Monday, April 29, 2019

Physical Therapy is Pretty Cool

I started going to physical therapy last week, and wow what a difference is makes! After every visit I have walked out the door with a little more flexibility than I came in with. I've been to physical therapy before for more minor injuries, and it's helped, but with a much more dramatic injury, the recovery steps have been more dramatic. Turns out ankles are pretty complicated, and when you don't flex it much for six weeks it gets stiff in between several different bones. So I'm dealing with a lot of soreness both in physical therapy and just walking around. It's all part of the recovery process, and I'm thankful that I can walk as well as I do already. Power sports injuries often end up crushing joints, and even leading to amputations.

The point is, when you get hurt, spend the time getting better. It can be painful in recovery, but every little increase on the road to full physical ability is totally worth it!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 33

April 21 to 27, was a much better week at work than the last two weeks! From top to bottom in the organization I saw a renewed interest in solving the customer's problem, and not just making a cool product and expecting customers to show up and buy it. I expressed my opinion to the relevant people in the previous weeks in nearly the same words I used in my blog, and I see the change happening. Instead of the customer visit being just two people as it was originally planned, it will be five people, including me.

Another concern has popped up in my mind, are we growing too fast? I'm a big fan of organic growth. Put another way, I think a mountaineer should slowly build up skills on easy routes and short mountains before tackling hard routes and tall mountains. In other words, I don't see us having enough customer delivery contracts to justify the number of people we are hiring. That could all change with the stroke of a pen, but I'd rather us sign that contract and then hire people than hire people and hope we sign that contract.

It's fascinating to see these issues. At a 180 year old company, these things just aren't issues. Management understands responding to the customer in a timely manner, the importance of face to face meetings, and doesn't grow faster than sales dictate. So it's fun to watch the flip side of that. Although it is like being in the TV series Silicon Valley with it's ups and downs. The hard part is that it seems there is no middle ground. Either we're going to be successful, and I'm going to be rich, or we're not going to survive. That being said, given our current contracts I like to imagine that worst case scenario all but four people are laid off and those four would then have a nice little lifestyle business selling our most mature product. Kind of like this. Frankly, if I was one of the laid off people, I'd do just fine, in fact, I can think of a couple uses for our one small existing product at the moment that I would then have the time to create a new product around.

My ankle has greatly improved! I even went for a two mile hike on Saturday! I started Physical therapy and went twice this week, and had a deep tissue massage which have all helped my to have a greater range of motion in my ankle. I again went rock climbing indoor this week, and did three 5.10s, which is pretty incredible in my mind for having a kneed high boot on. I even ditched the ankle brace on Saturday!

I hope you had a good week too!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Weeks 31 and 32

April 7th to 20th. These were the worst two weeks I have had since I moved here. I've had worse weeks in the past, but it's frustrating when the issue or issues seem preventable from my perspective.

We have essentially one real paying customer. We have two more strong leads, where they are beginning to build their product around our product, but they are years away from production. We have a couple huge leads too, from established players in the industry who might like us to develop a product from scratch, but until the contract is signed and some money is in the bank, they aren't really real. A few months ago, we made a change to the geometry of our product, making it larger. This really matters to the customer. Unfortunately no one communicated this change to the customer, despite the fact that they are the ones that requested the feature that we had to enlarge the product to achieve. In other words, they asked for it, we made it happen (which was and still is a difficult technical problem), but we made the geometry somewhat larger than originally agreed to, because we couldn't get it to work with a smaller geometry.

Back at my old corporate job, as soon as there is a problem, you sort it out at your desk for perhaps few hours, confirm it is a problem, and then let all the stakeholders know as soon as possible. I used to have near daily communication with Germany in one job and South Korea in another because of the challenges we were encountering throughout development. I expected to have a similar role here, yet I have not interacted with the customer at all. Which I thought was totally fine because others were handling it, but then they fail to notify the customer of a change like this, for months, and I'm embarrassed. What amateurs! Instead of being a fast moving startup, in this particular area we're slower than a 180 year old company!

The customer is always right. That's not strictly true, but I think it's the best starting point. If you spend all of your effort showing the customer they are wrong, eventually they'll probably leave for someone else, who they FEEL solves their problem better. Every business is a mix of quality, service, and price to their customers. If you ignore service you had better have excellent quality and a bargain price.

I work with a lot of smart people, who are younger than me. I don't like the word smart because it implies there is a dumb, and I think everyone has some ability to contribute, and talents that others do not have. So we'll say book smart people who went to Harvard and MIT and worked at prestigious companies. They don't always have the most humility. I would have never thought back in 2013 through 2016 when I worked a few weekends a summer at a winery just how much I would learn from that job! It was generally very low stress because I didn't need the paycheck and it was something to do that made money, and my coworkers were great. However, a few times we would have a customer who just ruined everyone's day. The wine is terrible, he wants a different bottle. The pizza is terrible, remake it. Why haven't you been back to fill up our water glasses? The sun changed and we want to move seats. To top it all off, no tip when he pays.

What I learned in that little part time service job is that with almost every customer interaction there is the ability to diffuse a tense situation and have a positive outcome. People get upset in restaurants all the time, and a free bottle of wine, or an extra pitcher of water, or some free breadsticks, or better yet checking on their table every three minutes instead of every six minutes, goes such a long way toward giving them a positive experience. It's the same in business to business customer service. You can't make everyone happy, and sometimes you really need to ditch the worst customers because they aren't worth it, but the majority of time you can make the situation better. Unfortunately I don't think many of my coworkers have ever had those sort of fast paced customer service jobs where you have 80 customer interactions in a four hour shift. You learn very fast with that kind of volume. In the corporate world customer interactions happen one or two emails per day or maybe two meetings per week. It takes forever to learn the same lessons, and the stakes are much higher than missing an eight dollar tip.

The result of all of this is that I'm traveling to Atlanta next week with four of my coworkers to have a day of meetings at the customer's location and reset the relationship. We need them. We might not always need them, but at this point we do.

In other news, I'm walking much much better! The knee high inflatable boot came off April 11th, and I switched to an ankle brace, which allows about 15 degrees of flex versus the boot allowing maybe five degrees. My step count has climbed from about 2000 steps per day to averaging about 8000.

My parents, sister, and her fiancé, came for Easter! We had a great time! It was great to get to know my sister's fiancé a little better. I picked out a new suit for their wedding, which I am a groomsman. Getting a suit was pushed on me, although I have wanted to get a nice tailored suit for years and I guess this is my chance. It's going to be a rather bold blue, so I'm a bit nervous that it won't be appropriate for situations where I want to blend in a little. My sister's wedding is probably going to cost me around $2000 in total, and I'm not even planning to get her a present. I'm probably going to elope if I ever get married...

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Movie Review: On the Basis of Sex

I have the best life in the world.

I have the best life in the world…

I have the best life in the world, in large part because I was born in the United States as a white male to Christian parents who deeply valued education. (Most importantly because I am Christian, but I’m going to take an economic and financial bent to this article and more or less ignore the Christian part.)

I just finished watching the movie “On the Basis of Sex” and it’s a good movie. I’ve thought about men and women for years. Men and women are different. I’ve thought about this for hundreds of hours, and unfortunately, I can’t be any more specific than “men and women are different”, because every generalization I come up with, I have an anecdotal example to disprove. Importantly, being different does not mean the inability to do something, which is kind of the point of the movie.

In July 2013 when I went to Rwanda for a week I looked at poverty for the first time as something to be solved, not simply as the natural consequence of a person’s birth, as I had looked at poverty in 2009 when I went to Pakistan, or 2007 when I went to Costa Rica. It broke my heart. In the years since I donated to a pastor in South Sudan, and now Give Directly is my main charity. Point being, I've very much realized how fortunate I am to have my life. Privilege is something that accrues slowly and in small pieces. It's generally easier to be white than black. It's generally easier to be a man than a woman. It's generally easier to have two parents rather than one. 100 years ago women couldn't vote in the USA. 160 years ago we had slavery. It can be hard to see your privilege in the moment, but the vast majority of the world can be thankful they are alive today, when there is the least amount of war around the globe on record.

My company has been on a hiring spree lately, and in the next two months as all the new employees start we are about to have double the percent of female workers as the average aerospace company. There is one particular meeting that I lead, where currently it’s four men and one woman, and in two months it will be quite possibly two men and three women. (That’s based on two of the men deciding that they do not need to attend the meeting any more, which is not at all certain, although both have voiced that they would like to hand off their responsibilities. Although they have both expressed that they like this particular meeting, so they might keep coming just because we usually get things done.) I’ve been a part of hiring two of these new women. To me, in aerospace or technology in general, hiring women is a signal that we are an employer that is desired. In other words, the top 5% of employers have their choice of candidates regardless of how low the unemployment rate is. The less prestigious employers don’t have much choice. Having started to interview people, and interviewing two of these women, I can verify that we are attracting great people! Many of the people we don’t hire are going to have good strong careers.

One of the things briefly mentioned in the movie is that perhaps some jobs will be half men and half women. Frankly, I don’t think there are many jobs that will ever achieve that ratio. I think teaching, especially at the elementary school level, and nursing will be dominated by women for a long while, while things like engineering and and law enforcement will be male dominated. That being said, equality in every possible respect is not the point. The goal at the finish line of the Boston Marathon should not be the fastest 20 runners being ten men and ten women. Defining equality as half of each profession being male or female is quite short sighted, and by that I mean that what we define as masculine or feminine today could quite likely change in 100 years. For example, male grooming was not really a thing until somewhat recently while society seems to expect women to shave half of their bodies. I like cooking, and I would be glad in any romantic relationship to do the majority of the cooking.

As I seem to end up dating women that are almost as feminist as me, and a large number of engineers, it should be obvious that mentally women can do the things than men do. Katie Bouman was the instigator behind the first image of a black hole, and she’s not a man. I feel sorry for her because of all the negative feedback she has received for her great interferometry achievement. I look forward to her using that technology to take pictures of exoplanets! I know for a fact that female engineers can have a difficult time, by getting talked over and overruled when a male engineer might say the same thing and be listened to. Having seen that happen, and having a sister who used to be an engineer (but has gone over to the dark side of management and marketing) I try to make sure that the women I work with are heard and have the resources to do their jobs.

With all inequalities, we can't have a scarcity mindset that freedom and justice are limited things. A woman being in senior management at a company doesn't take away a spot from a man, it widens the pool of possible senior managers [from just men to men and women] so that the best can rise to the top. The goal is to have the most appropriate person in each role, not simply a person in each role. Listen, if you aren't capable enough to compete with everyone, maybe you shouldn't be in your position of authority.

Felicity Jones is amazing! Armie Hammer plays just enough of an egalitarian that you might not notice he’s not the typical 1950s New York lawyer. Kathy Bates… always good. It’s a good movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s at Red Box.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Weeks 20 to 30

January 27th to April 6th... sorry I haven't blogged in awhile. In February I was busy skiing, running and indoor rock climbing. When 7:30 PM on a weekday night came, instead of walking over to the local Starbucks in 20 degree Fahrenheit weather to write a blog post, I stayed in my apartment without wifi. And for the last four weeks I've been in an air cast with two broken bones and two moderately torn ligaments, so I have not been going out at night.

What happened? I've had some stress at work. Not a lot. Not nearly as much as I had at times in my previous job. The kind of stress that raises me to do a good job, to double check my work, that humbles me, and relaxed me when it eventually subsides, as it has in the past two weeks.

Our company fired it's first person. He's a great guy. He was only with us for about a month. We aim to be people that "lead from the front" and my understanding is that he just wasn't the right kind of great at his job that we hoped. It was a bit of shock to most people, and morale definitely suffered. It's instigated a larger conversation about what our culture is, and what we want it to be. And it's started a dark joke (for me as a man) that we're going to fire all the men and hire all women.

I've started interviewing people. I love it! I've interviewed six people I think one on one. I love it because I think I can learn something from everyone, so I try in my little 30 minute interviews to learn something from each person that we can use in our company, whether we hire them or not. Also, I've found a fair amount of the time that I would enjoy working with the person, but the person is not the right fit for the role or the company at this time. I have pretty high standards. Ideally you would only hire people better than yourself, and frankly, everyone I have voted we hire, appear to be able to do their future jobs excellently, and are better than me.

I think hiring is the single most important thing that we do as a company, it will either make or break us. It can turn us into a ten, or a seven or a a twelve by how employees rate the company. You don't want to be the seven because you don't attract as high of quality candidates and you don't want to be the twelve because then on a conference call a person might not realize he is not on mute and say, "I'm going to kill myself." Which is both a true story from a 200 person conference call, and a saying that was typical at that company, which former employees say was not well addressed by management. Quick tangent, I never applied to MIT, in part because it has a suicide rate. I can take things really hard sometimes, and I don't, or didn't, want to put myself in a situation where suicide was a thing that happened. Instead WPI was a great choice for me. At the time the marketing slogan was, "The university of science and technology. And life." We made fun of the "And life" all the time. However, people would agree that there was in fact support for us and our mental health. At the time WPI had something like 16 years or 24 years or some long stretch of time without a suicide of a student. As far as I know they still have not not had one, although there were two deaths while I was there, one pedestrian hit by a car and I forget the cause of the other, I think it was cancer or another medical tragedy.

My company has also been ramping toward our first full power customer deliveries, and frankly, we're not ready to deliver a full power product to the customer. So there is a little stress as we fix the bugs and optimize the system with looming deadlines. But again, it's a pleasant level of stress. We haven't missed a customer required deadline yet, and still have months before we might possibly. Then we currently have a bit of a slow 2019 for deliveries, so we will likely be able to iron out more hiccups as production slowly ramps up. Plus, I work with a great team! We really have some of the best in the industry and I am confident we will deliver. If I have any specific unique skill at our company, it's that I can deliver. When it comes to getting a product to a production state I've been through the wringer, and seen several different types of programs. I've been through four different production launches, three quite small, sub million dollar programs with less than 40 new parts, and one $150 million program with something like 5000 parts. I've also been early design stage on two $2-10 million programs with 100-500 new parts at my previous company, which would be where our two current projects are in terms of part count.

Running was going well, until I broke my leg and partly tore my ligaments. I'm hoping to be able to run again in late May, and walk without a cane in late April. I think that my focus athletically for the rest of the year will be becoming healthy and strong, by summiting the 26 remaining 14ers I have left, rock climbing a couple long technical routes, and taking a go at Nolan's 14 for the third time.

Skiing, I made eight resort days with my Ikon base pass, and eight backcountry days, and one cross country skiing day. I'm hoping to get out on a lift one more day before all the resorts close, simply so that I am not afraid of skiing next season. Of course, worst cast scenario, I simply hike up a snowfield in June and ski 500 feet.

Dating... For years I'd said I have three requirements, in order:

  1. We are on the same page with our Christian faith, and eventually worship at the same alter.
  2. She has a healthy lifestyle. 
  3. We are intellectually compatible. 
So what happens after I meet a person that meets those requirements, but I don't feel captivated and infatuated? So far my solution is keep seeing her, but not be in a rush to make babies with her. My motivation to date goes up and down. I've had a few thoughts recently that maybe I really want a great climbing and running partner more than I want a romantic partner. Probably not what I really want, but it has gone through my head. Plus it's a false dichotomy, it's not one or the other, I can possibly have both.

I hope your life is going well, and again someone feel free to post this to my Facebook wall as I haven't logged onto Facebook in 2019 and might go the whole year without using that data promiscuous company.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Aging United States

In my laid up state of a broken foot I’ve had too much time to read the news, specifically the politics, than is probably best for me. For those that I don’t get into these discussions with much, economics are always interesting to me, politics is generally just frustrating. In other words, I can geek about about tweaking marginal tax rates, or eliminating the payroll tax cap, or basic incomes, but listening to confirmation processes and gridlock turns me off. 

Today’s topic is the aging of the United States and a few effects that is having, and will continue to have. 

First, the birth rate for native born Americans is below replacement levels. The only reason the US is still growing is that we have immigration. This means a few things, it means that jobs that cater to the 65 and older crowd are only going to increase. It also means that jobs that cater to babies and infants will likely decrease. For jobs that cater to the middle there might be not a huge affect because of immigration again.

Second, changing subjects quite a bit, as it relates to the 2020 presidential election, I haven’t read any analysis about this and it’s a point worth mentioning, I think. Instead of looking at 2020 through a broad impersonal lens, let’s start with the 2016 and 2018 elections. People voted for Trump for a variety of reasons. Starting with these 2016 Trump voters, which are generally older and whiter than Clinton voters, I would assume that a larger percentage of Trump voters will die than Clinton voters, simply based on the 10+ point swing for Trump from voters over 65, and 10+ point swing for Clinton for voters under 30. So, with the addition of four years of 18 year olds, who will likely vote for the Democrat, for Trump to do exactly as well as he did in 2016, assuming the same number of people vote, there will have to be people, around middle age, that voted for Clinton in 2016 and plan to vote for Trump in 2020, and I’m not sure who that person is. Or third party voters in 2016 that become Trump voters in 2020. In other words, I have not heard anyone say, “I voted for Clinton in 2016 but Trump is doing such a great job he’s already got my 2020 vote.” I’m sure that person does exist, I just haven’t met that person.

Third, again a large subject change, I’ve read a few articles about housing lately, and it speaks very directly to me. Over the past 20 or so years as the baby boomers reached their peak earning years and started to retire, a wealth of large houses in the 2500+ square foot range were built. However, people are not getting married as young as their used to, and more importantly, not having as many kids as they used to. I’m a perfect example, I’m 32 and single, and I’m feeling my 950 square foot apartment is actually about 200 square feet more than I really want. Sure I would love to get married and have a few kids and live in a larger house, but with each passing year and failed romantic relationship attempt that seems more and more unlikely. Plus, while many call me minimalist, it’s really more of a utilitarian and practical view that I have. Who needs two guest bedrooms? As infrequently as most people have guests, does it make sense to have more bathrooms than people in a house? The upside to this is that as older people age out of houses with stairs, private airplanes, and driving little sports cars hopefully prices should be a little more attainable for those luxuries.

Fourth, social security. I propose two changes, first eliminating the payroll tax cap. Along with that change, there would be no cap on social security payments. Meaning, if you earned $10 million a year for 35 years, your social security benefits would end up being huge! The best part is that everyone would benefit, because of the three different rates of social security payout (90%, 32% and 15%), when you are above average earnings of about $5400 per month for 35 years, you only receive 15% of that in benefits, which essentially means the government is making something like 85% profit on those taxes. Or another way to look at it is, the taxes from that one person are funding multiple lower earners who end up living longer than their average life expectancy. (I know the math is way more complicated than assuming that $1 into social security for person X means $1 out of social security for person X.) The second change is raising the ages that social security pays out to better align with current life expectancies. I'm open to suggestions here, one year would make a big dent in the amount required to pay out. Perhaps part of that is not placing a cap on the age that benefits no longer increase. Instead of age 70.5 being when you max out your pay out, lets those benefits continue to increase at 5-8% per year until you want to collect. Only about 2-4% of people wait until age 70 to collect, might as well provide more incentive to let those people delay even more.

Fourth, as a whole, I don’t really know what the aging of the US, and also the world in general, means. My parents who are baby boomers lived in a time when there were kids everywhere. I live in a time where kids are now a bit rare, sort of a luxury item. In 30 years, I suppose kids will be even more rare? Are bars and loud restaurants going to close because the under 30 crowd is smaller? There will be a transfer of wealth from the dying older people to the younger people, which I have a feeling will accelerate inequality. I do think that service jobs, like the baristas standing in front of me, will see a pay increase because there will be people who are in their 70s who want services, but few people under 70 to provide those services. Although I could easily be wrong about that. 

I just wanted to share those thoughts with you, because whatever the effects, I’m sure that that there will be effects.