What Are Office Hours With Iterative Partners Like?
Founder Stories

What Are Office Hours With Iterative Partners Like?

By
Yi Jun Phung
January 20, 2023

Something founders are surprised by is that the Iterative Program has no curriculum.

What we do instead is work closely with the founders on their startup's biggest problem, and come up with growth levers and strategies to unblock growth. There are multiple ways we help founders do so, with partner office hours being the primary.

Partner office hours are weekly 1:1s between the founder(s) and a lead partner (it could be Brian, Hsu Ken or any of our Visiting Partners). This is where you'll give an update on your progress, discuss challenges, priorities, and next steps. At Iterative, we expect and help startups to grow 5% to 7% every week, so you can think of partner office hours as one week sprints for your company's growth.

  • If you've hit your goals - the lead partner will work with you to double down on what worked and find a repeatable process to grow faster.
  • If you didn't hit your goals - more effort will be spent on debugging the problem, figuring out new experiments to try, etc to make sure you're on the right track.

To better illustrate, we've asked some of our portfolio founders on their experiences doing office hours during their time in the batch - and what they've learned.

Yolanda Lee, CEO and Founder of Uncommon, W22

Who was your lead partner - and what were office hours with them like?

Hsu Ken! Office hours were generally fun and productive. It was an opportunity to zoom out of the day to day and think more strategically about the business and on unblocking specific challenges. He was supportive and asked a lot of thought-provoking questions to get to the key challenges of the business.

What was the most helpful thing about office hours? How do you think office hours with Hsu Ken has helped your startup?

Office hours helped us sift through the multitude of competing priorities in our startup and be laser-focused on what would deliver the best return on effort. For us, we had a very high conversion rate, but not enough coming in at the top of funnel. Hsu Ken helped us come up with a few hacks that delivered us 4x growth in the programme.

What’s your favourite memory of office hours? Was there a specific session or interaction that stood out to you?

I just remember that I was doing all the member interviews (50+/week) at this point and I would crawl into office hours exhausted and Hsu Ken would keep stressing that I needed to hire someone so I could have capacity to work on other parts of the business. It was the right move!

What advice do you have for founders doing office hours for the first time?

I am a naturally open and vulnerable person so I would say that office hours are not the time for your shiny, happy version of how things are going that you tell your family at holidays. Be real, be honest. I love that Hsu Ken was a founder too and understood every annoying or frustrating or mistake that I made.

Javier Lorenzana, CEO and co-founder of WorkWith, W22

Who was your lead partner - and what were office hours with them like?

Hsu Ken was our lead partner. The best way to describe Iterative’s office hours is that they’re a weekly founder coaching session — and Hsu Ken is an experienced coach.In an hour, you work through anything and everything that’s going on in your company.For us, that consisted of conversations on finding product market fit, driving metrics, and refining product ops.Of course, you can talk about things outside of the company. I remember that after every office hour, I’d come away with a new book to read (HK has a ton of recommendations). And we’d talk a little about what can be implemented from those books every session 🔥

What was the most helpful thing about office hours? How do you think doing office hours with Hsu Ken has helped your startup?

The fact that you’re guided by an experienced founder — who has likely gone through all of the pain you’re facing — is already tremendously valuable. And it’s that exposure that teaches you how to think as a founder: the mindsets, frameworks, and tools to make better decisions and ultimately grow your company.And it’s especially helpful because you can see them apply their learnings to help you solve problems for your company. A few helpful frameworks that were especially helpful for us in the early stage were how to think in bets, identify the most impactful OKRs, and get your team involved during creative problem-solving.This is actionable advice that we were able to leverage to drive the company forward.

What’s your favourite memory of office hours? Was there a specific session or interaction that stood out to you?

Midway through the batch, there was one particular office hour when I was superstressed about not hitting our metrics. I was beating myself up about it and was almostintimidated to come to the session.But when I got there, Hsu Ken had a supportive attitude. I could tell he was genuinely trying to help. So instead of digging deeper into the progress, we actively troubleshot ways to fix the problem. I could tell that he understood where I was coming from.

After the batch was over, I had dinner with Hsu Ken. And he told me he could tell I was beating myself up. That interaction left a lasting impression on me. It taught me that failure and struggle are natural aspects of being a founder — and instead of lingering on it, it’s much better to be objective about the problem and work on it head-on.

What advice do you have for founders doing office hours for the first time?

Don’t feel like you have to impress. Just be honest with your partner and be honestwith yourself. Running a startup is hard enough, and these guys are here to help youdo what it takes.That being said, here are a few pro-tips:

  1. Prepare an agenda before every session.
  2. Book all your office hours in advance.
  3. Execute what you agree to do during the session.
  4. Give the partners sufficient context so they can help you better.
  5. Debrief with your co-founder after every session.

I hope this helps!

Ridwan Hafiz, CEO and founder of GoZayaan, W21

Who was your lead partner - and what were office hours with them like?

Brian was our lead partner, and office hours with him was something unique. In Asia, people seek validation from their parents all their lives, and it was like that for us. We worked very hard to reach our weekly goals, came up with a solution to our business problems because we wanted to be liked by Brian.

Now, this isn't because we just wanted to be liked. We're the first company that Iterative took in who's not in SEA. We are also a travel company in the middle of the pandemic. So basically, when they invested in us, we had almost zero revenue (+ a huge debt). Hsu Ken & Brian just believed that we could potentially go big. That's a massive leap of faith. We can't let that go to waste. We had to prove that we are worth it and we can build a billion dollar enterprise. Hence, we had this extra urge to want to be better. Fast forward, we've grown 20x since our Demo Day two years ago, from one market to four markets (including two acquisitions) - and we're just getting started.

What was the most helpful thing about office hours? How do you think doing office hours with Brian has helped your startup?

Office hours made us more disciplined. It's been almost two years but we still maintain the same culture between teams. We set our goals and we run for it.

Also, earlier in our journey, we wanted to do everything. But Brian taught us how to channel our focus and do one thing at a time.

What’s your favourite memory of office hours? Was there a specific session or interaction that stood out to you?

There was this one time where we were super excited about this new idea. We pitched it to Brian in the office hour with full enthusiasm and did a 'mic drop' ending. We were so sure that he would say he's proud of us. But with a big smile on his face, he said "I didn't like it".

He explained his reasoning, of course. And he was right. If the past version of me comes to me and pitched that idea; I would have reacted the same way (or probably more harshly). The idea was ridiculous but that session made us a better company.

What advice do you have for founders doing office hours for the first time?

Ask questions. Don't hold back. No question is dumb. Take feedback and implement it (even when you're not 100% sure).

Victoria Riingen, CEO and co-founder of BeautyBuddy, S21

Who was your lead partner - and what were office hours with them like?

Hsu Ken! Office hours with him was like having another smarter co-founder. It was easy to be honest and open-minded because you could trust that whatever he said was going to be productive and leave you with fresh ideas. I felt like he was always rooting for us to succeed - and mentally, that's a game-changer!

What was the most helpful thing about office hours? How do you think office hours with Hsu Ken has helped your startup?

As a founder, it's easy to dwell on what's not working and wreck my brain on how to fix it.

However, one thing Hsu Ken would always divert the conversation to is to focus on what's been successful too. Rather than dwelling on what went wrong, we'd dig deeper into what has contributed to what went right, and find ways to replicate or supercharge that. This is the kind of mindset that we still remind ourselves of and try to ingrain into our team culture.

What’s your favorite memory of office hours? Was there a specific session or interaction that stood out to you?

During our first office hours, I told Hsu Ken how I was worried that we wouldn't be able to do much during the program because we were still pre-launch. However, a few weeks later, BeautyBuddy was awarded "best-in-class" in one of the Group Office Hours. It was meant as a joke - but it still meant a lot because that goes to show how my doubts were proven wrong, and how much we were able to accomplish with the help of Iterative's office hours.

What advice do you have for founders doing office hours for the first time?

Be open and take advantage of every single one. Come prepared with everything you need thoughts on - this is the best time to get an additional brain thinking about your startup as another co-founder would.

Nirali Zaveri, CEO and co-founder of Friz, S21

Who was your lead partner - and what were office hours with them like?

Brian was our lead partner and office hours were a great place to get candid advice on various questions we had and things that we were struggling with. The discussion was free for us to structure but would begin with looking at key metrics and then move on to discussing key concerns in other words what is keeping us up at night.

I always came out of office hours feeling clearer - with a better sense of action items to improve our business.

What was the most helpful thing about office hours? How do you think office hours with Brian has helped your startup?

Office hours created a scheduled time to discuss what is important and needs to be talked about. This is a good culture to foster especially during tough times in a startup where it is easy for founders to distract themselves with empty work that does not in fact push the needle. The regular checkins mean that problems get addressed and resolved faster and good habits are formed by early stage founders.

Office hours helped create the foundation of this culture of running experiments, identifying outcomes and problem solving between my cofounder and I, and we continue this practice on to this day.

What’s your favourite memory of office hours? Was there a specific session or interaction that stood out to you?

My favourite memory of office hours was having Brian go through our product onboarding and provide us pointed advice that improve conversions drastically. That day I learned that small deliberate changes and understanding the moving parts that move metrics add up and create the desired impact over time.

It was this mindset of iterating and experimenting together which hold true to Iterative’s name.

What advice do you have for founders doing office hours for the first time?

Having a culture of vulnerability and transparency is the best you can do for your business. Be prepared with your numbers and questions before you go into office hours, as the amount of value you extract will depend on you.

Logan Ye, CEO and founder of Metabox Labs, S22

Who was your lead partner - and what were office hours with them like?

My lead partner was Hsu Ken, and our office hours were a mix of getting into the rhythm of the systematic stuff (reviewing metrics, bets, etc) and the fuzzier big picture items. For example, during one session, I managed to hit our monthly growth target, but the reality was that as a consumer social/gaming startup, we wouldn't be assessed in the same way as B2B SaaS or B2C consumer goods. We needed viral growth (which we're still working on).

Partners bring a huge amount of broader startup experience, but also spend time with you over many weeks getting to know the unique challenges of your particular industry/business mode/stage, etc. That's a killer combo.

What was the most helpful thing about office hours? How do you think office hours with Hsu Ken has helped your startup?

The most important part of office hours is accountability - you said you would do something last week, what's happened since then? It sounds simple but it's so easy to get lost in the chaos as a founder.

Hsu Ken also helped us prioritise with clarity and conviction. He would ask what counterintuitive belief does your startup have and is a unique rationale to bet on? Ours is that the next biggest game is not a PC Console or Mobile App but an AI chatbot, due to its incredible accessibility and low friction. Whenever we make a decision on what to prioritise, we base it on our core view of the world. If we're struggling to make that call, do we really believe what we say we believe?

What’s your favourite memory of office hours? Was there a specific session or interaction that stood out to you?

Not my favourite, but most memorable. I pulled an almost all nighter pushing a new feature before our daily release the next day, absolutely convinced it was going to be a home run. Then no one used it! It was a complete dud! I had to come to office hours the next day with the bad news, but I learned a lot from Hsu Ken about how to validate as much as possible before building anything to avoid this kind of outcome.

Learning from our users and testing what they might like in lightweight ways is something we still put a lot of emphasis on today. We're still not perfect, but it's a philosophy we keep pushing towards.

What advice do you have for founders doing office hours for the first time?

Transparency above all else. It can be so hard to be honest about your startup's progress with yourself, let alone someone else. Assessing the brutal reality today is the only way to create the best plan for the future.

Yuying Deng, CEO and founder at Esevel, W22

Who was your lead partner - and what were office hours with them like?

Brian Ma was my lead partner. Office hours were intense but tons of fun.

What was the most helpful thing about office hours? How do you think Office Hours with Brian has helped your startup?

Brian has a different way of thinking from me. He likes to take a problem and look at it from many different angles, some rather interesting! He's also big on experimentation. I've learnt so much from him and this has impacted how I run my company for the better.

What’s your favourite memory of office hours? Was there a specific session or interaction that stood out to you?

That has to be the time we discussed how much I was going to fundraise. He looked incredulous at my initial suggestion (too low). He just outright said that we should raise more based on our traction.

What advice do you have for founders doing office hours for the first time?

Be honest about the challenges you're facing. It's obvious that every founder will be having challenges, so there's no need to hide it. After that, be very open about the partner's inputs. The partners will not tell you what to do, but they will share their experiences and suggest some ways of looking at the challenges. You don't necessarily need to take their inputs - you know your company best. But what the partners have is years of experience of having gone through the same things before. So it makes sense for you to listen closely before making your own decision.

Parith Thiengtham, CEO and co-founder of Edsy, W22

Who was your lead partner - and what were office hours with them like?

Brian was our lead partner and he was always awesome, understanding and encouraging. Office hours with him often turned into brainstorming sessions on various things that we had on our mind - from growth hacking ideas to debugging issues and getting moral support. Natthida and I always enjoyed his office hours and made sure to get the most out of them.

What was the most helpful thing about office hours? How do you think doing office hours with Brian has helped your startup?

Probably the fact that they are the only times of the week that force us to take things into perspective and reflect whether we are doing the right thing(s). The weekly metrics check-in was super helpful in making sure that we focus on things that matter. Things that move the needle. Things that are not just there to fill up our time and make ourselves busy. It has definitely helped us to become more relentlessly focused. It also rejuvenated our spirits at times.

What’s your favourite memory of office hours? Was there a specific session or interaction that stood out to you?

It was probably our first serious brainstorming session (that happened out of the blue). Brian was like "you guys really need to figure out non-paid acquisition channels and start testing RIGHT AWAY. Like NOW". And then he started typing on our weekly office hours Google Slides, coming up with a list of things we should try.

"Oh, and have those kids compete for the virtual trophies. Make it shareable so their parents can easily brag!"      

What advice do you have for founders doing office hours for the first time?

Have a clear agenda and spare time for some brainstorming exercises - always super helpful!

Charles Lee, CEO and co-founder of CoderSchool, W21

Who was your lead partner - and what were office hours with them like?

My lead partner was Hsu Ken. After each meeting, everything would always seem clearer and simpler. I would know exactly what I needed to do next, and always felt energised and excited to seize the day. The office hour itself is another story - Hsu Ken was always deeply understanding and welcoming, but a lot of the time, I felt a little stupid, because I would constantly be gently but firmly called out on my bullshit. By bullshit, I mean that Hsu Ken would help me realize that I had wasted a ton of time in the previous week chasing empty calories, instead of "real" growth and insights.

What was the most helpful thing about office hours? How do you think Office Hours with Hsu Ken has helped your startup?

I don't find myself with much time when I can truly let my guard down. When I'm talking with investors or employees, I generally feel a need to project a little extra confidence and resolve. During office hours, because I already had the money, and because the Iterative people had all been in my shoes before and know how challenging it can be, I really felt like I could be myself. It was not only therapeutic, but really improved how clearly I could think and execute, because I could talk openly, and get open feedback on whatever I was thinking. I think 80-90% of the time, I really knew what to do, and Hsu Ken helped affirm my insecure resolve. The other 10-20% of the time, Hsu Ken gave me direct gut checks that helped me avoid lazy thinking.

What’s your favourite memory of office hours? Was there a specific session or interaction that stood out to you?

Basically, I was trying to 2x a particular metric. Hsu Ken and Brian suggested that we 10x it, and even while suggesting 10x, they were both yawning. I was scared. I thought my team would revolt, even at the 2x, but my heroes were yawning. So we went for it, and wound up 5x'ing it.  Not quite the 10x, but I'm pretty sure we would've 1.2x'ed it at best under my original plan. Thanks guys for not stifling your yawns of disappointment.

What advice do you have for founders doing office hours for the first time?

Tell them everything. They have already given you the money. They've seen it all, and nothing you can say will scare them away, unless you are straight up criminals. It's a safe space. They just want you to be successful, because then they're successful.

Common Threads

The fact that you’re guided by an experienced founder — who has likely gone through all of the pain you’re facing — is already tremendously valuable. And it’s that exposure that teaches you how to think as a founder: the mindsets, frameworks, and tools to make better decisions and ultimately grow your company.

- Javier Lorenzana, WorkWith
I love that Hsu Ken was a founder too and understood every annoying or frustrating or mistake that I made.

- Yolanda Lee, Uncommon

Founder-focused - One thing that stood out from our founders’ responses is the mental game-changer in having someone that just understands what they're going through. All of Iterative's lead partners have been founders before - this is the number one requirement that Hsu Ken and Brian will never compromise on. Being a founder is such a unique experience that only another founder is able to relate to your experiences.

Office hours helped create the foundation of this culture of running experiments, identifying outcomes and problem solving between my cofounder and I, and we continue this practice on to this day. It was this mindset of iterating and experimenting together which hold true to Iterative’s name.

- Nirali Zaveri, Friz
As a founder, it's easy to dwell on what's not working and wreck my brain on how to fix it. However, one thing Hsu Ken would always divert the conversation to is to focus on what's been successful too. Rather than dwelling on what went wrong, we'd dig deeper into what has contributed to what went right, and find ways to replicate or supercharge that. This is the kind of mindset that we still remind ourselves of and try to ingrain into our team culture.

- Victoria Riingen, BeautyBuddy

Iterate, iterate, iterate - In order to grow from 5% to 7%, you need experiments and bets to continually grow. The act of having goals, a weekly feedback loop of whether you’re above or below targets and working on projects to hit the goals makes a world of difference.

Assessing the brutal reality today is the only way to create the best plan for the future.

- Logan Ye, Metabox Labs
Ask questions. Don't hold back. No question is dumb. Take feedback and implement it (even when you're not 100% sure).

- Ridwan Hafiz, GoZayaan

Transparency above all else - Almost all of the founders above stressed on the importance of being honest (even vulnerable). Office hours are not for you to share only the good, it's a space for you to be honest about everything: the struggles, the worries, and the mistakes. Only by doing so can the lead partner help you unblock that growth.

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