Mathias Meyer Co-founder of Travs CI

Episode № 23

Mathias is one of the original founders of Travis CI. In this episode, we talk about the difficulty of leaving the company he helped start, and the challenges of moving on.

Garrett Dimon: All right. We’re here today with Mathias Meyer, formerly of Travis CI. How are you doing?

Mathias Meyer: I am doing well, Garrett. Thank you. How are you?

Garrett: I am fantastic. Can you give us a little background on your history? How you got to where you are, what you’re working on now, what’s coming down the pipe, what you’re looking forward to in the near future.

Mathias: Yeah. Absolutely. As Garrett already said, I’m a former Co-Founder and former CEO, Travis CI. A company that’s headquartered here in Berlin in Germany. It was my second startup already, which I spend about six years on.

I joined as an engineer and quickly evolved towards focusing more on the business side and eventually moved into the role of CEO. Over the six years, grew the company and business to 50 people. About 5,000 customers in total. These six years are always hard to summarize in just a short rundown for a couple of minutes.

I left the company earlier this year. Since then I introduce myself to people as kind of a free radical. Where I talk to different companies and people. Poke into hornets’ nests here and there to see what comes out. You could also call me a consultant, coach, or mentor for engineering leaders, for startup executives.

I also work with growing engineering organizations right now to help them navigate challenges in leadership, management roles. Also, in growing their teams or just the general challenges of any growing company and engineering team. As teams move beyond say the initial two or three co-founders or early employees.

Garrett: Right on. Travis was effectively almost entirely remote, right?

Mathias: Yes, the company does have an office. It’s five minutes from foot from where I live. We focus a lot on building a distributed company. Not just remote, in the sense of that we’re not all located in the same office.

That many employees are spread out across the globe. It’s spanned pretty much from here, Berlin, to the US West Coast. Sometimes, there want other time zones involved depending on who might be where.

The split is about maybe a little bit more than 50 percent of the company are remote. Even people who worked from the office are never required to work there. It’s just a place that you can choose to work from.

Garrett: Yeah, it’s the same way at Wildbit, we’re about half the team’s in Philly. Even them, they don’t always go into the office. Then the other half of us are spread out from, I guess Serbia is the farthest, your direction. Then all the way to, obviously, the West Coast here. We’ve got that same spread. You just have to embrace the time zone challenges, and that’s just part of it.

You’re no longer with Travis. Obviously, a founder leaving a company, let alone the CEO, is never something that’s easy. It’s not an easy decision. It’s not easy to transition, pull-off. Can you talk a little bit about that experience? Anything you learned and how that unfolded. As much as you want to share and not share, it’s totally fine.

What I really didn’t anticipate was that after plunging into this void or darkness that follows, that there has been an incredible sense of grief, loss and mourning that followed.

Mathias: Yeah, absolutely. The decision to leave eventually wasn’t one that was easy to make, obviously. After putting in six years of pretty much everything. Early on, just entire days, weekends, and then over time changing with the company. It’s never an easy thing to do, to move. To just say, “This is it and I’m going to move on.”

Over the course of a couple of month it emerged for me as the only path forward. I got pretty burnt out over my last month in the company. It was the only choice that sounded feasible to me. Once a decision is made, suddenly there’s a sense of relief, I would say.

What I really didn’t anticipate was that after plunging into this void or darkness that follows, that there has been an incredible sense of grief, loss and mourning that followed. I didn’t expect that. It’s only occurred to me once I talked to a few people about this. It’s been over six years.

Also, six years of me constantly working to evolve, and working to change, and working to adjust as the company grew. It’s an incredible mental and emotional roller coaster. Looking back, it seems pretty human that it’s not just something you walk away from unscathed. I just didn’t expect that, the real impact of it.

The other thing that helped me was finding a sense of community. Just talking to other founders who’ve been through the experience themselves.

Since then I’ve spent many month processing everything that happened in six years, both good and bad, and getting all of this written down on paper. I have my notebook here somewhere, which is almost full.

I actually wrote it on paper. Just sat down every day for a couple of maybe minutes, sometimes hours. I could just write everything down. I ended up filling an entire notebook but it was also an incredibly helpful and freeing exercise.

The other thing that helped me was finding a sense of community. Just talking to other founders who’ve been through the experience themselves. Since then I’ve also found myself being in that seat talking to other founders who are struggling with a potentially tough decision of whether they might need to put something behind themselves.

Garrett: Yeah. I feel a lot of similarities with deciding to sell Sifter and move on from there. The one thing that really stands out is deliberate reflection. In my case it was due diligence. Forced deliberate reflection. Like, “Oh, man!” You really think back on everything.

Even running the business day to day, I feel like that’s something we don’t make enough time for, and as a result we charge ahead through things. Instead of stopping, hitting pause, stepping back and then examining and giving it that deliberate thought, that reflection. The quiet time just helps clear your head.

Mathias: Definitely.

Garrett: In hindsight that’s something I feel like I never did enough. I tried to work more into my schedule. It was hard to stay calm and think through things like that when you are in the thick of it.

Mathias: Yeah, definitely. I’m thankful I had the time to spend on writing. Just walking around the loft and just thinking things through. Yeah, you need to take the time for it. It’s like initially there was a sense of, “Well, it’s been a month or a couple of weeks. Isn’t it time for me to have moved past everything.”

Then you figure out well, this experience of loss and grief, you never really move past it. It just sticks with you for I don’t know how long. It sticks with you for whatever you do next. It influences however you approach what you do next.

Garrett: Absolutely. On a less emotional note, the logistical challenges. Obviously Wildbit’s remote, we’re familiar with that. What kinds of challenges did you all see most frequently? What kind of things did you all do to solve that? Yeah, really that’s it.

Mathias: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this. I think for any remote team a lot of it boils down to communication and finding ways to collaborate across time zones. Especially when you interact with people regularly who are one say here Berlin and then nine-hours different on the Pacific West Coast.

Meetings are really, really hard and challenging, because there’s only a very, very small window for meetings. For people here, it might be the end of their day. They might already be completely tired. Everyone else, maybe on the West Coast, had to get up early. They might equally not be at the top of their game yet.

Scheduling that or getting that right in a growing company was something I’m not sure I’ve ever really figured out. Maybe we had too many meetings in the end. It’s quite possible. Didn’t really experiment enough with alternative or say asynchronous means of communication.

We started a few things. Being more deliberate in how we make decisions and how we create proposals. Something like, decision records. Which is a different thing where you have something written down, which you can think about and then comment on.

That was a good start I think, to have less meetings. Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever figured that out. There’ve been many upsides to building a remote company especially to the time zone distributions.

We set up our on-call rotation for engineers in a way that took the time zones into account so that people could still maximize sleep even when they were on-call, which was pretty good. Customer support is obviously something that actually benefits greatly from being spread out.

It was also one of the reasons why we started pushing more for remote, to serve our US customers better. Because we’re a German business, initially, a lot of the foundries are in Germany. Some of our early hires were also over here, or some people moved over here.

We found ourselves with a large chunk of customers over there who we couldn’t give a good enough experience. It’s pretty frustrating for customers when they send you an email. Maybe they’re on the US East Coast. Maybe you get to respond to them before you head off for the day.

Then they have to wait an entire day until they get another response from you. It’s not a great experience. It’s one of the reasons why we started pushing for it.

Garrett: In a lot of ways, it mirrors our experience. For us, one of the best things that’s worked with remote, interestingly, is switching to four-day weeks, and we’ve become very deliberate about meetings. We constantly are juggling that.

In every meeting, it’s like, “Do we need this meeting? How can we avoid this meeting?” kind of embracing the asynchronous nature for two reasons. One, the time zone. It obviously works better. Two, what we found is the asynchronous stuff, it allows people to do more of that focus work because you’re not constantly in meetings.

For the people on either end of the time zone spectrum, they have a lot of quiet time where there’s not a whole bunch of other people working. The poor people in the middle of the time zone, they’re getting bombarded in the morning and in the afternoon as people are…

What we’ve really tried to do is focus on that asynchronous stuff, more text-based things, base camp, email. Everybody always hates on email, but it lets people work and check it on their own time instead of interrupting them or whatever.

So much of what we do is based on being able to focus and really get into deep thought. It’s interesting to hear a lot of the same challenges.

Mathias: I think continuously asking yourself the question of, “Do we really this meeting?” is a great thing that remote only fosters. I wish all companies would do that. It’s not like I loathe meetings.

They are well-run and well-purposed. They could be an incredible tool. Continuously airing this question in your mind, “Is this meeting really necessary? Could we use a different medium to discuss this?” is actually…

Garrett: Or fewer people.

Mathias: Or fewer people, that’s right.

Garrett: It’s shades of meetings. You don’t have to completely ditch the meeting but like, “Could we just three of us meet instead of 10 of us?” We’ve found base camp’s automatic check-ins. That just completely removed all of our stand-ups, all of our weekly and daily check-ins.

We just do it via text. Those reply to that. Then everybody’s automatically synced up. If we need a meeting, a few of us will make it happen instead of just yanking everybody into a meeting by default.

Mathias: I’ve been thinking a lot about Slack in all of this or tools like Slack which, in some ways, I sometimes think have made remote work worse. There’s this feeling of the FOMO, the fear of missing out, the feeling of always having to be on.

I’ve been thinking about what I would do different in another remote startup. That would probably be to build it without Slack or to try and build it without Slack because I’m generally with you. I’m a fan of putting thought into what I write where email comes in well.

For me, whether it’s email or Google Docs or any longer form, method of communication is a lot more deliberate and generally more thoughtful than either a meeting or something very, very short-lived as Slack. I always found it a challenge. I’m not sure Slack will ever figure out a way to solve that.

Slack is built by a company that, itself, is neither remote nor distributed. I keep wondering about the connections there. That’s probably a material for an entirely different podcast episode.

Garrett: Yeah, we just took a week off Slack. Nobody used Slack for a whole week. It was a little painful, but it was an experiment that really helped us be more thoughtful about how we use Slack. We’re like, “These things, we missed from Slack, and we can’t think of replacements. These things, we don’t miss.”

It should’ve shifted to Basecamp either pings, or campfires, or messages. We started shifting more and more to base camp and away from Slack.

Slack is still good for alerts or for customer success if they get a support request. You still need to talk to the developers and need a way to live, troubleshoot, that kind of thing. There’s benefits, but you can’t let Slack take over. You have to constantly rein it in and be deliberate about it.

Mathias: Very true.

Garrett: Let’s talk Germany.

Mathias: Oh yeah, my favorite topic.

Garrett: Everybody’s starting companies all over the world. There’s things like Stripe Atlas, obviously, that help mitigate some unique challenges of geographies or laws and that kind of thing. My understanding has always been that Germany is one of the more challenging places to start a new business.

For anybody else who’s in Germany or thinking about that kind of stuff, is there any advice you have for that and what you would do differently or things that you want to plan ahead for better just because it takes longer to deal with?

Mathias: That’s an interesting one. People generally assume when I’m in San Francisco, for example, by the way, which is also when I experienced the quiet end of the remote day in the afternoon which is pretty amazing.

People always assume that when I was traveling places that Travis is on the US West Coast or even somewhere in the Bay Area because it seems the natural place to be. It’s kind of a surprise when I say that we’re a truly German business.

We didn’t create a UK limited as was pretty invoked for a while in Germany because it was a lot easier. There was a lot less capital that you needed to get started. In Germany, this one company structure, if you set that up, you’d need about €25,000 in starting capital.

From that, you can tell there’s already a pretty high entrance barrier. This is why people started setting up limiteds in the UK. Thankfully, that’s changed. Even though it’s well-known for its efficiency and for our joy or our fondness of cues, it’s where Germany is still generally very slow when it comes to the bureaucracy.

If you compare setting up a business in Delaware or setting up a business through, as you mentioned, Stripe Atlas, which probably takes you a day or two at most, you don’t even have to do anything anymore. You can just hire companies to do that.

It generally takes longer over here. I think in the beginning it’s that. Over time as the company grows, those challenges shift. Germany and Europe as a whole obviously have very different employment laws.

Once you reach a certain number of employees, you can’t just fire anyone just for any reason as you can in the US, where some states have employment. Some people perceive these as obstacles, I would say. For me, they are just things. I’ve always been used to them.

Garrett: They just are. Just there.

Mathias: They just are. They exist, so you just deal with them. Building a business, for me it’s never the intention to think about, “Well, how could I effectively fire someone?” My question is how can I keep these great people in the company.

I would call these obstacles. There’s also that shops are not opened here on Sundays, which is not related to a business. Every expatriate who moves here from the US is weirded out by that. For us Germans, we like to take our time off work.

I think the more challenging things as a company grows, they stem from the legal side of things. German law is very different from US law. I also have to say that German law, especially when it comes to selling products or buying products, is very, very customer-friendly, which is what, especially, US companies don’t understand, which makes sense because the US law is just very different.

You seek all the liability protection that you can, unlimited indemnification for third party and IP infringements and all that ridiculous stuff. Rectifying that or pulling those strings together can be really, really hard.

Sometimes, we had legal negotiations that took up to a year, because it was back and forth of, “And do this,” and, “We can’t do that. We’re not a US company, so we can’t do that.” Different US enterprise companies in particular have very interesting requirements. There’s just a lot of back and forth, lots of red lining and then removing red lines and then just lots of word documents.

In the end, we’ve had it work out most of the time. I think the key for us was to find good lawyers who have experience in international business. Who can just help navigate this and figure out where we can offset risk, where we can take on more risk, and where our customers will need to take some risk.

That’s what it’s all about really, negotiating with enterprise companies. Their only goal is to reduce risk wherever they can. That, for us, means we have to take on more. You start taking out insurances and all of that.

It gets more relaxed over time. I think, especially early on, it seems like this insurmountable barrier or wall. I think for us in the end, we found a good lawyer to help us through that. Then it just worked out. Plus, lawyers in Germany are a lot cheaper than they are in the US. That’s an extra plus.

The thing is, for us, you might still need a US presence if you, like us, like Travis, want to expand into the US, hire people there. You might still need to create a subsidiary or now using Stripe Atlas, say, a company that exists for employment purposes. Or maybe you want to even use that for sales.

I probably wouldn’t recommend that. I’m pretty sure that’s a whole can of worms in terms of state and federal taxes in the US that you might not want to open, but US presence can still be beneficial for different kinds of purposes.

Garrett: Like Stripe Atlas today, do you think you still would have incorporated as a German business or gone the Stripe Atlas route?

Mathias: Good question. I don’t know. There are benefits to being a German business, basically. There are benefits to being protected also on our end under German law, which is by the way one of the generally contentious things when we negotiated license agreements with larger companies. They want to move the court of law to New York, California, or wherever, Delaware. We’re just like, “Well, we can’t do that.” Or they want to move it to the UK, because it’s closer. The court system is closer to the US.

Insisting on that was basically one of the few things probably where we said, “We can’t do that. This is non-negotiable. Here is why, and maybe we can, you know, connect you with a German lawyer to explain to you why this is actually good for you even though you might not think it is.”

Garrett: Enterprise negotiations, I think, are just the bane of the existence of anybody that’s got to deal with that.

Mathias: It’s true. Although I found talking to legal councils in these companies is always a different story than when you just send back and forth red lines. I think, in the end, it works out like any negotiation.

You just figure out what is really important to them or what are the most important things to them. Then you just figure out how you can inch a little bit closer to what they’re after without setting up what might end up being an illegal contract under German law.

I never went and started a business with the idea of like, “Hey, I’m gonna manage a company of 50 people at some day. Yay, I look forward to it.” You’re suddenly faced with this challenge.

Garrett: Let’s move on to difficulties in particular. I know previously you’d mentioned there’s a lot, and it’s tough to pick one. What’s the toughest day or just event – it doesn’t have to be that it happened in a single day – that you’ve encountered either with Travis or just in general with business?

Mathias: It’s really hard to name just one. I don’t know. You’ve been through the experience yourself. There are just so many unique challenges and obstacles that you just don’t even think about as you start out.

Speaking for myself as an engineer, I never went and started a business with the idea of like, “Hey, I’m gonna manage a company of 50 people at some day. Yay, I look forward to it.” You’re suddenly faced with this challenge.

It’s like, “Oh, I have to learn how to be manager, and suddenly I have to learn how to be a manager of managers, and eventually a manager of manager of managers.” That’s right. I don’t know. The roller coaster both emotional and mental just never stopped for me.

It’s like I can’t even tell you potentially also because of now a level of distance that I have, where I think just my most recent events maybe come into play. It’s just that the founder experience I found is one where things are just great one minute. 30 minutes later, everything’s on fire.

Somehow, you still have to keep your calm to calm everyone else down. There are so many events that left impressions on me, especially the bad and the challenging ones. Having to let someone go or just giving someone feedback that is not pleasant to give.

These are things where you never prepare for those things. They feel insurmountable once you get to them. They get easier over time, but I think the most challenging problems for me were always people problems.

In terms of what my, personally, toughest day was, it was probably the one that I decided to leave. Even though that also, as you said, wasn’t just one day, it was something that just built up over time. Maybe weeks, maybe even a month that is hard to accumulate or hard to sum up, where you point to a particular day where this thing happened. That’s probably my most recent memory that I can bring in.

I think in our maniacal pursuit of growth, we end up saddling ourselves with burdens that we’re not excited about. That’s one of the reasons to me that bootstrapping is so attractive. It’s because the growth is a little more steady and not crazy.

Garrett: The way I would almost describe what you’re talking about is we always…I say we. Generally speaking, every company is so focused on growth. We want to grow, grow, grow, grow. Everybody is focused on the benefits of growth.

Nobody is excited about growing, so they can become manager. Or start reading management books instead of development books. That’s part and parcel with growth. It’s inevitable. If you’re anxious and excited about growth, you really have to embrace that your role, your responsibilities will evolve with that.

Every ounce of growth is going to bring an ounce of discomfort as you adjust to the new situation, whatever that means. Growth can be in scaling problems. Not just scaling, technically even scaling a business and management.

I think in our maniacal pursuit of growth, we end up saddling ourselves with burdens that we’re not excited about. That’s one of the reasons to me that bootstrapping is so attractive. It’s because the growth is a little more steady and not crazy.

It lets you handle those challenges in a more calm controlled manner, instead of just constantly. At the same time, Travis’ growth was pretty…It’s not like you all tried to grow. It just happened. Everybody embraced it. Obviously, the open source support garnered a lot of respect and interest. Could you just talk a little bit about that growth curve and how that affected it all and played out internally?

You have to grow up only to then teach others what you’ve learned, and basically let go of what you’ve just grown into, and suddenly be already focused on being something else or someone else.

Mathias: I think there’s one thing I just wanted to loop back on as you talked about growth. I think personal growth and the strain it puts on you is definitely something that is rarely talked about, especially when you move into a position or you have to take on responsibilities like management that you never thought of.

You suddenly have to learn a lot faster than what would be normal, I would say. Say you’re in a normal environment or in a large company and you progress from, say, being an engineer. You take responsibility.

Over time, you move into management if it’s a good path for you, if you enjoy working with people. As founders, even though Travis was bootstrapped, it ended up growing relatively quickly, at least, for what I was comfortable with.

There are definitely these responsibilities that you have to take on, where you have to grow up a lot faster than would be normal and then everyone around you.

You have to grow up only to then teach others what you’ve learned, and basically let go of what you’ve just grown into, and suddenly be already focused on being something else or someone else.

That part is really challenging, I find. Just don’t get me wrong. Now, I actually enjoy management. It’s basically the thing that I now focus on. It was a challenge or a progression that was worth my while, at least. Growth.

When we set out, we didn’t really have a master plan. Travis started out as a bit of a hobby project that was first an open source project that was community-maintained, community-run. Then a company was built around it. We built a product that we started selling.

You already mentioned the open source site. Travis provides free continuous integration infrastructures to open source projects. That was probably one of the most important things for our growth even though we didn’t intend it to be.

It turned out to be marketing where we considered it as something that we do as good for the community. I think it’s something that turned out to be a coin with two sides. Both are incredibly valuable. They’re incredibly useful, but the marketing side only emerged over time while we wanted to just focus on being a force of good in the open source community.

It’s just suddenly you might have to make this investment very early on like provide free infrastructure, where you’re not sure if you’re going to see a return on this for I don’t know how long.

Garrett: I think that’s one of the things of all my observations in the last few years that has me most excited. The traditional view of marketing is everybody hates it. It’s evil. It’s bad. It doesn’t have to be.

The way I started to divide it is there’s marketing that’s focused on the company doing the marketing and there’s the marketing that’s focused on the people using the products. To me, open source, wherever the company falls on that spectrum, is marketing that’s about the users. Travis started from the users, and then a business accidentally grew out of it almost.

My parents’ work with Sidekick is another great example. In so many ways, people are really uncomfortable. “Oh. If I open source my business, somebody else is gonna, you know, take it and start a business exactly like mine, and nobody can do that.”

If you are the only one that’s passionate enough about your open source project, it’s going to be a discourse, obviously, as another one. They’re an open source. There’s plenty of businesses that can be built this way.

I love it because at the core it’s about, “Here it is. It’s for you. We’re building it for you but then at the same time, we’re going to build a business around it.” One of my favorite Walt Disney quotes, “We don’t make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies.”

I feel like the open source model is a very pure way of approaching that to where you’re making money to feed it back into the product. People don’t have to use your service, but I feel like there’s a level there in supporting the open source community by providing it for free.

It’s the same thing. It’s about the people, not about Travis. That is what inherently makes it good marketing, because it’s genuine. It’s not branding and all the traditional things. It’s easier said than done but it’s useful for people to think about as they’re getting started, where they want to be on that spectrum for marketing.

Mathias: I consider this as marketing in a good way but I also look at it from the market perspective. Now, it’s become the standard for people to think they have to offer something for free to open source projects.

In general, I think that’s a good thing. It’s just suddenly you might have to make this investment very early on like provide free infrastructure, where you’re not sure if you’re going to see a return on this for I don’t know how long.

I’ve been torn on this for a while. On the other hand, I also can’t complain about it. It’s worked well for us. It’s the open source involvement. Turning Travis into something that just is a very widely used in the open source community on GitHub has definitely helped us even take this next step into the large companies who came to us.

As you just said, they came to use from the user perspective, where the developers in these companies asked to be able to use Travis in their companies. We, suddenly from that, even evolved an enterprise product and sales channel for us.

That also gave us a very different growth trajectory, I would say, because you spend a lot more time. As I mentioned earlier, you spend a lot more time in the sales process and also in account management and things like that, just continuously holding hands, keeping these relationships going, signing up for a new procurement system with the same company every year.

The returns are exponentially higher there. I always like to think of the happy-go more big checks. Companies did send us actual checks even though they are not a thing here in Germany any more. The checks are just exponentially bigger that you get out of these kinds of customers.

It was interesting to see how the open source site, this marketing, or the positioning there eventually helped us sell to larger companies.

It’s probably one of the key pieces of advice I would give myself, is just focus on very, very few things and focus on seeing them through.

Garrett: It’s easy to focus on the marketing side and how it paid off. I’m sure on the internal operations side, scaling to support all of that growth was probably no trivial task either.

Mathias: No, it was not.

Garrett: I think we could probably leave it at that, because that kind of growth surely creates a lot of strain in and of itself. It’s worth acknowledging that it’s not all unicorns and rainbows.

Mathias: This is true.

Garrett: Based on all this work that you’ve done, if you started another business or as you’re advising other clients, based on all your lessons learned, what would you advice people to do that maybe different than decisions you originally made? What topics would you advise them to really focus on and invest in upfront and things like that?

Mathias: I think focus is a good word, because that’s what I find that in my experience is a really hard thing to get right. Focusing on very few things and doing those really well and basically seeing them through.

I think in start-ups speak, that’s generally called executing. That’s also a fluffy word, but figuring out what the thing is you want to focus on and then seeing that through without letting yourself get distracted by other shiny things.

I’ve been finding that challenging myself. I also see this a lot in start-ups. It starts with the question of who’s my audience. Who am I actually selling this to? What is my product? What is the value I provide? Then there’s just so many layers there where it’s very easy to get distracted.

It’s probably one of the key pieces of advice I would give myself, is just focus on very, very few things and focus on seeing them through. Until, of course, you learn that what you’re building turns out not to be the right thing anymore, not basically go completely blind but just not letting yourself get distracted along the way, unless it’s really necessarily.

Just taking care of yourself, finding maybe even a therapist early on, or working with a coach from the very early stage is definitely something I would recommend.

That’s definitely one thing, relentlessly prioritizing and just focusing on a few things and doing those really well. I think the other thing that I’ve learned for myself is that diversity is a requirement. It’s not just an option.

The founders’ team needs to reflect that to begin with, which sets any company up for, my experience now, a much better trajectory when it comes to building a diverse team. I think, in general, just pay more attention to the human side of things.

Especially when a group of engineers come together, it’s easy to forget that there’s a relationship that you build and that there’s a relationship that you build with everyone who comes into your company. There are relationships that you build with your customers.

Especially in the early stages, it’s easy to forget about this. You’re just so focused on getting something out the door or getting that customer to give you their credit card. I think it pays to invest time and also maybe a little bit of money there early on and getting a coach either for yourself, or the founders’ team, or a moderator, or facilitator, or just external perspective or advisers.

It’s something I also wish we would have gotten or I would have resorted just sooner, just getting more external perspective into things. The last thing is probably just taking care of yourself. Also, again it comes back to the human side but also the usual things of not working too much longer than necessarily.

I think we do. We both know that, especially in the early stages, it’s easier said than done to just say, “I’m gonna work eight hours a day,” when everything’s on fire and there’s no one else to put them out. I think I remember you talking early at a talk years ago, stepping on a plane with no one else to look after Sifter. Then just being like, “Oh my god, what’s gonna happen?”

Also, I had the same feeling. It was every weekend as I went shopping even. Just taking care of yourself, finding maybe even a therapist early on, or working with a coach from the very early stage is definitely something I would recommend. Putting budget into that can pay off manifold.

Garrett: That’s one of the things that really stands out. Wildbit is so great. I’m like, “I don’t know if I’m ever gonna want to start another business. But then if I did, it would very much be, you know, four-day weeks, and that’s that.”

You start that way, you learn to get done what you can get done and embrace it, and you use those three days to fully recharge, so you have longer weekends. Then you come in Monday, recharge. You just force yourself to do it and build the business that way, in an intentional deliberate way that’s not so dependent on you, fighting fires seven days a week.

You might move a little slower in the beginning but you’re going to be able to last longer and not drive yourself crazy and burnout. It’s easy to ignore burnout early on but it’s inevitable if you don’t embrace a healthy balance from the beginning.

The other is the diversity aspect. It’s so easy in the beginning to just hire the people around you. It feels comfortable, because everybody agrees. Everybody’s got the same background. To me, the more I pay attention to all the diversity aspects, the discomfort that comes from diversity is where the value lies.

It’s not just a bunch of people all saying yes to each other and blindly charging forward. It’s somebody be like, “Whoa. Well, hold on. This is a terrible idea. Here’s why.” You’re like, “Oh, wow. I never had that experience.”

In those two angles, if there’s anything I’ve felt, I’ve figured out in the last few years, it’s the value of those two things, especially in the early days and getting started. Not just building a team of the people who are immediately around you and taking care of yourself.

On the last bit here, if you were starting something new today, would you still do the same thing? Are there other things floating around in your head that you see are more exciting or more challenging based on your experience? What would you do?

Mathias: This is a good question. The thought of starting something right now is something that is almost scary to me. It’s also a hard thing to think about.

Garrett: I’m right there with you.

Mathias: I think the things that I keep coming back to is looking at different business problems, I would say. There is a multitude of processes. You’ve got small, medium, or even enterprise businesses that are currently done in tedious or manual or just inefficient ways.

I find the most interesting problems are really what you could call the boring business problems, where there’s a lot of potential to actually help teams or business to be more efficient or also productive in their work.

I find myself gravitating a lot towards those. Even the larger the company is, the large the business and the larger the problem. Or even the smaller problem is there. It’s all about, is it a small problem that you can solve but then it can have really big impact for these kinds of companies.

You have a company that makes a couple billion a year, and they spend a hundred million doing something. Or maybe they lose money somewhere because of some sort of process. There’s a benefit for them to gain a hundred million more revenue.

Somehow, you could build a tool that somehow enables that or even just to give them a couple percent of those hundred million back. I don’t know. My excitement in the last couple of month has been about those problems. Whether that means anything, I’m not sure. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Garrett: I’ve been similarly fascinated by a lot of that stuff, the operational things, where people are using spreadsheets for really clunky processes that just don’t scale and don’t work. It’s just because it works well enough.

They haven’t taken the time to commit and say, “How could we fix this,” because there’s other fires to put out. I feel like there’s some really fascinating opportunities there for the really boring things that companies just do out of habit.

Mathias: I think the other thing I’ve been thinking about is building something for remote teams, for remote companies and something that might also, in the end, benefit non-remote companies. I always like to say, “Remote work practices or distributed team practices, they don’t just benefit companies or remote the distributor.”

I don’t think they could benefit any company, because you put a lot more discipline and effort into communicating well, documenting, and all those kinds of things. I’ve also been thinking about those.

I think there’s another very business-y thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s just to spend a lot of time experimenting with pricing.

Garrett: I would say that that goes very similarly with things that have been on my mind. I think it’s the nature of a remote work company in starting to become more deliberate and thoughtful about how work is getting done. It pulls you towards those areas for sure.

Any last words of advice, parting words of wisdom for somebody else who wants to start a new business, a new entity?

Mathias: I think I’ve already gone through most of them. I think there’s another very business-y thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s just to spend a lot of time experimenting with pricing. It might be a strange note to end on. I used to keep forgetting and I see the same in other companies that pricing is the number one variable that you have to increase your revenue. There’s so much room to play with it. Stuff over here.

Garrett: I think that’s incredible bit of advice. Generally speaking, it feels like most people come from more of a product background. We’re more focused on building a product. We are, for whatever reason, inherently terrible at valuing our own products.

It feels uncomfortable to raise prices, or charge more, or what have you. If, say, you charge $5 for something because you’re uncomfortable and then you double it to $10 but people are willing to $20, you just doubled your revenue and your customers are still thrilled. Right?

Mathias: That’s right.

Garrett: You want to make sure people are covered. Unless you’re going to go out of business, you don’t want to yank your existing customers into the new pricing. You can always experiment with pricing on your new customers to find out what are people comfortable with.

The idea, in theory, you could double your revenue and have just as happy of customers just by changing it constant and your source code. I think that’s a great piece of advice. It’s hard. It’s difficult for people to think about and embrace, but I think that’s a really important variable and dial you can turn for the business. Thanks for doing this. We covered a lot of awesome ground. Thanks.

Mathias: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

Garrett: Of course.

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