Tony Scherba – President and a Founding Partner of Yeti

I have an undying need to understand things. If I were swimming in a river, I’d need to look at a map and see where the water is coming from. This is something I’ve learned from programming for so many years: There’s always an answer; you just have to keep digging to find out why something is the way it is.

Tony Scherba is the president and a founding partner of Yeti, a product-focused development and design studio in San Francisco. Tony has been building software since his teen years and has led development on high-profile projects for global brands, including Google, Qualcomm, Safeway, MIT, Britney Spears, and Linkin Park. Tony and the Yeti team work to develop game-changing products through innovation, workshopping, and rapid prototyping.

Where did the idea for Yeti come from?

I’ve always enjoyed building things — I was an avid Lego builder as a kid. Yeti is really just an extension of that passion.

I started building websites in high school and ended up building marketing campaigns for famous musicians throughout college. After I graduated college, I felt a strong desire to keep building new things.

I was lucky enough that a fellow student, my co-founder, Rudy Mutter, was ready and willing to hop on board to try our hand at building a company right after college.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

7:15 a.m.: Wake up and hit the gym
8:30 a.m.: Shower, eat breakfast, and get acquainted with emails for the day
9 a.m.: 10-minute bike ride to the Yeti office
9:10 a.m.: Start working
9:30 a.m.: Daily scrum with the team
9:45 a.m.: Block of work, including meetings, finances, and programming
12:30 p.m.: Lunch with a team member
1:30 p.m.: Block of work
6-7 p.m.: Head home, to a networking event, or to a dinner
9 p.m.: Watch a movie, catch up on work, listen to a podcast, and do chores
Midnight-1 a.m.: Read and go to sleep

For me, the two main things are waking up early for the gym and blocking my time to remove distractions. This comes from the concept of the maker’s schedule vs. the manager’s schedule.

How do you bring ideas to life?

This is what we do! We have a lot of different processes, but it comes down to working with the team to define the idea.

Typically, we discuss the problem, then we brainstorm solutions. Next, we build and test a prototype and allocate the resources and team to build out an iterative plan to execute.

I wish there were more magic involved, but having a concrete process keeps us grounded and able to execute effectively.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m excited about how our world is becoming more connected and how we’re seeing a massive quickening in the pace that we can build physical products. The hardware teams we’re working with are taking inspiration from open-source and agile software practices, and that’s rapidly decreasing hardware costs. We see things like circuit boards being 3D-printed and prototyping tools like Arduino driving this push.

I’m excited that our culture is shifting toward a maker and problem solver mindset rather than a financial and managerial one. This is necessary for our generation to solve global problems.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I have an undying need to understand things. If I were swimming in a river, I’d need to look at a map and see where the water is coming from. This is something I’ve learned from programming for so many years: There’s always an answer; you just have to keep digging to find out why something is the way it is.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I worked for a summer at a beverage distribution warehouse on the “breakage crew.” When transporting glass bottles, the forklift drivers would sometimes (especially if they were digging into the beverage supply on the night shift) drop and break bottles. It was my job to essentially salvage the unbroken bottles in a case, wipe them down, and repackage them.

The downside was getting glass shards in my fingers. The upside was that I got paid pretty well. The biggest lesson I learned was that money is just one aspect of a job. The following summer, I took a pay cut to become a certified swim instructor and lifeguard. I enjoyed that job a whole lot more.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Is “practically everything” a fair answer? We followed certain advice, and we disregarded other advice. We often made the right decisions, but other times, we should’ve handled things differently.

You don’t get to go back and retry, so the best course of action is to learn and move on. I’d do a whole lot of things differently now, but I have five years of experience building and running a business now.

My best advice for an entrepreneur is to seek advice, evaluate it, and make the best decision you can — just make sure you learn from it.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Zoom out and zoom in on everything — your projects, your relationships, your business, and your life in general. It’s so easy for us to get caught in one level of zoom. It’s never good to focus too much on one area; it doesn’t contribute to your whole story.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I’ve seen big benefits from professional mentorship and building out my personal and professional networks. It’s incredible to have people around you who are experiencing the same things you are and can talk about the type of issues you’re facing.

Beyond offering advice that directly points out managerial issues, professional networks connect you with the vendors, clients, partners, and customers you need to grow your business.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We didn’t really give a second thought to taxes during our first year in business beyond finding someone to put them together at the last minute. We had made a bit of money, but we hadn’t strategized or budgeted how we were going to account for taxes.

Being blind to this put us in a vulnerable spot when we found out what our tax bill was. We had to take on huge amounts of tedious, late-night work to barely pay off our tax bill. What’s worse, we ended up doing it again due to a crummy cash flow situation.

It took us a long time to get over the damage it caused, but failing to keep our financials properly managed was one of the biggest failures we made early on, and we paid for it heavily with plenty of late, agonizing nights.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I was thinking about this just the other day. I would actually like to see someone reinvent our idea of the newspaper.

Newspapers lost their way because they tried to compete with the Internet. I want to see a newspaper go the opposite direction — slow down the news and do stories that aren’t so “in the now” but that people want to read. Design the paper smaller, simpler, more beautifully, and without ads. Distribute it once or twice per week. Make it something that’s important to read — and looks like it.

The idea of having a paper is still cool and meaningful. I imagine people would pay for it as a way to step out of the 24-hour news cycle we live in.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I built my first website when I was 14: It was the official site of homemade bling.

Bling was a big thing in the early 2000s. The idea was that people would create bling with things like tin foil, pots and pans, old trophies — you name it. They would then submit it, and people would rate it.

The site actually became fairly popular and was loaded with photos of people wearing ridiculous homemade bling. I was lucky that the experience of building and running the site at an early age gave me the opportunity to find something I could continue to explore and build things with. It’s what I imagine I’ll do for the rest of my life.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

My team uses Asana for task management, Slack for internal communication, Basecamp for client communication, Google Apps for document collaboration, Dropbox for file sharing, and Pivotal Tracker for ticket tracking. Many of our web services are collaboration-based, so we mainly use these tools to stay on the same page.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

I just finished reading “The Hard Things About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. It was a fairly easy read that offers great advice, and Horowitz approaches it from the angle of lessons learned through experience.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

I was lucky to have gotten hooked up with a small design studio in Boston to work on projects with while in college. The can-and-will-do attitude of the creative director, Jon Sulkow, taught me an important lesson: Ownership means hopping in and figuring it out when there might not be a clear solution. Mixing that attitude with a sense of good taste will usually turn up a positive result.


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