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“It’s important in business to open up a bit and show vulnerability” with Nick Mehta and Chaya Weiner

I think it’s important in business to open up a bit and show vulnerability. I’m this person now who goes to conferences and talks with thousands of people, but sometimes I feel really lonely. I think that’s a common thing in the human condition, to feel like an “other,” or that you don’t belong. It relates back to diversity and inclusion and how we can all feel lonely together as a shared connection.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Nick Mehta. Nick Mehta is the CEO of Gainsight, the leading customer-centric technology company. Since joining in 2013, Nick led the company through multiple funding rounds, raising a total of $156 million, and grew the company from a handful of employees to more than 650 people working around the world. Nick was named one of the Top 50 SaaS CEOs by SaaS report, is an EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist, and holds one of highest Glassdoor approval ratings for CEOs. He is also the co-author of Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue. Nick believes in a human-first approach to work and uses humor as a catalyst to break down walls typically found in boardrooms, sales meetings, and conference calls. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and a master’s degree in Computer Science from Harvard University.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I recently took my 4th grade son on a school field trip to the Intel Science Museum in Santa Clara, California. This tech venue is one of my favorite weekend kids’ activities and I always look forward to rounding the corner from the 1970s computing devices to the 1980s section and getting the chance to stand face-to-face with my childhood best friend — the IBM PC!

For some people, photos of elementary school friends or award trophies from junior sports leagues may bring back nostalgia. For me, nothing beats the 640KB of RAM and 2 5 ¼” floppy drives from my old buddy.

As you can tell, I had a pretty nerdy childhood. It all started when my parents moved to America from India in the 70s and my dad got into the technology business. He spent years as a high-tech executive and entrepreneur through the 80s, 90s and 2000s, including a stint at Digital Equipment Corporation.

I was born in Massachusetts but spent most of my childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Go Steelers!).

For whatever reason, I never felt like I fit in in school. I was “too” something — geeky, awkward, weird — to hang with the popular kids. And somehow, I could never even break in with the studious ones. I still vividly remember the daily anxiety-filled walk down the cafeteria line as I grabbed my far-too-greasy pizza slice and left the lunchroom to retreat to the computer lab, since I had no one to sit with for the meal. I probably ate lunch alone 99% of days from kindergarten through 12th grade (cue the sad music!).

Because of this, technology and academics were a huge part of my social circle. I solved every “Quest” game out there (Kings’ Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest, etc.). I loved programming in BASIC. I somehow dealt with the Internet-preceding dial-up “bulletin board systems” (BBS) with a whopping 300 baud modem! I didn’t get out much.

So, I was a complete wallflower as a child, but I went through a total metamorphosis as an adult, largely after meeting my future wife. If she could like me, then maybe I was worth something! Now I’m extremely extroverted, love to meet people and almost never eat lunch by myself.

But, I still carry some of that loneliness from childhood with me today. Even in front of crowds of thousands, I often feel like I don’t fit in. Because of this, I’ve made it a point in my role as CEO to implement a sense of community and belonging for both my team at Gainsight, and for the wider customer success community through our annual Pulse event — the biggest customer success learning and networking conference in the world — so everyone can feel a bit more like they fit in.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

I graduated high school in 1994, and Harvard in 1998. During my time at Harvard I completed a bachelor’s in biochemistry and a master’s in computer science as a combined degree. While attending college, a classmate started a company and brought me on as a cofounder. We launched Chipshot.com — one of the first online retailers of golf equipment. I decided to move to California after college to help run the business full time. We raised venture capital from Sequoia and did a number of funding rounds after that, growing the company to 250 people with around $30 million in sales. We were on the path to go public but missed the IPO window due to the “dot com” market crash.

After that stint, I worked in data management and cybersecurity but eventually decided it was time for me to return to the startup world and run a company again. I was approached with an opportunity to lead LiveOffice, a cloud-based data archiving storage provider. This was my first time running a cloud-based business and I knew it was something I’d continue to pursue in the future. In running LiveOffice, I learned about customer success and how important it is for B2B companies with subscription businesses. After about four years, we sold LiveOffice to Symantec.

Searching for my next career move, I met with Roger Lee, a General Partner at Battery Ventures. Meeting with him changed everything because I learned about Gainsight, then known as Jbara Software, and about customer success. I realized customer success is fundamentally human first — understanding that customers are not a transaction or a deal or an opportunity or a lead, but real human beings behind that logo. Human beings who just like everyone else, want to succeed in what they do. Once I had felt the problems of customer success in running LiveOffice, I knew I had to dive in.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

Because Gainsight is a global business and since our clients are everywhere, I travel frequently — probably two to three days every couple of weeks. Indeed, as I write this, I am on a 24-hour journey to visit our colleagues in India.

Given this, when I’m in town, I try to prioritize a schedule that allows me to spend time with my family. I also believe that if the leader takes time for him/herself, that creates space and empowerment for the team to do the same.

During the school year, I try to do some of the dropoffs — though never as many as I’d like. I then typically head to the office or to a breakfast meeting. From there, I enter the mania of the day which is almost always 100% packed with back-to-back meetings. The honest truth is I like activity and I enjoy meeting people, so I relish a full calendar. Not every CEO is the same — some like more free creative time — but I am effective with a packed day. Most days, the meetings are 30 minutes each but in some crazy periods, I’ve had back-to-back 15-minute meetings all day!

Meetings vary based throughout the week. Mondays are our internal meetings. We bring our executive team (called the “Gravity” team — see: nerdy childhood) together on Monday mornings. We then run meetings for our “Rhythm” process to bring cross-functional leaders together to talk about where we’re tracking on our initiatives. For example, one of our reviews is around our progress toward our Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Goals. Monday afternoons are typically deep-dives into strategic topics as well as 1–1 meetings with my team.

Tuesday to Friday are usually a mix of one to two dozen client meetings, 1–1s with other teammates and speaking at events and conferences. And of course, lots of email! I relish feedback so part of my week is soliciting and digesting input — from teammates in roundtables, customers in meetings and everyone via survey responses.

In the evenings, I try to get home early if I don’t have any commitments. I get invited to work dinners every so often, but I try to avoid them when possible to be home by 5:30 to have dinner with the family.

After a dinner of “roses and thorns” (highs and lows), if I’m lucky, I’ll hang out with the kids doing something we love together (watching science videos, playing basketball, programming, etc.) On the best days, I also get to read to our kids before bedtime. And then I’m back on email from about 8:30pm to 9:30 pm.

I’m a big believer in the health benefits of sleep, so I try to wrap up work between 9:30 and 10 and then read for about 15 minutes before going to bed. I almost never compromise on my 8 hours.

Not every day is like that, but that’s what I strive for.

My release every week is when I turn my email off on my phone (I literally disable it) and remove all of my work-related mobile apps (LinkedIn, Twitter, Slack, etc.) so I can switch into 100% present mode for the weekend. At Gainsight, we have a rule that no one is allowed to send work emails on Saturdays unless urgent, so we all feel comfortable disconnecting. I gladly take advantage of that policy and check out from Friday night until Sunday evening.

I can share best practices on the best local Bay Area bowling, mini-golf, arcades and ice cream shops — but I’ll save that for the next interview!

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

I laughed when I read this question because I need the kids as much as they need me.

I’m not a childhood development expert but I know that parental involvement has a huge impact on who children grow up to be. What I try to role model is (1) how important they are to us, (2) how we’ll be totally present when we’re with them and (3) how we love our lives and are grateful for what we have.

But that being said, that’s forgetting the other side of the coin. Not spending time with my children is detrimental to me. Every time I’m on a business trip, I look at the kids sitting near me on the airplane (even if they are crying!) and miss our own. Our children bring me a sense of joy, reality, connectedness and purpose in my life that I absolutely need to survive.

Being honest, my greatest fear in my life is the kids growing up. I know we’ll figure it out but right now, I can’t imagine what life would be like. Five years ago, when our oldest turned eight years old, I vividly remembered the moment when she sheepishly told me she didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. I felt like my whole life was flashing before my eyes and that she had grown up and left the house already. I cried myself to sleep that night — no joke! Yes I’m a sappy dad.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

As a child, I experienced true loneliness and to this day there are still moments where I feel alone — even when I’m with a large group of people. Almost like I don’t belong.

My wife and I recently took our oldest daughter to a musical, Dear Evan Hansen, that discussed teen suicide and loneliness. Despite the somber tone, it was an uplifting musical because it was about how everyone feels loneliness and, in that loneliness, we are all together. I was definitely wondering if someone was cutting onions by the end of the show.

It was one of those instances where we felt an amazing shared connection, but it was powerful and scary because we realized that our daughter too, experiences these instances of loneliness. As a parent, it’s tough to see your kids suffer or experience some of the things that you too experienced at that age. During a recent conversation with our 10-year-old son, I heard that he has been having a hard time adjusting at school when he shared that maybe if he started playing Fortnite, kids at school would like him. On another night, I was looking at my youngest daughter’s homework and found a note that said, “I hope I can make better friends this year.” All of this got me thinking about my childhood and the instances where I was alone and how so many more people than we think feel this way.

I constantly think about the way we connect with our children. We want to make them feel like they belong and most importantly connected to us, but also that their feelings are valid and that they aren’t alone. While my wife and I can help give them the skills to get through these tough times, we unfortunately can’t live their lives for them. So, I see the time we spend with them as not only being with my kids, but hopefully that some of what I learned will rub off on them to help in navigating this crazy world.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

Having three children can be challenging to find time to connect with them individually, but that’s something I focus on weekly. By doing this, I’ve found things that each of my kids and I can relate to or do together, making it that much more special in both our eyes. Here are a few examples:

  1. Our youngest daughter recently developed an interest in programming. We regularly spend time in front of the computer on Khan Academy learning JavaScript together.
  2. My oldest daughter, who is 13, and I regularly spend hours in the car driving for school activities like the Science Olympiad, and I relish in the time. We get to catch up on her school and friends. We take quizzes that she has on her phone. We listen to music that she loves and soak up podcasts or TED Talks. That being said, I’m also learning the new phase of our relationship together as she gets older. I’m a really fun dad for ages 4–12 (Chuck E Cheese, mini-golf, you name it!) So I’m eagerly learning the next chapter. Luckily that stage involves us all (mommy, me and our daughter) seeing every new Marvel movie on opening night!
  3. I love reading to my son at night. Right now, we’re finishing Unicorn Quest, a fantasy book in a series about… well… unicorns. Our son is a great cuddler so that’s a nice bonus too! We also enjoy playing basketball and going to the arcade together.
  4. One of my annual highlights is the elementary school “daddy-daughter dance.” My oldest daughter and I get all dressed up (she picks my outfit!) and my youngest joins us too! We have a blast, dancing to the evening away. This year’s favorite songs included the YMCA and “baby shark” song.
  5. My guilty pleasure for sure is ice cream. One of the strongest value props of having kids is getting an excuse to get a cone of vanilla (yes, I like vanilla and I’m proud of it!) OK — there are other value props, but I definitely am the dad who actively pushes the kids to get ice cream even if they don’t want to, so we regularly do this to just spend some quality time with them as a group.
  6. I love taking the three kids out to brunch on weekends. Denny’s is their favorite so it’s not too expensive of a proposition! We always play games while we eat — whether “the letter game” (pick a category and name words starting with a given letter), “guess who,” or Disney/Star Wars/science trivia.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

  1. Make work-life balance a rule for your teams or company. For example, at Gainsight we have a “Save our Saturdays” rule where no one can email colleagues. There are exceptions for real urgent situations, but the entire company observes the rule and it helps everyone disconnect.
  2. We also try to not schedule meetings in the evening, when possible.
  3. On weekends, I try to truly disconnect. For me, even knowing I have email on my phone gets distracting. So, I disable all email and remove all work apps (Slack, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) every weekend. Monday morning, I re-enable them.
  4. On vacations, I pick some (typically half of our trips) where I’m completely disconnected and don’t check in at all. We recently went to Disneyland and LEGO Land and it was amazing to re-escape into the wonder of childhood without thinking about an unanswered message.
  5. We have a “work from anywhere” policy and I take advantage of it. I’ll do many calls from the car or from home.
  6. I try not to miss kids’ events when in town. This means sometimes leaving work early, like I just did on Friday afternoon, to see a school performance.
  7. Most importantly, as a leader, I try to model all of this. I share what’s happening in my personal life and the times I’m stepping away from work with our whole team over Slack.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

I don’t like judging others. I think people can be good parents in many ways. Many of my friends read voraciously about parenting and approach it scientifically.

I’ll be honest. My wife and I don’t have a formal method for this stuff. I think what we really do is: (1) love our kids with abandon, (2) make them feel that love, (3) love our lives and each other and (4) show them that too.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

After taking time out of her career with family and other commitments, my wife decided two years ago that she had at least one more act in her and went back to school to get her Master’s in Educational Psychology. She recently completed this degree and so we invited our entire family and a group of friends over to host a private graduation party, including a full ceremony and “commencement address.” I am so proud of my wife and I know our kids are too. I think this also taught our kids that you can reinvent your dreams throughout your life.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

I wouldn’t say I masterfully do anything — it’s much messier than it seems on the outside!

But I, like many, struggle with success.

I define the term in two levels — “looking down” and “looking up.”

When I’m looking down at the world around me — my family, our company, the community we serve at work — I feel tremendous challenge, joy and pride.

And when I look up — at all of the amazing things others are doing — bigger and faster than me — I sometimes get depressed. Why am I not doing more? How can I succeed more?

My life is about balancing these two views. The former view gives me contentment and peace. The latter provides me with ambition. I need them both.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

I haven’t read much about parenting, to be honest, I think we were fortunate to have wonderful parents on both sides of our family to learn from. We certainly read articles and blogs on the Internet. But our greatest resources are our extended families around us.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have so many favorites.

Of course, Einstein said everything well, including my favorite quote about how everyone has talents — it’s just about putting them in the right situation for them to be their best selves:

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Shelley’s poem Ozymandias is excellent for managing ambition.

And Desiderata is a wonderful poem for centering and balance — with the pivotal closing lines:

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

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. :-)

There are actually two areas that I’m super passionate about:

1. Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging: There are so many issues that need to be fixed with respect to diversity, and it can be overwhelming for some. I want to do my part in driving change. I see one of the biggest factors here in pulling people in from different backgrounds. It drives diversity in both conversation and business approach. Having too many people who are alike means you don’t take the time to pause and evaluate appropriately, and we become blind to risks and opportunities. That’s one of the many reasons why intersectionality is so important, and how we can all benefit from having broader perspectives. I also learn so much every day about this topic — how there are so many people who don’t feel like they belong.

2. Loneliness: On a related note, I think it’s important in business to open up a bit and show vulnerability. I’m this person now who goes to conferences and talks with thousands of people, but sometimes I feel really lonely. I think that’s a common thing in the human condition, to feel like an “other,” or that you don’t belong. It relates back to diversity and inclusion and how we can all feel lonely together as a shared connection.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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