How to Start a Startup - Lecture 7 Notes

October 19, 2014

EDIT: Sorry these are late!

I’m taking down notes for Sam Altman’s class, How to Start a Startup and I figured I’d start sharing them. This is for the seventh lecture with the following notes:

Making Products Users Love

Relationships Atrophy

Q. What do you when you have a product that a lot of types of users, some users will love one thing, and others will love another?

Ans. Focus on those who are most passionate. Whatever niche it’s going to be.

Q. How do we balance between working on product but all the other skills are also needed by marketing?

Ans. If you’re working with product, you should always have this flip side where you’re talking to users. Within Wufoo, we just made everyone talk to customers. Working on product must go with talking to your customers.

Q. How do you make a decision on product and how do you communicate that with engineering teamw when there are a lot of different dirrections to go?

Ans. When you’re working with support, you can tell what people had the most amount of problems with or are asking you all the time.

Q. Tell the story how you came up with the “king for a day” at Wufoo.

Ans. I don’t like hackathons that are done inside companies. Instead at Wufoo, they came up with “King for a day”:

Q. WFH, how did that not end up being a nightware?

Ans. We would allow anyone to work from anywhere, but usually as we tried to recruit them usually ended up wanting to work there anyway. Remote working is tricky. An office gives you a lot of benefits and efficiencies that you now have to compensate for. But remote working has it’s own benefits: I don’t have to worry about my employees losing two hours to commuting. Thus, we had to respect people’s time. At Wufoo, they had a 4.5 days for working. The 0.5 day was for meetings, and then you have the first day which was for customer support. So we have a firm belief that if you have a three day work week, you can finish whatever you need to work on, and you have to respect that persons three day work time to get their work done. You couldn’t work for issues that took longer than 15 mins of that persons time. 95% of the time, people would just sleep on it and they ended up saying, “Oh! We’ve solved it!”. Also, we were an extremely disciplined company and not many YC companies have been able to replicate what we’ve wanted to do.

Q. As the leader of the team, how did you manage to setup accountability as a manager?

Ans. At Wufoo, we had profit sharing. They split up bonuses on how much people managed to do that they set out to, and how well they did in customer support. The simplest way to setup accountability was to create To-Do lists for each person. Everyone can see all the things you want to be done, here are the things you wanted to complete during the previous week, what are your problems at hand? They set the tone for how they want to be assessed.

Q. How do you hire people that can work remotely and work in this sort of fashion?

Ans. Have them work on a side-project for you as a contractor remotely. You get a good sense of how people managed them selves. Second, we had to screen them for their ability to do customer support. Interview would ask you how to write break up letters to you.

Q. With all these tricks to help with the company, do you have any that didn’t work out?

Ans. We tried to motivate people during crunch time. We want to build a company vacation to reward the employees. So if the vacation is build into the crunch mode schedule. The first crunch mode was just between the co-founders. We each drew up a 10 item to-do list. The first person who got through 7 of the items would win and choose the next vacation location, and the last person would become the trip-bitch (you carried the other peoples luggage and get them drinks, etc.). During that period, one of the guys poorly estimated the items on his list and decided just to give up. So crunch mode just became blah-mode.

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