The 12-step brainstorming process of Rahul Vohra ‒ Founder of Superhuman (the email SaaS)

I’ve been listening to the Founder Coffee podcast by Jeroen Corthout (Co-Founder at Salesflare) since the beginning.

In Feb. 2020, Jeroen interviewed Rahul Vohra, the founder of Superhuman and I really liked some of the ideas and practices Rahul uses to grow his startup, so here is a summary!

Setting and reaching a goal through a specific type of brainstorming

Let’s say that you need to get to $5 million ARR. Now you’re at $3M ARR. So how will you add $2M ARR to this year’s plan? Well, now we have a framed question.

1/ Frame the question in multiple ways.

One way is “how do we generate an extra $2M of revenue”. Another way would be “what could we be doing that would make $5M of revenue”. And I think either framing is totally fine.

2/ Have a brainstorm.

This can be done just with leadership or you can do it using everyone in the company.

3/ Leave the office and to go to a new location.

The location where it’s not familiar to anybody. Take the time, get relaxed, get settled in, have a coffee or have a Coke or whatever and then get brainstorming.

4/ The key thing: no idea is a bad idea.

Everyone should have the opportunity to throw in whatever idea they want. You should be having fun, you can play music in the background.

5/ Set hypothetical constraints.

That’s actually a technique that we use in our brainstorming every time. So we had constraints like, well, what if we have to achieve the goal in just one week? What would we do? Or what if we had to achieve the goal without spending any money at all?

6/ And then remove the hypothetical constrains.

We ask: What if we had 10 years to achieve the goal? Or what if we had infinite resources to achieve the goal? Adding constraints and then rapidly taking them away, flexes the creative muscle and just gets lots of new ideas coming out that otherwise would not.

7/ Have a “brainstorm boost” keyword.

If the energy gets stale at some point anyone should be able to shout switch or some other keyword. And then everyone can swap seats just to keep the momentum flowing throughout the room.

8/ Get to hundreds of ideas. There will be a few gems in there.

Ideally, you want to get to hundreds of ideas, most of those ideas will be terrible and that’s fine. Afterwards leadership usually the CEO or the head of strategy should take those ideas and assign them scores.

9/ Score the ideas based on cost and impact. High, medium, low.

This allows you to stack rank the ideas. So you’d be able to say, well, this is a low cost, high impact idea. Well obviously we should do that and maybe we’ll save the high cost, high impact ideas for later when the team is larger. So then you have a list of stack ranked ideas.

10/ Next week people vote on those ideas.

There’s various ways you can do voting. One that we’re doing right now is to give everyone a $100 of voting currency and you can split those hundred dollars up between the ideas, depending on how much you care about each of them. And then you’ll get a sense of how the company is feeling about all the ideas.

11/ Do some analytics work.

Previously you have estimated the costs, you’ve estimated the impact. You probably actually want to do some real analytics work to come up with not just an estimate of impact, but a real prediction of how many dollars each idea is likely to add to your end goal.

12/ Ask the team to have a more detailed estimate.

How expensive something will be to build beyond just high, medium, and low. And then once you have your estimates, both of the costs to build and also of the impact to revenue, you would then actually be able to make real trade-offs in terms of how much time you have and what impact those projects will add to the end of year revenue.

Plus a bonus: The path to success for founders

The key for a founder is to understand what they are world-class at and to double down on that and then to hire leadership around them to fill in the gaps. There are many ways to build a company and trying to do all of the above I think is impossible.

Classic product and technology-oriented founder.

Rahul is in this category, same as many of the founders in Silicon Valley.

Sales-oriented founder.

They have an ability to go out and aggressively find and close revenue.

Management and execution-oriented founders.

Folks who can drive high levels of efficiency through the company.

Relationship-oriented founders.

They are beloved by their company, and that’s how they win.

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