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Founder Real Talk

Author: GGV Capital

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From GGV, this is Founder Real Talk, where we get real about the challenges that founders and startup executives face, and how they've grown from tough experiences. Check out for more information on the podcast and how to reach us with your founder questions. Hosted by Glenn Solomon, Managing Partner at GGV Capital.
29 Episodes
Assaf Wand is the Co-founder and CEO of insurtech startup Hippo. Based in Palo Alto, CA, the company is modernizing home insurance through the lens of homeowners – building policies with more comprehensive coverage for today's consumers at up to 25% less than competitors. Prior to Hippo, Wand was founder and CEO of Sabi, which designed and produced elegant everyday products (Sabi was acquired in 2015), a consultant with McKinsey & Company and an investor with Intel Capital. He has an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BA in finance and LLB in Law from the IDC Herzliya in Israel. In this episode, we learn how Assaf and the team at Hippo are modernizing the $100 billion home insurance industry. Now at unicorn status, Hippo is using data to deliver better and cheaper insurance policies to homeowners. Assaf talks about the importance of having a co-founder that counters you on a psychological level and notes why he and his co-founder, Eyal Navon, align in values. More often than not, companies fail due to misalignment between founders. Fun fact: Assaf reads The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand every few years. Listen until the end for the best falafel place in the world.
Erica Brescia is GitHub’s Chief Operating Officer, where she leads the business development, support, and workplace teams. Prior to joining GitHub, she was the COO and co-founder of Bitnami, where she was instrumental in leading the team's business development efforts with all of the leading cloud platform providers. Erica’s leadership in the technology space extends to serving on the board of directors of the Linux Foundation, as well as being an Investment Partner in X Factor Ventures, which empowers female-led businesses to succeed. In this episode, we learn how Erica Brescia went from balancing a Y Combinator interview while caring for her then 2-week-old baby to growing Bitnami’s team with her Co-Founder, Daniel Lopez to about 100 people with little outside capital. Erica explains why taking her current role at Github felt like “coming home,” despite not being a developer. When she’s not helping scale Github’s product roadmap and global expansion, Erica is supporting the next wave of female founders at XFactor Ventures, a seed fund that only invests in female entrepreneurs. Listen to the full episode for Erica’s book recommendations and advice for founders.
Kunal Agarwal co-founded Unravel Data Systems, Inc. in 2013. Prior to that Kunal led sales and implementation at several Fortune 100 companies. Earlier, he also co-founded, a pioneer in personalized shopping and what-to-wear recommendations. Before that he helped Sun Microsystems evaluate Big Data infrastructure like Sun’s Grid Computing Engine. Kunal holds a Bachelor’s in computer engineering from Valparaiso University and a M.B.A from The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University. In this episode, we learn how Kunal and his Co-Founder, Shivnath Babu, convinced top notch talent with cushy jobs to make sacrifices for a common vision at Unravel. He shares how Unravel has kept its cultural values in check while growing from 11 to 100+ employees across multiple continents. We learn why the “shout-out” Slack channel is the 4th most used Slack channel at Unravel and why the Unravel team spent 3 years defining product-market fit. Spoiler Alert: Kunal’s recommended reading is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Listen until the end to get a crash course in race car driving. Highlights: 1:24 your co-founder is Shivnath Babu. He's a tenured professor in computer science at Duke. Is that where you guys met? 1:55 How did you convince a professor at a great university to get off that train and get on the startup. 2:41 Give us the elevator pitch of what unravel does and tell us about kind of the initial vision and how it evolved over time. 3:58 Where did the vision for the company come from? 5:17 how did you convince at such an early stage good people to come onboard? 8:19 When people are sacrificing for a common vision, did that build strength and resiliency into the company? 10:41 Do you think it was the right move to have a consultant and do you suggest to other founders to do something similar as they’re going forward? 13:39 When you're recruiting somebody who's gainfully employed and doing well it's not easy. What are some of the tricks when hiring? 16:03 How hard have you found it to hand over control? How do you manage the process? 19:26 So on that point about culture you've mentioned hungry but humble. Is that the kind of the essence of how you’d describe Unravel’s culture today? 22:17 Have you had some hiccups on culture as a result of growth and how have you tried to deal with those? 24:54 A lot of people talk about emojis on Slack, do you guys use photos too? 25:44 You are not IBM yet and you are serving big companies. How are you managing to do that? 29:24 Internally, how do you align product, sales and engineering to ensure that you’re building the right thing at the right time for what the market needs? 31:46 Lightening question round!
Anne Raimondi is an industry veteran with over 20 years of experience driving growth for B2B and B2C companies - taking them from startups to nationally recognized brands. Currently, she is the Chief Customer Officer for Guru, a leading AI knowledge management platform. Prior to Guru, Raimondi served as the SVP of Operations for Zendesk. Prior to Zendesk, Raimondi served as a product leader and executive for technology innovators - including Survey Monkey, TaskRabbit, Blue Nile and eBay. Anne holds an M.B.A. from Stanford University and currently lives in the Bay Area. In this episode, we learn from Anne why face-to-face engagement with customers and prospects is critical and why we should stay in cross-functional pods for as long as possible. Anne encourages founders to hire inherently curious “evangelists” who are already passionate about your product. Pro tip from Anne: The quickest way to end internal debates about what should or shouldn’t be built is to listen to customers talk about their pain points. Listen to the full episode for more pro tips. This episode was recorded live at the first annual SMB Tech Summit, co-hosted by GGV Capital, NFX and Fenwick & West. Episode Highlights: 01:41 If you’re building a company that’s going after the SMB, your functions need to be tightly aligned within the organization. What are tricks of the trade to make sure that happens? 03:41 So how do you build a management team that can manage cross-functionally, particularly with sales? 05:14 What can go wrong and what can go right when hiring more traditional enterprise folks into a company focused on the SMB space? 07:33 As a Chief Customer Officer now and you’ve seen a lot of great companies this world, what are the hacks to make sure your customers are happy, but that you’re not spending a lot of time and resource making that so? 10:39 What have you seen work well related to renewal rates? 13:25 What have you seen work well is you’re attempting to grow accounts? 15:45 For renewal and for expansion who should own those within a company that’s going after SMB? 17:12 What benefits do you get from segmenting your customers? 19:55 What about Net Promoter Score NPS. Is it a useful tool, how is it used well, and when it goes awry, what problems do you need to avoid? 20:47 Is the move up market deliberate and when do you know you’re ready? If it’s not deliberate, how do you make sure you don’t mess it up? 22:27 [question from the audience] How do you maintain connection and understanding of customers as humans as the companies you’ve been with have grown?
Max Levchin is the Founder & CEO of Affirm a financial services technology company that offers microloans to consumers at the point of sale. Affirm allows shoppers to pay for purchases across multiple months with transparent, fairly priced fees built into every payment. Max is also the Co-Founder and Chairman of Glow, a data-driven fertility company, and was one of the original co-founders of PayPal where he served as CTO until its acquisition by Ebay in 2002. He has served on several boards such as Yahoo!, Yelp, and Evernote. Max is an engineer by training, serial entrepreneur, computer scientist, investor and philanthropist. In this Founder Real Talk / 996 crossover episode, we learn how Max used the guiding principle of HVF (Hard, Valuable, Fun) to found Affirm. Max talks about writing a pivotal note to self to crystalize what he wanted to accomplish and how the financial industry is ripe for disruption. This episode is co-hosted by Glenn Solomon and Hans Tung. [03:14] Why is and how is affirm hard, valuable and fun? [09:06] There's obviously a very well established banking industry that you're kind of going up against in some ways. What about that industry makes it ripe for disruption? [15:08] Can you talk about how do you manage to figure out who to underwrite and avoid fraud. [16:29] So given the business you guys are in, are there any new wrinkles that you've had to deal with? [21:13] How have you been able continue to create a differentiated product and what does it take for you to stay ahead of your competitors? [26:27] Some of the merchants that you work with have told us a sales conversion with you has increased by as high as 30%. How are you able to do that? [28:02] What techniques have you used to maintain such a high NPS score? [29:41] How do you use data as an advantage in your company and when you advise startups, what do you tell them about use of data? [32:42] When you look back in your career, how have you seen yourself grown as a leader? [36:33] Did you come up with the core values before founding the company on your own or was it a team effort? [38:53] How have you approached diversity and inclusion and what have the benefits been for you? [42:33] What made you decide on Pittsburgh and how did you come to the decision to have a second office? [43:54] How do you solve for engineers and product people in different offices? [46:29] What's your schedule like? How do you feel about working smart vs. working hard? [52:42] Lightning round
Rich Waldron is the Co-Founder and CEO of, a next gen workflow and integration technology company that allows automation of business processes without IT. Tray puts the power in the hands of non-technical users or “citizen automators” to quickly integrate the myriad cloud solutions that every company runs today to easily build and streamline bespoke workflows. In this episode, we learn how Rich and his two co-founders and lifelong friends, Ali and Dom, built a competitive product and high growth company with customers the likes of Lyft Forbes and New Relic. Rich explains how Tray has leveraged London and SF offices to define and maintain a strong company culture and shares tips for founders who are fundraising. Episode Highlights: 01:43 How did you decide to come together with your co-founders and what problem were you guys trying to solve initially? 03:43 How and why did the vision for the company expand beyond just email? 07:01 In the beginning, did you raise very little capital by design or was a result of a difficult situation? 15:24 How does the team stay in sync across offices in two continents? 18:15 What problems are your customers are having and why do they use Tray? 20:06 Do you feel Tray is part of the “low code, no code” movement”? 22:06 How do you rise above the noise in the market and handle your competition? 24:03 Why do you think Tray has hit on such a tremendous growth curve in the market? 25:24 How has word of mouth enabled Tray to grow rapidly? 26:16 What are you noticing to date as the difference between serving mid-market type customers and larger enterprise? 29:22 As your team grows, how are you trying to maintain the team spirit that you built with your co-founders? 30:56 How did you make the decision to raise early when the market gave you the signal that it was ready to invest? Any tips for others who are working with VCs? 35:40 How do you think about the future and what are you trying to accomplish? 39:33 What’s your recommended reading for other founders? 43:22 What’s your top piece of advice that you've gotten as a startup founder that you you would like to give to others?
Dave McJannet joined HashiCorp as CEO about three years ago when the company was approximately 30 people. Today the company employs more than 400 people, the company’s value has grown more than 20x and customer adoption for both the company’s open source platform and enterprise products have exploded. Prior to joining HashiCorp, Dave ran marketing at GitHub and HortonWorks, and earlier in his career spent time at VMware, Microsoft and webMethods. In this episode, we dig into HashiCorp’s growth and how it balances open source communities and enterprise revenue models, Dave’s journey to becoming the CEO and his relationship with HashiCorp co-founders Mitchell Hashimoto and Armon Dadgar, and the secret to selling software to large enterprises. Episode Highlights: 02:36: What’s it like to join a startup as a CEO when you’re not the founder? What are some of the challenges? 05:23: What made you think you were the right CEO for the CEO role at Hashicorp? 06:40: How to do split things up – between yourself and the two co-founders? 08:05: How do you manage disagreements? 08:54: How does your open source business model work? 10:40: Are there key indicators or metrics that you use to monitor the health of the business? 12:05: How do you think about time and resource allocation between the open source and commercial sides of the business? 13:11: How much time are the founders spending with open source communities vs. commercial customers? 14:15: How do you prioritize what's going to be part of the open source roadmap and what you're going to keep for commercial? 15:50: What do you need to do to be successful in selling to the enterprise as a young company? 17:39: In selling to the enterprise, it is just fake it till you make it? 19:21: How big a deal is support when working with enterprise customers? 20:05: What value do you get from your user conference? Do you recommend annual events for users? 22:08: As you scale from different revenue phases, what have you had to re-tool? What’s on your mind next? 25:07: What's your favorite book that you recommend for founders? 25:33: If you were a investor or board member in a Series A or B company what's the one piece of advice you'd give to the founder? 26:12 What's a company that you admire and why?
Kevin Hartz is one of the few leaders in Silicon Valley who has had an incredible career as a repeat founder, business builder and investor. He co-founded Eventbrite, the born digital ticketing leader, in October 2005 with his wife Julia Hartz and Renaud Visage. Kevin served as Chairman and CEO through late 2016 before turning the CEO reins over to Julia while remaining Chairman. Eventbrite had a very successful IPO in September 2018 valuing the company at well north of $2 billion. Prior to building Eventbrite, Kevin co-founded Xoom, the money remittance business, in 2001, and he served as CEO until 2005. Zoom also had a successful IPO before being acquired in 2015 by PayPal for about a billion dollars. Kevin's been a very successful investor as well. Some of his most successful early stage investments include Airbnb, Pinterest, Trulia, Skybox Imaging and NewFront Insurance which we talk a bit about in this episode. Kevin was also a partner at Founders Fund. In this episode, we mainly talk about Kevin’s journey in creating and building Eventbrite, including the spark behind Eventbrite in creating user experiences, the secret to making successful acquisitions and how to navigate being married to your co-founder. Episode Highlights: 2:36: What was the spark for Eventbrite? 5:11: How is Eventbrite used to create live experiences? 6:12: What are the benefits of a platform? 7:49: Are there things you did early on so that the platform could thrive? 8:34: Looking back, is there anything that you would have done differently or re-prioritized that would have allowed you to move quicker? 10:11 What do you look for in a great hire? Anything to avoid? 12:46. Eventbrite is well known for its organic user adoption. Is that something that you planned? How can other companies learn from your success? 14:35: How do you get the right fit? 16:19: How do you keep a leg up on the competition? 17:43: Has starting a company with your spouse given you added perspective about how to evaluate teams and how they interact with each other? 20:27 How much time do you spend on what competition is doing? Should founders get hyper focused on entrenched competition? 32:49 What are some of the rules of the road for making acquisitions? 24.52: What other benefits have you had as a business builder from being an investor? 26:13: Tell us about New Front Insurance, a new company that you’ve just invested in 28:03: What is your favorite book to recommend to entrepreneurs 29:13: What's something that you believe that isn't conventional at most others don't believe 30:15: What's one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you were just getting started as a founder.
Tom has worn many hats in his time at BitSight, including EVP of Sales and Marketing, COO and CEO. In this episode, he walks us through how to navigate relationships with founders as an incoming CEO, how to use content marketing in an enterprise market, and how to think about go-to-market strategy for a global business. Tom Turner is CEO and President of BitSight. Tom has extensive security industry experience, and has helped build category-defining companies. Prior to joining BitSight, Tom was a founding member of the executive management team of IBM Security Systems, a new division within IBM Software group that was created on the heels of the Q1 Labs acquisition. Formerly, he was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Channels at Q1 Labs. Before joining Q1 Labs, he served as Director of Marketing for endpoint security at Cisco Systems. Tom also served as VP of Marketing at Okena, Inc., where he helped pioneer the intrusion prevention market and led the company to its successful acquisition by Cisco.   1:36 Tell us about your company 2:17 How did you become the CEO at BitSight? 4:34 What is it like to be a CEO of a business where the founders are very engaged with the company? 5:52 How do you manage instances where you disagree with the founders? 7:06 Tell us a bit more about your choice to take on the VP of Sales role during a transition in leadership 9:32 What is it like to find enterprise sales talent in the Boston market? 12:00 What is it like to be in a business where you have to create a new market? 13:41 How do you find the ideal profile of a customer for your product? 14:57 How should a founder or CEO think about marketing spend for a new enterprise product? 16:30 Tell us about your decision to host a customer conference and how do you measure its success? 18:55 In thinking about your go-to-market strategy, how did you decide between selling to large companies versus mid-market customers? 22:31 How are the support models different for the two types of customers? 23:49 What are the challenges in being a globally distributed company? 27:01 What did you learn about fundraising for a rapidly scaling company? 30:06 What is your favorite book or piece of content that would be useful to our listeners? 31:11 Who is a founder or business executive that you respect and why? 32:05 What’s something you believe that other’s generally don’t?
This week we are joined by Caryn Marooney for a salon episode that focuses on PR and communications. Caryn shares tips on how to build a brand, when to take PR in house, and how to handle a publicity crisis. Caryn leads global communications for Facebook and its family of apps including Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and Oculus. Prior to joining Facebook in 2011, Caryn co-founded OutCast Communications, one of Silicon Valley's premier technology communications firms. As co-founder, partner and CEO, Caryn was responsible for planning and executing communications strategies for companies of every size, including Amazon, Netflix, Salesforce and VMware. Caryn was named to the board of directors of Zendesk in 2014. She is originally from New York City and holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University. Highlights from the episode: 2:29 What was the biggest challenge that you saw startups facing with respect to communications? What types of pain points did you see them encounter most frequently? 3:22 What should startups focus on first when it comes to letting the outside world know they exist? 5:00 What process do you recommend founders go through to define brand and communicate company values? 7:10 How prescriptive should a founder be about their brand versus letting it evolve?  9:03 Can a brand get away with different brand personalities or does it need to consolidate around one identity? 9:53 How do you get attention from the press? How do outside PR firms help with that? 12:26 How do you vet if a PR firm is good and how do you get the most value out of working with one? 16:07 If you don’t have a significant “mic-drop” moment to launch a product, should you avoid PR altogether? 17:01 At what point should they bring a PR function in-house? 18:58 How do you ensure you get enough attention from your agency? 24:44 Tell us about the REBS model and give a example of messages or communications that fit the model well 24:37 Does a company’s communications strategy change as it grows? 26:56 In times of crisis, how do you handle PR? 29:02 Should founders seek marketing and communications executives for their boards? 30:59 What is your favorite tagline or slogan from a tech company? 31:35 What’s a book you’d recommend to founders in your area of expertise? 32:08 What’s something that you believe that most others don’t?
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