September 22, 2022
David Hoffman is the CEO and Co-Founder of Beam, the easiest way to design and remodel your home. From the DIY’er, to the hands-off-I-need-to-hire, Beam provides you with all of the tools you need to remodel better. Previously, David co-founded Next Big Sound, which was named one of the 10 best music startups of 2010 by Billboard Magazine before the company was acquired by Pandora in 2015. When David isn’t growing Beam, he’s likely working on his own remodeling projects or making memories with his wife and two daughters. To learn more about Beam or to start your next remodeling project with ease, visit www.buildwithbeam.com
Julian: Hey everyone. Thank you for joining the behind company lines podcast. I'm here with David Hoffman, who is the co-founder and CEO of beam beam is the easiest way to design and remodel your home. David, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I'm really excited to chat with you and learn about your background experience.
This is not your first startup and now it's your second. And so I'm really excited to learn about the lessons you've learned. See what the company's about. But just before we get on in, I'm curious, what were you doing before you started.
David: awesome. Thanks, Julian. Great to be here. Right before I started beam, I was probably in the middle of changing diapers. After I sold my last business, I was in the fortunate position to take a few years off to travel and spend time with my own family. And that's that's what we were doing, but happy to tell you the backstory on that last business might be interesting in your audience.
If you wanna. for sure. Yeah. So I started a company in undergrad called next big sound with two other guys, Alex White and Samira when we were together at [00:01:00] Northwestern. And this was way back in the day. So we tracked how popular bands were online. Wow. Starting with MySpace. There was this XML feed that would go into the flash player.
And we saw the play counts and they were crazy. So we started intercepting it and tracking it over time. The first page we did was Aons MySpace page. We set it one night to record into a database, woke up in the morning and checked it. He had 200,000 plays overnight. Wow. And we're like, holy shit, this is incredible.
Is the music industry paying attention? So we got some introductions, talked to everyone we could, and they all told us. Yeah, we're trying to figure this out. We're writing down these numbers by hand in spreadsheets with armies of interns. We don't know what to make of this. And that's what really inspired, what would become.
You know, an eight year startup journey that culminated in us selling the company to Pandora back in 2015. So we had quite the ride happy to dive into any part of that. That's
Julian: in, I'm curious, you know, I feel like, you know, when, when a lot of founders they see something in the market, they're curious [00:02:00] about it, then they, they ship around to a different, you know, interest to partners that you know, this idea that they have talk about that process.
Kind of going through discovery of something you had that was extremely viable and creating it into a product that was later then bought by Pandora. .
David: Yeah, for sure. So, I mean, yeah, you're taking me back here, but in 2008, we were in Troy HEK, he's a partner of math ventures now outta Chicago. We were in his entrepreneurship class at Northwestern and we had this idea.
For fantasy sports for music, we were asking this question, how does a band become famous? This was when wisdom of the crowd and long tail and these sort of ideas were coming in to the world. And we built this whole site and tried to get people to use it. We got it right up in the New York times, like great press.
And you know, we woke up a few weeks later and we're checking the numbers and it's crickets. This, thing's not growing. There's no retention. It's just like pushing a Boulder up a hill. It's just getting harder and harder. And we sort of hail Mary applied to [00:03:00] Techstars in Boulder, Colorado. This was in 2009 now.
It was when they were still just operating in Boulder, they just added their first Satellite program in Boston and we, by the skin of our teeth got into the program. Miraculously we all piled into my tiny little two door Volkswagen rabbit, drove from Chicago to Colorado went in for the first day and went up to David Cohen and said, Hey, you know that thing that you accepted into the program and really liked the fantasy sports for music we're not gonna do.
He's like what we're like, yeah, it's not working. Like we, we're not gonna do it. He's like, that's okay. We invest in people, not in ideas. Well, you better figure out what you're doing. And we spent that summer coming back to this original question of how does a band become famous and realized that we didn't need to build a new destination music streaming site.
People were already consuming music across the internet, but no one was tracking it. And it's that sort of insight where, especially in our. We're young Ben, early days trying to figure it out. There's a [00:04:00] lot of ego in it and like, I've got a great idea. I've gotta put it into the world. And I think what I've learned over time, over and over.
Is actually being obsessed with a problem, but not with the solution gets such better results. And just following the truth of, of what challenges people have or what issues they're running into and solutions I love, I
Julian: love the obsession with the, the problem and not the solution. I, you know, time and time again, I hear it on the podcast where, you know, that's what kind of differentiates, I think a lot of founders and founders in general is this obsession with it.
And the lack of ego. You know, trying to fit their solution into the problem and really just listening to the consumers, the customer, and what what's out there in the market what's needed and what's not being solved. Tell us, tell us how this all then transitioned from music now to beam, where you focus on design and, and remodeling for homes.
David: Yeah, for sure. So at next big sound, we realized pretty quickly that we were a social media tracking company and a big data company. So at our peak, we [00:05:00] were tracking half a million artists online, across 30 different sources. We were Spotify's. First analytics provider and then came to the us. We licensed starts to billboard.
We worked with all the major record labels, gave away stats for free patented predictive algorithms. And then, you know, ultimately Pandora acquired us. And when we got there, it was the first place it ever worked. I was like, I don't know what it means to have like a real job. This is totally new to me.
And I loved it. I learned a ton. It was my first time at a publicly traded company too, but I also got a little. Bored and distracted. The joke from, from back in the day, I don't know if people still make it as vesting in peace. After you've been acquired, you're just, you know, waiting for the golden handcuffs to come off.
So I spent a lot of time traveling outside of New York city to the Catskills where my wife and I had bought a tiny vacation cottage, 20 minutes outside of Woodstock, and the place had been built in the eighties and it. So much potential, but it hadn't been maintained. So I decided to do a gut renovation from top to bottom and the experience felt like time travel.
I thought I'd gone [00:06:00] back in the, you know, past a hundred years, I was just like shocked by how business was done. It reminded me of my childhood too. I remember sitting next to my dad on an airplane when he sketched the floor plan for the house I grew up in, my parents are in real estate. They were always building places, flipping places, remodeling places, and around the same time, my co-founder from next big sound Samir was remodeling his childhood home with his dad who was a general contractor.
And we're both obsessed, obsessed with design. We actually met at Northwestern as two of the only people on campus who could design websites. I've got a background in print design, and we've just. Designed lovers through and through for as long as we can remember. And so we started working together.
To see if there could be a better way. And that led me to leave Pandora and travel the world for a year with my wife and one year old daughter bouncing around living in Airbnbs and everywhere we went, I meet with architects, designers, homeowners, contractors, and just listen to their stories, tour job sites with them.
Ask about their process, you know, sit with them in meetings and see how they worked. See what was [00:07:00] frustrating, what was working well, where they were still using pen and paper spreadsheets, where they'd adopted software. And that's really what inspired us to start beam love that
Julian: I love that I wanna dive into to, to beam in a moment, but I'm curious about this discovery process so much.
So much substance comes from it, but also there's this overwhelming amount of data that you receive, you know, you're, you're talking to all these different actors yeah. Within the space that you're looking to work within. And how, how do you, how do you strategize or how do you I guess organize the data that you receive, you're talking to different players in the market.
Do you focus on the initial problem that, that you're looking at? Like, you know, is it always about remodeling homes or is it just, you know, intake data and kind of see what output you. Where does the organization come from in that discovery process?
David: Yeah, I think there's a lot of different ways you can go about this and I've tried a lot of the different ways.
I mean, there's the, I have a hypothesis and now I want to go talk to people to validate or invalidate it. I think when I was doing the [00:08:00] early research around beam, I wasn't anywhere close to a hypothesis or if I had one, if it was so poorly formed, it wouldn't make sense to validate or, and validate. I really just took it from the perspective.
Curiosity, because I was genuinely interested in learning more about this world after I'd had my own experience. And it just meant going down a lot of rabbit holes and talking to a lot of really interesting, smart people. And I found actually a lot of the most productive conversations came from other entrepreneurs.
Who had done extensive research already in the space who had maybe started the company in the space and were happy to share the lessons learned that saved me a ton of time. It also flagged lot that
Julian: opportunity was I love the conversation with entrepreneurs, cause there's so much transparency in that.
And, and so much learning that happens when, when you go down and, and go down that rabbit hole. , you know, one thing that, that comes to mind in terms of the journey and, and coming along the way is especially with beam is how do you build technology that is influences a physical space? Because [00:09:00] I think a lot of software we're so used to it just being online, it, it being a part of our workflow and software that, that actually acts on a physical space for me is just conceptu.
Different than, than a lot of software that you see out there. Talk to me about that process about learning, how to build software that is going to, you know, help people remodel a certain space and, and the difficulties with that.
David: Yeah. I heard someone describe it as sort of the difference between atoms and bits.
Right. And when you're trying to get bits to interact with atoms, it presents a whole interesting host of challenges. When you boil it down for home design or remodeling, there's sort of some core activities that are. Not optional that people have to do every single time. Then there's a bunch of optional stuff you can do on top of it and a bunch of different flavors.
But we, we learned is that the two things you always are doing are hiring someone to do the work, unless you're doing it yourself and buying the [00:10:00] physical products that have to go into the space. And so if you start with those sort of ground truths and then build the software up from there, I think we have a much better time than if you try and build some elaborate system that makes assumptions and doesn't start with those things that people
Julian: are already doing.
I love that approach. How, how is this different and, and how is this similar from the first startup experience?
David: So the first startup experience, you know, we were in undergrad, we literally left school early and went back to finish graduation, midway through tech stars. And then after that, we all moved into a house together. And everyone that we hired moved into that house and we were living together, working, breathing together 24 7.
It was like a pressure chamber. And what we knew at that time was two really important things. One was. We were at a stage of life where we didn't have a mortgage, we weren't married, [00:11:00] we didn't have kids. We literally had zero obligation to the world and could spend time, however we wanted. And we felt incredibly lucky and grateful that we got to spend it working together and building something.
And we were able to raise money to enable that to happen. The other thing that was true then is that we had no idea what we were doing. like, we knew we had no idea what we were doing. Like we we'd had internships up to that point. We'd never worked anywhere. We had, you know, we built websites, but we hadn't built any scaled apps or anything like that.
So, because we had no idea what we were doing. We knew that if we worked really, really hard and spent a ton of time on it, that we could get somewhere. And so it was sort of just recognizing the situation and playing to that. And you know, I'm 35 now I've got a three year old and a five year old I'm married.
I have more than one mortgage. And life is totally different now. You know, I learned. Time is the most valuable resource. Money is a renewable resource. Time [00:12:00] is not. And so now it's about spending my time as well as I possibly can. And it's. Taking some of the things that I've learned now from the first company and from investing in other companies and meeting with lots of smart entrepreneurs and having more leverage over my time and applying it the best way I can, but it couldn't be more different.
You know, I'm sitting in my house in the suburbs alone right now. And the last time around there, would've been, you know, 10 people outside of that door, all doing different things too. But humans are adaptable.
Julian: Amazing. And that's what we're doing. Talk to me about scaling the product. You mentioned, you know, learning, you hadn't scaled the product before and now you have that experience.
But what goes into, I think we hear a lot, you know, scaling growth and all these. You know, buzzwords and keywords that we can search on Google, but talk about what actually like the mechanisms that you know, make scaling both, you know, easy and, and, and doable and also achievable, like actually achieving the goal.
You're, you're trying to you're trying to achieve. And also, I guess the, the definitions that come with what scaling, you know, the different. [00:13:00] Things that you have to incorporate when thinking about building a product and then, you know, building it to a point where it's, you know, attracting a larger audience and growing at,
David: at a sizeable rate.
Yeah. Yeah. I think, you know, back in, in 2009, when we were doing the first business you know, lean startup and Eric Reese and that sort of movement was just coming into Vogue and the idea of product market fit was. Present, we read a ton of like Steve blank back then. And I think, you know, every time we'd hear someone talk about product market was like, what is this nebulous idea?
It's like searching for a unicorn or ACON or something. It's like, how do you fucking find that? And I was actually on this like Techstars alumni call a few months. And Brad Feld was on there. And I think it might have been me, someone on the call asked like, what's your definition of product market fit, Brad?
And he was like, it's really simple. It just means that you're selling more shit this week than you were last [00:14:00] week. And you know, you're gonna sell even more next week. And like just boiling it down to something that simple, like more people want your stuff now than they did before. And, and that's happening week over week is such a tight, clean definition of, of fit.
So. When it comes to the scaling and growing piece and everything else, I think that order of operations of finding fit and then pouring fuel on the fire is really important. I also think a lot of the, you know, truths that were around 10 years ago are still true today. Maybe the mediums have changed.
But making sure that that fit is there before you go all in on growth is super important. And. If you can. One of the things that we've spent a lot of time thinking about is how do you enable that growth by nature of using a service or product, not through pulling levers outside of it. And that.
You know, is so powerful when, when one person uses it. And that leads to even 1.0 0 [00:15:00] 0 0, 0 1 other person using it. That's how you achieve, you know, virality. I love that.
Julian: So, no, that's, that's amazing. I, I I, haven't a question popped into my head and I haven't asked a lot of founders this but talk to me about the difference, you know, of building a startup.
All your employees and everyone who's working on it in one house and in one location, which is, is kind of the, the fantasy model of what people think a startup is you know, in terms of building one in the experience we at Silicon valley, the show, you know, kind of walk through what that looks like.
Yeah, but I think nowadays with. Everything being remote and having the capability to have a fully dispersed team. What's different about building a startup now in this environment, it's no longer a pressure cooker of, you know, people and information, activity and productivity, but I think it's equally and if not more efficient than that previous model, but just talk to talk to me about the difference between those two
Yeah. Yeah, Samir. And I have spent a lot of time [00:16:00] talking about this one because there are some distinct differences. You know, we designed beam from, from day one to be a remote first company, even when we were conceptualizing it pretty pandemic. Part of that is, you know, selfish it's because we have family and friends all over the world and we want to be able to travel and see them and be able to work from wherever we are and not feel the guilt of not being, you know, an HQ, so to speak.
and that's, you know, of course, a very different condition than the first time around. But the actual going zero to one piece when you're remote is much, much harder having now experienced it both ways, it's just is incredibly challenging. And the way that you overcome that is travel and seeing people in person.
Right? So we do quarterly offsite where the whole team gets together once a quarter. And then in between we do smaller. Offsite, even if it's just one person going to see another because the productivity that happens in those 72 hours being under the same roof you know, just blows away what you can [00:17:00] do in two weeks remote.
But once you've found something and are executing and it's running like a well welded machine, I think being remote is a huge advantage, right. Especially if you're working with people who are great communicators, Who are really responsible who have a really high say, do ratio than have the, this is the like biggest change honestly is like the modern tooling now for running companies.
Yeah, so much better like Samir and I talk about this all the time. Like the, the amount of money we spend on server hardware. Next big sound. Just like blows my mind. Like I see our Versace bill now and I'm like, how are these? How is this possible that all of this, you know, infrastructure is here, we're building on the shoulders of giants.
The tooling has come so far both on the engineering side and just on the work collaboration side. That working
Julian: remotely. Yeah, no, I, I, I second that with, you know, the tooling is just so exceptional now we, you know, with the company that I run with my co-founder, we we use [00:18:00] Airtable, you know, and, and that has been such a huge tool yeah.
That connects with other tools and helps us not only keep track of our data and information. Take action steps and keep the, the communication extremely efficient and also, you know, slack and all these other tools. Just, just make it same as though you're not too distant, you're just like in the office away, but you know, you're hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles away.
Yeah. So it's incredible to see, you know, your experience from that transition and the appreciation, I, I, I assume from the tooling that you have access to now, Talking about the fuel of the fire. Where is beam now talk about the traction you've you've seen in the company recently.
David: Yeah, absolutely. So we we are very much a startup. I love the classic definition of it, you know, a temporary organization to design, to find a repeatable, scalable business model. And that's what we're running after. So we've. Built a ton of software. We've run a ton of experiments. We've gotten a ton of [00:19:00] learning.
We've used beam now to remodel our own homes. Seen our friends, remodel their homes with beam, seen strangers, remodel their homes with beam. And we're, you caught me at a really interesting time where we're growing nicely. Things are good. I'm happy with the progress, but second time around, I think there's a case of, and knowing that time is the most valuable thing.
There's this case. Yeah, I want to rocket ship this time. I don't want yeah. A, you know, slow climb up. And I want the product market fit to feel so palpable that like, it's just pulling us where we want to be. And so we, over the summer saw this really clear signal in the product of people using one.
The most and giving the most feedback on that feature, being the most excited about that feature. I got a message yesterday from someone who had been testing it saying my husband and I just spent the whole morning using this. It was so much fun. And like, when you hear that from someone that's energy and that's, that's what we do this [00:20:00] for.
And that's the excitement that you want around the thing that you're investing your life in. So we are mid. Never use this word, but mid pivot into this singular part of what we've built that we think is gonna be huge.
Julian: What's that feature? That's where we're at
David: right now. I'll send it to you.
Julian: good. Sounds good podcast. I love, I love the, it's funny, the, the word pivot, because I think it's, it's it's you, if it's used correctly, it, it means what it, what it's supposed to, which is, you know, you have product market fit and one founder, I think, I think it was. I think it was chip from BoomTown.
I can't remember he, he was on the podcast and so review that episode, but he talks about product market fit as a point in time. And you continued to move the, the compass in that direction, as you understand more of what the consumer wants. And you, you continue to zero in on that that product. And yeah, we can call it a pivot, but you know, it really is.
You know, becoming more fine tuned to what people are wanting and looking for in your product. So it's, [00:21:00] it's awesome to see that, you know, you're getting that feedback and you're building traction again and, and you're you're seeing some, you know, great results coming. Tell us about, I, I'm always curious to ask founders, what are some of the biggest risks that you face today?
David: Yeah. It's funny cause we're like in the business of, of risk management. And I think people often think of entrepreneurs as like these cowboy risk takers. And I think the reality is that we're incredibly like cautious calculated people that like to manage risk. So you know, the risks I see are sort of twofold.
One are the risks that are under my control and things that are, you know, sort of in immediate sphere and then there's everything else happening outside. And I try not to pay a. to everything else happening outside. It's like when we started next big sound in 2009 the market had just gone through an incredible collapse.
My co-founder Alex, in that business rescinded his job offer to diamond consulting so that he could start next big sound. The day [00:22:00] before Lehman brothers went under and. Woke up to the news was like, holy shit. And so we're trying to raise money in that environment as 22 year old first time entrepreneurs.
And we did it and we built a successful business and it taught us good fundamentals. I think businesses can be built in any market and getting too obsessed with the macro trends is a waste of time. The risks in my control. You know, my discipline and how I execute every day and how I communicate and my follow through and the team that I've built and my management of capital and the clarity of my vision.
And those are the, you. Things that are very much in my control and where I try to spend all my
Julian: time. Amazing. That's amazing. I, I, I love, I love the, the, the risk you can control and what you can control. And and it really just kind of speaks to not only the experience, but I think the, the founder mindset and yeah, completely calculated, evaluating all variables to make sure that you're making the, the most productive, most efficient and most effective movements forward.
So it's awesome to see. Just kind of become, I think, a personality trait of a lot, a lot of [00:23:00] founders either by experience or, or by nature. Tell us a little bit about the, the long-term vision for beam. What, what does, if everything goes right, what do you expect beam to be and, and what do you want it to be?
You know, in the near future, obviously a rocket ship and where's that ship taking you?
David: yeah. . Yeah, totally. I think that one of the biggest themes that sort of emerged through the discovery process and a lot of time off in soul searching after we sold the last business is something we were talking about earlier, caring about good design caring about the spaces that we can spend our time in.
You know, the influences that we have around us how design works, how it makes us feel. And making design more accessible to more people is long term. What makes me really excited you know, to start in the context of the home which is such an important sort of intimate space where you can think about all the other places where discovering great design purchasing products [00:24:00] around that great design and really creating the life and space that you want is, is possible and where software helps enable that.
You know, and. Being taken to its sort of logical
Julian: conclusion. Amazing. Amazing. Yeah. I, I agree. And, and I love when, when a certain location or certain space is designed in a certain way to elicit some kind of emotion or feeling or some kind of productivity. It really does. You know, create such an environment that either enables you or supports you or you know, acts as a barrier or, or, you know, some kind of confusion or construct that's a little difficult, but amazing to see where, where beam is and, and where it's headed to.
Bonus question. I like to ask all my founders for some selfish research, as well as research for, for the audience. What are some books or people that influenced you the most?
David: Ooh Jason Mendelson and, and Brad fell probably at the top of that list. Jason let the seed round in series a next big sound. Before he retired from venture, him and Brad together wrote venture deals which is required [00:25:00] reading for anyone raising money. Those guys are, are great. Noel Foundry group crew.
Outside of that, you know, there's a to, I. It's funny, cuz like when we were first learning about all of this, it felt like there were not that many things to read or learn. It felt like a small world. Like I remember sitting like in the back of my like macroeconomics class in 2000 and reading like tech crunch and not paying attention to what was happening in class.
And I felt like I'm probably the only person on campus. Who's who's reading this right now and now everyone's going into tech. It feels like but some of I'm trying to think of some of the early. Favorites that influenced us a lot. Anything by Steve blank was huge back in the day. And then guy Kawasaki had this really cheesy, but called the art of the start that I remember reading when I was like and I was like, oh my God, I could actually do this.
This is possible. So I like sort of the
Julian: amazing, well, thank you so much for, for the wisdom, the knowledge and and I'm really excited to see where, where beam is. Last little plug. I like to ask my guests, where can we support you? Where can we find more [00:26:00] information? Where can we follow you? Give us your LinkedIn, your Twitters everything that we can to support the, the
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Check us firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram.
Julian: Awesome. David, thank you so much for your time. I really am really excited to, to launch this to our audience and, and get them you know, involved in the project and involved in your background and really thank you again for, for being on the.
David: Thanks Julian. You're doing a cool thing here. So having me take care.