June 2, 2023

Episode 285: Mike Molinet, Co-Founder of Thena.ai & Branch

Mike Molinet is the co-founder of Branch, the mobile linking and measurement platform powering 100,000 of the world's top apps, including Spotify, Uber, Robinhood, Strava, Adobe, and more. Last valued at $4 Billion, Mike helped grow the business from an idea in early 2014 to over $100M in annual recurring revenue as COO and President. Success came only after failing with six previous startups between his 2007 graduation and 2014. Mike is also co-founder of a Seed-stage company, Thena (thena.ai), that helping modernize business communication over messaging platforms.

Julian:Hey everyone. Thank you so much for joining the Behind Company Lines podcast.Today we're talking with Mike Molinet, co-founder of Thena.Ai. Thena is helpingmodernize business communications over messaging platforms. Mike, I'm soexcited to chat with you, not only because of your extensive experiencebuilding Branch for the last nine years, which obviously I want to dive intothat and kind of that whole journey, but also thinking about how AI is gettinginvolved in a lot of different ways.

Companies are notnecessarily replacing products, but. Creating kind of operational efficienciesusing and leveraging technology. So super exciting to see how you're doing thatwith Thena and, and dive into those that, and, and that whole kind of, kind ofecosystem that you're building there. But before we get into that, what wereyou doing before you started the company?

Mike:So before we started, Theo, I was working on Branch. Before we started Branch,I was well worked on a few different projects with my co-founders and evenbefore that, had been working as an engineer for about five years. Mechanicalengineer, specifically out of undergrad. And tried to start a few smallbusinesses on the side while working as an engineer, which is where Ioriginally got my kind of entrepreneurial bug and decided that I wanted to dosomething more entrepreneurial and not work for somebody else.

Moved out toSilicon Valley in 2012. And that's when I started working on more projects andended up meeting my co-founders, which eventually led to Branch and then yeah,later actually led to Thena.  

Julian:And, and how are you, obvious, it sounds like, kind of one of many founderjourneys but one thing in particular about your journey is, is how did you kindof go through and identify problems in the world that you were looking tosolve?

Obviously from,from what I've learned about Branch, it was a problem that you had sawbuilding, companies prior to that, but yeah. What were, what, how were you kindof gaining. Their experience and, and, and connecting with other founders toget ideas. How are you searching for problems in the world that you wanted tosolve?

Mike:Yeah, it's I think everyone's path is a little bit different, but I'm a bigbeliever that you're identifying problems really usu or often needs to comefrom a pain point that you've experienced yourself. Now, that can bechallenging or a bit of a trap if you are. Experiencing the same pain point asmillions of other people.

Cause then millionsof other people, or thousands of other people might have had the same idea asyou. Which is why I think you see certain consumer products, that tend toreplicate or be very similar to other ones. But for us it was really about justdiving in head first. And so with my Branch co-founders, our first idea wasnothing to do with Branch Branches of mobile linking and.

Measurementplatform basically for apps that we started in 2014, but our first project thatwe worked on was very different. It was hardware, it was Fitbit for dogs. So itwas a kind of a smart dog collar to help track your, your dog's activity andlocation and, was it the, the world's perfect idea, most perfect idea?

No, it wasn't, itwasn't a big market opportunity. It was gonna be hard to manufacture and getdistribution. But what it did was, It led us down the path of startingsomething and then three months later we decided we're gonna pivot. But welearned from that paw print was the name of the smart dog collar.

We learned thatactually we work well together as founders, but what that we wanted to be insomething more software based because we found the problems with scalingsomething hardware. People can do it. It's doable. But we found that we, wewere more intrigued by how can we scale software? And at that time, in 2013, wesaid, we asked ourselves like, okay, what are the, what are the softwaretrends?

And one of the bigtrend. Maybe not surprisingly back then was mobile apps. Right? And this is 10years ago. Even then, it was still obvious that mobile apps were growing likecrazy and that they were gonna overtake desktop someday. They eventually did.And so we said, let's latch onto that. We don't know what we want to do, but wewant to be in the mobile ecosystem.

And so we decidedto work on a consumer facing mobile app. Yeah, and that was kind of like thatfirst step into mobile. We worked on that for a year. We ended, it was a photobook making app, basically photo sharing app. But during that year weidentified all the problems with respect to mobile, mobile app routing andlinking and measurement and attribution.

Like all thesechallenges that hadn't been solved in 2013, and we're just getting more andmore complex. Yeah. And one day we stepped back and asked ourselves, do we wantto spend the next 10 years working on this mobile app? And then the answer waskind of like, no, not really. We don't think this is ever gonna be a bigbusiness.

So then we said,what do we know about these problems that we face trying to grow our own mobileapp? That there might be something behind. And as we started to list theproblems around user experience and routing and links breaking and being ableto track where our users came from, we started to realize, oh, there's a nuggetof an idea here that is actually really interesting that nobody has solved.

That we areuniquely positioned to solve because of our unique knowledge that other peoplehad. But it was a smaller segment of the population that had uncovered thisknowledge. Cause only a few, smaller. That or fewer people had developed appsat that time. Yeah. And so we said maybe there's something there.

And so weidentified that problem based on our struggles trying to grow our own apporganically for a year. And that's where we ended up going down the path of, ofBranch. And so my, all that to say that the big lesson there is you areprobably not gonna come up with the perfect idea just sitting in your house oryour apartment.

Yeah. Just.Theorizing on what are the problems in the world. You kind of have to experiencethem. And the more you can experience, the more context you can build toidentify unique and novel problems and then solutions. So we never would'velanded on Branch had we not worked on a mobile app for a year.

We never would'velanded on that app had we not started working on Fitbit for dogs. And so it,where we started was very different than where we ended, but we needed to startsomewhere. And so one of the biggest pieces of advice I give to. Founders oraspiring founders is just start somewhere. Your first idea is not gonnaprobably be it, but it'll start you down that path where then you might uncoversomething really interesting.

That's like thebiggest thing when it comes to identifying problems that you might want tosolve.  

Julian: Yeah.And also it's interesting thinking about obviously betting on application andthe growth of just mobile apps and what in particular just was new about howquickly and readily they can get to consumers that was just not seen before.

What, what was, wouldthat kind of benefit the adoption of Branch eventually?  

Mike:Oh yeah, totally. I mean like the, i, I say this often, but one of my favoritelines from my Branch co-founder Alex, is he said something along the lines oflike, I want to be working in an industry that even if we fail, we face plantinto a pile of cash.

And what he meantwas yeah, it's a good one. And what he meant was, Latch onto an industry thatwill, that as that industry rises and grows, it's gonna lift everyone up,right? And even if you like falter, you're probably still gonna be successful.And that was huge because what we did was we latched onto the mobile appecosystem.

Now, part of thatwas a bet, right? There were plenty of people in 2013, 2014 saying apps aregoing away. It's all gonna be mobile websites. And like, Yeah, there, there wasthat bet. And so there's a little bit of platform risk, but our belief was appsare better and will continue to be better and they're gonna continue to be athing.

And these pro andmobile in general is going to increase in popularity. And it's gonna spread.And then that will overtake desktop and there's gonna be enough problems therethat we will figure something out. And so that was like the biggest thing. Welatched ourselves onto something that was gonna be so big.

That even if wefailed along the way, we would eventually find some niche that would still bevaluable. And I think that was like one of the most compelling things for, andone of the benefits that we we took advantage of in 2014, getting into themobile space. It's actually like my, one of my biggest piece of advice as well,which is latch yourself onto an industry that's gonna be huge because you couldexecute perfectly in like a slow or stagnant industry.

And there's not,there's not gonna be much opportunity for growth.

Julian: Imean, at the time too, I mean, going into mobile with 2013, you said, I mean,I'm just thinking about like at the time when I was in 20 12, 20 13, that waswhen a lot of like Angry Birds and all those really high velocity, likeconsumer apps were really jumping off and seeing crazy traction.

And, and I'm just,I'm just thinking, was, was it just, just like a timing of, People who arebuilding mobile apps just didn't see that much of that pain until, you built itand integrated it. Because I could see, like now it's a standard to be able tolink through to different ads, whether it's your an advertisement or you'reembedding something for your own product.

It's almost like,the evolution of landing pages and how sophisticated that is now. Right. Wasit, was it just like, because we were building at that right time, you justcaught the problem right before everybody saw it.  

Mike: Ithink that was part of it. I think to some, to some degree we, we created a bitof a more of a market around it.

Just by beingthere. Yeah. But I think it was, it was largely around, it was the time that ifyou were in it, and if you'd been in it for a year or two, you kind of knew theproblems. Yeah. But it was also. People would been, so it's one of those, itwas one of those things, it's probably some cognitive bias, but where you, youbecome accustomed to the problem, so you don't think about looking forsolutions.

Yeah. And or tryingto solve it yourself. And the only reason we did was because we stepped backand we asked ourselves explicitly. Do we wanna work on this app for 10 years?The answer was no. And then we asked ourselves explicitly, what do we know arechallenges in the mobile app ecosystem that we might be able to solve or thatwe suffered from?

And so it was veryearly. Now also, Alex, my co-founder, he'd started working on a similar productlike a year before that. Actually really coincidentally, that was like kind ofa weekend project, didn't go anywhere. Then we'd worked on other stuff and weeventually came back to that same idea. So it, like, there was always thatnugget of an idea that he'd identified pretty early on, I think even in 2012possibly where when he was working on as well.

So like that wasthere and then it came down to the execution, I think in 2012. It might havebeen a bit early 2014. I think the timing was a little bit better. We werestill early. And this is one of the, the challenges with. The being a founderin kind of the startup ecosystem where if you're too early and then enough ofthe market or early adopters are not there, you'll die.

You'll run out ofrunway, you'll, you'll die before you can get there. If you're too late, thenit's already been solved by enough companies and you're gonna be a late entrantand it's gonna be harder to compete. And so like the right. Area that we'veseen, at least with Branch and I think also with Thena, is you want to be earlyenough that you question like crap or we too early, but there's enough peoplethere that want to use it.

That earlyadopters, the 10% of the market that are early adopters that want to grab onthat and want to use it. Yeah. And so if you can, that's why it partially comesdown to timing, like Yeah, yeah. You don't wanna be too late, but you alsodon't wanna be too early. Cuz being too early can be deadly as well.

Julian:Right, right. And, and just thinking about like, what do you think, I mean, abig thing I, I could see in terms of changes that made to mobile applicationswas really catering to like this partnership model that we now see today where,certain apps are partnered with certain other brands that are similar inassociation or within this ecosystem.

Obviously now yousee that expanded into web three, but. I mean, were you, did you see thepotential of how the impact of having just like better tracking of the linksthrough your system would impact businesses and partnerships and create thiswhole kind of ecosystem now that we can track all these measurable outcomes?

Did, did you seethat or did that just come about as you were building?  

Mike: Alittle bit of both. So I think we saw that. That opportunity where we, cuz wetried to do it ourselves. We tried to do like affiliate partnerships with ourmobile app and tried to do a few other things and we're like, man, we can't,like, we're getting all these users, but we can't tell where they're comingfrom.

And so we can't go,for example, double down on the. Channels or the affiliates or whatever thatare working best for us. And so that was kind of like one of those nuggets ofthere's a problem here that nobody solved. Why has nobody solved this? But moregenerally, there's, there's the, some of the, one of the kind of higher levelthemes that you're hitting on, which is there was new opportunities thatemerged over the years, over the last nine, 10 years.

That we neverwould've been able to identify. And this is an interesting thing cuz somebodyone of my Thena co-founders said like, the tam, the total addressable market isa factor of the founders. And I do believe that to some degree because yes, youneed to be in a big market and have a big tam, but where the company is five.

Seven, 10 yearsdown the road is often gonna be very different. And there's often gonna be newopportunities that emerge that were not and would've never, would've beenobvious in the beginning and nobody could've founded in the beginning. And sopart of that's luck. But part of that is identifying those opportunities whenthey're nascent and then capitalizing on them over time.

Because there'splenty of things, whether it's products we built, things we sold. Opportunitiesto grow in Branches history where we never would've in 2014. Imagine that thatwould've been what would the world was gonna go. But when it did, we said, ohgreat, we have a solution for this. That's why I'm a big fan.

Anytime there's adisruption of any kind, right? A lot of people look at disruption and they say,oh my God, this is scary. Maybe it's gonna, bring down our company or hurt oursales. We look at those disruptions, whether it be from Apple or Google on the.On the Branch side or some of the things was on Thena side.

Yeah. Look at thosedisruptions as opportunities, not as disruptions because those opportunitiesusually create some new problem that then if we're positioned to go solve it,we can solve it and then usually sell it.

Julian:Yeah, well it's also fascinating too cuz within that kind of chaos there arecompanies like Branch from, from my perspective or my opinion is like buildingthis pipeline, right?

This, thisinfrastructural piece that most are going to be used if not standardized, theexperience. And you see that now with like. A lot of web three companies or, orjust like the past few years, kind of creating this infrastructural layer. Andobviously that'll evolve in its own own way. But interesting in shifting gearsinto Thena now there's this big AI play and what, how does this kind of getinvolved in the, in our businesses and how all businesses are thinking about itas a productivity tool and how to engage with it.

But there's not alot of infrastructure foundation kind of, I guess, that people can kind of,Come back to, in terms of like a first principle standpoint. And so like, I'm,I'm curious, what made you go in this direction, in, in this new kind of openmarket, what was attractive about AI and, and what got you involved?

Was it anotherproblem that you were seeing at Branch or, or was it something else out in the,in the world?  

Mike:Yeah. Yeah, it, so coincidentally it was a problem that we were, we were seeingthe so we started Thena Thena was started, call it last, early 2022 before thebig like AI revolution in chat g PT were publicly available, et cetera.

But really theproblem goes back a few years. And so just for the listener's benefit, Thena isultimately a layer that sits on top of Slack and teams to enable companies thatservice their customers on Slack or teams to be able to service them moreefficiently. And so part of that is, just being able to track when customersask questions or have issues, being able to automatically understand that usingai, like, Hey, this is an issue, this is a bug report.

This is Some sortof feature request, be able to track it, create a ticket, and then also be ableto automatically do things using ai, whether it be automatically alerts, usesentiments to inform customer health or auto respond to the customer that asksthe question. Because you don't need a human doing a lot of those things.

You don't need ahuman adding tags, setting the urgency replying to the customer with a link toyour knowledge base. Yeah, a lot of that can be done via ai. Right? And so aswe. As we started to scale serving our customers on Slack at Branch, it wasdefinitely a high engagement channel that I loved, but it was really hard.

It was hard toscale. It was hard because it was really noisy and it was hard becausecustomers kind of expected a fast response. But if you're relying on humans torespond to all your customer response, all of your customer queries on Slack,it can be really overwhelming. And so we started to build a couple differentthings, but over the last year we've really built it out into a platform whereyou can.

Engage withprospects or customers within Slack, within teams, and you can have autoresponses. You can automatically track and detect what are the customer'sissues, problems. You can see those trends over time. You can see over the past90 days, we have started to see an increase in the number of bug reports fromthese types of companies.

Yeah. And so Ithink for us, we're really trying to solve two things. One, we, we wanted tosolve this idea of servicing more and more customers. In the place where theywanted to be. So if they wanted to be in Slack, we wanted to enable that. Whatwas preventing us from enabling that? What was preventing us from having morecustomer service in Slack was the heavy nature of doing it in Slack withhumans.

And so you stillneed humans engaged, but if you can free up a. A customer's success manager'stime, or support engineer's time, or a solutions architect's, time to not haveto respond to basic, basic queries and instead do more strategic work. That's awin-win for everybody. Customer gets their answer in the platform that theywant to work out of.

CSM or salesengineer or solutions architect doesn't need to be bothered with kind of lowerlevel questions, but they can spend more time interacting and buildingrelationships with the customer. In a more thoughtful and fruitful way. Soyeah, that's kind of like what led to the, the ca the idea originally forThena.

Julian:Yeah. And, and thank you for, for giving us some context and I, I mean, I'mcurious cuz when I was, thinking about the company and, and doing some researchon it, It, it's different from Branch in the way that, and obviously correct meif I'm wrong, in the way that you kind of rely on Slack and, and that Slack isthis big kind of ecosystem, this big pool where that, it's almost like a selffeeding funnel and it has already this reputation amongst customer engagement.

So it's like you,you both live, and, and become super fruitful with, with Slack and its growthor die with, with maybe if, if it becomes, not adopted as much. And how is thatdifference? Kind of changed how you build Thena versus how you build Branch,being that you're relying on, kind of another partner in, in that way.

Mike:Yeah. Yeah. So definitely building Thena in, in a different way. I think,building it a company 10 years later, some things are the same and some thingsare different. And I think one of the ways in which things are different iswhen we started Branch and even the prior company, There wasn't like Slack wasvery, very, very new, and so it wasn't necessarily a common channel that peopleused even internally.

Right. Most of mostthings were still done in email and throughout my Branch history, a lot ofthings were still done in email. When I look at the way in which we interact onSlack or Thena, almost everything's done in Slack. Yeah. And. Then docs likeGoogle Docs notion, et cetera. And it's interesting because all of our selling,all of our support, all of our customer engagement, it's all done on Slack.

We don't send emailnewsletters, we don't service our cus we don't even have a support email alias.If you need support, you can use our chat or you can, come see us in Slack andwe'll service you in Slack. It's just a different world, right? And granted,we're a little bit more at the forefront of that, but we believe that's wherethe, the trend is going more generally.

For better, forbetter or worse. Yeah, because it's definitely, slack can be chaotic and slackcan be a real, sure, it can be a real benefit, but can also create a lot of challenges,which is ultimately what we're trying to solve with Thena. Right? Like takeadvantage of the benefits with, without suffering through the, the problems orthe challenges.

Julian:And how much is like, I don't know if this is like founder or founder question,but like, how much of this is, is an experiment for just understanding how AIcan kind of manage these overall challenges, that customer engagement, teamsface or customer success teams face. How much of this is like the initialexperiment for a grander idea of, its relationship with these teams?

Mike:Yeah, definitely an experiment. I, I think we all. Generally see where AI'sgonna take us. But there's a lot of unknowns and the All in podcast they weresaying a couple weeks ago, and they're like, this is the dust storm right now.Yeah. Everything AI related is the dust storm and it's, it's impossible to knowwhat direction you're facing, where things are gonna land, who are gonna be theplayers that come out on top.

And so everyone'sjust kind of in a flurry of activity, but. It'll start to take shape over thecoming quarters and, and years. But I, I do view a lot of what we're doing askind of an experiment as, as I think most people are, right? Cause we justdon't know. We don't know where the world's gonna go. We don't know how it'sgonna be received.

We don't know alot. And so definitely an experiment, but that's where I think, especially instartup world, fast iteration and being able to experiment, being able to learnquickly and then change course as you learn. Is such a crucial skill. Yeah. Andit's like this weird dichotomy where you need to be both doggedly, persistenton what it is you're trying to achieve, but at the same time flexible to beable to pivot Yeah.

On a moment basedon something you learn. And I, it's, it's always a weird dichotomy, right?Because like you're trying to do both. And it can be very easy to say, no, Ibelieve this is the way we should go and stick with that for four years only topick your head up and realize you were way off course.

Yeah. Yeah. And so,but if you're constantly changing direction and, and, constantly movingprogress to the next, you're not gonna be persistent enough to ultimatelyachieve success. And that's where the nuance is as, as like a founder, as anentrepreneur, being able to determine what is that thing that you need to beoverall persistent with.

But what are thethings where you need to adapt and flex real time?  

Julian:Yeah. You're thinking about Thena and, and what you've kind of been able toaccomplish so far. What's been exciting about the traction you've seen up tothis point and what's exciting for the next milestones you're looking toachieve with the company?

Mike:Yeah. I think, when we started the working on it, it was originally just. I wasat Branch, the, my who would, the people that would eventually become myco-founders were, they'd left Branch and they were working on something andthis was it, right? And I was like, oh man, we, we like, we need this today.

And I think what'sexciting is to a c that there's other people out there that. Have the samephilosophy, see the future, share that vision, and are suffering from the sameproblems that we can solve. Mm-hmm. And then b, being able to solve it and thenget such good reaction. It's funny because, I've worked on now eight differentbusinesses and six of them I would, I would say failed.

Right? Yeah. Andthere were multiple times in some of those where you're just like, okay, webuilt this thing that we thought was, or we think is amazing. Yeah. And thenyou go try to talk to people and they just. Don't buy it or they don't adoptit. Or maybe a few do, but it's a small percentage. And then you start torealize, oh, there's not a market opportunity here.

And that reallycomes down to product market fit, right? Like yeah, how good is your productrelative to what the market needs and how is that fit? And it's really excitingto have this because it feels similar to Branch in the sense that we have good indicatorsof product market fit. I think it's early, right?

Like, still takestime. It takes years to really understand true product market fit, but that'swhat's really exciting about Yeah. Kind of today's position where we feel likewe've built something that solves a need, not only for ourselves, but forthousands of other companies out there. And I think what's exciting about thefuture and where we're going is we believe we're just tapping into the earlyadopters.

We believe rightnow we're early. And so that is maybe 10% of the market out there that might beinterested in our solution. We believe we should be able to, over the next fiveor 10 years, get to 50% of the market will be in a position where they wouldwant something like Thena. There's always gonna be the laggards and the lateadopters.

The people thatwill never use a solution like this for whatever reason, whether it's becausethey don't believe in messaging platforms, whether it's because they, don'twant to use third party tools, whatever it is, but I believe that we're justtapping. The initial early adopters, which is great because it's a good signthat assuming that trend continues, that there should be a big marketopportunity ahead of us over the next five to 10 years.

Julian:Yeah. And do you think it is, is the big problem is companies just having morecustomers to, kind of service and, and there's just more problems that there'snot, not problems, but just, just variables that aren't, considered within,somebody using, within the user experience. Like, is, is it a volume thingthat, that's creating this kind of almost like bottleneck of service andsupport that just like challenging to, to overcome this mass amount of tickets?

Mike:Yeah, I think, I think it's a few different things. I think definitely, morecustomers, whether it be like long tail customers, individual end users, orenterprise customers. That's one. I think the other another is there's morenoise and there's more channels. Meaning, historically, let's say you only hadone channel, customers could only contact you via email.

Okay, you couldbuild a system, but now they can contact you via email, via LinkedIn, viaSlack, or teams via phone, whatever it is, right? Then they hit you up onTwitter, right? And so like, there's just more noise in general and there's alot more channels. So that starts to become chaotic. And then finally, I thinkpeople are expected to do more, right?

Like everyone, yourcon like companies are always pushing the limits of how can we do more? How canwe do more? How can we do more? And as when you look at employees, it's okay.This person's doing a lot. How do we make them more efficient? How do we easesome of the burden on them? So maybe they can output more, but without needingto increase the input?

And that ultimatelyis what determines productivity. So I think if you can, especially as salariescontinue to rise. Cool, let's pay you more salary. But we need to increase theproductivity, not by working more, putting more in more hours, but byincreasing the output. And how do you do that? You do that through.

Better tools,better systems, better software that can enable use things like AI to makesomebody significantly more productive, to free up their time to do otherthings that can't be replaced with AI and with other software.  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. What, what do you think, whether it's internal or external or someof the biggest risks that the company faces today?

Mike:Biggest risk. I think there's always kind of execution risk is one, right? Doyou execute well? Do you hire the right people? Do you build the right product,et cetera. The other is macroeconomic risk for sure. Just it's a tightenvironment. I think that's a really good thing. I think that's a, there's apositive aspect to that, but it does make it challenging to sell.

The environment wasvery frothy in 2021 and even the years before that. Right. But we're in a verydifferent environment where deals are taking significantly longer, they'regetting much more scrutiny and they're closing at lower amounts. Yeah. And sothat's a challenge for sure. I think it's good. I think it's healthy, but Ithink it's a challenge.

And then one of theother risks too is ai, who knows what the heck Ai, like what, what's gonnahappen with AI over the next. Year. It's moving so fast. Yeah. It's impossibleto predict, which is why it's just a dust storm, right? Like you just, youcannot tell what's gonna land tomorrow or next week or next month.

And so there'sdefinitely some opportunity for big, massive disruption that none of us see.And I don't think that's an existential risk. I think it will createopportunity for the right companies that are able to lean into that, but it isa risk to some degree.  

Julian:Yeah. What, what would you say are some of the long term bets? That you are,that you are taking right now in terms of, is it AI is becoming, gonna bewidely adopted as the product tool that every team's gonna use? Or is it, customersare gonna have increasingly high volumes of, new kind of problems and ticketsthat they're kind of resolve?

What kind of betsare, are you taking right now?  

Mike:Yeah, I think it's two bets or two kind of thesis that we're operating on, or AIdefinitely is going to. Take over as a bigger and bigger component of thethings that people do. And then the other is just more generally that. The wayin which businesses are communicating, including B2B communication, business tobusiness communication is shifting more and more towards messaging platforms,slack teams, discord, whatever, WhatsApp business, whatever it may be, right?

And it's shiftingaway from email. Email's been around for 25, 30 years for a lot of people. Andit's been a method for communication. But what we're seeing is simply that thatis shifting more and more towards messaging platforms. And so we're just gonnabe there, we're gonna be there ready to enable all those companies as more andmore shifts to messaging.

We're gonna bethere to help, help solve the problems that come with that.  

Julian:Yeah. I love this next section I call my founder faq. So I'm gonna hit you withsome rapid fire questions and we'll see where we get. First question I alwayslike to open it up is what's particularly hard about your job day-to-day?

Mike:What's hard, I, I, I think for me maybe today or at least what's top of mindright now is the volume of different things that you're doing and contextswitching and being able to context switch quickly. Be able to dive in deep andthen pull back out. And to go from a. Customer call to an interview, to apodcast, back to a customer call to, a prospect sale to an investor meeting,like all within a three hour block.

It could be a lot.So that's kind of like that context switching rapid fire contextswitching.  

Julian:Yeah. What do, what do you think strengthens that ability for a founder? Is itunderstanding your story, your, your product, more delivering a pi? What, howcan founders kind of be more prepared to take that context switching and, andbe multi dynamic with, with the different the responsibilities that come withbeing a founder?

Mike: Idon't know. I think it's practice. I don't have a good answer for that. Yeah,practice. I've been doing it for 10 years and it's, it's, it's hard. I'm ableto do it, but, I had 16 meetings yesterday. I probably, I think I've got like14 today, so it can, it can pile off. But I think just practice, you just getbetter at it and as much as you can, carve out a little bit of space in betweenmeetings if possible.

That's hard to dousually, but if you can do it, it's very helpful.  

Julian:Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thinking about, kind of your experience as a founder, what'ssomething that you are good at now that you wish you were better at earlier onin your career?  

Mike: Ithink understanding people, I. I think at the end of the day, we are like everystartup, or maybe not every startup, but most startup found, at the end of theday, you're in a people business, right?

And unless you'redoing deep, deep tech, and I would argue that open AI is a little bit more inthe deep tech realm, but a lot of businesses are not. A lot of businesses are,you are selling. You are selling to investors, you're selling to prospects,you're selling to candidates to come join your company.

You're selling topartners to integrate with you. So like you're constantly selling. And I thinkfor me, I was an engineer. I was an engineer by trade, mechanical engineer, I,everything worked very logically. In my mind, everything seems should be anequation. Everything should be rational. The problem is humans are messy,humans are complex, humans are not rational, and humans are emotional.

And I think themore and more I understood about humans and how they interact and they're. Whattheir biases are and what they're motivated by. Then I started to realize, oh,I can change or pivot my approach to, to satisfy maybe an illogical oremotional response, but one in which that lands me ultimately at the place thatI want to go.

And I think, I wishI understood the a that bit about people more. Earlier in my career, and then Bkind of started to adapt to that new environment and that new mindset and learnmore of those skills. Human psychology is so fascinating and if you're doing, Imean, if you're a founder, you're selling, I don't care what role you're in,you're selling, it just depends on who you're selling to.

Julian:Yeah, everyone at every, at every moment in time, I feel day to day. And thenso in, in, in terms of like, one thing I I'm really curious about as ai, growsand expands is, and obviously a huge development of ai, was a lot of researchdone on like learning models and waves that it kind of goes through and, andkind of uses laws and logic to be able to progress and, build upon itself.

And, but I'm, I'mjust wondering how much of like. Philosophy is gonna now be incorporated in, ina lot of the development of these types of products in terms of like, moralthinking and, and because I feel like a lot of the concern about where thetechnology goes crazy is just like understanding the framework and wish itshould play.

Is that like acrazy, like suspicion or, or are we kind of like, yeah, are we, are we, are wechicken little or, or is it an actual kind of concern we should thinkabout?  

Mike: Idon't have the answer to that, but what the, my, my, my feeling is I think thisis a legitimate concern and I think it's a concern that a lot of people have,which is why it's so much, it's so prevalent in the news, right now, at least.

Cause I thinkthere's a lot of people that feel that this thing that we don't fullyunderstand has been unleashed on the world. And once it's out of, once it's outof the box, you can't get it back in. And now we need to kind of. Reactivelyfigure out how do we set some sort of constraints around it, possibly.

Do we, do we not?And I think that's a big worry. I, I, I. I don't have a strong opinion of it.I'm a, I'm a bit along for the ride and we're gonna adapt to things as theydevelop. But I don't have a strong opinion on it cause I'm so, I would argueI'm, I'm very uninformed relative to the people that are actually working inthis day-to-day.

Julian:Yeah, yeah, yeah. Always like to ask this question cause I love how foundersextract knowledge out of anything that they ingest. Whether it's books orpeople, what's been extremely impactful, earlier or currently in your careerthat's kind of, taken you or lasted or kind of cemented in your mind somethingthat other founders can, can take away from and extract knowledge from?

Mike:Okay. Yes. So I think earlier in my career and while I was running Branch, alot of it was books. And originally I was like high volume book. I was justlike, okay, yeah, if I could read a book a week. And I think my mindset hasshifted on books at least, which is. It's not about the volume that you youconsume, whether it be audible or physical books, but rather about how much youput into practice.

Cuz you could read10 books, five books, two books. But if you execute or put into practice a lotof what you read, assuming that they're good books. That's much more impactfulthan, being somebody that says like, yeah, I read a hundred books this year.Like, yeah, but what did you do? How did that change?

Right. And thenthat was a big, big component of my learning and growth at Branch. And thenwhat I've been trying to do more recently, it's hard, which is why I end upwith a ton of meetings, but I'm trying to spend more time with other founders.I didn't do that at Branch. Yeah. I just was so inwardly focused.

And so I've beentrying to do a, do now second time around is spend more time with otherfounders. A because I think sometimes I can help them in certain ways, and thenB, which is kind of like having that community and being able to bounce ideasoff and understand that you're not the only one suffering from a certain issueor a problem can be really beneficial.

So, Trying toleverage more of my network and community and build more of that network whichis something I didn't do with Branch. So I think books or other like fellowfounders, other community. And then in, usually the question is like, how doyou meet those people? Frankly, I think LinkedIn is one hugely unutilized,untapped resource for a lot of people.

A lot of peoplethat I'm, friends with now or that are fellow founders that I, chat withoccasionally, I met 'em. A lot of them through LinkedIn. Yeah. Because we'retalking about different things post on each other's, comment on each other'spost, whatever it is. So a big fan of that as well.

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. And then it's awesome to kind of stay engaged but also keepfostering that, that ecosystem or network. And a lot of it's just like stayingin touch and engaging with like content or even asking for advice for aconversation once in a while, which is super cool. And. Very underutilized. Butthose who know, it seems like it, it continues to kind of feed in thatecosystem, especially now that, and actually that's another question for you.

Being that like teamsare, remote and we're kind of dealt, with this remote world now, what are youas a founder doing to like, keep your team engaged and, and kind of keep thatkind of productivity in line with, the direction of where the company is going,but also.

Knowing that likeyou can't offer everyone everything anymore, like space and all those, like, Ithink about, I used to di I used to work out of a WeWork, like right at, rightwhen they began, we had like beer on tap and kind those crazy days. But it wasit was about offering that like all in one ecosystem.

How do you do thatas a founder now with the remote team?  

Mike:It's hard. It is really hard. And transparently we. Are more of an in-officeteam, even though I'm at home right now. It's because we're moving offices butwe are more of an in-office company and we have, three different locations.

Bay Area, New York,and India. We have a couple people that are remote, but for the most part,everyone's in office and. It is because it's, especially at this stage, sub 50employees, it is so hard to really build that camaraderie and build that trustand operate effectively and efficiently when you're everyone's remote.

Now you can do itand there's other benefits to that. But for us, our belief and our philosophyis we're more in-person than we are remote. Yeah. Yeah. I think as you grow, asa company gets bigger and bigger and bigger, you can do more of a remote thing,but I personally am. And a lot of the people that we've hired are much moremotivated being around other people and like, and prefer to operate in office.

Julian:Yeah. What, what sets it up so that you don't, as a founder you're not spendinga lot of time like going through values all the time and because obviouslythere's just different priorities, especially at, at the velocity need to moveat, what have you kind of, there's something you can put in place that otherfounders can to, to kind of almost automatically reinstill that.

Is it like,communication standards, is it. Documents that, that talk about principles.Yeah. Just, just curious if, if you've thought about that.  

Mike:Yeah, definitely. And, and I think it's important to align in the verybeginning, especially as founders, like, what are our principles and values?

Yeah. Maybe write'em down. Those are gonna change over time. You're gonna iterate and learnwhat's actually important and what isn't. And it's, but I think what'sinteresting, we spent a lot of time at Branch doing this, but I think it wasincreasingly important as we got bigger. So we got two a hundred employees, 200employees, 500 employees.

That's when itbecame increasingly important to really reiterate a lot of stuff. When you're10, 20, 30 employees and you're mostly working out of one or two offices,everyone can see it and feel it every single day, and they see and feel thefounders and they sit right next to you and they're in the meetings with you.

Yeah. But as youbecome, as a founder, at least as your company grows and you become more andmore removed from maybe the day-to-day of everyone else at the company, Peoplewill, some people will never meet you in person, in, in today's environment.Right. And so you do need to do more of that communication, both written andverbal.

And you need tobasically repeat the, the highest level of information that you want everyoneto know. You need to repeat it a thousand times. Yeah. Your job almost becomesjust like being that megaphone and just repeating over and over and over againthe top priorities, the top KPIs and the principles and values of the company.

Yeah. Now there'sother things you do to make sure that you know you have values. Stewards andthat you hire the right people in the company and your recruiting process. Makesure to screen for the right values and principles. But I think that becomesmore important as you get bigger in the beginning.

Like we don't spendreally any time talking about values and principles simply cuz we're all sowell aligned and we're all operating around each other that it just kind of isinherent in the way in which we operate.

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. Well said, and it's awesome, going through this show and talking toa bunch of founders that you, you can kind of see what founders can do tocreate kind of really a foundational business at the, kinda at the genesis ofthe idea.

So that, Long termyou don't, find issues that arise. But also at this point, it seems like youhave a pretty amazing core team to where you've worked well enough togetherthat, you're kind of in the same direction, which is, which is which is awesometo see. But Mike, I know we're coming through the, the end of the episode here.

So before we giveyou a chance to give us your plugs is there any question I didn't ask you thatI should have? Anything that we didn't bring up that, that we left on the tablehere today?  

Mike:Ooh, good one. Let's see. No, let's le let's leave it at that. I think we on agood note.  

Julian:Awesome. Mike, it's been such a pleasure talking about your early years atBranch and really what got you there, your entrepreneurial journey and, andwhat guided you to building the companies you did and this next venture and howthe bets you're taking are, are really exciting about, the pro, theproductivity that companies can have, servicing customers, leveraging existingtechnology.

It's been such apleasure having you on the show. I hope you enjoyed yourself and thanks againfor being on Behind Company Lines.  

Mike:Of course. Thank you.  

Julian:Of course.

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