On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Chris Kuenne and John Danner talk about their new book, “Built for Growth: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team, and Your Ability to Win.” Kuenne and Danner argue that entrepreneurs can come in many different personality types, and that those personalities shape the sort of companies they build.
You can read some of the highlights here, or listen to the entire interview in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
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Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher executive editor of Recode. You may know me as the Arya Stark of Silicon Valley, but in my spare time I talk tech. You’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode anywhere you listen to podcasts or on Apple Podcast, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher, SoundCloud and more, or just visit recode.net/podcasts for more.
Today in the red chairs we have two fantastic guests: Chris Kuenne and John Danner. They’re the authors of a new book called “Built for Growth: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team and Your Ability to Win.” Chris is the co-founder and managing partner of Rosemark Capital, an investment fund based in Princeton, New Jersey. John is a senior fellow at Berkeley’s Haas Business School and the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship. Chris and John, welcome to Recode Decode.
John Danner: Thanks, Kara.
Chris Kuenne: Thank you, Kara.
I’ve known Chris for a long time, we grew up together, but I was fascinated that you wrote this book on entrepreneurship which is just what I cover, which is fantastic. I want you both to talk about how you got to do it. Now, let me start with you, Chris, you had a business career.
CK: Yeah, I was lucky enough to go from — as they call it in marketing services — the client side working for 10 years at Johnson & Johnson, to then start a company.
So you sold Band-Aids, essentially.
CK: Yes, exactly. In fact, I’m the guy who put the decorations on Band-Aids.
That’s a very exciting legacy for you and your children.
CK: Yes that was my … Exactly, my claim to fame.
CK: Then I was lucky enough to start a firm called Rosetta — and I always pause and say, “No, not the language company, actually one larger but one much less well known.” Rosetta was built to become ultimately the largest privately held digital marketing agency in the world. We sold it to the Publicis Groupe about six years ago for a little less than $600 million. After I went through that experience I thought it would be fun to teach. As you may remember, my dad was an economics professor so I was fortunate to be asked to teach entrepreneurship at Princeton, which is where I met John.
You had been an entrepreneur, you had obviously created things, but first you did the corporate thing. It’s interesting, we were at an event this week with Vinod Khosla, a well-known venture capitalist, and he said, “If you work for a corporation like from HP or Cisco for more than 15 years, you can’t do startups.” It was a really interesting thing, but you made the shift.
CK: Yeah, I can see that. I think there’s a period of time — maybe eight to 10 years — where you actually learn a lot of the disciplines and structured way to think about things, but then you really have to get out. Consulting is the same way; great tool set but you gotta get out before anything.
Gotta get out. Okay. And John, how did you come to this?
JD: Chris and I met because I get a chance to teach both at the business school at Berkeley and also I teach at Princeton every fall as a visiting professor in entrepreneurship. My interest in entrepreneurship goes back all the way to my college years. At Harvard a couple of friends of mine and I started a business that did market research and foreign language translation.
JD: And that kind of gave me the bug to do this. Over the years I have both started businesses and helped companies start businesses; some of which have succeeded, some of which have not, but I have always been fascinated about entrepreneurship as really the key to driving economic opportunity and progress around the world.
Then you teach at Berkeley, and Stanford is the one known for creating entrepreneurs.
JD: What school was that?
JD: Oh, Stanford, yeah.
It’s this little school, it’s down in Palo Alto. It’s got a little bit of property.
JD: Well, as good a school as Stanford is, we think we give them a run for their money. At Berkeley we’ve got a very extensive ...
You’re at the cradle of what people consider the most entrepreneurial region right now in historical terms.
JD: I think that’s true, although there are obviously predecessors going all the way back to the Renaissance.
Absolutely, way back before that. I had Eric Weiner, he did “The Geography of [Bliss]” and he did a geography, essentially, of innovation. He was talking about how innovative cultures fail, really, they get it created and then how they ... When you see the signs for them, there’s quite a few signs right now here, we’ll talk about that in Silicon Valley of bad, of negativity right now.
JD: I got interested in this. I did a book a couple of years ago called “The Other ’F’ Word” on how smart entrepreneurs, teams and leaders put failure to work.
The failure, love of failure.
JD: The irony of all that for a lot of people is that if you really want growth and innovation and an engaged workforce, you’ve got to deal with failure. Having written a book on failure when Chris and I met one another after the semester at Princeton a couple of years ago and he mentioned he was interested in doing a book on growth, I said, “That’s the perfect complement, because growth is the engine that people are trying to ride and drive.”
Right, but your book was on failure. Like you didn’t coin the term pivot, because I’ll have to throw you out if that’s the case.
JD: No, in some ways actually I prefer the term rivet to pivot, because I think a lot of times it takes tenacity ...
I see, well done.
JD: ... rather than shifting with the winds.
Oh my God, no wonder you’re a professor.
JD: I mean ...
I hate all those words. I just like saying, “I failed.” It’s fine. You guys, how did you set up to do this book, because there’s a lot of books out there. There is a lot of ... I have dozens on my shelf like what the secret sauce is — and we’re going to talk about why that’s treated that way later. How did you decide? Why was this the focus, Chris?
CK: Well, what each of us teaches at Princeton is really kind of how to be an entrepreneur, the mechanics of being an entrepreneur. We were sitting at the faculty club at Princeton after a long semester and we were thinking about the fact that there’s so much written about how you actually build a company, but not who builds them. As we went back and forth we realized that that nexus of how and who is really untrodden territory and may be worthy of a book, so we started to do some research on the question.
On the people that do it, not the techniques.
CK: The people and the nexus. As we got into it we realized that who you are actually shapes how you build your company.
How you should be, so you could become an entrepreneur, you don’t have to be a certain type, in other words.
CK: For sure. There’s a lot of research out there that separates entrepreneurs from non-entrepreneurs, we think that’s a lot of hooey. We think anybody can be an entrepreneur, and our study was actually focused on the most successful entrepreneurs. There’s also an assumption that all the successful entrepreneurs are the same, they’re all like Steve Jobs, and we went out and proved that actually there are four distinct types of entrepreneurs. Who you are shapes how you build and who you are then defines all the key things that it takes to actually build a successful business.
Okay. We’re not gonna get into the specifics of this book, but let’s talk about entrepreneurship in general, the sort of what is it? The celebration of it. I don’t know what it is and yet how it’s kept away from most people.
JD: Yeah. I think a lot of people think that it’s some sort of rarefied endeavor in life. When you look at the essence of it, I’m always drawn to the definition that the professor of Harvard Business School gave a number of years ago, Howard Stevenson. He defined entrepreneurship as the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you control.
Now if you start with that definition, that applies to most jobs and most organizations, whether they’re starting up or already established. Because you’re always trying to create something that hasn’t been done before and you rarely have all the resources: People, dollars, time, space, customers, whatever it may be that you need to be able to make that future happen. When you start with that lens you start with a more democratic approach to ...
Which is not ... it’s not that you are special. Talk a little bit about how it got that way, the sort of Jesus as entrepreneur, you know what I mean?
JD: No, I think ...
Like the savior. Like right now I’ve been dealing with the Uber CEO thing, which needs a clearly entrepreneurial person in charge. They’re all of course turning to Sheryl, not just because of her gender, although that has part to do with it. It’s like she can say it, she’s the only one who can fix this thing, you know what I mean? You know, a type like that. And I’m like, “That seems somewhat limited in thinking.”
JD: It’s a broader issue obviously, and I certainly don’t have the answer for it. The perspective on it –
Well how did that create the idea of the Jesus entrepreneur?
JD: Well, I think the perspective on it, it’s a quintessentially American hero worship. There’s a desire to sort of find an icon who’s done great things above and beyond what most of us have done.
Struggled along the way.
JD: That’s right, it’s all the ... you know, as we say, there are books about entrepreneurship and books about the people who are entrepreneurs, but those are kind of the who’s who of entrepreneurship. What you miss is the everyday shapers and builders of small and medium enterprises who create the jobs that drive the economy. The idea that the media draws itself to the iconic entrepreneurs ...
Instead of the people, too.
JD: Yeah, reinforces this notion that somehow or another you have to be extraordinarily unique to be successful. One of the things that drew Chris and I into this book is to explore that fundamental assumption. And lo and behold, yes, there are these four quite different types that we’ll get into a little bit later. Also the characteristics of those four types are shared by millions of men and women.
Each one requires a different tool set to be successful.
JD: Each one approaches the same, what we call the growth dynamics. Those are the same whether what type you are, what business you are, what industry you are. You all have to create, go from an idea to a solution. You have to figure out how to galvanize a team of individuals.
Those are the basics, right.
JD: You have to figure out a way to transform your customers into partners, etc. How you do that is fundamentally different by the personality of the founder or the builder at the center of that process.
Right, so Chris, what do you think about this savior concept? Because it really is ... it’s not just the media that does it, it’s everyone here. We had Elon Musk at Code several times and the first time literally all the men walked out, like they had the biggest man crush in the world. It was fascinating to watch. They were like, “Oh my God, oh my God.” It was sort of this, “If only I was like him,” and it was bizarre. I was like, “He’s not that ... I mean, believe me, I knew him when he wasn't ... he was as weird as you are right now.”
It’s an interesting dynamic that you either have the Steve Jobs or an Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg or whoever — and it’s usually a white man, typically, in Silicon Valley at least. Why do you think that is?
CK: Well, I think we search for the simple answers to very complex questions. We are a culture in America of hero worship whether you’re an athlete, a politician, a businessperson, a musician. We elevate people to this artificially high sense of perfection. The people you were just rolling through are very interesting, because we put Jessica Alba up there as one of the icons. Not the same type as you were describing of as Elon and Jobs, but the overarching insight here is that you don’t have to be like them; you don’t have to be male, you don’t have to be white and you don’t have to be hard-driving like they are.
Right, but it does create a sort of prison in Silicon Valley, you know what I mean? Here we are now with all these diversity issues. I mean it just, it literally plays out and it’s a very bright line that I can see between those two. Then they become the people we worship and then they get to indulge and misbehave along the way.
Yeah, absolutely. It creates a really strange dynamic that leaves everybody out and I think to the detriment of Silicon Valley, for example.
JD: Well, I think that may well be true. Silicon Valley is just one instantiation of an entrepreneurial culture.
Sure, but right now it is it.
JD: Right now it’s got the center stage. Route 128 obviously had it many years ago ...
For a short time.
JD: Research Triangle Park has it, Austin, Texas has it.
Yeah, but nothing ... They do that Silicon prayer. Like stop, it’s here.
JD: Yeah, and my own attitude ... when I talk with people around the world about this issue I say, “Look, culture is the king here. Whatever structure you put in, whatever environment you’re trying to create to promote entrepreneurship, it’s got to reflect the local culture that you’re in and to try to export Silicon Valley will not work.” There are some unique characteristics here around proximity of universities and the like, but there are other resources that other regions in the world can adapt into their own purposes. Who knows? The future is there to be claimed by somebody other than Silicon Valley.
We’re going to talk about that, but what does the culture of Silicon Valley look like to you, because we have a Silicon Valley audience? Chris, what is this culture to you at this moment and is it in any danger of eating itself alive?
CK: I don’t know if it’s ... I think it’s at a key inflection point and will evolve into something that will have some similarities to today, but hopefully become more democratic. Hopefully investors will begin to identify some of these characteristics, these megalomaniacal characteristics earlier on and say, “Right idea, wrong leader,” and start to insert leaders that are much broader in their skill base.
We believe that these distinct personalities will actually start to play out in a much greater way, because there is so much magic here. I get the luxury of teaching on the east coast and investing on the west coast and there is a lot to like; we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There’s an inventiveness, there’s an openness, there’s just a belief that anything is possible. Unfortunately what came hand in hand with that is a male egotistical ... We have this term we call product narcissism where people actually become so in love with their product that they see it as an extension of themselves.
Yeah, I just call it assholes, but go ahead. I like that; I like your term there.
CK: Well hopefully like Narcissus they’ll fall into the pond and drown.
Yeah, we know how that turned out.
JD: My shorthand on that is ... The nice thing about when you look at Silicon Valley, it’s a demonstration of the fact that “entre is the mantra.” That this is a setting in which creative collisions can occur.
Entre is the mantra, this is great, yeah.
JD: And you’d like to think that, after the fact, strategy was all at play. When you really peel the onion apart and find out how did these ventures get started, how did the people find one another, how did the investor find the builder? It’s mostly that serendipity trumps strategy, and to do that you’ve got to basically create an environment in which “entre” can happen. People have to do things with other people.
Here it’s the collision of money and lots of talent, ideas.
JD: Ideas, talent and proximity. And I think one of the challenges ...
People forget analog.
JD: People. When you can run into somebody at a coffee shop or your kids are on the same soccer field or whatever the connection is, it’s those casual collisions of creative people that I think can spark the kind of innovative spirit that the rest of the world’s looking for. That for a while, at least, Silicon Valley has been able to bottle.
Where do you assess it right now? And then in the next section I want to talk about the book itself.
JD: It’s at the heyday of hubris, perhaps looking for a little humility. Whether or not it arrives at that by its own choice or is forced to take a more humble approach to the future because others have begun to adapt their own solution, that is not predicated on as much high-tech ventures as other kinds of ventures, because most ventures aren’t tech ventures.
Right, they aren’t, that’s a very good point to make, absolutely.
JD: They’re service businesses. And if it’s jobs that you’re concerned about and economic development, much less the equity of how economic development has spread, Silicon Valley is not the answer for that.
No, and we’re going to talk about the responsibility Silicon Valley has when we get back. We’re here with Chris Kuenne and John Danner talking about their new book called “Built for Growth.”
Today’s show is brought to you by Audioville, which has an unmatched selection of audiobooks, original audio shows, news, comedy and more. You can listen to all of that wherever you are thanks to Audioville’s free apps for iOS, Android and Amazon devices. It’s not a streaming or rental service, with Audioville you own your books. Chris and John, what book should I listen to next? Chris, you first.
CK: I’m loving Michael Lewis’s book about Daniel Kahneman.
Yeah, isn’t it great?
CK: Well, John and I have been living this experience. It’s two guys who work very closely together ...
A bromance, yeah.
CK: ... and they talk about tapping a single mind to create what became ultimately a Nobel Prize-winning piece of research. I also love the fact that they’re psychologists who won the Nobel Prize in economics, and being someone who is fascinated with the application of one discipline to another area. It’s just fascinating. It’s so ... I mean, Michael Lewis is a total stud.
He’s great, he’s a friend of mine, he’s great.
He’s really fantastic. What about you?
“Behave”? What is that?
JD: “Behave” by Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford professor who has written just a fabulously fascinating book on why human beings do so good and so bad and what the underpinnings are from hormones, from genes, etc., in a way that is masterful and fascinating.
Wow, fantastic, those are both fantastic selections.
We’re here with Chris Kuenne and John Danner, they are the authors of a new book called “Built for Growth; How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team and Your Ability to Win.”
Let’s talk about the book in particular. You were talking about that entrepreneurs don’t have to be of a certain gene or the way they are, which Silicon Valley has an image of them and they look like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg. Talk a little about what you find in your book. Why don’t you start, John.
JD: As Chris mentioned earlier, there are other works out there that help you try to decide whether or not you might be cut out to be an entrepreneur. If I use the marathon example, those are books and tools that help you decide whether you might consider running in a marathon; we focused on the winners of the marathon. We thought it would be helpful for people to understand what makes those women and men tick.
We developed and applied a methodology that Chris had refined and patented in his business Rosetta. Lo and behold when we went out with our interview and surveys, we detected four very different types of what we call business builders. Each of them differ by motivation; why are they an entrepreneur? How they make decisions; whether they are fact based or more intuitively, how they lead and how they manage.
When you look at that population it sorts into these four types: There is the driver — and the examples that you used would almost all be drivers, right, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, etc. These are folks that are absolutely fixated by the product that they believe in, the product that they are bringing to market, and that tends to fix in the public mind, but that’s just one of the doors to entrepreneurial success.
The second is what we call explorers. These are people that are fascinated by complex puzzles that have some commercial significance. They are systems thinkers by background, by instinct, and they bring to market a different kind of solution born of a different way of thinking. These folks are highly analytical.
CK: Yeah and the other two, the ...
Drivers and ...
CK: Then the crusader is someone who is drawn into entrepreneurship by some sense of mission.
Why is it different from a driver?
CK: Completely different, completely. In fact, we like to say that the crusader is almost like the accidental entrepreneur, he or she is drawn to solve the social problem in many cases. Sometimes it’s a market problem and a business grew up around it. Jessica Alba is a big example of a crusader: She was pregnant, she was concerned about finding hypoallergenic products and bang, now she’s ...
Also the SoulCycle entrepreneur.
CK: Yeah, SoulCycle is another good example. Ben & Jerry’s, where I happen to spend the summer, a wonderful example, right, it just so happens that they sell ice cream, they are really about social activism.
Then the captain. The captain is motivated by tapping the inner productivity of the team, fascinated by how to get the right people in the right seats motivated with clear objectives and a clear vision. Examples of captains, one of our favorite is a woman named June Ressler. June runs — believe it or not — an oil services business in Houston, and it’s all about hiring the right people and then putting them out on the rigs with the right kind of focus. John Crowley is another terrific example of a captain, he has started a biotech firm called Amicus and was ... There was a movie made about him because he created a biotech solution to save his children’s lives from Pompe disease.
Wouldn’t he be a crusader?
CK: Well, he was mission-driven but actually really motivated to bring the right kind of talent together to solve the problem, to bring the right scientists with the right investors. It was really a harmonization of how to solve the problem and how to fund the problem, all through his leadership.
You were using the book to try to get people to put themselves into the, they used to use that test in tech all the time. What was ...
CK: The Myers-Briggs.
Myers-Briggs, they went crazy for that for a while. I remember, it was a big part of my book on AOL because they all, that’s how we hired people by their Myers-Briggs scores and what was that, XTPL, whatever.
CK: Yeah ENTJ, that’s where you are.
Why sort them? What’s the concept? John, why don’t you ...
JD: Let’s go all the way back. I mean, this is a “know thyself” ... This is a lens to begin to understand who you might be and why you do what you do. It gives you a lens into your own self so that you can be more self aware and the people who work with you can perhaps better understand why you do the things you do the way you do them so that they can figure out a way to collaborate more effectively with you. If it’s an investor, how investors might begin to figure out the right fit, I mean you are familiar with product market fit and all that.
JD: Just imagine that from our point of view the most important fit is the fit between the builder at the center of the entrepreneurial process and the other resources that she or he made.
Whether it be investors or talent or whatever.
JD: Exactly, because we’ve seen too many examples of the misfit that happens, in many cases because people have not stopped and said, “Who are we really dealing with? Who am I as a builder?” and that’s the value that we think our book can bring.
Let’s go through the first two you mentioned. The first one would be the driver, which is the Steve Jobs, Elon Musk kind of personality and then the second one was the ...
JD: The explorer.
... explorer. Who would that be?
JD: Think Jeff Bezos. Jeff Bezos is very much a systems kind of guy. I mean, he is not somebody to necessarily fall in love with the current business that he’s in, he’s constantly figuring out how to sort and slice and dice not just the front-lines business but the behind-the-scenes businesses.
Although he could fit into the other ones, too.
JD: Absolutely. To some extent this is a matter of tone and coloration. We’re putting the prototypes out of the four but it’s possible to have elements of one or the other.
Let’s do the great assets of the first two, and then Chris can do them.
JD: Well, the biggest asset of the first one is really the product market fit is the domain of this kind of person if they are right, because they believe so intensely. That’s why we use the term fixated by their product or this notion of product narcissism. If they are right they have the kind of tenacity that kind of riveting capability that I talked about earlier to basically overcome the obstacles, overcome the risks, the doubters, and bring something to market. And that’s why Jobs is such a great example.
Yeah, he really was, of course.
JD: There are others as well. Steve Brightman, who is a guy that built an empire around coin-operated laundries in New York City has the same kinds of characteristics.
He loves the coin-operated laundry.
JD: You can imagine having tens of thousands of machines cranking out $5 in cash every time somebody ...
No, I get it, but he loves machines, that’s his thing, okay.
JD: He calls his business laundry solutions, it’s that code laundry solutions.
He loves talking laundry.
JD: That’s one of the beauties of this, is that you can take the same personality and see the similarities in completely different businesses inside and outside Silicon Valley.
I once did a profile of a guy who loved bowling, his bowling alleys, and all he did was talk about bowling, bowling issues.
JD: Undoubtedly kept you on pins and needles.
It was ... oh my God, I walked right into that one, oh good God. I’m losing here with you and all your phraseology.
JD: Explorer. So what does an explorer bring? An explorer brings ...
What is the negativity around a driver? Jackasses would be my guess.
JD: Well, you know, let’s look at Kalanick or some of the issues with Steve Jobs.
Which one is he? Is there a separate category for him?
JD: Driver, and drivers tend to have problems. People working with drivers have a hard time sometimes. They tend to not brook too much dissent, they tend to expect the same level of intensity from the people around them, they tend to value talents very much like themselves, so they are hiring mini-mes when in fact they need to be hiring a broader, more diverse set of folks.
Right, that’s a very good point.
JD: As the business scales you have to be able to move from self to system, you have to be able to get beyond yourself and yet capture the essence.
Most companies do sooner than Uber had.
JD: That’s right, and by the way, drivers are not unique in having weaknesses, all four of these types have strengths and weaknesses.
Well, I want to know about each of them.
JD: That’s the driver’s weakness.
That’s the driver. They create little mini-mes, you are absolutely right, it happens every time.
JD: For explorers it’s a different issue. Explorers have that kind of analytical capability that’s really quite impressive. Brian O’Kelley, the guy who founded AppNexus, is an example. Bezos, as I talk about, is another example. We think probably somebody like Marc Benioff from Salesforce would be yet another example here.
Where do they sometimes struggle? They sometimes struggle because they start to view the other resources around them — specifically people — as inputs into an equation in their mind and you tend to lose the human element sometimes in the cultures that they need and surround themselves with. Each of whether it’s a driver or an explorer have to figure out how to navigate between the weaknesses that can compromise their ability to scale the business and yet accentuate the strengths that they have, which are quite extraordinary.
It’s usually about an EQ, an emotional quotient, right?
JD: Yeah, and it’s not just the emotional, it’s almost the self-awareness quotient as well. It’s emotional and analytical at the same time.
Interesting, though, Benioff is very funny — he is, comparatively — and Jeff Bezos is not funny. He thinks he is funny but he is not funny.
CK: That laugh, you got to be funny, right?
It’s not funny at all, but the other two.
CK: The crusader, as we said, builds the business around the sense of mission, so what they are exquisitely ...
That’s a problem. Go ahead, talk about what’s good about them because I can ...
CK: What’s exquisitely good about the crusader is he or she finds this lack of alignment inside ecosystems and is able to listen really well to the customer and to suppliers and actually create value. One of our favorite crusaders is a guy named Nate Morris who — pardon the earlier reference — has actually created the Uber of garbage collection. He graduated with a masters degree from Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton and actually figured out how to align garbage collecting companies, sub-contractors, to serve some of the biggest customers in America — Walmart and others.
He now has a business worth over a billion dollars because he has been able to align the idea of collecting garbage, separating garbage out for greater waste-stream management, into ultimately better recycling proportions.
It’s something that matters to him.
CK: Matters deeply, yeah.
What’s the negatives? Is it that you run out of steam?
CK: Well, and because they fly at such a high level of abstraction they love the idea and its solution, they are not very good operationally. It’s very important that a crusader team up with ... has a co-founder, has a very strong chief operating officer. You’ve got a sense of mission and then ultimately a sense of the operation, and that pairing can be very helpful.
The mission becomes too important rather than setting up the systems.
CK: Exactly right.
JD: You have to balance the vision with the supervision, basically, and you scale the business.
CK: Yeah. Then the captain is more kind of pragmatic solving the problem in front of him or her. Exquisite, though, in choosing people, deploying people, getting in exactly the right spot. It’s amazing. Sometimes people mistake the captain for being compassionate. The captain is actually pretty calculating and putting you in the right job and if you don’t do a good job you are out of there. Very demanding, but demanding in a supportive and very clear way. Unlike the driver who expects ...
Who is capricious, right?
CK: ... who is capricious and expects you to actually execute exactly like he or she does.
Right. What is the downside of a captain?
CK: Well, the captain sometimes ...
That sounds like someone you bring in when all hell breaks loose.
CK: Yes, in fact a captain at Uber might make some sense.
Yeah, though they don’t think it’s inspiring enough. I just was dealing with some of them today.
CK: Is that right?
“We need someone inspiring.” I’m like, “You’ve had enough fucking inspiration. You need a little bit of adult behavior.”
CK: Well, captains inspire people, though. They may not be idea-centered but they are very, very inspiring to people. You just asked the question about what’s the downside to the captain: The captain sometimes over-delegates, empowers the team to such a degree that he or she can actually lose touch with the fabric of what’s going on in the marketplace because they’ve delegated so much.
What do you have to shift when you are talking about shifting the concept? Is it when you are — each of these people — you’ve got to accommodate for that part of your personality? If you are a driver personality I assume you have to get some level of compassion and ...
JD: Yeah, one of the best quotes we had in our interviews came from Paul Maeder, former chairman of the National Venture Capitalist Association. He basically — to paraphrase it — he said, “Look, I’m in the business of investing in people and careers, and personality is everything. But I don’t care if you are a driver, an explorer, a crusader or a captain, just be the best damn one of those you are.”
That takes us into one of two strategies that Chris and I lay out in the book. One is what we call “The Expert Builder.” In other words, it’s all about going after your strengths. If I’m great at product, that’s where I want to stay and elevate my strengths, delegate around my weaknesses and let me just be what I am best at. There is a lot of wisdom to that approach.
There is another approach, too, that we’ve nicknamed “The Master Builder,” and the master builder is really ... to use an athletic analogy, the master builder is more like the decathlete or the swimmer who has the medley. Yes, they are great in the backstroke, but they’ve also learned and mastered the crawl or whatever.
Right, so they’ve gotten all these skills.
JD: In that sense they can expand the repertoire. They don’t become a different person, they just become a more fluent and flexible and versatile version.
Who is the version then?
JD: Well, I think you could look at ... let me just think, in terms of a master builder, John Crowley would be.
CK: We think John Crowley.
JD: John Crowley would be.
CK: Yeah, John really became a master builder.
CK: He started out as a captain but because he was such a student of the game he’s really taken off.
This is what company? I’m sorry.
CK: This is Amicus.
CK: He is running a biotech firm right now. He started out as an empowering team leader but has actually taken on many of the qualities of the other leaders. We think the most mature and advanced entrepreneurs or builders actually do this. As John said, you have your homeroom that is that sort of how you are wired, but then if you are really a student of the game and you think hard about your own weaknesses you then begin to ...
You try to do that ...
Which most people don’t, which they don’t get to?
CK: Well, and this goes back to your comment earlier about the sort of megalomania of being an entrepreneur and the self-perpetuating you are megalomaniac in the community and the world reinforces that. One of the things we hope comes out of our book is people doing exactly as Socrates suggested: Know thyself.
Which is a real problem at tech companies right now, honestly it’s fascinating.
CK: It may be the core problem we have, from a leadership perspective.
If I hear, “I had no idea,” one more time about the sexual harassment I’m going to punch someone. I don’t know how you didn’t.
JD: It’s the difference between seeing yourself as something, as someone everybody is looking through the window at and you are smiling on your own stage as opposed to really understanding what’s the mirror side of that. Who are you really? I was going to suggest maybe Marc Benioff is another example of somebody who is a master builder in the sense that you follow the trajectory of his career ...
JD: And what he is doing differently today than what he was doing 15 or 20 years ago. He is clearly on a path to broaden his repertoire.
He’s changed, yeah. He is 36 percent less blowhardy for sure. You are still right up there, Marc, you know I love you. In the next section I want to talk about where it goes, where entrepreneurism goes, because I think it’s under a very big shift right now. We’re here with Chris Kuenne and John Danner, we’re talking about their book, and we will talk more about it when we get back.
We’re here with Chris Kuenne and John Danner, authors of the new book called “Built for Growth; How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team and Your Ability to Win.” Before we get to sort of the larger picture of entrepreneurship, is there any kind of personality that doesn’t work?
JD: That doesn’t work.
What is the sort of killer of entrepreneurship?
CK: I would say that there are some attributes that most entrepreneurs hold and this would be this concept. In fact, there is a great book called “StrengthsFinder” that actually has identified these things. So we all know intuitively: Are you a risk taker? Do you work really hard? Do you have a level of tenacity? These are not distinguishing characters, these are common characters.
These are all common.
CK: Then of course everybody likes to talk about being risk-prone — and in fact many very successful entrepreneurs are not risk-prone, they are just very good at calibrating the risk.
CK: There is definitely a common set ...
One time the founders of Google, they were doing some dangerous sport and then I said, “That seems dangerous for the founder, you know, at this time,” and of course one of them, I can’t remember who, I can’t distinguish between them anymore. They were like, “It’s a 3.2.5 likelihood that I will not die of this and you will in your bath.” I was like, “Oh my God, I’m just going to walk slowly out of the room backwards,” and it was true.
CK: It’s what entrepreneurs do, right? Day in, day out, they are actually taking calculated bets.
Everything is math to those people.
CK: Yes, in particular, yeah. This common set of attributes I think stands in contrast to what differentiates them, and I think you were going down the path of so how do we actually create more entrepreneurs.
Because I think we have to.
CK: I mean it is the pathway to social progress.
I think if you are not entrepreneurial in the future you’re dead as far as I can tell from work, in the workplace.
CK: Yeah, and the question then becomes, do you have to be the founder or can you be part of an entrepreneurial company, contributing your own gifts.
Right, can it be taught?
CK: Entrepreneurs are, do they have to be extroverted or introverted? We found both types. If you are an introverted person who happens to be particularly artistic, there is a very important role for you in an entrepreneurial company. It may not be to the founder but it might be playing a key value-creating role.
What about that idea of, can regular people be entrepreneurs.
JD: Yeah, one of the most encouraging thing to us is the world is filled with what we call wantrepreneurs, people who are on the sidelines.
JD: Curious about this magic that happens when people create something. If I were going to try to differentiate who enters the process, I think the one thing that it takes is a willingness to take the next step. Whatever your idea, whatever your role is, to step into the unknown just a bit, because that very act of committing to the first step makes it progressively easier to think about what could be done next.
JD: Usually it is ... the risk is not as big as you thought it might have been or it comes from a different angle that nobody ever thought of, but that willingness to take action, I think, is one of the things to differentiate.
CK: I think that’s right.
How do you get that?
CK: It's, “What's next?” and, “How can I make it just a little bit better?” Princeton, which has no business school and is avowedly against having professional programs at the undergraduate level, has built out quite an entrepreneurial program. And the reason is — your question underpins the reason — which is entrepreneurship is really a social phenomenon, and it's a very American phenomenon. The desire to build or create something slightly better, and the question then becomes, what role can I play in that? Can I be the mathematician who figures out the algorithm but isn't actually the front face? Can I be the artist who creates a better consumer experience or better design? So, unleashing the phenomenon of entrepreneurship is what this is all about, and then as we believe, it's really a question of, “What role?”
Well, can it be taught?
JD: Yeah, absolutely.
CK: I think it’s more revealed than taught.
Now you are getting all magical on us.
JD: I'll accept that, I'll accept that amendment. To me, the differentiating characteristic is if your focus is on entrepreneurship, as opposed to the entrepreneur itself, you recognize that people need to see other people like themselves engaged in the entrepreneurial process that Chris was describing. And if the sole focus is on the person who gets the media attention, etc.
Although, we have been able to open up at least four doors here. I mean people used to think, before we’d done our research, that you have to go through one door and that door has Steve Jobs’s picture on it or Elon Musk’s picture on it. That’s not the case. There are at least four different doors with very different personality characteristics associated with each, that can build the kind of success that people aspire to.
But they are just one of the resources that makes the ultimate success happen. If people can see more of the team aspect of entrepreneurship — in fact that’s why I use this “entre” mantra — if people can see it takes different kinds of functions, different kinds of skill sets, different kinds of styles, in some ways it’s kind of coming back to common sense. Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom. Nobody can predict what’s gonna work and what’s not. But if you can create an environment in which different perspectives can contribute to a common cause, whether you’re trying to change the world or build a business, your chances of successes are much greater.
I’d like to get into that idea of team because I think people miss it a lot of the time. I remember Steve Jobs once telling me, like, “They think I’m Willy Wonka and everybody else is an Oompa Loompa here,” but obviously this was a deep team. Same thing think at Netflix with Reed Hastings, obviously he’s the frontman but boy does he need that group around him.
JD: Very much.
CK: More and more so in these super-competitive markets, yeah.
Absolutely. And it boils down to cohesion among a group of people who are entrepreneurial. Google is a good example, very cohesive group of people. Now, they don’t all like each other, I can tell you that, and over the years they don’t really don’t like each other. Same thing with Facebook, very cohesive group of people who happen to actually like each other.
CK: You are talking about cultural cohesion right?
It’s entrepreneurial cohesion with each other. It’s like a cohesive group of team players, and you don’t think of that when you think entrepreneurism. One thing that does strike me at Uber is this is a non-cohesive group of people, like boy do they all swim in different directions almost continually.
CK: I think you are also isolating the stages of growth. In early days, you have to be out there on the frontier innovating, challenging, being disruptive, but you can’t actually do that and scale. You do that to achieve escape velocity.
Change point, yeah.
CK: Then there is a point at which a more mature ...
Does that ruin a company? Because again, I hate to go back to Uber, but a lot of people at Uber are like, “Now it’s not going to be good.” I’m like, “Well it’s not very good.” Right? I mean, it’s a good product and you certainly have achieved growth, but boy you could just slam it into a wall, that’s the difference.
CK: Yeah. This really does beg the question of can the founder’s culture be reshaped to scale, and I think that’s really the Uber question.
John, what do you think of it? Not just Uber generally, but in general what is the shift point? Because they all do worry about not having the edge. Even the big companies talk about it.
JD: At the end of the day, it seems to me that teams are the fundamental unit of performance in almost any organization at any stage. The question is, how do you approach teams as the fundamental unit of the culture? I was fascinated by Project Aristotle — that you are familiar with — at Google in the sense that ...
Would you explain it?
JD: Project Aristotle was a very extensive study that Google did of its high-performing and mediocre-performing teams, and it came out with a number of interesting conclusions, some of which are kind of common sense, but it’s nice to have it backed up by the kind of rigor that they applied. One of them is that in order to have an effective team, people need to really have time to be themselves and for people on the team to understand them as people first before you are wearing your professional hat. That takes some openness and it takes some willingness to expand the agenda from the actual work of the team itself.
In some ways, as Chris and I have been talking about this in the context of our book, it strikes us that you need to approach teams with a philosophy that it’s going to be growth, yes, but it has to be growth for both: Both the person on the team and the company. Once you’ve been able to tap into that personal motivation you get a level of commitment, energy, enthusiasm, creativity, honesty and candor that otherwise you are unlikely to tap.
Yeah, I think the best leaders do help the people below them.
JD: Yeah, very much so.
CK: This is what the captain does naturally, right? This is not a taught skill for the captain; he or she actually leads this way.
JD: That’s going back to this issue of builder fit. We see this fit manifesting itself in who you choose as potentially a co-founder, because we’ve all seen examples of chemistry that works; you mentioned SoulCycle, that’s a wonderful example. The women who founded SoulCycle talk about their first meeting as the best blind date ever.
Yeah, but then one of them broke off, right?
JD: I understand, but you know, how many relationships really last over decades and decades?
It’s like a band.
JD: There is a chemistry that can happen if you are aware of who can complement you ideally as a co-founder. Then it comes to the issue of how do you galvanize a team in the way that we’ve been talking about, and how do you align around the right kind of investor who has not just the risk-reward profile that matches what you are looking for, but actually has the style to be able to leverage what you are good at and figure out what you can do.
That’s a really good point, because a lot of investors feel exactly the same. How do you care, did your thesis go like this?
CK: Yeah, we talked to investors, who said it’s all about product market fit and we talked to investors who said it’s actually all about the personality of the founder and of course the answer is yes. It’s both those things, but which in each time and each point of the growth cycle.
Boy, does that group need a shake-up, don’t you think?
CK: Yeah, well, they are partly responsible.
CK: And they have the opportunity to actually ameliorate the condition.
Right. Well, they operate without many rules so therefore they make them up and then they are super indulging in bad behavior. It just goes on and on. I was talking to a bunch of venture capitalists involved with one of the companies I cover and one of them, they literally said, “You know more than we do about what’s going on,” and I was like, “You are such liars, and you’re lazy liars.” It was fascinating. And they should know, they invested I think $120 million. I was like, “You are not paying attention, you just throw the money.” It’s like, “Here, teenager, take the keys to the Ferrari and the house and then go do whatever.” Although I think maybe they are doing that, part of me does believe they actually don’t know what is happening.
So finishing up, I want talk a little ... let’s do what happens to our country. The big issue around this election was jobs and how people work and where jobs are going. A lot of jobs are going to be replaced. In retail — we talk a lot about coal miners — but it’s really retail driving all kinds of change. Lawyers, accountants, all kinds of things are going to be replaced by digital solutions eventually. How should we be teaching people to become entrepreneurial, to have an innovative spirit? Because I really do firmly believe if you are not entrepreneurial in so many professions you are really toast. What are the key things we have to do to get our ...
JD: I think first of all you have to create an environment in a classroom, in an organization, where it is okay to fail, because on the other side of growth or building a business or innovation is the dance partner, and the dance partner more often than not is failure. You have to create an environment that encourages experimentation, where the vocabulary and the culture is about experimenting, is about acknowledging what you don’t know. The only way you can find out what you need to know is to try things — at a personal level, on a collaborative level and then on an organizational level.
Then I think you have to basically — as I was suggesting earlier — give people a sense that people like themselves — with the same background, with the same culture, from the same perspective — have been able to do these things before so that they are not thinking they have to be, “Oh my gosh, I’m the first one of my community or my ethnic group or my religion,” or whatever it may be.
There’s a lot of weight on that.
JD: That you can actually do it and you can see and take comfort from and inspiration from the fact that others have done it before you. Then lastly I think — and not lastly because these are all ... the agenda is much longer than this — but I think you have to make it possible for people to take the next step and to recognize that they may not have the answer for where this thing is ultimately going to go. To be able to say, “Hey, I’ve got an idea what would happen if,” and they just take that very first step into the unknown.
That, I think, has a lot to do with it, and it can happen educationally. But it doesn’t have to happen just in the classroom, it also has to happen in ... Why are large corporations struggling for growth? Because they substitute complacency and conformity for creativity.
Why are we doing it this way? I think the grade is all you ask. Why do we do it this way?
JD: Yeah, it’s being asked. But, “What if?” And, “Why not?”
Chris, you finish up.
CK: I think that’s exactly right. On your last point, we’ve been introduced to a company called Bionic and they’ve built a whole platform to actually import the very best innovative styles, cultures, processes and thinking from Silicon Valley into large corporations to do exactly what you want.
I know they do that, they have these little tours here. I think they are insane.
I don’t think you can do that.
CK: Well, I don’t know.
I think Andreessen Horowitz does it, they drag in someone from P&G and they just sell them out.
CK: Well, no, that’s sort of an episodic thing, this is much more programmatic. After spending 10 years at Johnson & Johnson I can tell you that product development and other innovations really can borrow from some of the key wins out here.
CK: That’s really what this is about, I think, and so much going back to where we started. So much of this is technique on how and we think even more on who, because each who does its how differently, and that’s going to unleash enormous growth, we think, inside the corporation.
JD: One of the reasons that we were delighted to be on your show is the title of your show, it’s because the word that Chris and I have used in our book is that we think our research has helped to decode the central mystery of who drives the growth of every business.
They always think that they can ...
CK: Maybe the answer to your “we need more entrepreneurship in America” is we need to recode it.
I like that. Well done. Just curious: Who do you think the greatest entrepreneur right now is, if you had to pick one in tech? Do tech, just do tech.
CK: The greatest entrepreneur today?
JD: For me I think it’s Bezos; Jack Ma is close as well.
I agree. Bezos.
JD: But Bezos impresses me because of the — not ruthlessness — because of the creativity.
He’s got that.
JD: The unfettered creativity and willingness to put things together in different ways so that he keeps the competition off guard. They never know what is the core business anymore of Amazon. And when you’ve combined the kind of customer intellect, customer insight and almost intimacy that Amazon has been able to establish, you have a basis upon which you can use the brand, you can use the infrastructure capabilities and you can use the open field vision of the company in order to create value the likes of which — I think it’s where the world is going.
I agree. People always say Zuckerberg. I’m like, “No, not at all, no. Not even close.”
CK: To self-perpetuate at the culture level, we got the chance to meet the guy who created AWS for Bezos. It’s an incredible story, incredible.
Werner. Werner [Vogels], right?
CK: No, it was the guy from South Africa.
CK: It’s emblematic of the culture that Bezos created that he wrote a white paper on this idea of provisioning massive computing power around the world and Bezos said, “Sounds like a great idea.” He’s extraordinary.
Yeah. No, he’s got a team there — people don’t recognize ... They’ve been there forever too. That’s another cohesive group of people. You never heard of them, though, I’ll tell you that.
JD: If I had any brand I would be scared to death of any combination of Google, Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook — those folks are the great brand destroyers. They will want to get between you and the folks that you used to think of as your customers and that’s going to be a fascinating warfare of the titans to watch.
I would say more on Alibaba, on the others I’m ...
JD: Well, but think about what’s the glue that ties them to their customer group.
They do, I think some of the others enjoy their other little things, they are doing rocket ships or whatever the hell they’re interested in. They like their trips to the Midwest to visit cows and stuff like that.
JD: Everybody needs diversion.
But I think that Bezos remains the killer entrepreneur, it seems to me. And Ma, too, you are right 100 percent.
CK: In a very different way, too, right?
CK: Jack’s strategy is different there.
He is a trip, too,.I really enjoy spending time with him. I think he is coming back to Code this year, which will be great. I always enjoy going back, and both of them possibly will.
Anyway, Chris and John, it was great talking to both of you and thanks for coming by. This is a really interesting book. I’m going to say the name again, it is “Built for Growth: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team and Your Ability to Win.” I’m still not taking your test but you can call me ... what am I? What do you think I am?
CK: You can take the test at www.builtforgrowth.com. Anybody can take that, yes indeed.
Nice get-it-in-there, Chris. I’m sorry, which one do you think I am?
CK: Yeah, I am afraid you are a driver.
Oh good heavens, all right, I’m a fascist at heart.
CK: I didn’t say fascist, I just said driver.
I said it, I agree with you, I think you should add one called fascist. Frequently right but never in doubt, that’s how I like to operate, myself.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.