Startups

Why I Left My Tech Startup to Join Snapcommerce – Medium


I’m David, special projects at Snapcommerce. Before I joined, I ran my own tech startup, Praizl, with the goal of dethroning the incumbents in the residential real estate space. Prior to that, I spent a couple of years at PwC, Deloitte, and the CPA professional body, driving incremental value by doing various upstart stuff.

I joined Snapcommerce because:

  • I had a bridge to one of the co-founders and knew we would work well together
  • By proxy, my hypothesis (which was proven true) was that the company was well run
  • I had context in, and believe in, where the company is going
  • Given expansion into new verticals, I’d be able to try fun things and maximize learning
  • Money, as I needed to upgrade my instant ramen into organic udon
  • Praizl’s monetization and path to scale was blocked by regulators, and pivoting toward a research-oriented product would have been unfulfilling

For context, here are some stats on Praizl when we threw in the towel:

What is Praizl?

Traffic:

SEO:

Beating out Redfin:

How I landed at Snapcommerce & what is Special Projects

Special Projects and Chief of Staff titles are used relatively interchangeably here. However, what we do as Special Projects is different strategically, depending on which part of the organization we are sitting in at any given time.

The company had previously hired a Chief of Staff Summer Intern from Harvard Business School as an experiment. The goal was to see whether it would be effective having an entrepreneurial problem-solver that could get things done and problem solve possible holes within the organization.

Needless to say, the Chief of Staff made a positive impact on the company. Snapcommerce was operating more efficiently, flows were getting unblocked, gaps were getting addressed, and processes were improving. As a result, our co-founders, Henry Shi and Hussein Fazal, hypothesized whether proper full-time Chief of Staff and/or Special Projects roles could scale across the entire company. Can this strategy unblock and push forward Snapcommerce’s agenda at scale?

The question has yet to be answered at a high enough confidence level, but the overall impact of Chiefs of Staff and Special Projects has been positive. We typically take exploratory tasks that are potentially core to the growth of the business from 0 to 1, and blocked tasks across the finish line from 50 to 51. Given the standard functional siloing that exists in nearly all organizations, we have found that having individuals that exist partially outside of said silos make it easier to get action items done.

Snapcommerce is onto something big

Back in early 2021, my startup was in an incubator called the DMZ. We were pretty lucky to have spent some time with Henry, who advises startups there. We connected during his office hours, where we were able to pick his brain on product and general direction. Henry had a unique ability to find clarity in ambiguity. We had received “advice” from a slew of domain experts and professionals, but we felt that Henry’s thought pattern was much more pertinent and practical. I later learned that part of the reason Snapcommerce was so successful at raising capital is because their GPs see Henry and Hussein as a sort of super-geniuses.

When I made the decision to stop working on Praizl, Henry was the first person I reached out to. I thought that joining the rocket ship that was Snapcommerce would have been a lot of fun, especially since they had just hit $1B in GMV. The company was well capitalized and going through a significant growth period via expansions into ecommerce and fintech.

I had other offers, but ultimately joined Snapcommerce. They had the most to offer in terms of fun, learnings, compensation, and willingness to entertain out-of-the-box strategy and execution. They were also the most likely to succeed given the individuals and stakeholders involved; the founders themselves, Stephen Curry, Inovia, and board members from other successful tech companies.

Diving Straight In

In the first 90 days, I:

  • Researched potential areas of expansion relating to our three business verticals (travel, ecommerce, and fintech)
  • Executed on key findings and took first steps to improve our competitive position
  • Navigated through regulatory approvals
  • Improved the way we work by pushing for a written culture and matrixed teams
  • Automated some business intelligence gathering

So far, the best part about the work is having nearly full discretion on getting tasks done. There is a lot of depth and nuance in terms of how I actually approached these tasks, and I have voiced publicly that the learnings from our unique way of getting business impact should be documented in case studies.

What I’ve learned

I’ve started to make more optimized snap decisions. Previously, I had a bias to close-out as close to 100% as possible, even when knowing the last 20% would take 80% of the time. Given the amount of growth and innovation the company is undergoing and trying to accomplish, it wouldn’t be efficient to do this. Instead, borrowing from the co-founders’ decision-making frameworks, I’m thinking about the highest risk factor to test the least amount of effort. Essentially, it is a better blueprint for maximizing success over any duration of time.

I also picked up on a better way of thinking about “product market fit” using a product<>market<>model<>channel framework (PMMC). A grievance I had was people would drop the PMF term almost like a nervous twitch; when they don’t know why something was or wasn’t working. The PMMC framework provides better clarity and improves success because you are plugging into an existing channel with a viable model, basically working backwards from what has already been a success. In this process, you would typically also challenge one key assumption that would benefit a target user group.

What’s it like being here?

Snapcommerce is well-managed. This is a fact, not an opinion. Management not only listens, but takes action on upward advice. This has fostered an environment where people are comfortable being themselves. The company is also set up to promote a safe floor for everyone, while encouraging the reaching of stretch goals. Essentially, you have the freedom, safety, and flexibility to do you and be your true self.

I don’t publicly say enough how much I like it here. I wake up genuinely hyped to push the needle on whatever it is that needs to get done next, while working alongside some of the smartest and motivated people I have met to date. At the moment, I‘ve got a front row seat, observing what a proper blueprint for success looks like, live from a set of veteran co-founders in Henry and Hussein.

If you want to read more — check out and follow our Snapcommerce publication here on Medium



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