This article was based on episode # 17: Scott Kveton’s Tale about his initial days in the business, generously shared here with us by Scott himself and Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!
“Guess what, you only lost 30 days. You can pivot, or you can try something new.” – Scott Kveton.
When you start to involve yourself in the business industry, believing in yourself is one of the most important values that you should opt to have. Business is all about taking risks, but if you lack confidence in yourself and don’t believe you can achieve anything, you won’t survive in the business industry. However, taking risks by believing in yourself is a positive attitude only if you know your abilities and capabilities. Because taking risks and believing in yourself even if you know you can’t handle the risk is not a good thing.
There is a huge difference between not taking risks because of a lack of confidence and not taking risks because of your limited capabilities. For example, if you know how to make a logo but don’t make it known because you’re too shy or you feel inferior, it could lead to wasted growth opportunities.
But if you didn’t take the risk because you know you are not artistic, that is a good thing. It would be best if you refrained from accepting tasks you know you can’t successfully finish. There’s a fine line between overestimating yourself and self-confidence. Our sharer for today, Scott Kveton, who overestimated their company’s ability and made promises that he couldn’t attain, would gladly help us understand why. However, it surprisingly ended well for Scott. Make sure to take down some notes since there are promising lessons that you can apply to your daily business life.
Scott’s client-horror story began way back in 2009. This story is so important to Scott because this happened when their company had their first client. Going back to 2009, when the iPhone was still in the process of progression, Apple announced that iPhone OS version 3.0 would have two newly developed features. One is called the push notification, and the other feature is called in-app purchase. Every iPhone user today already knows these two features, and everyone is a witness as to how useful these features are in iPhones.
Back then, these features were like the most brilliant innovations Apple has ever done. During those times, Scott and three of his best colleagues were still unemployed because their company went down because of the financial crisis and other crucial things. Months after they were unemployed, Steven, the co-founder, and CTO of their previous company approached Scott and his three colleagues informing them about a possible job opportunity.
Steven told Scott that in about a month, Apple would reveal two unique features. This was the first time that Scott and his colleagues heard about this news because Apple didn’t reveal this yet to the public. Apple places this news under MDA or multiple discriminant analysis, which means that the developers or any other workers of these special features must not disclose the information to anyone. However, Steven knew someone who was an insider, which was the reason why Steven was ahead of the news.
Scott and his colleagues were thrilled when they heard the news. Scott is a risk-taker, and he has this attitude that he always wants to make a challenge for him and his colleagues, so he came up with an idea. Scott told Steven and his colleagues to create an iPhone agency and provide app development utilizing the in-app purchase feature for 300 bucks per hour.
Steven knew there was a lot of competition in the market if Scott would create an iPhone agency providing app development, so he suggested something else. But Scott was up to the challenge and told Steven that he would outrun the competition in the market by creating the fastest iPhone agency there is. Most iPhone industries develop apps with a maximum of three to six months. But their agency would be different because instead of waiting for three months, Scott and his colleagues will try to launch an app within 30 days.
Scott was confident in saying those promises because he and his three colleagues already did the impossible back in 2008 when they were working on a company that was selling bacon online. During those days, Scott did the same challenge when he promised the bacon company to launch their company in 30 days. They made their promise come true, and they successfully finished it in 21 days.
Scott prefers to work on experimental projects and do the trial and error process for about 30 days. He believes that “It’s a small outlay to dedicate 30 days, and if you fail, you can shut it down really quickly. More importantly, if you get it to market and nobody’s there, guess what, you only lost 30 days. You can pivot, or you can try something new.” This is actually a practical way for startups to observe and see how things flow—launching as fast as possible is ideal for knowing how the business is performing and its real-time status. This is the perfect time to take notes to spot mishaps easily and then improve these issues moving forward.
As Scott mentioned, he finds himself exhausted listening to founders who said they’ve been working on the product for a year and a half but still hasn’t launched the project yet. This means that the project is still private and at stealth, so they don’t have any customers yet. It gives us an impression that the project will put pressure and would have super high expectations on how it would perform in the market, which doesn’t work for most startups. It’s important to note that putting too much time and effort into making the perfect output isn’t wrong, but sometimes, perfection could lead to delays. As a startup, one of your obstacles is the tide of time. It’s constantly changing, and if you don’t start now, it will be too late, and you might put everything to waste.
Going back to the story, Scott and his team were reluctant to launch the product in 30 days, but they still agreed to go for it. The product wasn’t perfect. They didn’t have a really nice dashboard, but they will have the good stuff built-in like the API or Application Programming Interface and the SDK or Software Development Kit.
So three weeks have passed, and there’s about one week left when Apple’s going to announce the new two features, which was also the team’s deadline for the project. The team notified Scott that they were pretty close to finishing the product, and he was genuinely surprised that the team actually did it.
Scott’s role was to figure out how to sell the product and advertise it to get people to use it. He found a perfect opportunity at the WWDC or the Worldwide Developers Conference. The event always does Keynote, where they present their products, so Scott figured to do a Keynote, get into the event, and show the product to everyone. As he attended the event, he ran into some people who suggested getting in line at midnight for the festival seating of Apple’s launch. He thought that it was a great idea, so he went to Costco and bought about fifteen hundred dollars of donuts and danishes and a variety of napkins. He also printed some cards saying they do push notifications.
He showed up at the line around 4:30 or 5 AM, so he piled out of a cab, had a little cart, and just started scooting around the 2000 people in line at the event at five in the morning. He started handing out the danishes and the little cards he printed out until he got to the end of the line. It was all the way around Moscone, which is probably the whole City Blockbuster Center. While he was doing his advertising, he saw three or four other companies launching an identical push notification service as theirs.
Scott and his team freaked out a bit, knowing that they were going to get crushed. He checked out the competitors, and they were stronger competitors with really nice websites than theirs. Scott added, “I’m serious, it was so cheesy. We had a logo that we beg/borrowed and Steve stole to make. It was really kind of funny.”
Then a piece of interesting and unexpected news happened. Normally, when Steve Jobs would get up on stage and announce a bunch of features in June. The idea is that the developers get to play with them over the summer, and then they do the full release in the fall. However, this time, because these were in such high demand, Steve Jobs said instead of September, these features would be available in seven days.
It was exciting news for Scott and his team, and sure enough, Scott started getting inbounds from the little cards he distributed earlier. People were going off wanting to do push notifications as well. The first call that Scott got was from a company called Tapulous, and he knew the CEO back in the day. So, Tapulous had a game called Tap Tap revenge which was like Guitar Hero, and it was the number one game on the app store at that time.
So Bart Decrem, the CEO of Tapulous, called and told Scott, “Hey, we want to be the first app in the app store with push. You guys do that stuff right?” Bart’s team had looked at the docs and realized they couldn’t get it done in a week, so they needed to partner with somebody. Scott replied with a yes and told Bart that they would work together with Bart’s team. Scott and Bart had a casual agreement, saying that they’ll just give it a go, figure out the terms of the deal later and Scott said to at least throw them a bone on the press side of things.
After they agreed, Scott called out his team and shared the good news about their first customer. Scott said, “Hey, I got our first customer, and they’re like, Oh, awesome, you got our first customer on day one. I said, Yeah, and they’re like, who is it, and I said it’s Tapulous and it just sort of went dead silent on the other end of the phone. And then they’re like our first customer is the biggest app on the app store? And I said yeah, yeah, this is going to be great!” Even if I were part of Scott’s team, I would probably drop my jaw out of shock after knowing that our first customer is such a bigshot.
So, Scott and Bart’s team connected their engineering department together. On Bart’s end, they had a phenomenal head of engineering, and her name is Jessica Khan. Scott said, “She was just a saint to work with.” She knew that Scott’s team didn’t have everything together and was okay with it. Both teams knew that they just needed something to work, and sure enough, Scott’s team was able to pull this together, and for the next five days, they were able to ship it for Tapulous.
The end product had some ins and outs and some pains, so Scott and Bart negotiated a deal. From a cash perspective, it was around a thousand bucks a month. However, Scott got pressed out of it, and it ended up being a TechCrunch article. That’s when things started spiraling out.
As they worked with Bart’s team, Scott kept making promises that the engineering team wasn’t ready to deliver. It resulted in some tension, and he had to give monthly credits for payment. Then, Scott spoke out of turn a little bit with the press, which turned Tapulous into a painful customer.
1. Know your limits
Even ten years ago, Scott was already a risk-taker. He would face challenges straightforwardly and figure things out along the way. However, always remember that there’s a fine line between brilliance and fraud. Just like how Steve Jobs and Bezos made many promises that they weren’t sure they would be able to deliver, but they ended up succeeding. Given that you’re in a great situation and you won’t overdo things, you can have your very own Apple or Amazon. But at the end of the day, success is not always guaranteed.
Going back to the story, Scott already created some tension between him and Bart because he always makes half-empty promises. Scott also admitted that he was pushing his luck with the many promises he gave to Bart. Even his colleagues would react physically during meetings.
There was this one meeting where Bart asked Scott and his team to do something challenging like roadmap things, and Scott would confidently tell Bart, “Yeah we can do that. It’ll only take us a couple of weeks.” Scott’s colleagues would literally flinch next to Scott because they knew that the task was impossible to achieve for only a couple of weeks. Scott’s colleagues would try their best to conceal their doubts about Scott’s promises because they didn’t want their client to know that Scott was bluffing.
However, Scott’s colleagues approached him after that meeting and asked why he promised to do the task in just a couple of days even if he knew it was impossible. Scott tells them not to worry at all because he can buy some time and eventually finish the task.
Scott somehow manages to make his promises and is also successful in buying them some time. Because of that, his colleagues copied his style too. After six to nine months of hearing Scott’s impossible promises that they would miraculously achieve, his colleagues started to make these impossible promises too. During meetings, his colleagues would be like, “In addition, we can do this and this too,” even if it was impossible.
Most of their promises were not achieved on the deadline and what Scott did was to give Bart tons of reasons until they could complete the task. This scenario kept on happening for nine months, and this intensified the tension between Bart and Scott.
Tapulous was a huge company and had the number 1 gaming app in Apple Store during that time, so there were a lot of media who wanted to interview the company who offered Tapulous the push notification features. The lucky media company that had the opportunity to interview Scott was TechCrunch. Scott willingly accepted the interview and began talking with Tech Crunch’s phenomenal writer, Marshall Kirkpatrick.
Marshal started asking Scott some questions, and somehow it concluded that Scott was the one who kind of saved Tapulous’ bacon. The conclusion of Marshal was a metaphor, and coincidentally, Scott had worked and saved his previous bacon company, so he agreed that he saved Tapulous “bacon.” Scott simply humorously answered the question and didn’t take it seriously because he thought Marshall did a background check on him and knew that he saved his previous bacon company. But he didn’t expect the next thing that happened. Days after Scott chatted with Marshall, their interview was now published, and the headline was shocking. The headline was “Urban Airship saves Tapulous’ bacon.”
Bart got angry and furious because the headline somehow downgraded Tapulous’s reputation and made a huge impact on Bart’s investors. Scott had no idea about the headline and didn’t expect the reactions from the people, so he apologized to Bart and begged not to cancel their agreement. But that wasn’t the only consequence that he received. The headline also gave positive feedback to Scott because the headline was trending, and it reached numerous potential customers. The headline gave Scott and his team a massive advantage because many people reached out to Scott and flooded their website. A lot of potential clients were asking questions about push notifications.
2. Humor isn’t always positive in the business industry
The role of humor is good, and it makes boring situations more fun for people. But in the business industry, always remember that comedy can bring either positive or negative effects to other people, especially to clients. For example, in Scott’s case, the headline was supposedly a little joke, but it became a huge problem for his client. However, Scott didn’t expect that huge problem to happen because he thought it was normal for the media to exaggerate things and make interesting headlines to catch people’s attention. Be careful when releasing a joke, especially when the media is present.
3. Ask for help from experienced professionals
The story ended there, and there were a lot of lessons that we needed to go back and point out, one of which was asking for professional help.
In Scott’s story, he mentioned Jessica, who was Bart’s project manager. If it weren’t for Jessica, Scott and his team wouldn’t have succeeded. Scott was still young and inexperienced, and they needed help and guidance from an expert. When you are facing a challenging task, always remember to seek help from an expert. Discovering things on your own and learning from your mistakes might be a good way to grow, but sometimes it is better to give your client the satisfaction they deserve. If Jessica wasn’t there for Scott and his team, they might fail the task and wouldn’t be able to deliver the final output to Bart.
But we cannot give all the credits to Jessica because Scott was also lucky that he had phenomenal and technical teammates. Scott named one of his colleagues, Adam Lowry, as the keel of the team. Scott also has Steven on his team, who was the CTO and the brains of Scott’s team. Steven was brilliant and is determined to self-taught himself anything and adjust to his client’s needs. Scott shared that Steven once taught himself how to speak in Mandarin to communicate better with Chinese clients and work directly with factories in China. The third person on Scott’s team was Michael Richardson, the head of products, and he was phenomenal in talking to their customers.
Michael has a political science degree from Reed, making him perfect for talking to their customers and potential clients. Michael might not be strong in technical matters, but he is good at handling people. Besides, the team already has Adam, who has a master’s degree in computer science. Scott’s team was perfectly balanced, and that is one of the factors why they became successful.
4. When building a team, look for people who excel in their specific fields.
When building a team, you must choose individuals who excel in different fields to utilize their skills well and create more potent team chemistry.
For example, would you rather select five all-star basketball players rather than choose an amazing point guard, the strongest center, the sharpest shooter, and the best power and small forward? If you choose 5 all-star players, you might win some games, but their team connection is not that strong compared to the other team that excels in every aspect of basketball.
Going back to Scott’s story, his colleagues had different specialties, which was one of the reasons why they were successful. There is a person who does all the thinking, the person who does the technical stuff, Scott who handles marketing, and there’s one who knows how to talk to customers. However, Scott and his colleagues achieved that kind of relationship because of how long they have worked together.
5. Experience is the best way to build solid team chemistry.
The more experienced you are working with each other, the stronger your chemistry will be. Scott and his colleagues were able to build that kind of relationship because they already experienced a lot of hardships and success together.
Scott even described having a strong connection and chemistry with your team like you are getting married. If you have a good team, you are most likely tying up your money to them, entrusting your valuables to them, some even sharing money so that others can use it in case of an emergency. But if you are starting to build your team, make sure to choose loyalty over skills.
You may find the best VP engineer for your company but will only be staying for three months in your company. Instead, look for someone who will pledge their loyalty to you so that you can build a stronger connection and develop your company even more.
6. Don’t overestimate yourself and avoid overpromising.
Lastly, the most crucial lesson in this story is to avoid overestimating yourself and don’t commit promises that you can’t keep.
Scott had a fantastic attitude of always facing challenges. But sometimes, overestimating yourself may lead to a client-horror story. In fact, Scott’s client-horror story wouldn’t have happened if Scott had avoided overestimating himself. Facing challenges is a good thing because it is one of the reasons why many people develop to become strong and wise businessmen. But before accepting challenges, make sure that you know your abilities and capabilities. If the only thing that holds you from doing a challenging task is effort, then you should accept the challenge.
For example, you know how to do digital advertising, but your client wants you to manage social media. Digital advertising is in line with social media management. If you exert effort to study how social media management works, there’s a high possibility that you can complete the task. But if you are not technically competent, then you should give the opportunity to other people.
That is the end of today’s client-horror story. Scott had shared some fascinating insights about himself, his teammates, and his work in general. Scott’s story is fully packed with lessons, and I hope you were able to list them all. I find them really helpful, and maybe one day, I get to make use of one of them in the future.
This article was based on episode # 17: Scott Kveton’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!