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Dalia Katan on 4 Million MySpace Users, Celebration Psychology & Retention vs. Virality

· Podcast Episodes,Founder,Virality

I think founders often focus more on the outcome rather than the journey. They focus on like, I want to make a billion dollars. Or I want to build a business that impacts 100,000 people's lives. But the reality is the chance of success in a startup is so low and the journey is so damn hard that knowing that, I think founders are better off working on things that they just love day to day. - Dalia Katan

Dalia Katan is the CEO and Founder of Presently, a leading group celebration startup that helps groups collaborate around special occasions. At Presently, Dalia is working to create meaningful and sustainable opportunities for communities to connect regardless of proximity, leveraging over 15 years of experience in design, business strategy, and inclusion.

Before Presently, Dalia worked as a management consultant at Deloitte and as an independent consultant. She worked closely with leadership at over 30 companies, ranging from early-stage startups to Fortune-10 corporations, to design consumer-led growth strategies, go-to-market approaches, and new product innovation. She also spearheaded Doblin Innovation's expansion to the West Coast in 2018 and was a fellow at the renowned Center for the Edge with John Hagel in 2016. Prior to Deloitte, Dalia led marketing and user experience at two early-stage startups and built and scaled her first product to over 4M users.

Her passion projects center on bridging divides and nurturing inclusion, influenced by her family's refugee journey and her thesis at Princeton. Dalia co-founded Deloitte's Refugee Community of Interest and launched an offering on refugee integration in the workplace, backed by a $450K grant from Deloitte leadership. She also authored publications on the future of work, inclusion in the workplace, and diversity.

Dalia received her BA from Princeton University, where she studied international affairs, entrepreneurship, and human-centered design. She was an OnDeck Fellow and Afore Capital Fellow in 2020.

This episode is produced by Kyle Ong.

Jeremy Au (00:00): 

Hello Dalia. good to have you on the show. 

Dalia Katan (00:02):Hey Jeremy. Thank you so much for having me. How's it going? 

Jeremy Au (00:05): 

Great. I'm excited to share your journey as a founder, that's one, but also as someone who's doing something really cool in the celebration space, which people are going to be like, "What?" Because, you know people are going to throw at me buzzwords. But there's something really interesting and I'm proud to be an angel investor. Very much interesting stuff that we're going to be talking about so for those who don't know you yet love to hear how you would share your professional journey with them at a dinner party? 

Dalia Katan (00:38): 

Sure, absolutely. First and foremost, reason I'm here, I'm the CEO and Founder of Presently. We're a group gifting and group celebration platform. We make it ridiculously easy for groups to come together and celebrate people that they love. It could be collaborating on a group gift or getting signatures for a group card, a video montage, et cetera. 

With any professional introduction, I think my family is a huge part of it because in so many ways, it's influenced the things that I'm most passionate about which is community, curiosity and connection. I'm realizing now those all start with c. My three Cs I guess now, community curiosity and connection. I was born and raised in New York City, came from a really large immigrant family. Community has always been a huge part of my life as well as entrepreneurship. Even from when I was just 13, I started and scaled my first company. 

Which looking back, formulating users was probably a big deal, but at the time I was just a high school student staying up until the sun rose to build things that I loved, products that people loved and just loved the rewarding nature of coding. For me, it's always been honestly more important to love the process rather than the outcomes, but I've learned that the outcomes often follow the passion. 

Fast forward a few years, I've studied at Princeton University, which is where I learned some of the tools that helped me integrate my budding passions for community, curiosity, connection through the discipline of human centered design. It was actually through a college course with a mentor of mine, Professor Derek Lidow, brilliant entrepreneur himself that I started to learn about the human design world. 

That sort again, I worked as a management consultant at Deloitte. That was my first job out of college, and I worked with everything from small startups to Fortune 100 companies, helping them launch, grow scale, their businesses and publishing white papers on teen culture, entrepreneurship, inclusion and human centered design, et cetera. I also spearheaded the expansion of the Deloitte innovation team on the West Coast and was selected for an awesome San Francisco-based innovation fellowship. That was what brought me from my original hometown of New York to now still be in California four years later, which is pretty crazy. 

And also co-founded Deloitte Refugee Inclusion Program, which was very much built on my family's background. My mom was a refugee, so very much a passion project for me. I guess a funny story in itself of how a 22 year old could get the attention of Deloitte chairman of the board and secure a half million dollar grant to work on a passion project. That was really fun. I ended up staying there for about three years. Got to do all those things I just mentioned over the course of three years at Deloitte, but decided to leave because even though I loved who I was working with, loved the projects I was able to own, something just didn't sit right with me and I realized that even though the corporate world trains you to be an incredible leader, teaches you great problem solving skills, helps you learn from so many incredible managers and bosses, it also separated me personally from my curiosity and my intuition. 

I wanted to figure out what would happen if I flipped the model that many of us live our lives based on its head, and instead of living on my time off, I wanted to figure out what would life look like if I lived on my time on and design my life around my curiosity instead. That led to a very fun series of events after Deloitte that ultimately brought me to Presently. 

Jeremy Au (03:50): 

Wow, that's a lot to dig into and there's so much exciting stuff to talk about. I think the deepest thing of course that you started out with was really talking about power family means a lot to you. Tell us more about what family meant to you in terms of the environment, you said that it was entrepreneurial, you also shared about it was a place of in past, celebration and love. I'd love to hear a little bit more about why and how family means a lot to you. 

Dalia Katan (04:20): 

Absolutely. I'll come back to why I started Presently because that also has to do with my family. But for me, growing up in a immigrant community meant that we did everything as a community. I grew up a block from my aunt and my grandma, and then within a five block radius, we had dozens of families that immigrated to the U.S. alongside my mother and her family. There was always this sense of, when we do things, we do things together. No one gets left behind. 

Also this culture of celebration that was more, you hear about Indian weddings and Jewish weddings and Russian weddings and weddings and they're all known to be so massive and festive and loud. I grew up in that culture where the average wedding, for example, or the average bar bat mitzvah had hundreds of guests, not just 12 people in your immediate family. 

That sense of a strong connection through celebration has always been a big part of my life. Which also leads me to why I started Presently, which was that about three years ago, I was visiting family in New York. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and it was Thanksgiving and I went up to my parents attic to try to find something I was looking for. I don't remember even what it was at the time. But every single closet I opened was filled with a graveyard of toys. 

There were upwards of 300 stuffed animals, upwards of 140 board games of which 15 of them were the same exact monopoly set. There was all this stuff that was so well-intentioned, purchased over birthdays and holidays for myself, for my, at the time nine-year-old brother, for my other two siblings, but it wasn't getting any use. It made me realize that we all struggle to find that sense of community that a lot of immigrant families have. We all struggle with that desire to connect and show love and care for the people in our lives. 

While many of us default to swiping a credit card, it doesn't actually bring us any closer to those people, and so we end up having that closet that's full of tchotchkes, or in our case, an attic full of toys that were never even opened or played with. I wanted to figure out, how can I bring that sense of connection and belonging and community that's really at the core of why we celebrate things like birthdays and holidays. How can I bring that to the communities around me? Starting by making gifting more social and building from there to now what we know is Presently, the group celebration platform.  Awesome. Tell us more about Presently then. What exactly is Presently solving that problem? 

Dalia Katan (06:41): 

Great question. At its core, Presently as a group celebration platform. We want to help people connect through celebration, with that goal of in five, 10 years from now every celebration in life start with Presently. What that means for us is figuring out, how can we bring people closer through celebration? How can we make it easier for people to take something that is traditionally a group activity but has become a very individual activity in the U.S., and bring back those core roots of a community around these kinds of celebrations. 

That could be things like gathering friends together in a virtual setting for a group gift or for a group card. For me, a big part of that is with COVID, we learned that people really deeply want to connect with their loved ones. But it doesn't necessarily have to be in person. What we did is create an experience that help people connect in that way that they couldn't before. 

Jeremy Au (07:36):Tell us about who the target persona our personas that someone would use Presently with. 

Dalia Katan (07:45): 

We call her Laura at Presently. She is the super organizer. She's that sister or brother or friend or coworker in any friend group, in any family who everyone knows will be the one to get the group together for those special moments that matter. It could be the center daughter who gets the whole family on FaceTime once a week so that they can connect and share stories. 

It could be the coworker that formerly passes around an envelope to gather funds for a big cake or present or card for someone's birthday. But every group has that person and those are the people that we're really targeting as our core persona. But secondary to that are the people who benefit from that. They're the contributors, they're the 90% of the population who struggled to find ways to connect, aren't necessarily the ones that take initiative to bring the group together, but when someone else does, are really grateful for that experience. 

That other persona, which is the majority of people, is really anyone who's ever struggled to find the perfect gift or the perfect words to show someone how much they care. We want to help them make their experience easier and those who help facilitate that are the Lauras, the super organizers. 

Jeremy Au (08:58): 

When you think about this is quite interesting because I remember when we first started talking about it and brainstorming about this. The question was how and what is the best way to grow? Because we're talking about these super organizers, and obviously part of it, the flywheel is getting them to say, yes, this makes sense for me to use, not just for myself but for the whole group. 

Then somewhat along the way, the people who are receiving the gift, the people who are chipping in for the gift, they also have an expanded experience and then there may be a super organizer, a Laura. They may not be Laura in this group, but they may be Laura for another group. I thought that was an interesting dynamic that we're talking about in terms of the organic word of mouth. How do you see that playing out from your perspective? 

Dalia Katan (09:50): 

For Presently specifically, that's been actually our fastest growth engine. It's all been that organic word of mouth. It really comes down to if you can create experiences that actually bring delight, and in this case also help people feel closer, they have every incentive to try to recreate that for the other people in their lives that they care about. For us, we're seeing on average, one organizer, one Laura, is brings about 11 people onto our platform. Of that, about one in those 11 people end up creating their own group gifts in the future, which is great. 

We're seeing this continuous cycle of people who, because of our platform, feel closer to the recipient as well as other contributors through the process and want to recreate that in other spaces. Really riding on that viral coefficient as an engine of growth has been great for us. 

Jeremy Au (10:44): 

That's a good point because we were talking about virality in early days and one of the interesting trade- offs you always talk about is there's only so much time to focus as the day. There's virality, there's acquisition, which is similar to and driven by virality but not necessarily the same. There's also the conversion dynamic and then there's the retention dynamics. How does a team and for someone like you, who's a second time founder, and someone who has a lot of design and your experience, how do you think about balancing the team's timing/sequence on what to focus on? 

Dalia Katan (11:20): 

Sure. I think one thing that's important to remember is the viral coefficient. You don't really see the impact of that until you're past your first, let's say like 5,000 users. That's actually not even a focus for us now. My team is focused primarily on building a great user experience, so from the product and the customer service perspective, and then on the flip side, user acquisition. 

That statistic that I shared before of one in every 11 contributors on average becomes an organizer, that's actually been without us focusing at all on optimizing for that viral coefficient, which is really exciting. It means that when we're actually ready to start thinking about it, that number will be even higher. But in the meantime, you're right. I think it's really important, especially with a small team to really figure out what are the most important things. 

And for us it's how do we bring people to our product and how do we create an experience that's so delightful and so meaningful for them that they want to come back and they want to talk about it with others. 

Jeremy Au (12:15):What have been some challenges in doing that? 

Dalia Katan (12:19):The question is what have been some challenges and creating delightful experiences? 

Jeremy Au (12:24):Yeah, and then overcoming them. 

Dalia Katan (12:25): 

I think from the start, we've always been very product and customer minded as a company. In some ways it's actually come very naturally to us. I mentioned before, human centered design was something I learned at Princeton and it's something that's really guided a lot of my entrepreneurial ventures since then. I think it actually came very naturally to us to think in those terms of, how do you make this meaningful? How do you make this delightful? Rather than what a lot of competitors do, which is thinking more about the transactional element of just the money exchange. We were thinking a lot more about that connection that people saw. 

I think if anything, the one challenge was that we're such a small team and we try to ship new features every two weeks and haven't broken that streak yet. But it is sometimes hard to continuously meet the high expectations of what we set for our product more than even what our users set for our product because we know what's possible. We have this grand roadmap that we're excited about. But balancing that with the resources that we have has always been a big challenge. 

Jeremy Au (13:24): 

Totally get it. You said something pretty interesting, which is about a one level is the transaction, which is about how do you split the gift? That's probably the one way to think about it. Or how do we get around everybody to chip around and pass the hat. But then I think you said it was also about the fun and the celebration of it. That's actually quite an interesting dynamic, the utilitarian versus the self- actualization component of it. Could you share a little bit more about how you think about those two things that you're designing for? 

Dalia Katan (13:55): 

Yeah. When you think about the transactional component, the words that people often will use to describe it is we want something easy, we want something frictionless. Those are very easy things to solve for. Any company can copy and paste that formula. But when it comes to that self-actualization of how do you connect more deeply with it, that's actually a metric that we only started tracking after our pivot. 

I mentioned that we are a group celebration platform. We actually started off as a group gifting platform, where our only product was helping people collect funds around that experience. As we leaned more and more into our customer feedback, from the surveys that we sent them, customer interviews, we started hearing this pattern of people saying, not only that their highlight of the experience or great parts of the experience was that it was easy and frictionless, but they kept bringing up, "I love the ability to connect with others through the process." 

We kept hearing that so many times that we realized that the gift was just of the mediums through which people can connect and we wanted to expand beyond that. That changed a lot of the metrics that we were tracking internally. We changed up our surveys, we changed up our user questions and we added a question to our post experience survey that was actually asking them, did the experience help you feel closer to the recipient? And did the experience help you feel closer to the other contributors? 

What we found was about 75% of people said, yes, it made me feel either somewhat closer or much closer to both the recipient and other contributors. For us, optimizing for that and has really been about knowing that that's the north star that we're going toward, having questions and metrics that we're optimizing for against that, and then designing the experience that can help facilitate the gap between those two things. 

Jeremy Au (15:35): 

Customer surveys feedback. I know every company claims to do it. Also we also know that not every company really acts or does it. What differentiates, you think a better company versus a worse approach in figuring out what to do with the feedback to actually improve the product and company? 

Dalia Katan (15:56): 

I think the keyword for improving user research at any company is diversity, and that means two things for me. Number one is diversity of who you're talking to, making sure you're getting enough diversity in terms of representation of backgrounds, user types, personas, et cetera. But it also means diversity of research methodologies and tools. 

Not just doing surveys, not just doing user interviews, but finding a whole array of tools in your toolkit that you can apply to learn different things at different times according to what your goals are from those experiments. For us, that looks like on the one hand, we do user surveys that get sent out 30 seconds after everyone has an experience on our platform. 

Then following up personally, if we don't hear back, it also looks like scheduling calls with some of the people who start to exhibit interesting behaviors that we want to optimize for on our platform. It also means people who turn, we reach out to directly, sometimes sending them a text message and just saying, "Hey, just want to know, why did you choose not to use our platform?" We've learned so much through those, by the way. 

Talking to users, not just those who use your platform but those who choose not to use your platform, massive learning opportunity and often also a great opportunity to win back those customers. Anyway, going back to the question, I think diversity is really important in research and it's important to optimize for who and how in both senses. 

Jeremy Au (17:22): 

Customers who are using your service versus those that are not using your service last churned out. Everybody knows how to reach out to users who are using your service, because they're still in the service and it's easier because when you reach out to them, they're already happy, they're happy to talk to you. And you still have an easy way to reach out to them. 

Jeremy Au (17:49): Easier but still difficult. 

Dalia Katan (17:49):To get someone's attention, it's still very difficult. 

Jeremy Au (17:53): 

Okay. How would you differentiate, in that case, let's talk about both. How would you reach out to someone who is still on your platform and how do you currently approach that? Versus how do you get someone who's turned off your platform to talk to you? 

Dalia Katan (18:06): 

I'd say the how is pretty similar. It's a mix of texts and emails, sometimes paid surveys. Even going beyond people who are already using your product, just getting that survey out pretty broadly. I'd say what's different is that for people who choose not to use your platform, there's two types. There are those who sign up in intern, in which case you still have their information and just have to approach them with a lot of empathy and sincerity and making them realize that there a human on the other end of it that's asking for feedback, and they're usually pretty receptive to that. 

For those who came to your site and maybe didn't sign up, those are the ones that are harder to find. In those situations, I've actually had to go out of my way to find them. There have been cases, for example, where we had users who created group gifts on our platform, invited others to take part in them, and then we found out somehow that they also collected some funds in cash or through Venmo. We asked them, "Why did those contributors end up sending you a Venmo instead of sending you through the platform? Or why did they give you cash instead of it?" 

Asking to speak to those users or going through that friend often gave us some really great insights. There was actually a case where one of our investors had set up a group gift and one of their friends was like, "There's no way I'm using a platform for this." Being my investor, he reached out to that person and said, "Hey, would you be willing to talk to the founder about why you would never use a platform like this?" And he was like, "Yeah, of course. I'll talk to her. I'll talk to her." 

We get on the phone and it turns out it wasn't so much that he didn't want to use a platform. It was actually that he didn't want to contribute to that gift. He felt like he had already displayed his appreciation for that person in other ways. It helped us learn that sometimes a user who chooses to not use your platform has legitimate reasons for it. They might've thought it was too confusing or they may have not trusted it or they may have maybe had an issue. And sometimes there are other motivations that if you understand those motivations, you can actually channel that into conversions in the future. 

Jeremy Au (20:11): 

Wow. That's a good point and that's a fair point. It's easier and a little bit more socially palatable to be like, "Hey, I don't want to use the platform." Rather than, I'd rather not chip in because I already showed appreciation for them a different way, or maybe I don't like the person enough. Which just happens a lot and it's a real part of social life and people are making that trade-off personally and financially at a time as well. What's that graceful way to decline without disadvantaging the platform but also without tarnishing that social fabric/reputation? 

Dalia Katan (20:46): 

Totally. I think just to give that example some closure, one of the things that we learned from conversations like that was that not everybody shows love through gifting. Not everybody shows love through words of affirmation. There's five different love languages and it's important to know who shows and receives love in what ways. That actually inspired a new feature on our platform, which was offering organizers the ability to turn on or off, the ability for other people to sign without contributing. 

Those people who maybe didn't want to buy a gift or didn't want to pitch in because they wanted to show appreciation in another way, were now able to still add a message and leave a message, and still take part in that group celebration without needing to necessarily pitch in toward the gift itself. There's always some good to learn from those. 

Jeremy Au (21:31): 

We're getting quite deep into social psychology here, which is how people behave in small groups, both individually and as a group. You're very much in it, which is something that most people are not really thinking about and most companies are not really thinking about. I think most companies presume that individuals are true individuals and they act as an individual economic and rational and psychological agent. 

Other companies look at them as a giant set of cohorts, like this 60,000 foot view. It's interesting because you're very much talking about small groups all the time. It's like what do they feel in that small group? What does a small group feel about them? I'm just wondering if there are any myths or misconceptions about small groups that you started to think differently as a result of founding Presently. 

Dalia Katan (22:25): 

I think I would say that I've learned people are more likely to do something as part of a group rather than do something individually, especially around celebration. We learned through our surveys and interviews, that almost 90% of contributors on our platform weren't going to celebrate that person anyway, beyond maybe just a happy birthday on a Facebook wall. 

They contributed to the gift or to the card because they were able to do something as a group. But where they going to buy a gift or buy a card separately? The answer was no, which is really interesting. Just goes to show that at the end of the day, people are craving that group community experience. They're really craving that sense of belonging of, we were able to do something so special that transcended just the words of affirmation going back to love languages, the words of affirmation or the gifting. 

It actually enters this space of acts of service, because by coming together as a group, you're doing things in service of those that you love, which is really special. I'd say that's the biggest misconception and how we've seen it play out on our platform. 

Jeremy Au (23:29): 

That makes a lot of sense, because one way to think about it is like, these people are terrible because they should celebrate every birthday and every party and they should always be thinking and be thoughtful. I think the other part about it is like, any other day we care about... I always think about Dunbar's number, we care about 10 people very deeply. There were friendly of 100 and a maximum, we in our brain can only encompass like 1,000 people on recall basis. 

That's a dynamic which is an awkward reality, which is that we're often celebrating people who are not necessarily in a group of 10, but in a group of 100 or 1,000. What is that way to make it easy in theway, but also individually and fun to be part of. I think one thing that's interesting as well is that of course, a lot of these celebrations used to be in person. You used to be, like you said, pass the hat around, no cash, used to be the way, and then it'd be in person. 

We had that conversation in the passed which was like, what's driving the shift towards digital and a tool like Presently to get adopted? I think we talked a little bit about, obviously we talked about more remote work and so forth, but I'd love to hear from your perspective, what are the big drivers of that shift and desire at a macro level towards more digitalization of that activity. 

Dalia Katan (25:01): 

Absolutely. Definitely a big part of it is that COVID has completely rewired the way that we think about who's in the, quote unquote, room with us when we celebrate those special moments in our lives. Before COVID, when I was thinking of planning a birthday party, it was really just, who's in the same city as me that I can invite. During COVID, when let's say either of us were planning a birthday party, we're not thinking in terms of, who's in San Francisco or who's in Singapore, or who's in LA where we're living? 

We're thinking in terms of, who do I love that I want to invite to a Zoom party or a digital activity. Now that we're switching back to more in-person, I think that behavior and that expectation has just changed so much that we're still thinking in terms of, I want everyone who loves me around the world to celebrate with me and to celebrate me, and I want to celebrate them even if I'm thousands of miles away. 

On the one hand, there's that one realization, and then on the other hand there's also the fact that COVID has actually caused a lot of migration outside of cities. People are moving from big cities like New York, LA, San Francisco, to more rural or suburban environments where they're actually not as close physically to the friends that they were living in the same city with before the pandemic. Even with things coming back to in-person, people are still physically going to be further apart than they were before the pandemic. 

Jeremy Au (26:16): 

Yeah, that's a big part of it. I totally agree about, obviously, I wonder if it was COVID, but also the fact that it's less about COVID pushing us all remote, but more about the fact that our circles are much more distributed and remote. 

Dalia Katan (26:16): Correct. 

Jeremy Au (26:32): 

I think COVID helping us realize that actually it's okay for us to reconnect with them as a cultural norm, to do that in a larger group. I think that was pretty interesting and that's also interesting, not just at the social group level but also at the corporate level, because companies are getting more and more distributed. 

Could you talk to me a little bit about, obviously you've been targeting two arenas. One is the personal arena, which we've been talking about. But another side is the corporate arena. How do you differentiate between those two types of settings? 

Dalia Katan (27:05): 

There's two settings from a business model perspective. B2B, B2C, or even B2B2C within either of those. But then there's from a customer perspective, more of a distribution model. There's workplaces and then there's friends and family. For us, it's been really important from the get go to reinforce, we are a B2C company. Our model will always be targeting the consumer. 

But what we realized was whether it's Jeremy at work, who's organizing for co-workers, or Jeremy with friends organizing for friends, it's still the same Jeremy. For us, that focus of workplace and friend groups and family isn't about business model selection. It's about distribution models. That's why for us, it's been really important, especially over the last few months. We've seen so much growth from the corporate perspective or from the team's perspective rather, with companies like Airbnb, Zoom, Yelp, et cetera, using our platform repeatedly. 

It's been really important for us to lean into that as a distribution channel knowing that those people are then also using it in a personal setting. At the end of the day, it's still the consumer. It's still the same person. It doesn't affect our business model, but it does impact the fact that we want to create a space that they associate with celebration, whether it's their best friend at work or their best friend at home. 

Jeremy Au (28:22): 

One interesting Thing is that as you've been building this startup, obviously you've been, I think drawing on two strands of experience. One is obviously what we talked about, which was your experience as a designer. Then the second part is you having been a founder as a kid, right? 

Dalia Katan (28:40): Yes. 

Jeremy Au (28:41): 

Let's talk about that founder story as a kid. You have four million users back when you were very young and probably being a founder without knowing that you are a founder. Tell us more about that journey and experience? 

Dalia Katan (28:51): 

I think for me at the time, I wasn't, like you said, I didn't know I was a founder. I didn't know four million users was a big deal and for me it was really just about a child who loved to solve problems. I was learning how to code for the first time. I was learning how to brand a company, how to do marketing, how to do affiliate relationships with other brands. And for me it was just one big puzzle to solve and one big experiment that brought a lot of joy to my life on the side of staying up late to read Harry Potter, and math classes that I loved, et cetera, was just one of the many things that brought me joy. 

But it's crazy to think how invaluable that experience was fast-forwarding now to today. Where I don't think I would've felt so comfortable jumping into the founder life again, if I hadn't done some form of it in the past. It's crazy to think that something that was just like a child side project has in so many ways, set me up for this boomerang from entrepreneurship to the corporate world and now back into creating something that people really love. I'm grateful for it. 

I think at the time I was just excited to learn and I'm realizing now that it's not really all that different today. I'm still that child who likes to build and explore and play and create things for people and build community. It's actually very much a full circle moment for me coming back as a founder. 

Jeremy Au (30:14): 

What was it like setting it up? So you were a kid, how old were you and what were you starting to build out and then you started picking up right? Walk us through that a little bit from the eyes of Dalia as a kid. 

Dalia Katan (30:29): 

Sure. Dalia as a kid, I was playing on MySpace and Tumblr and all those great social platforms in, when was this, 2007-ish time, I think. And I started actually with a friend just learning how to customize templates that I found from other websites. Eventually we had a lot of friends reaching out to us being like, "That's so cool. Where did you get that?" Or, "Where's that graphic from?" Or like, "How did you make that pink?" Or, I don't know if you use MySpace at the time but it was like, "How did you get your audio player on your profile to look so cool." 

It just started as just friends asking me to make things for them and eventually my friend who I started it with got bored of it over the summer. And I was just like, "This is fun. I'm just going to keep going with it." I didn't necessarily pay mind to the number of people who were using it. I think for me what I cared more about was the number of people who engaged on the blog. 

I had all those users downloading our layouts or using our Photoshop tutorials or what have you. But for me, the exciting part was also just like, I had a personal blog where I just talked about my journey at the time. And I had people writing to me from all around the world, so it was just a really cool way to connect with my users and bring them along the ride with me. 

I can't tell you really what was going on through my mind. I think I was just, I really didn't think anything of it. I remember, I didn't tell any of my friends. It was a private thing, it was something I was actually embarrassed about because I didn't know anyone else who was doing that kind of stuff. My parents thought it was a waste of time, so I just thought, okay, it's a waste of time. It's just a fun thing on the side. 

But yeah, I think I just, I found really great community through it. Whether it was the blog I just mentioned, whether it was the affiliate program and meeting other founders. It was just really cool to, for the first time meet people outside of my high school, meet people outside of my neighborhood and connect over that shared passion of design. 

Jeremy Au (32:21):I got to ask, what did your MySpace page look like? Paint a picture for us. 

Dalia Katan (32:25): 

It changed every three days. It changed every three days. It always had some sort of tacky photo that I photo-shopped with cool backgrounds and brushes that I made myself, and a really cheesy quote. It had a lot of color, it had great music, everything was customized. If you think about those really pimped out cars or cribs, that was my MySpace page. 

Jeremy Au (32:49): 

All the bells and whistles. So the Maki Techs going from left to right. Then you got all your scroll banner with the whole quote going by. I definitely had those pages as well. How did you feel about numbers. Because today, you and I talked about it a little bit. Four million, that's a lot and that's a lot back then. Even more back then actually than it is now. At that time, did you have any awareness of those numbers? Like this is big or there's a lot of people using it. Or how did you feel? 

Dalia Katan (33:21): 

I had a tracker on my site, that counted unique visitors and hits. And it just felt like a game to me. For me it was, how can I get as many people, not only coming to my site but also going to my affiliate sites that I bumped up on their rank of being number one on their page or number two on their page. And then more users coming back to me. 

It really just felt like a game. I will say, I think it was a lot easier to scale at that time because there were so few companies doing that. I was very early in the MySpace layout site world. There were only really 10 or so big players and then a number of smaller ones coming out. I'd actually say it was easier at the time to reach four million than it would be today with everyone's attention spans being pulled in 100 directions. 

Jeremy Au (34:10): 

That's a really interesting insight. Because that's a classic Malcolm Gladwell, small fish in a big pond back then. Versus now... Sorry. Then a big fish in a small pond, and now a small fish in a big pond called internet. That's so funny and actually that's also quite true as well. 

What's interesting is I think, you talk about it still in a fun way, because there's a threat and you talk about how it's prepared you and it feels familiar in terms of what you're thinking. Could you explain and what feels familiar doing this a second time around, once when you a teenager and now as someone with professional working adult experience, doing this a second time around? 

Dalia Katan (34:54): 

It's so funny thinking about that kind of thing. In some ways I just have not changed at all. I will still stay up till the sunrises coding, which is not great. But it's just something I really enjoy doing and I'll find myself getting really deep in a rabbit hole and then realizing the time and being like, I should probably go to sleep. 

Other things that feel familiar are the community aspect that's evolved around Presently that I also had around [OSL 00:35:21], which is the name of that company, and just seeing people writing in with their requests or what they liked about the experience or... I sometimes just get random support requests that are just people thanking us for creating the experience that we were able to do or giving them such great customer support. 

That's very reminiscent from my early days, about 15 years ago. It's a good question though. What else feels the same? I think one thing that feels different, which I know is not your question, is whereas before the numbers felt like a game, I think once I took investor money, the numbers felt like a must have or felt like a source of stress. 

Because now we have a whole other set of responsibility and accountability for other people. But I think one thing that hasn't been lost in that is still the fun and the culture of just building things that people love, even though now we have more external expectations. 

Jeremy Au (36:21):More expectations.Tell us more about what more expectations, so there's something that's different. What does that mean from your perspective? 

Dalia Katan (36:30): 

For me, I'm someone who always... I take a lot of pride in being someone who keeps my word and who can be accountable and dependable for others. In a sense of, I have other people's money in my bank account now. I want to make sure that they get that money back times whatever multiplier. There's that expectation there of, I'm going to do my best. I'm going to show up every day better than I did the day before to make sure that those people had their faith in me and in return can see a reward or an outcome. 

There's also the expectation around employees obviously, which is actually the reason I went full-time at Presently. Was as we started growing the team, I realized how much I love being a manager. The reason I love my job so much is, I'd love creating experiences for others to grow and experiences where they feel valued and appreciated and seen. That for me is a huge external expectation, but one that drives me in many ways. I'd say even more than the first one. 

Then finally there's expectations for customers. Before my first company, people were using our products but all they needed to know is that it worked. That they copied the code or they used the generator or they did whatever and they got back what they wanted. I didn't really have much engagement with them beyond them using the product. But with Presently, because it's such a customer-focused experience, I'm joining each of my customers along the journey of not knowing what gift to get, creating a gift or a card or a video montage. Inviting people, seeing those love messages pouring in, and then ultimately creating a beautiful experience for the recipient to receive that card. Then even beyond that, then saying thank you to all those contributors and the organizer putting it together. 

I feel much more involved in the day to day of our users, which means that there's a lot of expectation. Maybe self-imposed for me to make sure every step of the way, they feel taken care of, they feel like they have us to rely on. Especially since I can sympathize and empathize with the super organizer persona, Laura, because I am one, I know that as an organizer, it's often a thankless job. As an organizer, it's almost an expectation sometimes of, don't worry, Jeremy's got it or Laura has got it or Dalia's got it. I don't have to do anything but press the button. People often forget how much work goes behind the scenes. 

For me in many ways, my desire to take care of our users is also my desire to let organizers know, "Hey, you're the one that has everyone else's back. We got your back this time." We'll make this so easy that it doesn't feel like you're hurting cats. I think those are the summary of all the new expectations that I have this time around. 

Jeremy Au (39:09): 

I think one thing that's been interesting is that I see that you're talking about expectations and managing those expectations and tackling those expectations. I think one thing I do appreciate is that you write some amazing investor updates and I think I recently gave you a shout out to our private angel group of all of the founders that I've had the privileged to back and support, and give you a shout out there for writing great investor updates and directed one of the founders who's thinking about how to do it, for her to talk to you about it. Could you share a little bit more about what's the process of why you write investor updates and why the benefits of it so far? Then later on we'll go into the process. 

Dalia Katan (39:54): 

Totally. I write investor updates actually more for myself as a founder than I do for my investors. Obviously, there's a need to keep them up to date and let them know the progress along the way, not just so that they're informed but also so that they can help you. It's almost a way of making sure that if you ever need help, there's that avenue there to ask for it. 

But like I said, it's more about myself as a founder. It's me being able to carve out time to look at my metrics and how that's changing over time, and also examine whether those are the right metrics to follow at all. It's also me sharing, I've two sections on my investor update, as you know. One of them is, wins. The other one is learnings. I think those are the two main ones. Then above that is obviously the metrics month over month. 

I think it's so important as a founder to carve out time to think about, what are the things that we did well and then further celebrating those wins and those victories. But also what are the things that we've learned and/or failed and how do we turn those into learnings? For me I think it's really just helped to approach investor updates more as, if I'm adding value to myself through the process of writing these updates, I am there by also adding value to my investors and making sure that it's speaking from a place of really adding, with every word being intentional, I should say, rather than just giving them an update for the sake of an update. 

I want to say also, give a shout out to another founder who inspired my structure. His name is Max Greenwald. He's the CEO and Founder of Warmly. He's the one who well before I became a founder, was sending out investor updates to myself as a friend and other investors who were investing in his company. He had a very similar process and I thought it was fantastic. I learned from it, adapted it a bit and that's how our investor updates were born. 

Jeremy Au (41:40): 

I think it's really amazing because the benefits of cost at one forward is really that self-awareness and self routine of understanding where the business is going, as a point of reflection. I think on the other side of the table, it's a great way to build a relationship over time. Because I think that's the pitch which is very much all the information but very tightly packaged.  But it's still a photograph or a snapshot and I think the monthly updates help to make it a little bit more of, I was going to say movie but also you could say it's like a gif. I don't know. I had one month of refreshing device

Dalia Katan (42:18): For the stop motion. 

Jeremy Au (42:19): 

Exactly. Stop motion, stick men, slowly evolving into a black and white motion picture, hopefully into a full color movie. I think it helps us to build a relationship and also makes it clearer. Not just like these are all the wins of course, but also these are the things that we need help on and are working on. I think that's been a great way for people on the other side to be able to help out or chip in or help out. How have you seen examples of help or contributions because of your investor updates? 

Dalia Katan (42:55): 

Great question. I also want to add, you have excellent metaphors. I've loved... I read through some of your other podcasts and listen to a couple two. You've got great metaphors. I love the motions, stop motion example. I would say that there's an example of a time where we were looking to interview more super organizers and even you put us in touch with a couple great contacts who ended up becoming users and then repeat users at Presently, which is great. 

We were also hiring a few months ago and we found a lot of really fantastic candidates through our investor pool, so that's one of the asks that we often have out there. But sometimes there were things that I didn't necessarily explicitly ask for in the investor update but that sparked conversation with my investors that ended up really teaching me a lot. 

For example, we were thinking through, should we raise again in the summer or in the fall? What kind of milestones do we want to think about having accomplished before we do our next round? It was conversations with our investors, even outside of the investor update that helped us gain more clarity on what it is that we want to accomplish before that next round to actually proceeds, so that was awesome. 

But yeah, and on the note of hiring, just want to make a quick plug, we're always looking for great talent. I thought I'd make a quick plug here. Always looking for great engineers, designers, marketers, et cetera. If you are listening in and know of anyone great who is U.S-based, please do reach out. 

Jeremy Au (44:18): 

One interesting thing I've noticed you build is that you're very much part of this wave of founders and startups that very much lived through the pandemic. And you work from home, Zoom dynamic. You've also chosen to work in a very distributed manner since then. How do you see that as your culture/evolving over time. Do you want to keep it up as we do it and how do you see the benefits of working in a distributed manner? 

Dalia Katan (44:51): 

Even before the pandemic, I was a huge proponent of what I called a hybrid work model. It's a mix of, there will be times of the year or times of the week where it's important to have the full team together. Because it is really hard to replicate the magic of in-person collaboration. But it's also really hard to replicate the magic of, when you give people time and space to really focus on work or have work-life balance or not have to spend two hours of their day and commute and have that time back to be creative or to spend time with family and spend time on things that they love, that recharges them in ways that coming into the office everyday could not do. 

Even before the pandemic, I was a huge proponent of having some sort of hybrid model where you do have that magic of in-person but you also don't sacrifice the magic of the focus time and the time to actually bring back inspiration from other parts of your lives. I think post-pandemic, we're distributed now. Post-pandemic, I do foresee a future where maybe once a week, we all meet in a city, so it could be like LA or New York or once a month we... Sorry, not once a week. Let me start that over. 

Even after the pandemic, even though we are now currently distributed, I do see a future where we might spend a month, a quarter co-located or a week every six weeks co-located in some way. Maybe it becomes regional where the east coast team and the west coast team and the Midwest team have their own little hubs that they can meet up in as needed. Because I do think it's important. But I also think the pandemic has in many ways liberated people from the idea of, I have to be in an office to be productive, or I have to be... or my employees need to be in office for me to know that they're productive. I think letting go of that's really healthy for the future of work. 

Jeremy Au (46:34): 

Amazing. Well, we've covered so much and you've done so much and I also know and we've talked about it, things can be easy and things can be hard. Would you be open to sharing some times where times have been tough and you've had to overcome adversity and choose to be brave? 

Dalia Katan (46:51): 

I think often we think about bravery as this one big moment of courage or this one big moment of the hero's journey where you had this challenge you have to overcome and you rose above it. I think for me, bravery is more about, what does it look like in your day to day to really everyday make those choices that help you grow and help you get past the otherwise uncomfortable or challenging? 

For me, I think the braver really comes through building a culture that really embraces vulnerability and honesty and radical transparency. Because it does take a lot of courage to say the hard thing. It does take a lot of courage to tell your coworker, not just when they've made a mistake but when you've made a mistake, to really own up to that. That's something that I've tried to very much embed into the culture at Presently, to the point that it's actually part of our process.

Once a week, we talk about not only radical transparencies but personal mistakes, company mistakes, and I think for me that is a huge sign of bravery from everyone on my team to feel comfortable sharing that honestly and openly. And definitely one that I've had to learn over time to embrace more within my own work. I think that would be my example of bravery. Even though it's small and very much day to day, it's something that drives me and also I think creates a culture that people really feel like they're part of something together and that we all have each other's backs. 

Jeremy Au (48:14): 

Yeah. Bravery isn't really capital b. It's a bravery of a small b there. I think it's really interesting to see you make that set of choices around being a founder. What do you think about... We talked about bravery in that small b, and you about that day-to-day piece. When people are thinking about becoming a founder, how should they be thinking about their motivation and why they want to be a founder? 

Dalia Katan (48:45): 

Great question. It touches on a little bit at the beginning. I think founders often focus more on the outcome rather than the journey. They focus on like, I want to make a billion dollars. Or I want to build a business that impacts 100,000 people's lives. But the reality is the chance of success in a startup is so low and the journey is so damn hard that knowing that, I think founders are better off working on things that they just love day to day. 

That actually might fuel success for them in the future. If it doesn't, hopefully they've enjoyed every minute of it anyway. I'd say that's one thing that I would recommend to founders who're just starting off their journey, thinking really about, how can I design my day to day to really be focused on loving every minute of the rollercoaster and feeling accomplished even in just getting through a week or making those small milestones? Rather than defining their success or their identity, which a lot of founders do on the outcome of becoming a billion dollar business or so on and so forth, or being venture backed. That'd be my advice. 

Jeremy Au (49:56): 

Awesome. Well, thank you so much Dalia. I'd love to summarize and recap, I think the three big teams that really came out from this podcast. I think the first of course was really about your love for family and your love for celebrations and social groups. Both as a user, but it's a bit of them, but also someone who is explicitly designing for them as a UX and design background an expert as well as the Founder and CEO of Presently. 

I think that was a incredible set around why found something as well as how to think about, bravery with a small b instead of a capital b and choosing something that you love to do on a day to day, rather than the big goal. 

The second big theme that I really enjoyed, well, of course, was our deep dive into group psychology and how people act in groups. We talk about how that happens and what we observe in terms of user insights, but also how you as a team are explicitly designing for that and making it easier in terms of the actual actions and features but also the overarching process and way of work in order to achieve those things. 

The third thing that I really enjoyed actually was that site trip into a time as a kid. Being entrepreneurial with the four million active users, which makes it a nice trip down memory lane to back only we were on the internet, young wild and free on MySpace and Tumblr. 

I think it's such a great moment of self-awareness talking about how for you this has been a huge difference being a second time founder in terms of expectations, in terms of the way of work and the evolution of yourself as a founder over so many years. Thank you so much Dalia for coming on the show. 

Dalia Katan (52:13):Thank you, Jeremy. Thank you for the great questions, and the great energy and excited to continue the conversation again in the future. 

 

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