What is it like to live a minimalist lifestyle?
Minimalism is a path that frees people to focus on the things that actually make them happy. It looks a little bit different for everyone.
For some people it's about owning fewer things so they have less clutter in their home. For others, minimalism is a way to get off the corporate path and to save enough to earn a lifetime of time freedom. I think a more recent goal for many people in the minimalism community is to have a lesser impact on the environment.
How did this lifestyle inspire you to launch Glyph?
I have been a minimalist for my entire life. It is something I learned from my grandfather. He didn’t think that having a lot of things would make you happy, and he was right. We founded Glyph because it is important to us that the people who design the products we use every day are minimalists.
What were you doing before Glyph?
I started my career in investment banking at JP Morgan. After that, I worked in tech strategy consulting where I got exposed to the inner workings of the Facebook ad bidding platform, which is our primary customer acquisition tool at Glyph.
Those jobs were great, but in the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to start my own company.
Bankers and consultants give advice to companies. That’s fine, but for me I always felt that I didn’t want to be on the periphery of the action. I wanted to be the one in the arena.
After a while, if you think you’re so qualified to give advice to people then why don’t you just go ahead and do it yourself?
What was it like working on the Obama campaign?
The Obama campaign was something I did in between banking and consulting. It’s funny, I didn’t do it to advance my career; I did it because I was so inspired by President Obama, and because I was tired of staring at spreadsheets all day. Despite that, it ended up being the most valuable preparation out of all the jobs I’ve had when it came time to become a startup CEO.
I was a community organizer in Iowa City, Iowa. I knocked on over 5,000 doors and made over 3,000 phone calls trying to get people to re-elect the president. I was nervous as hell for the first few days of knocking on doors, but I got comfortable with it after a while. You get rejected over and over and over again, but it doesn’t matter because there is always another door.
Founding a startup is the same way. 95% percent of marketing experiments don’t work, 95% of the investors you pitch don’t invest. It’s OK though, there is always another door.
I am glad I have that context of working for the Obama reelection campaign. VCs asking, “how can I be helpful?” (meaning they are passing) at the end of a pitch meeting doesn’t seem too bad after you’ve had a farmer shove a shotgun in your face.
How did you meet your co-founder?
Alan and I met in grad school at Cornell. I remember at the beginning of school we were up in Ithaca and it was Cavs v Warriors, Game Six of the NBA Finals. The tickets were actually affordable because it was a Cleveland game. No one else wanted to make the 5-hour drive except for the two of us. We became friends after that.
Towards the end of grad school we built SageLink, the first voice advertising platform ever on Amazon Alexa. In just three months we built the platform and the network of apps, sold ad space to a TV channel and a fintech startup, and soft circled some early funding. It ultimately ended up being a bad idea. Amazon blocked us as soon as they realized what we were doing, but through that experience we learned that we trusted each other and that we could both get stuff done quickly. It was a great trial run for building Glyph.
What do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
Resilience is by far the most important attribute for a founder. We have had some really great growth. Growth is always going to be the thing that the outside world gives you credit for, but it isn’t really the hard part. The hard part is hanging in there and taking the punches and living long enough to build your growth engine.
How do you handle risk and competition?
Startups are inherently risky. You have to get comfortable with living with risk on a daily basis. However, I have never bet the entire company on one gamble. I always have a plan for what we’ll do if Plan A doesn’t work.
Competition is rarely a factor in the demise of a startup. The killer blow is usually a lack of product-market fit or failure to execute. I do think about what specific things we can be the best at, because you can’t be the best at everything. For Glyph, it is about making the most versatile shoes on the planet and building the definitive minimalism brand of our generation.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
The hardest part was doing the initial R&D and getting our supply chain up and running. We spent six months on the ground in factory towns in Southwestern China. We learned the shoe industry the hard way. We had to convince factories to work with us. We had to do test after test to get all of the minor adjustments right.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I found my edge through building Glyph. I love when people tell us what we are doing is too hard, or that it won’t work. I get endless reservoirs of energy from people saying stuff like that. I love to prove people wrong and to meet them again after I have done so.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
We knew we wanted to build a community-owned company after several of our early customers reached out to us after buying Glyphs. They wrote us angel checks because they loved the shoe so much.
Through traditional angel investments like those, the check has to be pretty sizable for it to make sense - otherwise your cap table gets too crowded and the legal bills pile up.
Republic is enabling us to build up a community of smaller check investors, to share our financial success with our customers, and to do it in a way that keeps the legal stuff simple.
What’s your team culture like?
We have a no-bullshit culture. Everyone cares deeply about each other. This allows us to admit our failures and gives us the motivation to work hard towards our collective goals. We are small enough that right now our culture is set by me and Alan’s actions.
What is your superpower?
Speed. We are tracking about a year ahead of some of the comparable startups in our space. If you look at where they were in year 2 or year 3, we moved much faster than they did, and we did it in a capital-efficient way.
What’s your kryptonite?
Design work. I love doing it, but it is really time-consuming, and as a founder/CEO I’ve learned that it just doesn’t fit into my schedule. We have started to work with some really great designers who are faster and far more competent than I am.
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
I use ColdTurkey which has probably saved 100s of hours of my life. It allows you to block distracting websites during work hours and is basically impossible to circumvent.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were just starting out, what would it be?
Be careful who you take advice from. Everyone wants to give you advice when you start a company but valuable advice usually only comes from people who have successfully accomplished the exact thing you are trying to accomplish.