Engineering Founders

Finding founder-fit, invalidating ideas & startup success factors with Michel Tricot

Episode Summary

How do you know when—or if—you’re ready to start a company? Michel Tricot (Co-Founder & CEO @ Airbyte) talks with us about how he found the confidence to make the leap from engineering leader to launching his own company. Michel provides insight on screening ideas, finding founder-market fit, the most important success factors for early startups, and building trust in an open-source data community.

Episode Notes

How do you know when—or if—you’re ready to start a company? Michel Tricot (Co-Founder & CEO @ Airbyte) talks with us about how he found the confidence to make the leap from engineering leader to launching his own company. Michel provides insight on screening ideas, finding founder-market fit, the most important success factors for early startups, and building trust in an open-source data community.


Michel is the co-founder and CEO @ Airbyte. He has been working in data engineering for the past 15 years. As head of integrations and engineering director at Liveramp (NYSE: RAMP), he built and grew the team responsible for building and scaling the data ingestion and data distribution connectors, syncing 100s TB every day.

In 2020, he co-founded Airbyte, the new open-source data integration platform, with the vision to commoditize data integration pipelines across all industries and organizations.

After just 1 year, Airbyte grew a community with more than 5k members, got deployed over 16k times and raised over 180M from Accel, Altimeter, Benchmark, Coatue and YC.

“You want to make sure that the audience you're talking to is an audience that you're very comfortable with, that you deeply understand. So that the product that you build... you don't have to think so much about what do you need to build because you are already one of this person in the audience. You have a sense of what pain they're facing.

And that makes a lot of things a lot easier, whenever you do customer discovery, when you do user discovery... You already have a sense and you can put yourself into their shoes.”

- Michel Tricot   


Episode Transcription

Michel Tricot: You want to make sure that the audience you're talking to is an audience that you're very comfortable with, that you deeply understand. So that the product that you build, you don't have to think so much about what do you need to build because you are already one of this person in the audience. You have a sense of what pain they're facing.

And that makes a lot of things a lot easier, whenever you do customer discovery, when you do user discovery... You already have a sense and you can put yourself into their shoes.

Patrick Gallagher: Welcome to engineering founders, the show for engineering leaders, making the daring leap to start their own company.

How do you know when, or if you're ready to start a company?

Michelle Trico co-founder and CEO at Airbyte joins us, to share how they found the confidence to make the leap from side project to.

Let me tell you a little bit about Michel and Airbyte

Airbyte is an open-source data integration platform with the vision to commoditize data integration pipelines across all industries and organizations

After just five months, Airbyte raised 5.2 million from Xcel, Y Combinator, Eight VC and some high profile business angels

Before co-founding Airbyte Michelle was director of engineering, head of integrations at live ramp.

In our conversation, we get into topics like finding founder market fit, why you should spend time in validating your early ideas, developing your north star as CEO, some of the most important success factors for an early startup, building trust, and leveraging open source communities and dealing with doubt.

What we think is really interesting about Airbyte co-founder story is how they tap into the power of community and open source, which Michelle talks quite a bit about at the end. So if you're considering community as a part of your strategy, which is a trend that we deeply believe in, this is a great story for you.

Enjoy our conversation with Michelle Trico.

Michel, welcome to the Engineering Leadership Podcast. We are so excited to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Michel Tricot: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Patrick Gallagher: The quick context here. Our conversation with you is about our Founder Series, where we're talking with different engineering leaders, who've made the transition to starting their own company and I think what's really interesting, is you started Airbyte about 14 to 15 months ago and in startup years, that might feel, probably to you like a long time ago and there's probably been a lot of transitions that happened since then, but really this is a fresh experience and I think for a lot of people in our community who are sitting here thinking and considering, maybe I want to start my own company, you bring a perfect perspective having just gone through some of those really early defining moments of the company.

Airbyte's Origin Story

Patrick Gallagher: We're just really excited to dive in to your story, which brings us up to the first question Michel. Bring us to the beginning of Airbyte. What were you doing and then what inspired the idea behind the company?

Michel Tricot: I would say it started a little bit before we officially started Airbyte. It started maybe September 2019. I had left my previous job in July, took a month off and I had decided am going to start a company now. I took the time to really brainstorm about ideas and actually, at that point I was talking a lot with John and I asked him, "Hey, let's brainstorm together. I'm sure together we have a lot of great ideas," and we had a few. In September, we actually applied to YC with completely different ideas and three days after we applied, we actually told YC, "Actually, we're not going to do it, because Uber and Lyft announced exactly the product that we wanted to do." We said, "We're not going to do it," and what happened is at the same time we're like, "Okay, let's figure out a better problem space, where we have more expertise in," and we continued to brainstorm. Every time you have ideas, they look good for two days and then you realize after today, that was a terrible idea and you're ashamed to have had this idea.

It's always the same process. It's just, every idea looks good, it's just when you start digging, when you start talking, when you start exposing it to other people, you realize there is something that doesn't work there, but it's really end of November that we decided on the problem space. We did not really have an exact solution to it and that's when we reengaged with YC and we started to say, "Okay, you know what? Let's actually move forward," and at that point we did the interviews and we started in the batch in January and that was really the start, January 2020, the 1st of January, that's when we started the company. We did not have a product at the time, just an idea, just some expertise in the industry and on the problem space and we started to talk to people.

We started to interview people in marketing, people in data and trying to figure out, "Okay, what exactly are the problems that they are having and what kind of solution are they using? What kind of solution are they building internally, to actually solve this problem? And we started with an initial product and this one was very geared to our marketing and I think that's important that it was marketing, because there is a lot to say about founder fit in the product that you build and marketing... We started to get good traction with the product and suddenly March 15, 2020, the whole world basically stopped because of COVID and especially on the marketing side, everybody that we were talking to, every POC, every pilot that we had, that was over and that's when we realized that the product that we were building, was not going to be something that people actually need and rely on, for their day to day job.

That's not what John and I wanted to do. We wanted to build a company where what we're building is something that people need and if they don't have it, they cannot do their job. At that point it was really, "Okay, let's push it a little bit more. See if really there is no ceiling that we can break," and we realized that it was not and we completely pivoted at that time and we refocused our thought for the data integration space. Basically the prime space was data integration and that's when we really focused on the dev tool, data centric, very technical product that we have right now with Airbyte and it was in mid July or end of July, that we really went heads down into the project.

Jerry Li: It feels like it took a year, that you left a perfect job in May '19 and took a year to brew some ideas and validate and pivot and the time and patience it took, I guess paid off.

Michel Tricot: Yeah and we went through this really hard time, because we also started to work with three people that I worked with in the past and basically that was the founding team and the problem is, if it's just me and John, that's fine, that's our life choice. We decided we're going to start the company and we are ready to bite all the problem, but when you start having people also working with you, that makes it a little bit more complex and suddenly you have a responsibility toward their success as well, but they knew also where they were going. They were just part of the adventure, but you have to be careful to make sure that people are going to be okay with this new version of the pivot, are going to completely buy into the new vision and we got some gray hair, when we realized that the initial product we're building was not working. That was an interesting period.

Finding founder-market fit

Jerry Li: In the process of searching for the right idea, I feel like going from the end goal, what kind of company you were trying to build, mention the realization that you want to build something that people will have to rely on day to day, versus it's going to be volatile. It's not something necessarily people have to use on databases, that the realization have a lot to gain clarity. I guess that's what you referred as, a founder fit?

Michel Tricot: I would say, this is more like what you want for yourself and for your company, because it's okay to build something that can be volatile. You can build amazing products like that. It's just, that is not part of John or my DNA to do that, but at that point it's... Founder fit would more be around, what are the expertise of the founders? Where do they know the best? Where are they the strongest, when they're building a product and typically I have a pretty good understanding of marketing, but this is not my area of expertise. My area of expertise is data. It is, how do you bring, how do you move data? How do you get data from many, many different places and make sure that you can reliably have access to it and how do you build teams, whether it's community teams, engineering team, product team, around that kind of product and I think that's what I mean by this founder fit piece, which is you want to make sure that you are going to be the best and you're going to leverage all your strengths, on this particular project.

Patrick Gallagher: That moment when COVID happened, you identified the marketing tool and product that you were building, was no longer going to be a need and that was the moment you were like, "This is not a good founder fit. We need to find something new."

Michel Tricot: This was more like, "This is not the right product. Let's refocus the product." It's a similar product. It's just, the audience is different and that's also part of founder fit. It's,

you want to make sure that the audience you're talking to, is an audience that you're very comfortable with, that you deeply understand, so that the product that you build, you don't have to think so much about what do you need to build, because you are already one of this person in the audience. You have a sense of what pain they're facing and that makes a lot of things a lot easier, whenever you do customer discovery, when you do user discovery call, et cetera, et cetera, is you already have a sense and you can put yourself into their shoes.

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah, certainly. Those conversations are much more fun. I know Jerry and I relate when it's like, "You're one of us." That makes it much more easy to, I think also speak to the truth of the challenges that people are facing, so then you can then better design the right solutions for them.

Jerry Li: The founder fit is essentially, it's a filter for when it goes through all different ideas, to find the right one to work on and also understanding what you want to build eventually, what you want for life. Those are two filters that can be really effective, as you go through different kinds of ideas, you want to be able to form for a company.

Patrick Gallagher: I wanted to point out two things Michel, because I think there's two really special parts about the early part of your story and I wanted to dig into a specific framework or practice that you used at the beginning, specifically around coming up with the ideas. You had mentioned that you had applied to YC with one idea, switched. I think the courage to reapply the second time, is extraordinary to be like, "You know what? We didn't have the right idea and we acknowledged that and we moved forward."

Why you should invalidate your ideas

Patrick Gallagher: I think on your blog post, you talked about when you came up with ideas, the goal wasn't to validate the idea. You spent time invalidating the idea. Can you tell us a little bit about what that practice was like and a little bit about the mechanics of what you did to do that?

Michel Tricot: In general, whenever we were having an idea we were just spending two days, just John and I, discussing about it, just white boarding things and part of it was, "Okay, let's look at what are the existing solutions? Is it just a random idea, that's coming out of our... Why did we thought about this?" And it's about how relevant would that be for the audience that we have in mind today and basically for us right now, it's just gathering information that we can gather by ourselves and very often you need to also wait for one day or two days, just to let your brain get out of this very euphoric state, where you don't see the negative, you only see the fact that you're going to be the king of the world with that idea.

Patrick Gallagher: I tell Jerry all the time, my latest ideas like I am the king of the world. This is the best idea you'll ever hear and usually a day later, it helps settle things down a lot. I really do that a lot.

Michel Tricot: And that's why you need to let it settle, because you want your brain to calm down and you also want to make sure that you can start gathering data points and ideas and also what we're doing during these two days, is we're also lining up people, creating a list of people that we can start talking to in our network, so that after two days we can go and we can start talking to them. Having an external feedback about it. We're not looking for validation, but we're looking also at what are people that could be expert that already have built something like that or that have been using something like that, can tell us about the solution we have in mind

And in general, you can see that helps you figure out, is it a problem for me to solve? How much is it going to play on my strengths?

And I think if it doesn't play on your strengths, you're already starting with a little bit of a lag, compared to a founder who would be the best at it, because you have some catch up to do and you have roles that you won't anticipate

and then it's about once you have done that and the idea is still alive, try to talk to people that you don't know, because the problem is when you talk to people that you know, they're going to be biased when they give you feedback.

Some people don't. Some people are just going to be very direct and that's great, but some people are going to also manage your feelings when you come up with an idea. And you want to make sure that they will give you information, but they will manage your feelings

and at that point, how do you find people that you don't know? How can you talk to them? And for that, we've become expert at reaching out people on LinkedIn and automating getting people to actually talk to us for 15 minutes. Just 15 minutes is enough. You should get 10 or 20 calls. That's the best and then you can start talking to real experts and that's where you start seeing... See, it's still the same thing. Is it founder fit or not? Is it a mid... The idea that you have is the right one and the thing is, not only it allows you to invalidate or validate ideas, but it also helps you think about the next idea. It opens basically your exploration to more and more ideas and solutions and problem space. It's just a very good tool for doing brainstorming.

Patrick Gallagher: I really appreciate that. The moment you start talking to people about it, it makes it real and it exposes you to new ideas and new opportunities within the problem space.

How to know when you’re ready to start a company

Patrick Gallagher: Michel, the part I struggle with oftentimes when I think about... I get freaked out and scared about making that leap to become a founder, making decision and making that jump takes a lot of courage. We'd love to hear, how did you decide that you needed to make the leap from being an engineering leader, to then starting your own company? What was that pivotal moment like for you?

Michel Tricot: I would say as an engineering leader, I've been very fortunate to have been at my previous company LiveRamp, where I've been able to experience what it is to be looking for ideas, having a product that works, sometimes not and just seeing, "Oh, this is the product that is starting to work. Let's dig into it," and then seeing this hyper growth of product market fit, going to an acquisition, going through an IPO.

Having seen this skeleton of a successful startup, has been extremely helpful for me and there are a lot of lessons that you don't really realize you are getting, but now it becomes part of your DNA and it's basically always the same thing as, if you want to start a company, you have to do it 100%. You cannot do it halfway. I got fortunate [inaudible] done well with LiveRamp. That gave me more freedom and maybe more of a safety net, but in the end yes, if you want to do it, you have to commit to it 100%. I've tried a few side projects over the years and all your energy needs to be put into this company. You cannot just do it halfway.

Patrick Gallagher: And when was that moment for you where you were like, "I'm committing 100%, not halfway?"

Michel Tricot: I think it was in June 2019. After LiveRamp, I went to join another startup at the time. One of my very good friends was over there and same thing, part of the founding team. A lot of fun and got a lot more involved in fundraising, partnership, et cetera, et cetera, as well as the technical aspect of it, but on June 1st I went, "Okay, something is missing," and I've always said to myself, "After LiveRamp, I'm going to start." I took this other position at a rideOS.

June 1st I went "Okay, I need to jump. I need to do it." It was more like an internal will to do it. Also I came in the US from France in 2011. One of my thing was always, "I'm going to start a company in the US. I'm going to help people solve a very important problem for themselves and now I have the ability to do it, let's do it and let's jump." It's a very conscious decision, because once you start, it's very hard to go back.

Patrick Gallagher: It's like Pandora's box. Once it's open, you can't put it back.

Michel Tricot: Yeah, exactly.

Making the transition from eng leader to CEO

Patrick Gallagher: Can you tell us about the transition from going from an employee or an engineering leader, to becoming a CEO and founder? What's the same from that experience, what's different? Is there a different mindset that you had to adopt or new principles that you had to apply, to guide your thinking? What was that shift like, from I guess, a mental and operational perspective?

Michel Tricot: Yeah, that's a good question. The good thing is, it's not just a step function. It's the good thing is, it's something that progresses bit by bit. You adapt to it, because when you start, you obviously have to, yes, you need to start a company, but you also need to make sure you execute on a project, you build a project, you build a team. I would say, as the company grows, how much you rely on people grows exponentially. You realize that as a CEO, you can never be a bottleneck for anyone and you need to make sure that the people you hire... It's just more like the importance of the decision you're making. When you start hiring people, you know that these are people that you're going to rely 100% on them, to take on some functions or some part of the company.

I would say that to me, it's one of the biggest change, where I need to remove myself and enable other people to be fully autonomous. Yes, we always communicate obviously, but shifting that mindset is necessary, if you want to be a CEO,

I would say communicate a lot about the state of the company and where we are going. Making sure that you always have a north star, because if you don't, people don't really know where they're going. Even if it's very high level north star, it is an important one. Typically, our north star for 2021 was Airbyte must work. That's all and I think once you start having this north star, you can build an organization and automatically it's going to converge toward that north star, but if you don't have this very simple, overarching goal, that's always going to be hard to align people on what they're doing, because you want also, them to be autonomous, because it's a startup. They need to know and they need to figure out their own goal, within that overarching goal.

Patrick Gallagher: Airbyte must work. Summarized in three sentences and everything revolves around making that happen, in the early stages.

Michel Tricot: Exactly and it's just that once you have that, people have time to question why they're doing something and not something else and that's what you want. You also want to make sure that you hire the people who can have that judgment. Hiring just becomes a lot more important, especially as a small startup and yes, after that, fundraising was a big shift. I've never done fundraising before. How do you say vision another product for seed and especially for the seed, it's something that is maybe a little less tangible and basically what makes it work, is for an investor, is it a vision that they buy in? Is it a team that they believe can execute on? Figuring out how you explain all of that, figuring out how you present that and figuring out how you actually build a team that the investor will trust, is so important.

Jerry Li: Yeah. That's always a very mysterious part of this journey.

How do founders navigate the fundraising process?

Jerry Li: How do you navigate the fundraising process? You mentioned, this is the first time we do it. Can you tell us how you get connected with investors and how the journey looks like and what are the surprises that you got and what are the tips you can share with other folk that hadn't done it before?

Michel Tricot: Yeah, I would say first of all and it's always the same thing. If you can start with a head start, it's better for you and here for example, I had worked many, many of my friends who are a former colleague from LiveRamp, I was still in touch with them and some of them went to create their own company. I already had a very strong network of people that can be either advisor, that can do intros. Obviously being at YC helped and yes, YC is expensive to get in, but if you think about it, whenever John and I think about making decisions for the company, we have this formula, which is the valuation, ownership and people, sometimes they stop and they just think about these two terms in the equation for how much like a company is worth, but what they always forget, is this little success factor at the beginning. And if you fail, you can optimize as much as you want these two terms, it's going to be zero.

If it's successful, then that makes sense and whenever we make these decisions about how can we optimize the success factor more than the two others.

You can think that with our network, we don't need to go to YC, because we have access to investors, but at the same time, if you go to YC, you have access to more investors. Even if it's slight, it just increases your success factor there and that's always something we've been considering whenever we make decisions. To go back to your question, having John and I both having experience in startups and building similar products, that's the first step on how you get to convince investors. If you are straight out of college, you still can, but it's going to be harder, because you don't have I would say the social proof of having done it in the past.

Jerry Li: That goes back to the founder fit.

Michel Tricot: Exactly.

Jerry Li: This is something that the investor going to evaluate as well, not just yourself. Finding it, searching through the ideas.

Michel Tricot: Exactly and after that, what's important is also... The story we're telling right now is important to tell, to investors, because they want to understand, how do funders think about pivot? How do they think about ideas or how do they think about... It's basically especially in the early state, the more you can give about how you're thinking and what is your framework for building, the more confidence you can give that this is the right team to execute, because then especially at seed, or pre-seed , investors know that the project they're investing in, is probably going to be different a year down the line. What they want to make sure is, is this the thing that is going to be able to evolve their ideas, to adapt, to get to a Series A or to get to a product market feature and you need to show that. You need to show a story of how you actually think about ideas and company building.

The most important success factors for an early startup

Patrick Gallagher: What are the high priority success factors? When you are considering that as part of the equation, what are the ones that weigh the most or have the highest ROI?

Do you have specific ones that you would encourage people to look at or prioritize, more than others?

Michel Tricot: Yes. I think the quality of your team, is one thing that is important. If it means that sometimes you need to spend a little bit more money, a little bit more time on hiring people that have some of this expertise, even if you might feel it's a bit too early, doing it will increase your success factor, because everything that these people that you are hiring are going to do, is going to compound over time. If you're thinking about fundraising, but not everybody needs to fundraise, but if you need to fundraise, if you need to have capital, having a brand like YC behind you, it doesn't mean you're going to be successful, but it means that you have this little edge compared to people who are not doing it, because YC is the leader on what they do. If you have YC behind you, that's already almost a stem that you can see.

You have all these little things that you can add. Which investor you pick and which investor you work with is important, because sometimes you might have access to two investors. One is going to give you a term sheet that is a little bit lower than the other, but maybe this investor that gives you a lower term sheet, might help you a lot more on company building on brand building, et cetera, et cetera. Figuring out and I think this is very important. Typically, having a VC like Axle, helps a lot also in inspiring trust.

It's not that we are not trustable, it's just that the market trusts a brand like Accel more than another brand for VC and that helps. And then that means that other VC's are going to look at you and you see that all these little decisions, they compound over time. That would be my thinking. The team and the investor you work with, are probably the highest factors.

Jerry Li: think that is a good reminder to see things in that perspective, when it comes to important decisions for a company in the early stage, the success factor lens of things.

Michel Tricot: Yeah and these decisions, they compound over time. Would we have been able to raise a Series A with benchmark, if we did not have Axle? Would we have been able to do Axle, if we had not done YC? Would we have been able to do YC, if we hadn't raised a pre seed with a few individuals in our network? We have all the little things, that is basically you're climbing a ladder and if you're missing a step, then maybe you cannot climb.

Jerry Li: Yeah, another distinction here is that the employees in VC's, unless you work with the investor, you cannot fire them. There's no going back and realizing that, will just make people more deliberate and thoughtul while making decisions like that.

Michel Tricot: Yeah and you recruit employees, you recruit investors as well, because it's a partnership. The same way John and I are basically married right now, is the same thing for your investors. We're married and you want to make sure that you are going into a healthy relationship and that from the beginning, if there are misalignments, these misalignments are going to become worse and worse.

You want to make sure that the investor that you're working with, they understand very deeply, how you're thinking about your company and your product and typically when we raise with Accel and Benchmark, one thing that was important for us at that time, was we want to be with fans that have done open source successfully, who understand what it means to build a business around open source.

If an investor for example, the first they ask you and you have an open source project, is how do you monetize? This is already a very strong signal for us which is, if they're already asking us this question, it means that they are ignoring the power of building a strong community and building a strong bottoms up adoption on an open source project. You have all these little things, that are very tied to your product.

Leveraging an open source community

Jerry Li: Community is important for a company. What are the ways you are leveraged to the community and how do you persist in the community, in the future success for a company in general?

Michel Tricot: Yeah. As an open source company, the problem with [inaudible] first of all, it's a problem that is an engineering problem. It's data engineering problem and it's a problem, where build is more interesting than buy and open source is always there to make sure that you don't have to build. It's not there to make sure that you don't have to buy. It's like you don't have to build it.

At that point and that's also where being part of that audience is important as a founder, which is I've done it in the past, what kind of product would I want to take from [inaudible] and put into my organization and at that point, it's just talking to these... Figuring out who are your initial members from your community and I think you have to be intentional with how build it and make sure that you are very white glove, you really take feedbacks into account and the more the community goes after that, it's a snowball effect, because there is a network effect behind building a community and that's an important thing and for our product, it's necessary to have a community, because we are addressing a long tail of integrations.

Right now, these integrations are being built by the members of our community, within their companies. What we're giving them, is a platform where they can build it and share the burden of the maintenance of these different connectors. It's a very strong argument for a community based model at that point and then it's just making sure that you continue to grow the community and you continue to give more to the community, so that they stay engaged and they continue to use the product and contribute to it.

The benefit of being transparent with your users

Patrick Gallagher: Incorporating community is a core part of how you as an organization, serve your customers. There's a lot of really interesting dynamics. There's a couple things that really stood out to me. I just saw like you all are hiring a bunch of roles related to community.

There's a huge investment going into cultivating this ecosystem of support, but the other thing that really stood out to me, was the transparency that you have with the community for the direction of Airbyte, the business model of Airbyte and how the community fits within that and I don't think I've seen that type of transparency, where it talks about here's our direction and here's our strategy and here's how this all fits together and then even, I know you just rolled out a participative model for members of the communities to participate in the tools that they're creating under Airbyte.

Can you talk a little bit about why those decisions of being transparent or involving the community as they contribute to solutions within the ecosystem, that they're able to economically participate in that success? Can you tell us a little bit more about the thought process and why you designed some of the early parts of Airbyte like that?

Michel Tricot: I would say the first thing, is we created a community from scratch. If you look at a lot of open source projects, often what happens is, it was an open source project that was built within a larger organization. You can take Kafka for example. It was built within LinkedIn and they were able to build a community without having to build a company around it. We have to do both, which is we don't have a community, we need to build a company. We need to build a product.

A community might be using Kafka, because they know it's backed by LinkedIn. That's an argument for them to join and to start using the product. With Airbyte, we did not have that luxury when we started which is, we were still a very young startup. The product was starting to work, but it was not there yet. Transparency helps us showing to the community what we are doing and how we're thinking about things, so that even if we don't have it now, they know when we're going to have it and they know why we're going to have it and they know it inspires confidence and it is very important. That is why we're so transparent. Also, when you're transparent, there is a lot of things you can say. You don't have to retain information and I think that makes our life easier, as well.

How to build trust in an engineering community

Patrick Gallagher: What's been the reaction or response from the community when you share with them, "Here's our strategy as a company. Here's the evolving business model of Airbyte." What's the typical reaction?

Michel Tricot: To be clear, that was a reaction based on feedback we got from the community which was, "I want to use Airbyte. I've tried to use other open sourced projects for integration that didn't work. Why should I believe that Airbyte is going to work?" And at that point, transparency is important. What people don't want, is to have what happened for example, with projects like Singer and others, which is you have a connector somewhere, you try it, it doesn't work. It's often connectors. What kind of incentive structure can we put in place, so that we can continue to grow with the community, while also giving more control to the community on the life cycle of these connectors and how can we also engage them more into the company and our business model and that's why this new contribution model is so important.

It's like, we want to make sure that community members work with Airbyte to create connectors, have an incentive to maintaining these connectors over the long run, so that we don't end up with often connectors that don't work, because people just want the connector to work. That's what matters to them and that's what we're building right now. What kind of financial model should we be putting in place and how do we want to create that positive dynamic? And it doesn't mean it's just for individual contributors. It can also be for data agencies or it can also be for vendors, creating new revenue streams for this type of organization, in exchange for SLA, but fixing feature improvement, et cetera, et cetera. Yeah. That's the only way we can scale the number and addressing the wrong thing.

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah, I thought that was really interesting, because I know you had mentioned that a lot of different entities that have tried and I may not be able to speak specifically to the [inaudible] Michel, so please jump in, but I think the scale of a lot of people's solutions here are around the hundreds and that I think the ambition or the need to be able to solve the long tail solution, is to be in the scale of thousands and that this is a way to help create the full step spectrum of connector solutions.

Michel Tricot: Yeah, exactly.

Community building is not a side project

Patrick Gallagher: One more quick question about community, Michel. If you had to give one recommendation for anybody who's considering incorporating community as a key part of their business strategy, is there a number one lesson you would give people, that you've learned from building the data engineering community?

Michel Tricot: It is not a side project. You have to invest a lot of time into it. Our engineers at Airbyte, they spend a significant amount of time working with the community. It's not just something that you say, "I'm going to create a community," and you hope that things are going to go well. No, you actually need to invest in it and by investment, it can be either you create roles around it or it's about time that you're spending. It's not magical. You don't create a community, without investing in it.

Patrick Gallagher: Jerry and I, raise the roof, yes. That is the truth. It cannot be a side project. I love that insight. Thank you, Michel.

Ways to deal with doubt as a founder

Patrick Gallagher: Okay. I think one of the things again, this is the thing that makes me nervous, is I imagine being a founder or an aspiring founder and you're standing at the edge of this cliff and you're getting ready to jump and there's a lot of trepidation and doubt and I was just curious for you in the early days, how did you overcome some of that early doubt and does that still come up now and how do you I guess, deal with that now? Is it different? Do you deal with some of that doubt now differently, than you did at the beginning? What was that like?

Michel Tricot: Yeah, I would say I deal with it probably better, just because now it's part of my DNA, but I think that's where it's important to be and that's why it's so hard for example, for a solo founder, because doubts are very hard to overcome when you are alone and John, we've known each other for almost 10 years now, so we know each other and when one of us has doubt, we talk about it and we think about it and we involve other people into this conversation, but it's just about who is surrounding you when you have doubt. You need to make sure you have a very strong support of people, that you can talk to and be very... How would you say that? Very candid. You need to feel good about expressing doubt, that can be critical for your company.

What happened with the initial product that was geared to our marketing... One day I called him and I told him, I think this product is going nowhere. We had to work in the Golden Gate Park and we thought, "Yeah, it's going nowhere. Let's pivot,"

And it's just, if you don't express your doubt, first of all, you're probably not the only one to have this. And talking with people who have similar doubts, is important. If you have doubts that are not justified, you'll have someone who'll tell you, "Think about it this way. Look at this from this perspective," and it's just about being transparent about how you feel about these things and having a good support system around you.

Patrick Gallagher: In that moment, were you afraid of his reaction or was this something that was bursting out of you and that you had to share?

Michel Tricot: It's like life and death at that point. Not for me, but for the company. If we go like that, we cannot afford to do that. That's not what we signed up for. We want to be successful. We want to build a product that people want and need. We don't want something that is good to have or a project that, because you have a global pandemic, doesn't work. No, I'm making it a bit more dramatic, but...

Patrick Gallagher: That's okay. I'm a sucker for drama, so we can overdramatize a little bit.

Michel Tricot: But I think it's important when you have doubt, first try to introspect also, to figure out why you have this doubt, why it's triggering that, because when you have doubts generally, it's like a big blob. Try to decompose it and figure out where it's coming from and for this one, it was obvious. First of all, I told you I was getting some gray hair, because of it. Just, it's not working and sometimes just from introspection, that's not enough. Bring someone else into the conversation and be candid about it.

Patrick Gallagher: I want to point out a pattern that I think is really interesting, is that a lot of these big inflection points, I think it's been clear to me that bringing other people into the conversation, it sounds like it's been a critical part of the process from defining the product, to overcoming doubt, it's introspection, but then also bringing other people into that process.

Michel Tricot: Yeah and we've surrounded ourself with a lot of people, when we created Airbyte. It was always people who invested in us for the pre seed, people we invested in us during the Series A. We always bring people that we will be able to talk to and bounce ideas and just bitch and then bite. It's so important. If it's just you in your head, that's not enough. You cannot think of everything. You don't know what you don't know. You need to bring this extra knowledge from the outside.

Patrick Gallagher: Get people involved, get out of your own head. I

Everything leads back to your North Star

Patrick Gallagher: was going to ask you about, how do you balance being the Chief Inspirational Officer and champion of the vision of the company and the realistic considerations for mitigating risk of the company, in the direction, because I imagine it's probably hard to balance those, but it sounds like what you're talking about with overcoming doubt. It's, first introspect, why do you feel that way? Deconstruct that and then talk to your co-founder or bring somebody else in to pressure test some of those assumptions and thoughts, to see if it is reeled out or if it's a legitimate risk to understand.

Michel Tricot: Yeah. That's why I think it's important to have overarching goal of vision, because vision is basically the sun. You want to get there. Now doubts are generally, either your vision is completely wrong. That could be a thing, but in general, when you will have doubts, is about the direction you're taking to get to your end goal and that's why it is so important to have as you said, three words on how do you define your vision and how do you define your company goals, because it's not called a north star for nothing. It's what gives you direction and doubts are going to be about, am I taking the right direction to get to that ultimate goal?

Rapid Fire Questions

Patrick Gallagher: We have some rapid fire questions. First question, Michel. What are you reading or listening to right now?

Michel Tricot: I'm listening to this book called The Great CO Within. I'm still at the beginning, but I think it's just, as the organization is scaling, what are some of the things that I don't know and what are the things that I know and where I need to improve? This one is really just for me. It's like, how do I scale myself? How do I become a better CO as we grow the company. Very important right now and I would say that's pretty much it. Very focused on my reading.

Patrick Gallagher: I love that. We have a strategic planning meeting later on this afternoon and one of the big blank spaces I have on my notebook, is what skills do I need to build or competencies, to help us achieve this five year vision? I definitely relate to that, of answering the unanswered questions.

Okay. Question number two. Are there any founder tools, resources or methodologies, that you found most helpful?

Michel Tricot: I would say one of the most important books I read in my life, was The High Output Manager from Andy Grove. I know it's an old book, but when I made my way from IC to Manager to Director, to leading a larger engineering organization, it basically gave me the tool to evaluate myself, evaluate the performance of my team and making sure that... And aligning the team and structuring the organization. When you are in IC and you start as a manager, you're just, "Okay, what do I do now? How do I evaluate myself ?" Because, it's very fast feedback group and here, suddenly you're in charge of a team and you're like, "How do I know I'm doing a good job?" And I think it puts the great foundation on leading people, building organizations, building processes, good processes. That's my favorite book.

Patrick Gallagher: High Output Management, love that recommendation. Jerry, I wanted to kick this next question to you, because I know that this is one that was really important to you, about stress.

Jerry Li: Yeah. I can imagine building a company from the ground up. There's a lot of moments of stress and it can come from all directions and expected. How do you defuse that? What kind of methodology or things do you do, to handle that?

Michel Tricot: I would say the first thing, is I have Airbyte, but I also have a family. I have two kids. I have my wife also and I think having a place where I can just disconnect, is important. You need to force yourself to disconnect at least once a week. For me, I try to disconnect on the Saturday. You need to, to get your brain refreshed, because stress generally comes from being exhausted and having too much information. I just always do that. Yes, sometimes I'm stressed for longer, but at that point, you learn how to cope with it. You try to deconstruct, something like that. You deconstruct, you try to figure out, where is that coming from? What is something that someone in the team can take on and yeah, but having safe place is important.

Patrick Gallagher: All right, Michel. Last fire question, is there a quote or a mantra that you live by or is there a quote that simply is just resonating with you, right now?

Michel Tricot: No, I don't have a quote, but a question people often ask me is, "What is a terrible mistake that you've made in the past?" Is, I don't have a good answer for that, because I think a mistake is just a mistake when it's in the present and you realize you've made it, but when you look back, it's never a mistake, because that's the thing that brought you where you are and if you are satisfied with where you are, then that's not a mistake. I try to seek to the future and learn from what I've done in the past, but I don't relentlessly think about it.

Patrick Gallagher: To reconnect this back to the beginning of the conversation, when you talked about all of the different ideas that you explored before Airbyte, what stands out to me about that Michel, is that the beginning was all about you exploring, invalidating ideas, to finally come to the conclusion of Airbyte and each of those ideas beforehand were not mistakes, but they were opportunities to learn and move forward and I think it's really cool to end on that note, really what embodies, I think your practice as a founder in your discovery process. Fantastic. Michel, this was awesome. Thanks so much for joining us.

Michel Tricot: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Amazing questions. Love them.

Patrick Gallagher: It was a blast. We had a blast.

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