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In a world that seems almost fully-focussed on online and digital marketing, it may come as a surprise to some that physical means are still used to grow companies and for them to become known. PostcardMania is a very successful company in this line of work, using direct mail marketing to help their clients get the word out on their offers. They are a really great example of how older techniques and styles of marketing can still work in a contemporary context. The company was founded 21 years ago by Joy Gendusa, who we are so happy to welcome to the show today. They mostly serve small businesses and are up to about 60 million in revenue this year! Their pricing model is competitive but not comparatively cheap, and Joy explains how she pegs this. We talk about the history of the company and the organic growth that Joy has experienced over the last decades. She opens up about her target audience and the ways that have provided her with the biggest opportunities to scale and grow her team. Joy credits a lot of her success to her team, believing she leads a group of superheroes! We discuss their company culture, important practices and some of the perks and facilities at the office. So for all of this great stuff and to learn about a slightly different model for marketing, be sure to listen in!


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Sameer Patel
Hey everyone! In today’s episode, I share the mic with Sameer Patel, CEO of Kahuna. Kahuna is a customer engagement platform that operates in some of the largest markets in the world.
Tune in to hear Sameer share how Kahuna was named one of 2017’s Best Places to Work by The San Francisco Business Times, how he focuses heavily on company culture, and why narrowing your focus, but expanding your offerings, is the key to success.

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Why Marketers Shouldn’t Have Knee Jerk Reactions

Knee jerk reactions.

Whenever there’s a new work movement, like the remote work movement, tech people will jump onto it. A couple years ago, when I first got into tech, it was holacracy, or self-management in the workplace. Doing away with hierarchical structure and layered management sounded great on paper, so everyone in tech latched onto this movement.

Flat structures work well for some companies. Look at Valve, the game studio that made games like Half-Life and is now managing Steam. They self manage really well. It’s a developer-focused company that has both a flat structure and a remote work environment.

Then there’s Automattic, the creators of WordPress. Their team is almost completely remote.


GitHub has over 400 employees and they’re largely remote, too.

This shift towards a flat management structure was happening at Treehouse, too. We were removing layers of management and titles, and a full 60% of our team was remote when I was there. Most of our team was engineering and developers, so the flat management structure and remote work environment worked well for us. Our marketing team of about 7-8 people had video producers in the office, but that was it.

But this caused a lot of confusion. Without titles, who do you report to? Who’s your boss? How do you manage your goals?

Examine the Status Quo Before Reacting to It

The reason I bring this up is because a lot of companies outside of tech have tried to switch to the whole no-manager model. Treehouse tried to do that. Buffer tried to do that. Zappos also did it…though now they’re reverting back.

A lot of these companies are shifting back towards more traditional management and work environment paradigms because, quite frankly, they still work really well. The whole concept of the 40-hour work week, for example, has been optimized fairly well.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t question the status quo. You definitely want to ask “why” all the time. But I think when you question the way of things, you first have to ask yourself, “Why are these things the way they are?” before making knee jerk reactions based on your assumptions.

How Knee Jerk Reactions Almost Derailed Single Grain

For example, when I first came to Single Grain, almost all of our team was in San Francisco. I was working remotely out of Santa Monica and I said, “Hey, since I just came from Treehouse, why don’t we make the whole thing remote, because remote’s the new thing to do.” It was the new fad.


I didn’t stop and consider what kind of effect that would have on the company. Eliminating the office and having everyone work from home all of a sudden was the same as eliminating our culture. People knew each other in the office. I totally didn’t take that into consideration, and that was bad. My decision basically took away the culture and I made all of these sweeping changes without thinking things through.

I was operating 100% on knee jerk reactions.

Related Content: Ultimate Guide to Building a World Class Team

But if you’re going to make these big, sweeping changes, you need to stop and think deeply about the status quo.

In retrospect, despite my stint with flat structures, I think managers ultimately do make sense. Quite frankly, most companies literally would not function without management. Some companies can pull it off due to their hiring practices and remote culture, but they started out that way very intentionally and scaled up.

You need to question what’s happening around you. But you don’t want to react too quickly. Just because someone says something’s great or there’s this new trend doesn’t mean you should jump on it immediately.

Knee Jerk Reactions to the Four-Day Workweek

As a marketer, I’m always looking at the new stuff that’s happening and I want to run marketing experiments all day long.

But when you look at a business as a living, breathing entity, you realize that there are real people involved. You affect people’s lives with every big decision you make, and if you can’t be a change agent then there’s going to be a lot of resistance. And wherever there’s resistance, the company suffers as a whole.

At Treehouse, we had the whole concept of four-day workweeks. That might have been a knee jerk reaction on their part. Recently, Treehouse had to do away with the four-day workweek. It just didn’t work anymore.

To be perfectly honest, when I was there, we were struggling and we were about to run out of cash. I was only there for a month or two when the CEO said, “Hey, if we don’t hit numbers this month, we’re going to have to let you go.” I was working seven days a week to make things happen.

Related Content: The Definitive Guide to Building a Remote Team

Always Think Through Your Decisions

Moral of the story? Sometimes things sound good on paper. But you have to know what kind of repercussions there are.

For example, though the average Treehouse employee loved the four-day workweek, we were still being very ambitious. As the marketing team leader, I actually ended up working longer to hit our goals because everyone else was working less. If my entire team had to start working seven days a week while everyone else was working four days a week, that friction would have boiled up to the surface really quickly.

You don’t want to have to worry about these things. It’s better for you to just focus your team on doing real work that actually makes an impact and moves the needle.

My point is, always think through your decisions. Don’t make the same mistakes that I’ve made, or that Treehouse and all these other companies made because of knee jerk reactions to unproven trends. Always be smart about what you do, because that has an impact on everyone else who works for you.

This post was adapted from Eric’s Facebook Live videos: Growth 90 – DAILY live broadcasts with Eric Siu on marketing and entrepreneurship. Watch the video version of this post:

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anand photoHey everyone, today’s interview is with CEO and Co-Founder of CB Insights, Anand Sanwal. CB Insights helps you track the world’s most promising private companies, their investors, and their acquirers to help you innovate faster and invest smarter.

How 1989’s UX Inspired CB Insights

Anand started CB Insights six years ago after working in venture capital and for American Express.

While working at American Express, he had to use old school data tools that charged a fair amount of money for a mediocre experience, and the data wasn’t that impressive.

It was so ‘mediocre’ that he says the UI & UX was out of 1989.

Anand always wanted to do his own thing, so he and a few others left their jobs to build the tools they wished they had to track and uncover data. So instead of having to call people to ask them about the deals they did, they created a machine learning software that aggregated publicly available information faster and more comprehensively than anything they’d used before.

How CB Insights Helps It’s Customers

In venture capital, Anand says you can read 15 different newsletters like TechCrunch and VentureBeat to aggregate data for yourself, or you can have CB Insights collect it all for you.

For example, if you’re interested in Silicon Valley-based mobile companies in the early stages, you can build a feed that’ll push all the deal details to you as and when the deals happen.

So instead of spending 80% of your working hours gathering data and doing manual work, you kill all the low-value effort and cant start doing interesting things with the information you have.

CB Insight’s Content Marketing Strategy

Content has definitely been their golden goose, says Anand.

But it was necessary… they were a revenue-funded company who didn’t raise money.

They saw the internet was full of a lot of venture capital political commentary, but there was very little data amongst those opinions. Once they saw no one was providing the data to back up their opinions, they started to provide insights by doing data-ridden research briefs on hot topics.

The hardest thing about it has been staying consistent with their publishing, but they now put out around 15-20 pieces of content per week.

The biggest thing, says Anand, no matter what type of content you put out (longer form or more snackable pieces) is to figure out what’s trending and interesting to the market and applying their data to create something interesting.

Beyond that, rather than paying attention to things like page views or numbers of tweets, the only metric CB Insights cares about is the number of signups they get. Nowadays, they get around 1,000 trial signups per month just from their content… not counting landing pages or other types of lead generation they do.

Business Revenue Numbers

In 2013, CB Insights was profitable into the low seven figures.

In 2014, they grew by a little more than 200%.

This year, in 2015, Anand expects it to grow by another 125% to reach the high seven-figure, low eight-figure range.

How Media Outreach Drives Customer Acquisition

CB Insights have established themselves as the go-to place for media that’s looking for the type of data can provide.

They provide the data free of charge, and so far this year, they’ve had 700 different articles citing them, including the Economist, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal.

They treat their media contacts like their customers, and give them whatever kind of data they want, even though they don’t pay for it.

In the beginning, they had a journalist database of about 20 people, but now that number’s getting close to 800.

To get there, especially in the beginning, they went to Google News to search for all the terms they thought were relevant (anyone covering VC, for example), put them in a spreadsheet, and shared a report about VC trends with them.

The Key Mistakes He’s Made as CEO

Anand says the biggest mistake he’s made is around company culture.

He used to write off all the company culture advice as just propaganda, and thought it was something big companies did to brainwash people into feeling like they were doing something meaningful.

When you’re small, he says, everyone knows the culture. But when you get to 25+ people, the new members haven’t seen you in those small times, so you need to instill your values in them.

He says that for them, nailing the onboarding process has been important. For example, you can’t just assume that smart business development professionals will figure things out. You need to have scripts and processes to help them feel more successful at their jobs and so they don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.

Another thing they’ve done for new hires is to set up a MailChimp drip. So rather than getting 50 emails on day one about what to do and who to meet, they get these emails spread out over their first two weeks in the company.

And as you get bigger, he says, over-communicating becomes important. Not everyone knows what’s going on automatically, so monthly reviews where everything is transparent are very important.

Reaching the Brink of Failure: No Outside Funding

CB Insights decided not to do any outside funding, so in the beginning, before their product launch, they were doing anything to make money, including selling research totally unrelated to CB Insights to hedge funds about the credit card industry.

But when they left to start their own company, they naively thought it would be easy to sell this information. But when they reached out to everyone they knew and no one wanted what they had to offer.

Finally in February 2009, they still hadn’t sold any of their research, but they somehow needed the funding to actually build CB Insights.

Thankfully, they got lucky because the general stock market kept going down, credit cards became a big deal, and the hedge fund guys started worrying about it. Finally they started selling their research and generating revenue…. they were within weeks of going bankrupt.

They were definitely in the right place at the right time, because for the following 16 to 18 months, they were the only ones in the market selling credit card research.

Advice to His 25-Year-Old Self

“Things work out the way they’re supposed to work out.”

At 25, Anand says he was in a rush to be an entrepreneur, even though he didn’t reach that goal until his early 30s. But it turned out that waiting to start his own business really worked for him, because a lot of what he learned while working at American Express was super helpful.

Daily Structure

Anand divides his day into three basic chunks:

  1. Morning: time-sensitive work like sending proposals out to clients and responding to prospective clients.
  2. Afternoon: strategic work like spending time thinking about and acting on experiments with the content team or the product team.
  3. Evening: less critical work like responding to calls and non-pressing emails.

Advice on Closing Six-Figure Deals

Anand says that to be successful with closing high-value deals, you have to realize what really motivates people.

At a simplistic level, he says, their customers are motivated by wanting to look good in front of their boss or wanting to get out of work early. (Ideally both.)

So when someone signs up for a free trial, they always ask them what will make it a no-brainer for them to buy into CB Insights, and based on that, they show them completely different capabilities of the product during their trial period.

Hiring Quality Data Scientists

To some degree, says Anand, they’ve been lucky when it comes to hiring data scientists. Their newsletter is growing at around 1,000 per week, so they end up getting a lot of inbound applications, and they’re the perfect place to work for people who like startups, data, and venture capital.

Sometimes though, they also look at individual blogs for people who are working on cool projects and reach out to those individuals.

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ben photoHi everyone, today we’re talking to Ben Congleton, co-founder of Olark, a tool that lets over 10,000 companies chat with their website visitors online. The tool lowers the first-touch communication barrier and helps with sales, prospecting, and funnel optimization. Today Ben’s got some interesting insights on setting up a strong remote work culture and what it was like to start off with just four people in a small town house.

Ben’s Entrepreneurial Background

Ben got his entrepreneurial start as early as elementary school, when he sold pencils to other students.

By the end of middle school, he’d graduated from pencil selling to getting paid for website consulting.

Because of this, he’s never had a paycheck where someone else was paying him to do something that wasn’t attached to the company he was running… which he says has given him a neat perspective on building companies.

Olark’s Numbers

Today, Olark has over 10,000 customers and has facilitated over 52 million chats online… with an average of a little over 63,000 chats per day.

For the most part, companies use Olark in one of three ways:

  1. To talk to sales leads to figure out if they’re good opportunities to move into a sales process.
  2. Helping existing customers within their paid-for platform. (WordPress does this.)
  3. Funnel optimization – meaning you put Olark into your funnel where you see a lot of drop offs to figure out what the problem is and how you should better optimize your funnel.

Olark’s History

In 2007, Ben and some friends had a consulting company together, but they realized that they didn’t really like consulting, so they spent a significant amount of time playing with other ideas.

They would bill their clients $75 per hour and pay themselves $25 per hour, essentially buying themselves two hours of time to spend on side projects for every hour they spent on consulting.

Their first few ideas totally failed, and Olark was only one of many ideas they were playing with.

But, in 2008, Olark reached a point with so many free users that they had to decide if they wanted to kill it or make it a real company because it was taking a lot of time and affecting their consulting business.

So they went through Y Combinator and came out of it in August 2009, in the same batch as MixPanel, Bump, and the first version of Stripe, which failed.

They weren’t one of the hottest companies in their Y Combinator group, but they had a real passion to build something great and weren’t necessarily interested in a quick win. So, when they finished the program, they decided to bootstrap rather than raising money.

Y Combinator gave them $25,000 that they used to pay rent and feed themselves, and they managed to raise $60,000 from friends and family. They used the money only to support themselves, and didn’t give out salaries.

Over the next 1.5 years, they had a daily graph emailed to them that showed them their revenue, and when they crossed one of their goals, they would celebrate with buying things for their house… like a cheap grill from Craigslist.

By living and working together in the same house, they learned a lot about communication styles and resolving conflicts, which made their company very communication-oriented, which is exceedingly important now that they’ve got a remote culture.

The Office + Home Startup Experience

Ben and his three co-founders lived in a small, 700-square-feet three bedroom townhouse.

Each bedroom was large enough to put a mattress on the floor, and the dining room was converted into a curtain-covered bedroom for the fourth member. The living room was nothing more than 4 cheap desks with office chairs that they found on Craigslist.

Every day, they’d roll out of bed, walk downstairs and work. They were too cheap to eat out, but luckily they’d just come out of college and didn’t have any dependants, so living scrappy wasn’t such a big deal for them.

They’d eat, work, eat, work, and then go for a run.

But the good thing was, they were really close to Y Combinator, so they’d take advantage of open office hour slots with Paul Graham any time they had the chance.

And even though the mix of four personalities would drive them crazy sometimes, Ben says it’s rare that everyone would hate the same person at the same time, so there was usually someone there to help break the tension.

Traction Indicators Besides Income

Even though Olark was free to use at first and they weren’t making any money from it, Ben and his co-founders knew they had good traction because they weren’t spending a lot on marketing, but were still getting a lot of signups per day.

People were telling their friends about it, and the graph of active users kept moving up. They had 2,000 users before they launched their paid version.

The Levers to Reach 10,000 Users

The one thing Ben thinks that was most important to sustaining their growth and not having high churn is investing a lot in customer service. By rotating everyone in the company on customer service, Ben says it’s aligned the entire company around providing an amazing service to their customers.

Other levers include having a link back to Olark in every chat box, being very popular amongst startups who like to blog about the results they get from the different tools they use, and partnering with Shopify.

Strong Remote Culture & Core Values

Ben says their strong remote work culture ties back to their core values, which create an acronym to spell CHAMPS:

To help the remote team feel even more connected around these values, they have a weekly team sync, where they open a Google Doc for kudos, and everyone on the team can make thank-you statements for other team members.

They also structured their company to be remote first… so even in their location-based offices, most of their communication happens over HipChat, and the office is basically silent. This way, the remote workers aren’t seen as second-class citizens.

The Company Retreat

When you have a location-based office, says Ben, you automatically have a way that co-workers can hang out and meet each other’s families.

But when you’re remote, and most people are working from home, you’re really recruiting the whole family, since being at home physically without being there mentally can cause some tensions.

So in order to humanize Olark to both their employees, their significant others, and their children, they do a yearly, one-week company retreat, with all travel and hotel expenses paid for the employees and their families.

The retreat starts on a Saturday, and the first two days are fun, group activities… kind of like an Olark family reunion.

On Monday and Tuesday during business hours, they hold an un-conference with their employees, and let individual teams get together for the rest of the week working on things that are easier to do in-person rather than remotely.

The guests, on the other hand, get to hang out with other significant others and children. There’s a lot of people around, so it’s usually pretty fun.

Advice to His 25 Year-Old Self

“Understanding and mastering self-awareness is something you don’t understand yet, but it’s something you should take very seriously. It will help you be so much more powerful.”

“The better you understand yourself, the more you can control your happiness.”

“Having really good self-awareness sort of gives you superpowers.”

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danny robinson photoHi everyone, today we’re talking to Danny Robinson, the CEO of Perch. Perch is a great tool that helps you connect offices and remote workers to bring everyone in your company closer as a team.

Danny’s got some interesting insights into customer service, creating a great product, and talks about how they’ve been able to keep churn at 0% for at least four months.

A Personal History of Tech Entrepreneurship

Danny’s been working as a tech entrepreneur for the past 15 years, during which he started four internet companies, a tech accelerator, and a government organization focused on helping entrepreneurs and startups.

Talk about being busy.

Perch, his latest company, is an always-on video window (set up via an iPad) that connects work spaces to help remote teams feel more connected to each other so companies can have a stronger corporate culture.

They’re tapping into the trend of helping people feel like they’re there with their team even when they aren’t… and helps subside the fear of missing out.

Doubling Their Customer Base in One Month

In the past month, says Danny, they’ve more than doubled their number of companies they serve, and are pushing up to 400 companies using Perch on a daily basis.

It’s taken a lot of techniques to get to that point – but mostly word of mouth.

How They Overcome the Big Brother Worries

Sometimes, people can be resistant to using a tool like Perch, for a number of reasons – including the creepy big brother feeling they’d rather not deal with.

But Perch takes care to subside all of these carefully within their service and software design:

  1. Their technology is polite.
  2. They play audio cues when someone arrives.
  3. No rear camera spying.
  4. If I can see you, you can see me.
  5. Installed on a team wall or near the water cooler.

Cool Customers

There’s lots of cool in-company success stories… some Danny’s allowed to talk about and some not.

They service cool workplaces like TripAdvisor and Slack, who use Perch in their kitchens.

User Acquisition: The Exact ‘Word of Mouth’ Pieces That Doubled Their Customer Base in One Month

Danny says they do a lot of heads-down iteration on their product and the user experience. They make sure they cover all the bases to make people feel connected to their team, while keeping their privacy in their control.

It’s a tough thing to balance out, but Danny says he feels like they’ve really nailed it in the past few months.

Getting publicity hasn’t hurt, either.

Noah Kagan of AppSumo lists it in his top 10 tools, and mentioned Perch on the Tim Ferriss podcast… which generated quite a bit of traffic for them.

Another bit of press came from Gartner, who name them one of their top five cool vendors, without any payment or solicitation from Perch.

A lot of companies pay tens of thousands of dollars to PR firms to get Gartner to mention them in anything, but since Perch is the only company in the market doing the kind of work they do, Gartner considers them the only company in that space that they know of.

Unfortunately, traffic coming in to an iOS app isn’t always easy to track, so it’s hard for them to tell exactly how much success to allot to their publicity in contrast to their own marketing efforts.

How They Over-Service Companies

One thing Perch likes to do is to pick a cross-section of companies that either absolutely love and adore their product or are having some problems with it.

They take a few companies from each of these groups and over-service them to really understand how they use the app, which makes the data they gather much more real, believable, repeatable, and scalable.

Over the last few months that they’ve been doing it, they’ve been able to better tell what people want to get out of the app and how to deliver it.

Over-servicing involves doing direct, never automated emails, getting on Perch with them, having in-person face-to-face conversations, or sending small gifts as a way of saying thanks.

Vancouver’s Startup Scene

According to Danny, the tech scene in Vancouver (where Perch is based) is very small, just like any other non-valley suburb. But, though it’s small, it is very vibrant with a lot of people starting a lot of great companies.

People choose Vancouver a lot for lifestyle reasons, and it’s part of why Perch is built – to be able to be remote without having the downsides of remote teams.

Advice on Finding a Mentor

Danny advises that to find a mentor, attend every event you get invited to, talk to people, and be as extroverted as possible… and to constantly pitch your idea until you find people who really like it.

Sometimes mentors give good advice, he says, but the real value comes with the credibility you get by being associated with them. For example, if you’ve got a high-end person on your advisory board, you carry a lot of weight when you get the opportunity to say so.

Big Struggles With Growing Perch

Danny says they’re still facing a ton of troubles, especially since the particular work they do faces more friction than most.

There’s some very real natural barriers he says, but the value provided is so high. So high, in fact, that they’ve had 0% churn for at least the past four months.

Advice to His 25-Year-Old Self

“For your first company, do a quick exit.”

Danny says it’s his tendency even when he has the opportunity to exit one of his companies for a lot of money, to hang on in hopes for a big win. But he still hasn’t gotten the big win yet.

Productivity Hack

Danny says he doesn’t think of work and his lifestyle as two separate things.

He does them both, 24/7.

Even if he goes out to do something fun, he still has his phone with him, and he doesn’t mind that.

He creates his work-life balance on an hourly basis rather than a daily one.

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nanxi liu photoHi everyone, today we’re talking to Nanxi Liu, co-founder and CEO of Enplug, which is a cool software that helps businesses manage real-time, connected digital displays – sort of like a Chromecast for enterprise.

She’s worked hard to established a really tight-knit company culture and has some insights on hiring and workplace activities that are worth learning about and implementing.

Experimenting with Entrepreneurship in College

Nanxi Liu just graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 – a mere three years ago.

When she started in 2008, she thought she wanted to get into law, but she started building small gadgets in her freshman year with her engineering classmates and thought that instead of letting gadgets die with the school assignments, she should try to make some money off of them.

The first thing she built after this realization only took her and her classmates one weekend to complete got $10,000 from the university. After that, she realized she could probably make more money with little side projects than a typical job, so she latched onto this type of entrepreneurship and kept at it.

Lots of projects failed, but in her sophomore year, she built a biomedical device company with a couple of her friends from high school. Her senior year, she started Nanoly Bioscience after meeting her co-founder at a bar and learning he was a famous biochemist.  She served as the company’s CEO while she finished her degree, and it’s still going strong today.

Right before she graduated, she met her co-founders for Enplug. There were five of them in total and they didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do, but they thought they’d be able to do something cool with their combined brain power.

Enplug’s Growth

Even though Enplug started out making sales by going door-to-door to restaurants offering free TV installation in exchange for purchasing their software, they’ve gone through a few alterations and have a product so good that 90% of their leads come via inbound means.

Since they’re so reputable, they don’t have to worry about making small sales and offering free display installation in exchange – they can simply go after companies that already have big networks of displays and sell them $99/month licenses.

They’ve got over 300 paying companies from around the world, including Nigeria, Australia, Japan and Slovakia, and they’re most commonly found in stadiums, gyms, and shopping malls.

What it’s Like Running a Company with FIVE Co-Founders

Even though one co-founder is no longer with Enplug, having four captains of the ship is something that could get hectic if you’re not careful – most startup experts would recommend two co-founders at most.

But Nanxi said she thinks having so many people on board was actually what made them so successful. It took so many pieces coming together to build their business that they needed five fully dedicated people at the beginning.

Enplug on the Brink of Failure Meant a Revamped Hiring Process

Nancy says she’s the type of person who believes that if you don’t want something to fail, you won’t let it – you’ll work for it.

But that being said, a year into their business, they made a hire that wasn’t a good fit and could have destroyed their culture.

From that, they learned that instead of having just one co-founder interview a person, any new candidate had to be interviewed by all four of them.

Further, they’ve changed the process from Nanxi simply posting the job descriptions online herself to having a Director of HR & Culture who focusses on bringing new teammates on and making existing teammates really happy.

Company Activities & Teammates vs. Employees

Enplug has such a tight-knit, family-like company culture, that about 1/3 of them live in a house together.

For the ones that don’t live in the house, they do a lot of team activities together like rock climbing, ski trips, beach trips, and attending each others’ weddings.

Nancy always refers to people who work for Enplug as ‘teammates’ rather than ’employees’ because she and he co-founders feel that people who put the team first before themselves are the kind of workers they want at Enplug.

They recognize that success doesn’t come from one person. And when they’re interviewing people, they always want to know what type of team sports or efforts they’ve been a part of in the past to get an idea of their team mentality.

Being a Young Female CEO

As a woman in the tech startup world, Nanxi says there’s a lot of underlying psychological things you have to deal with and that it’s important to be tenacious.

For example, she says it’s important for young women in tech to know that they’ll have less time to make an impression than their male counterparts, and she notices that even though she’s the CEO, interviewees make eye contact more with her co-founders (who are all male) than her.

On the other hand, she says she’s got some amazing opportunities from her position.

She gave an example of sitting on a panel next to the Prime Minister of Italy, the Prime Minister of Finland, the CEO of the New York Times, and the CEO of Chrysler.

And living her life by Jim Rohn’s quote “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” she likes to punch above her weight class and hang out with other female entrepreneurs who are more successful than she is to find mentors and keep growing.

The Biggest Struggle as a New CEO: The 4th Month

According to Nanxi, somewhere between the 3rd to 5th month of operating a new business is a critical moment, especially as the CEO or a founder.

It’s in that time that you hit your first plateau. To boot, people realize they’re running out of savings and are getting poached by other companies.

To keep the momentum going, she says it’s important to have milestones set for beta products and getting investors, so your team doesn’t lose their passion.

Latching Onto Opportunities: How Nanxi Got to Write a Song with a Grammy Winner

“I don’t think it’s healthy to be constantly thinking about your business,” says Nanxi, whose extracurricular activities include the piano, cello, and violin.

In fact, she keeps herself open to opportunities unrelated to her businesses and latches onto them the moment they present themselves.

Recently, she met Pascal Guyon at a dinner, and once she realized who he was, she pulled him aside and said she wanted to write a song with him.

Because she knows that cool people like that get those kinds of offers all the time, she made an effort to set the date. “No, seriously,” she told him, “Next Saturday. What are you doing a week from now? Can we get together?”

The got together in the studio the next week and knocked a song out in four hours.

A Piece of Advice to Your 21-Year-Old Self

“Focus on the cool stuff you’re building. Boys in college don’t matter that much.”

Nanxi’s Idol

Nanxi idolizes Elon Musk because she’s met him a couple of times and thinks he’s fantastic for the way he’s built so many successful companies in very different industries… it’s something she wants to do herself with her biotech company, Enplug, and music.

The female version of Tony Stark? Maybe.

Her Recommended Productivity Hack

Nanxi recommends a tip from Mark Suster’s blog which is to either respond immediately to an email or delete it… don’t leave it sitting to think about it and respond later.

She says that even though she might like to leave an email sit for a couple days so she can write back a really nice response, in business, people appreciate a quick turnaround, even if the message is short.

Two Must-Read Books

For business, Nanxi recommends The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. (And she’s the 20th person on this show to do so.)

For her, it’s one of the most honest books she’s read about building startup. It really shows how difficult it is – and that running a business never really gets any easier, even when you’re out of the bootstrapping days.

For another type of read, she recommends Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.

She likes the book because it’s about the spirit of making things happen. It’s about the fact that in life, you either pursue things or wait for them to come to you – and if you wait for them, they’ll never arrive.

She appreciates the story of the book because she sees parallels of it in her own life. When she was young, her mother only told her stories of successful women like Hilary Clinton, Amelia Earhart, and Condoleezza Rice.

The stories gave her confidence and helped shape her mind to prepare her for her future success at such a young age.

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Today I’m talking about what it’s like to go into a bad situation professionally and take a job that seems like a downgrade, speaking from my own experience.

[spoiler title=’Transcript’ collapse_link=’true’]

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Growth Bites.

Today we are going to be talking about what it’s like to go into a bad situation.

So, this is just really speaking from my experience and some of you may already know that when I came to the startup world, I came from a more stable situation where we have a good product, we have a fantastic team and the only issue was growth. The growth was stagnant for the last two years and so, and all it took was, all I had to do was really come in and pull a few growth levels and work with my team and they help me execute. So, resources were there. Everything was there too. Just to make things happen and that was great. So, growing a company, the experience was there already. But going into a different situation where the taking over a company like Single Grain, where Google is fundamentally shifting its business model and some people were just no longer a fit. That’s when you have to ask yourself, is it really worth it when you come from a good situation already, where things are going momentously, swinging the right way? Do you really want to go into a situation that’s worse and can potentially be a lot, a lot worse than it already is? That’s something you have to ask yourself.

You’re not going to get many opportunities like, to go into a company where they expect you to “save it”. Fortunately, that was offered to me and I went into a situation where my thinking was that I would be able to learn a lot on the operations side. I just figure out how to turn a company around and fundamentally even change the company completely and that’s pretty much what we did. You look at the company on how it is today, it’s not the same as how it was in the past, where we strictly focus on SEO. So, it’s changed quite a bit. But having them make really tough decisions, you’re going to have to live with that and it might set your back – you’re taking a massive gamble and that’s really what happens. But on the flipside, going into a situation that requires a lot of work that‘s going to pop on your plate, that’s going to be a big growth opportunity. At least, that’s how I saw it. I was willing to take the gamble because I’m more of a gambling guy and I saw the growth opportunity in there. It wasn’t money or anything like that. It was, can you get to the next level and can you prove to yourself that you can “do it?” And that’s what we did. So, that’s what you needed to think about and it’s really, when you go into a company, the culture has been established already and it’s different, it’s difficult to change the tide. We have had situations when I came in where people didn’t like the change. We had anonymous surveys go out and people were, after I came in, people were just like, ‘I don’t have to learn all of these new stuff, why do we have to learn new things, blah, blah, blah. It used to be just all about fun’ and that’s not the way, at least from my perspective, that’s not the way how to run the company. So, just keep in mind, you are going to have your own thoughts, whoever else is on your executive team, whoever else who manage you have a close relationship with. It’s not going to be easy to turn the tide. So, you have to figure out first of all how you are going to position that without really pissing people off. And chances are, you probably are going to piss a lot of people off and people are going to like select themselves out.

Ask yourself what a growth opportunity is and ask yourself if this is the culture you want to be in. And ask yourself, do you think realistically you’ll be able to turn the tide? And sometimes, you are going to set very specific goals as to when do you think you are able to turn the tide and sometimes, you are going to be way off. It takes a lot to fundamentally shift a company from what it was as a business before into a completely new business. So, you have to give yourself time. One year is probably not enough time. Two years might not even be enough. It might take a couple of years to do it and that’s a big time investment and you just have to ask yourself, is the juice worth the squeeze. So, that’s what you should think about.

Most people are going to have to play it safe but if you’re going down on the entrepreneurial route, sometimes it’s worth to take the gamble. But you are going to have to make some gut calls on your side and also, if you can tide some projections as well using numbers like financial statements, that will be helpful too. So, just keep that in mind, whenever opportunities like this pop up, and they will pop up every now and then if you’re kind of up and coming and then people see the merits of what you’re doing.

So, hope that helps.


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A few weeks ago, I took my team out to San Diego to do a workcation there. We started on Saturday and combined it with an internet marketing conference so we knocked out learning and team bonding at the same time.

  1. Team bonding [01:29]
  2. New ideas [02:23]
  3. New learning [03:12]
  4. Rejuvenation [03:48]
  5. Getting everyone on the same page [04:16]
  6. Explore new areas [04:48]

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Today I’m going to tell you how to set up a role scorecard for hiring so you can compare job candidates side-by-side to make the best hiring decision.

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