Dharmesh Shah


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3 Biggest Mistakes When Choosing a Cofounder

By Dharmesh Shah on April 18, 2013

After spending a significant portion of the last couple of years talking and collaborating with countless entrepreneurs (through FounderDating) a few clear themes have emerged around partnering with cofounders. We’ve noticed some valuable best practices…as well as some very common mistakes. In the hopes that we can save more entrepreneurs some time and heartache, here are three of the biggest mistakes:woman troubled

1. Need

I actually don’t like to spend a lot of time convincing people they need a cofounder. There are enough people out there that either came to that conclusion right away, or felt the pain of not having one and realized it pretty quickly. Sooner or later, people will usually figure it out. For their sake, I hope that it’s sooner rather than later. But let me briefly to explain why the right cofounder is important (emphasis on “right”).

You don’t know what you don’t know

That’s always true, but in the case of starting a company or even a side project, you should assume that the body of knowledge you’re missing is vast. There is no way to make up for it all, but if your cofounder has complimentary skill sets, it will help shrink the missing body of knowledge. Chances are that it’s not only your role or the areas you know well that are tough to do and tougher to learn. It’s not a coincidence that, according to the Startup Genome Project, balanced teams with one technical founder and one business founder raise 30% more money, have 2.9x more user growth and are 19% less likely to scale prematurely than technical or business-heavy founding teams.

Your emotional partner

Beyond skill sets, starting a business is a test of your emotional will. Do you have any friends that are single parents? It’s not merely twice as hard, it’s exponentially harder than raising a child with a partner. Your cofounder is your partner – through every decision, every idea, each and every up and down of the emotional roller coaster. Only a cofounder will feel the high and lows like you do. Advisors and friends are great, but they aren’t nearly as emotionally invested as you are.

2. Approach

How do you approach someone about potentially being a cofounder? So many people start by thinking about an idea. I get that. It incites passion, you get excited, feel like there is something tangible to work on. But then you start thinking about a cofounder and pitching or hard selling someone on a specific idea. That [almost] never works. Chances are so good that your idea will change - either somewhat or completely - that Vegas wouldn’t even lay odds on it. So, let’s say you hard sell someone on the idea, they fall in love with it … and then the idea changes. Then what are you left with? Fall in love with the person, not the idea.

Even worse is pitching someone as though you’re offering a job that centers around your idea. The people you want to be your cofounder don’t just want to work on an idea, they want to be a part of something bigger. FounderDating ManagingDirector for Vegas and CTO/Cofounder of Wedgies, Jimmy Jacobson, sums it up perfectly:

“When I get someone pitching me an idea, I hear ‘I need someone to build my idea. I can't pay you in cash, so have some equity.’ That's not attractive to me. I have a LinkedIn account full of spam from recruiters, developer groups I belong to get spammed by people like this as well. This is why FounderDating exists. I don't want to work on a wine app. I want to work with awesome people, and if the idea we pick is a wine app, so be it.”

An idea is just that, AN idea. When the dust settles, it’s not likely to be THE idea, so don’t lead with it.

3. Timing

Which brings me to the final and probably most common mistake: When should you start thinking about a potential cofounder? The quick answer is ‘always.’ Huh? Yep, unless you’re in the throes of starting a new company full-time, you should always have a side project, something you’re curious about. It doesn’t have to be the next big thing. But it is the best way to start working with people you think could be cofounder material and figure out if a partnership might be feasible.

All too often I hear people say, “I’m not ready for a cofounder. I want to have the idea first.” At least 6-12 months before you quit your current full-time gig and “take the leap”, you should start talking to potential cofounders and working on side projects together. This gives you time to work with multiple people, and to walk away from relationships that aren’t clicking. It also affords the opportunity to learn so much about yourself - styles you like and don’t like, attributes you value and those you can do without.

When you wait until you’ve settled on an idea and even have a little bit of money committed (often conditional upon having a cofounder) you feel, well, more desperate. You’re much more likely to leap into the arms of the first person that agrees to work with you. Waiting until the end leads to bad decisions and relationships that really don’t work because, like it or not, you feel desperate. Searching for the right cofounder is a process and it’s vitally important, so start early.

Finding your partner should not be the last thing you do, it should be the first thing you do.

As an entrepreneur I’ve learned a lot from my own mistakes, but in this case you can learn a lot from the mistakes we’ve seen others make. Find the right cofounder is game changing – make sure you approach it like you would a partner and make it an early priority.

This was a guest post by Jessica Alter.  Jessica is the Cofounder & CEO of FounderDating, the premier online network for entrepreneurs to connect, share and help one and other. Previously, Jessica led Business Development and was GM of Platforms at Bebo (Acquired by AOL). She is also a mentor at 500 Startups and Extreme Startups. 

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Does HubSpot Walk The Talk On Its Culture Code?

By Dharmesh Shah on April 11, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, HubSpot shared our culture code deck (http://CultureCode.com) — a document that describes what we believe and how we work. 

The presentation, despite being 150+ slides long and on a topic that doesn't involve celebrities, cat photos or currently trending topics has been remarkably well received. It has had over 340,000 views.  It's one of the most viewed presentations on slideshare in the past year. I've received many, many emails and tweets with positive comments about the culture code deck (thanks!)

Deck is included below, for your convenience, in case you haven't seen it yet.

 

 
describe the imageNow that the deck is out there and has garnered so much interest, I thought it might be valuable to dig into some of the core tenets of the HubSpot Culture Code and try to do an honest assessment of how well we live up to the tenets. Or, stated differently, how well do we "walk the talk"?  In the deck itself, when a particular tenet was more aspirational than descriptive, we tried to call it out.  (I think this candor is one of the reasons people like the deck). But the call-out doesn't always capture the degree to which we live up to the ideal, so we're double-clicking here.

So, here are the core tenets with a self-score on how well HubSpot lives up to the tenet. Of course, even this take is biased (I'm a founder, and all founders are naturally biased about their startups) and it's a qualitative judgment call. On my list of things to do is to see if we can make this more measurable. But, that's a topic for another day. 

1. We are as maniacal about our metrics as our mission.

Score: 9.5/10

Lets break this one down a bit.  First of all, we are very passionate about our mission to transform marketing and move the world towards more inbound and creating marketing people love.  It's a noble vision, it's a big one — and we invest in it and mostly live up to it.

Mission score: 9/10:  I dock us a point because we do have some outbound marketing in our mix of marketing spend.  We're not pure inbound marketing. We spend some money on PPC, some telemarketing and some paid online channels.  Not a lot — but enough to deduct a point.

Metrics score: 9.5/10:  We really are maniacal about our metrics.  We pore over data.  We slice and dice things like customer cancellation data, SaaS economics metrics, employee happiness surveys, marketing channel data.  I've talked to many, many startups and fast-growing companies.  Of those, HubSpot is one of the most data-driven and metrics-obsessed companies I know.

2. We obsess over customers, not competitors and “Solve For The Customer”

Score: 8/10

The statement itself is mostly true (we spend 99% of our time worrying about customers and very little time worrying about competitors), but the underlying mantra of “Solve For The Customer” is not yet as true as we'd like it to be. 

We get points for the way we have handled pricing and packaging over our 6+ year history.  We have raised prices almost every year, and each time, we go out of our way to grandparent our existing customers and reward them for putting their belief in HubSpot.  So, on this front, I think we do really well.

We deduct points because the overall experience of HubSpot is not as smooth as it could be.  It's not customer-friendly enough.  We sometimes make decisions that are for our self-interest or convenience rather than customer happiness.  We're working on this.

We're getting better at having people call B.S. on decisions or directions that are not in the customers' interest.  People will speak up with questions like “What's in it for the customer?” or “How is this solving for the customer?” or “Seriously?”.  On the one hand, it feels good that people can be open and candid when they don't think we're living up to the SFTC (Solve For The Customer) credo.  On the other hand, in an ideal world, these non-customer-happiness focused things wouldn't have to be called out, because we'd always be acting in the customers' interest.  It would be natural and second-nature.  But, we're a metrics-obsessed, goals-oriented, for-profit company — so it may take some work and practice to have SFTC be natural, 100% of the time.  In the meantime, we'll continue to try and catch ourselves before we make decisions that don't make sense for the customer long-term.

3. We are radically and uncomfortably transparent.

Score: 9.5/10

We are super-duper, hyper transparent — and our transparency level has moved up over the years, not down.  We share all sorts of crazy things with every employee.  For example, one of the posts on our wiki goes into detail on every funding round we've done.  Details include the What the valuation was, what the common strike price was, how much money was raised, how much dilution there was, etc.  

We share just about everything.  And, the things we don't share (like individual salaries), we're deliberate and clear about.  Deducted half a point simply because nobody's perfect and we can always be better.

4. We give ourselves the autonomy to be awesome. 

Score: 8/10

We're good, but not great in terms of giving ourselves autonomy.  HubSpotters have a fair amount of freedom.  You can run with an idea.  Most things don't require permission.  You can talk to anybody in the company, including the founders about whatever you want.  We don't have formal policies and procedures for most things (our default policy on most things is “use good judgment”).

So, why the lower score?  A few things:  First, although we philosophically believe in the “work whenever, wherever” idea, this is not universally enjoyed to the same degree by every HubSpotter.  We trust our team leaders to do what is right for their groups and use good judgment.  We're also a bit conflicted because the data overwhelmingly shows that working together in the same office leads to more creativity and productivity.  So, we understand the importance of co-location, but don't want to force it and take away freedom.  For now, we've straddled the issue.  Bit of a cop-out.

Our unlimited vacation policy has been a good thing (it's been in place for over 3 years).  But, there were a couple of issues.  First, some of us didn't really feel like they could take vacations without negatively impacting their work.  Second, we had growing suspicion that on average people might be taking less vacation than they should.  We didn't know if this was true, since we don't track vacation days — but we wanted to make certain that “unlimited vacation” didn't turn out to be “no vacation” for anyone at HubSpot.  So, we made a tweak: Everyone has to take at least two weeks of vacation a year, or face ridicule by their peers.  We've also tweaked some things to make it more likely that people do the right thing and take regular vacations. 

5. We are unreasonably picky about our peers.

Score: 8.5/10

This is true. We are really, really picky about our peers.  We're fortunate to have a lot of interest in the company, and for every open position we get many (often hundreds) of candidates.  So, we can afford to be picky.  It's actually harder to get a job at HubSpot than it is to get into MIT. Our acceptance rate is lower.

The reason for deducting a couple of points is related to the attributes we look for (Humble, Effective, Adaptable, Remarkable and Transparent). For the most part, HubSpotters manifest these attributes — we try to make sure of this during the recruitment and interviewing process.  But, we don't always get it right.  So, we get a negative point for that. 

Also subtracting a half point because not only do we make hiring mistakes sometimes (despite our best efforts), we're not as good as we should be at calling people out when they do un-HubSpotty things.  For example, we have being “Humble” as a core attribute (it's actually been an attribute from the beginning).  But, not everyone acts in humble ways, and we often fail to call it out. Part of having a great culture is defending it.

6, We invest in individual mastery and market value.

Score: 8/10

Though we've always believed in investing in our people and wanting to “build not just a company we're proud of, but people we're proud of”, this hasn't been explicit in our culture code until recently. So, we have some work to do here.

First, we're going to take a hard look at where our “discretionary culture spend” (aka “employee happiness expenses”) — which, incidentally is over a million dollars a year.  We want to shift our budget to things that help increase mastery and market value. Things like education and leadership training.  Yes, we enjoy parties and celebrations too (and those are important), but all things being equal, we want to invest these dollars (in our people), not spend them

But until then, we still get an 8 on this front.  We can do much more.

7. We defy conventional “wisdom” as it's often unwise.

Score: 8.5/10

This culture attribute goes towards how much we question the status quo and do things differently.  We're actually pretty good at this.  Good, but not great. We get points for things like not having offices and executive perks.  Our radical transparency and openness defies conventional wisdom.  We're one of the few private companies that publicly shares its key financial data (like revenues) every year.

8. We speak the truth and face the facts.

Score: 9/10

We have a very strong culture of facing the facts and reality.  Nobody is allowed to walk around with rose-color glasses on. We don't brush problems under the rug. We don't hide from issues. If anything, we can be faulted for being too critical sometimes.  We also do a great job of speaking the truth and being candid about the problems we see in the organization.  This happens in meetings, in hallways, over email and on the wiki.  When problems show up (as they do regularly), we are usually quick to react.

9. We believe in work+life, not work vs. life

Score: 8/10

This one is a bit squishy and hard to measure.  Generally, we do a really good job of work-life fit.  Mostly flexible hours, unlimited vacation, centrally located and relatively easily accessible office.  All of those things help.  Things that fall into this bucket that we're not great at is diversity — particularly gender balance and getting more women into leadership roles.  We're “leaning in” on this, and hope to get much, much better at this over the next few months.  Stay tuned.

10. We are a perpetual work in progress.

Score: 9.0/10

This one's a bit of a gimme (note to self: We need to replace this tenet with something that's more substantive and less platitudinal).

We don't sit on our laurels.  We celebrate victories big and small — but celebrations are short-lived.  Though we are pleased with our modest success so far, we recognize that there is still much work to be done.  We're constantly trying to improve how we run the busines and ourselves.

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