Here is my personal collection of good advice I’ve received over the years. I’ve received plenty but these are the few that I remember AND that I can vouch for from first-hand experience building Front.
Paul Buchheit from YC: “Follow your growth.” I vividly remember the day we finally got to meet Paul Buchheit. He was a YC partner at the time, and the one we were most excited to meet. Front started as a collaborative email client, and Paul, being often credited as the creator of Gmail, would certainly have stunning insights to share on what we were doing. We laid out 3 different visions for the product, and asked him very candidly which one we should focus on. For sure, he’d pick the best one (he must know!), we’d leave the office hour and immediately build it, and success would ensue. But his answer was just that: “Follow your growth.” Our disappointment was intense, but we quickly realized how right he was. We knew our market way better than any YC partner, email expert, or business elder. We had talked to our customers more than they ever could. How could they possibly have a better answer than our customers and ourselves combined? They could not, and the only way for us to make progress was to keep doing what we were doing: talk to our users, refine our product, and follow our growth.
Patrick Collison from Stripe: “Before you make an offer to someone, think about whether you’d like to have 10 times as many people like them in your company.” This is simple, good advice: the people you hire early on will be hiring the people in their teams, and people tend to hire people like them. This extra test help make a decision when you have mixed feelings about a candidate.
Laura Behrens-Wu from Shippo: “It’s better to have a hole in your org. than an asshole.“ It’s a great catchphrase of hers and is important to keep in mind: we tend to overestimate the negative impact of letting go someone and ignore the damage done by leaving things as they are. Yes, letting go of someone might shake up the team for a moment, but a couple of weeks later your company will be in a better place, and everyone should see the value of the decision by then.
Jared Smith from Qualtrics: “There are 2 types of decisions: 1-way door decisions and 2-way door decisions. Be involved with the former, but less and less in the latter.” 1-way door decisions cannot be reversed, and if a mistake is made there, you’ll have to live with it for a long while, whereas with 2-way door decisions you can always go back and change path. This follows Jeff Bezos’s warning on type 1 and type 2 decisions, and how being unable to treat them differently eventually leads to bad organizations. Examples of 1-way doors: raising money; modifying the compensation plan, buying a company, rewriting a product.
Daniel Yanisse from Checkr: “Give generous packages when you let go people”. Not only is it good for the person leaving, but it will also help your managers make tough decisions. It’s always hard to let go people, but if the organization needs it, then you have to make sure managers are empowered to make these calls.
Peter Reinhardt from Segment: “State your mission at every all-hands.” I think it echoes well this other quote, from Simon Sinek: “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Start every all-hands meeting by reminding people why they’re all here ultimately, what is it that you’re trying to change by your work.
Andrew Reed from Sequoia: “Don’t benchmark too much against other companies.” I wrote more detailed thoughts on the topic here but the basic idea is that, by nature of startups being companies trying to do things differently, most benchmarks give little signal you can use. Furthermore, you don’t need to beat all the benchmarks: you “just” need to be very strong in some areas, and stay on top of the weaker spots.
Jared Smith from Qualtrics again: “Always trust your founder instinct. You’ve sold Front to the first hundreds of customers, and you’ve done every job till now.” One big mistake I made when I hired our first executive was to give them too much autonomy, trusting that they’d naturally make all the right decisions. That did not happen. Now, executives go through 2 months of onboarding with me, where I “micro-manage” them and try to transmit as much of my founder instinct as I can. That’s a necessary investment to make sure they can then have the autonomy they need to do a good job.
Howie Liu from Airtable: “Don’t listen to most advice” 😉 This obviously applies to these as well. People like giving advice, it’s cheap and it sounds smart, so you should only take them as a single data point, maybe it will resonate with you, maybe it won’t. always ask for context when people share advice.
Written by Mathilde Collin
Originally Published: 28 November 2018