Monday, January 21, 2019

This Is Marketing by Seth Godin (Book Review)

Showing off a remarkable product

Some books I read and think "I could write a book like that." They often have to do with real estate or productivity, but the idea is that there are times when I feel equally competent as a thinker and writer (with the notable exception that I haven't published anything).

And then there are authors like Seth Godin who operate on a level I don't even know how to touch. Perhaps it's as simple as the 30-year head start of marketing experience, but it feels more profound: he sees the world differently. He has a clarity of marketing and a way of explaining it that consistently causes me to pause and admit "I never thought of it that way."

He's also a prolific writer. In addition to his many books, he also writes a daily blog, where each post is often short and to the point. I recommend checking it out.

I guess you could say I'm a fan.

This Is Marketing

His latest book is called "This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn to See" and, of course, it's enlightening. In some ways, it feels like you're reading his blog because it's broken up into a bunch of short, punchy, sections that all sort of stand on their own. In fact, it's the opposite of a streaming narrative. You could flip to the middle, read a section - about a page - and learn something. You won't learn a lot in each section, but they all start to add up over time. It's written in a similar style to Remote.

In that spirit, I'll write this review in a similar style.

What the Book Isn't

It's not a how-to manual. You won't get copywriting advice or headline formulas. There are no pricing strategies. No tutorials on A/B testing, keyword research, or competitive intelligence gathering. There's definitely nothing about Facebook Ad campaigns or specific email do's and don'ts.

Instead, it about marketing philosophy. It's about the purpose of marketing. It's about broader principles: the smallest viable market, showing empathy for others, focusing on emotions instead of features, using tension to create change and permission marketing.

The goal of the book is to get you thinking (or re-thinking, in my case) of principles. Then you use those to guide strategic and tactical how-to decisions.

The following is a brief overview of some of the concept to give you a flavor of the book.

The Purpose of Marketing
"If creating is the point, if writing and painting and building are so fun, why do we even care if we’re found, recognized, published, broadcast, or otherwise commercialized? Marketing is the act of making change happen. Making is insufficient. You haven’t made an impact until you’ve changed someone. (p. xiv)"
Making change happen, mentioned 50 times in the book, is the purpose of marketing.
"Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem. It’s a chance to change the culture for the better. Marketing involves very little in the way of shouting, hustling, or coercion. It’s a chance to serve, instead. (p. 2)"
Godin views marketing, and likely all professions, as a tool for service. A genuine focus on helping someone else achieve their goals. What I found was he didn't say anything earth-shattering, but brings clarity to concepts I already knew, but couldn't articulate as eloquently. This next quote is a way of saying "be empathetic," but said in a more specific way:
"The way we make things better is by caring enough about those we serve to imagine the story that they need to hear. (p. 19)"

The Smallest Viable Market
"It’s tempting to pick a grandiose, nearly impossible change: “I want to change the face of music education and make it a top priority across the country.” Well, sure, that’s great, but it’s never been done before, not by someone with your resources. I’m a huge fan of game-changing home runs. I love the inspiring stories of people who beat all the odds and changed everything. But . . . That’s a heavy burden, as well as a convenient excuse in moments of despair. It’s no wonder that you’re stuck—you’re seeking to do the impossible. Perhaps it makes more sense to begin with a hurdle you can leap. Perhaps it makes sense to be very specific about the change you seek to make, and to make it happen. Then, based on that success, you can replicate the process on ever bigger challenges. (p. 26)"
So true. It's empowering to know you don't have to change everyone. Just a few.
"[Y]ou have no chance of changing everyone. Everyone is a lot of people. Everyone is too diverse, too enormous, and too indifferent for you to have a chance at changing. So, you need to change someone. Or perhaps a group of someones. Which ones? We don’t care if they all look the same, but it would be really helpful if you had some way to group them together. Do they share a belief? A geography? A demographic, or, more likely, a psychographic? Can you pick them out of a crowd? What makes them different from everyone else and similar to each other? (p. 28)"
I'm regularly reminded to "niche it down" and am good at pushing for at least three filters. Here's my example for residents: live in the area, wants to do everything online, puts responsibility - which I specifically define - as a top priority.
"Begin instead with the smallest viable market. What’s the minimum number of people you would need to influence to make it worth the effort? (p. 31)"
What a great question! I hadn't really thought about it precisely this way before. I know the concept of a minimal viable product which preaches simplicity, testing, and rapid iteration. But this looks at the idea of a niche and says "how small can it be?" Again, this is something I know, but it's articulated so well. Speaking of minimal viable products:
"Lean entrepreneurship is built around the idea of the minimal viable product. Figure out the simplest useful version of your product, engage with the market, and then improve and repeat. What people miss about this idea is the word viable. No fair shipping junk. It doesn’t help to release something that doesn’t work yet. (p. 33)"
Ouch. He's right. I tried this, and it doesn't work.
"“It’s not for you” shows the ability to respect someone enough that you’re not going to waste their time, pander to them, or insist that they change their beliefs. It shows respect for those you seek to serve, to say to them, “I made this for you. Not for the other folks, but for you.” (p. 37)"
This is super hard to do, but I'm getting better at it. I remember being on a sales coaching call and the coach asked who the product was for. The leader answered "The whole world. Everyone can benefit from this product!" The coach was great. "That's not true. Your product is only available in the US, and you live in Denver. Since you only have 24hrs a day and have to limit talking to everyone, who will see the biggest benefit? That's what I mean when I asked who the product was for".

Focus on Benefits,  Concentrating on Feelings, Emotion, and Status
"A marketer is curious about other people. She wonders about what others are struggling with, what makes them tick. She’s fascinated by their dreams and their beliefs. (p. 50)"
This is the start of any successful product. When you hear someone say they solved their own problem, it was them diving into what made themselves tick.
"A lifeguard doesn’t have to spend much time pitching to the drowning person. When you show up with a life buoy, if the drowning person understands what’s at stake, you don’t have to run ads to get them to hold on to it. (p. 51)"
I love this quote. If you get a product right, it'll feel like it sells itself. This is the tipping point where you become in demand. This is why Craigslist works so well with rentals: it's doesn't have to be feature-rich because everyone visiting understands what's at stake.

At first, I was a little underwhelmed by the next two quotes:
"We sell feelings, status, and connection, not tasks or stuff. (p. 78)"
"Marketers make change. We change people from one emotional state to another. (p. 81)"
And then I read this:
"What do you want? Let me guess. You’d like to be respected, successful, independent, appropriately busy, and maybe a little famous. You’d like to do work you’re proud of and do it for people you care about. What’s not on that list? That you need to own a certain color car. That you have to sell your items in packages that are six inches wide, not seven inches. That you want all your customers to have first names with no fewer than six letters in them. (p. 83)"
Nailed it. The things I really want are emotion and status driven.

A Better Business Plan
"Here’s what I want to know about your VC–backed Silicon Valley startup: How many people outside of HQ use it every day? How often are they sending you suggestions to make it better? Here’s what else I want to know: How many people are insisting that their friends and colleagues use it? As in right now. (p. 92)"
In the book, he goes into making a business plan that's customer focused. Technical skills and core competencies are essential, but it's even more critical to understand your market and prove they crave your offer. Yet, don't expect it to go gangbusters:
"[S]omeone is going to make hits, and it’s probably not going to be you... For the rest of us, there’s the other path: the path of connection, empathy, and change. (p. 97)"
I love this thought. It goes with the idea of the small viable market.

Tension Creates Change
"[C]hanging our behavior is driven by our desire to fit in (people like us do things like this) and our perception of our status (affiliation and dominance). Since both these forces often push us to stay as we are, it takes tension to change them. (p. 103)"
The way you create tension is through a pattern interrupt. You used to do it one way, but there's a better way. That's tension. Here's an example:
"Slack began by doing a pattern match, offering new software to people who like new software. A new way of doing work for people looking for a new way of doing work. But then came the leap. They gave this group a tool to create a pattern interrupt. Peer to peer. One worker saying to another, “We’re going to try this new tool.” That single horizontal transmission built a multi-billion-dollar software company. It’s not accidental. It’s built into the software itself. What pattern are you interrupting?" (p. 117)"
This works because of the emotional tension it creates:
"We don’t want to feel left out, left behind, uninformed, or impotent. We want to get ahead. We want to be in sync. We want to do what people like us are doing. (p. 120)"
He even takes it a step further by diving into status roles:
"If you look closely at decisions that don’t initially make sense, you’ll likely see status roles at work. The decision didn’t make sense to you, but it made perfect sense to the person who made it. (p. 124)"
Here's another example of how dynamic we are with our status and priorities:
"On the ball field, a twelve-year-old might care about nothing but winning. And not just winning, but beating the opposition. He’ll impugn the referee’s motives, stomp on toes, and hold nothing back in order to win. That same kid doesn’t care at all about being at the top of his class, but he cares a lot about who sits next to him on the bus. In the jazz band, someone is keeping track of how many solos he gets, and someone else wants to be sure she’s helping keep the group in sync. The people you’re seeking to serve in this moment: What are they measuring? (p. 136)"
It's probably at this point you're thinking "this is hard work." I know that's what I keep thinking. How do you keep everything straight? How do you keep your focus pure? He goes into some ideas, but mostly he describes the requirements and then leaves it to you to figure how to do it.

Back To the Business Plan
"[M]ost marketers actually have the same “purpose.” To be successful. To engage with people in a way that benefits both sides. To be respected, seen, and appreciated. To make enough of a profit to do it again. That’s your why... a better business plan takes that universal need and makes it specific—describing who and what it’s for. It outlines the tension you seek to create, the status roles you’re engaging with, and the story you’re bringing that will make change happen. (p. 144)
In Majordomo's initial business plan, a lot of our feedback was about being more specific. This is an area we need to continue diving into. I also see this with a lot of landlords: they invest to make money. True, but to really succeed, the reason needs to go deeper and be more specific.
"What’s your flag? Why would someone fly it? (p. 150)"
A great question to ask.
"The foolish thing to do is pretend your features are so good that nothing else matters. Something else always matters. (p. 153)"
So true. Features for the sake of features don't matter.

Permission Marketing Creates an Asset of Attention

This is the heart of marketing. Understanding that people's attention is an asset, and the only way to build that asset is to build trust and get their permission to talk to them:
"Before paying for ads... begin with the idea of earning this asset. The privilege of talking to people who would miss you if you were gone. Permission marketing recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention. Pay attention is a key phrase here, because permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they actually are paying you with something valuable. And there’s no way they can get their attention back if they change their mind. Attention becomes an important asset, something to be valued, not wasted. Real permission is different from presumed or legalistic permission. Just because you somehow get my email address doesn’t mean you have permission to use it. Just because I don’t complain doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because it’s in the fine print of your privacy policy doesn’t mean it’s permission either. Real permission works like this: If you stop showing up, people are concerned. They ask where you went. (p. 190)"
I love this. When doing the Furlo Bros Podcast, we made a backend mistake, and it didn't get published. As a result, we received emails from people wondering where our podcast was. It's the best feeling in the world!
"Facebook and other social platforms seem like a shortcut, because they make it apparently easy to reach new people. But the tradeoff is that you’re a sharecropper. It’s not your land. You don’t have permission to contact people; they do. You don’t own an asset; they do. (p. 191)"
This is one of the reasons Facebook and Google are so valuable. Personally, I think it's OK to prime the pump with search and social media, but you need a way to build a direct relationship.
"Protect it. It’s more valuable than the laptops or chairs in your office. If someone walked out the door with those, you’d fire them. Act the same way if someone on your team spams the list just to make a metric go up. (p. 193)"
How do you get permission? It's simple, but hard to do in practice:
"In order to get permission, you make a promise. You say, “I will do x, y, and z; I hope you will give me permission by listening.” And then—this is the hard part—that’s all you do. You don’t assume you can do more. (p. 191)"

The concept and philosophy of permission marketing is huge! This is how you compete against "the big guys" and how you great true fans and remarkable products.

People Will Share Your Offer When It Benefits Them
"[I]ntentionally create a product or service that people decide is worth talking about... whether something is remarkable isn’t up to you, the creator. You can do your best, but the final decision is up to your user, not you. If they remark on it, then it’s remarkable. If they remark on it, the word spreads. If the conversations move your mission forward, then others will engage with your idea and the process continues. Easier said than done. (p. 196)"
Easier said than done. How true! The reminder that it's not up to you to define remarkable is helpful. This is where the minimal viable product concept helps: get that feedback fast and then iterate until it's remarkable. Again, it's important to remember that it's not about you:
"The best reason someone talks about you is because they’re actually talking about themselves: “Look at how good my taste is.” Or perhaps, “Look at how good I am at spotting important ideas.” (p. 196)"
Here's a fun thought:
"Don’t say it all, and don’t make it obvious. It’s fine that there are secret handshakes, Easter eggs, and unknown features. It’s fine that commitment and longevity earn an extra edge. (p. 236)"
I love the idea of Easter Eggs. It's this weird counterintuitive thought that making something harder to find makes it more valuable. I think this is why Dropbox's scavenger hunts worked so well, why Apple can get away without an instruction manual for their devices, and why XKCD hides messages in its images. Secrets alone don't make a product remarkable, but it helps raise the status of its customers.

Final Thoughts
"Good enough isn’t an excuse or a shortcut. Good enough leads to engagement. Engagement leads to trust. Trust gives us a chance to see (if we choose to look). And seeing allows us to learn. Learning allows us to make a promise. And a promise might earn enrollment. And enrollment is precisely what we need to achieve better. Ship your work. It’s good enough. Then make it better. (pp. 244-245)"
Make it good enough. Ship it. Then make it better. Beautiful.

In case you couldn't tell, I enjoyed the book and took lots of notes. If you engage in marketing, this is worth reading. Even if you think you know everything, it's still worth reading. If you're looking for specific tactics and how-tos, you'll be disappointed. Check it out. It's remarkable.

Monday, January 07, 2019

2019 Goal: Business Quadrant

2019 feels like a continuation of 2018 in many ways. I learned how to play bass guitar and want to continue improving. I also worked on Majordomo and will continue to do so.

Even though I have a goal for Majordomo, it doesn't feel right to publish it here (in the same way I don't post my HP goals because I'm not the sole owner). Instead, I'll focus on personal items and Furlo Family Homes.

Although I didn't have a specific goal for Furlo Family Homes last year, the focus, in retrospect, was automation and removing tasks from my plate. It wasn't an altruistic "let's get more efficient," but more "I don't have time and something needs to change."

Here are some of the changes I made:
  1. I transitioned the rent payment system to be through Cozy. I previously offered 2 additional payment methods.
  2. I switched the accounting system to be in Quickbooks. I started in 2017, but 2018 was the first full year of exclusive use. Versus a spreadsheet, this saved me at least 20 hours this year. I do miss my custom reports, but not enough to spend the time re-creating them.
  3. I tracked all my miles using TripLog. Not only am I capturing each mile, but it also takes less time.
  4. I completely turned the application and screening process upside down, saving 9 hours of work on each turnover. This was a big deal!
  5. I hired a virtual assistant to help with back-office tasks like tracking payments, handling maintenance requests, and resident turn-over tasks.
  6. Right before the end of the year, I turned the new-resident onboarding process into an online course. Not only does it save me an hour on each new resident, but it also creates a better experience.

Again, in retrospect, that's a lot!


I've also been re-reading a book called "Rich Dad's CASHFLOW Quadrant" by Robert Kiyosaki, and it's doing a great job of challenging me to think bigger. For a little bit of context, here are the four quadrants:

Kiyosaki proposes that true financial freedom comes from getting your income, or at least enough income to cover your living expenses, from the B and I quadrants.

What's the difference between an S and a B? According to Kiyosaki:
"Those who are true B’s can leave their business for a year or more and return to find their business more profitable and running better than when they left it. In a true S type of business, if the S left for a year or more, chances are there would be no business left to return to. So what causes the difference? Saying it simply, an S owns a job; a B owns a system and then hires competent people to operate the system. Or put another way, in many cases, the S is the system. That is why they can’t leave. (p. 34)"
At the beginning of last year, Furlo Family Homes (FFH) was solidly in the S quadrant. Today, it's straddling the S and B, which is great, but... I think you can see where my goal is heading for the year.

The other quadrant of interest is the I quadrant, which has 5 levels:
  1. Spend all that you earn. No investing happens.
  2. Savers. The most common example is people who put their money the Bond market.
  3. I'm-Too-Busy. Likely a 401(k) and IRAs where you let other people manage your money.
  4. I'm-a-Professional: The DIYer. "If they invest in real estate, the do-it-yourselfer will find, fix, and manage their own properties. (p. 105)" That sounds familiar...
  5. The Capitalist: Uses other people's money, and usually invests with a team.

I'm a level 4, which isn't bad, but I got a glimpse of being a level 5 investor with the apartment building, and it is more exciting.

I want to point out that you can retire at levels 3 and 4, not just 5. Many people, especially advocates of FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) typically focus on level 3 investments with 401(k) matching, IRAs and index funds. A lot of them do it as E or S. So it can be done, if you spend less than you earn and invest. If you have money (15%-50% of your income) and little time/interest in learning about investing, index funds might be perfect for you.

And finally, the Bible says work is good. Perhaps my favorite example is right in the beginning with Adam: "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)" After Adam and Eve sinned, work became toil, but the work itself is a good part of creation. We are stewards of our stuff, our families, and this planet. So it's good to work hard and take care of what's been given to you, no matter what quadrant you do it in.

So the only way to retire isn't through the B and I-5 quadrants. If you're an employee (E) and investing (I-3) 15-50% of your income for retirement, you're doing it right.

2019 Goal: Business Quadrant

I like the clarity of focusing on ONE Thing. So I'm going to do that again. I also like the idea of solving a problem. It allows you to not have all the answers day one but gets you thinking about how to solve it and acting upon it, so you're headed in a purposeful direction.

My goal, my problem to solve, is to make Furlo Family Homes a true business, one that I could leave for a year or more and return to find it running better than when I left it. I don't think I'll entirely move it to a B-Business by the end of the year, but I want to continue the process I started out of necessity last year and have a clear roadmap by the end of the year. There are a few sub-problems I'll need to solve:

  • I need someone local who I trust to meet residents and open doors.
  • I need to change my mindset to stop saying "I". FFH needs to find a trusted local person who can meet residents and open doors.
  • Currently, I personally do 90% of the maintenance, how can that switch to 0%?
  • How can FFH afford these changes? Related, how can FFH improve its operating margins?
  • Following the recommendations from E-Myth, business roles/responsibilities/tasks, the entire system (!), needs to be documented and followed. What's the best way to record this? We have an internal wiki, but perhaps there's a better solution?
  • I'd like FFH to grow this year. It currently owns 16 units. I want that number to be 45 (given some per unit profit assumptions). What's a consistent way to buy and hold rentals? This likely requires becoming a level 5 investor. How do I make that transition?
  • Does hiring a full-service property management company make sense? What are FFH's core competencies and differentiating factors?
  • Plus, a few more questions I haven't thought of yet.

For a single goal, this feels like a lot, but it'll be good for me, my family, and FFH's current residents.

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Goals Review: Focus

My 2018 theme was "focus". It was inspired by the book called "The ONE Thing" by Gary Keller. The book suggests you regularly ask: "What's the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it
everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"

So that's what I did, and as a result, I had two goals:

  1. Launch Majordomo Nationwide
  2. Learn Bass Guitar

That also meant there were a bunch of activities I decided not to do: no new properties, no big home improvement projects, no sports, no new commitments (and quite a few I dropped).

Don't worry, it wasn't all boring work. Jessi and I celebrated 10 years of marriage by running a marathon on the Great Wall, I read a bunch of great books, I beat Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I wore a tie every day in October, and we took the kids camping. In all, it was a good year.

OK. Let's talk about each goal.

#1 Launch Majordomo Nationwide

Majordomo Homepage
What a year! We launched our website at the Lane County Home & Garden Show in March. We also brought on two technical owners. We received feedback from homeowners, home service professionals, investors, and other successful business owners. We built out the scoring engine, plus a contacts directory tool for connecting with home service pros, and we revamped our wizard to make it more engaging. Plus we have more in the works.

We continue to shift and change as we get feedback. This year we focused a lot on customers and the product itself. It definitely felt like a scrappy startup where all of us put in odd hours and just made it work. In 2019, in addition to improving the customer experience, I feel the need to shift our focus to creating better business systems. My priories will likely change as we learn, but the current needs are more consistent development cycles and consistent user growth. I just finished "This Is Marketing" by Seth Godin (I'll write about it later), and it gave some great ideas on how to attract customers.

There are a couple product features, based on customer feedback, that we need to provide a truly valuable product, but we're close.

Overall, I'd say it was a good year for Majordomo. We learned a lot and have a product people can use. I'm really excited about next year.

#2 Learn Bass Guitar

I found a solid online class at The instructor, Mark, does an excellent job of breaking down each step in his videos and provides good exercises. I finished the "Beginner Bass Guitar Course" and am working on the "Bassic Fundamentals Course". How could you not like someone who has fun with his course titles?

Success was defined as playing with the worship team at my church this year.

Well... I didn't play with the band, but I'm really close. Instead of writing about it, I put together a video that shows my progress.

So, I'm not as far as I'd like to be, but I'm happy with my progress. I'm going to continue playing and will check the box of playing with the worship team next year.

Next Year

I'm looking forward to 2019. In a lot of ways, It'll be a continuation of this year.

Monday, December 10, 2018

How To Get Started with Remote Work ("Remote" Book Review)

In case you missed the memo, remote work (or "working from home") is VERY quickly becoming the norm. I used to be an outlier, but that's less true each day.

It hit home for me recently with Majordomo where everything we do is remote. We don't have an office, so even the people in Corvallis work from home. At first, it started that way because everyone works part-time and frankly, we can't afford office space.  But now, even if we could, I don't think we'd change the current set up much. Perhaps we'd create a shared space, but we'd primarily stay remote.

Also, I hired an assistant for Furlo Family Homes who lives in Sacramento. We've never met in person, with no current plans to do so. More on this another time.

Given this reality, I read a book called "Remote" by Jason Fried and David Hansson of Basecamp. To learn how to manage a team more effectively.

The benefits of remote work are many, but these are my favorite two:

  • Smart people, who get work done live everywhere. Corvallis is a great place, but the talent pool for web development isn't that deep. Using Upwork, we found a guy in Provo who is doing great work, and he introduced us to two other great guys. Being remote will allow us to stay in Corvallis for as long as we want.
  • It provides everyone a lot of flexibility to work anytime and anywhere. I'm a morning guy, others are night owls, and it works. I can do some work, then join my family for breakfast and lunch... maybe take an afternoon nap, then finish working in the later afternoon.

The book spends a lot of ink to convince you remote work is fantastic, which it is, but it was too much for someone like me who's already convinced and trying to optimize the effectiveness of a remote team. Still, they gave lots of practical tips. Here were my favorite pieces of advice:

1) You "need a good four hours of overlap to avoid collaboration delays and feel like a team. (p. 91)"  I totally agree. The folks I've worked with in India and Singapore are fantastic people, but the minimal time overlap is difficult. The good news is that means the entire US is fair game. We use Slack and Zoom video to communicate with each other.

2) "When someone wants to demonstrate a new feature they’re working on... often the easiest way is to record a screencast and narrate the experience. (p. 96)" I hadn't thought of this before and am now putting it into practice, and it's great! We don't have to coordinate schedules, and they can watch (and re-watch!) when they're ready to do the work. I use Zoom to record my screen (and myself), so it feels more like I'm talking to them.

3) "Put all the important stuff out in the open, and no one will have to chase that wild goose to get their work done. (p. 99)" We use Github for code and Dropbox for everything else at Majordomo. Furlo Family Homes uses OneDrive. Both work great. Why not everything in Dropbox or OneDrive? There's no great reason. Someday I'll consolidate.

4) "To instill a sense of company cohesion and to share forward motion, everyone needs to feel that they’re in the loop. ...[We create] a weekly discussion thread with the subject “What have you been working on?” Everyone chimes in with a few lines about what they’ve done over the past week and what’s intended for the next week. (p. 103)" This is part of a daily scrum 15 min we do which asks three questions: What did you work on yesterday? What are you going to work on today? Do you have anything stopping you? We also use Trello to track what everyone is doing.

5) "Instead of thinking I can pay people from Kansas less than people from New York, you should think I can get amazing people from Kansas and make them feel valued and well-compensated if I pay them New York salaries. (p. 161)" Brilliant! It's what HP did and one reason why some many employees in Corvallis stay for many years. Obviously, this requires margins and volumes that support this cost structure.

Isn't it amazing how technology has made some of the barriers to remote work disappear? With Upwork, Zoom, Slack, Dropbox, and Trello you can be up and running within an hour. By the way, each offers free plans, which is pretty cool.

There are many more tips for hiring, managing, and being a remote worker. The book is very straightforward with many little sections, so you feel like you're reading the book fast. I chose to read it instead of listening so that I could highlight and take notes.

If you're on a remote team or thinking about trying it, I highly recommend reading the book.

Monday, October 08, 2018

October: A Month of Ties


In my closet hangs a bunch of ties. Ties I never seem to have an occasion to wear. So, in an effort actually use something I own, and perhaps expand my wardrobe options, I created my own occasion: October.

For the month of October I'm wearing a tie each day. I'll wear each tie at least once and cull down the total number of ties to ones I'm excited about. That snowman tie will survive the culling since my kids LOVE watching it light up. I have another one coming up that also plays music. I'll have to pick a day when I'm not actually meeting with anyone. :)

So, one week down and it's going great. I'm getting more comfortable wearing a tie in regular situations, and want to keep that going after October. I also have a few more fun ties I'm excited to dust off... and some other ones...


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My Dreams of a Smarter Home

I've been thinking about the concept of smart homes recently. My goal is to have the smartest home on the block and I'm doing pretty well with an Amazon Eco (and dots in each room), Lutron wireless light switches, an August door lock, the Ecobee thermostat, Chamberlain garage door opener, Philips Hue lights in the living room, B-Hyve garden watering system, SOMA smart shades, and a Nest camera and, Nest smoke alarms.

But what's interesting is that is not really a "smart" home, it's more like a "remote controlled" home. It's still cool. Here are some things that I regularly do:

  • When riding my bike home and I tell Siri from my watch to open the garage door.
  • When I arrive home at night the front door unlocks and the entry way light turns on.
  • I'll tell Siri "it's movie time" and all the lights in the living room turn off, except for the front row, which turns on 10% red. All other lights turn off too.
  • When I say "Clap clap", it locks the door, makes sure the garage door is shut, turns off all lights except for a dim path leading to the bedroom. My shades are supposed to also shut, but I can't get them to connect to HomeKit. :/
But you see the trend, it's all remote controlled actions. And none of them are really solving big problems. They also don't fundamentally change the way I live my life.

To me, "smart" involves, at a minimum, some sort of learning. The Nest Thermostat perhaps comes the closest by learning when I'm gone and adjusting the temperature accordingly. In our home, we use Ecobee for the HomeKit integration and because I could put a sensor in each room (which also doubles as a motion sensor of home/away status).

I'd like my home to notice that every Sunday afternoon we come home from church around noon, turn on the oven to 425, and turn on music. Then it could ask me if I'd like that to happen automatically so the oven is ready to go when we arrive.

Or, notice that my refrigerator's energy consumption is 10% higher than a year ago, or vs my neighbors. Our city recently switched over to digital meters. Perhaps this is possible now?

Actually, a lack of sensors is probably the biggest barrier to a smart home. I would put a sensor on my water pipes for pressure and temperature. I would put motion/temperature/moisture sensors in my attic and under my house.

Weather sensors on top of each house would also be amazing. Imaging if they all shared data to a central service to provide precision real-time weather information. Why are roofers not requiring this on every house? It'll make their planning so much easier over time.

If we built in all these sensors and started collecting the data, it would follow a similar path of current data trends: at first it would be stored, then it would be analyzed to understand what's happening, and then it would be predicted based on complex multi-variable trends.

Again, remote controlled actions are still cool. RC via voice feels especially cool... when it works, but it's just not smart. They're not breaking any paradigms yet. I know vertical farming doesn't work at scale yet, but could it work in my house? Could I enter what I'd like to grow and let robots take care of it so I have fresh food waiting for me?

Heating and AC feels especially broken. Heating and cooling the air around you via convection is the most inefficient method (that's a typical forced air system). Radiation (like from a radiator) is better with good insulation, but it's still heating the air. Conduction is the most efficient (think, floor heat), but condensation when cooling (depending on what you read) seems to be an elusive problem. How do we make rocket mass heaters safer and more mainstream? How can we make radiant cooling work better?

Or food. Why does preparing food feel so difficult? How we do make home food prep feel as easy as eating out (which I get is simply outsourced the food prep)? Can robots help? Don't even get me started on doing dishes or laundry!

What about open-living spaces? Imagine not owning a home, but instead reserving one. Or just opening up an app to see what's available that night. When you arrive, the house turns your personal temperature on, and ensures drones deliver the food you like. You're only charged for when you're there and the items you use. That's the direction we're headed in with cars. What about homes? Oh my: You have a van that stores your stuff. It backs into the garage and puts your stuff in the living space. When you leave, via another vehicle (?), it packs up your stuff and starts heading somewhere else.

At the very least, let's take RC to a logical extreme. I know there are some concept automated windows. Those should connect to my inside and outside thermostat and humidifier to determine when to be open. And each of those should be tracking my location and motion in the house. My windows would have shades built into the glass, like on newer 787s. Not only should the smoke alarms connect to the thermostat, but to the oven, all outlets, and the lights. You get the idea.

Perhaps what's needed is a modern open-source protocol for collecting/storing/retrieving data from sensors and controllers. My guess is that one already exists, but the big players (Google, Apple, Amazon) are too interested in owning the eco-system, which prevents something the equivalent of email or wifi from taking off.

For now, let's pretend that the privacy and security issues are solved. Wouldn't that be cool?! Perhaps companies are working on these in the background, but it doesn't feel like it. It feels like they're OK with focusing on voice for previously touch-screen and keyboard activities. They don't seem focused on actually integrating services and turning the home into something truly smart.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

I'm Thinking About Getting a VA, But I Struggle With Delegation

I'm reading a book right now called the Time Wealthy Investor by Mark B. Dolfini. I'm fairly certain that if I wrote a book, it would be pretty similar to this one. It's focus is on building systems that work  for you to reduce your personal workload. Think E-Myth and The 4-Hour Workweek applied to real estate investing. If you're an investor, it's worth reading (along with Landlording on Autopilot which gets more tactical).


What's interesting is that I'm finding I'm excellent and automating systems. I started reading the book hoping to learn a couple tricks to further automate what I'm doing, but I'm finding I'm already doing well. There are a couple small things I could automate, but the relative gains are small. For example, when I send a message, I email and text everyone individually. Technically I could set up a list for email through something like MailChimp, but I don't like that there will be an unsubscribe button. Plus, I don't even know of a texting service that'll let me use my existing phone number. It hardly seems worth it to spend 4 hours researching if it's possible for the ~4 times a year I send a text to everyone, which I already pretty easy because I use Google Voice and send everyone from a computer with copy/paste (if you know of a service, let me know).

Automation? Check.


The other part of the book talks about setting up processes that are documented and repeatable, with the goal of making them easy to delegate and manage. With such easy access to virtual assistants (VAs), it's super easy to delegate small tasks without having to hire someone full time. Example tasks could include:

  • When someone moves out: calculate their last month's rent, send the move-out email and prepare a new Craigslist ad.
  • When a new person is accepted as a resident: add their info to the database & QuickBooks, calculate their first month's rent, prepare the rental agreement, and schedule a time to sign.
  • When a resident calls with a maintenance request: add the request to Trello, contact the proper home service provider (which could be me), coordinate the schedule fix time, follow-up with the resident when it's done, document in Trello, and send a payment.

You get the idea. When a certain event happens, the documented actions are taken.

This seems pretty easy as I write it out, but for some reason I struggle to give up that control. I don't want to lose a pulse on what's working on Craigslist. How do I stay on top of it? Since I end up doing most of the maintenance repairs - because they're normally easily, and I enjoying getting out from behind my desk - what's the point of having someone else be the go-between? That seems needlessly complicated.

I also have a very high standard. Even today I was helping Jessi print our monthly newsletter (pictured above) and I couldn't help but notice a couple formatting issues (which nobody but I will notice. Like a double space after a period). I'm super happy Jessi is able to help with the newsletters, but how do I keep the quality where I want it... without hurting a relationship?

I've noticed this trend in other areas as well. Last week I was asked if I needed help on an HP project. My instinct was to say no because I knew the person wouldn't do as good of a job as I would and I didn't want to spend even more time going back and correcting it. Again, how do I set quality expectations and properly train somebody to successfully hit them? For a while my thought was "I'll just hire amazing people", but that seems implausible and limiting. The problem isn't automation. Perhaps it's a process that isn't fully documented, including quality checklists?

Delegation? I'm honestly not sure how to pull this off.

Moving Forward

I need to figure this out. We're planning to continue growing and it won't be sustainable as a part-time hustle for much longer. Unfortunately, I think the answer is I need to invest more time in the short-term to figure out delegation so I can spend less time later. I found one good article about successful VA relationships, but there really doesn't seem to be lot of good resources, which looks like a mini-red flag - why aren't there more resources and success stories? And I just looking in the wrong places?

Of course, then I go the opposite direction and wonder if I'm making life too complicated, like in the Fisherman's Parable. Should I instead figure out ways to remove tasks off my plate completely? For example, if we lived in a tiny home that was owned free and clear, that would remove a lot of the financial pressure and allow me to drop my job and then do all the business tasks myself. Of course, that would create new issues: space for the kids, a less desirable location, less ability to invite friends over, etc.

So no answers at this time, just public processing. If you've hired a VA, I'd love to learn about your experience and talk about what has and hasn't worked.