March 3, 2021 10 min read
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My ongoing series in partnership with Entrepreneur, If I Knew Then: Leadership Lessons, is a platform for hosting virtual fireside chats with high-profile CEOs of major brands from Indeed and Nextdoor, to GoDaddy and DocuSign. These insightful sessions allow successful leaders to be transparent as they share their insights, life experiences and lessons for both current and future entrepreneurs.
For the fifteenth episode, I wanted to sit down with Envoy founder and CEO Larry Gadea, who has now facilitated four million safe returns to the office. Envoy’s tagline, “We’re creating a world where workplaces do better,” is doing just that. With a suite of products that redefine how to welcome visitors and employees back to the office, the workplace platform includes tools for check-in registrations, booking meeting rooms and desks, managing deliveries and capacity limits for social distancing. Envoy is used in more than 14,000 offices across 70 countries; including at Slack, Pinterest, Warby Parker, Lionsgate and L’Oreal.
Related: Free On-Demand Webinar: How to Safely Reopen Offices & Manage a Hybrid Workforce
Gadea’s early investors include Silicon Valley bigwigs from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Quora’s Adam D’Angelo and Yelp’s Jeremy Stoppelman, to well-known industry VCs including Andreessen Horowitz, Menlo Ventures and Initialized Capital. Gadea’s story and lessons are not to be missed, from escaping communist Romania, to being recruited as one of Google’s youngest software engineers at the age of 17, to joining Twitter as one of its first 50 employees.
Gadea’s early childhood years began with a border-crossing out of his homeland. He was smuggled out of communist Romania in the backseat of his parents’ car to live in Germany for a few years before his family officially settled in Ottawa, Canada. Despite having Master’s degrees and esteemed careers in Romania, his parents had to start over by working blue-collar jobs; his mother cleaned houses, and his father picked berries. Gadea utilized his parents’ sacrifice and work ethic as his models of success. It has helped him rise to many of life’s challenges, with the biggest one facing his career last year.
After spending seven years creating products to help modernize visitor experiences for physical offices, the pandemic clearly hurt Envoy’s core business. Gadea says of his company: “We create products that are great visitor experiences, that’s how a lot of people know us. Last year was definitely a challenge, but we used it to rethink how we would unify the office under one platform, like an OS for the workplace where we weave together all of the moving parts.”
Related: 13 Leadership Lessons from Chegg President and CEO Dan Rosensweig
Those moving parts now include making workplaces safer in the midst of the pandemic and bridging Covid protocols together so that people can continue to produce meaningful work. This pivot and expansion of products was critical to not only Envoy’s business, but it also benefited so many organizations that needed to safely reopen in this new world.
These are the 12 main takeaways Gadea shared with me during our hour-long conversation:
1. When you run a company, it’s important to trust people. You have to trust them and tell them that you trust them
Philosophical words like this have helped guide Gadea, and he stresses that it is the second part of this common piece of advice that a lot of people miss.
2. Innovate and build faster to stay relevant
With the pandemic constraining companies, Gadea took the chance to pivot and modify his service. “It made us think strongly about What can we do to help? and What can we be building for this? It was an opportunity to become more relevant in helping people while fostering safety. We have never innovated faster or built faster than now. We are building for the entire workforce, and this has been an exciting muscle to exercise.”
3. Never even slightly lower the bar when you’re hiring
When your company is small, the people you hire are the people that your company becomes. It’s the people who you hire in the early days that define what kind of company you want to be. What is your company value? What kind of people does your company hire? Never compromise on talent. A company is its people.
4. Encouraging and promoting ownership retains great employees
Gadea says you can’t retain excitement in employees if you are just cloning something that already exists. His guidelines for hiring great employees not only applies to what he looks for in engineers, but it can also apply to any industry: Look for team members who are not there just because it’s a job or a paycheck, and find people who want to master their craft. People who have a desire to learn more about what they’re doing and can show evidence of this demonstrates how much pride they have in the work.
Related: 12 Leadership Lessons from GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani
5. Employees need to know that if it breaks, you will have their back
Make a point to communicate with employees that they are owners of their projects, not just “working for the man.” When employees step up and do something risky, they also need to know that you will have their back if it breaks or doesn’t go as planned.
6. Have humility when you see something doesn’t work, and don’t be afraid to ask for help
There is no shame in admitting that you are wrong, need to pivot a project or need a little help. When you see that something isn’t working: “You just need to communicate when and what isn’t working so that others can help you, and surprise! Others do want to help you,” Gadea says.
7. As a CEO, you need to assume you are the company’s No. 1 salesperson
If you can raise money, you are good at sales. And once you build a product that can sell itself with a clear product roadmap, have the confidence to scale up to a real sales team.
8. The product or service needs to sell itself and be self-serviceable if you want to scale
Gadea believes the key to SaaS sales is having a large portion defined by what the customers are asking for and offering multiple pricing plans. If you want to scale your business, it is important to include a low-priced, self-serve product that enables all people to access the service online without needing a sales team to pitch them. Why? Because it can be difficult in an enterprise business to access the decision-maker and sell to them directly. Gadea shares that even after Envoy implemented a tiered pricing plan with increased fees, “Customers stuck with us because our business now had value.”
9. Think holistically instead of just checking boxes
If Gadea could go back in time knowing what he knows now with Covid, he says, “I would have focused on holistically thinking about how and why things work to increase innovation. Building this all-encompassing ‘thing’ with more products that will actually be used by everyone as opposed to doubling down on our visitor products.”
Related: 12 Leadership Lessons from Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar
10. Don’t fall into the trap of building things that don’t apply to a larger audience
From his experience building products tailor-made for customers that often go unused, Gadea now asks himself, Is this something enough of our customers are going to use? and What are we going to build that has the largest utility for the most customers? This helps save time and removes the complexity of problem-solving by trying to reach every individual customer.
11. Try to be less terrible at communication
Social communications are often lost when we are physically separated and working remotely. When everyone is remote, it’s easy for employees to experience paranoia about other colleagues and the company. Engaging in constant communication helps offset this issue. One of Gadea’s best practices for fueling communications is to have a weekly show-and-tell for an hour where employees show off cool products that they have worked on that week. But, more importantly, what they are really show-and-telling are their core values. Gadea shares that another fun method he’s used to get people together is through virtual video chat using an app like Topia.
12. The ability to collaborate is what will define companies in the future
When it comes to the future of work over the next 10 years, Gadea says it’s important for companies to ask themselves, “Do we have the right tools and mindset to function being in a remote or hybrid work environment?” Whether employees are at home, offsite or in your headquarters, organizations need the most innovative tools to collaborate seamlessly.
Watch the full webinar to learn more about how Larry Gadea brings more humanity to business with insights, tools and strategies.
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