Mini-YC within a Growth Stage Startup

An early-stage founder asked me over dinner, how we explore new paths and product ideas to accelerate growth at Sendbird. I’d like to share a program we introduced earlier this year at our company. We spun up a small tiger team to tackle a new idea. Operating like a small startup, this team was self-contained to a certain extent (e.g. PM, engineer, & designer), was given the autonomy to go talk to customers, pitch an idea of an offering, price things and sell if they needed to, and prototype a working model. An executive (in this case myself) was sponsoring the initiative, so that we can unblock resources and processes along the way.

Living and working together 24/7

Initially, the team booked an airbnb in Vancouver Canada, and lived & worked there together for a month. I also flew out to spend 2 weeks with the team (I had to come back earlier due to our quarterly board meeting) but for me it was one of the most productive times since Sendbird entered growth/later stage!

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On Motivation

Someone recently asked me “how can I motivate my team member when the market is down and the value of their stock options may not grow as quickly?” I initially tried to answer the question by focusing on the odds of startup valuation still growing faster than other asset classes, and other non-linear & intrinsic value of social capital accumulated at startups that may introduce new opportunities later in life. But I didn’t find my answers satisfying at all. I thought about why.

Over time, experience has taught me that more often than not, defining the right problem to solve is far more important than the solution itself. Perfect solution to a wrong problem is just plain wasteful.

So how can one motivate their team member when things are getting tough? What are the mechanics behind motivation that can give us insights into finding the right solution to the problem?

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Entrepreneur’s Flywheel

Flywheel is a relatively straightforward concept to understand, but still worth reading this book for more practical tips when you’re drafting your flywheels.

Below is an example of a high-level flywheel crafted for entrepreneurs. The inner loop is when founders start a company themselves to solve a big problem and create value.

<Entrepreneur’s Flywheel>
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Drivers, Not Passengers

“Leading for Hypergrowth by Raising Expectations, Increasing Urgency, and Elevating Intensity”

Frank Slootman is Chairman and CEO of Snowflake. He recently wrote a short book on business management “Amp It Up”, sharing his experience from days at Data Domain, ServiceNow, and Snowflake.

In his book, Chapter 6 talks about “hiring drivers, not passengers” and below is some excerpts from the book:

Passengers are people who don’t mind simply being carried along by the company’s momentum, offering little or no input, seemingly not caring much about the direction chosen by management. They are often pleasant, get along with everyone, attend meetings promptly, and generally do not stand out as troublemakers. They are often accepted into the fabric of the organization and stay there for many years.

The problem is that while passengers can often diagnose and articulate a problem quite well, they have no investment in solving it. They don’t do the heavy lifting. They avoid taking strong positions at the risk of being wrong about something. They can take any side of an issue, depending on how the prevailing winds are blowing. In large organizations especially, there are many places to hide without really being noticed. …

Drivers, on the other hand, get their satisfaction from making things happen, not blending in with the furniture. They feel a strong sense of ownership for their projects and teams and demand high standards from both themselves and others. They exude energy, urgency, ambition, even boldness. Faced with a challenge, they usually say, “Why not” rather than “That’s impossible.”

These qualities make drivers massively valuable. Finding, recruiting, rewarding, and retaining them should be among your top priorities. Recognize them privately and publicly, promote them, and elevate them as example of what others should aspire to. That will start waking up those who are merely along for the ride. Celebrate people who own their responsibilities, take and defend clear positions, argue for their preferred strategies, and seek to move the dial.

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Managing Time Horizons

I recently came across the clearest definition of a bubble in an asset class:

“When investors have different goals and time horizons—and they do in every asset class— prices that look ridiculous to one person can make sense to another…

Bubbles form when the momentum of short-term returns attract enough money that the makeup of investors shifts from mostly long term to mostly short term. That process feeds on itself. As traders push up short-term returns, they attract even more traders. Before long, the dominant market price-setters with the most authority are those with shorter time horizons.

Bubbles aren’t so much about valuations rising. That’s just a symptom of something else: time horizons shrinking as more short-term traders enter the playing field.”

The Psychology of Money (by Morgan Housel)

What was particularly impressive about this framework was that it can be applied to any forms of investment — including people. When you have a “different” time horizon when working with someone, your behaviors will change.

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Thinking Second-order Effects

💡 I was going to write a longer piece on this topic, but found this article to be helpful.

One of the key elements of being better in leadership, strategy, and organizational changes is being able to think and anticipate second-order effects.

When you want to roll out programs, systematic changes, (re)budgeting, headcount planning, introducing new processes, thinking beyond the first intended first-order, being able to navigate second-order effects will be critical in how successful those initiatives will be. Most outcomes will be lagging and have lasting/trickling effect throughout the organization, so the quality of the decision and the thoughtfulness matters a lot to save a lot of people’s time, effort, and pain.

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SendBird’s First Billboard

We’re in this together

As part of a new initiative to strengthen SendBird‘s brand, market presence, and reach our developer community better, we’ve decided to start a long-term brand campaign, including, yes, a billboard.

While we’ve debated whether this was really a SendBird-way to engage our developer community, given that a lot of our current and future customers are heavily concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area, we decided to move forward with the campaign.

Due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, the billboard campaign may not have the initial scale of impact we had planned for, but we decided to use this time window to address a bigger message for our Bay Area community. Instead of focusing on what we do and our value proposition, we crafted and delivered a message to give hope and empathize with the community.

We’re in this together

SendBird Team

We’ll continue to engage and stay connected with our local community of developers around the world, and this is just the beginning of great things to come!

PS. If you want to check it out in person, it’s on 7th St and Harrison St in San Francisco, CA.

How to Cultivate Your Resilience

Practices to strengthen your resilience

 People love a guy who rises from the ashes. Remember that.

Whitey Durham

Resilience is something that many talk about, but is hard to come by. It can be quite useful to have innate resilience in you to overcome the hardships of life, professional career, and even entrepreneurship. Things worth pursuing in life are hard. That’s why it’s rare to see great achievements, and it is that very journey of overcoming the difficult challenges with resilience makes it fulfilling and worthwhile.

There are many words used to describe resilience: perseverance, tenacity, relentlessness, and some even may use the word stubbornness, but they all describe one common theme: not giving up, trying again, being resourceful to achieve a seemingly impossible goal, and ultimately getting to that very success. (Also recommend reading Paul Graham’s essay “Relentlessly Resourceful“)

So how does one harness such resilience?

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QOTD 2020-04-10

On creativity

“You can’t rehearse what you ain’t invented yet.”

Wayne Shorter (American jazz saxophonist and composer)

Personal Energy Management

4 Dimensions of Personal Energy

I’m a big believer that our two primary constraints to progress are time and energy. Of course, we need to be physically and mentally healthy to manage them well, but based on how you manage your time and energy, you also reap the benefit of better overall wellness, reinforced through a positive feedback loop.

With that said, (yet another) HBR article “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy is a good one to understand the framework on how to manage your personal energy well.

Here’s an excerpt from the article on renewing the four dimensions of your personal energy and I found them to be quite helpful:

PHYSICAL ENERGY

  • Enhance your sleep by setting an earlier bedtime and reducing alcohol use.
  • Reduce stress by engaging in cardiovascular activity at least three times a week and strength training at least once.
  • Eat small meals and light snacks every three hours.
  • Learn to notice signs of imminent energy flagging, including restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Take brief but regular breaks, away from your desk, at 90- to 120-minute intervals throughout the day.
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