Josh Little: Changing the Way Remote Teams Communicate

Internal business communications are vital to the success of any company. Businesses require teamwork, collaboration, and information sharing between team members in order for them to run efficiently. Getting your organization to run smoothly, on the other hand, is a different story—one that requires selecting the appropriate communication channel for each message.

How do you share important, but sensitive information with your team? You may think email is the best way for strategic decisions, but what if an update isn’t as digestible during face-to-face meetings? The key question here should be “What do I want my message to be?” Once you figure out your objectives, picking the right channel becomes easy.

I was joined by Josh Little for an episode of the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast last year. He is the Founder & CEO of Volley, an asynchronous, threaded video communication platform. We chatted about how he came up with the idea for Volley, the biggest challenge he’s facing as a CEO, the strategy he’s focusing on for growth, and whether he’s building his business to scale or sell it.

Getting more done with Volley

The way we work has changed since the pandemic. We’re finding that in order to move forward and make progress on projects together, talking is much harder than before. We have scheduled Zoom calls back-to-back; Slack messages via email become our best form of communication. 

For this reason, Josh wanted to create a middle ground between having too many meetings and only being able to communicate in writing. He designed Volley to be a one-stop-shop for organizations looking for effective and efficient communication.

Volley allows users to communicate via asynchronous communication using threaded video conversations. “We take turns just like any other conversation, except that we record our turn with video and this allows a number of magical things to happen,” he emphasized.

“With the time to think and everyone having an equal opportunity to hit the record button, we feel we’ve created kind of the ultimate communication tool for remote teams, which has the richness of talking with the flexibility of texting.”

Nailing down his strategy for growth

“To get the product right, we have to be building it for a certain person or people.”

Volley is a very much product-led platform, product meaning users need to go get other users. It’s not necessary to spend upfront costs in acquiring new users because it has the potential for its own success if they create something tailored towards certain people with specific needs who want this particular offering.

Josh said, “Our focus was all about finding product-market fit with a certain who-what pair. Who is using it for what?” What they’ve found out since is that remote and hybrid teams are leveraging Volley to collaborate. Volley has found success with remote teams and now they’re focusing on expanding their reach even more.

Top challenge Josh is facing in business

Filling up job positions with role-relevant candidates is a constant challenge because the tech stacks keep upgrading and the demand is growing. Josh shared that he had been facing the challenge of recruiting a head of growth in his company.

It’s no easy feat to find a person who can both lead your company and fit in with its culture. That is why we recruiters spend so much time scouring resumes and interviewing countless candidates, but at times it feels like this process just doesn’t end.

“I’m looking for someone that has the tool belt of a traditional marketer that knows that whole circus, but thinks like a product person and has the mind of a scientist, and has grown products like ours, either products or apps.”

It does seem like an arduous task to hire someone with incredibly complex and varied responsibilities. “I know it’s a very rare person,” he admits. “Am I really going to be able to find this all-in-wonder sort of person or does this need to be a team with different skill sets brought in?”

Building a valuable company

Josh is actually a founder of four tech companies — Maestro, an e-learning company; Bloomfire, a closed social platform for companies; Qzzr, the world’s simplest online quiz platform; and finally, Volley. He’s had two successful exits and a third pending, so it’s only natural to wonder if he’s also planning to sell Volley eventually.

“As soon as you start thinking about building something to sell, you start optimizing for the wrong thing. What you need to do is build an enduring company that is valuable that if you never sold it, you would be just as happy continuing to run it.”

Unfortunately, many business owners want to sell the company they have worked so hard to build. However, if you have created a very valuable business, it’s unlikely you will want to sell it.

“Since companies are bought not sold, I tend to just want to build an enduring and valuable company,” he said. That’s what he’s doing with Volley, his Magnum Opus if you will.

Tune in to the podcast for my full conversation with Josh.

Transcript from Podcast

[00:00:00] Josh: You never want to build a company to sell, because the reality is you just can’t. As soon as you start thinking about building something to sell, you start optimizing for the wrong thing. What you need to do is build an enduring company that is valuable that if you never sold it, you would be just as happy continuing to run it.

[00:00:22] Natasha: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

Did you know that I love helping entrepreneurs like you scale and grow your business efficiently to enable revenue and profits to grow faster so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor more fully? I use real world experience of owning and running a profitable multi-million dollar company that has been on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for three years in a row.

That coupled with studies at Babson college, the entrepreneurial masters program at MIT and Harvard gives me the unique ability to help entrepreneurs see your blind spots and move over the road bumps faster. I help entrepreneurs like you break through your plateau and reach higher levels of achievement. For more information, go to my website, natashamiller.co.

Josh Little is the founder of four tech companies Maestro, Bloomfire, Qzzr and Volley, that have collectively been used by hundreds of millions of people.

His work has been featured in Tech Crunch, Mashable, Entrepreneur, Inc., and Forbes with two successful exits and a third pending. He’s currently on a mission to save the working world from death by meetings with the sport creation, Volley. Depending on what circle you run in, you may know Josh better for his pickles, performances, or projects as he is a fifth generation Pickler, a classically trained singer and a mechanically minded YouTuber.

Now let’s get right into it.

[00:02:25] Josh: I’m a reluctant entrepreneur. Even though I had a lawn mowing business that would make many professionals jealous when I was young, I didn’t realize that I was an entrepreneur. I didn’t realize that my mom was an entrepreneur. She cleaned houses and painted and wallpapered Helms. I didn’t have a word for that. It was just she did odd jobs and that’s how she thought about it as well.

So it wasn’t until my mid twenties that even understood what an entrepreneur was and it was reading the book “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. It was as silly as that sounds. I read the book and I thought what you can own your own business, if you want to?

[00:03:02] Natasha: I really should’ve have gotten to that book earlier. I only read it a few months ago.

[00:03:07] Josh: Oh really? Well. Yeah. At your stage, it’s yeah, I know all that stuff, but for me, when I was in my mid twenties, it was like mind blowing. So that set me on a path that eventually created this itch that I needed to scratch.

I knew that I was an entrepreneur. I knew this was something I had in me, I felt the call, but it took five years until I started my first company. And that was an e-learning company called Maestro. And I was really just scratching the itch that I had when I was working in the corporate world, trying to create an e-learning program for my medical device training program where I was working at Stryker. So that was my first jump into entrepreneurship. And that was decade and a half ago. And I haven’t looked back.

[00:03:49] Natasha: Once you did that and you got a taste for what entrepreneurship is and could be, were you then unemployable by anyone else at that point?

[00:03:59] Josh: I’ve looked at jobs, I’ve looked at joining other teams.

It just never feels right. Once you learn how to make something out of nothing, it’s hard to go and get excited about taking something and making it better. I use the Lego analogy. I would much rather build something from a pile of Legos and then break it and build another one again, instead of just play with the thing that I had just made.

So I love the blank canvas. I love uncertainty. I love endless possibilities and love making beautiful things. And there’s nothing that really taxes you as a creative, as much as building a company. It’s probably the most challenging creative task is to build something from nothing and rally people around an idea.

Get the team together and build the software or whatever it is you’re building and find the first customers. And that’s just all exhilarating. So yeah, you could say that I’m unemployable, but I don’t know if it’s by choice. I think I’ve just been bitten by the bug and can’t go back.

[00:05:05] Natasha: As a creative, do you find yourself so involved and excited about the creation process and not as good at the hiring, firing people ops running the company?

[00:05:17] Josh: I’ve been told that I’m a double threat in that regard. Like I’m pretty responsible person, so it’s not really been a problem. Like doing whatever the company needs you to do.

That’s not been a problem, but I do feel like where I live here, there are probably a thousand people or more that could run a company as well as I could. But there are very few, in my opinion, that can get something off the ground, build excitement at the rate and velocity that I feel like I’m able to do.

So that is what I like. I like the zero to one and that’s where we’re at with.

[00:05:53] Natasha: So you’re the founder CEO of Volley. Is that correct?

[00:05:57] Josh: That’s right.

[00:05:57] Natasha: So would you ever consider removing yourself as the CEO, putting your visionary hat on and letting one of those 1000 people in Utah run your business? So that you can focus on working on strategy, vision?

[00:06:13] Josh: For sure. If that was what Volley needed. If I was falling short in some way or slow pedaling, Volley because of just my limitation or in thinking or whatever that is, I’m happy to step aside and have in the past. It’s not worked in the past. And at this point, bringing someone in to let me focus on strategy would be disastrous with Volley.

Volley just needs me to be in the cockpit, viewing all of the data and making the moves that we need to make.

[00:06:43] Natasha: We can talk about how it increases productivity by meeting less and communicating more using video messaging. So what is that all about and how did it come about?

[00:06:53] Josh: It came about during the pandemic turns out we need to talk in order to move work forward and suddenly talking is a lot harder than it used to be. We have to schedule back to back Zoom calls. We have to slack an email a lot more. Because we don’t have the office or the way to collaborate that we used to.

And so I’ve been thinking about this problem for over a decade. Bloomfire, my second company, is very much solving the problem of how to get the right information to the right people at the right time at work.

And Volley is right people, time, right way at work. So Volley is a video messaging app that allows you to move work forward using threaded video conversations. Now, what is that Josh? We take turns just like any other conversation, except that we record our turn with video and this allows a number of magical things to happen.

You can listen to me on 2X. I can listen to you on 2X seconds, skip back and have total recall of what you said. Or get you to restate. I can take a few seconds or minutes to even think about my response before I give it, which you can’t do in the real world. Or I can cancel, want to restate what I’m saying ‘cause I know I could do it much better right now. So with the time to think and everyone having an equal opportunity to hit the record button, we feel we’ve created kind of the ultimate communication tool for remote teams, which has the richness of talking with the flexibility of texting.

So what teams that are using Volley are finding is that they can cancel a number of the meetings that they currently were having because they’re already talking and in the flow of work, as they need to, and a number of the things that they were stretching, slack or email to do were just poor uses of those technologies because you really need to explain your problem. You can speak seven to eight times faster than you can compose written business communication. So why wouldn’t you, if you could. And by doing that and using video, you’ll give the other 93% of the communication picture with tone of voice and body language that you’re missing from written communication alone.

So we’re really focused on trying to build the ultimate communication tool for remote teams who it’s really hard to collaborate spontaneously.

[00:09:07] Natasha: Could we have done this podcast interview on Volley?

[00:09:10] Josh: We could. I’ve done several because we’re taking turns, we’ve taken five or six turns so far. So I’ve done several interviews like that on Volley.

It’s not happening out in the same condensed one hour, but it is happening when I have time to move the conversation forward or when the conversation demands being moved forward. Absolutely.

[00:09:30] Natasha: Interesting. So can you talk about the threaded aspect of Volley? What does that mean? Does that mean a whole conversation is in one spot?

[00:09:39] Josh: That’s a good question. We say threaded, because whenever you talk about asynchronous videos, someone will mention something like, oh is it like Loom? No, it is an asynchronous video like Loom, but it’s in a threaded conversation. All of those videos back and forth, the responses and replies are in one thread.

So you can have multiple threads in Volley. We call them conversations, multiple conversations, but the idea is all of the send and response is threaded together with the individuals or with the group.

[00:10:10] Natasha: So what happens, this happens in email, I’m talking to a client about booking concerts and then in a response that I send to her, I’m like, oh, and also that photography shoot can happen next week.

Completely not having anything to do with the concert booking. You usually say I’ll move this to another thread. I I’ll email you separately. What can Volley do with those kinds of double conversations?

[00:10:34] Josh: Yeah, it depends. If this is just once off, like for your information, then it certainly could live in that thread, but you can also in Bali do what’s called a deep dive.

So take that same group and create a different conversation and then retitle that something else. But it depends on the permanency of that. Would you want to create a new conversation? It would be like creating a new channel in slack or a DM in slack. Would you need it for that? Or is it really just a conversation between you and that other individual?

Because that’s the way our conversations, just like this podcast, we’re covering lots of different topics. This is one thread. So we have a natural sense for when we’d need to organize that information in a different way.

[00:11:18] Natasha: So I’ve been on the website. I’m very curious. I have not downloaded it. So I want to ask a question that could be obvious. If I looked deeper, do you offer transcriptions?

It’s like you can read the future. You’re hired. You’re head of product. Absolutely. That’s the obvious question that comes up. Okay. We can see each other and you’ve got a recording. Could you transcribe that?

What about searchability?

For sure. We’ve got all kinds of cool ideas around transcriptions and searchability and magic notes that you can create by tapping captions.

Actually they were questions that I had. So right now in your business, what is the biggest challenge you’re facing as a founder CEO of your company?

[00:12:01] Josh: If we’re literally talking about today, it’s recruiting a head of growth. So it’s filling a key role at the company and just trying to figure out who’s the right person to fill that it’s often the burden, the hand two in the Bush sort of question like we have these candidates. They’re good, but it seems like we could get a great if we really tried harder, could we possibly get a great while getting a great is three months of work and recruiting? And do we really have that time?

So there are trade offs, especially in a startup you’re sometimes trading between one plus one equals two or one plus one equals question mark, if we spent more time. And so that’s the biggest problem today that I’m facing is that quandary the burden, the hand versus two in the bush.

[00:12:51] Natasha: First of all, is that a remote position? And can somebody live anywhere?

[00:12:56] Josh: Oh, yeah, for sure. We tend not to use our product when we are in the same room together. So for that reason, Volley has to be a hundred percent remote. Yeah.

[00:13:04] Natasha: So you can test it in real time. And are you finding it hard? Let’s say post pandemic.

We’re not completely out of it, but let’s just pretend we are to find talent right now. Cause that’s what I’m hearing. A lot of people is it’s really difficult to find key talent at this time.

[00:13:21] Josh: I’ve not had that problem with engineers and our engineering hires. That’s not seemed to be hard, but this role is a, it’s a difficult position to fill.

I’m looking for someone that has the tool belt of a traditional marketer that knows that whole circus, but thinks like a product person and has the mind of a scientist. And has grown products like ours, either products or apps. I know it’s a very rare person. So that’s my thinking today is am I really going to be able to find this all-in-wonder sort of person or does this need to be a team with different skill sets brought in?

And that’s what we’re literally debating as I jumped on this podcast this morning.

[00:14:04] Natasha: Do you use methods like topgrading or the who method for interviewing, hiring reviewing, firing? Or are you winging it based on past experiences and such?

[00:14:17] Josh: Yeah. Winging it based on past experiences, I’ve looked at topgrading.

I’m not saying that there isn’t merit there, but as much as I hate to admit it, there is so much gut involved in hiring. You kind of know the right person when there’s chemistry is what I’m saying. And so that’s really what I’m looking for is that sort of chemistry finishing each other’s sentences, excited about the problem.

[00:14:44] Natasha: You need to let us know when you found this person and three months later, how it’s working out.

[00:14:52] Josh: Okay. I’ll report back.

[00:14:54] Natasha: Great. So at the beginning of this year, let’s say January, or when you were thinking about your year ahead, what was a strategy that you were really focusing on to grow and scale this business?

[00:15:06] Josh: At the stage that Volley was in, we were in private beta at the time. So in January we got the team together and made a deliberate strategy to go all-in in finding product market fit.

That was our goal because for a product like ours, which is very product-led growth, product meaning users need to go get other users, We could run traditional marketing channels and pay for users. but a product like ours has the ability to grow on its own organically if we get the product right. So to get the product right, we have to be building it for a certain person or people.

So our focus was all about finding product market fit with a certain who-what pair. Who is using it for what? And what we’ve found since is that it’s remote teams that are using it to collaborate. And those are the people that are picking up Volley every day and moving work forward faster and finding great use of, so there are all sorts of other use cases and you’ll find that when you launch a new product and are searching for product market fit is, oh, they’re using it for a crypto chat. And oh, what about book clubs? And what about support? How about sales? Maybe we should go here. So you’ll hear all of the voices, but you really need to start to focus on the ones that are most likely to succeed.

So for us, we’ve found product market fit with remote teams and it seems to be working. So now the strategy moves to how do we find more remote teams and continue to grow in terms of activation and retention of those teams?

[00:16:39] Natasha: Really excited about the fact that remote teams are like a big thing right now. And I don’t think finding them might be the issue.

It’s a workforce that can get to all of them. Is that correct?

[00:16:54] Josh: Yeah, the future of work is only going to be more remote, more distributed, more flexible. And so I feel like we’re building the tool that needs to exist. We couldn’t do what we do at Volley without Volley. In fact, of course we would want to have to say that, but it’s true.

If you took Volley away from us today, Ooh, we’d be at half-speed immediately just because of.. As much coordination and collaboration that needs to happen to build a software product on four platforms simultaneously with only eight engineers. That’s unheard of. But we’re constantly in the flow of work, constantly sinking up unblocking, challenging, explaining, checking in.

And it’s our tool that allows us to do that. So I’ve wandered from your original question, which was, are these folks hard to find, not as hard to find as they were yesterday, but I do think there are a number of teams that are realizing. I don’t need to commute anymore. I’m going downstairs to get my lunch out of the refrigerator, a food that I’ve purchased myself.

I don’t need the parade in the circus. So I think this is a shift to results as much as it is remote, like focusing on the things that get results.

[00:18:07] Natasha: So when you are starting companies and let’s fast forward to Volley, are you building them to scale to sell, or are you holding on for dear life? This is your baby and you would never dare consider letting it go.

[00:18:24] Josh: You never want to build a company to sell because the reality is you just can’t. As soon as you start thinking about building something to sell, you start optimizing for the wrong thing. What you need to do is build an enduring company that is valuable that if you never sold it, you would be just as happy continuing to run it.

And so that’s the right place to set your focus in your thinking. And it turns out if you build an enduring company that is valuable, people will want to buy it and you don’t need to sell it because companies are bought not sold, meaning it is hard to sell a company. I know people who have done it, but getting an adviser and running a process, doesn’t always lead to success.

Yeah, since companies are bought not sold, I tend to just want to build an enduring and valuable company. And that’s what we’re doing with Volley/ this is what I feel like is Volley’s my Magnum Opus, like my best work. And this is the big one.

[00:19:26] Natasha: Good. Okay. So the last question I’m going to ask has nothing to do with Volley, has nothing to do with being a founder CEO. That might not be true, but what the heck is going on with your pickles?

[00:19:37] Josh: I thought pickling was going to be my next thing. I’m a fifth generation pickler, so my family did not have money, but they had amazing pickled recipes which have been written down in leather-bound books, which sits in my safe now.

So I used to make pickles with my dad growing up in Michigan. And when I moved to Utah, I realized, oh, I don’t have pickles. I need to start making my own pickles here in Utah. And so I started, and then I started giving jars away to friends as gifts. And then pretty soon their friends wanted some as gifts.

And then the friends of friends and I just started charging and now it’s turned into a total hipster hobby. I thought this was going to be my next business, but building a pickle company has a pretty capital intensive and grindy business. And after building three software companies, it was hard to look at a P&L statement with a line called cogs.

And why is that number so high? Yeah, it would be a very fun company to build, but I’ve just decided to keep pickling is my hobby. And it’s a fun hobby. I grow everything that I put in the jars here on my property and that kind of limits the supply and so…

[00:20:46] Natasha: Can we get the pickles ore are they just for near friends and family?

[00:20:52] Josh: Oh yeah. You can go to joshspickles.com and get on the wait list and I’ll send out an email to the waitlist every year and yeah, it’s first come first serve.

[00:21:02] Natasha: I can’t wait to try Volley and also get some of Josh’s pickles. For more information on Josh and Volley, please check out the show notes where you’re listening to this podcast.

For more information about me, go to my website, natashamiller.co. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also, if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now. I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

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