Ari Mir is co-founder and CEO of Clutter, an on-demand storage and moving startup. He started taekwondo at five years old (after seeing *The Karate Kid),* earned a black belt and a gold medal in the Junior Olympics by age 12—and promptly “retired” from the sport.
What is something you’ve learned that you lean on daily?
The value of re-prioritizing a roadmap. As circumstances and resources change, so should your priorities. I once spent a year of my life working on a sports-centric social network called MyStreak, only to launch and realize no one wanted to use it. If I’d launched with a minimum viable product, gathered feedback and iterated, I would have prioritized different features. I also wouldn’t have wasted all that time, and would have had the energy to build a v2.
At Clutter, our vision has not changed since inception. But I tell the team it’s important to challenge the plan along the way and ask ourselves, “Is this the best use of our resources? Is this what’s going to unlock the next level?”
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting a company?
The size of your addressable market matters most. I give Roelof Botha credit for teaching me that lesson. Before Clutter, I pitched two other startups to Sequoia, twice each. Every time, he reminded me the opportunity wasn’t big enough.
It’s not that you’ll fail if the market is small. With one of my previous companies, despite the small addressable market, we created a sustainable, profitable business and my co-founder eventually took it over. If you find an opportunity you’re passionate about, the market size matters less. But for me, the right advice was to pursue something bigger.
I remember when we pitched Clutter, I basically put my entire 30-year vision for the company in the slide about market size. I was worried about making it clear to Roelof that the opportunity was big and that it warranted time and capital. Hilariously, he said, “Stop, stop. Storage is big enough!”
What small change has made a big difference in your life?
I started using my iPad to make art. It stretches a different part of my mind and helps me focus on something besides work, which allows my subconscious to run in the background and draw the connections needed to derive insights.
I use a fantastic app called Procreate. With digital art, the barriers to entry are so much lower. You can move through the learning curve at a fundamentally different pace. If I were going to the art store every time I need a canvas or some paint, it would not only be cost-prohibitive, it would take too much time. With the iPad, I can try out hundreds of mediums in a day.
What don't you know that you wish you knew?
Which relationships to focus on at a given time. There are only so many hours in a day, so it’s likely you’ll under-invest in some people. I’d like to know who I should spend more time with and when, both personally and professionally. That’s one of the hardest parts about being a CEO. I often ask my leadership team to help me understand who needs more of my time, whether it’s them, their peers or the people they manage.
I’ve been using the time when I’m stuck in L.A. traffic to call people. We’re so used to texting and messaging on Facebook or Instagram, I think we forget the power of a phone call.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
Right now I’m reading The Everything Store, by Brad Stone, about the rise of Amazon. It’s helped me remember peaks and valleys actually lead to the best outcomes. There were definitely instances at Amazon where they got ahead of themselves and messed up. There’s no way to be perfect when you’re ambitiously pursuing something complex. At Clutter, we say it’s okay to be imperfect, as long as we’re improving.
I’ve been an avid reader since I was a kid. I emigrated here from France when I was four, and I struggled with English at first. It was my third language. So my mom made sure I had a lot of books. I read countless Choose Your Own Adventure books. I read Nancy Drew. I was a sucker for Michael Crichton books like Congo and Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain.
I’ve always loved Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I reread that every now and then. I’m also obsessed with biographies and autobiographies. If you read enough of them, you start to see patterns and common traits among successful people. One of my favorites is Open, by Andre Agassi. It’s one of the most candid autobiographies I’ve ever read.
When did you realize you were wrong about something?
At the first Sequoia Base Camp event, I got into a conversation with Lynn Jurich from SunRun about managing culture across employee groups—like full-time and part-time, or salaried and hourly. She made the argument for many cultures and employee experiences within one company. As someone who’d never dealt with those challenges, I was blindly optimistic about having one culture and employee experience and very passionately argued my stance. Then a few years into Clutter, I realized she was absolutely right and I was completely wrong.
Holiday schedules are a good example. Our salaried team members have those days off, but for someone who’s paid by the hour, we give them the option to work. They don’t have to, but we don’t force them to limit that earning potential, either. It’s the same principle with expansions. When we’re a global company someday, am I going to impose my American culture on the employees at Clutter Tokyo? As a company, we share a set of core, high-level values. But we need many different cultures and employee experiences to be successful.
What unit of time matters the most and why?
I feel like I’m brilliant in the shower—and lose a lot of IQ points as soon as I step out. That’s when I’m most creative, because there are no distractions. My team is probably sick of me saying, “I had this great idea in the shower this morning.”
I think the key is to get in as soon as you wake up, so you can ride the coattails of whatever was happening in your subconscious while you slept. It’s orders of magnitude less productive when I do anything beforehand. Sometimes I’ll skip a morning workout just so I can jump in the shower and see what I dream up.
- Be better, not perfect
- Relax your brain
- One company, many cultures
— Ari Mir, Co-Founder & CEO, Clutter