Ted Roden is part of our impressive lineup of speakers at the ReadWriteWeb 2WAY Summit. As part of our ongoing series of interviews with those speakers, we fired off a round of questions at Roden to learn a little more about who he is, what he does, and what he’ll be talking about at the summit.

RWW: Before we go too far, where did you get the idea for Fancy Hands? And the name?

Roden: Just like anything else, I was scratching my own itch, I really needed this service.

About two years ago my wife and I had our first baby. While we were still in the hospital for that baby, I agreed to write a book for O’Reilly (Building the Realtime User Experience, came out last June). This was on top of a full-time job at the time. So anything that I needed to do on top of “take care of the baby,” “do your day job,” or “write your book,” just was not going to happen. So if I wanted to take my wife out for a nice dinner, I’d NEVER get around to making the reservation. A two minute phone call would take me six weeks to do.

So I built a small website which could handle this and found some people to do these things for me. A few weeks later, I added a link so people could pay and signup. I was client number zero. I only really opened it up to other people because I couldn’t get the assistants to hang around very long with only my few tasks per week. So I figured if there were more people using the site, I’d get better assistants.

Going it Alone: Taking Your Shot Without Co-founders or Teamwork
Tuesday, June 14
Speaker: Ted Roden (Fancy Hands)
Building a startup and launching a product both require two steps: 1) building and 2) shipping, everything else is extra. This talk focuses on taking on large projects (such as launching companies) by yourself and why “going it alone” is not only possible, but preferable. Ted Roden, former creative technologist at the New York Times and Founder of Fancy Hands, gives tips from the trenches on how to get from side project to full time job. Get tickets.


Your talk at the ReadWriteWeb 2WAY Summit is all about “going it alone” – is that how you started Fancy Hands? What do you think about the fact that you flew solo to build a company that helps people do just that?

Roden: Yep, I am the solo founder of Fancy Hands. I wrote ever line of code and pretty much if you know any thing about Fancy Hands, it came from my mouth or keyboard.

The conventional wisdom about launching a startup is that you need at least two founders. It’s just plain wrong. I’ve been on both sides of the equation so I have some perspective on why it can be better.

RWW: There are a lot of startup philosophies out there – how does yours fit into the mix? Is it a hybrid or something of your own creation?

Roden: I don’t think I created any philosophy. I never sat down and wrote down a manifesto or anything. However, one can only read so many posts about “why the whole team should eat lunch together” on Hacker News before you go crazy and scream “Lunch is not the problem!”

My philosophy is a is a hybrid between the Techstars/Y Combinator theory that you need mentors and outside expertise to help you get started, but not much money. However, there is a lot of 37 signals philosophy in that you’re not trying to raise money, you’re trying to build a business. (I hope to never compare myself to 37 signals ever again).

RWW: What exactly makes “going it alone” preferable to having a team?

Roden: This is a big question, I’ll try to answer it in the talk.

RWW: What’s the biggest downfall of “going it alone” and what’s the best way (other than your own company, perhaps) for overcoming it?

Roden: The biggest downfall to going it alone is the perception that a single founder company is somehow not a real company. This becomes an issue when trying to work with other companies. When a potential partner looks at my solo/unfunded startup and a traditional funded competitor, I have to do some extra legwork to prove to them that I’m the one who is going to execute. You overcome that by doing the work and executing.

Some people do things to make themselves seem bigger. But I put [email protected] on the bottom of the website because I want to be honest about where the email is going. I could add “[email protected]” and forward that along, but it feels dishonest. I’m going to have to read it, might as well address it to me.

RWW: What’s the first step in taking something from a side project to a full-time job? Is it a mindset, an action, or something else altogether?

Roden: It’s an action: stop talking, start doing. Start small and ship. Also, don’t talk about it ahead of time. Don’t mention it to people until after you’ve shipped something. This is important for two reasons: 1) You need to be totally focused on what you’re building, this is not the time for feedback. 2) “People who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen.

RWW: When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing (that you want to share with our readers) that you do? How does it fit into your entire philosophy?

Roden: I’ve got two kids under two years old, so you can imagine the first few things I do every morning.

After that, I check my email to see if anything blew up overnight. Usually, everything is fine, but if I do need to put out fires, this is how I handle it: I first figure out how to stop it from every happening again… is it a problem with an assistant? a PR problem? A simple bug in the code? Customer service issues? etc. Most of the time I can add some documentation or push a simple code fix and I’m set. Then I respond to the email explaining what I did (or what I still have to do if it wasn’t a quick fix). This all falls neatly into my “ship first” philosophy.

Having said that, 90% of the time I wake up and don’t have to deal with those things. I so get up, hang out with the babies and wife and try to get out the door in one piece… that’s a full time job.

Want to learn more from Ted Roden? Register for the 2WAY Summit using this link and get $200 off select ticket levels.