The most special part about 33founders is the opportunity to celebrate so many exceptional individuals.
Mike Townsend, the Co-Founder and COO of HomeHero and a valued contributor to 33voices, is one of the first friends I made hosting the show. Since meeting in October, he’s taught me important lessons on how to navigate life as an entrepreneur and be an inspiring leader along the way.
Despite a lack of understanding for his 200-mile bike rides (Cake > Cardio), there are so many traits I deeply admire about Mike; Many of which he exemplifies in this special Q&A.
Two years after launching their marketplace for senior caregivers, HomeHero is dominating the Los Angeles market, expanded to San Diego, and is partnering with religious organizations to ensure that seniors are getting the care they need.
The following is an exclusive Q&A with Mike on how he’s managing HomeHero’s growth as a founder, what to expect launching and scaling a marketplace, and key strategies to drive creativity in your organization.
What is an unlikely event, experience, or relationship that’s made a telling difference in HomeHero’s success?
Our relationship with AJ Bleyer has been the X factor in our success. AJ is the CEO and Founder of Advent Films and has helped HomeHero with promotional videos such as this one. We initially met AJ when we were looking for a video production company to help us make a promo video for Flowtab (our last startup). AJ was fast, personable, professional and on top of that he did our first video for free to get his foot in the door! Over the years AJ has become a close friend and even joined HomeHero at our first retreat in Tahoe last year. Since starting Advent Films, AJ went on to do commercials for Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Maserati and more.
Heidi Roizen, an Operating Partner at DFJ Venture, shares that “The key to happiness is to lower your expectations and prepare for an imperfect path along the way.” What are some of the unexpected challenges your team faced building HomeHero in the early days? How did you overcome them?
This is a great question as HomeHero was far from an overnight success. In the first few months we struggled to find product market fit, our billing system kept crashing and we lost important early clients, which was a crusher for moral. We struggled with acquiring users, creating an efficient on-boarding process and at one point we weren’t sure if we were going to make payroll and keep the lights on. The overarching lesson we learn was how to understand exactly what to build and how to position our marketing message so that clients would love it.
In a recent commencement speech Jordan Kretchmer, Founder and CEO of Livefyre, urged the Class of 2015 to “Fail loud. Fail proud. Own that shit and make something better next time.” How do you assess projects that have a different outcome than you expected?
Well Kyle and I really took this phrase to the extreme by publishing everything from our last company on www.flowtab.com and on Techcrunch. We’re proud of the fact that we executed to our full potential and achieved significant milestones along the way.
The quote below from John Wooden is one of my favorites exemplifying the fact that it shouldn’t discourage you if you don’t succeed, it’s just more leverage to try again.
“Time lost is time lost. It’s gone forever. Some people tell themselves that they will work twice as hard tomorrow to make up for what they did not do today. People should always do their best. If they work twice as hard tomorrow, then they should have also worked twice as hard today. That would have been their best.” – John Wooden
We do our absolute best as a company to separate any personal attachment from the success or failure of a project. The project is successful if it was successfully executed and measured, not how the market responded.
How do HomeHero’s ‘Idea Teams’ drive creativity in the business?
As your company grows it’s a continual challenge to keep people informed about what other departments do day to day. Creativity alone is useless, but when combined with a structure to build it into reality, its incredibly powerful. At HomeHero, we have a structure called Idea Teams which are scheduled meetings across departments that allow organic time for employees to talk to each other about their day, their challenges and exchange ideas. We’ve found that just by talking about your work and challenges outloud you tend to develop creative ideas on how to get better. We turn these ideas into reality by capturing them on Trello, reviewing them and scoping out what needs to be built to turn it into reality.
What is the most beneficial advice you’ve received about about growing a marketplace?
Rather than give generic advice I’ll give a specific piece of advice that most marketplace founders should consider. When matching supply and demand it’s often a wise decision to segment your first time users from your experienced users on both the supply and demand side. Then only match first time supply with experienced demand and vice versa. This is beneficial for a few reasons, one being that you can rely on your experienced supply or demand to prove reliable feedback in case of any dispute from the other and it helps the initial experience if one of the two parties is experienced and can walk the other through the process of using your marketplace service.
When it comes to culture, do you run your startup like a team or a family? Why does one meaning resonate more than the other?
We are very aware of the culture of the room and as founders it’s our job to set consistent cultural expectations and guidelines. We consciously built a very flat organization where everyone feels equally able to contribute. This feeling of equality builds a stronger and more genuine bond between people where we sincerely care about each other and it carries over into the work environment.
What is the most surprising lesson you’ve learned about leadership since starting HomeHero in 2013?
I feel that the most surprising lesson I’ve learned is that leadership is not an innate skill that is unattainable by people. Anyone can learn the qualities of a leader such as when to speak and when to listen, how to inspire others, and how to make personal sacrifices for the team gain. Leadership isn’t chosen its taken and it’s not necessarily a better position than any other on the team.
What is one question you’ve wanted to answer about business or life that nobody’s asked you?
I love the question “if you could go back in time, what would you have done different” which was brilliantly captured in this Quora question with 40 answers (6/15/15).
I would answer that I would have thought bigger when I was very young. I used to work hard as a teenager mowing lawns, cleaning houses, and shoveling snow but it was challenging to see the big picture. I wish I had reached out to successful people and gotten mentors earlier in life that could have helped me see bigger opportunities that were in front of my eyes for years. It’s really about training your mind how to see patterns in solving problems, it’s the reason why people across the world copy companies that come out of California from the same people over and over.
Both Kyle and you are incredibly active and participate in intense athletic events. Why is your commitment to running, biking etc. so important to the way you perform as founders?
Training is a form of meditation, there is plenty of time to think on a 100 mile bike ride through the mountains. It’s my time to digest the weeks information, relationships and decisions and organically let good ideas float to the top of mind. Kyle and I are both insanely competitive and triathlons are a fantastic release of competitive aggressive energy…which is a great thing for our team!
Fast forward to 2020. There’s a major story coming out about HomeHero. What do you want the headline to be?
HomeHero would be a massive success if I read in 2020 that HomeHero was the single most positively impactful organization in the world.
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