Blitzscaling 12: Nirav Tolia on Growing Nextdoor and the Path to Monetization

nd his is my ninth blog on the notes and my interpretations on the Blitzscaling sessions. In the fall of 2015, Reid Hoffman began taking session called Technology-Enabled Blitzscaling at Stanford University.Blitzscaling is what you do when you need to grow really, really quickly. It’s the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale. And its also about why organization culture is important for Blitzscaling Because when you’re growing an organization very fast, you have to make people accountable to each other on a horizontal or peer-to-peer basis, and not just vertically and top-down through the hierarchy.

Session 2 notes can be found here. Session 3 notes can be found here. Session 4 notes can be found here.Session 5 notes can be found here.Session 6 I haven’t covered. Session 7 notes can be found here. Session 8 notes can be found here. Session 9 notes can be found here. Session 10 notes here.  Session 11 notes here

Nirav Tolia is  the Co-Founder and CEO of Nextdoor. In session 12, Nirav shared his insights into building Nextdoor and his insights on how to grow fast. Here are the session notes and my interpretations on the insights shared.

  1. The median time required to take your start-up to do break even, take it public has increased from 5 years to more than 7 yo 10 years(Stanford Research).
  2. The faster your product/app moves in ranking in app store, the faster it comes down. So slow, steady growth and consistency is still the success formula.
  3. Before scaling your way, do the manual dirty work yourself. This is to validate if what you are going to offer will work or not in offline mode. If it works in offline mode, then put in resources & money to automate the things.
  4. Initially, focus on the quality of your product that solves a problem. Then focus on scaling your product & then sales. Google calls this toothbrush test, which means “Can you create a product which people use at least once a day”.
  5.  Your interpretation & intuition about ‘what is working & what is not’ may be wrong. But if you can define the metrics to challenge your intuition, then you may find the correct path.
  6. Think of your start-up as treadmill where every morning you have to wake up & run on it. You won’t get any credit for the miles covered and remember that you have to run on it again every morning. And if you are not feeling like running a particular morning, and if this starts happening more, than its a serious problem.
  7. If you read the newspaper’s (especially English ones) today, you don’t know what is happening around you in your local communities. The best way to do that is crowdsourcing that news from people living in the local community. That’s what Nextdoor is helping local communities to achieve.
  8. You build user growth, then usage engagement and then revenue scale in that order. But user growth, user engagement & monetization, each of these problems are unique in their own nature & equally difficult. And the way to solve this problem is to divide this problem into stages. That’s the path Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, & Whatsapp has taken.
  9. Five management objectives to focus on at any given point of time. Review these objectives quarterly or annually depending on the stage in which your company is. A framework to implement this is OKR. At qilo, we help organisations by implementing this.
    1. Growth
    2. Engagement
    3. Monetization
    4. Infrastructure
    5. People
  10. As you start to scale , have more and more people in your organisation, you have to start thinking about your people, the various career paths they will have and organisation structure to maximise people performance.
  11. Hire a great HR leader for your growing organisation. Because HR will eventually help you to execute those big goals backwards.
  12. It’s all about your people that will help you move the mountains. CEO’s job is to tell why people should move this mountain.
  13. Your title doesn’t make you leader or entrepreneur; your team and your people do.
  14. Get your mentor who has been there and done that. Ignore theory consultants who throw our jargon’s.
  15. Be extremely cautious about every penny going out of your company while you are on the path of earning revenue.
  16. The basic difference between Google and Facebook is demand fulfilment and demand generation.Google follow’s demand fulfilment model where you come up and search say “digital camera”. And it shows ads related to that. Whereas Facebook follows demand generation, where you see ads of “digital camera” which your friends have shown interested in. This will help you identify which platform suits you for digital marketing.

Blitzscaling 11: Patrick Collison on Hiring at Stripe and the Role of a Product-Focused CEO

This is my ninth blog on the notes and my interpretations on the Blitzscaling sessions. In the fall of 2015, Reid Hoffman began taking session called Technology-Enabled Blitzscaling at Stanford University.Blitzscaling is what you do when you need to grow really, really quickly. It’s the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale. And its also about why organization culture is important for Blitzscaling Because when you’re growing an organization very fast, you have to make people accountable to each other on a horizontal or peer-to-peer basis, and not just vertically and top-down through the hierarchy.

Session 2 notes can be found here. Session 3 notes can be found here. Session 4 notes can be found here.Session 5 notes can be found here.Session 6 I haven’t covered. Session 7 notes can be found here. Session 8 notes can be found here. Session 9 notes can be found here. Session 10 notes here.

Patrick Collison is the co-founder and CEO of Stripe that allows both private individuals and businesses to accept payments over the Internet.In session 11, Patrick shared learning of being a CEO and production guy. Here are the session notes and my interpretations on the insights shared.

  1. For your hiring and other processes, people just copy paste processes of bigger companies.People keep following it assuming that it will work for them. For example- Google hire’s people from top universities with highest GPA’s . This might work for Google, but probably will not work for your company. Even ex-CPO of Google accepted this that there is no correlation between higher GPA and higher performance at work.
  2. Think and take as much time as possible in hiring right guys. Effort spent is worth because that way you will hire the one’s that will suit your organisation culture.
  3. If you get one great A player, there is a high possibility that your next hire will also be an A player.
  4. If you are an engineer and don’t know how to do business development, hire or get a guy on board as a co-founder to do that. At Stripe, because co-founders didn’t know how to sell, they hired BD guys very early who has helped them crack big accounts.
  5. CEO and founding team needs to be involved in the day to day decision’s on the product, at least for the first 5 to 7 years. Because no one else can better understand what should go in the product to solve customer need than founders.
  6. The reason why product innovation stops in growing start-up is that of people who you hire to support growth adds complexity to the system called the organisation. With more people comes slower decision making and its lowers down the sense of accountability of innovation.To support innovation and keep building new things, create a separate small team of 3 to 4 people to execute the new innovations. And the decision of what kind of new product, idea or feature should this team focus on should be based on NPV or net economic value of that new thing.
  7. Talk to your prospective customers base as many times as possible before you start building or before you ship the product out of the building. At Stripe, for every new line or feature of the product, they talked to the developer community(their customer base) before the new things go in production.
  8. As you grow, most of your time as a founder will be spent on communicating with your different teams and defining priorities for them. The transitioning from “Thinker + Doer” to “Thinker + Getting People Think + Getting People Do” is very difficult. And that’s where you have to invest your time in defining processes.
  9. As company grow, founders and CEO need to shift the way they communicate. You can no longer put all those people in the room to talk to them. You have to pick up the habit of writing in an informal way about what you are thinking, how business is going, what are your learning and even failures that you are encountering in your journey. Written words have much more clear and longer impact. And it gives your employee more one-on-one feeling than those town halls and virtual meetings.

Blitzscaling 10: Selina Tobaccowala on Building a Global Business at SurveyMonkey

This is my eighth blog on the notes and my interpretations on the Blitzscaling sessions. In the fall of 2015, Reid Hoffman began taking session called Technology-Enabled Blitzscaling at Stanford University.Blitzscaling is what you do when you need to grow really, really quickly. It’s the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale. And its also about why organization culture is important for Blitzscaling Because when you’re growing an organization very fast, you have to make people accountable to each other on a horizontal or peer-to-peer basis, and not just vertically and top-down through the hierarchy.

Session 2 notes can be found here. Session 3 notes can be found here. Session 4 notes can be found here.Session 5 notes can be found here.Session 6 I haven’t covered. Session 7 notes can be found here. Session 8 notes can be found here. Session 9 notes can be found here.

Selina Tobaccowala was President and chief technology officer at SurveyMonkey. She has contributed alot in taking Survey Monkey global. In session 10, she shared the insights on how she managed the technology and tech people @ SurveyMonkey.Here are the session notes and my interpretations on the insights shared.

  1. When you architect your software application, not only it should scale on handling traffic, but it should also be able to handle more developers working on it. This basically means that if tomorrow you have to add more technology people in the team, they should be able to work on your code.
  2. Even if you have ended up with software code base which is monolithic( All software layers are mixed), rather than re-creating the system in new technology, pick up the part of the system which is most difficult and try to rearrange and refactor those blocks in existing architecture.
  3. When you have to take your SaaS platform globally
    1. Localisation- which means displaying data and numbers in local language, number system, and currency
    2. Integrating different payment gateways
    3. Your messaging
    4. More technology and customer support people
  4. A/B testing is important part to validate & improve the user experience of your web and mobile app
  5.  For subscription-based businesses like SurveyMonkey, important metrics to measure is (a) Number of free subscribers (b) Number of subscribers converting from free to paid
  6. While hiring, focus on behavioural interviewing to reduce bias in selecting candidates. The question in behavioural interviewing aims at learning about your past behaviours in specific work situations. In a traditional interview, you ask general questions such as “Tell me about yourself.” In behavioural interviewing, questions will be like “How would you handle XYZ situation?” Try this in your next interview. At qilo, we have adopted this and it has helped me pick up really good team members.
  7. Finding up people who can help you scale up the things is damn hard. Pick up people who have both start-up and big company experience.As your company grows, keep people motivated, focused on their role/job & engaging them for the next level of the journey is a challenge.
  8. To reduce the churn rate, look at the insights from the data produced by your customer. And present that on the continues basis to right stakeholders in your company.
  9. A tech engineer looks for following qualities before joining a technology lead company:
    1. The product(s) should excite them as they will be spending many years in building and maintaining it.
    2. They will be getting the right mentor or people there to work with.
    3. Other that engineering, what other things they will learn their.
  10. Anything that is critical to run your business should be in-house. If its outsourced, bring it in-house as soon as possible
  11. Once you have money, hire a BI analyst who looks at the data and tells you: “what you have built”, “how well it was doing” and “how well its is doing”
  12. Service oriented architecture helps you to scale the software system. And as well as helps you to strcture your backend and frontend engineering teams in the proper way.
  13. People management is not for everyone. Put only those people to managerial positions who can serve their teams by acting as servants. For people who want to remain technical, define a roadmap so that they can see how they will grow in your company.
  14. Successful manager’s get satisfaction by influencing people. Technology people get satisfaction by deliverng the product.
  15. Plan every quarter what you want to achieve. And track the progress on that every week.If you don’t do it when you are small, adopting that when you will scale will be much more difficult. On tool to implement this is OKR.
  16. Reduce the time it takes to take your code from keyboard to production. To achieve this automate the deployment process.

Objectives and key results: For executing your CEO’s priorities

The best way to achieve excellence in execution is a ongoing debate. But the discussion is becoming more and more relevant as every industry is on the verge of being disrupted by new age companies, digital solutions and fourth industrial revolution of AI and robotics. In this article, we will discuss OKR, one such tool to achieve excellence in execution.

The major challenge for any CEO is to manage short-term objectives based on long term plans. As organizations grow, the speed of execution decreases. And at a same time duplication and inefficiencies around planning and resource allocation increases.

“As Andy Grove, Intel’s former CEO said, “I have seen far too many people who upon recognizing today’s gap try very hard to determine what decision has to be made to close it. But today’s gap represents a failure of planning sometime in the past.”

Objectives and Key Results (OKR) is a management tool that brings in the discipline to achieve excellence in execution aligned with organization and CEO’s priorities. OKR is a goal setting framework originally created by Intel and later adopted by Google in the way back in 1999 when it had had not even celebrated its first birthday. OKR has supported Google’s growth from 40 employees (when it first started using OKR) to more than 60,000 today, proving that it can be used by small organizations as well as large corporations. Today, both technology and non-technology companies are moving fast to leverage OKRs to enable a high-performance work culture.

What is OKR?

OKR_Image_1_recyie

Here are a few examples of what could be objectives:

1)  Reduce the variable cost in production by 2.5 %.
2)  Increase revenue from product X by 10%.
3)  Become a more effective sales machine.
4)  Move to the new office by December end to provide a happy environment to employees.
5)  Solidify brand and position as market leader.

And following are some example of ‘Key Results’ with respect to above-stated objectives. There can be more than one key result(s) that can define how one will achieve one’s objectives.

1)  Hire a consultant to review and improve the six-sigma process.
2)  Ensure at least 75% of the sales team members achieve their quota.
3)  Hire three sales managers by end of June.
4)  Identify an office that facilitates company and employee growth for 250+ employees.
5)  Hire a new branding agency by end of Q1.

Benefits of OKR

OKR improves alignment with organizational priorities and helps business leaders identify what is important to be achieved and how to achieve it. It brings in accountability and ownership among employees and helps in achieving operational excellence.

Implementing OKR

OKR_Image_2_mmpsjm

Once you are convinced that OKR can help you get to the next level of business growth, the question that you should be answering is, ‘What is the best approach to implement OKR in my company?’

One of the biggest challenges in implementing OKR is not having a clear approach to implementation. You can’t adopt what worked for Google or Intel or Twitter or Sears. Your organization is unique and your challenges are different from another. You need to understand that OKR is not a methodology, there is no step-by-step guide that you can follow. Instead, OKR has a set of practices that you should understand and customize according to what works for you and your company.

Usually, OKRs are set on a quarterly basis and progress is measured weekly or monthly. But again, it depends on your business priorities and you can set them at a calendar that works for you.

You can start implementing OKR in incremental steps, one role or one business unit at a time.And research shows that it makes more sense to start the implementation at the top of the organization. Start creating objectives (what needs to be achieved) on a monthly basis. Don’t create individual objectives at the start of the implementation. Once that is done, start creating Key Results (how you will achieve the objective) involving team members from same or different business units. This will also help in breaking organizational silos and enhance business communication.

You probably will fail at first attempt, don’t stop there. It takes 2 to 3 quarters to understand how you should structure the objectives for your organization and how it can help you achieve your organizational priorities. The effort spent is worth as it gives the organization and leadership visibility on where the organization is going on their priorities, every week. Teams and individuals will adopt this because it’s linked to their day to day work, and help them see the big picture of their work.

At the end, please remember that OKR is not a tool to measure employee performance. It’s a management tool to align execution with organizational priorities and track the progress of execution for those priorities. As Intel’s Andy Grove, wrote, ‘It is not a legal document upon which to base a performance review, but should be just one input used to determine how well an individual or a team is doing.’

From 1855 to 2017, leaders still face same issue: performance accountability

1855 was an interesting year. This was the year when for the first time someone thought seriously about how to bring execution closer to organizational priorities, measuring employee progress on those priorities and enhance overall employees effectiveness. If you talk to any of the CEO’s or business leaders, they will be stating the same kind of challenges. The credit for seeding the initial idea of enhancing people effectiveness goes to Daniel McCallum, a railroad engineer at the New York & Erie Railroad Company.

Daniel Craig McCallum was a Scottish-born American engineer known as one of the early pioneers of management.

Daniel_McCallum_zk7zm2
Daniel McCallum. Image credit: Wikipedia

He set down a set of general principles of management and is credited for having developed the first modern organizational chart. The of the major problems faced by then large railroad companies like “New York & Erie Railroad” was the rising cost of operations compare to smaller companies. He wrote a letter to highlight this issue to his higher-ups and CEOs. And he presumed that the root cause of this problem was people performance issues and inefficient internal organization.

McCallum’s letter outlined five key challenges posed as questions. Read them carefully, and you will realize that they still hold true even today.

  • How do you get a group of people to work together to common business priorities & goals?
  • How do you give people the right amount of responsibility?
  • How do you make sure the job gets done?
  • How do you know how things are going?
  • How do you do all this with respect for others?
Lithographic_Drawing_of_McCullam_s_Patent_Timber_Bridge_akfkvc
Lithographic drawing of McCullam’s Patent Timber Bridge, 1852. Image credit: Wikipedia

Because of his constant focus on enhancing execution excellence, McCallum retired as General Manager controlling over 5000 people.

Take a pause now and think about the questions McCallum has highlighted 161 years back. These questions were asked more than a century ago before Peter Ducker started helping organizations understand management science. The astonishing bit? Even after 161 years and three industrial revolutions later, McCallum’s questions are still valid and relevant for today’s corporate world. The need of the hour is to answer these questions for your organization and find up an appropriate solution to avoid losing the market share to small companies and start-up’s, or the repercussions could be huge.

While you process the story of Mr. McCallum, here’s another interesting story, this time about Andy Grove, known as the ‘guy who taught Silicon Valley how to do Business’. Grove was Intel’s former CEO and mentored business superstars, the likes of Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison. He was among the first business leaders to implement the MBO (Management By Objectives) model – a management model popularized by inimitable Peter Drucker.

Andy Grove, with his team (1978). . Image credit: Wikipedia
Andy Grove, with his team (1978). . Image credit: Wikipedia

At Intel, Grove and team later gave birth to OKR (Objectives and Key Results), which according to Grove had two important components.

  • What do I want to achieve? (The Objective)
  • How will I pace myself to see if I am getting there to achieve that? (a set of Key Results)

OKR which over the years has been adopted by leading organizations across the world such as Google, Uber, Sears Holdings, Vox Media, Zynga, etc, helps in creating a culture of high performance that is focused on results. The core concept in OKR is to align the organization with the CEO’s priorities. OKR is very different from traditional goal setting frameworks which lately are showing signs of aging. Adopting OKRs enables organization, teams, and individuals to:

Work together for common business priorities & goals.
Helps in ensuring that the job gets done and done well
Enables you see in real time the progress people make while achieving their targets.
The bottom line is, every thoughtful business leader, be it McCallum or Ducker or Grove are able to re-invent the processes to enable better performance in their people. They were able to identify new ways to make people accountable for their own performance. Organizations that don’t focus on building or re-inventing themselves to leverage people power will always lose the battle to their competitors.

Originally published at: People Matters , India’s leading HR focused media company

Blitzscaling 09: Reid Hoffman and Allen Blue on Why and How They Scaled LinkedIn

This is my seventh blog on the notes and my interpretations on the Blitzscaling sessions. In the fall of 2015, Reid Hoffman began taking session called Technology-Enabled Blitzscaling at Stanford University.Blitzscaling is what you do when you need to grow really, really quickly. It’s the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale. And its also about why organization culture is important for Blitzscaling Because when you’re growing an organization very fast, you have to make people accountable to each other on a horizontal or peer-to-peer basis, and not just vertically and top-down through the hierarchy.

Session 2 notes can be found here. Session 3 notes can be found here. Session 4 notes can be found here.Session 5 notes can be found here.Session 6 I haven’t covered. Session 7 notes can be found here. Session 8 notes can be found here

In session 9, Reid Hoffman and Allen Blue shared the insights on how they scaled Linkedin.Here are the session notes and my interpretations on the insights shared.

  1. The key thing about establishing an organization culture or creating a distinctive one to identify what kind of people will not fit into your culture.
  2. Most elite organisation are able to establish this very early. For example:- Google was able to identify that folks from top degree colleges with highest CGPA will fit in the collegial culture which Larry and Sergey want to create. Now what works for Google will not work for your organisation. You have to identify what kind of culture you want to create.
  3. Part of establishing a unique culture is to answer questions on
    1. How you will communicate internally and externally
    2. how you will develop your leaders
    3. how you do decision making in the company
  4. The entire Blitzscaling sessions are divided into 3 parts addressing 3 stages of start-up called as Family, then Tribe and the Village:
    1. Family: – It’s about identifying a non-obvious market opportunity where you have a unique insight or strength or approach to capture market share. And then building your initial team to build the initial offering to address that market.
    2. Tribe: – Execute and iteratively improve a plan which gets you to achieve a market share.
    3.  Village: – In this stage, you are now able to identify, plan and execute the core business that you will be able to scale up and take it globally. 
  5. The goal of the core business is to
    1. Create continued growth
    2. Generate growing revenue
    3. Build competitive advantage
    4. Grow strategic assets for later opportunities.
  6. From time to time in company lifecycle, founder’s need to communicate the same language which people can follow while they are doing their day to day jobs.
  7. When your organisation is growing from 15 to 50 to 500, as founder’s you will not be the part of each and every conversation in your company. But as founders, you have to make sure that those conversations are aligned with big picture/directions and priorities you have decided.
  8. Communicate about your (a) mission (b) vision (c) competitive advantage (d) strategic objectives (e) business model (f) operating priorities with your companies on the continues basis. But especially when you are moving from family to tribe to village
  9. All the above communications should be simple, clear & easily repeatable. If you will be able to crack this, you will be able to create an effective organisation.
  10.  At the family stage and somewhat at initial stages of tribe stage, you hire generalist. But as you grow to become a full-fledged tribe or village, you have to hire specialist.
  11. A good generalist is someone who can come and pick up skills & things without founders doing many interventions.
  12. Specialist have good analytical skills and problem-solving skills with respect to specific area of business
  13. Tips on hiring and managing talent
    1. Fire fast low performers
    2. When hiring look for the long term probability of the guy who will be able to evolve as a company goes from family to tribe to village.
    3. “Given a chance, will you hire a person again? ” – Answer this question if you have difficulty in firing your low performer or even co-founder.If answer is no, fire ASAP.  But always make sure to remain humble & human while you are parting away.
  14. Following is the screenshot of Linkedin product plan. During the family stage, you have to get just one thing right. But when you are moving to tribe and village stage, you have to get many things right at the same time. To achieve this, you need an altogether a different approach for the execution and people who will execute that plan.
  15. Look at the below metrics. It shows the kind of analytics and number crunching successful companies do to move fast. CEO’s and senior folks of the company see these numbers on daily basis
  16. When you move to village stage, as a founder you have to answer few fundamental questions about:
    1. Are you the right CEO for this stage?
    2. What is the core mission, culture, and values to enable rapid distribution scaling?
    3. How to fire the right HR guy that can support the hyper growth?
    4. Who are those key executives required to support execution in critical areas?
    5. How to develop robust reporting to allow you and your senior team to learn about where execution is going and how that can support in creating future plans?
  17. Embed communicating about your core values & culture in your hiring & onboarding processes. Or you will end up being a culture less company
  18. Here are the Linkedin culture & value details. When your sales head links those values and organisation culture, that’s where it will give you the competitive advantage.
  19. As a founder, put down points why people should join your company. And make this communication visible internally & externally. At qilo, we have taken an alternative approach, where in all JD’s we put in “Why you should not join us”. Here are the points from latest JDWhy you should NOT join us
    • If you don’t put in efforts in identifying and/or pursuing your passions in life
    • If you cannot put in extended working works to achieve WOW results for the customers.
    • You don’t believe in taking ownership and accountability of assigned work.
    • If you are NOT a good self- learner.
    • You don’t know how to crack jokes 🙂
  20. Getting your technical, HR and operational process in place is essential to make the large team work together properly. And keep optimising these processes to improve efficiency.

Keep watching this blog for more notes and awesome articles. I personally feel this session has given me a very good level of understanding what I should be focusing on as one of the co-founders of qilo. Hope you have enjoyed this post too.