Tracy Young: Solve the Problem You Have [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

April 18, 2017
Stanford eCorner
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Tracy Young: Solve the Problem You Have [Entire Talk]

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Tracy, the CEO of PlanGrid, discusses the company's background, the importance of solving the right problems, the unique mindset of founders, the partnership with Sequoia, and the challenges faced by the company. Doug, a board member from Sequoia, talks about the common elements he sees in successful founders, the process of meeting and investing in PlanGrid, and the role of VCs in supporting startups. They also discuss talent recruitment, managing difficult conversations, the importance of culture, and the trials and lessons of running a company.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is PlanGrid and how did it start?

PlanGrid builds software for the construction industry and emerged from Y Combinator's 2012 batch. It has partnered with Sequoia and has been used in over 500,000 construction projects. It is the number one mobile construction software and was named one of the top 10 enterprise apps of 2016 by Apple.

Q: What does it mean to "fix your own problem" when starting a company?

"Fix your own problem" means solving a problem that you personally experience and understand well. By solving a problem that you have a deep understanding of, you can prioritize the right problems and anticipate their future impact. This approach helps in making better decisions and focusing on the most important issues.

Q: What did Doug find unique and compelling about Tracy and PlanGrid?

Doug found Tracy and PlanGrid unique and compelling because they had revenue coming in without any salespeople, indicating good product-market fit. They had a founder who had personally experienced and solved a problem in the business, a trait shared by many successful entrepreneurs. Tracy also displayed passion, domain knowledge, commitment, and authenticity, which are important qualities for success.

Q: How did Doug first meet Tracy and what was the process for investment?

Doug met Tracy through a young associate at Sequoia who had started a successful company and had invested in several others. The associate made the introduction, but Tracy did thorough research and references before choosing Sequoia. The process involved multiple meetings, presentations, and discussions to ensure a good fit between PlanGrid and Sequoia.

Q: What challenges did Tracy face when dealing with personal tragedies and how did she overcome them?

Tracy and the founders of PlanGrid faced personal tragedies when three of their four founders' parents were diagnosed with cancer, and one founder passed away. Tracy mentioned that they coped with grief, built shields around their hearts, and eventually found beauty in the world again. They channeled their pain and commitment into building a tool that makes construction more efficient and creating a good company that takes care of employees and provides value to users.

Q: Did Tracy and the team receive outside help during the difficult times?

Tracy mentioned that their families and Antoine's family provided support during the difficult times, and they also had care and hospice at their house. They received emotional and practical support from their loved ones and the community.

Q: How does Doug assess talent and what advice does he have for recruiting the right people?

Doug emphasized the importance of recruiting world-class engineers and surrounding oneself with people who have built things before. Past experience and track record are good indicators of future performance, especially when looking for leaders. He mentioned that rapidly growing revenues, strong gross margins, and a clear market opportunity also help in recruiting the right talent. He advised focusing on clarity of vision, clarity of thought, and explaining the market potential and career opportunities to candidates.

Q: How does Doug approach difficult conversations about performance or fit with an executive?

Doug highlighted the importance of setting clear expectations and agreements from the start to avoid surprises or misunderstandings. He mentioned the need for accountability and performance, and the role of founders and board members in providing support, guidance, and resources to help executives succeed. In extreme cases where there is a mismatch of values or conflict, tough decisions may need to be made, but it should be handled with care and consideration for all parties involved.

Q: How does Doug view the balance between market potential and founder qualities?

Doug believes that great founders find their way to great markets and that the two are interrelated. While market potential is important, great founders have the vision, execution skills, and ability to recruit and build a team that can capitalize on the market opportunity. It's a package deal where the founders' qualities and ability to execute and lead are crucial for long-term success.

Q: What were some of the challenges and mistakes made by PlanGrid and how did they learn from them?

One challenge was transitioning from a flat management structure to a more structured organization as the company grew. They realized the importance of clear communication, setting expectations, and creating career paths for employees. Mistakes were made in attempting to be too clever in organizational structures and not recognizing the need for conventional business practices. They learned the importance of seeking help from experienced professionals and investing in systems like NetSuite for financial management.

Q: What advice does Tracy have for CEOs and founders in managing work/life balance?

Tracy admitted struggling with work/life balance and mentioned meditating as a way to manage stress. She acknowledged the constant focus on PlanGrid and the challenges of being a CEO. Balancing personal and professional life may be difficult, but it is essential to find ways to cope and take care of oneself.

Q: How did PlanGrid build its culture and what values are important to the company?

Tracy is proud of the company's culture, which values hard work, fairness, respect, and building tools for the construction industry. The team has diverse backgrounds but shares a passion for building and solving problems. She mentioned the importance of clear communication and selling the vision, product, and market size to potential recruits. The recruiters have played a key role in maintaining the culture by filtering out candidates who wouldn't be a cultural fit.

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