Friday, April 17, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) Interview: The Carnage Report Talks With Jason Long, Founder And CEO Of BrainLeaf

The Carnage Report was lucky enough to catch up with Jason Long, founder and CEO of BrainLeaf, a brilliant service that helps designers and developers tackle with efficiency and ease an issue that has plagued designers and developers for years, the difficultly in controlling the scope for projects. Read this great interview where we talk about Brainleaf's beginnings, entrepreneurship, managing multiple businesses, new features, and Long's long term plans for BrainLeaf. Connect with Jason via Twitter @jasonmlong and also pay visit and sign up to use BrainLeaf and find out just how great a service it is for yourself at

What inspired you to start Brainleaf?

Developers are optimists. Well, at least most of them are. And the problem with optimists is that their estimates are very often, optimistic. Telling someone that you're going to be at a meeting 5 minutes early then being 10 minutes late is annoying, but telling someone a job is going to take you 50 hours and it taking you 150 can kill a service company. So after running a web studio for a few years we realized that this was a problem that wasn't going to just go away, and that if we were going to make any money at all, our estimates had to be solid.

So we built a simple system to help us figure out how many hours projects were going to take. It was a good internal system, but needed a lot of work, and didn't have any way to reuse aspects of old projects. So after 7 years of using this system, we decided it was time to make some improvements, and maybe, just maybe everyone else would like to give their clients accurate estimates as well. Thus BrainLeaf was born.

Have you always been interested in starting a business?

From the time I was a kid, I always knew I would own my own business. It runs in the family. My grandfather owned hotels, my mom has had something like 10 businesses, and I have had 8 now (some worked better than others though). I really wish that I knew then what I know now though, but I guess that is what everyone says.

When you started BrainLeaf, what was important for you to get right first?

We still run a web shop, so my main priority was getting a system that would actually work for us. We're still making improvements every day, but starting off, I just wanted a system where I could create a scope of work, know how long things were going to take, and be able to give this to our clients to sign off on. Getting accurate scopes of work that can be reused was our phase one goal.

Our upcoming features are going to make it so much better though, and are a quick phase 2 goal set. We're working on a web-based approval process and contract management system so you can write up a scope of work, send it to your client, and have them sign off on a legally binding contract all within a few minutes. For us, this will save hours of work each week and enable us to close jobs so much faster and keep track of them so much better. We've also got a set of integrations with other tools like JIRA, Harvest, and Basecamp upcoming which we are really excited about!

Project management tools and applications has become a crowded market, what do you do to stay ahead of curve and deal with competitors?

We're not a project management system. Internally, we've used Clarizen, Wrike, and now JIRA to do actual project management, and we have absolutely no interest in competing with these guys. Atlassian does such an amazing job on everything they do. The thing that is truly missing in this industry is a way to get and give accurate estimates. Additionally, developers and designers are often sloppy with their contracts and sales, so a system that just enables them to write up their scope of work, calculate hours, and get signatures from clients, then pass it on to their project management tools is so badly needed, and that is what we do.

Do you plan to expand your service beyond developers and designers?

Yep. We've actually been contacted by a number of different groups in different industries about using our system. We want to finish up with our web-based approval process system first, but once we do, you can expect to see this system coming out in at least one other completely unrelated industry.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?

I feel like I could write a book on this question. I'll try to do this in a quick bullet list though.
Businesses can be grouped into two categories, lifestyle businesses and high impact businesses. A lifestyle business is something that you do because you love it. It is something that you want to do every day and must be present for all the time. For example a designer, architect, or lawyer, if you are the craftsman, is often this kind of business. A high impact business would be something that you plan on building into a system that is professionally managed and you can step away from. There is, of course, overlap, but in general you need to know what you are getting into before you get started. I didn't realize this and started a lifestyle business years ago when I wanted to do a high impact business. It took me years to understand how I needed to set things up in order to make it work the way I wanted to.

Always be working yourself out of a job. Nowadays, in whatever I do, I try to find ways to automate or delegate pieces of my job. As a CEO you will NEVER run out of things to do, so figure out the best way to do what you're doing, set it up properly, then get something or someone else to do it for you, and finally make sure they are incentivized and accountable for that job.

Keep your goals in mind. Every year at the end of the year for every business we review the past years goals and set up goals for the coming year. Every month we have a company meeting for every company where we do the same thing for the previous and upcoming month. Always know where you're going or you can't get there. Sometimes you have to break it down into just 'what are we doing right now', but if you don't know your end goals or intermediate goal, how will you accomplish it?

You people are always, always, always, always your best and most valuable resource. Don't forget that. Everyday find ways to make your employees hopes and dreams come true while simultaneously growing them and you will find success. At the same time, don't forget the adage 'hire slow and fire fast'. If someone isn't the right person, do them and yourself a favor and let them go right away. Don't wait, don't hope, just let them go if they're not working out.

Like I said, I could probably write a book about this, but this is a good start.

When starting a new business most people, unlike yourself, start a business in a field they have no experience in, why do you think that is?

When I first started in web-design, I had no idea what I was doing. After losing tons of money, being completely stressed out for years, and almost dying (true story) I only start and invest in businesses I know a ton about now. So thinking back on myself as a younger person, I just had no way to know what I was getting into. I didn't understand the complexity of the system, what it took to make things actually work, and how much work it was going to be. My feeling is that entrepreneurship should be taught in schools, so to answer your question, I think it is just being uninformed about what is actually involved.

Where do you see Brainleaf going in the next five years?

I want it to grow into the system that developers and designers use to scope their work and deliver those times and prices to clients. Pretty simple. There are so many features that we want to add to make that happen. Here are some of our improvements upcoming:
  •  Web-based approval processes
  •  change order management systems
  • permissions setup for project managers, resources, and sales team members integrations into JIRA, Intervals, Harvest, Wrike, Asana, Basecamp, and other systems
  • API development and release
  •  feature linking within scopes
  •  commenting and discussions
  •  composition and page approval systems so that clients can approve work through the system
  • integration into code repositories 
And so much more!

You’re involved in other businesses as well as Brainleaf, how do you find the time meet the goals and ambitions of these businesses?

Amazing people work with me. We work so hard to find the right people who are enthusiastic, innovative, and hardworking, and they drive the business. I just set the direction and create the initial workflows, incentives, accountability systems, and oversee to make sure everything is moving well. When working with these amazing people, I work every day to support them and help them accomplish their dreams in life. I wish I could say there was some magic thing I did beyond that, but it is really just that.

And finally, what’s your favourite business book?

The books that had the greatest impact on business for me were "Good to Great" and "The E-Myth". But if you're in development, I also really recommend "The Mythical Man Month".

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