Interviews and Reviews

Founder Andrew Frame Explains Why the Citizen App is a Mission, Not a Product

Andrew Frame, a serial entrepreneur, shares why he considers the Citizen app a mission instead of a product, how he approaches the burden of responsibility for building tech that impacts our psychology, and why he opts for poetry and philosophy over business books on the Inc.’s Founders Project With Alexa Von Tobel podcast. Listen to the full podcast episode here:

Alexa: Welcome to Inc. The Founders Project, with Alexa von Tobel. I’m Alexa, the founder of LearnVest, author of New York Times bestselling book, Financially Fearless, and second book, Financially Forward. I’m also the founder and managing partner of Inspired Capital, a venture firm focused on the entrepreneurs of the future.

Each week we sit down with a top founder to share their story of guts, inspiration and drive.

Hi everybody, I’m your host, Alexa von Tobel, and this week I want you to meet Andrew Frame, the founder and CEO of Citizen, the first app to combine location information with 911 intelligence to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Andrew founded Citizen in 2017, and has since scale to over 7 million users across 25 cities. Andrew is a serial entrepreneur and an expert software programmer, having founded his first company, an Internet service provider at the age of 15. Andrew later went on to found Ooma, a consumer telecommunications company in 2004.

Andrew spent his early career working with network infrastructure. He joined Cisco Systems in 1997 at the age of 17 as a support engineer. He received the first dual CCIE certifications, a top technical certification at Cisco, during his first year with the company, making him the youngest person ever to earn this certification. He was born in Las Vegas, but now spends most of his time in New York where Citizen is headquartered.

Let’s welcome Andrew.

Andrew: Absolutely, my pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Alexa: I just want to start with the basics. In your own words, what a Citizen? And where did you come up with the idea? And kind of take us back to the beginning of your journey as you set up the business.

Andrew: Citizen is a free app that keeps you safe. It’s very simple. You download it, and you stay safe. We continue to add features all the time that enhance and increase your safety. The founding story was exactly that. I wanted to create a safety app.

I created this company prior to Citizen, that is actually the real company called SP0N, S-P-zero-N. And the role of SP0N was to help me determine what the company that I start next would be.

There were a few driving criteria around what I wanted to do. Committing yourself to a company and raising capital can be an extremely long commitment. So I was very thoughtful about not wanting to get stuck, if you will, building something that I wasn’t crazy passionate about.

The criteria was as follows. Number one, it had to be mission-oriented. It had to be something that we, as a Citizen team who builds it, would be proud of, especially when it gets to global scale. Number two, it had to be consumer. Because therein lies all of my passion, consumer Internet technology. It had to be mobile, because obviously the world has gone full mobile and we are at the pure infancy of what’s possible, with nearly four billion smartphones now. And it had to be network effect-driven. Oh, and then of course it had to be completely unique, out of first principles, a new category. I didn’t want to go in and build a better version of something that is already out there or try to eat market share.

That was kind of my criteria set. And it dawned on me that there is no safety product.

When you look at the primal needs of just, all of consumer, all of humanity, there’s a limited set, and there’s tremendous competition in most of the consumer primal needs. Safety was unserved. There was no app that you can just download that was free that keeps you safe, anywhere in the world.

So with that, the next step was to figure out, well, how do you go to market? How do you create a safety app?

And iterating through a series of ideas, it just quickly dawned on me that — the Trojan horse in building a safety app was open radios. You could go to radio shack. There was this place called Radio Shack, they sold radios, police scanners, in particular, and they later sold computers. But you could listen in on what the police and the fire and the ambulance were doing.

And it was this fascinating thing of like — oh my gosh, you’re listening to police people and there’s a kidnapping, there’s a robbery, there’s a fire — and all of that information was in these open radios that was open to the community.

And it all had address embedded — here’s a kidnapping at an address that’s happening right now in the physical world.

So it was just so immediately obvious that this information, which is now restricted to first responders, needs to be opened up. And this transparency needs to be created.

There’s tremendous value in not just the police officer or the first responder knowing about the missing kid, but the whole neighborhood can now know about the missing kid. So it was just obvious, because there was an address in there, it was so obvious that now is the time to open this information up, and put it in the hands of regular people so they get real time information on what’s going on around them.

Alexa: First of all, I remember Radio Shack. It was always next to Gamestop. And if you think about it, it’s incredible that it was that radio experience that basically made you say — this really should exist in the palm of our hands, open to everybody.

If you fast forward now, Citizen has grown to over 7 million users in 25 cities. But how did you think about getting it up and off the ground? How did you think about the important rules for building the app, the trust around the app? And I’m sure you thought about them a lot. So we would love to hear about that.

Andrew: You’re exactly right. Like, it was almost scary to think about the burden of responsibility, given the fact that, here we are, this is not like a game. This is not a messaging platform. We’re not sharing photos. We are going into public safety, and that is not to be taken lightly.

So it wasn’t like a — let’s move as fast as we can and see what happens and what not. It was a very thoughtful series of evolutions, beginning in a single borough in New York City, Brooklyn.

I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to launch it until I saw what the consumer behavior was in response to democratizing this. We certainly had no permission from any police agency to do this. If we asked for permission, they would almost undoubtedly say not only no, but like — follow this guy, keep an eye on this guy, what are these people doing?

So, therein lies the beauty of innovation. You’ve got to try stuff. You’ve got to take these big swings, and hope that your theory that this is good for the world is correct.

So we open it in Brooklyn. We talked to a ton of users. I was one of the first power users. The small team, we would go out, we would go live on incidents, we would watch human behavior, watch the consumer reaction to when there’s a fire, a kidnapping, a robbery. Did they run toward the scene? What are they going to do? We wanted to be really careful to measure what the response would be to this information before we democratize it in a wider way.

What we found was fascinating. It was, our best hope was that people would act responsibly, that we could equip people. What the police and fire departments use to figure out what’s going on in the city is significantly inferior to Citizen. Citizen creates way more transparency, has way more information in terms of who’s in need of help. And it’s a free app. It’s a top app on the app store.

So before, you’d have to go to police academy or become a firefighter, and then it’s like congratulations, now, you know what’s going on in the city in real time. Not really. It’s not really real time. But now here’s an app that anybody can download that gives you that information and more.

That was kind of a scary proposition to consider, so we did it thoughtfully. We did it in waves. But as we gained confidence with how users were using it, then we just went, alright, let’s go all in. We are going to launch this as fast as possible. We are seeing the best in humanity be brought out by this.

Alexa: Citizen is consistently ranked as a Top 10 News App. And as a very active user, as a mother, and as somebody living in Manhattan, what’s amazing is it really is in some ways Citizen News, right? You can see the fire that’s taking place a block away and people can upload videos.

And what I have loved so much about it is, in real time not only can you get an alert of what’s happening, but also see it in a really important way that helps you say, you know what, let’s avoid those six blocks, or let’s let’s not try to drive across town right now.

Is Citizen a News app? How do you think about that? And does it even matter to how people process it?

But it’s categorized as a news app in the App store.

Andrew: Yes, Citizen can provide news. But that is not what the foundation of citizen is. That is not our mission. Our mission is to make our users world a safer place.

Now, when you ask, what is the difference between news and safety, as we ask ourselves all the time, let’s say a child was kidnapped. Well, that’s news for everybody except the mother who lost the child, or the family of the child. For them, that’s safety. For the people that are impacted that’re on the corner when it happened, it’s safety.

I don’t know how far it goes before it turns into news, but five blocks away, it’s probably news. Maybe not, because the kid could still be in the vicinity.

A city away, it’s certainly news. When something’s happening in real time, it’s safety. Once it’s no longer happening, it’s news. Safety and news are very connected based on relevance of location, relevance of time. Safety becomes news. It starts as safety, and evolves into news. So it’s not like this hard threshold between the two, but there’s definitely a relationship between the two.

Alexa: I find it really, really fascinating to your point of proximity, relational dynamics of when this really becomes news is just fascinating. We can talk about that for hours.

But I want to go quickly to, when you launch the app, you called it the Vigilante, and you ended up changing it to Citizen, which just, I will say, is again, a consumer, feels really natural to what it is and what it does, and it’s this connectedness of all of us together.

Talk a little bit about how you thought about the branding of the platform or the tone or the feel. And then I want to get to the hardest part. What was the hardest part of building the platform to date?

Andrew: So, the name. I mean, it’s so long ago that it was called Vigilante, I barely remember that. The spirit of it was — that word comes from the word vigilance. The community stepping up their involvement. And there are so many deep philosophical discussions we can have about the role of a citizen in their community and the role of somebody when they see somebody being attacked or a child being kidnapped, the bystander effect, all of those things.

We showed a video that basically showed a technology, which is what we created, reversing bystander effect, and helping somebody who is being assaulted. And this is something that happens in communities every single day to begin with.

We were going to change the name before we launched because we realized it was edgy. We always said don’t interfere with first responders, don’t do anything dangerous or we’ll ban you from the platform.

But the idea. I was talking to one of the original investors and I said — I think this name is… I love that it’s like edgy, and it’s great, but we may want to change it before we launch.

And this person said to me, which I thought was a brilliant response to that, he said — 100 apps, 1000 apps launch every single day in the App store, probably more, and they’re almost all irrelevant. The true enemy is obscurity. And if we choose Vigilante, I don’t think obscurity is going to be our problem.

I said — I like that. We knew what we were getting ourselves into. We knew that it was probably going to get a lot of backlash. It did. It got significant backlash. Nowhere in the app that it ever say to do anything dangerous or be a vigilante. It was about the community helping the community.

Alexa: I want to quickly think now about what has been the hardest thing that you’ve had to wrap your head around building an app that, to your point — by the way, I don’t want to understate — you just said that this technology may actually over change the psychological dynamic of the bystander effect, which is wild.

You’re now at the point where you’re seeing at scale, how incredibly powerful it is for all of us to have a better sense of what’s happening in our community, not only so we can change our behavior, but we can also be more helpful.

What was the hardest decision that you would make as you built it, and what other things did you just wrestle with as you were scaling the platform, knowing that you had a wild amount of responsibility?

Andrew: We still, every single day, look at the policy around what goes in the app, how specific we are.

So guiding principles. Let’s begin — architecturally, the way a company is set up, everything from mission to business model. All of those things are intentional choices. We did not have to bob and weave and figure out what is our mission and have a thousand meetings about what is our mission. The mission was set in stone from day one — to make our users’ worlds safer, to create safety for our users. Very simple.

The values, we have everything from keeping our users privacy protected to officer safety. There’s a tremendous amount of information that we have that does not go into the app.

I’ll give you one example. If your neighbor is attempting suicide, we know about it. We’ve got the address, and we can send out a notification that — in this apartment, in this house somebody is attempting suicide.

That doesn’t create safety. That’s an invasion of somebody’s privacy. So we abstract it. We may say “medical event” because you’ll see the sirens, and whenever you see sirens and don’t see it on Citizen, all our users get mad — oh, the app’s broken.

So we’ll say “medical event” and we’ll put it on the cross streets. That way, you see, you don’t have the information, we do. But we are not going to invade that user’s privacy.

So Citizen University for a mission control analyst, who are the central human core around judgment and decision making, they are guided by a policy book that has been years in the making.

When you come on as a mission control analyst you get trained. The training lasts for well over a month to understand the nuances of these rules which were constantly reflecting on and refining.

Alexa: Wow. I would love just to double click on the training. Not only Citizen as an app is about surfacing problems in the community, and those range from everything from kidnapping to medical emergencies to fires.

How do you think about trying to keep the mental well being of everybody at… Like, how do you balance that?

Because in the same way that a 911 call support center has to balance it… And, you get the benefit of actually taking modern principles, modern thinking — everything about you is modern and we’re going to get to your history and your background because it’s really, really fun and I had such a pleasure of getting to learn all of it — but how do you think about modernizing that element of well being, knowing that everybody at Citizen carries so much burden? And with that, by the way, I always say, I want to go to work someplace that’s changing the world, and that is absolutely true with Citizen. So, how do you think about that internally?

Andrew: What we have access to inside Citizen is not necessarily known from the outside. We get to see the resolutions of these, and we’re trying to fix this in the app. This is the only company I’ve ever seen in my life — and I’m so proud to just even work here, I say this as the founder — because of all of the goodness that we hear about every single day.

This is a company where people literally cry at the all hands. The amount of just internal love and support from each other I think is probably a reflection of so much of the adversity that people are exposed to. But what drives us are hearing the resolutions, hearing the children who are kidnapped, getting back to their parents, because it is very difficult to get away from hundreds of thousands of people getting notified about a car that took off with a couple of kids. And it is really that that drives the mental well being of us.

Some of the work that’s going on right now — this is a complicated system. We built it. It’s a new category. It’s all from our own first principles. It’s tough when you’re navigating this open gray space, especially in something as fractured and complicated as public safety.

We’re building sentiment now into the system, so that instead of people getting what appears to be negative — car accident, assault, fire — if you get too many of those, it can have a psychological toll. We’re very cognizant of psychological toll, not just internally, but also our external user base. We don’t want you to download this app and it makes you so paranoid and it scares you about your own neighborhood. You need to be informed about some of this stuff. But it’s not like we’re saying, hey, that’s our growth engine. If it bleeds it leads, send it further. We’re actually moving in a direction where you’re going to start to see a lot more what we call positive sentiment notifications. The resolution.

Even a new feature announcement that protects you. That’s not negative on the psychological toll. So we’re getting much more thoughtful around the notifications and the category and compartmentalization of what is negative and what is positive.

Alexa: I want to quickly just step back. You sit at an incredibly unique perch, the fastest growing, most important safety app of the country, planet, and as I can just tell your really in so many ways just getting started. COVID happens — and you guys went straight in and added the uptick. I would watch it actually every morning just to decide how do we think about navigating our day?

How scrappy did you guys have to get as COVID emerged? How did you guys tackle that internally?

Andrew: That’s exactly right. I’m just so proud of Citizen and the work we do, because of exactly what you’re describing, which is, this is a safety issue. I don’t need to walk into an all hands and say, hey, everybody COVID’s coming. It’s a safety issue.

I walk into an all hands, and there’s 50 people with their hands up going, what are we doing about COVID? It’s a safety issue. I’ve got some ideas.

People join Citizen to work on the mission. Citizen is not a product. It’s a mission. And it just was so obvious — COVID is the biggest safety issue facing our country, back March of 2020. So the amount of ideas that came from all people all across the organization, I wasn’t even involved in so much of the stuff that shipped, but the team just went all in on protecting people. And that is, I guess, the beauty of mission as a driver, is it comes from the team.

Alexa: You’re at the intersection of crowd sourced information in the hands of everybody. It’s almost blockchain-esque in some ways. Where we’re all safer if we’re all connected.

I would love just to get a sense of, like, deep in your instincts as a north star of a future that you can see, like when you close your eyes, you just have a future that I can even tell from this conversation that you’re driving towards. How would you describe whatever you think is just a clear prediction that’s going to happen?

We’ve said this before. If we can execute on our mission and create safety worldwide, and there is no longer a need for Citizen, would be the greatest way to go out of business of all time. We’ll take it. We’ll lose all of our investor money, everybody stock and go to zero and we couldn’t be more proud. We want to create safety. Our vision is a global safety network of people protecting each other.

So if we fast forward, we’re in every country in the world, we have evolved the public safety system. We’ve democratized it. We’ve made it a shared system. The elimination of just corruption, police brutality, being able to create this conditional transparency. Anytime something goes wrong, we have transparency about it. And just the deterrent of that.

There’s endless psychological studies around just deterrence and how people’s awareness, and just putting an eyeball on the wall made people work harder, because they saw the eye. There’s just so many studies that, by creating this presence and this awareness and this transparency, it deters bad behavior.

So using this platform to create open information around safety so that people can get out of burning buildings or find the missing kid, and put a spotlight on any sort of bad policing behavior. And also put a spotlight on the good policing behavior which we see all the time. That is the vision of Citizen.

Alexa: I love it. Andrew, I want to transition to you, because you are just such a unique individual. And I say that with… As I was learning about you, your a tech savant in every way. Growing up, I think you hacked into NASA, and a bunch of other interesting background tidbits.

What were you like as a child? And how did you end up finding… You clearly have a love of technology. Talk us through what that looked like when you were younger.

Andrew: I was curious. I was really deeply into computers, like, obsessively, probably overly obsessively. And that started at a young age, and it was just my outlet to the world. And I think a lot of people even pre-Internet — dial-up, BBS days, and IRC, which is like this place where all these fascinating people gathered that are probably like a lot of people running really important companies came through those paths.

And I was definitely bad in some ways. Like I think you mentioned hacking, I stopped doing that when I was probably 16 years old. I was just curious. I was really curious about how things worked.

And I don’t know, I just, I love innovation, absolutely love it.

Alexa: What do you think your biggest advantage is, technically? Just knowing that you have truly been passionate about the category, and to your point in a way, where you just said it was beyond obsessive. What do you think is your biggest advantage, technically?

Andrew: I think having an engineering background, because I learned how to code at a young age, I think there’s a couple answers to that.

First of all… Before I started the company and I knew that consumer mobile is everything, we’ve barely scratched the surface. First thing I did is I learned how to code iPhone apps. I got back into code. I said, you know what, if I’m going to build iPhone apps, I’m going to have to not just do it from afar, I’m going to have to understand at least the basics of Swift and how animation libraries work, and how all the different SDKs of the iPhone work, I built like four or five iPhone apps completely on my own. Designed them, built them, just to get a handle on the capabilities of the iPhone. It’s not tremendously difficult.

And I think that that gives me an advantage. Whenever there’s a worldwide developer conference, I make sure we all tune in, and all of the product managers, the designers, everything else, it’s like — okay, what building blocks, what’s out there at the dessert buffet this year that we can dive into? — and you have to move quick, you have to watch what these capabilities are, and you have to implement them super fast. So I think our speed around just using and leveraging mobile capabilities really comes from that, are just, we are turned into the technical details of what these are capable of.

Alexa: So you have this fun moment which, in retrospect, I wish I would have known you and just followed you at the time, but you’re early at Facebook. And basically you consulted with them for network architecture, and got a little bit of equity early.

Just a fun question. When you’re sitting there, thinking about that ecosystem — and I think I was like around 150th user — did you at that time have a really good sense of how big this was going to be, just knowing everything in your background? Was it really obvious to you? And I just would love a double click on what you thought about when you were looking at the system’s architecture and what was obvious at that moment?

Andrew: No, honestly, no. I did give a reference check to somebody who was joining Facebook, and I think as part of my reference I said — if you hire this person in this role, Facebook will be bigger than anything you could ever imagine.

But I think I was more trying to give a positive reference for my friend who really wanted this job. [laughs] I don’t know if I believed it, to be totally honest. In fact, I started a company right around the same time. So I think Facebook and my previous company started at the same time. I thought my previous company was going to be this huge thing, because we had real hardware and revenue and sales and scale. And then Facebook, you know, we were coming off like ’99 where all these companies couldn’t figure out their business model. Here’s a social network, yeah, it has growth, there’s no clear revenue potential, I can’t say that I saw it.

Alexa: By the way, I love you being so honest. Because I feel like people in the rear view mirror always say, oh it was so clear. So I love that, that you just said that.

Andrew you’re a phenomenal serial entrepreneur. I think as a fellow entrepreneur, you’ve got to kind of find the ways that make you stay sane when you’re managing tremendous amounts of complexities. I say almost every podcast that a CEO’s job is the only job that the better you’re at it, the worse and harder the challenges get. It’s the only job where the better you do, the complexity goes up, the stress on the founder becomes more superhuman.

How do you manage it? What… Everyone listening is a founder, would like to be a founder, what is just one or two lessons you can pay forward to people that you have found to keep you sane, keep you healthy, mentally and physically, that keep you ticking?

Andrew: I think this answer has been given a million times, but team is everything. Just always hire people that are so much better than you. Know your strengths. Know your weakness.

I know my strength is product, it’s product strategy, it’s working with designers and engineers and PMs. That is my strength. That is where I have a superpower.

And everything else, let other people that are phenomenal run it for you, and don’t try to put yourself chain of command on every decision. Delegate. Build a system that can scale. People that have done this before, when you build something great, it is like the honeybees will come to pollinate. You don’t have to recruit them. They will find you, find the best people, make sure their mission-oriented, surround yourself.

Alexa: I love that. The honeybees will find you. That’s a great one.

Give me another life hack. You’re clearly somebody who has spent… Even in the way that you thought about standing up Citizen, it wasn’t — huh, this is a great idea — you like, stepped back, methodically thought about what is a category that could be massive? How do you think about a business that changes society?

You’re clearly a big thinker. Give us another life hack.

Andrew: Have lots of hobbies. Don’t overdo it. We have a principal inside which is, work smarter, not harder.

I once saw there was somebody presented a value, and he said “work harder and smarter.”

I said — no, no, no, no, you can’t do both. Don’t do it. Work smarter. Optimize around that. Have hobbies. Have space. Read literature, read poetry, read philosophy, continue educating yourselves. Don’t get…

I literally have not read a technology or business or anything book in so many years. I try to stay away from that stuff. I try to just be pure first principles. I get more inspiration out of literature and plays and stuff from ancient times than I do from anything modern.

Alexa: Next question. I would love to get a sense of one thing going through COVID that you hope to get better at. So like, if COVID has changed your life in one way, or in any way, what is it?

Andrew: We have not taken in what this new world means yet.

I was talking to our head of People, and we were discussing this. But it’s not that we don’t want to create psychological safety for people who take jobs at Citizen. But it’s not that big of a deal these days to hire, to fire if something is not a fit. Everybody’s going to be in the same cockpit with their same plant on their desk. They might have different Zoom links in different Slack channels. You can switch companies in a microsecond, and I don’t think people have really taken on… The stakes have changed for hiring and firing. It’s just changed. People can instantly get jobs anywhere in the world in their same cockpit. And I just don’t think we have really absorbed how that changes the way we think about this.

Like, we’ve just seen this phenomenal, almost like hive system, where all of these smart people can just hive together no matter where they are. I don’t know if Citizen would be nearly as successful if we were stuck in lower Manhattan, which was this massive, massive limitation on building highly talented teams — okay, you’ve got a family, they’ve got school districts, can you move, are you ever thinking about moving? No, not really. I love the company. I love the mission. Now we talk to those same people and they’re working fully, fully productive, three days later.

And it’s just a phenomenal new world that we have yet to even tap into what it means.

Alexa: I’m sad I didn’t start the entire podcast just there, and say, let’s start talking about this new world and how we think about it. I couldn’t agree more with you.

I have to ask. Just give us a few predictions for what you think in two years, when we begin to emerge from this, that just, are part of the thought process around that topic.

Andrew: If you don’t offer infinite flexibility to people, I cannot come up with one reason as to why I would force somebody to go to an office. There’s no good reason.

I continue to ask our team — is it white boarding? Is it like the late night hang when somebody like opens up a bottle of wine and… Like, what are we missing that we can’t do in this virtual world? And every single thing that happens in the office, I feel like we’ve never been more close as a team. I am able to meet with people that just were physically very challenging to meet with before. And the way we’ve designed the time, we have dedicated a person’s full time role around optimizing, we kind of have this execution OS, like internal operating system. How do we operate? How do we use time? What are meetings like in this virtual world?

You kind of have to almost like product manage what a virtual company operates like. You have to be very intentional about it.

And I think if you lean into it and go all in, and just say, you know what, we’re going to take this and make it our competitive advantage. I just think so many great things come that were impossible.

I think we’re going to look back and say — oh my gosh, physical space is the most inefficient thing imaginable. It’s not that we’re not going to have physical space in many cities, and if you like that you have the flexibility to go there. I think it’s just going to be about pure flexibility. Are you somebody that goes to the office an hour a week? Five days out of the week? Do you leave early? Do it. Do whatever you want. You want to be in Miami for the winter? Go ahead. Get an Airbnb, no problem. Whatever you want to do, just do it. Just plug in, get the job done. Work smarter, not harder, and it works. It just works.

Alexa: That was so great. And also matches a lot of the way that we’ve been thinking.

I want to quickly end on a quick fire round. It’s a few quick questions, you give the first answer that comes to mind. The first one simply is — your biggest pinch-me moment that you’ve had to date at Citizen? The one that you said, I can’t believe that just happened.

Andrew: I think the first time a kid was rescued by a Citizen user. Like, it was just the vision materializing. Because I remember recruiting people saying, like, we’re going to save missing kids. And the first time we did it was just this phenomenal pinch-me moment. We just turned on revenue. The demand is insane for our revenue product. That’s an amazing pinch-me moment, because we’re building an ethical business model that we’re charging people for value. There’s no secrets. There’s no data sales. It’s just — you buy this and we’ll keep you safer. And that’s a pinch-me moment because now the revenue is just starting to just… It’s just shocking us how fast it’s moving.

There’s been so many. Sorry, that was two.

Alexa: I love it. That was great. Those were really awesome two.

What is the question you like to ask somebody that you interview? You’re a soulful human, I can tell. When you want to get to the heart of who somebody is, what do you ask them?

Andrew: I’ll just focus on the work side, not the personal side. I like to get to know people on both sides deeply. On the work side, I think I’ve had a great success based on my own track record of failure, of just really understanding what did the person really do? You can so easily get wowed by a resume, and like it looks like this person had this great career. I like to really zoom in — okay, who was your manager? What was their responsibility? Who was your manager’s manager? Where did you fit in this org? What was your exact deliverable?

I almost wish… You know, I joke sometimes about product managers need a PMDB. Because I want to see everything you’ve shipped. If you’re a director, I can go watch all your films. But I wish I could just double click on a PM, and be like, okay here’s all the stuff they shipped. Because a lot of times what you think that they’re shipping are not actually what they’re shipping. Like, they were on a team working on this super specific thing, and sometimes you fail to really get the detail there.

So I think just zooming in on exactly what did this person do? The boss, the boss’s boss, what did the org look like? I’ve just found great success in cutting through all of the noise.

Alexa: I love it. Last question. Other than citizen, if you want to pay it forward to any new product, it can be anything, it can be a new snack, to a new early stage startup, anything that you think is awesome, what is it?

Andrew: You know, like I say, I think mobile is in its pure infancy, like 10, 20 years from now we’re going to start to really see the potential of mobile. When I saw HQ for the first time, I think like a lot of people, I absolutely loved it, because it came out of left field, it was this interactive new model that showed that you can put a live human being inside the screen that everybody was interacting with — it wasn’t copied, it was just straight out of thin air.

And anytime people break the design language barriers and the product language barriers of the past, they’ve kind of paved the way for the future and they’ve showed what’s possible.

So anytime those moments occur, I just… I get so blown away by that kind of innovation.

Alexa: Andrew, I literally could talk to you for hours. Everybody out there, if you haven’t already downloaded, head to, download Citizen immediately. And Andrew, I can’t thank you enough for joining us today. And everyone, you can catch me next week on Inc. The Founder Project, with Alexa von Tobel.

Andrew, sincerely, thank you.

Andrew: Thank you so much. This was great.

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