jeff morris jr. kyle tibbits paradox podcast

Investing in a Post-COVID-19 Future | Jeff Morris Jr. on the Paradox Podcast, Hosted By Kyle Tibbitts

Check out the Paradox Podcast website; listen here

Key Takeaways

  • A small compliment can change the course of someone’s life 
  • Build consumer SaaS products for people in Kansas City, not San Francisco
  • For monetization to fall into place, you HAVE to pick the right product category 
  • If you’re a founder or entrepreneur, consider seeing a therapist. Mental health is of the utmost importance. 
  • Remembering names is a superpower

Intro

  • Jeff Morris Jr. (@jmj) is the founder of Chapter One. He’s a full-time angel investor with investments in Lyft, Lambda School, Superhuman, Roman, Cameo, and Branch Metrics.
  • Host: Kyle Tibbitts (@KyleTibbtits)

The State of Affairs

  • “I’m incredibly sad for the world right now .. Unemployment claims are increasing every day—it’s depressing on so many levels.” – Jeff Morris, Jr.
  • On a brighter note:
    • Because of COVID-19, Jeff is spending a ton of time with his parents & siblings, something he hasn’t had the chance to do since high school
    • Kyle, meanwhile, has never felt more of a connection to his neighbors & surrounding community
  • “On a global scale, I’ve never seen the world come together like this to try to defeat one thing, although I hope I don’t see it again. .. It’s a unique time … It’s hard to appreciate these moments when they’re happening, but I’m sure we’ll look back on this as being one of the craziest times of all of our lives and something we’ll tell our grandkids about.” – Jeff Morris, Jr.

How are Jeff’s founders & portfolio companies doing?

  • When COVID-19 hit the U.S., Jeff sent every one of his founders an email letting them know he was at their service and willing to help out any way possible
  • As nearly all of Jeff’s investments are at the early-stage in smaller companies, he’s developed many close relationships
    • And because his portfolio companies are on the small side, layoffs aren’t something Jeff’s too worried about

Tech is Saving Us

  • Imagine going through COVID-19 without Twitter, Amazon, or even the internet—it’d be near impossible!

The Humbling Nature of COVID-19

  • “Thinking, ‘This isn’t going to come to our shores’ … Of course, we’re a global, interconnected world. A virus can easily enter our country through any number of airports, borders, etc. It’s been a humbling experience for all of us to realize we’re not nearly as infallible as we think.”Kyle Tibbitts

A Compliment That Influences Jeff to This Day

  • After writing a paper on The Catcher in the Rye, a high school teacher told Jeff, “You’re a writer. You could do this professionally.”
    • This small compliment led Jeff to attend UCLA where he studied, hoping to one day become a screenwriter  
    • Jeff adds: “Without that moment where somebody took an interest in me and recognized this talent nobody else had recognized, maybe I’d be a real estate agent or something. I really have no idea what I’d be doing, but I definitely wouldn’t be doing anything creative. My job now isn’t really to be an investor; it’s to find hidden talents and hidden gems on the brink of becoming entrepreneurs.”

What came next?

  • After UCLA, Jeff attended film school at USC, graduating in 2008 during the financial crisis—this made it extremely difficult to find a job
    • Jeff adds: “I think, right now, people are going through similar forks in the road where their industry or career path as they knew it is no longer available. Being really aggressive and making hard life decisions in the coming months is going to be necessary for people to survive.” 
  • Jeff ended up moving back to San Francisco to live with his parents where he “fought and climbed” his way into the tech industry. He describes his journey:
    • Amid the job hunt, Jeff decided to rent a desk at RocketSpace, a co-working space in downtown San Francisco. Coincidentally, he sat next to the early Uber team, and, of course, applied to work for the company, but sadly, things fell through.
    • Meanwhile, Jeff also applied to Twitter and Airbnb, but, again… no luck 
    • Frustrated, Jeff made his way to SXSW and ended up meeting with a company called Zaarley. In a turn of events, he was offered a 2-month work contract in Kansas City. Following his gut, Jeff decided to make the move.

What did Jeff learn from living in Kansas City?

  • “When I build consumer products, I always think about people in Kansas City, and I never think about people in San Francisco … That was my perspective that stuck with me: Do NOT build products for people in San Francisco. That’s the death of consumer SaaS products.” – Jeff Morris, Jr.

Product Lessons from Working at Tinder

  • For monetization to fall into place, you HAVE to pick the right product category 
    • (Dating is a category that’s been monetized since the late 1800s—men commonly took out ads in newspapers to promote themselves)
    • Digging deeper: Make sure the category consumers have enough willingness to pay. Do NOT go in with the mindset: “We’ll get to scale and then figure out how to monetize.”
      • Jeff adds: “I cringe when I hear those pitches. The sooner you think about monetization and have self-awareness about the customers’ willingness to pay, the less likely you are to fall into a trap 1-2 years into building where you realize your product won’t work unless you have an ad network layered on top of it.”
  • Also, make sure you’re building something that serves a core human need

Have a Scoreboard

  • For people that work in marketing, sales, or product management, have a scoreboard of some kind—it helps show your impact
    • “Right now, in 2020, where we are in the world, make sure you have a scoreboard. If you don’t, it’s going to be hard to justify your impact. Knowing you can show your company your impact is really valuable.” – Jeff Morris, Jr. 

Company Themes Coming Out of the COVID-19 Era

  • Tons of people are building companies to solve COVID-19-related problems
  • Jeff is particularly interested in the job markets—millions are now unemployed 
    • For instance, will a Lambda School-like company (for a different vertical) be the result of massive unemployment?
  • Remote work is accelerating—what kind of tech will result from this?
  • Going forward, there NEEDS to be better awareness related to when pandemics might happen. COVID-19 blindsided many people. Again, another opportunity for entrepreneurs.

What’s an issue Jeff cares a lot about but rarely gets a chance to discuss?

  • Mental health, but luckily, the public conversation is shifting
  • Jeff saw a therapist for the first time when he was 20 and describes it as “life-changing”
    • “Within 6 sessions, my perspective on life completely changed” – Jeff Morris, Jr.
  • Entrepreneurship is HARD. Starting a company is one of the most draining things you can do.
    • Because of the above: “I would encourage every single founder to see a coach or therapist on a regular basis” Jeff Morris, Jr.
    • Kyle adds: “Building a company is one of the hardest, sometimes loneliest, and certainly one of the most psychologically and emotionally grinding journeys you’ll ever go on”
  • Not-so-fun fact: In half of U.S. zip codes, there isn’t a single mental health professional

What’s something Jeff believes that most people don’t?

  • Where you live is crucial
    • There are tons of talented people outside of Silicon Valley, but because of where they live, they don’t have access to the same opportunities
  • Going further:
    • “There’s so much you can do in 4 years living in San Francisco that you can’t do anywhere else if you work in tech. I would encourage everyone to spend some time—assuming you’re successful and can make it happen—in the Bay Area.” – Jeff Morris, Jr.

The Best Advice Jeff Ever Received

  • Ron Johnson, a famous retail executive, once gave a talk at one of Jeff’s companies, and by the end of it, knew every person in the room’s name (~40 in total)
    • How? As people were asking questions, Ron would ask them for their name. His memorization skills were good enough to remember them all.
  • The takeaway: Never underestimate the power of remembering someone’s name
    • “If you can’t take the time to learn someone’s name, how invested can you really be in that conversation?” – Jeff Morris, Jr.    

Additional Notes

  • Kyle made his first angel investment ~1 month ago in a company in the education/homeschooling space
  • Kyle has a 2-year-old daughter
  • Jeff has 7 siblings!
  • “For me, your family is why you go to work every day … There’s nothing more rewarding than spending time with my family.” – Jeff Morris, Jr.
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