Read. You can read for knowledge, you can read for distraction, you can read for inspiration. And my recommendation is: do them all.
Pablo was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He started his first business making and selling key chains door to door when he was 7. At around that age he also started coding on a CZ Spectrum computer, learning from the manual. He proceed to self-teach how to code in various languages and operating systems throughout his teenage years.
At 19 he started trying to find a place to live and moved to Miami, FL, US; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin, Germany; Dublin, Ireland; Zürich, Switzerland and finally, where he is currently based, London, UK.
He worked as a developer for various companies, mostly small agencies, but also Google. He co-founded Hear a Blog and Watu; the latter is still going strong on it’s own. His last startup is a solo project called Dashman.
Where did the idea for Dashman come from?
When I was working for Google, one of my tasks was installing dashboards for the development teams. We would order big projectors, hook them up to a computer, and run some quick-and-dirty scripts to show a website with the current status of their tests or continuous integration.
Naturally at other jobs after Google, I was asked to do the same and that’s when the idea started to form. My only option at that time was to replicate the system from Google, which is more or less what everybody is still doing (with displays, not projectors). There are a few problems with that. First and foremost being that anybody can walk up to that computer and just start using it; access to websites and the internal network etc. It is very insecure.
Solving all of these problems and many more is what Dashman does.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I work from home and almost every day I wake up with an almost unbearable amount of energy and desire to get things done. I quickly grab some breakfast and head to my study where I sit at my workstation and start working. Because I’m a solopreneur at the moment, my day might either consist of building or selling.
When I’m building, it’s not very different to the day of any other developer. I use Jira to organize my work, so, whenever I’m at a lost, I look at Jira for the next step. That helps staying productive. Oh, and having three big screens. Never underestimate the power of more pixels for productivity.
Sales and marketing days are more difficult. I normally use Asana to keep track of these tasks but they are less well defined than the development ones. It’s also not my forte, so I’m having to work harder at it. What is strange is that no matter how hard I work and how much I accomplish, at the end of the day I often feel as though I did nothing. I feel like coding is the only real task, which of course it isn’t.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have ideas faster than I can build them, so most of them will never be brought to life. Sometimes I blog about them hoping someone else will run with them. But I think humanity, as a whole, has more ideas that ability to realize them from scratch. That’s probably a good thing.
I tried keeping a notebook of ideas, but so far it seems that for the ones that matter the notebook is not necessary; the big ideas are like a persistent mind-worms and nothing other than realizing them happen will take them away.
At that point what I try to do is talk to people about the ideas, get feedback, mature them, and hopefully, if I’m lucky, find someone else that also gets excited about them
What’s one trend that excites you?
Self driving clean cars. I don’t think we realize just how much this would change the world. I think it’ll be the first big step towards a post-scarcity society and we’ll have to get our act together to follow it with the appropriate policies. Sadly, I don’t see any politicians capable of doing that in most countries.
I recently bought a house and the location was one of the most painful decisions. I’m starting to desire the countryside but I know I’m still a city person that enjoys the social life, the events, and all the other things a large vibrant city like London can offer. If my car could deliver me to my home, by itself, while I sleep in it, after a night out, the choice of where I’m living might have been different.
I think self driving vehicles might change the shape of our cities, of our society, and of our lifestyles. Way more than we imagine.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Waking up ridiculously early. I used to be a night owl like most techies but in my late 20s I started waking up at 6 to work on my side project – my startup – before going to my job. After a while I stopped needing an alarm. Although these days I’m waking up later than that because I’m doing sales for people on the US West Coast, which means keeping some odd hours.
The advice here is not that you should wake up early, but if you can and if it works for you then do it. What’s important is to follow your own clock and cycle to optimize productivity. For a lot of geeks, that’s working late at night, when everything is quiet and they get no interruption.
Also, learn what affects your mood and how. If there’s a task that will drop your mood and productivity, leave it for later in the day, when you already accomplished many tasks, so that as a whole, your day, will be productive. If there’s something that lifts your mood, book it for after when something will have drop your mood.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would target twenty year old me, and my advice would be: read Atlas Shrugged and spend some time thinking really hard about which side of the story you want to be on. I’m not going to defend the literary value of the book; Ayn Rand really needed a good editor at the very least. I’m also not going to defend Objectivism as I think there are many issues with it.
If we take the book as an allegory and fantasy, not an attempt at representing reality, then I think it has something very interesting to offer. Society is divided in two: the net producers and the net consumers. The producers create, innovate, invent, and push the human race forward. The consumers take, without giving back or giving back way too little. There are good reasons to be a consumer, such as being unwell, or too young, or too old. There are also bad reasons for being a consumer: being a lazy or entitled person who thinks the government or the world should maintain them.
When I was younger I was in the consumer category. I was a whiner about all the opportunities I didn’t have and I would constantly talk about how one day, when the investors would come, or the government program would appear, or I would win the lottery, or the planets would align – that day I would make it. Reading Atlas Shrugged made me realize I was on the wrong side of that story. It was a painful experience that made grow up an incredible amount. Every now I then I revert to that state, when everything goes wrong and I’m burnt out. But when I come out of it I roll up my sleeves and get to work.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think it should be possible to design one perfect programming language. This programming language should have some optional static type system that can be declared as mandatory, so it would be a good prototyping language with dynamic typing as well as a robust language for certain production systems. The same would happen with object oriented program, functional programming, etc. My intuition is that this language should be akin to Lisp because of its extensibility to new paradigms. The sad thing is this may never happen due to the shape of the computer industry.
I also believe in absolute morality. For instance, if we consider a child deprived of opportunity by the accident of poverty a bad thing, then we should also consider a child deprived of opportunity by the choices of their tribe or group of people also a bad thing. I shudder at the idea of having been born in one of the groups that deny themselves and their children technology and interaction with the world. I believe it should be possible to develop an absolute moral framework to judge whether something is right or wrong, and whether something is child abuse, even if it’s backed up by tradition.
What I don’t believe is that we are anywhere close to that. If you look at the Amish for example, you might think they are depriving themselves of a lot and that might be true. But the way they handle technology, such as computers, the Internet, cell phones, etc is amazing. They let a subset of their community trial the new technology and then they evaluate whether this has a positive impact or not. Only if it does do they let that tech spread and in a very controlled environment. Who would have thought they were so data driven? I bet they are not having fake news and social media problems.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Read. Mostly books. You can read for knowledge, you can read for distraction, you can read for inspiration. And my recommendation is: do them all.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I’m not proud of it, but here it goes. Every time you follow someone on Twitter, there’s some chance they’ll follow you back (10%?). Every time you send a direct message when someone follows you, there’s a chance they’ll click on a link (no idea percent). If you target the audiences of your competitors or your complementary products, you can get very high quality leads from this. Some may see it as spam and indeed Twitter has outlawed automatic DMs, so, this doesn’t work as well as it once did.
This system has a strict ceiling. No matter how well it works, you cannot ramp it up ad-infinitum like you can do with ads and marketing (as long as you have the money). But it is very cheap and if you have time (for example, when you are developing your product) the return of investment of this is ridiculously high. Or at least it was for me.
There are tools that automate this. I personally use Crowdfire but I’m not sure if they are the best anymore.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The worst thing that happened to me as an entrepreneur was my business partners leaving the business. Emotionally I felt they abandoned me, which is contentious and I wouldn’t say they necessarily did – they certainly don’t see it that way. The fact is they left the business, and things spiraled out of control. I managed to keep things from getting too awful, but the cost was horrendously high. I’m still 50kg overweight due to stress eating during that time (being fair here, that was not the only thing that went bad in my life at that time, it was a perfect storm).
I don’t know if it was a failure though. Is an accident a failure? Did I chose my business partners poorly? Did I handle their departure poorly? The answer to all of these questions is I don’t know and I’ll never know. In my current company I’m the only founder and I’m self-funding; I own all the equity. Some days I’m glad that I have this level of control and that I don’t depend on another person’s decision to stay. Some days I struggle. This is very hard, and when things go wrong having nobody to lean on is no walk in the park. I’m not going to pretend I designed this path. I still wanted a co-founder but the co-founding door was open to a few select people that were not interested.
The way I overcome it is by plowing through. Getting up every day, working hard, one step at a time. There’s no magic bullet. Some say “work smarter instead of harder”. I say you work as smart and as hard as you can because there’s always someone smarter and someone that works harder. And between the two, working harder is actually more feasible than working smarter.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Here’s a crazy one that might show my lack of knowledge in finance. I often hear that banks don’t want to foreclose properties because they are not in the property business. Whenever they foreclose it they immediately sell, as fast as possible, at a discounted price if necessary. And this is one of the reasons why they won’t give you a 100% mortgage.
The first part of the idea: wouldn’t a company that is in the business of property, that maintains and rents out property, be able to give 100% mortgage because the outcome of the foreclosure is not as traumatic for this company as it is for the bank? I understand that price fluctuations mean losing money if the value of the property goes down. But there are companies still doing flips, taking that risk. I think it should be possible to consider that risk in the mortgage: as a company offering the mortgage you either earn the interest or the appreciation due to the flip, or get the revenue of renting it out.
The extra part of the puzzle is that those 100% mortgages would have pretty high interest rate as well as strict foreclosing clauses, because the risk is high. I think there’s a lot of people that would go for that mortgage. I would have certainly done it.
Maybe what I just described is the recipe for the 2008 crisis.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Some months ago I bought an Olight H2R Nova flashlight to live in my go bag. These days because we all have flashlights in our phones, a flashlight is not an important object to have anymore. I have forgotten how much better a proper flashlight is. This one is solid, waterproof, super bright, has a magnetic base to stick it to things and an optional strap to mount it on your head.
It’s faster for me to pick it up and turn it on than fumble with my phone to find the torch app. If my hands are dirty or wet or I have to put it in a place where it can get smashed, I don’t care, because it will most likely take it and if not, it’s not a $1000 phone, it’s just a $50 flashlight.
A handyman came to check out what was wrong with my boiler recently and he forgot his phone and thus, his flashlight. I lent him mine and when he returned it to me he said: “this thing is great, what is it? Where do I get it?” It’s an Olight H2R Nova and you get it on Amazon.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
There are many I can mention that you probably know about already, from Asana, to Google Calendar, to Rescue Time… oh, you haven’t heard about Rescue Time? Give it a try, and learn how you are wasting your time. Now, for my real recommendation….
Mosaico. It’s a window tiling manager for Microsoft Windows. For Mac OS I was using Divvy and I know there are others out there that might be better. But on Windows I love Mosaico. There are a couple of bugs that annoy me, but I spoke to the team and they assure me they are getting these fixed in the next version.
It’s hard to describe how it works; their website has a neat animation that will explain it in 10 seconds. For me, distributing windows across my 3 monitors without any overlap so that I can see everything I’m working on. It’s priceless.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker. Thanks to the news cycle, it looks like the world is coming to an end every Tuesday, when we are actually living in the most prosperous and peaceful (yes, peaceful) time in human history. I haven’t even finished reading the book but I can safely recommended it for the same reason I was skipping it: I’m familiar with the source material and Steven Pinker so I didn’t need any convincing. Still, it’s a great read.
What is your favorite quote?
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” — Neale Donald Walsch
- Be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster. Being an entrepreneur can put you on top of the world, but it can also bring you pretty low. Find your coping strategies and manage your mood
- Both having a business partner or going solo have big downsides. Maybe starting a business is a bit insane.
- Read new material. Pick a subject new to you. Read an opinion that you don’t agree with. Read an autobiography. Take a break and read a fiction story. Read a political or philosophy textbook. It may change you. It may inspire you.
- Cultivate your life outside business.