November 30, 2022

Solving For Uncertainty w/ Maria Davidson

Learn how the Founder and CEO of Kojo built a framework to solve her most uncontrollable problems as a startup founder from raising capital to overcoming imposter syndrome.

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The host

Nima Gardideh

President of Pearmill, ex-Head of Product at Taplytics, ex-Head of Mobile at Frank & Oak. YC fellow.

Our guest(s)

Maria Davidson

CEO & Founder, Kojo

About this episode

Maria Davidson, Founder & CEO of Kojo has a strong framework for solving problems and distilling issues down to their simplest forms.

She dives in with Nima how she solves for uncertainty, like the current economic shifts and fundraising climate this year versus last plus why founders should always stay customer centered when building products.

More highlight include:

  • What the difference is between the banking grind and the founder grind?
  • How she recovered from imposter syndrome in the early founder days?
  • How having a mentor (like Joe Lonsdale, Founder of Palantir) framed how she problem solved?
  • What self regulation practices both her and Nima implement into their lives to be better founders? (hint: they include meditation, biking, and climbing)
  • How she infiltrated the construction and materials world by building a best in class B2B SaaS platform?

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Want to share your hyper-growth story with us? Email nima@pearmill.com to be a guest.

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[00:00:00] Maria Rioumine Davidson: I think for me, what's been very helpful is, and it sounds very basic, but, it's actually true, right? Is really focusing on what you can affect. So I think to me, whenever I notice that my mind starts going into kind of, into a state of thinking, Oh no, this thing is broken. Like woe is me.

[00:00:22] It's actually bringing it down and saying, Well, let's hyper localize the problem. What exactly is broken? And I always find it's not helpful to not use terms like broken, actually define the problem, right? What is the thing that isn't working the way that you want it to? Or what is the thing that is causing the problem? Or specifically what is the problem that you're going through? And then taking that problem and thinking through what can you do about it? 


Transcript of the episode

[00:00:50] Nima Gardideh: Hello, welcome to another episode of The Hypergrowth Experience. I am your host, Nima Gardideh. This episode is with my friend Maria Rioumine. She's the founder and CEO of Kojo, a leading materials management platform. We've known each other for quite a few years. I'm very grateful to have spent the time recording this conversation with her.

[00:01:13] We talked a lot about managing your internal state as a founder and how that comes into play when you're trying to grow a business and going through the challenges that come in front of you. I do truly believe it's a huge part of growing businesses and building businesses in general, and it's a topic that's not discussed enough out there and I'm very grateful for.

[00:01:37] Her ability to be vulnerable and open and honest about her imposter syndrome and how she's gone through her journey as a founder, and we got into talking about her B2B SaaS business and how close to the customers she still is, and for the beginning and going in there and trying to figure out how to solve their problems and understanding the problem space.

[00:01:57] Getting into it and building sort of like a long term plan of here are the things that we need to do in order to solve this bigger problem that we've discovered. And if you're a founder or thinking about expanding product market fit, I think it's one of the most interesting conversations I've been a part of.

[00:02:13] We start with her sharing her entry into the business world while she was at Oxford and immediately after that, joining as an Analyst in Goldman Sachs. Here's Maria.

[00:02:26] Maria Rioumine: I started at Goldman, where on the M&A side in London, real estate, healthcare, and consumer was one big team. So I started off there and, I think for a couple of reasons. I think number one is I studied politics, philosophy, and economics at university and that's right. Very, very broad.

[00:02:46] And I came out of that thinking I've just read a lot of philosophy, but I really felt like I didn't really understand finance, right? Or how companies actually worked, or really in many ways, right, how the world worked. And so I wanted to go. Into banking really to loan the basics, Right? I wanted to understand, how do you evaluate companies?

[00:03:07] How do transactions happen? What types of transactions happen? And just really to get a better understanding of how the financial world functions. And Goldman of that was fantastic because they literally send you to New York where you have a six week training program where you're sitting in a classroom every day throughout the summer, essentially learning all of those basics, which, I subsequently learned a lot of people had learned in college because a lot of people actually study finance.

[00:03:36] But if you come from studying things that are a lot more abstract, I thought that that was really, just helpful. And then the other thing is honestly, I think for us at university, entrepreneurship wasn’t a real consideration is that I never really known anyone who'd become an entrepreneur, especially who had become an entrepreneur straight out of college.

[00:03:57] And so I think across most of my friends, right, a lot of people became journalists. A lot of people went into law, people became consultants, people became, everything from sort of doctors, bankers, like a lot of the traditional careers and it was interesting because later moving to the US I saw what a big difference it made if there were a lot of alumni who had gone into entrepreneurship. 

[00:04:19] Because I found that right? Friends of mine who'd gone to, let's say Stanford, there was a lot more of them who saw entrepreneurship as a real career path and not something that you can eventually get to. But first you need to take this meandering route across sort of more established.

[00:04:37] Nima Gardideh: And was that on your mind from the beginning that you might start stuff and the secondary question is just where did you go to college, that didn't have a lot of entrepreneurship built into it?

[00:04:48] Maria Rioumine: Honestly, no. I always thought I'd actually go into politics. I went to Oxford. And at Oxford I got very involved in student politics and I ran this thing called the Oxford Union, which is a large, it's a debating society. But also Oxford is collegiate, so it's made up of 30 or so colleges.

[00:05:07] And the union is one of the only bodies that actually centralizes all of the colleges and that hosts all of the debates, the balls, the speakers that come and has this really beautiful sort of building in the middle of town. And through that I got to meet so many really, really fascinating people, right at sort of the age of 20 or 21.

[00:05:30] And I remember thinking, Wow, this is really fascinating. And so many of them came from politics. And I remember back then thinking, well, to me, especially growing up Jewish a huge concept for me has always been this concept of tikkun olam, which translates in Hebrew to fixing the world. And what it really speaks to is right, that your goal is to leave the world better than how you found it.

[00:05:56] And especially through that Oxford Union experience. I had internalized that the way to do that was by going into politics, right? It was by going into politics, like holding elected office and then being able to enact policies that make the world a better place. And to me what was fascinating in moving to the US and this by the way, again, I know you and I have spoken about this before, but I think that's hours of content on its own was this realization that actually you didn't need a 30 year career before you can go into politics and start making a difference. You could start making a difference in your twenties just by finding problems and solving them.

[00:06:37] Nima Gardideh: I didn't know about your student union life. I was also on a couple, so it's funny. So the Canadian model is very similar to the English model in that collegiates. And there's like university and there's a lot of sort of colleges within the university. And when I was in school for the couple of years that I was, and I was also on these student boards, which I thought were quite useful. It was such an interesting thing to learn on how to first organize and then host debates and have people attempt to communicate in more, more systemic ways.

[00:07:15] I'm super curious to, I wish I could put you in a room with your old, like with your younger self now. Um, cuz I think a lot about that. I also thought I would get into politics before I was an entrepreneur. For very similar reasons and I'm always curious, but I, how I would even like be able to communicate with

[00:07:40] the a 19 year old version of myself who thought the best, fastest way to create impact in the world was to join the sort of political class and attempt to connect people in that way and solve problems. So, but you decide to go in a totally different direction after school, which is interesting.

[00:08:01] So you went to Goldman, you did a couple years there. Do you feel like it was useful that you said you wanted to learn and you, it sounds like that first summer was very useful. Was it useful to go through the process of actually being there for a couple years?

[00:08:14] Maria Rioumine: So I was there for a year and a half, and yeah, I definitely think it was useful. I think, especially at the time coming in as your first professional experience, what to me was more useful than even any of the content that you learn is how a really successful organization functions.

[00:08:34] and Goldman, I think, do an amazing job at just recruiting in that the class around me was full of unbelievably talented and just really, really smart people who are also just really passionate about making impact in the world. And to this day, some of my best friends come from that group.

[00:08:51] But I think a lot of what was really useful was also learning what hard work was like Goldman definitely teaches you a lot of discipline. Back then it was a lot of hours and so it really teaches you what it's like to operate in a professional setting, right? How to intentionally communicate, how to set expectations, how to hold people accountable and yourself accountable to those expectations.

[00:09:14] How to pace yourself, how to, really frame okay, the projects that you're doing and the work that you're doing, and how to contextualize that across sort of, okay, well what is the bigger picture? What are we actually trying to achieve here? And I think for all of that, yeah, it felt like a very fast crash course of 18 months and just going from, Oh, I'm a student.

[00:09:37] I have complete freedom as to what I'm doing. Especially, Oxford is a tutorial model, so you actually have infinite freedom. It's a model where you meet with a tutor, let's say once a week and it's either one on one or sometimes two on one or three on one, but you come with an essay prepared and you just discuss that essay.

[00:09:57] So it's very, very freeform. Whereas Goldman was kind of the opposite of that, right? It was very quick deadlines. There's deadlines sometimes happen within the same 24 hours. And I think to that end, it was a very good exposure and to just what the professional walking world was like. Yeah, and I think, and about a year in is when I went actually to Burning Man and then afterwards was in San Francisco.

[00:10:22] I ended up meeting Joe Lonsdale. He told me about the startup that he was building that also was really, to me completely matched with this concept of deco alarm and just fixing broken industries, right? Fixing areas of the economy that weren't working as effectively as they should be and then I sort of thought to myself, Yeah, that sounds like the next thing.

[00:10:44] Nima Gardideh: So that was the trigger. So you would've continued on in Goldman for at least a little bit more if you hadn't seen this opportunity on your plate.

[00:10:52] Maria Rioumine: Yeah, it's counterfactuals are always difficult, I think potentially. But also that opportunity to me was just so unusual. To the earlier point of coming from a more traditional career path, thinking of thinking, well, you go into banking or consultancy, and then maybe you move to private equity, then maybe you go to a hedge fund, right?

[00:11:15] Like there's a path maybe somewhere in between all of that. You go to a business school. I think to me, the opportunity to work with Joe and build this fund, which  now is 8VC, was just so un out of that whole trajectory. So it definitely accelerated my wanting to just go and do something completely different.

[00:11:37] I also, I think in your twenties, especially in your early twenties, right, there's such a low cost of trying new stuff. That part of it to me was less thinking about moving to the US as some sort of grand career transition. It was also saying, Wow, this actually looks really cool. Let's try and see if it works. And then if not, we can try something else. And if yes, then I mean it sounds amazing. So let's do it.

[00:12:04] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, I like that a lot. I think that the way I speak to my partner about this, of you have to have very low action potential in the early days of your life and your career and just do stuff and just throw ideas out there and see what sticks. And then you can sort of reevaluate that as you get older.

[00:12:22] But hopefully not too much. And I think the thing that I witness in some on my friends who are maybe like 10 or 15 or 20 years on. Is that they're not as nimble in decision making and for, for sometimes for very good reasons. But sometimes I wonder what a better model of sort of decision making can be when you're in your forties or fifties.

[00:12:46] Should you be as sort of like out audacious and going out there and trying out wild different things or should you be a little bit more concerned and think through all the possibilities? I don't and this is definitely an insecurity of mine. I don't wanna lose this part of myself of like extreme optimism.

[00:13:08] I think we can just figure it out part of me that shines through as an entrepreneur where I can definitely see some of my friends were in their like forties or especially in their fifties or onwards don't have that as much. It's interesting and I highly agree with you in your early twenties.

[00:13:27] That's what you should be doing. The thing that stood out for me, as you said that is first of all, Burning Man. Like, I think everyone should go to Burning Man. Sounds like it's a great idea but what’s funny that this year, the second guest I've had who said that they learned how to sort of effectively grind because they went to Goldman or sort of like the banking world.

[00:13:47] And I've obviously never been in that, in that world, but, it seems very hard and you're able to at all, be successful in it and doing it. And you felt like, it sounded like you felt like you could have continued doing it and this opportunity came along. There is like something special there.

[00:14:06] Do you feel like you grind as hard now as an entrepreneur or any other job you've had or was that sort of like specialized to that world that you were.

[00:14:15] Maria Rioumine: Yeah, no, great question. And actually just to put a pin in that, going back to the point about the sort of your early twenties being a time where you experiment more, I think advice that was given to me, I think when I was a teenager that I always found very helpful is thinking about the cost of mistakes, right?

[00:14:35] And I remember someone telling me up until the age of 25, you have a lot lower cost to any mistake that you make because you always have the essentially plausible deniability of saying, Well, I remember me 23, so I guess it didn't work out and at that point, right, you have most likely, and this obviously isn't true for everyone, but in my case, right, you have fewer dependents, you're extremely mobile, you don't really have anywhere that you need to be for any particular reason.

[00:15:06] And so to me, I thought that was always a really interesting mental frame because especially when, let's say you're running an organization, right? You are in a very leveraged position and the cost of errors starts becoming greater and greater. Because if you set, let's say, the company on the wrong direction, right?

[00:15:21] That is gonna affect way more people than just you. But I felt like when I was 23 and I was thinking, Well, let's go and try this sort of wild thing out there in the US I was like, well, this literally affects me. So in that case, the sort of the cost of error is lower. But to your point about the grind, I think running your own company, my experience has been that it ceases to be as much of a grind because it almost becomes your life.

[00:15:52] It's like you go so far east that you end up west, where I find that it becomes so much a part of what you do, right? I wake up and I think about the company and so many of my closest friends are people that I've worked with either directly on the company or investors or advisors of ours.

[00:16:12] And now let's say doing things outside of the company your social circle, right, starts becoming a lot of entrepreneurs where you talk a lot about company building or investors or I angel invest. And so I find that really interesting to talk about, but I think that now that's become really a part of my identity.

[00:16:34] And I think the different thing with, let's say working in banking was it's less your identity because you sort of stepped into a context that someone has shaped for you.

[00:16:46] And so there, I think, and I talk about this a lot with friends who are going through it, I think sometimes that feels more like a grind because it quite literally is a grind, right?

[00:16:56] Because you're like, I have work and I have my personal life and these are two different things. And the more time I spend working, the less time I spend on my personal life. And that feeling is the grind versus I think now it's kind of all blended together in a way where. I very often will go and exercise in the late afternoon, and then I'll come back and I'll do some work, and then I'll go have dinner, and then I'll come back and I'll answer some emails. It becomes really a part of just your true day to existence.

[00:17:27] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. So I obviously relate to this a lot. I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs do. Can we talk about the downsides of that a little bit? Because you effectively are identifying with your company. You are your company. Have you gone through like a pretty, I think you have, and I know you have, you've gone through like tough periods already, 

[00:17:50] Maria Rioumine: Many. Yeah. 

[00:17:51] Nima Gardideh: How do you think about those? Like how do you deal with those, when you identify so much with this company and who you are as a part of it and it's hurting at points or it's going through a tough time, do you find yourself also emotionally going through the same flows?

[00:18:09] Are you able to disconnect? Are there rituals you have around it? Like, how do you manage that?

[00:18:16] Maria Rioumine: Yeah, well I've definitely, as I'm a big fan of the ritual. I think to me, I mean, it is obviously very hard, right? When you identify with something so much and it's such a big part of what you do. Right? At this point, I've spent the vast majority of the last five years working on one thing and that's a huge amount of time.

[00:18:39] I think for me, what's been very helpful is, and it, it sounds very basic, but it's actually true, right? Is, is really focusing on what you can affect. So I think to me, whenever I notice that my mind starts going into, kind of go into a state of thinking, Oh no, this thing is broken. Like woe is me.

[00:19:02] It's actually bringing it down and saying, Well, let's hyper localize the problem. What exactly is broken? And I always find it's not helpful to use terms like broken, actually define the problem, right? What is the thing that isn't working the way that you want it to? Or what is the thing that is causing the problem?

[00:19:18] Or specifically what is the problem that you're going through? And then taking that problem and thinking through what can you do about it? And I've actually found instituting a written culture has been super helpful because whenever I have a problem that I notice starts weighing on me mentally, I'll go and I actually will pull up a Google doc and I'll start writing out what is the actual problem. It's this age old adage of as soon as you get it out on paper, it starts being less scary because you are like, you've written it out. And I sometimes will even write out like, what is the worst thing that can happen ? And once you find, what is the worst thing that can happen, you sort of know, okay, these are the parameters of the problem I'm dealing with.

[00:19:57] And then you jump into solutioning where you say, Okay, now that I know this happens, what can I do about it? Who are the people I can lean on? Something I think is unique about this moment in, is in many ways, building a company is easier than it's ever been because if you were building a company 30 years ago there was so much less literature, there was so much less content.

[00:20:19] There were so many people or so many fewer people around who you could ask for help from, or who you could read how they did something. At this point, I find whenever you localize the problem, it then becomes way easier to say, Oh, I know that this friend went through something similar, or I know that this person knows someone who went through something similar.

[00:20:38] Or actually, let me just see, what are the online benchmarks or like what's,  what can I find online about this problem? And I think being able to both leverage. People, but also just leverage the huge amount of knowledge that's been accumulated about how to build a company. I think that I find is always very stabilizing because it forces you away from unhelpful thoughts, which are really you going in a spiral thinking about why things are broken and it centers you back into, well, what is the problem and what can I do?

[00:21:09] Nima Gardideh: This makes so much sense to me as well. The way I put this is I want to focus on the crafts parts of what I can do, right? So like, my role in the company is X, Y, and Z as a founder. And so what that really means is that I do these things. This is where I have control and I wanna master those things.

[00:21:29] And so that means like on a day to day basis, so long as I'm working on getting better at those things that I have sort of control over is my job, um, then eventually things will work out. And it just turns out to be true, right? Like you just sit around and work on the things that you can actually push around and move forward and create momentum in, and the rest will follow.

[00:21:54] It's just harder for me, and I don't know if this is something you've dealt with, is it took me a while to get here. Like, I think intellectually I always understood what you're saying. It took me like two years to, from intellectually understanding that I need to sit down and write the thing down and come and especially talking about the worst case scenario, I write those down as well now.

[00:22:17] And now I do this thing where I will like write it down and then sit down and imagine I'm in that state and just deal with the emotions that would arise in that future state. Just so I can like, feel like I've already prepared myself for the worst case scenario and then I can go on with my day. Cuz I'm like, well, I've already dealt with the worst case.

[00:22:35] So, there's not much. It took me years to be comfortable with letting myself experience the worst case scenario. Are you, I guess, like, let's step backwards a couple steps. Like, what are your rituals around emotional sort of regulation? Are you doing therapy? Are you doing just physical activities, mental activities? What are you doing there?

[00:23:00] Maria Rioumine: Yeah, I think I similarly have been on a very long journey. I think if you'd have asked me that exact question once every year for the last five years, I'd have given you a different answer. I think, well now to me, the biggest focus has just been on building a healthy lifestyle, right? So it's been saying, Okay, I know that I love building this company, right?

[00:23:25] I love the team that I'm working with. I love what I do but also I know that, I'm in it for the long term, right? My goal here is to build something that's multi-generational. And so to do that right, you need to pace yourself. And so for me, a lot of that has been getting into a really healthy workout. I started lifting weights, which is something that pre pandemic, I literally, it's not that I never did it, it's that I never even thought about doing it I never thought to myself, Oh, what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna go to the gym and try to squat 40 pounds and see how that goes. But that's actually been huge in now two or three times a week I'll waitlist.

[00:24:02] I love racket sports, so once or twice a week I'll play tennis, I'll play squash. I really got into cycling, so every weekend on Saturday we'll do a nice long bike ride. And I find that extremely mentally clearing. Almost because you're pushing so hard, you can't think about anything beyond literally the roads that you're on and you're going fast and you're so focused because you're so in the moment.

[00:24:28] You don't even have space to think about anything else. And also I think to me, being in a healthy partnership, I know you and I have spoken about this a lot, but that's also been a huge part of it, right? Of learning how to be a good partner and how to just build really good habits of every night we have dinner together, and dinner is a time where we're really present and we will like everything from just like watching a show to turn your brain off to we love playing board games, so, doing that? like, Yeah. No, you've been forced into a lot of board game nights.

[00:25:06] But I think right now that's been huge of just creating a really healthy. Almost like a healthy schedule that feels both aligned in terms of getting your mind off of work, but also actually aligned to things that I wanna focus on in the long term, which are things like mental and physical health.

[00:25:28] And I think if I look back on the last five years, getting to today has been a journey of fast going to therapy and really unpacking a lot of, Hey, where do I feel blocked and where do I feel like, , I'm just not as happy as I should be. It was learning to meditate, which, I think it was soccer 2019 was by big meditation year was when I found that to be the best way to sort of take time to just be really present every day.

[00:25:58] I truly think every year I went through each step, like each one of those practices, and I found that each practice kind of unlocked the next practice where I said, Okay, well, even if it's not about. No. Now I don't meditate as much as I used to, but the thing that I really took away was, wow, habit is extremely powerful.

[00:26:20] Just knowing that you have something at a set time every day is gonna give you a real structure to your day. And so I took that and now, I've applied the two things, like working out. So, I definitely think there's a big evolution in that. I think had I not done the earlier part of that, there's no way that today, I'd be, I think as happy as I feel.

[00:26:45] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that's, that's so interesting. I feel the same about. so many of these things I have, I have similar analogs on almost everything you said. The biking thing is interesting. I've never found a lot of interest in biking, but, what you described is exactly how I feel when I climb. Cuz when you're climbing you're like, Oh my God, I cannot be possibly thinking about anything else right now because I'm gonna fall on my ass if I don't focus completely and be here and be present.

[00:27:15] And I find that, I think similarly, there's different things you can pull out of all these practices that have so much wisdom in them, right? There is like meditation of all the, it's different kinds of psychedelics for me have also been very helpful. But after I Figure out what the thing it is that they provide.

[00:27:38] In my opinion, you can kind of go back into that state when you need to. Right. So when I'm climbing, I feel like I'm meditating, right? Um, there are moments where I want to feel connected to everything around me and everyone around me. So, I'm not on psychedelics constantly throughout the day, but I want to feel connected sometimes.

[00:27:57] And so I imagine being, like, I imagine that I'm here on this ball in, in space and I'm going around the sun, and I literally will like, raise my hands and be like, Woo, I am on this ball in, on, in the space and feel small, which then makes me feel connected to everything, right? And so there's so much truth in all of these different practices and rituals out.

[00:28:24] Who convinced you to meditate? I definitely also wanna go back and before we get to what you're building now, and we already talked about the emotional aspects of it, but what was the trigger for you to start meditating is, I'm super curious how people get started there?

[00:28:40] Maria Rioumine: It was, and I'll actually tie this to an earlier point that you made, which is, I especially starting out, in my early twenties on my entrepreneurial sort of path, I used to find imposter syndrome so overwhelming and I think, I mean, I think this is true for many people, but especially with a lot of female founders that I've spoken to, I think they.

[00:29:04] Stories resonate so much of, I used to feel like I needed to ask permission to do just about anything. Like I would literally ask questions like, But am I allowed to do this? Or am I allowed to do that? And I always felt like, well, it's my first time trying to do something and, I am not a, I haven't spent 20 years perfecting this discipline, so what could I possibly know and how could I even have an opinion if it's not a thoroughly informed opinion, and is my opinion worthwhile at all?

[00:29:37] And I think I used to really struggle with that and to me, meditation actually was something that came kind of out of that of. And I'll get into how I got into meditation, but a lot of that path, I remember once sitting with one of my best friends, and he literally was like, just stop this.

[00:29:59] And we walked over to his office in his apartment and he had kind of like a whiteboard and he literally wrote on it, you are smarter than you think, And he was like, just internalized this and if you're listening Anthony, shout out. But to this day, that to me was such a poignant moment because he literally sat me down and was like, You keep asking if you, , if you can have permission to ask a question, just ask it.

[00:30:26] And again, think about what's the worst thing that will happen. Okay. Maybe your question will sound stupid. Maybe you'll make a wrong decision. The cost of an action is much greater than action. Right. And the thing that now. I see and value so much is being able to build these empirical feedback loops for yourself where you're actually not afraid of doing something because whether it goes right or wrong.

[00:30:51] The really important thing is that that loop is gonna close. You're gonna get feedback on the action that you took, and you're gonna be able to know, how do I do this thing better in the future? And if it worked, why? If it didn't work, why not? And I think for me, as I started thinking, Okay, yeah, you're right, I can just start breaking things down into smaller chunks.

[00:31:12] I started feeling just way more energy. Like I think in the earliest stages of the company, I used to feel really tired cuz all these big problems just weighed on me so heavily. And then I started feeling way more energized because I used to think, Well, now let me just break down these problems into sub problems.

[00:31:30] And the more of those feedback loops that I went through, the kind of freer I started feeling, right, the freer I started thinking, Well, I'm just gonna write out a document with my thoughts. They're not gonna be perfect. They're also not necessarily gonna have perfect conclusions, but they're gonna have hypotheses or they're gonna have conclusions drawn based off of the data that I have at a given time.

[00:31:51] And as I started seeing that, I just had a lot more energy, I started thinking to myself, Wow, how can I have even more energy? And that's when. I was talking to another one of my very close friends and he said, Oh, you should really try meditating. I found that it's amazing for giving you more energy because again, especially in transcendental meditation, you do it 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the afternoon, and it gives you a complete time to just detach.

[00:32:19] Right? Where for those 20 minutes, the only thing you're doing is sitting with your eyes closed and repeating a mantra, and again, to the point of abstracting things away from any given practice. To me, that abstraction was, and , I think you see it in a lot of religious rituals too, was just giving you a singular point of focus that for long periods of time, you just have one thing to care about.

[00:32:44] Right. And that's what you get from climbing. That's what I get from cycling. It's the same thing. It's like when I'm cycling, the only thing I care about is staying on the bike. Right? 

[00:32:56] Nima Gardideh: Not falling. 

[00:32:57] Maria Rioumine: Yeah, exactly. Like not crowding into something and that to me was kind of what unlocked meditation was saying, Oh, well, let me, it was actually a friend, um, gave it to me as a gift. He said, I'm gonna hook you up with a teacher. You're gonna do this 30 days course, and if you like it, just pass it on to someone else. Right. Pay it forward. If you don't like it, whatever, it's my gift to you. And so I did that and I really loved it. Again, because it just, I think it helped clear my mind a lot, at a time where I was really starting to sort of feel those dopamine hits from having a clear mind has so many benefits.

[00:33:40] Nima Gardideh: I generally think about it as a mechanism to increase the span in which you can focus. And so meditation is one that does a very good job. That's why I got into climbing. Because you do that with your body. You have to sit and look at this problem for a while, and you have to imagine what your body feels like before you go up there, because by the time, if you're problem solving up there, you're gonna fail most of the time.

[00:34:08] And so it's kind of like how I have parallels to this with people who play chess where they have to imagine, and it's a visual way they do that, they visualize six or seven steps in the future. And I know your fiance is quite good at that and into that. And it's an interesting parallel for me with chess as well, where it feels like physical chess to me when I'm climbing.

[00:34:29] And for meditation, it feels like the mantra thing. I've never really tried. I've done Vippasana and I think we've talked about that form a lot. And it seems like micro focus. So I'm like scanning every inch of my body when I'm doing the past notes. It's like a little bit different and that gives me like body awareness in ways that is very different than the climbing than like Anapana, which is the more sort of like, focusing on your breath meditation.

[00:34:58] I really wanna try TM now. The mantra thing has gotta be interesting cuz you're basically also controlling your thoughts. You're just saying like, I want to say the same thing. It's like a totally different part of your mental state to try to increase again the span in which he can focus or the length in which he can focus in that area.

[00:35:14] Cool. So going back in time, you were in Goldman, you met Joe, who was Joe at this point? Like was he already working on Palantir? Was he just more on the finance side? Like give us the context in which you started working with Joe.

[00:35:29] Maria Rioumine: Yeah, so Joe was a co-founder of Palantir. He was a prolific entrepreneur. After Palantir, he co-founded the company called Addepar. After that, a company called OpenGov and sort of a series of companies after that. And when I met him, he was just on the cusp of starting a new fund, which would be a venture fund called 8VC where the tagline was sort of, the world is broken, let's fix it.

[00:35:54] And the thesis of the fund was investing in a lot of these very large industries where by modernizing and fixing core aspects of the workflow, you could make that whole industry work a whole lot better.

[00:36:07] Nima Gardideh: I like that a lot. I talk about this, we have a couple clients that I call, the way I talk about this internally is just they are making the economics in the world slightly more efficient. So there, there is like a supply chain of everything getting done. and then, so if you are like able to make that, any of them, especially if they're like big parts of the economy or the way the world functions marginally better, the impact at scale is huge, right?

[00:36:37] So if you make and is one of our, one of my favorite clients is called First Base and effectively what they do is they make it easier to start companies right now, especially if you're not in the US. So they're making a global economy easier to start to, they're making it easier for entrepreneurs globally to start companies with the reliance on US law, Delaware C Law for corporations here.

[00:37:02] And so that was quite interesting to me. We went in very early on and we're, we're now about to become investors in them as well because of that same reasoning of like, Oh yeah, there you are really doing this thing that you increase transactions at the sort of like economy scale. And that's very interesting to me. And so you were working, were you on the investment side, Were you helping Joe? Like what was your role again?

[00:37:24] Maria Rioumine: So I was Joe's Chief of Staff and at that time the fund was so new that right, as Chief of Staff, you were literally doing everything. You were helping on the investment side. You were also helping with literally everything from fundraising to building out an incubation program to literally all aspects of what it takes to get a fund off the ground.

[00:37:46] And I think to what you said, the thing that I was super inspired by in Joe's vision was focusing on these really big problems, right? Because again, you go back and this was around 2016 where there was this huge explosion of consumer internet. And there were a lot of companies I was seeing where I would always think that this is a really awesome product, but this problem is already solved.

[00:38:10] This is kind of making it a little bit better and more delightful. And there's a lot of value in doing that. But I would always think about what about those giant unsexy industries that people who, who build tech companies tend to not think about? Because that Venn diagram of people who know how that industry works and people who know how to build a tech company, the overlap of that Venn diagram is pretty slim.

[00:38:32] I loved the concept of focusing on big hairy problems. Because I've always believed it takes a lot of effort to solve any problem, whether it's a small problem or a big problem. So you may as well focus on the big problems. And when you dive into these large scale industries, right? For example, construction being an example of one.

[00:38:51] You have 7.5 million people in the US walking in the construction industry. That's huge. That means that if you can fix something that's core to how it is that the industry works, there are millions of people that are gonna see the benefit of that. And the second and third order consequence of that are also huge, right?

[00:39:14] Because industries like construction, like trucking, like freight, supply chain logistics, like all of these industries, they really affect so many things about how the world around us works and so that I really, really loved that, just the magnitude of that vision.

[00:39:34] Nima Gardideh: And so what, so I, and I know before you started this company, you had another, am I right about you? Had another company in the middle. But before we go to that chapter, what do you feel like it took away? Is there anything that, other than, so thinking about these industries obviously seems like one of the key takeaways from that time.

[00:39:56] At 8VC what was, gimme a story of how you feel like it, it changed who you are and the way you looked at the world and has helped you become the entrepreneur that you are now.

[00:40:09] Maria Rioumine: Oh, immeasurably! I look back at that time and I'm so incredibly grateful. And I really, really loved working with Joe, I think one of the things to me was the biggest takeaway was actually getting over that imposter syndrome that I'd mentioned. I think especially coming out of a British education system, a lot of that education system is geared around just constantly pointing out your deficiencies, right?

[00:40:37] It's consistently telling you, you are not good enough and here is the reason why. Um, and you even the grading system is very hard. Like to get a fast class degree, which is the best degree you can get, that's 70%. There is no such thing as getting a hundred. And I think to me, what was incredibly powerful and a huge learning experience in working on a fund and such an early stage of its life cycle was realizing that you needed to add value and that you could literally, that there was an infinity of ways for you to add value.

[00:41:14] I would sit there and say, Well, what are the things that I need to do right? In a chief of staff role, your purview is huge. And so many of those things were things that I realized, oh, I can actually affect them, right? From, okay, we need to help our portfolio companies hire engineers.

[00:41:33] Well, there's nothing stopping you, even if you didn't study computer science at university from just saying, Well, let me go and organize a hackathon and I'm gonna message people across all these different university campuses, and I'm gonna tell them, Hey, we have some really awesome photo companies building incredibly, exciting companies.

[00:41:51] Do you wanna come for a hackathon? And seeing that people actually say, Yeah, I'll show up. And at that point realizing and this obviously became a lot more relevant in the future, but realizing, I can actually really bring people together and meet really talented engineers and get them excited about big problems to solve.

[00:42:14] And I think at that time, pretty much weekly, I would sit there and just ask myself, how can I add value? And when you are a company like Goldman, which is huge, you don't have as much room to do that because everything has already, But those processes have already been built, right? Everything is quite structured.

[00:42:34] There are templates for most things that you wanna do. There are processes for most things that you wanna do. There are certain approval flows that you have to go through, and that's because it's a much more mature business when you are building out a fund from. It's infancy. You have to actually define those processes.

[00:42:51] And so I think to me, the thing that was most valuable was learning how you can stare at something that's a blank slate and start by saying, Okay, well we wanna build an incubation program. How are we gonna do that? Well fast, let's go out there and start building up a network of entrepreneurs and residents that we might wanna bring in.

[00:43:10] And then let's think about all the resources that we need to give to them in order to help ensure that they're successful and start building out networks of folks who are really excellent at design and engineering and product and all these other areas and that ability to kind of manifest something out of just a blank sheet of paper, I think was incredible and honestly an amazing learning experience because it's also hugely helpful, I think, when you are starting out your career in confidence building because you actually realize there was no process, No one told me how to do this. I figured it out on my own.

[00:43:45] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. And I must have felt so good to go through that. And I think I experienced that way later in my life where I had lost confidence as an entrepreneur and even as like someone who was able to get stuff done by the time I was in my mid to late twenties because of all the failed things I had worked on.

[00:44:04] Where it sounds like you. Launching into your entrepreneurial career, feeling very confident in your abilities to get stuff done. I had to rebuild that from scratch for this company and then feel like, Oh no, actually, turns out I'm pretty good at this stuff. But it had taken, it had been taken away from me. It's something I had when I was in college and then kind of lost it for a few years in the middle.

[00:44:25] Maria Rioumine: Well, especially plans. I feel like starting at the company, I was very confident. I was like, I've got this, I've built processes from scratch. I know what I'm doing. And then nine months in, you're building and it's just hard. Like, your fast customers are the hardest to sell.

[00:44:42] People take meetings with you, they cancel those meetings. You don't yet have a lot of social proof, right? Everyone asks, Well how many other customers do you have? You don't have a lot. And people are questioning, are you actually gonna build something of value? Like, does your product actually have proof points?

[00:45:00] And so I think that confidence was very quickly brought back down to earth when all the difficulties of. Company building set in. And then again, right, that loop continues of then you go back to the drawing board and you say, All right, well what are the things we can affect? Well, let's just focus on landing that fast customer.

[00:45:21] And then when you have that fast customer, you say, All right, now let's focus on two to five. Like, let's not concern us thinking about how are we gonna get to a hundred is gonna be of no value. Let's constrain the problem and think about two to five. Then you think about five to 20. Then when you have 20, you're like, Oh, now we have a lot of references and we have customers who love the product, and now we can get them to start building up case studies and testimonials.

[00:45:42] And then things get, kind of exponentially easier from then in terms of bringing on new customers. But then different challenges start kicking in, like, how do you now build a rapidly growing team? How do you start to actually institutionalize a lot of the values that made you successful at the beginning? So I think that that loop that you're referring to, right, It just keeps on 

[00:46:06] Nima Gardideh: It keeps on going. Yeah, no, I feel that there's definitely a lot of these reminders that I feel like I should have, like on an automated thing on my calendar of this tool shall pass. Right. And, I think you'll end up in, in them a lot. And, I don't know if you felt this, but this past year has been a little bit different for me because usually the problems I'm solving are more or less caused by the things around me.

[00:46:36] And like the things I do or the things I, that my team has done this year has been a little bit different where there's. Macro. I mean, not that COVID didn't change things for us, but it felt like, at least for our industry, it was fine. We were on a sort of boom. but this year has been the opposite, although maybe the reverse was true for you because you're in the more physical industry where COVID was something has slowed it down.

[00:47:06] And now we're going, we're about to go through a massive building frenzy. And that might be useful for your industry, but there's parts of it where it's not even in your control. It's things, things are happening because you cannot affect them. Do you deal with those things? Do you just like put 'em aside because, Well, I can't really control that, so I'm gonna put that aside because the recession is happening or the inflation is hurting.

[00:47:33] Our capital allocation or whatever it is, the things that you don't really have a lot of control over as an entrepreneur, do you feel like those things get in the way, or how do you really think about them rather?

[00:47:43] Maria Rioumine: I mean, this year was definitely very difficult, I think for any venture backed company because especially coming off the back last year, right? 2021. I remember speaking to so many investors and people were just saying, We've reached this new paradigm. A hundred x ARR is now the new standard

[00:48:02] things will only go up from here, right? There was this huge amount of optimism. Everyone wanted to do deals, everyone wanted to take meetings, right? Deals were, I think all series V got done in like less than 10 days from like fast meeting to multiple, to sheets in a very oversubscribed round. and last year I think.

[00:48:24] myself and a lot of people around me, everyone was like, we've really cracked this. Like, you're great. Time's out building a billion dollar company can happen way faster than you thought it could. And then this year I think things really just came crashing down into reality, right?

[00:48:41] Where it was like, no, which like the days of a hundred ARR multiples are long gone. And in fact, right now, if you look at the public markets, like if you're trading at a five to 10 x revenue multiple, that's already very high. And I think that that was a big moment of shift for us, because I think, especially just as a company. I very early on and this by the way, comes from just like a really fundamental belief in transparency.

[00:49:12] Like, I think a lot of people talk about transparency, but it's hard to actually practice it. And for us internally, it is something that I really, really focus on. Um, which is when it was clear that the markets were really starting to, to turn down. I just wrote out a memo again. I went back to my Google Docs, I started writing out the problem, writing out the solution, and I just sent out a memo to the team saying, Hey, I want everyone to get onto the same page here, which is, if what you are thinking about is that tech companies are gonna be valued at a hundred X a r and this growth is just gonna continue growing forever, and on paper it's all gonna look so fantastic for us.

[00:49:49] Like, I just want us to get really real around where in the different paradigm. And what matters now is operational efficiency, right? And what matters now is really going back to basics and focusing on what made our company successful in the first place, which is building a great product that fundamentally transforms life for our customers.

[00:50:11] And I think that that was a big shift because, I think that there's definitely a big dopamine hit that came, I think throughout the industry of last year. Everyone was like, we're walking at these multi-billion dollar companies that have grown so fast. And I think there's just a huge halo effect around that.

[00:50:32] And that's very different to this year saying actually, we are not gonna try to double our team year over year. We're actually gonna be a lot more thoughtful about, for every role saying is the, do we need to hire someone new to do this role? Or is there a way, does this role need to be done?

[00:50:56] Is there a way we can split up the responsibilities of this role across people on the existing team? Right? How can we have everyone step up and take more ownership?  And so I think that paradigm shift was definitely hard. I mean, on the construction side, you're right, right? Our customers have they build commercial projects.

[00:51:14] They build everything from solar plants to hospitals, to multifamily residential buildings to shopping centers and stadiums and school classrooms and university campuses. A lot of those things, right? They take many years to build. And so for them, they build up pipeline years in advance.

[00:51:32] And so, from a macro perspective, right, in our industry, our customers have a ton of projects ongoing, right? So many projects got commissioned over the last couple of years, and especially with the Biden infrastructure plans, right? There's a huge amount of just infrastructure improvements that are happening all across the country that our customers are working on.

[00:51:52] So from their perspective things have been really healthy and our customers have a huge amount of work. And, right now we've been used to date on more than 10,000 projects across the US and continuing to grow that very fast. So that side's really been fantastic.

[00:52:10] Especially in terms of seeing the impact of the work. But I do think that the, the reframing of expectations when it came to things like valuations and company growth and um, everything like that, I think this year was definitely difficult to, to go through

[00:52:25] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, I think it was great and I know I can say this, standing outside of that bubble, but it felt like it wasn't working. It felt like it was, there was definitely a bubble there and people were over overestimating how valuable some of these companies can get. Um, and I'm saying that as someone who invested in plenty of these, , I was just thinking as you said, the hundred x and doing the calculation for some investments I did that were over the hundred x ARR multiple.

[00:52:56] So, well over a hundred x in 2021, where this year that is just not happening. So, there was some of it, I felt like correction that was needed. Some of it is probably over correction, and I think the markets right now will bounce back a little bit to something closer to what we were maybe seeing a few years ago. But, there's plenty of people who don't even believe that. So we'll see where it goes. But, 

[00:53:21] Maria Rioumine: comparing last year to this year, right? Last year we raised last series B. This year we raised last series C and to me raising a series C at an up round, to a tag around from last year was in this market. Actually, it actually felt better than last year's round because it was actually saying we've built a business with really strong fundamentals and in this market downtown where it's very difficult to raise capital best in class investors who, for example, Battery who led around, right?

[00:53:57] They've been investing in vertical SaaS businesses for longer than I've been alive. They looked at this business and said like, we are leading this and again, it ended up being in like aware of a subscribed round, which in this market felt amazing. And I remember in last year's market, I almost felt like, oh, like should we have actually like, raised more

[00:54:22] like, I think this year it definitely felt. It felt different. Like it really just felt like, Wow, we deserve this. And it's based on fundamentals. It's not based on hype. And I feel like a lot of last year, similar to what you are saying, I definitely had moments where it was like, is this it just me or do things seem a little out of wack here? 

[00:54:49] Nima Gardideh: It's, so first of all, congratulations that I think I've already congratulated a few times this year, but it does, it's gotta feel good to be able to swim against the currents, right? And, and successfully. So, what that tells me is that if you are building a good business, none of this stuff matters, right?

[00:55:10] People will continue capitalizing you and helping you create the vision that you set out to create. All I was saying, I think is that the markets where overvaluing businesses that may have not been structured in a way that your company is, or have the potential even to get there.

[00:55:31] Maria Rioumine: 100%. And to the story of Kojo. When we started Kojo, we didn't even start thinking about construction. We were just thinking about cities and how we can help build the built environment in a way that was faster, in a way that was more affordable and in a way that was more sustainable.

[00:55:50] And especially when I moved from London to San Francisco in 2016. A lot of what struck me was just, you had this unbelievable density. I'd actually never seen anything like it of just extremely talented, hungry, young people all living so close to one another, Right? Where you kind of had, I think an unprecedented level of just entrepreneurial and technical talent in one place.

[00:56:18] And at the same time, you walked around and you had, the van ness bus lane that had, that had been taken more than 20 years to build. And so many of the core aspects of the physical environment, which just totally broken, right? You would walk around and you'd see there was this chronic death of affordable housing. Like we clearly weren't able to build supply at anywhere close to the rate needed to match demand. 

[00:56:45] And you had things like, actually across the street from my apartment, there was a BART station that was getting built that I think at that point was years delayed. You had constant never ending stories of projects that were over budget, projects that were delayed, projects that got opened like the T-Bay terminal that then needed to get shut down because they had some wrong equipment installed.

[00:57:08] And when we started the company, we just said to ourselves, how can we make it easier, faster, and more sustainable to build the built environment, right? How can we make it easier to build any one of these things? And for the first six months we said, we are just not gonna pay ourselves we are gonna go on this pure exploratory mission, and we're just gonna talk to as many people as possible to try to understand what actually is the problem.

[00:57:38] And for six months we literally straight up hustled. Like we literally, shame went out the window and we just literally reached out to anyone on LinkedIn, probably to half of the United States of America. Now I have so many connections and people will often message me saying, Oh, can you introduce us to such and such person? And I'm like, I added them in 2018. 

[00:58:01] And that was that. But we just really tried to get in touch with anyone who touched construction, who touched permiting, who touched city building, who touched anything tied to private or public projects to understand why it was so difficult to build. And in that process, And by the way, we would show up with donuts and pizza, not at the same time at different times, to job sites to get people to talk to us, right? We would literally just do anything we could to get some time with folks who could tell us what's going on. And what we learned was for any commercial project, so that's essentially any project that isn't a single residential house, 60% of the cost of building them was in labor and 40% was in materials.

[00:58:46] And when we would ask people, All right, well 40% of materials, that's a lot. How do you manage your material supply chain? They would tell us that most commonly it hasn't changed since they started the company in the 1980s. And what that material supply chain process looked like was you had a foreman walking around on job sites.

[00:59:05] They were the experts. What is the material that actually needs to get installed? They would walk around in some cases, literally with a clipboard and a pen, writing down what it is that they need. Then they would either call up purchasing agents who were in the office or sometimes literally just take a photo of the thing they wrote down and forward it to them.

[00:59:25] And the purchasing agents had a huge amount of very manual, painful, repetitive work where they were fielding in all these requests of, can you buy this and can you buy that? Having to type that up. And then having no easy way to compare prices or inventory across multiple vendors. So they would have to go and then call each vendor and say, What do you have available?

[00:59:48] What price can you do? And all the while that entire communication chain was disconnected, right? Because the people in the field, they had no visibility into whether that thing had been ordered, when it was actually arising. And that makes it really, really difficult to plan. It makes it incredibly difficult to know.

[01:00:06] And that delivery is actually getting there and who you need on site. And re realized that just across that entire chain, there were so many things that we could build to make it more efficient. , from, and , I can detail these ad nauseum, but , from making it easy to actually reconcile invoices today, you get an invoice and there's no way for you to match up that that invoice matches what you ordered, which actually matches up what got delivered.

[01:00:33] Cause three different people touched each part of that transaction. And so that means that a lot of companies are paying these invoices with no confidence that it's actually the right amount or thinking about waste, right? If you are not able to plan in advance and do these big buyouts, you're likely to end up with so much waste because it's, you are afraid that you're not gonna have enough quantity and there's a massive labor shortage. Skilled construction workers. So you definitely don't want them not having the materials they need to do work. And so thinking about how to plan and then how to track how you're doing against your estimates, that's something that before we started was just not possible unless you were willing to build out your own systems and, but a huge amount of work into it.

[01:01:16] And even things like tracking deliveries, right? Making sure that someone had that original order and could go and line item by line item, make sure that the stuff that arrived is actually the stuff they ordered. None of that was possible. And so that's what we realized, right. For us to make the biggest impact that we could to the built environment, that that was within our control.

[01:01:38] We realized if we built a materials management system that allowed contractors across the US and soon across the world to manage that process from project takeoff to close out of always knowing where their materials are, making it easy for them to know they're getting the best price, and just making that entire flow of how they buy, pay for, and manage their materials easy. We can make a huge impact and making it faster, easier, and more sustainable to, to just build anything.

[01:02:12] Nima Gardideh: And so do you have the material providers on this platform as well, or is that something like you have the skews on there, or At some point they are part of this ecosystem and they can directly buy on? On Kojo. I was like, Hey, I want this material. I know exactly how much of it I need and I need it to be delivered.

[01:02:30] Maria Rioumine: So we do now. When we started, we didn't, and when we started, our focus was very concretely, let's focus on the contractor. And, I know this is something that we spoke about, but our thesis from the beginning was, let's start. Really, really focused, right? Because if you try to build something that's for everyone, you are just not gonna build a good product, or it's gonna be very difficult to build a good product.

[01:02:53] So when we started, we said, let's focus exclusively on electrical contractors and let's build the best product for electrical contractors that exist in the market. And that what we really focused on were the biggest problems of electrical contractors, right? So distributors or any of the vendor side of the market.

[01:03:09] We said, we'll hold off on that first. Let's see that we can really prove we can make electrical contractors' lives easier. And when we saw that that was really working, then we said, Okay, now let's expand across the majority of the largest trades, right? Let's go into mechanical and concrete and drywall and help companies doing roofing and flooring and tiling and site preparation.

[01:03:32] Let's help. Let's make their lives easier. The same way that we made life easier for electrical contractors. And , through doing that, we ended up in a place where we're processing now more than a billion dollars annualized in terms of material volume. And that then led a lot of vendors to say, Well, hey, our customers are buying from you.

[01:03:55] We are now happy to also plug into the system. And so now to your question, yeah, we have a lot of the biggest vendors in the country we're working with to have direct access to their catalogs, to have direct access to their pricing, to also just automate a lot of the information exchange between the two parties.

[01:04:13] But that only happened because we had such strong customer buy-in and such strong customer love on the contractor side that contractors would actually tell their vendors, Hey, you guys need to get on Kojo, because that's where all our information is, and we don't wanna have three different information streams like let’s just centralize it all in one place.

[01:04:32] Nima Gardideh: I love it. There's, there's the one side of the marketplace is literally pulling in the other side for you because they want, you're really solving a problem for them in such a way that the other side of the marketplace is coming in and saying, well, we have to be on this now. It's kind of the network, the market network that NFX talks a lot about.

[01:04:55] Feels like you've kind of cracked that, that, that model there. And so, I know we have only a few minutes left, so tell me about the first part of the growth. I think we talked a bit about that. When we first met of how you got from this zero to one and how you went through this one slice of the market.

[01:05:18] There's clearly a product strategy. You solved one slice of the market's problem very well. How did you find these folks, electrical contractors? Are they on LinkedIn? Are they on? Where do you find folks like this? And I, I really like this part of your story because it just shows, going back to what you had said earlier around, this is like a blank canvas and you just have to figure out how to create the process that makes this thing work. I remember listening to this or hearing the stories and being quite impressed.

[01:05:53] Maria Rioumine: When we started, we very quickly realized we would be very difficult to get in touch with. Contractors through the typical channels that, a lot of consumer companies use to, to reach their customers. And what we realized is we really needed to meet them where they were and we needed to think, not from the hat of Silicon Valley, but from the hat of if you are an electrical contractor, like what matters to you, right?

[01:06:21] How do you interact with other people in your trade? How do you wanna buy tech solutions? And so number one is we realize the importance of associations, right? And realizing that, for example, within electrical, you have a huge regional density of associations where people have a lot of affinity towards these associations, right?

[01:06:45] And they look to them to, in many cases, learn best practices. In some cases, learn which tech tools they should be buying in lots of cases, just to, , have a social group of interaction of all the other electrical contractors who do similar types of work, as you do who. You can meet up with and just connect.

[01:07:04] And so we started doing a lot of work with these trade associations and actually both going to the national conventions and trade shows, but also focusing on a local level, setting up a bunch of webinars, doing dinners with them, right? Flying two folks and really spending time with him in person, understanding how does their materials management process work today and where could we be helpful?

[01:07:26] And really having them tell us what to build. And that, to me is always the beauty of building B2B software is quite often the customer tells you, right? The customer tells you, Hey, these are our problems and what we found. I think what's hard about this is you obviously wanna, you wanna hear everyone's problems and then you've gotta build out a roadmap of what are the most impactful things that you can build and how to structure that roadmap.

[01:07:56] So, number one was trade associations. Number two is we realized there were a lot of service providers to the industry that we could work with. And so very early on we leaned into those partnerships. Because today, if you're in the construction company, your core competency isn't buying technology.

[01:08:13] Your core competency is doing construction. And so very often you'll work with everyone from tech consultants to folks that help you manage your accounting systems in order to be your trusted advisors on figuring out, okay, how do, like what systems do you need to actually buy? And that's where we realize that by working with them and really, really from the early days, investing in excellent integrations that could help us unlock huge amounts of, of, of just interest.

[01:08:44] Because people would say, Well, I only want a system that integrates with all of my other systems. And so if you can show me that your system integrates with my other systems, that actually is gonna make my life easier. Because some, something that I think is very true in construction, and it's also true for a lot of industries, is that people don't want to buy 20 different point solutions that none of which talk to each other.

[01:09:07] Right? They don't want their year to be mired and just ongoing implementations with different implementations team and different people that they're talking to. They want solutions that really integrate with one another. And so that's where we dived into partnerships and right. For us, integrations was a huge part of our early success cuz we actually went and built really best in class integrations and we would show these to customers and say, Oh wow, this really seems like it works.

[01:09:32] And then, of course we've always continued to lean on channels like LinkedIn, like Facebook, those are obviously part of where we engage with customers. But for us, the face to face events, the local events, the partnerships that we generated, those were actually, I think huge in the early days of really getting to know customers and building relationships with them.

[01:10:00] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. And I think people discount that. And there, there's a couple of B2B companies in my periphery where they are really leaning into that same channel. And I would bet over those every time, over any, anything else that's doing online only work, especially in the early days. It just feels like you not only gonna build empathy for the people that you're trying to solve some, , some problem for, but also there is, they get to also become your advocates when they get to meet you and your team and, and go out there, , and talk to their friends who are also in the same industry of like, Yeah, I know these people.

[01:10:39] They've been working and actually solving these problems. I gave them a couple ideas and they showed up in the software a couple of weeks after. And that sort of sensation is infectious and I think people discount the amount of sort of human level work and marketing you have to do, um, to build these like long lasting businesses because you, from the get go built into the culture of the company and how to create empathy for your users?

[01:11:07] Anyway, Maria, I know we have no time left and I feel quite grateful for the time you've given me, and hopefully at some point we'll do another one of these and we'll go even deeper into the stories that you have to tell. Thank you so much for coming on and I really appreciate the time you've given me.

[01:11:30] Maria Rioumine: Of course. Thank you for having me, Nima. 

[01:11:32] Nima Gardideh: Right. And that's a wrap. I'm so happy I could spend this time and this focus time with Maria. We've had a lot of these conversations in silos at dinner parties or at different experiences we've had together. But it was really great to go deep with her, and talk about this stuff. As always, drop a comment on YouTube or Spotify or Apple.

[01:11:55] If you're listening on these platforms, we'd love to hear your feedback and reviews on the podcast. Next episode is going to be with Vikas Hebbar, who is the VP, Growth Marketing at TIA, a healthcare platform for women. And it was a great conversation there as well. He's quite a talented marketer and brand marketer as well as a growth marketer all in one, which is quite unique. Anyway, thanks for watching and listening.