Second Time on the Merry-Go-Round
April is a magic month for us. Al and I started our first company, which eventually became Evite, in April of 1997. We sold the company in April 2001. And we incorporated Gixo, our new company, April 2016. Because I know you’re all curious, here is a picture from then and now. Yes we have aged, just a bit :). Hopefully with age comes a bit more wisdom.
So, how’s it going? This month has been nothing short of awesome. For starters, we work at the Innovation Hanger at the Palace of Fine Arts — 120,000 square feet of space with high open ceilings near the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Not a bad place to be creative.
The crux of this post is about how time, wisdom and life experiences allow us to bring a different approach to our second chapter as founders.
Here are the three key differences so far:
(1) Explicitly define the company we want to build and how we will build it.
On the very first day we sat down and talked through the culture we want to build and what we each wanted to learn. We talked about diversity, compensation philosophies, employee equity, our values, and our expectations. We discussed our individual strengths and shed light on areas where we hope to achieve personal growth. We even delved into that tricky grey area of defining success and failure. It may sound obvious but many founders don’t have that hard conversation up front. Questions like, “Would we sell? And if so at what price?” are often shoved aside only to bite later.
(2) Deep, Deep, Deep Market Evaluation
On this go around we’ve given ourselves time to fully assess ideas before jumping into coding them. Last time (granted we were both still studying computer science at Stanford) our process was to build everything that came to mind. At one point we had more products than employees! This time, we evaluated several spaces with the following criteria: Demand, consumer willingness to pay, competition, market size, how excited we are by it, and the potential for positive social impact. Also, we want to make sure we can we leverage our expertise to differentiate.
(3) Start with the customer.
We surveyed thousands of customers (with SurveyMonkey Audience of course), put quick mockups together to use with weekly conversations with consumers. The copious amounts of feedback we’ve received, has allowed us to refine ideas, and survey again. We also have spent a huge amount of time both researching competition and meeting with founders who have started companies in adjacent spaces.
On a more personal note, when I announced my departure from SurveyMonkey, many people wanted to know if I felt sad. I knew I was going to miss the fantastic team I had the privilege to help build, and a product that truly makes a difference. But no, I wasn’t sad. I spent a lot of time being sad after Dave passed away and also after I didn’t get the chance to carry on the torch as the next CEO. I will always be sad about Dave. But I know it’s now time to look to the future. Although we are usually not aware of it at the time, everything is always a push forward.
My dad signs all his emails with “Wherever you are be all there”. I have tried my best to adopt this philosophy in life — whether with my family life or my career. So if you are debating doing a startup or taking a risk all I can say is enjoy the journey, and be all in. It’s exhilarating.