Almanac: Overcoming Horizontal Product Challenges
Adam Nathan is the founder and CEO of Almanac, a collaboration platform for remote teams to write, approve, and organize docs.
In 2018, after years of working in product roles and getting frustrated with inefficient work tools and endless meetings, Adam quit his job and set out to start his own company.
He spent over a year validating different ideas before picking Almanac.
But launching a horizontal product poses huge challenges. And it was no different for Adam. When your product can work for everyone, it's easy to dilute your messaging and end up grabbing no one's attention.
So it's no surprise that Adam and his co-founders struggled to find their target customers.
However, today Almanac is a 7-figure ARR SaaS with over 50 employees, tens of thousands of customers, and $45 million in VC funding.
In this episode, you'll learn:
- Why after quitting his job, Adam took a whole year to thoroughly test and validate different ideas before settling on Almanac.
- What the Almanac founders built first to validate their two-sided marketplace instead of diving straight into the product (not an MVP).
- How content marketing and influencer promotions helped Almanac to get the first 1,000 customers.
- How Adam maintained optimism and stability for his team even after losing all three of his co-founders.
- What Adam did to overcome the challenges of building a horizontal product and help his team to get clarity and focus.
I hope you enjoy it.
TranscriptClick to view transcript
This is a machine-generated transcript.[00:00:00] Omer: Adam, welcome to the show. [00:00:01] Adam: Great to be here. Thanks for having me. [00:00:03] Omer: Do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you that you can share with us? [00:00:07] Adam: I do. Teddy Roosevelt said, do what you can, where you are with what you've got. And I love that one. [00:00:12] Omer: Love it. A great quote for any entrepreneur and founder. [00:00:16] Omer: So tell us about Almanac. What does the product do? Who's it for and what's the main problem you're helping [00:00:22] Adam: to solve? Almanac is a wiki and workflow tool that makes distributed teams faster. we save distributed teams more than a million hours in wasted work each year with fewer meetings, faster responses, and less overhead. [00:00:32] Omer: Love it. That was, that was one of the most succinct. Elevator pitches I've heard for a while. Great. give us a sense of the size of the business. Where are you in terms of revenue, number of customers, size of team? [00:00:46] Adam: Yeah. we have tens of thousands of customers. We're actually just coming outta beta in a couple weeks, but we've been, in a years long beta period just to make sure the product really works well for our customers. [00:00:55] Adam: and during that time we've been able to, bring on some of, I think the best remote teams around companies [00:01:00] like Doist and Credit Karma and Adela, as well as. Very large scaled organizations from the American Red Cross to the Emmys to indeed. [00:01:07] Omer: Wow. And, and what's the size of the team? About 50 people and revenue. [00:01:11] Adam: We don't disclose that, but Seven figures. [00:01:14] Omer: You're a seven figure a r r business. Okay, great. Yeah. So let's, let's talk about where the idea for this product came from. So the business was founded in January, 2019, so I guess 2018 was about the time you were ready to. Make the leap and, and, you know, stop working on this business. [00:01:33] Adam: So what were you doing at the time and, and where did this idea come from? [00:01:36] Adam: Well, I'm a systems engineer by, by training. It's what I got my first, master's degree in. And for I guess the eight years before Almanac, I was a product manager at Apple and Lyft and a FinTech called Varo. And you know, my, I think my job on my job description at least was to help build products people would love, but. [00:01:53] Adam: What I actually spent my days doing wasn't really that. It was, you know, sitting in meetings that were back to back, constantly looking at, my slack and [00:02:00] email to see, the next a hundred messages that I, I didn't, read yet. All the while, often just trying to figure out very basic answers to basic questions like, what did my boss think of my idea and did the team read this yet and did I get feedback on this proposal? [00:02:13] Adam: and it, and often felt like pushing a ball through mud. It certainly wasn't work. I woke up in the morning to do. It wasn't the work I felt I was hired to do, and, and it wasn't really satisfying at the end of the week. It, I often feel like I, I didn't really get what I wanted to done. I. And I had this contrast with the engineers I worked with who used a tool called GitHub, which is essentially, an asynchronous collaboration platform for working on code. [00:02:34] Adam: And the engineers on my team were way more productive than, than I was at actually moving the needle on, on work that mattered. And they were seemingly happier. And so I started thinking, what is it about the way engineers work that, makes 'em so productive and so, so much faster than me? And are there ways to translate that into the kind of business and knowledge work that, me and my colleagues were doing? [00:02:53] Omer: Okay, great. So you're experiencing this pain firsthand. You kind of are thinking about a solution. Eventually [00:03:00] the, you know, what you want to go and build becomes clearer over time. How did you get started? Like a lot of people have great ideas and then go back to work. You know, did you quit your job right away and start building the product? [00:03:12] Omer: Did you do it as a sort of a side gig and kind of work your way up? Like how did, how did things happen? [00:03:16] Adam: Yeah, well, I, I'd say that the idea that became Almanac wasn't the first idea I had. I tested, I think over a year, a whole bunch of ideas, both testing the idea and also trying to find, co-founders to do it with. [00:03:27] Adam: And, and I think in, in the, the pre almanac days, the device I used was to write a business plan. 'cause I, even though it sounds, kind of quaint and synchronistic, I think a business plan forces you to think through all the elements of the business like, How are you gonna acquire customers and what does it cost to serve them? [00:03:44] Adam: And what are the product requirements and what's the market size? And so there's a bit of like background research initially just to get smart around, the ideas I was investigating. and, and it, I was looking at things from like a direct to consumer wine company to, like a. [00:04:00] Meditation app. So I was, I was really, I think playing the field, and you know, quickly in a lot of cases learned either the market wasn't there or was too competitive or the unit economics didn't work or it would take too long to grow. [00:04:14] Adam: And so that was a helpful way to narrow down ideas. But I think the most important input I was looking for was customer feedback. And I, I think, with startups, you wanna find an idea, or at least a value proposition that people react to quickly. I compare it to, dating where, you know, if, if you have to find, someone to marry on the, the first or second date, you want that first or second date to be like, not just like a, you know, seven outta 10 or an outta 10. [00:04:38] Adam: You want it to be like, 9.9 outta 10 or 11 outta 10, just like sparks flying. And that's because, you know, startups, ha startups are really about growing fast. the, the whole point of a startup is, is to build a high growth business, especially if you're taking venture capital. And so you need to find an idea that, you know, people almost wanna buy without even seeing the product yet. [00:04:56] Adam: You know, they'll put in their credit card on a landing page, [00:05:00] or they follow up after you talk to 'em on an interview saying like, Hey, can I get access? because they're so excited about it. and that means that, you know, you can build something that's, relatively rough in a short period of time, and it will, it will grow from the start such that more investment will make it grow even faster. [00:05:13] Adam: And so, You know, I was looking for that kind of spark with the idea. And I remember after trying a bunch of ideas out and not really getting that kind of feedback from customers, when I would talk about Almanac, just the idea of it to my friends, people would be like, that's amazing. can you do it right now so that I can start using it? [00:05:30] Adam: And so I, I had a sense of some traction there, like just electricity and people's responses. And then as I started kind of finding, bringing on co-founders and building a team, and this is before we raised any money, You know, I remember just saying, Hey, like, let's put up a landing page and see if people wanted to contribute, ideas or sign up. [00:05:48] Adam: And we just got traction so fast from so many people that it, that the business started pulling itself. And, and that was a great sign to. Keep moving forward with it. [00:05:57] Omer: Yeah. So couple of questions. The, you [00:06:00] said you spent about a year kind of figuring out what to go and do. Were you still working at the time or had you already quit your job? [00:06:08] Omer: No, [00:06:08] Adam: I quit my job. I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I'm an ID list by nature. So I, I knew that I couldn't just work on any business and I envy founders out there that don't really care what the business is. They, you know, love the ownership of it, or the freedom it gives. I'm the kind of person where the idea, the vision, the mission matter a lot. [00:06:26] Adam: And so, that, all that, that constrained me already. But, you know, I, I knew that I, I needed to kind of validate, what the concept was before I really went into something. And so I spent the year mainly looking around to try and find that spark I was talking about. I. I [00:06:40] Omer: think it's interesting that a, a lot of, founders go and talk to customers and they kind of say, I'm not sure if this resonated with them or not, or they told me they liked it, or they said it was a great idea. [00:06:57] Omer: And as we know, sometimes people just say those [00:07:00] things because they wanna be nice. They, they say what they think you want to hear doesn't mean that they're actually gonna use the product or, or pay for it. But there's something about what you said about the spark that when you nail the right problem for the right type of customer, and you're able to articulate it in the right way. [00:07:22] Omer: It just happens and then you know the difference in the reaction that you're getting from people, [00:07:26] right? [00:07:27] Adam: Yeah, I think that's, that's true. The amazing thing about software today is that you can basically build anything. And so most businesses don't have technical risk, at least most of the time. You know, you can, if you find good engineers and designers, you can, you can build almost anything. [00:07:41] Adam: And so the real risk for startups is around the market and whether there's. Unmet customer need or, you know, latent customer demand there. And, and as I was saying, you know, most businesses don't have infinite runway front. In fact, often they only have like 12 to 18 months worth of cash. And so you need to find an [00:08:00] idea where essentially people want it so much that even with a average or bad product, in many cases, people will buy it. [00:08:06] Adam: and and then that growth can fuel, you know, longer runway, more investment, more momentum. I think that there's a lot of de-risking you can do around the business just without ever touching a line of code. And I think many businesses rush too fast into building something when really I think the initial, the most important thing you can do initially is to talk to customers. [00:08:25] Adam: And you know, the greatest sign of validation is someone giving you their credit card, without. Ever even seeing the product because that means they wanted so much, that they're like willing to, to pay you money just to get access to it. And, and yes, I think there's a lot of, ruinous empathy with humans where we don't wanna disappoint each other. [00:08:42] Adam: And so I think, there's kind of a spectrum of validations where on one end you have, you know, would you put in your credit cards? Would you pay any money to, to get access to this? you know, would you refer friends to get access to this? Would you spend time on a call with me? There's, there's a spectrum of kind of validation that goes from. [00:08:57] Adam: Less believable to very believable. You know, certainly [00:09:00] asking somebody, do you think this is a good idea? Or like, would you try, this is not enough? Because most people would just say yes. There's no cost to that, for 'em to, to make you happy by saying that. And so we often say, if it's not a hell yes, it's a no. [00:09:12] Adam: And, and the greatest way, of, of validating that, proving that is, is by someone paying you money. And, and ultimately that's the whole point of the business. [00:09:19] Omer: Yeah. Yeah. Love that. Okay, so you spend about a year, you get to the point where you have high confidence. That you're going down the right track, the landing page that you've built is giving you additional validation that there is demand for this type of product. [00:09:35] Omer: How long did it take you to build the first version of the product and start selling it? Yeah, so [00:09:44] Adam: just to give you some context, you know, our vision was always to build basically GitHub for docs. That's what we called it initially and what it is now. Where we, it, it takes a long time to build complex collaboration software like what we have done. [00:09:57] Adam: so initially we started with essentially a templates gallery. It was [00:10:00] an open source repository, of best practices that people could copy and customize. And that's very similar to how I. Engineers code, they often don't write everything themselves, but they borrow open source components for things like dropdown menus or login screens that are solved problems so that they can focus their time on work that actually matters. [00:10:16] Adam: And nothing like that, we thought existed for product managers or marketers, or ops teams. You know, people were constantly reinventing the wheel and starting from scratch. And so, where we started with the business was building this open source repository of templates and so, You know, what we wanted to build is essentially a minimum ideal product at first. [00:10:33] Adam: And so, we probably spent nine months building this platform, where. You could essentially search for templates. All of the templates were user contributed, so, we didn't pay, they, they all came from experts in the field, that we, we, we basically recruited and worked with to refine these templates down. [00:10:51] Adam: Then users on the other side of it, what was essentially a marketplace could search for templates and then copied them into their own private almanac workspace, which is now basically what the [00:11:00] product has, has evolved two year years later. and so we were building the product, but really what we were doing is validating the business model. [00:11:06] Adam: 'cause what we had to do in these nine months, were figure out how do we recruit contributors to give us templates for free? And then how do we generate demand on the other side and in any marketplace, finding supply, whether it's, you know, drivers on Uber, or you know, reviewers on Yelp, that's the much harder side of the marketplace to figure out. [00:11:23] Adam: 'cause if you have supply. Demand often will come. And so in those nine months while we were building the product, we were also validating essentially our value proposition to contributors and to, to viewers. You know, how, what's, what's in it for them? How do we recruit them? Where are they? How do we, how do we find them? [00:11:41] Adam: How do we talk to them? How do we convert them? How do we serve them? And so it was a really important time for us to like figure out how the business worked and make sure that things were. think things are fitting nicely before we open it [00:11:52] Omer: up to the world. Yeah. So one, one thing I wanna get some clarity on is when you said you didn't have a product, you started with the templates [00:12:00] first. [00:12:01] Omer: What format were these templates in and how were people using them before and Almanac was ready for them? [00:12:09] Adam: So I, I think, you know, we, we started essentially with this, this idea that like, People needed, you know, professionals needed new infrastructure for the digital economy. That was the high level idea that, tools like Microsoft Word are designed for offices and office culture. [00:12:24] Adam: And that now that we're all working on the internet, we, you know, needed new tools and mechanisms, that were optimized for, for online collaboration and online productivity. and so that was that the high level thesis initially, and this is all before Covid by the way, and so you know, where we started was, okay, people are starting from scratch and you know, if we're all working on the internet, all our documents are there, then we should all be able to like, share and find generalized best practices. [00:12:49] Adam: I think we could have built a version of the product where these, these templates that I was talking about were uploaded in Microsoft Word documents that were linked out to Google Docs, and then people could like copy them into those. [00:13:00] Editors. What we decided to do instead was build our own platform. [00:13:03] Adam: And so Almanac today is a modern rich text, real-time document editor. And inside of it there's, versioning features that help you keep track of track changes. We have workflows for requesting feedback and approvals and red receipts. And so the idea is to, in Almanac today, centralized collaboration next to where you're doing the work, which is what GitHub does. [00:13:22] Adam: So we made this fateful decision early on. Rather than to basically build a plugin into other people's products to build a platform ourselves. And so, if I could go back in time and change things, there's, there's pros and cons of, of both approaches. You know, if you just build a plugin, then another, you know, another platform like Google Docs could've just easily copied our feature and then we would've been done. [00:13:41] Adam: The downside of building a platform is it takes a very long time. and is really complicated. But, so, so we were not just building this templates gallery, but underneath building a document editor. and along with it all of the permissioning and the organization and navigation features that, that you need for a place that rewrite stuff. [00:13:58] Adam: Okay, [00:13:59] Omer: so, so [00:14:00] there were proprietary, but what was the, there must've been a window between the time where a contributor who you're persuaded to go and create a template and make it available and the time. When the document editor is actually ready to be used with this template, which leads to the question, how are you persuading these people to create these templates, one without paying them. [00:14:27] Omer: And two, basically it was like, well, no one can use them right now, but at some time in the future they will. Yeah, [00:14:34] Adam: it's a good question. And just to give you some context, you know, other, Productivity platforms that are like a generation older than us, tools like, Figma and Airtable and Notion all took between like seven and nine years from when they started building their product to when they reached a growth inflection point. [00:14:49] Adam: and those are the success cases. And so it, it takes a very long time to, to, to build these types of products. 'cause you have to match all the features of, the incumbents, like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Then you have to [00:15:00] find. You know, like a, a fatal crack in their armor that, is an unmet need for enough people. [00:15:05] Adam: And then it all has to work well enough that people feel comfortable switching over or inspired to switch over because it's that much better. So it's a really hard strategic play, and it takes a long time to execute well yet uncompromising levels of excellence, in the, in the product experience. And so we, we had started on, on that journey early, but as you mentioned, we, we had, we weren't going to arrive there for many years. [00:15:26] Adam: We also made it harder for ourselves in that we didn't wanna pay contributors. We wanted it all to be, like a free marketplace. And so, There was a, a three-pronged pitch to contributors. One was around visibility, and so we were promising that when we launched we were gonna work to generate a ton of, you know, visibility for their work. [00:15:42] Adam: We were going to shower them and praise on social. this is gonna be kind of a, they, there's profiles where they could like see how many people download it or copied their templates and they could use the profile to refer people to their places. Very similar to like the value proposition of the social network. [00:15:57] Adam: Another part was, altruism. You know, a lot of [00:16:00] people felt like others had helped them in their careers get to get to where they were and, and gain all of their, their skills and knowledge, and they wanted to pay it forward to others. I think largely those two things drove, people's contributions. At first, we, we paid a, a small, I think like maybe a hundred bucks to like the first 200 contributors, but that. [00:16:19] Adam: You know, for the, the type of people we were getting, like Gibson Biddle was the chief product officer at Netflix. Like it was a, you know, a fraction of what they were actually paid per hour. and so, it, it, it was amazing that we were able to gain, you know, by now we've, we have thousands of contributors on what we now call the Almanac core. [00:16:36] Adam: we were able to get them just, just through kind of, This a more altruistic message. I think other products like CK or Patreon have, have proven out that like if, if you, if we did allow people to, for example, gate their content and charge for it, we probably could have even gotten even more contributors. [00:16:52] Adam: I think looking back, that's, that's something I would've loved to have tested, but we were, we were really convinced of this idea that the content had to [00:17:00] be, open and free in order for us to use it as an acquisition channel. most, most of the products I mentioned like Notion or Airtable and Figma, they. [00:17:07] Adam: They all, they, they, grew initially through basically building their own versions of template SC template galleries, because, If you're building a productivity solution, what templates help do is contextualize the product. Like, what am I supposed to use this for? Am I the right customer? How does it work? [00:17:22] Adam: Templates are all really easy ways to do that versus like complicated product marketing. So we knew by investing in templates early, we could build like a huge organic channel for us that would rank well in ss e o over time, gain trust with customers and ultimately teach people how to use the product. [00:17:36] Adam: So it was important for us to keep it free 'cause we didn't want the templates to be the product. A funny story is that that ended up happening. We, we ended up getting product market fit just around the templates gallery or the open source repository. and it, it, it started to take off on its own. We, we started getting more and more organic contributions, more and more, visits and downloads from users, and it, it started to look like the templates gallery was going to be the [00:18:00] business. [00:18:00] Adam: Hmm. [00:18:01] Omer: That's funny. How, how did you recruit these people? How did you find an. You know, was, was it just outbound email? Like you were, you just called emailing people? [00:18:10] Adam: Strangely, yes. You know, initially we went to our friends and said, Hey, would you like submit a, a template? But obviously we don't all, you know, I had four co-founders, maybe we had a team of 10 people. [00:18:21] Adam: We don't have enough friends, to, to get what is now, you know, I think five or 6,000 templates. and so ultimately it had to be, Reaching out to people we, we didn't know. And yeah, we would cold email people with basically the pitch I mentioned to you. We had an amazing team. We were all working on this, and we would get people on the phone and, and make the pitch to them and then, essentially help them craft the template. [00:18:43] Adam: We would edit it and revise it for them to make sure that it fit our standards and that it was consistent with other templates on the site. Then for the initial contributors is, Hey, our launch is gonna be in September, so. Like, hold on until then, and then we'll ask you to help us promote it. [00:18:55] Omer: Okay, great. [00:18:56] Omer: So we, we've talked about the marketplace and getting [00:19:00] contributors, but this is a two-sided marketplace, so you've got the other side as well in terms of actually recruiting customers and, and users. How did you do that? And maybe let's talk about the first, you know, thousand customers. Because you, you've got tens of thousands of customers today, so I'm, I'm sure the first 10 were just a lot of, you know, through your network, were, you know, friends, et cetera and so on. [00:19:28] Omer: So I'm kind of interested in this, this sort of first thousand. How did you recruit those, or how did you find those customers? [00:19:35] Adam: I think initially we had a, a fairly. Probably traditional launch to what a lot of companies did. We, we launched the product on Product Hunt. We did a big press release. We raised $9 million in funding, and what was unique about our seed round as well as our Series A is that. [00:19:49] Adam: we raised from a lot of different investors and that was intentional to basically get a, a bunch of people on our side who could help us recruit contributors and then promote the product. So we had, you know, hundreds of people, basically on [00:20:00] our investor team who are helping us, share the news. [00:20:03] Adam: and, you know, that helped us get to a, you know, number one spot on product hunt. We got a lot of good word of mouth going. This is probably October, 2019. And then, you know, we, we had started to build out some drumbeat organic marketing. So we would do spotlights on, you know, individual contributors that, that submitted templates to the site who had big followings and. [00:20:23] Adam: We would do a profile on them with templates attached. They would share that on their socials. We would share that, and that would help. That built up basically a viral loop where contributors were lending us their networks to help us find new users. We would also do like compilations of templates on a theme, like a hundred recruiting templates or a hundred marketing templates, and we would launch those on product hunt, and that would also be basically like a mini lightning strike where we could get a bunch of attention around like a single idea for, for a specific type of user. [00:20:50] Adam: And I think that worked well. But you know, truly the, we, we saw a big updraft around covid. 'cause essentially, you know, why would you need a template? [00:21:00] It's, it's often when you don't know how to do something or you want expert advice and. You know, overnight in, March, 2020, there was a ton of things that people didn't know how to do. [00:21:09] Adam: They didn't know how to transition their offices, into Covid to 19, protocols. They didn't know how to do remote work. They didn't, you know, there was the Black Lives Matter movement in the spring. They didn't know how to do d e i. All of a sudden, people were in tons of meetings. They didn't know how to do, async. [00:21:24] Adam: And so basically all of a sudden people needed new types of knowledge, from, from experts that they could find and and use. And so, I, I'd say in the spring of 2020, you know, we were seeing like tens of thousands of new users each month because we, we started to react really quickly to the current events around us and take advantage of what we call fast moving water at Almanac. [00:21:44] Adam: Be like, where is there like a surge of unmet demand? to try and to try and catalyze that growth businesses can grow like fine at a slow rate, but would fail as a startup because as, as a startup, our, our goal, our mission is to find this, to find fast growth, to grow, to go at a [00:22:00] fast rate. And so we, we at Almanac are always trying to find the fast moving water. [00:22:04] Adam: And in 2020 it was around all these new types of skills and areas of expertise that. Everybody needed to ramp up on pretty quickly, but very few, few people knew how to do well and our platform was, was perfectly designed for that. [00:22:15] Omer: Okay, so you, you spot this need that people are searching for things that they wanna do. [00:22:20] Omer: What did you do with that? Were, were you doing like keyword research and then trying to build landing pages with different types of templates or like how, how did this work? [00:22:32] Adam: Yeah, well at that point we had a little bit of name recognition in the market, but for example, in the early days of c Ovid 19 HR departments all were issuing guidance on like, what's like the out of office policy. [00:22:44] Adam: Like, you know, what our, what our health restrictions, how should communication be set up? You know, how do we do work from home? Initially, like everybody needed the same types of documents and the same types of knowledge, and, and nobody really knew. Everyone was trying to figure it out and it. You know, there was, there were people who were sharing [00:23:00] like free Google Docs online, people writing long tweet threads or LinkedIn posts. [00:23:05] Adam: and so we would, we, we would basically rapidly respond to wherever we saw conversation happening on social media. contact people who were publishing stuff, ask if we could republish it, publish compendiums of. The best things that we found with some more context. And, and so, you know, in doing so, became like a source of truth for other people who were looking for answers. [00:23:25] Adam: And so we basically like borrowed from the momentum and we, we borrowed from the credibility of the people who were organically just sharing this stuff, because they also wanted to help, which was, as I said, very aligned with our value proposition to, to grow our user base. you know, a funny thing happened. [00:23:41] Adam: Along the way, which is that, we became known as essentially like a open source repository of documents and as a, you know, in other words, a templates gallery. And all the while we had this bigger vision, we were, around becoming a collaboration platform. We were building this document editor, we were building these workflows to be like GitHub. [00:23:57] Adam: I think the truism in startup is that [00:24:00] you only get product market fit for one thing. And so people began to know Almanac for being this. Like open source repo and where you go to find answers on, you know, pressing questions in this brave new world of work. And so that meant our users weren't like just taking the templates and then using them to collaborate privately in their own workspaces. [00:24:19] Adam: They wanted more templates from, for us, and they wanted more template features. and so they were they, because we got product market fit around the templates they wanted. More and more of the same. And we were like, no, we want you to come and do this other thing. And, and they were like, no, no, no. Like what you're doing, what you built is great. [00:24:33] Adam: Like, you know, can I have another? And, and so we, we faced this choice of do we continue to build and scale this product that clearly had traction, but that wasn't the thing we wanted to do, or do we make a hard pivot and essentially abandon, you know, the customers and, and all the value we had created around the templates gallery, or at least kind of put it on ice so that we could focus on. [00:24:54] Adam: On shifting our value proposition to what we thought was a, a much bigger economic opportunity. [00:25:00] [00:25:00] Omer: How did you make that decision? Because you had something that seemed to be taking off, you know, a lot of potential, a lot of opportunity, and yet you decided basically to put that on the shelf. It's still, the site is still live, right? [00:25:16] Omer: People can still go and access the, the templates. Yeah, it's. [00:25:23] Adam: Obviously we, we abandoned it. That was the decision that we made. The, the volume of templates growth, you know, basically flatlined as soon as we, as soon as we did that, and of course that meant that the overall quality of the site started to degrade. People would come back to it and say like, Hey, why haven't there been any new templates published? [00:25:39] Adam: And, you know, five months, 10 months, 12 months. And so, and so just as there's a virtuous cycle in a marketplace where as you get more supply, you get more demand. There's also a vicious cycle where as supply degrades, So does demand. If you look at what's happening with Lyft right now, it's a good real time example of this. [00:25:55] Adam: you need, or, or even Facebook, you need, you need both sides to, be moving in concert. The, [00:26:00] the flag for us is that we were basically splitting our efforts. You know, we had most of the marketing team focused on growing, the Almanac core, but most of the engineering team was focused on building this collaboration platform. [00:26:10] Adam: And, and so like we were, we essentially were trying to build two companies at once, and we knew that, you know, especially when you're in the early days of growth or when you've just achieved product market fit, it's, it's so hard to do one thing well, that to split the difference in the early days. [00:26:24] Adam: Seemed insane and, and like a failure mode. And so we realized we had to pick a path. We couldn't do, two things with the resources that we had and. We thought that we looked around at, I guess, benchmarks in the engineering space. Again, stack Overflow is, you know, a several hundred million dollars business at, at scale. [00:26:42] Adam: GitHub, was bought by Microsoft for, you know, $9 billion. And so there was like a hundred x difference between having a value proposition around where teams collaborate and do work, versus a value proposition of where teams find answers, you know, Finding a template is maybe five to 10% of the value in [00:27:00] the collaboration value chain being the place where work is composed, where it's revised, where it's published is probably the, the other 90%. [00:27:07] Adam: So I think it was an easy strategic choice. I. Much harder to, to implement. We had to let go of some people on the team. 'cause we had started to build out this marketing team as the templates gallery scaled. We had, you know, basically GMs or verticals who were recruiting contributors and managing the content. [00:27:23] Adam: And we basically needed to shift, you know, from what we were doing at the time, which was like scaling this business to go back a couple steps to essentially pre-product, market fit, pre-launch to focus on. The collaboration platform. [00:27:36] Omer: That had to be a hard decision. I'm, I'm sure like if, if, if the mar, if the, the template marketplace was doing kind of averagely well or whatever, maybe it could be like, yeah, let's, let's kind of walk away from that. [00:27:50] Omer: But let's talk about the, the, some of the challenges that come with building a horizontal product and, and you know, that's exactly what you're [00:28:00] doing with, with Almanac, but the problem is, Who do you focus on, right? If you just say, I'm building a product for everybody that really dilutes the kind of features you build, how you build them, your marketing, your go-to market, all of that stuff. [00:28:15] Omer: So tell me about, firstly, tell me about some of the, the struggles or difficulties you had build, you know, building a horizontal product, and then how, how did you approach it? How did you. Focus and, and try to nail the types of features you were gonna build, the, your marketing message and all that stuff. [00:28:38] Adam: Yeah. Well, I think I learned the hard way that the, the startup truism that you can't ever focus enough is, is a rule that applies to everybody. And I, I think just to. Go back to, to the context here. You know, we, we had built this templates gallery and even that was, was hard to even know there because we had templates across all sorts of functions. [00:28:58] Adam: Like who really was our customer? Like, who [00:29:00] wanted this more than anybody else? And I don't think we had a good answer with the templates gallery. I think the, the eventually answer was remote teams because, They needed, you know, a whole bunch of new types of knowledge and best practices to figure out how to work, you know, in this, like at the time, in the, in the pandemic era environment. [00:29:17] Adam: so we, we knew, we basically had a foothold around remote teams. And I'd say, you know, on the core, the remote category, like dominated all the other categories. I think product management and engineering was a, a close second. But then, you know, then we basically kind of go back to pre-launch again, where we're building internally. [00:29:34] Adam: we're building a much more complicated product around a document editor. And, and because we're pre-launch, again, pre-product market fit, kind of going back back to those days, we had to re-answer these questions of like, who is this product for? What benefit does it deliver? What does it replace? how is it better or different? [00:29:52] Adam: and it's really hard to answer those questions if you don't have a lot of customers because. There's, there's, there's too many options to start to like cross 'em off [00:30:00] the list. And so I, it took us a really long time to figure out a methodology to do this. It almost feels, I think initially like boiling the ocean. [00:30:08] Adam: 'cause it's like where do you start and how do you know that it's a no? And I think in a startup the early days are really about momentum. Like startups are, are fueled. Before the field on revenue by momentum. And so the trick is to find product market fit before the team gets tired and everybody leaves to go do something else that's newer and more exciting. [00:30:28] Adam: and so like, I think when we kind of pivoted and, and went back in inside the team was a little bit dismayed. Everybody saw the long road ahead of us, and we didn't have answers to these questions of like, who's our target customer? What's our value proposition to them? Why, why are we gonna win? And I felt like I was. [00:30:48] Adam: On borrow time to try and figure it out before we started losing critical members of the team. And so that was a really scary period for me and I think for everybody, especially for me. 'cause unlike what we [00:31:00] talked about, you know, when we started the business and we had that sense of like spark or traction that where, where we were being pulled rather than pushing, all of a sudden it felt like I was, I, I compared it to a fog. [00:31:09] Adam: Like I was walking up a mountain and like through a forest and. I couldn't figure out like where the path was. I lost the scent and I was just kind of like wandering around, like trying to, to find the scent, but not, not so frantically that I would scare everybody else. But it was a, it was a really like dark period to try and figure out like, who, who wanted this thing? [00:31:28] Adam: And, and because I could turn in any direction and you know, if you go in the wrong direction too far, you've lost critical time. You have to backtrack. and at this point, you know, it wasn't just me, it was a team of 20 people who were actively doing stuff. So there was a cost to. To every wrong turn I made. [00:31:44] Adam: And I think a lot of founders who kind of pivot midstream, find themselves in this position where, you know, it's not, it's not, no consequence like it is when you're just like, it was for me in 2018 when I was just contemplating ideas on my own. We're spending money and people have dedicated their time to work for [00:32:00] us, as on our team. [00:32:01] Adam: And yeah, it was not fun. [00:32:04] Omer: It's tough, and I'm so glad that you shared that and that analogy of, you know, the mountain and the fog and stuff because it's, it's such a tough journey for any founder and you don't want to tell the team what you're struggling with because that's just going to make them lose confidence in you. [00:32:25] Omer: But that is such a, a, a great analogy in terms of. Just a snapshot into the difficulties and the challenges and the decisions you have to make while at the same time, keeping everybody excited and motivated and moving forward, hope, and hopefully, you know, towards the, you know, or in the right direction. [00:32:48] Omer: How long did it take for you to maybe not just figure all of it out, but at least get to a point where, going back to your analogy, you felt like, [00:33:00] You could see a path again and felt that this was the one that you were gonna follow for a while. And, and hopefully it was gonna lead to the, the right, you know, outcome. [00:33:12] Adam: Yeah. it probably took four, four or five months and tic and cause causes the idea maze where, you know, you have elements, like pieces of the puzzle and you're just trying to figure out how they fit together. And so, You know, I knew, okay, we have a bunch of people who we found traction with because, because they're newly remote teams and they're trying to figure out how to work. [00:33:33] Adam: you know, I knew some of the templates that people most wanted were like standard operating policies and procedures. So I had some sense of like, okay, there's demand around this. There's fast moving water around this. You know, we were building a product that was a document editor with version control and workflow. [00:33:45] Adam: It's very similar to GitHub. So it's like, here we have this asset, how do we, like what's the best use case for it? Again, this would have been better if we were doing this without a team, but we basically went back into customer validation where we were quickly putting ads outta market to see like, you know, where we [00:34:00] could get low, low CPCs. [00:34:01] Adam: We were building landing pages to see who's, who would sign up to them. We were doing customer interviews, we were testing stuff on social, just like basically quickly trying to figure out like, where is there a pulse, in the market? And you know, when you do that for three or four months, it starts to wear on the team. [00:34:16] Adam: Like, are these guys ever gonna figure it out? And of course, Everyone looks to me as a c e o for to understand like, are we okay? And so if I don't look okay, especially on public calls, if I look worn down or scared like everybody else is like, oh man, we're screwed. And I remember finding it just really difficult to like separate my internal feelings, and anxiety and fear and stress from the stability and optimism I needed to portray to the team. [00:34:40] Adam: And I remember, you know, it's always darkest before dawn. I remember one of my co-founders, it was like December. I guess 2020. And I was in Hawaii on vacation and one of my co-founders was like, I don't think this is gonna work. And I was like, no, I think, I think I have it. And the idea was to basically pe portray our, we call it living [00:35:00] documentation, to, to take the documentary rebuilt, make it a source of truth for customers, especially remote teams, and use the workflows that we had built to enable anybody to suggest changes to those documents so they could remain trusted for everybody. [00:35:11] Adam: Unlike a Google document where anyone can go in and edit it and. You know, you don't know, like, is this the final version? Can, can I rely on this information? And alman, like everything was locked down. But there was like these protocols where people could suggest changes through track changes or comments that then would be approved by the document owners. [00:35:26] Adam: So very similar to how GitHub works, but for, but for, for remote teams. And so I was like, I think this is it, but of course it's still just kind of a hypothesis. So we decided kind of as a, as a next step to, to try and get a hundred customers in a hundred days, a hundred paying customers. and then we thought if we could get a hundred customers in a hundred days, we could certainly get a thousand customers after that. [00:35:46] Adam: and we thought, you know, if we could, that, that would be a sign that like we, we were on the path to product market fit. And so the, the first quarter and second quarter of 2021, that was our goal, like a hundred customers in a hundred days. And we, we [00:36:00] did it. We, we got a hundred customers way faster than a hundred days. [00:36:03] Adam: And I think that speaks to the benefit of focus where rather than saying, Hey, we're a document editor that can do anything for anybody, we are really focused on, you know, building handbooks with suggest changes for remote teams. And, you know, that value prop. We, we built, you know, ads and did a lot of social and organic content around that value proposition. [00:36:21] Adam: And we, we started just like racking up customers and, and that enabled us to raise our series [00:36:26] Omer: a. Awesome. Alright, so in many ways, I mean the product is horizontal, but you. You still made a bet on a customer or type of customer that you were going to focus on, and I love this idea of a hundred customers in a hundred days. [00:36:42] Omer: And then once you've picked that customer and made the bet, everything sort of gets behind that, right? Like the marketing message and you know, what, what you're, the features you're focusing on and, and things like that. I wanna talk about the situation with your co-founders. And I, I know you said to me, Hey, I don't wanna spend a bunch of time [00:37:00] on this, and, and that's fine. [00:37:01] Omer: I respect that, so I don't wanna kind of go and dig for dirt or, you know, but you started out, you know, you started out by yourself, you went through the process of finding co-founders, and eventually there were four of you, and now you are back to one person again. Tell me what, at what point did the other three co-founders end up leaving the business? [00:37:26] Omer: Was that around the time of this pivot or, or before, or or later? And what kept you going? Because suddenly the journey becomes a lot harder. I think when you, you are dealing with all of these struggles and you are the only founder left who has to figure this stuff out, [00:37:47] Adam: you know? Initially, I actually wouldn't start almanac or, or any of the ideas I had without co-founders because there's off repeated advice that, starting a business on your own is a really bad idea. [00:37:58] Adam: And so I [00:38:00] was obsessed with finding co-founders, who would be committed to the long journey with me. and so I, I had the idea for Almanac and was getting traction for it maybe like four or five months before we actually incorporated the business, because I wanted to find co-founders first. And this was in 2018. [00:38:16] Adam: I, you know, I was getting introductions to people, meeting with them, and we would go through a pre-mortem exercise that was like, basically preferences for the business. Like, what's your role gonna be? What's my role gonna be? When would we sell? Do we want an office? you know, how do we make decisions? [00:38:30] Adam: how do we divide up equity? And so interestingly, this exercise is P mortem took a bunch of people who I thought would've been great co-founders, and made us realize that in fact we, like, were in a line in a lot of things. It probably saved me for, from some. Some bad relationships and you know, co-founder is interesting 'cause it's, it is like a romantic partner that you're like in, that you're spending all your time together, but you're also like completely like financially committed, like without diversification. [00:38:53] Adam: Like, you guys are both in it, in it together. And so it's like even more intense than a romantic relationship I think. So finding, I was [00:39:00] initially like really committed to finding great co-founders. Ironically, as you mentioned, none of them are with the business anymore. one left within a year because we just. [00:39:08] Adam: Had differences of opinion about like the direction the business was going. another left 'cause he was suffering from a lot of like mental health issues, which he's written about publicly. And the last I think did, wasn't interested, got tired and wasn't interested in I think the endurance it would take to achieve, our vision. [00:39:26] Adam: I think that last one was really difficult for me because this, this was like my greatest fear that I would be alone. And it was the thing I said, I, it was my red line, like I don't wanna start this alone. And then all of a sudden, like I was alone. I was, all my co-founders had left. And you know, I think two things helped me, one, I realize I actually wasn't alone. [00:39:45] Adam: you know, we have a management team at Almanac of 10 people who are perfect for, for running a startup. And, and I think that's the hard thing to know when you're starting a business is like, is this person actually going to have what it takes to make it all the way in a startup? And, you know, you might think [00:40:00] that they do, they might think that they do, but you, the only way you really know is when you get into it, like, not, not in the first mile of the race, but when you're on like mile 45 and you're like, okay, we're in this now, we can't turn around. [00:40:10] Adam: but like we're nowhere near the finish line. of like a, you know, a hundred mile race. Like that's when you figure out what people are made of. And, you know, I think the greatest success I've had at Almanac, more than our revenue or our customers or what we built is, is that I have found a group of people who are purpose built to, to work at a startup and have exactly what it takes to like, not just succeed, but like knock any startup idea out of the water. [00:40:36] Adam: And we talk when we recruit people at Almanac. Now for any position. What we real, what we realized is we are not just looking for people who are like great product managers or product marketers or engineers. We're looking for great startup generalists. There's a specific set of skills that make someone good at the startup stage, and that's actually much more important than, you know, whether someone's excellent at their function because the definition of a startup operating environment is [00:41:00] uncertainty and ambiguity and change. [00:41:02] Adam: So you need people who like, not just can tolerate that, but love it and get energy from it and thrive in it. And. And so, you know, we over time had had built a team at Almanac full of those people, almost exclusively of those people. And so the three people I found initially weren't, weren't those people, but I've now found 47 people who are, and so I'm lucky to be surrounded by I think, the right people at this point that, that that will go the distance with me. [00:41:25] Adam: And I think the second thing is, like you said, I had to kind of reconvince myself about why I was doing the business 'cause. And again, I crossed this red, this red line I had said for myself. And so I was like, well, do I wanna do this anymore? And so I think two things that convinced me, and this was maybe last year, or the same things that convinced me to start a business in 2018. [00:41:46] Adam: One is that I don't think there's any other thing I can do. I think I, my, my unique strengths are a perfect fit for founding and running a business. I think those same strengths would make me maybe intolerable in other contexts and other roles, but they make me really good at [00:42:00] my job. And so I don't think that there's anything else I can do, as, as, as well as I do this job. [00:42:05] Adam: And, and two, you know, I love what I love our mission at Almanac, we published something recently called the Modern Work Method, which is essentially like agile for business. It's a compilation of, of all the things we've learned working with thousands of customers about. How to work well on the internet. [00:42:20] Adam: and it's essentially like our theory about the future of work. Like if, if you wanna work well and fast as a remote team, like there, there are better and worse ways to work. And, and here's what we've learned about like how the best teams operate. As, as I said, you know, that I'm not someone who could just start any business. [00:42:36] Adam: I'm a systems guy and. Figuring out like how people work, well or poorly is like the ultimate systemic challenge. And what we get to do at Almanac is build tooling that helps people work better, work faster, work more efficiently, work with more happiness. And, and I, and I love that we, it's, it's the ultimate challenge and puzzle and it's [00:43:00] stimulating and rewarding every day. [00:43:01] Adam: And I love that I get to be part of it. And. And so getting back to, to my why of like, why I'm doing this in the first place. I'm, I'm not doing it. Tap co-founders. I'm not doing it to raise money. in my case it doesn't, the wealth doesn't even really matter. I'm doing it because, 'cause I, I love the problem that, that I get to work on and I love the people I get to work with and, and that's more than enough. [00:43:21] Omer: That's a great answer. Thanks for sharing that. All right. Let's, let's wrap up. Let's get onto the lightning round. I've got seven quick fire questions for you. Just try to answer 'em as quickly as you can. Ready? Sure. What's one of the best pieces of business advice you've ever received? Be prepared. [00:43:38] Omer: What book would you recommend to our audience and why? [00:43:41] Adam: Setting The Table by Danny Meyer, who runs the Union Square Hospitality Group. the book is about running a restaurant, but I think, serving people in a restaurant is. very similar to how you serve and care for customers in a startup. [00:43:53] Omer: Great. [00:43:54] Omer: Pick. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder? [00:43:59] Adam: Grit and [00:44:00] persistence. never giving up, even when you long be okay for doing so. [00:44:05] Omer: What's your favorite personal productivity tool or [00:44:08] Adam: habit? going to the gym and working out, it always clears my head and helps me see things [00:44:13] Omer: better. [00:44:14] Omer: What's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the time? And if you don't have the time, somebody can steal. [00:44:21] Adam: I think some way to figure out loneliness, which I think is an epidemic in modern society. and on the other end of the spectrum, opening up a cocktail [00:44:27] Omer: bar, what's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know? [00:44:33] Adam: I was a competitive skier. [00:44:34] Omer: You Really? Wow. I didn't find that in my research. And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work? [00:44:42] Adam: I chair a nonprofit board here in San Francisco that's working on the homelessness and addiction crisis. [00:44:47] Omer: Awesome. That's great. All right, that's a wrap. [00:44:50] Omer: So, Adam, thank you so much for, joining me and sharing your, story and your journey in building Almanac. I really appreciate you taking the time. If, people wanna learn [00:45:00] more about Almanac or check it out, they can go to almanac.io and if folks want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that? [00:45:09] Adam: I think my dms are open on Twitter. People are still using that, Adam team. Nathan, or I think my email address is, all over the internet, so you can always email me too. Okay, [00:45:17] Omer: that's great. Thanks man. Appreciate it and I wish you and the team the best of success. Thank you. Cheers.