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We say goodbye to our friend and co-host of The Frontside Podcast, Brandon Hays.
BRANDON: Hello, everybody and welcome to Frontside Podcast Episode 48. It is a podcast, as you can tell from the intro music, about woodworking and dads and dads working with wood.
CHARLES: And power washing wood.
BRANDON: Yes and power washing, sanding decks. Today, we'll be talking about the difference between mortise and tenon joints and dovetail joints and when it's worth going through the extra effort for that dovetail. Our guest today is Charles Lowell, woodworking expert.
CHARLES: Hi, Brandon.
BRANDON: Hi. I think I've never heard anybody acknowledge the fact that there's new music in the intro. I don't know if that has been publicly acknowledged in the podcast yet. But I was on the selection committee for that music and we had many options and we went with the one that sounded most appropriate for, I don't know, a woodworking show on PBS but I like it.
CHARLES: I like PBS. I like woodworking. I like the music too and the best part is I didn't have to choose it. I just had to promise to make music myself for 50 weeks running.
BRANDON: It was about 150 weeks.
CHARLES: About 150 weeks.
BRANDON: Yeah. Charles, we are here in the new Frontside HQ, which is sort of still under construction. It's kind of cool, though. It's a different space. I haven't been here much so it doesn't feel like home to me yet, I don't know if it does to you yet.
CHARLES: It's beginning. It’s still unfinished in many ways. It’s not painted. We just kind of have the bare minimum for survival. The kitchen is stocked, there's coffee in the cabinets, the grinder is set up, the bar is set up, the wall sockets are set up, and the wireless router is set up.
BRANDON: Home is where the vermouth is.
CHARLES: And cavernous is really the word to describe it.
BRANDON: This is a shop that's clearly set up for a version of the Frontside that does not yet exist and it's interesting to see current day Frontside in a space that is clearly marked for a future version of this.
CHARLES: Yeah, you feel small walking in. There are not enough people to fill all the seats that we have in here.
BRANDON: Which is kind of cool. I don't know if you recall, maybe we'll save that discussion for later but there was a prior iteration of this company where that was very much the same thing. So it's kind of cool, like a little bit of an emotional journey to see this process start over again.
CHARLES: Yeah, it is definitely a new space and it's a new era.
BRANDON: Yeah, for you. Not for me.
BRANDON: You guys can go right to hell.
CHARLES: Well, it is a new era for you too.
BRANDON: Yeah, that's true -- a new era of fun-employment. We wanted to do one final 'dadcast' because basically, as of officially 10 days ago or so, I no longer work at the Frontside and I've had people ask me and I was like, "I don't want to talk about it." And so, I think it’s probably time that we -- I don't want to belabor it. Nobody handed me a card when I quit as the co-founder of the Frontside that said, "You are officially invited now to Medium.com to write a think piece about my incredible journey."
CHARLES: [Laughs] You'll get that in the mail.
BRANDON: Okay. It may be sent to my old address. It’s sent to our old office, which is the problem. It’s lost in the mail. So yeah, instead I'm going to do my incredible journey podcast and really just regale everyone with stories of what an incredible, incredible journey it's been -- truly incredible.
CHARLES: Don't leave out the travelling with the fish and the cat, and like a little pug dog. You know like all those incredible journey stories when we were kids.
BRANDON: Yeah, like Homeward Bound.
CHARLES: Yeah, there you go.
BRANDON: I think it is like Homeward Bound.
CHARLES: That time that you fell into the water with the kitten, that was adorable.
BRANDON: I don't know where I'm stealing this joke from but there is an Incredible Journey sequel with a squid and a cow, truly the most unlikely of friends.
BRANDON: Here we are giving my swan song on this podcast. I've actually actively took a month off to think about basically to try to recuperate and think about like, "Is this something that I can continue to do." I purposely took off from the podcast which was agony because I so wanted to have those conversations that you all did with Noel, and with Yehuda, and with Sarah. They turned out really good. I'm so happy with the result of stepping back and realizing, "Wait a minute, I think I'm redundant."
CHARLES: It was your idea to create the podcast, in the first place and the podcast has been infused with your personality. Even on the episodes where you weren't present, like you were behind the scenes, arranging it, making sure that it all happened. I can understand like missing that part of it. It really was like your baby, so to speak.
BRANDON: What's cool and agonizing is first off, I want to acknowledge that talking about a podcast that you're on while you're on the podcast actually should cause the podcast to collapse in on itself in a recursive loop.
CHARLES: You're witnessing a podcast singularity.
BRANDON: Then I'm commenting about the fact that we're commenting on the podcast on the podcast. So before we jump into a stack level too deep, I just want to acknowledge that I've had this experience before where I've stepped down as an organizer or a maintainer of something and I've watched the project get better as a result of me leaving.
The biggest fear a person has when they step away from something like this is that the thing will collapse as a result of them leaving. The second big biggest fear is that it will not collapse as a result of you leaving.
BRANDON: It’s sort of like, "Oh yeah. Okay, well, you know..." And the amazing thing is watching it get better. It feels a little guilty like, "Why did I let go of the steering wheel of this thing sooner so that..."
Yes, the podcast was definitely my baby and I took care of everything and then I realized so much of that work, there are people that are actually better at this than me. When we brought Mandy Moore in to help with the editing and then organizing and she's taking a bigger, mega-role in all that stuff, she does a way better job than I did. I think that's true of anybody who does a bunch of things and that means, if you are the founder of a company, that's you. You do a bunch of things if you are a founding member of a small organization.
As you start letting those go, you find that there are people that like doing the stuff that you don't like to do or are better at the stuff that you do like to do. It’s always an interesting, humbling process. Just that alone right there was sort of the lesson I took out of it was that letting go is something can actually improve it.
CHARLES: That's actually, I think, critical to the process whether it's open source, whether it's a company, whether it's some side project that you have. There’s a phase where -- and really, I guess it applies to the whole start up cycle in of itself, right? There’s a phase where you do have to do everything. But then at a certain point, the critical path is you do not do those things.
BRANDON: It's before you think it's going to be too, so you always feel like there's always a leap of faith you have to take to say, "I think it's time for me to hand this off and pay somebody else to do something that I've learned to survive doing." And it's before you're comfortable letting go of that thing. And so, people that are uncomfortable letting go of stuff will just hold on to everything forever because there's no clear point where you just point at that and go, "This is the time to let that go." It feels natural. It’s time. It’s like your kids' first day at school. You’re going to cry. They're going to cry and then everything's going to be okay. That was one big thing.
Actually, it's kind of linked to why I left in the first place, which is I have historically been so bad at that skill. I have not exercised the muscle of letting things go and it doesn't feel ever appropriate to let things go. So I just took on more and more physical and emotional work and tried to cover more and more bases and did so like borderline adequately in all these different areas to where I just really burned myself out to the point where I couldn't get up and go to work in the morning anymore.
I think anybody can relate to this feeling of getting up and being like, "Please don't make me do this again. I don't want to get up." It's like getting up and driving to a place where you eat dirt all day.
CHARLES: That's a division of the Frontside.
BRANDON: And you're like --
CHARLES: Eating dirt.
BRANDON: You know what? It's okay but I had that yesterday.
CHARLES: Yeah, it was hard to watch especially like standing right next to you and seeing that process unfold month to month and then compound over the years.
BRANDON: Yeah, 'Hard to Watch' is the title of the lifetime movie of my life.
CHARLES: Also, I believe it's the title of a Steven Seagal movie from the early 90's.
BRANDON: It was a Steven Seagal documentary about getting his hair plugs.
BRANDON: "I'll take you to the bank, the hair plug bank."
CHARLES: Oh, you beat me to the punch. That’s the exact joke that I was going to make.
BRANDON: I did it. "I'll take you to the bank, senator."
CHARLES: What am I going to do? I guess, I have to carry the torch of early and late 90's movie references around here. You just got to let that fart go.
BRANDON: Yeah, there is a dearth of the 40-year old contingent here. Yeah, in the process, I learned a lot of stuff. But the problem was that it was too late to fix it in a way that felt super repairable so it was too late to try to like, "Okay, we'll just make these small tweaks and your life will get better. Okay, let these things go."
I was advised by several people like, "Hey, man. You should totally see this thing through. The Frontside is right on the cusp. It's just having its breakthrough moment. The business is doing really well. The employees here are fantastic. Everything is just kind of teed up for 2017 being a banner year." And I just went, "Yeah, but it doesn't matter like how awesome the next city is if you broke down on the side of the road, out of gas."
CHARLES: Right. There’s a certain point where it doesn't matter if there's more water coming down onto your bucket, like your bucket is full, the bucket is full and it's just the fact. BRANDON: Yep. I'm fortunate to be able to take a little bit of time to think about what's next. I don't think there's much more to say about that aspect of it than that. It is not complicated. People burning themselves out is a thing that happens all the time particularly among founders. There’s usually a recovery period and usually they get back on their feet.
It’s a bummer because I love the people here but I knew I couldn't do it anymore. There may be people with Psychology degree who is listening to this and they are like, "No, no, no. there's plenty more to say about your stupid brain." That's all I've got. It's just I kind of ran out of gas. I stepped away about six weeks ago and you all are doing amazing work, you're in this awesome new space. I don't know... There are a couple things I wanted to talk about. One of them being maybe do a little bit of a retrospective about --
CHARLES: Yeah, let's wind back the clock. Do you want to have a flashback?
BRANDON: Let's have a flashback.
CHARLES: All right. You actually joined on, was it September of 2013?
BRANDON: And we had been talking for about six months before that. Potentially longer but it was really like we started talking in earnest in early 2013.
CHARLES: Yeah, it was a long process, like everything we do. It’s painfully slow sometimes but that process, by which we came together to try and really do something special unfolded over a long time because there was a lot to talk about. There were so many conversations, meet-ups after meet-ups, phone calls, and just like discussing what would it look like, what are we trying to accomplish. At that time, we're really very focused on pinning down like, "What are we going to do here?"
But that was what the focus was. We were talking about the details of how we're going to make it run, who we're going to hire, all that stuff. It was all about what is the purpose of this. It turns out that a lot of people give that short trip but it can be and should be a conversation that takes six months.
BRANDON: I don't think I've really acknowledged this too much. But I didn't really have a purpose at the time. I just wanted a shot at trying to build something. Eventually, I knew that if I didn't take it, I would regret it. I found your vision very compelling. You had a vision from the minute we walked through your space. All that was in it was a ping pong table and in the corner, you crammed yourself an intern. At one point, two interns and you were all crammed into one corner room of this big office for some reason.
CHARLES: Underneath a marionette.
CHARLES: A marionette from Mexico.
BRANDON: Yeah, from Juarez or something and I had you walk me through the space and you're like, "I have a really clear picture in my mind of what's going to happen here." You probably can describe it better than I can. It was like, "Over here..."
CHARLES: I actually want to hear you say it.
BRANDON: I don't remember this, maybe but --
CHARLES: I do. I remember it very vividly but I'm actually --
BRANDON: Okay, so I remember you walked me through the space and you were like, "Over here, I see two people pairing on a really hard problem. Over here, I see somebody writing open source software. Over here, I see somebody writing documentation for some open source program." You had this really compelling vision of like a beehive of activity around collaborative, open source oriented, good engineering work that grew developers into great developers.
It was super clear in your mind that there was a way to do this that what you needed was an engine of growth to hook that vision up to. And I was like, "I've never done this before. But I'd sure give it a shot."
CHARLES: Yeah, and the thing is part of what was missing was this understanding that to make all of those things happen, to build that great software, and give engineers the chance to really grow into that role of producing that good software, that you need so much focus on that growth pattern and to foster. You can't just say like, "We're going to adhere to these engineering practices," and boom! Voila! Out of the mix will just pop great engineers.
BRANDON: There's a tremendous amount of intentionality in the process of doing that side of it and then there's a tremendous amount of infrastructure underneath that to create. That was the part I think, we both underestimated was how much infrastructure work you and I would have to do over the ensuing few years. But you cannot let go of that vision because if it's all infrastructure, then congratulations. You have a business that makes money and has no reason to exist.
Nothing is a bigger turnoff to potential employees in a hard to recruit industry like software development than like, "Show up and we'll pay you." I have a lot of those opportunities. Thank you.
So, it was never that. We would rather pack up and go home than that happen. It was always driven by, "If we can't make the kind of place that we want to work, then we should just shut it down."
CHARLES: That's definitely was a mantra and it's hard too because in order to make that place, you have to earn that right which means ultimately, you have to have a solid business. You have to take in more money than you spend.
BRANDON: I don't want to sugarcoat the initial because we needed money in the beginning anyway. So my first three or four months here was drowning in -- like I showed up on the client and they're like, "Oh, good. You’re the Rails expert." And I was like, "I've been a professional programmer for OO for like 14 months." I had worked really hard and studied really hard and I was able to perform job duties. But I was like, "I didn't come here to be a Rails expert."
CHARLES: Yeah, but also what was interesting is they wanted you to be a Rails expert. I think I might have sold you as a Rails expert.
CHARLES: But the thing is as you came in, with an uncanny ability to wrap your hand around what they actually needed so you are probably an expert. While there was the implementation side, I think one of the best things that we brought to that project was focusing on the code that we didn't need to write and only writing those pieces which were critical. But yeah, so you came in for the first, about four months?
BRANDON: Yeah, between four and six months. It was September to like January, February.
CHARLES: Right. You've got to be the Rails expert in order to have a business so that you can actually play these things out.
BRANDON: Yep. And I remember thinking, before I came on I was like, "I want to run a business but here's the stuff that terrifies me -- I don't know how to set up QuickBooks. I don't know how to set up payroll. I don't know how to sell a client. I don't know how to even find clients." And you're like, "I have all of that stuff set up already." So when people are like, "Wow, how did you get the guts together to start a business?" I'm like, "I didn't. I totally [inaudible] one.
CHARLES: Well, the thing is you have to start a business at multiple phases, right? I had a business running that could adequately support four people. But then, obviously, we ended up growing and we ended up growing beyond four people. Then the infrastructure of the place, alarmingly, became inadequate so we didn't have to build from the beginning.
BRANDON: Another thing that is difficult to learn in business is like it's a truism that is so often repeated that has become trite, which is the things that got you to where you are, are not the things that are going to get you where you want to go. It's trite because it's also not always true, like having a vision is permanent.
I was describing this to somebody. Basically, the Frontside policies for a long time were very much like a startup, where people go, "You do the laziest version of whatever you can do in a certain area," so HR practices are lazy. "Hey, we don't have HR people." And then you pat yourself on the back for being a laid back work environment.
BRANDON: We're really laid back. We don't have any policies or procedures or payroll? Hang on, hang on. Too laid back.
CHARLES: We take a relax policy for vacation. We don't have any.
BRANDON: Yeah, you either do or don't go. We don't know. We don't care. That vacation policy of like not having a policy, turns out the laziest form of that winds up being harmful to the people that work there. So we had to discover a lot of the stuff the hard way and start designing and crafting the experience of working here.
CHARLES: The thing is that part becomes difficult, like having a clear vision and an idea of what it is that you want to accomplish with this company, it puts you in chains. I don't want to say bad but basically, what it does is it sets very hard parameters on actions that you can take in the things and the practices that you can engage in. It is a good thing but it can feel like you're being squeezed by your own parameters at times.
BRANDON: Yeah, I think you and I in the past have called that 'value death', where we had all these values and we started the company as a manifestation of these values where other people may start a company as a manifestation of a business model.
BRANDON: It sounds pretty awesome.
CHARLES: It does sound pretty awesome. But a concrete example of that is our health plan. We want a place where people feel secure in their living situation so we want to pay them a fair market rate and what benefits we do offer if we want to make sure that they're second to none, that is a really, really expensive value to have.
BRANDON: A lot of places will buy that value back out of profit and we want it back out of our first dollar.
CHARLES: Right, so it's hard then because it really puts you and the tradeoff is you have a lot less flexibility when it comes to your finances and you see that again and again.
BRANDON: I talked to other people that ran businesses in the other direction. When they started with a business plan and a business model, then layered values on top as they were able to afford them. I was like, "Man, that's such a better strategy." And they're like, "No. it's just as painful," because now every time you add a value, you watch it take away the business that you've built. So it's almost the same emotional work, if not more, to try to layer and add those things on top as you go along because you watch your business become less and less of what it was and every time you do it, it feels like you're risking your business.
So by absorbing a lot of that risk upfront and defining what we wanted, we actually kind of like we didn't have to move the stake in the ground. It was already planted there and we just had to figure out how to build the business around that. I never recognized that as a tradeoff because it's always like grass is greener over there.
CHARLES: It's true and I don't bring it up like a complaint because I don't have any regrets.
BRANDON: I got regrets all over the place.
CHARLES: I don't have any regret for doing it that way, in the sense that maybe it's just because I have to compare everything to the way that we write software or maybe I just think about software too much. But it really is the outside in paradigm, right? You start from your intentions, your purpose and the system that you want to have and then you infer the processes and tactics that are required to realize that and make it real.
BRANDON: As long as it's not crystalline and you can adapt it, then that's a great strategy.
CHARLES: Yeah, but when you set those lofty goals, it means that the implications for the infrastructure are bigger than either one of us estimated.
BRANDON: Vastly so. And you're right that we didn't quite grasp the costs associated with embracing those things. One of the costs is it requires a lot of thought. It requires a lot of time to manage and it requires defining processes. It just requires a lot of like mental and time overhead that goes into, and then financial overhead that goes into managing all these things that we really cared about. That collected together, we said, "This is who we are." And we've had to back off of a couple of them because we got in over our heads on, "Hey, we're going to try to reinvent apprenticeship." Instead of doing exactly what other people are doing, I know that 8th Light takes a year to design their apprenticeship and it takes about eight people. They weren't able to even take their first apprentice until they hit eight or nine people so they had enough infrastructure of support underneath that apprentice.
Instead of learning from them, why don't we just do exactly whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it because we've met a really cool person and experienced a lot of pain at trying to reinvent things that exist elsewhere, instead of trying to look at what else is out there?
Again, this is not by way of regret. This is just one of those things that people do when they have their own thing is they feel like, "Okay, I'm going to do it different," and then they realize why other people all do it the same.
CHARLES: Yeah, and I certainly learned like you have to stick strong to your principles but make sure that they're within scope. You know, make sure that be aware that for every value you hold that sits at the top of the pyramid and there's a whole base that needs to support that value. So by all means, hold the value but be aware that's the top of the cone and you have to account for the volume of the rest of it.
BRANDON: It comes back to like how closely does this align with your vision of where this thing is going and why. Like, "This is going to allow us to recruit. This is going to put us in a situation where 12 months from now, we've got more senior engineers to help mentor the mid and junior level engineers." And being able to play that really long game is key and it's really difficult and requires patience that I had never possessed in my life before this.
CHARLES: You are an enigma in that sense and that you're both impatient yet incredibly patient.
BRANDON: Anything that I have that looks like patience is 100% fake.
BRANDON: I will put myself in a situation where I can't have the thing that I want to do right now on purpose because if it was up to me, I would have every stupid trinket and gadget the minute like --
CHARLES: Man, I got my eye on a drone right now.
CHARLES: Yeah. I'm taking it a little bit of Charles to Charles. But yeah, I see what you mean.
BRANDON: But you learn the law of the harvest which is you have to plant the seeds. If you cannot, there’s no such thing as impatiently getting the return of the values that you want to instill.
CHARLES: For me, I don't view patience as a personality trait. I view patience as a behavior.
BRANDON: Yeah, it's a muscle that you learn to exercise.
CHARLES: Yeah, it's a muscle. It is about impulse like understanding. You said it best -- the law of the harvest that you plant the seeds and you wait and you will get corn or wheat or pumpkins or whatever it is that you harvest and like dance under the moon or whatever.
BRANDON: Obviously, pumpkins. I guess you figured out my plan now is to live out to a farm. It's Decorative Gourd Season.
CHARLES: This is G-rated podcast.
BRANDON: Yeah, all right. Yeah. I want to kind of pivot the discussion with the few minutes that we have left. I want to talk about because it's fun kind of reminiscing about how we got together. Before we pivot to where the Frontside is going, I want to talk about why this partnership worked. There were a couple things wrong with it. Namely, that you and I are both big picture people. My strong recommendation to people that are like, "I need a partner for my business. Cool. Make sure one person is big picture and one person is more detail-oriented," because somebody is going to have to fill that gap and handle details and you'll both hate it if you're both one or the other.
But barring that, I would say this is one of my favorite partnerships I've seen in our business, in our industry. I'm very lucky to have participated in it. So I want to talk about a couple of things that have worked well with that. I think the most important thing in any relationship or particularly business relationship is trust. That sounds obvious and stupid but you don't understand how hard that is to maintain because so much is at stake.
You're going to have differences of opinion. You’re going to have differences of priority. There's going to be money involved, sometimes large amounts of money and that makes enemies of people really quickly. Our relationship of trust has been founded on six months sussing each other out for the fact when like I recognized this the minute I met you but it took six months to confirm that you were going to be the kind of partner that put my needs above yours and I need that because I'm going to be the kind of partner that tries to put your needs above mine.
So when two people are striving to do that, you're going to have a solid foundation for a partnership and everything else is secondary. You hope that they have the right skill sets and you hope they have the right other personality traits. But the ability to put the other person's needs above your own, on both sides of that exchange is like with a bullet, to me the most important piece of this.
First off, thanks for continuing to be that kind of person, as I've bowed out, that has not changed one wit and even the conversations we've had. I have a few other things but I'm going to bounce it over to you to talk about stuff that makes a partnership work in your experience.
CHARLES: I think having that trusting relationship absolutely is the cement in the foundation. Throughout all of this, for example, it did not come to me as a surprise that you were burnt out on this work. I was able to be there the whole time and we were having very honest and very candid conversations about this throughout the entire course.
While you did mentioned that we're both very high-level, big picture thinkers and you do want to have someone who is very detail-oriented to make sure that the operations are going to happen, I think that it's amazing what you can accomplish when you have two big picture people who approach a problem from two radically different perspectives.
I think your mind works very differently than mine and I really appreciate the way that your mind works. It was always so wonderful to be able to attack a problem. I'm thinking in terms of pairing sessions, in terms of when we were selling something or presenting to a client together, when we were doing trainings, being able to recognize that this person is grappling with the exact same problem than I am and they're bringing a completely different skill set and they are pushing the ball forward using a set of moves that I actually don't even possess. Yet we're focused on the same goal and both even find the process of pushing it forward like enjoyable.
I know there have been so many times over the course of this time, this last three years. Even quite recently, I think the last time this happened was when we were interviewing a candidate and it was like you were talking to one of the candidates and kind of explaining who you were and what it would be like to work here. I was like, "Wow, I just really appreciate your mind." Almost like if I could take your mind and hang it on a wall. I know it sounds kind of like Hannibal Lecter.
BRANDON: That’s super creepy.
CHARLES: Yeah, I know.
BRANDON: You're like Sylar from the first season of Heroes.
CHARLES: Yeah, I was like, "Should I go for it?" Yeah. So let's go there. No, but really, I do. I really have an admiration for the way that you approach things. I don't know, it's just I feel like it's very rare to meet somebody that you have such a strong values alignment with and you get along so personally with and their tactics are completely and totally different than your own. Oh, not totally different, right?
BRANDON: Yeah, different enough.
CHARLES: The angle of approach.
BRANDON: Yep. I loved that I wrote down a blog post about what constitutes a senior developer and at no point did I have any evaluatable technical criteria because that is how my mind works, because I don't care about that. People were like, "What sort of evaluatable technical criteria do you use?" And I was like, "I don't know. That's Charles' territory." And then you did that podcast with it and I just sat there and I re-listened to that a couple times actually as I was writing my conference talk about because it's actually really important to develop those and it's really important to have the signifiers that you have developed those.
I couldn't have done any part of this without you. So I will always be deeply, deeply grateful for the fact that you saw something in me that you kind of gave me the shot that I was waiting for somebody to give me, which is weird. Like I was waiting for somebody to ask me to come and found a company with them then you did. That doesn't happen.
I don't recommend to people to sit around and wait for the perfect partner to come along and ask them to co-found a company. I think what I learned through the process of all of this is, "Go ahead and be bold and do that." The rest of that is that stuff but do find a partner that you can have that level of trust with and don't settle for one that you can't, that would be like all the horror stories I know in business.
CHARLES: I cannot even imagine.
BRANDON: I've seen it and it's really sad. When you said it wasn't a surprise to you that I was burned out is because we had such a deep relationship of trust that when we finally started having one-on-ones, I was able to confide everything in you because I knew that you would take that information in the right context. You could be trusted with the raw part of my feelings. The fact that I was scared, the fact that I was frustrated and you wouldn't turn that into either a weapon or you wouldn't turn it into something that made you like me less or trust me less. I just could always trust you that I could tell you unvarnished truth.
CHARLES: Yeah, that's certainly when you talk about lessons learned, that's actually a very personal lesson that I took away from this experience. And really this relationship is something that you show is like you can give somebody very direct, very frank feedback and how it is received and how it affects the relationship going forward has everything to do with your emotional intent towards that person. So if you are coming from a place of love, you almost have a free reign of the things that you can say because you're just stating facts and people know that there is that love in there.
BRANDON: Charles, I love you but you have cream corn on your face.
CHARLES: But it's true that you can get the same feedback from someone who is trying to use that as a weapon and trying to make you flinch. It doesn't even have to be malevolence. It can just be --
CHARLES: Indifference but it makes all the difference. So I always try and replicate that with the other relationships in my life, with varying degrees of success but I learned that here. That’s a very personal but very powerful lesson that I took away in having experienced that first hand.
While we're talking about different skills and different lessons learned and very personal lessons learned, another thing that I took away from here, I said I always like to bring things down to the concrete. I feel like obstructions are dangerous.
BRANDON: Yeah, they could obscure your intent.
CHARLES: Exactly. So when I say like, "I really appreciate your mind," one of the things that I like is when you're talking, you paint a very clear picture, like your analogies and your metaphors. They're just always on point and you're always able to relate, whether it's we're doing something with software, whether it's an interview, whether it's designing one of our business processes, always able to paint a very clear picture and tell a very compelling story around why it should be that way.
So it is focused me that I feel like I've been able to grow as a communicator and really kind of perceive that communication is really the one true best practice, so to speak, and making clear so that you can build consensus around people who are trying to cooperate to do something. It’s affected the way that we write pull requests, making sure that you're laying out the facts in the order in which they should be.
It means that if you want to accomplish something, you're going to have to convince people that it's worth doing and that is the key thing. Sometimes you can convince them with code but not always.
BRANDON: It is a lever that can give you leverage when you're trying to make a point. But you have to recognize it for what it is. It’s just an additional lever.
BRANDON: All right. Well, as we continue this, I'll volley back one more thing and then I want to ask you about the future of the Frontside. I kid you not. I think I'm actually going to do this. I'm going to change my iPhone lock screen to say, "Is this something Charles would say?" I've told multiple people this so I apologize if I've said this on the podcast before but we were partners for three years, which is as intense a relationship as marriage, if not more so.
In those three years, you have said nothing that could even be construed or misconstrued to me as unkind. Not even neutral. Just kind, like inquisitive kind, caring, and the reverse is not 100% true. I don't have anything that I sit around and regret. But I want to thank you for giving me a standard of kindness that I can hold no other people to but I will try to hold myself to. You have made me a better person as a result of our time working together and that you just the deep, deep example of human kindness and thoughtfulness in your approach to the way that you communicate with people.
I just want to thank you for all the things that I've learned here, other than my own ability to kind of make my own way in the world which I did not have before this company. The other big thing as an example of this is the kind of kindness that a person four decades into their life can continue to have, the lack of cynicism, the lack of snideness, the lack of anything resembling superiority, so I just want to thank you for that. Thanks for being such a wonderful person. I assume that's inborn and cultivated. I love you so much.
So let me shift the topic in our last few minutes here and ask because I'm curious and I'm sure people will be curious. Let me phrase it this way. We walked around a big empty building and said, "Oh, I see this over here. I see this over here. This is going to be a great place where people are encouraging each other and growing as developers." Has anything changed as you're in this new building and walk around in a big empty space that doesn't have enough people in to fill it? And is anything changed as your vision for the Frontside, like I know you're hiring a salesperson and there are a couple watershed moments.
CHARLES: Absolutely, and I think this is a watershed moment. I think tying it back to where we were when you came on. It was basically you and me are the two full-time employees. We had this company. We had this idea. We had this dream and we were able to, I think, realize that dream to a large extent.
There were people pairing and it was right next to me this morning and I was listening into the conversation and I was not even a part of it. My heart's desire was to jump in the middle of it and get right in there because it sounded like such a fun conversation to have. But I held back and I just listened to it and appreciate it. For all of the wonderful knowledge and value that was being generated right before my very eyes, like it very much was a realization. I think of those dreams that we had back in 2013.
In order to make that happen, we had to grow this company beyond just you and me. Now, we were up to almost nine people. I think, with you leaving, we're going to back to seven because we're going to bring, like you mentioned, a salesperson. So there was definitely a couple of phases of growth. We’ve talked about this on a previous podcast but we kind of had another watershed moment back in March where we realized, “Wait a second. We've cowboy-coding our business. We need to actually write tests, we need to write documentation, we need to shore up these internal structures to make sure that this vision is financially viable and sustainable.” And so we did that.
I think that I want to actually like call out and say like, "I don't see that I could have done that without you. That’s been the story of this place for the last six months. It is a fundamental transformation of how this company operates. You know just as well as I do that those changes that we put in place, those checks and those parameters and those processes had a profound impact on the viability of this company. But in the process, it also like it did. It burned you out. I think that this last six months and this last year in particular, were incredibly hard.
So the next question and part of the problem was that you and I were kind of the single points of failure in that system. We stop cowboy-coding, we put in these checks, we put in the balances, we put in these measurements but we still had a system that had these two single points of failure.
I'm not going to lie with your departure that is going to put a lot of stress on the company but it begs the question now, "Is a company that has one point of single point of failure a viable company?" So for me, I don't think the vision has changed that much. I still want to be a place where great engineering happens and where there is a space where engineers or people can come in and grow to be great engineers.
But the thing is the change that I want to make is scalable. It needs to be distributed so the changes that we're making right now, the air that is beginning now is going to be introducing scalability so that I can exit or I am not necessary and the people who are here, whether it's eight people, 10 people, 20 people, they can continue this process and live under the umbrella of that vision without there being any one that's critical to success of the entire network. That’s what I see coming and that's where I'm focusing all of my energy.
BRANDON: Well, I'm excited to see what happens with it. Not excited to show up here to work anymore.
CHARLES: But you got to come by and podcast.
BRANDON: Every once in a while.
CHARLES: Every once in a while.
BRANDON: All right. I really love this place and what it stands for. Not just because I got to help define it. It's sort of like everybody loves their own kids. But I think even if this was somebody else's kid, I would love and admire this company because it has stood on principles that are hard to stand on. It’s done things that are harder than just getting a business up and running and it survived, which says a lot.
I ran out of tenacity juice but it doesn't mean this company has and I'm really grateful to have had a great co-founder that made that possible. It made me feel like I was capable of more than I felt like I was capable before I came here. So this has been a tremendously life altering experience for me. Because of your willingness to give me a shot to risk your business on this guy that you just felt like, "I like this person. I like [inaudible] together."
CHARLES: Don't sell yourself short. You shine and you burn brightly. That’s apparent to anybody who stands in proximity.
BRANDON: Well, thank you and I am so grateful for having had this opportunity. I hope I can use you as a reference.
CHARLES: "To whom it may concern..."
BRANDON: I guess my wife is like, "Are you going to get a job?" And I was like, "I don't know."
CHARLES: I promise not to [inaudible] you on the internet.
BRANDON: Yeah, that's the best I can hope for. Charles, this has been really great. I appreciate getting to do this with you. I will miss these 'dadcasts'.
CHARLES: I will miss them too.
BRANDON: I wonder if anybody listening doesn't know what those mean. Let me reiterate the story. We obviously didn't talk about being dads. But we totally are dads. Stanley, when he used to work here would call the podcast, with just me and Charles, 'dadcast' so that stuck. The problem is if we started a side podcast called 'Dadcast', people would expect us to talk about dad stuff and we're not going to do that pretty much.
CHARLES: Yeah, no. It really has stuck, It's like, "So, what's the format of the podcast this week. Is it going to be a dadcast?"
CHARLES: "Or should we try, you know, organize a panel."
BRANDON: I've heard from other people are like, "When are you going to do another dadcast?"
BRANDON: So the answer now is '???' but we'll figure it out.
CHARLES: Yeah, we'll figure something out.
BRANDON: Oh, yeah. You all are moving to weekly, which is a pretty big deal. Maybe, we'll be able to slip one of those in there in a few months.
CHARLES: We're definitely thinking about taking our podcast game up to the next level. We had Mandy, actually came to Austin last week and we ran over a bunch of different options. So yeah, we're thinking about going weekly and I'm actually pretty excited about the content of the podcast. But it's going to be distributed. It’s going to be a lot more people doing a lot more stuff.
BRANDON: I love that you're removing a single point of failure thing because I think a lot of what my inability or unwillingness to do that was part of what contributed to my burnout, which is obviously not a great way to run your business, to burn yourself out of being able to go back in. I'm glad that you're doing that and I'm excited to see where the Frontside goes.
So Charles, thank you for letting me come on for one last show here.
CHARLES: Yeah. Well thank you, Brandon. When I think about the future and you can take this as one last contribution, I feel like this is somewhat of a daunting task but I actually take solace in the fearlessness that you've given me, in the sense that I've seen you be fearless in learning Emacs. I've seen you be fearless and having really hard conversations with clients and be fearless in having those same hard conversations with our own employees that we see every day and just watching you operate gives me knowledge, just in the sense of an incontrovertible fact that, "Yes, I can do this and I can try." And so thank you for that. Thank you for everything that you've done over the last three years.
BRANDON: I love you, Charles.
CHARLES: I love you too, man.
BRANDON: Okay. All right. Everybody, please if you have questions for this podcast, send them in. It's the @frontside on Twitter and if you have any feedback, it'd be really awesome if you leave an iTunes review on iTunes that helps people find the Frontside podcast and share with people. Tell them that I won't wreck future ones as best as I can. I won't interject and remove the opportunity to listen to cool guest that you have coming up. Anyway, thanks everybody for listening. And Charles, thank you for being a friend.
CHARLES: [Singing] You have a friend and a confidant... and you know what?
BOTH: [Singing] And if you threw a party, invited everyone you knew. You would see the biggest gift would be from me and the card attached would say: THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND!