Developing Perspective

#39: The Grass is Shorter


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective. Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing

00:00:05   news of note in iOS, Apple, and the like. I'm your host, David Smith. I'm an independent

00:00:10   iOS developer based in Herndon, Virginia. This is show number 38, and today is Monday,

00:00:16   April 30. But perspective is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:20   All right. The topic for today's show just got out of the episode of Build and Analyze,

00:00:27   the show of Marco Arman's show over on 5x5 that just

00:00:31   was posted a few hours ago. And in it he was talking about something that

00:00:35   felt very specific to me as an experience that I'd had and so

00:00:39   it was something that I think would be helpful for me to just talk about in terms of the

00:00:42   mistake--in some ways it's the mistakes I've made

00:00:45   and the hopes that that may be helpful to someone else

00:00:48   if you're kind of in a similar situation. And so the topic specifically is talking about

00:00:53   I think something that a lot of independents run into. It's this challenge you have

00:00:57   of what do you do when you've grown to a point that you're successful to such a degree that

00:01:06   you no longer keep up with the work that you would like to do, the work that you think

00:01:10   would help your business, the work that you think could add value or even more simply

00:01:15   add more money in your pocket.

00:01:18   So you've built a service, you've built an app, you've done all these things, and you

00:01:22   get to a point that you're like, "Okay, well, if I want to grow this, if I want to keep

00:01:26   moving in a direction on a surface to keep that going

00:01:30   I'm I can't do it myself on you can either

00:01:34   to take two points two directions at this man some place you just sort of

00:01:37   stop working

00:01:37   or you become a workaholic and interesting thing is both of those

00:01:42   things are limited

00:01:43   you can only be a workaholic to a certain degree they'd like there this

00:01:46   one of those things that I think a lot of people can

00:01:47   lose track on but even if you're

00:01:50   you know it's like oh man it's alright I'm just gonna be a focus in post into

00:01:54   this

00:01:54   I'm gonna make this my focus for right now in my life.

00:01:58   You know, say it's someone who doesn't have kids or a wife,

00:02:00   and it's just like, okay, so I'm gonna work crazy hours.

00:02:02   It's like, hey, okay, so you're gonna be able to work,

00:02:04   do that for a little bit.

00:02:06   At some point you're gonna burn out.

00:02:07   And even still, you're still hard limited

00:02:10   at 24 hours in a day, seven days a week.

00:02:12   At some point, you are limited in what you can do.

00:02:16   And especially, I would say,

00:02:17   you're limited in what you can do well.

00:02:20   For me, I never even sort of thought about

00:02:23   going down the workaholic route.

00:02:25   Instead, I focused on--

00:02:28   kind of, OK, if anything, I'm just

00:02:29   going to keep streamlining and focusing down what I do

00:02:33   to kind of fix that problem.

00:02:36   And so it's a difficult thing, because I see opportunities

00:02:40   in my own work, say, with audiobooks or some of the apps

00:02:44   I have where if I spent more time either on marketing,

00:02:48   I could spend more time on its website.

00:02:50   I could spend more time on the content side,

00:02:52   working with publishers to get more content added into it.

00:02:55   I can make the app better and better.

00:02:57   There's always more and more and more things.

00:02:59   I can make my customer support better.

00:03:02   There's always more and more that I can do to make my app

00:03:05   better, to make it more appealing to users,

00:03:08   to make that experience better for someone else.

00:03:12   And you're just limited by this.

00:03:15   And probably it was about two, three years ago,

00:03:18   I hired somebody to help me out with this.

00:03:21   and he himself was great.

00:03:24   And so certainly just sort of putting that out there,

00:03:27   if he ever listens to this,

00:03:29   the actual work he did was great.

00:03:30   The challenges I had though with it

00:03:33   meant that it's something

00:03:34   that I don't think I'd ever do again.

00:03:36   I think hiring someone

00:03:39   when you're a small independent sort of person,

00:03:42   especially in a full-time basis is very difficult.

00:03:45   And it's, I would say,

00:03:45   especially hiring someone to do development for you

00:03:48   is incredibly problematic.

00:03:50   So I'm gonna kinda walk through the various reasons for that and what the challenges were.

00:03:58   So on the first side, the biggest problem I found is that having someone else work with

00:04:04   you is surprisingly non-productive.

00:04:08   And by that I mean, say you're hiring somebody full-time.

00:04:12   So in theory, in the cheesy government view of that, it's like, "Well now I have two FTEs

00:04:20   I have two full-time equivalents.

00:04:22   That's me and this other guy. Now,

00:04:26   you think in some ways, "Okay, well, how much extra work am I going to do?" You probably realize, "Okay,

00:04:31   I'm not gonna get, you know, sort of twice the work done."

00:04:33   You know, that may just be a bit too much because of communication, because of all kinds of other challenges.

00:04:38   But in reality, what I found is that it was worse.

00:04:41   It was far worse than I thought. I mean, it would probably add an additional,

00:04:45   40%. So I had like 1.4 people working, having this whole other person.

00:04:52   And this I think is largely because I added one person to my team.

00:04:57   I went from one to two. And so the problem there is now

00:05:02   I'm doing the work that I was trying to do before. Say I'm coding, I'm writing my iOS app,

00:05:07   I'm working on a big update, and I'm also trying to manage someone. I'm also trying to

00:05:12   to help them out. I'm also trying to, you know, sort of do development with them to

00:05:17   help them, answering questions. Like all of those things ultimately lowered us down to

00:05:24   a point that it was just not really productive and that, you know, to have this whole, it's

00:05:27   like you add one person, you get 40% more. Now I think if I kept going with that, and

00:05:33   it's the, this is I think where you sort of run into sort of the VC model where if you

00:05:39   keep adding people if you to start with

00:05:43   team of one you double it you get

00:05:45   it's a relatively small marginal increase

00:05:47   if you tell ever if you then add ten people

00:05:50   uh... you get you don't get ten times people but if say you get nine you serve

00:05:54   united nine extra people for example

00:05:57   that's actually a priest

00:05:58   dramatic increase and productivity machine get done what you can serve do

00:06:03   uh... but i small scale it just doesn't work i found that no matter what i tried

00:06:07   i mean i ended up

00:06:08   I have had, in some ways, there's a person I have who's still on staff part-time

00:06:14   who does my accounting and bookkeeping and help desk for my apps.

00:06:18   And so I had her, because she's doing the help desk and he was fixing the bugs,

00:06:22   that help desk was kind of illuminating.

00:06:24   Okay, I'll have her manage him.

00:06:26   And that sort of works, but then no one ends up happy because she's not really--

00:06:32   she wasn't hired to be a manager in that way.

00:06:34   She was hired for other skills and other things.

00:06:36   she did the job well but that wasn't what she was hired for

00:06:39   and

00:06:40   you know it's like the developer wants

00:06:42   you know it's the best developers are best managed by other developers i think

00:06:45   i don't think

00:06:47   that's you know i feel like that's just served way it is

00:06:49   so that that just didn't work you know that i don't know what i tried to never

00:06:52   get to work out well and i mean that ended up

00:06:55   and ending amicably and

00:06:56   uh... it's just be sort of now i'm back to just being myself uh... as a

00:06:59   developer

00:07:01   and i've found in general that it's it's just better

00:07:04   and i mean you just kind of have to

00:07:07   understand that

00:07:09   what is the goal of what you're trying to accomplish and is

00:07:13   does growing

00:07:15   uh...

00:07:16   serve your staff help you do that

00:07:19   uh... and

00:07:20   second thing that i say is is a downside to hiring somebody

00:07:24   i'm specifically in this case i hired up this developer full-time

00:07:27   uh... and put him on the permanent payroll he was a w two employee and

00:07:31   benefits i vacation the whole thing

00:07:34   because

00:07:36   that just felt like sort of the right thing to do in some ways.

00:07:41   It lets you hire a good kind of person.

00:07:45   The cost is in some ways higher, in some ways lower than a contractor.

00:07:49   If you consider, like, if you really need 40 hours a week of work,

00:07:53   it's probably cheaper to hire them internally, just because you're not

00:07:56   going to have to be paying all of their markup

00:07:59   for all of the time.

00:08:01   But, I mean, my overhead went up

00:08:02   so much.

00:08:04   and the difficult thing with overhead, or specifically just those extra costs, is

00:08:10   you know, I'm not a... software development isn't a capital-intensive business,

00:08:14   it kind of made it a capital-intensive business, and brought with it all the

00:08:18   downsides and challenges of that, that rather than...

00:08:21   you know, typically, if I have a bad month,

00:08:24   you know, say like, you know, wherever my apps sales fell off a little bit,

00:08:28   that's usually... that kind of hurts my... maybe it hurts my pocketbook a little bit,

00:08:32   but you know the cash flow of the business is typically fine. I have a couple of servers

00:08:36   and things that I manage and stuff

00:08:38   but the actual, you know, sort of the month-to-month, like what I need

00:08:42   each month to meet my expenses is actually pretty low

00:08:47   and when I had someone full-time, that number became

00:08:52   sort of doubled or three times or whatever and that meant that my

00:08:55   margin for error personally

00:08:58   became such a, you know, sort of became a burden and sort of an intellectual burden on me for what

00:09:03   now all of a sudden, you know, I'm

00:09:05   the work that the business is doing is paying someone's mortgage.

00:09:08   You know, it's like it's one thing if I have to miss a paycheck and

00:09:13   you know, it's like okay, I may make that due, but if someone's coming and working for you

00:09:16   they're kind of going to

00:09:17   expect to be paid and if they aren't, they're rightfully going to be upset.

00:09:21   And so,

00:09:22   you know, so those two things together, they're not getting the great sort of bang for the buck

00:09:26   and having this incredible sort of the overhead kind of stifling

00:09:31   a little bit of what I thought we could do. It had to be a little less risky, it had to be a

00:09:35   bit more risk averse.

00:09:37   And it also just kind of

00:09:38   just sort of had a drain on me.

00:09:40   It means that, you know, at this point I'm just kind of

00:09:42   not heading down that road and I don't expect to.

00:09:45   I'm just sort of hiring someone.

00:09:47   Now, sort of transitioning to the second part of this

00:09:49   is sort of where I do

00:09:51   sort of hire people and where I do

00:09:54   bring people in and kind of how I approach this now

00:09:56   uh... kind of like okay so what like

00:09:59   next but he still a problem problem from the beginning of the podcast is still

00:10:02   there like

00:10:03   you still have this problem if you're limited

00:10:05   so what i've kind of been taking the approach overtime is to kind of have a

00:10:08   rule to say

00:10:10   i'm gonna hire people missus you know both my purview my personal life as well

00:10:13   as my professional life

00:10:15   but the goal is to say

00:10:16   i will hire people

00:10:18   to do the things

00:10:20   i would otherwise have to do

00:10:23   in the areas where I do not provide unique value,

00:10:27   where I am sort of replaceable.

00:10:30   Now, that, and you can kind of keep it growing

00:10:33   and extending that however you want,

00:10:34   but for me, I found that to be a good kind of rule of thumb.

00:10:37   Even if it's not necessarily universally applied,

00:10:39   there are probably some things that I'd still do

00:10:41   that I don't provide unique value,

00:10:44   but that's sort of the first criteria.

00:10:45   Like, if I'm doing something, I'm like, wait,

00:10:48   am I uniquely gifted at this?

00:10:50   Is this something that only I could do

00:10:51   with the preparations and skills that I have, say something like Help Desk.

00:10:55   For a while I used to do Help Desk, but I really, I don't, you know,

00:10:59   that's not something, anybody with some familiarity with my apps can do Help Desk.

00:11:03   And so I found that to be a much more helpful thing to say, you know,

00:11:07   it's like mowing my lawn or anything, or something like that. I mean,

00:11:11   when I mow the lawn and when the guy who mows my lawn does it, it looks the same.

00:11:15   The grass is shorter. That's all I really care about. And so,

00:11:19   me that was something that I started doing and you kind of developed that and the nice

00:11:23   thing about it is it sort of builds on itself because the more you get comfortable with

00:11:27   delegating things with creating sort of creating infrastructure for outsourcing things. I don't

00:11:34   do my own books, I don't do my own payment processing, like all these things I'm just

00:11:38   kind of pushing out as much as I can. I just finished this massive update to audiobooks

00:11:44   and it's one of the things that I did which I would just in case you aren't familiar,

00:11:49   audio books is one of my apps where you can listen to audio books on your iPhone.

00:11:53   But I was doing this big update to it and it needs a new icon

00:11:57   because the icon it has right now is kind of terrible. It's like, you know, I could

00:12:01   try and do something there. I could try and learn some Photoshop. I could try

00:12:05   and do all kinds of things. But it's like, no, that doesn't make sense. I'm not

00:12:09   a designer. I'm not an artist. I'm going to hire the icon factory and pay

00:12:13   for them to use the things where they provide unique value that no one else could do.

00:12:17   and the end result is so much better.

00:12:19   And so that's kind of where I am now.

00:12:21   And for me, I would say that it's been working really well.

00:12:24   And I would caution anybody who thinks about hiring somebody against...

00:12:28   Definitely don't hire them as an employee, unless you absolutely are expecting to keep growing.

00:12:34   Like, if you see this as this massive thing of, like, okay, we're just going to, you know,

00:12:39   it's like, well, I'm one person now, but I want to be a company of 20 people.

00:12:42   You know, you kind of have these things that you often hear about,

00:12:44   the people seem like they're throwing out numbers in terms of doubling.

00:12:47   It's like, "Oh, well, we're going to double in the first year, and then we're going to

00:12:49   double in the second year."

00:12:50   It's like somehow that exponential growth is a good thing.

00:12:53   But you kind of take that, throw that out.

00:12:57   If you just want to stay small and independent but you have projects, just throw that out.

00:13:02   Then what I would say is having people hourly or having people on a project-by-project basis

00:13:08   is definitely the way to do it.

00:13:10   You reduce your overhead because you don't really add any overhead, and you get this

00:13:15   control over what you're doing.

00:13:16   You're like, "Okay, I need someone to do this.

00:13:18   Well, I'm going to hire someone to do that.

00:13:19   And I'm going to hire someone to do this, and you hire someone to do that."

00:13:22   If it goes great, well, you can hire them again.

00:13:24   If it goes terribly, you don't have to fire them.

00:13:27   You just say, when you have the next work, you don't call them up.

00:13:31   And I found that to be just really good in terms of productive monetarily.

00:13:37   For me and my time, it's good for my stress level for being able to say, "I run into something

00:13:42   that I don't want to do, like my taxes.

00:13:45   I really don't like doing my taxes, so I'm going to hire an accountant to do that."

00:13:49   And I've actually hired someone who does my books who dealt with most of the accounting

00:13:52   stuff.

00:13:53   So you can free your mind to focus on the things that you're uniquely good at, and you

00:13:58   can get rid of everything else.

00:14:00   And for me, I found that to be an incredibly effective way to be productive, to stay focused,

00:14:05   stay motivated, so I'm not being pulled on by these other things, but still kind of

00:14:09   avoid all the downsides of growing into a big business with lots of people.

00:14:12   Alright, so that's today's show. It was helpful. If you have any feedback,

00:14:17   questions, comments, concerns, hit me up on Twitter. I am @_davidsmith

00:14:22   so underscore D-A-V-I-D-S-M-I-T-H. As always, the best thing to do if you like

00:14:27   the show is tell a friend, tell two, tell three, and otherwise happy coding and I

00:14:32   I will talk to you soon. Bye.

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