In what I’m hoping is not going to become an annual tradition (ahem) I started a new job at Sincerely three weeks ago. Sincerely is the startup behind the iPhone and Android app Postagram, which you can use to send an Instagram-esque photo as a postcard, and they’ve been building on that initial success with similar apps that bridge the gap between the virtual world of social networking (which is increasingly mobile) and the real world of physical goods—witness Sesame, their recently released gifting app.
This week Simpleform moved into a new office on 2nd St between Mission and Howard. It’s probably one of the coolest offices I’ve worked in, with exposed brick walls, original wood floors, and glass partitions that let in light but suppress noise.
Over the years I’ve developed a habit of posting views of my desk (or views from my desk). Here’s the latest:
To hell with New Year’s resolutions. How about New Year’s actions!
Remember that post I wrote about “planting a flag”? Well, I kind of expected it to flap aimlessly in the wind for a few months, but turns out it really struck a chord. When you boldly signal your intentions, people take notice (which was my hope).
One of those people was Andre Torrez, whom I worked with at Federated Media. We’d kept in touch since my return to San Francisco, meeting up for lunch now and again. I’d tell him stories about what it was like being back at work after traveling, and he’d tell me stories about the ups and downs of running his own business.
Then just before the holidays, he let me know he was on the cusp of landing a pretty big contract, one that he almost certainly couldn’t tackle by himself. An opportunity was there for me, if I wanted it. This generated a lot of reflection and discussion while I was in Austin. Upon returning to work, I decided with heavy heart to part ways with Kiva. In the end I decided this was an opportunity I did not want to pass up.
So last Monday I joined Andre at Simpleform, the company he started shortly after leaving FM. It goes without saying that I already owe Andre a lot. Not only was he responsible for hiring me at FM, but I can say with complete seriousness that “he taught me everything I know”—about being an engineer on a team at a start-up. Later, when I felt like I had more to offer than just coding, Andre gave me the chance to lead the team.
The Sign On Our Door by Andre
Now we’ll see if we can start over again. Andre has a genuine interest in rebooting Simpleform, learning from what worked and what didn’t over the last two years, and I’m looking forward to wearing multiple hats again, contributing in both engineering and management. In the short term, I’ll be coming up to speed on some new technology, and we’ll be working together on this big contract. Over the long term, we’ll be on the lookout for a steady stream of contracts to keep our mental tools sharp and revenue consistent. Given our collective skill-sets, we’ll probably be leaning more towards data-heavy, back-end web work, as opposed to front-end design projects. (This sound like something you need? Please get in touch.)
The big vision is that with regular client work, we’ll be able to fund internal “research” projects that either become revenue-generators in their own right or simply help us work more efficiently. To be honest, I don’t have any single outcome in mind. Kind of like traveling, I’m in this to see where it leads us.
Over the last several weeks, an idea has crystallized in my mind—something I’ve known for a while, but just never put words to. Usually I keep these kind of things to myself but since it’s not something I can do by myself, this is an attempt to plant some seeds, solicit feedback, and hold myself accountable.
I have long known that I am not the stereotypical lone genius programmer (no matter how much I might delude myself into wishing that were the case). That’s not news. At best I see myself as a tenacious problem solver, a skill which up till now I’ve been able to employ gainfully in the art of coding. However, I am starting to wonder if being good with computers has become a crutch that’s preventing me from taking some bigger risks.
The fact is that I have these other hard-to-quantify, non-technical skills that I enjoy exercising. I know how to talk to both engineers and non-engineers (and translate between them). I actually enjoy meetings. I find that I frequently ask (what I think are) dumb, obvious questions (that no one else is asking, to my surprise), and watch them unlock a discussion. I like making order out of chaos, simplicity out of complexity. I love documenting standards and processes and systems in a way that makes it easier for the next person to absorb what I puzzled over. I like email and wikis and IRC. I really enjoy working with people. I get bored and distracted when I’m all by myself. I hate working from home. Collaboration tends to bring out the best in me—I’m amazed at what I’m able to accomplish when I’m working with others. I find it essential to know that someone depends on something I’m doing.
So here’s my idea, my realization: I want to start a company. But I can’t do it alone. No, more important than that: I don’t want to do it alone. My dream is to gather a small group of like-minded people with complementary skillsets and start a company together. I’m not looking for a big payday or expecting to change the world. I just want to work on something that makes me happy every day. I want to have control over quality. I want to have more freedom and flexibility over the types of things I work on. Heck, it could be something online or off. The “what” is almost immaterial, as long as I go home happy and look forward to working every day.
This, I think, is one of the first effects I’ve recognized to come out of the year I spent traveling. I’m no longer afraid of failure. In fact I find lately that I’m easily bored unless I’m taking a risk. Returning to San Francisco and buying a condo and assuming a mountain of debt was one exciting expression of that.
Last week Kiva moved from their longtime location in the Mission to a brand new office at 875 Howard in SOMA. The core services engineering team is off in the corner, so this picture doesn’t even begin to capture the spirit of the place. But that’s where I sit. The window looks out over Tehama Street.