Zach Melamed - CTO and Co-Founder of TipTalk

If I could start again I would have tried to get an MVP of the product in the hands of actual users earlier as compared to trying to work through an idea on a whiteboard in a conference room.

Zach Melamed serves as Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of TipTalk, the messaging platform for influencers to directly connect with fans, where he oversees the company’s strategic technical direction. Zach brings to the team more than 10 years of experience in app and web development. Prior to TipTalk, Zach was the founder of Internet strategy and custom interactive web design company Vested Rabbit Technology, LLC. He also co-founded the site builder LaunchRock, which was acquired by Fundable.com and is now part of the Startups.co platform, as well as Connect, a location-powered messaging app that manages online connections, where he also served as Head of Engineering. Zach built and empowered a team of 20 people, scaled the company to over five million global users and secured $10 million-plus in funding.

Where did the idea for TipTalk come from?

One of our co-founders, Owen De Vries, was trying to get a hold of an influencer and made a comment at dinner, “I wish I could just pay this person to respond.” That was the “ah-ha” moment that led to further discussions with a network of influencers, who confirmed that they would love to respond to far more fan messages and would do so if there was an incentive.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Each day starts with reviewing the previous day’s performance and product metrics followed by morning standup preparations. During standup every member of the team shares what they’re going to be working on that day, and shares anything blocking them from completing their work. This aligns everyone, ensuring that we have a productive day and that blockers are removed quickly and then it’s off to the races. I spend the majority of my day reviewing our analytics platforms searching for opportunities for improvement, and analyzing our funnels and KPIs. This all carries over directly into our product roadmap and sprint planning. I spend a lot of time wireframing and producing documentation to hand off to our product and engineering teams for further development.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Being in the early stages, it’s important to move quickly so that as ideas and opportunities present themselves, whether around user acquisition, engagement or overall user experience, they immediately get into our backlog in the form of lo-fidelity designs or requirements docs. These are then handed off to our wonderful designer Liz Hewell who begins our rapid prototyping process. We leverage tools like Sketch and InVision, which allow us to view and interact with designs as if they were functional apps. This significantly improves quality and decreases time to market.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

There are a few that excite me including open sourcing of helpful tools, backends as a service and the predominance of rapid prototyping frameworks. This has made developing production-quality, scalable products significantly less expensive requiring only a fraction of the time and manpower to get from ideation to shipping.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

For most product and design decisions, rather than spending cycles on trying to come up with the perfect solution before shipping, I try and quickly come up with a few variations of “good enough” solutions. These solutions we get into our users’ hands quickly and then see which performs best. This takes the guesswork out of it and gets us valuable feedback before investing too heavily in a single direction. Once we find the best performing solution, we iterate quickly to maximize the performance.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I worked as a software engineer for a massive health insurance company out of Philadelphia when I was 18. I was elated to have that job at such a young age, but the experience was straight out of the movie Office Space. I would come in at the beginning of the week, finish my week’s work in the first 15 minutes, and then my three bosses would check in on me to make sure I looked like I was being productive. The illusion of productivity was more important there than the actual output. I learned a lot of great lessons, most importantly to focus on and reward the production and output of employees rather than hours spent.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

If I could start again I would have tried to get an MVP of the product in the hands of actual users earlier as compared to trying to work through an idea on a whiteboard in a conference room.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I use my products all the time even if I’m not the target demographic. I go through every flow and use it as an actual consumer would multiple times a day. You’d be surprised at how many product owners, C-levels and managers directly in charge of a product’s direction, don’t actually use the products they’re building. When someone comes to me with an idea, I visualize every click, button and state that would be impacted, making it far easier to vet ideas and understand what levers we have to pull when any metric is underperforming.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Focusing on the numbers and listening to the users, which may seem obvious but is incredibly important. I quantify and instrument visibility into everything I can. For example, if a user acquisition funnel is underperforming, I need to be able to assess every touch point where we have control over the user experience. By tracking the right metrics, I can identify where potential users are bailing and test alternatives. Once a funnel has been optimized sufficiently, the focus then moves to increasing volume through that funnel and having visibility into the numbers to determine where best to focus on resources.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

It’s hard to call anything a failure, but I certainly have hit some bumps along the way. My greatest learning from the past comes from some very difficult experiences where high stress, long days and nights and lack of emotional intelligence drove teams to implode. These experiences taught me how important it is to take care of yourself, and to truly care for the people you work with. You need to be there for your team members especially during the tough times and focus on lifting each other up rather than breaking each other down.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’m a geek for augmented and virtual reality. I also love winter sports, particularly snowboarding. There have been a handful of products that have come out like Oakley’s heads-up displays on goggle lenses that show your speed, incoming calls, and temperature, but I haven’t seen any products that leverage AR either for fun or function. Imagine turning on the goggles and a slalom course appears in front of you, where you can collect coins all over the mountain or see where all your friends are on the mountain. I think this is the next step in the AR and VR industry and hope to find the time to create this myself.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I started programming when I was ten or 11, but that was 20 years ago before children were learning to code at such as young age.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use Amazon Web Services for the majority of our tech stack. They have an incredible ecosystem of tools under one roof. For product development, using Sketch and InVision make rapid prototyping a breeze. For team communication and collaboration, we use Asana and Slack. These systems are incredibly flexible and enable our team to work from anywhere and stay fully looped in.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Seeing as a lot of the community likely manages technical projects at the core of their business, there are two important books that are must reads.

Hackers and Painters is a collection of essays by Paul Graham that succinctly touch on important topics around entrepreneurship, psychology, engineering, management and life.

The Mythical Man Month will help product stakeholders and entrepreneurs understand the complexities of managing software projects and why so many projects fail before even launching.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Ryan Allis is the founder of Hive and was the CEO of Connect, where I lead as VP of Engineering. He lives his life to improve the world and the lives of the people around him and has taught me some incredible lessons around leadership, entrepreneurship and life. Follow him on Twitter where he’s very active @ryanallis. He also shares a wealth of information on http://startupguide.com/ and http://www.ryanallis.com/.