Ian’s Geek Gift Guide 2016

I normally keep it businessy around here, but with the holidays upon us I thought I’d share some of the products that have brought me joy this year.

If you’re stuck on what to get some people in your life (or on what to ask for yourself!) maybe this will help.

Duck money clip ($39)

Money clip

The best money clip there is. Holds everything securely and regains it’s shape after you’ve stuffed it full. I’ve used this for years and it’s never let me down. Ditch that fat wallet for the duck.

Buy it.

Canon 50mm 1.4 USM (~$300)

Canon 1.4 50mm

Photo by Jonas Rask ~ review

I’m a Fuji X system photographer and those lenses are fantastic, but when I want to shoot something really contrasty and unique I reach for my Canon 50mm 1.4 USM. This was a lens built in the 50’s and 60’s.

They just don’t make glass like this anymore. It’s a real gem. I recommend taking a look at the review linked above by Jonas Rask if you want to see some great example shots.

As far as camera gear goes this is a real steal, usually available for around $300 in near mint condition on ebay.

One note, you’ll probably need a cheap plastic mount (available on Amazon) to connect this to a modern camera. It’s only a few dollars and works great.

Buy it.

Pure Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier ($49)

humidifier

I’ve tried all the humidifiers. All of them. Pretty much all of them are horrible. Either they don’t work or they require a ton of maintenance.

If like me you’re mostly bothered by the humidity level at night when you’re sleeping the Pure is fantastic.

It’s design really only supports humidifying the zone of one persons sleep area. If you have a very small bedroom I suppose it may work for two people, but I find it’s best when it’s dumping that humidity right on your head 🙂

I never sleep without it.

Buy it.

Audible – The Lord of The Rings (~$15/month for Audible)

lot of the rings audio book

Give the gift of Tolkien for the holidays. This is the VERY BEST version of The Lord of The Rings.

Better than the movies? Yes.

Better than reading the books? Yes!

The voice acting in this version (note the cover, this exact version) is simply stunning. If you’ve never heard this version you’re in for a treat.

Buy It.

Bean’s Sweater Fleece Full-Zip Jacket

best fleece

This is my favorite fleece. I have it in multiple colors. It’s perfect for layering and works both dressed up a bit and down.

If you’re tall like me, it also comes in tall sizes.

Buy it.

Uniform Wares ($400-$1200)

uniform wares

If you’re into really minimal watches Uniform Wares are great. Not too expensive (for a fancy-ish watch) and they really stand out.

They have nice designs for both guy and girl geeks.

Buy It.

Sieko Orange Monster (~$200 if you can find it)

Orange Monster

This is the one item on this list I don’t actually own.

It’s on here though because I really really want to 🙂

Very much the opposite of the Uniform Wares watch, Sieko dive watches are big chunky practical tools. There are many varieties of Sieko dive watches and many of them are really great. The Orange Monster is a bit unique and currently in demand.

They’re hard to find online outside of ebay and frankly I’m always a bit nervous about buying something like a watch off ebay.

However, if you’re not or you can find the Orange Monster locally grab it up.

Tao Te Ching ($9)

Tao

America got you down?

Checkout a little eastern philosophy.

This is my favorite version of the Tao Te Ching. It’s a small pocketable version perfect for reading on the go or to keep on the nightstand.

I find it remarkably soothing.

Buy it.

Ciao.

Shady Tactics, Round 2

After my post yesterday about shady tactics in Bootstrapper circles people have been sending me other stuff they’ve seen that irks them.

In the other post I didn’t call out specific people because I’ve seen these same tactics so many times that who it was that I saw most recently isn’t even relevant.

This time though, I want to share one that’s just so horrible I can’t feel bad about sharing it. This is the kind of thing we must fight against. It’s simply not acceptable and as I mentioned in the other article it may even be illegal.

Below is a video of what happens on the Quicksprout site when you provide them a URL to your website. In theory, it should analyze your site and tell you what’s wrong with it. This isn’t a new idea and while it’s always a lead gen tool, other tools ACTUALLY DO ANALYZE YOUR SITE. See Website Grader by Hubspot for an example.

You know where this is going, but see for yourself. Oh, and stay until the end for some fake urgency as well.

These tactics hurt those of us trying to run real small businesses. They hurt the reputation hard earned by those of us grinding away on our businesses for the last decade. All of these people are smart enough to play the game straight and still win. They’re better than this.

Shady Tactics in our Midst

Bootstrappers. I’ve been seeing a lot of shady tactics in our midst lately and I’m calling them out. These aren’t good for you or your business long-term.

Some of these have already entered the zone of “conventional wisdom” but we need to push back on that. It really is possible to run a successful online business without stooping to these tactics.

Selling something that doesn’t exist

I recently signed up for a course that was $500. It has a great landing page on a topic that I was searching for details on.

More than just a landing page, it was a list of the exact course elements with all calls to action clearly marking it as available right now. Buy this and have your grubby hands on it in 2 minutes.

I purchased. When I got access, there was only 2 videos that already were given out for free on the landing page. That’s it. No other information, not even a notice directly presented that the course wasn’t actually done yet.

After emailing the owner I found out that they were going to work on it over the next year.

That’s great, but I have a problem today.

Being your lab rat isn’t fun for the customer. It’s not going to make the customer think highly of your product or service.

Yes, I know this is a popular technique to prove out the value of an idea.

But you know what, I think it fucking sucks.

Imagine for a second going into Wal-Mart. On your way down the cereal aisle you spot this great looking new box of Super Gummy Wheaties. You realize you’re dying for some Super Gummy Wheaties and snap it up.

You wait in line, pay your $2.89 and drive home.

When you get home you get out a bowl. Get out the milk. Wash your favorite spoon.

Sit down and open the box.

Inside is…. Nothing. Fucking nothing. No plastic bag. No cereal loose in there. Nothing.

You know what you’d do? You’d freak the hell out. You’d be on Twitter cursing up the Wheaties people and Wal-Mart for running this scam of a marketing trial on you.

When you went back to Wal-Mart you’d demand a refund.

It wouldn’t end there though. You’d tell everyone you know about it. “Can you believe there was NO FUCKING CEREAL IN THE BOX!!!”

And not just for a few weeks. Oh, you’d tell the story a lot in those first days, but this story would come up over and over.

Years from now, “Hey Jill, tell them about the time you got that cereal box at Wal-Mart and there was no fucking cereal in it”.

All this over a $2.89 box of cereal. If customers don’t like it with cereal, if YOU wouldn’t like it with cereal, how is this acceptable for a $500 product online? Why do we accept this because it’s easy to trick people like this online?

I say it’s not fucking acceptable. Don’t do it. If you are doing it, stop doing it. Find some other way to validate your damn product. Stop tricking customers, hurting your brand, and in general being a bad internet citizen.

And I’ll throw one more thing at you since some of you won’t give a hoot about being a good internet citizen. That is that this practice is almost certainly ILLEGAL.

Yes, you. You reading this. YOU ARE PROBABLY BREAKING THE LAW IF YOU DO THIS.

Don’t ask me, ask Jacoby and Meyers (you can trust them, we’ve all seen the ads on TV!).

False advertising is any published claim that is deceptive or untruthful. Misleading advertising is any published claim that gives a consumer an incorrect understanding of the product they are interested in purchasing or using. The false and misleading advertising by companies of any product may result in the consumer suffering a financial loss, or another form of damage to the consumer.

You see when you told me there would be cereal in this box and I purchased it thinking there was cereal in this box, I have the right to have purchased said cereal. Not just participate in some stupid fucking experiment.

This applies just as much to your SaaS app, your “content”, or your “productized services” as it does to anything else.

Alright? Alright.

Fake urgency

Oh I know you’re not going to like me picking on this one. You’re already mad from the last one! Well I’m killing all the sacred cows.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love creating urgency. Urgency is a powerful sales technique. But your fake urgency is rude.

Recently I signed up for a SaaS app and on the sign up page I was offered the chance to jump the queue by sharing a link about the app. That’s cool, I didn’t share it and moved on.

I then start getting emails about how the queue is super long, but share it and I’ll jump right to the top. I still don’t share.

Then, maybe 24 hours since sign up I get yet another email urging me to share. I don’t.

A few hours after that I get an email saying “Thanks for sharing” and I can now get into the beta.

FUCK THAT.

I didn’t share your app. I’m not going to use your stupid app. I don’t want to share it and your email sequence has exposed you as a complete fraud who didn’t even bother to build or buy the system to reward the people who actually shared and instead you just send everyone the thanks for sharing email a few days after sign up.

That sucks for the people who did share and actually received none of the extra value that they were promised. Nobody wants to be treated like that.

You’re just using a trick you read about on the internet. Does it work sometimes? Sure. That doesn’t mean it’s right to do or that it has no consequences if/when it goes wrong.

Oh, and I suspect this is also illegal in some implementations under the false advertising laws discussed above.

Injecting your company into other companies twitter “conversations”

We run a job board over at LaraJobs. When someone posts a job we tweet out the details with some hash tags of the tech used in this job.

Recently, a job board in the Angular space started tweeting about the companies who posted on our board. Even including us in the tweets under some shady guise and making it confusing for the customers who then thought they were associated with us.

Don’t do this.

Don’t freaking do this!

If you were at the Apple store and you were talking to one of the blue shirts how would you like it if a Samsung rep just jumped in front of you and started talking? Just out of nowhere, boom Samsung rep?

It’d be completely unacceptable. Not something Samsung or any company would ever do in person. We don’t have to do this online either.

Must you sacrifice your own morals and common decency to run a successful online business? As someone who’s avoided them for 12 years I can assure you the answer is NO.

“Follow up” emails

Hey, I’ve sent emails that probably have irked people. They haven’t heard from me or my company in a while and bam, there’s an email.

I get it. I really do. It’s a very fine line here.

What’s not a fine line?

Emails that you constantly send to your potential customers with subjects that reference fake emails or calls.

Emails that have fake reply headers in them from a previous fake conversation.

Anything that says “sorry I missed you” in the subject.

We all know these. We all hate these.

Yes, you might catch some people in this net but point me to the company that made their business on these techniques?

Do you personally get a lot of these from Basecamp or Fog Creek or Slack or Twitter or Apple or Amazon or Google or Microsoft or Typeform or Github or Moz or Rackspace or Linode or Dominoes or Tesla or Honda or Spotify or Stripe or Discourse or Pixel & Tonic or Ellis Lab or Facebook?

No you don’t. This technique might help a sales person pad their quota. Maybe get you a few more bucks in your pocket. But it’s NOT WORTH YOUR SOUL.

Oh yeah, it probably goes without saying at this point but these emails are probably also illegal. Not that anyone cares about illegal emails….


We’re all focused on selling more.

Don’t forget WHY you’re doing that. Is it to take care of yourself, your family, and you’re employees? Of course. But it all starts with the customer. Your business is done in service of your customer first. Without them you don’t have a business and you can’t help anyone.

Help your customers succeed. Don’t let money blind you to why you started your business. Don’t sacrifice your personal or business reputation for what is unlikely to amount to more than a few extra bucks on the bottom line.

Are You Letting Today Distract You From Tomorrow?

What is on your plate today?

My guess is that you are busy. You are running around with a To Do list one mile-long with things that need to get done, right now, no exceptions. There are meetings, and project status reports, and deliverables all requiring your immediate attention. If this sounds like you, you are in good company. Good company too focused on today, instead of future-proofing your business for tomorrow.

That was harsh. I’ll back up.

There is a quote attributed to Bill Gates that I really like. You might be familiar with it:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Think about that, and how it may apply to your business.

Modern software companies (heck, most modern businesses) are too focused on the right now and how an idea impacts today. The effect is that anything that may take more time to unfold (two years, five years, ten years, etc.) is seen as too risky or something the business simply can’t afford. We don’t even consider it; it’s just struck from the conversation. We make laundry lists of everything that has to get done today, tomorrow and next week, but beyond that, crickets.

I wonder if Bill is right that we underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade or if we’re too distracted with today to even think about it.

The trouble with this is obvious – how do you build a future-facing business when you’re rushing to achieve today’s inbox zero?

You can’t.

However, by flipping your thinking, weighing decisions on the value they’ll offer long-term, two big things immediately change.

You Prioritize Time Differently

Go back to that mile-long To Do list. It’s overwhelming, isn’t it? Take a step back and analyze the items on it. Ask yourself:

  • Is there a connection between what’s on the list and where you see your business 10 years out?
  • Is that side project you are working on adding long-term value, or is it a distraction?
  • Are you moving your product to where the market it is today, or where it will be in a decade?
  • Are you busy, or are you being productive?

These are hard questions because many of us won’t like the answers. Being busy fulfills our ego, the guilt and the silence of our day. But being busy isn’t how you’ll grow a business.

You grow your business by weighing every action and every decision against the value it will bring. Not today’s value, but long-term value. If it won’t add value in 10 years, it is not valuable today. It’s busywork.

You can never know, of course, if what you’re doing today will really payoff in 10 years (we’re still waiting for that time machine…) or if your visions for 10 years from now are even the right ones, but the thought exercise alone is revealing when you take it seriously.

You View ‘Big’ Projects Differently

Judging today’s actions by tomorrow’s metrics has the power to change your perspective, especially for larger projects. This is something that has been very important to us recently. There are some large scale projects that we have been putting off because they just seemed too big to take on. These are projects that will take at least one year to complete, maybe even two years.

Two years.

In software, that seems like a long time. It seems like forever, actually, especially for a small company.

But let’s turn the tables on that thought process. Instead of thinking about how long it will take to accomplish the task (the initial two years), think about the value you will create for the business for eight years after that by having done that work.

Two years of work in = Eight years of value out

That equation helps add important context to our decision-making, focusing on the benefit, not just the time investment.

Spending two years to achieve eight years of value is smart investment.

Spending two years and NOT achieving eight years of value is NOT a smart investment.

That’s easy to see and to understand, right? This is how we have begun to make business decisions at HelpSpot– weighing the investment against the value. Again, you won’t always be right, but just thinking about it has the power to really impact your business.

Try this out in practice today – take a look at your To Do list and really consider the tasks making up your day. Will accomplishing these things move your business forward and continue to provide value 10 years from now, or are they distractions keeping you from what you could be tomorrow? If they are distractions, consider which tasks you can weed out to make room for the work that really matters. You can achieve a lot in 10 years, but only if you start today.

Should You Sell To Enterprise Customers?

Money. The more the better, right?

Customers. The bigger the better… right?

When you’re a bootstrapped start-up, you quickly realize that neither of those assumptions are correct. Of course you want more income. You’re trying to keep the lights on, after all. And of course you want customers who are going to be stable, loyal and paying enough to be worth your investment of time and resources.

But an interesting conversation begins here, as the dilemma of whether or not to sell to enterprise customers arises. Could a high-paying, prominent customer’s demands lead you make decisions you’d have otherwise avoided in order keep them happy? Maybe.

Should you have a hard and fast rule that you avoid enterprise customers? Some would say so, but I’d argue absolutely not. These customers can be good for your business, in moderation. It’s all in how you handle your sales process and your client relationships. It’s in how you decide to serve the enterprise customer, and who at the enterprise you serve.

The Argument Against the Enterprise Customer

Jason Fried made a great case for why a handful of high-paying customers can spell disaster on a small company in its early days. From “Don’t let anyone overpay you:”

We’d much rather have hundreds of thousands of companies paying us a small monthly payment than a few huge accounts covering that same amount. A diverse customer base helps insulate you; a few large accounts can leave you vulnerable to their whims.

He’s right on a number of points. True enterprise sales can be highly distracting to a team that is still trying to define its own products and place in the market.

It’s no small feat to land and keep that enterprise customer.

  • The networking alone can require fancy suits, steak dinners, travel and extensive negotiations.
  • Once the paperwork is signed, extensive software customizations, custom implementations, custom training, solution architecture and more may be required – all taking time and resources from the development you intended to focus on for your larger customer base.
  • Large companies—brand names you want to say you work with in your marketing and sales initiatives—can be tempting to bend over backwards for to keep happy, leading to extra client relations time spent managing the account.

And once you’ve spent all that time on the one or two big enterprise names you land, you risk finding yourself in the position of having these two companies dominate the majority of your revenue. What if one client decided to walk?

It’d be a bad day. Probably a horrible one that taxes your small group of employees tremendously.

And that’s why certain protections have to be made when you engage with such a powerful client.

Don’t Abandon the Enterprise

As a small bootstrapped company, you can sell to enterprises without these negatives, if you structure your mindset and your offering correctly.

Selling only to customers paying you $25, $50 or $75 per month can be extremely hard, especially as you’re building your business. You need an incredible volume of customers to be sustainable at those rates. Meanwhile, having a few higher revenue customers can give you more flexibility in these early growth stages.

So, how do you embrace the enterprise? Selectively! Find a few special cases that not only provide you with profit, but that also allow you to scale for them with limited hurdles and customizations. Find the enterprise cases whose needs and intentions best match where you’re already headed. By doing so, you can sell very profitable, large contracts without most of the extra work and expense required with typical enterprise customers.

You can work with the big customer, without losing sight of the big picture.

Truthfully, your enterprise work is best done if you start… small.

Define Your Target Enterprise Customer

“We want the enterprise customer.”

Correction. We want the customer at the enterprise.

When we say enterprise, we’re not talking about solutions that’ll cover the entire Fortune 500 company. Only in the rarest of cases will you be able to make those sales (and if you do, enjoy spending all of your attention on Company X’s Version Of Your Product, instead of developing Your Product).

We’re too small to manage the processes required to sell and manage the bit of software used by every employee in a 40,000-person company. In our earliest stages, with our 2, 4 or 8 employees, most of us are too small to provide such a substantial bit of software that’s at the core of that company’s functions, on top of all of our other customers’ needs.

But we can get our fill of the enterprise, by nibbling at the edges.

How?

At HelpSpot, we look at departments, groups or slices of functionality at large companies, and identify which sectors we can immediately impact.

We ask: What tasks can we assist with through smarter software solutions? How can we partner with them to make key processes within their part of the enterprise more efficient?

We then connect with a key decision maker within that space of the enterprise, and introduce our solution to them.

It’s not always an easy sell. That enterprise employee may not have immediate clearance to purchase your services, but you will have a much easier time implementing your service for 10 people, or even 40 people, than the 40,000 company-wide.

And that’s okay, because providing your service to 10 People Who Work At An Enterprise does not have to be dramatically different than providing your service to 10 People Working At Your Small Business Customer.”

Make Your Mark On The Enterprise

At HelpSpot, we’ve provided tickets management for individual retail location managers across a 500+ location customer, one by one. We’ve also worked with IT groups within enterprises, and directly supported internal maintenance groups. We’ve provided ecommerce support for a large record label where e-commerce was an important yet secondary revenue stream.

We work with groups within enterprise companies, without incurring the massive headaches and demands that come with the typical enterprise contracts. We provide value to them, while they also provide tremendous benefits to us.

By dipping our toes in the enterprise water, we learn quite a bit about our processes and our products. We learn whether we can sink or swim serving the big brands. We get stronger. We begin building better products, buoyed by the financial support of customers who can afford our top offerings. All the while, they offer us a bit of a flotation device to get us through our worst growing pains.

Enterprise customers don’t have to be the heroes or the enemies of bootstrapped companies. They can simply be customers that help drive your business forward, right along with all of the other companies you strive to work with day after day.

How to Get Hired at a Startup

A practical guide on what to do and not do in your cover letter and resume.

Applying for a job is thankless work. Literally, most of your applications will be ignored. Even great companies often won’t acknowledge job applications.

In large part, this occurs because the modern internet has made it very easy to apply to jobs. Just fire off an email to the [email protected] address and you’re done.

Of course, this only heightens the problem, more job applicants, less time for the hiring manager (or HR) to look at each one.

When you don’t hear back, it reinforces the hopelessness of getting noticed in the first place and makes it more likely you’ll put even less effort into the next job you apply for.

Small Companies

It’s not impossible to get hired by simply firing off a resume into the HR black hole. It does happen. It’s more effective at large companies where the first scan may be a simple keyword filter and so finding the right combination of terms for your resume will get you to an actual human.

I’m not here to talk about getting hired by big companies though. These days, many of you are seeing the benefits of working for smaller companies and startups. More responsibility, more flexibility, competitive salary and benefits, a chance to have a direct impact on the company vs being a cog in The Man’s wheel.

That’s great, I love this. Having run our little software company for 10 years it’s lovely to see so many people excited about small companies. That’s very different from when I graduated college or was starting UserScape.

Alas, so many of you are applying to small companies the same way you apply to large ones. This really hurts your chances of getting interviewed and hence hired.

The Founder

If you’re serious about getting hired at a small company it’s critical you understand founders. In pretty much all small business/startup hiring scenarios the founder will be either the sole hiring authority or have a significant say in the matter.

The founders #1 priority is trust. They’d hire only people they personally know if they could, but they can’t, so they’re begrudgingly forced to look outside their circle of trust.

To a founder, their business IS them. Customers are their children.

Let that sink in, because that is how you have to approach this. If you were hiring a babysitter and they showed up at your door half dressed, dirty, and smelled like a bar would you let them watch your kids? They might be the best person in the whole world and have a great explanation as to why they look this way, but that first impression is everything.

The first impression is critical to trust, and this is where everyone drops the ball. Applying to BigCo’s has taught you to be lazy, and that is why you fail when applying to small ones. Laziness will kill your job application INSTANTLY.

What sorts of lazy things are you doing that are making founders not trust you with their children?

Cover Letters

Far and away the most important aspect of your application is the cover letter. The resume is practically irrelevant in comparison. Unlike Bigco filtering systems, a founder is going to read that cover letter. The cover letter is our first filter.

Obviously generic cover letters

Trash. Instantly. No second chances for this, you’re too lazy to take a minute and at least customize a cover letter for my company? How can I trust you with my customers?

Addressing the cover letter

To whom it may concern — Perhaps not instant trash, but we’re not looking good. This is a small business you’re applying to (You don’t know it’s small? You didn’t research it first? I don’t want your application then you lazy bastard). Address the owner by name.

Not 100% sure the owner is who’s going to be hiring? Use a more comfortable and welcoming opening. A simple Hello works nicely. Alternatively, you could do something like: Ian and the UserScape Team,

It lets the founder know you’ve done a little homework and that we should read further to learn more about you.

What to cover in your cover letter

The hiring process is a series of steps. Much like a marketing funnel the point of step A is simply to get you to step B, who’s goal is to get you to step C, etc.

If your cover letter is bad I’m not looking at your resume. So the cover letter has a few things to accomplish.

A) Help me trust you
B) Make me interested in you

If I trust you and you sound interesting (in the context of the job to be done, not interesting as a person though that helps also) I’m likely to read your resume.

So how do you build trust and make what you say interesting?

This isn’t a creative writing course so let’s just keep it simple. Take it back to 7th-grade English.

Your cover letter should have an introduction, a body that restates the problem (the job to be solved and a few key points about how you fit in there), and a conclusion.

All of this will need to be custom to the organization/job you’re applying to. Sorry. If you fake it, it’s insanely easy to spot.

We’re talking 3–4 tight paragraphs here. Long enough to say something meaningful, but not too long that it becomes burdensome to read. Remember, we’re trying to get the founder to the next step of actually bothering to open your resume.

How to format your cover letter

These days, it’s best to have your email be your cover letter. No need for it to be formally formatted inside a doc/pdf. In fact, it’s better to not require employers to take that extra step of having to open a document.

Link it up

I love seeing a few well-placed links in a cover letter. Have a really impressive project you’ve worked on? Link it. Have a website you keep up to date? Link it.

At the very least link up Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. I’m going to search for those things anyway, put them right there and save me a step.

Often, if the cover letter is good I might search on the person before reading the resume. Lead me to your best stuff.

The Resume

Resume file titles

As the hiring authority, I’m going to be getting a lot of emails and resumes. Not being able to tell which resume is which is a big problem for me. It means you might simply get misplaced. It also shows a lack of common sense. Examples of what I get all the time.

> resume.docx
> resume (updated) v2.docx
> cv.doc
> 2014bob.doc
> Resume 1 (4).docx

These are real! If you’re this sloppy with your resume file name how are you going to treat my customers?

Examples of good resume titles

> Ian Landsman — Resume.pdf
> Ian Landsman.pdf

That’s pretty much it. Some variation of your name and maybe the word resume or cv.

Resume file format

Resumes should be in PDF format OR be a dedicated site that you link to. On a Mac seeing a docx makes me cry, if the person is on Windows they’re worried about opening random Word docs from strangers. Just make it a PDF and save everyone the trouble.

Yes, that’s one more step you’ll have to take to convert your Word doc. Yes, see the pattern here?

How long should your resume be?

For some reason, people are taught to keep their resume’s short. I suppose there are some personal preferences here, but I’d rather it be too long than too short.

Don’t worry about silly rules like fitting it all on one page. This isn’t 1986; nobody is going to misplace page 2 of your PDF.

The thing to understand is that if I’m looking at your resume I already have some trust and interest in you from the cover letter. That means, unless you do something really stupid in your resume I’m probably going to interview you.

The interview is really what the resume is all about. The resume brings me up to speed on your background so that we actually have something to talk about in the interview. The more details in the resume, the more questions I can formulate ahead as well as allowing me to skip over other areas that I can see are covered.

Make sure the content of your resumes gives potential interviewers enough facts and details to build a conversation around. Also, please don’t load it with keywords. When you’re applying for to a small company a short section on the technology you know is fine. Save the huge list of every tech you’ve ever touched for The Man.

How much should your resume be customized per job?

Unlike the cover letter which should be nearly 100% custom, the resume can be pretty generic. Your history is what it is.

I often see people who have obviously replaced some other bullet point for one that seems more fitting for the job they’re applying for. That can be OK, however, removing an impressive accomplishment for a mediocre job relevant point may not be a win.

Formatting your resume

This is a biggie. First, your resume needs to be easy to read. Echoing the above, don’t shoehorn everything onto one page just because. Keep proper line spacing and readable font sizes.

Break up your sections into logical groups for easy scanning and reference during an interview.

I’m personally a big fan of using some color on your resume. Just a touch helps you stand out and can make the resume more readable and memorable. A photo or some other element is also OK.

Education, top or bottom?

The eternal question. Unless you’re directly out of school education goes below experience. Even then, if you’ve had some good internships or other job experience, it might make sense to put it above education.

We’re moving to a world where what you know is more important than what a school’s name implies you know.

Going above and beyond

You don’t have to do this, but if you really have a dream job you’re going after think of ways to go above and beyond. Can you build a custom website for just the job as Adam Wathan did here? It may be over the top but it’s not THAT much work and if you’ve done a good job on your cover email it’s likely to get looked at and make a huge impression.

A word about objectives

At best an objective won’t hurt your chances. On the flip side, it often conveys the genericness of your job search. Applying for a job in support with an objective of being a software engineer? Trash.

Instead of an objective, I’d rather see a well written About section. A sort of overview of who you are. Use it as a place to convey important information about yourself that isn’t present in the other resume sections or to emphasize something extremely important.

Following Up

If you put in a really good effort on your cover letter but haven’t heard back be sure to follow up. People get busy, email gets lost. It can’t hurt to follow up.

If you just sent an email that says here’s my resume, of course don’t bother.

Random Bits

* You should have a professional email address with your name in it. Not peewee79.
* If you’re looking for a job in tech, I’d go farther and have an email on your own domain ([email protected]) or at least a solid gmail address. Weird AOL emails and the like are going to be a negative.
* Get an introduction if you can. It’s always a huge leg up to be presented to the hiring person by a trusted source (that word again!).

I Put The Effort In, But Get No Results

Well then, better keep pushing! A founder of a small company has gone through YEARS of personal sacrifice. Are you upset nobody responded to your cover letter? Try harder. Try something different. Apply to different jobs. Get some more experience. Present a new angle of yourself. Find something that works. We did, you can to.

An Update on Snappy

UPDATE: We’ve found a great new home for Snappy and we won’t be closing. You can read the update here: https://ianlandsman.com/snappy-is-saved/

tl;dr

Effective today we’re won’t be allowing any new signups for Snappy. We’ll continue to run the service until May 15th, 2015 to give existing customers a chance to move to a new platform, perhaps our other help desk software app, HelpSpot.

The tl;dr Why

We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and everyone should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.
—Steve Jobs

The Long Version

Just under three years ago we started building Snappy as a tool for small support teams. Our primary product is an enterprise help desk software app and I thought a small light SaaS app to go along with it would be a good fit. While HelpSpot is often used by very small teams, it has a lot of tools and features which an individual or small team doesn’t need. Wouldn’t it be great to build a tool just for them?

It would also be a chance to try some new things, experiment in ways that aren’t possible with an established existing application and explore a new UI paradigm.

We have an outstanding team at UserScape, and they put tremendous effort into the project. What we’ve created is a great application, but it’s not a great business.

To be even more specific, it’s not a great business for us. We’re a small team, and we already run a very profitable product in HelpSpot. Nearly three years in I expected Snappy to be able to contribute in a more significant way to UserScape’s revenues, but it’s just not there.

Part of this may be the long slow SaaS ramp of death, but even if that is the case we simply can’t continue to devote our limited time to Snappy. At some point, the tradeoff between adding even more great improvements to HelpSpot vs continuing to build up Snappy just doesn’t pay off.

The reality is that finding customers for Snappy for $30/month average sale is as time-consuming as finding ones for HelpSpot that go for thousands. It’s also just as competitive at the low end of the market where Snappy is vs the middle where HelpSpot is, but far less profitable.

For our business, the middle tier of help desk software apps is also just a better fit. They’re more enterprise oriented, and that’s an area where we just work a lot better.

We understand how to navigate the committee making the purchasing decision, how to deal with PO’s, how to walk customers through one on one demos. And, once those customers choose your product (for a much higher price) they stay for a very, very long time.

So, it’s not so much about Snappy as it is about us as a company. With five people you can only do so much. One of my biggest errors has been thinking we could do more than we can or should. That’s something I’m trying to rectify.

I feel terrible for the customers that have chosen Snappy as a solution. I know it’s not easy to pick a help desk app and that there’s often training and integration issues that make it a bigger commitment than other applications.

I hope providing this advanced notification will provide enough time for people to transition to HelpSpot or another solution. I’m happy to speak with customers who may need more time and make accommodations for them as we can.

I know people will have a variety of questions. I’ve kicked things off with a few below if you have more please comment below or ping me with them on twitter.

Q / A

Where do you think things first went wrong?

I’m 100% to blame 🙂 I let the scope creep from the original vision. The very first idea for Snappy was to make it extremely simple, essentially an engineering as marketing effort to lead people into HelpSpot.

Along the way I got excited about some of the new possibility building this from the ground up allowed. That was a huge error.

If it’s making some money and growing why close it?

There was an interesting post over on the Baremetrics blog about this. The first two elements there are very relevant to Snappy.

Essentially, Snappy has a very low average monthly revenue per user. Not as low as his example of $20, but not that far off. At those levels, you need a lot of customers to make the app worthwhile. And again, in our case when Snappy makes less in a month than HelpSpot makes in a day it’s hard to justify it after you’re already a few years in and the growth curve isn’t hockey stickish.

His second point in that post is also very relevant. Snappy has a pretty hard cap on how much it can earn off any single customer. Given it’s designed for small teams, medium/large teams are essentially blocked out.

We’ve had a few customers of large size, but the vast majority are 1-3 users. So again, at those levels you’re forced to find a huge number of them over a relatively short period to make the finances work.

Would you sell it?

We did reach out to a few people who I thought might be a good fit to take it over, but nothing panned out.

This type of app is mission critical; I’d be very nervous to put it in the wrong hands. It’s better to close it than to sell it to the wrong person.

So, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible that we’d sell it but it would have to happen pretty soon, and it’d need to be someone I really trust.

Why don’t you just let it run indefinitely and see how it goes?

This was my A plan for the past few months. However, it’s just too important an app to the businesses that use it to leave it like that. It’s also not a simple application to manage. There’s a lot of moving parts, email, servers, widgets, integrations, etc so “just running it” can be more complicated than it sounds.

While it overall has been an extremely stable and reliable application things can and will go wrong. It’s not fair to the customers to not be 100% on top of it.

Is UserScape in financial trouble?

Not at all! This is a business decision though there is of course a financial component. Primarily, it came down to if we want HelpSpot to continue to subsidize Snappy’s development costs. At this point I simply don’t think that’s the best use of those dollars.

Why was starting a second product a mistake?

While we do run some other side projects like LaraJobs, having a full on second product that requires continuous development was not a good idea for us at this stage.

I overestimated my energy to take on such a massive endeavor. I also thought as a company we could take on more and that wasn’t correct. In the end, it was too much of a distraction and financial undertaking for our small crew.

Will you open source Snappy?

I’ve kicked this idea around a bit. I think the problem as with most SaaS apps is that it’s very much tied into a variety of other services. It would be impossible to run Snappy without at least several hundred dollars in services a month outside of hosting.

I think it’s hard to open source an application like that. Also, simply dumping it in the GitHub open source bin without taking on the continued development and management of it doesn’t seem that useful to anyone.

Convergence Insufficiency

About 10 years ago while I was building out HelpSpot I started experiencing intermittent dizzy spells. Dizzy isn’t even the correct word, but it’s the best word I have for it. It’s somewhere between a ‘pang’ going through my eyes and feeling off balance. Not room spinning vertigo, but definitely uncomfortable.

I was working 12-16 hours a day at the time coding HelpSpot and just pushed through it. After that, there was always some reason to not deal with it. Babies, new releases, etc.

Over the past year I started to experience far more headaches than I ever had in the past, general anxiety and other physical symptoms. Driving became extremely difficult as feeling pangs of dizziness at high speed makes driving… uncomfortable 🙂

I have been seen by numerous doctors, ENTs, and optometrists over the years with nobody ever finding anything unusual. As I started to feel worse over the past year I became determined to figure out what was going on.

After seeing a bunch more doctors, I decided to try and find a more specialized optometrist who might be able to find something off with my eyes that all the others had missed.

It felt like a bit of a long shot, but I know I work my eyes really hard with all this close up computer work and as the more serious potential issues had been ruled out it seemed worthwhile. I ended up finding the Bernstein Center for Visual Performance in White Plains, NY about an hour from where I live.

The center specializes in weird eye stuff (my own words), unlike your local optometrist who is really only checking for your basic vision clarity (they do that also at Bernstein). In fact, even when I asked local optometrists if anything with my vision could cause these things I was always told my eyes were fine.

So, I went to the Bernstein Center somewhat desperate as I was basically out of ideas after them. After a thorough evaluation (when was the last time you spent an hour and a half with an optometrist?) it was determined I have Convergence Insufficiency along with a misalignment of my eyes.

Convergence Insufficiency is the inability of your eyes to converge together consistently. If one or both eyes move too far in/out they’re unable to focus properly on the correct place in space. This causes increased strain on your eyes, muscles, brain, etc.

Convergence Insufficiency is normally found in children as it often presents as learning disabilities. Sometimes even being misdiagnosed as ADHD or similar. But the child is not able to focus not because they have a chemical imbalance but because they literally aren’t seeing correctly.

My eyes are also about 1/4 inch off from each other vertically. Nobody had ever noticed this. Not other optometrists, not my wife, not even me!

The eye level difference and the Convergence Insufficiency could cause many of the symptoms I was experiencing. That, along with an improper vision correction prescription (too strong) and bad glasses (the online store you all probably buy your glasses from) made things worse.

Having a convergence issue doesn’t mean you necessarily can’t see clearly. Optometrists who don’t detect the Convergence Insufficiency can often keep you seeing “clearly” by increasing your prescription strength, but that only further strains your eyes, brain, etc making other problems worse.

So, how to fix this? First, in the office during that first visit the doctor put me in contacts. I used to always wear contacts before starting the business at which point I went to glasses full time (the same time I started experiencing these visual issues suspiciously). Instantly, in the office that second I felt better. Not 100% better, but a noticeable difference immediately.

To actually fix the issue would require 24-44 in office visits to go through vision therapy as well as homework each night at home. I spent a lot of time looking at a pencil 🙂

2015-02-27 11.25.47

Yesterday I finished my 24th session and am done for now. Each one requiring a 1 hour drive back and forth to White Plains along with the 40 minute session. It’s one of those times where having a bit of flexibility in your job and an amazing team to cover your absence pays off in far more than dollars.

Those early drives down were borderline terrifying as I mentioned above, driving was a bit scary. Now, I’m able to make the drive without even thinking about it. It’s one of the more pronounced differences for me. It’s also nice to be able to do my work without constant pangs of dizziness while on the screen.

I’m still not 100% done. I do get an occasional pang, but my eyes will continue to strengthen over time. We’ll be giving it 3 months to see how things go, it’s possible I could need another round of therapy but hopefully things continue to improve just through eye use with the proper prescriptions going forward.

It’s an amazing feeling when you find out something actually is wrong with you after you’ve always been told you’re fine. That’s one of the main reason I wanted to write this post.

If you or someone you know has dizziness, headaches, trouble reading or remembering what you’ve read you may have a vision issue. Your local optometrist probably won’t find this, especially if you’re an adult. Try and find a specialist, an optometrist that offers vision therapy as a service is likely a good sign. The one at the mall isn’t going to cut it in most cases.

I also want to again point out the impact Convergence Insufficiency has on kids. By impacting their ability to read, to pay attention, even their balance systems, it can often be misdiagnosed.

In fact, the vast majority of the people I was going through vision therapy with were kids between 7-12. It was great being around them and I loved the occasional “what is that adult doing in here?” question.

I suspect this condition is under diagnosed in adults, especially knowledge workers who spend 8+ hours a day looking at a fixed distance.

If you’re seeing any of these symptoms yourself definitely find a proper optometrist and get checked out. Those of you in the NYC metro area I can’t recommend the Bernstein Center for Visual Performance enough. It’s been truly a life changing experience working with them.

Neo Programmers

A bit on the very best programmers, but first read Paul Graham, then read Eric Sink.

OK. Now, my 2 cents.

In short, I mostly agree with Eric Sink and I suppose by association of sorts Paul Graham (though less so on the immigration aspect), but I’d like to take Sink’s argument to it’s next logical step.

Yes, programming is more like sports than accounting in a lot of ways. Perhaps that’s because it’s more like art than science.

But, here’s where it gets sticky for me. There ARE programmers who are far better than the average professional programmer (this is not me!). No, their output isn’t 10X more, but I like to think of them as more like Neo.

Neo

They’re more productive because the rules don’t apply to them. They don’t think like other programmers or even other people. In fact, most of them will do their most remarkable work in just a few lines of actual code.

They can SEE the code that makes up The Matrix if you will and they can alter it. They can thread together hundreds of disparate facts, ideas, code lines into one place in their head at one time and make a connection that 100 other devs looking at it would never make. That is what makes them like Neo. Heck, maybe some of them can even fly!

Here’s the rub though. Paul G seems to think that we need more of these great programmers. That giving us access to the entire world (which BTW we already have, let them work remote duh) would create more Neo’s and that is where I disagree.

Sure, there might be another 1 or 2 or 5 maybe in there. Maybe. The reality is these individuals are so incredibly rare that they have no bearing on your business. Policy should not be made based on them. They are unicorns.

Graham’s article references a startup that would hire 30 tomorrow. 30!

If you believe your business depends on finding a unicorn because what you’re building requires 30 or 40 unicorns to build a solid product that has value, then I think you’re in very big trouble.

I also don’t believe that in small, startup size companies the only factors involve hiring the Mike Jordan’s of the programming world. Because unlike sports, where Jordan is the star, the startup world is the opposite. The owners and/or the VC’s are the stars.

Heck, can you name even one top level full time coder at Facebook, Apple, Google? Nope.

Why do you think the few unicorn programmers you do know by name work in open source or are hackers?

Most businesses fail because the ideas are bad, not because the programmers are bad. A great idea with professional execution will beat out a bad idea executed on by the very best programmer in the world.

In startups, I also think the emphasis on ‘coder quality’ overshadows so many other important factors. What about a coder who’s willing to do support? Willing to write docs? Willing to help with building the marketing website?

So, are there superstar devs? Yes. Will they make you money? Maybe, but no guarantee. Are they worth moving heaven and earth to get? Waiting for 18 months to find the right one? Lobbying congress so you can get one to move to San Francisco rather than just let them work remote? No.

Hire great people, give them meaningful work, choose the right ideas to work on, make a product people need.

An Aside

I’d feel remiss if I didn’t point out another element in this. That almost always when you hear these arguments about the best programmers being 50X better than an average one the person doing the touting has a serious bias.

For example, the first time I ever heard this case made in earnest was Joel Spolsky. He talked about it all the time. He also ran a job board for programmers, sold millions of dollars in software to programmers, and drove a huge amount of business via his blog which was for programmers.

Paul Graham is in pretty much the same spot. He’s invested in lots of companies that need programming talent. For some crazy reason all these startups insist on being in 1 physical location together. Getting enough people to want to make $100K/year but also be forced to share an apartment and live on Raman noodles is tricky. It’s also expensive for the companies. Flooding the market with people willing to live in the most expensive place on earth would be good for him and his investments.

Aside 2

🙂 this article isn’t a statement about if we should/shouldn’t allow more immigration. I’m generally for immigration of all types, but that’s not the aspect in this case I find particularly interesting.


Discussion the article here: http://discuss.bootstrapped.fm/t/hiring-the-mythical-10x-programmer/2492

In Defense of Duplication

A meme going around PHP lately is that developers should stop building open source libraries that duplicate existing establish packages. I couldn’t be more against this line of thinking. A few points on why.

Duplication Is How Technology Moves Forward

no matter what tech you are talking about it always evolves by people building on what came before. Sometimes directly, other times by taking a slightly new angle on the issue.

We tend to think of technological advancement as huge leaps but of course it is the slow grind that pushes us forward year after year.

You Can’t Know the Future

3 years ago if I told you an .NET/COBOL developer would build a hugely popular PHP framework that would be a big part of the revitalization of PHP you would call be bat shit crazy. But we can’t know the future. We don’t know who will come up with the breakthrough at the exact right place and time.

3 years ago people said we had plenty of PHP frameworks. Codeigniter might have been somewhat neglected but it was still being moved forward by users and was easy to use. If you wanted a “real” framework we had Zend and Symfony. Beyond that all the others like Cake, Yii, etc.

Lucky for us at the time nobody gave a hoot about PHP and so nobody bothered to tell Taylor that Laravel was stupid and pointless duplication.

Duplication as Learning

Often those objecting to duplication are very accomplished developers. Yes, for these people building Yet Another Cache Package may be a waste of time. However for a less seasoned developer, the process of building a package that duplicates high quality existing packages can be a great learning experience.

This is especially true in open source where the dev may often be working in isolation from other more experienced engineers.

This also leads to the obvious other issue of what should they build instead? People often bring up more complicated problems that people should be working on. In my experience in open source though telling others what they should build doesn’t work very well.

It’s also very often the case that the developer is not ready to take on that more complicated project yet. There’s nothing wrong with them taking in more established problems before moving on to bigger fish.

Let’s Not Discourage Future Greatness

I get really concerned that when we talk down about these projects that seem duplicative we’re pushing out developers who may bring PHP great innovations in the future.

Keeping the community a positive welcoming place is really hard, but so important.

Why Do You Give a Fuck?

Finally 🙂 there’s 800,000 packages nobody uses on Github. Is one more really a problem? Is it actually causing confusion? Seems very unlikely to me.

The downside is so minimal and the upside so great. Let’s keep encouraging people to develop new code in PHP and the rest will work itself out just fine.