Lessons Learned From Leading Fortune 100 Companies to Building a Company From Scratch
By: Annie Kadavy
Padma Warrior is one of those people that you remember exactly where you were standing the moment you met her. For me, that was about seven years ago. Padma’s professional track record is incredible, as she has been both a public company CEO and F100 Chief Technology & Strategy Officer. But it is her genuine kindness and humble insightfulness that makes that first interaction unforgettable. So, when she reached out to talk about her new venture, Fable, we jumped at the opportunity to partner with her.
While Fable is her newest company, this is far from Padma’s first time scaling a team and building a product. Padma is the former CEO of NIO U.S., the China headquartered EV company, where she scaled the company from start-up to a successful IPO NYSE:NIO in three years. Prior to NIO, Padma was the CTSO for Cisco; SVP and GM for Cisco Enterprise segment and co-lead of Cisco’s worldwide engineering organization; and EVP and CTO at Motorola. She also currently serves on the boards of Microsoft and Spotify. Her experience is broad, spanning both B2B and B2C, and managing thousands of people and billions of dollars.
Padma’s newest adventure is as the founder and CEO of Fable. Fable offers a new way for you to discover books, connect with others and read together. Padma began this entrepreneurial journey by researching how to improve mental wellness on a mass scale. She is guided by wanting to have the biggest positive impact on the most people’s lives and wellbeing. To her own surprise, she found research paper after research paper concluding that simply reading was a proven way to do just that. I love that she was focused on the problem she wanted to solve from the beginning, not the precise solution.
If people want to join the startup world, I usually recommend that they do it early in their career. You can learn so much in such a small amount of time, and have the time and energy for the grind. You can also always join the larger, more stable companies later in life. However, Padma has done the complete opposite and recently embarked on building Fable from scratch after having led multiple public companies. In our recent discussion during Redpoint Office Hours, Padma shared lessons she’s learned from her career thus far, and a few tips to help us succeed not only in our professional roles, but also to keep in mind as we journey through life:
Reminders for Self:
- Decide to be yourself. As an engineer early in her career, Padma was expected to dress and act like a guy, and that wasn’t her. She quickly learned that you have to be you first in order to become someone that other people will respect. You do not need to fit in the mold that others have created. If the mold does not work for you, dare to be different: Dare to be yourself.
- Seek Integration, not Balance. When Padma became a mom she — as I and basically every other working mom I know — was constantly asked how she balanced work with her day-to-day life. Balance forces us to seek perfection and ultimately ends with most of us neglecting ourselves. Padma recommends shifting the narrative, and rather than balancing everything, integrate the following four things: yourself, your community, your work, and your family. Personally, this is going to be my new daily mantra.
- Take a digital detox once a week. She makes sure to not interrupt team members at least one day a week. She herself takes a day away from the computer and uses that time to find inspiration and relax by painting or reading.
On Career Growth:
- For people deciding to make a move from a larger enterprise to a startup: first, ask yourself why you want to make the move. Startup life is not often glamorous; it’s easy to romanticize it. As an executive at really large companies, Padma had a large supporting team who scheduled and managed her every minute — a dynamic she warns can encourage a “learned helplessness.” This is quite the opposite at Fable, or any startup for that matter. Executives require stamina; startup leaders require grit. Her recommendation is to make sure you are running toward something, and not away from something else. Be realistic about why you want the move. You need to want to get your hands dirty and love the idea of starting something from scratch when joining a startup. You will get pushback (and it will be an amazing learning experience!), but it will be hard work and it’s important to be prepared for that.
- You need different skills to be a C-Level executive vs founder.
To be a successful C-level executive, Padma found that the following attributes are necessary:
Stamina: Intellectual and physical. Your schedule is packed and your days are long. It can be very tiresome.
Bandwidth and breadth: You have to know a lot about a lot of things, from technology to people to customers and their businesses.
Care of duty: You are given an immense amount of power, and it is important that you make decisions with utmost care and remember that you are always representing the company.
Presence and communication: You need a presence of mind to be able to cope. You have to shift and put yourself in other’s brains to know what is motivating them.
Similarly and differently, as a founder, the following are important:
Stamina and resilience: You have to keep going and always believe in the company and the vision.
Hands-on: You need to be super deep in the product.
Influential: You are trying to bring all-stars to your team, but don’t necessarily have the brand to back it up.
Transparent: Which you can’t be at larger companies all the time.
Ensuring Company Success:
- Independence, passion, and expertise are important skills when hiring for roles. Especially in startups, Padma looks for independence, passion (about the mission, product, etc.), expertise (you can get things done and do not need to be handheld), resourcefulness, and overall someone that can reach beyond their swim lane to and be a Jack or Jill of all trades.
- Hire for expertise, not experience. When you hire someone for their experience, they might say “we did it this way at X company.” That approach might have worked there, but it does not automatically mean that it will work at your new company. That’s why you need to look for expertise — that’s why you’re bringing them into your company, to figure out solutions.
- Never delegate hiring. This is very personal and you have to make it your business to hire the right person. Always keep your network vibrant.
- Celebrate the small milestones. In such a small amount of time, the company can drastically change and you need to celebrate those small wins. If you don’t, you risk having your team burn out. Padma recommends thinking about how your team reflects on the progress and the quality of their decisions. Happy hours, team lunches, and coffee breaks can keep everyone up-to-date on the progress being made and keep them feeling inspired to work hard.
- For product differentiation, don’t focus on your competition — focus on the market. If you’re overly obsessed with competition, you will try to figure out what they are going to do. Instead, if you focus on understanding where the market and users are going, you will build a great product.
- Don’t be afraid to do non-scalable things early. Use the data from your super users and find a slightly nuanced user set that isn’t the broad mass TAM that you are going after. You should learn and grow to then reach a point where you can expand to a broader audience.
You can also join our recently launched Redpoint Book Club! The book club will allow you to read and discuss Office Hours guest’s recommended books with other interested readers on Fable (imagine Slack inside of a Kindle!). The first book, A New Earth, was chosen by former Gainsight COO and Office Hours guest, Allison Pickens. She’ll be acting as the club moderator for this pick, sharing her personal insights and commentary as the club reads along. Further instructions can be found below.
In addition, check out our Redpoint Office Hours Folio which gathers some of the top book selections from past Office Hours guests including Linda Tong, the General Manager of AppDynamics, Waseem Daher, the CEO and Co-founder of Pilot, and Daria Kissner, a strategic communications consultant who has led internal & executive communications for companies like Google and YouTube. We’ll be adding to the Folio as the year progresses!
Thanks, and we hope to see you at the next Office Hours!
INSTRUCTIONS TO JOIN REDPOINT BOOK CLUB:
- Step 1: Click here to join the club! As part of sign-up, you’ll create a Fable account. You can purchase and download the book to read on Fable for access to additional shared reading features.
- Step 2: Download the Fable app on your phone or tablet (for iOS or Android). Fable is currently only available in the United States, but hopes to be international soon… stay tuned!
- Step 3: Start reading and discussing! Additional tips will be sent upon joining the club.