Matthew: Are there any unique metrics or social proof about Xobni that you’d like to share with the audience?
Matt: Xobni has been an incredible success. We’re used in 90% of the Fortune 500, which is pretty big. This is a place where innovative software doesn’t really happen, so the fact that we’ve managed to sneak in there and improve the lives of these workers at GE or the US Army or Merrill Lynch, these places that probably don’t get much excitement in their software experience at work, for us to reach that many people is something I’ve been really proud of. I think the application at this point has been downloaded 7 million times.
Matthew: That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing. We know founders face unique challenges when they start a company. What was the hardest part about starting Xobni and how did you overcome this obstacle?
Matt: That’s a tough question. The hardest challenge about starting Xobni? Neither of us had ever had a real job before, so this was our first job. We were actually starting this company out of Boston, and as I spoke about earlier, we talked about how hard it was to build software for Outlook.
We thought we could ship our product, just the two of us. It ends up that we couldn’t. We knew we needed to build a team. We had about $12,000 in the bank. My co-founders were 21 or 22 and I was 24. We were saying to investors at the time, “We need millions of dollars to do this.” The east coast investors were a little bit like, “You guys don’t have enough experience.” They introduced us to some potential CEOs. We said, ‘No, no, no. We’re going to go build this business and we want you to partner with us.” They weren’t interested.
I made a trip out to the west coast after meeting a co-angel, Paul Buchheit, who invested in us. I think he put in $50,000 or $100,000. Then I met all these great VCs out here and we actually fit the model of what they were used to. They were like, “Yeah, these are exactly the type of guys that go and build really big businesses.”
One of those VCs that believed in us was Vinod Khosla who’s a legend and a former partner at Kleiner Perkins, the founder of Sun Microsystems. Within a few weeks of meeting them they had signed on a deal that would give us $4.2 million. A lot of the stepping stones in a company’s history evolve around funding. Those are the different gears on the transmission. That kind of shifted us into first gear.
Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your business and the users that you didn’t realize before you launched?
Matt: We learn stuff every day. That’s the best part about it. We spend a lot of time talking to users. In any business or any project I’m working on, I pride myself in spending a ton of time talking to users.
On the Xobni blog I did something called, ‘One User Per Week’. I would schedule a call with one of our users every week, send them a free T-shirt, and do a profile on them and their job and how they find Xobni useful. I would get product feedback and ideas from them. It was a really awesome experience. I can’t say there’s one specific thing that I’ve learned about our users. What I would say instead is I’m a ravenously curious person, which fits really well with what it takes to build a product and build a company. I’m just so interested in learning about our users in anything I do.
Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know it can be very difficult. We want to dispel some myths here, so my question to you is what is it that you do that you make look easy? What skills or talents come intuitively or easily for you that you’re good at? What has been difficult, and how have you managed that?
Matt: That’s a big question. What things come really easily to me?
Matthew: And what is difficult for you and how have you managed that?
Matt: I was trying to nail the first part first. As I said previously, I’m just naturally very curious so I just love learning about things. You constantly have to be learning in a startup; that’s learning about yourself, learning about your team, and learning about users. That’s something that I’m really good at. I really like people. This is a business of people. Any business is about people, and if you’re incredibly curious about people and learning about them, I think that’s what leads to success. That’s what leads to learning.
The thing that I’m not good at, that I’ve had to work on, is I’m not organized. I just try to find hats to solve that problem. I’m really not organized. It would probably be helpful. I think the fourth employee we hired at Xobni was an office manager who changed my life. One of our angel investors suggested that we do it because I was having to do so many coordinating tasks. Her name is Ladonna and she’s amazing. She’s made me so much better at my job. I didn’t address my issues head-on but instead found solutions to them. In that example, by hiring someone to help me where I’m weak.
Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Xobni?
Matt: That I love this. That I love building companies. I was ripe. I knew that I wanted to do this from the age of 10 and launched Xobni at the age of 25. Launch days are my favorite day. It’s like finals week in the real world, that amazing flow that you get during school when you’re studying for exams, where you’re like, “I’m getting this. I’m going to nail this exam. I’m going to go in there and I even know what they’re going to ask me.” That’s the same feeling you get when you’re launching a company. And that beer that you have right after finals week, that’s the best beer of the year. That’s the same way that celebration with the team is after you have a successful launch. I love launchings. So I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I love doing this. I love it.