Week 5 in Y-Combinator: Things we did that didn’t scale

Posted by Alan Zhao


July 17, 2020

Sending a video note to our customer Retool!

What’s the origin of “Do Things That Don’t Scale”?

The quote actually originates from YC founder and legend Paul Graham. Paul Graham is famous for his startup essays and the one entitled “Do Things That Don’t Scale” is really worth the read.

In the article Paul describes how founders believe that they either will take off immediately, or not at all. But that’s not how it really works. In reality, you have to “take off” in different phases — from 0 to 1, from 1 to 10 and from 10 to 1,000. When you’re going from the 0 to 1 phase of figuring shit out, Paul says, you need to make things work for 1 customer. In doing so you should do things for that 1 customer that would never work for 10 customers or 1,000 customers.

This week in our Group Office Hours, our YC partners reminded us that the program was almost halfway over and Demo Day was just around the corner. They encouraged us to identify big unknowns that could be preventing us from reaching our goals, and solving them in the hackiest way possible. So we took the leap and tried three this week.

1. Spreadsheeting a feature

With our engineering team focused on scaling our backend this past week, I was shit out of luck on getting new features in the hands of users. One of the biggest ways we think we can add value to our users is by pushing the industry towards warm intros instead of cold outreach. Cold outreach in our minds is like throwing darts into the universe — you have to get real lucky to hit something and make a new sale. To that end, if we can help businesses move towards warm intros by thinking about their customers as a network, this will allow them to leverage those customers for new opportunities as opposed to cold outreach.

Many customers have told us they’d love to know which companies they could get warm intros to given the network they have. We realized we could create an easily searchable database (and recommendations) for just this using our algorithms — but it would have to wait until we could build it out in a few weeks. Channeling my inner Paul Graham, I thought about how I could do something that didn’t scale to get feedback on the effectiveness of the feature. So what did I do? “Spreadsheeted” the feature!

I decided to download my own LinkedIn Connections (to people who worked at companies that I could warm intro our customers to) and stick them in a spreadsheet. Then in the heart of our product (on the job changes tab) I added a single line of text

“Want more warm leads? Click here to view prospects”!

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Adding a simple string to our product

And it went directly to a spreadsheet!

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The spreadsheet we gave to customers.

Yes, in a live, functioning product. I immediately could start using it in a sales call and explain the desired effect.

The result? In less than 24 hours we had over 10 customers requesting intros.

2. Adding a direct line to the CEO

Customer feedback is the core of what makes Warmly better. The more interactions with our customers, the more likely we are to find product market fit and iterate towards a big meaningful business. If I don’t talk to 5 people a day about our product, I doubt I’ll be able to deeply understand the B2B sales & customer success worlds (due to my lack of experience in B2B). I decided to add my personal cell phone number in our product so that folks could literally reach out and text me any time. Yep — morning, noon or night. Feedback welcome. This might not be sustainable at 1,000 customers, but in the meantime I’m patiently waiting by the phone, doing something that doesn’t scale, hoping that a customer reaches out so I can learn more about what I can do to help them. Do you have questions / feedback about our business? Call me!

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The result? Well actually no one has called me yet. But 2 customer have said they thought it was cool that they could.

3. Every customer deserves tender love & care

I set aside time this week to directly and personally connect with each of our customers. Since we set up shared Slack channels with each customer to massively reduce onboarding time and barriers for communication, it’s been easy to reach out in an authentic way (highly recommend!). The team and I realized that connecting via email with written text certainly wasn’t the best way to form a close relationship with our customers. We had already added images and jokes to our job change notification report emails but we still didn’t feel close to our customers. But what about the medium of video? With the rise of at home work, I’ve been delighted by the authenticity of seeing real people’s homes, interruptions by their kids, or even the occasional “hey I need to make lunch while we talk, hope that’s cool!”

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Sending a video note to our customer Retool!

So that’s why I decided to record a selfie video for each of our customers letting them know how much they mean to us as a baby startup and how grateful we are for their continued business, support, and trust. And it really is true — we’d be nowhere without them.

The result? Happy customers who loved the gesture.…. And Carina (our CTO) reminded me after the fact that I need to smile next time before I start recording otherwise I’ll have just a grumpy starting face!

This week I realized how helpful it can be to do things that don’t scale. I won’t always be able to record personal customer videos. I won’t always be able to text with any customers. And I certainly won’t be able to stick random spreadsheets into our product (our CPO Val would kill me!). But nevertheless, while the product is nascent, the business just getting started, and the lack of learnings the biggest obstacle to our success, we’re willing to do whatever it takes to answer the hardest questions and explore opportunities that could lead to exponential growth.

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Team Warmly! We have some amazing people on the team! 😊 Besides the 4 cofounders (me, Val, Alan, and Carina), we have Zack crushing it on Eng and Amanda innovating on Growth. And we’re lucky to have 6 incredible interns join us for the summer: Brandon, Carol, Grant, Natalie, Sanil, and Shahpar

What happened in Week 4 of Y Combinator?

Check out my cofounder Alan Zhao’s post Week 4 in Y Combinator.

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Want to get in touch or send thoughts about the post? Would love to hear them at maxgreenwald@warmly.ai.

Jul 17, 2020