Founder Focus is a “Humans of New York” style spotlight on the human stories behind diverse startup founders, their life experiences and perspectives, the origin stories of their startups, and the path they took to where they are today.
This episode features Dani Grant, Co-Founder, Jam.
And we're live. All right, cool. Welcome to another episode of Founder Focus. I'm your host, Jade Wang, and I run the startup program, so hit me up for those credits if your accelerator program qualifies.
And today on our show, we have Dani Grant, who used to work at Cloudflare and is now the founder of Jam.dev.
Welcome to the show, Dani.
It's like so special to then just chat with you here about Cloudflare, about Jam.
I met my co-founder at Cloudflare. We worked on Dane's team. We worked really closely with you.
You helped us get Cloudflare credits. Jam runs on Cloudflare.
This is so nice. It's like we're family. So very briefly, can you tell us what Jam .dev is?
Yes. So when Urtica and I were product managers at Cloudflare, we were on a team that liked to ship fast.
And the number one thing that would bottleneck us shipping fast is right before a product goes out, there is a big review process where every team takes a look, support team, sales team, the PMs, any stakeholder takes a look and tries to get the feature ready to release.
And at that stage, there's no great way to give feedback. So there's quips at the time on HipChat.
People create JIRA tickets. People create spreadsheets of their feedback.
There was one PM at Cloudflare who would always create a wiki page in Confluence, like this person's wiki of feedback about this product.
And so as the PM, you actually have very little time to focus on getting the product ready to go.
Instead, you're focusing on grabbing all the feedback from all the different places, kind of putting it into a format that the engineer can work on it, and then just checking to make sure everything's done.
And most of the feedback, actually, it's not just getting it.
There's a back and forth afterwards. Someone texts you and they're like, the font looks bad on iPad.
And you're like, which font?
And so I'm chatting with Urtica. This one that I'm looking at, these pixels.
I know, yes, yes, the font. I was chatting with Urtica and Urtica at the time was in the process launching not just one, but a few products, very Cloudflare speed.
And Urtica was like, I just wish everyone could leave feedback, like sticky notes on top of the page.
We're all looking at the same staging link.
Couldn't we just annotate it together? And we just thought, oh, man, we have to build that.
And every single PM, every single designer, every single marketer we talked to, while we were just doing research, was like, oh, at our team too, when can we use it?
Can we start paying? We're like, we haven't built it yet.
But it told us, oh, man, we've got to go build it. We're an early stage startup now.
We've been at this for less than a year. We're a team of six. And we're in beta.
And we are trying to build the collaboration tool for people who do what we used to do.
It's like digital sticky notes for your website, for your whole team to just focus on the product, be on the same page, literally collaborate in line, and just get stuff done before you ship.
Can you show us a demo and screen share?
Yeah, I'll screen share. So welcome to Jam. So what you see here is the Cloudflare website.
You see Cloudflare.com kind of inside of a Jam workspace. And here you'll see any feedback that anyone on the team has left.
So let's say that I'm looking at this.
Let's say I have some feedback to share. Like, for example, I could just click anywhere and leave sort of a digital sticky note, like a comment and an element on the page.
So I can say, hey, let's see if we can make this one line.
And maybe I need to get you to help me with it. I can mention you, assign you. You can mark it as different states.
And let's say that you're a team. So it's like a bug tracker in there, too.
Nice. So, you know, people have great bug trackers. We're not trying to replace them.
And so if you need to create, like, a JIRA ticket for each piece of feedback, you can just do that.
Oh, nice. Oh, magic. Nice.
And so basically, like, each comment has a physical location on the page that is kind of superimposed on top of it.
Is that how that works? Yeah, we fingerprint the DOM and we find the element.
In landing pages, this is so easy, because everyone sees the same thing.
But the secret sauce, the secret jam is that we can do it also for dynamic products.
So you're logged in, everyone's seeing something slightly different, but you can still talk about the same thing.
Like, hey, if I have 15 items on the page, it starts to look weird.
Everyone should be able to see and comment and, like, you know, collaborate on improving the site together.
And if someone's like, I'm looking at this on mobile, and so the dimensions are a little different, how do they communicate that?
So jam works on your phone.
You would just load the link on your phone. But the number one feature request right now, you won't be surprised, is like a mobile preview inside of the jam link on desktop.
And so just something we've got to add. So yes, speaking of which, actually, why don't we go to that part?
So what's on the roadmap, right? So those are some of the features you're thinking about in the next, what, like, couple of quarters, year?
What's your roadmap look like, you know, in the next year or five years in terms of the product direction you're going to take it?
You know, ultimately, we want to be the product collaboration tool.
If you're on a product team, the product itself is the first tab you have open.
It's the last tab you close.
It's where everyone is. And one of the things that just slows teams down is there are too many places to do the work.
We want to take all of your tools, GitHub, Jira, Airtable, Slack, Google Docs, whatever it is that you use on your team and bring it into the product.
So the cool thing about digital sticky notes is, you know, they're digital, they can be connected to stuff.
And so, like, for example, today in Jamf, if you leave a comment, you can send it automatically to Slack.
And then if someone responds in Slack, it will come back to Jamf. So everyone can be where they're at and work together, like, much faster.
So I would say, like, I have always been a, I've always been very bullish on the future of remote collaboration tools, but this past year has really been something else for this entire space, right?
Can you tell us a little bit about how, like, 2020 as a year and its events have impacted your product direction, your user acquisition, and just like, and also your own work patterns?
It's so interesting. There are things that by the nature of going remote, we learned are better in a digitally native way.
Like, okay, for example, if you remember conference calls or Zoom meetings before the pandemic, basically there'd be, like, a big meeting room with, like, three or four people in it.
And then also someone would be Zoomed in, like, from somewhere else.
Maybe there are, like, two people on Zoom and a few people in a conference room.
So the whole meeting's happening in the conference room.
No one can hear that great. They can't really see that great. They can't see, like, facial expressions.
It's like, they're, like, watchers of the, like, they're, like, live streaming, basically.
But we all learned, oh, okay, when we come back from the pandemic, the way we should do Zoom calls moving forward is everyone should just be on their own computer.
Like, we just learned that's the better way to do Zoom.
So similarly, product teams just learned that there's a better way to do, like, product review.
So pre -pandemic, the way you would do it is you would literally print out the website and you would stick it up on the board and the whole team would meet together and, like, circle, like, with a marker, like, what needs to be fixed.
And then some poor person would have to go and type up all that feedback.
So they'd spend, like, an hour and a half to even sometimes three hours just, like, getting the feedback into a format that everyone can collaborate on.
Or even, like, even if you do it digitally, like, everyone's in a room looking at it on their computer, like, everyone would just, like, shout out when they see something and then someone would have to, like, or they would, like, contribute to a Google Doc and someone later would have to go create Jira tickets.
It's, like, the slowest way to work. But what teams learned is that being digitally native, like, just doing the review sticky notes on your website, is just faster.
And so, like, this is the one of the surprising things that we hear from our beta testers.
At first we thought we're solving for not being in an office, but what we learned is actually there's a better way that we can build here.
Nice. So as a team that consists of, you know, two product managers and you said you're six people now, like, what's your dynamic?
Like, are you all remote? We're totally remote and actually, like, totally distributed around the world.
When we started the company, it was, like, a terrible time of the pandemic in the U.S.
And at the time in the U.S.
there were, it was, like, lots of layoffs, lots of uncertainty, and it was, it was, like, a big ask for someone to leave their job and join an unproven startup.
But at the same time in Europe, like, they had the pandemic under control.
They had just finished their, like, maybe, like, an initial few weeks of lockdown.
The rates were going down. And so people felt a lot more confident about taking risks in their life.
And so just by the nature of the timing, we ended up building out a bit of a team around Europe.
So we've got people in Serbia and Estonia and Poland.
And it's, it's, the cool thing about it is the team, it's one of the most, like, just, it's so, I've never worked on such a global team.
Most people on the team don't speak English outside of when they're working with us on Jam.
It's just, it's a team that we wouldn't have assembled otherwise.
I'm so happy that, you know, like, lots of terrible things in the pandemic, but I'm so happy with the team that we have.
Nice. And, and you recently raised a round, right?
So does that mean you're hiring? Do you want to make a hiring announcement to our viewers?
We raised around, we just are so lucky. So we have these great firms that joined us, but also great angels, like, you know, people who have faced this exact problem at their work.
The CTO of GitHub, Jason Warner's an investor.
There's some investors from the senior leadership at Cloudflare. Sahil Lavangia, the CEO of Gumroad is an investor.
Former VP product of Robinhood, Josh Ellman is an investor.
Like, people who just base this on their teams and just want this to exist.
That was awesome. We're totally hiring. We're looking for people who love the startup grind.
They want to change how software development is done.
And who can be located anywhere in the world, apparently.
Yeah. I mean, I, so there's, there's of course a caveat, which is our standup, like time zones, like everyone meets on Doom at a specific time.
And so there's like, you know, it's like half the globe, but, but more or less.
Nice. I saw you, you recently had a, a launch of Jam Genies.
So one of your recent blog posts, what is that? So, you know, we're like Cloudflare DNA through and through, which is, you know, brought us to things that only like some people have access to, just make that available to everyone.
One of the things that some people have access to is like having the world's experts advice when they're doing hard things, like starting a company.
And we just wanted to make that available basically for anyone.
And so what we added to our product is, well, it's possible that you are like leaving, you know, you are editing your website, but maybe you need someone a genie.
I love the verb there. Summon a genie.
And we tried to, we tried to find people who we thought would be truly helpful.
People who have true experience. Let's say you're having, you know, like you have your, you're having UX problems.
Users are confused and you're not sure how to fix it.
Sileo was the second product designer at Facebook. Like he's designed a product that like the whole world used it.
Like just select Sileo as your genie. He'll jump in and leave you feedback as in terms of comments.
Let's say you're just about to go out for a fundraise and you're like, how does my landing page look from an investor's point of view?
Are there changes I should make before a fundraise? You should be able to summon an investor to help you, you know, edit your site, make it like, you know, best possible.
So, you know, marketing help, brand help. We just want to make the, like the tools that some people have access to available to everyone.
That's, that's jammed genies. Nice. I see a lot of like famous names in that, in that lineup.
And some of them are donating the proceeds to a charitable cause.
They're so generous. I love how they, it was actually the donations was all their idea, but it means that they can spend their time doing something that's meaningful for, you know, whoever's asked for their help, but also meaningful for them because their time there gives to a charity that they care about.
It's like such a win, win, win.
Yeah, for sure. How did you get all these notable people as genies?
They're, they're incredible. These are all people who have helped us. So like, we know that, like, we know that they are truly helpful.
They're truly experts.
They gave us great advice. We want to, they were genies for you first. Yeah, exactly.
Nice. Let me look at my show notes here. So this month is Women's Empowerment Month.
We're just wrapping up Women's Empowerment Month up and being a female founder is often described as a double -edged sword with both positive and negative aspects.
Could you, like, do you agree with that?
Could you, like, do you want to share both positive or negative aspects of what that experience has been like for you thus far?
You know, Jade, I'm so lucky because in my day-to-day, I, it never comes up.
I've never encountered with anything other than me as an individual, like, and it's, and I am so lucky because it's, it's female founders ahead of me who made that possible, like, like you, like Michelle, like, all these people came before me to make it so that when I, you know, try to build a product, try to build a company, it's just about, like, a founder, not about a female founder.
So that's a really big deal. We also have, like, amazing team who are just kind and, you know, respectful, but I feel really, really lucky.
So in between working at Cloudflare and starting your company, you also worked at a venture fund for a while.
Do you feel like that helped? Couldn't have done it without, just really could not.
It was like getting an MBA. The, it's, it's, it's one of the most joyable, like, experiences because you're essentially getting paid to learn, which is true in many jobs.
Like, it was definitely true at Cloudflare, definitely true as a founder.
But, but like, you're, you're essentially getting paid to do book reports, like on startup.
That's a really good way of putting it, book reports.
Yeah. Your job is to go and, like, learn about a business or a business model or a sector and come back and get the whole team excited and interested and invested in a new way of looking at a business.
And if I hadn't done that, it would just be, it would be different starting a company.
It was, it was like getting an MBA.
And those are some valuable lessons. Can you, can you walk us through some of the, actually this, this segs into, segs into another, another question that I have, which is, so I had this distinct memory from when we were at Grace Hopper and we were sharing a Lyft ride.
And I think, I don't even remember why I asked, but I asked you, like, whether you were thinking of starting a company at some point.
And I don't know if you remember why I asked, but like, if, if we plug into that, if I invited you to a magical Zoom call where it's you today and you at that point in time, can you tell me about the, what that conversation would be like and the lessons that you learned in between?
I think that's actually one of the features of Cloudflare stream that you can do that.
Fernand's a really good engineer, so I wouldn't be surprised. Yeah, time and code.
At the time, I think I, I think I said no. I believe at the time that starting a company sounded really lonely.
Like the joy of working at Cloudflare was the team.
Like it is, Cloudflare is a really special team. I think because it's a behind the scenes company.
And so the people who work there, maybe today, maybe today, like it's changed a little bit because now it's like a publicly traded, like more people have heard of it.
My parents have heard of Cloudflare outside of me telling them about it.
At the time, it was just people who loved the Internet and wanted to be a part of it.
And I just thought this is the smartest, like most talented, just special team.
And so I thought, why would I start a company where I have to do this alone when I could just work with like these amazing people and they're just there.
Because we bleed orange. So, you know, the only thing that's changed is Urtifa.
I met a co-founder at Cloudflare and, you know, Urtifa is so positive.
He's so smart. Like he's, he's, he's so caring about whatever it is we're doing.
Like, I feel like I have a good team.
What were your, like before, while you were still at Cloudflare, do the product managers work together on things?
Like what can you tell us about your work dynamic with Urtifa before you became co -founders and, and now that you are, and now that you are co-founders?
Okay. I know I said VC is one of the best jobs in the world, but this is the other best job.
Um, we worked on, we worked on a really special team.
I don't know if teams like this exist at other large companies. Um, the belief of Cloudflare is that every, like every great business takes big risks, like, and these big risks create new paths for the company that otherwise, like may not be readily obvious.
Like Facebook is no longer a timeline. There's lots of risks.
Some panned out, some did not, but now, now there's so much more. Uh, Salesforce is no longer a CRM.
Cloudflare is no longer a CDN. Cloudflare is the, like in many ways, a better network for the Internet.
Like it's so much more and it's because the team ships so often, like today's, like this week is security week and how many new products are coming out.
It's like this team innovates, ships so fast, tries lots of things.
And we were on a risk taking team. We were the two product managers.
There were like 30 engineers working on new risks for the business.
And so our job was to build businesses together. And then now we just do it, but outside of Cloudflare.
Did you two keep in touch while you, uh, when you went into a venture?
A hundred percent. We even, um, like a year before we started Jam, we went like for a weekend, uh, like in, into a cabin in the woods to do like a hackathon together and come up with startup ideas.
Um, we had a notion doc of so many ideas that truly we did not care about.
One of the things that I learned starting a company is, uh, you know, there are lots of great business ideas in the world, but they're not, but it's not really about having a good idea.
It's about the match between the founders and the idea.
There has to be some sort of connection.
Like, like right now I think about Jam, like the first thing when I wake up, uh, before I go to sleep, I dream like, you know, nightmares, like, like it's really constant.
You really have to care because, uh, if you don't care, then, then it won't be fun when it's intense.
And so, um, we had this notion doc of so many ideas we didn't care about.
And, and as soon as we were chatting about like artifice product launches and we're talking about how we would solve this problem, it was like a light bulb went off.
Like none of the other things we talked about even mattered.
Cause you, it was a pain point that you felt so keenly firsthand.
Right. So you gotta be solving that. Is that, is that why you decided on that?
Also like what's more enjoyable in life than shipping products. And if we can support people who do that and help them enjoy it more and like get more out of it and like help them impact their users lives.
Like I can't imagine. Okay. There are lots of valuable things to work on, you know, like, you know, lots of important problems in the world, but I think this is like key.
I think we're possibly the first generation that gets to do what we do for work.
Like I think generations before us work wasn't about in like inventing and enjoying.
I think that's something new with the web and application development.
I think we're the first generation that gets to do this.
And like, uh, just like we creating something that lets people do that better.
That's, that's great. So that, what you, what you, one of your earlier answers reminded me of something, which is like, what keeps you up at night?
What do you worry about? You know, I, um, at USB, when we would look at a business, we would look at two things.
We would look at, are they working on, you know, the right thing as you know, like, of course, no way to answer that well, but are they working generally something that we thought could be the right thing?
And are they working on it generally what we thought was the right way?
Like, like, you know, like strategy, the right thing, execution the right way.
And it kind of seems like building the right thing is so powerful that it doesn't matter so much the execution, if it's the right thing to build, like the rest comes easier.
Uh, like one example is Twitter.
Twitter was so the right thing to build that in the beginning, even when it's so much downtime that people know their error page, it's still off like a rocket ship.
So building the right thing is a hundred percent. And so we're in closed beta right now.
Um, we're working on iterating the product with our beta users.
And the thing that keeps me up at night is how can we make it better for them?
How can we solve their problems? Like before we open up the floodgates, how do we make this something that, uh, that really helps them kick ass at work?
Nice. Um, so it's interesting that the, uh, the questions that you've learned while, uh, while being in venture, what were some of the other lessons that you learned while working in venture that you applied to, uh, being a startup founder?
Um, at InVenture, you look at different buckets of risk. Um, so you look at like, you know, if you're looking at a company, they might have, you know, product risk, the product doesn't work, or they might have market risk.
It's a really crowded market, or they might have like founder risk, first-time founders.
And so as Urtifa and I are like, uh, kind of iterating and deciding like what makes sense to focus on, do we want to focus on PMs?
Do we want to focus on designers? It does this feature make sense for us right now?
Um, who do we want to let into the beta next?
Uh, like just understanding that we should take on one risk at a time and solve that, um, really, really helps.
Um, also, you know, one of the most important things you do as a founder, it's so crazy, but choosing investors, um, the thing that no one talks about is in some ways the investors are as important or even sometimes more important than the co -founders, because the truth is that the company exists beyond the co-founders, but the investors are there forever.
So the firms and the people that you bring in, they have to carry on the mission of the company to trust them to carry on the mission of the company, even past you.
Like there are many successful companies where one of the founders asked to like, or like the CEO was asked to leave, but the VC stayed the same.
The VC has found the new person to bring it in.
And so, uh, like seeing that a little bit from the inside and understanding like the range and type of investors and knowing that we should choose carefully and like, you know, that actually, I think, I think it was a really important lesson.
Yeah. Being very intentional about all of these decisions matters a lot.
Yes. It's so interesting when we talk about investors, we, we, you know, they're like supportive, they're the cheerleaders, they're advisors, but one thing that we don't talk about is they are permanent.
They, they are the, who the company is.
It's hiring a permanent team. It's one of the most important hires we'll ever make, I think.
And so just being able to see it first from the inside and then, and then make that important decision was quite nice.
It's really interesting that you, that you talk about it in hiring terms, because a lot of people think about it the other way around, just based on their intuition.
How did you do this when you were, when you were fundraising, when you were building an investor team?
You know, um, honestly they were a lot of the people who had given us advice along the way.
Um, in fact, our first couple of investors, um, uh, we, we had our first couple of commitments before we incorporated the company.
They were, they were actually also our early users and, uh, and contributors to the open source project.
So, so yeah, the, the advice and the, uh, the advice and the investment go hand in hand very much.
Um, especially in the early days, like, because I mean, you know, being first time founders at the time we, we were, you know, we, we, we needed that advice and a lot of, and yeah, a lot of guidance.
Yes. Speaking of guidance, since we're in the last three minutes of the show, um, what are some of the, uh, books and, uh, you know, like books or blog posts or other things that have really given you good guidance over the, over the years?
Uh, I think Peter Thiel's Zero to One is like a Bible on, on building, on building startups.
I think he's so right. He, uh, his competition is for losers is like, so, so, so, so right in guiding.
Um, there are lots of, uh, like popular crowded markets to build a startup in today.
And just having that as like a North star.
Okay. How are we going to get a foothold into a niche that is ours?
Um, where we don't have to race to the bottom, uh, where we can innovate, improve people's lives, um, and make it like a meaningful business to do so.
Uh, just like, I think he is totally right about all of it.
Um, any other favorites to share?
Favorite TV show or music that you've really enjoyed recently? Uh, okay. Okay.
So I had no, I, I, uh, was not a jam eater before, but like now I just hear the word all the time.
I like, you know, want it more, um, great food. Totally recommend. Okay.
Another book. Uh, there's a book called Red Notice, which is about, uh, starting a hedge fund, um, in the fall of the Soviet Union, when, when the Soviet Union or Russia was like capitalism, I think was like privatizing.
Like it's very challenging book, lots, you know, lots of stuff in it, but the determination of the author, who's the person who started this hedge fund is infectious.
Like if you want to feel so motivated, this is like the page turner for you.
What is the book called? I need to write this down. Red Notice. Bill Browder has a determination of a founder of this hedge fund that is inspiring.
It's like, it really makes you feel like let's go get them. Let's do a difficult thing.
He, he fights for his company so much. This is just awesome. I will have to check it out.
Um, 40 seconds on the show. Uh, what, I don't want to jinx this, but would you ever consider starting a venture fund one day?
One day, you know, I don't know, but I, I think startups are, I don't know.
I don't know. I want to start stuff forever.
I mean, we'll be running jam for 20, 30 years. I hope we'll build a really big, like lifelong business.
I hope we can be the next Adobe for the web.
Um, but one day when I'm ready to retire, I'll need to start something else.
That's a little bit less hectic and maybe that. All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on our show.
Thank you. This was a delight. Thank you.