Startupfest 2013 - Thriving in Uncertainty - Ray Reddy


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Author Eric Ries defines a startup as "A human institution designed to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty." But running a startup means making hard decisions every day. So how do founders make those tough decisions in a world of high uncertainty? Essentially, you have to learn how to bet. Everything from a hire, to a product launch, to a pricing decision is at best an informed bet.

Pushlife founder and CEO Ray Reddy bet his way through an emerging mobile commerce space and ultimately to an acquisition by Google, and in this session, he'll discuss the many tough decisions his company had to make—and he continues to make—from its founding to its acquisition by Google, and beyond. He'll explore topics such as betting on trends before they're obvious; betting on the right timing for a market; and striking a balance between short-term cash flow and long-term strategic positioning.

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  • PushLife was a mobile music company that evolved into a commerce platform, acquired by Google and I now lead many aspects of mobile commerce globally for Google
  • Uncertainty is the norm – at some points it can be overwhelmingThought I could move past it and realized later that you can’t and just need good strategies to deal with itSurprised how much this is true even at large companies at Google (odd to learn so much about startups there)
  • Some thoughts on how we identified good betsYour best bet is when you don’t need to gamble – in hindsight we took unnecessary risks on a bunch of things that I wouldn’t again
  • Direction of curves gives you clear direction & purposeGives you the confidence to invest in something before its entirely obvious and everyone else jumps inCurves for storage and computation have been around for a while – usually much more obscure
  • Kind of obvious todayBack in 2007/2008 – lots of skepticism around whether quality of experience would be good enoughDecided to focus on a music/media experience to truly empower phones to kill of stand alone media playersThat was our north star and a bet that resonated with investors to get behindI generally like these kinds of start-ups – there is risk but its grounded in some reality of where things are going
  • Multiple trendlines often intersectTiming is much more unpredictablePL Story and how we almost died because of our bet on feature phones
  • Hedging is a necessary early on – generally don’t want to go all in unless you need to – leaves optionsDistractions are usually things that don’t alight with your north starExample of WAP deck
  • Many product oriented founders confuse product vision with UXUX is simply how your users (not you) interact with your product visionInsane to release products without proper UX feedback – either here feedback in a controlled setting or get blasted onlineNot only does google do a lot of testing but they have thousands of people to dogfood things internally and provide feedback onFamous story of the $300M button
  • EmployeesCurrent interview process: wait till you Need to hire – raised money, people leave, ramp up etc. and have your senior trusted people spend their time interviewing – an annoying, stressful thing you begrudgingly doResult: Need great people, willing to take risks, and willing to take a pay cut usually - good luck – end up compromisingSoln: Interviewing needs to be baked into the culture: Always be interviewing…if you are interviewing a few candidates a week, you have a pile of qualified people you can go back to when you actually need to hire. Involve all your employees – infact make it their responsibility – even with 10 engineers, this is scalable..
  • We didn’t gamble but we took this for granted and never really spent time thinking about how to communicate well with employees during uncertaintyFrequent: timed all hands, get into the habit of doing employee reviews at regular intervals – we were never proactive and it frustrated peopleTransparent: I always believed that my job was to try to shield my team from bad news and the see-saw of uncertainty and I realize now that it isn’t right – erring on the side of transparency is the best thing: make sure the hard questions get asked or people gossip behind you, control the messageBidrectional: our communication was often 1 way – need to get people engaged – simple thing I’ve seen used effectively is to pick a specific problemWe were lucky that things generally went up and to the right
  • Startupfest 2013 - Thriving in Uncertainty - Ray Reddy

    1. 1. Thriving in Uncertainty Ray Reddy
    2. 2. About Me • Founder & CEO of PushLife ~ 3 years • Mobile Commerce @ Google > 2 years • Previously @ BlackBerry and studied at UW
    3. 3. Uncertainty is the norm Source: Period of extreme uncertainty
    4. 4. How to bet wisely & when not to… • Factors in good bets: trends, timing & when to hedge • Avoiding unnecessary gambles: product UX, hiring & communication
    5. 5. Curves can act as a north star
    6. 6. Our North Star: Phones will kill single task products
    7. 7. Timing is harder to predict…
    8. 8. Hedging vs. Distractions Hedge Distraction
    9. 9. Product Vision ≠ Product UX
    10. 10. Always Be Interviewing
    11. 11. Communication must be frequent, transparent & bidirectional
    12. 12. Questions?