5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team, With Karoli Hindriks, CEO of Jobbatical
I believe the world would be richer, more creative and more humane if we would embrace diversity and open our borders. We know that with every person that joins a team abroad we are moving the world closer to that goal. Can you imagine what the world would be if every person on the planet would have lived in another country and culture? This thought gives me goosebumps and is the movement we are aspiring to create in the world.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karoli Hindriks. Karoli is the CEO and founder of Jobbatical, a company nominated by Forbes as one of Europe’s 10 Most Exciting Technology SMEs For 2018. With the tagline Hire the World, Jobbatical sits squarely at the intersection of the future of travel, work and talent mobility and is the first startup focused on connecting the tech industry with ready-to-relocate talent around the world. Karoli founded her first company at the age of 16 — officially becoming the youngest inventor in Estonia — and hasn’t slowed down since.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My story has an accidental start. First of all, I was born behind the Iron Curtain as my native country Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, where both travel and entrepreneurship did not even exist — entrepreneurship was considered an illegal activity and people lived behind a closed border, with very few getting special permits overseen by the KGB to travel. After Estonia restored its independence things started to change, including the education system.
One October afternoon when I was yawning during the last class of the day — economics — we were given an assignment to create a student company. For some peculiar reason my classmates voted me to be the president of the company. It inspired me and sparked an idea to create a fashionable traffic safety accessory. My dad suggested I take the idea to the patent office and it turned out to be a unique idea.
I became the youngest inventor in my country, a small town girl who invented a product that saves lives. At 19, I was speaking at the European Parliament on behalf of young entrepreneurs. At age 23, I became the CEO of MTV Estonia, the youngest MTV CEO in the world. In the years to come, I led the launch of six other TV channels across the Baltic states, including the National Geographic channels.
Today I am the co-founder and CEO of Jobbatical, a company on a mission to distribute knowledge and know-how to teams in far-flung cities across the globe. I founded Jobbatical because I believe that the world will be richer when knowledge and human values can be expanded across borders. Three years after its launch, Jobbatical is connecting talent from almost every country in the world to organizations across 49 countries. My company has raised $7.9m from some of the top investors in the world from NYC to Tokyo.
I often think back about what changed on that day when I came up with my invention. The answer is very simple, my late father could have told me that I am just a girl from Eastern Europe. He also could have told me to focus on my studies and not on this silly project. Looking back, without that encouragement I would have a completely different story to share today. Learning that I didn’t need a PhD or a fancy background to make a difference in the world changed the course of my life. This was the moment I realised that if I spend my time on something, it has to change the world for the better.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Building a company is a source of great stories! One that jumps out in my mind is from the very early days of Jobbatical when I was raising the angel round. I had failed to find any angel investors from my native Estonia, so I went to neighboring Finland and was accepted to pitch in front of their angel investor organization. After that event, I landed another meeting a week later with an angel investor in Helsinki. I took an early morning ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki, and of course that was the one time where the ferry was late. We got to the port and I couldn’t get a cab because there were traffic jams. The only thing I could do to avoid being too late was literally run. I took off my high heels and ran over two miles in my nylon stockings, and I was sweating and red-faced when I finally made it to the meeting. Amazingly, we ended up talking for over an hour and that angel investor decided to invest in Jobbatical.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
The top challenge is time zone differences. Setting up a team call across Asia, Europe, and the Americas is quite an exercise itself. But also making sure that we don’t waste time waiting because the person who can tackle a question is sleeping in a different timezone. It is also a challenge for advocating work-life balance since it is always evening somewhere.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
This is something that I’ve had to learn the hard way — by discovering at one point that by wanting to be hands on every part of the company, I was actually taking power away from people and making them feel useless. I changed that by standing in front of them and admitting my mistakes. From there on I have gone through a transition towards giving autonomy to people, encouragement to take risks (and thus encouraging also failure) and transparency — honest feedback is encouraged, meaning that people can come to me as well and tell me where they think I screwed up. All of that has helped us to go from a very low employee happiness level to an extremely high one in less than a year. Another thing that definitely helped to get people to thrive was to set company level OKRs — an aligned direction for a period of time so that people understand where we are moving together.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
Yes, I agree — people join companies and often quit managers. I believe it is important to set up a framework where a person can contribute and feel their contribution has an impact, where they can both grow professionally and personally and have a safe way to also give timely feedback when things are not working out with their manager. My favorite format to do that is a skip-level meeting (courtesy to Twitter ex-CEO Dick Costolo who shared that idea at a management training session I attended). This is a meeting with the team without their direct manager. I usually ask three questions: 1) What is working well at Jobbatical? 2) What could be better at Jobbatical? 3) What would you do differently if you were in the role of your team lead? Why?
I have a skip-level meeting with one of the teams every Friday and this has helped me learn so much about what is going on in the organisation, and offers valuable feedback for the managers about their work.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”.
- Learn how to give feedback effectively.
- You are there to serve and lead the team — the time of fancy CEOs sitting in their corner office and bossing people around is over.
- The world is tired of perfect people — let your team see the human in you so that they would be comfortable being humans as well.
- Your words can take or give power to a person — learn how to build that power in people.
- Your team is your sports team, not your family (would you fire your mom?).
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
In many ways I am working on that every day. I believe the world would be richer, more creative and more humane if we would embrace diversity and open our borders. We know that with every person that joins a team abroad we are moving the world closer to that goal. Can you imagine what the world would be if every person on the planet would have lived in another country and culture? This thought gives me goosebumps and is the movement we are aspiring to create in the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In my experience, Murphy’s Quantum Law “Anything that can, could have, or will go wrong, is going wrong, all at once” applies often. The trick is how to take it with humor rather than with drama.
One example is from few months ago when I got a call from the Office of the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, inviting me to join the President’s official state visit to Ukraine and give an inspirational speech at the Women in Business forum. What an honor to get an invite like that from the leader of one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world!
After some calendar reshuffling, team Jobbatical decided that this was an opportunity not to be missed. Little did I know what adventures were waiting for me. On the day of the speech, President Kaljulaid gave the opening keynote at the “Women in Business” seminar and three female entrepreneurs, myself included, were to share their stories after her.
When it was my time to step on the (small and cramped) stage, I decided to enter from the side to avoid stepping on the President’s toes. There was a grandiose introduction by the host, people were applauding, I stepped on the stage… and boom. Next thing I knew, I’m face down on the floor with the audience letting out a unified gasp. I look up and the President of Estonia is giving me her hand to help me back up. I dust myself off and delivered my speech. It later turned out that I had broken one of my fingers in three parts!