Category Archives: Change Management

Moving to US from Canada

Lets assume you get offered a job in the US and you live in Canada. You are a Canadian. This was my setup. I writing this to help other avoid some of the pitfalls that I have so far learned.

moving

Summary of the things

  1. The type of Visa will impact on your and your partners freedoms
  2. You need to prepare for the boarder crossing to get your Visa, make sure you have enough time – maybe a week
  3. You need somewhere to live – ask how its done
  4. Pay attention to the Exchange rate – learn what is about to happen
  5. You need a Bank Account – The Patriot Act in the US, means you need a residential address in the US
  6. You need a Social Security Number – You will need this for Credit Card, Internet, Electricity, Mobile
  7. To move your things or not – Get estimates on the weight and add 30%-50%
  8. Documentation from Homeland – having my Canadian Credit Score was helpful in securing that I was a respectable person looking for a new place to live
  9. Doctors Documentation – Get it all
  10. Budget – Health is about to cost you a LOT more. If you have a domestic partner a LOT LOT more – unless your new company covers this.
  11. Having no Credit Score will limit you in a lot of ways. Some rental places will not take you unless you have a Credit score and it will take a longtime for you to get a useful Credit card limit.

Things to negotiate in your employment process

One month apartment paid for by the new company.

This saves so much pain, as you immediately have a place of residency which allows you to open a bank account, it allows you to take time getting to know where you want to live and choose somewhere, rather then have to take something in a rush. It allows you transfer monies without getting completely screwed by the exchange rate. Really understand the Health care plan the company offers. I would suggest a meeting with their benefits person.

Ask for more vacation

There will be times you will need to go back to support your friends and family, some of these will not be breaks or times of rest. You could even ask for more for the first year only, and then drop down to a lower amount.

The Company pays for Immigration lawyers

Some will do this without question. But what is your path? H1BN Visa to Green Card?  If this is a place you want to really grow 3 years (e.g. TN Visa) may not be enough.

Apply for your Social Security Number

Your Social Security Number(SSN) acts as your unique identity in the US for taxes, and is also used by your employer and for most on-going services.

It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, if you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.

It can take up to 10 days for the information to be transferred from Homeland security to Social Security and then 2-3 weeks after that is processing time for Social Security – so this can take upto 5 weeks.

When you go to a Social Security Office, you need your passport (for identity and proof of age) and proof of Visa (the actual right to work). You will also need a place to send the social security card (this can be work or your living place).

Give it a couple of hours of free time, Social Security Offices are busy places.

Examples of what you need your SSN for

  1. Credit card
  2. Internet
  3. Electricity
  4. Phone

For both Electricity and Internet I had to go to physical stores (show identity) and I had to pay a “security fee” as my credit score was so low (actually non-existent). Because I was  a new customer to ComEd (Electricity) I had to pay an extra $20 per month for the first 18 months, which I will presumably get back when I leave (we’ll see about that).

Open a Bank Account

Choosing a bank account, I asked my future work colleagues and local friends what they thought. Chase came up a lot and their mobile app was very good.

You need a US residence first :

  1. You need a lease
  2. a letter stating you are living in a residence with signature stating you live there
  3. Some work places will let you use their address, some will give you an apartment for the first month, maybe make a friend, or get to know your new work colleagues really well.

Sometimes you need a Social Security Number, depends on the bank. You need to get open an account as soon as possible so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.

Exchange Rate

Man this sucked for the move, since I was still earning Canadian dollars and paying in US dollars. So my initial costs were really high:

7 December 2015
Foreign Currency Amount: USD 5,000.00
At a Rate of 1 CAD equals: USD 0.7361
CAD Cost Excl. Fees: CAD 6,792.56

I used Forex to transfer my money, my Bank in Canada does not do Wire Transfers. Forex gave a great exchange rate and only took 34 hours. That said it could take a lot longer.

I needed enough money for my rent, security deposit, and first two weeks living (until I got my first pay). Also for the places that wanted me to put a security deposit down due to a very low credit rating e.g. Credit Card, Electricity, Internet.

Somewhere to Live

This will depend on the market. In Chicago you get an Agent for free, who will take you around multiple apartments. They get half the first months rent from the landlord.

Exploring the neighbourhoods was a combination of asking all my friends in Chicago, book research, walking around them, looking at google maps and using the “Nearby” function.

My filters were within 45 mins walk from work, 5-10 from CTA (Train), good light, good kitchen and about 1000 sq ft.

I worked with two very different agents. Travis Smith from Homescout Realty and Warren Smith from Chicago Apartment Finders. Both were amazing and very different, this reflected in the places I saw. I saw 19 in all. It helped to get a sense of the areas in Chicago, and the prices.

Advice is to find out who which utilities. In Chicago heating and air conditioning is a big cost (it has cold winters and hot humid summers) so watch who pays for that. I was clear I only wanted buildings that paid for that.

The biggest problem I encountered here was getting the money to them. They wanted Cashiers cheques, now! I nearly lost a place because I did not realize how long it could take to wire money.

Transfer money from Canada to US

Movers

As soon as you are considering moving to the US, make sure you have home insurance for current address that covers your property during a move. Movers charge a ridiculous rate to insure your property. I found it very difficult to find a good third party moving insurance.

What does it cost to relocate?

  • Getting rid of things you will not take
  • Storage
  • Flights to explore and find a place
  • Accommodation whilst exploring
  • Extra weight baggage costs for the flight to move
  • Large number of deposits (because you have no credit score)
  • Moving Cost (See below)
  • Packing takes much longer then ever expected
  • Getting rid of things you can not take and replacing those things
  • Replacing thinks that get damaged in the move

Losing your stuff

You cannot ship a number of things to the US:

  • Alcohol – I gave it to friends. That was about $400.
  • Food – I had a lot of food which I gave away to friends. That was about $500 right there (I packed my spices and some tea into my luggage and that was it)
  • Any flammable things e.g. camping fuel

Movers will under estimate your weight

I got quotes from nine companies, three visited and estimated I had between 5,000 to 6,000 lbs. They gave me quotes based on this weight. You then end up signing a contract that basically the Movers are not responsible for anything. When my stuff was weighed it came out at 8,300 lbs. It felt like the movers deliberately underplay the weight to get you onboard and then sting you.

The Con of Shuttle Service

Shuttle Service is the biggest con from Movers. They cannot get the biggest truck to your front door so then they have to use a smaller one, and they charge you for this privilege (e.g. $1,000). They want to use the larger one so they can transport multiple houses and make more money at your expense.

Scrapping things

In hindsight I would rent a car for a couple days, so that I could get rid of things my friends would want. I used a combination of Facebook and Craigslist to get rid of a bunch of things. I had a lot of old electric things that I had to get to the right recycling place, a propane tank, plant pots, patio chairs, furniture that would not survive another long trip, books it was time to let go off. All of these places were really only accessible by car and the services that pickup up scrap end up being expensive and all the charities we could have donated to were either full up or had strict schedules for pickups which you needed to book weeks in advance.

Renters Insurance

Some places e.g. Chicago require it. I went with All State as they cover your property during moves. State Farm did not.

Bring things early

As soon as you know you are going to move, each time you fly out, bring things and pay for the extra case.  My work let me store a bunch of my RucSacs before I started.  I brought the things I knew I would need for my first month and other things that I did not want to trust to the Movers.

Prepare for a month

Of not having your things. No bed, no chairs, no table.. After sleeping on the floor for three weeks, we had a vacation at a Hotel.

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Buy Health Insurance

Do not mess around with this. Make sure you have enough travel insurance to cover you for at least 45-60 days while you get settled. Once you arrive, if you are in charge of purchasing your own health insurance within 2 months of moving there (otherwise the window closes and you have to wait until the following January). So make sure you get on this right away. At the same time you may want to bundle it up with your car, life, contents and personal umbrella liability insurance.

To note that most US Health Insurance plans will “charge” you for every use e.g. visiting the doctor, prescriptions.This is called co-pay. Different plans cover different things and have different percentages of co-pay. The more you pay per month, the lower your co-pay. But not matter how much your plan costs, the deductible is going to really high, usually in the thousands of dollars. So even if you get health insurance, make sure you have US dollars saved up to pay up to the deductible amount in case of a health emergency. Most US health policies are heavily reactive, they fix you when something goes wrong, and only cover a few preventative things, such as 1 annual check-up.  There will be no massages 😦

If you (or your family/domestic partner) can’t get health insurance through your work, and you don’t qualify for The Affordable Care Act (for as long as it will be around…), the best option seems to be Blue Cross Blue Shield. Give them a call rather than using the marketplace, and let them know what you’re looking for. They will explain to you what all the plans mean and are patient with people unfamiliar with the system. Be prepared to pay hundreds per month. My domestic partner’s insurance costs me $360/month (includes dental and 20% copay).

If work pays for your medical, health and dental – ask LOTS of questions on how much coverage, co-pay and liability you have. We found that our liability on our car insurance was super low, so we topped up and bought an additional umbrella policy. If you have wedding rings or major jewellery – bring your appraisal forms or else you need to get everything re-appraised again for insurance purposes.

Building a Credit Score

Nations do not share this information as where would be the profit in it for businesses if they did? You are legally in the US able to obtain your score once a year for free (there may be an admin charge 😉 ), but businesses are likely to make this “difficult” and slow. The fastest way to push up your credit score in the US is to get a “secured” Credit Card, spend often on it and pay off each spend ASAP.

How does a low credit score affect you? Essentially no organization will trust you:

  1. You will have to pay deposits on most services
  2. Some services are limited to people with good credit ratings
  3. Some services will charge you more
  4. You will have to physically visit stores to prove who you are
  5. Some apartments that you will want to rent will ask for a range of a credit score, so you may not be able to get them

Get a US Credit Card

Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a upto $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit score over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essentially to build a Credit Score. You will miss your old one.

You will need a SSN before, this is a requirement from the PATRIOT Act

TAX

If you’re a resident of Canada but work in the United States, the Canada-US Tax Treaty provides special rules to determine how you are taxed.

If you work full-time in the US on an income over $10,000 – You must pay US federal and, if applicable, state income tax in the United States on your US-source wages (income is sourced to the jurisdiction where the services are performed, not where you’re paid from). You will also have to report this income on your Canadian tax return. To avoid double taxation, you will generally be allowed to claim a foreign tax credit on your Canadian return for any tax you pay to the United States. You should note that the individual US states are not bound by the treaty. Therefore, even though you may be subject to an exemption from US federal tax under the treaty, there is no guarantee that you will not be subject to a state’s income tax.

You will have to sign a W8 form for every Financial Organization that you work with. The details from the Canada Revenue Agency are here.

Dual Status Alien- First Year Choice

If you are a Nonresident Alien who will become a Resident Alien under the Substantial Presence test in the year following this taxable year, you may elect to be treated as a Dual Status Alien for this taxable year and a Resident Alien for the next taxable year if you meet certain tests. Refer to the First Year Choice area, under Dual-Status Aliens, of Chapter 1 in Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.

Visas

I applied and got a TN Visa (part of the NAFTA Trade Agreement), for three years. This is not difficult to get if you are in the right job category, you have a degree and a job offer. Still use a lawyer.

Check the law and political environment i.e. anti immigration or pro immigration.  Understand it.

Your Partner on Visa

If you have a partner (married or domestic partner) you can get them an extended B2 Visa. A B2 Visa is a holiday visa which you automatically get when you visit the US. However, you are usually restricted to 6 months per year on the B2 visa. You can get it extended for   up to 1 year at a time (make sure you have print outs of all the documentation). Under the B2 Visa, your partner cannot study, work or volunteer. Once you arrive, you can begin the process of applying for an H1BN (where you are entered into a lottery). If you were to get it, it would make no difference from your perspective, but your spouse (doesn’t apply to domestic partners) could then work and study. A partner on B2 Visa cannot get a SSN, which limits what they can do e.g. phone, health insurance, utilities, credit cards, etc.  In some cases a TIN can be an alternative.

Emotional journey of leaving friends

Watching the emotional journey of your friends who actually like to spend time with you is sometimes painful. Some are excited for the new place to visit, some tell every reason why you should not go, some are just pissed off at you, some just shut you out. A lot of emotions like grieving. I love you too and will miss you much.

We do not free ourselves to move on to new adventures by cutting our ties with where we are now. Instead strengthen those roots and drag them through the deep earth with you to wherever you go. In your new place these roots will help you thrive and grow, creating and attracting the same wonderful things from where they came and this will sustain you and them.

Loneliness

You may notice that you miss your friends, the banter, the calling you out, the hugs.  You will feel it unless you are a sociopath.  This combined with your new colleagues think and feel slightly different, your colleagues will have a lot more culture references to bond over – these will make you feel the outsider more than once. Work to make real friends, find your tribe inside and outside of work, do not let yourself become isolated.  The first year will be exhausting, so take good breaks, refresh your soul in whatever manner that serves you.

Suggestions:

  1. Have a house warming party and invite the people you like from work
  2. Have multiple dinner parties (even if you order take out)
  3. Boardgames Nights

Housing – Why I am leaving Vancouver and going to the US

Vancouver - Falsecreek

My decision to leave was made with the following understandings: that if I stayed here I would be very unlikely to afford a place of my own, and that if I wanted to take my career to the next level I would need to work for a larger company than Vancouver houses. And with the exchange rate between Canada and US, it seems a perfect time to go to the US now.

This is my journey through reasoning why I am leaving Vancouver, BC. Of course I am not alone a Angus Reid Poll estimates that a staggering 150,000 struggling families are seriously thinking about moving away from Metro Vancouver to avoid the region’s housing costs and transportation issues.

Wages in Vancouver do not match the cost of housing

In Vancouver, BC the average wage is $76,805 per year — if you borrow three times your salary you can afford a place to live at $230,415. The average place to live in Vancouver on the other hand is $857,015. Globe & Mail reports that Vancouver is the worst place to live in Canada for difference between wages and Housing. Last year the Financial Post stated that Vancouver was the most expensive place in North America. The Demographia Housing Affordability Survey puts Vancouver, BC has the second most expensive place to buy a house behind Hong Kong.

In Vancouver, the Chinese have helped real estate prices double in the past 10 years.

Here’s how the Chinese send billions abroad to buy homes – Bloomberg Business Nov 2 1015

Controversial foreign ownership study is about money — not race: Vancouver planner
“Money is no longer connected to what you do and where you live”

In contrast, Vancouver median incomes remain among the lowest among Canadian cities, while home prices in the region are the highest in Canada. The way government structures are set up in Canada means that Canadian municipalities are relatively weak and rely on other levels of government to set policy. Business Vancouver Nov 6 2015

Shrinking housing sizes

What these figures do not show is the shrinking of the size of the place you can buy. So you could pay $500,000 for a 500 sq ft apartment. Most of the places built now have stupid small kitchens, which encourages people to eat out. What does all that salt do to your health? Let alone the psychologically impact of living in a box. I have no problem with density and I believe cities need to increase it, along with good transit.  That said, an apartment should to be liveable, it has to give moments of peace away from your work, and personally I want a good kitchen and somewhere I can share food with people.  The current builds are not good for people.

Down Payments on a Mortgage

I have spent most of my life working for the community, non-profits and Government. I have got by, but I do not have the savings for a house down payment, I have no family to inherit from or provide a financial security blanket. This has been my biggest barrier to buying a place.

You can get a mortgage with just 5% ($42,850.75 on the average place) of a down payment but you then need to pay mortgage insurance. Premiums can vary anywhere from 0.5% to 3.5%. A great way of taking more money from poorer people. If you have a deposit of 20% you need no mortgage insurance. So 20% of the average place $171,403 is what you need for a down payment.

The Have and Have nots

Toronto, Vancouver house prices still soaring, stats show
Benchmark detached home is $1.2M in Vancouver, while average detached runs $1.07M in Toronto

CBC Nov 5 2015

Of course one of the problems for access into the Housing market is everybody who owns a place does not want the housing market to dip, because they are making money off it. Collectively that is a lot of political power, money and votes. This from people who do not want it to get easier, if it hurts them.

In Canada it is also getting harder to borrow money even though the Interest rates are low. I have so many friends in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who have just given up the idea of owning a place in Vancouver. They are also torn by Vancouver being a beautiful place and they want to live here.

The Economic Divide – is it sexist?

It feel like we are about to reach a point where people will never be able to buy a place if they do not do it soon. Whilst this obviously hurts younger people, it also hurts people who work in lower incomes i.e. women and caring professions.

I have already lived (Cornwall, UK) in a place where teachers/nurses/non-profit/carers/government (still a much higher percentage of women), could not afford to live anywhere near where their jobs were based.  There the average house price was £500,000 and average salary was £16,500 pa in 2008.

Transit

Any good city needs Transit.  I have expressed my opinion on this in a previous blog post, when the City asked for more money (via Tax) to invest, Vancouver said no.

Beyond owning a place

The rest is my feeling and experience of the Vancouver job market after 8 years in multiple startups/technology companies.

Career Opportunities

In Vancouver there are fewer software jobs than about two years ago when there was a lot of more opportunities. The companies that are now looking for software engineers tend to be small and medium sized startups with fewer career opportunities for growth than larger corporations. That said, we have a few more global companies (e.g. Amazon) here than before, so it is possible the lack of jobs is due to the a depressed market now. With national figures showing Canada is currently in a recession, despite a recent job news showing an increase but these are mostly in the Public Administration, in Government.

I changed career after 20 years in campaigns/communications/marketing/public office/leadership/training as I felt the Vancouver market was very limited in these areas for someone in a senior position. I knew that to grow my career I would need to leave Vancouver and I was not ready to move, as I love this place.

This and my need to create again (my first degree was Computer Science, 1996) led me down a two year path of re-educating myself  (via BCIT evening courses and small web contracts) in software engineering with modern languages specifically for the web. With three years additional years of web development (in full time work) under my belt, I am in a similar position of wanting to grow my career.

Leadership Quality

In Vancouver, software leadership roles are generally promoted from within (few come with quality training for the internally promoted person to gain leadership skills) or some outside “star” usually from a US company, used to working at a much larger scale. In fact I can only think of one person who received their leadership training outside of the job — and they were my best leader. I have also worked with a lot of non-technical leaders which is a different kind of challenge.

In Vancouver in eight years I have had three leaders who have inspired me out of nine.  In the UK the ratio was higher, I think in part because of 360 degree Appraisals which are more common in UK, leading to a faster/tighter learning loop and higher leadership quality. It is possible my experiences have been unusual, and I simply been unlucky with my leadership in Canada. However, when I ask my friends how many of them had leaders who inspired them, most agree it is rare in Vancouver and that they had better experiences in Toronto/Waterloo/Ottawa. Other skills they shared they felt missing from ‘Leaders’ included giving feedback, risk management, change management, empathy and conflict management.

Training

In the Vancouver job market your learning is often self directed and more often self funded. Sometimes a company will have some money available but not much. One very Global company I worked for made it impossible to claim the so called 50% off Tuition costs. More European/US companies seriously invest in training and their leaders, the UK recognized this problem a couple years back and started investing in it, in every sector.

The irony is the Canadian Federal/BC Government has made available monies for training and whilst the program is not perfect — it does not recognize online training — not a lot of companies apply for it. There is also tax credits for official education institutions and even bootcamps now. Training and Conferences are something I have had to negotiate in my contract to get them in Canada. I would like to see this as more of an active partnership than what I have experienced here.

Pay

In the technology sector the pay is a lot lower compared to US cities.

Lets take http://www.payscale.com or http://www.glassdoor.com as a comparison. In Vancouver the average Senior Software Engineer would be paid CDN $ 89.214, in San Francisco it would be US $130,00, New York US $95,000. The big differences is not so much in base salary, but in the bonus which is often 10%-20% of your base salary and then shares gifted at again 10%-20% vesting over three years. These last two are not common in the Vancouver market. In fact few companies appear to share success in Vancouver. There are even a couple that claim to be startups, but are actually family business with no scheme to buy stocks or share the company’s profits.  Maybe they like the label startup, its good for marketing and recruitment.. and you can ask your people to work harder and longer.

An added bonus for working in the US is the current exchange rate whereby you would get an extra 20% to 30% when converting your US dollars into Canadian money. Taxes are also generally lower in the US.

BC & Company Benefits

A lot of small companies will do the minimal in terms of benefits and BC employment law (thanks to the BC Liberals) is so pathetic in compared to well everywhere, that some employers think they can get away with offering crappy benefits and they do.

And then there is 3 months wait for extended benefits, by some, not all Vancouver companies. Do they not care about the health of their new employees during the most stressful part of a job.  All of the companies I interviewed with in the US start extended on day 1. Still Canada has a better health care system then the US.

Cost of living

Ok lets not be blind here, you need more money to live in a bigger city. Using numbeo/expatisan it rates Vancouver 34% cheaper than San Francisco, or 23% cheaper than Chicago.  This seem greatly affected by exchanges rates, so I am sure they give me some indication but they are not entirely accurate.

Cost of living comparison between Vancouver, Canada and Chicago, Illinois, United States – Expatisan

  • Food 8% less
  • Housing 24% less
  • Clothes 12% less
  • Transportation 23% less
  • Personal Care 20% less
  • Entertainment 37% less
  • TOTAL 23% Vancouver is cheaper than Chicago

Numero comparison

  • Consumer Prices in Chicago, IL are 22.63% higher than in Vancouver
  • Consumer Prices Including Rent in Chicago, IL are 23.63% higher than in Vancouver
  • Rent Prices in Chicago, IL are 25.43% higher than in Vancouver
  • Restaurant Prices in Chicago, IL are 31.30% higher than in Vancouver
  • Groceries Prices in Chicago, IL are 23.89% higher than in Vancouver
  • Local Purchasing Power in Chicago, IL is 8.19% higher than in Vancouver

Healthcare

The United States is ranked No. 1 for most expensive healthcare per capita at $8,233. Conversely, Canada ranks No. 6 worldwide and is over $3,700 cheaper than the United States at $4,445 per capita, according to a 2012 OECD Health Data study using 2010 statistics. Americans pay over 17 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards healthcare while Canadians sit at about 11 per cent.

From what I can work out I will have to something like $100 to $180 a month to get a similar service to that in Canada, with the exception that serious stuff is paid for me after a ceiling but I am still paying a percentage. Where as in Canada serious stuff is part of our Health Care system.  If you have a domestic partner you will have to pay for health insurance for at the cost of $3,000 per year. If you are married, your companies health scheme would cover them at much less cost but roughly about an additional $1,600 to $2,000 per year depending on the scheme you chose.

Actual Work Culture

Every company I have worked for in Vancouver has “over sold” how good their culture is and made it sound like the best place on planet earth. They will rarely talk about the weaknesses and problems they are encountering, things they still need to fix. Maybe I am at fault here, I am from the UK and we are direct people, and not scared of conflict.

The companies I interviewed with in the US were a lot more honest about what they were good at and where they needed help. Their leaders were more vulnerable, something that engenders more trust in me.

Culture is formed from all the ways people communicate with each other, the more honesty the better.  And honesty should be matched with kindness.  How you start any human relationship for me says a lot, yes be proud but also be honest. You really get a sense of how good a culture is and how good the leadership is when you or the company fails in some fashion, what level of forgiveness is there? Also on the opposite side how does the company celebrate success? Values and Ethics matter.

Technical Challenge

Working for a company that is actually working at scale i.e. Billions of transactions versus Millions, is hard to find in Vancouver. A lot of the companies here are building a form of Marketing platform and/or B2B platform, often at a much smaller scale. Successful B2C is rarer in Vancouver.

In software you are out of date pretty much every three months, you have to love learning and I do.  I have built a number of “social media platforms” and job sites I want something more complex.

Relocation

I moved from the UK to Vancouver with a lot of stuff in 2008.  It is not cheap, there are many things to be careful of and the insurance can be a killer. Advice given to me specific to a US move is that the initial offers do not match the actual cost.  That technology is hard to move and expensive. And inventory everything.

Oh a really important thing to watch is they will give you an estimate based on what they think gas will charge. Then ding you for the actual amount when you arrive. And in some instances if you live where they can’t get the big moving truck and need to move items to a smaller one, they ding you with that too. Plus you need to be very careful with valuables. I think one friend ended up with an empty box instead of a playstation the last time she moved. And my move back to Chicago was $1000 more than quoted because of gas and miscellaneous charges.

Make them Saran Wrap all your furniture. All my furniture got nicked. Even though they paid for my insurance claim, I wasn’t about to replace my furniture so I just end up with ugly furniture.

Risks

If you go to the US there are a bunch of risks:

  1. There is no employment insurance for you in either countries
  2. Your TN Visa will expire and you will have 30 days to pack up and leave the country
  3. You pay double on Relocation, there and back again
  4. Trips home cost a lot more money
  5. If you have a Spouse or Partner they cannot earn money.. so what do they do? Do not under estimate this
  6. You have no credit score in the US and it will take months to a year to build one. Get a secured credit card ASAP.
  7. Consider how you will maintain your Canadian Credit score

The actual job that got me to move

A couple years ago I once met a guy at a software conference who was a mentor like me and was very passionate about his company. I liked him but he worked for a finance company that have a reputation of not being innovative (FinTech had not really kicked as a trendy thing).  A number of years later the same company started an apprenticeship scheme and posted it online on github so anybody could use it. Wow I thought they are a company to watch, it was smart, courageous and risky.  Another year that guy emailed me and asked if I could recommend any good software development managers. I did (not me).

I got contacted by a US recruiter (NeoHire North) looking to bring people from Canada.  We explored an opportunity together and I started to realize that maybe I could move to the US.  The TN Visa is simple enough you need a company that wants to sponsor you.  You can bring a spouse into the US with you or you could get a B2 Visa for Domestic partner that has to be renewed every year.

So I reached out to the guy and said, hey do you still need any Software Development Managers?  Yes we do.  Two Interviews were done over the phone and seven in person.

The thing that really struck me is I really liked the people, all of them and they were so different.  I asked them all the question “Why do you work here?” they all spoke with passion and vulnerability. In the end I had a number of opportunities both in Canada and the US, on the table. Whilst this company did not offer the best financial package, I wanted to work with these people, learn from them and help them be the best they can be. And the finial package is substantially better then anything I would be offered in Vancouver, and it means one day I will have a box that I can name as our own.

Emotional Journey

It fucking hurts to leave your friends, to leave the mountains, to leave the sea, and it is an exciting time in terms of Canadian Politics (I am hopeful that the Federal Liberals will do a good job and the BC NDP could revitalize BC).  The emotional journey of moving country/city is a hard one and should not be under estimated.

Is it over for me and Vancouver?

Maybe not, I hope given a number of years I will be smarter, wiser and better off. Then I could come back and share what I have learned and find somewhere to live.  That said, I fear if Government (Federal/Provincial and City) keeps ignoring the problem, not finding a way to collect data, to truly understand the problem and find a solution; then I will come back to find the situation much much worse. Then I will find a new home in Canada.

Brian Jackson (retiring City Planner) foresees no change in ever-upward pricing pressures on housing unless Ottawa shifts immigration policy or applies land purchase restrictions on foreigner buyers or the Bank of Canada hikes interest rates.

Retiring Vancouver city planner blasts ‘the haters’

Possible Housing Solutions?

In my time in Vancouver I have spent about $115,200 in rent over 8 years.  My biggest problem was having a downpayment. I will add more ideas to this as I learn more:

  • Make it easier to pull together the downpayment, maybe larger companies could help their employees
  • One idea I considered exploring was buying with a bunch of friends and living together
  • Have better building regulations in making Kitchens actually useful
  • Re-define what Government thinks is affordable

Checklist for moving to US from Canada

Apply for your Social Security Number – It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.

Open a Bank Account – Once you have a US mailing address and SSN, you should get to a bank and open an account so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.

Get a US Credit Card – Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essential to build a Credit Score.

Leading software engineers

A friend (non technical) recently asked me how I lead my dev team, he had led product and marketing before, so I have attempted to focus on the differences, that said good team leadership has commonality with all disciplines.

I currently have three software engineers, one IT/Dev OPs and one product designer (3 female and 3 male).  In the past I have led 23 teams. I will use this blog for my team to hold me to account 🙂

Casting Workbook Team

No Surprises

Being accountable for “no surprises” is the core. Where ever possible you should be accountable for all of the people that you work with, people should not be surprised by what you say, because you have already asked their opinion, maybe even evolved your thinking and they can see the process by which you went through to reach a decision.

It means more communication and more interaction with your people. It means you can be vulnerable. It means stepping outside of your “assigned” responsibility and forming relationships with all parts of your organization, and other organizations. Its about being connected, its about being a leader and a follower. It shows that people understand you and your core principles.  That you can be consistent and when you adapt they can see that to.

There are not things left unsaid, you are not passive aggressive or have control issues.

Being a Leader of context

The role you take on should change depending on the context.  Sometimes you are the coach, sometimes the mentor, sometimes the friend, sometimes a psychologist, sometimes the engineer, sometimes the product owner, sometimes the user advocate, sometimes the engineer advocate, sometimes the leadership context, sometimes the inspirer, sometimes the critic..  There are different leadership styles and yours should adapt.  In 2003, prior to my MBA this book really helped me step up my game The New Leaders: Transforming The Art Of Leadership Into The Science Of Results

You are the right person at the right time

Different places/ways to work

People are generally smarter/productive longer, when they can have different types of environments to work in and have multiple ways to express themselves.  Have multiple places that engineer can work in.  When I recruited my current team, I got the organization on board with the following:

  • Give the engineer a laptop
  • Have somewhere comfortable to work e.g. sofa, kitchen
  • Have somewhere serious/quiet with extra screen
  • Have somewhere they can stand up and code
  • Have somewhere outside if possible, natural light/fresh air is a great refresher
  • Make it possible to work remotely
  • That there are white boards for people to express, figure out a problem.

This is a good book if you want to really consider your culture and the way you work. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace.  Without doubt you should ask each team member what helps them concentrate, what distracts them, what they need to stay in the zone.  The obvious big one for many is a good set of headphones. Do not underestimate the quality of a good display also, anything at the quality of a Retina can reduce eye tiredness.

Different physical environments can refresh you, help you think bigger or focus. Be flexible.

Leave chunks of time to code

Engineers are generally more efficient if given chunks of time to code.  Thus have your meetings meetings near mornings or lunchtime.  To give several hours of interrupted research/code time.

  • Get engineers to block out their time on their calendars, so product/founders can book time when needed
  • Use an IM system to ask questions such as Slack or Skype during those chunks of time and do not expect a quick response

Developers need chunks of time to be left alone to get on and focus

Being a good human being

This means understanding each others needs and wants. Expectations both from the lead and engineer should not be hidden, things should not be left unsaid.  Sometimes we need processing time, to check in destructive emotion, but you should still tell that person how they made you feel. You should also be kind but not nice.

Both people should be able to be vulnerable with each other and trust each other.  You both need to avoid surprises.   This is done through good communication, which is not common and takes effort. This needs time together.

  • Feedback in the moment, always ask permission before giving feedback and make it about the behaviour you saw.  Do not assume intent, in fact assume positive intent. Give positive and negative feedback. Understand how each member likes to receive feedback. This is my slide deck from teaching my teams about feedback.
  • Weekly One to One checkins 10-30 mins, any fire issues? any smoking issues?
  • Monthly sit down at least one hour.  I have a list of questions to always go through, which we agree when we start together.
  • Allow others to lead, giving opportunities to members of your team to lead on a project/task whatever you do not need to be the boss of everything.
Question set for monthly
 
First conversation should be to agree the questions, here is a starting set.  They should based around the culture we wish to create and how we want to treat our people
  1. How are you feeling? Any hot issues we should talk about?
  2. How are you contributing to the company and your team?
  3. Are you a Team player? How are you involving others in your process?
  4. How are you growing/learning? Are we are helping your reach potential? Do you have mastery?
  5. What are your Technical Capabilities here? Where do you feel competent? 
  6. How are you helping the company grow and evolve?
  7. Are you Hungry? How productive are you? Are you taking inspired action?
  8. Do you have a friend here?
  9. Do you have a mentor or coach in the company? Are you coaching others?
  10. Do you want stay with the team and the company?
  11. What can can we do better as an employer/me as your leader/CEO?
  12. Do you feel you have Autonomy? Are there things stopping you doing your job?
  13. Do you feel you have Purpose? Do you understand what we are building and why?
  14. Are you contributing to the wider community? What can we do to help?

One to one, face to face is the highest bandwidth of communication

Your processes and system should evolve.

The way you do things should be Agile (as originally intended i.e. flexible and evolve NOT rules).  Agree a workflow together from product to engineer.  It should change and evolve to be right for the context.

  • When starting with a team, I will audit all current systems and ask for each members views privately on each tool/system/process, to ensure the less confident or shy people get their say
  • I will then have a team meeting to review what we need and what we like
  • Any team wide system change should involve all parties
  • Deadlines should have engineer involvement and not be dictated downwards

For example in my latest team we discussed the tools we wanted and we decided to use

  • Slack for IM
  • BaseCamp for idealization and research
  • Github for product/features/user stories and code/issue management – The way we used tags evolved several times.

Freedom to solve the actual problem

Sometimes Product/founders/Engineering leads may try to solve the problem in their way i.e. micromanage.  Giving the engineer the “code monkey” role of just coding to a very prescribed way i.e. an exacting feature.  Giving no space, to actually problem solve can be very limiting and create an environment where creativity and innovation are stifled i.e. the evil called micromanagement. Most humans do not like their freedom taken from them.  So find the the right balance between the organizations’ needs and the employees. That said some people like more structure, context matters.

  • Give space for engineers to solve the problem in their way. If you are already using Agile then you may evolve the story a couple times as users respond to the work.
  • Within the user stories/feature requirements do not limit.  Ensure you actual describe the problem you want solve, suggestion ideas/solutions but where possible do not dictate
  • Involve the team in talking about the features and discussing possible approaches, but the actual engineer who takes the feature gets to decide
  • Engineers should have some understanding of the customers. Ensure your engineers meet customers, and spend time with your Customer success/relations people.
  • Keep the engineer accountable for the response by users. Thus have good monitoring software and have a culture when engineer go back to check the real world implications of their work.

Micro Management is the evil of leadership, it kills creativity, innovation, trust, and growth. It can appear both in a manager and in the processes you impose on your people

A culture of science

Scientists experiment many times and fail many times and one day they get it right.  Encourage a culture of learning from mistakes not teasing/persecution which means encouraging experimentation and forgiveness.

  • Discussion should be based on logic in reference to code
  • Create an environment where people can I say “I do not know.. but here is an idea/feeling/instinct”
  • Call people out if they tease others about their failures or use it to argue they case in a discussion
  • Careful to not let irrelevant aspects enter into the discussion such as gender, race, age or sexuality. I say careful because humour can involve these but they should not sway discussions and the receiving of the humour should not be hurt.

Experimentation and failure should be Ok, team members should not “haze” each other. Leadership need to be able to move on

To build a team well, needs reflection and the teams involvement

The team needs time to connect as a team and evolve together as a team.  We have a book club where we talk about the teams performance in terms not related to code. How good are we at communicating:

  • Giving/receiving feedback
  • How do we react to others ideas?
  • Who do we go to help us through problems?
  • Who pair code with more often
  • How much do we know about each others strengths and weaknesses?
  • How vulnerable can we be with each other?

We used The Five Dysfunctions of a Team to kick start this conversation.  Every couple months we take time to talk about how a team we are in terms of communication. You need to invest in the actually team to have a team..

You need time for the team to talk about the team, spot weaknesses and evolve

 Ask your people how you are doing

“How am I doing?” should not be a hard question for you.  Ask it informally in your one to one monthlies and formally at least every 3 months.  The no surprise rule should be for all. It should be 360 your leaders, peers and your people.  Find out if people get what they want and what they need from you, in terms of communication, conflict/challenge, advice and performance.

You learn faster by other people telling you what you are doing right and wrong

Collaborating with your leader

Hopefully you chose your boss carefully when you were recruited into the organization.. but things evolve, so maybe that perfect person you went to work for, moved on.  I have found the best leaders are those who keeping growing i.e. they read about how to be a better leader, they can be vulnerable with you and you can talk openly.  When you make mistake your instinct is to tell your boss, when one of your team performs really well you never feel the need to take credit and generally you have no fear of your boss talking to your team.  If you do find the above hard, understand why.

  • Never underestimate the amount of time you will need for your leader
  • Know each others strengths, weaknesses and blind spots
  • Find those things you really enjoy about each other
  • Find those things that you find difficult and talk about them
  • Build strong relationships throughout the organization, ensure all find you approachable

Success in any organization is about working together and helping each other evolve

Adding to the team

Whilst you as the lead will drive this process, you should involve the team in the process. You should ensure everyone is trained and good at the interview process.  This may mean mock interviews, where your team interview you. Its worth noting that you do not want more clones, you need different types of people, skillsets, who sometimes will clash, but have the communication skills and reasoning capacity to grow from each other.

  • Be clear what the team is missing and what you need
  • Agree on what you are looking for both terms of technical and personality
  • Ensure the all those that are interviewing try out their questions, again no surprises
  • Have space for something social
  • The best interviews are like a great chat amongst friends about something technical
  • Personally I hire on communications skills, problem solving skills, learning capability and then current technical skills
  • I often look for potential as much as current craft capabilities
  • I do not hire more of me, I want diversity
  • If employing someone with less experience, be clear what the areas are and put in place a training program to fill those gaps.

I look for growth potential, hunger, curiosity, pro-active, problem solving capability, how they will add value to the team and how they will help the team evolve. Then I start start to consider technical experience.

Software engineers are great problem solvers

Sometimes we box people into a role.  Humans are so much more than their job title and job description. Most people are capable of applying their skills in other domains.  You have a problem, why not ask a software engineer?


I will keep adding to this blog as I learn.

Actions speak louder then words

A person, company, organization community can be judged on its actions and behaviours not its intents. Especially when the shit hits the fan. Its easy to be nice when the world is all good. Behaviours, the culture under stress shows the real capacity of the leadership.

the need to reflect on yourself

Mirror

I am a workaholic (I never feel I work hard enough), there used to be a few things that make me pause and force me to reflect such as illness, love, friends, mentors, etc. Sometimes these “interruptions” are random and infrequent and may not occur for several years.

Life has taught me to occasionally pause and consider who and where I am.

Every year now I review my life, I considering all aspects and what I need to change or not. At work they would call this a performance review.

You in the end, are the only person you have to live with throughout your life, you need to stay in touch and avoid too much drift. A little drift is good because it can allow you to reflect and consider new paths.

I use the following categories to help me breakdown what is important.

These are my personal ones that have change throughout my life, you may have different ones, over time you will find that they will evolve.

1. Love

Is there enough love my life in terms of relationships, friends and family? Are there people in my life that cost more then they give/gave? Am I giving enough to them? Do I Love myself? Does your “friend” spend more time talking about themselves then asking you how you are? Who helps you out when your are sick? Who calls you out on your stupidity? Of course these questions are reversible? e.g. are you a good friend to them?

2. Purpose

Am I working or playing towards something? Am I just floating? Am I happy with my level of progress?

3. Community

Am I giving back? Am I mentoring, teaching or helping others grow. Am I paying attention to politics and the communities needs?

4. Evolution

Am I still the same person or have I evolved? Am I growing and learning? Am I pushing the boundaries of my personality, my knowledge, and my skills. Is there enough challenge in my life?

5. Inspiration

Do I have muses? Do I have people? Books? Music? Arts? Games? Food? Is there something refreshing my soul? Do I have moments to explore or simply rest?

6. Health

Am I healthy? Do have the body that I want? Can it do the things I want? Do I eat as I should? Do I sleep as I should? Are you snappy with friends? Do you need time off?

7. Work

Do I enjoy it? Do I have a leader who inspires me? Does the organization value me? Am I able to use my core capabilities? Is the cost of working for them matched by the value I receive? Yes I give my work a performance review – are they what I need?

8. Finance

Do I have enough? Do I have plans for when things go wrong? Do I have saving goals/purposes.

9. My Drivers

Over time you will start to see patterns in your behaviours, things or people you prefer to be around.  It has helped me understand that I have certain drivers (some good and some not) for example I am incredibly curious, I want to know why, but do I spend too much time exploring/discovering and not acting?  There are things that I sometimes find difficult to manage e.g. being a workaholic do I make sure that I have enough rest and/or vacation, is my health good?; we are all better people to others when we are refreshed.

Making it real

Often I will draw a mind map for each (1-8) and then give it an overall score between 1 and 10. If it is lower then 5 I start to consider how to improve it, by adding things that could improve the score on my mind map on the edges.  I build an action plan for the next year e.g. If I do not have enough Love, should I meet new people, do I deepen the my relationships that are good for me, or do I remove people from my life.  After completing  all the mind maps I consider the bigger picture and the inter relationships between each mind map, e.g. could I kill two birds with one stone? Or is one so high and at the cost of others e.g. Work is at 9 but Love is at 2.

Then I will consider my drivers. Some of these drivers will clash with others, how are you managing that balance? I draw an illustration for each of my drivers and consider both the good and bad of each.

Then I again I will look at the connections between all (1-9).

This is the way I consider my life on an annual basis, you may have different things that matter, different drivers that push you. I urge you to discover who and where you are and how to make sure you are in control of your life, not too much control, but enough to be heading in the direction that you wish.

Becoming a leader of an organization

So recently someone I respect has being promoted to become a leader of an organization.  I want them to be successful, so I thought long and hard if I had some good advice that I could share. Was there a good book I could recommend? Or a video?

I own about 60 books on leadership excluding the MBA stuff.  There was one that I kept coming back to me, it was a book I first read when I had just being elected to office and became the cabinet member for Cornwall County Council (UK) as Community & Culture “Minister”. This role was a real step up for me in terms of budget (71 million) and staff (over 440 spread out over many locations), where there was often upto 4 leaders between me and the frontline staff.

Eric Brooke newly elected to the cabinet of Cornwall County Council 2005

Eric Brooke newly elected to the cabinet of Cornwall County Council 2005

The Best Place to Work by Ron Friedman

A good book for those who wish to improve their workplace. Provides a lot of evidence e.g. psychology studies and crafts them into a compelling narrative. The actions at the end of each chapter are a usefu summaryl.

A lot to learn here for all leaders and those who wish to be leaders. And maybe even for progressive trade unionists. And of course for people who would rather improve their workplace, rather than complain about it!

The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell by Oren Harari

This book not only had a lot of wisdom in it, that we often take for granted and thus forget.  I think the best kind of leadership book is one you walk away from and think/feel I want to be led by this person.  And to make it even better I know now how I can ‘upgrade’ myself to replicate this over time.

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them”

In the end the leaders behaviour will create a culture, so the book and video I recommended were as much about context (i.e. of this new leaders organisation, and its culture).

Another choice was the video by Simon Sinek, Start with the Why

This video ties into the need to inspire and effective leadership is about inspiration not overt control.

The book The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, had a number of factors I needed, it is written by a women who is also Canadian and the stories come from other industry sectors. Context is everything.

“Permission to dream is also permission to fail”

A book I found useful early in my career was The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman (he also wrote Emotional Intelligence).  It was this book that showed me on reflection, the different leadership styles you will apply e.g. command and control has its place, depending on the context.  It was also the book that helped to delegate with trust when moving into middle management.

Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion an inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through emotions..

 

There is a great TED video -> As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify by Yves Morieux

Suddenly it becomes in my interest to be transparent on my real weaknesses, my real forecast, because I know I will not be blamed if I fail, but if I fail to help or ask for help.

 

The last book is produced by CEO of the company with probably the best customer service on the planet. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh journeys through time and a mans’ growth in understanding importance of leadership behaviours and their impact on the staff and thus the organisations’ culture.

Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded

My last couple thoughts come from experience:

  • That leadership is as much about vulnerability, as it is about confidence – see Brené Browns TED Video
  • That followers choose who inspires and leads them rather then manages and controls them
  • That women leaders are often better coaches then males, but the often to do not “give” territory for their coachees to succeed in.
  • That “rebels” can often be bright people who are bored, give them something to do, they could become your greatest innovators

Finally leadership is a skill that you will never master, so expect to fail, maybe even plan for it, that said we often “love” rather than just respect the leaders more who have failed and have come back to succeed.

Choosing a name for your startup

Through my marketing career I have helped companies name themselves and their products.  Each journey is unique, sometimes it is quick and sometimes not, it should not be rushed. More recently I have helped out a couple tech startups, think this through. Here are my insights from the perspective of a startup or small business. I will assume you do not have a large advertising budget to educate your consumers or users.

The strongest names tend to be:

  • Unique
  • Easy to say(pronounce) and easy to write(spell)
  • Easy to understand
  • They tend to reflect Values or Benefits of the product not features, not sure of what FBV are? Look here
  • Have emotion as they describe inherit values
  • They may use words, with inherent trust in them, or coming a mythology already in place
  • They may be counter-culture, to rest of their sector
  • At least one noun
Bad names:
  • incorrect spelling
  • acronyms
  • boring
  • based on the latest trend
  • swear words
  • when using two words or more there is an inequality in the power of the words
  • adverbs

Things that do not matter:

Too many companies choose names based on what is available on the web.  URL vs Google search – in my humble opinion people rarely type in the URL bar, but instead will type the company name straight into their search engine (Google, Bing or Yahoo).

Corporate or product naming

Corporate branding – about the values, behaviours and thus culture of your organization.  So that you can attract the right talent to your organization.  In Simon Sineks’ book Start with the Why – people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it

Product branding – All about your customers and their needs/desires.

An example from a startup weekend (54 hours – No talk, all action):

We wanted to build a tele-presence (e.g. you could control it from a web browser) robot (on wheels, inductive charging and video camera) that people were comfortable with having in their home, it would either check to see if their pet was ok, used to communicate with tech-phobic granny or sweep the house to see if all was good.  We felt the biggest market was to look after or checkin on either pets or grannies, our price point was $300. Women cared most. So I went to a dog park to see if small dog owners in apartment block inner cities would be interested.  There were more women the first morning, all small dogs, about half could not get home to check their pet at lunchtime and would then rush home after work.  They said “I would love to check-in with Frankly, he is so cute”. The term check-in appeared a lot in conversation.  However they did not like the idea of a robot, it felt too un-organic, but one suggestion was “well if it looked like a bear that would be cool.  So I started asking what animals people liked.. They seemed to reflect the movies of the time so, chicken, panda, penguin and monkeys.. so it made sense to call it ANIMAL + CHECKIN.  So I tried Chicken Checkin – people reacted with a surprise and then a smile (That is good). This played well with the audience would buy it for their grandmother as well (the grand daughters using their own or mothers money for their grand mother). I then used animal names people wanted most on the higher price scale, aspiration and all that. Chicken checkin as the cheapest base model, Chatty Panda for the good model (two way video conferencing) and periscope penguin (extendable neck – kitchen counter).

One other thing I knew the leading competitors at the start-up weekend – one was being led by a local Venture capitalist on home security – so i was guessing they would be going for rational proposition, a touch of fear (of home invasion), republican and money.  Another competitor was being led by a local Angel – another way to give money to homeless people, so very emotional, democrat, and fair.  In terms of name and brand I was looking for humour, clarity, independent, emotional but tying into common sense.  Essentially I was ensuring we would portray something very different in the pitch, not just in product but in style. It worked to a degree we won best presentation.

You can read the start weekend post here.

The importance of emotion

Every word comes with a meaning to a person, it may even not be about the word but the letters used.  They may not or love the name simply because of their history. People always come with baggage.

Literal versus abstract names – its on a scale

Personally I believe the more literal the name, the less education(marketing) will be needed for people to place you. And it is important(why psychology and memory) for people to be able to place/position you if you want mass market rather than just visionary buyers.

Comparisons

How would you choose a child’s name? Why do certain names mean more than others? We have a surprisingly amount of prejudices/emotion based on human names, often based on the first person we met with that name

Process

If you are finding difficult here is a process that may help you discover the name. This journey may help you explore more than just your name but your whole business. Its important to keep it separate from the design process.

Stage One: Research

  • Know your shit – the business, the sector, the competition
  • Know your values – a process in its self, which should really involve others
  • Research your stakeholders – Porters five forces (Customers, Suppliers, Competition, New Entrants, Substitutes)
  • Choose a perspective (Who are the first set of customers you want onboard, who will champion your cause – what is their psychological makeup? What words do they like and use)
  • Your name is not alone – Type, colours, logo – will add clues to what you are about and can dramatically change the way words are perceived.

Stage Two: Get past the NOW

Sometimes people are so fixed about their idea, filter and prejudices that they cannot see clearly.  As the startup journey is very often emotional, it can cloud us from ration thought, which can be helpful.  That said a good name depends on having a strong emotional connection.

First Impressions

Get your team together and put the following questions on flip chart paper – give everyone post-it notes and a felt tip (it limiteds the number of words used) and describe:

Q1 – What do you(the organsation) do?

Q2 – How does your consumer/user benefit?

Q3 – What do you change in your consumer?

Q4 – Why are you unique? This one tends to get more bullshit answers than the others, be honest.

Q5 – What are your values and how does this reflect in behaviours and product/services? (If you are seeking actual behaviours then your values are not a reality, yet..) You should know this BEFORE you consider your name.

Everyone gets to put up there own views, no filtering or founder bullying.  Each idea should be discussed (people can keep adding) and grown. Brainstorming – not sure how? Have a look here.

Stage Three: Record the journey

Reserve a lot of wall space..

The Wall of Names – somewhere there should a wall of ideas, post-it notes with names, all are valid ideas. Each person would try to grow each idea, or help it down the evolutionary ladder. The more people you allow into the process the more ideas you will get.  This wall is not limited to words , pictures, sketches and photos are equally good.

The Wall of Customers (for product name) – the same as above but describes the customers you want. Their personalities, their drivers, fashion, music, everything

The Wall of Talent (for corporate name) – What are the types of people you want to attract? We all want smart people to work for us. But what kind of smartness? At a small business level your talent will be limited by the personality of the founder/leader. The unaware founder will want lots of people like them, but with different capabilities. The smart founder will be looking for different types of personalities as building a team is often about weaving, very different people together (as they all have different perspectives and will be able to see different problems and solutions).

Stage Four: Step out of your space

A fair degree of innovation comes from looking at other people doing other things, in other places and seeking what we can learn from them.  In part this happens so often that Michael Porter had two elements (Threat of New Entrants and Threat of Substitutes) in his Porters Five forces model to account for people who can come from another sector and replace what you are doing e.g. Apple taking over music and in part mobile.

Look at other organizations in other sectors (not your own) – which organization would you want to be from any sector profit, non-profit or governmental.  You are looking for the organizations that you admire and would like to emulate in some way.  For each organization breakdown why you like them, into values, people, products/services, get a little deep here, you are trying to truly see past the marketing/propaganda to see how they are connecting with you.

Unique possibilities

After you have reviewed the organizations consider what does not occur in your sector that already exists in another.

Stage Five: Deciding

Choosing a name is not an easy process.  Some people start with code names e.g. Project ALPHA, so they can just label it. Labelling is important for most humans.  If you are on a timescale I would suggest taking everyone out of work to start the above process, allow for no distractions, if possible get an independent to help facilitate the session.  They will concentrate on getting the best out of people in terms of ideas.  What ever you do always sleep on it.  The brain generally does some amazing stuff whilst you are asleep.

Names are like falling in love, you know it.  This can take time. Everyone will feel it.  That said even after choosing you may have doubts, thats ok.

The advocate – you will need at least one person to love the idea and explore its possibilities. Without a true advocate you do not have a good name.

Good places to think about it – Road Trip (with the team, not alone) you are together but in the real world with different stimulations, walk around a shopping mall, go to a conference about something you know nothing about, read an autobiography of someone with a completely different life to you. Lack of sleep can help 🙂 Expose yourself to different forms of stimulation.

Good books

These books are not directly related, but each has taught me something with naming:

Sticky Wisdom – Understanding and growing creative cultures

Eating the Big Fish – About branding when you are the punk on the block

How to have Kick-Ass Ideas – Shake it up

Visual Meetings

Logo Design love

If you want to deeper into branding here are a couple other reccomendations

Designing Brand Identity 

Brand Sense

Brand Portfolio Strategy

I welcome your thoughts and experiences.  Where did your names come from?  What are your favourite names?

A journey through design thinking..

Over the last couple years I have being considering design in terms of my startup Professional You.  We are working on something that will have a large amount of complex data in our system and that needs to be easy to access and manipulate.

In my life, design started with Technical drawing at school as child.  It than evolved in basic computer games later at school. However it was PageMaker and Quark Xpress both in their first versions that got me really into thinking about what I was creating and the process.  I still have this amazing book called ‘One Minute Designer’ by Roger C. Parker that was an amazing help to get me started. This lead me to training professional typesetters how to use the first Desktop Publishing software.

Later in life I took on a computer science degree and studied system design and UX at University which helped me to understand some more of the language and concepts. During my placement year I created with a partner a business to help businesses upgrade their paper based systems to electronic ones particularly Finance and Admin systems.  It taught me a lot about change management and the direct impact on people that systems have, thus my design and process became very people aware.

So back to the present, 19 years of marketing later…To help me with startup, which I can visualize entirely in my head I decided to absorbed some books:

  1. Head First Web Design – Ethan Watrall
  2. Design Interfaces – Jenifer Tidwell
  3. Universal Principles of Design – William Lidwell
  4. Designing Web Navigation – James Kalbach
During this part of the journey I bumped into an amazing book which takes rational concepts and made them very visually meaningful. It taught me how powerful effective design can be.
  • Business Model Generation – Alexander Osterwalder
Yet still my greatest frustration was now I understood the concepts but could not actually create them.  So I took an Introduction to Drawing course at (VanArts) and I learnt a lot with many of the Betty Edward books supporting my class learning.
  1. The new Drawing on the right side of the brain – Betty Edward
  2. Color – Betty Edward
  3. Basic Perspective Drawing – John Montague
Yet this still was not enough, I want to CREATE!  So off to college I go again this time BCIT to refresh my software coding skills. Completing my first course with 98.5% grade.  I loved it (you can tell by the grade) because it was leading me down a path where I could create 🙂
Ok so that is the introduction!  What got really thinking was a linkedin group I joined called Design Thinking and a conference they held recently in Vancouver, BC. The conference was really something, which I have yet to fully process.  But it was very good and had a lot of interesting people.   Somehow I ended up running a session on what should a Design Thinking Manifesto look like, my initial concept came from the Agile Thinking Manifesto.
We in the session revealed the values and the principles that should be a part of it.. Come join the discussion on the linkedin group and you can see the work we created here.
What I have learned from this journey so far:
  1. Is that there is value in iteration and striving for perfection can lead you down a rabbit hole
  2. Practice, practice, practice
  3. Working and playing with good people refreshes the souls and is fun
  4. Combining the words design and thinking implies there is a process that it is more than just intuition.
  5. Good design thinking involves engaging both the rational and the emotional parts of your mind.
  6. That you need to be able to take criticism and other points of view.
  7. That you have to have some part of you that enjoys turning chaos into order
  8. That your audience may not think and feel as you do
  9. That you should never stay still and need to bounce between what is safe and what makes you sacred
  10. That there needs to be story behind it a consistency of your journey
  11. That ‘pure’ design is elegant and more often occurs in nature than in human creation
  12. Simplicity and complexity can both be beautiful
  13. That whilst we admire perfection we don’t trust it
  14. Engage the users early and often
 There are more books involved in this journey which can be found here.