From consulting to employee #1

Has it already been a month? 

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Right before Kicksend, I was engineer at Pivotal Labs, a software consultancy. I had an awesome time there and learned an incredible amount, but I missed startups. Life at a startup is very different than a consultancy. For one, you own the product and get to experience the ups and downs of the entire lifecycle, as opposed to focused 3 month chunks of work at a time.

But I believe that despite the differences, what makes a team effective remains the same. Prior to Kicksend, I had previously started, worked and consulted at startups. I had developed ideals that I learned I shared with the founders, and after a month it’d be great to look back and see that all in action.

So instead of a “highlights at the company” post, I’ll share my one-month-old thoughts about what’s working for us at Kicksend.

Ship often. Iterate fast.

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Day 1. “We need a new flow for the web app.” 

Great, I thought, that’d help me familiarize myself with the code base quickly and give me great chance to see how the team really goes about building stuff. 

Starting off with a high level wireframe, we built, we tweaked, we shipped, and we tweaked some more. We always discovered that extra cut for simplicity, a more succinctly written copy, an additional subtlety that adds to the experience. It was a textbook example of product iteration, that was out the door in two weeks.

There’s a fine balance between “perfecting” a release and shipping quickly, and the team always has to tread that carefully. That doesn’t mean substandard releases, though. Anyone who builds stuff will have that in built sense of pride in whatever they create. We focus on the minimum viable feature that’d achieve our goal. Once met, we ship and start iterating on real world feedback. Which leads me to..

Measure and experiment

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While learning the code base, I was struck was by the sheer number of metrics at play. At Kicksend, we measure and experiment with everything. I had to familiarize myself with the countless funnels, events and AB tests, and how we use them to evolve the product. Even on our iPhone app. It’s our way of understanding how users use Kicksend in the real world, and helps us continually create a great experience for them.

Always adapt

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We started the month using Github Issues as our primary project management tool. We were already on Github, so it was the straightforward choice. And it worked well. Issues is a slick, well designed product. 

We started to outgrow it (I increased the team size by 50%) . Having to use tags to manage priorities and state was just cumbersome, for example. Issues is an issue tracking system at heart, so it does have it’s limitations.

Having just joined from a pretty great consultancy, I proposed a switch to Pivotal Tracker. Inherent bias-ness aside, I knew how well Tracker could work in teams. After my 5 minute intro to effective Tracker usage, followed by hook ups to Github and Hipchat, Tracker just blended into our workflow.

Don’t prematurely optimize

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We use a very straight forward stack with the tools we needed for the job. I’m not a fan of pre-mature optimization, nor many moving parts. Especially in startups. So it warmed my heart to see that Kicksend was built on a simple stack, with clear avenues for scaling. We closely monitor site performance using tools like New Relic, to pinpoint exact areas for optimization. Just the other day, we didn’t like the rendering time of a couple of pages, so we decided to add an additional layer of caching.

Keep learning

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There’s so much to learn at a startup beyond the realm of clever engineering. I’ve been exposed an incredible amount about what’s truly involved to grow a product and company in just the past month. As someone who intends on starting a company down the road, it’s just been awesome. 

Team

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Hiring for the right fit is always important, but after that, the little things still count when building a team. An example: eating. There are many philosophies about team lunches. We eat together as often as we can. For one, it really has synced me up quickly and I feel like I’ve been here for way more than a month. (On a side note, we are making our way down Castro Street for our lunches, inspired by the Sunfire Lunch Tour. Makes picking a place easy.)

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So, who’s next?

Catch me on Twitter @derrickko.

4 Comments

  • Reply February 29, 2012

    Brian Fudge

  • Reply February 29, 2012

    Aurora Pascual

  • Reply February 29, 2012

    Sidu Ponnappa

  • Reply February 29, 2012

    Brendan Lim

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