Clusterfucks and how to avoid them

Over the past few years the word "clusterfuck" has become a touchstone for Henry and I as we’ve learned to run our business.

Clusterfuck is military slang for “a chaotic situation where everything seems to go wrong. It is often caused by incompetence, communication failure, or a complex environment”. We use it fairly specifically to mean communications failure caused by too many people in charge of, or weighing in on, a particular thing.

When the two of us started the company in 2008 the chances of a Charlie Foxtrot happening were small, between us we managed to communicate well, there was very little complexity. As our number of employees, partners, suppliers, advisors has grown we’ve learned to avoid chaos by strictly limiting the ownership of a given problem to one person and explicitly giving up the chance to stick our oars in.

How does this manifest? We manage our backlog of tasks in Trello, we make sure only one person is assigned ownership of a card, if your face is on the card you own it. There’s nobody else’s face on the card, nobody else makes decisions about it. We assign responsibilities to specific areas to staff, if something is your responsibility you have authority to make decisions, other people’s opinions are fine but there’s only one person who decides a course of action. As co-founders we also try very hard to make sure we don’t tread on one another’s turf, again, opinions are fine but business decisions are Henry’s and technical decisions are mine. With staff it’s particularly easy for founders to cause confusion by offering HiPPOs and we regularly remind people that “this is just my opinion, I trust you to make the right decision based on the data”.

Email threads and the ability to CC everyone on Earth are a particularly fine source of clusterfucks. It’s not uncommon for either of us to respond with something like “This is your bag, I don’t want this to turn into a Charlie Foxtrot”.

The discipline to assign authority and responsibility to individuals and leave them to make decisions is vital to the smooth running of any organisation. By having a colourful and memorable phrase to highlight the potential for problems we, mostly, manage to avoid them.

git tag

  515  git tag
  516  git tag -a v1.0-beta3 -m "Beta 3"
  517  git push origin v1.0-beta3

Because I always forget…

for i in *.flv; do n="${i%.*}"; mv $n.MP4 $n.mp4; done


UNIX and the Mac

Everyone has their own opinion about why Apple has done so well over the past decade. My choice for why it has worked out so well for them is UNIX.

OS X gave developers a UNIX operating system with a usable interface on a beautiful bit of kit. My first Mac was a white iBook circa late 2001. I bought it because my girlfriend had one and I was blown away by Wifi, the UI and the UNIX underneath.

I was a developing software for a company that deployed to Solaris at the time and I’d spent years fucking about with either Linux on the desktop or Windows + Cygwin. Both experiences sucked but the Mac didn’t.

After living with a Mac for a year I started recommending them to people, my parents got one, my sister got one, her husband got one, my business partner got one. It was a better way of operating. I don’t, and haven’t, done any tech support for my family since everyone switched over. They just get on and get things done.

Of course Internet played a huge role in all this. We switched away from client apps and into web apps, that annulled the MS advantage in those rich apps.

I recall how much Apple sucked in the mid-90s. We had Macs in the CS department at Auckland. No preemptive multitasking, no protected memory. Win95 was way ahead. Switching to OS X/UNIX made all the difference when combined with a beautiful hardware package.

On pricing

Pricing is strange voodoo.

We just picked a price and went for it to validate that people were willing, at all, to open their wallets. That validated that we had a solution worth paying for. The price was vaguely in line with the lower end other types of pricing in the market.

Beyond that the best piece of advice I can offer is that you shouldn’t be worried about raising your prices if you think you can. Leave your early adopters on the lower price, communicate to them that you’re doing so to reward their early support and then move on.

We had great success doubling our prices and that made that part of our business viable.


Queen and David Bowie - “Under Pressure” (isolated lead vocal tracks)


Listen for Freddie’s ungodly range on the bit from 1:58-2:10.

UPDATED: In honor of Mr. Bowie’s birthday—and, in deference to your Stressful Modern Lifestyle—here’s a relaxing ringtone I made for you.

Wild Speculation

There’s a lot of talk these days about the big five internet companies, some are calling them “stacks”.

I think we can roughly categorise them into two camps. Those that depend on ad revenue and those that don’t.

There’s some, um, healthy competition between these stacks and I wonder if at some point those that have browsers but who don’t depend on ad revenue might raise the stakes.

Apple and Microsoft could pop mute buttons (ad blockers) into their browsers, features that allow their customers to turn off ads. They’re just like the mute button on a TV remote, right, so why isn’t that acceptable? Browser makers have killed off some forms of advertising in the past, it broadly improved the web. Might they do it again? It would be a wonderful benefit for their customers.

Technically this would be straight forward, there are free browser plugins out there that do this already and the authors are literally begging for some money.

Google has been sandbagging its position by building Android and Chrome so they’ve got some control over those channels however with Samsung dominating the Android market and with Chrome unable to compete with built-in ad blocking without cannibalising Google’s ad revenue those fortifications seem a little weak.

Facebook would be highly susceptible to this type of ad muting. I guess that we might see them burying ads further inside their user generated content so they’re harder for blocking software to find. That might apply generally across the web.

The collateral damage in a fight like this would be small ad supported publishers but perhaps we’d see more of those move to a, already successful(?!), reader funding model like The Dish?

It would, I reckon, cause an Almighty shit storm. It would be quite fun to watch, well it would be if you don’t depend on ad revenue to run your business.

In Our Time Universal Feed

In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg is a radio programme and podcast distributed by the BBC.

It airs 0900 Thursdays, London time, on BBC Radio 4 and the show has been running or, at least, there are archives since 1998.

Along with the current podcast feed there is an archive is split into a handful of high level subject areas, e.g., 'Science' or 'Philosophy'. I’d like to listen to this series of programmes chronologically but there’s no straight forward way to accomplish that within one feed.

I’ve written a Ruby script, using the standard Ruby 1.9 RSS library, which takes these iTunes compatible RSS feeds from the BBC and merges them into one master list, ordered by pubDate.

I’ve also hosted this RSS feed such that it will update regularly and you can File > Subscribe to Podcast… using the URL