“You have a chance to have a good experience” – TechCrunch
Fundraising is often presented as the most important step in a founder’s journey, but that’s putting the cart before the horse.
Until a company builds a growing base of customers who are deeply committed to its products, asking investors for money is a largely selfish exercise. However, once a startup has achieved product-market fit, sophisticated investors may compete for a chance to participate.
According to Frédérique Dame, GV’s investment partner who previously led product and engineering teams at companies like Uber, Smugmug and Yahoo, product-market fit is not a linear process, which means each business has to find its own way. As a partner, she offers the founders of the portfolio companies a range of services that includes advice on recruitment, marketing and communications and product development.
During a fireside chat at TechCrunch Early Stage, we discussed his experience validating product ideas, collecting actionable customer data, creating user-centric work cultures, and managing some of the unique challenges that come with scaling teams from a few dozen people to several thousand employees.
At Uber, Dame led strategic programs that helped the company grow from 80 employees to 7,000, including the transition from spreadsheets to systems that created transparency and accountability. Early-career employees are used to using ad hoc processes to get their jobs done as they sprint toward growth, so I asked how she approaches the job from a cultural perspective.
Put aside your ego and listen carefully to customers
Trust me with what you don’t know or what doesn’t work because once we get invested we’ll have to work on this stuff anyway. Frederique Lady
“I think the first thing you have to do is hire people who have low egos and have low egos yourself,” she said. After Uber’s launch, early customers often faced price hikes because the platform didn’t onboard drivers fast enough. In response, Dame asked members of the company’s driver and driver teams to focus on one issue.
“We realized that there were several products that were in conflict… between driver integration, internal systems and [including] driver directions in the app,” Dame said. “It’s important to have directions, but if you have a price increase every time you get into an Uber or you can’t get an Uber, there’s no point in having Uber.”
After outreach to drivers, it became clear that they hadn’t listened carefully to customers: in 2011, most drivers were using flip phones with rudimentary web browsing capabilities. To register, many Internet cafes visited were not running the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.
“They were looking at an error page and they were failing. Understanding your customer’s user journey and what you’re doing with your product is really, really important,” Dame said. “Be obsessive and talk to customers as much as you can. .”
Test as many ideas as possible (without asking engineering help)
To achieve product-market fit, teams must make rapid and repeated iterations to collect customer data, but there is an inexorable tension between the need to test new ideas and the desire to ensure that roadmaps shared with investors remain aligned with actual product pipelines.