Interview with Larry Gadea (CEO & Co-Founder of Envoy) – final part of the the 3-part mini-series. Stephen Cummins finds out why it’s great to look for the most boring problems imaginable, and then set about making the solution sexy in order to attract the most talented people out there to the company.
Larry opens up on the importance of getting comfortable with imposter syndrome and finding non-defensive team members. Like the previous guest, Appier’s Winnie Lee, Larry also reveals that his life is completely wrapped up in his mission with his current startup. Apart from playing a few video games, the only hobby he really has is his giant lego set of quasi-infinite possibilities – otherwise known as Envoy.
This is about not just falling in love with the most boring problems, but make the solutions exciting for employees, customers, and partners.
Larry Gadea: [00:00:00] Yeah, you do need to understand holistically what your product’s solving. You’re not solving a visitor sign-in problem your solving a problem around a lack of attention to the end user experience. And that’s why we’re building stuff for the mail room. That’s why we’re building stuff for the meeting room. That’s why we’re building door access and space utilisation. Because these are all areas that are critical for businesses. But people aren’t really looking at them. They don’t think of them as like an exciting, sexy thing in the office. And that’s such an opportunity!
Look for the boring problems. There’s like … there’s like a whole philosophy around chasing the boring problems. The challenge is that you have to make it exciting. It’s really hard to convince a bunch of engineers who are top talent to work on something really boring. So we feel that a focus on experience in the ‘boringest’ of areas in the office is really a great place for us to really change things. When somebody signs in using Envoy, it notifies you via slack … it’s posted to like a database, it can integrate with your applicant tracking system, it integrates with Salesforce and like updates your CRM information, it integrates with Box and Dropbox to upload your NDA into a place that legal knows where to look.
Stephen Cummins: [00:01:16] I’m Stephen Cummins, and this is the final part of a three episode mini-series with Larry Gadea, CEO & Co-founder of Envoy. Larry opens up on the importance of getting comfortable with imposter syndrome and finding non-defensive team members. Like the previous guest Appier’s Winnie Lee, Larry also reveals that his life is completely wrapped up in his mission with his current startup. Apart from playing a few video games, the only hobby he really has is his giant Lego set of quasi-infinite possibilities …. otherwise known as Envoy.
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.
[00:02:11] If you would think back to one moment in your life or one achievement that you remember most warmly or that you feel proudest about, what would that be?
Larry Gadea: I mean, I would say that getting that job at Google was really a spark that started everything. It was … it was a pretty big deal. I mean, it’s like this kid in me being kind of like ‘what is going on?’ Like why am I having an interview with this company? I was afraid that if I would get the questions wrong, like they would blacklist me permanently or something. So there’s definitely a great list of things there, but I just did it anyways. And that for sure was incredibly impactful to … It’s just like everything built on top of the previous thing. Like my manager referred me to Twitter. In Twitter I learned all the stuff that I needed and the people to know and the investors to know to kind of start Envoy. And just everything we’ve built at Envoy has just been building on top of each other. It never felt like a reset. So that’s really important. It’s kind of why I think we’re doing reasonably well today.
Stephen Cummins: And you talked about motivation. And I agree with you about getting 5 percent out yourself if you don’t have that motivation. I couldn’t agree more. I think people live longer, feel happier. All sorts of things when they have that.
Larry Gadea: [00:03:29] Yeah. If they like building things,
Stephen Cummins: Especially if they like building things. Absolutely. Actually fixing things is a harder. Yeah … Well building things is theoretically harder, but emotionally fixing things is harder I think. So what I’m wondering is what’s your ikigai … or what’s the thing that drives you every morning you wake up?
I think it’s really honestly a lot of people at work … like we’ve happened to hire a lot of people that are not very comfortable just doing the same old, same old. And they will literally leave the company if I don’t push them. And it’s kind of weird because like the way it comes out in the day to day is that people, like … their uncomfortable! Being uncomfortable is not something that is … it’s easy to say that like, yeah, if you want to achieve something great, you’re gonna have to be uncomfortable! It’s not like a desirable thing. Being uncomfortable means you’re getting into arguments. You’re like you’re fighting over things … you’re disagreeing. And like it’s just like weird things are being said. It is not a happy thing, but it achieves greatness and it pushes people. So, yeah, just people at work just completely pushing me and me pushing them is really key to getting things done.
Stephen Cummins: But you’ve obviously made them comfortable enough … so they feel comfortable to voice (opinions) … you’re empowering them.
Larry Gadea: [00:04:53] Yeah. That’s really important!
Stephen Cummins: The best companies knock heads together and coming in the morning and feel great about you. Anyway. They just move on the next day.
Larry Gadea: Yeah. Yeah. Or like maybe a couple days later. Yeah … well you definitely need that. That’s part of the like checklist of how to build a company that will survive. Like you definitely need that internal questioning of everything. Comfort with questioning everything. And it’s pretty easy to … like at Envoy …. like I’ve definitely had people that have worked there and that we’re not comfortable being questioned all the time. They’re like ‘What? You don’t trust me?’
Stephen Cummins: Defensive.
Larry Gadea: You get very defensive … and you can see it. You can see it like night and day immediately. Some people thrive on getting that info and challenging it. And then you have a battle over what’s right. Some people just take it personally immediately. And then it’s like it just doesn’t work out.
Stephen Cummins: The other thing is its passion too. It’s … if you’ve passion, you push for what you believe in … even at risk to yourself sometimes. Which is what you want.
Larry Gadea: Yeah. Yeah. You have to kind of be totally cool with looking like you don’t know what you’re doing all the time. That’s the only way
Stephen Cummins: [00:06:08] No imposters allowed. No imposter syndrome.
Larry Gadea: Everybody has it. But like you have to be okay with it.
Stephen Cummins: Absolutely. Have you got kids now?
Larry Gadea: No.
Stephen Cummins: How do you keep healthy doing all of this?
Larry Gadea: I don’t. It’s just like … that’s how it goes. Yeah. Your life becomes what you build and … I’ve been told by various people that I definitely need to get more hobbies and stuff outside of just doing work. But I don’t know. Play games. That’s fun.
Stephen Cummins: Where would you see Envoy in the next five years? I’m gonna push you out far….
Larry Gadea: 5 years! That’s a long way. That’s a long way. Well, I think in five years we will have built a platform for the office where it’s not just us building cool new products that that make people rethink how the office works … but it’s gonna be other people building on top of it, too.Stephen Cummins: So a platform play!Larry Gadea: Exactly! A platform where anybody can hook into all the data of the physical office.
Stephen Cummins: And a marketplace?
Larry Gadea: (Yes) And a marketplace is part of the platform. So there’s so much data … A. available in the office, and B. there’s so much opportunity to innovate in an office, in a workplace environment. And it’s so hard today to sell to those people because selling to the physical office is a very, very B2B motion. You have to be good at it. But if there was a company like ours that just opened up to … ‘Hey we’ve got fifty or a hundred thousand companies that use our platform … let us deal with the marketing and promotion of your products and you just worry about building cool new stuff on top of our platform.’ [00:07:39] That’s a pretty good compelling thing where people can focus on building stuff. So I’m pretty excited about that. I think we’ll definitely in the next five years for sure, have that out by then …. though I’m hoping in the next one to two years is really when we start proving that out.
Stephen Cummins: And do you think process automation is going to become huge over the next 5 years.
Larry Gadea: I think so, yeah. Absolutely.
Stephen Cummins: And that’s going to influence your company, too? …
Larry Gadea: Yeah! Like, for example, say you’re the first person in the office and you walk in … before you even walk up to the door or like when you’re right about at, it should unlock. And then when you walk in, the lights should automatically turn on because you’re the first person there … and the air conditioning should turn on and the TV’s and whatever should turn on. This is all stuff that will be totally possible, and not only will it be convenient and let people focus on more important things … it will also help get all the data for company efficiency, cost savings, security, compliance, all that other traditional stuff that people see value in too.
Stephen Cummins: So when are you opening in office in Dublin?
Larry Gadea: Aha! That’s funny. Dublin’s actually kind of growing and it’s turning into a real thing and I really like that. [00:08:49] Hopefully soon. But right now we’re still focused on building our core initial team in San Francisco.
Stephen Cummins: Your story is inspiring. There’s something about it. Just work a few technical roles and jumping out … going after a fairly easy to understand value-prop and keeping the innovation going by not having a big sales team at the start or a big enterprise play at the start.
Yeah, that’s important too. You don’t want to have too big of a sales team too early. You’ll get comfortable.
Stephen Cummins: You know … they say when you do start getting into the enterprise, it’s good to have one or two kind of renaissance sales-people who will go into the enterprise and be really good at asking questions and coming back to you and talking about, you know, that experience, given that it might be a bit different to some of the smaller offices that you might have gone into earlier. Did you have two or three of those people? … Not really. That doesn’t really chime with you …
Larry Gadea: To be honest, we’ve been selling to bigger companies since the beginning. Like a lot of our initial customers … like people like Pandora and Yelp and and GoPro … these companies had multiple offices from day one and we built the product to be pretty flexible. Now, we were not able to predict just how flexible people wanted it. And these days, like they want all sorts of permissions and audit logs and they want the ISO compliances and all these other things. [00:10:19] But I’st definitely yeah … you do need to understand holistically what your product solving. You’re not solving a visitor sign-in problem your solving a problem around a lack of attention to the end user experience. And that’s why we’re building stuff for the mail room. That’s why we’re building stuff for the meeting room. That’s why we’re building door access and space utilisation. Because these are all areas that are critical for businesses. But people aren’t really looking at them. They don’t think of them as like an exciting, sexy thing in the office. And that’s such an opportunity!
Stephen Cummins: Absolutely. And just so much you can do … it’s actually mind boggling, as you talk to me … There’s just so many things. It’s like a giant Lego set you’ve got there!
Larry Gadea: Yeah. No, it literally is like that. Yeah. It’s kind of fun. And there’s no shortage of ideas, that’s for sure! In fact, our biggest issue right now is not doing too many things at once, especially as we are still kind of growing. You’d think a company 6 years in would have its things together. We certainly don’t. And no company that is growing at the pace that we are does. But we try to keep as much moving that we can as possible.
Stephen Cummins: What are two or three things you might say to somebody thinking of starting a company? Like a SaaS company.
Larry Gadea: I would say did that like …. [00:11:38] … So if you want something like that’s guaranteed to work kind of ideas. Basically go follow somebody around that works at a company – and look at all the manual stuff they’re doing. Specifically, especially around the office, look at everything that they touch that involves paper and then digitize that. There’s one area where just literally by taking a piece of paper and putting it on an iPad, that’s like 50 percent of the battle right there. But then you’ll discover all these other things you can do along with it, like. When somebody signs in using Envoy, it notifies you via slack … it’s posted to like a database, it can integrate with your applicant tracking system, it integrates with Salesforce and like updates your CRM information, it integrates with Box and Dropbox to upload your NDA into a place that legal knows where to look.
It’s just all these things that you couldn’t do before with a piece of paper on a front desk. So I would say like look for problems that people have just been doing it the same way for years and years. And then look for new innovative ways of changing those. And then and then also look for things that people aren’t excited about. [00:12:55] Look for the boring problems. There’s like … there’s like a whole philosophy around chasing the boring problems. It doesn’t mean that what you’re going to do has to be boring. It just means that the challenge is that you have to make it exciting. That’s part of like when we build a new product, it’s not about like, hey, let’s make a lot of money out of this because it’s really boring.
That’s typically how this industry existed before. The reason enterprise and B2B software was so expensive is because it was really boring. It’s really hard to convince a bunch of engineers who are top talent to work on something really boring. But if if you’re making it exciting, if you make it interesting and if your goal, in addition to building the security and compliance product is to make it exciting and delightful, that brings purpose and that’s how you will attract the best people.
Stephen Cummins: Actually, very similar to Garry Tan from Initialise.
Larry Gadea: They are one of our investors. Gary is awesome!
And that’s why I guess it. I didn’t know actually. Usually I’ve checked everything out. I interviewed Garry and his advice on how to find the next company … very similar. Larry Larry Gadea: Oh that’s great! So that’s literally … that’s like the easy hack. I’m sure there’s all sorts of other ways too. But that’s the easy hack and lots of opportunity there.
Stephen Cummins: Thanks a million for being on 14 Minutes of SaaS!
Larry Gadea: Absolutely! Thank you for having me.
Stephen Cummins: [00:14:22] In the next episode, I’m still at RISE, Hong Kong, where I met Anna Gong. She’s the CEO and a board member in Perx. Now an enterprise B2B SaaS company that uses machine learning algorithms to augment customer loyalty. Perx focuses on leveraging your customer data to build interactive customer engagement with the end goal of driving up revenues. Like Larry Gadea, the the countries Anna was bornin, and grew up in, and now lives in, are all different. [00:14:49] She was born in China, grew up in the US, and lives in Singapore … where Perx is HQ’d. Anna turned Perx upside down and practically refounded the company when she took over as CEO. Don’t miss her story starting in episode 86 of 14 minutes of SaaS.
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 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.
Stephen Cummins: [00:15:37] 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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