I’ve long considered myself a “maker”. Heck, it’s the first word in my Twitter profile, so you know it’s official. I’ve been making things for the web since the late 90’s. When I was splitting my time between building my own products and doing consulting, I’d tout myself as the guy who could do everything. I took pride in my ability to do design, frontend, and backend, selling myself as the quintessential “maker of things”.
Then, Baremetrics started taking off. I quickly realized that being the only “maker” wasn’t going to cut it, and started hiring. As I hired out all of the things I had been doing, I found myself transitioning from “maker” to “manager”. I started the transition a year ago and, while I’m certainly no expert, I thought it might be useful to other entrepreneurs making the transition to get some insight into what it has been like for me and how to apply to your business.
How a manager is different than a maker
I’ve struggled with what exactly it is that I do here, which is a good thing. We’re a small team, but everyone here has very specific, clear-cut jobs to do and have each filled very specific needs. I’ve hired people who are each exponentially better at their craft than I ever could hope to be.
So where does that leave me? I rarely “make” things anymore, at least in the “honed craft” sense. Instead, I’m a manager…an enabler of sorts. Instead of making things, I enable my team to be makers, with as much efficiency as possible.
The job of a manager
At the end of a lot of days, my wife will ask what I did that day and half the time I have a hard time answering. “All the things?” It can be hard to actually feel productive since, to some degree, my job is to make others productive.
Pinpointing the things that you, as a manager, need to do on a daily or weekly basis can go a long way towards you actually being productive.
If I’m honest, there are lots of days where I think, “what is it that a CEO/Founder even does? This post is part me helping other CEO/Founders out and part verification of my sanity and worth. :)
Here are some of the things I do and the roles I fill in a typical day or week and how they can apply to you and your business.
A big chunk of my time is writing project briefs and figuring out our product roadmap…essentially a “Product Manager” role.
What comes next? What problems need solving? How do we solve those problems? What bugs need to be fixed and when? Who needs to be working on this? What’s an appropriate deadline? What customers should I talk to about that potential feature?
My day is packed to the brim with answering these types of questions. To the best of my ability, I’m decisive and borderline dogmatic about these answers. You have to be. Otherwise, you’ll be buried in half-answers that get you half-results with no real progress on anything.
The more clearly you define projects and work to be done, the less time product management will take you in the long run.
Define the problem and what the success metrics are (increased signups, decreased churn, etc.) and then work with your team to figure out the solutions.
It takes up a large chunk of my time (roughly 20% of my week), but we’ve tried really hard to avoid the typical generic content you think about when you hear the phrase “content marketing”. Our market is founders & entrepreneurs, so the best way we know to reach founders & entrepreneurs is for our local founder & entrepreneur (me!) to write about the up’s and down’s and what we’re learning as a company. Things that are harder for others to write without having been there and done that.
Not everyone has a target market of “founders” so this game plan won’t necessarily work for you, but I do think it’s crucial to actually produce genuinely helpful stuff if you want to use content as a marketing channel. Find your content niche and own it.
I don’t do nearly as much typical customer support these days since Kaegan came on board last year, but I try to schedule a phone call with all of our customers regularly.
As part of the lifecycle emails we send, I try to schedule calls with customers at the two-week, six-month and 12-month mark to see how business is going. It’s not a sales call on any level. I genuinely love to hear how other founders’ businesses are going and to see if I can help in any way.
This is high-touch and not scalable in the long run, but as long as I can do it, I’ll keep having calls with customers.
Being the “face” of your company will go a long way in the early days. Do this as long as humanly possible.
While making our customers happy is crucial, making sure my team is happy is arguably even more so. Right now, I do a lot of “information gathering” with bi-weekly 1-on-1’s and tools like 15Five. But I’m admittedly not great at putting the feedback into action consistently.
The feedback I get from our team affects decisions I make on a day-to-day basis and I spend a lot of time pouring over Slack chat logs looking for signs that people are frustrated or in need of help with something.
Pay close attention to your team both in passing conversations and in “feedback sessions” like 1-on-1’s and look for signs that anyone is unhappy or feeling burned out.
It comes in waves, but every few months we need to hire someone. Hiring can be a lengthy and time-consuming process (our Customer Support role had over 800 applications and took three months to fill).
When I’m in the middle of hiring someone, I spend a lot of time reading applications, doing video interviews and pouring over test projects (for engineering & design positions).
As best you can, try to organize and standardize the hiring process. Use tools like Workable to keep the pipeline in one place and use a simple set of starter questions to quickly weed out applicants that are clearly a bad fit.
I think we make a pretty great tool for staying on top of revenue, but at this point I still have to spend a lot of time in spreadsheets to look at the full picture of both revenue and expenses (of which you can peer in to).
Knowing where you stand financially seems like a no-brainer but a lot of startups fail because they run out of money. Use a service like Bench to automate the bookkeeping (as manual entry on almost any scale is a bad use of your time), and then spend your own time forecasting the upcoming months so you know where to adjust things.
Learning from others
I think the most valuable way to learn is simply by doing. When it comes to business, I’d argue most degrees are useless. You just need to jump in the trenches and start making stuff.
But I think there is a lot to be learned from the successes and failures of others, whether that’s having a few mentors, regularly chatting with other founders or reading.
Find a group of people who are a couple of steps ahead of you in particular areas and meet with them regularly. They won’t be so far ahead that it’s a one-way relationship, and the advice they give will likely be a lot more applicable.
Also, get a subscription to Blinkist. All business books are mostly fluff. Blinkist distils the fluff down to the juicy bits, and you save yourself a massive amount of time.
What about you?
I’ve read books and talked to other founders about ways to manage and build a team more efficiently, but at the end of the day these are just the things that I’ve personally found to be useful for me.
They could very well be the most inefficient things you’ve ever done, so I’d love to hear the things you do as a manager on a regular basis. Do you like the role? Do you miss being a maker? Have you found a way to be both a maker and manager?