On My Own: Part 4 – The Shallow End
Starting a business and the genesis of Pod2
(If you haven’t read the beginning of this story, The Build-Up, click here.)
So that was it. Time to start a consulting business. How on Earth do you do that? I actually already had the book.
I just checked the order date on “The Consulting Bible” by Alan Weiss, and it was June 2, 2017. Over two years before I really needed it, but man am I glad I had it.
I’m usually reading 2-3 books at a time. Usually one for learning/self-improvement and one for pleasure. I read in bits and pieces. Rarely do I sit and finish books quickly unless I’m on vacation or on planes too much, so I usually carry them around for a month or two. I distinctly remember an anti-sober summer evening at an Irish pub in Calgary.
This was a session.
I was with my people, laughing, arguing, talking sh*t, venting about work, reminiscing, and talking about the future like people do after Guinness round 4. What if we started our own company? What would it be like? Especially in that state, I like to convert talk to action. So I got the book out and we started our employee handbook inside the back cover.
I’d like to say my handwriting was impaired, but that’s just how it looks…
Obviously, we had thought through none of this, but in it you can see two core beliefs:
- We must be aggressively intolerant to complacency. Especially in “F*ck okay” you can sense the anger and frustration with the status quo. With low quality. With limping into action instead of driving with conviction.
- We should enjoy work. Whether this means not taking things too seriously with Fireball Fridays, staying close in annual retreats, taking care of people with unlimited vacation and flexible work.
A few of these ‘commandments’ live on in Pod2’s list of principles here.
There aren’t many books that live up to their title, but “The Consulting Bible” does. Everything from incorporation to negotiation to proposal writing to managing scope. It’s not a comprehensive guide, but it gets you pretty close to what you need on every topic. If you can’t figure out the rest, then you probably shouldn’t be starting a business.
How Pod2 Got It’s Name
There was never another option besides calling it Pod2.
Pod2 actually started in 2013. When I joined Enersight that year, there were four of us that started within a month of each other. This almost doubled the number of people in the office. (You can see a picture of my chairless, deskless, work area here if you missed the first part of this story…)
At some point, we eventually bought enough desks and rearranged them so that everyone would have a somewhat reasonable place to sit. We printed off the model layout of the office (engineers…) and had people put their name where they wanted to sit.
Well, one guy was late to the party. He was one of the first hires, before my batch of four, and decided that he should get more of a say. So he marked out the names that were already there, put himself next to the boss, and put the other two earlier hires next to them.
The desks were L-shaped, so we put them in groups of four. Pods…
The four of us all got put together at a different pod of desks. And Pod2 was born. At first we just called it that to give the guy that rearranged things a hard time. But like all good inside jokes, it just became this idea that kind of stuck around.
When it was just Pod2 together, it was family. Lots of sh*t-talking, but never judgement. Like siblings. Too much honesty. Absolute transparency. Arguing, but never walking away. Helping each other, no matter what.
Eventually, we would create Pod2+ to expand the circle of trust. We even made one guy go through an initiation (email me or DM me on Twitter if you want to see the very weird and absolutely absurd agreement we drew up. Not posting that one here.)
No, we didn’t get matching tattoos or develop a gang sign. But it grew to mean something. None of us had the “right” degree or a “traditional” background. It grew to represent the underestimated. It grew to represent not giving a damn how things look on paper and letting results speak for themselves. More than anything, it grew to represent trust.
So, when I was registering my business with the Secretary of State and I got to the part of the form that asked for a name, I didn’t really have a choice.
A Big Win
Back to that discovery project I did. Based on the findings, the company decided to redesign their planning processes and implement a couple of software packages to support them. Since I knew the situation the best, it made sense for me to stay on as project manager. Plus, process design is an area where I’m both capable and interested.
So before I even had a website, I had my first client.
Never forget that people talk…
The buyer from that project recommended me to someone else that was looking at a broader process improvement across the company.
We had lunch to discuss the project and the client told me that they wanted to work with me. We had one more call, then I put together the proposal. I’d sold plenty of projects in my career, but this was the first one that was fully mine. No rules. No approvals. It could be whatever I wanted.
I took another look at chapter 7 in “The Consulting Bible” and proposed exactly what I thought was best. Being intentional with every term.
If you want to be treated like a partner by your customers, you have to act like one. This shitty vendor vs customer dynamic wastes so much time and energy. It’s driven by egos and/or a lack of trust. Especially when I’m a one-man shop, I don’t have time for that nonsense.
What does that actually look like?
- Fixed, value-based fees, not hourly.
Billing by the hour pushes the client to be cheap and for me to work slow. Not good for anyone.
- Share the risk.
50% paid up front. The rest at some point mid-project. Again, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get the project to success asap. If you’re worried about the consultant ghosting you after the last payment, you shouldn’t even be talking to them.
- Joint assumptions.
I was clear about what I assumed was my job and what I assumed was the client’s job.
And it worked. Very little negotiation. We were on the same page, focused on the highest value work. Aligned in our motivations down to the T’s & C’s in the contract. Let’s go.
The Critical Error
On the evening that I sent the proposal, a Friday, I was finally ready to publish my site. I knew almost nothing about web development and went to YouTube university to figure this one out.
When I hit “Publish” on the site, I was pumped. I overworked it, overthought it, the way you do when you do something for the first time that will be public. It was pretty basic, not much more than a brochure, but hey…I made a website.
One problem though…when the site went live, I accidentally took down my email server…
Remember, I had just sent my first significant proposal from my first business. Over 6 figures on the line. The peak of anxious excitement. Then I wasn’t able to receive emails anymore.
I figured it out late that night, with some help from BlueHost support. I messed up the DNS settings because I hosted the site with a different service than I got the domain from.
I think this was my first real “entrepreneur” moment. Crushing a deal with a client and sending a 6-figure proposal that I “knew” would get accepted, then possibly botching the whole thing by f*cking up while I had my IT guy hat on. Only me to blame…but like I tell my 4yo daughter “when we fall, we learn.”
My Last Pre-COVID Meeting
I was off and running. Putting in good work on the projects I had, keeping in touch with the people I’ve enjoyed working with.
I had been trading messages with my oil & gas people in OKC for a couple months and finally decided to take a trip to see them. No agenda or project to try and sell. Just catching up. Coffees, lunches, etc…
This was the week of March 9, 2020. That Wednesday, I was at a sports bar having dinner with an old friend, gearing up to watch the Thunder/Jazz game on TV. We almost went to the game but we would’ve gotten there too late.
That was the game where they pulled people off the court before it started. That was when the NBA suspended the season. That’s when sh*t started getting real. We were just sitting there, watching, checking Twitter, seeing what’s going on. Unsettling.
That Thursday, I met a fellow Matt for lunch at a burger joint. Great to catch up but nothing exciting. Thinking back to that time is weird. Crowded spaces. No mask. No hand sanitizer. No social distancing. No aiming your breath away from people.
But there’s no such thing as normal. Nothing is permanent. Sometimes things just change a little more abruptly.
So we adapt.
Next in the series will be WTF?!? – how I went from shock to clarity as COVID hit my brand new business.