In this episode, Ashu chats with Edith Harbaugh, Co-Founder and CEO of feature management platform, LaunchDarkly. Before founding LaunchDarkly, Edith spent four years at TripIt as a product director, where she worked to build out TripIt Pro, TripIt for teams, and ExpenseIt. Edith discusses the decision to launch a startup, the woes of fundraising, and the journey to the company’s success today. Edith also shares her expertise on topic of sales: how to sell yourself, your company, and your product; wnd what to look for when you’re hiring a sales leader.
What was the impetus for jumping into LaunchDarkly?
For Edith, it really boiled down to three things.
- “I’ve always liked creating things.” As an engineer, Edith enjoyed building things from scratch.
- While it’s hard to imagine anyone internally developing a feature management platform today, Edith recounts her frustration with the dearth of feature management solutions during her time at TripIt. “I was very enthusiastic about bringing this concept to life.”
- It’s what she wanted to do. She ran a mental simulation, asking herself, Do I want to look back in my sixties and seventies and think, I could have done a startup but I didn’t even try? After considering this scenario, jumping into LaunchDarkly was a no-brainer.
Edith points out that, as an alumna of Harvey Mudd college, she had few Sand Hill Road connections at the time of LaunchDarkly’s first rounds. “I had this perception of VCs as these mysterious people,” she said. So instead of the typical round of pitching, Edith raised a seed from friends and family by going to “everyone I knew who had money.”
“The earliest rounds were absolutely the hardest … we were raising on promise.”
As any founder can attest, fundraising is hard. Now a veteran of the process, Edith teaches a class on fundraising at her previous accelerator, Alchemist. Her takeaways:
- The number one mistake: you need to brag about yourself. This is especially hard for technical founders, since technical culture so heavily relies on teamwork. But remember: if someone is going to cut you a large check, they need to know who you are. And you need to give them something to believe in.
- Another huge lesson: many founders spend too much time on the deck rather than the paragraph below. Edith recommends addressing the team, dream, and traction tripod in a blurb. Consider:
- Why are you and your founder the best people in the entire world?
- Why is your market amazing, and why are you the best person to go after it?
- Why is it the best time for this product?
Finding the right team.
As a startup veteran and member of many successful teams prior to LaunchDarkly, Edith has a lot of advice for leaders building their teams. Specifically, she addresses the following:
- The Cofounder. Edith took the step of doing a “trial” working period with her cofounder before taking the dive. You will be working with this person every day, through thick and thin, so you better know what you’re getting yourself into.
- Salespeople. Says Edith, “any good salesperson wants to step into a process.” As a founder, then, you need to have a successful, functioning process to hand off to your first hires. And if done right, “your sales person is your best friend.” Indeed, Launch Darkly’s first sales person participated in daily stand-ups, ate lunch with the team, and became incredibly integrated into the team’s technical process.
- “Right person, right time.” People who are perfect for the company now may not be perfect in the future, and vice versa. Be patient, and keep in mind that growing pains do happen.
In closing, Edith and Ashu discuss her learnings from working at startups and building a successful company. Her biggest advice? Don’t lose faith. Sometimes sales go slow—especially in infrastructure, where a client needs to build your product into their process. Sticking it out, following up, and remaining committed will pay handsomely in customer loyalty.