[Seek] the discipline to commit to your strategy, to focus on what matters, and to persevere even in the face of great challenge.
Shubham Goel is the co-founder of Affinity, the leading relationship intelligence platform. An expert in Artificial Intelligence, Shubham believes in the power of computers and technology to help bring humans together and forge deeper, more meaningful personal and professional relationships. At just 23 years old, Shubham is a rising star in the Silicon Valley tech scene. He was a partner in the Dorm Room Fund, the Bay Area VC that made investments in student-run startups. He also served as a Founders Program Fellow at Pear Ventures. He graduated from Stanford University in 3 years studying computer science, specifically systems and artificial intelligence. He speaks English, Hindi, Punjabi, French and Mandarin.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Ray Zhou, my co-founder, and I spent a summer at an incubator while studying at Stanford. We were talking about what people in various industries do each day, and we realized it’s pretty much the same thing — they manage relationships with other people. It doesn’t matter if you’re a small business owner, lawyer, salesperson, or whatever. We also realized that most people struggle to keep track of their relationships and grow their networks effectively. As engineers, we set out to build the technology to help people manage their professional networks in a smarter, more efficient and more effective way. That’s where Affinity began.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day? What’s that?
In all seriousness, there are many different parts of Affinity I need to interact with on any given day. To be productive, I’ve learned to prioritize each day and switch context from department to department. Making that switch from, say, targeted marketing to code performance strategies can be tricky at first, but it’s far from impossible, and it certainly keeps things interesting!
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m an engineer by training – so I like to write down my ideas and see what I’m missing first. I like to make the written copy as detailed as possible, identifying and anticipating any potential loopholes in the idea/plan. Then I like soliciting feedback – from my team, mentors, investors etc. This step ensures I’m not missing anything obvious. And finally, if it’s a product idea, we would go build some conceptual mockups and show them to our customers and see what they think. Otherwise if it’s a process idea, I like being transparent – I’d share the written document with my team, ask them on what they think, and after making any appropriate changes, would go ahead and operationalize it!
What’s one trend that excites you?
Where do I start? There are all kinds of fascinating developments in data science and CRMs, but on a big picture level I think AI is driving more business outcomes than many people realize — it’s a seismic shift on the scale of the 1980s computer revolution, maybe even the industrial revolution.
That being said, AI is still a means to an end when the day is done. It’s a way to achieve certain specialized goals faster, which lets my team focus on higher-level tasks and strategies.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Discipline. Always discipline. And not just the discipline to show up for work every day ready to tackle that day’s tasks, but the discipline to commit to your strategy, to focus on what matters, and to persevere even in the face of great challenge.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Have fewer meetings. When we first started Affinity, I didn’t realize how quickly your day can be drained just from meetings alone. While they’re still important, I always book a “out of office” time block to make sure I’m not getting distracted.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Our big bet at Affinity is that people will be willing to share their real-time networks and relationship graphs derived from their emails and communications with their coworkers, friends and trusted partners. Obviously this needs to be done in a very secure and private way, but this is something not everyone agrees with us on today – but we’re confident we will create a world where that idea becomes commonplace.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Embrace technology wherever possible. Would you rather spend 10 hours entering data on a spreadsheet or thinking about a strategy to drive a certain outcome? I’d rather my team focus on high-level strategies, and it’s far easier to do that once any manual tasks are automated.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Make your customers absolutely love your product and your service. And when I say love, I mean that they should be raving about it to their friends at dinners and on social media platforms. When that happens, you get a true word-of-mouth engine started, which makes your business grow really fast – people like buying stuff that their friends are raving about 🙂 I’m very fortunate that it happened to us – because of our dedicated investment in stellar customer success and a stellar product very early on.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Learning how to scale leadership and management effectively. I imagine when most young entrepreneurs start a business, they don’t think about or anticipate the challenges of managing a team effectively, dealing with interpersonal differences etc. – they’re mostly focused on how they can build a solution to their problem. But know that to scale the solution you have built, you need to build an A+ team, which can’t be done without knowing how to manage effectively and how to scale your ability to lead. I overcame this challenge by surrounding myself with great advisors and mentors, including an awesome executive coach, who have been very helpful in helping me get better over time.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Build a platform that allows fast-growing companies to preserve and scale culturally as they grow – an example would be an internal relationship building product for any fast growing company – this could entail having personal profiles for every team members, seating charts within the company, company news, highlighting internal birthdays etc. This way, everyone can still feel close-knit as the company grows and scales! I would buy this if it existed today 🙂
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
On a recent business trip to NYC, I bought my favorite cookies for my team back in SF. They’re from a bakery called Levain; I actually think they’re the best cookies ever made on planet earth. It was awesome to bring them back and have the team try them and see how they liked them. Most people thought they were really good too (with a few people also agreeing with my assessment of the cookies being the very best they’d ever had), so I was happy I could bring some enjoyment to my team’s morning!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Slack, the iPhone native notes app, and Google’s office suite are essential for my work. I suppose I use them just like anybody else, but they’re immensely helpful in keeping me organized and on track. And you might catch me using Affinity from time to time as well.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’ll give you three: Radical Candor, High Output Management, and Sapiens. The first two are refreshing takes on leadership, while the latter is an absolutely fascinating look at the entirety of human history.
What is your favorite quote?
“The slope is always a better measure than the y-intercept.” One of my Stanford Computer Science professors said this, and I think about it all the time. It essentially means what matters in life is how fast you learn, not what you already know.
- By writing down and organizing your ideas in as much detail as possible before you start building them, you’ll be in a better position to go from the concepting stage to execution.
- Have the discipline to focus on what really matters and ignore everything else
- Embrace technology. Artificial Intelligence is scary to some people, but it can be a wonderful tool to help automate many tasks so we can focus on higher level strategies.
- Read “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It’ll give you a great understanding of who we are and how we got to where we are today, which will help you in life and in business.