Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Building a Bigger Indie

No Thirst Software LLC has hired its third full-time employee: As of November 22, 2010, Danny Greg joins Michael Fey on my development team. Danny is best know for his work at Realmac Software creating Little Snapper. Here at No Thirst, Danny will be joining us in developing MoneyWell 2.0, which will keep us all very busy for the next few months. After that, our team will shift to development of our MoneyWell iPad release. Now you know one reason I've added two developers this year.

It doesn't matter what kind of company you are running, it's always hard to manage growth. The decision to bring on staff is never trivial and should always be done carefully. My previous company, a in the late 90's, grew quickly to over ten employees and my company before that expanded to a staff of over 30 people. The latter is still around and doing well and the former popped along with the bubble in 2000. I learned a lot from both of these experiences.

The most important lesson was to take my time picking new additions to a team. The actual phrase I was taught was slow to hire, quick to fire. It means that you should really get to know who you are bringing into a company before you extend a job offer and you should let someone go the instant you know they are not working out. That may sound harsh, but if you made a mistake hiring someone, you're hurting your company by keeping that person around. You're also cheating your new hire from finding a job that fits him or her more perfectly. Don't compound one mistake with another. Being in charge means making the tough choices.

If you have a small company with limited resources, a single interview is not enough to make an important decision like this. In fact, I don't think any company—no matter how big its bank account—should treat hiring casually. Before finalizing your decision, you have to find out how this person ticks and what motivates performance. In my case, I need developers who have a passion for the products I am creating. I refuse to micromanage my teammates, so they need to know how to work autonomously. My job is to inspire, not to babysit. I also want people who won't back down from a fight if they think I'm doing it wrong. I learned a long time ago that I am no where near perfect and I make plenty of stupid mistakes. It's best if I surround myself with people who inspire me to continue to learn and grow.

Before hiring both Michael and Danny, I spent time getting to know each of them. Michael was an early MoneyWell customer that also turned out to be a developer. We talked a bit about development during a small sideline project he was coding and then I was able to spend time with him at a developer conference, WWDC '09, and really get to know him. I discovered what motivates him and why he loves creating software. I also watched him as he designed and released a fairly complex iPhone app for his previous employer. In late 2009, Michael was in the middle of a job change and I was able to bring him on board in January of this year.

Danny and I were introduced when he wrote a review of MoneyWell about three years ago. He and I later chatted during a podcast were were both on hosted by Steve "Scotty" Scott, now the producer of iDTV, which later lead to us starting our own podcast called cocoaFusion:. I paid attention to the projects he managed and the products he released and we talked about development outside of our podcast. Danny was never shy about telling me when he thought some code of mine could use improving or if a product was in serious need of better pixel dressing. I actually tried to coax him away from Realmac Software around the time I hired Michael, but the work environment there is fantastic and he could not be swayed. This time, I threw in a healthy dose of guilt with my offer to get him on board.

The bottom line: I knew who I was getting. There was no doubt about intelligence, work ethic, communication skills, or motivation with these two.

I applied this same process when I hired Tamara Crowe as our contract support person. She was a MoneyWell customer who did an amazing job of sharing and helping on our help center discussions. Tamara had better answers than me some of the time and came across as friendly and knowledgable in her posts. I chatted with her several times before offering her a position and knew by that time that I was not making a mistake.

It was a bit harder when I hired Kevin Kalle to do contract design work for us because I didn't have much time to get to know him. He was referred to me by designers I respected and we began by working together on a trial basis. I explained up front that I wanted him to be strong and opinionated and made sure that he was comfortable with some friction in our working relationship.

For me, the give and take is critical. The best solutions come out of a blending of ideas mixed via a friendly struggle. I hire people smarter than me with different skill sets to offset my weaknesses. I never assume that I have all the answers or can see from every perspective and I listen to everyone's opinions. Conversely, my team knows that I have a very definite vision for what this company is creating and I won't compromise that vision. They also understand that the final decisions need to be mine.

I'm incredibly excited about the team I've assembled and can't wait to show everyone what we are creating. As great as 2010 was for my little indie group, 2011 is going to be even better.


P.S.: Stay tuned for my follow-up posts where I'll discuss the financial and logistic concerns of adding employees.