It’s a good time of year for retrospectives; here’s mine.
Ten years ago, I was very very good at a very very specific skill: quantitative investing for hedge funds. To be sure, it was a lucrative skill to be good at, and certainly stimulating and interesting on a day-to-day basis. But on a year-to-year basis, it was stultifying. I felt I was just solving elaborate puzzles to make some already-wealthy people marginally better off, and others marginally worse off: not what I wanted to do with my life.
And so I quit, took some time off, and eventually co-founded Quandl with my friend Tammer. We spent most of the decade building the company, and every year brought different challenges:
- Year 1 was Idea: what’s a problem worth solving?
- Year 2 was Technology: is the problem solvable?
- Year 3 was Product: will people use our solution?
- Year 4 was Monetization: will they pay for it?
- Year 5 was Marketing: how do we reach them?
- Year 6 was Sales: how do we close them?
- Year 7 was Scale: how do we expand?
- Year 8 was Strategy: how do we win over the long term?
And of course every year was about team-building and culture-building and organization-building; the foundations that made meeting all these other challenges possible.
Of course this sounds very neat and tidy and linear in retrospect. At the time it was anything but! We muddled along, making large numbers of (thankfully non-fatal) mistakes: one step forward, one step back, three and a half steps sideways, and then perhaps half a step forward again. We had to revisit our original idea; we had to rebuild our technology; we had to rejig our go-to-market. It was really hard, but that’s also what made it so interesting. We learned so much along the way; I wouldn’t change our experience for anything.
It’s been a decade of tremendous growth for me: intellectual, personal, and professional. If I were to wish for one thing for the next decade, it’s that I get to learn and grow even half as much. Here’s to the 2020s!