Steve Klein

Thoughts on life, design, marketing, startups

Don't Consume When You Can Be Creating

I've recently been thinking about how easy it is to spend too much time on distractions on the internet. I get frustrated when I find myself in a situation where I'm trying to get work done and all of a sudden I've been reading Hacker News and Twitter for the past hour.

Lately I've been taking the stance of "quit being a noob and have some self-control". It doesn't always work too well. If I know I'm likely to pop open a new tab to check Facebook every 20 minutes, why not just remove the temptation altogether? Would we tell an alcoholic to responsibly drink the alcohol in his house? Or would we tell him to remove the alcohol from his house altogether? I know it's a stretch but helps illustrate a point. We're addicted to this small dopamine hit our brain gives us when we visit these sites.

I've noticed that I can consume pretty much anywhere: in the bathroom (don't lie you do it to), waiting in line, at the doctors office, while eating -- pretty much whenever I have a few minutes of down time. It's really convenient that I can absorb information in bursts of a few minutes without any spin up time needed.

Unfortunately, most of the activities I do that actually create value cannot be done just anywhere. To make any serious progress on work or writing or side projects, I need a low distraction environment for long periods of time. Distractions are the bane of productivity. It interrupts flow. The context switching, the actual time wasted, we all know the draw backs.

So if I can consume whenever but I can only create in under relatively specific circumstances, why am I spending that precious time on Facebook and Twitter?

Well I'm not going to anymore. I'm going to block them when it's working time. I'm changing my hosts file to redirect to nowhere when I try to go to Facebook, Twitter or Hacker News.

Life is too short to waste it mindlessly consuming the content on these networks. Sure, there's value to be found in them, but that value can be realized while I'm eating breakfast rather than interrupting my state of flow while working. If I want to accomplish things on the same level as the people I look up to, it's going to take more focus and work ethic than I'm currently putting in.

Bloggers: Please Start Accepting Micropayments

I enjoy good content. There's so much boilerplate bullshit content out there...it's frustrating. You know what I'm talking about -- the "5 Conversion Tips To Increase Revenue" link-bait articles that talk about the same thing every other "5 Conversion Tips" article talks about.

I want to reward people for creating good, original, value-adding content. Unfortunately, not many bloggers make it easy to make small donations. I don't know why either. Some reasons might be they don't know of an easy solution (Flattr, Gittip), they don't want to accept donations, they don't think anyone will think it's valuable enough. I'll address each.

Social Micro-Payment Platforms

The easiest solution I've seen to accepting donations are via social micro-payments. Flattr makes it extremely easy for content consumers to give a percentage of some monthly contribution to things they like. It's also (relatively) easy for content creators to accept these payments. Gittip makes it easy to anonymously give weekly contributions to author or open source developers. It's kind of like Flattr for people instead of content.

Don't Want To Accept Payments

Don't feel like you're "begging" for my money by adding Flattr to the bottom of your blog posts. I promise I won't click the button if I don't feel like I got any value out of it. I'm lucky enough to be able to afford to throw $10/month to help support things I like -- please accept my money (however small it is).

No One Thinks It's Valuable

You may be right here. But you never know until you try. Worst case scenario is no one clicks your little donate button.

In Closing

Bloggers: please consider adding a way to accept micropayments via Flattr or Gittip.

Consumers: please join me in donating $10/month donating to those that deserve it.

Follow the action on Hacker News.

Quit My Job For Consulting: Two Months Later

It's been a little over two months since I quit my full-time to start consulting. I wanted to take a few minutes to write down a few thoughts on my experience so far.

Unbillable Time

One of the things we quickly learned that caught us completely off-guard was how much of your time is not billable. We're decently strict about the time we actually bill for, the consequences of which have been a real eye opener. Stopping for breakfast, lunch, the gym and running a few errands during the day adds up faster than you think. Add in a few breaks to hang out with your significant other who gets home early and you'll be working all the way to 10:00PM just to get 8 billable hours in. One thing that I've found helps is making a concerted effort to work in blocks of time. For example, from 10AM-3PM and then again at night from 10PM-2AM. Getting out of the house and going to a coffee shop helps make sure you don't get distracted by things around the house.

Book Clients Playing With House Money

Another thing we learned has to do with types of clients. If possible, work with clients who are somewhat removed from the money they're paying you. If a client is paying you out-of-pocket, they are going to be a lot more sensitive to how you're spending your time and the progress you're making. This project is also probably something that has consumed their life for the previous year or so. Who wouldn't want to make sure they're getting every penny's value out of what they're paying you? We had a good relationship with our first (and only so far) client of this type but could foresee similar situations going not as well.

By contrast, working for clients who have raised money or are already healthily profitable is often less stressful for both parties.

Become a Full-Stack Employee

We often hear the term "full-stack developer" used to describe someone who can do everything from server set up to wrangling CSS. If you're striking out on your own, you need to become a Full-Stack Employee. At the very least, you'll need to partner with someone such that the two of you combined form a Full-Stack Employee. A Full-Stack Employee is a full-stack developer that can also do marketing, usability testing, adwords and facebook ads, SEO, make sense of analytics and just has a good general sense of what the product should and shouldn't do. Scott and I together make a Full-Stack Employee, you should find your complement.

Work-Life Balance

It's very easy to work all day when you're working out of your house. I'm still terrible at this and I'm starting to feel the effects of it. Without the clear separation, the whole day just seems to blend together into one long work day. You and your significant other will be dragged down by this over time. You will start to feel burned out and they will feel like you're rarely fully "present".

Pick'em Zone Update

We launched Pick'em Zone. about three and a half week ago and I wanted to share some of the numbers of how we're doing. If you don't already know, Pick'em Zone is a website Scott and I built that let's you play Pro Pick'em online with your friends, family, co-workers, etc.. It's free to create a league and play with friends so if you'd like to play, we'd love to hear any feedback you have. You can configure your league to start counting points starting at Week 3 as Week 2 is over.

Usage Details

  • Page Views - 23,715
  • Total Visits - 4,838
  • Accounts Created - 516
  • Leagues Created - 162
  • Average League Size - 3.4
  • Revenue - $19

Lessons Learned

Pricing is Hard

Our current business model is selling premium features for $19 a season. We're about to start Week 3 of the season and only one user has upgraded to Pick'em Pro. We're considering lowering the price. $19 is pretty high for a consumer game premium set of features. I think it's just above the psychological barrier people are willing to pay for a product like this.

Another interesting idea we're considering that I never thought I would ever consider is running ads. The nature of the product is such that most people become back at least once a week and view around 4-5 pages with each visit. In this short amount of time we've already gotten 23k pages view. Though that number is small right now, as the NFL Pick'em grows and we expand into NCAA football, NCAA basketball, the NBA, the MLB, etc., this product could throw off a few thousand dollars in profit per month.

Responsive is Hard

The sheer number of hours it takes to build a full-width webapp that works well on a 15'' laptop, down through tablets and all the way to smart phones is just plain hard. I think setting a max-width at around ~1200px rather than letting the app expand to full-width would have helped a lot. We've got the first go-around under our belt and I'm sure next time around will go faster.

Thoughts on Starting Consulting

Well, I'm making the leap. I officially put in my two week notice. Scott and I are setting out on our own and will be doing consulting. It's scary but exciting at the same time. I'd like to take some time to talk about what's scary and what I'm excited about, and to give advice to others looking leave their day job and start consulting.

Pros and Cons of Consulting

Added Pressure

It's scary because if we don't find enough work, we go broke. There's real pressure when you're 100% in control of your income. Bigger companies act as huge equalizers. Once you secure a job, you're pretty much guaranteed income as long as you don't suck too bad. When you're consulting, you have to be on your A game 100% of the time.

Higher Hourly Pay

When your billable rate is $100, it doesn't take much to make a decent amount of money. If you can land enough jobs, you can work a lot of hours and bring in some serious cash. Keep in mind that you're going to incur a decent amount of overhead hours you can't really bill for.

Choose What You Work On

If you work in a management-centric organization, chances are you're mostly working on something the product manager has on his list of things he wants to do. This can be very frustrating if you have different ideas about what things are important. It also decreases employee engagement; the times I've been most productive at work have been when I was working on things I thought are important and wanted to work on.

Ability to Work Wherever/Whenever

This one is an interesting concept most people don't really seem to consider when working in a normal job. Imagine not being tied to the city you work in. Sure, as it stands now you probably get a couple of weeks of paid vacation to go here and there; but what if you could go stay with a friend in New York for a week and work out of coffee shops? Or hang out with some friends in Boulder and work out of a spare desk in their office? You can also work whenever you want. I get significantly more work done for 11PM-2AM then I can from after lunch until 5:30. Why fight that mid-afternoon slump with coffee and procrastination when you can work at a time that better suits you?

Learn New Technologies

When you work for a single company, you're locked in to their tech stack. Your company's product is written in Rails and you want to learn Node? You're going to have to do it on your own time. Interested in building a product with Backbone? Same thing. One benefit of consulting is you do a larger number of smaller projects, which gives you the opportunity use new technologies on new projects.

Advice to Others on the Brink

For those of you out there considering making the leap, my advice is go for it. For the majority of us, the truth is we will only make incremental gains in happiness by staying at our current job. Yes you may get a raise every year, but is an extra five grand a year really going to change your life? Probably not. But it's not all about the money. Realize that you may not even make more money when working for yourself; but you'll have so much more freedom.

"Not Now" Might be the Right Answer

Today might not be the right day for you to go for it. You'll need a few things to be successful. For starters, I suggest you save up a nest egg. Give yourself a good amount of runway before you up and leave. You don't need a year's worth of expenses in the bank but you're probably going to need more than a few months. It's likely that work will be harder to come by when you're just getting started, so have some money to pad your bank account while you build up a clientele.

Build Up a Large Network

Go to lots of developer / startup meetups. The best way to find people who might be looking for dev or design work done is face-to-face in your own community. A lot of work we already have in the pipes is from people we know locally; when it comes to getting work, your local network is low-hanging fruit.

Become Internet Famous

This is one I don't really have too much actual experience with (read: I'm not internet famous myself) but is something I'm working towards daily. When @joestump launched Sprintly, he had a built in marketing channel, himself. With some 20,000 followers and connections to other internet pseudo-celebrities with huge followings, he has a direct line a huge amount of qualified leads. Similarly, you should build up your following such that when you start off on your journey, you have the ear of as many people as possible who might be your first clients.

Use Down-Time Wisely

Have some ideas for profitable side projects that you can work on. This is actually the main reasons I'm leaving ReverbNation. Scott and I are so excited to be able to work on some new projects of our own with the intention that they will generate passive income for us. In fact, I'd go as far to say that the reason we're consulting is to fund our "lab" so that we can build a portfolio of profitable products and have financial freedom.

Get excited and work your ass off. Would love to hear what you all think. You can follow me at @stevenklein.