How to come back from ‘no’ – Sage Advice United Kingdom

Govind Balakrishnan says the important thing to beginning a enterprise is to search out somebody as loopy and as silly as your self to embark on the journey.

After leaving his job on the BBC, he had a spreadsheet stuffed to the brim with rejection, however he by no means noticed this as a cause to surrender on his thought of an audio journalism app.

Regardless of these setbacks, he ultimately landed a $1.6m funding and now runs Curio, whereas empowering workers and inspiring energy naps.

Dive into the episode beneath to study his prime recommendations on learn how to study out of your failures and push previous rejection:

Curio: Finding the subscription model sweet spot

How working at the BBC led to creativity and Curio

Creating a business idea from an interaction problem

Partner with someone as crazy as you to start your business

Using low-cost software to launch your initial business idea

Funding a tech startup and pushing past rejection

The first piece of content on Curio

Find an organic growth hack for your business

Journalism helps us to understand the world we live in, so we can make effective change

As a founder it can be easy to overrule people when not needed—be mindful of this

Personality and cultural fit are just as important as skills when hiring

The greatest learning is humility—build an empowered organisation

Transferrable qualities from past career dreams

Fail big to learn big

Focus on your vision and create a space for creation

Don’t underestimate the power of a power nap

Curio: Discovering the subscription mannequin candy spot

Bex Burn-Callander:

Hello Govind. So beautiful to see you. How are you doing at the moment?

Govind Balakrishnan:

I’m very properly, thanks. Thanks a lot for having me. I’m very properly. I’ve simply recovered from a weekend with an eight-month-old, and we’ve had two new joiners at Curio at the moment. So all very thrilling.

Bex Burn-Callander:

It’s all the brand new starters, the brand new starter within the household and the brand new starters within the enterprise.

Govind Balakrishnan:

Precisely proper.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Are you able to inform me a bit about Curio? Inform me the fundamental idea.

Govind Balakrishnan:

At its most simple, Curio is an audio journalism app. We companion with huge and small publishers, so everybody from the Washington Put up, the Wall Avenue Journal, the FT, to extra specialist publications like Wired or Scientific American.

What we actually concentrate on is information you’ll be able to study from.

So we choose a few of the normal items of journalism from all of those publications and get them professionally narrated into actually nice audio, and we provide it as a subscription bundle, so you’ll be able to hearken to all of the publications on one app.

That’s what Curio is in a nutshell.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s attention-grabbing concerning the subscription bundle as a result of I’m fascinated to know, if you had been placing collectively this enterprise, what number of completely different sorts of income stream did you contemplate, and the way did you find yourself figuring out the precise mannequin with the stability between the buyer paying but in addition manufacturers contributing?

Inform me about that debate in your thoughts.

Govind Balakrishnan:

Truly, I believe once we began Curio, and we launched our first product in late 2017, early 2018, and it was truly fairly an thrilling time as a result of lots of enterprise fashions had been being tried.

The standard of subscription and promoting is understood, however there have been a bunch of individuals making an attempt micropayments as one other mannequin. However what we discovered was that subscription struck a very candy spot, within the sense that, A, it saved us trustworthy, that we had been solely serving one individual and that was the tip shopper.

So we didn’t have tangled incentives of promoting and the buyer, but in addition, we didn’t go down the micropayment route as a result of a mannequin that reduces cognitive load for shoppers is what we want.

I believe we had been coming into a part when lots of subscription fashions had actually began taking off and folks had been uninterested in advertisements and wished a product that delivered worth with none of the faff and revered their time and that’s actually why we went down subscriptions.

How working on the BBC led to creativity and Curio

Bex Burn-Callander:

And you weren’t a tech entrepreneur earlier than you launched Curio, you had been working for the BBC.

Inform me the way you made that leap from safe, paid employment after which into the loopy world of the tech startup.

Govind Balakrishnan:

Nicely, there was an interim step. I’ll offer you a little bit of background. I joined the technique crew on the BBC round 2009 and initially lots of work I did was, how can the BBC earn cash exterior the UK?

At the moment, after I took place, the iPlayer was consuming about 20% of the UK’s web and that was barely earlier than Netflix had launched in an enormous means.

I assumed it’s the proper product that must be a subscription product internationally. So I spent a yr of my life making an attempt to make that occur, and I used to be unsuccessful in that.

Then I went on lead technique for BBC Information. What I noticed there was that we’d ship correspondents to faraway locations like Afghanistan, individuals would go to ahead working bases, threat their lives, and convey again a tremendous story, which might get 5 minutes of engagement— which was pointless as a result of we had been spending all this cash, individuals had been risking their lives.

So I had an existential disaster, saying, “Two tasks that I’m engaged on on the BBC appear to be going nowhere.”

So I assumed, “You understand what? The way forward for media, I have to learn to construct merchandise.”

So I truly left the BBC and that’s after I left paid employment, and I went to the Royal Faculty of Artwork and Imperial. There was a programme on innovation, design and engineering. So I left on a Friday. On Monday morning I used to be in a studio with woodworking workshops and steel workshops, realizing nothing about any of that.

I spent two years there and folks would inform you, “Why?” Each week you’d construct merchandise and folks would inform you why it’s garbage. So that you realized loads and that was a metamorphosis that I truly wanted, after which I took place and began Curio after that.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Wait, so you probably did this artwork course with woodworking and metalworking. How did that feed into your startup or is that virtually considering creatively and fixing issues?

Govind Balakrishnan:

Yeah, it was two years out of standard employment and my spouse was very affected person. However I believe I had rapidly understood that there’s a huge distinction between appreciating a product and realizing learn how to construct it.

I believe there’s a philosophy which is, merchandise say loads concerning the values of the individuals who construct them. So if there may be carelessness within the output, you’ll be able to see it, and it displays on the values of individuals and so does thoughtfulness.

So I needed to successfully unlearn every little thing I’d realized until that time to have the ability to take the subsequent leap ahead.

And that’s what going to the RCA and Imperial helped me to do.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I like that concept of unlearning.

Making a enterprise thought from an interplay drawback

Bex Burn-Callander:

And the way do you know that there can be a marketplace for this type of high quality journalism?

Since you clearly noticed these wonderful reviews being wasted, however then you definitely have a look at most people, and also you have a look at the media that will get consumed and so-and-so’s stretch marks on the seaside finally ends up with essentially the most hits.

How do you know that there have been sufficient listeners on the market who agreed with you that wished to see this in-depth high quality reporting?

Govind Balakrishnan:

I believe a few issues, Bex.

It’s a very good query and if I’m actually trustworthy, the reply wasn’t apparent once we began. We had many, many false begins.

So I believe for us, one of many issues was that I had seen the early days of video streaming and I noticed the same resonance within the audio house, that podcasts had been huge, however hold on a second, they had been $200m, $300 million-dollar companies, so not that huge.

I couldn’t imagine that audio was a subset of podcasting.

I assumed, “You understand what? Audio is a lot larger than simply podcasting and podcasting is among the components of audio.”

However the different factor was that when my co-founder got here alongside, Srikant, his complete view was that the visible web has been gamed for low consideration spans, groom scrolling, and it wasn’t actually conducive for an outstanding expertise when it got here to consuming and studying.

And the third bit was, I believe individuals do society a disservice once we say that individuals solely need low consideration span, clickbait content material. All of us love that. No person’s saying don’t go there. But additionally the world is a posh place, we’re all navigating it, all of us have a chance to form it, all of us have company to make a change.

However to do this, one wants to know the world, perceive what’s occurring on this planet, perceive deeply why it’s occurring, and all types of training have damaged down. Now not do individuals go to college and training ends there.

So if you wish to find out about geopolitics, you have to perceive what’s occurring in Russia at the moment. If you wish to know concerning the subsequent wave of presidency or subsequent evolution of presidency, the place are you going to study all of this?

It’s journalism. That’s the real-world training that you may get.

So we at all times knew that there have been sufficient aspirational individuals who didn’t have the time or didn’t have the precise interface. And this was the place I got here at it from.

I got here at it from an interplay design drawback, relatively than, “Do individuals need this or not?” I stated, “How can we make it really easy for individuals to devour actually nice content material with out making the time, with out having to decide on, however with out being distracted?”

So instinctively, we knew that there was an area for this product, however convincing traders was a totally completely different ball recreation altogether.

Accomplice with somebody as loopy as you to begin your enterprise

Bex Burn-Callander:

I need to hear all about that as a result of I used to be going to ask, what steps did you are taking and in what order?

So you might have the concept, you’ve completed two years, the place you’ve been taking part in with completely different inventive concepts and actually unlearning all of the stuff from the company world earlier than.

So then the place do you begin?

Do you begin with a model title? Do you begin with making an attempt to boost capital? Do you begin with making an attempt to construct one thing your self, writing strains of code?

What had been the steps you took?

Govind Balakrishnan:

I typically say, I don’t know if this different individuals’s expertise of marriage, however I believe actually to enter one thing as huge as marriage or startups, I believe you want somewhat little bit of stupidity in you. It is advisable be a bit dumb to suppose that you are able to do it as a result of the data you might have at that time, pales compared to what you’re going to realize alongside the journey.

In case you date somebody for a few years, however in the event you’re going to spend many years collectively, the data asymmetry is nice.

So it’s related with startups within the sense that there’s nothing initially that’s going inform you that that is going to be a good suggestion, you’re going to succeed, none of it.

However I believe I’m an enormous believer in the concept you have to stroll the trail to have the ability to study, and the trail will reveal itself.

And that’s the one instructor if that is sensible.

I’m certain in the event you converse to entrepreneurs, each journey is exclusive. I began off with looking for a co-founder and there was this good pal of mine who would’ve been excellent as a co-founder. Actually, actually sensible, very articulate.

However the issue was he was very sensible. So he killed this concept instantly. And he was proper.

There have been sufficient causes not to do that, however then you definitely companion with somebody loopy, like I did with my co-founder Srikant. And that was the start.

To be trustworthy, we by no means began off as a narrated journalism app, if I’m actually trustworthy. The place it took place was that we had been two guys with no cash, and we had been coming into this audio house, and we wished a subscription audio product.

And the primary query you’d get requested is, “Dangle on a second, there are all of those free podcasts on the market, why ought to I pay for you guys?”

So we would have liked some distinctive content material, which may be very, very prime quality. That’s after I mirrored on my time on the BBC and stated, “All of the publications are sitting on the perfect journalism, not simply breaking information.”

I believe that was one of many issues, which is journalism is so linked to breaking information, and we wished to interrupt that hyperlink.

After which we began, we simply went and spoke to publishers, they threw us out. While you get kicked out of the door, you are available by means of the window.

I bear in mind for considered one of our publishers, I’d constructed a faux app, which I pretended it was an actual app, they usually had been sufficient in it to present us a wedge within the door. And we simply bought began actually. I bear in mind, as a result of I’m fairly technical, however I’m not technically sufficient to construct a correct full app.

So I’ll offer you an instance of this.

So we felt that we needed to suppose out of the field. I’d wander round Outdated Avenue and throughout London saying, “Hey, is there anybody who can come on as a technical co-founder?” And no one wished it, as a result of loopy to suppose that anybody’s going to obtain this app and not to mention pay for it and hear.

Lastly, we found that no one wished to affix us, and we needed to construct this app. Then we discovered that there was somewhat service that will assist espresso retailers put collectively apps for themselves. So I simply used that service.

As a substitute of creating an app for a espresso store, I made the primary model of Curio, and we launched it on the App Retailer.

Actually, there’s no higher instructor than simply beginning it and retaining an open thoughts.

Bex Burn-Callander:

No, I completely see that. However I really like that your first step was, discover somebody as loopy as you to come back and launch the enterprise.

I really like that that’s the primary piece of recommendation.

Utilizing low-cost software program to launch your preliminary enterprise thought

Bex Burn-Callander:

However what is that this little bit of software program that helps espresso retailers launch apps? Are you able to bear in mind what it was known as?

Govind Balakrishnan:

It’s known as GoodBarber. I’d suggest them as a result of I bear in mind in our early investor decks we’d say, “Hey, our tech spend for the final six months is $30.”

Bex Burn-Callander:

Wow. That may be a really enticing slide for any VC [venture capitalist].

And do you know very early on that you simply wanted to boost vital capital since you needed to construct this wonderful product that individuals can be prepared to purchase subscription for? So did that imply you needed to get able to pitch to traders like increase, right away?

Govind Balakrishnan:

We did. And one of many issues, Bex, was after I was on the RCA, and in the event you ever go occur to considered one of these diploma exhibits, the standard of concepts there may be off the charts.

However I typically found that that’s additionally the place the place lots of concepts go to die as a result of individuals aren’t capable of scale.

So one of many issues that I used to be obsessive about was, “How will we scale this concept? How will we make it larger?”

And clearly you want capital for that.

So within the early days I pitched to everybody, I pitched to the owner of the flat beneath us within the hall saying, “Hey, do you need to spend money on us?”

I pitched to anyone who would hear, however I knew that we needed to increase capital and if I’m actually trustworthy, there are simpler concepts to have began, frankly B2B SaaS enterprise, I’ve lots of respect for individuals who do it, however that’s not for me.

However hold on a second.

Revolutionising audio was a really, very tall order and I pitched to mainly, just about each VC, not simply within the UK, in Europe, within the US, and it’s been a tough experience if I’m trustworthy.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Did the owner make investments?

Govind Balakrishnan:

No he didn’t.

Bex Burn-Callander:

You had a tough promote, media corporations, it’s a protracted, great distance for the reason that glory days when individuals had been blissful to throw cash at media as a result of there’ve been some spectacular implosions. So it’s a arduous promote.

Funding a tech startup and pushing previous rejection

Bex Burn-Callander:

How did you get that first seed capital by means of the door? What was your profitable argument?

Did you must activate the attraction?

Govind Balakrishnan:

Sadly, I want it was as simple as that be. Sadly I didn’t have sufficient attraction to transform attraction into cash.

I suppose there have been a few steps. One of many issues we realised was that going to a very good startup accelerator would assist.

So we utilized to Y Combinator, and we truly bought an interview name. They flew us out to San Francisco. We went there, however one of many unlucky issues about that have was that we had a 3rd co-founder whom we needed to half methods with for a large number of causes.

However what it meant was that once we utilized, three of us utilized and once we went to the interview, two of us turned up.

So the apparent query was even earlier than you began, you’ve misplaced a 3rd of the corporate, they usually didn’t make investments, which was very, very unhappy.

However from that have, what I realized was that this isn’t a media firm, we have to consider this as a tech firm that’s within the content material house.

So we utilized to a different startup accelerator known as 500 Startups, once more in San Francisco. And basically within the interview each second phrase I used was AI [artificial intelligence] or machine studying. We truly use lots of AI and machine studying now, however at the moment we didn’t.

However they took a flowery to us and invested.

So we went out, they usually gave us $100,000. However equally what had occurred at the moment, as a result of the 2 questions that traders had been asking was, A, “Would anybody pay for this?” and B, “Would anybody hear?” It was very elementary questions.

So what we had completed was, like I stated, we had that free model of the app and lots of people had downloaded the app, and we had a advertising and marketing hack for that, which I can discuss, if of curiosity.

However what successfully occurred, was we wrote to all of the individuals who had downloaded the free app and stated, “Hey, we’re going to go and in three months we’re going to launch this wonderful new app, and it’s a subscription app. Will you give us your cash?”

And a couple of thousand individuals gave us their cash.

So it was weird that it didn’t get charged, however they gave us their cash and it simply so occurred that once we had been ending up at this accelerator, it didn’t take us three months to construct that app. It took us 9 months to construct that app. However lots of the funds got here by means of at the moment and folks began paying then.

So from zero, all of a sudden we had a income curve that was just about vertical and that was a very good knowledge level to exit and try to increase cash.

Now the issue was that we had been making an attempt to boost cash in San Francisco, whereas we weren’t most likely going to remain in San Francisco. And that was an enormous, huge pink flag for traders within the US. And Europe, I believe traders have sufficient good things to speculate right here that they didn’t actually need to spend money on excessive threat, excessive reward corporations.

So we did 100 investor pitches, 123 to be exact, and we bought three or 4 time period sheets, and we lastly went with an amazing fund based mostly in Berlin known as Cherry Ventures who invested about $1.6m at the moment.

Bex Burn-Callander:

A whole lot of pitches to get three time period sheets again. That simply boggles the thoughts.

What number of hours is that and what number of days of Excel spreadsheets is that?

Govind Balakrishnan:

I do have a spreadsheet which is painted pink as a result of each time somebody rejected us, we color them pink. I believe it’s gruelling, there’s no disguising it, however what’s attention-grabbing is, Bex, that I believe you study loads by means of the method.

So we realized to run a correct fundraising course of, which we didn’t know once we had been in London as a result of if an investor known as us at the moment, we’d go and see them. If the investor known as us in three weeks, we’d go and see them.

However what we realized, at the least the Silicon Valley means of operating a fundraise course of was to pay attention it in three, 4 weeks. Take 5 conferences a day in order that by the tip of it you don’t know who rejected you, who stated what.

However it’s such a blur, however you’re going at a torrid tempo.

Typically, I’d be sitting on the reception of a fund ready to talk to a companion, and I’d get 4 rejections in my telephone, and then you definitely’d have to only put your recreation face on and simply go.

So it’s a gruelling course of.

But when I’m trustworthy, this was our expertise. Most likely we weren’t that nice at fundraising, however this was our expertise. Others might have had it in a different way, nevertheless it’s a knowledge level of 1.

The primary piece of content material on Curio

Bex Burn-Callander:

And also you stated that you simply had this app that you simply hacked collectively initially, which had some content material on it.

So I’ve to know, what was the primary piece of content material that you simply managed to get onto Curio? What was it that launched this app?

Govind Balakrishnan:

Considered one of our first companions, and we nonetheless companion with them, is a publication known as Aeon. They usually’re large as a result of they companion with… I don’t know in the event you’re aware of them, however they’re just like the New Yorker however extra targeted on psychology, philosophy, not only a literary journal.

One of many issues that the founder there, who’s phenomenal, Paul Hains, stated was, “We would like the audio again, so you’ll be able to take the content material, you’ll be able to produce the audio, give them the audio again, and we want to supply it to our audiences.”

And for me, and second, a elementary idea was that if a writer succeeds, we succeed. It wasn’t like a mannequin the place we wished to develop on the expense of the writer.

So we stated, “Okay, no drawback, take the audio again.”

They usually gave us an attribution hyperlink and that’s how we bought our first advertising and marketing technique going.

However the first piece of content material was from them. It was a bit known as Grasp of Many Trades, and it was about how on this planet at the moment, specialism is ruining creativity.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s attention-grabbing. And was that basically standard? Did that get a great deal of listens?

Govind Balakrishnan:

It’s tremendously standard. Tremendously standard.

Discover an natural development hack for your enterprise

Bex Burn-Callander:

And also you stated a second in the past, Govind, about this advertising and marketing hack that bought a great deal of individuals to obtain the app within the first place.

My listeners will kill me if I don’t ask you instantly. What was that advertising and marketing hack?

Govind Balakrishnan:

Oh, the advertising and marketing hack was in giving the audio again to the publishers. And all we requested for them in return was a hyperlink by means of to say, “Hey this was produced in partnership with Curio.”

Bex Burn-Callander:

So that they despatched listeners to you mainly?

Govind Balakrishnan:

Successfully, sure. We might give them the audio, so they’d enhance engagement on their facet and if individuals wished a Curio expertise throughout publishers, they may come to us.

So we created a round loop the place individuals would come to us from publishers, and they’d uncover new publishers and in the event that they wished to search out out extra concerning the publishers, we’d direct the visitors again to the writer.

So for instance, individuals would come to us from the Monetary Instances, and they’d uncover one thing large in Scientific American, and they’d go to Scientific American. In order that was the loop.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s nice recommendation as a result of it may be very time-consuming to construct your personal neighborhood from scratch one after the other. However in the event you can plug into these big pre-existing communities then you recognize can develop at X tempo.

Govind Balakrishnan:

Precisely. As a result of I believe one of many items of recommendation I’d give myself is to determine an natural development hack fairly early. As a result of there may be one. There’s bought to be one, nevertheless it’s a query of discovering it.

Bex Burn-Callander:

How do you win new listeners now? As a result of presumably it’s bought harder as time has gone on.

Govind Balakrishnan:

No truly if something, we’ve been rising at a torrid tempo. Clearly, what labored with two individuals making an attempt to hack collectively a product will not be going to work now.

The product modifications, how we develop modifications, how we market modifications. However I believe the elemental ethos of the product stays the identical, however there’s truly been completely no slowing of subscriber acquisition.

And if all being properly within the subsequent 12 months, we must be hitting 100,000 paying subscribers. And likewise by way of listening, individuals are listening for about half-hour a day to Curio. So it’s fairly deep engagement.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s wonderful. That’s like you’re changing into a part of the material of individuals’s on a regular basis lives. In the event that they’re tuning in day-after-day, and it’s that many individuals, that’s large.

Govind Balakrishnan:

It’s large. And I believe for me, it’s very gratifying, as a result of on common individuals spend most likely a minute or two on the web site of a newspaper or journal.

Clearly, it’s a unique proposition. However I’m completely delighted that every one this journalism will get a lot engagement on Curio.

Journalism helps us to know the world we stay in, so we are able to make efficient change

Bex Burn-Callander:

While you began this story, you talked about conflict correspondents being despatched to harmful locations, risking their lives, and bringing again this wonderful journalism.

Did that find yourself being one thing that individuals wished to listen to or had been you shocked by any of the audio tendencies that you simply noticed coming by means of?

Govind Balakrishnan:

To be trustworthy, it’s reaffirmed my religion in high quality journalism, if I’m completely trustworthy. As a result of there are three issues individuals come to Curio for, Bex.

One, is individuals come to know the world, not likely find out about what’s occurring on this planet, however perceive deeply, what are the forces which might be shaping our world? Why is inflation excessive? Why is the conflict in Ukraine affecting meals costs?

The world is such a posh place that it’s essential to know the interdependency of all of this.

So one cause why individuals come to us is to know the world.

The second, is that individuals genuinely need our aspirational, each for themselves and society. So individuals need to find out about science, about historical past, about psychology, philosophy, all of this.

And considered one of our traders who’s truly the curator of TED, Chris Anderson, has this lovely saying, which is, “Sooner or later one must know somewhat bit about lots of issues if you wish to impact change.”

In order that’s been the second, which is absolutely about self-development, inspiration, surprise. These are the elements that individuals need to come for.

And the third is what we name sensible escape.

Individuals need to escape into a unique world, however individuals don’t need heavy content material. However equally individuals don’t need backwards content material.

So a narrative or a bit of investigative journalism that’s actually thrilling and takes you into a unique world, that works very well. So three issues, perceive the world, self-development and surprise and sensible escape.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I’m bought, I need all of these issues. I’m plugging in right away after this name.

As a tech platform, presumably you must be fairly cautious that you’re apolitical, such as you don’t appear to be supporting any specific agenda.

That should be actually arduous if you end up publishing content material on a regular basis, which does have an opinion. How on earth do you discover that stability and stroll that line?

Govind Balakrishnan:

It’s one thing we take very significantly, and we’ve been speaking about it loads since you typically don’t need to create an echo chamber, you need to make house for a multiplicity of views.

Equally, you don’t need to patronise individuals or simply give individuals higher causes to imagine in what they already imagine in. Or equally you don’t need to draw back from subjects.

So the best way we consider it, is that there are lots of opinions on Curio, however so long as it’s a considerate argument, and it’s not a rant.

And infrequently lots of the suggestions we get is, “Curio is information with out anxiousness.”

That’s not as a result of it’s all excellent news, nevertheless it’s truly considerate. It tries and explains. You are taking specialist topics to generalist audiences. So it’s one thing that we’re very, very targeted on.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Now that’s a very attention-grabbing response as a result of I believe lots of content material creators are wrestling with that proper now, and we’re seeing lots of conversations about individuals being, “No platforms,” so I used to be about your method, however that appears very balanced and likewise the truth that you’re counting on the status of your content material creators.

So they’re nearly like the primary guard in opposition to something slipping by means of that you simply wouldn’t be proud to have on Curio.

Govind Balakrishnan:


As a founder it may be simple to overrule individuals when not wanted—be aware of this

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I need to find out about how the journey has been. Has it been sluggish, regular success after which constructing alongside the best way?

Or have you ever made any dreadful errors that you may share with us or issues that had been arduous to recuperate from?

Govind Balakrishnan:

I believe each startup founder would have a cabinet stuffed with errors. It’s undoubtedly not been success, success, success, success. Removed from it in truth. Each new step you are taking, you additionally open up new points.

I believe simply to say, clearly in the event you take VC cash then there are expectations that come from a VC that are reputable. So you have to be very open to that.

Then lots of it’s about constructing the precise product groups. So your early hires change into very, very essential. So how do you rent? Nicely I can’t say we’ve at all times completed that, and we didn’t have an amazing product constructing tradition.

We raised a bunch of cash simply earlier than the pandemic, after which we went by means of the pandemic, and we simply couldn’t scale the tradition of the corporate, and it was very tough, legitimately so, for individuals who felt the product must be X and a few individuals felt the product must be Y, and there was nothing to harmonise throughout all of them.

So I imply actually, there are such a lot of errors, however I believe I want to suppose that now we have an distinctive product constructing tradition at the moment.

So we did that as a result of we did it unsuitable beforehand, even after I ran product it was horrendous since you want a sure sense of belief and openness if you construct product, however as a founder all of a sudden you realise that you may overrule individuals simply by no matter you say and that’s not to the betterment of the product. It is advisable be very considerate about that.

Quite a few points like this provide you with each stage and, in a means, I believe I can now see the attraction of second time founders as a result of at the least you may brief circuit a few of this.

Persona and cultural match are simply as vital as abilities when hiring

Bex Burn-Callander:

I’m to listen to extra about the way you realized to rent nice tech individuals. As a result of I do know that we’ve bought lots of listeners who’re non-technical however may need a technical thought.

So you are attempting to herald the talents that you simply don’t have, however since you don’t have these abilities, it’s fairly arduous generally to know what you want.

So what would you say are some good questions or ideas to have as a non-technical founder constructing a tech crew?

What had been the learnings out of your journey?

Govind Balakrishnan:

Whereas I can see the precise drawback with hiring tech individuals, I believe it goes throughout the board to hiring nice individuals anyplace. I believe everybody, together with myself, has a restricted time on planet earth, so that you need to put your efforts in direction of one thing you imagine in and that has excessive influence.

Maybe, hopefully, if you’re 70 years outdated you look again and say, “Hey, that was one thing I used to be proud about. I did one thing phenomenal with a bunch of actually, actually sensible individuals.”

So I believe in a sea the place there’s Fb and Google who pays multitudes. Actually, it’s about what’s the imaginative and prescient of your product.

In truth, the Bible says it as properly, “With out imaginative and prescient, individuals perish.” So you actually need that sense of imaginative and prescient, optimism, and by some means a product that individuals relate to, and ultimately you’ll discover them.

However the different factor is clearly, even somewhat bit of fine spark can get you a great distance as a result of there are sufficient instruments to get you began. You watch a course on software program engineering from wherever, Coursera or Stanford.

You are able to do loads by your self, it’s to not be underestimated, however I believe to rent distinctive individuals, notably within the early days, it’s actually, actually vital that you simply discover alignment with merchandise.

So simply to present you an instance on expertise, our head of engineering, Abe, distinctive chief, he got here for the interview, and we spent most likely about quarter-hour within the interview speaking about Hitchhiker’s Information to the Galaxy and why it was wonderful and why we favored it.

And actually, you identify an amazing reference to somebody, and also you each imagine on this imaginative and prescient after which individuals come alongside.

Bex Burn-Callander:

So it’s additionally, even in a tech rent, it’s concerning the persona and the cultural match. You may get a gauge of somebody simply from whether or not or not they’ll match along with your crew and the imaginative and prescient for your enterprise.

Govind Balakrishnan:

Bex, in truth, it’s extra vital as a result of if finally somebody’s constructing your product, in the event that they don’t have some empathy, and I believe one of many issues we discuss loads about is… In truth, in the event you consider our objective, which you may say is a bit woo-hoo, nevertheless it’s, “Generate empathy by means of surprise,” and for us, it’s actually about how are you constructing empathy with the buyer, empathy along with your product.

Most individuals at Curio would hearken to Curio no matter whether or not they had been workers right here or not.

And it’s very, essential, notably at an early stage. One or two individuals can destroy tradition. Equally, one or two individuals could make tradition.

So it’s essential to get individuals who imagine in what you do.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s nice recommendation. Everybody that works on the enterprise ought to imagine within the enterprise and imagine within the product and be a fan of what you’re doing. In any other case, why the hell are they there?

Govind Balakrishnan:

Precisely. You can go anyplace, you’re a lot in demand, and you may stroll out of right here and each time somebody leaves us, I take it personally, however I hope that they go on to do higher stuff than what we might supply them in that occasion.

The best studying is humility—construct an empowered organisation

Bex Burn-Callander:

Have you ever realized all these classes about being an entrepreneur, being a frontrunner, merely by means of constructing this enterprise or are you an amazing fan of enterprise books or management programs since you’ve bought a really clear imaginative and prescient for a way you need to lead, what sort of tradition you need to have?

Is that one thing that’s simply come about by chance or did you set about that journey?

Govind Balakrishnan:

You understand what, I’ve by no means been a fan of enterprise books if I’m actually trustworthy. I’ve at all times struggled with acquired knowledge as a result of it’s like a type of nostalgia. Anybody who’s writing about giving recommendation is nostalgic about their previous.

I believe for us, now we have made lots of errors when it got here to management, as a result of I initially believed that one needed to be micromanaged to a degree, as a result of in any other case how would you obtain perfection? And if there have been individuals casualties alongside the best way, so be it.

That’s what Steve Jobs did, presumably.

However you realise that every one of that’s nonsense, as a result of actually what you’re constructing at one stage of the corporate, you must be that dictatorial maniac as a result of there’s nothing else occurring.

However at another stage you realise that you’ve got reached the boundaries of your personal data and your personal capabilities in that house, and it’s truly a lot better to herald distinctive individuals and empower them and take issues away, make their life simple in order that they’ll do their finest job.

We’re at that part and that was a tough realized lesson.

I want I might say that, “Yeah, I learn some enterprise e book, and all of a sudden I realised that I wanted to construct an empowered organisation.” Sadly not.

Individuals left. Individuals had been offended on the means we had been operating issues, and we modified.

The one factor I maybe realized is that I believe you have to have a level of self-awareness the place you admit that you simply’re unsuitable, and you modify the way you do issues.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I learn an interview with you the place you stated the best studying was humility, that that was truly the guideline that made you a greater chief to cease considering that you recognize all of it, or that you’ve got all of the solutions, however to take the step again and be like, “Truly different individuals is likely to be wiser than me.”

Govind Balakrishnan:

Yeah, actually, it’s not that I’m some humble one that’s like, “No, all people’s higher.” No I’m not, removed from it.

I could possibly be so immodest that I’d like to take all of the credit score, however the issue is that you simply realise… In truth my degree of confidence in myself was maybe a lot larger after I began than it’s now.

However I’ve confidence in different areas.

As a result of I assumed, “Hey, you recognize what, I did technique consulting, I did a very nice design course. Individuals from that coast went on to boost an extra of $200m, so I’m a part of this wonderful membership.”

However then over time you realise that isn’t working, you don’t know all of it. And that’s been a really arduous lesson to study.

Transferrable qualities from previous profession desires

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I’m as properly in your background, as a result of am I proper that you simply studied to be a physicist?

That’s a whole far cry from what you’re doing now. So what went unsuitable, or what went proper, that was not your path?

Govind Balakrishnan:

I did physics, I went to the Indian Institute of Expertise in Madras in India, and I did physics and if I’m actually trustworthy, I did physics as a result of I like the concept of being a physicist, like in Good Will Looking [Editor’s note: Matt Damon’s character in the film was initially going to be a physics genius but the focus was changed to maths].

The one man wanders round fixing equations on the blackboard. I assumed that’d be fairly cool.

However the unhappy actuality is that it’s a type of fields, the place in the event you’re not a genius, ok isn’t getting you there. You must be a genius to actually impact change in that house and really rapidly I realised that I wasn’t that individual.

As a result of a scientific method is basically considered one of disproving theories, of being curious and people had been transferable qualities I took away.

Finally, I wished to have influence rapidly and at scale, relatively than as a physicist and albeit, now physics will not be a couple of lone genius, it’s about massive groups of individuals engaged on one thing.

And I didn’t need to be a part of that, although I truly being a part of that now.

Bex Burn-Callander:

You’ve realized to like being within the crew, however now it’s too late. You’re doing one thing utterly completely different.

Govind Balakrishnan:


Fail huge to study huge

Bex Burn-Callander:

I favored that time about disproving theories.

Do you’re feeling like that’s what you do at Curio the place you may need an thought for one thing after which do you set about making an attempt to disprove the speculation earlier than you launch it?

Govind Balakrishnan:

We do lots of it. And in the event you consider it proper again, take Amazon or Google or Meta Fb, we are going to by no means have the sources that they’ve or sometime we’d have it, however at the moment we undoubtedly don’t.

So we have to play it sensible and the one means we are able to do it’s being very, very sensible concerning the speculation we do. In truth, the entire firm is constructed on speculation. Every thing is an experiment, and it’s alright to fail.

In truth, the encouragement is fail huge, don’t fail small as a result of by failing small, you’re going to study small. So in the event you make an enormous mistake, that’s okay, we are able to recuperate from it.

However the huge failure will not be in making an attempt and making an attempt huge.

Bex Burn-Callander:

You’ve bought to present me an instance of an enormous, failed experiment now. You possibly can’t simply inform me that as a idea. There’s bought to be a concrete anecdote there.

Govind Balakrishnan:

I’ll offer you one thing on the cultural entrance. We thought I might run product. How arduous is it to run product? There are designers, there are engineers and there are issues we have to strive, and also you stack rank them, prioritise them, and off you go.

So for most likely about higher half of six months, I led product, which truly meant that I’d go to standups, I’d go and prioritise, I’d do necessities gathering, I’d do the lot.

The consequence of that was, we misplaced two large designers who left us. We misplaced two large engineers who left us and every little thing, and we had made no progress.

Okay, you may say, “Okay, that appears like a loopy experiment.”

However we misplaced time, and, in that lesson, I realized that truly having an appreciation for a product versus truly being a very nice product chief are two very various things.

I aimed the latter, and it was a really, very costly means of studying that I couldn’t run product.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That could be a nice instance and I really like that, you recognize can chuckle now.

It should have been terrible on the time, however you get some very, very insightful learnings about your self and the place your strengths lie inside your personal firm that then will stand you in good stead for the remainder of the lifespan of Curio.

Govind Balakrishnan:

100%. And it was not simply that, Bex, as a result of individuals would really feel marginalised, individuals wouldn’t really feel listened to.

So it was not simply that the product crew was annoyed, it was additionally that the remainder of the corporate was annoyed as a result of issues that they wished to get constructed couldn’t get constructed and in consequence I’d really feel the stress and I’d snap at individuals. So it was terrible, terrible.

However that was an experiment in me operating product.

Focus in your imaginative and prescient and create an area for creation

Bex Burn-Callander:

So what do you’re feeling now’s your absolute energy? What do you try to spend most of your time doing at Curio and the way is that position evolving?

Govind Balakrishnan:

Clearly, the same old expectations of a founder are evangelising concerning the product, clearly fundraising. These are the apparent ones, however I believe a big a part of my time can be spent within the imaginative and prescient and in there’s a quote which I really like, which is by Alan Kay, who’s a pc scientist.

He says, “A change in perspective is price 80 IQ factors.”

I really like that as a result of in a means, as a founder, you’re making an attempt to border the longer term within the language of at the moment, in a compelling means. And a lot of your headspace goes into the imaginative and prescient after which an enormous a part of my headspace is spent in empowering our management crew and the broader crew and actually getting out of their means.

So being directive as a result of with out path, every little thing’s misplaced, however not being prescriptive in every little thing and creating the house.

I believe it sounds a bit woo-hoo after I say, “Oh we’re creating house,” nevertheless it’s truly that.

Bex Burn-Callander:

How do you create house although? Is it only a case of somebody says, “I need to strive an thought,” and your automated response must be, “Yeah, certain, go for it. What can I do to assist?”

Or are there different actions which might be concerned if you end up making an attempt to encourage different individuals to fulfil their potential?

Govind Balakrishnan:

Plenty of house creation goes into discovering the precise means of organising ourselves. The best mannequin of organising individuals is essential. Then getting in the precise individuals is essential after which creating the precise incentives is essential.

So that’s the way you create house.

Then determining what fashion of administration works for sure people. Some individuals embrace the empowerment, they usually do very properly. Some individuals don’t need the empowerment.

They could need to be practitioners and be instructed what to do and that’s completely wonderful too. You want to have the ability to work with a large number of personalities. So house creation is a posh artwork as I’ve realised.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s actually attention-grabbing, and likewise it makes me really feel actually grateful that I’m an organization of 1 with one individual to handle, which is myself as a result of making an attempt to alter my fashion for 10, 20, 30 individuals, that sounds completely exhausting.

Govind Balakrishnan:

I hear you, Bex.

I really feel the ache, nevertheless it’s additionally fairly rewarding as a result of if you lastly stumble throughout, it’s like a puzzle, lastly if you crack the puzzle, and you discover an entity or a bunch of individuals, doing one thing that you’d’ve by no means been capable of do your self and at a scale which you by no means thought was potential, at a top quality and at a degree of decision, which simply boggles the thoughts, then it feels very, very rewarding.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That does sound wonderful.

Don’t underestimate the ability of an influence nap

Bex Burn-Callander:

Govind, I’ve bought yet one more query for you, which was after I was performing some analysis on you and your ideas for different startup founders, I discovered just a bit sentence the place you had been like, “Don’t underestimate the ability of an influence nap,” which I assumed was nice.

So I need to know, what’s so fabulous concerning the energy nap and are there every other issues that you simply do that you simply suppose different startup founders ought to do too?

Govind Balakrishnan:

I believe the ability nap was picked up, for sure.

I believe for me, I really feel each job, even after I was with BBC, earlier than that I used to be a technique guide, I’d discover some place to go and nap as a result of I simply wanted somewhat little bit of that break through the day.

I swore to myself that if ever I began an organization, I’d encourage individuals, if napping was what did it for them, allow them to nap.

However equally it may be utilized to something as a result of in the event you wished to take the afternoon off and go and take your child to the park, otherwise you wished to go and cycle someplace, do it.

It’s completely wonderful as a result of I believe all of us want to reply to the pure cadence of our our bodies. And there’s no level in shoehorning everybody from 9 to five and sit right here and even when we’re falling asleep at your desk, you don’t need to be doing that.

So I believe for me, in the event you extrapolate from the ability nap it’s, hearken to your self.

Everybody trusts you to do a tremendous job. You don’t should be policed. If a nap is sensible, nap. If you wish to take the canine out for a stroll, take the canine out for a stroll. Do no matter is sensible to you.

I believe there’s one factor I’ve additionally realized, Bex, is that I believe too many individuals come to conditions considering it’s zero-sum. So that you can win, another person has to lose.

I’ve actually resisted that as a result of on this journey, individuals whom I can by no means repay have helped me in immeasurable methods.

And I genuinely imagine when individuals ask me, “Oh, what about competitors and every little thing?” And I say, “You understand what? Individuals are going to spend seven hours a day, not in entrance of screens, and it’s globally, and the chance is there for all of us.”

Individuals optimise for the native maxima, you win the battle and lose the conflict, nonetheless you see it. And I believe this concept of paying it ahead, being fairly beneficiant, not since you are some type of saintly character, however truly genuinely, you don’t imagine within the zero-sum world.

At the least I’ve discovered that to be fairly wholesome for myself.

Bex Burn-Callander:

And that’s a stunning piece of recommendation to complete on. Don’t get caught up within the zero-sum recreation. You possibly can all be winners.

I really like that, and I’ve liked speaking to you. Thanks a lot.

Govind Balakrishnan:

I actually, actually loved this. So thanks a lot for having me.

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