As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Philip Inghelbrecht. Philip is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tatari, a technology company focused on measurement and media buying of ads across both linear and streaming TV. Prior to Tatari, Philip co-founded Shazam, one of the most widely-used music apps in the world, and served as a founding employee and President at TrueCar. Before those ventures, Philip ran business development at Rockmelt (which was acquired by Yahoo), as well as sports and entertainment partnerships for Google/YouTube. Philip is also an active investor and advisor. Born in Belgium, he currently lives in San Francisco and when not spending time with his family, he enjoys skiing and kiteboarding.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Throughout my journey as an entrepreneur, I often find myself jumping into industries that are typically viewed, at the time, as in decline or facing serious turmoil. For example, I started Shazam in 1999, the same year that music industry revenues collapsed from $30bn to $17bn. And when Detroit’s automotive companies were literally going bankrupt, I was brought on to be President at TrueCar. I started Tatari now, as the TV industry is undergoing the biggest transformation since its inception, from how people consume content (traditional cable vs streaming) to how TV ads are bought, sold, and measured.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
This may seem cliche, but to me, a major challenge is hiring the right people. Whenever I am talking to a candidate, one of the things that I like to do is give them a homework assignment. I believe this is a strong indicator of whether the person genuinely wants to work for your company. This homework concept came to me when I applied for a job at Google in early 2005. The hiring process involved interviewing with 15 different people and a monstrous homework assignment. This process led me to believe that giving a homework assignment is the best way to separate the best from the great.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
My employees often hear me say that I love getting things done, so to practice what I preach I live by a simple but powerful rule, “Get it done, no procrastination.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Focus. Do one thing, but do it 10x better than anyone else. Google is really good at this i.e. most of their core products are just replicas of what already exists, but theirs is much better. When they got into web-based email, Gmail (offering 1GB storage) was quite literally 100x better than Hotmail or Yahoo Mail. In the pursuit of growth or revenue, it’s too easy to get distracted by other things. Tatari is a single, sharp blade (TV advertising), not a swiss army knife tackling various other mediums (e.g. radio, podcast, OOH, etc).
- Ignore your competition. (remember: they most likely don’t know exactly what they’re doing either). Paying too much attention to your competition leads to “reactive thrash” i.e. jumping left & right, and worse, in a reactionary manner. Starting out, I would spend hours (if not days) at Shazam trying to figure out what our competition was doing; none of it was worth my time (or made Shazam “better”).
- Move fast (i.e. “a good plan violently executed today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow”). This is particularly the case for the big or difficult decisions you may face (i.e. those which human beings tend to avoid). The reality is that the big decisions are made with the heart (and the small with the brain), so in a paradox, it’s better to move fast on the big (and therefore more impactful) decisions, and slower on the small ones.
- Think stupidly big (or even a bit “crazy and naive”). There’s the old saying “If you want to land on the moon, you better shoot for the stars.” That’s really what it takes to be successful and I will often sit back and ask myself (or my team) the question: are you thinking big enough? Whilst I fundamentally believe that Tatari offers the best TV analytics, that’s not enough; we need to leverage that prowess to help transform towards true self-serve and programmatic buying in TV advertising.
- Hire the best people. The story about homework assignments is a good example [to elaborate further, see text above]. But it’s not just smarter people, but truly “people”: nice, high integrity, etc.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think it’s good to have focus. To believe in your idea and to push it. It’s kind of the Steve Jobs approach: Saying, “I know what the consumer wants.” That’s a good approach, right? But not everybody is Steve Jobs and they have to change a little bit. Today there is this fancy word we use to describe change called “pivot.” And just two years ago I think saying “a company had to pivot” was a bad thing. But now instead of being an ugly word, it’s quite sexy to say: “I pivoted a few times.” So if there is one thing that stands out to me, it’s that you need to have enough focus to start something and commit to it, with the understanding that it may not necessarily be the end game.
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?
I don’t have one single person to give credit to, but rather there are a lot of people I have encountered and worked with who have made a profound impact on my life and journey. One can only achieve real results when they’re surrounded by and working with the right people. People in the closest sense. Don’t start a company by yourself. Have one or two partners. Start it with people who have different skills. But more importantly, start it with friends who are with you through thick and thin. We had four co-founders in my last venture. None of us had overlapping skills. We had our quarrels and our fights, but it was always for the good of the business. Because underneath it all was a level of personal understanding, integrity, and friendship that always prevailed and held us together, and kept the company on track.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
A goal that I am working to accomplish right now is to be able to complete all of my work in no more than 2 hours each day. Now, I realize this is an audacious goal, but I have a strategy that will help me achieve this — hiring and leading the best team possible. When you have people you can rely on and wholeheartedly trust, the job as a CEO becomes exponentially more smooth. In turn, as I have been building this strong team at Tatari, I have been able to focus more on my family, friends, health and travel the world.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
At the end of the day, I hope that I helped my colleagues find financial freedom/independence, and to have inspired my daughters to be their own boss, too.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I don’t really see myself as someone with influence (if anything, I feel like I am still evangelizing and battling every day what I do with Tatari right now). That being said, if there’s one thing I would still like to do, it would be to start a nonprofit that helps former military personnel work in the Silicon Valley (think of a Silicon Valley bootcamp, pun intended). I want to demonstrate to Silicon Valley that veterans are often the best hires, excelling as educated hiring managers and HR team members.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m not very active on social media but these are the platforms I have: