“Strap-In, This Is a 7–10 Year Ride” With Larry Gadea, Founder and CEO of Envoy
I had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Gadea, Founder and CEO of Envoy, a digital front desk registration system that began in the Bay Area and quickly expanded internationally. The simple fix to the outdated pen-and-paper method can now be found at in many of the top tech companies in Silicon Valley and 25 of the Fortune 500 companies.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Scary to think about it, but I’ve been writing code since I’ve been around 8 years old! Throughout my teenaged years I continued to basically spend all sorts of time on my computer — to the point that I got into some pretty advanced stuff. I had taken an interest in reverse engineering software so that I had a better understanding of the code and how it worked.
In 2005, after Good had launched Google Desktop Search with a pretty small feature set, I ended up reverse engineering it to do much more. Unexpectedly, my modifications *blew up* and tons of people downloaded my modified version (and in effect also Google Desktop Search). Shortly afterwards I got a call from Google. I honestly thought they were calling because they were upset I had messed with their product without permission. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. It was the Product Manager for Google Desktop Search and they wanted to offer me a job! Telling them I was 18 at the time certainly threw a curveball, but we eventually figured things out and I ended up interning there for four years while in school. That experience led me on a fantastic career working at Twitter and then eventually building the confidence to start Envoy.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I feel like every company has their weirdest stories with their first few paying customers and the strange things they had to do to get it done. Our story of our first real customer started at a party I was at. I had just started the company and was very excited about it. Of course, I was telling everyone, “oh man I should tell you about the thing i’m working on! It’s a visitor sign in thing, helps at your front desk, you’re gonna love it!”. It turns out I was telling someone that worked in Facilities at Airbnb at this party. They told me they’d been working on building something similar internally, but getting dedicated resources was tough. I then went in putting on the same show for people — except it was all the decision makers: legal, finance, office management, security, reception, everyone. They were impressed, so they asked me, “awesome, how much is it?”. I had just published the app on the Apple App Store for $20. “Oh it’s $20… $200 dollars per office per month!”. “Done!”. That was close. Though I felt like I could have possibly gotten another zero at the end of that. :)
Yitzi: So how exactly does your company help people?
Envoy builds the iPad-based visitor sign in system that you’ll see at the front desk of thousands of businesses worldwide. Instead of awkwardly writing their name on a piece of paper and spying on who’s visited the company before them, they instead use our product. It collects names, emails, allows the visitor to optionally sign a waiver/NDA, it prints out a badge, and sends text-message/Slack/email to the host letting them know their visitor has arrived. It can also do much fancier things like integrate with building security systems and even email a visitor a unique username/password for the building Wifi. It just makes everything super easy. Envoy’s got their back.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the wonderful things about writing software is that a lot of the mundane, boiler-plate, stuff has already been written by other developers around the world. And it’s available for free as open source! Over the years we’ve been able to rapidly execute and iterate on what we build because we didn’t need to keep re-inventing the wheel. At the same time, we’ve been giving back to the open source community the things we’ve improved. Many of the libraries and components we rely on are freely available on our Github page — and now people are actively contributing *back* to our changes too! It’s a great cycle that allows the developer ecosystem as a whole be more productive everywhere.
Yitzi: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Hiring leaders is critical. At first it’s your initial team of people who will help you build the thing, the people that are hands-on writing code, designing and helping customers. While my job remains to hire every type of person, the type of hires the CEO should focus on at a company that’s rapidly scaling shouldn’t be individual contributors (ICs) as much anymore. The company needs leaders for all these people to be organized by. Switching from IC to Leadership hiring was something I should have done long ago. We had a very simple sales team and structure at first, but the moment I hired our VP of Sales, everything got way more effective and grew way faster. Way better than anything I’d ever be able to. Pros know their trade well!
- Lean on investors for hiring. You know what converts a so-so candidate? A call with Chris Dixon or Ben Horowitz for 15 minutes. So often CEOs forget that this is one of the key ways an investor will add value. Candidates love it, these are possibly people they’ll want to do business with 3–5 years from today. I definitely should have leveraged them and other investors way earlier in the process. When a company is small is the hardest time to convince people to join.
- Hire people looking specifically for a startup environment. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince people not to join the Facebooks and Googles of the world. If a candidate is seriously considering them, it’s a tough battle. These guys pay way more, can massively outdo your company’s user numbers and provide a real career path for people. Well, you can’t do those, not at this stage at least. There are people who get it: the individual impact, the small environment, the equity potential, they don’t need convincing. Just focus on them.
- For a B2B, don’t try to live the silly dream of not hiring salespeople because “the product sells itself.” The product will not sell itself to General Electric, Disney, or Facebook after the risk-free enter-your-credit-card-now 14-day trial ends. These organizations (who by the way will represent the vast majority of your revenue) have highly complex internal structures that need navigating. Only a salesperson can help negotiate between a Head of Legal and a Head of IT who don’t like each other. Only a salesperson can get a buyer to become less lazy and get them to get stuff together. It took us a while to hire our first sales person, but after we did, it was super evident what a great decision that was.
- Strap-in, this is a 7–10 year ride. All too often companies are made out to look like overnight-successes. They had this great idea and it blew up and they made billions in a few months — this could be you! The reality is that behind that overnight success is years and years of fighting with metrics, product problems, competitors, financials and legal battles all to build an efficient machine that can best serve the world. Going into Envoy I was expecting this to be much quicker, but while it certainly wasn’t, it became wildly more difficult than i’d ever imagined. When you start a company, as scary as it sounds, prep yourself for the long journey. You’ll get nowhere without this dedication.
Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
It’d probably be Elon Musk — for two reasons. First off, I’d like an expansion on the Tesla/SpaceX account ;), and second, he’s such a badass story teller. Though his companies build amazing life-changing products, what I think he does better at is inspiring a whole generation of people to always shoot for the Moon — or I guess Mars.