ANDREW: Before we start look at all this stunning custom logo designs that one client got from 99designs.com. 99 Designs is the largest marketplace for crowd source graphic design. Look at all these beautiful custom web designs that another client got. Go to 99designs.com and describe your needs, artists from all over the world will flood you with custom designs. You only pay for what you want. Look at these cool T-shirt designs. Get your own designs at 99designs.com.
Also could you help out a fellow Mixergy friend? Go to his website ratebrain.com, ratebrain.com and click his Facebook like button. While you’re there you might wonder how Rate Brain finds the best savings in CD rates. It’s because Rate Brain was developed by a former Googler. So hit his like button and help tell your friends that ratebrain.com is where they find the best interest rates.
If you’re a tech entrepreneur don’t you have unique legal needs that your family lawyer can’t help you with? That’s why you need Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. If you read his articles on Venture Beat you know he can help you when you’re raising money or when you’re issuing stock options or even if you need just to decide whether to form a partnership or corporation. Almost screwed up on that. But I won’t screw up when I tell you Scott Edward Walker is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. But you probably know that by now. Here’s the program.
Hi everyone my name is Andrew Warner, I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. By the way one of the reasons I do this it really helps us edit. The editors know to look for the hand up in the air and they look for this and they edit everything before that. Joining me is, when my camera comes back up, there it is, joining me is Bryan Zmijewski founder of Zurb. Zurb has helped over 100 startups use design and strategy to solve business problems. Big question for this interview is what is successful companies, what are the successful projects and companies that he’s worked for having in common? This is Bryan’s second interview here on Mixergy because everything that I wanted to learn from him in that first interview didn’t fit in the first one so we had to do a second one and that’s what this is here today.
So, Bryan, first of all welcome to Mixergy and thanks for doing the interview.
BRYAN: Thanks again, Andrew, we appreciate the opportunity to share some of our experiences.
ANDREW: Who are some of the companies that Zurb has done work for?
BRYAN: You know Zurb is in our 13th year so we’ve actually worked with quite a few. You know lots of unknown startups that probably had unglamorous non-tech crunch reviewed successes, others that have failed in the grapevine and then disappeared, you never heard of them. But we have worked with what I like to call the grown up startups now. You know larger companies that have come from a web background, the Facebooks, the Ebays, Zazzles, these are grownup web type businesses that have started from some nucleus that just drew out of control and now has wild success. So we still work with lots of smaller businesses that are coming with a PowerPoint deck or a prototype and have no name or no one knows about them. So we still cover the gambit.
ANDREW: Okay and I have here in my notes from our previous pre-interview that you believe in small teams. We as entrepreneurs sometimes will look at these big companies with the big teams that they could throw at a problem or throw at us and compete with us and it feels intimidating. Why do you think it shouldn’t be? Why do you think that a small team is better?
BRYAN: Well first lets analyze why those big teams are big. You know often times people think those are overnight successes but a lot of times those businesses have been around for five, six, seven, eight years and they seem like they’re new only because the press has now made them mainstream. So that’s not where they started out. So when they startup and you see 50, 60, 70 people that’s usually not the norm so that’s one thing to keep in mind. But when you look at a small team, the dynamics of a small team it’s like a little family. You know you have all these personality types that all need a little bit of nurturing and they all want success. Everyone wants success but you know they all have slightly different views and aspirations of what that looks like. So when you have a team of six, seven, eight people and the get go is something that hasn’t been created and you have no viable product all these aspirations can kind of get in the way because there’s no clear vision of how they all come together. I mean you can have a solid mission, you can even have like position in your statement, you can have all these pieces really well defined but the point is eight people with all the same vision at an early stage where there’s nothing concrete is going to create conflict. And it’s not something you can’t overcome it’ just means that it’s harder to get that momentum started with eight people going.
ANDREW: I’ve been getting a lot of email from people who say that they love when I ask for specific examples so I’ll do the same here. Do you have an example either of a company that didn’t do well because their team was too big or one that did do well because they focused on being small?
BRYAN: Sure. And this is all meant, you know a lot of our stuff is confidential but I like to talk about successes and I’ll try and pull out ones that aren’t so successful. So Zazzle is a great example of a company that has a lot of people now, that’s been around I think close to ten years now. Beavers, you know they started at, they had like four people in a room with boxes piled up doing programming till three in the morning. And here’s a business that was already generating millions of dollars and they had their production facility to create the actual goods. They gave most of that space to those workers so they could actually create the product and here they are, you know typing away in this small space. So we’d come in and there’d be like Red Bull cans all over, like boxes stashed like, you know product all around and they’re just doing magical stuff. And that core team was really responsible for creating that vision and, you know you look at it now and there’s a huge production, manufacturing, all these pieces. But initially to get [break in audio] they were helping with like creating coding and that small team would just being a room where you’re trying to come up with ideas on how the interface should be. While it wasn’t all refined it had that energy, that excitement that really catapulted them into the next area to hire us. So that was the cool thing. So Zazzle’s a great example how a small team of just people really close and really, and in fact they actually were family. The team had a lot of family working for it so . . .
ANDREW: For people who don’t know what Zazzle is, what does the company do? I know them as the T-shirt, the custom T-shirt company but you must have a better description of what they do.
BRYAN: So you cut off a little bit there. Zazzle, yeah, creates custom product. So it allows anyone with an idea to create one off of something or two off of something. So a lot of their stuff has been chotchkies but they actually increased the production value of a lot of their goods. And part of that is just capturing a market, that’s what people want. But longer term they have bigger aspirations. But the cool thing about that is just the creating individual product on a one off and being able to scale that from a manufacturing standpoint, really amazing.
Going back to your original, you know an example of a company that maybe isn’t working like that. So there’s lots of companies out there and I can’t say that they won’t be successful. I think we did some work for Cha-cha. I think I was amazed the business that didn’t have a solid revenues team right away. They had 70, 80 people working on the business and they had good funding. And I think they’ve now found out a good model for their business and that’s created revenue streams but I think they burned through money trying to figure out what that revenue stream was. And I wasn’t there with the original core group but that’s an example of a team that probably had capital and was trying to figure out the answers and maybe now they have after three, four, five years. But [break in audio] just find something that might work, so.
ANDREW: I know they used to get laughed at a lot. Cha-cha is the human powered search company and everything that they did was just, it was very big but it seemed off target a lot, you know.
BRYAN: Right. And in touring their offices they just had a lot of people so . . .
ANDREW: Are they a client of yours?
BRYAN: At one point, yeah, we had helped them on some projects. So, yeah.
ANDREW: All right. So Cha-cha an example of a company that has a lot of money. I mean I don’t remember what their funding is but it’s one of the big, the most well funded companies out there. You say the opposite is better. Capital is overrated you say. Why?
BRYAN: Well you look at all these like incubators (_______) and trying to build web apps. Sometimes by placing a huge bet on something is really the wrong approach and the capital is what allows you to put that huge bet. Often times in the web world you can get answers fairly quickly so, you know small team of people trying to task out a concept doesn’t require a whole lot of capital. You know at this point capital is really about infusing it into the business to get it to that next level. At that point for a lot of companies you need to be market tested and know that there’s a viable business there. I mean VC’s invest in teams and people and markets so those are bets that they need to keep making but often times it can be done without that money. It’s about testing an idea and getting out there and seeing if it works. And, you know granted for a lot of people being able to not work for six months investing in an idea and trying to build it, that’s a lot of money. But in the grand scheme of things when you look at the amount of capital that’s being invested that’s, those are pennies compared to what’s being actually put into the market.
ANDREW: What’s the smallest launch that you’ve seen of a product, of a business, something that gives an example of how simple it could be?
BRYAN: Smallest launch. So maybe I’ll be a little biased here. You know looking at our own apps, we just launched an app called Clue and the amount of time we put into it and the investment to get it out there in the market we probably, less than a month but as far as man hours on the project it was fairly minimal. We took a subset of our existing product and created a small little app [break in audio] and within two clicks someone gets some value and you start to understand what it is that people are looking for. And that was enough to get a lot of press; you know small business press that people are looking for quick ways to learn about the business. Now Clue is a way to see what people remember on your website. So that little project, you know the investment there was fairly small. Now we don’t charge for it or it’s not going to be making money it’s to create exposure for our other products. But we took a little, small little chunk of time and devoted to it to get it out there and test something out. So we’re in a slightly different situation than most people but we didn’t over invest in the development. We tried to keep it as minimal and simple as possible to create the most value out of a couple screens.
ANDREW: What’s the URL on that?
BRYAN: It’s clueapp.com.
ANDREW: Clueapp.com. What I’m curious about is what’s in clueapp.com on day one when you launch and what could’ve been in Clue app? Because that way I can see how you shrunk it down to a simple product instead of allowing yourself to build what you’d ideally like to see built.
BRYAN: Right. So the key thing here is understanding, you know a lot engineers maybe overlook this but marketing plays a key role in understanding how people are going to be using a service. So the idea of Clue and pulling something into something, that sounds exciting. What is this, a Clue? So we’re already getting someone’s appetite wetted for what they’re actually going to be doing on that first screen. When they hear it and we help try to clarify that on that screen. So in our mind the marketing aspect is equally as important as any of the technology we’re (_______). Before we even started coded anything that piece is a critical component of it. If people can’t get that concept within that click then we’ve lost them. So we try to say what can we do with the technology to make that next click make the story complete. How is the story complete with an extra click? What does an additional click get you? And so that’s the way we approached that project. So from an engineering standpoint what can you do to minimize your overall engineering costs and create the most bang for your buck and using your market as a way to actually create awareness and get people using it? So did that make sense in how we articulated it?
ANDREW: It does but what I’m curious about specifically is what features are in there now and then what features could you have built if you had the ideal version? So the simple version is?
BRYAN: The simple version is click a button and I need a report. I need to be able to see what people think without having to sign up, log in . . .
ANDREW: All right, so I as the business owner want to be able to show my page to users and then I want to know quickly what they, when they, actually the users see a web page and then the web page disappears and then they’re asked what do you remember about the page that you saw? I as the guy that created that web page gets a report of what everyone remembers and that way I can see am I delivering my message clearly or is it too confusing. So that’s the bare minimum that you launched within that . . .
ANDREW: I could see that simple. But to me that seems like a natural of course that’s what I would build. Help me understand what you might’ve built into it if you were thinking like an old school entrepreneur who wants to pack his ideal.
BRYAN: Right so we’re thinking okay, we need to get testers to take these tests. Like we got to get people in there.
ANDREW: Oh, hire testers, okay. And what else?
BRYAN: Yeah, you would say okay a small business doesn’t know how to connect to their community, their people, their network so we’re like all right. So the natural inclination is to say well how do we build a system that gets people rewards for taking tests and gets the community there and points and all this stuff. And we start looking at it and it’s like well, this is a natural drivers and psychological motivators that encourage people to take tests. So one of the things we did within the first day we changed it is when you take the test we give you the option to see what the report looks like as a test taker so that you can also see what other people are saying about that page just so that you get that little like sense of completion of like oh, I saw this, other people didn’t. And that keeps you going for a few tests. So you might take two or three tests just to help people out because you want to see what other people are also suggesting. The other thing we did on the report is throw out more tests that people could take. So we pushed away the idea that we should build a community or a point system and we’ve kept it more as a utility and simple so that people start to understand that they have to do a little bit of leg work to get the traffic to their tests. So that was something we admitted right away.
ANDREW: All right, I see. I can see how I might start to think of well let’s make sure that we have a community of test takers in there. How do we solicit them? Where do we get them? How much do we pay them? How do we give them points? Do points add up to badges and if you give them badges you need a leader board? And once you start going down this path there’s no end to it. It becomes as Derrick Sever says version infinity and you’re saying capital is overrated because if you had the money you’d be able to do it, sorry.
BRYAN: And it complicates the story. And what we validated through the test is that people want this knowledge. They want to know what’s going on and that is the key ingredient here. People want this knowledge so they’re willing to take some action to do it. Now granted it’s a minimal action and what we’ve learned is people are willing to take an action to get the data. They want that data.
ANDREW: All right, here’s another point that you made to me and I’ve seen people here who I’ve interviewed take both sides of this point. You say you work out of a common space and of course I’ve interviewed people, most famously 37 Signals, who believe in having people be wherever they want and you can work online. And I’ve interviewed people who said if they’re all in the same . . .
BRYAN: Right that’s why they created [break in audio].
ANDREW: You’re right. You know what so people who forever said you don’t want people in the office together working out of a common space, they just keep talking about their brand new office space where their people can all work together. So help me understand what the value of a common space is. Why should everyone work out of the same office?
BRYAN: I’m a guy and guys tend to be like a little solo in their approach and like their space. The reality is though everyone likes companionship; everyone likes to have a sense that what their purpose is also aligned with the people around them. So that there’s a joint effort towards accomplishing some goal. And that’s harder to do online when you’re sitting across looking at a web cam. It’s just very hard to get that same sense. It’s not impossible; it’s definitely not impossible, very hard though. There’s a natural sense of like being in the presence of someone that creates those desires of wanting to accomplish things together. And that, a space allows you to do that and when you set the space up and you have that collaborative space it starts to create sparks. People start getting excited when there’s that common vision of we’re going to go do this and seeing the other persons face. You know the reality is there’s all kinds of things, like we do a 24-hour Zurb wired where we take a non-profit and help them out. After that 24 hours it stinks in this room. It really stinks, the whole office stinks because of B.O. and people have been working and, but there’s a sense of accomplishment and odors and like being around people have an impact. They just do. And you can’t get that sense when you are looking at a computer. So there’s a natural sense of wanting to accomplish something as a group.
ANDREW: How about an example of an idea that you guys all fleshed out together that maybe was an idea that came to you on your walk in to work or in the shower in the morning that you then had a conversation with someone at work that then they took on and continued to build with someone else still. Do you have an example like that or is that too perfect?
BRYAN: This is every project we work on. Every project is like this. You know a lot of the guys will get kind of oh here comes Bryan again walking in the room, right? So the idea is I always have something I think is just awesome or great, right? But I know it needs that vetting, it needs someone to refine it, to think through it, to kind of challenge the ideas. So what happens is there’s this spark, somebody needs to be the spark and you go into, Clue’s a great example of this because we had a product verify and said hey, how do we get people invested in this with a simple test. So the idea was let’s take one of the tests that we currently have and make it without a login and I brought that to the team and said hey, we can’ do this. And everyone started saying yeah, we can do this, we can make this happen. We had no name for it, no idea of what we were going to try and do to get it out there. But that initial spark of we can do this, we can replicate something we’ve done with some of our other products and we can get it out there, that creates a spark. And someone on the team knows how to code it up, gets excited about it, starts working on it and on the engineering side we’ve prototyped something quickly then you’ve got sparks and now we’re onto like we’re doing some workflows and how you simplify, how do you get rid of some of the pieces. You know I think like a week later the idea, I think a spark was let’s put a plus at the end of the test just to use as a report page so that there’s no log in and you can get into the page by adding plus. That all happens through this collaborative process of like day-by-day inching towards something that you think is going to be really successful.
ANDREW: Okay next point here that I wrote down, I wrote them down in no particular order but this one’s a little related to a previous point, which is keep the plan small. And I remember you telling me in the conversation about how you do have these big plans as entrepreneurs but you’ve got to take that first version and make it really small. How do you do that?
BRYAN: Well that’s the way the money, you know we’ve talked about the money. Money seems to make problems larger and opportunities bigger so we talked about getting rid of some of that potentially. When you try to make something smaller you have to realize that small for small sakes isn’t better it’s just more manageable. If you have the capability to pull bigger vision pieces together it’s completely fine to have larger aspirations and be able to manage it but the reality is most entrepreneurs get stuck because it changes so fast and most entrepreneurs I know aren’t exceptionally talented at the management piece of it. They’re exceptionally talented at the spark piece, getting people motivated and moving things forward. So if you’re coming with a big process and a big piece of this puzzle that requires lots of people to operate it you’re already as an entrepreneur setting yourself up to work against what your skills are, which is sparks, getting people momentum and moving things forward. So we often see a lot of entrepreneurs that have that vision to keep things small when there’s money involved or there’s other people coming to the table what they do is they influence the entrepreneur by saying we can go bigger, we can go broader on this. And they’re thinking yes, we can go bigger, broader except for the fact they haven’t nailed the first part of the whole puzzle. And I think that’s the key part here is that stay focused on that first puzzle piece and making sure you nail that because you won’t be able to add another puzzle piece if that first piece doesn’t make sense.
ANDREW: So I imagine you have to help clients at Zurb do that.
ANDREW: How do you, well illustrate it maybe with an example of a client that you’ve worked with, how you took their big vision and simplified it to the point where you can actually act on it internally and build what they’re looking for?
BRYAN: So it may not be something that’s like obvious and say well, okay we took it and hashed it in half and now they came out with something better. It doesn’t always work like that. I’d say it’s more of a smaller victory. So when you look at, you know when you’re in the process of building an application what we tend to look at and break our opportunities in today, tomorrow and the future. So don’t deny people the opportunity to think big. You want to always have those big ideas down because that’s what gets people and entrepreneurs excited about world domination. But the problem is you just need to make sure that you put it in buckets so that everyone knows what’s feasible and what you can get accomplished and stay focused on at today bucket as opposed to thinking about the future and letting that drive all of your decisions. So I’d say almost all of our clients that we’re working with that need strategy help will go to that simple tool today, tomorrow and the future and sketch out ideas that really focus around today as much as we do in the future. When you do that people feel good about the ideas being captured in the future but know that there’s this set of ideas that need to be [break in audio].
ANDREW: All right so we lost the connection there, sorry guys. And I’m especially sorry to you Bryan for losing the connection on you so much but we’ll edit and piece this back together. Why don’t we move on to the next point here which is you say that momentum is important, how? How have you seen that?
BRYAN: I don’t know. Who’s played bowling? Has anyone played a game of bowling?
BRYAN: And, you know [break in audio] people are not good at bowling and it’s when you get that strike that now you feel empowered and maybe you think about your arm stroke a little bit more or changing it up just a little bit you might get the next spare. So really in the game of startups it’s about creating that strike. It’s about getting that momentum and excitement because everyone in the room gets excited, right? If you’re with a bunch of people and you’re bowling and you get a strike everyone gets elated, they get just awesome, you know because you’re not expecting a strike. You’re trying to actually get it and you get one. So startups are the same way, it just takes those sparks, that little interaction with your team to see something that everyone can see is a win. You know it could be a press piece that gets in the press, it could be a customer that says wow, I really love what you’re doing, it’s awesome. Of course you’re not making any money but it’s enough to get people going. It could even be a tweet. You know one of the things that as an insider every once in a while I’ll just print out a tweet and put it on the wall and share it with the team just so they know that what they’re doing, it matters, people see it. Because sometimes when you’re building things and you’re slaving away and trying to make it good you lose touch with who you’re serving and what they have to think about it. So we try to make sure that people see that. And those things contribute to momentum and momentum is really critical to any startup. You know because often times it’s not the success of the actual application, it’s not even the success of your marketing program it’s a combination gluged together of all these things that somehow got you over these little hurdles. And then every entrepreneur wants to say it’s a year later, it worked. But the reality is it’s five years later and it worked. That’s what’s key to making a startup successful. So that point there with momentum is all about finding the little sparks that keep the team motivated and psyched. And if you’re a one person [break in audio] find people that you can add to your team, emotional support, know a little bit about your business that you can check in that can give you those same types of sparks that help create the momentum.
ANDREW: I remember interviewing Mike McDermott, the founder of Fresh Books about how he got his company to profitability and one of the things that stood out for me was during that tough period where there was no money, where he wasn’t the impressive businessman that everyone now wants to have talk at a conference, when he was just trying to make it work I asked him how do you keep your self motivated during those times let alone how do you keep your employees going? And he said you know what before there’s money to keep you going you look at the little wins like getting an email from a customer who says yes, you’re doing great. I love this product. I love what you built. And I could see that even here. Before things, before I even had a big audience just getting that one person to say I think you’re on the right track kept me going. And then you get someone else to blog about you and then you get someone else to want to buy an ad and then it keeps you going, keeps you going. So you’re saying though that you can manufacture some of these moments or find them and highlight them like a tweet. What else can you do because sometimes, you know what, when it doesn’t feel like there’s momentum it’s a struggle to find those little wins that will get everyone excited about the momentum that actually exists but is hard to spot. What else?
BRYAN: So I look to sports as a great example of this. College coaches will say well we’re not staying at that hotel, right, we’re just going to do a different hotel or we’re not going to [break in audio] step. You just mix up the game so that it creates a different dynamic for sparks to occur. And sometimes they’re artificial, right? So, you know an example is you’re charging for your app and maybe you have some free plans, cutoff free see what happens, right? See what happens maybe see if you charge more and up your rates by 10/15% just to see what happens, you could always revert back. Maybe call an outsider, a contractor, someone who has expertise in an area that you’ve always kind of thought oh, maybe we should just talk just to create some sparks. Maybe the conversation alone gives you some insight into what you could be doing. Often times I’ll just try and throw at exactly everything we’ve done and say what if we could do it differently and start all over what would we do? And figure out if there’s something simple that we might try as an experiment that would get people excited. I actually get kidded at the office quite a bit about this from Jeremy. I was actually a long distance runner for ten years competitive so he always calls it the long distance card because I can go a long time without that satisfaction of knowing there’s something successful happening. So in some ways I know it’s harder for me because I know that we need those types of things but I can go months on end without that gratification and knowing we’re on the right track. Just having a hunch that all that hard work is going to pay off we can delay that and wait. So it’s one of the things that the guys kid me about all the time.
ANDREW: I love distance running and I’m the say way. I’ve got that ability to keep going even when there isn’t any big win yet. Well so you were that competitive? Where’d you do this? What kind of distance were you doing?
BRYAN: Oh, I started in like sixth grade or something. I started running a mile and started winning races and winning the high school state champion in cross-country for two years. And went to Stanford, ran for Stanford and, you know that whole process has really taught me a lot about business, understanding leadership and trying to actually maintain momentum, excitement, winning all those lessons a lot of them were learned running races.
ANDREW: How does leadership come into play in running? I thought it was just a one-man thing and you don’t need leaders or followers or anybody else on your team.
BRYAN: So I ran cross country and track so the fun thing about running is it’s both individual, it’s a performance of you against yourself but it’s also a team sport when you’re trying to run five people against another five people on a different team, you tall points and you compete against them. So there’s a collective effort there in trying to actually win. So the thing I always like about running is it’s both individual and team performance. Sports like football, basketball, soccer great sports all team oriented but the individual performance, you know it’s really hard to compete against yourself and see how you improved week after week after week, so. But as far as leadership great. Sports, you know all those entrepreneurs that are in their 30’s or 20’s and having kids the best way to train entrepreneurs put them in sports, it’s a great way to test ability and challenge kids to compete against themselves and other peoples.
ANDREW: All right speaking of leadership you also believe that products need to have one product leader, one person who’s in charge. Why?
BRYAN: Right. Early on in a startup I think it’s really important. We run into this often times with our clients is that you have a collective and a group of people that want to put input in, which is great and we encourage that a lot. But if you don’t have someone that’s taking that collective wisdom and very specifically taking those ideas and channeling them into the product in a way that makes sense then you’re left with a bunch of hodge podge ideas that really make, get the product in the right direction but don’t create the spark, that momentum, that excitement where you see wow this product’s been really thought through and there’s a vision here. So what I’m suggesting is don’t alienate your team and say well one person needs to dictate all the rules what I’m saying is that you need to go in there, look at what’s happening, try and figure out and collect the ideas from people, work through some of those ideas with them and come up with a single strategy that pushes your product through. And that often times with a startup where you have one, two, three, four, five people one person’s going to be much more effective at that then trying to take two people and get it going.
ANDREW: Who have you worked with whose leadership you admire?
BRYAN: Let’s see, so we’ve . . .
ANDREW: Specifically [SS].
BRYAN: Right. I’ve seen quite a few entrepreneurs over the years and there’s been some wins and some failures. We talked about Click Tracks John Marshall, entrepreneur, didn’t take VC money but collectively tried to get money from smaller sources and really it was his energy alone that really pulled all those parts together and was able to build a successful business and an exit $14 million, I think. Which in the grand scheme of things if you’re looking at large sellouts, not going to be written in history but successful outcome, can feel proud about what he did, brought along a lot of talented people, they gained a lot of knowledge.
ANDREW: This was an analytics product that he created back in the early days before there were really robust analytics programs. He was a leader.
ANDREW: He was the guy who was innovating in that space. So what was it about his leadership style? How did you see him lead a product and guide it’s direction but still take input from other people?
BRYAN: You know when you look at an entrepreneur and a leader like that you may not have all the right managing skills or may not be able to have, or may not have all the people skills but somehow he got it done. Like he showed up, you know some days I’d call him and it would be amazing it’d sound like he wouldn’t be put together just like on pins and needles and he just couldn’t even function sometimes. But the next week he was back on it, he was like pushing hard, he was trying to make things happen and you could see those cycles. And in an entrepreneur that’s exciting when you can see someone kind of keep persevering through their troubles and figure out how to get it done. So in the early stages I felt like that was really, really important. So John exhibited those types of qualities you want to see as getting over humps no matter how difficult they were to get to the next phase.
ANDREW: Because what was his vision for the product?
BRYAN: Well I think the vision changed over time and he realized as the market was maturing that he had to adjust his tactics. Early on it was the visual display of analytics and helping marketers understand that you can make this easy and simple by narrowing your focus on a couple key things that are important and then helping those marketers see in the actual application things they should be worried about. And so he was very practical, very like, he’s a Brit so, you know very direct and in some ways argumentative, which is great to help you understand why this was important. And he was steadfast in wanting to pursue that.
ANDREW: What would he argue for?
BRYAN: So much so that he, he was arguing for the idea that analytics really shouldn’t be visual, you don’t need all the pie charts, you don’t need all these extra whistles put onto the app. You need to focus on key metrics that are going to drive the business. So if you look at what they did in say Search Report, they were the first to create this analytical grid that basically put search terms on the left, searches on the top and then put a density chart based on the prominence of those key words. One of the first to do that and it was really impressive and he accomplished it in one goal. It got rid of all the charts, the graphs but it made it very, like the analytics were overlaid into a graph and, not a graph it was like an informational display and it really worked well.
ANDREW: There was a time when people didn’t think analytics really needed to be visual. You want numbers, you’re in there for data, visuals are for designers not for people who are going to figure out how to tweak their sales or get more people on their site.
BRYAN: Yeah, he had a vision and I don’t know if you know Edward Tuft but, you know visual display of information, you know he, at the time he was actually, he actually got me to go to this seminar and look at how do you display information. He was so steadfast in wanting to create an awesome application that really is what drove him to those early decisions, staying focused on that and knowing that that was what was going to differentiate the product. So I admire that, I think he did a great job of that.
ANDREW: How about the opposite? Don’t give me their name but a company that you’ve worked with that didn’t have a clear leader and everyone had a say.
BRYAN: A clear leader.
ANDREW: That did not have one.
BRYAN: Right so I think when I have seen this happen is typically an entrepreneur with a fairly good sense of what they’re trying to do comes into money. They’ve got VC funding and all of a sudden now there’s professionals that are coming in trying to dictate what needs to happen. So when you have professionals that want to manage and an entrepreneur that doesn’t have managing skills but has a vision of the product those two things create sparks in the wrong direction because the vision gets lost and then you’re managing pieces that don’t add up to the vision piece. And the entrepreneur doesn’t know how to shift it around because they don’t have the management skills and the managers don’t have the vision. So what you get is a, you know and it could be, the company could be going in the right direction (______) but you know there’s this wall that’s going to hit and it’s going to run into a wall and the pieces are going to start to fall apart. So we’ve seen this actually quite a few times where the entrepreneur has some momentum success, sees a bigger opportunity, knows maybe to get there they’re going to take a risk and take money and then that management team comes in and there’s disruption. And the entrepreneur doesn’t have control, can’t figure out how to keep the vision going, and doesn’t have the management skills to really redirect it.
ANDREW: So what kind of directions to the management, the professional managers come in with? And I’ve [SS] they’re so freaking articulate and they come up with good examples to back up everything that they believe and some data and so what kind of suggestions do they have?
BRYAN: So I’m going to, we’re going to make the argument here and this is what we do as a service is you have to balance the business goals with the user needs. And typically when management comes in they have, they’re disconnected from the user needs because the entrepreneur has slaved away for maybe a year, maybe two years in understanding what really drives the customer. Like all those little interactions of knowing what irks people, what people get excited about, like if you turn something off what will happen, if you turn something on, if you write something, if you use these words, the entrepreneur has it baked in their head because they’ve been living it. Once you get senior management in that doesn’t understand those little nuances that really keep users engaged and excited about what’s going on they might be the corkiest weirdest things but those are the things that make a service special, especially online when you’re trying to get to a global audience. So when you try to formulize what’s made this successful and try to put it into a few key metrics and drive those metrics often times the managers will miss what makes the nuances of the service successful. And we see this time and time again that the management team might be successful in continually alienating the user base, that’s where you run into that brick wall at a certain point, the users like fed up and they just can’t stand it anymore.
ANDREW: All right let me sum up what we’ve talked about so far and maybe you’ve got one or two others beyond what I’ve got here on my list. Have a small team, understand that capital is overrated, work out of a common space, keep your plan small, keep building momentum because momentum is important and have a product leader. What else? What other advice do you have based on your experience working with 100 plus projects and startups?
BRYAN: I always try to analyze in my head why the hell I do what I do. You know I look at it and I’m married, I have three kids so there’s a very, there’s a balance there in trying to look at everything I’m doing in my life. I look at it like a professional baseball player, you know on the road, plays 162 games and sometimes when I come home late and I miss dinner or something and I’m thinking about this I say well, you know that guy, he’s gone for like five days of the week, he’s not even home, you know. And I try to rationalize some of my decision-making. The reality is if you’re going to try and take this role on, you know starting a business or actually running any kind of startup you have to understand there’s a balance. That balance that you expect working out of a 9 to 5 job is going to be disrupted so you have to change your tactics and how you balance your life and it’s not going to be like Joe Schmo. You have to understand that you need those things but it’s not going to be in the same way. So I always go back to the baseball player, of someone that’s excelled at the highest level, the expectations put on them are completely unreasonable. But you know they get three months off out of the year so they get a different type of thing. So I look as an entrepreneur and say how do you counterbalance what you’re doing in a way that’s productive to your family, for the people around you? So having that sanity, having those things around is really important. And that’s where you’ll see this mix like 20 some entrepreneurs that have nothing and spend all their time doing their startup can be successful but you also see a lot of businesses with entrepreneurs that have seasoned background in their 30’s, 50’s because they know how to balance these things to create that magic but also know how to take care of the other things in their family.
ANDREW: You know I want to hear more because I just did an interview with Neil Patel recently and I asked him why he finds time or how he finds time to do so much and he said you know what? I don’t have a family. At the end of the day I’m not going to home to my wife or answering to my kids I just go back to my desk at home and I continue to work. Maybe I watch some television and that distracts me but nothing else gets in the way of my work. I want to hear the opposite of it. How does it help to actually have to go home by a certain time and see your wife or have obligations with your kids? And I’m asking as a guy who recently got married who wants to see the opposite side of this and see your point.
BRYAN: What do you want from your life? I mean the reality is that success and money come at a cost and you have to decide how much you’re willing to put on the line for those types of things.
ANDREW: You’re saying though that it’s not necessarily a tradeoff. You’re saying that it could be, it could enhance your business success that being married having that outside life could actually make you better at your job and get more out of you at your job. How?
BRYAN: I think you bring a different perspective to the table. It’s like you understand that there’s tradeoffs and compromises and some ways to get those wins you have to do extraordinary things to balance out what you’re doing. So an example is if you’re going to spend two days before a launch and you’re trying to figure out how to put all your time into it know that you’re putting your other side of your life in a deficit. You counteract that by understanding that you can do magnificent awesome things with your family and try to figure out how you make those things happen. And so as an entrepreneur you understand that there’s this balancing act that happens and to create that magic you need to compromise in different areas. So an example is just doing a product within your own internal team is if you’re trying to do something that takes a lot of engineering resources you know you might be creating a deficit there for the team, you have to counterbalance that with something else going on in the team to make it happen. And so you start to understand that to make things happen you need balance in someway. I’m not saying don’t be crazy because you need craziness, you need those bursts of energy that are completely unreasonable. But then you have think about how you’d do it on the other extreme. You know what is it you’re bringing to the table that counterbalances that in a way that’s going to encourage people to do it again, get excited about it. You know figure out how to perform at that same high level. If you’re constantly doing that and you’re just showing up at your computer to do it I don’t know, that is not me. I don’t advocate it at Zurb and I don’t think anyone else should because I don’t think it’s healthy in the long term. You’re going to run yourself into the ground.
ANDREW: What was the last thing that you worked on that you gave, I think I got the quote almost exactly right, the burst of unreasonable energy to?
BRYAN: The burst of unreasonable energy to. Oh man, you put me on the spot with these questions. I think right now I’m going through a phase with the business and working with the team, you know we’re doing a lot of different things at Zurb in which we’re actually building applications and servicing our clients. Which means that balance in doing service and also building product you have to be on top of it. It’s not something that’s just going to happen so I would say over the last probably three, four months we’ve been ramping up with our efforts there. And it’s not that two-day sprint of like 24 hours a day trying to get it. It means putting in some time, thinking about it on Sunday morning, maybe Sunday afternoon you’re putting in a couple extra hours thinking through it, at night you’re saying okay there’s 9 to 11 you’re going to put some time into it. And so I’ve actually been in that phase probably about three or four months trying to figure out how to get us to that next level with our products. So it’s viewing that two hours time when nobody else is around or isn’t bothering you or you don’t have kids to put in bed or a wife to go out with and enjoy some time with, so.
ANDREW: You know what, before I ask the next question can you move your camera up just a little bit?
ANDREW: All right, there we go, yeah. I don’t want to cut off the top of your head. All right, finally, you’ve got somebody now listening to us right now on a run or in their car, we have their full attention because this is the person that’s listened all the way to the end. Let’s give them one advice, one thing that they could do based on you working with 100 plus startups, what is that? What is that advice? What’s the one thing that they should take away from this interview if nothing else?
BRYAN: Believe in yourself and continue to work hard at believing in your ideas and give up when you know he’s given your best shot. So knowing you’ve given it all you can.
ANDREW: That’s a good place to leave it at.
BRYAN: But give it all you can and know that there’s a place that you either win or you don’t win and its time for something new.
ANDREW: All right, well let’s leave it there. Thank you for doing the second interview with me. And this is the third one that I’ve done with Zurb; you guys have been very generous with your time. Thank you.
BRYAN: Great, thanks a lot. Appreciate it, Andrew.
ANDREW: Cool. And the website is Z-U-R-B.com and I’m saying it again and spelling it just to make sure that the transcribers get it right. Hey, one more thing for the audience. I now am changing lighting; I now have very powerful lighting, which is why my eyelids, I think, droop down. There’s always a tradeoff. But I’m constantly playing with the lighting. People have said before back when Buenos Aires that it was too dark and too hard to see me. I’m also now on a new mic, this thing is gigantic, look it’s bigger than my head. If I go like that it looks like (_______). So guys what I’m, the point I’m making is keep sending me your feedback, the mic before apparently didn’t work for some people, the lighting before didn’t work for anybody. I’m making these adjustments because of feedback from people like you. So come back to Mixergy, find that contact button and tell me what you think because I can always use your ideas and suggestions. There’s some pretty freaking brilliant people who are watching this stuff. The fact that they even understand what a pod cast is shows that there’s a lot of intelligence there. So, thank you again Brian, thank you Zurb, thank you all for watching. I’m Andrew and I look forward to your feedback. Cool. All right.
BRYAN: I got one, lower your button, you know show a little chest hair for some of the, no just kidding.
ANDREW: You know what, actually I’ve been sitting here in a T-shirt, Neil Patel said you’ve got to put on a long sleeve shirt, T-shirts just don’t cut it here. It doesn’t look professional enough. So I put on a long shirt. The collar on this T-shirt just doesn’t look right so I figured I’d button it. But you’re right; now looking at this it looks a little dorky. Plus this shirt looks a little washed out with the light. All right, fair point.
BRYAN: How are you hanging up there in Washington?
ANDREW: Actually I really like it a lot. I’ve been in such interesting conversations. Maybe it’s because people here have a whole different worldview from what I’m used to, having lived in California and then Buenos Aires. Their conversations are different. They talk about different books, they talk about different ideas, I’m sure in a year I’ll get fed up with them talking about politics but for now it’s all fascinating.
ANDREW: Cool. What parts of the world are these guys in?
BRYAN: California, we’re actually about 20 minutes south of Palo Alto so we try to stay outside of like the VC isn’t showing up everywhere and the cafes and stuff. So its kind of more of a blue-collar town so you get a lot more service oriented people. I mean, we’re close to like Ebay and some other tech companies but yeah, it’s a different, you know when you go to different locations you’re going to get different vibes. So I’m just curious moving from Buenos Aires, I know you’ve lived in the U.S., but Washington is politics and policy and not necessarily building things. It’s moving things around so that they’re fluid and, it’s kind of interesting. So we’ll see you in about a year how you’re holding up.
ANDREW: Yes. If it holds up for a year than I’ll be happy. All right, you know what? I’m leaving this in the interview. Let everybody see that I take criticism very well. I may not adjust the buttons back up for now but for next time I will, thank you.
ANDREW: I had a good time. Bye everyone.