Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Adam Nash, Co-Founder and CEO of Daffy. We cover the importance of brutal prioritization, lessons from mentors and books, and being a leader as an engineer. Transcripts for other episodes can be found here.
“For many people who come from an engineering background, it can be difficult separating building the product you want to build from actually building the company itself, which is going to build and maintain that product indefinitely.” – Adam Nash
Adam Nash is the co-founder and CEO of Daffy, which is building a modern platform for giving and in the process rethinking how we all give to the causes and charities we care about. Adam has a long and incredible history as an entrepreneur and builder. He's been a VP at LinkedIn, helping scale the network in its earliest years, entrepreneur in residence at Greylock, the President and CEO of Wealthfront, and an advisor to a long list of incredible companies from Gusto to Bitwise.
In this episode, Adam shares why the hardest part of company building is prioritization and phasing, and how he gets these things right. We talk about why, as a founder, it's important to know everyone's superpower on your team. He shares the lessons he learned by working closely with Clayton Christensen of the Innovator's Dilemma fame. He shares why he's a big believer in interdisciplinary innovation, and that his favorite thing to do on the weekends is gardening and what that's taught him about company building.
Transcript – #117 Adam Nash of Daffy: My Favorite Books, Tools, Habits and More | 20 Minute Playbook
Daniel Scrivner (00:05):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of our 20 Minute Playbook series, where each week I sit down with an elite performer from iconic founders to world renowned investors and bestselling authors to dive into the ideas, frameworks, and strategies that got them to the top of their field, all in less than 20 minutes.
Daniel Scrivner (00:22):
I'm Daniel Scrivner, and on the show today, I'm joined by Adam Nash. Adam is the co-founder and CEO of Daffy, which is building a modern platform for giving and in the process rethinking how we all give to the causes and charities we care about. Adam has a long and incredible history as an entrepreneur and builder. He's been a VP at LinkedIn, helping scale the network in its earliest years, and entrepreneur in residence at Greylock, the President and CEO of Wealthfront, and an advisor to a long list of incredible companies from Gusto to Bitwise, which means that we had a lot of ground to cover.
Daniel Scrivner (00:55):
In this episode, Adam shares why the hardest part of building is prioritization and phasing and how he gets these things right, why, as a founder, it's important to know everyone's superpower on your team. He shares the lessons he learned by working closely with Clayton Christensen of the Innovator's Dilemma fame. He shares why he's a big believer in interdisciplinary innovation, and that his favorite thing to do on the weekends is gardening and what that's taught him about company building.
Daniel Scrivner (01:21):
You can find the show notes and transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/117. That's 117. You can follow Adam Nash at @adamnash on Twitter, and you can start your own charitable giving account on Daffy by visiting daffy.org or downloading the Daffy app from the app store.
Daniel Scrivner (01:39):
With that, let's dive into Adam Nash's playbook.
Daniel Scrivner (01:44):
Adam Nash, thank you so much for joining me back on Outlier Academy, this time for 20 Minute Playbook. I really appreciate the time. Thanks for coming on.
Adam Nash (01:51):
Yeah. Happy to be here.
Daniel Scrivner (01:53):
We always start by asking if you can share a recent fascination, something that's on your mind, something that you can't stop thinking about. What pops to mind for you?
Adam Nash (02:03):
The most exciting thing for me right now is that technology is on the move again. After almost a half a century of stagnation, I'm just thrilled by the rapid progress and space exploration and what it'll mean for humanity to be multi planetary.
Adam Nash (02:18):
And I'm also fascinated with the rapid progress now happening on artificial intelligence, mainly because of what it says about how much we understand or don't understand about ourselves, what intelligence even means, and even what consciousness is. I think it's an amazing time to be in technology
Daniel Scrivner (02:35):
Yeah. No, there's clearly a lot of very interesting things that are very early and that are happening.
Daniel Scrivner (02:42):
We ask every guest as well, and especially for, I think, for you, as we talked about in the last interview, you have just a prolific background. You've worked at many, many, many different companies, but one of the questions I always like to ask is what you think your superpowers are. You've worked as an engineer, you've worked as a CEO, you've worked on a lot of different roles. What are your superpowers and how do those show up in those different roles?
Adam Nash (03:05):
It's funny you ask that question. I give a talk on product where I talk about the importance of knowing everyone's superpower. I love this question, but that actually is one of the things I focus on from a leadership perspective.
Adam Nash (03:19):
For many people who come from an engineering background, it can be difficult separating building the product you want to build from actually building the company itself, which is going to build and maintain that product indefinitely. And I've been fortunate enough in my career to have done almost every job there is around building software. I've even repaired software, done customer service, sales, et cetera.
Adam Nash (03:42):
And so for me, bringing people together, giving them the opportunity to do what they do well in their function and finding those ways of getting that team to work together, to fulfill that vision to me is just something I care a lot about. And it's turned out to be something that I'm better at than most.
Daniel Scrivner (04:00):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I think it's a lot of people I'm not sure view that as a skill. I think it's also just interesting because it's also very generalizable across any level of team to be able to do that. So I love that answer.
Daniel Scrivner (04:14):
Similarly, you've built a lot of different companies, and one of the questions I like to ask is, if you could distill down your principles to how to build a company, how to build a team, into just a few words, what that would be. What are some of those core principles you try to bring to each company that you create?
Adam Nash (04:31):
From my perspective, the hardest thing about company building is prioritization and phasing. You just can't do it all at once. And I feel like companies waste way too much energy debating whether an idea is a good idea or a bad idea. Most of the ideas that come out from smart people tend to be good ideas, but they may not be the right thing to do now.
Adam Nash (04:51):
And so being brutal about prioritization and focusing on what's the problem we're trying to solve now, what's the next phase, that's not just venture financing. That actually turns out to be how you run a product roadmap, how you think about building a company. And so, yeah, that's usually the advice I give founders there.
Daniel Scrivner (05:07):
So think sequentially and spend, it sounds like, just as much time thinking about sequencing as thinking about ideas. Trying to paraphrase that.
Adam Nash (05:14):
Yeah, brutal prioritization. If you could only do three things, what do you do today? This week? This month? That usually is the guide to focusing and taking it one step of a time, because you can't build a company all at once. It wouldn't be possible.
Daniel Scrivner (05:27):
Yeah. One of the favorite questions I read recently that I'm starting to try to think about in my head a little bit more often is, and I think it was, gosh... Frank Slootman has this in his book, Amp It Up. One of the questions he likes to ask his team members is, if there's only one thing that you could work on for the rest of the year, what would that one thing be and why?
Daniel Scrivner (05:47):
And it seems like, again, it's a good way of forcing that brutal prioritization that you talk about, which is very needed, especially if you have an ambitious vision that you're trying to bring into reality.
Daniel Scrivner (05:59):
One of the questions I always like to ask is around what advice you would give to your younger self. In a situation where you could go back in time, some sort of magical technology has been invented, you could whisper some words of wisdom, words of advice or reminder, into your ear, is there anything you would go back and tell your younger self?
Adam Nash (06:18):
You are going to hate my answer to this question. I would not. I would not, as too much of a sci-fi fan and probably thought too much about this. I have four children. I love. I would not do a single thing to my timeline to risk some adverse situation with my children, et cetera.
Daniel Scrivner (06:37):
Because it all worked out perfectly.
Adam Nash (06:39):
It didn't work out perfectly. I wouldn't want to be the cause of something negative. I know that's not the answer you're looking for, but it's how I feel.
Daniel Scrivner (06:49):
No, no, no. That's as good as answer as any and I appreciate that answer.
Daniel Scrivner (06:55):
Similarly, well, in the last interview that we did, the kind of long form interview around Daffy, we talked about someone that you've had the opportunity to work with pretty closely, Clayton Christensen, being a really important kind of mentor and figure in your life. It could be Clayton, could be others. What is a mentor figure that comes to mind and shaped your approach to business and leadership? And are there any favorite anecdotes, stories, quotes, that you remember distinctly from them?
Adam Nash (07:22):
Well, actually this one's a little simple for me. I have had the privilege of working with some incredible people in my career. It's probably unfair to pick anyone because I've learned different things from different people. But one of the most influential was actually Reed Hoffman, who's the founder, was the head of LinkedIn, now on the board of Microsoft, et cetera. But I spent so much time at LinkedIn and so much time with Reed internalizing how he thought about entrepreneurship and building companies and solving problems.
Adam Nash (07:50):
And with my background, I came at every problem before I met Reed as purely a knowledge problem, do the research, figure it out, how smart are you, how much time you spend on it. And Reed really taught me that most problems are actually better approached as people problems. Who in your network, who is actually the right person to ask this question who's already spent a lot of time? And then actually making sure that you have the relationships and network to lean on that.
Adam Nash (08:17):
A lot of that obviously went into his vision for LinkedIn, but for me it affected how I get things done. Even to this day at Daffy with employees, et cetera, sometimes it's great to have the answer at your fingertips because you've been asked the question before, but usually the right answer is to find the current expert and get their opinion on the topic.
Daniel Scrivner (08:36):
I love that reframing of the question as well, too, and focusing on... It's almost right question to right person and making sure that you're picking that right person, which is, yeah, a lovely principle.
Daniel Scrivner (08:47):
What is a book, article, or paper that you love that you think more people should read?
Adam Nash (08:52):
Well, you did mention Clay Christensen earlier, and I will say not enough people have read Innovator's Dilemma. I think too many people have read summaries of it, snapshots of it, presentations that use that word "disruption." It's not a very long book and it's not actually that complicated. And while some of the technology examples might seem dated, I believe that, if more people accepted a world where their competitors are not slow and foolish, they're smart and ambitious, and by the way, they have ample resources, and going into that competition, knowing that's true and knowing that your only advantages are that their success is a trap, it leads them to focus on different customers and different problems than you as a startup, as an individual, have the ability to do.
Adam Nash (09:40):
And so I really do wish more people actually spent the time to read that book and actually internalize what it means to be competitive in the modern world of business, that it isn't a trick. But actually it is very competitive, but their success opens up opportunity every day for new companies and new products to get built.
Daniel Scrivner (09:59):
Yeah. Well, I know as well, too, and we talked about this a little bit before we recorded just this idea, because I think it speaks to that there is... With every successful technology creates opportunities for subsequent technologies and just this idea that so much of progress is this endless waves of technology, which I know is something that you've thought about a lot and that you identify with. Talk about that idea and why you think that's so important.
Adam Nash (10:25):
I do think there are different motions in innovation, and I think there's different roles for different people in that. I came from a more academic background. Obviously in academia, there's an entire idea about just pushing the envelope. This is what the entire doctoral process is about, pushing the envelope of human knowledge forward.
Adam Nash (10:44):
But usually that ends up being fairly incremental, which is really valuable, but there's also value for interdisciplinary innovation, where you take insight from one field to another. And that role usually can't be played by foremost experts in the area because they've gone so deep in one area, it's hard for them to be that deep in multiple areas. And so I'm a big believer in interdisciplinary innovation.
Adam Nash (11:09):
And then, of course, there's that radical thinking of, could we reframe the problem a different way? I usually joke, you asked me earlier about superpowers, but one of the reasons I think I got into product is that, as a function, product managers have a unique ability and license to reframe problems. And one of the first things you learn in computer science is how you frame a problem is more than half of the process of solving that problem. And so how you frame, as a leader, of the problem for your team, not just timing, not just metrics, but how to think about the problem, I think, is amazingly important in how we keep pushing the envelope forward in making better and better products and services for people.
Daniel Scrivner (11:49):
Yeah. So well said. Two final questions. First one, what tiny habit or practice has had the biggest positive impact on your life?
Adam Nash (11:59):
Yeah, so not surprisingly, like a lot of people in Silicon Valley, I have my fingers in too many things. I have angel investing, I have a class, all these things, and it's because I love diving into things and doing things.
Adam Nash (12:13):
But the problem is it can leave you a little scatterbrained. There's a little bit of this lack of prioritization, which is ironic for a product person.
Adam Nash (12:21):
And so one of the habits actually started at Wealthfront. At Wealthfront, it turns out parking in Palo Alto is a disaster, which really is. It took months to get a permit. And so I'd have to park off in the neighborhood and walk to the office for about 15 minutes every morning. But just that time in the morning became an important, tiny habit of, if I only get three things done today, what are those three things?
Adam Nash (12:46):
Just knowing for yourself that prioritization means that you can go into a day and do hundreds of things. But if you can't, and you only have time for a few, that you were intentional about it. It was a choice. Even if it was the wrong choice, it was a choice and you can always revisit why you made that choice, et cetera. But for me, that tiny habit of every morning, and sometimes the night before if it's going to be an early morning, of just knowing what are the three most important things you're going to get done the next day, I find amazingly valuable as a leader. And for someone in technology who could be inundated with lots of inputs and requests, it helps you also to say no when you need to.
Daniel Scrivner (13:25):
Totally. And it gets you in proactive mode as opposed to reactive mode, which is the thing I think everybody observes as you become more successful. You get more opportunities to do things. It's just so easy for all of your life to become a reaction to everything else in your life. The meetings, the emails, the task I got from this meeting before I get to that next meeting. And, yeah, and something I've tried to focus on is just how can I live a more proactive life, and those little moments like that are insanely helpful.
Daniel Scrivner (13:55):
Last question. What is your favorite way to waste an hour? We talked about you've got your hands in lots of pots. So there's potentially a lot of places you could spend time. What guilty pleasure do you wish you had more time for?
Adam Nash (14:08):
Well, I know you've been following me on Twitter for a long time, so you probably know the answer here, but I love gardening. I think it's a wonderful thing. Always loved gardening. If you catch me on Sunday, I spend an hour or two every Sunday in the garden. There's something very peaceful and methodical about investing your time with living things. And over weeks and months being rewarded with kind of abundance from nature. I think it's a form of delayed gratification. I think it's also a lesson in humility about what is and isn't under your control.
Adam Nash (14:41):
But yeah, if you want to know my guilty pleasure, taking an hour to walk outside, look at the plants, what's doing well, what's not doing well, little nudge, little things here and there, to me that is just rejuvenation for the whole week.
Daniel Scrivner (14:54):
And you're totally right, because it is, I think it's the banner on the top of your Twitter profile is a photo of your garden. I'm guessing in your backyard.
Adam Nash (15:01):
It's funny. I get a lot of people who tell me on Twitter, "Adam, yeah, yeah. Talk about the finance stuff, tech. It's great. I follow you for the garden." So many people tell me, "I follow you for your garden."
Adam Nash (15:12):
But that's fine. I think it's wonderful. And I actually wish more people had the opportunity to be in touch with that same feeling of gratification of helping things grow.
Daniel Scrivner (15:22):
I totally agree. It's a totally different modality that I think a lot of people have somewhat forgotten.
Daniel Scrivner (15:27):
Well, Adam, this has been incredible. For anyone listening, you can follow Adam, and we just talked about his Twitter, at @adamnash on Twitter. Highly recommend that you follow Adam.
Daniel Scrivner (15:35):
And Adam's been building an incredible company called Daffy. You can find their app. It's a very easy way for anyone to be able to give, to set a goal for giving, to find causes that you care about, and to be able to give really easily. You can download that at the app store by searching for Daffy and you can also go to daffy.org.
Daniel Scrivner (15:52):
Thank you so much for the time, Adam. I'd loved having you on.
Adam Nash (15:54):
Daniel Scrivner (15:55):
Thank you so much for listening. You can find the show notes and transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/117. That's 117.
Daniel Scrivner (16:04):
For more from Adam Nash, listen to episode 114, where he joins me on our Outlier Founder series to go deep on Daffy, which is building a modern platform for giving and in the process rethinking how we all give to the causes and charities we care about.
Daniel Scrivner (16:18):
In that episode, we cover what Adam learned, building eBay, LinkedIn, and Wealthfront, how he thinks about reshaping consumer behavior like getting consumers to trust an algorithm to invest their savings at Wealthfront, how the US already gives 2.3% of GDP, contributing more than $400 billion to charity in 2020 alone, which is more than double major sectors like agriculture, which accounts for less than 1% of GDP, and why even 2.3% of GDP is too small, and how Adam is working to get that percentage up to 5% given annually through his work at Daffy.
Daniel Scrivner (16:52):
Plus we cover everything you've ever wanted to know about giving from how much to give, to how to assess charities and how to get your kids involved in giving. You can find videos of all of our interviews on YouTube, youtube.com/OutlierAcademy. On our channel, you'll find all of our full length interviews as well as our favorite short clips from every episode, including this one. So make sure to subscribe. We post new videos and clips every single week.
Daniel Scrivner (17:15):
And if you haven't already, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn under the handle Outlier Academy. Thank you so much for listening. We'll see you right here with brand new episode next Friday.
On Outlier Academy, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today.
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