20VC Rahul Vohra @ Superhuman, The Most Downloaded Founder Episode of 2019



In the most downloaded founder episode of 2019, Rahul Vora, founder and CEO of Superhuman, shares his journey from aspiring entrepreneur to creating Superhuman, the world's fastest email experience. Vora discusses the challenges of finding product-market fit, emphasizing the importance of measuring user disappointment to gauge fit and improve the product systematically. He also highlights the unique approach to onboarding users with personalized consultations, which has been pivotal to their success. Additionally, Vora touches on the value of a diverse investor base, combining prominent VCs with knowledgeable angels, and his aspiration for Superhuman to become a multi-product company and reach a billion-dollar valuation.

Summary Notes

Introduction to 2020's First Episode

  • Harry Stebbings is hosting the first episode of the 20 VC podcast in 2020.
  • He recaps the most downloaded VC episode of 2019 featuring Bill Gurley from Benchmark.
  • Harry announces the most downloaded and loved founder episode of 2019, featuring Rahul Vohra from Superhuman.
  • Superhuman is recognized as the startup of the year by Semil Shah.
  • Superhuman, known for its fast email experience, has raised funds from notable investors.
  • Rahul Vohra previously founded Reportive, which was acquired by LinkedIn.

"Happy New year. You are listening to the first 20 vc of 2020. What a special year and some amazing episodes we have in store for you." "thrilled to say our episode with Rahul at superhuman made the number one spot." "Superhuman is the fastest email experience in the world." "Rahul founded Reportive, the first Gmail plugin to scale to millions of users, and reportive was ultimately acquired by LinkedIn."

The quotes introduce the podcast's first episode of 2020, celebrate the success of the episode with Rahul Vohra, and give background on Superhuman and Rahul's previous venture, Reportive.

Sponsorship and Partnerships

  • Clearbank offers investment solutions for online businesses.
  • Dell Tech Capital, the venture capital arm of Dell Technologies, invests in technology startups.
  • Silicon Valley Bank provides banking services for innovative companies and visionaries.

"Clearbank's here to help. They offer fast, affordable investments for online businesses." "Dell Tech Capital... announced investments in over 100 companies." "Silicon Valley bank has been the bank for visionaries of all kinds."

These quotes highlight the services offered by Clearbank, Dell Tech Capital, and Silicon Valley Bank, emphasizing their roles in supporting businesses and startups.

Rahul Vohra's Introduction

  • Rahul Vohra joins Harry Stebbings on the show, with high praise from various connections.
  • Rahul is the founder and CEO of Superhuman.

"Rahul, it is such a pleasure to have you on the show today, having heard so many great things from Wayne Chang, from Ed and Elliot at bold start, to David Cancel."

This quote welcomes Rahul Vohra to the show and references endorsements from notable figures in the tech industry.

Rahul's Journey to Startups

  • Rahul knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur since age 15.
  • He has made several attempts at startups, with Reportive being a notable success.
  • Superhuman was founded to improve upon the increasingly cluttered and inefficient email experience.

"I knew from the age of 15 that what I wanted to be was an entrepreneur." "I've started any number of companies. I think this is attempt number seven or eight, with only one prior success called reportive." "What would Gmail look like if you were to rebuild it from scratch... An email experience that is blazingly fast."

Rahul shares his long-term ambition to be an entrepreneur, his iterative journey through various startups, and the vision behind founding Superhuman.

Impact of Reportive on Superhuman

  • Rahul's experience with Reportive shaped his operating mentality for Superhuman.
  • He contrasts the early stages of Reportive with the approach to starting Superhuman.

"It's an interesting question, because in many ways, what we're doing at superhuman is the opposite of how we did it at reportsive." "You could do things in a completely different order."

Rahul explains how his past experience with Reportive influenced his strategy for Superhuman, highlighting the differences in the order of operations when starting a company with prior success and capital.

Finding Product-Market Fit

  • Rahul discusses the importance of product-market fit for startups.
  • He references various industry leaders' definitions of product-market fit.

"You have product market fit when you made something that people want." "It's when users spontaneously tell other people to use your product." "You can always almost feel it when products market fit is happening."

Rahul cites Paul Graham, Sam Altman, and Mark Andreessen to describe product-market fit, emphasizing the challenge of defining and recognizing it in the early stages of a startup.

Early Struggles and Seeking Metrics

  • Rahul Vohra discusses the challenges faced during the development of his product, including the absence of product-market fit.
  • He refers to Mark Andreessen's definition of product-market fit and his desire to measure and optimize it.
  • Rahul sought a metric to quantify product-market fit, which he believed would allow for systematic improvement.

"And I was staring at that Mark Andreessen definition through tears. So I started to wonder, can you measure product market fit? Because if you could measure product market fit, then maybe you could optimize product market fit, and maybe you could systematically increase product market fit."

This quote emphasizes Rahul's struggle with the concept of product-market fit and his determination to find a way to measure and improve it.

Discovering a Defining Metric

  • Rahul discovered Sean Ellis, an entrepreneur who provided a way to measure product-market fit.
  • Sean Ellis's metric involves asking users how disappointed they would be if they could no longer use the product.
  • Benchmarks established by Sean Ellis indicate that a score of 40% or more "very disappointed" responses suggests initial product-market fit.

"He says, just ask your users this. How would you feel if you could no longer use the product and measure the percent who answer very disappointed."

This quote outlines the metric proposed by Sean Ellis that Rahul adopted to measure product-market fit.

Segmenting the User Base

  • Rahul talks about the importance of understanding who loves the product and why.
  • A survey with four critical questions is used to gather user feedback and segment the user base.
  • The responses help identify the high expectation customer (HXC) who loves the product most.

"Well, the first thing one has to do is understand who these users are, why they love the product."

This quote underlines the initial step in segmenting the user base to understand the product's appeal to its most enthusiastic users.

The High Expectation Customer Framework

  • The HXC framework identifies the most discerning users within a target demographic.
  • Examples of HXCs for Dropbox and Airbnb are provided to illustrate the concept.
  • Rahul explains how survey responses helped construct the HXC for Superhuman.

"The highest expectation customer is the most discerning person within your target demographic."

This quote defines the HXC framework and its role in identifying the core user base that is most passionate about the product.

Identifying Superhuman's HXC

  • Superhuman's HXC is named Nicole, a professional who relies heavily on email for her work.
  • Nicole's characteristics and behaviors are detailed, providing insight into the type of user who finds the most value in Superhuman.

"She's Nicole. Now, Nicole is a hardworking professional. She deals with many people."

This quote introduces the persona of Superhuman's HXC, offering a detailed profile of their ideal user.

Increasing the "Very Disappointed" Segment

  • Rahul describes the process of increasing the percentage of users who would be very disappointed without the product.
  • Segmenting users and focusing on the HXC can significantly improve the product-market fit score.
  • The goal is to refine the product to make it more appealing to the HXC segment.

"So the whole goal here, of course, is to increase the percentage of people who'd be very disappointed without the product."

This quote explains the objective of focusing on the HXC to enhance the product-market fit.

Customer Feedback Integration

  • Rahul emphasizes the importance of customer feedback and describes Superhuman's sophisticated feedback triage system.
  • He warns against building features solely based on user requests, as it can lead to a disjointed product.
  • Understanding why people love the product and what improvements are most impactful guides feature prioritization.

"I mean, as superhuman, we are intense, rabid fans of customer feedback."

This quote highlights Superhuman's commitment to integrating customer feedback into product development while maintaining a strategic approach to feature implementation.

Reasons for Product Love

  • Users express love for a product due to its key benefits.
  • Superhuman users specifically love the product for its speed, focus, and keyboard shortcuts.
  • Word clouds generated from user survey responses can reveal the main benefits users perceive in a product.

"For superhuman, it was really obvious. People love superhuman for its speed, for its focus, and for its keyboard shortcuts."

This quote explains that when Superhuman analyzed user feedback, the love for the product was clearly linked to its speed, focus, and keyboard shortcuts.

Addressing User Disappointment

  • It is crucial to focus on users who are somewhat disappointed rather than those who are not disappointed at all.
  • Somewhat disappointed users can be segmented based on whether the main benefit resonates with them.
  • Attention should be given to those somewhat disappointed users for whom the main benefit is important, as they are more likely to become product lovers.

"So that leaves the other group, the somewhat disappointed users for whom speed was the main benefit."

This quote signifies the importance of focusing on the subset of somewhat disappointed users who value the product's main benefit, as they have a higher potential to become satisfied users.

Improving Product Market Fit

  • Product improvement suggestions from users can also be analyzed using word clouds.
  • Building features that address user concerns can convert on-the-fence users into fanatics.
  • It is recommended to allocate resources evenly between enhancing loved features and addressing user disappointments.

"To increase our product market fit score, all we had to do was build those things, and that would convert users who were on the fence into fanatics who love the product."

This quote suggests a strategy for improving product-market fit by developing features that address the concerns of users who are not fully satisfied.

Strategic Advice for Investors and Founders

  • Investors are advised against pushing for premature growth before achieving product-market fit.
  • Founders should know when to accelerate growth, ideally after surpassing a 40% product-market fit threshold.
  • Shifting from conservative operations to aggressive scaling requires a change in mindset and habits.

"My suggestion to the investment community, especially the investment community that advises early stage teams, would be to stop pushing for premature growth, especially premature growth at a product market fit."

Rahul Vohra advises investors to prioritize product-market fit over rapid growth to avoid long-term pitfalls.

Fundraising Philosophy

  • Fundraising should be a continuous process without actively seeking capital.
  • Founders should allow the market to come to them, staying well-capitalized to be ready for the right investment opportunities.
  • This approach can save time and allow founders to focus on building their product.

"I have found for superhuman, and we've been executing it this way, that it is actually, if you can pull it off, much, much more efficient to not do that and to let the market come to you."

Rahul Vohra explains that Superhuman's fundraising strategy involves being open to investment without actively pursuing it, which he finds more efficient.

Managing a Large Cap Table

  • Superhuman uses a hybrid approach to investment, balancing between party rounds and traditional lead investors.
  • A large cap table can be managed effectively if there is accountability and hard questions are asked when needed.
  • Founders should be aware of the pros and cons of having a large number of investors.

"We've actually done a hybrid approach. I wouldn't characterize it as a party round."

Rahul Vohra clarifies that Superhuman's investment strategy is not a typical party round but a hybrid approach that ensures accountability despite having a lengthy list of investors.

Board Stewardship and Investor Composition

  • A board provides necessary external accountability for CEOs and founding teams.
  • Rahul Vohra's company has a hybrid investor composition with a pre-seed investor, a seed round leader, a well-known family office, and about 120 different angels.
  • The company benefits from both worlds: the structured support of institutional investors and the diverse expertise of individual angel investors.

"And even the best ceos and the best founding teams need some slightly external accountability, and that's the purpose of a board, of course."

This quote emphasizes the importance of having a board to keep company leadership accountable and on track.

"So what we've done is a hybrid. We have an incredible pre seed investor. Bold start. They are rapidly making a name for themselves as the preeminent first check enterprise SaaS investor."

Rahul explains the company's strategic choice of investors, highlighting the hybrid nature of their investment, which combines different types of investors for a well-rounded support system.

Unique Onboarding Approach

  • Rahul Vohra's company takes a hands-on approach to onboarding, spending 30 minutes to an hour with each new user via Zoom.
  • Users must complete a welcome survey and pre-authorize a credit card, indicating their commitment and suitability for the product.
  • The onboarding process involves personalized consultations with email experts, leading to improved email efficiency and inbox management for users.
  • This approach filters out non-serious users and allows for high-quality, personalized service.

"So our approach to onboarding, and this is considered to be crazy by most people who know about it, is actually to spend half an hour to an hour with each new user."

Rahul describes their unconventional onboarding process, which invests significant time in each new user, a method considered unusual by industry standards.

Scalability of Onboarding

  • Rahul believes the intensive onboarding process is scalable and could support significant company growth.
  • He envisions the company reaching $10-20 million in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) with this approach.

"If there's 10,000 people a day, then we'll be a billion dollar company in a matter of months because each user pays us hundreds of dollars a year."

The quote reflects Rahul's confidence in the scalability of their onboarding process and its potential impact on the company's valuation.

Personal Growth and Health

  • Rahul Vohra emphasizes the importance of taking care of one's physical and mental health, especially in the context of running a company.
  • He shares his personal experiences with stress-induced health issues and the measures he now takes to maintain well-being, including regular exercise and working with therapists and executive coaches.

"That it's a marathon and to take care of both body and mind."

Rahul shares a crucial lesson learned about the importance of long-term health and well-being in the marathon of entrepreneurship.

Silicon Valley Economy and Housing Policy

  • Rahul advocates for a more diverse Silicon Valley economy and faster housing policy reforms.
  • He highlights the challenges of the high cost of living and doing business in Silicon Valley, which can drive companies to seek more cost-effective locations.
  • He suggests that the current economic model in Silicon Valley is not sustainable for building world-changing companies locally.

"I would like to see a more heterogeneous economy, one that doesn't just rely on startups as the main driver of the economy."

Rahul expresses his desire for a more balanced Silicon Valley economy that isn't overly dependent on startups.

Value of Investors Beyond Capital

  • Investors provide value beyond capital by helping founders anticipate and navigate growth-related challenges.
  • They offer insights into common pitfalls and necessary achievements for scaling a company.

"It's seeing round corners. So we at superhuman are now at the phase of company, which is new to me."

Rahul discusses the value of investors in providing foresight and guidance for growth phases that are unfamiliar to him as a founder.

Future of Superhuman

  • Rahul envisions Superhuman becoming a multi-product company, expanding beyond email to address other professional needs.
  • He aims to grow Superhuman into a billion-dollar company and develop as a CEO capable of leading such growth.

"Number one, I think we'll become a multi product company. For us, email is just the starting point."

Rahul shares the strategic vision for Superhuman's expansion into a broader suite of productivity tools.

Rahul's Game Design Background

  • Rahul recommends "The Art of Game Design" by Jesse Schell, drawing from his own experience as a game designer.
  • He believes product design has evolved to require game design skills, which are critical for creating engaging and effective products.

"I think that the bar for product design, whether it's consumer or enterprise, has risen to such a degree that it has essentially become game design."

This quote underscores Rahul's belief in the importance of game design principles in modern product design, informed by his background in the field.

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