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Facebook’s first female engineer says ‘move fast and break things’ doesn’t work for all startups

Facebook’s first female engineer says ‘move fast and break things’ doesn’t work for all startups

Ruchi Sanghvi (left) and Morten Primdahl (right) at the Crunchies 2013.

Ruchi Sanghvi (left) and Morten Primdahl (right) at the Crunchies 2013.

Above: Ruchi Sanghvi (left) and Morten Primdahl (right) at the Crunchies 2013.

This female entrepreneur says that in order to succeed in business, it’s worth questioning conventional wisdom.

At Y Combinator’s Female Founders Conference this weekend, Ruchi Sanghvi, former VP of operations at DropBox and Facebook’s earliest female engineer, discussed what it takes to get ahead as a founder. The best way to achieve success, she says, is to set aside your biases and come up with new solutions.

“And that’s hard to do when we gravitate towards what we know, what we’re familiar with, what has already succeeded,” she said. In essence, to get ahead, you have to get away from pattern matching.

She recalled her own experience moving from Facebook to starting her own company, Cove, and then eventually landing at DropBox through an acquisition. In each move she found herself trying to replicate the fast-paced experience working on Facebook’s News Feed. She and her team at Cove worked in the back of a textile factory, logging 14 hour days building a solid infrastructure for their product, but never gaining the kind of traction that we’ve come to expect of hot new startups.

“We had unreasonable expectations for what our growth rate should look like. We didn’t take the time to realize that we were building a product that was going to grow slower,” she said.

When Cove was bought by DropBox, Sanghvi found herself questioning the structure of the organization, again based on her experiences at Facebook. DropBox spent a lot of time fixing bugs that only affected a small percentage of its overall users and she couldn’t understand why. She thought the company should be rolling out new products more regularly, instead of fixing bugs or spending too much time perfecting features.

But then it sank in that DropBox and Facebook offered two entirely different products. What was right for Facebook — fast-paced iteration and fixing bugs in real time — didn’t work for DropBox, an application people entrusted with personal documents like wedding photos or the first draft of a novel. What was valuable to DropBox was the details.

“Quality is really, really important to DropBox, and as a result we needed to move slower — not slowly, but slower than Facebook,” said Sanghvi.

Recognizing what is unique about your company will inform the way you solve problems and make decisions about your business model, product timelines, hiring, and ways to measure your own success. So rather than taking generic advice aimed at all startups (Stay scrappy! Iterate fast! Hire good technical talent!), Sanghvi said it’s better to formulate your own standards.

Most importantly, she said, stay patient and don’t quit.

To see Sanghvi’s talk, along with all the other speakers at the Female Founders Conference, see below:

Dropbox is the home for your most important stuff—now we’re bringing it to life with a growing family of products. Today, over 300 million people across every continent rely on Dropbox to get stuff done. With offices around the wor… read more »

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