Andy Tryba, CEO x3, on how to achieve entrepreneurial success (Part II)
This is Part II of our interview of Andy Tryba, CEO of multiple successful startups including Crossover, the online talent marketplace, EngineYard, offering AWS management, and RideAustin, the first non-profit rideshare app built for the Austin community. Prior to starting his journey as an entrepreneur, Andy was the Director of Strategy at Intel Corporation, where he ran a group focused on analyzing and predicting the trends surrounding technology and work. He was also advisor to the US White House, studying the future of engineering talent.
In case you missed it, check out Part I of this interview, where Andy told us about the secrets of successful entrepreneurship, and his tricks to time management.
How did you get the inspiration to start your current business ventures?
It comes down to disruption. In my view, if you’re not working on things that are fundamentally disruptive, then you’re not actually moving forward society. Even if you swing and miss – that’s completely fine – but at least take a swing. Don’t stand and nod.
In the case of Crossover, for example, the company was started because I fundamentally believe that all high skilled jobs are going to the cloud. Just like all computing goes to the cloud and all software follows it – most high skill jobs are really just interacting with that cloud software. So as a result – the job itself is really in the cloud. And also as a result – location becomes less and less important – and you can scale up and down with the right resources quickly. There is no such thing as a talent shortage with 7B people in the denominator. You have to overcome collaboration issues –that tech is also getting better and better – but companies will be able to scale up and out with critical teams instantly and with awesome talent. That has an amazing effect on how teams are built and society as a whole. We have places in the world where people can’t find good jobs or where great people are being exploited, instead of being paid market value price. We have other places in the world where companies can’t form teams because they can’t afford or find the right people. This all goes away with cloud teams.
The genesis behind RideAustin was to change the way people think of mobility services as a whole. Originally, RideAustin launched because there was a hole in the market after Uber and Lyft left Austin. Suddenly, there were 10,000 drivers put out of work; between 100,000 and 125,000 rides a week that no longer had a solution. Some of the drivers were part time, some full time – but they are all part of the community. And whenever there are 10,000 people out of some or all of their income, there is the potential for it to become a very bad situation. For example – we had one driver who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time – which he was paying for with money that he was earning from Uber. He had to stop his treatments until we started up. We wanted to get all these community members back up and going. And on the 100,000 – 125,000 rides that were a part of the mobility in Austin – people forget that these are not all late night party goers – these were people going to work, seeing family, going to the doctor’s office, and so on.
You can’t have a smart city without strong mobility services. So we looked around and said – let’s not sit and complain about the current situation – let’s go create a community asset. Let’s do it as a nonprofit so as we get more efficient, we can pass money on to drivers and pay more (we’ve paid over $5M more than they would have previously made). Let’s contribute to the local community through the 60 charities on our app and our ‘round-up’ feature that has now donated over $250k to these local charities. Let’s be transparent with our data, like the open source movement. In order for our society to get to a place where we have a really good mobility service, we realized that we have to collaborate, not only with researchers and data experts from other cities, but also with other players in the marketplace. This is a revolutionary way of thinking, but we feel it’s the only way for us to really get the industry to where it needs to go. Those are the types of projects that I’m excited to pursue – those that are really driving change.
What have been some of your mistakes, and what have you learned from them?
I’ve had so many – it’s comical. I’m going to recommend another great book – it’s called The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. I tell all entrepreneurs to read it. There’s two key takeaways for me in there. The first is that you don’t know anything until you ask someone to take money out of their pocket and put it in yours and the other one is that if you don’t hate your MVP (minimum viable product) – you’ve launched too late.
One of my many mistakes was with my first startup, ExtendMD, a telemedicine company. We didn’t understand the structures of the market – and how bad the market is for innovation in healthcare. Here was our idea – let’s say someone has diabetes which they’re managing. They measure their blood sugar at home, and record it on a sheet of paper at home. They collect all these data points – that either never get communicated it to their doctor or get communicated way too late to do anything about it. This was 2006, before there was an app for everything. So we made a desktop app where someone could upload all that health info, and then their doctor can see if it’s the right ranges. We thought this was an amazing idea – it could save your life!
We went to patients, and asked them to pay $10/month, and they said they loved it – but they pay $10 for a copay for a new liver – so not willing to pay $10/month for a service. So we then went to doctors and said “patients love it and you can save lives – don’t you want to pay us $10 a month?” They said they loved it – but no – they get paid to look at data, not pay us for data. So we then went to the insurance companies – they said they loved it – but they needed a triple blind $2M study first. We didn’t have that. But they said we should go talk to the government since they pay for most of the bill. Runarounds forever – we tried every possible customer base. Fortunately, we finally found a niche market called concierge medicine which is made up of people who have unplugged from traditional insurance and were able to sell our idea to an incumbent in the space. This was the perfect example of an entrepreneur becoming enamored with the solution, but not thinking of who to sell it to. Now my advice is – figure out who is going to pay you, and then build your solution super quick and cheap. We should have figured out that our initial assumptions about the industry were wrong in 6 months, not 4 years.
The second takeaway from Kawasaki is if you don’t hate your MVP (Minimum Viable Product), you’ve launched too late. People have a tendency to get so wrapped up with how the product looks, and the font, and all these little details that are totally irrelevant to functionality, to their end user. Go out there and launch with the most basic thing. Don’t go build an app, don’t spend the money. Draft your idea on Google Sheets for free, give people a log in, and tell them to use it. Figure out what’s important, and what’s not important. Just launch your MVP with a dirty prototype. And if it’s truly of value, people will use it.
So you are a proponent of The Lean Startup methodology described by Eric Reis?
I believe in the super-lean startup model. You can literally start companies in 2 days. Go talk to people, use Google Sheets, and most importantly, get it in people’s hands. You should assume that there are 10 other people who have already worked on your idea with more money than you. The real question isn’t how unique is my idea, it’s who is going to execute this the fastest. You’re getting in to the race late. How do you accelerate? Don’t protect your IP, give up on NDAs, open source everything, and focus on execution.
That’s really interesting. Open source is popular, but it sounds like you’ve truly taken it to a new level. One last question for you, Andy. Where do you see yourself and your businesses in 5 years?
I’ll start with RideAustin because I have to be honest – I have no idea where it will in 5 years. But I know that mobility services will continue to evolve and society will benefit. The way the market is structured today is not the final iteration of mobility services. The market will continue to expand rapidly, with new innovations. Whether that’s RideAustin leading the innovations, or others, the market will continue to evolve. I firmly believe on-demand transportation will continue to expand. Now that Uber and Lyft have reentered Austin, we’re focusing on making our services more competitive with theirs, and we believe people will see the appeal of a ridesharing service that is built around giving back to the community.
In regards to Crossover, I believe that in 5 years, we will be on track to be one of the largest connectors of jobs in the world. The world will accelerate in their adoption of cloud teams and resources just like cloud computing resources. Right now, people think, “My servers are in the cloud, but my people need to be at a desk”. But just a couple of years ago, people were saying the same thing about servers, “Of course it has to be in our closet down the hall! It can’t be safe in the cloud!” Now it is.
Resources are a physical representation of computing power. And the best people in the world are simply not in your zip code. If you’re putting together a football team here in Austin, being that it’s the 11th largest city in the US – you might make a great team. But if you expand your search to the state of Texas, you can bet that the Texas team will beat the Austin team, and it follows that a US National team will beat the Texas team. The same pattern occurs when you’re looking at talent. The wider the pool, the better. People won’t settle for the person who is down the street anymore.
I don’t know if this is a 5 or 10 year trend, but we’re definitely seeing hiring preferences start to shift. There are 7 billion people, with amazing talent all over the world; we’re getting better at finding the best people, forming teams, having them collaborate, and creating new value. These capabilities will continue to expand rapidly. Of course, we have to go do our job to convince the industry to go that route – companies are usually conservative – but it’s only a matter of time. We definitely think we’re on track to be one of the largest companies in the world. Resources and teams are one of the biggest line items in companies’ P&Ls, so the markets are ready for a better solution.
As for Engine Yard, it’s one of many companies we’ll acquire in that space. Engine Yard is all about the adoption of cloud, and making it easier. I believe it’s too hard for your typical company to use cloud resources. But we’re going to continue to leverage our assets from Crossover and from Engine Yard to make it easier to move to cloud, both in regards to resources and computing.
In short, I’ve been on the “everything goes in the cloud” bandwagon for some time. It’s not even a unique insight, but most people haven’t realized the secondary impacts that it’s making on day to day life. It’s not just Google Drive. It’s questioning, “What has it done to the fabric of society? What are the big trends? How does that impact the physical world?” We’re starting to see a hybridization of the cloud and of physical resources, and we’re thrilled to be on the forefront of that evolution.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Andy! We look forward to seeing what the future has in store for you, and for your companies.
To learn more about RideAustin, click here.
To learn more about Crossover, click here.
To learn more about Engine Yard, click here.