Founder’s Corner: Key Insights from Season 1
To be a great leader, become a better listener
“One of the things I do is get a lot of feedback from the team and the community on what’s happening in the industry. Over the years, I spend a lot more time just listening. I try to synthesize all the information I’m gathering, because if you’re not listening, you might miss cues that could change the course of your direction and put you closer to what you want to accomplish.”
Effectively leverage your board
“I believe the board needs to serve the company and the CEO, and not vice versa. They’ve got to earn their role on the board and I try to leverage them as much as possible in a very constructive way. I keep a list of things I’m trying to accomplish and challenges we’re currently facing, and then I have our board members sign up to help us tackle those items. This has made our board much more engaged, and it helps our board better understand the realities and challenges we’re facing.”
Manage people’s strengths, not their weaknesses
“Once you’ve passed that litmus test of having a great attitude and capabilities, we’ll figure out what you’re really good at and we’ll go a hundred percent with that. Working at a startup isn’t like school. As CEO, it’s not my job to sand my employees’ rough edges. Instead, we work together to figure out what they’re really good at, and then we focus on using that skill to the fullest. I love when people like to try new things and push themselves, but continually hitting your head against a wall doesn’t feel very good, nor is it very productive.”
Leadership should set the example for listening to customers
“Since the beginning, I’ve been pretty obsessive about doing customer support. We don’t have a support person. If there’s a support person, it’s in large part me. The way we view this is that the most influential or most senior people on the team should be doing the most support because they need to know most of what’s going on. It’s a really good way for me to figure out what’s working, what isn’t working, what do we need to do better, what we need to double down on, what (customers) love and don’t love. This is probably the highest value activity I engage in. Ultimately we, as a business, exist to serve teachers and their students. If the product isn’t serving their needs, nothing else matters.”
Hire well so you can make yourself useless
“I spend most of my time meeting people and searching for talent. I have great people who help me screen. If you bring A players, A players bring more A players because their benchmark is way higher. If you bring someone that is not an A player, it has a strong negative effect on the quality of the people that you will attract and the quality of the work that you will produce.
Also, remember that no one can build a company by themselves. One of my partners says, ‘Hire well and manage less.’ My goal is to be useless inside dr.consulta. If I get there, I’ll have been successful, meaning everybody else is so productive and they don’t need me anymore. That’s my end goal.”
It’s okay to have doubt, but don’t be crippled by it
“It’s good to have doubt and be scared. It’s healthy. For example, there are a whole host of things that keep me up at night — prioritization of product features, hiring, burn, when to do the next round of financing, what happens to the business when the macroeconomic environment changes.. But at some point, you need to keep moving forward. One of my favorite movies is The Martian. My favorite part was the end of the movie. Essentially, the Martian had a decision. What was he going to do? He could get paralyzed with doubt. Instead, he just thought through the problem, solved it, and went on to the next one. I just thought that was a wonderful movie, a wonderful ending, and a great example for how we should live our life.”
Don’t make things too complicated
“It may feel counterintuitive, but in my experience, in general it’s best not to overthink things. Don’t make things complicated. Just look at the problem in front of you and solve that problem. Then move onto the next one.
So, if you don’t have the team to build a great product, go hire great people. If you have a great team but you don’t have customers, focus on establishing a solid customer base. I generally don’t overthink things beyond that. Just focus on the main problem directly in front of you and solve it as fast as you can.”
Put core values in place to codify your culture, not invent it
“Don’t set your core values too early. Establish them somewhere between 18–24 months of starting a company which is when you have a culture already established, and a group of people with a shared mission and a shared set of values. If you let the culture develop, you walk the walk, your leadership team walks the walk, you may get to a point where you say, ‘You know, now is the time to tell everybody what they probably already know is important. Now we’re going to print it out so that everyone can see it and agree on it.’
To figure out what your core values are, look at what’s already present. What are the values that are already being shared amongst employees about your customers or your industry? These are the shared values and experiences that you have as a team, as a culture, and as a company. I don’t think you can set them in a room by yourself and then walk out and say, ‘OK everybody, here are our core values.’ That would be inauthentic. It probably would fall flat and wind up being posters in a conference room that nobody reads.”
We learned a lot from our Season 1 guests, and only just scratched the surface. For Season 2, we’ve lined up a group of incredible entrepreneurs with insights on innovation, scaling up without losing sight of goals, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Season 2 kicks off next week with Wealthfront Cofounder and CEO Andy Rachleff!