Category Archives: Business

The End of Chapter 1: my fond farewell to Crowd Favorite

I don’t think I’ve shared this much about “what I do for work” with many folks. So here we go…

Chapter 1: Alex King and Crowd Favorite1

I met Alex a few times at various tech events in the area (BarCamp Denver in 2006, Startup Weekend in 2007). We both became familiar with each other through these events were able to keep in touch loosely through our respective blogs (he’s always been a big deal in the WordPress industry).

When Alex moved the Crowd Favorite office to downtown Denver I asked to grab lunch since I was also working downtown. Coincidentally, he was about a year into Crowd Favorite and looking to bring in some help as the team and projects grew. I was also looking to find a great way to get into the internet industry.

I started working for Alex in July 2008 as an account manager supporting incoming requests from existing maintenance and support clients. Given my technical background, I also started working on exploring incoming projects, gathering their requirements, preparing estimates, and handing them off to our project manager. At some point along the way it made sense for me to take on and manage some of the projects myself. At that point I realized I lived and breathed the entire consulting client lifecycle: business acquisition, through project launch, and into ongoing support and maintenance.

In 2009 Charlie Hoehn asked me to share my thoughts on ‘the power of having a personal blog’ for his book “Recession-Proof Graduate” and I wrote: “I went from a no-name blogger to a trusted source, which ultimately landed my dream job.”

What I did at Crowd Favorite was a dream job and continued to be, even as the business and my role evolved. After years of practicing “do what you think is best” and then receiving immediate feedback from Alex, I felt like I really understood how he wanted to run his business. I’ve seen some folks get frustrated with receiving constant feedback on their actions (and inactions) but I saw each email from Alex as free knowledge. I tried to absorb everything and ask clarifying questions which allowed me to grow my understanding and responsibilities. My “Alex King bootcamp” was an amazing learning experience.

Having learned Alex’s ways and preferences, the business’ and industry’s technologies and processes, and mixing in my own experiences and knowledge: there became a point in 2012 where he and I felt like I had a good handle on most of the day-to-day happenings. We hired another project manager (bringing the total to three) to help with my clients and allow me to help with more of the business and take some responsibilities off of Alex.

Unfortunately, this was put to the test earlier this year when Alex had to take a sudden medical leave. To the entire team’s credit, everything at Crowd Favorite kept humming along just fine. I’d say my involvement within the organization during this period is one of the things I’m most proud of.

Chapter 2

I was part of the Crowd Favorite team and helped (and watched) it grow, change, and improve over the past five-and-a-half years. I took on a lot of responsibility in the past year or so and cemented a lot of thoughts about providing excellent client service, successful project management, selling products and services, managing a team, and even running a business (everything from negotiating contracts to hiring employees).

But now I’m looking to do some travel, learn new things, and explore different technologies and industries.

Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, put it succinctly: “I realized that the bigger learning and growing challenge for me was letting go, not staying on.”

Kevin Kelly also shared an interesting perspective: “Stewart Brand, who is now 69, has been arranging his life in blocks of 5 years. Five years is what he says any project worth doing will take. From moment of inception to the last good-riddance, a book, a campaign, a new job, a start-up will take 5 years to play through.” Five years is also approximately 10,000 working hours, a milestone Malcolm Gladwell touted as being requisite to becoming “great” at anything.

In the few months after deciding to move along, I had some excellent conversations and ultimately re-discovered a software company in California that I truly believe in. Next week, I will be joining the Enterprise team at GitHub and spending time traveling to and from San Francisco (more on that later).


This is not a sudden development. I’ve actually been documenting and handing-off my involvement and responsibilities (to identify potential gaps) and explicitly sharing tacit knowledge with the Crowd Favorite team since early September.

More recently, I’ve also done my best (in addition to everyone else) to provide as much background and detail about the team, its projects, clients, philosophies and processes to the folks at VeloMedia (who recently acquired Crowd Favorite). I’m excited for the expertise and leadership these guys and gals bring to Crowd Favorite and look forward to what the future holds. They’ve asked me to continue to lend my thoughts to them and the project management team (for continuity) and I said I’d be more than happy to.

“I gotta go now. I’ve got a lotta bouncin’ to do! Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! T-T-F-N: ta-ta for now!”

That all said, I owe a big “thank you” to the patient clients, interesting prospects, friends of the company, and everyone else I’ve worked with these past few years. It’s been a pleasure.

Most importantly, I owe everything to the entire team at Crowd Favorite (new, old and alumni). I’ve learned a lot, enjoyed the experiences, and have you all to thank for who I am and where I am today.

I’m excited because I know there are great things coming for both myself and Crowd Favorite. If you’d like to follow along, you always find more over there at Crowd Favorite’s blog and here on my own.

  1. I held plenty of good jobs before I joined Crowd Favorite, but none of them truly feel like chapters in my “career story”; they were more like an Introduction. 

Preferred Contact Methods

Social etiquette often trails technological advances. You see it today when a group of friends are out to dinner and many are looking down at their smartphones. That’s obviously not an ideal social situation but no precise norms or allowances have been defined as the introduction of the always-connected device itself is still new.

I’ve been struggling lately with: how to locate, interact, coordinate, and communicate with people.

While at the same time balancing: timeliness of response required, perceived appropriateness of a communication method, ease of method, and sender’s and receiver’s own workflow.

Available Methods

We have a number of ways to get in touch with each other, find out whereabouts, ask questions, etc. Including, but not limited to:

  1. SMS / MMS / iMessage messages
  2. Email
  3. Phone call
  4. Video-based call
  5. Instant messaging
  6. Social network messaging
  7. Location-based services (Find My Friends, foursquare)
  8. Third-party (“tell Joe X”)
  9. Calendaring (share a schedule, meeting invitations)
  10. Chat rooms
  11. Portals or ticketing systems

Each of these then diverge further into personal and work versions of each, social networks each have different stated uses, and so on.


Because of all these methods exist, there are equally as many preferences and good / bad ways to talk to, coordinate with, and function amongst fellow humans:

  • Some of these methods aren’t available to individuals at all times (via a mobile device or otherwise)
  • Others can be available (via an application) but may not be installed or open at the right time
  • Notifications may not be fine-tuned to allow for timely responses (or disabled entirely, because of that)
  • Individuals may choose unstated methods they prefer to receive at different intervals (X during the day, Y at night)
  • Methods and preferences vary per person, all for good reason

So What?

I feel like I’m making this overly complicated and saying what we’re already aware of, but I want to make some points clear:

  • Timely communication (in warranted situations) may go undelivered. For example: did John get my SMS message stating I’ll be late? He’s at his desk in the office and has no mobile service and it would have been better if I sent him an email.

  • Opportunities may get overlooked entirely. similarly, if I don’t check LinkedIn but once a month but you send me a timely job prospect and then forget about it, it’s now my fault

  • The balance of power in some exchanges may favor one side (sender or receiver) if these preferences go unstated. For example, if Mary has a very busy schedule but I am more flexible, how can I take burden from her and put it on me to pick a good time or location to meet?

  • Social mistakes become easier and can strain relationships. I may send a non-important Twitter direct message to Steve late at night but his mobile phone alerts may allow it to wake up him and his wife with a vibration or noise alert.

Some of this is mitigated with better planning, but with the always-on and available nature of life (a separate discussion), expectations shift. Some can be simply stated outwardly (“I don’t check my email often, send me an SMS message when you’re going to be in town”), but as our business and personal social networks grow and preferences change this puts a burden on remembering (sometimes outdated) information.

Now all of this is to say that this is just how working with humans always has been and likely always will be. (Joe likes to chat with the neighbor on their front yards when he walks his dog, but Mary likes to call Jill and come over for tea.) But, with technology the challenges will likely grow, the consequences and challenges may as well, and is there any reason the tools we’ve created can’t also help solve the problems they’ve introduced?

For what its worth: I just experienced this trying to connect with friends (old and new) when visiting San Francisco. If I broadcast a note stating I will be in town via Twitter, I likely will get, but not guarantee, responses to arrive via Twitter (whether or not that’s either party’s preferred method of choice). Is email a better way to coordinate a days-away meal than a back-and-forth volley of messages? Should some of the conversation then move to SMS / iMessage when more immediate responses are required? Is sending messages to ask how far away you are any better than checking your location on Find My Friends?

Apply the same to business interactions: assuming email is the de-facto contact method of choice, when is it appropriate to make an introduction via a Facebook message? Which client can I send an SMS message to in order to get an immediate response (or vice versa)? Is it rude to decline a phone call conversation if you know it’d be better to hash out details through written instant messaging?

Managing Up, Down, and Sideways by Breandán Knowlton

digital-pm-summit-2013At the Digital PM Summit this year, I had the pleasure of sitting in a “conversation” session with a bunch of smart folks talking about “Managing Quality In Development Teams”. I could also tell one of the contributors in the corner really knew his stuff and had come from an interesting background. Little did I know, I was sitting in his session the next day titled “Managing Up, Down, and Sideways”.

Breandán Knowlton presented a unique combination of concepts that I’ve taken home to the team (and to heart) when approaching conflicts (or really, any dialogs) with our interactive projects and clients.

I’m sure most folks have heard about “managing up”, or put simply, doing the things that will make both you and your boss (or client) happy. Pro-actively providing status updates before they ask for them, finding what their goals are and aligning your own to meet theirs, finding their values and cater your approaches to those. This all makes sense when applied smartly and is something I know I could think about more often when working with clients and stakeholders.

Knowlton’s talk on “Managing Up, Down, and Sideways” put a kind of spin on this and introduced a theory of four relational models used “to generate, interpret, coordinate, contest, plan, remember, evaluate, and think about most aspects of most social interaction in all societies.” If it’s good enough for all societies, its probably good enough (and applicable) to leading successful projects, no matter the size or shape.

I’ll summarize the four elementary models:

  1. Communal Sharing: you operate with common respect or values, love for the project or process, take collective responsibility towards success, etc.
  2. Authority Ranking: respect is geared more towards hierarchy and class structure, prestige or superiority exist here.
  3. Equality Matching: there is an unbalance perhaps in skills or knowledge and work to share, process exists to keep balance of opinions or efforts, respect may be more towards rules and regulations.
  4. Market Pricing: standards around cost-benefit come into play, efficiency and effectiveness may be measured, those measurements or ratios are viewed with social meaning.

Thinking about these models and how they can apply to project management should become clear. From here, Knowlton had us all run through an exercise:

  • Think about a situation (a project) and then a conflict. From your own perception, what was your priority, what were you thinking about, talking about, experiencing, etc. (and did one of these social models apply to your thinking)?
  • From others’ perspectives, what were their priorities and perspectives, (and what model may have applied to them)?
  • Once you came to a resolution (it may or may not have been positive), what was the result, did you end up appealing to the same model, or did you find yourself (in hindsight) and your stakeholder(s) applying different models to the situation?

I thought about a project where we were building a complex network of applications and websites that all had to interoperate for a very large internet company. The project was to span nearly a year, had many requirements, plenty of details to review and keep track of, and we were nearing a point of getting final user acceptance and testing completed.

  • From my perspective, at this time (maybe 10 months in), a new stakeholder with new priorities was introduced into the project (as a newly hired senior executive). Some newly stated project priorities from that stakeholder meant the work to date would need to be re-evaluated and substantial new efforts (costs, time) would be required.

  • From their perspective, as an executive responsible for budgets, priorities, etc. this was a big project that didn’t meet obvious unstated goals, it had become more complex than needed to solve some immediate-term goals, and was at risk of not being a meaningful contribution to the organization.

Looking back, a lot of the work and interactions to-date appealed to the Communal Sharing model (we created this project together) but the introduction of a new stakeholder certainly appealed to Authority Ranking. Ultimately, we took the discussion to a common level (Market Pricing) and, in short, discussed the cost-benefit to undoing parts of the project (which also appealed to Authority) and we jointly decided to end the project, hand over our work performed to-date and allow them to continue in their preferred format (Equality Matching).

Thinking about a project’s various stakeholders, their perspectives outside of your way, and then applying the “Relational Models Theory” can likely both describe and allow you to overcome challenges, have more successful exchanges, or simply understand where a situation may have turned.

Content Before Design: a shift in how to manage web projects

I like to joke that Happy Cog and the people that work for (and with) them sometimes act as the research and development arm of the digital / interactive project management industry.

digital-pm-summit-2013A novel idea, writing content before design, discussed by Steph Hay at the inaugural Digital PM Summit is crazy (good) enough it could completely transform digital design projects for the better. As with any good R&D process, we may be in the early days of a complete shift in thinking (like mobile-first design has been in the past few years). Or, we may forget this entirely due to lack of buy-in and ability to ‘grok’ an alternative approach.

That said, I recommend all digital project managers and organizations looking to do an online project in the near future and consider this approach and continue testing this approach and the resulting effects.


Beginning a project by talking about the audience(s) and precise interaction(s)s that currently do or need to happen means getting past guessing about what content elements and design templates need to be “designed” while still embracing ambiguity and figuring this out as you (or your client) go through the process.

Clients often want to see a layout or a concept, or a list of content types before “plugging in” all the final copy text, words, and so on. Once we “see it” we’ll make the content work to match the discovered goals of the design, right?

Writing content first means zooming in on a single piece of content, say a product description page, and writing precisely what needs to be on that page. Then stepping up a level, and repeating the process, and then moving sideways across all unique items in the project to see what patterns, unique elements, and hierarchy emerge.

This process allows the designer to then create a model that best fits the content presented and makes their job easier (and more successful). It could mean a designer will realize a call-out box design element is the best method to prioritize a testimonial on the page versus designing a page concept with testimonials included when the client has no real customers (or testimonials) yet. It could means noting the whimsy in the ‘voice’ on the page should be matched by the stylistic elements surrounding the page.

Read more about the specifics of the process at »


Steph walked through a recent successful website re-design project she led that followed a content-first approach and I’m convinced. Both you and your clients should realize the benefits to taking this approach and see if its worth going down this content creation path up-front:

  • Increases organizational capacity: if your client goes through the exercise of writing content up-front and making all the hard decisions, this then allows them to work in parallel while you begin the design process.
  • Prompts for stakeholder involvement earlier: often when a design concept is presented with ‘lorem ipsum’ placeholder text, “higher ups” do not want to be involved until things are closer to completion so they can provide meaningful feedback. Having content in place flips the switch sooner to allow looking at closer-to-final artifacts.
  • Gets to decisions quicker: when needing to provide feedback, a mental disconnect can happens if you’re able to skim over the placeholder text and simple assume the “right” content will fit naturally. As you write content, as you define the content and display models, the two convene sooner and allows for more acceptance, revisions, and testing along the way.

A traditional design process without content written first means you can’t discover what’s needed until you realize its missing.When a discovery like this happens so far into the implementation process it can de-rail a project with rework, missed timelines, blown budgets, and disappointed stakeholders.

Steph has a framework on how to begin a project with content discussions first that I encourage project managers to review and consider.

I’d also recommend comparing and contrasting this thinking to the traditional design approach found in typical interactive projects and considering the pros and cons of each.

Reviewing the “Design Process” for Project Managers

digital-pm-summit-2013Project Managers, if you’ve been working in the web and “interactive” design space for a while, you may not realize how much you know about the design process.

The thing is, we’ve likely absorbed and learned these things over the months or years. Our clients have not had the benefit of the experience. Here are some things we know, presented by Jared Ponchot at the inaugural Digital PM Summit, and could likely be better educating our clients around:

  • Design is not just “look and feel”, design is the process of imposing meaningful order to content and interactions.
  • Realize the design process is not unique to our industry and is, for good reasons, similar across industries. Look for metaphor in how cars are made, houses are built, and so on.
  • When designing, we should start to aim for “living” deliverables. It allows for tacit, ongoing approval and discussion of priorities. The ‘big reveal’ (Mad Men style) doesn’t always make sense and allow for dialog around design.

Put simply, design is the intersection of purpose, content, and style.

Purpose (why?)

Design is the process intended to figure out how we should best solve the stated problems (need more customers, want to inform the public, etc.). Fleshing out those problems, the purpose, is key to a meaningful design process.

Keep asking why and get to the root issues. Ask more “what will that get you”?

If you tell me you want to build a bridge, I will ask why? You say you want to get across the river. Why? You need to get to work on the other side. Why? Because the fields are on the other side. Why do you work the fields? Over time, instead of building a bridge we may set out to solve different problems than originally proposed.

The who, when, and overall context can affect responses to probing design questions.

Speaking with a team may yield different answers than working individually or separating the bosses from the employees. Sitting and looking at inspirational websites together may allow for more conductive exploration than on a phone call.

Ultimately define purpose statements that serve as the goals to tie decisions back to.

If you don’t know which direction you’re headed (“more customers”), how can you know if you’re actively working towards those goals?

When working with clients, being able to point each evaluation, decision, question back to the goals is the best way to ensure the design process has a good chance of resulting in success.

Content (priority not position)

Two excellent tools exist to start pulling together the content that will solve your stated problems.

Content Model

There are three things we can capture to effectively design solutions.

  • Content types: in order to meet the stated goals, what content are we creating, publishing, and making available?
  • Attributes: for each of those content types, what are the attributes that define them? (title, image, etc.)
  • Relationships: where and why is the content related? (blog posts about each product)

As you define these, you can begin creating artifacts that moves the design process along in a meaningful way.

Display Model

Describing how the content is presented can be achieved with wireframes, sketches, etc. and is typically what we think of when we think “design” (but as you see, it shouldn’t be the first step in the process):

Sketches and descriptions of the various templates start to demonstrate the priority (not just the position) of content (which was defined because it achieved stated goals). Describing the various components and the hierarchy results in a vocabulary and series of artifacts to inform the final designs.

Style (is not powerless)

This final piece is what may be considered, by most, all there is to the “design” process. Style is not simply preference. A couple points to help explain why style is not the first step and is not a powerless piece (nor the entire point), of the design process:

Color enhances priority, it’s not just a preference. When we propose a dark red button on the sparse, white screen, that color contrasts and demonstrates hierarchy (it is more important). If a client asks for it to be gray, that may not solve the stated problem (“convert more user to subscribers”) and is not just because gray is a “better” color.

Style allows for personality and can make a design more human and connect to a visitor, user, potential client. It helps express a brand and separate a business from others in the space. Picking a “flat” style versus a “textured” style should not simply be a preference.

Aim to seek evaluation against the stated goals and frame the display and style discussions (reviewing mockups, layout concepts) around the purpose and content defined earlier.


Denver friends, you’re cordially invited to a viewing party at the Crowd Favorite offices this Thursday. The excellent Passion Projects talk series presented by GitHub (to surface and celebrate women in technology) will be live-streamed.

Hurry and register now to watch Leslie Bradshaw’s talk. It should be excellent but we have limited space available.

Three things taught incorrectly in business school

Having graduated college nearly six years now its interesting to look back at some of my underlying assumptions and teachings. There are three that I think anyone would agree are consistently applied at schools all over the United States (and perhaps the world) and I find myself disagreeing with them more and more lately.

Business success is achieved through gaining market share

Nearly every class (accounting, finance, marketing, management) assumed that gaining market share was one of the primary goals of doing business. You couldn’t be successful if you only had 1% of the market. Yet, Apple aimed for 1% of the mobile phone market and has ended up somewhere around 10%, claiming nearly all of the profits in the industry (alongside Samsung). They didn’t need a majority and they didn’t even aim high, yet they’ve changed the world and the industry as we know it.

Market share is important in some businesses, but not all. The world is smaller than it was 30 years ago and we have more knowledge, more choice, and products and services are more accessible to more people now. Solving interesting problems, maximizing profits, giving back to the community are also worthy primary goals.

Corporations are created to maximize stockholder value

Nearly every course revolved around public corporations. Which means we learned a lot about stock prices, options, voting rights, legal contracts and so on. I now start to realize, we were also taught a primary goal of a company is to maximize stockholder value. In many cases, stocks are a great way to incentivize management and employees. They’re also a great way to raise money to catapult a company to a new level. But, in most of those cases the idea on the surface is to enrich someone else.

I feel this detracts from one of the main reasons you’re in business: the customer. You create widgets to solve a need for a customer. But we treat that as a means to an end: creating a huge company with tons of stockholders that demand the price to go up. If they start to distract from the creation of good widgets there may be side effects: cheaper quality, externalities such as added pollution, worse customer service, reduced employee retention, and so on.

Sustainability comes last

The final semester of our college careers — after many of us already have a job lined up, after grades fade away — we were mandated to take a course on ethics and sustainability. We were taught how important it is to be ethical and do the right thing (and what does ethics mean?). We learned ways to build sustainable businesses through case studies and explored theory around doing the right thing. Though, it was as if, after three or four years, we were unfairly asked to reapply all the things we just learned (gain market share, maximize stockholder value) with a new filter that largely contradicted those points.

The Patagonia’s and Apple’s of the world were interesting to explore, but it would’ve been more useful to see them upfront and realize how to build sustainable and ethical business practices throughout our college semesters, not as an afterthought near the end.

I think this is important to step back and think about, critically, because these assumptions have been the foundation for many decisions and approaches to my (and many others’, I’m sure) first few years of “work”. I can’t help but think this is why we see a lot of the issues led by greed: predatory lending, the mortgage crisis, bank collapses, aluminum price fixing, labor issues, and so on.

There’s a place for these lessons but I think they’ve overlooked the virtues and values so many of us espouse.


This is the concise series of points I wish one of my drafts had become (after chatting with and listening to folks from Voce Platforms, 10up, WebDevStudios, and many others):

There’s no limit on the number of companies that can be successful, because there isn’t a universal definition of success. Some companies strive for the lowest prices, others to provide the most jobs, some to be the most efficient, and some strive for the highest possible quality. There are endless possible combinations. And that is a great thing to be celebrated.

Well said. The entire thing is a great read.

Devin Reams, Alex King, Shane Pearlman at dinner with WP Engine

My Biggest Take-Aways from WordCamp San Francisco 2013

My biggest take-aways from WordCamp San Francisco 2013 were:

  • 2 water bottles
  • 4 t-shirts
  • 10 stickers
  • 2 pair of sunglasses

…but seriously, the sessions I attended were great and I was able to see the direction that the WordPress project and community are headed. All while having some serious (and fun) discussions (with beverages).

Devin Reams, Alex King, Shane Pearlman at dinner with WP Engine

Devin, Alex, Shane at dinner with WP Engine. Photo credit Raquel Landefeld

Here are some of my highlights from a ‘project’ perspective (and perhaps less technical):

git is coming

The tool makes development easier for a number of developers and, if we’re already doing other work with git, why not WordPress development? Sure, Otto says there’s nothing that can’t be done in subversion, but I think this will also help lower a barrier to entry for new developers and contributors.

the project continues to grow up

The lego diagram that Matt showed during his keynote closely matches a metaphor I’ve been working on with the Crowd Favorite team on our WordPress page on our in-progress website redesign. Thinking about WordPress as a platform — which on top of that is a CMS, which on top of that is a blog — is an interesting way to think about the project’s direction and I hope it starts to drive more of the core design and development decisions (and not simply blog-centric decisions that would have us chasing after competitors like Medium and Squarespace).

More technically speaking, there were also some good conversations started around re-organizing the project code and even Open Sourcing more of the project website ( and the tools themselves. It’ll be fun to keep these efforts moving, mature the operations, and make it easier for others to join and contribute to the project.

we should stop accepting bad practices

I think this point dovetails nicely from the previous two: do the right things, do the best things, and don’t get dragged down by the least common denominator. I think we’ll see this affect decision making for years to come and look back at 2013 as when a lot of this began.

Mark Jaquith’s talk also showed a lot of people the tip of the iceberg when it comes to solving known problems: botched deploys, late-night deploys, losing code changes, having proper testing environments, and so on.

project management is hard

The greatest engineers are not necessarily the greatest project managers. A lot of people have acted in various capacities as ‘leads’ and ‘representatives’ and so on but I think we’ll start to see more prioritization, active scheduling, management, accountability, process, and so on. There are pros and cons to having everyone and anyone “contribute” and there is room for improvement. It’ll be an experiment as we go into development of versions 3.7 and 3.8 to see how changes in process and management affect the overall project momentum, quality, and so on.

But most of all, it’s fun to come together and chat with friends (new and old) and talk about how things are going, where things are headed, where we’ve all been, and trade notes on personal and professional subjects alike. Here’s to another great WordCamp San Francisco.