DNA Is Hard To Change

I wrote this post as Blog Post #1 for InfoArmy:

After we sold Jigsaw I had a year at Salesforce to think about what I did right and what I did wrong as CEO.  One of the things I did wrong was not get a design and deliverability framework in place from the very beginning.  I’m not going to be too hard on myself because I was a first-time CEO. Frankly, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I had come up through the ranks as a VP of Sales and I had no clue how to build a great product. We raised $750K in December 2003 and had to have a beta product out by May 15, 2004. We got it out – but it wasn’t pretty.  Worse, I was a feature junkie.  My technical team knew that they better have a bunch of bright shiny new features for every release or I wasn’t going to be pleased. For the first three years of jigsaw’s life I tried to put as many ornaments on the Christmas Tree as possible.

Then I got religion. It came in the form of my good friend Raj Kapoor, a VC at Mayfield Fund. Prior to being a VC Raj was founder and CEO of Snapfish. Raj and I had lunch one day and I explained to him that I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of our product.  After asking me a few questions he made me understand the nasty downside of feature addiction. (Note: several of my employees had tried to tell me this previously but I didn’t listen!)

Raj went on to explain that they used a design framework at Snapfish. It was called DIFFET.

D – Dynamic
I – Inviting
F – Fun
F – Fast
E – Engaging
T – Trustworthy

Every employee at Snapfish had the ability to stop the presses by saying that what they were doing did not pass the DIFFET test.  For me, “Fast” was the most eye-opening. Raj explained to me that speed was a feature (Duh!).  He explained that having a fast website solved a bunch of downstream problems for Snapfish. Companies like Google won largely because of speed. He also pointed out that I would need to celebrate and reward increases in speed and performance as much as I did new features.

All fired up I went back to Jigsaw, called my executive team in my office, and told them about my new religion. To their credit none of them actually fell on the floor laughing. Undeterred I worked with my team to put together a Jigsaw DIFFET statement.  We called ours SOFTEC.

S – Simple
O – Open
F – Fast
T – Transparent
E – Engaging
C – Collaborative

All our problems were solved right? Wrong.  Even though I started preaching simplicity and speed we found it very difficult to change the DNA of our company (and especially my own mindset as CEO).  Put another way: we found it far more difficult to take ornaments off the Christmas Tree than it was to put them on. Making things simple and fast takes real time and effort!  Also, our engineers were trained to deliver maximum features.  It was very difficult to turn the ship around.  I still wanted both speed AND new features for Jigsaw. I couldn’t stomach the thought of any period of time going by without new features.  In other words, I talked the talk but I didn’t walk the walk. Luckily, when we created Jigsaw Data Fusion (our Data-as-a-Service product) we used the SOFTEC principles. It was simple and fast and ultimately led to our $175 million acquisition by Salesforce.  I ultimately got religion but it took creating a whole new product to do it.

Moral of the story: when starting a company get your design and deliverability guidelines in place before you even start. Have them guide everything you do – not just your product. Get this DNA set early as it is very difficult to change later.

Next post: InfoArmy’s design and deliverability guidelines – QPSS.