In Business, If You Have to Eat a Toad, Eat it Fast: With Co-founder and CEO Jad Jebara
By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner
“You will make mistakes. The key is to not dwell on them. Simply learn, improve, and move on.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jad Jebara, co-founder and CEO of Tuangru, a next generation data center management software provider. Tuangru was recently recognized on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500™ list of fastest growing companies in North America. The company achieved 225 percent revenue growth in the most recent period, which Jad attributes to the team’s execution on the company’s mission to make critical infrastructure think.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
We founded the company with the belief that there is a major gap between how data center technologies were being procured and how they were being managed. Our CMO and co-founder Rajan Sodhi and I came from Peer 1 Hosting (now Cogeco Peer 1) where we served as executives that helped the company grow from a market cap of approximately $35M to $635M CDN.
During that time, we experienced first-hand how significant the costs in operating a data center were, as well as the lack of tools to reduce IT costs and increase efficiencies. Together with Rami Jebara and Risto Ylivainio, we founded Tuangru in a Waves Coffee Shop. Our idea was to develop a data center management software that would address these challenges in a new and disruptive way. Deciding on the company name, we went for a seven letter word for easy brand recognition and brand recall. Tuangru (derived from the Mandarin word Tuan Gou which means “team buying”, started in 2013 as a group buying service for data center assets like servers, storage devices, and network gear.
The company aggregated the demand of their small to midsize clients —predominantly hosting service providers—to earn higher volume discounts
from their vendor partners like Dell and Super Micro, and to pass those additional savings back to clients.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
One of our most interesting stories is how our first acquisition came about. I was reading a 451 Research analyst report about an interesting software company out of St. Louis. One LinkedIn request later, I ended up on a call with the founder to discuss their technology. Two calls later, we discussed a revenue share model, during which time we learned that Facebook was trying to recruit the founder to monitor their data centers. Within 60 days, we aligned incentives and acquired the company’s software technology and hired the whole team. This acquisition expedited our pivot and accelerated our product development.
As I reflected on this. I realized the importance of allocating time to work on the business versus in the business. Taking time to focus on important matters that are less urgent, and having the ability to think strategically and to plan accordingly really pays off. In startup mode and in life, we tend to focus on important and urgent matters on a daily basis. The takeaway for me is that often the most important opportunities and decisions are not necessarily the most urgent.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our people. We are very careful in who we bring on board at Tuangru. We want individuals who share our core values of family, fun, openness, empathy, transparency, innovation, and respect. With a shared foundation, we find people are far more comfortable in bringing their authentic self to the office every day. It’s this diversity that enriches our culture and makes it a place where it’s a joy to come to work.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
A good friend and mentor of mine once told me, “Jad, remember that love is attention. If you love your family, you give them attention. If you love your work, you give it attention. So, always remain aware of where you spend your time.” He further added, “You either own the relationship or someone else does.” Both are great pieces of advice I’ve taken to heart.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We are big believers in giving back to the communities we live in. As a result, we have a program called “Tuangru in the Community” where our team members are encouraged to leave the office for the day to volunteer their time at a local charity or foundation. Most recently, we had several members assisting at the Salvation Army Belkin House, where they prepped and cooked meals for sheltered guests. The experience was incredibly heartwarming.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my startup,” and why?
- It’s not for the faint of heart. Starting a business, facing the ups and downs, success and failures and all the emotions associated with them is not easy. The mindset, the attitude, and the passion has to be there. The team will feed off your energy and behavior. Last year our team was made up of 11 people in 1100 square feet. We soon grew to 14, then to 25. We
spent several months looking for office space in Vancouver, where it is very difficult to find space. We ended up subleasing 5500 square feet from a tech company who raised $78 million just four years ago. The first month of the contract, they declared bankruptcy and closed shop. They kept our five month deposit. The landlord, due to the legal complexity, asked us to vacate. So, there we were, just moved in and settled, with a team that had doubled in size, and we were facing massive disruption (and out $100K)!
We decided as a team that getting angry or pissed off would not help, so we focused on one goal: to find a space to minimize disruption. With a little bit of luck, we found equivalent space, we negotiated, painted, and
moved in less than 10 days.
- Be relentless in your pursuit–absolutely relentless. Believe in your strategy, in the team, and in your goals. You can’t fake it. That feeling will be amplified throughout the organization. In 2015 we tripled our revenue, we had a significant uptick in revenue that caused major stress on working capital, and we had the risk of losing major deals. We ended up exploring different options, and finally on December 31, I took a 6 am flight to go meet with the CFO of a key supplier in the Bay Area to get a large multi-million-dollar order released for shipment so our customers can meet their deadlines. We focused on our customers’ success and did everything possible—while being creative—to get things done.
- If you have to eat a toad, eat it fast. You will make mistakes. The key is to not dwell on them. Simply learn, improve, and move on. Hiring people and letting them go is tough. When we started the company, we hired a very nice and capable person to lead a specific function. For almost 10 months I questioned his ability in several aspects. Eventually we ended up letting him go after a long two years. What I learned from that experience was to hire slow and fire fast. The culture of the organization and who you bring to the team is so vital. A healthy culture is one of the KEY factors driving successful organizations. The three month evaluation period is key, and our 7-person interview and cultural stewardship was born out of that experience.
- Don’t hire a sales team. Until you and your key executives have experienced how to sell the product, understand what it takes, and learn why you win and why you lose, don’t jump to hire a sales team.
- Don’t ignore low urgency, but highly important matters. It’s natural for most of us to focus on addressing the high urgency, highly important matters like customer complaints and product issues. We don’t, however, dedicate enough time to focus on the low urgency, but highly important matters like vision and strategy, or health and family. As a leader, you need to find balance. In the past I saw a trainer five days a week. Then one day I stopped and didn’t go back for nearly three years. Two of the other co-founders who exercise regularly said something simple to me: “You are of no value to anyone if you are dead. This journey is a marathon and we
need you healthy for the long run.” This kicked off our healthy staff program, which includes a subsidized gym membership for every staff member.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Jeff Bezos. I’m continually amazed at his fearlessness and breadth of innovation—inside and outside of Amazon. When I think of him, I’m reminded to be bold and to obsess over the customer experience. I always identified myself as passionate and relentless. I am passionate about anything I get involved in—on both personal and professional levels—and I am relentless in my pursuit. I believe it was either in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s that I wanted to buy www.relentless.com, but to my surprise I discovered Mr. Bezos owned the domain and it pointed to Amazon.com!
If I end up having breakfast with him, I will share with him how becoming an Amazon customer in early 1997 contributed to my success today. I was living in Jerusalem at that time. I am confident he will get a chuckle out of it.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series in Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.