20VC Superhuman's Rahul Vohra on How To Measure Product Market Fit, How To Construct A Process To Increase It & How To Implement A Strong Feedback and Reporting Cycle To Sustain It



Harry Stebbings interviews Rahul Vora, the founder and CEO of Superhuman, a company revolutionizing email efficiency, on his Founders Friday segment. Vora shares his journey from founding Reportive, a successful Gmail plugin acquired by LinkedIn, to creating Superhuman, which offers a faster email experience and has attracted investment from Boldstart, Wayne Chang, and YesVC, among others. Vora discusses the importance of product-market fit, revealing his analytical approach to achieving it by measuring how many users would be "very disappointed" without the product. He emphasizes the significance of understanding and catering to the "highest expectation customer" and the balance between enhancing loved features and addressing aspects holding users back. Stebbings also explores Vora's fundraising philosophy of always being open to investment but never actively seeking it, allowing the market to come to him. Vora's vision for Superhuman includes becoming a multi-product company and reaching a billion-dollar valuation, with a focus on personal well-being and continuous learning in the startup marathon.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the Episode

  • Harry Stebbings expresses his excitement for the episode featuring Rahul Vora.
  • Superhuman, founded by Rahul Vora, is praised for its speed and efficiency in email management.
  • Harry mentions Superhuman's funding sources and Rahul's previous venture, Reportive.
  • Thanks are given to Ed, Elliot, and Wayne for their question suggestions.
  • Harry also talks about Brex, Terminal, and Cooley, highlighting their services and relevance to startups.

"We are back and what a Founders Friday I have in store for you today with me, Harry Stebbings at H stepbings 90 96 on Instagram with two b's. Now, I should not say this, but there are some episodes I look forward to and I'm more excited about than others maybe, and this one today is absolutely the case there."

Harry Stebbings sets the tone for the episode, indicating his anticipation and excitement for the conversation with Rahul Vora.

Rahul Vora's Background and Superhuman's Genesis

  • Rahul Vora knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur since the age of 15.
  • Superhuman is his seventh or eighth startup attempt, with Reportive being his only prior success.
  • Reportive was the first Gmail plugin to scale to millions of users and was acquired by LinkedIn.
  • Rahul's dissatisfaction with Gmail's performance led to the creation of Superhuman.
  • Superhuman was imagined to be fast, keyboard-centric, offline-capable, and visually appealing.

"Well, I've actually been doing startups for quite a while. I knew from the age of 15 that what I wanted to be was an entrepreneur."

Rahul Vora's early ambition to become an entrepreneur set the stage for his future endeavors, including the creation of Superhuman.

The Reportive Experience and Its Influence

  • The experience of starting, scaling, and selling Reportive influenced Rahul's approach with Superhuman.
  • Rahul likens a founder's job to making a flywheel spin faster.
  • With Superhuman, Rahul reversed the usual startup sequence by securing funding first, based on a concept.
  • Ed and Elliot from Boldstart wrote the first check for 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 reportive."

This quote highlights the contrast in Rahul's approach between his ventures, Reportive and Superhuman, emphasizing the benefit of experience and capital in starting a new company.

Product-Market Fit and Metrics

  • Rahul felt the pressure to launch Superhuman but believed they hadn't achieved product-market fit.
  • He referenced definitions of product-market fit from Paul Graham, Sam Altman, and Marc Andreessen.
  • Paul Graham defines it as making something people want.
  • Sam Altman describes it as users spontaneously telling others to use the product.
  • Marc Andreessen's vivid definition includes rapid customer acquisition, fast usage growth, and significant media attention.

"But I knew as a product founder, with some wisdom and some experience, that no matter how intense the pressure, a launch would go really badly. I did not believe we had product market fit."

Rahul Vora emphasizes the importance of achieving product-market fit before launching, drawing from his experience and industry wisdom to resist the pressure to launch prematurely.## Understanding Product-Market Fit

  • Rahul Vora reflects on the difficulty of applying Marc Andreessen's definition of product-market fit, which he finds unactionable.
  • Vora's challenge was to find a measurable and systematic way to increase product-market fit.
  • He sought to find a metric that could measure product-market fit, leading to the discovery of Sean Ellis's method.

"And here I was the summer of 2017... And I was staring at that Mark Andreessen definition through tears."

This quote underlines Vora's emotional struggle with the abstract nature of Andreessen's definition of product-market fit and his motivation to find a practical solution.

"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."

Vora's rhetorical questions highlight his thought process, emphasizing the importance of measurement in managing product-market fit.

Sean Ellis's Metric for Product-Market Fit

  • Sean Ellis, known for coining the term "growth hacker," provided a leading indicator for product-market fit.
  • Ellis suggests asking users how they would feel if they could no longer use the product.
  • The benchmark is that if 40% or more of users would be "very disappointed" without the product, there is initial product-market fit.
  • Vora adopted this metric for his own company, Superhuman.

"How would you feel if you could no longer use the product and measure the percent who answer very disappointed."

This quote outlines the simple yet effective question that Ellis proposed to gauge product-market fit.

Identifying and Understanding Key User Segments

  • Vora discusses the importance of understanding who loves the product and why, using a survey with critical questions.
  • The survey results help to identify the high expectation customer (HXC) using Julie Supan's framework.
  • The HXC framework identifies the most discerning customers within the target demographic, who enjoy the greatest benefit of the product and influence others.

"How would you feel if you could no longer use Superhuman?... What type of people do you think would most benefit from Superhuman?"

This quote presents the survey questions that are essential for understanding the user base and their attachment to the product.

High Expectation Customer (HXC) Framework

  • The HXC framework is used to identify the most discerning customers who will enjoy and promote the product.
  • Examples from Dropbox and Airbnb illustrate how the HXC concept is applied to different companies.
  • For Superhuman, the HXC, named Nicole, is characterized as a hardworking professional who relies heavily on email for work.

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

This quote defines the HXC and its significance in targeting the right customer segment for maximum product-market fit impact.

Segmenting the Market and Improving Product-Market Fit

  • Vora explains the process of segmenting the market based on the survey results to focus on the HXC.
  • By narrowing the market, Superhuman was able to increase its product-market fit score.
  • The goal is to convert more users into those who would be "very disappointed" without the product.

"You just take them out of the survey entirely... our product market fit score jumped by 10% from 22% to 32%."

This quote demonstrates the impact of market segmentation on product-market fit score, showing a significant increase when focusing on the HXC.

Integrating Customer Feedback into Product Development

  • Superhuman uses a sophisticated system to triage customer feedback, which is crucial for feature prioritization and product development.
  • The company focuses on understanding why people love the product and what holds others back from loving it.
  • This approach ensures a coherent product direction based on feedback from the most relevant user segments.

"We are intense, rabid fans of customer feedback... We've triaged many tens of thousands of individual pieces of customer feedback."

Vora's quote conveys Superhuman's commitment to customer feedback as a core component of their product development strategy.## Product Love and User Feedback

  • Rahul Vora discusses how Superhuman identifies why people love their product by surveying users and analyzing responses.
  • Users love Superhuman for its speed, focus, and keyboard shortcuts, as indicated by word cloud analysis.
  • Rahul emphasizes the importance of having at least 40-50 responses, ideally hundreds, to accurately assess user sentiment.

"People love superhuman for its speed, for its focus and for its keyboard shortcuts."

This quote summarizes the main reasons users love Superhuman, which are critical to understanding customer satisfaction and product strengths.

Addressing User Dissatisfaction

  • Rahul advises focusing on users who are "somewhat disappointed" rather than those who are "not disappointed," as the latter are less likely to become product lovers.
  • To address dissatisfaction, Rahul suggests segmenting somewhat disappointed users based on whether the main benefit resonates with them.
  • The goal is to convert somewhat disappointed users who value the main benefit into fans by addressing specific issues they face.

"We should politely disregard the somewhat disappointed users for whom speed was not the main benefit, because our main benefit just does not resonate with them."

Rahul explains the strategic choice to focus on users who appreciate the core value of the product but have some reservations, rather than trying to please everyone.

Product Improvement Strategy

  • Superhuman uses the same word cloud technique to identify features that hold users back from loving the product.
  • They prioritize improvements based on user feedback, focusing on both doubling down on strengths and addressing weaknesses.
  • A balanced approach of improving loved features and addressing shortcomings is necessary to increase product-market fit and stay ahead of competition.

"Spend half your time doubling down on what users love...and spend the other half of your time systematically addressing what holds users back."

Rahul emphasizes the importance of a balanced R&D strategy that focuses equally on enhancing strong points and fixing issues to improve overall customer satisfaction and product appeal.

Advice for Investors and Founders

  • Rahul advises investors against pushing for premature growth and encourages a focus on finding product-market fit first.
  • For founders, knowing when to scale up after reaching a sustainable product-market fit is crucial.
  • Rahul shares his own experience of transitioning from a conservative to an aggressive growth mindset after achieving product-market fit.

"Stop pushing for premature growth, especially premature growth at a product market fit. ... Once you're in this iterative process, know when to flip the switch."

Rahul offers distinct advice to investors and founders based on his experience, suggesting a careful approach to growth and an understanding of when to accelerate.

Fundraising Strategy

  • Rahul describes Superhuman's fundraising approach as being always open to investment but never actively pursuing it.
  • This strategy is in response to seeing founders waste time on fundraising and aims to be more efficient by attracting investors naturally.

"Always be open to that idea, and I'm always open to it, both from lead investors as well as from individual angel investors, and never be out actively trying to chase capital."

Rahul advocates for a passive fundraising approach that allows founders to focus on their product while still being prepared for investment opportunities.

Managing a Large Cap Table

  • Superhuman employs a hybrid approach to investment, combining traditional lead investors with a larger group of angels.
  • Rahul discusses the pros and cons of having a large cap table and the importance of having accountability and oversight, particularly for novice founders.

"Without oversight and stewardship, companies can go adrift. 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 highlights Rahul's view on the necessity of having a responsible party to provide oversight, ensuring that a company remains focused and accountable, which is an essential element of successful governance.## Investment Background and Strategy

  • Done is a hybrid company with a diverse set of investors.
  • Boldstart is a pre-seed investor known for being a preeminent first-check enterprise SaaS investor.
  • First Round Capital led the seed round for Done.
  • A well-known family office with experience as LPs in major funds like NEA, Mayfield, USBP, and Benchmark led Done's Series A.
  • The family office has also led direct deals like Lyft's Series C.
  • Done has approximately 120 different angel investors, including high-profile individuals like Sam Altman from YC, John Collison from Stripe, and Nat Friedman, CEO of GitHub.
  • The company benefits from a mix of institutional and individual investors.

We have an incredible pre seed investor. Bold start. They are rapidly making a name for themselves as the pre eminent first check enterprise SaaS investor.

This quote highlights the credibility and growing reputation of Boldstart as a significant pre-seed investor in the enterprise SaaS space, which has invested in Done.

We had first round capital lead our seed round.

First Round Capital's involvement in the seed round signifies the company's successful initial fundraising efforts and the interest of established venture capital firms.

They led our series A and so on.

The quote indicates that the family office, which has substantial investment experience, led Done's Series A funding round, suggesting confidence in the company's potential.

Unique Onboarding Approach

  • Done has an unconventional onboarding process that involves a half-hour to one-hour Zoom call with each new user.
  • Users must complete a welcome survey, pre-authorize a credit card, and demonstrate a genuine interest in solving their email problems to qualify for the onboarding call.
  • Onboarding specialists, who are email experts, work with new users to improve their email habits and efficiency.
  • The process filters out users who are not serious about solving their email problems and allows Done to deliver personalized service.
  • Users typically experience a significant increase in email efficiency and often achieve inbox zero for the first time in years.

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.

This quote describes Done's unique and time-intensive onboarding approach, which is considered unusual in the industry.

They know email better than anybody else in the world.

The quote emphasizes the expertise of Done's onboarding specialists, which is a key component of the company's onboarding strategy and user experience.

Scalability of Onboarding Process

  • Rahul Vora believes that Done's onboarding process is scalable.
  • He predicts that if Done reaches 10,000 users per day, the company could become a billion-dollar company within months.
  • Vora estimates that Done could achieve between ten and $20 million of ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue) with the current onboarding model.

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

Rahul Vora expresses confidence in the scalability of the onboarding process and its potential to significantly increase the company's valuation.

Book Recommendation and Game Design

  • Rahul Vora recommends "The Art of Game Design" by Jesse Schell.
  • Vora's background as a game designer for Runescape informs his perspective on product design.
  • He believes that the principles of game design are increasingly relevant to both consumer and enterprise product design.
  • Vora suggests that product designers should study game design to gain a competitive advantage.

Game design is one of the hardest types of product to create.

The quote conveys the complexity of game design and its relevance to creating compelling products in other domains.

Personal Growth and Well-being

  • Rahul Vora shares that it's important to take care of both body and mind.
  • He experienced physical and mental burnout during his time at Reportive, which led to hospitalization.
  • At the start of Done, Vora began taking better care of his physical health and later focused on mental well-being.
  • He now regularly exercises and works with a therapist and two executive coaches to maintain his health.

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

Vora reflects on the importance of long-term health and well-being in the demanding startup environment.

Silicon Valley's Economy and Housing Policy

  • Rahul Vora would like to see a more diverse economy in Silicon Valley that doesn't solely rely on startups.
  • He advocates for faster housing policy to address the high cost of living in San Francisco.
  • Vora suggests that it's rational for companies to raise money in Silicon Valley but spend it elsewhere due to high costs and better incentives in other locations.

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

This quote highlights Vora's desire for economic diversification in Silicon Valley beyond the startup ecosystem.

Value of Investors Beyond Capital

  • Investors can provide value by helping founders anticipate and navigate growth challenges.
  • Vora values investors who can provide insights into potential issues and guide the company to the next level of growth.

It's seeing round corners.

The quote succinctly captures the idea that investors can help founders foresee and prepare for future challenges.

Vision for Done

  • Rahul Vora envisions Done becoming a multi-product company, expanding beyond email.
  • He aims to grow Done into a billion-dollar company within the next five years.
  • Vora aspires to develop his skills to lead and facilitate this level of growth as CEO.

For us, email is just the starting point.

This quote indicates that Done's current focus on email is only the beginning of a broader strategy to address various professional needs.

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