Question everything, including conventional wisdom. Just because something falls under a best practice does not mean that it’s the right practice for your business.
Mitch Grasso is a serial entrepreneur and currently the Founder/CEO of a new startup, Beautiful.AI – presentation software that will revolutionize how people build beautiful visual documents. Beautiful.AI has over 350k users in over 180 countries and is empowering innovative brands like Walmart.com, Wells Fargo, and Ebates to turn their information into visual stories. In 2007, he founded SlideRocket — the first cloud-based presentation tool focused on team collaboration, analytics and multimedia content authoring. He grew it to over 1.5M users, including enterprise customers like Discovery Networks, Disney, Sony, and Fox, before being acquired by VMware in April 2011. Before that, he co-founded AdSpace Networks, a digital signage network deployed to over 200 malls and reaching over 48M unique viewers/month. AdSpace’s proprietary CoolSign technology was sold to Clarity Visual in September 2005.
Where did the idea for Beautiful.AI come from?
Before launching Beautiful.ai, I founded SlideRocket, a company that offered cloud-based presentation software. After VMware acquired SlideRocket in 2011 I kept thinking about how to make the process of creating presentations easier, better and more beautiful. Beauitful.ai was created to solve the challenge that most people are not designers and are frustrated with traditional presentation software offerings.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Fortunately, I work well under pressure and I embrace multi-tasking. I spend a fair amount of time dealing with business issues over email and live conversations with my team. I carve out as much time as possible to work on the product. I still actively design and write code on a daily basis. My typical day consists of switching back and forth between business operations and working on the product. Luckily, I can switch back and forth without a lot of distraction.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Since I design and write code I’m able to prototype my ideas before I socialize with the team. Once I have something reasonably scoped I like to brainstorm and invite the team to poke as many holes in the concept as possible.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m pretty excited about all of the productivity tools coming out that are embracing a trend where the tool itself is the expert instead of the user.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I like to solve the hardest problem first. If you spend time solving easy stuff first and then find out the harder challenges are unsolvable you’ve wasted a lot of time and resources. I like to prove out that I can overcome the toughest hurdle first.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d tell my younger self to relax and slow down. I think I was always in a rush which made everything more intense. I was impatient and easily frustrated when things didn’t go the way I wanted. I think I’m much more zen now.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Question everything. Question conventional wisdom. I hear a lot of my employees talk about best practices. The skeptic in me likes to question best practices and ultimately do what I think is right for the business whether it’s a best practice or not.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Iterate. I constantly reevaluate and refine whether it’s a business process, product design, features or code. It’s really important to recognize that you’re not going to get it right the first time and reworking things is normal part of the process.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I focused on the end user first and getting the core experience right and as good as it can be before considering expansion, monetization, and selling to enterprise. I knew that if I didn’t dedicate time and resources to the end user first there wouldn’t be a foundation to build upon down the road.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In my opinion, there are no failures. Only learning experiences. I’ve been fortunate. My first company didn’t have a successful exit, but is still in business twenty-two years later. And my previous company was acquired by VMware. Check back in a couple years to see how Beautiful.ai is doing.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I live in San Francisco and traffic is pretty bad. I don’t always feel like walking to and from work. I’ve often thought if someone can figure out how to create a rocket pack I’d be pretty happy. It’s the next best thing to teleporting.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I just bought a pair of shoes for the first time in a really long time. I walk to work everyday and I like to listen to The Daily podcast. It gives me time to think and decompress before my day starts.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Spotify. I can put my headphones and tune out what’s happening in the office for a while so that I can focus on the product. This is when I am my most productive.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Right or wrong, I don’t read business books. I find that the ideas that they communicate are often not applicable to my current challenges. Books are not my preferred method of learning. My last read was The Lean Start-Up. The whole book seemed to be based on one example that was cherry picked to fit their thesis. I lost interest and didn’t finish the book.
What is your favorite quote?
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
- Question everything, including conventional wisdom. Just because something falls under a best practice does not mean that it’s the right practice for your business.
- Focus on the end user first and master the core experience before expanding, monetizing, or selling to enterprise.
- Iterate. Constantly reevaluate and refine whether it’s a business process, product design, features or code. It’s really important to recognize that you’re not going to get it right the first time and reworking things is normal part of the process.