When it comes to listening to the market, Scoop co-founder Jonathan Sadow can teach you a thing or two. After experiencing the pains of carpooling himself, and meeting with enterprises to listen to their employee transportation woes— Jonathan Sadow, along with his co-founder, Rob Sadow, saw an opportunity.
$46M in funding and 50 employees later, Scoop is a startup to watch. Read our interview with Co-founder Jonathan to hear him address:
- The importance of leveraging your network throughout your startup lifecycle.
- Why getting customers to validate your product for you is not a winning strategy.
- How the idea of success changes dramatically as your startup becomes a company.
Q: MVP’s are buggy, it’s the nature of them. Can you talk about when you decided the product was ready, and what led to that decision?
Jonathan: Our MVP was strictly a proof of concept, then we scraped it all and started over. After we built our MVP, we hired our founding engineer and rebuilt Scoop from the very beginning. For us, the MVP was less about the product being ready – it was about understanding whether the people we thought wanted and needed what we were offering really existed. Once we had that insight, we knew there was a clear path ahead.
Q: Can you talk a bit more about the step-by-step process of building out your MVP?
Jonathan: We took a pretty classic “Lean Startup” approach. I hacked together a web app version of Scoop (known as “PiggyBack” at the time) and we convinced a friend of a friend that had just finished a mobile bootcamp to build an iOS client. We used that to run a 4-week pilot to test the concept and it was breaking all over the place – even on the first night, things were so frantic we almost pulled the plug. Little did we know that was just the first of 1,000 fires to put out. :)
Q: You have a unique situation— your co-founder is your brother. At the beginning, many founders rely on family and friends to help with their product. Can you give any advice on how to navigate combining family and business?
- I’m remiss to be so direct, but find a co-founder. It’s just not worth doing this alone – even if you somehow can find the emotional courage.
- You really need to have complementary skill sets. If you have a lot of overlap in who is supposed to be the expert you’re going to have a lot of arguments. In the beginning you need to be going full speed in your area. My brother and I have different areas of expertise, and that allows us to “stay in our lanes”.
- There’s no way to completely separate the fact that you’re family and working together. We go on vacations with our family and spend holidays together. The key is that you can’t be in denial – you have to accept that your professional and personal life will overlap with each other and address it thoughtfully and proactively. Don’t ignore it and hope that won’t be the case. Embrace it and make it work to your advantage.
Q: You talk about the value of listening when getting your first customers. Can you expand on how listening impacted Scoop?
Jonathan: We had to really talk to enterprises to hear their voices and understand what they wanted to find in a solution. Over time, we had a bit more leverage to properly call on the right people and sell what we were offering. We’re still working on how to scale that as we expand nationwide.
For us it was really about understanding, then validating the problems these companies face. A lot of people try to get customers to validate the solution they’ve already envisioned for them, and that’s not the way to go. The real “aha” moment came when we talked to our partner at Workday, and for the first 29 minutes of our conversation, she talked about the challenges her company was facing with employee transportation. It was this perfect learning moment about the issues she was facing, and it made it clear that we needed to go make carpooling work because she had an appetite for it. Really doing the diligence to understand the product is something a lot of companies short change.
It’s like that recent tweet from Sam Altman: “Pattern I’ve noticed in very impactful people: Spend ~1 year exploring broadly, ~4 years relentless focus executing on the most interesting direction, repeat.”
Q: What advice do you have for founders looking for their lead investor- what should they not be wasting their time on while fundraising?
Jonathan: Find your investor through your network. And that’s really the only way you can – and should – do it. You just have to really get out there and tell your story and find the people who are going to understand and believe. I think that you really have to understand the psyche of an investor— it’s all about risk/reward. The more comfortable they are in taking a bet on you, the more likely they are to invest. So much of what they’re investing in is the potential they see of where you are going. Naturally, getting introduced by a mutual friend is going to help you move forward faster. There’s a reason why introductions are so successful when it comes to dating. You’re already going to feel comfortable because someone you know, knows them.
There’s so much good literature out there about what investors are looking for. Yet – somewhat incomprehensibly – people tend to ignore that advice. They cold email all over the place. My advice: if you don’t have a network, it’s not that hard to build one if you put the energy in. Investing your time in building a network is as useful as building your product. People tend to look at networking as a “fake” thing or somehow superficial in nature. I think that’s the wrong mentality. Is it good for you to meet smart people who have more experience than you? If the answer to that question is no, you have a whole other host of problems.
Q: What do you know now, that you wish you knew when you first started out on this journey?
Jonathan: The idea of success changes dramatically as your startup becomes a company. I don’t think many founders really prepare for the idea that as the company grows they’ll be responsible for so many people’s lives— in terms of employees. Scoop became much bigger than us way faster than I anticipated.
Q: What’s next for you? What risks are you anticipating? And how do you plan to mitigate them?
Jonathan: Scaling! The biggest risk, of course, is maintaining company culture and preserving what makes Scoop, Scoop. We’ve gone from 20 to 50 employees in the last year and there are a couple of ways we’ve maintained our culture:
- You have to think about developing culture with the same intent and focus as any other part of the business that you want to be successful. You have to test things, be open minded, constantly challenge how you can do things better. Basically, invest your energy in it and you will see results.
- Culture has to be developed from within. If you tell a team what the culture is, they’ll reject it. If you give them ownership, they will build it themselves. One of the cool things about Scoop is that we formed a culture committee, and the idea wasn’t even the founders’. It came from the leadership team. That’s the kind of organic improvement you want because it means you’ve given people a say.
Jonathan Sadow will be hosting an intimate founder-only roundtable on March 15th in Silicon Valley. Tickets can be found here (password: foundersnetwork).
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