Hiten Shah – KISSmetrics 2 of 2

“Speed doesn’t kill startups. Founders should find a way to work faster.” KISSmetrics provides a person-based analytics platform to improve online businesses.

Matthew: What was the most difficult part about starting KISSmetrics and how did you overcome the obstacles?

Hiten: For us, I think starting wasn’t as difficult as it might be for someone that hadn’t started companies before. I think the most difficult part wasn’t just the starting piece, it was more understanding the difference between a venture back start-up and a bootstrap or self-funded company. Those are two different things in my mind. I know that now. 

I’m not saying I didn’t know that before but this is something I like to talk to entrepreneurs a lot anyway. The basic thesis is that if you take financing, you’re going after a bigger opportunity than if you’re bootstrapped or self-funded and you just need to build something to make money. So you always have to think bigger when you’re taking someone’s money.

It doesn’t mean you can start out small or start out with it as a toy. But in the long run, you have to have some sort of vision of how it can be big and truly change the world.

Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your users that you didn’t realize before launching?

Hiten: They need a lot of hand holding. Because it’s an analytics product and it’s only valuable once you’ve customized it for you business. So I think that was the key learning we had. You have to teach people how to use it, you have to show them the ways to track data and get actionable insights out of it. I think I underestimated that early on in the business.

Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look very easy. You know it can be very challenging. We wanted to dispel some myths here. My question to Hiten is what are some skills, talents, or traits that come intuitively or easy for you? What has been difficult and how do you manage that?

Hiten: Sure. I think the most difficult thing that most entrepreneurs that I talk to don’t talk about or think about is communication. So communication with your team. Communication with outside people like PR, or communicating with your customers, or communicating with partners and things like that. 

But the key one that is not done, especially in the early stage, is that you might have a bunch of angels. You might not have a board yet. But you still need to communicate to them. You need to communicate to them relatively regularly. That way, they know what’s going on in their business and your company. 

But at the same time, when it’s really early, you really don’t have an obligation, because you don’t have an official board. So I see a lot of entrepreneurs that are venture back making that mistake a lot. 

The other thing that is really challenging is, I’ve been calling it company architecture, so someone in your company, ideally it’s one of the founders needs to architect the company. What I mean by that is you need to know who to hire, have some idea of when, and have some idea of when. Then go have a process of seeking them out. 

I think that’s something that a lot of entrepreneurs don’t really think about, the idea of scaling the team and figuring out where the gaps are in the business and being able to fill them with the best person for the job.

Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching KISSmetrics?

Hiten: Well we never launched it but the most important lesson is that when you get a lot of customer feedback and you hear a lot of things coming from customers, from customer support, from any interviewing that you might do with customers or any kind of feedback that they give you, the hardest part, that’s really where your vision and product thinking comes in, is how to take that feedback and actually build something they want. Not something they say they want.

Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would’ve known before jumping into KISSmetrics?

Hiten: Something that I think I’ve learned over time is that speed doesn’t kill. Speed actually makes you successful. I’m always trying to think of how to speed everything up. Any part of my business, the constant thing on my mind at any given time is how to build faster.

Matthew: I like that. What mentor has played a significant impact in your professional development?

Hiten: I think someone who is a really good friend and from whom I got a lot of advice about things that are more operational than entrepreneurial is [Hum Malik] from [Gigahum]. I’ve spent a lot of time with him regularly. We just talk about entrepreneurial stuff. It has been very valuable to me, especially coming from this being my first venture back start-up. He has just seen a lot and been able to add a lot of value to my thinking.

Matthew: What advice would you like to share with the audience about launching and building a start up? If you had to distill it to the key elements, what are they?

Hiten: So one thing that takes people a long time to learn that I would say people learn over time is the idea that it’s okay to be wrong. Or more importantly, you should be seeking out situations or things that you’re wrong about because that will give you a perspective that you don’t have. I see a lot of entrepreneurs being steadfast and hard on some decision and saying this is the only way we’re going to do it.

Then I think about that and realize that the times that I learned the most is when I didn’t have that attitude. Then it’s like, based on the data I have today this is how I should be thinking about it. This is how I think about it. This is what I think we’re going to do. 

But then as the new data comes in you actually have to adjust that or be open to that new data. I hear a lot of entrepreneurs getting stuck in some philosophy. So I think the trick is being able to tell the difference between something that is a religious thing versus something that is malleable and should be adjusted along the way. 

My biggest key point is not multiple elements, but just the element of self awareness. So just being really self-aware about why you’re making the decisions you are and how your thinking is shaped by everything around you.

Matthew: Before we close, I’d like you to share with the audience your vision for KISSmetrics and how you hope it will change the world.

Hiten: How we want to change the world in the long run, which will become obvious over time, hopefully this year some time, is we want to change the way people work. Which you when you think of data, you don’t really think about people doing work in business. But we actually want to change the way people work. That’s our vision for the company.

Matthew: Well Hiten, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at KISSmetrics. For those in our audience that would like to learn more, you can visit their website at www.kissmetrics.com. This is Matthew Wise of FounderLY. Thank you so much Hiten.

Hiten: Thank you.


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