Jatin Chaudhary: Thank you so much, everyone for joining in. I am Jatin, I'm one of the co-founders of eChai Network. We host engaging startup meetups and enabled one on one video calls, where we enable founders to network with it. Yeah, it's interesting journey for us. This is the 12th year for us and for a very long period, we remained in one city, but last one year was very incredible where we were able to expand into quantified global cities, where physically, we used to host a lot of meetups and bring a lot of founders together.
And we've started this eChai with Pioneers series where we invite iconic entrepreneurial leaders to come and share their experiences and interact with the founders.
So today we have Mada, Co-Founder of Branch joining us. first of all, thank you so much for that for accepting the invite.
Mada Seghete: Oh, thanks for having me so excited to be here today.
Jatin Chaudhary: Mada, if you can briefly tell us about your early days, you mentioned that you were born in Romania.
Mada Seghete: Yeah, I was born in a small town in Romania during communism. It's called Barco. It is Maldavia which is part of Romania close to the country, one diarrhea. and it was. it's interesting.
I was pretty nerdy. I was very good at math and I used to spend all my weekends, studying, going, studying to go to math contest which, I fallen very fun, especially the geometry part of math.
And, I, my parents, my mom is definitely my like role model. She, when communism fell, she really reinvented herself and learn how to be an investment analyst, and then joined a British fund and moved us to Bucharest which is the Capitol when I was in halfway through high school and, took us from poverty.
I grew up like not having enough money for food and wondering if we were going to have food, too, as communism fell really moving into like middle-class rich. so by the time I left Romania, we were like pretty solid middle class. and I saw that transition and, from last not having money to buy clothes, to actually, having a stable income and I looked at her as a role model and one of her dreams was for me to go and study abroad.
So she found, she read that if you're good at math, and if you have all these awards, you can get a full scholarship to accomplish to, in the United States. So I applied to a lot of schools and ended up at Cornell studying computer engineering. That's my coming to the state story.
Jatin Chaudhary: How did you get into the start world? That was 2005. You finished at Cornell. And how did you get,
Mada Seghete: it took some time. I, I didn't actually, when I left Cornell, I wanted to work for a very big company. I had No, I think growing up in communism, you don't have foreign companies and you think these big corporations are really cool.
So after I left Cornell, I ended up working as a software developer for Siemens medical, which was interesting. I learned a lot. I don't think I have a strong affinity to the medical field.
I really admire it but I don't have a passion there. my visa didn't go through, I had a bunch of UC issues and then I ended up at Stanford, doing a master's and MSNE, and that's when, Stanford has distinct called the design school where you take like classes in space variation and it was very different than my engineering classes at Cornell that were incredibly hardcore and I felt it was incredibly creative. And we did a lot of consulting project for startups around here. And that's how I first, discover startups.
And one of my professors was with this guy, Michael Dearing, who is also an investor. He has a fund called Harris Maddow. And I remember walking off to class one time with him, to his car, helping him take some things from one of our tests. And I was like, Oh, this or the startups are so cool. It's I don't think I could ever start a company.
And then he like stopped and put the box down and looked at me and he was like, okay, you're really smart. And you're like at the top of university and you do so well in all their projects. if you don't like, who do you think?
I was like, Oh, no one ever told me anything like that.
No, I think, Cornell is a really big university and like my professors, I was in classes with four or 500 people and I never had the relationship with a professor that I felt believed in me. and this was the first time that someone, that wasn't my mom, that they really admired told me that they felt I could do something extraordinary.
And that was the moment that was like, okay, one day I'm going to start a company. And it took me some time I went to consulting again because of visa issues. And then. And then worked and work first startup then went into business school, but I did go to business school with this idea that I was going to find a founding team and we were going to start something.
So I looked around and, my co-founders were like pretty impressive. So I actually reached out to them and I was like, what are you working
Jatin Chaudhary: for? The fingerprints or for the branch?
Mada Seghete: that was actually before kindred prints. Our first company was called puppet labs. And, it was a Fitbit for [00:06:00] dogs. It's hard to find. We don't talk about it as much, but Alex, our CEO, had this idea of doing this and actually the same professors I had. Taking the class seven years earlier.
And I, and he were still teaching a class at this school called launchpad. So I convinced Alex that I, so Alex was like, Oh my God, I'm thinking of doing this like Fitbit for dogs. And I was like, I'm no perfect. Co-founder I love dogs. I'm a designer. I can build websites. You can build all the hardcore stuff.
And then Mike, our COO, was very, he was like, he had built a lot of consumer products, worked for 3m. He had a bunch of patents. And we're like, Oh, he can actually build the things. So we were like the perfect team for Fitbit for dogs.
it's a crowded market. It's very small. So the summer between first and second year, we were like, why should we do, this is not really working.
So we came up with the kingdom Prince idea
Jatin Chaudhary: when all of you were together in Stanford? [00:07:00] Yeah.
Mada Seghete: All of us, except Dimitri joined. I guys. And then like a year, almost a year later, he came from our, we had already raised a pre-seed and in the, our investors introduced us.
Jatin Chaudhary: so although you were mentioning about, you were working on this idea on dogs and then you went on to start kindergarten.
So what was the precise point where you thought, okay, this dog's business is, might not be a big business, and let's jump into kinder prints.
Mada Seghete: Yeah. it was really the dog. I think it was. We were going to, we were going to all this like doc parks and asking people if they would buy this Fitbit for dogs.
And a lot of people said, no, and. We were in Palo Alto where like people have a lot of money and it just fell. The more we thought about it, the more I felt like this wasn't a mass market product. And then there was very, it was very competitive. We had, there was a competitor that launch and raised a bunch of money.
Then upselling later the product is still on the market. like ultimately I have the dog and I, but I didn't have a lot of the plenty I was to them. So I was like, if I had this money would actually buy this device and I was like, probably not. I'd probably actually spend that money on like treats and vet visits and stuff.
And I would only buy that if I had a lot of disposable income. So then I'm marketing would be very small. Those are only targets.
Jatin Chaudhary: And with the Kindred Prints, what was the initial idea that, you thought, okay, this is going to be becoming big.
Mada Seghete: Yeah. we were sitting in that room like Business school students do try and be like, what can we work on? and we had this idea that we love taking photos and we were on our iPhone, but our parents and grandparents didn't really have an iPhone. They didn't receive photos that way. And they were still behind and they really preferred printed stuff.
So we said, what if we could. have a survey, is that allowed you to easily print stuff from your phone and send it to your family and friends and loved ones? that was the initial idea. What we found out later with our market was actually moms with our first child is zero and three and teenagers and long distance relationships.
So now people send me stuff to their grandparents. but that was our initial audition idea. and then we did that for, we so built an app with both iOS and Android that allowed you to do that, in this like little booklet that was cheap. we did a lot. we sold probably we worked on this for like maybe nine months, almost a year.
I love being live and we saw all about. 10 15,000 books.
Jatin Chaudhary: Okay. You raise funds for that or that was a bootstrap. No,
Mada Seghete: we did. We did, most of the money that we raised for that we ended up using for branch. the first 50 K, which was a convertible note. I spent it all on ads, [00:10:00] and on Facebook to acquire users and figure out if this was a sustainable business or not.
And then we realized it wasn't ready.
Jatin Chaudhary: And what led to the foundation of Branch?
Mada Seghete: Yeah. So I think you, it was very different. We didn't sit in a room and think about some wild kind of one Sunday. I think I went to Alex's place and we were like, we're really struggling with this one issue.
]if we could build a solution for that, but it really came from a face strong pain that we felt as developers. We were trying to promote our app and we found it very hard to track. How people came to our app and we wanted to build like customer experiences. So as I said earlier, we had like teenagers and moms as act two core audiences and they behave very differently.
Moms, sold a lot, bought a lot of books at once. versus teenagers were very likely to share if you give them something free. So I wanted to build a different experience. If someone came from like the mom campaign, Or someone came from the teenager campaign. And I thought there was no way where someone installed the app to know where they came from.
There was no way to pass a parameter to install. So I wonder if we could do that as well, if we could do this idea of not just deep thinking, but the, for deep thinking where you can click on the link and someone installs the app and then you know, where they came from, where they came from a user. And if they came from a user, what users they came from.
If you came, if they came from a napkin, they know exactly what that campaign, and you can have a lot of parameters that you can help them onboard and customize the app experience, but it also helps to track what works and what doesn't. that's how the idea came with. I remember when we came up with this idea where we really want this, first of all, we were trying to find a solution for ourselves there weren't.
we had some competitors in early days, but we didn't find them. We didn't know they existed until much later after we had started a branched.
Jatin Chaudhary: So when this idea came, so where all four of you are totally in for that, or was that a resistance from anyone of you or from investors that you had ignored?
Mada Seghete: yeah, there was an investor that didn't like the idea, but he was actually an investor in one of our competitors. We found out later and he tried to push us to not do this. I think initially it was that Alex and I on a Sunday. And then we came back on Monday and then Demetrian and my core other co-founders were like, Oh, we're doing this.
And they're like, what? But then we convinced them. And then our investors who actually raised money, we raised money from pear ventures. They were actually very supportive, but we had this one advisor who said that we shouldn't do this. That's a bad market. And I think. It was a conflict of interest for him because he had invested in one of our, competitors.
I think for him, if we were going this direction, it would be, we, the competitor ended up not adapting to the changes and we ended up taking more of their customers. we prevailed in the end, but
Jatin Chaudhary: yeah. Awesome. so you have in a way, a pioneer to the community-driven marketing strategies.
So what was those initial things you did to get branch visibility within the community?
Mada Seghete: Yeah, it was interesting. I would say that there's no like new ideas. so I, the idea about building a community came, I was lock ventures, invested a little bit in our series, a like very small check. and we, we kept in touch with them and they had this, growth advisor in residence.
So Mike and I met and we're like, when we're like, we asked them, what advice does she have? And he's you should find something that you tie to, and then build a brand around it and then build everything on it. When it comes to events, content, et cetera. So we on the bride, back from Greylock to our office, Mike and I were like, what is the thing?
And we're like, I think it's mobile girl. And, we're like, okay. Let's like, start a meet up. Let's call it mobile growth hackers, that stuff. And I was [00:14:00] driving and Mike, while I was driving, went to meetup.com and started meet up group. And then I was like, okay, we'll just going to do an event. And I just.
Start the event and we'll see what happens. And I remember calling pizza places, because we had, so we hadn't raised a lot of money. So we were like, okay, who has two for one? So we call like several pizza places. And one of them had two for one and we got the pizza. We went to a grocery store and bought the beer.
it was very like, grassroots. And then I invited all my friends. I tried to convince everyone I knew to come. We got some good speakers. And then a lot of people came and were like, wow, people, we have a hundred people. I can't believe we actually managed to and people seem interested and I'll know about branch.
And it's the relationships with the speakers. Some of those original speakers, you got our first few meetups where like people from Pinterest and Robin who, and then those became some of our first really big customers. So we're like, Oh, I think we're [00:15:00] onto something. like this is, this works, to be fair, we did listen.
we didn't, we don't just have a community. We also do these mobile growth handbooks. That's our best, one of our best pieces of content. We do a mobile growth newsletter. We do a lot of things. we really, that was probably it's funny. Cause he met that guy. And when I do remember, all the stuff we did, it was because of your advice and he didn't even remember it.
He didn't remember giving us the other bias. It's Brittany. Oh, I was just like I was saying that, wow, you really executed. yeah, I think it's all about execution and just working hard. And I think we, that's how we did it.
Jatin Chaudhary: Some other, there are a lot of companies who are trying to use community to grow their business now, but sometimes a conflict comes at another something which is good for the community and for an individual brand.
so in your case, what would you advise that you date, or what would you advise to someone who's trying to build a community where marketing for their
Mada Seghete: businesses? I think it's really important that you don't like, just do it for your business. I know this is like a weird thing, but I actually feel like so many people are like, Oh, this is my company's name.
And I'm building community around my company in, like maybe that's totally fine if you're like really big, but when you're small, people are not interested. And I think people sometimes just think of themselves and they're so centered on their brand, but they don't really think about what do other people care about.
what did they do want to hear? and they're too self-serving right. So I think the way you have to think about building community is like someone, I was doing a podcast last night with a J who used to be the city of Go-Jek and he had this really great analogy. He said, I really like tomatoes.
And he's like, when you grow your tomato plant, you put the seeds. And when do you get tomatoes? You get tomatoes. A lot later. And I think the way you invest in community needs to be very similar. You put the seeds, you do a lot of work. You don't [00:17:00] get anything in return, years later you start getting results.
It's the same thing with SEO where you'll do a lot of content. You don't get stuff right away, but then over time. So I think it always a Micah there. I think there's probably been one of the best things I've done. I've had faith in certain things and measured, but I gave them, we gave it. Time. And there were definitely times where my co-founders were like, I don't think we should do these meet ups anymore.
I don't think it works. We're not getting anything out of that. But then eventually we started to actually like being able to measure, the influence on ideals and it was like huge. So it's it took us a long time to get there. but yeah, so I think Don don't. The only way I think weights understand that it's going to take time and don't be too self-serving.
Those are the two biggest pieces of advice as a community. Getting
Jatin Chaudhary: Mada, branch has a very exp exponential growth in the beginning and the new has continued. community thing you mentioned, according to you, what was those one or two critical factors that work for you? That's why you were able to get that exponential?
Mada Seghete: we had product market fit, which. It's magical. It really is one of my co-founders when he got married, she said, Oh, when I met my fiance, my wife. I felt the same magic. I felt as that we felt at the branch because, branches are like forced, even with Kindle prints, we have two different ideas of branches or for type.
Yeah. So we try to buy just stuff together. And I think, many founders start with the first thing and then they become so attached to the idea that they have find it very hard to prove it. And I'm invested the vine. I advise. I advise startups and I see this a lot. And even looking back, I don't know if I personally, I was so attached to the dog thing and so attached to the kinder thing.
And we all were like, when we decided, Alex made, Alex was like, this is really not working guys. I don't think this is going to be a big business. And we're like, no, [00:19:00] but even then he was like, maybe I can buy it from you. And I'm just doing it on the weekend. even even someone is.
Alice is probably the least emotional and the most like very well thought out person, but even someone like him couldn't let go of this business. So I think that's like the problem that so many founders house, we ended up selling it to someone else. Thank God we didn't do it on weekends because it was not a good business.
But, I think so many founders get so attached to the idea that they have a very hard time, I think go and that they go so deep into something that's never going to be that big. And then they feel trapped. I see this, I have a lot of fun they're friends. And in the early days they can go and do something else.
And then seven years then they're like, Oh, this is never going to be big. But I feel so trapped because I raised a bunch of money. And so the earlier you can figure out the decision. I think that was a big thing and that, I think we worked really hard, I think if you go and you read all the Glassdoor reviews on [00:20:00] branch and there's positive and negative, but they're all saying that there is no there, they're all somewhat.
They all say that we work hard, maybe too hard sometimes. and I think that, this will done in life swimming in a lot of sacrifices to make this happen.
Jatin Chaudhary: Awesome. So you have four co-founders. So how did you divide the roles or it like it organically came into the personalities. What was those decisions in each yearly that will take care of what?
Mada Seghete: Yeah, it's really interesting. if you look at one of the main reasons companies after companies that have product market fit, fail, it's usually the funders don't get along. And I think one of the main reasons founders don't get along is because they're just similar. We are not similar at all.
Sometimes people are like, how are you guys? Like, how do you guys work? How are you guys still together after I guess eight years now? Cause you're so weird and different. And I actually think that's was our strength. we are very different. Alex is very strategic, very technical. Mike is very operational and he can get like anything, he gave him a project and he makes sure it gets done.
I'm very much idea oriented. I care about people. I'm creative. I love promoting stuff. And Dimitri is just very technical. I'm very smart. He's probably the smartest out of all of us. And he really likes building stuff. So I think, it was very clear at the beginning that Alison Dimitri do you mean towards the technical and Mike?
And I would like the business, but even in the business side, in many cases I will have an idea and I will do something and then Mike would make sure we get done really well. and we were very complimentary in that. I have a lot of initiative and I, I've learned to temper my initiative, so I have less things than Mike.
And I've also learned to do a lot, to be a better executer. And Mike has a lot more initiative like it's, w we've become some more similar to each other after working together for so long, but we still are very, I read the doing marketing and I really liked doing culture stuff. And there's no, and I liked doing public speaking and being the face of branch.
And my co-founders don't really like that much. And Alex really likes doing engineering and strategy and we all trust him with that. And Mike is the executer. it's just, it there's very like fitting to our personalities. so we don't bump heads very much. We trust each other because we all think that the other is better.
It's something that they own then. Do you know what they are. So I think that has been, really cool actually.
Jatin Chaudhary: Yeah. And my branch has a very brand name investors, Grillo . So how did, like, how did it got started? Like a big name game, and then it does approach you, or you have actively start approaching these brand name investors.
Mada Seghete: we've raised a lot of wrongs, so he came with the first round, The first one, NEA, I think in all the first, it was funny when we raised our IRC and. I, we had raised a pre-seed from benchmark EMR for payer ventures, but that was for, kindred. [00:23:00] And when we told them we're switching to branches that cool.
So we actually had some money at the beginning. so we didn't raise like right away for branch. we had, we started and we actually put back ourselves salaries after we graduated from what we had raised for, Yeah, there is, I think 250 K after the convertible note. So $300 from them. And we just use that to live that somewhere.
And we said, okay, we're going to give it six months. And we didn't really start fundraising. I was trying to do an event, whether it be see. So I reach out to them saying, this is what we do. Can we come in line with something? And the guy was like, Oh, I really, this is so cool. I wanted to talk to my partner.
We met with him and the guy's okay, I want to invest 2 million in you. And I'm like, what really? You just met us. And we're like, maybe we should find out phase now. So then we started like asking other people for invites and we started going first just to angels. So I just want to be an angel round.
And then somehow we met this guy, Ben Harrison, [00:24:00] and he's no, I think I want you to meet that. The NDA guy. So he's like, when he realized that the mission we were trying to do, he like dropped his coffee, got Alex in the car. We were supposed to meet with some other investors and Alex wasn't answering anything in more I remember texting him and I'm like, are you alive?
And he's yes. Okay. Okay. And then he's okay. And he able to watch to invest in that. So then we had the other companies, we had a lot of others, like Greylock and abide by those, but we had really committed 28, then we lot, we actually, the other ones just added that a little bit to the round, but NEA was the main investor and they really love that.
So they let the, a, we can even shop it around. and then founders fund, and, there's team later on and the B and the C. but yeah, it was a very interesting, it was like a very interesting experience. It really felt like during that seed that we were the hottest girl at the ball, and I think that's how it goes with seeds and AEs people get, when they hear that you are a cool company, they get very excited.
it was harder to raise the date around, I don't think. And I think it's the same for everyone. I think it's. Unless you're like Facebook or MBMB. but yeah, I think people really believed in our mission. I mentioned by the way, is to maybe make them more body ecosystem, more open through LinkedIn and other forms of discovery and really break down some of the barriers that the platforms are putting on the mobile ecosystem.
We found that it's incredibly hard to grow an app and these platforms have so much power. And the more we can actually, level the field and give more opportunities for, mobile companies to be discovered, to take people to content, to not depend so much and just promotion by the brands. I think that's our term mission.
Jatin Chaudhary: Correct another, when we read the story about branch, the moment you'd be worded, everything has gone smoothly. So were there any moments in your journey where things got a little difficult, [00:26:00] you had to really put in a little more extra effort to get it right? Any insights you can share?
Mada Seghete: So history's written by the winners, but people don't talk about the struggles. There's a lot of struggles. there's a lot of changes. We live in a plant in a way we exist in a ecosystem that is owned by these giant empires. And when they make a change. the IDFA changes now, the world shutters for all of us and we have to adapt and change and be there.
And I think one of the things that we've done really is that the adaptation, I think the way we've adapted when Apple changed from URI schemes to universal links and then Google follow suit to the airplanes, it was a big change and it was very stressful, but it allowed us to actually Get the foothold in the market.
And we did, we adopted, and our technology works so much better than our competitors on the side. I think it was like yours. You're on top stream and that's when they died, actually, because we adapted, they didn't. And I think we're seeing a similar, something very [00:27:00] similar happening right now in the market with the IDFA changes and we'll see what happens.
but there's a lot of change in the market. Then the mobile industry is probably the most, the fastest moving market that there is right now. And, I wouldn't say it's mood saving. I would say that we've been doing well and growing. but it's not like there's a lot of work behind the scenes to do that.
Jatin Chaudhary: And there is a lot of focus by branch on creating a good company culture. so in your case, in the early days, apart from all four of you, how did you get to that new middle management team and then enable them to become leaders themselves? Any experiences you can share on there?
Mada Seghete: it's really hard.
I would say the hardest thing that I think a lot of startups face when it comes to people, and I think we were an example of that is you bring in some amazing people and they're really cool. And then you basically. start growing and then instead of thinking, Hey, should I hire? And so you just promote those people.
and before, maybe before they're ready. So you start having a lot of inexperienced managers. And even the founders themselves are usually not the best. Like I would say I'm an okay manager now. I was a terrible manager. Five years ago. I had never managed people. I didn't, no one trained me. I was, I had so much on my plate, individually that had no time to focus on people.
I was managing. I had no time to learn. Like I read a lot these days on how to be a better manager to be a better leader. I didn't have any time then. And I think it's almost like. The early employees really have the card. They work pretty hard in many cases. there's companies with white experience founders, but a lot of those companies are founders like.
Our age in their like late twenties, early thirties who are just not like the best, they're still learning. we did a lot in the past few years and I think we're much better. We do a lot of management [00:29:00] training. We use a company for LifeLabs, everybody. Awesome. I learned a lot from their modules.
we do a lot of like our own internal training. we suggest books and we have book clubs. we give a lot of the feedback we do these three 60 feedback loops, I think have helped a lot, us grow and are those girl. I would say that we've only started doing these things maybe three years ago, first two and a half years of branch there wasn't lunch.
We just didn't have the time. We didn't have the resources and it was hard. But I'm very grateful for our early on planes. Honestly, the ones that are here and the ones that loved there, a lot of the branch wouldn't be here without them. And I think they had it harder than people.
Now. We were still figuring out everything
Jatin Chaudhary: [00:29:47] and your investment partner at X-Factor ventures. So how did it get started?
Mada Seghete: Yeah. So X factor is I actually got invited by one of my friends. Jess was just too narrow and, the way I expect the works, they have a fund and it's, it's fun out of a bigger fund, but it's.
basically, just I think we're like 22 female founders and we it's was like any fund. We have the LPs and we're just the partners. So we split profits, but, you get to lead an investment the same way you would. you have to get buy-in from the team. So pretty cool experience. I have done only two investments as part of the risk factor and have led to investments.
one in, dev, which is like a developer community of communities and that one in an AR app, your AR and I'm very, I'm obsessed too. They are, I think it's going to be the next big thing. I think it's got to change our world the same way that I, it. And, so yeah, those sorts of biting investments, I'm also, where that's a lot easier.
You just stick by, it gives you money and then you invest on your own, but you are actually considered the investment, the investor. So I've done a few investments there. I invest mostly in women. I think I've done certain investments so far and only one has been to it. So
Jatin Chaudhary: it's interesting is you, you are operator and then there is a part investment.
So is there a conflict you face with the thought process that in as a operator, founder, you think in a certain way, and as an investor, you will do the same thing in a different way. Any, anything that comes across.
Mada Seghete: I invest in very early stage startups. I'm not, and I do small checks except extractor, which is like a bigger check size in there.
But there, I feel like I've had a lot of help from the rest of the team. there's this idea that. we have, I have, we have a bunch of female founder, friends, and then we all invest in each other and it fills a building. There's a little mafia of support and try to bring new people in and try to build, support networks.
I feel like the most conflict I feel is actually being a friend to [00:32:00] some of these women and being an investor because any cases, Like sometimes as an investor, I don't agree with some of their decisions. And as a friend, they want to support them no matter what. So it has been interesting. I think, I think this idea of being an operator, I actually think in general, the best investors were operators before.
I think I can give a lot of advice and provide value, especially on the way I marketing think side then. and I don't really. I don't think there's a conflict in any way. the companies are small and I think I can provide, I don't do, I don't invest unless it's a close friend and I've done this a couple of times and those are like my own checks.
I've never heard invested like Sequoia or expector in close friends. but. Otherwise, I feel like I usually can pick up all the value to the company and I don't invest, I've never invested in Bitcoin for example, because I don't feel, I understand Bitcoin well enough. So I usually [00:33:00] invest in mobile and B2B access.
I think those are the two areas. I think you'll see most of the. What I've invested in has been in those areas.
Jatin Chaudhary: There's a question on YouTube for you. So in the early days of brands, what were those challenges is? And now after six years, seven years, what has changed? What are the challenges now? I
Mada Seghete: think the early days, all the challenges were around product.
Now, most of the challenges that are on people, there's also product challenges and market changes. The market changes, challenges have not changed. They've stayed the same. They're always going to be there. but I do think sometimes people don't realize that it's above a certain size, literally about 30 people as a founder.
Most of what you deal with is like people issues. and do you think it's always going to be product and you want to build a product, but to build a product, you have to build the team in and doing that and. I think what's really, we were very lucky that we had four founders because in many cases, Mike and I deal more with the pupil aspects of the business and we love doing it.
It's it's not like I lead marketing as my official job, but they do a lot of culture stuff and I love it. And same with Mike's. I see all the details, but she also does a lot of people's stuff. And so then Alex loves doing product and he gets to really focus on product and he helps with the people stop.
But it's not his main focus, what they've seen with solo founders. and they really struggle. They struggled because they don't have a partner who can help with the people issues so they can focus on the product stuff. so I do think especially for first time, Founders. It's very hard to be alone.
I don't know if I could do it and look here at my friends who do it that have a lot of admiration, but I can see how hard it is. but yeah, I think that would be the biggest like type of change. I see. Yep.
Jatin Chaudhary: And, you, briefly mentioned that, you started reading more, so any specific things you did so that in consciously you get better at something so that you can become a better leader, managing a large corporation.
Mada Seghete: Yeah. I read a lot of books on culture, so we did the whole culture revamp, trying to understand what, we, one of the things that I'm very proud of is we had our values early on, but we evolved them over and defining what makes culture hope, Sycamore culture. I read a lot around this. I ran into six or seven books.
Nike came up with a bunch of changes and a bunch of things to do that. I talked to people for early people at Facebook, Amazon, Google, all these companies. They felt like when I was trying to like, rethink what makes branch wide, what is branch? How do we measure ourselves? So I do a lot of research on that.
I think from being a manager, definitely the two things I did, I think were best one. I did the three 60 with a coach. And it was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do. she interviewed, I think 12 people and she did one hour interviews and it was all, it was someone I invested in and my mom and all my direct reports and my co-founders, it was very different facets of my life.
And, she got people to give her much feedback and she made me like, read all the feedback and write it all down. It sticks to me. And it was, it's very hard. it's so much critical feedback. but I think it was probably the thing that made me while it was very hard in the moment.
I think feedback is a gift and I think I became a lot better. So hearing those things. Anyways, just probably one of the best things I've ever done. And then I also read a lot and then, pairing reading and how to do things better to knowing what your weaknesses are in your, some I knew when somebody doesn't, it can really help you grow.
I it's been, been an interesting challenge to grow into a better leader. I, And I [00:37:00] think the other, the last thing was having a group of friends who are all founders and CEOs and, talking and having a support group in a way. I think that maybe the third thing that helps.
Jatin Chaudhary: [00:37:10] Awesome. Last 15 minutes of the discussion, we'll try to do a more of a rapid fire.
So you mentioned about books. We could see some books in this screen. If you were to recommend one book to say startup founders, what that would
Mada Seghete: [00:37:21] be.
it's hard. I don't, I think it just depends. I think one book that I really liked recently was the infinite game by Simon Sinek. I think the reason it's good for early stage startups is because it really talks about how you should frame your mission and why that's important and how to inspire others.
It's a very foundational book critic. But if you are looking for a culture, you, what you do is who you are or something that the Ben Horowitz book, I think that was also very good, but that's more like, maybe that's a little bit later once you build the culture. Sure.
Jatin Chaudhary: [00:37:59] But in your profile, it does mention that you love watching scifi shows, which is that one show that you absolutely know,
Mada Seghete: start drag at lifestyle drank, like I'd watch next generation four times the entire.
And I've watched them on not the original ones, but the, I really like soccer. I like I've seen probably the majority of scifi shows on TV.
Jatin Chaudhary: [00:38:24] Okay. If you were not doing branch link, what as you could have been doing.
Mada Seghete: [00:38:35] there's a few different answers. If I w if I didn't start branch, I would probably be a PM or product marketer, like Facebook or Google or something. That's probably what I would have done after business school. I don't think that's what I would have loved doing, but that's just being honest.
What I probably will do after branch is, probably a mixture of investing and I want to write the book, I have this idea around monsters and the monsters we have to deal. You have to deal with, to build the company. And I want to write like an animated book about this started on monsters. I had to build the brand around the, I want to find a way to.
Bridge my creativity and my like, love for painting and drawing with all the business stuff I've learned. And I feel like for the past few years, I almost shot to my creative side of my brain off. And I want to find a way that I can bring that creativity to a very hard problem.
Jatin Chaudhary: [00:39:31] you learn maybe what functions and has the responsibility of doing your things, which is one particular activity You absolutely enjoy the most.
Mada Seghete: I really do enjoy doing things like this, like public speaking. I used to say that there's nothing cooler than being on a big stage and talking to you about something and getting feedback. And so now, during COVID I do things like this. I have my own podcast called how I grew this, where I interview people who have driven growth [00:40:00] in small and large companies. And I really enjoy doing the podcast too.
Jatin Chaudhary: and whether you have you inspired as who inspires you?
Mada Seghete: I think in general, Strong women. I'm really excited about Biden's of peak Kamala Harris, who was a Senator from California. I, I, when I was learning how to be a better marketing leader, there was this woman, like Megan Eisenberg who mentored me.
And I think, like she inspired me. My mom has always inspired me. So my FA my founder, friends who have really cool companies.
Jatin Chaudhary: and so you are a community leader, you mentioned about public speaking. So there are a lot of people who aspire to be community managers, either as a profession or to enable whatever their main job is, what would you recommend them?
Like these are the top three things. If you do that a very high chance, does it become successful attack?
Mada Seghete: I think it's just all about the [00:41:00] relationship building. And I think building this idea, like how do you build good relationships? I will know. I don't know if I am more community there. I have been at some point in time, maybe I am a branch.
I think just being open and asking questions, learning how to just make people feel comfortable and to listen and listening more. Things also things like, if there's a secret to become a community leader and
Jatin Chaudhary: [00:41:32] what makes for a brunch now, like more than 3 million, $200 million, or what is that big thing that you mentioned about it?
What is big thing?
Mada Seghete: I can't really talk about it. but it really is around discovery and helping. You're up because be discovered. and I think it's going to be really cool. I've been working on something for awhile. We're in bed by now in a lot of places. And this just idea that you don't have to just depend on [00:42:00] Facebook and Google and Apple together, I've discovered, but if you have it with content in your app, you will be discovered by users.
Correct we have some cool
Jatin Chaudhary: stuff. Awesome. Yeah. Looking forward to it. and you mentioned about him, there was a professor who asked you 30, if not, you becoming independent, who else would be, and from that point in time, and then being a co-founder of a fastest growing unicorns in Silicon Valley, what has changed in your life?
How do you sink in with that moment?
Mada Seghete: No, it's it doesn't feel like so much has changed. I feel like I'm still in the same person. It's funny. I sent them a white. Every few years or a year or so, I check in with them and I tell them, Hey, I wouldn't be here if you hadn't told me that. I don't know. and so like I just lived my life.
I don't feel like how much money you raise. I don't think it's something you necessarily need to celebrate. And this unicorn thing, branches a company. And I'm doing things that I love. I love marketing and I love culture stuff. And I just feel like I'm just someone who has [00:43:00] a job that they really enjoy every day, but I don't play, I don't know.
I don't really think about, okay. It's very hard to compare myself then, because everything is so incremental and it's like really? Maybe it doesn't really sink in. yeah.
Jatin Chaudhary: and post COVID, a lot of things have changed a lot of businesses. what has been the impact of COVID in the business of branch?
Mada Seghete: you're tired. it's a really interesting thing because some of our customers are deeply affected by this and others. some customers are not as affected as someone deeply affected, but some positive, some negative. So I think it's been. An interesting way to find empathy for people who have been deeply affected negatively and working with those who are seeing a lot of growth to support them during their growth.
[00:43:52]it's not that so much has changed just more in like how we focus our time, how we focus on our customers, how we, the type of [00:44:00] companies we go and try to convince to you as branch has, there had to be a lot of change, but I think it's. Okay.
Jatin Chaudhary: And this COVID situation has forced everybody to become a remote organizations.
Mada Seghete: Oh man. It's like hard. I think everyone's trying to figure this out. Trying so many things. I think in general, people are very productive, but I felt like the overall productivity we work, it's harder to work as a cohesive group. And yeah, it's been really hard. I think we will figure it out, but we're not quite there yet.
[00:44:42] It's still a work in progress. if any, if you have any good ideas, we've implemented a bunch of stuff that other people have said, we have a catch up day with no meetings and things like that. Then that came from extra podcast. And, we're just trying. But I think it's, I think it's going to be hard and I just, for us, for [00:45:00] others as well,
Jatin Chaudhary: Mada, you've been very vocal about building gender diversity and inclusion within the organization.
So what are the initiatives you're taken up at branch and as a whole, what would you recommend to others who are trying to
Mada Seghete: ] do that? we started having very high level, goals around the eye and. One of the things we've, we're starting to implement is this idea that you can't hire someone unless you show that the pipeline for that person was at least 50% women and minorities.
we, when we do our sourcing, we try to go after. A lot of, women minorities. and then when it comes to retaining people, I think we've hired a consulting companies to understand what we can do better. There's changed a lot of policies as we started getting feedback. We tried to do a lot of, we have a lot of ERG employee resource groups, for I'm the executive sponsor for the women one, but we have, roots, which is black professionals.
We have one for, people of Latino understand. And, so no, I think this obviously depends by country. I think we've tried very hard to build, like we have an energy one. So beside, yeah, that my, I have a, we have a question in our, in brain engagement survey that says, I have the longest branch and I remember we were just presenting the results of the engagement survey last night.
And we had the very high, I think it was like something like. 80 something high, eighties percent favorable. And then the rest was neutral and maybe there was like 1% negative. And I remember thinking, like my goal would be that this is a hundred percent. Like I have one, even if it's 1% of the people at the moment branch, it's not like I want every single person to feel like they belong.
yeah. And I don't think that's ever going to be something that. Even if let's say we [00:47:00] get to a point in time where everyone feels like they belong, then you keep hiring people. So it's always going to be a work in progress to get better or worse, the, of inclusion and making sure that everyone feels like this is the place for them.
And they have equal opportunities. Everyone else scores are very high, but there is a small percentage of people. and I think trying to understand how we can make sure that every single person feels that they belong in there included. I think that's one of my goals.
Jatin Chaudhary: And as a founder, you keep getting addresses from a lot of people, but what is that one particular advice that has stayed with you and that has helped
Mada Seghete: you?
I mentioned some of the down the ride, like the fact that I can rent something, the just find something and do it. I don't know if there's the advice that Alex always gives people and I think it's really good. I stole it. is this idea that just, don't worry about failure, just keep on building.
And I felt like that's how I feel like, That's how I feel. That's how I feel sometimes. Like sometimes I just feel a lot and I get so nervous and I think what has been really cool is this idea that I can just keep on going and just keep on building. And one day, even if it's like something fails, like I'll hit something that works.
I know that's what happened in the branch, but that's what happened. Many times we tried so many things in marketing. We. We talked about the things that work, but how about like hackathons? We thought hackathons going to have tons of work. I spent like probably seven weekends going to happy times and promoting branch and nothing came out of it.
[00:48:32] And people don't talk about the failures. People don't ask about the failures, right? It's you only see the things that have worked, but how about all the other things that blood, sweat, and tears and things that didn't work. Don't let the, don't let those things bring you down. Just keep on building.
Jatin Chaudhary: Awesome Mada, thank you so much for spending one hour with us.
Eending these calls, is a very tricky business. So typically what we'd like to do is think of this as a university class, and now there is a congregation time and you are a speaker at a convocation and you are one nine masters to the founders. And moment you finish that call. I'll end the call.
So we'll end on a high.
Mada Seghete: Yes, it's intense. okay. So I will say that, the most important thing as a founder, I believe it's grit. And to actually know, I think anyone can build a successful company. It will be easier for some than other, because luck is a factor, but yeah, every single one of you can do it.
So the only thing you need is to just keep on going, keep on building, because you will eventually hit that amazing thing that will make your great founder. Just stick to it, stick to the grit and you won't get there.
Jatin Chaudhary: Thank you so much for your time and all the support and this call and I'll share.