Communicate — Had to let the team know about a failed experiment that lead to a big financial loss, and had to be very direct about it so that they understood the situation and knew it was a part of our journey in learning and testing new opportunities.
As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Loubier.
Andrea Loubier is the CEO and Co-Founder of Mailbird. She’s passionate about Women in Tech, Remote Work, and Behaviors Between Humans and Technology. As a third culture kid, As a type 1 diabetic who’s grown up all over the world, Andrea inspires people to do great things, setting an example for women around the world to continue striving for more. If she’s not lost in solving the problems of digital communication, human connection, being a spokesperson for equality and inclusion and building a healthy relationship with email and technology, you can find her traveling the world, exploring life hacks, eating spicy food, surfing, enjoying a bold glass of red and learning things outside of her comfort zone.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I wanted to become a social worker, had an internship one summer and quickly realized that I’m so grateful that there are people in the world to do this type of work, but it was not for me, despite my love for learning about human development, systems, psychology and learning behaviors that are challenged dependent on life circumstances.
So I decided to use my degree in business marketing instead of social work, with my undeniable passion for business and marketing. My first professional career landed me in a market research firm where I worked with huge international enterprises, and learned a few things about people, client and project management whilst being promoted year after year. Eventually I decided it was time for a transition, so after 6 years I decided to take a leap and work in a software company through which I was able to continue my professional development in business, leadership, IT and communication through content development and sales.
This was the tipping point, that pushed me to continue my professional development with a desire to pursue entrepreneurship and IT, SaaS where I could take my professional experience onwards and continue learning more about business in IT. I wanted to build a great solution and an awesome team. Thus leading me to becoming a Co-Founder and CEO of a company with which I’m so proud of starting from the ground up, called Mailbird.
Over the last decade in starting and building Mailbird, all my past experiences, the puzzle pieces, have slowly come together bringing me to the place where I am thrilled to be, being a humble leader in leading a brilliant international, remote-first team, building a healthy relationship with email (and technology overall). This is thanks to my passion for psychology/human behavior/learning and development and understanding systems, my communication, attention to detail, leadership qualities and management experiences in pursuit of building a solution and company that I really wanted — serving the world where our lives are changing at unsurmountable paces where we are now discovering the good, the bad and the ugly side of the relationship between humans and technology.
At Mailbird we focus on building a healthy relationship with technology starting with email at the core, as one of the most globally used online activities for personal and business use keeping us connected, creating change, maintaining communication without limitations to co-location.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I actually have two. The first one was when I attended my first tech conference within the first year of starting Mailbird. An investor approached me after pitching on stage asking me about our cap table right off the bat. I didn’t even know at the time what a cap table was, so that was slightly embarrassing. Looking back, after learning a thing or two about fundraising, VC’s and investors — a cap table is not exactly something you ask off the cuff in an introductory conversation, but something that happens during the due diligence process between a venture capital firm and a business. Regardless of that hiccup in my early journey as a tech entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of Mailbird, it felt good to know that an investor was interested enough in Mailbird, at such an early stage, to dive into the details about our shareholder structure and distribution.
The 2nd one was a little later, when I decided it would be great to start localizing Mailbird in a large untapped market for us, that being China. We put together a marketing campaign in less than a month, which ended up being an ultimate fail in that we did not do our own diligence in understanding the intricacies of this market, including communication, culture and digital communication methods, channels, limitations and marketing collateral that works for that specific market. We just assumed what we did in our other predominant top performing markets would work there as well….we were very wrong. But with all new things, even when they fail you learn an incredible amount from that experience. Then you go back to the drawing board and do it again. Entrepreneurship has taught me how to win through failures, which is an incredible approach to life in general. It takes bravery, confidence, adaptability and willingness to fail and learn.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It would be difficult me to credit one person for helping me get to where I am, because these pushes and motivations that inspire you to do great things come from many different angles. I’d say it is a combination of people from business partners, business coaches, other minority women who’ve broken through the many challenges in male dominated industries, friends and even the support of loved ones that get you through the tough challenges in life and in business. One thing for sure, is anyone you see that is recognized for success (whatever that might mean to you), they did not do it alone. They had a network of support that helped drive them forward, and to be honest and realistic with what they really want to achieve.
Part of it also comes down to being self-aware, by simply taking the time to ask yourself what you want, what is important to you, where do you want to go next. Many people never give themselves the time to do this, and these questions are probably one of the most important ones to ask yourself regularly, even monthly, to stay fully in-tune and aligned with what serves you most. This thought process is what I see typically pushes one to pursue entrepreneurship — because when you get real with yourself, the path forward is very clear! Decisions become so much easier and you begin to make progress towards where you want to go. This is a powerful yet simple practice that many of us underestimate, as we don’t gift ourselves the time to ask ourselves the right questions, in order to have clarity on the path forward.
The greatest lesson in all of this is that success is not define by anyone else, but yourself. This to me is one of the greatest learning that has changed my life — despite the noise of the world that is constantly trying to define what success is for you. No one will remember how many awards, recognitions or pivotal impacts you make in both large and small scales. Only you will know what you did that you felt was successful, and you should have a team of people there to support you through that journey of success, again, defined by no one else but you.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When we started, I’d say we had a rather uninspiring and undecided vision. We just focused on building a great email client for Windows with Mailbird. Over the years the different (and not-so-awesome) visions we went through included:
- Mailbird is a platform that unifies online communication for people on Windows.
- The best, most productive and beautifully innovative email client ever made for Windows.
- The Best Email Client for Windows.
- The world’s best all-in-one online communication platform that is highly secure, fast and innovative.
- Mailbird makes our personal and business lives smarter with an email client platform that unifies online communication.
- To build the best unified email experience which innovates communication for people and businesses around the world.
These were far to generic, abstract and didn’t connect emotionally with our team and the people we were serving around the world. After a few revisions, pivots, analysis and asking ourselves the right questions of why we are building a business like Mailbird and where are we going with it, I’m excited about our current Mailbird vision which is:
TO BUILD A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIOP WITH EMAIL.
This is very powerful for us as a company in our daily tasks, focus and prioritization. It bleeds through every touch point we have with our customers and the entire world. It is very much inspired by my passion and focus from my background in social sciences, psychology and value-based marketing and business solutions. It became even more clear as innovation in work collaboration across the globe has made some challenging and unhealthy behavioral changes to our engagement as social beings with one another, and in our interaction with the environment around us.
The attention to this is very evident in all information communication technologies where the demand for instant response and accessibility takes people away from the importance of reconnecting with their world and one another. Thus creating an imminent need for disconnect from technology. It’s all about how we build our habits and relationship with technology — today it is unhealthy. We are hyper-connected and have forgotten — specifically with email (despite it being one of the greatest inventions since the invention of the internet), how to use email effectively and in a healthy manner.
Some of these problems lie in how email management is a big distraction, induces stress, and is misused — leading to ineffective communication, creating anxiety of needing to respond instantly (particularly in business) and lack of prioritization in the day, when start it with emails. At Mailbird, we are working through these challenges of poor email use cases and habits, to curate a positive, stress free, manageable and effective experience and relationship with this piece of technology for the world.
As an international remote-first company, it’s important us as a company at Mailbird, to be thought leaders in balancing work and life with technology, we hope to improve people’s lives with one of the biggest stressors known today in online communication. This is why we are so thrilled about our purpose as a company to bring joyful experiences that are also effective when it comes to email usage and management.
It’s about setting the right expectations, and taking care of where you give your attention when you want to ensure there is clarity and understanding in either personal or business communication. This means, that sometimes email is not the solution and it’s our duty to teach people around the world when email is the right communication channel and how to best use it, whilst creating a joyful and effective experience with it.
At Mailbird, our vision is to Build A Healthy Relationship With Email for the world!
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The initial 2 years of starting a company I’d say can be rather risky, uncertain and turbulent. When starting Mailbird, we were operating very lean and had to find a way to build the company with little cash to start. We had to find a way to make a business out of this company in order to support continued growth and the team that would put the hard work in during the early stages, and with minimal pay.
Once gained our initial traction, we were very optimistic, yet ran into an unexpected lull and were at a point where we had to start making tough decisions on restructuring or shutting down the company all together. Our co-founding team pulled together and we were able to make some adjustments and began to seek funding through our network. During this time I made sure to step up as a leader by keeping the team informed of our current status and progress on our efforts to essentially generate more revenue or funding. I had to be very direct in asking everyone to really come together and be proactive in all our roles to get our growth back up.
We did it, and I’m grateful for a team that was able to pull together and hold each other accountable, to take ownership in solving the cash flow problem together. It feels great to lead a team like this. As a leader I made sure to stay determined, with a positive mindset, and continued to ensure that the team stayed sharp and laser focus on priorities, so that we could grow again. Since then, I’m proud to say that in leadership and building an incredible team that was just as determined as I was to succeed, we were able to overcome that initial two year “make it or die” critical stages of a new company. Today we are a growing international team, a successful growing business with a tight management team that knows how to keep a close eye on business performance. Together we continue to keep momentum, empower and coach our team to be able to get through uncertain times with a problem-solving mindset.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
When you battle challenges, also known as the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship, and carry the weight of the entire company on your shoulders…giving up is part of the game. What I believe to the key separator, is whether one succumbs to that thought of giving up vs. those who take that thought and find even more determination to power through it.
Motivation is a personal journey and character trait that is developed by one’s network, influence and life experiences. In retrospect, when looking back at moments in life where faced with a tough challenge, I’ve always been one to be stubbornly motivated and dedicated to do what it takes to solve any given challenge.
I’m easily motivated when working towards something bigger than myself. When things are not going in the way you would like, I find it easy to kick your motivation into gear to get things back on track. When things are going really well, it’s like fuel to the fire to keep pushing through when you are seeing positive results. In both scenarios, motivation is a big driving factor for success when you are someone who is easily motivated.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
When faced with challenging times, I believe it is the duty of a leader to motivate and support their team. It’s critical to listen, engage and also take action as a leader when faced with tough times; because when you have that type of support from a leader, there is a sense of calm and unity of being able to overcome anything together as a team with a leader that has their people’s back.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I believe that your biggest asset as a leader is your ability to communicate and create understanding an alignment within a team. A leader needs to listen, engage and take action and by doing this they are supporting and leading their team forward. As the CEO of Mailbird, I am always “on stage”, where every response, attention, notice, tone, communication and action will be analyzed — and you better be sure your communication comes with purpose and direction. People need a leader who can point them in the right direction, encourage them, provide feedback and offer support whenever they can.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
This is a complex one, as it varies depending on different leadership styles. For myself, when having to address difficult news to a team I focus on empathy first, then on being very “matter of fact” of the situation, and close with the solutions or next steps or actions that need to happen. In business, you will have many instances of difficult news to communicate with your team. It’s important in a leadership position to do it with grace, composure and focusing on a positive forward-thinking attitude on next steps. The easiest way to do this well, is to put yourself in your team’s shoes and assess how you would feel most confident and supported when difficult news is communicated to you.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I’d say there are elements of the future that are predictable based on history, data, and analysis of trends. For the unknown and the unpredictable elements, basically life as it happens that is out of our control — there is still a way to prepare you and your team. When the future is so unpredictable you have to consider all potential scenarios and outcomes (even then you might miss one); the covid crisis is a clear example of this, and not many businesses put into their contingency plan a worldwide pandemic that would potentially shut down businesses all over the world. It’s one of those “Shit happens…” occurrences that are beyond our immediate control as a single individual. No one anticipated it, no one saw it coming.
When making plans for an unpredictable future, I like to prepare for all scenarios and to have a plan based on those different outcomes. This way you are never scrambling last minute. This also means you need the time to plan when considering many different outcomes to prepare yourself and your team. You can only prepare so, and it’s important to be flexible, and to adapt quickly. Small to medium sized businesses are much more agile and well-equipped for these types of scenarios. To top it all off, as a leader it is our duty to communicate plans clearly for all potential scenarios of the unknown so your team can also feel prepared and confident when faced with different outcomes.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
One would be impossible to say, but if I were to oversimplify it…that number one principle to guide a company through turbulent times would be to communicate, support and take action. That is your job as a leader, and it is how many teams survive all the ups and downs in business.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Some stories I’ve heard in tough times for a business that did not work out so well include reactively firing a large percentage of the team to keep the company afloat, taking action without communicating with the team so there is clarity and alignment and no surprises, and finally not staying composed and loosing grip of the situation and sulking in it rather than taking action. A big common factor in all these types of mistakes is the lack of communication or willingness to ask for help. It’s as simple as that.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
You need to not “put all your eggs into one basket” — this meaning that when you operate a business, it’s important to find several revenue generating engines, so that if one goes down there will always be another engine to keep things going. When planning, communication and setting milestones and KPI’s for your team there should always be a plan in place and some runway to hold you over, to provide time to solve the challenges affecting your growth traction. You need to inspire your team to become diligent in problem solving, and creative with solutions that may be out of the box but may be the answer to getting your growth trajectory back on track. Communication, support and motivation come into play again here, and it needs to come from you as the leader.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Communicate — Had to let the team know about a failed experiment that lead to a big financial loss, and had to be very direct about it so that they understood the situation and knew it was a part of our journey in learning and testing new opportunities.
- Support — During the initial media blast of covid, I knew our team would be undergoing quite a lot of stress and anxiety. I offered to provide everyone on the team therapy and emotional coaching to process and deal with the situation in the best way possible and with calm and bravery.
- Engage — When we were facing a challenge in one of the lows in our business development in the early years, I made sure to involved the team in all the progress whilst encouraging them to be a part of solving the challenges to get us back on track. They could all feel a part of the process, that they were contributing together as a team.
- Motivate — After gathering anonymous feedback from my team, I decided to start conducting one on one sessions with them to candidly and openly discuss any challenges they were having and worked with them on making a plan to rebuild their feeling of purpose and drive again.
- Take action — When we had an article that was claiming that Mailbird was not a secure company, I had to step in as the CEO to stand up for my team and handle the situation where our team was being bullied and harassed. I took matters into my own hands and clearly advised the team on how we would handle this situation and any future ones accordingly. This was well received as the team felt they had a leader that really had their back and would get them out of this troubling situation, that their CEO could be trusted to handle it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are actually quite a lot of great life lesson quotes as they become more apparent and relevant depending on where you are in life. One that I recently fell in love with is
“Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing the answers. You don’t always have to know who you are. You don’t have to have the big picture, or know where you’re heading. Sometimes, it’s enough just to know what you’re going to do next.” ― Sophie Kinsella
So much of our definition of success comes from others defining that success for you, rather than you yourself taking the time to define what you want. It is to ask yourself honestly, what would really make you feel successful if you didn’t have the expectation of success from others around you?
A good leader in this case knows how to take a step back from being superwoman or superman, and reconnecting with their self-awareness and reality. Once this is engrained, then decisions and the path forward become so much clearer. In life, when you know what you want because you took the time to ask yourself that question, it becomes much easier to take the next step. Similarly, when you have a clear vision in business, all of a sudden, all decisions in business become much easier.
How can our readers further follow your work?
- I’m the CEO of Mailbird, an email company that is helping the world build a healthy relationship with email — www.getmailbird.com
- I’m also a contributor for Forbes, you can follow the topics I cover and am passionate about that include entrepreneurship, women in tech, the future of work, and most importantly, the behaviors between people and technology. — https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrealoubier/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!