I’m Paul Joyce, Founder and CEO of Geckoboard. AMA!

Hi Paul - at ScreenCloud we tend to be as transparent as possible with our information, believing that the people who work at ScreenCloud want to know about what is happening and will treat that information responsibly. But I am interested in your views about the extent to which an organisation should share data. From a security pov, should leaders be much more protective about what information they share amongst their staff? Conversely, can you ‘share too much’ so that the net result is that people start to zone out because they are getting data overload?

David

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Hey Paul thanks for doing this AMA. What advice would you have for an ambitious b2b SaaS startup closing a chunky seed round with a VC in 2020?

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Hi Paul,

Thank you for joining us…

For a platform like gekoboard, the usecases/domains applicable are endless, how did you go about getting your PMF right… ie to go after specific domains and market segments within them or to spread across?, which also decides a lot of what you add and don’t to your core product.,

Regards,
Logesh G

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Hi Paul!

It’s been a while! Hope all is going great – was nice to see a quote up there from your awesome talk at LDNSaaS!

As a fellow “old timer”, having been running a SaaS business for a decade or so, how do you keep going?(!) How do you keep yourself, your existing team, and new / potential hires motivated in a world of unicorns, quick flips, and side hustles?

I’m such a huge fan of Geckoboard, and have been loving the constant beating drum of new releases lately, and the updated brand.

Hope we can catch up again soon Paul, and no need to prepare a LDNSaaS talk on pricing for next time we chat :wink:

James

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Hi Paul,

Thanks for doing this AMA! :slight_smile:

As an early-stage founder, “The dangers of startup BS and how we can all do something about it” really got my attention. What do you think are some of the instances where it’s easy to fall for this BS, esp. in early-stages, and any tips/recommendations to navigate through it sanely?

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Hi Paul,

Thank you for doing this AMA. You’ve had an interesting journey and I am sure there is a lot to learn.

  1. What were your key learnings from your early failures that finally made Geckoboard work?
  2. How did you know/or what were some of those signals when you thought you’ve achieved PMF?

-Anushree

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Hey @Krish , thanks for your question and thanks for having me. I remember that session well, hosted by @jamesgill and his team!

  1. Pricing hasn’t gotten any gets any easier, even 10 years in

  2. Between value positioning, pricing psychology etc it feels more like alchemy than science

  3. Despite that, our ASP is now 10x higher than it was when we started

  4. Pricing surveys, interviews etc can get you so far but the best way to learn is to try new pricing schemes

  5. We had to be prepared to take some risks in order to learn, the bigger he risk the great chance of busting out of local maximas, but that increases chance and magnitude of downsides also

  6. The best way to militate against the downsides of pricing risks is having the ability to execute quickly once we had made a decision
    a) We found that instrumenting pricing touchpoints and having the ability to rollback or change pricing quickly gave us the confidence us to be bolder and take riskier bets
    b) This changes the attitude to pricing experimentation from something that needs to be substantially right, to something that allows us to learn

  7. Being able to segment our customers into different groups based on how they perceive and articulate the value they get from the product is probably the single most important thing we did

  8. We’ve used various approaches using customer interviews, mapping to JTBD, understanding their journey in the product and as a business

  9. These are shared around between the team working on pricing

  10. Based on that, we then punt around some ideas, decide on one, model the upsides and downsides then, tweak it again then push it live

  11. Of course, this is an iterative approach and isolating signal from noise is difficult

  12. So stay fleet-footed and on top of the data

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Hi @rajaraman - thanks for the question and to you and the team for hosting me today.

  1. There definitely is a tension between internal ambitions and putting that into action in the real world!

  2. My ambition to create a company I wanted to work in was shaped, in a large part, by my experiences of working in toxic environments in the past

  3. Those experiences helped me understand what I didn’t want

  4. They also helped me develop a positive picture of what I wanted this business to be, the parts I cared most deeply about were, and remain:
    a) Interesting and important problem domain that I felt strongly about
    b) Working with people I respect in a collegiate way on a shared goal
    c) Work:life balance - my kids were aged 3 and 1 when I started

  5. It’s easy to idealise the future but, as we all know, building something from nothing is often brutally hard

  6. I realised very early on that Geckoboard could easily take 24 hours/day, 7 days/week if I allowed it…

  7. And that it was going to be a long term project

  8. I soon found that I had to define my priorities more explicitly to avoid burning out or being overwhelmed

  9. The process of explicitly stating, and living, my priorities with discipline were the best antidotes to being caught up in whirlwind

  10. I don’t think I could have survived 10 years doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t drawn those lines in the sand

  11. It also helped that I discussed this during interviews from a very early stage, which helps candidates to select in or out of that

  12. Once you reach a critical mass of people who want the same things, it starts to get a lot easier

  13. This has since been codified in our company values and has shaped a culture that persists ten years later

  14. Which is not to say that it doesn’t still require active monitoring, but now there are many eyes on the problem, not just mine

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Hi @Sofia - thanks for your question (and all your support over the years). The three lessons are all interrelated and dance around the same thing, which I find hard to properly articulate, so consider them pointers

  1. Preserve momentum at all costs
    a) In the early days it can feel like you’re on a roll and nothing can stop you
    b) But choosing the wrong focus or getting sidetracked by things that aren’t important can stall momentum
    c) This is ruinous for morale and can kill the ineffable “energy”/flow you find when you’re on a roll
    d) It’s not obvious at first unless you have your radar out for it
    e) By the time you’re aware it’s happened it’s way harder to correct
    f) The first time it happened to us I sleep-walked into it
    g) Stay vigilant: focus, focus, focus!

  2. Surround yourself with the right people
    a) This is a far lonelier journey than I had anticipated at first
    b) Dealing with toxic co-workers is a huge distraction and nobody has time for distractions in this game
    c) Great people are “taps” not “drains”, in other words some people add to your culture, others take away from it
    d) Nobody has a great day every day, but by surrounding yourself with people who value the same things as you, you can share the burden

  3. A smart person once told me to “embrace the chaos”
    a) It was you :slight_smile:
    b) It’s easy to become overwhelmed, worry about things that are outside of your control
    c) Steven Covey’s ‘circle of influence’ and ’circle of concern’ apply here
    d) Understanding what you can influence and what you can’t was a truly liberating revelation for me
    e) Understanding what you can influence allows you to maximise your efforts on things that you can change instead of wasting energy and brain cycles carrying the baggage of worry about things you can’t

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Hi @davidhart. Thanks for your question, it speaks to a subtly that I believe is a genuine stumbling block for many orgs to embracing a more open approach to sharing data internally

  1. The first step is to understand why we even want to share data
  2. For me, it was all about trust - this is a shared endeavour, I want the people I’m working with to trust me, and I want to trust them
  3. If we want people to act like adults then the first step is to treat them like adults
  4. How we work was vital - my earlier answer to Rajaraman’s question goes into this in a bit more detail
  5. If we want smart, creative people working towards a shared goal in a collegiate environment, then it stands to reason that they will need ongoing access to all of the relevant information needed to do their job
  6. Exactly what that relevant information is will differ from team to team, so some thought has to be given to scope
  7. But I’d err on the side of slightly over-sharing than under-sharing data
  8. But this has to go hand-in-hand with some training/education on the context of that data
  9. The risk of that data being shared outside of the org remains, but a risk worth taking in my estimation
  10. On the other hand data-overload is real, and your point about people zoning out if you give them too much information is borne out in reality, time and again
  11. It can happen by accident, but I’ve also worked in environments in the past where oversharing of information was weaponized; give people too much data, copy them on too many email chains, referencing spreadsheet after complex spreadsheet and you’ll soon see their defences collapse
  12. This should be avoided at all costs - it’s a denial-of-service attack dressed up as being open: passive aggressive BS that nobody has time for
  13. One way around that is to make core data available to all in an easy to digest manner with ancillary data self-service, with a low barrier to discovery
  14. Ultimately, the test has to be whether you believe that by sharing some data/information, you increase or decrease those people’s decision making capacity
  15. You can confirm that by listening to how data is discussed by your team and by actively soliciting feedback periodically
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Hi @ncameron , thanks for your question. I touched on some of this in my answer to Sofia’s question here.

Your business changes at the point you receive that first injection of external capital and managing that transition well will help keep you on track, but that can sometimes be tricky. Your investors money and advice will be incredibly helpful to you on your journey but is not, in itself, a destination. I believe the best way to handle that is to not make too much of a “thing” of it.*

*At least in your head, in reality, if making a song and dance about it helps get you something that can tangibly help your business (press exposure, easier to recruit…), then shout from the rooftops, just don’t inflate its significance in your own mind.

  1. Up until this point, the success of your business was entirely down to the combined effort of you and your team
  2. You now have investors who have “skin in the game”
  3. This subtly changes some of the dynamics of the business
  4. It’s also feels like an external validation of the business
  5. I think the challenge here is to ensure you don’t lose the thing that made your investors want to invest in you in the first instance
  6. Don’t overthink it, don’t let it go to your head, keep your eye on the prize
  7. Your job as a founder is to continue to ensure you and your team remain 100% focused on what actually matters
  8. You should absolutely celebrate the milestone, but waste no time putting the investment to work so you can achieve your goals more quickly
  9. Preserve momentum at all costs
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Hi @Logesh - thanks for your question, love it! This is something that I wish I had given greater consideration at the very start of the journey. Honestly, my product discipline wasn’t great back then and that caused hiccups for us

  1. In the early days, it was clear that we were on to something
  2. But understanding exactly which parts of the market we fit with best was very unclear
  3. This was because we didn’t segment feedback by… anything really! This is a pretty shocking admission and 100% down to my ignorance and lack of experience
  4. So, pretty obviously, this resulted in too many laboured product roadmap discussions and analysis paralysis
  5. Even worse, it also resulted in prioritising work that should never have been considered, a huge opportunity cost
  6. Thankfully, once we hired our first Product Manager, this got a lot better
  7. We started by segmenting by use case or company type
  8. It turns out that there were a lot more than we had anticipated
  9. This helped us to understand which parts of the market we were serving well and which would never be a good fit
  10. We set about concentrating on the markets we believed would be best served by our product and ditching the ones that weren’t
  11. It also helped us to be a lot clearer with our positioning and messaging, allowing prospects who were a bad fit to see that without evening signing up
  12. We later developed that by segmenting by Job to be Done
  13. This was a very powerful mechanism for discussing feedback and product roadmap planning
  14. It also helped us to identify adjacent markets that we could develop the product into
  15. In summary, we should indeed have narrowed our focus by properly segmenting our feedback from the very start
  16. Doing so, allowed us to discard whole swathes of the product roadmap freeing up more resources to make a better product and position it more clearly for the customers for whom we were a good fit
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Hi @jamesgill , great to hear from you! I’ve always enjoyed our chats over the years and I remember coming to visit you way back before I had a team and being in awe of what you and your team had built at GoSquared. Thanks for the question, I’d love to catch up soon!

This is something I certainly struggled with in the past

  1. It’s easy to get into a downward spiral if you read the tech press or the humblebrags from founders of unicorns or the next new hotness

  2. This sort of thinking can also impact team morale and has literally no upside

  3. It seems rooted in that destructive human tendency to compare yourself with those around you

  4. Comparing ourselves to others (esp carefully crafted PR messages) makes it easy to minimise your achievements and forget what’s important to you

  5. But there’s a pretty simple antidote that works well for me when I start to feel like this. Being grateful:
    a) Remembering why I started this in the first place, using that as my touchstone,
    b) Focusing only on the things that matter, and
    c) Acknowledging and embracing that I’m exceptionally fortunate to be in this position

  6. I started Geckoboard because
    a) I believed this product wanted/needed to exist, and
    b) I wanted to work in an environment that I felt was both positive and productive

  7. By keeping those at the top of my priority list and hiring people with similar values then the tendency to to look outward and compare ourselves to others diminishes

  8. The team and I really do care about how we work with each other and really care about the problem domain and believe in our approach

  9. These are hard but incredibly rewarding challenges to work on, anything else is a distraction

  10. If either of those things change in the future, then that might be the time to reassess, but as long as they remain true, then reminding myself of how lucky I am to be working on something I care about with people I care about is ample

  11. It also helps that every hyper-successful founder I’ve spoken to privately about this is happy to acknowledge that this is just a cost of doing business regardless of size your business or how fast it’s growing

  12. Things are always messy and chaotic even if it doesn’t look like that from the outside

That said, I’d be very interested in hearing your tips for dealing with this, fellow old-timer! :slight_smile:

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Hi @Akhilesh - thanks for your question!

This is one of those topics that has meant a lot to me for a long time. Part of this is covered in my answer to James’ question here but it’s worth digging into some of the specifics.

  1. As founders our job is to manifest something that exists only as an idea, into something real
  2. This is no mean feat and can be incredibly challenging
  3. Part of this is necessarily convincing yourself that it is possible…
  4. That requires inspiration, research and just a sprinkle of delusional thinking :slight_smile:
  5. The problem comes when we do this without sensitivity and project it outward
  6. In particular, when we layer in lies of omission (crowing about the good stuff but leaving out the stuff that makes us feel like crap)
  7. This is damaging to ourselves and our business when it’s an internal dialogue
  8. But has collateral damage on other founders who hear that one-sided story from their peers and are left feeling like they’re the only ones suffering
  9. That’s why communities like this, be they virtual or face-to-face, that allow founders to drop the filter and talk about some of the pain are really important
  10. One simple thing that we can all do when asked about how we’re doing by another founder is to present a balanced view
  11. Instead of saying:

We’re doing great! Just launched a new feature and closed a Series A with investors x.”

you could try

We just closed a large series A which I’m delighted about. But I’m struggling with how I’m going to meet the expectations of our team and investors”

or

We landed marquee client y but lost a couple of valuable customers that has caused me some concern

  1. I’ve found this opens up conversations, is a great way of building mutual trust which can even lead you to a discussion that can help with those pressing concerns (there are always pressing concerns)
  2. If you’re interested, I wrote about his in more detail here
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Hi @Anushree, thanks for your question!

I think I covered the first part in my answer to Logesh’s question here , but I’d be happy to go into more details if helpful.

How we knew we achieved PMF was less clear cut due to the stratified customer base I mentioned in that same answer.

  1. We definitely reached PMF for some segments of the market pretty early on
  2. But this was obscured by our lack of segmentation
  3. Great customers and those who were a poor fit were all lumped together
  4. Once we started on the process of segmenting customers then looking at behaviour and retention it was clear that there were a couple of markets/use cases where we were very strong in
  5. This gave us the confidence to really double down on those segments/JTBD where Geckoboard absolutely was the right fit
  6. Those signals included:
    a) How they heard about us - for certain types of customer word of mouth was, and remains, an incredibly strong lead generation mechanism
    b) How quickly they on-boarded. Our best customers become activated very quickly
    c) How much additional support they required
    d) How engaged they were
    e) How long they stayed with us
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Hi @paul,

Thank you so much for taking the time out to answer all the questions!

Your thoughtfulness and nuanced perspective shine through all the tactical and rather unobvious advice in here. I’m sure this AMA is going to be very useful for everyone!

I loved how expansive the insights are here — going from funding, to being, to the craft of entrepreneurship. And I esp. adore this honest and succinct nugget: “That requires inspiration, research and just a sprinkle of delusional thinking.”

Thank you, again, for joining us and sharing your lessons so generously. Hope to have you join us for another session very soon! :smile:

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Also, a big thanks to @sofia, @davidhart, @ncameron, @Logesh, @jamesgill, @Akhilesh, and @Anushree for joining in today and making it a wonderful conversation. :rocket:

We’ll see you around for the next AMA soon. Stay tuned for more details!

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Thanks @astha, @akash and the rest of the team. I enjoyed every minute of it :slight_smile:

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Thanks for sharing this most personal of founding decisions, here, Paul! This is admirable. And I couldn’t agree more. No matter the stage, I’m sure everyone here can attest to the never-ending, all-consuming demands of starting up. But constantly being aware of what one’s in for and what the long-haul can look like, helps recenter priorities. Also loved how you think about culture’s role in solidifying that original line in the sand: “now there are many eyes on the problem, not just mine. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Paul, this has been a great session. :slight_smile:

Thanks for doing it!

If there’s a more sincere and helpful, 12-point (manifesto?) brief on pricing, I’d be surprised. This brilliantly emphasises the twin pillars of pricing progress: 1) extending the boundaries by trying new models/schemes and developing an infrastructure that supports this experimentation, and 2) constantly revisiting the assumptions that define those very boundaries with thorough JTBD research!

Thanks, again, for sharing all these timeless reflections!

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