The Harper Toss

October 17, 2015

The Harper Toss

15-Day Minimum Vacation Days

August 10, 2015

I have a problem. I love what I do.

A problem you say?

Yes, a problem.

If I didn’t love my job, life would be a lot easier. I would have more time for my family, friends, and myself. But in 2003, my life was forever changed when I became addicted to writing software. Over the years I have worked at great companies and not so great companies. I am happy to say Tilt is a great company.

This is not a shameless plug for the fact that we have a ton of job openings (but we do), it’s a message to the rest of the startup world that great companies exist. Led by people that believe in and live the Golden Rule. Forget about money, snack bars, and beer kegs (although we have those too), it’s emails like this that make me feel so lucky to work in tech and specifically at Tilt.

tilt minimum vacation

CEO > My Boss > Me

Telling me to take vacation


Making GTD Work

July 10, 2015

I went through a GTD rebellion in the past few years. I felt the checklists, todos, the obsession with inbox zero was just a way to convince myself that I was doing work when all I was doing was pushing buttons.

“I am a maker”, I would say. “I build things”. “I don’t need to make lists about the things I build, I should be building the thing that captures the things that I need to build.”

I was wrong.

Getting clear and using GTD is a good idea and something that I highly recommend trying and sticking with as long as possible. Here is a quick recap of GTD.

  1. Capture everything you need to do in an inbox
  2. Systematically review your inbox once per day
  3. If you find a task that you can do within 2 minutes do it, if not, add it to your inbox or delegate it
  4. Preform a bigger review once per week.


Obviously there is more to it then the list above, but the core tennant is that you should only touch something one time. You decide what to do with it right there.

  1. Do it.
  2. Process it (add to inbox to do later).
  3. Delegate it.


If you have never tried a system like this before, then you will be shocked when you do. It truly is amazing how good you feel once you have captured all your todos into a system that you will review daily and then fully once per week. This enlightened state lasts several weeks if you are lucky, several days if you are honest. What’s the problem?

The weekly review!

You won’t remember to do it, or worse you will spend 5 mins doing it. The weekly review should take at least 30 mins, I block off an hour knowing that I will spend some time looking at a hilarious post or two. I can normally get it done in about 40 mins when I turn off the music and focus.

So do the weekly review. It will save your life.

If you are curious for more trial and errors so that you don’t need to try and error on them yourself, here is my new routine.




I pick my tasks based on focus, energy, and then context.

I try to limit interruptions by turning off email and slack when I have a deadline or need high level creative time.


I maintain the @Waiting list very diligently. If you owe me something, chances are you are on my list. This allows me to quickly see the bottlenecks in projects and processes that I am involved in.

Someday maybe

Not as good with this one as I should be, but have committed to trying it more. Instead of realistic things it is mainly full of movie and short story ideas.

Levels of focus

As a father, a husband, son, brother, friend, and Tilter… I have a lot of areas of responsibility. I want to get more formal about how I plan and set goals against these levels but normally I try and meditate on these ideas once per week typically while commuting on the train to beautiful Toronto or while flying to beautiful San Francisco.

That’s pretty much it. Would love to hear your thoughts on it. Drop a comment and let me know what works for you!

On Blogging For Optionality’s Sake

June 12, 2015

Which of the following two statements is correct:

1) All bloggers are rich and famous
2) Some bloggers are rich and famous

Blogging doesn’t make you rich and famous but it does expose the author to a rare form of optionality, namely, a positive Black Swam.

Taleb describes the Black Swan as being: unpredictable, high impact, and can be rationally explained after the fact or suffers from the narrative fallacy.

Startups ( read tech startups in a bubble ) are built on the hope of positive Black Swans (pBS) given that employees and owners trade their time and money for pieces of paper ( they aren’t even on paper anymore ) that will make them rich one day. This is the definition of leveraged optionality and in moderation is a great position to hold.

Blogging works the same way.

Each blog post, increases the author’s exposure to a pBS. Maybe someone will post this to Hacker News or Reddit ( maybe I will ) and maybe a book publisher will read it and say, “Wow! Blogging meets the Black Swan, call his agent!”. Ten minutes later my agent’s phone rings ( it’s my phone, I don’t have an agent )

Book Publisher:
Kent! We read your post, we love it. Would you be interested in singing a… five book deal?

Ohhh yessssssss

And just like that, I am rich and famous.

Not really though. Obviously.

Not all bloggers are rich and famous. However, without their blogs, would some of them be rich and famous? I would argue that many wouldn’t be for the reasons above: blog posts increase optionality and given the connected structure of the internet, the chance of a single post spreading to beyond it’s target audience is higher than any other writing medium.

Consider that Naseem Taleb and his book is itself a Black Swan. He talks at length about how book publishing is a winner take all, extremistan world. Take 3 random authors who’s book sales total 1,000,000 copies and ask someone on the street to guess the distribution between them. If you don’t know anything about book publishing you might guess around 333K each = 1M, when in reality it’s likely more like:
Author 1 – 969,000
Author 2 – 20,000
Author 3 – 11, 000

Most people are blind to the extreme nature of book publishing, startup IPOs, and successful bloggers.

Books, movies, and startups are hard to predict. Therefore publishers, studios, and venture capitals need to make a lot of small bets in order to win. You can think of writers the same way. Knowing what you know about writing being a winner take all game, doesn’t it makes sense for authors to write more books? Yes of course it does. Each book they write, increases the chance of being exposed to a pBS. Look at Dan Brown, one of the most read authors in the world. He didn’t find his pBS until his third full novel, The DaVinci Code. Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons are now best sellers, but not when they debuted.

Book publishing is a winner take all game, blogging is a little different because of the long tail. You can write about esoteric topics that only a handful of communities are interested in and find success given the power of Google and their eigenvectors. The reason blogging is such a good investment is that you can write for the niche, and still enjoy the chance of finding a pBS.

So should you blog for optionality’s sake? No. Blog because you love to write, but yes, you are “buying lottery” tickets each time you hit publish ( not really ).

Since we didn’t officially call it, and I hate loose ends, the answer is 2).

90% of Startup Growth Advice is 100% Bullshit

June 7, 2015

Let’s be honest, no one truly knows how Google did it, how Uber did it, how Tilt will do it, but it’s fun to pretend right?

I signed up for today after years of trying to ignore it (I won’t even give them a back link). Being someone immersed in growth for many years, before it was called growth, I figured I should give it a try. The first 10 posts, except one (from a competitor no less) were all self indulgent and 100% crap.

In the tech and startup ecosystem, growth suffers form the narrative fallacy more than any other profession, save maybe venture capital. It is so easy and cheap to look back and explain why something did not work and blame it on events out of our control, or look back at success and paint ourselves the hero, when more than 50% of it could have been blind luck.

Growth marketers are awash with the confirmation bias. How many times do your experiments look to refute a growth hypothesis rather than confirm one? Here’s a great example. I am seriously sick of these kinds of posts. I am not picking on them to be mean or cruel, but it solidifies my view that we are all, for the most part, in some kind of growth circle jerk. Where company X tries something and it works, so then company Y tries the same thing with a little something different and low and behold it works too, and then company Z comes in and changes things ever so slightly… do you see my point? We are not building anything here. There is no real growth, I call this virtual growth, we are counting leaves on a branch that has been divided so many times. There are entire other trees out there, entire new forests, even some desserts that are worth exploring.

So you got a 200% increase, you might have missed a 20000% increase had you tried something bold and failed. Of course adding a pop-up will drive a certain number of signups, of course bugging the shit of your visitors will lead to conversions, I am not saying that we need to not do these from time to time, but do we need to talk about it? Aren’t these axioms by now? Stop telling me how you discovered a new secret to popups, when you just got lucky. If you are looking to confirm a theory you will more often than not find evidence to support it. Start trying to be wrong a lot more.

The best kind of science is done when you are constantly and consistently wrong. Your growth hypotheses should aim to be refuted not confirmed. This point is really important, so it begs to be repeated, your growth hypotheses should aim to be refuted not confirmed. If you are getting more things right than wrong, you are not doing your job. You are likely in a topology that looks something like this:

Growth topologies

It is better to attempt climbing a mountain and failing, then climbing a hill over and over again.

Growth right now is full of hill climbers, we need more mountaineers.

Stop reading all the crap that pervades our industry including this. Leave the circle jerk. Sit down, think about your problems, design experiments to refute your hypotheses, get it wrong 100 times before getting right.


The Well of Lost Ideas

January 7, 2014

Did you invent it? Did you come up with it? Did you start it? Really?

Then where is it? Show it to me.

You can’t can you? Because that’s all you did. You thought, you talked, and you dreamed. These are all good things, all very, very important things but you forgot the most important step.

You forgot to build it.

read more

The End of Mediocrity

November 27, 2013

There are many credos, mantras, affirmations, culture speak, news speak and other forms of written communication all aimed at making you or the people around you better.

These devices work. Don’t stop using them.

Here is one to add to the list: Stop making crappy things.

read more

Add Value or Stop

November 12, 2013

Extreme? Maybe. True? You betcha!

Companies that win are the ones that understand that adding value is the only way to build a sustainable and profitable business.


Your product by definition must add value or else you will find it hard to get and keep customers.


Your brand needs to exude value. Forget about content marketing! That’s just a fad or a buzz word for things that great companies have been doing for decades.

Adding value in marketing is the simplest thing you can do. Just ask yourself one question.

Would you say “Thank you” or “F$@& you” if you got it? The test is pretty clear.


Your company needs to add value to society. The easiest way to do that is to hire amazing people, invest in them and get out of their way. If you keep your employees happy and productive, they will keep their friends, loved ones and community happy too. Treat them well, better than you think. Pay them a little more, give a few Fridays off and watch them repay that in kind.

If you aren’t adding value on these levels than what are you really doing?

I Am Not Afraid of Cannibals and Nazis

September 4, 2013

Cannibals and Nazis didn’t make Kolya nervous, but the threat of embarrassment did—the possibility that a stranger might laugh at the lines he’d written.

Benioff is writing about the resistance here, the fear of posting, the fear of sending, the fear of finishing, the fear of doing, the fear of action, the fear of judgement, the fear.

read more

What Bryan Cranston Taught Me at 4:00am

September 3, 2013

“Grab that cord will you… it’s time to eat!”

Mark, the fat grip yelled at me as I starred blankly back. It was 3:30am on a Wednesday in October and snow was falling all around me. Well, it looked like snow but it certainly wasn’t. The texture was more like cotton and the flavour something like the coloured clip of a Bic clicky pencil. Plastic. Artificial. I am on a movie set and someone, Mark, the fat grip thinks I belong here.

read more

← Previous Page