“Don’t Worry About Entrepreneurship, Be A Great Business Person” Leadership Lessons from Sauce Labs CEO, Charles Ramsey
“I have said this before, but I think it bears repeating; drop the use of “entrepreneur.” Be a great business person. Run a healthy business. Take care of your customers first, your employees second and yourself last. If you do the right things for your customer good things happen to the company and the employees. If you are starting up a business you are a start up business person. I personally cringe at the use of entrepreneur because it is associated with phrases like “fail fast.” That is nonsense — no real business person ever would consider failing.”
Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Charles Ramsey, CEO of Sauce Labs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Unlike many CEO’s in the Bay Area, my career has always been in sales and marketing. When comparing me to other tech execs, my story also has a different first chapter. Instead of hacking new games or computer programs at a young age, I would talk — a lot. Some might say that I was talking more than I should. But over time, I learned to listen more than talk. After all, I do enjoy a good story.
Given my love of the spoken and written word, a career in sales and marketing seemed like the only logical way for me to begin my career. Over the course of my decades in the tech community, I helped lead sales efforts at major technology players like Quest Software, IBM and Ziff Davis Publishing.
I love the notion that the power of the written and spoken word can change a person’s behavior for the better. Prospects — actually, people in general — are often reluctant to embrace change. The role of a sales or marketing executive is to help them find the personal benefit and protect them in the process. I have always believed that the best example of a great sale was one where the customer received a promotion for having made a decision that materially impacted the business.
I love talking to people and hearing their stories. Over the years, my career has enabled me to talk to people across the spectrum. The common theme is that people want to do good work, feel recognized for their contributions and sometimes, talk about their experiences.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading this company?
At my second stand-up meeting to the company, I learned a valuable lesson. Since the very beginning, Sauce Labs has placed a high degree of focus on core values that drive employee behaviors and interactions. While I believed that the values were all valid and worthy, I was concerned that they were primarily focused on our internal operations. Unfortunately, the directness of my assessment was taken personally by members of the team that were involved in the formation of the values. That day, I learned a valuable lesson about tact. The values of “truth and transparency” ran smack dab into the value of “respect” — and I was the loser.
Being thoughtful of how people become emotionally invested in an organization’s history is very important to a new leader. The most effective leaders are able to blend their vision for a future outcome with what has been built before they ever walked through the door. The fact that Sauce Labs was successful for years before I joined should have given me pause. I now more clearly see how the foundation that was built before I joined enables a more healthy platform for all of us to grow the business.
So what exactly does your company do?
We enable all your favorite web sites and apps to actually work. We do that by providing software development teams with instant access to every possible browser, operating system and device combination imaginable, so development teams don’t have to build and maintain their own test infrastructure. Instead, they can focus on building a great app. The Sauce Labs testing platform sits in the cloud so it is “always on” for teams that require fast and reliable testing.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Sauce gives back in a few ways. Since we rely heavily on open source software for our cloud-based testing platform, we enable open source teams to use our test infrastructure for free. We think that’s a fair trade. In addition, we are always looking for ways to support underrepresented groups in technology. For example, we are a supporter of Code.organd their efforts to introduce Computer Science to children everywhere. Code.org uses the Sauce testing platform for free and our employees volunteer to teach in classrooms across the globe in their annual Hour of Code event every December. We also recently sponsored a contest to send the Afghan Girls Robotics Team to the Agile Testing Days Conference. Finally, we provide free video training on open source frameworks used by people required to develop tests. We want to give people the opportunity to upskill and participate in the changing digital economy.
What are your “5 things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?
- Focus on What Matters: When I first started, I underestimated how hard it was going to be to avoid distractions and stay focused on the things that truly matter. As a CEO, everything can seem important, but the reality is that only a few things can truly move the needle. Understanding what those key success factors are and getting your team rallied around them is critical. Because Sauce Labs is considered a leader in our space, we are given the opportunity to look at interesting businesses almost weekly. It is gratifying and fun, but is not always the best use of the team’s time. We have to apply a process to insure that we are looking at opportunities that are valuable not ones that make us feel good.
- It’s About the Right People: The role is, in many ways, all about building the team. The most important thing a CEO can do is find people that are significantly better in their disciplines and get out of the way. I love learning from people, so that makes finding the right executives somewhat easier. They have to have the right skills for the company at the time and be able to evolve with the company as it grows.
- Recognize The Spotlight: As a CEO, people will always look to you for clues about the health of the business. Everything that you do has a perceived meaning to your employees. If you have a bad morning and bring that attitude to work, it is likely that people interpret it as something meaningful. I had a favorite employee say to me after I had been in the role a short time, “Charles, people watch you,” and that is what she meant. It was very helpful and made me more aware of the job’s responsibilities.
- It’s The Best Job in the World: You have been entrusted with the keys to a kingdom. Respect the power that comes with that and remember that you have a team that is essential to the success of the company. A CEO that thinks that they are essential is asking for a problem. You have the tiller and make final decisions that move the direction of the company but it is the team that makes most of the decisions and should receive 100% of the credit if things work out.
- Don’t Worry About Entrepreneurship, Be A Great Business Person: I have said this before, but I think it bears repeating; drop the use of “entrepreneur.” Be a great business person. Run a healthy business. Take care of your customers first, your employees second and yourself last. If you do the right things for your customer good things happen to the company and the employees. If you are starting up a business you are a start up business person. I personally cringe at the use of entrepreneur because it is associated with phrases like “fail fast.” That is nonsense — no real business person ever would consider failing.
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? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
- There are so many people from the world of business and sports that would be inspiring to meet. Both require a huge investment of time, energy and commitment. I would want to spend time with a unsung unknown successful small business owner that has carved out a profitable and well managed business or a CEO of a publicly traded software company. Two names that pop to mind are:
- Satya Nadella — CEO Microsoft. He has been able to transform, very quickly, a huge change in an organization that was struggling to modernize and reinvent itself. He has done it with compassion and clarity.
- Kelly Slater — World Champion Surfer and businessman. Kelly has won the world title more than anyone, reinvents the sport as he goes and has shown his capabilities in the business world.
- Both he and Satya know how to do more than remain current, which is a challenge for most of us. They move their respective industries forward by redefining what is possible, consistently.