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This is a startup and product builder’s dream episode as we speak with John Steele, founder of Series Code. John shares how his team at Series Code creates what I would almost term a Developers-as-a-Service with a powerful twist on how they operate: they split the cost to their customers between equity and cash. Beyond Series Code as a business model, John shares his lessons on product building, being a successful development team leader, how to motivate and build great teams and products.
Photo by Émile Perron on Unsplash
So John you have got a really, really cool story personally to me. And this is one of these lucky things where
How I got started with the podcast was really around being lucky enough to be out in the industry going to events and talking with really amazing people.
And especially as I got more and more into discovering kind of founder stories and and the startup.
The challenges and and the successes and and really really exploring how people can can do things. Now today, that they couldn’t do you know 10 years ago even and
Obviously the prevalence of can you know cloud software, you know, South software as a service, the fact that you can build something without having a team of developers on staff full time like there’s so many things that you didn’t need to do anymore. It didn’t need your own data center.
The long story, that brings me to you is, you’ve done exactly what is the most common problem. I think that people don’t realize that they can get past with the help of what series code can do
And being a startup founder yourself right you’re you’re in that neat thing where you you literally found to the startup to help people found start
Got that. Right. Yes.
JOHN If you want to give us a quick rundown on who you are, how you got to start and when we’re serious code came from.
So series code provides world class software development at a startup price. And what that means is that we’re focused on startups, because it’s the area that I enjoy being in I’ve been
Entrepreneurial since I was a kid, right. I started my first startup. When I was, you know, 21 years old and it just, it’s the kind of environment. I like to be in. And so that’s what the company that’s what we focus on. But we found that our ability to keep our costs lower
That benefits. It doesn’t really benefit large corporations, the big corporates are willing to pay double double the price so they can have someone sitting in a cubicle down the road that they have a neck during when something goes wrong.
With our remote distributed workforce were able to keep our costs down so that we can give startups, the best price that they can get. And I go to a lot of startup events.
Like these events where founders are pitching their ideas and such.
And you know at these, you hear these stories of folks who scraped together you know 1500 thousand dollars on their home equity line of credit or their credit cards or whatever.
But they couldn’t afford the big shop to write them software. So they went and found whoever it was that they could
And six months down the line. They spent all their money and they have nothing to show for it. And so we’re trying to interrupt that we want to get in before that happens.
With a, you know, world class agencies are we have 28 employees right now, but with a financial package that makes it possible for a startup to actually be able to afford it. So we will take equity.
In exchange for part of the invoice payment so that we can push the cash payment down to what they would have to be paying somebody else or maybe even lower.
And this is the really, really cool approach and i i see more and more people getting into the game of, like, hey, look, I’ve got an idea.
I and I can actually make this happen. And, you know, we call them side hustlers call them whatever you know their, their startups. Now I’ve, you know, I’ve got an idea that I’m
I want to bring to fruition and like you said, it’s this big challenge of the capital outlay to invest in this and has to time and time again. I hear the same story. It’s always like
Oh yeah seconds, you know, I’ve got leans against everything I own and and that’s it is a big leap of faith. It’s not that it isn’t a leap of faith, but you’re now have a leap of faith, where the company has skin in the game, right, that you’re hiring and it’s this is a very
I hate to use quid pro quo God because that’s just way over us in the world right now.
Like the foundations of behavioral psychology and the fact when you bring in somebody into an organization where they have more skin in the game is proven
To have better outcomes. So you literally are bringing a team that through the fact that you’re using equity share you now your entire team.
Has skin in the game. And that’s a, that’s a huge win. I think for a founder, how, like, how did you figure out that this was a way that you could actually run your side of the world.
Right and skin in the game is really, you know, a great way to describe it and we have
clients who have prefer us over the other ones because they can go to their investors and say, look, these folks are invested, they’re not going to be gone.
You know who wants to go pay some some place to build an app, and then they’re, they’re gone, and you have nobody to fall back on nobody there to, you know,
Keep it moving. But, you know, fix fix the problems that come up, just kind of be there with you to go along for the ride. And so that’s that’s what I realized is is part of how we can make this financial offering to startups.
That’s, that’s part of how we show we’re really a long term partnership, so we don’t there’s, there’s a lot of different shops out there and they do things a lot of different ways.
There’s, you know, kind of something that’s big right now is
You go and you just ask them to build a an app for you. And then they go away right and you pay them however much you’re going to pay and then you, you walk. They walk away.
And I just don’t think that that is the long term partnership that startups need they really need software development. It never ends. As long as you have somebody who wants your product.
There’s always something to be done on it. Now, I tell people, You should budget and kind of like electricity. It’s like a utility
You need to just have it in the budget and be ready to pay for it, ongoing because that’s how software development is it’s just an ongoing thing. And a lot of people who aren’t in
Software Development industry, they don’t quite understand that they think no, I come and pay for it, and then I’ll wait. You know, six months or a year and they’ll come and buy something new.
Like no, it’s it’s ongoing it’s always going to be there. So we want to be a long term partner, instead of just somebody who comes in real quick and leaves.
And the thing is that when you’re doing software development, the thing that is the most valuable is the knowledge in the developers heads.
All of this stuff that they’ve created the understanding that they have. So you don’t want that walking out the door. Anyways, you want. You want to be able to hold on to that long term so that they can continue to improve and improve
You what this is the, the funny thing too is that if you’ve got such an easy if you can relate your idea so easily that it can be just handed off in a
In a short set of requirements and they carve out an application. And then you’re done.
But that’s, that is so counter to a true interactive and formative application development processes. I mean, it’s if you can just carve it off into one time thing.
That’s basically like the affiliate marketing site right apps like it’s just like, I can do this thing and it does one thing and maybe people find it versus like really
How do you possibly think about building, you know, empathy into your development process which is again like such a core foundation we don’t
You don’t think of it necessarily when you’re when you’re doing requirements to, like, make sure this is empathetic to the end consumer like no that’s that’s how a developer things
When they talk with you. They talked with your customers. It’s a better development process involves a continuing relationship between you and your developers, right, yeah.
And if you’re building something that’s kind of just one off could be building and developers can go away. You’re probably not building something that’s some huge you know thing that’s going to happen.
Maybe you’re just trying to get an MVP out the door right some kind of proof of concept or something like that. That might be one one thing but if your app is so simple.
Then, you know, it’s fine. Not a big idea, the big ideas are the ones that it’s something that hasn’t been done before and you really need a lot of technical competence to be there for the whole ride.
Yeah, you want it. You want something that when you present to develop seem they go, ooh.
We’re gonna do that, like, yeah, like I said, versus like I’ve got this thing. It’s like it.
It’s the difference between going to fiver and getting someone to do like a thing for you and actually investing in an agency.
And it it’s not unlike marketing, right, like you can go and hey look, I can get someone to whip off a great logo to do a poster for me. I can go to FedEx printing and they’ll do a phenomenal job I can go to move and get amazing business cards done
But that doesn’t actually talk about brand. It doesn’t talk about what you’re trying to emote when you’re creating your imagery
And that’s the difference between going to agency versus going to move calm and just picking a nifty looking template. A may work, but it’s almost accidental or if it does work and then that’s it. The relationship starts and ends with the click of the pay now button.
And that’s where we often, you know, find our customers are at. We usually aren’t getting on board right at the beginning.
Got this brand new idea just just figured it out last week.
And need us to, you know, usually people are going to go out there and they’re going to prototype, they’re going to use these tools that are available. Kind of stuff you talked about at the beginning of
There’s so much you can do right now that you don’t need to be a coder, but those all typically go into a prototype. Like, let’s just prove that there’s something there maybe be able to get first customers.
Show that there’s some kind of value, but where we come in. Usually right after that, in this transition point of okay let’s turn this into a serious software development effort now.
It sounds like a lot of this comes from your own experience and doing some of your own building has how much of it sort of came from the walls that you may have hit yourself as you were doing some of those early ideas into you’re trying to turn them into an actionable thing.
Yeah. And so a lot of how I run series code comes from years and years of. There’s a lot of beating your head against the wall and software development.
And you know, we have a kind of an internal method we call the Denver method of doing things. It’s, you know, I don’t
I don’t dislike agile. In fact, we’re an agile shop, and I believe in the principles of agile, but there’s become this kind of dogma around it.
That says you must do things this way, this way, this way and like that’s not that’s not true. You don’t have to do them those ways. And a lot of those things.
So you down and create generate waste. So I’ve spent lots of time thinking about it and kind of working through my own process to get that down so we can do it a better way more efficient way.
It’s really interesting too because like you said, if you get into the sort of these dogmatic processes and God love him right there, there, especially when you’re managing teams at scale, right, it can be
A really really important part of it, you have to create a certain amount of rigor and process and so that you can be free within that rigor and and I think that’s really
When you’re scaling your shop and you have 200 developers. Yeah, you’re going to need a bit of a difference, you know way of thinking versus
Agile. I always like, I like into that, you know, I worked with a team and they were great love these guys are phenomenal, you know, and
They would say, like, hey, we’re agile and like, No, you just don’t have any idea what you’re doing on Monday. That’s not a job, it’s like not having a plan is not agile.
They’re like, but we’re iterative. I’m like what yeah it or meaning you you just, you have no idea what you did yesterday. So you can start again today it’s
This is great. It’s like Groundhog Day every Monday, which if applied to the other things.
It was more like they were pushing back against the hardened waterfall process that was in the project management office and right. God help you if you work anywhere that as a PM. Oh. Oh. Hi. Good luck and may your God go with you. Right, that’s
Things are not going to go smoothly.
Yeah, you. I mean, you, you hit on it. Right. That is the iterative model which is is the heart of agile.
Not just, you know, hey, you’re back to Monday. What are we working on now, but that you
Figure out small chunks of value that you can deliver and you build that first instead of the whole waterfall, you know, fat delivery of hey, we’re going to go build something for a year and deliver it. And who knows, right. The all the studies show that
You know, most you know it’s like two thirds or more of features and stuff that we think people want. They don’t actually want. They never use
These are professionals in the office right who of course and figuring these things out and the product management groups.
But it’s, it’s much better than an iterative cycle to say, Okay, what’s the most important thing we can build right now. Let’s build that over the next two to four weeks, you know, let’s let’s have a short cycle here.
Get it out there in front of people see what they like and then iterate on that and build either improve it, or build the next thing well in the thing you brought
Up but to like the dog was like just such a perfect description of it like you, you end up with these sort of warring factions of of management styles and development methodologies.
Where people spend more time arguing over the the the attachment to the methodology than they do to the outcomes that they’re trying to create and you end up with
People who are like arguing over who’s more agile than the other. And they’re like, this is not a says not a scale of measurement of success. The success is
Did you bring a feature to to the market, you know, to the customer who’s gonna going to do it. And again, like you said, this is
You probably get a ton of people who are like, alright, so I went to up work and I tried this thing out.
And I’m 300 hours in and I don’t know what I’m I don’t think I’m managing this anymore. I needs, I need help. And this is where
You are such a perfect sort of transition for folks who I think they almost got to fall on their face a little
And and no and they got to find the limitations and and maybe that’s natural right it’s maybe it’s the just have to, I think we all have to trip a bit
Whoo. Okay. Now I know why I want to lean on a professional. Like I said, with this beautiful sort of agency approach and again
Adding this sort of the true skin in the game, the equity bound metric of measurements of how you engage with it. It’s just such a beautiful bi directional relationship.
Now the neat thing and a call on is see you’ve done some development, you’ve built products, you’ve built teams, not your schooling background. Yeah, you have a law degree.
That’s right. That’s right. And that’s isn’t. It’s an interesting part of how I got into serious code because
So software development was my first love. My dad taught me how to code on a commerce 64 when I was seven years old. So I was one of those guys right nice and
You know, I dropped out of high school when I was 1516 years old and so I only went to a year and a half of high school.
And I started community college because I just was bored and I want to do something and
And the same time I got an internship. I knew how to code and I needed a job and I saw one for a programmer. I was like, Wow, that sounds interesting. So I kind of just fell into software development.
It seems like a natural progression. But back then, it felt like just just found this thing.
And you know i i never, you know, I remember going to my computer science classes and, you know, I remember once just getting so frustrated with the professor that they were doing it wrong. I just
blurted out in the middle of the class what the right way to do it. And he looked at before I go yeah that’s that’s right
You know I never did real well. And you might like grade wise because I just was so bored. I just, you know, wasn’t really enjoying the time I was like man I can be having a lot more fun at home or at work, you know, doing some actual coding
But you know, I did it because I, you have to have a degree, you know, it’s just one of those things.
You want to make sure your, your resume gets past the people who are just talking out resumes, because you know they have a whole stack of them, they got to go through. It’s nice to have the degree on there. But the thing is, I, I worked for about 15 years I moved up as high as I could.
Being a hands on contributor. And when I looked at how software development was happening in corporations. I didn’t like what I saw.
I saw developers who weren’t really engaged. They didn’t really like doing the work. It was just a job. They did it and I saw
You know, executives who use things like the dogma of agile. We talked about that. The one of the ones I you know that gets me the most is velocity. Right.
I’m a big believer in measuring, you know, because, because what’s measured improves right but
The velocity is one of those things you can track it. You can see how the team’s doing you can help us to forecast, but it gets
Distorted and now all of a sudden, as well. Why was your velocity lower than this, why wasn’t your velocity higher. What can we do to raise your velocity
And that’s just the wrong way using it as the stick to beat developers with
And I just didn’t like this whole environment. So I said, you know what i’m gonna i’m going to complete switch careers. I don’t want to be in that anymore. I’m going to go be a litigator. I’m going to go to law school in the evenings.
And I did that. And so I continued working full time, I was going to law school in the evenings. And then I started this business halfway through it.
Because thinking that my career was going to be over in software development, I was able to take a few risks of ideas that I’d had that I thought might make software development better
And they actually worked out. And so I got to work with some of the best developers I’ve ever worked with who are, you know, grateful and love what they’re doing.
And I was able to provide them an environment that made them want to be there. We took a the Q 12 survey by Gallup for
Engagement and we ranked in the top 7% of organizations globally for engagement of our, our people.
Which is something I’m really proud of and that it was kind of a complete turnaround from
how I felt when I was going into law school coming out the other side. I was like, Okay, I have to build a business around this, because there’s a lot of people who
A developers who want to work in a shop where they’re appreciated and a lot of people who could use the what we’ve discovered to make something cool.
Sounds like the relationship is an important part that you’ve built into how you, you look at the success of anything is that
How did that, did you discover that, did you you’ve got you’ve actually unpacked a lot of things which some people go to three to four years of advanced behavioral psychology. It sounds like you figured a lot of stuff out and put it into action.
Well, that’s the thing. You know, it always frustrated me the software development shops and you have
The free food that you get in the foosball table and the cafeteria and the dry cleaning on site, they do all these things to want to make you want to work there, but then they beat you down when you’re at your desk right with the
Why are we, why are we a week late on this, even though they were the one that asked you to do these other side projects or
Why is your velocity, not as high as this person’s, what can we do to, you know, all that kind of stuff. It’s like
Well foosball tables aren’t going to make somebody being, you know, feel like they want to be doing the work when they’re being, you know, kicked over here. And so I knew, part of what I needed to do was build a culture that
I mean, it really comes around engagement and you know the studies on engagement show that’s only about one third of workers who are actually engaged, who actually want to be there and want to
You know, further the mission of the company. There’s actually a third on the bottom, who are actively disengaged, they’re actually like trying to hurt the company they work for
And then there’s this middle ground. The third in the middle that just they’re just, you know,
They don’t really care. It’s a job and and they’re doing it like I want people who are all on that top one third, who really want to be there and love what we’re doing.
And so, you know, we put things in place to help make sure that that’s the kind of people that we have, it’s it’s neat that you
You pull that out because if we look at any measurement of statistics and engagement and and health of have a team or an organization.
It’s funny that we say like, you know, 30% are actively engaged and people like who, you know, has needs. And then you say, like, well, there’s 30% who are basically just ambivalent
Like they’re just hanging out there.
And they’re not going away, but they’re not really, you know, at 501 they’re tapping out. God bless them. Right. That’s just what’s going to be
You know there’s going to be that that sort of middle ground, but they we quietly didn’t talk about the fact that there’s people who are like f this place.
I’m stealing code. I’m injecting just garbage into the system like I just, I don’t. Not only do I not care I actively actively don’t care about what’s going on here.
Right, I’m gonna hurt this place. And it’s funny, I was at a restaurant yesterday. And one of the workers is leaving walking out the door and what are they saying as a rockin like I hate this place. I like that is not good.
And you’re just thinking, boy. A boy, I hope that wasn’t the guy that cooked my food.
Within this is I think such a foundation to
What culture. Culture is, you know, many people talk about what what culture means and and I think I often use Ben horowitz’s things as culture is the way that the way that they cultures, the way they act when you’re not looking
And and it’s true, right, really like. So these top down culture initiatives and and these, like, hey, we’re going to team building like hey look, inviting a bunch of people to an axe THROWING THING, BUT THEN treating them terribly
Right. The other three months of the year of the quarter. Like, it’s not going to to do that. So it’s
Culture that so how how do you internally measure what is motivating and keeping your people engaged.
Well, so it sounds really simple.
But it’s basically falling. The golden rule. It’s that simple. And, and many people, I think, think, then they’re like,
Come on, give me more than that. But that’s something we just don’t do right, we don’t think about what I like it. If I was somebody was doing to me what I’m doing to this, this person right here and we have, you know, one example of that, for example, is
I saw him salaried employees right who are expected to do 40 hours a week, but you know when it comes to, you know,
The war room time right there’s something that they got to get down, you know, are expected to work the 5055 60 but it’s just kind of this, they’re
They’re expected to sometimes they’re expected to it all the time, right. It’s just, that’s the way life is.
And there’s no no reward. There’s no compensation. There’s no hey you worked really hard. This time wants to take some time off over here. So, for example, what we do is every hours paid right
And that was part of even though the way we structure our things we have all contractor. So we have to do it that way but
Even for folks who come in who are on a salary. We want to make sure that we aren’t
Taking advantage of people just because of the way that the business relationship works so we make sure that they get paid it for every hour that they work so that they don’t feel like they’re taken advantage of that happens so much
We also do some other things like I don’t believe developers can estimate their tasks better than somebody else like their team captain or project manager and there’s studies that the back that up. And so I feel like that whole game of
Having developers do these estimates and then using it, you know, as its kind of the stick to say, hey, why didn’t this get done last week.
We toss that out. I actually tried to keep estimates away from developers and make sure that the team captain is the one who kind of understands the speed that that they work at
Sure. We’ll ask if once in a while if we need some help getting direction, but we avoid the the deadline thing that’s a huge thing the developers hate
Is you know it’s if we’re doing something new, something creative that hasn’t been done before. How can we really say it’s going to take this long, there’s really should be estimates, but they aren’t used as estimates by
The business side. The other folks right and so will and and there’s also something called Parkinson’s Law right that the work will expand to take the available time
I don’t even want them to have those estimates, because on the off chance that the estimate is actually the high end
The work will expand to take it up and then you’ve just you’ve used up any kind of, you know, spare time, you would have had normally so you know there’s a lot of reasons that
I do it that way. But I found that it makes developers much happier not have constant looming deadlines over their heads.
Well, this is the the neat thing and I. One of the really cool initiatives, I saw that came out of base camp.
So Jason freed and David Hannah Meyer hands and DHHS on Twitter. He’s sort of famous for getting involved in an exciting political debates and and startup debates, then, and they really
They, they use a lot of the stuff that you just talked about is the idea that like estimates and an unrealistic deadlines. You know, when we create these artificial boundaries and then you measure somebody against it and call it velocity
You’re, you’re not actually you’re not actually achieving what you wanted to, which was to build something and and build in a way that’s going to be valuable to the person that uses it and
This is this interesting thing of being empathetic throughout the entirety of the development process, including like you said estimates whenever because otherwise it’s the old gold rat thing, right. Show me how you measure me and I’ll show you how I behave
You want ready velocity, kid.
All right. Oh, you know, you want to measure me in lines of code.
Right, what I’m writing garbage code, right, because they’re versus
Actually saying what do we want it to do. Whether it’s like hey, you know, Mozilla was famous for saying like, whatever we do it has to be under a certain
Amount of delivery time in in milliseconds. Right. So every time we add code. It can’t blow that up.
So that was their measurement of success. You know, so you can set product level metrics in then. But then it becomes a consumer thing. So how much of the the project management on the product management then lives inside series code when you’re engaged with a customer.
Yeah, and and and so, you know, this isn’t an easy thing, right.
It’s actually, you know, it’d be great to just completely get rid of estimates. Right. The no estimates crowd and, you know, I like that. And if I run my own business. I’m building my own product that’s how I would do it.
But the thing is that startups have investors who want to know how far the money is going to go. So there’s still a need for this kind of information.
It’s it really our client base. It really depends. Sometimes we are the project managers right we we sit down with the, you know, CEO or whoever, we’re working with.
And elicit the requirements and document it and put together the timeline and then track towards that to let them know
But then there’s other clients that we have that have a project management department. They do this stuff already.
And so we don’t have to get involved there. But typically, the you know the small company that’s coming to us as a startup, we
Have a project management product management function within there as well. And that’s the whole point, like a lot of these companies when they’re coming to us. They’ve had a CTO who’s been the person doing the work and
For, you know, a year or something like that and and
Usually they’re just tired and ready to go get a job job and you know want somebody else to do it. So we’re coming in. And that’s what the startup is getting is you’re going from one person. So, you know,
One brain on the idea to at least three or four right so we have a team captain. So our basic technical team as a team captain, and then a front end developer and a back end developer
And then you can add into that a project manager to so you’re going from one person to three or four. So right there you have a better better you know brain trust to get problem solved.
This is the, the interesting thing to have with development. This is
This is not a throw more people at it to make it move faster. And in fact, it, it has a is detrimental to suddenly
Toss, you know, unaware resources into this pool of supposedly you know just code monkeys that we, you know, people think it’s like, Oh, it is. You can write code. How many lines of code. Can you write in a day I extrapolate the like that it’s
It’s very much, you know, okay, what it, what are we trying to achieve. What are the, you know, what’s it look like what’s the user story, you know. Okay, cool. What’s the user experience going to be
What you know and and understanding all these things and then actually get into code. Okay, well, how much is existing code, the larger becomes now, the more you have to think about testing and other stuff and
Also, hey, most technical co founders, like you said, are our nose down in code doing stuff and probably aren’t really thinking about the rigor of a scalable code base.
Right, which is including stuff like building you know unit tests and building stuff building thinking about how to do
Continuous deployments and stuff like that versus you your team has a vested interest right in doing that, out of the gate, so that you effectively speed up your ability to get to what matters, right.
And it’s always a balancing act because unit tests and stuff so I believe now 100% when I learned Test Driven Design.
Been a 10 years ago now, you know, I was like, wow, this is a game changer. It’s amazing of the quality that can come out. The problem is, it is more expensive. So it takes more time to get it done.
And sometimes you don’t want to do that on a very first version of something, because especially like a prototype a proof of concept.
Because you don’t know if that’s actually what you’re going to have or how drastically. It’s going to change. But once something is
You know, yep. This is built this is this is the way it’s going to go. It’s going to be our product for years to come, you absolutely want some kind of unit test suite.
We come in and yeah, oftentimes sentence just does not exist. And oftentimes, not on the mind of the non technical co founder, so we have to talk about it and explain why it’s good to have that kind of stuff.
And you know, it’s a balancing act. We can’t just stop everything for three months and build a test suite right there’s
Much nobody’s gonna let you do that.
So you have to figure out how you can kind of work it in as you go so that you know there’s a balance between that and the features that actually make a company money.
Here. What if when they designed the first SpaceX, you know, Falcon rocket. They didn’t start with the seat belts.
They started with the bloody rocket
Like is this thing going to get off the ground. Okay, now let’s work on the seat belts. Like that’s if you can’t build the thing that’s going to do something, then there’s like you said, it’s
There’s sometimes we get a little ahead of ourselves with process. The hard part, like you said, this is the balance. It’s really easy to just forget to go back and and and and retrofit some of that stuff and
In and, you know, forget to go back or just you’re moving so fast, right, because the market is demanding. We need to get this out this out this out.
And if you don’t have the money to you know scale that the team up to have somebody say dedicated to more or more people. I usually don’t like to dedicate somebody just to
The unit test side of things. I like it. For each developer to do the unit test as part of the code that they’re building. But you’re right, if you have some super aggressive timeline. You just can’t don’t have a moment to stop and catch your breath.
Those usually know they need to stop or else they’re going to find a way to stop themselves.
Yes, it’s, it’s very self correcting
Sadly, this is how it works well. The Oh don’t worry. Well, we’ll build in those those gates by accident, they
Do you meant to be there or not.
Right. The when you’re bringing on on people. This is always interesting because you you have to hire a very specific type of developer. That’s probably
Fresh but not too fresh right it’s because they’ve got to be able to think and move quickly but also have enough experience in that they’re going to get, like, hey, look, this is, this is the stuff we don’t want to do. But we do need to get there.
Yeah, you know, I tell people that, when when I have to pick a developer
Usually I’m going to pick somebody who’s more junior has fewer years because we can groom them in the way that we think government should be. And we don’t. There’s not those bad habits that we got to break right
But our model actually helps balance that out we put on a team a team captain who has you know 10 years or more of experience, but it’s somebody that we’ve worked with and see that they get it. They understand how to do this and how to do this well and then we put
More junior developers with them something, you know, in the four to five year range.
But the thing is that we find there’s a four to one ratio between them. We don’t want a team captain running a huge team you know 10 or 15 developers, because they just don’t have the time to
Focus on each person individually. And that’s one of the problems of those larger teams and
Developers are just out there doing their own thing. They feel like they’re, they’re kind of lost in this big see like, what am I supposed to be doing. I have no no guidance here.
We want to make sure that the team captains are guiding each developer. And so that’s really there’s, you know, four to one, there’s a five person team is kind of our optimal team.
And their job as a team captain is to review you know they they assigned tasks they think about technical architecture and direction.
But on the other end, they review every line of code to make sure it meets their standard and if it isn’t there, they kick it back to the developer and show them how to do it again. And that way you have this balancing of
All of the code kind of coming up to the quality that you would expect from somebody who’s been doing this for 10 or more years.
Well, this is the the neat thing to in the patterns of of development.
And we talked about like Conway’s Law as sort of a famous depiction of the idea that we build systems that that that mapped to the communication patterns within our team and and it’s
So this is neat because you effectively can really create
A systemized a system, a systematic view of what every product should look like. And it gets better and better.
Versus an internal development team where you literally have to first figure out how to get people to work together and then from there, get them to actually build a product and then think about scaling. At the same time, this gives them.
As a, as a consumer of series code as a as a partner. They can just say, I can focus 100% on product and then from there I can then start to maybe start bringing my own development teams and start to integrate and start to carry sell that over onto my side of the fence, so to speak. Yeah.
And I liked that you brought up Conway’s Law because
When I was talking about that four to one ratio. That’s one of the other things that helps address is, you know, people wonder why they have these huge development team will huge
But let’s say you know 1520 people and they they wonder why they built a monolith. And it’s because your team is a monolith.
You have you have one leader who can’t manage all of you can’t mentor, all the people here are can give you know 30 minutes a week to each person.
And it’s just this huge monolithic team that all talks to everybody. One of the reasons we like to keep our team small is it, it matches a micro services type of architecture where if you have, you know, instead of, instead of
You know, one big 20% team, let’s have four or five teams and each can be working on their own thing and by design through Conway’s Law.
That they each become their own modules components that they’re building that are more like microservices and less like a monolith.
And so startup usually don’t need to be thinking about that at the stage that we’re starting with them.
But that’s something you know, like I said, we want to be a long term partner. We want to be the software development department for them.
So, you know, a few years down the road after those next funding rounds of come in and they’re really beginning to scale. We can build into that proper model.
But we also know that now. So what we’re building now should be able to easily convert to that and, you know, oftentimes, you have this. We’ve built a monolith up front. And now we need to split it into microservices, a couple years down the road. And that is a real pain to do
Yeah, that’s of the things that you you don’t want to be retrofitting it’s the breakout to microservices. And it’s this is an interesting one. I wanted to explore this with you. So I also did a poll from
DHHS energy fried ism, I would say is that they they very much welcome the monolith, in many cases, because there are times when
Depending on what you’re looking to do with the platform you’re building
You may be over engineering correct by building out this microservices, and they talk about the size of base camp where it has like
It has like 370 controllers and and it’s all one just giant, monolithic code base, but they’ve literally built the entire team around how to do that.
Right, and that’s their choice in the way that this product behaves and it works at a certain speed and it scales with them as they need. So they’ve
They’ve very much set the gates and guardrails
To where they know they need to be, and they understand the limitations. The platform. It also helps that they built the bloody framework you know Ruby on Rails that but go on it there. So it’s when you when you build the machine. It’s easy to understand how to use the machine.
Yeah, as AND IT’S SO TRUE AND SO THERE IS DEFINITELY over engineering of making everything a micro service when it doesn’t really need to be
I like that. And that’s again why I like the team size, the five person team, you know, a person by themselves. You can’t really do enough to
Say, you know, this is the service that this person provides right they’re just not enough time in the day for them to write enough code for it to be large enough
I like five person team size because what they can handle just naturally fits into what might be the right amount the right size for some kind of service.
And then if it gets larger than that. That’s when I like to think about breaking it out. There are lots of places that a monolith might make sense. And a lot of times in your MVP, it’s, it’s there as well, because
It’s cheaper and you can get something done faster. And the idea to keep in mind is is knowing, are we going to need to switch from this or is this what we’re going to keep using moving forward.
Now the interesting thing is, because you’re so tightly intertwined with the end or your customer, I guess, whatever we want to describe your yo yo your client who you’re working with.
And you’ve got your team captains, you’ve got your level of Product Management and project management that are going on.
It’s really interesting because if people don’t really know how to work.
And what are the boundaries of, you know, whether it’s like traditionally sort of the pragmatic model of, like, here’s where product management. Here’s your product marketing is and the
How, how much time do you find yourself spending just working out the handoffs and the relationship in those early phases and also curious how much of it goes as those customers expect it to go before they realize like, oh, wow, there’s, I need to be way more involved or way less than
Right. Yeah, and you know it’s it’s a case by case kind of basis. But, you know, yeah, we have one that we’re working on right now that it’s, you know, it was a month.
It was a couple of weeks type of project, but
When you factor in all the other stuff the handoff from the key. Now it’s your turn. You have to review this you have to go through this process and you have to
Make sure this is what you want, you know, a couple more weeks can get added on. And suddenly a project size can be double of what was expected. Right, so there there is a lot of that. And it really just depends on
The client and the kind of work that you’re you’re doing at that moment, we’re
In this is the challenge of I think product management is one of the more interesting areas that I i love studying great product managers.
Because of they have to have a an ability to work and understand code, but not necessarily the code themselves, right, they have to understand
The customer experience and ultimately what they’re building towards they also have to understand how much it costs. What’s like
They have to know what they have to understand burned down, they have to understand the burn rate of the organization. There’s, it’s such a very interesting. They’re like, they’re like the CEO of the product.
But it is a very unique sort of personality that can do that very, very well.
And in a startup that has just a few people usually you don’t have the luxury of having somebody dedicated to that. And so, we find that we’re usually that’s the partnership of
The team captain has to play a bit of a role of that, especially on the side of understanding
You know, like the burn down or the the burn rate, you know what, it’s costing, how many hours are going into something, but then you also need the it typically turns out to be the CEO in a small start up this pre funding.
They have to be there to be able to define requirements and what is it that we want to build and where do we want to go in the to work together to figure out, okay, what is the most you know
The highest ROI basically where really should we be focusing on this and how do we narrow this down to just the stuff that is really going to make the most impact.
Now, how much of your, your legal background. So that was acquired along the way comes into play with your day to day I would I would bet that especially working with startups it, it’s probably pretty important.
It can be, I find myself. A lot of times, talk to the people that I have. I’m not your lawyer, I can’t, I can’t, you know, I’m not advising you on this.
To formation of the contracts. I think my legal background is why series code, the financial package that we offer actually exists. I, you know, towards the end of school. I took
Venture law class which is all about how this works like how a safer kiss works and how the financing rounds work and by taking all that knowledge and figuring it out is how we could offer
The actual will work for equity and what we do there. So most shops that do this kind of thing. They just have a fixed rate. They just say you’re going to give us 5% or 7% or 10% of your company.
Period and then we’ll work at a reduced rate for you. And I don’t think that’s fair to the company because
Software Development is different. Everybody needs a different amount there. I don’t think there is a one size fits all. So what we do instead is
Is, is we have like our standard program is 5050 so you take 50% of your invoice and you pay
At least 50% in cash, and then you can put up to 50% on an equity balance that we carry forward and then each month, you know, they can continue to accumulate that
And then at a series a round or whatever their next round is going to be. We just participate, like we were an investor on and say convertible note.
And this way, it really depends on how much work, they need. That’s what determines our percentage, we could be as small as 1% in the company. We could be as large as
10% we would have had to do millions of dollars of work to get there at least hundreds and hundreds of thousands
But I think it’s more fair and it lets somebody kind of scale grow up or scale back as needed, without worrying about, well, you know, I gave away 10% of my company. I really need to get you know every everything I can out of that.
And it prevents the other side, right, imagine somebody takes 5% and they put in a bunch of work and feel like they should be done like they don’t need to do anymore. They’re kind of going to stop versus US
You need us to work, we work more we can emulate a little bit more towards the bottom line.
Well, this is the very interesting thing of have this dynamic relationship and it really does become bi directional and this is right, like you said,
Too many times people have this kind of fixed thing. And so what you end up with is
If a founder and a founding team, and especially investors once investors are getting involved, they’re going to look and say, like, hey, you’re cutting 5% out towards this.
This entity that who knows, like what we’re actually getting what we want out of them. Right. And most likely, those investors.
Are thinking, well, let me put my development team in there like I’ve got a set that I’ve worked with before, and
In a way, they’re probably already thinking ahead of how to dilute out that 5% to actually make it what it is versus
Being dynamic and variable so that it’s the founders choice. I tell you lock in. And in freedom are
Things that we we think we’re all time we hear all the time like this idea of like cloud locking or product lock in. Right.
Well, we don’t actually move stuff around like no one has, like, hey, if there’s application I built that I can put it anywhere. You’re going to put it on iOS, you’re going to put it on Android, you’re going to put it in the cloud, you’re going to
But you like the feeling that if you had to you lift it up and move it around if needed. Yeah, that’s so true. Yeah, that’s so true.
Now, how does, how did your experiences shape you know in some of the difficult interactions, you’ve had. Because I imagine at some point.
There’s bound to have been even, like, not necessarily. So here was serious code in your clients, but you’ve generally great ideas also come from people learning the hard way. You’re right. Let’s, let’s talk about some of the tough reasons that got you to think about building this platform.
Well, and that’s part of, you know, you said, How does law school, help me on the day to day, but there’s there’s a this larger kind of overarching when I was 21 I started a startup and
I got taken advantage of my client, you know, who didn’t pay their bills for, you know, months and months and months and
You know, the things that they did. And they said, We’re I had no idea because I was a 2122 23 year old kid right
And you know I did get burned on that and as part of coming out of that. It’s like, I don’t know if I ever want to have one of these businesses again because it’s so easy just to lose everything or for somebody not to pay or for somebody to declare bankruptcy. Right.
And going through law school, I realized quite a ton of the things that that client did. They’re not legal like
They wouldn’t have held up in the quarter law right
So having that background. Now, and knowing I mean there’s there’s a huge part of your lawyer. People don’t screw with you. Right. It’s just one of those things, not the not the not the people you want to go around, you know, messing with
And that helps out. But just knowing that the things that people are that happened before they shouldn’t have happened and that knowledge helped me have the faith to move forward in this one and know that you know
The, the world won’t end if we have one of those clients. Usually, you just want to get rid of them, right.
Yes, really. Yeah, some point, you just want to shake them out because you’re like, look, they’re not going to pay this invoice, no matter how much I chased him. I’m going to stop chasing
But knowing that that they shouldn’t be doing the things that they’re doing. And you don’t have to put up with it right is is one of those
I would recommend law school is a big investment, I’d recommend it to anybody even if you’re not going to use it because you learn so much about how the business and legal world can can work and can help you out.
What becomes an interesting problem of legal and enforceable their and their differentiated
In a contract and in terms of any contract employment contract product contract relationship with your cell phone vendor for there’s there’s certain things that they may be written in there, but they’re actually
They’re legal however not enforceable especially state by state as a whole. Yeah.
I remember going through my classes every single class had at least one of those things. I was like, wait, that’s in like every contract of this type, and they can’t enforce it, but
There’s, there’s a thing people feel like it was in a contract. I read it, I signed my name to it, therefore I’m bound by it and I was like, wow, that’s really not the case, it’s, it’s actually amazing how many times that isn’t the case. And people just don’t know it.
I when I worked for one organization every relationship we would have with a vendor would like that, like, here it is, you know, just here’s, here’s your standard T’s and C’s, they would call it, you know.
And then it would it would come back to them like a grade nine English essay just littered with reading can scratch marks and it would be like know
Here’s our you know indemnification that we’re adding in and all this different stuff.
And I would I would look at the consciousness vendors not gonna let us do this and they’re like trust us. This is they know they’ve got the lawyers that we’ve got. We just. This is the dance. We do. Yeah, yeah.
And that’s the thing after coming out of law school. I don’t know if I’d ever hired a lawyer before then right at the analytical I hired for lawyers.
Because we’re all the different things. Yeah, the business side and the IP side and and that you know that’s
It’s strange. You think you go through law school. Okay. You can be your own lawyer. Well, no. The thing is law is so specific. You really need a lawyer who’s an expert in the field that you need something in
So I, I recommend always it’s expensive right lawyers are expensive, but they they pay off in dividends.
Within each. This is neat thing too, because, I mean, heck, you can get that as a service to
Right. But even that this is an interesting challenge of I actually used to a company called up Council and I think actually got recommended to through
A podcast I was talking with with somebody and they said like, hey, look, I don’t, I don’t need a lawyer full time, I was able to use like up counsel.
And then I got the first ever like, you know, when a when a startup closes their doors. It’s usually like hey we’re we’re
We’re so bummed. You know we did our best. We had a great run, it was great for years.
He thank you very much to all of our customers. We will keep the service live for another 30 days, but unfortunately we we’ve had to close the doors, right, I got the account. So, which was basically like lawyers as a service.
And specifically target at like startup setup and and small business, I guess they just
Were at for whatever reason I didn’t read much more intuitive than, than the really cool email which was
Basically a terms of conditions from them saying, you know, Heather to, and wherefore under like it was a lot of legal ease basically saying, hey, we’re really bummed. And we got to close the door right
Away. A LAWYER SAYS IT
And even I remember going to, it was like a team building event one time and
Are the chief counsel for my company was on my team and because we like mixed and matched people and we’re literally going on a scavenger hunt. It’s. It was the most hilarious thing. So we go on the scavenger hunt.
And it was like, okay, here we’ve got you know john and Eric and Joanne are on the team. And then like they like, oh, just feel this quick little you know like the waiver. You just like check off a side of the back
And literally, like, here’s my chief counsel, she’s going through it going no one sign that no one sign that like it’s
You’re going to be running around the city. And it just was a normal indemnification you know clause, and she’s just like the same thing. She’s like, this is not enforceable based on British Columbia Law. We’re going to rewrite it. I’m like, it’s okay. We’ll just sign it for five
Years are paranoid. They really are. And probably for good reason. Right.
Well, in this. The interesting thing like the greatest contract, written by the greatest lawyer can be then torn down by another great lawyer and it depends.
You never want to be in those situations, but like you said, I think it’s a fundamental lessons, especially for people that are getting into, you know, becoming a startup like just take a quick
Take a quick course on you know like venture law, especially when it comes to like understanding term sheets and doing stuff like that. Like that’s
Boy Boy, there’s just story after story of people who are like, I had no idea what was going on when I even just setting the founders equity right
Yeah, and I think you said it I you know I hadn’t actually thought of that before but I had taken the investor course right so one of those kind of
Boot Camp one day to day kind of things. And then I taken the venture law class and that class taught me so much more. And there’s so much to learn about it.
But anybody who’s starting up and thinks they’re going to take venture capital or
outside investment. It really would make a lot of sense to find a class like that and audit it at least right and just, just go and get that information because there’s a ton. And you really need a guide to take you through it. Well,
And people think that like you know a lot of people like to watch Shark Tank. I know how to start a company. I know.
You, you know how to start a company that just got 51% of its equity taken over by by somebody. And there’s a reason why those numbers.
I’ve become sort of intimately involved in understanding the venture in the lawn and all the startups. So I love watching those things because here like
You can tell the people that have done it before, when they’re there. They’re like, Ah, yeah, it sounds good, like let’s go for it. And the other ones here like I’m Nope, can’t do it.
Like they’re trying to sort of hammer this deal because guess what it’s like poker, the House as it’s always in favor of the house, no matter how many times you when
Somebody else has has lost in order to allow you to win. And generally, when you’re in VCs VCs aren’t in the game of giving away money right that’s
There’s definite terms and conditions that are on, you know, getting that term sheet put over in your hands. Yeah. So john any, any advice to people that you know
They got an idea and they want to think about can I make this into a business. What’s, what’s the litmus test that you lay in front of them.
Well, oftentimes, you know, they’re coming to us farther down right so they’ve already gone through that there’s, you know, there’s all of that stuff.
On starting up a business that is outside of our hands. It’s a completely and there’s figuring out if it’s an idea that’s got legs on it.
Figuring out. This is the path. You want to go down because it’s a tough path, being a founder of, you know, a new product company, it’s going to be years of your life if you’re if you’re married, you better make sure the spouse and kids are are on board.
And it’s going to be, you know, it’s going to be a trial.
Really when when it comes to if you’re non technical founder
You know, you can try to go out there and do it yourself, but you know, I started keeping count for every 40 applications. It takes 40 applications for a developer for us to find the one that we keep we have this long process that we go through it tests and
trial period and the whole thing.
And if you’re gonna if you don’t know code, you don’t know how to do it yourself. You don’t really know what you’re going to manage to
It’s like finding a needle in a haystack there. So that’s where we can help out. If you come to us with the idea, you know it’s it’s not a huge vetting process.
Because who really knows right there’s venture capitalists out there making bets all the time on things that fail. It’s really tough to know which one is going to have legs or not. So we look for what are the ones that we can really get excited about.
You know, what are the ones that we are going to make us want to keep going. During those hard times. And if we’re on the same page there, then we’d love to help out. That’s cool. Yeah.
John it’s I could I could spend all day to stealing lessons from you, and you know, we’ll get together again because I really do you want to talk a bit more about
That vetting process is very interesting and and i think folks would love to hear sort of your thought process again is like when you
Taking this idea and mapping it relative to anecdotal experience market timing. There’s, there’s just so many things where
You know and i would i would imagine you’ve got a lot of hard lessons you know learned and stuff that you you approach it in a systematic way, which is really good.
But before we close up. What, what’s the best way for folks if they want to get hold of you john and get get in touch with series code and then learn more about what you and the team are doing
Yeah, they should head over to series code calm. So it’s just like it sounds series se R is code C O d.com
And there they can get more information about the process that we go through and then there’s an email address right on there that again sent to if they’re interested in finding out more.
And of course, we’ll have stuff on the show notes for folks that that can easily click out
And this is, it’s been a real pleasure john and like i said i’m excited when I saw when I saw what serious code was that really
This is something I’m like I said, I hope one day to be a client, this is, this is something where I really, I believe in the way you’re doing things is really, really good. And also, it’s just such a great give back to founders.
Because this is one of the things that, you know, people can lose the ability to bring an idea to reality right cuz they get stuck.
Doing stuff that’s just out of their wheelhouse. Yeah. And there are there are teams that can do this stuff for you and the equity relationship is just so cool. I’m, I’m excited. I’m excited by what what you’re doing so.
Well, thanks for having me here. Eric, I really do appreciate it.
And yeah, so we’ll then we’ll send folks along and thanks again john and again for folks that we want to make sure you check out serious code.com
Make sure you also rate this podcast. It’s always nice for us to be all speaking of
You know metrics we like to get measured by it’s nice get pushed up to the higher in the ratings list. So if you like this, if you want to hear more great stories like what john and the series code team have going on.
Let’s do that. So, John’s to thank you very much for this has been an absolute pleasure to spend time with you today. Thank you.
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