Meet Sandi MacPherson: Founder of Quibb

Meet Sandi MacPherson: Founder of Quibb

The story of the tech startup founded in a garage has been frequently told. I came across an endearing story of a solo-entrepreneur working on an innovative news and link sharing startup in the Bay Area. The person is Sandi MacPherson, a former climate change scientist and the company is Quibb. What is endearing is how she actually met in person and persuaded each of her early members, the site typically accepts under 40% of applicants, every member is screened. The eventual result is a highly engaged and high quality community of members from well-regarded companies. I have discovered that there is a personal feel to being a member, the sense of handpicked news, catering to your taste being delivered by people you admire. That is quite different from larger social networks, where you are connected to hundreds or even thousands of people often without knowing them personally. As a part of the same personalized feeling, I asked Sandi for an interview for my blog and she agreed. Here are her answers whih provide a deeper insight into her venture and personality:

How did you come to the idea of Quibb? Tell us the story?
Before I moved to the Bay Area, I had been using Twitter to provide me with interesting links and content about startups to read (as well as some interesting mini-conversations). At the time, I was working as a climate change professional. I also had daily news and information needs… but several subscriptions to industry association newsletters, articles forwarded from my boss, physical journals passed around the office… it was too much, and not at all tailored for me. I knew that a link-sharing product with a follower model would be a great way to find pertinent and high-quality news and other professional content – for any professional, in any industry.

What’s interesting about Quibb is the personalisation, the focus on the quality of network and relevance than quantity. At the same time you need scale for success. How do you balance the two?
Balance in product design is a difficult challenge for almost anyone, maintaining a simple and high-quality product and experience is tough. An in the case of Quibb, some might consider the people themselves part of that experience and part of the product.
I think there’s some interesting ideas around contributors vs. readers, and how to allow and create the right balance of the two. The breakdown of Quibb members almost like an industry conference – there are lots of people who do presentations, speak on panels, etc., but there’s an even bigger group of people in the audience, who get a lot of value out of listening to and asking questions to the people on stage.

What’s your main learning about forming personal networks online? How can one leverage the network? What are some right or wrong ways if using the network?
There are people who have found jobs, co-founders, and partners through relationships that they developed on Quibb. Like most social interactions (online and off), it’s important to give before you take. I find the people that get the most out of the product are those that comment on others’ posts, give thoughtful feedback, and don’t post only content from their own blog or company page… and then no one follows them. So in that way, the follow model is really powerful!

Talk about your personality a bit? What factors do you think go into making an entrepreneur? Are you a dreamer or a doer or both?
I get this question fairly often, and it comes from an interesting place. A lot of people have the feeling that becoming an entrepreneur is really tough, and sorta magical, and something that they can’t do. For me, my father was always an entrepreneur. I think having that as an influence from an early age was really beneficial – it allowed me to consider it as a fully reasonable career option, whereas I think a lot of people seem to immediately bucket it into some ‘highly improbably/risky’ career choice.

How do you cope with challenges or setbacks? Do you work on your “mindset” or does it come naturally?
Being in the Bay Area and working on a startup means that you always hear the ideas about failing, how failure is good, and to fail fast. I think that has been really helpful, to think about what you’re doing through that lens. The one shift that helped me was when I recognized that the timeline of these failures is really quick – several/day is not uncommon!
Otherwise, I make sure to spend time on my hobbies to help clear my head and deal with stress. Being in the Bay Area is great too because there are lots of other people working on companies too, who understand how intense it can be sometimes and help you manage your mindset.

What’s your goal setting process? What are you looking forward to for Quibb?
Beyond mid- and long-term goals that are more static, I like to set both weekly and daily goals. At the end of every week or over the weekend, I choose some big things that I want to get out or work through that coming week. I also try to divide up my time between different types of tasks – as a team of one, it’s important for me to get in the right headspace depending on what I’m working on. Also, I create a daily to-do list with 3 big priority items that I need to get through that day. Recently, it’s been helpful to do a bit of a weekly assessment on Friday afternoons, so I can learn what works and what doesn’t, and adjust for the future.

Give an insight into your personality. Are you a dreamer or a doer?
I think everyone is a bit of both 🙂 but in my case, I’m a bit more doer than dreamer. I enjoy being busy, and pushing things forward as you’re learning. It’s one of the reasons why I like working in tech – the outcomes and results have a really fast turnaround, and you can learn really quickly. At the same time, the dreamer part is important. A lot of people in tech (investors especially) ask entrepreneurs what their special insight is, why they’re the right person to build their company. It’s tough to have those important, world-changing insights if you’re not being a dreamer at least some of the time.

What are you looking forward to for Quibb – in six months? In one year?
One of the things that I’m excited about is expanding the number of people that Quibb helps with their job on a day-to-day basis, and also exploring different ways to do that. I’ve thrown Quibb events in a few cities, and hope to do more of those in the coming months, tweaked a bit based off of what worked well in the past. I also really enjoy learning from people on Quibb, and so I’m excited to help promote more of those types of positive interactions and experiences.

How do you hire your team? What qualities do you look for?
Can’t answer this one… Quibb is still only me!

Sharad Verma is currently Global Head – Human Resources for Polaris Consulting & Services Ltd. A graduate of the prestigious XLRI, Sharad has more than two decades of HR experience. He has previously been Director, Human Resources for SunGard Global Technology, Head of Human Resources for Berkadia (subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway), Monster.com, and The Bank of New York Mellon. Sharad’s blog on leadership, talent and innovation is available at www.iSharad.com.

Sharad has been named one of the Top 100 HR Influencers and his article featured in the top 5 career advice for 2013 on Star jobsite.

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