Kevin Henrikson, Partner Director of Engineering at Microsoft — an exclusive chat with Testlio CEO, Kristel Kruustük.
Interviewer: [00:01] All right. One, two, one, two. It works. Maybe we can turn off the music now. And everyone who is still in the kitchen, please come to this area over here. Join us for the meetup. We’re about to start. Yes. Perfect. Oh my God, I’m so excited. This is like the event of the year for me. Definitely. And I’m so happy that my friend Kevin got to come over to Estonia this year and I’m excited to be sharing his story with you tonight. So thank you so much for coming out. We had so many signups for the events, so thank you for the support than this interest. I am sure that after you leave this event, everyone is going to be super pumped because Kevin is seriously one of the most intense guys that I’ve ever met in my life, and you’re going to shortly be a be seeing him. So Kevin, come over here. Yeah.
Kevin: Also, how are you using that thing? I love it, let me hold it. It’s like a comfort thing, right? You’re like holding something, right?
Interviewer: Oh my God.
Kevin: I’m just kidding.
Interviewer: Come sit down with me.
Kevin: [01:15] Now, I didn’t think I was going to get to come today. I signed up last night and I got this thing, it said I’m on the wait list. I was like, “Oh shit.”
Interviewer: Yeah. I already told Kevin that—
Kevin: Is this recorded?
Kevin: Alright. No more cussing.
Interviewer: Yes, so be nice.
Kevin: I know.
Interviewer: It’s serious, it’s going to be a new YouTube forever. So, there’s no way you can take it off, unless you go and work for Youtube at some point. But that’s probably not going to happen because Kevin is definitely an entrepreneur from the heart, right?
Kevin: From the heart.
Interviewer: [01:45] Yeah. So what else can I say about Kevin? I was thinking about how can I start off with this meetup and I was thinking that Kevin truly an awesome guy that has been a big inspiration for me and Marco as the founders of Testlio since the beginning. Seriously. So I don’t know if any of you got to walk around in the office already, but we have two posters up in the office called “what would Kevin do?” And it’s all because of the reasons, because Kevin has been so fast moving his entire career, and for him businesses like a play.
Kevin: Like a game.
Interviewer: Like a game. Yeah, exactly. It’s really, truly like a game, and everything that he does seems to be so easy. So, today I think I would love to dig deeper into your entrepreneurial journey. What inspires you. And then on the second hand, talk a little bit about maybe QA and the way you’ve built the product that you’ve made really successful.
[02:48] And so why Kevin is famous is because he’s one of the earliest employees at Zimbra. Then after Zimbra he went to work for a VC company called Red Point Capital. They’re like $1 billion fund, right? And he was an EIR there. And then from there he continued building another email application called a Acompli, that amazingly got the acquired by Microsoft after 18 months for maybe 200 million. He never confirmed though. And then now he has been a part of Microsoft now for about two years.
Kevin: Two and a half years.
Interviewer: [03:31] Yeah, two and a half years. And that’s it. And one thing, one more thing. What’s very interesting about him is that he grew up in a pig farm. So I think a lot of us can relate to this as well. Like we’ve done a lot of that—
Kevin: is that like a common thing in Estonia, to farm pigs?
Interviewer: [03:50] Our grandparents usually have like farms And lots of animals there. So Kevin has built houses on his own as well.
Kevin: I did none of that. Now let’s be clear. That’s why I did the computer thing, cause it made computers super easy. You’re like wow, just sitting in an office all day. It’s air conditioning, free food and drinks. It’s a pretty good deal.
Interviewer: [04:07] Yeah. But seriously, I just want a purely know like what got you into technology?
Kevin: [04:15] That’s a good question. You always [inaudible] Like it gives you a chance to think right? Always asks a good question. What I’m actually saying is holy shit, I have no idea. Let me think about it. But if you say that, it’s a great thing. What got me into tech? So I don’t know early on when I was a kid, I don’t know, growing up in like the eighties or nineties my dad bought this computer and it had like two disc drives and we would stick things in it and he put the box there and we couldn’t really use it or open it until we read all the instructions. And so he’d gave us the book and we’d read all the instructions and he’s like, “how are you going to set it up?” And we knew exactly where everything go in cause we’d spent like weeks studying this stupid manual. And then we— because my parents knew nothing about computers really other than like, Hey, some of his other dad friends were like buying them for their kids and it sounded like a good thing that we should learn. And my dad was a pilot, so he didn’t really— He’s like, the plane works on computers, so like maybe you should learn about them.
[05:08] And so then we just learned on and we played games and wrote little programs, back in the day we had to write like little cassette tapes. I wasn’t old enough to do like the punch cards the super old stuff. But we did cassette tapes and yeah, I don’t know. Then from there and then we didn’t have really internet, we had this dial up modem stuff that was really slow. Then when I got to college we had that thing called the internet and we plugged in, you’re like, “Whoa, that’s fast.” And so we started sharing music, right? That was the first thing we did. And then yeah, the internet just kind of obsessed me after that. Yeah. Cause I was going to do a mechanical engineering. My degree is actually mechanical engineering. So I was like, Oh I’m going to go build cars and airplanes cause that stuff’s awesome. And then I got them like this computer stuff’s way easier cause like you’re like, dude, build a car, It’s like five years, then you build this thing and you worked on the door handle, right?
Interviewer: [05:53] So now when you look back, do you still think it’s way easier than building a software?
Kevin: [05:58] Yeah. Like building an airplane. I mean, my brother worked at Boeing for 14 years or something like that. It’s 11 years. But from the time he started until the time he left, he was working on the seven 787, and he was in IT, right? He managed the application monitoring for the software that managed the part, replaced it for the 787 that hadn’t been released. And I’m like, what? And, but if it goes down then they can’t get the part for the plane that hasn’t been released. But yeah, they’re testing them so they still need to get the parts quickly. And he was like, even in the software side of an airplane company and that was still like, they don’t want it to die.
[07:17] And so they were all there to basically, the IT people are like, “Hey, you don’t understand how pissed people are.” And we’re like, “Oh yeah, we don’t understand. We’ll fly out to Georgia, we’ll make it all better.” So we went to Atlanta and, we got there and I come to this room— It was like a room like this, and they’d invited to the whole staff, they were all pissed. They’re like, “yeah, the guys that built it are going to be here, come yell at them.” And so we sat there for an hour, and we thought we were just meeting with the IT personally. No, we sat there with the whole teachers and they’re like, “I had this class schedule and it [inaudible] when some kid touched it and deleted it” and you know, so it was super painful.
[07:47] But you think through all that you know, you can fix it. Like it’s solvable, right? We did figure it out and fix it. You have this incredible responsibility cause you know today at Microsoft the pilots that fly the planes for Alaska airlines get their schedules and maintenance requests and incredibly important thing. The hospitals. So like, there is criticality to the what we do, but the ability to both break it and fix it quickly is way easier than it would be if you worked in the physical world or building kind of hardware products and things like that. So I don’t know. So I think software is easier. Like clearly building companies is hard. Like there’s all kinds of challenges to it, but yeah, but the speed at which way you can do it, it’s more fun to do things and make change and see stuff happen versus like sitting there for 11 years and hoping the 787 will finally launch.
[08:36] And in the end it did, it’s a great airplane. I think I rode on one on the way over. But like, and then the thing is like, I don’t even know. What kind of plane did you ride on the last time you flew a plane? Do you like know exactly what kind of— No, you’re like, “Oh, whatever.” I mean, hopefully, you know the email app you’re using. Some people clearly don’t we ask them, “what do you use for email?” I don’t know. I use my phone. “No, no, no. What app do you use?”, “I don’t know, I just use my phone.”, “Is it outlook?”, “I don’t know, IT guy installed it.” Yeah. So, there is some corollary in the software world, but hopefully not.
Interviewer: [09:04] So, after college you graduated UCLA, right?
Kevin: Finally. Yeah. So it was funny cause like my second internship, our last internship, whatever I was getting bored, I was working at this software company that was building software for mechanical engineering. So my job was to go in And actually QA the software. So they’d be like, “Oh here’s a heat transfer model.” And I’d write, do the calculation—
Interviewer: So that’s where you first did QA?
Kevin: Yeah. I was testing and it sucked, right? Cause it was like super hard, cause you’re like testing and I’m like, “I want to go fix the bugs”, right? And so then how do you find good bugs and fix it. And so yeah, I was doing testing in like literally my first internship. My second internship, I was like, “ah, I don’t want to do an internship.” So I started looking on Craigslist and found this company interviewing for an HTML programmer, cause I thought I’d do HTML. And I went and interviewed and they’d sent me an offer letter and it was like a full time job. And I was like, “Oh, that wasn’t internship.” But they didn’t ask if I graduated. So I didn’t tell them. So I accepted the job, went to work and then three months later I had to go back to school. And so I was like, “okay I gotta go” and I’m managing like the web team a small startup, right? So it grew really fast. It’s like 10 people now under my team. And I was like “I have to go back to college”.
Interviewer: So you were out of college?
Kevin: I was not out. I was like, for summer.
Interviewer: You were still in college but you werre already managing a team.
Kevin: Yeah. You know, just fixe the bugs, make it faster, and they’re like, “well this guy has the answer. So maybe he’ll just be in charge, right?” It’s kind of I always talk when I talked to college students, they’re like, “well how do you promote yourself?” You don’t. People start asking you questions and you know the person in the office if the internet went out right now, there’s probably one or two people we’d call. Like if the internet went out in this office, there’s probably one or two people somewhere sitting in here that’s like “We’re going to go talk to that guy. He’s going to fix the internet.” Right? And if you become that woman or a guy during like your chunk of work, you just kind of become naturally the leader. And whether that’s the manager kind of boss relationship, or the architect or the principal. And it’s kind of just becoming that person.
[10:47] “Oh, I have an HR complaint. Like there’s somebody in here that does HR. You’re like, “Oh, they’re they are.” That’s where you go. And so how do you become that person? That’s how I stumbled into managing people. And then I told them, I’m like, “sorry, I got to go back to school.” And they’re like, “well, you’re managing this team.” Like, “I don’t know, you didn’t ask. I didn’t ask, whatever.” And so I’m like, “Hey, well I can do school two days a week. Why don’t you let me work three days a week?” And they’re like, “All right.” So I did that. So I just worked three days a week, went to school the other two. And then about a year later they came to me and they go, “Hey, I thought you were going to go back to graduate?” And I’m like, “Oh yeah, I did three months four months ago.”
[11:18] And they’re like, “well, you’re going to come back to working full time?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, sure. I can start on Monday” You know, then nobody asked, right? So I was just taking two days off. It was kind of cool. But so I did that. And then of course, you kind of like writing’s on the wall, what happened to that company, right? They went out of business.
Interviewer: [11:34] But seriously, you get this hunger for doing something?
Kevin: I don’t know, I get bored really easy.
Interviewer: Being in college, where is it coming from?
Kevin: [11:47] Yeah, exactly. It’s way easier than feeding pigs. That’s what I’m like, can you imagine like going feeding pigs? No, just going to do cool stuff, right?
Interviewer: So just do whatever you want and you can implement things really quicker. And then what happened after that?
Kevin: [12:00] So, that company went out of business. So like on Friday they’re like, “Hey, company meeting, we’d had tons of layoffs, right?” Like 400, 200, 12, right?
Interviewer: And you were still in the 12?
Kevin: That’s another thing, right? You’re a survivor, right? You’re like, I made it down to 12. And you’re like, you’re the manager, you’re the boss, you’re the janitor. You’re at all the jobs at that point.
Interviewer: How did you feel about this as well?
Kevin: So, it was a good lesson. I’ll tell you about that one after [inaudible] But so yeah, they’re like, “Hey, we’ve got a lunchtime meeting. Everybody come in quick meeting for lunch”, and they have these envelopes. Everybody got an envelope. And the CEO is like, “Hey, this is your last paycheck and we’re going to file for bankruptcy in about three hours. So, go to the bank and cash it right now because after five, you won’t be able to cash it for many weeks cause it’ll be in bankruptcy and you have to go fight for yourself.” I mean, you’ll get it, because salary comes off first and stuff that I learned later. But you know, so we all raced down to the bank bank of Santa Monica in LA, and you know, 12 of us, right? And we were 11 actually, the CEO didn’t come. He kind of bummed at that day, right? and so we were all cashing the checks, about eight of us in there. Like, “we’re out of cash.” Like, “what do you mean you’re out of cash?” They’re like, “well, we just don’t have [inaudible].” He said to cash it. Well, we didn’t have bank accounts there. And so we had to go to two other banks, and then we just went and drank all night, complete debauchery.
[13:15] But yeah, the lesson there is, the way I tell that lesson is, I don’t know in college. But in college in the US they have these kegs a beer keg or whatever, right? And when you have a party some person who’s adults friend or whatever will get a keg for a bunch of underage kids or whatever that shouldn’t be drinking to drink. And they’ll put the keg there and then somebody controls the tap. And so in the US we call that the keg master, whoever’s holding the tap who’s got the button? And, so it’s like everybody drinks out of these red cups these cheap plastic cups, right? So all the cops are like there’s some one person sitting there filling it up. And so, the lesson was like, you gotta be the keg master, right?
[13:51] So the person that controls the resources kind of wins cause you instantly become the friend. Like the next day on campus they’re like, “Hey, I saw you last night” or “I remember you from last night”, cause you’re filling the beers, right? You’re filling other beers. But then the story goes on a little bit farther as it as the party starts to wind down there’s always like a few people lingering out and bad things always happen at the end. You know, the police come, it’s too loud. Like somebody throws up on the floor and we’re like, “dude, that’s a bummer.” Like you’ve got to clean it up. If you would’ve left earlier, so the lesson there is like, don’t be the last one at the party. So when you see a company or you’re in a group you know, this works in big companies and little companies in little companies, “Oh well the smart people are gone. I’m now the boss.” And so I was a kid. I’m like, “This is awesome, dude.” Everybody’s leaving. I’m like in charge. I’m running this whole department, and there’s nobody here, but I’m running it. But the trick was like, Oh wait, all the people that I knew that were awesome that I worked with, they were super happy as my colleagues, they left. And so I was like, “I should have left too.”
[14:46] And so now I’ve seen that in big companies where you’re like in a group, and a huge division, and the division kind of whittles down and you’re like, “well, I’m the boss of the littler division.” But then eventually they’ll either lay everybody off or shut it. You know, it’s never a good sign. So don’t be the last one at the party.
Interviewer: But it was a good lesson.
Kevin: [15:00] Yeah. There’s like 12 of them. I should go through them all one day. That’s a different talk.
Interviewer: It probably hasn’t never happened to after that, right?
Kevin: Got laid off?
Kevin: Yeah. I actually got fired from VMware. So yeah, I think you knew that. That’s a trick question. So now it’s, I got laid off again.
Kevin: [15:18] I know, but that one’s a little different. So that one, the angle was a little different. So we had sold Zimbra to Yahoo, and then Yahoo sold it to VMware. And then we’re at VMware and then it had kinda run its life there. It was a startup that was great but just never fit in wherever it landed. And so they were like, “Hey, we’re going to sell it again to like a private equity firm and offload the asset.” Because the nice thing about email is once you— how many of you would like to switch email servers? Like if anybody in IT it sucks. Like, Hey, “let’s switch from Google apps or Microsoft office or from office to to exchange or whatever.” Is super painful. And so you get very wedded to that platform. And so Zimbra had all these customers that were still paying us because it was very hard to switch off of it. It just painful. It’s not worth it. And so they’re like, “Hey, we’re going to sell the business.” And I was like, “No, I’m not going. That’s eight years I’ve been riding this train. There’s going to be no good kind of like having this asset get sold” and so I refused to leave and then they’re like, “you need to go to go.”
[16:13] Too many good ideas, I guess, for them. And so they were like “since you’re not staying, you need to lay your team off and then we’re going to lay you off.” And I was like, “Well, I’m not laying the team off. And so I just left.” Like, they gave me the paperwork and I was like, “I know what that is. I’m not signing it. See you later.”
Interviewer: But so how did it happen that you became part of Zimbra first off? So that was in 2004 when you started having these conversations joining Zimbra, right?
Kevin: Yeah. To go back.
Interviewer: does everyone know what Zimbra is?
Kevin: It’s like an email server. It’s like a Linux-based email server that competed against exchange and loss.
Interviewer: And they were sold to?
Interviewer: For 350 million.
Kevin: 350 million.
Interviewer: And Kevin was one of the first, you were one of the first people there. So how did you get there?
Kevin: [16:51] How did I get there? So [inaudible] who is the VC in Accompli was the CEO of that company, and he had been in a company where I met my wife, who’s somewhere hiding in the audience.
Interviewer: I think she’s there.
Kevin: [17:02] She moved. She’s hiding. She’s definitely embarrassed now. So, I was at this company called open wave. It was like doing software for carriers, and I got there like my first week, this is after I got laid off from my company in LA. I got hired and they paid for me to move to Northern California where my brother was living. And the first thing we did is they said, “Hey—” I was like in a bug fixing group, so it’s kind of like QA, more like the patch groups. So like when the customer would report a problem, they were like, “Hey, the good engineers are too busy to fix bugs. So we have this special group that fix these bugs”, I mean, this is a traditional like enterprise model. And I was like, this is gross. I’ll never run a company like that. But I was like, “Whatever, I’m here, I need a job.” So I took the job and I was the first person on the team. And so we’re sitting in a room 10, 12 people. And one of our big customers at the time was British telecom in London or wherever it is, right? Well actually that office was in Belfast, which was weird cause that’s where our office was, but it was British telecom.
[18:01] And so they’re like, “Hey, we’re having problems.” This is like mobile way back in the day, with these super crappy web WML phones were it’s like HTML, but really, really worse. And it ran on these little phones that were like the worst Android phone minus 10. It was really bad phones, under powered, pixelated screens, it had like T nine, you had to pump the character three times to get every letter. They didn’t even have keyboards, right? And so they’re like, “Hey, there’s lots of bugs on this.” This customer got 14 bugs and they’re super complaining and all the kind of QA people and all the executives in the room, and I’m like sitting in the back, cause I barely could get a chair. I’m like the lowest, lowest, lowest person in the total. I’m the one that when they find the bug, I’ve got to go eventually try to fix it.
[18:51] And they’re like, “Hey, we need somebody to fly out to the customer and fix all these bugs.” I’d been there a week, so I didn’t really know anything, but I’m like, “I’ll do it.” And the gyt was like, “wait, who are you”? And they’re like, “This is this new guy, he just started” and they’re like, “you can fix them?” And I’m like, “Sure, whatever, I can try.” Like I don’t know, that’s my job, to fix bugs. I’ll try. And so, I went down to Barnes and Nobles, bought a book on WML. I didn’t know Jack about it. Read the book on the plain. Long flight, right? 10 hour flight, 11 hours to get to London, read the book. I got there, and they didn’t tell me— this is the awesome thing about Europe, there’s always these holidays, right? And so I get there and it’s a bank holiday. And so I’m like, sweet, this is cool. So the day I’m supposed to do so some work, nobody’s working ,right?
[19:21] So, finally found one of the QA persons and she brought over like a sack of like these shitty phones and handed me the sack of phones and says, “here it is.” And I’m like I’ve got this spreadsheet with all the list of bugs, and so I’m trying to find figure out how it works. Get the thing working and it’s like dial up, CDMA, GSM, Edge, it was before edge. It was like, what is it? Like [inaudible]. The thing would connect, you could feel the phone connecting. It was like [inaudible], and it would connect and the page would start loading. It was just terrible.
[19:47] And so, yeah. And then so that day I sat there in my hotel room for, I don’t know, 12 or 14 hours or whatever. And then I fixed like six of them. And it was all hacks. Like if I see this, do that and just don’t do the bad thing. Like the worst, I mean, just the grossest code you’d ever written. But I got it working. So the next morning they’re like, “how’d you do doing?” I’m like, “well I’ve got a couple fixed” and then “let’s just run through the test and see what happens.” Cause two of them I couldn’t reproduce. So that would have gave me eight out of 12. So we ran through it and eight 12 are fixed. And the guy was like, “Whoa, this guy is magic.”
[20:17] And then they get on the conference call and all the executives, “all right, first day status, what are we going to do? Like what’s the plan for the week” and it’s like, “well, he’s got eight done.” and they’re like, “what?” And then [inaudible] texted me, “Hey, how’d you do it?” And yeah, so that was it. So I learned WML that way. So, that’s how I got to Zimbra. That was a way too long. Sorry. That was a long story. And so because of that, when they started the company, they were like, “we want this guy. I don’t know what it is, but he’ll go figure it out.” And I just tried, right? And I mean, I probably was super lucky. But again, it’s not that hard, right? You keep poking at it and keep trying and I mean, the first 10 times are wrong.
Interviewer: [20:52] Do you seriously think it’s luck?
Kevin: [20:55] It’s not all there is. I mean, you have to be willing to try and not be afraid to fail. I mean, when I got back home and I had all 12 bugs fixed, the engineers literally laughed at me. They’re like, “this guy is the biggest joke. Like he wrote in there if like customers use their address, don’t do this whole path of code.” Fucking worked. I don’t know, you guys figured out, smarties. And so yeah, then I became the manager of that group, and then this is the best part. So these guys all started leaving to go to Zimbra and I was like, “Nah, I’m going to save my stock. I think it’s a good deal.” And I turned him down cause I didn’t really get the startup thing back then. I was like, “ah, this startup thing sounds risky.” My parents were like, “dude, that’s the stupidest thing ever. Don’t go do a startup. They don’t make any money.” I’m sure [inaudible] talk to your significant other or somebody, they’re like, “you’re going to what? Take a pay cut and go to a smaller company and all these other problems?”
[21:51] And so yeah, they came and offered me a job and I was like, “Nah, I’m good. I’m super comfortable here running this team of like, all the smart people are gone. I’m now the boss again.” And so I made the same mistake sort of again. But then about three months later I was like, “No, I’m kidding. I’ll go.” And so I joined a little bit later. So, I would have been even earlier. But I joined a little later. But then I get there and they’re like “well, we’re kind of big now. We’re like 15 people. You gotta be interviewed.” And I’m like, “Okay, I’ll do that. I’ve never interviewed in awhile.” So I started interviewing and the guy calls me, he’s like, “well two people said no.” And I was like, “what? All right, this will be fun”, so they couldn’t hire me.
[22:17] And so I was like, well. So, I was going to be the manager of the web team cause that was kind of my jam at the point. And they’re like, “well we have this job [inaudible].” And I’m like “well, what do they do?” And they’re like, “well, it’s going to be an open source company and we’re going to need to go to like conferences and talk about our product and open source. Make it seem like open source but talk about our product.” “Alright, I’ll do it.” And so I joined
[22:39] And in most companies that’s not as high of a job as managing an engineering team. It’s an awesome job and super important like community manager. And so I turned it into an awesome job. I went to conferences, spoke, built the communities, built this huge forum, thousands of members, all these IT people. It turned into like a massive sales generator cause I cookied the crap out of them, cause I was kind of a hack engineer. So I was shoving cookies in there. Every time people would come to the forums they would track them. And then it would load it into Salesforce. And then so you had like, the sales people would look in and they’re like, “Oh, this prospect.” And then it’s like, they’re like a prolific poster on our forum. They’re like, “we’re going to sell to this person.”
[23:10] And then I did one more little hack. This is fun. So when they would install, we had a free version of our service. When they would install it, they’d have to enter their email address to get the code. They’d enter the email address and we send them the code, but it would also link it back to Salesforce. And so then we would know which service went to which user admin. And then as they added all the users, we’d know how big the customer was, because they’d go in and migrate all their users there. Like, “Oh, they’re using our free product with 30,000 employees. That’s a good one. Let’s go fish after that one.” Versus most IT people would install it, it’s like him and his brother. So it’s like a two-person domain, it’s not interesting to go chase that person down in free software. So and then about six months later, those that said no, I was their boss. So then I was managing the engineering team.
Interviewer: Did you ever feel bad when you were turned down for the job?
Kevin: No. See that’s another good trick. I mean, yeah—
Interviewer: You know why you were turned down for this job?
Kevin: Yeah. They said, “dude, we saw that guy write code, he’s a complete hack, he’s a joker.” Like, and my code has never been good. That’s why I do this and not code anymore. But yeah, because I just solved the problem. I don’t write like, I just don’t have the patients to write it correctly, I guess is part of the problem. But yeah, they were like, “yeah, his Java script sucks. He couldn’t even write code.” I’m like, “well, I hadn’t been writing code for three years, and I was managing you guys.” And then they’re like, “yeah, well you can’t write code. We’re a small company. We need you to write code.” So I was like, “all right, well I’ll wait.” So I joined the thing and became their boss anyways.
Kevin: [24:47] And then they all said— they were like drunk one night in the bar and they’re like—And they admitted, I knew who it was, but they finally like, “Yeah, we were the ones, we said you couldn’t join, and we think you’re cool now and we see why we needed you. It’s like we didn’t know at the time, we thought we were so overwhelmed with work”, they didn’t want to add like a manager cause there was only four of them. They’re like, “We don’t need a manager. We need like a helper to help work.” And so, I think their point was valid at the time, but we worked it out.
Interviewer: Did you ever feel like, “Oh maybe I should become better at writing code and being more precise?”
Kevin: See, that’s one way to think of it. So I took it a different way, though.
Interviewer: I think people tend to think that, “okay, if I was turned down maybe I should push myself harder into doing something that maybe I’m not that good at.”
Kevin: [25:06] Yeah. So I think of pushing myself harder, but not necessarily to like, I might not necessarily have to go learn to code. I’m like, “well, I’m going to go figure out how to get in there and figure something else out.” So, I get bummed out when people tell me no. Like when we started Acompli, I was playing golf with two of my really good friends and they’re like “An email app, really?” I’m like, “yeah, we’re going to go get some funding next week.” And they’re like, “So, what’s wrong with the one I have on my phone?” I’m like, “no, it’s for the phone.” They’re like, “I know I have a phone. It does email today. I have an iPhone, it’s great.” And I was like, “No, it’s going to be better. It’s got all these cool things”, and they’re— So, to me that was incredibly motivating. I was like, “Yeah, it’s super dumb. Like so dumb we’re going to build it.” And then it was awesome. So like those kinds of things like you just keep them and even to this day I’m like, “Oh it’s so dumb, so dumb.” But it feels really good.
[25:54] So like when people tell you it’s a bad idea I actually find that now perversely more motivating than— Because if you agree with me, I’m like, “Oh, now you’re just being nice or you don’t know what you’re talking about.” But if you’re like challenging me and tell me it’s wrong, I don’t know. My sense is that there’s something there. It’s like when you get into a debate with somebody and you start arguing, if they don’t care, if you’re like, “Hey Kevin, I think I’m going to paint my hair pink.” And I’m like, “all right, whatever. I don’t care.” But if I’m like, “that’s the worst idea. That’s terrible.” Like they care, right? Like you’ve actually incited emotion, then they care, and then when they care, that’s kind of a great way to like have a discussion.
Interviewer: [26:30] That’s true. But seriously, when I think back in founding Testlio Leo, then we went through the Techstars accelerator and they were the first— so the program is about three months and over the first month you meet like 90 different and entrepreneurs and investors. Some of them will talk a lot good about your company, then the others are like, “you should just dump this idea. It doesn’t get you anywhere.” And for me it was super hard, and then I cried almost every night and then Margot had to support me and say like “everything is going to be fine. We’re going to get through this.” But it was definitely—
Kevin: And now look at it, t’s like a party in here. It is awesome. It’s like getting into my own event. It’s cool.
Interviewer: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, because for me it was totally different in terms of like thinking about finding the companies and finding motivation when someone doesn’t believe in you. But then at some point you think that, okay, you need to have like a, you need to focus on the people that we are going to use your product and get their feedback, because their feedback is the one that—
Kevin: [27:32] Again, everybody motivates differently. I have friends that are like these marathon runners and they just go out and when they’re like get beat down, they’re like, “I’m just going to go run.” And I was like, “dude, that sounds painful.” But that’s what they so everybody has their jam and what makes them them, in terms of how you figure out and deal with the feeback. But I think all entrepreneurs figure out that struggle, right? And some people have this great externality of like, “Oh, we’re super extroverted and everything’s awesome.” It’s like, no dude, most things suck. This is hard, that’s hard, you know? But how you deal with that and how do you expose it, and who do you open up to? And I think everybody has people like mentors that you talk to, or like people that you confide in where you’re like, “Hey, this is painful and this is not good”, right?
Interviewer: [28:11] Have you always had mentors while you were building out your career and then when you became an entrepreneur?
Kevin: [28:17] Yeah, I don’t think I was smart enough to know that there were mentors, honestly. You know, I wouldn’t say, “Oh, I go to this person, they’re a mentor.” It’s like, “Oh, I’m just drinking beer with them and telling my stories.” And they’re like, “Oh yeah whatever.” And then they’re giving you tips and you’re like “Oh, I didn’t think of it that way.” Like you’re having a conversation or like I talked to my dad and everything is not good enough. He’s like a super pro of like, “Oh, that’s good. You got 10? I think you should’ve got 12.” Like “Oh 200 million. Is that all?” Yeah. So then I started to manage expectations where I’m like, “Oh I got 12.” He’s like, “Oh is that all?” I’m like, “Just kidding, I got 15.”
[28:52] So then you’re like, you can kind of play the game backwards. But you learn from all of those experiences and how you use— and I think today, I don’t know, my ego’s a little lower and so I can go back and think of like— Because part of it is you’re like, “Oh I know everything or whatever. I don’t need mentors.” But these people are actually mentors to you, and you know, I learned a ton from you guys, right? That’s why whenever I’m with Marco and Chris, I’m always asking like, “Hey, how’s this working out?” And partly, I’m just super, super curious of the game of startups and everyone’s different “how do you hire this? or why did you do this? or if this office is pimped why did you do this?” like whatever, every little thing, those are just tips that you can learn. Like I was telling Mark, those tables did he build it did his buddy build it? like super pimp design really cool. And I was like we went to Ikea and we just built them out. And then we had some funky industrial stuff that my contractor build. Well, we didn’t think that about it. And one of our earlier startup kind of rent spaces, they had a vibe manager and I’m like, “A what?” “a vibe man. It like manages the vibe.” So this guy Jason was incredible at like throwing parties and knowing not just load the fridge with beer, load the fridge with beer that beer people know is good beer.
[30:05] Like all these little things. It’s kind of like when you’re really good at throwing a party my wife’s always like, “Oh, don’t do that. Don’t have trash cans out.” And I was like, “what? Like come on trash cans, they can put trash cans.” She’s like, “No, because if you have servers at the party, you want the servers to manage it so that they’re taking the trash, you want it to be invisible. You don’t want it to seem like there’s trash everywhere.” And so, little things like that that some people notice. And so I think those are all like just great like mentor type pro tips that you can pick up, and you can learn from everybody. I have another friend that whenever he’s over, he’s always like, “Hey, I want to learn something today.” And he’ll start asking questions. And it’s like, he’s super explicit about saying, “I want to learn something today.” And so he’ll either bring a challenge or say, “Hey, I want your input on this.” And knowing that you may or may not have not have the answer he wants or he wants to hear, but he feels that he can learn from that and pick up from that. And I think it’s a trait that I think is entrepreneurs that are successful end up finding that somewhere, whether they’re explicit about that, but constantly learning and evolving. Because every situation is different. And you know, I’ve managed all kinds of size teams, small and large and been in super complex discussions and super fun discussions. But all of those, how you approach it and how you kind of like swing the vibe and where you think things are going to go is, is really important. So, it’s the little things that you kind of pick up along the way.
Interviewer: [31:19] Building companies is truly tough because you’re dealing with people and emotions. So yeah. I’m going to talk more about this I have more questions about this. So, but my last question about Zimbra. So, when exactly did you leave?
Kevin: [31:39] So, Zimbra got bought by Yahoo, and Yahoo sold it to VMware, and then VMware laid me off, or fired me, whatever. It was officially a layoff, but they essentially fired me. Like, you don’t lay off people that are that senior, you kind of fire them. But they said it nicely. And then I left and then I went to join red point as an EIR. And so that was in, I don’t know, whatever—
Interviewer: And so how was the transition from Zimbra to VMware, when you were acquired by VMware.
Kevin: [32:03] Yeah, every acquisition was different. I think the biggest lesson that we did correct with Accompli into Microsoft that we’ve— I personally was a disaster at, bringing Zimbra into Yahoo and then Zimbra again into VMware as we went in like, “I am entrepreneur, I am startup guy. You bought us. So we’re going to tell you how to do things and we know how our business works.” And so I was super, super overconfident in what we did and kind of like, “Oh you’re just this big business. Like you must be wrong. Cause you had to pay money to buy us to be here.” And we did this thing called the 300 move out. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie like the gladiator 300, where they all put the shields and all the arrows come in and they’re like, they basically win by just guarding themselves and circling and not engaging with anybody, so that was our move.
[32:49] So, anytime a person from Yahoo or a VM would roll in, we’d all just be like, yep. And just like ignore them, block them out, decline the meeting, whatever it was we didn’t engage, cause we’re like, “we got this, we’re the startup people”. And in both cases, in Yahoo we got lucky in the sense that Yahoo was more of a disaster than we were, surprisingly, and still made it another six years after that, which is shocking, and still somehow alive. Like, I still use it to test my Internet’s working Yahoo. But so they sold us to VMware and then we got into VMware, and VMware was very successful and they have this multibillion dollar flywheel called vSphere that would just print money. And so we were this little turd of a startup that made like, our 50 million bucks was nothing to them. And so it didn’t make sense to sales, we never engaged. And that was a super negative experience in that integration. And we thought that was fine, but you know, in both cases, Yahoo essentially kicked us out, we got sold. So, it was like a soft landing into VMware. But then VMware just disabled us. And so all the people that worked for us, my team everyone, my friends, they all either got laid off or shoved into crappy jobs because we did a bad job making friends and well integrating.
[34:03] And we went so far we would fight for crazy stuff. We would say, “Oh, we’re at Zimbra. We”re not taking VMware business cards. We need to print new ones that say Zimbra on them. We’re not taking business cards.” They’re like, “we ordered them”, “throw them all the way.” And so we made them print all new business cards for us, and they did it like, it’s crazy, right? Like what they’ll do. And so you think you’re winning, but it was a complete bad move because then they’re like, “Oh, it’s the Zimbra guy with his stupid Zimbra card and their Zimbra email.”
[34:34] When we went into Microsoft, we deleted our Accompli accounts. We were like, “we’re Microsoft people.” You know, completely dissolved our identity as a startup and said, “No, we’re Microsoft. We’re outlook. This is our thing.” And have tons of friends up and down the org. Like we’ve had incredible retention on the team. Like everybody is still there minus a couple people. But I think basically the team is whole, and we’re well-integrated, and the 19 people that we came in with is now 120, 150 It’ll be this year, we just added a bunch. So I mean, it’s a huge team that we’ve grown around it, and we have tons of friends all through the org on every different level, from support to engineering services, to executive marketing. Because we’re friendly and we come up and meet people. I fly to Seattle a ton, I travel a ton.
[35:18] But completely like, not that I don’t have an ego anymore and think that I’m still awesome, but did it in a way where I’m trying to be helpful instead of coming in and saying “I have the answer, let me tell you about it.” It’s like, “Hey, I’m here to learn.” It’s all a small question tell me what are your problems? How can I help?
Interviewer: you probably got this from [inaudiable].
Kevin: [inaudible] is a pro, for sure.
Interviewer: [35:39] He’s always like one of the key videos that I most remember is one of the [inaudible] that, don’t be know it all, be learn it all. Maybe he has inspired you.
Kevin: [35:48] He’s inspired me for sure. He’s a super, super inspiring dude. But this notion of like, is incredibly alarming. And so like when I meet with people now, I’m always like, “how can I help?” And it’s like the easiest throw away question, but it’s incredibly disarming for the other person. Even if it’s like you’re meeting them for the first time, or you come in and somebody’s like, “I need a one on one with you”, and you’re like, “Aw, shit, this is going to suck.” Right? And then you’re just like, “how can I help?” And then they’re like, they’re all pissed about something. But then they’re like, “wait, I wanted to tell you that I’m pissed.” And then I’m like, “No, I want to help.”
[36:16] But if they just tell me that they’re pissed, it completely changes the conversation. Or you go to somebody who’s like I’ll get lots of external companies or vendors that want to meet with me. “Hey, I’d love to get a meeting and get 10 minutes your time.” “Yeah, no problem. How can I help?” And then they’re like, they’re all ready to convince me of something. And I’m like, “No. How can I help you? I’m just ready to help you.” And then, it’s a pro. That’s my kind of opener now when I meet new people, is how can I help? It kind of works for me.
Interviewer: [36:41] Nice. I think it’s something that we should all adapt at some level.
Kevin: [36:45] Easy way to learn.
Interviewer: Yeah, exactly. So, now let’s go to the story of Acompi, because I think that’s the most compelling and most exciting, to talk about the way you build the product, how fast you released the product and how did you end up selling it for about 200 billion. That’s what the press was saying.
Kevin: They’re mostly right.
Interviewer: So, let’s talk about that. You were in an EIR entrepreneur residence for a VC company and then you got together with your guys who built Zimbra, and you decided to build this company. Why this idea and why these founders?
Kevin: [37:22] Yeah, nd it’s super random. Like not random, I guess. I’d been doing email for a long time and I was like, “I’m definitely not doing an email company, I’m going to do something different.” And I was having a chat with Sateesh, the venture guy that funded us initially, and I would Dropbox, I had just bought this company called mailbox. It was like this big wait list, and they had this really cool video where like this girl is walking into the world and she’s like swiping her emails away. Like, “Oh, email’s so awesome.” Then like slips her email in a pocket. And I was like, “Oh, I’m back on my hike” and then they’d bought them for like 80 million or something and ended up getting a lot less, I think one of the things shook out, but they got acquired, but they’d only built for Gmail. And I was like, “that’s weird”, because we at Zimbra knew the question that if you build email and you’re trying to beat Gmail Gmail is a free product. Like winning against a free product is not fun. And then exchange was actually where all the money was. All of the people that pay lots of money for email run Microsoft.
Interviewer: [39:05] What was their biggest concern? Did they have any concerns at this point when you were pitching the idea and you had built an app for the weekend pretty much with people from Upwork, which is—
Kevin: [39:15] Yeah. Odesk is UpWork, exactly. I mean, I think— This is hard to remember. Like you think all you think is awesome. Like, we got the 5 million and I forgot all the questions.
Interviewer: You got 5 million?
Kevin: They gave us five, then we raised a couple more after that. I think the questions were around chat monetization. Because there was like 50 other email apps out there and none of them made money. They were all like one and two person chat and relatively small, and they mostly worked on Gmail and nobody really paid for it. And so the best model we came up with was like, there’s all these companies that pay for Blackberry or good, which was like these two enterprise email technologies. And they paint a lots of money for like super, super enterprisey people to have a like super secure email if you’re in finance or medical. And so we’re like, those are both like four or $500 million businesses, so growing to a billion, we’re like, we think we can go take a penny off that or whatever and get our 100 million off that. Ad they’re like, “I don’t know”.
[400:10] And so, that was probably the biggest question. And then one of the venture capitalists that didn’t invest that we talked to actually said, “ah, well why wouldn’t Microsoft just build that?” And we’re like, “I don’t know. We didn’t really think about it” but maybe they— I think the big reason is they, it’s sort of as we figured out, they make so much money on the server and they’re so successful that it was kind of distracting and hard for them to go build a pure play client that worked on a phone that they didn’t own, right? So the windows phone was awesome and they were so dedicated to windows phone for so many years, their email experience on windows phone was awesome, and they sort of almost by— They didn’t bring office, they didn’t bring any of their apps to iPhone and Android cause they were like, “Oh, those are going to fail, windows phone’s going to be successful.” But then get to that point and now Nokia’s failed, windows phones failed. I guess we can say that clearly now without getting in trouble. Like, I work there. Yes, I can say that.
[41:03] So, the two dominant platforms where Google and Apple and they didn’t have a solution there, right? And so yeah, we said, “Hey, let’s go build it.” So we built it on iPhone. And it was for stuff that we wanted to something I wanted to use myself like we said “okay, let’s do it.” And we did it. So we have a raised the money and then— You have more questions or I should just tell the whole story?
Interviewer: Tell the story. Yeah, just tell the story.
Kevin: I can keep talking.
Interviewer: I know, I know.
Kevin: I feel like we should be serving beer as an intermission.
Interviewer: [41:32] And it’s very easy with Kevin because I never like, I don’t have to ask too many questions, you just like talk and you have so many—
Kevin: Go tell my wife that [inaudible]. Too many answers, too many solutions. No, she’s awesome. so yeah, so we basically hired a bunch of our friends that did email and Javier kept saying, “dude, no more Zimbras” like the Zimbra people. He’s like, “no more Zimbras.” And we’re like, “No, these guys know email, this is our crew, we know how to do it.” And so we hired a lot of Zimbras, so people that had done email before. And then we hired a lot of new people cause Zimbra didn’t know anything about clients. It was not a mobile company, it was a web 2.0, Java script is the future web-based email, Linux and all this kind of— That was the fancy stuff back in early 2000’s
[42:18] And so we had to hire some really good iOS and Android developers, which we did. And then we ran into—
Interviewer: How did you know that they were good?
Kevin: It was hard. So we had to ask a lot of questions. I interviewed about 150 iOS developers to hire three, and two of the ones that we hired knew each other. So, on the Android side, probably about 90 developers interviewed. And that’s like getting through the recruiter, we had our own recruiter, and so she would get through the first thing and then I would like get them on a phone screen. So most of those were phone screens. We probably interviewed in person, in the office, 20.
Interviewer: [42:57] Yeah, hiring is super tough. Like there’s a story from one of our investors portfolio companies. They hired a Stanford graduate out of school and made an offer a very high offer. I think they offered the engineer like 120 out of college on the first year. And then this guy doesn’t show up for the first day, and they just call him and say like, “Hey dude, what’s up? Like, why didn’t you show up for work? It’s your first day.” And this guy was like, “Hey, I got another offer. I’m at this other company.” That’s how it is in Silicon Valley, it’s very competitive. That’s why I’m asking like how was it?
Kevin: [43:31] It’s crazy. So our trick, we were super selective at some level. So I think why we ran, we had tons of great people and two of our best engineers never went to college, got a high school, self-taught. And so like I’m all about fancy schools. I didn’t really go to one, But it was, I went to an ok school, somebody listening probably would be like, “Oh, [inaudible].” So, we said like, “Hey, are you interested in the work?” And so we would give this project out and test them. And you kinda got the vibe of how hard you work. And then we would ask, my cofounder JJ is probably the one to thank cause he was the one that flushed the most people and he would ask them an incredibly simple problem. Well, what he thought. Was like basically implement, [inaudible]. So, basically implement [inaudible]. I’m looking at that thing cause I’m thinking like imagining it, writing on the whiteboard, and then even to this day, if you asked me the problem, I could not get the problem right, and I know what exactly the question is. And I’ve probably given this interview, I don’t know a hundred times. But I’m just not that good at programming, so I don’t know.
[44:33] But yeah, so he was implement stir stir, which is like a basic C function in coding and it’s like eight lines, and then it’s a recursive way to do it. And then we’d say implement it with a star pattern. And most programmers today that claimed to be programmers can’t do like really, really low just a basic like hard program. Cause they’re so common of copying paste code, or like looking on server fault, that was the way I coded, by the way. So I’m like beating myself. Yeah, well we called them black box coders. Like you’re not actually sure how it works, you just keep hammering code at it. Refresh, recompile, refresh, recompile, refresh, “Oh, I got it working up”, don’t touch it. “There’s all kinds of bugs.” Ah, refresh recovery.
[45:13] So, they just stumble through their careers. And so JJ was really hardcore about like, “and we’re like dude, that’s such a weird problem”, and then he had another one that was like resource management where he would manage work into a queue. And again, I can’t even explain it. I’m not that smart. But he would look and he was like, “Oh, just do this and it’s recursive and then you do this thing and what’s the big O notation?” I’m like, “I’m not a CS person, I don’t know Jack about this thing.” And so then, he would ask very simple coding questions that would drive look for incredible raw engineering coding talent. And then for the UI people, the question that I always ask is how would you, and again, I could not do this myself, so I feel a little unfair asking the question, “how do you get 60 frames per second scrolling in a list, an infinitely long list on an iPhone”.
[45:58] So, it’s really hard to get like super fast scrolling on a long list because you have to reuse the cells, I guess, to maintain memory and reuse CPU. Again, I know enough to be dangerous, not enough to build it. But it was good enough to basically, if the person didn’t say reuse cells and manage memory and limit CPU usage, I knew they were not on the right track. And I’m like, “Oh, thanks. Not the right answer.” Right? And I’d release them. But yeah, so we had a couple standard questions that we’d ask, but looking for raw engineering talent, and then just cool people, we’d get them on the phone, right? “Do we like them?”
[46:28] And we had a one guy come in for a dev ops position and you know, incredible guy, programming had all of the skills, and he was going to move out from Colorado. And he’s like, he leans back in his chair at the end of it and he’s like, “I’ve got a six inch rule.” We’re like, “okay?” He’s like, “if there’s ever six inches of snow in Colorado, I need a few days off.” And we’re like, “dude, really?” And we’re like, “you’re the dev ops guy.” And I’m like, “that’s just not going to work. We need you to be on site to keep the servers running and stuff.” And then I’ll give you one more. We had a couple of really good stories.
[47:01] We were interviewing an Android guy and we’re like, “Oh, let’s pull out your phone.” And we were always like, “Hey, show us a couple of your favorite apps.” Like, just talk me through mobile, you know? he pulls out an iPhone and he’s like— We say, “you’re Android, right?” “Yeah, yeah.” He’s like, “Oh, I build games for people and I don’t play them.” Not the right kind of dude, right? And it’s like, you had folks that just didn’t get it, right? And so they might’ve incredibly smart but just didn’t have the right vibe for what we were trying to build. And we wanted people that were passionate about their craft and really enjoyed what they were doing for doing it. Not just like, “Hey, I’m doing it for a job cause I need to correct the bug.” So yeah, so you know, we made a couple of bad hires but not too many.
Interviewer: [47:45] How fast did you realized they were not the right hires for the team?
Kevin: [47:50] Weeks, usually. Yeah. Within a few weeks like you could tell, and then you give them a chance to work it out. One decided to leave to go pursue another type of career completely out of tech. One was giving us too much good advice, telling us how to reorganize our company in stock. We’re like, “dude, just work the code, we’re busy.” And then another one had problems showing up to work.
Interviewer: Wow. Impressive.
Kevin: And then they didn’t show up. They’d sit like by themselves and you’re like, dude, it’s like a family that’s like 12 of us. The office isn’t that big. Like it was like this. It’s like we’re all sitting there like, can you— [inaudible]
Interviewer: And so you got your team together and you started building this product called Acompli, and what’s one of the coolest things about Acompli is that immediately when they started launching, you had a beta launch. Beta, that’s how you pronounce it in America. You started releasing on a weekly basis, whatever it takes.
Kevin: [48:53] We started releasing every couple of days. Started like, initially. And then we’re like, that’s pretty good. And like, that feels kind of weak. Everybody in agile says you have to do a two week sprint sort of. Oh, we’re doing, I get fired up JIRA and I’m all excited. Built the two week sprint. And then I’m like, “nobody’s doing Jack shit for like eight days.” And I was like, “nobody’s checking.” And the last Thursday before the [inaudible] all the code comes in. And I was like, dude. And week after week, every two weeks I’d see this, the second Thursday all the code would come in and then Friday we’d furiously try to sort it out. And we’re like, let’s try one week sprints. And then sure enough all the code would come in on Thursdays. And so we at least would get code every Thursday. And so we kind of rolled with that, and now it’s a little more smooth.
Interviewer: [49:32] But did you get there? I’m thinking for us with Marco as first time founders was, it was very hard in the beginning to set goals for the entire team and for us, right? There were so many like excuses for example, coming up, “Hey, we can’t do this because we’re blocked by this.” Like, how did you get over that then you said like, “no matter what they want a weekly release and that’s it.”
Kevin: [49:56] Yeah, that was it. And it was, there are a lot of yelling and tears and stuff. I mean clearly it wasn’t like— No, I don’t think so. I’ve definitely had some days I was so pissed at Javier, I remember screaming at him so mad I started to cry.
Interviewer: Was it Javier’s idea to have a weekly release no matter what?
Kevin: [50:12] I don’t know. We kind of said it was shipping on Friday and we’re not going home until we shipped it. That’s kind of how it was.
Interviewer: And Friday is the end of the week.
Kevin: [50:20] Friday is the end of the week. That’s the same in Estonia, right? Just teasing. So, we did this in Friday and then we’re like, everybody would switch from testing the dev app to the staging app and test Saturday and Sunday. And we’d sit there and we’d have like a party like that, we’d sit around the table with beers and like everybody tests the apps and email reply, “Oh shit. Replies are not working” and that kind of thing. And then as we got a little bigger, we’re like, “this is not going to scale.” So I started looking for QA vendors and this is where you’ll get to come into the story, right? QA vendor.
Kevin: [50:52] I know. And then so yeah. So then we started looking for QA folks. So we would do this weekly testing, then we’d ship on Monday, and then on Monday we’re like, “well, what happens if you found a bug?” And we’re like, “well, we need to fix it. You have four hours to fix it” because we’d ship it roughly at noon yet, you come in at eight and you’d have four hours to fix it, or revert whatever you did last week to unfix it, right? Because when you only worked for four days, how could you ruin the whole build and not be able to fix it in four hours? And so, that’s kind of how the model, then we would just keep saying that like, “look, you broke it, fix it.” And the other thing was that we knew that what we shipped last week was working. So like if we find some new bug we’re like, “was it there last week?” “Yeah”, people didn’t complain so keep going, right? And so that gave us that model that it was an incredibly freeing thing.
[51:35] And then we said, “Hey, how can I get some help?” And we’d spun up a team in India. And so I had two different companies, and my buddy [inaudible] running the office in India spun up two like local— we call them body shops, where you just like apply bodies to a job, to go and do some testing and bang on these apps. And then at the same time, Kyle, who was the CEO of [inaudible] was wearing a testlio sweatshirt or a shirt. I can’t remember if it was the sweatshirt or shirt, you guys were probably still cheaper at that time, it’s probably a t-shirt and not as sweatshirt.
Interviewer: It was a t-shirt, yeah.
Kevin: [52:06] Now they’re upgraded. They got all the line gear and like, it’s all super awesome. But yeah, so I think the lines weren’t even around then. So, he had a T- shirt on and my co founder saw it and he’s like, “Testlio, is that like a testing thing?” Henrikson’s up there yelling at this testing company and they’re like, “yeah, it’s awesome. Crystal’s awesome. I met her at Techstars” and we’re like, “all right, I’ll call them.” And so they were pretty new, and we called them and said, Hey, I need you guys to do some testing and I’ll pay you almost nothing cause that’s what I’m paying these guys in India. I paid them way more than nothing. Not probably more than Michelle’s [inaudible]
[52:43] But, so they like— I was like, Hey, let’s just— And so I would bake them off against each other. So every week we’d give them the build and I had told the other guys like, “Hey find me your best bugs, you find me your best bugs.” And they all just would be like, “Well no, we need to know the app and instructions.” And I was like, “I don’t know, it’s an email app. Go figure out how to use it. If you don’t know how to email fire your testers. They’re not smart.” And that was literally what I would tell them. And they’re like, “No, no, we need the test plan.” And I was like, “you’re right, then write one, you write a test plan.” And they’re like, “well what do we have to write?” And I was like, “alright”.
[53:09] So whatever. And Teslio was like, “yeah, that’s awesome. No problem. We’ll write the test plan.” They’re like super hungry, right? “We’ll bang it out, we’ll do whatever, test whatever.” And, and then like the next week a different set of testers ran, they were rotating through like, cause they’re trying this model. And I realized that the same testers that they were having, dude, these guys are awesome—
Interviewer: Yeah, there’s fireworks ordered for you [inaudible]
Kevin: —[inaudible] now I feel famous. So the model, they were using the same two testers at this body shop every week testing and they were finding like the same kind of bugs. Like, “Oh, I found this thing.” And then they would find the same bug like 40 different times. Like, “Oh, I put in this character and it doesn’t work. And I put in this character and it doesn’t work”, I’m like, “dude, I know if you put in special characters in the subject field the app will crash.” And the dude had listed out like 70 bugs, god, every character they could find, emojis. And you know, I was like, “dude, this is terrible.” And then Testlio was being much more creative in finding bugs, like “hit the button 30 times and it crashed.” I was like, “Oh, that’s a good one. I’ll give you credit for that.” And then they got a little hooked on that one, because then they’re like, “Oh, we found another place in settings. If we drill the button we can crash it.” And I was like, “all right, chill out on the settings. If it’s in the main app that counts. Not in the settings part.”
[54:25] And so then pretty quickly Testlio rose to like, hey they get it, right? And I never had to write test plans. And Javier is like, “well, who’s writing the test plans?”, “Oh they’re writing them.” And he’s like, “well what’d you tell him?” I’m like, “well I told them it’s email. Go figure it out.” And he was like, “really?” And I was like, “yeah.” So, I kind of just stumbled my way into it, and it was awesome. And then I was like, “Hey, I need this to do this kind of testing.” And I’m like, “Hey, can you actually make it so every week that reply email works, cause that’s a really crappy regression when we ship our betas and we’re not getting reply email. People want that feature to work.” And they’re like “all right, no problem.” And so then we kind of split it up so they would run like what? 30% of something of the testing was what we called the smoke test, which is the test that I would get if— I would get fired if any of these 10 things broke, reply, forward, create event, launch app, login. So they would test the smoke test and the rest was this exploratory testing where I’m like, “just break it, bang on the app and rotate people through.” So every week if we get a new tester that’s awesome because that’s like the app store, right? And so now it’s my rap like “exploratory testing is awesome because it’s like the app store, you don’t get to pick your users just like we don’t get to pick our testers and they don’t get bug blind.”
[55:26] And then over time we’ve refined it. Like there was this report that I was building, I think this is now I’m fast forward into Microsoft, but there was this report I was building and one of the PM’s made this big power point of all the stats. And I sent it to, I don’t know, Mark or something. I’m like, “Hey, can you guys go build this every week? Like, just take this report.” And they’re like, “Ah, yeah, it’s not really what we do.” And so then we came up with this analytics thing and so like, how did we do stats on the thing? And like, they’re producing, read the reviews and find the bugs. And so you guys were the most flexible in terms of figuring out whatever—
Interviewer: You were really hungry for the business?
Kevin: Yeah, but it worked.
Interviewer: [55:58] I think the good thing was that we were really competing with another company as well and we’re like, “whatever it takes, we’re just going to do it.”
Kevin: I mean, I’m sure some days you thought I was insane, right? Because for 40 bucks [inaudible] the Jera thing’s not working again. And then [inaudible] it was kind of embarrassing. I tried to [inaudible]
Interviewer: Acompli was actually one of our first subscription customers.
Kevin: [56:18] I always tell this story that we were the first, but like you should probably correct my data.
Interviewer: No, it is. You were the first. And that was actually a turning point for Testlio as well, because that’s where we realized how can we build a subscription business instead of just doing on and off contracts with different customers. And so Kevin was always like super pushing us to the next level and thinking about testing on a higher level, not just like doing like running the test plans but just thinking about QA in a higher level in terms of like, okay, if we think about the user feedback let’s pull in the reviews from the app store in play store and see how the users actually think so we can get more data when we do our testing, because we were on a fast train and we were always on the train, not behind the train.
Kevin: [57:05] Yeah, don’t want to be ran over by the train, don’t want to be in front of the train. It’s a dark spot.
Interviewer: Is like, no matter what.
Kevin: [57:11] Yeah. So it was cool. And I just kept throwing out requirements and you guys always did it and it was awesome. My whole thing was like, I’m like, I need to maybe read like Tim Ferriss this four hour work week, like work never kind of thing. Like I love that shit. And so like, I’m like all about like productivity hacks. Like, how can I not do my emails or how can I not do this? Or how do I get those kind of tricks? And like, so I always think about, when I get a job it’s like, how can I get somebody else to help me? I think I used to say, “how do I get somebody else to do it”, but now I say how do I get somebody to help me? And so Testlio was helping me with quality, so I was like, and I would just say, “Oh, customer found a bug” and I would just forward it to Marco. You get like an email coming in from a customer and I’m like, “I don’t know, you guys can find this bug.” And it was great. And then you kind of turned in the quality as a service, right? Where it’s like, Hey, the whole quality, not just like kind of banging through a bunch of steps like robots, right? But actually thinking of quality as a solution and saying, “look people are complaining in the app store”, “we’re seeing this kind of feature requests and user voice.” Like, how do you organize all that into like a single kind of thoughtful plan? Yeah and it worked out pretty good.
Interviewer: [58:12] And so for this entire one and a half years you were on this fast moving train releasing on a weekly basis no matter what. Which I think is so impressive, because I still see so many companies out there saying, “Oh we can’t do this, we can’t do that because we can’t release it this time because we have this thing blocking us” and you did it no matter what, and I’m just trying to understand like, where did it come from?
Kevin: [58:36] I just realized that it works. Because it was incredibly powerful. Again, I’m not smart, right? Think about it, I’m not a good developer. And so like I have to come in on Monday and the app is broken, Testlio found a bug or a user, the app is broken and I’m like, I need to ship it on Monday. And I’m like, “how can I convince the developers to fix it in four hours?” And like having only a week of work? I’m like, well you fixed it and broke it in a week, you have four hours, either take it off or put it on, fix it or go backwards. And that became an incredibly powerful way to have that conversation. And so that became like that’s all I have to ask for, just shit every week. And then once we started to get in that mode, developers started to self-censor their work. So, if you had a really risky thing coming in and you’re like, “Oh, it’s sort of Jake” like in the traditional enterprise world you’re like, “check it in, let QA find the bugs and I’ll sit back and drink a beer and wait for the code to come back.” But that doesn’t work when you ship it on Monday and you’re like, now your Monday is screwed because you shipped crappy code. And so what the magic of that trick was you would say, “Hey, look, There is a little questionable code.” You’re like, “Oh, wait a week”, and you’re only waiting a week. You’re not like waiting a month or six weeks or whatever your traditional cycle is. You’re only waiting a week, it’s fine. And then you fix it.
[59:52] And so then if you’re really confident and you think it’s good, then you’ll push it in. And that works today even at the scale right now with a hundred people, you see it all the time. Like—
Interviewer: And a hundred million downloads, as well.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s just on Android too.
Interviewer: And that’s on Android. Yeah.
Kevin: Doubled it up for iOS.
Interviewer: [inaudible] a hundred million users on Android, which is like seriously, bravo.
Kevin: [01:00:12] A lot of people. But now it works, and even at scale that we’re now, a hundred plus developers where they’re like, “Oh, I don’t know if this is good.” You’ll see them discussing it in the chat channel. Like, “Oh, this PR needs a little more work” or that “this doesn’t feel good” and they’ll kind of let it go, and it says it’s a smooth way. And so, when people say like— For us, they were like, and Microsoft they tell this like, Hey, we ship every week and it’s magical and unicorns and hearts and stuff. And they were like, “Yeah. You and you’re a little toy mobile app that’s only been around for two years. Like come talk about our code base that’s 30 years old.” And so then I got one of those. So now the team that works on outlook Mac joined under the org. So we have outlook Mac mobile. So I always entered in Mac, and they had this 25 year old code base. It’s been shipping as part of office and Mac and incredibly complex. I mean, the build times are like 12 hours, like it’s insane to have a clean build, cause it’s like that much code it’s got all compiled down and even on crazy server farms that the biggest boxes that we compile on these trash cans like the Mac pros or whatever. So we have like stacks and stacks of trash cans. Like every developer has a trashcan pimped out with like a raid array of SSDs on their desk.
[01:01:27] Just to do the code pull is like three hours or something to pull the code from the Depot down to your drives. So, it’s so much code, it’s gigs and gigs and gigs of code. So when I was like, Hey— Source code, right? Like that’s insane. And so then I was like, “Hey, we’re going to ship weekly.” And they’re like, “dude, the build is like eight hour like this and that” and they had, you know, imagine they were shipping every three years, kind of traditional office had moved to like what they called monthly, which was actually every two months, because they would build for a month, ship, but then it would actually not go out. It would like then sit in QA hotfix, hotfix hotfix until they get it ready. And then they would actually ship that build about a month later. So it was really every, they were shipping every month, but a two month old build.
[01:02:06] And so it was like, “we’re just going to ship every week and we’re going to ship to real users and we’re going to take support tickets directly. And they’re like, “well, it takes eight hours.” We’re like, “Great. That’s fine. So if it takes that long to build that, if you need to release on Friday, start on Wednesday.” So, code for two days and then ship for three. And that’s what they did, to start with. And now it’s much better cause they’ve got the system, but it’s incredible. They used to hotfix on average twice a month, the production build. Their crash rates are lower than they’ve been in 10 years. And it’s all around this, nobody’s worried about missing the bimonthly train. They’re like, cause next week it’ll come. If a customer goes crazy and complaints, they are like,”Great, no problem. We’ll fix the bug. We put it in the release”, and we have insider fast that comes out every week, insider slow that comes out every month. And then production that comes out every month plus a week. So it’s like, the users pick the channel. We have tens of thousands of people. I mean, we have millions of users using the Mac client and we have tens of thousands of the beta, and then they take it and give us great feedback.
[01:03:03] And so those two things it’s possible, right? Like, if it takes you more than a week to do your build and your process, like that seems too long. So like, I’m sure you can get it done. So just reduce the dev cycles and then over time you’ll figure out how to work back to that model. But they’ve been doing this for, I don’t know, eight months now and it’s been incredible. And then we added like, “Hey, they need testing on the weekends? Great. We’ll send it to Testlio”, so Testlio tests the Mac products now as well.
Interviewer: So yeah, no matter what the problem, you will always find a solution.
Kevin: [01:03:31] Yeah. Cause it’s cause you take away the constraints, right? Cause they’re like, “Oh, I can’t ship on Friday. That takes this and that”, great then start on Wednesday. They’re like, “Oh well we’re only coding for two days.” “That’s fine.” Like, and you have to be like flexible to have that discussion and like, [inaudible] and then the PM’s are like, “Whoa, I don’t understand it.” And then now there’s no longer this tension between engineering and PM because there’s always like, “Hey, let’s go build this awesome feature.” And they’re like, “let’s go fix the bugs because the customers are complaining about the one we built last week first. And then we’ll build the feature.” And the data’s all there to support that cause there’s no debate. Cause the old days was like, “Oh, you’d ship a release, it’s been out a month, the code is completely diverged.” And you think of this like— I have a better word for it. But I always keep call that code baggage, or code backlog, the amount of code that’s been written that is not running on customer’s hands, and you want that to be minimal. So imagine like, think of all the code that your developers have written and how much of that is not running with the customer in the live site today. So what has been written that’s like in some process of like, it’s still in the factory, right?
[01:04:30] So it’s kind of like the way I think it’s Kaizen or what’s the thing that Japanese like super awesome model of just in time development, just in time product delivery? Like imagine that with software, you just want the minimal amount of software in flow so that it quickly gets through the pipeline and gets out to customers so you can get feedback on it and then that feedback powers everything else, right? And so the other problem was support, right? Like support, we’d go to this department in towers of people in other countries to collect all that feedback, and they were really just a monster bandaid. So they would be like, no matter what the problem was, they would make sure that it didn’t get back to engineering. “Do this, do back flips, try this, call that, reboot.” You know, the massive IT structure.
Interviewer: [01:05:05] And you were always very fast in your—
Kevin: Yeah, so our feedback was not that way. We’re like, that doesn’t work for me.
Kevin: [01:05:11] Yeah, they would come back to support and you’d get like a month later this PowerPoint of like, here’s the top things that have been happening over the last three months with your product. And you’re like, “dude, that code’s gone. Doesn’t even line up with the feedback.” And then so we switched to in app support, and so the support tickets come in right to the engineering. And so if they release a bad build, literally the support tickets look like that chart on fire, you know? like they get all this funnel like “Whoa, pull the build back, revert it.” They know right away. And so that it’s great. They fix it right away. If you know right away, you fix it right away, you reduce the pain, right? The actual pain and suffering of a customer is really not the pain, it’s the pain over the duration. So if you can fix it quickly, and we used to joke— We ship lots of bugs still today at outlook and accompli, but we fixed them before most people notice, right? Our servers always go down, things are flaky out of network, we have VM problems. But, if we can detect it faster than most of the users notice, it’s the same as not creating it. And so, that is a much more fun way to work. Cause you’re working on the thing that matters versus sitting in a war room debating like, “Oh what’s going to happen?” or “how are we going to change the push?” No, just ship.
[01:06:16] I don’t know, I’m going to steal it from somebody, but somebody said like this notion of fail forward, we don’t roll back, we roll forward. Like the fix is always put the fixing and then keep moving. You know, you never see trains like, big ass trains backing up. That’s super hard. And that’s what it’s kind of,when you’re rolling back a huge software release, that’s what you’re doing. You’re trying to back up a train. Like there’s all this baggage and “Oh the database wasn’t designed to go backwards. And emails are going to have the wrong date on it.” It’s just messy stuff. Whereas if you’re like, Hey, if that thing’s always fixing forward. Yeah, it’s a cleaner way to work.
Interviewer: [01:06:46] So, I’d like to open up the floor for questions.
Kevin: Oh, oh.
Interviewer: Seriously, I could talk to you forever.
Kevin: I’m kidding.
Interviewer: No, seriously. I had my questions prepared, but I already asked some of the questions, which is good, but who wants to ask questions? We have a microphone here somewhere as well. Perfect. Thanks. Thanks Christina. Awesome. So we got a first question. Over there. [inaudible]
Speaker: Hi. I’m going back to the time where you said that you had an idea and over the weekend you built a rough prototype to present to investors. How or did you test the market somehow, the market need?
Interviewer: [01:07:39] No, it was probably exaggerate. It probably wasn’t over the weekend. It was probably 10 days or something. But I mean, it was quickly, it was quick. We did not test the market. We didn’t go and say, “Hey, we’re going to try to build an email app.” We knew the market existed. Billions of people use email. Microsoft had a $12 billion subscription business selling email called office 365. Google had $1 billion business selling, even very few people pay for Google apps, but the ones that do, most of them are small companies, it was a billion dollar business. And we knew like, just like everybody here has a phone and everybody here has email on their phone. So we knew there was the market was there. The question was, was there a market need that could capitalize on? So we kind of backed into it, partly because we’d been in this space for long enough we were super convicted there was a spot. What we didn’t know is if we could make money and make it work and bubble above the crowd. And that was like, there’s probably another topic on like how we do marketing and I mean, I’m super [inaudible] about like, I went and Google searched all of our executives and made sure that our profiles were dialed in. So like you couldn’t find any like crazy party picture, like it just looked like pro.
[01:08:40] And so when somebody would search us, they would find the right page and like, and so like a lot of that marketing, so the market testing we did was really about managing our image to make sure that when people looked us up or saw something, or that every blog article we got, we instantly updated the recruiters like, “Oh, as seen on TV” kind of like to keep the momentum and like build on it, build on it, build on it and try to tie yourself back to trends and hotness and, yeah.
Speaker: Thank you.
Interviewer: Any other questions? Just raise your hand. He’s got the mic. Go.
Speaker 2: [01:09:11] Hi. About reducing the release cycle. Where did you get the idea from? I’m asking this? Because I think I read a book by Johanna Rothman who described a situation when she’s a consultant, described the situation when her customer complained that they’re releasing a lower and lower quality items to which she said, “well now we’re going to switch the release to one week” to which the customer said, “no, it’s impossible.” “Okay. In that case, let’s do it in three days.” So where did you get the idea?
Kevin: [01:09:45] Yeah, so I don’t read books. I do listen to audio books. I don’t actually read. But I don’t think I’ve read that book. I mean, it’s the agile thing, if you could read agile sprint length and like two weeks as the default, that kind of comes up. And so we kind of— nobody does agile the same. It’s all kind of some hack, right? We were like, we called it, we had some name for it, but it was like not agile, right? Like sort of agile, or agile fall, you know, everybody’s picks their own words for it. But yeah, we started with every few days and we’re like, that’s too often. At the time it was me, my cofounder, our wives like kind of using the app.
Interviewer: And you team only grew to like 20 people before—
Kevin: Total was 18. So we first started— yeah, 18 was the total, but we first started—
Interviewer: But the team was fairly small and you so much got done.
Kevin: Four or five people was the core team. were high. Very high. Yeah. So we start and then we went to two weeks and then we backed down to one because I realized that all the code was happening on the 15th day or the 13th day.
Speaker 2: Thank you.
Interviewer: And most of your team was engineers, right? You only had like— I was, I’m sorry. So there was 21 people total, 18 was in engineering. And that’s counting myself and Javier and JJ as engineers. JJ and Javier wrote code. I never wrote code.
Kevin: But I consider myself still an engineer.
Speaker 3: Thank you. You mentioned Tim Ferriss. I listen to the podcast 4 Hour Work Week. Yeah. Listen to you. I hear, well, stumble into, try this, fail at that, you’re being very self deprecating, very humble. And I guess what I’d like to see, the question here, how much deliberate practice, how much intelligent design went into your career? Have you acquired a skill over time by hard labor because you know, listen to you saying, how can I get somebody else to do it in a lad? How can I like— Without the humility where’s your actual skill and how much effort did you put in to that? If we take it seriously, if you know what I mean.
Kevin: [01:11:42] Yeah, I know totally. Oh, that’s a tough question. I’m not even going to use the good question because I actually don’t know the answer off my head. So let me think for a second. I don’t know. I think I’m not afraid to fail, if that’s a skill, but with the deliberate practice comes into like, I love finding solutions. If I think of myself as like a little kid and like my mom would always like— I’d go back to this like, “what have I been doing for a long time?” I go back to when I’m a child, right? And so I think we had these go-karts and little motorcycles and stuff and we would spend 90% of the time fixing them, right? We would fix them, tinker, solution it, get on it and ride it till it breaks, which would usually be about 10 minutes, cause we would just keep going off bigger and bigger jumps and jumps until it breaks. And then so that’s finding solutions, but I can’t think of like a— Other than like looking for solutions, but a specific skill like, yeah, I wouldn’t say I’m an awesome programmer.
[01:12:35] I can read people really well. I think like I can kind of figure out like what’s you know, situations. I’ve done presales stuff and like, I was the engineer that always was like, Hey, the salespeople wanted to take me because I was like, I could talk and I could know about what he was doing. You know, cause you get like the engineer that like is really, really intelligent but like a rocket scientist and has trouble explaining and being chill and cool and stuff.
Speaker 3: So you’re like Richard Fineman of presales.
Speaker 3: But is that like, so pardon me. [inaudible] I’m still getting a sense that you’re being very humble and obviously you’ve achieved great success. And I’m always with people, I try to understand what makes them tick in a way. So isn’t it like, we talked about goals a little bit here. If to fulfill a goal you actually have to put deliberate practice, focus on something. What are the goals that you are setting and how do you get better at achieving those goals? Like, what are the key things you look at? I’ll try it from a different angle—
Kevin: [01:13:35] Yeah, that’s reasonable. So I think the one thing, I mean, so I’m super like I’m inbox zero, like super [inaudible] breaking down tasks and organizing things and then managing them. And a small anecdote that might help is like, when we were getting acquired, that there’s lots of lawyers involved and lots of questions, and so they would send us these long punch lists of like, “give us all these documents or find all these things.” And Javier would literally, he would just be so pissed and he was like, “dude, why are they asking—?”, I’m like, “dude, this is the best.” And he’s like, “you’re so weird.” Cause I would get super Zen, when there’s a list I go to work and I’m like, let’s knock them off, all done. And I would happily do that list. They would tell me to do craziest stuff and I’m like, “no problem. We’ll do that.” And we would knock through the list. So, I get super Zen when there’s like a list and I can just see and feel the satisfaction of checking things off.
[01:14:25] One of my co founders is like, “No, I just want them to stop asking questions.” I’m like, when there’s a list we shouldn’t be having conference calls, let’s go to the list and then start the next call”, right? And so tracking things and kind of like— And then I guess another skill would be like maybe asking the right question. Like, a lot of times I don’t know the answer, or I’m sitting in a room of people that know many, many more things than I know, but if I could learn something from everybody and if you can kind of create the right question or ask the question, and sometimes I’m a little snarky about it or a lot of times, and I sort of set people up, you know, in that sense. Like if somebody was pitching me on their startup and they’re like, “Oh, I have a team of 10 people.” And I’m like, “wow, your engineers must be really ashamed to work for you.” And he’s like, “what do you mean?” And I was like, “not a single one of them mentioned your company on LinkedIn in their profile.” Cause I’m a creeper. I went and looked and there was not a single other person that mentioned it, right? But like, that instantly was a way to like get him to admit that he was really a one person company, right?
[01:15:25] And so I think in a lot of those cases I sort of enjoy that awkward moment where that question hits them. And maybe that’s a dark thing. I don’t know. When I was interviewing somebody, they said they worked at Netflix, but I went and looked at their LinkedIn and though and it just didn’t add up that they would’ve left Netflix, because I have a friends that worked there and they pay incredibly well, and you would never leave unless you got fired like after a couple months, in my view. And so I called one of my friends and said, “go look them up in the directory.” And they’re like, “Nope, not in the directory.” So, definitely got fired. Like nowhere in the directory, doesn’t exist in the system. So I got on the phone with a guy like, “Hey, how’s it going?” You know? And I’m like, “Hey, so tell me about what are you doing at Netflix these days?”, “Oh, I’m doing this”, “Oh, do you still work there, right?”, “Yeah, definitely 100%.” And then gave them all the rope to back out of it, never went down. And then finally I was like, “okay, so I called a friend of mine who looked you up in the directory and you’re not there. Could you explain like how you’d be the only employee I ever know that still works at Netflix and it’s not in the directory.” And then that like awkward moment where he’s trying to come up with the answer. Like I enjoy that because I know that like, trap set.
[01:16:29] And so I think I enjoy asking those questions, but again, with the solution of saying, “Hey, I’m trying to hire somebody, I want you to be truthful and tell me what you’re thinking”, right? And so, but I don’t know. It’s a really good question. You’re going to make me think for a lot.
Interviewer: He has very good questions.
Kevin: Yeah. Thank you for asking the question. So I don’t know. I don’t know. Yeah.
Interviewer: Any other questions or? maybe we’ll take one more questions and then Kevin will stay here for a couple of more minutes and I’ll jump on him and ask questions. So Marco, go for it.
Marco: Yeah, I’m going to go ask my question, [inaudible] I know background’s a bit, so I’m going to ask about Microsoft. I know when you first started working there the whole organization is pretty decoded, right? There’s like huge structures and the way you were kind of thinking about it is like you don’t want to get like under it, right? Get into this, and knowing you, you’re not political right? You’re not playing around the fire. You’re basically jumping into the fire, finding a solution. And how do you feel now basically in Microsoft after one and a half years, I think?
Interviewer: Almost two years.
Kevin: [01:17:41] Yeah, it’s been over two years. So that’s a good question. I think the— So, I’m calculating, I wouldn’t say I’m not political. I don’t want to get into debates with people. I’d rather figure out a way to solve it without having to get into like a political type of debate. So ask leading questions to figure out who’s going to agree with you before you engage, you know, there’s lots of doctor no’s in big companies, people that will tell you, “Oh, we tried that. No.” Or like some departments you go and ask for approval, they’re like, “Oh, definitely not. Can’t do that.” And so in a lot of cases just do it. [inaudible] You know, so some of those things we can, and again, as the new guy play the new guy card of like, “I didn’t know any better.” And so a lot of the things you kind of stumbled through that way. But I think over time Microsoft is full of incredibly, incredibly smart people and I think I’ve worked at a lot of big companies before and so they’re super well intentioned. I think a good example was there was a team that was responsible for a key part of the release cycle and there was a team of like 10 people to do something that used to take us about 22 seconds at Acompli. And they were like, “no, it’s going to take a week and for you we’ll give you a special service. It’ll only be one day”, and we’re like, “No, we can do this in 22 seconds, like this doesn’t make sense.” And so it wasn’t that they weren’t smart, but they had built a multi decade career building this organization and all these checks and balances, well a week didn’t matter if they were shipping every three years to best buy, right?
[01:19:11] When windows was shipping every three years, whether a week or 10 days, it doesn’t matter. But now we’re shipping at the speed of mobile. So like, some of those conversations, I don’t know if there were political, but you had to address them, right? Because it was like if our release cycle is a week, you can’t take a week to approve it and you take a day, that’s 20% of our total time to do your piece. And so in some of those cases you kind of had to hit them head on and then— I called it the call dad thing. Like, “Hey just keep going to the boss’s boss’s boss” and you’re like, 22 seconds, seven days, like come on, help me out here, right? And be reasonable about it. But yeah, every situation was a little different, but I think half of it is ask for forgiveness. Just kind of do it, act as if it’s your job to make the decision, and then half of it is probably this calculating way of how do you compare? And we had a great example cause we’re like, “look, we were doing this as a small company” And yes, it’s a small company, but it shouldn’t be impossible. Like, we should be able to do this as a large company.
Speaker 4: [01:20:08] I’d like to know, you being an engineer, manager and an entrepreneur, so you say like you’re not the best coder. How have you earned the trust of the coders or engineers or kind of why do they like you or don’t like you? How the kind of being this direct, the like solutions focused. What do they think about your ex colleagues, new colleagues?
Kevin: [01:20:29] Yeah, that’s a good question. So, up until this point I never got performance reviews, really. Like somebody would say, oh they don’t like me or whatever. But Microsoft has an incredibly detailed performance review process. And so as you can imagine, this kind of direct make some enemies. Some people aren’t super comfortable getting these kinds of direct things. So, the way I counteract that is I ask like 50 people for feedback, where normally you’d asked like the three or four people you work with in like kind of a traditional peer review. But I’m like, there’s no cost. I just keep entering in more emails. So I’m like, 50. So, my boss is like, “I’ve never ever seen this much feedback.” And like 90% of it the most like, “Kevin is the best”. If they’re on your team and they’ve worked with you, and they’ll tell you why they think that, but there’s like 10% that’s like “worst person on the face of this earth.” I mean like really dark stuff. Like “if his cofounder wasn’t there, then nobody would even work with their team.” And again, some of these situations that are political, I had to push people probably harder than they were super comfortable with. And so I probably deserve it.
[01:21:35] But my key kind of thing that I think is, I’m incredibly responsive. So even sitting here as my phone goes off I have this incredible anxiety to respond to somebody who woke up in the US, weird hour, and want to just do whatever it is to respond to it. Like, so I love the notion of being incredibly responsive. So, I think my team enjoys that. Like super quick. Like how— And my whole notion of the way I do email is I respond to never have the email come back. Like, a lot of people write emails to engage in long discussions and let me tell you all my thoughts and 17 bullet points. Like, that’s not my style. Mine is like, “this is what needs to be done. Here’s my decision, if it’s on my job, or if it’s like not mine, massively delegate, right?” Nope, it’s this person’s decisions and I fully trust whatever they say. If they need help, they’ll come back to me, right?
[01:22:15] And so people love that working for me cause I don’t try to like micromanage. In fact, I’m like the Mac team that I took over it, they were like— He said to me once, he was like, “you’re like my worst and best boss. The best in the sense that you let me do whatever we want, we just get it done. But the worst in the sense you’ve shown me how terrible we’ve been in the world of before, I used to check balances and prepare for meetings, you never prepare”. I just walk in like this and tell you what I think, and that’s what it is. And if we need to go research it, we’ll do that after and somebody will take that. But I think the currency of a software company is shipped code, and the people that create shipped code are developers. So everybody at that company, from marketing to legal, to product managers, should be delivering and increasing the efficiency of creating currency in the company, which is shipped code. And a lot of people that, you’ll be like, “you’re just asking questions that don’t matter”. So, I’m really good at like, or I think I am, of like providing resources. Like, “we need new monitors.” I’m like, “order five.” And my admin is like, “well we you just need one.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I don’t want the next four people that ask, I want them to be sitting right there.”
[01:23:21] So I walk into our offices in New York and I’m like, where’s the Mac charger? And they’re like, “Oh, we have some of—”. I’m like, “No, go plug them in there.” Like, every conference room should just have chargers. Like you should never have developers be like, “Oh my battery died”, or like “I’m giving a presentation and there’s no adapters”, I’m like, “buy 20 of them, they’re like four bucks. Go buy a bunch of them. We have a [inaudible]” Nobody should be like, “Oh I can’t find the [inaudible] adapter. And I’m like, “just put them everywhere.” IT guys will try to like zip tie it to the wire, like there’s all these trick things. I’m like, “Just put them everywhere. Like make it so that they’re like markers. There should just be everywhere.” And so getting resources for people like the instant they need them and proactively thinking ahead, right?
[01:23:55] Like in Acompli it was like ordering snacks and like having drinks and all of the food there. You never want to run out of food, right? Like engineers run on red bull. And we had one guy was like, we called him “Diet Coke, Brian”, my four year old named him that. And I mean, he would come in in the morning and he would grab like as many he could get in his hand, three or four, and those would be gone before like 10, and I mean he’d just plow. He’s awesome. And so, my daughter was in charge, she was four years old at the time, she was in charge of loading all the sodas, and she always load the diet Cokes first because she knew that Brian was one of the early guys to get the office and she was like, “If Diet Coke Brian gets in there and there’s not—” you’re going to lose minutes because he’s going to look around, right?
[01:24:34] And so my thing is understanding people be human, right? I think people inside my team generally feel relatively protected and like hey, I’m giving them what they need to stand behind them if they make a bad decision, say, “Hey, that was my fault for giving you the paintbrush and letting you paint outside the lines” versus them painting outside the lines and so taking the responsibility. Yeah, there’s a great book called extreme ownership.
Interviewer: Oh yeah, you recommended it.
Kevin: [01:24:59] Yeah, it’s written by a Navy seal guy, and it’s all about like, whenever a team fails, it’s always the leaders fault. It’s basically the summary of the book. And kind of that example of like hey, the team painting outside the lines, it’s not because they painted outside the lines, it’s because you gave them the paint brush without the right training or the whatever, right? You didn’t do the right thing to make them or set up an environment so they could paint inside the lines. And so I think a lot of managing teams is just being human and understanding what people need, and then giving that to them before they even know. Like, I have stacks of MacBook pros sitting under my desk, why? Because if ever a laptop goes down, I never— Again, it’s like the hammer on the construction site, right? You don’t want the hammer to fall out of the craftsman’s hands. And it solved a lot of debates. Like when we first got to Microsoft, we never had PMs and we were just the leaders of the company, [inaudiable] the PM team. And [inaudible] like, “Oh wow. PM’s.” And I’m like, “Yeah, their for defensive purposes and big companies go talk to other people PM’s”, right?
[01:25:53] But the way that we solved— Now I think we have a pretty good integration and our PM’s are awesome. But I think the thing I always said was that the engineers write the code, and so if there’s debate between an engineer and a PM it’s like, “well, I don’t know. He or she who writes code decides”. And so if she’s going to write the code, then she gets to decide. I don’t care what the PM’s think or you know, what somebody thinks, they’re writing the code. Because the thing is they’ve got to fix it, and when the bug comes back, they’ve got to repair it, they gotta maintain it. And that’s a very freeing, crystallizing thing, right? So everybody in the office should be at some level this servant leadership to make sure that the thing that you’re producing, which is getting code to customers at shipping features is optimized, right? And so if anybody’s building something or doing something to get in that way, they’re probably not doing the right thing, or the most optimal thing, I guess.
Interviewer: [01:26:41] Well, everyone has responsibility. But yeah. Thank you so much, Kevin, for joining us today. Seriously, I’ve been waiting for this moment for the past— how long has it been? We’ve known each other for like three years.
Kevin: Yeah, three, four years. Yes. It’s been awesome. I only made it to Estonia. I’ve never been to the Baltics. It’s pretty cool. I love this area. Like you guys brought like the incredible weather the last two days, I landed in like Sunday and it was like pouring rain, as we flew in then it clears. I’m like, “Holy shit, this is awesome. It’s all green.” And then yesterday was incredible. Today we’re like out by boats and chilling it up and lunch.
Interviewer: Well, yeah, I think one thing that we can all learn from Kevin is to never be afraid to fail. Like no matter what you do, just don’t care about it. Do it.
Kevin: [01:27:21] Care, but don’t feel bad.
Interviewer: Do it with passion, but don’t feel too bad about it, because mistakes are human and that’s okay. So thank you so much for coming. Hold on. I have a— Where’s the present? We had a present for you, but I can’t find it.
Kevin: It’s burning, it’s on the fire.
Interviewer: We have a pretty funny gift for you, so you can open it up later on yourself.
Kevin: All right. On the camera.
Interviewer: Maybe you should do it right now.
Kevin: [01:27:52] I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid.
Interviewer: And the, we have a small gift for your wife as well. So Denise, maybe you can come here as well.
Kevin: Did I get like coal in my socks or something? Oh yeah.
Interviewer: We’ve told you this story of [inaudible] awesome.
Kevin: I like it.
Interviewer: [01:28:16] Dennise, thanks for coming here and joining us today, and seriously, of course.
Interviewer: [01:28:26] Awesome. So thanks everyone for coming, seriously. And yeah, you can watch this video on YouTube afterwards as well.
Kevin: Awesome. Thank you, guys.
Interviewer: Awesome. Thanks.