Looking over my web site, Process PA, I find myself frequently over-analyzing. Is the hero text the best, does the message make sense, should I change the color of the call to action, should I reorder the content blocks, should I change the comment engine, should I change the whole platform. There are hundreds of questions I go over, but I’m finding they are not relevant. Yes, those things maybe wrong. It is likely it can be done better, to be much clearer and convert higher. But here’s the kicker, I’m not at that stage yet.
From an older Pollenizer template we were given to use when I started in the River City Labs/Muru-D Accelerator the first tab states your Big Hairy Audacious Goal. As I’m learning on the same page, just as important is what phase you are up to in pursuit of that goal. There are 3.
- Solve a demonstrable problem for a known customer
- Show a sustainable business model by matching product with a market
- Drive down costs, maximize profit and increase automation
What I have found from the many books, podcasts, articles, tips & tricks etc that I have read they mostly relate to businesses in phase 3. Building the company, double-down on what is working and increase efficiency, processes and customer reach. All good things. This is the phase I want to be in. The reality is I’m not. I’m in phase 2. I have paying customers and we are solving a problem. They are happy customers. However, as a business we have not solved our path to market, our repeatable sales process or any sales predictability. Until we have some resemblance of that, the self-questioning and constantly adjusting to, in theory, optimize what we currently have is not effective.
One of the biggest causes of startup failure is by building for scale too soon
Once web site traffic has increased and we get real data to make the decision, to A/B test with meaningful results will we really dive into something like Donald Miller’s StoryBrand. That is not to say ignore it, but once created leave it alone and create more. By me questioning and constantly going over what is done I’m not getting to other things that are still completely missing. I’m going to bring more value and get closer to the goal by adding more instead of changing what is already there.
There is a saying, “people over estimate what they can do it in the short term, but underestimate what they can do in the long term”. I was reminded of it this morning of this while listening to a podcast that was suggesting an issue with our typical corporate structure for marketing, sales & customer success. The solution proposed would not be a quick change that could be implemented in a month and see results. It would be a long game that you’re playing. The point made was anything that can happen quickly, probably isn’t going to be that impactful or worth it and instant gratification is never as impactful as something that takes a little more time or a little more work.
This rings true in so many things such as health & fitness, relationships, wealth, expertise or building a business. Over time with consistency the results are impactful. I found records of my good intentions over 10 years ago to lose weight. I even measured what I wanted to change and recorded what I was doing to have that sense of achievement. Running, biking, tracking times and distances and weekly weight change. But many of my attempts lacked that time and consistency. After a month or few I stopped. The results didn’t come. It was a long game and I dropped out early. Eventually, with the help of others on the same journey I got there. I went to the gym 5 days a week with colleagues consistently. I continued it for over 9 years. The results were impactful and life changing for me in health and fitness. In the last year, I have backslide in that area. While starting a new business I have had no consistency, no routine. I’m changing that now, with my health and within my business.
I think most people know what they need to do, they just need to commit to it. And then with time and consistency the results are impactful.
Last week I was fortunate to attend a breakfast with UN peacekeeper, Colonel Michael Bond CSC, Commander Australian Forces Operation ASLAN, in South Sudan. He has some amazing stories of how little differences can bring a community together in a tough environment.
With permission, I’m going to share his leadership principles. The first 3 are in order and the last 5 are no particular order.
1. Be perpetually optimistic
2. Being nice matters
3. Clear mission about where you’re going and continual conversations to bring people along
4. Laugh and enjoy
5. Value peoples contribution and explain what their contribution means
6. Persistent bias to change
7. Evolve to perfect
8. Actions speak so loudly, no one hears what you say
9. Have the courage to stand alone and make judgement calls
A good exercise to complete is to write a Command Philosophy which states what you stand for, what you don’t, what your expectations are and sets a commitment statement from you. A commanding officer will present this to those under their command so it is clear to all.
What would be on your Command Philosophy? Do you think having one for your team in the workplace would be beneficial?
Yesterday, one year ago, I registered Process PA Pty Ltd. It’s been an amazing journey. Are we where we thought we would be? No. Have we learnt much? Yes. Are we optimistic about the next year? Even more so. Since general availability in May the feedback has been great and our product is running well. Around 150 meetings have been completed containing 480 action items and 500 resolutions. We have sent over 3700 emails containing agendas, minutes or action items reminders to our customers.
Efficient or Effective?
Being in a role for many years I’ve found people happy with their efficient process. Interestingly, when I mention we have customers with a committee meeting running for over 2 hours and immediately afterwards the minutes are completed and distributed, I soon find we are talking about very different things in terms of efficiency. Although they were effective, they were still spending hours after meetings typing up the minutes. Effective does not necessarily equal efficient and we all need to challenge our processes to see if there is a better way.
We now have running our partnership program. This is providing organizations the ability to promote a useful tool that helps their member organizations while making some income at the same time. We currently have four partners signed up representing over 3000 organizations. There is another two coming on board soon. To find out more check out http://processpa.com/partners.
With this we are looking for a Partnership Manager. This could be someone with a Sales or Marketing background, that wants to work within a growing startup and understands good governance around management committees and boards.
No one should journey alone. I would not have come this far without the support of many people. I want to thank all the mentors, family and friends that have given advice, encouragement, financial support, and their time to help me and believe in the vision we have for the company. Especially my advisory board, my beautiful wife Allana, 4 children and extended family. Thank you.
A direction we are taking Process PA is white labelling for our partners. To do this we are still hosting on the same scalable platform on Microsoft Azure and essentially adding another level of multi-tenanting in our codebase. When a user navigates to https://app.processpa.com/ they will get our first party branded experience. However, when a user navigates to something like https://partner1.processpa.com, they will get a tailored experience complete with branding, different resources, templates and features specific for those customers supported by our partners.
Building out the experience using Dependency Injection with Branch By Abstraction based on the host is reasonably straight forward. I however wanted the local development environment to be run in the same way, rather than switching in code for whatever partner experience was being built out at the time. To do this I need to be able to configure local DNS records for localhost and IISExpress. The answer I found on StackOverflow but below are the simplest steps that worked for me.
- Open Notepad as an Administrator
- Open in Notepad
- Copy the comment lines for localhost host and add as your DNS records
- For Visual Studio 2015, open
- Find the site and add the bindings you need, making sure to change the ports.
<binding protocol="http" bindingInformation="*:1704:localhost" />
<binding protocol="https" bindingInformation="*:44300:localhost" />
<binding protocol="http" bindingInformation="*:1705:parnter1.localhost" />
<binding protocol="https" bindingInformation="*:44308:partner1.localhost" />
- To prevent the need to run Visual Studio as admin to start IISExpress on those ports, open an Administrator command prompt and run:
netsh http add urlacl url=http://partner1.localhost:1705/ user=machine\username
netsh http add urlacl url=https://partner1.localhost:44308/ user=machine\username
If you have certificate trust issues check out: https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/robert_mcmurray/2013/11/15/how-to-trust-the-iis-express-self-signed-certificate/.
And that’s it! When you go to https://localhost:44300 or https://partner1.localhost:44308 you get the same application with a different experience.
Dry July encourages people to give up alcohol for the month of July and raise funds for cancer patients and their families and carers. In software engineering, DRY is simply an acronym for Don’t Repeat Yourself and is a principle aimed at reducing repetition. Being Dry July it is a good time to look at applying this principle across all kinds repetition in your processes and organization.
The DRY process applies everywhere you look. Ever answered a customer question via email and had someone else ask a similar question sometime later? There is an opportunity to be DRY. Whenever you are giving information to someone, put the answer in a place it can be reached by others who may need to know, like a web site or knowledge base and reply including the link.
Do you find yourself doing the same process over and over? Be DRY, Don’t Repeat Yourself. Identifying where you are repeating yourself, and investing in a solution is worth investigating, the time and headspace saved pays back big returns. There are many options to make common tasks automated. Zapier and IFTTT are great solutions for automating workflows through integrating systems of all kinds.
I found my monthly process around organizing agendas, notifying members, distributing minutes and following up action items for two committees a great opportunity to be DRY. With Process PA we automate the processes around management committee meetings. Giving me time to add value to a committee beyond administration.
When should you automate a process? Tasks you repeat frequently are an obvious target with quick gains. Sometimes however it is the task that is only done every month as it takes a longer time to get you or new staff proficient at it. If you have a process that many people are doing, the returns for automating are even greater. Many small things can be easily automated, like creating invoices from PayPal sales, adding daily metrics into an Excel sheet from many sources, or scheduling follow ups to emails. All which prevent context switching and adds up to increase your productivity.
So this July, why not take Steve Baxter out for a drink with all the time and money you’ll be saving with DRY process and raise some money for cancer research at the same time.
What unlikely tasks have you been able to make DRY?
A few weeks ago I soft launched my product to allow for direct sign ups from the public web site, Process PA. We’ve been running for a few month with just our foundation customers making sure things are running well before letting anyone register without interaction. I updated the web site without announcing to just test the process a bit before (hopefully) driving more traffic to the site.
Interestingly, I started getting random sign ups registered in the database. Many had even verified their email address. I hadn’t been directing people to the site yet and where we are now we don’t get many unknown visitors. Sure enough, it appears they are bot accounts. Quite surprising that bots are onto new sites quickly and filling out registration forms. I’m not sure what they expect out of it.
This is kind of a pain. While building a startup I have many things to do. And stopping bots this early on I didn’t think would be required. Fortunately putting CAPTCHA in place is pretty quick. However, I started using a very popular NuGet package BotDetect CAPTCHA. Although implementing was easy it results in those horrible user experience that everyone hates. I did not want to add any friction to legitimate sign ups.
Although the BotDetect CAPTCHA claims “not one confirmed case of automated CAPTCHA breaking by spammers” I’m sceptical. I did a thesis on vision processing over 10 years ago and it’s gotten much better since then. Spammer may not be breaking them, but Google states, “it can decipher the hardest distorted text puzzles from reCAPTCHA with over 99% accuracy”.
Google No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA to the rescue
You’ve seen it across many websites now. Launched December 2014, this provides the simple ability for the user to check the box that says, “I’m not a robot”. And they are, most of the time, done. So much better for the user. So much harder for the bot.
Implementing is very easy from the instructions on the admin site which contains your keys. Get started at Google reCAPTCHA. Client side is a script include and a div. Server side is a web request. It is even simpler nicely wrapped up as an attribute from the NuGet package reCAPTCH.MVC with clear instructions on their project site.
With it all in place now, it looks like I’ll be needing human customers to keep up the sign up rate now that the bots aren’t allowed in. If you are tired of doing minutes and governance manually for your association, club or board come and try out Process PA.