Startups are facing a shifting market landscape, increasingly feeling the need to do more with less. In this panel discussion, high-growth founders share their advice for making leadership and people decisions, maximizing the resources you have (with the help of AI), and maintaining focus on your product’s core functionality.
Devaki Raj, Cofounder and CEO, CrowdAI
Jason Fan, Cofounder and CEO, Forma
Rachel Lea Fishman, CEO, Arketa
Yin Wu, Founder, Pulley
MATT YALOWITZ: Welcome. It's great to see everyone today. My name is Matt Yalowitz, and I lead Stripe's investment portfolio team. We'll let the stragglers come in from the sides.
I'm excited to be moderating today's panel. We have a really incredible group of founders. They'll be sharing their stories, tips, and candid advice on what they've done over the past several years to survive and thrive despite the shifting market landscape and the need to do more with less.
Please take advantage, also, of the last five minutes of today's session to ask some direct questions. We'll have a mic runner, who will raise their hands when we get to that section of the program.
So without further ado, please welcome with me to the stage cofounder and CEO of Pulley, Yin Wu.
(Applause & Cheers)
MATT YALOWITZ: Cofounder and CEO of Arketa, Rachel Lea Fishman.
(Applause & Cheers)
MATT YALOWITZ: Cofounder and CEO of Forma, Jason Fan. And cofounder and CEO of CrowdAI, Devaki Raj.
MATT YALOWITZ: Really appreciate you all joining us today. Thank you.
Let's do a quick lightning round of introductions. I'm going to ask our panelists to say their name, company, and what their company is building.
Devaki, let's start with you.
DEVAKI RAJ: Hi, my name is Devaki. I'm CEO and cofounder of CrowdAI. We build a no-code tool for computer vision.
MATT YALOWITZ: Jason.
JASON FAN: Jason Fan. Founder and CEO of a company called Forma, and our mission is to give every employee the ability to choose benefits that are meaningful to them.
MATT YALOWITZ: Rachel Lea.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: Hi. I'm Rachel Lea, cofounder and CEO of Arketa. We are a wellness business platform that helps studios grow beyond classes.
MATT YALOWITZ: Yin.
YIN WU: Hi, everyone. I'm Yin, and I'm the cofounder and CEO of Pulley, and we help companies manage their equity and cap tables.
MATT YALOWITZ: Awesome. So we'll jump right into the questions. My first question is related to a book that Stripe exec, Claire Hughes Johnson, just wrote. You can actually get a free copy of it today at the Tap to Pay demo station. Highly recommend it. Scaling People is the book, and it's a handbook for operators and leaders of fast-growing companies, all of you.
So with that, one observation that really stood out to me in the book is that great managers say the thing you think you cannot say. So to our panelists, what's one difficult conversation you've had to have with your team recently? And, Yin, we'll start with you on this one.
YIN WU: So one of the things that we really thought about I think when we were starting with Pulley was how is it that you can also set the right culture of the team as you continue to grow. And one thing that we're very opinionated on is to say that Pulley is not a family; we're a team. And we like to think of ourselves as a high-performance sports team
And I think the distinction between the two is that if your partner makes a meal and it's not great, you're not necessarily giving them 10 pointers on what is it you can do better next time in order to really knock it out of the park. You're kind of just grateful for this food on the table because you're all so busy.
But as a team, it's, like, there's goals that we have to hit. If you didn't hit your revenue goals, if the product didn't ship on time, well, what do you actually do? How do you actually make it better? How do you give feedback to each other? At the time when we said this, I think it was actually kind of controversial to say that you're not a family, but rather you're aiming to be a team, but now I think it's actually one of the core cultural tenets of Pulley, too.
MATT YALOWITZ: Thanks, Yin.
Jason, I know you have some thoughts on this one as well.
JASON FAN: Yeah, for sure. You know, the story I wanted to share is if we rewind back the clock for our team, roughly call it 18 months before maturing business, starting to build out more processes, and so we started to bring up really assemble our executive team.
And the first thing I started to think about to myself as a first-time founder was, great, we got experienced people, executives coming in. They're going to build the team. They're going to build the processes. I'm going to hand off all the great work to them. They're going to build a great business. Perfect. I thought there were great days coming.
Turned out not to be the case. They were certainly very smart people, very experienced executives, mean very well for the business, but what I found out was very quickly if you don't manage the team well, if you don't actively build out the team, sometimes they roll in different directions. That's what we noticed.
So we recently, a couple weeks ago, sat everybody down, brought in a executive coach that started to help us—hey, let's open up. Let's have authentic, real conversations, try to understand where everybody is coming from, what their background, what their motivations are.
It turned out to be a very difficult conversation. Eight hours, full-day workshop. Then we got but we started to get to know each other a lot more. And coming out of that session, there was just a lot more cohesion amongst the leadership teams. So that was something that worked really well for us.
MATT YALOWITZ: Thanks, Jason.
Another direct one for our panelists. What's the most unpopular decision you've made in the last six months? I want everyone to jump in on this one. So, Rachel Lea, I'll start with you.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: Yeah, of course. So we've made a lot of decisions around hiring that haven't been popular by everyone. And some things that we've tried implementing in probably the past six months is making all of our decision-making metrics driven, meaning each hire we scale from 1 to 7, and everybody actually votes in their own chair by themselves in a room.
What that really allows everyone to do is have an open and honest opinion with themselves, and then they vote by themselves. We all come together, and then we decide, based on what we decide are the higher needs, how that decision is being made.
By being really transparent with our employees in what we're hiring for, what we're looking for, how we're making the decision, and then actually sharing postdecision why that was made, even if it's not unanimous or popular, has really proven successful for our team. It builds trust for everybody. And then even if somebody doesn't agree with you or it's not the most popular decision, it really allows everyone to wrap around the fact that this new hire is joining and get really excited about that.
YIN WU: It may be echoing a little bit what Rachel said. One piece of advice that I've gotten that was useful is, like, if you talk to three different people that you respect and they tell you the same thing, they usually go and do that thing. But I feel like as founders, most of the time that's not the case. You talk to three different people. They have wildly different opinions. And then you got to go and pick something, and then that means that you're doing one thing that two out of three people don't actually agree with.
So much of it I think for us is also about people, whether it's hiring new folks to the team, where when it feels like you're growing really quickly, there's not enough bodies, and then yet you still want to keep the talent bar; or it's someone joined the team and people really like them, but then they may not be performing for that role, and it's not actually a good fit. And I think those are always the toughest conversations to have.
DEVAKI RAJ: Yeah. For us it was a little bit different. So it was getting rid of our office. So we had an office in San Francisco, you know, two or three people used to come, but during COVID we hired a lot of people that were remote. And so when we decided to get rid of the office, we did it as an executive team rather than, you know, letting the team know in advance. So they saw that as a harbinger potentially for something worse.
And so I think what was important to know, especially in this kind of economy is, like, let your team know what's coming down the line so they don't build these stories in their head about what potentially is coming down the line.
So that was, like, a learning lesson. So even if it feels small, it actually potentially could mean a lot when the economy is like what it is right now.
JASON FAN: A couple months ago, September of last year, one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make on business was we had to lay off around 15% of our team. Throughout that process it was a necessity. There were a lot of changes happening, a lot of uncertainty around the market, just like everybody else is experiencing.
I would say across that time, just like Devaki mentioned, make sure that transparency is at the center of everything you do, how you communicate, how you show up in front of your employees, making sure that you're staying true to your mission, to your business, and also treat people right. Right? Those were some of the principles that I followed. It was still a very, very difficult decision regardless, right?
And so I just wanted to do a shout-out out there. I know there's a lot of founders and operators and also leaders in the audience. It's a tough market out there. Hang in there. Do the best you can. We're going to get past this stage soon enough.
MATT YALOWITZ: Another direct question, which is: What's the worst piece of advice you've gotten, either from an adviser or a VC, that you didn't follow and it turned out to be the right choice? Yin, let's start with you on this one.
YIN WU: Yeah, I think a lot of the advice that you get, it also comes back down to context. Like if you're the founder at your company or you work at a company, you're thinking about the problems 24/7. So any advice that you're getting from someone else you’re teeing up five minutes of context and then asking, wait, what do you think? And it's hard for them, I think, to be able to actually understand that well, too.
So for us, like, one of the pieces of feedback we got—this was back in 2021, when the market for fundraising was actually really good—was, you know, maybe don't fundraise. Like if you fundraise too much—if you fundraise too much, then it's really hard for the team to still stay motivated. You may burn through all the cash. There's definitely a lot of negatives. We've seen this with WeWork and other companies as well.
But I think it comes back to also understanding who are you as a founder. For us it's the case that I know it's very unlikely that we're going to go and take that same path. And having that extra capital actually allows us to be able to scale faster and take the bets that we want to take.
So I think so much of the advice that you have that—even the ones that we're giving is so generic. You have to apply it to who you are in order to actually make it work.
MATT YALOWITZ: Trust your gut.
Rachel Lea, let's have your thoughts on this one too.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. People we always have this phrase at Arketa that people are default nice, right? Assume the best intention. But when people are giving you advice, they're giving you advice having 1% of knowledge. They're not at your company all day, every day. They're not in the weeds. They don't see what's really happening behind the scenes.
And so when we were first starting Arketa, every piece of advice I was given, I would totally take blindly. I'd absorb it and be, like, someone gave me this advice. Time to go do it. So we had a—one of our investors was, like, you're doing really well. Let's put some pedal into the metal. Time to grow, grow, grow, scale, scale, scale. We had no signs of repeatability.
And I remember one month we spent $2,000 on Facebook ads. Literally the next month we spent $25,000 on Facebook ads, blindly. Like, oh, yeah, let's grow. And we saw this. We were, like, this is not the direction we want to run the company in. We want to build something that is sustainable, scalable, all the words we're hearing now a year later. We want to build a great business model.
And we said, hey, we're actually going to stop doing that. We're not going to grow, grow until we burn and then go raise more money. And at first that advice was, like, what are you doing? Why are you doing this? This is antithetical to what "startup" means. Of course, now we're all in this room, and we all know how important every dollar is. So it was the right decision at the time.
And so the biggest piece of advice I can give is no need to follow it blindly. Take advice. Take what serves you. Leave the rest and really make the decision that's best for you at the time.
JASON FAN: Speaking of unhelpful advice, let me tell you all about this one time I heard from a guy named Matt Yalowitz. Just joking. Matt's great.
MATT YALOWITZ: Thank you.
JASON FAN: Amazing adviser, amazing partner for us. I'm going to take this one in a slightly different direction. You know, it's real. There are a lot of people who give out advice. Advice is free. Talk is easy.
So to Rachel Lea's point, you’ve got to make sure that what is the most meaningful to you, what is applicable to you, you need to filter that through.
This is one story. Very fortunately we didn't end up taking this investor's money, but I remember an investor a couple years ago told me, hey, we're a value-add investor. How many of you have heard that term before? They're going to add value to your business, right?
And what ended up happening was, you know, as a first-time founder back then, I was, like, oh, great, free advice, free connections, and all this information, I'm going to absorb it all in. And once it started to come through, all the advice, all the recommendations, all the introductions, man, deep down inside I just knew most of it was B.S., right?
And, look, this guy is an investor. I couldn't tell the guy this is useless, man. Stop giving away the advice. Fortunately, didn't end up taking his money.
So just a warning out there. Be careful who you listen to. Be very selective and be very careful with your time. Sometimes they send you down the path of chasing down a wild goose.
MATT YALOWITZ: I appreciate that you all touched on the need for efficiency and running a lean ship during these times. So on the topic of doing more with less, something everybody here in the audience is thinking about, we know the economic climate is a concern for businesses of all sizes. How have you evolved your product strategy when customers are cutting back?
Devaki, can you start on this one?
DEVAKI RAJ: Yeah. So what we did was we focused on a customer segment that we know was cutting seven-figure checks. So for us we primarily focused on the public sector. We actually did a revamp of our website. We still have a freemium for CrowdAI that all, like, Fortune 500 companies sign up for, but in terms of how we get the narrative directly to the customer that's currently paying a lot more, we actually changed our website. We talked to the team about, hey, we're going to support all types of customers, and for the purposes of just getting our information out there, we're going to focus our blogs, our PR, our marketing on that one type of customer segment even though our product is a horizontal platform. So it was very much let's focus on the buyer and less so on a marketing strategy.
MATT YALOWITZ: Rachel Lea, I'd love your thoughts, too, on this one, too.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: Yeah. I mean, it's so funny that a year later, when cash is not free, we all change the way we run our business. And at Arketa we believe in really strong unit economics and also building something people can't live without truly. Like if they can't cut you, then you'll be there forever.
And so for us, we take payments for studios and fitness-and-wellness professionals, meaning they literally can't run their business without Arketa, which means it's essential. So they're not thinking about when they have budget costs, what's the first thing to go. We oftentimes replace other products, which I think could be really good as you think about when your value proposition isn't, hey, spend more; it's actually consolidation of products.
And then the last thing we really think about is finding people that are obsessed with your product. In these markets, when we're not spending as much money on marketing, your customers are going to be your best advocates. I spend half of my day talking to customers, phone calling customers, texting them, live-chatting them. I inherently become embedded in our customers so much so that we hope that they become obsessed and they do that marketing for us. They tell their friends, we're top of mind, and that's really helped us thrive in a world where you're not just going on every single channel to spend money.
MATT YALOWITZ: Fantastic.
Yin, Jason, any thoughts on this one as well?
YIN WU: I think all of that is very much true. I think some of the tactical things that we think about is if companies are really crunched for funding—Pulley sells to a lot of startups—is can you make it a win-win, where you have a two-year contract instead of one.
And the other that we also think about is that we actually doubled down more on customer success during this time. We were actually chatting backstage, and my title on LinkedIn is “Customer Success” because I also want to send a signal to our team is, like, that is the function that matters the most, which is how do we serve our users when there are a ton of companies thinking about down rounds or they're not doing that well and thinking about, “How do I explain employee equity?” When we feel like we may be struggling, well, that's where Pulley can also help. And when we think about the long term is, like, we want to help these companies really succeed in the long term so they can continue to be Pulley users, too.
DEVAKI RAJ: I think the feedback that you're getting across the board is a little bit different from each person, right? We've got folks on this panel that sell to startups, folks that sell to small businesses and individuals, a person that sells to both startups and enterprise, and then I primarily sell to enterprise and government. So each piece of advice is going to be a little bit different, especially for this kind of question.
YIN WU: Yeah.
MATT YALOWITZ: And I love the focus on customers, though, throughout, which is something that—as you heard from our keynote—is the top of mind for Stripe, too.
On the theme of doing more with less, how are you also reducing structural costs, which enable you to then develop and put more money into the product?
Yin, do you want to start with this one?
YIN WU: Yeah. I think for some of the structural costs, this is a case where, like, maybe similar to Rachel and so many folks on the panel, is, like, the being mindful of what your unit economics were feels like it's one where it's like now is sexy in 2023, and very much forgotten in 2021, when you had extremely low interest rates.
I consider myself a paranoid optimist, where you're, like, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, but, like, very optimistic in the long term.
So for us as a team is, like, we've burned less than what we make in AR this year, and what we need to do is continue to invest in building a really great team. I think one of the benefits that you have in today's macro is when you're in a bull market, hiring is incredibly tough because every single candidate that comes on board has 50 different offers.
Now it's the case that you can actually afford to be actually a bit more picky about who's the right person on the team, having more conversations, like, well, do we actually want to scale by bringing on 10 people next year, or do we think that we can actually make do with less, too?
MATT YALOWITZ: I'm going to do two lightning-round questions that I'd like each of you to answer. And then get ready, we'll turn it to the audience after that for all of your questions.
The first is: Anything you wish you had done differently in the current economic climate? And what advice would you give to company founders and leaders here in this audience?
Devaki, we'll start with you.
DEVAKI RAJ: Yeah. I want to give a specific example, which is on our website we actually had a lot of job openings, and then we were starting to get a lot of people applying. But, really, internally in terms of the way we thought about cutting costs was, like, hey, we're actually really hiring for one particular role really strongly, maybe two.
And so what I decided and as part of transparency and I think it's also just ethical behavior is take down job postings if you don't actually hire, because it honestly gives a lot of false hope. It's a waste of a lot of candidates' time. And, in fact, like, it's also a waste of your own employees' time, as well, just to review all the résumés.
So I think that's, like, the one thing that I think in this economy, a lot of people put up a lot of job postings to show that it's a healthy company. But you're really wasting a lot of people's time in this economy that there's, like, a lot of layoffs at large companies.
JASON FAN: For us...
MATT YALOWITZ: Jason.
JASON FAN: ... encouraging creativity was something that turned out to be pretty helpful. It might seem obvious to everybody here, especially building at the early stage, of course, we're creative. Of course, we're nimble. Of course, we're looking to adapt. But I found it surprising that if you just put your team together in a room and to say, “Hey, let's take a step back and try to be creative,” it surprises me sometimes how these different creative ideas can truly be brought to the table.
So highly encouraged it. We tried it a couple times to get people to talk, and sometimes great ideas come out.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: Yeah, I think two things are really important, looking back. One is focusing on your north star metric. So when we were first starting the company, I would look at competitors. Wow, they're raising so much money. Wow, look at these incredible logos they have. They just did this amazing partnership.
And at the end of the day, focusing on your north star metric is what matters most. For us that's revenue. I hope for most of you all it's also something similar.
And then, also, being honest with yourself when it's not working. Oftentimes we change the metrics to change the story. Don't do that. It never works.
And then the second piece of advice is you own your own destiny. And I like to use the metaphor if anyone has ever had a backseat driver in the car and you're driving the car and you know exactly where you're going, and then you have that backseat driver that, like, one in ten times they help you, but normally they're, like, stop, and, like, you were never going to hit the car. Like you were never going to mess up in any way.
And so I always encourage—if I had to tell myself a year later, you drive that car. Of course, there are going to be people to the right side of you giving you advice, random investors that are value adds, friends that have just come up with a brand-new product that they think is going to be a billion-dollar company. But what you should really be focusing on is you own your company. Nobody owns, we hope, as much as you do, and you really make your own destiny there.
MATT YALOWITZ: I appreciate that advice. Because last time I tried to pitch Rachel Lea an idea, and she was, like, no, we're not doing that.
MATT YALOWITZ: So good.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: Thank you.
MATT YALOWITZ: Shooting us down is important. Yin.
YIN WU: Yeah, I think all of that is very true. The thing I think a lot about is I feel like one of the biggest advantages you have as a startup is speed. You have to move quickly. You can't pretend to be a worse version of someone else.
When one of the—there's four cultural tenets at Pulley, and the one that we always go back to as a team is think in first principles. The reason we think it matters so much is oftentimes I think people have a tendency to take what worked previously and apply it to your current situation even though the context has changed.
It's like to your point about competitors, you can't do the same playbook as your competitor because your competitor didn't exist when they were coming on. So, great, if the climate is actually changed, you need to revamp what you're doing. So I think for us it's, like, maybe the theme here is, like, go back to what you think is right and keep asking the “why” questions, not just to yourself, but to your whole team, too.
MATT YALOWITZ: Thank you. Last question before I turn it to the audience. AI, hot topic right now. We have Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, joining us this afternoon.
How are you all thinking about using AI to become more efficient and effective in your businesses? Devaki, I'll let you start, given you're an AI company.
DEVAKI RAJ: I'll push it the other because we've been doing AI since 2016, well before it was very cool. So specifically I want to talk a little bit about how startups out here are thinking about AI and what the market looks like.
So I think there's—I'm going to answer the question two ways, one for startups and one for large enterprises. So startups right now, there's a lot of companies that are wanting to build AI-based companies. I think right now it's very easy to—as a smaller company to potentially raise money, but if you look at the competitive market right now, you need to raise a lot of money to build foundation models.
So I think as startups think about it, what is your—what is a startup that you're going to build using AI? I personally believe that a vertical-specific focus that's very deep in one particular area is going to be the most successful on that side.
When you think on the other side as an enterprise, they're going to have to make a build versus buy decision. ChatGPT, OpenAI, a lot of these open-source tools have made it really easy to create wrappers for these enterprises to bring in. I'm talking about Fortune 500 companies that may not have deep stacks of deeply technical people.
So it's going to be really interesting around the build versus buy decision, because now the cost of talent has potentially dropped, so—but maybe they're going to be bringing people in rather than buying.
So it's very interesting dynamics. I don't have an exact solution for it, but I think, like, those are the interesting dynamics between what a startup is looking like now in this economy and what a large enterprise is thinking about when integrating AI into their products.
JASON FAN: Yeah. Devaki, I think what you're saying about build versus buy is very interesting. And that's kind of how our team has been thinking about it.
Clearly, there is a startup being built and really just building a foundational tool in the AI space, of course, go ahead. There are a lot of businesses out there, like, for example, like ours. We're in the HR space. We help employee employers optimize their benefits programs. I believe there's going to be a lot of applications being built in the coming months, in the coming years that will save you a lot of time in case we probably don't need to invest a ton into building out solutions in house where there will be just amazing solutions that come out. Maybe some of them are going to be built by one of you. Some of them may not exist as of now.
So just be mindful around how you apply that strategy. Everybody is probably going to find some benefit in the AI space, but how it manifests itself in your business, in your product, be mindful, and make sure that things are actually it's, you know, in tune with how—what your business operates like.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: Yeah. I think something for us is—we think about AI and how it helps us—is there are two ways to apply it. One is your product as a company, and then the second is your internal tooling. So for us as a product, we think, is this a problem that we need to solve, and does this solve it for our core customer?
For us, that is not our business model, so we're not all of a sudden going to go to left field and build some AI product just because everyone else is doing it. And so what you really need to think about is can you build something that your customers are just obsessed with and focus on the basics, because in two years there's going to be something else that's trendy, something else that's cool, and everyone is going to hop on that rocket ship.
For us with ChatGPT, AI, all of those tools, we use them to make our teams more efficient. So I literally used it to help me with this talk today. I, we used it for customer-support tickets, product requirements. Our engineering team loves using it for unlocking them in code. So for us, it's really helped unlock efficiency and time internally.
YIN WU: Yeah. I think, I'm curious what Sam is going to talk about at the session when he keynotes.
For us I think it's really similar, thinking about how do you make the team more efficient. And the other part that we think about is how is it—especially for Pulley is, like, how do we help our customers also get answers to questions they have with legal questions around equity and more? And I feel like we're just at the beginning of all of this, too.
MATT YALOWITZ: Thank you.
All right. We have time to take a handful of audience questions. You all have had enough time to prepare, so hopefully there are a couple in the audience. Please stand if you have a question. And the mic runners, if you can identify yourselves, will bring you the mic.
MATT YALOWITZ: Start over here. Thank you.
QUINN GOLDSTEIN: Hi. Quinn Goldstein from YepChat. We help restaurants manage their phones. I'm a cofounder and CEO. And when I, seven years ago, stopped consulting and started this business, I firmly believed that my personal wealth maximizing or expected value of my lifetime wealth would have been higher if I stayed in consulting or stayed at, you know, working at Apple or Google or Stripe, but I chose to do a startup. Do you agree with that?
YIN WU: Yeah. I would say on a risk-adjusted basis, that is 100% true. What you're giving up instead of a—if you work at a FAANG company, if you go anywhere else, your expected return is much higher because you look at this year by year and how these companies have continued to perform, of course. But what you give up I think as a trade-off is that outlier return. You're not going to make a billion dollars or create that impact on the world.
I think one of the things that you have to believe when you're starting a company is you have to be desperate for something. Like desperate for this mission, desperate for this product to exist, desperate to make an impact; otherwise, I think it's really tough to convince yourself of getting up every day when a startup is not going through happy patches, too.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: I couldn't agree more.
MATT YALOWITZ: You're also not going to be on the stage at Sessions. So that's a pretty big positive point.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: No, I couldn't agree more. For us, something like running a startup is not easy. There are a million times when you're, like, I want to quit. I'm done with this. Why am I doing this? There's no return on my investment.
For me, I believe we're going to change the world. And no one else in the world is working on this problem, and I'm so obsessed personally with wellness and how we're increasing access to wellness, how we're solving problems for studio owners who can't take payments behind the desk with touchless pay. Like I'm just obsessed with what we're building.
You can't be in this for the money. You can't be in this to have a billion-dollar exit, because you're not going to be able to get through those hard times. So, at least for me, it's how am I changing the world and why am I in it. But you're right, there are a million and one other things I could be doing to be making way more money and having a more comfortable life. For me, it's finding something I was just obsessed and passionate about.
MATT YALOWITZ: Thank you.
JASON FAN: Flip that around a little bit, though, right? If you found something that you actually don't mind waking up every day and going back to 12 hours a day, you just keep on going back and having things slam against your face, but you keep on going back, if you've found that something in your life, don't give up.
RACHEL LEA FISHMAN: Yeah.
JASON FAN: That is actually very rare. So...
DEVAKI RAJ: I mean, it's like chewing glass and liking it, right? I saw something on LinkedIn on this. So that's pretty much what it is.
DEVAKI RAJ: I've been, obviously, I've been doing this for seven years, right? So I was at a FAANG company before. So right now, as we look at it, like, paper versus cash, yeah, it's not so great.
So I think in terms of the way we think about it, it's—I think there's also—it depends on why you started a company; right? Like there's mission driven. There's product driven. I'm the only one that can do it. But there's also—there's also strategies for optimizing, like, an exit faster for cash. So, really, everybody's got different motivations, and I think that, like, you need to figure out what your motivation is when you start your company.
Am I going to do this until IPO? Am I going to do this because in 2–3 years I'm going to flip it and make a couple hundred million? It really depends. I'm not going to say it's just every person that starts a startup has a similar motivation, but there are strategies for you to optimize on wealth if that's what you're trying to do, versus product. And it really depends on—I don't think in this economy people should shy away from either answer.
MATT YALOWITZ: And you also have the quote of the day. Being a startup founder is like chewing glass and liking it.
DEVAKI RAJ: I stole it.
MATT YALOWITZ: So that is very memorable.
DEVAKI RAJ: I just can't remember who I stole it from, though.
MATT YALOWITZ: Thank you.
There were a couple of other questions I saw over here.
AUDIENCE: Can I speak my question?
AUDIENCE: Hello? This is Mannoy (ph) from iVoting. I want to ask you: What's the best growth hack or growth strategy that worked for you? And also...
MATT YALOWITZ: Could you just speak up a little bit?
AUDIENCE: So what's the best growth hack or growth strategy that worked for you?
DEVAKI RAJ: Growth-hack strategy.
YIN WU: I think it really depends on who your customer is. And I would also say is, like, a growth hack is—can only get you maybe that initial bit of first traction, but it is not the way to scale because it's not repeatable.
Like product-market fit is literally two words, product and you have a sustainable way to bring it to market. Like growth hacks, there's—by definition, it's a hack, so it's kind of like a one-off. Post on Reddit, post on Twitter, depending on who your audience is, and see if something picks up. But I think it's really going to be tough for us to say, like, this is the one thing you should try and then it'll work, because if that was the case, then everybody would go and do that too.
AUDIENCE: And, also, I mean, did you ever have moments when you felt that your product was, like, the best in the market, but still you were, like, a distant number two, and how did you, like, deal with that?
DEVAKI RAJ: I think he said best in the market and what did...
AUDIENCE: So when you, like, looked at the marketscape space and your competitors and you felt that your product was the best, and yet, I mean, you were, like, a distant number two.
DEVAKI RAJ: Yeah. So I can talk quickly about this, which is we've been working with the US government for a long time now, and so for a very long time we were one of the few companies that are doing computer vision in this space.
And so when a lot of companies realized that, okay, the federal government is actually a really great place, Silicon Valley companies and large cloud companies started getting more into this space, right, they, obviously, have deeper resources than we do from a deep-learning perspective.
So we were first in, which means that we're still a player, but as we think about competitors, right, we need to continue to find I guess more of a niche so you could continue to compete in that space. I think that's probably the best way to deal with competitors, because you're always going to find a competitor that has a lot more money than you. So it's about relationships and niche.
So the amount of people that I'm on a texting basis with who are customers, right, is, like, part of it is you build that relationship. And it's not really about product, it's about relationship at that point.
MATT YALOWITZ: I know there are a lot of questions we didn't get a chance to answer today, but the panelists will be available after to chat through these additional questions. Unfortunately, we are running short on time because we had to shorten this panel a little bit. So I do want to thank our panelists today for joining us. It's been a really great discussion.
YIN WU: Thank you, guys.
MATT YALOWITZ: Appreciate your candor.
MATT YALOWITZ: And, really, thank you for taking the time. Much appreciated.
JASON FAN: Thanks, Matt.
MATT YALOWITZ: Thank you.