Date17 Mar 2021
AuthorAli Montag

Sari Azout: Slow down and fix things

March 17, 2021
4min read
Ali Montag
Ali MontagHead of Community

Sari Azout is an investor at Level Ventures, author of the Check Your Pulse newsletter, and founder of Startuppy, a community-powered database of startup knowledge. Her work centers on a core idea: What would it look like if technology made us feel more human, rather than less?

“At some point we all became users. But really, we’re all people,” Azout says. “We are so emotional. What does it mean to bring that into a product?”

Azout developed her thesis around humanizing tech through more than a decade of building and advising startups. “I love this idea of spotting teams that are trying to bring more creativity and delight into our lives,” she says.

Here, she shares her playbook for using technology to think deeply, taking time to consider product decisions, and writing effectively. Her answers have been lightly edited and condensed.

What led you to launch Startuppy?

“On one hand, I realized there was an opportunity to offer curation as a service. If you were to Google today, ‘What is the future of food?’ or ‘What is the ownership economy?’ you wouldn’t get really high signal pieces. The best work these days is coming from hidden corners of the Internet, the bloggers and the operators, the people who are not really incentivized to spend a lot of time on SEO or content marketing. So there was an opportunity to surface that content.

Beyond that, I feel we’re lacking in spaces on the Internet that encourage thought and reflection. It’s very easy when you’re following Twitter all day to just search for one hot take after the other, to click share and retweet. You don’t have to give any of these things much thought, it’s so frictionless to amplify things without really thinking about them. I started asking myself, ‘What would it mean to design spaces that encouraged more deep thinking?’ So Startuppy is this sandlot that I’m building to experiment with themes I’m interested in.”

What is your process to research and write your newsletter?

“Part of it comes from not having the pressure to publish something every week. A journalist once described their work by saying, ‘My job is to write faster than I can think.’ Mine isn’t. When you have a writing practice, whether it’s consistent or not, you become a sponge. Everything you look at or think about can be raw material. If you have a way to capture that serendipity or those shower thoughts, that’s helpful. It doesn’t have to be a sophisticated tool. As I have thoughts and ideas, I dump them into a Google doc. When you capture these thoughts but you don’t have the pressure to have an informed opinion on it, you can let these things marinate.

To me, it’s the idea of sitting down with all this raw material and asking, ‘What is this all telling me?’ I don’t think the world needs more content. I think the world needs better content. So I’ve never felt the pressure to hit send. I would rather click send when I feel like I have something worthy of sharing. I think that what a lot of people attribute to genius is actually just the benefit of time. If you gave anyone a few months to think about something, they would come up with something very thoughtful.”

Is that advice useful to CEOs and operators — taking more time on ideas?

It’s so easy to rush into something because someone else is doing it. Everyone who is rushing to launch a Substack, or this or that, it’s just herd mentality, but it doesn’t have longevity. Instead of trying to follow the herd, if you take some time to really, truly think about what feels authentic to your brand, the outcomes should speak for themselves.”

One topic that comes to mind when you say that is community. It’s a word that is everywhere right now. What does it really mean?

“There are real fundamental reasons we’re seeing a resurgence of community. Our institutions are breaking down. Churches are breaking down. Families are breaking down. The promise of social media has been disappointing. So yes, the fundamentals are there, but does that mean every brand should have a Slack group? Can we be a little bit more creative about what community means?

I think a lot of people would be better served by having a lot of information in front of them, then taking time to process, and then thinking about how it applies to them, instead of moving too quickly. This ‘move fast and break things’ mentality didn’t get us to where we wanted to go. So now it’s about asking, how can we slow down and fix things?”

What advice would you give CEOs or operators who may benefit from slowing down, but are worried about the cost?

“With venture capital, there is a certain expectation that is driven by the business model around speed and growth. And there is a lot of tension there. But I would argue in most cases, if you are growing too fast and not being thoughtful, you are accumulating product debt, technical debt, behavioral debt, mental debt. There are all of these things that will eventually catch up to you.

For example, everyone blames Twitter for being slow at developing new products. But what if they really hit the nail on the head with Super Follow and do a great job at it? In theory they’ve been late for years, but if they do a really good job at it, they still win. I think there’s an argument to be made around better instead of faster.”

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