Saturday, October 26, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 58

October 12 to 19, was a pretty typical week. I feel like we are hitting our groove. People are up to speed and contributing. We're working full blast on the design for our new facility, and it's almost done, the design at least. I'm actually quite happy, this is the most detailed facility design I've ever seen in CAD.

The biggest risk at the moment, in my mind, is validation of our business model. There is a large established company that does what we do, and many companies do what we do internally, but no one does quite exactly what we do. Coming from a large profitable company with a known customer base I worry sometimes that we don't have a customer base. That leads into my next point.

I'm very fortunate. I'm fortunate to have been born in the 1980s and not the 1880s. My electric bill is regularly something like $20 a month. One minute of light in my apartment is so inexpensive I just don't think about it. I don't have to find an oil lamp, find a lighter, make sure the lamp is full, and light it so that I can read after dark. I think light is a proxy for wealth. Being able to have light where I want it when I want it is a luxury that did not exist even 100 years ago, or in all prior humanity. I recently passed an arbitrary financial milestone that by my calculations meant if I quit working today I would have the money to buy food, have a cell phone, and health insurance the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I would really like to live in a a house or apartment and I definitely don't have enough to cover rent or a mortgage, or car expenses, indefinitely. Still, the realization that, if managed well, I will never go hungry is pretty crazy to me.

It's easy for us at every stage of wealth to look up to the next stage and lust after what those more financially fortunate people have. But how often do we look back at where we used to be? Billionaires are starting to really talk about inequality. On a day to day basis they might not have thought about how their standard of living and political power increased so much from when they were an average college student, until the difference between them and us is so large. On a much smaller scale I tell me parents and grand parents they don't need to leave me any inheritance. I don't need it. Spend your money.

The last two paragraphs were really just a long way of saying, I'm totally along for the ride in this startup adventure. If we fail I'm in a better position than many. Probably the two biggest lessons I've learned in the past year are first, sales solves a lot of problems and answers a lot of questions. If you have sales, you have a business. If you don't have sales, you don't really have a business, more of a research project. In other words, while I am an engineer my personal pendulum has swung to the sales side and I would love to sell something that doesn't exist and then spend four years making it exist. (The normal engineer thing is work on a product in your basement for years and then unveil it and wonder why people aren't buying this super cool product.) Secondly, management matters. It makes a huge difference. I thought I had a broad array of managers at my previous large established corporation. As I have learned over the past year, both in person at our company, and vicariously through stories my new coworkers have told of famous managers at other companies, management matters. Now, I'm not saying we need strong authoritarian leaders, I'm still confident that in many circumstances flat hierarchies work, but even in a flat organization there is management of a program.  If a program is not managed, if decisions are not made (which of course is a decision) the program will not progress smoothly.

To be blunt, what I have learned vicariously is that at one company the CEO is the ultimate decision maker and sets the direction. The company delivers, not always on schedule. There is strong clarity about what the goal is, but this CEO often fires people for a single mistake, and often that mistake is more a result of conflicting information than a person's failure to deliver. So there is a culture where people work five years to vest stock and then quit. At a second company the CEO seems to want someone to tell him what the goal is. So they work on this and work on that, interesting projects, but haven't really delivered much for all of the money they have spent. A nice guy, but without a super strong direction. At a third company the CEO is a go getter, but he may very well be willing to burn bridges in an effort to get subset X done, at the expense of the overall program. Entering the startup world has been interesting. I think we have a good management team and good leaders, but it is clear from the rumor mill that not all young companies in our industry are as fortunate.

In short, it's important to think not just about what you are going to deliver, but how you are going to deliver it. What is the balance of culture that gets you where you want to go. It's good to forgive people for mistakes, but at some point you have a draw a line and part ways. It's good to have a strong sense of direction, but it's good to take feedback and pivot too.

Two runs for 6.6 miles, and then Saturday I led the first pitch of the Bastile Crack! Whew it's a fun one!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 57

October 6th to 11th. Life is good. Again, after the personnel drama at work this summer, and the push to qualify and ship a product, we're in a good place. Sure, it would have been nice to be in this place six months ago or a year ago, but we are where we are, and I'll take it. Plus, I'm sure it's been a lot harder for our CEO as he was even more friendly with the people that left, and he raised a series B during that same time.

I spent most of the week working on designing our new facility, which again is not what I expected I would be doing, but it's an interesting diversion, and it will help me understand our testing much better in the future. Plus, we're doing a lot of forward thinking this time around. Our first facility was really the minimum viable facility, and the new one has some room for expansion, and extra safety precautions.

Outside of work I'm going for the occasional three mile continuous run without pain, which is a big step in the right direction for my ankle. I'm also doing some rock climbing and bicycling on warm days. I think I'm ready to build a training schedule for myself and start getting into more formal shape.

Friday I took vacation and drove to Iowa for a wedding. It was 12 hours of driving and I made it a point to never sit for two hours, so I stopped frequently to take little walks to reset my Garmin activity tracker. Saturday morning I went for a run with an old training partner, had coffee with another friend, and took a quick walk on some trails I used to run almost daily. It was a nice little whirlwind tour of Dubuque. Wedding festivities happened in the afternoon and evening and it was great! I am so happy for my friend S who married H! Ever since they met three years ago we could tell there was definitely something there.

It was interesting, my friends of course talked work and how some things change and some things don't at my old company. The grass isn't always greener on the other side, and I like to tell my former coworkers many of the good things about my former company they may not realize, because for most of them it's the only place they have really worked. But to keep the discussion honest, I tell them about the benefits I now have that I did not have before. In other words, at this exact moment, there is no place else I would rather be. There is no company I would rather work at right now. There is no other place I would rather live. The Ozo coffee shop I am in is playing "Let Go" by Frou Frou, I mean, great music too right?

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 56

It was a good week. Vacation was a nice break. After all of the rush to ship a product, and the stress of last minute changes, and doubting my place here, I am reenergized and relaxed. Life is good.

As far as work it was pretty typical. That being said I spent a huge amount of time designing facility related things, not our actual products, which to be honest isn't as fun for me as designing a product. But it needs to be done for our expansion and I have skills that make it go faster.

A big highlight of the work week for me was assembling a subassembly I designed for our second product (or product line?) and it went together as planned! I've made so many parts in the past that failed to assemble because either my tolerances and design were bad, or because the parts were not made to tolerance, and this time, with more due diligence ahead of time on the tolerances, everything went together as planned. In other words, what I spent so much time designing appears to work just as intended. I even did a little functional checking, which won't actually be relevant for at least six months and it seemed to work!

Friday night after happy hour at work M and I headed down to southern Colorado and camped at the Blanca trailhead. We arrived at about 11 PM. Then we woke up at 4:30 AM to begin the day.

The Lake Como "road" is pretty terrible. We stopped at 8,500 feet in a Subaru Outback and walked a lot. There are a couple parts of the road where I am not sure any street legal vehicle that can go 75 mph would make it up. We started hiking at 5:07 AM, and went from there. I'm having trouble with my GPS data so I'm not totally sure on the time line for the day otherwise.

We did Little Bear Peak first, including a little stretch of 4th class slab with some ice which made it a little sporty, but the exposure wasn't too bad and there wasn't too much loose rock. We summitted around 10 AM and then began the infamous traverse to Blanca along the 5th class ridge. I got sketched out so we whipped out the harnesses and my 20 meter 8 mm dynamic rope and planned to simulclimb the initial 4th class down climb. I started leading, but I got scared by the snow and ice along the ridge and maybe 150 meters after we started the ridge, we turned around and decided to head down the normal route, and then do the standard route on Blanca and Ellingwood.

We reached the road at 11:55 and then headed up Blanca in the very good weather. The nice thing about months other than June through September is that afternoon weather tends to be better, fewer thunderstorms. We made our way up and around 13,800 feet some rime ice and snow began to cover much of the route. It was cold! Blanca, at 14,345 feet stands noticeably higher than Little Bear and Ellingwood both right at 14,000 feet within a mile. Oh how I wish Colorado had some 15,000 foot tall mountains, or 16,000... or 26,000. We summitted around 2:20 PM, then did the traverse to Ellingwood, summitting around 3:30 or so. Then we headed the long 9 mile back to the car, arriving just 10 minutes after sunset just before 7 PM, making for an almost 14 hour trip car to car. While my watch died after 12 hours, M had just over 20 miles, 52,000 steps for the day, and 8,600 feet of elevation gain, and that includes 3rd and 4th class, a little roped travel and some icy snow. That makes it 44 official 14ers for me! Only 9 official ones remaining. The Wilson group, the Eolus group, Culebra, Pyramid, Capitol, and Snowmass. Not exactly easy ones to get to or to hike. Culebra and Pyramid I'd like to take a crack at this winter, otherwise, it appears they will probably have to wait until next year considering how much snow and ice we encountered this week.

We had Pizza at All-Gon in Fort Garland, and then drove back to Denver, I arrived home about 11:30 PM, took a shower and slept the sweet sleep of night sweats. (After big days it's not uncommon for me to have night sweats, it started in 2014 after the North Coast 24. I figure that my hormones are out of wack after such a demanding day.) I hope you had a good week too!