Patrick McDavid

I'm a technology leader in Colorado speaking about serverless computing, team building, devops, and leadership development.

SaaStr Annual Top Ten

13 February 2019

SaaStr Annual is a celebration of software in the cloud, focusing on the people and the companies that’ve thrived in this new medium. It’s very much not a technology conference, per se. Instead it’s about organizing people do deliver value to customers as efficiently as possible. It’s a bit of a VC feeding frenzy as well, with a number of sessions like, “VC Confidential: This is what your VC is not telling you.” So I took away a number of product-centric ideas that I’m excited to sprinkle around BombBomb this year:

1. Everyone’s “Story of Firsts”

It can be daunting to new employees to come into an organization with a laundry list of achievements already behind it. Matt Shots, VP Sales for WPEngine challenges his new employees to imagine what their firsts will be. Launch the first video transcription tech, launch the first million dollar mobile app, be the first Principal Architect! There’s always another hill, and its up to everyone to chase what invigorates them.

2. Employee Value Proposition

In the war for talent, why is your company where your employees or prospects want to be? What’s the progression timeline? Forget perks, what’s the advancement conversation? Set the bar high out of the gate: “This job is going to be incredibly hard!” But the rewards in turn will be great! Work with the best people and technology around! You need to know why your opportunity is the best, and if it’s not, you need to make it that way.

3. Product/Design/Engineering as one organization

Vijay Gill the SVP Engineering at DataBricks was adamant that it’s best if your company treats and organizes Product, Design and Engineering as one entity. Having those actors together as one team is the best possible mode of product development, siloing those groups and throwing work over the wall between them serves only to increase friction. We’re not there today, I want to go to there.

4. Features = Land, Stability = Expand

It seemed so obvious as he was saying it: Features you’re building and marketing are all about new user acquisition. But stability is all about retention. I’d specifically never thought about stability as retention play per se. Having that in mind seems like such a great foundation from which to launch technical deb pay-down and general care and feeding. I also was not familiar with the triad of RAS: reliability, availability and serviceability

5. The more you focus on revenue, the worse

Revenue should be an effect, rather than a cause you chase. Revenue needs be a byproduct of the creation of value of customers. I’ve been guilty of mis-prioritizing this in my thinking. Bootstrapped companies are maybe particularly vulnerable to making this mistake as cash-flow is king to living and dying. It’s a trap, though: create first the thing of value, make sure its value is as easy to reach and repeat as possible for new prospects. Once your offering is truly valuable, the revenue will follow.

6. Find your next product in novel uses of your current

This was one of my favorites. Karen Peacock, Intercom’s COO described how intercom’s main use now was originally a hack that some users forced into their platform. BombBomb is such an open medium that any sort of human excitement can flow through it. We’ve focused deeply on a handful of vertical industries to gain momentum, but along the periphery of that a number of interesting other uses have grown on their own. I myself have used it to great effect for recruiting, but we don’t push that in the market as a big idea to win new customers. Maybe we will some day. The point is, rather than invent whole new offerings, see if what you already have can do something you hadn’t thought of.

7. Find Product-Market-Fit again and again

In the last year I’ve been describing to people how BombBomb has found Product-Market-Fit with a couple of particular verticals with a particular corner of our software. Karen Peacock cautioned about feeling like that kind of work could ever be done. Keep searching for new groups and new uses of what you have. Why settle for one fitted pair?

8. Fall in love with the problem, not the solution

This is a good one as well, and a particular risk for engineers. Karen cautioned against getting too committed to any one solution to what it is you’re trying to solve. Instead stay focused on the problem and keep varying the solutions you explore. BombBomb is solving the problem of people being dehumanized in their communication across the internet. We have a number of solutions to that, and there are a number of solutions that exist outside of ourselves. It’s easy to get distracted onto the benefits and drawbacks of ours or competitors’ solutions, but it’s far more important to remain attached to solving the isolating disconnectedness that the internet can sometimes cause.

9. Leading Success Indicator Cohorts

I’ve never been scientific enough in cycling on customer success in our products. My absolute favorite talk was from Mark Roberge:

Mark went hard for 45 minutes, but my favorite bit was about driving product and engineering work primarily based on determining a useful leading indicator of customer success, and then ravenously doing product and engineering work to drive that number. Don’t stop until your product delivers value to a vast majority of users. We’re not this disciplined. We need to be.

10. Daily Film Review

Lastly, and this is really an extension of the last one, is to spend time at the end of every day reviewing what’s actually happening on the playing field. What are users doing, what are they failing to do? Where did they get stuck, down to the second, with their experiences with your software. Watch replays, study the problem, be relentless. We really can’t go deep enough.

Extra Credit

Eric Yuan, Zoom’s CEO left the conference stunned with some of his answers to how his team took over the live video meeting space: almost no hierarchy or process, no QA team per se. His first 33 hires were all engineers. That moment was crazy in how stupefied some of his left-field tactics left the room. I was very impressed with him.

Anyway, SaaStr’s a crazy corner of the world. You might check it out some time. They usually put a bunch of stuff up on Youtube.

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Two-Slice Software Teams

15 December 2018

Amazon’s Two-Pizza-Teams is a scaling methodology that suggests organizational designers ensure independence and speed by keeping ownership of products to teams that can be fed by no more than two pizzas. These teams need total decision-making authority of their product, and a clear understanding of what success means for them. This works well for Amazon as these small teams behave as composable units of opportunity and service for customers internal and external.

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Practicing Making Choices

13 November 2018

My wife Briana and I reached an impasse with our three-year-old a few weekends ago. A beautiful fall morning’s hike in the neighborhood park came to a howling halt as the tyke staged a rebellion.

Parenting challenges come in waves. You’ll find a rhythm that works, you’ll have a few weeks (maybe) of steady plodding, then wham, the kid’s a little smarter, and you have to adapt. In our turn, Briana and I had been leveling a scattershot of consequences and pleas. Some landed, some missed. Under the staring October sunshine our son had brought our family of four to a standstill.

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Recruiting Top Talent with Video

06 November 2018

I’ve recruited more than 30 excellent software developers and other technical staff to BombBomb in the last several years. This is my first position recruiting and building teams, and I don’t think I would have been nearly as successful with it if I hadn’t been using simple one-to-one videos.

My résumé reads in large part like a software engineer, and as such I get several recruiter emails every day. They’re bad without exception. “Hey I see you have some .Net experience yada yada”. Likewise I field a few voicemails of the same kind a couple times a month. All of these go in the trash. Everyone understands how this plays out, everyone knows that’s not working.

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My Thesis

05 November 2018

I’ve been trying to spend a little more time reflecting on where I am, where I want to go, and where I’ve been. One of the largest single-product projects I’ve ever undertaken was my philosophy thesis, Spoken Worlds. Five months of writing to produce about 9000 words on the subject of linguistic relativism.

Linguistic relativism is an idea in linguistic philosophy whose thrust is that people’s thoughts are very much structured and confined by the language that they grow up in.

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Working for the Best Company

03 November 2018

What’s important to you about where you work? Is it the people, the technologies, the processes? Is it success or fortune?

I’ve been interviewing technologists for the last several years and this is a conversation I’ve had time and again. As you’d expect, answers vary a lot, though there are certainly themes centered around where people are in their careers:

  • High performers earlier in their careers want learning and new technologies.
  • High performers in the middle of their careers want stability and good people around them.
  • Those same folks later in their careers tend to assume the former, but instead seek out hard problems.

I can now measure my career as being two decades old. I was 16 in 1998, and in lieu of pursuing my drivers licenses, I was instead trying to start a web development company. A number of now lifelong friends and I called ourselves X over Zero web technologies. A testament to our youthful idealism, we were charmed with the idea of the result of the equation X/0 being positive infinity. We had the now-defunct and thought ourselves young entrepreneurs.

I remember turning out some bare-html table-designed corporate sites for a local telecom, a boutique sporting goods company, an electronics manufacturer, and something called CadetNet, a prototypical online forum for United States Air Force Academy cadets who were just getting computers in their dormitories.

A series of wonderful twists and turns, and a ensemble of wonderful and educationally sketchy people filled the ensuing professional years, and by some determination and luck I’ve found myself now with nearly half my career having been spent with a wonderful group that calls itself BombBomb.

You’d think I’d have exactly the right thing to say by now when people ask me to explain what this strangely named company is.

  • We make it easy to send simple videos.
  • We make software that lets you be there in person when you can’t be there in person.
  • We make video email.

Those are all wanting in different ways, but they’re all kinda right.

I joined BombBomb as a coder. They needed someone to lash together ideas as a software product that the very talented salespeople that had founded the company wanted to use for themselves to reach out to new and past clients. I was well suited for this, as a programmer I move very quickly, and that worked well for a few years to get exciting ne w features in front of users and prospects. Then we needed to do more: between 2012 and 2015 I hired half a dozen folks who matured and broadened our technical offering.

Then, in 2016, BombBomb started really growing in earnest, and my job changed: coaching, recruiting, product management, strategy. These were all challenges I’d faced in their infant stages, this was next level. Those around me faced similar new tests. Bruises and glory. New records and fights.

This job’s been everything I could want it to be: education, people, hard problems. I’ve known for a while this has been the best of my professional career. What’s BombBomb? Last night Colorado heard the same thing: BombBomb is the best company to work for in 2018.

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