202 FS Live from MicroConf: Managing a Team with Anders Thue Pedersen

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In this episode, Chuck interviews Anders Thue Pederson of TimeBlock at MicroConf 2016.The two discuss team building for businesses and go over important aspects such as planning, hiring, and managing employees and subcontractors. Picks

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CHUCK: Hey everybody. This is kind of a bonus thing, I guess, for The Freelancers’ Show. I’m sitting in the café at the Palms Resort in Las Vegas with Anders.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: Now Anders, you run – what is it – Trackblock?

ANDERS: Timeblock.

CHUCK: Timeblock?

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: And then you’ve also got a team of –

ANDERS: I’ve got a team of developers. I’ve been a freelancer. I’ve had another business before that and I’ve done a hell of a lot of things during 20 years of being self-employed.

CHUCK: Yup. We’re here at MicroConf. Well, after MicroConf, technically. But yeah, I was just chatting with some folks in the MicroConf. Slack channel. And Anders – I said “hey, I was thinking it might be fun to line some interviews up with some freelancers”, and Anders said “yeah, I’ve got some experience”. And so it was like “cool, let’s talk”.

ANDERS: More stories to tell.

CHUCK: Oh yeah. I’m sure. So you’re based out of Denmark, right?

ANDERS: I’m from Denmark, Europe, yes.

CHUCK: Yeah. I think my great great great grandmother was from Denmark or something.

ANDERS: Cool.

CHUCK: Yeah.

ANDERS: Then we’re basically in family because it’s such a small country.

CHUCK: But yeah – so we’re cousins, right?

ANDERS: Yeah.

[Laughter]

CHUCK: How [inaudible] that works.

[Laughter]

CHUCK: It’s such a small country that I’m sure we’re related, right?

ANDERS: Yeah, yeah. We have to be, but a few millions.

CHUCK: Yeah. So anyway, you mentioned that you have a lot of experience running teams and things like that.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: Is it specifically teams of developers or teams running the entire business?

ANDERS: The entire business, both of developers and graphic designers. So yeah. And normal HR or administrator persons; I’ve had it all.

CHUCK: Great, then I’m going to ask you all of my questions.

ANDERS: Yeah, yeah. Fire away and I’ll do my best.

CHUCK: Yeah. I know some of the other show hosts have done stuff like this to you, but at the same time, it’s a problem that we all face and I’m in the middle of trying to figure out hiring and building my team right now.

ANDERS: It’s so funny because the hiring process is like – it’s so important and I have [inaudible] really bad at it for many years. And the best advice I’ve gotten is to go out and find a freelancing HR person and get them to sit next to you during the interview. So you will still be doing the interview, of course, but this person will sit next – ask a few questions perhaps and then give a second opinion after the meeting, which is like – it’s really a hack because if you’re freelancer, you’ve never been a micromanager. You have no idea what to ask for, and I’ve been – I once said she did a trick, but I’ve employed people where after 2 weeks I was like “Jesus, this doesn’t work”. This person is so different than what I thought he was, so I had to fire them and that’s – it’s so much energy you put in to it.

CHUCK: Right, yeah. One of the things that I’m running into is – so I’ve had an assistant that’s work for me for 4 years. She’s probably yelling at this as she edits it and says “four and a half!” [Chuckles]

Anyway, she’s been working for me for quite a long time. And she does a terrific job and I’m super happy with the work she’s doing. But I feel like there are things that are kind of – I don’t know – too simple I guess to have her doing because she’s – she’s a stellar – she’s stellar at what she does, but for example, she edits the audio for these shows and she’s just – she’s a bright hardworking person, and I’d like to employ more of the bright as well as the hardworking instead of just have her work hard on whatever I don’t want to do. And I’ve also been thinking off and on about just hiring her as an employee, but I don’t even know what the implications of that are.

ANDERS: No. Again, the implication of hiring people in Denmark is probably bigger than here in the States. We have more laws protecting employees than you have. So you should always consult with a professional, either a lawyer or a HR professional that knows –can give you the contracts and can inform you on how long –.

In Denmark you can have 3 months trial period and then you have at least a month of then you let people go where you haven’t paid them. [Inaudible] that grows up to 6 month. So if you have had people employed for 10 years, they have 6 months off of paid – so there’s a lot of –

CHUCK: Not the case here.

ANDERS: No, no. I know that. But it’s a good thing to know, understand it. So you should always consult with a HR professional or lawyer before you employ people full time.

And the other thing when you say you don’t know who should do the editing if she doesn’t do it.

CHUCK: Right. And you know, I want to build out a team and I want her to handle other things. It’s not like I’m saying “oh well, don’t do half of your job and I’ll pay you half of what I’m paying you”. That’s not what it is. It’s “look, I feel like you would serve the business better by focusing on some of these other things”, especially high-touch things with sponsors for the podcast or conference attendees or anything like that.

ANDERS: I think the important thing is to treat people like they’re at your place for a while so you should – when you do stuff for them, you should make a plan for them. Talk to them. “What will you be doing after you’ve worked with me? What skills do you need to get better at? So let’s make a plan where you can both do the work that has to be done that you don’t learn anything from that you are over qualified. But at the same time, let’s make a plan – we might be at my place then 10 years or 15 years because it’s so much fun. But which skill do you want to develop”, and then really communicate with them regularly. Every other third month at least, have a one-on-one good discussion talking about how’s the plan going, just like –.

CHUCK: I like that.

ANDERS: Just like you do in software development – the new way of doing leadership and not being a boss, but being a leader. You really have to help your employees as you have to help your costumers. So you should really give them the opportunity to grow. Give them responsibility, autonomy, so they can handle on their own. So your job, instead of being a micromanager and telling them what to do, you should just tell them about the goals, the visions, the purpose of the company, where you’re going, and you should do that every week, keep on telling her where you’re going. And on the quarterly or a monthly talk, dig in to “what have you learned? Are we on track? Do we need to send you on call [inaudible] something?”

CHUCK: That makes a lot of sense because that’s – I think that’s the piece I’ve been trying to figure out is it’s like “yeah”; it’s “look, you’re totally overqualified for doing these handful of things”, and I want to take care of her, but I don’t – I didn’t know how to ask that – have that conversation and actually get to that place where it’s like “yeah where do you want to wind up? What skills do you want to acquire?” because I know her well enough to know that most of the things that she probably wants to acquire are skills or things that I want her to acquire, things that I need her to be doing anyway.

ANDERS: Yeah. And the way she pays back that you’re giving her the opportunity to grow is by being fine with doing stuff for you thinking “oh, she’s overqualified for it and it’s boring”, but that’s the payback. So you are also doing things you don’t think is funny, and that’s the payback for being a freelancer.

And so we have to remember that they are humans too and we need to treat them like humans. And if you give them the opportunity to develop, even though if they go out and start their own business, they will always be a friend of you. You’ve helped them grow so they will give at least – they will give you contacts, they will do a lot of things for you.

CHUCK: It’s funny that you mentioned that “remember that they’re humans” because I've had many people tell me during the conference that I can’t think of them as humans almost or that – how do I put it – this sounds so crass, but basically, “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do” kind of thing. And I’m like “yeah, but she’s my friend”. The couple of other people that worked for me are my friends.

And it didn’t start that way. I didn’t hire them thinking “oh, we’re going to become friends and then it’s going to be hard for me to change what they’re doing”. But at the same time, I care about them and I want to keep them in my business. And it’s “ok, so how do we make this work for both of us so that I feel good about what I’m getting from you and you feel good about what you’re getting from me?” And that conversation, I think, really opens up a lot of that so that you’re going to that place where it’s like “yeah, let’s make this highly beneficial for both of us and communicate so that we know that we’re both getting what we need”.

ANDERS: Yeah. One of my – things I’ve been – keep shutting back to us that if you – the big corporation, enterprises, they don’t allow you to be human. They don’t allow you to have a day off or have a kid that’s sick or have a bad day where you’re just like “my brain is on fire, I have to go home. Is that ok?” “Yeah, of course”.

So that’s the opportunity we have as a new kind of business is to make it ok to be humane, make it ok to want things, make it ok to develop in different ways, make it ok to part if that’s what you’re going to do or be together as friends. The hard thing about being friends with your employees – because I have a really strong relationship with mine too – is that I believe where I’m failing is that I don’t set-up strong goals for the week, for the month.

Don’t become angry, but have to be hard conversations when you don’t reach the goals, so being accountable is something that I’m working hard on. Always be more accountable, but getting the employees to that level of accountability requires a hard conversation from time to time.

CHUCK: Those are rough sometimes.

ANDERS: I hate them, but I’ve been reading up on something called Radical Camera, if you ever heard about that.

CHUCK: I think I’ve heard one, two people mentioned it.

ANDERS: So you should not just read something and go out and implement it because it can really ruin things.

CHUCK: Yeah [chuckles].

ANDERS: But it’s like I drive one of my employees to decide and say “John, when you’re doing this, you’re kind of being – I know you’re doing it to be fun and I really like you, and I’m trying to count ways [inaudible] that” – I don’t know how to say it in English, but whatever.

CHUCK: Just say in Danish and we’re all good.

[Laughter]

ANDERS: No. But when you’re doing that, I know you’re doing it for fun and you've always been doing it and it is automatic, but when you’re doing it, you’re – from my perspective and all the people’s perspective, you look childish or rude or something”. So instead of trying to say “couldn’t you stop doing that” because it will be [inaudible] I’m ok with that. So instead of putting it in package [inaudible], you say –

CHUCK: We’re a team and it’s –

[Crosstalk]

ANDERS: But also, people don’t understand how they come across, so you have to ask somebody else how they come across. I don’t know if you’ve ever asked anybody how you come across, somebody you know.

CHUCK: Not really – I should. [Chuckles]

ANDERS: And it’s really really hard doing that. I’ve had really some punches to my guard when people tell me “oh, but you’re a bit rude, a bit arrogant”. I’m like “what? I’m – no way”.

CHUCK: That’s usually what causes the fights with my wife. “Well, when you said you sounded like you meant –”. “Oh no, that’s not what I meant”.

ANDERS: If you can talk to your employees and tell them new things, they can really grow and so that’s also important.

CHUCK: I’m wondering a little bit – I feel like I have way more to do than Mandy and I can handle to, even together.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: And some of the stuff, to be perfectly honest, I’d like to get a little more free time.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: So, how do I go about building the team that does some of these things? How do you find those people?

ANDERS: Yeah, that’s a good question.

CHUCK: And some of them are developers.

ANDERS: I want to say one thing before I do that, because about the problem many people has is that they have too much to do like they have month of work ahead of them. And actually, you have to remember that’s a good thing, because if you had nothing to do tomorrow and the day after, and the day after, you will get fired or you will go bankrupt.

CHUCK: Yeah, I think, though, that in my situation is not so much that I have a months’ worth of stuff to do; instead I have a months’ worth of stuff that has to get done this week.

ANDERS: Yeah.

[Crosstalk]

ANDERS: Well, finding people is extremely hard. I get contacted by recruiters and portals who have jobs offering. And I’ve stopped using those and I rely entirely on networking. So going to – I don’t know if you have networking groups, web professional business meetup and freelancers meetup. And I’ve primarily want to work with somebody who are freelancing to test them off, or I’ll do one project. And then if that goes ok, I might hire them.

Because in Denmark, again, the law is that if you have a freelancer for more than a year, he becomes a hired person so he has this benefit. There are really strict laws about that. So I would always hire through network. So if you told everybody you know “I need a person that wants to do this”, and just by talking loudly about it, people will –you have podcast; so you can say on the podcast “I need a person doing this or that”, people will show up and that’s people who really want to do the job; not just have to get a job.

CHUCK: Yeah, that’s true. If they’ve work that well for somebody I know, then odds are better that they’ll work out well for me.

ANDERS: Yeah, exactly. And if I were to recommend you somebody, I would think “oh, you’re that kind of personality and this person would work well you, or this would – this person has the skills, but he would hate working with you because you’re whatever”. So you get some filtering up front.

CHUCK: So to your thinking then, is it more important to hire for personality or for skill set?

ANDERS: Personality. Always, because everybody can –

CHUCK: That’s what I tell people, but I was curious.

ANDERS: Yeah, yeah. But no – but I’ve hired people who would – like almost a blank slate and then I’ve just trained them so hard and then so honest about what they were good [inaudible]. Again you have to tell people “you’ve been working at this for 6 months. I honestly haven’t seen a real improvement in your skill set. Don’t you think you should find another skill set you should practice because it’s seems like you’re struggling so much”. And the guy was like “no it’s ok. I know I haven’t move, but I really want to move”.

And then we just tried some different way of arranging his work and giving him more time to practice, and then he started really improving. But you have to be able to work with people. The thing I’m looking for is like the grit; the people who actually sits down and do work. Because if you sit down for 8 hours a day doing the work that matters, even though you’re 10 times as slow as me, you will quickly catch up because you keep on practicing.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: And so I never hire – of course you shouldn’t hire somebody who are not interested in the skill. So you should hire somebody where your personality clicks and who really wants to improve their skill sets.

CHUCK: That makes sense. And then let’s say that you bring somebody on who has really basic set of skills or doesn’t have all the skills that you need. How do you approach that training?

ANDERS: Well I think its individual from person to person how they want to train. Some people want to go to online courses or courses in real life or something like that, somebody – someone just want to do it on their own. So again, because we’re all humans and we are all different, you have to – it’s has to be in a [inaudible] with the person. How do you learn the best? Do you do it best standing or listening or –?

The newest research you know, they’ve discovered that some people learn through their eyes, some people learn through their ears, some people learn while moving, and some people learn while lying down. So you have to figure out how do this person learn the best, and make an environment for that. Sit’s also split testing all the time.

CHUCK: So in some cases, you’re going to sit down with them one-on-one because that’s how they learn. And in their cases, you’re going to buy access to some online course that teaches them how to do whatever it is you needed them to do.

ANDERS: Books, videos, YouTube. Often, I try to –

CHUCK: Podcast. I have to throw that in.

ANDERS: Yeah, yeah. Of course, yeah. I learn a lot from podcasting, but you don’t learn programing from podcasting, but I often sit next to them, and I’m actually committing myself [inaudible] to do more of that when I get home so I’ll [inaudible] more time just sitting next to my guys and helping them improve because the pair programming is – it ties really teaching people stuff always also bonds you more and make the team more coherent, so that’s a good thing.

CHUCK: Yeah, that makes sense. One other thing that I struggle with some is team communication, especially since none of the people that work for me actually live anywhere near me.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: I have 3 people that work close to fulltime for me and they’re all in different countries. [Crosstalk] One of them is in the US – no not even that. One of them is in the US, one of them is in Argentina, and the other one is in Spain.

ANDERS: Oh in Spain, yeah.

CHUCK: And so they speak English well and I – so that’s not a communication barrier, but sometimes we’re communicating over Slack or Skype. I’ve been trying to get everyone to standardize on Slack because I can automate more things there and get them more information, but it’s still hard like – oh, I take it back; I have another person that works for me in Philippines too. So they’re all around the world.

But it’s like notifications from Basecamp where we’re working on stuff for Trello which is where we do the developing stuff. There are handful of other tools that we use and just being able to integrate that, pull all the information together, make sure everybody knows what’s moving and where it’s moving and what they need to do about it.

It gets really hard. How do you handle that?

ANDERS: Well, I handle that and those I’ve helped all had people in basically the same timezones plus minus 12 hours, and in that case, I will always recommend taking a Monday meeting, take 1 or 2 hours, sit down on Skype or Hangouts or whatever, everybody online at the same time, and then everybody –.

CHUCK: What if they’re doing completely different things?

ANDERS: Yeah, but that – the thing is that even though they’re doing completely different things, they’re still a team. They’re still working. The thing is every meeting should start with you talking about the purpose of the company. So why are we here? What are our visions? What are we trying to accomplish this year? What are we trying to accomplish this month? And what is this week’s must-win battles? What task – Thursday, I’m leaving for MicroConf [inaudible], so I need this X, Y and Z done by that.

CHUCK: Uh huh.

ANDERS: So you set deadlines and tell them when stuff needs to be done. But you don’t tell them when to do it, but they should figure that out themselves.

CHUCK: Yeah I don’t want to have become “you got to this”.

ANDERS: Do that Tuesdays because that’s not – no, but I have a dentist’s appointment Tuesdays, so that’s that.

CHUCK: Well then I don’t care as long as it gets done on time.

ANDERS: [Inaudible] so you should always tell people when things should be done by. And then you should talk about last week, what did you get done, what didn’t you get done. You should write down what you promised to get done. So you write down what will you be doing this week and tell everybody, email it to everybody, and then you take the email from last week and say “I promise to do these 2 things or 8 things. Didn’t get this done because of that and I got the rest of it done”.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: And the thing is, even though you’re working on different things –

CHUCK: How do you get them to report back, because that’s the other hard thing? So you said they come back and they said “I got these things done” and they didn’t do these things.

ANDERS: I fire them if they don’t do it. Honestly, I fire people if they don’t report back to me because I don’t know if they’re doing the work, I don’t know if they’re doing what I’m paying them for. So people have to be able to tell you honestly and transparently. Last week, I didn’t get shit done because my wife broke her leg or whatever, and it’s –.

CHUCK: But that’s fine. We’re people.

ANDERS: Again, back to the humanity of it. It’s ok, but it’s not ok hide things and not ok to put things under a rock and hope that nobody discovers the elephant in the room.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: So transparency, for me, is really key for a team that it’s ok to fail, it’s ok to do mistakes, as long as we’re open about it.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: And the last thing about that period of time where everybody is talking about what they’re doing, here at MicroConf, what have you been doing for 2 or 3 days. You’ve been talking about what you’re doing.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: But people who are passionate about the same things. And the thing is your employees, when you give them the time to tell about what they’re doing, they become more passionate about it. Because they get the opportunity to tell about – even though often – not often – but sometimes when one of my developers ramble about something really technical, and even though I’m a developer, I’m not that interested in that anymore. I nod up and he’s sitting there for 10 minutes and talking about all the technical stuff, but he’s so happy after that because he gets to share that he’d learn these new things and he’s made this fantastic [inaudible] that can change colors when you [inaudible] it.

And just the joy people get from that, it helps build this familiar feeling that actually releases serotonin in your brain, which is [inaudible] that make you happy, but it’s a long term one. Here in Vegas were we’re at, if you sit down on one of the slot machines and win, you get dopamine. It feels the same, but dopamine is short term and serotonin is long term.

CHUCK: Oh that’s interesting.

ANDERS: So when people get to talk about what they’re doing and they feel more connected, that connectedness and the room where it’s ok to be vulnerable makes them release serotonin so they become more attached to the company. They want to do the right thing, they become more passionate about it, the quality goes up, they are more willing to put in the hours if it’s needed; so it has a lot of beneficial side effects doing that meeting.

CHUCK: I’m seeing a lot of benefits just envisioning how this would work for my company where we all get together, and everybody feels like what they’re doing is contributing to the company and contributing to things moving forward.

But the other thing that I see coming out of this meeting is let’s say that we have a podcast editor and we have a couple of programmers and we have somebody else who does whatever else I dump his way – and that’s more or less what my company is right now – but we get everybody involved, and then our audio editor says “well, I got these shows edited, and I went and uploaded these, and the process for uploading these files is such a pain”. And one of the programmers goes “we can fix that”.

ANDERS: Exactly.

CHUCK: Right? And then the other guy that does the odd jobs, he says “well, then I can help you with this and this and this”. And then all of a sudden it’s like “ok, yeah, everybody go do that so we can get together and accomplish what we need to accomplish”.

ANDERS: And the serotonin that comes from being like a family also makes people want to help each other. So you really help that audio editor and not having the trouble of uploading those files. So it becomes really natural to try to help each other even more than they’re doing now.

CHUCK: Well, it helps the business as a whole.

ANDERS: Yeah. And because you have told them about the purpose of the business, they will know that it’s ok, it’s a problem uploading audio files for a month more because they are switching to entire new system and that’s the purpose of – so they shouldn’t waste time on automating that in the reverse case of what [inaudible] because everybody is aligned on the long term goals also and then long term vision. It makes it easier for your employees to make decisions without checking in with you, talking with each other.

And I want to mention that really really strange side effect of doing this Monday meeting – because when we started that a year and a half ago, it took perhaps 6 weeks, then one of my developers – he were the only one [inaudible] that day, and he was saying to me “Anders, it’s really strange, but after we’ve started doing this Monday meeting, I really don’t feel we talk to each other during the week even though we sit on the same office”. And I was like “you sure are right, but the even most strange thing was that I feel I know more about what you’re doing and I feel more connected to you than I've ever done before”.

So it lifts the connectivity, it lifts the understanding of what people are doing, and it lowers the amount of communication during the week because it’s so concentrated and it’s so focused on “what did we get done last week, what didn’t we get done, what are our strategy [inaudible]” – as we’re doing Mastermind – Mastermind is like “what did we get done since last time? What are our current struggles and what are we planning on for the next period of time”. I do that with all my guys and it really really helps speed up communication, and productivity goes up, and people just have so much more time to do stuff instead of “oh, did you do the blue button or should I do it? Oh, you haven’t done it. I can do this if you haven’t made the blue button, so I’m waiting for you and –”

CHUCK: You’ve already had that conversation on Monday. It has to get done.

ANDERS: It has to get done by Thursday. And then I go like “ok but then I need the blue button by Wednesday because I have to do all the green shit after the blue shit”, and you go “oh, but I can do that Monday, so would that be better for you because Tuesday I’ll do the audio upload.”

CHUCK: Yeah, I’ll do the other thing that I was going to – right.

ANDERS: So you get all that coordination and doing things in the right order so you save so much back and forth. And we don’t use Slack, we don’t use any other communication than the Monday meeting and then the odd email from now and then.

CHUCK: So the other question I have for you then is do you have a system for keeping track of tasks that need to get done? I see people using Trello boards or whatever.

ANDERS: You should use whatever – you should – the important thing is –

CHUCK: So the Monday meeting, I guess, is – my question is during the Monday meeting – let’s say that you’re using Slack or using a Rally, which is Agile development software that really sucked. But you're using whatever, right?

ANDERS: Is that the slogan or – [laughter]

CHUCK: It should be. But anyway, I probably shouldn’t knock the products, but I –.

ANDERS: No. No no no.

CHUCK: But whatever you’re using, it keeps track of all the things that people are doing and getting done. So you should be able to see that. So do talk about all of it in the Monday meeting or just the critical stuff or what?

ANDERS: We talk about it, not in details, but on a detailed enough level that we never talk about anything that takes more than half a day. So if something takes 2 days, we break it into half days and say “I’ll do this Monday morning and this Monday afternoon. This Tuesday –”. So we’re pretty detailed. We have 10 blocks a week, but that’s the Timeblock methodology.

But anyway, if you’re using Trello, I think the important part is to take what you can do this week and email every team member “this is what I’m going to do, so you have that accountability that these are the tasks that I have decided to do this week. Also, so you and – [crosstalk] – you say “oh, you shouldn’t do that and that task”. So whatever – if you’re using Basecamp, Teamwork, Trello, [inaudible] inbox, I don’t care, but take what you going to do after the Monday meeting when you have decided what you will all be doing, and email to everybody so everybody have it.

We use just Excel sheets and emails for 6 months while we were building the app because just that emailing it to other people erases the accountability, and you reprinted it out and put it on our tables and it just lay there, and every morning you came in, you look at it and say “oh, that’s what I’m going to do today”. Or actually, what happens is that when you go home Wednesday, you look at it and say “oh, I got to do the green button Thursday morning”. So while going or driving to work, you’re already working on that problem. Your subconsciousness has already solved it. So when you’re meeting at office, you’re just so ready to go instead of going through the inbox thinking “what I’m going to do”. And what happens there is you always take – picks the easiest task because then you get things done, but that’s answering emails doing support, and that’s not what’s moving the business forward.

CHUCK: Right. And if you get sucked into that – it’s Friday, and you’re like “oh, I still have 2 things on my list”. It’s like “I committed to get this done”.

ANDERS: So we always start the day by doing what he have committed to and then we can answer emails after that.

CHUCK: Oh, that is brilliant.

ANDERS: So you just turn around. Start with the hard things. Start with what you’ve promised to do. Sit down, get it done. It might only take an hour.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: And then you have the rest of the day to – but get that thing done. It’s so important because when you go home Friday and you have the email that the 10 things or 5 things, To Do things you promised to get done, and you got those done, how do you think your brain works that weekend?

CHUCK: Oh, yeah.

ANDERS: It’s totally relaxed because you know you have 2 month of work ahead of you, but what you have to get done this week to keep on moving and keep your job, you did that, you accomplished that so you can – the mental shift and the amount of free energy you get from not worrying about “did I do enough” because you plan – because when you plan the week, you can look at what you’re planning and say “this is enough task to get done for this week to move my business forward. This will make us survive or build up our company”.

CHUCK: Yep. That’s good advice for just the solo freelancing too, right?

ANDERS: Yeah, because if you’re in the [inaudible] of the week –

CHUCK: “I got a zillion things to do. Oh my goodness. Aaaa!” And In reality, it’s like “is this enough to move things forward?”

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: And the other question is if is there anything not on this list that if I drop it on the floor this week, it’s going to hurt. So you got to make sure you’re getting the important things into that list. But if you get the – so the important urgent, it’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – [crosstalk]. So your quadrant 1 is important and urgent task. So you make sure you get those in there, and then fill it out with the quadrant 2 stuff and make sure that that’s enough to move forward.

ANDERS: And let me give you one more hack for the freelancers which I’ve used myself and with the insane result. And when somebody contacts you one of your plans and ask you to do something, never do it today. Stop doing anything today unless you’re the client can’t make money. So if the credit card payment processor is down, fix it.

CHUCK: Websites down, fix it

ANDERS: Fix it; otherwise the blue button should be green. Tell the client I’ll look into it the first thing tomorrow morning.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: Never ever ever ever say today because it just shifts the urgency away so the amount of energy that gave me when I did that was [inaudible], and actually now we always – when we plan our week and somebody comes and say “can you do this”, it’s like “yes, we can it Monday”.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: And we haven’t had a single complain about people having to wait a week to get things done because they know we will do it Monday.

CHUCK: It’s funny you mentioned that because last May, I was working for a client. I was building – I guess I don’t have to talk about what it was, but it was this weird Facebook hybrid community thingy but they wanted.

ANDERS: [Inaudible]

CHUCK: Yeah. And anyway, the client had me join their Slack group and my – the way I do social media or instant messaging is I just sign in and I leave it signed in. And then I’ll just – when I’m at my computer, I’ll look at it. And so he would ping me during work hours, and “hey we need this”, and I just do it right then.

So then one time, he saw I was signed in to Slack, it was like 10pm and I was at a conference that week anyway. It was 10pm, I was at a conference and I’m like – so I went to bed, I went home, went to bed because I was tired from the conference. And I had this nasty message in my – in that Slack the next day because I was always available and because I left if signed in and he just expected me to drop everything at 10pm and take care of him, where in reality, I wasn’t even awake.

ANDERS: Yeah. It changes the dynamic between you and your clients enormously when you always say “I don’t have time today, but I will do it tomorrow”.

CHUCK: They’ll respect you more for it too. That’s the funny thing.

ANDERS: Yeah, and they’ll be happier when you do it, and they will pay for it because it’s not just something you just did, but it’s actually “it’ll take an hour. I’ll do it tomorrow between 9 and 10 because I have some free time”, whatever. You make probably an excuse, but it just changes the conversation so much instead of being this: “you didn’t do it in 5 minutes. You usually do it in 5. Why did it take 10 minutes to” – they have more respect for you and they have more respect for your time because you have respect for your own time. So that’s really important.

CHUCK: Yup, that makes a lot of sense. So I’ve kind of mandated to my team that we use Slack. I know that some of them are less thrilled about it, let’s say, than I am. I feel good about it because it works for me and I feel like I can do that because I’m paying them. [Chuckles] But should I be considering other things?

ANDERS: Well, it’s really up to the individual. Again, the humanity; some of them want to talk to you and then you probably have to talk to them.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: But try out the Monday meeting and see what changes because you might notice that Slack will just become a place where concrete pieces of information is shared.

CHUCK: That’s more or less what I want it to be.

ANDERS: Yeah. You don’t want to be a kindergarten where people are talking about their socks or dogs or whatever. But the other thing is that for people who do cognitive work using their brains, they really need to beat the flow to do that, if you’ve heard about flow, the concept of flow.

Flow is a state where if you get interrupted, a research shows it takes 25 minutes to get back to where you were. So if somebody writes something in Slack and you’re thinking “oh, I can answer that”. Again, this answering immediately with your [inaudible], and they go out of flow to answer this question. When they – they take one minute to answer the question, but they lose 25 minutes of flow time because they have to get back into flow.

So I would recommend checking Slack in the morning and then shoving it down, work for 2 or 3 hours in deep flow, do not check email, do not check messaging, just get things done and then check back in to Slack to see if people are having any problems. That just increases productivity enormously, and the – especially the quality of our people are doing goes up when they have time to think about because they understand much more complex problems, so they do better solutions, more greater solutions.

CHUCK: So I have another question that’s – I’m going to completely change topic on you, but you keep saying you have to know the purpose of your company. And then you have to have a vision for where you’re going long term and shorter term. When I started my business, initially it was I got to pay the bills freelancing, right? And then I started doing these podcasts, and so things changed a bit where it was – where were giving out free information, which isn’t really a purpose or a vision; it’s just what kind of what we do, right?

ANDERS: Yeah, but there’s probably a purpose behind it.

CHUCK: Right. How do you get there? How do you get to that purpose?

ANDERS: Well, I found my “why” by reading Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. He has some courses and some things you can go through to figure out what your “why” is. And the “why” is what drives us; that’s a purpose. My “why” is happiness, so whenever I do something, it has to align with my goal of making people more happy.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: So all the good advice I’ve been giving you is something I’ve tested on myself and knows to bring more happiness into your life while improving productivity, while improving quality, but it also have to make you more happy. But yeah, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why is my go-to when people have to figure out [inaudible].

The other thing you can do is think about or write down all the things you’ve done going back to as you as you can remember and see what’s the common threat going through all of that, and you would see – when I did that exercise, I discovered that one of the things that I really enjoy and I've done, not as a business, but on the side plus motivating people and helping people to move beyond themselves.

CHUCK: Yeah.

ANDERS: And I just realized it, but that’s also making people happy by making them realize that they can do more than they thought.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: So that’s part of my “why” and part of my purpose; always helping people. So again, I take people that I can train and help to become better people.

CHUCK: I think I was looking at it wrong – or maybe not wrong, but at the wrong level where I was like “we want to help programmers do better in their careers and we want to help programmers accomplish more at work and we want to help” – and where you’re talking about happiness; “I want people to be happier and it makes me happy” or “I want people to feel like they can accomplish something and feel like they're – they can move ahead with their life because that makes them happy and that” – and so you’re hitting it in a much more fundamental level than it was, right?

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: I mean that’s a good place to start, but then you can go and you could say “so the way we’re going to do the making people happier, helping people accomplish more is by focusing on this areas with the podcast or focusing on these areas with the conferences that I do”.

ANDERS: But it has to align with your “why”, and Sinek has the “why, what and how”. So “why” is “why we do then what we are doing?” Well, I’m building a methodology that makes people happier. And then the how we’re doing that? Well, we are building an app and I’m doing consulting and blah blah blah. So you have the 3 layers.

CHUCK: Yeah. You could write a book.

ANDERS: You go by the book.

CHUCK: Do a podcast or whatever, right?

ANDERS: That’s “how and what”; that’s not “why”. I also always – if people have a hard time understanding, I always go to Martin Luther King. He didn’t stand on that – in front of all those people saying “we have to do this and that and we will do it this way”. He said “I have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise”. He didn’t say “we have to rise and we should do it this way and that way”.

CHUCK: Right. And he gave them the vision, right?

ANDERS: He gave them the vision.

CHUCK: That my black children can play with white children and they won’t – the color of their skin won’t matter.

ANDERS: And that’s a dream.

CHUCK: So you could see it. You can feel it.

ANDERS: And you can buy in to it because if you don’t buy in to “how and what”.

[Crosstalk]

CHUCK: But it’s not the concrete – “and here are the steps we’re going to get there”. You can talk about that as you go, but you have to have that vision.

ANDERS: So what is your dream?

CHUCK: My dream? Oh, boy. So that’s still a little bit tricky for me to answer. I have dreams around what my family life looks like, and I have dreams around what my professional life looks like. Honestly, I really just – I want to make people’s lives better.

ANDERS: That’s a fantastic dream.

CHUCK: Yeah.

ANDERS: Both your family life better and business life and the people around you, that’s a dream worth pursuing. And if you talk to your employees, they probably – [crosstalk] – because that’s – they know that’s your dream. That’s why they are hanging out with you. That’s why they’re working for you because they also like that. They want to accomplish – they have the same dream and some – of course it’s different a dream because it’s theirs, but it’s aligned very much with your dream.

CHUCK: That’s really interesting that you say that because – I mentioned that I have Mandy that does the audio editing and a whole lot more for my business. And then I’ve got Federico and [inaudible] that both are programmers that are working for me. And then Gerald is in the Philippines and he’s kind of general purpose get crap done. I give him all the stuff that is like “I don’t care how long it takes. I just need it to happen”, mainly because he’s capable, but he’s also very inexpensive.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: Anyway, the two programmers, both of them I was kind of thinking aloud on the podcast, “I need help getting the programming done”. And yeah, they both came to me and said “I want to work with you”.

ANDERS: Yeah. And definitely listening to the podcast, and if you’ve been listening to a person’s podcast long enough, even though that person doesn’t know their own dream, it shines through because that’s the question you’re asking, that’s what you do, and that’s what you are entrusted in.

CHUCK: I can definitely see that. A lot of the things that we’ve done and talked about on the show and the place that I come from really is that I just couldn’t articulate it until now. I feel like I need to solidify parts of it a little bit so that it’s ok.

ANDERS: It’s a process. It takes time.

CHUCK: Right. I want to make people’s lives better, but what is that look like? What is the vision behind the idea? And then from there it’s “yeah, ok now how do we get there?”

And the other thing that I’m coming to as well is – I look at a lot of this and I’m like “well, I want to help some of the social issues and programming, and I want to help with some of the other career issues in programming, and I want to help people recognize how to make their jobs better, and I want to make” – [crosstalk]

ANDERS: That’s all aligned with the dream.

CHUCK: Yes, but I don’t have to do them all. I can pick the ones that are most rewarding to me and focus on those.

ANDERS: Yeah. And you have a lot of years ahead of you so you’ll get it. You’ll get to every one of them.

CHUCK: That’s true. I could feel I could get to a point where it’s like “yeah, I feel like I’ve made a major impact in the lives of people who are listening to me in the area of working better jobs or their ability to find the jobs or whatever”, and then I can move on to “ok, well now I want to tackle these social issues for a while”. And so then we talk about women in tech and talk about minorities in tech and talk about some of the US-centric ways that we talk about code and how that affects people outside the US in those communities because there is [inaudible] there. If that’s what – I want them [inaudible] focus on.

ANDERS: And it all aligns [inaudible] with your dreams.

CHUCK: Right. And so then l feel like I am putting out into the world what I want to.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: I have to say –

ANDERS: You’re smiling more now than an hour ago; that’s funny.

CHUCK: Yeah. It’s funny because like MicroConf, coming here and just talking to – just a handful of the people I’ve talked to has – I’ve had realization after realization of certain things.

ANDERS: Is this the first time you’ve come –

CHUCK: No, it happened last year too.

ANDERS: Ok. Yeah, it’s so powerful.

CHUCK: Yeah. Last year, it just blew my mind.

ANDERS: Mine too. I didn’t sleep the first night. I just lay there in bed every night looking up in the ceiling and going “wow”.

CHUCK: And it’s funny too because last year, I felt like the talks are a little bit better, and I think by better, I mean more applicable to where I was last year than the talks were applicable to where I am this year.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: But I told Rob this last year and I feel completely the same way this year. The receptions, the time in the hallway, and all of that stuff. The talks are so good that everybody actually goes in and sits through.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: But the hallway track and going to dinner with people and then they have the receptions every night. And just those conversations, if they eliminated the talks, I would still pay full price for the conference.

ANDERS: [Chuckles] Exactly.

CHUCK: I would pay double for the conferences. It’s that well worth it for me.

ANDERS: It is. It’s so much worth it; it is.

CHUCK: So once you get the purpose, then you figure out your “what” and your “how”, and then you – is that where you start making the short term plans?

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: This is what we need to get done?

ANDERS: What should we do today? What should we do this week?

CHUCK: This week. This month.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: How far do you – do you have a mini vision for the quarter or the year?

ANDERS: Yeah. I always have some goals for the year, for the quarter, for the half years, but those are more dream-ish than actual goals because the further out the goal, the more about the dream and not about what we are doing right now.

So the distance from your changes what you’re talking about. And again it’s really important for the programmer to know that my dream is that in 6 months, we can integrate with whatever. Because then, he can align what he’s doing and the code is right with that.

CHUCK: That makes sense.

ANDERS: So that’s – it’s important to talk about that, not every Monday meeting, but from time to time. And we have a [inaudible] in the company that I come into the Monday meeting and I go like “I’ve read a book, I’ve been in a conference” and they know “oh now”. Now things are shifting, there’s a change in the matrix, but you get epiphanies from now and then, and then you go to your guys and you say “I’ve just had this epiphany. I think we should build the green buttons instead of the blue ones first. What do you think about that?”

And it’s not this week and it’s not next week, but they know that things are changing and they have a – then they go – you give them all the reasoning behind all the insight you got, and then a week or two later when you ask them to do it, they understand why they should do it and they just do it because they could see the line with the general purpose.

CHUCK: That makes sense. One thing that I’m wondering about is if I go in and I do some of these things, it’s going to be pretty drastic change the way that we’re doing things because it’s just in status quo keep the motor cranking kind of thing. I guess I’m wondering a little bit if somebody isn’t getting on board for whatever reason, what do you do?

ANDERS: Fire them.

CHUCK: Really? Just –

ANDERS: Yeah. You give them slack, you train them, you tried, you take them one-on-one and explain to them why it’s important. You try to figure out why won’t they commit to anything. Is that because their self-worth is in the dump or is it because their wife is pregnant and they just can’t give shit done. You’ve tried – again, the humane thing is try and figure out. But what I’ve learn from all those people I’ve helped doing this change is that there are some people out there who have been working for 10, 20 or 30 years perfecting the art of not working and making it seems like they actually do work and you discover that really –

CHUCK: Yeah, if you’re talking about every week. [Chuckles]

ANDERS: If you’re talking about – if you require people to promise to do something every week and [inaudible], then it’s like would you like to have them employed?

CHUCK: Yeah, that makes sense. And I don’t foresee this being an issue with the people I have working with me, but I have had people work for me in the past where any change is impossible.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: And so I was just curious, because I know some other folks are going to go and try this; they’re going to want to try it out. I’m just like yeah, what if they have that guy? What if that guy is a key member in their team, but they won’t just get on board?

ANDERS: Well, then they aren’t the key member of the team.

CHUCK: Right.

[Crosstalk]

CHUCK: The teams changed, and all of sudden you’re not going to play your part on the team? Then you’re not part of the team.

ANDERS: And it’s ok that the team changes all the time.

CHUCK: It’s a fit thing. They’re not that person.

[Crosstalk]

ANDERS: No no, there’s nothing wrong with them; they just need [inaudible].

CHUCK: Yeah. Very cool. So then the last question I guess I have is where do things like – so you have Monday meetings, where do things like email and some of these other ways of communicating and systems for keeping track of what’s going on, where do they fit in?

ANDERS: We do it around lunch. When we meet in around lunch and just before we leave and then they have this uninterrupted block of time where we really try to dig in to flow, I often have to plan at least one block a week where I just do inbox [inaudible] kind of stuff, administrative stuff doing payroll and stuff like that; bank, banking. But that’s how reality is and when I block out time for it, I am more effective at it, and it sucks more, but I get it done.

CHUCK: That makes a lot of sense. So you have your grind out the crap block, whatever it means. [Chuckles]

ANDERS: I often do it Friday just before leaving because then I have really a sense of to get it done quickly and [inaudible] go home.

CHUCK: That makes sense.

ANDERS: But whatever makes you take.

CHUCK: I really like the approach. And yeah, I’m probably going to be implementing a lot of this in my business.

ANDERS: You are welcome to contact me on Skype or email if you need any – if you want to discuss any of the minute details because that’s a lot of – I got a lot of details on how you can do it even more than we’ve been discussing. I’ve been doing – helping people with this for a year and a half now and I’ve seen lot of different things.

I remember one plan I had. We had a Monday meeting, 2-3 hours, and when it was done, they had one and a half day of meeting because there were so many skeletons coming out of the closets. It was insane. And they were so happy because they have this project with the deadline two months away. And suddenly in 3 hours of talking, they discovered one of them thought they should test it one way and another said “but we don’t have any testing suite”. Everything about that project were uncoordinated, but they reached it on time because it was – we happened to implement the Timeblock methodology just in time for that project to actually go through.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS:   But it was so insane and they were just like “we need to [inaudible] half of day for this”. And then 10 minutes later, “oh” [inaudible] – the scope so unclear for everybody so then we have to take another day just talking about what is the scope.

So it’s such a powerful thing to do sitting down and talking about stuff. “What will you do next week” and people are like “I will do this” and “but you can’t do that because you don’t have a testing suite” and then [inaudible] into this technical discussion about testing suites which wasn’t [inaudible]. Because you put everything on the table, it becomes transparent and it’s ok to question things. It’s ok to say “I don’t know how to do it. We can’t do that because” –

CHUCK: Well, that’s how you move forward.

ANDERS: Yeah.

CHUCK: So what is Timeblock?

ANDERS: Well, what we’ve been talking about, the methodology is helping people to communicate and be in flow. We’ve built an app which you can get access to if you want to that we are still building on. So it’s a methodology that I teach people and I teach other to teach people. That’s it.

CHUCK: Cool. If podcast listeners want to reach out to you, are there good ways to do that? Twitter? Email?

ANDERS: Twitter [inaudible]. And yeah, I think my Skype address is on the homepage, and my phone number so you can call me if you want to.

CHUCK: Oh wow, that’s brave [chuckles]. And so is mine.

ANDERS: It’s been there for a year and a half and I haven’t had a single phone call, so I don’t think people are actually uses that anymore, but you’re welcome. I really want to help you be happy and your working days.

CHUCK: That makes sense. Yeah, I don’t know if I have anything else I want to ask about or bring up, but I’ll definitely be emailing you because I’m sure I’m going to run into something and be like “so what are [inaudible] about this?”

ANDERS: Yeah. That’s a lot of – it takes like 3 weeks to see the benefits and then it takes like 3 to 6 months to really get into the groove of it and it becoming like a regular thing that just happens. So you’re in for a ride, but its mind-blowing, the change in the team and the change in the behavior of the team that was in just 3 weeks is – I get the chills every time I help somebody where I’m present in their life.

The teams, because just 3 weeks in, when I walk into the office, the noise level goes down, the unit – people are working instead of talking in the morning because they know what they have to do. They become so much more focused and happier and smiling and joking, but in such a pleasant way. The transformation was so cool to watch. I love it.

CHUCK: Awesome. All right. Well, we’ll go ahead and wrap this up.

Thanks again. Thanks again for talking through this. So one other thing that we do for our shows is we have what we call picks. And picks are just things that make your life better, things that you’re kind of into at the moment.

So for example, a lot of our guests pick TV shows or movies that they really like or they’ll pick coding tools or just anything that they’re just really into it at the moment. So do you have anything you want to shout out about?

ANDERS: Yes, yes. It’s a Chrome plugin called News Feed Eradicator, and it was [inaudible] who pitched it to me, and it removes the News Feed from Facebook so when you login to Facebook, that endless [inaudible] that sucks life out of you, it disappears and there’s an inspirational quote instead.

CHUCK: Oh wow! [Laughter]

ANDERS: And it’s just like you have to go to Facebook to take messages or post to groups.

[Crosstalk]

CHUCK: Right. Update your pages or pay for boosting. Exactly, yeah.

ANDERS: But I can’t see my – and I have to install the plugin to see the News Feed. So I have to go to my iPad and I leave that at home, so I have to go home to go to Facebook, and that really – in the beginning, it was like I saw those inspirational quotes like 20 times a day, but now I don’t see them that much because I don’t open my Facebook all the time.

CHUCK: Right.

ANDERS: So I don’t do tools in general because I believe more in behavioral change, but that tool really helped my life a lot.

CHUCK: Right. So I have some, I guess, a pick that I can put out there for Facebook. And we may wind up talking about it on a future episode and that’s basically – and I’m kind of ticked off at Mojca Mars because she didn’t tell me about this.

But anyway, so in Facebook, I’ve started boosting the posts that we put on the Facebook pages for the episodes to get people to see them. And so when I boosted the JavaScript Jabber episode and it got like 700 people to see it. And I think seeing it is just that showed up in there feed, right?

ANDERS: Exactly.

CHUCK: But we got 9 likes and a handful of people actually clicked through, which is totally good for me for five bucks, right?

ANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

CHUCK: But what I didn’t realize – because I just said anybody who’s interested in JavaScript. I didn’t realize – and this is the kicker, ok – and she may have mentioned it on the episode and I just wasn’t listening – so to get to the point, you can create audiences for your Facebook ads. And if you have an email list, you can export the email list in to a CSV and import it in to Facebook. And then what that does is it creates an audience of those people.

So if I import a list of 2000 people, I think I did for JavaScript Jabber, I have 1400 people that Facebook identified as those same people. And then what you do is you go in and you create a look-alike audience for that same group. Now you have to keep in mind that on those look-alike audiences, you have to specify a country, so I specified United States. That’s working for me [inaudible] if I feel the need that I may add other countries.

But anyway, now there are 2 million people in that audience that it will target those episodes to. And there are people who look like the JavaScript Jabber audience. And so it’s not just JavaScript people anymore, but it’s people who have things in common with them to the point where Facebook says these people are like those people. In other words these are all the people that are enough like my current audience that they could be potential audience members.

And I’m reaching those people instead of just general JavaScript; people who put that in because they do web development in .NET. And then on occasion, they actually go [inaudible] some script tags somewhere on their page, and they put JavaScript – they’re not going to JavaScript show; they don’t care.

ANDERS: The Facebook audience editor is amazing what you can do with it. [Inaudible] This city within 5 kilometers of this city, they have to live there and stuff like that. It’s so powerful.

CHUCK: Yeah, like the brick and mortar stuff. My dad’s a dentist so I’ve thought about doing Facebook advertising for him. And yeah, just saying they have to be close to Provo.

ANDERS: And they have to be more than 35 because that’s when you get dental problem and they have to be in this education so they have [inaudible] money or they have – you can do so many things.

CHUCK: You can target women so that you’re getting the moms.

ANDERS: Yeah. It’s so funny. It feels so wrong sometimes. [Chuckles]

CHUCK: Yeah. “I’m going to stalk 300,000 people in my metro area”. But at the same time, there's nothing wrong with putting ads out in front of your target market.

ANDERS: Nope.

[Crosstalk]

CHUCK: Well then I think that’s really the point. Some people are doing it because they want to make money money money money money. And to a certain degree, if I’m not making money, it hurts. But yeah, for other folks it’s the other thing. It’s “I want to help people” and that’s where he gets his fulfilment from too.

I come by that completely honestly. He’s all about helping people and he was like Boy Scout, Scout Master. He actually helped a couple of boys turn their lives around. And it’s funny because that’s what he talks about. He doesn’t talk about the dentistry. He just talked about his work. Occasionally, it will be like “somebody came in for a demo treatment and I feel like I was able to give them some good advice for their life”.

ANDERS: Yeah. That’s his dream.

CHUCK: [Inaudible] dental assistance. Yeah, that’s his dream.

ANDERS: And when you understand that, it makes so much more sense than –

CHUCK: I don’t know if he would articulate it that way.

ANDERS: No no, but people don’t – most people don’t articulate it like that. Some people have a strong sense of their dreams and follow it without knowing it, and I’ve always envied those people because I really have to really really struggle to figure out what my dreams were, but it’s part of the journey.

CHUCK: Yeah. Cool. Well, I’m going to go ahead and turn this thing off. Thank you so much again for coming and talking to us.

ANDERS: Thanks for having me, it’s been a blast.

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