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How can you make your employees happy? It’s a very simple question with a complex solution. The Product Development Head of TINYpulse, Dave Hajdu, brings this into light and shares how they’re able to help thousands of companies figure out how their employees feel and perform. He emphasizes the importance of communication between the COO and CEO, and gives out strategies on how one-on-ones can be effective through feedback. He touches on the subject of people being more than just numbers, and how employee’s thoughts are still as valuable.
Dave spent the last couple of years of his life helping leaders use technology to enhance their business value. For a few of those years, it was in the outsourcing space where, at Vinasource, they built hundreds of applications for companies ranging from employee number one to his old employer, Microsoft. In 2012, a friend of his came to him with an idea to solve a simple mission, make employees happier. With that, came the birth of TINYpulse. At TINYpulse, they helped over 1,000 companies around the world and discovered how their team members are feeling and performing. Several years ago, he had the privilege of joining the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, EO, where he is championing a new chapter in Saigon. Through this group of amazing individuals, he’s learned so much about how fellow members run their businesses. Saigon has also been amazing to Dave, and many others, he’s fallen in love with her. It brings him great pleasure to harness his life experiences and work with successful companies as they set up shop in Saigon and build amazing teams.
Dave, welcome to the show.
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
I’m looking forward to this. I remember when Dave brought you on board. I remember sitting with Dave in Seattle around October of 2012. Did you join shortly after that?
I’ve been here since day one because when he had the idea and we built the product together, I joined officially about a year or so later, probably halfway 2013.
I remember sitting with him late October 2012 at the Hyatt Seattle and he was talking about you coming on board. I’m explaining you to me and I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t understand technology.” He knew you and knew the fit so it’s going to be great. It sounds like you had a great ride.
It’s probably the most challenging experience in my career because we went through this hyper-growth and it was super exciting. We couldn’t do wrong and then all of a sudden, you hit this wall and you have challenges. I remember our lead investors, Steve Anderson with the Baseline Ventures capital. He is one of the premier investors in the world. If you’re in their office and one of the staff was like, “This is odd that this is happening. Are you concerned?” He was like, “There’s not a single company out of the best that doesn’t go through similar challenges.” It’s a learning for me. It’s been an awesome ride.
I want to learn about the ride and about the challenges, and what you have done to overcome them. Tell us a little bit more about TINYpulse so that everyone reading knows who they are. I’ve been talking about you for years from stages, telling people to use your product. Tell us what the product does.
In TINYpulse, our mission is to make employees happier. It’s interesting, talking to one of these candidates that we’re interviewing. In their family of smart people when he’s in mid-twenties years later, he’s like, “I want the entrepreneurial route. I worked for a great startup and pay scale. I’ve had such an amazing run and nobody else has.” Many companies are mismanaged. They don’t particularly know how to use employee feedback or care about employee feedback. They might want to do good coaching but they don’t know how to do good coaching. You get an individual contributor who becomes a manager and all a sudden, “What training do they have?”
I was listening to a video from Simon Sinek and we talked about that exact same thing. In TINYpulse, we’re trying to provide a platform for leaders to grow happy and high-performing people. We look at it in three pieces. One is, “How engaged are you at work?” You simply poll surveys for that and that’s where we started. The second is, “How are you performing?” We try to help managers in this space. We do better one-on-ones, better goal setting, and eventually rolling that into doing the evaluation. We don’t do the evaluation itself, but we try to help you do all the steps up to where you’re evaluating for money. The final piece of that is recognition. People being recognized for the great things they do. We’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with companies about the mission of making employees happier. It’s only been in the last couple of years where we’ve put that equation together. I don’t know a single person who’s got a ping pong table and all these great things that are not performing well and is happy at work. Our focus is on the coaching side, to improve that piece of a product.
It’s interesting when you talk about recognition. That was the first thing that I saw you adding on because I like the initial pulse of the employees to find out how they’re feeling. It’s like an employee net promoter score. You get the data and then you also get their comments around, and what they’re feeling and thinking. That was huge. You did this Cheers for Peers which is what your recognition is called. What I loved about it was this constant feedback loop that was positive. I was coaching a CEO about it and saying, “I don’t think as leaders, we do enough to say, ‘Great job. Thank you. You did an awesome job with leading on this initiative and living this core value.’ I don’t think it would be enough job with getting the other employees to do it with each other.” That’s huge. Has that been where a lot of the viral growth for TINYpulse came from then?
No. We want to encourage peer-to-peer Cheers but the primary usage of Cheers has been with managers to employees. Even without any focus on that, that has been it. We made a freemium offering with it and it didn’t stick. What we realized is that much of Cheers is, trim it off, get your survey and you answer. It’s like, “Who do you want to give recognition to?” We never cracked this idea of, “If Cameron did something great, do I even know about it for one?” When I know about it, “Will you stand up?” We do the Verne Harnish get-together in the morning and we’ll talk about wins first. I might hear these five great wins but I don’t have an app in front of me. I’m not giving Cheers. The time I get back to my desk, do I remember it? Our big challenge with Cheers now, if you were to look, it’s a standalone thing is how do we get them to be able to be in a place where they realize that they should be giving you a Cheers. It’s simple to do. That’s our challenge. One of the ways we’re tackling that and what makes our one-on-one offering unique is that the way the one-on-one works where you sync with your calendar 48 hours before.
All your reports get a pulse and it says, “What are you proud of? How do you feel? Give me on a scale of one to five.” The other one which is unique with us as we say, “Who should we giving recognition to that I don’t know about?” It gives that employee a chance to say, “Tom over here did this amazing thing,” and from there it links into Cheers. I just hit a button and I say, “Let’s send Cheers to that individual.” It’s trying to focus on the fact that managers are the primary driver of Cheers but also, they don’t know a lot of times who to give it to. We’re looking at how do we integrate better what’s in our products so that Cheers people love it and the NPS will be super high when we’re asking how I feel about Cheers. They don’t use it as much and we haven’t solved that problem. That’s one of our interesting challenges.
Tell me about in the early days back in 2013 when you were joining TINYpulse and Dave was walking you through his vision for the company. How did you get on the same page with the vision of what he was building? How do you stay on the same page now with each other considering you’re living in four or five time zones apart, two completely different countries?
We’re twelve hours apart. It’s night and day, literally. Our sync times are usually early morning for me and late afternoon or early evening, Seattle time. Getting on the same page was easy because the Entrepreneur’s Organization is where he introduced me. He was my sponsor. This is back when we have the outsourcing firm. My first event was at Nashville and you had a meeting with David scheduled. I was able to sit in. I saw you speak and then I was emotional.
We sat in a restaurant or somewhere downstairs.
You got to send one that they said it was full but I appreciate that. I remember that was an emotional talk that you’re far into. Meeting you was cool and that it wasn’t hard to get it to sync because I was there in New Zealand University when he started his career education. For those reading, what the founder did was he was getting a bit burnt out of his business and he doesn’t understand why. People’s management was hard so he took a few months off and packed up his family. We started at this conference in New Zealand. I was there with him at the time. From there, he went around the world and he’s going to meet entrepreneurs. At the end of every interview, he would say, “If there’s one HR problem that I can help you solve that you pay for, what would it be?” It was always around that sinking feeling when you lose a great employee and around during performance reviews. It’s challenging. I was there along the ride and I’d heard he’d always text me, “I got this feedback. I’m coming to Vietnam and we’re going to build something.” It wasn’t hard because I was involved from day zero.
How do we stay aligned? I don’t think that’s hard either because we talk all the time. We were friends before this thing. We’ve been able to maintain a good relationship where we quite often don’t have the same point of view on how to build a product but it’s always been challenging but respectful. We do these adept quarterly business reviews before a board meeting. We always spend about ten days together leading up to the board meeting. That’s why I’m relieved. We have to present. That’s all that’s left. We communicate a lot.
You do a ten-day business area review or is it you’re together for ten days?
It’s not formal but usually, I come out here about ten days before the board meeting. We get to spend a lot of time. People ask me, “How was the weekend?” I’m like, “It was great. It was David and me in the room talking about the board back.” It’s exhausting. He comes to Vietnam four times a year and I’m in Seattle about six times a year. We’re in person probably ten times a year at least.
When you’re doing that business area review, how do you review an area? What do you look into?
When we look at all pieces of the business and each one can have some KPIs for TINYpulse. There were challenges when we started off with a bang. There were hardly any competitors in space. Foreman’s review companies were separate from the engagement companies. Nowadays, it converged. Everybody has the vision that we started several years ago, which was a happy high-performing. You have companies like Lattice or 15Five that you use with your performance and now, they’re doing engagement. You have the engagement companies like Culture Amp and Glint, that now they’re doing a performance. It’s a crowded space and 2017 was probably the first year we encountered churn problems. That’s been our main focus for the last few board meetings. Our main KPI is, “Are we getting those early indicators to churn?” which we have a specific metric on that. That starts it off and then from there we look at sales bookings and marketing lead generation. We’re reviewing the key KPIs and then what’s the a-ha moments.
One of our interesting a-ha moments we found last board meeting is we’re driving through a bunch of data to try to figure out what is supporting these key things we’re looking at. One of them was days to launch. The old days, when you first saw TINYpulse, you sign up for a trial. When the trial ends, the paywall comes up. We’ve already launched before we even start paying as we moved into a more sophisticated sales model. Larger companies can’t launch like that. You’ve got a setup of their segments and all these things. We went from negative days to launch to 38. If you paid for what was supposed to be a tiny product and it’s taking you 38 days to launch, you’re probably not happy. That was a revelation that comes out of one of these reviews. We’re like, “Why are we having trouble getting these early indicators that will shoot not even launching?” Sixty-day metrics are not going to be good. It’s usually things like that that we’re deep diving in and I said, “Churn is our number one focus.” That’s where most of those conversations are.
In the early days from 2013 to 2014, you’re starting up the company and hiring some of your first people. I was at your office in Seattle one day and there were about fifteen total employees there. It seemed big. I was like, “There are fifteen people.” What were you doing back then to get that company launched and did to do so much with few people? Did you learn anything from those early days that you still do now?
When I joined full-time, I was number eight. We were small and we have hundreds of customers already. It was interesting because that team was this touchy-feely great customer success, like super customer-centric, and good at one-off like, “Let’s get on the phone with them. Let’s talk to them.” We used to call tiny round tables where we literally would fly out to a city, get eight to ten customers together, and share best practices. That was probably one of the coolest things that we did from a customer success perspective. One of the challenges as we grew was how do you scale that thing to use more technology? Back then, we did that well. We had all the support kids of the alias. The first person to see it would pick it up and it was super tight and collaborative. That was fun. That was when we have the highest happiness scores for our team and it was a happy time. You were a big influence on us. Our PR strategy was built around the learnings of Double Double and what you taught David. We treated PR as a sales function.
We would create great content. We were getting great data in and we were the first movers. If you look up to this day’s press, we’re in Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal. We probably have better PR historical than any of our competitor’s hands down. That was amazing for us. I remember when the BBC decided to write something about us and I don’t remember exactly what the content of the article was. It was signed up by 80 customers and it was crazy. Back then, there were a few competitions that, “If the BBC said it, we’ve got to go to these guys.” We had no salespeople. You came and you tried. See us and we’ll pick you up. When the paywall came up, you put your credit card down and you buy. It got harder over time. We had a few 25% conversion rate if you did a trial to when you buy which was phenomenal. I remember being in Vegas one time when we met with David and he’s like, “Do you see this number? This is how many trials we have. There’s 25% there.” That’s security money in the bank in three weeks and I was like, “It’s cool.”
Didn’t you start in the early days for free as well?
It was never free. It was always a fourteen-day trial.
I remember some discussion around when we were going to charge people or how we were going to charge people in service and surround that. My book, Free PR, might be great for you to take a look at it. It has some advanced strategies on how to leverage great publicity to scale the business and how with all the digital channels that you are in a great position.
We’ll definitely check that.
You got those early stages, then you went out and raised some money. You’ve done a couple of venture rounds. Talk to me about what you learn through that process.
We had a product-market fit clearly. We had a negative churn and you’re floating on air. We landed a huge deal with a massive client that shouldn’t have gotten at that size of an organization. Those are the perfect storm. The first round was $3.5 billion and when you raise money, prior to that, we were always cashflow breakeven and then it was like, “You’ve got to spend the money.” The first thing you do is start to scale up and she might have been in a room similar to this one I’m at now and we’re looking around. I’m like, “We had a lot of leadership for the number of employees we have.” We got accomplished people in the room. I call it stage appropriate. For the stage of our company, at that time, we had a VP of sales who came and had 300 employees. I came over that $200 million revenue or something like that. We also got these five people and he thought he would want that challenge, but he didn’t want to go in, coach people, and get dirty with the operations. We hired a few different people like that when we had an amazing guy and product but he’d been a CEO before. To come in and have one product manager reported to him was hard.
Those people that started their career and weren’t ready to grow. What ended up happening is the sales VP comes in and we scale sales fast. Our product-market fit at the same time was eroding because you’ve got different clients coming, different competition coming on board, and different needs. Each of our industry is getting more data-oriented than they were before. We’re adding a lot of factors that make me think, “If we were to do it again, I probably would have thought about splitting more junior people who wanted to be in the startup grind.” Where we were at that point in time, that’s probably the one being able to change to that point but that’s what we did. We got the money and were like, “Let’s get some high-profile people. Let’s get them to build teams and then we’ll scale up sales. We should keep saying churn,” but we didn’t. When we didn’t and that churn started to climb, I was like, “We had problems that we had to start to deal with.”
You’re in a rebuild portion on that. It’s interesting on the early-stage employees, they have to be that jack of all trades, master of none. When you start building up that first leadership team, it’s common to try to go after that seasoned pedigree. That seasoned pedigree is used too often in the big offices and the assistance. I remember years ago, we brought a guy in who’s going to be our head of marketing. The first question was, “Who fills out our FedEx slip?” I was like, “What a miss. Fill out your own FedEx slip.” Let’s go back to the big lessons and from working with the VCs? You’ve got some big names. Who are your investors?
We have Baseline Ventures capital with Steve Anderson. We have Harrison Metal, Michael Dearing, Arthur Ventures from the Midwest and that’s cool. We have Doug Burgum and he’s a governor now. He was originally going to join our board not thinking he was going to win the governor’s seat, but he did. We have James for Arthur Ventures. We’ve got a guy named John Keister. He’s an awesome operation sales guy. On the board itself, Mark Roberge from HubSpot is phenomenal and then Meagen Eisenberg was a CMO at MongoDB and DocuSign before. These are amazing groups of people that came on board. That has been one of my biggest blessings of doing this and learning that we get from the board meetings. It’s stressful to prepare for it but it’s exciting to go into it because you spend this 48-hour period in knowledge-filling and these amazing experiences with these smart people. We’re blessed for that.
How do you prep the board meetings?
It always starts with the last board meeting because, in the last board meeting, we set goals. We’ll layout and that deck will update all those graphs on some things that we did and see how we did against the goals that we set. From there, what else did we learn or how do we have to pivot? Is there something that we learned that we’re no longer going to do? Is there something that we see that we’re not going to pursue more? That’s how it goes. It’s always clear that for the last board meeting we have some goals. Step one, “How do we execute against them?” Step two, “What do we do differently going forward?” The board meetings are usually about product-market fit and financial updates. That’s the two main things that grow strategy and we feel like we’ve created gates to grow or not.
How much have you raised?
$9.5 million in total. For second round was an inside round. At that point in time, everybody thought the market was frothy. That was the term that I learned from the VCs. They said, “Probably, now is a good time to go out if you want to raise some more.” Nobody thought the market would churn which hasn’t that much. We raised another $6 million inside round that’s on.
You’re looking into the future, you’ve got clients in how many countries?
I would say 38.
They’re all over the world. Is it multiple languages as well for the clients?
No. Only English-speaking especially on a road map writing localization, we added Sony as a client and that was one of the requirements. They were only localizing the employee side. 80% of our app is the administrator side. We have to get 20% that’s the employee side.
That’s where it will start to get complicated.
It starts getting interesting.
You’re scaling up now. Your turn is your big focus. What are you doing around turn then? What are the early indicators and what are you doing to fix it?
Mark Roberge is so instrumental in helping us around these things. He was saying at HubSpot, what they found was they could predict churn well. I remember a CEO and he was like, “We can predict churn. No problem.” We do want to get to the stage. If they were doing these things, they were gone. The problem is it was too late. The time we knew it, they were leaving. We had to go to the first 30 to 60 days. What Mark preaches is, “If you can’t figure the early indicator in weeks, then you can have some problems because it takes too long to know.” What we looked at was, “We have a one-year contract. How can we figure out that they’re successful in the first 60 days? First, that came around to two things. One, are they installing integrations? That naturally drives up participation rates for their employees. Two, our administrators are taking feedback and completing the loop. We call that a win. It’s a feature in our product where you get the feedback from your employee and you implement an action board. You say and we do something about it. When it’s completed and it could be as simple as, “I want Doritos.” “We’ve bought Doritos. It’s now in the snack bin.” You move it to the win column and that notifies everybody that you got something done because of TINYpulse. Wins complete our cost framework. Our goal is we want to get two wins in one integration in the first 60 days.
I like the whole in the first 60 days. There’s a great video by a guy named Joey Coleman. It’s called The First 100 Days and it talks about your customer engagement and some different strategies to engage with customers in the first 100-day period you have them. Also, how to share things like videos, text messages, physical gifts, emails and prayers, and have this automated touch program to show them some love. I like that you measure it that you want two of those win cycles. How have you handled this integration stuff? Where have you got this complexity of clients thinking that it’s a tiny software package but they realized it’s a little bit more complex in some ways to put it in place? I’ve got clients that think it’s brain dead simple to put in place. Is it simple?
Yeah. That’s why we lost track a little bit. It was called Perform at the time which was our performance side of the house. There was no fast value because you had to go in. The only way you could use it is if you had smart goals and then they had them and maybe they didn’t have them. Even if they had them, it would take some time to get a man out. The Perform setup was more challenging. We realized from the engage side was that it was simple because you just put emails. Within minutes, you start to get responses back. We’ve tried to shape our product principles around that which is one, providing fast values. Two, providing ongoing values. Over time, you engage and do your participation rate stays up. Can we help you keep those participation rates up? Are you still getting valuable insight without doing a whole lot of work? This time around, we’ve renamed our performance product coach. It’s more about getting coaching insights. The goal set up is simple if you want to use it or not, we’re making that pulse-base as well. Pulse employees say, “Is there something you’re working on now that you want to add as a goal?” We’re trying to take some of that bonus off the manager to get all these things set up early.
The one-on-one side of the house is where we can embrace that pulse framework which is like, “Think of your calendar and then select your one-on-ones.” From there, it fires out that pulse, and get your feedback to help you prepare for your one-on-ones. That was a big thing where we lost a bit of sight of trying to keep things tiny in the set of portions. Naturally, as we went more upstream, taking clients is harder. They want that first question. They have to make sure that things are segmented properly and ready to go. They got to go through a review of somebody in HR to make sure. There’s not a whole lot that we can do about that, the more we can go upstream and that’s okay because we keep within a certain window.
What have you learned at TINYpulse about how to sell into big companies? Once you’re in the big companies, how to get further in? One of the stories I remember, you are being used by the finance department at Starbucks. That’s one department but how do we spread throughout that organization like a virus? Have you learned anything about how to sell the big companies and how to get deeper into them?
We don’t sell to big companies. It’s not part of our strategy to sell into the enterprise so we don’t have enterprise reps or anything. In Starbucks, we started with 40 people or something like that. We have some other clients that come in with 40 but there are 50,000 or 100,000 person organizations. It’s a land and expanse strategy. One of the ideas that we had in the early days, we used to code names on brag slides. These are usually directors. The director comes in and they’ve got 50 to 100 people under them and they need to figure out like, “How do we improve retention? How do we keep happiness? We use these key PRs and we automate and send them off to them. It shows them what they’re doing so they could then take that to their leadership to say, “Here’s how we’re doing against my culture initiatives.” Those brag slides that make them look like a hero then what happens is somebody else in that meeting says, “I want to do something like that.” It’s viral and it’s just word of mouth. Who would realize that we were doing well with our own expansion? We assigned one rep to it and he’s constantly outperforming as colleagues with a great job.
We’re starting to build that expansion strategy more. We don’t sell an enterprise and product roadmap was never aligned for that. You’re setting the expansion rep up to fail than more successful they are. All of a sudden, you expand out and then somebody on top says, “That’s cool. Can I pull it in together?” I’m like, “We’re not going to do that.” We’ve aligned a portion of our product team to focus on that expansion rep on those sales and make sure the feature set that they need is being developed. That’s always an interesting challenge for us to focus on us and ignore these things. That was our decision years ago and we lost some good clients because of that. Now, we’re shifting to say, “We’re not going to focus our outbound efforts on them. If we do happen to land that director and those expansions up with these occur, we are going to make sure we have enough feature set to keep them relatively happy.”
There’s a new module that you’re getting ready to release. Can we talk about that or are we still under wraps with that?
We’re calling it Coach 2.0. Coach 1.0 used to be just about goals. It was goal-setting and rate your goals but our release was stringent. The MPS was low. Scott Dorsey, one of our investors from ExactTarget, drew up this quadrant. He said, “What’s interesting is you have MPS and happiness of your customers over here and then you have engagement with your product over here. The top right is where your best customers are. They are happy or highly engaged. The top left is the high-risk quadrant because you don’t know. They look happy but they’re not using it and so the risk of turning is bad. The bottom left quadrant, they’re dead. They’re not happy and they’re not using it throughout. The bottom right is your most interesting quadrant.” He called it the trapped. In their case, the more integrations you plug into ExactTarget, the less likely you were to churn. Even if you were miserable with products, it’s hard to rip it out. Somebody said that it was an awesome opportunity because we study those customers. Our whole goal was, “Make them like it a little bit more moved from up into quadrants.”
Coach was like that for us. We had this product goal setting that once you get it in and all your managers are using it, it’s sticky to pull out. When five out of ten managers find it valuable and the other five don’t, you’ve got to get an interesting debate on what you’re going to do with your software. We’ve chosen to expand out that product set. What we found was with goals, there are two things. One, people don’t like rating so we went more feedback oriented. The redesign of goals is launching together with one-on-one. One-on-one is where we found that’s our strength has a pulse. If we can help managers do more effective one-on-ones, the problems they have is that it’s hard for them to plan.
It takes a lot of time but getting a little feedback from the employees beforehand like how are you feeling this week? On a scale of one to five, how would you rate that? What would you like to be on the agenda? What are you proud of? Some more inspirational things that help that manager come in prepared for that one-on-one discussion. An early test has been positive feedback on people using it. Coach 2.0 is basically, we’re releasing a suite which will be 360 feedback goals, but a tiny goal module. It will be a goal, goal description, due date, progress bar, and comment, and one-on-one which is where we want to leave it. It’s coaching focus.
You have over 100 employees now?
Over 100 employees, two countries, and lots of growth. Where have you had to grow over the years as a leader?
One is consistency. I’m an entrepreneur. My dad had multiple companies and this was interesting for me to take the number two position and to grow a company this big. My outsourcing firm was 70 people but it’s different because they’re compartmentalized in a project for a client. It’s a bit differently. We didn’t have a hierarchy structure as we have here. I had to learn that my time to my reports is valuable. That’s something that I’ve tried to improve. Two, Kevin Dom is on the Speaker Tour. He’s an interesting guy who’s got that storytelling. When he talked and he is breaking point in 100 employees. Which is what you get to 100, your messaging is going to be challenging for you to say something and then have this employee over here get the same message. He said, “Go back and do a test. Ask your team anything then ask ten different people the same question and see what the answer is. Something that you think they should know.”
I decided product vision should be straightforward. It was 300 different words or something crazy like that when you give the word count on it. We went through an exercise around visioning and making sure that there’s that clear concise statement of providing a platform for leaders to grow happy, high-performing people. Everybody knows the amount of work we had to do. At first, we were eight people in the room. It was like, “Yeah,” we’re talking and everybody knows that you’re straightforward but 100 is a lot more challenging. That was where the second one was getting more professional with my messaging and trying to have to do it five to seven times before it has to reset it again. That’s probably the two areas I’ve had to develop most with my consistency then my focus on that messaging.
Jim Collins mentioned in Good to Great, “A leader has to constantly communicate the message to the point that our employees are making fun of us. Only when they make fun of us have our ideas started to stick.” It’s the whole, “I told you. They didn’t hear you. They didn’t get it. They were busy or they forgot.” You said something that you and Dave are engaging in healthy conflict. Can you tell us how you do that? How do you work through the conflicts that we need as a leadership team to grow?
We were sitting on a Sunday afternoon finishing up the board deck and we started getting into this conversation around deadlines. We have different views around deadlines for a long time. As we started getting this conversation, Ellison was like, “That’s not going to help us finish the deck,” and probably not. We take a breath. Sometimes, there are things like that where we get off on these tangents. We’re good about refocusing like David. He’s probably the most organized person I’ve ever met. It’s easy sometimes for us to get off track but then easy to get a contract. Ever since we’re getting a lot more laser focus, it’s got Dorsey talked about having a yearly theme.
Several years ago, we’d started that. Once you have your overall mission of place which has been clear and then we have a clear product strategy of what we want to focus on, it’s also easy, too. When you have your yearly theme, it’s like, “If we’ve got a decision around that’s something for a customer and it’s not dealing with delighting them, being personal and proactive, which is our theme for this year. There’s another initiative that’s exactly on that and we’re trying to argue for resources.” We’re probably going to stick with our theme so it becomes easy.
I heard about this Global Leadership Conference, this guy Warren Rustand was saying, “Stress is simple. It’s only caused because you’re considering doing something that conflicts with your moral beliefs or values.” That causes you stress because you don’t know what to do. If you’re convicted about your values, that makes it simple because, “Here’s the decision. You can flip through this value. I don’t do it.” He simplifies that it’s hard to do practice but we try to do that. Does that align with the strategy? Does it help us expand out with Coach? No. Does it get these goals? No. Here are our seven core values as a conflict with one of them.” We’re good at being rational about those things, too.
Warren Rustand is an exceptionally strong leader as well. This is the guy who played tennis on the lawn of the White House with Gerald Ford. He’s built $3 billion-companies. Is he an investor?
He’s not an investor. I got to meet him for the first time because I was President of the Vietnam chapter. It’s called the GLA. When you’re a president, they bring you out there and you get to spend five days with Warren. It’s amazing. That’s sixteen-hour days. They catch you up at 5:00 in the morning, you churdle 10/10/10, which is a habit I kept since then. You exercise then you meet for breakfast. At 9:00 PM, when you’re done with all the stuff, you meet with your smaller group and your forum for two hours. You finish at 11:00 at night and Warren’s there the whole time. That’s an amazing experience.
That’s the Global Leadership Academy through the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Is that right?
Yeah, in Washington, DC. It’s phenomenal.
EO is an amazing organization. What do you think were the big things that you pulled? We started a network called the COO Alliance, which is the only network of its kind in the world for the second in command. I got the idea from being in EO, being around YPO, enlisted where there are all these amazing networks for the entrepreneur. There’s nowhere for that COO to be so you’re acting right now as the Second in Command Chief Product Officer. What do you think you get out of being in an organization like EO? What does that give you?
I started a chapter in Vietnam and we always had to communicate the value to people. What we always say is that, once you finish university and you’re going to a business, it applies whether you’re a COO or whether you’re an entrepreneur. It’s the same thing. It’s lonely because you’re at the top to some extent that even as a COO, as much as you’re going to share with a CEO, there’s some stuff like, “I’ve got to make this decision. I’ve got to figure this out. I don’t know exactly what to do. I’m not going to talk to my wife about it. My friends don’t understand and they’re not in the same position I am. I can’t quite go to the CEOs trying to figure out forever. Maybe I don’t want to because I want to do this on my own. Who do I go to?” They connect with like-minded people with the same problems like you and it’s grounded which is you don’t give advice ever. I feel comfortable to talk to you if you’re in EO because I know if I say, “I’m having problems with churn.” You’re not going to say, “You should do this and this,” but you’re going to tell me, “I have to,” and they’re going to share their experiences.
Have you heard of the term Gestalt Protocol or some protocol that’s sharing experiences and not opinions? It’s interesting and Google operates quite strongly from that protocol as well where they say, “I don’t care what you think. What does the data say?” People will often say, “We should do this.” It’s nice to have opinions. Experience does way out a little bit more. Where do you struggle as a leader where have you had to work on?
I would say, things have been a lot better. Our biggest struggle was probably about 1 or 1.5 years ago. We raised money and we grew fast. If we had some hires, they were amazing smart people that maybe not quite stage appropriate. We measure this stuff and so we are happy to scores like nine or perfect. Everybody’s happy and all of a sudden, you start to grow when you change from 20 people to 100 people. For those twenty, it’s not the same company that they thought it was, then you have different personalities come in. You struggle to keep the culture.
David wrote an article in HBR about what happens with the five-year wall where your culture has changed because you grow to a certain stage. That was the biggest challenge and we’re trying to deal with the key in improving churn looks like it’s getting better. All this stuff is easier when the team is aligned and you’ve got a happy team that performing well. They all understand the mission. Our biggest hurdle to the hardest part was that time period. I feel like now, our Glassdoor scores have gone back up. Our happiness scores are good. I don’t even know exactly how we changed it. The main thing was getting people to focus on performance and helping them do their jobs well.
You have a lot of data and a lot of insights into employee engagement and creating great work environments. What are some of the one or two top things that employees look for or want for a company to be a better place to work? What do you think they appreciate most about each other?
The data is clear. They have a clear understanding of why they’re there. What’s their purpose? What are its objectives? How do they grow? What’s interesting is when we do this annual thing on the happiest industries, it’s almost always construction. Construction is interesting because you go to work and you’re going to build something that’s tangible. It’s something you’re proud of. You have a clear role. You’re in charge of trying to make sure that the structure is stable. This is clear and then you also have an awesome tangible product. It’s interesting because, in software, people always think, “That’s going to be up there.” It’s never up there. It’s in the middle of the pack and it’s challenging because a lot of times, your work is a bit abstract. You may or may not use lines of code you’re writing. Even all the perks in the world but so does everywhere else. You don’t care and then it’s not as clear what your career path is. It’s not as cut-and-dried. It’s developing career plans for engineers. It’s challenging. What’s happening is its middle-of-the-road happiness like, “I’m working hard and I want the big exit. I want to be a unicorn,” but few companies get that right, even the ones that get that, how painful it was to get there.
The 60 to 70-hour workweeks, we do them every now and then but it’s challenging. I was tired on weekends and I want to do it all the time. That’s the culture. When I was in Microsoft, HR revolution days, where everybody was like, “I got hired.” You probably work twelve hours a day. I’m like, “Shoot.” It all changed because they got sued by the government. The lawsuits around the contractors versus the full-time employees and triple the HR staff, almost overnight and started putting policies in place. It took them up to Satya to change the culture. It was harmless for a while. It’s toxic and tech is challenging.
What do your employees appreciate most about each other?
It is working with smart people. They always say they want to work with people. It’s interesting. They feel happy at their job if they are successful in their job and if it’s clear where they’re going. If it’s not clear, it’s hard to be successful. It’s almost the same thing. If you got people you’re working with that you’re aligned and they’re helping you be successful, that’s what you appreciate most about them. The better of a performer the person is, the more likely they are to have that tendency. I listen to Simon Sinek. I was watching this video and he was saying that what’s interesting about people. He’s like, “Everybody has the potential to perform well, just maybe not in this job.” A leader’s job is to get them in the right place and it may not be at your company. If you have them and they’re there, they drag other people down and it’s going to be challenging for that. That’s the number one thing about their peers.
I’m glad Simon gets that. Simon was on our board for about twelve months back around 2003 or 2004 at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? We knew him years before he ever did his TED Talk or before he started with it. He’s a good guy and a sharp guy. If you will give your 21-year-old self some advice if you were to lean backward and tell yourself something that would help you in your career now, what do you wish you had known earlier that you now know to be true?
Don’t drop out of school for four years, work at Microsoft, and be a millionaire in five. I graduated high school the perfect time to graduate college at the beginning of the rush when I was in Seattle. My mom passed away and I dropped out of school and went back. On a more serious side, at 21, I wish I had more of even a small discipline that I have now. At 21, I was an ADD looking at different things. I was in tennis so it was given that I couldn’t play competitively. I saved money and opened up a shop. I was ambitious but I lost all my money again. At 21, I wish I would have learned a little bit more of discipline like habits. That is one of the key things for some of the successful people out there. They learn how to establish routines and they make sure that they hold themselves accountable. At 21, I was like a gunslinger. I wanted to do everything and I was overconfident. I want to take a step back and get some mentorship. Whether you finish school and I don’t think that it mattered. If I had a more disciplined approach to what I was doing, that’s probably how I’ll be successful.
I love those disciplines. That’s the reason that I coauthored the book, The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs for exactly that reason. It’s how do we give those success habits that exist. David Hajdu, Chief Product Officer and Second-in-Command for TINYpulse, thank you for sharing this with us.
Thank you. I appreciate it.
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About David Hajdu
Dave has spent the last ten years of his life helping leaders use technology to enhance their business value. For seven of those years it was in the outsourcing space where, at Vinasource, they built 100’s of applications for companies ranging from employee number one to his old employer Microsoft. In 2012, a friend of his came to him with an idea to solve a simple mission, Make Employees Happier. And with that came the birth of TINYpulse. At TINYpulse they help over 1,000 companies around the world discover how their team members are feeling and performing.
Four years ago, he had the privilege of joining the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) where currently, he is championing a new chapter in Saigon. Through this group of amazing individuals, he’s learned so much about how fellow members run their businesses.
Saigon has been amazing to Dave, and like many others, he has fallen in love with her. So it brings him great pleasure to harness his life experiences and work with successful companies as they set up shop in Saigon and build amazing teams.