Casey Cobb helps organizations thrive by keeping founders focused on delivering value. Casey believes in testing assumptions early and often — and puts that theory in practice as a software engineer, inventor, angel investor, writer, and speaker. He has co-founded three companies, including web development agency Project Ricochet, and speaks regularly at conferences, accelerators, and companies on topics ranging from co-founder selection to his popular “Avoiding Accidental Evil” keynote.
He’s written 30+ articles on the intersection of technology and management, and gives back as an entrepreneur by advising several software startups. Casey lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and 3-year old son.
Time Stamped Show Notes:[00:00:49] – Bala Introduces Casey to the Show
[00:01:54] – Casey shares his story of how he got started with Project Ricochet.
[00:03:59] – Discuss a unique offering they have, which is called Entrepreneur Service Package and the reason behind such service.
[00:08:40] – The How, What & Why behind the Company & their growth since 2010
[00:12:09] – What is “Accidental Evil”? – Casey explains
[00:14:07] – Shares his epiphany moments with Accidental Evil.
[00:16:33] – Casey shares examples of ‘Accidental Evil’ which occurred in his company and shares the way they found and resolved it.
[00:19:31] – Another example of Accidental evil he shares from car navigation system, which Casey is willing to bet that this could have changed countless peoples’ lives if the right decision had been taken in time.
[00:23:32] – Casey shares ways to avoid Accidental Evil.
[00:26:12] – The tools used to identify Accidental Evil.
[00:28:13] – The art and the process of Getting Things Done at Project Ricochet.
[00:31:16] – Bag of M&M Analogy. Common mistakes clients make and how to help them avoid it.
[00:35:11] – Common mistakes employees make in an organisation and how to avoid them.
[00:41:03] – Casey shares the list of essentials tools Ricochet uses to run their business.
[00:41:53] – The work and process behind a Ricochet’s client who saved 2 million dollars from an investment of $50,000
[00:43:39] – Casey shares the future plans of Ricochet.
[00:47:28] – Ways to contact Casey if you are interested to learn more about Accidental Evil.
[00:00:49] Bala: Hello Everybody. Thank you very much for joining in another great episode of Mondovo 101. My name is Bala and I would be your host. Today we’re going to talk to a person whom I personally admire for his thoughts and beliefs. He is a Software Engineer, he’s an Inventor, he’s an Angel Investor, Writer, Speaker and I can keep on going on with that. Of course he has co-founded three companies including the Web Development Agency Project Ricochet.
Ladies and gentleman, we have Casey Cobb. Casey, welcome to the show.
Casey: Hey, thank you very much and nice to meet you.
Casey: Thanks for having me on.
Bala: Very good. It’s a pleasure that you’re taking some time and joining us today. The introduction whatever I have given that, Casey, is just a small part. I know there’s a lot of things we have behind that particular thing. Could you tell our audience something about yourself and where you’d started and the whole story.
[00:01:54] Casey: So, I’d just sold one of my previous companies and I’ve been doing a freelance web development since I was in high school. And my business partner, who at that time was a friend from college. We went to college together. He was also doing freelancing and I was looking for a new opportunity. We decided that with his passion for elegant technical solutions and my passion for business and kind of a cross-over between our excitement for the opportunities for the web and development at that time that we could work to make an agency rather than just two dudes in office slanging out codes.
So we started slowly adding to our team and taking on work and make it manually increasing. Now we are about 25 people, including admin staffs and some part-timers. But it’s really exciting to be involved in seeing something grow from the very inception when you have a belief that you can make something bigger than yourself. To actually execute on that with a really great team.
[00:03:09] Bala: Perfect. Very good. When did you all get started? Which year?
Casey: It must have been around 2010 or maybe even 2009 like the tail end of 2009.
Bala: So how many employees right now?
Casey: We’ve got a team of 25, and like I said it’s lot of personalities and a lot of really talented folks.
Bala: Very good. I didn’t notice that. Lot of pretty interesting way you’ve actually put in your website for everybody’s profile and the way they have been entrusted into. When I was looking into your website, I understood you are into web development agency, doing a lot of stuff there especially your products are pretty different. And one thing I’ve particularly noticed that is the entrepreneur package that you have, which nobody else got that and I want to know more about it.
[00:03:59] Casey: Yea. This is to me is a really important, something that’s very near and dear to my heart. So when somebody comes up with an idea for something, I think it’s really tempting to suck into that narrative of that, I’ve got this idea, it’s going to be amazing. I’m going to mortgage my house, I’m going to go all-in and I’m going to become a billionaire. That almost never happens. So what the entrepreneur packages is the opportunity for us to help in an unbiased impartial way as to help folk to have an idea, develop that idea, and understand the cost implications of that idea. I think one of the big things that our agency is all about is the 80% solution.
So you’re familiar about the 80/20 rule?
Bala: Absolutely. Pareto’s Law.
Casey: Yes. If you can get the 80% solution, you’re going to be already get it on 20% of the cost. If you potentially had a budget of 100 grand and you’re ready for to find that 80% solution, you can get that for 20 grand or likewise $10,000 if you get it for $2000. And that doesn’t always involves software development, I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book “The 4-Hour Work Week”.
Bala: Yes, Timothy Ferriss. Yes.
[00:05:09] Casey: So that book’s not about working 4 hours a week. That book’s about working 80 hours and week and then like Tim Ferriss did and then figuring out how to build an organization to work less keeping that perspective. He took those lessons of him doing that and then it says how can you get the 80% solution and maybe not work as hard. I don’t know that you’re going to make the billion dollars business from his principles. But there’s ways that you can go a little further. For example, what he says in that book is rather than launching the whole e-commerce store, you have a product idea, why not launch a page where you drive the traffic to that and see what your customer acquisition cost is is. And if the customer acquisition cost, if the economics that makes sense, then maybe you go to the next step.
So, I think often times talking with the web development agency, we work with folks all the time who’re doing this.
Like actual “full on development” It can become a little bit like the crocodile telling the rabbit jump in its mouth to cross the river. Like it’s a kind of a dangerous thing. It is in their best interest to make a really big project and what we want to help people with is, realizing that they can do this with very little money. And then they can taste the waters and then they can pivot it very early to achieve what their ultimate objective is. It might not require any web development. Might require some very minimal testing with a platform like Un-bounce or optimizely A-B test or something like that. That makes sense?
Bala: Perfectly makes sense. So you help them to develop the initial prototype and see how it is actually working. Pretty much the lean start-up model.
Casey: Yea exactly. It’s test your assumptions and rein-validate and all that stuffs.
[00:06:59] Bala: And pretty much go with it and it works. Take the next step and proceed on further. Pretty interesting. So, you have lot of folks already signed up for that particular project?
Casey: We have worked with people in the past to help. In often times, it crosses over because we do this as a part of our regular web development as well. We have layout the cost. We don’t do it as in-depth, potentially trying to in-validate their assumptions. But yes, we’ve worked with a number of people for helping them put it on the ideas before they sync a bunch of action to that.
[00:07:28] Bala: That’s pretty nice case. Because not many organization who help them have the entrepreneur list especially on this particular area. They try and they come over with the idea and they say ‘this is what we want’ and the agency start building up, they are on the way whether it’s going to succeed, not succeed but you are there, helping them exactly what they want to be doing.
Casey: Yes. You know Bala, I’ve never seen a project, the way that the folks at the beginning thought it was going to, It always changes. Always. And sometimes it changes, it doesn’t pivot or change in time, sometimes it does, but through taking into account a few very simple principles at the very beginning you can dramatically increase the potential success of a venture.
Bala: Absolutely, makes sense. That is one of the packages that you give and apart from that you also work with most of the open source environment especially for the development side of it. Just take us through how do you expand your business since 2010 till today. What are the process you go and acquire new business and get new leads and other things?
[00:08:40] Casey: Yes. A large percentage of our business is referrals and organic traffic. We spend a lot of energy and time learning about Search Engine optimization. We get leads from our websites. We also look for other departments within our clients. We have some pretty large clients and some fortune 100 companies. They have a lot of other departments that need help. We work really hard to build the good reputation as advisors and engineers to where we do get referral within organizations and then we had similar organizations where we’ve got in maybe even 20/30 projects out of single engagement.
So, our reputation is really important. One of the reasons that I like to be at the size that we are at, is that we don’t have to have a gigantic business development machine grinding away, pointing in leads that or maybe at the most optimal for us. We do have a business development person. That was actually a new development for 2016 as a part of our 2016 plan. He’s doing great. And really that was an effort to take a lot the work off with me because I was able to handle the job but I wasn’t able to. It was making me focus on some things that I think one of the most optimal things for me to be focused in. I could be focusing on a product development and optimizing our actual organization to make it more efficient and make it a happier place to work.
We are also networking, we are going to trade shares and we’re doing all the standard stuffs which you’d expect. We’ve just grown and we’ve hired as we’ve grown and we are at the size we want be now. So we don’t have to try to grow anymore. It takes a real burden off the shoulders when you’re not trying to always be growing and always dealing with the growing pains of learning how to deal with your new size.
[00:10:27] Bala: Very good. Pretty interesting. So you do the development part alone or you kind of do the pulled development part, in terms of promoting that particular side of the app or anything that you develop on the real marketing side of the business?
Casey: You mean once they developed it and actually doing the marketing as well?
Casey: So, we will consult on growth hacking strategies and marketing strategies. We can help with some of that stuff. It’s probably not our core business. Often times, there’s a lot of resources out there, that you can use to know. May be 13 things that you can do on it. I think there’s a book – Traction or getting traction with your ideas or something like that, It was written by the guy who created duckduckgo.
Bala: Oh Yeah. Gabriel and and Justin’s Traction.
Casey: There are all those things were laid out there right? All you got to do is execute on these things. Often times, that’s what entrepreneurs are doing. They are already doing those things. They are out moving and shaking and making that stuff happened. So, aside from consulting on link building strategies or leveraging social media, a lot of that stuff is something that those entrepreneurs are actually pulling in. We just help them get the resources in front of them.
[00:11:45] Bala: Perfect. Fantastic. Okay, now let’s talk about the most important thing. Of course, when I look into your site. It caught in deep with where you what you’re doing, that’s why I accidentally came into that Accidental Evil that you spoke of. Pretty interesting. I’m a big fan of what you actually wrote there in that article. Let’s talk about that. What is Accidental Evil and take us through that.
Casey: Yes. There’s a number of things that I think illustrate this. And it’s basically a phenomenon that happens, people are really bad at looking really long term. Really smart people look long term. But, when people are very busy, which is more and more symptoms of our age with Slack notification popping up and smart phones giving us email alerts. We get even our mental space gets gobbled up and we lose patience and we lose our ability to look even long term.
We’re just looking short term. We are dealing with the short term solution. I guess 2 things happened to me. One was kind of just an observation of many years and one was a really profound thing that’s just kind of blew up my mind.
First one was dealing with clients when everybody was running around like a mad man trying to keep everything going. They will often times get confronted with problems. And the solution that would be put in place would just, imagine a weed growing up in your front yard. They would just chop off enough to make weed go off the yard but the root remain, then it would grow back and they would put another short term solution to just chop off the top and we would deal with that for years. And nobody would ever go just an inch deeper to get out the root. It’s not that much extra work, right? You’re already bending down, you’re already getting your fingers dirty, why not just stick a screw driver and pull out the actual root.
But people don’t have the time to do that because it is a little bit more time and they don’t have the energy so, they deal with this tax that they pay year after year after year for this problems. And I thought that was really fascinating. Because nobody would ever take that big perspective in the mind. But they could have potentially solve the same problem ten times. When we took the time they spent on that, they spent 100 X where they could have spent, they have spent it they had just done it at the root at the very beginning.
[00:14:07] But I think more succinctly where I have kind of the epiphany moment, I have a tenant, a condo here in the Bay area that rent out and then my tenant called me and said – Hey we’ve got a garbage disposal and it needs to be replaced. I said – Okay, well let me come down and take a look. And I asked them what was happening and he said, when he starts the garbage disposal, all the stuffs on the counter-top basically shakes off, the toaster and the microwave, everything falls on the ground. Wow, that seems really dramatic. Sure enough, that’s what happened. And I look underneath and underneath the sink, there’s a little ring that holds that garbage disposal up to the drain. I don’t know anything about garbage disposal. But I just reached under there, and I tightened that garbage disposal a quarter inch, just a tiny amount. And when I flip on the switch, everything hummed perfectly.
Now if you think about the two. I have my epiphany moment because I thought about the two possible tabs that I could have gone down. I could have got somebody down there to fix it and probably would have cost me 5/6 or $700 to get a new garbage disposal and get it repaired. Maybe even a thousand, I don’t know, how much garbage disposals are. But the alternative was slowing down and looking at the root cause of the problem and ignoring the fact that it is no garbage disposal. But just saying how can we optimize this small thing. And like tweaking that ring cost me no energy, no time and it was a better solution.
[00:15:35] When you think about an organization, it’s tempting to come into an organization, see all the shaking everywhere. And think we need to get a new CEO here and fire everybody and get a whole new team in here. But often times, it’s really just his tiny little things that need to tweaked and optimize. An organization is even worse because shaking in an organization shakes other rings in the organization and other rings and then you get this compounding exponential fact that is really deadly.
I read a lot of organizational theory and management and I feel that at Ricochet, we do a few very basic practices that prevent that garbage disposal ring from ever getting loosed. And when it does, we just tighten that rather than tossing the whole thing out or even worse with a lot of folks would do is that they just bury their head in the sand and hope it goes away.
[00:16:33] I can give you 2 examples that are more relevant to the day to day I think for listeners.
First one is something very specific to agency work ethic. We have a QA cycle, we use JIRA which is a software project management tool. We have a very granular flow. So tickets move from To-Do, to In-Progress, to potentially walked or full request review stage and then from there they get approved. They move to QA and then they go to stage, and then they get it’s accepts accessing from the client and they moved to ready for production and they go to production. So, one of my developers came into me and said – “Hey Casey”. This has been on 1 on 1. We spent every week with everybody in our company to talk. Give them 10 mins for them to talk about what is important for them, 10 mins for the manager to talk about what’s important for him and my partner and I are the managers and then 10 mins for their growth.
So in that 1 on 1, the developers said – “Hey I’m kind of bunk because I had to work late last night. Because there were 7/8 tickets, that we had done”. They went to QA. They didn’t get QA until the last minute before the demo. And they got re-open for some reason. Now I’ve got a scramble to get these things ready for the demo tomorrow and they could have been QA’d 3/4 days ago. It was a 2 week’s frame. Why did this have to wait until the day before to get it done? And the reality is that the QA person isn’t thinking about the impact on the developer. They are busy with work too. They are not thinking… It’s possible that they could’ve changed their behavoir ever so slightly like they just pick the random order and tickets. They could have priorities ones that had a sprint coming up ahead ones that don’t and changed. That developer wouldn’t have work for late. We would’ve gotten the stuff done more quickly and may be more thoroughly because we could have potentially done a couple of rounds up back and forth before it went to the demo.
But instead, we end up in a scramble all the time. And as a leader, it was up to me to say – “Wow, that’s a problem”. Because it happens all the time. And how can we solve this problem and we had a discussion about it. We do lots of matrix that we could share. How can we track the velocity and the momentum and we come for three matrices that track the health of the sprint. We can track these and see when sprints were having problems and then I can get the team feedback on how to adjust their behaviour. They have a more efficient outcome. Or the organization can change because it’s possible that we’re doing things as leaders that are causing people to behave this way.
Maybe and in fact we found this, we didn’t have enough QA people. We were forcing one person to do way too much work. And so by giving somebody the opportunity to bring this up, we were able to uncover a lot of problems in our company that didn’t require much work. In fact, more QA people brings more revenue for the company. It’s a no-brainer. But we just want to thinking about that because nobody was thinking about it.
[00:19:31] The other example that I think is even really dramatic. I have a Volkswagen Polo SUV. And every time I get in this thing, I don’t know if this isn’t my model, but I imagine for all Volkswagen. When I get in it, the navigation system, when I do the voice navigation, I say – “I want to go to this place”.
It says – “Okay, what city do you want to go to?”
And I say – “Oakland”
And it says – “Which Oakland do you mean? Do you mean Oakland NY or Oakland Virginia, or Oakland Washington?” It goes all the way down I have to paginate it twice to get to Oakland.
Now the moment press the pagination button, it pops up and says – “Hey don’t type while you’re driving.” And then so I have to click that and then I finally find Oakland California, which is literally five miles away. And then it lets me continue. Now, that might seem like a minor deal. But I would be willing to bet and validate, people have been run over. While somebody is distracted dealing with this pagination on the car. Because the reason they are using hands-free and voice navigation is because they are driving.
If you backup when the developers was developing this navigation. He probably had two options, he could sort by, it’s was just a sequel query. It’s like select all the cities that sound like the person says and sort by alphabetical. They sort by alphabetical. That ends up making everybody look for paginate for the city. It would be very easy to.. its a GPS tool. I imagine that won’t take more than a couple of extra hours of the development if even that might not have taken one minute of extra development to just sort by Geo-location. Sort by distance. That’s what that makes the more sense and in fact, my buddy works at Tesla he said that’s what Tesla does.
It’s not that hard to do that and it was a decision that somebody made at some point and since then, like I said I would be willing to bet that people have been run over. And got into really horrible accidents. People have probably died as a result of that decision. And that’s kind of the crux of Accident Evil is. At the beginning somebody could’ve made a slightly different decision based on a slightly larger perspective. And could have changed countless people’s lives or your own life in the long run through that decision. It was no extra cost but it had a dramatically more negative impact in the world. Does that don’t make any sense? I know I’m giving a bunch of wide range of examples.
[00:21:59] Bala: These are perfect examples. One thing what is very interesting when you’re talking about the Accidental Evil. Okay and also have one particular point which I really wanted to talk to you about was you literally focused on those areas like if that particular point was taken care off, Probably the future thing, or the future ring that’s going to be affected can be resolved. That’s seeing the negative side of the business or negative side of the whole environment of the scenario. Now if that the same thing if you have to put it in the positive side of it. Imagine everything has been set, done and looked into a most positive way. Do you think that we’ll miss this particular opportunity or is it entirely a different way to look into that?
Casey: You mean by looking the inverse of Accidental Evil or you mean like an organization that practices avoiding it? Like their impact or how maybe you could clarify that bit.
Bala: If the whole organization can see every activity that the do in the most positive way. When they do it, potentially we could avoid these rings that you’re talking about the Accidental Evil that people do it. That’s because there’s some kind of negativity that led them to this particular area which gave the future effect. What if we help people to some kind of program that gives the positive vibe so that we can we can avoid in the very first phase.
[00:23:32] Casey: Of course. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I’m saying is there are couple of things you can do to avoid the accidental evil and they are not that hard in reality. If organizations can practice those things, it’s kind of hard though. Because. It’s not hard to do them but it’s hard to organizationally to slow down sometimes. And there’s a quote in Spanish that translate – “I go slowly so that I can go quickly”. Instead of running around with your chicken with your head cut off.
There are some activities that you can do that will reduce your overall costs to the organization. And like I said, 1 on 1s are one thing that you can do. I just tell this to everybody in the team that lets you catch things every early in the organization. Because really it comes down to, I have a heart that one of the things that that Accidental Evils, the concept of Accidental Evil is not a humanitarian philosophy. Although it can have that impact. ‘I’m not saying we should Accidental Evil because it’s necessarily because it’s better for people. I’m saying very concretely that your cost are lower, your turnover is lower. People are happier, so they don’t quite as frequently and they make better products. There’s a very concrete bottom-line to this. It’s just good business to do these things. So it’s not just, I think we should be fluffy I think it’s a good take. It’s a business philosophy. But the other thing which you can do is create a culture feedback. Making it so that people don’t feel like they have to wait and until they just can’t take it anymore and then they explode to give some insight into their perspective.
At Ricochet we do feedback all day every day. It’s very minor. It takes literally 5 seconds. And in the last thing is coaching. When somebody in your team is not doing so well or just needs some help? How can we help with love, coach them and bring them up basically in line with what the expectations of the organization are rather than saying – “If you don’t do it, you are fired” or just waiting and then conveniently needing to lay people off, who are those people you are concern about rather than helping them coach them and grow.
These are all the ideas that I got from a podcast. Actually they are management consultancy who have written books – Managertools.com. I learn this early in my career and that change the whole trajectory of everything that was doing. When I see businesses that I invest in, I look for opportunities where there is Accidental Evil happening, and then I put these things in place. And then that organization thrives and flourishes and becomes worth a lot more.
[00:26:12] It’s a really powerful tool. There are other things that you can do too like that. I’m a big proponent of the Disk Personality Assessment Tool. We use this at our company. All the companies that I’m involved in, we use this. It’s a really powerful tool for gaining perspective and understanding other people – where they are coming from and the way they approach their live and their work and their behaviour. It’s a tool for empathy. There’s all sorts of things that you can use to do this. And in the case of the navigation system. I suspect that the engineer who is using it or just programming, just never use it. If I’d assume I had a Volkswagen. He wouldn’t even think. It didn’t pass the basic usability test on the road. How could he expect to make these decisions if he’s not using the stuff and looking after that and iterating other? I’m really surprise that they haven’t change that. I have a 2012 Tourer. It’s been 4/5 years, how have they not change that? It baffles me.
It’s not Volkswagen’s problem. Nobody – It’s not big enough to fill a complain about. So they probably never gotten the feedback. And therefore they don’t ever change it. So that’s in itself is way tackle Accidental Evil. The machine just doesn’t care. It’s on a radar really. Whereas if that was, they would have a much more usable tool.
[00:27:29] Bala: Brilliant, brilliant. That’s a pretty interesting way you see the whole management perspective. Very good. From what I understand is that everything you do in a very process in a systematic way trying to avoid any accidental evil. That’s kind of good for their employees who’s in the agency and also most important that the clients were actually working with you. Because they are going to get things the perfect way. The way – in time, the quality staff, whatever has to be, they were expecting and you’re really matching that out.
Could you take us on the steps that when you have to implement the project, say in web development or in app development? What is that you do from the starting to the beginning and what kind of process that go through it?
[00:28:13] Casey: Yea, for web development projects, I think the most important thing is for everybody to get on the same page. Because, often times, when people pay for either entrepreneurial package or paid discovery, we tell them what exactly how much everything they may cost based on data. We actually create user story with acceptance criteria and we estimate on those and we give him a very concrete aspect about how much thing you’re going to cost. We have some tools that we’ve developed that will show them if they are not track. Because we do time and materials as work. We give them some really powerful tools to stay on track for adjusting their expectations making compromises allowing us to recommend things that are kind of 80% solution rather than 100% solution.
If they don’t do that, we start off with the ballpark estimate that we just say – “That’s okay”. That sounds like – “It’s going to be $100,000”. And when we start the project though, we now have to get into the nitty-gritty. What exactly are we going to be doing? So we go through our discovery process. At the beginning of a project had we not done that as a paid discovery at the start. And we create all the user stories that everything that they are expecting. We talk about all the acceptance criteria for everything single thing that they want. What exactly do you mean when you say – “You need to be able to sign in with your… all that. or… when you need a log out button, what exactly design need. Where is it going to be? How is that going to play out? So we lay all that stuff out. And then we have a planning pokers – agile style, I will get on a call together and go through and development team’s put out what they think the complexity of each ticket is. And then our tool effectively bundles all that up and says here is what your project may cost that up. It adds in project management time, technical review, deployment overhead, QA, all as a percentage of the total.
At that point, the client can say – “Okay, I thought this is going to be a $100,000 but turns out that it’s going to be $150000 based on what I’ve been saying. Okay no problem. How can we work together to adjust the expectations. May be I spook some features, have put something in the second priority to get to where we can get it down to a $100,000. And then as we are going, we get a week into it, 2 weeks to it, a month in to it. Are we still targeting a $100,000? If we are not, let’s have a discussion. We had situations where we’ve come in and $50,000 project. Now it’s projected to be $20,000. It got cheaper as we went along. And why was that, because we were able to make some suggestions to the client that we are the 80% solution. They were able to accept those compromises, and suddenly a tunnel work that we thought we going to have to do, we don’t have to do anymore. So they got an extra $30,000 that they could apply anywhere in the company either to this project or other projects. So they could just pocket that as a budget surplus. And we thought that that was a great success.
So that’s the first step. Everybody get on the same page so that we are not starting thinking we have a ton of money in our budget and then we get to the end and go, ho crap! We are all out of money. What do we going to do? Which happens way too often in this business in my opinion. Does that makes sense?
[00:31:16] Bala: Absolutely. When you do all these things, clients do make mistakes. What are the common mistakes clients normally make?
Casey: Yes. I think the biggest mistake that the clients make… and we didn’t have the tools to re-enforce it, we would make too. And I called it the bag of M&M analogy. So when you get a family size bag of M&M’s, say Peanut M&M’s, you’ve got so many M&M’s, you just needs things by the handful, when somebody ask you for one, you gave him a whole handful, right, you are wealthy. M&M wealthy. Right?
But as you start getting down to the bottom of that bag of M&M’s, you naturally start to save or each one a little bit more, directly proportional to how few you have. Once you see scarcity, then you start behaving differently. When somebody ask for some, you gave them one. Or may be you said – “Nope, I’m going to keep more for myself. I’m really hungry”. That’s how web development projects go.
When we start a project, then we see $100,000 or million dollar budget or whatever. We’ve got this giant bag of M&M’s. We can be wasteful with that. “Oh you have this new idea? “Sure let’s do it”, “Let’s pull this thing in”, “Oh this isn’t exactly how you expected”, “No problem we’ll send it back to development” “We’ll iterate on it”. But the reality is, when we start at this project, we’re already behind the ball. If you do that kind of stuff, you’re going to set your project up for failure. Either for us for letting it happened or the client thinking that it’s okay to do that stuff. Because we have so much money. And nobody is even pushing back because the agency doesn’t even know it. Right?
They don’t have any tools that tell them how this is going to change things from a budgetary perspective. They are all looking from a micro perspective. Right. This thing, I’m looking at this one ticket, and I’m not thinking about the overall impact. And the only time I think about the overall impact is when they do a report on burn they sent that out to the clients saying- Hey you spent 50 grant out of your $100,000 budget. Where are the 50% gone? I don’t know! Nobody knows. And in fact it’s impossible to know because the last 50% of the project, the client could just suddenly start coming up with all sorts of rounds of revision. That 50% constructs 500%. So to me this is actually not evil too. We need to, as a service provider, be able to communicate the impacts of the decisions that everybody is making. We need to be partners in this.
Just like if an electrician came to your house and you were doing some electrical work, you won’t expect them to… when you thought you had a blown fuse, to rewire the whole building and then come and say – “Yea you owe me $10,000 bucks”. I give like – “What? I thought this is going to cost me a $100”. How is that this? I would have like for you to tell me I needed to do this like what it’s going to cost because may be I don’t care about that light that didn’t turn on in that room. I can just get a battery LED or something. It’s not all 10 grants something right?
We need to be able to give people the data they need to make these types of valued decisions. And I think, clients keeping that in mind, than finding a service provider, they can’t give that information. What’s incredibly rare. I’d never met anybody who’s able to do it the way Ricochet is able to do it. But just knowing that, if you keep coming up with stuff to change and tweak as your idea evolves which would always will. Then you are potentially creating a situation where the agency or the development team is going to loose their shirt. And then they suddenly start cutting corners to get out of the project. And then you’ve got this kind of pile of unusable code that’s going to bite you because you’ve got so much tech in it that you don’t even know but at least that meets the statement of work so hey are done with the contract. Nobody wants that. And I guess that’s in a nutshell every decision that everybody makes has implications. And both sides are mindful of that and hold each other accountable, project will be more successful.
[00:35:11] Bala: Very good. Fantastic. Talking about the clients that they make mistakes. Of course employees in an organization, in an agency, they also make some mistakes. Sometimes not understanding certain thing properly or not understanding the expectations correctly or entirely could be anything else. What are that common things that you have seen employees making mistake in an organization?
Casey: That’s a pretty big question. I could tell for hours about that. But I guess a couple of things. The first thing is when we are very process oriented at Ricochet. Every ticket needs to have an estimate, and needs to have acceptance criteria and needs to have a user story. User story is as a user role, I need something so that that some business value is delivered. Those three pieces are really important.
The biggest mistake I see from development perspective is not having one of those three things on a ticket before somebody starts. Because if we think about this – If you don’t have a user story, and you don’t know what the business value is, how could you really develop a thoughtful solution for this problem? Because clients do this all the time and development team do this all the time.
They say – The user story is – make this table with these columns. That’s not a user story. That’s somebody prescribing a solution. But it’s possible where paying developers to be thoughtful and considered engineers. So, if we lay out the problem for them, they can architect the better solution that may not be what we originally thought that’s going to be a solution.
So, in the rush, they will start tickets without user stories if they are pushed too hard. But what I say is: Nope, we’ve got to have a user story. And the moment that they start work on a ticket without a user story, our admin team jumps on them and says: What’s going on here? This is a big deal. It’s not a big deal on the micro but in the macro it’s a big deal.
Next thing is acceptance criteria. If you don’t know exactly what the client wants. How could you start this ticket? You guys have some conversation a month ago, and you think you knew what they want it. But they’ve probably ought to change their minds since then. The fundamentals of the reason that they were asking for that have changed. And you don’t even really remember it that well. So, it’s highly likely that it seem to get re-open when you demo it to the client. ‘Cause they’re going to say this is not what I want! It’s tempting for us to always just say: Yea I get it. Let me just do it. So how we battle that is we look at the re-opened rates on tickets. So we say, so if you don’t have it, if a developer doesn’t have, know exactly what they want, the client wants, it’s highly like this is going to get not accepted by the client.
So, from my perspective, every ticket needs to have very clear acceptance criteria. And we actually track our development team to re-open rate. We look at the average processing of the entire company. And then we look into each individual developer and if they are higher than the average. Then we have some discussions about: What do you doing that’s causing this ticket to get re-open over and over again. And often times, they said they didn’t have clear acceptance criteria. They started development without a very clear understanding of what is going to happen.
So, the last thing that’s really important is the estimate. Have you ever heard of Parkinson’s Law?
Bala: Right. Yes.
Casey: So the amount of work that something takes is going to expand to how much you’ve allocated to it. If I tell you that I’ve got this really tough solution, there’s really tough problem. And you’ve got 40 hours to work on it. You will be like – Great, I’m going to build something really amazing. That’s going to be an amazing solution.
If I tell you that you’ve got one hour to do it. You’re going to say – Oh well, we could do this but we might have to do this in this way or this way or this way. That is going to start to creative a process, if you can be held accountable to be a man of time something’s going to take. So when the planning poker, we’re gaining consensus, people going to argue whether it’s going to be a big job or small job or whatever. And then when you get a ticket that you may not have even estimated on. And you see that’s estimated to be a 3 point ticket. Then you’re thinking – Oh I was thinking this is going to be a 13 pointer. So I’d better go and talk with somebody who ever estimated on this to figure out what they were thinking. Because otherwise I could easily see this is taking forever. And they might say – Oh man, didn’t you know about that open source package that you could use? It makes all this whole thing easy.
That’s how we deliver value to our clients by holding each other accountable to our estimates. So this is not an agile process, this is actually cheating in our job. But I think it’s a really important. Because otherwise, people will take a lot longer to do stuff. Then it becomes really hard to be competitive and be profitable at the same time.
So, those are the three things that from a development perspective, that are really important. The last thing that’s really important that employees make a mistake of this being ‘okay’ with things seeming unfair or cracky. That’s not you should. If you’re working in a company and you feel like you are not engaged in your work and you don’t feel like you have autonomy and you don’t feel like you are being able to practice your craft. That’s a big problem. Because that means that you’re going to get burnt out and that your organization is doing something that is causing you to be feel this way. So, by bringing that up, by giving that feedback, you gave the organization the opportunity to help you. And I think too few people do that. That goes from even the same with when somebody upsets you.
You’re giving them feedback in a loving way rather than an angry way. So we have tools to be able to do that. Very simple models that I found from ManagerTools.com. Feedback model, it’s amazing. If less people stay engaged, keep happy in the game much longer than the otherwise would be.
[00:41:03] Bala: Very good. It’s pretty interesting you use so much of tools. What are the basic tools that you normally use in a day to day life of your agency business?
Casey: We use 20 different things. We obviously use Slack, which we have to make tools to keep Slack from becoming consuming everybody and causing them loose their mental space. It can become the urgency addiction tool. We use Skype for video conferencing, we use a lot of internal tools that we’ve develop to help with estimation and resource planning, and keeping tabs on the team, like what everybody is working on at a given time. We use Jira for project management and Basecamp sometimes, we use Google suite to Google docs and all that stuffs.
We use 20/30 different tools in our work.
[00:41:53] Bala: Ohh wow. Very good. Oaky. Thats a lot of information. Quickly I want to understand if I have to, if you have to say one bigger success that you’ve seen with the customer. What would that be? Can you share some example?
Casey: Yes. We work with a company that came to us with a problem streamlining their backend processing. Huge company. And by working with them to implement the tool that streamline that, they were able to save in a subsequent quarter, 2 million dollars from an investment of $50,000. They crunched all the number. They spent 50 grants, they got 2 million dollars. And we’ve gone on to do that repeatedly with them and they just always have work for us.
That to me is a huge success. Because we are able to use in cutting edge open source technology that this company was not use to working with. They are used to working with this really funky, old 90’s era, monolithic software tools and by pivoting fast and working with the team, we are able to have that success. It’s a great feeling. It’s a great feeling to make something and craft something and see that if it’s making a real difference in the world for your clients.
Bala: Very good. Okay. And any failure stories that you have?
Casey: Oh man. (both laughs) Haha… As you could tell I’m kind of… I can talk for hours about various stories that I have but I think I’ve covered probably that most important ones. All spare your audience.
[00:43:39] Bala: Hahahaha. Alright. Cool no problem. Okay. So I guess we’re pretty much covered most of the questions which I have and it was a kind of pretty deep session and lot of insights you’ve actually given today. Pretty interesting. So what are your future plans now?
Casey: Yes. I’ve mentioned that Ricochet at the size that that we want to be more or less. Any increase in size that we make is going to come from a business need that we have. So for instance when we decided that we wanted to have a business development person. They are not available, so we’ve got to increase available hours a little bit to be able to afford that person. And I think that’s a lot different in how most businesses react to business as they try to gear up to handle that. And I think that’s a really toxic thing. Because, by the time you’re comfortable with the size you’re at, you’re already a different size. So I like being at the size we are at. Because now, we have revenue and profit to be able to re-invest into our Ricochet labs, which is where we incubate our product ideas.
So most agencies, I’ve gathered, want to develop products as well. But there, it’s really hard. Because their model is geared towards making that almost impossible. As if always got more work and then they are always scrambling to feed that available beast. And then never able to actually put the mental space in the products. And on the flip side, when work slows down, all these people scramble on the product ideas but it’s such a mad rush that nobody can be thoughtful about how they are actually developing that work. And it’s kind of future famine right? It’s like drought to all of a sudden, gushing rivers of work.
So what our plan is, and we’re already working on this. We’ve got one product that is coming out of self-mode now or we just took it from an internal product to now it’s own branding. It’s in the security vertical. And we are going to push forward on that. I think one of that is… I’ve realized that the key to success that I’ve seen a lot of people fail at is consistently re-investing time over long periods into iterating and improving rather than jumping from idea to ideas to idea, when you really haven’t given it the opportunity to succeed in he first place. So our future is developing products in addition to our services as an isolated thing. And then being able to spin those companies off as their own entities and potentially raising money or having just be their own thing.
Our team has a invested interest in this. That’s how retain them so we don’t have to keep growing to give them an opportunity to move up. They financial interest in the success of these products. So that’s our future. And we are working hard every week to make that a reality.
[00:46:18] Bala: Fantastic. Very good. And I wish you all the best for that and this is pretty interesting, the way you’ve started and every process that you’ve actually put inside to run your whole machine. I think it’s all perfectly working. And that make perfect sense when you have the set up developers with you, the right mind-set with you, why not develop a right idea, built a product, just not building for somebody else? Why not utilize that particular resources at that.
Casey: Yea that makes perfect sense. We have all the expertise in-house. Why won’t you do this? But then why is it so hard for most agencies to do. I think it’s because there’s some fundamental things that we’ve got to desk against us. Unless you try really hard to avoid that accidental evil, it’s very rare that it’s going to succeed.
Bala: Very good. Fantastic. Casey, today’s session is pretty hard core and it’s going to be helping a lot of agencies who’ve actually been hearing this particular show. And thank you very much for giving us all the wisdom that you have. If people want to contact you, what is the best way they can reach out to you?
[00:47:28] Casey: Yes. Either through Ricochet, so it’s [email protected] My contact info is on there or the contact page that goes to me as well. If you go to Caseycobb.com, that also has all my talks and articles and my contact information. But I would say Bala, I’m trying to evangelize this idea of Accidental Evil because I really truly believe that by understanding somebody’s principles that will make the world a better place.
This is not something that I make money of it. I just like to speak about it. I just like to evangelize the idea. So, if any of your viewers have an opportunity to do a guest blog or speaking opportunity to something that, where we can help get this word out. Or they are curious about how accidental evil applies to their organization. Really encourage people to reach out to me on twitter or on email or however, so that I can help. Because it is something that I think it’s really important for us at this point and technology into development as a society
Bala: Brilliant. Fantastic. I’m pretty much sure many people will reach out to you. It particularly interested me and the subject at one of the article that you had in Medium.com. Very interesting and caught me into the curious thing I want to talk to Casey right now. I’m pretty much sure that once would be listening to this would reaching out to you.
One question, did you coined the term accidental evil because I didn’t find that anywhere else?
Casey: Oh yea. It’s my baby.
Bala: Very good. Very good. Fantastic. Thank you very much Casey. Really appreciate your time today. And we would be doing one more session probably some other day probably in some other individual topic on Accidental Evil itself. I’m pretty much sure and we’ve look in other area and talk further on that too. Until then thank you.
Casey: Thank you so much Bala.
Bala: Thank you very much. I really appreciate that.
Casey: Have a nice day.
Bala: You too.
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