Going more in-depth - Build Log #13
I've taken a few weeks off from writing build logs, as I wanted to consider how I could change up the format, to be more in-depth, and provide more value to people reading. My current subscriber list is mainly composed of people who have founded their own tech companies, are currently in the process of doing so, or are currently working in tech more generally. My hope is that by going more in-depth into what I'm working on, and more importantly, how I'm working on it, it will be more interesting to others and spark a lot of interesting conversations which we can all learn from.
Going more in-depth
I've avoided going more in-depth up until this point because I was cautious about speaking about what I'm working on too soon, but I think on balance, the benefits of talking openly outweigh the negatives.
I wrote more about the build log format here, but in short I'm looking to replicate the same value I gained from writing investor updates when building Stairway - they were a helpful forcing function to think deeply about what was and wasn't working on a regular basis.
These more in-depth posts will be freely available to (free) subscribers - I want my writing to be public but don't want the list to grow too big to lose the purpose of being completely open and honest.
So, where am I now?
Given that it's been a few weeks, it makes sense to write an update on where things are now.
Positive Sum is the name of my holding company - the umbrella under which I'm building products and businesses going forward. It's possible I'll decide to raise investment in the future, but it's not something on my roadmap for now.
Adjacent to my recent work in theatre, I'm excited to be in the final stages of building InYouGo - I'll be writing a future post covering the vision of InYouGo, and the problems it is looking to solve.
For now I will say that it's launching in early July, and I'm incredibly excited about it.
This is a product that I initially only built for myself, to make me much more efficient - but realised through conversations that it could be just as useful to others with a bit of tweaking to make it less specific to my own needs.
Theatre Investment Syndicate
Last year I made quite a few personal investments into theatre productions, which led to the founding of Positive Sum Productions. I'm taking this one step further, by establishing an angel investment syndicate for theatre investments, in partnership with a top West End producer. I'm very excited by some of the projects we have in the pipeline with this, and will share more as soon as I can.
I love writing as a way to refine my thoughts, and I intend to continue writing here when I have something to say.
I set out to post regularly on YouTube, and haven't so far. In terms of priorities, it falls below everything else I'm working on, so realistically it will continue to be inconsistent over the next couple of months - that said, I am filming the process of shipping the tech products I'm working on over the next few months, and will share that on my channel after I've launched the projects above.
What is next?
Leaning into strengths
I've put off a decision for a long time, and finally decided to make it: I've decided to appoint a design agency to design one of the products that I'm launching over the next couple of months (InYouGo).
It's something that I've had in the back of my mind as an option for several months now, but decided not to before - I'm keen to build Positive Sum in a cash-efficient way, where each portfolio company reaches a point of break-even/profitability in a short timeframe.
But sometimes you can try to adhere to rules too closely, or over-optimise, and I did that in this case.
So, I'm tweaking the rule that I set for myself, and I will ensure that each launch product has a small launch budget, with the aim of re-couping this initial cost within the first quarter of launch.
Relative to the world of venture capital, this is a significantly different approach to burn rate. There are certainly sectors and cases where that is the only viable approach when dealing with large up-front costs or tough competition, but increasingly I believe that pace of progress will become detached from burn rate, as productivity becomes more detached from headcount (traditionally the largest cost for most companies), and more dependent on the efficiency of a small number of people, and their ability to strategically use technology to gain leverage.
Working on automation + processes, in advance
It's considered best practice when building a startup to do things that don't scale - get the customers, and then figure out how to manageably serve them later.
If the last decade has proven anything, it's that many of the largest companies are still unable to do so, with unit economics propped up by VC financing.
In line with my aim of having a great headcount to revenue ratio, I want to anticipate some of the most common and time-consuming tasks, and seek ways to make them more efficient. In the past, the time to value ratio of doing so wouldn't have made sense, but I believe with a modern tech stack, it's become much quicker to take this approach.
For example, to handle future customer support requests, I'm using Interval. It serves a similar space to Retool and Airplane, but is much more focused on those who know how to code. I found the other two tools to be too clunky and bloated to be efficient with.
I created this simple dashboard in <30 lines of code, and it plugs directly into my existing back-end codebase, meaning I can use existing queries to the database.
This is just a basic example, but Interval can be used to create complex data dashboards quickly, or workflows that need to be commonly taken (i.e. issuing refunds, deleting users or anything else). Traditionally early-stage startups would have probably done all of this via the database directly, or via a very hacky interface, but now there's no need - combined with Supabase, I can do the same with a simple (auto-generated) API request, and no front-end code at all.
This video does a good job of showcasing a simple workflow with it:
The importance of planning
A question I've received regularly, and asked of myself too, is how I go about managing several projects at the same time. It's something I'm still figuring out, and the next few months will certainly be a good test for whether my focus on automation and delegation are sufficient to manage it, but I am currently thinking about this in the following way:
- A project is considered stable if the path to success is clear - in other words, it's just a case of doing the work, and the outcome is known on the other side
- A project is considered unstable if the inverse is true - a hypothesis is there, but it's not yet tested to determine whether it's true or false.
Based on my current working cadence, I have capacity at any one time for two unstable projects at once. Any more is not sustainable, and it's possible that this number is also too large.
Counter-intuitively - I feel more productive by having two to work on than just one, for the following reasons:
- When feeling stuck on a problem, I can take some time away from it and focus on the other product, to recharge. I find burnout is not linked to hours worked but instead on the feeling of progress to time invested, and this ratio improves for me personally when there isn't the need to work on the same thing the whole time.
- There is less risk of confirmation bias when answering questions relating to the company's core purpose
Stable projects are more manageable, assuming the work is clearly planned and estimated in advance, and certain tasks are automated or delegated up-front. For example, we'll be setting up an SPV for each deal within the theatre angel investment syndicate, and the entire process (regulation, accounting and legal) is automated for us by a third-party.
With the projects that I am working on, I use Asana to manage them. Each project is set up as a team, and under that I have several sub-projects to manage different parts of it. For example, I have a sub-project for each deal that we're actively evaluating or running through the syndicate. I've set up some automations to make managing this even easier.
What do the next few months look like?
The Summer months certainly won't be a break. I'll be launching both InYouGo and Edgar, and looking to grow them both. This should enable me to do several things:
- Hire one or two employees to help manage the growth
- Start paying myself a salary, and turn the holding company to 'default alive' - in other words, profitable
What would you like me to focus on in more depth for the next update?