This December marks Vodori’s 15th year. If Vodori were a person, they would start driving next year. Jim Hussey (a member of our Board of Directors) once remarked that the company is basically the founders’ first child. Like all parents of teenagers, we’ve definitely learned a ton along the way and, like all parents, we’ve mostly made it up as we went. We’ve made countless mistakes. We’ve experienced profound joy and a sense of achievement on the many highlights. We’ve logged our share of sleepless nights and desperate moments too. And with each peak and valley, we grow a little wiser and more capable. As I reflect on the last 15 years, flipping through photos or rereading my customer notebooks, I realize that while many things have changed, much has stayed the same. These are the five lessons I’ve learned in the past 15 years of being the founder of a growing SaaS company.
#1: Your work is a mirror.
They say that a company’s culture is a reflection of its leaders, particularly the founders. I agree. I take great pride in seeing how our values–long before we put them to paper–showed up in how we hired and promoted, what we celebrated, and how we operated. We’ve also become familiar with our weaknesses, and worked hard to surround ourselves with people who offset our gaps. I’ve also learned that culture and values are not permanent. As Vodori matured and our business model evolved, we incorporated subtle shifts in our values. Some values have remained steadfastly unchanged; others were (and will continue to be) added to reflect the next stage of our journey.
#2: Building a business is a team sport
As a founder, you’re never truly alone, even though it will feel that way at times. From co-founders and colleagues; to advisors and mentors; to investors and customers–they all want you to win. They want to help you to win. Growing a community takes time and, importantly, humility. This last pearl of wisdom took a while for me to learn.The same hubris that convinces you to quit your job and start a company because “you can do it better than (fill in the blank)” is also going to fight pulling in seasoned professionals (i.e., grownups with grey hair) to help. And so as I reflect on these last 15 years, I am humbled by the dedication and commitment of the past and present contributors to our success. Now I have the grey hair. I’d probably have less if I welcomed help sooner.
#3: It helps when you genuinely like your customers.
Nearly every business on the planet has some version of a customer-first ethos. It makes sense. “Treat well those who pay you” ticks a lot of business plan boxes. The tricky part is that customers are actually people and we know how that can go. But for Vodori, our customers are inventing, manufacturing, and delivering products that help cure diseases and make life more livable. I am proud of the role Vodori plays in helping our customers do what they do. I respect what they do. I respect how hard it is. And while not all companies in the industry are model citizens (every lawn has a few weeds), life sciences is truly an amazing group of companies. Vodorians know this. It helps explain the unsung extra efforts our team puts forth each day. We are literally rooting for our customers in the hopes that their life-saving drugs and devices will get to market quickly to help those who need it most.
#4: There’s no greater joy than creating useful products
Even in Vodori’s early days, it was incredibly important to me that we had the breadth of skills to develop an informed, differentiated point of view (aka a no-shit good idea) and translate that to a real life, useful, high-quality piece of software. Not just pretty pictures or executive summary slides. Over the years, we’ve continually improved on how to successfully move from concept to shippable enterprise software. Navigating constraints, finding compromises across priorities, pleasing most of the people most of the time … the process requires both art and science to work. I’m extremely proud of how our team has consistently excelled in this area.
#5: It never gets easier, but it gets more fun.
Years ago when Vodori was a pre-teen and we were in the throes of a months-long software release or customer project, I remember thinking “once we complete this project, it’ll be sooo much better.” Dozens of milestones later, I now know that as soon as you climb the mountain, there will be another, still higher peak right behind. This too takes time to learn, to catch your thinking early and reframe. To have a plan, but also to be ready for the unplanned. Customer, market, team, global viruses … you name it–there is always something waiting to lay down a little Murphy’s Law.
Our mission is simple: to help companies get their products to patients faster. The more impact we can generate, the better. We’re on pace to double the number of customers using Pepper Flow in 2020 and 2021. That’s more users, more Vodorians, more of a lot of things. And I’m excited to tackle both the planned and unplanned challenges.
As we check off this amazing 15-year milestone, I am thrilled to continue this journey knowing that as long as we continue to respect these “truths,” we will grow as individuals, as a team, and as a market force in our industry. Our ability to help our customers will ultimately help all of us live fuller, healthier lives. My most sincere thanks to all our partners, investors, mentors, customers, colleagues, and my co-founders. Happy Holidays to all!