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Start saying no to good opportunities and yes to great ones – Veryable CTO, Noah Labhart

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Noah Labhart, CTO and Co-Founder of Veryable, sat down with Relevant about his startup and career as a CTO.

Veryable is an on-demand labor marketplace for manufacturing and distribution that helps businesses enhance efficiency and minimise administrative tasks, while also giving employees greater flexibility with their work hours.

Co-founders, Mike Kinder CEO, and Noah CTO pulled their expertise together and experience to develop an operational tool, aiming to provide workers and businesses with more flexibility. They sought to put together a team that would transform manufacturing in the United States.

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Within this article, you will learn all you need to know about Veryables’ approach to building an on-demand labor marketplace and engineering a team behind it. Noah shares with us his methods of finding a work-life balance, how to choose the correct decisions in a world full of many, how to manage distributed teams, the challenges of hiring in a world of big tech, and how an original MVP doesn’t always go quite to plan.

Who is Noah Labhart?

Noah is a firm believer in what he does, calling coding the best job in the world. He is enthused about what they are doing at Veryable, and at the same time, he emphasises the need of finding that balance and understanding what your life principles are. Work is vital, but Noah’s responsibilities as a father of three, a loving husband of 12 years, and his faith come first. These are the sources of his strength in order for him to execute his duties as a CTO. Having lived his entire life in Texas, he is a true Texan at heart. A self-proclaimed outdoorsman, he spends his free time hunting, fishing, and being surrounded by nature, and he describes himself as a true animal lover. Growing up in a small town, Noah’s entrepreneurial career began when he was a senior in high school when he got his hands on a computer. The rest, as they say, is history.

The illusion of a work-life balance at a C-suite level 

The idea that one is able to just switch off and connect with the world in the 21st century is nothing more than an illusion. Many, if not all, whilst reading this would have a phone either in their hands or at least somewhere in the near vicinity where they can reach over and grab upon flashing a new message or on an incoming call. But can C-level personnel just switch off their responsibilities? Or perhaps a better question yet, should they? 

Noah thrives when he is busy, enjoying the challenge of juggling and spinning plates, and takes in his stride the difficulties of his role.

“The best way to balance things is to really focus on the great opportunities versus the good opportunities. It’s still a bit of a work in progress, something I don’t always get right myself but, I believe you should tackle it like this… Say no to more good opportunities, and yes, to more great opportunities. Something as simple as getting up and reading my bible before a day’s work is opposed to a “good” opportunity which would be an extra hour in bed. You’ve got to measure those good and great things and decide for yourself whether it is worth your time.”

Noah approaches his personal and work life in this way after having accumulated the experience to recognise what is a good and a great opportunity. After having gone through the process of saying yes to everything, fearing he would miss out on a good opportunity, he realised that it just wasn’t possible to maintain. 

“I remember how Brian Spaly, one of Veryable’s earliest investors once said that “startups are about building and establishing that work-life harmony, not work-life balance.” I was getting it wrong at first as I was saying yes to everything and this is just not possible. We’re humans, we have to find harmony in our lives.” 

The Creation of Veryable

Before creating Veryable, Noah had already scooped up the experience of starting his own development agency, building startup solutions. He didn’t have the itch to build his own thing as there wasn’t anything that jumped out to him at that time as being something he wanted to get on board with. Whilst at college Noah worked on the shop floor packing installation, as an operator, proving him with an understanding of the difficulties of that environment and how times were changing.

“People no longer wanted to stand at the end of the conveyor belt for 30 years, they wanted to do different things, and learn different skills. I worked in the corporate world for eight years at Alcon laboratories, a fantastic company, but I just got the entrepreneurial itch and had to go do my own thing. While I was at Alcon, I supported manufacturing from an IT standpoint, leading an IT team of 5. We supported the engineers on the shop floor, all the assets on the shop floor, and all the systems which controlled not only the shop floor but ERP MES, etc.

I saw the environment, I was inside the leadership team of the environment, having access to those people who make the decisions and so I saw firsthand the challenges of the rigidity, the real focus on cost, ebbs, and flows of demand issues with the production lines, and how shifts in demand disrupted the environment (an FDA-regulated environment). I saw how flexibility was super important.” 

Having built startup solutions for a time, Noah was well-versed in knowing what would work and what wouldn’t, going into any meeting regarding startups. This enabled him to shoot holes in startup solutions frequently. However, he did have a lightbulb moment, when the idea came from his new partner, Mike Kinder. 

The Idea: You can’t take advantage of new tech without solving the labor problem

“It wasn’t until we got together in 2016 for lunch to discuss the idea. I was ready to build my own thing but didn’t have any ideas, being the executor, not the idea guy—although this has changed in recent years. I talked to a good friend of mine, Rylan Barnes. He’s a tech entrepreneur as well, asking him to connect me with people looking for a CTO. Straight away he said, “You need to talk to Mike, Mike’s got a great idea.” 

Mike Kinder, CEO of Veryable, is a longtime manufacturing veteran, and operations veteran. He’s gained much experience managing plant operations for some of the biggest names including GE and was a director of strategic operations at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC). 

“Mike knows this world, working as a consultant for a long time and so noticed that with the technological advances coming to manufacturing, they solve many problems without solving the labor problem. You can’t take advantage of the power that was offered by new tech if you can’t solve the labor problem. Immediately upon pitching that to me, I was hooked.” 

“Upon pitching it to me, I knew it was providing a win-win for both sides. Businesses can achieve Flexible Capacity, they can lower their expenses, and workers can actually gain higher wages and grow their skill set, while being paid every day, as opposed to bi-weekly or bi-monthly paycheck. It was that moment, I was like this is this going to work, we should do it. And now we’re in many different states, and growing across the rest of the United States.”

Hiring: Veryable’s approach to hiring in a world of big techs and remote working.

How did you make your dream team?

“Hiring is such a critical aspect of building a startup team. I’m an engineer by nature and by profession, I build software but growing a startup has really opened my eyes to how important people are. But also the importance of hiring the right type of people when building my engineering team.” 

“There’s somewhat of a risk when hiring someone who hasn’t been in the business for a long time or isn’t even a computer science graduate. But what I found, as I hired those people, is they had the best view of these solutions, the best view of the world, because they came from a user’s point of view. They came from a view of a different industry”?

“We are trying to make something work in an elegant way, used by non-tech guys, and so the number one question was how do we make this work for the people using it. This understanding is what I managed to create thanks to the diversity of our team. It sounds so simple, but it was pretty revolutionary.” 

Hiring process

“First, we looked at the people sitting in front of us and at their track records. So when someone comes to me and says, “ I didn’t start in coding” or “I had this long stint off to do this”, whatever it may be this is what I want to hear about! Tell me about this, because this is interesting and your experience doing something different, and seeing the world in a different way is what is going to make you a better engineer.”

Do you outsource and if so, how do you manage an outsourced team?

“At Veryable we’re not distributed. We’re completely in the office. However, the prior agency I ran, called Touchtap, a mobile development agency, was fully distributed. So I had developers you know, all across the US, in Canada, and across Europe. I learned the importance of getting together as much as possible even for a short amount of time—this is key for successfully managing a remote team. I hear of remote teams doing retreats, getting together to do hackathons, or having career-building days at the company—sort of strategy sessions. I didn’t do that. And I think that was a big contributor to the non-connective culture we had. I had good relationships with the people I worked with but what we did was lacking excitement about the mission and the company.” 

How to praise the team?

Praise is one of the most underappreciated and most powerful managerial tools that money doesn’t buy. Boosts morale and encourages good behaviour. Promoting involvement, productivity, and contentment at work is a win-win situation for everyone. Managers have to do a lot of things every day, but there is a lot of value in being praised. Not only does it make you feel good, but it improves the quality of work, resulting in a higher employee satisfaction rate and a higher level of work.

Noah highlights the importance of praise and explains to us two ways in which managers should praise their staff when praise is due.

Two types of praise:

Quick praise. Emotionally reacting to their work in a way that excites the employee. Your reaction shows they are valued and irreplaceable members of the team

Formal praise. Praise which requires personalisation and thought. 

Noah’s example of Quick praise

“The quick praise is showing your excitement for what somebody’s working on when somebody delivers. 

I went out to speak to one of our engineers, Pat Thibodeau, now an engineering manager, and told him about this idea of something we could put in the portal. Not having much room in the roadmap, I wanted to run it by him and see what he thought. He was excited about the idea and went off to think about how we could tackle it. He comes back sometime later and shows me his approach and how he spent his time working on it over some nights and weekends. The quick praise part of it was just “holy cow”—my reaction.” 

“Pat, you did it! Wow, that’s amazing. You know, like you did that, you made that from, from just an idea! You just dreamt that up and created it!”

“By showing that excitement, I was affirming not only what he had built and the value of it, but my excitement for what he had built as a leader. And so, I think it’s critical to get excited with your team about what they’re working on because without it you can’t have that culture where everyone is in it together. Working towards the same goal because they want to contribute, not because they have to. Although it really isn’t that hard to get excited about what they do, software development is one of the coolest jobs in the world. It’s pretty easy to get excited about what you made.”

Example of Formal praise

“I think it’s important to reward people when they’re doing well, monetarily with a raise. It shows them you want to keep them around for the long term. Or by more personalised gifts, which can be random, but something that shows you appreciate them and went to the trouble to make something specifically for them.”

Code Story:  A podcast to unearth the story behind tech-startups

“My podcast is titled Code Story. Founded in 2019 with around 250 episodes to date. The goal of the podcast is to surface the human stories of tech builders, whether that be CEOs, CTOs, or really anyone involved in the creation story of a product of a tech product— surfacing those human stories is to get to the roots of the early ideas, such as, how did this start? What problem were you trying to solve? The MVP of the product, the trade-offs, and decisions on taking that technical debt, or roadmap alterations, progressions, scaling team, all of those things. Asking those things in the first half of the interview is all about the creation story and the second half is a little more reflective with questions such as, looking back, tell me about a mistake, tell me about when something went wrong, tell me what you’re proud of, tell me what influences you.” 

“The MVP for my podcast was interesting, Rylan Barnes, the guy who introduced me to my current partner—longtime friend of mine, college roommate. We were at each other’s weddings, are still good friends, and still, support each other to this day.”

Whilst discussing the potential benefits a podcast could bring to Noah as a professional himself, but also to the tech community, Noah and Rylan came up with a list of questions they saw fit for a tech podcast. They decided to go deeper than surface-level questions, asking guest speakers about their failures as opposed to their mistakes, because this is what creates great stories. 

“It took me six months to edit the first episode I shot with Rylan because I was being so picky with everything, the music to put to it, the edits, the narration. Being a perfectionist it took me a long time to get out of my own way. At about month five, I hired an editor. So for the first two or three seasons, we had an editing team that was working with us. It turned out really good. Everybody seemed to like it. So I kept going.”

MVP of Veryable: what its original MVP included and how the first MVP didn’t go quite to plan

MVPs are crucial for startups as it allows a business to test market demand for their product without having to spend a lot of money—something which is not an endless resource for many startups. It can assist a product team to get customer input rapidly so they can iterate and enhance the product.

“Veryable is an on-demand marketplace for manufacturing labor. And so there’s a mobile app side, which is the worker side and then there’s a web portal, which is for the business side. So it’s a two-way marketplace. Businesses are posting work on the platform, and then operators or the workers are bidding on the work, and they make a selection, receiving their pay through the platform.”

The MVP for Veryable was an iOS app only—a back end built on parse. Parse was an open-source mobile Backend as a Service node, node-based and then built on top of Mongo, then with an Angular template to build the portal for the business side, which Noah explains to be pretty hard-going.

“The first version of the first prototypes was rough. We got it to where it was working, we tested it in house—work could be posted and we can pay people. It was built on top of stripe for the payments, and we were using Stripe marketplace, or stripe connect, their marketplace product.” 

An MVP that didn’t go quite to plan

“Our first op – They posted their work, and  operators’ bid on it and they were accepted. They showed up to work on the first day, and we decided to be there to support everything they were doing onsite. At the end of the day, the manager sat down to approve the work and pay the operator, clicked the button… and it broke. The payment mechanism didn’t work…

I was scratching my head trying to think what could have gone wrong. I took a look and saw I had to fix the backend and ship the backend. I had to call my lead engineer Andrew, who’s been with us since the beginning, who directed me to what he thought the issue was and we managed to resolve the problem, fix the backend, and shipped it right there. We told them to go ahead, refresh the page, hit the payment button, and boom, worked, we got our first $100 payment through the system. So the MVP portal part was super interesting.”

Challenges: startups are always up to their elbows in challenges

“There’s been a lot of challenges, startups are full of challenges, and you’re up to your elbows in issues in the early days. So all the time you have a huge amount to pick from and tackle. I think what’s a really interesting one to talk about is our hypothesis on what was going to be the harder side of the marketplace. 

We thought that businesses were just going to “get” our product and sign up, convinced in the easy sell because the value prop is very simple and straightforward for a business to use and understand. Whereas we thought the workers were going to be harder to get on board, and that we were going to have to do a lot more work on that side to get them on the platform, keep them interested, etc.

What we found as we started going out and piloting the product is that it completely flipped. The workers got it immediately. They downloaded the app and were ready to work. They stayed interested and kept checking for work. 

On the business side, it actually took more education on why we’re not temp staffing, we don’t identify as this as we’re a third labor paradigm. There is full-time labor, temp staffing, and then there’s us. We’re not argumentative labor, we’re on-demand labor, which is a whole other conversation.

Manufacturing, distribution, and warehousing doesn’t move fast unless there’s immediate value seen. And so you have to get in and tell them where their problems are, and direct them to how this is going to fix this problem. Similar to being a consultant in this way.” 

What are the current challenges you are working on?

Finding the proper talent and attracting it from a large pool of candidates is a difficulty that many businesses are encountering these days. The demand for outstanding developers is surpassing the supply chain, thanks to the rise of technology and its rapid advancement. Companies are attempting to entice the ideal fit for their firm, but that applicant may have another ten offers on the table, making it even more difficult to not only find the appropriate candidate for the job with the requisite abilities but also out-offer what they have been proposed elsewhere. Noah discusses the difficulties of competing against big business; after all, why would a recruit join your team when a bigger company might offer them double the pay? 

Challenge 1. Expansion of the engineering platform

“We are expanding the orchestration and our engineering platform, in a way in which our platform is engineered—we’re going through a monolith to microservices transition, breaking down our big backend into microservices so that we can scale with our growth really elegantly with the right size all of our services. It’s going really well, but it’s a continued engineering challenge. We constantly have to think about how much effort we should be putting into retrofitting our monolith when we know that is going to eventually carve everything off into their own services. So that’s been an engineering challenge, which is a really fun engineering problem—our team loves it.”

Challenge 2. The market right now

“The engineers market, right, it’s hard to recruit right now, for many different reasons. We’re up against the Amazons of the world, the Microsofts of the world. We are completely in office, we don’t do remote work as we think teams work best when we’re in person – it was a decision we made early on, and it’s worked really well for us. But obviously, that’s a different paradigm than what’s going on right now, and what is expected from employees. So we have to do a lot more, we have to put a lot more time into recruiting and having those conversations to find the right people who are willing to come into the office. 

We’re still trying to figure out what that formula for hiring at Veryable looks like. Right now we are trying to partner early on with engineers in school, bringing people on and training them up in our company, doing a lot more internships with the local schools. 

Our team culture is pretty awesome, so interns get in here, and they fall in love with the company and they want to stay—which is great. But it is a challenge and we’re still trying to crack that egg.”

Takeaways: the importance of your team and the realisation of how they are making the difference

If there is one thing you have learned from interviewing close to 250 Tech leaders on Code Story, what would be your biggest takeaway?

“I’ve got I’ve gotten so much from the conversation, selfishly, I get, it’s almost like I’m having the tech leaders just coach me through the podcast. There are a few really big takeaways, one being ‘Back and forth between scaling’ or ‘An approach scaling’

It helped me think about how we scale Veryable—when speaking more about the engineering side, but it could be on the people side, too. There are ways to over-engineer scaling too early. I’ve heard a lot of stories of people saying how they tried to over-engineer too early, and it took them too long. Or, even the opposite—when startups didn’t engineer enough. 

You should ask yourself:  

  • Is this the right time to do it? 
  • Is it too early? 
  • Is it too late? 
  • Is it too complicated? 
  • Is it the right problem for us to be solving right now? 
  • Do we have time? 

So there’s a balance there of trying to find the sweet spot of scaling. I try to be mindful of that when we’re scaling our systems at Veryable when going from monolith to microservice or expanding our usage of orchestration and containers, or diving into AWS and thinking about how we can optimize our databases.

The second thing I have taken away from these conversations is how important the team is, and how important people are—this is shared through tech founders. I asked them what they’re most proud of, and they said, my team that you know, and 99% of them don’t hesitate. It comes down to the people. They are what’s most important, and what creates the most pride is the orchestration of a team. It has been hugely validating and significant to how much we pay attention to our team at Veryable.”

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Written by
Podcast Host at Relevant Software
I am tasked with engaging with tech experts from all across the globe. I aim to provide an open, comfortable and informative space for our guests to open up and share their trials and tribulations of creating their product. We at Relevant provide our audience with the knowledge they need to better develop their product.

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