S2 EP 04: How to Grow Like the Anti-Startup Tettra

July 23, 2019

Nelson Joyce, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer

Tettra is an internal wiki tool, built to help companies of all sizes document their processes. It's an integrated SaaS, that helps growing teams grow strategically, methodically, and with wisdom. Rather than keep all of the knowledge in one person's head, Tettra helps teams build knowledge bases.

Nelson Joyce is co-founder and Chief Product Officer. Previous to founding Tettra with co-founder Andy Cook, Nelson was with HubSpot, as a UX designer and product entrepreneur. Growth is in Nelson's core values, and he opens up about his journey.

Early on in the conversation, in talking about starting Tettra, Nelson says "One of the biggest risks in starting a company is can you even work with the person or the people you're starting it with?" Figuring that out is a critical step in a growth journey for a startup.

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Tettra's Shipwreck

Tettra's leadership decided to be authentic and vulnerable from an early point. Nelson talked about how honest they've been along the way. 

"We've had plenty [of shipwrecks] and we've always shared openly. Which is hard, but I'm glad we've done it. It shows that we're human, and starting a business is hard."

The biggest shipwreck for Nelson and the team was almost running out of money and having to lay people off. In the startup world, most just starting out raise money through venture capitalists (VC money), but Nelson and Andy didn't like that model. 

While disrupting a well-known business model may seem brave and cool, it really came down to Nelson and Andy needing to go raise money to pay employees and keep the ship sailing, but they weren't good at it. So it wasn't working and they had to cut salaries and lay people off.

The experience taught them they weren't a "usual" hypergrowth, venture backed startup like so many around them in the Boston tech world. Instead, they decided to find a way to run the company in a more authentic, sustainable way for them.

Nelson explains that while so many founders see VC investment leads to less risk, but he sees it as more risk. Inside of HubSpot, Nelson and Andy saw the "good side" to VC investment. Unfortunately, that's not what most companies see. There's a risk to taking money from investors, and it wasn't something Tettra leadership wanted to do.

When a VC firm invests in multiple companies, they can work the numbers so if 80% of those businesses fail, they'll reap the rewards of the hypergrowth 20%. But for those businesses, failure is final; they have that one chance to beat the 80% stat. 

This decision essentially positions Tettra as an anti-startup, and gives the company freedom to find different measures of success.

"Growing slowly is a superpower. People can get used to the system and the system scales naturally without breaking. Going the VC route or hiring really fast is the equivalent of taking steroids to get ultra strong super fast. You're able to do it, but as soon as you stop taking the steroids, your body deteriorates."

It's the Swings That Kill You

A tool Neslon is grateful for in his wayfinding growth journey is resiliency. He says keeping your emotions in check, not getting too low when it's low and not to head-in-the-clouds when things go well is critical to sustainable growth. 

Sometimes you'll close a big deal with a profitable customer, which you'll want to celebrate, then you'll lose a client by surprise and you'll want to quit it all. 

Nelson says you want to keep an even keel and realize that growth has its ups and downs. You can't control that, but you can control your reaction and your emotions. 

Document Your Growth, No Matter Your Size

From its inception, Tettra team members have used their own system. Even as a very small startup, Nelson says they documented everything. The benefit is that every step is written down so you can go back, slow down, and think through why a decision was made. 

Putting systems in place and documenting them increases efficiency. Tettra is 7 people, but they get work done like their much bigger. And Nelson attributes a lot of that to using their own tool.

Connect with Nelson and Tettra

Nelson on LinkedIn


Tettra on Twitter

Tettra on LinkedIn

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