I occasionally write about startups, growth, and the future of work. Join my newsletter to get new posts straight to your inbox:


The Shit Sandwich

April 20, 2022


User Manual to Me

March 24, 2022


My Next Chapter

June 18, 2021


The Future of Remote Work is Voice-First

May 31, 2021


Managing Remote Teams

July 6, 2020


Working at the intersection of product and growth.I occasionally write about startups, growth, and the future of work. Join my newsletter to get new posts straight to your inbox:

Blog About View last post »

About Me

Welcome to my blog! This is where you'll find a collection of my musings on the world of startups and tech.Over the past decade I've worked in 10 countries across 3 continents and led remote teams on an international scale. These days you can find me in Toronto where I lead user activation and onboarding at Jobber.If we haven't met before, don't be shy — say hello! I'd love to hear from you :)


Further Reading:

AP Johnson

Working at the intersection of product and growth

Home

Blog

About


I occasionally write about startups, growth, and the future of work. Join my newsletter to get new posts straight to your inbox:


March 24, 2022

User Manual to Me

When a new person joins the Growth team at Jobber, they are asked to write a “user manual to me” that is shared with...


June 18, 2021

My Next Chapter

After four years at Breaking Walls, I'm excited to be joining one of Canada's fastest-growing startups...


May 31, 2021

The Future of Remote Work is Voice-First

Embracing voice chat as the default helps teams collaborate more effectively, but video still has an important role to play...


July 6, 2020

Managing Remote Teams

As a manager, it’s your job to make sure information flows smoothly within your team. This is much harder on remote teams...

AP Johnson Blog About


April 20, 2022

The Shit Sandwich


The infamous shit sandwich. You’ve likely been on the receiving end of quite a few, and chances are you’ve given your fair share of them as well. Why? Because the shit sandwich makes us feel like we’re softening the blow when giving negative feedback.The recipe is simple:

  1. Start with a compliment

  2. Give the negative/constructive feedback

  3. End on a positive note

Seems like a great way to deliver a difficult message without hurting anyone’s feelings, right? Wrong. Not only does this tend to backfire, it’s also a sign of weak cultures and lack of trust.Here's why you should avoid the shit sandwich, and some suggestions on what to do instead.

Sandwich

Why it doesn't work

There are many problems with the shit sandwich, but by far the biggest problem is that it simply doesn't work. This is due to three main factors.


🤔 Mixed messages

Being on the receiving end of a shit sandwich can be a confusing experience. Are you being praised or criticized? Are you doing a good job or not? This kind of feedback can often backfire, leaving recipients thinking they’re actually doing great when they’re not.¹If your feedback is confusing or unclear, it makes it hard for the recipient to act on it and improve. Sending mixed messages doesn’t help anyone.


⛔️ Prevents growth

One of the main reasons why the shit sandwich is so popular is that people don’t like having difficult conversations. It’s much easier to avoid them altogether and give vague, positive-sounding feedback instead. I know because I’ve been this person many times before.We believe we’re being nice by sparing the recipient’s feelings and sugar-coating our feedback. But the reality is that while tough conversations may feel uncomfortable, they are the only way to foster real growth. Without them, everyone loses.


💩 Smells like bullshit

Most importantly, people can smell a shit sandwich from a mile away. The fake positivity is painfully obvious and makes it difficult to connect and resonate with the person you’re talking to on any meaningful level.Not only does this kind of feedback lack authenticity, it also signals that you value appearances more than honesty. If you can’t respect your colleagues enough to be straight with them, don’t be surprised if they return the favour.

Question Marks

What to do instead

If the shit sandwich doesn’t work, then what does? There are many ways to give effective, authentic feedback that builds trust and encourages growth. Here are a few great places to start.


🪴 Foster psychological safety

Plenty has been written about psychological safety over the past couple decades so I will defer to the experts on this one (see John Cutler's excellent post on this topic). The main takeaway here is that when teams encourage true self-expression and embrace mistakes without judgement, constructive feedback becomes much easier to both give and receive.As long as the recipient can tell it’s coming from a place of genuine care and good intentions, constructive feedback comes off as helpful and caring rather than hurtful and unkind. Difficult conversations don't have to be so difficult after all.


🎯 Tailor your feedback to the recipient

Before you give someone feedback, consider how they would like to receive it. Each person has their own preference for this, and it’s often best to just ask them directly.One easy way to do this is to have everyone on your team write a personal user manual. These help team members get to know each other's personalities, work styles, and feedback preferences, making it much easier to give feedback that resonates with the recipient.The kind of feedback you give should also depend on the seniority of the person receiving it. According to research from the University of Chicago, beginners respond better to positive feedback and encouragement as it helps motivate them to complete their goals, whereas experts prefer constructive feedback because it helps them monitor their progress and shore up their weaknesses.²Good to keep in mind when sharing feedback with your peers!


⚡️ Be genuine and direct

Ultimately, it all comes down to being genuine and direct with the person you’re talking to. If you’ve established a strong foundation of trust, this directness will be greatly appreciated and make it much easier for them to understand how they can improve. In return, they are much more likely to be genuine and direct with you as well. A true win-win!For more on this, I highly recommend reading Kim Scott’s Radical Candor, which provides an excellent framework for giving honest and actionable feedback.

Thought Bubble

Parting thoughts

As much as I speak out against it here, I still catch myself giving out the occasional shit sandwich. It’s a bad habit I’ve tried to shake over the years, and hopefully this post can help you shake it too.Great feedback cultures are the result of repeated, sustained efforts. As the old saying goes, practices makes perfect!


If you enjoyed this post, you can join my newsletter to get new posts straight to your inbox:


References & Further Reading

[1] In an experiment devised by Ayelet Fishbach, professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago, she split her class into two groups and got half the students to give negative feedback to the other half, one-on-one.Curiously, rather than coming out of this exercise understanding where they were failing and how they could improve, the students receiving negative feedback "thought they were doing great."She attributes this to poor feedback delivery. "The negative feedback is often buried and not very specific," she says, which leaves the wrong impression and defeats the entire purpose of the feedback.


[2] In Tell Me What I Did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback and How Positive and Negative Feedback Motivate Goal Pursuit, researchers at the University of Chicago found that different types of feedback work best on novices and experts.The main challenge for novices is that they tend to lack motivation and commitment to their goals. Because of this, they typically respond better to positive feedback and encouragement.On the other hand, experts respond better to negative feedback since they already have sufficient motivation and instead want to track their progress and improve their weaknesses.



« Previous Post | Next Post »

AP Johnson Blog About


March 24, 2022

User Manual to Me


When a new person joins the Growth team at Jobber, they are asked to write a “user manual to me” that is shared with the rest of the team.This is not only a great way to get to know them, it also helps us understand their preferred work style, feedback methods, and other personality quirks. It allows us to meet people where they are and be better teammates to each other.When I joined Jobber last summer, it was my turn to do a bit of self-reflection. Who is AP? What am I like? What should my new colleagues know before working with me? This exercise not only helped my team learn more about me, it also helped me learn more about myself. And to this day, these user manuals still help our team work more effectively with each other.I would highly recommend this exercise to anyone reading this right now, whether for your team or just as an individual pursuit. You might be surprised by what you learn!


User Manual to AP


Questions about you

What are some honest, unfiltered things about you?

  • I really love numbers and can geek out on stats all day long.

  • I'm very detail oriented, but can sometimes obsess over small details a bit too much. Call me out when it happens!

  • I’m a pretty intense person, both at work and in my personal life.

  • I've suffered from depression in the past and am always open to chat if you need someone to talk to.


What drives you nuts?

  • Disorganized work

  • Lack of accountability

  • Bad faith arguments

  • Driving slowly in the fast lane (!!)


What are your quirks?

  • I’m addicted to spreadsheets (I have one to track the clothes I wear every day).

  • I’m really into strategy games — hit me up anytime for a game of Catan!

  • I'm left-handed for most things, but right-handed for sports.

  • I love learning new languages (currently studying Burmese).

  • I can't work and listen to music at the same time. How do you do it??


How can people earn an extra gold star with you?

  • Sweat the details.

  • Be a beacon of positivity.

  • Give me frequent, honest feedback.

  • Have an open mind.


What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you?

  • Empathy & respect — Put people first.

  • Optimism & positivity — Make work a fun place to be!

  • Humility & accountability — Leave your ego at home.

  • Direct, open communication — Don't beat around the bush.


What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify?

  • People often think I'm an extrovert, but I'm actually quite introverted. I enjoy being social, but I need time to recharge afterward.

  • I sometimes come off a bit strong when I voice my thoughts or opinions, but I actually love hearing different viewpoints and ideas and I'm always willing to change my mind.



Questions about how you relate to others

How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?

  • Find what truly motivates them and nurture that flame.

  • Give them my full trust and support from day one.

  • Care deeply about their success, and be honest and candid in my feedback.


What's the best way to communicate with you?

  • Slack messages are great for quick chats, but for more in-depth conversations I prefer chatting face-to-face (or voice-to-voice).

  • I also love a good postcard!


What's the best way to convince you to do something?

  • Share your reasoning, thought process, and supporting evidence/data.

  • Get me excited about the problem we're solving. Why is it important? What impact can we have?


How do you like to give feedback?

  • I try to be thoughtful in how I deliver feedback so that it can actually be useful to the recipient. As a result, I may take some time to think it through before sharing.

  • That said, I also try to share my feedback in a timely manner whenever possible (ideally real-time) so that it can be delivered in context.


How do you like to get feedback?

  • Give it to me straight. Be honest and open about your thoughts and feedback.

  • Show that you care and that your feedback is coming from a good place.

  • Don't be afraid to share negative/critical feedback. I want to hear it so I can improve! :)


P.S. If you'd like to join me, Jobber is hiring across Canada for a ton of positions!

To get my next posts straight to your inbox, you can join my newsletter below:


References & Further Reading



« Previous Post | Next Post »

AP Johnson Blog About


June 18, 2021

My Next Chapter


Today marks exactly 50 months since I started working at Breaking Walls.At the time, I was joining a small team of game developers with a cool idea they wanted to bring to life. Fast-forward to today and we're a 7-figure business with a hit indie game on the way.Over the past four years, I've learned what it takes to grow a startup from the ground up with a small team and a limited budget. But over time, I've become even more interested in what comes next: scaling a small business into a giant.This is why after 50 wonderful months, it's time for me to embark on a new adventure.


Joining Jobber

In a couple weeks, I will be joining the growth team at Jobber to help scale their platform.As one of Canada's fastest-growing startups, Jobber is helping home service entrepreneurs across the globe manage their businesses more effectively. They recently raised $60M to fuel the next stage of their growth, and the next few years will be key in turning Jobber from a plucky startup into a household name.I'm excited to be joining such a dynamic team and I can't wait to tackle the ambitious growth challenges that lie ahead. We have an amazing opportunity to help entrepreneurs around the world, and I believe this is the team that can pull it off.


Acknowledgements

Looking back on my time at Breaking Walls, I am incredibly grateful to Sébastien, Nathanaël, and Laurent for taking a chance on me and giving me their full trust and support from day one.I also owe a lot to Sage, Anuradha, and Ghyslain for being great partners along the way. It's been a memorable journey, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them.I'm terrible at goodbyes, so this is just an à bientôt. But as I embark on this new chapter of my career, I'm excited to be joining the growth team at Jobber and can't wait to see what comes next!


P.S. If you'd like to join me, Jobber is hiring across Canada for a ton of positions!

To get my next posts straight to your inbox, you can join my newsletter below:



« Previous Post | Next Post »

AP Johnson Blog About


May 31, 2021

The Future of Remote Work is Voice-First


Zoom fatigue.Fifteen months ago, nobody knew what this meant. But if you're reading this today, you've probably experienced it firsthand more times than you can remember.The sudden shift to remote work since the start of the pandemic has fundamentally changed how teams collaborate. Too often, though, this change has come in the form of endless video calls. Now don't get me wrong—video chat is a great tool, but it's not the one-size-fits-all solution many companies are using it as today.In fact, we're already seeing the consequences of its overuse: remote workers simply aren't collaborating as effectively as they used to in the office.¹Luckily, there is a better way.


The Case for Voice-First Collaboration

I've worked on several remote teams over the past decade, and the most effective ones were those that enthusiastically adopted voice chat in their day-to-day operations.It's not that they shunned video calls altogether, but rather they recognized most situations simply don't require video. That's because voice-first collaboration offers three main advantages:


⚡ Less Friction

When we join a video call, we're typically mindful of our appearance, location, and background. We want to look presentable for the call, which means taking more time and effort to get ready. This adds a lot of friction to what should be a simple process: chatting with teammates.With audio calls, we don't have to worry about any of that. We can just hop on a call and chat, no matter where we are or what we look like in that moment.It may sound trivial, but this makes a big difference when it comes to team collaboration. When conversations with colleagues don't feel like formal, performative events, it's much easier to jump in and out of quick calls. This leads to more ad-hoc conversations and a smoother flow of information across the entire organization.


🛑 Fewer Distractions

If you've ever watched competitive gamers communicate with each other, you'll notice that they only ever use voice chat. That's because video adds unnecessary cognitive load and actually distracts from the task at hand.This same logic also applies to our workplace, especially for tasks that require more concentration. Whether we're collaborating on a document, reviewing code, or working on a new design together, what's important is what's on the screen, not what's behind the camera.With audio calls, we can remove unnecessary distractions and reduce cognitive load, freeing up more mental space (and screen real estate) to focus on the work in front of us.


😓 Less Exhausting

Have you ever come out of a long day of video calls feeling absolutely drained? You're not alone. What we call "Zoom fatigue" is very real, and voice chat seems to be the antidote.Research has shown that audio calls feel much less taxing than video calls.² This not only has a major impact on our productivity, but also on our mood. We feel more energized, patient, and engaged, which leads to better collaboration for everyone involved.


Why We Still Need Video

While voice chat has many advantages over video, there is one important reason why the latter still remains a valuable piece of the remote collaboration puzzle:Video is great for building trust.In a study led by the University of Michigan in 2001, researchers found that groups interacting via video were able to achieve the same levels of trust and cooperation as those interacting face-to-face. Meanwhile, audio and text-based collaboration lagged behind.³

This has important implications for remote teams, since building trust is essential for effective collaboration.One of the main reasons why video works so well for this is that it conveys much more information than voice alone. The presence of facial expressions and non-verbal cues allows for more subtle expressions of tone and emotion, which leads to clearer communication and fewer misunderstandings.This makes video chat the perfect tool for "high-EQ conversations" such as one-on-ones, performance reviews, and team bonding activities. And in the absence of face-to-face interactions, nothing beats video for building trust and rapport with people you're meeting for the first time. That's why sales calls, client meetings, and investor pitches are all best conducted via video.


How It All Fits Together

As a general rule, voice chat should play a larger role in internal communications while we reserve video for external meetings and high-EQ conversations.For instance, when onboarding new hires, meeting over video can help teams develop the trust and rapport they need to foster a strong team culture. But once they've built up this rapport, transitioning to a voice-first approach can help them unlock the next level of effective collaboration.As more companies embrace remote work for the long haul, they will have to strike the right balance between voice and video. We are already seeing more workplaces making voice chat the default for internal collaboration, and I expect many more to follow.We are still in the early days of the remote revolution, but I believe that when it comes to collaboration, adopting a voice-first approach to remote work will be what separates the good teams from the great ones.




If you enjoyed this post, you can join my newsletter to get new posts straight to your inbox:


References & Further Reading

[1] In a BCG survey last year of over 12,000 employees across Germany, India, and the United States, 56% of employees reported feeling less productive on collaborative tasks since switching to remote work.


[2] In Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue (2021), Stanford researchers identified four main causes for so-called "Zoom Fatigue:"

  1. Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.

  2. Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.

  3. Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.

  4. The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

One of the solutions they propose is to "make 'audio only' Zoom meetings the default, or better yet, insist on taking some calls via telephone to free your body from the frustrum."


[3] In Being there versus seeing there: Trust via video (2001), University of Michigan researchers found that groups collaborating over video chat achieved the same levels of trust as those interacting face-to-face.Given enough time, groups collaborating via audio (over the phone) were also able to achieve similar levels of trust, albeit more slowly than via video or face-to-face.


[Bonus] Last year, Daniel Gross shared some interesting thoughts on digital communication. Among other ideas, he suggests that video calls are draining because people don't look as good as in real life:"You’re looking [at] humans from a very unnatural angle. They’re badly lit. It’s not a fun movie. Your mind is comparing it to reality and it’s far less engaging."He also offers up voice chat as a possible solution to this problem:"Audio is better because we can approach the natural modality. FaceTime Audio is as good as physical audio, but Zoom is a far cry from physical video. Unless you have a production-grade TV rig and lighting, it might be best for you to go audio-only."This theory hasn't been properly studied yet, but it's interesting to ponder nonetheless.


[Bonus] Some people have asked for recommendations on the best tools for voice-first communication. I am personally a big fan of "virtual office" platforms like Tandem, Presence, and Teamflow.Rajiv Ayyangar recently wrote a great post on why virtual offices are so valuable to remote teams. I highly recommend reading it if you're interested in exploring this further.


[Update: August 2021] The American Psychological Association recently published their findings on the effects of camera use in virtual meetings. To quote Adam Grant, they found that turning off video "reduces exhaustion and boosts engagement—especially for women and newcomers. Cameras off doesn't reflect disengagement. It helps to prevent burnout and promote attention."


« Previous Post | Next Post »

AP Johnson Blog About


July 6, 2020

Managing Remote Teams


As a manager, it’s your job to make sure information flows smoothly within your team.Without this, you can't build trust, get timely feedback, or empower your teammates. Projects get held up, team morale plummets, and productivity grinds to a halt.Luckily, information tends to flow relatively freely in office settings via informal conversations, body language, and ease of access to your colleagues. Because of this, you can get away with a lack of structure and poorly-defined processes since so much information is conveyed implicitly within your team.In remote settings, though, these implicit information sources disappear.As a result, managing a remote team requires much more intentionality and preparation. It becomes your primary responsibility to put in place the right processes to keep information flowing smoothly within your team.There is no silver bullet, but here are six things you can do to become a better remote manager:


📣 Over-communicate

When your team isn’t in the same building, it’s harder to make sure everyone’s on the same page.To avoid misunderstandings or mismatched expectations, make sure you’re communicating often and explicitly with the rest of your team, no matter how unnecessary it may feel.Trust me, they will appreciate it.


✏️ Write everything down

And when I say everything, I mean everything.Documenting your work is important in any project, but it is especially crucial for remote teams.With colleagues spread across several locations, clear and consistent documentation helps everyone stay up to date with what’s going on in your project.


⏳ Patience is key

In remote teams, you never know when someone’s gone to the bathroom, in a meeting, or otherwise unavailable. So be patient and don’t expect immediate responses all the time.Not only does this give your colleagues room to breathe, it also frees them up to focus, get in the zone, and do their best work.Fewer time-sensitive interruptions = better work & happier team.


🙋 Make time for friendship

When you’re working remotely, it’s harder to get to know your colleagues personally. No more watercooler conversations, shared lunches, or after-work drinks.So set aside some time for team-building. Not only does it make work more fun, it also builds trust and keeps everyone happy and engaged.A few ideas…👋 Daily/weekly non-work video chatsTeammate trivia🎪 Fun/informal Slack channels🎲 Online party games📚 Book clubs🎥 Movie nights🍻 Local meetups


🎙 Embrace voice chat

Remote work can be lonely, but endless video calls are not the solution. They're inefficient, exhausting, and often completely overkill.Instead, many remote work veterans I know default to voice chat for internal conversations. It offers the same level of presence, collaboration, and information bandwidth while reducing cognitive load and feeling less performative.With platforms like Tandem, Presence, and even Discord, you can migrate your team online without sacrificing proximity or spontaneity. Your office may be virtual, but when set up properly it feels just like you’re working next to each other, minus the commute.


💯 All or nothing

If only some of your team works remotely, then you're setting yourself up for failure.In "hybrid" remote set-ups, remote team members end up missing out on all the conversations that happen in person, and this uneven distribution of information heavily favours team members working in the office.If you want to switch to remote (even temporarily), you have to commit all the way.With your whole team working remotely, the flow of information moves from the office into the digital realm (email/Slack/Notion/Github/etc.). This ensures everyone is included and kept in the loop, and gives everyone an equal voice on your team.


Bottom line

Ultimately, your job as a manager is to empower your team to do their best work, and in a remote setting this requires a lot more thought and preparation. From communicating more clearly to building stronger relationships, your success as a remote manager will depend on your ability to manage the flow of information within your team.Every team is different and has its own unique needs, so hopefully these guidelines can serve as a helpful starting point.


This is my first foray into writing and I'll be sharing more thoughts on remote management in future essays, so feel free to reach out! I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.If you enjoyed reading this, you can join my newsletter to get my next essays straight to your inbox:


« Previous Post | Next Post »