Advice for Founders from the CEOs of Three Iconic Companies

Zach DeWitt | July 29, 2021

Last week we hosted the Wing Summit on Building Iconic Companies with the legendary Eric S. Yuan (Zoom), Melanie Perkins (Canva) and Stewart Butterfield (Slack). We had over 1,000 attendees, largely filled with CEOs and founders. The full summit can be viewed below:

The CEOs shared incredible advice and learnings from their journey building iconic companies. I wanted to summarize some of the learnings across different topics:

Customers and KPIs:

  • Don’t worry so much about early positioning, focus on your customers: When Zoom launched, the video communication space was immensely crowded. Eric didn’t obsess over how to position his product versus the incumbents, instead he focused his energies on talking to his customers and building a better product for them.
  • It’s easy to get distracted with other KPIs, but prioritize paid seats and ARR: Slack’s north star metrics haven’t changed much over the years. Stewart cites that "people paying for the product was the hallmark for them valuing the product” so best to focus on what matters most.

Product-Led Growth (PLG):

  • Your best growth hire is your product leader: When asked which hire was most influential to Slack’s growth, Stewart said his chief product officer. For PLG companies, the best growth engine is a magical product experience that naturally leads to virality. Melanie agrees: “your product is your best marketing.”
  • Resist top-down sales until you can’t anymore: While scaling Zoom, Eric resisted hiring a sales force until he couldn’t stave off pressure from his board any longer. When you do add a top-down sales motion, don’t sacrifice product-obsession. Eric made sure his employees had strong product opinions from incessantly testing and using Zoom.
  • Great products are more than powerful tools, they are empowering: Canva wasn’t just a tool that users needed to learn, but Melanie cites that users “actually needed to overcome an emotional burden that people are told that they're not creative or can't design.” Canva invested heavily in gamifying user confidence.

Culture:

  • Row in the same direction with a transparent culture: From early on, Melanie focused on building a transparent culture that provides context and purpose for every employee. This was foundational for allowing Canva to scale globally.
  • Culture is the most important thing to get right: According to Eric, you can fix your product and adjust your strategy, but it is imperative to get culture right. Be intentional about culture from early on and write down what you want your culture to embody. Best to keep it simple like Zoom’s “deliver happiness.” You have to talk about culture every day and work hard to foster it.

Future of Work:

  • Digital communication is more important than in-person: Stewart and Slack have thought extensively about the future of work and believe that “over the last 20 years or so, we've gone from an environment where digital technologies support in-person collaboration as the principle means of communication, collaboration and productivity to a world now where in-person supplements the digital experience."

I hope you enjoyed the summit and we look forward to hosting more in the future. Please follow me @zacharydewitt on Twitter and Wing at @wing_vc.

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