Barefoot CEO: You get 5 types of people

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I was listening to a talk recently where the speaker talked about the 5 types of people. I’ve understood this intuitively, but for the first time I’d heard it explained in a bite sized, easy to understand way.

Basically, the speakers assertion was that in any business you get 5 types of people, and when you ask them to do something one of the following things will happen:

  1. They don’t do it
  2. They ask “how do I do it?”
  3. They ask “can I do it like this?”
  4. They just do it
  5. They do it without being asked

By and large, I’ve found this to be true and think it’s a pretty good way of thinking about how people in my business are contributing.  As a leader, I see my role as continually living in group 5, if only to lead by example.

His further assertion was that the proportion of people who belong to group 4 is about 1 in 25 and group 5, 1 in 50.  Youngsters or entry level people should always be in group 3 and up, and you should always look to hire people from group 4 and 5.   And then lastly, groups 1 and 2 should either be let go or managed out.

Of course, this is all easier said than done, but again a pretty good way to frame a hiring process which unearths these people.

Lastly, he brought up an interesting way of looking at talent and performance, which is explained below.

Employee 9 boxes

Employee 9 boxes

Basically, anyone who is red should be let go / managed out, yellow people need to be improving, and green people are the ones you build a business on.

Which one are you? ;-)

Barefoot CEO: This is what a day from hell looks like, and this is what a good team does…

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Lookin’ for the day
Hard as it seems
This ain’t no damn dream
Gotta know what I mean
It’s team against team
Catch the light beam
So I pray
I pray everyday
- Public Enemy

So the week has been working out really well.  Margin numbers are good, revenue numbers are good, we’re cranking out tech stuff, improving everything across our entire stack, and I’m starting to feel we’re getting on top of our growth curve.  We’ve had one or two difficult discussions over the week so far, but that’s all in the course of business.

So I’m up at 6 to crank through email from 6:30 to 8:30, so that I can go do breakfast with Dees who is changing the mobile world one Firefox OS handset at a time, I get to enjoy a super awesome Chai at Dishoom, the tube back to work is fast, the sun is shining for the first time in 9 months, we’re hitting nice weekly KPI’s, and we’re on top of what we need to do as a team.

And then I walk through the office door and one of our carriers has dropped a bombshell (we can’t deliver to customers), our merchant provider has terminated our trading account (if you’re not in e-commerce that means we can’t process credit card transactions online), and a technology supplier just doesn’t get what they’re doing to us (I’ve promised not to reveal more, although I fear I soon will). In about 30 mins of each other. This is on top of a tough few months of pushing things uphill every day.

The rest of the day is firefighting.

So everyone starts firefighting their corners, after 45 mins of progress we do our morning huddle in the reception area to report back, we have a plan and options.

As the day progresses we understand problems, make calls, find alternatives, get to the bottom of issues, find solutions, deploy code, and generally sort shit out. By close of play we’ve gotten through one problem and are solving the other. The last one is not done yet, but latest email at 18:45 or so says it is. More importantly, we’ve got 3 backup solutions to the merchant problem and revenue is back on again. No one shouted. No one did anything stupid. We just worked through the problems.

25 odd phone calls (everyone).
2 Angry Gareth (*) appearances.
1 Code deployment.

I thought we were through the day, and I could go back to the tech team roadmap and revenue meeting. I get another email from the tech supplier, which almost sends me into the kind of catatonic rage I’ve resisted earlier in the day. I take the blue pill, and work through the email. They just don’t get it, but they’re on borrowed time anyways so I try my best to be civil and just join the dots for them.

I’ve assigned two tasks, done two other phone calls which are useful, cleared some email during the day, seen my cousin (cut lunch short ‘cos of the above), and done two useful meetings.  I feel like I’ve got a full day’s work ahead of me, and it’s 19:29.

Just another day in paradise ;-)

* Lately, the Angry Gareth in me comes out when I need to go to bat for my team. Sometimes someone just needs to get angry and shout at people / suppliers / whoever, to get them to actually do things they are paid to do. I don’t like it, but have found that a conscious instillation of the fear of the Almighty into someone does something polar to that person. They either hate you and get the job done, or they fear you and get the job done. But they get the job done. All other attempts at being nice have failed, so this remains the last port of call in situations. I never knew this person existed until a few months ago.

Our guiding principles at Wedo

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Just done the April all hands meet with the whole team, thought I’d post the essential bits and the deck here:

Who we are:

We do simple shopping
We do simple shopping
Simple, informative, easy, reliable eCommerce.

In everything we do, we follow these principles.

Be human, be interesting

We hire for talent and fit, and you need to have both to make Wedo your home. But you also need to be interesting. Everyone is unique, so after talent and fit, we celebrate diversity.  Show everyone honesty, integrity, humility and be trustworthy. We show our customers why they should think of us every time they go online.

Focus on simplicity

Take the complex and simplify so anyone can understand. Unearth the simple in everything you do. Focus on the fundamentals and eliminate distractions. The best products polarise.

Make yourself at home

Life is too short to do something you don’t enjoy. Treat your colleagues and our customers the same way you’d treat them when coming over for a cuppa tea. Bring a positive energy to everything you do. We work hard, and play hard. Make what you do fun, or find something new to do.

Measure & Adapt

Ask the tough questions to create focus, then use data to validate and measure. Reveal the complexity, then analyse to make sense of what you find. There are very few absolutes. Always look for the improvements you can make, and always ask whether something can be done better, quicker, simpler, easier. In data we trust. Most of all, change is good.

Make it happen

Ideas are cheap, execution wins over great ideas and technology. Execution is where great teams define industries.   While others are talking & blogging about their ideas, we’re working on them relentlessly.  There is always a solution. Be resourceful. Make every day count. Seize the opportunities presented to you every day. Don’t shrink from anything. Make mistakes fast, and then learn from them. Most of all, #JFDI.

The deck:

Walking in the shadow every day

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Long time since my last blog post. The last few weeks have been fucking hectic, so thought I’d write up something as it’s gnawing at me. I’m going to commit to more regular blogging once one or two more operational things are in place, so until then it’s as and when I can ;-) If anything, from now on, the stuff I write here will be for me and me alone. If anyone digs it, then awesome. If not, then I’ve got something to reflect back on.


So the last while has been an immense, epic, fucking monster entrepreneur roller-coaster. I’m cursing not because I’m an ineloquent person, but because I’m trying to get a point across in a blunt way.

On one day, we hit milestones and numbers that make my eyes water. I mean, I’m sweating blood for 3 years, delaying gratification for pretty much anything one can delay gratification for, and then in 4 months we start to grow in a way that I was dreaming about 3 years ago. We’re hitting metrics that show we’re growing, and fast.

Then on the flip side, we start hitting operational growth issues that are slowing us down, and creating a lot of pain. Everything is fast, everything is a firefight, everything is aimed at keeping the growth going so that we get to profitability faster. But it’s cool. Those are the good problems, those are the ones I’ll wake up at 4am to conquer any day of the week. Those are the problems I want.

It’s the fuckoff big other stuff that crops up at exactly the same time, which makes you wonder whether you can cope with it all. It’s the people you trust that let you down when it really matters, that makes you wonder whether you’re ever going to trust people from the get go again. It’s the mistakes you make when you’re so tired from firefighting all day long, that you really wouldn’t make usually (I left my wallet and phone on a train after no sleep; this is after identity theft and credit card fraud), which just complicate things further.

And so from one hour to the next on the same day, literally, you’re dealing with epic shit that doesn’t sit on normal people scales. Almost 99% of people I speak to just don’t get it. They can’t relate, so I don’t say anything anymore. I just say I’m in IT and Wedo ecommerce.

So what’s happened is that my tolerance / ability to deal with things has changed massively. This is a good thing, and this is part of why I’m writing this blog post. You learn shit about yourself when you think you really have nothing more to give. It’s also taught me that it’s something I have to become comfortable with to keep growing, and to become the person I know I am inside. I’m going to change and push the growth even more so I deal with stuff better.

But, it feels like almost every day my universe is at threat in a fundamental way, like I’m walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death every day, and it’s fucking hard.

And that’s all. My internalisation.
There’s no getting away from it ;-)

Overextending leads to self discovery

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Seth wrote a really good blog post about Underextending, which got me thinking.

Last year I took some very big financial, personal, emotional and reputational risks, in two countries. I completely overextended myself. It hurt like hell. There were times when I thought I’d never get through it all. There were many times when I thought I was going to lose everything. And I mean everything. I got to the end of last year, and I was broken from overextending myself. I won’t go into the tactical stuff and what I did to get through it just yet, mainly ‘cos it’s still too close.

What I think is important in the context of Seth’s blog post, is that the overextending from last year has led to so many great things that are happening now, and it’s just the beginning.

I didn’t see or predict it last year, I just knew they had to be done. If I had have known then what I’ve seen now, I would definitely have spent less time worrying.

Too often we back away from apparent pain, in fear of the risks involved, not looking at the benefits that may come afterwards. If anything, the last 18 months has taught me that well timed, well executed overextension is actually what creates the lifechanging progress we all crave.

Where are the meetups?

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Last evening we had an informal meetup for BigData people in London, where we got to listen to some interesting talks from people working in BigData, and meet some cool people. Held at WhiteBearYard, where PassionCapital is based.

That in itself is not the interesting for most people ;-)

But what is, is that a bunch of people got together to share what they’re doing, and talk about some interesting problems and solutions they’re dealing with. This is how you learn new stuff, meet new people like yourself, find new hires, and broaden your horizons. It’s essential.

Where are the meetups ?
Where are people gathering to learn, interact, and take over the world?
What elegant solutions are people working on to difficult problems?

An open letter to African technologists

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PASSION = BRAIN FUEL.
DUMB BRAIN FULL OF GAS ALWAYS BEAT SMART BRAIN WITH EMPTY TANK.
SMART BRAIN WITH FULL TANK BEAT EVERYONE.

Dear African technologist, hacker, developer, geek, product guy, dreamer, thinker, tinkerer, manager, CEO, multi-national-organisation-in-Africa,

We’re at the beginning of a shift in technology usage, where mobile adoption and usage is quickly going to become more prevalent and ubiquitous than the PC. Bandwidth is getting faster and cheaper for both PC and mobile, despite the monopolies that have held everyone back for years. Infrastructure is now massively cheap and easy to scale. There are toolkits, API’s, platforms, frameworks, services and stacks for almost every technology need you may have. It’s easier now to create something, and innovate, than it ever has been. Not moving forward means you’re being left behind.

The traditional approaches we’ve been using for years are dying. People are looking for authenticity, value, engagement, real’ness for want of a better word.

Dream. Find something that provides value. Help people to get some of that value. Make it great. Remove the crappy stuff.

Stop banging the same drums. Stop thinking you’ve got it all figured out. Approach problems differently. Give your people space to think and tinker. Innovate.

Get massively hyped about your product or service. Tell everyone you know. Let go of any conservativeness you may have, because if you can’t get excited about what you do, then no-one else will. If you’re working for a crap company, leave it. There are better things to do with your precious time.

We can learn a lot from places like Silicon Valley, New York, Berlin, Israel, London, Austin, Chile, Singapore, Ireland and India. We can learn even more from the people who live in those places, how they work, what they do with their time, and ultimately the success they create. We can also learn from the people we live among, by asking them about the problems they face.

There is no shortage of investors or money, only shortages of good people, scalable and executable opportunities. Be the person who can execute and scale, and do it with a product that people will use, and the money won’t be a problem. But don’t use a perceived lack of investors, internal or external, as an excuse.

There are no accidents, only trying, failure, and then ultimately succeeding. As a technologist, today, your greatest asset is the time and technical gifts you have. Use them wisely.

There are many problems people face in emerging markets, and they all need elegant solutions. Find the value. Supply the demand for that value, by doing something that makes you get up in the morning with a spring in your step and a whistle in your tune.

In short, there are no excuses or reasons not to do something awesome, other than the ones we limit ourselves with. Africa has the potential to be one of the largest mobile markets on the planet.

What are you doing about it?