Ep.103 Surviving The Start Up Graveyard By Building A Nimble Company

By Published On: February 9, 2021Categories: Blog, Podcasts, The CTO Studio

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About The Speaker:

Daniel Hindi is the CTO of Buildfire. He is also on the Forbes Tech Council. More recently, he started a YouTube channel called Cogent Step to help build the relationship between founders and their technology people.

Episode Resources:

Subscribe to Cogent Step: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7v7…
Check out Buildfire: https://buildfire.com/

Episode Transcription:

Nickolai: [00:00:05] Hello, hello, welcome back, one and all to the CTO studio, I am, of course, your host, Nickolai Walker. Today we continue our talk with Daniel Hindi who is the CTO at Build Fire. Build Fire helps to build the relationship between founders and their technology people. And I want to start off this segment by asking Daniel: How did you escape the startup graveyard? It appears to me that so many people have a desire to create a company, but it just doesn’t sustain itself.  How did you avoid that?

Daniel : [00:00:38] So it’s hard for me to speculate on luck, but timing is key.  You only know that hindsight, right? We are extremely nimble. Our competitors have millions of dollars of funding where we only had seed money and we were outmaneuvering them.

Daniel : [00:00:58] Why, when you are bred into, you know what hunger is, you know what? Having no budget and I literally have said this to my CEO, I’m all out of miracles. That’s it. I’ve done a lot of miracles. And lo and behold, when there’s a will, there’s a way and you figure it out and being able to be nimble, understanding that if you can breed your technical team and coach them in a way for them to understand business, there’s so many technical teams that will create the world’s best foundation for a building that will never see the first story because they blew the budget on the world’s best foundation.  That’s great, but that doesn’t mean building a building here. I need first, second story. And so we all know this. If you let if you let an engineer just run awry, they think sometimes too much in code and don’t understand what’s the dollar that came in today needs to bring in tomorrow’s dollar. And the dollar that’s in today is much more precious than tomorrow because today I only have one dollar and tomorrow I’ll have 2. And if they understand that, if you bring them into the fold and stop saying they are to be engineer, let them just code away.

Daniel : [00:02:11] Well, maybe they’re acting like robots because you treat them like robots.

Nickolai: [00:02:17] Boom.

Daniel : [00:02:18] And if you bring them into them in, they’re by nature problem solvers. They’re the first thing you should bring into the fold. Even if they’re the cynical problem solver or the naysayers poking holes, I think they should be the sounding board. Can you poke holes in this idea or not? Right?

Daniel : [00:02:34] So that even the cynical engineers that poke into every day everything not to say I’m not guilty of that. They have their use case, too. But again, if they’re just here’s the 50 page spec that some guy who’s not engaged in the product and not engaged in the engineering at all. But I’m the business analyst and I had I value my productivity based on how many pages I wrote of which the engineer maybe skims through.

Daniel : [00:03:01] You have a disconnected process. Let everybody have the ownership of a metric and not a task.

Daniel : [00:03:10] I preach that to my team constantly and to my managers to make sure that their teams understand you should own a metric, not a task. It’s a difference between strategy and tactic.

Daniel : [00:03:23] At the end of the day, if you’re not moving a metric, why did you do what you did? It was a waste of time. Now some are harder to measure than others. But if they understand I’m dealing with churn, I’m dealing with conversion rate, I’m dealing with a friction point. I’m dealing with a user experience and an NPR skill, whatever that may be. If they can own a metric and see the efforts of what they’re doing, make a material change on how successful your business is. They have more pride in their work. They understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Nickolai: [00:03:58] I hear your brother on how hard you have to work to get your startup going and not treat your engineers like robots. But can you give us some more specific example, please?

Daniel : [00:04:06] I give this example. I have it actually in one of my coaches videos for my team.

Daniel : [00:04:11] If you took the most menial job moving boxes.

Daniel : [00:04:15] And I know that my job is I have a warehouse full of boxes that are an ever growing stack of boxes, I just need to move them onto this truck. work hard if I don’t work hard, as long as I don’t get fired, I’m moving these boxes onto this truck. However, if I told this worker inside of these boxes.

Daniel : [00:04:34] Are hot meals to feed the hungry, and when you missed one box, that was a family who didn’t eat that night. The game is completely different, the game is completely different, I have meaning in what I’m doing.

Daniel : [00:04:47] I care if I do it or not. Even though I’m not the one to ate,  I still work hard. I’m not the one who ate. But the fact that I have meaning, I understand why I’m doing it. It’s not a black box cardboard that I’m moving. I’m feeding families. I’m part of the system that has an effect. Now, not everybody’s saying they’re feeding the hungry, but the point is still the same. If everybody in your team, everybody in the entire company, but specifically engineers understand where they are, what part of the machine they are and why they matter. And honestly, if they don’t, you need to question that position.

Daniel : [00:05:23] You know, every exercise that every struggling start up starts with is where’s the fat, where can we cut the fat?

Daniel : [00:05:30] And the truth the truth is, is everybody needs if you’re owning a metric, you are bone, you are not fat. Right, you are part of what makes this company successful and I need to keep you happy and you are happier for owning an initiative and understanding that my hard work made an effect.

Etienne: [00:05:49] So on the metrics, I think the fear that engineering teams have is that they will be responsible for a metric where they don’t have the full control of the outcome.

Daniel : [00:05:59] Well, this is where you need to build a tunnel, right? You need to be able and I have a two way coaching system that I do with my teams and I ask them, how do you feel acknowledged? You feel ownership, you feel coached. Do you feel you have the resources that you need to accomplish this? And every time we engage a new engineer, we write down the roles and responsibilities. And in this case, let’s say you’re owning a metric.

Daniel : [00:06:23] And the second step is what do you need from me? To make sure you’re successful. It’s not just here you go, make it happen, it is I told you my expectations of you and if you object, please let me know. And now it’s your turn to tell. Tell me what you need from me to make sure you hit that metric.

Nickolai: [00:06:56] That sounds to me like the best way to coach and glean the very best from your employees.

Daniel : [00:07:04] Right, And then we periodically get together and I ask you, like, here are the things that I ask from you, and this is part of your coaching. If you’re not coaching your teams, this is why you’ll see somebody, somebody that you thought was was a company man. He’s with you. He’s just part of all of your really critical team, ups and leaves. Well, that’s because you have been communicating with them. You’ve been looking at your needs, but not their needs. And so this communication that is extremely crucial for team development. When you talk to your engineers and your staff, whoever it is, I generally keep it to five pillars of success. And I tell them, like, this is not by far the entirety of your responsibilities, but if you had these five were in good shape. And periodically we get together and we score them together and we basically say, what what did we do well, what did we do not so well and could use improvement and try to look at a trend. It’s never about a data point. I have bad months. Everybody has bad months. It just happens. It’s about a trend. So if you had an A player and they’re trending down, that’s worse than a C player trending up.

Daniel : [00:08:19] So it’s all about a trend. I always tell them, don’t worry, this is this is not