14 Minutes of SaaS

14 Minutes of SaaS

E48: Vaughan Fergusson – Founder & ex CEO of Vend – 6 of 7 – Don’t Fail too Fast

Vaughan Fergusson – Founder & ex CEO of Vend – 6 of 7 – Don't Fail too Fast - episode 48 of 14 Minutes of SaaS

E48: Vaughan Fergusson – Founder & ex CEO of Vend – 6 of 7 – Don’t Fail too Fast

This is episode 6 of a 7 part series with Vaughan Fergusson, sole founder and former CEO of Vend.

Vaughan talks about mentorship and why team and timing are more important than ideas. And the power of diversity when it comes to hiring effectively and also regarding the creation of effective innovative ideas. We talk about data driven decision making versus inspiration and leaps of faith in business. And why we should embrace our inner weirdness.

We need to fly over the nets of set pathways on education and finding a job. He says “don’t fail fast too early” … we have to listen to our intuition and set the test cycles up a little longer – if you set up the test cycles too short, you might completely ditch an idea or totally change direction too soon. So the art is combining a “little bit of crazy” in founders where the belief is strong, but not blind. They strongly believe in something and will not easily be deterred, but with test it to the nth degree before taking huge leaps forward.

Transcript

Vaughan Fergusson

Sometimes, you know, we’re gonna have to go through some pretty dark tunnels, where we can’t really see our way … but you kinda feel like we’re going in the right direction. And then eventually, you’ll see a light … you get that validation that you know, that you’ve been doing the right thing and it’s incredibly unnerving. The art is where ….  because you can measure the next, you know, six feet in your journey. And if the data doesn’t validate that, you could… you could decide that’s the wrong direction to go. But the real validation is actually on the twentieth foot on that journey. So sometimes the data writes to you. Like you measure something and like you think … ‘Well … the data is not supporting this idea because customers are not using this thing or its not working quite how we think it should work. Let’s fail fast and try something new… but the real value is we just where you keep going… keep going… keep going then you get to you know ..  the 200th step and that’s where the vagueness of the division of the ideas starts to come into resolution. It’s like ‘Aha! We are heading in the right direction.’ But yeah, if you fail fast too early, you wouldn’t ever get there. And that’s definitely where the art is!

 

Stephen Cummins

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.

This is episode 6 of a 7 part series with Vaughan Fergusson, sole founder and former CEO of Vend.

Vaughan talks about mentorship and why team and timing are more important than ideas. And the power of diversity when it comes to hiring effectively and also regarding the creation of effective innovative ideas. We talk about data driven decision making versus inspiration and leaps of faith in business. And why we should embrace our inner weirdness.

…. Do you invest in SaaS or tech companies yourself?

 

Vaughan Fergusson

 

I wouldn’t describe myself as a big investor. I think the thing I invest most is time.

Stephen Cummins

 

So you’re a mentor?

Vaughan Fergusson

 

Yeah, and… and to my own detriment … you know … I find it incredibly hard to say ‘no’ to people … because I genuinely want to help people. And so, you know…  I probably have a half a dozen conversations every week with entrepreneurs. You know. Where if I can give them half an hour of my time, it might save them from a few dark alleys …. or maybe my advice is really horrible … bad advice. (laughter) That’s the caveat, right? Take what you want to …  leave what you want. But so, yeah, I’m pretty active in the… in the ecosystem – giving bad advice to young entrepreneur.

Stephen Cummins

A couple of people come up to you … do you find it more interesting the idea or the dynamics of the team. What do you think is the most important?

Vaughan Fergusson

The people. It’s always the people. Like I don’t know what I’m really testing …  like, you know. First of all they have to got to have a real passion for what it is they’re doing … because that’s where they’re going to get their energy from.  It’s not going to be easy. They gotta have a lot of nouse because it’s not going to be easy. They’ve gotta have that generalist approach – happy to roll up their sleeves and try anything – just to advance your idea. But yeah … and the dynamic of the team. Ideas are free. Everybody has ideas. The difference between, you know, a great idea and a bad idea. That’s often the execution of the idea. And timing.

Stephen Cummins

I was talking at one of the dinners last night with a German founder who has lived in .. I think he might still be living in New Zealand .. he spent a lotta time there .. but he mentioned you. He said that you guys are strong at hiring. Have you an interesting process in Vend for hiring people?

Vaughan Roswell

I think we’ve tried a lot of things over the years. And culture has been a big part of the Vend story – as an employment brand – as well as a brand in retail. I’ve always been a fan and believer of bringing your best self to work. Like we hire you because you’re you .. Like bring something different. So diversity is a really important thing to me. All dimensions of diversity u- because it just brings better thought. You got different people with different ideas …  put them in a room and you’re going to come up with something way better than a bunch of homogenous people with very similar ways of thinking about things. And so, in order to get that diversity you need to have an environment where people can feel like they can be themselves.

Like I want people who are gonna run into the office every day – being themselves – because they’re excited that they can apply their unique brand of skills to help solve a problem. So, I don’t care what you look like, what your musical interests are, where you sit on the political spectrum. But I just want you to be here. So, you know, we’ve shared those stories ever since the beginning. And created some viral videos that helps share our story around our particular brand and culture. But, you know, it’s evolved. We’re like 200 and something people now – spread across five different countries. And, and so, yeah, it’s… its… its evolved. But the one thing that’s stayed true is … absolutely we want interesting people with diverse backgrounds – feeling safe that they can just be who they are. And that’s where the magic happens.

Stephen Cummins

I think we’re almost over obsessed with lean startup and data driven outcomes – in the sense that you know, especially in the SaaS world, we look for a gap in something .. we build something and test it and iteratively improve it and all of that. Do you think they’re just some characters out there that can go and create stuff out of nothing. So do you think there is a place for almost product first in this world. Have we gone too far on the lean startup dogma?

Vaughan Fergusson

Emmm … yes. Yes.

Stephen Cummins

Obviously, I agree. (laughter) I didn’t know whether you’d agree with it.

Vaughan Fergusson

So there is a definite need for a balance between those two ends of the spectrum. So one end is belief based … like I believe this idea, it’s vague like it’s… it’s kind of a little bit fuzzy. But I know there’s something here. I can’t quite describe to you how we’re gonna do it … but I’m pretty sure that we …. you know, this is where as organic computers human brains are incredibly amazing devices. To be able to use intuition and gut feel to give you a direction. So your subconscious knows that and it’s kinda… kinda kicking you every single day as it goes ‘Go there! Go there! Do that!’ But, you know .. our conscious is like ‘Oh, well, I think we should go this way.’ And then the other end of the spectrum is the data driven stuff which is like using data points to validate your journey …  that you’re heading in the right direction. And so I’m a firm believer in both. Using data points to validate.

The art is where ….  because you can measure the next, you know, six feet in your journey. And if the data doesn’t validate that, you could… you could decide that’s the wrong direction to go. But the real validation is actually on the twentieth foot on that journey. So sometimes the data writes to you. Like you measure something and like you think … ‘Well … the data is not supporting this idea because customers are not using this thing or its not working quite how we think it should work. Let’s fail fast and try something new… but the real value is we just where you keep going… keep going… keep going then you get to you know ..  the 200th step and that’s where the vagueness of the division of the ideas starts to come into resolution. It’s like ‘Aha! We are heading in the right direction.’ But yeah, if you fail fast too early, you wouldn’t ever get there. And that’s definitely where the art is!

So I don’t know if I explained that very well. And that’s definitely where the art is because you know .. it’s really easy to set the vision to come up with a crazy idea … that’s really easy. Because like you don’t have to describe how you’re gonna do it. You don’t have to do it. It’s easy to come up the idea. Then it’s really easy to kind of figure out what the next step is. Like ‘Right – in order for us to get there we’re going to have to do this thing. But it’s like the 1000 other steps in between the next thing and you know, and actually achieving your vision. And that’s where I think the fail fast approach can actually stop you.

You set your cycles up too short, too narrow … and so you take a lot of shots and you prove them wrong. And then you run out of shots – and you’ve nowhere left to go. We’ve got the idea. We know where we want to end up …  but we’re just gonna have to take some huge leaps and faith and it’s those… those leaps that we have where the data doesn’t exist. Like you’re literally creating the data as you go. And… and so sometimes you just gotta click into faith mode and believe that we’re heading in the right direction.

Sometimes, you know, we’re gonna have to go through some pretty dark tunnels, where we can’t really see our way … but you kinda feel like we’re going in the right direction. And then eventually, you’ll see a light … you get that validation that you know, that you’ve been doing the right thing and it’s incredibly unnerving.

Like that’s where I think you gotta have a little bit of crazy. You know, in those founders where, you know, not that they’re just like completely blind to reality … but they do have that little bit of crazy where their belief is strong, they’re not gonna let things get in their way … or to stop them on their journey. So that’s kind of what I look for.

 

Stephen Cummins

Is that the hardest part? I mean apart from crawling through glass. That kind of …  prior to product market fit … where you’re really trying to work it out. Do you think that’s where most people fall off the cliff?

Vaughan Fergusson

Yeah. Yeah. Because you’ll have the ideas people. So what I challenge them is like well … how would you break that down? Like, you know, if you wanted to build a helicopter …. How would you actually break that down? Like what’s the first thing you would try? And if that works out, what’s the next thing? And testing your ability to be able to take something that’s really super vague and chunk it down into achievable things. Because like, you know, part of my belief and why I do the impossible challenges is like … every big crazy idea can be broken down into small manageable chunks. If you want to cycle a bike around the world, you break that shit down. Plan it out. It’s like day by day, you know, hour by hour. You can plan that stuff out. And then it becomes … it’s easy … and like building a product or business or anything you set your mindset on, it’s the same. Like it might be seem in its entirety overwhelming as well … like ‘there’s just no way we’re going to put a rocket into space’. But then, you know, you’re looking for the ability to get it to ‘How would you do that? How would you break it down at this moment? What’s the first thing that you would test and do?’ And then start there.

Stephen Cummins

In one of your talks you mentioned, you realized you were different – you used the term weird – at an early age. It’s one of the things I related to. I think it was around 7 for you too. At 7, I did 3 unusual things. I became an atheist. I told my Dad I’d become a vegetarian – although he didn’t let me. I kinda forced my family into admitting that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Although I was distraught when they told me. Why should we all embrace that inner weird?

Vaughan Fergusson

Well, we’re all different. The way that we process information is all different. Our worldviews are different. Yeah, we’re… we’re all different people. But over the last couple of 100 years, we’ve constructed the systems that we try and put everybody through …  the education system, getting a job, you know, the kind of the path that … you know having a family … it’s all these well-trodden, confirmed pathways that everybody tries to follow. I don’t know I mean. I can only speak for myself.

Stephen Cummins

But you’re definitely different.

Vaughan Fergusson

It just feels wrong.  The way I learn is different. You know, I’m slightly dyslexic. I had crazy ideas and, you know .. I’m very tactile. The things that made me unique. I always felt that every part of the journey … going through school. I was like a square in a round hole. I didn’t quite fit. And I always felt like the system was trying to shape me to be something different to what I was.

Stephen Cummins

In the next installment – the 7th and final episode of the series, Vaughan shares his best advice for other entrepreneurs and ‘EntryPreneurs’ as he likes to call them

 

Stephen Cummins

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

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