Your business cannot follow a cookie-cutter plan. It is unique in many ways, and the success you ultimately have will depend on understanding its uniqueness. I think that there is some part of all of us that wishes we could just read a book or hire a consultant to pave the way for a perfect path forward. The reality is that you have to take all inputs into consideration, thoughtfully digest them, and act on the ones that you think will benefit your company.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Randal Redberg.
Randal Redberg is the CEO and Managing Member of Experts-Exchange, LLC a global technology resource platform for IT professionals. In 2001, he purchased Experts-Exchange as a failed dot com which originated in 1996 and was funded by a $6 million investment from J.P. Morgan. Experts-Exchange has over 4.7 million members from 195 countries. Members have access to its approximately 4 million pieces of content which include; solutions, articles, discussions and courses.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mywife. In 1999, she challenged me to learn more about what was going on in terms of the internet and how it was transforming people’s lives. She is definitely the early adopter of the family. She completed 100% of her Christmas shopping that year online. Keep in mind very few stores had any real online presence at that time. I had the entrepreneurial bug and loved the start-up phase of ideas.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Cash flow was tough to navigate because I was determined to bootstrap the company after watching what had happened to Experts-Exchange (EE) in its previous life. I was able to discuss the benefits of bootstrapping with a couple of local VC guys in our hometown, and it really solidified in my mind to take that path.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
We knew that our content was really valuable but we couldn’t figure out a way to generate enough revenue to sustain operations. We tried advertising, but it was not viable. It wasn’t until we found a way to let people pay for accessing our content for research or ask their own specific question that we found a financial path forward. That model was a paid subscription plan where members had unlimited access to our content and could ask questions to critical issues they were facing.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Work really hard to learn how to ask the right questions that matter, not just the questions that give you answers you want to hear. I was recently advised to ask five questions to really understand where you’re trying to “get.” This is really the discipline of Peter Senge who worked with many CEOs of top companies.
- Take to heart the quote from Bill Gates: “Success is a lousy teacher; it seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” Once we started to see financial success, it became easy to think we had it all figured out and could sit back, resting on our financial security blanket. That only lasts for a little while.
- No one is going to solve your problems. You can have great resources available to you, but it is up to you to put all of the pieces together for success. I have fooled myself a couple of times into thinking I could just hire my way to long-lasting success without putting in the personal hard work. The problem was exacerbated when there wasn’t a clear vision from me about where the company was headed.
- Your business cannot follow a cookie-cutter plan. It is unique in many ways, and the success you ultimately have will depend on understanding its uniqueness. I think that there is some part of all of us that wishes we could just read a book or hire a consultant to pave the way for a perfect path forward. The reality is that you have to take all inputs into consideration, thoughtfully digest them, and act on the ones that you think will benefit your company.
- Surround yourself with truthful people who are smarter than you are and genuinely care for you. It’s easy to surround yourself with people who tell you what you want to hear when you own the company and sign the checks. Finding people who are intelligent, genuinely care about the success of the company, and are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in are hard to find.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Know your strengths and weaknesses. I know that I am not good at many aspects of our business. Do the work that you enjoy doing and find people who enjoy doing the things you don’t like or find tedious. It’s much more rewarding for everyone when they can thrive in an area that interests them. I really think that that’s when it doesn’t feel like work.
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 feel that there are two people, my dad and my first business partner. My wife and I only had half of the purchase price to buy EE in 2001. My dad gave me his entire savings to fund the other half. He had no idea what the company really did, but it was all about having faith in me. My previous business partner, Austin Miller, was the person who first introduced me to EE. He had previously worked for the company and was able to shed light on the community and how the site worked. Without him, I would have never had the opportunity to discover or be part of EE.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I think that there are so many opportunities that still lie ahead for us. When I think about our mission statement of “Solving the world’s technology problems through collaboration and learning,” I really feel that we are at the heart of everything that is happening in the world today. Helping people is really at the heart of our DNA, so I hope we can continue to find more ways to do that.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I have three daughters, and I always enjoy seeing women enter the field of technology, which has been mostly dominated by men. I would really like to see women thrive in all areas of technology and not feel or, more importantly, be intimidated. We are definitely seeing more women than ever before applying for technology positions. I hope EE can be part of continuing to foster that growth.
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 wrote an article about your child’s second language being a programming language. I think that schools should consider teaching computer science as a core subject. I really believe that we are headed into a future that will allow us to create and program custom apps on the fly that will apply specifically to us as an individual. That being said, I do feel that there always needs to be balance. Finding ways to be outside, understanding where our food comes from, and learning the benefits of gardening, for example, are important as well. So I really think that, in all things, finding the right balance between technology and nature is going to be critical.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Experts-Exchange: Randal Redberg
Linkedin: Randy Redberg