Sandy Visions

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I sit on the sand.

The slight breeze brushes the most precarious of formations. One grain tumbles, nudging a few others, a recursive Fibonacci cascade dampening to zero as quickly as it began — an ant-sized, blink-lengthed avalanche. It’s happening everywhere, three times a second, in the corners of perception, yet never where I happen to be currently fixated.

What appeared to be a static scene morphs infinitesimally, perpetually, unpredictably.

Each event improbable, yet collectively inevitable.

It’s an identical feeling when a new customer signs up, never more so than with that first-ever customer. What confluence of improbable events led to this?  Fed up with — what? — a person flaps despondently at Google, inside which ten million tumblers control the landscape of discovery and the fate of the transaction with an algorithm even its inventors could not manually recreate. The frustrated hunter, receiving no satisfaction from adverts, however strategically located and A/B-tested, nor from About.com, no matter how artful the collage of other people’s ideas, finds himself in a desperate flurry of tab-opening. Finding a website at position #7, a landing-page headline catching his attention for reasons he himself could not articulate, hovering over screenshots, eyebrows alternately raised at a clever feature and furrowed at the lack of a “hard requirement,” not completely dissatisfied with the “professional, yet approachable” About Us page, he takes the plunge, still too steamed over the wrongs imposed by his current Service Provider to worry himself too much over pricing, wrestling a company credit card from the fist of a gatekeeper, and successfully punching through a 40-digit payment questionnaire which assumes he’s guilty of fraud until proven innocent, and lo, a new customer is born.

Impossible, almost.

At WP Engine a series of events, different in detail but equal in incredulity, happens with the constancy of the sand-falls of the beach.  It’s just as magical today as it was the first time it happened.

Yes, magical. I tell my four-year-old daughter that magic is what you call something until you understand it. Has any business owner ever forgot her first customer? Did any amount of preparation or effort prevent that moment from being unbelievable, inscrutable, magic?

That first taste hooks you for life. It’s our drug. Tech founders often refuse to think of themselves as “sales people,” but it’s the first sale that’s most exhilarating, not the first feature. Each new customer is another hit off that pipe, none as sweet as the first. Then single hits aren’t enough and you need “biggest ever” to feel the rush, and we become slaves to the mantra of %MoM growth, then cajole more sophisticated metrics into acceptable ranges and trajectories, summoning ever greater and more abstract calculations to provide greater rushes that we collectively call “scale.”

We’re not wrong to obsess, so long as we obsess over customer happiness and employee happiness at least as much as self-serving financial ratios, trusting — as I do — that the formers are the most efficient and personally fulfilling path to the latter.

Even so, too often this right-minded obsession blocks us from an even greater calling.

To truly fulfill the promise of entrepreneurship and what we as founders can do for our customers, our communities, our employees, and yes our top and bottom lines, our visions must lift beyond the incremental metric and the hourly order rate. Those are necessary and just, but incomplete.

The biggest opportunity lies beyond. Where is the space for true innovation and exploration in a land of metrics optimization?  How do you realize you can move vertically when your compass measures only two dimensions?

I watch three crabs fight over a scrap of seaweed. A beach-full of seaweed — for a crab, infinite — but this one demands a skirmish.

Tomorrow I’ll return to the office, fighting the other crabs for seaweed, the wider beach forgotten, oblivious to the vast ocean beyond the surf, the foreign lands beyond the ocean, begging to be discovered, explored, won.

  • Stefano Tresca

    Jason you are becoming a poet :)

  • Brandi Young

    Oh my. Please, please, please tell me you write something equally as beautiful (sans the tech stuff) for your wife AT LEAST once a year! Stuff like this makes some people swoon. Just sayin’. Nicely written Jason.

  • http://www.aldoaguirre.com/ AldoAguirreG

    Who knew you had it in you? Great job, buddy.

  • http://www.cazoomi.com/ Clint Wilson

    I see sand in my near term future too:) “Yes, magical. I tell my four-year-old daughter that magic is what you call something until you understand it.”

    ~Clint
    @Cazoomi

  • http://www.groovehq.com/ Alex from Groove

    Awesome perspective, Jason. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, especially when things are so hectic, as they often are with growing companies. We fight crabs for seaweed all day, and this is a great reminder to step back and see all of the opportunities on the beach.

  • PatrickSmacchia

    Nice post Jason! It reflects pretty much my story. 1st Februrary 2007, I put online the first commercial version of my tool for developer. 2nd February first sales, the automatic order processing and license emission works fine. It was such an amazing moment, I’ll never forget!

    3 weeks pass, zero sales, ouch, I spent more than a year polishing a commercial version and eating pastas for nothing?! Last week of February 2007 => a dozens of licenses are sold during this week, some even packaged in multi-seats orders. My guess is that there was one super enthusiast developer somewhere waiting for the v2.0 commercial release (the tool was OSS before), and then some other enthusiasts that took the time for evaluation and/or got their purchase dpt loose time on order processing?? who knows??

    Today, we achieved several thousands of different companies clients, and each time … there is still a bit of magic in each order! I got used to not check sales emails 50 times a day, but I hope I’ll never get used to the tiny thrill feeling for each order :o)

  • http://patrickfoley.com/ Patrick Foley

    Nice to hear from your contemplative side. Hope you are refreshed!

  • Ella Smith

    superb..

  • http://sehabitat.com/ Ian Mason

    Well, this was a very enjoyable read!