Category Archives: My StartUp Life

How Rosie Leans In

I was recently pointed towards the TedTalk and then Lean In book of Sheryl Sandberg.  She’s the COO of Facebook.  I had never heard of her until a few weeks ago.

My first reaction was, umm, pro-women-feminist-leadership. Yawn.  I’ve read enough about that.  The fact that her experience is at a very high level also made me weary of what she was trying to communicate.  I didn’t feel like anything she had to say about women and leadership would really make me think deeply enough about it to write this blog post.

I’m pretty sure, for example, that I don’t want represent a huge company to be a high flying exec, attending big meetings and travelling the world.  It’s just not how I rock ‘n’ roll.

In my time I’ve struggled with finding an employer who would be open to the work flexibility that I aspired to.  Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough. Perhaps I was too scared. Perhaps I felt the times that I tried to ask meant that I was knocked off the list. The fact that Sheryl requested as part of her job to be able to be home for dinner, whilst I understand is brave, is just not something that is good enough for me.  This working for someone else thing just doesn’t work for me.  I needed more than just getting home for dinner time.

However, like Sheryl says. We all want different things.  She’s gone after what she has wanted, whilst raising a family.  I’m doing the same, the Rosie way.

I recognise that I’ve stepped back in many ways, instead of leaning in.  I stopped working when I was pregnant.  I tried going back afterwards, but I couldn’t take it.  I didn’t love the work I was doing at the time enough to see through the high cost of childcare, huge pressure to juggle home & work whilst not seeing my kids.  I did the opposite of what Sheryl talks about – I leaned out instead of in.

However, over the years I’ve been defining my own life whilst discovering the things that I really enjoy doing.  Perhaps I leaned back in  areas, but I certainly leaned in and stayed focused in many other ways.

I don’t think I’ve let myself down. I’ve always had dreams to do things. I’ve always tried hard. I’ve never been happy just being a SAHM – I get bored very quickly.  This boredom meant that I was constantly playing around with project and business ideas.  Some have failed, however, others are now flourishing.  Flourishing in a way that I’ve somehow gotten myself into a leadership role of my own.

It feels weird.  And I find it hard to take credit for it.  (Which is exactly what Sheryl says that women don’t do enough of…and men take credit all too easily).  I’m still not quite sure if ‘the not taking credit for it’  is just who I am, or if maybe, just maybe I should claiming my recognition and shouting about it more.  For now, I’m quite happy pushing things along. Growing my business. Desigining my home and business life to accommodate my needs:

  • I run a successful business that is designed around my family.
  • I bloody love what I do.
  • I unschool my boys.
  • I spend alot of quantity and quality time with the family.
  • I have a supportive and now equal partner.
  • I am happy.

I’ve long been dissatisfied with the status quo.  I honestly don’t understand why so many things are the way they are.  My way of leaning in is to challenge them by creating and sharing my own reality.

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that the impact lasts in your absence” – Sheryl Sandberg

I believe I’m doing the above through my work at Software Testing Club and Ministry of Testing.  I’m working on other projects and discovering new passions which I hope will have a similar impact at some point in the future too!

Decisions + Learning = Progress

I have this theory that the more decisions you make the progress happens.

I feel uncomfortable when I don’t make decisions.  I hate sitting on unresolved situations.  It makes me feel restless and uncomfortable.

When I make a decisions I feel almost automatically relieved and happy. It feels like I can move forward. I learn, no matter whether I succeed or fail. It feels like I’m going to get busy doing real and valuable stuff. I begin to understand the world around me more. I know I will make mistakes along the way. I know I will make the wrong decisions sometimes.  However, equally I will achieve successes along the way and quite often surprising and encouraging discoveries.

The worst thing for me is not doing anything. Not making that decision and being left not knowing or learning about what could have been.

Progress

The 21 Hour Work Week

I read this report on a 21 hour work week by the NEF 3 years ago (when it first came out).  It talks about the benefits that would be achieved if society adopted or moved towards a 21 hour work week – the benefits which included economic, heatlh and community.  It really is worth a read.

Since reading it, the idea of a 21 hour week has really stuck with me.  I think I’ve long been thinking of how to society could work better.  It was part of the reason why I helped set up a coworking space a few years back.  Having kids also makes many people (including myself) re-consider their work situation.

I’ve had it as a goal of mine to work towards a 21 hour week because it feels right to me. The stress of a full 40 hour work week plus commuting time just feels like too much for me and my young family.  It’s taken me a while to get there, but I believe my shorter work week is now here.

I’ve long thought it’s ludricous that society is fixated on a strict 40 hour work week, often with the expectation to work longer hours.  Sure some jobs need employees to be around at specific times, but there are so many jobs that are so close minded about work hours and flexibility.  Then there are articles like this one congratulating an entrepreneur because he works 40 hours per week (not 60, 80 or 100).  There’s a lot of wrong there if we think someone has it so great because they work 40 hours per week.

Of course this depends on the job, but if you give someone 40 hours to work per week it is highly likely that their work will take them 40 or more hours to do.  If you give them 20 hours, I bet you they would be much more productive or creative in how they can get their job done.

As someone who runs their own little business, I am always conscious of the time I spend working.  I’m not always at the 21 hour per week mark.  However, I am always looking to cut out things that just take up too much of my time.  Like meetings and travelling. I also have to think much harder about where I spend the time – my time needs to be used to be used as effectively as possible, eliminate any kind of waste, bring in some kind of value to my business and/or be helping give me achieve some kind of work happiness – if it’s not then I don’t bother.

Like anything, a 21 hour work week is highly unlikely to happen overnight, but it is possible if you work towards it as a goal.  I feel like I am almost getting there.

Sure, perhaps if I worked harder then my business would grow faster, I’m sure it would to a certain extent. However, I do believe the work I’m doing needs time to grow. Whenever I try to push things too fast then I feel like I make the wrong decisions.

The ironic thing is that I still feel busier than ever, but it’s a good busy and it’s not all ‘work’.

Less Is More

The more you have, the more you use.  The old saying is that less is more.

Take a business for example –  ’old’ businesses are often burdened with more.  It’s hard to get rid of waste. It’s hard to change or innovate. It’s hard for the people and the business to be nimble and quick. Is it really a wonder why startups can achieve what big corporations can’t?

But I’m not just referring to business.  It applies to any aspect of life.

For us, we are aiming to have less stuff. Less commuting.  Less work. Less furniture. Less things. Less clothes.  Less toys.

This gives us more. More freedom. More space. More peace of mind. More time with the kids.

Funnily it means we are busier than we have ever been, but in very different ways.

Less means…

  • More creativity.
  • You make do with what you have.
  • You make sure you do your research.
  • You help friends or colleagues, and vice versa.
  • You are ever so careful with what you spend.
  • You be as efficient as you can.
  • You think outside of the box.
  • You question everything you are doing.
  • You remove any kind of waste, hassle or unhappiness.
  • You appreciate what you have.
  • Flexibilty.
  • Control over your life and decisions.

Society is obsessed with more…

Everything in the media is obsessed with growth.  Big is good. Small is failure.  I disagree.

Big means:

  • other people make decisions for you.
  • you can’t think for yourself.
  • someone else thinks outside of the box for you.
  • you have no flexibility
  • you have no control
  • you do as people ask
  • you have no (or a very ineffective) voice
  • appreciation of what you have is often lost.

It’s really ok to have less.  These days it is an advantage.

 

Learning To Be

Life is one big long journey.

Who I wanted to be when I was 13, 18, and 25 is different to who I want to be now.

Who I want to be in 5 years time will no doubt be different from who I want to be now.  My aspirations will change. My life will change too. My kids will be more grown up. I’d sure be a sad puppy if my business didn’t change either.

What I do increasingly feel is that I know more about who I want to be and what I stand for.  Perhaps it is a simplistic concept.  And people say it all the time – ‘just be yourself’.

But it’s hard to just be yourself, perhaps:

  • work is not allowing you to
  • you don’t feel you have the time to yourself
  • being yourself means creating a lot of change around you
  • you have to do things differently, and that is scary.

(etc, etc, etc!)

I often relate this back to my business and my kids.  The fact is that creating a business is hard work. Raising kids is hard(er).  Doing the two whilst homeschooling feels like a whole other dimension.

It was a couple of years ago that I decided to be somewhat selfish: everything I wanted to do had to evolve around me, my life and how I wanted to work.  I felt this was essential to help me become a happy and productive human being.

Initially this meant working at home with an infant whilst my other 2 boys were at school. Now it means working whilst homeschooling all my boys.  A subtle change? Hmm, not quite.

(2 of) my boys come to work with me It does mean that I work from home or wherever there is wifi.

It also means I work strange hours. An hour here, a couple there, often late at night.  I’m happy with that. My kids come first, that’s the way it should be.  I’ve also learned to become very efficient with my time.

It also means that I create my own image of myself and my business.  This could come in the form of general branding. However, it can come in many other forms – the way I dress, how I behave, my personality, the effort I give to create something special and fun, the time I spend getting to know people (without giving them a hard sell).

Perhaps the biggest change for me is adapting my business to work for my family.  One example is bringing my kids along with me when I have an event or go to a meeting.  I don’t do it all the time. I did it today for a Rapid Software Testing course.  I brought my #2 and #3 in with me whilst the students got settled.  It wasn’t longer than an hour.  They enjoyed it and liked the drinks and croissants on offer.  I’ve done it for business meetings too – “if you want to talk to me, then we’ll have to meet in a park”.

It felt awkward at first, especially with my youngest (who is 2).  But it’s important for me.  Partly because it’s me ‘ learning to being me’.  But the other part is that (I believe) it helps create conversations and change.

These conversations and hopeful change is what drives me. I want to show people how it is possible to live a life of balance – because frankly society totally lacks it. <– I’ll leave that for another rant.

A Story of A (Testing Planet) Bug

I’m a tester. I run websites aimed at testers. Strangely testers seem to get this weird pleasure reporting bugs to me. I won’t tell you of all the bugs that I know exist, but I can tell you of one.

The one that made me laugh at first then wonder how we were going to fix it. The one bug that was a real pain in the *** to fix. The one that was the equivalent of finding a bug once the CD-Rom had been shipped. The one that happened at the busiest time of my working year. The one that led to great conversations. The one that will mean we will hire some extra help for the next issue.  The one that highlights that content bugs can be hard to catch.

A Bug on The Testing Planet

It was a bug on The Testing Planet that we failed to catch before it went to print. We’ve had typos before. Wrong dates. But this one was different, not catastrophic, but more embarrassing to see go out. It was a few lines of editing notes that were left in at the end

of Lisa Crispin’s article. Ooops we say. We fixed the digital version easily. It took about an hour to do all the necessary work.

The fix we came up with was to design a sticker to promote TinyTestBash to go on top of the unwanted text, the effort that went into it:

  • This sticker had to be designed (1 hrs effort).
  • It had to be printed on to label sheets and precisely cut, this actually took a long time! 4 hrs to create a sticker for each copy of The Testing Planet, to date I’ve only done it for half of The Testing Planets we’ve ordered. So the total will be 8 hrs.
  • We then had to stick them in each of The Testing Planets, this was time consuming too, especially as the stickers were manually cut which made them difficult to peel. Total time for (half of The Testing Planets) was 8 hours.
  • I needed some help as I had very little time that week to deal with this issue (it was in the run up to TestBash), so I called upon Mauri’s help who was conveniently attending the RST course.

Total cost to fix half of the bugs: 17 hours. As I distribute the rest of The Testing Planets that we have it will likely double.

Great conversations and making a new friend with Mauri, priceless :)

(I won’t mention Mauri getting to see my boys fight in the back of my car!)

So if you have a copy of Issue 10 of  The Testing Planet you now know why that sticker is there! :)

 

 

Community As A Business – Achieving The Win Win

There was a panel on at #vircomm13 the other week about The Business of Community – Monetisation and Marketing. It spurred me up to write about this as it is something close to my heart and the things I do on a daily basis for my business/community.

What gets to me every time is the total avoidance in discussions of how communities can make money.  And how the term ‘making money’ and ‘communities’ is deemed as some kind of ‘no-no’.

There is often talk of ROI for communities.  And also talk of figuring out how to better align the goals of communities and the members, but the idea of selling to users is frowned upon, dismissed and avoided.

However, if we really start to look at communities dotted across the web I think we’ll start to find successful businesses that rely on community to be in business.

Financial Sustainability Is Key To Communities

I’d like to see much more talk about sustainability and communities in a business and financial sense.

I’d like people to stop shaking their heads when the talk of making money comes into play.

I’d like to see more creativity in the way money is made – surely we can do better than the default ‘displaying ads’ business model?

I think sustainability is key for any community to allow it to grow.  In most situations communities are built with the intention to last.  For them to last they need to justify their existence – to the ‘owners’ and the ‘members’.

How each community achieves sustainability will be different.  There is no best practice, each community has its’ own unique challenges. In the software testing world many of us are familiar with the term ‘context driven’ – we must consider the individual situation which we operate under – every situation should have its’ context taken into consideration.

A branded community, for example, will need to prove somehow (perhaps through metrics) that the community brings value to the business.  The community will have a much greater chance of support and survival if value can be proven.

Smaller independent communities, like the one I run, need to achieve sustainability by other means.  Having metrics in these situations is all good, but if it doesn’t bring in the money at the end of the day then the community will die a slow death.

By being sustainable (for small/niche communities) I mean more than covering the software and hosting costs.  Sustainability for me means allowing the founder(s) and people who run the community to get paid for what they do.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if these people who start important communities could invest their efforts into building these communities into something even better without worrying about holding down a full time job or feeding their kids?  Imagine if the people who start these trends could do more: re-invest more of the time and the resources/money they make into making the community an even better and more valuable place.

I personally think this would be awesome.  There are niche communities dotted around the web where the founders have created something special and unique.  We should be supporting these niche communities because of their uniqueness. Their individuality. Their ability to grow without bureaucracy. The chance to achieve change. But perhaps most importantly because the founders most likely have their community in their heart.

Looking for the win-win

The founders of these communities want to do the right thing.  Something deep inside them has driven them to start it in the first place.

They wouldn’t be thinking and asking ‘how can I monetise my members?’.

They would be asking “how can I grow and maintain a valuable community for my members that benefits and creates value for all of us?’

This is what I call the win-win scenario.  Creating something where both the members and the owners feel content with what is being created.  The owner’s hearts are in the right place and the members feel respected.  It’s not always easy to achieve, but is certainly possible.

Community As A Business

Camera Roll-492

Shock horror. I monetise my community.

I really do hate the ‘monetisation’ term, but I have used it here to just to conform to what people understand.

I started a community 6 years ago. It never made money in the first 4.5 years.  Any money that was made just covered the costs.  It was a part time hobby that was going somewhere, but eating up so much of my personal time.

I wanted to make it so much more, but to do so would mean risk for me and dedicating myself ‘full time’ to it.  So I made the jump.

For the past year or so I’ve been making money from it.   I’d probably make more money if I went out and got a proper job, but then I’d never see my kids and my actual living expenses would go up. There are pros and cons everywhere.

I don’t think it is wrong that I am making money.  I’d like to think my community members would agree.

The funny thing is I’ve never felt so content with what I am doing – I’m finding that work-life balance that I’ve been so desperate to have.  I feel intellectually challenged. I feel like I’m learning every day.  I have the freedom to do what I think is right.  I love what I’m doing, in the most cheesy way.

I’m not asking ‘how can I monetise my members?’.

I’m asking “how can I grow and maintain a valuable community for my members that benefits and creates value for all of us?’

I do know that I have an opportunity.  It’s not an opportunity to monetise. It’s not an opportunity to create a startup and get acquired (and then close down months later).

It’s an opportunity for me to learn, grow and make a difference to the software testing world. It’s an opportunity to create a financially sustainable community.  It’s an opportunity to create change in a software testing world that I believe needs it.

I’m scared and humbled to be in this position, but as they say ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ :)

Conference Observations

During my limited time of running conferences I’ve come across some observations that I thought I would share.  This is from experience of organising TestBash.

People Advised Me Against It

Before starting TestBash I spoke to several people about the idea.  Many of them told me to be very careful. That conferences are very hard to make happen.  It’s hard to get the numbers right. Get the attendees and the sponsors. Etc.

This is them:

Camera Roll-485 Camera Roll-484

But then there was me.

Camera Roll-489

Sure I listened to the people warning me, but I also listened to my heart and what I felt was right for the community I was serving.  I believed there was a need, there were signs from within the community that people wanted a UK based software testing conference from STC and friends.  So I followed my heart.

Organising Conferences Is Like Child Birth

Ok, it’s not really.  But the topic came up whilst I was having a chat with a Test Ninja. I thought about it and made a diagram/mindmap thingy.

Child Birth:

Camera Roll-486

Organising Conferences:

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Remarkably similar, no? :)

TestBash Buying Cycle

I started promoting TestBash in September 2012.  It is happening next month (March 2013).  I’m actually starting to freak out a bit at what I’ve let myself into.  The event is bigger (and will be better IMHO) this time around.  With bigger comes more costs, more risk and of course more stress for me.

I’ve put some thought into how the ‘buying’ cycle happens and drew a picture. (Can you tell I am liking drawing pictures at the moment?), what I noticed was:

  • many of the people who bought the super early bird tickets went to last years TestBash or are known to me via Software Testing Club
  • people actually pay attention to these (super) early bird rates – most of the sales happen a week before them.
  • I laugh at this now, but no tickets sold between the 10th of December and the 20th of January.  I actually started to worry a bit.  I knew it would be quiet around that time, but the complete lack of sales between that period stressed me out.  I felt much better and on track after January 31st.
  • Point above is that people really do listen to the messages I’m sending out (it’s hard to know sometimes) and a cheaper ticket price gives people real motivation to get those tickets booked!

Camera Roll-488

 

About Goals

One of my main goals was to achieve a certain number of attendees.  For a bit of perspective TestBash 1.0 had just under 70 people attend.  I set myself a goal of 150 this time around and am pleased that we have achieved that.

To keep me through the stressful and worrying times I had the following as a background image on my iPad – constantly reminding me what I wanted to achieve.

Camera Roll-444

 

Thank you for your time! </end>

I Don’t Do Meetings (And About Being Grateful)

It dawned on me the other day that I don’t do meetings, yeah like doh, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out! As a virtual team, instead of meetings we have conversations, (skype) chats, Yammer conversations, emails and telephone calls (normally just for customer enquiries).

The more I thought about it the more I became grateful for the way I work.  This is not an overnight process – it has happened over years.

There was a time when I felt like I had to pretend about my work environment.  Pretend to look big. Pretend to be professional. Pretend not to have kids. Pretend to know what I’m doing (!) :)

Not anymore – infact I think it is increasingly important to show to the world and the people I serve the way that I do work, openly and honestly is the best policy.  I love the fact that I am ‘supermum’ when infact I’m not all that super. I’ve just slowly been working towards my ideal work-life balance.  Anyone can do it and those that are doing it should share more of their experiences.

Reasons why I’m grateful about my work:

  • I work around my kids
  • Starting next week I will be homeschooling/unschooling my eldest son
  • I don’t have a commute
  • I save money on travelling and making healthy food at home (I can slow cook many meals!)
  • I like to live a balanced life – this can mean playing tennis mid-morning, hanging out with my kids and/or working any time of the day.  I put in enough hours in the day at a time that suits me, but also get to do the things that are important to me.
  • I get to make decisions on the spot without any bureaucracy, if I want to!
  • I feel empowered, content and satisfied - the best way to be feeling about life.

Of course this paints a very ROSIE picture.  Pun intended!  The journey hasn’t been all perfect, it takes time, it can be hard and stressful to make things work financially.  It also takes commitment to see things through.

I guess my secret ingredient is this commitment. I’m committed to my family, I’m committed to my life and I’m committed to making my work life and business work.  This is what I focus on – day in and day out.

The picture I see is one of freedom and flexibility.  I literally block out anything else that isn’t part of my vision.  I’ve not achieved my goals yet, but I definitely think I am on the right track.