03 - Fashionably Late
It’s been a while. Have you missed me with the same clawing, gnashing, stomach turning fervor that I’ve missed you? I’ll assume yes. Much like karma, I tend to lack punctuality. I always show up eventually. Or I never do. It’s definitely one or the other. Stop trying to follow the logic and have a seat, it’s excuse time.
There’s nothing in this life more intimidating than a blank page. Nothing. It’s in the unknown that even the greatest minds find themselves humbled, struggling to step once more into the uncertainty of creation. There’s a genuine fear that what brought you here in the first place isn’t something I can maintain. That even if I strike flint, the spark of brilliance won’t follow.
Yikes, talk about pretentious. But we’re going to be raising money again, so I’ve gotta start pretending like I’m a genius. Did it work, or were you also thinking of things more intimidating than writing? Like bears, deep water, or the unshakable confidence of an anti-vaxxer. Horrifying.
Anyway lets shake the untamed horrors of anti-vaxx bears or whatever from our minds and get back to the task at hand. Sure being late isn’t ideal. Fortunately, great writers like the late Rose Macaulay have my back.
“The superior thing, in this as in other departments of life, was to be late. Lateness showed that serene contempt for the illusion we call time which is so necessary to ensure the respect of others and oneself. Only the servile are punctual…”
- Rose Macaulay
Only the servile are punctual, and we’re not talking cats. That’s serval. Don’t worry, I was confused too. The illusion we call time? Boom. Next time you’re late for a Zoom (or Spot), try dropping that shit on them. Unless your call is with me. Respect my time, I’m an important business guy now.
Let’s talk hiring
Talent is everything, particularly for an early-stage startup. Each person that joins the team changes culture and impacts your trajectory, for better or worse. From a fundraising standpoint, many investors treat pedigree as a proxy for the potential a company has. When they’re hearing hundreds of pitches a month, sometimes it’s often easier to look at the team before deciding how excited to get.
As CEO, I think I have two key jobs that cannot be delegated. Setting the vision and creating a team around that vision, so that we can actually pull it off.
If you were hired into this role, there’s a good chance that this will be one of the most challenging jobs you’ve ever had. If we succeed, we’re not trying to build a billion dollar business, we’re trying to change culture.
Everyone I interview hears that. It’s an important statement because I mean it. We do a lot of joking and have a ton of fun, but we’re also serious about winning. As such, the people we’re hiring are exceptional, I won’t settle for anything less. Most founders say that, but I don’t think I need to tell any of you how many of those same founders settle for good when great eludes them.
All right, I’m boring you with more pretentious shit. Here’s some of the new faces on the team, if our competitors had hired them, I’d be wiring all of our money back.
Mallory Contois, VP of Operations
An essential part of our keeping the rocket ship together as we move faster and faster. Mallory’s experience in her prior role as Director of Product Operations at Cameo positions her incredibly to excel at this role.
When talking with our recruiter, Taylor, she had a list of candidates and Mallory was in a column for candidates that weren’t a good fit. She was in that column because she wasn’t looking for a new thing. I told Taylor I’d love to chat with her because her resume (Cameo, Pinterest, etc.) was perfect for the problems we’re facing. I insisted that if she was as good as I think, then I just needed to get her on a call. She’d see what we’re really building here, and why it’d matter.
I didn’t anticipate just how exceptional Mallory would actually be. I kept thinking “She’s going to build a hell of a company of her own one day.” And I love few things more than that quality in someone on my team.
That said, Mallory intimidated me more than any other hire has. Why? Because she’s brilliant, ambitious and fearless. When interviewing her, I said “It’s obvious to me that you’re a force. I’m just not sure yet if you’re a force for incredible good or bad for Metafy. For that reason exactly, I think you’re the exact person I need to pull this off. We’re going to butt heads often, but I think that’s okay as long as we always attack the idea, and not the person.”
It didn’t scare her away.
Mallory isn’t a gamer (yet!) and I’m so glad for that. She coming at the problems we’re seeing with a fresh perspective on how we can grow up gaming, and build something that inspires countless others.
If every successful founder had to point to the ten most important decisions they’ve made over the life of their business, I think Mallory will always be on my list. In taking over much of the day-to-day of Metafy, she’s enabled me to see the forest for the trees. Now that she’s had time to settle in, I can assure you, it’s a force for good. If she were to quit today, I’d feel like we’re fucked. I think that’s the best gut-feeling check if you’ve made the right decision on hiring.
Here’s Mallory’s perspective:
When Josh first reached out to me in March, I (politely) declined - I was in a role that I loved, managing three teams I’d built from the ground up, at a company that was delighting millions of users globally. He pushed for us to ‘just connect’ (classic josh move, I’d come to learn), and eventually I gave in - I figured he might have some interesting insights into some of the marketplace dynamics we were struggling with at the time. If I remember correctly, our first call went at least an hour over the allotted 30 minutes, and we covered everything from diversity in tech to our own personal life hurdles to the future of learning.
I told him I wasn’t looking for a new role right now, he smiled and said he’d talk to me next week. I ended the zoom and texted Taylor (our recruiter): ‘I am admittedly much more interested than I thought I would be. I really liked josh as a human and think he’d be amazing to build with.’ Fast forward a couple of months, Josh and I were talking daily about the world of e-learning, gaming, and the future of Metafy. I was hooked on the business problems and his unique cocktail of determination, user empathy, magnetic energy and humbleness. I’d discovered an even deeper passion in myself for enabling creators and experts to make a real living off the skills they’d worked so hard to develop, and an excitement about Josh’s product-first approach to making that vision a reality. Though the decision to leave Cameo was difficult it was also easy - I was ready to build something and this was so obviously it.
Now that we’re in this together, I couldn’t be more excited about what we’re building. Lots of weird hour long brainstorms have been had. Lots of tangents, lots of dreaming, lots of us telling each other why ideas are bad (and occasionally why they’re great). The core business is growing and the rate of iteration and shipping is incredible, especially for a team so small (but mighty!). But more importantly, the path toward an industry and generation-altering company is becoming clearer and clearer. I’m thrilled to be buckled in for this ride and am looking forward to taking you all along with us.
This comic speaks to my first impression of Josh better than I possibly could.
John Adams, Head of Partnerships & Talent
The question of who we work with, how we communicate to coaches and applicants and what partnerships make sense for us is a hard one. It’s something we’ve been taking on with a bit of shame, we haven’t done as good as a job as we’d have liked. We have thousands of coaches on a waitlist, tens of companies looking to working closely with us, and hundreds of games that we want to support as well as we support Smash Bros. today.
John is the answer, and his experience working with some of the largest businesses on the planet at Metalab enables him to care about product and experience as much as I do. I’ve seen John work firsthand on the two occasions I’ve worked with Metalab, he’s masterful.
Every time John and I would sync up, I’d hit him with a new idea and get his perspective. We have some features coming down the pipeline for mobile that he actually inspired almost a year ago.
I was recently watching a Loom that John put together around our coach journey, and a surreal feeling washed over me. We’re less than a year old, and through a bit of tenacity and a lot of dumb luck, we’ve pulled together a truly world class team. I love that our competitors read this, because you’ve had it easy for too long now. We’re coming and we’re going to continue to do the things people in this industry have told me couldn’t be done.
When people like John join your team, after months of courting them, you realize in an instant how important that work actually was. Great things don’t come easily, I think that extends to building your team as well.
Oh, and he’s pretty insane at Magic: The Gathering too.
Here’s John’s perspective:
Working at MetaLab (Yeah, the names in this story are confusing) Josh and I tried a few times to work together on Metafy’s (Still confused? Now you know how I feel) product roadmap. Every time we estimated out a feature or platform update, Metafy had already shipped it. We’d turned away a lot of vaporware at MetaLab, and Metafy was not that. The Partnership didn’t pan out, but Josh and I stayed in touch. It helped that he was my type of funny, authentic, and really jammed out on TCGs and Figma. It was easy to get excited about what he was excited about at Metafy. I was happy at MetaLab, and then Josh had to go and make things complicated;
I wasn’t blowing smoke. Three things stood out about the company. First - Building in public seemed awesome. Metafy got signal from coaches and students, early and often. Building in public bred accountability - if it’d be disingenuous to do in the open, Metafy shouldn’t do it. Secondly, Josh really cared about fairness so Metafy cared about Fairness. If you’re good at something, you should be paid for it. Fair. Metafy’s coaches are amongst the best at their craft, and they should be compensated and recognized accordingly. That spoke to me.
The third one I already knew - the product was fire. As we chatted over the following weeks, I increasingly felt like I was late to the party. Late to a seed startup - if that feeling doesn’t make you reevaluate things, nothing will.
Few weeks in, we’re moving at a healthy clip. Opinions are shared freely and openly, the opportunities at our doorstep are overwhelming and we have a product and service team that can increasingly deliver on the ambitions. My stoke is high being in the Investor update, and not just reading it.
Jeremy Gracik, Senior Product Manager
Can I tell you a secret? My opinion of the talent in Pittsburgh is and always has been low. Sure, it’s great for robotics, but beyond that — I didn’t see it. Then I met Jeremy. He slid into my DMs at 3:50am and he said “U Up?”. Okay, I made the last bit up, but he did DM me at 3:50am, here’s what he said:
“I love what you are doing with Metafy - this is the coolest shit happening in Pittsburgh, hands-down. I just read your investor update and think that approach is great. Getting to the point, I’m a Pittsburgh-based PM with a lifelong gaming obsession. The last startup I brought to market was Proper in Los Angeles where I was COO and Principle Product Manager. I applied for your PM role this week and would love to chat.”
See the bit where he said he applied? I saw that application come through, and I gave it a glance but because of Pittsburgh, it was something I’d get back to. If you want to know my weakness, it’s people who hustle. If you want my attention, a good way to get it is showing me that you actually give a shit. Jeremy had my attention, just by doing that little bit more. I’m so glad he did.
When I interviewed Jeremy, I was so impressed. His passion came through in spades, after talking with Mallory she was equally impressed… but he was overqualified. We were worried that titling and pay would be too much of an issue. I met Jeremy for drinks in Pittsburgh that week, I wanted to get a better vibe of what he was hungry for. We ended up sitting outside talking product, life and our own ambition for hours and hours.
Like me, Jeremy wants to take the world on. When we spoke of him being overqualified, he said “I don’t really give a shit. This is going to go all the way, and I want to be a part of it. I have another offer that’s paying double, I’m not here for the money. This is me shooting my shot.
”Done. Welcome to the fucking team, Jeremy. In the time since you’ve joined, our efficiency has increased by an absurd amount. We’re schmoovin’ now.
Lesson learned on talent, it exists anywhere and everywhere. Even your own backyard. Or your neighbors. Go investigate, tell them Josh sent you.
Here’s Jeremy’s perspective:
After many years of both full-time and freelance work in Product, mostly remote leadership in early-stage startups in NY/LA, I came across Metafy in May while looking for new opportunities. As a long-time resident of Pittsburgh (who has never really worked in Pittsburgh), Josh and Metafy were immediately interesting from a number of perspectives. I’m passionate about Product that’s trying to accomplish something bold; that’s an understatement about the vision here. And, I have been passionate about gaming since I first got a Tandy 1000SX desktop computer in the 80s (even though I had those parents that didn’t let me get a console until I was 18). So even though I was at verbal offer stage with a couple of other great opportunities at this point, but I saw that Metafy Product Management job opening and thought, “Fuck it…why not?”.
So I applied. And then crossed my arms, tapped my foot, and stared at my inbox for the next 72 hours. Nothing. I didn’t have time for this. So I DM’ed Josh on Twitter, shared some of my work, and said I’d really like to talk. To my delight, he responded and we were on the phone for a quick 30 minute check-in the next day. That 30-minute check-in turned into an hour-and-a-half deep dive and total geeking out about what Metafy is doing now, and will be doing soon. The problems to solve are complicated and incredibly difficult, which is exactly what I want. Josh totally sold me on the vision then, and I remain increasingly more sold on the vision and Josh’s ability to deliver every day since then.
I stiff-armed the other opportunities for a couple of weeks and both Josh and Mallory were great about accelerating the hiring process enough to get me in the door. Since I started a bit over a month ago, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the talent on this team and the innovative ways we’re finding to work together. Josh is bringing new and exciting ideas to the table weekly (typical PM response: “Wait, you want this when??!!”), while giving me the bandwidth and trust to add structure to the Product team and push forward on what we need to accomplish now. I know this is going to be a hell of a ride.
Rylee Thompson, Full Stack Engineer
The first thing that stood out to me about Rylee was how much she gave a shit. She wrote a cover letter that she sent alongside (both) of her applications going over her experience as an engineer, but also her love for competitive play. She’s also used Metafy to better her own play in Melee, picking up coaching from Mew2King, Rishi, and Zain.
Andrew (Sr. Backend dev) and Tom (Co-f and CTO) joined me in interviewing Rylee, and both loved that she was a developer that loved writing code. Not just one language. Any language, every language. It’s easy to see how much we care about design, but you should see how much we care about the craft of writing code. When we meet someone else who is as impassioned by it as we are, it’s an easy yes.
Rylee is coming from Oko, where she has extensive experience building out comprehensive billing, user account, profile, and scheduling features. Sound familiar to the things we’ll need. What a fit!
Here’s the thing though, Rylee did beat my ass in Smash Ultimate, and she did it using my character. So she’s lucky that she’s incredible, or else I would have fired her on the spot.
Here’s Rylee’s perspective:
I’m so excited to be a part of Metafy. As a competitive Super Smash Bros Melee player and former top Hearthstone player, there are few pursuits which feel as close to me as Metafy’s mission. Before even considering joining the team, Metafy had already become a staple of my improvement in Melee. I learned from Mew2King, Rishi, and Zain, having an overwhelmingly positive experience with each. After experiencing the skill and talent of both the coaches and those who meticulously engineered the underlying platform, it was clear there was something special in front of me.
I continued to observe Metafy from a distance for months while I continued my work as a full stack engineer for a startup named Oko, where I was diligently building a platform for gig booking and business management within the cannabis industry. That is, until what otherwise felt like a normal Friday in June. I hopped in a Google Meet call with the rest of the team. We talked, joked, and laughed as normal, until our CEO abruptly became solemn and somber. He broke the news that funding had fallen through, and the entire engineering team should start seeking out opportunities elsewhere.
I was speechless. I loved working with my friends at Oko, and I loved what we were building. I quietly sulked at my desk for about 30 minutes after the meeting until a thought crossed my mind. That thought was Metafy. I quickly pulled up Metafy’s site and searched for a career section. To my delight, I saw Metafy was looking for both frontend and backend engineers. The stated qualifications and obvious prowess of the existing engineering team were daunting, but I knew I had to try anyways. I spent the weekend updating my resume, then carefully drafted cover letters for both engineering positions.
To my surprise, Josh reached out shortly thereafter and quickly made it clear I am right at home. His seemingly unhealthy competitiveness and aversion to failure are the makings of a fierce competitor, and perhaps an even more determined businessperson. Maybe we were cut from the same cloth. What I thought would be a quick interview turned into a long conversation about our shared competitive gaming experience, the difficulties of making a living in the industry, the struggles of minorities in esports, and how Metafy and its team fit into the aforementioned.
Upon meeting the broader engineering, product, and social teams, it became apparent Josh’s resolve is shared. I immediately knew I had a world of knowledge to absorb, from Vishnu’s masterful designs, to Tom, Andrew, Edward, and Omar’s incredible technical knowledge. A few weeks later, and I am in the middle of the blender. I am working on an entire video testimonial feature from the ground up, alone, with a deadline looming less than a month away. I am terrified, but I couldn’t be happier.
Remember when we were all crying because our 10-month streak was broken with a month without growth? Well, we’re back to growing again, seasonality be damned. Spoilers, because I’m writing this late, I already know that July will be a lovely shade of green as well.The Breakdown:
- Active Coaches: 164 -> 176 (+7.32%)
- Active Students: 800 -> 839 (+4.88%)
- Sessions Booked: 1073 -> 1195 (+11.37%)
- GMV / Revenue: $56,284 -> $65,676.33
- Cash in bank: $7,165,897.58
- Monthly burn: ~$180k
Growth & Marketing
We had 36K visitors throughout July, and of that, 31K were brand new users. Our session duration is up 10% MOM at 1m35s so these new users are navigating the product and are quick to understand how to navigate our games and coaches.
With a 56/42 split mobile traffic leads by a slim margin proving we’re not just a mobile experience, but multi-platform, and we’re going to continue to optimize for desktop as well as mobile devices.
In July we saw first page ranks for [Guilty Gear Strive Coaching] as our FGC friends made Metafy the #1 destination for Guilty Gear sessions and courses, simultaneously creating some weeklong backlogs for coaches specializing in Guilty Gear.
Dialing down paid marketing to acquire more traffic we saw referrals / direct up 16% MOM; another indicator that our community involvement is going to be critical in scaling users throughout 2021.
When your users can’t seem to figure out how things work, it is probably time for a redesign. This is why we rebuilt our live session dashboards and training plan pages from the ground up. For live sessions, we now have a timer that counts down as the session moves through its various stages and does a much better job of communicating to students what to expect at each stage.
We also just made the page even more visually stunning because who doesn’t love beautiful things? Similarly, for training plans, we now clearly display what stage a plan is in, what to expect next, and push students to schedule the next session in the plan since that step was a big sticking point with our old design. By doing a better job of setting expectations and explaining how things work, we’ve already seen a significant drop in questions from confused students.
We did see a bit of slow down on product (June->July) due to an intentional effort to closely look at our process and lay a foundation for more efficient building moving forward.
If you’re not a student or a coach, shame on you. Don’t worry, you can still see the dope shit we’ve been releasing through our Figma.
- New Student Dashboard (Preview)
- New Coach Dashboard (Preview)
- Further updates to Session View (Preview)
Additional updates and fixes:
- Integrated SendBird on the backend to improve onsite chat
- Changes to availability settings are now correctly autosaved
- Squashed more bugs with google calendar sync
- After booking, we no longer force you to click through a booking confirmation screen and instead take you directly to your dashboard
What you can help with
We’re hiring exceptional people, but I mean, who isn’t? That said, our standards are indeed very high. I want individuals on our team who light up when they see an incredible solution to a hard problem. If you know someone exceptional, send them our fancy job page or have them email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The highest priority roles for us right now:
Sr Technical Recruiter: We’re looking for our founding recruiter- someone who will live and breathe the Metafy brand and isn’t intimidated by our extremely high bar for talent. We don’t have hard and fast experience requirements here - just someone who has that magic touch in both sourcing and closing the best candidates out there.
Lead Marketing Designer: One of our key growth levers is coach promotion - in order to spin this flywheel we need coaches to love Metafy (check!) and for them to have the right assets to share with their followings. We’re looking for an exceptional graphic designer who can create effective and unique marketing assets for coaches and owned promotion alike.
Data & Strategy: We’re not sure what this title will be quite yet, but we’re looking for that person we all know who can wrangle data into a story like no other. We’re a marketplace - lots of data to be analyzed, lots of dynamics to be understood. This person will need to be able to organize and visualize our databases AND help us interpret that data to validate or invalidate our ideas.
Engineering and Product: We’re always looking for superstar tech folks. Know someone great that you think would be a fit? Send them along.
Those in need of thanks
- Alexis Ohanian & 776: I came to you with a problem. We have a rockstar in Dubai that we’re trying to hire, but we were hitting a wall. You went out of your way and connected us to the CEO of LetsDeel to ensure that we were able to make that hire happen. The team is everything, Alexis and crew have their hands full, but it never feels like it.
- Alex Bouaziz, Will Xue and the Deel Team: When Alexis connected us, it was because Deel didn’t yet have support for hiring in the UAE, and wouldn’t until next year. You sped the timeline up specifically for us, ensuring that we could make that hire happen in a month or so. Additionally, you went out of your way to ensure the candidate was at ease.
- Osuke Honda and David Cheng: There’s a certain developer in Japan that we badly wanted to be on our team. Another perfect fit. They’re coming from Google, and have plenty of options. Osuke and David went above and beyond to help us close that developer. Meeting in Japan for dinner and drinks, offering help through DCM if he had any personal issues in Japan. I know I talk a lot about being genuine and giving a shit, but when you see it first hand, it’s an absurd competitive advantage. One that you can’t fake. Thanks for being real, gentleman.
- Bing Gordon: Every time I talk, I wish we had just a few more minutes. So I can ring my brain out and make room to soak up more knowledge. Thanks for taking the time to help me think through scaling and monetization.
- Hiram Vasquez: Taxes are a nightmare, not just for me but for our coaches too. It meant a lot to me that when I mentioned it in passing you took the time to connect with me 1:1 to talk through potential ways in which we could better serve our coaches from not just a tax standpoint, but also one of financial literacy.
- Kevin Chiu: The early-stage is chaos, your experience as the Co-f and COO at Catalyst was so helpful in my thinking around product today and moving forward. In particular, I found value in your saying “Figure out who your true students are, and be laser focused on finding them and providing value or someone else will do it better.”
- Brian O’Malley: You’ve spent so much time on calls with candidates that we’re considering hiring. That means the world to me. The team you build is the company you build, Tom and I are so grateful that you were one of the earliest members of our team. Couldn’t ask for more in a lead investor.
- Theresa Singh: I’m so glad that Anand connected us. Hearing your experience around hiring from the ground up at companies like Asana and Stripe was invaluable to me. I walked away a better leader having spent an hour talking with you. You’re a rock star.
- Jackson Dahl: When I first asked if you’d be open to being an advisor, I thought I’d benefit mostly from your experience at 100Thieves. I didn’t realize what a great product thinker and strategist you were. Thanks for helping me think through our top of funnel opportunities and walking through the exercise of poking holes in often crazy ideas.
- Mike Asem: You’ve been instrumental in my thinking around how location impacts our business and putting me in front of people with strong opinions so that I could form my own with valid arguments from all sides. Additionally, you continue to be an ally to me when it comes to strategy around resources for Metafy.
- Brian Ficho & Greg Caplan: The both of you have been constant sounding boards for me this month, from listening to my crazy ideas to walking through branding directions and talking about hiring decisions.
- Jonathan Wassertrum: When we were looking for office space, you made time to walk me through the things I should be thinking about in that search, and you even made a few intros to people that can help. That was a huge help!
- Andy Ellwood: I didn’t fully appreciate how important an executive coach could be in helping bottle the chaos that is being a CEO. Thanks for helping me crystallize my thinking about /big/ picture Metafy, and how to get there without losing my soul.
That’s all for this month
Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you enjoyed it, please send me a tweet at @joshfabian so I know it’s worth continuing to do this. Okay, yes, subscribing would be more meaningful but I really need this validation, okay? Your undivided attention is the only thing that makes the feel-good juice in my brain activate.
From the community
Some of our favorite tweets from June, in no particular order. We include some of the haters and the memes here, because they need love too.