FF 08 Pierre Valade, CEO @ Sunrise on Being Acquired By Microsoft for $100m and Building Beautiful Products

Summary Notes


In episode eight of Founders Friday, host Ari warmly welcomes Pierre Vallad, the co-founder and CEO of Sunrise, a calendar app acquired by Microsoft for $100 million. Pierre shares his journey from a UX designer at Foursquare to creating Sunrise, driven by his own need for a better calendar experience. He emphasizes the importance of design and user experience, which set Sunrise apart in a crowded market, and the app's popular features like integration with other apps and interesting calendars. Vallad also discusses the challenges of fundraising and the decision to sell to Microsoft, where he continues to focus on product development. He believes in building a great product first, rather than a business plan, and stresses the significance of prototyping and real-life testing. The episode concludes with Vallad's insights on the future of Sunrise under Microsoft and his personal recommendations on resources for entrepreneurs.

Summary Notes

Introduction of Pierre Valade

  • Ari introduces Pierre Valade, cofounder and CEO of Sunrise, a calendar app acquired by Microsoft.
  • Pierre's background includes working as a UX designer at Foursquare and being named on the innovators under 35 list.
  • The introduction mentions Kevin Carter at SV angel for connecting Ari and Pierre.

"And I am so excited to introduce today an incredible founder in Pierre Valade. Pierre is cofounder and CEO at Sunrise, the beautiful calendar app, which was acquired by Microsoft for a hundred million dollars in February 2015, where he now works on Outlook mobile."

The quote introduces Pierre Valade and highlights his achievement with Sunrise, setting the stage for the interview.

Pierre's Professional Journey

  • Pierre built an app called Agora in a hackathon, leading to his hiring at Foursquare.
  • His success with Sunrise and his role at Microsoft are highlighted.
  • Pierre's recognition as an innovator under 35 is mentioned.

"Pierre worked as a UX designer at Foursquare, following a successful hackathon in which he built an app in 6 hours called Agora."

This quote explains how Pierre's skill in app development led to his career at Foursquare, demonstrating his technical and creative capabilities.

The Role of Hiring Screen

  • Ari credits Hiring Screen for helping find an assistant, emphasizing the importance of recruitment.
  • The service is recommended for finding relevant candidates for jobs.

"Well, that is why I use hiring screen. They are quite simply the smartest and farthest way to find the relevant candidates for your job."

The quote emphasizes the significance of efficient recruitment tools like Hiring Screen in running a business.

Background of Sunrise

  • Pierre was a heavy calendar user due to his bad memory.
  • He felt existing calendars did not provide enough value.
  • Pierre and his cofounder, Jeremy, aimed to improve calendars through design and integration with other apps.

"And so I was already before Sunrise as a big calendar user myself. And I just thought, like, this thing is just not great."

Pierre's personal need for a better calendar solution led to the creation of Sunrise, highlighting the importance of addressing user pain points in product development.

Founding of Sunrise

  • Sunrise was founded after Pierre and his cofounder left Foursquare.
  • They had to return to Europe due to visa issues but launched Sunrise in February 2013.

"So we quit Foursquare end of 2012, and we had to go back to Europe because we didn't have any visa at that time to stay in the US because we quit our job."

This quote provides context on the challenges faced during the early stages of Sunrise, including visa issues that forced a temporary move back to Europe.

Unique Selling Proposition of Sunrise

  • Sunrise stood out due to its design, UI, and user experience.
  • Users who appreciated well-crafted products were drawn to Sunrise.

"I think for us, it's really about design and UI, user interface and user experience."

Pierre identifies design and user experience as the key differentiators for Sunrise, which appealed to users who value these elements in an app.

Key Features of Sunrise

  • Design is considered a major feature of Sunrise.
  • Integrations with other apps and services like Facebook and Evernote were significant.
  • Interesting calendars for sports fans were popular.

"The integration with the other calendar, the fact you can connect your Facebook events and they show up directly in Sunrise, a lot of people love that."

This quote explains the appeal of Sunrise's features, particularly its ability to integrate with other services, enhancing the user experience.

User-Requested Features

  • Users frequently requested new integrations with apps like Runkeeper.
  • The desire for more information within the calendar was a common theme.

"We always got a lot of requests for new integration, like other apps."

The quote indicates the importance of listening to user feedback for new features, showing that integration with various apps was a priority for Sunrise users.## Platform Expansion and User Expectations

  • Sunrise has expanded to multiple platforms, including iOS, iPad, iPhone, Android, Android tablets, Mac, and web.
  • The team has spent significant time building a strong foundation for their app.
  • They are now focusing on innovative features that users don't expect or think are possible within a calendar app.

"So now we are covering a lot of that. I think people expect us to help them on stuff like transportation, time. That's something we're really interested in. It's kind of like, no. We've come to the point where we spend enough time building the foundation in what we think is a much better way. And we can think about building and stuff that people don't even expect in their calendar."

The quote explains that the Sunrise team is looking beyond typical user expectations to create innovative features that enhance the calendar experience in unexpected ways. Their focus is on adding value to areas such as transportation and time management.

Designing for Apple Watch

  • The design process for transitioning Sunrise to the Apple Watch involved a lot of prototyping.
  • The team emphasizes building and testing real-life use cases rather than just conceptualizing.
  • Real-world testing is crucial, especially for mobile and watch apps, to understand how the app should perform in various scenarios like poor internet connectivity.
  • The team waited to release the Apple Watch app until they could test it thoroughly in real-life situations.

"And the watch, we worked a lot on the watch. We decided not to release it before we could have ourself watches because it's just so hard to try stuff when you just can't live with it."

This quote emphasizes the importance of real-world testing and living with the product before releasing it to ensure that it meets user needs effectively. The Sunrise team prioritized having a fully functional product that could be tested in daily life before launching it.

Product Development Philosophy

  • Sunrise's product development involves creating prototypes, testing them extensively, and iterating based on feedback.
  • The team first needs to be convinced of the product's value before presenting it to others.
  • They have a full-time design researcher to gather user feedback for continuous improvement.
  • The goal is to release products that the team believes in and that provide a positive user experience.

"Yeah. At least it has to convince us first. Right. And then when we were convinced, we try to convince other people and we show it to friends or we bring people in the office."

The quote reflects the internal testing and validation process at Sunrise, where the team must be convinced of a product's value before seeking external validation and feedback.

Advice for Founders

  • Sunrise's approach is to focus on building high-quality products before considering further testing phases or public release.
  • Pierre Valade suggests that while this method works for them, it may not be universally applicable.
  • The team is driven by the goal of creating the best product possible, even if it doesn't necessarily lead to immediate business success.

"That's the way we approach it. I don't try to generalize too much. Maybe there are other situation where you don't want to do that or you want to do it differently, but in our case, we've been very naive about the fact that building the best product will win..."

The quote highlights Sunrise's philosophy of prioritizing product quality over other factors, acknowledging that this approach may not suit every company but has been their chosen path.

Funding and Investor Relations

  • Sunrise obtained funding after launching their app in 2012.
  • The process of meeting investors varied depending on the funding round.

"So the first round we did, right after we launched the app in 2012, we gather some mon..."

Unfortunately, the quote is incomplete, but it suggests that Sunrise secured funding shortly after launching their app, indicating investor confidence in the product from an early stage.## Initial Funding and Traction

  • Pierre Valade raised initial funds from friends and acquaintances in New York.
  • A small amount of money was secured just before releasing the app, based on relationships.
  • After the app launch, there was good momentum and media coverage, coinciding with Mailbox's launch.
  • Pierre went through a month of meetings in the US, pitching to potential investors.
  • Despite many rejections, Nextview, Rob, and Mike from Rizzola VC invested, totaling $2.2 million for the year 2013.
  • The fundraising process was unexpectedly difficult for Pierre.

"And then right after we shipped the app, we had good momentum. A lot of journalists were talking about the app."

This quote illustrates the positive reception and media attention the app received immediately after launch, which helped in gaining momentum.

"Eventually we managed to get Nextview and Rob and Mike from Rizzola VC or here in the US, or great seed fund people to invest in us."

This quote highlights the successful investment from Nextview and Rizzola VC after a series of rejections.

"But that was a really painful process. Like, I thought raising money will be easier, especially in the US."

Pierre reflects on the difficulty of raising funds, contradicting his initial expectations.

Handling Rejections

  • Pierre did not prepare a traditional business plan but instead relied on the product to speak for itself.
  • He faced rejections due to being a first-time founder with no track record and limited work experience.
  • Pierre believed that only a few investors needed to be convinced to secure funding and move forward.

"You will get no's. That's like 100% sure. Especially, I think, as a first time founder, what do you have for you? Do you have no track record?"

This quote addresses the certainty of facing rejections, particularly as a new founder without a proven history of success.

"You only need to convince one or two people to write you those check and then, you know, move forward and raise money and close the round and move to something else."

Pierre emphasizes the need to secure just a few investors to proceed with the business, despite numerous rejections.

Subsequent Funding and Growth

  • Balderton Capital from London reached out to Sunrise due to their interest in the productivity space.
  • Pierre had known of Bernard, a partner at Balderton, and was introduced to him through James, who sourced the deal.
  • Although Sunrise wasn't actively seeking funds, they found a good match with Balderton and raised $6 million.

"Then a year after we had good traction and Balderton from London contacted us and I knew Bernard, a partner got introduced to because he built an amazing company and going through all this cycle to creating the company, to ipo the company."

This quote explains how Pierre was introduced to Bernard from Balderton, who had a reputable background in building successful companies.

"But this one was more like, we're not really looking for money. And they came to us and we like those guys a lot and so we decided to go with them."

Pierre describes the funding from Balderton as a proactive offer from the investor, rather than Sunrise actively seeking additional funds.

Decision to Sell to Microsoft

  • Pierre and his team were unsure how to transition from a great product to a successful business.
  • Microsoft's established assets in the productivity space made it a good fit for an acquisition.
  • The decision to sell was based on aligned visions, satisfactory price, and good relations with Microsoft personnel.

"We didn't really knew oh we could make money or Internet this into a successful business and those are really two different things."

Pierre acknowledges the challenge of monetizing the product and differentiating between building a product and a successful business.

"So that was a good fit and it's always a tough decision for us. We knew that we had a price and we got the price we wanted and the vision were aligned and we like the people we met there so we said okay we should do it."

This quote reveals the reasoning behind the decision to sell Sunrise to Microsoft, emphasizing the importance of shared vision and the right price.

Investor Relations During Acquisition

  • Some investors believed they could achieve a higher valuation, but ultimately, the decision to sell was agreed upon.

"Some of them thought that we should go for more but I also think investor who rea"

The quote is incomplete but suggests there were differing opinions among investors regarding the sale of Sunrise to Microsoft.## Entrepreneurial Decision-Making and Investor Relations

  • Entrepreneurs are respected by investors for their decision-making capabilities.
  • The dynamic between the entrepreneur and the investor is based on mutual respect.
  • Founders are expected to make final decisions, and this autonomy is acknowledged by investors.
  • Investors do not generally argue with entrepreneurs if there is mutual respect.

"I really respect entrepreneur and I think those investors that we worked with respect the entrepreneur decision. At the end of the day it's your company, it's not the investor company and you're grateful for the money they're putting into it but they respect your point of view and why you want to make a specific decision at a specific time."

The quote emphasizes the importance of respecting the entrepreneur's autonomy in decision-making and acknowledges that while investors provide crucial funding, they respect the entrepreneur's vision and choices for their company.

Transition from Startup to Corporate

  • The stress levels change when moving from a startup to a corporate environment.
  • Having a boss in a corporate setting reduces the level of stress compared to being a CEO.
  • The responsibility of decision-making and accountability is different when one is not at the top of the hierarchy.
  • The core mission of building the best product remains unchanged post-acquisition.
  • Microsoft respected the existing work culture and methods of the acquired company, facilitating a smoother transition.

"Yeah I think it's less stressful right because I have a boss and I used to not have a boss as the CEO of the company."

This quote reflects the speaker's personal experience with the change in stress levels when transitioning from being a CEO, with ultimate responsibility, to having a boss in a corporate structure.

Personal Favorites and Influences

  • Pierre's favorite book is "Zero to One" by Peter Thiel, which he has read multiple times.
  • The first iPhone is cited as the purchase with the biggest impact on Pierre's life.
  • Pierre follows and pays for a daily newsletter by Ben Thompson called "Stratechery," which he finds very valuable.
  • Steve Jobs and Apple are admired for their focus on product over business.

"My favorite book, why I spent quite some time right now. I wouldn't say it's my favorite, but it's at least one of the few books I've read multiple times. It's zero to one from Peter Till."

The quote highlights the significance of Peter Thiel's "Zero to One" for Pierre, suggesting it offers valuable insights that warrant repeated reading.

Learning to Code and Early Interests

  • Pierre learned to code at a young age because he wanted to modify a game he was playing.
  • Access to a computer at age seven allowed him to explore and develop coding skills.

"You just go and I mean, for me, I was lucky enough to get a computer when I was maybe seven. And I think I just started to code because I wanted to change some parameters in one of the games I was playing."

This quote explains the speaker's early introduction to coding, which was driven by a desire to tweak a video game, demonstrating how personal interests can lead to the development of technical skills.

Future Outlook for Sunrise

  • The focus for the next five years is on continuing to build great products.
  • The aim is to create products that simplify people's lives and help them manage their time better.

"Great product, that's what we do, that's what we want to continue doing. And I think this is what we can do to improve our contribution to the world is trying to build product that makes people life a little bit more easier by them to manage their time better."

The quote outlines the company's ongoing commitment to product development with the goal of contributing positively to the world by enhancing time management for users.

Podcast and Show Recommendations

  • The podcast "The Twenty Minute VC" is recommended for those interested in investing and startups.
  • The show "Angel Insights" is mentioned as a resource for understanding angel investing.
  • Hiring Screen is praised for excellent customer service and is recommended for listeners.

"And if you can't get enough of the investing scene and the 20 minutes vc, then do check out angel insights."

This quote is a recommendation for listeners who are interested in gaining more insights into the world of venture capital and angel investing, suggesting additional resources for the audience.

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