Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here?
Mike: I started my career as a chip designer at Sun Microsystems, then I went on to business school. I joined Microsoft right out of business school and held several positions there, including product marketing, product strategy and product management roles. I left there after five-and-a-half years to found Paramark, a marketing analytics startup. It was a big change; I went from working for a huge company to literally working with just three other co-founders. After Paramark, I went to Polycom and ran its video conferencing division, then back to Microsoft for a second stint.
I went back to Microsoft the second time to serve as General Manager of its SQL Server Marketing team. My goal was to learn sales and marketing, to give me some of the skills I’d need to be successful in building a company. Following my second time working with Microsoft, I joined Rapid7 as its CEO.
I’ve been CEO of Talend, a leader in cloud data integration, since 2012. We took Talend public in July of 2016, in what was a very difficult IPO market. Despite the tough market, our offering was well received –our bankers said it was one of the most oversubscribed offerings in the last three years. At IPO, our stock was $17 per share; it’s now over $60 a share. We couldn’t have achieved that success without the hard work and dedication of the terrific team at Talend.
Adam: What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Mike: One of the most significant learning experiences I’ve had happened at Paramark, the analytics company I helped cofound. A few years after founding, it was obvious we were not headed for success, so we sold the company that we spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears building. I learned several things from that experience, chief among them the fact that it’s incredibly important to pick the right cofounders when you are building a startup (or later-stage growth company). I learned that if you can’t see eye-to-eye with a cofounder around how to handle the rough spots, you won’t be able to make the kind of progress needed for success. I also learned that it’s really hard to hire outside of the founding teams’ skillsets, so make sure you have a diverse group from the start (we were all technical so had gaps in sales and partnerships).
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Mike: There are many qualities that I think help define a good leader. Most importantly, a good leader needs to be able to admit failure, discuss and dissect it and learn from it. Good leaders should also be able to create and communicate a clear vision and build a culture where everyone feels connected to the company’s success. Finally, I think it’s essential to have the capacity to create a sense of accountability for all team members and give employees a better appreciation for how they fit into the bigger picture.
I believe feedback is essential to growth, so one way leaders can take their skills to the next level is by asking for feedback. They can conduct 360-degree reviews that allow those familiar with their work to provide feedback, both anonymously and for attribution. Then they can sit down with their team and walk through what they’ve heard, acknowledge what’s not working, and talk about what steps are needed for improvement.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to an audience of entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Mike: Make a conscious daily effort to be more accessible and approachable. By being approachable, you let your team know you want to hear from them – and this means you quickly find out about issues, problems, and successes that you’d otherwise hear about later or never.
Know the gaps in your own skill set. It’s impossible to know everything needed to successfully run a company. Know what you don’t know and surround yourself with smart people that can help fill in the gaps.
Your team is key to your success. Hire well and select individuals for your team that embrace teamwork and truly care about the people they work with.
Adam: What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Mike: The most valuable guidance I’ve received isn’t a piece of advice, but rather the example my Dad set through the way he conducted himself. He really valued education, and while he could have lived a more comfortable life, he drove a VW Beetle for twelve years so he could give my siblings and me a good education. I’ve never forgotten his discipline and drive and try to emulate it in my life.
Adam: How do you pay it forward?
Mike: I do a fair amount of mentoring inside and outside Talend. I recently reviewed a friend’s pitch deck because they’re getting ready to start raising money for their business. I also talk to other entrepreneurs who want feedback regarding their business strategies. From my perspective, it’s hugely valuable to get an outside look at something you are doing if you haven’t done it before. I’m more than happy to help others who are trying to build something great.
Personally, my wife and I are involved in supporting several local charities, and recently hosted some fund-raising events.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Mike: I really enjoy road biking. Most weekends, I go biking up through the foothills around Atherton, California, where I live. It’s a fantastic climb with beautiful views. I keep records of my times and splits and challenge myself to continually set new goals as a healthy means to compete with myself. Biking is a great way to clear my head of anything work-related and it’s also great exercise!