Mada Seghete of Branch

Founder Coffee episode 036

Mada Seghete of Branch

I’m Jeroen from Salesflare and this is Founder Coffee.

Every three weeks I have coffee with a different founder. We discuss life, passions, learnings, … in an intimate talk, getting to know the person behind the company.

For this thirty-sixth episode, I talked to Mada Seghete, co-founder of Branch, the leading platform that makes deep linking to specific places in mobile apps easy.

After Mada’s mom helped her to get a full scholarship to study in the US, she studied computer engineering and got her first job as a software developer. She only did this for a year, after which she consecutively worked as a business consultant, worked as a product manager, went to Stanford Business School, and co-founded her first startup company.

It was while working on that start-up company that she and her co-founders launched a referral program and discovered how difficult it was to link to specific places within their app. Branch was born.

We talk about good reads and Goodreads (the app), about working 14-16 hours per day and being lucky, Branch’s big vision, and the excitement of building a team and making an impact.

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Jeroen: Hi, Mada. It’s great to have you on Founder Coffee.

Mada: Thanks for having me, super excited to be here.

Jeroen: You are the co-founder of Branch. I know that Branch is especially known in some circle,s or at least people that are in SaaS. So to get started, what do you guys exactly do?

Mada: We’re a mobile growth platform. We do mobile links and attribution to help companies grow in mobile. We’re helping them with acquisition, understanding the user better, giving them better experiences from web to app, and then giving them a full understanding of the user journey across multiple devices, multiple websites, the app, email and different channels, we do it all.

Jeroen: So it’s way more than I actually imagined. The way I imagined Branch was that it solves an annoying issue like when you send out a bunch of deals to people, for instance, when you’re in Zalando. And when they click on it, you land in the mobile app instead of in that exact product. That’s kind of what you guys solve, right?

Mada: Yeah, we definitely solve that. That’s the core of what we do. Because we take people to the right place. We are the links that take people from channel to channel. We’ve actually built something called a user persona, where we understand the user across multiple browsers. We tie different cookies on different browsers together with advertiser ID in the app.

Mada: So not only do we help create that experience and take people to the right place, but we also understand the entire user journey. We help understand how a campaign might work. Like if they send an email, someone goes to the website a few days later, they download the app and they do something in the app. We know that it’s actually the same user and we help the company understand and get better ROI. And we have all these different products that help you take people into the app.

Mada: We have a banner product. Depending on when the user comes to your website, how engaged they are, you show them a banner to convert them into the app. And you can show promotions in it and things like that. We do a similar thing with email or social. So we definitely like at the core is what you said, directing people to the right platform, but we’ve built an entire growth platform on top of it.

Jeroen: So how does it exactly work? You talk to a company about it core issue and then you start saying, “But we also do a lot of other things”?

Mada: I’m flying to Denver tonight to go for a mobile growth workshop to one of our customers. This is where I do a lot of talks on growth, and I think about all the different stages of growth. From acquisition to engagement to retention. And we usually say, “Okay, we have this core platform that helps you with these links. But these are all the tools and these are all the ways you can improve every stage of your growth path. And this is how we can help. You can use our links to create a sharing or referral program. You can use our link to create a website program or an email program or a social program. I mean, we have solutions for you but you still have to kind of do what’s best for your business. So in a way, we’re almost advisors, we help you use our products to create the growth plan for your company.

Jeroen: You started off Branch with a few other people. How did that happen exactly? At what exact moment did that spark happen and you decided to work together to solve this issue?

Mada: So, I’ve been working with my co founders for quite some time. I think about seven years now. We met in business school. We were definitely typical business school students, maybe not typical, but the three of us definitely wanted to start a business. And I think we were looking for people around us that were as passionate and were willing to dedicate this much and be serious about the business. I think we were all having conversations with different people and we kind of found each other.

Mada: I found Alex first, he seemed really intense, convinced him to work with me, and even apply to a class together. That was an entrepreneurship class and we actually had a few different ideas before Branch. So the one we did over the summer between first and second year of business school was an app. It was called Kindred.

Mada: It was a photo book printing app that allowed you to build photo books and we would ship them to you or your friends. And it was really hard to grow. I mean the ecosystem for mobile is incredibly crowded today. There’s 5 million apps between the Android and the Apple App Store and people spend 95% of their time in the top 10 apps. So it’s pretty brutal out there when you launch a new app to actually get users to it. It’s incredibly expensive. You don’t really have a lot of channels. So we struggled with that for about a year. We had raised money, we were actually featured by upcoming best new apps. So we did pretty well. We sold I think over 10,000 photo books, but then realized that man, this is so hard. We were really struggling with the growth for our own app.

Mada: So we were trying to build a sharing program and a referral program where a user gets to start a photo book and then invite a friend. And then they come from LinkedIn to continue the photo book and that was impossible. It was really hard to match someone opening an app for the first time to someone clicking the link. It seemed crazy, the way the web works is you discover things because of content.

Mada: People send you websites and you go to the websites, why can’t apps be the same? Why do you always have to go and download the app and then find the content? And it seemed like a much bigger problem than the problem we were trying to solve with the photo book app. So we ended up selling the app and started focusing on this. That’s kind of how it started. We had the problem ourselves for quite some time.

Jeroen: Yeah. So it was basically wanting to start something in business school, finding the right people to work with and then starting something. But then stumbling upon a much bigger problem than the photo books.

Mada: Yeah, pretty much. A lot of companies I think have a similar journey.

Jeroen: Yeah. It’s kind of similar for us as well. We had a business intelligence software and we figured that selling the software was more difficult than the software itself. And then we started to make it self-selling basically.

Jeroen: What was your motivation to start business school? Was that to start a company or you started business school for other reasons?

Mada: I was a consultant after undergrad and when you’re in consulting they kind of drill you into doing strategy consulting. It’s the path to go to business school. So I thought very seriously about business school or joining a startup. I ended up applying and I didn’t get in, I was on the waitlist. I only applied to one school and I kind of thought about business school for a while and it was something on my mind. And then three years later my green card got denied and I didn’t really know what to do with my life.

Mada: So I decided I was going to try business school again and it could maybe help me go through my visa issues. It didn’t actually, I ended up getting a green card through the company I worked for, but that’s what prompted me. I went to business school knowing I wanted to start a company and I had been thinking about starting a company for quite some time. So that definitely played into it, but it wasn’t the only reason. It was a mixture of that and life.

Jeroen: Yeah, it’s the first time I heard someone pay the amount of money needed for Stanford to get a green card.

Mada: Well, I haven’t paid it yet. I’m still paying my loans and I did not get the green card actually. I did not know at the time, but if you’ve already showed intent, it’s actually hard to get a student visa. So I probably would have not been able to go to business school had I not got the green card through other methods. But I didn’t. When I applied I didn’t really know I thought I could just go back on the student visa.

Jeroen: So you grew up in Romania, right?

Mada: I did, yeah.

Jeroen: Was it in Bucharest or was that somewhere close by?

Mada: No, it was in a small town up North called Bacau and I moved to Bucharest. My family moved to Bucharest when I was in 11th grade. And then I came to this town. I only lived in Bucharest for two years. Most of my life was in a small town.

Jeroen: And then you went to study in the US if I’m not mistaken.

Mada: Yeah. I had a full scholarship and I ended up coming to the States and studying computer engineering at Cornell.

Jeroen: Was there any specific reasons to do that or just because you got the scholarship and that seemed exciting?

Mada: No, my mom read in a newspaper article that if you’re really good at math there are all these kids who get the scholarship to the States. And she started researching it and pushed me to research it and I decided to try. I applied to 25 schools or something because I needed the full scholarship. In the end I ended up getting in, which was amazing. But it was definitely a process and it was very intentional. It didn’t just happen to get this. I didn’t just happen to get a scholarship. I had to take all the tests. And it was a pretty intense time. My mom pushed me and supported me through it. A lot of it is thanks to her.

Jeroen: That’s nice. And then you kind of put your math to use by studying computer engineering. Why did you go for computer engineering and not for instance, let’s say electrical engineering?

Mada: I mean it was, it’s electrical and computer engineering, but I concentrated on computer architectures. That’s why I call it computer engineering. The major was both.

Jeroen: Yeah, I see it on your LinkedIn, electrical and computer engineering. Wow, that’s the nerdiest of engineering, I’d say.

Mada: Yeah, honestly I think I should have done computer science. I didn’t mind computer science and I had my first job out of college as a software developer. There is a reason I did it. It’s kind of a stupid reason. I was dating this guy who was two years older than me and he was in computer engineering. And I remember him saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t do computer engineering. It’s like the hardest major, you should do something easier.” And I was like, “I’m going to do it just to prove you wrong. I’ll deal with the hardest.” And I didn’t particularly enjoy it, especially the electrical side of it.

Mada: I enjoyed the computer side, the digital stuff. But even that once I got to the courses where you use hardware description languages to create processors and stuff. I think I really liked software a lot more than I like hardware. And my favorite classes were my CS classes and animation. It’s very hard to switch majors because it’s like Cornell is on a semester system. So you only get eight semesters and to be an engineer is actually really hard. A lot of people who start as engineers don’t end up having the GPA to actually continue to the major. So by the time I kind of realized I should have done something else, it was definitely too late. I couldn’t have gone and done computer science. I would have had to stay an extra year like that to switch majors.

Jeroen: But then you actually became a software engineer for a year only, after which you said, “Okay this is enough”?

Mada: No, my H1B got denied. My entire life is a series of immigration issues that changed the course. No, I actually really like being a computer, a software developer but my H1B got denied. So I couldn’t stay in the country unless I went back to school, which I did. And then I went to Stanford. I was doing MSNE and I really, really enjoyed the major and I liked the part, I like interacting with people. I’m an extrovert. So I think there were parts of being a developer that I loved but there were also other parts where I was by myself at the computer all the time. And I really missed being around people, interacting with people. So I got really interested in product.

Mada: And then when you start at Stanford, you kind of go through the immigrant issues, people start trying to recruit right away. So I went to these careers fairs and I basically applied to a bunch of interviews and I got a job in consulting. And this was maybe a month after I started my degree and because of these visa issues and stuff, I decided to stick with it. Because they had applied for my H1B and the security of staying in the country was more important than other things. And you think startup or even Google or Facebook, they only recruited much later on and it would be too late for me or rather for them to apply for visa and stuff. So just stuck with consulting for a year.

Mada: And then I kind of learned how to be a business person and realized that I like it probably just as much as being a developer. So then I ended up going for a startup. I really didn’t like being in consulting, although I learned a lot. So when a recruiter came and tried to convince me to join the startup, I went for it.

Jeroen: And then you actually went into product management, which is a totally different thing again. Well, it’s sort of related to the other things maybe.

Mada: I think I had this vision of being a product manager and I thought it would be the perfect job for me because I have business skills and I’m also technical. But then I realized that I actually am not that good at being a product manager and I kind of hate it. Well I think to be a good product manager, you have to be incredibly process driven and organized. I wouldn’t say that those are my strengths. I think my strengths are being data driven and being creative. And those work at the beginning when you are designing. But a lot of being a product manager is really managing the product, managing the process, managing bugs. And I realized that I really liked the product design part but I hated the actual management.

Mada: And so when we ended up starting Branch, I started focusing more on the business side. I think marketing really is in a way the perfect mixture of my skills because in today’s world, marketing is incredibly data driven. So I can be super nerdy and build Tableau dashboards and spend a lot of time with the numbers. But I can also be creative and test new things out. We are a technical product and in the early days we were going completely after developers. I think having a developer background definitely gave me the ability to understand developers and market to them. So it all kind of worked out in the end, but I’ve definitely had a kind of weird journey.

Jeroen: Yeah, you’ve been through a lot of different sorts of directions finding out your way, let’s say. How do you guys exactly work together between marketing and product in Branch? Is that very closely related or is it more two different parts of the company?

Mada: I mean we have a product marketing team that’s kind of in between. I wouldn’t say that outside of product marketing we are that close. I mean we talk about product launches and things like that, but I would say we probably work closer to the sales team than we do to the product team if I am thinking of everyone on the team. But the product marketing team works very closely with the product team.

Jeroen: Cool. Prior to this conversation, I mentioned to you already that I found it really impressive the amount of funding you guys raised for Branch. Especially for something that when you at first think about, you might not consider to be that big of a problem but then later see that it actually is. Why did you raise about 400 million?

Mada: Yeah, I mean if you think about what we’re really trying to do is we’re changing the industry. It’s almost like we’re trying to change the piping for the mobile world, to make it work like the web used to work. So when the web was started, a bunch of people came together and they agreed on a standard. On the way websites are going to work and the HTTP standard became the way websites are built and everyone uses a standard. So the web kind of works the same for everyone and the web is not owned by anyone, right? It’s an open source public platform. And when mobile was introduced, it became something very different. It was owned by these big giants that were competing against each other. So the mobile ecosystem is not open like the web is.

Mada: It’s actually owned by different companies who have different standards and who won’t agree to a standard on how an app is actually built and how you can get the contents. So the way you get to content in iOS or Android is different. And then you have all this super apps built on top of them like WeChat or RP and they’re all almost like ecosystems on top of this other ecosystem. So the mobile is incredibly fragmented and it’s very hard to have a standard on how you actually get to content and how you discover content. So we’re trying in a way to build piping that unifies this platform. And helps everyone know how they can build a way for people to get to that content regardless of the platform. And have something that unifies all these different platforms.

Mada: And then from a user perspective, right now discovery is incredibly hard and you have two types of discovery, right? You have intent based discovery when you search for something and then you have non-intent based discovery when you discover something, the way you find things on Facebook? I think a lot of what we’ve worked in the past was more on a non-intent based discovery, right? Helping these companies promote their apps through the content in the app instead of the app itself. That can really increase conversions, give users better experiences.

Mada: And the long term vision is to actually own all of discovery and help people find apps and content in apps better. So it’s a really big, I think it’s kind of a really big vision that we’re trying to go after, so that’s why we need to raise so much money.

Jeroen: Yes, it does sound very big. For you to kind of make that vision true, does it require everyone to use Branch?

Mada: Definitely. Our platform has 60,000 apps or something. So if you look at the top apps around the world, we have a very high penetration into those. Our links are actually free so anyone can use them to give that better experience we’re talking about. How we make money is through these products that we build on top of the links that can help you with growth. But the piping itself, if you want to actually go and just build the better experience, all of that is free regardless of how big you are.

Jeroen: So that’s how you kind of get a foot in the door. You offer the pipings for free and then you say, “Oh, but look what else you can do with it.”

Mada: I mean, that’s not how SaaS works. And in many cases companies when they think something is free, they think we’re going to sell their data or something like that. We have these three privacy principles. Where we actually try to limit the data we collect. We do not sell data and we only allow people access to the data of the user visiting their own properties. But in the early days, people wouldn’t even talk to us and they would assume because we were free that we did something with the data or that’s how we make money.

Mada: Although our principles are pretty big on our website and all our contracts say it and all of that, people still assume that. So sometimes actually charging for something gives people more confidence that you’re not going to do something weird, which is really interesting. Right. So I wouldn’t say that we have so many people using us for free and then upgrading. But I would say that for the long tail in the market, the fact that we have a free product does mean that we get a lot of adoption from developers. We might not have enough time or effort to actually sell to them and have an account manager too. So the fact that we’re free means that we get wide adoption without putting people on it.

Jeroen: Maybe a slightly different question, but when building a company like Branch or before Kindred, what is it exactly that excites you?

Mada: I mean, I really like the impact that we can make on the world. I think just seeing our customers makes me really happy. When I meet people, I travel a lot, I probably travel the most out of my co founders. And when I meet random people who are like, “Oh my God, we use Branch and it’s the engine that powers the growth of my app.” It makes me really happy. It’s just such an incredible feeling, to know that I helped build something that is actually bringing value to others. I get really, really excited about that.

Mada: Then the other thing that really excites me, is this idea. I think I’m fascinated by psychology in groups. And this idea of building a group of people that have a common mission and vision and how do you get everyone aligned, it’s just fascinating to me. So I think a lot of the work I do outside of my core job, which is around marketing and market development is really around thinking about our culture and how to define our culture and that’s been really interesting and fun.

Jeroen: So it’s sort of both an external and internal focus, helping people outside the company and helping people inside the company. Helping these people is more important.

Mada: Yeah.

Jeroen: Cool. What is it that you lately spend most of your time working on?

Mada: This year has been an interesting year. I transitioned roles from leading the marketing team to starting a new team that’s all around in the markets and market development. And so this is more somewhere in the middle of marketing and sales where I actually go to a lot of our customer meetings. I help the product marketing team with messaging. I try to understand the ecosystem and talk about it. So this year has been a lot of public speaking, a lot of travel. I think I’ve been to 15 countries, some of them twice. So I spent a lot of time on planes.

Mada: And then on the internal side I think as we are growing, we’re almost 400 people now and we have, I think 100 open roles. Thinking about how to make sure that we’re scaling our culture and behaviors and the feeling of our company across all the different offices. And across the next hundred people that we hire and then the next hundred after that. Those have to probably be the two big focuses for me this year.

Jeroen: Yeah, and when you’re not traveling, how does a typical day look like for you?

Mada: Oh, it’s so hard because I travel, so I’m probably traveling 70% of the time. So my typical day is actually being at the airport or being in one of the lounges. I spend a lot of time in Amex lounges, highly recommend getting Amex platinum just for the lounges if you travel as much as I do. Otherwise, I don’t know, I just wake up and come to work and then go home and do some yoga and then go to sleep. It’s very hard to have a routine when you travel so much. A lot of my friends are also founders and we end up meeting in different places, but it’s not always that way. Most of my close group of friends are not in close vicinity to me. So, yeah, I wouldn’t say I have a typical day.

Jeroen: Where are your friends based out of?

Mada: I mean, LA, Berkeley, which is in the Bay area but kind of spread out.

Jeroen: So just for business you’re based in San Francisco?

Mada: Palo Alto.

Jeroen: Yeah.

Mada: Miami, Boston, I have a bunch of friends in San Francisco too. But I don’t actually have close friends in Palo Alto. So to me to go and hang out with any friends, it’s at least an hour away.

Jeroen: Yeah. So you mentioned too that you do things like yoga. Do you do other things to stay sort of sane, let’s say.

Mada: I read a lot. I’m probably going to, my challenge for the year is 52 books and I’m already at 48. And I think that works really well because I’m so much on planes and it’s hard. I don’t do as much work on planes so I usually use that time to read. And then I play mobile games, which is kind of an addiction and a vice. And I’ve tried to get off of it, but sometimes I still do it. And then I go on trips with friends, I hang out with friends a lot. I think that’s a big thing for me. I definitely didn’t do it in the first maybe five years of Branch or four years of Branch. In the past year I started spending more time with people, which I think has really improved the quality of my life.

Jeroen: Yeah, in the beginning when you have a company, you’re very busy with it, you actually avoid everything else. But then at some point you’re like, “I’m missing out on something.”

Mada: Yeah, in the beginning I didn’t really do it very much. I think I just kind of forgot that there was an outside world. Well, I think I was working 14 to 16 hours a day. I missed weddings or baby showers and I think I lost maybe some friendships. It was a very, very intense time.

Jeroen: Do you live alone or do you have a husband or kids?

Mada: No, I live alone. If I had a husband or a kid, I don’t think they would be okay with the amount that I travel. Dating is hard when you’re never around, I will say that.

Jeroen: I see some people doing it, but indeed it’s not easy.

Mada: No, I’m not saying it’s not possible. I’m just saying I haven’t figured out the solution.

Jeroen: What do you like to do exactly when you’re not working? You mentioned it’s reading and mobile games and yoga and seeing friends. Is there anything else?

Mada: I’m trying to think. I mean not really, no I don’t. I mean I go swimming. I live close to Stanford so I just go to the pool and swim. So that’s pretty cool. Yeah just reading is a big, really big escape for me. I mean I read business books but I also read a lot of fantasy and young adult fiction and Sci-Fi. So that is definitely what keeps me sane. And I paint sometimes too, so that kind of helps a lot too, just kind of having an outlet for my creativity.

Jeroen: Cool. Are you on Goodreads, just out of personal interest?

Mada: I am. Yes I am.

Jeroen: I should find you then.

Mada: I am mada299, on Goodreads.

Jeroen: I never understand how this app works, adding someone is the hardest thing ever.

Mada: Yeah and I have people I follow. I use Goodreads a lot to discover new books. And I have a few people that I don’t actually know in real life, but I follow. And I know we have similar tastes when it comes to fantasy and stuff. So where I find books is usually Goodreads, because it’s so hard. A lot of fantasy books have high ratings and some of them suck and some of them don’t. So yeah, I don’t write reviews, but I do give stars to all my reading, my books, so.

Jeroen: Yeah, I recently started writing reviews. I thought if I read the book then these few minutes writing a review might be helpful to someone. Before I didn’t do it either.

Mada: Yeah. I should start doing it too, because I spend so much of my time reading other people’s reviews. So it makes sense.

Jeroen: Yeah, I’m currently trying to find you, but I don’t know how to do it. It just says you have no ‘mada299’ in your friends and I’m like, “Yes, I know, but I want to add someone new.” But it doesn’t allow me, they might have some issues there.

Mada: If you go to my friends, there’s a little person with a plus button.

Jeroen: Yeah.

Mada: And then if you click one, then you can search username by name or email.

Jeroen: No, it’s just find contacts to share Goodreads but then if I do find contacts, it keeps spinning because I have a lot of contacts on my phone.

Mada: No, not to find contacts. So if you go to my friends, if you click on my friends, there’s a little person with a plus next to it.

Jeroen: Yap. That’s where I clicked.

Mada: Yeah. And then there’s no contact, you don’t click on contact. It just says search users by name or email.

Jeroen: Yeah, I don’t see that but I’ll check it later.

Mada: What’s your username?

Jeroen: I honestly have no idea. My name is Jeroen Corthout but my username, I have no idea.

Mada: Okay.

Jeroen: Very mysterious.

Mada: Okay.

Jeroen: We’ll figure this out later. How is having a startup in San Francisco nowadays?

Mada: It’s okay, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve only had a startup in the Bay Area, so I don’t know what to compare it with. But I think it’s good. I mean, what specific questions would you have about it?

Jeroen: Is it a friendly climate? We hear a lot of things about having a startup in the Bay Area. Obviously I usually ask this question to someone who has a startup, just outside London or something. And then, how’s that? “It’s okay.” When people are talking about San Francisco, it’s often how expensive it is and all that.

Mada: Yeah. It’s pretty expensive. I mean, our office is in Redwood Shores, which is really beautiful and a little bit cheaper. But it’s not in the middle of things, which means that people have to commute. I think in general, everything is expensive, but it is what it is. I mean I think there’s an incredible pool of talent here, so I think that’s really awesome but it is more expensive than talent in other places. So I think that’s definitely the downside.

Jeroen: Yeah. Are there any cool companies located very close to your office?

Mada: I’m not sure, we’re in an office park. There’s a bunch of different companies. I think Zazzle is here and there’s a few others.

Jeroen: Yeah, I came across Zazzle, I think one of these days. What do they do?

Mada: I think you can go and order stuff and make it your own. You can put pictures on gifts.

Jeroen: Yeah, right. One of my colleagues was looking for something to make magnets and then I was Googling that and I think I got on Zazzle. Right, cool. Let’s slowly start wrapping up with learnings. We’ve been talking a lot about books already, but we didn’t mention any, what is the latest good book you’ve read and why did you choose to read it?

Mada: The latest one is probably Ben Horowitz’s new book called, You Are What You Do. I think I’ve been thinking a lot about how to scale our culture and what does culture even mean. He has a very good book, and does a very good job in the book describing how do you define culture, what are the things you can do. And he gives examples from slave revolves and Genghis Khan. And I think when I heard that initially I was like, “Oh my God, this sounds terrible.” But it was actually a very good book. I’m a big fan of it. So that was the last book.

Jeroen: What You Do Is Who You Are, right?

Mada: Yes, exactly.

Jeroen: It’s the last book I added to my ‘want to read’ list coincidentally.

Mada: Nice. Yeah, it was very good. And then before that I read another pretty good one that also talks about culture, but it thinks about it from a very different perspective. It thinks about how do you create a cohesive group and what makes a group cohesive. So the book is called, The Culture Code.

Jeroen: The Culture Code, okay, let me look for that one as well. Is there anything you wish you would have known when you started out with Branch?

Mada: I wish I knew how hard it would be. I think people don’t talk enough about how hard it is to be a founder. And I think it’s a very important thing. How if you’re trying to make a lot of money, starting a company is not necessarily the safest bet or the easiest. And I think we were very lucky at Branch and we’ve had a really awesome journey and it has been incredibly hard as well. But then I look back at a lot of my friends who maybe weren’t as lucky and didn’t find something like Branch. I mean we worked hard, but we were also lucky. We were at the market at the right time.

Mada: If you compare that to some of my friends who maybe weren’t at the right time and who worked just as hard as we did and maybe didn’t have as much success as we did, it’s just a really, really lonely and hard journey. And I don’t think people talk enough about that. So when I see myself, I know some of my other friends who started companies think it’s this glamorous cool thing and it’s really not. It’s like the furthest thing from glamorous I can think of, especially in the starting years. And I think we see so many of the success stories and so few people talk about the failures and monsters you have to fight.

Jeroen: You think there’s any ways in which we could relieve that emotional stress and loneliness?

Mada: Yeah, I think having support groups is really important and I don’t think people do it enough. I think especially in the early stages. I have a very strong female founder support group, but I only found it a year ago. And sometimes I wonder how much easier and how much better my life would have been, if I had done this seven years ago when we started. I had my co-founders and I think that helped. But I think solo founders have it a lot harder than I do.

Jeroen: Yeah, definitely. Final question, what is the best piece of advice you ever got?

Mada: I mean, I think it really was around starting my company. I was in MSNE at Stanford after, but this was before I went into consulting. I was taking a class at the design school and this professor who is now an investor, Michael Dearing and it’s not really, I wouldn’t say advice. But I remember telling him, “Oh, all the startups we work with are so cool, but I don’t think I could ever start a company.” And I remember he stopped and put the boxes down. We were walking to his car, taking all the boxes from after class and I was helping him. And he put the boxes down and he looked back at me and he stopped and he said, “Mada, if you don’t start a company, who do you think will? You are smart and always do great.”

Mada: And it was just this power of having someone that I truly, truly admired, believe in me. That it was probably the most powerful and one of the most powerful moments of my life. That was the moment I decided I was going to start a company one day and it took me a few years after to do it. So it’s not necessarily advice as much as just someone believing in me that wasn’t my mother or a friend. It was just a stranger who barely knew me but he believed in me and told me he believed in me.

Mada: So I think for people listening to the podcast, I think it’s important to have cheerleaders and people who believe in you in your life. But it’s also important when you see potential in someone to actually tell them that you believe in them and you believe they can do it. Because you might change their life just the way Michael Dearing changed mine.

Jeroen: Awesome. Thank you again Mada for being on Founder Coffee. It was really great to hear your story.

Mada: Yeah. Thanks for having me.


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