“Invest Time in Finding Great Advisors” 5 Startup Strategies With Joe McCann CEO of NodeSource
“Invest time in finding great advisors. My best advisor to date is Steve Rowland, the President of DataStax. It took me nearly two years to find someone like him, but his counsel has been invaluable for seemingly any aspect of the business.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe McCann the Founder and CEO of NodeSource, the Node.js company. In three years he has taken the company through three rounds of VC funding for a total of $34 million.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I began working at the age of 14 as a dishwasher and pizza cook at a local shop in the small coastal town Ocean Springs, Mississippi. During one summer, the only other pizza cook broke his arm, so I was “asked” to work double shifts for 38 days in a row. The experience taught me a lot about hard work, working hard and working smart. I do believe working the dredges of the service industry is something everyone should do. You can tell a lot about a person’s character by how they treat those who are serving them. Since then I’ve taken a rather nontraditional career path and have risen to the top of several fields; with stints in fashion, retail, advertising, software development, the music industry and Wall Street — all while having a degree in Philosophy.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting adjustment I’ve had to make as CEO is that I’m not longer “Just Joe.” I’ve learned that, as CEO, there will be an impact to everything I do or say whether I like it or not! Employees may interpret harmless actions or words as something much bigger than they really are. Reminding myself of the position I am in and the impact my words and actions can have is a daily practice for me.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are several things that make NodeSource stand out. First, Node.js is now used by nearly half of all software developers on Earth, including 100 percent of the Fortune 500. NodeSource is the only commercial vendor that supports the fastest-growing open source project, Node.js. Second, through my passion for travel and pursuing opportunity around the world, I bring a unique perspective to hiring talent at NodeSource. Many years ago, I was doing some consulting work for multiple enterprise technology companies while living in Amsterdam in various Airbnb rentals. It made me rethink the concept of an office, and that top talent can work anywhere there is an internet connection. This is the foundation for the incredible talent we have at NodeSource today. They are located all over the world. And, what’s more, we have a cool benefit where every employee gets an annual AirBnB stipend, encouraging them to change their perspective while doing great work.
Moreover, when we hire folks, rarely do we look at a résumé. Instead, when looking for the right hire, we evaluate whether or not a candidate is a person who is curious about the world and brings a unique perspective. What gives us an edge is a globally diverse workforce that brings loads of different life experiences to solving hard problems.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
In a recent survey we found that 37 percent of entrepreneurs are worried about finding good talent, and 35 percent worry they won’t be able to build successful teams. It is important to focus on your employees’ personal development as much as you focus on the work they are doing for your company. At NodeSource, we offer annual Airbnb stipends encouraging them to change their perspective, which almost always leads to more creative and innovative work. The majority of our employees also work remotely, spanning the globe from Australia to South Korea to Germany to Colombia to Canada and the U.S. A 24-hour work schedule is also somewhat unique at NodeSource. We recognize and encourage employees to work when the time is right for them, not the company. We also host an annual all-hands offsite meeting — typically somewhere warm and tropical — to align on goals and develop empathy for the people who are not in the office every day. We have found that this drastically reduces “decision latency,” the biggest bottleneck in a distributed or remote organization.
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?
My mother. I give her credit for the drive and charisma she instilled in me as a key ingredient to my success. She raised my three brothers and me as a single mother and placed a high priority on both creative expression and hard work.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Every employee at NodeSource receives $1,000 per year to contribute to a charity or community-based organization of their choice. Contributions so far include Women Who Code and even small tech conferences in Latin America. For example, some of our teammates in Medellin, Colombia, were hired explicitly because of their desire to educate those in their local community about the art of programming. They have successfully trained hundreds of high school women how to program with Node.js, and have even conducted “Nodebots” workshops where young kids got to hack robots with Node.js.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
You work is never finished. I’m pretty maniacal about inbox zero, but there is always more to do. Product work, customer meetings, design reviews, hiring talent, planning events…the list goes on and on. As someone who, as a student and as an employee, was always quick to “finish,” recognizing that there is no finished state as CEO is a learned behavior.
Invest time in finding great advisors. My best advisor to date is Steve Rowland, the President of DataStax. It took me nearly two years to find someone like him, but his counsel has been invaluable for seemingly any aspect of the business.
Define and measure your sales process and methodology early on. In enterprise sales the cycles can be months, if not years. Tracking a number of deals with sharp precision and metrics drastically improves my visibility into the health of the business. Early on, as the only sales person, I didn’t have this rigor in place and learned the hard way!
Explicitly carve out personal time. As CEO, your job is genuinely 24/7/365, but if you lose the balance of personal time and space, you will be less effective as a leader.
Trust, but verify…and then verify again. As CEO, you need to trust your leadership team and, ultimately, all of your employees. Trust that they will always do what’s best for the company, but verify it without undermining those in leadership positions. This is a careful balancing act.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“In the end, it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare.” — Nietzsche
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 just see this :-)
Yuval Harari, author of arguably the greatest work of the century, “Sapiens,” is one of the most brilliant people on Earth and someone I’d love to just listen to for hours on end.
Note to our readers: If you appreciated this interview, please click on one of the buttons on the top left to post to your twitter, facebook or pinterest. If 2000 people like you do this, there is a good chance this article may be featured on the homepage. : -)
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.