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Anthony Thomas

CEO of Sticker Mule

Anthony is a manufacturing guy at heart. He grew up in a small manufacturing town in Upstate, NY and witnessed it decline from 40,000 to 15,000 people during his youth when most local companies shut their doors. That experience made him curious about what it takes to succeed in manufacturing and laid the foundation for his interest in starting Sticker Mule.

What do you do?

I’m co-founder & general manager at Sticker Mule. This means I get to do almost everything including customer service, product design, marketing and operations management. The only things I don’t do are write code, prepare our financials or use Adobe CS. Lately, I’m focused on product design & project management. Our team’s working on a long list of fun projects and I try to help move them forward as fast as possible.

What do you find most rewarding about your role? Most challenging?

Someone told me early in my career that the best managers make their departments run without them. I took that to heart and probably most enjoy getting things to run on their own. For example, initially I was heavily involved in manufacturing and customer service, but eventually I stepped away from both. They run on their own and continue to improve even faster than when I was actively involved.

The hardest thing I do is recruiting the right people for the right positions. We have an amazing team but our formation has been serendipitous.

How do you stay up to date with trends in your industry/field?

One nice thing about being a GM is the principles that govern success in the job are not trendy; they’ve been around for a long time. For example, I heavily rely on the golden rule to make decisions and that’s a few thousand years old. I generally dislike trends. For example, in management there have been trends like Six Sigma, Lean & Agile that I’ve all mostly ignored. I get their premise but I think management trends are offensive when implemented in practice. Most smart people I know just want to make decisions based on common sense and objective debate.

My attitude towards trends is the same with regards to our industry. In business you do 2 things: increase revenue and decrease costs. I approach those in a rather simple manner. We make lists of ways to do both and execute those lists. The trend right now is to call anything related to increasing revenue “growth marketing” or “growth hacking” but growth has always been a primary goal in business. The best managers have always looked for clever ways to grow.

What are your top five applications or tools?

Asana, Slack, GitHub, Cloudapp & Balsamiq Mockups. We run our entire operation off Asana and it’s awesome. Slack has also been amazing at bringing our team together and helping us move faster. Any aspect of our UI that I designed initially starts as a Balsamiq Mockup so I’m quite fond of that too. And, quite a few of us use Cloudapp all day long to share screenshots & files quickly. It’s integration with Slack makes it even better.

Best way to stay on top of email?

I keep specific types of communication siloed by application. All customer communication is in Desk.com. All internal communication is either in Slack or Asana. Asana is primarily for discussing project related tasks and Slack is for all other forms of internal communication. Recently, we started using Lever to handle communication with prospective employees. That means my personal inbox is only for communication with external partners. When I open my inbox I know exactly what to expect.

What is your best time-saving trick?

About 2 years ago I had an injury that prevented me from typing for 6 months. I couldn’t do any tasks that required a computer and yet progress continued at a faster pace than when I was on my computer most of the day. That taught me that the best way to save time is realize that most of what you do doesn’t matter. One of the best managers I know told me once that you’ll maybe do 3 things every year that really determine your success or failure as a manager. With that in mind, the best way I’ve found to save time is realize most of what you’re doing isn’t important and can be dropped if necessary so that you can aggressively tackle important things when they present themselves.

What does your workspace look like?

Lately I haven’t had a set workspace. I have a 27” iMac at home that I love, but I’ve been traveling a lot with my Macbook Air. My workspace tends to be airports, airplanes, coffee shops and hotel rooms. When I’m at the factory I wander around talking to people and periodically jump on random computer for a call or to get a quick task done.

Structure of your typical day, how do you divide your time?

I wake up and check Slack, Asana & Gmail for any important messages. I’ll quickly follow up on anything that needs attention. Then I’ll dig into my queue of work in Asana and knock out anything quick. Beyond that, I don’t have a set routine because that’s just not my personal style. The rest of my day is split between doing my own tasks, following up on projects and helping other people in our organization when asked.

Why do you do what you do? What makes everything worth it?

We have a great team that works incredibly well together. I’ve never seen anything like it in another organization and that’s what makes me enjoy work the most.

What is the greatest piece of career advice/wisdom you’ve ever received?

One of my college professors used to say one day we’re going to have to decide “how good is good enough?” His point was you can always be bigger, better and more accomplished. As you grow the number of opportunities in front of you increase and it’s important to know when you’re doing good enough. Otherwise, you run the risk of overstressing yourself and your team.

Who would you like to see featured on Ways We Work?

If I could pick anyone I’d say Steward Butterfield from Slack. It’s unbelievable how quickly the Internet is adopting Slack and they seem to have an amazing sense of calm with regards to their growth rate.