This is a beautifully crafted story, about storytelling using collaboration or not. Great example of visual design itself.
I’d like to share one of the more recurring stories from one of our investors. When you are in a startup, you are in a plane, flying just above the ground and heading towards a 20,000 foot mountain. You are going to crash. You yank back on the stick and you start to climb. You go from 1,000 feet to 5,000 feet, great. Congratulations. You are still going to crash into the mountain and die.
The moral of the story is: you actually shouldn’t care about getting better, you should care about being better. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you get the most improved award, it matters if you clear the mountain.
My startup, SignNow, announced our financing round from Khosla Ventures recently. They have been incredibly supportive of our vision of making signing documents free and easy, and worrying about the huge issues that people encounter both before and after.
Oh, and we really want to kill faxing. It is on my “top 10 stupidest things that still exist” list.
Faxing is insecure - Fax machines and regular mailed copies often show up in open areas, where anyone has access to them, and anyone can send them back. You have little control or visibility into what is changed on the document, and if people swap out a page, it can be very difficult to prove. The signatures themselves provide little evidence of identity. Fax signatures often have horrible quality, and “wet ink” signatures require complicated and expensive forensic analysis, with traditionally low accuracy, to prove their authenticity.
Faxing is expensive and slow.
Please, everyone, help the world and stop faxing things.
Dieter Rams, one of the most famous living designers, has 10 principals for good design. I think these are the 4 most important
Good design makes a product useful
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
Good design makes a product understandable
It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
Good design is thorough, down to the last detail
Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
Good design is as little design as possible
Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
I recently sent an email to the team that outlines what we need to do as a team to be successful. Here it is:
SignNow’s Roadmap For Success
1) We will only hire people with the commitment and capacity for excellence. Excellence means being in the top 500 people in the world at your job.
2) We will make an effort at exponential continuous improvement, as individuals, teams, and as a company. Every week we will have goals at every level of the company.
3) We will relentlessly focus on delighting the customer. Nobody will give more of a shit than us.
4) We will remember that these cumulative small things lead to changing the world.
5) Velocity is king.
Our startup just went through a period of 4 months without shipping a line of code. We entered that time a weak development shop, a prototype, and a big vision. We left that time shipping awesome product quickly. Here is an outline of that period, after a quick background.
In April, we created a proof of concept of my site, SignNow, and released it quietly to the world. We had great initial feedback, and had very big dreams for the product, so we began raising capital in July. I’ll go over the raise in a future blog post, but by September, we raised more money than we were looking for and I immediately tried to see how to get an order of magnitude better, and identified a few key areas
1) Team. We didn’t have the right team in place. We knew that we were never going to be a world class company with employees like the ones we had. As our technical founder and CEO, I had neither the time nor the skill to be a true world class engineering manager, and I was holding us back.
2) Vision. I wasn’t as good as I needed to be in presenting the vision and managing the technical team. Articulating a clear vision is very hard, and learning to broadcast your vision to others is the most important thing you can do as CEO.
3) Focus. We were trying to do too much, and overestimated our ability to build good product on multiple fronts.
I started working on team and vision first. Capital raising had helped me hone my vision, which was important in hiring. Improving the vision made it easier to convince developers with tremendous talent to leave their jobs and join us on this quest. This had a snowball effect that made things even easier. With money also came the ability to use recruiters, which helps make the beginning of the funnel bigger. However, our daily development efforts slowed as I onboarded new developers and searched for a CTO. So while we grew in talent, we didn’t make progress in production.
By November we brought on a great CTO and cut our B players. Cutting some of our original developers was the right thing in the long term, but caused additional short term lost productivity. Our investors were adamant about making cuts, and we agreed. While I think being quick to fire is critical, you always lose some knowledge that sets you back a bit. Our development finally started moving forward, but we weren’t on track for a release any time soon. This is the first time we seriously had a “Holy shit we haven’t launched anything recently” frustration. Luckily, our CTO was very good about making sure we stayed focused and we cut features from the wish list to reign in development creep.
In December, we got to dedicate the entire month to product building, and made up a lot of ground with renewed laser-like focus. We set deadlines, got the entire team’s buy in to those deadlines, and got to work.
By January, we were focused on design and bug fixing. I’ve heard a quote ascribed to Larry Ellison that “It’s not the first 90% of software development that is the hard part, its the last 90%.” We found ourselves running into a three challenges: getting the details right, squashing bugs as they emerge, and actually putting it out there. Actually shipping a product after a long break is really hard culturally. Essentially none of the team at this point had been involved in launching the old prototype, so it felt new to them. There was a tendancy to say “Well, why not wait another week and get X done?” We avoided this temptation by sticking to the deadline.
I had identified a culture of shipping as critical to our organization long ago, even if we weren’t executing on it. I told my CTO when he came in: “If we can ship code every two weeks, we might barely survive. If we can ship code every day, then we will probably be a good development shop. Great shops can ship multiple times a day.”
Well, we shipped our massively improved web version on Jan 10th, and have subsequently pushed out iPhone, Android, and iPad apps, and have gotten into a rhythm of consistent updates. This pumps up the team and helps get you learn fast enough for the product to increasingly sell itself. Everything is working, and we’re growing fast, past the doldrums and beyond. Check out our work at http://signnow.com.
-If you’re the CEO and technical founder, hire a strong CTO or VP of Engineering…fast.
-Do less. Focus on one platform at a time. If we had to do it over again we would probably do only an iPhone app.
-Set deadlines. Pick a reasonable a date with feedback that developers think they can actually make then commit to it. This avoids the potential “death spiral” of trying to fit just one more feature in before a big launch…then one more…then one more…
Feel free to ask me any questions,
Disclaimer: I would only read this if you would consider yourself less religious than say…the average American. I proceed with this article with the position that an active God is almost certainly untrue. The burden of proving otherwise is on the believers. If you believe in God, but think God is basically the “force of the universe”, that’s okay…I just think you’re calling physics God, which insults both the Atheists and the Religious alike.
So its campaign season again, and the politicians on both sides are lining up and talking about the importance of God in their lives. I don’t pay too much attention to politics, mostly because as a libertarian I think both major parties are awful. However, I was listening to NPR and heard Mitt Romney give a speech in an attempt to pull votes from the Religious right, and found myself feeling really heated. I had forgotten how universally our leaders believe in and profess that God is active in our daily lives.
To show how ridiculous this sounds to my ears, here are two quotes, one from Obama and the other from Romney. I replaced “religion”, “Lord”, and “God” with “Manbearpig”, the mystical animal of South Park fame. Society has tuned out the word God, so by swapping the word with an equivalent mythical entity, you can see the crazy.
Mitt Romney (sort of) says:
“Freedom requires Manbearpig just as Manbearpig requires freedom…Freedom and Manbearpig endure together, or perish alone.”
Barack Obama (sort of) says:
“When I wake in the morning, I wait on Manbearpig, I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and our people…And when I go to bed at night, I wait on Manbearpig and I ask him to forgive me my sins and to look after my family and to make me an instrument of Manbearpig.”
These are the leaders of our country! They are professing that a mystical being is actively influencing their daily lives. They have no evidence for it, and they are not embarrassed by it, and they should be. Instead, they attack rational, evidence based thinking as a problem. Believe what you want, but understand that faith in God is exactly that: faith. It has zero evidence of truly existing, you should both admit that and never fault people for having rationality.
If you call yourself agnostic or spiritual then you are hurting rational thinkers everywhere by not calling yourself an atheist. You probably wouldn’t call yourself agnostic to the idea of Bigfoot, ghosts, or an invisible flying spaghetti monster. By making a carve out for God, you prevent rationality from taking hold in the world.
Maybe one day Presidential candidates who believed in God will have to explain themselves, and be embarrased in the process. I might have to write a blog post saying “everyone has a little crazy lets focus on the issues.” I’d be a happy man if we got to this point.
For an awesome head to head demolishing of the Catholic Church, take a look at this debate with Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens here.
In summary, leaders of non-religious organizations have an obligation to not lead prayer or similarly promote religion. I would never conceive of allowing organized talk of God at my company, SignNow. It makes you a better leader and a more compassionate human being.