1 month

Tangential Tuesdays #83

Hi 👋 - I hope you all had a wonderful 4th of July weekend.

Although the fireworks in SF were officially canceled this year, that didn’t stop our neighbors from setting off a massive pile of fireworks until about 1 am 🙃.

My celebrations included:

  • A 30-mile bike ride (Finally got around to doing Hawk Hill!) with a swim at ocean beach in the middle

1 month

I almost deleted this mini-post… but in the end, I decided to keep it. Generally, I think the newsletter is meant to be about talking about things that are not work. But this newsletter is also about my life. And work is a huge part of what is happening and is exciting in my life right now.

It’s been 1 month since joining assembled. Here’s what I’m trying to focus on.

1. be slow to criticize

When I started at Assembled, I immediately noticed a ton of things that were different from what I was used to. Here’s a quick list from the top of my head:

  1. We use a bootstrap theme from most of our CSS

  2. We don’t have a designer

  3. I am my own product manager and copywriter 😳

  4. I don’t have to write PHP 😃

  5. We don’t have a javascript auto formatter or ESLint

  6. We manually run raw SQL on our master database (regularly)

  7. We don’t have an easy way to search our logs (like Kibana)

  8. Our directory structure is different

  9. We have ~25 customers (rather than >25k customers)

Some of these things might not mean much to you all, but for me, it was like stepping into a whole new world. During my 1st month, I sometimes felt tempted to rush to provide value.

I found myself tempted to criticize. I found myself wanting to solve the problems I saw with the solutions I had seen at Thumbtack.

99% of the time, I think this is a mistake.

The first thing to note is that “rushing” to provide value is foolish. When you join a startup, you are entering into a multi-year (hopefully 🤞) relationship. The work that you complete in your first few months will be inconsequential to the work you’ll do in your 2nd and 3rd years at the company.

The 2nd point is that there’s a good chance that the company has a very good reason for not implementing the solution you are thinking about. Now, that reason at many startups might be “we just haven’t gotten around to it”. But don’t assume that’s the real reason! Rushing to provide value in your 1st month means not fully understanding the problem you’re trying to solve.

Lastly, even if you turn out to be right about both the problem and the solution, it is not worth the social capital you will sacrifice to push your solution forward. I cannot stress how important I think this point is.

In some ways, it is a bit counterintuitive: Assembled literally hired me for my expertise in solving these problems. Shouldn’t they want me to get started on that as soon as possible?

The answer is yes… but humans are still humans. For an outsider to come into a company and immediately start criticizing and changing things is jarring. Imagine if someone you didn’t know very well observed you doing your job for a few days and immediately started telling you everything that you were doing wrong. You probably wouldn’t listen.

Building trust takes time and hard work. I personally found it easy to forget how long it took to reach the level of trust I had at Thumbtack when I left.

Don’t rush, sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.

2. focus on relationships

For me, forming relationships with coworkers is probably the most important thing to focus on in the first few months at a new job.

This is something I didn’t appreciate enough over college, and also something that is unfortunately made much more difficult by remote work.

So far, I’ve met 3 out of the 8 people at assembled in person (1 of which was today, biking up twin peaks!)

So for that reason, I don’t have too much to say here….I am still figuring things out.

One thing I will say is that having a consistently positive attitude and being ridiculously optimistic at work goes a long way. Everyone else at the company been heads down working for the past few months/years.

They see all the problems that that company has. They will be tired at times. When you join a company - go out of your way to lift them up and bring fresh positivity. They will appreciate it and naturally want to spend more time with you 😃.

3. look for bright orange extension cords

New hires can see a bright orange extension cord in plain sight.

This is an idea Ryan has continuously pushed me on in the past month.

When I joined assembled I knew basically nothing about enterprise software, the problem we were trying to solve, how the product works, how are customers use us, etc.

This means that most of my ideas about how things should work, or what we should focus on will be wrong. But it also means that I will have wildly different ideas from everyone else that has been working at the company longer than me and knows more than me!

There is value in naïveté.

At the end of my first month, I took an hour to dump all of the thoughts and ideas that I had built up either in my brain or in my notes and then shared them with the company. It’s still unclear how much value this will provide to the rest of the company, but just going through the process of writing all of my naive thoughts down on paper has already proved valuable for myself.

4. immerse yourself

This applies less if you already have a lot of domain-specific expertise related to the company you are joining.

But as I’ve already mentioned - I had the opposite of that when I joined Assembled.

I’m still very much in the process of understanding the problem, the vocab, how to connect with our customers, and the whole world around customer support (it truly is a whole new world).

It’s hard to build something people if you don’t have a deep understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve.

Luckily, there is a ton of great content out there. Here’s what’s been recommended to me:

Customer support

Enterprise SaaS

5. take care of yourself

This one is simple and should be obvious. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. A ton of smart people neglect this.

I strongly believe taking really good care of yourself is one of the most important factors for being good at your job.

This will mean something different for everyone, but I think we all know intuitively when we’re doing this well.

Unequal Growth: The Zero-Sum Games You Don’t See

This is the 1 piece I *highly* recommend this week. It is quite long - so if you don’t want to actually read it, here is my incomplete summary.

In the first decade of the 2000s, the top 2 nations “got” 31% of all the Economic Growth. In the next decade, they doubled that share to 60% of Global Economic Growth.

Readers whose preferred economic mental models are Zero-Sum, will implicitly translate the verb “got” to “Captured”. Readers who default to Positive-Sum models will instead translate it to “Created”. They’d both be right.

Tech people love to talk about wealth as a positive-sum game. And to a certain extent, they are correct! But so are the negative-sum people. It depends on the period of time you are looking at.

GDP growth over the last 20 years is unevenly distributed. Even while the global GDP shrinks during certain periods, the growth of China and the U.S has largely continued.

GDP growth compounds. The more the U.S GDP grows compared to Japan or Germany, the bigger our advantage gets.

2015 marks the largest contraction in Global GDP that the World Bank has data for. If you live in the U.S, you probably did not know this. That’s because the U.S economy grew by $700B in 2015.

Read the article here. [Side note: Conrad has a ton of other great essays. I particularly love The Uncharity of College: The Big Business Nobody Understands]

Things I am feeling excited about