Inside Linear: Building with taste, craft, and focus | Karri Saarinen (co-founder, designer, CEO) | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Inside Linear: Building with taste, craft, and focus | Karri Saarinen (co-founder, designer, CEO)".
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Introduction To Karri
Karri’s background (00:00)
My belief is that any domain or industry, the more it matters, the more the design matters. What happens is whenever there's a new paradigm, I don't know, it's the mobile or the web or something, the first iterations of those products existing there, they don't have to be super well-designed necessarily because they are the first. But then as you built the hundred like different email clients, any email client now has to be like pretty good to be even considered like reasonable, like an email client. It's like that the bar is so high. So I think like today, it's almost like a very basic thing now. Pretty much from the very beginning, you need like pretty high level design to people to even like pay attention or consider you seriously. Today, my guest is Kari Saarinen. Kari was the founding designer, Coinbase principal designer at Airbnb, co-founder of two previous startups, and most recently is the co-founder and CEO of Linear, which I am fairly confident is the fastest growing and most beloved issue tracking tool in the world, and something that a growing number of product teams are using to build their own product. Kari and his team are building their company and their product in a really unique way with a huge focus on craft and quality, no A-B tests, no metrics based goals, instead a focus on taste and opinions. Also no durable cross-functional teams, instead teams assemble around a project and then disperse once it's done. Also, they have just one product manager as the head of product, and that's it. In our conversation, Kari shares how he built a culture around quality and craft, how he makes trade-offs, and how he operationalizes quality and thoughtfulness. Where design can be a differentiator in competing against incumbents, we talk about something called the linear method of building product, which is big on building opinionated software, working in consistent cycles amongst other principles. We also get into linear's unique hiring approach, which involves a paid work trial where candidates work alongside the team for a number of days instead of just having an interview. Also, a glimpse into how linear got their first 10 customers, found product market fit, and scaled their growth engine. There is so much gold in this episode, I am very excited for you to hear it. With that, I bring you Kari Saarinen after a short word from our sponsors. This episode is brought to you by Mercury, who I also happen to use for my business checking account. I've tried a lot of business banks and there is nothing even close to the experience you get with Mercury. I moved cash over from another bank and it literally took less than half an hour to set up the account and wire money over at no cost. They kind of make you want to use the site more often, which I've never felt with another banking site. Mercury is banking engineered for the startup journey, a modern solution to help your company become the best version of itself. And Mercury isn't just a place to hold and send money. It's software built to help you scale with safety and stability, whether you're a team of two or a team of a thousand. Mercury also goes beyond banking to provide you with access to the foremost investors, operators, and tools. Visit mercury.com to join over 100,000 startups on Mercury, the powerful and intuitive way for ambitious companies to bank. Mercury is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by Choice Financial Group and Evolve Bank & Trust, members FDIC. This episode is brought to you by Composer, the AI-powered trading platform now with retirement accounts. Algorithmic trading has historically been reserved for the hedge fund elite. Now with Composer, you can automate your trading with a library of over 1,000 strategies that are easy to understand and tweak using an AI assistant and visual editor. Composer is the first ever algorithmic trading platform where you don't need any coding experience. It includes a full range of trading indicators for you to get creative and a discord community of 2,500 traders to discuss your ideas with. Composer also has a powerful backtester to see the historical performance of your strategies and you can then invest with a single click. Once you invest, Composer will automatically trade for you based on the logic of your strategy. With $1 billion in trading volume and over 1 million trades executed, Composer already has many big-time investors using the platform regularly. Head to composer.trade and use the code LENY for an extra week of free trial on your Composer membership. That's composer.trade. That's composer.trade.
Insights On Linear And Product Management
Overview of Linear (04:25)
Kari, thank you so much for being here. Welcome to the podcast. Thanks, Lenny. It's great to be here. Maybe to start, set a little context. Can you just explain what is Linear? What does Linear do? And then share maybe a few stats of just the scale of Linear at this point. So Linear is the project and issue tracking system that software companies and technical teams love to use. We help software companies to build software. We started in 2019. Today, some of the top growth companies like Block, Vercel, Ramp, Retool, Mercury, and Substack are building with Linear. We also additionally have lots of other companies, like thousands of other companies using Linear. These companies can be very early stage team, like some company just graduated from YC or a public company. And just briefly why we created Linear is that like you said, I work with you at the Airbnb and before that I work at Coinbase and before that I had my own startup and all of us founders, there's three of us, we had a similar path where we worked in multiple different companies in different stages. And what we saw often is that the tools available for managing software projects weren't that like really cutting it. I think a lot of them felt very clunky or complex or just like they had this kind of legacy way of thinking about software development. And so we just felt like we should do something about it. And so with Linear, we set out to do, like build this this most frictionless and streamlined system for modern software development. I'm also happy to share that we've been profitable the last two years. And we also have this thing where we actually have this net negative lifetime burn rate, which means that we just have more cash in the bank today than we have raised. I think a lot of startups, usually the normal way is that you raise money and then you need to spend it to build it. But I think since we were able to build a business pretty early on, we've been able to be in this position that actually we haven't spent any money on building the business. That is insane.
Linear’s design process and its focus on quality (06:43)
I didn't even know that. Okay, so for all those reasons, a lot of founders and a lot of product leaders look up to the way Linear builds product and the way you think about product. And so to kind of frame this conversation, there's three areas I want to dive into. One is just how you approach building product. Two is how you go about building the team and the business in general. And then three is just how you grow Linear. And to start, I want to talk about craft. Clearly one of the biggest reasons that people look up to Linear and use Linear is the quality of the user experience and the product. And I know your team puts a lot of emphasis on craft and user experience. I imagine that also comes at the cost of some trade-offs, like it takes probably longer to get stuff out the door. You're probably losing sales because people are waiting for a feature and you're not ready to launch it yet because you want to make it better. What have you learned about creating space for craft and building product that is really, really great? Yeah, and I think it's interesting that those things that you mentioned, like hiring, building business, and building product and craft, I think that all of those are somewhat related to each other. that care about it. As a business, why we really care about it is that we see that cooperation only happens if people use the product and our product, which is supposed to help the collaboration, coordination. If there's friction or the experience isn't that great, or there's these little paper cuts, I think it gets really annoying for people to use. And so we think for the business to be successful, the quality is, and the graph is very important. There's definitely like trade-offs sometimes. Like there can be like, for example, timelines, like we are about to launch something and then for example, I or someone else goes to look at it and sees like, oh, this doesn't like feel right. And we just like should fix it. So I don't think we should launch this now. So sometimes like it doesn't definitely push the time-wise, but this might be days. It's not like we need to redo everything. The other way we think about it, it's like, we are actually very okay pushing things out to ourselves and into for a small group of customers if they opt into that. So whenever we build a new feature, one of the things is we don't want to spend tons of time upfront just designing it and polishing it perfectly, because we actually believe that when you start building the thing, you actually start realizing more how it should work and how it should be better. So a lot of times with the teams, we tell them, just put it there in the first week, almost after you have some kind of designs in place or some kind of design ideas, just put it into the app and ship it to production, but only visible to us. So we internally can test it out. And then I think the next stage is we look for a customer that could be interested in this feature or we just ask people to opt in to some kind of better program. And in those stages, the experience can be a little janky or it's not that polished, but we're okay with it because we are saying it's not finished. We just want to get your feedback early so we can make it better. But once we get to the early so we can make it better. But once we get to the full general release, then we pay more attention to the actual polish or the craft. JASON MAYES. That is so interesting. I didn't know you do that. So you actually go ahead and launch things really early to select a group of people that want the early stuff. And then did you say that you find one customer to co-create and help evolve the feature and change with? Yeah, usually it can be one or it's like three or five or 10. So it's often, especially with the larger company, like larger company facing features, we usually do try to find a large company because sometimes it's hard to imagine these things how they should work. And so it's better if someone is willing to work with us to explain, okay, this is how we do something. And something like, for example, we worked this way with Vercel that there were some changes they wanted to see in the roadmap feature. So we worked with them to improve it and then they could give us feedback along the way. That is so interesting because I think people seeing linear from the outside it feels like you just take the time it need you need to build something awesome and then it launches and it's amazing and it's great but turns out that isn't exactly how you build it's you actually do launch things really early and people don't necessarily see it until it's done but there's this whole process behind the scenes yeah i think like sometimes people can believe like think that craft is is about perfecting things and perfecting them in a very organized way or very early on. The downside with this perfection mindset is that it can be sometimes hard to put anything out because nothing is ever fully perfect. And so we try to balance this thinking with the fact that we should be always pushing things out very quickly, but then also fixing them, improving them very quickly. So it's almost like the opposite ideas. But then we try to combine that. And I think it's been working well that generally in the company, there's not necessarily like a lot of reviews or something that we always like review everything that like gets shipped this way. Because we do want people to like feel that they can like put something in the app, and then we can try it out. So it's more like, let's just like try it out. And then but then like, yeah, we do need to look at it again when before we release it to everyone. A lot of founders, a lot of product leaders, a lot of designers definitely want to create space for craft and making products really great, something they're really proud of.
Building a craft-oriented company (12:25)
But in practice, it's really hard. Very few teams and companies do this. Is there anything else you've learned about creating space for this sort of thing and prioritizing it for founders that are listening, that are trying to instill more and more of this? Or do you have to be a designer CEO like Kari and it's hard to do otherwise? Yeah, I don't think actually it's not purely coming from me. So I think they'll have founders like Jory and Tuomas. Additionally, their background is in engineering, but I would say they actually have almost, I think they spend even more time on the details than than sometimes i do like um i think like it very early on when it was three of us i would be the one like kind of doing the broad strokes designs like this is how the ui works and this is how the some of the things work and that they were the ones that like oh there should be animation here and there should be like this kind of thing here so So I think it's kind of like that DNA, I think comes from all of us. And I think like with the craft, it always starts with like, people need to care about it. Like if it's not valued in the company, then it's very hard to do for anyone to do because people don't feel like it's valued. And I gave this advice to some founder. He was asking me about it. And in their case, their founders were coming from different companies. Maybe this one founder came from Airbnb and then the other ones came from Facebook and Amazon. For example, I think Facebook and Amazon have a very different culture on quality or craft or For example, I think Facebook and Amazon have a very different culture on quality or craft or shipping. And I think what I said to them, you need to align on it. It's like you cannot run a company with multiple different kinds of cultures. I think I made some points like why the quality is important for certain kind of products. And you should all kind of believe in that and then instill that with everyone you hire. The other thing I would say that what we like to do is we actually don't have much BMs in the company. We only have one. And we can talk more about it, but one of the things I think that happens is when you build a team and you start creating this very specific roles for everything, where I think that often the PM can be the one that's figuring things out and making decisions and guiding the team, but they're not the ones building the feature. So they're not there looking at it the whole day. It's like, where does this button go? How does it work? And I think a lot of that, this graph for us happens when we give the project team this like ownership and the project team is just engineering and design and then when they start building that feature, they start seeing this opportunities that this thing could be better. Like a good example of this is like we, one of our engineers, Andrea, it's like when we were building this right-click menu in the app, so you can right-click different things, and under that, you have submenus. Mac OS does this well, where it's like when you open that menu, you hover on the menu, and then you want to go to the submenu, so you hover to the right. You don't have to go exactly horizontally to get into that menu. You can actually go kind of diagonally, or you don't actually have to hit the menu exactly. There's this kind of safe zone. But a lot of software just implements, hey, let's do this menu. Let's make the submenu. It only works if you exactly hover over the menu. And then what happens is the user often misses, with few pixels, what they were trying to do. So what Andreas did, which we didn't tell him to do, is like, yeah, this kind of sucks, and we should make this better. And so he figured out a way to create those safe areas that are dynamic based on the submenu positioning and everything. So it's much easier now. You can go diagonally to the actual thing you want to go to. So I think like these kinds of things like happen when you give people like more of the ownership of the project and also like the space to do that. And then you also have like leadership or, or generally the company culture that, that values the quality or the craft. All right.
Product management at Linear (16:41)
Well, I got to follow this thread. There's a couple of questions I want to ask. So you have one product manager, would you call him the head of product? Yeah. Non-you who is the, yeah, he's the head of product. Awesome. So what made you decide to hire him and even have NEPMs? We started to see that, okay, we have enough features and, and, and like, like areas of the product. And also the team is bigger, that it's hard to keep aligned on all of these things or even keep track of things. And initially we actually hired Non as a contractor to help us with this insights data tool. So we have this data tool feature built in Linear so you can get data on what's happening in the workspace and for us like founders we realized like none of us are like we are not super experienced in in data tools so we need someone to help out and luckily non was like we knew knew him and like he actually worked at mode which is a data tool and so we initially hired him like can you help us figure out like what exactly should this data do tool and how should it work? Because I think there's different ways of doing that. And I think always the easiest way is, like, let's just copy what some other company is doing. But we didn't want to do that. So we wanted to, like, figure out, like, what is actually, like, useful way to use this data or, like, get this data. So he helped us with that. And then we kind of saw, like, yeah, this could be could be like useful in other larger areas or overall with the whole product it's like we might have this kind of questions like what should we exactly be thinking around here and like why and like how would we like define this direction and then like help the teams to also like align on it so like it to us it's more like he's kind of like the figures out the direction of the product and, and, and like steers the, some of the efforts and not like he's there in every meeting and like making every decision or writing every spec or, or something like that. Another question along this line, cause there's a lot of PMs listening and they're going to be like, oh shit, these guys don't need pms their pms is over product management did and so just another question along these lines somebody needs to do the work that a pm does basically right there's all these things that is on the plate of a product manager when they're at a company and if they're not there other people have to do those things and what i'm hearing is basically you give those responsibilities to the engineer, designer, and maybe other functions within the team.
Strategies for launching a startup without a dedicated PM (18:37)
Is that right? Yeah. So I mean, definitely, I think what it means is, and there is definitely like trade offs. So like, I think sometimes when companies specialize roles a lot, it's like, because of it's more efficient, like if the engineer just spends 100% of their time, like coding something, then it's like they're using their skill set to the max. But then we just think that in order to build quality things or build things in a certain way, it's actually better if people actually also spend some time thinking about things and not just executing. So yes, for every project, there's a project lead. That lead can be an engineer or a designer. It's not like a formal role or it's not based on it like uh like your whatever level or or it's just like you need to be certain title that you you can be that it's more like a assignment that like okay now you're responsible like getting the project started and working with together with the team like figuring it out and then like communicating when changes uh or like communicating how the progress happens. And so it's definitely like, it means that the engineers and or designers also have to like do these things and like, then do you need to communicate and then do you need to think about like the scope or things? It's a different way of doing things. And also not everyone wants to do that, which is fine. But we went into hiring from try to hire people that are kind of interested in a broader scope than just like the that they're like specific skill set that they have. Yeah, I think those last two points are really essential is one, people often don't want to do this work. And they kind of are happy to offload it to a potential product manager. So the fact that, say, engineers have to do all these boring PM things like communicate timelines and keep PR specs aligned and make sure timelines are hit and all that stuff and run meetings. A lot of people don't want to do that. A lot of times they do. And I think in this case, people seem to really want to be doing that. The other is I think you need a really high caliber team that's very product minded and the hiring bar needs to be very, very high for say engineers and designers to want to do all these things and be good at them. And so I think those are two necessary ingredients for this to work out. Yeah, sure.
How Linear assists PMs in their roles (21:16)
For teams that want to try this sort of approach, especially startups that are kind of starting out and maybe not excited about hiring product managers, is there anything else that you think is essential or important to functioning well without any product managers? And you're at around 50 people at this point. Yeah, we are around 50. And probably the only thing I would say it's like the hiring front that like you, you really need to spend more time on it. And like, basically you cannot really interview engineers only for the engineering skills. You also have to interview them for like the product skills. And it's like, it's obviously like you cannot, I think, expect that people have some, like, if you do some kind of PM interview for them, it's not, they're not going to have the same kind of skillset or the same understanding of the concepts or something. But like the way we've done it in the past is like, basically I might interview them about the product. I'm not a technical person per se. So I will just ask them questions about how did they do something or how do they think about something? And it's similar to other roles too. It's like, we just look for, do this person have opinions about products and how they work? And can they form opinions? And can they kind of use their own judgment at times? And then can they communicate or articulate those things as well? Awesome. I was just thinking, it's interesting that a tool that I don't think is designed specifically for product managers, but essentially for building products, like the infrastructure for building product in a team is built by a company that has one PM and very few PMs. Yeah. I mean, I think like in some ways I would say that with Linear, we're trying to help the whole company. And I think engineers is probably the largest user group of the product. And I think in some ways we want to make the BMs job easier, or they have to spend less time managing everything, or the day-to-day. Because the engineers are actually using the product and they're updating the things. For the BMs, it would be much more easier to get the state of things and maybe trust that much more because people actually use the product. So in some ways, I think we're trying to make it easier for everyone, easier for the engineers. They can focus more on their work. And then for BMs, I think we're trying to make it easier for everyone, easier for the engineers. They can focus more on their work. And then for VMs, I think we're trying to make it so that they can also focus on more on other things than just managing the tool that they use. I think that's not the most important job of a VM. I think they should be thinking more of the bigger picture or other problems or figure out the next features or something. Just one more question along these lines.
Linear’s potential expansion in PM roles (23:46)
There's other companies like Stripe, I think waited till 200 employees to hire. I think their first product manager, Snapchat, I think is famous for something around that. Do you have any sense of if you think this might change when you think you might hire more product managers, their kind of plan here? Or is it just kind of see how it goes as you grow? I think we will might hire more product managers? Is there a kind of plan here or is it just kind of see how it goes as you grow? I think we will definitely hire more. It's like, I think like what I said before, it's like, I think we like to see in the PM smarts, like operating on a higher level. Like the whole company, like I think the way we're trying to build it is like we have less people, but people who are more high caliber and can think about like larger scope than what their current role is. So I think we're just trying to build this smaller units, but more effective units, which I think where the PMs go, there would be also less of them, and they're not there at every level. But I think in the future, as the company grows and the team grows and the product grows, we might have several VMs that are focusing on or looking at specific areas or specific types of things of the product or specific customers or something like that. Awesome. Okay.
The importance of design (24:58)
That was a tangent because I could not go in that direction. But I want to come back to design again and craft. So it feels like linear, one of the reasons you guys have been successful is design and experience is basically a huge differentiator from other products. And there's always this question of can design be enough of a differentiator in specific markets? Is there always an opportunity to build like a significantly better product experience and have a real shot at disrupting an incumbent. Do you have any sense of when design can be enough of a differentiator? And this is coming from like a founder trying to decide, should we go big on design and experience or should we invest in like distribution or new technology or something along those lines? Any thoughts there? My belief is that like any domain or industry, the more it matters, the more the design matters. And I think like, it's kind of like, it's fairly easy to see in different, like if even in software or in other industries, it's like, what happens is like whenever there's like a new paradigm, I don't know, it's like the mobile or the web or something, the first iterations of those products existing there, they don't have to be super well designed necessarily because they are the first. But then as you built the hundreds, thousands of different email clients, any email client now has to be pretty good to be even considered a reasonable email client. The bar is so high. So I think today the startups like i don't know if you look at like the web page google launched with or like the web page youtube launched with or some of these like older companies it's it they were very basic like if you launch that kind of website today it's no one would really pay attention right so I think like the design is always like, it's almost like a very basic thing now that like you from pretty much from the very beginning, you need like pretty high level design that people to even like pay attention or consider you seriously. And I think it's like, it's not necessarily fair because like sometimes it's like, maybe the product is really good, but they didn't have a designer or they didn't have time to do it. And then people just kind of dismiss it because it doesn't seem like something that interests them. So I think that's the first thing. I think it is, and it's going to be more and more important. But I would also say design is never going to be the or like the reason why a company is successful. It's like the company still has to have some other things that like the product still needs to be something. It needs to be better in some ways or it needs to be different in some ways. And then like a design is just like enabling some of these things, like enable and similar to technology is like if you have good technology it's like easier to do certain things and like it the product works better in some ways than you having like a bad technology or bad like infrastructure so similar to design i think like if you're if you have a good design and like people are or even like a good brand like people are like drawn into it and then it's like makes like some like user acquisition or user retention, or just like even people perception of the product better. I think like an example is like packaging and products. It's like Apple or a lot of companies spend a lot of time, like effort into the packaging because it's kind of like already sets the expectations for the user who is receiving the product. It's like, even before you use the product, you like start thinking that this is a high quality product and like, I'm going to love it. And then like when you actually have it, then you actually might feel that way unless the product is really bad. And then you wouldn't feel that way. So I think similarly with startups or like SaaS, it's like your landing page or some of the other things, it's like they are already like communicating something to the user and they're setting the expectations. And then I think that that can be like very useful thing, especially early on when no one really knows you or knows the product or cares about you. So I think like, especially i feel like design can be very good leverage in the in the beginning i think that's such an interesting insight especially that the first thing you said around how the more often and the more crowded the space is the more opportunity there is for design to be a differentiator is that roughly how you think about it yeah so i mean like just think about like i don't know any any product category it's like basically people people have then like lower choices and then they like how do they make choices like maybe there's a specific thing they want but like a lot of people don't necessarily know what what is this basic feature i want from this software so it's more like well what is the best one like what is the highest quality one and if you put things side by side and you just people see things people are visual so like then like the design can be one of those things it's like stands out it's like well that looks the best or that looks the most like quality product to me so i'm going to use that one
Utilizing design and brand as distinct competitive advantages (29:08)
like when people have a lot of choices they probably will pick the one that like looks most most interesting and then i think there is the second part is the brand which is something that you if you can build a brand then i think it's like it doesn't even the product almost doesn't matter like it's it's it becomes this kind of default like i don't know like again like apple or nike is like yeah there's all kinds of shoes you can buy but there's a reason for someone to buy Nike shoes other than some random brand. Even if the random brand would be actually a better shoe, they still buy Nike because they like, I don't know, like the brand. So then I think like both the design of the product, but also the design of the brand can be like very strong, like kind of things that like pull people to your company or to the product. Is there anything you've learned about just building a brand over the course of building linear or something you find to be really important and actually building that perception that linear is really great and amazing?
The importance of authenticity in branding and messaging (30:48)
To me, I think the brand should be always authentic. i think even people if people can't articulate it um it people start to feel like something is off like i think there can be like companies or startups they like think about brands like oh brand is the local or the colors of the website or something and then they like do the same thing and some some other company does and then they like think like okay now we have a brand but like you actually didn't like think about like what's your brand like what is the message or voice you you want to talk about and it doesn't have also like the brand doesn't happen overnight so it's basically just you start in the beginning like and and like when you start a company you don't have no brand and so you have to create it so And you create it over time by the things you do, the things you say, like how you say them and like what kind of, how do you approach things? How do you treat customers? How do you build the website or the product? Like all of these things starts to like build this like idea, like what does this company mean to me in people's heads? I know like we both worked at Airbnb and And I think Brian Chesky, I think the brand was probably the most important thing for him. And I don't know how many hours or meetings or conversations there was about the brand. And the brand was always like, it's part of everything the company does. Because it's true. It's like, yeah, you could book things, places to stay, a lot of places on the web. But when people think about, yeah, you can, you could book things like places to stay in a lot of places on the web. But when people think about like, oh, I want to like stay in some cool place, they're going to think about Airbnb. It's like, they're not going to like think about those other places. So that's like the power of the, of the brand to like people stop thinking about the other things or, or they start understanding like, okay, this is the thing for this. they start understanding like, okay, this is the thing for this. And that's part of the reason Airbnb has been able to build a direct destination where people aren't like Googling. I want to stay in a home. They're like airbnb.com, which gives Airbnb such a massive advantage. Not having to run ads on Facebook and Google or SEO. It's just like people know Airbnb and they just go straight there. There's very few sites where people go, oh, I'm going to go straight there and look for some, knowing that they can also compare hotels and all these other sites. Coming back to design briefly, just like very practically, how do you guys do design reviews?
How design reviews are conducted at Linear (33:08)
Just like, how do you actually go about reviewing what's going on? And then to this may be too big a question, but just whatever you can share is just like, what do you how do you know when it's done? How do you know when it's ready and approved? Kari sealed checkbox, ready to go. We've been doing like exploring different ways of doing this. I think like today I, like I still run the design team. So I do see some of the designs like on a, on a weekly basis. And, and then like I, I, or one of the other co-founders or one of the or the head of product we are basically the the sponsors for the projects so then like we we are kind of like responsible like like reviewing the reviewing the work and so we might just have a meeting where we go through okay let's let's go through the demo and like people can explain what's what's going on and like how they think about it and why and then we might have have feedback, OK, this seems strange or something. And then I might just after that, I might just go into the product myself and try it out. And then what happens sometimes, it's like in the initial stages, obviously, we're not going to start fixing everything. It's more like, let's try to get the main concept there and figure out how it works. But then before we are launching it, I might just go in and try it out and try the different states and click it around. And sometimes I find things like we were building this threading to comments. And then when it looked all good in the demos and stuff. And then I went to try it and try different lengths of messages and stuff. And then I started to see, like, oh, sometimes the animations are kind of janky or it's just like off. Like, they don't go the right way. The screen doesn't scroll exactly right. So then I kind of like captured those things and send it to the team. And so we had to like, kind of pull back the release a little bit until those things were fixed. That one was like, it's, it's very like, I think like a simple concept and it's like very known concept, like, okay, this is how threading comments works. So that, that was mostly about like, okay, what's the execution of this. But then we have projects where we are like not sure exactly how this should work. And like, we can't really like, like we can try it ourselves. We also have to see how, how companies use it. So something like we, we built this feature project updates and it's like a common thing companies do is like, you, you need to write an update on a project. Is it yellow, green, red, and like companies have very different ways of doing this in different tools. And we just thought, well, I think it would be really nice if it's inside Linear. And the team, when they work on a project, they can write the update. Linear can also capture some of the stats, like what actually happened. I think with that feature, it's been working well. But then also now, it's been exploring. After using it a while, we think, oh, actually, there could be a more robust way of following these updates. Maybe the leadership could just get these updates over email, or maybe when you have a lot of updates, you should have a search or a filtering system or something. So I think a lot of times we just think, okay, this is the scope of it for now, and we're okay launching this this and the execution is good. But we know that like, this is not the like fully figured out version. And we just need to see people trying it out and like see the feedback. So it sounds like on the decision of whether it goes out or not, it's kind of this intuitive feeling from your actual experience, trying it out, feeling gut level, this is ready, or this needs a little work? Yeah, I would say like a lot of things that we do is more like that, but we don't do A-B testing or we don't do specific or follow like certain metrics or something. We might sometimes, we do have telemetry or like we can look at like how people use certain things and we sometimes do that. But but like that's not usually the goal we have in mind it's like yeah we should move this number this much so it's more about like based on the understanding of the problem we have and based on the like what we think is right is this the right solution and is this a good enough solution to be released to the customers. One more question along this thread is, how do you actually structure these reviews? It sounds like you go straight to a prototype. Is there like a design review phase? Is it all kind of informal and people just review, here's what we need your feedback on? Yeah, so there's like projects don't necessarily have specific states to them, but I would say roughly usually we do start with design. So there's some explorations on the design. Like, OK, there's different ways that we could approach this. Or sometimes there's just one way because it's pretty clear. But then what I said before is that we do try to get into the building phase as quickly as possible because then we can also see, is this direction actually reasonable? And what else does it cause? Is there some problems it causes or how does it just generally feel here? So I think that there isn't specific preview stages. It's more like, yeah, let's check on this project every week or every two weeks. And then before releasing, let's also make a review of it and really test it out that is it the quality we want. Awesome.
The Linear method for modern software development (38:34)
So that's a good segue to another area I wanted to spend some time, which is the linear method. You espouse this way of building product that you call the linear method, which you publish online and will willing to in the show notes. And I just want to ask a few questions around this way of building product. One is you are big on this idea of building opinionated software. Can you talk about just what does that mean? And then maybe give an example or two of how you actually have done that in linear. So first, like with the linear method, what, why did we create it in the first place? It's like we just believe that there is more of this modern ways of building software and thinking about it. And we wanted to share some of our thinking on it. And that's kind of like also, it relates to how we built Linear as well. So you might understand why we make some choices because this is the way we think about making these choices so we're trying to like share our thinking behind the product and not just like here's the product and like figure it out yeah so like the opinionated piece like i personally have like this belief that productivity software should be and especially company software should be opinionated. I think that like what the productivity software is trying to do is like make people productive. And I think like what productive means is like you actually do something that matters for the company, which is like, I don't know, build some new feature or like fix something or design something. Like all of those things are like, eventually they provide some value for the customer. I think there is this ideas or notions in the world that flexible software is great.
Productivity Software & Linear Strategies
Why productivity software should be opinionated (40:07)
I think it can be great sometimes, but what happens is people start spending a lot of time figuring things out. How does this feature work? You can use the thing 10 different ways and then every team or everyone figures out a different way of doing it. So our thinking is we like to provide this good defaults or good opinions. This is how the feature works and this is how the workflow works. So you as a user or as a team don't have to think about it and you can focus on the work you do and the other thing is like my design mantra is always like design something for someone like it's very hard to design everything for everyone because there's you you just end up with a very generalized solution so then what we're trying to do with the opionated solution is that like that's the best solution or the most optimized solution we think of and then like when you use it like hopefully you agree and like you can feel that it's most optimized so being opinionated it's like i think the value it provides people is like you don't have to think too much like or spend some more time on the tool than you do on your actual work and then another core element of the linear method is something called cycles. And I know linear is all around this idea of creating cycles and working in cycles.
Why Linear created “cycles” and how it works (41:23)
Can you talk about what is a cycle and how it works at linear? So for example, like the cycles, it's optional, like not every team has to use it or not the whole company has to use it, but it's there as you can turn it on or off. But basically I think why we created Cycles is that I think any team that works on software or some other products, you always have almost infinite list of things to do. And that list gets longer every day. And it can be sometimes very distracting for the individual or for the team to decide. There's a new thing coming in. Should we work on that or should we work on this other thing we decided in the past? So the cycles is just a way to say that for the next week or the next two weeks or whatever time frame, we are going to work on these things and these other things we think are the priority or the focus for this time frame. And then the team can try to focus on those things. Now, if something happens, like, I don't know, we really need to jump on this other thing, at least there was some kind of initial state that we decided before we want to do these things and then now something else happened. And so now we have to go on this thing. So you have like a answer when someone comes to you to ask like why didn't you do this other thing before then you can say well we did decide to do that but then something happened and we had to do this other thing so the cycles is like it's very similar to sprints but we like to call it cycles because we are not really sprinting anywhere. The cycles also run on automated schedule. So it's like you don't have to think about which day does it start or every time set it up manually. So it just runs automatically. And so it's just meant to help the team to focus on, like, let's just focus on these few things and forget about the infinite list of other things that are in the background. You mentioned earlier that you don't set metrics goals.
Why Linear doesn’t have metric-based goals (43:27)
And so let me dig into that a little bit. Is that true? You don't really have number goals for features, for launches and things like that. And so let me start there and then I have a follow-up question. Yeah, so we might have like a company level goal sometimes, like for example, like weekly active users, like that that's a metric we want to increase or something. But in terms of specific features, we don't have goals for those. And the reason is that I think a product like us or a system that is used by different kinds of companies, it's like a system made of multiple different parts and it's not like a very it's not necessarily like you want to optimize any specific thing about it it's like also companies are a little bit different so like their usage of different features can like differ because they just operate slightly differently or their team size is different or the setup of the team is different or the culture is different. So there isn't like a, I think like for example, I don't know, some like Instagram or some of these apps, it's like, yeah, we need to drive engagement. And that's like the main feature, like that's the main metric for every feature. Like we don't actually, we don't have that. Like we just think that like there should be features that help companies. And sometimes we can look at the metrics before we start working on it like let's see what's this state of things are but we don't necessarily want to set like oh we need to increase the specific metric by by x it's more like we want to solve this problem and ideally the success way it looks like the problem like customers agree that the problem is solved or they enjoy the solution and it's not like that the metrics went up. So just to summarize so far, you have no metrics, you have no experiments, you have essentially no PMs, just one product leader.
How a business can thrive without metrics, PMs, and A/B testing (45:07)
You spend a lot of time on design and craft and making things awesome. I'm curious just what you think it takes to make a company work in that way, because this is pretty different from how a lot of other founders think and a lot of other product teams work. Yeah, we like to like, talk about this internally, like this, like a mixture of like, magic and science. And like, how we describe this, like, there's always some level of science that we do. And I think some companies are very scientific on their product management, that they like to measure everything and they do a lot of tests and things. But we just decided we don't think that's necessary or that's good for us. So the science for us means that we do talk to users a lot. And any project we start with, we do some level of user research. And as founders, different people on the team, we might have weekly calls with customers or users. We also encourage everyone in the team to go to the customer Slack. They answer people's questions. We have shared Slack channels with customers. Anyone like I sometimes go answer the questions there. I also see when they complain about something. I think the first part is the whole team has to be really understanding the product and the customers and the problems people are facing and have that and as well as the understanding, what is the state of things today? And then we talk about that. And then sometimes we might pull up stats and see, oh, I wonder, is there some kind of patterns we see? Like, okay, these kind of companies are using this thing more and what do we think about it? But usually we have some kind of question we want to answer. It's like, I wonder what is going on. And then we look at it versus like, let's just pull some metrics and then decide that we should increase this metric. And then the magic part is like, what happens when you kind of build this understanding, like everyone in the company builds, it's not like everyone has the same understanding, but like everyone builds more of that customer and product understanding. but everyone builds more of that customer and product understanding. Then we have discussions like, what should we be doing? Or what decision we want to make here? Then everyone is much more informed of the actual reality of the customers or the product. And then we think you can much more use your intuition or thinking to do those decisions so you don't have to use data or metrics to back those things up. So that's like, I think the main thing is like the whole company kind of has to like be with the customers or like talk to them and then like understand like where the product might work well or where it might fall short.
A customer-focused approach to building product (48:04)
That's what I imagined you were going to say. And I love hearing that. For someone that wants to create a similar culture, is there tactically anything you find to understand if your employees and engineers, designers have enough of that context and really understand the problem? I mean, I think it's always like a different people, like different people in a company will have different understandings. It's not like you can expect like everyone will every day like go to see everything and like has this. But like we do sometimes like sessions with the team or we do record videos with the customers. We kind of write notes and we share this with people. customers, we kind of write notes and we share this with people. I feel like, again, it's like fairly apparent, like if people like if you know your customers or the product, like it's very different way you can talk about it versus like if you don't have any idea. Like I think like if you don't have any idea, you probably don't even know what to say. So I think it's like kind of apparently people have that. And it's not like every project like we need like everyone to have this like understanding. It probably usually enough is one or two people have that understanding or have different understanding of different things. So I think it's, again, I feel like it's like a culture thing. And I think the other thing is like, you kind of have to have the, you just have to kind of believe in it like i think sometimes people use data a lot or too much because they just are they're worrying or they're afraid that will i make the wrong choice and and like i'm using data to like make the choice for me but then like you might still feel like this is not the right choice but the data is telling me it's the right choice and then turns out maybe it was the right choice or not, but it's more like, again, like a practice thing. Like you need to be, I think the company and you need to be okay that like sometimes we make mistakes and like we've made the wrong choice and then we just can fix it. But at least we made that choice and the data didn't make that choice for us.
Adapting strategies for diverse products and domains (50:02)
What's interesting about this is if you've heard the episode on ramp and how ramp builds product with Jeff Charles, there's such different ways of building product ramp is all about velocity shipping all the time, metrics, measuring everything, and your approach is almost the opposite. And I think what's interesting there is as a takeaway is just, there's many ways to do it. You just have to do it almost fully. And you have to have really specific people. It feels like the people want to work in a certain way. And a lot of it, I think, also is the founder has to be natural to the way the founder operates and thinks of building a company. Yeah, for sure. And then if you look at successful companies, Amazon is very different than Apple in how they they operate and i think both of them are successful but not in the same way so i think it's again it's like a yeah it's a decision you make as a company or as a founder like what kind of company you want to build i do think there is like some aspects of like the domain that you're in like what what does that domain and the problem space require from the company? And for us, I think it's like we are in the retention business. It's like in the trust business kind of that ideally we have a company starting to use Linear very early on and then they stay with us forever. And I think the only way we can do that is we need to continuously deliver them good quality product and maintain that trust that we don't fail them or somehow otherwise mistreat them. And I think some businesses are much more transactional where it's like, yeah, we just need to make this e-commerce sale. And then once it's done, like, we don't care what happens. So in our case, it's more like we really need to like build this relationship over time. And then that's why, like, I think some of the choices we make are also like, kind of like more about respecting the customer versus like, we're just wanting to drive the revenue of the company. Awesome. Such an important point. This episode is brought to you by Pendo, the all-in-one platform for product-led companies building breakthrough digital experiences. With all the tools you need, all in one simple-to-use platform, Pendo makes it easy to answer critical questions about how users are engaging with your product and then turn those insights into action. With product analytics, low-code in-app guides, user feedback and session replay, customizable roadmaps, and AI-generated insights and campaigns, Pendo is the only solution you need to build, ship, and optimize a successful product-led motion. But don't take my word for it. Create your free Pendo account today and start building better experiences across every corner of your product. P.S. Want to take your product-led know-how a step further? Check out Pendo's lineup of certification courses led by top PLG experts and designed to help you grow and advance in your career. Learn more and experience the power of the Pendo platform today at pendo.io slash lenny. That's p-e-n-d-o dot io slash lenny something you're really good at personally is focus i find that just trying to get you on this podcast was a lot of like hey kari hey have you thought about this yet and i know that a lot of vcs are just like reaching out to you all the time all these really fancy vcs that are just like trying to talk to you and get close to you and i just know you're really good at avoiding shiny objects and staying really focused and really heads down.
Candidate Selection & Growth Strategies
Three techniques Karri uses to maintain focus (53:05)
And I've always wanted to just ask you, how do you do that? Do you have any tricks, systems, processes, approaches to staying focused other than just ignore the inbox mostly? Yeah, I don't think there's any complicated processes. And so I think one of the things, I was in YC in 2012 and the main thing they say there is what you should be focusing on when you build a startup is talk to customers, build the product, exercise. If you find yourself doing something else then those three things, it's probably the wrong thing to do. And the third one you said, exercise? Yeah. And the exercise is that it's third when you said exercise or yeah yeah and the exercise is that like it's important for you to be healthy or just not just like burn yourself out so i think there is like uh it was like a balance like advice to to that i love it um so so i'm doing those three things and uh but i so so i think the thinking there is like i think we often as a company also talk about this and and like very early on and and i use this the same way and like i think the company can use it the same way it's like i think there's always things that you're supposed to do or like it sounds like a good idea to do and like it could be like yeah like come to this podcast and i actually think like before it wasn't like or like i always have this questions like is this important to do now or is it important to maybe do later um so i think like for example the question on this podcast is like i didn't feel like it was important to do it earlier because we weren't at the stage or scale or something that it i think would be like as interesting or or or something that I think would be as interesting or something. So I think it was a better timing to do it later. Similarly, when we built the product, initially we were just very focused on, is this really important thing to do? There's always like, yeah, you could get SOC 2 security certificate. And we know that eventually we we need to get it but we don't need it today so we just say no to that and like if customer asks for it so we say like we don't have it and we will have it one day but not now and see like and a lot of times people are like okay like that's fine and then like internally we also talk about this like you knowing like rpg games you have the main quest lines and then you have the side quest lines and and we often talk about the companies like avoid the side quests like like there's always like ideas people have and it's a good thing and it's like people have ideas but then it might be like yeah let's make like this t-shirt so like let's make this thing and then we're like well is it does it help the customers does it help the product like this sounds like a side quest to me. And like, basically means like we shouldn't do it. Like, this doesn't progress the main quest line, which is like building this product and like making it awesome for these customers. So similar to me, it's like, I operate this way personally too, that I think about like, is this important for the main quest line in building this important for the main quest line in building this company for me? Or is this something that I can ignore for now or something I can do later and it makes more sense then? That is such incredibly good advice. Basically, ask yourself, how important is this to do now? And is this the main quest? Or is this a side quest? Amazing. Okay, so let's talk about hiring. As with most areas, you're very, very, very deliberate about hiring. The bar is so insanely high at linear and you also hire very few people.
Linear’s hiring practices (56:47)
So just a few questions along these lines. Just one is when you're hiring people, what do you look for that you think maybe other people are not looking for enough and where do you spend a lot of time? I think one of the things we, all of us founders kind of saw in this high growth company is that sometimes like the high growth is like, especially on the employee side, it's not that great. It can create a lot of kind of chaos or just messiness. Or just generally, in my past working in companies, it was always easier to work with a smaller team, very high quality people, than with a very large team of more average people. It's almost like it's always faster and better output when you have a much more smaller team. So that was kind of like the thing with Linear too is we just believe that you can actually build better with less people than you can with more people. So that's just a basic belief we have. So then when it goes to hiring, we've been taking very kind of slow steps on it that in almost like the first year we didn't hire anyone, then the second year we hired a couple of. Then like the second year, we hired like a couple people. And then the second year, we hired a few more. We never more than doubled in a year. And that's kind of like been our guideline that like we shouldn't more than double. And this might be something we change in the future that we actually might do less than that. But like when we look into hiring, it's like a couple of things. Like one is also that it obviously depends on the role. But basically, I would say with every role, we often talk about there needs to be some taste or this kind of understanding of how things are done or people have more of a broader perspective than whatever their role is. So like we talked about the engineering before that, like they do need to do some of this BM type of stuff. And and so what we look for in them, like is that like they have some of this like skill set or product thinking or they can articulate why some some choices are better than some others or like their past, did they disagree with some of the company's choices or the team's choices? So we want to have this, obviously they need to be good developers, but also do they have this product sensibility or do they have a judgment around that? And this goes similar to, for example example, like a marketing hire is like, we think about like, yeah, we do need the marketing skill sets. But then we also want to see that this person also like, like maybe it's a good storyteller or like they have like this, like, kind of appreciation for writing or stories or like they have a taste of what's interesting and what's not. So I think when we hire an operations person, we also like to see that they maybe have understanding on HR and maybe it's not their role, but they understand it. And what happens is when you have these people that are a little bit more than their title, it's like the company is, I think, much more easier to manage because it's like people can pick up things more easily or they can work together more easily because everyone has more like a shared area. You rarely get to the point, like people say, it's not my job. It's more like people understand, okay, yeah, I'm kind of in operations, but today I kind of need to help on this HR thing, which is okay. And so that's kind of like what we look for people. It's like they are more than their, they can take more scope than their skillset would assume or like what normally is expected from them. So essentially you're looking for kind of these Venn diagram skill set would assume or what normally is expected from them. So essentially you're looking for kind of these Venn diagram overlappings across different functions and teammates. Yeah. And I think the other thing is, like I said before, we want to build much, I think, like a company that has less employees, which means that it's like I've said before, we don't want that many like specialized roles or like two specific areas of ownership or something. We just think that we could build this, like we could have less people and those people can take on more scope and they can own more scope. I think like traditionally, I feel like in companies, like how do you get more scope? Is that you advance in the levels of the company because because there's a lot of different teams and different levels. And then to get any kind of scope, you need to rise into these higher levels. And what we try to do is you don't actually have to have that many levels, but people can just already, when they start they can start like owning more areas and i think that can be like much more like also like interesting not to everyone but like i think interesting to many people and it's kind of like how i also like always felt about as being a designer is like i don't i didn't feel like my job is purely like just looking at the designs i also thought like i actually need to be helping this business or helping this other area as well so i think it's just kind of like also like natural to me awesome uh so one thing you didn't mention is you have a really unique way of interviewing which is a paid work trial can you just talk about what that is and also just while you're in that area you talked about testing for product sensibility so whatever you can share how you actually do that would be awesome. Yeah.
Paid work trials (01:02:10)
So we do with all of the employees, we've done like a paid work trial and depends on the role, what it looks like, how long it is, and depends on also sometimes on the person. But basically, like we do fairly like standard like interview loops where we test, we have some hiring manager interviews and then skill interviews or tests. And then the last step of the process is the work trial. And basically, yeah, they basically come as a mini contractor to the company and we give them a very, usually fairly vague problem statements. If you're an engineer, it's like, hey, there's this feature that needs to be built. How would you build it and go build it? And so basically they need to first understand the problem, then they need to scope it down to something that they can do in the timeframe that they have. And then they actually go, they get the access to a code base. They can actually go and build a version of it. And then at the end, they can present the work they did. And why we do this is that we just seen that it's a very good way to see for both us, both for the company and the candidates to see how we work together. And I think for the candidate, what they can see is that, what kind of company are joining? What is it like to work here? And what is the my ownership? Or how do I approach this? I think a lot of engineers also like that they see the code base and they're like, oh, wow, this is really clean. And it's not some kind of spaghetti gold type of thing, situation. So I think like it helps the candidates as well understand like what are they signing up for, which I think can be like very risky sometimes with, especially with startups. Like it's really hard to tell like how the startup is operating just from the interviews. And in a large companies, I think things are more standardized. So it's like, I think they're more similar and it's easier to make that choice but with startups it can be like very like different how companies operate yeah that is so unique and i i rarely hear of a company being able to hire that way i imagine one of the reasons you can get away with that where people are like don't have a full-time job for a while while we're doing a pay trial is because linear such a enticing place to work i imagine for a lot of companies they can't really do that but i guess any thoughts on just maybe more companies can actually pull this off yeah i mean i think it's always like if you don't ask like you don't know like i i think like in our case we that's just been the standard and we we try to work with the candidate like let's figure out maybe we do it on the weekend or maybe we do it some other like a vacation holiday or something so there can be ways we can like schedule it so that it causes as little kind of problems to the the candidate as possible and i think we only have like only a few people probably have ever declined it like it's it's not like i think everyone else has been at least after the fact they've been happy that they did it because they felt like they had a much better sense of the company and they're joining.
How to determine a candidate’s “product sense” (01:04:31)
And then also like doing that work job, they can actually join our meetings. They get access to our Slack and Notion. And they also have one-on-one chats with the rest of the, like some of the other people on the team. So they already get to know people. So it's a good way for them to like evaluate us as well and then for us it's obviously we can see like what is important for us to see is like how does this person operate in this kind of environment and like how do they approach problems like how do they think and like are they able to make progress in a very short time frame which i always think it's like very important for startups like you know large companies you have maybe a little time in the world to to do stuff but i think like in any kind of startup even even with us when we like take our time doing things sometimes it's still important like we can do things quickly if we if we have to super cool just to close the thread on product sensibilities or anything you could share of just how you actually help understand someone's strength and inability there yeah i wouldn't say like we we have like some kind of very scientific or some some like special way figure it out for this so i think it's a lot of it's like a it's like a discussion of of and i often think of like ask people that like like asked about their projects and I try to go deeper. It's like, why was this decision made? Like, why do you think the decision was made? And I might ask, like, do you think it was the right decision? Or did you agree on it? Or ask them, like, what do you think you would have done differently or something. So I think it's more like I'm trying to see if they do. Do they have thoughts in this area and what their answers is? And people's answers can be very different levels. Like some people might be, yeah, I didn't like it. Which I don't like. Yeah, it's an opinion, but it's not based on anything. It's just like you didn't like it. You should be able to expand on it saying, like i don't like it because in this case like it would not work well for this kind of users or in this kind of context or for this kind of purposes so they they have like more of this like reasoning or some kind of rational like why they think this way and they can articulate that so i think that's like kind of like what i'm we often like testing for us is like can they can they do this and how well they can do it and it's it can be like very yeah there can be like very wide ranges of how people do it and when when you see someone who really thinks about this stuff, it's very clear to see that they can just talk about it forever and they can go deeper and deeper. And then some people that maybe haven't had the experience or don't think this way, they're like, yeah, I don't really know. I just build it and then it seemed fine. Let's transition to the third area I wanted to spend some time on, which is growth.
Linear’s growth journey and milestones (01:08:21)
And basically, I'd love to just understand how Linear grows and what you figured out around growth, especially in B2B SaaS. So first question here is just, how long did it take from starting to work on Linear to launching, say, V1, something that a number of people can use? So we started officially in 2019. Some, I think months before that we were already exploring and prototyping the product. So it wasn't, so I think we, we prototype different kinds of designs a little bit. And, and then we also one of the things we really wanted to solve is like, we wanted to make the application really fast. And the way we figured out we do that is we have more of this like a local based data structure where all the data lives in the client and then it gets synced on the back ends with this Delta packets. And back then we were just exploring different off the shelf solutions and systems, but there wasn't nothing really there. So we ended up building our own. And so we spent some time prototyping that. And then once we officially, I think, started working on the company in April 2019, and then we announced the company roughly mid April, and we had this little website up with the wait list. And then I think by May, we could use it ourselves. And then we started inviting some friends to try it out. But then I think in June, I think we started more like inviting people from the waitlist. And around June, July, I think we had about, I don't know, 100, 200 users on it. And maybe like about 10 companies or something. And then we were in this private beta stage for almost a year. And the way we did it was just we had this wait list of people on the wait list. There was a few survey questions like, what kind of tools you use today? And then why do you want to use Linear? And then what's the company size? And we invited people based on, we invited more smaller companies using the tools we currently supported. And then also I was trying to see who was more interested versus, I don't know, I just want to try it out type of people. And then a year later in June, we launched it publicly. And back then, maybe we already had like, I don't know, several hundred of companies using it. And then we also launched the pricing. And I think like almost all of them, maybe one company didn't subscribe, but everyone else subscribed to that paid plan. Okay, there's a number of really interesting things here. So one is you're in private beta for a year. And then a year later, you launched. How long was that period between starting to like incubate and starting to build to that private beta milestone? Yeah, I think just like few few months, like I think a few months of building the V1. Yeah. Wow. Okay. I thought it was a lot longer. That is so interesting. Okay. What a team you've got over there. Okay, and then this survey piece is really interesting. I've heard a little bit about the story. So essentially, you launched it on Twitter, you had kind of a following your founders had a bit of a following. So I think that helped build up the initial waitlist. But what you did there wasn't just like, hey, go sign up for a waitlist. And you just add email addresses. It like, hey, go sign up for a wait list and you just add email addresses. It's a survey asking them what tools they use, like whether it's GitHub or something else. And then also the size of the company and their interest. And that helped you basically prioritize who to go after and who to onboard. Is that right? Yeah. And the reason we did it, because we know that we didn't support everything. And what I said before in the focus is we want to also be focused on let's just build a version that can work for some people or some companies. We don't have to try to address everyone in the world in the first months of the business and even after that. So it was a very selective process. And I think we were fortunate that we were able to get people to sign up on a waitlist. And I think after a month or so, we had maybe 4,000 people on the waitlist. And then we had this internal... I think initially it was just a very manual process, but eventually we built this invite tool that we could just send invites. But in the beginning I would go read the actual surveys in a spreadsheet, then I copied that email and then I emailed them the invite link from my personal email. And then I would just email them after a few days or a week and say, hey, what do you think? And the reason we... emailed them after a few days or a week and was like, hey, what do you think? So we would invite only, in the beginning, we maybe invited 10 people a week. And eventually, we increased those amounts. But the reason we did it that way was that we thought that if you just invite everyone at once, or a lot of people at once, all of those people are going to probably hit the same problems in this kind of software that is very early stage. So like, I don't know, they hit the same bug or the same problem in the software. So then they will all send us feedback like, hey, there's this problem. And then we felt like it was kind of like a waste of effort. So we would just do this cohorts, like let's invite these people. And then they say like, hey, this is a problem. Like, I don't, this doesn't work or something. Then we go fix that. Then after we fix that, we invite the next cohort of people. Then they say, well, there's this thing that is needed or this doesn't work. And then we fix that. So for that year, we did these cohorts and then always get the feedback from the cohort saying this is wrong or this doesn't work. And then we will fix that. So eventually I think it was much more like I think like an effective way of doing the initial development than just like inviting or letting everyone to use the product right at the beginning. There's so many interesting lessons from this.
How pricing strategies were initially introduced at Linear (01:14:18)
I wanted to ask how you got your first ten customers. And what I'm hearing essentially was from this waitlist. You launched how you got your first 10 customers. And what I'm hearing essentially was from this waitlist, you launched it on Twitter, people signed up, you pick people to let on board, you worked with them over the course of a year to make it what they needed, and then eventually started charging. Yeah, I think like the first 10, like people, companies using it, I think maybe a little over half, maybe there was like three friends that have startups and they used it. And then I think the majority of them were just from this wait list, but they didn't pay us anything. We didn't have pricing in the beginning or during the private beta. At some point we started building the payment function. So we just added a page in the settings that you can optionally pay. And then we just give you a slider that like, how much do you want to pay per seat? And then we just see if I know some people paid like $20 per seat and some people paid like $1. So it doesn't really matter. We just wanted to test the functionality and see what people think. And then after a year, when we launched, we already had, I don't know, first week of launching, we had probably some hundreds of customers. I've never heard of the approach to pricing. It's just an actual sliding scale where people can slide the scale themselves on how much they want to pay. Did that help you figure out what to charge or is it mostly just an experiment? I don't think it's like gave us like enough data to like decide. Like I think it's, but I think it was like good to see that it's like there was some people that went, I think that 20 was probably the maximum that people could pay. So I think there was some people that went to it and they felt like actually like, yeah, I really love the products. I'm happy to pay like $20. So I think at least it gave us some like confidence that if we charge for this and it's like something under $20, there's going to be like market for it. I want to hear about the story of how you've started to feel product market fit, whatever that means to you.
Linear Implications & Karri'S Journey
Linear’s journey to finding product-market fit (01:16:18)
When did you start to feel like, oh, wow, this is actually going to work and maybe this is gonna be a real business yeah i think like we've always been kind of i don't know some like paranoid or skip like uh yeah i guess maybe if i know this good way about the product market fit i think like it's like uh paranoid in a way like we're always wondering, do we really have it? And with who do we have it? And I think it's true in our kind of business is that I think we started feeling it very early on and when people first started using it and we could see like, oh, now the whole company is using it and they seem happier using it and the feedback is good and they might have some additional asks for them for us. But we started feeling like there was definitely a product market fit with a certain kind of customer and these were more like smaller, early stage companies, maybe where still the founder is still running the product and they care about the speed of the shipping or they they kind of have like a certain values in a way so it was like a good fit with them and then i think we we always like know that we we want to like address the whole market and not just like these early stage customers but we knew that like i don't like if if a fortune 500 company came to us then or even like today, we might not be like, I don't think we can like provide them the solution today that works for them. So I don't think the fit is there. So for us, like the way I think about is like, do we have that? Do we have the fit in this specific segments? And like how strong that fit is? And so like in the in the company's like journey journey, I think the first year we kind of just focused on like, can we get the fit in the first two years? We focused on like, can we get the fit in the early stage startup kind of segment? And basically the goal was like, we want to be the default for startups, like the default tool that the startups pick. And I think we were able to accomplish that. But we just purely focused on that segment and getting the product market fit there. And then after or at the same time, we started getting some larger companies and we saw like, yeah, it's not really great for you right now, but let's work on it, making it better. And so I think the last two years we've been focusing on that. It's like, how do we make the software work better? How do we get the product market fit better, stronger in this larger company segments that are like thousands of people or like hundreds of people or like a thousand people? I think this is such a good way and smart way of thinking about product market fit. A lot of people see product market fit as this binary, I have it or I don't. And when am I going to really about product market fit. A lot of people see product market fit as this like binary, I have it or I don't. And like, when am I going to really feel product market fit? And what you're describing is what I often hear is it's more of this spectrum of like, more and more confidence that there's product market fit. And even more specifically, it's like product market fit with segments of the market. It's kind of like this map of the world. And you're just like slowly acquiring territory in the market with specific elements. And then over time, it grows and grows. Yeah. I think like a spectrum is a good way to think about it too. I think it's, I feel like there is this blog post and like written in the past where it's like, you know, when you have product and market fit and I think it's, it's probably like, it's like that for some, I don't know, social consumer apps, like, you know, like if it's taking off or not, then you don't really have like a lot of different segments or like you don't really think about it. Like you just have users and you have millions of users. So, and then you see like it's taking off and so you have a product market fit. But then I think like in a more like a B2B world, I think there's always like, you can have different sizes of customers. You can have different domains of customers, you can have different domains the customers are in, or there's different kind of like categories where it's like you might be doing really well in one category, and then not that well in another. And I think like maybe the counterintuitive things is that like, actually, if you're doing really well in some category, it's just like kind of double down on that this is something like i i talked to to the zoom founder eric at some some point in the company's life cycle and this is also what he said like it's like when they were like building zoom and early days they would get this one type of customer like i don't know maybe it's like a university and then they like really it worked really well for them then they're like well how do we get more of the universities so they would always like focus on a certain kind of customer rather than like let's just try and get everyone like so let's focus on everything which is not possible so again like it's about the like the focus is like if you have some like you see that something is working really well then it's almost like you should focus on doing that more until you hit some kind of point. It's like, okay, now we do have that category captured or handled as much as we want. And we should expand to a new area. Essentially, look for pull and just follow that and pay attention to that. Yeah. And I think for us, it's often like there can be sometimes like, for example, now we have most of the companies are like are using us. So I think it's always and before that I was like a crypto company. So I think there's like when we see these kind of things happening, then we start to think like, oh, could we do something differently or should we could we get more of these companies on board?
The importance of online presence and authenticity in business (01:21:44)
Such a great lesson. Just a few more questions. Should we, could we like get more of these AI companies on board? Such a great lesson. Just a few more questions. You mentioned that you launched on Twitter and that led to a large waitlist and a growing waitlist. Is there anything you did before that to kind of build this following? You know, that sounds like really, like really amazing. Cool. We just announced it on Twitter and we have this large waitlist and then we grow and we get all these customers. Is there anything you did ahead of time in anticipation of this launch? Would you recommend people work on building some kind of following online before they were going to start it? Was it just like, hey, we happen to have this kind of following and it worked out? Anything along those lines you would recommend to founders these days? Yeah, I mean, I think definitely if you have a following and like, obviously depends what kind of following, but I think definitely if you have a following and like, obviously it depends on what kind of following, but I think like my, my background as a designer, I was like at Airbnb and Coinbase and other places. And I did some like talks and conferences and, and write some blog posts. So I was definitely like out there and then kind of had that, some of that following, which, which was helpful, but it wasn't like, I have like thousands of like hundreds of thousands of followers or millions or something. I had maybe like 10,000 or something, which is like a significant number. But then I think like the other thing is, I think with the announcement, like one of the things we did, I think, well, is like, I think sometimes startups do try to emulate successful large companies too much. And you kind of do this fancy announcements where it's like, hey, now we're doing this fancy thing. And then it sounds very corporate or something. And I think with our announcement, we try to road it more direct or authentic to us like this is like what we're gonna do and this is why and like this these are some of the things we're gonna do then on on the twitter we did the same thing like all of us founders we wrote our own reasons why we're doing this and i think it was like just much more like and i think like people could present people like us could resonate more with it. So we were kind of writing to the right audience. And I think that's probably the first thing when you're announcing your company. You think about who is my first audience? Who would be the best users, early users for this product? And where are they? And then how do they think about things? And what kind of language they use. So for us, it came very naturally because we are these people. We've been building software in these companies and other people have seen similar things we have seen. So I think that the way we announced it resonated with a lot of people. And then I think we did have some friends and I said we got some angel round where we got some friends involved and the main reason we did it was that we just felt like in the early days it's good to have like you feel like a real company in a way that you have someone to answer for in a way. Even though the investors don't really run your company or they don't have that much power it's more like oh i i took someone's money so i now need to like make it worth it kind of um but then like i think with the announcement again like we could use some of those people to like spread the message as well to kind of close out our conversation just a couple more broad questions you have a pretty unique culture at linear and i know you one fun thing that you do is you have this kind of close out our conversation, just a couple more broad questions. You have a pretty unique culture at Linear.
Insight into the corporate culture at Linear (01:24:59)
And I know one fun thing that you do is you have this kind of baking competition. Can you talk about that and what it is you do there? Yeah. So since we are like a fully remote and distributed company, so we have people in Europe and US, a lot of group gatherings are challenging. Remote group sessions are challenging because the time zones are so different. So some of the basic things like happy hours, it doesn't really work that well. And also Zoom happy hours is probably not that fun anyway. So I think a lot of people in the company watch the great british baking show and so we decided like maybe we do something like that like where basically we would just pick pick a recipe firstly it was like baking now we expand it to cooking recipes too and so we just pick a recipe that is like somewhat reasonable to do in internet like in a few hours in a few hours, in a couple of hours. And it doesn't require tons of equipment or skill or something. And then we just tell people, go buy the ingredients, use the company card. Everyone has a company card. And then hop on Zoom on this day. And for me, it's usually like, since I'm in California, it's like 8 a.m. in the morning. So we start like the baking or cooking then so so we've made things like like a roll cake and um lemon meringue pie and uh we made some like pastel net nada which is like portuguese like pastry and um and then like we we just hop on the Zoom. Everyone's doing their thing, following the recipe. And then sometimes people have questions like, hey, I'm stuck with this, or my dough looks weird. Does your dough look like this? And people can kind of help each other. And then also chit chat about whatever random things at the same time. And then we do the thing. And then everyone takes pictures and posts this on this Slack time. And then like we do the thing and then everyone takes pictures and posters on this like Slack channel. It's like what they achieved. And I think we have like kind of friendly competitions, like who did it better or who did it best. So people sometimes put a lot of effort into the decorations and visuals. So in a way, it's again like a craft thing that we do. It's like, I think baking and cooking and these kinds of things again like a craft thing that we do. It's like I think baking and cooking and these kind of things is also a craft. So we liked it that way. And yeah, we've been basically doing it quarterly since the beginning of the company. And yeah, the latest thing we were a little bit like, I think, didn't have that much time. So we decided to do like easier thing, which is like a summer drink recipe. So I think it't have that much time. So we decided to do like easier thing, which is like a summer drink recipe. So I think it's, it was like people made like matcha drinks and, and some like, um, coconut drinks or like iced tea or something. So even that was kind of like interesting to do. Have you ever won one of these competitions yourself? We don't, I don't know if we clear like, uh, declare winners that much. But I do think, since I'm a designer, I do have some advantages on the visual presentation. So I think that I generally do well on that. And obviously, with this remote competition, that's the only thing you can really look for. It's not necessarily about the taste or the texture because you can't really taste it through the Zoom. Maybe as a last question, just again, broadly, you've gone from being an IC designer or manager of designers to the CEO of a very fast growing company.
Lessons learned during Karri’s transition from IC to CEO (01:28:29)
What's something that you've learned about leadership over the journey of Linear that maybe you didn't expect? For some reason, it was surprising to me. I think that like being a CEO or, or some of this like leadership roles is that you end up doing so many different things. And, um, I think like when I was a designer, like, even if I would be like, like some like high level designer in some company, it's still like, you're just mostly focusing on the design and that's like your job um but then like when you're a ceo then it's like every week or every day there's some some different thing going on and it's not like there's sometimes there can be like problems but a lot of times it's like hey we need to like figure out how are we going to do this like how are we going to do this like compensation or how are we going to do this marketing plan or like how are we going to do this like offsite thing? And so it's just like to me, what it's like challenge, like definitely like challenging for me is is handling that like different kinds of things that that come to you and like staying somewhat focused still on something. come to you and staying somewhat focused still on something. So I think I haven't necessarily fully figured it out, but I also figured out that hiring and delegation helps with this. Like, if you can find other leaders that can take on certain areas, that's helpful. That's the main thing that it's like a very wide range of things that you maybe didn't have experience before. But also I think it's interesting for me to learn about these things. You learn about financials and you learn about legal things and then you start to feel like, oh, actually I know something about these things over time. For the actual final question before we get to a very exciting lightning round, what's just the future linear?
Sneak peek into the upcoming “asks” feature at Linear (01:30:21)
What's coming? What's happening in the future? Anything you can share? Yeah, I think there's always things we're working on and improving. One, like a newer thing we're working on is this feature called Asks. And basically what it is, is that we see that like in a company, there can be a lot of different people that needs to interact with the product team or different people that needs to interact with this team, but they're not necessarily in linear or part of this team. So we've been building this like an ask feature, which is like integration to Slack where you can very easily go to a Slack channel and then ask your question. You need something from this team. Maybe it's an IT team that you need a laptop or maybe it's the infrastructure team and you need something from them. Then the team that is handling the request, they can very easily send it to Linear into this triage that we have. And then they can start doing like send it to to linear into this like triage that we have and then like they can start like doing stuff with it and if they have like questions or or like additional questions to the actual person who requested it we can like send those messages back to the person through slack so they don't actually have to go to to linear or they don't have to be a linear user to use it so we we think this is just a good way for the company or the whole company to be more potentially involved in the company, like the product operations, without having to be a power user of linear because not every function really uses it or needs to use it. Awesome. What a cool peek at something coming out soon, or maybe out by the time this comes out.
Lightning round (01:32:04)
And with that, we've reached our very exciting lightning round. I've got a bunch of questions for you. Are you ready? Yeah, I'm ready. All right. Well, what are two or three books that you've recommended most to other people? Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander. He wasn't really an architect, but he, I think, thought in Berkeley. And I think he has this interesting thoughts about building things. And he focuses on buildings and towns and these kind of spaces. But I think there's a lot of like things that are also interesting for building software. The other, the other book that I like is like the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, because it's also like talks about the quality of things. And I think that's one of the main themes of the book. And like the thing is also that quality is so hard to define. It's like, if you actually like start thinking about it, it's like, how do you define it? It's like, it's kind of like, it's really hard to pin down, but it's all kind of like when you try something or see it, then you kind of know if it's quality or not. What are some recent movies or TV shows that you've really enjoyed? I think the movie is like probably the John Wick 4. I think it's like it kind of feels like... I mean, obviously, there's no story in that movie, but I think it's very true to its nature, so I like that fact. And then also, recently, I started watching The Silo on Apple TV, and I think I kind of like it. It's like a good mystery, and then also it kind of reminds me of the Fallout game, so I kind of like it. It's like a good mystery. And then also it's kind of reminds me of the Fallout game. So I kind of like it that way too. I actually read the Silo books and I was really excited for the show to come out. But we mentioned this on a previous podcast. The show is like so little to do with actual books. Like the core ideas are the same, but there's all these stories that they're just making up on the show. So I kind of stopped watching because I was just like, that's not what I was hoping for. But it's good. Maybe I need to check the books later like once i watch that yeah definitely read the books but there's three of them and only the first one is actually good the other ones are not actually pretty good and i should not have read them because it just just went off the rails a little bit anyway next question what is a favorite interview question that you like to ask candidates when you're interviewing them i think usually i like to ask like what is what is the candidate most proud of and why um like what like on their professional life or otherwise like what they're most proud of and why and then i think we can go deeper on that but i think it's kind of like gives you a little bit indication like what the person values and and like how they think about things and and also like i think it's always nice that people can share something like they think they did really well and we can spend time on it versus just like asking something like more like negative things what are some favorite products you've recently discovered that you really really like um not sure if i discovered them recently but like i recently i've been in this home office, I've been installing some of these Hue lights and I really like them because throughout the day I can have more harsh lighting because I'm in meetings or something. And then in the evening I can change the temperature. I make it much more red or orange or something. So I think it's nice that you can kind of transition to space. It's like, okay, now I'm working and now I'm doing something else. And you can use the lights to kind of indicate that. That is so cool. Do you automate the schedule or you manually change the color? Yeah, I just manually change it. So I have on my home app, I have like scenes that like, so there's the night scene and then there's the day scene or like the morning scene. And so I just like click that button and then, then it turns, changes the lights. That is extremely cool. I'm going to try that myself. What is a favorite life motto that you like to repeat yourself or share with people? Something you kind of come back to a lot. Go slow to go fast. I think for me, it's about that. Sometimes people have tendency to rush into things and especially in, I think in startups, but other places too, that you kind of have this like, I think urgency is important, but then sometimes you have like too much urgency and you are rushing things. And what happens is that you rushed it and then now you need to come back to fix it. So I think sometimes I like to think that you should take some time to actually think about it and what are you going to do and then do it. Because then in the end, it's going to be faster that way than going back and forth and fixing things. What is the most valuable lesson that your mom or your dad taught you i think it's like respecting people and things so i think it's i mean i think the people respect this is pretty obvious but i think that i think with the the things you have also i think like you should take good care of them like when you when you use them you're just like i don't should clean them or put them away, and then they're ready for the next time. So I think I like that, rather than you treating things that they are trash or not that valuable, you should treat things that they are valuable. Final question. You were born in Finland. I think you grew up in Finland. What is a Finnish food that people should definitely try to get as soon as they can? One is like this salmon soup. And it might sound weird, like a fish soup. Like maybe it's not going to be that interesting. But it is like a creamy soup with some like potatoes, carrots, and other things. And it's kind of like almost like a sweet, a little bit like sweet flavor to it. So that's one thing like you can, you can make it yourself at home or, or you can, like, if you go to Finland, there's probably like a list few restaurants that offer it. Okay. Amazing. Is that something we could get here or you have to go to Finland to get it? I don't think I've never seen it here in, in, in the US in any restaurant, but it's not very hard to make it yourself if you can probably google a recipe it's it's basically you just need some salmon and and some some like basic spices and and some cream and and some fruit vegetables all right next episode we're gonna do a cooking show with cari cari thank you so much for being here you're building a very special company in a really unique way. And I think many founders and many product builders can learn a ton from watching you operate in the business that you're building. So again, thank you so much for being here. Two final questions. Where can folks find you online if they want to reach out, maybe ask you some more questions? And how can listeners be useful to you? Yeah, so I'm on Twitter. My name, Kari Sarn and and and we also have the linear account which is i think is interesting so that's just at linear and then yeah i think like i hope everyone can like check out check out linear and like see if it could work for them in their company and like figure out if there's a pilot like i think we're always happy to assist on those things that like if you just want to try it out and try it with the team, we can help you to set it up and help you to understand how to use the product. Awesome. And it's just linear.app, right? Is that the URL? Yes. Awesome. Okay. Easy peasy. Amazing. Kari, again, thank you so much for being here. Bye, everyone.