A Successful CEO By 23: Reflections on Lessons Learned
I had the pleasure of interviewing David Gorodyansky, CEO of AnchorFree, a company that provides online freedom, security and privacy and keeps content from hackers. You may wonder from the title above, “improving the world?” In today’s day and age it’s hard to argue that access to all of the data you need and having it protected from hackers is not as essential as clean air and water.
While you may deem that hyperbole, the question of whether or not the Internet influenced our last election and how the outcome affected you and your quality of life (i.e. Are you constantly arguing politics on Facebook?)can be considered.
Gorodyansky set out to do something that would help people worldwide after seeing that Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) were just being used by corporations. At age 23, he founded AnchorFree which developed HotSpot Shield https://www.hotspotshield.com/, a downloadable software with a built in VPN for the masses. The idea was simple: Give people access to content with the ultra-secure web browsing. Even AnchorFree doesn’t log users’ data, so they are protected from themselves.
Gorodyanksy has seen many other companies in Silicon Valley (that is where AnchorFree is based) that are focused on gaming apps and other less essential provisions. As a young boy, however, his social conscience was in overdrive and he asked himself: “What can I do to advance the world forward?” Since then, he has been mission-driven, which is also the way he characterizes his company, and intent on creating innovations that improve the quality of lives worldwide.
Focus on Now, Also Focus on the Future
“I once asked Henry Kissinger over dinner what his advice is for young people wanting to change the world,” says Gorodyanksy. “He answered ‘Don’t get bogged down with what is happening now, focus on what you think will happen in the next 10 years.’ Every CEO is thinking of how to deliver operation results now as well as how to stay relevant later. We built a separate team at AnchorFree to solely focus on new products and innovations. That team is not involved in operational aspects of the day to day business. They are creating new concepts and filing new patents. The life of a CEO is about balance and priorities. Balancing operational goals with future aspirations is key.”
Creating a Successful Company is a Time Commitment, Figuring Out Work/Life Balance Certainly Takes a While Until You Start to Get the Hang of it
“It feels great being a young CEO (I started at 23, today I’m 35). There is a clear match between zest, inspiration and desire to change the world. It’s great to know that you’re spending your youth in a way that’s important and matters. At the same time, there are challenges such as balancing work and a personal life. Any young CEO should be ready to make their start-up the key thing they do in life that they devote most of their time to. This can, unfortunately, harm other aspects of life that require attention! Over the years, you get better at finding that balance, but it’s much harder to understand when you are in your 20s.”
Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce
“Having started out at 23, I can say that you quickly get accustomed to managing people of all ages. Sometimes, you realize that just because somebody has more experience than you do, it doesn’t mean they know better and on the reverse side, you can learn from those who are younger. I found that there are people of all ages, including older people, that have the same enthusiasm, energy and drive as people in their 20s. The personality of the individual is more important than their age. The new age of the technology industry is making people from all over the world and of all age groups more equal. Suit and tie days are dead. You have 50 year olds and 20 year olds wearing hoodies to work and instead of arguing over who has more experience or a C-level title, decisions are made based on data (that reflects progress). I’ve been proven wrong enough times by 20-year-old interns to know that it doesn’t matter how old you are or what your title is. What matters is how hard you are willing to drive towards your goals, persistence, the ability to prioritize, and being both tactical or detail oriented and strategic. The best employees remember why they do what they do. They’re also willing to devote the time towards achieving the goals and moving the Company forward.”
The Biggest Lesson You Can Impart to those Starting Out & Young CEOs
Over dinner with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I asked her what advice she would give young people. She answered, “Try the door. If you get to a locked door, keep trying to open it.” I asked what she thought was a key lesson she learned from being a Supreme Court Justice and she said “the ability to listen.” Most people are not good listeners, she explained, but lives depend on how well Supreme Court Justices listen. I found that all the world leaders and icons that I’ve met had a real interest in the future and all remained young at heart (and they always kept listening). The Secretaries of State and Supreme Court Justices who I’ve met were obsessed with ideas, not things and I think that’s very important to note — specifically ideas about the world and the future.
Having Goals in Mind for the Company — Looking 10 Years Ahead
“In answer to the question of where I see myself in 10 years: I see myself at the intersection of technology and foreign policy. I want to continue to combine idealism and pragmatic solutions to solve many of the world’s challenges. I have a huge amount of respect for projects like the XPrize and would like to see similar initiatives in more countries. I would like to help young people and entrepreneurs focus on what is important. Ideally, I’ll be able to play a role in advancing the world forward and will inspire others to do the same.
I think our company is positioned to address several very big challenges over the coming years. The first is providing security and privacy for 25 billion connected devices. Everything from our refrigerators to our mattresses will become connected to the Internet. Security and privacy will extend to how we eat, sleep, exercise and will be extremely important. The second is providing secure and private connectivity to global content for the next 5 billion users that will move from feature phones to smartphones. Many of these users will need Internet Freedom and Privacy and our company is best positioned to provide these basic human rights to the next 5 billion people. I see AnchorFree as a global force that will give control over personal privacy and access to information back to the people.”