The First Thing I’d Do Differently

Stepping back from Sett has left a lot of room for me to reflect. What went wrong? Of those things that went wrong, which were avoidable, or will at least be avoidable in the future? Two big things always surface, the first of which I’ll talk about today.

When Sett started out, I spent most of my time innovating, imagining, making decisions, and building. The building was a very specific sort of building– the kind where you’re going a hundred miles and hour, shooting for 80% perfect. Something out of nothing, not perfection out of something.

By the end of Sett, I was spending my day programming and dealing with customer support. We were servicing our technical debt, meaning I was filling in that last 20% of polish that we had left the first time around. On top of those things, I was trying to figure out how to get us making money.

The biggest difference in these duties is something that maybe only I, or close friends, could spot. I’m really good at the first group, and pretty bad at the second group.

I’m intermittently good at customer service. I always try to do the right thing and would rather lose money than have a customer be dissatisfied. But I’m not good with staying on top of email, so I wasn’t always as prompt as I should be.

I’m terrible at marketing.

I’m a proficient programmer, but I don’t love it. It’s not my art, like it is for many other people. I get a kick out of finding novel solutions and debugging, but I don’t care about patterns and algorithms. And I don’t really care about becoming a better programmer. My interest in it is the ability to build something from nothing, and I’m good enough to be good at that.

In any project, you have to take the good with the bad. Sometimes you’ll be doing things you like, other times you won’t. And, in any startup, you’ll end up having to fill in skill-gaps and work on things that aren’t your forte.

But what worried me was that I was spending almost all of my time doing things that other people could have done better. My output was being sourced from my weaknesses, not my strengths.

That should have thrown up all sorts of alarm bells earlier. My best contributions to Sett were very clearly in the phases were I was working from my strengths. I think that’s true of anybody in any project. And, yet, I’d allowed myself to slide into a position of working from weakness.

When we started Sett, we had a long term vision for it. But in no part of that vision did we think about what we would be contributing, and whether it was a good fit or not. In retrospect, I wish that I had chosen a path that would maximize me doing what I’m good at and minimizing doing things I’m bad at.

I think a lot about contribution to society. All delusions of grandeur aside, I think that society works best when people spend as much time as possible doing what they’re uniquely good at. That crosses all strata of society. I still remember a Wendy’s cashier from 15 years ago who was amazing at what he did and left an impression on thousands.

Think about what it is that you do for most of your day. Is that something you care about? Is it something you’re good at, or actively improving? If it’s not, think very hard about whether you’re in the right place or not. And when you decide what to do next, think about the path you’ll be taking, and how closely that path follows your strengths. I know that’s what I’ll be doing.

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Photo is a kid looking out at Hong Kong bay. Is it creepy to take photos of kids like this? I never really know if it’s okay to take pictures of strangers.

Heading to Maui for the first time tomorrow! I’m looking most forward to doing some good hikes (and hopefully getting some blog photos along the way).

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