No Vacation Grazing: If you are going to take a vacation, actually take it. As a CEO, if you graze email, conference calls, bark tasks, attend meetings, no one will ever actually take a real vacation. Set the example yourself, and others will follow, and your family will appreciate the true attention.
SipTequila Founder and Chief Tasting Officer, Chris Barbin is a serial entrepreneur and investor with more than 25 years of experience across a dozen start ups, private and public companies and various social enterprises. He is currently a Venture Partner at GGV Capital in San Francisco and Shanghai, as is a sought after expert on company culture, team building and what it takes to scale a business. He has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos and Beijing, among many other events, and is a contributor to Forbes.com. Chris is most widely known for his leadership at Appirio, a global cloud services business that he co-founded in 2006 and led for 12 years as CEO. Appirio was one of the early pioneers in cloud computing and grew to 1,200 people in 5 countries. It was eventually acquired by Wipro Technologies in October of 2016 for $550M. During Chris’s 12 year run at Appirio, he and his team won multiple ‘Best Places to Work’ awards for Appirio’s corporate culture and was named a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer. Chris and his wife Lori live in Winnetka IL, Green Lake WI and on United Airlines trying to keep up with not only their businesses, but also their three kids.
Thank you so much for joining us Chris! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been in technology and consulting for nearly 25 years despite having no formal training in either field: no computer science degree and no MBA. What I have always had is a fascination, a passion for technology, for developing solutions and for building high performing teams. In 2005, I found myself as the CIO of Borland Software after leading the company’s efforts to acquire and merge Seque Software. Enter Salesforce.com, a company and software application I had admired, but never had the chance to implement or partner with. We decided to make a big bet, to be the first company to leverage Salesforce.com as a true ‘platform’ — licensing it for all 1,500 employees. That experience was the catalyst to the founding of Appirio, the first enterprise cloud consultancy helping large companies move to the cloud, and an opportunity for me to leverage my experiences, my core passions and to pioneer along-side evolving industry giants like Salesforce.com, Google, Workday and Amazon. My current ventures still very much have technology at the core; and I think SipTequila is the best reflection of how technology and real life intersect, and both become richer as a result. We’ve created an e-commerce platform that provides access to highly-curated sipping Tequilas, while also building a customer-centric fulfillment approach, inclusive of private in-home tastings and hand-written notes in every shipment. The outcome has been this community of tequila-lovers with extremely high engagement rates both via technology like social media, and in person at our tasting room in South Florida, or any one of our events hosted across the country.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Appirio was a growth play, and we ramped the company from $0 to $40 million in four years before eventually exiting at the 10-year mark for $500 million to Wipro. On that journey there were MANY challenges including recruiting, global expansion, maintaining our culture at scale, fundraising through the financial crisis and many more. The toughest challenge was more a personal one, to be honest, that is trying to strike the proper balance between a thriving company where you’re having a blast and living the dream, and the trade-offs and sacrifices in your family life. Missing birthdays, working holidays, not being able to coach or watch your kids’ sports or performances, always grazing on vacations — those were the biggest challenges and while we all did the best we could and the outcome was fantastic, it’s a challenge many CEOs face but rarely acknowledge.
With SipTequila, I’m acutely aware of the trade-offs the team is making on a daily basis to support the growth of the business. However, by hiring highly-capable people, I also trust them to use their judgment and support them in any way that I can. That said, one of the founding principles of SipTequila has always been great respect for family — in fact it’s printed on every bottle of SipTequila’s private label brand, Compoveda. Family in this business includes the family-run distilleries we partner with on sourcing, and bringing our own families together to celebrate milestones along the way.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Well, first I’m not at the point of ‘declaring success’. As part of my role as a Venture Partner at GGV Capital, every day I’m lucky enough to meet incredible entrepreneurs, founders and CEOs and they inspire me to ‘do it again and again’. Throughout my professional journey this far, including my role with SipTequila, I would point to a few key factors including incredible people that have surrounded me, a ‘persistence and focus’ orientation and perhaps a risk tolerance and long view combo that I believe is important in successful entrepreneurs.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Even though you can raise a lot of money, doesn’t mean you should (enough money to weather a storm, but not too much that you don’t manage the fundamentals)
- Invest more in growing talent vs. finding the proven been there done it expertly (there are no silver bullet hires and some of your team will scale beyond your expectations)
- It’s proven 8 of 10 acquisitions fail but it’s probably 9.5 out of 10 — invest in organic growth vs. inorganic
- They say it’s lonely at the top, it doesn’t have to be (build a great and complementary board of directors as well as a strong customer advisory board)
- Enjoy the journey as much as the outcome
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Work-life balance and burn-out is such a tough one for folks to manage, especially as a company is really scaling and thriving. Even if for a CEO it’s more fun and doesn’t feel like work. The most important thing a founder can do is ensure he/she is putting amazing, better than them, people around themselves as quickly as possible to load balance. Additionally, I generally give 3 tips:.
- DNS i.e. Do Not Schedule: When not traveling for business, I block my calendar for important windows daily such as school drop off, pick up, dinner time, etc. and kept them sacred as best possible.
- No Vacation Grazing: If you are going to take a vacation, actually take it. As a CEO, if you graze email, conference calls, bark tasks, attend meetings, no one will ever actually take a real vacation. Set the example yourself, and others will follow, and your family will appreciate the true attention.
- Don’t Weekend Warrior: Perhaps you want to do some catch up reading, research or strategic thinking — but don’t fire off emails, set calls, demand deliverables on Saturdays and Sundays. A work hard hero mentality culture is not sustainable long term.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My dad, who passed nearly 20 years ago, has been my inspiration and North Star since I was a young boy as his ‘gopher — go for this, go for that’ when he had his carpentry and handyman business. He didn’t have a high school degree but rose through the corporate ranks of AT&T, retired early to start a carpentry/handyman business where I worked by his side weekends and summers. His patient yet persistent demeanor, his amazing listening skills, combined with his incredible work ethic are an inspiration daily.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Having spent nearly 25 years in the business to business (B2B), large enterprise world, I’m getting more involved in starting and/or advising the business to consumer (B2C) small to medium businesses to broaden my perspectives and to learn. I have also tried to take personal passions and look for ways to combine them into my business life. To this end, we recently launched SipTequila.com, a direct-to-consumer, ultra-premium tequila club. SipTequila meets a market need that I struggled with as a consumer. I fell in love with super-premium sipping tequilas, but access to boutique brands from reputable sources was hard to find. As more and more Americans are learning about and falling in love with aged Tequilas, there was no place that provided the customer experience that matched the quality of the products being purchased. SipTequila is a one-stop-shop for authentic, hand-selected, super-premium Tequilas and the education and conversation surrounding them. We also built and launched a bar & grill on a lake in Wisconsin and have made direct investments in PlushCare, YouBet.io, and Southern Grist Brewery in Nashville, Tennessee. A primary goal of mine is to be a lifelong active learner while working with great entrepreneurs — and all of my current projects reflect that.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
My hope is that my kids, and their kids and their kids and beyond leave a positive mark on the world and that they live the values we’ve tried to instill in them each and every day. There is no better legacy I can think of than a happy family in perpetuity.
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!
This will sound strange coming from a previous technology executive and founder who leveraged technology across almost all that I do, but I think a movement (or device perhaps) that could eliminate every digital distraction for a set number of hours per day to facilitate more direct human to human interaction and dialogue. From couples constant grazing on cell phones, kids streaming YouTube during dinner time, pre-teens who virtual ‘date’ on Snapchat, everyone losing days to binge TV shows, social media making everyone anti-social — a movement that locks out digital, and encourages true contact would be a powerful movement!
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