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Growing Small Businesses Like Big Ones: Tips From Ex-Googler Laszlo Bock

Growing Small Businesses Like Big Ones: Tips From Ex-Googler Laszlo Bock

by Manuela
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Laszlo Bock is the co-founder and CEO of Humu. Previously, he was the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google from 2006 to 2016. Laszlo is credited with creating the field of People Analytics, the application of academic-quality rigor and Google-paced innovation to people management. Prior to joining Google, Bock served in executive roles at General Electric and as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, WORK RULES!, a practical guide to help people find meaning in work and improve the way they live and lead. Laszlo will be speaking at the Small Business Keynote on Thursday, September 27 at Dreamforce ‘18, which is free to attend for all-conference and Expo+ pass holders.

Q: You led a huge organization at Google and built an award-winning culture there — what motivated you to take the leap into building your own startup?

A: I believe that you can have a disproportionate impact on the world around you through HR. We spend more time working than we do anything else. In my old job, Google’s leadership supported open sourcing and the sharing of a lot of what we did on the people side.

But I really wanted to keep making more and more of a difference — and not just at Google. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could combine the lessons learned at Google with what I’d seen at other companies I was privileged enough to interact with, and combining them all in a way that could actually make all companies work better for everyone, everywhere.

I realized the only way to do this was to build a team and develop it ourselves.

Q: What were some learnings from your experience working at large organizations that were helpful in your entrepreneurial journey? Were there any surprises that didn’t translate to the startup environment?

A: My past roles have been both fantastic and terrible preparation for startup life in a number of ways.

Terrible in that there’s a skill-set a founder and CEO needs that’s hard to build inside of consulting or HR. In those functions, you’re often able to influence decisions that affect the future of the business but rarely able to make the decisions yourself.

At the same time, however, it has been fantastic preparation. Every company likes to say they put people first. However, in practical matters, most companies don’t. They come to realize that putting these words into action takes a lot of work. I’ve found myself in a unique position — both as a leader of a team determined to put people first every day and also as a partner and advisor working with other senior leaders to ensure they live up to their best intentions — to make those “people first” talking points a reality.

Q. Humu is about making the workplace better via technology that drives behavioral change and positive outcomes. How important has it been to adopt the right technology to build your business?

A: As a company that builds technology, we take decisions around what technologies we use to power our business really seriously.

For example, in an effort to make work better for their people, our partners entrust us with the analysis of sensitive employee data. They expect and deserve the highest standards of privacy and security. We’ve chosen to build this technology ourselves in order to live up to that commitment to our partners.

On the other hand, when deciding on software solutions for things like sales — where there’s a clear industry leader like Salesforce that provides the services we need in a way that meets both our standards and our partners’ — we’ve made the obvious choice.

Q: Humu is trailblazing with Salesforce Essentials. What made you decide to grow your business with Essentials?

A: It’s no secret that Salesforce is the industry leader, particularly for enterprise sales. We’re in a bit of a unique situation at Humu. As a result of the team we’ve built and the level of excitement around applying technology to both people and culture issues, we’ve been privileged to be on the receiving end of an overwhelming amount of inbound interest.

But we’re also a startup with a small team. We definitely have adopted a “young, scrappy, and hungry” mindset. Salesforce Essentials gives us everything we need — and nothing we don’t.

For one, its interface is easy for even the most green team members to start using with minimal training. It’s familiar enough to those folks on our team who’ve used Salesforce in past roles to just jump right in and get to work. And finally, the feature set is perfect for what we’re trying to accomplish at this stage of our company’s development.

Q: How do you prioritize the growth of your business? What are the key investments that every startup should think about?

A: The key questions for companies our size — and in the same incredibly privileged position we’ve found ourselves in — is how to develop relationships with the right partners at the right time. From the sales process straight through to the deployment of the Humu product itself and everything that results from that, whether it’s new feature requests to customer support, every interaction with a partner is critical.

We’ve doubled down on our investments in both technology like Salesforce that allows us to track, analyze, and optimize interactions and in the people we hire. When you’re building a business based on relationships, the emotional intelligence and altruism of every person you hire couldn’t be more important.

Q: What would be the one essential piece of advice you would give fellow entrepreneurs?

A: I repeat this Peter Drucker classic line all the time: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture shows up in every aspect of how you do business, how you interact with one another on your team, how you treat your customers —and, of course, the small stuff like whether you’re a Coke or a Pepsi company. (For the record, the Humu team is Coke Zero).

But I think the one essential piece of advice I’d impart to any entrepreneur would be about hierarchy. It can be a cancer within companies, building walls where they don’t need to exist and breeding secrecy and paranoia as teams insulate themselves from executives (and vice-versa). It’s vital to draw a distinction between hierarchy in how you make decisions (i.e. where the buck has to stop somewhere) and hierarchy in how you treat one another. Entrepreneurs should look to avoid hierarchy and hierarchical behavior within and from their organizations at all costs.

Photo via Salesforce

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