Canaan Partners’ Ross Fubini hosted a panel discussion Wednesdayat GROW Conference, on how cofounders can focus on the most important matters. The no-nonsense session was titled “Getting Out of the Weeds to Getting Shit Done.”
Too often entrepreneurs can get caught up putting out unimportant “small fires.” Everyone has to take time to make special choices about their business in order for it to scale and grow. Thus, the panel discussion centered around how people can focus on the most important things.
Fubini interviewed Scott Kveton of Portland-based Urban Airship, the most globally deployed push messaging service; Patrick Lor of Dissolve, royalty-free stock footage for designers and storytellers; and Bryan Wong of Kiip, which is transforming mobile advertising into an intimate reward experience that enables brands to better engage.
Ross Fubini: Bill Gates had some pretty brutal product reviews while Steve Jobs was obsessed with product. How do you maintain product scale? How has business expanded for you?
Scott Kveton: I think it starts with knowing your market. When we first launched we were doing push notification for indie app developers and what we noticed when looking at the web was that companies that focus on developers can only grow so big. When a new channel is created, specifically like smartphones, you have a fantastic opportunity to engage folks, so we found that we had to target marketers. So we had this shift for the product, going from focusing on indie developers to marketers. With that deal sizes have grown and the product has completely morphed. Its still a very developer-friendly product, but a marketer can get in front of it and understand engagement and drive ROI.
RB: How do you figure out where you spend your time?
SK: I higher a bunch of people who are way smarter than me. I higher people who are hungrier than me, who want my job and that makes them work hard. When I see them working hard it makes me work hard. The other piece is surrounding yourself with people who have been there for a while. I failed a whole bunch. You can go on the Internet and see all my failures, they’re awesome and some of them are spectacular. I think what I learned was that the job of the CEO is not to do everything but to make sure that everything gets done.
Patrick Lor: I think that we have to eat our own dog food on this stuff. So some of the failure that we’ve had early in our company was that we just weren’t using our own site. So when we go to the site and there’s buttons missing we don’t see it because we don’t use it. What we found over the past few months is we’re talking with a lot more customers and we said, listen, we just want to watch users use our product and listen.
RF: Do all your product guys care about customers?
PL: We only higher the most passionate people and people that are in the culture. We’ve actually made it somewhat painful for people to join the company, we’ve asked them to take pay cuts and we’ve asked them to invest in the company so we know they want to do well for the company. It’s not about any kind of malice of not wanting to do what’s best the customer, but it’s always their differing viewpoints. It’s a communication thing and having them hear what you’re trying to say.
RF: How do you spend time to talk with your product guys? Do you still have product review meetings?
PL: You have to have product review meetings. I think you have to become the customer, so for us we sell stock video, so I have to bust open iMovie or [Adobe] AfterEffects and to start making movies and start understanding what our customers are going through.
Brian Wong: Most of my time is spent talking with customers and getting feedback directly and when you forward an email sometimes (when someone bitched about something or tweeted about something) it’s the fastest way to move people.
RF: How do you hold employees accountable for things you can’t control?
PL: It’s incredibly tough, so I think we all need to get together on one metric and that’s revenue for customers and that’s something we’re all responsible for…what we found was when we were getting together with our employees and trying to set up these metrics there was nothing but excuses and this wasn’t to say that people didn’t want to perform. There was this mental block that prevented them from working and what we found was we had to become counselors… we just decided that we had to set up 8:00 meeting with the founders and their respective departments. If what it takes is getting up and spending an hour of undivided attention with people to get past that roadblock, then I will do that.
RF: Scott, you’re really depending on other people to carry your sales out. How are you managing that process as things are being brought out?
SK: It’s really, really tough. We’re 180 people now and we have offices in Portland, San Francisco, New York and London, and that’s weird because I only get to London once a quarter. When I’m there I try and hang with the team and get them excited about doing business but you literally have to figure out a way to improve culture so you can actually have this in different offices. We still struggle like crazy, like we’ve added 80 new people this year. We have basically another company that we’ve added and they didn’t interview with me. That was one of the things I had to give up because I had a bottleneck when I was travelling. We couldn’t hire. And so that’s always really tough to make sure you engage. And I think it comes back to key performance indicators (KPIs) and making sure you’re tracking the right things. It does come down to top-line revenue and your gross margins and whether the people in the sales team are executing. If they aren’t, you have to move on.
RF: What’s a really important matric that’s on top of your list?
SK: Cash, burn, those are things that the entire company knows, they know what we’re spending. Headcount is the toughest part and retention is important.
BW: Revenue and daily active uniques. Having visibility three to six months ahead is really key, but the big warning sign here is making sure you don’t fixate on a metric that is too short term.