Originally aired on December 13, 2021 @ 12:30 PM - 1:00 PM EDT
This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!
This session features Dani Grant and Irtefa, founders of Jam. Jam is building the fastest design review tool, allowing teammates to collaboratively edit a website, leave annotated comments, suggest changes, and assign tasks directly from the page.
Irtefa and Dani met as Product Managers at Cloudflare, where they worked together to collectively help launch many Cloudflare solutions such as Cloudflare Workers, Cloudflare Access, Cloudflare Stream, and 126.96.36.199. That experience working together on a fast-moving team at Cloudflare led them to found Jam, with the mission of helping ambitious software teams build better products, faster. Beyond their experience at Cloudflare, Irtefa is a former engineer, previously at RetailMeNot, and Dani is a former investor, previously at Union Square Ventures.
to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more! Founder Spotlight hub Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to the Founder Spotlight. I'm your host, Dan Hollinger. I currently manage service delivery here at Cloudflare and I am honored to have my two guests here, Dani Grant and Irtefa, both previous employees at Cloudflare. I know we've shared a few emails, chats and laughs in previous lives, and now we're here to learn more about their startup, Jam. So first of all, Dani, Irtefa, welcome to the call. Thanks for having us. Excited to be here, Dan. Awesome. Well, I'm excited to learn more about Jam. As I was saying before we kick things off, I've been following you guys closely, seeing more and more mentions of Jam. And I guess the first question on all of our viewers' minds, whether they're catching us live or one of the recordings is, what does Jam do? Can you tell me about your startup, Irtefa? So basically, one of the things that stops ambitious software companies from shipping things and moving really quickly is the constant feedback that goes on to their product and the back and forth that happens. So Jam is on a mission to help companies, ambitious software teams ship faster. We started with Jam.dev, a Chrome extension that you can easily use to add feedback to your website and easily share with others who are working on your team. So the goal is to really decrease that feedback loop and allow you to build as live as possible or allow teams to build as live as possible? That's exactly right. Awesome. And how's the feedback been or what would you say has been your early success or first success that helped you prove that problem space? I think one of the ways we also learned how to build products is by building products at Cloudflare. The first things we do was dog food products, something that we can use internally and share with other co-workers, whatever we're building. And we're doing the same thing at Jam. So when Danny and I, we started, we're trying to solve our own problem with Jam to make products and help them ship really fast. And that's what we have been able to do. So we sort of decrease the feedback loop within our own company. And since we launched today, like fast-growing startups like OnDeck, Ramp, Mux, they're using our product every single week and the list of companies that use our product to reduce that time continues to grow every single day. Awesome to hear. And that acts as a great segue kind of into the next question. Could you tell me a little bit more about how you two met? And you mentioned starting things off with solving your own problems internally and deciding to take that public. But how did that first conversation happen and cost Cloudflare two amazing employees? That's really kind of you. So Danny and I, we worked closely together for two years at Cloudflare in this team called Product Strategy. I think it's now known as Emerging Technologies Group at Cloudflare. So we both worked for Dane Connect. We're the first two PMs in that team. And our job was to help build products that would help unlock the next big businesses at Cloudflare. So together we got to build products like Cloudflare Workers, 188.8.131.52, Cloudflare Access, which is now part of Cloudflare Teams. So all of those different products. And after we worked for two years, Danny left for USV to work as an analyst. And I really missed working with her. So we kept in touch and we would take trips together sometimes on our vacations and we would build things together. And that's how we kept in touch. Early 2020, I was on vacation. I just built something, helped to chip. And then when we were catching up before we could talk about our lives and how Danny was doing, I got into a rant about how hard it is to ship a product when feedback is coming in at the 11th hour. It was crazy. So people would put comments on Gchat, they would email me the feedback. You know, one memory that I have is like Pat Donoghue, who's a PM at Cloudflare, he would create these detailed wiki docs with screenshots of the feedback, the product that we're about to ship. Thank you, Pat, for doing that. So, you know, as a person who's responsible for shipping something new, you're getting feedback from all over the place. So to make action, those feedback, it's really hard because they're coming from these different places. So Danny and I, and we would end up using tools that were not really meant to solve this problem. Like we would use wiki, like I said, we'd use email, we would use like Google Sheets to list all of these things, even though we already were using Jira, right? So Danny and I were catching up and I was just complaining about that. And I was telling her, you know, why isn't there an easy way to drop feedback directly on the website like you would do in Google Docs? And then he said, that's a good idea. Let's go build it. So we built a prototype. And, you know, throughout that week, we talked to around 50 product managers, engineers and designers. And this problem really resonated with them. So it seemed like this is a problem that needed to be solved. It's a problem that Danny and I had when we were building products and that got us really excited. And that's why we started this company. So you guys, you know, it sounds like you validated the idea really early on and then just double click that it would engage with your target audience. And I might have been watching too much children's cartoons, but I'm really imagining this as Danny walking up like, oh, do you want to build a startup? Let's go ahead and kick things off. And I guess, Danny, what was your perspective on those first few weeks or as this idea was starting to come together? I wish you could see the responses product managers, especially product managers, have when you talk to them about this problem. PMs will say things to the effect of I had a plan for the day and then I saw the latest build and I realized I would not get to my plan for the day because I'm going to spend my whole day reporting bugs and helping engineers link back reports about bugs. And in the in-person world, they would literally hand their laptop over because there's nothing like seeing the browser for context. And in the remote world, there is no option for that. And the back and forth is asynchronous across time zones and even more painful. And so just the frustration we saw in those initial interviews and then just ongoing we're like, OK, this is this needs to be solved. We can solve this for people. Awesome. And have you now started to see the positive feedback of like, oh, my gosh, I'm glad this product exists. Like, thank you for making this. This is what I've always wanted as that started to echo up from your customer base. We're product builders. Like nothing gives us more gratification than helping other people build stuff quickly with their team that they think just rocks. Awesome. And I'll use that kind of comment on remote work to kind of shift to the next question. How has Jam been holding up in 2021? How have you guys as founders, you know, you have the small, I'm assuming very distributed team building a product that is helping distributed teams and helping collect feedback asynchronously. What did 2021, you know, impact you or how did it impact you guys? You know, like you said, the tool that we're building, you know, is very much relevant for this world today. And when we started Jam, looking back, we sort of got lucky in a way, even though it's like weird to say that, like we started the company during peak COVID. So from day one, we were working remotely 100 % and we started hiring people around the world across different countries, across different time zones. So working remotely together and building something awesome that has been part of our DNA from day one, you know, and so I wouldn't really say that there was a lot of adjustment to do just because it was just such a core part of what we do and how we build things at Jam, right? So everyone's like super flexible, working 100% remotely. After we started Jam, I don't think I even met Danny until like probably four or five months into starting Jam. And there are people in this company that I haven't met in person yet, but I know them very, very well and I work with them every single day. And that's one of the cool things about like building 100% remotely, you know, trust is incredibly important. All these people are like grownups, adults who are coming together to build something awesome for our customers. And that's a very fun thing to do every single day. Danny, do you want to add anything to that? I love our team. Like they're amazing. I feel so lucky. Yeah, yeah. They're just they're just that team. We love working with them. And we couldn't have hired this team without it being a remote company. They just they're just all over the world and that's just where they are. And this is that team. And would you guys you would you guys say you have any tips or secrets that help maintain, you know, that vision across a distributed workforce, because especially as you're starting up with a small company, you know, it really comes down to that vision and the people and driving towards that that joint solution. Have you found any tips or tricks that you might want to share with the audience? You know, one of the things that we do and we we're lucky, like right now we can we get to do this at this size of the company. Hopefully we'll continue to do this bigger whenever someone comes in. We are interested in someone or someone who's interested in joining JEM. We would do like a one week or two week trial project with them where they get to come in, join the stand up, meet the team, work together every single day where we are trying to understand if the person who's working with us are a good fit for us. But also it's important for them to understand if we are a good fit for them. And that's how we're continuing to hire great people who love working here, believe in the mission and love solving the problem we solve every day for our customers. One more tip to add, one of the things missing in remote that you get in person is sort of a drumbeat of the company. It's that moment where someone swivels their laptop to show you what they're working on. That's magic and it's totally missing in remote. We created a Slack channel internally called What's Cooking, where people are encouraged to share in progress stuff. It should be messy. It shouldn't be complete. It's just whatever is on their dev environment right now. And that's been awesome. There's just something to add there. Danny did a great job early on to create that feeling of working together, even though you were in so many different time zones in different countries. And it's really cool to see what's cooking as a channel that we have on our Slack, like Danny said, something for people who are building, so not fully fleshed out yet. Whenever people, it's so cool to see whenever people post something, how everyone in the team celebrates them and it creates a very positive environment and encourages others to share things that they're building. So it's just really cool to see how you get that feeling, even if you're not working in the same office. Because, yeah, like most designers and builders, when you do reach that certain stage or threshold of like, oh, my gosh, this is awesome. I've made that little breakthrough and sure, it's still messy, but I kind of want to show it to someone. And that almost, you know, you're encouraging that feed, just like your product, you're encouraging that feedback loop as early as possible of, oh, you know, this is awesome, but this could be this, this could be this. Here's some ideas. And that gives them more ammunition to work on and develop the next phase. So it sounds like you're very much, you know, getting feedback or as quickly as possible, both internally as a culture and as a product. I want to share one more like remote tradition that's made like remote work. When the team was starting to grow, we had a hard time figuring out how to incorporate like the water cooler moments that you would get in an office, because you can't just all go out to lunch together. Like it just doesn't work that way. You can't go on a five minute walk. And we tried all sorts of things that didn't quite work, like, oh, we'll have like, we'll go play a game together. And it just felt too formal, too forced. We have a recipe now that I think, like, is working great, which is once a week, we do 30 minute, two coffee chats, you get paired up, zoom randomly pairs for 15 minutes, twice, talk about anything but jam. And it feels like it's, it's, it's short enough that it's, you know, not super ongoing, you get to meet everyone through it, and you kind of get a pulse of where everyone's at. That's a fascinating idea. And I'm out of curiosity, you know, how big is jam at this point? How fast have you grown? And how quickly? Yeah, when we're starting a jam, it was just the two of us. Today, we have, including us, like seven full time people and five part time. So in total, 12 folks, like 12 of us who are working and building jam, and, you know, our team is growing, and we're hiring pretty fast as well. Awesome. And I mean, I'm happy to give you time to do a quick plug, what kind of roles are you hiring for? Danny, do you want to talk about that? We're hiring for builders, engineers, PMs, designers, people who want to help us build the next way people build software together. Awesome. And how does that kind of work through, you know, some of your other milestones, like getting funding, getting customers, you know, it's, it's very hard to jump that gap chasm and go from, you know, zero to one, what have some of the milestones look like for you guys? Or, you know, do you have any unique metrics that you've brought to bear that you can point at, you know, month to month, week to week, quarter to quarter and be like, yep, we're doing great. Danny, do you want to talk about that? We've been we've been really, really lucky. For us, it's both on the customer front and the fundraising front. Coming from BC, one of the things that I saw working with early stage companies is it's not just about the, it's not just about the early milestones, but about the quality of them. I don't know if that makes sense. But like, for example, early startups I saw in BC would raise from like high integrity, like high care VCs just had a different level of support moving forward than sort of like, you know, the opposite of that. And so we've gotten super, super lucky, not only on raising, but from raising people we just trust. And similarly, on the customer front, early startups I had seen who had like, kind of lukewarm, early customers just had a different level of early support during their beta and teams who had like, you know, they just care about this problem. They are early testers, they are early adopters, they just need the feedback. And so I think we've gotten really lucky on both fronts. Awesome to hear. And I guess, would you recommend, you know, finding that level of trust for any other startups in a similar place as they're starting to either find a raise or find financing? Yes, both vetting who are your early customers. Before you work on product market fit, you work on sort of a product user fit. And so those early users drive everything moving forward, like the next 10 years of your company really like, they really start at the beginning. And so it matters a lot. And similarly, on the VC front, like, you can think about your investors as the forever team. It's you and them forever. And other things change. But this is the team. And it really, really matters that you're aligned, that you trust each other, and that it's like a smart, hardworking team. Fascinating. And I guess, Urtefa, are there any personal milestones you've been following as well, or things that you can point to as metrics and are very proud of? You know, I think the thing that really gets me excited every single day and every single week coming into Jam is how often we ship and the features that we ship and how we're helping our customers get better at like shipping software and move really fast. So, you know, Dan and I, we both work, like I said before, in product strategy at Cloudflare and shipping was one of those things that got us really excited. So when we came into Jam, that was just one of those things that we wanted to repeat here as well. Like, you know, like Danny said earlier in the call, one of the things we're super excited it's coming out early next year. That will also help, you know, today we help designers and developers move really fast. But a tool that we're building is going to make reporting bugs for PM super, super easy. And excited to see us, you know, constantly ship new things and deliver to our customers. And what you're hearing both of us do is we have news on both metrics that we're not disclosing yet, but disclosing soon. So we both avoided your question. Artfully done. And I'm sure that's always part of the mastery of a startup is knowing what's on the front edge and will be coming soon and realizing you can't talk about it until it's actually public. You can't. That's, I know personally, one of the interesting things about working at Cloudflare so far is by the time we announced certain things publicly that I've been super excited about for the past six months, it's old news and old hat. And so now the world is excited about it. And I'm like, yeah, I read the wiki of the beta of that like 12 months ago. Like, I'm glad we shipped it. So with that in mind and on your startup journey, what do you think have been some of your earliest experiences that have led you to that entrepreneurial leap to say, yep, I want to start a company? Yeah, I can talk about that. So I remember when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I grew up in Bangladesh, by the way. So Pokemon came in pretty late. But when I saw it, I was obsessed with it. So I was obsessed with Pokemon cards. But my parents couldn't really afford buying cards for me. So I had to figure out a different way. And like the Pokemon card obsession basically started my entrepreneurial journey where I started making carbon papers to sell to people. And the way I would make them was I would take A4 size papers. I would use crayons, the black crayons. I would paint on them. And then I'll put it on a table lamp to dry it out. And then I would go to the school next day, select other students and staff. And for some reason, they actually bought it, which was pretty awesome. And that was my first experience of, for lack of a better word, that high of building something that people want and selling it. And since then, I've been building things and wanting to build things that would help people and bring them joy. And yeah, that got me started. Still obsessed with Pokemon cards. Awesome. And I'm sure your collection has only grown since those early days. And Dani, how about yourself? Was there a similar key moment that ignited that entrepreneurial spark? Or what did that look like for you? I think I've always loved bringing people together or being part of a group that makes something together. When I was young, I used to have my friends over and direct a little play for us. And we'd perform to our parents or organize summer camp. And we'd have some sort of performance at the end. One of the really fun things that we get to do as people is do stuff together, build stuff together, create stuff together. It's so fun. And I can't believe we get to do that for work. Yeah. Awesome to hear. And as we start to round out the session, is there any advice that you would share with the audience either in those first few weeks, those first few months, those first few employees? What advice might you give to the next person that has that entrepreneurial spark and sees a problem and wants to bring a solution to the world? I think hiring is the most important thing. Like getting the right people, forming the perfect team is the most important thing. And now looking back, Benny and I, we heard this stuff. Everyone talks about it. But unless you actually do it, it's hard to realize and crystallize why it's really important. I remember in the very early days, I think we were probably two months in, we're like, oh my God, we still haven't hired our first engineer. And honestly, that's like looking back, that's just silly. You should take your time, find the right people. And eventually we found and built an amazing team. But it's OK to take time and find the right people to work with you. And just keep that in mind that it's OK if it takes a little bit of time. Daddy, do you want to add anything to that? That's so funny. I was going to say the same thing. And I was going to say that everyone had said this to us and it didn't grok for a long time. In BC, when we used to look at our portfolio, we used to kind of like sort of evaluate how things are going on two bars. We'd say like, how is the company going? And how well is the management team staffed? Is there an amazing management team all in place? All the roles are filled with awesome people. And the two basically just correlate. Like great, well-staffed, amazing management team just correlates to companies doing great and management team missing some key hires or like having experienced people in place usually correlates to companies doing OK. And it's just true. And every time we brought someone in who just rocks, things get better. And when we've made hires and we can't support the person or they're not the right fit, things get harder. And so it's just people, people, people. The company is people. When we have a problem, we're thinking about team and who can help us solve this. Awesome. And I know before the call got started, you were telling me about a tradition you have that helps really cement that idea, how vital people are, especially to the success of a startup early on. Would you mind sharing that tradition with the audience? This is how I started. That's how Daniel remembers it. I don't. And so one of the things we do when someone starts in front of the entire company, we have like a short slide deck talking about why we're excited to work with them and really highlighting if we have worked with them in the past, like those key moments that made us think, wow, this person is amazing. Or when we're doing one of those like trial weeks, we uncover something that we didn't know from the resume and sort of sharing with the team like why it's exciting to bring this person on and make them our teammate. Like we're lucky to have them work with us. That gets the new person really jazzed up about working at Jam and also other people in the company excited to work with their new teammate. And our bar is high, like, you know, there are no slackers in the PayPal mafia. Like when the team is so small as we are, every person matters, not just a little bit, but a lot. They are the team. And so when it takes a lot for us to make an offer. And so when we do, we're so jazzed about this person. We're just so excited. It's important for us to everyone that everyone knows like how this person just hit and exceeded like that bar. I mean, that's fascinating just to, you know, bring that level of introduction and level of detail into each new hire. So as you're working with the small but growing team, you know, everyone at least knows and shares that idea of everyone's starting point. I know Cloudflare for the longest time had their tradition of a fun fact. So having that initial introduction to the company, giving whatever that fun fact might be and, you know, making sure that those connection points are starting to be built, you know, across the company. So that makes a lot of sense. And I'm sure everyone that joins is very excited to kind of get that warm welcome and across the rest of the firm. So with that, I'd be curious, you know, given you've mentioned the no slackers on the team, you know, do you guys as founders take time for yourselves or find ways to balance out the demands of now this fast-moving startup and your own kind of personal lives and personal endeavors? How do you balance that as entrepreneurs? When do you sleep? Maybe might be the way to summarize that question. You know, maybe this is just because I'm a little bit older. I learned really quickly that like after I had my daughter, and if I don't get enough sleep, I'm going to be a zombie. So sleep is super important to me. I try to get at least like seven hours of sleep, like every single night, if my daughter allows it. And then, you know, on the weekends, I like to spend time with my family and sort of recharge and reset before coming in to next Monday. It's not your typical, you know, like crazy, crazy hours, like binging through the night. Done that in the past doesn't really scale. So definitely take time to reset and recharge. Dani? This is like so unbelievably important, and no one talks about this. In startups, we all have thinking jobs. Our job is to think clearly and make smart decisions, which is very different than some other jobs where it's like a kind of like a crunch time output job, where your job is to keep doing the task more and more and more efficiently. And it's super different. Like, and it's counterintuitive. Even, you know, a designer in a startup, they have to invent from scratch. Their job is not really to output wireframes so much as it is to think clearly about the user and their problems and what is the best solution for them. We all have problem solving jobs. And so it is part of all of our jobs to take the time to sleep, manage our energy, recharge so we can actually do those jobs well. Because everyone's decisions like not only impact the short term, but everyone's building decisions on top. And so we're all relying on each other to take really good care of ourselves. Well, that's awesome to hear, especially at the top, like making sure that you guys are setting that tone. And I'm sure it echoes down for, you know, people take care of themselves to then be able to perform their best in the work that they're bringing to bear. It is really tough across time zones because whoever is in the time zone where you can just stay up a little bit later to catch up with the team always will feel pressure to work those crazy hours. But it leads to worse decision making. And so it's like the job of the whole team. Yes, us, but also everyone else to say like, hey, this seems like it's late for you. Awesome. Yeah. And I guess in some of the asynchronous work, you know, you can highlight, hey, you can catch up on these notes next time. We're definitely going to still capture your thoughts and opinion, but go spend time with your family, go grab some sleep. And even more than that, hey, what should we do now to make sure that you're not the only person who can help with this in the future? So constantly increasing the bus number. Awesome. Well, I've had a wonderful conversation. I hope you guys have as well. Any last minute tips or things you'd like to share? No, it was just really fun jamming with you. Just wanted to plug something here. We started a podcast called 100% Design, where we talk to amazing designers and design leaders, share advice for upcoming designers and how to be better. Check it out on Spotify or iTunes, 100% Design. And of course, if you're working on a software team where you think we could be moving faster, we want to help with that. You can sign up at jam.dev. Awesome. I assumed, Danny, you were going to plug your own podcast since everyone has to have a podcast now. Awesome. Well, thank you guys for taking the time. Thank you for joining us on Founder Spotlight. It was great to see both of you again and look forward to working with you guys again sometime in the future. Thanks so much. Awesome. Have a wonderful Monday. Have a good Monday. Bye. Everyone, thank you for joining us. I'll talk to you again soon. You