James Currier

Managing Partner at NFX Guild & Co-Founder of Tickle, WonderHill, Jiff & IronPearl

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 08, 2015

Discussion

JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
Hi I'm James - I suppose I've been a company builder since I was six when I started selling worms to people fishing near our house in the woods of New Hampshire. Then I opened the school store in 7th grade, built a hovercraft when I was 14, ran the dorm grill in high school, and sold bed lofts, T-shirts and boxer shorts in college. In my 20's I took a detour and was a VC for 5 years, then did business school. In 1999 I went back to building product with Tickle in SF, one of the first viral, user-generated content sites. We grew that to 150M registered users and sold to Monster in 2004. Then, with Stan Chudnovsky, started three companies inside of Ooga Labs: Wonderhill in social gaming (merged with Kabam), IronPearl in growth analytics (sold to PayPal), and Jiff in enterprise software for employee healthcare (raised $55M, 100 employees today). I now run NFX Guild with Stan and Gigi Levy Weiss. NFX Guild is a 3 month program, twice per year, that helps companies with Network Effects grow. These are typically networks or marketplaces. We invest $120K in each company. Ask me anything!
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
James! Thanks for taking the time to join us. With NFX Conference coming up next week, what have you learned about the structure of NFX from the first batch? What can people lucky enough to go to NFX Conf expect?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@eriktorenberg We've learned a ton from this first class! Other calendar based programs like YC have been generous enough to publish a lot of their learnings over the last 11 years, so by reading extensively we have had a leg up in design. It's also the case that Stan and Gigi and I have been advising and investing in network effect companies for a decade each, so this is just an evolution of that. We've tried 2 person companies and 24 person companies. Companies that raised nothing before NFX Guild, and other that raised more than $20M each. We've tried companies that moved from overseas and companies 5 minutes from my house in Palo Alto. We've tried events in SF and events at Facebook offices. We've tried 2 hour office hours and 30 minute office hours. Skype and face to face. Group office hours and private one on one meetings while walking in the woods. In the end, our second class will be pretty similar to our first. It's working pretty well already. The core of it is getting great entrepreneurs, and then hammering with them (not on them) on the core skills and mindsets that improve their chances of succeeding. We don't only focus on the next fundraising. We focus on building the foundation of what makes great companies: understanding the psychology of users, positioning in the minds of users correctly, retention, organic growth, and iteration. From there, the next fundraising is much easier, as is the next 3 fundraisings. Hopefully, we're not preparing people for the next three months, but for the next 3 decades.
Boris Pfeiffer@bopfger · Founder, CEO Riddle.com
@jamescurrier where and how do you find companies for NFX guild among all the competition of other similar company builders / startup programs
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@bopfger NFX Guild is invitation only. What that means is that we have a growing network of trusted entrepreneurs, investors and journalists we've known for years who are our scouts. We've give the scouts NFX invitation codes. When they see a great team working on a business that has, or could stand to add, network effects... they send the teams to us. Those teams enter their invitation code into the website www. nfx.com and we go from there.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
HUGE thanks to @Jamescurrier for taking the time to chat with us today, and for all the support he's given PH and the work he does with entrepreneurs :)
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier Hi James, what reading material if any do you assign to companies in NFX Guild? Alternatively, what are the most useful resources for growing the kinds of companies you want at NFX Guild? Thanks!
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@tomasruta Hi Tomas. At NFX Guild www.nfx.com, we read "Positioning" by Jack Trout, "Influence" and "Predictably Irrational." All focused on psychology. :-) At the base of nearly all great companies are insights about human psychology. The best resources used by the companies at NFX Guild are GrowthHackers.com, Crunchbase, HackerNews, GitHub, and StackOverflow. GrowthHackers helps you work on specific flows and tactics. We have a saying around here, which is "There is no strategy, only tactics." Crunchbase, on the other hand, helps you make market maps, so you know what's going on in the world around you and the context in which your product will be funded, reported on and how future employees will understand where you fit in the market. HackerNews is still a great place for keeping up to date on multiple pieces of your business. GitHub and StackOverflow all help with the building part of things at the core of the business.
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier Do you have any specific structure/procedure for creating "market maps"? Or does "creating market maps" simply mean keeping up-to-date on the developments in your market?
Mike Hawkins@mikehawkins
@jamescurrier As a seasoned entrepreneur, how much of your decision to back a team is based on data and a business plan, and how much on your gut sense?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@hawkinsmike There is often little data to evaluate at the stage we invest at NFX Guild, so it's rarely that. It's usually a combination of gut feel about the people, and a sense of what we call being in "fertile soil." When we look at business ideas, and we talk to entrepreneurs about what excites them, some of them have a natural tendency to go for ideas that are in a fertile soil from a market perspective. Meaning that it feels like SOMETHING in the general space they are targeting should work. Other ideas we see, we put into the two other categories: "Bad idea" and "We don't know." Our job at NFX is to move people from "Bad Idea" or "We don't know" into the "fertile soil" area of ideas, then get them moving fast enough to prove that it's "working" so later stage investors can invest with confidence. We think the idea matters. We think that small differences in the initial state of your idea, and how your articulate it, can make huge differences in the outcome. Nothing great gets built without great people, but we believe more people are capable of being great than most people think.
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier Do you have any "Requests for Startups" - ie things that you would like someone else built (or problems someone else solved)?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@tomasruta Yes! We have a list of companies we want people to build that we would be really interested to fund. We're working on it and will publish it in the next two weeks. A section of that list will be titled "Market Networks." We believe there will be many giant market networks built in the next 36 months and we would be interested in funding many of them and helping them grow. We already have 6 in this first NFX Guild class, so we're learning a lot about the tactics and metrics that make them go. Think of an industry where people matter and there are transactions... and you're on your way. I also would love to see Venmo 2. Facebook for teens. Twitter for teens. Rare goods marketplace. More later on this subject.
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier Awesome! Will keep an eye out for the list.
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@tomasruta Oh, and I want to see someone compete with Uber. From a fresh start, a fresh approach.
innovation.punks@innovationpunks
@jamescurrier Hey James, awesome to see you on PH LIVE! What does NFX Guild look like in 2-3 years and do you plan to extend beyond SV based startups?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@innovationpunks Over the next three years, the NFX Guild will be focused on developing activities and software for its alumni. With each of the NFX Guild companies focused on a similar type of company and product (networks and marketplaces), there is tremendous learning each alum can give the others, and I want to make sure we give ourselves the advantage of that. We will always be based here in the SF Bay Area and will want our companies to move here. We don't have grand plans for global domination. :-) But we do have plans for quality and focus.
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier Which industries are going to be disrupted by market networks soonest in your opinion?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@tomasruta I think it will mostly be based on which industries great teams go after first! Seriously. It's just sitting there to be done in most industries. One thing to look for is how fast can a node decide to join your market network? If the node has politics due to size, or unclear economics from joining, they will be slower.
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier You are appointed Head of Growth of a company that's just raised Series A but is struggling to grow. There was no growth team at all before your appointment. Growth was on nobody's mind. What would you do in your first week on the job, and in first thirty days?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@tomasruta This is a very long discussion. Here are some quick notes: 1) CEO must be part of the growth team. Growth breaks eggs internally, so CEO must fly cover for the the team. 2) head of growth should be aggressive personality to get stuff done, make the numbers move, don't pussy foot around. 3) Product, Marketing and Engineering should all be part of growth. It's the new org structure that no on has named yet, but we will in the next 12 months. The change has happened in digital companies and we're still using the old titles. 4) head of growth should lay out a very very simple growth matrix for the company that everyone can understand and repeat.
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier Thank you! Are there any resources on the subject, or even examples of companies that underwent the process with great success? Just to confirm, by "lay out a growth matrix" you mean explain which customer acquisition channels the company should focus on and why (scale, cost, ability to target etc), correct?
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier Do you think the race to solve the last-mile delivery problem will have only one winner?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@tomasruta I don't think there will be only one winner in the last mile problem. It will depend on if there is another competitor other than Uber who can maintain scale economics. The network effect they have is not absolute. It's asymptoting. So there is an opportunity forever for someone to enter. More like airlines than a telephone system. Especially if Uber is trying to get 25% margin!
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@tomasruta Thanks for all the questions! Signing off.
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier What would you do if you were in charge of one of Uber's biggest competitors (eg Didi Kuaidi or Lyft)?
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@jamescurrier NFX Guild has a programme in Israel as well as the US. What would need to happen for you to consider expanding to other geographical markets? I'd hustle to bring you to South East Asia.
Sydney Liu@sydney_liu_sl · Co-Founder of Commaful.com
Hi James, Thanks for doing this AMA! You talk a lot about retention + vitality and how Tickle grew really quickly and had millions of users but didn’t have great retention numbers. Or how @benrbn’s first company YEVVO had hundreds of thousands of people and grew virally but couldn’t get great retention. How do you think about retention when you advise companies now? What would you do differently if you started Tickle again with that in mind? Thank you, Sydney
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@sydney_liu_sl Hi Sydney. We think of Growth having 4 types: new users, activated users, retained users, and monetized users. When we come up with product ideas and positioning, we think hard about each type of growth, to make sure the IDEA is something that could retain users. That's its something people will want to do regularly. If your idea is inherently "not retaining," then you're in the wrong place. Tickle was in the wrong place. And no matter how hard we tried to get people to stay, we couldn't make them stay. So that's not a business I would start today. Once we start something that has a reasonable chance of being a regularly used product, we build multiple "loops" (experiences, language, buttons, text fields, code) for each of the 4 types of growth. Each needs to be tuned and optimized. So often with companies at NFX Guild (www.nfx.com) we start with some small new user loops, and then spend most of our time on retention loops. What are the reasons the users will want to stay engaged, and what are the channels to communicate with them. We create a grid of those options, and then rank them by ease to create and expected efficacy. Then we drill, every day, by adding more and testing each one. We get the teams addicted to having their numbers improve everyday. It's incredible fun!
Marta Plaza@marta_plaza · Desire42
@jamescurrier Hi thanks for the explanation to @sydney_liu_sl What is the difference between activated users and retained users? Thanks!
Jeff Needles@jsneedles · Data @ Houseparty & Maker of Things
@jamescurrier Hi James, what is one attribute you look for in founders as a MUST have? How about an attribute you consider a MUST NOT have?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@jsneedles There are many things we look for in founders, but three stand out: 1) they need to be product obsessionals. They must love product and it's interaction with their user. Second they should have a never say die ability. Third flexibility. You have to stay determined about the outcome while being flexible about the path, the means, the tactics. We're looking for a product obsessional with a balance of "tough as nails" with the ability to bob and weave. The NOT to have? I'm not sure. There are many personality types that can succeed. I guess the thing that would keep us from taking someone is mostly about their ability to get product done right. And that includes not only the technology, but the more nuanced parts of product like UX and language and emphasis...
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hey James thank you so much for doing this today! Outside of working and building companies, what do you do to relax? Do you have any hobbies? Is it important to take down time to help overall productivity?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@ems_hodge I have 4 boys and a wonderful wife. We play Magic the Gathering, build stuff in our wood shop in our back yard, bounce on the trampoline, coach soccer, read aloud, take weekend hikes and trips. We just started learning to surf and I hope to learn to kitesurf over the next few years with the kids. Tod Francis from Shasta talks about the greatness of learning something new WITH your children to put you at the same level and develop that relationship. I want to follow in his footsteps.
Morgan Beller@beller · Corporate Development, Facebook
@jamescurrier - thanks for hosting! Hindsight bias: what is one thing you learned from 1) opening the school store, 2) building a hovercraft), 3) running the dorm grill, and 4) selling things in college that you apply in your life/job now?
JamesCurrier@jamescurrier · Partner, NFX Guild
@beller Hi Mogan. From the School Store, I learned about leading. I proposed the project to the school, they wanted it to be a learning experience for a group, so we got 7 other kids involved. But in the end, only my buddy Lance and I did the work. The others tagged along. And it was OK! Lance and I had fun leading, and so did the other 6 kids. From building a hovercraft, I learned perseverance. It took 3 years and $1400 when I was hoping it would take 6 weeks and $450. But then it was great when it flew! So I learned that perseverance pays off. From selling stuff in college, I learned that you have to focus. I did each one of those businesses on the side. Then I got a partner for the lofts, and I realized we had to go all in or I would disappoint him. So we crushed it for 4 weeks, and it was stressful. But that was required to make it really go. We earned $4500 each and he went to Thailand with his money.
Ivor Reić@oldboyv · Front end dev, wannabe designer.
@jamescurrier What is your experience with early stage european companies moving to the US? How do those companies and their US investors deal with VISA-s and other immigration related stuff? Thank you being awesome and sharing the wisdom. Your LeWeb'13 talk helped me and my co-founders a lot (sweet shirt btw).