9 Leadership Principles from an Australian Colonel

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?

One Year On

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.

Partnerships

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.

Thank You

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.

Configure DNS Aliases in IISExpress for localhost

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.

  1. Open Notepad as an Administrator
  2. Open in Notepad C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts
  3. Copy the comment lines for localhost host and add as your DNS records
    127.0.0.1    partner1.localhost
    ::1          partner1.localhost
  4. For Visual Studio 2015, open <Solution folder>\.vs\config\applicationhost.config
  5. Find the site and add the bindings you need, making sure to change the ports.
    <bindings>
    <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" />
    </bindings>
  6. 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 Process for Dry July

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?

Unexpected Bots and reCAPTCHA defense

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.

CAPTCHA Required

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.

Meet Process PA – Support that is always available. Simple, quick, compliant running of your P&C or P&F.

This post first appeared on Microsoft BizSpark Australia interviewed by Esther Mosad.

Guest post by Matthew Rowan, CEO and founder of Process PA

1. Why are you building this startup? What does it do?

I am building this startup because there needs to be an easier way for volunteer organisations to manage documents, governance and their volunteer workforces tasks. Currently there is no online platform dedicated to the specific needs of organisations like School P&C’s.

I’ve been a P&C (Parent & Citizens Association) secretary myself for the last 2 years. When I started in the role I had very little hand over and no  training. I was so frustrated with the situation and amount of paper work required as a volunteer I began asking around other P&Cs  to see if anyone had some shortcuts or systems to do things easier.

I documented those results on a blog, Executive Matters, that I created. As I talked to more P&C volunteers I found many were very efficient and effective in their duties, but using a process of their own. Handing that over, as the members inevitably change, the process would break down, and things which you are legally liable for weren’t being done. As the Treasurer of an association, you have some guidance with accounting software, like MYOB or Xero. But as the Secretary I could not find any systems to guide you through your duties and responsibilities so I decided I would build it. I give a quick overview of the features on the web site at processpa.com. I found the problem wasn’t unique to P&Cs but applies to not-for-profits, sporting and community clubs, body corporates and any incorporated association.

2. What does a product marketing team need to understand from engineering about how to sell the product?

Currently I have no product marketing team, I am a technical startup founder who is wearing many hats – including marketing and sales. I also work with an advisory board who are skilled in marketing and sales, so at the moment I am being guided by them. In the long term with my dream team (including marketing) they will need to know the full functionality of the system and what it is capable of for the customer. I plan to always run a very multi-talented team, so everyone will have a key understanding of the product and its capabilities for the user.

3. What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?

There are millions of volunteers every day spending time on paper work to be compliant and have their liability limited. Those are very important functions. Using this software will allow them to do it in a fraction of the time. Freeing those volunteer hours to be used elsewhere has the potential to make a huge impact on the lives of many.

4. What advice do you have for anyone wanting to start a business in your country?

Get involved in the communities that you have around you. There are many. For years I have been going to meetups held at places like the Microsoft Innovation Centre and River City Labs. Building those connections is invaluable and fun!

5. How do you work with investors, or do you currently use any outside money at all?

With the River City Labs Accelerator program there is a small investment. to get started.  I have self-funded the startup so far and hope to be able to fund future growth through customer acquisition until I need a bigger boost.  At that point I’d be keen to look at external investment depending on our needs. Reaching out to investors with an interest in our industry would be beneficial, but not essential.

6. Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?

I’ve been working professionally in Microsoft stack for more than 10 years. The tooling is the best around and with BizSpark it is all free for 3 years. My product and web site I have both running on Azure under the monthly credit given. Removing this cost is so helpful while working from a very small budget. The contact-ability and help of people at every level in Microsoft is amazing. From the local Australian group giving support and connections to the having Skype conversations with the technical guys in Seattle. Microsoft is such an open organization even to small business like mine!

2 Questions with Matthew Rowan of Process PA (River City Labs Accelerator Class #1)

Interviewed by Josh Anthony @joshantho originally posted on the River City Labs blog.

1. What is one thing you have learned from the River City Labs Accelerator that you could share with the rest of the#startupQLD ecosystem?

You can do more than you think, sooner than you think. This is something I already knew in theory. But within the accelerator having that practiced has been pretty crazy. The practice outweighs the theory, you can do more and sooner. Having someone, or many, keeping you accountability to specific targets, really helps you achieve them. The targets do need be achievable but a stretch.

2. What are some tips for making it work as a solo founder?

There are a few things which I keep in front of mind to help me overcome the solo founder setbacks. When applying these make sure you have a good support network. Family, friends, advisors and customers who will tell you the truth. Just because you are a solo founder does not mean you are alone or isolated.

Firstly, W.I.N. (What’s Important Now). There is no time to be wasted on things that don’t matter now. This does need to be balanced with immediate impact and longer vision. Even investments that will be a benefit in the future, at some point, become the most important thing to do now. You need a clear vision of where you are heading and where you are. There are rewards now and there are investments that are important now. Constantly ask yourself, is this the most important thing I could be doing now?

Secondly, F.O.C.U.S. (Follow One Course Until Success). You can be spread so thin that you work yourself over many area’s and you have 70% progress on 10 things. If you’re in that situation you actually have 0% progress on a W.I.N. Working these two principles together make sure you F.O.C.U.S on a W.I.N. so you complete tasks that make a difference.

Thirdly, Don’t Let Perfect Get In The Way Of Good. This one is hard to balance. What is good? That is something you need to work out on every task. Keeping an eye on the Pareto 80/20 rule helps greatly for this when diminishing returns kicks in. You need to be clear on the returns you’re expecting. If you are measuring the wrong thing you might be putting out bad things, rather than good. However remember, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you have launched too late”, Reid Hoffman, Founder LinkedIn.

There are benefits for being a solo founder though. Being just one, I have consistency, flexibility and can be decisive quickly. However if you want to make a big impact you can’t do it on your own. You need to be building systems that you will be able to delegate control to as you grow your team. This is required to scale otherwise your one-man-show won’t be showing for long.

Matthew Rowan is the founder of Process PA, a simple, quick, compliant way of running of your P&C, P&F or association. Matthew is a founder in Class #1 of the River City Labs Accelerator.