An early-stage founder asked me over dinner, how we explore new paths and product ideas to accelerate growth at Sendbird. I’d like to share a program we introduced earlier this year at our company. We spun up a small tiger team to tackle a new idea. Operating like a small startup, this team was self-contained to a certain extent (e.g. PM, engineer, & designer), was given the autonomy to go talk to customers, pitch an idea of an offering, price things and sell if they needed to, and prototype a working model. An executive (in this case myself) was sponsoring the initiative, so that we can unblock resources and processes along the way.
Initially, the team booked an airbnb in Vancouver Canada, and lived & worked there together for a month. I also flew out to spend 2 weeks with the team (I had to come back earlier due to our quarterly board meeting) but for me it was one of the most productive times since Sendbird entered growth/later stage!
“Leading for Hypergrowth by Raising Expectations, Increasing Urgency, and Elevating Intensity”
Frank Slootman is Chairman and CEO of Snowflake. He recently wrote a short book on business management “Amp It Up”, sharing his experience from days at Data Domain, ServiceNow, and Snowflake.
In his book, Chapter 6 talks about “hiring drivers, not passengers” and below is some excerpts from the book:
Passengers are people who don’t mind simply being carried along by the company’s momentum, offering little or no input, seemingly not caring much about the direction chosen by management. They are often pleasant, get along with everyone, attend meetings promptly, and generally do not stand out as troublemakers. They are often accepted into the fabric of the organization and stay there for many years.
The problem is that while passengers can often diagnose and articulate a problem quite well, they have no investment in solving it. They don’t do the heavy lifting. They avoid taking strong positions at the risk of being wrong about something. They can take any side of an issue, depending on how the prevailing winds are blowing. In large organizations especially, there are many places to hide without really being noticed. …
Drivers, on the other hand, get their satisfaction from making things happen, not blending in with the furniture. They feel a strong sense of ownership for their projects and teams and demand high standards from both themselves and others. They exude energy, urgency, ambition, even boldness. Faced with a challenge, they usually say, “Why not” rather than “That’s impossible.”
These qualities make drivers massively valuable. Finding, recruiting, rewarding, and retaining them should be among your top priorities. Recognize them privately and publicly, promote them, and elevate them as example of what others should aspire to. That will start waking up those who are merely along for the ride. Celebrate people who own their responsibilities, take and defend clear positions, argue for their preferred strategies, and seek to move the dial.
This is a note for the future, to adapt the company and self through a global pandemic caused by COVID-19. I have full trust that the world will have a better playbook to deal with such pandemic in the future.
Short-term Shock and Long-term Recovery
While it’s uncertain how long the Covid-19 global pandemic will last, the impact on the overall economy is real, as seen from some of the markets where Covid-19 hit earlier, the consumer industries are already experiencing real loss of business. The travel industry collapsed, airlines in Korea are down by 80%, freights revenue down by 44%, ship manufacturing revenue down by 76%, and so forth. These are not the market caps, but the actual revenue decreases already being realized as months have gone by since the initial outbreak of Covid-19. Now the impact data on U.S. economy is starting to surface and except for a few industries (e.g. digital healthcare, online education, food delivery, grocery, etc.), most industries are getting crushed. Unemployment ratio is rocketing through the roof and companies and physical stores are shutting down with massive lay offs.
The information and knowledge I know today will quickly become obsolete as years go by, so instead of focusing on the transfer of knowledge, I came to believe that providing a useful set of core values and life’s frameworks are more scalable for the generations of family members. So here is the 1st version of family core values.
The core value is to help our family live and grow with a purpose and meaning in life. It will help us prioritize, make decisions, stay genuine and consistent, maintain integrity, with a long-term perspective. This is a living document and we should continue to evolve it throughout the generations.
The theme of the core values is “Entrepreneurship (企業家精神, 기업가정신)”. Entrepreneurship is a mindset and a way of living as a leader, that involves identifying problems and opportunities, coming up with solutions to those problems, and executing them resourcefully and tenaciously to create significant value to the world.
Our Family’s 4 Core Values
1. Positive Tenacity
Positive tenacity means we’re being tenacious towards positive missions and goals. It means we look at the future with optimism and execute with high energy. We are biased towards action and we believe in positive changes. We get things done by being resourceful. We work smarter and harder to achieve our goals. We are tenacious and pursue our dreams relentlessly.
We are the leaders and we take responsibility in any situation regardless of the circumstances. We embody first-principle thinking and decision making. We uphold our integrity and always do the right thing. We are able to think both strategically and tactically. We are independent thinkers. We also know the importance of great communication and being positive examples to others. We believe the good in people and focus on their strengths and positives, rather than their shortcomings and negatives. We inspire people to take action and lead towards a positive future.
3. Learn & Adapt
The world and the universe is constantly changing and the only way to survive and grow is to adapt to the changing world rapidly. We continuously learn and adapt to any environment. Adaptation is not a single event, but a continuous and never-ending state of being. It means to learn anything as quickly as possible, stay curious throughout our entire lives, never get complacent, always pursue becoming better than the best.
4. Think Long-term
We are long-term forward thinkers. We aspire to a positive future and make that dream become a reality. We live with a long-term perspective and are patient through our lives, stay generous and resilient, and are able to embrace the challenges with a long-term view.
I enjoy watching stand-up comedies. People like Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Mike Birbiglia, Trevor Noah, Ryan Hamilton, John Mulaney comes to mind. I’ve been watching the shows to learn English (great teachers, I know) and pick up some useful dialog patterns to use during sales calls.
I think there’s something magical about stand-up comedies. There’s a great balancing act of psychology how comedians connect with the audience. The comedian captures the audience, puts them in a situation, then does something completely unexpected or extreme that gives catharsis to the audience, letting them play a role that will not likely happen in their own life, things they will not likely do or say. And it creates a seemingly spontaneous reaction in a form of a laughter to so many diverse people in the room, which has been carefully planned and perfected by the comedian.
We all know this, because even though comedies are hard to create, are easy to enjoy.
When I was young, I’ve fantasized about the Wall Street and its masculine bossy cultures. I’m not sure if I admired it, but it was fun to watch in the movies and I felt the catharsis of running a fast-paced organization full of workers doing homogeneous jobs, with the boss being the absolute best at it. Like those Chinese martial art movies where the teacher is the best martial artist in the country.
It became clear to me this was not always the case. In reality, the junior investment bankers stayed up late, crunched numbers, done researches and wrote reports, while their bosses went out to grab drinks and have fun. When the juniors got promoted, they too became like their bosses, reaping on high salary and bonuses while getting the new blood to serve them well. Deep inside, I’ve always felt this wasn’t really the kind of leader I respected nor wanted to become.
When I worked for a tech company back in my early 20s, our team’s manager was an eccentric guy. He joked a lot, sounded silly from time to time, didn’t seem that intense or focused on work, felt like he was laid back most of the time.
Last week, NASA announced that they found 7 Earth-like planets just 39 light years away, with 3 of them in the goldilocks zone. This could probably be the most exciting news of 2017 (non-work related).
The chance of meeting another civilization in the universe that happens to be in the right timeframe between the beginning and the extinction is pretty slim, but if we were to meet another, this could be both exciting and terrifying. Considering how much human civilization advanced within the past century or so, it’s hard to imagine where we will be in 100 years from now. This kind of advancement are almost always non-linear in nature. Where will we be in 1,000 years? 10,000?
With Founders Pledge, founders can sign a pledge to donate some portion of their personal equity and then figure out the recipients for the donation later. Founders Pledge handles all the legwork. As a charity itself, pledges are eligible for tax relief at time of exit and funds can be deployed globally.
Founders Pledge (1) allows founders to decide now that charitable giving is important to them, (2) doesn’t impact other stockholders of their company and (3) requires only about 5 minutes of time and no participation costs. Founders Pledge also provides substantive post-exit support including cause area analysis, charity sourcing, deep due diligence, and impact reporting.
I’ve been keeping my donations private so far, but moving forward, I hope I can nudge someone out there just a little bit more by making my commitments more open and public.
I believe in the quote “be the change you want to see in the world.”
As a mere mortal, I’ve made lots of mistakes in the past and will continue to make more mistakes, but hopefully this will be one of those decisions that will be certain to bring good outcomes.
At Y Combinator‘s Tuesday dinner event last Tuesday (2/23/2016), Michael Moritz came for a talk. It was deeply inspiring to see him in person, but it was even more energizing to see him still so ‘obsessed’ about his work at Sequoia Capital.
Here’s a brief excerpt from his talk:
That’s what, at Sequoia, we’ve always been focused on: How do we maintain a consistent level of exceptional performance? Most entities, most organizations are capable of doing it through a year, or five years, maybe ten years. Very few are able to do it over multiple decades. And I’m not saying that we’re exemplary, but we’ve worked really, really hard on trying to perform at an extremely high level.
How have we done it? It all sounds very, very mundane. You can read a book about the principles of high performance, or great leadership, and it’ll all sound very straightforward and rudimentary. The difficulty is doing it every day, doing it every week, month, quarter, year, and keeping that beat up.
Which is part of the reason we don’t have all sorts of lucite blocks commemorating this or that anniversary of some company hanging around the office at Sequoia: Because all of that is yesterday, and it’s irrelevant to the future.
One thing I’ve noticed going through Y Combinator was how consistent were the messages repeated by the partners, the staffs, and the alumni network. As a startup founder, you should do two things: “write code and talk to users.” The more recent version is: “build product, talk to customers, and exercise” – which I think is a natural evolution, since YC funds a lot of non-software-only companies these days and the partners are getting a bit older. 😉
The entire message is around “Growth” and the way to get there is by writing code and talking to users. And stop doing anything else. Sounds simple, right?
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