Nivi · April 23rd, 2013
How much traction do you need to raise $1M? AngelList’s Ash Fontana has the answer on TechCrunch:
We use very little email at AngelList. Most of our communication happens on Yammer, HipChat, Tracker and face-to-face. This probably gets us a 90% reduction in email.
If you’re running your company via email, you’re missing out on newer, more effective communications technologies.
Yammer is our company mailing list
Yammer has nested conversations, search, inline images and likes. It is also our company directory. And they have a mobile app.
We use it for asynchronous communication across the whole company. Most of all, it keeps our company “mailing list” out of email.
Yammer, HipChat and Tracker all have email, mobile and desktop notifications. You don’t need to check them every 5 minutes.
HipChat is for IM
HipChat is an IM app for desktop and mobile. It has inline images, presence, search and a company directory. The (buggy) iPhone app keeps you accessible when you’re out of the office.
It also supports multi-person rooms (we have a room for our engineers) and it has an API that we use to feed other rooms with exceptions, GitHub notifications and deploys.
We use HipChat for synchronous 1-on-1 and group communication.
If you’re using Skype for IM, try HipChat. Alternatives include Yammer, which has rudimentary IM. Or a Facebook group which has a wall and basic IM. But I recommend HipChat.
Tracker is for product specs
We use Tracker to spec out goals and tasks for new features. Each spec has its own todo list, image attachments, comments and status. It’s also easy to re-prioritize features and assign them to different people. Some people prefer Asana or Trello for specs.
Face-to-face is for everything else
The biggest companies weren’t built remotely. Families don’t live remotely. Sports teams don’t train remotely.
Face-to-face is for high bandwidth communication, sub-communication (body language and facial expressions), leaving an impression, new ideas, overhearing other people’s conversations, bonding with your co-workers, whiteboarding, throwing chairs, and everything else you need to say to build a big business.
When we use email
I discourage new team members from using email, but there are a few places where we use it.
First, when we need to communicate with people outside the company.
Second, when we need to have a conversation with an ad hoc group of people inside the company. HipChat is not great for ad hoc groups that only need to discuss a single task like, “how should we negotiate this deal.”
Third is laziness and stupidity (guilty).
Update: There’s an excellent discussion of alternative approaches on Quibb.
Here are screenshots of the mobile apps. They all have desktop apps as well.
Every team member of AngelList is on a 6-year vesting schedule. Including the founders. Why?
Because it takes a long time to build something important. And we want everyone to stick around for a long time.
Because we want people who are here for the mission, not a payday.
Because it sells prospective hires: the team you’re joining isn’t going anywhere.
Does that mean I get more equity?
Everyone asks whether they get more equity to make up for the longer vesting schedule. A good way to think about that is whether we would give smaller grants if new team members were on a 4-year schedule. And the answer to that is ‘yes’.
There are a lot of benefits to getting additional equity now, instead of 4 years from now:
If you’re interested in a 6-year vesting schedule, AngelList is hiring engineers and designers.
The entrepreneurial age will be as important as the industrial age and the information age.
In the industrial and information ages, we learned how to put physics and information to great use. Physics and information were also the basis for an organization’s differentiation and victory.
In the entrepreneurial age, physics and information will be replaced by entrepreneurship: the ability to serve a customer at the highest level of quality and scale, simultaneously. We will learn to put entrepreneurship to great use and it will be the basis for an organization’s differentiation and victory.
This is not a statement that the winners are going to win. It is a statement that (1) the best strategy is to attempt to deliver the highest quality with the highest scale and (2) other types of differentiation should only be tactics that serve an organization’s entrepreneurial capability.
Differentiation is being commoditized
Physics, information, hardware, software, marketing, press, business development, recruiting, training and every damn thing a business needs to do is quickly becoming available as a service. And innovations by one company are quickly made available to its competitors by other entrepreneurs.
It is no longer effective to rely on any type of differentiation—organizations must focus on delivering the best product in the world to as many people as possible. All other activities just help them on their way.
Scale is getting easier
In the past, scale (low cost, high distribution) was so difficult that organizations with bad products and great scale could win. And it was so difficult to scale the very best products that they never left the boutique.
The challenges of scale are now diminishing rapidly. Scale is now available as a service—see Foxconn (manufacturing), AWS (hosting) or Facebook Platform (distribution).
But scale is not being commoditized
Scale is getting easier and other forms of differentiation are being commoditized. But scale will not be commoditized. It is as important as an organization’s product development capabilities.
Why? Because the best products require unique means of scaling. The delivery of the best products is tied into the product itself. For example, look at Apple’s efforts to develop new manufacturing techniques and stores for its products.
If you don’t scale quality, you will be shut out of the marketplace
Today, it’s too easy to spread the word about the best products to leave any room in the marketplace for merely good products.
The organizations with the greatest entrepreneurial capability will collect the most customers and greatest profit. They will also attract the best talent, who will continue to build the best products, with the greatest distribution and highest profits, which will attract the best talent and so on.
It’s not bad enough that the winner is collecting the greatest profits, it’s also collecting the best talent, leaving competitors without the people it needs to stage a comeback.
The industrial and information revolutions are enabling the entrepreneurial revolution
The continuous improvements in our ability to manipulate physics and information are helping us commoditize every capability on the planet.
These improvements enable entrepreneurs to deliver services to other entrepreneurs—and these services are commoditizing every type of differentiation except product development and delivery.
If you’re interested in building a steam engine for the entrepreneurial age, AngelList is always hiring engineers and designers.
For an entrepreneur, if it is possible to make it better, she must make it better. If it is possible to make it more accessible, she must make it more accessible. If it is impossible to make it better or broader, she innovates.
Starting a great Italian restaurant is not entrepreneurship because the proprietors make no attempt to scale it. Running McDonald’s is not entrepreneurship because they make no serious attempt to build a better product. Apple is an entrepreneurial venture because it is in the business of delivering ever-increasing quality at higher scale.
There is no tradeoff between quality and scale
Quality measures how far a product advances the customer. Scale measures how many people use it.
For entrepreneurs, there is no tradeoff between quality and scale. The job is to do both—not one or the other. If it can’t be done, you innovate.
Quality without scale is not entrepreneurship—it is a tree falling in the forest with no one around.
Scale without quality is also not entrepreneurship—it is business as usual. And it leaves businesses exposed to competitors who steal its customers (and, worse, employees).
Anyone who attempts to serve a customer at a new level of quality and scale is an entrepreneur. Anyone who does not, is not.
If you’re interested in helping entrepreneurs never reach the finish line, AngelList is always hiring engineers and designers.
Related: Startups are here to save the world
The AngelList team is roughly organized into 1-(wo)man startups. That means we expect you to treat your project like a startup.
You come up with the idea, do the design, write the code, release it, market it, support customers, collect external and internal feedback and then get to work on the next version. We also expect you to work directly with our business partners like SecondMarket, VC funds and incubators.
We don’t hire people who just want to code
We don’t hire anyone who just wants to be an engineer. Or a designer. Or a product manager. We hire people who want to start their own company—at AngelList and beyond. Many of our team members, including me, have started their own company and failed—others have done quite well.
I would put our engineers up against any startup in the world, but we’re not a good place for someone who wants just wants to code.
And we’re not a good place for people who want to be told what to do. If you sit and wait for instructions, you will fail.
Pull the help you need
Everyone on the team is exceptionally good at one or two things (code, design, product, marketing…). Some of them might be fine at another one. But it falls off quickly after that.
So we expect engineers to pull help from designers (and vice versa). We expect designers to push help on the engineers (and vice versa). We expect teammates to ask the founders for help getting press. To get advice on how to sequence the launch. To ask for a better idea. To ask what’s the most important thing you could be working on right now.
Pull help from whomever is best at X, but don’t let them be a bottleneck. And expect strong feedback from people who are better at X.
Coordination costs go way down
Each person on the team does a ridiculous amount of cross-functional work, so coordination costs go way down. It is pretty easy to coordinate with yourself.
There are less stakeholders on each project, so freedom and happiness go way up. So does responsibility.
Finally, we get the chance to improve the average quality of the team as we hire new people. Instead of hiring teams of decent people who are managed towards a good outcome, we can hire unicorns that actually increase the average quality of the team. And we can create our own unicorns through training.
The product gets messy
We don’t have a consistent design across the entire site. The design is embarrassing in many places. The product is embarrassing in places. The code is rough in places. The site isn’t fast.
We mitigate this by having very high standards–so our standard for embarrassing is another company’s standard for good. We mitigate this by solving very hard problems for our users, so they cut us lots of slack. We mitigate this by being fast instead of consistent or perfect. And we mitigate this with internal startups who serve our team members with design, engineering, refactoring, etc.
It’s a great way to recruit
Every candidate loves to hear that they will get the opportunity to be a 1-(wo)man startup. It lets us hire past and future entrepreneurs.
A new team member isn’t going to take over one of our top-line metrics on her first day. She will start small but nobody is going to stop excellence from shining through.
This won’t work if you don’t give the team freedom and responsibility. So read this: Ask forgiveness, not permission.
It won’t work if you don’t have a strong sense of mission. So read this: Startups are here to save the world.
And it might not work for your size or domain. We are only 13 people: 5 engineers, 2 designers, 2 “dealflow managers” and 4 G&A (including 2 founders).
If you’re interested in working with us, we’re always hiring.
AngelList “corporate policy” is that team members should ask forgiveness, not permission.
We would rather have someone do something wrong than ask permission to do it.
Or better, we would rather have someone do something right and not need permission to do it. This is the most common outcome.
We would rather have people ship to production whenever they want, than go through an internal review process. We can fix it on production. We prefer the customer’s review process. And it isn’t too hard to reveal a new feature to a small portion of our users and iterate on it as we expand it to more users.
Eliminating permission increases speed and diversity
Eliminating permission increases the speed and diversity of our decision-making. Our incubator applications are a good example of diverse decision-making: one of our team members built it even though I was telling him, “This is fine, but I don’t think it is that important. Why don’t you work on something else.” It ended up being very important to our users and mission.
There are some sensitive parts of our product that are walled off from this “ask forgiveness” policy. There are some things we want reviewed by the people who “know better”. But it’s really rare.
How it works
This policy only works if you hire insanely smart and capable people, and let go of the ones who are not. We also filter for people who are mission-oriented, care about our customer and want to learn more.
And it doesn’t mean that the founders aren’t standing over your desk telling you, “this isn’t good enough to ship”. That’s why we write down and promote these ideas. Because there is always pressure from someone important to do it another way.
It also wouldn’t work without these other items of corporate propaganda:
You break it, you bought it
If you break something or your stuff is buggy, please fix it. As in straight away mate.
If people are going to ship whatever they want, we need them to sweat the details if they’re going to avoid mistakes.
The best way to do that is to have the rest of the team constantly complain that your code and/or design sucks or, in polite terms, “contains opportunities for improvement.”
Actually, mistakes are fine. They’re something you trade off for other variables like speed of iteration. We just want people to sweat the details because we care about the details.
Again, if people are going to ship whatever they want, whenever they want, how do we get them to make good decisions? One answer is that we ask them to “be real”. As in, treat our users like real people. Treat your teammates like real people. Just be real and do the right thing.
Do what you think is right (and be right)
If you have the freedom to make decisions, you also have the responsibility of being correct.
S/he who codes, rules
Another way we promote good decisions is by pushing the decisions down to the people doing the work. We memorialize that with the motto, “s/he who codes, rules”. As in, when we disagree, the person doing the work makes the decision.
Own the result
Pushing the decision-making down to the worker works best if the same person is responsible for the metrics. So we try to have 1-wo/man teams whenever we can, and we ask them to own the result. We also hire people who care about our customer and want to solve problems for them.
Freedom and Responsibility
All of these dictums are variations on freedom and responsibility. Netflix has a great presentation on the topic. So does Valve. Peter Drucker probably wrote about it 50 years ago. We didn’t invent this stuff, we don’t claim to know what we’re doing, nor is this a perfectly accurate or complete model of how we operate.
If you’re interested in working with us, we’re always hiring.
“He cares deeply about… the advancement of humankind, and putting the right tools in their hands.”
Startups aren’t here to change the world, they’re here to save the world—by bringing us innovation that advances humankind.
Our universities, labs and garages create enormous amounts of innovation—and there’s more coming every day. Today’s challenge is delivering it to customers in ways that advance humankind.
Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon all deliver innovation at scale: they reliably bring it to the whole world at once. I call them super companies. (And there are many more in information technology, hardware, healthcare and energy.)
It might seem impossibly difficult, but super companies can be built. And the only way they get built is by starting a startup.
If super companies are saving the world, and every company started as a startup, then it is our moral duty to remove the frictions along the startup’s way.
That’s our duty at AngelList: to serve the startups that are saving the world. By eliminating the frictions along their way, in the most meaningful way possible.
It is also the duty of every service provider in the startup ecosystem: investors, incubators, advisors, lawyers, recruiters, etc.
If the service provider’s duty is to eliminate the frictions in the startup’s journey, then it is the entrepreneur’s duty to only start companies that can make a meaningful contribution to the advancement of humankind. That means saying no to businesses that are the Internet equivalent of McDonald’s.
And it is our duty as entrepreneurs to never sell, shut down or give up until we’re delivering innovation at scale.
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