I originally published this article on April 18, 2022 as a reflection on my first 100 days building t2. I hope you enjoy the naivety and radiant optimism in the first half of this update post, and find companionship, 2 gweis' worth of wisdom, and still some joy in the remainder of the 18-month journey documented in the second half.
Part 1 - Original Article: Sammi's first 100 days as a Crypto Entrepreneur
- Hello, I’m Sammi, COO at t2.world. Also finishing my MBA at Oxford
- Finding the right squad with good vibes is worth the wait.
- Everyone needs a sounding board.
- Product, GTM, and engineering are one and the same.
Time before T2
I am a born-again entrepreneur. My first rodeo was pure, chaotic confidence, I roamed the world thinking how I would validate myself despite everyone else not knowing what’s best. It worked for a while, until it didn’t. I raised millions in capital, made seemingly lifetime friends, and then suffered the consequences when all the illusions of success whispered away. I was crushed, but eventually I saw the light — I had been working for all the wrong reasons.
Searching for the ‘Why’
Simon Sinek declares a Just Cause as the first and foremost requirement to play the infinite game that is life. I had no cause to serve but my own ego, I didn’t even care about the money, again, for all the wrong reasons but at least it’s a decent byproduct of that era which has stuck with me. Now, I have shaped a vague cause, but with a sky-high conviction that it will present itself more clearly as I learn and grow. More importantly, I have found a squad on that cause, however unclear what that even is at this point. “You’d know when you’ve found your team, even if you don’t know the rules or what success looks like”, Simon says, or something to that effect.
Joining t2 and defining the culture
I joined t2 on the 1st of January 2022 as COO. My first takeaway from the earliest 100 days of joining the t2 team, is that finding the right teammates, with the right vibes, is so critical that it is well worth the wait and agony which precede it.
“Vibes” are sometimes mistaken for charm and personal interest, I may like someone as a friend but could never work with them on anything — playing escape room, or building a start-up which I’m convinced will change people’s behaviour in a way that comes as a natural, and long-awaited blessing. No, vibes are values — do we believe in not only the end goal, i.e. this is the right work to do, but also, do we believe in the way we do it, i.e. it’s pointless to build a fantastic product if we have to bend our shared sense of morality to make it happen.
When I attempt to define specifically what the team culture is at t2, it really seems like the bare minimum you would expect of humans in the general sense but admittedly these days that could feel like a lot to ask for. At t2, we expect each member of the squad to always say what they mean, mean what they say, and have space in their hearts for each other — this translates into mutual respect and kindness. In MBA-speak, we quote Peter Drucker’s line “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and we love our big breakfasts at t2.
We are currently a team of 10 across 6 time zones, and as we gear up for more recruitment throughout the next quarter, vocalizing, discussing, then writing down the team culture somewhere becomes the priority to ensuring healthy growth.
Having a personal sounding board is important
Part of how we live that culture is in making sure everybody has a sounding board. I check in with Mengyao (Founder CEO) privately once a week, and we’re still fortunately small enough to have the same arrangement in different combinatorics throughout the team. These check-ins include questions like “What do you think I should focus on this week?”, “Would you like a book recommendation for this problem?”, and “I wonder if so-and-so feels welcome and connected to the rest of the team?” In our early-stage startup, everyone is more or less multi-hatted, and in the daily productivity leaps, it’s our jobs in leadership to keep a bit of headspace above water, and think about whether our perspectives are becoming lost and identify when we need fresh ones, whether by gaining elevation (going to an advisor or mentor, we have regularly scheduled meetings with partners) or swapping lenses (vocalizing ideas to each other, and actively identifying new angles to consider).
In practice, the most important benefit of this exercise has been that we are able to identify critical pivot points in product design which were previously overlooked — we have a fantastic thesis that we are so darn proud of, it’s hard to think outside of it! Last week, Shahriar (Head of Product) said “Everybody has ideas. We can’t take any of them for granted. Every idea needs to be validated before being added as a feature.” Well, he is the only team member that has ever built multi-million user products, so we listened to him. It’s a simple enough rule to follow, and we thank him for speaking up as the beta product scope creep began getting out of hand.
We think about product, marketing, and engineering holistically
We first laid out our operations in what one may call departments, at t2 we call them workstreams. The most important three being product, engineering, and marketing.
We used to have weekly work sessions in January and February, and we realized we were talking to the same people in every meeting because everyone’s eyes were needed.
In March, we did away with workstream meetings and had all-hands-on-deck meetings for the whole month to focus on re-discovering our beta product. At the end of the design sprint, the whole squad is more convinced than ever that product, go-to-market, and engineering are all the same thing until we deliver the beta. Until we know what our baby will look like and takes on a life of its own, there’s no point in separately making decisions about what they will eat for lunch today or wear to school. The critical reason for respecting this approach until the beta launch is that we need to be very clear about our expectations for it, the translation from product to engineering to GTM will be seamless, and we will know it from inside out.
Being naïve and effective
Being an entrepreneur again after much vowing I’d never be back in startups, I somehow live everyday with such optimism and love for life that the work feels easy and effortless. Mengyao has a banner in her study (a gag gift from an old friend) that says, “We find happiness in naïve and effective work”, and I’m proud to wear this mindset on my face every day, through the beamiest grins you could ever find.
Part 2 - Update at 18 Months
It's been a journey, to be completely humble. My writing style has also evolved. I'll keep this update pithy. If you want to dive deeper into something, leave a comment below and we'll chat.
Still passing vibe checks, but...
We consolidated time zones, unintentionally. If you were a startup of 3, you could be anywhere and find a way to work effectively. But somewhere after that, you lose the agility and begin to crave some structure and routine.
Million-dollar tip: if you're past the first 6 months without a team offsite, make it happen. I designed our offsite with one goal: fundamentally change how we communicate. It paid off.
Semi-intentionally, we now have a strong IRL presence in London. It allowed us to build a face-to-face community with incredible writers we wouldn't have reached just in the web3 bubble. If you're a London-based writer, I'd love to see you at our next meetup.
The leadership sounding board is now three-way
In August 2022, we finally convinced Rafal to come onboard as Head of Engineering. It only took an entire ecosystem collapse. It was worth the wait.
As with any throuple, our relationship, and therefore the performance of the whole team, did not stay on a linear trajectory. Things did not become 50% more complicated, but 3x more complicated. Anytime things went wrong, I always find it scary, in retrospect, how quickly the balance could tip, and how unaware we could be until we're on the edge of falling over. But we're getting good at catching ourselves, and it is definitely still worth it.
Sometimes you won't have absolute consensus, so take turns making the decision and owning responsibility for it.
We didn't do well with holistic thinking for many, many months
Because it's really hard to do.
In hindsight, the main reason was that we lacked clear, top-level strategic direction. We chased executional optimization to the ends of blockchains and couldn't move the needle on our goals.
The secondary reason was that we made poor hiring decisions (partially also due to the strategy problem) and the high turnover was killing any momentum we built.
Read Shreyas Doshi's golden thread on strategy & execution to understand why we needed to think hard, late into the game, on strategy. Trust me, it won't feel obvious when you're in the midst of grinding.
Another obvious non-obvious thing is that you should be using your product everyday. Be the weird person that leaves comments no one responds to.
Where we are today
We did a cool thing earlier this year. Over 40,000 unique wallets signed our Future of Social manifesto. Then we had this nice problem of figuring out what to build, when, for such an unexpected level of interest. We'll be rolling out a few major releases throughout the rest of the year to answer those questions.
In short, we're making t2 the place for in-depth conversations. Without the limitations of tweets, without the overwhelmingness of group chats.
Send me a DM if you're reading this and don't have an invitation code : )