Joe and I founded FreshBooks, and we learned how to get things done five and a half years ago when it was just two of us talking over the phone working after hours in separate locations. All we had were our ideas and our energy.
Honestly, I did not know a thing about design then – I studied business in school and enjoyed art so everything I did was by intuition. Joe had his doctorate in computer science, but knew little about the technologies and tools available to developers – he just knew how to solve the problem in front of him with his own smarts.
I remember a day – not so long ago in fact – that product design meetings were utterly draining. They were highly emotional events where people (namely Joe and I) were going toe to toe with our points of view. Needless to say things became unproductive.
Recognizing this, I reached out for help. I invited Jon Lax – who I admire as the founder of my favorite Toronto interactive agency – to come observe us and see if he could help us overcome our bad habits.
Jon’s approach was to sit each of us down as individuals (the product team was Joe and me and Levi and Ben and Daniel) to hear our respective points of view. He learned that our dedication to the product was off the charts, and we all fundamentally wanted the same things, but our process was broken.
What he did was encourage us to elect a “Design Dictator” – someone who would be the last word on decisions. He made it clear that the problem was that we were doing design by committee and everyone felt they could make the final decision – especially Joe and I. Neither of us were willing to give on decisions.
In this case, the group agreed that it was me who really was the owner of the product and therefore I ought to be the dictator. For us to be able to proceed, Joe would have to surrender to the new process of decision making and trust I would make good decisions for everyone.
It takes a big person to surrender decisions about their baby, and to Joe’s credit he recognized it was the best thing. The results of this one change in our design process have been transformative.
Over the years building FreshBooks we’ve encountered bottle necks in how we work that have been sources of inefficiency, inconsistency and frustration for us all. Inevitably, these pains are born out of a way of working that we’ve outgrown and we’ve found them in just about every part of the business: design, development, customer service, hiring and onboarding.
Some times it takes an expert outsider to come in and effect change, most other times it gets done internally. Any way you slice it, making those changes demands a surrender to process.