RIP Andrew Platkin

It's been a long two years...

Last Monday marked 2 years since we lost Andrew Platkin.

Describing him as the smartest and kindest person I’ve ever met would be an understatement. He was our first CTO, a cofounder, a brother… and he tragically passed away 6 months after we launched beehiiv.

With all of the recent excitement and success surrounding the business, I’ve taken a bit more time lately to reflect on everything. It’s been a hell of a journey. But beehiiv wouldn’t be what is today if it weren’t for Andrew’s early contributions.

So 2 years removed from the worst day of my life, I wanted to reflect just a little more and share his story.

I never took classes to learn how to code in school, and I never had a real internship or job as a software engineer.

I taught myself how to code so I could build a startup with a few friends in college. And as a self-taught developer, I legit always had insecurities when building anything. Still do.

But when I joined Morning Brew I somehow I found myself in charge of running the engineering team. Granted, it’s easy to be in charge when you’re the only one… but I eventually hired and led a team of five engineers.

Here I was, a self-taught software developer, making key engineering decisions responsible for the day-to-day operations of a company making millions of dollars per year.

Austin, one of Morning Brew’s cofounders, is a smart guy — he knew that was a risk. So he tapped some of his early investors for help, and one of them recommended his friend to be a technical advisor of sorts. His friend was Andrew.

I was a scrappy brute force type of engineer, but had never really built anything of scale. Andrew became someone I could lean on when I needed help.

And there were plenty of times where I needed help. At least a handful of instances where I fucked something up so badly and had absolutely no idea what to do.

I didn’t appreciate how special it was at the time: I would text him and he would drop whatever he was doing at his full-time job, spring into action with little-to-no context, and resolve whatever I had managed to mess up within a few minutes. He saved my ass a few too many times.

He never asked for any compensation from Morning Brew. He was genuinely just eager to help his friend who had invested in the company.

I left Morning Brew in the fall of 2020 to join YouTube as a Product Lead. Almost immediately, I began moonlighting beehiiv with Ben and Jake, spending every spare night and weekend building this thing.

It’s difficult to describe the immense anxiety and burnout from balancing a full-time job and a side project that also felt like a full-time job. There were ups and weeks where it felt like we were really onto something big. And there were downs and weeks where it felt like the end was never going to come.

During one of those down weeks, I got frustrated and reached out to Andrew. It was the first time I’d spoken to him in over a year. He was, coincidentally, already in talks to join another startup as CTO.

A few weeks later he told me that opportunity fell through, and so I pitched him on beehiiv and asked if he had any interest in helping out. We didn’t have any money to pay him, but he agreed to spend a few months building alongside of us for free to evaluate if it was a good fit.

It only took a few weeks until Ben and Jake got it. This guy was just different.

Brilliant doesn’t do it justice. I have never come across someone with a higher level of output than this guy. Today, beehiiv is known for the velocity at which we relentlessly ship new features. That part of the company DNA stems almost entirely from Andrew.

He’s the reason we were able to have a semi-working product by that summer. Enough to showcase something and raise a $2.6M seed round that July.

As soon as the money hit the bank we all quit our jobs and went full-time on beehiiv, including Andrew, who officially became our CTO. He even volunteered to take a huge pay cut relative to his previous job to ensure the little money we had raised would last as long as possible.

By April 2022, we were a small team of seven. At the time we didn’t have any formal 1:1 meetings, or really any processes for that matter. But on the night of Thursday April 28th, I spontaneously ended up chatting with him for hours on a video call.

It felt like we could have talked for days. Our first ever company offsite was the following week in Austin, and he was so eager to meet most people on the team for the first time. His excitement and optimism about the business was so palpable.

The early startup environment is so stressful. Andrew was working around the clock and putting out fires, sometimes it was hard to tell if he was truly enjoying it. But I left that conversation so relieved and reassured to know that he was loving every second of the journey.

The next morning he dropped a message in the team Slack that he wasn’t feeling well and was going to lay down for a bit. It was just a normal Friday morning, no one thought twice about it.

That was the last time we ever heard from him.

I was in Malibu, finishing a hike with some friends that Saturday morning when I got call from his best friend with the news. I’ll never forget that day. I pulled my car over, walked out to the beach, sat on a large rock and cried for hours.

We were supposed to spend the next week together in Austin. We were supposed to spend the next years of our lives together building something meaningful.

I felt so much guilt at the time. Because as much as I loved Andrew as the kind and incredible person he was… it was impossible for me not to conflate his passing with the business implications. And I hated that.

I just wanted to mourn and be alone.

But I was also responsible for making sure this company stayed afloat. We had real employees, who trusted me and had given up well-paying jobs elsewhere to join us. I had an obligation to them and their families to ensure this thing didn’t fall apart.

There was a real moment in time where I thought the entire thing was just going to fold…

  • We had just begun experiencing our first real scaling issues, which Andrew was in the middle of resolving.

  • We were already behind and falling short on promises we made to existing users.

  • We had just tragically lost our X-factor, leader, and friend.

But I buried my sadness in work. I think everyone on the team did. I can’t say enough about the response the team had in the following weeks to rally and ensure we didn’t throw it all away.

A week later I headed to Memphis for the funeral.

If there’s an angel on this earth, it’s Marci Platkin, Andrew’s mother. I called her for the first time while waiting for my flight at LAX and I immediately understood how Andrew came to be as kind as he was.

She thanked me a thousand times for coming to Memphis, for having Andrew work with us, for truly believing in him. She said she had heard so much about me and was excited to finally meet, and that Andrew’s favorite cookies were waiting for me in my hotel room in Memphis.

A text from Marci Platkin

The funeral was tough, but all of his best friends welcomed me with open arms.

I knew Andrew was a remarkable person just from working with him and getting a glimpse into his personal life. But I learned a whole lot more from his friends that day:

  • He had always been obsessed with building startups. His friends had a running joke about the number of failed apps he had built.

  • His postgrad roommate shared how he couldn’t get a software job immediately out of college. So he woke up at 5:00am every morning for a year before work to take online courses and study for job interviews.

  • He was a regular donor at the local food bank in his neighborhood in Chicago.

  • His last roommate said he never left the house without bringing a few spare dollars with him to give to the homeless. That he would go out of his way to hit an ATM and withdrawal cash whenever he could.

From the group chat at the funeral

They all had the context that I didn’t. Andrew had always been so passionate and driven. He was the “startup guy” in their friend group and had failed so many times. But he was finally a part of something special. Something that was working, with people who believed in him.

It all finally made sense to me.

When startups give equity to employees or founders, it usually vests over the course of four years, and there’s usually a “cliff period” of one year. If an employee leaves prior to the cliff period, they don’t receive any equity.

Startup equity vesting schedule with a cliff period

Andrew was officially with us for less than a year, so by the rule of the contract he wasn’t obligated to receive any of his equity. But we wouldn’t have been anywhere without his contributions.

We made the very easy decision to accelerate his equity and gift it to his mother.

Knowing that his mother owns a piece of this company gives me boundless amounts of motivation to build this into something special. Knowing that a piece of Andrew remains with us means everything to me.

Fast forward to May 2023, we were in the midst of raising our Series A and Lightspeed and other investors were eager to get more shares. They asked if any existing shareholders would be willing to sell, so I reached out to all of them, Marci included.

She declined.

Email exchange with Marci re Series A

And just a month ago, with our Series B, she was given another opportunity to sell enough to own an entire neighborhood in Memphis.

She declined again so she could remain a part of the company her son helped create. She’s riding it til the end, whatever that ends up being.

There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not reminded that I’m doing this for so much more than just myself.

My desk

Life is so short, live it purposefully.

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Credit: Christina Ducruet

I can’t imagine the bill for maintaining that shrubbery but holy zen. Thanks to Christina for the reader submission.

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Some of my favorite content I found on the internet this week…

  • Big Tech is pouring money into AI and I loved Ben Thompson’s breakdown on why this time might be different for Meta (Stratechery)

  • Mr. Beast breaks with his management company, Night Media (Semafor)

  • Stack Overflow signs deal with OpenAI (TechCrunch)

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