“Ignore The Nays (You Hear A Lot Of Them) And Listen To The Yays” 5 Leadership Lessons with Christof Wittig
I had the pleasure of interviewing Christof Wittig, CEO & Co-Founder of The LGBT Foundation.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory?”
I am serial tech entrepreneur and investor. I started when I first graduated in Munich with my first company, eventually sold it and moved to Silicon Valley to earn my MBA at Stanford. When I graduated, I started my first company and later merged and sold it to a Japanese company. With two exits I felt obliged to become an investor and did a couple of notable investments, but I missed building products and companies myself, so in 2011, really as a side project, I made my personal story — being a gay software entrepreneur — a business and started Hornet, which has become the word’s first gay social media network and the #2 gay app overall worldwide.
Since 2016 I have been running Hornet with its 25 million users and 75 employees. In January 2018 I launched the LGBT Foundation, to utilize blockchain to bring equal rights and acceptance to all members of the LGBT+ community worldwide, and we’re planning to issue the LGBT Token for that purpose.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
At Hornet, we get countless thank you notes from people who have met someone they ended up sharing the rest of their lives with. We look to foster meaningful connections which are based on shared interest.
One such story involved a couple in France, which met on Hornet because they followed a story on the Voguing scene there, something our editorial team is reporting on (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0qKIxqAI10) and our marketing team is sponsoring. Voguing is an important forum for often underpriviliged queer people of color to express themselves and build support for all members of the community.
When this couple told me about how they got connected, I was proud that inclusion and diversity was so appealing to them, especially in times where we see a certain reactionary movement against LGBT, not only with the election of Donald Trump, but also the reversal of Marriage Equality in Bermuda and many other regressions.
As a white gay man with a higher education and successful lifestyle, living in San Francisco, I am very privileged. I see it as my obligation to make sure, with the help of technology and funding, that we extend equal rights and full acceptance to all members of the LGBT+ community.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We take a lot of pride in our presence in more difficult market for LGBT+ people such as Iran, Russia or Indonesia. We utilize our network and access to these members to make their lives a bit better, if not even sometimes saving them. We organized a refuge for 70 men who had to flee Chechnya, we shed light on the whipping of gay men in Bandah Aceh, and we have traveled to Egypt to highlight systemic police entrapment of gay men. Here the community can provide help, and Hornet, with its resources and technology, can facilitate that.
The LGBT Token will take this help to the next level and mobilize the economic power of all members of the LGBT Community, which would be $4.6T in GDP, if it were a country — the world’s fourth largest economy and bigger than that of Germany or the UK.
We will launch theLGBT Impact to not only identify individuals and projects worthy of funding, without endangering the individuals behind it, but also direct funding generated by the token economcs towards these projects, hopefully to the tune of $10M or more annually, depending on how many people utilize the token for payments in everyday life.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Launching the LGBT Foundation and issuing the LGBT Token is the most exciting project I worked on in my entire life. How can we utilize blockchain technology to help millions of discriminated people by instrumentalizing the economic power of the entire LGBT community toward those ends?
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I think having a purpose as an organization and a good understanding of the CEO’s role is the prerequisite for employees to thrive. In my opinion, a startup CEO’s work is to set the strategy, raise the money, hire the right people, and then get out of the way to give them space.
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?
I am very grateful to my teacher, mentor, investor and board member Mark Leslie, former CEO at Veritas. Without him I would not have learned how much longterm success depends on not cutting corners for tactical purposes in the short term.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Yes, that is all I focus on and do with my current businesses.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
· Starting a company as an entrepreneur and CEO is tough. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I had known how hard it was. So when viewing the other way around: Ignorance can help you to build a business that no sane person would go after.
· If 90% of the people around you tell you your idea is stupid, you’re probably onto something.
· Ignore the nays (you hear a lot of them) and listen to the yays.
· Make sure you have a good support system from your significant other, your family, and the people around you. You will need emotional support when the going gets tough.
· To keep it with Churchill: “Success is to go from failure to failure without losing confidence.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?”
“If in doubt, disclose.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Jeff Besos. He has always thought in the long term and successfully built so many businesses.