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Editor, Camille Ricketts

Management and Company Building

80% of Your Culture is Your Founder

When Molly Graham joined Facebook in 2008, the company still felt scrappy. With 400 employees serving 80 million users, people were so busy “moving fast and breaking things” that the culture still needed to be defined. Graham was hired to help make this happen — to not only tell the company’s story externally, but to build a shared vision and identity as it grew from 400 to thousands of employees. She started by asking two questions: 1) Who do we want to be when we grow up? 2) How do we talk to people outside about what it’s like to work at Facebook?

Since then, these two questions have formed the foundation of Facebook’s culture discussions. Most notably, they resulted in the “hacker” identity that has distinguished the company as a technology powerhouse that is always experimenting to bring the world closer together.

At First Round’s recent CEO Summit, Graham, who managed Culture and Employment Branding at the company for two years — and who now runs business operations for slick, modern word processor Quip — talked about what startup founders have to gain from defining culture early and often, and how to do this when there are dozens of competing priorities.

Product and Engineering

Hyper-Growth Done Right - Lessons From the Man Who Scaled Engineering at Dropbox and Facebook

Radical expansion must be in Aditya Agarwal’s genes. When he started as an engineer at Facebook, the company had fewer than 15 people. Within 6 years, he had risen to Director of Product Engineering, leading 2,000 employees to reach 700 million users. In 2012, when Dropbox acquired his startup Cove, the cloud storage incumbent staffed 30 engineers building for 50 million users. Now Agarwal directs an engineering arsenal of 200+ to protect the data of over 200 million people — and he just worked on yesterday's big launch of Carousel.

“Most of what I’ve learned in my career has been during a period of hyper growth and change,” Agarwal says.

To grow this fast, leaders need to plan day-by-day for the business they want to be in six months — not what they are right now, he says. How do you build an engineering team to constantly rotate and expand? How do you adjust a product strategy when your company transforms weekly, monthly, quarterly? At First Round’s last CTO Summit, Agarwal shared the secrets he’s tapped to keep his team aligned and productive during the fastest of sprints.


When You're at the Crossroads of Should and Must

Elle Luna is an artist and designer who lives and works in San Francisco. She worked with teams to design and build Mailbox, redesign Uber’s iPhone app, and scale the storytelling platform Medium. Before startups, Elle spent five years at IDEO where she worked across a variety of industries to develop multichannel, holistic experiences with massive impact. When she’s not painting, you can find her traveling to Bali for her new textile venture, Bulan Project, and inspiring people to follow their passion. Luna is social proof that finding your calling is a worthy pursuit, and this is how she did it.

Management and Company Building

Here’s Why You’re Not Hiring the Best and the Brightest

What’s the most consistent piece of advice you get as a startup?

Always hire the best people. Never compromise in your hiring standards, no matter how big your company gets.

And it’s true. A great team can take an okay idea and transform it into an incredible, world-beating product.

But something has always bugged me about this advice. There’s an elephant in the room in the form of an implied clause: Always hire the best people… who are willing to live in San Francisco.

Substitute Mountain View, New York, Boston, Chicago, or any other city. The problem is the same. We pay lip service to the idea of hiring the best people in the world — but in reality, we’re only hiring the best people who happen to be close by.

Call me crazy, but I think if we’re going to talk about hiring the best talent available, we should actually try to do that. This means letting go of the idea, at least in IT work, that people need to be physically present for any meaningful work to occur. There’s a better way.


Stop Dancing Around Criticism and Put It to Use with These Tips from Airbnb's Head of Experience Design

“Criticism may be based on opinion, but that’s what makes it valuable. It gives us a taste of why people will eventually love or hate our work.”

This is Katie Dill, Airbnb's Head of Experience Design. Previously, she helped founders shape products and UX at Greenstart, and ascended from analyst to creative director at Frog Design. She also teaches graduate industrial design classes at CCA. Needless to say, she’s been on the giving and receiving end of design and product feedback countless times — but she thinks the process could almost always be much better.

What’s better? Better results. Critique doesn’t exist so that people can air their unfounded opinions. It exists so you can accelerate the time it takes to get to the best possible product. That said, many have been burned by insulting or unfocused critiques, so they’ve stopped doing it — missing out on vital opportunities to improve.

“If critique isn’t done right, it’s insulting. You’re not excited to go do more work or do it better,” Dill says.

At First Round’s last Design+Startup Event, she shared insights from interviews with a number of designers and business leaders diving into the nuts and bolts of criticism, what makes it helpful, and how to offer criticism that actually yields game-changing results for users.

Management and Company Building

Flying Lessons

About 10 years ago, after joining Netscape as its youngest employee, Angus Davis learned how to fly airplanes. Along the way, he grew the company he co-founded — voice recognition startup Tellme — into an $800 million business bought by Microsoft, and became the founder and CEO of payment company Swipely.

Recently, he sent an email to his company recounting some of his most important and relevant lessons from flying to help guide them in their approach to the business and their careers. After reading it, we thought it should be shared with even more people in the startup community. Davis generously agreed to adapt and re-publish it here.

Management and Company Building

Eventbrite's Playbook for Building Amazing Customer Service from Scratch

When Eventbrite launched in 2006, it took on some goliath competitors — Ticketmaster and StubHub among them. But Co-founders Kevin and Julia Hartz were convinced there was a niche in the market for smaller event organizers. It turns out they were right, pulling in $200 million in funding, and acquiring two companies of their own last year. But they owe a lot of this success to one core differentiator: Their emphasis on excellent customer service.

Enter Dana Kilian, one of the company’s earliest hires, who has built an enviable customer service arsenal that still provides personalized service over the phone for a customer-base of millions. Now VP of Customer Service, she’s seen a lot go right, a lot go wrong, and has learned a ton along the way. In this exclusive First Round Review interview, she explains step-by-step how a startup can build a winning customer service team, starting from the very first hire through hyper-growth.

Product and Engineering

Facebook VP of Engineering on Solving Hard Things Early

January 2002. At Linden Lab, we were still referring to Second Life as Linden World, our furnace-less office was near freezing because the space heaters kept popping breakers, the Dot-Bomb crash was in full swing, DEMO 2002 was 4 weeks away, and 10 programmers were trying to duct tape everything together. Little did we know it was never going to get easier to fix the truly hard problems companies face. I talked about this, among other engineering challenges, at First Round Capital's last CTO Summit.

Management and Company Building

70% of Time Could Be Used Better - How the Best CEOs Get the Most Out of Every Day

The average tech CEO works about 300 days a year, 14 hours a day. That’s 4,200 hours a year. The stats for most other tech leaders and startup employees aren’t too far off. It sounds like a lot of time, but for most, it’s not enough. Nearly 30% of that time gets sunk into email. Another third gets spent in meetings — and studies show that half of those hours are completely wasted.

Looking at the schedule of a typical CEO, a full 70% of that time is sub-optimal, and I’ll back that up with my own experience. Prior to joining First Round as a partner, I served as Co-Founder and CEO for three companies, including LiveOps. Today, I meet with dozens of founders every week, helping them grow their teams and get more productivity out of themselves and the people they work with. They know they should be using every hour to move their companies forward, create great products, close deals and hire the best candidates. Many just can’t find the time. So, how do we get better?

This year, I spent several weeks leading up to our annual CEO Summit catching up with people I know who do a superhuman job at managing their time. My goal was to capture the tools, tips and hacks they use to make every work hour count. Below, I share eight strategies that have worked for them and for me, so we can all stop wasting time and missing out on opportunities.


The Best PR Advice You’ve Never Heard - from Facebook’s Head of Tech Communications

“Imagine you’re sitting across from a reporter at lunch. You’re telling them what you do, your story, why they should care about your product. You have to convince this reporter to not only write about you, but that what you’re doing matters. That you’re going to be successful.”

This is Caryn Marooney, Head of Technology Communications for Facebook. But before that, she co-founded OutCast, the elite PR agency that worked with one-time startups Amazon,, Netflix and VMware. She’s seen firsthand how hard it is for young companies to capture press attention when they have zero brand recognition and limited resources.

Most founders set out to create something iconic but don’t know where to start. At First Round’s recent CEO Summit, Marooney boiled down this massive challenge into an execution plan and guidelines for startups to craft an image that will resonate with the public and the press, launch on a strong note, and build momentum as they grow — regardless of size and resources.