What Sam Altman Looks For In Founders

And a framework for growing infrequently used products

On Saturday I shared a deep dive on what founders should do in a crisis. Get a 14-day free trial to get access to my library of 50+ deep dives, and a new one in your inbox each Saturday.

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Today at a glance:

  • Opportunity → Embeddable Widgets

  • Framework → ICED Theory

  • Tool → Trace AI

  • Trend → User Testing

  • Quote → What Sam Altman Looks for in Founders

💡 Opportunity: Embeddable Widgets

Interesting and deceptively simple-sounding idea here from Ben Tossell (founder of Makerpad and Ben’s Bites):

In case you’re not familiar with Disqus (I wasn’t), they build embeddable widgets for engagement, moderation, and analytics. Their tools integrate with social media platforms — you’ve probably seen or used them without realizing it.

Platforms like Yotpo have products that do this but only specifically for e-commerce sites. It’d be interesting to see an internet-wide data layer of reviews across all sectors. At a minimum the company would have a strong, monetizable dataset.

You’d also be able to make subscription revenue from companies that use insert your products on their site, which they’d do to build trust with users.

🧠 Framework: ICED Theory

Customers use your product or service at a certain frequency. Slack gets used daily while TurboTax will only be used once a year.

Growing products that are infrequently used can be more difficult — it’s much harder to tap into habitual customer behavior and much easier to be forgotten.

The ICED theory helps products grow even if they’re infrequently used:

  • Infrequency → how frequently your product is purchased

  • Control Over Experience → how easy it is to control the user’s experience (and monetize)

  • Engagement → how easy it is to drive user engagement

  • Distinctiveness → how unique and memorable your product is

Unlike frequent products where growth is heavily influenced by retention, infrequent products are measured by market penetration. This is why Airbnb focused so heavily on building out their brand equity and focused heavily on design.

Making informed tradeoffs on these dimensions will help infrequent products find product-market fit and, later, scale much more easily.

🛠 Tool: Onboard AI

Onboard AI is the most powerful tool to chat with any codebase. Just add links to up to 10 GitHub repos and ask questions to find functionality, understand different parts, and even write code changes.

It’s free to use public repos < 100MB, and you can use code HOUCK100 to get a free month of Onboard Pro*

📈 Trend: User Testing

Founders know how important talking to users is, but it can be hard to know you’re getting high-quality, relevant user feedback in the early days.

Search interest for “user testing” is growing steadily as more companies search for solutions to this problem. User Testing is actually the name of a company in the space too — they exited for $1.3 billion by connecting companies with people who wanted to get paid to test products.

Now that the incumbent has exited, their pace of innovation will slow down — and it’s exactly the wrong time. This is a market that’s ripe to be disrupted by AI.

💬 Quote: What Sam Altman Looks for in Founders

On Saturday I wrote about how well Sam handled the OpenAI crisis. It was a masterclass in controlling the narrative that so many founders can learn from.

Sam’s seen many founders through the years after leading Y Combinator and founding Hydrazine, among his other projects. Here’s his list of traits that founders should have if they want to dominate an industry:

What I find interesting is what he didn’t say.

He didn’t say he looks for second time founders, or technical co-founders, or founders who live in a specific city (though he has said that you should be willing to move), or are going after a particular market. Just be resilient, mission-oriented, and decisive — if you have that, you’ve got the most of what it takes to be a founder.

🔗 Houck’s Picks

  • 3 mistakes every solo founder should avoid (Link)

  • How Stripe’s CTO hires and manages engineers (Link)

  • Brett Adcock’s playbook to build a founder-led company (Link)

Upgrade with a free trial for the full batch of picks this week:

  • How to drive leads with LinkedIn posts

  • Pricing tip for anyone running a SaaS business

  • Don’t do these things when you’re trying to sell your company

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