Howie Xu was the founder of TrustPath which he then sold to Z Scaler. It’s since grown from 1,000 to 6,000 employees. He’s also a guest lecturer in Product Market Fit at Stanford University Graduate Business School.
In today’s episode, Howie reflects on a recurring theme that he’s experienced in business that he thinks founders will resonate with.
He summarises it with one particular example:
He was the founding VP engineer in a start-up… But he and the CEO had very different views on what the strategy for the business should be.
At the time, they were discussing whether or not to go open source.
There were clear advantages and disadvantages to go either way. But the question had to go deeper, to ask whether the business was ready for that.
To jump forward in the story, the company did well regardless of what the decision was. But, to this day, Howie questions the way he handled that particular situation.
As a startup in their position, they couldn’t really afford to have opposing views.
As a startup, your team is small. If you don’t have same vision and attack that together — you could risk losing out to someone bigger.
Reflecting on it now, the team that Howie had at that time could have been more coherent in this respect.
There wasn’t enough unity — and this put them at a disadvantage. For a start-up to be “feared” by competitors, Howie believes that everyone must, first and foremost, have the same vision.
For Howie, the fundamental reason behind a company’s success is that they believe in what they do — and they go for it.
Two Things Behind Effective Communication in a Workplace
Howie sees the idea of belief in a company playing out in two phases for a founding team:
- It’s really important that everyone is united under one vision or it’s not going to work.
- To make the hypothesis turn into a functioning effect. You must collectively explore different iterations until you find a product market fit.
What’s interesting is that for Howie, at a surface level, these two play separate parts.
But behind that initial facade, the two concepts directly impact each other.
Because you can create 1 product and everyone agrees with the vision behind it.
But when you start to play with iterations of that product and explore where the company is going — maintaining a coherent team becomes more difficult.
This is where Howie’s experiences can show some light. And where we come back to his example of the startup where his CEO had a different view.
At first, Howie hadn’t noticed that his CEO didn’t understand that there WAS a discrepancy… until one of his board members pointed it out to him.
The biggest learning from this moment was that not everyone communicates in the same way.
And therefore do not listen in the same way. For Howie to be understood, he had to speak to his CEO in a way that he would clearly understand.
He had to be more tactical in his approaches to get his point across clearly, or he would not be understood.
To summarise Howie’s advice, the key to maintaining the coherence of a company is
- Contextual communication
- Intellectual honesty
In our chat, Howie often uses ChatPT and big-name companies such as Facebook as reference for the ideas that he’s exploring.
We finish our conversation by talking a little about how these 3 concepts can be applied to using ChatPT responsibly and how it can easily become a less-constructive tool for humans.
Tune in for more insights.