A Serendipitous Encounter on a Y Combinator Podcast

I thoroughly enjoy the startup space. After my experience co-founding MamaBear App, my continuing education often comes from podcasts.

One recent morning, my attention was captured by Kevin Hale. Kevin created Wufoo originally out of Tampa, his hometown before heading to the west coast after acceptance to Y Combinator.  He visited the Tampa technology incubator, Tampa Bay Wave, where I learned of his story many months prior to listening to this particular podcast. I was already a natural supporter of any growing technology from Tampa, I had already seen him speak and the topic was intriguing . . . “How to build products users love.”

And then I heard this:   
“When it comes to long-term relationships, or marriages, the only research that we ended up having to read was the stuff done by John Gottman.”

This is the moment I grinned and chuckled while driving a Tampa backroad to a client meeting listening to lecture #7 in the How to Start a Startup podcast series from Y Combinator. My new client at the time, National Marriage Seminars, hosts seminars to clinicians and family therapists rooted in teaching from John Gottman of the Gottman Institute among many other world renowned researchers, authors and scientists. His decades of research provide deep insight and understanding of what makes successful couples so successful. I previously read Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and still watch and reference his emotional coaching videos for parents. Needless to say I was familiar with his work, though it was inspired reading and learning for my personal life. National Marriage Seminars was already a great intersection of personal and professional overlap motivating a higher level of commitment to this client.

At about 13:25 into the lecture video a full screen of John Gottman pops up and Kevin begins to compare what causes long-term personal relationships to fail with your business customers leaving you. Brilliant, and entirely perfect for where I was physically headed to a client meeting, where I’ve emotionally been personally. It gave me chills of excitement while driving alone in my car laughing out loud. Kevin compared the things we fight about personally with what customers provide feedback on in business:

  • Money - costs too much or transactional issues

  • Kids - or the customer’s customers

  • Sex - performance of the technology

  • Jealousy - competition and partnerships  

Warning signs for personal break ups, according to John Gottman, include criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling as the worst things you can do to damage your relationship. Match that up to business with lack of customer response, lack of really listening, thinking it’s user error, not making product adjustments, not providing means for open communication and lack of constant transparency.  As any relationship grows older, it’s natural to ask and have to pour more energy in to answering,  “Why should I stay, why do I love you, why am I loyal?”  

My lesson that day intersected personally, and multi-dimensionally from a professional perspective. Focus on getting the product right, gather a lot of feedback, ask questions, make it easy for the other person in the relationship to ask questions, always show appreciation and turn toward that person, not away. In a professional environment, team members, advisors, investors, “friends” can and will divorce you quickly when there’s less emotional attachment or lack of immediate and constant gratification. Keep those loyal ones close, the ones willing to fight with you through the challenges. Make them love you and love them back.
Bravo, Kevin Hale!