Spec out your tasks. Write processes and get as granular as possible. Update them whenever your team discovers a more efficient way of doing something. Not only does this save you the time of explaining the same processes and answering the same questions over and over again, but it also allows you to preserve knowledge when someone leaves your team.
Jared Brown has been programming professionally for over a decade. He received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Purdue University in 2004. He loves combining technology and business and has started several businesses. Most recently he co-founded Hubstaff.com, which is a unique time tracking tool aimed at remote teams. Hubstaff allows managers to see time spent on projects, screenshots, activity levels, in-depth reports and timesheets.
Where did the idea for Hubstaff come from?
Hubstaff came from my and my Co-founder Dave’s struggles working with remote contractors on our other projects. We didn’t have the tools we needed to understand why there were sometimes delays with deliverables, or to understand the correlation between the number of hours they were billing and the work they were doing. We were also spending way too much time checking in on them when we wanted to spend more time on the high level tasks for our business. We developed Hubstaff for our own work and decided to build a company around it when we saw how it changes the way we work with remote employees. Now I spend maybe the first half hour of my workday checking in with my employees and looking at their productivity stats, and the rest of the day is free for me to dedicate to business strategy and relationship building.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I take an idea I’m really passionate about and break it down into steps and all the components of each step. Then I ask myself which parts I’m really needed for. I focus all my energy on the most important parts that I’m absolutely essential for, and since I have a great team I can trust, I let them come through with the rest. And I always schedule time to take some perspective from a high level to evaluate progress.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m really excited about the growing trend of businesses to employ remote workers. I think as the issue becomes more polarized we’ll see more companies offering remote work or going completely remote as a small minority insist on having their employees together in the same physical space. It’s exciting to see that companies and workers are discovering how remote work benefits them both. If it makes employees happier and it also helps companies function more efficiently, I think remote work will become the new norm within the next 20 years for most people whose job doesn’t inherently require their physical presence.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I get small tasks out of the way first, at the beginning of the day, in a very limited timeframe – I spend maybe 35-40 minutes tops checking in with my team and answering emails. I don’t do any of this for the rest of the day – partly because it’s unnecessary thanks to how I’ve structured my workflow, but also because I’m not interested in anything that distracts me from the high level questions.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Pretty much any job I had working for someone else was unenjoyable. By the time I got good enough at the development work I was doing, I’d always ask myself why I wasn’t doing it for myself instead of for someone else’s company. It was the classic situation of trading time and energy for money. Ever since I took the step to work for myself, I’ve never missed putting my time and energy to work on other people’s ideas.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would be much more careful when interviewing staff and pay more attention to subtle cues about a person’s ability during the hiring process. We’re lucky to have a great tool that weeds out bad hires immediately by giving us insights into their productivity, but that still doesn’t mean we can get back all the time we spent interviewing them in the first place. Hiring is one of the most important parts of your business – it determines the character and quality of your team, which is what really fuels your business’ growth.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Spec out your tasks. Write processes and get as granular as possible. Update them whenever your team discovers a more efficient way of doing something. Not only does this save you the time of explaining the same processes and answering the same questions over and over again, but it also allows you to preserve knowledge when someone leaves your team. The combined expertise of your team is effectively offloaded and saved in a location where future employees can access it and improve on it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Grow by using the resources you’re excited to share with other people. We offer a freelance staffing concierge service that organically grew out of the relationships we built with great contractors while we were building Hubstaff. As we created this time tracking tool, we realized that some talent we worked with was amazing and we wanted to recommend them to other people, but in a way that would also grow our business. Now we help pair them to remote company owners who don’t want to risk not finding a good fit on freelance job boards. It’s good for the freelancers because they have a steady stream of income coming in, too.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I think early on, I should have invested more in oversight with my team. The quality of your team determines the quality of your company’s product, and even with star players, getting top quality work takes energy and cultuvation on a founder’s part It’s not enough to just hand someone a project and a time tracker and say, Go. All the processes, all the specifications need to be written out in advance and you have to follow up and make sure they understand what to do. I didn’t do enough of this early on in previous ventures of mine, which led to delays, substandard work, and dissatisfied customers. Now I know that my team is my biggest asset and I’m willing to invest any amount of time into making their work faster and clearer for them to do.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Permacultural landscaping for edible front and back yards. So many people are into the locavore movement and slow food, but they might not have the time or energy to get into sustainable gardening on their own property. It’d be a high end service but the 20% of your audience that does want intensive help sustainably growing their own food with no pesticides could generate a nice profit. Plus, it’s a socially responsible business.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I’m a huge fan of the TV series Cosmos. Coming from a development background, you spend so much time working with lines and lines of code, bogged down in very tiny details that seem like such a big deal…Cosmos was great because it reminded me that none of this is actually a really big deal. Not even the big picture stuff in my business that I try to focus on, or really anything else. I think it’s so cool to be reminded that we’re all so special and unique, but so, so very tiny in an enormous, mysterious universe.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Skype is a great all around communication tool. We use it both for internal chat and video, as well as for client calls. For development work, GitHub is our go to. And without Google Docs we’d be lost. We use it to store all our specs and discuss changes via comments. I love it because it’s such a flexible tool and it allows for (specs, etc. are written here and we discuss via its comments), good ol’ email
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds” by Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini is a great book for everyone to read – whether they’re startup founders, entrepreneurs, or employees – because it helps teach you how to identify habitual errors in cognitive reasoning. When you learn why you think the way you do, and what your most common biases and mental traps are, you can start taking steps to change those patterns and see the truth of any situation more clearly.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Wayne Dyer is an insightful writer on purpose and being present. He doesn’t write or speak about business, but what he has to say about being mentally present, about finding your purpose in life, and about letting go of guilt trips is powerful. It’s great to take time to really think about where your life is heading and why, and his writings have helped me to do that. As for business thought leaders, Amy Edmonson’s writings on leadership have really influenced how I work with my own team.