Awesome People - Ep 115
100s of free roadmap, job description, GTM templates and other Artifacts made by experts
Hi, founders and fellow VC Friends!
We deliver awesome people to your inbox. These are the people you need to know —the marketers, sales gurus, engineers, and ops wizzes — who give your startup superpowers 🚀. The best part is everyone is hireable.
I’m a tiny investor in Reforge, a Series-B company that helps you accelerate your career. In their most recent update, I saw that they launched Artifacts.
Artifacts are real work products created by top experts across product, growth, marketing, and more — think actual GTM strategies and roadmaps. They’re free, and you can download, remix, and use these Artifacts. It’s really cool!
Artifacts is so cool that I worked with Brian to create this special edition newsletter. Brian is one of the most operationally excellent CEOs I know (truly next level) and a well-respected growth leader whom I’ve admired since pre-Awesome People.
He kindly gives us the scoop below 👇
Introducing Artifacts ✨
Artifacts was inspired by my own experience. I had other founders and growth leaders constantly reaching out for example experiments, strategy docs, job descriptions, you name it.
We spend too much time on work that reinvents the wheel. The less time we spend reinventing the wheel, the more time we can spend building new and unique things.
With Reforge Artifacts, you can:
Find ready-to-use resources that are directly applicable to your work.
Gain valuable insights from experts who share the story, lessons, and nuances behind each artifact.
Save and collaborate on artifacts with colleagues to accelerate your work together.
Customize and remix artifacts to suit your specific needs to save time and effort.
Never start from scratch again using this real work from leading operators.
Here are some of my favorites:
These Artifacts have notes from their creators with context, key tradeoffs, the occasional spicy hot take, and useful tips or pitfalls to avoid.
Check out Reforge Artifacts for free here.
For today’s newsletter, I thought it might make sense to dive into a few I wish I had when starting Reforge.
*Julia’s interlude: This is long but worth the full read. And if you only have a short amount of time, scroll to the artifact that best suits your needs now because I promise you’ll find gold 🏆
These are 4 essential Artifacts for early-stage founders 🚀
Let’s start with one of mine. The first thing I created at Reforge, before incorporating, was a Business Hypothesis Canvas.
When I get a new business idea, my brain runs in a million different directions. The Business Hypothesis Canvas helps me:
Structure the brain chaos into something coherent.
Force me to see and answer questions I hadn’t thought of yet.
State my core hypotheses.
Focus on what ultimately matters.
Communicate all of this to others in a clear and simple way.
The goal should be to structure your thoughts clearly in the fastest way possible to maximize your time building the actual product. Most of the hypotheses reflected in this document ended up being correct and getting Reforge from $0 to $30M in revenue.
Let me walk you through a few key steps. In the Artifact, I break down the canvas and what I would do differently if I could do it all over again.
🏆 Start with the Problem → Solution → Winning
This isn’t immediately apparent from reading the Business Hypothesis Canvas, but the sections start by defining the problem and end with how you’ll win (screenshots below).
🎯 Target Audience - Who are we targeting?
😱 Problem - What problem do they have?
❤️ Value Prop - What is our solution? Why do they care?
🗣️ Distribution - How will we make them aware of that solution?
💰 Monetization - How are we going to make money off the solution?
🛡️ Defensibility - If successful, how are we defensible?
⚔️ Alternatives - Who do we need to be defensible against?
Many founders start with the solution. This leads to incomplete thinking. The business canvas questions flow in a very specific way. If you aren’t clear about the specific audience and problem first, the rest doesn’t matter.
🧭 Now, Future, Not A Focus
Now - Hypotheses we’re trying to prove now.
Future - Hypotheses on what we think could be our next step.
Not a Focus - Adjacent hypotheses that we’re explicitly not focused on.
Stating what you aren’t doing is as important as what you’re doing. A lot of early entrepreneurs are afraid to take things off the table. That leads to a lack of focus. I get it. It’s hard to say that you will “never” do something.
This format lets you take things off the table in a low-pressure way.
🏛 Identify The Pillar Hypothesis
Every new business has a most important hypothesis. It’s usually the one that has cascading effects if it’s wrong.
For Reforge, the most important hypothesis was around our underserved target audience.
At the time, the market was flooded with boot camps to help people get jobs and low-quality courses.
Our thesis was that mid-career professionals, people who already had jobs, were underserved. We believed they were more willing to pay for professional growth (had access to company budgets) and didn’t have crazy outcome expectations.
This was the most important hypothesis because it influenced every other hypothesis. It’s critical to identify your pillar hypothesis because if it’s wrong, you have to revisit the rest of your canvas.
🛡 Protect The Insight
Most new businesses start with an insight. Peter Theil calls it the “hidden secret.” For us, it was that traditional methods of career acceleration don’t work, and companies struggle to offer in-house training since subject knowledge changes so fast.
The challenge is everyone — new employees, investors, customers — has their own ideas and insights. It’s a founder’s job to not only validate the insight but protect it like a baby to keep the company on track.
I used this artifact to protect Reforge from directions suggested by outsiders.
Here are some examples of “Not a Focus” ideas:
Create a “Get a Job” Course (in the original Not a Focus Section)
The most common suggestion I would get from new hires, outsiders, and investors was, “You should create a program that places people in growth roles. That would be gold!”
The problem with this is that taking someone from nothing to getting a job requires a completely different experience. Not to mention, it’s incredibly difficult.
At the time, I had a hypothesis that you couldn’t take someone from no knowledge to getting a job in the timeline and at the cost that the customer wanted. That has played out to a certain degree with the fall of boot camps, but I actually hope someone figures out a 10X solution there.
Sell A Certificate
Another common suggestion from the peanut gallery is — “you should sell certification for XYZ role.”
While it’s true that it’s a money-making opportunity, I don’t believe in my heart that it will help people get ahead in their careers.
At the end of the day, the only thing that moves you forward is doing the work. I want to keep that central to Reforge’s mission.
I knew that with some success, we’d get requests to do custom courses. We did and still get them today. Many companies are trained to think, “Oh, this is a small company. I can get them to customize to my needs.”
But we have a hypothesis that custom courses are both unscalable and the wrong solution for the customer, so we keep saying no.
Every company loves to think they’re a special snowflake. After teaching tons of Reforge courses and seeing inside thousands of companies' problems, I can tell you that this sentiment is wrong 99% of the time. Problems repeat.
You can get the full Business Hypothesis Canvas, download it, and create your own version on Reforge.
Once you have your hypothesis, it’s time to share it with the world. In this pre-seed deck from Prefab, Founder and CEO, Jeff Dwyer, presents a brilliant company overview and shares some key lessons.
Show self-awareness by addressing doubts head-on 🥊
We all have at least one insecurity about our concept or its execution. Rather than try to hide it, show it and assert your solution to it.
“When making your pitch deck, you're saying, ‘Here's what the heck we're trying to do.’ Then you have to think of what are the objections and why it's not a good idea, then address the top three.”
Jeff’s company manages feature flags for developers, and his top question was, “How do you get developers to do this?”
Less is more ✏️
“The more you put in the pitch deck, the less you get to speak to the actual investor.”
“The more that's in the deck, the more pre-formed notions they're going to have about what you're up to, and then you're fighting against whatever impressions you accidentally made in the deck”
Story > Numbers (at this stage in particular…) 🏰
“There are a lot of pitch decks and templates out there on the internet, and I think a number of them can actually lead you a little bit astray. They tell you to focus on the numbers and the projections and the TAM and those sorts of things, but they're probably bullsh*t, and everybody knows it.”
The deck’s never done 🛫
"I would ship early and often because there's always another VC in the seat.”
Founders often make the mistake of waiting too long to “perfect the deck” only to have their first VC meeting and have to start it all over.
Don't know where to start with your deck? You can use Jeff's actual deck, see his accompanying Investment Memo, which serves as the source material for the deck, Jeff's subsequent Investor Updates, and view other Seed Decks like this one from Ariel Diaz for Blissfully.
Next, we're examining a truly unique artifact by Sam Parr: a Founder Agreement. We've all experienced relationships that have soured. In romantic relationships, couples often opt to have a "Define The Relationship" conversation to prevent issues as they become more serious. So, why don't founders do the same?
Sam starts his founder’s agreement by setting the table.
“Where we are:
Enjoy working with one another
Have a thing that has the potential to be big
Will require years of dedication and focus”
And he clearly outlines the goal! 🏁
“I’d love if we could each map out what we want, how we want to get there so we make sure we’re cool entering into this partnership.”
“The exercise was simple: write where you want to be in the future and what you’re willing (and unwilling) to do to do to get there.”
Don’t be afraid to talk about the Benjamins 💰
Sam writes, “I’ve had partners who don’t care about money. I do care. It can be a nightmare when you’re money-motivated and the other isn’t. Like a band member wanting to be Lady Gaga while the other wants to be like some no-name indie band. Both can rock, but I want to write hits.”
Be vulnerable 💙
Sam writes, “I want a seat at the big boys’ table and for people to think I’m wonderful at my job.”
“I wanted it to be clear to Joe what my insecurities were. Being taken seriously as an entrepreneur (not just a content creator) was one of them.”
Make the nonnegotiables clear 💎
Sam’s is Freedom. Freedom to be his own boss, travel frequently, and make his own hours.
And, he then defines how to achieve that: Avoid venture capital, limit hiring to absolute needs, and keep meetings to a minimum.
To see the rest of Sam’s needs and perhaps remix this for your co-founders, head to Reforge to see the full artifact for free.
We’ll end today by discussing what I believe is one of the most important hires, the VP of People. In addition to the interview process artifact, I also shared the research document I used to scope the role, as well as the Job Description I posted to source candidates for the interview.
Before we dive into this specific Artifact, I want to highlight that Reforge offers a wide range of Hiring-specific Artifacts, including the Engineering Manager Interview Process at Reforge, VP Product Take-home Exercise at ResortPass, Product Manager Interview Plan for Marketplace PMs at Shipt, and Hiring simulation for a Senior Product Manager, Onboarding role at Slack, to name a few.
Let’s start with the goal of the interview process. At the end of the day, you need to sit down and decide if someone can do great work in this role.
We want to mimic the work environment as clearly as possible, so that means not just throwing information at people and seeing how they respond in the moment. The components of our process are as follows:
💭 Questions Ahead of Time - We give you most interview questions ahead of time. This allows you to more accurately display how you think/work when you have time to think through something versus “on the spot” questions.
📗 Relevant Situations - All of the discussions are based on problems/situations/projects that you might face in the role. This gives you a more tangible taste of what the role will be like to make sure it fits with your career interests.
🪜 Process + Approach - We are most interested in your process and approach to the scenarios, not your exact answer or outcome. We are trying to understand how you think through problems and if your approach has the right chemistry with the rest of the team.
🖨️ Work Output - For all roles and levels of seniority, a step in the process is a Portfolio Review and/or a Simulation. This helps us get a view of your actual work output. It helps reduce bias in the process, such as rewarding those who are primarily good at interviewing.
The artifact walks through how we implement each of these for the VP People interview. I also include a few of my own takes:
🌙 I’m looking for above and beyond. I wanted someone who could go beyond basic foundational tasks like setting up solid payroll and HR systems. Someone who could think about the people function in a differentiated way. For example, how can we create a really unique employee experience? A great hiring funnel to compete for top talent?
📲 Call references before round 2. Outside of the simulation, references are the most important predictor of success, and most people wait far too long in the process to do them. If you're working with an exec recruiter, they've often vetted these folks, but I wouldn’t trust the exec recruiter's references as a baseline.
🐘 Ask the hard questions earlier. Ensure you're aligned on the topics where there’s often misalignment or where misalignment can be really harmful. With the VP of People, I wanted to ensure I’m aligned with the candidate on critical topics. If a VP of People isn’t aligned with the founder and exec team, they won’t build an organization that fits your org’s perspective and philosophy.
And, while we have you, if you haven’t heard my new podcast with Fareed Mosavat called Unsolicited Feedback, we encourage you to join us! It’s like being a fly on the wall at an expert happy hour.
As always, please let me know if you have any questions!
Founder of Awesome People Ventures & Talent
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Awesome People Continued 🤩
Ben, Your Founder Coach and Consultant — is the co-founder of Verto, a company I invested in and where I currently serve on the board. After leaving Verto, he’s been consulting as a hands-on founder coach. He now uses his experience to help other founders bring their ideas to market. Ben is a strong, hands-on generalist who can help with GTM, operations, and people operations.
David, Your Content Marketing Consultant — he’s ghostwritten op-eds for C-Level executives at Adyen, Amazon, Box, GitHub, Meta, and OpenAI, appearing in Forbes, TechCrunch, Wired, Fast Company, and other tech outlets. You can hire him to develop your executives’ content strategy, build your blog strategy, manage your content, ghostwrite, and meet your podcasting needs.
Caylin, Your Product and Content Marketing Expert — she’s done everything from writing AWS’s SMB Hub to launching Akash System’s new website under a tight timeline. She’s known for her ability to distill complex topics into simple, digestible content. You can hire her for your positioning, messaging, content, website copy, blogs, virtual events, and execution of marketing activations like targeted mail merges.
Want an intro to Ben, David, or Caylin? Respond to this email, and I’ll connect you!
PS. Exec Assistant Discount Link 😍
I will leave this here since so many people ask about EAs every week. Athena is one of the most popular EA services across the Awesome People Community. They work with founders of 1,000+ companies, from early-stage YC companies to 30+ unicorns. It’s worth an intro call to learn more. Athena has kindly offered a month free (your second month) when you sign up with this link.
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