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Ask Rahul Vohra Anything

Rahul Vohra is founder/CEO of Superhuman, the email client that has taken Silicon Valley and the rest of the internet by storm in recent years. Superhuman has raised tens of millions of dollars from top VCs, and per the New York Times had a waitlist of 180,000 people last year. Before Superhuman, Rahul brought social media into Gmail with the Rapportive add-on that LinkedIn acquired in 2012.

17

How do you prioritize user feedback?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hello Jason! 👋

We have a pretty nuanced perspective on roadmap management.

In my experience, startups tend towards one of two extremes. Some teams, especially those which are driven by vision, tend to constantly double down on what users love. Whereas some teams, especially those which are driven by data, tend to systematically address user issues.

In practice, I believe that you need to keep vision and data in very careful balance. If you only double down on what users love, then you will never grow beyond your initial niche. If you only address user issues, then your competition will likely overtake you.

Each quarter we plan to spend 50% of our time doubling down on vision, and 50% of our time addressing user issues.

The question then comes this: how do you prioritize within each stream?

Doubling down on vision is an art. This is where you get to exercise your "product instinct". Talk to your users, lean into your intuition, and figure out the most impactful ways to give people more of what they crave.

Addressing user feedback is much more straightforward. We use a very simple cost-impact analysis: we label each potential project as low/medium/high cost, and similarly low/medium/high impact. We then pick the lowest hanging fruit; projects which are both low cost as well as high impact!

I cover this part of our roadmap philosophy in the second part of this article: How Superhuman Built an Engine to Find Product/Market Fit

13

Can you talk about any time early in Superhuman’s existence where it felt like dark days? If so, how did you motivate yourself and your team to push through?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hello! 👋

The hardest period, for sure, was about two years in.

We started coding Superhuman in 2015. A year later, we had grown to 7 people — and we were still coding. By the summer of 2017, we were 14 people — and we were still furiously coding!

I felt this incredible intense pressure to launch, both from the team and also from within myself. After all, my last startup had launched, scaled, and been acquired in less time! Yet here we were, two years in, and we still had not launched.

Deep down inside I knew — no matter how intensely I felt pressure— a launch would go very badly. I did not believe we had product-market fit.

And although I knew it, I couldn’t just say that to the team.  These are super-ambitious, hyper-intelligent engineers. They poured their hearts and souls into the product. I couldn't just bring a problem. I had to find the solution.

So in April of 2017, I started my search for the holy grail.  For a way to define product-market fit, for a metric to measure product-market fit, and for a methodology to systematically increase product-market fit.

I searched high and low. I read everything I could find. Spoke with all the experts. And then I came across Sean Ellis.

Sean ran growth in the early days at Dropbox, LogMeIn, and Eventbrite. He coined the term “growth hacker”.

Sean had found a leading indicator of product-market fit. One that is benchmarked and predictive.

Just ask your users this: “how would you feel if you could no longer use the product?” and measure the percent who answer “very disappointed”.

After benchmarking 100s of startups, Sean found the companies that struggle to grow always get less than 40% very disappointed… and the companies that grow easily almost always get more than 40%.

In other words: if more than 40% of your users would be very disappointed without your product, you have initial product-market fit.

This metric is more objective than a feeling. This metric predicts success better than Net Promoter Score.

We took this metric to its logical conclusion. We now use it not only as a measure of product-market fit, but as the basis for a whole product-market fit engine. With this engine, we have a methodology for systematically increasing product-market fit. It even writes our roadmap for us.

Read more here!

12

After the initial launch, what have you done for marketing?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Jason! 👋

Superhuman has 3 pillars of growth: (1) virality, (2) content, and (3) press.

For virality, it is still the case that the best way to get a Superhuman invite is to be referred by a Superhuman customer. The nuance about coming in this way is that it primes you to do the same: somebody referred you, so the next time you see somebody looking for an invite, you're much more likely to want to refer them. This virality drives much of our growth.

For content, I try to have one key theme per year. For example, a year ago I shared our product-market fit engine. This turned out to be one the most widely shared entrepreneurship articles that year — and led to many talks and podcast episodes. This year, I am sharing our unique practice of product design, which has its roots in game design. Expect to see a lot about this!

For press, it is worth noting that we are in a very unusual moment in time. COVID — and the thread of an impending recession — rightly dominates all headlines. We have quite a few large articles in the works, but they are all on hold as the current news cycle plays out.

12

Why is Superhuman still invite-only?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Thank you Matthew! 👋

More than anything, we care about helping you get through your inbox twice as fast as before.

And so if it is obvious that Superhuman is not quite ready for somebody because of their workflow or hardware, we're not shy about saying so. For example, we have a really great iOS app, but we don't yet have an Android app. So we tend not to onboard folks who use Android, because we know that they could not use Superhuman on the go.
That's where the waitlist comes in. We are working on an Android app, and will reach out to all those folks just as soon as it is ready. 🙏

(For those running their own SaaS startups, this kind of waitlist is extremely effective. For example, 36% of all Superhuman customers achieve Inbox Zero in the onboarding itself, and half of all Superhuman customers hit it within 4 hours of starting to use the product!)

8

where did u buy "the jacket" from ?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

The Jacket was bought from Hugo Boss. This was back when Hugo Boss made interesting jackets; in recent years they have not put out anything too interesting.

Those who know me well will know that I… uh… collect leather jackets. With the exception of The Jacket, most of my favorites are by John Varvatos. They tend to use a very fitted and tailored cut that is otherwise hard to find.

And if you have absolutely no idea what this question is referring to, here's some fun context:

  1. Currently funding any founder pitching productivity that walks into my office wearing this jacket
  2. Currently renting out this jacket for Monday morning pitches
8

What's something contrarian you believe about product design?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

At Superhuman, we have a rather unusual approach to product design! We make products like they are games… 🎮

Most software companies worry about what users want or need. But nobody needs a game to exist; there are no requirements.

When you a make a game, you don’t worry about what users want or need, you obsess over how they feel. When your product is a game, people don’t just use it — they play it. They find it fun, they tell their friends, they fall in love with it.

It turns out that game design is an altogether different kind of product development!

For those wondering how to get started with game design, check this out: Game Design, Not Gamification, for Great Products

8

What makes email fascinating to you?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Great question! 👋

Firstly, the impact is utterly huge. There are 1 billion professionals in the world. On average, we spend 3 hours every single day just reading and writing email. This is more time than we spend commuting. In fact, the only activity that we do more of… is sleep!

Secondly, email is crying out for innovation. When was the last time you heard somebody say: "I love Gmail!"? I haven't heard this for over a decade. Gmail is fine. Outlook is fine. But we are pushing beyond for far beyond fine. Our mission is to build something so delightful, so remarkable, that it can inspire love.

8

What tools help you decide what to build next, prioritize/triage feedback. What's the one source of truth for you?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Juraj! 👋

We have a lot of tools that we use to run product at Superhuman. I outlined the whole process here.

To the tools:

  1. We use SendWithUs to send out the emails that request user feedback.
  2. These emails contain a link to a TypeForm survey.
  3. These survey responses, and all customer support email, comes into HelpScout.
  4. We have a number of internal Chrome browser extensions that make HelpScout — which is awesome, by the way — even faster!
  5. Our delight team then tags and triages all this user feedback into Airtable, which becomes our single source of truth for customer feedback.

We have now tagged north of 40,000 individual pieces of feedback this way!

This enables some really cool things:

  1. At the start of any feature, we can automatically generate a skeleton product requirements document that contains many thousands of words of verbatim customer quotes. This easily shaves a month or two of user research off any feature.

  2. At the end of any feature, we can close the loop with anybody who ever talked about it — and on precisely the same email thread in which they brought it up. This becomes a lovely source of surprise and delight!

8

Why is the implementation of other email service providers going so slow?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

We have a framework for R&D spend. For every dollar you spend, you are choosing — either implicitly or explicitly — to spend it either on (1) Market Widening or (2) Solution Deepening.

  1. Market Widening means making the product available to more users, but not making it any better at solving users' problems.
  2. Solution Deepening means making the product better at solving users' problems, but not making it available to more users.

Many startups have gone awry by chasing Marketing Widening. This can be a way to kickstart growth, but if done too early it will leave your early adopters and core evangelists feeling unloved.

All that said, I do want to support other email service providers as soon as we can. We plan to start working on O365 later this quarter! 🙏

8

Are there any unusual ways that people are using Superhuman?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Jennifer! 👋

One thing that I find incredibly fascinating is the variety of people who use Superhuman. I think a lot of folks assume that we built it for those who work in technology.

But in practice, we find avid users from every geography and from every walk of life — doctors, lawyers, restauranteurs, comedians, musicians, movie makers — just to name a bunch off the top of my head.

If anything, this changed our thinking to realize that Superhuman is even more horizontally applicable than we thought. Everybody would prefer to get through their inbox super fast, and most folks wish they could maintain Inbox Zero!

8

Are there any products you could not live without?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

That is an exceedingly high bar! 🙃

Perhaps the only thing that meets that bar for me is my CPAP machine. I suffer from sleep apnoea, so the only way for me to get a reliable night of sleep is to wear a mask and have air forced into my face. I jokingly call it my "Darth Vader" machine, because that's kind of what it sounds like!

7

How did you come up with charging $30 a month for your product?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Before we tried to address pricing, we first addressed our positioning.

Are we the Ford of email?  (Nope.)  Are we the Mercedes of email?  (Not quite.)  Are we the Tesla of email?  (Getting there!)

We started with this article by Arielle Jackson: Positioning Your Startup is Vital — Here’s How to Nail It.  Arielle advises using a formula like the following:

For (target customer)
Who (statement of need or opportunity),
(Product name) is a (product category)
That (statement of key benefit).
Unlike (competing alternative)
(Product name)(statement of primary differentiation).

She gives the example of Harley-Davidson:

The only motorcycle manufacturer
That makes big, loud motorcycles
For macho guys (and “macho wannabes”)
Mostly in the United States
Who want to join a gang of cowboys
In an era of decreasing personal freedom.

We thought about this hard for Superhuman.  We met up with Arielle (she's awesome), and did further reading.   In particular, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, was very helpful.

In 2015, we came up with this positioning:

For founders, CEOs, and managers of high-growth technology companies
Who feel like their work is mostly email
Superhuman is the fastest email experience ever made;
It’s what Gmail could be if it were made today instead of 12 years ago
Unlike Gmail
Superhuman is meticulously crafted so that everything happens in 100ms or less.

(Note: we've since expanded beyond this very tightly defined target.)

When you read this positioning, it's clear that Superhuman is a premium tool for a premium market.  In Monetizing Innovation, Madhavan advocates for developing pricing alongside product, in a way that supports the positioning.

Madhavan covers lots of ways to develop pricing.  We used one of the easiest methods, which is the the Van Westendorp Price Sensitivity Meter.  In late 2015, we asked ~100 of our earliest users these questions:

  • At what price would you consider Superhuman to be so expensive that you would not consider buying it? (Too expensive)
  • At what price would you consider Superhuman to be priced so low that you would feel the quality couldn’t be very good? (Too cheap)
  • At what price would you consider Superhuman to be starting to get expensive, so that it is not out of the question, but you would have to give some thought to buying it? (Expensive/High Side)
  • At what price would you consider Superhuman to be a bargain—a great buy for the money? (Cheap/Good Value)

The price point that supports our premium position is the third one: "when does it feel expensive, but you'd still buy it anyway?" (One can imagine that Tesla did this with the Model S.)

The median answer for the third question was around $30 per month.  And that's how we picked our price.

Once we picked our price, we had to do a quick gut check on market size.  For example: how can we grow into a $1bn valuation?  Let's assume that at that point, our valuation is 10x our run rate, so our ARR is $100M.  That would be ~300k subscribers at $30 per month — and that is conservatively assuming no other ways to increase ARPU (e.g. new products, or going upmarket).  We asked ourselves: do we think we can get to hundreds of thousands of subscribers?  We answered yes, and went ahead with the price!

Resources:
[1] Positioning Your Startup is Vital — Here’s How to Nail It
[2] Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
[3] Monetizing Innovation
[4] Van Westendorp's Price Sensitivity Meter

6

When will Superhuman begin supporting O365 customers?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Daniel! 👋

We are starting work on it this quarter. It's hard to size it up without doing this initial investigation, but I do hope to have users trying it out before the year is done.

I cannot wait! 🙏

6

What is the right time(s) to ask users what they think about your product?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Sebastián! 👋

If you care about the 40% product-market fit benchmark, then you should wait until your user has had the chance to experience the core value proposition of your product.

For a service with transactions, you might want to wait until after a few have happened (e.g. for Uber, you might want to wait until after a few rides). For Superhuman, we wait until users have had the chance to experience what makes the product special. There is a trigger based both on time as well as number of emails sent — in practice, this turns out to be after about 3 weeks.

As for not spamming, we only ever ask each user once, and we never do a repeat survey.

I hope this helps! 🙂🙏

6

How many users did Superhuman have before you publicly launched?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

I have a rather contrarian view on this: I do not believe in product launches! In fact, there was never a point in time when Superhuman publicly launched. 🙃

Instead, I believe in doing a gradual ramp up. This gives you time to constantly improve the product, and to fix areas as they start to break — but before they actually impact customers.

So the question becomes: when does a launch make sense?

I think a launch makes sense if you need any of the 3 "C"s:

  1. You need more customers — launch to get leads
  2. You need more candidates — launch to raise your profile
  3. You need more capital — launch to get in front of investors

I hope this helps! 🙂🙏

5

How does Magic Mind compare to other nootropics you have tried in the past?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Previously, I was using Qualia Mind. It was very effective, but not particularly pleasant. The daily dosage was 7 pills, and left rather a fishy aftertaste. You also had to cycle off of it for two days per week, which is often a sign that you might not want to take it long term.

By comparison, Magic Mind is just as effective, and much more pleasant to consume. It comes already dissolved in water, so there are no pills to take. It tastes a little earthy, which does take some getting used to, but is infinitely better than tasting fishy. And Magic Mind works great alongside coffee, so I am now also enjoying my morning cup again!

The last time this came up on Twitter I reached out to the Magic Mind founder to ask if he could share any discount codes. I am told that the code "SUPERHUMAN" will give you 20% off a first order 🙂🙏

5

How did you engage and grow relationships with your most passionate Superhuman users early on?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

I onboarded the first several hundred users onto Superhuman myself!

This was quite the occasion, and often involved a gift from the whole Superhuman team. Sometimes it was a bottle of whiskey; sometimes it was something else entirely. But right from the very beginning, we always went out of our way to create delight and be remarkable.

4

What are some notable behavior differences between desktop and mobile users? And what are some ways Superhuman apps have adapted to such differences?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Sarah! 👋

We send three times as many emails from our laptops than our phones. However, we open our email app eight times more on our phones than on our laptops. In fact, we check our phones 58 times a day — and over half of these happen during work hours!

The desktop and mobile apps are more alike than they are different. Both apps are focused on helping you get through your inbox twice as fast — and on helping you hit Inbox Zero. The difference comes about in how we do this. On desktop, we invest heavily in keyboard shortcuts so you never have to touch the mouse. On mobile, we invest heavily in one-handed gestures so you can be blazingly fast on the go.

4

What do you say to investors who pushback because they don't want to fund a product that requires a behavior change?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Justin! 👋

I think the nuance is in what kind of behavior needs to change.

Superhuman does indeed push back against many inbox conventions. But there are 1 billion professionals in the world, and on average we spend 3 hours a day just reading and writing email!

In other words, Superhuman has high technology risk (it was and is hard to build) but low market risk (people already do tons of email and generally hate how it feels without Superhuman).

Are you asking users to add something to their day that they don't already do? Or is it a new type of experience that does not substitute a previous product? IMHO both of these are really hard behavior changes, and I try to avoid them myself both as an entrepreneur and also as an angel investor.

I hope this is helpful! 🙂🙏

3

How do you think about customer feedback?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Customer feedback is pure gold! As I wrote on First Round Review, it is key to how we design our roadmap.

I'm going to paste in another answer here, as I was just asked a very similar question:

In my experience, startups tend towards one of two extremes. Some teams, especially those which are driven by vision, tend to constantly double down on what users love. Whereas some teams, especially those which are driven by data, tend to systematically address user issues.

In practice, I believe that you need to keep vision and data in very careful balance. If you only double down on what users love, then you will never grow beyond your initial niche. If you only address user issues, then your competition will likely overtake you.

Each quarter we plan to spend 50% of our time doubling down on vision, and 50% of our time addressing user issues.

The question then comes this: how do you prioritize within each stream?

Doubling down on vision is an art. This is where you get to exercise your "product instinct". Talk to your users, lean into your intuition, and figure out the most impactful ways to give people more of what they crave.

Addressing user feedback is much more straightforward. We use a very simple cost-impact analysis: we label each potential project as low/medium/high cost, and similarly low/medium/high impact. We then pick the lowest hanging fruit; projects which are both low cost as well as high impact!


And back to your questions! I do indeed change my opinion based on customer feedback. As I wrote above, customer feedback forms precisely 50% of my opinion 🙂

For example, in the early days of Superhuman you could not move conversations into folders. When it became clear that this is something that folks need to be able do, and that these folks would otherwise love Superhuman, we adjusted our plans accordingly.

3

What are your most frequently used emojis? 😎

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

In order of use…

🙏
🙂
😄
👋
🙃
🤔
🚀
📈
🔥
🎮
🤯

Please use this information responsibly 😆

2

What software experience in your opinion would be close to superhuman?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Hataria! 👋

We're seeing a very exciting wave that I call the Prosumerization of the Enteprise.

As part of this, we're going to see a lot of exciting "Superhuman for X" startups. Here are two really great resources on this trend:

  1. The "Superhuman of X"
  2. So you’re building a “Superhuman of X”?
2

How do you decide going deeper on email experience vs building an adjacent product?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Antoine! 👋

We are in fact working on much deeper calendar integration right now. That calendar sidebar is about to become a whole lot more awesome, so do stay tuned for that!

It can be tempting to start on new adjacent products, but in my opinion most startups do this too early. It takes considerable time and energy away from the core product in order to get another one off the ground. So in the meantime, we are focussing all our attention on the email product 🙂🙏

2

Have you ever considered discounting or reducing your price? How did you decide on what people would pay for the service?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hello there! 👋

We do indeed have discounts: Superhuman is $10 per month for students and for non-profits. We are also giving away free lifetime subscriptions of Superhuman for those fighting against COVID.

As for how we decided on price, checkout this answer here: https://capiche.com/q/how-did-you-come-up-with-charging-30-a-month-for-your-product

I hope this helps! 🙂🙏

2

For what X do you want Superhuman for X?

Answer
@rahulvohra founder & ceo, Superhuman
 

Hi Kris, thanks for the question! 👋

My immediate reaction is all the things!

I think that very few experiences are designed with both speed and power and fun as core value propositions, and I would happily buy everything that is. Thinking through my day, the tool which most stands out is Trello. It is really fantastic, but I do not get speed or power or fun from it. I think there is room for a Superhuman of X there 🙂🙏