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14 Minutes of SaaS

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E84 – Larry Gadea, Envoy CEO & Founder – 2 of 3 – a Trojan Horse

Stephen Cummins interviews Larry Gadea, CEO & Co-Founder of Envoy – the 2nd of a 3 part mini-series. Larry describes Envoy as a Trojan Horse to “get into people’s offices though the front desk and through the visitor sign-in to the rest of the office.”
Larry reveals why his Trojan Horse strategy has turned his initially simple start-up idea into a platform for upgrading the office experience. Envoy has also expanded into managing received packages.

He also discusses the power of motivation; “I think there’s a lot of people who could do a lot more in the world if they just had consistent motivation …. if you don’t have that you get 1/20th of somebody.” He touches on the evolution of offices too. Co-working spaces have similar challenges to co-located spaces – and Envoy has a strong footprint in both. He has a personal preference for co-located over remote, but given that Envoy’s mission is to upgrade the office, that’s hardly surprising. However, unlike some people in the tech world, he’s not binary or religious on co-located offices versus remote.

Transcript:

Larry Gadea – CEO – Founder – Envoy – 2 of 3 – 14MoS – final – RISE Hong Kong – 23_01_2020, 17.03.mp3

Larry Gadea: [00:00:00] Motivation … honestly … like I think there’s a lot of people that could do a lot more in the world if they just had consistent motivation by certain people.

If you don’t have that, you lose … you get one twentieth of somebody. We’re leveraging our kind of like Trojan horse to get into people’s offices through the front desk and through the visitor sign in to the rest of the office. So just recently we launched a product for deliveries. So this is to handle the problem that all these Amazon boxes are showing up unannounced and at people’s offices. And you want people to pick them up. So we built a service where it reminds them and keeps on pinging them until they pick it up, makes it way easier to scan them and know when they’re coming …and that kind of stuff.

Stephen Cummins: [00:00:47] I’m Stephen Cummins, and this is the middle episode of a three episode interview with Larry Gadea, CEO and Co-founder of Envoy. Larry reveals why his Trojan Horse strategy has turned his initially simple startup idea into a platform for upgrading the office experience. He also discusses the power of motivation and the evolution of offices. Co-working spaces have similar challenges to co-located spaces and Envoy has a strong footprint in both. He has a personal preference for co-located over remote, but given that Envoy’s mission is to upgrade the office, that’s hardly surprising. However, unlike some people in the tech world, he’s not binary or religious on co-located offices versus remote or vice versa … which is pretty refreshing.

Stephen Cummins: [00:01:38] 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 Scale-ups.

[00:01:54] You’re in your sixth year. You didn’t take a huge amount cash on until nine months ago. You’ve raised 60 million USD. You took 43 million on nine months ago. So that, you know, when you when you take in that sort of cash, that changes things. You would have been building up to that with plans to kind of land and expand in places. So have you expanded geographically or in terms of employee numbers?

Larry Gadea: [00:02:18] Yeah. It’s all about employee numbers. Like we’re based in San Francisco, Silicon Valley. Most expensive place to hire people in the world, especially engineers. And really good engineers, really good designers, really good product people. They are expensive. And you have to pay for them because you want the best quality. You have to have the best quality. The reason people choose Envoy is because it is really high quality and it just works. You can get a fly-by-night thing for like five dollars a month … that’s just like a clone of our thing. But it’s like … you know that they’re not investing in security. They’re not investing in compliances. They’re not investing in usability studies and in very meticulous design because they just don’t have money for it. So especially with SaaS, it’s such a big deal that you have the security … you’re holding other people’s data, you’re holding their visitor information, your holding their employee directories … This kind of stuff isn’t cheap. So one key thing that we’re using it for is building on our current product. But another big area is that we’ve discovered is that the office is just full of experiences that are very like not really thought about. And really what we want to do is … what we’re doing is that we’re leveraging our kind of like Trojan Horse to get into people’s offices through the front desk and through the visitor sign in to the rest of the office.

[00:03:41] So just recently, we launched a product for delivery systems to handle the problem that all these Amazon boxes are showing up unannounced and at people’s offices and you want people to pick them up. So we’ve built a service where it reminds them and keeps on pinging them until they pick it up, makes it way easier to scan them and know when they’re coming, that kind of stuff. And then now we have a beta of a product around meeting rooms. We want to make meeting rooms much more manageable … especially once you’re inside. So it’s like, ‘hey, we’re out of whiteboard markers!’ or ‘start the zoom meeting! or ‘hey, bring up the window blinds’ or bring them down or the chairs broken. Like there’s a lot of different problems that can happen in a meeting room that people aren’t really thinking about. And we feel there’s a lot of opportunity there to really innovate in yet another area, the office that people don’t really think about. But it is our mission objective to really take these kind of ‘boringesque’ problems and make them interesting and exciting …  because there’s a lot of opportunity there.

Stephen Cummins: [00:04:40] It’s interesting. So you’re really expanding across the whole workplace experience and the whole facilities management experience.

Larry Gadea: It’s super neglected. Like nobody is really looking at that at scale. It’s truly like … think of it this way … before, like back in the day, we used to have like this little thermostat. That’s like if you bought it white, it turned yellow and beige after a while and it’s like no one really cared about it. They didn’t really think about it. Then along came Nest. And Nest like completely redid it … it’s a beautiful. lt measures everything … it knows when you’re home and knows when you’re coming home. It saves you money. It gives you all this analytics. And no one was asking for that back then. But now it just only makes sense. So we’re doing exactly that kind of movement to the office. There’s a ton of stuff that’s just completely not thought about or neglected and a lot of is because of antiquated B2B buying cycles as well. So we feel that a focus on experience in the ‘boringist’ of areas … in the office … is really a great place for us to really change things.

Stephen Cummins: [00:05:43] It’s interesting. I used to build custom objects for customers when I worked in Salesforce for, you know, really basic facilities management type stuff, you know, so they could message people when something was missing, whatever.

Larry Gadea: Yeah …

Stephen Cummins: It’s true. The reason I was doing that was that there was nothing. There was nothing at the time … like what you’ve got there … there was no Envoy or whatever … that could just kind of do it holistically … properly.

Larry Gadea: [00:06:08] Yeah. And the thing you did probably was very functional … and it did work. And it kept track of assets or whatever. But it’s like when you want to do more powerful things, when you wanted to integrate with a ton of different products, when you wanted to be part of an ecosystem, that’s when things start breaking down. So really what we’re doing for our company is a lot of companies kind of built their own little solutions, the ones like Google, Facebook, Apple. They actually had their own sign and system that they built themselves. And what we did is we’re like, hey, this looks like something others could really use, too. So that was a big impetus for us starting to build this. Yeah, we can imagine all sorts of other products and stuff coming soon, all integrated with each other.

Stephen Cummins: [00:06:52] It sounds very exciting. It strikes me also that you’re you know, you built the team and you’re expanding in San Francisco …. Do you have remote employees? Or do you have a plan to focus on building distributed teams in the future, given the expense? And given the fact that you can find great people all over the world, suddenly the world becomes your oyster in terms of hiring.

Larry Gadea: [00:07:20] Right. We do have distributed engineers. We are focusing on hiring more kind of locally in San Francisco, though we definitely do have some people who are distributed. It works. I mean, if they can if they can write great code and they understand the problems and they feel the pain, then it’s actually important that we get access to them. And there are actually a lot easier to access as well, just given that they don’t show up in random bars and then five recruiters go on them and recruit them to another company, as is the story in San Francisco.

Stephen Cummins: [00:07:54] Now there are some big fully distributed teams out there. They’re starting to grow …. with Auttomatic and … there’s loads of them.

Larry Gadea: It’s not easy. It’s not easy work. And you need to have a very solid kind of culture in how you do your things. You can’t just expect that you’ve got a bunch engineers .. they’ll just figure it out. You do have to be deliberate about how you deploy code. What kind of code is acceptable? What’s not? What’s your processes? Do you do code reviews? And it’s like if you have downtime right now and your whole services are offline, is a code review required for the fix that will fix that. Yeah. And those kinds of things people can be very opinionated on. Some people are like, oh, the website’s down … of course, you don’t need a coder, you just get it back online versus some people. It’s like, no, the point of a code review is so you don’t make things even worse. So those kinds of discussions don’t only happen when a lot of people are just remote and don’t have easy access to each other.

So I think there’s something about creating really good internal culture first and like a local physical area where these spontaneous conversations can happen and then you scale out through remote.

Stephen Cummins: [00:09:15]  Yeah, yeah. Ironically I can think of applications for Envoy with remote teams. I mean, depending on how … some of them actually send out a complete set of furniture, they like to have it standardised a set of friends that people use when they work. But obviously there’s equipment, connectivity, access, whatever it is. I can think of, you know, different times and people that can sign in and out. I can actually see a perhaps an application of Envoy for a distributed team.

Larry Gadea: [00:09:37] Absolutely. I don’t think that the office is going anywhere, anytime soon. Like, it’s like even when you look at the stats, it’s like two or three percent of workers in the US are remote full time. So it’s like … it’s not going anywhere. And yes, it is growing quickly, but this is not going to change anytime soon. But there are some interesting applications like there’s a lot of cool tech now, especially when it comes to like AR (augmented reality). You can have these glasses on that … let’s say you’re looking at a whiteboard in your room … and then the person in the office is looking at a whiteboard in a meeting room. The two of you are looking at a blank whiteboard. But now, if one of you draws you see it on the other one through the goggles – and then the inverse for the other person. So it’s basically like you’re working with each other, except you could be remote anywhere.

Stephen Cummins: Absolutely. And that technology is coming.

Larry Gadea: It is. it’s super close. Like the bandwidth is there. The creativity is certainly there. The AR stiff … it’s like these multiple competing AR things. And it looks like AR is also going more in an enterprise direction … because it’s so expensive, and it looks kind of kooky. So because of that, I think the enterprise applications for it will be huge. And you can be sure we’re gonna be on top of that.

Stephen Cummins: [00:10:55] Fantastic. I’m actually fascinated by the evolution of buildings. People often talk a lot about remote versus co-located. But I think the thing that’s actually going to change is the usage of buildings. I agree the building is not going anywhere. And maybe you disagree with this … I think what will happen is it’ll slowly evolve from mostly co-located to a mix of smaller co-located teams and co-working. Do you think … what do you think? …Over the next 20 or 25 years? Would you see it going that way?

Larry Gadea: [00:11:29] Yeah, I definitely think that we’ll have smaller teams that can be not centralised. But you definitely see this already … that co-working is picking up. It’s great for new companies and it’s great for remote satellite offices. Ideally, if you have a satellite office, the people in that office are working on one project that they’re not cut up. Between a bunch of different projects with HQ. But yeah … I do see that becoming a thing more and more … I think there’s gonna be more and more co-working spaces that just become available. And I think all the co-working spaces are gonna need all the same technology. They need to keep track of people coming in and out. They need to keep track of the meeting rooms. They need to keep track of the packages coming in. And you can buy the food off the shelf.

Stephen Cummins: Even more so. If they want to personalize it, it’s a bigger challenge.

Larry Gadea: Yeah, absolutely. Because a lot of you won’t know everybody there too. if Yeah. And Envoy is used a lot in co-working spaces today as well. It’s a very big use case of ours – because people need to keep track of who’s coming in and out. And they are signing some sort of agreement that says, hey, I’m not going to steal all the info I get from all these different companies I may oversee.

Stephen Cummins: [00:12:40] Fascinating. Larry, back to you. If you were to name one person that’s had the biggest influence in your life, could be anybody from history, tech, family, whatever …

Larry Gadea: [00:12:52] Oh, man. If you put family in there, that’s really tough.

Stephen Cummins: OK. One from your family. One outside your family.

Larry Gadea: [00:12:59] Okay. So from my family, I’d definitiely say my brother. He was really good. Like when I used to live with my brother, he’d be super encouraging all the time. Like I’d do this thing, and then he’d always be like, okay, that’s good … but it should also do this other thing. So he’d have this way of kind of like pushing me to do something wackier. So seeking his approval was always kind of fun.

Stephen Cummins: Older brother?

Larry Gadea: Yeah. Yeah. So I definitely owe a lot to him for just keeping me motivated. And honestly, that’s the hardest thing for people.

Stephen Cummins: What’s his name?

Larry Gadea: Chris. Yeah. So he definitely was helpful there. And motivation. Honestly, like I think there’s a lot of people that could do a lot more in the world if they just had consistent motivation by certain people. If you don’t have that, you lose … you get one twentieth of somebody … just get them the right motivation and they’ll definitely achieve much more. And then and then speaking of that, so outside of family …  I have to say it in like a lot of people … especially in Silicon Valley, all look up the same person. But, you know, Musk is definitely a fan of mine [Larry intended to say he was a fan of Musk].
And simply because the guy just cares about changing things and creating new things and yes, he’s a little wild and like I wouldn’t want to replicate everything. But if there’s something that he does really, really well, it’s like having ambition. That’s much more sophisticated than a personal career or making money. It’s about really making an impact on the world. And that’s the main goal. And yeah, maybe the tactics are a little wacky, but it’s he’s doing it.

Stephen Cummins: [00:14:49] In the next, the final episode of a three part interview with Larry Gadea, we find out why it’s great to look for the most boring problems imaginable. And then set about making the problem sexy in order to attract the most talented people out there to your company.

Stephen Cummins: [00:15:10] 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 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.

Stephen Cummins: [00:16:35] This podcast is a labour of love, and I travel all over the world to interview the founders of amazing SaaS start-ups. I ask for nothing in return from them other than their valuable time. And I never played dirty tricks, such as if you get five of your employees to write the podcast with five stars and send me screenshots we’ll publish a month earlier. These episodes are so much work to produce and very expensive without the backing of a big tech company. Do your good deed for today by taking a minute now to review us on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, or any of the major podcast platforms … wherever you’re listening to us.”

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