What do you really want to do? Many of us spend our time reacting to life, taking whatever opportunities come our way without thinking about making our own.
Though Kathi Jones headed up a software company and loved what she did, she knew something was missing. After some soul searching, she realized that she wanted to go smaller and create a business around her lifestyle. So, 3Degrees Talent was born. This is her story.
About 3Degrees Talent
3Degrees Talent works with early stage technology companies. Our clients are very young, and have an idea, and probably a working prototype. But they often don’t have a product because they need money to build. Our clients range from consumer-based, to an app, all the way to enterprise-based companies. We do mostly organization design, team management, executive recruiting management, and product road-mapping. Everything that ties into people resources.
How is business?
Business is great. I think artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to grow, but there’s always a piece you’re going to need a person for and that involves dealing with people.
The tech sector is exploding, especially in Seattle. We do a little work in Alaska, Oregon, and even Argentina. But there is so much work in Seattle that this year I’ve actually cut back so I haven’t been doing much outside of there.
Is this your business?
Yeah, I had a software company prior to this that I sold my interest in. I did some soul searching to figure out what I really enjoy doing and what I really want to do. I discovered it was building teams with really smart people, doing really cool stuff that is making a difference, and solving a real problem.
On Doing What You Want
I really enjoyed what I was doing [previously]. I had built something that was doing really well and was traveling a ton.
If you ever had a startup, you know it’s a 24/7 thing. You have 60 to 100 people you are responsible for, all the clients, the issues and the problems. You can never supervise all the people working for you but at the end of the day, you’re the one responsible.
After 3 years, it was kind of a lifestyle change. What I want to do and how much I wanted to work was different. I wanted to do something on a smaller scale and continue to work with technology companies. I also work with groups. I met with investors, evaluating companies from a team perspective and product idea perspective.
I was able to say, “Yeah, it’s time to shift gears a little bit.” I wanted to focus on the garden, I’m a copious beekeeper, and I really like doing that. It gives me a lot more time and freedom to do other things versus being really married to a business. I know all industries go 180 hundred miles an hour, but technology seems to run twice that speed because of the speed it’s accelerating.
On Clients[It’s great because] I get to choose clients. If I have a client that I don’t like, or they don’t value what I bring to the table, I just walk away. My fiancé is actually the one who taught me that. He said, “Why don’t you just fire them?” and I said “You know what, you’re right, I’m going to do just that.”
Of course, you do it gently. There are all kinds of excuses, but it’s always “I wish I would, but I can’t.” After they hear that 3 times they finally got it.
On Starting the Day Right
What gets you up in the morning?
The idea that I get to work with super smart people. I am never the smartest person in the room. I can’t even come close. So, getting to work with super smart people, facing really interesting challenges that are solving problems, and watching people find this perfect place that gets them up in the morning.
When I talk to a candidate I have put with a client years before and they are still happy, loving their job, they like getting up in the morning, the people they are working with and the company culture, that’s a high you can’t get anywhere else.
Working with some younger people, in some cases it’s their first job. It’s mind boggling to me because we worked from the time we were young, babysitting and flipping burgers. But lots of kids today don’t have that. It’s really gratifying to see them find a good place and to understand what it feels like to add value to the economy.
What is your morning routine like?
I get up around 5:30 and go to yoga four days a week. Then I have some coffee and a little something to eat. If I have some time before I have to get in the office, I usually schedule calls that start at 9. I may have time to go out and keep bees. I wander around the garden for a minute, have coffee and then I usually head up and take the cats to work with me.
A couple of days a week, I go for a long walk in the morning and then I come back and just sit and look out the window. I have a beautiful view of the water, so I just look out the window and process things. I think through the day and how it’s going to end. I usually try to get myself some chill time in the morning [because] once it starts, it doesn’t stop until 6 or 6:30.
What is the biggest obstacle that you’ve overcome in this business?
I didn’t want the responsibility of having employees. It was hard in the beginning to find people that had the same value system as it relates to the quality of work I wanted to produce. You have to have teams that focus on each product and component because I’m dealing with the client. With me, I’m dealing with CEOs and co-founders 99.9% of the time and the quality of work is really key.
Initially it’s hard to back off and let go—to hire people I trust. But now it takes two or three projects for me to get there. I’ve overcome it because I’ve been able to have great people. I like what they have done, they like working for me, and I get them when I need them.
I’m still working on the time thing.
Thoughts on Productivity
I’m a big TED fan, so when I’m watching a talk and they say something, I’ll stop and really try to process how it ties into me and what I’m doing.
I’m going through that same process with reading. I’m reading a book now called The Pinnacle, which describes a different approach to team assessment, and as I’m reading I think about team assessment. I just read a book called The Alliance by Reid Huffman who is the co-founder of LinkedIn. I’ve read it twice because it speaks my language. I like to savor other people’s opinions and thoughts.
About Business Finances
I’m terrible at [finances]. That’s why I hire finance people. What I wanted to do with this business though is find something with a simple, elegant, and super friendly interface. Something people can look at and see everything’s ok.
I also thought why not hire a person to do it that has QuickBooks? But I wanted to be closer to the finances and I’ve got to figure out something to do with these accounts so I could pay these people.
I knew this wasn’t going to be a multi-dollar business like before, it was a lifestyle business. So, I came up with a number that would let me do what I wanted.
For the first year, I just used an Excel spreadsheet. My accountant said I should really look into QuickBooks because he could download what he needed, but I just didn’t want to do it.
So, I found Kashoo, called my accountant, and said, “This is the system I like and I want to use it. I’m going to give it a try.” I gave him access and he thought it was a really cool system. You guys were brand new, maybe a year old then.
It was great because any time I had an accounting problem, I would send a request and get my answer back literally within minutes. It made it super easy. It was [also] simple and elegant and easy to use and the interface was good. It wasn’t as complicated as QuickBooks. Getting up to speed on it was a fraction of the time than other people I see who constantly have to go to classes to learn how to use other software. I think I was even going to start a second one for my e-business.
Staying Sane in a Fast-Moving World
How do you maintain balance?
Train your clients. That’s all I can say. Unless it’s an emergency I don’t respond to emails on weekends. I may be looking at them but I’m not going to reply because that will give them the sense they can get to you 24/7. I will create other plans for things that are mission critical. We set up a Slack channel, and it’s out of email, but they know that that’s a limited thing.
You really have to set those boundaries with your clients. I’m starting to set office hours and I try to work only between 9 and 6. Setting boundaries and sticking to them isn’t easy to do.
[Setting] boundaries is good for everyone, including the clients. Year one is always the hardest because you’re trying to build the base of the business.
I knew a lot of people, so getting clients was a lot easier for me. But year two I had too much work so I was turning people away and that’s the same today. I turn away some people because I have no interest in their business. I’m not just trying to drive up profits.
Potential pivoting. I’m actually investigating a couple options right now on how I can work even less. One option would be where I work more now but less later on.
I’m actually working towards retiring from technology and doing other things like writing children’s books. My thought is that you get so caught up in what you’re doing in your career that you forget what some of your ambitions once were. I know I have another career in me, I just don’t know what it is yet.
For me I’m happy with my lifestyle business right now, but there’s the opportunity to investigate all these other cool things that might potentially be more interesting and could end up being that second career. I just don’t know what it is yet, so I’m experimenting new things that I’ve never heard of in my life that I want to do.
Slowing down is the only that can give you perspective. Because that’s where your best ideas come from. Letting work take you over and become your life is not what work is for.
We’d like to thank Kathi for taking the time to share about how 3Degrees Talent got its start and wish her continual success. You can learn more about Kathi’s business, 3Degrees Talent, by visiting her website.
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