Bloks (Formerly Nook) Co-Founders on Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Pivot

Startup Savants Podcast header with hosts smiling in front of microphones.

Summary of Episode

#26: Chadwick Carlson and Marc Gingras join Annaka and Ethan to talk about Bloks, a software company working to give users better agency over their scheduling through their calendar tool. Their first product, Nook Calendar, was Product Hunt’s #1 Product of the Day. Chad and Marc walk us through their decision to pivot their business, their philosophy for merging innovation with familiarity, and the importance of building strong teams that can succeed.

About the Guests: 

Chadwick Carlson and Marc Gingras are the co-founders of Bloks, a software startup synthesizing information across various platforms in order to consolidate notes, meetings, and day-to-day interactions all in one place. Chad and Marc met while working together at a previous startup, and while this is Chad’s first time as a founder, Marc has previously launched two other startups with one having been acquired by BlackBerry. 

Podcast Episode Notes

Building a better calendar app to help navigate a remote workplace [1:30]

How a job at a startup turned into a collaborative for years to come [5:30]

Fall in love with the team not the problem [7:50]

Creating a product focused on who works with you rather than simply focusing on your own schedule [9:50]

Finding overlooked areas to innovate and improve on [12:14]

Tips for properly navigating through a pivot [16:03]

Embrace sunk costs — Make decisions that will benefit your future regardless of the past [18:57]

How to balance creating something new with pre-existing needs and expectations  [22:30]

How Nook became Product Hunt’s #1 Product of the Day and used this position to build credibility and community [25:20]

Prioritize creating something that works, and revenue will come [28:55]

Establishing a team that has “strong convictions that are loosely held” [35:27]

The difficulties of hiring [40:35]

CEOs should think of themselves as a head coach — recognize that you are not the best person for each position on an all-star team [46:07]

Nook’s future and changing during a pivot [48:19]

It’s never too late to get started — if you fail, you’ll still learn [53:08]

Launching a startup is a marathon not a sprint [53:55]

Hey everyone, and welcome to Startup Savants. I’m Annaka.

Ethan: And I’m Ethan.

Annaka: If you’re a returning listener, welcome back. And if you’re new, this podcast is about the stories behind startups, the founders who run them, and the problems they’re solving. This episode we’re joined by Marc and Chad, co-founders of Nook, a calendar app giving users better agency over their scheduling that ranked #1 on Product Hunt. We talked about building a culture of trust by being consistent and reliable and fine tuning a calendar tool to keep up with what teams and workforces need in a changing work environment without reinventing the wheel. 

Ethan: Yeah, and they also talked about the CEO thinking about their role more as a head coach instead of like a boss or a supervisor. Hearing this approach about how they lead their team with this mindset gives a really interesting perspective that I think all founders can benefit from. So, I don’t want to delay any more, let’s just jump directly into this conversation with Marc and Chad of Nook. 

Annaka: Hey guys, welcome to the show. How’s it going? 

Marc Gingras: Thanks for having us. It’s going great.

Chad Carlson: Really excited to be here and talk today.

Annaka: Perfect. We’re excited too, and this is one of our earlier shows so I have an inordinate amount of coffee in me right now. But tell us how you started Nook Calendar and the problem it’s solving.

Marc Gingras: So Nook started about a year in change ago when we were all part of another startup called Foco. And we were all living into the pandemic. And what ended up happening was we started to see people saying, hey, when should I come into the office, when should I not? And then trying to figure out who was coming in, who was not. And we’re like, this is an actual problem that people are having. And then looking at the space, people are going to say, hey, I probably don’t need as much space for people to come into the office. So we start to say, hey, maybe there’s a market there for telling and trying to figure out when your colleagues are coming in. So we built a solution for that, actually sold it to a few companies. Even the Canadian government started using it, Immigration Canada and stuff.

But as we were building that, we started to figure out that the main problem is actually around coordination, and where coordination happens is around the calendar. So then we said, you know what? Let’s build a really better calendar app for people that work in a remote environment and that’s where Nook Calendar came to fruition. But as we were building our calendar app, so we have to note we first did a first pivot to the calendar app. And then as we were building the calendar app, we noticed a much bigger opportunity where people are using so many different applications and they live with a scattered brain, that they’re trying to figure out what’s the important information, what are my to-dos? And so we’re actually pivoting yet again, because of this bigger opportunity. And this product is still not out, it’s going to be out in the fall and super excited about what we’re working on right now.

Annaka: Excellent.

Chad Carlson: Yeah. It’s been a really interesting journey. And I think the one thing that makes the team special is how eyes-open we are to the opportunities and not being fearful to change direction as needed. The team has remained the same throughout, which has been really good. And it’s a team that’s worked together before, which again is amazingly special to have those relationships. And we’re excited. I think we’re onto something now. It took maybe a few turns along the road to get there, but this time as the foundation, and calendar elements still come into play. So we’ve learned a lot. And I think we’re getting to the root of the problem with all this chaos and lack of clarity is a really big thing when you’re either stuck alone in your basement or on Zoom calls all day.

Annaka: Yeah, exactly. Can you tell us a little bit more about this pivot, maybe what inspired it?

Marc Gingras: It started with us feeling the pain even more. So, as a small we started to see that we were trying to keep track of what we needed to focus on, and what we needed to work, and our to-dos, and all that stuff, and everything was spread everywhere. And then as we were getting feedback from users as well, they start to indicate very similar trends, users of our calendar app. So as a small company, you have to go for the stars. And sometimes you have to wonder, am I climbing up a tree to get to the star or am I building a rocket? And we figured that maybe we were on a plane but we needed to be on a rocket, and that’s why we decided to pivot towards that.

Chad Carlson: Yeah. Maybe a little bit of a buzzword, but ultimately daring to be great, I think is what we’re trying to do. We could have maybe been average or good with the calendar, but I think with what we’re doing today, we have potential to be really great and solve a problem that people are going to experience more and more as this new remote work continues to, I guess, thrive.

Annaka: Yeah. I was very excited reading about you guys and your company and this is actually really, really useful. Can you tell us how you got to the point of choosing to start a startup together? And did you both always want to be entrepreneurs?

Marc Gingras: I’ll let Chad go first on that one.

Chad Carlson: Yeah. This might be a longer answer too. So, Marc and I have known each other for 20 years. He’s always been a mentor to me when I first came out of school. One of the first jobs that I had was at a smaller startup. Marc was there in a leadership role and I ended up reporting to him. For whatever reason, he eyed in on me and guided me. But I think Marc’s a natural leader. Being the head coach at Nook is not just wordplay, he’s really a leader and a guider. And I think that’s really important. So we worked together for a while, gave me a lot of guidance on not only how to guide my own career and maybe look into these roles in the future, but also what to avoid.

And that startup got acquired. We went our separate ways, always kept in touch. I found myself eventually getting more into the product management role. Like I said, I really wanted to do that, that was always my goal. And then over time, eventually the stars aligned again. I was unhappy at a current job at a larger company. Really missed the startup environment, the smaller team, the get things done attitude. All that was really important to me I realized over time. I had forgotten how important it was until I was back in that environment and the stars aligned. And that’s really what it came down to.

Marc reached out to me, I saw the posting for the startup that he was at with Foco, really liked what I saw, we connected, happened within a few days and rejoined each other there in a product management role. And then, like Marc said, as we were going through the pandemic, all these new problems started to appear or surface and the entrepreneur in Marc and the product guy in myself saw an opportunity and assembled a really good team of people to join us and I think that was ultimately what made the moment right. It was timing and people driven by the pandemic, I suppose, but probably would’ve happened anyways based on the type of guy Marc is.

Marc Gingras: All right. So I owe you 20 bucks for every time you said my name Chad. So, you’re really milking it right now. But ultimately the way I like to look at things and other entrepreneurs, they say you have to fall in love with the problem and stuff. I actually fall in love with the people that I work with. And I’m often asked from young graduates, “What job should I take between A and B?” And I’m like, “One does this and the other one, I’m going to be doing this.” And I’m like, “Actually, who are you going to be working with? That’s the real question.” It’s figuring out your core team that you want to start something with, or your team that you’re going to be interacting with because ultimately that’s what makes you happy. That’s what makes you drive to work more, to strive, to do really great things.

And so to me, the question has always been who do I want to work with. And through my career, I’ve always tried to find these people that I want to connect with. And at a certain point in time, the stars align and then you just find a way to keep on working together. So I’m pretty excited, Chad and I have known each other now for about 15 years. We didn’t work together for 15 years, but we’ve known each other for 15 years. And he’s always been someone that-

Chad Carlson: It’s 20, Marc. We’re in 2022 now.

Ethan: Time really flies when you’re having fun.

Marc Gingras: Yeah. Thanks Chad. So, now I owe you 20 bucks. You have these people that you know you’ll end up working together with and Chad was definitely one of them, and so are the other co-founders of Nook as well.

Ethan: All right, now that I know that you guys have a bet going on, I’m going to do absolutely everything I can to get you back to break even.

Marc Gingras: All right. Thank you.

Ethan: All right. I want to jump back to the very basics. So Nook calendar. I have two calendar apps on my phone, and I think one of them came on it and the other one I’m just doused in the ecosystem. So, what is Nook Calendar and how is it different from the Apple Cal, the Google Calendar? What are we playing with here?

Marc Gingras: So the calendar app itself, how it’s different is really around how you communicate and you interact with your close people that you work with the most. So when you think about your organization, whether you’re a small organization or a large organization, you may be working mainly with 10, 15 people at most. And what we focused on when we were building the calendar was, how do you increase or how do you make those interactions with these 10, 15 people better. Whether it’s knowing where they’re working from, whether it’s making it easier to schedule meetings with them, whether it’s easier to share your status of what you’re working on. So those are things that I think are rooted in the calendar and that’s what I think makes our calendar app much different. So it’s really focused on the people that you interact with the most. And how do you coordinate stuff with them?

Chad Carlson: Yeah. And I think a big part of that, the calendar has been slow to evolve. I think it was set and hasn’t changed too much. And on that scheduling piece, that’s a really important component, especially when everyone’s remote. It’s easy to meet, but it’s also too easy to meet at times. So everyone’s schedules are really full and complex. So one piece that we did add that we think was a table stakes item now for the calendar, is this whole concept of the scheduling page so that you can publish that to external people. They know when you’re available or able to book your time, see your calendar. And we incorporated that directly into the calendar application as opposed to being a side car or an additional subscription service to the calendar, because we think it’s evolved to the point where the calendar needs that by default.

Ethan: Yeah. We schedule so many things every single day with coworkers, people outside of the company. I have all of my personal things on my one calendar so I can see everything. So you’re absolutely right. The scheduling is a massive part of a calendar product. So, let’s get into product market fit. And I know that you said that you’re doing another pivot here in the very near future. And what it seems from our research was that this product has come from a series of pivots, moving from one success to maybe a stronger success. So the first question, and maybe it’s already been answered, but do you feel you’ve landed on true product market fit?

Marc Gingras: So, when you think about the calendar, so visualize your calendar in your head here. So you’ve got the grid. Everybody expects very similar things from the grid. So there’s a little bit of innovation that you can do on the grid component of it, but not that much. Because ultimately you’ve got your five or seven days and maybe you want to see it in one day and you got the blocks that overlay on each other and you can make them all look prettier, but you’re not going to innovate that much. Again, there’s a little bit of room of innovation, but it’s not going to be something that people are going to say this has changed my life. And so when you think about where we decided that we wanted to focus on is really the other side of the calendar, which is what is my next meeting?

How can I be more prepared for that meeting? What are my to-dos that I need to work on? What are notes that I may have taken previous meetings that I need to have access to? So those are the areas that, to me, there’s a lot of innovation that can be done because nobody has touched that. So when we started to work on those areas of innovation, we said, hey, listen, maybe we shouldn’t focus on the grid. people are ingrained into using their Google calendar, or their Team’s calendar, or whatever they’re using. So, let’s not change that behavior. Let’s not have them stop using that and move into another app. How can we make this area of innovation a lot more integrated into their workflow that they’re using every day? So that’s where our focus and our pivot has been, where we’re going to focus a lot on those other areas of innovation, as opposed to focusing on the grid.

Now, when it comes to product market fit itself, we’re still early and we’re still out of the gate. I wouldn’t say that we’ve achieved it yet. I think we’re still getting feedback from our users, we’re still going to be iterating, we’re still going to be improving it. So we still have ways to go through that. And how do we know whether we got product market fit? To me, it’s all about the metrics. Are people opening the app every single day? Are they using? It’s all the usage metrics that you may want to get. What’s the retention rate and stuff like that? So those are the things that we bank for when we’re looking at product market fit.

Ethan: Can you go a little deeper on those metrics? You preempted my next question? So I really want to dig in on this. Is it always metrics for most businesses or is it metrics based specifically for Nook calendar? What are the other canaries in the coal mine that say, hey, we may be real close to product market fit here?

Marc Gingras: So there are the usage metrics. How many times are you using the app, are you booking meetings, are you doing all those things? And every app will have their own little active metrics that they need to follow. But I think there’s also another metric that people often forget is, how naturally is your user base growing without having to invest from a marketing standpoint? And if you’re seeing that there’s word of mouth or there’s some virality component to it, where your user base is growing, your daily active users are growing naturally without you having to invest in marketing, then you’re hitting product market fit. If it’s just staying stable, while staying stable is actually not bad, but if it starts dwindling down without some marketing push or AdWords and so on, then you haven’t necessarily hit your product market fit. So to me, you’ve hit it once you start seeing a natural pull for your user base to start increasing.

Ethan: So a nice pull over push. Always nice and simple. So you guys have done several pivots and we’re going to talk about one specifically a little bit later. But can you tell us, are pivots inherently painful or is there a way to architect them correctly where they’re either A, not painful or B, you can get your user base excited to move forward with you? You always hear those legacy users that are like, I use this one feature and now you’re going to get rid of my feature. And it’s like, well, you are the only one who uses that feature. So how do you properly move through a pivot?

Marc Gingras: Do you want to take that one Chad?

Chad Carlson: Sure. I’ll start. So I think the first challenge is actually internally getting over that mental fear of making the decision to do it. That’s a big decision internally considering users, of course, but also the internal mindset, the shift. Takes a lot of consideration, and a lot of thought, and a lot of confidence to do that. And I think that’s really important to make the decision, but also then start to do it very swiftly at least internally. And that’s part of the pivot process I think, is to make up your mind, don’t waver on it because that becomes completely chaos if you start to do all these little second guesses along the way, and that’s a big part of it. And in terms of product, there’s always going to be some fallout from it. What we’re hoping we’re doing though, is we’re actually taking the best of breed from what we’ve learned and transitioning it into the new product. And that’s really what the focus is.

We’ve listened to a lot of users, feedback is key. We know what the majority or the larger pain problem is. And we think that everyone will see that when presented with the solution. And that’s really what we’re trying to do. We know we’re not going to make everyone happy, but we do want to solve a real problem. And I think usability, and functionality, but also solving the right problem are important. And I think people naturally understand that. They realize where the value in the solution lies. If it can make their days easier and more efficient and ultimately are accepting of that, even if it means maybe losing a few minor features along the way. But something with a calendar is pretty interesting.

Like Marc said, you have this calendar grid that’s pretty standard to de facto. What we want to be is something that lives alongside that. So at the end of the day, if we continue to add supplemental value to the calendar or to your work, that’s really what we’re at. And we believe people see that and the pain point is pretty low. It’s exciting. It’s not all fun, but it definitely leads to a better solution for everyone in the long run.

Ethan: Right.

Marc Gingras: So, I’m a strong believer in sunk cost. And sunk cost is you always make the best decision for the future, independent of the investment you made in the past. And I always tell my wife that, like, “Hey. I believe in sunk cost. So you know that I’m with you because I think you’re the best partner for me for the future, not because I’ve spent the last 20 years with you.” And she never likes my… All that. But the point is when you look at companies, and our strategy, and our products, and all that, we always figure out what is the best investment for us for the future. And that’s where pivot comes in. And so, that also allows us to make these transitions super quick. So when you decide, hey, this is probably the best bet for us in the future, you just turn the ship super quick around. We’re not the Titanic, that’s the whole benefit of being a startup. So when you switch it might be painful for some people, but that’s where we believe the future is and you just do it.

Ethan: So your original company was called Get Working, which is a good name. And, in the pivot that changed you to Nook, obviously you decided on a massive rebrand. New name, new everything. What was it that led you to make the decision to change not only the product offering, but the name and essentially everything that went with it?

Marc Gingras: Chad, do you remember?

Chad Carlson: For me, a lot of it was linguistics. Get Working was offered to… We’re in Canada so we have to support both English and French, at least for that product we did. And language became an issue, obviously a very English name. But also doesn’t really roll off the tongue like Nook does. We find that Nook is very much a memorable name and the branding that came along with it really helped as well. Get Working-

Marc Gingras: Yeah. And I had a co-founder in a previous company that believed that if you have a lot of O’s in your name, you’re going to be successful because you think of Facebook and Google and all that stuff. So we figured we’d go down the same frame and call ourselves Nook that had a lot of O’s because Get Working has just one O and it’s not good enough.

Ethan: Yeah. Why not? So I don’t want to go super deeply into it, but can you tell us what that very original product did and what’s changed into what you’re doing now or what you may be rolling out here very soon?

Marc Gingras: The original product has nothing to do with what we’re doing now. The original product was really about, hey, I’m coming into the office. Let’s say there’s only a hundred spaces that I can come into the office, because there’s only a hundred desks. Let me reserve one space and then if you were at number 101, you couldn’t reserve it anymore. That was Get Working. What we’re working right now is on the problem of dealing with all the information that you have across all of your apps and your to-dos are across everything and so they need to be centralized. And then we’re also adding context. Anyways, very different problem set, very different users, very different everything just because we believe that there’s a much bigger opportunity there with that one.

Annaka: Very cool. Now I’m going to go off the rails a little bit. So the user experience of a calendar, most users, they know how to use a calendar. There have been many that have come before. How do you build a user experience for what you want to do without completely derailing what a calendar app does?

Marc Gingras: Yeah. It’s a fine balance. One is you have to understand what is the core that people are looking for and where do you want to innovate? And that’s where you spend your time on the innovation part of it. So it’s not true that you’re going to reinvent the entire calendar. And so like I said earlier on, you’ve got the grid and not much innovation will happen there. Look at it in 20 years, it is going to probably look very similar. But there’s a lot of things around that. What’s the information in the calendar event, can a lot of information be put there, are there more interactions that can be done? Can you share more statuses with colleagues and stuff, collaboration and things like that? Those are more hidden things where you can innovate quite a bit. But the grid, don’t spend a lot of time because that’s what visually people see and won’t change. So that’s where we decided to strike the balance between the areas of innovation and where you can change things quite a bit, to the areas that you cannot change things.

Chad Carlson: Yeah. And I think one way to look at it is there’s the UI component of the user experience, but there’s also the data that lies within and being able to connect valuable things together to give a better overall experience becomes really important as well. And I think like Marc said, those are the areas for innovation. There’s certain parts that are just too familiar, too standard, and quite honestly probably work well, but there’s always room for improvement on some of those surrounding areas just to make the process of using a calendar more efficient, more clear. Because it’s really about time management and that’s a very important thing for everyone. And the calendar sits at the center, maybe of that with a few other core apps.

Annaka: Yeah. I honestly don’t feel I used my calendar a ton before the pandemic. And then the pandemic happened and it’s, you have to get on calls with 12 people a day. Now you can’t keep it in your head anymore, can you? I’m like, no. Can’t.

Marc Gingras: And not all those calls are equal. You’ll have internal calls, and you’ll have external calls, and you’ll have calls that you can’t reschedule. And so how do you manage even that? And so becomes really complicated.

Annaka: Yeah. And the priority of those.

Ethan: Yep. And my color coding system isn’t going to do it after some time.

Annaka: Not going to hold it together. All right. So let’s talk about Product Hunt because you all were not just on Product Hunt, you were the number one product of the day. How did you make that happen?

Marc Gingras: So kudos goes to our go to market team. They really put in a lot of effort and planned it very well from the onset. So a few areas that they focused on. One, was building a little bit of a following before so that we had people that knew what we were doing, ready to support us, we had a product that people liked. So that was really important, getting them to say they’re willing to come out the day that we launched to support us. There was also making sure that we had a good hunter to help us push the product out. And then also all the collateral around the videos, the product demos, all that stuff. And then on the day of, a whole lot of hustle. Rounding all our contacts and all our people that we knew, friends, families, ex-colleagues, everybody. We reached out to people we haven’t talked to in 15 years to give us support for that Product Hunt launch. So again, big kudos to our go to market team held, led by Sench on our team to make that happen.

Annaka: Perfect. So it’s getting people in the right places and having like a backing there.

Marc Gingras: Oh yeah.

Chad Carlson: Yeah. And it’s actually been a question that after we were product of the day, a lot of people asked, how do you do it? And we did put a post up on the blog about it, just to give a little bit of insight into our playbook that Marc just highlighted. So if anyone wants to review, they should go check it out. Because it is an interesting experience if you’ve never done it before, but super valuable. It’s nice to get a good audience, be able to talk about your product, interact with people. And if you’re lucky a little and work hard, I guess, or hustle, maybe more than luck success can come from it.

Annaka: Yeah. The hustle. And my next question was what are your top tips. So definitely, I think you all have gone into that quite well. But what is a hunter?

Marc Gingras: Hunter is someone that’s willing to post your product the day that you’re launching and they typically have a following already. So when they say, hey, here’s a product that I’m promoting to launch, then their followers are all notified and they know about it. And that helps start the ball rolling. It’s like pushing a snowball down the hill, you want it to get bigger. So it starts your ball a bit bigger than starting small.

Ethan: One more question on Product Hunt and then we’ll move on. Did it pay off in the way that you thought it would?

Marc Gingras: It did. I think one, it gave us users, which is fundamentally what you’re looking for, and users that have opinions that will give you feedback on your product. Which is exactly what we want it for. Second, I think it gives you credibility for your product. So if you can get product of the day, or product of the week, or month, or whatever, I think it gives you credibility that it’s not just you saying this is a really good product that there’s a community behind it. So yeah, I think it was totally worth it.

Ethan: Sweet. All right. Let’s jump into everyone’s favorite topic, money. So, how does no calendar make money?

Marc Gingras: Right now, we don’t.

Ethan: Hey, hey.

Marc Gingras: Quite simply we don’t. And simple being is that we’re so early, we’re still trying to get to our product market fit. We’re trying to get a product that people are going to love and talk about to their friends. We know how we want to monetize it, which is going to be the freemium model. Basic product is free and then if you want some additional capabilities, you pay for that. And then from there, there’s also an enterprise version if you want to start administrating for a bunch of people. But we’re not even focused on that yet, we’re trying to build a product that solves the critical problem that we’re trying to solve.

Ethan: So, I would normally ask if you were getting a lot of pressure from investors in this case. Just because we’re seeing this market downturn, and I would assume that in a situation with VCs, they would say, hey, you need to figure out sustainability yesterday. But I’m not going to ask that because-

Marc Gingras: But it is a good question to ask because it’s about aligning your strategy with the right investors. Some investors are all about “show me your proof points in terms of revenues,” others may have other priorities. And so if you know as a company getting revenue right now is not the right thing for your business, get investors that believe in your strategy or else you’re just going to have conflicts all the time. And my previous business that I eventually sold to Blackberry a decade ago, was also in the calendar scheduling space, which was the business that we talked about earlier.

And when I was doing my series A, we weren’t about making revenue, we were about building our user base. And so I did speak to a lot of investors and a lot of them, they were like, okay, what’s your revenue model? They didn’t understand the reason why we weren’t looking at making revenue. They weren’t the right fit and so we didn’t even pursue them. We ended up finding the right investors for the business and that makes it all better in the long term. So aligning your strategy with the investors is super important in my opinion.

Ethan: So, let’s talk about your investors. You’ve raised a million and a half from a friends and family round. That’s a pretty hefty amount given the source. Again, maybe you’ve already answered this question, how did you come to the conclusion that using the friends and family was the best path for Nook?

Marc Gingras: For the time being. To me, I also believe that you shouldn’t raise more than where you’re at or else it causes problems in the future. So we were, and we still are, pre-product market fit. If I go to a VC right now, and by the way there is a VC that’s part of the friends and family round, because they’ve invested in previous companies, but they understand that it’s a friends and family round. But if you go to do a real seed round or A round, there’s a certain expectation of where your business is, and we’re not there yet. And so that’s why we said, listen, let’s do a friends and family round because we had friends and family that actually wanted to participate into the business and be part of the journey with us.

So, we did a friends and family round at a good valuation for the investors and for us as well. But knowing that there would be future rounds in the future. So because of the stage where we were, which is pre-product market fit, pre-revenue, it didn’t make sense to go raise more money. Even though I think we would’ve been able to, especially a year ago, maybe not now, but a year ago.

Ethan: So you’ve mentioned the future three or four times. Tell us about the future. Is there a point when you’re going to go get VC money or is there a point when you turn up the revenue so much that you’re profitable and you don’t need it? What’s the goal, what’s the plan?

Marc Gingras: And Chad I want you to chime in because it’s always good to get your perspective on this as well. But my point is we want to build this to be as big as possible, but we want it to build it on solid financial fundamentals for the business. So I think it’s important for us to start figuring out how we’re going to generate some money, have some proof points there, but if we can figure that out and build it, then raising the funds to exponentially grow is definitely in the cards for us. So my take is, it’s a bit of both. So we need to prove our business model, we need to prove that we can get to break or show high growth, even if we don’t raise. But then raising the money to bring us to a whole other level.

Chad Carlson: Yeah, I agree. I think a lot of it at the stage we’re at right now, where we are looking for product market fit, building a product that we think adds value. Once we’ve built a product that provides value, the rest ideally falls into place and we decide our pricing model, our go to market approach and those types of things. But the stage out right now is really we’re walking into the fog a little bit. We know where we want to go, we think we know where the road will lead. We’ve been down this path before and it’s really just a matter of executing it.

And I think when you’ve walked the path before, a little bit of understanding, a little bit of historical information, key metrics along the way, and also to be able to know if the path is going where you think it will go based on that is really important. Because we do obviously want to turn this into a profitable business, but before we do any of that, we need to ensure that we are building a product that offers value because that’s the cornerstone of it all and that’s literally phase we’re at, at exactly this moment is to start turning that out for people.

Ethan: Well, it sounds like you’ve got the team and the wherewithal to push yourself in that direction and keep moving forward. I’m excited for you all so you get that next big round of funding because you found product market fit, give us a call and we’ll have you back on and we’ll explore how that worked out.

Marc Gingras: Awesome.

Ethan: But let’s pivot just a little bit and talk about team. In the company profile, you can find that on, you said that you need to have a strong mentor and a team without an ego. What does that mean?

Marc Gingras: Chad, for you.

Chad Carlson: That was me. For me, that really means combining the right people. It can’t just be a bunch of people who you work well with. I think you need someone who’s maybe a little more experienced, and can give a little more guidance, and is willing to teach. No one wants to be told what to do, that’s not a startup attitude whatsoever. You’re putting a bunch of doers in a room everyone still wants to do. And I think that’s the important thing, but you do need a little bit of guidance and finding the right person to deal with all these opinionated, strong minded, passionate people is really important. And I think that’s where the mentorship comes into it, mentorship/leadership.

And that really makes the difference to keep everyone going in the same direction, because a startup can move so fast, everything happens quickly, all these great ideas being focused and keeping that direction is really important. And having someone who has the ability or the mindset to manage that, but also the experience to help ensure that the path is right is critical. You can put all the right people together and the good things may happen eventually, but if you’re able to put someone there who can keep all those people focused, you’ll probably get there a little bit faster.

Marc Gingras: And on the ego side of things. Let’s face it, as an entrepreneur, you have a big ego because you basically think you can do something better than someone else and so that’s why you put your hat in the ring. And so I like to think about how do you deal with ego when you actually have a big one? And so I love the saying that Ryan on our team, one of the co-founders has, which is we have strong convictions that are loosely held. So you’ve got to really believe into what you’re doing, but you got to also know that you can be wrong and change your mind. And so that’s the balance that’s really hard. Having those strong convictions that are loosely held and that’s, I think, what sets our team to a path where we’re not afraid to challenge each other, and to be challenged, and to change our mind.

Ethan: It takes a lot of trust to do that as well.

Marc Gingras: It does. And I think that has to be the strongest bond between the people. And when there is this lack of trust, I call it the bozo chip on someone’s shoulder, then it doesn’t work. And so that’s where you have to either work it out or part ways, because no trust, no company.

Ethan: All right audience, I know you can’t hear me shaking my head, but it’s about to fall off my shoulders. Just the amount of agreement I’m sitting here with. So all that stuff being said, you’ve got this super strong head coach and you’re looking for people you can trust and people that can maybe not have no ego, but can work around their egos. How does this influence the process of hiring and who the people are that you hire?

Marc Gingras: Chad.

Chad Carlson: Yeah, I think it really relies a lot on previous relationships. The majority of the team today have all worked together previously and that inherently implies trust. If I’ve worked with you before and I’ve liked you enough to work with you again, that’s a big deal. And when someone new comes in and it’s not exclusive, we’re not a garden wall community by any means. It’s really about finding the people who fit that model, have the attitude, maybe have done a startup before so they know what’s involved, to understand the effort, the passion. And I think that’s a big part of it is really passion and drive. Skills can be learned along the way but if you’re not of the mindset to be able to come in and, “I really want to build something great. I want to be part of this team basically with a good head coach,” like you said. But there’s also good teammates around you who you can learn from. And I think that’s what differentiates people. Looking for curious minds learners who just want to do things and build a cool product.

Marc Gingras: And it’s interesting because when you look at building your team, it’s not because you worked with someone in the past and you had, let’s say, another success that they’re the right fit for the new venture that you’re working on. Because everybody’s at a different stage in their life, different stage in their career and it may not be what you’re looking for, or what the company needs, or what the startup needs at this point in time. So that’s one thing that’s so super important to look into. The other thing, when it comes to bringing in new blood that you’ve never worked with before, I don’t have the best hit rate of finding always the right people. Honestly, we hire people and then you realize they’re not the right ones. And because it’s hard during an interview, everybody knows these canned answers. Just do one YouTube and you’ll know what to answer for every single question that people will throw at you.

And if you ask for references, honestly, who’s going to give a bad reference? And it may be a good fit for another company, but it may not be for you, and so the only way to really figure it out other than some little cues from a culture fit standpoint and knowledge, is really to work with the person. That’s really when you know if there’s a good fit with the company. And once you start working, you can assess that really quickly though. And this is one thing that through the different companies that I’ve had, which we’ve tried to really stay through is that, we will hire pretty fast someone if we think it’s the right fit, but we will fire fast too. So it’s within two weeks, three weeks you know if it’s the right person.

It doesn’t take three months. Honestly, it takes two, three weeks you know whether it’s the right person. And if it is you do everything to keep them forever and if it’s not, then you part ways and it’s all right. You just made a bad hire, and then you learn from that, and then you try to readjust. I don’t think there is a strong process when it comes to hiring. The McKinseys, and the Googles all say they have this great process of doing stuff. I think at the end of the day, you get people in the seat and you see how they fare.

Annaka: Yeah. I do think the startup employee is built a little differently at least from the coworkers that I have now, it’s like, you’re a little bit nuts, aren’t you?

Marc Gingras: They got to be.

Annaka: Yeah. You really do. And I want to come back to the point that you talked about where trust is involved between the leadership and the employees, it just sounds so dismissive.

Chad Carlson: The team members.

Annaka: Yes. Thank you. I was like, I’m looking for something that doesn’t sound so peon. How do you repair that relationship when and if trust gets broken?

Marc Gingras: And especially in a remote world, it’s harder. I think that physical interaction, not physical, in person interactions with people are probably very important. And being in an environment that you can be super raw in how you’re talking about stuff and not be politically correct. I think there’s over politically correctness and say I don’t like it when you do this and it sucks. And saying it right and then having people accept that I think is key to repairing that trust. Other than that, I don’t know Chad, if you’ve got some other ideas, but to me it’s just-

Chad Carlson: I think consistency is a big part of it. If you’ve done right by people, the trust, the honesty, fulfilling your commitments, all these things that you were brought in to do and contributing to the team consistently. If you have a bad day or something happens that somehow dissolves that trust, I think there’s that reliance on the consistency, the relationship. And part of being at a startup is the fact that you have to be open and able to deal with change and understand and move on quickly. And that’s not just in terms of developing, that’s also in terms of relationships and people.

It’s a general attitude, I think, and that translates to people relationships as well. And if you’ve set this baseline of being very raw and honest with people from the very beginning, it addresses issues sometimes before they can manifest themselves into greater problems. And I think that plays a large part of it to have a personality set within the organization where you feel you can say anything to anyone at any time. Means that things don’t sit under the surface and fester and hopefully involves avoiding some of those larger problems of trust or lack of trust that can manifest over time.

Annaka: Yeah. I love the preemptive strike of being consistently reliable, consistently honest, consistently available, and consistently not going to yell or scream at someone who’s coming at you or something. Those are all huge pieces, at least to me, and like, yes, I do want to work there because I know that these guys are going to be receptive to my needs and my thoughts as a team member. Is that word coming back around?

Chad Carlson: Yeah. And I think the one thing to highlight is a lot of it is decision based. That’s part of startup life is making decisions. And I think at any point in time, your decision is made with the information you have. And it may have been the right decision at the time. And now it may be the wrong decision. And sometimes it’s easy to point fingers or lay blame, but I think if you’re going in with the attitude of: that decision was made with the proper data at the proper time, it’s much easier to move on because I think that’s where a lot of trust issues come in. You start to blame people, that was a terrible decision and you’re right. But it was the decision I made with the data I had at the time. Let’s fix it, let’s move on, and it’s over.

Annaka: Very good. And now I believe I read something from both of you talking about delegating and working with people that know more than you. As leaders, how do you shift your mindset towards delegation rather than just wanting to do it all yourself?

Marc Gingras: That’s why I like to think of it as being the head coach. I know Michael Jordan. I can’t do what he does on the court and same thing with my team members. They’re better at what they’re doing. I have certain skill sets that I can bring but to me is recognizing that I can’t play all the stuff and I’m not the best person to play all the positions. And so having the right people to play the positions that they’re in and to challenge me and what I’m doing is to me, how you build an all star team and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Chad Carlson: Yeah. And I think I heard this saying somewhere, if you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together. And I think we’re in this to go far. And a lot of it is getting the right skillset. There’s a group of people and everyone’s going to be very specialized, you can’t know everything about everything. And being self-aware enough to know where your strengths are, and maybe where your weaknesses are, or where you’re in the middle is really important, because then you can focus on the things that you’re really good at. And if you have people who can do the things that they’re also really good at, that’s important. And that doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of doing something, but it’s also important to realize that this person can do it faster, better, and that’s okay.

Marc Gingras: And when it comes to more fresh out of school individuals, they may not know what they’re best at and good at is giving them the opportunity to navigate through that and giving them guidance and say, hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve probably really naturally inclined to do these types of things. Do you ever think of this other role? That could be really good for you and helping them find their X spot, the spot where they’re the most performant.

Ethan: So, what’s next for Nook calendar?

Marc Gingras: So as we mentioned earlier, we’ve pivoted into what we’ll call just Nook for now, which is a way for people to centralize their notes and their action items into one central place because we know they’re using so many different apps. They’re using apps like Slack, they’re using Teams, they’re using email, they’re using calendars, they’re using all this stuff and all these stuff are telling them stuff that they need to know and stuff that they need to do. But what we are then doing is taking those notes that you’re putting into our system and then putting more context around that. So I’ll give you an example of a perfect use case.

We’re about to have this podcast together. We’ve had some email exchanges before, we’ve had some other calls, we’ve had some stuff you may have taken some notes. Your notes may be in Notion, your notes may be on a Google Doc. Our calls are linked to this thing, it is all spread. Just before the meeting, you’ll have in our application a beautiful join now button, you’re joining it. But as you’re doing that, it brings you all your context related to the call that we’re about to have. So if you shared some Google Docs between yourselves, if you shared emails with us, you would have it all there in context for you to then be able to use while you’re having that conversation, then you can take your own notes of it. And those notes are then available for you to see in future times. So that’s really what we’re building right now with Nook.

Ethan: That sounds really powerful. Does all of that happen automatically or do I need to manually add things to this conversation as it moves forward?

Marc Gingras: That’s the magic. If we can do our job right, it’s going to be done automatic for you. And that takes a lot of work and iteration to get it right, but it’s supposed to be magical for you.

Ethan: All right. I believe. Maybe a Nook believer. I’m going to download it on my phone today.

Marc Gingras: So if you want to join our wait list, you can go-

Ethan: I’m not going to download it on my phone today. I’m going to get on the waitlist today.

Marc Gingras: Yeah. You can go to and then you can put in your email there to join our wait list.

Annaka: Super excited. I need more efficiency in my life so this is going to do it. What is the biggest roadblock you’ve had to overcome while launching and scaling your startup?

Marc Gingras: I’ll talk for me and I’ll let Chad chime in because maybe for him it’s different. But for me, the biggest roadblock is you’re so eager to get something out and sometimes you want to market it a lot more than what it’s ready. And so being patient to really go through the steps and the iteration that you need to build something that people are going to want and not to proceed that because we’re all eager to get something out and we want the people to use it. And so pacing myself to make sure that we are at the right step at the right time.

Chad Carlson: Yeah. I support that statement. I think having a metered approach to things is very challenging. You feel you’re there and maybe you’re not as there as you think you are. A lot of what we’re doing is very much user interaction driven. So a lot of UI and UX iterations where this metered approach is really important because you do need that feedback to go to the next step, next set of users, next cohorts, build out that functionality. And I think the patience that comes along with that and being able to deliver quickly, but also set very specific targets along the way becomes very important as opposed to boiling the ocean, a common statement, you really need to go in and focus on core deliverables that help achieve that end goal.

So the idea is you’re climbing a ladder and you don’t want the steps to be too close together or too far apart, but ultimately as long as you’re moving up at a pace that the organization is comfortable with, you’re on the right track. So I think trying to overstep or under step are the biggest risks and potential challenges that people can get caught up in and we try to avoid, but it’s never perfect. It’s hard.

Annaka: Yeah. And getting those landmarks set is hard. Especially you have iteration one as a soapbox derby car and iteration two is the Lamborghini and it’s like, but how? How do I actually get there?

Marc Gingras: Yeah. Step by step.

Annaka: Yes, exactly. What is your number one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Marc Gingras: Go ahead Chad and I’ll go.

Chad Carlson: For me, based on where I’m at in my life cycle, very much a personal insight is it’s never too late. If you’ve gone your whole career at various startups, either as an employee going through big companies, but ultimately if you have a passion for it and you feel you have the right team, the right people to work with, do it. It’s fun. You’ll learn a lot. If it fails horribly, you’ll learn more than you’ve ever learned before. So go for it. And if it’s not the thing for you, there’s always other opportunities. It’ll happen. Especially if you’re the type who’s considering going into do a startup on your own, you’re probably the type who’s going to be able to find employment elsewhere if it comes to that.

Marc Gingras: And then for me the advice I would do, one we’ve talked about earlier is, first focus on the people and the what. But once you figure that out, you’re running a marathon and not a sprint. And so taking care of yourself, sleeping is important. Probably the most important thing because it keeps your head straight, keeps you more productive. People talk about work/life balance, whatever but to me it’s about making sure you’re in a good head space. And you’re going to work long hours, but if you’re enjoying what you’re doing and you like the people with it you won’t feel it. But also take time to do the stuff that are outside of that. Spending time with your family, sleeping, eating well, exercising, doing those things, super important as an entrepreneur.

Ethan: All right. Marc, Chad, thank you so very much for your insights. This has been a lot of fun. You guys, you can tell that you guys are in sync just in the way that you communicate with each other. It’s really great. You’ve got one more person on your wait list as a few minutes go. And I’m sure that once this episode goes out, you’re going to get a ton more. So besides signing up for that wait list on, how can our listeners support Nook?

Marc Gingras: Well, once you start using our application is giving us the raw feedback that you will have. Whether it’s great, whether it’s bad. Actually we prefer the bad, so that’s how we get better. But giving us raw feedback on the application itself. And then in the meantime, if you can see what type of application we can build, go ahead and download Nook calendar. It’s available in the app stores, both Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. And also you can get it for your desktop on Mac. So get Nook calendar as well just to get a feel for what we can build and the team behind it.

Ethan: All right. Chad, anything to add?

Chad Carlson: Nope. I agree with that. It’s feedback, especially the bad. We want to make this better and we need to know the areas to improve. So if people join the waitlist, feel free to reach out to as well to mention that you heard us on the podcast and maybe we can bump you to the top of the list as well.

Ethan: Hey, exclusive offer. All right, everyone. So we are going to put everything that you heard today in the show notes. That is the Product Hunt article that’s getNook and everything else that you heard here, it’ll all be right there over at But that is going to be it for this episode of the Startup Savants podcast. We appreciate you listening in. For tools, guides, videos, startup stories, and so much more head over to That’s, See you folks.

Annaka: Bye. 

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