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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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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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.

A Guide to Scaling Yourself

How to keep your head above water

I was having lunch with a friend today, and we were discussing how does someone know when a person is scaling or not. Who will scale as the company grow and what stops someone from scaling further?

Some companies have early members scaling beautifully as the organization grows, while some don’t. A lot of smooth scaling happens typically when the company is growing organically and the growth rate is relatively modest (< 50% YoY). When a company is growing > 50% YoY, and in some cases, doubling or more, it becomes incredibly difficult for people to keep up with the scale of the company, as humans grow linearly, yet companies grow exponentially.

Below are a few questions to ask yourself to check if you are scaling with the growth needed and some tips and strategies to continue on the fast growth trajectory.

1. Am I “going horizontal?”

I came across the concept of “Going Horizontal” during 10xCEO program and we discussed extensively on how to make sure the executive team is continuing to scale at the right capacity level for the growth needs of the company.

The team internally might already be “over capacity” if the company’s growth rate is modest and the team is experienced. But if the needs for the leadership capacity emerging from growth out weigh the current capacity, then it will hurt the growth rate and the potential upside of the company as long as the leadership team is not fully built to handle the needs.

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VPC Framework in Management

Balancing between Value, Price, and Cost

I first learned the VPC Framework (VPC: Value-Price-Cost) back in 2006 and the simplicity of the framework made an impression on me. I still revisit a few times a year to think about where our company is in the position within the framework and how we are investing our resources.

The concept is quite simple. Let’s start with the definition:

  • Value: This is the value your offering is creating and delivering to customers.
  • Price: This is the price you charge and customers pay for to acquire or use your offering.
  • Cost: This is the cost of creating and delivering your offering to the customer.

The differences between these elements create the benefits:

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It’s okay to be not liked on demo day.

Y Combinator W16 Demo Day Story

Below is a post I wrote in August 2019 within Y Combinator community (which luckily received 300+ upvotes 🙇‍♂️). Now that I get a pretty steady stream of inquiries about fundraising and accelerator/demo days, I thought it might be helpful to repost here in public format. Hope it brings hope to a few.


Hi S19 founders,

Now that the demo day has officially begun, I just want to share our experience at SendBird (W16), so that perhaps some of you guys can relate.

I’ll admit upfront: We were not the hot company of the demo day. No where near. We didn’t get the overly enthusiastic emails from investors piling up in our inbox.

I thought we were doing okay during the batch, but on the demo day, the ones that got the most amount of ‘likes’ and ‘quickest raises’ were not necessarily the ones we thought did the best during the batch. Some companies raised a lot of money almost on the day of the demo day, while most of us felt like we were punched in our stomach, grasping for air.

Continue reading “It’s okay to be not liked on demo day.”

A Focused Culture

One thing I’ve noticed going through Y Combinator was how consistent were the messages repeated by the partners, the staffs, and the alumni network. As a startup founder, you should do two things: “write code and talk to users.” The more recent version is: “build product, talk to customers, and exercise” – which I think is a natural evolution, since YC funds a lot of non-software-only companies these days and the partners are getting a bit older. 😉

The entire message is around “Growth” and the way to get there is by writing code and talking to users. And stop doing anything else. Sounds simple, right?

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Where the Grass is Always Green

When I was eleven, my family moved to the United States, due to my father’s job working for the Korean government. I still remember my first ride from JFK to some urban parts of the New York city. Still a bit jet lagged, I was struck in awe looking at the graffitis on the streets of NYC. I’ve only seen graffitis from the movies and the sheer unfamiliarity of the view somehow got me scared and excited ambivalently.

Taking a bite of freshly baked extra cheese pizza was a pleasant surprise to my taste and grabbing the oval-shaped ‘football’ for the first time got me all confused.

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Product Hunt Launch Experience

Just wrote a short article on how SendBird launched on Product Hunt.

🙂

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