Cara McCarty is the Co-Founder & CPO of startup called Code Pilot that was just acquired by Angel List. Cara has a wide range of experiences in the Human Capital area of companies and loves the people side of business. Our conversation dives into how Code Pilot went from idea, to launch to exit in only 24months and how Cara will continue to build her empire.
Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/establishing-your-empire/id1491945829
Angel List Acquisition of Code Pilot: https://blog.mycodepilot.com/2020/02/10/acquisition/
Welcome to the podcast.
Thanks for having me.
Well, I appreciate you coming by. So today, why don’t you start it off by giving us a little background information of who Cara is.
Yeah. Happy to. So I started my career in Chicago working for travel publisher called Travelzoo. They’re one of the largest online digital publications of travel deals. It’s been a few years there in human resources as an HR generalist and operator and retail. Me not here in Austin, knocked on my door and said, we love what you’re doing in the coupon space. Why don’t you come down to Austin? I had never been fell in love with the city, fell in love with the tech scene and thought, you know, pre IPO unicorn. I had to come down for retail me not. So he did that, we IPO and then since then a few other career journeys and startup world and also a major corporate and FinTech, but all in a human capital capacity over the last 10 years. So I’m really loved the people side of the business. And kind of a commercially minded people’s side of the business is my sweet spot.
So, and now you’re Code Pilot cofounder and CPO. So before you tell me about Code Pilot, what does CPO mean?
Yeah, it’s interesting. So I’ve been in people operations most of my entire career, but in a small startup you really don’t need a traditional people officer in the sense of that word. So I chose P CPO really because it’s a dual function role for me, it’s people and product. And so really it’s focusing on the intersection of how can we create a product for the human resources space. So it kind of creates both a challenge and also something I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.
That’s super fun. And also why not. If you’re a co founder, you kind of can give yourself any title.
Honestly, I could be an executive assistant and I, you know, I’d still be happy with that. It’s really more about what you’re doing then the title in any startup.
I, I agree. So give us a little bit of background of code pilot and what you guys do.
Yeah, so code pilot is an online platform for software engineers to find additional training. And development and also to get jobs. So Cori created this platform and hoping that we could remove some of those biases that you face within an interview process and in training process, helping software engineers get jobs but also help companies better validate their talent. And we do that through a bunch of proprietary assessments that we’ve created, both technical adaptability and behavioral adaptability assessments.
So when you say assessment and and training, so what was that actually means? So let’s act like I’m not a software engineer cause I’m not. And I wanted it to use code pilot. Would that be something that the company I’m applying to or that I’m already hired with has? Or like how, how’s it all work?
Yeah, I think of it, I’m almost like a LinkedIn. It’s kind of an ecosystem and a marketplace where you as an individual can come in and create a portfolio or a profile, take trainings, add information about yourself. So really as an individual user, you’re creating a lot of learning and development for them personally if they want to get a job or not. So you’re creating this tool in this platform that they want to come back cause they love to learn. And the accessibility and the ease of use to learn getting a job I think is really more of a secondary additional benefit that the platform provides. But really it’s, it’s for your own development.
And so how long has code pilot been around? You guys are rather new or correct?
Yeah, 20. About 24 months. So we started this journey in the beginning of 2018 and what we’re in the beginning of 2020 now. So pretty, pretty short in time. We as kind of a a founding team have known each other longer. So Dave, the CEO, this was his vision, his idea we had been working together since my days back at retail. Me not, so I want to say that was in 2000, you know, 13 even. And so it’s, it’s interesting to be able to do something that you love with people that, you know, there’s nothing better. And when he came to me and said, Hey, care, I have this idea to automate something in the recruiting space and then training development space, you know, would you help do it?
I think in a matter of five minutes. I said yes. So how did, how did you actually start though? So he has this idea, are you still employed at that time with terminology? Like how, and then like
Walk us through how that happened? Yeah, so when Dave and I met back during retail, me not, we IPO and we had acquired a company that he had founded called Zindel. So he was already a serial founder, an entrepreneur at that time on the technical side of the house. Right. So he’s, you know, a principal software engineer for the last, gosh, 20 years, and we instantly hit it off. And so for the last five years we had stayed in touch with each other, coffee dates, all those kinds of things. You know, when you find people that just you gravitate towards and you’re just like, ah, you inspire me or there’s something here that I love constantly being challenged by our conversations. So we stayed in touch. And then I had, you know, decided to go work at world first, which was a fin company.
You know, they were a PE back from out of London and we’re about to go through some major transitions and I was running their human resources for the Americas division and that’s when Dave approached me and said, Hey, I’m getting some founders here in Austin coming to me individually and asking for help, recruiting and training development. There’s training their software engineering teams. And he said, I think there’s a, I think there’s a thing here, I think we can do this. So I w I did have a full time job. I was working at the time when I started to, you know, have more meetings with him and said, okay, I love the idea. Like, let’s walk through this. What’s the business model? How do you envision it? What’s the product gonna look like? Like, how do you really think that this business is going to grow?
And through that, as when I met Caleb or other co founder, I’m Caleb and Dave knew each other and you know, picking Caleb’s brain on the commercial side of the business, I’m in the finance and op side. Like how would we make money? What’s that gonna look like? All of those types of questions that you go through. And together we really job at the time there was a fourth co-founder which is an interesting story. So there was someone named Scott who Dave also knew from a previous life working at Microsoft. And so it really was the four of us together and we each brought a unique skillset. David obviously the technical side, Scott, the marketing side, Caleb, the, the finance and commercial side. And then my side of the house, which was really the behavioral science side, the human resources side, the product side.
How are we going to get this into the hands of recruiters and human resources? Ah, people. So it was the four of us that really kind of came together and started to build this. And once we all decided to, it was kind of, we just took off like a hockey stick. We just couldn’t get enough. We were working all day. It was really fun and exciting and I’m turning out lots of cool new ideas and, and white boarding walls and in a tiny little room and everything that you envision as stereotypical startup, we checked the boxes.
Yeah. So, so you watched a movie and he said, okay, we gotta be doing all those things.
Chaotic. There hasn’t been crap everywhere. You know, we have to get the tee shirts with our logo on it.
So. Okay. So you guys got together the powers United right now that you’re 24 months in. Any advice on somebody starting that you would probably, you know, maybe some stuff that you wish you would’ve done or things that did work early on?
You know, I’ve always been told, and I’ve, you know, I’ve heard from other really well known entrepreneurs, everybody has $1 million idea, but it’s the execution part. Are you really gonna do it? Are you going to take that leap of faith? Are you going to take the risk? And I say, when, when you first starting out and you’re thinking about doing something I always say, you know, vet your idea, start to put it out into the, in, into the universe, you know, communicate it to people, get feedback, see what their reactions are. And then if you can find a team that, or a, a partner or a founder or a co founder that really validates your idea, you know, brings a unique skill set that you don’t have. So that when you’re going through a lot of the challenging times of, does this make sense?
Am I building this right? Am I thinking about this correctly? You have someone or people to kind of bounce that idea off of. And I think, you know, three to four minds are better than one mind. So I’d say when you’re first starting out, think about, you know, what’s the product market fit? Think about the team that you’re building. Think about what problem you’re trying to solve. That’s another really big one is, you know, in the world of recruiting, you could be solving a hundred different problems. Are you solving a problem for the hiring manager, for the recruiter, the individual candidate? Like what exactly are you trying to do? What are you trying to automate? You know? And, and, and in our opinion, we really wanted to focus on the end users of software engineer, the person getting the job. That for us was always our number one focus because we thought, well, if we get the platform and the product right for the end user and the consumer, then the other, the companies will come because we’ll have this database of really awesome, incredible talent and, and creating a frictionless process for them.
So, all right, so you started your two years in, was, was there any pivots that happened? You know, we always hear about SA, you know, startups and then the pivot has to happen or changes in any of those stories for you guys
All the time if not weekly, monthly, but I’m serious. We, when you’re, I’m running very, very quickly and you’re trying to hit certain milestones and deadlines and you’re trying to scale a company and you’re having to make decisions that could seem like a pivot or a one 80, almost weekly. And if that means, Hey, our business model was focused on this, and then all of a sudden we need to pivot to focus on this. That is just a natural part of the journey, I would say. You have to be, I’m understanding of that and also have an appetite for that or that will, that will crush your spirit, literally. And so you have to be someone that’s willing to change and adapt. I’d say the biggest pivots that we made for the first, I don’t know, 12 months of the business, we were really focused on the consumer and the software engineer.
And then we pivoted the second year really focusing on the supply side. So if you think about a marketplace, you have the demand and the supply. And so we wanted to focus on partnerships, getting the companies on board, really making it valuable for software engineers that companies were using the platform, right? Because if you didn’t, then why are they creating these profiles and taking these assessments and doing these trainings. So we did and that is a big shift in thinking of we’re going to spend all the first year just focused on the users of the software engineers and the next year we’re just going to focus on companies and partnerships. Now, the great thing about that was we were able to land partnerships with Google, Amazon and become a Microsoft AI inner circle partner, which I, there’s not even 50 companies in the U S that have that kind of Mmm. Accreditation.
So that was really exciting. We got some really big wins in the second year, but it was a very big shift in focus. Another huge focus that we did on the product side was we went from a portfolio kind of profile tool into this training development tool. So what we really found throughout the first year was that recruiting is a highly saturated market. There are a lot of recruiting tools and so we really wanted to differentiate and we found that kind of audacity model of training and development and then a job as a secondary where revenue really was a better deal. And I think training development is still a place where there’s not a lot of automation and there’s not a lot of I guess innovation yet. Whereas recruiting, you have a lot of our innovation that’s already been happening in the last 10 years. And so that was another big pivot where we decided from a marketing and a messaging and also a product perspective. We wanted to pivot our kind of core focus just from recruiting into training and abutment.
So when you say trading and development software developers already usually pretty advanced employees. So like how that sounds like a very difficult task to tackle. So maybe you just walk me through a little bit more detail of how, let’s say I was PR PR, I’m a software developer and I’m, you know, I’m making decent money. You’ve gotten, this is my third job. How would you, how would that help me? How, like am I going to learn a new language or what would, what would, how would that [inaudible]
Yeah, exactly. I think you can use it for a multitude of different reasons, but absolutely hit the nail on the head. You could use our tool to learn emerging technologies, new technologies. So one of them machine learning you know, you could learn how to use Docker. There’s a lot of technologies. If you’re going to be working in a cloud base kind of environment or team or you know, even infrastructure that will train you and teach you on. So it is definitely more of the newer technologies. We also have some core technologies that are really good foundational core like Python or using Java or Java script or you know, even react. So what’s really interesting about the assessments we created though is we really thought that creating full-stack assessments were what’s going to change the game. So when you think about a full stack assessment or if you think about software engineering and kind of three parts, you have like the backend, the infrastructure that connects the back in the front, and then you have the front end and all three of those pieces are usually a software engineer is really good at one, but we found that in small startups or even small companies, you really have to be able to migrate and learn how all of them work together and connect together.
So we really felt creating full-stack assessments was the way of the future. And then also creating the behavioral adaptability assessments as well. So we wanted to create assessments and these trainings that weren’t ever done before. So we are the first cloud blaze based platform where you can really do over 250 different languages in a hundred different platforms. And so because we’re cloud based, you can kind of plug and play what you want to learn and what you want to train on. And companies, I think it really resonated with them because they didn’t have to get this out of the box training where you’re like, it doesn’t really work exactly with what my team’s working on. And so you could really customize our trainings.
Yeah, I think I totally makes sense. Cause then you also have a broader scope of customers that you can go pitch. So how do you acquire customers? How do you get a client?
Yeah, I think with in the startup world, I think the first year was our networks. And so what was really great is that Austin is such an, a large tech ecosystem but also small in the sense that it’s very well connected. And so I’m a mentor at the founders Institute. Dave is a mentor and, and a CTO in residence at tech stars. And so we were very, very plugged in already with lots of companies that needed to hire their first few engineers right out of the door. And when I mean a lot, I mean, you know, 10 new startups were coming out of the program every quarter potentially. So there were dozens of people that weren’t quite sure how to hire their first technical talent or to even know what a validated software engineer on date or how to even measure that.
So that was the first way, kind of our entry into the market was helping clients and helping customers and helping founders that we already knew and had relationships with. I th the second thing is then when we started to go upstream, right, so you go from very small startup founder to kind of more I’d say like series a, series B, and then you have maybe more mid size that are already very established company. So I think that was the trajectory of what we focused on. And then by the year two, you know, we were working with clients like Aceable, you know, you have several hundred employees. How could we better fit trainings for user groups of like a team of two all the way to a team of 50. And so I think a lot of it was a word of mouth. We did a little bit of marketing, but a lot of it was organic growth and word of mouth.
Yeah. It sounds like the snowball effect. You know, you get a few and then that snowball gets bigger. You can have some case studies. You could do, Hey, look at my client list, all that stuff. So you mentioned Mark marketing there. What is your guys’ approach to marketing besides the word of mouth? Is there any a budget there? Is it or is it just just who you know and set meetings or what do you guys,
Yeah I think it depends on money, right? So most startups fail because they run out of capital. And so for us it was really important for us to be intentional on where we spent capital. So we raised a small seed round just under $200,000, and we, and we wanted to make sure we deployed that in a smart way. And so we had set aside some, a little bit of budget for marketing. It was very intentional marketing. So we a small booth at South by Southwest, but we were able to touch, you know, a thousand people in two days. And we made sure that everything that we did, we measured, it was a measurable marketing expense. But in general, I think the cost to acquire our customers were, you know, less than $2 an individual user, which is pretty low. But our budget was also low as well.
So we tested, we tested campaigns, we tested doing Instagram campaigns, you know, visual medium versus, you know, tax. We did some white papers, we did a lot of partnerships. So we worked with the Microsoft, I’m a Microsoft leap program, which is an interesting program that they do for people who want to become software engineers out of non traditional backgrounds. And so we did a lot of things like that to kind of drum up marketing. And also awareness. I think. Cause the biggest thing when you’re a startup is nobody knows who you are. You know, you could have a really cool brand and a really cool name, which we did code pilot, but that awareness piece of the funnel of marketing is the biggest one. And then from there, you know, working your way down from awareness stack position to, to a repeat user.
Right. How’d you guys come up with the name code pilot?
You know that’s a great question. I think Dave, Dave [inaudible] had an idea in his mind of could highlight and we had an original logo. It was like a guy with a helmet. It was this play on words of kind of like military and technology and like this kind of badass figure of like you can do anything that you set your mind to this kind of mantra. And then we actually hired a brand consultant, so a little bit of our marketing budget did go to a brand consultant who has been a very well known brand consultant that did some here in Austin, like Yeti and outdoor voices. And so we really felt like that was going to be really important for us. He’s fantastic. He actually redesigned our logo, our website, our colors, everything that you kind of needed to be a, a powerhouse brand. And that’s when we came out with like the wings and code pilot. And it’s funny, even to this day, we still get people when we wear our gear around that’s like, Oh my God, that’s so awesome. How can I get that? And they don’t even know what we do and they don’t even know what it is. And yeah. So that, that definitely was worth the spend.
Okay. Expectations versus reality. Like what do you think they’re like when you started this? Mmm. Is it going on the path that you that it is that you assumed it would go on?
You know, I had never done a startup to this capacity of like, where I was a co founder. It was you know, I’ve done startup before, but I was already an established team of like, you know, 10 or 20. And I think at that point you really do have a really good product market fit. But we were starting with no product market fit. A lot of still idea generation and what direction we were going to go into. And so I think a myth it is that this, this idea of, of, of struggle is, is a good thing. Struggle can be a good thing depending on how you look at it. But I know right now, and there’s a lot of PR around it’s, it’s the struggle and it’s so great and it teaches you so much. It does. And you are working a hundred hours, you know, but you’re doing it because you love it.
And so it’s this weird thing of like, you are loving the struggle, but the struggle is really hard. And sometimes you can’t sleep at night and that is all true. That’s none of that is a myth. But, but you’re also very excited. It’s this arm. It’s almost feeling of, you know, I don’t have any children, but I can imagine like raising a kid where you’re just like, this is mine. Oh my gosh, it’s so sweet. I love it so much. And I, you know, I don’t mind waking up every four hours to take care of it. It’s the same idea I guess. I think. And so yeah, I mean, we were working long, hard hours, but I think in the end we were loving what we’re doing. So as my dad would say, if you love what you do, you’re never working a day in your life.
There you go. So you’re 24 months in, what does the next six months, 12 months, two years look like? Yeah. So we’re really excited. When we were focusing in the second year really on the partnerships and the supplier side, and we started to get a little bit more awareness globally once we got those partnerships of who we were and what we were doing. And we had started to be, you know, become approached by companies potentially with a merger and acquisition opportunities. And we, we’re not really ready for that. We weren’t looking for that. But it’s one of those things where if somebody offers you something so awesome where they say, Hey, if you join us, you can double the size of your team. You can code. Pike can continue. You don’t have to worry about capital constraints. You’re like, Oh, that sounds awesome.
So we were we had first entertained a deal out of Australia, another Microsoft partner who had said, we could, we think we could really use your technology. Let’s start the conversation. So I think once we all as a team said, okay, we’re going to entertain the conversations, then it kind of opened the door of like the possibility. So that deal and that company didn’t work out. It just wasn’t the right fit. But as we continued on last year and Keefe bore, we started having more conversations with clients and partnerships and that’s when angel list actually, we were talking to them about potentially a partnership. Had said, Oh, we really like what you’re doing. Oh, we really like what you’re doing. Oh, we could see you guys with us. And it was this like this moment of, Holy cow, this is a perfect fit.
This company really focuses on recruiting for software engineers. They have a, a brand presence, a global brand PR presence, or one of the, they’re the second largest a marketplace behind LinkedIn for companies and talent to kind of exist together and communicate and find the right jobs with the right talents. So we thought, Oh, it really aligns with our mission. We really love the team. We should really entertain this idea. So, Mmm. You know, we’ve been talking with angel lists over all of Q4 and are really excited to continue the new year with angel list. So. So
It sounds like you’re being a, is it a choir? Do you guys get in funded? Like what, what was happening specifically?
When you think about fundraising for startups too? It’s, that’s an interesting journey. One that I didn’t have very much experience in. So Kayla had worked on that side of the business before where raising funds and, and he actually worked for a high net worth individual where he was on the other side of the deal funding startups. So I learned a lot from Caleb, I think on when do you raise, how do you raise, why do you raise, what does that mean for the business? So after we had raised our seed round like most startups, like 99% of startups you start to feel the constraints and you think to yourself, okay, two things. I love what I do. I think what I do is really important. I think what I do is changing is changing the lives for people. How can we keep it going?
We either go back to the market to raise funding or we think about this type of M and a deal where our business can continue helping people, but maybe it’s under a different brand or maybe it’s something else. So we were considering those two avenues last year. And so we were like, you know, putting our pitch deck back together to go back out to the Margaret to go back into the Bay to ask for the next round of funding or this other rat. And they’re very different routes. And for us, I think we were very we wanted to find a home where if that meant we do it individually with money or through another brand. We didn’t care if code pilot the business existed into an IPO. You know, how some people were like this is, we’d have to stay with the brand and it’s going to be the biggest and the bass and we’re never gonna go under some else we did, we didn’t care about that. What we cared about was the end user in that our assessments were going to be used. So we decided to go that route with angel list instead of going back out to the market to raise funding. Mmm. So yeah, so we are we have certain that sign the terms of the deal to be acquired by angel list,
Which is fantastic. So you guys cared more about the mission and that and the product than your name. He didn’t tell you didn’t, you didn’t need your name to be the biggest thing ever, which it might even be. I think it’s kind of interesting because you know, businesses nowadays, I assume you guys didn’t have an office with a big old logo out facing main street. Right? That’s not the way it is anymore. So I, I do kind of see how, where it’s almost like, Hey, this is what we built is isn’t it? The name is part of what you built, but it’s probably actually a smaller part than the, than the technology or the customers or the end users of the software. That’s pretty exciting. So it’s gonna live on in a different form or fashion. But
Code pilot will live on the technology of code pilot will live on with angel list talent.
That’s fantastic. Well, congratulations. That’s super exciting. So then similar question, but more personally like, so what’s the next outlook of years look for you? I you go on w on board with angel lists you to go different direction, your own, you know, like walk me through what that looks like.
Yeah, I think the deal with angel list was around the technology specifically. And less about the team. And it’s interesting, I am a human resource operator. 10 years. And when you think about how that goes with the technology team, it doesn’t really fit. And so as I thought about what I had been working on the last few years around the behavioral scientist piece around the product piece, user experience and user interface side, those are all really fascinating. And I think design thinking, no matter what Avenue you take in your career is always, it’s always going to be a part of me. And if data and design, if that’s in human resources or if that’s in product management. But I decided that I didn’t want to go back into product. I want to go back into people. I want to take everything that I’ve done over the last two years on the commercial sides of the business and the marketing side of the business.
And I want to be able to turn that into a much more relevant human resources operator. I think I’m going to be able to go back into a business and say the user groups that I’m supporting and developing, I know exactly the pain points are going through. I know exactly the challenges you’re facing. So when I’m rolling out new projects and initiatives, I’m going to be able to say, okay, let me, let me put that hat back on and see why doesn’t this program work for this group? Well, it’s because, you know, they have certain deadlines that they’re, that they have to be met and they can’t do this. So I think it’s going to make me a much more efficient HR operator. But people is definitely
is my heart. It’s my bread and butter, it’s my soul, it’s what I live for. I love seeing, I love developing people and seeing them develop. So I think going back into the human resources side is definitely something that’s calling to me. But you never know. There I have a couple ideas to you that I’ve been wanting to execute on and, and get those out the door and, and start to test those. So maybe another startup, it could be in the near future.
The one you’ve got a similar, I have a similar background where I’ve worked for extremely large companies and very, very small and the medium and everything in between. And I think it gives you a very, a unique perspective. And it sounds like you’ve kind of done that. You’ve gone kind of a whole different spectrum of, of different employers [inaudible] and there’s different needs of each employees in those companies. So I think that will be exciting. Hopefully come up with a cool idea and, and, and rock and roll with that. But you never know. So you have one. Is it charitable yet or not?
No, it’s not true yet. I think it’s a good idea. But when you think it’s a good idea versus validating with the market, that’s very different. Completely. So
I think when somebody has an idea, the first thing to do after you you sharpen the idea a little bit is just start, like you said earlier, chatting with people, whether it’s a small group of people or a large group because you don’t want to spend two years of your life going through that idea and then realize that it was a bad one. Okay. So say if somebody wants to enter the world of HR, what advice would you give them?
Yeah, I’d say HR is definitely evolving over the last decade. So when I started my career 10 years ago at a, at a publicly traded company at Travelzoo HR was very different. There weren’t that many tools in terms of automation in terms of data and understanding your user group. But now fast forward 10 years into the market today, there are so many incredible tools that you can use to understand how your group is. I’m thinking, feeling performance, all of these things that are intelligent tools that can even predict how your workforce is going to adopt a certain program or who’s going to turn out. So I think HR has definitely evolved. I think with that HR has evolved from a very administrative function into a really strategic function. And I think in order to be a high performing HR operator you have to be able and flexible and willing to change constantly.
You can’t be someone that is just a process and will crater because that’s not where the needs of the businesses are, the debt today. And so I think especially specifically in technology, you have to be you know, not only a supportive strategic partner, but you have to be an innovator just like the rest of the business. And I think I’ve definitely seen that change over the last 10 years. And if you want to be in HR today you have to be innovating. Just like you know, a product team would be,
And I think technology is just ahead of the curve that’s going to roll out to the rest of the businesses too, right. If you’re not if you don’t, if you’re not adaptable and I’m willing to change, you’re probably going to fail in that industry. Mmm. Okay. So who has been the most important person in your life?
Oh, the most important person in my life.
Yeah. And can you tell me about him or her?
Yeah, so it’s, that’s a tough question. I’d say I’ve met some really incredible people along the journey of my entire life from childhood to now, people that have inspired me, people that have challenged my way of thinking. I guess if you want to talk about longevity, the person that has been there my entire life who I mentioned earlier, my, my dad, the, as someone that you know, and my family in general have been incredibly supportive and, and definitely have challenged the way that I’ve, I’ve thought about things. But overarchingly have been my biggest cheerleader. And I think when you’re someone that wants to take risks and you’re someone that you know, you need that, you need a little bit of that foundation, a little bit, that cheerleader because you yourself inside are thinking, am I making the right decisions?
This is a bit, you know, is it, is it a calculated risk? Like how much am I willing to lose? And so having someone there to support you, if that’s emotionally, mentally, even financially, sometimes you know, it’s expensive doing a startup. I think we talked a little bit about misconceptions is that you’re going to be making money right off the bat. You’re not, I’d say prepare yourself for a year of, of whatever revenues that you’re earning to put back into the business because you want to see it succeed. And so I think you know, being financially stable as a business, but also personally, it’s is really interesting dynamic. And so yeah, my dad in general has been my biggest supporter and he also as, as a a, he owns his own business. You know, kinda talks through some of the pitfalls that he’s gone through and some of the challenges. And so it’s something that I think has definitely brought us closer together.
That’s great. You know, when you talk about the financially with the startup, I mean, you could even go backwards and money. Like I said, it could be that not even a zero. It could be a negative figure. I’ve been there before myself. So what, what’s, what’s one of your favorite memories running this company that you’ve been,
We had so many wins. I think we really celebrated all of the wins and we also measured all of the non wins, all of the things that we totally bombed on. We did a lot of post-mortem and say, well, how, why did that go that way? Why didn’t it go well? But we, we had a great time celebrating. So we remember when we went out to California, we went out to the Bay a few times to meet investors. And it was really exciting to sit with my cofounders and pitch our idea to this to these, you know investors that have given millions of dollars of capital away. And it was really exciting. And we would leave those meetings like, yes, we did dad, Oh my God, you’re a rock star. No, you’re a rock star. And like to keep getting those calls back and keep flying out to the Bay like there, is that any more exciting.
Then having your idea validate by the market, but investors as well and senior co-founders really come together to be able to communicate that that was just, there is nothing better, a better feeling than that. And, and it’s also exciting. It’s definitely nerve wracking. It’s a time that high pressure time. It’s also really important. So I’d say that was, that was something that we love celebrating. And I think when we got our first sign deals, you know, when we created our contracts and we got them sent back and people were going to pay us, we were like, people are going to pay us. This isn’t working. Holy cow. This is awesome. So I mean, we really celebrated everything even to when we hit our milestone of like, I think it was like our first 5,000 software engineers using the tool. We were like [inaudible], well my God, we had 5,000. They said it’s crazy.
Do you think that was more exciting than actual having a successful exit?
Oh man. You know they’re both awesome. They’re both really great, I think for different reasons. I think when you hit milestones that you set out for yourself and if you’re a goal oriented person, you’re like, yes, I hit this milestone. Like I did it. It’s personal satisfaction. It’s professional satisfaction. But then when you start to create something outside of yourself for other people, having this exit is going to be awesome because our tool is going to continue to help people. And that feeling, that intrinsic feeling of, of helping other people, there’s nothing greater than that too.
Yeah. So, okay. So I just talked about cessful exit. You’ve been in the business of HR for 10 years, a lot of, a lot of different things happening. What does success look like for you?
Ah, success for me is a journey, not to be cliche, but honestly my definition of success constantly changes and evolves. And maybe that’s why I like startups is because they’re always changing. But, well, you know, years ago what I wanted to be like the CEO of a mega million dollar corporation versus now is just like very different. And I think my definition of success changes with what my needs and wants are. So going into a new decade, new year, you know, I’m older, I’m wiser, you could say you know, what my needs are. I’ve hit a lot of what I need. And so I think when you have what you need, you’re kind of like, wow, like I have everything that I need and want and love and people I care about and businesses that are successful and it’s this whole package and I feel so grateful and so blessed that I’ve been able to hit a lot of these things.
And so success for me moving into the future is continue to do things. I love continuing to impact people positively if that’s, you know, through a product or if that’s through giving time or even mentoring at the founders Institute. Like those types of things is really important for me to, to feel success. And then you know, continuing to help people and if that’s in human resources capacity or if that’s, I’m helping, you know, people start with that. Have founders, you know, that have ideas, like just helping people get off the ground and continue to move themselves forward, I think is what’s going to be successful for me in the next 10 years.
I love it. So what would you title this chapter in your life?
Oh, wow. The code pilot chapter. You know, it’s funny, we have a lot of little code names and the business, so I think I would name this chapter pilot wings and my team will know what that
So a little different shift here, a little easier questions perhaps. Mmm. Has there anybody, any books that you’ve gifted out that you’ve enjoyed or any books that you’ve read recently that you would recommend people to read?
Yeah, I’m a, I’m a big reader. I’m a bookclub major nerd alert in my neighborhood. So I’m reading a, probably a book or two a month these days. And listening to podcasts, Caleb, my co founder, he actually gifted me last Christmas with the startup handbook. Which is awesome. It’s if you like to absorb content in small chunks, every chapter is kind of a different thought process or from a different, you’re entrepreneur or I’m someone that’s an expert in their crack at craft. And I love looking at that because you don’t have to read a full book to absorb the content. And so I like taking snippets. It’s why I like podcast. It’s why I like reading, you know, like Forbes or entrepreneurs online quick articles where I can take snippets of information that’s maybe practical or helpful, absorb and then move on. So I’m definitely more of a, Hey, if I have 30 minutes in the morning, short time read, do that re not as necessarily someone that’s going to read like a full book. But yeah.
So walk me through what’s a day in the life look like for you? Like walk me through like, do you wake up early, late, like a, you have 30 minutes podcast. I have a thing, like what’s the routine?
I think routines are really important for a lot of different reasons and you know, there’s a lot of theories that the earlier you wake up, like the more successful you are. I am going to say it, I’m that much of a morning person and that’s okay. I think physiologically that, that can be true for some people. I’m not someone that gets up at four 30 or five works out, reads [inaudible] does all that cause I’d be asleep by noon, so that doesn’t work for me. I’m usually a riser with the sun. So if that’s like between six 30 or seven 30 I’ll definitely do some quick reads. So news highlights, if there’s articles that stick out to me, like Harvard business review usually has some kind of provocative or interesting thought piece. I’ll read it in the morning. I take my dog for a walk.
It’s usually a 30 minute walk and I’ll do a 30 minute podcast while I walk. So every morning when I walk her, I’m listening to a podcast. Those podcasts can range from you know, any NPR podcast we were just talking about this, or any thought provoking podcast in business or not. It could, you know, it could be even Oprah, a master class listening to other people in their journey I think is really important. So I do that. And then you know, off to work or whatever my projects are for that morning. Morning time is usually something I dedicate to project work or work, work. And then in the afternoon, typically it’s like one, I’ll schedule meetings or have one-on-ones or whatever I need to do. And then at night I’m a big yoga. So at night I always try to do yoga and I think yoga is good for me for a few different reasons that it’s a great workout, but also it’s a great meditative space. And it’s a great space where you have an hour just to think through and untangle some of your thoughts from the day. And so I’m a big believer in practicing whatever it is. Your fitness routine is definitely set time aside for that, for not only physical but mental awareness and helpfulness and yeah, that’s, that’s kind of the consistency of my day.
I like it. Now that you might have some more time and he, any chance of getting back into the beach volleyball scene?
Yes. I, especially living in Austin, you can play all year around, so I definitely want to get out there soon.
Yeah. For those that don’t know, care’s got a crazy wicked serve, it’s very difficult to receive. What’s an unusual habit or absurd thing that you do
Often? I talked to my family a lot and I think it’s unusual because I talk to them every day, but I’m a big believer in talk therapy. And so when you’re thinking through problems or challenges, it doesn’t necessarily have to be my family in general, but I’m kind of communicating the challenges or the idea also help you think about the problems at the same time. And so I usually every day try to talk to either someone in my family or a close friend of mine and be like, here’s how my day was. Here’s what happened, here’s what I’m thinking about this. And they’ll usually have a dialogue with me about whatever challenge or problem that I’m thinking through. And I love that and it’s really important for me. And most people would probably say, you’re talking into your family way too much. That’s like, but it’s, it’s not because I miss them or I love them or this like codependency thing. It’s actually because it helps me think through like an issue of the day. And if you, if you talked to somebody you respect, it’d be like, you know, if you have a friend that you respect and their opinion it, it’s that sort of thing.
No, I think it’s common. I think, I don’t know, I might be more calming to think. I had a little brother called me twice yesterday. He’s going through the interview process. I talked to my brother in law probably like four times a day there for a while when he was going through the interview process. Just, you know, bouncing ideas. I think a safe person to talk to can be very powerful because you can air out your ideas, your ideas are different when they’re spoken as opposed to just thought in your own head. I also do think that your brain isn’t the best storage device for those things to whether it’s writing it down or speak them out loud. I think it’s a,
You hear it differently almost. I think it’s powerful.
Mmm. So yeah, like if you feel like overwhelmed or unfocused, w w what do you do? Do you have any like questions that help yourself or anything? I can put you back on track, perhaps exercise or anything like that.
Yeah, self-development, I think this year was really important for me. I’m understanding who I am, how I think about things, what my skills are. You know, seeking outside help for that if that’s a therapist or if that’s a coach I think is really, really awesome. And that’s something I’ve really taken seriously through this process because you have a lot of doubt and you have a lot of questions and you’re going in a lot of different directions and sometimes it’s hard to really focus like you said. And so I think definitely having those people to talk to either professional or non are really helpful. But I think also something that really helps me get organized is planning. I’m a big planner and I think you the power of planning if that’s your schedule or if that’s things that you want to tackle or even products that you want to release, like thinking through your sprint cycle.
Like we would have scrum meetings every day. Okay. What’s important to deliver, what’s not important. We would kind of do red, green, yellow. And so I think if you take some of that philosophy of how product and engineering teams work and you apply that into your daily life, it’s actually really beneficial. What is like, what do I need to get done? What do I need to stop doing and what do I need to start doing? And make that realistic. But you can almost do that daily or weekly or monthly, however you want to get that done. And I think especially as a new founder or wanting to come up with an idea you have to have those milestones of like, I’m going to create the website, I’m going to do the marketing messaging, I’m going to start testing users. Like you have to have those or Oh, and a lot of cases it just won’t happen.
And so I think setting those setting those for yourselves really important. And, and another thing that we use our what’s the methodology that I’m thinking where you have these cards where everybody can see and they’re working. Oh, it’s on the tip of my tongue. Definitely not get, cause it’s definitely a form of agile. F I think about it, I’ll tell you, it’s all good. Yeah. Trello board. Tell aboard, figured it out. But that’s great too because you can have multiple collaborators on like what’s going on, what’s not working, what’s done. So you can also see things in real time like getting done, which is awesome. And you use that with a software or is there, yeah, it’s a free one. There’s a lot of Trello board free softwares you can use for yourself or with your team. What did you like? I like trello.com is one definitely. But I also like Nucleo it’s also like I’m a new note taking kind of software that’s also free. It’s just like kind of a beef, like imagine your Google suite of like Google drive, Google doc. It’s like a beefed up where you can add notes and link to things. So new cleaner and Trello are two of my favorites.
And then you, you mentioned how you guys in the morning will you know, red, green, yellow is that in the morning first?
Yeah. So you have a scrum meeting in the morning, typically product and engineering teams. Every morning we’ll say, okay, what do we want to get done today in terms of features or priorities? And then you also want to look at bugs. So what’s, you know, blocking your users. So in, in code, I’m constantly, things are having to get you know, looked at again. And so scrum meetings is help set the priorities of like, Oh, some a user emailed me and said they can’t log in and crap this priority one, let’s fix that. Versus new features of like, Oh, somebody said they would really like to see this widget in the right corner. Okay. Well it, how, how important is that? Did you get other feedback that needs that? So those happen actually usually daily for high-performing engineering and product teams or, or weekly depending on what your schedule is. But yeah, that really helps set the tone of, you know, what’s high priority and low priority
And how do we, how do you actually you know, right though is, is that somebody just to the boss rates them or that the team votes or like how has that actually happened?
I think this the, the democracy in startup world, it’s definitely there but you have to move fast and quick and so you need to have subject matter experts that don’t need consensus all the time. At getting consensus is great, but it also can be a blocker to a lot of innovation if you’re sitting around all the time being like, what do you guys think and what do you guys think? So in this case I was a scrum, the scrum manager, the product manager. So I went through the list and I ranked them and, and this and this example, Dave and Caleb were like, okay, we trust you. Like you’ve obviously gotten the feedback, you know what’s important. And so they trusted me to do that. And I think there may be like five priority levels and you could also label them depending on what software using of like is it a bug or is it a new feature, is it enhancement or all these types of things to help Dave also figure out like when I should do this. And you know it’s, it’s good for Dave too. You can’t, a lot of those days you couldn’t fit all that in an eight hour work week. And you know, Dave wouldn’t mind like going home and being like, okay I’ll spend a couple hours tonight working on this. So it’s great to have co-founders that also are willing to work, you know, equally as hard as you are and love and don’t mind doing it.
So. So when you had new new features pitched you like a client says, Oh I’d really love to have this, how do you decide whether to bring that on? Cause obviously they’re paying you, right?
So in this case, like you have your core out of the box product and then you could have something what they call like a white label product where you’re creating something. Just for a client and as a small team, it is a lot of money to create white label products. So you want to try to create an out of the box solution that covers the most ground for the most people that you can. Because if you were just doing all of this consulting work for all of these clients all the time, you would have no time or money to actually build the core product. So that was definitely a balanced brass we wanted to, to build in and new features and new automation and new products that really could hit the masses. That we were also getting feedback from. You know, certain clients. No, we would customize I think for, for different clients. But it would really depend on, you know, how much and how hard and it would take us to build it and all of those sorts of things.
It’s almost a different business. You’d be a consultant then?
Yeah. And you know, when you’re a team of less than 10, that’s just like not possible. Yeah. [inaudible] Unless you wanted consulting to be a side of your business, in which case that’s a very different business model. Then, you know, the product that we had,
It’s something that it’s, it is definitely can be a pitfall because consult that would actually could possibly be a large revenue early on, but it’s not near a scalable revenue model. So it’s, it’s definitely something interesting to, to decide and also if you have time, if it’s easy you know, it all, all, all depends on a lot of different things. But, so last question how would you like to be remembered?
Oh you know, I want to be remembered as somebody that helped other people. And if that’s through the businesses that I’ve done or created or, or conversations I’ve had, you know, there are a lot of conversations in the last 10 years where I’ve sat down with someone and they’d say, Hey, I’m, I’m scared to have this conversation with my manager, or I’m afraid to talk about my salary, or how do I get to this next step of my career? And these are pivotal moments where people are able to be that sounding board is just been tremendously special for me. So I want to be remembered as somebody that was selfless that gave their time, dedicated their energy and resources to help other people develop, I guess, in any sense.
I love it. Well, Cara, thank you so much for being on the Establishing your Empire podcast.
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