What we’ve learned from startup founders on the Launch Lessons podcast

Launch Lessons is a podcast from Airwallex, the financial suite which empowers businesses to go global from day one

The Launch Lessons podcast from Airwallex is aimed at entrepreneurs who are navigating the rocky road to success, and offers advice from people who have been there, done that, and got the company branded t-shirt. 

Each episode is a conversation with a startup founder, and delves into the good, bad and ugly lessons they learned whilst launching their businesses. 

Here are our biggest takeaways. 

Connections will get you far, but only if your product is good

Larry Gadea founded Envoy — a workplace visitor booking platform — at the height of the pandemic. 

Having previously worked as an engineer at Google and Twitter, Larry leveraged his connections to get his product into 15,000 offices worldwide, including Slack, Pinterest and Hulu. In January 2022, the company reached unicorn status with a $1.4bn valuation. 

“You get to know a lot of people by working, I guess, at Google and Twitter,” says Larry. “When I needed them, I just went up to them like, hey guys, look at this, and they’re like, oh, this is really cool. It’s that cycle that has gotten us now into crazy amounts of offices.”

Having a network of Silicon Valley employees is certainly useful, but Larry is keen to stress that it can only get you so far. If your product isn’t slick, your friends aren’t going to recommend it to their employers. 

Larry takes UX very seriously, and even started hanging around his client’s offices for hours on end to see how people interacted with his product. 

“Me and the receptionist would have a deal, if anybody asks, just say I’m an interview candidate waiting for my slot or something,” he says. “You have to be borderline maniacal at just making sure you are doing the absolute best possible thing, because software is only software.” 

Listen to the full podcast episode here: Reaching Unicorn Status During a Pandemic, with Larry Gadea, Founder and CEO, Envoy 

Just because you fail, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road

Kevin Spain launched an internet business right before the .com crash. 

Straight out of business school, he set up a company called adMadison which offered a set of online tools to help small businesses design and execute advertising campaigns. 

“Unfortunately, by the time we got that up and going, the whole market was really crashing,” says Kevin. “And the customers we had, many of them started cutting marketing campaigns. And so there was less of a need for what we were building at that point and also much more challenging at that point to raise capital. So our business evaporated.”

As his company unravelled, Kevin dealt with feelings of failure and loss of identity. But ultimately he picked himself back up, capitalised on the learnings he’d gained from his experience, and moved on to his next project. Since then he has held senior positions at EA and Microsoft, and he is now a General Partner at Emergence Capital, a venture capital firm specialising in early-stage enterprise software companies. 

“I think a founder’s identity is wrapped up in the company that they have created,” says Kevin. “I’m not going to say [failure] doesn’t matter, right? It does matter in the sense, I think you actually learn a lot from it, but it doesn’t matter in the sense that it’s not who you are. You are not a failure, right? There’s so much in your future to be excited about. And I always encourage people to reflect on failure. What have they learned from it?”

Listen to the full podcast episode here: The Venture Capital Perspective with Kevin Spain, General Partner, Emergence Capital

Be honest about the challenges in your startup during early-stage recruitment

Ajeet Singh has founded two multi-million-dollar companies, Nuntanix and ThoughtSpot.  

During the first two years of ThoughtSpot’s growth, Ajeet had countless coffees with potential employees at a Starbucks near his office. During those meetings, Ajeet was careful not to do a sales pitch. He didn’t just want to recruit people that would help him achieve his goals, he wanted to recruit people that would get the most out of working for his company. 

“I spend a lot of time just learning about people. What drives them, what motivates them, and not everybody’s a fit for a startup because it comes with a certain risk, reward, commitment, etcetera,” says Ajeet. “You have to make sure that you are recruiting the right people who will thrive in that environment.” 

Ajeet is honest with the people he interviews, he tells them about the challenges they will face if they join his company. His aim is to find employees whose life goals fit with the opportunities he can give them.

“I do my best to make sure that people are not feeling that, oh, ‘I made a mistake’. I want them to know the good, bad, ugly. I want to tell them about all the problems we have, because we have problems. And that’s why we are recruiting direct people,” says Ajeet. 

Listen to the full podcast episode here: Differentiating on Culture with Ajeet Singh, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, ThoughtSpot

Being a good mentor matters

Brett Allred is an entrepreneur and software developer, he is currently Chief Product Officer at MX

Before he started working at MX, Brett met Brandon Dewitt. Brandon was the Co-Founder and CTO at MX. On meeting him, Brett was blown away by his intelligence and his deep understanding of the principles of computer science. He knew immediately that he wanted to work with him.

“I am a believer that you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with,” says Brett. “Just by being around good people and being open and flexible, you’ll level up. That’s a good, strong way to level up your own skills.” 

Brett counted Brandon as a friend and mentor for many years, before Brandon tragically lost his life to cancer in 2021. Brett credits Brandon with teaching him to be a better leader. 

“I could sing Brandon’s praises my whole life and what I learned from him, but he just had this really profound ability to look at the individual and see the next three iterations of that individual and then show them the next three iterations of themself,” says Brett. 

Listen to the full podcast episode here: The Founder’s Legacy with Brett Allred, Chief Product Officer, MX

You can listen to all episodes of the Launch Lessons podcast on Spotify.