Chris Hardie

Blog, Tech, Business and Community Building

summersault

March 14, 2014

How I learned to run a business

Meeting RoomContinuing in the theme of last week's post on how I became a computer geek, I thought I'd also share some thoughts on how I learned to run a business.

I get asked now and then what path led me to the world of business ownership/management, and I think the short answer is that I've always just learned what I needed to know to support my other interests and passions, and in one particular long-running case, that meant learning the world of business. I've never set out to run a business for the sake of running a business, and I don't have any formal educational training in that skill set.

I'm not sure that my story should be any kind of model for others; I don't claim that I've always learned to run a business well, and I'm sure that there are many things I could and should have done better over the years. But by at least a few traditional measures of my company Summersault's performance from 1997-2013 - profitability, financial stability and customer satisfaction - I think I can claim some success along the way.

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February 26, 2014

Y Combinator wisdom on helping startups succeed

LaunchPad_300I just finished reading Randall Stross's The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, a great accounting of the origins, growth and successes of the seed accelerator company that helps "budding digital engineers."  This blog post is a little bit book review, but mostly highlighting the wisdom that Y Combinator seems to capture and employ in its work helping startups succeed.

I could not help but take in that wisdom and Stross's stories through the lens of my own experiences creating a tech company, and while I felt affirmed in having learned a lot of the things that Y Combinator tries to teach its program participants, I also had plenty of forehead slapping moments about things I wish I'd understood better.  I think some of those tidbits are very relevant to what I'll do next, and present day efforts to invigorate the local tech economy here in Richmond, so I'm including some comments on them here too.

If you don't already know about Y Combinator, I encourage you to check out their website, or watch this very recent interview with Paul Graham, who has headed the company's efforts most of this time.  The bottom line is that they host a three-month program in Silicon Valley to help startup companies with the money, advice and industry connections they need to go from concept to initial implementation, ready for investors to take them to the next step.  As Stross describes, they focus on admitting young groups of founders who are going to bring the hard work and innovation needed for success, even if their initial idea for a startup isn't sound. If you use Dropbox, you're benefitting from a startup incubated at Y Combinator.

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November 25, 2013

What's happening with Chris and Summersault?

Chris on Cadillac Mountain2013 has been a year of change for me in my professional life and at my company, Summersault.  The changes were set in motion by a combination of intentional planning and dealing with the unexpected, and navigating them has been challenging and stressful, but I think ultimately worthwhile.

The company has been around since 1997, and so we have a number of supporters and interested observers who we've connected with over the years, locally here in Richmond, among our clients and vendors, and of course among our friends and families.  As I get questions from them about "what's happening with Summersault?" and "what's happening with you?" I know I haven't always been clear in my responses, in part because the answers (or how to talk about them) haven't always been clear to me.

As I've built Summersault with care and attention to the complex interactions between business needs and human needs, so I've also wanted to give that same care and attention to times of transition and restructuring. It was - and still is - a challenge to share publicly about professional changes that have many layers of complexity. It's a challenge to answer questions about what these changes might mean for individual employees while honoring their privacy. It's a challenge to talk about new directions while acknowledging the interests and concerns of our clients and the services we might still provide to them. It's a challenge to speak about areas where we have encountered difficulty with our local economy, talent pool and business climate without seeming to disparage the good work of people trying to improve the same. It's a challenge to share about the specific difficulties, frustrations, opportunities and realizations that have led to these changes while maintaining harmonious relationships with coworkers, clients and supporters who might have their own and different narratives about Summersault's history and evolution. It's a challenge to distill the feelings, hopes, disappointments, anxiety and messiness that go with owning and running a business with a history and identity in a community I care about, let alone making big changes in that identity. So, when people ask me "what's going on at Summersault?" and I find myself speaking in vague or jargony terms about it, it's clear that I've not done a good enough job of meeting all of the above challenges!

Here, then, is an attempt at answering those questions more clearly, based on what I know and can say now.

Q: What's changing at Summersault? - Read More -

May 20, 2013

The end* of website development as a profession

Glass Art at Indy Art Center

In the beginning was the <blink> tag

In 1997 I co-founded a company whose business model was based on the value of building highly customized websites for our clients.  Those clients often didn't know (or want to know) much about the inner workings of HTML, Photoshop, hyperlinks and web hosting, but they knew that the World Wide Web and the Internet represented a new era of marketing and communications, and it was worth paying someone else to figure those details out so that they could be a part of that in some form.

And so in a time before content management software, Google, PayPal or GoDaddy, we - like other web development companies starting to pop up around the world - built websites, online stores and interactive community tools from scratch.  At first we hand-coded sites in HotDog Pro or BBEdit, and then later used Dreamweaver and Fireworks.  We created complex software applications using Perl, and others used PHP, Python, TCL and C.  We tested for compatibility with Netscape and Internet Explorer, and we submitted links to AltaVista for crawling when we were done.

That model evolved as we went and worked pretty well until around 2008, when we saw the maturity of many new "software as a service" offerings and a bunch of off-the-shelf tools and programs that often made custom website development unnecessary, or at least seen as too costly in the eyes of clients who once had few other choices.  We also saw the focus on developing an online presence shift away from "doing it right" to "doing it quickly" - edgy, authentic and in-progress began to trump polished and highly produced.

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January 9, 2013

Are your professional strengths being used well every day?

Extinction Level EventIn reading the Gallup book First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, I encountered their list of questions that, when answered by close to 200,000 employees across almost 8,000 business units in different companies, turned out to be a good measure of organizational dynamics that led to lower employee turnover, higher productivity, and higher customer satisfaction.

At their core, the questions are asking an employee whether they feel their strengths are being used every day at their organization. The questions are simple and applicable across a lot of different kinds of organizations; I've listed them out below.

Using the free open source software LimeSurvey, I set up the questions in an open ended online survey on Summersault's Intranet.  Around twice per month, a randomly selected subset of the staff get an automated email invitation to answer the survey, anonymously by default but with the option to provide our names if we want.

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July 2, 2011

Northwest Living

Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel's immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.

I can't agree enough with this quote by Ralph Crawshaw.  I am always fed by seeing the world from the different perspectives that come with traveling around it, being temporarily away from the routines, habits and comforts of my home.  Indeed, many of my best life choices and decisions have sprung from the thinking and reflecting that I've done while experiencing some other part of the country or the world, engaging in new conversations and reacting to new landscapes. I've often had my notion of "the right and only way" challenged and redefined by seeing how others live, work and play.  I'm appreciative of the privilege to have had these experiences.

I'm currently having another one.  For several weeks this summer, I'll be spending time in Portland, Oregon and in other areas of the northwestern U.S.

The trip is a combination of professional development, research in community building and city governance, and personal adventure and reflection.  Because a number of friends and colleagues have asked me about the trip, I thought I'd say a little more about these three areas of focus.

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March 13, 2010

Walking to Work

Main Street West of 8th - 1960For over a year now, I've lived less than a mile away from my company's office in downtown Richmond, Indiana.  And for the first time in my life, on most days I get to and from the office by walking instead of driving.  It's been a really enjoyable shift, and one that I hope I never take for granted, given how much of the rest of the country commutes to work every day.

Some observations on walking to work:

  1. Since walking has become my usual mode of commuting, I've found myself noticing even more what complex and sometimes onerous machines automobiles can be.  There a feeling of lightness I have in walking out the door and propelling myself down the street, feeling my muscles working and pace changing, saying hi to people and noticing changes in their moods and dispositions from day to day, just being out in the open air of the world.  This is much different from the protocols for entering, activating and safely operating my internal combustion go-go machine from one place to another; it's just a much heavier and more isolating experience, and while it still has its place, I'm quite glad to partake in it less often. - Read More -
October 1, 2009

Watch out for Interpage paging: "You won't win."

Once in a while I can't help but comment here on a company or organization that has so clearly committed themselves to creating the worst possible customer service experience for their customers.  Interpage paging, which offers network paging services, faxing, voice and e-mail gateways, etc., is just one such company.  If you're considering using them, you'll definitely want to make sure you ask lots of questions about what happens if you're not satisfied.  Here's our story:

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September 21, 2009

Upcoming speaking events

I have a few upcoming speaking events that you might be interested in: Capitalism vs. The Environment: A small business perspective on doing well AND doing good. This coming Thursday September 24th at 4 PM at Indiana University East in Whitewater Hall Room 132 the Community Room, free and open to the public, no registration […]

September 18, 2009

Growing a Geek Culture in Richmond

Surveying the courseA few weeks ago I was asked to talk with some folks at the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce about Summersault's past, present and future, and I enjoyed the conversation and questions very much.  One really good question that came out of the meeting was "how can Richmond better encourage, nurture, cater to technology professionals like the ones working at Summersault?"  I'll simplify that question to be "How can we grow a better geek culture in Richmond?"

It's something that I think about a lot (especially when we're trying to hire someone), but I didn't have a ready answer - partly because there is no simple answer, but partly because I hadn't really ever taken the time to write one down.  Below is a list of ideas and comments, in no particular order, that came out when I put the question to the wider Summersault staff.  I hope that you'll contribute your own thoughts and suggestions, and I'll pass the list back to the Chamber and anyone else I can find who might be in a position to work on some of these things.

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