Navigating the Challenges of Effective Outsourcing – Startup Uncensored #7

outsourcingThis month’s “Startups Uncensored” will be on “Navigating the Challenges of Effective Outsourcing”.  It will be an open and frank town-hall conversation discussing topics such as:

  • Outsourcing best practices
  • Do’s and don’ts of outsourcing
  • Top mistakes people do when outsourcing
  • What can and should you outsource? Architecture? Code? Support? Content creation? Testing? Other?
  • How to find outsourcing solutions?
  • How do you manage a remote team?

We are joined this month by James Siminoff, founder/CEO of PhoneTag and Aaron Hawkey co-founder and CEO/CTO of Cramster.  Both have extension experience in identifying and working with outsourced teams to build their technology companies.  Plus this month’s event will be moderated by Alon Shwartz.

These events are put on in conjunction with our friends at DealMaker Media. TO SIGN UP FOR THIS EVENT, CLICK HERE

The event is free and is followed by a reception and mixer at the Docstoc Offices in Santa Monica by the 3rd Street Promenade. The venue holds about 140 folks, ALL PREVIOUS EVENTS WERE FULL WITH STANDING ROOM ONLY. If you are not one of the first 140 to RSVP and confirm, we will have a waiting list.

Thursday, May 28th 6:30pm – 8:00pm (Townhall)…. 8:00pm on, Reception
Cost: FREE
This event is capped at 140 attendees.
Confirmation will be required or your spot will be given up for our waiting list.

Santa Monica Public Library (Auditorium) 601 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

TO SIGN UP FOR THIS EVENT, CLICK HERE

About Startups Uncensored

Startups Uncensored is a free monthly speaking series, townhall, and networking event for entrepreneurs and technology aficionados, hosted by Jason Nazar, CEO of Docstoc.com. These monthly meetups are centered around different topics meant to help startups build their businesses. The event, brought to you by DealMaker Media, contributes to the growing Los Angeles technology scene by bringing together various entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, social media experts, and professionals in the tech field. The format of the series typically includes a 45 minute presentation or panel followed by 45 minutes of questions and answers, and its co-hosted by notable CEOs and Investors.

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Running a Startup without Losing Your Family

Prefix

This post is for everyone, married, singles, with children and without. I tried to focus on a few, non-common, lessons I’ve learned along the way. If you don’t have children but plan on having some in the future, please continue reading at your own risk. If you do have children, please sit down…

A starting Point

You really though it will be easier than this, didn’t you? You though you can do it all with time to spare. I can almost hear it “I can do/manage multiple projects at once, how difficult can it be?” or “I’ll just have to be more efficient” or “I will change!” or “my wife will help…” or probably all of the above. Instead, it became your life’s biggest underestimated challenge and you find yourself in an uncharted territory. It is very challenging to have a demanding job while raising a (mentally) healthy family.  I’m not going to tell you that it’s going to be easy or share some “tricks” I’ve learned that will make it all better and easy. There are no easy answers or 10 golden rules that, if followed, life will be rosy and simple. Than again, if you read this post you’re not looking for a simple and rosy life.

However, I will tell you that it IS possible. I will tell you that you don’t have to choose between your carrier and your family! You just have to adjust some things in your life, people’s expectations (including yourself), think about it as much as you think about issues as work, and make even more sacrifices.

Ready?

Balance

Think of your life as a triangle with the following sides: your family life, your professional life, and your personal life.  This triangle needs to fit into a 24 hours timeframe. You can’t increase one side of the triangle without shortening another. The first instinct we have is to believe we can cut our personal life to zero, but it really doesn’t work. Everyone needs some time for themselves, to charge batteries, to enjoy life, to take a break. We don’t even notice it we just end up in front of the TV or with friends or at the gym or at another conference, which cuts the family side of the triangle.

Once you realize the triangle of life and understand that every part of the triangle needs to be represented, you start understanding the need to balance. Many years ago, when my first son was born, my wife kept telling me I have to stop working seven days a week. I didn’t understand what she’s talking about and kept saying I’m only working six days, at most. So she started taking notes every day, when I left and when I came back, when I started working at home and when I finished. After a few weeks she showed me the list. I was shocked. I was working seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day. I didn’t even notice. I realize there was only one side to my triangle and I need to make room for three. I needed to balance my life.

Share is Caring

Many people don’t tell their husband or wife almost anything about their professional life. Yeah, there’s the chit-chat about office stuff and the usual “How was your day honey?” but with no real substance. Starting a business, working on a tough project or any other challenging effort impacts our life and resonates on the other sides of the triangle. There are no firewalls in our head; there is no switch we can turn On or Off when we get home. You can take your clothes off your body but not your mind off things.

The answer is to make everyone at home part of your professional life, your wife/husband, your children, your parents, everyone! The more they understand what it is you do and how important it is to you, the more they’ll help, the more they’ll empathize, the more happy they’ll be when you are, and the more understanding they will be when you’re not.

Once you start sharing you’ll realize how much you gain by it and in ways you can’t imagine. When I explained to my older son what is Docstoc and what I do, he was so exited he started thinking with me about new features and how to make the site better. Many times, before he goes to sleep we think together about new features, the product roadmap, and the features he wants. He’s ten years old.

Be More Efficient At Work Not At Home!

It is important to be efficient, to be able to achieve more in a given unit of time. If you prioritize your tasks in order of importance, you can usually accomplish half your daily list, if you’re good. If you finished your list for the day, you did something wrong… at work, it’s all about efficiency.

At home it’s NOT! You cannot and should not be efficient with your kids or your wife. The concept of “quality time” is nonsense, as you cannot efficiently play with your kids. You cannot efficiently prepare them for life. You cannot have an efficient relationship with your wife. If you need to finish stuff at the office better stay late that day and come early the next day. It’s better than coming “somewhat late” both days and spent seven and a half minutes with them.

Sleep

Our society made us believe that sleeping is overrated. We find ourselves sleeping less and less stretching ourselves to the limit. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy stretching myself to the limit but I also understand what it means.

The problem with sleeping less is that we use most of our energy during the day, at work. That leaves very little energy when we get back home. We’re tired and cranky and don’t really enjoy what is an important part of our life.

Dude, get some sleep, you’re a mammal, a human, it’s natural, you need it.

Get Energized – With Them

A lot of people get energized when they’re by themselves, with friends, hiking, running, reading, watching a movie, etc.  Think about doing some of these activities by with your family. I’m not talking about a family trip to Vegas or Hawaii. I’m talking about doing whatever YOU need to get energized but taking someone with you.

I really don’t like floor games, it’s boring and hurts my back. I do like hiking and biking, the air and the wind are great for recharging. So I spend less time playing Chatters and Ladders and more time hiking/walking/biking with the kids. Find what YOU like to do and see if you can fit your family with you.

Last Words

Someone once told me that you could either be a businessman or a family man. I believe life’s ultimate purpose and challenge is to be both especially if you want to make a positive change in the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, a Rabi, or the president of the United States, you do better if you do both.

P.S.

If you’re lucky you’ll also have a loving, understanding, and supporting wife with endless patients that will help you along the way. I certainly do. Thank you Orit, I love you very much.

 

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How to Pick a Partner

Last night Jason Nazar, my partner and CEO of Docstoc hosted a session on 10 mistakes people make when starting a business. The event was greatly received and I believe was very helpful. In the Q&A session someone asked about how to split equity between partners. Although I briefly addressed this at the session as well, I think the bigger question is how to find the right partner. Having the right partner can greatly help at challenging times like equity splits. Here is the presentation that covers this topic: How to Pick a Partner

What is a Partnership?

I’ve been married for, oh… some time now. As anyone who is married will testify, marriage is a pretty complex partnership with many challenges. I also have three wonderful kids and when you think about kids, think partnership. I’m also Jason’s partner at Docstoc which brings its own challenges, being a web startup at a glooming economy. I think that gives me some perspective on the concept and meaning of partnership. Beside the free marriage consultation I sometimes give, I want to mainly focus on business partnerships.

Over the years I’ve noticed a few principles that are best followed when choosing a partner, being a life or business partner. I break them into these topics:

1.     Different with Shared Values

2.     The partnership goes both ways

3.     Must be a win-win

4.     Make sure the roles are clear

5.     There will be sacrifices

6.     Be good

Different with Shared Values

I think that a partnership is about being with someone different than you. Hey, no one is perfect so what is the point of partnering with someone who is exactly like you? To quote Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire: “You… complete me”. Someone needs to be the Yin to your Yang and vice versa. Someone has to fill your personality gaps, show you things you don’t see because you can’t see, catch you when you fall.

But not everyone who is different than you qualifies. You must share the same core values and principles. You can’t have a partner who is a greedy MF when you’re a non-profit guy, no matter how good he/she is. You have to believe in the same life values.

When Jason and I just started, he popped at my house one weekend, uninvited when my wife was with the kids and the house was a mess. He said he wanted us to work together on something for Docstoc. We spent a few hours brainstorming and mocking up pages while the kids were pocking their heads through the door every five seconds. I think it was a fantastic idea to see what I’m really like. When you’re with your kids, maybe you can fake it but they will not. You can see ones’ values when they’re with their loved ones.

The Partnership Goes Both Ways

Although someone is usually more dominant in any partnership, it is not to be confused with the fact that a partnership is a two way street. From the beginning, both sides check each other, “interview” each other, trying to make sense of each other, read each other’s mind, see behind the mask, find the skeletons.  If you’re the CEO and you’re looking for a partner CTO (sound familiar) you’re not just checking him out, he is checking you as well.

It is even more important later in the partnership, when things become more complicated and more people are involved (employees, kids, friends, investors, etc). A partnership is core, deep, long lasting, relationship with someone you completely trust regardless of your place in the hierarchy, your title, role, salary, etc. It is a two way street that can drive good or bad feelings, it can drive creativity or negativity, it can drive happiness or depression.

People are like energy amplifiers, whatever you put in, you’ll get doubled in energy back. Because it is a two way street, the more positive energy you put into the partnership, the more positive energy you’ll get back, and some. When it’s working, it’s great!

Must be a Win-Win

There has been so much said about “win win” that it became a cliché, but I will mention it anyways. At any point in the partnership, even from the get go, both sides must make sure it’s a win-win situation. When Jason and I started we did not talk about equity split for a long time. This was not me being naive or blindingly trusting or Jason being non-trusting or abusive, we were simply not ready to talk about it. Like marriage. So we each found something else to be the “win” until the time was right. That “win” was good enough even if it will not work out at the end. Let me know if you want to know what mine was.

By the way, I do not believe in negotiation between partners. In my mind, negotiation means finding a way to get the most and giving away the least. Since I believe in win-win, it is in both sides best interest to have the other side satisfied and NOT focus on how you can keep the biggest slice. Negotiation is about ME. ME winning, ME getting the most, ME losing the least. Partnership is about US. US both happy and satisfied. US both giving away something to get much more at the end. Think of partnership as the biggest investment in your life and business. You want to give as much as possible to have a solid starting point, a healthy starting point. Be fair, be realistic, and make sure the “win” of both sides is clear and on the table.

Make sure the roles are clear

I look at the roles my wife and I have in our marriage like a government. We each have specific responsibility in how the family is run. I’m the Secretary of Defense where my wife is the Secretary of State. I’m the Secretary of Commerce where my wife is, of course, the Secretary of Treasury. I’m Homeland Security and she’s Education and so on. Sometimes the roles switch and new roles are added (or removed). One thing for sure it better be clear who is responsible for what or bills will not be paid and the trash will mount outside. Most times, it seems to just work out by itself. Sometimes my wife has to “remind” me…

It seems to be more challenging in business. People do not like to relinquishing control (me included) and delegation is an art not science.  Just remember that giving someone responsibility (or taking responsibility) does not mean taking the other partner out of the picture.          Just make sure you enable each other and support each other when doing your job.

There will be sacrifices

In any partnership there are sacrifices and sometime it maybe more on one side, for a period of time. If you’re planning on getting into a business partnership and expect no financial, time, and personal sacrifice, don’t do it.  But also remember and appreciate the other side’s sacrifices. Just remember that these sacrifices are all for a good cause and a better future. Just make sure it doesn’t leave you without a future…

Be good

In every partnership someone is “wearing the pants”. Doesn’t mean anything. Don’t abuse or take things for granted. Be thoughtful and respectful, be appreciative and supportive. Never underestimate ones effort even if it seems easy and simple, it is more likely you don’t see how difficult it really is. Many married guys think “common… how difficult is taking care of the kids?” Yeah right. Many business guys think “Common… how difficult is making the product stable?” Yeah right…

Just one tip, I always find the power of appreciation of little things so amazing. Focus on that.

Last words

As someone once said “There is a big difference between knowing the path… and walking the path”. I am still learning how to walk the path and I have much to learn.

Alon

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Wars and Start-ups

I’m Israeli if you didn’t guess and usually very moderate in my political opinions. Without getting into specifics I would say that I’m usually trying to understand both sides of every argument even though I may not agree with one, or both sides. My reasoning is that there is something to be learned from each side, which does not require agreeing. Notice I used the word “argument” related to politics and not the usual “discussion” or “idea” because in this side of the world, political discussions are usually arguments, with different levels of severity.

I’ve been an entrepreneur and in the startup business for many years now. I’ve also been involved and/or interested in conflicts and wars in Israel and other places to the point I began to see similarities between these two worlds: Startups and Wars. That said war is very, very different from business, especially when war is due to religion, philosophy, business, and other non-life-essential topics. At best, I categorize war as “necessary evil” and this latest war in southern Israel certainly qualifies.

But there are similarities too. For example, starting a startup is like starting a war. First, you think you’re right and you have the right. Many others have done the same thing before successfully and you’re smarter than most of them. Yes, you’ll need resources and funding but you can start relatively small and grow. It doesn’t have to be “shock and awe”…

You will need to get support from your investors/cabinet and other influencers/politicians. You will find yourself maneuvering between them making sure everyone is as happy as possible, even though you are the commander in chief.

You also have one or two a basic exit strategies, which makes perfect sense for you and your supporters. These strategies of course changes one month after you launch your product/attack. Both have casualties (though very different of course) and you require special talent/forces to do the job as efficiently and effectively as possible. No wonder they call startups “an uphill battle”.

On both there is some “turning point” that redefines the effort. Some breakthrough or event, some added ingredient that, when looking back, changes the picture and drives toward the win. But that point, the “win” is the most difficult thing to achieve. I think that beyond the obvious difficulties like funding, resources, competition, politics, etc it is actually the very definition of what WINNING actually means. And it is very different for each effort.

From all the different slogans I heard about wars it is the following, from the early days of Israel that caught my ear: “The Eager to Win Is a Prerequisite of Winning”. Seems pretty obvious but it’s not. Many people which are directly involved in startups (and wars) are doing it for different reasons: fame and glory, money, it is fun and cool, other people’s expectations, to prove that you’re right/can and other reasons. Most times, all these reasons fade the original reason they started this effort in the first place. “The Eager to Win” beyond anything else has to be at the top of the list .You can be famous and have some “action” while doing it but unless you want to win, you will not. Unless you remember why you started, chances are things will not work out.

We are working on it right now at Docstoc.

Last words

Without going into “war is bad”, I want to express the reason for this blog entry: learning from experience. Maybe it is best to learn from bad, sometimes, horrible examples to do some good in the world.

Alon

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Why .Net???

From the first day we started Docstoc people have been asking me “why .Net”? I’m being asked this by technologies, of course, but also from other, non-tech people like private investors, VCs, SEO experts, marketing guys, potential hires, partners, and any random guests that just happen to stop by and say hi to Jason (of course…). Thank God my 9 year old son hasn’t asked me that yet…

I think it became a “style question” that make people look like they know/care/understand such as “what is your business model?” or “what is your current runway?” or “what do you think about the effects of the economy on high-tech?”. But unlike these questions, that try to understand something, the “why .Net?” is a charged question. What people are really asking is “why not X” where X can be anything but a Microsoft technology. This X can be PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails, or even Java. Man, sometimes I’d rather say we developed the site in Assembly and I’m sure I’d get less raised eyebrows.

Well, seriously why .Net?

After all, it’s a Microsoft product and, as we all know, Microsoft is all about world domination and the end of free and open source software as we know it. Basically Microsoft is evil and we should avoid its technology at all cost, not even touch it with a stick. Why pay money for something that suppose to be free? The whole notion of a company trying to make money from selling software makes me sick.

Ok, enough with the sarcasm. Let’s talk seriously.

Our job as technology leaders (CTOs, CIOs, and other fancy titles) is to find and implement technology solutions for world/business problems. That’s it! We are not politicians. We should not have hidden agendas. The concept of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) VS. Microsoft must change. We need to choose the right technology just as we choose the right people. Can you imagine group of CTOs that hire only white developers vs. group of CTOs that hire only black developers? It is clear to that the way we thought since the 90s must change. The walls between selecting only ONE side of the technology fence MUST end.

The reason we all choose side is very simple which it is the answer I give to the “why .Net?” question. All startups in the history were developed using the technologies that the CTO knew and liked. Very simple, nothing more. Everything else is silly rationalization. I’ve seen many examples of successful startups built in PHP, Java, ASP.Net, CGI, ROR, and many others. All scale, all run fast, all are successful. Startups rarely fail because they used one technology vs. another. They mostly fail because they run out of money.

Starting Docstoc I’ve decided to break the walls, which I was part of. I’ve decided we will use the right technology for the right solution, regardless of the source. Although we use .Net for the platform and the site, we use MySQL as the database (yeah, not SQL Server), MemCached for caching, Lucene for full text search, and other open source technologies. Most of these had a matching Microsoft technology but it was simply not as good or just as good.

Last, let’s talk money. Can someone please tell me which company is spending more on hardware, software, license, hosting, traffic, storage, and support, MySpace or Facebook? Is one more successful than the other because of the technology they use?

I rest my case.

Alon

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A starting point

My name is Alon Shwartz and I’m the CTO and co-founder of Docstoc, a LA based start-up focused on sharing and finding documents: www.docstoc.com. Check my profile and documents on: www.docstoc.com/Profile/Alon

I will use this blog to talk about topic I believe are of interest to many technology entrepreneurs which is a group I found to be quite unrepresented. These topics range from tips for successful outsourcing, SEO tips, why .Net (or why not), how to get a great team, and many others.

More coming soon.

Contact me at alon at docstoc.com

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