Yobongo – Caleb Elston – 2 of 2

"The goal is to build products that consistently provide value to users." Yobongo is a mobile app that lets you chat with people nearby in real-time.

Matthew: We know founders face unique challenges when they decide to start a company. What was the hardest part about launching Yobongo, and how did you overcome the obstacle?

Caleb: I think the hardest part, well, there are two. One is really making sure that you have a product that makes sense to people and is coherent and tells a good story. There are a lot of features we want to exist in Yobongo as it grows, and we have a long view on what Yobongo should be in the future. So I think it’s easy as a founder to be excited about where you want it to be and possibly jump too early to building those things before people are ready for them or the market is ready for them, or just you as a company are ready to support that sort of feature.

When we first launched, it was just you open the app and you start talking with people in your area. Then we added private messages so you can keep in touch. That was our decision not to launch in our first wave, without private messages. We knew that was something that would be important. But actually it’s not important until people actually start talking with each other in the first place. So we needed to prove that that would work first, and then move on to the next step of allowing them to keep communication going.

I think the hardest part is really deciding what that first cut needs to be and making sure that’s as great as it can be and not worry about building lots of little features halfway. We really wanted to build a solid experience for what we wanted to do. We’d much rather have people be frustrated with us about features we don’t have than features we do. For instance, we just launch photos inside of Yobongo, and as a result of that now people can share that they’re on the Embarcadero or that they’re going to see the Empire State Building, and that’s much more compelling to talk about a photo in the chat, than just saying I’m at the Empire State Building, or to say this food is awesome. That doesn’t mean as much as if you can actually see the food at Michael Mina’s restaurant or something.

We just added that six, seven months after we launched, and we could have crappy version in the first cut. But we wanted to wait unit we could build it the way that we thought it should be rather than just the first idea that you have. That’s going really well now. So you just have to take your time and be very deliberate about where you want to take the product and be proud of every step along the way.

Mathew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We hope to dispel some myths here. So my question to you is what talents or skills come naturally or intuitively for you, and what has been difficult, and how have you managed that?

Caleb: I think that one of the things that I like to do is I like thinking about systems and like how different systems interact. Companies are really cool systems, because it has all of these subsystems. You worry about where the office is going to be and how the office itself will work, and making sure that people can get in and out of the office and how the desks and all those things. There are the operations of the office. There are the operations of hiring people and getting the go on board. There’s interfacing with the investors and keeping them happy. But what I’m not as great at is actually dealing with some of the details around making sure that we get the trash out on time.

I probably would forget to put out the trash, but we have an awesome person in the company who I can make sure that happens, and make sure that all our bills get paid on time. All these different things that I want to make sure that we set up but then work with someone else to do.

I think one of the hardest things is bringing in people who will do things that you might hate to do, but they actually love to do. One of those is accounting. I don’t like doing accounting. We know we have to do that. We know we have to keep track of books. So we’ve outsourced that to a group who really is great at accounting and it’s great. We send them receipts, and they just make it happen, and I get to look at it at the end of month.

You could spend lots of time trying to find the perfect accountant, but you get a couple of referrals from your investors or other startups, and you just go with them. You just want to make sure that you can keep moving into doing more and more different projects rather than dwelling on trying to get good at something that you’re not.

It’s really about the comparative advantage. What are the things that you can do better, and what else could you just give to some one else who could do really well? I think being aware that is one of the most important things, and also realizing that there are very few things that you can’t change. So if something isn’t going well, just change it and change direction.

It’s probably going to be easier and less effort than spending a lot of time early on when things are really, really nascent and there are endless possibilities, than just fixing it and course correcting as you go. Start that first version of who your accountant’s going to be and then just course correct. You can get one guy to start and then over time adjust.

That’s one little slice, but I think that’s been one of things. Just keep focusing on moving forward rather than worrying about the entire thing. You can’t worry about how your entire office is going to be outfitted on day one. Just find the first place, and then go step-by-step.

Mathew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Yobongo?

Caleb: I think the most important lesson is that you want to make sure that you build something that people can continue to draw value from every single day rather than something that is really fun in the beginning and then tails off. There are a lot of ideas that are fun to do or interesting for a few days. Something like where you fill out a quiz is fun for a day or two and getting people’s response. But are you really going to fill out quiz questions a week later, a month later, a year later?

I think when you look at services that are still around today that were started years ago, they tend to provide utility at a very core human level rather than a really high level need. For us, we’re trying to build a large consumer company that serves billions of people, and so the thing that unites billions of people is not high level needs around I need to find the perfect restaurants for my sister when she visits me in the city. But I want to feel connected to other people and I want to share what I’m thinking about and doing. That’s a much lower level in need that applies to a lot of people.

I think the biggest lesson is continuing to build value on at that really deep human level rather than building high level needs, which are fun and easy to think about. The deep ones seem more obvious, but are actually really hard to fulfill because they are not easily vocalized by people. People tend to jump to the high level needs. They don’t always vocalize their low level needs.

Mathew: What bit of advice do you wish you would have known before launching Yobongo?

Caleb: I think the biggest piece of advice I would’ve liked was start talking to people you want to work with you even before you necessarily have a job for them. We spent a few months trying to get people onboard, who if we had started talking to them earlier . . . it just takes people who are really good, who are already in great jobs time to either decide to join you, to investigate how the company is going, to learn more about it, to get comfortable so they’ll actually transition out of where they are. They’re very valuable there, so their employer is going to want to keep them.

So it takes a lot of time to hire someone. The moment you start, you need to plan a month, two months, even three months. We have one guy who we had visa issues with, so it took almost six months to get him from the moment he signed into the company. Although that was an extreme case, we could have started that process earlier.

If you know there are people you want to bring into your company and would be great, especially if they are people who you have worked with before and you trust them, start talking to them about it. Start getting them in the head space to join you, because I think we could’ve had the team that we have now a little earlier if we had been a little bit more forceful on starting that process .

Mathew: What mentors played a significant impact in your development?

Caleb: We have a really great group of investors. When we assembled that group, we were very lucky that we got to pick most of them. We were in a position where we had choices, and so as a result, you really want to think about what strength each of these investors plays, and how you bring them onboard. So for us, our investors actually are good mentors for us, so we like talking to them. It’s not this adversarial sort of world. For instance, Dave Morin of Path and formally of Facebook is really great around products and sort of expansion. He led the Facebook platform for a very long time, and so I really enjoyed talking with him. He’s in the trenches build his own products right now.

Carl Jacobs is another investor we have who’s been fantastic around just being someone to talk to about running a business and just being calm about that. Kevin Rose is also an amazing product mind and really cares about what’s cool and what people enjoy using. He’s building his own products as well. Josh Felser at Freestyle has built products around synchronicity, so he’s done that around music and chatting in groups.

Each of our investors, Mitch Kapor is just this legendary guy who’s seen so many different companies come and go and also different founders. So he’s just this really wise, calming person to talk to. He really prods you into thinking about totally different vectors that you might not have been thinking about.

They’re really helpful in expanding your mind and getting out of the minutiae of what you are doing that day and thinking about where do you want to take the company. What are some of the really key issues that are blocking you from getting bigger or growing. They all play different roles. I think it would be a mistake if we had a lot of investors who all were biz dev people or all just product people, because you want that wide assortment and you want it from people who you know you can trust and have a bandwidth with so that they know what’s going on instead of just giving you platitudes of advice.

Mathew: Before we close, I’d love for you to give our audience your vision for Yobongo, and how you hope it will change the world?

Caleb: We really believe that there are people out there who should be your friends, who should care about you and who you will care about and that without Yobongo you might not meet them. We want to ensure that you can meet these people and have them become a part of your life. We also want to be one of the best ways for you to keep in touch with these people.

Our world view is how would you build communication tools that, if built today, serve the way we work rather than are predicated on existence e-mail systems or SMS systems or telephony systems and that work well together. That’s our core focus. It’s not about sharing photos or videos or any of these things.

It’s really about communicating, and while those play a part in communicating, it’s not about the highest res or anything like that. It’s really about what makes people communicate and what is the trouble they currently face in doing that. How can you make that more efficient? How can you make it so that people in their city connect or interact and meet them? You see these people all the time on the street, and you forget that they have their own friends. They have their own families. They’re regular people. They can be your best friend in the future. You just don’t know it.

Mathew: Excellent. We appreciate having you a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success with Yobongo. For those in our audience who would like to learn more, and join their community, you can visit them at www.Yobongo.com and download their app. This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. Thanks so much, Caleb.

Caleb: Thank you.


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