Work With People Who Love Your Passion, Not You

Nancy Lublin, CEO, Crisis Text Line | Season 1, Episode 3

Spero Ventures
Spero Ventures


Photo courtesy of Crisis Text Line

By Roy Steiner, Senior Director of Learning and Impact at Omidyar Network

To build successful companies and work with great people, you must recognize the value of entrepreneurial instincts, and how to pinpoint people’s superpowers and corral them with a common vision. Nancy Lublin is the founder and CEO of Crisis Text Line, a company that offers free, 24/7 text support to people of all ages and leverages data to drive public policy change and make the world a safer place. Having founded Dress for Success and led through a successful turnaround as CEO, Crisis Text Line is Nancy’s third startup. During our discussion with Nancy, she provided insight into everything from what to look for in an employee to building an effective support system and team that shares the same passion.

Here’s what we learned when we spoke with Nancy.

Attitude is more important than skills

For most jobs — with the exception of some tech jobs where you actually need to know how to write code — an employee’s attitude is more important than their skills. Resumes shouldn’t matter much. I have no idea where any of my employees went to school, actually, because I learned long ago that the kids who went to Harvard aren’t necessarily the smartest. I look for people who are positive and fast-moving.”

Hire fast but well

“All too often, founders think, ‘I can make this better, I can fix this on my own.’ But usually you can’t. You’re not that good! We all need to put our egos aside and realize that the minute we think we need to hire someone, we probably should. Similarly, if you start having doubts in a coworker, do something about those doubts right away. Waiting doesn’t help anyone.

DJ Patil, the first Chief Data Scientist of the United States, has a great theory I’ve adapted for hiring great people. Basically, you should consider these three things when interviewing prospective employees:

  1. Do you want to be in a bunker with them? You’re likely going to be spending more time with this person than with your family or friends, so it’s crucial that you actually like them and can get along with them.
  2. Can they hit a home run in 90 days? Startups move at a really fast pace, and rarely are there elaborate onboarding or training programs in place. At my company, people ship code their first week and start owning projects immediately.
  3. Are they capable of doing something amazing in four to six years? I’m so proud of the fact that five different social change startups came out of my last company. I don’t expect everyone I hire to stick around for 10 years, but if I can get a good few years out of someone, I’ll help them go anywhere and do anything afterwards. Come give me two years. This is going to be cheaper and a greater learning curve than going to business school.”

Manage people’s strengths, not their weaknesses

“Once you’ve passed that litmus test, for me, of having that great attitude and capabilities, we’ll figure out what you’re really good at and we’ll go a hundred percent with that.

Working at a startup isn’t like school. As CEO, it’s not my job to sand my employees’ rough edges. Instead, we work together to figure out what they’re really good at, and then we focus 100% on using that skill to the fullest. I love when people like to try new things and push themselves, but continually hitting your head against a wall doesn’t feel very good, nor is it very productive.”

Give timely, constructive feedback

My team and I use the Situation Behavior Impact (or SBI) feedback system. So, for example, you’d say to someone, ‘In the meeting yesterday,’ [that’s the situation] ‘you were on your computer the whole time,’ [that’s the behavior]. ‘It made me feel like you weren’t really listening, which made me worry if the project will move forward’ [that’s the impact].

We also have a rule that everyone has to deliver feedback within 48 hours, while it’s fresh and most constructive. Otherwise, you need to let it go. Also, we don’t use the words love or hate, because they’re useless! If someone tells you, ‘I really hated what you did in the meeting yesterday,’ you have no idea what the person hated, and are therefore likely to do it again. Even if someone says, ‘I loved your memo yesterday!’ you’re left wondering, ‘Wait, what exactly was terrific about it? How can I replicate that?’”

Surround yourself with a team that shares your passion

Founders should surround themselves with people who share a love of their passion (i.e. their colleagues), not a love of them (i.e. their friends or family). When I started Crisis Text Line, I immediately hired two people from my previous company, because I knew they cared a lot about behavioral and mental health, and I knew their work and could trust them. With my first company, though, I had gone to my friends and family for support, and honestly, they were not very helpful! My company’s mission just wasn’t their passion; they all had their own interests and different motivations.”

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to make it bigger

Sometimes people think they should pick problems apart and solve them piece by piece, but actually it can sometimes work better to imagine the problem as bigger. Awhile back, did a campaign for Jewish teenagers. We sent out an initial text to that demographic that said, ‘Hey, it’s cool that you’re Jewish.’ But by mistake, the message went to all 2.3 million people on our service. It was really bad. We got more anti-Semitic texts back than we had Jewish people in our database.

So, I thought to myself, ‘Time out. This is a learning moment. We can use this problem to actually change minds and do some social good.’ We decided to have one of our Jewish staff members write back to the entire database with, ‘Actually, I’m Jewish, and I’m really sorry. Here’s a playlist.’ And the playlist was full of songs like Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time and Britney Spears’ Oops!…I Did It Again, and believe it or not, it ended up trending on Spotify with over 33,000 downloads. We also got a lot of positive media coverage about how we were able to correct a mistake and turn it into something so positive.”

Be the biggest user of your products

“The most important thing you can do is something I call dog fooding. I’m on the platform all the time. Some of our best ideas and the sense of urgency comes from me being on there. This will be a rule for myself forever which is that when you’re the CEO, you’ve got to live in the product yourself and use it constantly. That’s actually how we’re coming up with our best stuff. And I’m not the only one in there. Our whole staff is dog fooding. Our whole staff is in there all the time. That’s how we know what we should be building.”

Being kind will make you a better CEO and colleague

“About seven or eight years ago, I was going through a really tough time. I’d lost both of my grandmothers within seven weeks of each other, and I was just in a bad place. My COO at the time pulled me aside and told me, ‘You know what? You’re mean.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ She said, ‘You’re mean, and it’s a problem.’ I was gutted.

I didn’t come from a family where kindness was the operating principle, but my COO did. Everyone in her family genuinely loved one another, and as a result, she’s such a genuinely happy, positive person. After that conversation with her, I realized I wanted to emulate those characteristics. I wanted to be that kind of person, too.

I worked really hard to make those changes in myself, but I did it. And I’m so much better and happier for it. Deciding that kindness was going to be my new bottom line has made me a much better CEO, and a better wife, mother, and friend, too.”

The Founder’s Corner podcast series is produced by Omidyar Network’s Emerging Tech initiative. For more information, visit our website, sign up for updates on the podcast, and subscribe to Founder’s Corner on SoundCloud, iTunes, or Google Play.



Spero Ventures
Spero Ventures

Spero Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm driven to deliver value to shareholders and society.