Something I have been asking my friends recently is: who are your biggest professional inspirations?
The answers I’ve gotten usually have two tiers. At the tippy top are people like Barack Obama (said Patrick) or Ellen (said Grace) or Elon Musk (said anonymous) or Steve Yzerman (said me).
But then, most people also say someone like: Melissa who runs HR. Or Tarini who was my campaign leader one time. Or Peter who I share a desk with.
If there is something that feels even crazier than, say, a dude sending a rocket to mars, it’s someone who follows the same dog accounts as you do on Instagram founding a company, or running a department, or managing a project. You see them wearing a top that you almost bought at Banana Republic. Sometimes they forget to mute their Spotify, and Shawn Mendes plays out loud to the whole office.
Finding this type of professional inspiration has changed my career, so I’m very excited to share this special phone-a-friend edition of 4CJ. Below you’ll find snippets of a conversation I had last week with Hatch Apps co-founder and Forbes 30-under-30 honoree Amelia Friedman. I am not sure if Amelia listens to Shawn Mendes, but she co-founded a company when she was just 23 years old, and over the past decade, she has built out communities, card games, and much much more.
We talk about superpowers, empathy, culture, and networking:
What is your superpower? Is there a specific trait, heuristic, perspective, something that allowed you to have the success you’ve had in your career so early on?
For me, I think it’s being able to quickly build both rapport and respect. It’s getting to that place where people believe you can create value for them. That doesn't necessarily mean knowing what the answer is because that was very rarely the case for me. I cofounded our company at 23, and we hired people who knew a lot more than I did. It's not about me being able to say, "okay, this is how you run your sales team,” when the person you hired built a 50-person operation at their last place.
You didn’t see that as a problem, your subordinates having more expertise than you?
I don't think that’s a problem, I think it's awesome. Ideally that would always be the case, forever and ever. The reality is that every person you ever hire is going to have more experience than you in something. Someone might be more experienced than you in being left-handed, and you're building a product and you didn’t even think about right- or left-handedness...who knows what that thing is.
When I don't have knowledge and I don't have experience, it's in everybody's interest if I just trust the people I hire to do a great job. I look at their numbers, ask questions, reach out to see if I can help... but it's not me saying "I don't trust you because I think I'm better." Because I'm not. And that's awesome.
Then what is the secret ingredient to having those people still respect you and look to you as a leader? Especially being so young.
First off, people seek visionary leadership. They're not looking to you to always know exactly how to execute, but they are looking to you to identify the path that they'd like to follow.
Second, one thing I’ve always said to my management team is they should challenge me to make this the best employment opportunity for them, but if it's not, they should look elsewhere. As a manager, one of my most important responsibilities is to create opportunities for people on my team to grow, to work on things that matter, to build, to stay out of their way, whatever it is. But maybe the things that they want aren't things that we can provide.
I’d also say, you know, try to always understand where they're coming from. Ask a lot of questions, read about their worlds, treat them as an expert. An example is, something comes up, and instead of saying "hey, I read this thing, I think we should do it,” approach it as, "hey I read this thing, it was fascinating to me, I'd love to hear what your responses are." And really respecting their excellence.
It’s interesting because for a lot of young people, I think there’s the insecurity of not wanting to be perceived as young, so sometimes you overcorrect and try to seem like an expert in all things. But what you’re saying is: don’t fight that battle, just understand what people really want - which is autonomy, trust, opportunity... and then what?
And then it’s about setting folks up for success, and moving any barriers your team might face out of their way.
So what are you working on now, and how does this superpower come into practice?
Right now I'm doing a little bit of consulting, which is super fun. There's two separate projects I'm working on and nobody has ever been able to dive into, like, what is the actual thing you want? And how does it serve people? How does it achieve this vision?
In both cases, they had a few strategic goals, but then you have to take those and figure out what you actually want to do.
And that's the place that I feel historically I've been able to really spin things up, spin things up very quickly. Because when it comes to programs, it’s about how you're going to serve people, the model for impact, and then down to what should our outlook be now, what are our activities, what are our resources.
So sort of, being able to know and think about and plan for the details without losing the big picture.
It's always about empathy right? Being able to understand what people want, what people's goals are and pull those down through whatever your mental model is into actions.
Okay, next question: what is something you care a lot about that most people aren't talking about?
I think a fair amount about how companies devalue whatever else above culture and people. If you're an executive you're like well, sales, that's most important, and then it’s: I need products to sell, so I need packages signed, I need marketing…all of those things before people or culture.
The challenge there is that culture eats everything else for breakfast.
So how do you think about those questions of culture in a way that you can communicate to executives, who are always looking to prioritize in the context of numbers?
So then are you thinking about things like employee retention percentages?
Well, retention is what makes people care about it, but you can look into subcategories of retention. For example, if I ask someone, "Do you have a best friend at this company?" And they say, "Um, not really,” they’re probably a lot more likely to leave the company.
It sounds kind of wacky, but you can basically say, “we want to make sure that people find a best friend at work." So how do we build a social environment where people can do that? Because we know once they do that, they're less likely to leave us. And if they do leave us, well, each hire costs us about $40,000 in lost productivity and about $30,000 in recruitment costs. Right? It’s $70,000 dollars lost if we lose this person.
So it probably makes sense to work out a $1,000/year social budget to have happy hour. Whatever, you know? So I think there's some interesting conversations to be had, and it's just a matter of getting folks to have those discussions.
And being creative about putting numbers on it. And having best friends at work! So important. I really like that example.
Okay, last question: most of our subscribers are young, they’re in college or they’ve recently graduated, they’re trying to be taken seriously in the world. What’s your big piece of advice for them on the career front?
Focus as much as you can on relationships. Build relationships, tend to your relationships.
And think about relationship retention. If you meet somebody really amazing, are they going to know your name in six months? How are you going to stay top of mind without being annoying? Adding people on Linkedin doesn't count as maintaining relationships.
Different people have different ways of doing that. But really focus on it. As you're meeting great people, just be yourself.
Don't be pushy, and at the end of the conversation say, "I really enjoyed this. I'm really trying to get connected in X, Y, Z industry, or meet more people who do this kind of work. Is there anybody else I can chat with?"
Try and have as many of those conversations as you can, but not so many that you can't maintain those relationships that are of value.
A big thank you to Amelia for joining this edition of 4CJ.
See you all next week.