Reflections on the First Decade of Building Nutshell

Ten years ago, Tyler Tate and I prepared to step onto a stage and introduce the world to Nutshell. Ten is just a number, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a few personal observations from Nutshell’s first decade.

A year before our launch, my cofounder Guy Suter pulled together a small team and shared a vision for a product that met what had been missing from sales CRM software:

  1. Delightful user experience
  2. Mobile apps (this was 2010!)
  3. Automation to power a sales process

And so we got to work. We chose to unveil Nutshell at the Future of Web Design conference because we felt so strongly about being a part of the design community. For a few thousand dollars, we sponsored the afterparty, and earned ourselves a moment in the spotlight.

With giveaway screen wipes in our sweaty palms, we stepped on stage to share our launch story:

  • Most web software is ugly and downright user-hostile (lots of nodding along)
  • Building something from scratch is an absolute joy (knowing smiles)
  • We can do even better if we don’t have to support Internet Explorer 6 (audible gasps)
  • Here’s a live demo, to show what we’ve made so far
  • Drinks are on us! (applause)

From fire to fire

But the launch wasn’t the finish line. And that’s when I began to realize that our real work was just beginning.

The night before we launched, we discovered that Solr—a crucial piece of infrastructure—would grind to a halt after seven (!) accounts were created. Total showstopper. A late night and an early morning and we were back in business.

The day after we launched, we debated over what to do with the firehose of messages arriving to

A week later, we realized a CRM really needed a list of contacts—something we had been so confident wasn’t a requirement.

Six months later, it became obvious that paying an intern to write custom code for every CSV import wasn’t going scale.

And then a year later, the office roof started leaking onto the server which held all our customer credit card data. (We’ve learned a lot about PCI compliance since then!)

And so we went, from challenge to hurdle to emergency.

It turns out that building a business is a lot like Mark Watney, stuck on Mars: “You just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem, then you solve the next one. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

Somewhere in the course of solving problems, we looked up and Nutshell was serving thousands of customers, with dozens of team members. And for us, “getting to come home” was earning the right to continue the journey.

The process > the goal

A lot is said about “managing for outcomes” or “starting with the end in mind.” And that’s all well and good, but it never connected with me. I’d be lying if I said I had any idea of what Nutshell would look like ten years after we stepped onstage.

James Clear writes about this in Atomic Habits, comparing goals and processes. If you only focus on the finish line—the launch, the sale, or the great quarter—you’ll have a hard time getting there.

But if you can find joy in the process: walking over to the whiteboard, opening the laptop, starting a new document, firing up an SSH session, or picking up the phone…that’s the dream. And it’s more likely to get you to your goal.

Put your name on it

And I’ll tell you the best part of these ten years.

Working with the Nutshell team is just incredible. From a founding crew that came preloaded with trust and experience working together, to today’s growing team that brings new perspective, energy, and empathy.

It’s a group of people who take pride in what they do, and in enjoying the journey. You can see that in our work—and our faces.

The inside of the Macintosh is signed by the people that created it. We took that idea and made it one of our values: “put your name on it.”

A while back, we added a companion to our SEO robots.txt file, humans.txt. It’s one of the many ways we sign our work (and hold onto some nerdy roots).

I don’t have the foggiest idea of what Nutshell looks like in ten years. But I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it looks like next year.

In February 2021, we’re taking the wraps off our biggest project yet. We don’t have a stage to launch from, screen wipes are passé, and it’s not a great time to throw a party. But the finish line was never the point.

We’re enjoying the journey, with each problem we solve for our customers.

Happy Nutshelling!


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