Sameer Gandotra, CEO describes how a team of functional leads at Frendy used the lockdown to cover “Blitzscaling” a course originally taught by Reid Hoffman at Stanford. The team watched the set of 20 lectures by the who’s who of Silicon Valley. The post discussions led to fiery debates on PMF, realizations that Frendy was already doing a lot of what the experts recommended, questions on Company Culture, Vision and Mission. It appears now that he won’t be the only one jumping off a cliff and building the plane.
Approaching the 2nd week of WFH, Rajen our COO mentioned that he was looking to use this time to do some learning – maybe something on AI or ML. When he asked for suggestions, I recalled that when I read Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman founder of LinkedIn I had come across a series of 20 guest lectures that had been a course at Stanford University and a precursor to a book that was written later. I had said to myself that if I did get some time I wanted to go through those lectures. I suggested to Rajen that perhaps we could listen to the lectures together and then discuss them together. Should we some of the other folks. Why Not and so before long about 9 of us were on board.
The course CS183 Blitzscaling had been taught by Reid, John Lily formerly Mozilla and partner at Greylock, Allen Blue of Linked In. The lectures were available on Greylock’s YouTube channel and the Class Notes are available on Co-Writer Chris Yeh’s Medium page.
We decided that we would all watch each lecture individually and follow it up with a discussion – like a Book Club. We took turns to moderate the sessions and would discuss the key takeaways, learnings and how what was discussed related to our own Startup. We decided to do 3 lectures a weekday – one every alternate day. Perhaps we would get through the course before the lockdown. The discussions were about an hour or so long. With each lecture, we became better at identifying key takeaways from the lectures as well as identifying what we could implement at Frendy.
We understood the various stages of a Start-up Company – A Family, a Tribe, a Village, a City, and a Nation – defined by the number of employees, revenue and number of users. Where is Frendy? Somewhere between a Family & a Village was the consensus.
Reid’s now-legendary quote “If you’re not embarrassed by your first product release, you’re probably going too slow” had Parth our Product Manager and Gowrav our CTO reminiscing about our first release and how far we had come from our launch 6 months ago. Wow!!
We read “Doing things that Don’t Scale” by Brian Chesky of Airbnb as he described the things they did at AirBnB to get initial traction. Pinal and Vinu who lead Marketing felt that their face to face meetings with Community Leaders, individual calling to all new users during the lockdown and our community outreach events were all examples of Doing Things that Don’t Scale.
Product Market Fit – Do we have it or not? As Sam Altman from Y Combinator says if you are still asking the question you have not found it. The jury was out. We felt that we had a product-market fit for our Community Leaders but needed to work on our customers.
I was surprised to see how Michael Dearing’s history of Capitalism and its hero General MacCallum resonated with the entire team. He described how the union of Capital + Entrepreneurs + Management in the 19th century resulted in the first start-ups in America. I guess history does repeat itself as we have seen something similar with start-ups in India in the past 10 years.
We heard Ann Mirui Ko compare successful start-ups to Thunderlizards because they avoid competition, achieve PFM, minimize technical and organizational debt and convert advantages to disruptive power.
Some of the common themes for those who spoke about the Family stage of Start Up (relevant to us) – Move fast and make decisions quickly, have relentless and realistic user focus, Fire fast have a Focus on product and product-market fit, ignoring almost everything else.
In the Tribe section of the lectures, we particularly enjoyed Erci Schmidt’s stories about hiring and scaling teams at Google as well as putting in process and systems. Some of us had collectively read “Measure What Matters” and understood that Eric had been key in introducing Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) at Google.
Allen Blue and Reid Hoffman led us through the fascinating growth story of LinkedIn and how important hiring, culture and communication as teams scale are. John reaffirmed our belief in Word of Mouth and the Power of Community both of which were the secret sauces for the blitzscaling of Mozilla. Those were working so far for Frendy as we had leveraged community and word of mouth to create users without any acquisition spend.
Shishir Mehrotra of YouTube and Jan Pahlka of Code for America discussed how purpose matters and how it’s easier to hire for and manage mission-oriented teams.
Diane Greene from VMWare laid to rest one of our most burning questions – Who is more important – our Customers or our Community Leaders. She says “If you take care of your customers you take care of the Re-Sellers and if you take care of the Resellers you take care of the Company. the Company always comes last.”
Nirav Tolia described NextDoor’s conquest of one neighborhood after the other using the power of community and network effects. This was one lecture we watched very carefully as we considered it most significant to our Community Leader Model.
Brian Chesky of Airbnb taught us that a “100 customers who love you are better than a 1000 that simply like you” and Jeff Wiener of Linkedin introduces us to Compassionate Management and that we need to think less of ourselves as the Goalie “Preventing the other team from scoring” and more as “ Helping the Team Win”. Again, Jeff Wiener explains how Linkedin was an Enterprise Product on the back of members and the only way they were successful was because they always put the Members first.
All through the lectures for Rajen, Gowrav and me there were some common themes as we heard founders discuss the difficulties of early hiring and creating a distinct culture and mission. It had been equally difficult for us to make those first hires and convince people to believe in the idea of Frendy as well as to create a start-up culture. As we have grown into a Family those initial hire has attracted others and today, we are a mini Tribe with our culture of “Mein Se Hum”
The classes have been amazing so far and our major takeaways have been
- Blitzscaling is a specific set of practices for igniting and managing dizzying growth; an accelerated path to the stage in a startup’s life-cycle where the most value is created.
- Team and culture define a company’s future.
- Hiring should be done right; If you hire fast, then be ready to fire fast.
- Companies take the most time to hire senior resources as “1 great talent will attract another great talent”
- Patience and persistence will win.
- Believe in your vision. Don’t deviate or do anything that does not take you closer to your vision.
- A company can only Blitzscale if it has received a true product-market fit and has the right team and culture to take it ahead. And yes CAPITAL!
Reid says that building a startup is like jumping off a cliff and trying to assemble a plane on the way down. Glad we did the course collectively as you can’t assemble a plane on your own.
“After Blitzscaling, I am confident it won’t be just one person building that plane” – Sameer