This blog post is part of the Mike Kelly Email Series. Mike sends out weekly company emails to communicate, inspire, and explore ideas with the DeveloperTown team. We like them so much, we’re sharing them with you.

I study aikido, a Japanese martial art. I started my studies a couple years ago. A few weeks ago, I was the only student who showed for a morning class. So I had the sensei, Quinn, to myself.

While working through a couple of techniques, Quinn asked me to self-assess my progress. I’ll paraphrase a bit, but the following summarizes my self assessment.

  • I’m not that strong. Most of the guys I spar with are much stronger than I am.
  • I’m not that fast. In fact, I’m easily slower than almost everyone.
  • I’m not flexible at all. I can barely touch my toes.

You might think not being strong, flexible or fast should be serious limiting factors, but I actually feel like I’m making killer progress. In fact—I’ve progressed faster than most. Why?

I’m smart.

(I’m humble too… just ask me. Please don’t read into the “I’m smart” statement. I don’t intend it as a boast. I mention it as my fundamental approach to increased performance.)

I spend a lot of time before and after class focused on the techniques that are the most difficult for me. I average a book a month on aikido or Japanese budo. I try to help teach during the children’s class so I can see what mistakes they make (so I don’t make them).

I try to double down on technique and how my brain processes various situations.

Being “smart” within a sport is also training under varied conditions. I love getting to spar with someone who’s bigger, faster or stronger than me. I really like it when they have more experience than me and can drop some knowledge on me in the form of tips or dos/don’ts.

Why? I want to expose myself to crazy conditions. It’ll allow me to relax when I enter that situation in the future.

What does this have to do with DeveloperTown?

  • We may not be strongest: I don’t think of DT as the biggest and strongest. There are bigger firms with a “deeper” bench of talent. There will always be a bigger fish.
  • We may not be the fastest: I don’t think of DT as the fastest. There will always be a firm out there leveraging the latest and greatest bridge or platform technology offering the ability to generate a web or mobile app in “a few clicks.” We are faster than most, but we will never be the fastest.
  • We may not be the most flexible: I don’t think of DT as the most flexible. We don’t want to do your Sharepoint implementation. We don’t want to help you maintain your ten-year old enterprise platform. And we aren’t the right team to help you build an app even though everyone can see it’s going to fail from a mile away. That’s not us. We aren’t all things to all people. We’re good at specific things – not everything.


I think our goal is to be smarter. Specifically, we want to be smart at the start.

We might not have the most developers, but we might tell you to write less code. In fact, we might tell you not to write any code until you’ve validated the market more. Our designers believe that a simpler user experience is more difficult to make than a complex user experience. And simplicity often takes time to find – and it might need to emerge over time.

As we talk about growth, a lot of that growth is centered around us getting smarter as a firm. How can we better define and test our process for starting and launching a new product? How can we better manage our projects to be more effective with our efforts? Who do we need to hire to further develop a strength, or start to mitigate one of our weaknesses?

We should have better technique than our competitors. We should stay more relaxed under the pressures that come with launching new products. We should embrace the opportunities we get to struggle with projects that are just a little too big for us, just a little too small for us, or just a little outside of our comfort zone. We have to run our firm with these aikido-inspired self assessments mind—not because we want more of those projects, but because we can always learn something.