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Knockout First Impressions

“Dude, that was a total baller move.” my friend Eliav reminisces of it, months later.

This refers to the manner in which I first met the good people behind a young company here in Denver called DealNation back in January.  As a close collaborator to the project, Eliav got me invited to pitch myself on developing their system.

Things moved fast this particular week in January.  While hosting and hanging out with Eliav on Tuesday night, he loaded onto my browser a few mock up images of the system.  During that same evening I got a call inviting me to come to the office and pitch on the project.  We would meet the next day, at noon.

Fast forward to 9am on Wednesday.  I’m all ready to go, and have about 3 hours to kill before I meet with some strangers to convince them that yes, I have web development superpowers.

An idea hit me.  I checked my browser’s history from the night before looking for the mock up images.  Bingo.  Instead of pacing about for 3 hours, psyching myself out for what is in essence a job interview, I would spend the time building a working prototype of the system as a real-as-can-be demonstration of what 3 hours of John Larson time are worth.

It was an inspired 180 minutes.  I fired up Photoshop, sliced up the mockups, designed a suitable database, whipped up the 3-step front end user experience, and even created an administrative back end for configuring facets of the system and viewing results of user visits.  A quick deployment to a dev URL and I was out the door for my noon meeting.

Like any such meeting I was met by the usual platitudes of greeting and new acquaintance.  “Hi John”, “Good to meet you”, “Thanks for being here”, “How’s it going?”

I was waiting for that last one.

“Good”, I said, “I’ve had a fun morning.  Now I’ll be honest to say that Eliav shared the mock ups you guys are working on with me last night, so I’ve had a little advance info on what you guys are up to.  I had time to kill before this meeting since 9, so I cooked up something I think you’ll find interesting.  May I show you on a computer?”

As I punched in the dev URL in the address bar, I continued to say “So I built your system.  I mean not all of it, and it’s not the air-tight, bullet proof masterpiece that you could expect with a more thorough effort, but enough to give you a good sense of what I’m capable of in a few solid hours.”

I let them play around on the front end, and had them log in with their own username and password in the back end and see the several controls and reports available in this hurried piece of web work.

I went on to narrate: “Now I understand you guys are used to paying twelve bucks an hour with India, but perhaps you will find me worth the roughly $125 I charge1–you get a bit more bang for your buck, I reckon.”

With them clear that I was the real deal, the rest of the meeting was a fun, free flowing exchange of ideas and everyone getting to know each other.  Again, this was Wednesday.  Later that afternoon I had a proposal with firm price tag in their inbox.  Thursday I had the thumbs up for the project, and on Friday I dropped by to pick up my project inception check.

The powerful first impression set by those 3 hours of work set the tone for our entire working relationship, namely “you can and should expect miracles of me that will defy what you’ve been trained to expect in software development”.  By the gesture I deliberately set the bar for myself very high, and to our mutual delight: they get to enjoy ultra-high performance out of me on a regular basis, and I get to delight in the opportunity and rewards of providing it.


  1. I don’t do hourly, as you may know: that’s just my rule of thumb for estimating project costs


This is Programmer for Hire, a series of essays and explorations on the art of being a great programmer doing on-demand custom software development.