This year was a milestone year for me — it’s been 10 years since I founded MEET and 5 years since I started Redbeacon. It is always hard to know when to stop and look around, but when I did that this year I have found myself in a unique position at Redbeacon: I have helped build a team and a culture that could thrive without me. It is always hard to come to that realization, but it is also a great thing to see and something I am very proud of. I am a big believer in always challenging yourself, and I feel that it is time for me to continue to the next challenge.
We have had our ups and downs, but I was always happy to come to the office and work with this amazing team that often felt like a family. Since Home Depot acquired us almost 2 years ago, we’ve done a lot: significantly grew our team, piloted four different business models, launched in 500+ Home Depot stores, and helped more than half a million consumers and pros. There is always more to do, but when I look back at everything we have accomplished I could not be prouder.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about the things I’ve learned in the past five years, and wanted to share them with you. None of you will be surprised to see them presented using some of my favorite movie clips.
Loyalty is underrated when building a team
In Silicon Valley founders always talk about only hiring A-level players and making sure that they fit the company culture. Those things are certainly important and both Aaron and I have emphasized them in our hiring process. One thing that is underestimated in the Valley and that has been one of the keys to assembling our all-star team is loyalty. It does not matter how great the person you hire is, if they are not going to stick around when things are not going well or are gone at the first sight of a higher offer from a new startup, you will not be able to maintain the team. If you want to build a loyal team, you have to start by hiring people who you think will be loyal. Specifically, I looked at a person’s track record and tried to determine if they could make an emotional connection to people and to a mission. For me, loyalty is a two way street. I can only hope that you all felt that I would do anything for you guys in return for your commitment and loyalty. Over the last 5 years almost everyone we hired (~90%) stayed with us. This has made a huge difference.
Having a clear beacon is not just for Redbeacon
A few weeks ago over lunch, Michael made a great observation. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I agree. We built the best products and executed on all cylinders when we had a crystal-clear vision for our direction, coupled with clear values of what we wanted to deliver for the user. At times this got lost and I did not emphasize it enough, and the product suffered. This is something that I have learned to carve out more time for. I will make sure it’s always on the top of my mind.
Focus, Focus, Focus
A smart man named Austin once told me that Redbeacon should cover significantly fewer verticals (we were in 300 at the time) to make the marketplace work. He was right. Time and time again throughout Redbeacon’s history, whenever we focused our product and business, we saw success. The trick, of course, is to know what to focus on and to try to nail that part down before expanding to new ideas. Since I will no longer be there to shout across the room at people to focus, I am trusting Nate, Austin, and Denise to take up that role.
WOW the user
Anthony taught me that you have to first identify a real pain point and then develop a solution that is better than anything else out there. As you know, we track NPS very closely to understand users who are WOWed by our experience and those who are not. We think this is the best measure of creating something that is truly useful and different. Users have plenty of alternatives for dealing with most issues, so if you build a product that serves many people but does not WOW any of them, you will not be able to keep and grow your user base. A few WOW moments in an experience is what users really remember and what keeps them coming back — that’s why many of you have heard me talk about the peak-end rule so often, and it is still one of my favorites.
No one is going to die
Founding and working at a startup is hard. Everyone always talks about the rollercoaster ride that comes with the huge risks you take at times. My rollercoaster included arguments with my co-founders, not knowing if I was going to have enough money to finish the year, seeing huge deals fall through at the last minute, and flat out failing to reach targets I have set. It was never easy. But the one thing that has helped me throughout has been keeping it all in perspective. Yes, failing isn’t fun and losing your job is devastating, but I’ve been shot at and lost friends in battle; I know that many of you have faced huge challenges in your own lives. Compared to these experiences, we know that in startups, we’re going to be ok in the grand scheme of things. Working with all of you who have always had my back, has made the rollercoaster ride smoother and moreover a load of fun. Thank you!
Many of you know my love for traveling, and when I say traveling I do not mean being a tourist:
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.
So no, I do not know yet where I am going, but I am looking forward to exploring unplanned places and meeting unexpected people. After that, we will see, but I love starting companies and working with small teams…
I want to thank you for your loyalty, friendship, and for helping build an awesome company. I could not imagine a better team or a better co-founder for going through the start-up rollercoaster. Without you Redbeacon and I would not be where we are. Thank you for being part of the journey.
I would like to take this opportunity to also thank our amazing investors, Raj, Brian & Dev, our great chairman, Ben, our faithful lawyer, Ted, and Jason & Michael for believing in us early on at TechCrunch 50.
All we need is you and me and five bucks, so don’t be strangers.