Turning the Page

This could be another New Year’s reflection piece. There is something about starting a new calendar which promises that everything can change.

Turning the page on the past is something we can do or can have done to us.

My mind still goes back to that day in March 2020 when my world changed. I attended a few events in February prior, where we joked about the pandemic “out there”. At one workshop, inspired by the images circulating through social media, we held a contest to find the most creative way to greet without shaking hands. There was the foot shake, the elbow touch, the hip bump, the wave, and the bow, all done with a giggle and a smile. It felt surreal, a make-believe theatre. Why were we changing this most fundamental of human rituals?

Then, like a thunderstorm sweeping through the city, came the lockdowns. When the premier announced Friday morning that all offices would be closed the following Monday, I raced to see the facilities manager, asking to cancel my month-to-month lease without the required 60-day notice. To my surprise, she agreed. We all were confused at the moment. I still don’t know what led me to cancel because I loved my downtown office. The lockdown could not last that long, no? I rented a car next door, emptied my office into it and drove home. Thus started the weirdest year – going on three.

On that day, the page was turned on me.

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To Maximize Execution, Manage Workflow

My first challenge for 2023 is guiding a fast-growth scaleup to plan and manage an ambitious two-year, $4M+ tech development project. We are on the right track in segmenting our approach as 90-day sprints. Then this article appeared on my LI timeline and provoked me to think deeper:

chrisgagne.com

1. The plan should not detail the tasks but instead the workflow. Workflow focuses on the repeatable activities to complete a task, not the task itself. Each workflow has an input, a transformation, and an output. By managing workflows, you create a rhythm easier to control than a schedule.

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(The Economist) How Tech’s Defiance Of Economic Gravity Came To An Abrupt End

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The Economist had a good 2022 year-end article on how the environment has suddenly changed for Big Tech:

As I read the article, I asked myself how these factors impact emerging scaleups:

1. Digital markets are maturing. 

The digitization of the economy is continuing, but at a slower pace. The article mentions advertising where the growth in that area is slowing as the offline to online shift is mainly complete. In a larger context, “the greenfields are gone”. The accessible applications for digital technologies are taken. Your customers are more sophisticated about their needs and how they choose their solutions. 

  • Founders need to dig much deeper to identify the utility of their solution (problem-solution fit) and the value of this utility for the end-user. First, design the business, then build a product that fits the business. Too often, technical founders do things the other way around and hit a brick wall when attempting to transition from development to deployment.

2. Competition.

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I Quit Social Media. Then Social Media Quit Me

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

It took me about four weeks after Elon Musk took control of Twitter to decide enough was enough. So I downloaded my tweet archive and deleted my account.

When Twitter emerged after SXSW08, I was an early adopter. Looking back, those early tweets were cringe. However, I quickly picked up the style and organically built a sizeable following for someone not aiming to be an influencer.

I started to question the effectiveness of social media for non-paying users when I attended an event in 2015. I dutifully tweeted the highlights using the official hashtag. But afterward, I noticed that I was the only one doing so. That, and the crap that took over the medium in the following months, caused me to back away from tweeting. Then, due to the blatant violation of Twitter’s terms of service by a particular politician and the platform’s failure to enforce it caused me to stop using the medium altogether.

But I didn’t want to delete the account. I had about 6000 followers then, even though they did not engage much by that point. I thought they might be worth something. So I returned for a few tweets to break the boredom of 2020, but no reactions. This confirmed that follower counts are just vanity metrics.

Musk’s incompetent management of Twitter in the latter part of 2022 urged me to delete my account lest it count as a show of support.

At the end of each year, I go through my password manager to clean up unused accounts and update my passwords. However, somehow I locked myself out of Facebook. Most platforms use 2-factor authentification (2FA) through a code by e-mail or SMS to validate your identity. Facebook asks you to validate access through another supposedly verified browser and device. The problem is that I have many devices: three Macs, two PCs, two iPads and a phone, plus my work PC and work phone. I attempted to access the site on my other machines, but they were locked out too. I don’t have the Facebook app on any device, and I refuse to install it due to cybersecurity concerns. Facebook offered no 2FA option.

They did suggest asking three “friends” to let me in. However, I did not recognize any of the profiles proposed. That is because, in the same way that I organically accumulated a few thousand Twitter followers over the years, I did the same on Facebook. My social graph on Meta has no resemblance to my social graph in real life. Since I have not posted in a long time, even if I used the “social unlock”, would these names (whom I could not vouch for) vouch for me or dismiss the request as spam?

This means that Facebook locked me out. A wave of panic passed through me — what was I to do? But then I realized that I hadn’t posted much on Facebook in the past few years. My last post was a good morning photo from the summit of Montreal’s Mount Royal taken six months ago. I’ve lost access to my timeline, but there is nothing to be ashamed of in that archive.

So, I decided that if Facebook locks me out, I don’t want back in.

Is my experience part of a trend? In the 2010s, social media meant the “big three”: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Then a second tier of visual media attracted a different generation: Pinterest, Instagram, and TikTok. A few well-funded platforms tried but failed — remember “G+”?

But in the 2020s, the polarization of Social Media means we are breaking into tribes. Mastodon’s federated architecture might be the future of social media — where communities communicate through individual servers and the servers linked together. Where the first and second generations of social media encourage users to save every utterance through the years, Mastodon enables users to expire their “toots.”

Social media should be a conversation, not a shouting contest. It should elevate thought, not homogenize or monetize it. And most of all, no one person should control it.

My active platform is LinkedIn because I’m an old fogy. I’m not a visual influencer, so ‘Gram and TikTok are out. Maybe Mastodon is my communications project for 2023.

One thing is for sure: Buh-bye to Musk and Zuckerberg.

For what it’s worth, my toot handles are:
@coachdavender@mastodon.social
@coachdavender@mastodon.world
@coachdavender@mstdn.ca 🇨🇦

Crossposted on my new Medium blog: https://medium.com/@davender/i-quit-social-media-then-social-media-quit-me-412daf6facba

Finding Peace

An entrepreneur’s mind is always in motion. Even in the quietest time of the year, between December 25 and January 1, many founders find it hard to find peace.

Certainly, this is my issue. There is so much I want to do. But the silence is deafening. Could it be that over the years, I’ve become so de-sensitized to the constant pinging of incoming emails and app notifications that when things quiet down in the inter-annum, I find it harder to concentrate?

I’ve tried background music, white noise, and podcasts playing at a low volume in the other room, but my mind can’t find peace.

Then I start writing. I feel a “click”. When I find the right topic in the moment, the chattering stops. The words give me something to focus on.

Maybe, peace is not the absence of thought – it is the presence of inspiration.

(HBR) The Overlooked Key To A Successful Scaleup

I love this article which describes in detail what I call the “third horizon” or Cashflow stage of the Momentum Scaling growth model. In each preceding horizon, H1-Credibility and H2-Capability, the success metric is reaching a positive cash flow threshold which is not necessarily optimal or sustainable but gets you to the next level. In H3-Cashflow, the goal is to find your Profit Proposition (what the authors call “Profit-Market Fit”), putting you in the zone of continuous and scalable profitability.

The main message in common between this article and the Momentum Scaling model is Clayton Christensen’s quote: “Be patient for growth and impatient for profits.”

Link to HBR Article: https://hbr.org/2023/01/the-overlooked-key-to-a-successful-scale-up

SAFEs are not as “safe” as they appear

Photo by Joan Tran on Unsplash

How is valuation calculated? Imagine you have a plate of ten cookies for sale. If someone offers you $1 for one cookie, your plate is worth $1 x 10 = $10. If the next person offers you $2 for a cookie, how much is your plate of cookies worth? It is worth $2 x 9 (the number of cookies left) = $18. This means the value of your plate of cookies has just increased by 8/10 or 80%. 

But if the person who bought your first cookie at $1 wanted to sell their cookie (assuming they have not eaten it), they could ask $2 for the cookie because, of course, that is what cookies go for nowadays. The valuation of their cookie has not gone up by 80%, but actually by 100%! 

The Magically Valuable Cookie

Notice two things here:

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Don’t Let Them Go!

The tech world’s latest fad is to cut staff “because of the coming downturn”. The idea is that you will extend your runway by slowing your burn rate.

This is a big mistake. Layoffs signal to your team, investors, and customers that you know you’ve lost. It’s so easy to cut once that you’ll do it again.

Let people go, and you won’t get them back. What’s worse, you’ll cripple the productivity of those who stay and of your whole company. You will end up in a worse situation.

If you have done the real work of finding your problem-solution fit, validating your business model with real-life customer discovery, and defining and managing your Hypotheses, Assumptions, Risks and Dependencies, then you got this.

Now is the time to double down. Focus on your mission. Sign those clients. Book that revenue. Manage those uncertainties. Maximize your execution.

Tech is scalable. People are not.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7008579903189078016/

What is your TAC – Talent Acquisition Cost

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Despite the front-page news of layoffs at Big Tech, there is a shortage of tech-qualified staff in the real world outside of Silicon Valley. 

The reasons are many. I believe the pandemic pause, which here in Québec lasted almost 24 months, derailed many people’s career plans. There are the direct and ongoing effects of that period on physical and mental health. And most importantly, the accelerating pace of technological change means that more companies of all sizes are hunting for the same people.

As an emerging startup, the investment required to build your team must be at least as significant as your investment in finding capital and customers. You cannot find and hire people at a moment’s notice. They are not lining up outside your door. Even when you hire them, they can leave at a moment’s notice, forcing you to start the process again while slowing your development and deployment efforts.

Understanding your Talent Acquisition Cost

The financial investment in acquiring talent is substantial. Your Talent Acquisition Cost consists of two direct expenses:

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Does it Scale?

I’m looking through financial projections provided by a startup. Year 1 revenue is projected at $300K, while Year 4 is $30M – a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of over 360%.

The leadership team is mature. The product is tested, being a SaaS platform used internally at a university, now transformed into a commercial product. There is demonstrated interest from the target customers.

However, the story told by the projections raises a lot of questions:

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