My career has afforded me a number of opportunities to work with entrepreneurs both as my employer and as my client. Each has had his or her own specific idiosyncrasies, inspirations, demands and lessons to share. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs at the most exciting time in their business ventures, and some at the worst, and most stressful times. I’ve worked with those who have incredible leadership skills and thrive as the head of the company, and those who prefer to focus on a specific product passion and hand the reigns off to a colleague to manage business on a day-to-day basis. On the client side, I’ve also had those who begrudgingly hire a PR firm, and others who totally “get it” when it comes to the power of publicity and communications when building a business.
Needless to say, I find the brain of an entrepreneur fascinating. I love learning what makes him or her tick, what keeps them going when they’ve hit business rock bottom, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and so on.
I attended a fantastic fireside chat this week hosted by Startup Grind Greenwich with Datto founder and CEO Austin McChord. His list of accomplishments at a very young age is only slightly intimidating. …I say ‘slightly’ in an entirely sarcastic sense. ‘In 2014 McChord was named a Finalist for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, as well as named a CRN Top 25 Innovator and a CRN Top 50 Midmarket IT Vendor Executive. He was also named to the 2015 Forbes 30 under 30 list.’
Austin has this interesting way about him. He’s well-spoken and obviously outrageously smart. He has the background of a tech geek who likely didn’t love to speak in front of crowds in his younger years, while he has the serious chops to run a data backup company that did just under $100 million in 2014, up 32-fold since 2010. Funny enough, Austin admitted to being “lazy” in college, barely doing any homework and squeaking by with a 2.2 GPA. Type As like me who lost years off their life trying to get good grades in college – let’s all take a collective deep breath and move on.
While Austin shared an outstanding amount of insight on his entrepreneurial journey thus far, I wanted to bullet out and share some of the points that really struck me.
- On creating a great place to work: Austin was very honest that he has employees at Datto who are smarter and better at certain things than he is – and he revels in that. He seems to subscribe to a similar mindset that I have: Surround yourself with people smarter than you. You should never be the smartest person in the room and you should hire natural contrarians. “Yes people” will only be a disservice.
He also works hard with his senior team to make a fun place to work for his employees. They’ve done kooky videos with the staff dancing to the Harlem Shake. He bought liquid nitrogen just so he could freeze random stuff in the office for fun (FYI – a frozen orange will shatter and explode when chucked onto the floor). The staff once built a gigantic LED light board to watch TV and sports games on in the office.
Some might call these “antics” distracting, but I’m on board (to a degree, of course). Work is tiresome. Work can get boring. Breaking out of the monotony of the average work day can be healthy for a team – and build just that…a team. And from what I could tell from the Datto team members also in attendance at this event, they seem super happy to get up and go to work every day. Happy employees = happy customers = good business.
- On why he does what he does / what keeps him going: When Austin hits low points in business and has to learn lessons the hard way (he racked up $75k of personal credit card debt to get Datto going), he remembers something very important: He made a promise. He made a promise to his customer that he would protect their company’s data – data integral to operation. And he made a promise to his employees to be the best leader possible. He shared the sobering fact that, as a business owner, he is responsible for paying someone else’s mortgage and for putting food on someone else’s table. When facing tough times or failures, Austin seems to refocus on the bigger picture in a noble way.
- On what has helped him get where he is today: Change and adaptability. Austin said he wouldn’t be the successful entrepreneur he is today had he not been open to change in himself. He wouldn’t have been able to become a great orator who now speaks at a number of public engagements and is put forward for prestigious awards. The 21-year-old soldering metal parts for his first prototype in his dad’s company’s basement would have found Austin’s publicity comical or unbelievable. But had he not had the ability to adapt and “put himself out there,” he said he wouldn’t have made so many gains.
I’ll admit my recap is a smidgen of all the great insights shared during the event. I hope I did it justice to some small degree. Thanks to Austin, Startup Grind and my friend Jennifer Bernheim of martinb+company for the invite!
If you don’t know of Austin or Datto yet, keep an eye out. I have a feeling future news will be bright for the company.