SaaStr Podcast #385 with Balsa Founder & CEO Paul Rosania

Ep. 385: Paul Rosania is the Founder & CEO @ Balsa, the company that recognizes that builders move the world forward and so they are building the best second screen for builders, integrating tools you already use like Jira, GitHub, and Figma. Coming out of stealth today with their seed round being led by Andrew Chen @ a16z and joined by former CPO @ Slack, April Underwood, Chapter One’s Jeff Morris Jr and then of course, 20VC Fund. Prior to founding Balsa, Paul was Senior Director of Product @ Slack and before Slack was a Group Product Manager @ Twitter where he was responsible for the home timeline, including timeline ranking.

In Today’s Episode We Discuss:

* How Paul made his way into the world of startups with Twitter and Slack and how that led to his founding SaaS company, Balsa.
* Paul was central in the decision-making around changing the Twitter timeline from chronological to ranked, how did he think about that decision? How does Paul approach such large product decisions today? What were his biggest operating takeaways from seeing the internal mechanics of Twitter & Slack?
* What does really effective product marketing mean to Paul? How does Paul think about driving really effective change management? When engaging with bottoms up sales models, where does Paul identify the tipping points of going from bottoms up to top down?
* Why does Paul believe that the builders are the new pro athletes? How will the structure of orgs change around them? How will the support they receive change? How will their training change? How will their comp change? How does on do this and not discourage other functions in the org?

 

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Jason Lemkin
SaaStr
Harry Stebbings
Paul Rosania

Below, we’ve shared the transcript of Harry’s interview with Paul.

Harry Stebbings:

This is the official SaaStr Podcast with me, Harry Stebbings. I’m very excited for our show today, as we have a launch. An incredible company and founder making his foray into the public eye for the first time. And so with that, I’m thrilled to welcome Paul Rosania, founder, and CEO at Balsa, the company that recognizes that builders move the world forward. And so they’re building the best second screen for builders. Integrating tools you already use like Jira, GitHub and Figma. As I said, coming out of stealth today, and with their seed round led by Andrew Chen and Andreessen Horowitz and joined by former CPO of Slack, April Underwood, Chapter One’s Jeff Morris Jr. And then, of course, the newly announced 20VC Fund. Prior to founding Balsa, Paul was Senior Director of Product at Slack, and before Slack, was a Group Product Manager at Twitter, where he was responsible for the home timeline, including timeline ranking.

Harry Stebbings:

I do also want to say a huge thank you to Matt here at Robinhood for some fantastic question suggestions today, I really do so appreciate that. 

Harry Stebbings:

But that is quite enough for me so now I’m very excited to hand over to Paul Rosania co-founder and CEO at Balsa.

Harry Stebbings:

Paul, it is so great to have you on the show today. I’ve been so excited for this one for a long time. I would love though, to start today with a little bit on you. So tell me Paul, how did you make your way into the world of SaaS and how did you come to found Balsa most recently?

Paul Rosania:

Well, I’ve been in and out of startups my whole career and my big break came close to 10 years ago now. In 2011 I got a call from Andrew Chen to come out and work for him at a startup that he was running, which was my first time working in a very, very rigorous environment, focused on user growth and experimentation. And that catapulted me to Twitter and a chance to run the home timeline team there. And from Twitter to Slack, where I ran the core product team, which is essentially the nuts and bolts of Slack, the parts that people use every day. And most recently shared channels, as we started to think of Slack as much a network as it is a product.

Paul Rosania:

And so from there, and across that experience of seeing hypergrowth across the two really big companies, starting to get the sense that as companies grow the tools that people use to build software, start to dull a little bit, and yet we’ve got these amazing supercomputers that can do so much and starting to wonder, could we build better tools for builders at scale where some of the tools that we have to adopt, that work for larger organizations are not as fun to use as the tools that we use that companies like Slack when we were a lot smaller. And so that was kind of the genesis for Balsa.

Harry Stebbings:

Now I absolutely love it as a thesis. I do want to touch on a couple of elements of the background before we dive in. And as you mentioned the time at Twitter and time on the timeline itself. And I spoke to Matthew at Robinhood before this episode. We talked about changing Twitter from a chronological list to a ranked feed, you absolute prick. No, I’m joking. So my question to you is, how did you think about it? I mean, it’s a massive product decision. How did you think about this product decision? And what was that process?

Paul Rosania:

I think my stock line post-2016 is, “Forgive us, we knew not what we were doing at the time.” But I think even in today’s world, you could look back and make a similar decision. We knew at the time that the vast majority of users were seeing way less than 10% of their timeline. And if you think about the Twitter timeline prior to ranking, the tweets that are coming through are essentially random in quality. So we had this vague intuition that there are going to be some things that you’re going to miss that are going to be better than the things you saw. In fact, you’re missing more than 90% so you’re probably missing a lot of really interesting stuff that’s going on in the world. So the core intuition was really, really basic. It was just, can we take some of that stuff you’re missing and swap it in for some of the stuff you’re seeing that might not be as interesting?

Harry Stebbings:

Can I ask a question? When in such a big product decision… When you apply that now to decision making, around product in particular, are there takeaways from that experience that you take with you now? Be it made decisions faster earlier, be it a specific kind of process around the decision-making itself. Were there lessons from it?

Paul Rosania:

Yeah, a really big takeaway that’s external and customer facing and another big takeaway that was internal. So the external one is, the metrics bore out that we have made the right decision here. On the contrary, there was a big backlash around the decision from customers. And the main takeaway that I had from that, was something we had actually debated a lot internally, it’s how much control to give to the people who were going to start seeing this ranked timeline? And there was one line of thinking that simpler was better. Most people don’t want to customize their software. It’s faster to get this to market and iterate on it and make it great if we skip over a lot of those controls. And then something that I had a hunch about, but we didn’t go down this path and I learned a lot more about at Slack was, the value that comes from giving people the sense that they’re in control of the tools that they are using, ends up mattering quite a bit.

Paul Rosania:

And so that was a big takeaway that I had just from observing the backlash. What I took away was essentially, people felt like they were in control and they understood why you were making the change you were making and had some levers to pull to kind of customize it for themselves, I think that change would have been tolerated little bit more than it was. And then the internal observation is, change is just as hard within a company as it is for the customers who are affected. And especially when there’s a polarizing change, everybody shows up to work wanting to do right by the people who are using your software all day. And there’s a lot that goes into managing the internal culture within an organization when you’re going through a big change. And that was a big learning experience for me as well.

Harry Stebbings:

So if, that’s the time at Twitter… If I can just summarize your many years of work into about three minutes. Then I do want to touch on Slack itself, close to five years there. What are the biggest takeaways from your time really seeing the hyper-growth at Slack? And how do you think, I guess it impacted your operating mindset today with Balsa?

Paul Rosania:

So it was quite a leap. Twitter was a very data-driven company and one of the things that appealed to me most about going to Slack… And Slack was much smaller at the time. I think Twitter was 4,000 people on Slack was about 250. I really wanted a chance to work directly with Stewart in a very vision-driven organization, in contrast to that more data-driven culture that I felt like I had grown to be very comfortable and to really challenge myself to do something very different.

Paul Rosania:

And I felt at the time… And I still believe that Stewart is one of the great product minds of our time and a lot of what I learned and took away, had to do with just really believing in yourself and your ability to take a audience that you care a lot about and know a thing or two about, and just focus on the pure experience of building software for that audience. Watching them use it, using it yourself, with them in mind and just refining it. And how quickly you can improve the experience and add to the experience. And how often those improvements end up landing successfully.

Paul Rosania:

If you really, really focus on really deeply understanding an audience, as opposed to treating everything totally scientifically and as a matter of analysis, which I think I’m somewhere in between. I really do love pouring over the data. And so I think for Balsa, will be a mix of data-driven and vision-driven. But it was just incredibly intoxicating being able to sit with Stewart with a customer problem, sketch solutions on a whiteboard, and sometimes see those solutions reach customers within, if not days then certainly a couple of weeks, at most.

Harry Stebbings:

I’m sure it was pretty amazing to work with Stewart. I do want to kind of take a shift though, and talk about kind of the landscape we’re in today and really recognizing the challenging times, but also not being kind of morose and dull. And luckily I’ve got such [inaudible 00:07:56] through that. But, you speak to many CEOs today, and they will say the same thing with the shift of fully remote, no bloody idea what’s going on in my organization. Tell me, Paul, what can we do to cope with this? And how would you advise them?

Paul Rosania:

First of all, what we’re going through is really hard and unprecedented. And so I think taking a step back and just acknowledging that it’s a difficult time is really important to gain a little bit of perspective. Keeping track of work within organizations, especially under hypergrowth or above a certain size, is hard normally. And the shift to remote, especially so suddenly, makes it excruciating because all of the hallway conversations that you realize that you relied on to keep abreast of changes, kind of evaporate overnight. So I think the big thing that I think a lot about is that chaos can cause you to really need to feel some pressure to speed up and get organized.

Paul Rosania:

But really more than anything, I think slowing down a little bit, spending a little bit more time writing things down and using long form writing or some equivalent, more thought out and edited way of communicating is actually what’s needed in a time when it’s hard for people to communicate. And so I think we’ll see more of that. And I think as people gain a little bit of time in their really busy days right now to do some of that, they will find that over time they’ll need fewer meetings and less check-ins to start to be a little bit more aware of what’s going on in these suddenly totally distributed companies. And maybe you start to see more of that productivity gain in the long run that remote work evangelists have been talking about for a long time.

Harry Stebbings:

Can I ask? In what ways do you think the writing is so powerful? And what I mean by that is, what are the tangible things that you would write around? Is it like a weekly update to the whole team? Is it product decisions? Is there hiring decisions? Where can leaders proactively use writing to kind of unify the team?

Paul Rosania:

You could apply it for sure, in all of those ways. The way that I think writing is so powerful right now, especially is… I think great leaders understand how to get a fully formed thought from someone, kind of conversationally that, you ask someone a question in a meeting, they give you an answer that comes from some intuition, and then they’re really good at pulling this thread to get that intuition, to spill out into a concrete argument in favor of doing something.

Paul Rosania:

And writing is that same journey. But instead of doing that via dialogue, the process of writing forces you to spot the problems in your reasoning. And so that’s why I think writing is so important. It’s a way for people, without needing to speak face to face, to be able to tighten their arguments and really come to a position on something.

Paul Rosania:

Now, actually having spoken so much about writing, for weekly updates, I really like Loom. Or something where you’re seeing a face, because I think that human connection is really important. Where I think about writing, is stuff like, any sort of decision that’s being made, that’s going to shape the business. So product strategy decisions, vision documents. If you’re hiring right now, I think it’s extra important to have the hiring criteria all the way down to specific things you’re looking for, for a candidate or red flags documented, so that everyone is super tightly aligned. Because, you’re not getting as much of that by bumping into someone in the hallway outside the interview room, going, “Hey, can you ask about this thing? Because I didn’t get to it.” Getting that stuff really locked down and agreed to, makes a big difference when people aren’t in that normal day-to-day contact that they’re used to.

Harry Stebbings:

Totally. And I think you miss a lot from not having those kinds of hallway discussions. From that, you kind of hear [inaudible 00:10:42] speaking with the hallway discussions. People are struggling ,as well as organizations, obviously, but they’re also super willing and keen to try new things to improve how they work. How do you think… And this is quite a specific one actually, to just dive into, but how do you think about effective product marketing? In a COVID world, where employee appetite is actually pretty high to try new tools.

Paul Rosania:

Well, I think the thing that we keep coming back to in a lot of our conversations at Balsa, is what we’re running into is, people are very curious for ways to help with this new world that we’re in. But they have much less mental energy than they’ve ever had to actually engage in those changes that they’re considering. And so I think… You know, I’m a product person, so I naturally gravitate towards some of the more product led marketing solutions. But anything you can do to simplify the experience of just kind of testing the water with some kind of change.

Paul Rosania:

If you have a great product and the promise that you’re making to someone really is just a matter of getting them onboarded and they will actually see a little bit more productivity in their Workday. I think everyone craves that right now, but trying to make that as lightweight as possible, either through simplifying your onboarding and doing more of a product led marketing approach, that’s focused entirely on getting people to value super quickly. Or by tuning your marketing message to be very concrete and productive. I think some of the more aspirational and vague messages are a little bit less likely to land right now, just because people are very short-term focused on kind of finding ways to cope with this radical shift in the short run.

Harry Stebbings:

A couple of things that I just have to ask. I know they’re not on the schedule. How important do you think time to value is? I’m totally with you on the importance of kind of simplicity in products, but then also sometimes, beauty comes over time in the product itself. How do you think about time to value is imperative for you?

Paul Rosania:

I speak a lot in metaphors. So you have to tell me if this lands or not. I think right now time to value matters a great deal, but I also agree that you can’t build a company just on the veneer of value that comes from that first interaction. The metaphor that came to mind for me is thinking about a nicer meal at a fancy restaurant, and they want to make sure that you’re comfortable and you’re not starving while they prepare something from scratch, that takes a long time. Bringing out something in your product, a little bit the way a chef might bring out an amuse-bouche. Or some kind of little tasting thing, to just prove that you’re serious, that there is going to be value there. And that your product is built in a really high quality and focused and thoughtful way. To keep people sated while they can discover that value.

Paul Rosania:

It’s kind of how I would think about it. So I actually would stay very long-term focused, in terms of building products that have deep, deep sustaining value. Because, people want real change in this very different environment. But I think you just have to marry that with something that somebody can look at right away and go, “Oh, that’s cool. That’s different, that’s fresh. And I hope to see more of that over time.” I don’t think people have the patience today to have that first wow moment come a little bit later, than they might’ve had the patience for a year ago.

Harry Stebbings:

Terrible metaphor. Awful.

Harry Stebbings:

No, I’m kidding. I thought it was brilliant, actually. I think the question is… And this should be the title of the show. What is your amuse-bouche? I think that’s that. Is it enticing enough to make people see the beauty that kind of lies thereafter? I think the second question I was asking, it really kind of ties back to the product simplicity, which is, how do you think about the rise of Superhuman style onboardings? Apparently it means it’s kind of enough complexity that it kind of needs it. How do you feel about it from your product standpoint?

Paul Rosania:

I was in a conversation the other day, where people were wondering if that’s overwrought. I think Superhuman’s been so successful with it, that maybe it’s being applied in places where it’s not necessary. But I will tell you, especially from my experience at Twitter. The power of sitting down with someone and asking them what they’re interested in and helping them set up their home timeline was just… I mean, if we could do that for all of the hundreds of millions of people who were trying Twitter back when I was working there, I think we could have had a big impact on the growth curve for the company. So I really think that there’s no substitute for an expert in a tool helping someone get oriented. Now that said, it’s not an excuse for having a product that’s hard to adopt. And something like Superhuman, where it’s entirely keyboard driven and it’s very focused on power user productivity.

Paul Rosania:

Having someone teach you the ropes is a bit like having someone teach you an editor like VIM or Emacs, from the generation where just nothing is obvious on the surface, but you can be intensely productive once you’ve mastered it. And I don’t think most products that’s their core value prop. And so I’d be wary of applying this as a panacea in situations where the product is actually something that is intended to be adopted by people, who might not want to memorize all of the shortcuts. And might not want to do a ton of customization, just to get that initial value.

Harry Stebbings:

Totally get you. I think it’s got its place in a lot of ways. I think one challenging thing is when you look at the scale of organizations and you think about change management with new tools. Change management’s always kind of a big thing that I think about. How do you think about effective change management? Maybe, especially with Balsa, today and moving forward.

Paul Rosania:

So to me it comes back to value, and it comes back to why. And I think what you’re trying to do is, you’re trying to get a customer to slow down in order to speed up. So that argument needs to have some form of an ROI based justification, where we’re saying basically you’re going to change from product A to product B or from workflow A to workflow B. Where Flow B is going to be 10, 15, 20% more efficient or productive for you, but there’s going to be some amount of time where you’re slowing down. And so I think you need to come back to all of the same tactics you would use in a sales conversation in general, which is just to say rather than spending money and then getting your money back, you’re spending your time and then getting your time back.

Harry Stebbings:

I totally get it, in terms of that messaging. I think what it brings into question for me is, as a product leader within big orgs, and then now obviously building your own org. What do you think in terms of the ideal relationship between product and marketing? And how would that play out to you in an ideal world?

Paul Rosania:

I have a strong opinion about this. I think that storytelling is a bit of a lost art in software development and we’re starting to rediscover it. And you’re seeing companies that lead with a story and then build product around that. Building software has been such a hard thing for us to figure out how to do in a predictable and reliable way, that I think some of the traditional marketing tools around having a schedule and having the thing that you’re selling lineup on a release cadence with that schedule where… We kind of had to throw them away because as an industry, it was hard to reliably have the product ready for the marketing events, but we’re getting a little bit better about building software in an agile way, which means there’s always component parts that are ready to go out to customers. And so I think the long answer to your question is, I want to sit down with marketing and talk about what we think our narrative arcs that will land with customers right now.

Paul Rosania:

Obviously a lot of companies are leaning into remote work. So let’s take that as an example. What are the contributions that we can make to the sudden shift to remote work, to making that a more pleasant experience for this entire workforce globally, that’s gone through this? What are the things our product can do? And can we shape the product options ahead of us with the marketing narratives that we think will land and kind of pace them out? And in organizations that I think do this well, you need to leave some slop because building software is a little bit unpredictable. But I think in most organizations you can maybe budget 25 to 50% of your forward progress on engineering, toward lining up with these narratives and still have tons of room for the things that happen in engineering.

Harry Stebbings:

Got you. I totally agree with you, in terms of that relationship. So I’m pleased to hear it. I often see challenging relationships between products and marketing. You mentioned kind of [inaudible 00:17:11] company there. And I do want to kind of move with a slightest stone towards kind of more Balsa’s [inaudible 00:17:14]. And it’s like, when you look at those trying to innovate in serving newly remotely teams. Every VC, especially that I have on the show has been kind of looking for the new platform shifts gears. And you look at the likes of like Jira and GitHub, as embedded as they are. You said to me before, “The opportunity isn’t actually in competing with them, but it’s in building on top of them.” So what did you mean by this building on top of these kinds of pretty embedded incumbent structures?

Paul Rosania:

So let’s imagine I went to you as a CTO. And my pitch to you was, “The main productivity issue that you’re facing is actually the design of the electrical sockets in your building.” You would probably think I had totally lost my mind and it would be a very short conversation. So to me, I think that some of these productivity tools that people love to hate, like Jira. They’re misunderstanding that all of these systems, in order to be deployed ubiquitously and have value in every organization, they’re going to pick up some croft and some flaws along the way. And that’s actually a sign that they’ve reached a stage of maturity.

Paul Rosania:

Organizations are complex. Their needs are complex. The domain that a tool like Jira or GitHub needs to fit into is complex. And so the resulting tool is going to be in a sense messier than the tools that maybe came before when the category was not as developed or the company that was using the tool was smaller. And so when we were founding Balsa, we thought a lot about this. And my point of view is I think we’ll see another layer in the software stack where some tools like Jira and GitHub become fundamental infrastructure, kind of like the electrical outlets or the water pipes. And the question isn’t, what version of the water pipes do you want to have in your office building? It’s, what are you doing with all of this infrastructure that you’re paying for? And how are you leveraging it to gain more productivity?

Harry Stebbings:

Can I ask two things? One is the obvious one, which is dependency risk. And if you built on top of, you’re obviously dependent on the powers that be within those incumbent structures. Let’s start with that. How do you think about that dependency risk?

Paul Rosania:

So especially coming from Twitter, where lots of people were building Twitter clients on top of the Twitter API, and we were shutting them down. This is something that we thought about. So it’s a little bit different in enterprise SaaS, right? Incentives are much more aligned. We’re building software. In Balsa’s case, integrating into these tools is, we’re doing it in order to further increase the productivity of the end user as another accelerant on top of the original accelerant that comes from adopting things like source control and issue tracking. And so we’re still delivering on the same value and we’re not actually replacing the value created by those tools.

Paul Rosania:

The first thing is, we’re upselling it with the exact same message alongside these tools. And the people who are buying our software are also buying this other software. All of the relationships are symmetrical. And then the software that we are integrating with is an essential part of our tool. Is the existence of these other tools for us to tap into. So if you’re running one of these businesses, we’re just further enhancing the value that you’re creating for your target audience. And so I think even if you look at the other players in the space, unseating us or cutting us off would only be harmful to the customer. And our existence doesn’t really affect their ability to sell to that customer.

Harry Stebbings:

Can I ask? A big question that I have as an investor, is okay, totally get you in terms of building on top and kind of augmenting the experience for that consumer. The question that I have is, is that a feature? It’s always the question that investors ask. Is it a bug? Is it a feature? How do you think about that product versus feature discussion? When you’re building on top of core infrastructure.

Paul Rosania:

Well, so you have to do something that couldn’t just be on the whiteboard at the company that you’re building on top of. Right. So I think for us, the things that make us feel confident that building on top of these tools in some way, and maybe just the backup for a second… We’re talking about building on top of multiple tools and tying them together a bit more. And so when you start to think about mapping across and kind of building a metal layer across all of these productivity tools that people use to get work done and giving an end-user a single screen experience that encapsulates all of that. That starts to be something that none of the individual players could do well. It’s kind of like how, no matter who your bank is, that bank kind of wants to be mint.com, but the experience is never really right.

Paul Rosania:

And part of that is because none of those institutions really is the right place to put the center picture for your personal finances, that kind of wants to live on its own somewhere where the company that’s building it is totally focused on doing that job really well. And so we have a similar thesis here. And I guess to broaden that, I would just say, I think making one product better is a dangerous game. Trying to make a bunch of products that people use, weaves more tightly together in a way that helps you get work done is something that is best done by an independent company.

Harry Stebbings:

Yeah. I totally agree. I think it also diversifies risk in many ways in terms of dependency that…

Paul Rosania:

For sure.

Harry Stebbings:

So I totally agree with that. In terms of kind of brilliant things that you said, you’ve said many wonderful things to me. You said one thing, and it’s like, when we think about builders within these companies. The builders are… Check this out, the new pro athletes. I mean, my word, I wish that was the case. Because, then I would have incredible endorsement deals. But tell me, what did you mean by the new pro athletes?

Paul Rosania:

And I should credit Jeff Morris Jr here, because it was on a call with him when we were raising money, that I think he said the same thing to me. I know no thought is original, but credit where credit’s due on that one. So what did I mean by that? One thing that I think is sometimes lost when we look at these big logos, is we lose sight of the people that power these organizations. It feels with computers sometimes, like the machines somehow made the software that we use. But behind that, just like 100 years ago when we were making things with our hands, is people typing on keyboards, solving really hard technical challenges, keeping sites up under scaling load.

Paul Rosania:

There’s just a ton of sweat equity that goes into building software. And just broadening out to builders in general, everything that we have in this world that’s human made was made with the ingenuity and expertise and problem solving ability of this incredibly important class of people in the world. And what makes me think of pro athletes is that job, you can’t really manage that job or schedule an hour for someone to have ingenuity. That’s something that just manifests when you sit someone down with a team and a bunch of laptops for days and days working on hard problems. And to me that feels much more like athletes training and being out on the ball field together, than something that is more tightly managed, like I think sometimes people picture when they picture an office full of cubicles or something like that.

Harry Stebbings:

Can I ask? With that change in mind. I guess, how does the org change itself, in terms of structure and support system to accommodate these athletes?

Paul Rosania:

Well, I think you’ll see… And in some companies you’re already seeing more of a coach support model, where managers view their jobs as supporting and enabling and unblocking the people who are doing the hard work. And to draw another parallel here, in the same way that the coach’s job is to get the team to execute the plays and to believe in their ability and to really go out there and win. I think similarly really excellent product managers, engineering managers, all the way up to like CTOs and CEOs. They understand the training their team, and then managing their psyche while they’re in this incredibly competitive industry that we’re in is the vast majority of the value that’s created. A lot of the CEOs that I know and think about… Like Stewart talking about what his greatest job was, is telling the story that gets everyone pointed in the same direction. And I think that’s very similar to the job that you expect of a coach on the sideline in a big game.

Harry Stebbings:

Totally. It is. I think that’s absolutely comparable. Last one is, not rising [inaudible 00:00:23:49], but with the athletes style metaphor for the builders themselves. How do you think about not ruining morale in other functions within organizations? Not creating a preferred [inaudible 00:23:58].

Paul Rosania:

Maybe this is a bit counter-intuitive, but I think that starts with honesty. If you run a ball club, everyone knows the athletes are the people that everyone’s coming to see, and it’s their performance that matters to the fans. And without the fans, you don’t have the club. So I think really being honest and speaking truthfully to your company and making sure that everyone’s aligned on where the value is getting created. If you’re a software company, you’re building a tool that people are using. And so if that tool is not being built, you don’t have a business. One of my mentors, April Underwood, her framework was you build a product and that product enables you to build a company. You can build all of the functions that you need to run a company around that initial product success.

Paul Rosania:

And then the success of the product and the success of the company building effort enables you to build an enduring business, where you have the revenue to enable that company to continue existing over time. And so I think you can get people behind that. Thinking about the back office, I mean, sports clubs nowadays have enormous back offices. And I bet if you were to ask people who are doing finance projections or who are thinking about facility renovation or things like that.

Paul Rosania:

They know, intuitively, how to tie their work back to that cycle. And they know that without their hard work, the club wouldn’t be the success that it is. That team is the kernel, but they need the enormous stadium in order to house all the fans. And the fans bring the revenue that enables the team to pay the players. I think great leaders know how to weave that narrative together so that everybody understands the contribution that they’re making. But they’re also honest about where that initial flywheel comes from and that all of the work is kind of in service of supporting that. And I think people can get behind that honesty.

Harry Stebbings:

Totally with you. And I think people will do. And I like that analogy. Again, God, you’re the master of metaphors. I do want to finish it on my favorite, which is a quick fire answer. I say a short statement pool, and then you give me your immediate thoughts in 60 seconds or less. Are you ready to rock and roll?

Paul Rosania:

Sure.

Harry Stebbings:

What’s the biggest challenge of your role with Balsa, today?

Paul Rosania:

Keeping us anchored in our long-term vision while we’re so focused on executing. Which, with five people, we’re just entirely focused on just building the thing right in front of us. And I think it can be easy to lose sight of the long-term goal if you’re not constantly reminding yourself what it is.

Harry Stebbings:

Totally. No, I agree with that. Tell me, what’s the hardest role to hire for today? As you think about expanding the team, what’s that role that’s just a nightmare to hire for?

Paul Rosania:

You mentioned the relationship between product and marketing before. And I got to say, it takes a very special marketer coming over, not necessarily having a background in engineering. And being able to advocate for some of that story-based development and that marketing and product relationship in an effective way. So I would definitely say, getting the right marketing DNA into our company is something I worry about a lot.

Harry Stebbings:

Yeah. It’s a commonality actually, a lot of founders tell me on the show. So you’re not alone in that at least. Tell me, what angel investor has been most impactful to you and to Balsa?

Paul Rosania:

I’m gonna cheat here, if that’s okay. I mentioned April before, and the reason it’s cheating, I think to say April Underwood is so much of the reason why she’s been an amazing investor is also that she was my coach, mentor, manager at Slack for a little over three years at that critical point in my career. And I think I wouldn’t be ready to start the company if it wasn’t for her feedback and development over those years. So I credit her a great deal with being where I am. And she’s been super helpful since, but most of our relationship does predate investing. So I hope that still counts.

Harry Stebbings:

Cool. Let me just run through what just happened. I just asked you the most impactful angel investor to you, for me. And you said, someone else.

Paul Rosania:

Wait…

Harry Stebbings:

You were perfectly [inaudible 00:27:02] not to say me.

Paul Rosania:

I came into this assuming that those were my opportunities to get good editing done on the recording.

Harry Stebbings:

Oh.

Paul Rosania:

I’m taking that risk.

Harry Stebbings:

That was why I didn’t … I thoroughly agree [inaudible 00:27:20].

Paul Rosania:

I’m the first interviewee not to cite you in the answer to that question.

Harry Stebbings:

Pretty much. Yes. There’s a very definitive reason why it’s that. But listen, I’m sure April is far more impactful than me on all the important things. I’m just here to rip the shit out of you. Anyway, I do want to ask… Tell me, what would you most like to change about the world of SaaS?

Paul Rosania:

It feels to me like what I’ve seen with the rise of Slack and bottom up SaaS, is I think as an end user in an organization, people have never been more empowered to try new tools. But CEOs, CIOs, CTOs are getting extremely frustrated with tool proliferation and spend proliferation. We’re in a time when I think the economy is a little bit unpredictable and people are worried about costs. And so you’re seeing at the same time, a bit more of a focus on central control and tamping down on people, testing out whatever tool that they want. And I’d love to see a little bit more harmonization, where CIOs are still empowered to say, “We’re going to use a tool like Jira or GitHub or Workday or something like that.”

Paul Rosania:

And instead of people groaning about the end user experience not being as great as the latest hot startup that was designed from the ground up with end users in mind to say, okay, great. And we’re going to pair it with this other tool, that’s going to help make this thing work very effectively for the people who are using it day in and day out in some specific way. So I think there’s a way to allow IT decision makers to buy software and leverage the major investments that they want to make and still deliver a great experience for end users. So that’s the big change I would like to make, because right now it feels like you have to choose one or the other.

Harry Stebbings:

Tell me. What moment in your life has changed the way you think, Paul?

Paul Rosania:

I had an appendectomy when I was probably right around 30. And what was striking to me about that was, I would be dead. 200 or 300 years ago, I’d be dead. And the only reason I’m not dead is because somebody figured out that under the right conditions, you could just cut someone open and take out the thing that’s causing the pain and they would live. And so I loved playing with Legos as a kid. I loved building things in general. You could probably have put me on any team, building any kind of software and I’d be thrilled. But that experience really, I think, opened my eyes to the very profound impact, that fundamental research, human curiosity, and human problem solving ability, like what we can achieve. And appendectomy, I think nowadays is considered a pretty simple operation, but like a critical life saving one. And I think about that a lot. About the ways that the world is different because people went and studied these things and learned a lot about how the world works.

Harry Stebbings:

I love that. I actually had my out when I was like 14, 15. I just got on it with such a wise hindsight. So thank you for giving me a new perspective on the world and my appendix. Something I ever thought I’d be saying in a podcast interview. But I wouldn’t Paul, on that probably the most important of all. What do the next five years hold for you and for Balsa? Paint that exciting picture for us.

Paul Rosania:

Balsa is a very young company. It was just founded at the beginning of this year. And I have a young family also. And my leadership style as a product leader, and now as a CEO has generally been to nurture teams toward independence and to really do everything I can to infuse the thing that I think we need to do. And then let people go and do that in the way they see fit to do in their best judgment. And I think there’s a lot of parallels there with having some small kids in the home who, I think they’re trying to figure out how to engage in this world that we live in.

Paul Rosania:

So I see a lot of those parallels and I’m eager to watch both the company and my family kind of grow up. For Balsa in particular, I also see us bringing a ton of joy back to the experience of building. I talked a lot about builders, I think in this episode. And if I’m allowed something specifically for balsa, that thing would just be, I think a lot of people get into building software because they just really enjoy the act of creation of things, that they picture in their mind’s eye. And if we can contribute to bringing some of that joy to building in some small way, I think I’ll feel very fulfilled with our choice of pursuits.

Harry Stebbings:

Paul. As I said, I wanted to do this since you started the company. And so I’m shocked you let me convince you to come on and let me do this. So thank you so much for joining me. And this has been so much fun.

Paul Rosania:

Great. Thank you so much, Harry. Thanks for having me.

Harry Stebbings:

So great to have Paul on the show there. And such exciting times ahead for Balsa. And if you’d like to see more from me, you can find me on Instagram at H Stebbings 1996 with two Bs. I always love to see you there. 

Harry Stebbings:

As always, I so appreciate all your support. And I can’t wait to bring you another fantastic episode next week.

 

Published on October 16, 2020

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