Product design & execution, enterprise sales, fundraising, recruiting & hiring a team, rocking myself to sleep
Closing a multi-year contract with UBS and their investment bank.
August 2018 - Present
While I was working at VersaMe on a distributed product team, I encountered a lot of friction when it came to knowing who the right people in the company were to go to for information I needed. And even if I did know, navigating everyone's busyness made actually connecting pretty difficult.
As a result, even at a 20-person, distributed company, information and connection silos existed.
In our networked age, we've tricked ourselves into believing that innovation and creativity, these magical things every company chases, come via more online communication, more meetings, more brainstorming sessions. But that's crazy. We know that's not where it comes from. Innovation and creativity come from human conversations. From collision points. Different individuals, with different ideas, coming together to approach things in a new way.
The only problem is that today's office workplace is not set up to facilitate those collision points. And as the workplace skews remote, we're moving farther away from the opportunities to unlock the magic that leads to innovation.
• Sources: 2011 McKinsey: Rethinking knowledge work; EY Belonging Barometer
So we have a mechanism problem. People need a mechanism to discover who knows what and how to access that person. If you could create a mechanism that makes it easy for employees to have valuable face-to-face conversations that otherwise wouldn't happen, then knowledge-sharing, engagement, and innovation would improve.
In setting out to test Jam, the initial thesis was simple: If you could remove the barriers that prevent employees from connecting with one another, then not only would you see an increase in human connection, but knowledge-sharing and productivity would increase.
As an employee who struggled to connect with coworkers and find the information I needed, I started designing to solve my own problem—finding a relevant coworker, figuring out a time to connect, and then connecting in a meaningful way. With that, there were three core considerations I knew Jam must do:
People are too busy for random connections. Jam should understand the type of person I need, and then go find them.
People are also too busy to go back and forth on scheduling another meeting. Jam should know our availability and schedule it.
Knowledge-workers live and die by their calendars. For Jam to stick, it needs to integrate in to the workflows employees already use.
I was able to bootstrap the shoestring product that was built in a weekend to $39,000 in ARR. From here, my thinking was to take the initial feedback we got from our first customers, and develop a product that would make it easier to get our next 100 customers.
An early mistake I made, among many, was deviating from the initial low-touch product build and instead optimizing for a product that could scale. I naively confused the initial customer traction with finding product-market-fit and immediately narrowed-in on a product and growth strategy that required a custom build.
So I raised $315,000, hired a few engineers to execute v1, and focused exclusively on the product. In hindsight, this was obviously the wrong way forward, but with conviction at the time, I designed the data architecture, built mockups for the entire user flow, and product managed the entire build on-time and on-budget.
After spending a lot of time and money building v1, we learned that the core value proposition we were offering was a nice-to-have. We were correct in that people wanted to feel connected to their coworkers, but asking someone to go through an experience where the payoff could be valuable in the future, created a lot of opportunities for drop-off.
Through customer interviews, product walkthroughs, and even a product-market-fit feedback form, we discovered must-have features. While it was nice to make that new connection, individuals wanted to know what coworkers were working on now and what they could be doing now to better connect themselves for success. Despite that need:
• There was no systematic way for employees to know what others were working on
• Intranets are the current solution but often are ignored given they're reliant on static information
• Company leaders have no way to know how well employees are collaborating
We learned that companies were already sitting on all of the data to make this possible: metadata from the plethora of communication tools companies were already using. The idea was to take this mound of data, and help employees and their companies make sense of it.
If you visualize & analyze all of the online networks that exist within a company, then you can not only show who is working with who and what they're working on, but you can measure the health of a company's collaboration. By consolidating this into one application, you change how employees access information and people within the organization.
To date, workplace tools had focused on one-key relationship: Employee : Manager. Through this user feedback, our greatest insight was that the future of workplace engagement would focus on Employee : Employee relationships. This led to the scoping of The Jam Graph, a visual and searchable illustration of the online communication & collaboration happening within a company, and the Jam Index, a guiding metric that quantifies the health of a company's internal communication.
After spending 8-months recruiting the right engineers, building v1, and iterating towards the Jam Graph and Index, we found ourselves selling two incomplete products to two different audiences. The first audience included Series B+ technology companies like Piano, our first paying customer, who were doubling in headcount and needed a tool to help scale their culture and knowledge-sharing practices. The challenge was that these tech-forward companies had tighter budgets and were already inundated with tools so the threshold for user adoption and stickiness was much higher.
The second audience included large, static enterprises like UBS, our first enterprise customer, who needed a new approach for engaging and connecting their employees and were willing to dedicate the resources towards doing so. These employees primarily relied on outdated tools and the existing workplace culture was not set up well to accommodate the modern employee that prioritized connection.
Enterprise customers had validated the strongest need for connecting employees though given their regulatory and IT constraints, would never be able to implement products like the Jam Graph and Index. Series B+ technology companies showed a lot of interest in Jam's new products. So there was a decision to be made: continue selling v1 to enterprises or keep building for the Series B+ companies.
Eventually, the decision was made to focus on the product that customers like UBS found really valuable and were willing to pay for. As a first-time, solo founder, there were plenty of mistakes I made that compounded over time and limited our ability to adapt quickly, but the biggest one was not optimizing for a technical co-founder early enough. Without that, we'd continue to burn a lot of money while trying to figure out what to build. So as a result, Jam continued down the path of selling the product that already existed to customers that were willing to pay for it.
In March 2018, as I was eyeing the decision to start working on Jam full-time, I wrote this article taking the stance that society was trending towards a crisis of connection. This was the belief that not long ago, we used to connect meaningfully with one another more or less by default but we had deviated off course and as a result, we lived and operated in cities, communities, and workplaces that
Jam was founded on belief that to solve that crisis of connection, specifically within today's workplace, human connection had to be prioritized. And if it was, human connection could be a company’s superpower. Jam was simply a bet to use technology to do that efficiently and at scale and our goal was to forever change how humans connect with one another to get work done.
At the time of writing that article, I had no idea what the actual business of Jam would be. The first arena that seemed fitting to start was to help republicans and democrats have more human conversations. Then it was young professionals moving to a new city. And ultimately, after 56 customer discovery interviews, I realized that not only do we spend most of our waking hours at work, but companies were already spending millions of dollars to figure out how to better engage their employees. That set the trajectory for what Jam would become today.
Being a first-time, solo, non-technical founder, my best guess at growing the business was to raise money. I knew building an MVP and proving that I could sell that MVP would increase the odds of raising capital so I focused on taking the first version of Jam and de-risking it as much as possible. Here's a copy of written pitch deck used to raise Jam's seed capital as well as one of the many pitches:
From designing the product to raising capital, throughout the entire journey, what I'm most proud of was selling Jam to companies who also believed in the product and found value in using it. I find it's much easier to sell something you genuinely believe in so for Jam, I drove the sales process with a genuine believe that businesses, and they people that moved them forward, would be much better off if they used our software. Through working with individuals like the Chief People Officer at Nexient or the COO of UBS Investment Bank, I gained a lot of valuable experience on the entire sales process from evaluation to technical close.
And specifically closed multi-year contracts with enterprises like UBS.
From Series B+ startups like Piano to enterprises like Citi.
Conversations that otherwise wouldn't have happened.
Net Promoter Score 64
I appreciate how GB MeetUp via Jam has helped me to develop a broader sense of community and corporate culture within Global Banking at UBS. As a senior banker, I’ve especially enjoyed getting to know some of the junior staff better on a personal and professional level. The sessions have also allowed me to connect with colleagues across the firm in a variety of teams that I might otherwise not encounter, enhancing collegiality and the opportunity for future collaboration between segments of the bank.
Jam has really helped our team connect as humans. We have seen marked improvement in our employee engagement metrics since we started working with Jam. I'd recommend Jam to any leader who is struggling to retain great talent.
Jam has been instrumental in making our dispersed team feel connected. The Jam sessions facilitate learning new things about colleagues I work alongside of every day, and also gives me an opportunity to hang out with someone I don't work with on a regular basis. Having a chance to take a break from my work day in order to Jam with a coworker improves my work-health.
After landing Jam's first few customers, I tricked myself into believing that what we were selling was really important. It turns out, after trusting how people purchase versus what they say, Jam was really a nice-to-have. We were killing ourselves building a product that if it was suddenly turned off, very few people would be knocking on our doors demanding it be turned back on. If you're going to go through the effort of building something, might as well make it something people really want.
Early on when I wouldn't hear back from a customer or an investor or a potential hire, my knee-jerk reaction was to take it personally. How could they just not respond? What I learned is that people don't ignore you out of malice but rather because whatever you're offering just isn't that valuable to them. People are busy and their lives are noisy. The best way to cut through that noise is to make sure you're offering something valuable.
The biggest mistake I made with Jam was not optimizing for a technical partner early on in the business. I built the first version of the product in a weekend that I then sold to customers that I then raised money on, thinking that I could just continue to scrap together the engineering talent to keep growing the product. That approach may work if you definitively know what you're building. I didn't. So the pace I cared about early on eventually handcuffed the company down the road. If I was to do it again, I wouldn't go full-time on Jam until I was working with a technical co-founder.
Jam will not become the billion-dollar business I, as well as our investors, initially hoped for. So through that perspective, Jam is a failure. But today, Jam is a small, yet profitable business. In hindsight there was a path where Jam didn't have to raise outside money which would have made today's outcome a success.
Success shouldn't be solely defined about the end result but should include the trail of emotional wreckage you left along the way to get there. For most of my time building Jam, all I cared about was the business. I stopped prioritizing personal relationships and balance and even if Jam did become the billion dollar business, that success would have been discounted. How you get there is just as important as where you get to.