Sunday, April 22, 2012

Point Nine loves animals

About one and a half years ago I became a vegetarian, after coming to the conclusion that it's impossible to ethically justify to kill – and in almost all case inflict enormous suffering on – living creatures that are capable of experiencing pain, just for the pleasure of eating meat (which, make no mistake about it, is a huge pleasure). Maybe I'll write more about that topic in another post. In the meantime, if you're interested in the rationale behind my decision, read Jonathan Safran Foer's bestseller "Eating Animals" or the hard to swallow but brilliant books of Peter Singer.

Today I want to write about different kinds of animals (sorry for the misleading introduction). I'm talking about business development animals. Coding animals. Usability animals. Design animals. Sales animals. Marketing animals. In short: Founders who work like beasts to make their startups successful.

In the words of the priceless Paul Graham:
What do I mean by good people? One of the best tricks I learned during our startup was a rule for deciding who to hire. Could you describe the person as an animal? It might be hard to translate that into another language, but I think everyone in the US knows what it means. It means someone who takes their work a little too seriously; someone who does what they do so well that they pass right through professional and cross over into obsessive. 
What it means specifically depends on the job: a salesperson who just won't take no for an answer; a hacker who will stay up till 4:00 AM rather than go to bed leaving code with a bug in it; a PR person who will cold-call New York Times reporters on their cell phones; a graphic designer who feels physical pain when something is two millimeters out of place.
Almost everyone who worked for us was an animal at what they did. The woman in charge of sales was so tenacious that I used to feel sorry for potential customers on the phone with her. You could sense them squirming on the hook, but you knew there would be no rest for them till they'd signed up.

When I read Paul's essay "How to start a startup" again a few days ago, I thought about the founders of the companies that I've invested in and was struck by how much truth there is in the "animal test". What all successful founders seem to have in common is perfectionism at what they're doing, coupled with a relentless drive.

I had to think about my old friend Stefan Smalla, who, less than one year after founding, has rolled out Westwing to fifteen countries while managing spectacular growth in Germany at the same time. I also had to think about Guk Kim and Ryan Fyfe, the founders of Cibando and Shiftplanning, respectively. Both are in their mid-twenties and started their companies all by themselves, did everything by themselves in the early days and are now doing an incredible job at running and scaling their companies. These are just three examples – I could go on and on and talk about every founder that I've invested in!

In the meantime, the "animal test" has become something like a running gag here at Point Nine Capital. Whenever we talk about a potential investment we're asking ourselves: Are these guys animals?