Thanks for tuning in.
I’m Ben Aston and this is The Digital Project Manager Podcast.
As project managers, we masters of getting stuff done, but what are the tricks for getting more stuff done and, that stuff that we getting done, getting it done, better.
Today, I am joined by Cedric Waldburg.
Cedric, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Thank you for having me Ben.
I am glad to be here.
Let me tell you a bit about Cedric.
He’s an interesting guy to talk to, from a project management perspective because he somehow manages to do a lot of stuff.
He founded his first company when he was 14. He’s built various tech companies. He’s invested in lots more and he currently works on a productivity start up. Which is why he is here today, called Sendtask which we will be talking about shortly.
He’s involved in all kinds of interesting companies including crypto currency but he also interestingly spreads his time across lots of different places. He doesn’t have an apartment anymore, and he claims to only have 64 things. Which, you can read about on his blog, sixtyfourthings.com.
I am really going to be picking Cedric’s brain today on how to get more stuff done, and I think as project managers, this is a really important thing for us to get hold of and master because there never seems to be enough time to do everything.
Before we dive into that, Cedric, why don’t we find out a bit more about you. Can you tell us what your story is? I kind of gave an overview there of you starting your first company at 14 but how is it that you’re doing what you doing right now?
You already mentioned that I started my first company early on. I think ever since then I’ve been infected with the start up bug. I’m fascinated with the process of building a company and super interested in de constructing this process of “how am I going to get from an idea that I had at the bar last night” to one million. One million could mean one million users, or one million packages shipped or a million revenue.
This process just fascinates me so much that I’ve optimized a lot of things in my life to be part of many different companies and just try to de construct that process as often and in as many scenarios as possible.
So, have you got any sneaky ideas? What ideas did you have at the bar last night?
This is a special week. I am actually doing air force service in the Swiss Air Force right now.
I am just amazed by how many inefficiencies I see every week that I spend here. So, plenty of ideas on how to do things.
Cool, so you … You’ve got your …You doing lots of different things but what do you … And you talk about flying round the place, not actually living anywhere in particular but what do you actually do?
I know you travel. I know you involved, but what’s the kind of extent of your involvement? When you go from place to place, what are you doing?
Yeah, so right now there’s three companies that I’m working on. I spend about 50% of my time on Sendtask, the productivity tool. That one is completely distributed, so we don’t even have an office with that company.
The other two companies, the crypto currency and the computer vision company, they have offices in the US and in Europe. So just to meet those teams I hit Berlin, Zurich, Miami and San Francisco quite often.
Then in between that, there’s conferences that I go to or sometimes also just fun trips. I’ve organized my life so I can work from anywhere. Sometimes I also just choose to be somewhere and spend time with a friend that I haven’t seen in a while and work from that place.
Sounds fun, but tell me what is a computer vision company? What is computer vision?
Yeah, so what we do is, we’ve written an algorithm that analyzes images that come from cameras. We use it to help bars to analyze transactions and match the record we get from the POS system to detect fraud. We basically building a “google analytics” for bars.
For bars and restaurants, yeah.
Okay, and what can people do with these insights? So they can work out the likelihood of someone … or how, how much time they’ll spend at a table, how much money they’ll spend, that kind of things?
The biggest use case right now is that … And we’ve discovered this a few years ago … Because one of my co founders was in the bar and restaurant space. He managed a bar before and what he saw is that, you would typically lose between ten and 25% of your revenue, just because drinks are not being rung up properly.
Now, some of this is just fraud or people stealing your money. Other times it’s just forgotten. It’s a pretty big problem if the average American bar does about four million dollars in annual revenue. So, you lose between half a million and a million dollars per year and as you can imagine with a problem this big, there’s many solutions.
There’s people putting RF id chips on bottles or even weight scales underneath each bottle. There’s services that send people into your bar to just watch your staff, but it’s all not very elegant and it’s a big financial effort to implement these systems.
Whereas, for us, we just plug into the security cameras that you usually already have and we use our software to cut down from a two hour long video covering a shift to just 50 images that capture when a transaction actually happens. So, when a beer, a coke, was actually handed out and then we automatically also match that to your point of sale system.
The next day you get a report saying, hey last night we saw 500 transactions and 100 of them could not be properly linked to the POS system, so you should check in with these employees and look at these transactions and see if you can train them better to reduce this rate of false transactions.
Fancy stuff. That sounds interesting. That’s one of the companies.
Is that … That’s not one of them that you spending lots of your time on now, or it is?
It is, yeah. That’s one of the three. Its called Glimpse.
That one and the crypto currency, Definity, is where I spend half my time and the other half I spend on Sendtask.
I’m interested in crypto currencies, as everyone seems to be this year. With Bitcoin hitting ten thousand dollars.
Where do you fit into that? It seems like there’s a new crypto currency about to be released every day. Everyone is jumping on board now. So, what are you guys doing exactly?
Yeah, so, what we doing is, we building a new block chain. Which is, a lot of new currencies that you see coming up are tokens that you see being released day by day.
A lot of them are just ethereal yerrese, meaning they all build on top of Ethereum. Which is great, because Ethereum provides you with this capability to create smart contracts and do a lot of stuff on the Ethereum ecosystem.
What we building is completely separate blockchain. It’s for building a much faster and more scalable version of Ethereum. One way to look at it is that, in Ethereum it takes you about 15 minutes to get to finality. Meaning, that you are certain that the transaction actually went through. There’s a few blocks after the one that your transaction was recorded, that takes about 15 minutes on Ethereum.
If you think about it, its not very practical. If you doing that … if you paying for something in Ethereum in a store or some other real life situation.
In our system, if we not using proof of worth, we using proof of stake, which is a different consensus mechanism. It only takes zero point nine seconds to get to finality.
So, what’s proof of stake then? How does that work?
Proof of stake means, a new block is not found by solving all these math riddles that current proof of worth algorithms use but by putting up some of your money and then using an algorithm to determine who gets to create the next block.
We do that by something that we call, threshold relay. Which is, we basically found a way to create randomly numbers in a distributed, decentralized setup and choose some clients randomly who are then picked to create the next block and get rewarded for that.
I know the whole challenge around that, the backlog of transactions on Bitcoin, slowing things down and then the forking that was going to happen, that now isn’t happening. Obviously, that impacts performance.
It will be interesting to see what happens with crypto currencies over the next couple of years but it seems like in this, just the past few months, it’s insane what’s going on.
Do you think it’s a bubble? Or what do you think is going to happen? What’s your prediction?
I think it’s very hard to say what the actual value for Bitcoin is. There’s just no counterpart in the real world.
I think there’s definitely … Like one example that tells me that now it’s hitting mainstream, is one of the companies that I’m invested in is the largest e-commerce site for sex toys in Switzerland. Up until about six or nine months ago, when I met friends, that company was usually the one that got the most interest. Everyone wanted to know, what’s new on the market and what works how.
Now, it’s all about crypto. Just the fact that crypto is so much more interesting and catches people’s attention more than sex toys, tells me a lot about how big the attention is. That this space is having now.
Yeah. Fun stuff.
So, you going around. You working with these different companies but what’s your role within them? What are the kind of challenges that you are dealing with in your different start ups that you working with?
For some tasks, I am the sole founder, CEO, CTO and I have a lot of different, I am wearing a lot of different hats.
For the other two, I am more of a COO. Type of founder, so I have someone who runs the day to day, but I help out with the organization. Helping them build processes and keeping everyone on the same page.
For a lot of years I thought it was a big dilemma, that I am not able to focus. I am just too curious. I can’t focus on just one company for some reason. For a long time, it’s been a struggle but then recently, what I’ve realized is that, what it forces me to do, is work on the companies and not in the companies so much.
By that, what I mean is like really focus on building the right processes for other people to execute and creating the environment that allows other people to be most efficient.
For example, for Sendtask, being CEO for me means only two things. One is, I am kind of setting up the guidelines and keeping everyone aligned with our general vision and the other job is making sure everyone has all the tools and processes and the environment that they need to be most effective.
That’s basically my only two tasks, which is still a lot. Focusing on just that really helps me scale the company really well because I don’t involve myself in the day to day processes so much.
Interesting. So, how do you manage everything? How do you keep track of being involved in three different companies like right now and you trying to create these frameworks for the companies to succeed?
What’s in your toolkit? How do you keep track of everything that you doing?
Yep, because the companies are kind of spread out between being San Francisco, Miami, Zurich and Berlin there’s also a lot of time differences.
About two years ago I realized I need to become really good at a synchronically with people. Meaning, just because of the timezone differences, it’s hard to get people on the phone some times.
I use mainly two tools, I think, with the teams. One is Slack, which I think is phenomenal. It’s a lot of fun to work with Slack and it great to stay in touch with people all around the globe. The other tool that I of course use very often is Sendtask.
We’ve connected the two of them. We’ve built a Slack integration for Sendtask. So, just briefly, Sendtask is shared task manager, so it allows you to keep track of your tasks and priorities. What we’ve seen it the past before we had Sendtask is that very often in Slack, we would discuss a problem or a feature or a customer’s feedback, and we would come to a conclusion but then the conversation kind of died there.
Or, sometimes two people would put it on their to do list but very often it was not cleared, like who’s going to work on it. Who’s going to resolve this issue?
What we’ve built with Sendtask is a simple integration with Slack where you can just say “slash Sendtask, hey Ben can you please send me that or can you please build that feature until next Wednesday.” Then from that Sendtask automatically creates a task that’s assigned to you and has the right due dates for next Wednesday and the right title and provides you with a link to go back into that conversation to find all the details.
That’s been really helpful and those are the two main tools, I think that help me keep on track and on the same page with the teams.
Of course so, then how big are your teams then on Sendtask? I’m intrigued with what you’ve built.
Project management, you’ve focusing on task management. There’s loads of them out there. Tell me about your team that you’ve got working Sendtask?
The Sendtask team right now is eleven people, in ten different countries. We got started in February. We’ve released our first, Beta or Alpha product, the month after. In March this year. We just released an IOS app. We close to releasing the android app.
We all about lean processes and getting stuff out. Testing it with real customers and real users and then improving quickly. Most of these people have a technology background, so a lot of us are developers. Then we also have someone who helps us with content, writing and of course design and user experience.
What made you … I get the idea of distributed teams but in my experience it can be challenging and what you’re describing sounds crazy to me.
You have a team of eleven people in ten different countries and how many different times zones? That must be at least three. What made you choose to work in this distributed way?
We started building Sendtask when I was already traveling a lot. When I realized that I wanted to start this company, I asked myself where do I set it up because I am never in the same place for too long anyway.
I thought maybe it’s an … It could be a cool experiment to see if I can transfer my personal lifestyle, which is living without the flat or constant apartment or a constant home. To see how that can be transferred into how to build a company. Meaning, a company without an office.
There’s obviously a lot of down sides and up sides. I think the down sides are it’s a bit harder to keep everyone on the same page. You need to build processes to stay in touch and also see people from time to time.
There’s also a lot of up sides. One of them being that everyone can be extremely flexible with their work hours. So we don’t require people to start at eight and finish at five. That’s something that I’ve learnt when I was working as a software developer, is that sometimes I just don’t feel productive in the morning but I get very productive from 2PM to 2AM.
So I feel like I want to give people a chance to work when they are most productive and be flexible with their time. On the other hand it gives us a great opportunity to hire the best talent from anywhere.
Whereas, if I am hiring in Berlin or Zurich or Miami or even San Francisco, there’s always … The talent pool is much smaller than if I can just hire from plus minus three time zones.
So, how many timezones are you working across?
I think it’s five right now. Not counting mine, which changes every few days.
How do you … Do you even do things like daily scrums or weekly meetings. What’s the kind of cadence of your … getting everyone aligned and meeting together?
It starts with us meeting every 90 days. So once a quarter we bring people together because I think building a company is very much about the company you building it with. Meaning, the people behind it.
You can have the greatest processes in the world. I think in the end I think it always comes down to how people get along with each other and aligning everyone.
We do fly everyone to the same location like once a quarter. Every 90 days and what we do … We use that week to:
A – to team building. To get to know each other outside of work and create some fun experiences
We also use that time to think about the tough and hard problems that come up in our business. So, what is Sendtask? Who is our target customer? Stuff like this.
Towards the end, the last two days we usually use to lay out the road map for the next 90 days until we get together again.
We clear bi weekly mind stills to clear what everybody is going to be working on and then when everyone goes back to where they work from, it allows us to be super efficient with very little synchronized communications. We only get on a call once a week for about 45 minutes where we discuss updates and we call them talking points.
Basically, stuff that people think are better handled talking to each other than in writing. We also use that call for a bit of fun. Usually at the end we solve a riddle together.
We all very passionate about creative problem solving and like tough problems. So, every week someone else presents a riddle for the whole group and tries to make it as difficult as possible. We’ve got pretty good at it.
What do you think for someone else, who’s working with a distributed team, what for you are kind of the secrets to making remote working, work? What have you found are the most essential things to making remote working achievable?
I think for us, it was or it is about becoming conscious of the up and down sides of what it means to working remotely.
What that means for each and every role. Creating a softer product is something that really lends itself well to this remote set up because once people have all the information that they need, they can work very independently. Once they are on boarded, they know the system and understand our processes.
We also re assess how we do work together every 90 days. Every time we get together, we talk about what has worked well, what hasn’t worked well. We give each other feedback.
As with every other company, it’s all about evolving and being open for feedback and adapting your processes to making them better.
So, I think that’s one thing and the other component for me that’s super essential is that … As I’ve said, it’s all about the people and creating space and time where we can get to know each other and see who’s behind that work persona. Figure out what they like and how they are in their free time.
So, let’s kind of go back to Sendtask for a second. Where did the idea actually coming up with a project management, creating a project management tool, come from?
There are stacks of other project management tools out there. Lots of them do lots more than just task management, so what made you … And obviously the classic that everyone tends to use or default, know, are Asana and Base Camp, so how is Sendtask different from that?
What’s your road map for Sendtask?
First of all, I think because it is such a crowded place, I did not want to build this company or this product for a very long time.
I am trying to find another tool that does what we are building now.
The idea come up quite some time ago when my first company that I started earlier on was as an agency business. We would build websites and brochures and logos for many different clients and work with many different freelancers. We also had an internal team of about 15 people. We still do, the company is still running. I am just not in the most day to day anymore but at some point we realized that using Asana or any other task manager was so much more efficient that using email to assign tasks to each other.
One, it’s so much easier to keep track of who’s working on what. It’s easier to keep each other updated on if some deadlines shift. It’s just so many benefits that we never wanted to go back. We also created a ton of checklists so we never have to think about …
Let’s say we release a website, which are the steps that we need to check.
So, for internal teams it makes so much sense and it made us so much more efficient but then what I saw is that, whenever we talked to a client or a supplier, we would still fall back into our old habits and use email. Which, to me just doesn’t make sense.
We figured out using tasks for this type communication is so much for efficient, why do we fall back into our old habits and use email? Which has all the down sides of losing tasks and you trying to keep in the back of your mind who you’ve assigned what, for what deadline.
I’ve asked myself and I think there’s two reasons. One is, for a client that I, especially if I only work with them infrequently, I don’t want to force team to create yet another account to get started. We all have hundreds of accounts and passwords and it’s a hassle.
The second thing is, I was looking for something that was so intuitive that I would not have to sit down first with a client and talk through, how we going to use Asana or what our workflow is for Trello or what not.
So those were the two things that I was looking for. Like an instant start without forcing someone to create an account first. Something that’s so intuitive and fool proof that I don’t need to sit down with them first and discuss how we going to use this.
I think I’ve tested 48 different product management tools. I couldn’t find any one that offered, especially the first feature, because I think the second one is more soft but being able to start collaborating with someone without them first needing to create an account just doesn’t exist.
That’s how we decided to build Sendtask. The way it works is you can assign a task to anyone as long as you know their email address. What happens on the other end is that, they get an email with the task description and all the info they need to know about it. They can either reply to the email to leave a comment or they can just click on a link in that email to open up the task and that authenticates them and they can just work with that task as if they had an account.
So it’s very good for a quick, simple start if you just want to collaborate with someone. Not via email but via task manager.
What’s your vision? What’s the road map for Sendtask? Where do you go from here?
We see Sendtask as the place where you prioritize your own tasks but you also delegate and you catch up with other people’s priorities and see what they’ve done with the tasks that you’ve sent to them.
Our vision is that it should not be yet another app that you need to use but that you can create tasks and send them to Sendtask from where you already work a lot of your time.
For example, I’ve mentioned the Slack integration that we’ve done, which is super helpful for a lot of our users because it allows them to create tasks and also check on their priorities right from Slack without ever going to the Sendtask website.
We’ve done the same with an email integration where you can convert emails into tasks and vice versa really quickly.
So, I think the long term vision is to make work fun again or at least making it fun to break big problems down into smaller steps. So that big problems or steps become more achievable.
Let’s talk about as well your, going back to this idea of, your minimizing your life and in terms of your doing loads of different things and if I was trying to do all the different things you are doing as well as traveling around, I think I’d be … I’d have gone mad.
What are your life hacks? How do you keep this whole slew of things, all these plates that you have spinning, how do you manage that?
What’s your tricks for doing life when you’ve got too much to do?
Obviously, I use Sendtask a lot to keep on top of what I have to do and get done today, this week and so on.
One of the life hacks that’s been super efficient or awesome for me is every morning, I just spend the first 15 minutes on getting a good idea of my day and what I want to get achieved.
Also, I split up my day into two halves. Usually, I start pretty early. I get to the office about six and till 1PM, so for a good seven hours, I don’t take any calls or meetings. I just work on the long term priorities and stuff that I want to get done.
This includes stuff like reading, if I want to learn more about a certain topic. It includes writing. It also includes building proto types or brain storming stuff.
At 1PM, my day has already been super successful because I a lot of stuff done that I had planned for that day and now my head is pretty free to react.
So, from 1PM, I take calls, I take meetings, dinners and splitting up my day in these two halves where it’s not one meeting and one hour of uninterrupted time and then another call but these two big blocks of dedicated time for myself and for others, has been extremely awesome for me.
In the middle of the day, I already feel like I’ve achieved a lot and that make me happy and then I’m even more productive in the afternoon.
That’s the challenge I’m just trying to relate that back to the life of a project manager. It would be awesome if you could tell clients, sorry guys but we only doing meetings in the afternoon.
In the morning, we doing our own work.
What I’ve seen when I was working at Media Sign, the agency business, is that maybe it was hard to block off three quarters of the day but … I usually … So business here starts between eight and nine, so getting to the office three hours before most of my clients started to work, already helped me to get a lot done.
Then they usually were pretty understanding. They understood if I didn’t take calls before eleven AM. So, that already gave me a five hour block where I could get stuff done and then of course I would make myself available for emergencies but other than that, I would just try to call them back later that day.
There you go, there’s a good tip.
Tell the clients’ you unavailable, see what happens.
What would you say would be one take away for, you’ve been in the agency business, you understand what’s its like to be a project manager and a product manager. What would you say in terms of, you’ve minimized your life, you’ve created these structures and processes to be more efficient and be more effective so you can get more stuff done, where for you is the starting point, the first few steps to being more efficient and getting more stuff done?
I think for me a lot of it is about priorities and being very clear about priorities.
For example, I’ve decided that for the past few years and probably the next one or few years my main priority is to learn as much about building a company as possible.
Once I’ve realized that, that was my priority, I was also able or willing to make sacrifices in other places of my life, as you’ve mentioned.
I’ve given, for the last one and a half years, I have not had an apartment. I’ve not had a constant home. I only have as much stuff as fits into my backpack and I travel an insane amount of time. I think this year alone I’ve spent about twenty hours, sorry, twenty days on planes.
Then the next step for me was just becoming conscious of what that means and then building the right processes to deal with the down sides of that lifestyle. For example, I listen to a ton of podcasts and audio books because that’s what I can do when I am waiting in line for security at an airport or while I am boarding a plane or just time that would otherwise be wasted or very unproductive.
In terms of a take away for people, in terms of thinking about how they … Go back to the … To be more minimalist, would you … What was that process like for you when you decided, okay, hold on, I am going to get rid of, 99% of my life? Was that an easy process for you? Or how did that come about?
I realized I started to travel more and more and I had mostly only access to the stuff that I was able to bring with me anyway.
I had this idea of, for an experiment. I was just curious and I am very left brain. I work very well with numbers, my brain works very well with numbers.
I had this idea for this experiment to … I wanted to know how much stuff I actually own and I started going through my apartment and creating this spreadsheet of stuff that I owned.
I wrote down, I owned five black t-shirts and three pairs of shoes and two leather jackets and so on. As soon as I had that, I had a number right. I think back then it was probably, I got rid of about 90% of stuff since then. I had about 700 things back then.
As soon as I had a number, I wanted to optimize. I asked myself, if I could only own one type of t-shirt, which t-shirt would it be? If I only have one type of shoes, which type of shoes would I want to own? I really enjoy these type of questions. It’s almost philosophical. From there on I started to think about how can I consolidate these three types of shoes that I have into just one. Shoes are bulking and you really only want to have one. So, I have one pair of shoes plus Vibram’s which I use for hiking. It’s toe or finger shoes.
That was the first step. Thinking about what do I really need, of which brand or model is the best for most of my situations that I will be in.
From there on, what I’ve used is what I call a 90/90 day process. Every 90 days I look at the stuff I still have. I look at this spreadsheet and I ask myself “what items have I not used in the last 90 days” and am probably not going to use in the next 90 days.
By that, I cover half a year and half a year is pretty long time span. It usually involves cold days, warm days, formal activities, informal activities and so if I can’t think of a situation where I am going to use that item, I put it away. I put it in a bag and I leave it at my parents’ place of or a friend’s place. Often there’s this emotional hurdle of getting rid of stuff but by just putting it in a bag and putting it in a corner, that’s much easier than giving it away, straight away.
Then 90 days later, so far I’ve never taken anything out of that bag. So, I’ve never had the need to go back and pick something from it. So, 90 days later it becomes really easy to donate or give it away or sell that stuff. From there its just been reiterating over and over again.
I am actually down to 48 items now. When I gave up on my apartment I had 64, now I am down to 48 and they all black.
The interesting thing for me is that you must depend though on having a very efficient washing cycle for your clothes to be washed and then dried and be back into circulation to only have 48 things.
You must be very efficient at keeping your … Either not getting dirty or keeping your clothes very clean because I’m sure I’ve got 48 things that are waiting to be … Waiting for me to wash them.
Yeah, I have clothing for full seven days and then I need to wash. Everything is … It’s all black so I can do it all in one go. I can just wash once and most of my stuff is from fabric that dries really quickly and wrinkle free. It’s pretty efficient. I’ve optimized for that.
I’ve checked out, so if you go to sixtyfourthings.com you can check out Cedric’s list. Which includes a few Vancouver classics like Lululemon and Kit & Ace.
Cedric is the classic persona for someone like Kit & Ace. Guy on the go who wants flexible clothing. You like the perfect guy for it.
Exactly yeah, I love their clothing. I think it’s great for the type of travel that I do and how often I need to wash it and how durable it needs to be, but still look formal.
That’s what it’s all about.
Cedric, that you so much for joining us. It’s been great having you with us today.
Likewise, thank you for having me.
Cool and if you would like to contribute to the conversation, comment on the post on the blog or head over to the community section of the digitalprojectmanager.com to join our Slack team where you’ll find lots of interesting conversations going on there but until next time, thanks for listening.