I was one of the first people to get an electric assisted bike. Biking is physically demanding and there are a lot of roadblocks to using it as your regular transportation. But with an electric assisted bike those roadblocks are removed. The hills disappear, sweating before arriving to work is gone, long distances are traveled faster than with your standard bike. In fact, I get to work FASTER using my electric assisted bike than I do when I drive because I don’t have to sit in my car not moving. We live in a country this has been designed for cars. The bridge I cross has 6 lanes reserved for cars and I argue we should have half for cars and half for bikes. Besides the environmental impact, think of the cost to produce, purchase, and maintain a car versus that of an electric assisted bike.
I had the pleasure to interview Roman Stanek the CEO of GoodData. Roman is a passionate entrepreneur and industry thought leader with over 20 years of high-tech experience. His latest venture, GoodData, was founded in 2007 with the mission to disrupt the business intelligence space and monetize big data. Prior to GoodData, Roman was Founder and CEO of NetBeans, the leading Java development environment (acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999) and Systinet, a leading SOA governance platform (acquired by Mercury Interactive, later Hewlett Packard, in 2006).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up behind the Iron Curtain in what is today The Czech Republic, so the odds of me becoming a CEO of an international company, well, were basically zero. Quite honestly, the thought didn’t even cross my mind. I didn’t have access to computers or the outside world, and you could say my life has been a series of “unfortunate events” for as long as I could remember. As with everything, the world changed and the Iron Curtain fell — I then had access to the internet, which opened up an entirely new means of communication. I started looking into the logistics of VC company funding and years later, I found myself in San Francisco running an international company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I started my first company in 1997 in Prague. We had built the first IDE for Java and one of our partners was Apple. If you recall, at that time, Apple was struggling and we were one of the few companies who supported Apple at that time. Apple invited me to come to the US, to San Jose, to deliver a keynote at their worldwide developer conference. I flew from Prague to speak and as I was getting ready to walk onto the podium, they asked if I had any questions. I said I didn’t know how to use a single button mouse (before that day, I had actually never used an Apple computer). I demoed my product while I was using a Mac for the very first time — in front of 5000 Apple enthusiasts. During a time when Apple was not the best performing company in the world, we knew it was a company we wanted to support. My products were at the forefront of the company’s development at the time, and as a result, we felt we were part of the resurgence of Apple.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was invited by a major European bank to speak on a panel at their global conference in London. The moderator asked about the state of trademarks and copyrights in Eastern Europe. My answer was that “In Eastern Europe, the term ‘copyright’ is translated as the ‘right to copy.’” I quickly learned the power of the sound bite. What I said was picked up by major publications. It’s easy to be misunderstood and one small misinterpretation can have large ramifications.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
In today’s world, we have digital tools help such as video, chat, IM etc., but I believe people still need to meet regularly in person. I believe that “distance creates distrust,” so you have to bring people together periodically to eliminate the distrust. Email is not the best way to always communicate. Talk in person, meet in person. Remind them they are working towards the same goals and are on the same team.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
It can be challenging to manage different cultural norms as those can cause communication problems. For example, in Europe and in the Czech Republic, we praise people differently, recognize people differently and provide feedback differently. What we discuss and share is different in each culture. You have to understand cultural frameworks so we know how to truly assess and adjust expectations. We expect everyone to be the same and that’s not the case. We have to be aware of different cultures, backgrounds, and educations — and be cognizant of those differences and account for them.
In Europe, for example, it seems that giving negative feedback is more acceptable — and expected. While in the U.S., it’s less common to provide outright negative feedback (cue the “feedback sandwich”). I’ll give you a specific example: to say in a meeting, “That’s an original point of view” can be easily misconstrued among American teams. Some might perceive that feedback to be slightly tongue-in-cheek or passive aggressive, but in another culture, it truly means it’s a great idea. Again, you have to be cognizant of different cultures when communicating, and account for misinterpretation through cultural norms.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Ask questions, understand various points of view, make new mistakes, take calculated risks, and don’t be afraid to rock the boat.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
Retaining talent is half of a CEO’s job today. You have to create culture and retain talent. For a broader audience, it’s about transparency and setting the tone. The definition of any culture is the worst behavior you are willing to tolerate. That behavior will permeate the culture. You have to set the tone as the CEO.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
1. You should know a bit about the people you are managing: their goals, what drives them, what they need to be successful. It’s also important to think about the chemistry of the team and how each individual will contribute to the team.
2. I am a fan of the Will and the Skill Matrix. Where people are placed on this quadrant can help you manage that person. You’ll know if you should give them more freedom versus be more directive. You guide, excite, delegate, direct — as a manager, you have to recognize where people fall into this category and adjust your management style accordingly.
3. You need to recognize when there is a missing attribute or skill. Look at the existing team and see where you can you develop someone or should you hire to round out the team We worry about breaking something that is going well so you can have a fear of hiring even if we need a new skill set. Or we get complacent and may not recognize the need for a new skill or team member.
4. Communicate: share values and standards and then get out of the way. At GoodData, after our quarterly leadership meetings and board meetings, I reiterate our corporate goals and share any updates company-wide during our all-hands meeting. This ensures that there is no miscommunication and everyone is working towards the same goals.
5. Make tough calls — no “maybes”. Take “maybe” out of your vocabulary. Know when to say “Yes” and when to say “No”. Interestingly, even though GoodData is a data company, sometimes you have to go with your gut in making decisions. If you are constantly waiting for more data, it’s always too late.
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.
I was one of the first people to get an electric assisted bike. Biking is physically demanding and there are a lot of roadblocks to using it as your regular transportation. But with an electric assisted bike those roadblocks are removed. The hills disappear, sweating before arriving to work is gone, long distances are traveled faster than with your standard bike. In fact, I get to work FASTER using my electric assisted bike than I do when I drive because I don’t have to sit in my car not moving.
We live in a country this has been designed for cars. The bridge I cross has 6 lanes reserved for cars and I argue we should have half for cars and half for bikes. Besides the environmental impact, think of the cost to produce, purchase, and maintain a car versus that of an electric assisted bike.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from Esther Dyson. “Always make NEW mistakes”. You can’t make progress is you don’t make mistakes but if you keep making the same mistakes you aren’t learning. You have to strike the right balance.