeded at doing P90x2 7 days a week even though I missed a few weeks because of a back injury. My recurring revenue is starting to take off which is beyond exciting. I’ve done considerable work with designing my own site although none of it is visible yet, and I’ve done an ok job with mentoring and volunteering.

Conflicting Goals and Not Enough Time

One thing I realized very quickly is that I had conflicting goals. I want to wake up at 5am every morning AND get a minimum of 6.5 hours of sleep every night. I admit they are not directly conflicting as it is possible to go to bed before 10:30 every night and achieve both. But what about reading, and working out, and eating healthy and crushing my sales target and blogging. Oh blogging.

Maybe conflicting isn’t the right word. Maybe competing is a better word. All these goals were competing for my time and there was no way I could get everything done in 17.5 hours of awake time every day. Naturally, my sleep suffered to get more things done. My blogging suffered. My monthly experiments have basically failed. My monthly experiment for March was to “maintain a strict email routine.” Know what that routine was? I only answered emails once a week. Not exactly what I had in mind when I dreamed up that one.

Moving Forward

The first quarter of 2014 was a complete success for me and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Even though I failed (quite a bit), my productivity and accomplishments were through the roof. And I don’t mean accomplishments strictly in the business sense. I was able to spend a lot of time with my family and friends, schedule some “me” time in there and start the beginning of what I’m calling the “Triple Option” of business success.

I need to sleep more. I need to pick smaller books to read. And I need to continue to prioritize the things that are most important and execute them with laser focus. Oh yeah, and keep having fun every step of the way.

Overall Grade for the Quarter: A-

Q2 — I will destroy thee!

The Ultimate Me: February Progress Report

Month number two in the books. February was a tough month for a few reasons, but I’m still very happy with my overall progress.

I’ve committed myself to making 2014 The Year of the Ultimate Me with some super ambitious goals (not bullshit resolutions, but musts). These goals span the 7 areas of life that are most important to me right now. As with anything you deeply care about, you must measure it to improve it.

FEBRUARY PROGRESS REPORT:

Executive Summary

February. Ugh. Strikes and gutters. Ups and downs. I had some minor setbacks. Pulling a muscle in my back was annoying and slowed me down a bit physically. There were also some major accomplishments, particularly in the business and financial goals. In January, I made better progress overall toward my goals, but I really think that February was a kickass month for me. It was a big setup month with a lot of exciting things coming soon.

Where I’m Kicking Ass

  • Health Goal: 175 lbs and 10% body fat

Started the month: 179 lbs and 13.9% body fat

Ended the month: 174.8 lbs and 13.4% body fat

Weight Goal Unlocked. Next step: 2x multiplier for Body Fat Goal.

  • Health Goal: Eat Paleo and no fast food

Eating supremely healthy continues to be a successful endeavor. I’ve discovered a few new wonderful Paleo recipes that I enjoy with all my heart (think bacon-wrapped avocado fries). Still no fast food. I decided to reward my healthy eating with a Sonic Blast Milkshake thing at the end of every month. Not at all healthy, but it’s wonderful. I crushed my weight goal for the year by the end of month two, and I’ve done it in a healthy way. Nutrition is in check.

  • Business Goal: 1st Quarter Revenue Target

This is an exciting one. Assuming we close out the month as expected, we are going to have blown this revenue target out of the water. It’s too early to say, but I think we have this one in the bag.

  • Business Goal: Yearly Revenue Target

Another exciting one. I’ll have some more updates for this at the end of the quarter, but we are very much on track for this goal.

  • Growth Goal: Read 2 books a month (1 Business, 1 Personal)

This is by far my favorite goal. I am a reading machine, and yes I am very proud to say that. I never fully enjoyed reading until a few years ago, and as a result, I never made it a priority. Now it is. That makes me happy. In February, I read (and learned a lot from) Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Jab Jab Jab Right Hook” before crushing “A Clash of Kings” in the second half of the month. Yup — 960 pages just for “A Clash of Kings” in the shortest month of the year. Solid.

  • Relationships Goal: Strengthen my “Core 5”

I think I’ve made the most progress in this goal month-over-month. It is important to me that I surround myself with the right people — people whom I can learn from, am inspired by, are doing good things. That also means removing those who don’t fit into this category. Moving in the right direction.

Where I’m Acceptable

  • Health Goal: Wake up every work day at 5am

During the week, I missed my 5am wake up time 2 days this month. That brings my total for the year to 2 days. One morning I slept an extra two hours because I accidentally started my day at 3am the day before :) Will do better in March.

  • Health Goal: Completely unplug for 2 full days per quarter

I had my first unplugged day! 24 hours without any electronics, internet or anything else that feels like it has a direct plug into my body. It was tough. I spent the entire 24 hours in my apartment which is probably why I got a little antsy at times. I’m going to do another day in March and I’m going to try to fill it will exploration.

  • Business Goal: $5,000 / month in passive recurring revenue

Still reporting $0 so far. That will change by our next report! Two months into the year, I feel that I have a very solid plan of achieving $5,000 / month in passive recurring revenue by year end.

  • Business Goal: Blog 6x / month (2 personal and 4 business)

How can this be partially complete when you look at this blog and see nothing and look at Firehawk’s Blog and only see two posts for the month?! Well, a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff is happening that will be out soon. We also had this wonderful FullStart article come out which attracted a great response.

  • Money Goal: Goal: Pay off credit cards in 3 months

Almost. Thought I could have this done in February. All about cash flow. Definitely on target here to have this done before end of March.

  • Money Goal: Build back up a comfortable savings account

It makes me a lot more comfortable to say that I can move this into the “Acceptable” bucket. Not yet where it needs to be, but things are moving in the right direction.

  • Growth Goal: Complete February’s Monthly Experiment

These monthly experiments are difficult, but that’s why I like them. I made 15 introductions of people who should meet. Not the one a day I was going for, but people definitely benefited from the introductions for the most part. I’m also happy that this has become more of a habit. I’ll consider February’s Monthly Experiment a success even though I didn’t hit the target.

  • Contribution Goal: Mentor 2 entrepreneurs

Again, I would say — partially successful. Right now, there is nothing formal in place. I’ve been doing a lot of informal mentoring and that works for me right now.

  • Contribution Goal: Volunteer once a month

I’m moving this up to “Acceptable” even though it’s not far from the “Failing” section. I gave blood in February. That was the extent of my “volunteering” if you could call it that. It certainly wasn’t what I had in mind when I made this goal, but it is better than nothing.

  • Rewards Goal: Trip to Brazil

Flight will be booked by end of March. Business seems to be lining up for all things to be a go. Fuck yes!

Where I’m Failing

  • Health Goal: Perform a P90x2 workout every day

Major failure. I pulled a muscle in my lower back on 2/16. Quite annoying. I stopped P90x2 for 3 weeks just to be safe. I still rode my citibike around a few times, but no workouts for the 2nd half of the month. This really destroyed my morning routine. Annoying, but that phase is past.

  • Health Goal: 6.5 hours of sleep a night

This is just not a priority for me. I only hit my target of 6.5 hours a night 9 times for the month of February. Only 6 of those 9 nights occurred during the week meaning I couldn’t even hit 6.5 hours on every weekend night and definitely wasn’t hitting my target throughout the workweek.

I averaged 6 hours and 15 minutes of sleep for the month of February. What really killed me is that there were two nights were I got less than 5 hours of sleep — one was 4 hours and 42 minutes and the other was 4 hours and 3 minutes. I can certainly survive on 4 hours of sleep, but it is not optimal. Still trying to find the right balance.

  • Rewards Goal: Drink to taste

I’m moving this one to the failing category. I only drank 2 times in February, but both times I drank more would have liked. I will improve here.

No Progress

  • Business Goal: Attend Business Mastery next winter

No progress.

  • Business Goal: Get twitter handle @jbp3

No progress. Grrrrrr… Damn you Jaqueline Penrod.

  • Business Goal: Properly shut down PWM

No progress.

  • Money Goal: Pay off car payments in 6 months

No progress, but based on credit card goal, I’m comfortable with this.

  • Money Goal: Refinance / Sell house in 12 months

I have a plan. In my head. Which isn’t helping anything. But at least it’s a start. Still. No progress.

After making some great progress with my redesign in January, this fell off the map in February. It wasn’t a priority. No excuses.

  • Growth Goal: Code personal side project

No progress.

  • Rewards Goal: Trip to Europe

No progress.

  • Rewards Goal: 12 rounds of golf

No progress although I watched golf on TV once which got me excited for nicer weather.

Overall grade for the month of February: B-

The Ultimate Me: January Progress Report

One month down in the new year. Time to call myself out publicly on the things I’ve done well and not-so-well.

I’ve committed myself to making 2014 The Year of the Ultimate Me with some super ambitious goals (not bullshit resolutions, but musts). These goals span the 7 areas of life that are most important to me right now. As with anything you deeply care about, you must measure it to improve it.

JANUARY PROGRESS REPORT:

Executive Summary

I made some radical changes in quite a few areas in January. Overall, I am super happy with how I performed against my goals. Did I complete 100% of what I had hoped? Nope. Does that mean last month was a failure? Absolutely not. I am very pleased with the consistency that I was able to establish and know that consistency is going to allow me to do even better in February.

Where I’m Kicking Ass

  • Health Goal: 175 lbs and 10% body fat

Started the month: 190.8 lbs and 15.5% body fat

Heaviest I weighed: 193.8 lbs and 16.0% body fat

Ended the month: 179 lbs and 13.9% body fat

  • Health Goal: Wake up every work day at 5am

100% complete. Crazy, but true. There were 3 mornings in January were I woke up at 5 but didn’t complete my morning routine. Will get better next month.

  • Health Goal: Perform a P90x2 workout every day

Oh so close to perfection. I missed one day in January, and it was an optional Sunday stretching session (not even a workout). But a miss is a miss. 30 out of 31 very solid and I’m very proud of this one.

  • Health Goal: Eat Paleo and no fast food

I’ve been very good with what I eat. I’d say my diet is somewhere around 90% Paleo which is perfectly acceptable to me. I eat super healthy during the week. The only time I eat food that isn’t strictly Paleo is the supremely delicious pancakes I cook myself on Sunday morning and on rare occasions when I go out to a restaurant but can’t find a Paleo option. As reflected in my loss of 10+ lbs in January, we’re firing on all cylinders here.

  • Business Goal: 1st Quarter Revenue Target

On the third day of the year, we closed an amazing project that brought us over 60% of our quarterly revenue target. That is one hell of a way to start the year. We’re working on a few things now that will bring us over 100% for the quarter, but we’re not there yet.

  • Business Goal: Yearly Revenue Target

Based on our 1st Quarter Revenue Projections, I feel comfortable with our progress so far.

  • Growth Goal: Read 2 books a month (1 Business, 1 Personal)

Great success. I’ve been crushing this one. It’s amazing how much time you can find to read if you really look for it. Why is this in the kicking ass when I’m only meeting expectations? Simple, one of the books was 850 pages of Game of Thrones and that’s a hell of a lot of reading to find time for.

Where I’m Acceptable

  • Business Goal: $5,000 / month in passive recurring revenue

$0 so far. I feel really good about this one. There are serious plans in motion that are going to allow me to crush this goal. All I can say for now is more to come soon.

  • Business Goal: Blog 6x / month (2 personal and 4 business)

Partially complete. I wrote 3 personal posts and 3 business posts. Hit me 6, but needed one more business post. This goal is tough as business priorities dictate when I have time to blog, but with anything in life, we make time for the things that are important.

  • Money Goal: Goal: Pay off credit cards in 3 months

On target to have this done before the end of February.

Solid progress. The initial design is almost complete. It needs some minor tweaking. I’ll be ready to begin coding in March.

  • Growth Goal: Complete January’s Monthly Experiment

January’s experiment was to come up with 10 ideas a day. This was really tough. I think I missed 5 days. Other times, I came up with over well over 10. Full writeup coming soon.

  • Contribution Goal: Mentor 2 entrepreneurs

Partially successful. I’ve been working with a handful of entrepreneurs who are at the earliest stages of starting their startups. I would say though that it would count as informal mentoring. Improvements in this department coming soon.

  • Relationships Goal: Strengthen my “Core 5”

Success, but this goal is never ending. More to come here.

  • Rewards Goal: Trip to Brazil

Plans are in motion to make this happen. So excited.

  • Rewards Goal: Drink to taste

For the month of January, I had exactly 9 alcoholic drinks. This is a little higher than I would have liked. Half of them came from a few whiskey tasting events I ended up at for business. I’m ok with these. The other half came from a night out with friends where I drank a little more that night than I would have liked. It happens. I’m human. I’m working on it.

Where I’m Failing

  • Health Goal: 6.5 hours of sleep a night

Not even close. I hit 6.5 hours of sleep only 10 nights. I averaged 6 hours and 10 minutes of sleep. The most sleep I got was 8 hours and 13 minutes on a glorious Saturday night because I slept in with no alarm clock. The least amount of sleep I got was 4 hours and 8 minutes (that happened twice). I must do better in this department. Sleep was the one goal that I compromised in order to achieve the others. Now that I am starting to find a rhythm, I will fix this.

  • Contribution Goal: Volunteer once a month

Failure. Damn. Upset with not getting this one done. Will volunteer twice in February to make up for it.

No Progress

  • Health Goal: Completely unplug for 2 full days per quarter

No progress. This one is going to be tough. I am going to schedule one day in February to make it happen though.

  • Business Goal: Attend Business Mastery next winter

No progress.

  • Business Goal: Get twitter handle @jbp3

No progress. Grrrrrr… Damn you Jaqueline Penrod.

  • Business Goal: Properly shut down PWM

No progress.

  • Money Goal: Pay off car payments in 6 months

No progress, but based on credit card goal, I’m comfortable with this.

  • Money Goal: Refinance / Sell house in 12 months

No progress. Zillow tells me that my home increased $31,000 in value during the past month and $58,000 in the last quarter, but I don’t believe anything they say. Sorry Zillow.

  • Money Goal: Build back up a comfortable savings account

No progress, but based on other financial progress, I’m comfortable with this.

  • Growth Goal: Code personal side project

No progress.

  • Rewards Goal: Trip to Europe

No progress.

  • Rewards Goal: 12 rounds of golf

No progress. I can’t find my ball on a clear summer day. With all this snow, I’d go through a case of balls per hole.

Overall grade for the month of January: B+ (and yes, a B+ is totally unsatisfactory in my book. If you’re going to play the game, play to win)

What is Firehawk Creative?

[UPDATED]

Firehawk Creative teams up with entrepreneurs to build remarkable products. Structured as a nimble two person shop, we dedicate ourselves to projects for the long haul, fusing brutal honesty and fresh ideas with exceptional coding and design. We have completely redefined the relationship between founders and their development partner to ensure the maximum opportunity for success before, during and after the development process.

With our craftsmanship, your vision can change the world.

We understand what a startup needs to succeed, thrive and grow, and it goes well beyond writing some code. It requires us to become a true cofounder of everything we build. This allows us to attack the most challenging projects and build products that are both beautifully designed and simple to use. Oh, and it helps that we’re really good at writing code too.

The Firehawk Difference

In order to produce extraordinary results and value for our clients, we know that we must think differently. We’ve have established four pillars that are at the core of everything we do.

Passion

We love building startups and feel that we have the best job in the world. We get to work with incredibly talented entrepreneurs who are on a mission to change the world. We believe that we, as technical cofounders, have the ultimate obligation to produce exceptional results. It is this belief and passion that enables us to pour our heart and soul into everything we do.

Expertise

It’s not enough for a technical cofounder to write great code; it’s the bare minimum. A great technical cofounder must fully understand the requirements, balance current functionality vs. future enhancements, anticipate edge case scenarios, and be able to bring everything together seamlessly with stunning design and a simple user experience. Having built over 25 startups together for our clients, we are able to achieve this while executing at the highest level.

Honesty

We can’t overstate this enough. Total honesty and transparency from day one from all parties is crucial to everything we do together. If we have an opinion, you’ll hear it. If we think there is a better way to accomplish something or reduce development time, we’ll tell you. But it works both ways. We demand the same from our clients as we know this is the best way to accomplish great things together. Complete honesty every step of the way.

Collaboration

We believe it is important to spend time with our clients before, during and after development to ensure the success of the project. We work with entrepreneurs to help them refine their idea and eliminate unnecessary functionality before the project kicks off. We also have complimentary monthly strategy sessions after development is complete to help our clients grow, iterate and improve. We are focused on building long-term relationships with great entrepreneurs.

We are, by design, a two person team: one-part product expert combined with one-part master coder. We use this combination to form the ultimate technical cofounder. We redefined what it means to be a development partner allowing you to execute your vision with profound results.

Reading List for 2014

One of my goals for 2014 is to read more — a lot more actually.

In a typical year, I read maybe 2 or 3 books. That is not nearly enough. I really enjoy reading, but I’ve always found that it was one of the things that got bumped to the bottom of this list. I decided to make it a goal and priority.

My Goal: 2 books, every month, 1 business book, 1 personal book, no excuses

I find reading to be one of the most efficient ways for personal growth. The author writes a book with everything they’ve learned through their life and distributes it in a little package of goodness for me to consume. I can spend days learning what people have spent their lives struggling to discover. That’s efficiency.

It’s not all about business and personal growth though. I want to devote half of my reading ambition to pleasure. The first 5 months are dedicated to the Game of Thrones books. So excited for these. I’m also set up for a whole lot of reading packed into the second half of each month as the books are 864 pages, 1040 pages, 1216 pages, 1104 pages, and 1152 pages respectively. Considering I’ve never read a book over 750 pages in my life, it’s going to be quite the challenge to do it 5 times in a row in such a short time frame.

Enough with the why. Now on to the lists:

Business:

January: The Ultimate Sales Machine — complete (best book I’ve ever read on sales and marketing)

February: Jab Jab Jab Right Hook

March: Built to Sell

April: Four Steps to the Epiphany

May: Innovators Dilemma

June: Innovation and Entrepreneurship

July: Delivering Happiness

August: Linchpin

September: Zen Entrepreneurship

October: 4 Hour Work Week (reread)

November: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

December: The Lean Enterprise

Personal:

January: A Game of Thrones

February: A Clash of Kings

March: A Storm of Swords

April: A Feast for Crows

May: A Dance with Dragons

June: Steve Jobs

July: The Paleo Manifesto

August: Die Empty

September: TBD

October: TBD

November: TBD

December: TBD

There you have it. My plan for reading 2 books a month for 2014. If you have recommendations for me or questions about why some of these are on the list, leave a comment!

P.S. I created the image used for this post. This is my 2nd one I’ve created. I think this trend is going to stick for a while :)

12 Monthly Experiments

I have a healthy list of goals that I will accomplish in 2014. We are 8 days into the new year, and things are rocking. I’m admittedly not achieving every goal immediately as there have been some radical changes, but it’s all about the journey. I’m slacking in my 12 Monthly Experiments mostly because I didn’t know what my 12 Monthly Experiments should be. Until now.

The idea behind the 12 Monthly Experiments originated from Reece Pacheco (or whoever inspired him to do this). I consider myself to be a “life scientist” in that I am always performing little experiments to better understand myself and how my body and mind react in certain situations and conditions. In my list of goals, I have things that I am committed to for the long term. These are things that I have been doing, want to maintain and things that I know I should be doing more. That’s not what these experiments are about.

The 12 Monthly Experiments are about doing things I think I should be doing. In taking the Lean Startup approach, I have some assumptions that doing the things on this list will add value to my life and others around me. If I can validate that assumption, then I will find a way to make this a permanent change and part of my routine. If the experiment is a complete and total bust, well, it was only a small amount of time that I’ve invested to find out the answer.

So without further ado, the 2014 list of Monthly Experiments:

  • January: Come up with 10 startup ideas a day
  • February: Introduce 2 people who should meet every day
  • March: Maintain a strict email routine
  • April: Learn something new every day and document it
  • May: Engage in a competitive activity every day
  • June: Work outside for 1 hour every day
  • July: Do some serious exploring of Brazil
  • August: Take a Power Nap every day
  • September: Answer a question on Quora every day
  • October (birthday month): Try something new every day
  • November: Write a Journal Entry every day
  • December: Sleep 8 hours a night

So there you have it. These are the things I will do throughout the year to shake it up a bit and find out a lot more about myself along the way. I know I’m a little behind as I’ve missed a fully 7 days this month, but I’m make up for it. Also, know that these are totally subject to change at any time as I may come up with something better or more relevant. Let the fun begin.

2014: The Year of the Ultimate Me

So here’s the thing. Resolutions are bullshit. 99.99% of people who set New Years resolutions fail… miserably. It’s just too easy to give up on your resolutions, because that is the expected outcome. After a few weeks, everyone fails their resolutions, so it’s ok if you do too. That’s why I don’t have resolutions.

That said, I do have some ambitious goals for 2014.

I’ve already been working on nearly all of these goals for a some time now, but it’s time to make them public. They’re broken down into my own interpretation of the Wheel of Life based on the things that are most important to me right now. As with every new year, I will make this the best year of my life, and this is my blueprint to make it happen.

A couple of quick notes:

  • It is by mostly pure coincidence that there are exactly as many goals as I have years on this planet, but I kinda like it

  • Some of the goals or numbers have been replaced with xxxxx as they are personal

  • I will be writing an update post on my progress in each of these areas at the end of every month

Let’s get real:

HEALTH

  1. Maintain 175 lbs and 10% body fat (currently: 190 lbs & 15%)

  2. Wake up every work day at 5am

  3. Obtain a minimum of 6.5 hours of sleep a night

  4. Perform a P90x2 workout 7x per week

  5. Continue with Paleo diet and no fast food

  6. Completely unplug for 2 full days per quarter

  7. xxxxx

  8. xxxxx

BUSINESS

  1. Produce $5,000 / month in passive recurring revenue

  2. Achieve $xxxxx revenue in first quarter

  3. Achieve $xxxxx revenue in 2014

  4. Blog 6x / month — 2 personal, 4 business

  5. Attend Business Mastery next winter

  6. Get twitter handle @jbp3

  7. Properly shut down Petersen Wealth Management (whoops)

MONEY

  1. Pay off credit card in 3 months (starting companies is expensive)

  2. Pay off car payment in 6 months

  3. Refinance / Sell house in 12 months (future post coming)

  4. Re-establish savings account to cover 6 months of living expenses

GROWTH

  1. Read 24 books this year — 1 business and 1 personal / month (future post coming)

  2. Redesign, code and deploy personal website

  3. Code personal side project

  4. Complete 12 Monthly Experiments (future post coming)

CONTRIBUTION

  1. Volunteer at least once a month

  2. Mentor 2 entrepreneurs

RELATIONSHIPS

  1. Strengthen my “Core 5”

  2. xxxxx

REWARDS

  1. Take trip to Brazil for the World Cup

  2. Take trip to Europe

  3. Play 12 rounds of golf

  4. Drink to taste

There you have it. 2014 is going to be the Year of the Ultimate Me. Yes, this is beyond ambitious, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do Something

How many times have we heard this story? I am going to build a successful startup. First I need to raise money. But before investors will give me money, I need to get traction. In order to get traction, I need a really good product. And in order to get a good product, I need to raise money.

It’s the modern day tragedy of the wantrepreneur.

Anti-Wantrepreneurship

A wantrepreneur is a person who wants to be successful more than they want to put in the effort required to be successful. They make excuses. They’d rather play pingpong than solve a difficult problem. They’re streaming movies during the day hogging up all the office bandwidth. They go to every networking event to avoid doing real work. They’re more interested in telling people that they are the founder of a startup than actually building their startup.

There are many reasons to love and respect Gary Vaynerchuk — this video being one of them — but he sent out this tweet that should really resonate with all of us:

This is the anti-wantrepreneur mantra. Don’t tell me. Show me.

No Excuses

If you really want to build something significant and worthy of investment, you have to actually build something. I know it sounds crazy, and I know it opens this up to a million excuses:

  • I don’t know anything about coding
  • I not a designer
  • I’m a product guy / business woman / growth hacker
  • I need a technical cofounder

Bullshit. You just have an excuse. You need to start building, executing and taking action.

You don’t need to build a fully functioning and beautifully designed website or mobile app. You can launch a business with a free Tumblr blog. You can build a very nice website on Squarespace with no coding or design experience whatsoever and be up and running in a weekend. You can run Craigslist ads and manually match buyers and sellers. There a infinite things you can and should be doing instead of telling people about what you are going to do.

Shut Up

Ken Lerer said it best in a recent conversation:

“I think most companies should shut up until they have something to say.”

But wait, you might say… “I need press in order to get the word out. I just raised my seed round. I need to get as much coverage as I possible can. This is my time to shine.” Stop it. Just stop. There were 1,749 companies who raised a seed round of financing in 2012. How many of them can you name? How many are even still around? Yes, startups are really freaking hard. I’m not saying they’re not. I’m just saying that I (along with most other people) am impressed by action, not empty words.

When the time is right, you’ll get the press you deserve. But if you think that getting a mention in a TechCrunch article is going to drive explosive adoption of your product, you are sadly mistaken. A solid, well written press placement might get you a few thousand hits on a given day. Of those few thousand visitors, you might be able to pull a few hundred signups or email addresses if you are very lucky / good. That’s pretty much as good as it will get. What happens when those new users sign up and never come back? Even worse, what happens when they don’t like the product?

You can see why a user acquisition strategy of getting lots of press isn’t ideal. The same thing goes for attending every networking event, pitch event, or anything else that doesn’t involve you building something or getting feedback from your users. Stop telling and start showing.

Earn It

Reece Pacheco said it best the morning after the funding announcement for Shelby.tv.

“Expect nothing. Earn everything.”

Shelby had a lot to celebrate. They were part of the first NYC TechStars class. They were featured in the Bloomberg reality TV show series. They just raised $1.5 million. But Reece and Shelby weren’t popping champaign and kicking back. They knew that this was just one stepping stone in a long road to success. You certainly should celebrate your successes. This stuff is really hard. When you score a big win you should take time to recognize that, but stay focused and get right back on track.

A lot of people talk a good game. Very few of them actually do something about it. Don’t try to convince me. Execute. Show me. Do something.

Introducing Our Imaginarium

{This is a post from David Lesches on Firehawk Creative that I am reposting for your viewing pleasure}

We’re pumped to announce that we’ve just released the Firehawk Creative Imaginarium, our internal collaboration and brainstorming tool for client projects.

Over time, every devshop and startup develops its own processes and methods of operation. As these processes evolve, third-party organizational tools like Basecamp, Asana and Trello become less and less useful, as their methods and processes don’t mesh well enough with your own.

When that happens, it’s time to roll your own organizational tool. Ours is the Imaginarium.

The Most Important Things

Every great product is driven by a small set of defined, core principles. There are three principles that drove every design decision in the Imaginarium:

  1. The client is king. Many freelancers and devshops believe (with some justification) that a client is best served when he/she is relegated to observer status. We believe the opposite: we are the creatives, but only the client should approve tasks or mark them as satisfactorily complete.

  2. One big room. All bases of the Firehawk process need to be covered: everything from wireframing, stories, and tasks to file uploads, billing, and messaging should take place under one roof.

  3. But it’s just a website. The real magic of collaboration happens face-to-face. It’s important to us that while the Imaginarium needs to be a perfect tool for collaboration and review, it should not replace real-life interaction. The Imaginarium therefore purposely avoids overstepping. It never becomes the method of primary communication between Firehawk and the client. We prefer meetings and conference calls for that. So do our clients.

So, ready for the tour?

Meet the Client

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be familiar with Game of Thrones, the epic TV series and book saga about the the civil war for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

If you have been living under a rock, do not fear! Here is all you need to know: In Game of Thrones, the Lannister family are the richest people in the kingdom - so rich that practically everyone is indebted to them in some way. They are also not a particularly friendly bunch. (Surprise, surprise.)

For this theoretical run-through of our Imaginarium, the Lannisters are our client, and we are building them the Lannister Ledger, an app to keep track of all the money they’ve lent out.

Process

At Firehawk Creative, our process (outlined in detail here) follows five steps.

  1. Discovery - strategy sessions to get everyone on the same page.
  2. Wireframing - general mockups of the pages and workflow.
  3. Storyboarding - outlining all functionality as user stories.
  4. Design - transforming the wireframes and stories into full design mocks.
  5. Development - coding the app.

The Imaginarium is modeled directly on this process, with one section per step.

Wireframes

Work begins with wireframes. Great wireframes communicate layout and flow without getting caught up in design. We draw our own wireframes using Photoshop. While wireframing programs like Balsamiq are popular, the wireframes they render are cutesy rather than communicative. For the same reason, we never use fake “lorem ipsum" text in wireframes: text has an enormous influence on layout, and using real text changes the feel of the page.

Wireframes that have been approved by the client are overlayed with a green check. Each wireframe also has a details page which displays metadata, like the current state of the wireframe (draft, second draft, etc), and detailed comments. When the client is happy with the wireframe, he/she approves it.

Storyboarding

Great user stories make or break a product. After our client strategy sessions, we convert every single piece of functionality into a user story. The client then approves the stories they wish to build.

Our storycards are intelligent: using an algorithm, they automatically detect which stage of execution they are in (New, Client Approved, In Progress, Pending Signoff, Complete), and then update their state automatically. They also change color depending on their state, giving the client an easy way to visualize the overall status of the project.

Cue The Party

At this point, the client has approved the detailed wireframes and user stories, and everyone is on the same page as to how the final product will look and function. The design stage of the project begins.

Design

The Firehawk team begins working on the final design mocks, with intense emphasis on the design being beautiful, meticulous, clean, and user-friendly. As the mocks are completed, they are uploaded to the Imaginarium for immediate client feedback.

Cool mock, huh? I know how badly you want to see it close-up, so here ya go:

You’re welcome!

Development

As the design mocks are tweaked and approved by the client, the project moves into the development phase.

Within the development stage, the stories remain the core focus, and our attention never wavers from them. Each story is broken into smaller tasks, which are checked off as the story is coded.

You’ll notice that the stories themselves have been split into weekly sprints, allowing the client to foresee exactly what will be coded when. Also, unlike Basecamp and Asana, every task must be directly assigned to a specific person for completion. This ensures that tasks don’t fall through the cracks.

Vault

Every project also has a vault, which is a general file upload bucket. This is very useful for quickly sharing important documents with everyone while keeping everything together in a central place.

Dashboard

What would a project management app be without a dashboard? The Imaginarium dashboard affords a unique birds-eye view of the project, while doubling as a communication panel and message board.

The dashboard’s most important feature is the Watercooler, a live real-time chat system for a project’s collaborators to brainstorm and discuss ideas. The Watercooler doesn’t replace meetings, standups, or phone calls, but serves as a useful place to leave notes and general feedback for the entire team.

Underneath the Watercooler is a detailed Activity Feed which tracks every single action occurring in the project. This is a great way for clients to see a quick rundown of everything that has been happening: items uploaded, comments submitted, wireframes approved, tasks finished, and stories completed.

To the right of the Watercooler are general project statistics:

  1. The Overall Progress panel gives a clear representation of where the project is holding overall.

  2. We use errbit to track and catch errors in production. The Health panel queries our errbit server in real time and fetches the latest statistics on whether new bugs have been found.

  3. The Github panel provides statistics on the latest code items pushed to production.

Ultimate Collaboration

We spent the time to build out the Imaginarium as we know that the surest way to build the best product is through maximum collaboration with our clients. We felt that we weren’t able to achieve that through the existing solutions. As you can tell, we are incredibly excited about the Imaginarium as we know it is going to be a tremendous value add to all of our projects going forward.

Have questions or feedback? We’d love to hear it! Use the comments or shoot us an email to david@fireahawkcreative.com.

How I Cost the Government $499 Million

It’s hard work as a founder of a growing company. I had an ever-growing list of critical to-do’s on my plate. I initially battled this by putting in ridiculous hours at the office. When the eventual realization hit that infinity hours per week wouldn’t be enough, I promised myself that I was going to focus on the top priorities. This meant that I was going to have to pass on opportunities that weren’t core to growing the business, and this is how it all began.

It was the first week of October in 2012, and a few members of my team decided to go to the NY Tech Meetup. After hours, non-work related team building definitely falls into the core category. I remember thinking that the lineup of teams presenting at the NYTM seemed better than usual, so I definitely had some high expectations for the event. It wasn’t until I got there that I realized that Todd Park, the CTO of the United States, was going to speak about some of the projects that they were working on down in Washington. Todd announced a project RFP EZ which would be a “web-based solution for small businesses to bid on high-technology government projects.” I immediately emailed Todd before he even left the stage to let him know that I wanted to be involved.

Todd responded 17 minutes later with an introduction to the person who was in charge of the RFP EZ project. I emailed this person to let him know how excited I was for the opportunity to work with the government on some amazing projects.

The project leader responded with the following 4 points:

  1. He complemented us on our company’s website (score!)
  2. He asked me not to judge him for building the project in PHP as they were “designing for maximum deployability” (I didn’t, even though I’m still not sure what that means)
  3. He said the only thing I could do to help them until they completed the project was tell my friends (I did)
  4. He said, and this is an exact quote, “You’re exactly the kind of businesses we want working on government stuff” (jackpot! although I’m sure he’s used that line many times before)

So I made a note to follow-up with him in a few months to see how things were coming along with the project. I checked their blog a few times which had minimal updates and then gave up on the project. I dropped the ball.

Turns out they launched the site in January 2013 and it looks like RFP EZ is still up and running today, so they must be having some success, right?. This was my opportunity to win some small projects to build a relationship with the US Government, but I was busy focusing my priorities and trying to grow my business.

As a result of my focus, I missed out on the opportunity to build healthcare.gov.

My team at Firehawk Creative could have saved the US Government an awful lot of embarrassment and about $499,000,000 of the taxpayers money (by some estimates), by building them a site that actually works. I missed my calling. At a previous role, I became the go-to problem solver for the biggest failing projects at an international bank. These were multi-million dollar international IT projects with incredibly ugly legacy systems and some of them were certainly failing miserably. But, I’d jump in there, roll up my sleeves and get things done.

I’m confident we could have done the same for healthcare.gov if Obama had given us a call. With a $1 million budget and a several months, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we would have delivered on time (certainly wouldn’t take 3 years), on budget (likely much under budget) and with a much better overall experience than what we see today. Startups take a seed round of funding and produce massive traction under conditions of enormous uncertainty. The big government contractors have virtually limitless budgets and either don’t have the experience or don’t have the proper incentives required to get the job done right.

As of right now, healthcare.gov is filled with massive glitches in all areas of the site. Jeffery Zients, who was brought in to fix the site, claims that the site will be ready by the end of November. I’m not so convinced, but I guess if you throw enough money at something, anything is possible. He is quoted as saying, “We’re now at 90%; 90% can create an account.” I know it’s a vast improvement from where it was, but that still means that 10% of the people who visit the site can’t even get past the account creation, let alone use the service for what it’s intended for.

I recently attempted to use the site to experience this all first hand. I was fortunate enough to be in the 90%, but I found another massive problem (that I’m sure they’re aware of and is currently on a to-do list somewhere). I went through the entire process of creating an account and verifying my identity. I finally get to a page where I’m ready to continue on to the marketplace, but the giant green continue button doesn’t actually direct me anywhere. It just lets me click on it endlessly with no results. Wonderful.

I’m not here knock anyone down for the work that was done. I’m sure that they did the best that they could with the tools that they had available to them. This site could have been built as an amazing success story and a shining example of how government and small business can work together successfully. Instead, they bring in an army of private contractors who get paid insanely expensive contracts.

Can I ask why it was so necessary to build out an entire new infrastructure that couldn’t even handle a few hundred thousand signups? My friends at DigitalOcean could have helped us build out something that would scale to the moon for a fraction of the cost. Looking at the fact that there are so many problems with creating accounts and basic site navigation, I can’t imagine anyone feeling very comfortable that the site is actually going to produce accurate results.

Look, I understand the new rules created by Obamacare are difficult. We built out a project for a client that is being used by major healthcare providers right now to advise their users about the new penalties, tax credits and rates created by Obamacare. These rules are obnoxiously complex, but we built it on time and budget with amazing results.

I fully realize that healthcare.gov is a massive effort involving countless legacy systems with changing requirements and regulations up until the very end. My point is that there are incredibly talented people who could have pulled off this project for a fraction of the cost with much better results. This deeply upsets me as a taxpayer and as a person in technology who understands more about the development process than most. We need to demand more out of our elected officials and they need to be held accountable for their mistakes.