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Posted on: 07/06/2020

The system of product led growth with Brian Balfour of Reforge

Kruze Consulting's Founders and Friends Podcast · The system of product led growth with Brian Balfour of Reforge

Brian Balfour

Brian Balfour

Founder and CEO - Reforge


Brian Balfour of Reforge - Podcast Summary

Brian Balfour of Reforge - the growth career development company - talks about product led growth. He discusses how the system of product led growth includes product, marketing, and engineering, and steps organizations can take to create a culture of growth.

Brian Balfour of Reforge - Podcast Transcript

Scott: Hey, it’s Scott Orn at Kruze Consulting. And before we get to just a terrific podcast with Brian Balfour at Reforge, Brian and I have been friends for many, many years, worked next to each other at thoughtbot when we were early on at Kruze and he was early on at Reforge, and stayed friends. And he’s got just a fantastic story. I want to give a quick shout out to Rippling. They just build amazing payroll services, amazing benefits. And their IT infrastructure provisioning is just fantastic. Just so folks know, they don’t only get payroll come on automatically, autopilot, all that stuff, which is nice. The benefit’s they let you work with an independent broker. That’s what we do. That actually saves a lot of money. It’s really nice. The independent brokers kind of go to bat for you in a more hardcore way than a general broker in an integrated payroll company system. And then their IT provisioning is just … It saves us so much time. It used to take us like three hours to get someone up and running, so that’s a huge amount of time savings when you’re adding a lot of people. Or, sometimes in this market you’re having to let a couple people go, which is super unfortunate, but that does make it a lot easier and faster to do that too. So, check out Rippling, Rippling.com. And now on to just a great podcast with Brian Balfour. Thanks.
Singer: (singing) It’s Kruze Consulting Founders and Friends with your host, Scotty Orn.
Scott: All right. And now our special guest, Brian Balfour of Reforge. Welcome, Brian.
Brian: Hey, thanks for having me.
Scott: We’ve been friends for a very long time. We used to sit next to each other at thoughtbot and their rented desk.
Brian: We did indeed. Yeah.
Scott: That was when Kruze was like four people. Was Reforge one?
Brian: Solo, man. Yeah.
Scott: Yeah, that’s amazing. We’ve come a long way. Well, maybe you could tell everyone. Retrace your career a little bit, and how you had the idea for Reforge.
Brian: Yeah. So, the quick background is I was born and raised, grew up in Michigan, went to university in Michigan. Shortly after college, became a product manager at company called Zoom Info at the time, one of the early companies to like NLP technology, but quickly got into the entrepreneurial scene there in Boston. And sort of my first VC-backed company, this was like right before Facebook launched their big developer platform and social games took off. And so, we’d ended up navigating our way into the social games space. Rode that roller … Crazy ass rollercoaster for about four years or so. We eventually ended up selling that company to a mobile ad company called Tapjoy.
Scott: That’s right.
Brian: Then I took a little bit of time off and ended up then helping startup my second company called Boundless Learning with a couple close friends of mine, Ariel Diaz and Aaron White. And we had basically created a process to take very expensive college textbooks and turn them free. Another wild ride, like got a couple major bets right in that company, kind of got one of the bets wrong, and on top of that got sued by the three largest textbook publishers because they were pretty threatened with what we were doing.
Scott: I remember that company, and I loved it at the time. And I was like so crushed when I heard about the litigation.
Brian: I know.
Scott: They kind of hung you out to dry. You couldn’t get more venture capital because of the litigation.
Brian: No. Yeah, they’re one of the most litigious categories of companies out there. Yeah, it was just … It’s just crazy. And if you ever want to know why textbooks are so expensive and why it’s risen greater than inflation, just look at what those companies do and how they protect their assets. Anyways, we ended up selling that company to a textbook rental company at the time. And then after that, after riding two rollercoasters like that, I was a little burned out, took a little time off, did a little EIR stint at a venture firm called Trinity Ventures, really was just trying to figure what I want to do next. Navigated my way, and ended up actually as the VP of growth at HubSpot, which I would have never expected, but we ended up joining about a year before we went public. The company was going through two major transitions. One was they wanted to turn into a multi-product company, so going from having one product, which was the marketing product, which was kind of cranking and growing 50% year over year, and starting to establish new product lines. But two, at the same time, they had started the company off with a very content marketing plus sales motion, and they wanted to start to transition to more of a product-led bottoms-up [inaudible]. And so, I joined to help lead a new division to start to explore around those two things. We started a HubSpot CRM, another product called HubSpot Sales Pro, and a few other experiments that actually didn’t work out as well. And that was just a crazy time. Those products went from like nothing to millions of dollars in ARR in just like a couple years, and the team grew a lot. And through my time there was actually how I ended up at HubSpot … Or, sorry, ended up starting Reforge. So, the real story behind Reforge is that I would sit in these one-on-ones every week with my team at HubSpot, and somebody would ask me about professional development, like what they would be doing. I’d spend hours researching what to recommend them. I kept coming up empty handed. That made me feel like a terrible manager. It was obviously a terrible experience for them too because they had the motivation. We had the budget. We had everything, except the solution out there. And so, as a result, I was like, “You know what? Screw it. I’m just going to create something on the side by myself. We’ll offer it more than just HubSpot people.” Serendipitously had a conversation with Andrew Chen, who was working on growth at Uber at the time. He was thinking about doing something similar. We combined forces, created this thing. A terrible, very embarrassing MVP of a first course that we called the Growth Series. And it just … It went way better than I ever imaged or dreamed of. We had thousands of applications. And even though the product was just crazy embarrassing, we had pretty solid NPS after it, and really high willingness to pay. And so that, combined with some other things that were going on with HubSpot at the time, I was like, “You know what? This is something that I feel like I need to chase down and see what it is.” And so I left HubSpot, moved back out to San Francisco, and started working on Reforge full-time. And so that’s how I- [crosstalk]
Scott: And what was that, five years ago, four years ago?
Brian: Four and a half years ago. That was April … About four years ago, April 2016. Yeah, so that’s four years ago exactly. So, a lot has changed in the company since then of where it started and where we’re at today.
Scott: How big are you guys now, like employees and people taking the course?
Brian: We now have an alumni base of about 6,000 people.
Scott: That’s incredible. Good for you.
Brian: We started with that one program, and we now have … This past cohort, we ran five programs. We’ll have seven in the fall of 2020 covering very different topics. We take a very different approach. Rather than trying to teach a skill or sell a certificate or something like that, we design all of our programs around really meaningful problems that, if you solve them and if you’re a key part of solving that problem in your company, you’re not only having an amazing impact on your company, but you’re having an amazing impact on your career. Because one of our core philosophies is you don’t move forward in your career by collecting a basket of skills or certificates. You move forward by finding and solving meaningful problems for the companies you work with. And so that’s really what we orient these things around. So, we have the Growth Series. We have an advanced version of that. We have a deep dive on retention and engagement, a deep dive on retention, a deep dive on experimentation. In the fall, we’ll have one that’s specifically designed for marketers making the transition from a senior individual contributor to a manager, and we’ve yet to name that. And similar on the core product management function, also naming still, TBD. So, yeah, a lot has happened.
Scott: That’s amazing. You said a bunch of things in the opening. One of the things that jumped out at me was the product was embarrassingly simple or not great, but you still were successful.
Brian: Yeah, it was awful.
Scott: That’s a great lesson for everybody. You don’t have to have a perfect product. You just need to know what the need is, build something that people can relate to, and get it out there.
Brian: Yeah. Everybody asks me how this company is different from past companies, which I think is a really interesting question. And I can definitely tell people that the past companies felt like we were pushing the boulder uphill. And this one feels more like the boulder started rolling downhill from day one, and we’ve just been figuring out how to navigate the boulder down the fastest path. A lot of people talk about this concept of product market fit or whatever, and people ask, “Well, how do I know when I have product market fit?” And I think there are a bunch of good signals that I’ve written about around retention curves and qualitative signals like NPS and some other things. But actually, the best explanation I’ve ever heard is from the CEO of Segment, Peter Reinhardt, who said, “You know you have product market fit when you feel like the market is literally pulling the product out of you versus you trying to push the product onto the market.” And that still has really deeply resonated with me, and that is definitely what Reforge has felt. So, even though we had that terrible, terrible product that I was embarrassed of, the fact that there was … We had tapped into a pain point for a specific audience that was so strong that even that terrible version of the product had a meaningful impact over whatever their alternatives were. And as a result, that kind of … I don’t know. Of course, we’ve improved the product greatly since then. We weren’t just like, “Ah, we’re okay with a shitty product.” But yeah, that was … It just has felt totally different than prior companies.
Scott: That’s amazing. That’s such a good feeling. I mean, I kind of feel the same thing about us. It’s like people need what we do. It’s a really great feeling.
Brian: 100%.
Scott: And when you’re organic, just the referrals, and people just finding you, it’s a really great thing. And then, like you said, I feel the same way. We work on our operations. We work on perfecting our processes and training and things like that because we have it kind of easy on the customer side, and so that allows us to get really even better at what we do. And that’s what I’m hearing from you, like the courses have gotten better every time, which is pretty exciting.
Brian: Yeah. [inaudible]
Scott: The other thing you said, which was pretty cool, was I’d always thought you guys were more marketing tactics, but we were talking before I turned the mics on that it’s product-led growth. And I heard you say that in the HubSpot example of like the HubSpot CRM product was product-led. Maybe talk a little bit about that and the differences between the two camps.
Brian: Yeah. This is such a tough topic to talk about these days because growth means so many different things to different companies and different functions, and the term has been co-opted in so many different ways that it’s just added tons and tons of crazy confusion.
Scott: Yeah.
Brian: But the primary thing is that … The big shift that we’ve gone through as technology and software companies is that we’ve really uncovered that the way that these companies grow is not like we generate something in marketing, and marketing throws it over the wall to product or sales, and then they move it through the next stage of the funnel to something out … All the way through the funnel is-
Scott: It’s not like an industrial food company, or home products company, or something like that.
Brian: No, it actually works as this interconnected system. And so, the pillars of the system and the machine are acquisition, retention and monetization, but the key thing is that, since it works as an interconnected system, if you change one element, it totally changes the other elements. So, to properly actually understand and do your job super effectively, you actually have to take a view and understand the whole systems. And our old frameworks and ways that we view companies as like funnels and these other mechanisms, don’t really represent the entire system in the best way possible. And so, this is the foundational thing that we teach in our programs is, “How do you understand the complete system, and then how your piece kind of fits within the system?” Because if you can do that, then you can have a much better effect and influence within your organization. And so, when you take that view, all of a sudden you realize like, “Hey, a huge chunk of this system is actually what happens in the product.” And so, we talk about everything in the concept of a concept that we put together called growth loops, which is where rather than think about things as a funnel, you think about things as a self-reinforcing system. Where you get a new or returning user, and then that user does some series of actions, which generates some output, which you reinvest into that input, which comes back to new or returning users. And so of course the common examples of this are like viral loops where a new or returning user comes in, they do something in the product, which leads them to invite other users or brings users back. But this also works for content, like user-generated content loops, even company-generated content loops. Even sales and ad loops are loops in themselves because you get a new customer. That customer does some things to generate revenue. You take a portion of that revenue, reinvest it in ads or sales in a way that attracts more new or returning customers. And so, anything that you change in the product or the monetization model or things effects those loops. So, once again, we have to look at, understand the entire system to truly understand where the biggest constraints are, where we should be spending our valuable time and resources, how do I have the best impact as part of that system. And so ultimately that’s why, our programs, we build from a product-first foundation, but we do have a number of marketers that take our programs to help understand that entire system. And conversely, product managers that come in from the standpoint where historically they haven’t necessarily had to think about things like distribution. So, understanding how that works and how the work that they’re doing actually influences those things. So, it’s approaching it from both directions.
Scott: That’s really phenomenal. Is it like … What I’m visualizing for the product managers is like … Yeah, you’re right. They didn’t have to worry about customer acquisition or retention or things like … Maybe they were worried about retention, but not customer acquisition. So, are they coming to Reforge to basically learn how they can build the acquisition loop into their product and communicate to the engineers who are actually building the product?
Brian: Yeah, 100%. And actually, we encourage engineers and designers to come to our program because ultimate if you see the most effective growth teams are the teams that are working on growth at companies like Pinterest, Airbnb, LinkedIn, all that kind of stuff. They’re cross-functional groups of [inaudible] in design, sometimes ops, sometimes data, sometimes marketing, depending on the area of focus and the type of loop. Even things that used to be considered marketing, like paid performance marketing, if you look at the companies who are executing the best on it right now, have moved to more of like a product cross-functional team format. Because to truly compete in paid marketing these days, it’s actually more of a game of like data and high-scale personalization and stuff, which tends to involve more engineering and data resources. And so all of these things are moving to more cross-functional team formats. And so basically our Growth Series is basically for somebody who’s an experienced professional, but newer to this topic. It’s like, “Here’s the crash course. Here’s all of the frameworks and tools you need to know around acquisition, retention, engagement. Here’s how to construct a growth model. Here’s how to evaluate user psychology. Here’s all those types of those.” And then we have an advanced version. And then we have deep dives on all of these certain pillars as well. But you’ll also see in these other functions, if we consider more traditional things and some of the newer things that we’re building, the way that I think about it is, not only do these new topics and these new things that emerge that we need to educate ourselves on as a profession, but also as we go through our profession or our function, we kind of go on this journey. And I hate to ground this in titles because titles mean so many different things at so many companies. But, roughly speaking, we go from an individual contributor to a senior individual contributor to a manager to a manager of managers, and each part of the process we’re taking on a new type of problem, a higher complexity problem, a higher scoped problem. Right?
Scott: Yeah.
Brian: And if you think about these things, it’s crazy. A lot of times, we take somebody from a senior IC and put them in a manager role, and we’re just like, “Hey, good luck.” Right? We just throw them into the fire, right?
Scott: Totally.
Brian: And we expect them to understand these things. Or we throw them like a general management book or class and expect … Which is partially helpful, but it doesn’t actually address a lot of the functional specific things. So, in marketing, for example, the common evolution of a marketer is like, “I own a specific piece of a channel. Then I own the strategy for an entire channel. Then I own the strategy for multiple channels.” And it’s like, “Oh shit. Wait a second.”
Scott: But I only know my channel. How am I going to know the other channels?
Brian: Exactly. The knowledge you learn on one channel doesn’t necessarily translate to another channel because all the channels work differently. And so, when you make that leap, all of a sudden you have a whole new set of problems that you’re supposed to know about. How do I manage a cross-functional strategy of channels that haven’t necessarily had a lot of experience in? How do I balance the measurement of the qualitative with the quantitative? All of these things are really big problems, and so that’s a lot of what we’re building around, and that exists in every single function, every single one. And so those are the types of things that we think a lot about at Reforge.
Scott: That’s cool. You talked a lot about how everyone’s getting cross-functional. Do you have full teams come in and do a cohort together, so they can iterate together?
Brian: We do.
Scott: Or maybe someone did it once, and then they have their coworker come in next time? How does that work?
Brian: Oh yeah. Our big … Well, it happens in two ways. Definitely we love when teams come because the biggest hurdle to executing against this stuff is getting cross-functional alignment and buy-in. More often than not-
Scott: I didn’t think about that. Yeah. They come back from Reforge. They’ve got a bunch of great ideas, but they can’t convince their coworkers on the team to implement the ideas. Yeah.
Brian: And look, it’s a really hard problem. And from seeing inside hundreds, I think now thousands of companies, the biggest … The two biggest friction items to getting something done are typically people on the teams aren’t thinking about the problem in the same way. They literally have different mental models, and they don’t even know it. So, you’re literally … Like you’re talking apples and oranges or talking a foreign language to each other, and you don’t really know it. And so, when you don’t have that common alignment in language and approach to a problem, the conversations around what we should prioritize, what the best solution is, where we should focus, they’re impossible. They’re so hard. They’re really hard to have. That’s the first reason. The second reason is, look, at the end of the day, a lot of this comes down to people and influence and how to take people on a journey with you, and how you understand the problems that they have, and how your problems relate to their problems, and all these kinds of things. And this all comes back to what we just talked about, which is like, “Hey, you have to understand the entire system to have those types of conversations.” Otherwise, what it feels like from the receiver’s end is like, “You’re just trying to force your problems on me when I have my own stack [inaudible] of problems that you’re not even understanding.”
Scott: Yeah. You just encapsulated life, life in general too. Oh my God.
Brian: Oh yeah, it’s super hard.
Scott: But that makes so much sense, because you’ve talked about it being like a language almost, a couple times. And that totally makes sense. I know at Kruze we speak the accounting language together, and so everyone can … But there’s people who when they join, they’re not up … They don’t know how we do it. And we have a super industrial-strength process, and so it’s kind of shocking sometimes to the new people. And I could see how someone could go through Reforge and have the same experience. They come out, and they want to speak the Reforge channel, but not enough people on their team have done it yet.
Brian: Yeah.
Scott: So, you guys actually teach also how to kind of relate, and how to convince, and how to sell the idea too?
Brian: We try to always as part of our programs teach how to find the highest leverage things, build a narrative around it, as part of that. But we do love teams to come. More often than not our biggest acquisition, it’s still word of mouth. We always have one or two people from a company join a cohort. And then the next cohort, we’ll get like a dozen application, sort of thing like that. It’s interesting to hear you say that about the accounting space, which feels like a function that has been codified for a while, but you still have those nuances and that language and stuff like that. And so for even a function like product management, which in the grand scheme of things is even newer, just imagine the extra complexity around the language and stuff.
Scott: Oh. And the pivot of adding product leg growth instead just being … I went to business school, and so a lot of my frameworks outside of tech were people were going to go work at Chlorox, or Procter & Gamble, or things like that. And Kellogg’s still … Kellogg’s like the best marketing school in the country, but they still taught it. A lot of it was consumer product marketing. And consumer marketing, it’s … Consumer product, it’s like you do pour money into the ad campaign, and you do nice packaging, and you do other tactics. For tech especially, the tactics have to build into the product, which makes so much sense, and you can see the companies that are super successful at it. I don’t think business schools have caught up to where you guys are. You guys are on the cutting edge. It’s almost like a mini MBA in product management and product marketing that you guys are offering people.
Brian: Yeah. Look, they definitely haven’t caught up. But I will say, in the times of COVID … They were kind of feeling the pressure a little bit before. Now they’re feeling the pressure. So now I’m super fascinated to see what they end up doing and how they end up reacting. Some of the most forward-looking school in the MBA space, it’s certainly probably like HBS and Stanford who have been experimenting the most, at the forefront. HBS has Harvard Business School Online where they’ve been trying a bunch of things. Stanford has been doing some things. But it’s so hard when you have a 200, 300-year history to fundamentally change on how you teach things and what you tackle and all that kind of stuff. But I’m fascinated. But the space is massive, right? HBS is 700 million alone. Harvard Business School, not Harvard as a whole, Harvard Business School without donations I believe is like 600 to 700 million a year.
Scott: Oh, in revenue. In tuition, right?
Brian: In revenue.
Scott: Yeah. That’s the other thing, what they’re burdened by is they’re the classic kind of disruption target that they teach about. They’re charging 60, 70 grand a year now probably, and they can’t get off the cash cow machine. They know they’re a cash cow, so why would they change? It’s hard for them to compete with someone like Reforge, at your guys’ price point. So, it’s going to be interesting. We talked about this before I turned the mics on, but you guys are an established brand. That’s why I wanted to have you on the podcast too. But a bunch of my friends reached out to me and asked me about you and asked me about reforge, “Are the experiences good? Should I do it?” Or, the other one, I’m getting kind of older now. I’m 43. A lot of my friends are managing people who want to go to Reforge, and they’re approving those expenses and saying, “Is it a good investment?” And I’m like, “Of course it is.”
Brian: My hope is to get the brand to a point where they don’t even have to ask you. They’re just like, “Oh, it’s Reforge, so yeah.” I still have work to do. That’s what I hear.
Scott: That’s something … I’m not even a marketing person, so the fact that people are asking me … But you built a hell of a company. That’s really cool. You guys have … Maybe walk me through the model, walk the audience through the model. There’re two cohorts per year?
Brian: Yeah. We do two cohorts per year. One in the spring. One in the fall. Right now, the program are six weeks long. They’re designed for people who have full-time jobs. We tend to not take people who don’t have jobs. We might try some things in the COVID environment to help some people out. But, once again, the programs are really designed to help you solve a really meaningful business problem at your company.
Scott: Oh, you bring your business problem into Reforge basically?
Brian: That’s part of it. Yeah, that’s part of it. We try to. It’s kind of like going back … I’ll tell you a story. In high school, I took like two or three years of computer science, like learning C++ and crazy old languages and stuff like that. It was okay and stuff, and it kind of stuck, but not really type of deal. Junior or senior year in college, I started my first, quote unquote, company. I was super passionate about getting this thing started and stuff, and then all of a sudden, we were like … We needed to create the product, the website. And I learned more about programming in two weeks because I had that problem, that meaningful problem that I wanted to solve, than I did I my like three years of high school computer science.
Scott: Yeah.
Brian: And the same thing is true as we go throughout our lives. And that’s why there’s all of these skill-based learning platforms, and there’s this whole message around how the new economy is around skills, and I actually don’t agree with that.
Scott: Interesting.
Brian: And so, the way that I think about it more is like skills enable you to solve a problem, but learning the skill by itself is not actually that valuable. And actually, if you learn the skill in isolation of a meaningful problem, you tend to learn a bunch of stuff that doesn’t stick, or that you don’t need, or that you’re not setup to apply. And so more is like when I used to help my team out at HubSpot is I was always trying to position them to find a meaningful problem to solve in the company that was like half based on skills that they already knew and half based on new skills that they had to go learn to enable to solve that problem. And that ends up being way more effective than trying to be like … I know so many people who have … They go in and take a SQL program, and then 95% of them never use it in their company because it’s disconnected … It’s skill first, problem second. And I’m saying problem first, skill second. The skills are still important, but the problem comes first.
Scott: I totally get what you’re saying. The validation of that for me is doing Kruze Consulting because there’s all these problems that … That was one of the reasons I wanted to join finance was I could see that there was a lot of … There was going to be a lot of stuff to figure out, and so I learned so fast. And you’re kind of don’t have a choice. You just have to do it. There’s no, “Hey, I’m just not going to … I’m going to punt this one.” So, I actually agree with you. Finding a really difficult problem and then having the motivation to solve it is probably the most important thing. And by definition, if you’re an entrepreneur or if you are the person at Airbnb, or Uber, or whatever in charge of growth marketing or product-led marketing, you have to. You solve it, or you’re gone. There’s no, “Hey, I’ll take two years to figure this out.” You’ve got to get it done.
Brian: Yeah. I would also say just signaling your skills doesn’t tell me as an employer anything else that you can actually help me solve the problems for the business. So most of the interview process is actually around like, “Okay, the narrative that you’re telling me around your skills, does it actually match the problems that we’re solving inside the company?” Right?
Scott: Yeah.
Brian: And there’s so much back and forth and problems with interview processes and all that kind of stuff that you end up missing. And so I highly encourage everybody, the better thing to do than just throw a bunch of skills in your LinkedIn profile is to put some type of portfolio together, whether that’s a website or just like a Google Drive folder that tells the narrative around the problems that you helped your company solve and how you approached it, and what you did right, and what you did wrong, and what you learned along the way. That tells me way more, way more. And it makes you stand out way more than the standard resume or the LinkedIn profile.
Scott: I totally agree. Also, the way you communicate it. I was chuckling on the inside that you were surprised that accountants … It feels like it’s a standardized thing or feels like the ways are understood, but it’s actually … That’s what makes it so interesting is that it’s easy to fake it on the outside. And so, I actually feel bad for people who are trying to hire their local accountant or whatever because there’s no way to tell. We even get fooled. We sometimes hire the wrong person. And even though we’re like ninjas who know how to do this better than anybody and have built all the … Even we get fooled, and that’s because the resumes look the same, and the experience looks the same, and the keywords look the same. So, you’re right, it is all about the stories, and it’s all about explaining the problems you’ve solved and making it interesting for people. That’s how you get hired. That’s how you get a new client.
Brian: Yeah. I’m laughing at myself now because I’ve realized that my observation was so dumb because … And I’m now thinking of all these examples of how it could be highly nuanced in the accounting space. But now I’m thinking a lot of times people come to me with questions that are like, “How do I grow?” And to me, I’m like, “I get it. You don’t know the function as well,” and so I help walk them through and try to actually identify the problem and the nuances, and we can start to narrow in. And I’ve realized that’s the equivalent of me asking you like, “Hey, tell me how to do accounting.” Right? It’s like- [crosstalk]
Scott: Yeah. [crosstalk]. But that’s okay. We’re all specialized. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the art of it. I actually love sales because to me sales is like you just get the opportunity to demonstrate your experience and show people why they should be working with you, so it’s really fun for me. This is incredible, man. So, people who are interested, where do they go? When do they apply? What gives them the best chance of being accepted? How do they get in?
Brian: So, our next cohort will be in the fall. We start accepting application in the summer, June or July. The easiest thing to do is just go to Reforge.com, sign up for anywhere you see an email box. We don’t actually email you that often, only when new programs are available, so don’t worry. We’re not going to spam you. Yeah. It’ll go from like mid-September. I don’t have the exact date on top of mind, but it will go from mid-September to about the end of October. In terms of getting in, this is not a status thing. We are not looking for you to like brag about the hottest companies and all that kind of stuff. What we’re really doing is trying to evaluate, based on your role and the type of company you’re working on, and the types of problems you’re working on, can we match you to the thing that is going to help you the most? And so that’s really what we’re focused on. And so, we ask a bunch of questions around role and title and what you’re working on and all that kind of stuff, but ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do. Usually, we end up have like seven applications for every spot that we have, and so ultimately, we just want to make sure that we are having the most meaningful impact for you and your role. Because we know if we do that, you’ll say good things about us, and we’ll help you move forward in your career and things of that nature.
Scott: That’s really cool. That’s actually really disciplined of you because I’m sure you could make way more money if you wanted to by accepting more people, but you’re actually … By making sure people have a good experience, you’re ensuring the longevity of the brand and longevity of the service.
Brian: Well, this is a thing, and I’ve written about this too. In terms of founders out there that are thinking about launching new products and all that kind of stuff, the worst thing you can do is literally take your V1 product and just throw it on Product Hunt and try to get a TechCrunch press article and stuff because you end up with all sorts of problems. You’ve built that first version of that product with a very specific target audience and a very specific use case in mind. And so, if you just open up the flood gates like that, you’re going to get a bunch of tire-kickers, a bunch of people that you actually didn’t build it for. All of a sudden, you’re getting feedback from people saying, “Hey, you should do this. You should do that. I didn’t like the product for this. I didn’t like the product for that.” But it’s hard to sift through all of that noise and really understand as a founder and a product leader how to navigate your business to somewhere.
Scott: And make [inaudible] that people really care about, the segment really cares about.
Brian: Exactly. And so, if you look at companies like Superhuman and Robinhood, and I’m trying to think of some other ones, but have a much more controlled process of how they launch and release, launch and release, launch and release to get the higher signal to noise ratio, maintain that great word of mouth. And at some point, it makes sense to open it up to everybody because you know enough, you know enough truths to strategically move forward. But a large part of the journey to product-market fit is because your feedback often is so noisy and it’s hard to understand what to actually listen to.
Scott: Yeah. That’s great advice, and you’re totally right. The curated onboarding, the curated who’s a good fit is a really smart way of doing it, or just having a dedicated onboarding team like we do. That’s how we do it. All right, man. Well, congrats on your success. I’m really happy for you. You’re kicking butt. I’m sure I’ll get a bunch of requests [inaudible] about how great Reforge is, so I’ll make sure to give a thumbs up. But congrats, I’m really happy for you.
Brian: I appreciate that. And if I can help anybody out there, I’m on Twitter at BBalfour and website BrianBalfour.com, feel free to reach out.
Scott: Nice. All right, buddy, thanks so much.
Brian: All right. Have a good one.
Singer: (singing) It’s Kruze Consulting’s Founders and Friends with your host, Scotty Orn.

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