Taro · Rahul Pandey & Alex Chiou

Taro's mission is to give software engineers an insider perspective on career growth, using the wisdom of engineering leaders at top tech companies.

February 7, 2023
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Table of contents

  • Taro
  • Founders - Rahul Pandey & Alex Chiou
  • Redwood City, California - USA
  • Started in 2022
  • 3 employees
  • 6 figure ARR
  • $500K in seed funding from Y Combinator
  • www.jointaro.com

Hey Rahul. What's your backstory?

I have been a software engineer my entire career. I grew up in Michigan, not thinking much about computers, but my entire worldview shifted when I came to Stanford for university.

All of a sudden, being in Silicon Valley and being surrounded by tons of ambitious students who were doing amazing things with software, it became the clear choice. At Stanford in 2010, it almost felt like the choice wasn't "should you study Computer Science?". It was more "why would you NOT study Computer Science?".

So in that environment, I threw myself into coding, starting with developing a personal website, then building Android apps, and then getting into Machine Learning and Recommendation Systems.

I ended up spending 5 years at Stanford getting a bachelor's and master's degree in Computer Science. After graduation, I joined a startup that got acquired, I spent a few years working at Pinterest when it was growing rapidly. Then I spent 4.5 years working at Facebook (now Meta) on some new product initiatives.

I managed to do reasonably well in my career, getting a bunch of promotions and ending up as a Tech Lead Manager (TLM). Still, one pattern I noticed, again and again, was that there was a massive difference between coding and software engineering. The skills required to be successful on the job and the skills taught in school are wildly different.

The other important point to the story is that throughout my career, I was always doing something. Whether it was building a Slack bot, publishing a few Android apps, or teaching mobile development to others, I was always tinkering.

This led me to start my own YouTube channel in late 2019 eventually. My goal was to document my learnings doing Android. Eventually, I shifted my content toward career navigation, and I slowly discovered that an audience actually started to value what I was saying.

At the same time, I met my cofounder Alex at Meta, and we both had a passion for content creation and career growth.

We started holding free seminars during the pandemic about topics relevant to software engineers under a community called "Tech Career Growth". These events grew to have thousands of attendees per event.

What does your company do?

Taro's mission is to give software engineers an insider perspective on career growth, using the wisdom of engineering leaders at top tech companies.

Taro contains curated content organized by level, company, and topic. This makes our advice significantly more valuable than anonymous (often troll) comments on Reddit or Blind.

Especially in a post-pandemic world where many engineers are hungry for credible interaction with others, Taro offers a safe space for ambitious software engineers. This translates to faster promotion, stress-free onboarding, and more confidence for our users.

How did you come up with the idea?

The idea was born out of (1) running the massive Tech Career Growth community that had thousands of members and (2) asking ourselves the question, "what would we have wanted to use as we were navigating our software engineering career?"

For the Taro name, there were 3 main constraints we had on a name:

  1. It should be short (4-8 characters).
  2. There should be a good domain for it, ideally a ".com" website URL.
  3. It should have positive associations.

How did you go about building and launching the business?

We had been building up an audience for more than a year before we decided to charge for something.

"Launching" for us meant that we sold membership in something called Taro Premium. The initial promise was 1:1 time with us to discuss your career questions and full access to our content library. The "content library" in the beginning was simply cutouts from previous live sessions we had done.

How have you grown the business?

The main growth vectors so far have been:

  1. My YouTube channel. 70% of paid members initially discover us through YouTube. Most of my videos have a plug for Taro at some point.
  2. Live events: every few months, we hold a free, live Zoom call about a topic relevant to many software engineers ("surviving layoffs", "how to evaluate a manager"). We work hard to provide tons of value in these sessions and then plug Taro Premium at the end.

What 's your biggest selling product?

We only have one product we're selling, Taro Premium

What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?

We are building an Education and Community product, both of which are notoriously difficult. The challenge with an education product is that it's counter to how most people think about spending money.

Generally, you spend money to save time or reduce hassle. For example, I call an Uber to save time in getting from point A to point B.

But for an education product, people are paying money to spend more time and do more work. The whole EdTech sector has this challenge, which makes building habitual products challenging. Why would anyone pay to eat their broccoli when they could just as easily get some chocolate??

However, helping software engineers get promoted has vast implications for the individual and company. So one way to remedy this problem (and one we're still working through) is to better cater for employers.

Our long-term strategy is to leverage our existing B2C users to make B2B sales significantly simpler. Taro is a natural fit for this since we are explicitly not focused on helping our users with interview prep. Instead, there's a natural alignment between Taro, the employee, and the employer.

What's next for you and your business?

Many companies have substantial learnings budgets for their employees, ranging from $500 to $2000 per year. Employers want their employees to use this budget, but it is often wasted.

We've found some initial success here, but we could do much more in tapping into the learning budgets of employed software engineers. To capitalise on this trend, we are implementing things like a referral program and better organisation by topic/company.

What digital tools do you use regularly?

  • Zoom to hold our live events (live transcription has been very helpful since many of our users watch without audio)
  • Slack for community management
  • Loops to send out emails
  • Firebase for app development (native mobile apps and Next.js on web)

What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?

Any podcasts, websites that help you run your business?

  • IndieHackers - lots of honest stories from people who feel "approachable"
  • My First Million - lots of honest stories from people who are aspirational (we hope to get there soon)

Any quotes you live by?

"Progress over perfect"
"No one pays attention to you as much as you pay attention to yourself."

What do you love and hate about being a founder?

I love the ability to think of an idea, work closely with our team to execute on it, and then launch it. Taking something from an idea to reality is addicting.

I hate when other founders ask if I'm interested in working at their company.

What do you do to look after your mental health as a founder?

Physical activity has been vital for me. My default activity is pickleball, which I am lucky to be able to play outdoors year-round here in California.

I also have a simple at-home gym workout involving push-ups, planking, and an ab workout which I do most days.

In a few words, sum up what it means to be the founder of a business.

"Enjoying the grind while maintaining your self-belief."

What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?

Just get started. Focus on a clear short-term objective that motivates you.

Embrace the fact that many things can (and will) go wrong, but in the process of taking that first step, you'll have spawned a ton more ideas you would only have gotten because you got started.

Nothing is worse than the regret of what could have been.

What business trends to you see taking place?

Creators using their distribution to build products.

Where can people find out more about your business?

I'm pretty active on YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter!

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