Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is a show that helps you as an entrepreneur and as an app founder, or maybe you're thinking about becoming an app founder. I help you by getting guests from around the world and helping you by tapping into their expertise and sharing that with you. This is a great episode coming up, because I have a wonderful founder who is going to share with us his journey with his various apps; he's got an iPhone, Android and Mac app that's called Silo. He is the CEO and founder. HIs name is Moshik Raccah, and he's here to talk about his journey and how to learn from his experiences.
Moshik, welcome to The App Guy Podcast!
Moshik Raccah: Thank you very much, Paul.
Paul Kemp: Thanks for coming on. First of all, let's talk about Silo, let's understand what it is. What is Silo?
Moshik Raccah: Silo is what we call a helpful community of startup people. The idea is that communities can be online as well as offline; you all know MeetUp and similar organizations. Silo is pretty much the online equivalent, where one can meet other founders, other product managers, other designers. The key difference with Silo is that it's all built on principles of being helpful to one another. If there's something you need, you can share it and other people will be happy to help you with it.
Paul Kemp: I love going back to the inception of the idea... Is this your first startup?
Moshik Raccah: No, it's not my first... It's my third.
Paul Kemp: Okay, you're back in the game then.
Moshik Raccah: Yes, absolutely... But it's my best.
Paul Kemp: Well, let's tap into your journey because it's really interesting to work out what makes you tick. Talk us through - you have a couple of startups, and I believe that you've had some good exits from them. Let's talk through your history in the startup world.
Moshik Raccah: Sure. My first company was dealing with application development, building intranets, and mostly systems for internal business use. It went very well, we exited, we had a very nice company, we had a very nice exit, so I thought I could do everything.
The next startup that I started was in 1998 or 1999; for those who have been around that long, it's basically when the bubble was starting to grow, and crazy ideas were floating in the air. I got the idea that building a startup which is more consumer-oriented is a great idea. We easily got funding, built the company, and when everything was ready for the launch, everything crumbled around us... So no exit there. It actually went down in flames, together with 90% of the other companies in the bubble back then. But it was a learning experience which was just as good as the first company that succeeded, because it taught us what the importance of raising funding really is, how to use your money intelligently, how to build slowly, how to test and not to spend three years in development, and then wait to come out with something.
Paul Kemp: It took you a long time to get back in the game then, if this is your third one.
Moshik Raccah: Yes, absolutely.
Paul Kemp: Did that experience kind of put you off?
Moshik Raccah: It didn't necessarily put me off, but I didn't know that the next company that I'm going to start would be in Silicon Valley. This was important for me, and I was looking for a way to get into Silicon Valley to start the next one after that.
That journey - moving to the U.S., getting a visa to work here is not an easy thing to do; it's pretty difficult. The U.S. government doesn't necessarily make it easy for founders to just move here. I took a job with a large telecom software company called Amdocs. I moved to them and I stayed a little bit longer than I originally intended to... I spent a little bit more time with them.
Life is good when you're working for a big company and you're getting a nice paycheck. It's much easier than being a startup founder... But eventually, if you're a startup founder, you'll get back to it.
Paul Kemp: Well, that's the thing I wanted to talk about. I love to deconstruct that part, of founders' journeys, because I've been through the same, where you have a nice, steady corporate career, and we have many people listening to this who have left as a result of listening to inspiring stories of founders. Now, you must have been very fearful -- you've overcome a big challenge to leave and start... I'd love to know what sort of advice you would have to anyone wanting to leave a nice, safety corporate environment to go and work for themselves or start their own company.
Moshik Raccah: I think the best advice I can give them is "Don't do it." [laughter] It's pure insanity to do something like that, so if you've got a good, steady job that you actually like, think again. No, but seriously, doing a startup is not something you do because you think you're going to be eventually successful and be a billionaire like Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. That probably wouldn't happen.
If you're leaving a large company to do something of your own, it's such a burning passion within you that you absolutely have to do it. It's not because you want to do it, but because you know that you would not survive if you continue working for a large corporation... That you need to set your own destiny, that you need to try to pave your own path. You don't do it just because you feel like "One day I'll be rich." That's not the right motivation.
Paul Kemp: I love that. That's why this is a genuine podcast. We definitely share the wrong reasons to do it. So you must have had your idea whilst working for your company; how did you come across this idea of connecting with helpful professionals?
Moshik Raccah: It's actually two things that happened in parallel. We didn't start with this exactly. When we set up on doing Silo, I was actually working with investors; I was helping startup companies get funded, and I was helping investors find their next great opportunity. I was doing quite well at that, but then I noticed something pretty interesting. I noticed that the investors have very little information about the companies that they invest in, almost next to nothing... Especially the early stage investors; I'm not talking about the big VC's, but the early stage investors who put in 15k, 20k, 25k in a company, and then not hear anything from the company for the next 2-4 years... And not being able to help, not being able to do anything for them.
We said, "Okay, maybe that's something we can help solve", and the journey we started with for Silo was trying to connect the founders with their investors and allow the investors to see how their companies are doing, so they can help them.
Something really interesting happened on this journey. We built this, we got really good feedback from investors, we started building the system, the investors absolutely loved it, they came in droves, some of them even asked their founders to come in... But then we found something really interesting happening; the founders wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. They just wanted to avoid our system like the plague. They wouldn't want to update their investors, and the main reason they didn't want to update their investors despite knowing how important it is was because it puts them in a sensitive position. Almost every single startup has ups and downs, and if you ask a founder to update every month on the first of the month, it might be actually during the down cycle instead of the up cycle. And many founders are concerned that if they update with bad news, then the investors are going to desert them when that matters the most.
They've actually got a good point in that; they actually have seen that happen more than once. So we understood that we've built a system that only the investor side wants to use, but the founders wouldn't even touch it, don't want to be there. It's not like we'd never expected that to happen, but we expected behavior that's a little bit more like what happens in CRM sales systems, where the sales VP requires the sales managers to use a specific system... But this wasn't the case here. The investors said "We don't actually care if they don't update us. It's up to them. If they want, they can; if they don't, that's fine, too." That's something we didn't take into account.
So we understood that we have a big problem, because without the founders' collaboration, without their cooperation, we're not going to have anything - we're not going to have the investors, we're not going to be able to charge anyone, and we're dead in the water. So we had a problem. What we decided to do at that point on the advice of an investor that told us "Go check what the founders want." So we went ahead, and even though we've invested quite a bit of time and effort and sweat equity in building something, we said "Okay, we'll put all this aside. Let's go interview a few founders; let's go talk to founders - we know a lot of them - and let's see what they really want."
We started speaking to them and discovered something really interesting. Maybe it's not so surprising, but founders need a lot of help. They are always trying to learn from other people; this is why your podcast, I guess, exists. They're trying to learn from other people's experience, they need other people's help, but the one demographic that they don't want to ask for help is their investors. They would much better prefer to be in touch with other founders. They would much rather prefer to ask other founders for help, for advice, than their investors.
We said, "Okay, we can help with that", so we built a system that connects founders with each other and makes it really easy to help one another. The founders liked it so much that they said "Why just us? Why not a VP of marketing? Why not the CTO? Why not the person in charge of customer support? Anybody can use this kind of thing, and everybody should, because if it's helpful and other people can help each other, then let's have everybody in there." That's when we started to grow. That's when they started telling each other about the system and that's when people started registering in droves and using it on a daily basis.
Paul Kemp: Moshik, what I love about the advice you've just given there and the story is that it covers like three major themes that I keep picking up on this podcast. One is the fact that you are really focusing on solving a problem. The second one is that you had the courage to pivot, and the third is that you actually seek feedback from ultimately your user base, your customers. Those three things are picked up on and are major themes running throughout the episodes.
I'm interested in what are the biggest challenges of the founders you see? What sort of help are they seeking? Can you categorize it and put it into like the top-trending problems that they face?
Moshik Raccah: I think the number one for every founder -- probably the simplest one is information. "I'm looking for a lawyer. I'm looking for somebody who could connect me to someone else. I'm looking for information about how to do this or how to do that" or "Maybe you can connect me to a service provider of this sort." These are probably the most common ones. Another one is recruiting, "We're looking to hire a developer", but it's constant...
If you look at a small company, when the founder has a team of maybe five, six or ten people, you always need something; you're not like Larry Page at Google, that has teams of people to do everything they need. In this case, the founder might need just a quick question, like "How do you do ISO-compliance? What's the best way to handle penetration testing when a customer asks us?" These types of questions are best answered when you turn them to a community of founders; you'll get answers within minutes.
Paul Kemp: Let's talk about some of the challenges you may have in building this out. When I'm in communities, one of the biggest challenges I think of, and especially some of the Slack communities I'm in - there's a lot of self-promotion...
Moshik Raccah: Of course.
Paul Kemp: How do you actually go through the process of curating some of the things?
Moshik Raccah: Constantly, constantly. Actually, this is a big problem with communities everywhere. When you feel that people don't know you very well, a lot of people tend to turn to self-promotion. There's a few things that we did. First, the application itself guides you not to tell about yourself, but to ask for what you need.
The basic action or the basic activity that you do on Silo is ask for something you need. And it's harder to self-promote when you're asking for help or you're asking a question... So that's the first thing that happens. But then we also curate. If someone let's say advertises their services instead of asking for help, we first tell them that this is not the way that you're supposed to use the system, this is not how our community behaves, and you need to ask for what you need, but you cannot advertise your solutions and you cannot push solutions to other people.
Then if they ignore the friendly advice that we give them, we go all the way to removing their post. If that doesn't help, we even block users. That's happened before, as well. But most of the users, when you explain the rules of the community, are very kind and behave by the community guidelines, which is to ask and help when you can.
Paul Kemp: Within the communities -- I know some of the communities I belong to have different categories... You mentioned recruiting, or specific technical questions. Do you have a system of breaking down the different categories?
Moshik Raccah: Inside the main Silo community there are communities based on topics and based on roles; people can belong to different communities based on their interests. There are communities for CEOs, there are communities for CTOs, there are communities for product managers... And also by topics. People who are looking for jobs - there are specific subcommunities where people can post jobs and can reply to jobs. But it's mostly by role. Most of the people join communities by role, and are able to collaborate there with people with the same role... So marketing people together, sales people together, and so on.
Paul Kemp: I'm actually guessing that one of the big competitors, I guess, are all the big social networks. LinkedIn have all the groups, but you often go into these groups and they are very challenging to get any information, and they kind of deteriorate.
Moshik Raccah: True.
Paul Kemp: So you're finding that a lot of people are just not very happy with the existing communities out there and are looking for some solid communities - is that right?
Moshik Raccah: Yes, absolutely. We're seeing this, and we're also seeing it in the responses we get. There's a few things that Silo members say to us constantly about why they stick with Silo versus LinkedIn and so on. The first one is because it's all about asking and helping, they get a lot less noise. People really dislike self-promotion, just like you mentioned. That's one of the things that are inconvenient in other communities. In Silo there's very little of that; there's a lot of good questions, there's a lot of request for help, and the entire application is geared towards helping those who help. The more you help, the more reputation you get in the system, the more advantages you get in the system... So it's really geared towards helping other people, and it also helps you very easily create relationships and actually get to know the people behind the questions. So it's not just about questions and an answer, but you can actually ask for a favor, an introduction, something's that's a little bit more challenging than just a question and answer. People do that and people help each other, which I think is absolutely beautiful.
Paul Kemp: Moshik, one of the things we're in danger of is you're actually picking up on probably every single big theme of this podcast, because you're also talking about the importance of networking and helping; the more you add value to the network, the more you get back. How important is networking for you in what you're doing?
Moshik Raccah: I believe in our business as founders it's probably one of the most important things that you can do... Again, because we rely so much on other people's help that are not getting paid by us, they need a motivation to do that. Let's say if tomorrow I need a meeting at Google or I need a meeting at Facebook or something else for my company, I'm going to have to rely on the kindness of strangers, in a way, in order to get that. The only way to do this and to get that help when I actually need it is to be helpful to people before. I truly believe in networking, and I even run a networking organization here in Silicon Valley, and the reason I do that is because I know that if I contribute and help people, then I'll get it back in the future. And I don't do it because I'll get it back in the future, but I know that when the time comes and I need something, I will get it. There will be a lot of people that will be willing to help.
So that's what I do - I simply go out of my way to try to help everybody I can. I still have my company to build and do other things, but when I can help someone, there's nothing better to build a relationship than helping them. It's so much better than just exchanging business cards or doing things like that. Truly be helpful to other people. If I can do that, I know that one day -- it's almost like cash that you have in the bank; one day you're going to rely on that when you need something else.
Paul Kemp: I love that metaphor, yes - the more you deposit, the more you get back... Depositing good will and being helpful. As we draw this to a conclusion - we're running out of time here - in the last few minutes I'd love to pick up on the fact that you have tens of thousands of startups and tech professionals in your system... Do you ever look at the statistics of who's joining? Are there any trends that you're seeing and new startups coming on board? Are there any big trends you can draw from your user base?
Moshik Raccah: We can see the same things that I suppose everybody else is doing, because a lot of communities on Silo are based on professional topics, so you can easily see what's hot... Now it is cryptocurrencies and AI. I can see that in the number of new communities being open all the time on these topics, which is really interesting.
Another thing that we see is that because a lot of folks are using Silo to hire, to find the next person, we can see what they're looking for in terms of trends, in terms of development trends, what are the skillsets that are most in need, and because there's so many jobs, we can also see who's joining in order to find a job, and where... That's interesting, as well. Simply to find a job.
Paul Kemp: How's it going for anyone looking for podcasters?
Moshik Raccah: Oh, for podcasters? [laughter] I think they'll be in high demand now.
Paul Kemp: You know, I often pick myself when I hear about cryptocurrencies and look at the price of Bitcoins, because I was in two mines two years ago; I have big jump into blockchain and Bitcoin and I did do a little bit of playing around, and then there's this calculator that comes out that says "If you'd have invested this much in Bitcoin two years ago..."
Moshik Raccah: Yes, that's so true. [laughter] But it's never too late. I think with Bitcoin we're being still ahead of the curve. When your aunts and uncles that have nothing to do with software or the startup industry start buying Bitcoin, that's the time to get in.
Paul Kemp: Yes. But finally then, you've jumped ship, and here you are now... Obviously, I can tell from the way you talk about Silo you're amazingly passionate about this whole field. Has it been worth it then, this long-awaited comeback? Is it worth it? Have you enjoyed your time with the new startup?
Moshik Raccah: If you're doing something that you're truly passionate about, you enjoy every day. It's not about the outcome. Again, I think that anybody who's just looking for the outcome, being a billionaire, or being immensely successful - it's not about that. If you're enjoying the day-to-day, you feel creative, you feel like you're helping people, you're building a product that actually matters in people's life - that's the reward. It's the everyday that matters. Are you doing something that makes you feel great in the morning and you're excited to start your day? That's the most important, because if it's not, then you won't survive in this business.
Paul Kemp: Yes, Moshik, that's what I try to do on this podcast - get inspiration from the fact of reframing what it means to have a purpose-filled, driven life. We all get obsessed with the outcome, which is a big exit, money, or maybe even metrics - we're obsessed with app downloads and all these vanity metrics... And yet, just talking to you, there's a bigger purpose, which is having a purpose to get up in the morning. Thanks for inspiring us.
What's the best way of getting access to Silo and also connecting with you? What's the best way of getting in touch?
Moshik Raccah: Go to your nearest App Store and type "Silo." It's as simple as that. Helpful startup communities. I think your audience specifically would be happy to have every one of them. If the audience is founders that are looking to learn more, to do more, need access to Silicon Valley, or just want to help each other, I think it's a great place to be.
Paul Kemp: Wonderful. Moshik, thank you so much. There will be show notes on episode 535; just go to theappguy.co and you'll be able to also get links to various ways to connect with Moshik.
Thanks very much for coming on and inspiring us all. All the best for the next future with Silo.
Moshik Raccah: Thank you very much for having me, and I look forward to hearing the next episode myself.