Kyle Fox: Product Designer & Developer

Kyle Fox

Freelance Web App Developer & Designer

I help teams build & launch great products.

The secret to a successful startup? Don't die.

“So I'll tell you now: bad shit is coming. It always is in a startup. The odds of getting from launch to liquidity without some kind of disaster happening are one in a thousand. So don't get demoralized. When the disaster strikes, just say to yourself, ok, this was what Paul was talking about. What did he say to do? Oh, yeah. Don't give up.”

In his classic essay How Not to Die Paul Graham suggests that your startup will success as long as you can avoid dying.

All heroic business stories have at least one chapter where everything seemed hopeless. The key is expecting these periods to happen so you can push through them.

Grit inevitably leads to success; if you don't die, the only other outcome possible is victory.

Early Culture Beliefs at PayPay

I recently came across a great response on Quora about the strong (and unorthodox) cultural beliefs held by the leadership team at PayPal.

Keith Rabois, an early PayPal executive, listed a few key elements:

  • Extreme Focus: everyone has exactly one priority to work on.
  • Dedication to individual accomplishment: Most innovations at PayPal were driven by one person.
  • Refusal to accept constraints: If you couldn't solve the problem, someone else would be soon assigned to do it.
  • Radical transparency on metrics: All employees were expected to be facile with the metrics driving the business.
  • Meritocratic opportunity & opposition to traditional general management: under-performers were replaced by people according to their technical proficiency at a given role (i.e. the best engineers would manage engineering)
  • Vigorous debate, often via email: important issues were resolved through vigorous debate, not by official edict.

The rest of the responses are insightful, too. I think it would've been fun & exceptionally exciting to be at PayPal during those early days!

Related: Why did so many successful entrepreneurs and startups come out of PayPal?

The bitterness of poor quality

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

— Benjamin Franklin

Choose to be a creator

When the world presents you with something interesting or frustrating or curious, choose to do something about it. Choose to be a creator.

James Clear tells a great story about a choir member who, frustrated with his bookmarks slipping from his book, went on to invent Post-It Notes.

Website offers to buy new computers for customers stuck with IE7

This is just awesome. dropped support for IE7 and makes an unprecedented offer:

We are offering to buy a new computer with a modern browser for any of our customers who are stuck with IE7. We determined that it would cost us more to support a browser from 2006 [...] than it would to help our clients upgrade their legacy hardware.

Now that's forward thinking.

Don’t hate, create.

Who does the Can’t-Do Culture hurt the most? Ironically, it hurts the haters. The people who focus on what’s wrong with an idea or a company will be the ones too fearful to try something that other people find stupid [...]

Don’t hate, create

I love this idea, and think it's critical for any type of meaningful success. There are always reasons not to do something — but it's better to ignore those and instead focus on the reasons why something is worth doing.

— Ben Horowitz, Can-Do vs. Can’t-Do Culture

Startups in One Sentence

Paul Graham posted Startups in 13 Sentences, but when asked to pick just one he chose:

Understand your users. That's the key. The essential task in a startup is to create wealth; the dimension of wealth you have most control over is how much you improve users' lives; and the hardest part of that is knowing what to make for them. Once you know what to make, it's mere effort to make it, and most decent hackers are capable of that.

The rise of the Growth Hacker

"This isn’t just a single role – the entire marketing team is being disrupted. Rather than a VP of Marketing with a bunch of non-technical marketers reporting to them, instead growth hackers are engineers leading teams of engineers. The process of integrating and optimizing your product to a big platform requires a blurring of lines between marketing, product, and engineering, so that they work together to make the product market itself. Projects like email deliverability, page-load times, and Facebook sign-in are no longer technical or design decisions – instead they are offensive weapons to win in the market."

From Andrew Chen's Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing

Why I prefer product design

Advocacy is a repeat theme in UX writing, but is borderline irrelevant when working for a product- and design-centric organization. Similarly, when you have internal stakeholders who understand the design process, you don't need to worry about constantly building consensus. Deliverables like lengthy specs, comprehensive wireframes, and pixel-perfect PSDs are all artifacts from a time when risk-averse clients needed to enforce progress and limit variability. Inside of a product company, these efforts waste time, create politics, and mask responsibility.

This quote from The Rise of Product Design by David Cole nicely sums up why I love working on product teams. As someone who loves building & shipping, spending time trying to convince clients why design is in their own their best interest before even getting to the actual work feels like a colossal waste of time & energy.

It's a lot easier to build momentum when the whole team has already bought into the importance of design and you can simply charge ahead with solving problems.

(Kudos to all the designers out there fighting the good fight of educating clients about the value of design!)

Multi-tasking is the Heart of Product Management

Part of my job at Granify involves product management and ensuring we ship an awesome product that customers love. I've been building products for a while, but the whole management aspect is still quite new to me. I've learned a ton by working alongside our CEO Jeff Lawrence, a seasoned product manager, but there are still many aspects of the job I find challenging — in particular, multitasking.

A look back at 2012

To say 2012 was an exciting year for me would be an understatement. Despite feeling perpetually busy, I hadn't felt like I'd accomplished much until I sat down and started making a list. Posting a Yearly Review seems to be the trend among those in the web/tech industry, so I figured I'd post mine as well. Even though we're already a few days into 2013, here are some of my highlights for 2012!