Execution is greater than having unique ideas. Startup CEOs put too much emphasis on ideas. Your unique insight on a market, feature, or product will definitely give you an early mover advantage. You can only maximize that advantage if you execute diligently. Speed is the greatest strength a startup can have. Most people have ideas that remain as ideas forever. Very few people are going to be able to put in the work to prove those ideas out.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Krish Ramineni.
Krish Ramineni is the co-founder & CEO of Fireflies.ai, a fast-growing startup based in San Francisco. The company has had a breakout year with their AI Voice Assistant that transcribes meetings, creates notes, and completes tasks. Prior to Fireflies, Krish was one of the youngest product managers at Microsoft working on cutting edge machine learning and growth engineering initiatives.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s a pleasure to join you here. I’m a first-time founder, and I have to give a lot of credit to my time at Microsoft. As a product manager, you are really the CEO of a feature set that you own and execute on. That’s where I learned to bring together multiple stakeholders from engineers, designers, and data scientists to build new products. When I founded Fireflies, for a long period of time, it was just a 2 person company. My co-founder and I would do everything. Gradually, you start building your core team across different verticals. As the team gets bigger and the product starts scaling, you have to introduce layers of management and structure to keep things together. There was no playbook to follow. You learn a lot from trial and error. Ultimately, the only thing that mattered was speed and execution. That’s where you are forced to iterate quickly and learn from your mistakes.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
As you scale your management team and delegate more responsibility to your individual contributors, you realize that execution is dependent on context. The reason someone is going to make the wrong decision is because of a lack of context. Just because I know a certain piece of information doesn’t mean that my colleague does. We’ve made mistakes where we built the wrong features or had unoptimized systems that could have been avoided had the entire leadership team had more context. As a CEO, you are defining what needs to be executed. It is just as important to communicate why you are doing something. When people understand the why, they have a better perspective to operate around. You’re instilling folks with the confidence to make the right decisions on their own.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Success is definitely relative. At each milestone, you ask yourself how you could have gotten there faster. If you’re growing 10% last month, what is preventing you from growing 15% next month? We are still a long way away from unleashing our full potential here at Fireflies. The framework that’s helped us move a lot quicker and ship continuously is an obsession with building systems that can be repeated over and over again on autopilot. Whether that is building out a team to tackle partnerships or a group that’s responsible for driving our leading KPIs, we want to ensure there is a continuous process. Eventually, you start seeing the entire company move in the right direction as a result.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Sometimes, there is no right answer
a. I’ve had many situations where I didn’t know if we should do something. Should we raise our prices? Should we hire for a role sooner? Do we promote internally or hire externally? A lot of these questions have no right answer. It’s subject to a lot of variables and changes. The only right approach is knowing that if things do break it’s not the end of the world. You need a learning mindset. Be open to testing the waters and change your decision if it’s not yielding the results you want.
2. Execution is greater than having unique ideas
a. Startup CEOs put too much emphasis on ideas. Your unique insight on a market, feature, or product will definitely give you an early mover advantage. You can only maximize that advantage if you execute diligently. Speed is the greatest strength a startup can have. Most people have ideas that remain as ideas forever. Very few people are going to be able to put in the work to prove those ideas out.
3. Most advice taken out of context can hurt you
a. Just because something worked for someone else or some other company doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you. We can’t ignore the fact that the company might be serving a different market or that they are operating on a different playing field with more resources. Take expert advice cautiously. Many times it can be a distraction. Only you can truly understand what direction you need to go based on what your customers, team, and data are indicating.
4. Learn to say no more often
a. As your company starts gaining traction, you will have less time. However, more people will want your time. You’ll need to say no more often than yes. Learn to identify distractions. Prioritize the 3 things that will let you move the needle this quarter. You also need to set aside time to just think. Back to back meetings may make you feel productive, but it’s just making you feel busy.
5. Breadth is as important as depth of knowledge
a. If you’re a CEO, you better get comfortable knowing and learning about everything that goes on in your business. Just because you’re an engineer by training does not mean you can hand off sales and marketing to someone else. Yes, you’re going to have to delegate eventually, but you’ll do a lot better when you understand what you are hiring for. You’re setting the bar for each role. Hence, the breadth of knowledge is as important as the depth of knowledge.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You’ve got to pace yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day. People expect your startup to deliver overnight, but we have to realize all good things take time. You can’t take shortcuts. You don’t want to scale before you have a good foundation built out. Take the long term perspective and build each part of your company brick by brick.
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?
There is a category of people that I deeply respect. These are former founders and CEOs that have gone through the journey and can give you the honest facts. They won’t sugarcoat it and they were in your situation at some point in time. Folks like Jason Lemkin through his Saastr content and our own angel investor, Peter Reinhardt, the CEO of Segment, have always provided a wealth of practical advice.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I’m working on better delegating and scaling our teams. Startups have a lot of chaos. Our job as CEO is to manage that chaos better. I want to create more time and space for my team to take on ambitious bets and grow Fireflies.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
We’re just starting out. There is a lot I need to accomplish before thinking about legacy. Hopefully, we can challenge the status quo and bring diversity to our startup by building global teams from different parts of the world.
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 believe that a remotely distributed workforce can be successful. We’re scaling our team in a 100% distributed fashion. I genuinely believe that more companies will hop on to this. There are ample benefits for both the employees and companies who decide to pursue this route.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on twitter via @krish_ramineni