I stopped calling myself a software developer several years ago. I’ve got a couple of technical degrees from Purdue University. I wrote code almost daily for the better part of a decade. But several years ago, I figured out there were better software developers out there that I could work with. That transition freed me up to do other things in my businesses that I also, surprisingly, enjoyed.
I miss a lot about not writing code every day but the thing I miss the most is the tight feedback loop it provides.
When you write code it generally goes like this: You’re tasked with a problem. You get a mental model of the problem and how you think you can solve it. That mental model is shaped by what code you already know how to write. So you start writing code. Rarely though does your current repository of coding knowledge solve the problem. The code has given you feedback. It said “this isn’t working.”
So you start doing some research. Maybe you type an error message into StackOverflow. Maybe you ask for help on your company’s Slack channel. Wherever it comes from, you’re able to adjust your mental model, type some new code, and then the code again gives you feedback on if the problem is solved.
When software developers really get into the zone this feedback loop can all happen within a matter of minutes but can continue to repeat itself for hours. It is amazing the amount of simultaneous learning and work that can happen during those times.
As I’ve taken to tackling problems that can’t be solved by code, I’ve found the feedback loop timeframes have lengthened. This is frustrating, but again, a challenge I enjoy.
As my software firm, DelMar, grew a large part of my job became project management. The feedback loop for those tasks went from minutes to days or even weeks. At our daily checkin with the development team or the weekly client briefing I would get feedback if we were on pace and if the client was happy with the progress.
Just a year into starting Little Engine Ventures, the feedback loop has grown to months or even years. Which means I’m doing a lot of things now that I can’t expect to know if they are working until several years from now.
In the first 12 months, I played a major role in sourcing about 400 company leads of which we invested in only six. When I started I wasn’t sure if the activities I was doing were sourcing enough or the right type of companies. But within a few months I started to figure out how to explain what investments we are were looking for in regards to industry, stage, valuation, and team. Every few months, I was able to to adjust and improve. I got better looks and my feedback loop tightened yet again.
For the next 12 months, I plan to focus on companies with longer histories. Daryl, Neil, and I have defined a focus area for myself that plays to my strengths. A B2B SaaS company with 15 or less employees and $1M in revenue is the bull’s eye of my target. Am I doing the right things to find them? We haven’t acquired one yet. My feedback loop is incomplete at this point.
What do you do when you have incomplete feedback and need to make a decision?
I seek out mentors who have traveled the road ahead. I use the term mentor very loosely. I don’t like formal mentorship programs. I’ve been involved in a couple on both sides (mentor and mentee) and they’ve always felt awkward and forced. I tend to buy a lot of coffees and lunches just to pick the brains of those more experienced. I try to pick a variety of folks for their various experiences and extract different viewpoints. Hanging around with Daryl more this last year also has me reading more. I’ve learned to think of this as a form of mentorship by the book’s author. I especially enjoy biographies about founders and growth.
I am seeking to tighten my feedback loop. This is an on-going process. The faster I can make my learn/work cycle, the better it will be for my partners and portfolio companies.