Four keys to success

I spent the last two days with the MindTouch executive team. While sequestered in an undisclosed location in San Diego we plotted another year of remarkable success in 2010.

MindTouch Executive OffsiteMindTouch 2010 executive offsite. Left to right: me in my favorite Debian tshirt, Mark Fidelman, Rion Morgenstern.

2009 was another great year for MindTouch. I love my work. We achieved most of the milestones that we set out for the company at the beginning of the year. We even hit some stretch goals out of the park. We more than doubled our annual revenue and revenue growth was not the most important achievement of 2009. I’ll be posting a year in review on the MindTouch blog later this week.

MindTouch has been enormously successful in driving adoption of our software, in generating revenue and in building a recognizable and respected brand. There are many factors that have contributed to our success, not least of which is our brilliance of mind and modesty ;-), but I want to share some of the less obvious.

Set and communicate goals and expectations. At MindTouch we do this top-down by setting annual and quarterly initiatives. These are high level goals not projects. People prefer to think in terms of projects rather than overarching initiatives. Thinking at project level makes it impossible to manage forward progress, guarantees distraction and restricts you to the tactical when you need to be strategic.

Once you’ve established your goals then define how success is measured. Once you’ve done this the projects you need to execute on and how you prioritize them is obvious. And you’ve created a system for tracking and measuring success. Everyone likes success. This reminds me of something I read as a kid: the answers are easy, it’s finding the right questions to ask that is difficult. 

MindTouch Executive OffsiteThis slide is from Mark Fidelman’s slide deck. With which he asserted: "Fuck strategy #2, I removed it"

Measure. If you can’t measure it you probably wasted your time. How do you know your resources were well spent? We measure and track damn near everything at MindTouch. This includes individual, departmental and corporate wide performance. In the last 72 hours I’ve examined dozens of key performance indicators (KPIs) of each department and the company as a whole. I have reviewed a hundred graphs and charts visualizing various aspects of our business. This includes several lead funnel conversions, site traffic analytics, ~20 views on revenue alone, software distribution and installation, customers (10 different ways), even individuals at MindTouch are examined to determine how we can improve. We make very informed decisions and we have a deep understanding of the mechanics of our business.

While MindTouch is a highly data-driven company not all business models can achieve the same level as we have. Personally, I don’t know that I will ever be interested in building a business that can’t be as data-driven as we are. Even in less data-driven models there are ways to track and measure performance, I encourage all entrepreneurs to do so, you’ll be better for it.

A side note, nothing pisses me off more than colleagues who make statements based on assumptions without, at least, anecdotal information to back it up. Commonly these are the same people who stubbornly cling to ideas even after data has proven them wrong. It is a demonstration of either laziness or stupidity.

Beware false KPIs. A common mistake of companies and people who wish to become data driven is that they’ll track for the sake of tracking. Meaning, they won’t actually measure anything useful. Be sure to set goals and measure the success of these goals.

MindTouch Revenue GraphThis is the actual revenue graph for MindTouch

Love your coworkers. To say I care for my coworkers is an understatement. I love my coworkers, even those that piss me off. Seriously, you don’t have to like your colleagues, but you do have to love them. Some ways we express our love at MindTouch:

  • Superlative benefits.
  • Equity in the company.
  • Honesty, Improvement and Pride. This requires its own blog post to communicate. 
  • Every MindToucher has $600 a quarter to spend on professional development: classes, conference, books, etc. This is paid by the company.

In short, I want my coworkers to be the best human beings they can be. Professionally and personally. I will help them in any way I can to achieve this and MindTouch has done a good job of systematizing this.

Love what you do. If you do not love what you do you will never be great at it. Also, If you don’t love your work I don’t want to work with you. Not just because you won’t be great at it, but also because you’re a downer. Do whatever it is you love because life is too short to waste on bullshit, even if it pays less.

Four guys who absolutely love what they do. Left to right: Timo, Cote, Jevon and Aaron.

Few people know this about me, but I love to cook. I cooked for many years when I was a young backpacking dharma bum. I even received accolades in culinary magazines. I helped to open four restaurants (three successful) and I held positions as sous chef and executive chef. I worked as a cook from the ripe age of 17 to 24. I loved it. It was creative and fast paced. I had the flexibility to travel. Every several months I spent weeks on end camping or months on the road. Moreover, I had a lot of time with the people I love. Sure, my clothes came from Goodwill, my cars never exceeded $500 (American K-cars are awesome) and I didn’t live with the amenities I do now, but damn I was happy. If I didn’t love what I was doing I would, in a heartbeat, move my family to a resort town, like Ely MN, Meta Italy or somewhere in Costa Rica and live a simple life as a lowly cook. I wouldn’t have as much stuff, but I would still be happy. Do you work for stuff or because you love your work? Don’t work for stuff.

Surround yourself with people that love what they’re doing. It makes work fun and it increases the likelihood that your team will be incredibly effective. This alone usually nearly guarantees monetary success.

Follow all four of these tenants if you want to increase your odds at achieving monetary success. However, if all you take away from this blog post is the following two things:

  1. love your coworkers,
  2. and love what you do 

than you are guaranteed success. Perhaps not monetary, but you will be happier.

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