When I joined Sonos back in 2004, the company was four years in, had spent millions of dollars, had close to 40 people…and still didn’t have a product out in the market. So why join a company with so much risk?
Sometimes it really is just as simple as that. The Sonos founders had conviction like I had never seen before, I can still remember something they said in my interview that has stuck with me (and turned out to come true) – “we’re going to change the way people listen to music.”
When I first joined Sonos most of my friends thought I had gone off the deep end. I had just finished my Masters degree in Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon and I was going to work for an unknown startup that was running out of money and didn’t have a product in the market yet. However what Tom, John, Craig, and Trung believed, I also believed and damn it feels good to know that what we all believed came true. Here’s what Sonos looked like when I started…we sold this two room kit for $1,500 (oh and you could only buy it in a bundle pack like this):
I spent almost a decade at Sonos, but not as an Engineer as I had spent so many years in school for, but in sales, something I had zero experience with. I learned a lot of valuable lessons that have proved to be incredibly valuable today as the co-founder of a software startup. This could be a long list, heck I could probably write a book about it, but let’s just start with three that I think would also be valuable for other founders.
- To build a great product you need a great team – one thing I realized very quickly at Sonos is that while we were incredibly focused on the product we were building, team was the top priority. Over my time there I saw the founders themselves go way above-and-beyond to get people onboard that they knew would be an incredible asset to the team. It wasn’t just about finding a person with the right skills, it was about finding the right “person” – which is much harder. There are a lot of people that will have the skills and background your startup is looking for, but finding the right person, who will really make an impact is a whole different story and I can tell you the Sonos founders are some of the grand-masters at doing this.
- You need to live in a fully formed future – this is something that John would say all the time, he had to live in a fully formed future. When we started the iPod wasn’t a thing yet, in fact, most people we spoke with about the iPod thought it was going to be a flop and that Sony would own the portable market for years to come. As a founder you need to live in the fully formed future, even if that future is only visible by looking through a telescope. While we were early, we were early on a huge trend that changed the world, I feel the same way about what we’re doing now at Fashion Metric.
- No matter how much experience you or your team has, you’ll make a lot of mistakes – even in the early days at Sonos we had some of the most experienced people that had done what they were doing for us for a decade or more. Guess what? Those experts, the people we trusted to know what the “right” thing to do was, made mistakes. To think that you’re not going to make mistakes is foolish, but what’s more foolish is to not learn from those mistakes. We learned, made more mistakes, learned again, and right now I think Sonos also made a mistake not getting into the voice-control arena sooner. However knowing the team, I know if anyone can make this happen and face-off against Amazon, it’s Sonos because they learn fast and have built a great team to execute on the lessons learned.
Like I said, these are only three of many lessons learned but I had to start somewhere and I thought it was about darn time I write about my experience at Sonos. I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of Sonos in the early days, and as my lawyer says, I should mention that I am currently an shareholder, something that I’m also damn proud of!