Why we use pomodoros

South Africa Summer 2014 Blog

Written by: Bryan Hernandez

July 1, 2014

People are weak.  Generally speaking, they do not take responsibility for their own success.  Generally speaking, they do not sprint up hill without something chasing them.

In the first week of the program, we worked hard to install in our founders all the necessary concepts and techniques required to sprint to market (de)validation.  A lot of the work revolved around learning how to talk to real-life human beings about the problems they experience in their jobs, or the things they generally disliked to the point of paying money to not have to deal with them.  Perhaps it's surprising for the uninitiated, but calling people you don't know and getting them to give you information about their job and life is not an easy task.  In fact, sometimes it can be rather uncomfortable.  

The first time I ever made a cold call, I stared at the phone book for a good 15 minutes thinking of what I was going to say while my father towered over me with a puzzled look on his face.  He assured me that making this call on his behalf was a completely normal and easy thing to do.  He was right, too.  All I had to do was say, "Hello, this is Bryan calling for Jesse Hernandez.  I'd like to know if <insert random used car part> is ready for pickup."  

As a script it sounds simple enough, but there's something about gearing up to make the actual call that seems to change everything.  All of a sudden you start questioning everything about yourself and the world.  

Do people say "hi" or "hello"?  No one says "hello" anymore.  That's for old-fashioned movies and mailmen, isn't it?

Should I say my full name or just the first... or mabe nothing at all?  Given that I'm a prebuscent boy (at the time), aren't they going to be confused that I'm saying a boys name when I sound like a girl?  Should I not pretend that I'm my sister instead?  She's a year older than me.  She's probably much more suited to do this kind of thing than me.  Me, I'm going to go play in the yard.  This calling shit is for the birds.


We come up with lots of excuses why we can't do the things we know we need to do.  As a test, try sitting down first thing in the morning and ask yourself, "What is the one thing I could do today that would change everything?"  Then ask yourself "What is the process that will get me there?"  I bet you'll naturally come up with a reason why you can't get started on those tasks right away.  It's just our natural aversion to doing things that hurt or are uncomfortable.  

Our answer to these questions for these early customer development days is rather simple: talk to as many people as possible with the dispassionate critical judgement of a shrewd investor who cares only about the expected return on his investment.  Although our founders are not investors in the traditional sense, it behooves them to think of themselves this way because they are in fact investing something much more scarce than money.  They are investing their time and energy.  And these are rapidly wasting assets in the early days.


To combat all these psychological disadvantages, we have started implementing 30-minute pomodoros.  

This is a working style that requires you work at the highest intensity (head down mode) for 25 minutes.  Whether it's research or calling, you are shooting to reach an audacious goal for the time period, such as collecting 15 strong leads or having 5 good sales calls.  When 25 minutes is up, you take a 5 minute breather to debrief with your team and mentors.  Lather rinse repeat.


We tried this method yesterday with a lot of success.  People made about 80% as many calls in 2 hours of pomodoros than they did the entire previous week!  Not many people liked it.  It wasn't comfortable.  The room reached an intensity I haven't seen before from this group.  But people ploughed forward, and I think we're starting to realize what it means to not only reach for something you want but to go out and take it—because you know, now more than ever, that nobody is going to make you successful.  

You have sprint up that hill and build on it the fortress you want.