My “user manual”

Note: This is based on Brad Feld’s post on writing “user manuals” for your colleagues (“The simple idea is to write a user manual about how to work with you.”). It was written for my co-workers. One of them asked me if I was “bold enough to blog it”?. Thanks Nick ;-)

What are some honest, unfiltered things about you?

I am long-term mission oriented.

  • Mission: My first job was in the 2004 US Presidential campaign, which provided a very intense dose of mission. I’ve been searching for that feeling in my work ever since.
  • Long-term problem solving: My father is a very good engineer, and taught me how to approach large and complex problems, break them down, and solve them over time. If the outcome is worthy, for me the bigger and more complex the problem the better. Very few people think and work towards long term goals — over 5/10/20/40 years — so I’ve found it to be a competitive advantage.

I believe in balance in my life and finding happiness in my work:

  • I read this great career-advice book written by Randy Komisar (KPCB) a decade ago and have been following it’s rubric ever since. The thesis essentially is this: If your life plan is work really hard, make a bunch of money, and then “retire and be happy”, you are in for a big disappointment. Randy posits that the only real long term path to happiness is to figure out how to find happiness via your work.
  • My definition of happiness is less “happy go lucky” and more “excited and fulfilled”. I gravitate towards responsibility and am OK with stress. I work at managing my own psychology; my tools are introspecting, coaching, meditation, weight lifting, and surfing.
  • I despise the feeling wasting my life which manifests for me as boredom.
  • I work 40–60 hours a week, e.g. fewer hours than lawyers and doctors. I try to get 8 hours of sleep, and if I don’t I feel tired and slow. I think the mythical 100 hour work week is BS; I did it for years and it traded off directly against the quality of my work. I generally begin work at 8–9:30AM, and head home around 5–7PM. I work a couple of weekday evenings per week and usually work a half day Sunday. I try to be as focused as I can in my work, but have my bouts of procrastination (usually reading Twitter).
  • No, I don’t actually “run” three companies. John and Stephanie run Chapter Three and Jefferson (our General Manager) runs Mission Bicycle. I’m on the board of both companies which requires 3–5 hours a week of work on average.
  • I try to get to my gym twice a week, not always successfully. I picked up surfing last year. My favorite place to be Sunday evening is floating in the Pacific in front of Taco-Bell beach catching the last few rays of nautical sunset and watching the birds and seals feed.
  • Robin and I are going to have our first child in June. I’m nursing my remaining few weeks of denial ;)

What drives you nuts?

  • I despise entitlement in any form. We are all so lucky to have won the ovarian lottery. The world owes us nothing, in fact I believe our good fortune means we owe the world life long service; for our fellow humans and future generations.
  • Individuals with responsibility and authority who act selfishly (bad leadership).
  • Seeing problems that should have been addressed fester (passivity, confrontation avoidance, squishiness).
  • Dropping balls, blowing action items, not writing things down, not following up (flakiness).
  • Hogging airtime instead of working with others to solve a problem.

Paradoxically, many of the things that drive me the most nuts are things I am working on the most myself. We are often most sensitive in areas where we perceive ourselves as deficient.

What are your quirks?

  • When I am concentrating while I speak it’s difficult for me to make eye contact (it distracts me). I often close my eyes when I speak. I’m not ignoring you, I’m just thinking hard.
  • I take notes on my phone instead of pen and paper. If I am tapping on my phone in a meeting, I am not responding to emails, I am sending myself a note to follow up on something.
  • If I get passionate in arguing a point I can stop listening and just argue pugnaciously. If you haven’t seen me do this you haven’t been in enough rooms with me and Josh acting as the old married couple that we are (eleven years as business partners across three companies will do that). If you disagree with me and we aren’t getting anywhere, it may help to ask me to “slow down” and listen.
  • If I am confused or bored, my blood pressure rises and I can become a bad listener. I hate wasting time. I may interrupt you (hopefully politely) to take conversations into areas that I find more useful. If I do this and you think I am missing something important, tell me “It’s important that we discuss ________”. You can help me out by taking care to package information to make it easy for me to consume. I am lazy!
  • You know I am really trying hard to understand something when I say “Let me play this back to you” and then tell you what you just presented to me in my own words. I have learned that the best check to see if I’ve understood something is to verbalize what was just conveyed to me. Feel free to correct me if I get anything (even slightly) wrong.
  • If I am hungry I can be snippy. Oh, and I don’t always eat breakfast. Apologies in advance. You can always ask me “Zack, do you need a protein bar?”.
  • I became allergic to coffee and have since transferred my caffeine addiction to embarrassing-to-consume energy drinks. If you see me chugging a Monster Rehab feel free to give me a sad sigh. I know. For the record, Rehab is not as sickly sweet and full of calories as the energy drink you probably tasted once and spit out (but that doesn’t mean I don’t avoid reading the ingredients list).

How can people earn an extra gold star with you? What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you?

  • I love learning. I love people who teach me something. It’s my absolutely favorite part of building a venture-backed tech company: getting to learn from my so-smart and talented co-founders, executive team, board members, investors, and colleagues. Teach me something! I consume information best via presentation (slides) or long form reading. I would LOVE to learn from you anything you know that could help the company. The better you can package things for me, the more it will help (good writing, good editing, good presentation, giving the tl;dr upfront).
  • I love it when things are really, really well produced; thoughtful product implementation, excellent writing, beautiful designs. I am in love with the craft in any kind of production. I will nerd out on anything a creator takes very, very seriously. I am drawn to quiet, serious intensity in individuals.
  • I am hugely impressed when individuals stick their necks out and take responsibility for projects and are able to drive them through to completion; getting other people on board and methodically working through obstacles along the way. I have a lot of respect for the abilities this requires.
  • Like most people, I love feedback. If I am missing something important, I need to know! It’s fine if it’s critical or thorny feedback. I’d much rather you tell me, than just assume I know what you are thinking. You can ALWAYS come up to me at my desk or via Slack and ask for 10 minutes of time.

What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify?

  • I hope to be judged by my performance weighted by the velocity of my improvement. I am a first time venture backed CEO and have a huge amount to learn. Expect me to make mistakes, but also expect for me to learn from my mistakes and improve my batting average over time.

How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?

  • Every job is a craft. Craft is best developed by dogged determination and refinement over time. Ira Glass gave the single best advice I’ve heard on developing a craft.
  • It is always in the company’s interest to give you as much responsibility as you can manage. Don’t wait around to be asked to take on responsibility. However, you will be expected to prove yourself before being given a promotion.
  • Anyone can be a leader. Management is a vocation, but leadership is responsibility anyone and everyone can and should take on. You can lead by seeing a problem and solving it, architecting a solution for others, coming up with a new idea and selling it internally, finding someone who can help achieve our goals and recruiting them. We are all constantly surrounded by opportunities to lead.
  • If you want to progress your career fast (1) Take responsibility to manage your own career as nobody else will do it for you, (2) work very hard to put yourself in the right place at the right moment in time, and (3) seek the help of those who have done it before
  • The single most magical thing about Silicon Valley is this: if you are persistent and unfazed by some rejection, you can get just about anyone to go out to coffee with you and give you career advice. Do it! You have the most to learn from those who have already done what you want to do.
  • If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough”. I get rejected all the time. It still stings, but whatever.

What’s the best way to communicate with you?

  • At the beginning of each week my schedule is booked completely. However, if I need to meet with you in 24–48 hours we will make it happen.
  • You can do a drive at my desk or ping me on Slack if it’s a quick question.
  • I like email and am usually decently on top of it. I get to inbox zero once a week. I will occasionally mess up and drop a thread, so if I haven’t gotten back to you on email in more than week I may have messed up.
  • I will generally respond to Slack messages within 24 hours. Slack is new in my workflow though, so no promises. I am still learning how to best use it.
  • I often get jammed up. Sometimes you will need to be a squeaky wheel if you need my attention in a timely manner.

What’s the best way to convince you to do something?

  • Make a clear, concise, and compelling case. Show me data, or if you don’t have data make a persuasive argument.
  • Often times decisions are really about doing difficult prioritization. It’s not generally “right or wrong”, more “this now, that later”. Help me by explaining your view of timing and prioritization, not just importance.

How do you like to give feedback?

  • My favored way is to give feedback in person. I will hopefully preface feedback with “I have some feedback:”.

How do you like to get feedback?

  • In person is great. Just tell me “Zack, I have some feedback for you”. I will probably listen closely. I love feedback!
  • Email is also great. Writing things down can help make thoughts clear.