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  1. Scott Aaronson - The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine

    Scott discusses whether quantum computers could have subjective experience, whether information is physical and what might be important for consciousness - he touches on classic philosophical conundrums and the observation that while people want to be thorough-going materialists, unlike traditional computers brain-states are not obviously copyable. Aaronson wrote about this his paper 'The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine' (found here ). Scott also critiques Tononi's integrated information theory (IIT).

    Questions include: - In “Could a Quantum Computer Have Subjective Experience?” you speculate that a process has to ‘fully participate in the arrow of time’ to be conscious, and this points to decoherence. If pressed, how might you try to formalize this? - In “Is ‘information is physical’ contentful?” you note that if a system crosses the Schwarzschild bound it collapses into a black hole. Do you think this could be used to put an upper bound on the ‘amount’ of consciousness in any given physical system? - One of your core objections to IIT is that it produces blatantly counter-intuitive results. But to what degree should we expect intuition to be a guide for phenomenological experience in evolutionarily novel contexts? I.e., Eric Schwitzgebel notes "Common sense…

    Original video:
    Downloaded by on Thu Nov 19 15:21:49 2020 Available for 30 days after download

    —Huffduffed by adamrabung

  2. Play in new window

    Chris: Aright, welcome to the latest edition of Jobs to be Done

    Radio, I’m Chris Spiek. As

    always, I’m joined by Ervin Fowlkes and Bob Moesta. Hey guys.

    Bob: Hey Chris, how are you.

    Ervin: Hey Chris.

    Chris: Today, we have another special guest, Alan Klement is joining

    us. He is an

    engineer, software developer, author, if I have that right, big

    writer, and came up with the concept of the Jobs Story, which has

    taken the Jobs to be Done world by storm, and is being used by a lot

    of people. Alan, great to have you.

    Alan: Great to be here, thank you.

    Chris: So, why don’t we dive in a little bit. Give us a little bit of

    background, tell us about

    yourself, and lead us into what you do and how you came to discover

    Jobs, and learn about it, and what you were using before.

    Alan: Great, absolutely. First off, let me just say that I am really

    thankful to you guys at Jobs-, and Clay Christensen, and everyone else in the

    community is really pushing the concept of Jobs-to-be-Done and

    popularizing it, because it’s really changed how I see

    entrepreneurship and product design, and marketing even.

    A real quick thanks, these guys keep going with it. I’d love to talk

    to you any way I can.

    Bob: Thanks.

    Chris: Yes, we’re definitely excited to have your help, so Ervin was

    just telling us before we

    clicked record here that you’re going to be doing some writing for us

    on the blog, and I wanted to make sure that I

    mentioned that, because I know that everybody who listens to this

    podcast, most people also read the blog.

    I think that just knowing that is going to give people something to

    look forward to. We’re actively reaching out to look forward to people

    that are good writers and good communicators to add more fresh content

    for the blog for people to read, and you’re definitely one of them.

    So, that’s an exciting thing to look forward to.

    Bob: The thing is to think about how to collaborate on it. You don’t have

    to just write it by

    yourself, but if there’s things that you want to work on together, we

    can do that as well. We can coordinate to do that.

    Ervin: The only qualifications out there to be a writer for Jobs-to- blog is just,

    step up and say “Hey, I love the theory. I love what you guys are

    doing, and I just really want to participate in the community.” We

    really believe in open source innovation, and anyone in a company can

    make the choice to move their products forward, and we want to make

    sure we’re there to help that along inertia.

    Chris: I got to set the bar a little higher, sorry Ervin. I think the

    other qualification is that you

    definitely need to demonstrate a fairly deep understanding of the


    The one thing that always makes our skin crawl is there are still

    groups of people out there saying, “The job of the TV is to entertain,

    and the job of the pen is to write,” and if you’re at that level that

    you need to do a little studying, and you need to do a little work

    before you start writing and spreading out the gospel, so to speak.

    Bob: Tools and techniques. Tools and techniques to help you get to that

    next level. That’s a

    big thing. We’re in the midst of doing it quite a bit, and it’s one of

    those things we still have a hard time sharing output that we do, but

    it’s the frameworks.

    To be honest, we’re almost, it’s hard to see. We don’t sense the water

    like a fish. The thing is, we do these frameworks, it’s all of a

    sudden, we need help, like what Alan did. Oh yes, the story. Doing

    things like the story, but never just formalize it. It’s awesome to

    have people like Alan out there who are helping us.

    Chris: Great. So,

    Alan: Sorry.

    Chris: Go ahead.

    Alan: I’m sorry, I sort of hijacked the question there. I wanted to say I

    appreciate, because it

    really has changed everything about how I approach that.

    Chris: Awesome.

    Alan: All right. Yes, so a quick about me is. I’ve been an engineer/hacker

    most of my life,

    and ever since probably twelve years old, I’ve been pumping out real

    programs for fun. I’ve always been some kind of entrepreneur in some


    I remember when I was really young, I was always trying to start

    little businesses, just make a little money on the side, and even

    today, I’m working with other engineers and other people, other

    business people here in New York City to develop products.

    I really use Jobs-to-be-Done, that philosophy, in every aspect, from

    market research, product discovery, customer development, and even

    product design, which is kind of what thinking has brough me here to

    this conversation with you guys. It was a lot of information out


    I remember David, last week on the show talked about how, “Yes, Clay

    Christensen said some really great stuff, but he kind of glossed over

    some of these other things. I agree.

    I think there’s one part in one of the Phoenix videos, Phoenix

    University videos, and Christensen says, “Oh, once you understand the

    job, then improving the product is relatively easy.” I’m like oh, I

    don’t know if it’s relatively easy. I think there’s a lot more there.

    Chris: Yes. The interesting part is the dimension on which you have

    to improve becomes

    clear, right? I think, and for me to paraphrase or try to reword Clay

    is absurd, but I think when you’ve been in the muck around, we have

    something here that, a lot of times we talk to people.

    We built a product, people are buying it, we’re not sure why they’re

    buying it, and we’re not sure what the next step to take is. You end

    up with this perspective of, we can make it smaller, we can make it

    bigger, we can make it lighter, we can make it heavier.

    That’s the milkshake story. Do I make it thicker, thinner, sweeter,

    more sour? What do I do with it? When you understand the job, it’s

    like, alright. Make it thicker, make the straw thicker. I have a

    direction at least. So, all the technology that goes into it still

    needs to happen, but at least you have direction, right?

    Alan: Absolutely. I think that’s definitely obviously what he was alluding

    to. However, I do

    think that we’re still talking about it on a higher level, but I think

    that you can, this happened to me, when I talk about Jobs-to-be-Done,

    on blogging or Twitter, what have you.

    I’ve had people contact me directly, and say, well how do I use this

    with my team? How do I translate this Jobs-to-be-Done philosophy to

    two designers, three engineers, and a product manager. How do I get

    those all to understand the same way, and how do we all talk about our

    product with the context of Jobs to be Done.

    Chris: Yes.

    Bob: What do you say?

    Alan: Good question. What I say is, honestly what I say is, I’m actually

    experimenting with

    myself quite a bit. As I look at it some more. I’ll let you know.

    Here’s what I can tell you right now, and this actually would help if

    I talk about a recent situation where I used the jobs to be done in a

    kind of, snuck it in on this last team I was working for.

    I wrote an article about this on Inside Intercom. Those are great

    guys, too, by the way. I wrote an article about designing features

    with Jobs stories, and actually took a real story, a real situation

    with a team I was working with about a month ago.

    What happened was we were designing this feature, or actually it was

    this product, and Joe, he gets up and he starts doing some wire

    frames, and he does a few wire frames on the board, and he point to

    one of them.

    He’s like, “Okay, this is the profile view for our brokers,” and I

    thought, “Okay,” and everyone around the table just nodded their head.

    I was looking around the room, and eyes weren’t lighting up. They were

    just nodding their heads, going along, and that’s when I said, “Okay,

    what’s the job of this profile view? What are some of the situations

    that are in the feature, that this product is resolving?” I

    talked a bit more with them about it, “What are some of the anxieties

    people are having that this is resolving?” Is there any kind of

    planning that we can draw of what people are doing before or during

    this that’s going to help us design this? Just when I start using the

    language, I never actually said “Jobs-be-Done” to them.

    I was just using some of the language of timelines, situations,

    anxieties, jobs, and I saw them actually using the same language

    without even me telling them, “Hey, guys, start calling them jobs,”

    they just start using it naturally. That’s one thing that I always

    suggest to people, to product teams. Start with the language.

    People can really grab on to language, because it’s like, “What’s the

    job here of the product?” They’re like, “Oh yes, what is the job of

    the product?” in situations. I think that’s a very helpful first step.

    Chris: Did that have an impact on the products? I’m imagining you’re

    sitting in the room,

    you’re looking at the profile view and you’re like, “It’s not gelling

    with me.” You introduce this language. Was there an impact to the way

    you guys started developing from that point on?

    Alan: Yes, there was. I would say that once they started really grabbing

    on to the idea of

    designing for situations, and thinking of the situations, and also

    once we started kind of identifying anxieties as problems, but also as

    how were solving those anxieties with our product.

    Once they got that, then I was free to write these kinds of, what I

    call job stories, for the team, for historical purposes. We weren’t

    using them day to day. It was more of a historical document, so to

    make sure everyone’s on the same page, and in case that someone

    forgets, or they’re like, “Oh yes, why was that there?” “Oh yes,

    because after interviewing customers, we found these situations, we

    found these anxieties,” and that’s why we’ve included these here to

    relieve those anxieties, and help them navigate the situation.

    Bob: One of the questions I get all the time is, “How is it different

    fromt personas, or use

    cases?” and, how does it differ for you guys in this case?

    Alan: That’s great. I actually highlight- first I heard of jobs to be done

    was, it was Ryan

    Singer, who’s a great guy. I was following his work and his talking,

    and he was on this show, is that correct?

    Chris: Yes, Ryan’s a great guy.

    Ervin: Yes.

    Alan: Yes, he was. At least he was on the show. He mentioned personas, and

    I was like,

    “Personas. That’s driving me crazy.” That’s how I uncovered more of

    the Jobs to be Done. You’re right, personas are, I think Christensen

    said it perfectly, the collection of attributes, and these attributes

    do not explain causality.

    I don’t actually Des Inside Intercom, had great explanations. If I

    don’t get up every morning because of my age, sex, and what I do on

    the weekends. That doesn’t pull me down the street and make me buy a

    coffee, doesn’t make me buy a slice of pizza, doesn’t drag me into a

    Gap store and buy a sweater. I thought why?

    I’m not being dragged around my life through these characteristics of

    myself, I’m just navigating through situations constantly. Endless

    situations which is the condition of living. We navigate from

    situation to situation. Some are small, and some are big. That’s what

    the big difference is of personas versus thinking in terms of jobs is

    that jobs all about the situations that you face every day.

    Personas are just my what I do on the weekends, the name of my dog,

    and I like to shop on my mobile phone. That doesn’t explain why I went

    to the corner and bought a slice of pizza. It doesn’t explain the

    situation that drove me there.

    Chris: I was talking to Clay right before the holiday, and he brought

    up a fabulous point that

    relates to this. He goes, “I’ve been married for about 50 years.” He

    goes, “What jobs to be done has done for me as a husband is, if I

    focus on the job that my wife wants done, like the honey to-do list

    and those kinds of things, and I try to listen to what she’s trying to

    get done, the thing is that I don’t have to understand her. I just

    have to respond.”

    He says it’s made his marriage so much easier, because, “knowing that

    I just need to understand the job she’s trying to get done.” He goes,

    “It’s made it so much easier. That’s the essence of jobs to be done is


    Ervin: He stops struggling to understand the…

    Chris: Like, how is she thinking? How do I anticipate what she’s

    doing, and literally like, how

    do I come home, find out in the moment what’s going on, what’s the job

    she really needs to get done, and respond to that. Instead of trying

    to anticipate everything, it’s the fact of being in the moment. Very

    powerful analogy for me.

    To get back to your profile view, the thing that’s been running in my

    head since you said that is that if you know how to introduce it to a

    team, it can be a pretty nuanced change. It sounded like you took one

    meeting and said, “All right, we’re thinking about this one napkin

    sketch of a profile view. We’re thinking about it this way. Let me

    just ask you, the group a couple questions to re-orient them. It

    doesn’t have to be, because we’ve seen this introduced a couple

    different ways. You’ve got nuanced view that you’ve talked about, and

    then we’ve got the other view of… ”

    All right, we’re throwing away the research we’ve done. We’re talking

    to all new consumers, we’re going to totally revamp our consumer

    insights approach. I think it’s important to point out, it doesn’t

    have to be like that. Within one meeting, we start to say, okay. W

    e’re going to go pour some development resources into designing this

    page. Let’s think for a second, kind of what anxieties might be

    affecting the user? What’s the progress they’re trying to make when

    they’re using this page? Even just through those simple questions, you

    can make a change.

    I know you probably can’t share a ton about it, but what did you, did

    you end up adding features, taking features away, what was the net out

    of those conversations? If you can share anything.

    Alan: Totally right. Of course I can talk about it. Here was the situation

    that we were in,

    which was we were trying to figure out what, why should we even have

    this profile view for our customers and how is that being helpful to

    them. And so we were trying to figure out what actually specifically

    should be in this profile view? Should we have a picture?

    What buttons should we have? What content should we have? Should we

    have their email address, their phone number, is there something else

    were missing. Long story short, what we realized is the job of the

    professional view is to mimic a situation that was already existing

    outside this product, to expand a bit more.

    The product was to help mortgage brokers and clients fill out some

    paperwork and get things moving. Typically right now, how people solve

    it is someone want to file some money they go in to a bank and they

    meet with a mortgage broker and fill out all this sensitive paperwork,

    and there’s actually a lot going on there.

    The person borrowing the money is giving out a lot of personal

    information. They’re not going to walk into some sleazy bank, or talk

    some guy with his hair greased back and he’s grinning really big,

    because he’s giving away personal info. They’re going to want to go


    Bank of America, I’ve heard of them before. They walk in, look around,

    “Oh there’s lots of people here. There’s social proof here, this is

    good. I can talk to this mortgage broker, he’s like me, he’s my age. I

    don’t mind giving him my personal info. They like okay, that’s we

    identified the anxieties and the micro situations that were existing

    today, outside of our product.

    Then, we were, “How can we mimic that with our product, and that’s

    when we realized, what we need to do, we should have a picture of the

    person there, that kind of reinforces the connection with the mortgage

    broker you’ve worked with before. We could also probably start doing

    some things like adding some social proof in there, like this mortgage

    broker has [lended] out 500 loans to people and he’s been at this comp

    for six years.

    Instead of having an email address, we could have, “Email me now.”

    That’s easing all these anxieties of what was happening in the real

    world outside our product.

    Chris: That’s a great example. That’s a great. Instead of being a

    profile for the person who’s

    writing the profile, it’s for the person who’s reading the profile.

    Alan: Exactly

    Chris: Ervin and I had a very, sorry. Go ahead, Alan.

    Alan: Which is right, which is how we discovered what the job of the

    profile view was. It’s not

    so much for the broker, it’s for the customer viewing this. Now, we

    need to tailor that to the situation.

    Ervin: Excellent, it seems you isolated one of our core beliefs that

    every job has three

    components. There’s the functional, the social, and the emotional

    side. It seems that you kind of walked in from the functional side of,

    “Okay, there’s a profile page, it gives information.

    Then you understood roundabout, “Wait, there’s an emotional tie to

    this.” There’s that piece of, “Help me get through this, because I

    don’t know I can trust this guy. right now the way I do it is I walk

    in, sit across from this person, he has a nice suit on, all this type

    of stuff. Who says I should trust this person?”

    Then you emulate that, then I’m sure, enrich it by creating this

    profile that’s like, “Here’s all the affects that u can read n consume

    on our own that tells you why this is the person you should choose.

    Chris: I think that’s right, that’s very good. Alan, one of the things

    that came up was, when

    Ervin first came on board, he was one of the ones to help redesign the

    website for the rewire group, and he had a contacts button.

    Ervin: You going to tell that story?

    Chris: I’m going to tell that story. You’re going to have to emulate


    Alan: I like it already. I’m already interested.

    Chris: Which is, he’s like, okay, here’s the contact us button, and it

    floats and does these

    things, then he has a form to fill out. What’s your name? It says

    “required”, and I’m like, “Okay”. Let’s stop and think about the

    person clicking the button. He’s like, what do you mean? This is how

    everybody does it. We went through the whole thing. This was a two

    hour conversation.

    Ervin: We went on for two hours about the one contact us button at the

    ‘Contact Us’ buttons to

    the point that I don’t even think about it when I create it. But Bob

    said, let’s take a minute and think about the context about the kinds

    of person when they come to fill out this form.

    Not so much who they are, because everyone says, “You’re a web

    visitor. You want to contact us. That’s what I want you to do.” We

    flipped it and said, “What’s the anxiety behind contacting us? They’ve

    heard these voices on the podcast, they’ve seen us somewhere, now

    they’ve reach out to contact us about something, and all we’re giving

    them is a big orange button and five fields that say “required”.

    You can’t speak to us unless you give us every piece of information

    that we want from you right now. I’ve been debating on whether to post

    audio of that, because it’s two hours of Bob letting me have it about,

    “No, just because the industry has always done that.”

    The net out was, basically the most painful words, and dangerous words

    you can hear in development is, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

    That day, I learned that is dangerous. I was just willing to march to

    this beat of, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Now you have to look

    at it a different way. It was great.

    Bob: It now says, “Drop us a line.”

    Chris: Can I add some humor. How did we end with “Drop us a line?”

    Bob: It reduces the amount of anxiety around, “Hey, just drop us a line.”

    We don’t get many

    web inquiries for the business side, right? It’s mostly people who

    would be, they want to comment on the podcast. It’s more an informal

    way to reach out to us, because otherwise you can find all our

    information, and our emails and all that other stuff.

    To me, it’s reducing the anxiety by saying, hey drop us a line. It’s

    making it less formal by going to that space. To me, it’s where we’re

    trying to invite people as opposed to, “Tell us.”

    Because at some point, it’s like, “What do I want to ask them? What do

    I want to say.” How do we make this less and less anxiety? It’s one of

    those things where we assume we know what a contact us page is about,

    but the reality is, let’s just slow down and figure out, “Are there

    multiple ways that people want to contact us?”

    Chris: I don’t want to turn this into another two how conversation,

    but I do think there might be

    a project here, just around contact forms. From different product

    businesses and services, and this is kind of like what you were

    already working on, Alan.

    It’s like, what are the anxieties that face people, and what

    situations are they in. Is it like the last resort? “I can’t find what

    I’m looking for, so I have to contact these people. Is it the first

    thing they should be doing? I think there could be an entire interview

    process, or workaround, just because. We might only be halfway there

    with “Drop us a line.”

    Bob: I think that’s right, but I think there’s multiple ways you can

    actually say “Drop us a line

    is the informal one.” Contact Us” might have to be there because it’s

    the formal way. If somebody has to put in a formal complaint, “Contact

    Us” or “Report a complaint”. What are the things that are there?

    Chris: I think we’re just scratching the surface.

    Bob: I agree, so it’s almost like how many times. I think of non-

    consumption here. Where

    people wanted contact, but can’t. It’s like okay, get to the contact

    page, and, “What am I going to say?”

    Chris: Not can’t because of technical problems, but they want to

    contact but they don’t. I don’t

    know what to say. So how do we help them along the way with that? So I

    think that everything on the web is ready to go to the next level,

    because I believe a lot of it’s become so automated.

    To your point, Alan, it’s about the Profile page. “Well, this is how

    you do a profile page. This is how you do a contact us page.” This is

    how you do it, and it’s like, okay. If you think about it at the next

    level, you literally can disrupt.

    This is what Clay talks about in terms of being able to disrupt. Once

    you know these insights, you can change little, small things that have

    a huge impact on how people actually interact. That’s what jobs is


    Ervin: Even though the conversation at the moment wasn’t the most

    comfortable conversation,

    but growth never is, right? It’s always about, you got to break your

    habit. I’m always a big fan of the habit. I had a habit of, “This is

    how I create a contact us page.”

    I didn’t even think about it. Load the plugin, get these fields in,

    send it. You good to go. It’s like, “Wait a minute. I had to think

    about this part? This is the smallest thing.” There is nothing

    important about this at all, until I’m like, “Wait a minute. This is

    the most important thing.”

    Bob: The first 15minutes of the conversation was something along the lines

    of, “I’m the

    web guy, I know what’s going on. I’ve done this a lot more than you

    have. You’re not. Just, go away.” I was like, “Okay, I need to get the

    point across.” It was, did we record it?

    Ervin: We did.

    Bob: Oh gosh, we have to figure out how to..

    Ervin: I’m debating on where to post it. I don’t look great in that.

    Bob: But it’s a learning moment. It’s a learning moment. I don’t know,

    it’s your choice. I’ll

    leave it up to you.

    Ervin: Okay. How may I add to the end of this. We’ll see.

    Bob: Back to Alan. Sorry, Alan. We digress.

    Alan: No, it was very interesting. On the top of my head, based on some of

    the things you

    guys said, I would say, okay. Instead of having a contact us page,

    rephrase. Ask us a question.

    You could have some preset questions or past build-up questions, or

    maybe on the page itself, you could say, Here’s the last five

    questions, and the answer we gave. So it’s like, “Oh, other people

    have asked similar questions.”

    Chris: Right, exactly.

    Alan: And you gave really great answers, so when I contact them, they’re

    going to answer me

    with a really great question.

    Chris: Exactly. You’ve reduced that anxiety, you create pull by

    saying, “Hey, they’re going to

    get me a good answer. There’s lots of ways to do it, but just having

    that push-pull,

    Bob: Oh, we lost Alan.

    Chris: That’s okay, we can. We were rolling too.

    Bob: Bam.

    Chris: Alan’s like, “Forget these guys.” All right, I’m back on 4G.

    You got some editing to do,

    it’s crazy.

    Bob: I can’t believe you recorded that. That’s pretty good.

    Ervin: Oh yes.

    Bob: Can I have that recording?

    Ervin: Yes.

    Bob: I just want it for my records.

    Ervin: I don’t know if I’m going to post it because you swear a lot in

    it. I don’t know how I’m

    going to portray this to the public, because you’re like, “No, it’s

    fucking wrong!” What are you doing? If you want to edit it and edit

    out that stuff.

    Chris: You can beep it. Just go in and beep it.


    Alan: Hey guys, how are we doing?

    Chris: Good. That’s how you know when we’re done. I’m going to go


    Alan: You got so excited, you were waving around your arms. [inaudible


    Bob: If we had a camera in here, we’re all flailing and talking.

    Chris: Stuff flying around everywhere. Alright, let’s resume. Ervin’s

    comment was that I swear

    a lot, so he’s going to have to bleep it if he’s going to post it, so

    we’ll see if I can get him to do it.

    Ervin: Don’t hold your breath.

    Chris: So what’s the other thing between use cases? How is this

    different than use cases? I

    don’t think we talked about that yet.

    Alan: Could you say that one more time? I’m on my phone right now, and I

    can’t hear so great.

    Chris: So, how is this different from use cases?

    Alan: Oh, yes. Use cases. I would say user stories and use cases. I think a

    real challenge

    there that those bring to a team is that those are coupling

    implementation with all of those things we’re just talking on.

    The coupling, the implementation, motivation, and they’re also usually

    relying on a persona to just have this maelstrom of data, and I think

    it really actually will cause more problems for the team, because if

    we have a user story like, “As a power user, I want to be able to

    select which files don’t get backed up, so I don’t have clutter on my

    backup drive.

    I’m like, “Okay. Suppose that part of the product, and you build that

    future out, that capability, and you suppose no one uses it, or people

    do use it, and you don’t understand why. The problem is that if it

    does fail, or if it is successful, how can you really be sure what it

    was that was being successful? Were they using the feature for

    something else? Did we have the right motivations for it? If it

    failed, was it because we had motivations wrong, or just because we

    had implementation wrong?

    Bob: Got it. I find that it’s very functional. It doesn’t address the

    tradeoffs that are required,

    and it breaks things down into, “We need to have this, and this, and

    this.” and it just leads to feature creep. We got to have everything.

    It doesn’t help you understand how to make the tradeoffs to what

    should be in and what should be out.

    Chris: So how, I’m fascinated by the teamwork aspect to what you’ve

    been writing about. We

    got the story of the introduction. How you got them started. Have you

    tried any techniques to, or have you had to do anything to keep, have

    the language persist, meeting after meeting, week after week, so that

    it sticks around, and that people know to refer back to jobs language,

    or has that come naturally to the teams?

    Alan: In this last case with the last team, they just started, after that

    first meeting, they started

    using that. When I started recording a lot of this information in this

    format, people were finding it very useful. Then when we were creating

    a specific feature, how were doing if we use [inaudible 00:30:46],

    scrum, or you have your little cards, or whatever.

    I would just link all these kinds of job stories with the specific

    feature that was being built at that time. There was always

    correlations, so the engineers or designers, if they’re looking at the

    profile view or they’re going through this list of features if they’re

    using some kind of card on the board, for example. There’s always this

    link back to the job story, or the multiple job stories.

    They would use that, and reference that, and that was really helpful.

    Then, they moved towards. They never used user stories, and that was

    helpful too to mention. If your using user stories at the same time.

    The job stories or the jobs will be augmenting that.

    However, in this case, we weren’t using user stories, but I would

    suggest that what would happen is that you would start realizing, “Oh

    okay, we’ll just focus on the implementation part, and then we’ll just

    always refer back to this job story about if this implementation is

    disconnected or not.

    “Then, if the implementation doesn’t work, then we can throw that out

    and try a different one, but still keep the same job stories.” It’s

    helpful too because jobs is more information. It’s like laser pointed,

    focused information on what’s going on, and it’s always helpful.

    Bob: Yes.

    Chris: It sounds like you had a group of engineers that would go to

    someplace to understand

    the technical requirements of the feature that they were working on,

    and they were already used to going and finding a user story to give

    them intent and perspective and things like that, and you were

    augmenting that.

    It’s almost like they were already used to going and finding out the

    back story, like they had trained is the wrong word, but they had the

    habit of, I need to understand the technical side, and I need to

    understand the intent. Now there was a different kind of flavor of

    that, in the form of a job story. Is that right?

    Alan: Right. They were probably relying on if you had this kind of, it’s

    such a big topic we’re

    now getting into. It now really depends on if you’re working with a

    small, cross-functional team where the engineers can turn their head

    on the authors next door and knock on the product manager’s job, and

    be like, “Oh hey, remember those customers you were interviewing? What

    was it, that they were saying again?

    Chris: Yes.

    Alan: Or if your organization is like, there’s a product management

    department the next

    building over, and they just chuck over these user stories to the

    engineering and design team to implement. It depends on how that is.

    In this particular case, the engineers were, they were asking for user

    stories, but I would give it in a situational job story context, and

    that was the information they were relying on, and that was helpful to


    Also, I made it easier for everyone to talk about the feature and

    implementation and if it was making sense or not. Does that answer

    your question?

    Chris: It does, it does. For me, I always talk about personas as the

    reverse, it’s like the wrong

    math. It’s like people will take all the attributes and then cluster

    them with using math to kind of say, “Here’s this persona. They’re

    this old, they do this, they have this kind of income, and they


    I call them like, a person is like a soulless person. I don’t know how

    they make decisions, I don’t know how they make choices. To me, the

    job is the thing about bringing in that decision set of, “What are

    they willing to trade off?”

    Ultimately, to me, this is all about trying to get at trying to make

    better trade off decisions to get to the minimum viable product that

    can do what it’s supposed to do and be simple. To me, it’s really

    about those things, and personas complicate it. I don’t know how they

    make decisions.

    It’s like, I was talking to Clay, personas are like a picture and a

    job is like a movie. It’s really about the dynamics of how people are

    choosing through those situations. It’s not about who I am, it’s about

    the movie of how I do something, or what I want to do.

    Ervin: Alan, you talked about…

    Alan: I find it very interesting that you mention movie, because I’ve been

    thinking about, this

    is actually something that I’m playing with right now. I’m coming up

    with this, you see where jobs overlap with each other and you see

    where jobs in designing futures and talking to customers were kind of

    bunched together like, “Oh, these five jobs all can relate to each

    other, and these five jobs over here clump together. I’ve started

    thinking of the idea of actors.

    Chris: Yes.

    Alan: Which is not a persona, like as I said, a persona is like a soulless

    person whereas an

    actor, it’s not really your focus on the actor is or anything or what

    the actor does, and as they navigate through these situations. That’s

    how I’ve been thinking about it together. Even actors can have

    different roles but I’m still experimenting with it but there’s some

    promise there I think.

    Bob: The other thing is you start to see multiple jobs, you start to see

    does one job drive

    consumption of the other job and are there dynamics between the jobs.

    If it’s about making it easy, “make it easy for me” and now it’s like,

    I want do more, but I don’t want do more until I make it easy.

    You start to look at jobs and understand the dynamic between the job

    and start to see what’s the roll out of the product line

    architecture. What should I be working on, what’s the next set of

    features, because I can see where I have to go in.

    If I do this thing, I can see where the next set of jobs is going to

    be. The next job requests they’re going to be working on to me is u

    have a set of jobs, now it’s the dynamics between the jobs. It’s very


    Chris: The other thing is, we tend to use our actual interview

    participants as our actors, I think.

    We have real life people, and we start to look at features and stuff

    like that. It’s like, “Okay, we’re talking about Christine, who we

    just interviewed a couple of months ago. We know her story front to

    back. How would she interact with this?” You say it’s like, adding the

    soul back into the persona.

    We know enough about her story were we can kind of not predict her

    behavior, but interpolate her behavior based on what we know, and you

    can really look at your product or feature with that perspective, and

    it’s real helpful.

    Erving: So Chris, can you give an example then, of the other way. We’ve

    done this before and I

    like the way we do it. It’s the idea of, you have an idea for

    something that could be, but you have to speak to it through that

    person. How’s it done now? I’ll say wrong. It’s the idea of.

    Chris: I think the leap is longer. The experience I have with personas

    is like, we’ve got the

    guitar playing, 24 year old new young professional that lives in a

    studio. He’s an urban new young professional that likes Starbucks and

    parties at night with his friends. Because of that, this two door

    sports car is going to be perfect for him.

    It’s too big, I have demographic, psychographic data points around it,

    but I can’t actually look at the story of that new young

    professional’s past consumption and say, this is how he makes decision

    based on this product purchase n whether what the value code and

    what’s important whatnot.

    I can only look at him as a snapshot in time and say the young guy is

    different from the old guy for these reasons but it doesn’t give me

    the granularity or depth to make tradeoffs or decisions.

    Bob: To me, it’s again the math gone awry. They correlate, but they don’t

    cause. I can sit here

    and talk about correlation of younger people tend to buy smaller cars

    and all these different things.

    When I use math, and the sophisticated math, it comes back and says

    that’s what it should be in the reality is that we don’t understand he

    causal links and that to me is the main diff between jobs n more the

    other types of research which is they can correlate be we want to find

    causality, and causality is surprisingly simple.

    It’s not 50 variables. It’s usually five or six, and it’s really in a

    time span of a very set time frame that lets you can figure out the

    fact is, they aren’t all the same. One situation doesn’t have the same

    five variables as another situation. It’s those things we need to be

    able to figure out, and we need to find the difference.

    Ervin: Let me throw out to Alan then. We’re talking about causality so

    Alan, and u two jump

    in as well. When you get this software, it seems causality is less

    important. Is that right. I heard that. Come on. I want a press button

    to print.

    Bob: Wrong

    Ervin: Surprise, surprise. So you all tell me, how does causality play

    out in the software world

    to you?

    Alan: If I understand the question that you’re asking, about how causality

    is played out in the

    software world, is that correct?

    Ervin: If you’re developing a piece of software, why care about

    causality? Why is it important?

    Alan: Well yes. Jeez that’s, discovering causality that’s all I really

    focus on thinking about ,

    especially when you’re early on in the discovery process, I’m always

    trying to, I’m looking at how people solve situations now and u kind

    of work backwards, and discover the causality that brought them to the

    situation, and you understand.

    Okay, that’s why they got into that situation, then u start to

    understand how to design for that. It’s actually very similar to what

    Christenson was talking about with the marriage thing . About “Oh

    okay, I’m really going to listen and try to understand the causality”.

    Chris: It’s easy to abandon into software. That’s the interesting

    thing. The profile page is there

    so the user can get the telephone number and n email address of the

    broker. As long as we program it and get the features up there, it’s

    going to serve the purpose. The contact form is there so somebody can

    send us a question and we can reply.

    I think, I’m getting back to Ervin’s question. It’s easy for us to

    just make assumptions. To say alright, and just check that box and

    move on to the next thing. I don’t want to speak for the whole

    software community, maybe I’m speaking for myself in some instances.

    Bob: I think there’s some correlation between the software community and

    the food business

    in the way that prototypes are just way too easy and too small. I can

    literally make one little tweak, and it doesn’t cost me much and I can

    do things, so I don’t need to have the rigor to understand experience

    because it’s just so easy, I’ll just prototype another one.

    I can add another color, I can add another feature, I can add another

    ingredient to this, I can add a little more ingredient to that and

    what happens is that lack of rigor is where there’s so much waste, and

    people don’t understand the magnitude of waste in programming, and

    because of that lack of that understanding.

    Chris: I think the contrast is important there. When you take that

    contrast with the automotive

    industry and I think we take a lot of the user experience of a car for

    granted, but when you think of the development cycle, it’s like 72

    months of making sure everything is perfect, because we can’t just

    crank out cars day after day. We can’t do continuous deployment.

    We need to think and plan, and actually dive into these things before

    we start prototyping. That’s what makes, it’s what makes software

    dangerous. Let’s just crank out the version and see if it works and

    test it. No, let’s actually put some thought into the intent, and into

    the job we’re trying to help the user get done.

    Bob: Cool.

    Alan: Right, right. Yes, so I get it now. I would say that with causality

    and understanding

    that with your product, it’s going along with what you were just

    saying. It’s not just helping you design or create some feature of

    this product. It’s also helping you and keeping you focused, and helps

    you edit this feature.

    For example, I saw this one tweet from this product manager. He says,

    “If you ever are curious about a disagreement that a product team has

    had, open up the settings dialogue box of your product. That’s where

    all the disagreements are on how this product should work.

    Bob: That’s great. Wow.

    Alan: I totally agree. You’re right. You are, there’s a lot of temptations

    because software is

    soft, it’s very malleable, you can work with it. It’s easy to update,

    it’s easy to move add things, take things out, and move them around.

    Wait a minute, is adding this extra button really going back to our

    original cause, or it is outside of that original causality that we

    had to find for the feature?

    Chris: Yes, so one of the things that we’re toying around with right

    now in our consulting

    practice is the deliverable has become the life size, four foot by

    four foot canvases that have all the details of each job on them, so

    it’s like, one per job, and they’re big enough where you can hang in

    the war room.

    One of the things we’re trying to combat is where you come to that

    argument of, is it “X” or is it “Y”, all right, let’s just make it

    user configurable and put it in the settings. What we’re really after

    is like, how do you look at these life sized posters and say, this is

    the job that we’re trying to get done.

    Will this feature that we’re ultimately going to end up degrading to a

    setting, and passing it off to the user, which is the wrong thing to

    do, is this feature answering this job? We have more about/less about

    on the board. More about this, less about that. Where does this

    feature lie? Where does this setting lie?

    If we look at what the job is more about, is this feature actually

    addressing that, and helping the user get this done, or is it not? I

    think it gets back to what you said. Is the product manager and

    engineer kind of sitting next to each other, or are they in different


    I think that’s one of the problems to solve, but what I think what’s

    important is that do you have something in front of you that actually

    promotes that kind of conversation, and says, “We have good data about

    how these people are making decisions.” We can actually have a really

    constructive conversation around it and say, “I’m not putting it in

    the settings.”

    We can actually say, “No, this feature is not good for this product,

    and its out,” or vice versa.

    Bob: I think it’s about clarity, priority, and trade off. Those have to be

    the focus of it. What

    are we talking about? What’s the priority of it? If I’m going to make

    the trade off, then what’s the magnitude of trade off I’m going to

    make between these two. I don’t think those are the discussions people

    are having.

    When they’re in a product team, it’s more about, is it there or not?

    It’s about the features. It’s not about the priority. It’s not about

    clarity, and it’s not about that trade off. To me, that’s the

    information, the fuel that jobs brings to the tableto allow you to

    have those new discussions.

    Ervin: Excellent. One last thing, where cutting close on time. Alan,

    we talked about having the

    team engineers that kind of worked together. I remember from reading

    from your blog. Have you had experience when it’s a new team? Where

    you’re like, these guys have just come together for the first time to

    build something, and you have to introduce jobs that way?

    Alan: I think one more time, it’s hard to hear. Maybe further away from

    the microphone.

    Chris: Yes, I’m closer, so I’ll reiterate it. Do you have a story

    about a new group of engineers

    and designers that has come together, that you’ve had to introduce the

    job language to? So maybe a group that hasn’t worked together before

    that’s you’ve had to ground in jobs?

    Alan: Let’s see. I would say not yet, other than where I’ve already done

    the past, which is

    when people get together, I don’t ever, because no one really knows

    it. Everyone here is, everyone knows agiles from combine, what have


    If you throw at them, “Okay, we’re going to be talking in terms of

    jobs now, and here’s all the job stories, then it’s like ‘oh’. People

    will get, I would imagine, they would get pretty overwhelmed. Short

    answer, no, and I would be even a little hesitant of just diving

    headlong into it.

    That’s why right now I’m just supplementing it, and seeing if they

    roll with it. If they do, then that’s when we migrate away from the

    typical model.

    Chris: Yes. I would say that’s what I was doing when I did my

    startups. I never told people we

    we’re doing jobs, they just did it. We’re going to go do these

    customer interviews, and they’re like, “Why are we talking about when

    people had a first thought of something?” Because we need to

    understand. I never told anybody, the staff. You just did it.

    To me, I think that’s what the lesson is. Maybe, as a community, we

    need to be able to talk about jobs, but at the same time, it just

    needs to be integrated seamlessly into the work. I think that’s the-

    we don’t need to introduce new lingo.

    Bob: I think we’ve experience so many times that if we talk about it

    through the lens of the

    forces diagram, the anxiety that a new method creates in the user is

    almost insurmountable.

    It’s like, all right, we’re going to spend the next two hours in this

    meeting talking about Jobs-to-be-Done. What’s the pedigree? How old is

    it? Has it ever been used by anybody? Is this something that he came

    up with last night? Why do I need to pay attention?

    Actually, if you’ve heard about the way we conduct the switch

    workshops, we’ve actually incorporated it. We don’t talk about the

    fact that we have this twenty year old thing. We literally come out

    and say, “Somebody come up here, and tell us about a product that you

    bought. You spend the first half day just exploring it.

    Then, on the back end, you say, ‘okay’. If you think this is important

    enough for you to spend time on, let us fill you in on the back story.

    If you do it the other way, it creates so much anxiety that it never

    works. You’ve really captured that, it sounds like, in the way that

    you’re working, which is brilliant, in my opinion.

    Chris: Awesome. Thank you so much for being on.

    Bob: Thanks for coming on. Where can people find- I know you’ve got your


    checking in on Medium. You’re on Twitter on the hashtag. Where should

    people follow you can keep up with what you’re doing?

    Alan: Yes, I think Twitter and checking me out on Medium is probably the

    best way. That’s

    it. And I do have this old Blogger account, but I really actually like

    what Medium is doing. I’ve moved my ring to that.

    If you see some of the older stuff, if you Google me, you’ll probably

    come across my blogger account. However, I’m focusing more on Medium

    right now, and Twitter, that’s it.

    Chris: What’s your Twitter handle?

    Alan: It’s just my name. AlanKlement, one word.

    Chris: Klement. Awesome. Thanks for coming on. We hope to talk to you


    Ervin: Thanks, Alan.

    Alan: Yes, it was a lot of fun.

    Chris: Awesome. That’s the clapper. Fantastic. Great job. Des is our

    next guest. We’re

    talking to him this afternoon. We’re going to record that. It will

    probably go out a week or two after this episode that we just

    recorded, but we’re a huge fan of his as well.

    Alan: Yes. It’s great. Actually, wow. I’m really excited. I had a lot of

    fun talking to you

    guys. Are you guys ever in Chicago? I wish you were in… I’m in New

    York. Come to New York.

    Bob: Are you part of the meet-up group with David and those guys?

    Alan: Yes, I am. Actually, real quick. We did last week, the last meeting

    we did an interview,

    and they interviewed me about buying a sofa, and there were about a

    dozen people there, and they were like, glued to their chairs. They

    were hanging on to every word. It was an hour long interview, and they

    were like, ‘That was amazing.’

    Chris: What is that audio?

    Alan: Oh no, we didn’t and everyone was like, “No! We didn’t record it.”

    It was like this hour,

    more than hour interview we did. It was great. We’re in New York, and

    do attend the meet-up. I think it’s next week.

    Bob: What we’re finding is people who actually have been interviewed,

    actually get this even

    more. How much of the actual buying process did you, was explicit, and

    when you got interviewed, were you like, “Holy crap, I did that, oh,

    my gosh, I did that,” and you start to realize you don’t even know

    sometimes the job until afterwards.

    Alan: Yes, actually, I think ,yes. I would say that the most interesting

    part of that interview

    was for me was starting at this [inaudible 00:52:56] was we actually

    had bought… This was for buying a sofa.

    I had actually bought two other sofas before. One we paid for and but

    then, immediately cancelled it. One we bought it and cancelled it four

    or five days later. I thought that was like consumption or value

    consumption, or unhappy with, but David was arguing, no actually, I

    think that was part of the decision making process before.

    Bob: In cars. In cars we find it’s that way too. People go into a dealer,

    and they’re like, “Oh,

    it’s going to be easy.” They go in, and it’s really hard. Unless they

    have the hard experience, they can’t value what they really need.

    Alan: Yes.

    Bob: If that’s the case, how do you make it harder, so they can actually

    make decisions

    faster? It’s still counterintuitive in some by processes, but it’s

    still very powerful.

    Alan: Actually, you know what. That’s very interesting that you said that.

    The first sofa.

    Really quick, the first sofa. You can bring into your house for two

    weeks, and then we’ll take it away. And so we’re like, “Oh, okay.

    We’ll just buy that.” Of course, we cancel it three days later.

    The same things for the second one. It was like, you can borrow it and

    cancel up to five days. The ones we actually bought had zero return

    policy. They’re like once you buy it right now in the store, that’s

    it. When it comes in to your house, you inspect it, and you can either

    reject it or keep it, and that’s it.

    Bob: My question is, did you just get tired? Did you just wear yourself

    out to get the couch?

    Alan: No, I think what happened was, this went on for a while, and we’re

    looking to get a

    good sofa. What happened was, you can’t understand before. I think

    that lack of flexibility, in this case, you’re right. It’s counter-

    intuitive in that, yes, return policy doesn’t make that any easier.

    However, in this case, it focused us into really ask yourself hard


    Ervin: Basically, I think the return policy with the sofa you

    actually bought was called a

    Ulysses contract. It’s the idea of making not making a decision, or

    not following through so painful, that you actually force someone to

    do what you have to get done.

    If anyone gave you the out, you’d want to take the out, because they

    never made it solid. Once it became concrete with you, this is going

    to be your couch. If you’re going to pull the trigger here, this is

    it. There’s no turning back.

    That’s why I don’t believe in Freemium. You know Freemium? Freemium

    can actually get yourself into the same thing that.

    —Huffduffed by agileone

  3. Right click to save.

    Patrick notes: Hiya long-time blog readers.  Last year I wrote two articles on career advice for young engineers, largely informed by conversations with a buddy of mine, Ramit Sethi.

    Over the last twelve months, I have tagged every message in Gmail I’ve gotten from someone who applied the advice in those articles to effect in their careers.  Sample comments: “Your advice made me $20,000 in two minutes.”, “Your advice made me $35k”, etc etc.  The running total is at about $280,000 (a year!), which makes those two articles probably my highest ROI ever from just writing blog posts.  (n.b. If this were the whole of my business I’d need to have a quick heart-to-heart with myself about obvious inefficiencies in that monetization model but, luckily, the business does well enough to cross-subsidize the blog.)

    Ramit offered to do a series of interviews about freelancing/consulting, which I know is of interest to many of you, so I naturally took him up on the offer.  (Though I think much of what we talked about applies just as well to the software business, to be honest.)

    If you weren’t already aware: I don’t talk about it on my blog that often, but I do high-end consulting,  typically for improving the engineered marketing of software companies.  Ramit is a NYT best-selling author who makes a living teaching people how to do this sort of thing better.  Ramit is extraordinarily credible on this topic — in addition to his take on most things jiving with mine, I have word-for-word stolen some suggestions from him for e.g. client proposals, to the mutual benefit of my clients (they took the engagement) and myself (they paid $$$ for the engagement).

    This is the first in a series of three interviews — the other two will be out later.  Want to make sure you don’t miss them?  Either subscribe to the podcast (details below) or to my email list.

    If You Want To Listen To It

    MP3 download (~50 minutes, ~120 MB): Right click to save.

    Podcast format: either subscribe to in your podcast reader of choice or you can search for Kalzumeus Podcast in the iTunes Store.

    Podcast: Play in new window

    | Download

    Transcript: Ramit and Patrick on Acquiring Your First Customer

    [Patrick notes: Shoutout to CastingWords for this transcription, which I paid $75 for.   I always use them for transcription and then make a hand-pass to make things flow a bit better and format for the Internet.

    Can I mention they have an interesting pricing strategy, since it is relevant to y’all?  They price per-minute, but there are three levels based on how rapid you want the estimated turn-around to be.  I picked $1.50 a minute for the 6-day turnaround.  You can also buy 1-day turnaround for $2.50 a minute.  The same exact service, sold for a 67% premium based on expressed customer urgency.  I sometimes even get 1-day delivery when I paid for the 6-day delivery, but you understand I’m not paying for outcomes, I’m paying for predictability of outcomes, right?  If I need a video transcripted for a paying client with delivery scheduled for two days from now, I pay for the express service.  If, on the other hand, I have flexibility as to when I publish a podcast, then I can pay for the standard service.  That’s beautiful market segmentation.  You can do very similar things for your software applications (and, yes, consulting gigs) and your clients will thank you for the opportunity to pay more to get guarantees of things which are valuable for them.  In addition to delivery timeframes SLAs are often useful pricing levers in that way — including SLAs which just formalize a guarantee of something which is, in fact, available on a best-effort basis to people without the SLA, too.]

    [Patrick notes: I’ve included somewhat extensive commentary in-line with the transcript.  It is all called out like this.]

    Patrick McKenzie:  Hideho everybody. My name is Patrick McKenzie, and I might be better known as patio11 on the Internet. I’m a small software entrepreneur who, over the last couple of years, has run a consulting business largely focused on making software companies more money by delighting their users. I’ve invited my friend, Ramit Sethi, here today to talk to us a little bit about how you might be able to supercharge your freelancing and or consulting business. Ramit’s going to do a bit of a self intro now.

    Ramit Sethi:  Thanks for having me, Patrick. My name is Ramit Sethi. I run a site called It’s a very modestly titled site, and I have a New York Times bestseller by the same name. My background is in psychology and persuasion. I help people use psychology to change their behavior and change other peoples’ behavior, whether it’s with money or with their careers or learning how to negotiate.

    The way that I run my business is actually through information products. About 98 percent of my stuff is free, and then, occasionally, I will release a course. Usually, these courses take me a couple of years to develop, and then they tend to be pretty premium prices. If people join them, great. They might use them to earn more money or find a new job or find their first profitable idea.

    And so, Patrick and I became friends, especially talking about marketing and pricing and just shaking our heads at some of the stuff we see on the Internet. Hopefully, we can share some of our stories from behind the scenes that we haven’t revealed before, which might help you raise your rates, get more business, and get better clients.

    Patrick:  Yeah, and all this sounds very good. I think some people might feel a bit of disconnect in getting advice from us because for some reason, and this surprises me more than anybody. I seem to have fallen into that “Internet famous” thing, where people think that I’m some untouchable celebrity, which is absolutely not the case. And you are…

    Ramit:  You are a celebrity to me, Patrick. I had to go through 10 assistants just to get this time with you on the phone.

    Patrick:  [laughs] Those were all your assistants. You’re a New York Times bestselling author, but honestly, the techniques we’re going to talk about worked for us when we were much earlier in our careers. They helped get our careers to the point where they’re at right now. They’re generally applicable even to people who might not have an audience or any asset built up yet. (Although there is no time like the present to start building…)

    Ramit:  Yeah. I think that’s exactly right. I think one of the biggest psychological barriers people see is they see advice from people, whether it be here or on Mixergy or any other place, and they say oh, well, that might work for him because he has an email list of 100,00 people or whatever it may be, but really, these techniques can be applied, maybe in a smaller setting.

    If I say, and I’ll tell you how I collect 100,000 data points for one of my courses. You don’t need that. You can start with 20. It’s, frankly, very effective, and then at a certain point, you’ll be able to get 50 or 500 or 5,000. Patrick, what do you say we start off by actually addressing that main thing, which says, “Hey, sounds great, Patrick, but I’m not an Internet celebrity like you. How do I get my first customer?”  What would you tell them?

    Getting Your First Job When You’re The Outsider In The Middle of Nowhere

    Patrick:  Before anyone on the Internet knew who I was, before I even started commenting on the forum that I was on before the forum before the Hacker News (that I gained a lot of my audience through), and way before I had a blog, I worked at a technology incubator in central Japan.  I’m in Gifu Prefecture, and I love Gifu Prefecture. Gifu Prefecture’s contribution to the world is a particular type of bird [Patrick notes: ukai (鵜飼) – I had to look it up after the interview, apparently the English is “cormorant”] where you leash the bird, take the bird to the river, and have the bird fish for you… then you make the bird regurgitate the fish.  Gifu is not exactly, like, high tech central. [Patrick notes: This is a slight exaggeration for comedic effect – we might have more iPhone developers per capita in my town than almost any city in the world.  Ask me why some other day – it’s a great story.  In general, though, I generally tend to laugh at suggestions that I enjoy an anomalously privileged access to the IT industry.]

    I got my first job in software because I was working at a tech incubator here, and somebody needed 3,000 PowerPoint slides translated about CAD software.  If you’re not familiar with CAD software and PowerPoint slides and technical translation, it’s the most boring job ever.

    But I did good work on it. There’s no reason to work on stuff if you’re not going to do a good job on it. When my contract expired for that day job, and I was looking for the next thing for me, I went to the guy who I had over delivered on the 3,000 slide PowerPoint presentation and said, “Hey, I find myself needing a job in the next couple of months. I know you might not be hiring right now, but you know a lot more people in this neck of the woods than I do. If you know anyone who needs a programmer or needs a technical translator, would you mind introducing me to them?”

    Ramit:  What happened then?

    Patrick:  He took me to a meeting with two of his clients, and the meeting was…It was explained to me that the meeting was like a job interview, and it took me years to figure out what actually happened. But basically, behind the scenes, he went immediately to two of his clients and said, “Look, I have an American. He’s an engineer. He’s done great work for me. He’s got this list of successes behind him at his old company. You’re going to hire him as a favor to me.”

    And so, we went to this “job interview,” and I thought I was doing the whole interview dance.  I wondered why they were not asking many questions of me. We got to the end of it, and I said “I’m a little uncertain of where we are in the conversation right now.”  They said “You were hired before you walked in the room. We’re just getting to know you right now.” This surprised me.

    When I tell that story to Americans, people say that, “Wow. Those Japanese people, they’re so weird and wacky.” But honestly, man, the truth of the world is that that is how a lot of jobs are allocated in America, too. It’s not based on the whole resume dance and the “Did you meet the 16 bullet points we put in our advertisement. Send in a resume. Maybe if we like you, we’re going to interview you.”

    There are lots of jobs passed along on the private communication level where you’re scratching somebody else’s back that’s done something for you. So definitely, if you’re just starting to get into the business, whether you’re looking for a job or you’re looking for a freelancer/contracting/consulting engagement, find the people who have some reason to respect you, to feel a little bit of a social obligation towards you. And just ask them, “Hey, can you help me out on this?”

    Ramit:  I love that because I love the part about oh, those crazy Japanese people. Because we always hear these great stories, and then the first thing we naturally psychologically do is create an us versus them. We say that could work, but XYZ. I call that the special snowflake syndrome: “That could work, but I work at a nonprofit.”  Or “…but I work in Kansas.”

    You worked in the most remote place I could imagine, and it worked for you. One of the reasons I was so excited to talk to you was I want to expose what happens at high levels of business to everybody. I want to open that veil.  It’s funny, because the way…for example, the way that jobs are gotten is very similar to the way you get clients.

    There’s something I always teach my students, which is 85 percent of the work is done before you ever sit down in the room.

    Patrick:  Absolutely.

    Ramit:  That applies to a negotiation, that applies to getting clients, that applies to getting a job. Many of my students who go through my career course, by the time they sit down for an interview, it’s not an interview. It’s a discussion. By the way, it’s a discussion with someone they’ve already been out to coffee with two or three times.

    Think about the caliber of that discussion or the contours. They’re completely different than you genuflecting and saying please, give me a job, please. Instead, it’s like the job is assumed. Now let’s discuss the details. Let’s actually talk about that in terms of clients, Patrick. You’ve done a lot of client work. I’ve done some client work as well, and I’ve taught a lot of people how to get clients.

    When it comes to getting your first one, two, or three clients, what are some important things to note, and what are some common mistakes that people make?

    Don’t Underbid to Get Early Clients – It Hurts Your Pocketbook And Credibility

    Patrick:  The most common mistake I see when I’m talking to other engineers is that people radically undercharge for the first client.  This often comes from a perceived desire that goes like: ”I need to make my bones before I can start charging what I’m worth, so I’ll do this for you for really cheap, 10 bucks an hour or whatever.”

    I was similarly overly needy with my first few clients.  I undervalued myself in the first couple of engagements. We’re going to talk about pricing in general later [Patrick notes: upcoming in the second installment of this interview], but you don’t want to ever come off as needy:

    It will hurt your financial situation in a very direct manner.

    It will also compromise your client relationship, because when a customer gets something for $10, they assume it is worth other things which cost $10.

    $10 is not a meaningful amount of money to any business. [Patrick notes: I hear you, bootstrappers – I started a business with $60.  But after you’re selling something, $10 which buys something additive to revenue is a joke.] If you’re charging Starbucks latte money for your consulting offering, you’re never going to get buy‑in at the CEO level of a software company to get your initiatives adopted. You’re going to be treated like somebody’s kid’s nephew’s brother and only allowed to make copies.

    If you actually wanted to make copies, you can get a low skill job anywhere to do that. But we got into this business to be respected for our advice and to be valued and to actually do stuff that matters. Charging 10 bucks an hour is not on the easy, straightforward path to doing stuff that matters. People that do stuff that matters have a ground floor which is higher and then they go up from there. [Patrick notes: I think there’s actually an interesting “social justice” type of point to make here, in that to the extent that there exist durable social classes in America, one quick way you can identify them is whose ground floor starts at minimum wage or menial gruntwork and who never has to do that, even when they’re unskilled labor, due to a combination of credentialing and connections.  That’s neither here nor there, though, and I almost hesitate to mention it because I think “Waily waily, I have neither credentials nor connections, life is unfair.” tends to obscure choices that we can make to better our situations.]

    Ramit:  I want to emphasize a couple of things you mentioned. One, if you’re charging 5, 10, 20 bucks an hour, it’s very, very difficult to go from that to charging 200, 300 an hour or 10,000 a week.  It’s very difficult to make that transition. If you do it when you come in, that can happen. But going from one level to another is extremely difficult.

    [Patrick notes: This is, if anything, an understatement.  There exist multiple paradigm shifts which separate $20 an hour from $X0k a week, and it is vanishingly unlikely that any client will make that transition with you.  Thumbnail sketch: You can get from $20 to $100 by getting serious as a professional, and you get from $100 to $200 by getting really good as a professional (or working in a high-demand speciality), and then somewhere between say $150 and a weekly rate in the tens of thousands you probably repositioned your offering such that it is no longer directly comparable to what you were doing before.  Concrete example: you can sell Rails programming at $20 an hour (to bad clients, as a newbie freelancer who screams please-take-advantage-of-me), and then you can sell Rails for $100 an hour (baseline clueful Rails programmer in 2012), and then you can sell Rails at $150 an hour (intermediate/senior consultant on a strategically important project, say).  Can you sell Rails at $50k a week?  I’m going to go with “almost certainly yes.”  I think there are probably people who do that, and if you listened to them pitch clients, they would speak a language that holds very little in common with what you hear from a $100 an hour Rails developer.  Want to speak that language?  Keep reading for some thoughts.  (It will also help to get pretty darn good at Rails… though I think most people in my audience probably overestimate how skilled you have to be to move up that ladder.)]

    Ramit: I happen to know that because on a product side, the first product I ever sold, the information product, was a $4.95 eBook. One of the last products I sold was a $12,000 course. I’ve gone the entire gamut of information products. When we talk about pricing, I’ll go into more detail on that. But suffice it to say, it’s extremely difficult to climb that ladder.

    Never Work For Free As A Software Developer (Asterix)

    Ramit: The other thing you mentioned is how many people go in saying, “I’ll just do this first, and I need to make my bones.” And you know what? There is a time and a place to do free work. I do believe in free work occasionally. But I always tell people if you’re going to do free work, make sure you are clear about your messaging.

    For example, let’s say that it was my first time out there getting my first client. Let’s say I just want to build a portfolio so at least I have something to point at. Now, I’m generally not a fan of free work, but I can be strategically. This is what I would say to the client. I would say look, my normal consulting rate is $85 an hour, or whatever format of pricing you’re using.

    However, I really like what you’re doing, and frankly, I want to build up my portfolio. I would be willing to do this for three weeks for free if, in exchange, you agree that if I do an extraordinary job, then we can discuss working at my normal rate. Well, who’s going to say no to that? If you do an extraordinary job, everyone’s going to want to pay you.

    But in this case, yes, you are working for free. But you are explaining why. That is so important. It separates you from, frankly, the people who are new. They’re new, and you can tell that they’re asking to be taken advantage, because they’re like OK, I’ll work for free. It’ll be fine. Somehow, I’ll go from free to $500 an hour. Doesn’t work. Explain your messaging. Explain your positioning, and people will respect you way more for it.

    Patrick:  I’ve got to be totally honest with you. I don’t think I would ever work for free as a developer, just because of the way the market is laid out right now. You just don’t need to. Hypothetically, if you’re going in for free, you should have a larger upside than just having a pot-at-the-end-of-rainbow outcome be working at your full rate. You might make it a condition of the free work that the works gets discussed publicly.  This gets you a public case study that you can use for your portfolio and the social proof that you have done this meaningful work for another company in the industry.

    [Patrick notes: You will then aggressively leverage this portfolio when attempting to get work at your current billing rates.  I have projects which I did at $X per week which I will use to justify new $5X per week projects at new clients.  If clients ever picked up on the discrepancy – which would require me being stupid like mentioning that somewhere publicly… wait… d’oh – I would say something like “My previous client took a chance on me earlier in my career, when I didn’t have a track record of delivering results to people just like them.  I now have that track record, which is why you are paying the sticker rate.  After I deliver a win for you, if you give me permission to mention it publicly, it will go into a presentation just like this when I tell another person why they have to pay $10X rather than $5X.]

    Patrick: In addition to that publicity being a benefit from you, that the public/private distinction there makes a very natural thing to charge around. You mentioned that 98% of your material is free. I do a whole heck of a lot of stuff for free. I’ll speak at conferences for free. My blog posts are free. I do open source software, which is free.

    If you want me to do something so competitively sensitive that you don’t want me shouting it from the rooftops to anyone I can get to listen to me, then that always has a price tag attached to it.

    Research The Customer To Win The Engagement Before The Interview Starts

    Ramit:  That’s right. I want to talk about one of the secret sauces of my business, and it’s something that actually nobody really cares about. People think they care about it, but they don’t care about it. It is the research that I do going into building a product or getting a client. And I know you’ve done this as well.

    It’s funny. The other day, I was asking people, “Hey, if I speak at South by Southwest, what would be a good talk?” Somebody wrote back on Twitter saying, “You should talk about your research methodology.” I said that would be great… for the three people who would attend.

    Research is what allows me to charge 100 times what my competition charges… but nobody cares. Nobody wants to see [the hard work which goes into] how the sausage is made.  They just want to see the shiny tactic – the A/B test where you tested the color of this button.  [Patrick notes: I have to tweak Ramit’s nose here and mention that he got a 60% increase in sales from A/B testing literally in the week which we recorded this interview.  But hey, I sympathize with his general point that people want to hear quick fixes rather than actually doing the work.  Oh, let me bang my favorite drum – how many of y’all actually run A/B tests?  They’re Ramit’s mental characterization of a magic-bullet no-effort-required diet-pill-of-business-success and I can’t even get people to swallow the freaking pill.]

    Ramit: Let’s actually talk for a few minutes about customer development and research going into a product.

    I’ll talk about on the product side, and I know you’ve done quite a bit of work on the client side as well. For me, when I build information products, they can be anything from an eBook all the way up to a full‑featured, eight week course with gigabytes and gigabytes of video and thousands of pages of material. So when I start off, for example, with my course on earning more…

    I have a course called Earn 1K, and it’s about how to take your skills and turn them into freelancing income by getting multiple clients and earning 1K. Many of my successful students earn 5K or 10K in a month on the side. So, very relevant to the people listening here. When I started off doing this research, I actually didn’t even think of doing an “earn money” product. [Patrick notes: Ramit started in the personal finance space.  Read I Will Teach You To Be Rich, but his wheelhouse would be passive investing, creating systems to move money around, and maybe a bit of optimization about e.g. credit card rewards.]

    But when I went on book tour [for IWTYTBR], I went to all these cities around the country and I asked people, “Hey, what do you wish I wrote more about?” Almost to a person, they said, “I love your stuff on automation, but I really want to know how to learn more money.” I was surprised. I was like, really? Isn’t that scammy?

    They were like, “I don’t care. I just want to know how to make more money.” And so, I started doing research, and I pulled my team together. The first thing we did was basically just what we call cloud research. We wanted to understand the dynamics of the market.

    There’s about five or six ways to earn money.

    You can negotiate your salary. You can get passive income, which for most people, never works. You can get freelance income. You can blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.  [Patrick notes: Ramit would probably round out this list with 1) buy real estate and rent it to people, 2) invest in the public capital markets, and 3) start an honest-to-goodness business.]

    We looked at it, and we’re like, “OK.” We think we’re really good at freelancing, and we think that the market is particularly bad at that. And so we started asking people survey questions.

    Now, you can get good survey data with as few as 20 responses.  For all the engineers listening, listen closely: Statistical significance is irrelevant when you’re doing customer research. I don’t give a damn about P values and anything like that. It’s almost all qualitative. That’s what I care about. I want to hear the words they use.  [Patrick notes: Engineer reporting for duty as audience stand-in!  Oof, critical hit, advice totally warranted by actual experience!]

    We started off by saying…We didn’t say here’s a key insight as well. When you’re doing customer research, I’ve seen a lot of early surveys. They’ll say something like this. They’ll ask a fake question. They’ll say, “Ramit, if I told you I could solve all your storage needs in five hours for less than 25 picodollars, would that interest you?” [Patrick notes: Ramit is making a reference to Tarsnap, which is a technically jawdropping backup service which has abysmally bad pricing.  Ramit does not know what Tarsnap is or why he’d care about it – he literally only knows it “We should bring up an example of how engineers are terribly bad about connecting prices to business value, like that picodollar bullshit.  Seriously.  They don’t even price gestures to the dinner we are eating potato chips in picodollars.  And you know why?  Because if you went into any restaurant and offered to buy potato chips for a penny apiece – which is, like, a lot of picodollars, right? — they’d throw you out.”]

    Ramit: Look, guys, [asking leading questions] is BS. That is the worst type of marketing. Because you don’t really want the answer. You’re trying to sell them. Instead, you should ask open-ended questions like “Tell me about your biggest frustration. Tell me what you’ve done in the last six months to improve your financial situation.

    “Have you ever thought about earning money? If so, how have you thought about it? Have you ever tried it? What happened?”

    We start to understand the words that they used. We collected approximately 50,000 data points, through everything from chat, email, surveys, one-on-one interviews, phone calls.

    Now, you don’t have to do 50,000.  Honestly, 100 gets you farther than most people do. [Patrick notes: I think talking to ten individual people who could actually buy your product prior to writing a line of code puts you ahead of the curve, judging from my inbox.  You’ll learn a million times more from 10 people than you’ll learn from your IDE when coding a product built for nobody.] Now what happens is most people will retreat into a room for six months, they’ll build their product or their service and realize that they got it completely wrong. Just to give you a sense, Patrick, for us, Earn 1K on the side. It took us six months to figure that out that title: “Earn 1K”. Why didn’t we call it “Earn 10K”?

    Because most people don’t believe that they can earn 10K, even if they can. On the side, because most people believe if they have to earn more money, they have to quit their job and the start the next Google with venture capital. That’s not true. The research is really what allows you to distinguish yourself from your competition so that when someone comes to your site. They start nodding their head uncontrollably, and they say yes, and price becomes a mere triviality. I’m curious if you’ve had that experience.

    How To Parlay Interests And Expertise Into First Consulting Gigs

    Patrick:  Absolutely. I told you how I got my particular job in the past, but I didn’t talk about my first consulting client yet. I used to be active on forum for lots of SEOs, search engine optimizers, who often, they have a side business themselves or their main source of income is publishing a particular thing and then getting traffic to it via SEO.

    Many of them are less than technical or they have enough skills to, like, hack together a site in WordPress, but they don’t know how to take that to the next level. The natural engineer thing to do in this circumstance is to ask someone OK, what are your technical problems? Oh, you have problems with WordPress sites? I’ve done WordPress sites before. Let’s talk WordPress, WordPress, WordPress.

    No SEO wakes up in the morning and thinks, “Damn, I have a WordPress problem.” They wake up in the morning and say, “Damn, I have a business problem.”

    [Patrick notes: This is generalizable to any group of business owners.  Even software companies.  Pick a software CEO you admire, I can guarantee you that they don’t wake up with software problems.  Heck, freebie for you: solve identification and sourcing of highly talented programmers and every software CEO I know will write you a check for last month’s gross revenues.  After hiring, the next biggest problem most of them have is selling more of the software they have already written.]

    Patrick: The SEO continues: “My business only made however many thousand dollars last month, and if I could get more pages on the website, then I might have more traffic and be able to drive more revenue for it.  But I don’t see a clear way to doing that without me doing all the writing myself. “

    After you can talk to them and establish that rapport, that you are actually listening to the problems that they are talking about, you can suggest how to address those problems in ways that you are uniquely capable of doing.

    I might tell the SEO, who is a potential client: “You’ve gotten this level of traffic so far with your existing site. You want to double that over the course of the next year. You were saying that the roadblocks that are stopping you are a) you’re on an outdated architecture where you, personally, have to write everything, and b) it’s been impossible to find someone who is a subject matter expert at this who can also make web pages, because that combination of interests just does not exist.”

    Ramit:  Yes. I’m nodding my head right now. I’m like yes.

    Patrick:  Yeah. “I totally understand that it is impossible to find someone who is both good enough of a journalist in the space to work for a genuine published magazine and also can edit HTML pages. I have an idea for you. I’m going to make a CMS for your website. That’s just a page that they can go into, like WordPress, and they can do their writing like they do so well.  The CMS will ship it over to you, and you figure out which business model that you experimented with will work well with this content. “[Patrick notes: In context, I’m suggesting that the SEO will either have in-house advertising, display advertising, an affiliate/lead-gen relationship with another publisher, or products of their own with which to monetize marginal traffic.]

    “You click two buttons to hook it up to that page, and boom. That’s it. It’s live on the Internet, and Google will start sending people to it. Does that sound like it’s something motivational to you?”

    By this point, the SEO is going “Hell, yes.” I’m like, great. Now this project, I think I can deliver the minimum version of it in two weeks from now. Two weeks from now, you get the CMS. You can start having your magazine quality writers putting stuff in, which will look beautiful, have pictures on it, and start generating traffic on Google.

    By that point, everything else about the engagement is a detail. They want it.

    Ramit:  That’s right. They want it. That is the number one thing. Do they want it? Not what does your website look like, not how big is your button, not how optimized did you get your conversion funnel. Most of us could focus more on building something that people want.

    That comes with the early research. I love the way you talked about how you communicate with a client, because it shows you really listen.

    Actual Experience From Someone Who Pays $X00,000 Yearly For Engineers

    Ramit: I want to emphasize something, especially for the engineers listening to the call. I am a client that I work with engineers. I have engineers on staff.

    Ramit: I pay them pretty well. I have passed on hiring engineers who may be more technically proficient, but they didn’t understand what I wanted. Honestly, guys, as a business owner, do you think I care if you’re using this technology or that? I just don’t give a damn [about technology]. I really don’t.

    What I care about is, is my business going to generate revenue? Am I serving my customers? Is my website going to go down, and I have to be the one who tells you? Or can I go out on a Friday night and not worry about my business?

    Those are the things I care about as a client. I’m reminded of a great story that somebody…one entrepreneur told on a Mixergy interview with Andrew Warner, and is it a great story. He was in the relationship market. His buddy actually started an information product in the relationship space, for women. [Patrick notes: No clue what interview this is referencing – feel free to drop me a note if you remember it.  By the way, you should be listening to Mixergy.  It is what the New York Times would produce if the NYT cared about producing value for people in our line of work.  It occurs to me that mentioning the NYT in the same breath with Mixergy is likely the most positive thing I’ll ever say… about the NYT.]

    Ramit: The guy was doing very well. I believe he was making either 40k or 400k a month. He was doing very well. This guy got pretty interested, and he said, “Hey, I’ve got to take a look at this market.” He spent about four or five months really doing deep research. Lots of stuff, including ad words, including customer research, including buying all the other products.

    He finally built his own product. Within two or three months, it was making more than his friend’s. It never stopped. I happen to know that that business is now a gigantic business. Why? What separated him from his friends?

    His friend called him, frustrated, like “Hey, I don’t understand why your site’s making more than mine.” He said that he had found some very subtle things in the research that his friend had not. I will tell you that we had that same exact thing happen. When I built my Find Your Dream Job course, it took us about three or months to build the first version, and we’re pretty experienced at this.

    When we went out to test it with about 20 people: The first person failed. The second person started crying. And the third failed as well.  At first I thought, “They’re just dumb. They don’t know what they’re doing.” No, then five people failed. Then 10. It took us about…I believe it was 15 or 16 versions to get it right. When we looked back, we had skipped over some very subtle things in the research process.

    Once we got those right, sales skyrocketed.  [Patrick notes: cough read writeup in Fortune Magazine cough] I’ll just say that it’s very, very important to understand the words that your client or your customer is using and be able to explain how and why you can help them.

    Patrick:  I think we don’t pay nearly enough attention to the exact words people use. Maybe we would if we came from a communications background. Nothing motivates people like having their own words repeated right back to them, which is something that you should try to do more often. It’s just an easy conversational hack to sound more persuasive.

    [Patrick notes: Engineers take heed: your clients will often make mistakes about engineering reality when talking to you.  You will feel the urge to correct their misconceptions about engineering reality, perhaps by rewording their requests such that they match the way the world actually works.  Don’t do this. You will never delight a client by teaching them what a web service actually is.  You will absolutely delight clients by mentioning that the “web service” (cough iframe cough) which you implemented for them, allowing them to get data from System A onto System B (cough displayed on pages served by System A, they never talk to each other cough), provably increased sales by $200,000 in the last quarter.]

    Patrick: But you have to make your prospective clients feel like you understand where they’re coming from. And that starts with both understanding where they’re coming from, and then communicating like you understand where they’re coming from. Even if you’re building a website for someone, it’s not just a website, right?

    There is some particular need that they have for that website, whether it’s for their business purposes or because a lot of business owners are very personally invested in their business. You need to communicate to them that you understand that they are personally invested and that you are also capable of treating this website like it’s important, like it’s more than just bits on a server somewhere.

    Here’s a hypothetical example for you. I live in Japan. I happen to have lots of Asian friends, so I just know that there is one particular niche market in America, that if I really wanted to stop my business right now and start a totally new market, I could do it. A lot of people who might not be English as first language themselves have a worry that they are going to have children who do not learn how to speak their native language, and as a result, will never be able to communicate with their grandmothers.

    And so, there’s this market in America for schools to teach the children the language of their parents, basically. [Patrick notes: The term of art is “heritage language school.”  I think I probably butchered it during the interview… I don’t get much practice speaking my own heritage language out loud these days, what can I say.] If you’re building websites for those schools, you’re not really building websites, so much as you are selling the person who runs that school on getting a website done.  She [Patrick notes: overwhelmingly female and underserved by technology available to her, where have I heard this song before…] is generally exquisitely sensitive to the emotional needs of her clients, who are typically mothers.

    Rather than focusing on the technical aspects of the project — it’s going to have pages and an admin system and a this and a that – you sell that you understand the business and the emotions driving the business.  The business purpose here is that success for your business, the school, is primarily dominated by how many new students it can enroll.  [Patrick notes: This is overwhelmingly the case for almost all educational businesses which do not receive direct state subsidy, by the way, from “piano tutor” all the way through “second tier universities.”  First tier universities are anomalies in that they’re actually choosy about who they let in.] I understand that parents enroll students in your school because they feel that there is a connection to a trustworthy source of authentic information about their heritage.

    [Patrick notes: This is the money-line for this particular pitch.  I manage to execute on a gets-to-the-heart-of-the-business line that good in only one out of three or so of my pitches.  If I get a line that good into the interview, the engagement is sold.  I can even point to identifiable moments of time when a company has hit me with one of these, and seriously, in the full knowledge that I’m being successfully sold to, if you get me that well I’m in and damn the price.]

    Patrick: I might hypothetically continue “Because I do lots of work in this space, I can deliver a website that embodies trust, authenticity, and tradition for you.” If you can present that pitch, you will be 10,000 times better than anybody who might be better at technical infrastructure, better at the design, whatever. If you can empathize with them on where they’re coming from, you’ll be better off.

    Patrick:  In the same fashion: you were asking earlier about some problems people have in their first couple of clients. I was a little too overeager for work, and I worked with people whose businesses I understood on an intellectual level but did not understand on the feel it in my bones level. I’ve since gotten a bit more choosy about that.

    Almost all my customers run software businesses. But, at one point, I worked with an eCommerce company, which was also a startup, so I thought “close enough.”  They were an eCommerce company in the men’s fashion space. Let’s say they sell dress shirts. Ramit, you’re a pretty nice dressed guy, but I’m wearing a t‑shirt right now with a startup logo on it.  Haute couture is not my strongest skill.

    When someone says “OK, you need a fine-cut silk, black shirt,” [Patrick notes: is that even a thing?  Heck if I know.  I’m pretty sure they come in “silk” and “black”, give me a third attribute you can group shirts by.], my eyes just glaze over.  My ignorance was even hurting my ability to execute on parts of the engagement that I actually understood, like say site architecture for SEO purposes. I literally told the client “You’re going to silo some pages around that. like, fine silk shirt, blah, blah, or blah, blah, or blah, blah.”  With the blahs in there.

    My client has made this his life’s work. You could literally see him disengaging from the conversation as I was dismissive about the subject. I was kicking myself. So one thing that I did to get better, in terms of that particular client relationship, when I realized that I really didn’t know anything that I was talking about, even when it was material to his business, was to say, “Look, you know me. I’m not going to lie. I’m not exactly a fine dresser. Can you just tell me, a geek who knows nothing about this, what is the one thing I should learn about men’s shirts?  If I only learn 10 minutes of material about dressing myself in my entire life, what would those 10 minutes be?”

    Bam, his eyes lit up. His life’s work is men’s shirts. Do you think he likes talking about men’s shirts? Oh, heck yes. He loves to share that knowledge to people. (If I was savvier about it, I would have asked for that at the initial interview.)  [Patrick notes: If a client talks about nothing but themselves for the entire interview, you will get the job. They’ll remember you as being tremendously responsive to their needs, and people care a heck of a lot more about themselves and their businesses than they care about you and your business.  Conversely, if an interview is ever the you-you-you show, you probably will lose that engagement.]

    How Startups Fail At Communicating With Customers

    Ramit:  It’s amazing how powerful it is when you actually put yourself inside the mind of your prospect. I want to talk about this for a few minutes. You see very similar copy on most startup websites, similarly terrible. Here’s what it says. It says easy, fast, free. Those three words should never, ever, ever be the headlines or sub‑headlines on your page.

    Do you know why? They don’t mean anything. Easy? What does that mean? When you say easy to me, to me, that means I don’t have to check my text messages on a Thursday night when I’m out with my friends at a bar. To a 45 year‑old mother of two, it means something very different. I don’t have to learn this weird HTML syntax with these brackets. [Patrick notes: Ramit co-founded PBWiki.]

    Easy is not a descriptive word. It’s a word that engineers use or even amateur copywriters because they don’t have anything else to say. Why? Because they’ve been lazy. They haven’t actually figured out the words that people use. People don’t say I was really looking for an easy, fast, and free solution. They say I was looking for a way to earn more money, and I was sick of getting scammed.

    Therefore, that’s why if you go to one of my pages, you’ll see the fact that I was on the Today Show or the fact that I’ve written for the New York Times. That’s not just there to feed my very large ego. It’s there because the customer indicated that it was important to them. I’ll give you another story about communicating with your clients.

    Doing $80k of Engagements In 8 Weeks In The Super-Lucrative Field Of Violin Tutoring

    Ramit: One of my star students is a young woman named Jackie, and she lives in the Midwest, and she’s a violin instructor. Now, she’s quite good at violin, but that wasn’t really what interested me. The fact was she had clients, but she came to me saying, “I want to learn how to grow my business.”

    And so, she had a few clients, but it was just like middling, and it wasn’t doing very well. I said, “Who’s your client? Who’s your client?” This is where most people stop dead. They say, “People who are looking for storage solutions.” Oh, really? What type of person? What gender? What age? Other people will say, “I’m building a product on love.” “Oh, really? Who’s your customer?” “Oh women between the ages of 27 to 54.”

    A 27 year‑old woman has nothing in common with a 54 year‑old woman when it comes to love, clothes, or virtually anything else. The way they describe love is completely different. Her customers were kids, parents, moms, dads, everybody. I said no, no, no, no, no. I worked with her. This is what happened. I’ll cut to the chase.

    In eight weeks, she was able to generate $81,000. How did she do that? She quickly found out who her customer was. Any idea who the customer was, Patrick?

    Patrick:  I’ve read this story from the year before, so I have a good idea. But want to spoil it for the rest of the people?

    Ramit:  The customer was not the 10 year‑old kid. It was the mother of the 10 year‑old kid. By the way, that mother tended to be ethnic, tended to be Asian. Not a surprise when you think about it. But this isn’t obvious prior to starting to do the research. Now, by the way, what does this Asian mother want? She doesn’t really just want her kid to play like Yo‑Yo Ma.

    Why does she want that? Because she wants little Timmy to get into Harvard. And so, when you deeply understand that, then everything about your positioning, your marketing can change. For example, imagine a new testimonial which says: “My son used to be really shy and withdrawn. Now, after going to Jackie’s class, he’s so talkative. He’s made so many friends. I can already see his grades going up because of the new discipline that he’s learned.”

    [Patrick notes: I know every engineer in the room just got the willies, because you think that using that testimonial to sell violin tutoring is somehow unethical.  It is perfectly ethical if Little Timmy’s mom actually reported that as her experiences.  This is, in fact, how middle-class parents justify virtually every extracurricular.  You have probably used a variant of this exact sales pitch yourself, except it was probably promoting video games rather than violin.  Video games help teach problem solving and hand-eye coordination, not just that you should Spirit Rush to Charm/Deathfire Grasp the Corki outside of Baron for the easy ace so you can push mid for the gg, right?

    (Man, that might be my best double coded joke ever.)

    (P.S which somewhat spoils the joke: If you’ve cottoned onto the fact that that is actually a totally comprehensible statement and feel repulsed by it welcome to being every client ever.  Those of you who play League of Legends just went “Dude, what’s wrong with you, was Spirit Fire on cooldown?” and those of you who don’t are zoning out almost as fast as a has-money-but-can’t-program client does when told about Ruby DSLs and test driven development.)

    P.S. To people who might have a Little Timmy in their life: from the perspective of someone who knows how the admissions game is played, Little Timmy should really be looking for ways to sound like anything other than Asian-smart-kid as possible, because Harvard has a declared policy of racial discrimination, and because in addition to racially discriminating against Asians they have a particular narrative stereotype of an Asian who they think they have quite enough of already.  That stereotype gets good grades, plays violin/piano, and has no personality.  I mention this to accurately summarize the preferences of bureaucrats whose professional competency is racial discrimination rather than to agree with them.  “Talkative” helps him – quite a bit!  I would actively avoid mentioning violin at all… unless you can write with humor (and a touch of pique) about how you abominably suck at violin, hate the stereotype, and enjoy subverting things, because humor and subversion play much better in admissions essays, and because humor/subversion are good mental hooks to make you stand out against the other Asian applicants you’re explicitly judged against whereas “smart, good grades, violin player” do not provide hooks.

    Even if you haven’t won genetic lottery that Harvard optimizes for, it is still within your power to market your existing product offering (and/or tweak it to make it more marketable) such that you can improve your chances of passing their (biased) decisionmaking process.  I think that is largely a more productive use of a single student’s time than lamenting that Harvard’s admission department is unfair (which it is, no question, but if you really want to go to Harvard I’d suggest betting your chips on making you more acceptable to Harvard than making Harvard stop systematized racial discrimination in admissions in time to benefit yourself).

    But that’s neither here nor there, from the perspective of selling Little Timmy’s mother on the value of violin lessons.  She wants to buy violin lessons.  OK.  Customers wants do not always align with their needs — often, selling them successfully involves a) understanding their wants, b) getting to the root issues behind them, and c) proposing to deliver solutions to those root issues by — wham, switcheroo — giving them what they actually need.

    Some of my most successful projects were exactly not what the client first thought of engaging me to do.]

    Ramit: Wow! That speaks directly to the heart of what her clients want. By the way, it’s not a lie. It’s completely accurate. This is marketing at its best, where you are actually listening to the customer and then delivering value on what they want, totally ethically.

    So, for all of us, when we’re writing worthless copy like easy, fast, free, stop. You’re being lazy. Go out and talk to your customers and figure out their real pain points and write you don’t have to check your pager every Friday and Saturday night. That is a very, very powerful message.

    Or “silk shirts that don’t wrinkle when you’re getting off the subway.” That is very powerful to the businessman in Manhattan. All right? So that’s all I’ve got to say about copy when it comes to relating to your customer.

    Patrick:  I totally agree with that. Also, something that people don’t realize is that this is particularly easy for engineers to do. They think I am trivially capable of doing this, or I am trivially capable of using from free open source solution for doing for their…Therefore, no one else in the world wants it.

    My original claim to quote, unquote fame on the Internet is a little program called Bingo Card Creator. It makes Bingo cards for elementary school teachers.

    To this day, despite the fact that I’ve been publishing about this for six years with a constantly updated stats graph that shows, like, $200,000 plus of Bingo cards getting sold, people ask me: how could anyone possibly need that? You can do it in Microsoft Excel in, like, five minutes. All you need to do is know how to use Microsoft Excel, like someone that has an engineering degree.

    People with engineering degrees don’t teach elementary English. That’s just a fact of life. The reason I know that teachers really genuinely need that is because I’ve talked to literally thousands of teachers by this point, and I know that they have a very particular need for getting ready for class tomorrow.

    It isn’t bingo card software. They have a particular need to teach a particular lesson plan that they already have laid out about, say, the American presidents, and they want an easy to use activity that they can just slide into that. And, at no point, do they start thinking of OK, I can open up Microsoft Excel and start scripting up some quick macros, and only two hours from now, I will have something that works for my kids.

    They want something that they can go to their local Google, type “American presidents”, pause for a second and remember back to their class about incorporating more fun activities in the classroom, type in “bingo”, hit enter, and get something on the first page that works. And that’s fundamentally why that business works.

    Ramit:  Love it. What you said when you said like, I can just open up Excel with my extremely simple knowledge of macros betrays a complete lack of understanding about the customer. In fact, this is what I want…I’d like to talk about stepping out of your own comfort zone and understanding the other people, the people that you’re trying to serve.

    Most people are not builders. Engineers, understand that. Most people do not talk or think like builders. They do not want to sit around and build a bunch of stuff. I’m talking about myself. I hate building stuff, except the stuff that I’m really good at, building courses and stuff like that. Do you think if you put a bunch of LEGOs in front of me…I’m going to pick that box up and throw it straight in the trash.

    I just don’t care. I don’t like it. I don’t want to build a macro. I don’t want to do all that stuff. The second thing is I have a limited amount of time, and if your customer, for example, has a family, they have extremely limited amounts of time. So for them, paying 5, 10, 20, 100 dollars is nothing. Because to them, they get…especially if you’ve segmented your customer to people who have income and are willing to spend it, as opposed to people who have no income and have unlimited time and unlimited technical skills…

    Hint to anyone building stuff for other engineers, who haven’t segmented out their pricing or positioning, that’s bad. I like to talk about this. I was just reading something on Hacker News. There was a comment about email newsletters, and the funny comment to me was who still uses email newsletters? It just made me smile, because it’s a classic, classic mistake we make of thinking that our world is everyone’s world. Just to give you a sense, I make over 98 percent of my revenues through email.

    Patrick:  I facepalmed quite a bit when I heard that line, too.  [Patrick notes: I’ve sold a couple hundred thousand dollars of software with email campaigns.  I will – hopefully by the end of September – have a product offering to help software companies do this without having to bring me in for consulting.  If you want to hear more, give me your email address.]

    Ramit:  Yeah, you almost cannot pay me money on my site. My conversion funnels are pretty sophisticated, and we’ve built them and tested them for many, many, many years. Email works very well. However, in this day and age, when people talk about oh, you’ve got to get on social, got to get on Facebook, get a Twitter account, my suggestion for people trying to get your first three clients, forget everything that will not immediately get you three clients.

    So, if you’re putting up a Twitter feed, ask yourself how is this going to get me clients? And then you’re going to start realizing that you’re giving yourself BS answers, like, I’m getting into the conversation. I need to be at the top of mind. Really? Is that going to help you get three clients or is reaching out to 10 people with custom emails, showing how you already understand their business and suggesting a couple things, is that going to help?

    There are the things we talk about in earn 1k, but you can do them anywhere. When I first started off writing copy about four or five years ago, I started studying the really, somewhat dark arts of long copy pages. My sales pages are approximately 40 to 50 pages long.

    People say, “Ramit, that doesn’t work.” Really? I have the data. I know for a fact that it does work. In fact, there’s a very sophisticated marketer. His emails are about 20 or 30 pages long. People said [laughs] who reads these emails? Does anyone actually read this? He laughed and said [laughs] only the buyers.

    Patrick:  [laughs] I love that line.

    Ramit:  It’s really incumbent upon you to stop thinking that your worldview is everyone’s worldview and realize that marketing works for a reason. As one of my professors said…in communication, she said, the value in this material is not in the difficulty of it. It’s in the usefulness of it. It’s not important how hard it is, what you’re doing. It’s important how useful it is to your customer.

    Patrick:  This ties back into how…really understanding who, exactly, can afford to buy your product or service offering is, and how important that is. For example, I’ve slagged on social media quite a bit, and I have not slagged on it nearly enough. The person who has the authority to buy your offering at, say, a company which…

    By the way, guys, for all the engineers in the audience, you sell engineering services to for profit companies because they are the only people who can pay actual professional engineer rates. There are vanishingly few private individuals and or non-profits who will actually pay engineers the going rate.

    Anyhow, so who at the company has the authority to make the decision to bring you on? It’s probably not someone who has a Twitter feed. People look at my business, and they might naively think that I get lots and lots of leads off the blog or on Hacker News, but if I’m getting brought in by, like, the CEO level, or the head of product or the head of marketing at a company, they’re probably, well, a little bit older and have…They would tell you in so many words, I’ve got better things to do with my time than to stay on Hacker News.

    I don’t, apparently. But [laughs] I don’t meet those type of people typically off Hacker News. I’ll often meet them at something like a conference that’s organized for the explicit purpose of generating more sales for software companies, which by the way, people who pay $2,000 to go for a conference whose tag line is “Sell More Software” are often interested in paying money to sell more software.  [Patrick notes: I was thinking, in particular, of the Business of Software conference, but I’ll bet you there are a dozen of these in any industry you care to name.  If your prospective clients go to those conferences, you should probably try to go, too.]

    They’re meeting people for conversations in between the…the lectures at that place is a great use of my time, I have found. “Who still uses email and newsletters?”  Gahhhh… multi‑billion dollar industries are multi‑billion dollar industries for a reason. You need to have an appropriate level of business awarenesss to back up your technology skills [and if you had that level of awareness, you would not be skeptical about email.]

    I would not have a business but for being technologically good at what I do. I would not have a business if I was not able to actually deliver on the things that I offer to my customers. But there’s a huge business knowledge that needs to be present to also successfully run a business.

    That starts with knowing the market outside of your narrow specialty. If you don’t already know what businesses are likely to have websites that drive huge amounts of their total business value, then you’re not going to be successful at selling people on engagement to improve their website such that their business gets more revenue.

    You need to know, like, what the transactional model for the business looks like. Take two industries which look similar to each other, say insurance or retail finance. Thank God I don’t actually have to do work with either of these.  But play along for a second [Patrick notes: I don’t endorse the following conclusions about this, just making an example]: if you want to sell engagements to these guys, you should understand e.g. that an insurance company might have a very, very direct path to revenue via the use of their website.

    They can actually take leads on the website and start converting those directly into transactions and or into applications for their high-margin insurance products with very little work on top of that.  The core business at say, a bank might be more relationship based, where they have longer sales cycles, and they’re only capturin

    —Huffduffed by threeFinger