In the latest edition of the Scale Lab Podcast, we invited Andrey Khusid, founder and CEO at Miro, to share the incredible story of how he and his team turned sticky notes into a thriving online collaborative platform. Having gone through an incredible period of hypergrowth in recent years, one significantly accelerated by the pandemic, Andrey spoke to us about the importance of hiring ‘multipliers’, resisting the urge to raise and his plans to establish Miro as an ecosystem.

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[01.00] Before COVID, what was the company’s big focus?

“We started in 2011, with the simple idea of bringing the whiteboard into the browser. While this idea was pretty simple on the surface, it didn’t resonate with audiences right away. So we started a B2C product, where people could invite their Google+ contacts or Facebook friends to visualise and brainstorm.

“It was like a visual social network, but pretty quickly we realised the majority of people started to use it for productivity and business purposes. We picked that problem and started to go deeper. Your assumptions on how people use a product are different in a lot of cases, so you need to listen to your user and see where the major patterns are.

“We went through multiple shifts, and we were building around these patterns. When I think about product market fit, there are three things you have to look at.

“First, is this quality survey — would people be disappointed if your product didn’t exist? We sent these surveys throughout the journey to try and understand ‘do we have this critical mass of people who would be disappointed?’

“The second thing is how your retention curves are looking after one month, two months, and three months of usage. If they’ve flattened at a certain level, this is a good signal. If they’re going down, you don’t have that product market fit.

“The third thing that we were looking at is organic word of mouth, whether people are excited about your product enough to share with others and encourage them to use it.”

[04.26] How did you handle funding during this period?

“We had angel investors, along with friends and family. A group of my friends who were running a gaming company, I pitched the idea and they said let us invest.

“They were financing us on an ongoing basis, it was not a classic financing model where you gather around every three/six months. For the first couple of years, we made some progress and hit initial signals of applicability, but we didn’t manage to get to the point where we could say ‘this is the thing we scale now’.

“So they were looking at us, the team, and what we were doing and making decisions based on this. Their assessment was that we were doing the right things, so they extended financing of the company and that helped us to find product market fit.”

[05.55] How do you handle shifts in the business? And how do you communicate them with your investors?

“The most important thing is to be extremely transparent. This trust can go a long way, there will be hard decisions along the way, but if people trust you, they will support you. That’s what happened with them [our investors], they trusted us as a team, they saw this partnership as very transparent and as an opportunity.

[08.27] With so much capital available during your growth, what made you decide not to raise?

“I’d do it again. The reason is that even if you have the product market fit, you need to have a channel market fit, you need to have a model market fit — all of those things need to be figured out.

“When there’s a big inflow of cash in the business, you’ve committed to spend it fast, you don’t actually have time to figure out what will be the best model to serve your market, and what will be the best messaging that resonates with the customer.

“It also doesn’t allow you to build this break-even or profitability mindset. Through the experimentation, we got to the point where we had a well-working model that could be scaled.

[14.46] How did you find talent, and how did you hire them so fast?

“We were lucky to build a brand that people recognise and like. I’m a big believer in inbound, whatever I do, I try to create inbound flow. It was with users initially, with investors, with applicants, we’re trying to hack this inbound flow in whatever we do.

“It’s about both messaging and the funnel. A strong inbound is the result of an optimised funnel. When I say messaging, we all build different companies, different people will fit different companies, you need to figure out what resonates with people outside of what you are building. We started with a mission to empower teams to create the next big thing, and this resonates.

“The second thing is you look at each step of the funnel and see where the drops are, and the reason for those drops. This is critical for an inbound flywheel. The third thing is you enable your internal users or employees to tell the story better, you incentivise them.

We build processes that are focused on bringing talent that is in line with the values we have. One of the big pillars we have is collaboration. You can get better solutions if there’s a team working together. But it’s also about the product we’re building, we need to walk the walk, if we don’t have that DNA how can we empower other teams to create the next big thing?

“We have values champions in the company, in every interview we plug in the person who will assess values, it doesn’t mean others aren’t assessing but this person is dedicated to this.

“We have four values, collaboration, iteration, impact and empathy. We want to bring people who share those values, that’s how the interface inside the company can work better.”

[25.07] What roles have been most pivotal to creating growth?

“I look at bringing talent into the organisation from the perspective of ‘are they multipliers?’ So if you think about traditional growth curves, some businesses grow 2x, some 3x, when I interview talent, I’m thinking, who can be my hockey stick person? Who can be a multiplier for my business?”

[32.02] How do you retain your capabilities of making effective decisions as you scale?

“You need to be confident in what people propose to you. Confidence is not an agreement, confidence is ‘are the right pieces in place?’, ‘do they know the answers to the major questions?’ — if the answer is yes, you might not be in full agreement but this is where you can say, I’m confident you’ve thought it out.

“I’m not an expert in everything, I hire the smartest and best people out there who know way better than me. I can learn from them.”

[37.31] Did you ever feel overwhelmed during this fast-growth phase? What did you do to deal with that?

“I think the key thing is future thinking, you’re not doing it for today. What you do today excites you because it allows you, in the future, to be the vision you have for the organisation. I strongly believe in the mission of the company, I strongly believe that we can change the way teams co-create globally, that’s what gives me energy.

“If you need to pause, then take the pause. We all run at different speeds, some can sprint, and some can run marathons, you need to feel your own speed and if you feel you’re running at someone else’s speed, you need to get back on your personal track.”

[40.39] Is Miro a tool, or is it a platform as you move into the future?

This is what we’re trying to figure out, the vision is to become an ecosystem.

“This is one of the big questions I’m trying to answer with the team now, how can we architect our go-to-market? Where we take the best of what we have today, and at the same time layer the emotion that will help us to engage with the senior leaders in organisations and show them the strategic ROI of the platform.

“I don’t think it’s one or another. I think we have this unique opportunity to figure out how those two things can work together..

[44.39] Why did you guys decide to set up base camp here in the Netherlands?

“I’m a huge fan of the city and the country, the first time I came here, I was looking for where we’d have our Western European office and when I was on the street, I thought for us, for a design thinking product, I can’t find a better place because the design thinking is in every interaction here.

“This is a place where the most creative people, the most innovative people live.”

[46.35] Is there a lesson in your role that you’ve learned that you think everyone should learn at some point?

“There are personal lessons in understanding that whatever your intent is, it’s not necessarily clear to others until you explicitly tell them. In a lot of cases where I’m trying to make things better, people may perceive something in the wrong way. The problem is on me because I was not explicit about the intent in the first place.”

[50.54] What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are trying to scale their companies?

“Find people who are multipliers for you and for your business. I’m lucky to have an extremely strong team, and I know that these people are exceptional. If you want to scale, if you want to go through potential hypergrowth, the only way is to bring in the best people and find ways to partner with them in a way that works for both them and the business. It should be a win-win partnership.”

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