Product Hunt – Part of Your Launch Plan

I submitted Ando today to Product Hunt, which is a new restaurant that is delivery only co-founded by David Chang (from Momofuku)  and Hooman Radfar. Check it out Ando on Product Hunt for a special combo for those in NYC.


Since I have been submitting products for awhile now (10! see below), I thought I would share my thoughts as I have been a fan since the beginning.  I went through my old emails and it seems that Product Hunt came onto my radar when it started.  I remember signing up and giving some feedback to Ryan Hoover, who is incredible at interacting with his community.

Product Hunt

Given that Product Hunt has provided so much value to me, I wanted to share my thoughts on how it should be included in a launch plan if you are launching something new.  I am very thankful to the PH community for always asking great questions, submitting great feedback, and being open to participating in things I submit.

What is Product Hunt?

Product Hunt is a great way to share something special with a focussed community that is very active and helpful.  I typically lean towards tech oriented products and services, but they are doing a great job of building a platform to support many different categories. There is a focus on getting participation from the creators, or Makers, of products which gets real questions and answers – something missing from a lot of other places.

Why Product Hunt?

I have found that having PH a part of your launch plan is very helpful for a few reasons;

  1. Forces you to get organized – you need to iron out things like descriptions, one line explanations, how you will handle FAQs, and overall vision.
  2. Forcing function for launch – I always tell folks to launch things on Tuesdays away from other big events (think WWDC) and this gives you a launch date which is great for teams to rally around.
  3. Feedback – The community is great and you will get a TON of great questions and comments from all kinds of folks.
  4. Attention/PR – Obviously, but down on my list as I don’t think its the main reason to participate.  This gets you on the radar of people who write about your app or products category and helps tell the market about what you are working on.

When should you post on Product Hunt?

As the saying goes “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”


Once you are ready to have a public beta and get real feedback, its time to share it with the world.  I alway recommend posting first thing in the morning, the earlier the better, so you can check it off your list and get onto other things.

Who should post on Product Hunt?

The “Makers” of the product, service, feature, app, or “thing”.  This doesn’t always mean the founders.  Some of my favorite posts are from people that are not the “CEO” or “Co-Founder” of a product.  Obviously near and dear to my heart because I worked there for so long was the comment from one of my good friends Jonathan Crowley, now head of product at Foursquare about big changes in Swarm.

How should you post on Product Hunt?

Posting on PH should be a part of your Launch Checklist.  If have spent time with Naveen Selvadurai (partner at Expa) he will talk to you about the importance of checklists and probably hand you a copy of The Checklist Manifesto.

By making PH a part of the checklist you will get things organized and completed the right way.  This is certainly an entirely separate post, but the gist of it is to have a list and make sure you have an owner and a timeline.  Thinking that you can throw something together is not the right approach.  Rather, its a great way to coordinate sharing what you are working with alongside things like an official blog post on your own site, coordinating with any social media accounts you may have, and if you can outside press and embargoes.

Screenshot 2016-07-10 20.50.46

Finally, I wanted to share that although some of these projects have been my own, I am especially proud of seeing friends and companies I advise launch on this platform as it has been so valuable.  From meeting prospective hires and investors, to connecting with competitors and others who have tried similar things in the past the community is incredible.

Finally, I thought I would share what I have posted which is also a fun walk down memory lane…

  1. Skillshare for iOS (my friend Mike’s company – he didn’t know I was submitting!)
  2. Casual Spectator
  3. LRN
  4. Input
  5. Metabase (Expa Studio)
  6. Kit (Expa Studio)
  7. Abovo42
  8. Spatula
  9. Current (Expa Studio)
  10. Ando






An Advisor Equity and Advisor Pool Breakdown

I have been sharing the below with folks via email and privately, but realized I should do so publicly**.


(also a huge shout out to Ben Alden, GC at, Betterment for contributing heavily, and encouraging me to post – go follow him on Medium @BenAlden)

Regarding some of the plans I have seen work well — I am going to give you two answers; one wearing my advisor hat for the company, and one wearing my non advisor hat.

As an advisor looking out for the company;

You should look to get 2–4 competent advisors that can shore up on areas that complement you well. Think about the things you DON’T know. This is the classic “hire people smarter than you” which is harder said than done. Typically these folks get between .01-.25% for regular advisors, .25-.50% for mid range to expert advisors who are willing to spend the time, .50–1.0% for very special circumstances where you have someone that is deeply involved with the company and you might want to recruit later.


Advisor 1 = 0.25%
Advisor 2 = 0.25%
Advisor 3 = 0.25%
Total = 0.75% for 3 advisors that vest as you see fit to help you over the next 1–4 years (more on vesting below)

This leaves plenty of room for a final 4th advisor for .25%

Bigger/better advisors who get more equity have things like; excellent domain expertise to help you avoid pitfalls, deep connections within the industry to help with the intros, partnerships, and more.  I try to recommend people bring on advisors that can 10X a business.

Big strategic advisors are the folks that add credibility to your co. and provide everything above, but have expertise and knowledge that you can’t find anywhere else. Think former CEO of the biggest player in your space, former lead exec. from a 10 year old co. in your space that is a public company — that sort of thing.

Advisors refer to these percentages as “basis points” such as “25 basis points” which equals 0.25%. You might already know this but just in case you hear it, wanted you to know.

As a potential advisor looking to get involved with the company;

MORE EQUITY! Lots of people here build up their portfolios by asking for 1%-5% to advise and I think that’s crazy. People claim to be incredible, but you don’t know until you work with them. Tread cautiously here. I have seen what I call “predatory advisors” come in and really mess up a cap table by promising big intros and sales contracts only to disappear after the first 6-12 months.

The funny thing about these moves is that it ends up being bad all around, even though the advisor thinks they are getting a great deal.  I have seen cap tables with these folks and investors question who they are, why/how it happened, and how someone who doesn’t work as an FTE own so much.

Here are the questions I like to see founders ask potential advisors;

1. How much time do you have for this company on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis?
2. Do you currently work with companies that are competitive or could conflict with my business?
3. How many companies do you advise today?
4. What would your current companies you advise say about you?
5. Could I speak with one of them?
6. What do you hope to gain out of this time and energy you spend?
7. What/when/how is the best time to reach you if we need something? (this one is great as its telling about how your time will go)

Much of these questions are based around time and engagement.  A standing call or meeting with an advisor is great, but when you really need them will they be there for you?

Now that you have a potential advisor lined up, how should you engage the relationship?

Good lawyers will tell you the best contractual relationships are those in which you never have to look back at the contract once it’s signed. The relationship is strong, both sides know their roles and goals, and neither side has to resort to external mechanisms (e.g., contracts, courts) to force desired behavior. The world isn’t a perfect place, though, and sometimes it makes sense to add a little more contractual protection.
It is always recommended to spend time with someone before bringing them on as an advisor.  I refer to the close confidants of a company as a “kitchen cabinet“, and always feel like you should be able to break bread with an advisor in your own home/kitchen.

What tools exist to protect both sides of an advisor relationship?

Vesting Schedules

Advisors typically ask to vest in equal installments over 48 months. However, I have seen many derivatives of schedules and you have to find a timeline that works best for you.
Another schedule is to use a traditional FTE grant; 4 year vesting with a 1 year cliff.  This is the standard 25% of the grant vesting on the one year anniversary of the grant date, with the remaining 75% vesting in equal installments monthly over the next three years. Another innovative approach is to change the cliff to something shorter such as six months.
This gives the advisor an incentive to add enough value that you want to keep them on the team for at least a year; anything less, and they’ve earned nothing. This requires a lot of trust: the advisor in your good faith and the advisor in his/her ability to add value.
Note that an advisor may reasonably push back on a request like this, however: they don’t want to potentially work for free.

Setting The Option Strike Price Above Fair Market Value

Remember when I talked about getting an advisor that can 10X a business? This is putting them on the line to actually deliver for you.

A little bit of background first on options: In order to issue options, your company must have a valid 409A valuation setting the fair market value (“FMV”) of a share of common stock. You cannot issue options at a strike price below FMV without incurring serious tax repercussions. So what most companies do is get FMV from a 409A valuation and use that for their strike price. Companies are not prohibited, however, from issuing options with a strike price greater than FMV.
So why would you do this? Say your current 409A puts your FMV at $0.25/share of common stock, and you’re negotiating with an advisor who’s promising to 4x your company value (beware of promises like this in any event…). You can offer the advisor options with a $1.00 strike price. Unless your company actually 4x’s in value, those $1.00 options will be of no value. Why would an advisor pay $1.00 to exercise an option for a share worth less than $1.00?
This is flexible: you could issue a number of options with the current FMV, and some with a heightened FMV to provide an additional incentive to hit certain targets.

Letting your Advisor Go

Hopefully you are setup for success, but in the event it doesn’t work out it is best to be prepared. This is why vesting makes so much sense.  If things go south after two years, you have 50% of the unvested shares to revert back to the Company.
For example, if you give an advisor 0.4% grant, and they work for you for one year before you decide to part ways, your company won’t be out the full 0.4%. Rather, an advisor in this circumstance would likely have only vested in 1/4 of that amount, with the unvested 3/4 returning to the company. Playing out the math they will walk away with 0.1% of your company, and the remaining 0.3% will revert back.
All of this is one way of saying that the initial grant you provide isn’t set in stone. If a relationship isn’t working out, you can terminate it or renegotiate to mitigate costs.
If an advisor is confident they can add value (and you have a reputation as a fair dealer), these aren’t unreasonable asks. That said, while these tools may get you to a better place directionally, you can see they’re far from perfect. For example, if you set an advisor’s strike price greater than FMV, what happens if FMV rises for reasons completely aside from an advisor’s efforts? At the end of the day, there’s simply no replacement for a good relationship, and that’s what you want to spend your time–not in more nuanced contract negotiations.

**LAWYERLY DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice. Before embarking down this path, please check with your outside counsel, Board of Directors, and equity plan and financing documents etc… before making moves. Every company’s plan is different, and just like a contract isn’t a substitute for a good relationship, a blog post isn’t a substitute for legal counsel.

Founder First Principles — Creating Expa Labs


I have spent the last few months helping to create and launch the Expa Labs program. The first group of Expa Labs companies started last week, and I am excited to have them in our offices building. They are incredible founders, with amazing backgrounds, working on great ideas.

To understand how we got to this point its worth taking a step back and looking at the foundation this program was built upon, as well as understand why we build Labs in the first place.

To be able to create this program from the beginning was a main driver for me to move into my new role, and a challenge I have always wanted to tackle.

From the original post at

Expa is a startup studio that works with founders to develop and launch new products. After 10 years of designing and building consumer services, Garrett and the Expa team have identified many techniques that help create successful companies. This experience has been integrated into a platform to help founders increase their startup’s chance of success.

Expa Studio has created an incredible framework for founders to build, scale and launch companies, and using this for outside founders is a natural evolution. We wanted to take what we have learned building inside, and leverage the same platform for founders. The Expa Labs program was built using this same system, and I am excited to deliver on the initial vision of helping more founders. It has been great working with the existing team at Expa and leveraging the work that has been done to date.

Since the program didn’t exist before, I wanted to share how we approached building it, and share some of my thoughts along the way.

I started building the program thinking about first principles. There are plenty of other startup programs that exist, and I didn’t want to compare and contrast them. Rather I want to focus on the things that I believed to be the Founder First Principles so that we could create something entirely focussed on the people in the program. If you are not familiar with the topic, here is a quick video that explains nicely the thinking behind this method;

The first task was to come up with Founder First Principles which I defined as;

  1. Capital: Investment in the business to conduct business
  2. Talent: Bringing in the right talent into a company
  3. Office space: A place to conduct business and come to work to collaborate
  4. Feedback: Getting early user and customer feedback from people outside the office
  5. Network: A group of peers to brainstorm, conspire, partner, help, collaborate and vent to
  6. Advisors: Individuals that can 10X a part of the business that a founder or employee cannot
  7. Future Funding: Access to materials and people that can help in raising outside capital
  8. Frameworks of Success: Access to frameworks that have worked in the past, but not set in stone (there is no formula!)

I spent a long time thinking about this list, and going through what Expa could offer. I came up with the following;

  1. Capital: Expa will capitalize each business with $500K
  2. Talent: We will attract top talent leveraging the platform/success built to date with people, products, and companies
  3. Office Space: Expa will provide office space in NY and SF to companies to work alongside other founders
  4. Feedback: Expa will provide office hours, 1:1 time, and feedback when need with key individuals within the organization
  5. Network: Expa will provide a bi-weekly breakfast with individuals that can help Expa Labs companies + share materials with our limited partners at the end of the program
  6. Advisors: Expa will leverage its own advisor network for the breakfast series, announce the companies on our channels, and introduce folks who have interests
  7. Future Funding: Expa will send out a “first look” to the limited partners who have invested in Expa (something they are very excited about) before the end of the program
  8. Frameworks of Success: Expa will provide guidance and coaching (that’s me!) + leverage the team, and lean on the frameworks we have seen work in other Expa Studio companies.

Given this list, and reviewing it now, I am reminded that there is no magic formula for startups — an important reminder when looking for the answer.

Although many of these seem obvious, creating this list and working with all the stakeholders to create this program was an amazing opportunity.

I tried to imagine myself in the shoes of an entrepreneur reading through the Expa Labs website for the first time and thinking about the future of my company and where I wanted to spend time. I thought about what kind of people I wanted to work around and what would motivate me every day to be energized to go to work. I thought about the difficulties facing most founders, and what things I could provide that would make the process a little bit easier for Labs companies. I thought about the crossroads that many founders come to, and the best ways to provide the right advice at the right time. In doing so we created what you see today at

Throughout the creation process it was great to leverage the smart brainpower within Expa, not only from the partners, but also the incredible team they have assembled over the past 3 years.

I also sat down with founders who have been through every stage of the lifecycle of a business. I sat with folks who never raised a dime of outside capital, and got their thoughts on the early days of their companies life. I met with founders who have been through accelerator and incubator programs, and listened to their feedback. I spoke with CEOs who have raised millions of dollars in venture capital, and pried into what they would do different today if they could “start from scratch”. The most fun question to ask this group was simply; “if you were doing this again today, what would you do differently?”. Variations of this question made these founders gush about ideas and brainstorming about how they get started.

Everyone has their own unique origin story and, because of that, there’s no singular/perfect formula. Hearing from real people was my Customer Development Process for Labs, and it felt good to “get outside the building” and talk to prospective “customers”.

Once the program details were setup, I created a simple 15-question form for companies to share there vision with us. We received ~500 applications, which included answers and videos from founders — to which I reviewed them all. This not only was a great way to see and hear from prospective Labs companies, but also to gain insight and further sharpen my own pattern recognition into what is happening in the market today. I am in awe of the incredible caliber of the applications I reviewed and the entrepreneurs I got a chance to speak with. After reviewing and combing through applications, with a huge amount of help from Roberto Sanabria, we worked our way down to a group of finalists. We invited a small group of companies to SF for a final interview, and spent time with each going through their business and trying to understand what they wanted to build. The exercise was a logistical challenge, but something that was worthwhile in the end, as I got great feedback from most folks who went through the process.

We recently announced the first 6 Expa Labs companies and I am excited for the next six months. I would say that the main driver of such a small number of companies was the amount of time and energy we wanted to spend with each team.

Thinking about school is the closest analogue I can come up with; a classic example where a group that wants to learn (students) from a select few (teachers/professors/experts) — the ratio matters most. Even the best schools in the world take the ratio of students to teachers to heart, and in crafting a new program I wanted to do the same. I can’t predict what will happen in the future, but it will certainly make the framework of Expa Labs that much better for a bigger group in the future.

With this first group already in the office and focussed on building and shipping, I am thinking about the future and how we will do. We are certainly not going to get everything right at first, which is why we are constantly going to test and evaluate and measure how we are doing. Both from a logistical and tactical standpoint, to a pattern recognition and return on investment standpoint.

Although the Labs program has begun, there’s still a lot of work to be done — including taking time to reflect on the process and make it better for the next iteration. I am looking forward to working with this first group, and opening up applications again in the future if you are interested.

Putting out the biggest fires

I am usually a very regimented person, and crave process and structure. Some would even say too black and white, as I need to allow for some grey areas and unknowns. I agree with this feedback and take it to heart. It wasn’t until I started to build the inside sales team at Foursquare that I really saw it as a something to work on and something to watch out for that I realized its importance. To help with this I use an expression that I first heard from my former colleague and friend Dave Greenberger, now head of sales at Splash, which is; “put out the biggest fires”.

Dave came onboard to help manage the inside sales team we were building at Foursquare and there was a lot to do.  During his interview process he brought up his methodology to handling things like; recruiting, hiring, churn, customer service, technology woes, everything really…
At first I was taken back as it went against my need to prepare and plan, but I knew my approach also wasn’t working. I went with my gut that this was the right approach – and seeing it in action it was.
Putting out the biggest fires has become a startup mantra for me because it goes well beyond inside sales. It is a more tactical version of the cliche of building a startup “it’s like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down” This phrase  is almost too glamorous and non-genuine as it doesn’t get at the heart of the matter. It doesn’t capture the actual day to day maneuvering that is necessary.
Putting out the largest fires is embracing the fact that there are fires in the first place. Everything is not perfect, and that is perfectly fine.  It is probably half the reason most people join a new startup in the first place.  Any attempt to sweep problems under the rug and hide from them isn’t a good approach, and this gets them out in the open.
You can’t prevent all the turmoil, but you can influence how you deal with it. This was WHEN someone comes with an issue (not if) you can process and fix vs waste time and energy on WHY. Doing a Post Mortem and placing blame are not helpful in the moment. They can help after, but if you are only focused on the end and the potential bad outcomes, you are not adequately preparing for reality. Things happen. Stuff will break. Fires will burn. By taking on the “put out the biggest fires” you are stating that you know things will go wrong but you are willing to do something about it.
So thanks Dave for making this part of my startup strategy book. As I work with teams and companies more and more this advice comes up, and writing it all down gives me a chance to reference it in the future and check myself with folks who have opposing views. Let me know if you have seen this work, or have a different approach.

Next after next

One of my favorite interview questions is “what is next for you after this role?” Or put another way “what is next after next?”


I added it to my list of go-to questions for almost every role as it gives me insight and information into a candidate beyond anything else I have asked before.

Accepting that most folks are not going to join your company and retire after 40 years is a healthy way to have the rapid career change conversation that is a sticking point for so many. Embracing that someone is not going to stick around forever is a good thing. The hope is they are going to be around and give you their all for 2-4 year(this is a good outcome in my book). Anything longer and their role will probably change anyway. Anything shorter and there is some other issue.

Hearing from candidates about what is next is also just plain interesting. Some folks talk about what they “really” want to be doing and I have heard things such as; run product, start my own company, be an investor, go to grad school, write a book, become a professional singer, run a sales team, pivot their career and start over, break into startups, go to grad school the list goes on and on. Some folks are about finding a stepping stone role. Some people want stability. In the words of Mark Suster some folks want to learn and others earn – and this is great advice.  I like to get at the root of where they are coming from from asking this question. Giving them a platform to talk about their own story arc and where it’s going is a refreshing way to get at what motivates them.

If you end up hiring the candidate, this is a great thing to discuss in 1:1s and reviews (not every time but as a macro goal). Questions like; are you learning what you want to learn towards your next gig? Is the work you have challenging you to get to your next role? Do you have the skills you need today to do this next level job? Knowing where someone wants to get to later on (what is actually next) can be a way of actually gut checking the answers to these questions.  Sure, someone needs to know how to do their job within your org. but if they are acquiring skills that can help them in their career they will do a better job and be more invested in the results.  These results are going to be what they talk about in interviews, put on their CV and LinkedIn, and reference later on.  If you can connect the goals of the individual with the macro goals of your company you can ensure you have someone that is truly dedicated to mastering their job.

It’s also not about leaving a company or job. I have spoken to lots of candidates who divulge that they actually want to be in a different department or role within the company and they see this as a way in. For small companies I see this as more of an issue, but larger co’s I have no issue. People also talk about role models in the current company wishing to aspire to be like them (or be them if/when they leave).  Having this conversation early can ensure you don’t end up in a bad place during a review period.

So next time you go into an interview ask “what’s next after next?” and let me know how it goes.

Please Repeat Yourself (PRY)

The principle of DRY (Don’t repeat yourself) in software engineering is about brevity, efficiency, and reducing repetition.  However paradoxically, the management side of any business suffers from the opposite problem of needing to continuously share information about the mission, vision, values, and areas of focus for colleagues.  I hear the advice time and again that founders should repeat the goals of a Company and what they and the team are working on – but not a great way of remembering it.

I propose the following principle; Please Repeat Yourself (P.R.Y.)

red-building-industry-bricksThis gives not only a name and mantra to a necessary goal for founders, but also an easy moniker for those on the receiving side of the information.  Many teams encourage questions, have office hours, and do town hall type discussions – all opportunities to cover the main mission and vision, yet you cannot repeat them enough.  I have witnessed many questions from colleagues to founders rooted in confusion around core mission, core values, or attempting to measure what they themselves are working on.  In many of my own 1:1 discussions I joke that my dream is to have someone come in and tell me “I know exactly what the team is working on, as well as what I need to be doing, and what our goal is as a company.”  This is obviously an oversimplification, but knowing this statement will never happen makes me realize that this management principle of P.R.Y. should exist.

By asking folks to please repeat themselves, we can all get into the habit of divulging the core tenants of the business over and over and over again.  If you think about the average tenure of employees, especially those of startup folks, around 2 years you can see the need for this principle. When someone first starts they are thrown into the fire and expected to get up to speed on all that is happening.  If your small team is anything like the rest of them, the docs that onboard them and internal company language probably hasn’t been updated in awhile.  Expecting someone to understand the “why” behind all the decisions that have led to this point without understanding the language behind it is just unfair.  Coming back to my premise, PRY gives you a way to tell a new team member the background and knowledge behind things.

When teams begin to grow, everyone can’t be at every meeting, and you expand beyond the dunbar number, it becomes even more difficult to make sure everyone knows what is going on.  Repeating yourself here is the key to a cohesive and knowledgable team.  A good test at this phase is to ask folks how they explain what they do to a friend or family member.  You would be amazed at how folks that work at the same company can describe things in such a different way – even being on the same team.  If you think of every employee as an evangelist to your brand, then PRY is a great way to get everyone aligned.

Growing a team is critical to every startup, and everyone says that word of mouth referrals for new employees is how the best teams grow.  For this reason PRY is a great way to ensure that someone can explain what the core mission of the Company is to those prospective employees.  I have seen candidates unable to decipher what a company is doing fall back on larger established companies as they are able to grok “what is going on”.  To lose out on someone because the mission is unclear should be unacceptable.

Layering the message over and over (like the brick example) builds a great foundation that founders should be proud of, employees can contribute too, and be a part of the defensible culture of a company.

Let me know if you agree with the PRY principle.




The Right Time + The Right Team + The Right Technology

Team Time Technology


I have been working with a number of early stage teams going through various stages of fundraising and using this diagram to help explain my thoughts on some of the questions they will come up against.  This is certainly not all inclusive, but it helps me outline the key points that I think must be overcome by an early stage team to convince an outside party to invest their capital in their company.  Many of the questions and comments I have seen happen in pitches fit into this venn diagram.  The best example I have of this is looking at what happened with YouTube; it came about at the right time, with the right team, and the right technology. However one of the only things they could control was the team – assembling the right people to take advantage of market conditions.

The Right Time
Starting a business at the right time is almost completely outside of someones control.  There are multiple macro/micro economic factors that can contribute to success or failure.  However, I say almost as there are indicators that can be used to see if an idea has a shot at working – either something that has failed in the past, or something completely novel whose time has come.  In the case of YouTube there were countless other examples of online video providers, some during the dot com boom, that didn’t quite make it.  Why not?  Well, for starters I don’t believe there was the ubiquity of broadband that existed in 2004-2005.  If you had a video site in years past with a dial-up service there was no video compression system in place yet that would bring quality and convenience that people needed to actually use and browse a site effectively.  There was also no hardware to make small videos at the same pace as the mid 2000’s.  Think about the explosion of digital video recorders (remember Flip cams?) that happened right around the time of YouTube launch.  Using the Flip example (launched in 2006) there was suddenly a very affordable digital video camera that you could instantly connect via USB.  The next logical progression of this video content explosion was a place to put it – enter YouTube.

The questions associated with this circle for me are;

  1. Why is now the time this Company will succeed? (vs. 5 years ago or 5 years from now)
  2. Is the market ready?
  3. Are customers ready?
  4. Are there enough buyers/sellers today?
  5. Is there some special moment happening that makes this the right time to exist?
  6. What external factors could help/kill/affect what your roadmap looks like for the next 6 months?

The Right Team
I believe that the first 10 people at any startup will make or break the Company.  I know this is a strong statement as people change roles all the time, and I need to get my thoughts fully written down on it, but it has been my experience thus far.  The first set of folks usually set the culture and cadence of the entire operation.  If you look at most early stage companies there are usually a few people that make a 10X difference in the early days and end up leading the teams and departments later on.  This is not always the case but when a core founding team departs an organization it is hard to understand how the heart and soul of a company isn’t gone too.  If this happens years later and there are new leaders in place, this can be the right time for them to leave and its actually a good thing for a Company.

Digressing back to my example, YouTube was founded by 3 early PayPal founders that experienced a real existing pain; there was no place to share and view videos online for recent events.  Whether you believe the dinner party story or the news events story (more here) doesn’t matter – the reality is that there was no place to house and share video online and this team was well poised to find the solution.

The questions associated with this circle are things like;

  1. Why this team?
  2. If someone else got $XXM, could they assemble a better team? Do what you are doing faster/slower? why/why not?
  3. What makes this team well positioned to succeed in this market over competitor X, Y, Z?
  4. Who is missing from this lineup?
  5. Who are the next 5 hires you are going to make if this funding comes through?
  6. How are you going to compete for talent against X, Y, Z?
  7. How are you going to retain this group?

The Right Technology
This is a contentious circle for some as some investors rely on the tenacity and vision of the founders over technical abilities.  In my experience being brought up around a thesis of having strong technical co-founders its hard to get away from.  Aside from the abilities of the people, the real question here is around the state of the technology being used and many external factors.  Coming back to my YouTube example there were again strong external factors that were beyond the founders control that made its success possible.  The first is that there was an explosion browser based video players that were found in almost all computers – Adobe Flash.  Say what you will about the players today (they are on the severe decline), around the time of YouTube it was incredible.  With most systems having the player, YouTube was able ride on the coattails of a ubiquitous player that could handle and stream video on most big platforms.  Previously used for interactive and complicated websites, the Flash player for video was perfect.  People could get video buffering in the background with their broadband connection and see basically “live” video without the previous problems of downloading and dealing with codecs and corrupted files.  The technology used here matters as there are tons of carcasses of online video companies from the dot com boom that didn’t survive as they didn’t have the right technology in place.

The questions associated with this circle are things like;

  1. Is this Company using the right technology to solve this problem?
  2. Is the world well equipped for this technology to be brought to market? (Flash/YouTube example)
  3. Do you have in house technical talent, or is the technology somewhere else?
  4. What is the defensibility of this technology?
  5. What breakthroughs are you waiting for? Holding you back? Are you driving?

This is certainly not meant as an all encompassing series of VC questions, but it helps me wrap my head around where a Company is based on their answers.  The center of this venn diagram defines for me that this is something worth taking a look at.

Contact your own customer service system

Things get done when the people who can affect change experience pain. What I mean by that the people that are most able to fix problems are the people in an organization who probably have no idea that it is happening. Therefore I believe every Founder or CEO should contact their customer service centers, as if they were a customer, immediately.

call-us-1049266_640I recognize that a call to have CEOs dial their support lines may not happen by the likes of the Fortune 500, but my hope that one person who reads this will go through their support channels today and make improvements.

Almost all call centers can be improved but the metrics, dashboards, anecdotes and discussions in conference rooms are blocking progress. If a company leader spends time on the first point of contact, or perhaps the point where a customer is most in need, they will find a place to spend cycles that will help their business. There is so much energy spent on all the customer touch points; phone, email, txt, live chats, and more – but it feels most are spread too thin.

You don’t have to look far to find companies with customer services woes. Comcast and Time Warner are notorious for having bad customer service. The first line of defense here is the phone support system. This is a power law in action that is not being fixed. If they spent cycles on the single point of contact people hate the most, would it have halo affects on the rest of the business? My answer is yes.

I have a had my fair share of customer service woes and I am usually pretty good at solving them. So much so that people that know this about me get me involved when they can’t make progress. It’s not always just about “talking to a supervisor” but goes into how you communicate and why.  I believe in the halo affect that a good product or a good customer interaction can have and this feels like an easy way to make customers happy.

So whether its by phone, email, livechat, or other means – contact your customer service team to see what the experience is like.  If its perfect that you can scratch one more thing off your todo list 🙂

Goal setting and tracking

I have read in countless books and blog posts that you can’t change what you don’t measure. This is especially true in fitness and weight loss but also the workplace. Measuring things holds people accountable can backup actions with data to show what worked and what didn’t.  This is true of individuals as well, and why I am trying something new this year.  I am working off the Derek Sivers /Now movement (his Now page) and creating a public way of holding myself accountable and tracking things a little better.

It seems others agree with this method and there is now a growing number of people participating on the site.

I have created my own now site, which is a way of helping me prioritize – Eric Friedman Now

I have also outlined a set of 2016 goals, some public and some private that I am going to hold myself accountable to.  The added pressure this year is that I have shared the private goals with a set of close friends so that I am held accountable as well.

Accountability is important to me with teams and direct reports, and therefore I should hold myself to the same standard.  I have reviewed some of the best ways to track these things and I think putting them out publicly is a good way to do it.  I have also started using the Strides app, and making small tasks that I can check off each day and each week.  This builds momentum as you are less likely to break a chain once it is started.  I once read somewhere it takes a few weeks to start a habit for adults, and not a long time of missing them to fall off.  I hope that putting this out there helps me and I can refer back to see how I did.

So in summary I am doing 4 things to track goals and measure;

  1. Strides for daily/weekly things for habits
  2. Goodreads for books
  3. Public Now page
  4. Private group for 2016 goals

Looking forward to a great 2016 and reporting back to see if this works.

It’s the questions not the answers

Slack recently had an outage, which happens to every company, and people noticed on Twitter – wow what a reaction!

I was reminded a lesson I learned from Brad Burnham while I was at Union Square Ventures; it’s the questions and conversations that are important, not the answers. 

This came about from Brad as my colleague Andrew Parker and I were arguing over whether or not we should be checking in to a place on Foursquare.  We had gotten takeout/delivery (I can’t remember which). Following the “rules” you should check into places that you go (hey, this was before Swarm ok?). However we definitely purchased something from the restaurant, so didn’t that warrant letting them know? There were clear benefits; sharing on Twitter/Facebook, letting the business know, training the Foursquare system. There were also plenty of challenges; the location services may count this check in as “cheating” given we were so far away, we weren’t technically “there” if someone came looking (this happened a lot in the early days).

The list for both sides goes on. I think this is where Brad jumped in and stated that it didn’t really matter who was right or wrong – he was much more interested that the discussion was taking place. He said that many times it’s not about having clear rules for digital games, but rather the constructs make people think, and question – the discussion is the most important.

This brings me back to Slack; watching the reaction of people was fascinating. It didn’t matter if it was an outage, a hack, an AWS problem (I don’t even know if they are on Amazon) but rather that people noticed. Being in the zeitgeist vs having hype are two totally different things. This downtime brought companies to their knees, and people couldn’t work without it. That’s the most important thing to notice. I am sure we will get an explanation and post mortem, but people will still be using Slack. It reminds me also of the Twitter outages of the early days – only now there is a place to complain! (On Twitter – how meta)

As I look at companies both through my operator and investor lens, this discussion is the strongest signal to Slack dominance and usage across organizations and companies.   

Many see the valuation and argue, I see the discussion and see value.