Interview with Robert Nelson, Co-founder

Have you ever wondered what makes Foundry COO Robert Nelson tick? Hint: it's not just the hoodie.

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Foundry Staff
February 7, 2018

As part of a local tech website's "How I Work" series, Foundry co-founder Robert Nelson discussed his daily routine, tools/software he relies on (looking at you, Slack), the best advice he's ever received, and more. Somehow his trusty hoodie didn't get a shoutout.

Foundry is a Minneapolis-based design & development firm formed in 2015 with 10 employees today. At the helm as Principal of Technology is Robert Nelson, who co-founded the company and continues to run it.

We spoke with Robert to learn about his work habits and the the way he does it on a typical day — inside and outside the office.

What one word best describes how you work?


What is your current device/hardware/office setup?

I have a 15 inch macbook pro, a good set of headphones, a backpack, and that’s it. I used to live behind multiple monitors and a fancy keyboard, but I gave that all up a few years ago. Mobility has become important to me.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

I mainly use Eclipse and Sublime for coding. I use Workflowy for keeping notes, and Omnifocus for organizing my tasks.  And, as seems to be common now, my entire life revolves around Slack.

What’s your sleep schedule like in terms of hours/wake-up and what’s the morning routine?

I’ve never been a particularly big sleeper. I used to average five or six hours a night. But lately I’ve been sleeping in, sometimes until 7:30am, which is very late for me. I must be getting old.

I don’t operate without coffee, so that’s always my number one priority. I check email and Slack while coffee is brewing. I also have this old habit of checking up on client’s systems in the morning. I know we have monitoring software and all that, but I still do it anyway. I’m a sucker for morning local news, so I generally don’t leave for work until that’s over.

Is there a method to how you schedule your days?

I guess my only “method” is to be a pushover. People fill up my schedule without asking me. I never block off time. Any “real work” I do happens between meetings.

Every morning I start a new paper TO DO list, copying over unfinished tasks from the previous day. My goal is always to get through it, which has only happened a few times. When I get back from a meeting and I have a half hour until the next one, I look through the list and find a half-hour task. I’ve never filled up more than a half-sheet of paper. It all gets done, maybe not as quickly as my co-workers would like.

How much time do you spend in vs. out of the office?

I believe very strongly that working with people in person is the most effective way to get stuff done. So, I’m always in the office, or at a client’s office. I never work from home during business hours. After hours, I’ll work on my couch.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Call people. Yeah, I know it’s old fashioned. But one phone call can save a dozen emails.

What is that one thing you have to do, no matter what, every day?

I’m very particular and regimented about the little things. Routine keeps me organized. It makes it easier to manage the big stuff that I have little control over.

What is your preferred form of communication and why?

In order: Slack, phone, email, text.

On average, how many hours a day do you spend in meetings?

I probably average three to four hours a day.

When, where and what do you typically eat for lunch?

I generally go find something downtown every day. I’ve been trying to bring in lunch, but it depends a lot on how organized I’m feeling I don’t like eating lunch in front of my computer. We all work really hard. Taking an hour off mid-day to eat and chat and laugh is pretty important to me.

How many hour a week and do you work in the evenings and/or weekends?

There’s never a week where I don’t work after hours. I answer Slacks, emails, and calls pretty much anytime I’m awake. But, as for real work, I only do long hours if projects call for it. When we first started Foundry and I was the only developer, it happened a lot. 60 hour weeks weren’t rare. As we’ve grown and the workload is spread out a bit more, it’s no longer very common.

What is the best advice you ever received, accepted, and applied?

Not only did I apply this advice, it’s practically the core principle of my life: keep it simple. As a young software developer, the really good geeks that I learned from beat it into me. Over engineering was the worst sin you could commit. It’s the way I code. And I’ve been able to apply the same principle to nearly everything. Do you understand that legal doc? If not, it’s too complicated. Investments? If you can’t explain it to me in a few sentences I’ll pass. Unfortunately, I can’t avoid all complexity, but I try very hard.