Why Successful Entrepreneurs Have to Learn to be Comfortable Running Straight at Their Fears: With Chris Savage

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

“The difference between succeeding and failing all comes down to how you handle your fears — whether it’s the fear of failing, making the wrong decision, or even being afraid of success itself.”
Chris Savage is the CEO and co-founder of Wistia, the video platform of choice for business, that helps businesses create, host, customize, and measure video content. After graduating from Brown University with a degree in Art-Semiotics, Chris and his co-founder, Brendan Schwartz, started Wistia in Brendan’s living room in 2006. Wistia has since grown into a multi- million dollar business with over 90 employees and over 300,000 customers.

Thanks for doing this with us! What is your backstory?

I’ve always been super passionate about video and film in particular — I studied Art-Semiotics in college with a focus on the theory of film making, and when I graduated, it just so happened that YouTube really started to gain momentum, so it was the perfect time to take my love for video and apply it to business. My co-founder, Brendan Schwartz, and I started brainstorming ideas and came up with the idea of helping filmmakers with online video, which eventually led us to creating Wistia in 2006. The business looks much, much different today, but it’s still entirely focused on helping people and businesses do more with video online.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Our office dog, Lenny, is a 6-year-old, hypoallergenic labradoodle. A while back we decided to include him on our team page and gave him the role of “recruiter” as a quick and easy way to delight visitors to the page. One day his owner, who happens to be our Principle Video Producer, got a voicemail from someone asking to speak directly with Lenny. The message went like this: “Hi there Lenny. It looks like you do recruiting at Wistia. I was hoping to grab a few minutes of your day to chat about recruiting services.” It was priceless. How many dogs do you know that get personal business calls?

So what exactly does your company do?

Wistia is a video platform that helps businesses create, host, manage, distribute, and analyze great looking videos. Regardless of your experience-level, you can use video to build stronger, more human connections with your audience and team. We also make a bunch of videos and educational content that helps businesses get off the ground with video on a small budget. Basically we want to enable everyone to use video to communicate better and in a more personal way.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Beyond using video to help educate and inspire businesses and entrepreneurs, I think for me it’s just as important to work with your local community to encourage their growth (we’re based in Cambridge, MA). This past year, we mentored a group of eighth grade female students from East Boston as part of the Girls Who Code program. These students worked alongside Wistia engineers, talked about potential career paths, and even worked on creating their own apps and websites. At the end of the day, they walked away with their own brand-new laptops so that they could continue their work as aspiring engineers and coders. These are the creators of the future, so it’s critical that they have the resources they need to grow and innovate in the tech space for the future.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO,” and why?

  1. Tell everyone what you don’t know. This one is super important, and what I believe to be one of the biggest challenges when it comes to leading a company. It’s tempting to want to be involved in every aspect of every project going on, especially in the early stages of a business, but it’s really important to let go. Effective leadership means admitting that you simply don’t have all the answers, all the time. By opening up the floor to other people at your business, you’re letting them take problem solving into their own hands, which is when the good stuff really starts to happen.
  2. Proactively build a culture from the start. Focusing on something as nebulous as company culture can be incredibly hard, but when you get bigger it will be the difference between success and failure. It’s important to be incredibly vigilant and to make the hard calls not to hire someone who could help you in the short term, but could be the wrong fit in the long term. Your earliest employees will set the tone for the type of work everyone will expect, don’t plan to fix your culture later, build it from the start.
  3. Don’t hide who you are. No one wants to do business with a boring, cold
    corporation. Build personal relationships with your early customers — they’ll love you for it. At the end of the day, we all want to feel connected with one another, so be sure to invest in those key relationships right from day one.
  4. Get comfortable running straight towards what scares you most. The difference between succeeding and failing all comes down to how you handle your fears — whether it’s the fear of failing, making the wrong decision, or even being afraid of success itself. Back when Wistia first started and was running as a team of five, we were invited down to meet with Ben Chestnut, the founder and CEO of MailChimp, in Atlanta. If Ben had asked us for a demo of the enterprise features, it would have lasted less than sixty seconds. We were terrified that we were going to burn this bridge after exposing how ragtag we were, but it turns out MailChimp was looking for a company that was willing to be honest and transparent with how they operated — so it all worked out in the end!
  5. Build in the time for rest. Whether you’re obsessed with growing your revenue this quarter, or even doubling the size of your team, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t try to do everything at once, all the time. If you want sustainable, long-term growth and success, you have to know when to slow down. It’s all about alternating between periods of rampant growth and intervals of rest — build in the time for rest and you’ll be able to work even harder and better moving forward.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

In all honesty, I’d love to have breakfast with Obama. That would be amazing. Plus, it would be pretty cool to see how he likes his eggs.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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