I'm a Web Developer and Entrepreneur out of Washington DC.

Zvi Band

Founder of Contactually.
I'm also passionate about growing the DC startup community, and I've founded Proudly Made in DC and the DC Tech Meetup.

Putting things in perspective


Being a founder of the company – especially the CEO – warrants a special ability to see the entire picture. This applies not just to having the foresight to see where the market is heading and gear the entire company towards that, but also the responsibility to look back and put past actions into perspective.

With that in mind, I wrote this article for my employees, investors, and most importantly, our users. People saw technical debt and they thought “poor product” – so it was my duty to paint a complete picture.

Onward and upward.



Working with a Coach


From my limited experience, one of the bigger predictors of success or failure among early stage founders is acceptance that they might be wrong, knowing what they don’t know, and being open to improvement.

When I think back to when I first graduated college – the mix of experiences, trials and tribulations, people, and of course time has formed me into a much different – almost indistinguishable person (maybe with some resentment). Especially over the past few years of holding on for dear life being at the helm of the rocketship that is Contactually, every day presents a new challenge to grow.

When it was clear that I needed to both focus on being CEO, as well as step back from my founding role, it’s fair to say I was thrown well in the deep end. While on the whole my team saw me as an effective leader, there were clear areas of improvement (habits to break, skills to improve, and new traits to develop). One of our advisors, who has the scary ability to understand me better than myself, suggested I work with a coach.

What? Who uses a coach?

As that possibility was opened to me, it became clear that this was not only an accepted practice, but a common one. From early stage ventures to Google to long-running F500s. A quick google/quora search confirms that. But surprisingly few entrepreneurs in my immediate network employ a coach, or had heard of it.

A few introductions and phone calls later, I started working with a coach. I met some amazing minds, but decided to go with someone whose approach to leadership coaching and attitude fit what I was looking for.

I’m not going to go deep into the process as that’s unique to my coach’s subscribed methodology – but happy to talk 1:1, just talk to me :-)

Four or five months later, it’s made a tremendous difference. Much of it is intangible – there is no Neo in the Matrix-like “I know kung fu” moment. But I can point at major things in the company and can with confidence say that it would not have happened if I had not reached out and received help growing into the leader the company of my dreams needed me to be. Working with a coach, even if just for a short period of time, is now not even a question for me. I’m recommending it to others on my team, and whenever I meet with any other post-traction entrepreneur seeking advice, that’s the primary piece of advice I give – you can always improve, and a coach can help.



2014 was a pretty exciting year for Contactually.

There are a lot of qualitative and quantitative advances this year for Contactually. We started the year 15 employees strong, less than a million in annual recurring revenue, and a solid yet buggy product. The growth that the company has seen over 12 short months is nothing short of insane. We’re ending the year with more than 50 people working on Contactually full time, tripling our revenue, a mature product, and a team I have to pinch myself every time I see come in every morning. We have numerous enterprise customers. Lower churn. Repeatable processes.

But the bigger thing is a je ne sais quoi – we’re just a different, better, and overall more mature company. People really use and value the product as a solution, not a tool. We’re more and more recognized as a strong entrant. Our teams have experience now, and know what needs to be done. Nothing that we really can track as a clear advancement, but when you realize that it was still only a little over 3 years ago that this was an idea, it’s pretty amazing.

We raised $2M in capital. Fundraising was one of the bigger hurdles faced this year. We ended up with a desirable outcome, and with our eyes open on what milestones the market needs us to hit.

We moved offices. The office hunt was one of the more stressful experiences I’ve gone through, mainly due to the high standards we set for our work environment. But seeing how the company has changed just by our surroundings has made it worth it.

My role changed as well. As one of the original developers and “product guy” on the founding team, I split those roles with wearing the CEO hat. As the company grew this year, it was clear that not only did I need a more focused mind on day-to-day product needs, the company needed a real CEO. So I became the CEO, and fired myself from everything else. It was a hard transition, but absolutely worth it. I can say professionally I’m a very different person from Jan 1 (and not because I just bought new glasses).

Personally, it was a challenging year with many dark times. The downside of Alex and me pushing ourselves further and further professionally is we were both consistently drained and burnt out. Day to day work life balance was kept in check, but the massive growth the company saw was at more of a personal sacrifice than I’d prefer to do in the future. We had done a heavy amount of traveling in prior years, but realized that 2014 came and went without us taking any real time off work – our “beach week” was spent on the phone with investors and commercial real estate brokers (simultaneously).

Onward and upward.

Working agreements


As our team has matured over the past year, we’ve started seeing how key strong team leads (e.g. VPs) are for us. And with me as the CEO, it was important for us to align ourselves around how they work with me – what I should expect of them, what they expect of me, and how they run their teams. As every company culture is unique, this wasn’t some boilerplate text taken off a blog. We’ve made specific decisions about how we operate, and that’s what is reflected here.

This is what I came up with, which every VP read through, commented on, and signed a couple months back. We’re considering having this for every employee as well – so they know what they should expect of myself and every team lead.

In order for us to be a billion dollar company, ____________________ and I need to establish an agreement on how we operate together to build the company of our dreams, and have a crapload of fun doing it.

Above all else, I want you to personally succeed in your role, and come out of this role a better person.

I trust you to execute in what’s best for our users, our team, and the company. You trust me to guide everyone to do the same.

You are fully in ownership of executing in order to fulfill the objectives laid out for your team. I will remove as many blockers in your path as I can, as long as you clearly communicate what they are.

You’ll report weekly, monthly, and quarterly on your teams performance.

You and your team have the freedom to operate in whatever way you best see fit (e.g. hours, software, org structure), as long as you heed the current company values, ensure your team is not isolated from the rest of the company, and do not intentionally undermine me or any other employee of the company. 

We will respect each other’s roles and ownership. We understand the difference between OPO (one person’s opinion), strong suggestions, and mandates. While you have the ability to say no to me, there may be times where I require action.

You will be held accountable for your commitments to me and the team, and I should be held accountable for commitments I make to you. We are human and deadlines may be missed, but we will communicate clearly about them.

We want to invest in your career development. Let me know how to do that.

I want you to have the best days of your life here, work well with all your peers, and be an ambassador to the company. 

We both agree to this, dated ____________________

Know your history

“Our ancestors have invented, we can at least innovate” – Amit Kalantri

When I first jotted down the idea for Contactually, I thought it was unique (otherwise I likely would not have bothered to capture it). As expected, I was wrong. We only found a couple then-active companies with any kind of meaningful feature overlap.

However, as we started working more and more on the idea, more and more ghosts emerged. We found many people who had tried this before, some just an idea or prototype, some a total failure, some pivots away, and a couple acquisitions.
Our ingrained curiosity led us to figure out why. Why were some successful, and some not? What could we learn?
We did something unconventional – we spoke to them. Dozens of people. The concept of a startup postmortem is only recently gaining popularity, so we went to the source.
The learnings were invaluable. While what we got was just data points, and often times just delivered with a bitter tone of expected failure for us, we developed some core principals which, in my opinion, have aided tremendously to our continued survival.
  • Charge for your product. Early.
  • Therefore, build something people will pay for and find people who will pay for it.
  • This is not a consumer application. This is for professionals.
  • Do not rely on spamming a users address book. It just doesn’t work.
Very early on, investors we met with pushed the opposite of these points. We prioritized the learnings from our ancestors, and stuck to our guns. And we are still here. The similar products we’ve seen that haven’t heeded these rules aren’t.

The early difference between success and failure


Customer development.

A few weeks ago I was walking around DC Tech Day, looking at all the super early stage ventures, some little more than an idea. I normally vehemently shun pessimism, but I couldn’t help but think that the vast majority were dead from the beginning. I couldn’t think of anyone they could call a legitimate customer, and when probing them, the unicorn “consumer” was their target customer.
We see hundreds and hundreds of amazing ideas fail because of the lack of an accessible market. While I do believe that big consumer ideas sometimes appear as toys, that doesn’t necessarily empower every entrepreneur to just go out and build toys.
The other week I was lecturing about the first 90 days of an idea (I might teach it again if you’re interested) to aspiring entrepreneurs. I made it clear that I subscribe to the lean startup methodology’s belief in early and continuous customer development. The class was pretty much all about customer development. I see it as common sense, but to the class, this was an eye opening experience and, in their own words, a totally different perspective.
I hope I made an impact.



One of the major realizations that I came to was, as the company got bigger, I remained too execution oriented. I’m very good at working on big rocks vs small rocks, but I found that the rocks I was tackling were still not big enough. This was backed up by my advisors, investors, team leads, and coach.

I was ready and willing to make the change, but didn’t know where to begin. My career to date has been coming up with and executing a daily task list, pounding through bugs, checking off boxes.
One of my advisors suggested whitespace time. Block a few hours a week out of the office to think. Just letting my mind wander is not useful, so before I start, I come up with the items I want to focus on, and what the deliverable is (often times an Evernote outline).
I also make a point to get out of the office and into a different environment. One awesome thing about DC is there is no shortage of places to go. The convention center is across the street from our new office, where you can blend in to whatever conference is happening. There are a few hotel lobbies to hang out at. My favorite is the National Portrait Gallery, just a few blocks down the street.
Close email, unplug team chat, and just focus.
It’s been incredibly productive so far.

A company I advised failed yesterday


We made some great announcements at 11 AM yesterday morning.

I wasn’t tweeting or posting about it because I was in a meeting. At the same time the internet and our team was celebrating our milestones, I was helping a founder I had been advising for months shut down his company.

He’s an incredibly smart guy. He had a big vision – one of those “better the world and make money doing it.” And while he had built out a powerful platform before I started advising him weekly, he had no customers. So we focused on that. And we couldn’t get any customers, no matter what was tried. His co-founders weren’t lasered in on getting customers, they wanted to focus on the technology. So there was no business.

Failure is empowering. Too many ventures drift off into the darkness and are simply forgotten by the creator. Daily execution becomes skipping a day or two, or three, or fifty. Clearly saying that something didn’t work allows you to learn from it. By the time we sat down face to face yesterday, it was clear he was looking for an out. So we gave it to him. We made it clear he shouldn’t feel guilty or that our time was wasted – it definitely wasn’t.

Every day, I look at the amazing team executing on vastly different parts of the business – one person on the phone training a customer. Another figuring out a new marketing initiative. Another going deep into the code to identify a flaw that is affecting a user. Then the thousands of customers that we have.

Despite all the time spent on the problems of the business – organizational change, churn, maintaining that steep growth curve, I’m so thankful that we have yet to fail. We’ve done the right things – well, enough to get us to this point in time.

Onward and upward.

Firing Myself


It’s inevitable – and vital – that, as a company scales, a founder has to remove roles from themselves.

At first it’s building a team underneath you – specialists, demand fulfillment, etc. Less time is spend on day-to-day execution, and more time is spent planning, overseeing, and managing. But there still may be some bastions of your original role remaining as part of your overall responsibilities.

But we reached a point where I had to fire myself from that. Not just because the company needed me focused on more high-leverage activities. But my skills didn’t match what was needed for this stage of the company. In order to grow the very product I had created, I had to remove myself from it.

As a founder, I’m still responsible for the overall vision and high-level execution. But day-to-day, the role I once valued myself by is no longer mine.

For 24 hours, I’ve never felt more miserable. Then, I never felt more empowered.





I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, as it’s something I’ve often stewed about (when in truth I shouldn’t).

There are a lot of charlatans in the startup journey.

Charlatans that claim to be angel investors, but haven’t written a check in years, if ever.

Charlatans that claim to be working on their startup.

Charlatans that will happily advise your startup, because they know The Way.

Charlatans that say their startup will beat yours.

Charlatans that go on stage, beat their chest, and it turns out there’s nothing behind the curtains.

Charlatans with “tons of contacts” that want to do business development.

Charlatans in VC firms, that have no fund to make new investments out of.

Charlatans will waste your time. Charlatans will get your hopes up. Charlatans will give you bad data. 

I wish it were socially acceptable to call these people out in anything more public than a 1-1 conversation or reference check. Sometimes it’s not their fault, they don’t realize it.

But as soon as your BS meter starts going up, run. Charlatans are everywhere.

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