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Your Time Is Your Greatest Asset

The problem of technology distraction
As I look at my phone right now, I see 17 different apps that people can use to get my attention. People can direct call me, text me, tweet me, email me, slack me, whatsapp me, etc. The list is expansive, and for most of us it’s growing. We are all under pressure to be constantly available through a plethora of communication methods.

What focus looks like
At Green Mango, our business is building software and building software requires tremendous focus. What does focus look like to us? Optimal focus in our opinion looks like minimum two hour windows without interruption. Some of us work better with shorter bursts of focus and others with longer bursts of focus. I think the general point is that we should be able to choose to focus when we need and want to.

A professor from the University of California, Irvine, Gloria Mark found that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. That means every time an email beeps or a chat message arrives on our phone, we have the chance to lose 25 minutes of focus. Charlie Matz, the Founder and CEO of the top video agency in the US VeracityColab said this about focus, “The great leaders of tomorrow will be masters of focus. The crowd is easily distracted.‬”

We all have a choice to make
For those who want to build great things in their lives, technology creates this battle we face, and I believe the worst thing we can do is not know or pay attention to the fact that we are fighting a battle at all. Inaction is still making a decision when it comes to focus. Our time is our greatest asset and so it’s worth being proactive about how we are spending it.

The current arsenal of tools we have to combat distractions:

  1. “Do not disturb” mode on some phones and computers that will silence notification visuals and sounds if manually activated
  2. Individual app settings that can be configured to be less noisy. For example, you can configure if and when slack sends notifications and limit it to only when someone talks directly to you
  3. Losing your phone temporarily or putting it on silent can help. In our case we need to work on the computer, and often notifications automatically pass from the phone to the computer, so silencing the phone does not help as much as it once did.

With our goals at Green Mango of 2 hour focus windows I can tell you that the existing tools listed above are completely inadequate. This leads to what I believe is a huge hole in the UX/UI of modern communication tools:

Communication tools are partially to blame
Modern communication tools allow you the power of sending a message whenever you want. Alternatively, they do not allow the power of receiving a message whenever you want. You, as a user, are at the mercy and the whim of every person who wants to contact you.

The first common communication standard on the web was email, and email is designed to not be for realtime chat. Email is actually the least obtrusive form of communication. People don’t typically send emails expecting a response in less than 10 minutes. Beyond email, every single chat system on my phone from Slack to regular text messaging is geared towards instant communication .Because the software allows for that, there is often a human expectation that if I send you a message, you’ll read it and respond in a matter of seconds. That means not only are we fighting a battle against software for focus, we are also battling social norms that are being created by the capabilities of the software.

Brainstorming a better solution
From a UX perspective, given the social norms and technology hurdles, what would a solution to this problem look like?

  1. Intelligent detection of attempted focus time
  2. Cross-device automated silence coordination
  3. Identification of messages that should get through right away
  4. Personalization and learning about your behaviors to improve performance over time
  5. Encouraging people to respect your desire to focus (software can be a cultural influence of behavior)

The road ahead

I believe we have a long way to go in this area. These abstract concepts I suggest are a strong contrast to modern chat systems. In fact, modern chat systems are largely headed in the other direction. They are focusing on getting messages through as fast and as noisy as possible. We at Green Mango will continue to pursue solutions that will help us to focus. We would love to hear from you about any other ideas and techniques that help you remain focused as well.

March 22, 2017
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Will We Work for Equity?

Equity?

Our primary focus in business at Green Mango is building custom software (web and mobile apps) based on the plans of others. Whether that’s a startup idea or just a revamp to a corporate tool, we put our absolute best foot forward in trying to make sure your project is successful. While questions related to cost tend to be the most frequently asked, we do also answer a lot of questions about whether or not we will work for equity.

The value of an idea

First of all, I think it’s important to remember that we don’t value ideas very much. Some ideas are absolutely better than others, but at the same time, Paul Graham of YCombinator once said, “Some of the best ideas are outliers everyone ignores because they seem crazy.” For this reason we can never be too sure what a good idea looks like. What tends to separate success from failure is not just an idea, but the execution of that idea.

There are a lot of people that can make a burger as good as McDonald’s, but there are few who could execute the business plan that McDonald’s has over the last 60 years. An idea did not sell 247 billion burgers. Execution sold 247 billion burgers. In the same way, when someone comes to us with their idea, we see ourselves as a large and key part of that execution, while the idea is a very small part of the work.

What this means in a lot of cases, is that the very request that we work for equity indicates to us that we are being undervalued right from the start. It could be a big red flag for the partnership in general, or just a sign that our potential partner does not understand how much work goes into building a piece of software.

The opportunity cost of every engagement

Getting beyond the value of the idea, let’s talk about what taking equity means to us. Taking equity as payment means we are making an investment in something that we hope will pay off in the future. For our business, it means a lot more than that. We aren’t just being asked to give our money like a typical investor. We’re being asked to give our time, which we believe is the most valuable asset we possess. We’re giving our time, but we’re also giving our money indirectly. We are asked to work on something for free when we could be working on something that we were paid to do instead. In other words, there’s a huge opportunity cost.

Thinking like an investor

Going back to the investor analogy, I think it’s important to take a closer look at what would sweeten the deal for us. At the end of the day, if we’re making an investment, then we look at the project very similarly to any other investor. The question of whether to make an investment comes down to a few key things:

  1. Can we afford to make the requested investment? Do we have the resources available while still meeting our internal needs, keeping the lights on and food on the table for our families? Remember, we’re a small boutique company and we eat what we kill. If we don’t already have enough meat to feed everyone, we certainly won’t be making risky investments.
  2. What is the risk vs the reward? 92% of funded startups fail. What factors do we think will contribute to the success of this company we are being asked to invest in? Here is where you’re going to get the typical answer you hear from any investor. Do we believe in the management team? What are they bringing to the table? Skills, connections, current traction, and resources are all relevant.

    Ask yourself how well we know each other. Trust is so important to business and if we’re on a first meet and greet 15 minute screener call based on a contact request we received, I can say it’s incredibly unlikely we would consider an equity investment. I would liken that to asking someone to marry you on a first date. I’m sure it could possibly happen, but probably the very best answer you’re going to receive from us is, “No for now, but we’d love to keep talking.”

  3. How much equity are we being offered? I took options with a below market salary at my first job out of college. I was so excited to just be in the game that I never stopped to ask any of the important questions. They gave me 10,000 options vested over a few years, but I didn’t know how many options were outstanding. I didn’t know the valuation of the company or the strike price. In other words, I had no idea what the value of these options were and I didn’t even know to ask!

    In the end, I left the company after several years and when I left, I gave up all my equity. All those options ended up not being worth even a penny to me. Based on the stats I listed, my story is not uncommon. That is the story of the vast majority of people who receive equity.

  4. Are we interested in the project? This is an obvious one, but I think particularly in our case there’s a little bit to clarify. We build software all day every day and we have for quite a long time. In my case, I spent the majority of the last 25 years doing just that. Whether I was coding in my bedroom as a kid, or working on a project for a fortune 500 client, I’ve been living and breathing software for as long as I can remember. This is not just a job, it’s my passion. With this in mind, I should note that we at Green Mango have our own great ideas.

    In our downtime between client work, we have built and published 6 different products in the last 10 years on our own. Several have been wildly successful capturing millions of downloads. Few people know the software industry better than we do and while there are always niches we don’t have knowledge of, you can’t cover the diverse background of projects that we have without coming up with a few of your own ideas.

    To be honest, we have more than a few ideas. We have spreadsheets full of them that we are constantly adding to. People I meet are regularly astounded by the quality of the ideas I spout off when prompted. A response I often receive when I tell people ideas I have is, “Wow! That’s actually a really good idea!” I’m not saying that to brag about my great ideas (Remember, we don’t think ideas are very valuable). I’m saying that to point out, not only do we have to like your idea, we have to like it more than all the other ideas on our own “great ideas” spreadsheet.

  5. How does this compare to other opportunities in front of us right now? A big part of my job is talking to potential clients, and I’m lucky because I love software and I love talking about software to people. I get a front row seat to hearing about ideas and projects that people are very passionate about. Sometimes people tell me ideas that are focused on making life easier. Sometimes the ideas are entertainment focused. Occasionally, the ideas are big and could even save lives. We hear a lot of ideas. Although I don’t completely trust my own barometer for the reason explained above, like anyone else, I do have my own internal opinion when I’m hearing a new idea.

  6. My point is, we can only make so many investments outside of our paid work. We are asked about taking equity quite often. This means, not only do we have to be more excited about your project than everything on our “great ideas” list, we have to be more excited about your project than the stack of other projects that have been presented to us as equity opportunities.

Alignment of incentives and a possible compromise

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time explaining why we will probably say no to an equity deal. Let’s talk about something that I consider to be more practical and likely: Giving Green Mango a small equity stake as a part of our contractual relationship.

One of the reasons that startups give out equity is not to skimp on staff salaries, but to align incentives. If I stand to make a large sum of cash based on the success of a product, I’m going to make sure I do everything I can to push that project forward. How does this play out for us? In some cases it can make sense for a client to give us a relatively small grant of equity.

To be honest, I do not think equity substantially changes our incentives to perform better on the project. We already have a large incentive to make a project successful. First of all, if the project succeeds, it gives us more credibility. In the end will make us more legitimate to future clients. Secondly, if a project is doing well, it usually means we get more work out of it.

When we accept equity

There is one other reason to give us equity, and this is a really significant reason to do it. Equity literally increases our authority in the company and our position in discussions. If you’re hiring Green Mango because we have skills and expertise in areas that you don’t, it seems you should want that voice represented in the decision making process. I can tell you from experience that the voice of an outsider consultant carries much less weight than a shareholder. This equity enables us to do more than share our opinions. It also allows us share them with the authority only a partner in the project can possess.

Naturally, there are other ways to give us the proper authority in company discussions and equity is just one of them. A lot of companies don’t offer equity to even their internal staff. Despite this, they still find a way to keep everyone motivated.

Discounts mean nothing. Value is everything.

We are aware that potential clients are often in discussion with several software companies besides ourselves to solicit bids for a project. Occasionally, the client informs us that another agency is being more flexible about equity than we are. Without discussing any specific deal, there are a few things to keep in mind here.

Number one, every single software developer you talk to is going to give you a different end result. Hiring a software development company should not mainly focus on cost, but the quality of the result you think you can achieve by working with them. You may have to screen out certain firms that you know will land outside of your max budget. In general, you will be disappointed with the lowest bidder approach. Secondly, we’re acquainted with several companies in LA and Orange County. They set their rates high with the intention of knocking them down through an equity conversation or other negotiation. That 35% discount you bargained for with equity is not necessarily a real discount, but a planned negotiation tactic.

Our unwillingness to discount pricing should be an indicator to you that we aren’t playing games with our pricing. We’re confident enough to not need to.

It’s nothing personal, we just like cash.

Being paid in plain old greenbacks seems to work just fine for us. Equity has its value, but it can severely complicate a relationship that can be really simple and straightforward. For this reason, we would definitely shy away from even wanting to take free equity on a smaller project. The overhead of the equity contracts just may not be worth it for us in all cases. There can be many junctures to a project where equity is up for discussion. Like any investor, we’d prefer to build a relationship for some time before even discussing that.

If we decide not to take equity on your project, it is in no way an indicator that we don’t believe in you or what you’re building. We do hope you will not take it personally and understand where we are coming from. At the end of the day, we want to build great software and be paid for providing that service.

March 13, 2017
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