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DAY FOURTEEN – SEPTEMBER 8TH, 2013

Erin Hopmann

How do you feel about the project?
I’m feeling a little more down about things today. Could be pre-Monday blues, could be that we’re getting closer to implementing something just as we’re getting a good amount of negative feedback about said something.

I talked to a Dabble teacher Friday morning who reminded me to not only think about, but to get excited about the alternatives. Whether it’s an alternative Dabble or an alternative path for me personally, once you open your mind to what else is possible, it’s very freeing. Not an altogether profound thought, but an important reminder. (In her particular circumstance, she had gotten so excited about the alternative, that she was almost a little disappointed when in the 11th hour, she got a call that saved her business. A call that she would’ve given anything to get only a few months prior.)

Personally, I’m also getting more and more uncomfortable with each passing day about my financial situation. It’s particularly on my mind today. This piece in the Atlantic is a fascinating look at how financial woes can actually impact your IQ. Oy vey.

What’s the plan?
Unchanged from yesterday, we are continuing to refine a new fee structure. Jess, Frank, and I have discussed the survey findings and a few new ideas have surfaced.

What are the challenges & benefits of working remotely?
The biggest challenge to working remotely is that for certain things, there is no substitute for in-person: a degree of organic conversation and idea exchange that happens. A traversing together of the highs and lows of start-up life that we’ve begun to document through 30 Days. Even if just physical presence, a certain feeling of camaraderie is arguably lost when you’re not physically together.

However, all this said, there are most definitely benefits (some of which we knew ahead of time, otherwise we wouldn’t have done the whole remote working thing). I absolutely get more accomplished in a given day without the distractions of my team sitting around me. (This is likely both a testament to the great culture we have that there’d be more silly distractions on a daily basis, and the fact that in the beginnings of a company, the degree of conversation to make decisions often requires more time as you carefully weigh what to do, figure out who you are, etc.)

Working remotely has forced us to draw a more distinct line between roles and responsibilities, further reinforcing the trust that our team had started to build when we were all in the same city. Reaching consensus on every last thing is less important now; getting stuff done is. When we might’ve interrupted the person next to us to get an opinion on something, now there’s the thought, “how important is this? can I make this decision on my own?” If the answer is not yet – which more often than not, it is – we’re a click away from communicating with each other through IM. Or jumping on Google Hangouts.

For us, it helped that Jess moved to Denver in summer 2012, a year prior to me moving from Chicago. We got comfortable having her “work” with us over Facetime in the office, and started developing effective ways to handle remote work relationships.

Sure, I wish we could still go grab drinks or lunch together. And I miss the goofy antics around the office. But we’re making the most of what we have, and focusing on the fact that there are in fact – contrary to what some argue – benefits to a remote work culture.

One final thought: Some have criticized that we’ve been unable to fundraise due to the fact that our team is spread out. I call this BS. First, it hasn’t come up in any conversations I’ve had with investors in the Bay Area. Just seems to be an issue with Chicago-based investors. Further, the plan was never to be careless with how we hired and grew our team. I’m in San Francisco now; our next hires would be here. If anything, it’s a benefit that a company who’s focused on growth and whose product is localized has two founders and a third committed partner strategically placed in different markets.

DAY FOURTEEN – SEPTEMBER 8TH, 2013

Jess Lybeck

How do you feel about the project?
I’m a bit flustered. We had a feature on Mashable today. A flood of people emailing us with their ideas and opinions feels great, but feel a bit overwhelmed by it all on a Sunday.

I’ve come to realize that press is good for the ego, but not necessarily good for business. Journalists are great at telling a story they think their readers will be interested in, but much of it is out of context or misconstrued from original intentions. I think the Mashable article is a fair interpretation but it reflects more of Erin’s views on funding, not mine. We have different feelings on further investment as the “savior” of business so I don’t necessarily like that it’s being put in front of thousands of people. But, hey – we signed up for it. Trying not to overreact, will sleep on it. I always feel better after sleeping on things.

What’s the plan?
Analyzing results of the teacher survey and hopefully rolling out fee changes this week. Moving on to tackling some new homepage as well as marketing ideas. See rough idea of new homepage layout below. Still talking with plenty of teachers daily to introduce the changes and get qualitative feedback.

What are the challenges & benefits of working remotely?
I’ve been working remotely for over a year. I moved to Denver in July of 2012 because my fiance is doing his medical fellowship here. We knew we were moving 15 months prior (actually before we had the idea for Dabble) so the prospect of working remotely was always at the back of my mind.

The transition to working remotely was actually much easier than I thought. I was able to get more done without distraction from being in the office. I was able to set my schedule to what fit me best (I’m a morning person and like to ignore everyone before 9am). I was able to more effectively implement processes & communication expectations with employees because we weren’t sitting in the same room. Sure, I missed joking around with the team on a Friday afternoon. I felt left out at times when the “center” of our team was in the office in Chicago.

Since then, we have a totally de-centralized team. Erin has moved away from Chicago to San Francisco. We had a developer who spent 2 months travelling the country on his motorcycle with a broadband card & a tent this summer. We have provided freedom to work wherever and whenever our team pleases. It’s about getting your work done, not someone else telling you to sit at a desk for certain hours in a day.

In some ways, it’s easier to have a de-centralized team. We focus our culture within online communication. Our hipchat room has become our water cooler. We are more brief and direct in communication. We still laugh, have fun, make jokes. But we get more done. I think companies like 37Signals are paving the way towards thinking outside of geographic boundaries. Investors are still a bit uncomfortable with this unconventional structure, but I think that will change over time. Ultimately, I feel that working remotely has made us a stronger team.

Odds & Ends
Sunday is usually my day to take care of the “life” things that I ignore during the rest of the week. Laundry, garden, work-out, wedding stuff, etc. But I didn’t feel that motivated today. I woke up with a sore throat and a stuffy nose. I think I’ve been “burning the candle from both ends” as my mom says. I always get sick when I don’t take care of myself. I needed some lazy recovery time today. This week I will take better care of myself.

 

Homepage Idea

Here’s a rough plan of what we’re thinking of implementing on the homepage. Would love your thoughts on feedback on this in the comments. Click photo to enlarge.

Homepage Redesign

We plan on answering different questions every day. Submit a question you’d like answered by emailing 30daysofhonesty (at) dabble.co.

Photo by Chichacha

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166 responses to “Day Fourteen”

  1. Dana Larson says:

    Love the new site design! Some thoughts:

    – I love that you can view classes in a calendar mode! Not sure how hard this would be to do, but to be able to search by location AND date at the same time would be amazing (compare to Craigslist’s new map-based apartment search, you can also filter by when postings were listed, 1hr ago, 2 hr ago, etc.)

    – I personally have never used search, and if I’m new to a concept like taking random classes I don’t think I’d know what to search for. Plus I might search for something super niche and be disappointed if nothing appeared the first few times. I’d maybe make search a less prominent feature

    – Super interested in what the singles/dating features to! As a single lady, this idea has me excited. Take a class, meet new people? Something targeted to making new friends or networking connections would be great, too. “New pal classes” or “professional networking.” Lots of possibilities!

  2. Noreen Sullivan says:

    The distain I have for this is palpable. I hate that you are women looking for a knight in shining armor to fund you. You are a disgrace to all women in business and entrepreneurs in general. Your product is awful. The new design is worse than the first one. I can find better information on classes for free on craigslist. Just because you make something look like Pinterest does not mean it is good. The name of the company is offensive. People who want to learn do not want to Dabble. The idea of matching skills people want to learn with skills people have is good. This “martha stewart” in a bad way execution makes the two of you look like board housewives dabbling in a business, but wait that is your demographic, or because of that you suck. The other commenter doesn’t even want to learn anything they just want to meet someone. Match.com has excellent event features and a real revenue model. They should try that. Even she mentions craigslist. No one is going to pay for something that they can find free. There is no value proposition here. It is a bad business and this publicity stunt is pathetic. Just fail already.

    • Dana says:

      Hi Noreen,

      I’m not going to validate your other unfounded and warrantless comments, but let me tell you about myself as a use case:

      I’m an incredibly busy person, but I do have a knack for art. I used to sketch with printer paper and ballpoint pen because even when I had the time to learn something new, I didn’t have anything outside of YouTube videos or other tutorials to guide me. You can always try new things on your own, but when it comes to creating something GOOD, which I wanted to do, you need a human being with experience standing over your shoulder and offering an honest critique.

      Enter Dabble. For a measly $20 a class, I can not only respect my busy schedule but respect my budget, too. I can experiment with new materials without making a huge investment in them only to find out they’re not for me or that I don’t have real skill in them. I can have a human being talk me through the process and point out in real time what I’m doing wrong or what I can improve. I can have a room full of people offer the same critique with fresh eyes. I can learn from the mistakes and successes of those around me, as well.

      So, that’s not real, full learning, you say? Well, it’s thanks to Dabble that I discovered another small business, One Strange Bird. I took a $20 class there and was so amazed at the instruction, that I’ve since taken two extra, 4-week classes in sketching and oil painting through them. The $20 class let me experiment on the cheap and validated the route(s) I should take, and Dabble’s introduction to this new company allowed me to expand my talent further.

      So there you have it. Dabble is perfect for people wanting to learn, whether they want to become professionals or just have a small skill in their back pocket. It’s a great way to see if investing in further learning will be fruitful, or if dabbling in a different subject is a better route (as an example, I took a sewing/knitting class, but it ended up not being a strong suit of mine. I haven’t invested in materials or time in it since…but I can mend my own pants, now!).

      As for the singles comment, come on. I can’t think of a fun, socially-oriented business that hasn’t offered this. Dating sites are pretty terrible, since you just put your best face and features forward, meet someone for drinks, and hope the conversation goes well. Meeting lots of people around the context of an learning activity is a lot better. If you screw up, you laugh about it. If you do well, you’ve impressed someone. You can see who’s digging the activity and who’s bored (proper spelling of “bored,” btw) and filter out who are good people to talk to from there.

      So, Dabble? Thank you! I’m hoping you guys have time to reply to a few more comments.

      • Erin Hopmann says:

        Dana – thanks so much for the comment… and for sharing your story. (As a side note, I totally relate with you. Dabble for me solves the problem of getting back into art… in a low-commitment, shake-the-dust-off-my-less-creative-now brain way.)

        We fully believe that Dabble has a place in this world. It’s silly to claim that no one looking to learn is looking to Dabble. There are so many like you who decide they want to pursue something further after just dipping their toes in the water. Plus, shouldn’t we all be commended for exercising our brains in the way they’re meant to be worked? No matter how “lite” or “heavy” the learning.

        So keep Dabbling, girl! And keep sharing your stories. We wanna hear them.
        Erin

  3. Natalie says:

    Wow, those were harsh and mostly nonconstructive words. I was simply going to comment that I really like the “Gifts under $30” idea, but I feel I should expand after reading the last comment. I’m currently the breadwinner (not a bored housewife, as Noreen suggested) so we’re always looking for “budget friendly” ideas and I tend to struggle coming up with DIY gift ideas. I’m also super busy, but when I took some time off around my birthday earlier this year, my husband signed us up for an art class together. It wasn’t a new medium for us, but it was something we rarely take the time to enjoy together. We don’t get the chance to Dabble often, but when the holidays roll around, I’ll be browsing some new ideas during our time off together.

    • Erin Hopmann says:

      Natalie – that’s awesome to hear. Have heard similar stories of couples enjoying a Dabble class together, or one purchasing it for the both of them as a gift. So, helpful to know the “gifts under $30” would be useful for you.

  4. Szewai Lee says:

    I love the new categories!

  5. Craig says:

    I wonder if Noreen has ever had the balls to venture out into business on her own…based on her comments, I’d bet not. I’m a digital marketer by trade, and it’s obvious to me she has no idea what she’s talking about. Time to go dabble in being pointlessly angry somewhere else. Or better yet, actually try being kind and helping people. Sheesh.

    • Erin Hopmann says:

      Thanks for the support, Craig! We realize not everyone will agree with how we’re handling our current situation, so it means a lot for those of you who pipe up. You sound like a guy we’d like to meet. Constructive criticism, sure! Bring it on. Pointless anger? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
      – Erin

  6. Carol says:

    Er, disregard the above comment from Noreen — just plain mean, and totally off-the-mark. Dabble is a great idea and the new design looks awesome. I would totally do this if it started up in SF.

    One suggestion — as a price-conscious gal I would love if the price of the featured classes were shown on the homepage — that way I could tell instantly if it was the kind of thing I’d go for or if I’d skip. I don’t live in Chicago but my girlfriends in Chicago are the same way, they definitely look for deals and knowing the amount of $ would definitely play into their decision to click through.

    Also in general something I see in websites that are trying to break into new urban areas is that they’ll put a few references to the user’s city on the page somewhere but the actual content of the site is generic and not location-specific. So as a user, I’ll be excited that the service or site is in my location, but I quickly learn that the “local” content is just stock photos and auto-filled text. Blah. The mock above looked a little generic, not Chicago-specific — which is maybe what you were going for — but if you’re continuing to be based in Chicago for now, I would make sure to put in design elements and text that makes your Chicago users feel that they are really looking at stuff in *their* city — whether that’s Chicago-specific categories, more art of the city, avoiding generic clip-art, etc. Good luck!! I love this blog.

  7. Ron Amundson says:

    Working remotely is more efficient, but only if you are working on the right stuff. At the 1 million user point, it would make more sense, likely even at quite a bit below that point… at this stage, I’d feel really iffy about it. As far as SV investors go, like a lot of folks without money in the game, its easy to say no problem… but cash talks. I do hope you can pull it off.

    That being said, I also see a value proposition in a distributed model… If Chicago was even borderline sustainable, branching out to where you can fully immerse yourself in the distributed dabble communities in other cities might well be just the fire needed to reach the next stage. Now seems way too soon.

    In a lot of ways, this is like the proverbial startup that gets too much money too soon, bumps up their burn rate to the sky with parallel efforts, and what might have been great ideas fall apart. Having been there done that, my advise is not to discard the great ideas, even then ones that are borderline mechanical turkish…

    Perhaps they need to be sidelined to manage cashflow in the short term, but discarding them is the wrong thing to do. They may well be the answers you are looking for. If you do have to divert effort to pay the bills, don’t be afraid to take those ideas and armchair quarterback them while still in the game. After you leave the field, competitors come in, see what worked, what didn’t, and may very well succeed with only minor tweaks to what you had on your plate at one time. Hindsight is always 20/20.

    • Erin Hopmann says:

      Ron – thanks for the thoughtful comment. Agree with you for the most part. Always nice to hear from a “been there done that” person, too.

      We’re pumped about moving forward with one direction. And just discussed today how our current bootstrapped situation is what got us there. Remains to be seen if it’ll work, but it feels powerful, we have a lot of rationale for it, and we likely wouldn’t have gotten there without the cushion of a big bank account.

      Hindsight IS always 20/20, as they say.
      Erin

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