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.

Snappy is Saved!

Phew, it’s been a whirlwind of a week. Last Wednesday I announced that we’d be closing Snappy. It wasn’t an easy decision, but one I thought was right for all parties. You can read more about that here.

Today, less than a week later I’m extremely happy to announce we’ve come to an agreement on the sale of Snappy. The short of this is that Snappy will continue to run and grow indefinitely!

The slightly longer version is that we had a HUGE amount of interest in Snappy. Looking back, I should have made a more concerted effort at a sale up front. Just another error for my long list of them 🙂

After going through all the emails and talking with a bunch of folks, I found a fit. A team with a big vision for what Snappy can become and the means to do it.

I’m not going to get into details on them just yet; they’ll do their own announcement once the deal is fully executed. However, I wanted to provide this update as fast as possible so that everyone (most importantly Snappy customers) would be aware of it.

So many customers have contacted me this week expressing their love of the tool and in every case their understanding of the circumstances. They’re an amazing group of customers, and I’m thrilled to be able to keep the service running.

Not only running, but growing and thriving. That was the aspect I thought we wouldn’t be able to bring long term and now with the new team that will become a reality.

I’ve always believed in Snappy and in fact I’ll continue to be a minority shareholder in the new Snappy company. I’m really excited to work with the new team. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

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:


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.

The Apple Watch Money Grab

The Apple Watch is Apple’s purest (first?) money grab to date. If you step back and really think it through, there is no other viable conclusion. At least not for THIS version of the watch. Maybe in the future there will be a version that does amazing things, but this version is a money grab and little more.

Let’s first look at the devices usefulness. The device itself has no logic ability. It sounds like eventually you’ll be able to do programming logic on the watch, but at least in phase 1 no logic. So it’s just an external monitor for your iPhone.

How many people need to get notifications, but can’t pull out their phone when they to? Is being on your phone a social no no these days? I think not. Right now, just look up from your phone and you’ll see everyone else on their phone.

So now we’re down to some group of people who too are busy in meetings and have their phone with them (because you must) but don’t want to pull it out. That’s obviously not a core market for Apple.

Is the Apple Watch revolutionary? No way, not even close. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad were all clearly revolutionary products. Not that the categories were invented by Apple, but they were perfected by them.

The Apple Watch is not a huge evolutionary jump. It’s just like every Android watch out there that shows notifications and not much more.

It is prettier of course, though to my eye at least not the huge jump there either that iPhone/iPod/iPad were.

It has a few health functions. OK, but the ones it has are not that great and second most people don’t care about any of that. Maybe they’re trying to change that, but at Apple’s scale health nuts are not a core market. Also, what super health nut wants to carry and iPhone AND an iWatch while they’re running, lifting, playing soccer, etc. The watch doesn’t even have it’s own GPS!!

So what is the purpose of the Apple Watch?

First, I do think there’s a part of this which is to finance the future. Yes, this watch sucks but over the coming years electronics will get smaller, etc etc. So the watch 5 years from now will have a lot more stand alone capabilities and be potentially more impressive (though lack of screen size will always be very limiting without some new UI breakthrough).

Selling it now lets it finance itself. Though, this seems a very un-Apple like thing to do, it potentially makes some sense.

The main purpose of the watch though is pretty clear. It’s simply a money grab. Apple has a huge install base, an extremely loyal one. Apple focuses on the top of the market, so a good chunk of the install base has significant disposable income.

Apple already sold them a super computer for their desk, their pocket and the couch. There’s not a lot of room left there. So, the move to fashion. They’re simply going to use their huge popularity to make this watch fashionable and sell it based on that. A mostly useless chunk of metal that is a status symbol and little more.

There’s even a few oddities on the fashion front given some recent rumors that most of the bands won’t be available as add-on’s. That you’ll get once nice band with the watch and can only add-on a plastic one for when you work out (with your $20,000 rose gold watch?). To me, the band was the most interesting aspect of the entire watch.

The display will be crap in a year or maybe two, but the bands. Great bands that are easily switchable. That’s something I could perhaps be tempted to invest in while swapping out the watch body each year. It’s all so very confusing.

All this is not to say that I don’t think it will work for them. They do have a huge market, they do have many middle class to very rich folks looking to throw money at anything Apple. If even a few percent of their customers buy one it will add billions in revenue.

It’s just odd that Apple is releasing a product which is so much about them and so little about us. Nearly all Apple products are fashion symbols these days, but all are useful tools above all else. The form followed the function. With the Watch it feels like there is only the form and Apple desperately seeking a function for it.

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.


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:

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.

Why Apple Watch Is All About The iPad

I was pretty down on Apple Watch yesterday. I was really expecting something far more revolutionary.

It had no real surprises in terms of tech other than perhaps not having any connection capability of it’s own at all, making it a simple accessory for the iPhone rather than a freestanding device.

The more I’ve kicked it around though, I think the long term play for the Watch becomes apparent. It’s the successor (in a business sense) to the iPad.

It’s widely known that iPad sales have gone flat and are likely to decline. People keep iPads longer than phones because they’re not subsidized and are simply less critical/useful for most people than a phone.

Now, enter the era of the 5.5” phone. Many folks will say there’s no good reason to have a 5.5” phone in addition to a 7” or even 9” tablet. The phone does everything the tablet does with only slightly less screen room. Why buy a $700 phone (before subsidies) and a $500 tablet?

So what is Apple to do? iPads are already on the slide and now they’re introducing 4.7” and 5.5” iPhones that are only likely to further cannibalize iPad sales.

Apple did sell about $100 billion in iPhones last year so they’re not hurting, but to maintain that $500 billion dollar valuation you have to sell a lot of everything. iPhones on their own aren’t enough, the iPhone needs a +1.

In this sense the watch, at least on paper, is a great fit. It’s dependent on the phone (for now), but even better it can have an entirely different marketing angle.

The problem with the iPad is it really is just a big iPhone. Yes, it’s nicer to sit in bed with your iPad than your 4” iPhone, but it’s not THAT much better. And when you’re phone is 5.5” many people won’t think the iPad is different at all.

The watch is nothing like the phone/tablet so there’s already a nice marketing angle as an accessory. Better yet, it’s primarily a fashion item. It’s apparent they’ve put a lot of thought into the metals used and the band system. Really the fashion end of the Apple Watch is more fleshed out than the actual technology end.

The huge iPhones are also just less nimble to carry and take out. The iPhone now becomes your base station with the watch as the (first?) satellite accessory.

Instead of selling you an iPhone and a big iPhone (iPad), they can focus on the “it does everything” iPhone and the handy and fashionable watch as a nice add on sale.

This is actually a pretty interesting strategy. Beyond that, it’s very short sighted to think about it as being about this year. This year means very little. The Apple Watch is all about version 2 and version 3. 

That’s when it’s really going to shake loose. It will get thinner of course, but also add in those bits it needs to be truly useful such as GPS and probably wifi. The ability to let you untether from the phone at times like when you’re working out or hiking or just running your day around the house.

That’s the part I was most disappointed in. V1 needs the phone at all times. A huge 5.5” phone, but by V2 and V3 I’d expect that need to be gone. Sure, you’ll probably need your phone to make calls, but it will be able to work on it’s own for long stretches to map your run, make edits to your calendar and so on.

I suspect we’ll also see a lot of outside the box uses. The  clip system for the bands looks ingenious. They’ll be clips to hang it off your bike, lock it to your fridge, place it anywhere you might want a phone satellite.

Yesterday I wasn’t that excited about the Watch, but today I’ve started to get more interested in the possibilities. Especially for what it may transform into over the next few years, just like the iPhone transformed between version 1 and 2.

69 Bootstrapping Resources

Some of the books, blogs, podcasts and resources I’ve found useful while bootstrapping UserScape for the past 9 years.



  • Bootstrapped – I tried to find another to list, but really this is it!

Link Sharing Things







I consider these critical for anyone starting a business. Yes, these are in order of importance.


It’s hard to justify spending a lot of money on design early on, but if you have the means these are the designers I’ve worked with over the years. All are top notch.

Professional Services

Apps & Services

These could go on forever. I’m limiting this to ones I personally find very useful.

  • HelpSpot – What good is a product without great customer support!
  • Forge – Spin up servers without a fuss.
  • Convert Kit – Really nice email list management.
  • – Email automation without a bunch of other junk.
  • Dribbble – The best place on the internet for inspiration.
  • Feedbin – RSS isn’t dead yet
  • Scribbleton – The personal wiki.
  • Laracasts – Primarily aimed at PHP developers, but really anyone who works in code should be checking this out.
  • Laravel Jobs / Laravel Gurus – Business person and not a coder? Don’t want to learn to code? Hire one.