Our guest today is Erik Fogg, co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at ProdPerfect. ProdPerfect is the answer to fixing E2E software testing with Machine Learning and good operational design as well as automatically building and maintaining E2E test automation by analyzing user journeys on web applications.
Since 2018, Erik and his team have helped dozens of cutting-edge, venture-backed, highly reputable brand name companies and their elite engineering teams to radically improve their software quality and deployment speed. During 2019, ProdPerfect grew over 20% month over month and raised $12M for Series A, and are well on the path to Series B.
Erik graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s and master’s of science in Mechanical Engineering. Prior to ProdPerfect, he fixed and led operations in factories, mines, refineries, and hardware startups.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- How Erik went from MIT to a COO role with ProdPerfectÂ
- What is ProdPerfect and E2E softwareÂ
- Organizational flaws from the small to medium enterprise level that can be avoidedÂ
- How to recognize and reward talentÂ
- Management and leading without authorityÂ
- How to recognize the internal motivators of your employees
- The difference in operations pre and post fundingÂ
- How to disagree and embrace the tensions between CEO and COO
Connect with Erik Fogg: LinkedInÂ
ProdPerfect – https://prodperfect.com
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Our guest is Erik Fogg. Erik is the Cofounder and Chief Operating Officer at ProdPerfect. ProdPerfect is the answer to fixing E2E software testing with machine learning and good operational design, as well as automatically building and maintaining E2E test automation by analyzing user journeys on web applications.
Since 2018, Erik and his team have helped dozens of cutting-edge venture-backed, highly reputable brand name companies and their elite engineering teams to radically improve their software quality and deployment speed. During 2019, ProdPerfect grew over 20% month over month and raised $12 million for Series A and is well on the path to a Series B. Erik graduated from MIT with a Bachelor’s and Masterâ€™s of Science and Mechanical Engineering. Prior to ProdPerfect, he fixed and led operations in factories, mines, refineries and hardware startups. Erik, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Cameron. That was a great intro. I’m going to take that clip and make it my hype clip for the future.
Funny timing on the fact that you graduated from MIT. I’ve been a part of an organization called EO, the Entrepreneurs Organization, for years. I’ve either been a member or worked with them in 26 countries. EO hosts a program at Endicott House, which is owned by MIT. It’s not an MIT program but it’s like an MIT lab-sponsored executive program for these CEOs from all over the world.
I was on social media saying, â€œCome on. Stop saying that you graduated from MIT. You didn’t. You did a 3.5-day program 3 times over 3 years. That was an EO program hosted at MIT but you didn’t graduate from MIT.â€ I’m getting all these people blowing up the comments saying, â€œThank you for saying that.â€ It’s weird. I’m interviewing a guy who graduated from MIT. What was it like?
It’s funny, I get to say I taught a class at MIT because we have 2 semesters, 4 months each and then a 1-month January term, which is mostly doing whatever you want. A lot of grads and alums will end up teaching. The real test is whether you get credit, whether students or you’re a teacher. I got to give credit. We have a weird credit system so the number won’t mean anything to anyone. Itâ€™s on technical problem-solving, which is a lot of fun.
MIT was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s also probably still the most fun I’ve ever had. What makes MIT so special isn’t even the professors, even though they’re doing cool stuff. The way you get to benefit from that team or group is by doing research with them, which MIT’s good about pairing undergrads with labs to do research and build cool stuff with them.
You can get the lectures online for free. MIT posts them all for free so why go? That’s reason one. Reason two is the other students because, ultimately, MIT does a very good job of recruiting intellectually curious people. We’d stay up late. We’d stay up until 3:00 AM talking about weird problems that we’re running into in aerospace. I almost wish I was there with the aerospace team, watching SpaceX do what they’re doing and learning a little bit more about how the Falcon engines work. I’m out of it. I’m like every grandma at home watching, like, â€œI have no idea how this works but this is cool.â€ it was a blast.
It’s almost like you’d be at the lunch room at a hackathon or the super smart, cool, driven but game on. No one was there because they had to be. Nobody was putting in the time. Everybody was there on purpose.
I wouldn’t say cool but a nerd crowd.
There’s something pretty amazing. One of my favorite leaders that I ever met was this woman who was the head of iRobot and she was out of the MIT Labs program. She lived very close to Endicott House. She came and spoke to our EO program that was being held there. She was fascinating. How did you go from MIT to a COO role? What was your path?
I thought I was going to graduate and be an engineer. Ultimately, the reason I didn’t is that its pure coincidence. I graduated in 2009. I was job hunting in 2008 and that was a bad time to job hunt even with a tech degree. I wasn’t able to get hired into Ford Motor Company or anything like that. I was trying like Boeing or Lockheed Martin and kept hitting a wall. Part of it was, to be honest, I wasn’t the best engineer out of the bunch. I was far from it, which was humbling. As they say, those who can, do and those who can’t, teach. I went into consulting and the consulting firm that I worked for called Stroud was big on like, â€œWe only recruit elite talent.â€
It was like MIT, Columbia and Cornell. They didn’t bother with anything else. They had a booth at MIT’s career fair. I talked to them and got along with them well. I ended up joining. My operations path started because we were using our engineering skills but we were flying around the country fixing factories. I was working in consumer-packaged goods. I was helping companies fill milk bottles faster, paint and chemical coatings, aerospace construction, refineries and mining.
I got great stories from being up in Northern Alberta and freezing my face off. What we were good at was engineering. What we had to learn was how to implement change in an organization. How to understand what’s the process by which someone is trying to turn plastic and a silo full of milk into a milk bottle or a bottle of milk and learn that process, understand it deeply. In a few weeks, become the smartest person in the room on that process and then be able to break it down and analyze it to crank 20% more out of it or something.
The hardest part about that wasn’t the analysis and often it was the case that there was someone at the organization that was smart enough to figure this out on their own. It’s that organizational flaws were holding that organization back from being able to make these improvements themselves. We had to learn on the job how to be great operational management leaders, implement change and lead people, especially without authority.
We became experts in developing good KPIs in enforcing good accountability. Six years of that taught me what I needed to know to do it a little bit myself. I got poached out of consulting by an MIT friend to work on a hardware startup. We were doing helmet share for bike share. It didn’t end up taking off but my job was to sell it and figure out how to manufacture it at scale. The skills I learned there were helpful. I was wildly unqualified and underprepared at the time but that’s how startups work. I cut my teeth there.
I’m thinking back to when you said all these factories that you got to work in. Is it because you’re from the outside that you can see outside of the box and the problem from different perspectives, whereas the people inside are too close to the issue at times? Is that part of it?
It helps. It’s a big part of it. Although you can’t take anyone and do that. Some of what Stroud was so exceptional at and this will turn into a recruiting ad for Stroud, they had their way as any good consulting firm does. The fierceness and rigor by which we broke down a problem into parts, which had outside eyes are necessary to do that but it is insufficient. By being able to break these problems down into parts, we were big on using the Pareto graph and focusing on what’s our 80/20 opportunity. Being able to do that was how we would identify. With 1,000 things going wrong in a factory that is on fire at any given moment, what are the 1 or 2 that matter?
It’s true because there are so many things you could be fixing and optimizing inside of the company. I never even call it Pareto but you’re right. I call it the low-hanging fruit. Which are the ones that are the easiest things? have you ever heard the saying that small hinges swing big doors?
One that got to me too is that a small couple of little things that you fix could make massive differences inside an organization. It was an interesting mental construct that I saw. Tell me what’s ProdPerfect. What is E2E software testing?
The dirty secret of ProdPerfect that’s becoming less of a secret is that I’m not a software engineer. I got pulled into helping run the operations at a software engineering company. Deep tech stuff, going into machine learning. What ProdPerfect is doing is taking this old process of testing software, which I’ll explain in a second and getting machines to do it rather than humans. Itâ€™s the old way of doing it. By old, I mean all but a few dozen companies in the world do it this way.
You hire software engineers to write code to test other software engineersâ€™ code. There are levels at which this makes sense. I’m going to keep it a little bit abstract but explaining E2E, which means end-to-end testing helps a lot. End-to-end testing is launching the application on a browser, launching the software on the web with a server and pretending that you’re a user. Sending through a bot that pretends you’re a user to test it.
What normally happens is to write these tests, you have engineers get together and they say, â€œWhat are we going to test?â€ They have to come up with it on their own, hope they get a good set of tests that are representative of user behavior and write them themselves. Every time the application changes, they have to update it. Companies are spending 20% or 25% of their budget on this.
It doesn’t work all that well because software engineers don’t know how users use the application. What we’re doing to shortcut that whole process is we’re collecting product analytics data. If Google Analytics tracks what you do and we can track what people do, the machine learning magic is analyzing that and then being able to pivot, convert that over to end-to-end tests, skipping the whole you need a quarter or fifth of your engineers to be doing this work. We’re able to do it ourselves. Those engineers can write products rather than tests.
Years ago, I did something like this on a very scaled-down version. I’d come in as the second in command at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and we had to test the internal software that we’d built to run all of our trucks and franchises. We wrote a list of about 50 different processes that the user would have to do. We stood behind them with a video camera and filmed them. We watched our call center agents using it. We’re like, â€œThat sucks. What are they doing over there? Why are they doing that? That’s ridiculous.â€ We hacked our way through it. You’re doing this at a much more sophisticated level but you’re using machine learning and the computer is doing it. Who are your clients?
Typically, theyâ€™re venture-backed software engineering companies that are building web applications that are either the product itself or how they sell their product. SaaS companies are big with us. eCommerce and retail companies are big with us but even banks and insurance. Fundamentally, it’s becoming more true that any company at scale is a software company in addition to other stuff. If they’re deploying code to the web that users need to be able to use without running into bugs, they need to test it.
What’s pretty cool about the market opportunity for us is that we’re somewhat industry agnostic. It’s a job function that we’re selling to. It’s the software engineering job function, which every Fortune 500 has. We have a big market opportunity with no real competition. We’re interested in some crazy land grab. The hardest part of my job is being able to focus rather than get spread out over everything.
Is this the kind of thing that will exist for all medium-sized companies in ten years?
That’s certainly my hypothesis. There are analogous software industry changes in small and medium businesses that have gone through over the past 5 to 10 years. A big one is moving from having your mainframe and IT team to paying Amazon, Microsoft or Google to maintain all that for you. Infrastructure is a service. Cut them a check, don’t have an IT team.
Similarly, we believe that another trend is testing something that machines are going to be better than humans at doing or they already are but are going to become much better at in a few years. Instead of your testing team the analogy to the IT team, you use a mechanical system that’s learned on thousands of applications how to test it well to test yours as well. It makes sense.
I was reading about how they’re using machine learning to teach computers how to play games. They said within 24 hours, a computer can learn and be the best in the world at any 2-person game that exists. It’ll teach itself what the game is and how to even play it. It’s crazy. You said that when you were doing all this stuff with these factories all over the world and up in Northern Canada, you saw a lot of organizational flaws. If you bring it down to the small to medium enterprise level, like the 20 to 200-person companies, what are some organizational flaws that you saw on the bigger level or macro level that maybe the small to medium enterprise can benefit from avoiding or fixing?
The biggest one by far is large organizations are very bad at recognizing and rewarding initiative and talent. We had a lot of smart people. We were this breath of fresh air for them because they could finally talk to someone willing to listen to their wacky idea that everyone else had shut down. What we saw so frequently was these organizations had built up this crud of assumptions about what was possible and what was going on.
A good example is one organization I was working with. They were mining oil and sand up in Northern Canada. PhDs genuinely believed that the clog that was going on in their refining of that oil sand was due to what they nicknamed dinosaur hair. They weren’t sure what it is but they said, â€œIt’s getting clogged. This stuff must be coming from the ore itself. There’s nothing we can do. We have to wait until it unclogs and then repair it.â€
You had these people raising their hands saying, â€œMaybe we can do something about it.â€ That concept was shut down by this group who had this dinosaur hair concept turned out that what was happening was the process of a foreign substance being introduced inadvertently. We were able to identify that and eliminate it. It seems this very simple solution. What is between organizations and these simple solutions that allow them to accelerate is the buildup of organizational beliefs, assumptions and accepted the way things are.
The way that we try to avoid that at ProdPerfect is it’s not through stuff brainstorming or other fads of employee engagement. It’s through identifying every opportunity in mathematical terms and force ranking. For example, that clogging problem is worth, I can’t say how much money but a lot. People didn’t think of it as an opportunity because they decided it was impossible to fix. What we do at ProdPerfect that every SMB should do is say, â€œIf this problem is worth sufficient magnitude of the opportunity and we assume that we can solve it because we have talent, let’s go after it. Let’s break it apart and dig it up rather than find a reason not to do it.â€
I love quantifying the opportunity. I was coaching a CEO and they said that they had 30 people on their customer service team. I said, â€œAt about $50,000 per person, that’s costing you $1.5 million to have that customer service team.â€ He goes, â€œI guess it’s about right.â€ I said, â€œIf you could fix the problems and allow customers to fix their problems on their own and have better FAQs, you could eliminate 30 positions. Even if you could eliminate twenty, that’s a $1 million-a-year opportunity. Why don’t we spend $200,000 fixing it?â€ Within 6 months, they eliminated 20 positions because they fixed the core problem.
Before you talk to them, the assumption was that the way that these problems get fixed for customers is through customer success.
Adding more customer service people like, â€œNo, it’s not the issue.â€ How do you recognize and reward talent internally with ProdPerfect? What are you doing?
It’s a little ad hoc because we’re a team of 25. The founders are very close and we’re able to make some high-speed decisions. The way that we’re structuralizing and institutionalizing is through performance reviews but big organizations that are bad at this also have performance reviews. For us, it’s culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is the purview of every COO. A lot of COOs hate it because it’s non-numerical. It’s scary. You can have KPIs on culture but they’re always goofy. We are very fierce about having a culture and a high initiative. Mistakes are okay and good. We’re learning from them. Be transparent about them. Iterate quickly and get help.
Don’t try to win alone. What this culture does is it has freed people of these shackles they’ve had in the past like, â€œIf I make a mistake, I get punished. If I ask for help, people think I’m dumb.â€ If we take all that muck off, we’re going to see people with high initiative, who are naturally ambitious, driven and smart. Take initiative, propose stuff and start making some changes. Dan, my CEO, his nickname is Dr. Yes. I learned later that it came from Richard Branson. Someone else knew Richard Branson’s nickname was Dr. Yes and started calling Dan that because people said, â€œCan we try this?â€ Dan said, â€œLet’s scope it. Let’s understand the risk but yes.â€
We’re very public about how our individuals win with that. The first level of recognition reward that we do is social recognition and reward. We have them announced. We have their peers announce. We announce to the whole organization why this person who jumped up, did this thing and ran at it made a huge difference for the business. It means other people are going to do it too. A lot of recognition reward isn’t about money and it’s not necessarily about promotion. It’s about people feeling what they did matters.
It’s okay to fail but then iterate, fix it and try again. I was thinking about that is the life of a software engineer. It’s like, â€œWrite your code and try it. That didn’t work. Six lines are broken, fix those. Three lines are broken, fix those. It works.â€ It’s not worrying that it was broken and beating yourself up about it. Figure out what was broken and fix that. You also mentioned that management and leading without authority is something that you learned from those past roles. That’s an intriguing concept that I don’t think in 153 episodes anyone’s mentioned. Talk about leading without authority.
Typically, when we think of a leader, we think of a person who has direct reports. That person with direct reports has the power to fire people. It means that there’s a fundamental fear of you as the person who can fire people because people’s well-being depends on you. Their financial situation is in bad shape if you don’t. Everyone reading knows all that. How do you lead if you don’t have a stick? You don’t have a lot of carrots either.
The short version is influence and persuasion in sales. What you have to do to lead without authority is engage the people with authority and sell them on this idea of maybe we should recognize and reward the team that I need to lead as the consultant. I’m brought in. I’m working with a team. I need to lead them. â€œSponsor or authority person, can you make this very clear mandate? Can you engage in some recognition and reward for what we’re doing here?â€
It’s going to be a lot easier because no matter how you’re leading, the question you have to answer is what’s in it for the person that you’re trying to lead. I forget who it was but some monarch, when asked, â€œWhy don’t you order this person not to do something,â€ the monarch wisely said, â€œI don’t give any orders that I know won’t be obeyed.â€ This monarch recognized that people may not obey orders even though they have all this power. Some things are more important to people than even keeping their heads sometimes.
Similarly, when we’re leading, someone with authority gets to be lazy about this implied, â€œWhat’s in it for me?â€ It’s keeping your job and paycheck. If I don’t have that leverage over someone, I need to put more thought into what’s in it for me to the people I’m trying to lead. Having a quick think about that or, God forbid, talking to someone and understanding them a little bit better about what are their internal motivators.
It’s often the case. The thing people want is maybe, â€œI want to be recognized for once. I don’t even need to be recognized but I’m offended at the fact that this thing is broken and I’m not allowed to fix it. I want to make an impact.â€ If you learn that about people and you can tie what you want to be done or what you know is the right thing to do to those internal motivators, it’s trivial to lead.
I like that you said a couple of times, â€œSell them.â€ I used to say, â€œSell them, don’t tell them.â€ Itâ€™s a phrase if you could sell people on doing it. There’s a movie that I saw years ago called Taps. Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn were in the movie together. Timothy Hutton was a leader of this cadet military group. The father figure turned to him at one point and said, â€œThey’ll always respect your title but they need to respect the man.â€
Meaning, he was the cadet in charge of this entire military school. He is like, â€œThey’ll always respect you as the president of your school but they need to respect you as a person, as that leader.â€ That’s what you’re talking about as well. How do you recognize internal motivators? What do you do to recognize some of those internal motivators?
Surprisingly, if you ask people, they’re likely to tell you because it’s so refreshing for someone that someone else cares about what motivates them internally. People are surprisingly forthcoming about it. You don’t have to do too much ninja work to get it out of them. To some extent, people may even understand that you’re trying to influence them but they’re not going to feel manipulated if you’re being forthright, transparent and authentic.
That’s the most obvious way to do it. With some people, there’s somewhere in there have been manipulated in the past so they’re once bitten, twice shy. For those folks and Iâ€™m even thinking of a few from my experience, a lot of people will hide those. Part of what they’re trying to do is protect themselves. The tallest blade of grass gets cut first. I heard that all the time when I was a consultant.
People’s internal motivators at that point weren’t, â€œI want to be recognized. I want to fly under the radar.â€ How can you motivate this person? They even think that all they want is to take a paycheck and go home but they’re not all that happy because they’re stuck for eight hours at this place, that they’re not doing something very interesting to them. What I tend to do is ask people what they do for fun or what they find interesting for its own sake.
When you understand what they do when they’re not getting paid, you have a good sense of what their internal motivators are. There is something motivating someone to play bridge or to volunteer at a local charity and stuff like that. It’s from that that you can start to understand, â€œThis person cares about creating an impact for the world, competing, solving sticky problems and having the satisfaction of that based on those things that they do for fun.â€
Where did you come up with playing bridge as the first analogy? You’ve been hanging out with some old people.
It’s because Iâ€™ve read Martin Seligman’s book Flourish. It’s about internal motivators. He says there are these five things that people do for their own sake. Positive emotions, positive relationships, mastery, meaning and flow. It’s a way to break down internal motivators. Seligman is this old dude that plays bridge and it gets him inflow. That’s what came to mind.
Warren Buffett plays bridge as well. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates play bridge together online. Let’s talk about ProdPerfect. I want to go back. You have done two rounds. You did a seed round where you raised $2.6 million and then your Series A where you raised $13 million. What was that like going through those stages? What did you learn as a company? How did it change the company?
It was hard and it wasn’t hard for the reasons most people think. You never think you’re ready until you get there. At some point, by the time you go to someone, look them in the eye and say, â€œYou should put $12 million into this thing,â€ the fear is long gone. You have butterflies getting into the meeting but as soon as you’re there, you recognize like, â€œThese guys have $1.5 billion of other people’s money and I’m asking for a pretty small check here.â€ If you’ve ever sold anything, it’s the same process. It wasn’t hard for the reasons of fear and intimidation. What was hard about it for us was trying to find the right partner and trying to truly suss out who these investors are and what they stand for.
They’re trying to sell you as well. Investors have FOMO. They want everyone to like them. They’ll never give you frank feedback because they always want to keep the door open to you in the future and they don’t want to piss you off. Until you’ve engaged with them and your incentives are aligned, you have to recognize that they’re going to give you the nice version of everything. You can’t have happy ears. You can’t believe what they say because they say it.
The hardest part for us was trying to understand the people that we were dealing with. We got very lucky in a lot of ways. We ended up with some excellent investors who have been hugely supportive, who understand the ups and downs of startups and understand how hard deep tech plays are. They have helped us find great people to add to our team to help us accelerate.
How did it change your company? Once you had funding, did it change their mindset? Did it change the way that you operated?
Big time. Pre-funding, nobody had any expectations. In some ways, it was the most enjoyable phase of the company because you’re free. Everything is an experiment. Some of it’s because you’ve already let go. I even told Dan. When he recruited me to join, I said, â€œWe won’t be doing this in six months but that’s okay because we’re going to have a lot of fun.â€ It’s there to have fun and learn stuff. In some ways, that’s always going to be the most fun part. When money shows up, you’ve got performance expectations and people that you don’t want to let down. It’s not even the investors. It’s your employees.
The biggest thing that changed is that when you get money, your team grows dramatically and all of a sudden there are a lot of people depending on you. I’m not too worried about how the investors feel about it because they’ve got a lot of money and the people who are investing in them have a lot of money. They expect most of these to fail anyway. It’s the people that you look in the eye and say, â€œI want you to tie your future, financial success and career success to me and my vision and my ability to lead.â€ That’s intimidating.
What it means is the gravity of running this business got heavy fast as we started to recruit more. The biggest thing that changed is true for every SMB that grows. It starts being very founder-driven and very quickly for us because we’re venture-backed, we had to let go of being in control of everything. We pivot over to being a KPI-driven culture-driven, strategy-driven company. Our job is to make the big picture very clear to people, motivate them properly, make sure we have the right talent and then let go, let people do what they’re great at and make a lot of mistakes.
What that’s meant is that the company is regularized a lot more. Also, the nature of my job and Dan’s job is unrelated to what it was years ago. Nonetheless, when I said the pre-money time was the most enjoyable, it was the most enjoyable for working on the business but the new thing that’s come to replace that freedom is getting to help people succeed. That’s the most satisfying part of my job. It’s what I spend most of my time doing. It’s hugely rewarding.
It sounds like you do feel the same pressure I do as well when we recruit people for the company. You feel a massive obligation to make sure the company works out because you’re getting them to state their future on your business all of a sudden. It’s always played very heavily on me for all of my years. I hired my first employee when I was twenty years old. I had 12 employees at 21. Five of my friends moved six hours away to come and work for me. I remember shitting my pants thinking, â€œThese are my friends. I got to make sure that they’ve got enough work and they’re successful.â€
At one point, they thought I was making so much money that I was rich. I wasn’t making a penny at this point. I hadn’t paid off any of my debt. I wasn’t making money. I opened up my P&L and showed it to them and all of a sudden, they were worried we were going bankrupt. That got us on the same page. You and Dan started the company together. You were the COO. He was the CEO. Has it been easy the whole time?
No. I’m sure that was a set question. Anyone who says yes is lying. It’s because, by design, we’re such fundamentally different people. I don’t know if you’ve read Rocket Fuel. Dan is a visionary to his core. I’m an integrator to my core. We have very different ways of thinking about the company. A good example of this is that I’m thinking, â€œHow do I get us to our Series B? How do I hit my goals for this month?â€
Dan is thinking, â€œIt’ll work. Ten years from now, what I’m worried about is whether have we dominated the marketplace and radically changed how software is deployed.â€ I keep going like, â€œHow can you think about that when every month we’re burning money?â€ What it means is that at our best, there’s the creative tension that we embrace. When we disagree, we go, â€œCool. Let’s get into it.â€
How do you disagree and embrace that creative tension? I run an organization called the COO Alliance. We’ve got members from nine countries that are all integrators. There are no CEOs allowed. They all have very similar personality profiles to you. They heavily disagree and argue with their CEO. They’re also best friends. How do you work through that creative tension and those disagreements? Can you give us an example maybe without the details but when one may have gotten heated or hard, how did you guys work through that?
I’ll confess. Dan and I have raised our voices at each other at times. One of the big things that we lean on is being best friends. We were best friends before we started the company. We were past that uncanny valley. There’s a bit of an uncanny valley of friendship that you’re close enough that people can get offended but not so close that you can get over it. We’re way past that. At the end of yelling at each other once, I remember this was years ago, I said, â€œWe need to hug.â€ We hugged and held onto each other for two minutes.
With anyone I knew less well, it would’ve been awkward but it was healing. When we fight like that, what we then do is grab a beer, play some video games to take a break and come back to it. We then embrace our creative tension. What we do when we disagree is we have an exercise where we’re going to write out all of the arguments for the other person’s position. Not our own. I write down, â€œWhy is Dan right? Why am I wrong?â€ Dan writes down, â€œWhy is Erik right? Why am I wrong?â€
9 times out of 10, we end up coming up with a 3rd concept altogether. We’ve been through this cycle enough that we know that when we disagree, it is likely that both of us are missing something. Each of us has some information, analysis or perspective that needs to be input into this decision to succeed. That’s why we write that down.
I love writing down what the other person is seeing. I want to show you something but I need to ask you a question. Anyone who’s reading can’t see this but right behind you, over your left shoulder, is that a Captain America shield?
It is. I built it myself. I do cosplay for fun and relaxation. I built that out of a sled. I didn’t have to do a lot of building. I didn’t manufacture the metal but I laser cut some of the details, painted it and added the strapping on the back. Itâ€™s a ton of fun.
I’m friends with the Owner of the Comic Con Group, Gareb Shamus. He’s a fantastic artist. I kept looking at it. I was wondering if it was Captain Americaâ€™s shield or a big wheel. I couldn’t tell. I want to talk about when you’re writing down the other person’s perspective. Anyone reading can’t see this but you and I can. I’ll explain it. I’m holding up a book r. What color is this book?
Are you 1,000% sure?
I’ve read Stranger in a Strange Land so I know that this side of the book is black.
The other side of the book is white. There are two sides to every story that you could argue it’s black and I’m staring at the other side of it, arguing it’s white because I can’t see the other side. The system that you guys are using, writing down the other person’s argument, is brilliant.
Iâ€™m a voracious reader rather than a genius. That’s the integrator way. I pulled it straight from Fierce Conversations. Susan Scott talks about the beach ball where a beach ball has four different colors. If someone sees blue, they’re not wrong. Even though I see red, we’re both right.
I never have a beach ball sitting beside me so I can’t do that analogy. I want to go to the last question. If we’re going to go back to you graduating from MIT, you are you’re getting ready to start your career. What cosplay outfit are you designing for yourself back then? Do that one first but then what’s something that you wish you’d known at 22 that you know for sure now but you wish you’d known back then?
The cosplay outfit I’m doing at 22 is Deckard from Blade Runner. The real work in that is putting the gun together and I can never find an off-the-shelf coat for it so I’d have to stitch that. I would want someone to be my Roy Batty, my big uber-mensch muscle dude but that’s what I would be building. What I wish I knew at 22, that’s the one I have to think about. Have you seen the movie Onward?
No. I shouldn’t say that. I could have watched a movie last night and I don’t remember the title.
It’s a Pixar film about magical elves who live in the modern day. Magic has faded from the world but this kid and his brother go on an adventure to bring magic back. It’s a great film. I cried my eyeballs out. It’s classic feel-good Pixar. It’s coming of age. One of the struggles that this kid is having was he’s sixteen and is about to take his driver’s test but he’s afraid of merging onto the highway. With the Pixar style, the highway is super intimidating and endless trucks are moving through. At some point in the adventure, his brother has been shrunk to the size of being able to sit on his shoulder by mistake.
It’s his big brother. The kid has to drive. There’s a crisis they have to move and he’s going up the on-ramp. You can see him squeezing his eyes shut. He goes, â€œI’m not ready.â€ His brother on his shoulder, in this little pipsqueak voice, goes, â€œYou’ll never be ready. Just do it.â€ He closes his eyes again and swings the wheel and heâ€™s able to merge. I will never forget that.
I have seen that movie. It was awesome.
It’s the unicorn van. â€œYou’ll never be ready. Just do it.â€ It is the advice that I would give my 22-year-old self, except my 22-year-old self would probably not believe it because everyone does such a good job of selling themselves as ready. We need to project confidence. I do this in investor meetings. â€œHere are the things we don’t have figured out but I’m confident we’ll figure them out.â€ I don’t know if we’ll figure them out. If I did, we’d already be IPO-d. This wouldn’t be an experimental thing. The idea that you need to feel ready or have it all figured out before you get started, I see holds so many people back, friends of mine, other founders and employees of mine. It’s the folks that I see who have to be smart and talented.
Everyone’s good at something. When you are motivated to do something, excited and ambitious about doing something but you are not ready, you have to let go of believing that everyone else who looks super ready and looks like they’ve got their act together, they’re putting on a good face. It’s bad form to announce to the world, â€œI have no idea what I’m doing,â€ but they’re not ready either. Nobody ever is. Just do it anyway.
I’m glad I finally remembered that scene from the movie too. He pops up and then there’s some woman on a motorbike that’s driving deck above.
Little pixies on a motorbike and pick a fight with him. Itâ€™s a great film.
Erik Fogg, the COO from ProdPerfect, MIT grad, thank you so much for sharing with us. I appreciate the time.
It was a ton of fun. Great questions, Cameron. I love your show. Thanks for having me on.
I appreciate it.