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Bobby Pinero (Equals) on Founder-Led Content, Early Traction, and Faith Over Fear

Bobby Pinero (Equals) on Founder-Led Content, Early Traction, and Faith Over Fear URL: bobby-pinero-equals

Starting a company is an exciting journey, but scaling it up can be a daunting task. As a startup grows, the need for talented individuals becomes increasingly vital as not all tasks can be performed by the founders. The right team can make all the difference between success and failure. 

Bobby Pinero is currently the CEO of Equals, a next-generation spreadsheet with live data connections, versioning, and collaboration, built for analysts. He’s spent the last decade working as an analyst. Most recently he ran finance, analytics, biz ops, and other teams at Intercom – from less than $1M in ARR to $200M ARR.

In this episode, Bobby discusses the essential principles to use when hiring a candidate for the company. He also stresses the need of hiring the right person, especially in startups where there is a need to maintain a small team. By the end of this podcast, you’ll have a better understanding of how to hire for success and scale your startup with confidence.


  • Why do analysts seem to devalue the spreadsheet?
  • The Alternatives of Typical Spreadsheets
  • Building the Right Product for the Market 
  • Product Marketing
  • Finding the Right Content Distribution Platform
  • Scaling Content to the Masses
  • Should you hire a salesperson?
  • Utilization of a Product Salesperson 
  • How to hire a salesperson
  • General Hiring Principles
  • The Power of a Small Team

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Key Takeaways:

[05:28] Why do analysts seem to devalue the spreadsheet?

Despite its shortcomings, the spreadsheet remains a valuable tool for analysts and businesses

“Yeah, I mean, I think that the so yeah, my belief is the spreadsheets the best way to do analysis planet, simply, every meaningful business decision that I’ve ever made, has happened out of a spreadsheet, and I’ve seen it over and over and over again, in my career where, you know, we need to, we need to get some answer about what to do in our business. Guess what, we’re going back to the spreadsheet? And, you know, I think the look, I mean, I think there’s a bit of there are real problems, you know, equals exists, because there are problems today with Excel and with Google Sheets, right, those are the two spreadsheets. And I think a lot of folks just jumped to the conclusion that, okay, there are problems with spreadsheets. But we’ve got to solve that one particular problem in a very, you know, specific way, pull that problem out of the thing, solve it in a different place. We’ve seen a lot of ways been, you know, if you think about, like the evolution, just think about like the last like 15 years, it’s really hard to build a spreadsheet, like it is, you can’t do it with a small team. So you can’t innovate on the spreadsheet, as a paradigm as a way of working. And so, you know, a lot of folks have kind of followed the typical YC advice, which is like, start with an MVP, build something really small, build something that solves a very pointed, specific problem, you know, launch something in a few weeks, in a few months, get it into people’s hands iterate from there. And so you get things like, you know, a BI tool, it’s like, okay, great, you can write a SQL query on top of a database, and then build a chart on top of it. It sounds like one particular part of a problem, but it doesn’t address, you know, a holistic problem, like, Hey, I’m an analyst needs to do a big broad piece of analysis. And so, you know, we’re, we just, it almost hasn’t been possible to do we at equals want to do it for for quite some time, which is to rebuild the spreadsheet and solve all the problems that happen, that are inherent to the spreadsheet, right? That you know, it’s manual, it’s error prone to get your data in, there’s no data provenance, it’s really hard to collaborate, it’s hard to collaborate in the modern places where we collaborate as teams. And so a lot of people have just been kind of picking it the problem and make the spreadsheet the enemy as part of that. But really, the, the genius of the spreadsheet remains, it’s still the best place to do analysis, and still the most powerful way to do analysis, it’s still this like, beautiful canvas on which you can build almost anything. And there’s not not yet been another piece of software that’s come close to being able to do that for analysis.”

[09:11] The Alternatives of Typical Spreadsheets

R and Python are the upgrades of spreadsheets, but the later remain the favorite among companies

“yeah, and look like there are some benefits to using R and Python over, you know, using using a spreadsheet, you know, you can work with larger data sets, you can do maybe some more rigorous statistical analyses you can do, you know, you’ve got the benefit of working in code, which you can, you know, version and just keep better control over, but it’s still the case that that only serves the, you know, minority a very, very, very small fraction of population of people who need to do analysis. And so you know, while it’s true so in some cases it has its has its merits. You know, we were trying to set out to build a tool that can be used by the masses like that can be used by everybody who knows how to use as well. He, and I’d also put it to you that oftentimes poke into any early stage company or mid stage company or, you know, company that’s just IP owed. And a lot of these are models and Python models ultimately get thrown out for something that just gets built in Excel, or an Excel. Because they’re just, they’re more easily understood. They’re simpler. More people can use them access them. And so I think oftentimes, you get eager folks that want to go build and use these tools, but they’re overblown for the problem that needs to get solved at these companies.”

[11:38] Building the Right Product for the Market 

Your product should have a specific audience for it to achieve a sustainable growth in the market

“You know, I think the I actually think the challenge for us isn’t, isn’t so much who do we build for because there’s so many people that use that still use spreadsheets and aren’t going to even you know, Belle’s there no way, shape or form close to touching are in Python, if we’re lucky, we’ll get them to type SQL. The I think the biggest thing for us is how do we build, you know, how do you build a spreadsheet that can compete? And that can, that somebody who is like one of these, like, you will never take Excel out of my, you know, out of my cold, dead hands, you will never finance people? Yeah, never, ever take it away from me? How do you build something that they can get excited about. And so the way that we’ve approached that has been, you know, we know it’s going to take time for us to build something that I find a hardcore finance person, I spreadsheet, that they’re gonna love a spreadsheet that they that has all the little tiny details that Excel has all the little things, all the small interactions, the performance, the stability, the just all the little details tha’ work exactly like Excel, it takes time, it’s big belt. And so for us, the way that we’ve kind of approached the market has been to, there’s a whole, there’s a huge user base of spreadsheets for analysis, that aren’t the hardcore people. They’re not that like crazy. You know, I live in Excel all day, every day, I know how to do the wildest functions. I know, you know, the nth feature in Excel. And so what we’re doing as relevant a spreadsheet, that’s, you know, great for, you know, more than the kind of early adopter, folks, folks who are founder types, early operators at startups, and solving pain points for them. And then as we kind of build the user base, we can then go and build that really small, long tail edge have features that can, you know, give us they can, you know, serve hardcore, especially user.”

[14:17] Product Marketing

Resonate with the audience and base your marketing on the core advantages of your product

“So first and foremost, you know, we need to build a product that is better on some dimension for you know, our users. And so the folks that we’re targeting right now, again, are this kind of early stage founders, early stage operators. And so what’s what makes equals 10x Better than, you know, Google Sheets Excel, but then also any other data tool out there. You know, the today in equals, you can work in a spreadsheet, but you can connect it to anywhere where I data is, so you can connect to Google Analytics HubSpot, Salesforce, QuickBooks stripe, your personal test database. And within the same workbook, you can work with all that data together, you can join it all up, you can, you know, all of a sudden automate a piece of analysis that maybe you’re building that Mr. Build, and Mr. builds for most startups requires them to pull something from Google Analytics from stripe from Salesforce. And there’s no other data tool on the planet that lets you pull in and work with data and put it all in the same place from multiple different data sources and automate it together. Startup doing that otherwise would have to go and hire five Tran analytics engineer and build data pipelines and put it all together and put it into a database, then somebody would query and that’s how they maybe start to automate something like that. And so we built this tool that for them, is fundamentally better, lets them do work in a way that, you know, they can move, move faster, and understand their businesses better. And at the same time, the strategy has been really just to build an audience of people like us, like, you know, one of the beautiful things about equals is building in a lot of ways for myself for, you know, in band, my co founder as well, like, we’ve been in the seats of the people who we’re trying to serve. And so when we talk about founder that content, really what we’re trying to do there is just communicate to people like us and say, Hey, we’ve been we’ve been there, we know what you’re going through. Maybe we have some lessons that we’ve learned along the way that, you know, we can share with you.”

[21:58] Finding the Right Content Distribution Platform

The right platform is the one with your target audience

“I mean, we’re really, we’re still in the early days. And we’re still kind of figuring this out. But really, all we do with our content is published on LinkedIn, and Twitter. And that’s been the other than doing product launches, which product launches, also, all we do is publish them on Twitter and LinkedIn. And we’ve done a few product launches as well. That’s been our whole distribution. And so you know, for me, LinkedIn has been powerful. Twitter has been powerful. So figuring out Twitter a little bit more, went to weird place to weird place. It’s gotten a little bit weirder, too. But yeah, I mean, my whole philosophy around this is, it’s just find things that can be helpful to other people, and, you know, find ways that you can, from your own experience, and this works particularly well, like we have the really beautiful benefit of being able to talk about and use our own experience to help sell and market equals. And our target audience is ourselves. But it’s how do we create content that I wish I had read? Eight years ago, when I was in the job, I was in at intercom. That’s it? It’s like, as simple as that.”

[28:41] Scaling Content to the Masses

Communities are excellent avenues to market your product to the people

“Yeah, really still figuring that out, in a lot of ways. And actually, this is a very top of mind thing for me as I think about content in 2023. You know, I think that ultimately, what I want to create, you know, what we want to create with equals there’s, there’s equals the brand is equals the product, but then equals also, what we’re trying to create here is like a movement and, and a place where people who, you know, whether you want to call them like modern analysts, or you want to call them folks who are like us, who are just excited about new tools, and new ways of working and geek out about spreadsheets, where we can come together, and we can help each other and, you know, I think content is one of the ways in which we do that. A lot of a lot of companies that we admire companies like figma and notion and air table and you know, Canva and folks have built communities and, you know, groups of individuals who are so excited about their product that they come together and share ideas and collaborate share templates, things like that. But it starts with creating something obviously creating a product but then also creating this place where People are getting value from the things that you’re, you know, bringing them together in some way, shape or form.”

[33:25] Should you hire a salesperson?

Assign tasks to the right experts of the field

“So and to understand that a little bit, you know, equals, when we first launched, we were gated, we were more of a sales lead kind of motion. So we required somebody to jump on a call with us to do a demo to talk pricing and, you know, get access to the product that way. And so, for many months, I was doing that me and my co-founder, were doing that founder led sales. And it worked, you know, we got some folks using the product that way. But I really believe that founder led sales thing is total. It’s BS, like, sales is a skill. There’s an art to it. There. I’ve I’ve never done sales before. You know, I know how to, I know how to go to a VC meeting. And, you know, sell equals, I know how to sell a candidate on a roll, because I’ve done that many times before. But selling, you know, a prospect on a product. There’s just, you know, go work with a salesperson, you’ll work with a great salesperson, and you’ll learn you’ll see like all the little tricks that they have, and tricks is another maybe the wrong word, but it’s cuz it’s not like you’re tricking somebody into buying the product.”

[39:38] Utilization of a Product Salesperson 

Sales is a numbers game, the salesperson knows it best

“The litmus test for me was, do people want? Like, do I feel like people want this product, and it’s solving a real pain, pain for them. And it’s just the very, very, very beginnings of product market fit, like, you know, who, without it being obvious, like, how do you really understand if you have product market fit? Like, it’s really do you jump on conversations, and listen, something to remind founders of is, and this is something I struggled with is like, you’re gonna jump on a lot of conversations, and it’s gonna be a lot of indifference and a lot of noes. And, you know, one of the things that I’ve learned is to have a ton of respect for salespeople, because that is their life, and it is hard like intercom, okay. One of the things I had to remind myself of was like, at intercom, even when we were $100 million business, right? Like our conversion rate from like, lead to paid customer was like 5%, which means 19. People say No, one person says yes. And so, you know, you as a founder for me, I jumped on all these early calls and 20 calls, it was like, people were like, Oh, this is cool. But yeah, you know, let me I’ll get back to you in a couple of months, or some people No, not, not interesting. And you’re like, I don’t have product market fit like this. But you have to just remind yourself, it’s like, it’s a numbers game. It’s a volume game. And so if you have the seedlings as like, sprouts of like, some people, their eyes light up, they’re like, give me this thing. I’ll pay you real money for it. It solves something magical for me. I want to use it and I want to use it consistently. A salesperson could do some real damage.”

[41:59] How to Hire a Salesperson

Before you start the hiring process, talk to as many salespeople as possible to as to know the extent of skills needed for the role at your company

“So for me, it started with I ping four or five salespeople at intercom that I knew were fantastic, had great reputations, great experience. And I just talked to them. And I said, Hey, look, this is I’m looking for a salesperson. How would you think about hiring them? Tell me what makes a great what differentiates a great, great salesperson from an OK, salesperson? What interview questions would you ask them? Do you know of three other people that you think are amazing? Can you I’m not trying to hire them? Can you please just introduce me to them? So I can talk to them calibrate? And then you get a you know, from there, I probably talk to 20-30 Salespeople, again, with no intention of hiring any single one of them. But more just let me see what’s out there. Let me see the types of people that are out there. Let me calibrate on okay. This person who I think is great vouches for this person who they think is great. So, okay. You know, I started to get a feel for who’s good. And and then from there, you, you know, you kind of work the network, right? Like, you start to get you ask every person for two or three interests to other salespeople that they think are great. And eventually, that person pops up, right? It’s like, Oh, I know somebody who is just looking, and they’re fantastic. And, you know, now you’ve met 20 salespeople, and you kind of know what to ask, and you know, what to look for?”

[45:37] General Hiring Principles

Doers perform better that those who only give instructions

“So use him a lot to I’d say, in terms of principles, I mean, the thing that I like, a lot of it is just getting really familiar with, you know, the types of folks in the, in the, in, in this role, and you know, what makes people successful, but things I always look for, just, especially in this kind of, in the startup world, or just, I tend to find great, great, great folks not in like big brand name companies and like, you know, there’s just a certain amount of like, if you kind of haven’t done it before, like, you’ve kind of like tasted it a little bit, but you haven’t quite done it, there’s just a certain level of like scrappiness that you bring and like, fire and a fire to it, it’s like, I want to prove myself like that was me when I joined intercom and like, you know, there’s a certain amount of like that, that I kind of look for. And then look, it’s just gotta be somebody who’s gonna move really fast, and who’s gonna be a doer, and not a, you know, order giver, like, right and right, at our stage, you are doing it all, everything you’re doing it, you know, nothing is beneath you in terms of getting stuff done. And that you just got to be able to do it, you got to do it fast, and you got to fail, and you got to keep going and try the next thing.”

[49:22] The Power of a Small Team

A small efficient team is more productive if it is focused and result oriented

“And so, you know, it’s funny when we set out to build equals from the get go. I won’t name names, but we had some very probably some of the most prominent people in Silicon Valley investors, successful entrepreneurs. Tell us we were absolutely absolutely out of our mind insane thinking that we could build a spreadsheet in any reasonable amount of time with, you know, we raised $6 million to begin with, and it Six and a half million dollars. And, you know, they’re like, no chance with a team of 7-8-9 or10 people, you will get anywhere near close to what Excel and Google sheets have done. Do you know how many 1000s of engineers Google Sheets has? You know, how many 1000s of engineers, Microsoft have working on those products? And, you know, credit to my co founder, Ben, more than me, because I’m not taking the call. And I don’t really but you know, he rejected that entirely. It’s like, no, with a really small team of brilliant engineers, you can do insane amount. And every, every single one of those people, since that we’ve caught up with have been totally shocked, totally blown away at the progress we’ve made. And, you know, when we launched the product, we were 15 months in and, you know, we had, you know, we’re not fully feature parity with Google Sheets yet, but we’re almost there. And in some ways, we’re faster than Google Sheets already. And you can just do an insane, insane amount with a really small team. It’s possible.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.