In the past few weeks I have started to transition away from my operating role as the co-founder of a dynamic, successful, start-up Viafoura. Since establishing Viafoura, I have built and developed the initial product and technology team (as CTO), before becoming responsible for retaining clients (as VP Client Success) – in the process beating industry averages for churn.
In that time I have watched with pride as we have led Viafoura from strength to strength. The company has grown dramatically in a sustainable manner, by providing an unbeatable platform that allows clients to retain and grow audiences on their own sites.
One of my principal objectives has been to leave the company with solid foundations, while ensuring that relations are amicable between the Board and all the team members. I have always worked hard to ensure that if I was “hit by a bus” there would be continuity at Viafoura – so now as I move on I am comfortable in the knowledge that the company will continue to grow and continue to address its clients’ evolving needs.
So, what are a few of my key takeaways from the past seven years?
I remember when I told people that I need a work life balance (while being a founder at my startup), people looked at me funny.
I did not understand why people thought this was odd. After a few years, I understood.
To me, work life balance meant something completely different than the standard definition. Since the age of 13 up until I was 27 I was an amateur athlete. Amateur athletics are very similar to startups. The pay is low, the risk is high and the rewards do not come until later. The benefits from sport include: The network you make, the mental strength you gain, ingraining health into your daily life, and re-framing high risk situations to your advantage. Continue reading What Does Work Life Balance Look like In a Start Up?
Churn is a signal into whether your customers are happy and getting value out of your product. It is also one of the five key performance indicators that business owners and investors look for to determine if a company is healthy or not (a healthy churn number is < 5%).
As VP Client Success at viafoura a big portion of that churn falls on my shoulders (I am happy to say that we are under that 5% number and very proud of keeping our customers happy and successful). Churn however is not a one person or one department responsibility. From my own experience and research Client Success has a direct impact for 50% of churn. But what about the other 50%?
I came across a great article from Preact (who sells customer success software). They surveyed their clients and came to the same conclusion I have when it comes to who owns churn.
Your equity does not grow as an employee
No ones equity grows. Not the founders or existing shareholders. You should be expecting dilution. The value is in the price of the share. The team needs to be focused on increasing the share price, not getting more of the pie. You increase the share price, you make more money, and so does everyone else.
You can’t work your way up in terms of seniority
Incorrect. So many of my employees have moved to seniority roles simply because they knew that part of the business the best. If there is a gap in the company that can not be filled internally and someone from the outside can do that job better than someone internally, then why would we not hire them? That includes every role including CEO, CTO, CFO. Who wants to work for a company where people are promoted just because they have been there longest? Promotions have to be based on capability. This is not a union or government organization. It’s a pro sports team. That is where I would want to work.
You can’t transfer the experience and you work on menial things.
Big B.S. The skills that you learn growing something from the ground up is equivalent to building a car when the drawings are made, to sourcing the metal to building all the parts and then selling and maintaining it. You learn so much from that whole process that you can apply to almost anything in life. Is there boring work – 100% there is. I have to look at contracts, order phones, setup emails – this will never stop. Every job in the world has menial work, at every single level. Thinking otherwise is a fallacy.
Founders can make the same amount of money in 5-7 years at a bank than they can from an (unlikely) exit.
You are missing the whole point. If it were only about sure fire money – I’d be a banker. There is more to it than that. It is the thrill of the challenge. It is the satisfaction about working on something new, that has not existed before. Building something. It’s about working with other equally passionate people that think the same way. It’s about working on the leading edge of technology. Its about walking into a startup and FEELING the energy of everyone around you. You just don’t get this at a bank. I have had many successful bankers, MBA’s and lawyers talk to me about jumping ship to the startup world because they were lacking these in their work.
I came across a very interesting video that has the CTO/founder (Jason Hoffman) and VP Engineering (Bryan Cantrill) of Joyent talking about their roles. It provided a unique perspective specifically of the VP Engineering role and their relationship with a CTO.
Here is the 40 min video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAHItZ1cSNM
I have summarized the video below, but the presentation is valuable to watch as it puts the story together well.
Over the years of being an athlete and co-founder of viafoura, I have come across great books that shaped my thinking. Here is a list of some of those books, and a quick summary along with the benefit I got from it
When I heard the saying: “Work Hard, Smart and Fun – You Can’t Pick Just One” I wanted to break this down some more. I wanted to see what it’s like in each of the scenarios:
1) Work Hard Only
A lot of first time entrepreneurs fall into this category (and the work fun only category), but it is dangerous to only work hard without having fun or being smart about it. You could work hard heads down and spend months on a product, idea, sales lead or client only to realize they have no impact on the larger picture – you should have added smarts. Or maybe you worked so hard and you got that right product, client or lead but you burned out and pissed off all your employees. Neither approach is sustainable.
What is the role of a CTO? This might seem like an obvious question, but anyone in this role knows that its not as clear cut as other traditional roles such as CEO, COO and CFO.
I have done a lot of research on this topic to ensure I am always growing in my role. In doing research, I like to refer to people and companies I look up to, because for them to be successful, they must be doing something right!
The last few weeks at viafoura were very busy. We had a lot of large client launches, one of them being the CBC.
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – see wikipedia link) is near to our hearts at viafoura because they are Canadian like us. CBC is the oldest existing broadcasting network in Canada, first established in its present form on November 2, 1936. That makes me very proud that they picked us.
The viafoura team is a smart bunch and very passionate about their work. They are artists in their own disciplines. Artists in database scaling, code writing, interface design, client support. You might think, how is writing code or supporting a client art work? Here is how: