Our process

Cindy Wu and Denny Luan

We mentioned earlier that we are now working working. What does it mean to be working working? Well, we have a process designed to keep us productive and happy. This process mainly comes from what we learned from our first company, and also what we've picked up from designers, organizers, scientists, and engineers.

Who are we? What are we? Where are we?

"We" is the two of us, Denny and Cindy. We are working full-time on this project, Jelly. We currently live in Honolulu, Hawai'i. We are six weeks into this project to make useful research tools for scientists.

Our goal right now is to prototype and iterate

There are many ways to go about building and doing product development: agile, scrum, lean startup, waterfall, design thinking, just-in-time manufacturing, and more. We've sampled many of these approaches, and our process today is kind of a grab bag of several of these. Our main priority right now is testing out new ideas, which means trying to come up with many new ideas by poking holes in lots of common assumptions about science.

We start our days whenever we want and work pretty late into the night. This process will change a lot with more people, as the work shifts towards figuring out how to steer the collective ship, but this is how we tend to work best. As long as we have a text editor, Figma open, and an internet connection, then we can be productive.

Making some structure

For now, we've decided that we want as much freeform flexibility as possible, with the minimum amount of structure necessary to keep chugging along. Structure for us means being able to measure our goals, and doing so with a weekly meeting where we go over our progress together.

Every Tuesday, we have a short meeting for talking about our work and our goals. What did we say we would do last week? What did we do the last week? What are our goals for the new week? In addition to the three main questions, we also keep a record of all the scientists we meet with and write down lessons from those conversations, we note the things that helped us get closer to launch, and we acknowledge any known obstacles in our way. Oh, and the last thing we do is record the morale of each founder on a scale of 1-10.

We've more or less been doing this practice for 7 or 8 years now, and it's something we picked up from the structure of Y Combinator's office hours habit, where usually there's someone else asking us those questions. We've gotten pretty good at asking ourselves.

Using time wisely

The other big part of structure is how we split up our time, and for the most part that means scheduling our days into two separate chunks. This helps with context switching and with being able to focus on our tasks.

Maker's schedule: making the things

A maker's schedule means long uninterrupted periods of time for to think, design, code, and putter. Puttering means play - having loose unstructured blocks lets us organically fit the bigger picture tasks into smaller chunks.

We find that being strict about this maker's schedule and being strict about who we spend our time with is important for our progress as two founders needing to do everything. We aim to do few things and do them extremely well. This means being disciplined about saying no to everything that is not this.

On maker schedule days, we could be in the forest, at Coffee Talk, or holed up in the one room in our house with air conditioning eye balls glued to the computer screen.

Manager's schedule: learning from people

For two days a week, we block them off as "Manager's schedule". This just means that the days are for meetings only (this is because manager's do a lot of face-to-face meetings). For us, these meeting days are filled with scientist interviews to help us gather information about what we're working on.

We prefer to meet scientists in person, which lately means you can often find us at University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. Since we've started, we've been averaging 7.4 scientist meetings per week, and we've done nearly 100 so far.

Each user meeting is a 30-min interview where we try to pick their brains. Questions usually focus on learning about their workflows, their goals, what makes their life harder, and figuring out how we can help them. Cindy's written some notes about how she does user meetings.

Meetings are almost always a lot of fun and never feel like work, because scientists are generally great to hang out with. Especially in Hawai'i, scientists here have an Aloha spirit. "Aloha" means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable. This definition encapsulates what happens when the gears in our brains are operating correctly, since we're looking to see what cannot be seen and turn that spirit into something materially beneficial for scientists.

Effective communication as a skill

One thing worth mentioning is how much effort and work we've put into communication. From running Experiment for seven years, we learned (the hard way) that effective communication is the most important tool for consistent execution, even with a team of just two people. Good communication is a big part of enjoying how we work and setting a foundation so that others joining the team can enjoy how they work.

Nevertheless, effective communication is a skill we're always working to be better at. It's kind of a journey, not a destination. We work regularly, weekly with an advisor and and bi-weekly with a therapist, who help us improve at our communication. Tools like non-violent communication are helpful for remaining mindful and conscientious of our patterns of communication.

We're trying to be better about documentation in our process. We keep a transparent Jelly Company Handbook which includes salary transparency. Each founder is making $1,500 per month in salary. Salary is not a big deal right now because we are just two founders. We believe that being transparent about the salary range of each role in the organization is important for making a more equitable workplace, so we are starting this practice early.

Time not working is also important

Lastly, we try to make our time away from work a part of the process too. Balance in life is a part of achieving balance in work, and also helps prevent burnout. 

A big reason we moved to Honolulu is because Denny likes to surf. Sometimes Denny surfs. Sometimes Cindy goes to the gym. Ever since living in NYC, Cindy has been an active user of ClassPass. Outside of classes where a coach is telling her what to do for an hour, Cindy takes long walks around the neighborhood listening to audiobooks. Regular exercise is a part of our process that we cannot skip.

Cooking and eating has always been a big part of our process ever since we met in 2009 as students. We cook a lot here in Hawai'i. We make a lot of ox tail soup and roast chickens. We eat a lot of rice. We eat a lot of cooked vegetables, but no salads because we don't believe in salad. Recently we started cooking yakitori over coals on our porch. Cooking is and always has been a big part of our process, as an outlet to be creative and useful. 

We live very simple lives. We work a lot. We are putting our whole hearts into making this thing. We hope someone out there likes what we make. When we say we're now working working on this project, this is what we mean by working working.