The Inside Startup Story of Gun.io by The founder and CEO

For our special 100th episode, Ledge sat down with Gun.io’s founder and CEO, Teja Yenamandra, for a first-time telling of the history of the company. It's an epic that goes all the way back to the dorm room days, and traces a winding road of pivots and relationships to today’s premium developer and client experiences.

 

You can also watch this interview on our youtube channel by searching The Frontier: Gun.io.

 

Thanks to Cosair Distillery for sponsoring and hosting a whiskey tasting to make this one go down smooth

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Teja Yenamandra | Gun.io
Founder & CEO

Teja's mission at Gun.io is to help world-class engineering teams hire the world’s most sought-after freelance engineers — risk-free and at a moment’s notice. Gun.io's work is trusted by teams committed to excellence in software engineering like Tesla, CISCO, & NBC.

If you are an engineer interested in freelancing or moonlighting through our platform, you can learn more here.
 

Keep up with Teja's work at Gun.io and connect on Linkedin.

David "Ledge" Ledgerwood
Research, Insights | Podcast Host

Your host, Ledge, is a many-time founder, with deep experience in growing six-figure startups to 8-figure enterprises.

 

Keep up with Ledge and connect on Linkedin and Twitter.

“Love this podcast! Best one out there for high-level industry trends and advice. Recommended!”

Danny Graham, CTO / Architect

Transcript

 

DAVID LEDGERWOOD:  Hey, this is Ledge. For our special 100th episode of The Frontier, I got to sit down at corporate HQ in Nashville with CEO and cofounder Teja Yenamandra. Super cool to have you here, man.

 

TEJA YENAMANDRA:  What up? Thank you for having me.

 

LEDGE:  Absolutely. I thought this will be a great time in the genesis of the business – it's just like milestones all over the place – let's go back to origin story. 

People think about the overnight success of the startup, or you get to like X million dollars of sales. All this started somewhere. Where was that? Tell us the story. Let's walk through the origin story.

 

TEJA:  Sure. There are, perhaps, different levels of analysis. Maybe the best way to think about the levels of analysis to give me like a time box, so 30-second story, 60-second story.

 

LEDGE:  Day one. The start.

 

TEJA:  Alright. How long do I have?

 

LEDGE:  We got a long time.

 

TEJA:  Okay, unlimited tape. Alright. I’ll start from the top basically.

 

LEDGE:  Absolutely.

 

TEJA:  So, 2006 I was in the dining hall at college and met this guy through a mutual friend of ours. His name was Rich Jones. Rich was eating by himself – I don't even fucking remember what he was eating but we sat down. 

Rich was the first real anarchist I had met in real life. You study different political systems but you never really meet somebody’s who's like, "I'm an anarchist." You do meet people whose parents voted for a Democrat or a Republican or whatever, but you never meet somebody who's a self-proclaimed… 

To this day, I don’t know if he was trolling or what. I don't even know if the mainstream population had a name for trolling, but it was 2006. I remember meeting him and I'm like, "Alright, this guy, at least he fucking thinks differently."

 

LEDGE:  He's an idea man.

 

TEJA:  No, no. He thinks and acts differently. This was 2006. Rich ended up being friends with a key group of friends that I went to high school with. This was like 10 years ago.

 

LEDGE:  You guys had a connection across multi channels, kept overlapping.

 

TEJA:  Yes, exactly. Different personal networks. 

Fast forward several years later, we graduated college. We kept in touch, mainly just because of the strength of our relational networks. I was working at a startup in Shanghai, China for a daily deals company. Rich came and visited me. We had a good time out there. 

Have you ever been to Asia? I forget?

 

LEDGE:  I have not been. 

 

TEJA:  Okay. It's a fun time. It's a good time. I recommend going. Your dollar goes far. You get to see a lot of historical sites. You get to have a good time too.

 

LEDGE:  It's all about the historical sites.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, for sure, and more. Anyway, that company ended up exiting and I moved back to the US, and I remember having to get shoulder surgery. I was like, I have six to nine months of forced downtime. I can't really work because I needed to stay at home while I recover and go to PT and stuff. A buddy of mine that I had met in Shanghai… 

You tell me if this is too meandering of a story, because to me this is how I make the connections but I may lose our audience. Who knows?

 

LEDGE:  We're not going to lose the audience.

 

TEJA:  Okay.

 

LEDGE:  Tell the story.

 

TEJA:  I had a friend that I had met at Shanghai. I had met him throwing a house party. I feel like these little details are important to share because, too many people in the public sphere have a really airbrushed and concocted story of their business' genesis. Like, "I was sitting there and I watched a taxi cab. I said, how…"

 

LEDGE:  "I had a dream one night."

 

TEJA:  Yeah, exactly. “… and I said to myself, ‘How inefficient is that process?’ and I made this…” That's fucking bullshit.

 

LEDGE:  For those who don't know Teja – I've been with Teja a long time – Teja is a nuanced guy and the details do matter. Pay close attention. This is like the foreshadowing of important stuff.

 

TEJA:  Totally.

 

LEDGE:  In a crime novel, they mention the details early but you don’t think they're important.

 

TEJA:  They're a lot of callbacks…

 

LEDGE:  A lot of callbacks.

 

TEJA:  Anyway, I had met a friend of mine, JP, at a house party, because I'd hired his then girlfriend to work for a company that I was working for. JP came over with his then girlfriend and me and JP just started talking the whole night. I'm like, "Wow, I like this guy more than this girlfriend who introduced us." I don’t know what she was doing that night, but me and JP were basically BFFs from the moment that we had met. 

Anyway, I moved back to the States. JP moved back to the States for work as well. In college he was a hustler. He had this crazy notion of building a website to help small colleges in shitty towns find their students off-campus housing. It was like a super niche business.  

But here's the thing, as you know, how many people make money from their dumb startup ideas? Very few.

 

LEDGE:  1%.

 

TEJA:  Yeah. JP was of that 1%. Not only did he make money, he made like 10 grand from basically selling his university location; the ability to list off-campus rentals.

 

LEDGE:  Right. Which sounds like, at this point, if you're jumping in like that…

 

TEJA:  No, but…

 

LEDGE:  That was like what, like 2005?

 

TEJA:  No. It was like 2012. Still, a long time ago.

 

LEDGE:  Still, things didn't work like they do now. There was no Zillow. There was no gig economy, any of that stuff.

 

TEJA:  Totally. It's a big deal. It's a big deal when you're 22 and you see somebody who's made money from their own mind, rather than from a paycheck. 

 

LEDGE:  That's the guy you want to be associated with.

 

TEJA:  Totally. JP and I, we started working together on this business. We would just cold call different realtors for hours a day. Eight hours a day we'd just cold call realtors. We got to a point that basically we were like, we really need Devs to help us improve the actual web experience.

I knew Rich was a developer. We'd kept in touch over the years. I emailed him. I remember this fucking email – he'll probably deny it if you ask him - I'm like, "Yo dude, I need to hire a developer. I'm willing to pay $10 an hour." I cc'd him, a mutual friend of ours and I forget someone, maybe JP. Maybe that's the third guy.

 

LEDGE:  If we can get our hands on this email, this is going to be classic.

 

TEJA:  I fucking have it. I have it. Yeah. I have it. I'm going to get myself some… What is this? I'm going to get myself some…

 

LEDGE:  This is a good interlude in the story to remind everybody that this 100th episode is sponsored by Corsair Distillery out of Nashville, Tennessee. 

They're downstairs in the same building we're at. We had an amazing pregame whiskey tasting sponsored by Corsair. You can catch that video, probably on YouTube. You probably don't want the audio, but it's a lot of fun to watch.

 

TEJA:  It's fun. Yeah. We don't take sponsors lightly. Everything that is aired on this show is good shit. Corsair is below us.

 

LEDGE:  Corsair is the game, absolutely.

 

TEJA:  Yeah. They're a Tennessee-based company. we're a Tennessee-based company and they're fucking legit. They make good shit.

 

LEDGE:  Back to hiring developers for $10 an hour.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, totally. Rich, he put me on blast, dude. He responded to the whole thread like, "That's less than…"

 

LEDGE:  "How dare you?"

 

TEJA:  No, he's like, "That's less than minimum wage." Or maybe at the time it was minimum wage, I forget. I'm old. I'm like, "Fuck, all right, fair enough." I'm like, "What's it cost to hire a good Dev? Where do I find them?” Because I can't find them. At the time, the available websites were shitty and they were not focused on high quality, good Devs that you can trust. They were focused on what's the cheapest Dev you can hire.

 

LEDGE:  Very early not even gig economy but just give me anything. The Craigslist of ‘hire a developer’.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, totally, yeah. I don't even know if…

 

LEDGE:  Maybe there wasn't even a Craigslist at that point.

 

TEJA:  No, no, no. There was.

 

LEDGE:  Right.

 

TEJA:  Yeah. There was. That was the main way that most people hired, in fact, locally.

 

LEDGE:  Was like 2011-ish, I'm guessing.

 

TEJA:  Yeah. '12/'13-ish.

 

LEDGE:  So you got blasted on by Rich.

 

TEJA:  Yeah. I'm like, "Alright, fuck. That's a good point." I'm like, "Rich, why don't you help us with this business?" He's like, "You know what? I could do that. Let me do that. I also have a business. Can you guys help me with that?" 

I had sort of seen a company go from inception. I was a very early employee at the startup that I worked at and it got to several hundred people, so I was pretty confident in my ability to see a company through a full life. 

Obviously, I was naïve and I thought it would be a lot easier than it has been.

 

LEDGE:  Naiveté and confidence go well together, especially in startup world.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, totally. JP was like, "Fuck, yeah. We can do this." I'm like, "Alright, Rich. We'll you with whatever the fuck you're working on, you help us with ours." 

We quickly got to a position with both of our businesses where we saw the bigger economic opportunity was certainly in figuring out how to change the way work is done. We found that the most compelling need for the fastest growing businesses was in the vertical of software development. 

We found that there were a class of quickly growing businesses, and that class of quickly growing businesses spent a lot of money. What they spent a lot of money on was either growth or software development.

We were like, this is like… If we think about what we want to dedicate the next several years of our lives to, we want to focus on the things that have the highest leverage, the most impact, and the most chance of building a big ass company. That'd be fun. That ended up being what Rich is working on. 

It's interesting, because I was already working with JP – and Rich had not known JP. I was like, "Alright Rich, we'll work with you on this thing that you're working on." Which I don't know if I've explained but at the time, in 2013 it was basically just a job board to hook up open source developers.

 

LEDGE:  Bug Bounty, right?

 

TEJA:  Yeah. Rich built that initial version of Gun.io in his dorm room. Actually, in what we call the punk house, not his dorm room. 

A bunch of my friends from high school lived with Rich in this house that was a fucking pigsty. We called it the punk house.

 

LEDGE:  Punk house.

 

TEJA:  Dude, I'm talking like there was…

 

LEDGE:  Like tenement style?

 

TEJA:  Dude, worse. Like there was a sink that was not more than a foot each… No, it's actually a big ass sink.

 

LEDGE:  Six inches, eight inches.

 

TEJA:  Let's call it six, yeah, six inches.

 

LEDGE:  A small sink.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, a small ass sink filled with dishes, just growing in size projects. Anyway…

 

LEDGE:  We get the picture.

 

TEJA:  Yeah. I can't confirm. In fact, I don't know, I haven't asked. It's either he wrote the V1 in the punk house or he wrote it in his dorm and in West Campus BU. Either way, he wrote it in…

 

LEDGE:  It was Hired Guns I think at some point, right?

 

TEJA:  That was the original incorporated name, I think. But there was a marketing company called Hired Guns somewhere, and so our option B, actually…  

When you incorporate a company, you have to pick multiple names in case your first option or second option gets selected. Our option B was like Gun.io. But our option A was Hired Guns Inc. He bought the domain for gun.

 

LEDGE:  He bought the domain.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, exactly.

 

LEDGE:  Looking back, you're just like, "Wow, what an asset." A three-letter top-level domain for .io. At the time, it was just sort of like, "Yeah, whatever."

 

TEJA:  Yeah, totally. I forget when IO domains became available. Rich would know. This probably was like…

 

LEDGE:  Developers gleaned onto it. I forget when what country it is.

 

TEJA:  Indian Ocean.

 

LEDGE:  But developers thought it was cool because it's like, IO.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, Indian Ocean.

 

LEDGE:  Yeah, right, and it's…

 

TEJA:  The registry that owns is… I'm sorry NIC.IO, but you motherfuckers are not legit, but we're happy for your business. This is not…

 

LEDGE:  We're also happy that GoDaddy picked up the ability to register that domain.

 

TEJA:  Fuck dude, oh my god. I'm sure people have felt like that with our company.

 

LEDGE:  Back in the day.

 

TEJA:  Where was I?

 

LEDGE:  Gun.io.

 

TEJA:  Totally. He asked us to help. We said, "Yeah, a good opportunity." Maybe Gun had like 50 or 100 signups at the point. What's our time? How long…?

 

LEDGE:  We're good, man.

 

TEJA:  Okay, tight.

 

LEDGE:  We got at least another two hours.

 

TEJA:  Alright, legit. Hell yeah.

 

LEDGE:  I'm not stopping till you fall out of the chair.

 

TEJA:  Cool. I'm good. We’ll be alright. Where was I? He asked us to…

 

LEDGE:  There's a name. There's a couple of guys. You're working together. This is a very loose concept at that point. What is actually transacting here?

 

TEJA:  He asked us to take part. We said, "Yeah, let's do it. I'll do it if we can get JP in the mix." We got JP in the mix. We incorporated January 28th, 2013. 

Nothing happened. It was a fucking job board with some users.

 

LEDGE:  A job board of the style of… For people who are not familiar with that, job board just being like there's a list of jobs. It's like old monster.com style.

 

TEJA:  Yeah. People know what job boards are.

 

LEDGE:  Well, some of our young listeners may not even remember the monster.com days.

 

TEJA:  Who the fuck is listening to this before the age of 30? I don't know. It's like, come on.

 

LEDGE:  A lot.

 

TEJA:  Are they?

 

LEDGE:  Yes.

 

TEJA:  Okay, alright. We'll edit that in post. Basically, it was a job board.

 

LEDGE:  Did you have transaction capabilities at all or were you guys just fielding a bunch of emails, or…?

 

TEJA:  Yeah. We would literally cold-email companies down AngelList for eight hours a day, me and JP.

 

LEDGE:  Try to get them to list their available openings.

 

TEJA:  Totally. At one point, we automated the process, and the CTO of AngelList at the time was like, "How the fuck are you scraping our website?" That was a point of pride for us, because I'm like, "Alright, fuck, yeah. We're on the radar. Not for good reasons, but hey, you got to be a little bit subversive to succeed."

 

LEDGE:  All publicity is good publicity.

 

TEJA:  Totally. That's how we started. We literally cold-emailed as often as we could. When we weren't cold-emailing, we were working with companies to create content. Our early copartner at content was with companies like PubNub, a very well-known company today. Who else? Blossom, which is a project management software. Zapier…

 

LEDGE:  You guys were really early on the SEO train. You really figured out how to do content marketing before anybody else thought about that.

 

TEJA:  Totally. We didn’t have it down to a science. We thought that that was the highest leverage way to apply our labor. 

We did this for maybe a couple of months and I was like, "Alright, we need to get funding." That's how you get leverage. I literally Googled, ‘how to get funding in Nashville’, because I was in Nashville and I was recovering from shoulder surgery. This is several months after. 

Went down to what's called the EC locally. 

 

LEDGE:  Entrepreneurship center or Entrepreneur Center.

 

TEJA:  For people who are not familiar with the concept of that, it's like a private-public partnership where a lot of startups hangout. You may know it as a co-working space or anything like that. 

WeWork didn’t exist back in 2013 – or at least wasn’t proliferated in small cities.

 

LEDGE:  Well, it's a place that you can hang out with other founders and mentors and just at least start to ask questions about entrepreneurship. Even then, startups, a startup ecosystem had not blossomed out of New York or Silicon Valley. We needed support. For those of us in the South, those of us in the Midwest, the ecosystems had not fully developed.

This was a really cool thing, when Nashville said, hey, we're going to come together and form an entrepreneur center and here's what that's going to look like.

It was in a little building on 1st Avenue. A very small space.

 

TEJA:  Totally. Kudos to the people who took the risk and made that shit happen because we walked in and I was like, "Yay, we make three grand a month." That was a big deal.

 

LEDGE:  Making any money is a big deal.

 

TEJA:  Totally.

 

LEDGE:  The dude that we met, his name was Shawn Glinter. He was like, "Alright, that's pretty… That's all right. You guys got to go through this thing called Jumpstart Foundry.” 

I’m like, “Alright.” Went through it. That’s where we met you as well as Vic Gatto.

 

TEJA:  Vic Gatto. From there, I would say the rest is history. It’s like putting one foot in front of the other. You know what I mean? Putting one foot in front of the other.

 

LEDGE:  Well, you're still moving from $3,000 a month to a lot of thousand dollars per month.

 

TEJA:  Per day.

 

LEDGE:  Per day, right. I think that…

 

TEJA:  We do several million a year. I don't know if the listeners know. We're not a hundred million-dollar a year company, but we do significant revenue.

 

LEDGE:  Lots of severals.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, totally. We've bootstrapped basically until this year, which is pretty rare in the ecosystem.

 

LEDGE:  It is rare, particularly in the SaaS ecosystem.

 

TEJA:  Totally. I can get into that if we would like.

 

LEDGE:  Well, I think that a lot of listeners are founders. I can say, for certain, that a lot of people are listening to this and come into our client pipeline, are at the place where like, “I need that developer.” Probably not asking for $10 per hour. Which is good. The ecosystem has evolved, maybe thanks to some of our content. 

There's now a spirit of valuing high-end software engineering, in a way that simply didn’t exist before. I think that we've contributed to that. 

How do you now think about it? Fast forward to a company that is legit in the name and the space. What is the ethos that makes high quality software engineers valuable?

 

TEJA:  It’s a good question. I think about the following. I think that, ultimately, any need for software development talent exists because companies are able to grow and get value – economic value – create value as well as capture value from the creation of technology. 

If you're familiar with the Coase Theorem… You can Wikipedia the Coase Theorem, listeners.

 

LEDGE:  The joke is that Teja always says something that I need to Wikipedia.

 

TEJA:  The result is that firms are getting smaller. Economic relationships, due to reduction transaction costs, we believe, are getting more transient as well as more flexible. 

To us, it's like you no longer have to think several years out, hire an FTE for a need that you have to improve one aspect of your product as a SaaS company. So, that opportunity has created demand, in some ways, for a certain class of talent.

 

LEDGE:  It's like a different class of work that hasn't been predefined. People are talking about this in the gig economy but I don't know that the gig economy literature or articles captures the premium level of talent that we're talking about.

 

TEJA:  Simultaneous to that trend is another trend that, let's say if you're an experienced knowledge worker, period, particularly if you're a software engineer who typically has a lot of optionality and economic opportunity… Which means you can take whatever job you want from whomever you want.

 

LEDGE:  It's a seller's market.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, exactly. You have work that the big prestigious FANG companies, the Facebooks, the Amazons, the Netflix, the Googles. 

 

LEDGE:  Uber.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, you have worked at the high-growth startup. You have your pick of the litter in jobs. You realize, in fact, that playing the venture capital, traditional venture capital, San Francisco, Silicon Valley startup game is very much a lottery. That everybody raises venture capital but very few are working on an opportunity that's 'uber scale', but everybody aspires to position their business as such.

Ultimately, the economics don't yield what the executive team has promised the team, and software developers get burned out. Every CEO promises that their paltry option set is going to be worth a billion dollars, and how much…

 

LEDGE:  Right, and that's part of your comp. You're really making a serious bet on that.

 

TEJA:  Exactly.

 

LEDGE:  How many companies are worth that? Very few.

 

TEJA:  That’s part of the game. That’s part of the shuffle. But very few companies are worth that. Understandably, software developers, marketers, salespeople, they're burned out. They don’t want to be a part of that ecosystem anymore. So they go, they work on contracts. They want to go be… 

I feel like the concept of being your own boss trivializes things. There's a lot of literature about being your own boss. Ultimately, I believe, because of Coase Theorem, because of a lot of different economic factors, the notion of work is changing and it's starting with knowledge work. Really, the stratification between labor and management is being broken down. 

Labor has more autonomy. They function more like management. The ultimate leverage in your ability to earn income is your ability to; one, have skills, and two, improve those skills over a time period.

 

LEDGE:  Which is a shortening time period because of the pace of technology change.

 

TEJA:  Well, yeah. In some ways, it's like…I'm a fucking idiot so I can't think through this right now, but it's like, if the rate of technology creates change in whatever skillset is required to create and extract economic value at any given time, then the people who will benefit from that uncertainty are people who necessarily learn fast. 

It's not just about having a set of skills at any static moment. It's about being able to learn new skills at any future moment at a time.

 

LEDGE:  At an accelerating pace.

 

TEJA:  Exactly. The nature of software development is a job that is about constantly learning new shit. I would argue, if you take a step back and say, "That's in fact all of knowledge work,"….

This is a tangent. The fact of the matter is, in addition to the trend that we saw when we were working on Gun initially with software companies, we were like, "Hey, there's also this trend about more people working freelance, more people taking charge of their own careers in the software development industry." We certainly knew there were a lot of developers who were really fucking good, adding value for companies, that needed help managing their own deal flow, managing their work, managing their billing, that we knew we could connect with companies that needed them. 

The business underwent a couple of evolutions, different frameworks. We tried it as a job board, and I think we're somewhere around this notion of agents for freelance developers. Where we take care of a lot of the bullshit that they have to face. Not only that, but I think we systemize and de-risk the process of hiring elite talent for companies.

 

LEDGE:  Right. In a different format.

 

TEJA:  Yeah.

 

LEDGE:  I often look at what we do, and I think about that it's just a different cohort of talent. The people that are interested in what we do, do not expose themselves to other methods. Companies that are under a lot of economic pressure now for hiring… I mean, hiring an engineer is miserable and it takes a long time, and your product roadmap isn't going to advance while you're doing that detail hiring process. 

Well, what if you could have those engineers right away from a pool that is not being tapped elsewhere? That's a competitive advantage.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, absolutely. This sounds fake but it's real. You go through our channels and you look at our class who are interacting with Devs, it's clear a client can be in New York city and, in theory, have access to a really liquid labor market, but they literally can't separate the wheat from the chaff. They get so many shitty applications, that they can't find the three developers that they want to interview. Who's going to be interviewing? It's their management team, because they're a growing company…

 

LEDGE:  Which carries an enormous opportunity cost on their time.

 

TEJA:  Totally. I fundamentally believe, every new addition to your company your management should interview. I think that’s a good use of time but it's a costly use of time. You don't want to interview…

 

LEDGE:  You shouldn't interview everyone, top people that you might get.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, exactly. That's a pain in the ass. Then, on the other hand, we had a client who was from Montana. There, it's like they have the opposite problem, where they literally can't find anybody that meets their experience requirements, their personality fit. That's an opposite problem. That's not a separating. That's not like a noise to signal problem. That's more so like they're not getting jack shit out there.

 

LEDGE:  Any signal at all.

 

TEJA:  Yeah. Companies in all parts of the country, in all parts of the world, face different manifestations of this underlying problem of high-quality talent that they could choose from. 

People will email me or I’ll sit down in a meeting with an entrepreneur and they're like, "I need to hire a developer. I need to hire a so and so. What should I do?" I'm like, "Dude, all right, find a way to take as many high-impact interviews as you can. Use us. Use other sources. Use your network. Find out where you're getting the best talent from, and then double down.”

I don’t want this to be a commercial but, we believe…

 

LEDGE:  We believe in what we're doing. Yeah. I say that every time at the end of an episode, like, I don't want to pitch you, but we believe so much in what we're doing and the talent that comes out of it.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, totally. It's like put two to three people from our shit against the five from your network, the five from your fucking remote.io or remote.com, I forget what it is, and GitHub.

 

LEDGE:  Any of the other sources.

 

TEJA:  Yeah. Have an auction and pick the source that is giving you the best talent. Look, we don't deliver on every fucking thing, but when we do, double down. 

That's how I think about it, is we are a resource among many. We have certain philosophy that dictates the way we do things, and that creates certain results. Whether you're a well-funded startup in New York City or San Francisco or you're working out of Nashville, Tennessee, we understand your needs and I think we do a good job of…

 

LEDGE:  Look, your time is valuable. If you want to get off the ground fast, with great engineering talent, you can come here. We're happy to have you and have that conversation.

 

TEJA:  Totally. I almost look at it like… I have to think about this. It's hard to appreciate the… If you've never driven an M3, let's just say, like a BMW…

 

LEDGE:  If you've never driven an M3.

 

TEJA:  If you've never driven a car that is fun as fuck to drive and goes fast, and had that experience and you're into cars, it's hard to imagine why the fuck anybody would pay that premium. It's not even worth it sometimes to be like, "It's just fun. Trust me." You've got to be like, "Hey dude, go drive that shit and then we could have a conversation about whether or not it’s economically worth it to use that, to pay for that." 

That's sometimes how I feel about our shit. It's hard to appreciate the difference because it feels like any other fucking car. It feels like any other fucking service. It feels like a job board. It can feel like a job board. That's how I think about it. That's how I think about our place in the market.

 

LEDGE:  It's not right for everybody. Sometimes, you legitimately cannot afford the top 1% talent. You just can't. But you should think about at least what that looks like and how to know when you can afford it.

 

TEJA:  Totally. The funny is, those who shall not be named frames themselves as the top 1% talent.

 

LEDGE:  Top X%.

 

TEJA:  So does every fucking company. Really, I'm going to tell you something folks, 99% of the applications we get don't even have correct grammar – so we too have top 1% of talent. But really, ask the company, ask anybody – it's funny – ask anybody what the interview process is. 

If you're working with a Dev shop, ask them, "Tell me about your interview process. Tell me about your hiring. Don't just tell me it's really tight or really strict. Tell me about what the interview looks like. How many stages you guys have. Show me the fucking experience of the code test.” 

Because I invite every technical hirer to go through our vetting process to experience how tight the vetting is. Then, I don't even know how we got on the subject, but the next time you're working with a software development firm or you're working with a marketplace…

 

LEDGE:  Or a recruiter.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, or a recruiter.

 

LEDGE:  Who you pay 30% of salary.

 

TEJA:  Totally, go through the fucking vetting process. You don't have to be a developer. Just go through the actual thing. If you don't know what the test… If they ask you, "Do you know a big-on-notation 4.2 developer?" and see if that’s stringent.

 

LEDGE:  That's a good point. Go through what we put candidates through. It's a freaking boot camp.

 

TEJA:  Totally. That sucks to ask for some people, but that's how we deliver good ass talent. That took us years to figure out. Years to understand that that's the way to serve this market. 

We're pretty happy with the result, honestly.

 

LEDGE:  Let me pivot before we end here. I want to hear some of your personal CEO and leadership strategy. 

You get out of bed every day to run a company. There's people that look up to you and are taking your guidance and vision. For anybody who's listening and wants to know about that stuff…

I know you're not a guy that likes to be on the stage and likes to have the lights on you and all that, and we do have the lights on you right now, but there are not a lot of entrepreneurs who get to found a company that gets to millions and millions of dollars of revenue. 

What is the philosophy that keeps you going in that seat?

 

TEJA:  It's an interesting question. Let me caveat this by just saying, ultimately, I think you should only listen to people – this is my bias –if you're an entrepreneur that have successfully started, grown and sold a company for north of $100 million. That's it. Take my advice with many grains of salt, because I have not done that yet. I feel like it's almost like asking a Year 2 NBA player what's the secret to pro basketball. You don't fucking know in Year 2, so let me caveat it with that.

I can speak candidly about my personal motivation. At the end of the day… Actually, hidden secret; I hate most things about running a company – like 95% of things about running a company I dislike. But I really like the fact that you're never done learning and that you're always working at the edge of your ability. 

In some ways, the business itself can never be… If you founded the company and you lead the company, the business itself is always in some ways a reflection of your personal ability to plan and execute. If the business is not big enough, or it’s not doing well enough, it's ultimately your fault. 

To me, the fact that it's never done and the fact that you're never done learning is, I don't know, is extremely motivating. 

I have a lot of friends who are working in medicine or actually writing code that feel like they're 35 and their career has stagnated, and they've learned all that they could have and are done. They have hit their ceiling. Whereas, when you're building a company you never hit a ceiling. You're only limited by your ability to think and execute. 

That to me is electrifying, honestly, because you know that, at the end of the day, if you're fucked it's your fault. That's amazing to me. There's nothing else…

 

LEDGE:  Nobody else to blame.

 

TEJA:  Yeah, totally. Few things in life give you that feeling. 

I would say that's what gets me out of bed. That's certainly not the reason why we started the company. I decided to be an entrepreneur because I grew up poor as fuck and I'm like, "You know what, I want to be rich as fuck when I'm older." That was it. There was nothing more to that. 

The game of entrepreneurship is fundamentally interesting because you're never done learning.

 

LEDGE:  Great answer. I love it. 

Teja Yenamandra, CEO/cofounder of Gun.io, thanks for joining us for the 100th episode – which blows my mind having sat in this chair for 100 interviews.

 

TEJA:  Holy shit!

 

LEDGE:  It's been a lot of fun. 

Thanks to Corsair Distillery for providing the liquid truth serum, otherwise known as Triple Smoke, Wildfire and Ryemageddon for this episode. Corsair is totally awesome. Nashville company, Kentucky company. 

If you come down to Nashville, our hometown, make sure that you do the distillery tour because it is super a lot of fun and I learned a lot about it. 

Thanks all for listening. We'll be back next time.

 

TEJA:  Thanks Corsair, appreciate you. Thank you, Ledge. You've done an awesome job, man.

 

LEDGE:  Thank you, sir.

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