Meeting Location Preferences

In planning to off board key tasks to an executive assistant, I pushed myself to articulate my preferences. Along with calendar preferences, these are my meeting location preferences around Atlanta.

Factors I consider when settling on an ideal meeting location:

  • Timing. The venue should fit the duration of the meeting. For example, coffee shops are great for 30 minute meetings. Restaurants are better for longer meetings. In both instances, the staff and environment is accustomed to cadence and there is rarely a conflict of ‘overstaying your welcome’.
  • Accessibility. It needs to be easy to get in and out of the building, while also giving me access to a variety of driving directions. For example, I prefer not to take meets in Buckhead but if need to, Atlanta Tech Village is right off 400. There is also a parking deck with two entrances and I can choose to cut through to the northwest side of the city.
  • Local. Given the choice, I default to supporting local businesses. Running a brick and mortar location is tough, a feat I don’t envy, especially for small businesses. If I’m meeting someone, in many cases they’ve never been to a spot on my list. They’ll likely appreciate the accessibility but the local business has now also been exposed to a new customer. Making a deliberate effort compounds over time.
  • Amenities. A good meeting space in the city should have wifi, public restrooms, accessible electrical outlets, minimal glare for windows, and enough seating that ‘hanging around’ doesn’t detract from future customers.
  • Volume. It should be easy to have a conversation and hear each other talk. In spaces that are too open or that fail to account for acoustics, it can be challenging to have a conversation.

The following are a list of coffee shops and restaurants I prefer when visiting certain areas of town.

Favorite coffee shops for meetings

Buckhead: Atlanta Tech Village.

Midtown: East Pole Coffee

Westside: Octane (Revelator) Westside or Mashburn Coffee Shop

East Side: Brother Moto or Revelator East Side

Smyrna: Rev Coffee

Near 85/285: Chocolaté Coffee

Favorite lunch spots for meetings:

Buckhead: Bell Street Burritos

Midtown: Ponce City Market

West Midtown: Pijui Belly

East Side: Krog Street

Calendar Preferences

The process of preparing for a virtual assistant has been almost as helpful as onboarding the actual person. I spent time documenting personal preferences around scheduling and calendar events.

  • combine car rides with phone calls
  • each day should has at least one 2 hour block to get work done. It should be represented on the calendar
  • group meetings based on geography. For example, if I’m on the east side of the city ideally other east-side meetings occur on that day, and around that time
  • group meetings based on time. For example, 3 consecutive 30 minute meetings are better than 3 meetings with 15/30 minute gap between
  • prioritize sales meetings. Example, a 30 minute coffee with a sales prospect should take priority over a meeting from a cold, inbound request
  • provide a heads up for geographic anomalies. For example, if I need to be in Johns Creek at 9am (which is rare) drawing my attention a day in advance would be great.
  • send custom ‘meeting reminder’ 12-24 hours in advance, with confirmation, agenda, and any relevant details
  • if meetings are bookended, ‘meeting reminder’ should include subtle mention of time constraint. For example, “Hey Craig, are we still on for tomorrow 11am at Octane on the East Side? I have a hard stop at 12:15 but looking forward to catching up.”
  • ensure meeting agenda, even if just 2-3 bullet points. If I requested the meeting, task me. If they requested meeting (other than sales prospect), ask them for it. For example, “Hey Craig, I’m looking forward to our time together tomorrow. Do you mind providing a little more context about the meeting? What does success look like for our time together?”
  • Friday afternoons should be around the Polar Notion office, ideally no meetings.

Becoming Invaluable

Founding a business can become all consuming. Early on, entrepreneurship is marked by packed schedules, late nights, and long weeks. All the time spent isn’t created equal. We can get swept into putting out fires or responding to pressing needs, but it’s worth slowing down to figure out where time is best spent.

Understanding Value

Imagine I offered you a Macbook Pro, one of apples leading computers, for just $1,000. Assuming it’s not stolen, that is a great deal. A $2,000 dollar computer for half off. What a bargain.

Now, imagine I offered you that same computer for $10,000. Would you buy it?

Of course not, that’s absurd. I just mentioned that it is worth $2,000. To buy a $2,000 computer for $10,000 would be spending 5x more than it’s worth. Ultimately, this is a lesson of Cost vs. Value.

Simple Exercise

  1. For 2 minutes, write down the tasks you perform in an average day. You can write these on sticky notes, index cards, or just a sheet of paper.
  2. For 2 minutes, review your calendar. As you see meetings or large blocks of time, reflect on what you did during that time and add tasks you may have missed.
  3. Now, on a whiteboard or new piece of paper, draw 4 columns.
  4. At the top of each column, place headings ($10/hr, $100/hr, $1,000/hr, $10,000/hr).
  5. For each sticky note, place them in a column that reflects how much it would cost someone else to perform that task. For example, scheduling meetings is a task often performed by virtual assistants for less than $10/hr.

What you’ll likely find is that most tasks fit within the $10/hr column. Most entreprenuers and founders find that 75% of their time is spent on tasks they could pay someone else to do for $10/hr.

Consolidate $10 Tasks

While reviewing Column 1, your $10 tasks, there are three immediate actions that will increase your value.

  • Stop. What would happened if you didn’t do this anymore?
  • Delegate. Who else could own this responsibility?
  • Automate. Could you find technology that handles these tasks?

Optimize $100 Tasks

Column 2, the $100 tasks, are typically the services you sell. They can usually be simplified or enshrined in process to ease their execution.

• Simplify. Can you achieve the same value with less effort?

• Delegate. Can a less skilled team member perform the task with similar results?

• Productize. Could you build technology that makes these more consistent.

Plan $1,000 Tasks

$1,000 Tasks are usually a result of time spent building a process or improving performance. Other tasks that qualify include problem identification, team training, investments in company culture, or goal setting. Even just a few hours spent onboarding, training, and reducing team member churn can return thousands of dollars.

  • Schedule. Set aside consistent time to improve processes.
  • Plan. Develop a ritual around how this time is spent and what success looks like.

Pursue $10,000 Tasks

Tasks that are valued over $10,000 are not usually screaming for attention. The behaviors and rituals are easily discarded in favor of more urgent alternatives. Unfortunately, few things are as important to the overall health and growth of the organization.

These tasks include new product/service creation, creative problem solving, strategic decision making, and leadership meetings where time is spent ‘on the business’ rather than ‘inside the business’.

This time should be pursued, institutionalized, and protected.

  • Pursue. Active search for time to make it happen.
  • Institutionalize. Assign key members and mandate regular participation.
  • Protect. Reduce distractions and conflicts.

Continual Improvement

The work of moving upstream is never done. Whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly it’s important to constantly reevaluate where your time is best spent. As you grow and improve, the value of your time should be increasing as well.

Where to Start with Business Processes

Identifying Opportunity to Improve

Avoiding the urge to merely work through a compiled list of processes, it’s worthwhile to seek out the most impactful opportunities. Within a business, the highest impact comes from complexity, frequency, delivering value, and costs.

Complex

In the late 1930s, airlines began including a preflight checklist for pilots and crew. With hundreds of potential pitfalls, the checklist simplifies the mental load before each flight. This allows flight crews to save time, turnaround flights faster, and ultimately provide a safer experience for passengers.

Every business has areas that would benefit from simplicity. In our engineering services, we have a series of tasks an engineer must complete before writing the first line of code. This pre-programming checklist is continually refined but it reduces errors, wasted effort, and confusion.

Frequent

When a fast food franchise is producing thousands of hamburgers a day, an extra few seconds on each burger compounds to a significant cost over time. Instituting a process around high frequency activities, those done most often, allows for greater predictability. With many jobs, building a process around high frequency tasks can also drive down the level of skill required to complete the work.

While most business will not become franchises, a repeatable pattern for frequent tasks makes room for growth and improves chances of success.

Valuable

Certain tasks are more valuable than others. In a software development agency, clients are ultimately paying for strategic planning and skilled execution. Establishing processes that guide the time spent can produce even greater value. Whether a service or product, it’s important to protect the value customers are expecting.

Delivering value with more precision and consistency can increase speed of delivery, improve quality, and improve profit margins.

Expensive

In restaurants, food and labor are the largest expenses. Unchecked, even the busiest restaurants struggle. Introducing a team to processes around costly areas of the business will protect the bottom line and pay dividends over time.

It’s also important to not get lost optimizing trivia expenses. Spending hours pouring over expense reports to save a few bucks creates tremendous opportunity cost.

Business Processes Checklist

The following list includes the foundational systems and processes consistent across almost any organization. When an organization feels haphazard or chaotic, it’s likely the team is feeling the weight of unclear expectations. Each process can be further extrapolated to one or more roles within the organization. Each roles should also include an understanding of who participates, who is accountable for completion, and who has final approval.

It’s unlikely that a team could sit down and map out all these processes at once. Their creation should be prioritized based on the highest need within the organization.

* Denotes processes that will likely vary for given teams or departments

Team Members

[ ] Team Member Schedules

[ ] Team Member Milestones

[ ] Team Member Culture Improvement

[ ] Team Member Professional Improvement

[ ] Team Member Feedback

[ ] Team Member Prospecting*

[ ] Team Member Hiring*

[ ] Team Member On Boarding*

[ ] Team Member Project Roles*

[ ] Team Member Skill improvement*

[ ] Team Member Performance Reviews*

[ ] Team Member Off Boarding*

[ ] Team Member Meetings Rhythms*

Clients / Customers

[ ] Prospect Nurturing

[ ] Prospect Ghosting

[ ] Prospect Milestones

[ ] Prospect Close/Win

[ ] Prospect Close/Lost

[ ] Client On boarding

[ ] Client Cultural Improvement

[ ] Client Retention

[ ] Client Education

[ ] Client Up-selling

[ ] Client Cross-selling

[ ] Client Referral Curation

[ ] Client Feedback

[ ] Client Off boarding

[ ] Client Meetings Rhythms

Projects

[ ] Project Prioritization

[ ] Project Staffing

[ ] Project Timelines

[ ] Project Kickoff

[ ] Project Progress Communication

[ ] Project Demo

[ ] Project Deployment / Launch / Execution

[ ] Project Meetings

[ ] Project Feedback

The Comprehensive Guide to App Feature Selection : Questions Only

A Simplified Look

This excerpt pulls the actual questions from The Comprehensive Guide to App Feature Selection. All context and supporting descriptions have been removed. If you are a first time founder, I suggest you view the full guide. If you’re looking to work through the questions without pages of educational resources, this should serve you well.

Framing Questions

What’s the current status of the app?

  • Just Dreaming.
  • Actively Planning.
  • Live and Iterating.

What stage software are you building?

  • Prototype.
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
  • Full Product.
  • Enterprise.

Who is your target user?

  • Consumers
  • Businesses

Is it downloadable from an App Store?

If yes to App Store, what platforms does it support?

  • Android
  • Apple iOS

Which mobile devices are supported?

  • Wearable
  • Phone
  • Tablet

Are there offline capabilities?

Are there push notifications?

Is there a web interface?

Which devices are most common among users?

  • Phone
  • Tablet
  • Desktop

Are there desktop notifications?

Do users sign in?

How do they sign in?

  • Username
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Linkedin
  • Google
  • Slack

Are there tiers of users?

Do users have profile pages?

Do users collaborate with one another?

Does the app handle money?

Do you charge users?

How do you charge users?

  • Upfront.
  • Subscription.
  • In-app Purchases.
  • Advertising.

How is money transacted?

  • Card
  • Bank Transfer
  • Digital Wallet

Who is your Payment Processor?

Do users transact with you directly?

Do users transact with each other?

Are refunds handed in the system?

If your handling refunds, are you expecting partial refunds or just full refunds?

Which currency is permitted?

  • USD
  • International
  • Crypto

Does it contain social interactions?

Which social interactions are included?

  • Follow / Unfollow
  • Friend / Unfriend
  • Comments
  • Reactions

Does the system use email?

How does the system use email?

  • It sends emails
  • It receives emails
  • It sends and receives emails

Who is your preferred email service provider?

Does the system use text messages?

How does the system use text messages?

  • It sends texts
  • It receives texts
  • It sends and receives texts

Who is your preferred text message provider?

Does the system use phone calls?

How does the system use phone calls?

  • It sends phone calls.
  • It receives phone calls.
  • It sends and receives phone calls.
  • It facilitates the connection between people or groups.

Who is your preferred text message provider?

Do users rate or review?

Does it use GPS or location services?

Is there messaging or chat?

Is there search functionality?

Is there sorting and filtering?

Are there reports on app data?

Does it uses images?

Is there image uploading?

Is there image capturing?

Is there image editing?

Does it use video?

Is there video uploading?

Is there video editing?

Is there audio recording?

Is there video streaming?

Does it use audio?

Is there audio uploading?

Is there audio editing?

Is there audio recording?

Is there audio streaming?

Is there file sharing?

Is there data importing?

Is there data exporting?

Are changes and edits tracked?

Does it communicate to other hardware, other than the device?

Does it integrate with other services?

How many other services does it integrate with?

  • 1–2
  • 3–5
  • 5+

Is there an activity feed?

Is there a content management system?

Does it use machine learning or data science?

Does it use any virtual or augmented reality?

What level of security is needed?

  • Best Practices are sufficient.
  • Air Tight
  • Fort Knox

Are you handling sensitive personal information?

  • Medical Information
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Bank Account Details
  • Legal Documents

What are your expectations on app performance?

  • Quick enough to be enjoyable
  • Very Fast
  • Blazing Fast

Does your team handle hosting?

Does your team handle maintenance?

Do you have terms and conditions?

Which categories best describe your product?

  • Fundraising Platform
  • Social Media
  • Ecommerce
  • Analytic Tools
  • Calculator
  • Marketplace
  • Smart Home
  • Project Management
  • Automation

Which programming languages are used?

  • No preference / Not sure
  • Ruby on Rails
  • React
  • Angular
  • Python
  • Java
  • Php
  • Javascript
  • Swift
  • Objective-C
  • Other

Which parts of the process do you need help with?

  • Strategy
  • User Experience
  • User Interface Design
  • Software Engineering and Development
  • Launch and Deployment

Moonshots

At New Story, we make time every few months for an exercise we call ‘Moonshots’. The term comes from the Apollo 11 spaceflight, which landed the first human on the moon in 1969*. At the time, the idea was truly audacious.

As a team, we get together and dream big. Usually after dinner and over drinks, we throw out big, wild ideas. They’re unlikely, crazy ideas. While the origin of our 3D Printer experiment came out of one of these sessions, the point is not to be practical. It’s about dreaming, not planning.

Controlled Chaos

Some suggestions get a laugh. Others make use uncomfortable. A few have a way of lingering, but most ideas die on the spot.  The point of moonshot is to spark inspiration. Once an idea is put out into the world, the next person can build on top of it. The ideas evolve.

We want to create a place for that to happen. It’s a safe place where ideas and nonsense can coexist. One idea sparks another. Some build upon their predecessor while others seem to nuke the flow. There are no bad ideas.

Eventually, it happens. This free exchange of thought begins to achieve the decided effect: inspiration. An idea is thrown onto the pile that causes a moment of pause from the group. While still a longshot, it somehow feels achievable though currently unexplored. These nuggets speed up the energy in the room and propel the conversation forward.

The excitement and suggestions finally wane. With our cognitive capacity exhausted, we push for a final round of ideas then break for the night. It can often feel like a chaotic whirlwind. Where observers might see a whimsical waste of time and effort, we see a mental victory. Breaking the shackles of rationality, we took the time to dance with our imagination.

The notion of dreaming bigger spills into our work constantly. Like a pair of dueling racers, team members push each other to challenge what’s possible. Over time, these bouts have a way of shaping a culture and staying with us. None one knows where the next great idea will come from. But it’s unlikely to be discovered by the people who aren’t willing to look for it.

 

*Alleged moon landing. Recounting the discussions I’ve had on this topic would require more time than any sane human is willing to commit.

New Year Ritual : Change Your Passwords (plus checklist)

In recent years, we’ve seen massive data breaches come across the headlines. Unfortunately, these reports represent a small percentage of the actual infractions. While our data is only as secure as the people entrusted with storing it, passwords are the first line of defense. Taking an hour or so once a year to update your most commonly used accounts (or as many as you can remember) could safeguard your information.

If you’ve been waiting for the right excuse to start using a password manager like 1Password or LastPass, a systematic password refresh would be great option. You could generate large, highly secure passwords and store them in a safe place.

Below is a quick checklist of common passwords you’ll likely want to reset. There are also great tools to help configure more secure passwords.

Personal Accounts

[ ] Banking Institutions

[ ] Credit Cards

[ ] Insurance Provider

[ ] Personal Email

[ ] Personal Website / Blog

[ ] Amazon

[ ] Facebook

[ ] Twitter

[ ] Instagram

[ ] LinkedIn

[ ] Youtube

[ ] Quora

Business Accounts

[ ] Business Email

[ ] Payroll Service

[ ] Invoicing Service (Xero, Quickbooks, Freshbooks, etc.)

[ ] Project Management Tool (Basecamp, Asana, Trello, etc.)

[ ] Communication Tools (Slack, GroupMe, Hipchat, etc.)

[ ] CRM (Salesforce, Hubspot, Campfire, etc)

[ ] Email Marketing (MailChimp, Constant Contact, Customer.io, etc)

[ ] Marketing Automation (PersistIQ, Mixmax, Salesloft, etc)

[ ] Form Submission (Jotform, Wufoo, FormStack, etc)


If you’re a security minded individual and interested in other tools to tighten up your digital diligence, here is a list of helpful privacy products.

Purpose Statement Framework

In the summer of 2018, I began feeling an increased tension around decision making. Growing up, we learn to decide between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. As adults, there is more gray area and less objectivity. The right answer is rarely obvious. Our choices are less polarized.

If we are fortunate, we have the opportunity to choose between multiple great options too. Without a clear winner, this can lead to indecision or a lack of directed effort.

My intention in pursuing a personal purpose statement was simple. Create a standard to measure future decisions. More than a job description, it’s a declaration of intent and focus. We each have unique skills, interests, and passions. A well crafted purpose statement provides a framework for aligning each decision.

The process for me took months of discussion, reflection, and experimentation. Looking back, I’ve refined the process into a Framework for others to use. This article is the culmination of that effort.

It’s uncommon for people to share their Purpose Statement, . I’ve chosen to share my purpose statement as an example. Hundreds of hours, dozens of conversations, and five revisions led to one statement. Pioneer a more beautiful future for others. It encompasses core values and personal convictions. You can dive deeper into my personal purpose statement.

Now, enjoy the Purpose Statement Framework and your journey of self discovery.

Preparation

Make space. It’s unlikely that this process will take just a few hours. For me, it was an evolution over many months. To maintain continual momentum, setup a private place to take notes and record your thoughts. I used a private document on my personal computer. I added to it, reorganized it, and ultimately pulled from those sections to make this guide.

Do not share this document. The knowledge of it being visible to others will impede the open and honest flow of thoughts and ideas. You’ll likely discuss the pursuit with others but the notes should remain your own. The journey is for you and your future.

Engage Self-awareness Exercises

Personality assessments provide a great kickoff point. They’re loaded with valuable information and start laying a foundation to being thinking about how your mind works.

There are many types of self assessments. None are perfect, but each reveals something new about yourself that you way not have known. It’s not magic, but it does prompt your mind to focus on patterns and trends. Here are a few I found helpful:

Other’s I have heard of but haven’t tried include:

  • Colby
  • Brinkman

After each, the following questions should provide helpful time of reflection:

  • What affirmed what you already knew?
  • What new insights did you gain?
  • Which past experiences validate your learning?
  • Which past experiences disprove what you might have found that. Why?

Read Resources about Purpose and Values

Humans have been searching for meaning and purpose forever. As far as we can tell, this is a theme unique to our species and a symptom of our mental capabilities. Here are a few modern books that touch on the topic in diverse ways:

  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • The Road Back to You by Ian Cron
  • Dare to Lead by Brené Brown (contains a Values Exercise)
  • The Art of Significance by Dan Clark
  • Extreme Ownership by Jacko Willink
  • The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
  • Principles by Ray Dalio
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck
  • Drive by Daniel Pink

Answer Historical Questions

Looking back throughout your personal history can often illuminate relevant trends and experiences. While we often forget day to day minutia, defining moments have a way of standing out. Some feel like scars but others inspire us. Why our mind anchored to those moments can reveal valuable truths.

  • When were 2-3 of your proudest moments?
  • When were 2-3 of your most shameful moments?
  • Who are 2-3 people you admire or respect? Why?
  • Who are 2-3 people you don’t admire or respect? Why?

Gain Perspective

Reach out to people whose opinion you value in different areas of life. The list should include successful professionals you admire, valued ‘family oriented’ people, and those whose personal discipline you respect. Leaning too heavily in one area of life could produce equally as unbalanced results in your own life.

I’ve found a simple, single question to be the most impactful and garner feedback from every people, “Do you have a person purpose statement?”

Once you’ve gotten their feedback, ask yourself, “Why did I choose these people over anyone else?”

Consolidate your Finding

Assuming you’ve been documenting your thoughts and findings along the way, begin to look for patterns. Which ideas are unique? Which ideas reemerge? Are there certain concepts that seem compelling?

Use the Goldilocks Method.

The goal of the Goldilocks Method is to sort things by too hot or too cold in order to land on something that’s just right. My original draft of a purpose statement was ‘leverage unlikely inputs to produce extraordinary outputs.’ It was revised for a variety of reasons, but the primary red-flag was that it was too sterile. The ‘inputs’ that were most important to me were actually people and the ‘outputs’ were lives changed. Talking about people with words like ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ lacked the emphasis on humanity I was striving for.

As you review the patterns you find, ask yourself:

  • Which word or phrases are too intense? Are some not intense enough?
  • Which are too rigid? Which are too ‘fluffy’? Why?
  • Which are too passive? Which are too assertive? Why?
  • Could it be more like this? Less like that?

Draft a Purpose Statement

I overthought this at first. Your first draft will likely be wrong, but just write something. From there, circle back on the Goldilocks Method to refine it. With each attempt, ask yourself:

  • Is it clear enough?
  • Would this help me decide between two choices?
  • Does this point toward a deeper ‘why’?

Share with a Core Group

Whether mentors or close peers, share what you’ve come up with. Resist the urge to defend it too rigorously, but get their perspective. Make sure they understand what you’re trying to accomplish and ask for specific feedback.

  • Does this seem like a fair representation
  • Does it make sense?
  • How would you summarize it?

Own it!

Don’t let the need for perfection bottleneck progress. Done is better than perfect. The emphasis to make it timeless can often overweight the importance. I decided to just look 10 years out. “Does this phrase give me enough direction and clarity for the next decade?”

If so, it’s time to own it.

Do you use a notebook? Write your new formed Purpose Statement on the first page. Maintain a blog? Perhaps a post that shares it and highlights your key findings. Most importantly, leverage it make your next decision. Big or small, see how it holds up.

Bonus Points

Once you’ve clearly defined a purpose statement, seek out a Mantra or Rally Cry. This is a shorter, declarative phrase that points back to your Purpose Statement and can be used to rally your mental focus. While it’s unlikely you’ll be in battle, this call quick prompt can center your mind quickly on the bigger picture purpose.

2018 Annual Report

The act of reflection continues to be the most impactful habit I’ve developed over the years. I’m continually amazed by how much growth can be seen in some areas of life while others seem to shrivel. I’ve broken down my Annual Report into the areas that matter most.

Also, pardon my typos. I had a lot of ground to cover and my usually proofreading process was too much mental energy.

Family

Our family has seen a lot of changes in 2018. From our immediate family, to extended family, it’s been marked by births, moves, and big announcements.

Welcome Rowan!

Our little red-headed bundle of smiles was born on May 21, 2018. She LOVES her big sister. Major milestones at the moment include sitting up on her own, eating real food, and a veracious smile.

Smyrna

Despite some early resistance, we made the move to Smyrna. Walkable to specialty coffee, the grocery store, and local restaurants it’s been a welcome change. The ride to and from work has been somewhat grueling, but I’ve hit my annual target for audio books and arriving home is worth it.

School for Avery

Avery started at a school down the road from our house (about a 10 minute walk) two days a week. It’s allowed her to meet a new group of friends, level up her sharing skills, and increase her immunity to communicable diseases. It’s had the added benefit of allowing Megan to meet other local parents.

Marine Deployment

My brother has been serving in the United States Marine Corp for about the last decade. This year, he shipped out of his third overseas deployment. I continue to be proud and inspired by his committed service. So much of the liberties I enjoy as a husband, father, and entrepreneur are a direct result of people serving to preserve our freedom.


Polar Notion

Founded in 2012 with Josh Wood, Polar Notion welcomed new team members, structural changes, and new service offerings.

New Team Members

In late 2018, we welcomed Kevin and Miruna to the Polar Notion team. Kevin is apprenticing within our engineering team while Miruna is rounding out our design team as a design apprentice. Their fresh perspectives and positive attitudes have raised our average and leave us eager to see what 2019 holds.

Transparent Salaries

As our Leadership Team has dove deeper into operational excellence, we were led to reevaluate compensation and how we handle professional growth within the organization. Pushing the limits on human centered business, transparent compensation felt like a natural next step. The goal was that each person could defend their salary and understand exactly what’s expected to move up.

We’ve defined the levels of growth and mapped key behaviors to categories such as Values, Culture, Evangelism & Sales, Leadership, Client Facing Skills, Industry Involvement, and Knowledge. We learned a lot in the process, but have been pleased with the results.

Friends and Family

Our design team has launched a monthly design program called Friends & Family. It provides a low cost, low commitment, friendly way to create a better brand experience. This is a major milestone because it allows us to continue serving small businesses while our skills and rates increase.

Imminent Survival

Near the end of 2017, a client defaulted on an invoice costing us over $100,000. It created a grueling start to the year, but through creative problem solving and team buy-in, we’ve made it through the worst of it.


New Story

In the summer of 2018, I eclipsed my second year at New Story at CTO. The most notable changes surround our rapid growth. Ten team members have started at New Story within the last 12 months.

Team Members

I have the fortune of leading the Tech Team alongside Matthew Marshall, but we’ve seen growth in every department.

Tech
Shane Ardell
Tim Whitacre
Vi Pham
Ops
Sam Ballmer
Gary Carrier
Genna Heidkamp
Brand
Annie Brannon
Nathan Bach
Katie Tynes
Growth
Ellen Paik

3D Home Printer

This was a HUGE milestone as a company and for the home construction industry in general. You can read more about that moment here, or watch the video.

Atlanta Office

Originally meeting from the Polar Notion office, New Story is now in a space of their own. There is still room, but it’s filling up quickly.

Saas Product (Spoilers)

We haven’t shared a lot publicly, but we’re packaging up our learnings as a housing organization and rolling out a Saas (software as a service) product to allow other organization to experience the same efficiencies that have been driving our organization forward. We’ve set our sights on ending global homelessness and are equipping other organizations and governments to join us.


Personal

Apparently there are certain fish that never stop swimming. Asleep or awake, they never stop moving. I’m not sure if that’s true but love the notion. As humans, we have a remarkable ability to collaborate and adapt. This section highlights person changes or milestones this year.

New Roles

Board Chair for Entreprenuers Organization‘s Accelerator Program.

Mentor for Founder CEOs at Atlanta Tech Village

New Habits

Hydration

Since running cross country in high school, I’ve always defaulted to water over any other beverage. On top regular trips to the water fountain throughout the day, I’ve added more thorough hydration to my morning ritual.

100 Somethin’

To get my blood flowing in the morning (inspired by Own Your Day), I’ve started doing 100 of some type of movement each morning. Squats, trunk twists, overhead press (unweighed), etc.

The whole process takes just a few minutes but immediately gets oxygen pumping to my brain.

Generous Followups

Most business people have a solid followup cadence for meetings and appointments. I took it up a notch by sending a direct message to the person who introed me to the person I met with and intro-ing that person to 1-3 other people. Example: I had a 30 minute coffee with Adam. Later that week: Send followup to Adam. Send thank you to whoever introed me to Adam. Make 1-3 intros to other people in my network Adam should meet.

New Tools

RealtimeBoard (https://realtimeboard.com)

A virtual whiteboard. I have never fallen so fast for a product. It does exactly what you’d hope and the collaborative nature is excellent. Personally, Polar Notion, and New Story are all using it now.

Notion (https://www.notion.so)

Wow, this tool has taken over my life. Best in class organizational structure for documents. It’s everything I wished was possible with Google Docs but couldn’t wait any longer.

Otter (https://otter.ai)

A native app for recording thoughts and meetings. I use it while I’m driving to riff on ideas and convert into articles later.

Lyft (https://www.lyft.com/)

After a year full of Uber scandals, enough was enough. Yeah, it’s more expensive but our dollars are votes.

Travel

In no particular order.

  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Tahoe, CA
  • Austin, TX
  • Chicago, IL
  • San Francisco, CA (2x)
  • Seattle, WA
  • Chattanooga, TN

Books

Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen

A great read if you looking to clarity your business’ message and position to customers. Also, the author has a worthwhile podcast that combines anecdotes with actionable insights.

Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World

A must read for founders. Whether you’re on your first business or fifth, it’s dispels common myths and resets expectations around starting a business, especially a tech startup.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

It’s a reminder of timeless truths that continue to yield extraordinary results. There is a lot of complex advise and insights, but Covey boils it down to the fundamentals. Likely worth revisiting each year.

Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets

Great read for marketers and founders about the art and science of creating a ‘Category’. Rather than trying to compete with the noise of a crowded marketing, creating a new Category and becoming it’s king has a proven path to success… if you can do it right.

The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time

Creativity isn’t magic. We are all creative creatures and it comes back to a balance of consuming and trying stuff. Great for people who view them selves as ‘non creatives’ or other who think they have some magic ability. The brilliant minds we elevate as a culture we’re too different from us, which is worth remembering and this book breaks that truth down well.

Own the Day, Own Your Life: Optimized Practices for Waking, Working, Learning, Eating, Training, Playing, Sleeping, and Sex

Rather than complicating health, Aubrey Marcus breaks it down into focusing on just one day. Planning the perfect, thoughtful day. A lot of great health and fitness tips, combined with a casual yet scientific perspective. Our life is merely a serious of choices, he simplifies the importance of choosing well.

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results

In listening, it reminiscent of The Power of Habit (from my 2016 reading list) but the tips and principles are worth repeating. Listening to Atomic Habits around the same time as Own the Day really drilled home the point. They compliment each other well. Also, the author (James Clear) has an active twitter account full of great habit-forming wisdom.

Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World

Our team at New Story has long admired Charity Water. Ironically, Matthew and Brett both applied to joined their team. Fortunately for the earth’s homeless population, they didn’t get the opportunity. 😉 Scott Harrison’s journey and life transformation is inspiring. It provides useful wisdom for nonprofits of all ages. Not a nonprofit leader, if you have a pulse you’ll likely connect with Scott’s inner wrestlings and vulnerability.

This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See

Seth Godin continues to rank among my favorite authors and thinkers. He connects dots that others don’t see and continually challenges others to think differently. To think better. Make things better by making better things. I bought the preorder, the special edition, and some other thing associated with the launch.

Dear Seth, take my money.

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

A Polar Notion team member helped me climb aboard the Brene Brown bandwagon in 2017 and Dare to Lead prompted me to settle deeper in my seat. Her practical approach to human psychology provides a need voice and her unapologetic pursuit of breaking down the walls between people is motivating. If you lead people, this will challenge commonly held beliefs. If you don’t see yourself as a leader: read this book, change your mind, and get started.

Alie Heenan your confidence and courage led me to give Brene a chance. For that, I’m grateful.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

Jason Fried and DHH provide an extreme anchor to the hustle-grind-madness that has come to define startup and entrepreneurial ventures. It’s easy to reject their position at face value, but when you hear their passion for a better style of workplace it’s worth the dissonance. It’s unlikely any business can implement everything they mention, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Their investments in human-centered work are only the beginning of a massive shift we will experience in the next 10-20 years.

Matthew Marshall, thanks for the advance copy. I’m love building a world class company culture with you.

The Great Game of Business, Expanded and Updated: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company

Rather than keeping team members in the dark, The Great Game of Business showcases what’s possible when you trust people to show up with their whole selves. Exemplifying a transparent business, it’s refreshing to hear how successful their unique recipe of trust and openness has become.

Thanks Adam Walker and Shantel Khleif for the recommendation here.

The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership

If you can’t make time to read this annually, you should start by reading it daily. It’s a powerful story about leading from a place of submission and servanthood. Tim Dorr turned me back onto it and I continue to be challenged and inspired.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others

As humans, we’re always selling whether it’s in our job description or not. When my daughter brings me the remotes and says, “watch Muana”… she is selling. Rather than rejecting the notion, To Sell is Human adds new color and clarity to how we bring our ideas into the world.

Never Lose a Customer Again: Turn Any Sale into Lifelong Loyalty in 100 Days

Customer experience is more important than even. If you’re a business owner who thinks sales is the key to growing your business, pause for a moment. Customer retention is the backbone to business growth and this book provides tips, strategies, and a way of thinking about customer advocacy.

Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook

Tony Robbins simplifies basic financial strategy. He breaks down wealth creation, retirement planning, personal spending and more. If you’re ‘playing the stockmarket’, this conservative approach to playing the long game might be just what the doctor ordered.

The Thank You Economy

Gary Vaynerchuk has strong opinions shared intensely, but his predictions and understanding of how human connections have and will shape the economy is impressive. What’s most impressive is how well the content has help up so many years after publication. So much is still right on point.

The Art of Significance: Achieving the Level Beyond Success

I’ve been heavily focused since September on developing a personal purpose statement. This book gave some helpful tips and insights. Nothing comes to mind off the top of my head, but was worth nodding along to.

Great by Choice

Jim Collins scientific approach to business analysis is illuminating. A great read for founders and business leaders working to build a lasting business of significance. Spoiler: It rarely happens by accident.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

The New Story team read through this book together and we’ve engaged in dozens of meaningful conversations. It describes each personality type of the Enneagram. I’m an eight (challenger) with seven (enthusiast) tendencies. This book was the origin of a lot of reflection and self discovery. It also sparked great conversations between me and Meg.

Thanks Annie Brannon, fellow 8, for pushing this forward like only a Challenger would. 🙂

No More Cold Calling: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust

I’m not the ‘cold call’ kind of salesman. I’ve always found it to lack empathy and pretty inefficient. This book talks about the value of investing in current customers to drive referrals. It lands on the importance of relational business.

If we’re the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with: Kara Brown, you continue to raise my average. Thanks for the suggestion.

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

A helpful guide for getting and keeping people’s attention. It’s easy to assume people say ‘no’ because they don’t want something when more often than not it’s because we’ve poorly engaged them.

Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too

A firehose of social media insights and marketing expertise. It’s on the other end of the spectrum from It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work but gives some helpful advise for building a business. Especially in the early years, the lift is often quite heavy.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Perhaps my favorite book of 2018, Peak talks about the effort required to achieve mastery in almost anything. Unwilling to settle for the idea of ‘natural ability’, he presents compelling evidence that supports the thoughtful, consistent student. As someone who never really excelled at anything growing up, I’ve felt the compound effect of his insights throughout my adult life. The importance of consistent, deliberate practice rings load in this book and it’s value has been felt thoroughly in my own life.

Managing Oneself + The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

I lumped these together because they’re so similar. Akin to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Peter Druker has a succinct, straight forward way to hitting the essentially for personal growth. Special thanks to the Dave Gerhardt and David Cancel from Drift for recommending.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs

Intent on finding a better process for tracking goals, we read through Measure What Matters with New Story Leadership this year. Stilling looking for a tool that’s not Excel to track progress but the shared vocabulary and simple framework has proven helpful. We’ve bounced around a little with the best way of breaking annual, quarterly, and monthly OKRS into personal, department, and company items but it’s a work in progress that’s picking up steam.

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

I’ve always struggle with the idea of social norms or unwritten rules. Smartcuts spotlights entreprenuers and innovators who found broke these cultural constraints to achieve extraordinary results. For myself, I’ve begun referring to the idea as ‘coloring outside the lines’, and this book echos that ethos.

Sarah Lee, I own you one here. The mention of DHH put me over the edge.

Sell or Be Sold: How to Get Your Way in Business and in Life

We’re either selling something (a service, a widget, a preference, an idea) or being sold by someone else. It can create a paradigm shift for most people but seems ideal for founders or sales people.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

As I mentioned in my personal recap from 2018, we had some major challenges at Polar Notion. This book came at just the right time and served as a reminder that challenges are part of the journey. Rich with stoic principles, it’s a worthwhile read for anyone who has felt the urge to complain about almost anything.

Be Obsessed or Be Average

Grant Cardone is a madman, but a great reminder about the importance of finding something you enjoy and throwing your whole self into it. I have a tendency to obsess things, so left me feeling like I was in good company.

Principles: Life and Work

I enjoyed hearing Ray’s thoughtfilled approach to almost everything. Rather than viewing life as a random series of events, he provides a wealth of knowledge and insight about distilling thoughts into repeatable processes. Instead of relearning, his approach to principled living was impactful and has led me to think more about the ‘why’ behind decisions.

Top Posts

Annual Reflection Framework

Bringing Humanity Back to Email

Unbridled Diversity

Work Life Harmony

Purpose Eats Work for Breakfast


Special Mentions

I attended two funerals this year. Two men whose legacy has had a lasting impact on my life. I’d spent little time with them personally but their children and grandchildren have marked my life beyond compare.

Bob Ardell

I came to know Bob Ardell through his son, Jason Ardell. For years, Jason has been a close friend and early mentor as I began a career in technology. Through stories shared, it was evident that Bob was an avid reader for decades and continually invested in his family.

Read Obituary

Warren Wood

I met Warren for the first time in middle school. He was grandfather to Josh, one of my longest friends and business partner. Warren’s son, Mike, continues to display an advanced work ethic and stoic resolve that seem to have been a direct result of Warren’s leadership and modeling.

Read Obituary