Friday morning walks with my mom

My mom has Parkinson’s. She has studied the disease very closely, and she does everything she can to minimize the negative impact. She takes a couple of different medications, and she seems to respond very well to them. She seems to be handling everything really well – she still just seems like herself to me.

A year or so ago, I started realizing that my mom might not be around forever and that I don’t spend enough time with her. To be clear, she’s very healthy overall, and she isn’t planning to check out anytime soon. I just noticed that I wasn’t spending enough time with her, regardless of her health.

By contrast, I manage to see my dad during the normal course of things, because we play golf from time to time, and he stops by during errands, etc. If we all go out to dinner together, I feel like I’ve spent time with my dad, but I need to have one-on-one time with my mom to feel like I’ve actually seen her. So about a year ago, we started taking a walk every Friday morning, and it’s been great. Exercise is good for Parkinson’s, so that’s an extra bonus.

Today was a cool, gray, slightly damp morning, and we had a very nice walk. We went a little bit earlier than usual today, and her pill hadn’t kicked in yet. It was interesting hearing her describe how she experiences things like that. As usual, we talked about life, philosophy, each other, and other family members. As usual, it felt great just to spend a little time with my mom.

I’m very lucky to have such a wonderful mom and to be able to spend time with her each week. If your mom is still around, don’t forget to spend time with her. Go give her a hug or give her a call … and maybe even take a walk with her.

Different

This week i started reading Different by Youngme Moon. I’m about halfway through and really enjoying it.

I first heard about Professor Moon when I heard her speak at the 2010 Business of Software conference (a very important event for me).

Her basic point is that competing on the same BS marketing language everybody else uses (“new and improved!”) makes everybody the same – and the way to stand out is to be different … so STOP DOING THAT. Instead of trying to fix your weaknesses (or lie about them), focus on your real strengths.

As an example, think about Ikea – they’ve never shied away from their weaknesses compared to other furniture stores, yet their customers actually stick up for them concerning those weaknesses:

  • Their furniture is shoddy (“who wants to keep furniture longer than 5 years anyway?”)
  • The have few stores, so I have to drive far (“it’s an adventure!”)
  • I hate assembling it (“I hate waiting for deliveries even more”)

It’s very rare that a strength can exist without a corresponding weakness – everything is a tradeoff – so if you want the marketplace to embrace your strengths, you better be willing to embrace your weaknesses, too. I’ve always said for individuals that our strengths and weaknesses point to two sides of the same coin. Apparently, it’s true for organizations as well.

Even though we don’t have a whole lot of competition at Moraware, we still have a distinct perception in the marketplace … I want to understand better what that perception is so we can do what Professor Moon suggests: lean into our strengths and double down on them. Instead of trying to shore up our weaknesses (real or perceived), embrace them. It’s better to be something real with strengths and weaknesses instead of some bland caricature that stands for nothing.

This isn’t the easiest thing to examine, and I’m not the only stakeholder here – but my first take at our biggest strengths and corresponding weaknesses would be something like this:

  • Strengths: No-nonsense, stable, straightforward
  • Weaknesses: Unresponsive, slow to change, incomplete

I don’t know exactly what to do with that yet, but I think it’s true (at least as a perception of us it’s true). Our best qualities have predictable weaknesses as tradeoffs.

What about you? What are your organization’s strengths and corresponding weaknesses? How are you going to lean into those? Let me know in the comments or on twitter.

Aspirin Business vs Vitamin Business

A few years ago, I heard Rob Walling explain the difference between an aspirin business and a vitamin business: in an aspirin business, you don’t try to convince customers that they need your product. Instead your customers have a problem – a “headache” – and they know it. They go looking for a solution – your “aspirin” – to make their problem go away (or at least make it better).

On the other hand, if you have a vitamin business, you constantly have to convince your customers they need what you’re selling. Vitamins supplement our diet and supposedly make our lives better in some way – they promise to make us healthier, more vibrant, etc. In a vitamin business, your customers can survive without your product, so your job is to show them how much better their lives will be with it.

You can build a great company selling either aspirin products (like this one) or vitamin products (here’s one I use and one I don’t use), but it’s extremely important to know which kind you have and to be intentional about which selling approach you take. One of my favorite products, You Need a Budget, is so useful to me that I thought for a second that it was an aspirin company – but actually, they’re an extremely effective, high-quality vitamin company.

The company I work for, Moraware, is very much an aspirin company. Our customers reach out to us, typically as they’re growing, either with a scheduling problem or a quoting problem. We have a product for each, and our sales approach consists mostly of making sure that customers indeed have one of the problems we solve. Our ongoing product development approach attempts to solve those problems slightly better each day (an extremely slow process) and occasionally to solve a new problem (an even slower process).

Aspirin businesses like Moraware tend not to be sexy but instead try to be useful, consistent, and predictable. Our biggest responsibility is simply to make sure we don’t screw up our customers’ data, because our customers now depend on us to run their companies. Our biggest challenge is that our customers have many more problems that they’d like us to solve – most would prefer our regular-strength aspirin to morph into extra-strength (OK, I’m almost done torturing the metaphor, I promise). Unfortunately, even the tiniest improvement takes a long time to implement.

I often get frustrated that we don’t have every feature our customers ask for – and they get frustrated, too. What I’m ever-so-slowly learning is that we’ll never have every feature that customers ask for! Because of that, it’s better to focus on each customer’s problems that they’re trying to solve whenever they reach out to us. By focusing on their problems, then we’re in a better position to say “here’s how we can help” (whether it’s a great solution or a mediocre one) or simply “we don’t help with that problem, but maybe look in this other place.”

Over time, we’ve added significant capabilities to our products and will (slowly) continue to do so – but at any moment in time, we can only sell the product we have, which means we can only solve some kinds of problems well. It sounds so simple, but those end up being the problems we focus on – the ones where we actually can provide good solutions. That’s the essence of being an aspirin business.

Birthday reflections

Today was my 47th birthday. In most ways, it was just another day, but I got to enjoy a nice dinner with my family, and my parents even came over for cake after their line-dancing class. Life is good.

Since today was a work day, I spent time reflecting on my career. I tend to focus on things I haven’t accomplished … but today seemed like a good day to look back on all the good things I have done and to appreciate the work environment that I enjoy today.

I work for a great company with great people. I’m not solving world hunger, but I do help people build better businesses (albeit in an extremely narrow niche). I’m building new work muscles – particularly in the simple-but-critical area of helping customers. I work hard, and I learn something new every day. 

My job affords me the opportunity to develop myself and improve. I figure I have 10-20 more years left in my career, and I’m looking forward to finishing it strong. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to learn over the rest of my career, but I’m sure looking forward to figuring it out.

Onward and upward!

Moraware is hiring a programmer

Moraware is looking for a programmer. Not just any programmer – the right programmer. The right programmer has these qualities:

  • Very good with C#, SQL Server, and HTML/JavaScript (plus not afraid of learning anything else)
  • Great problem solver
  • Awesome to work with

There’s one more tactical requirement – being in the Pacific timezone or acting like you are. Getting up to speed will require plenty of time communicating with Ted, our founder and lead developer. We’re only a 6-person company (4 of us on the customer team and 2 on the development team), so we don’t have a lot of ceremony. Instead, we talk to each other. A lot. The right programmer has to enjoy getting on the phone and working through things as much as necessary. That’s just easier if you’re in the same timezone. For the first six months or so, it will probably be nice to spend some time in the same room together, too, and travel tends to be easier if you’re in the same timezone. We currently have developers in Reno (Ted) and California (Derek).

Everyone in the company works from home, which I happen to love. Moraware got me a stand-up/sit-down desk with a couple of big-ass monitors attached – based on my experience, having a good work environment really makes a big difference in your productivity, health, and simply enjoying your job. Moraware will make sure you’re comfortable while you’re working.

Moraware also pays really well, and we share in the profits of the company – which have been going up steadily for years. I currently make a little more than I did at Microsoft, so I’m quite happy with the pay.

More importantly, I enjoy getting up to work each day. We have about a thousand customers paying us money every month, and keeping everything running smoothly for them is a big responsibility. It’s amazingly interesting and motivating trying to figure out ways to make our customers more successful. And while we’re all focused on the challenges of growing our business, we’re not at all uptight about it. I’m healthier than I’ve been in a decade, and I’ve been able to get there thanks to an awesome work situation.

As for the software development work itself … it’s all about solving problems for customers, not using technology for its own sake. If using carrier pigeons is the right technology to solve a problem, then we’ll use carrier pigeons. More specifically, we deliver a browser-based SaaS solution. We’re still using a home-grown C# display library that spits out HTML – Ted wrote it long before ASP.NET MVC even existed, and there’s currently no reason to change it (although improving the mobile UX might prompt us to do so in the future). We use SQL Server as our data store, not some fancy document database, and we have a separate database instance for each customer. A lot of the heavy lifting happens in the database. We also do some crazy, modern, awesome things with JavaScript (see www.moraware.com/countergo – that’s all done in a browser!). If you just want to use the latest and greatest technologies, this isn’t the job for you. If you want to use whatever technology is currently the best fit (based on all sorts of messy, real-world factors) to solve problems for customers, then reach out to me at patrick@moraware.com to start a conversation.

I wrote about a customer support / sales position last year – I should have followed up and mentioned that we interviewed lots of really good people, and we hired two as a result. One is my sister, Kathleen Teodoro … Harry didn’t want to hire family, but Kate is simply amazing at customer support and sales. We also hired my friend Jason Pliml, because he’s a rare business talent who influences the company in a variety of useful ways.

After that round of hiring, we wrote down some of what we learned – most importantly, we learned that we need to hire people who support our values. I’ll share them with you if this job sounds interesting, and you think you’re a good fit. To get started, just email me at patrick@moraware.com with your qualifications and reason for interest.

Work at Moraware!

Moraware is hiring! We need more help doing many of the same things I’m doing: customer support, training materials, and marketing. As the newest hire (I started at the beginning of 2014), I’m in a unique position to say why you should consider working here, too.

The basic pitch is that you’re going to love it. I know I do. I’m simply happier than I’ve been in a long time. Having a job I truly enjoy is a big part of being happy for me. I suspect it is for most people.

Moraware, how I love thee …

Me, happy working at Moraware

Me, happy working at Moraware

So why do I love working for Moraware? For starters, I work with awesome people. I talk with my boss, Harry, every day – and I enjoy his company. It doesn’t feel like a “work call” when I talk to my boss. We’re just talking about the various things we’re trying to accomplish and figuring things out together.

I left Microsoft because I wanted to be an entrepreneur – but I wasn’t thrilled with the poverty that often accompanies such a journey. Moraware appreciates and nurtures my entrepreneurial side while paying me a damn good salary. It’s a nice balance for me.

I love learning – I absolutely crave it – and I’m learning a ton working for Moraware. Every day I absorb more of what it means to run a software business. Recognize that we’re not technically a “startup” anymore, because we clearly have product/market fit. We’re just a small, profitable software company with no outside investors. I’m employee #6 (or #7, depending on how you count), and every day, I’m learning more about the ins and outs of the company. I’m experiencing the “daily grind” of helping keep the company running. It isn’t glamorous like a TechCrunch startup, but it’s interesting as hell. Most of our daily work involves doing things for customers (like, you know, answering their questions and helping them use our software).

In addition to being paid well and learning every day, I get to work from home and have a fair amount of flexibility in my time. If I need to take Gus to gymnastics in the afternoon, I do. If I want to take a break to play catch with him, I do. However, since I’m the only person in the company in the Eastern time zone (everybody else is in the Pacific), I try to protect my mornings between 8-11a for work, since that’s when I add the most value being on the phone.

The challenges of working here

We have many of the wonderful problems that you’d expect a growing company to have … most of which fall under the heading of customers wanting even more from us.

Bottom line – there’s a lot of work to do. There are so many additional things that I could be doing and would like to do, but I just don’t have enough time. That’s kinda why we’re hiring again. Some things aren’t what I expected. While it’s nice that nobody micromanages me, it can be intimidating, too. Since I’m responsible for my own work, it’s pretty obvious what I do and don’t accomplish. I want to pull my own weight and earn my keep – obviously the company wants that, too. We need more people who pull their own weight and don’t wait around for instructions.

Working from home is awesome – but it’s not for everybody. There’s something to be said for seeing your coworkers in person. Specifically, it’s easier to connect about random things at the proverbial water cooler, and when you share an office, people pick up on more nuances of mood changes. There are brief industry events every couple of months – Harry and I go to some of them, partly so we can see each other in person once in a while.

One of the primary draws of this job for me is also one of its biggest challenges. I wanted to work directly with customers in support so I could learn all the stuff that comes with that – and one of the things I’ve learned is that customer support is emotionally draining. I like doing support for 2-3 hours, but I run out of gas if I do it for much longer than that.

Who we’re looking for

Years ago, Joel Spolsky summed up what everyone needs in an employee: smart and gets things done. We agree.

Another word Harry has used is “Impressive” – we want people who are truly impressive in some capacity that we need. You might be truly impressive at being high energy or truly impressive at connecting with people or truly impressive at creating training materials (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Kathy Sierra is welcome to work here if she chooses). No offense to all the wonderful average people out there, but we’re not currently looking for average. Show us why you’re special.*

Even though we want you to be impressive in some way, we also want you to be a generalist. We want people who can do a lot of different things. Just as important, we want people who are more interested in furthering the overall success of the company than in finding abstract perfection within their own role.

We want people with something to gain (crap – that means Kathy probably isn’t a great fit, unless she has a latent passion for countertops). I have a lot to gain in this job … there are parts of entrepreneurship that I suck at (specifically – the making money parts), and I’m addressing those gaps by working here. Maybe you’ve always worked for a huge company and want to find out what a small company is like. Or maybe you want to test your brilliant hypothesis for improving self-service help. it doesn’t really matter what it is, but before you take ANY job, you should know what you have to gain by working there.

Finally, we’d like to improve our diversity in gender, age, race … everything. We have several middle-aged white dudes already, and although we won’t discriminate against short guys with awesome hair like me, it would be nice to get some fresh perspectives.

What you’ll (probably) be doing, at least at first

We need more help answering the phones and responding to emails. We’re growing every day (They like us! They really like us!) … and we’re getting pretty stretched in customer support.

Maybe that sounds terrible to you … yet you’ve read this far. Customer support is more interesting than you think. It teaches you a certain reality about software that you don’t get from programming (both Harry and I happen to be programmers). It tells you how you’re company is really doing … every day, people tell me what they love and what they hate about our product.

A good customer support person isn’t necessarily someone who’s already done it. To be good at customer support (in addition to our general requirements of smart and gets things done), you must be:

  • Energetic – always “on” with customers
  • Extroverted
  • Empathetic
  • Extremely good at listening to people and solving their problems

(See what I did there? With the 4 E’s? That’s marketing, baby … BTW, Harry doesn’t have any empathy, and Susan – our other support person – isn’t even extroverted! So technically you just need most of these qualities.)

Again – we’ll need you to answer phones and respond to emails … but that will take up about half your time, because it’s really hard to do customer support well for a whole day. It’s simply too draining.

The rest of the time, it would be nice to help make customer support less necessary in the first place by improving our online help and training materials (a concept straight out of the Customer Support Handbook). I’m working on it, too, but there’s plenty of work to go around.

Beyond that, there’s marketing (we just hired nickd to help us make our website suck less – oh my God, there’s so much work to do), operational work, product management/design work, improving our testing processes … so, so, so much to do. My current title is “Customer Support and more” … that’s probably a good title for you, too.

It only took me about a week to learn our software, but it took me at least a month to understand how our customers use it – that’ll be where you start, too. Where you go from there depends on you.

OK, ONE MORE THING – our customers are all businesses and mostly small businesses. We need somebody who’s passionate about the problems of small businesses. It’s not enough just to answer their software questions – we want somebody who is motivated to dig deeper with our customers and ask why. We want somebody who can look beyond a question being asked and figure out what business problem is causing the question to be asked in the first place. That’s a lot easier to do if you find small businesses really interesting.

What you get

Hopefully I’ve given you a sense of what it’s like to work here. To summarize what you’ll get out of it:

  • Great pay
  • Great benefits (health, dental, vision, 401k, profit sharing)
  • Great people
  • Great working environment
  • Great learning opportunity

How to apply

If you’ve read this far, then you must be intrigued … if talking to customers sounds interesting to you, then email me and/or Harry and tell us:

  • What you hope to gain by working for Moraware – why are you excited to work with us?
  • What’s “impressive” about you – what would make us excited to work with you?
  • Why you think you’re qualified (a resume with something resembling a cover letter is traditionally used for this purpose)

I can’t wait to hear from you!

* I’m apparently impressive at being impressive – when Ted (the other owner) was describing to me what he wanted me to do for Moraware, he summarized it as “becoming the Patrick Foley of the countertop industry” … I don’t even know what that means, but <sniff>, he had me at hello.

Rolling with it

One aspect of my new job that intrigues me is that I’m the first person in the company to be living in the Eastern time zone. Everybody else is in Pacific, so I’m usually going to be the first person working each day. Once I know what I’m doing, I’ll be manning the phones first thing in the morning to increase the amount of time that customers reach a live person.

I’ve never had a business (i.e., non-music) job where the timing mattered, and what excites me is the opportunity to develop good habits. There’s a 3-hour window where it’s clear I’ll be doing the same things every day, and I want to make those the “right” things.

For me personally, running is a part of that. I’m more awake and energized when I run first thing in the morning, so that’s my anchor habit of the day – wake up at 6:30, put the running clothes on, and get my butt out the door. Once I’m outside, instinct takes over, and my body kicks itself into gear (quite a low gear, but still).

The beginning of any habit is a critical time. Your mind plays tricks on you, and you negotiate your way out of your original best intentions. Often, you have to blast past your own resistance to achieve your goals. I know that resistance – I’ve blasted past it before. I expect it.

So I was expecting to find some resistance to getting up in the morning, and I was ready.

But when I got up this morning, it was 9 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). That’s without wind chill. 9 degrees below zero.

I’m equipped to run down to zero, but at my current level of fitness, I don’t think it’s safe for me to run much below that. So I let the resistance win today. I went back to sleep for an hour, and I’ll run later today – it’s supposed to reach a balmy 18 degrees by the afternoon.

I hate treadmills, so If this happened all the time, I’d have to use the indoor track at the YMCA (7 laps to a mile – it’s awesome), but I think today was an outlier. Sometimes you have to roll with it … you win today, resistance, and I tip my hat to you. Tomorrow I will crush you.

Day One

I love the concept of New Year … it’s the perfect time to start over, to start something new.

Today I started my new job at Moraware. I set up all my new accounts for email, internal chat, the help system, etc. Everything is new and shiny. I’m even wearing my Moraware t-shirt while I go through all the email I’ve ignored over the holidays (and watching Michigan State win the Rose Bowl). It’s a good day.

IMG_0257

The new job is the most obvious big new thing for me this year – and I really want to knock it out of the park – but I have other big new things, too. I’m still enjoying my running streak (day 767 today), but I want more from running this year. I want to run the River Bank Run again in May. If that goes well (meaning that my overall energy is up and I have the time), then I might run the Grand Rapids Marathon in October, too. Maybe even the Huff 50k in December again – but if I do that, I’ll be way more conservative than last time.

But those are all things I’ve done before – I need a goal that I haven’t done, so I’m setting out to run 1,000 miles this year. I might have actually run that much in 2006, but I wasn’t recording my miles. Now I use Endomondo, so it’s easy to track my actual distance. Besides targeting a nice, round number, running 1,000 miles will force me to increase my mileage back to the point where I’m genuinely in shape. My doctor keeps telling me I need to lose a few pounds, and when I run more, it happens naturally.

I also want to write more, publish more podcast-type things, and make more music … but I haven’t worked out explicit goals for those yet. That’s OK. This is just Day One.

What new things are you starting in this New Year?

Two years of running every day

Today marked the second full year that I’ve run at least a mile every day. 731 days. That puts me at #366 on the Official USA Active Running Streak List.

I started my streak on 11/27/2011, but my motivation for committing to it came a couple of days later when my uncle Frank called to tell me he couldn’t run with me as planned, because he was at the hospital. I decided right then that I would run every day until he could join me. Frank ended up being diagnosed with cancer and was never able to run with me again. I decided to keep my promise as long as I can anyway, and I think about him and others I miss every day at the beginning of my run. Recently, my aunt Betty gave me some of Frank’s cold-weather running things, and I’m happy to get some more use out of them. I was warmer today than I would have been otherwise, thanks to Frank (and Betty).

FrankIt’s strange how and why we grow close to people. My mom was one of 13 kids, so I have a lot of aunts and uncles on that side of the family. I’m closer to some than others. I wasn’t particularly close to Frank until 2006, when I started running longer distances. Our family reunion was always at my grandma’s rustic cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which was about 7 miles from Lake Michigan. Every year, Frank would run to the lake. Everybody thought he was crazy, but not me. After crossing the 7 mile threshold earlier that year, I couldn’t wait for the reunion to join him on that run.

As it happened, the day before the reunion, I told Paula I was filing for divorce, so a 3-year-old Gus and I went up and camped together. I was unbelievably raw and on the verge of a breakdown, but the love of my whole family held me up and kept me going. Frank and I connected on that run in a way I never expected. He prayed for me and opened up to me and became my friend. Before long, he was my best running buddy, and he even gave me coaching that helped me to a great marathon run a couple of months later. The infusion of love that Frank and my big family gave me that weekend in the summer of 2006 convinced me to love my way through the challenges in my marriage, and miraculously, we kept our little family together. One Day At A Time.

Frank and I ran often until that day he called me a couple of years ago. God I miss him, but I’m so happy that we got to know each other. I will keep that memory going a mile at a time for as long as I can put one foot in front of the other.

We just lost my aunt Mary, and we lost Barb a couple of years ago as well. I’ll see the rest of my aunts and uncles and numerous cousins over the holidays, and I’ll hug them and wish I knew them a little better.

-Patrick