A few years at our annual CEO summit, Scott Heiferman, founder and CEO of Meetup, told a room full of startup CEOs that you have to build diversity into your company from day one because if you don’t, it becomes so much harder later on. He explained that nobody wants to join a company where nobody looks like them. That really hit home and woke quite a few people up.
All companies and people suffer from back burnering things. You focus on what you must get done and everything else takes a back seat.
That doesn’t work when it comes to hiring and diversity. You have to prioritize it and make it intentional.
When thinking of a new product or service, it’s normal to make some assumptions about our potential customers and their needs.
Feedback from real customers is essential at this stage because it grounds us to reality and allows us to shape our product or service according to our vision but with the customer in mind. Otherwise, we can end with an incredible product or service that has no real use.
Dan Norris, in his book The 7-Day Startup: You don’t learn until you launch takes this approach to the extreme. Launch fast, fail fast. You don’t have to agree with everything he proposes in his book, but he certainly has a point.
Sam Altman interviews Jessica Livingston, co-founder of YCombinator and author of Founder’s at Work. Stories of Startup’s early days.
The interview is great, and you should watch or read it in full if you are involved in startups, building your own product or service. Traits of the most successful founders are determination, understanding your users and building a product with a great user experience, being flexible minded, and being great leaders.
How about looking for these traits in your future hires?
Jessica: The most successful founders I have noticed are totally focused on two things, building their product and making something people want, which of course, is our motto, and talking to their users. And they do not let themselves get distracted by anything else. And that seems so obvious, but what’s not obvious is how easily distracted founders can be by lots of other things going on, and the most successful startups are like hyper-focused on their product.
Sam: Are there other traits in the founders that go on to really change the future, besides determination that separates the very best founders from the mediocre founders? Have you noticed any other traits that kind of founders should aspire to that really wanna have a big impact?
Jessica: Yes. If I had to say the most important traits of the most successful founders, I’ve already mentioned determination. That is by far the most important.
Sam: More than intelligence?
Jessica: More than intelligence, more than previous success, you know, in school. I mean, remember when we started Y Combinator, our hypothesis was, “We’ll just fund all the best hackers from MIT and Harvard, and they’ll turn out to be great sort of founders.” That is not true. That is absolutely not true. A lot of them are good. (…) Determination is the most important thing. Again, sort of understanding your users and building a product with a great user experience is second most important. Not being distracted, not getting lured down these paths that aren’t gonna be important for building your product. Being flexible minded I’ve always felt this very important, because you have this idea and you test it out, and it doesn’t always work the first time. And so you have to be able to say, “Okay, I thought I was gonna do this, but let’s try this. Even though I have like a lot of energy invested in this, let’s try this direction.” You really have to be open-minded. And then, ultimately, you have to be a good leader. You have to be convincing and a good leader because you are gonna be convincing employees to join you, you are gonna be convincing investors to invest in you. When you do get to the point where you are doing deals with bigger companies, you have to convince them. Like, your whole world is convincing people. And so you have to be able to communicate your idea and convince people why they should care about you more than any of the other hundreds of startups out there.
(emphasis is mine)
YCombinator is one of the world’s top startup school. Stripe, Dropbox, AirBnB, Reddit, Weebly are some of the companies that have emerged from YCombinator. They provide seed funding for startups, and work with them on their ideas.
Among other interesting passages in the interview, Mark explains why they don’t believe at Facebook that experience is that important when hiring:
SamAltman: Another thing that I think Facebook has done exceptionally well is hiring, and I always tell founders that this is the thing you have to get good at. So how have you hired your team and what do you look for when you bring people on?
MarkZuckerberg: If you think about it, I started the company when I was 19, so I can’t institutionally believe that experience is that important, right, or else I would have a hard time reckoning selling myself and the company. So we invest in people who we think are just really talented, even if they haven’t done that thing before. And that applies to people who are fresh out of university as well as people like the CFO, who took the company public, had not taken a company public before, and a lot of his background was in production development at Genentech before. So just focusing on really talented people.
SamAltman: So if you don’t have the experience to look for, how do you assess someone’s raw talent?
MarkZuckerberg: Well, often you can tell from different things that they’ve done. So it’s not that… Obviously, everyone’s done something. Even if you’re 19, you’ve done side projects and interesting stuff, and I think what’s important is not to believe that someone has to have specifically done the job that they’re going to do in order to be able to do it well. One of the things that I think we’ve done well is just giving the people at the company a lot of opportunity, so it’s not just me who started when I was 19 and now I’m running this big company. There were a number of people who joined who were people I did problem sets with at Harvard or dropped out of Stanford or different programs who’ve grown with the company over this long period of time. And one of the things that I’m most proud of is we have about 12 different product groups at the company, and all of the people who are running them, with the exception of one, did not join the company running a product group or reporting to me.
Según Mark Suster1, Amazon es el tipo de empresa disruptiva que derrota a sus competidores en actividades “detrás del telón” como distribución, logística, manejo de inventario, almacenaje, soporte al cliente, etc.
Amazon empezó vendiendo libros online, pero una vez que tuvo desarrollada su infraestructura, se expandió rápidamente a la venta de artículos electrónicos, juguetes, ropa, accesorios… copando casi cualquier categoría de retail en la que podamos pensar. Hoy en día Amazon está revolucionando no solo la venta de libros sino en la venta de todo tipo de bienes.
El artículo de Suster, sin embargo, es sobre MakeSpace y no de Amazon. MakeSpace es una empresa de almacenaje de objetos personales cuyo lema es your closet in the cloud, tu ropero en la nube. De su página web:
MakeSpace ocupa el #1 en el ranking de empresas de almacenaje en Nueva York. Nunca más tendrás que visitar personalmente un almacén. Te hacemos llegar sin costo las cajas que necesites para empacar las cosas que quieras almacenar; nosotros recogemos las cajas con tus pertenencias y las almacenamos. Luego, cuando necesites tus cosas, las hacemos llegar a tu domicilio.
En nuestros locales, altamente seguros, fotografiamos tus pertenencias y añadimos esas fotos a tu cuenta: siempre sabes qué tienes guardado en MakeSpace. Recuperar tus pertenencias es más fácil que nunca.
Suster hace un buen análisis del modelo de negocio de MakeSpace, de sus oportunidades de mercado, y de la disrupción de una industria existente pero estancada. Lo más interesante, sin embargo, es la similitud entre lo que MakeSpace está haciendo y lo que Amazon hizo en su momento:
¿En qué hemos gastado el dinero que obtuvimos de nuestros inversionistas? En sistemas de ruteo, de programación de entregas, de manejo de inventario, en sistemas de almacenaje, en automatización de la toma de fotografías, aplicaciones de servicio al cliente y, además, en las aplicaciones obvias de front-end que usan los clientes para rastrear sus pertenencias.
Tenemos un equipo increíble de choferes en NYC, Washington D.C., y Chicago, con almacenes regionales en cada territorio. Nuestra tecnología hace que los recojos diarios sean altamente eficientes y que los paquetes viajen por las rutas más económicas. Pero también hemos desarrollado nuestra tecnología de modo que, en los lugares en los que no nos interesa tener camiones propios, nuestros proveedores de transporte se integran a nuestro sistema. Además, gracias a nuestra integración con UPS, podemos hacer recojos en todo Estados Unidos.
Estamos creando una empresa a nivel nacional y un love-mark en una categoría inmensa, muy fragmentada, y universalmente odiada. Yo sé que la palabra almacenaje suena poco sexy, pero ¿en términos de ser disruptivos en un mercado inmenso donde los competidores no pueden reaccionar? Para mí ese mercado es el cielo.
La pregunta es, entonces, como Suster señala, en qué otros mercados está pensando entrar MakeSpace en el futuro.
- cfr su artículo Here is Why Non-Obvious Startup Ideas Can Yield the Largest Results (Por qué ideas menos obvias de emprendimiento pueden generar los mejores resultados). ↩