Deep in the trenches: October 23th 2020
Learnings from Rahul Vohra and Joel Spolsky and Vimcal
Good morning everyone,
I’m thinking about adding a new format to the newsletters:
One email every month introducing the founder of a VC backed early stage company (pre Series A) with a similar format as this newsletter:
Interesting resources she learnt a lot from
A tool she enjoys
1 key thing she learnt building her startup
What’s on her reading list
I’d love to hear from you if you’d like this format! (and if some of you would like to be featured, let me know)
📄 Some interesting resources I’ve checked out lately:
If you follow me, you know I have admiration for Rahul Vohra, the CEO of Superhuman. I think they built a great product and I have learnt a lot reading about how Rahul thinks about things. A few insights from this episode:
Superhuman took years to launch (you could even argue that they haven’t really launched yet)
Rahul talks about how in certain categories, it’s just very hard to build a product that people want to use. He mentions categories such as email, databases or browsers.
The typical MVP approach illustrated by the Reid Hoffman quote “If you're not embarrassed by your first version, you've shipped too late” works well with startups creating new markets but not as well when tackling an existing market with strong existing players.
I believe spreadsheets are another of these categories where having a MVP approach is hard. We’ve seen that very clearly building Actiondesk. Users are used to many features in Google Sheets and / or Excel and without at least some of these features, you won’t have a product that people want to use.
Other companies such as Notion, Airtable or Figma took years to launch as well.
2) How Trello is different from Joel Spolsky
This article is from 2012 and announced the launch of Trello. Insights:
Horizontal software are much harder to pull off than vertical softwares
Target customers are not as clear
You’re generally competing with established product (as I mentioned above ☝️)
One of the insights behind Trello was that most Excel users (Joel worked at Microsoft, specifically on Excel) used Excel to make lists, without making any kind of calculations
Trello at its core was a way to make lists and organized them in a way that was not possible in Excel
The same insight is behind the creation of Airtable (see this great article on FYI blog)
As we’re working on a new kind of spreadsheets at Actiondesk, it’s obviously a topic we’ve thought about a lot. I usually break down the use of spreadsheets (Excel or Google Sheets) into 3 categories:
Making lists without any calculations or very simple calculations: Airtable is taking over this category in an impressive way
Financial modeling: there are bunch of startups trying to tackle that but to me right now, Excel is still the best for this
Exploring and analyzing data: Using a CSV from some data source, and then viewing the data in Excel and analyzing it is the third big use case for Excel / Gsheets. This is the category we’re working on at Actiondesk
💻 A tool I enjoy: Vimcal
Simply said, Vimcal is the superhuman of calendar. It’s a desktop app connected to your google calendar, which you can use exclusively with shortcuts. I tried it about 6 months ago but they had stability problems. Now it’s pretty good, even though it’s still a young product.
A few features I’m enjoying:
See your calendar in another time zone with one shortcut (very useful for me as I’m based in the US but have users and collaborators in multiple timezones in the US and Europe)
Choose some slots in your calendar and with one shortcut, share your availabilities over email with somebody.
Very convenient when you don’t feel confortable sharing a calendly link (which is not always loved by people on the other end)