Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. This is the first interview I am doing with a friend from college, so it should be especially fun. What elements, if any, from your experience at USC have been key to your professional success?
Darren: The most important skill I learned at USC is the ability to do a lot of things at once. In college, classwork and personal obligations pull you in so many different directions. Layer that on top of all the changes going on personally and around you, it taught me to cope with chaos – which is a valuable skill that translates well to the workplace.
Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Darren: Failures and setbacks were the name of the game at TeleSign. We hired the wrong people, went after the wrong markets, and made plenty of execution mistakes. Having said that, we always kept going and didn’t give up, even with little progress to show in the early days. Eventually we made the right decisions, and I think that persistence is what allowed us to power through the hard times to make TeleSign successful.
Adam: What are the best lessons you learned from your time co-founding TeleSign through acquisition?
Darren: The best lesson I’ve ever learned is to think big. The world is full of skeptics and naysayers, but it’s important to develop a vision that you believe in, to commit, and to shut out the world of pessimists.
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?
Darren: I think the best quote on leadership comes from Lao Tzu:
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
The best leaders I’ve come across aren’t out for credit and prefer to lead from the background, taking pride in their teams’ accomplishments and letting the work and results speak for themselves.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
1. Find the why behind what you are doing. Ask yourself why I am doing this? If you get a compelling reason you can pretty much do anything.
2. Slow down: Too much of society is rushed and people focus on instant gratification and easy explanations. The opposite is often true to really accomplish special things: you must slow down, dig deep below the surface, and put in the hard work.
3. Spend time understanding psychology and human behavior: Understanding why people do the things they do will help you thrive in the business world and your personal life.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Darren: The best advice I ever received was to be obsessed with process but unattached to outcome. Most of the world is not controllable, so focusing on what you can control and being ok if it rains on your parade is paramount. It’s a hard skill to master, but one that is infinitely valuable.
Adam: What is something about you that would surprise people?
Darren: I am obsessed with Mexican food.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Darren: To pay it forward, people should look for opportunities to serve or help people with the expectation of nothing in return.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Darren: I enjoy sports and movies. I think sports have helped me live in the moment. When you play sports or watch an exciting game, all your worries and thoughts leave your mind and you are 100% focused on the game.
Movies are great because they stimulate your imagination and allow you to get better at telling stories, which is an important skill in business.