Tag Archives: startup lessons

Why ‘Small Timing’ is Better than ‘Big Timing’ and Other Lessons I learned from AngelList Co-founder, Naval Ravikant

This is a guest post I wrote that originally appeared on PandoDaily

Let me start off by saying, I’m a pretty big AngelList fanboy. When we were raising our seed round for GiveForward in 2011 we turned to AngelList and, because of it, we ended up oversubscribed. But that’s not why I’m a fan. I’m a fan because the customer service lessons I learned while interacting with AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant will last me a lifetime. I hope they can be as helpful to you as they have been to me.

Lesson # 1:  Hustle like it’s your first startup.

When I was creating our AngelList profile, I sent over a customer support email to AngelList and to my total surprise, instead of hearing back from some fresh-out-of-college customer support agent getting paid $15 an hour, Naval responded himself. WTF?

Here’s this very successful entrepreneur, a thought leader and a legend in Silicon Valley and he is rolling up his sleeves and responding to customer support emails like he’s a 20-year-old kid bootstrapping his first startup.

Takeaway: You can’t always outsmart your competition but you must always out-care  the competition. There is no substitute for passion in the startup world. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first, fifth or tenth startup. AngelList works in part because Naval and his team care more than humanly possible and treat AngelList as if they still have everything to prove.

Lesson # 2:  When it comes to response time time, be like Domino’s — 30 min or less.

Here’s a little secret: When it comes to customer service, your customers don’t actually care all that much about the answer you give them. What they care about most is that you respect them. And part of respecting someone means answering their emails in a timely manner.

When I was corresponding back and forth with Naval I remember two things: (1) He never gave me the answers I actually wanted to hear; and (2) it didn’t seem to matter at all, because his response time was lightning quick. It was crazy. As fast as I could type, Naval would respond to my questions. And this wasn’t just during business hours. I’d send him emails at 11:30 PM and by 11:32 PM I’d have a response in my inbox.

I’ve seen this same phenomenon occur over and over again at GiveForward. No one becomes a fan of your company because you gave them the exact answer they were seeking. They become a fan because you listen to their problem with empathy, and you wow them with your stupidly fast response time.

Takeaway: Respond to your customer support emails in 30 minutes, and you’ll have a happy customer. Respond within 3 minute and you’re going to have a fan for life.

Lesson # 3: Treat everyone as if he or she is the CEO of Google.

Lastly, this is by far the most important lesson I learned from Naval: Treat everyone with the same level of respect, regardless of  who they are.

A few months ago Chris Dixon wrote a great post on “big timing”. This is the practice where “people who are ‘higher ranking’ act disrespectfully toward people who are ‘lower ranking.’”

What I admire most about Naval is that he does the exact opposite.  

Instead of big timing, Naval does what I call small timing. He makes people who are not important, feel as if they are the most important people in the world. He doesn’t do this, because he hopes to get anything back in return. He does it because he’s a mensch, and because it’s the right thing to do.

When Naval emailed me back at 11:32 PM within minutes of me asking him a question, AngelList gained a fan for life. Here I was, a nobody with a tiny startup and this Silicon Valley legend is taking the time to answer my silly questions and treating me as if was the most important person in the world. He made me feel as if I was the CEO of Google or Facebook. And that’s important.

Takeaway:   Small timing > Big timing

Final Thoughts: Your goal with customer service at your company isn’t to simply answer customer’s questions. Your goal is to be like Naval. Hustle like it’s your first startup, respond to people with empathy in a timely manner, and treat everyone with the same level of respect and kindness regardless of who they are, even when…scratch that…especially when they are a nobody.

And if you’re a co-founder or CEO of your company, every once in a while, try answering a customer service email yourself. I can promise you that getting a personal email from the CEO will create a little bit unexpected joy in somebody’s life and leave a long lasting impression on that person.

*One small caveat: I don’t wish to set any false expectations with this post. My interactions with AngelList were in winter 2010/2011 when AngelList was still relatively small. If you are using AngelList today, chances are you’re not going to get a personal email back from Naval, as AngelList has grown significantly in the past year and the extremely high touch level of customer service exhibited in their early days would be nearly impossible to scale.

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Why It’s Better to be Nice than Smart

The following originally appeared as a guest blog post I wrote for NBC’s INC WELL.  It is free from my usual spelling and grammatical error, as it was graciously edited by the Charles Dickens of business blogs, the one-and-only, Mr. David Wolinsky.


Smart is overrated. Maybe I’m biased because I’m bit of a dummy, but I’ve always felt that having a big heart will get you further in life than having a big brain.

Sure, a high IQ is important if you’re planning a career in astrophysics or working in a secret government lab, building a killer, burrito-eating, ninja-shark robot. (Side note: Dear government, and I know you’re reading this, if this job exists, please let me where I can apply.)

But for most other careers, entrepreneurship included, being smart isn’t what’s going to make you good at what you do. Kindness, compassion, authenticity, humor and generosity — these are the qualities that matter.

Yes, of course you need to have a certain level of intelligence to be successful. But there are diminishing returns on IQ. And after you hit a certain threshold, additional IQ points don’t help you one iota. (Hat tip to Malcolm Gladwell).

Because, well, no one gives a shit if you got your MBA from Harvard or you got a perfect score on your SAT. Ultimately, the people you work with only want to know two things: Can I rely on this person to do what she says she’s going to do; and would she be a fun person to have a beer with?

In fact, being really smart is often a huge obstacle in the path to success. If you’re Mr. Harvard MBA then your natural inclination is to try to win by outsmarting everyone else. But outsmarting everyone else is an impossible battle to win. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to be the smartest person in the world. Heck, you’re probably not even the smartest person reading this blog post right now. So, no matter how smart you think you are, there’s someone smarter out there who is going to beat you at your own game.

Smart is a losing proposition.

Once you come to the realization that you can’t out-Amazon Amazon, it’s time to change the rules of the game. Brad Feld recently wrote an excellent blog post on resegmenting your business. He said, if you’re not the market leader or at least in the top three for your category, then it’s time to create a new category and become No. 1 in the new category. The same principle can be applied on the personal level. Are you the smartest person in the world? Are you in the top three? No. Okay, then instead of trying to be the market leader of smart, resegment yourself and become the market leader of nice.

Because, while it’s damn near impossible to make yourself the smartest person in the world, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from becoming the No. 1 absolute nicest person in the world. So give it a shot, and see what happens. If you do, I promise you’ll be amazed at how many more people want to have a beer with you.


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