Early on, we had to learn what were the right questions to build the right team. Interviewing is your chance to ask the right questions to make sure it’s a fit for everyone. You never want to bring someone into your culture only for them to feel unhappy. One hard lesson I experienced was seeing a promising teammate struggle with our technology. There was a fixed mindset about the kind of systems the employee wanted to use. The impact was how communication suffered. As a result, the employee failed to thrive with the team and couldn’t lead effectively. Now, in every interview, I ask what technology people are comfortable with and if they’re comfortable learning new technologies. At its core, this is a question about communication.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rei Carvalho, CEO and Founder of the global fraud prevention and risk management leader Emailage. Rei is an experienced entrepreneur who founded Emailage in 2012. He is a computer scientist with more than 20 years of experience in data security, effective software creation and efficient management.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Being passionate about technology and being curious about leadership is a good profile for an entrepreneur today. That’s especially true in the fraud detection and enterprise risk management space where fraud tactics are always evolving. My interest in both technology and leadership — and by extension the idea for Emailage — goes back to being a teenager in Brazil in the 1990s.
I was about 16 and my dad bought me a computer. Keep in mind that back then, you could buy a car or a computer for the same price, so I knew my dad was really making an investment in me. He gave me something so I could make other things possible for myself. The computer gave me a direction and a goal; it sparked a passion for me to experiment and create with technology.
I went to school and studied computer science, I grew up in my technology career, I worked hard — and I played hard too! With every role I had I made it a point to build relationships with leaders and I took every opportunity to learn from them. What made them successful? What would they never do again?
Over and over again in my career, I kept seeking out new and interesting technology and interesting leaders and CEOs to learn from. I wasn’t ever looking to be a CEO. I was always looking for technology and leadership lessons.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
All my education and all the roles I’ve had prior to founding Emailage were focused on technology. It can be a bit of a shock when you’re the leader. Suddenly, when you’re building a startup, you’re the head of every department: product development, finance, HR, sales, marketing. Maybe you’re an expert in one area, but you’re a rookie in everything else. In the beginning, that can really make or break a new company. The key is to hire the right people who are experts in areas different from your own strengths.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
People and culture are everything. You can have the best product, a genius business plan, a great investment, but if your team isn’t engaged around a common purpose — a reason your company exists — it’s almost impossible to succeed. We have grown Emailage around the idea that we can make a difference in the world using technology to outsmart fraud and the crimes associated with it. Our culture thrives when we are really intentional about hiring talented, bright and creative people who are inspired by this idea.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- This will impact your family more than you expect.
When you have a growing company, it’s like having an infant in so many ways. There’s so much about it dependent on you. I think back to those newborn days with my daughters and the feelings are strikingly similar to the early days of a company. The pressure to care about what you’re leading really trickles down into other parts of your life. Talk with your family about what it will mean when you are traveling to be with clients whenever they need you. Talk to other leaders about what was hard for their families and what solutions they came up with together.
2. Even if you know money. You still have a lot to learn.
As a CEO, using money wisely means something different in almost every circumstance. How are you using it? When are you using it? Where are you using it? With Emailage, there came a point where we elected to go global and it showcased to me how the best planning and deployment of money can still make you wonder if you made the right decision. Looking back at that decision-point, I can see it was, but money will make you question a lot, and it will be the source of a lot of lessons. Be ready to learn from them.
3. Plan. Then plan to pivot.
When it comes to growing a startup and being a CEO, I’ve learned that the only move that matters is your next one. Every CEO has their own style for planning, and it takes some time to figure out what the best practices are for you. The world doesn’t stop spinning while you figure that out. Have a sense of urgency about learning this. Learn to pivot and iterate. Put the work into identifying what works along the way and make it your best practice — then pivot and iterate in other areas. Plan. Pivot. Repeat.
4. You must have the right questions.
Early on at Emailage, we had to learn what were the right questions to build the right team. Interviewing is your chance to ask the right questions to make sure it’s a fit for everyone. You never want to bring someone into your culture only for them to feel unhappy. One hard lesson I experienced was seeing a promising teammate struggle with our technology. There was a fixed mindset about the kind of systems the employee wanted to use. The impact was how communication suffered. As a result, the employee failed to thrive with the team and couldn’t lead effectively. Now, in every interview, I ask what technology people are comfortable with and if they’re comfortable learning new technologies. At its core, this is a question about communication.
5. How you behave as a leader is your culture.
There’s that saying: You are what you endorse. You are what you tolerate. There’s a ton of truth to that for CEOs. Your team is always looking to you for signals of what your culture is. If you want to be an innovative company, you have to endorse innovative ideas. Whatever you value has to be easily reflected in your decisions. Especially in a startup, the way you behave as the leader is the most powerful message about culture, and you need to have strong self-awareness for this and illustrate it consistently.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
For our team at Emailage, and with the CEOs I have advised as an investor, my message is to find a balance. Those founders, and our Emailage team, I see how much they want to work and hustle. It can be relentless. And burnout can turn into not liking the role or the company — and it will be miserable.
The thing about balance is it’s a lot of micro-shifting. Standing on your tippee toes, what you’re actually doing is making lots of little movements to keep balance. In many ways, leading as a CEO is the same. Other times you need to come down to your heels and really back off to get a refresh.
For me, that refresh is always going to be with my family. If I really need to back off, it’s time to go make some memories with my family.
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?
My father and the computer he gave me. I could have done so many other things with my time when I was a teenager, but it wouldn’t have been productive for me. That single gift — that investment — it’s been like a key that’s been opening doors for me ever since.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Today, professionally, I am really inspired by how Emailage is evolving and growing globally to detect fraud with email at the core of our technology solutions. The fraud prevention products we deliver are helping our clients deter fraud and delight their customers — it’s exciting to see our technology be helpful and watch clients expand our use cases. With Email Risk Score and confidence scoring solutions, those companies are seeing results at the bottom line, because they’re not losing money to bad actors. More importantly, when Emailage offerings help clients prevent fraud, together, we keep money out of the hands of criminal organizations affiliated with real human atrocities. Even if in some small way what Emailage is doing creates a safer world, it will be a contribution I’m forever proud of.
Personally, I want to cherish my family. I am a father to daughters, so I want to do what I can to make the world a safer place for them, for my grandkids one day. My personal and professional goals intersect there. This gives me a lot of fuel for the work I do leading Emailage.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Create safer environments.
One of the ideas about Emailage is that when businesses create safer environments to transact, their customers will do more transacting with them. Our fraud detection solutions are designed for that. It’s great for businesses and we’re really proud of those outcomes.
The safe environment we have here living in the US is something we take for granted. Inequality runs so deep in other parts of the world. We can create safer environments for children around the world by focusing on access to food and education that starts a movement aimed at creating conditions to thrive. A safe environment for a child has a ripple effect that can last a lifetime. There are personal projects I’m involved in too that I hope will create safer environments for another generation, and beyond.
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!
Food scarcity is a heartbreaking issue around the world. In America, we think we see it, but we just have no idea. Addressing hunger issues for vulnerable populations around the world is a great challenge.
When we are able to be sure children have quality nutrition, so many other factors for success become possible. Do we do our best work or learning when we are hungry? No. So for all the efforts to educate, I want to support efforts to address childhood hunger. The two go hand-in-hand. Good meals. Good learning. Safer environments.
How can our readers follow you on social media?