Phil Libin has already launched and sold several startups. His latest venture is mmhmm where he is working with his team to take virtual meetings to another level.
On the Dealmakers Show Libin shared his journey of creating things, selling his first company for $26M, fundraising, and bringing efficiency to making new products. Plus, his insight on the main thing to unlocking team productivity, remote work, and the future of work.
Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.
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Creating Things That You Wish Existed
Phil Libin was born in the old Soviet Union. Then immigrated to the US with his family when he was just seven years old.
On arriving in New York he was immediately impressed with all of the array of different types of cars on the streets. As well as the selection at the supermarkets, and discovering things like marshmallows.
Growing up in the Bronx in the 80s meant he spent a lot of time indoors, and away from the gangs. His parents bought him an Atari, and modem, and he soon learned to program. Which even helped him bring in some money from computer side hustles as a kid
He told the Dealmakers Podcast audience that he never really set out to intentionally build a massive empire or make mountains of money. He just wanted to make cool stuff, and give the world things that he wished existed.
He also said that he just had a hard time keeping down a ‘real job’. He was just always doing his own hustles, consulting, and programming.
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Creating A Better Place To Work
Phil Libin went to Boston for college. While there, he and some of his fellow students found themselves working at one of the first big dot com companies. Where they were inventing a lot of the things which began powering the web.
He says that there were a lot of great people there. Then there were some that weren’t. They were just dumbfounded at how some of these not nice, and lazy people were able to make it through the hiring process, and ended up there alongside them.
So, he and two of his friends decided that they would make their own company. They would only hire nice, competent people. They struck out without even really knowing what their company would be working on, except it would be based on their programming skills and a team of better people.
They each put in $100, for a grand total of $300 in startup capital to seed Engine 5. It ended up being very successful. Resulting in a $26M acquisition just minutes before the dot com crash.
A big lesson he learned here was the need to create real products. They had still been essentially trading their time for money. Working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for two years straight. Not much of a work life balance. So, they were happy to sell when the moment arose.
Phil’s second startup was focused on cyber security for government agencies. It was also acquired. As was his third company, Evernote.
Evernote was born out of the desire of he and his cofounders to create a product that they would use themselves. It was recently announced that Evernote will be acquired by Bending Spoons, which also recently appeared on the Dealmakers Podcast.
Building Something Bigger Than Yourself
Libin rolled together the lessons from his previous companies to build something even greater with Evernote. A company that would grow bigger, and live longer than the founders.
To this end, he always saw his job as CEO, as being to find a better CEO to take over, and continue to the company. If he didn’t, his mission of creating a 100 year startup would have failed.
After nine years as CEO, and growing the team to 450, with hundreds of millions of users, he found that new CEO. Then stepped up to being Executive Chairman. Before long, he realized that it was just better for the company for him to completely step away and allow new talent to take over the journey.
Next Phil moved over to the other side of the table as an investor with General Catalyst. There he spent two years taking pitches from entrepreneurs, and watching investors evaluate them. What really stood out to him from this period when it comes to successfully pitching is the importance of being crisp and clear in presenting and explaining things.
All Turtles is Phil Libin’s product studio which is designed to be more efficient in developing products and working with creators than he sees in Silicon Valley’s broken model.
They are spinning out successes like Spot, Carrot Fertility, and Sora Union.
As well as mmhmm, a video app for making video communications more clear and efficient. This was born from a need to unlock team productivity, and improve the dynamics of in person meetings.
For mmhmm they have already raised $140 million from the likes of Sequoia Capital. Softbank Vision fund, and GSV ventures to name a few.
They are putting an end to boring, wasteful meetings. Both in person, and over Zoom. Then when you do get together in person, he says you can spend that time really interacting, eating together, walking together, and doing team building activities.
Perhaps most impactful of all, Phil says that he is working towards a future in which we can choose to work in high trust places, with great companies. A future in which we work distributedly, without having to commute, and we no longer have to compromise or worry about work life balance, it’s just life.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Phil Libin was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Business models
- Making difficult decisions
- Investor relations
- The future of work
- Time machines and top advice when launching a business