PEARL LEMON INTERVIEWS:
Cody Miles is an Austin, TX-based entrepreneur and UX designer. After years of struggling to collaborate with his clients, Cody founded Ashore (https://ashoreapp.com), an online proofing software for high-velocity creatives. Today, Cody utilizes his background to run both Ashore and his digital marketing agency, Brandcave.
A Fireside Chat
I had the opportunity to have an amazing conversation with Cody Miles at Ashore App today. From talking about SEO for Podcasts, Cody agreed to a quick interview.
He took the time to talk to me and answer some questions so I could get to know him better and hear more about the things that have helped shape his business success to date – let’s get stuck into it!
What Is The Book (Or Books) You’ve Given Most As A Gift, And Why?
I recommend “Hackers and Painters” by the legendary Paul Graham to every software entrepreneur, and I’ve bought a copy of it for each of my employees. It’s somewhat of a collection of essays on business and technology – not all of which have necessarily aged well. There’s an essay on a programming language called Lisp, for example, and I’m not sure how widely used it is anymore. The essays on perspective and business principles remain crucial, though.
What Purchase Of $100 Or Less Has Most Positively Impacted Your Life In The Last Six Months?
Good BBQ is a rite of passage in Central Texas. I recently bought a Traeger smoker from a friend. With the exception of the current winter storm, my parents have come over every Sunday to smoke a different kind of meat with us. It’s been a great excuse to be with family, and the BBQ has been excellent. I work nearly 11 hours a day, so this smoker has been cathartic.
When You Feel Overwhelmed Or Unfocused, Or Have Lost Your Focus Temporarily, What Do You Do?
I track and plan every hour of my day on a Google Calendar (here was last week: https://nimb.ws/lKAjNc). This keeps me from needing to remember anything. It also allows me to feel comfortable knowing there is time budgeted for the things I need to do. I’ve been tracking myself like this since 2016, and it’s helped me clear my mind and focus on the task at hand.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
A generally-held belief in the marketplace is that the customer is always right. I work in software, and the software industry tends to believe the opposite. Steve Jobs once said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” I’ve learned that a better position is probably somewhere in the middle. Customers, especially software customers, are never afraid to provide feedback. If it were up to them, your development roadmap would be stacked for the next five years. Their feedback is absolutely invaluable, but it should not be the determining factor in your roadmap. The reason for this is that customers are solving for their own unique use cases. If you intend on growing your product into new markets, or opening new channels of business, you have to avoid creating software that is too opinionated. A solution has to work for every customer, not just a narrow niche of customers. SaaS products that intend to grow past their initial target market have to keep in mind which feedback leads to a better user experience for everyone, versus product development that does not lead to more revenue.
Make room for innovation, even if it’s risky.
- Cody Miles
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
I started setting better boundaries. When you’re building a software product or any company, it requires time. That’s a given. But, too many early-stage companies fail because the founder burned out. It’s a predictable cycle. The company is not growing fast enough, there is pressure from investors to produce, the CEO takes it on herself to split the difference. Too many families fall apart because of the entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve been prone to overwork, and it’s negatively affected my family, too. Fortunately, my family is healthy today. That’s entirely due to making hard-and-fast rules when it comes to my boundaries. There are certain lines I do not cross: I don’t work at home, and I don’t work on Sundays.
What Is One Of The Best Or Most Worthwhile Investments You’ve Ever Made?
The best investment I’ve ever made was in people. We bootstrapped Ashore; it was funded by my first startup, Brandcave. Unlike other VC-funded software companies, we couldn’t hire rockstars immediately. Instead, we had to create them. Building a team is difficult. It takes the right kind of eye to identify people with a hidden talent. It takes patience and time to nurture them. Sometimes you invest in someone, only to have trained them for another company. It doesn’t always work out, but I wouldn’t trade the team I have now for anything. They continue to surprise me with their creativity, forethought and ingenuity. I’m very thankful.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — what would it say and why?
That’s difficult, and a few sayings come to mind. There’s a poster in my office that says “You have to make every detail perfect, and you have to limit the number of details”. Supposedly, Jack Dorsey said this originally, and I think more people would benefit from applying it to their lives and their careers. My wife and I also developed a motto for our family: “Excellence in all things”. I’d vote that people need that kind of encouragement in their lives.
What careers advice would you give to your 21-year old self?
Things were just starting to get good when I was 21. That year I got married, finished college, and started working as a marketing manager at a software company that would spark my interest in technology. Everything was new and exciting. If you had given me advice at that time, I wouldn’t have taken it. It all worked out great anyway.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?
Absolutely. It’s been an incredible experience running Ashore, but it hasn’t always been easy. The MVP of Ashore was our greatest failure that led to our greatest success. A principle in software startups is to build fast and dirty. Ashore was built fast and dirty…maybe too fast and dirty. Shortly after building our MVP, it was determined that our infrastructure was poorly designed and unscalable. At a certain point, I realized the more features we added, the more technical debt we were accumulating. Instead of doubling down on an imperfect product, we decided to build Ashore from the ground up. The second time around — what we call Ashore 3 — we chose a lean development model and implemented the suggestions and feedback we received from our clients. Today, we have flexible features to fit any type of workflow. The success of the new Ashore demonstrates that there is sometimes an ROI in rebuilding.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
For most careers, your college degree will only be a single line on your resume. It might open the door to a job, but it won’t do much more than that. I’d advise any college student, especially students with an entrepreneurial bent, to find an interesting career and start at the bottom. If you can understand your chosen market thoroughly, you will eventually find where there are opportunities for improvement. Look for those opportunities, and determine whether they are worth the jump into entrepreneurship.
Tell Us About Your Business. What Does It Do And What Value Do You Add?
Ashore (https://ashoreapp.com) is an online proofing software built for high-velocity creatives. It increases approval ratings by 50% by automating the approval process and improving the quality of feedback from approvers. I saw Ashore as an unexplored business opportunity as a result of running my first startup, Brandcave (https://brandcave.co). I suspect every successful entrepreneur has an eye for opportunity, and I couldn’t shake this one. When Ashore was conceived, there were few meaningful proofing solutions on the market. There were none that solved the business problems I cared about. I was an expert in this space, given my prior experience with Brandcave. The idea kept me up at night and, when I slept, I dreamed about this app. I nearly solved the UX design in my sleep. Ashore is a financial opportunity, of course, but it solves my own problems as well. Poor feedback and unclear criticisms are massive contributors to burnout — especially in creative industries. Virtually every creative will end up in a position where their work is harshly and vaguely reviewed. Ashore was designed to solve my own problems first. Before I wrote code, I met with every creative director that would let me buy them lunch. I needed to know Ashore would help them, and it did. The reason I built my company, and the reason I go to work every day, is to increase the joy in creatives’ lives and in their collaboration with others. That’s the ‘why’ behind Ashore. We know we’re doing something right when we’re building joy for our customers.
What is the most significant thing that someone much younger than yourself has taught you?
Before my son, Indiana, was born, this question would have been difficult to answer. Now, it seems like every day he’s teaching me something new: the learning opportunities that exist with close observation, his fearless outlook when approaching new, unfamiliar situations, the way he’s determined to climb the stairs by himself. If I can go through each day even half as open-minded and adventurous as Indy, innovation should not be a problem (though, if I’m going by his actions, I’ll also break a few things along the way).
Tell us about someone you admire and why you admire them?
My first employer out of college, Jorge Sauri, played a huge role in helping me get to where I am today. He was a pioneer in finance cloud technology in its early days. He was a constant source of inspiration and wisdom as I stepped into entrepreneurship, and remains a guiding figure in my life. When I have the opportunity to offer guidance to anyone, it’s usually a poorly-restated version of something he has told me. I do not know if I would be in the same situation today if he hadn’t spent as much time investing in me. I’m grateful!
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
It would be a very difficult bargain to convince me to do anything other than what I already do. I love my job, my team and my customers. If I ever did anything else, I suppose it would have to be related to cooking barbeque or making coffee — and that would be purely for my benefit.
Where do you see your industry in the next 5 years?
Businesses are more interested in digital collaboration than ever before. If the coronavirus taught us anything, it’s that most corporate and creative work can be performed remotely. We saw this reality at Ashore almost five years ago, and we’ve developed a proofing software that enables the most simple digital collaboration between creatives and their approvers. We’ve found interest in nearly 10,000 users to-date, and we’re excited for the future of creative collaboration. We believe our software will enable collaboration, help eliminate creative burnout, and improve the joy in our users lives.
What is a 'hack' you have for success that most people don't know about?
Make room for innovation, even if it’s risky. Innovation takes both mental and physical space; when we focus too much on the tasks directly in front of us, we take away the ability to innovate. Not every idea is a winner, but every idea is a step toward a better idea.
What's your favourite digital marketing channel and why?
I come from a marketing background. Ashore was lucky enough to leverage the team behind my creative agency, Brandcave, to manage its creative assets. We’ve explored virtually every marketing channel, and our strongest channel is, by far, organic search. We’re currently exploring partnership opportunities with our friends at Dribbble. If you visit their blog, you’ll see a recent post from us.
What is a useful skill someone could learn in one minute?
Perspective. By this, I mean that when you face a problem, one of the most difficult things can be taking a moment to breathe through your frustrations and see it from a fresh perspective. It only takes a minute to remove your emotions from a situation so you can evaluate it objectively, but once you do, you’ll be surprised how obvious the solution was.
When did you first become a rebel?
I listened to Insane Clown Posse in high school, does that count? Anyone who decides to jump the corporate ladder for entrepreneurship is thoroughly a rebel. A successful entrepreneur has a belief that she can accomplish something better than anyone else, which is a rebellious thought. It takes a lot of courage. Stepping into entrepreneurship is a challenge. You question the decision often. There are stretches of time that feel insurmountable. But, being able to reflect on tangible results, either within your organization or yourself, has a self-motivating, self-perpetuating effect. Success is addicting. It feels great to provide opportunities for others to succeed and have fulfilling careers. It makes it easy to show up to work.
What's your favourite colour?
Brown. I love the colors of natural wood.
How has Covid-19 changed your industry?
With more companies than every working remote, the demand for software platforms such as our own has skyrocketed. People tend to think of collaboration as something that only occurs when two or more people meet in person, but the onslaught of COVID-19 has forced people to rethink their long-held perceptions. The switch to remote work also heightened the need to automate repetitive tasks. The divide between home and work life for a remote employee can get blurred, and there just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. By leveraging technology to complete menial or repetitive tasks, we enable employees to use their time in more creative, meaningful and important ways.
How has Covid-19 changed your company?
We primarily conduct business online, so COVID-19 hasn’t had a huge impact on our day to day processes. Of course, we don’t love the Zoom meetings, but we’ll survive.
What is the most surprising thing you've seen in your industry?
The rate of growth in the past 5 years has been shocking. When Ashore was first conceived in 2015, there may have been one or two products on the market that aided in the proofing process. Since then, numerous companies have cropped up, increasing the amount of competition and innovation in our space.
What popular celebrity do you admire the most and why?
I wouldn’t say there is a particular celebrity I admire. You know what they say about your heroes…
What's your favourite holiday destination?
Charleston for the food, and Reno for the mountains.
What's something exciting you're currently working on/learning that only a few people know about?
I’m learning 3D animation at the moment, just for fun.
What one thing in life do you consider to be overrated?
College degrees. I’ve never considered someone’s degree when hiring a new employee.
What's your star sign?
What are you NOT Very Good at?
Sports, just generally.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I practice intermittent fasting, so I don’t usually eat until 11am or 12pm. I drink black coffee in the morning to keep me satisfied though.
What one song can you listen to every day non-stop?
‘Virgo’ by Atmosphere, apparently. At least, that’s what my Spotify account says.
Pearl Lemon are an SEO, PPC, PR, and B2B lead-generation agency. We are based in London but service clients around the world.
We have taken the time to interview entrepreneurs and experts (like Cody) in this new series.