Ronethea Williams | June 19th, 2012
Tom Leung and Ian Shafer are entrepreneurs, FounderDating members, and now co-founders of Yabbly (Imported from Seattle). Tom is the CEO and Ian is the Founding Principal Engineer. Yabbly is a mobile app that enables users to get instant input on quick decisions.
Tom: The first one was back in ‘99. I did a startup with my brother and it was a crazy learning experience. We made every mistake that founders could make and over the years, even after great experiences at Microsoft, Google, and Marchex as well as other people’s startups, I couldn’t get that founder bug out of my system. I guess I’ll always gravitate back to early stage startups since you get to do so much in such a short amount of time.
Ian: After Amazon, I was a consultant for about 5 years and then I realized that what I really wanted to do was become a technical co-founder. At that time, I didn’t know much about startups, so I joined Off and Away (acquired by Lockerz) and that was my first job at a startup. It was perfect and the team was incredible. Very smart engineers and I learned a lot. Doug Aley and Michael Walton were great.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO APPLY FOR FOUNDERDATING?
Tom: I knew that single-founder companies tend not to do as well and I’m a product guy and not an engineer, so I wanted to find a person to partner with and combine my product management and business skills with another person’s software development and engineering skills.
Ian: It sounded perfect, because I’m not a huge networking guy. Some people get really energized by talking to people, but that’s not me. They check your references so you feel good knowing the people in the FD Network have been well vetted; the quality is awesome.
WHAT WAS HELPFUL FOR YOU ABOUT FOUNDERDATING?
Tom: You discover people you’re not connected to and wouldn’t have otherwise found. It’s also super efficient.
Ian: It’s nice to have a website where you can go and connect with other people that you know are high quality and ready to start something. Also, meeting people in the community was nice and you really start to build out your network.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR “DATING” PROCESS.
Tom: At the kickoff for our round there were probably 20 + engineers and 3-5 that I definitely wanted to talk to immediately – one of which was Ian. As luck would have it, we never got to cross paths that evening. I followed up with him on the website and I asked him to grab coffee. We were both evaluating a number of other people at the time but several coffees and dinners later we were going through the final steps of reference checks, skills evaluations, and discussing compensation and equity. It happened pretty fast but end-to-end it still took a couple of months.
HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO TAKE THE PLUNGE
Tom: I personally believe a lot in chemistry. I kind of knew that after the 2nd coffee. After the first 5 secs of his (Ian) intro I was intrigued. Subsequent meetings were confirmation meetings. The biggest things we talked about were our values and what motivated us. Why we did certain things and why we didn’t. We also started talking about the product and how we would architect it. It was a combination of getting to the roots of our value systems and worldviews. Then we began talking more about the company, fundraising paths, etc. It was super important for us to be right up front and clear about why we were doing this, what success looks like, what inspires us, what brings us joy.
Signs that it’s working? It feels like you’ve been working together for a long time, even though you haven’t. If there are any doubts early on, then it probably won’t work.
Ian: One of the most important factors was determining if we could communicate easily. That’s all on top of his credentials, which were great, including his past work experience. After all of those things were covered, I felt comfortable. I appreciated where he stood on what his role would be. Tom said, “I will play a big role in what we build but I’m not going to have a ton of input on what technology or architecture we build it with.” This was great to hear as I enjoy working in an environment where all people involved can trust each other to get the job done. Tom is also laser focused on building a great product. We’re also in a similar life stage. We both have two young kids and family is a priority for us.
People who didn’t work out: I liked their ideas, but just wasn’t excited about them.
HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WOULD WORK WELL TOGETHER?
Ian: Tom talked to several people who had worked with me in the past and I talk to several people who worked with Tom. That’s a great way to feel someone out. Personally for me, it was those times of getting together for coffee. You can usually get a sense of how things are going to go. With Tom there was never a feeling that something might be an issue.
SO, WHAT IS YABBLY?
Tom: If Quora and Twitter had a beautiful baby in the form of a mobile app, it would be Yabbly. Think about right-now snackable questions like “Does this Nordstrom Rack shirt look good on me; What should I do on my biz trip to Minnesota; Should I buy a Nike FuelBand or Fitbit Ultra; Should we hit the King Tut or Chihuly Exhibit today?”
Ian: (laughter) Real-time Q&A with your friends.
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WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS INTERESTED IN FINDING
Tom: I would say trust your gut on the people you talk to. Just be crystal clear on what you’re looking for in a co-founder and don’t overlook the importance of what values are important to him/her. If your values aren’t aligned, it won’t work. Ian and I were on the same page about honesty, integrity, karma, the joy of building new things and the joy of building a product and company from the ground floor.
Ian: I can speak from the perspective of an engineer. I realized at Off & Away that everyone who worked there was essential to the team and product. I really enjoyed what I do and wanted to work with people who are really great at what they do and could complement my skills. Part of it includes knowing what you can do and what you’re looking for in a co-founder. FounderDating is great, especially for a lot of engineers who may not be naturally comfortable at networking.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS THAT ARE INTERESTED
IN STARTING A COMPANY?
Tom: You have to be mentally, physically and financially prepared for periods of time in the desert. While there will be periods of nirvana, be ready for those dry spells when your new product release slips, customers don’t initially like your product as much as you had hoped, or investor enthusiasm ebbs and flows. Don’t go into it with a glamorized view of entrepreneurship. However, if you stay focused on solving big, authentic, customer problems, run lots of small experiments, and have fun with a team you love and respect, it’ll all be good.
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