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Going from 0 to Leading Web3 Platform Company | TechCrunch Early Stage

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Joe Lau and Navin Chaddha on stage at TechCrunch Early StageNavin Chaddha:

Pleasure to have all of you here. I have the great privilege of having Joe Lau, Co-founder and CTO of Alchemy with me. I’m Navin Chaddha, Managing Partner at Mayfield Fund. We are an early stage venture capital firm, which has been in business since 1969. Today, we are going to be talking about how a company goes from zero to leading Web3 blockchain platform company.

So Joe, let’s start with, what does Alchemy do? It’s been one of the fastest growing successes, from 0 to $10 billion in market cap in two and a half years.

Joe Lau:

Something like that, yeah. And just so I get a chance to understand who’s in the audience, who here is building a startup today? All right, that’s almost everyone. You’re at the right conference. Also, I just wanted to say that Navin, the honor is mine. Navin is too humble to brag about himself, but as Managing Director at Mayfield, he has been involved in so many legendary companies in the Valley, like Lyft, HashiCorp and so many more. He is also number five on the Midas List this year and an absolute legend. So just give it up for Navin here. The honor’s mine, and I’m excited to be here.

So yeah, at a high level, Alchemy, for those of you who haven’t heard about us, is a blockchain developer platform, think of us as the Amazon Web Services for blockchain. So in the same way that AWS helps companies build internet and software companies, we help people build blockchain applications more easily and more effectively. And breaking that down a little bit, we see three big shifts in technology. There was the personal computer, there’s the internet, and now there’s blockchain. They each add a new type of primitive and a new way to build an application that you couldn’t have before.

And the really interesting thing is, if you look back in history, what you’ll see is for each of these technological shifts, there’s always a developer platform that pushes that technology forward. So with the personal computer, it was Microsoft Windows, Mac OS – the operating system is what let people build applications like Microsoft Word, Chrome, et cetera, and those things are what brought value to people’s lives. With the internet, you saw the same thing with Amazon Web Services, which enabled a whole slew of companies to be built.

We thought for blockchain to be successful in the same way that these other technological shifts were successful, someone had to build that developer platform, and that ended up being us. So we started the company in 2017, today we power about $100 billion in transaction volume annually, and millions of users all around the world.

Navin Chaddha:

And that’s great, it’s been a real privilege working with you guys. So every startup’s journey starts with the journey of the founder, so how did you get into entrepreneurship? Tell us a little bit about what your journey has been.

Joe Lau:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I’m sure it’s the same for many entrepreneurs, looking back, you probably realized your journey started actually before you started your company or you took your first check, or you paid the lawyers an exorbitant amount of money to incorporate – it actually starts earlier than that. So for me, a bit of background for myself, I was born in a small town in Vancouver or a small town in Washington called Vancouver – turns out there’s a second Vancouver, there’s Vancouver, Canada, which I’m sure you guys all know about. There’s another one, Vancouver, Washington, that’s where I’m from. So I grew up in the ’90s and the early 2000s, which were the early days of the internet. And this was a time where, even though the internet was still very, very early, I think it was already exciting, and you could kind of see what the internet would be.

And I mean, the internet was janky back in the day. This will date me, but I’m curious how many of you guys remember landlines? Yeah, okay. God bless you guys, that’s more people than I expected. Back in the day, you didn’t have this cell phone, you couldn’t just take your cell phone and call people. You got a phone that was literally plugged into your wall, that’s how you would call people. And in the ’90s to use the internet, you’d have to literally disconnect your phone and connect it to your modem, which is connected to your computer, that’s how you’d access the internet. So you couldn’t go online and make calls at the time, which now seems crazy.

But even in those early days, I think it was already super clear what the internet and technology could become. So one example for me was, again, I grew up in a small town and this was a place where people married their high school sweethearts and went to community college or the state college, most people didn’t really leave town. So when I was trying to get into college, I actually did not know the first thing about getting into college. There was no one I could talk to, my parents didn’t know, obviously none of my friends knew. But what happened was, people on the internet knew, and I could go online and I could find forums and I could find other people who understood what was going on and I could learn from them. And ultimately, that’s really how I got into college. I learned from other people what the process was like, how to write essays, and that’s how I got in.

And I shared that because that was one moment for me where I thought, wow, technology, the internet, that’s really powerful in a way that didn’t exist before. So I ended up going to Stanford to study mechanical engineering. I wanted to build products, I always thought it was building physical products. But then I took my first computer science course, and probably like a lot of you guys, realized that the best way to build products for people is to build software, because you can instantly put it online, where billions of people have access to it. We live in a super exciting time where something like that has never been possible before. So if you’re a builder, we’re blessed to be in the best time for that.

Navin Chaddha:

That’s great. So how did you get the inspiration? Can you  talk about your founding journey with your co-founder, and why you chose blockchain this versus so many other things? Did you just happen to be working in the blockchain world and you stumbled upon this, or was this something you always had a passion for?

Joe Lau:

I met my co-founder Nikil in college, we were TA-ing a databases course. Most college courses as you know, are 100, 200 people, something like that, ours that year was 150,000 people – so just a little bigger than your normal college course. And the reason for that was, it turned out we were piloting this revolutionary new concept at the time called massive open online course. But we piloted essentially what would eventually become Coursera, and we were basically thrown into that environment. So from the very beginning, when I got to meet my co-founder, it was almost like a startup environment, and that’s kind of how we got to know each other.

When we graduated, we were really thinking about what we wanted to do with our lives. And probably like a lot of the audience, the thing that was really important for us was impact – how do you think about how to leave as big of a mark as you can on the world. And for us, we measured impact on a couple different axes. The first axis was, how many people’s lives you could touch, the X axis, the Y axis was how deeply you could affect people’s lives, and the area under that curve is essentially your impact. That’s how I thought about it. The X axis is pretty clear. Again, being a software engineer, how you affect life on a billion person scale is with software. And the Y axis, originally we thought was actually not blockchain, because this was before blockchain, it was more of a personal thing at the time.

And just as a side note, I think a lot of people will come on to stages or conferences like these, and they’ll be like, hey, this is what it always was, and I knew exactly what I was doing, and here are the dots and it all cleanly connects together. A lot of times, that’s not really how it played out, and that’s not how it played out for us either. In the very beginning, what we cared about was how to bring people closer together. We had graduated from college, we felt distant from our friends, my co-founder was going through a rough breakup and a lot of my friends had moved away. So we were building consumer social experiences and applications to help recreate that sense of community.

We did that for a couple years, 2014 to 2017, and nothing worked. We tried like 9 or 10 things, it’s really hard. I think the 10th or 11th thing we built started to take off – it was doing well, it was on top of the app store and stuff, but at that point, we really started to see blockchain take off. So this was 2017, and who in the audience is familiar with blockchain, Bitcoin, Ethereum? Okay, so a fair amount. So 2017 was when we really started to see Ethereum take off. And the really interesting thing was, it went from just Bitcoin being a currency or store of value, to now Ethereum being a true and complete platform that you could build all different kinds of applications on top of.

And that to us was a really revolutionary shift. Now thinking back to those three shifts, the personal computer, the internet, blockchain, first you had the personal computer which added a new primitive by allowing machines to follow human instructions. Then you had the internet, which adds another primitive, machines can exchange information with each other, and then now blockchain finally, you could have machines exchange value with each other.

So you could build new types of applications that you could never build before, and we got really excited about that. We jumped into this space and started building. Long story short, we found out it was really, really hard, so I ended up having to build tools and infrastructure for ourselves. And then over time, we would talk to friends and find out they had exactly the same problems that we had. So we launched our infrastructure and our tools as the platform that anyone could use, and was off to the races from there.

Navin Chaddha:

Do you think that’s how you got product market fit or did you have more work to do? Because that’s the hardest thing for a startup – everybody has an idea, but how do you make sure the product you build is a painkiller, that it is solving a real market need? Did you guys talk to users, what was that journey like?

Joe Lau:

Yeah, that’s such a good question. We spent a lot of time looking for product market fit. For those who are past it, it’s probably the hardest thing you’ve ever done. For those who haven’t done it yet, I understand your pain, and it’s something that takes a lot of time. I think for us, we spent a lot of time looking for product market fit, and really finding the right thing.

I’d say a couple of thoughts there. I think one thing that helped us was really, really understanding how to talk to users. So for those of you who haven’t heard of this book, The Mom Test, you should go buy it right now, it’s an amazing book. It talks about how to talk to users and really understand their needs. The problem with users is they’re all like their mom, and that if you go to them and you ask, “Hey, will you use my app for this”, they’re always going to say yes, because they always want to tell you what you want to hear. And the reality is, after they sign up, do they actually use what your platform is for? Not always. So how do you tease out whether someone will actually use what you build, and how do you figure out if what you’re selling is actually what they care about? So that was a big learning for us.

I think the second thing was figuring out how to really speed up our iteration – this was one of the biggest learnings that we had. At the time, we were building iPhone applications and we would spend a week building something and then ship it off to the App store. At the time, it was a one to two week review process, so it’ll be on the App store three weeks after you originally made that change, and then by the fourth week, your users have mostly updated. So it’s really a month that you’re looking at to test one iteration. But when you’re looking for product market fit, the thing that’s most important is how fast you iterate. It’s kind of like machine learning and gradient descent, it’s about taking as many steps as you can, as quickly as you can, to find that local minimum, or for product market fit, that local maximum.

So for us, what we did was we really worked on tightening that iteration cycle, so we took that month and we actually dialed it back down to minutes. We ended up taking our apps, and instead of shipping it to the App store, we’d go to Berkeley and we’d pretend to be students, which was actually pretty hard. We couldn’t connect to the student wifi, people were like, hey, why aren’t you on Airbears? And we’d be like, oh whatever. So we talked to students and we’d show them our app, and then when they ran into issues, we would basically get on our computers, change it right there into a new experience, and then show the next set of users. So we were able to dial that month-long iteration cycle back down into a couple of minutes, and that was how we were able to iterate super, super quickly.

The last thing I’ll add really quickly is, talking to users in the flesh, in real life, is really, really important. One thing we did for the social consumer stuff was put our phone numbers directly into the app. It ended up being a bit of a misplay, because we got millions of users, and turns out your phone doesn’t work after 15,000 texts. That’s something that we discovered, so don’t do that. But the important thing is, you want to talk to your users.

For the blockchain stuff, we went to conferences and we talked to everybody that we could talk to. And it was hard, we got a ton of nos in the beginning. You’re talking to people, you’re trying to get them to use your product, you think it’s amazing and everyone is like, I don’t care. You’ve really got to be okay with getting those nos and just getting the user feedback that you can at the time. So if you are getting nos, just know that’s part of the path to finding product market fit. That is totally 100% okay, and the important thing is pushing through that and eventually figuring out what people want.

And that was what we did. And there’s always a bit of, hindsight is 20/20 or whatever, but that’s what worked for us.

 

Navin Chaddha:

Thanks for being so candid, because I always believe there’s no overnight success, building startups is really like running a marathon. So this is how you found product market fit. What about the culture of the company and the values, because that’s really important too? You guys have been really nimble, and I know there aren’t that many people for a $10 billion company. How many employees, last year you were like 20 before the round, and now you are what?

 

Joe Lau:

60ish.

 

Navin Chaddha:

60ish. So you are a really, really, really nimble company. And so what kind of a culture and values did you end up setting? Because not only do you need product market fit for your customers, you also need product market fit for your employees. So what was that process like?

 

Joe Lau:

Yeah, that’s a really good question. I really like what you said at the end there, finding product market fit for your team. I think a lot of people think that your company is the product you build, or your customers, or your users, and that is to some extent true, but the product you’re really building is your team. The people that you have and your ability to work together, that’s what everything stems from.

So that’s something we’ve been really careful about. We’re an incredibly small team for our size and for our impact today. And one of the reasons we’ve been able to do that, is because we’ve been super focused on making sure we find the right people. Something that’s worked really well for us is actually hiring people who have started startups in the past or former founders or people who have spent time at a startup, because they just move at a different pace and they think about things differently.

I’ve spent some time at Google, so I feel like I can say this. When you’re at Google, everything’s kind of handed to you on a silver platter – you’re working on this small thing, and whether it succeeds or fails, like oh, it doesn’t really matter. But people who have tried to start a company before and gone through that journey and really had to hustle and get nos, we find that they’re really the ones that push the company forward. They spot when improvements have to be made, and they make them and they go through walls and don’t stop at anything. That’s the thing that’s really been impactful for us.

So when we raised our C, this was last year, we were about 27 people, we had 20 or 22 former founders, it’s a very, very high density of people who’d done startups before or had been at startups before. And that’s been one way we’ve been able to keep our culture of ownership and of velocity.

 

Navin Chaddha:

That’s awesome. So a lot of times when startups get founded, they either go after an established market and you have a faster, better, cheaper product, or they go after an emerging market, what is often called a blue ocean opportunity. So what were the lessons, if any, in navigating a new market? Because when you started the term Web3 wasn’t coined, so if somebody asked you what’s the market size for a platform company, it was probably at zero. So how do you end up navigating this?

Because, this is what I see with founders, and VCs have to believe in it, but a lot of startups try to go after blue ocean opportunities and the blue ocean opportunity only pans out for less than 1% of them. So how does one navigate this? You talked about product market fit, but any learnings on navigating emerging markets?

Joe Lau:

Yeah, that’s a fantastic question. And I think one thing is, in the very beginning, in a lot of cases, the blue ocean is more of a blue pond at first. When we first started on our blockchain journey, Nikil and I were raising one of our first rounds and when you’re talking to investors, you want your TAM to be as big as possible. So we’re using the most crazy estimations of how many people, how many teams were in the space, and how much they pay. I think we got to 10 million for a total TAM, which if you’ve ever made a slide deck, is not an inspiring TAM. And we were like, how do we make this figure?

So I think at the very beginning, emerging markets are going to look super small. The numbers aren’t going to show at all, you have to have a thesis or you have to have some reason. For us, that reason was a couple of things. One, we saw the growth was really fast. The second thing is, we saw something that I always think is a leading indicator for real technological progress, and that is we saw a lot of our smartest friends and coworkers jumping into the space on their nights and evenings, and some of them eventually even in their day jobs. And that’s always a leading indicator, because you have to have the builders before you see any progress. But we started to see an acceleration of that, started to see that excitement, and thought, hey, maybe there’s something really interesting here.

And I think if you’re going after an emerging market, you have to be okay with not having the guarantee that the market’s always going to be there, which again, stepping back is totally fine. It’s either going to be, there is no big untapped market, there’s either a small untapped market or there’s a big market with competition, that’s just kind of how it works, so pick your poison.

If you go after the small untapped market, hoping that it’ll grow, I think one really important thing is, it changes quickly and you have to be talking to users even more, because user needs are changing all the time. So again, in the very, very beginning, every single one of our customers would have a direct chat with us. We didn’t have customer support people, we had engineers actually on the phone and on chats with people. So we could constantly get that iteration cycle, because when customers ask for help, one, they’re asking for help, but two, they’re actually telling you what to build and they’re telling you what problems they want solved. A lot of companies will have customer support or someone else handle that. And what actually happens is that the most valuable product feedback never actually makes it back to the product team, and it never actually gets built back into the product. So that’s something that was really helpful for us.

And I think at a high level, I’d say – be okay with it being a blue pond in the beginning, but at least have a thesis for why you think it’ll eventually be a blue ocean, and then figure out how to stay on top of that wave and learn from users as quickly as possible, because the space will change really quickly. And for those who know blockchain, the blockchain space has radically changed in the last couple years, and the only reason we were able to keep up was because we’re always talking to the users every day.

Navin Chaddha:

And they still have your phone numbers?

Joe Lau:

Luckily not now.

Navin Chaddha:

Now there are bots they talk to?

Joe Lau:

Now they have my coworkers’ phone numbers. Actually, a bunch of them still have my phone number, and still with a lot of customers, we’re like hey, hit us up if you have any problems at all, and we’re here, one, not just to serve you, but also to learn for ourselves.

Navin Chaddha:

This has all been how you guys found product market fit, how the valuation kept increasing, but things never go perfectly – startups are all about ups and downs and you learn more when things don’t work out. So what were the hard times and how did you guys navigate them? Was it your prior startup that you learned from, or do you have any lessons for people in the room?

Joe Lau:

Great question. I mean, all of it was hard. And you’ll get different flavors of hard over time, but starting a startup is probably going to be one of the hardest things that you do, at least it’s one of the hardest things that I’ve done. And some of the hard times, I mean, we worked a lot, we worked all the time. One thing we used to do that was more impressive pre-COVID was, we would have weeks where we would never leave the apartment. We would order Chipotle for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My co-founder and I lived together, so we’d stay in a loft and we’d just code there. And that’s the amount of hard work that it takes sometimes to move fast and try to build what you want to build. Again, post COVID, everyone does that now, it’s not as impressive, but there was a time where that was impressive.

Also, there were times where a bunch of people left the company, and that was really hard. And we would think about, was there something that I could have done better? My co-founder and I, are we not good enough? You have all these thoughts, and I think you just have to understand that’s going to be part of the journey for any of this. And if you look at any great athlete or any great company or any successful company, they all go through hard times. I don’t think there’s an exception in that, I think everyone faces challenges. And you just have to remember that when you go through those challenges, that’s part of the journey.

But I will say, when we were going through those challenges, I wasn’t thinking this – I was thinking like, oh crap, what’s going on and how do we get through this? But I think in retrospect, you look back on it and you see that that’s part of the path.

Navin Chaddha:

Yeah, I think persistence and perseverance just do magic for startups and founders. So you briefly touched on you and your co-founder living together, working together, TA-ing together for a 100 student class that became 150,000 student class – anything we can learn? How do you choose a co-founder, how do you work with one another, because you’re not going to agree all the time? And it seems for you guys, this has been a great working relationship and a great partnership, and I feel you guys complete each other’s words, and if one is there, he’s always talking about the other, and you still make joint decisions.

So anything we can learn about how do you pick a co-founder, how do you work together, and then how do you make tough decisions?

Joe Lau:

Yeah. I mean, the first thing is, get a co-founder. Who in here is a solo founder? All right. We’ve got some solo founders, all the more respect to you. For us, what we found is, it is tough being a solo founder. I think when you have someone who’s right there with you and there through the ups and the downs, what happens is you’ll end up balancing each other out. Sometimes he’ll be having a good day, I’ll be having a bad day and my co-founder will help push us forward and vice versa. I think you have that like self equalizing and self-regulation mechanism that’s really, really helpful. Honestly, my co-founder is awesome. I think working with my co-founder has been one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made, especially when it comes to the company, I know he’d feel the same way. So that’s the first thing I’d say, is highly, highly recommend, if that’s something that you’re thinking about and you’re not sure.

The second thing I’d say is, I think we got really lucky. I think you want to take your time picking an awesome co-founder. My co-founder and I are friends, so we met in school. We lived together for five plus years, for those five years, I saw him more than my girlfriend, now fiance – we were practically married. And to your point, there are going to be hard times. There are going to be times when people leave, there are going to be times where you disagree. I think we’ve been really lucky in that we’ve never had a fight, we’ve never had a huge disagreement or anything like that.

And I think part of that is because one, we had that base of friendship, and two, we shared a lot of similar values for how we approach the world. And there’s that concept that if you take two smart people and you give them the same information, they’ll generally reach the same decision. And people’s decision making processes are based on biases and priors and other things, but if you give people the same information, a lot of times you can reach an agreement, and that’s something that we’ve always lived by. I think that’s at least what’s worked out for us.

Navin Chaddha:

No, that’s great. I have a bunch of other questions I can go through, but I see we have roughly 10 minutes, can we start taking some audience questions?

TechCrunch Moderator:

First one is, how do you see orgs like Google and Facebook competing or building within Web3?

Joe Lau:

That’s a great question. I think the first thing is, these companies are thinking about it. It’s early stages, I think basically these companies are trying to figure it out, but they’re not 100% sure yet. If you’re a startup in Web3, I think the advantage that you have and the advantage that we have is, we can move a lot faster. The Facebooks and the Googles of the world are huge machines, and they’re powerful machines, but they take time to turn. And in startup land, the big don’t eat the small, the fast eat the slow, so it’s all about moving as fast as you can.

So when you think about competing against big companies, move faster, talk to users, be close to the ground, be understanding of what users want, and just outwork them. The people at Google and at Facebook, I’m not trying to talk bad about Google or Facebook, but like, it’s a cushy lifestyle.

Navin Chaddha:

I think my take is big companies entering a startup market is actually great for startups, it just validates that there is a market. And remember, they’re in a thousand businesses and you are in one, there’s nothing better. They’re going to spend marketing dollars, they’re going to make the market aware, the customers aware, so just go execute, put your head down. There’s validation that there is a pot of gold and $100 billion opportunity, that’s why those trillion dollar companies are waking up. So it’s a plus sign when you see those companies coming after your market.

TechCrunch Moderator:

Excellent. Which segments are you noticing are spearheading moving to Web3? What themes or problems are your clients solving?

Joe Lau:

I’m curious what you’re seeing in Web3, Navin?

Navin Chaddha:

What I would say is, the kind of thing that we are seeing is a lot of the gaming stuff is moving there. The whole concept where, if I’m creating value for you as a company, I need to get paid, I need to get some value. And that’s a concept which is not just going to happen in gaming, it’s going to happen in media, it’s going to happen in entertainment, because hey, the advertisers came for me, but I didn’t make money. All the money got made by these centralized platforms, how’s that fair? So the world is essentially going to change.

And then there’s a lot of enterprise applications there, security, trust, and those kinds of things, especially in supply chain, we are beginning to see a mass, mass movement to Web3.

So I would say consumer apps, users, if they’re getting somebody’s attention and engagement, they need to get paid, because it’s my data. On TechCrunch, you can go see when an ad appears, they say, hey, do you want to get it personalized? So that’s what we are moving towards with Web3 – a personalized internet, a decentralized internet.

These are the startups that pitch to us, but what’s the reality on the ground with things that are being built on Alchemy

Joe Lau:

Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. A big part of what we’re seeing are open platforms, exactly like you’re saying. So you use Twitter today, you generate content, Twitter is really the collection of tweets that people generate, but you get paid for that today in retweets and likes. But you could be getting paid real money and ownership in the platform, so how do you design that for Web3? So we see open platforms a lot.

We see a lot around decentralized finance, which is a movement and infrastructure and tools to recreate and improve the financial system, but using open protocols and open rails, rather than closed protocols and rails. We see gaming a lot, and obviously NFTs, probably everyone has heard of NFTs, that’s a big space right now. And I think it’s a really interesting area in that it gives creators a new way to monetize, it moves art, and it creates for the first time, really digital monetizable art.

The last thing that we’re seeing is new methods of coordinating groups of people. So if you guys have heard the term DAO, it’s a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, but basically ways of organizing, coordinating groups of people using financial incentives and stuff like that, but using code and using software. So those are definitely good areas to check out.

TechCrunch Moderator:

How does coin being associated with a blockchain platform accelerate adoption?

Joe Lau:

Yeah, that is a great question. So Alchemy doesn’t have a token, but I know a lot of other companies that have a token associated with their project, or like an L1. I think the thing that I’d say is, it provides a new way to create ownership and then to incentivize engagement. So for example, something like Ethereum, if someone owns Ethereum, they start talking about Ethereum to their friends, when they build a startup, they start thinking about building that startup on Ethereum. Ethereum is an open platform, that’s a digital currency.

So eventually, I think it’s a really powerful way to create inbuilt marketers, and then also create engagement and create owner. Previously, if I’m a driver for Uber, I don’t own Uber, I’m not really an evangelist for Uber, I’m just a user on the platform. But imagine I was an Uber driver and every time I drove someone, I could get a little piece of Uber equity, then all of a sudden, I’m an owner and I’m way more incentivized to evangelize for platforms.

Navin Chaddha:

And people would love it, I’m sure.

Joe Lau:

Yeah.

TechCrunch Moderator:

That’s a great example. What was your first successful hook that was a game changer?

Navin Chaddha:

This is more insertion with your users – was it a feature? I think that’s what the person who asked meant, like what was the hook to get users in?

Joe Lau:

Yeah, it’s a good question. So different things for Alchemy what it is today and for the early stage consumer social stuff. I’d say early stage doing social stuff, really important to get the viral loop right. One thing that we did was, we refined our viral invite mechanism, and probably the most important thing is, we made sure the people that would get invited to the application were the people that would get the most value. Not just anybody, but the people who already had friends on the app, because when they joined they’d instantly activate and become users and you wouldn’t have this dead pool of users waiting around. So that was on the consumer social side.

On the blockchain side, I’d say just really clearly figuring out what the needs for users are and being laser focused on that. So the thing that we realized early on, was that people wanted reliable infrastructure and they didn’t have reliable infrastructure. And that was the most important thing, so we focused really hard on that. And when we would talk to users, that was everything that we’d focus on, and that was ultimately how we got our very first users.

TechCrunch Moderator:

Awesome. Tell us more about talent acquisition strategy, and in-house versus outsourced development strategy?

Joe Lau:

Good question, those are big words. Well, what I’m hearing is basically, how do you hire, how do you think about scaling out the team, and then how do you think about insourcing versus outsourcing? At a high level, for us, we just hire the best people that we can hire, we do it the old fashioned way right now. We are starting to think about acquisitions, but up until now, it’s just been focused on one, sourcing people that are awesome, two, sourcing from our network. I think that’s the most important thing.

All of you guys probably know amazing people that you’ve worked with before, or that you went to school with, or that you worked with previously. I think out of our first 20 people, maybe half of those people are people that we worked with before or people that we went to school with, and that was how we knew they were good. So use that, that’s a powerful leverage.

Navin Chaddha:

What about distributed teams versus centralized?

Joe Lau:

Great question. So we do things a little differently from a lot of other companies. We’re in person, we have an SF office and we have a New York office, and they’re co-HQs. We tried the remote thing, and I think it works really well for some companies, but we found it actually slowed us down a lot. And we found it was a little harder to have the conversations that you’d want to have, kind of like brainstorming, generative conversations, creative conversations, it is really hard to do that. And people just in general felt isolated from their coworkers and they didn’t have that same level of connection, and we just moved slower.

So for us, we chose to come back to the office, I think that’s played out really well so far. I’d say everyone out there should be pretty thoughtful about whether they want to go full remote or not, and not just embrace it because that’s what other people are doing.

Navin Chaddha:

And what about outsourcing development versus doing it in-house? What’s been your thought process on that?

Joe Lau:

Yeah. So for us, it’s been all in-house right now. We are a technology company, and for us, our edge is the technology, so we build it all ourselves. I think maybe once you get bigger, you could try something like outsourcing, but if technology is your core competency-

Navin Chaddha:

For a tech company, it’s not like outsourcing manufacturing. If you’re a software company, you need to build software. 

I think we have less than a minute to wrap up things. 

TechCrunch Moderator:

Can you describe the help you received from your VC beyond the money?

Joe Lau:

Oh, speed run. I mean, Navin’s been an investor since the Series A, a long time. I think the most valuable thing you’ll get from any investor is them supporting you through the ups and downs. And when you look for investors, look for people that will back you and support you as a founder, or support you as a company. There are a lot of people out there who just see people as part of their portfolio. But I think we’ve been really fortunate to have people like Navin who will back you, who see the entire journey and will be with you all along the way, and I think that’s the most important thing.

Navin Chaddha:

Great. I think we are almost out of time.

TechCrunch Moderator:

That was an awesome session, thank you so much.

Navin Chaddha:

Thank you.

TechCrunch Moderator:

Give it up ladies and gentlemen.

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