Team culture with Opendoor’s Ian Wong

Plus, pivoting from the pandemic

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Together with Ian Wong

September 21, 2020

Special guest: Ian Wong (Co-founder and CTO of Opendoor)

Beyond the business bio: On Ian’s desk, there’s a custom bobblehead of him wearing the jersey of his beloved (but defunct) Vancouver Grizzlies.

Opendoor in 10 words or fewer: Online platform to buy and sell your home.

Fast facts about Opendoor: Founded in 2013. Operating in 21 cities across the United States. Preparing for an IPO valued at $4.8 billion USD.

As a bored grad student in statistics, Ian started answering questions on Quora. An invitation to a Quora user party led to a conversation with the COO of Square, which led to Ian’s transition from academia into the startup ecosystem.

Straight talk from Ian

“Product market fit is dynamic and changing. You can have it and you can lose it. So it’s definitely not a binary thing. It’s almost the degree of product market fit.”

“Founders comes in all shapes and forms. What I’ve found to be common across all co-founders is curiosity and tenacity. They like to acquire skills, and it doesn’t have to be coding. There are plenty of amazing founders who bring strength in sales or marketing or operations or analytics. I always think about talent in a T-shaped fashion — you go deep in one area, but you also have the breadth to collaborate with the other functions as well.”

“When you hire someone, it’s actually an alignment of three things. It’s an alignment of skills. So as an engineer, for instance, are you able to do engineering? It’s an alignment in values. Are you customer-centric, do you act with ownership? And the third is mission alignment. Does what we do at this company align with what you’re trying to do with your career?”

After the pivot

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During the early days of the stay-at-home restrictions, many industry leaders offered the same advice for saving your company — pivot, pivot, pivot.

Let’s imagine you heeded that advice and deftly redirected your projects. Perhaps you shifted your restaurant promotion platform into a food delivery service. Or maybe you repurposed the data from your travel-focused app into something that recommends local activities.

Great. But now what? How will you navigate the eventual transition to the “next normal”? Return to your original idea, continue with the pivot plan, or attempt some hybrid model?

For inspiration, we can look at ClassPass — a fitness platform that joined the unicorn ranks in January 2020 (after closing a $285 million Series E funding round). Founded in 2013, ClassPass is a membership program that allows people to book fitness classes at more than 25,000 gyms and studios across 50+ countries.

Pre-COVID, ClassPass developed a successful business model that served both sides of the highly competitive fitness marketplace. Individuals enjoyed the flexibility of accessing various types of classes (yoga, boxing, etc.) from a number of health and wellness providers. Gyms and studios benefitted from the ability to gain new customers without running costly marketing campaigns.

The pandemic pivot was obvious: offer livestream and on-demand fitness classes.

So what’s next? Even if gyms could safely reopen tomorrow, do you really expect ClassPass to abandon their new online programming? Traditional fitness classes have always been limited by factors like the physical size of the studio and the number of specialized machines. Digital fitness classes, on the other hand, present an opportunity for tremendous scale.

For many companies, the future might involve a fusion of the new and old business models. Of course, omnichannel strategies increase the complexity of running a company. Are you ready for the next phase?

Tech TO Insiders enjoy access to a video collection of previous events, including a conversations with ClassPass CEO Fritz Lanman.

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