Another great episode of the Full Stack Leader! This week we’re sitting down with Kevin Horek.
Kevin is a Chief Design Officer, UX/UI prototyper, TV/Radio Host, and a published author by Packt Publishing on Zurb’s responsive framework, Foundation 5. He studied web development and design at universities across North America, including UCLA and the University of Alberta. His Radio/TV/Podcast, Building The Future, was started to get over a fear of public speaking. Kevin continues to push himself out of my comfort zone by blogging for AlphaGamma, TechZulu, and SOCAP. He also recently emceed SUP-X – The Start-Up Expo and had a live fireside chat on stage with the keynote speaker.
For over 26 years, Kevin has been working on web and mobile apps for some of the world’s most notable and well-respected organizations. Among them are BMW, Best Buy, Apple, Adobe, Sprint, Eastlink, TD Canada Trust, Qantas Airlines, Emirates Airlines, CB Richard Ellis, Microsoft, The Home Depot, and CalTech
Kevin’s Top Leadership Tips:
Below is a summary of the Top 5 Leadership tips shared during the interview this week. Take a listen to the episode to learn more about the thoughts behind these tips – Check out Kevin’s podcast and radio show here: https://www.
- The C-Suite Needs To Be On The Same Page
- Take Your Own Advice
- Know Your Strengths And Weaknesses
- Try The No Code Road
- Bootstrap It
We hope you enjoy the episode. You can find even more Full Stack Leader episodes here:
Hello everyone. And welcome to this week’s episode of the full stack leader podcast. This week, I’m excited to have Kevin HK with us. He’s the CTO and founder of learner.co. He’s also a TV podcast and radio show host, for building the future. It’s great to have you here, Kevin. Welcome.
Kevin: Thanks Ryan. Thanks for having me.
I’m excited to be here. Yeah,
Ryan: We’re excited to have you here. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are. You’re doing some really exciting things at this point in your career.
Kevin: sure. So I guess I kind of fell into it a little bit. Really all the kind of males in my immediate family were in kind of tech and computers in the seventies and kind of eighties.
And my dad used to bring home little Macintosh every weekend and I used to get to play on it. And then he worked with the government kind of in the early nineties. And we got to connect to the internet for like an hour before kind of anybody else had it. So I had early access to the internet and I found it completely fascinating and then got lucky in junior high when I was 12, we were.
We started learning HTML. And I just was like started building little band fan sites and kind of just taught myself. And my dad came to me one day and he was like, the local tech college offers a program with all the software you’d been using. And even in high school, we were learning like Photoshop and flash at back in the day when it was popular.
Right. Yeah. I remember. Yep. And so I actually left high school a month early to go to this college in town and kind of take multimedia is what it was called back then, but it was just like graphic design. And we learned audio editing and video editing and how to build websites and. CD ROMs at the time.
And then I basically, I haven’t heard
Ryan: that. I haven’t heard CD ROMs in a while. It’s great to look back on. Yeah
Kevin: totally. And then I literally just since getting out of college, I ended up working at a software company. Ended up going back to the university here. And just kind of been working.
So I’ve worked at basically everything from startups. Did my own startup been through idea acquisition, worked at other software companies kind of for small, medium, large enterprise type stuff and kind of working on a couple other startups now. So yeah, that’s kind of a quick overview.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s that sounds amazing. I really love that it started at such an early age for you and that that it kind of is a built in family passion. I actually have a similar background as well. So I know I know how that, that is, and kind of the early days of. Computing like it was really kind of an adventurous space and you had to be able to piece things together.
I noticed in today’s world. And maybe you do too. There’s a lot more connectors to software that makes sense. But back then it felt more fragmented. Is that kind of what you experienced?
Kevin: Yeah, no, a hundred percent agree. I, also think though, I feel bad for people just getting into the industry now because there’s so many building blocks and yes, all these frameworks and add-ons and modules and everything is awesome.
Don’t get me wrong. But sometimes you’re working like. Five 10 layers from the actual core language at some point. Right. And you’re so reliant on other people’s modules and code and you don’t really, and I would put myself in the same category as you don’t really know what’s happening underneath. Right.
You’re just hoping and sometimes just getting your app to recompile because you have all these dependencies and take forever. . Yeah,
Ryan: It’s a lot more about the world of understanding the APIs than it is about the actual software in a lot of cases. You may be building multiple different modules into a single application that you kind of hope they all work.
And in fact, you’re even watching to make sure the APIs stay active
Kevin: or not totally a hundred percent.
Ryan: So you kind of came outta that background and it sounds like you’ve worked on a number of different software products, as well as built your own things. What’s one of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on that, that you can think of.
Kevin: I guess there’s been a number over the years. I think the biggest thing for me is. I always really like seeing something from nothing kind of go live and have a lot of people use it. And so I think probably one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done was a company called stacks.
It ended up getting acquired, and I’m not saying because it ended up getting acquired, obviously that was exciting, but. The fact that it was basically nothing. And, we, Ben built it up over a number of years, got a bunch of kind of clients using it globally. That’s the stuff I love, right. Is when actually like a lot of people end up using your software or software, you at least were a part of.
I, I think that’s probably the most exciting. During that part
Ryan: of the process, would you say it the part that is most rewarding for you? It would it be the earlier stages where you’re kind of in the conception and the initial ideation, or is it like where you’re starting to get customer feedback and really making evolutionary steps?
What part of it’s the most
Kevin: exciting? I, I think early on, and then once you start getting those early customers and your early customers almost become. Like a part of the product because they want, yeah. They love what you’re doing and they want to give you that initial kind of feedback to make the product better.
And they, they kind of almost help you build the product. I think that to me is the most exciting time.
Ryan: What are some of the ways that you actually have been able to create interactions with them that are the most effective for re-implementing back into the product?
Kevin: So I think the best from, I guess I usually come at this from more of a user experience type angle, and I think the best thing that I’ve always done is user testing.com.
I’ve used that or similar products to get just generic feedback. But what I think works really well is you. You get, you kind of have to lie to the person because I think you get the best feedback cuz you basically go to them, a customer or a potential user, whoever you’re doing user testing with you just say like, look, I had nothing to do with this product.
And then obviously you do, but. You tell ’em that because you don’t want them to hurt your feelings. Right? Right. Like so many people will hold back. Good feedback, because they’re like, oh, you worked on this. They don’t really want to tell you, especially if you’re FA you’re sitting next to the person, obviously like through the phone, it’s a little bit easier or video chat.
But so the first thing I say is, look, I had I’m objective third party. I got hired by the company to get your honest feedback. And then make sure. You try to record it and then watch what they’re doing. Because a lot of people are like, whatever they say is not what they’re doing on the screen. And so really trying to watch what they’re saying, what they’re doing and if they actually tie up together, because I had one person and they were like, this is awesome.
I totally get this. And they weren’t following the instructions or what you were telling them. And then they ended up getting lost and then. They almost like lose interest in your product because they weren’t following along. But it’s also useful to know that your nobody should really get lost in your product ever either.
Right. And so I think that was probably some of the biggest learnings is really like understanding because we all use things totally different. And there’s a really good book called a hundred things. Every designer should know. And it has like simple things. Like if you have two taps, one’s hot, one’s cold.
How do you make lukewarm water with that? It’s like some people will turn both tap. To the right. Some people will turn one left one, right? Some people will turn, ’em both into the middle if they’re not labeled. Right. And so just understanding that we all do the same thing differently and how we expected is different and try to accommodate that in the software can be really challenging.
But I find, I really like that challenge.
Ryan: Yeah. I think it’s uh, an amazing challenge. I love. The idea that you’re talking about and that people do things differently. So receiving the feedback requires not just hearing what they say, but what you watch them do. I think there’s a lot of parallels in leadership as well, especially as you’re building a startup like that from ground up where.
You kind of have to really be open to getting direct feedback from the people that are putting the project together. How important do you think that notion is carrying through as a tech leader, as well as just a product developer?
Kevin: I think the most important thing that I think, and I’m, I’ve been guilty of this too, a lot of people don’t think of their target audience.
And I did a project a number of years ago for. This nursing organization and they would use the app and then sometimes bedside, and then they would have to go to the counter and use the computer there to do some other stuff. And just when we did testing with non-nurses, we were getting destroyed on user feedback.
Right. And it made sense because they’re not the target market. And so I think, but when we did testing with nurses and we watched their workflow, it was bang on. Right. And I think what the big lesson I learned from that is so many times we’re trying to appease the CEO or somebody else on the team or a product owner.
And it’s like, if they’re the target user great. But if they’re not the target user, in some cases like. They might not understand the product. They might actually hate the flow, but if the target user actually gets it and can use it, that’s what really matters. And I, that’s something I’ve struggled with over the years and kind of come to terms with is sometimes it’s like, if I’m not the target market, maybe I should hate it in some respects or not like the look and feel because I’m not the target market.
And I think that gets lost sometimes in companies building startup.
Ryan: Yeah. And it’s about getting to know the actual needs of the person that you’re building something for or the people you’re working with. Right. when you are going in and kind of gaining initial insight on that.
How do you like to do that? What’s your process around it?
Kevin: I usually like to just sit with them and see it’s like, what software do you like? What software reviews in the past, whether it’s in their industry or not? Because in a lot of cases, let’s be honest here, majority of UX patterns and. I’ve been kind of sorted out what’s popular right now, obviously trends kind of come and go.
And it’s funny to see things kind of come back that wasn’t popular or was popular. But I think just sitting and watching what that user does and then go find you only need like three or five users in a specific industry to really get their feedback and kind of see what they like, what they don’t like.
And then try to imitate those products in your design and development. Well, most people, I think in a lot of cases sometimes are either using like Android or iOS. I think most people these days have interacted with.
Piece of Google software. And so if you can’t get access to some users, try to build things around design patterns that the user or majority of the users have probably. Used in the past, at least as a starting point, you don’t have to like replicate Gmail if you’re building an app for nurses, for example, but there’s some good patterns that Google’s got across their suite that you’re like, you know what I can cherry pick that feature from Gmail and cherry pick that feature from Google calendar or Google drive or whatever and kind of start building things around that.
You’re like, well, chances are they’ve interacted with at least one of these. Google pieces of software or right. Windows or apple you can, or iPhone, or you can leverage some of the design patterns that big companies have spent a huge time tons of money, right?
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. And then you can start carving down to the actual best case for what you’re doing specifically.
Right. And totally start from there. Do you find I mean, I know you interview and talk to a lot of leaders in the tech space and I know that your experience around actually building things and then also hearing from people who built things, what are some of the, what are some of the qualities in those leaders that you see stand out?
And maybe are common amongst a lot of them.
Kevin: This is the big one for me. And I wish I would’ve known this in my twenties or earlier even. And I kind of did I guess, but I, it’s never too early to start and you can do it. And it sounds so stupid. And I think the simplest way to say it is like everybody that’s ever done whatever they wanted to do in life.
Whether you’re an athlete, a musician startup, Et cetera, just decided to go for it one day and you can do it. It’s gonna, it’s gonna be probably some of the best and worst times of your life. But as long as the pros outweigh the cons, most days you can do it and you can be an entrepreneur and. You don’t have to quit your job.
You can do it as a side hustle for like an hour a week. Like, and then work up to an hour and a half a week. Like everybody, sometimes you get so much advice. It’s like, you have to quit your job and raise a bunch of money. It’s like, you don’t need to do any of that stuff. It’s like the quicker you can start the quicker you can start doing what you wanna do if that’s what you choose.
I just wish I knew that in my twenties, I never had the confidence in me until. I like early thirties and I’m 39 now to just go for it and going for it, doesn’t have to mean all in day one. It’s like, just start, like start today, like sign up, buy a domain name. And start coming up with ideas on how to prototype the first version.
Go no code, go buy a template for a few hundred dollars. I’ve been using bubble.io for the last couple years now and a bunch of products because we’re trying out ideas, you can validate an idea for a few hundred dollars. Yes. There’s a bit of a learning curve to bubble, especially if you’re not technical, but you can build something for.
Few hundred dollars. Like I just bought a template for $450 and we’re gonna try an idea on this market, right? We’re not talking a ton of money. You don’t need to spend hundreds or tens of thousands of dollars to just go for it. And I wish I knew that earlier.
Ryan: What do you think, what do you think stops?
People in general from actually taking a leap to trying to figure this stuff out, because it sounds simple. You hear this a lot in leadership podcast, you hear this a lot in entrepreneurship.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s the judgment. I think like for me, the only reason I started my show was to get over my fear of public speaking was the real reality.
And like, before that, I tried to write blogs. It’s just like, at the end of the day, I think you just need to get over the fact that like, people are gonna love it. People are gonna hate it. People gonna care. Most people aren’t gonna really care. I think that’s the other thing. And there, like there’s nothing more motivating.
To make it better when you have something online that you’re embarrassed about. And if you can get over that and try to just put bait on it, tell people it’s an alpha like it, I think the sooner you get over that and figure out how to get over that for yourself and just finally launch or start doing something.
Or don’t tell anybody about it. If you’re that scared about it, go with like a pen name, ghost writer or people that write books, go by that all the time. It’s like come up with a fake name and profile if you’re really that scared to put it out under your own name. Right. I think whatever needs to work and happen to make, to get you down the entrepreneurial journey, if that’s what you wanna do.
Then just go do it. And I know it’s so easy for somebody like myself, but I’ll tell you right now, getting over that hurdle was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But now I’m there. I wish I would’ve figured it out sooner in life.
Ryan: I hear that completely. I kind of feel the same way and I think there’s a a great aspect to the concept of.
Testing and learning and testing and learning, not just on a product, but in your career. Like you can really play with that and
Kevin: find out a hundred percent. The other thing too. And I would even just put this out to the listener. It’s like reach out to people like me or you that’s been through this if you need that support because every literally, probably 99.9% of things that I’ve ever gotten career wise.
I just asked either cold emailed. I made a phone call or I asked somebody that knew whoever, that’s how I got the show. I literally got asked to be on somebody else’s show I wasn’t what they were looking for. And they happened to be on a radio station. And I said, Hey, is the station looking for any other shows?
The lady like I, I’m not really sure I’ll pass you long. A station manager had a call with them. They were actually looking for a similar show. And that’s how I ended up getting the show. And you’d be surprised at how many people do aren’t ready or willing to do that. The other thing, like I, I mentor sometimes at the local startup thing here from the design side and it’s like, how ma I always say to the students, like how many students here could send me their resume right now, if I asked you or it’s like, how many students could send me a portfolio or at least some work that they’ve done in the past.
Sometimes it’s not always that simple because like they’re at, maybe the early stages of their career or whatnot, but like, are you ready if an opportunity presents itself because you never. When somebody’s gonna ask you something, and I get that. It’s hard to do.
And it’s easy for me to say that, but whatever you’re looking to potentially do, are you ready if that actually happens or could potentially happen to you? Today tomorrow, you never know what you’re gonna run into or you’re gonna meet. Right. And part of the reason I started doing the show is yes, to get on my favorite public speaking, but being able to network with people across the globe, like even you and I, we probably never would’ve met if it wasn’t for you doing a podcast or me doing a show, right?
Yeah. Like, sure. It might have happened by fluke luck. Maybe we’re at a conference or whatever. Just putting yourself out there and meeting people and being online and doing these other kind of things has gotten me more than I could ever ask for, to be honest. And I’ve been lucky because I ask I’ve gotten more no’s than I can remember.
Like probably like a hundred thousand no’s to like, Maybe like a hundred yeses, you know what I mean? But it doesn’t really matter. Yeah. Nobody knows that I sent a hundred thousand emails or cold calls or whatever, and got that many no’s until now, I guess, but it doesn’t really matter who cares. Right.
Like whatever it doesn’t matter.
Ryan: Yeah. I think there’s a whole thing around. The more you take the chances, the more you build resilience as well. And so it becomes less and less fearful over the course of time.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. Like, I don’t even, it doesn’t really phase me anymore if I ask for something and I don’t hear back or somebody’s just like, sorry, no.
Or, it’s like, okay, whatever. Archive that email. I
Ryan: heard a really great quote recently from Dennis Lombardi, the the football coach from many years ago, really successful coach for the green bay Packers where he said and I’m paraphrasing, I don’t know the exact quote off the top of my head, but he said we didn’t really lose the game.
We just ran out of. Yeah. And it’s a really great quote because like, there’s like really no failure in actually going after it. And sometimes you just didn’t get enough time to finish something, but like having that like attitude what, like how do you think that ties into some of the things that you’re talking
I think we’ve made failure out to be. This negative term and oh, like, I think I was figuring it out. Maybe, I don’t know, a year or so ago, I’ve probably built 30 or 40 pieces of software. And I would say majority of them have either never seen the light a day or pivoted into something else or got shut down.
Like. And I’ve learned a ton of stuff over that. And that’s why going back to my earlier point is if you can build a quick business for a few hundred dollars to try an idea, especially if you go no code, if you’re not a developer, what, who cares worst case, you’re out a little bit of time in a few hundred dollars.
Like there’s never been an, a bigger or easier entry point into building software these days and starting your dream. And I think. Who cares if you fail? Like I know it’s it’s hard because like, I wish some of the stuff that I’m talking about right now, I wish I could truly hear it when I was in my twenties.
Right. And I think getting over that fear of failing and just accepting it, like, if you’re that scared to fail, like don’t tell people you’re doing something until you figure out or have become successful doing it. And like I said, just do it under a fake name. If that makes you feel better. Right.
Ryan: Yeah, whatever it takes.
Yeah. And going back to a point you made earlier kind of around the user testing and the way you talked about with the pro the product you were working on when you tested with nurses, you got a very specific type of feedback versus the anyone else. How do you think? And as you’re going through this process of Hey, I’m okay.
It’s okay to fail. I’ll move on. I can pivot. I can. Within that process. How do you look for signals? That might be false. So, if you’d only listen to the signals of the other users and not gone to the nurses on that product you may have shut it down, but by going to the nurse, you actually like, oh, this is actually the right thing.
How do you assess false signals on stuff that you’re trying to create or put into the
Kevin: market? I like I’ll caveat that I think it’s one of the hardest things about building any piece of software. Yeah. Because you can end up chasing your tail because you get in that, like you get from potential clients.
The, if you build these three features, I’ll sign up. I think in the, an, the simplest answer to that is the people that are willing to pay you money. And if they are willing to give you even a little bit of money, Or they’re your current paying users, or if you don’t, if you’re building a product that is freemium or whatever, it’s your most active users, because if somebody logged in once, six months ago and they’re requesting features, it’s whatever.
But if I also think too, is if you’ve heard the same feature 20, 30 plus times, you might want to heavily consider that You’re always gonna get. Feature requests. I also think too, sometimes you need to build the low hanging fruit next and you need to focus on yeah. Your roadmap as well as feature requests.
But I also think too that if you build an app and one section or features getting. Leveraged a ton and other parts of your app aren’t being used at all. You probably need to kill the other parts of that app and maybe develop along that feature or add additional stuff. I think you really just need to watch the analytics around that.
There’s really good. Free, like, obviously I think Google analytics is probably the most popular one, but hot jar has a really good free analytics that does heat mapping. It also will record user se sessions. Like you can watch that records little videos for you and it’s free. Like their free plan is great.
And so that’s where you get the real feedback it’s like, yes, listen to your users, but you need to go back and validate with tools to see. What people are actually doing and look at what your active users are really doing and, or the ones that are paying you money. And that’s where you need to go, because I’ve chased my tail before trying to build feature after feature, to get potential clients that never ended up turning into something, because it was, they needed this feature and then they needed three more features and then they needed 10 more features.
It’s like, they’re either gonna sign up or they’re not gonna sign up. And it sounds harsh to say, But that’s just kind of the reality in my experience anyway.
Ryan: Yeah. That makes sense. How much do you find is, and I know you come from the design side of things, how much do you find you end up in a, not a battle, but like a debate with the tech teams over what the next right step is.
Cuz a lot of times, like what you’re wanting to do on the user experience side might differ from what the actual. Possible T needs are on anything, what how’s that hap worked out for you in your career? Yeah,
Kevin: I’ve found the best way to do that is get everybody in the room as early as possible. Like, even if it’s like a napkin idea or we get everybody on like a whiteboard and we get like somebody from the business, somebody from development, somebody from design, somebody from whatever, whoever you think needs to be in the room.
Right. But try to get as many. People from as many different departments in a room as possible. And I know it sounds stupid to say departments when maybe there’s like the two of you or there’s three cofounders. Right. But you represent six, six departments a piece. Yeah. Yeah. Like, because. Try to get as many people from as many different viewpoints in the room as possible.
Sometimes it’s just, couple technical founders or maybe one technical founder, one designer, and somebody from the business side, but. The sooner you all get on the same page because it sucks, no matter your design development on the business side, if you, if somebody does something in their silo and gives it to you and says, okay, I need you to execute this.
Or like, I give a developer, a whole click through what in Figma or XD or whatever. It doesn’t matter. And it’s like, go build this. And as they’ve had no say that’s where I think the biggest hurdles come. I also think. If you get people in that room, everybody gets buy-in day one before any line of code or any design’s been been kind of done.
And then I’m fine sharing stuff pretty early on. It’s like, just call people back in the room. It’s like, okay, I got a couple screens. Let’s talk this through. Like, is this build buildable? Does this make sense from the business side? Does this make sense for the design side? Because I, and it kind of goes back to my earlier point.
It. Depending on what we’re building. Sometimes I’m not the target market. Right. Well, and a lot of times I’m not the target market. And so it’s like, okay, I think this makes sense for what we’re trying to do. And I think this makes sense for the technical challenges we’re trying to solve. I also think.
I’m a designer that can kind of code a bit, I’m not really a developer. I think I’m kind of a terrible coder. Like you wouldn’t want me actually doing that, but I’ve actually built kind of apps on iOS and Android and done some web stuff. So I understand what the process is like, because the more, and I think developers should do the same and I designers should try to learn a little bit because.
If, what’s possible in code, you can get rid of a lot of that friction and feedback. And I know the caveat and the argument, the big argument to that is if, if what’s possible, you don’t pu push the design boundaries and it’s like, so you need to be cognizant of that. And that you need to make sure that what you’re doing is still doing that.
But. Building the app, building an app for users is not an art piece. And I think we forget that sometimes as designers, this needs to be fully function unless you’re building an art piece. If you’re building something for nurses. Yeah. Like it should look nice. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it shouldn’t look nice, but it’s not.
Sometimes it’s not, it’s more like to me, good user experience is more than just what it looks like. A couple really good examples quickly is how much time does the user need to move the mouse around the screen? Like from, for step one, do they need to go to the top left corner and then move their mouse to the bottom right corner?
How long does page load in between or how much time on mobile? Like, do I need to go from using your app from one hand to two hands back to one hand, do I need to reach my thumb to the top? Right. Or top left back to the bottom. Like all that stuff is user experience. That really has nothing to do with look and feel.
Right. And so I’m also a big believer that everybody at the company should be, do doing user experience, not from the fact that they’re actually writing code or doing designs, but if somebody on the marketing team or the business side comes to me and says, look like this flow doesn’t make sense to me.
Or, you know what? I have to reach to the top corner to do this one thing all the time. I wanna have a conversation about that. I want to know about that. And like, can we fix that in an, in a next iteration? Right. And then just kind of going back to, I, I think, okay. So we talked about if you’re building day one, get everybody involved.
And I think as you’re rolling out new phases, as you’re doing sprints Get people the same people in the room periodically to say like, are we on the right track? Does this make sense from the business side? Does this make sense from the dev side? Because the reality is I can design whatever we want or whatever I want.
I should say. Sometimes I’m designing version 10 and. But we’re gotta build version one or version three. Right? And so you gotta make sure the interface has enough room to grow. You also need to make sure that we’re designing features that fit the current version and future versions. And that can be really tricky because it’s like, what can we build today?
Versus what, where do we want to be in 6, 9, 12 months. Right. And trying to figure out how to make the user experience the best possible with the next development cycles. And our next release, I think, is that’s where the real challenges and a lot of that just comes with trial and error and or experience.
Ryan: All right. That’s a really great rundown. And your Insight’s incredible. I love hearing about the way that you’re thinking about bringing design together with all the different groups and really telling a story that matches ultimately what that very important audience that you’re trying to hit needs.
And it is interesting. And a, last comment before we jump into your top five tips it’s definitely not artwork. You’re definitely building tools that are that are designed to help people. And at the same time, there is an absolute artistry to it. And I think what you’re talking about is bringing that out amongst all the people.
Kevin: Yeah. And I think the reality is there’s two things people expect from your app, whether it’s on a phone desktop or wherever, it’s like, they want it to look nice to them, whatever that means to them. And second, it needs to be quick. Nobody likes to wait. I, the guilty of that I have the attention span of a goldfish, but I think watch people, if you watch, like when you’re out in public and you’re watching, watch somebody, if you can see their phone.
And I don’t mean it like in a creepy way, but like, Watch your friends sometimes or if like, watch, like, just as they’re trying to show you something on their phone, watch what they do and where they get frustrated. And not because it’s like, they’re using your app. It’s like, oh, they quit because it’s too slow.
Or they gave up on this because whatever. Or they said they made a comment because they hated this. And if you hear that enough times, maybe you need to think about. can you use that feedback in somebody else’s app to apply into your own app? The other thing, yeah, that I think is really useful is give your niece, nephew, kids give or elderly people just like, give them your app and let them just don’t tell ’em what it is.
Just let them play with it. And you’ll be surprised at what you learn or where they get to, or they might crash it. But I find sometimes some of the best user testing is just like, I let my kids play with it sometimes. And just. Don’t even cuz they don’t really understand the context, but just like what they do.
And if they ask questions, like what does this do or how come I’m here or how do we get outta here? Mm-hmm It’s like, those are really good feedback. Sorry. That’s kind of a longwinded.
Ryan: no, it’s great. And I think it’s a good, I think it’s a good intro. For us moving into the top five tips because these are really great tips.
Ryan: Mm-hmm For over 26 years, Kevin has been working on web and mobile apps for some of the world’s most notable and well respected organizations with that comes a well tested sense for what a client needs. Whether it’s software, UX, design, or other product features his unique perspective into the journey of an entrepreneur exhibits, an important leadership fact, we often need to overcome the obstacles related to our own self-doubt to discover the true power of taking the initiative.
We have to do that to accomplish something. We have to be brave. We have to go forth. And Kevin reminds us that confidence when applied to action usually leads to a successful. Or at least you learn more in preparation for future outcomes.
All right. Welcome back everyone. We’re excited to have Kevin HOK with us here today, and Kevin’s about to jump into his top five leadership tips. Really excited to hear what you have to say, Kevin. So let’s start with number one. What
Tip One (The C-Suite Needs To Be On The Same Page)
Kevin: do you have? Sure. So this is something I’ve struggled with is the CSU needs to be or upper management or whatever needs to be on the same page.
I’ve worked at companies before where. I’ve been in the C-suite and we’re not on the same page. I’ve also worked at companies where I’m reporting to the C-suite and you hear from the CEO, one thing you hear from the CTO, for example, a completely other thing, and you, what do you do? Right? And so, or one reads an article or book, and we’re chasing this for a few days and then one reads a different article or book, and we go 180 and we don’t let.
Ideas actually like out there and validate what’s working and what’s not working. And so making sure we’re all going in the same direction is extremely difficult, but sometimes you just need to get people in the room or in an email thread or whatever to say we are building X. Does everybody agree?
Because sometimes if one says X and one says, Y it’s it can be really challenging. And it’s really frustrating as an employee. Where one, one person you report to is telling you one thing, and another person is telling you the complete opposite. And you’re like, who do I listen to?
Ryan: Do you think that’s a signal of a struggling CEO?
If that’s happening.
Kevin: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s insecurity in a lot of cases. You, everybody says you should hire smarter people than yourself, but majority of people don’t do it because they’re scared to do it. I like goes back to like, whatever you need to do to get over that and get over yourself because like, why would you hire people that you can’t learn?
Tip Two (Take Your Own Advice)
Kevin: Like, I don’t know. It’s just hard. Right. And I get, it’s so easy for me to say, you should do this. And I think that’s perfect into my second tip is like follow my own advice because I’m up here. Like I, on a soap far preaching all this stuff, but there’s been, I’ve caught myself even recently where I was like, oh, I just mentored at this thing in Edmonton.
I was like, oh wow. I just gave this advice and I did just did the complete opposite. So I think just trying to be cognizant of what you’re doing and what you’re putting out there and are you actually practicing what you preach? I think it’d be really, it’s really hard to do. And it’s easy for me to be on a show like yours and say like, you should do this.
But I think sometimes I realize like, am I doing all this stuff? I think sometimes I’m very good at that other times I need a reminder cuz I’m not doing it.
Ryan: That’s funny because many of my guests at the end of this, they’re like, that was just a great reminder of the path that I’m on and the things that I’m wanting to do myself.
In fact, my, when I’ve gone through my own questions, same thing. I’m like, oh yeah, that’s right. That’s what we’re actually looking to tap into. So I think that’s a eating your own dog food, practicing what you preach, doing all that. Like it’s.
Kevin: That’s funny. I know I was joking with a guy.
Tip Three (Know Your Strengths And Weaknesses)
Kevin: I had it on a show that has a podcast two number of weeks ago. And he BA we said the same thing, and these are basically just like therapy sessions for bunch of annuity. So good. so good. Yeah. Alright. Number three, what you got? Number three. It kind of goes back to what I said earlier. It’s never too early to start, but I think you need to know.
Your strengths and weaknesses and try to find other people that compliment you. If you’re looking to build something because like I’m terrible at the business side, I will openly admit that. And so. Trying to work with people that are good at that, or I’m bad at sales, like trying to figure out what’s good, but you should try to understand a little bit of those spaces.
So you know what to look for in other people, but yeah. Really knowing your lane and what you’re good at and really trying to hone your craft. Stay current, learn, read sounds stupid, but try and try pieces of software as a designer. Or developer. The best thing I sign up for literally every trial. Yes. I’m an early adopter, but I literally sign up for pretty much every trial just to play with the software.
I usually cancel before. I have to pay anything, but I try software all the time, just so I know what’s current, what’s trendy. What good interface ideas I can get. Like my son bought some Lego the other day. And there you had to download the Lego app. And like, I was like, Ooh, that interface, I could use it in.
Thing I’m building, like, you never know where inspirations come from. Yeah. But like, I try to stay really current and I St try to stay in my lane as much as possible. Yeah.
Ryan: I this brought up an interesting moment for me too, where I really whatever a number of years ago really wanted to learn blockchain and understand it.
Yeah. Which I know a lot about it now, but at the time it was a little more difficult to understand. So I said, okay, I think the best way for me to really explore this is to put a bunch of money into it. So I just kind of, kind of made some pretty decent size investments and it forced me to go and learn it and go deep into it.
And I like, I’ve seen when I’ve made those, like that level of commitment, I really deeply learn something and then can have it and teach it and guide people with it.
Kevin: Well, yeah, totally. A hundred percent.
Ryan: All right. Tip number four. What do you
Tip Four (Try The No Code Road)
Kevin: got? I would say. Try. Well, I think a lot of things, because there’s such a huge shortage of people right now try to, The no code route. If you’re nontechnical, you’d be surprised at how far you can actually take this. So I think that limitation’s gone cuz I know part of the reason I went no code. Trying to find a developer was incredibly challenging right now. And so I think other people are, I’ve heard a lot of people are having trouble with that.
And so if you’re willing to do it, no code might be the solution for that.
Ryan: Yeah. I love that. It’s kind of like the the prototyping concept in general. Right. You can go along the ways on prototypes and get a lot of feedback. And then you’re like, okay let’s go for the investment and bring people on.
Yeah. Right. And tip number five.
Tip Five (Bootstrap It)
Kevin: What do you got? I would say just bootstrap it to begin with. Yes. You can try to raise money. It’s challenge it’s if you read raising money right now is all doom and gloom and it’s, I don’t think it’s as bad as everybody says invests been probably one of the highest it’s ever been.
And I think it’s coming back down. Not saying don’t go for investment, but I think what people miss about raising money is. Sure you might need to raise money if you’re building certain things or certain hardware or whatever, but if you can try to bootstrap it as long as possible and own as much equity as possible, because it’s a hell of a lot better to RA like GI it’s.
You could raise say $500,000 and give away say 40% of your company today when it’s a napkin idea or. But it’s better to give away, maybe 5% and raise a million dollars or $10 million or whatever the number is down the road. When you’ve validated your idea, you haven’t spent a ton of money spent hundreds of dollars or a few thousand dollars and try to bootstrap this thing and try to get a little bit of before you go, potentially raise big money and it’s no better time to raise money when you don’t really need money.
Ryan: Yeah, I think this is incredibly good advice. And it’s hard because a lot of times we go into these projects with the kind of concept of we’re gonna have to go through rounds of VC funding or things like that. So that actually becomes the focus of how we’re going to finance or how we’re gonna actually bring in revenue for the, for this.
When, in fact, like the whole model itself really needs to be self-sustaining in the long run. And if you don’t really try to bootstrap it a lot of times, you never really learn the model that you have to monetize
Kevin: with. Well, I think, and I’ve been guilty of this too, so. Like, I’ve basically everything I’m telling you today is I’ve learned the hard way.
Like I’ve, messed it up more than once. But like, and I just was guilty of this recently we were trying to raise money and it’s like, do we really need to raise money? Like, can we, self-fund this like, bootstrap, this it’s like, yeah, let’s keep bootstrapping this for a while. And if it works out fine, if it doesn’t, then we don’t, we didn’t take all this money from an investor and shut it down.
Right. Like, I think. And we didn’t give up any equity or as much equity, right? Yeah. It’s like, so really try to figure out if you can do this cheaply as possible, there’s ways to do a lot of things. Majority of things, really inexpensive. Or maybe you have to do some stuff manual. Like I, I had a guy on my show a couple weeks ago.
He said they spent a year building a button to see if people would push the button. And then finally a VC to them was like, why don’t you just make the button? All you need to do is just have it send an email or send you like a notification or just record it in the database. See how many times people connect to the button.
But you built this whole thing. You spent a year, you tried to get a bunch of people on board. It’s like, but all you really needed to know is if people pushed that button. You could just give ’em a prompt saying like, thanks for clicking the button, new feature coming soon or something don’t do that. But you know what I mean?
It’s like, you can,
Ryan: well, that’s an, and that’s an entire, another episode too, of like, what do you really need to know? Cause a lot of times people will go down a path of like, not knowing those things. So they do spend a year building a button. That’s yeah. You could have found that out in five minutes. A hundred percent.
So, all right. Well, Kevin. Those were amazing tips. It’s been really great to have you on the show today. Appreciate all of your insight and your wisdom years of it. And you’ve been on all sides of this. So I’m really excited to hear everything you had to
Kevin: share. Appreciate it, man.
And hopefully it was useful and hopefully some people sh out there uh, found it valuable. And just start, man, just start. That’s all I can say.
Ryan: AB absolutely. And I wanna remind everybody, if you get a chance, definitely go go check out his amazing show. Kevin’s amazing. Show building the future. He’s got just mind blowingly, good guests on there.
So take some time and go listen to that. If you’re a fan of this, you’ll definitely be a fan of his. Being in tech leadership roles, whether in C-suite executive management or team leadership, we find that effective communication is always at the forefront of success. Kevin crystallizes the importance of hiring skilled people who know how to. Even more important. However, he clearly communicates that listening to their unique perspective while putting action behind our own leadership ideals is a great path to creating something memorable with all of our teams.