Block's COO On The Renovation Industry, User-Centricity, and Ultramarathons
Since joining Block in 2022, Julie Kheyfets has spearheaded transformational change within the business— helping introduce new product lines, streamline processes, and adapt the business to a changing economic landscape. We sat down to chat with her about her trajectory here, her thoughts on the industry, and her impressive background as an ultramarathon runner.
Just to start, I'd love to hear a little bit more about the overall trajectory of your career.
I started my career as a management consultant, which was a great way to quickly learn about the business world and build up my core toolkit. It gave me a foundation that I could use to approach a range of questions: how do you analyze business problems, how do you communicate, how do you make decisions.
I then spent some time working at Facebook on the Business Operations team. There I got to see how a larger tech company makes critical decisions, especially when it comes to growth. Right before joining Block, I spent four years at a UK-based company that specializes in computer vision for accident and disaster recovery. I built out and grew the North American business, which helped that company to become one of the first computer vision unicorns in the world.
Eventually, I met some folks from the Block team and was really blown away by how smart, motivated, kind, and collaborative everybody was. I realized this was the group of people I wanted to build the next big thing with, and here I am today!
Was there anything specific about Block that stood out to you?
By far the number one thing was the people. It’s really, really hard to build a company – so it’s critical to do that with the right people.
The second thing was the market opportunity. Renovation is a $450 billion industry, and despite the tremendous amount of spend, a lot of people (both homeowners and contractors) still have a poor experience. For systemic reasons, delivering a great renovation experience at scale is incredibly challenging – this is why no one had cracked it yet. The opportunity to tackle such a big challenge, with great people, ultimately drew me in.
You’ve now been at Block for over 6 months. Is there anything that lies ahead that you are particularly excited about?
You know, it's a really interesting time to build a company. Over the last few years, the venture world saw a big focus on growth at all costs. It’s relatively easy to grow when capital is abundant. That kind of environment can obscure which companies are building something great and enduring, versus which ones are just committing a lot of resources to growth.
Today, given the market, there's a lot of focus on unit economics – essentially having a sound business model. So not just getting a bunch of customers at any cost, but bringing on customers and delivering on your promises with the right economics and the right operating structure. And Block is really well positioned to do that; we’re incredibly reflective about what we're building, whether it scales, and whether it's both financially and operationally sound.
What do you think is central to achieving that?
I think the number one thing is obsessively and deeply understanding your users. To build a great company, you have to find a thorny user problem – so thorny, that no one has solved it yet – and figure out a lasting, impactful, defensible solution. And that solution has to be something you can deliver in a financially sound way. It’s not easy!
At Block, I love that we are tackling the messy problem of home renovation. If we can crack this at scale, we will make it meaningfully easier for millions of homeowners to improve the spaces they live in and help thousands of contractors to grow their businesses.
This is a complete side-bar, but I also heard you run ultramarathons? How’d you get into that?
Yes, I run ultras and primarily focus on the 100 mile distance. I first started running half-marathons and marathons in 2013 and then got exposed to the ultra world through a friend I was volunteering with. Then I went straight into the deep end. Moderation has never been a strength of mine! If I like something, I am all in — and that's what happened with ultra running.
It might be a bit corny to ask, but would you say there are parallels to training for an ultramarathon and say, your work here at Block?
I love that comparison. A couple of things come to mind: when you train for ultramarathons, the number one thing is to build a sound foundation. There is never a single training session or a single run that is a silver bullet. You need to consistently build a base of aerobic fitness with which you can complete the race. And I think that's the same thing for Block — we’ve built and are now in the process of really refining our operating foundation. So the combination of processes and technology that will enable us to scale will let us “run” farther and farther.
I think another piece is this: when you’re running an ultramarathon, you’ll have very high highs, and very low lows. The only thing that's guaranteed is that if you are in a high, a low is coming. If you're at a low, there will be a high. But as long as you maintain a long distance perspective, you can look past what’s happening right now and continue to make progress. You have a long, exciting, and fulfilling journey ahead — that’s very much the case with Block.