If we had to pick a superpower for Mish Guru, it would no doubt be storytelling. Mish Guru helps brands telling authentic stories through Snapchat and Instagram.

It all started with an idea and a team of three. Tom Harding, Ashok Fernandez and Jacob Duval took their venture through our Lightning Lab accelerator in 2014; four years later the team has grown stronger and bigger than ever, with a presence in New York, Berlin, Sydney and Auckland.

We caught up with co-funder Tom, to see what’s happening in Mish Guru world and what’s the secret to building an awesome team culture.

What have you been up to since Lightning Lab Accelerator in 2014?

Wow, it’s crazy to think that Lightning Lab is now over four years ago. We’ve been pretty busy since then, to say the least.

When we left the Lightning Lab, we still hadn’t built out our product so bringing in a team to get that moving was our #1 priority. We got our MVP together pretty quickly and after managing to get our first few paying customers onto the platform, we dove straight into a round of funding.

For Mish, we recognized pretty early that in order to be successful with our model of distribution (inside and field sales), that we needed to be closer to the markets that mattered – in our case that was the US.

I’d love to say that things magically came together from there, but in reality, it was more a case of grinding out each and every single success. Once we had got our growth story together we were lucky enough to close a $2m seed round from our New Zealand investors.

This gave us the bandwidth to grow out our Berlin-based engineering team, bring in more sales talent in NYC, and critically, start building our Instagram offering.


What were the critical factors to Mish Guru’s success? Any learnings that you can share with us?

Outside of the willingness I mentioned on committing to the grind, I’d offer a few simple insights.

Product-market fit is the only thing that matters when you don’t have it. In the beginning, it’s hard to do this in a quantifiable way, so do it in a qualitatively – TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS! Work out what their business goals are and what is standing in the way of achieving it.

A product does not have to be a piece of software or a physical thing. We closed our first customer without a product, and instead offered the same service that our product was going to fill. As long as what you offer in services is able to be scaled with software, then this can be a great way to validate that people want what you’re offering. In short, don’t be afraid to test, learn and iterate. Don’t wait until it’s perfect to find out what the market’s feedback to the thing is. If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll probably miss your opportunity. Learn early – nothing’s ever really ready anyway.

Spend lots of time working out what your product is worth and then pick the distribution model that matches your price. Initially, we were out there trying to sell our platform for $20 / month before we realized that A) it was entirely unsustainable to sell like that and B) our platform solved problems worth significantly more than that. 

How did the accelerator help you?

For us, Lightning Lab was an absolute fast track into the New Zealand investor scene. We went from knowing one or two angel investors, to being plugged into all of the major angel hubs. Without this, I have no doubt that we would have struggled to close our round the way we did.

On top of that, I met some of my now closest friends and fellow entrepreneurs in the program. I really can’t speak enough about the value of a network of other entrepreneurs that are all pushing hard to learn and build out their businesses. They become the support network that you turn to when you have a hard problem that you can’t solve by yourself.


Any tips you can share with startups looking to build their first team?

Our approach hiring our first 10 team members was completely different from the next 20. When we hit nine employees we had this moment where we actually realized that people were excited to come into work on a Monday. We knew that culture was at the core of it and so we tried to stop and capture that through a common set of values that we felt represented that awesomeness.

Tips for hiring your first 10 employees:

  • Passion and hunger for the mission beat experience.
  • Generalists who are OK with unknowns trump specialists.
  • Lean heavily into existing networks for recruitment.

Tips for hiring your next 10+ employees:

  • Test explicitly against your values (we have a whole interview dedicated to it!)
  • Make hiring as objective as possible – create scorecards that anyone can pick up
  • Hire people that want to solve interesting problems and buy into your mission completely. In this business, there’s no single right answer, and it’s definitely not written down anywhere – hire people who aren’t afraid to create the answers for themselves.

Mish Guru name is often associated with initiatives that promote a great team culture. From embracing an open salary culture, to working together to raise money for worthwhile causes like Movember – what’s the value of team culture to you?

Team culture is everything. It’s the glue that holds things together when times get tough, it’s the secret sauce that attracts talent, and it’s the foundation of enjoying what you do.

There’s a couple of things that I’ll say on the value of a good team culture. One is that more interesting and creative work happens because people aren’t afraid to try things and fail. They’re not afraid to share their ideas, or share something that’s not quite finished yet and ask for feedback — because it’s a safe place to do that. The results are always better when work is collaborated on, shared and developed. So, there’s that.

The other is the 1% discretionary effort that people don’t need to bring to work. It’s not written in their contracts, it’s not measured in their KPIs, people aren’t required to do it. But that 1% is often the difference between your business or product or service being simply helpful, and it being indispensable. It’s where people will willingly go above and beyond to solve a problem, help someone else, or create something new. It means they feel better about their work and it means your business becomes indispensable as a result.

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Mish Guru

Lightning Lab 2014
Lightning Lab | 2014
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