Leadership is three things: empathy, process creation, and seeing around the corners. You have to understand your employees — their motivations, personalities, strengths and weaknesses — and build a culture that makes everyone comfortable and able to grow
As a part of my series about the strategies that extremely busy and successful leaders use to juggle, balance and integrate their personal lives and business lives, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zach Boyette, who co-founded the Galactic Fed, a full-service growth marketing agency with 130+ staff representing some of Silicon Valley’s hottest startups.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve been a digital nomad for the last few years, traveling full-time to countries all over the world while growing startups and building my company remotely. But starting from the beginning — I grew up on a mountain in Tennessee, and was interested in software engineering / technology at a young age. While an undergrad at Vanderbilt I launched a startup that had great traction, but eventually folded; after that I worked at Google and P&G on a variety of growth-hacking and digital marketing teams. I quit Google to lead the Paid Media & Growth Labs team at Toptal, a $1B+ fully remote software startup. While working there I fell in love with the concept of being a “digital nomad” — traveling full-time while working remotely — and did a program called Remote Year.
I quit Toptal to launch the Galactic Fed, and we’ve had tremendous growth since then — hiring amazing talent from all over the world to tackle some of the toughest growth problems faced by companies in trying to scale.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Leading a fully-remote company while traveling the world has its funny moments. I primarily work from co-working spaces and coffee shops, but have had to fight fires and jump on unexpected calls in strange places such as: top of a volcano in Iceland, geisha show in Kyoto, Japan, outside the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, on a cruise ship in Halong Bay, Vietnam in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, deep in the jungles of Colombia, and while driving a jeep in the Bolivian Salt Flats
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
Figuring out how to scale from a small number of small-budget clients to a medium number of large-budget clients was the pivotal inflection point of our company so far. What it really came down to was trust: have we worked with large companies before? Have we managed large teams and large projects with multiple moving deadlines? Have we managed enormous ad budgets? The answers to all of these questions were yes, so it all came down to figuring out how to apply our past experience and build scalable processes to help our teams succeed.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
Leadership is three things: empathy, process creation, and seeing around the corners. You have to understand your employees — their motivations, personalities, strengths and weaknesses — and build a culture that makes everyone comfortable and able to grow. You have to build scalable processes that promote collaboration — eliminate unnecessary decision-making so folks can get work done quickly and perfectly. And you have to constantly envision the future — predicting what challenges and opportunities are lurking around the corner, and plan ways to encounter those events.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Cherrie Clark was a professor at Vanderbilt who helped me understand two important concepts: marketing, and entrepreneurship. After taking a few of her classes, she invited me back post-grad to feature my startup in her entrepreneurship class, giving me access to 60+ students who worked with me for an entire semester. This experience was instrumental to me in learning how to motivate and lead people.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
It’s a constant challenge. Especially working remotely, I’ve had plenty of encounters with friends, girlfriends, and family where they don’t understand that I have to work 70,80,90+ hours per week sometimes to keep my company driving forward. It’s easy for people to think that remote entrepreneurs have a constant lifestyle of leisure, but more often you feel the need to be online 24/7.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
Hobbies outside of work are crucial for sanity as a busy entrepreneur. I’m passionate about travel photography, exercising daily, adventure sports, reading fiction, and a variety of other outlets. You can always make time for the things you prioritize.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
- Work remotely. Seriously. It’s the greatest life hack of the 21st century.
- If you followed step #1 — try taking your work on the road. Traveling and working forces you to prioritize effectively, and inspires lots of creative moments.
- Exercise first thing in the morning. This could apply to whatever personal activities you prioritize, but personally, exercise in the morning is way better than a cup of coffee.
- Make sure the work you’re doing brings you joy. You’ll probably spend a majority of your waking hours thinking about work for the rest of your life, so it might as well be fun.
- Invest in your employees, because they are the future of your company. Mentorship goes a long way.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride.
Building something big and useful that is powerful enough to operate even in my absence. Cults collapse when the leader is gone, good companies do not. Galactic Fed is the most notable example of this, but I’ve also build several social circles with similar vibes.
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. :-)
We as a company greatly understand the power that online reputation has for companies and individuals. In 2019 we will be rolling out an initiative to help empower high school students whose reputations are tarnished on social media. Online reputation management is more important now than it has ever been before.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
- Find me on LinkedIn if you want advice on growth marketing — linkedin.com/in/zachboyette
- To check out my travel photography, find me on Instagram! I’m not shy. @zach_boyette