Opening a store in Colchester

by oneafrikan on June 24, 2013

This an email sent to the team t say thanks for all the hard work in opening our new store in Colchester:

Team,

Last week everyone put in a lot of effort to get the store live, and then on the weekend it was really awesome to see everyone (some spouses included!) pitch in and help out. So thank you for all the hard work, and for helping to get Colchester launched on time.

To Andy, Andy, Paul & Ray, you’ve put in a lot of work to make the store come to life in a way which reflects what we’re trying to do with our brand and from the customers I overheard, you’ve done a fantastic job (and we’ve only just begun!).

For me, this was a huge task which involved pretty much everyone in some capacity, so it’s given me an opportunity to watch everyone work together to get something (significant) done. I think we’d all agree that we’ve learn’t some important lessons about collaboration and teamwork, and we’ve also learn’t what you can accomplish with a small team of determined people who all work together.

So thank you ;-)

Onwards and upwards,
Gareth

And this is what they put together:

Our Wedo Home store in Colchester

The retail park

IMG_1224

Wedo Home frontage

Wedo Home store in Colchester

Inside

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

by oneafrikan on June 6, 2013

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.

This is the kind of cover letter which gets you an interview…

by oneafrikan on May 14, 2013

This is the kind of cover letter which gets you an interview
… a good interview gets you onto the shortlist…
.. and then a good cover email to say thank you get’s the job:

Hello again to you both,

Thank you for meeting with me today to discuss the Graphic Designer/Artworker position. I’m now even more enthusiastic about working with you both and everyone else at Wedo. I am also more convinced than ever that my skills in Photoshop and Product Retouching would be a strong match to be able to accomplish the challenges and issues that were discussed.
With your current backlog of product imagery that needs addressing i feel it would be the perfect opportunity to implement style guidelines, which will assist with quality assurance, keeping the imagery on brand and consistent. This is exactly the sort of challenge i am looking for and one i would conduct with great enthusiasm.

I also believe that my experience with Graphic Design, Illustration Animation, Still and Moving imagery would bring additional advantages if the business needs allowed for the position to develop further. It is exciting to see that the company has scope moving forward and for the visual elements to develop further, should the opportunity arise; my dedication, ideas and solutions would ensure that Wedo’s future visual identity is delivered to an exceptional level and exceeding expectations. I am really looking forward to discussing this with you again and look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Once again, many thanks.

Kind Regards

James Burton

It’s not hard ;-)
** Full disclosure: I sucked at this when I first started job hunting in London, so speak from both sides of the table!

What stage are you at?

by oneafrikan on April 18, 2013

Got this from the UserVoice blog, great representation of company growth cycles. Glad to see we’ve made it through some hurdles ;-)

Customer Service Scaling Timeline

Customer Service Scaling Timeline

This is what Google, Baidu, Yahoo and others will do to your server…

by oneafrikan on April 15, 2013

We got caned by the bots this weekend, and this is what it does to server CPU ;-( The top left graph is the most interesting, the top right graph puts into perspective.

Effect of bots on server CPU

Effect of bots on server CPU

Good thing we’ve got some power plumbing in the works ;-)

Our guiding principles at Wedo

by oneafrikan on April 10, 2013

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:

Gareth Wedo Monthly All Hands meet from oneafrikan

A time management & productivity email to my team

by oneafrikan on September 7, 2012

Sent today:

Team,
** Pls read in full and confirm you’ve understood everything by COP today. I’m going to keep as short & sweet as possible ;-) **
*** If you’re in the habit of reading the top 3 lines of an email, this is not the email to do it ***
The next 4 months are massively important, I can’t overstate that more.
As such, I’m going to ask that everyone starts shifting their mindset from 2nd to 3rd gear – the short term result of which will be a £6m p/a company that is profitable. From scratch.
This is going to mean that each and every one of us steps up to the plate and increases work output, productivity and communication.
We’ve reached the end of a hiring spree now, so this is best time to get this comm out (and include the new folks on the way).
Some points I want to make:
You’ve all been hired because you’re smart & motivated, and I’d have no problem introducing you to my parents ;-)
In some way, each of us is a positive asset to Wedo – don’t forget this, no matter how tough the days may get, because they will get tougher.
I’m going to be pushing hard for everyone to move from being reactive, to being proactive. The results will be astonishing.
From now on, I’m going to be clearing time for myself so that I can move back to being a producer, think about the future, sell our company vision to outsiders, and be creative again.

As such, I’m going to ask that you respect the following guidelines:
  1. Don’t come to my desk at any time and ask if I have a minute, because the answer will be no.
  2. Don’t send me Skype messages where you’re looking for an answer to something, because I’m trying to wean myself from Skype.
  3. Don’t send long emails; rather talk in person.
  4. Unless urgent, hold all thoughts, ideas, issues or (nonurgent) concerns until we get to meet & talk in person.
    I’ll start adding weekly times into the calendar where we’ll do this.
    My best advice here is to learn the difference between urgent & important; how to keep & maintain lists (if you don’t already), and fast.
    Good resources are below. I love this stuff, and am a student of it, so happy to discuss with anyone.
  5. If it is urgent, then pls schedule time with me to talk in person, don’t send emails about the issue unless it is background material.
    When you do schedule something, make sure there is an agenda, make sure you’re organised, and make sure you’re able to keep things to the point and fast. I’m going to push back strongly if not.
  6. If your needs can’t be met by the weekly meet above, I will make myself available for ad-hoc conversations daily, in the 30 mins before and after lunch.
    Put something in the calendar if you want to do this, so I know ahead of time. Pls be mindful of time, and keep it below 10 mins.
    Again, if the issues brought up can wait, I’m going to push back strongly.
  7. I have an Evernote for pretty much everyone in the team, and I’ll be using this to keep track of everything important to me, with respect to that person.  Suggest you do the same.
  8. My (virtual) door is always open; I’m happy to have breakfast, lunch & dinner with people so we can chat in depth ==> but I am trying to work smarter & with the same intensity, so I reserve the right to adapt & change the above ;-)
Most importantly, I would urge each person to take the guidelines above and think about how you can respect your colleagues & team time so that we can all get stuff done. We have a lot to do.
I’m going to start pushing & encouraging everyone to make decisions within the realm of common sense, without the need for affirmation – the RASCI doc will outline boundaries for this, so watch out for that soon.

In general, I’m also going to start implementing stuff to do the following:
  1. measure everyone’s performance
  2. make us more effective
  3. reduce disruptions
  4. improve communications
  5. respect each others time
  6. reduce reliance on Skype whilst increasing inter-team updates and comms
  7. better meeting prep & agenda
  8. weekly team meetings to discuss problems / ideas
  9. better internal feedback loops
  10. better external feedback loops
  11. more trust, more responsibility
In general, I expect that everyone starts doing the following if not already:
  1. create and manage lists to prioritise workload
  2. plan calendar each day to be proactive instead of reactive
  3. keeping track of things you want to discuss with your team leader, or myself
As such, I’m going to start spending time each day with different people in each team, to better understand problems and issues, so that I can help.
During that time, I’m also going to ask to see the above lists, your calendar, your prioritisation, your 6 things, etc, and the issues you want to discuss.
If you don’t have that the first time, I’ll ask you to do it.
If you haven’t done it by the 3rd time, I’ll start asking why we’re working together.

For the folks that think they are in largely reactive roles (ie, customer service team, finance team):
Every person should still be planning in some proactive tasks that can be done each day; these are things that move the company forward or improve the company or your work.
Plan time to improve skills, performance, workflow, and organisation for you and your team or the company.
It’s understood that people in reactive roles will have less time to be proactive, but I won’t accept there is no time.

Some general principles for better time management:
  1. touch it once:
    if you touch it, take action
    use descriptive subjects in emails
    when the subject of an email changes, the subject line also changes
    do not use email alerts
    do not use Dropbox alerts
    do not use skype alerts
    if you spend 15 mins per day revisiting emails, you will waste 97 hours per year where no action is taken == 6 weeks of wasted time
  2. make lists:
    a project is something with more than one action
    a project should be a list
    complete 6 things a day; your day should plan these 6 things
    only move onto the next 6 things, when the first 6 are done
  3. plan how much time you will allocate to a task:
    if your 6 things can’t fit into the day, then split it up into smaller chunks so you can better manage
    everything can be broken down into smaller chunks
    a project is not an action, it’s the sum of several steps
  4. plan your day, each day:
    plan your 6 things into your day; stick to the plan; use lists for overflow
    plan buffer time
  5. prioritise:
    put most important tasks first
    20% effort brings 80% results in almost all circumstances
    focus all your intensity, effort and concentration on the 20%
  6. ask yourself: “will it hurt me to throw this away? / will this hurt me, the team or the company if I don’t do this? / is this something that will move us all forward?”:
    you need less than you think you do, and even less is important = don’t hoard and clutter for the sake of it
    “delete” is as important as “archive”
    gmail search is better than labelling
    filesystem search is generally not as reliable as using folders ;-)
Assorted resources:
RASCI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsibility_assignment_matrix
covey quadrants / urgent vs important: http://www.eitanbirshan.com/blog/time-management-covey%E2%80%99s-4-quadrants/
pickle jar theory: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/pickle/
GTD: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done
Kaizen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen
Web based tools for keeping lists (search for their name):
Asana, Basecamp, Wunderlist, google docs, Things, Remember The Milk, or just search for “gtd task list”

Great note taking tool for windows / mac / web:
Evernote
Most importantly, let’s stay classy ;-)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgGCIZi1UjY