I’m curious about my twitter followers… who are you? how many people do I know who follow me on twitter who don’t tweet at me?

I experimented a bit with the data of my Twitter follower, displaying the distribution as a histogram, grouping my followers by their number of followers. I’ve got some outlier followers with a crazy number of followers themselves, the max is SamsungMobile with 10,592,003 followers. Twitter also claims that HillaryClinton is following me, but her account makes it seem like there are only 16 people she’s following — do famous people get to follow people in secret? or was this some weird glitch in the Twitter API

Twitter Stats

As of this writing the Twitter UI tells me I have 7,058 followers,
but I seem to have been able to get 7,481 from the API.

Unsurprisingly, my followers have a relatively low median number of followers (281) with a large standard deviation (157,367). The distribution looks a lot like you would expect. Cropping the outliers to make the graph more interesting, here’s just the lower 90%:

Twitter followers - lower 90% by number of followers

Is it just me who wonders about this kind of thing? We have the ability now to connect with so many people, somehow sustaining relationships with more people than we can ever really know in real life or keep in our heads.

For the Coders
To download the data, I used a python twitter collection script (twecoll). Getting the list of my followers, wasn’t clearly documented, but just needed an option I gleaned from the source code:

git clone git@github.com:jdevoo/twecoll.git
./twecoll init ultrasaurus --followers

More data is still downloading…

Notes from yesterday’s talk at Finance from the Start a virtual conference by BlackStarLaunch.

The title is inspired by AVC blog post about lifestyle businesses. I agree that term always felt like I should be able to run my business from a beach somewhere; whereas, a “cashflow business” resonates with my experience of managing a small business.

Everything I know about finance I learned from real world experience. Most of my career was spent as part of high growth businesses, where an initial investment in product development turned into revenue for shareholders, through company acquisition or public offering. In this talk, I shared what I learned from running a software consulting business for 5 years, which I grew to almost 2 million in revenue.

Cash flow is the movement of money in and out of your business

Different kinds of reports that help you manage your business

  • P&L
  • Balance Sheet
  • Cash Flow Statement

Money In

  • Sales & Marketing, Pricing, etc. (important, but not this talk)
  • Legal Stuff – you need a contract for any money in
  • Collecting
  • Keeping Track: Cash Flow Forecast

Collecting Money
When you sign a contract, find out how you will get paid. At this point everyone is happy and you have fresh contact with all of the business folks

So you ask them,

  1. who do I send the invoice to? if its an email address like accounting@whatever.com, find out who is on the other end of that email address
  2. when I send an invoice who needs to approve it?
  3. do you cut checks on certain days or certain weeks? or do you pay with other methods? don’t find out too late that they only pay by ACH or billpay.com and then you have to walk thru a lengthy sign up process. If you can set up direct deposit, that will save you time and hassle.

Then when inevitably, you don’t get paid on time, you know who to call. Some companies have policies of not paying bill until after they are due. A personal relationship with the folks in accounting can make the difference where they pay you on time.

Before you send your invoice, make sure the approver knows the work you’ve done.

Payment upfront: some people will tell you “no one does that” its not true. You may need to build a reputation to make this happen. Note that you can often set expectations based on past performance, even if it’s not exactly the same kind of work.

I had a policy not to start work until the contract is signed, and in general I would advise that everyone do that. Of course, you will spend time with your prospective customer, that’s sales or business development, that’s an investment into your future relationship.

Keeping Track
Create a cash flow forecast and review it every two weeks or monthly, or whatever cycle your invoices are. Then you can easily see who you need to follow-up with on payment and make plans based on expected cash balance in the future.

Accountant?
Question from the audience: As a solo founder should you get an accountant? if so, how do you find one?

Unless you alreay know how to do all of it yourself, I think should absolutely get accounting help, but also understand what they are doing for you. For a small business, you won’t need a CPA, but a bookkeeper can be helpful. Anyone can learn these skills, but my personal opinion is that you should focus on what you do best, and what is core to your business — focus on learning what you need to know for the latter. Get referrals from people who run (or have run) business like yours. Talk to 3-5 people before you pick one. Don’t worry about finding the “best.” Find the best fit for you. Different people have different styles.

Advisors
In addition to a good lawyer, you should have people you can talk to regularly about your business. Put together an advisory board. They don’t need to be on your website (though that can help your credibility and reputation). They don’t have to even know they are on your advisory board — it can be that informal. Put together a list of 5-7 people with different skills that complement your own and talk to each of them every month or three about how your business is going. When you are a new founder, there are so many questions you don’t even know to ask. These folks will help you see a more complete picture, and make you realize there are options you would never guess you have.

Find a mentor (or two). Someone who will look out for you and proactively think about your next steps, as an individual, and what you need for professional growth. You are not your company. Schedule regular meetings to talk.

Money Out: Managing and Growing Your Business

Figure out how much money you need in the bank to manage your business. This will depend on the kind of contracts you write and how your sales come in. Plan for someone to miss a payment, that large deal not to land or other unexpectedly dip in your sales revenue.

At Blazing Cloud, And we needed 3x our burn rate in the bank for our business to work. We had contracts where clients paid 1 month to 1/2 up front. Net 14. Know what you need. Also know your risk tolerance, adding cash to extend the amount of time you can cover the unexpected.

Every business has its slow and busy times, know yours. Expect that no new business is signed between Thanksgiving and Jan 2. I pretend those dates don’t exist, and would plan to have money in the bank and try to get any new contract signed by early November.

Most banks won’t give a loan to a business that is less than two years old — it will take you that long to understand your seasonal ups and downs. Summers are slow for closing deals. What would take me five weeks over the summer, I could often get done in three days in September.

Consider Investing in Growth
Growth is a choice. Often you can invest in the health of your business without increasing staff, and if you do decide to increase staff there are many ways to grow.

There are two basic ways to hire: 1099 contractors and W2 employees; however, there are more than two ways to use these approaches. You can have hourly employees that work more or less depending on how busy you are. You can pay lower salaries and offer profit sharing or bonuses.

If you are successful and in a position to grow, think about the job you want, why you decided to start your business. You are in a position to create the situation you want by hiring for skills and interests that you don’t have. Also, know that you never know exactly what it’s going to be like. Even if you think you know exactly what you want when you start, it may be different from what you expect when you get there. Be open to the adventure.

As a mom, I have found I need to get to know my kid anew every year. When my kid was little, there was a dramatic shift in which games were fun and what was interesting to talk about. I had to reset my expectations regularly and be open to learning who he was and how he wanted me to interact with him. Most of the time, it didn’t actually seem to me that he was really changing, so much as simply becoming more of who he was.

I came to realize that this technique of being open to learning who someone is, even when, especially when, you have known them for a long time, is pretty effective with adults too. We meet someone and we know them for a few years and we think we really know them, but we only know one moment, one slice of their lives.

Most people who meet me think I’m naturally outgoing and that it is easy for me to talk to new people. In reality, people scare me. Half the time I have no idea what might be a good thing to say and afterwards I’m sure the things I said were terribly stupid, annoying or simply boring. However, I’ve come to believe that this interaction between us humans isn’t actually about me or even about you, it’s about creating some new, interesting thing in the space between us. It’s a service to put something out there. It’s selfish not to. It’s fleeting in reality, so as much as it feels like I’m vulnerable, it’s actually pretty low risk.

I practice being open to who someone is right now. What will I discover that is different right now from my preconceptions based on this other person I’ve known for a week or a month or a year. And when I’m lucky and good, I learn something new, and sometimes I get to be that person who isn’t the same person I was last year, or who you thought I was.