Monday, January 20, 2020

Olifano. The Origin Story.

I built Olifano for myself. That sounds a bit arrogant and probably not a good way to start a blog post. I think what I am supposed to say is that I built Olifano to make the world a better place, to right all of the wrongs and to ensure a better future for humanity. But, truth be told, I built it because as someone who takes pride in getting shit done (GSD) and as a leader and a writer, it’s a tool that I had often wished existed. 

The Problem (Part 1)

I’ve been fortunate to build and scale some amazing teams and to work alongside exceptional people. But one thing that consistently surprised me was how difficult it is to get everyone on message. With constantly evolving products, services, and focus just getting everyone in the company to use the same messaging, the same “pitch”, is a constant challenge. This isn’t just a big company problem either. In many of the small organizations where I worked, things moved very quickly. It was just as hard to get everyone on the same page and using the same language as it was in large complex organizations where things moved a. bit. more. slowly. 

Two of the operating principles that I established at my last company were “Done > Perfect” and “Challenge the Status Quo”. Worthy ideals I think. But it was constantly frustrating to see “Done > Perfect” = sending old or custom and incorrect documentation. Or “Challenge the Status Quo” being taken to mean going rogue and not following proven practices for success. E.g., “Oh I have my own kick-off deck.” 

Getting everyone aligned on one message is one challenge. Getting everyone using the same resources is another. Both frustrating and both are critical to success. I thought there must be a better way. 

The Problem (Part II)

I am a writer. Think Hemingway, Dickens, Rand, Tolstoy. It’s true. They are all on my bookshelf. I am a writer the way the guy eating chips in seat 11B is an aviator. But, I do try. I write an occasional blog for Olifano, I write articles on LinkedIn and I have a personal blog that sadly not even my mom reads. 

Like many famous authors before me, I read a lot and I gain a lot of neurosis from that. Many of the people I read every day write on work topics. They often have great facts to share, esoteric quotes that reinforce how much more they know and anecdotes from great sources that I haven’t even heard of.  As a writer, I often wondered how they pulled so many relevant facts into their work. How do they remember it all? When I tried to find a quote or reference to add to my writing I would spend 20+ minutes Googling the topic and end up shopping for sailboats. 

I thought everyone knows something I don’t and there must be a better way. 

The Solution

After I left my last company, I took a road trip driving from Utah to California and up to the tip of Washington along Highway 101. It is one of my favorite road trips and I have taken it dozens of times over the years. Hiking the beaches and camping with Kiya, my malamute, I spent a lot of time thinking about the people and things at work that annoy me. You know, a sneaky hate spiral. But with enough time on the beach, enough time hiking in the rain with the malamute, the bitterness washed away and I started to think more productively about how to solve those problems. 

It started with Why. 

In our personal lives, when we need something it finds us. Need a Big Mac? Doordash will deliver. Need a car to take you three blocks in the rain? Uber. Need endless smart recommendations on what to read, watch, or listen to? Apple, Amazon, or Netflix. But when we get to work and we need something, we search and search and search. Why? The average employee uses more than 36 cloud services. Information is everywhere. They spend as much as 20% of their time searching for the information they need to do their jobs. It’s no wonder they aren’t on message. It’s no wonder they are using old and outdated resources. Why do we still do this? 

And when we sit down to write, to craft our latest masterpiece, why do we need to dig up our browsing history to find that interesting fact we read last week? Why do we need to open a new tab to Google something and risk distraction? My wife isn’t going to let me buy another sailboat. Why am I searching for one instead of looking for that link I need to sound smart? Why is this so hard? 

The information we need should find us. To ensure our teams are aligned and on message, to write smart blog posts like this one that our mothers will love, and to do our best work, the information we need should find us right where we are working. So, I started building Olifano. Mostly for me. But other people are finding it useful too. Maybe they will change the world.