Access to better talent: Our focus on diversity has allowed us to hire incredible people at Threads, as they were referred by others from under-represented backgrounds. When you have a reputation for creating a safe environment for all individuals, you’re able to access double the recruiting pool and you can hire more, ship more and compound faster. I take every opportunity to brag about the amazing individuals we have working at Threads and how much better they’ve made our company culture and our product.
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rousseau Kazi.
Rousseau Kazi is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Threads, a platform that makes work more inclusive. Kazi founded Threads on the premise of empowering individuals to do their best work and ultimately, make better decisions as a team. Prior to Threads, Kazi worked as a product leader at Facebook for 6 years, where in the first year he simultaneously graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science.
Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Absolutely! My name is Rousseau Kazi and I’m the CEO of Threads. I’m the son of Bangladeshi immigrants and I grew up in a town called Moreno Valley, located in Southern California. Before I started Threads, I worked at Facebook for six years building my way up to product leader. I graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science during my first year working at Facebook. For the rest of my time there, I spent years growing the search product, supported their transition to mobile and helped to lead the “hackathon culture” that resulted in products like Instagram’s Hyperlapse and others. More than anything else though, I learned a lot about how to lead projects, manage a team and many other relevant skills that transferred over into being a CEO.
Outside of work, I really enjoy comedy, and have found that being able to make others laugh is something I’ll never take for granted. I’m a fan of comic books and manga (a Japanese style of comic books/graphic novels), and also like to pick up my guitar every once in a while.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
While there are plenty of funny stories I could tell, I believe sharing something interesting here would be more helpful for budding entrepreneurs.
I started Threads with three of my friends, two of whom I met through work. Part of the impetus for starting Threads was that we noticed how hard it can be for women, minorities and lower-level employees to share their ideas at work, especially at large companies. We began with the goal to make that communication easier. When we started the funding process, my co-founders and I understood that our choice of investors would ultimately impact who we ended up recruiting, so we wanted good representation in the mix. It’s important to note that the people involved on this journey up until that point were men, so we knew we were lacking in female representation, perspective, etc. We had all of these factors in mind — in addition to the importance of sticking to our core mission of keeping diversity of thought at the root of our company — when we committed to a 50/50 gender cap in our first round of financing. For us, it’s all about being inclusive, because at the end of the day, we’re building a product for the world. Diverse investments lead to diverse teams, and diverse teams lead to better business outcomes.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The work communications market is massive — to some degree, even larger than we expected — and it’s generating so many tools in this realm. The articles, conversations, investments and general chatter around it are growing daily. So, in general, I think what makes Threads stand out is our timing within our particular market.
The beauty of being in the work communications industry is that we live and breathe our product every day. Our culture and product are two sides of the same coin. Our tool is a platform for behavior and at its core, it’s about discussions, decisions, supporting others, listening, arguing and everything in between. We are coding what will shape up to be the next meeting room and we’re building our platform to incentivize inclusive behavior. We believe Threads will be a product that rewards diverse points of view.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
We’re seeing a lot of demand from larger companies, which in turn is forcing us to build out new features, focus on certain parts of our business and ultimately build a stronger product.
While I can’t share details of what we’re working on, I can say that it will make our platform smoother and easier to use for everyone, which serves our end goal. We’re constantly taking customer feedback and priorities into consideration as we continue to update and iterate on our product especially as the needs of the workplace constantly change. We know Threads users are going to find it as instinctive to use as we do, and we’re hoping that through the use of this tool, a larger number of diverse voices will be heard at work, which will make the companies we work with churn out better product, too, in the long run.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
So much of being a good leader boils down to creating an environment where people can do their best work — an environment where people feel heard, things are finite and support is present. Leaders need to understand that making their priorities clear for their company, product, new update, project or whatever it may be, will only compound over time, and building great teams and conditions under which they can thrive is key. Catalyst leaders are those who are worthless when their team isn’t there, but are priceless when they are.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?
As a company grows, it becomes harder for everyone to stay on the same page. It becomes more difficult for your voice to cut through the noise and it also becomes harder for your team to feel like they can approach you with issues. To take a proactive approach to tackling this, invest in a communication structure. Create processes that work both bottom up and top down and make it a top priority to understand points of weakness, even if that means breaking these processes down.
This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line? (Please share a story or example for each)
- Access to better talent: Our focus on diversity has allowed us to hire incredible people at Threads, as they were referred by others from under-represented backgrounds. When you have a reputation for creating a safe environment for all individuals, you’re able to access double the recruiting pool and you can hire more, ship more and compound faster. I take every opportunity to brag about the amazing individuals we have working at Threads and how much better they’ve made our company culture and our product.
- Make better decisions: You need full context in order to make the best decisions for your business and having a diverse team is the only way to get that context. It doesn’t matter if everyone at the company agrees on something if that something isn’t beneficial for your larger market. For example, we’ve started talking about integrating ESL into the product much sooner than we anticipated because we have people from different backgrounds who are ESL speakers themselves, and have in turn helped to foster a culture of greater awareness.
- Better product development: Empathizing with people at all different levels helps you build a better product. One of our most-used features, “Follow up”, was suggested by our first designer, who felt overwhelmed by the number of threads she needed to catch up on. We ended up building it out — an option you can click to notify your teams that you’ve seen the thread and plan to follow up, even if you haven’t done so yet — and it’s now one of the major differentiators of our platform.
- Better culture: When you’re in a group of homogenous people you risk creating a toxic environment — you have a very limited point of view, and you can bring out the worst in a group that reflects your own experience. On the flip side, when there’s a melting pot and you’re forced to think about the larger group of people with vastly different experiences than your own, you’re better able to bring out the best in everyone and create a much more caring environment.
Something else we do at Threads to foster a more well-rounded culture is encourage an environment that’s open about mental health — we cover 4 therapy sessions a month for our employees. When you hire great people with a variety of experiences and want them to thrive, a big part of that is creating a culture that makes those people feel safe.
Personal growth: When chatting with diverse groups that have different experiences than your own you’re going to learn a lot — they notice things you won’t. The world is diverse and distributed, and having a vast array of experiences and backgrounds will help you become a leader for the world; not just a small subset. I’ve learned so much from working with the Threads team, and I know I’ll continue to do so as we grow together.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Let me start by saying that a lot of my success comes from my team, the people I surround myself with every day. One thing that comes to mind is when I was invited to an event with a group of CEOs. I accepted the invitation a few weeks out and the day of the event, I received a list of the other CEOs who would be in attendance. Upon reviewing the list, I noticed that there would be no women present, which is something that both as a leader at Threads and personally, I am not comfortable with. I ended up declining the invitation and offered to make introductions to women leaders in my network, which was very graciously received from the other end.
Instances like this make you realize that sometimes people need to be pushed in the right direction. And if you can be the one to do that for them, to help them grow a little bit more, you’re helping to change the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“The history of mathematics is a history of horrendously difficult problems being solved by young people too ignorant to know that they were impossible.” — Freeman Dyson
For context, Freeman Dyson is a respected theoretical physicist and mathematician who originated multiple concepts that bear his name today.
This quote is all about believing in making the impossible possible. We see this idea reflected in so many important conversations happening in our world today — around climate change, technology and human rights, for example. While the majority will always say something is impossible, all it takes is a handful — or even one — person who believes it’s possible to change the world forever.
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?
Someone I am very grateful for is my older sister, Sumaya. She founded her own company and was really a trailblazer for me when it came to starting mine. Sumaya supported my initial startup ideas when I was 14 and has continued to foster them every step of the way. She helped me get into tech and watching the way she handled creating her business affected the way I created my own. The challenges she faced inspired the ideal that became core to my company — encouraging, empowering and lending a voice to women and underrepresented minorities and individuals in business. I wouldn’t have the career I have today and I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without her.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this!
I would love to have a meal with Donald Glover, better known to some as Childish Gambino. He’s a modern-day Renaissance man: writer, actor, author, rapper, social justice leader. He crosses so many boundaries and is great at it all — a rarity today. I’d love to learn his secret.