An Interview With Qwilr Co-Founder Dylan Baskind

06/01/2015 11:52 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016

What does it take to be a co-founder of a startup?

Is it some complicated formula of skills, self-awareness and pedigree? Or is it something a bit more fundamental like creating solutions for pain points?

For Dylan Baskind, it is the latter.

Baskind is the co-founder of Qwilr. The startup takes static documents and transforms them into websites that are data rich and interactive.

Qwilr started out as a disobedient idea. One that simply wouldn't go away.
- Dylan Baskind

So Baskind went to work brainstorming ideas, concepts and workflows.

But the idea was ambitious perhaps too ambitious so Baskind shelved Qwilr until later.

But as Baskind finally got around to building Qwilr he realized this would not only solve a pain point, it would be a long-term sustainable business.

What do you value most about your company's culture and vision?

 

One of the unique strengths of Qwilr's company culture and vision is the co-leadership of design and engineering. Many tech companies, by nature of their talent profile or incumbent culture, lean towards being mostly engineering led, or mostly design led. As a consequence this tends to produce either Left-Brain solutions (careful and detailed UX, but lacking in functional power) or Right-Brain solutions (powerful functionality with mystifying interfaces).

Our vision for Qwilr, is to walk the gauntlet between these two, sometimes antagonistic, mind-sets. Ideally we want to enable powerful functionality, delivered through an intuitive and easy to use interface.

Looking specifically at our culture, a few key phrases spring to mind - stay curious, solve real problems, search for simplicity. Qwilr addresses all of these factors from a product standpoint, and I'm confident that we will totally disrupt how the business world views archaic approaches to documents as long as we continue to instill this culture as our business grows.

We're constantly making things better, faster, smarter, or less expensive. We leverage technology or improve processes. In other words, we strive to do more--with less. Tell me about a recent project or solution to an problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.

 

We're always on the hunt for tools which improve internal communications. The decision to incorporate group chat tool Slack into our team organisation has had a profound impact.

Communication within a collaborative team is one of the primary factors influencing its success. The more fluid the transmission of ideas, the quicker the iteration cycles, the more efficiently a team can arrive at an optimal solution or conclusion.

Admittedly, when I first read about Slack, I thought to myself: "Yawn, another chat client - really?" - but once we tried it out, we were hooked. These days, I couldn't imagine running our organisation without it. We literally never email each other. Anything we say (non-verbally), we say over Slack, which means it is then instantly searchable for later reference. We have saved a significant amount of time by not digging through email chains to find information. The integration piece is wonderful. We've got our Twitter, customer service communications, payment information, metrics, and error logging notifications all wired into Slack. It's both our information epicenter and "town square".

My hat goes off to the team behind Slack. Getting one interaction design decision just right is really tricky. Somehow Slack has managed to get hundreds of these decisions just right, all at once.

Tell me about an accomplishment that shaped your career.

 

Oddly enough, one experience that has had a profound impact in shaping my career was playing in a band and being its ring-leader. Contrary to what your granddad might say, it can actually teach you a lot of useful skills for the CEO role of an early stage tech company.

We were serious about the band. We rehearsed twice a week, every week. We signed a record deal, a management deal, got our album mixed by some big names, toured all across Australia and the US. It was a real enterprise for us.

The environment of the band room is in many ways a microcosm of the modern tech company. You've got a group of talented individuals, in a very collaborative, structurally flat environment, all looking to make a creative contribution and impact on a final product. As the leader of such a group there are many conflicting forces at play. You've got to make each member feel validated, so they feel their contributions are heard and valued. As the final arbiter, it's your duty to veto a contribution or direction that is not going to make the cut (E.G. "We should, like, add a cowbell here right?!").

Morale and motivation are also key. Rehearsing until midnight can be a real grind. Just like bug-fixing until 2am, or writing 100s of customer emails can be. It's essential to the success of a company or band that the emotional chemistry of the room is carefully monitored. Happy people to do good work and get more done.

It's also quite easy to draw many economic parallels between the music and tech industries. Within both worlds, to produce quality collateral (whether it be music or websites) in such a resource-scarce environment means you have to be creative about your means of production and embrace a general ethos of self-sufficiency.

Finally, there is a huge amount of negotiation and contractual issues in music. There are sync deals, management deals, record deals and more. These deals are predicated on similar notions of value as with early stage tech companies. It's about the quality of the band and their capacity to execute (in this case, to execute art, not a business), the "vision" of the band and what they are looking to grow into and that vital ingredient, the size and composition of the addressable market, i.e. "How many people will want to listen to these songs?".

How long are you willing to fail at this job before you succeed?

 

I think "failure" as a concept has an interesting place in the startup culture's psyche and one in which I think the emphasis is sometimes misplaced. I'd argue that failure in isolation is not something to be enshrined.

What makes failure valuable to the entrepreneur is the forensic analysis. Failure without retrospect is nothing more than...failure! Dealing with that gnawing question of "Why didn't it work out?" is where much higher-order learning and growth happens.

If you try to start a business and it fails, and at the end of that process you don't have clear ideas about why it failed, and what you might do differently next time - then that's the real failure. Alternatively, if you come away from that experience with a laundry list of concrete learning about what you did wrong and how to improve and adapt - that's a hugely valuable experience.

As Bob Dylan says: "There's no success like failure. And failure's no success at all."

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

 

I feel very thankful that in my day-to-day existence I get to tackle such a broad and engaging range of problems. I was a Lego kid growing up. I love building things and I love problem solving.

Building a company like Qwilr means there are fascinating problems to work with every single day, whether they be software engineering problems, human-cultural challenges (like deciding who to hire), business and strategic problems or language problems like how to express a new or paradigm shifting idea.

The real fun for me is the mental cross-pollination of working across these problem spaces every day.

Tell me about the time you realized you had the power to do something meaningful.

 

I was a design and engineering consultant for many years, and while I loved the work, I loathed creating proposals. I was like a school-kid with a geography essay to write. It was just so mechanical. Lots of copy and pasting, searching around for some old document, and fiddling with Excel pricing tables. It was absolutely the least enjoyable part of my job. And what made matters worse, the outcome was a static PDF! I was a web guy, why was I producing PDFs to communicate the value of my services?

Qwilr was conceived as a dream solution for my own pain point. Remove all the copy-pasting, fiddling and drudge work - and replacing it with a fluid and visual experience, that produced something engaging, interactive, web based and re-usable.

Using the early versions of Qwilr made me genuinely happier in my work, because I'd removed that last piece of drudgery (besides doing my taxes!). It felt good to produce these self-hosted websites in a couple of minutes, for what used to take me half a day.

What has been really meaningful for me is seeing this same positive experience now being shared by thousands of Qwilr users. Hearing feedback from customers about how much time they've saved, how much better their collateral looks and how much they enjoy the Qwilr experience gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Question: What do you think is most important in building a company - culture or product?

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