Have you ever been guilty of the following crimes: thinking that you could start a company if only you could find a developer? Hiring a developer—your aunt’s cousin’s son—because he’s cheap? Taking a ‘hands off’ approach to managing your developer team?
Then you need to listen to today’s guest, Nelly Yusupova, the CTO for Webgrrls and founder of TechSpeak for Entrepreneurs, a bootcamp for founders. After a decade of hearing complaints from founders about how they were being “ripped off” by developers, Nelly designed the boot camp with the interests of the non-technical founder in mind. In this episode, Nelly reveals the biggest roadblocks new founders face building their product. She shares a clear and detailed roadmap for how to build great product, talks about the four most common mistakes made by founders, why she’s an advocate for the agile approach to product development, and how embracing failure can lead to success. Finally…Nelly shares her secret sauce, a 7 step ‘how-to’ guide to building world class product. Learn how avoiding these costly mistakes can help save you precious capital and put you on the road to becoming a more confident and successful entrepreneur!
This Week in Startups iTunes
This Week In Tech iTunes
Ted Radio Hour iTunes
Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, iBooks
3 Key Lessons for Non-Technical Entrepreneurs by Nelly Yusupova, themuse
5 Tips for Hiring a Great Web Developer, by Nelly Yusupova, Entrepreneur
5 Ways to Communicate Better With Software Developers, by Nelly Yusupova, Entrepreneur
10 Must-Know Tech Terms, Translated, by Nelly Yusupova, Entrepreneur
Why You Should Never Ask to Pick Someone’s Brain, by Dave Crenshaw
Why The ‘Fail Fast’ Mantra Needs to Fail, Fast, by Mark Suster, Bothsid.es
3 Web Dev Careers Decoded: Front-End vs Back-End vs Full Stack, By Michael Wales, Udacity
Guest bios & transcripts are available on www.broadmic.com.
NELLY YUSUPOVA - DigitalWoman, Nelly Yusupova, is a web technology specialist, consultant and strategist, and motivating and inspiring speaker. She is the CTO of Webgrrls International and has been at the forefront of the women’s movement online since 1999. She is responsible for building and maintaining the technical infrastructure of the organization that support the 100 chapters across the country and around the world.
She also works with entrepreneurs and teaches them how to use and leverage technology in their business.
Nelly is a speaker and corporate trainer. She keynotes and participates as a speaker, moderator and panelist at many of the major industry events throughout the country and she conducts workshops and seminar teaching about technology, social media, blogging, and overall effective Internet strategies.
She has been featured as a tech expert in INC Magazine, NBC Today Show, Fast Company Magazine, NewsDay.com, O’Reilly, SmartMoney SmallBiz, TechRepublic’s Women’s Radio.
Nelly: Yes, sometimes there are bad developers, but maybe, just maybe, it may be the entrepreneur. Simply because they don't know the processes, they don't know the lingo, they don't understand the technology, and so they make mistakes that to us the technology people are obvious, but to them they're not.
Kelly: I'm Kelly Hoey, host of BroadMic. I speak with the most accomplished entrepreneurs, investors, and thought leaders about the issues that matter in building a business. You will get the inspiration as well as the picks and shovels you need to become a better entrepreneur. Be inspired, take action, think broad. Have you ever been guilty of committing the following mistakes?
Thinking that you could start a company if only you could find a developer? Hiring a developer, your aunt's cousin's nephew, because he's cheap? Taking a hands-off approach to managing your developer team? Then you need to listen to today's guest, Nelly Yusupova, the CTO for Web Girls and founder of TechSpeak for Entrepreneurs, a boot camp for founders.
After a decade of hearing complaints from founders about how they were being ripped off by developers, Nelly designed the boot camp with the interests of the non-technical founder in mind. Today, Nelly will talk about the biggest road blocks new founders face when building their product. She will share a clear and detailed road map for how to build great product, talk about the four most common mistakes made by founders, why she's an advocate for the agile approach to product development, and how embracing failure can lead to success. Finally, Nelly shares her secret sauce, a seven step how-to guide to building world-class product. Keep listening to learn how avoiding these costly mistakes can help you save precious capital and put you on the road to becoming a more confident and successful entrepreneur.
So how did you become the CTO of Web Girls?
Nelly: That's a really interesting story, actually. I found Web Girls by accident through my school. I was studying computer science and needed to get a professional job in my field. Web Girls was the first job that I found and was, to my shock, a very entrepreneurial space, which I've never been exposed to, always wanted to work in a big company. And I found Web Girls, I loved the energy of it and that entrepreneurial spirit just gripped me from the very beginning.
It was a small team, everything was exciting, lots of stuff happening. This was early '90s and the Internet was this big new thing. So I just loved working at it. I was one of the early employees. And because it was such a small team, I learned all the facets of technology, of everything you need to do in a start-up. And I was forced to learn so quickly, they have this analogy of sink or swim. They threw me in the ocean and I had to swim really, really hard and learn really quickly.
And what I found, because it was a small team and a couple of people left, I ended up running the tech department. This was before I even finished college, and everything was all new and exciting, but when I was given an opportunity to go work at a big company, a big financial firm, I had to take it because it was my dream at the time. I grew up thinking and dreaming that this is what I need to be doing. And so I went to work for the company and it was such a stark difference. Having been exposed to a start-up environment, where there's so much energy and everything is done quickly and efficiently, the bureaucracy was killing me, the politics was killing me, and just...it was just a complete shock to my system. I hated it.
So funny enough, while I was working there, I still kept in touch with Web Girls and working for them part-time and doing things for them. And after about 11 months, they asked me...they gave me the opportunity of a life-time. I called them, they asked me to come back, and be the CTO, and run the organization, and really build the technology. And that was something that I just couldn't pass up. At 21, I was given an opportunity of a life time. I snatched it and never looked back.
Kelly: That's amazing. So, for listeners who don't know what Web Girls is, can you just describe what Web Girls is?
Nelly: Yeah. Web Girls is a community of professional women who are in or are interested in technology, want to learn how to leverage technology to become more successful in their careers, in their businesses, in their personal or professional lives. It started in 1995, and it's still in existence, still the CTO, and the mission of Web Girls is to get women online. At the time, in '95, the Internet was just starting, it was an exciting time, and nobody really knew what skillsets you needed and how do you leverage this new tool and new system of doing things. So Web Girls was there, it was formed with six women and has grown to over 100 chapters across the country and around the world.
Kelly: Amazing. And where did you study computer science?
Nelly: I studied computer science in Queens College.
Kelly: Fantastic. And was there anything in terms of...inspired you to go into technology? In terms of your background?
Nelly: Well, actually, I grew up in the former Soviet Union in Tajikistan, and I had no access to technology, I never turned on a computer, until I went to college. And the reason why I wanted to go into tech, my biggest motivation in the early '90s, like I said, was the web. It was, to me, the great equalizer. It was going to open up so many doors, and I knew that if I went there, even if I knew nothing about it, I would have a lot of opportunity, I would be able to make money, which was a big thing as an immigrant, that you really want to make money when you finished college.
And that was the original motivation. I saw the opportunity and I knew the web would be really exciting and I wanted to be a part of it. And what I realized afterwards, after being in technology for so many years is as a technology person, you really get to shape the future, and you're not just sitting on the sidelines. Because the technology is always at the forefront, you get to be a part of that always, the new wave of things.
Kelly: That's so amazing. And that's exactly it, like why sit on the sidelines being the focus group or a beta tester, an early adopter, when you can be the person creating the technology? You're also the founder of TechSpeak, and when did you found that and what was the reason for doing that?
Nelly: So TechSpeak was an evolution. I was working at Web Girls, and I'm still the CTO as I mentioned, and I got Web Girls to a point where it functions on its own and it doesn't require a lot of my time. All the processes and all of the efficiencies that I teach at TechSpeak, actually, I've implemented at Web Girls. And my team is now doing a lot of the work and the support for it, which allowed me to focus in other places. One of the things that I really got interested in is teaching. So I would go out and speak at different conferences and events and I would put on my own events, and my goal would be to teach entrepreneurs how to use and leverage technology in their businesses.
And through that I heard so many horror stories of entrepreneurs' tech projects getting out of control and the problems that they were having with tech people. It was just unbelievable. Thousands of dollars wasted to technology mistakes. And what I did is I did some research. I was actually appalled at first at how developers could take advantage of the poor business people. Like how does this happen? And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, yes, sometimes there are bad developers, but maybe, just maybe, it may be the entrepreneur. Simply because they don't know the processes, they don't know the lingo, they don't understand the technology, and so they make mistakes that to us the technology people are obvious, but to them they're not. And so after looking around and seeing if there was anyone who was addressing this problem, I couldn't believe that no one was doing it.
So I was the perfect person, in my mind, to do it because I was a CTO, I could teach people exactly what I do with my own teams, and I love teaching. So I could combine those two passions together.
Kelly: Well, it's like, get smart as an entrepreneur and as a non-technical person. Get smart so you can ask the right questions.
Nelly: Absolutely. I think that's the most important thing. I always tell people there's this new meme on the Internet that you must learn how to code. You have to learn how to code to run a tech startup. And I totally disagree with that. It's not realistic for everyone in the world to code. I don't think it's a requirement. If you really want to learn how to code, it's great. Go and do it. But it takes a lot of time to become a good coder and a great coder, which is what was required to build a great product.
And for most entrepreneurs who are CEOs, they don't need to know how to code. They need to know how to run their business, but they need to know enough about the process. They need to know enough about the lingo, so that you can ask the right questions, so that you can be a part of the conversation and not just sitting on the sidelines while all the tech people are making all of your decisions. Technology has to be able to support your business and not the other way around.
Kelly: I love that statement, "Technology has to be able to support your business." I absolutely love that, and I think you would agree with this, that people need to be tech literate. They do not need to be experts, but they need to be literate and understand. And as someone investing in tech, I always say I need the CEO, if they're not technical, to understand what it is their company is building, because that is the product. It's not a widget, it's not a shoe, it's not the technology. If the technology is what investors are investing in, the CEO had better understand this. What has surprised you from teaching tech speak? What has come out of...I mean how many classes have you done now over the years?
Nelly: So, so far I've done nine boot camps. They're two day boot camps and they're really intense. We start at nine in the morning and go to six at night, and it's continuous learning, really like a true boot camp. It's a lot of fun.
Kelly: My guess is you really unlock a lot of, I'm going to say, the fears, misconceptions, and a non-technical person's...boost their confidence that they can now talk to a technologist.
Nelly: Yes, absolutely. One of my biggest drivers to continue to do TechSpeak...I mean to teach for two straight days is really tough. And then I'll describe the very first one that I did. It took me a lot longer to create the boot camps, the actual content, than I thought, and I literally on the day of the event, at 7 a.m., so the even would start at eight, at 7 a.m. I just got my booklets. The TechSpeak book that give out as a resource.
So I stayed up 2 days in a row, pulled all-nighters, didn't sleep for 2 days, came and I taught for 18 hours 2 days in a row. And I was not tired. I was really, really surprised by that because I knew that I was meant to do this. And what was driving me is seeing this emotion, the releases of fear that I saw just throughout the two days. The entrepreneur comes in one way and comes out completely transformed.
And I believe it's because of this fear that they have of the black box. The fear of the unknown. When you don't know something, you fear it because it's a mystery to you. Everything seems super complicated and impossible, but when I demystify the entire process for you from beginning to end, and that's my goal is to show you the entire picture, and all of a sudden you see in a crystal clear way how things work. You just feel so empowered and relieved, frankly, that you now know how to do this and it's not that hard.
Kelly: I could talk to someone on this subject. One of the concepts that comes up so often in the startup community is failing and failing fast, and what does that, in your thoughts as a CTO and as a founder, what are your thoughts on failing and failing fast?
Nelly: Well, the concept of fail early, fail often, and fail cheap is a part of the lean start-up movement and is at the core of my development process. I really believe in it. So here is what it means. What it means is that instead of spending a lot of time on building one big idea, you take that big idea and you break it into smaller experiments that you can test very quickly and learn whether something is going to work or not.
So if the experiment worked, it was a success, awesome. Keep doing it. Keep doubling down on that idea. But if the experiment failed, here's the amazing thing, you didn't spend a lot of time, and you didn't spend a lot of money doing this thing. You actually figured out that it's not going to work a lot sooner.
And the idea behind failing early and failing cheap is iterating through this experimentation and course correcting early and often. And iterating...the next question that people always ask me is, "What's the difference between iterating and failing fast and early and cheap?" And they really mean the same thing, but I insist on using the failing fast, failing early, and failing cheap because I want entrepreneurs to reframe their relationship with failure. I want them to think of failure as a learning opportunity and free themselves from the crippling emotional effects they usually have when it comes to fear. Because when there's fear of failure, when there's failure in your business and you're emotionally charged as a result, you can't make decisions. And that's the most critical time to make a good decision. And the deal is when there is a failure, there's usually an opportunity, and if you're emotionally charged, you can't see that opportunity.
So I always teach entrepreneurs to have a relationship with failure and understand that it can fuel you to success one experiment at a time.
Kelly: So calling a spade a spade. Why call it iteration when it's failure?
Nelly: Exactly, exactly.
Kelly: And I'm going to get you more unstuck if we call it what it is.
Nelly: Yeah, and you start to become okay with it because you know that it's a good thing. It's getting you to the path of success. The key is to not make the same mistake twice, right? So if you make a mistake and you learn from it, the first time it's okay because you've learned from it and it made you a better person, a better company, or got you to success a little bit closer. But if you make the same mistakes and fail the same way over and over again, then that's a problem.
Kelly: Yeah, that's an obsession. Because the other thing I was thinking about with the terminology that you're using and saying fail early, fail cheaply, all of this is if there's something that's really obsessing you, figure it out. And it may be that I'm obsessing on something that I should just get over.
Nelly: Absolutely. I think that the biggest opportunity that the lean start-up experimentation type of philosophy and mentality allows you to do is to have a scientific experiment. And every scientific experiment can be proven true or false. You have to have a metric, a success metric of how are you going to make sure that this idea, or how are you going to measure that this idea is going to be successful or not? And there's a time frame that you have to test, and usually it's not indefinitely like in most start-ups. "I'm going to work on this until I figure it out," versus, "I'm going to work on this for three weeks and I'm going to do everything...these are the things that I'm going to do, and this better have an impact. Otherwise, maybe this is not the right direction."
Kelly: Absolutely. Staying on this whole idea of failing, and obsessing on things, and not being able to get over failures, what would you say are the top handful, three, four, whatever handful of mistakes that entrepreneurs make?
Nelly: Well, I think the first one is falling in love with your idea. We all have our ideas and we love them because we came up with them, and the longer they percolate through our minds, the longer we think about them. The more we invest into building them, the better they become. They become our babies, right? And that's the wrong way to approach it. The big problem with that type of approach is that your potential customers might not agree with you. They may not have that problem, they may not even be willing to pay for your solution, and an even bigger problem is that you didn't even ask them. You didn't validate the idea.
And that's why I always say, and this is very hard for developers or technical people to do, they have this tendency to jump straight into code. Like, "We have this idea, let's code it! Let's spend a weekend and just do it!" And I always tell people before you write a line of code, you have to be able to really understand the problem. And the reason why you do that is it's not that your idea is completely bad, but how do you refine it so that it's exactly what the customer needs? And that's the whole point of validating and doing customer development. Getting out of the building, like Steve Blaine says.
Kelly: What other...that would be the one, if every entrepreneur would solve that problem of falling in love, what other mistakes do other entrepreneurs make?
Nelly: Well the second mistake that I hear over and over again is getting a developer to write code too quickly. So you have an idea and then I get a call and say, "Nelly, I need a developer so we can start writing code." And in the process that I teach, writing code is actually step number seven.
Kelly: Okay, what's the six steps before then? Other than get over it, your idea isn't the only great one in the world, stop being in love with it's kind of ugly. Other than that, what are the other lessons?
Nelly: So the first one is validate that we just discussed. The second one is prototype. So before you write code, you have to build a prototype. And the prototype is a visual blueprint of your app, and basically shows your potential customers how it works. And it's very realistic and no, you don't need to be a developer to create one. This is the most fun session of TechSpeak, where I teach entrepreneurs how to create a prototype and when they realize how easy it is, it's just amazing that transformation.
Like, "I can do this now." You don't need to know how to write code, but you can create realistic prototypes that you can then, in step number three, show your potential customers so that you can work out all the different kinks. Like with my last start-up that I consulted with, we had to go through three solutions before we got it right and that's the one that we built. But think about the amount of time and money and energy that it would take to recode an actual application, rather than redo a prototype. You just can't compare.
So that's the third step. The fourth step is where you can hire a developer if you don't want one, but not for coding. You need them to go into the fifth step, which is to pick the best technology. And the goal is you work with them, help them understand what you're trying to build, and have them help you pick what are the best tools. What do you need to custom code versus use some third party apps or APIs and whatever else is out there. What do you use so that you can launch as quickly as possible?
Kelly: So this is like getting a developer as sort of a consultant, who looks at your prototype and says, "Okay, based on this, you could go this route, this route, or this route. Here's the pros and cons of each."
Kelly: "Here's the pros and cons today when you launch, here's the pros and cons 6, 10 months from now if you want to do this."
Nelly: Absolutely. absolutely.
Kelly: Okay, got it.
Nelly: So you hire a developer to really advise you on how you should be thinking about the technology and what are all the different tools that you'll need, and then based on that, you can actually create a budget. So you'll know and understand how much things will cost. And the sixth step is where you determine what's your minimum viable product. So you created a prototype for your entire idea, but you're not going to build the entire thing. You're going to take the minimum amount of feature sets that can still provide value to your customers and that's what you're going to build.
So you work with your developer to figure out how can we break this down into a small project that we can launch really quickly? And then we go to step number seven, which is where you write the actual code. And if you do all the steps, literally they will save you thousands of dollars because you don't have to recode, you don't have to fix stuff, you really understand how to build things the correct way the first time.
Kelly: So that's why in terms of your top mistakes that entrepreneurs make, that number two is getting a developer in too quickly. Because if you haven't done all those other things before you pull in the developer, you're wasting time and money.
Kelly: And not having thought it through.
Nelly: Absolutely. And by the way, if you want to learn the rest of the steps, I actually have a free class that I created online that people can take.
Kelly: You know, we're going to put that information in the show notes for this because that's exactly the kind of thing that...thank you. All right, what else? What other mistakes do...get depressed, kids. We're going to pull out more mistakes.
Nelly: So the third mistake, the third big mistake is when the founder...so you're ready to do the development, you created all the specs, you hand them off to the developer, and then you check out. You trust them to do the rest. Make all the decisions and just build it for you. So you have this hands-off approach and it's a recipe for disaster. I can't, I just can't say that enough. You have to stay involved because sometimes the directions you give are unclear.
New questions come up all the time as you start to actually write the code and get into the weeds of things. Maybe your developer misunderstood something that you said, and if they take all of the misunderstandings and develop how they think it should be, when they're done, when you finally check back in, you will find that something, most of the things, are not like you envisioned.
Kelly: Pausing and thinking about this, part of this strikes me, as I say to people, I think at one point we had a relationship with what needed to be done with technology and our relationship with developers, I would say akin to a plumber. I need this sink fixed. I need a sink put in over here. And we think of it as this just like a task or, "Hey, just go off and do it," kind of thing as opposed to saying no, the relationship with technology and a relationship with a developer is a creative collaborative. It's not just here's the road map, put the sink in the corner to stay with the plumber analogy, but this is a creative collaboration and you need to think about how you're going to work with someone in that creative collaborative way. Otherwise, as you're saying, this, "Hey, yeah, just go off and do it," it's disrespectful and it's not going to produce what you want.
Nelly: Absolutely, and we earlier talked about failing early, and failing often, and failing cheap. What we want to be able to do as a start-up is we're constantly learning. And if it takes you three months to six months to build something and you're totally not involved with what the product is doing, maybe you already need to be course correcting and your developer's still building the thing that you told them to build. So what I teach at TechSpeak is agile development, and what this allows you to do is to take this big project and break it up into smaller projects or sprints, and they're at most two weeks. And in two weeks, you will be able to have working code that you can test.
And the magic thing is that if you discover that something is wrong, something wasn't done correctly, you didn't think about a problem correctly, you can fix it because you didn't spend a lot of time, and energy, and money working on this project. It's only been two weeks. And so the goal is to really understand and catch mistakes earlier, see the red flags faster so that you can minimize mistakes. Because there's no such things as, "We're not going to make mistakes." I make mistakes all the time. The key is to really see the red flags, to see and stop things from going wrong before they get out of control.
Kelly: Right, where they go really expensively and big problem sideways. What's your last on mistakes and no-nos that you warn entrepreneurs about?
Nelly: So the last thing I'll warn entrepreneurs about is hiring someone cheap. Hiring your aunt's cousin's son who is in college full time, but he can get you the app developed really cheap. It happens more often than you think.
Kelly: You're thinking to yourself, "Who does this?" It's like we have people do it all the time. Some of these start-ups do it when they're...you know my past life as a lawyer, some of them do it with lawyers. "Oh yeah, someone's brother is whatever," and you're like, they're not a start-up lawyer. They do real estate. They're a marriage and divorce lawyer. What are you doing hiring them to do your start-up seed round documentation?
Nelly: Well a start-up's money's always tight, so it's understandable that you want to save money, but I would encourage entrepreneurs to think about how much money are you actually saving when you're hiring someone and then you have to redo it all over the next time and it's not done correctly? And if you become successful, things just don't work. That's just not a right approach. You should hire professionals, you should hire people who know and have processes which...you could have the best developers but if you don't know how to manage them, you still will be unsuccessful. So you have to have process, you have professionalism, and you have to have people who have done something. Don't hire someone who's never done app development just because they're a developer. You have to have professionals who have had experience building something build that for you.
Kelly: What you're saying brings up something that is so important in anyone starting a business, and that's having mentors. But for you, what's your thought in terms of why mentors are so important?
Nelly: Well I think mentors are the most valuable resource that you can tap into, because every entrepreneur will have knowledge gaps, and it's a way for you to tap into the experience of someone's running a start-up or whatever issue that you're having. And a lot of entrepreneurs...not enough entrepreneurs take advantage of mentorship and find someone that they can learn from all the time. And the one caveat, I'll say, about mentorship is there's a difference between an advisor versus a mentor versus a consultant.
Kelly: Go through that, because I think that's a very important distinction in terms of who's a mentor, who's an advisor, who's a consultant, and how and when you need and should use each.
Nelly: So I think that the beauty of today's world is it's really easy to find people who can help you. So the first thing, in order to get a mentor, or advisor, or a consultant, is to understand really where you need the knowledge. Where is your knowledge gap? So first you need to, as a person, to understand that so you can find the right person. And then I think a mentor is someone that you turn to on one or two times a month on something that can be dealt with through a quick email. But you have to be sensitive to their time, they're usually running their own companies or are very busy people, so you don't want to take advantage of them. And if you want some advice, it has to be quick and infrequent.
If you do have to turn to a person frequently, and the answers or the help it will take hours to do, the first thing you can do is turn that mentor into a formal board of advisor and compensate them. Not necessarily with money, but maybe with some stock or stock options, whatever it is that you want, but compensate them. And if that person isn't willing or can't, then you can hire an advisor or a consultant who can actually formally help you and you can pay them, compensate them for their time.
Kelly: I think key in all of this, and as you said, it's knowing what you need. What is the information you need advice on? What is the answer that you need? And then respecting peoples' time and understanding at some point if this gets snowballs into something bigger, out of fairness, I need to compensate or formalize in some way. That's a really great waterfall way of thinking about it. What's next for TechSpeak?
Nelly: So the next step for TechSpeak is to take it online, make it accessible to people who just can't make it to our real world events. The boot camps are amazing, the energy in them is uncomparative to what I can do online, but there are people who just can't take the time off, or travel, or spend the entire weekend because they either have kids or other issues, and this has been the number one feedback that I've been getting from people. So I'm going to preach what I teach, and listen to the feedback, and create my first product, and hopefully in about a month it'll launch.
Kelly: That's fantastic. Well you also raise...in answering that, you also raise an interesting point, go back to our conversation on mentorship, that when we think of mentors in particular, we're always thinking about someone with more experience. And we're thinking someone maybe with gray hair or if they've already had three companies, but what you experience in TechSpeak is this peer mentorship and how that is so important for entrepreneurs to be learning and relying on their peers.
Nelly: Absolutely. I can't state that enough. You shouldn't ever be doing things on your own or in isolation, because when you're doing something in isolation, you can't bounce off ideas, you can't be as creative, you can't be as quick to get from point A to point B. And so surrounding yourself with peers who are going through the same thing, who can take you talking about depressing moments and really hard moments in a start-up's life, which happens to everybody, those are the types of people who can pull you out. You can share experiences, you can learn from what are the things that they're going through and how does that apply to me? How can I not make the mistakes that they're making?
And so I totally agree with you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from your kids and how they're so blasé and happy all the time. And a lot of people I know say that they learn a ton from their kids. And the kids, really, if you're learning from someone, maybe they are you mentor and maybe you should be learning a lot on how to approach life from their perspective and grab some of their creativity and how they just love and laugh all the time.
Kelly: Well I'm laughing when you're saying that answer because I'm thinking there's that leadership and team building exercise the marshmallow tower, where they give you 17 pieces of spaghetti and a yard of string and a marshmallow and you have to build the tallest tower you can in 18 minutes or something like this. And it's been done so many times they've studied it, and as a result of these studies, there's two groups who do this better than anybody else. Engineers, and you think, thank whoever, thank you, thank you that engineers know how to do this well because they're the ones building bridges and buildings, and I'm really glad that engineers can do this and build these high towers. The other group that does it extraordinarily well, almost as good as the engineers, children.
For the record, the worst at it are MBAs. Recent MBA grads are the worst at it, but we can save that for another podcast. I have some questions that have been from listeners of the podcast, and so I want to kind of make sure that it's not just what I'm interested in what Nelly is doing in TechSpeak and Web Girls, but real questions from listeners of the podcast. So one question from a start-up founder in an early stage, and they're currently outsourcing development, and their question is on structuring the contract. Should it be hourly or project basis? Thoughts on when working with outsourced development?
Nelly: So I outsource development as well. I have teams all across the world, and I think the number one thing to outsource successful is to have your process. Is to really understand how are you going to structure the communication. And the process that I teach at TechSpeak, it becomes super important because you need to be able to create. If you're going to be an agile start-up, a lean and agile start-up, this back and forth communication and constant adjustments. So whether or not you need to be charging per hour or per project all depends on how you structure your development or your project management process.
If you're using agile project management, which I would highly recommend that you do, then you can pay them per sprint. And you only pay and release payment on the deliverable and when you have tested the code. And so instead of doing the hourly, where it's very hard to keep track of hours, you could charge people per sprint. And there is a fixed fee, and you know what goes into it, and you all agree on what's going to be done in that sprint.
If you do decide to do per hour, you need to be able to have them use a time tracker so that they can punch in when they're working and punch out when they're not working. And then you just have to trust them. The trust factor has to be really high, and if you do have a lot of trust with your developers, it's not a problem. In fact I have a couple of developers that I work with where I do pay them per hour, and we have a very trusting relationship. I've been working with them for years, and I know that they're not conning me or trying to roll on more hours than necessary. So it really depends on the relationship with the developer and how you structure your project management process.
Kelly: And I would also think, part of what I'm reading into this question is part of this is knowing what is being produced and really understanding what it takes to get there so that you could say, if a developer said to you, "Oh, this should take two hours." You, with your experience, would know, yeah, that should take two hours. But that's so loose, right? And I think one of those things, also reading this, this might lead back to your mistakes entrepreneurs make is, "Oh I'm going to pay them hourly because it'll be cheaper."
Nelly: Well the key here is we talked about prototyping and wire framing earlier as part of the process. When you prototype and you wire frame, the key there is to actually agree how you're going to build something. Because when someone says it's going to take two hours, the answer could be yes or it could be absolutely no. It all depends on how you agree it's going to be implemented. So it's really important to have those conversations and use your prototypes and annotate them, and actually pull together requirements of how certain things should be built and what technology you're going to be using to build them.
Kelly: Any recommendations, this is a question from a non-technical founder, on favorite resources about addressing fears when managing technical teams?
Nelly: Take TechSpeak. No, I think honestly there is so much information out there. The number one thing that you have to say to yourself in order to get over the fear is that, "It's okay for me to know technology." The first thing that I hear from entrepreneurs if they're non-technical is, "Oh, I don't do tech stuff. I'm not a tech person." And if you have that kind of attitude, then you're never going to want to learn technology.
And it's important, like we talked about, to know the basics and to know the lingo. And there's lots of blogs, and podcasts, and classes like TechSpeak. There's just so much out there. You should pick the type of person you want to learn from and just go and learn it, because it's not rocket science. It's only fearful because there's a black box there that you just don't know about. And once you learn the basics, you'll see that it's not hard.
Kelly: And, yeah, sort of one of these things I'm thinking in my mind is understand what your fear is. Is your fear because you don't know technology? Well there's resources, from TechSpeak to Skillcrush to...
Woman: You and Me.
Kelly: Exactly. Go and pick up one of the kids apps that's teaching kids how to code. If you really want to get comfortable with it, bright colors on an iPad doing some visual coding. Whatever. Get comfortable with the technology and what you're dealing with. Then you can decide what's your fears. Your fear of managing people? Well there's shelves, and downloads, and blogs and all sorts of things on how you can manage people more effectively. Just in case someone doesn't know this, because we do have a question, what is front end and what is back end?
Kelly: I'm pausing and looking at you on this one, because this is where I think right now why technology should be so much more exciting in terms of a career and something to pursue. Because the front end has become so creative and rich, and I don't want to say interesting, I was in college in the '80s. Computer programming in the '80s was not pretty exciting looking stuff from a design aesthetic.
Nelly: Yes, yes, yes.
Kelly: But thinking about it now in terms of someone saying, "I don't want to know this." Why wouldn't you want to know how to do really creative front end development and be able to create that beautiful visual stuff yourself?
Kelly: How the world has changed. How the world has changed. Here's an interesting question, you've made a point about no drive-by networking. What are the best practices you've seen out there for entrepreneurs with respect to networking and particularly in terms of seeking mentorship or seeking to engage with developers?
Nelly: Well I think building relationships is the key here. A lot of people go to a networking event and they just hand out cards. And you take the card and you haven't really introduced yourself, and just already I have a bunch of your cards. I think that's a very wrong way to approach networking. You should never give a card to someone until you've had at least three minutes of conversations with them so that the person can actually remember you when they're looking at your card the next day.
And over time what you want to do is build relationships with that person. Send them resources, say hi, have coffee with them, whatever so that they actually know who you are. And when you're asking them for stuff they are much more willing to respond. And it's always a give, give, give and then get relationship.
Learn who the people are, get their names, and build a relationship with them. Because those people, even though they may not be looking for opportunities, they will be the best advisors for you. If you're looking for someone to vet your junior hires, for example, this is a place where you can tap into knowledge. But you can't do that until you actually build the relationship.
Kelly: I think particularly with developers who are in a time right now where they are so in demand, there is something so completely unseemly of people just, "Oh, you're a developer?" and thrusting the card in their face. This happens to these people all the time. Go and be considerate, get in their world, get in their mindset through understanding what technology and what it really takes to build this app of yours that you only think's going to take an hour. Understand what the issues are that concern them and understand who they are, because even though if they have the skillset that you need, you may not be the personality and the person that you want to work with. So sensible, sensible, sensible advice.
All right, we do a pay-it-forward Q&A session that I want to run through with you. Some quick answers, what comes top of mind, and so here we go. What are your go-to sources of information you use every day?
Nelly: So, Twitter. I'm on Twitter a lot. I have lists that I've set up for people that I want to follow and want to make sure I don't miss information from them. And the other tool that I use religiously is Feedly. It's an RSS reader. And instead of going to thousands of blogs of people that I want to follow, I subscribe to their RSS feeds in my RSS reader, and I get all of the stuff coming in to me so that I can keep in touch with all the people that I'm interested in keeping in touch with.
Kelly: I love Feedly. How do you discover new information?
Nelly: Okay, I'm a part of a lot of groups. I like to go to networking events. I love to listen to podcasts. My two favorites are This Week in Start-Ups and This Week in Tech.
Kelly: And BroadMic will be now your third favorite podcast?
Nelly: And BroadMic, of course. And another one that I love, it's just so different, is the TED Radio Hour. This is where they get a topical discussion from the riveting TED speakers, and there's a topic and usually about five of them talk on the specific topic and they're just amazing. Very entertaining and educational.
Kelly: It's like one of those great things. Why we ask that question, "Where do you for new sources of information?" because sometimes you've got to get out of your own head and get out of your own way. What book are you reading?
Nelly: Who reads anymore?
Kelly: Which blog?
Nelly: Well actually, I listen to books. So I'm always on the go, if I'm working out or doing something, and one of the reasons why I love running now is because I get to listen to stuff. The last book that I listened to was
"Made to Stick." It's an amazing book, highly recommend it, and it's all about why some ideas stick and others don't. Really fascinating.
Kelly: That sounds like a good one. So Sarah, our executive producer at Broad Mic, thinks we should be talking more about AI. What's the conversation you think we should be having?
Nelly: Virtual reality.
Kelly: All right, well let's get that on the list. Who are the people that most influenced you in your career?
Nelly: I think there's too many to list. What I do, usually, which is what I recommended in the podcast, is really understand the knowledge gaps that I have. And that is the driving factor of who I'm going to turn to to learn, whether it's someone in technical, or someone in business, or someone completely unrelated to technology. You need to be able to grow as a human being, and every single experience really helps you grow, and so that's how I approach things.
Kelly: Self-awareness is key. What is the best advice you ever received?
Nelly: Life is a journey and not a destination was from a friend of mine, and I think it's so valuable because we're always doing this thing and then next and we just don't slow down enough to smell the roses and enjoy our winnings and successes. And so...
Kelly: Life is a journey.
Nelly: ...I have that on my wall that I look at all the time.
Kelly: Remind ourselves of that. What makes your work fun and rewarding?
Nelly: It's simple, seeing people excited as a result of a conversation that we had or when they take my boot camp and they feel completely transformed, it just fuels me and just gives me the energy to keep moving.
Kelly: That's fantastic. What do you reach for in your closet when you want to feel bold and confident?
Nelly: Well, I never want my clothes to be the first thing that people notice. And it's all about the information that I give, it's about me and my personality, so I always try to look professional and good, I guess, but the focus is not that. The focus is really on me and what can I bring to the conversation.
Kelly: And how do you pay it forward for women?
Nelly: I think through Web Girls. We have another site called Femina, it's an interesting news resource where we highlight what amazing things women are doing around the world, and TechSpeak. It's all about empowerment and inspiration for me.
Kelly: What's the ratio in TechSpeak of men and women taking TechSpeak?
Nelly: Sixty women and 40 men.
Kelly: Keep up the good work.
Nelly: Thank you.
Kelly: Thank you for listening to BroadMic. We welcome your feedback. Find us on Facebook, where you will have show notes and additional references for a deeper dive into today's topic. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. Please review our podcast on iTunes, which will help other listeners discover BroadMic and grow the BroadMic community. BroadMic is produced by Christy Mirabal, with editing by John Marshall Media. Our executive producer is Sara Weinheimer. Think broad.