Reaching Unicorn Status During a Pandemic with Larry Gadea, Founder and CEO, Envoy

53 minutes
Reaching Unicorn Status During a Pandemic with Larry Gadea, Founder and CEO, Envoy

About this episode

Welcome to the Launch Lessons podcast, where the world’s brightest founders and executives share their insight.

Today, Sam is talking to Larry Gadea. Larry is the CEO and Founder of Envoy — a workplace visitor booking platform used by the likes of Slack, Pinterest, and even Airwallex. 

Larry was born in communist Romania before fleeing to Germany and then Canada, where he started work as an engineer at Google. He also worked at Twitter on distributed backend systems.

They'll discuss Larry’s years working in Silicon Valley before founding Envoy, how Envoy pivoted and reached unicorn status during the pandemic, and how engineers can become better leaders. All of this and more right now on the Launch Lessons podcast.

If you’d like to get in touch with us send us an email or contact our host, Sam Kothari, on LinkedIn.

You can subscribe to the podcast for new episodes every fortnight via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeart and Pandora.

Full transcript

Sam Kothari (00:03): The purpose of why we wanted to talk to you is I think you've been through a pretty interesting journey with Envoy and even PikaPics, starting with PikaPics all the way through.

Larry Gadea (00:13): This is what I'm going to be known for forever. I'm going to literally be known for this forever. I love it. This is great. I was 11. I needed the money. It was great. I used link exchange at the time for the ad network. I wasn't allowed to receive money. It was wonderful.

Sam Kothari (00:29): Yeah. I was very excited to, I think, trace that journey and try and unpack some of those lessons that you've uncovered, across a bunch of businesses, Google, Twitter, Shopify, obviously Envoy, I think we've got a couple of spicy questions in here as well that we want to talk to you because I think you've been through some difficult times as well. So feel free to be as honest and transparent as you can. Also, of course, if there are questions that you think we've missed or you'd like us to potentially address, let us know. I think we saw a bunch of questions come through earlier, as well as some suggestions from you which we've tried to incorporate as well.

Larry Gadea (01:04): Yeah, no worries at all. Happy to try answer whatever possible.

Sam Kothari (01:08): Yeah, awesome. Hey, so why don't we start a little bit about where it started with Envoy, specifically. I think I've heard you talk about your parents' journey. So it sounds like a very wild ride to finally end up in Canada and then your studies in the US and your experiences with PikaPics.

Larry Gadea (01:32): You have to bring that up every time.

Sam Kothari (01:36): Yeah! Honestly, I love the fact that I didn't have to go in the Way Back Machine to find it.

Larry Gadea (01:40): No, I restored it! I brought it back. It had to acquire a lot of stuff. There's all this JavaScript that was definitely not compatible with the Netscape navigator of the olden days. It took some work. But yeah, so there's some stuff that doesn't work. There's no more forum. I had to remove the full names of all the kids that sent in the graphics and all that stuff, because I think child safety laws have tightened up in the last, what, 20 years. So yeah, no, it does work! It still uses frames, but yeah.

Sam Kothari (02:18): It's awesome, though. I enjoyed playing tic-tac-toe with Meowth. It's been a while. So yeah, it was great.

Larry Gadea (02:26): Yeah, that's right.

Sam Kothari (02:27): Hey, so I'm interested in the experience of the problem that sparked the creation of Envoy. So you worked at Google, Twitter, and I think following those experiences, crafted and started building Envoy. But can you talk to us about that personal experience with that problem that you had and then what eventually led to founding Envoy?

Larry Gadea (02:49): Yeah. So at the end of the day, people are going to be most passionate about the things that they do when it directly impacts them somehow. So the story with Envoy was actually very simple. It was one where I was at Google. This was 2005, so back in my day, and there's all these people. It's like La La Land for engineers. There's just lights everywhere, there's colourful everything everywhere, and you're in this wonderful place that's magical. But the thing about it is that it's also very thought through, and it's very high tech because it's a bunch of engineers that were basically really enjoying engineering, and they wanted to make the best of everything that they could.

Larry Gadea (03:31): So Google, just basically being a cash printing machine, you could have these engineers that work on a lot of other things other than the core, let's just say, ads product, and some of them decided to get together and work on different things, like a visitor management system, a meeting room thing, a way of planning for a bus schedule, a way to see the food. They even put a camera on the T-shirt closets so you can know when they restock it, so you can get more free shirts with Google written on it. So this was really interesting because it's this world where they built a lot of this stuff internally because they had the talent and the people and the time, I guess, to do it.

Larry Gadea (04:10): Now, when I went from Google to Twitter, Twitter was 40 people. Now, we barely had a payroll system when I joined and there was a lot of stuff. The locks weren't really working on the doors that we had there. It was the very early days of Twitter, 2009. Basically, what was going on there is, if you needed something, you needed to do it yourself. It's not going to get done for you. So basically, what happened is I noticed a stark contrast of, huh, Google had all this wonderful stuff but Twitter should have all this wonderful stuff. They care about their visitors on the website. They care about their brand presence. Why aren't they investing in the same systems that Google did? Well, I didn't know at the time, but they didn't have people to build these things. It doesn't grow on trees. At Google, it did.

Larry Gadea (05:04): So the point is that Google could invest in their people, it could invest in the products, and this not in-house thing, and it basically got people to build some really great stuff that was very helpful for them. So by the end of my time at Twitter, I was like, I bet you if we built a company that just built these tools, that these companies like Google, but also Facebook, Apple, a bunch of others, Square was the one that finally called it... It was like, okay, this is getting a little bit ridiculous. These companies keep on building the same things over and over, things that I saw back in 2005. That's what sparked the idea that, hey, let's start a company to build workplace products, and that's really what got it going.

Larry Gadea (05:49): I seated it with some initial friends that were operating more places in the companies I knew. You get to know a lot of people by working, I guess, at Google and Twitter. Although, at the time, I would have never known. But when I needed them, I just went up to them like, hey guys, look at this, and they're like, oh, this is really cool. Company after company would implement it, and what happened is people saw it at one company, they're like, oh, this is pretty cool. They also had to sign in so they were forced to use it. Then they're like, this wasn't absolutely terrible, and then they brought it to their own company.

Larry Gadea (06:22): It's that cycle that has gotten us now into crazy amounts of offices. Over 15,000 offices worldwide. Now, it's being used for lots more than just visitor sign-in but it started in a very viral motion. I think we're allowed to say viral now. I'm not sure. I don't know if the pandemic's quite done yet. But it's growing and it's exciting because it's this whole philosophy that the workplace is super underserved and the employee experience is really the big thing that there's opportunity in, in showing people that you care about them and you want to spend time and money and effort on them. Especially in this like this now, where who knows what's happening with the economy and all that, companies need to remind their employees that they really care about them and they want them to get to know each other better. So whatever we can do, I think is just a big deal. Yeah. We're excited. It's a changing environment but we've been at it, changing whatever necessary all the time.

Sam Kothari (07:23): Yeah, awesome. I think the last two companies I've worked with have had Envoy systems deployed. I think the visitor experience for the first time a guest comes in, they're just like, wow, this is cool. I think that moment also has helped the companies I've worked with, even Airwallex, build that relationship with that customer early on, or that prospect, or the client that's coming in. So it's been really beneficial.

Larry Gadea (07:49): The first impressions matter a lot.

Sam Kothari (07:51): What were those early customer experiences like? Because I think you've talked about, you were involved in onboarding and supporting the first few customers. I'm interested in what was that early feedback coming through, whether it was friends or early clients? Are you still meeting and interacting with customers at the moment?

Larry Gadea (08:09): Yeah, yeah. It's a lot harder to meet with them at the moment just because some of them still haven't figured out their COVID strategy. But one thing I would say is, it's so, so important that, if you do start a company or are working on something, that you really survive by it and you're supposed to be surrounded by it all the time. You're supposed to be using it and seeing how people use it all the time. I would literally sit in the lobbies of these companies and I'd just be there all day. Me and the receptionist would have a deal, if anybody asks, just say I'm an interview candidate waiting for my slot or something. But literally, what I was doing is just watching every single person, how they use it, where they get stuck, what's their expression on their face, why are they like that?

Larry Gadea (08:48): I think there's no better way than doing that kind of very intimate, seeing what people are doing, as the real driver for, are you actually making things better or are you just saying it because it's your product? I think that reality made us discover so many different things about how things could be faster, better. There's a printer thing. The printer took forever to connect you to print stuff, so people were like, okay, cool, I'm done now. They're like, no, no, you got to wait for the badge. Okay, there it is. It's that kind of thing, you pick up on this, and you have to be borderline maniacal at just making sure you are doing the absolute best possible thing, because software is only software. Not anybody, but a lot of people can write software these days. If you're not writing stuff quickly, if you're not iterating, if you're not changing things, if you're not uncomfortable, you are not going to be able to compete in this world. The barrier to entry is too low.

Larry Gadea (09:47): It's actually cool. You get really great software and I'm a consumer of software too so I like that. Does it push us? Yes, it does. Is it pain? Yes. But we get better products and I do feel better about that.

Sam Kothari (10:01): I assume, and correct me if I'm wrong, that you use Envoy internally, your own visitors' products and Protect and Desks and things. What's it like? Given if you're using the product internally, I'm sure your teams are going to be like, oh, maybe we can make this better, maybe we can make that better. What are some of those advantages and disadvantages of consuming your own product?

Larry Gadea (10:24): Yeah, yeah. No, we always have this issue of, well, which version of Envoy are we running? Because we have multiple products now too, so it's like, which version of these do we run? Do we run the one that's battle tested, such that when somebody comes in, it's all a super smooth, look everything's perfect, we're amazing, kind of company? Or do we run the one that's super buggy, that the build fails half the nights, and it's using some kind of caching server that was swapped over the night before and totally doesn't work? So right now we are running the beta version, the one that breaks all the time and all this kind of stuff. But at the end of the day, it's so important that people are using and building the latest and greatest. And you've got to surround yourself by it, especially in this world now where, during the pandemic, it was not easy because we were all at home. We had to be. It was literally crazy to go into a place with somebody else. So we had to pretend that we were a customer.

Larry Gadea (11:24): But we would still go in. We had a limited set of people, just like our customers would. But for us, we needed a little more usage and testing and stuff of it. So it was not simple by any means, but it's just so important that people use their own thing. Yeah. I think it shows in the end, but you're not the same company as all of your customers so that's a whole thing too where you evolve over time, as do they. But I think at the end of the day, just really empathising with other users is really the key thing.

Sam Kothari (11:55): Yeah, awesome. Let's talk a little bit about the pandemic. I'm interested. You guys are very uniquely positioned. A workplace product when workplaces are becoming more and more dangerous for people to be at. So what was the mood like? When did it hit? What were you telling your team? What was your team hearing, I guess from whether it's the CDC or the government or via social media and news organisations as well?

Larry Gadea (12:27): Yeah, it was nuts because you don't really know it's going to be a two-year long, three-year long pandemic. You don't know it's going to be like this, oh yeah, no, at the end, don't worry, you're going to raise a bunch of money and you're going to get the biggest valuation you've ever had, in the middle of a pandemic, by the way, and you're still going to only sell to workplaces, and it's going to be totally fine. You don't know any of that. All that you know is that the world is totally changing, nobody really knows the answer to anything. There's some weird facts going around, this is right at the beginning where people were like, oh yeah, no, we'll totally return back in two months, don't worry. Oh yeah, no, the kids will be back in September. They have to. It's a school.

Larry Gadea (13:07): But you give it some time and you realise that, guys, this thing's getting worse and it literally is a pandemic and it's also very contagious, and I don't exactly see where is the vaccine, where's the thing that's going to stop it all? I don't actually see the end of this unless we all weld ourselves shut in a house for two weeks, which is not going to happen. I tried. We don't have a choice. So basically, what happened is we didn't know, and there's a lot of concern that comes from that. A lot of companies build their entire livelihoods on being able to predict their future as accurately as possible. Welcome to the stock market. That's how that works. Well, these days, not so much. But the idea is that you're building a company with stability, and stability means predictability. But you can't predict it if all these laws are, A, irrational, and B, just changing all the time.

Larry Gadea (14:03): So what do you do in that case? You appeal to the meta problem of it all. So you're kind of like, "Well the laws are changing an awful lot and that sure is complicated to keep track of." Also, you still want people in the office, right?

Larry Gadea (14:16): So the big thing that we uncovered in this pandemic is that companies really want people back. They know there's all sorts of trust implications, they know there's all sorts of productivity things if people are going in, they know there's all sorts of creativity and brainstorming ability. So companies know this. The problem is that all of these things are very fluffy and it's very hard to kind of just say it. And it's also kind of like, I don't know, people are kind of getting work done from home, so it was fine. But the thing is when the pandemic started I was basically telling our CFO, "Hey, model what 8% a month looks like for churn because we need to be ready for this." And that's a lot of churn. That's about 100X more than anything. But it's a company that installs to workplaces, how are we going to install anything?

Larry Gadea (15:07): Well, so what we did is we made our Visitors products. We made that actually free to have the extension, which is Protect. And Protect is all about like, "Hey, have you had COVID? Have you been near someone that's had COVID? Have you been to this random province in China in the last like two weeks," and these kinds of things. And really what was a new product essentially we gave away because we knew that people would not churn from our Visitors product because, well, one day we're going to go back and we want to be prepared. So essentially what happened is we gave them a effortless decision to make, where it's like do you just renew your contract like you have been for the last forever or do you go out shopping for vendors for a vaccine? And, or at the time it wasn't a vaccine, it was just like just general testing and all that. And it was that move that got people. A, it was practical because they knew they were going back. And, B, they still wanted to go back, so they wanted to renew their things.

Larry Gadea (16:09): And the governments, by the way, they helped in all this too. Like the governments were always like, "Oh yeah, in a month, yeah, we'll be back. We'll be back." And that also helped too. So there was just enough plausible deniability such that the world kept going and our stuff got renewed. Now that gave us time, we built out new things, but none of this was obvious at the beginning. We're like, "Let's prevent churn." That was number one goal, prevent churn. That is the sign of a very unfortunate company if in normal times, your number one goal is to not do badly. But in this time it was unpredictable, we had to. And that honestly saved us and it actually grew the company.

Larry Gadea (16:49): And then from there, with all of the movement from the whole pandemic and all this risk stuff, and vaccine tracking, and people counting, it turned into desking, and meeting rooms, and hybrid work. Because at the beginning of the pandemic it was about keeping people away from each other but at the end of the pandemic it's with hybrid and you want to bring people in together on certain days, and very, they want to be near each other, so sitting near each other, but also near meeting rooms. And they need parking, and they need food, and they need all these things that are now so much more logistically a mess.

Larry Gadea (17:25): And it's like where in the past you could maybe get away without keeping track of everything in your office because everybody was there every day, that's no longer a luxury you can have. People are going to show up randomly and they're going to feel like, "Oh no, I still want my free food." And it's like, well, you better damn well have that free food because you're struggling to get them in there at all. So it's kind of like you got to be buttoned up about this and you got to have this planned out, and that is exactly the value prop that we provide today.

Sam Kothari (17:51): No, it's an amazing journey. And early on, I think, I'm interested how you personally handled the stress? I think there were some layoffs, I think, at Envoy early on where you were...I think you were talking to the CFO like, "How much runway have we got?" I'm sure those conversations were happening. How did you personally handle the stress of running this company, all these people that are relying on you, and all these other customers that are looking to you for, I'm sure, answers even now?

Larry Gadea (18:22): Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it wasn't easy. It was was the first I'd ever gone through something like that. It was very clear that we had to do something, just given the investment that we made the quarter or two prior. Companies in order to accelerate to crazy revenue and crazy growth, and all that stuff, it takes building. Like you build a whole...and it's a lot of hiring ahead of the number, and then it's kind of like quotas go up, and it explodes, and then off you go.

Larry Gadea (18:51): Now what happens when you've built the machine, it's fully loaded, and it gets cutoff? That's a problem. So the burn was very high and we were like, "Okay, if this is a real pandemic and it's going to last a year or two years, we're going to need some runway, and this is a real problem. We're not going to get the leads and stuff that we need for this." So we did have to make that difficult decision, right? It really sucked because it's like there's a lot of really good people, but it's also only maybe three months later we launched Envoy Protect, which then started getting mass adoption and we were back on the hiring train. It's just kind of the world isn't always super clear for everyone and it sucks. You got to make these decisions you don't really want to, but you know you have to, and you have to show that you are willing to do whatever it takes. But it's not easy.

Larry Gadea (19:42): Yeah. But, I mean, honestly, we contrasted the what do you do tactically as a leader in that kind of environment? You contrast it with the successes. You acknowledge that, "Yes, we did have this...a crappy thing we had to do, but at the same time look at the growth on this thing. Look, we're building a desk product. We've always wanted to do that. Look, these customers are signing on. They're expanding to more offices because maybe they don't need visitor registration at all their offices, but they certainly have employees at all their offices and they need to keep track of COVID there." So it's like these kinds of things that got people motivated, invigorated, excited, and thinking about what our future really could be, as opposed to one that's just downside protection.

Larry Gadea (20:20): But, I mean, you have to contrast bad news with good. It always sucks, but you got to do whatever it takes. And I just think there's also just another role of a founder/CEO where you can't give up on it. You don't just get to choose like, "You know what? I'm going to call it now. I think these people are going to pay me a little bit more and I'm going to switch to this other company, and it's going to be great." And honestly, I wish I could do that some days because it's really hard. But at the same time there's something about you're locked in. And, I mean, it's like I was fully vested five years ago in this company but I'm still around. So it's kind of like there's an alternate reason why people are working at that kind of stage. I don't know, it's a lot and it's like, I mean, like anybody I'm just trying to prove that we can do it, and we can get to a bigger and better place.

Larry Gadea (21:14): I think that that's really hard but it is fun. If you can believe it? Looking back at it, it's a lot more fun than when you're in the moment. So that's my trick for deciding, "Are you going to look back at this positively?"

Sam Kothari (21:26): No, that's amazing. And thanks for being candid. I'm sure it was a really difficult time. Yeah, obviously I think you guys have come out in a really strong place. And obviously, with the latest fundraising announcement, and the continued growth and trajectory, it's been amazing. Interested in how you sold the pivot internally of like you were building this product, Visitors, it was doing really well up until the pandemic. How do you then marshal the troops and get everyone excited about all of the other things that you needed to? Or the opportunity that you were starting to see?

Sam Kothari (22:00): And I think the second part of the question is your product velocity seemed to increase, like you just seemed to be shipping and reacting to the changing dynamics, shipping new products and really supporting companies at a velocity that seems like almost double the speed that you were running at prior to the pandemic. So how did the sell go internally of like, "We need to build, and we need to shift strategy?" And then how did you get the incredible productivity out of the teams to deliver some incredible products and in a short period of time?

Larry Gadea (22:31): Yeah. Yeah. No, these are great questions because it's different for every company. But I would say that it was clear that something was going on in the world, so people were expecting something unusual. If we were to...basically just about anything that we said at that point it was like we didn't. The world was kind of going crazy and people didn't really know what the answer is to anything, so they're like, "All right, well do I have credibility in our leadership? If yes then I'm going to follow and keep going." And the ones that did I think did really well.

Larry Gadea (22:58): I think it's also really hard, as well, for the, like making confident decisions given just so little data. But in our case it was based on just ... It's like we actually had these two. It was kind of there was a deciding point where we're like, "Do we continue doubling down on Visitors?" Because as a company that's growing, you're always behind on your feature set and your bugs, you're always complaining about all these different problems about your own product, and you got to make it better. And finally, we have some time. But the other side was like, "Guys, if this pandemic keeps going, we need to be appealing to it because Visitors is not going to drive our success in a pandemic."

Larry Gadea (23:36): Almost all of our competitors that were on the Visitors side ended up, like they're not independent entities anymore. And it's kind of like I think that some of them tried pivoting a little late but we took a big risk. That could have been a huge distraction, and they would have built a lot more functionality that we didn't get to. But the bet was right that the companies are going to need ways of bringing their employees back, and we could repurpose the Visitors product.

Larry Gadea (24:01): Okay, so now it's about like, all right, so we pitched that and internally people got it. It was honestly the confidence that got it. I don't remember coming up with a list of rational reasons why one's right and the other's not. It's just like we were just like, "Yeah, we're going to do this. We think it's a really good idea. Here's a bunch of customers that are asking for exactly that thing we're going to do and it's an experiment. Let's try it out." And, I mean, that's all people need to be really excited and motivated. At the end of the day it's just confidence and inspiration. It does get a little bit like, as we kept building though it did pick up, and the velocity picked up. Now it's not all like, there's downsides to velocity. There's huge downsides. Like the tech that went up dramatically. A lot of that messaging was also like we would post a new thing every two or three weeks about like, "We're committed to solving COVID issues in the workplace. Okay, we now have an alpha build. We're reaching out to you, if you're, you could be part of it. Okay, it's beta now. You can sign up. Here's a text box, but we won't actually invite you until a future time." And it's like, "Hey guys, prepare for..." We used every opportunity possible to keep top of mind and to remind people that, "You have some help if you want to go back to your office in a way that's been at least mostly thought through," given the amount of customers that we had.

Larry Gadea (25:21): But, again, it's also like at the end of the day, the customers are also very much looking for, "I want to work with somebody who has thousands of companies on their books and is iterating with them." I think that that, also, like the feedback direct from customers being piped directly, basically, to engineering was very, very helpful. And our product teams were, of course, running around trying to organise it all. Marketing teams were trying to figure out what's real, what's not. Sales teams were trying to adapt based on what, like everybody was changing something about their business, and I think it's just across the board people figured it out. When you have a lot of your existing customers really adamant around one area of stuff and you reiterate it it really, really does work. So yeah.

Larry Gadea (26:03): But there's, of course, all sorts of problems. Again, like there's tech debt. There's a lot of systems. You don't just launch a desking...or you don't just launch an employees' product from a Visitors product. For a while we had the Visitors' database table was containing employees in it, and it screwed up all of our analytics. And we had to change all of our analytics where type equals visitor for the Visitor Log instead of the Employee Log.

Sam Kothari (26:29): I get the sense you feel a sense of responsibility and accountability to your team to deliver, right? Where is that stemming from? Were you always, from day one as the founder/CEO, feeling that responsibility? I mean, you mentioned you've been invested for a while, you're still here, you're still building. It's been a number of years in the role. What's continuing to drive that sense of accountability and responsibility?

Larry Gadea (26:54): Yeah. Honestly it's a lot of...a lot of people tell me I'm very optimistic, which is very interesting because I think of myself as exactly the opposite. I'm always looking for the problems in things. I'm's like, "No, this is ... That was too easy. What do you mean we went up 20% last month or last quarter? What do you mean that's up 20%? How did we do that? I want to know exactly what we did to go up 20%." And then people are like, "Geez, Larry, try to celebrate for once." I don't know. I think there's an inner, I mean, this is typical engineering, wants to tune and keep making things better and better. I think a lot of it comes in a lot of hard work. I think my parents brought me up in a way where it's like hard work is the key thing.

Larry Gadea (27:39): I mean, here they are. I mean, I didn't tell the whole story here but it's like you have the born in Romania, including me, and we got ... I got out of there. We went to Germany. They couldn't get visas because it was like this whole Ceaușescu thing, so they were...they mom was cleaning houses as a maid, and my dad was picking berries.

Larry Gadea (28:03): But also these people, I think both of them had some form of masters in a highly specialised technical field. And then they're like, yeah, I guess I got to do this now because we've got to make ends meet. I think that there's something about always wanting better and doing whatever it takes, and when you combine those, I think you get really good stuff. But I don't know, these days, what motivates me is just the opportunity. It also motivates me to see a lot of people around the office again. I feel like that is one of the biggest motivators and one of the most exciting parts and really what gets me out of bed.

Larry Gadea (28:35): I think a lot of people kind of paint CEOs usually I don't know if it's always wrong, but they paint CEOs as a very money motivated, money driven thing because that's usually what they're talking about whenever they have their quarterly reports or something. But I don't know, man. I really like the people. I really like discovering what they can do and build, and iterate on, and solve things. I think it's even better in person. Reading about it is one thing, seeing it in person is a whole different world. So call me petty for liking very simple things, but yeah. I don't know. It's fitting I have a workplace company because it's also kind of like the best way to optimise it.

Larry Gadea (29:17): Now trying to get people in here a few more days than currently, and that's a whole riot. But we're working on it, and we're trying to show everybody the benefits and all that stuff. And honestly, there's so much more that they can be enjoying too, their life and work especially, if they just give their team a little bit more of a shot. But I think the whole world is struggling with this. I have complex views on why the stock market is the way it is and how companies are going to recover. I think it involves a lot of people together. But hey, maybe crises can be solved in pyjamas. I'm only kidding. We love everybody.

Sam Kothari (29:51): I've got a question in here about Twitter and Elon Musk. Because I mean as an early employer, I'm fascinated by your views. We'll get to that in a bit. But I think a lot of what you're saying is resonating. I work for an infrastructure-first CEO at the moment, and the constant tweaking and what's next, what's next, that kind of mentality of optimising always is one that I think really resonates. And I think you'd get along handsomely with Jack, our founder.

Larry Gadea (30:22): An infrastructure CEO, that's a highly nuanced version of a CEO. I like that. I didn't know that was a thing.

Sam Kothari (30:32): Jack, and everything we do at Airwallex is infrastructure first. We're always, let's build the pipes and make it work and then think about how we take it to market. Interested, how do you build your leadership skills? You've had a core strength in engineering systems, you've been a developer for a while. You're running a team with operations, sales, marketing, and that's grown and evolved over a number of years. So how are you upskilling and understanding sales methodologies, and marketing strategies, and go-to markets. And Envoy's in so many countries around the world, different cultures that you have to navigate. What's that process look like for you?

Larry Gadea (31:11): Yeah, yeah. No. It's definitely a challenge. I mean great engineers are always going to want to be learning. And that's just one of the in the game of dice, that one ended up as one of the talents I have around wanting to learn more about literally everything. It drives my [inaudible 00:31:28] team nuts, might I add. Because there's an alternate world, this is the majority of the world, where asking someone why they're doing something or to explain why they're doing something is actually a very bad thing to do because it implies that you don't trust them. So it's kind of like no, no, no. I totally do and I appreciate it more than ever, that's why I'm asking. If I didn't trust or I didn't care, I'd be not talking to you, and I'd be somewhere else or something. It's because I'm excited and interested and want to help. But I think that's just part of it.

Larry Gadea (32:00): I actually, I've known that this was a problem with myself since a long time. You saw it as a kid, in different ways, but yeah. You've got to adapt to human stuff, and it's not easy. Because it's kind of like you want everything to be rational, you want to solve everything, you want to have a repeatable process so you can scale it. But it's also, people are not that way. Now you can optimise, you can get closer. And I'm on that fight and journey to discover how to make it super, super optimal. But yeah. There's a lot of people-related stuff that is not easy for somebody like me. And then of course, everybody comes from their own world, so they don't understand others. A, they don't understand me, but I also don't understand them a lot of time.

Larry Gadea (32:44): And it took me a while to even understand that others could think differently and not's like why are they being so irrational? Don't they realise that that's ridiculous what they're saying right now. But it's like oh no, they just don't value that. And it's like oh, interesting. Or they don't prioritise that. They could, but they also realise that it really takes a long time to make good decisions. And sometimes we don't have time. So, yeah. It's this kind of stuff that really gets me interested and excited and I mean it's almost like you can't survive long in this job if you're not kind of into big problems. Yeah. I think it's just like, yeah, they don't last.

Larry Gadea (33:23): Because it's just like it's really damn hard and everything seems existential. And everything's about how you suck. And it's just like man, could it not appear as negative? I would love a nice, happy, easy day. But you get that over time, you get used to it, you get to realise that no, it's not nearly as bleak as it looks. And it's like they don't at all hate everything and want everything to crash and burn. And it takes time. Yeah. So that's the thing. But it's just I don't know. I've been enjoying that skill.

Larry Gadea (33:53): I get into 50% less arguments with my parents whenever we're on vacation. And I would say that's moving mountains. Because we would get in arguments for random reasons like why is the light on? It's been on but no one's in the bathroom. There should probably be a person in that bathroom right now if that light's on. But now you can be much more diplomatic about those kinds of things. So at the end of the day, it's really maximised the vacations, really. So at the end of the day, we all want the same thing, huh?

Sam Kothari (34:22): No. How do you build that understanding in your team? Whether it's your execs or the broader, even junior employees? I think they might get the wrong perception of you, if you're asking someone why and they see that in a meeting, they might know the context or even the trust that you have with your execs and the fact that that's a normal thing. How do you manage that kind of environment where junior people may not have the full context of actually this is a normal healthy thing that Larry and his execs are engaged in. Again, what's your process to convey that context?

Larry Gadea (34:57): Yeah. It's really tough because a lot of, there's this whole curve about this where it's like the amount of information you know, the amount of information you think you know, and then it's like the confidence you have around that. And it's this weird counterintuitive thing where it's like the less you know, the more confident you are that you know what you're doing. So it kind of gets you to make these decisions like these people don't know what they're doing, ah. But it's like no, they kind of don't know what they're doing, they know a little bit of what they're doing, and that's sufficient to operate a company. But it's actually a really big disconnect with a lot of new employees.

Larry Gadea (35:34): You see this all the time in new managers when somebody gets kind of, they choose the path of management, they kind of like you'll see these versions of people where some people will be like they want to be super liked. And no, no, no. Your people actually want you to push them, you just don't be bad about it. But it's these kinds of things that it's like you've got to, people just have to learn. And that's why years of experience in management is actually not a terrible metric. As long as the person is capable of learning and that they take things personally when they screw up, then it's like you've got a good formula for a good person, but yeah, I think a lot of people don't learn as well. But that's a whole different story.

Larry Gadea (36:17): But I don't know. Yeah. I think time. It's been nine years I've been at this, and I've got another nine in me, so let's keep at that. But it's different problems, that's for sure. Also, as the company gets bigger, you hire stronger and stronger people that are very confident. That is the one quality that just skyrockets as you hire more experience. They have seen things. They've seen things to the point where they don't...oh, you're a little blip here, don't worry about this. I know it looks like chaos. And it probably is, but we'll make it twice as good next time. And it's like that's the kind of thing that you get in really experienced people. There's also way less of them, so you've got to be more careful. And it's like yeah. There's all sorts of pieces to that.

Larry Gadea (36:58): But yeah, I mean, you just have to show at the end of the day. Also, by the way, it does help that they see when I'm treating one person one way, they're like oh, that's what he did to me. So it's like a little bit that I think they like, I think the word is 'commiserate'. But I think these days, it's been much better. I had a coach. I think it's very important that people have coaches. They are a lot of money. But in the big span or picture of things, it's negligible for the amount of value that you get. And remember, a coach is really just you saying all the things that you wanted, but it's somebody else saying it so you believe it. So that's a whole different thing. But yeah. It's up to you, you can read some books and stuff. I literally, the laptop right now is propped on one of the Ben Horowitz, Hard Thing About Hard Things, great book. He's got another one now plus I think also our board member Andrew Jim has a new book too.

Sam Kothari (37:54): Larry, thanks for being so candid and transparent. I think it's such, I think a refreshing, it feels so refreshing to know that someone in your position, I mean you've accomplished so much, is still like you said, tinkering and figuring things out and optimising. It's really, I think, really refreshing.

Larry Gadea (38:12): No worries. No worries. Hopefully, it'll make up for when things go really bad. And then it's like oh no, it's okay, he'll figure it out. But we'll discover that then.

Sam Kothari (38:21): You raised a comment of finding people to take things personally when they screw up. What do you mean by that?

Larry Gadea (38:29): Yeah. Yeah. No, that's a really interesting thing to hone in on. Okay, so all the things that make people go crazy and do really bad things are also the things that make people do move mountains and make the world really an amazing place. So, pride is a big part of it. If somebody is kind of doing their job because they're being told and they have no personal interest in it outside of it brings home the bacon, it doesn't quite work. It's not that exciting, that person's not passionate about it. So it's kind of like looking for people that are doing their job because they want to leverage Envoy as a way of bettering themselves, that's different.

Larry Gadea (39:10): That's somebody who really wants to get better and they want the tool of Envoy to help them. Now, of course, the business will see value out of it and all that good stuff. But it turns out these people will also stick around if it keeps on delivering in a way that gives them more ability to take more risks and learn and that kind of thing. So pride is very important. An unrelenting way of wanting to accomplish something, I think just also a careful tune of it's not ego, because I think that implies bad, it's more that kind of persistence, stubbornness. You can imagine every single one of my grade school teachers told my parents about how Larry's very stubborn and won't do something unless he thinks it's his idea. And it's like, I guess it takes one to know one. But it's kind of just how it is.

Larry Gadea (40:05): That's the only way you can get through really tough decisions too. You've kind of doing it because you're sure that you're going to be right. And if you're not, well you're going to dig yourself a bigger hole. But people that are really persistent, eventually you make it. You have to be ready for it because it's very, it can get pretty graphic once you're two, three, four levels in and not delivering yet. But I don't know. I think you just have to be committed and really want to get better. And you have to realise that it is tough and not easy. And whatever you can do to get yourself in a situation to not make it easy to leave something, I think is very important for people. Mortgages are a great way of doing that. Yeah.

Sam Kothari (40:47): That optimism that in the long run, things will work out and the persistence theme I think really comes through your journey.

Larry Gadea (40:56): True. There is optimism. I guess there is. Yeah. Because it's like I'm assuming it's going to work out, and it's good. Yeah. I just kind of wish I could be a little more open, optimistic with folks. I think they'd like that.

Sam Kothari (41:06): It's almost like two different ranges of motion. Long-term optimism that things will work and that short-term, whether it's pessimism or that focus on how do we get better today, how do we get better today because I think that obsession that you have may yield the long-term positive outcomes that you know are going to come.

Larry Gadea (41:24): I want to be clear, by the way, we're talking an awful lot about me and my weird philosophies and stuff too. It isn't just one guy that's on the high horse, ivory tower. It's like, oh yeah, we will be confident, and we will build to save us all from the evil COVID. That's not how it goes. What it is, is me saying that in a half-baked way that then the rest of the team takes and is like, you know what? That's not terrible. Let's try to communicate this in a way to the rest of the people in the company, so they aren't horrified by what they hear.

Larry Gadea (42:03): That's why it's important to have layers of people you really trust. It's about making sure they understand you and what you're trying, and then also hearing their thoughts on it and gathering the feedback. It's absolutely a team effort, and I know they all say that, but literally it is because there's just no way otherwise. There's no way. I mean, we're 300 people today and growing, and you need those people. You need it, because they provide an ecosystem for the others. This one supports this person when they don't want to do something, and because of the two together, it makes it even better. This is the kind of stuff that you need to have in a company where people really are working together to figure things out.

Larry Gadea (42:44): Maybe there's a direction that's like, "Hey, that way," but that's only the beginning of the gruesomeness that can come in the pandemic where you have to do whatever it takes. They all have different things that they want to get better at. They also have things that you don't, that are way better than you, and it's just combining it and seeing what works best. It's definitely a team effort. I know it's like I'm the figurehead here, but it's not without them that we got through this, that's for 100% sure.

Sam Kothari (43:19): No, thanks, Larry. I got a couple of closing questions, because I know we're coming up to time. In April this year, so this is last month, you said that if you could invite anyone over for dinner, it'd be Elon Musk. Obviously a lot has happened since I think you made that statement. I think Elon's bought Twitter in that time. You were also an early employee of Twitter, so I felt compelled to ask you, what's your view on the acquisition and the future of Twitter and its role in the startup ecosystem, and I guess broadly, society at large?

Larry Gadea (43:56): Yeah, yeah. No, it's a great question because I think, I don't know, I read this tweet once, and this is, of course, how the world works, but I read this tweet once that said, "You don't bet against Elon." I think that that's really true and it's kind of like you don't. Now, is he going to make mistakes? Absolutely. Is it going to be a complete mess? Yeah. Is it going to be super interesting? Yes. Do we have a much bigger chance of getting the world to communicate much more freely with each other and in a way that's less full of ads and less full of weird stuff that companies have to do? I think so.

Larry Gadea (44:34): That company has a lot of really well-intentioned people that all want to do their best, and I think a little bit of change isn't the end of the world, and I think that somebody like Elon is somebody that a lot of really smart people will follow. There's going to be a lot of great talent joining that company that may have chosen something else in the past. I think that that's something to be excited about, and I don't think any one person is going to save anything, but I think that attracting multiple people together through somebody like Elon, as crazy as he is... literally, the day of announcing his thing, that he's going to own the company, he's like, "Do we remove the W in Twitter?" Yes and absolutely were the two options. There's no 'no', there's just 'yes' and 'absolutely'.

Larry Gadea (45:22): This guy literally is spending $40 billion on this company, and this is the kind of tweets that he has. But I think that that's not your typically sleazy salesman that's trying to steal money from everyone. I think that this is a next-level thing that people are too quick to judge, and yeah, I don't know. I think he's very interesting, but he's human like the rest of us and I'm sure it's anybody's guess how it's going to go, but I think it's... I would love some more things to come out of there. I think it's going to be exciting. Maybe less fanbots, too, that'd be fun.

Sam Kothari (45:59): Nice. No, thanks. And I guess two final questions. One, for first-time CEOs, you've been a first-time CEO and grown and built a company. What advice do you have for people who are starting out the founding journey and building a product, trying to find product-market fit? They've got a million and one problems. What did you find valuable early on in your journey?

Larry Gadea (46:26): There's so much, but it's always like on the spot, it's always hard. I just think people need to... Don't give up on things. Don't ever give up on things. It really is the thing that kills companies. Companies don't kill companies, people kill companies, and it's the people that give up that kill companies. You can make it, you're just going to go through a really crappy time for the next few months. It's always like that, and if you really have ambition, you will figure it out. That's the piece. Just be open to learning and make sure you're hiring people that like to learn, too, and don't ever compromise on talents because you're going to tell yourself that. You're still going to compromise, but as long as you keep fighting for the best you possibly can, that helps a lot.

Larry Gadea (47:14): You're also going to make all the mistakes you promised yourself you would never make. Every single one of them. Every, single, one. You're like, "Oh, no. I know better than that." No, you don't. No, you don't. You're going to hit it just like all the rest of them and you're going to like it, and you're not going to tell anybody about it, either, because the rest of them aren't talking about it, either. You're going to do all the same things everybody else does, but the ones that survive are the ones that keep at it and are constantly learning and looking for an environment of learning.

Larry Gadea (47:40): Stop pointing fingers at other people. That's not helping anyone. Always look for why it's your fault why something went wrong. The customer is always right is the most simple way of putting it, because it doesn't matter if they're wrong. They usually are. They're not. They're actually quite right. It doesn't matter. They shouldn't be thinking that, and that's your fault. Having that mindset is I think is really, really important. It's an interesting combo of that mindset and pride, where it's like, "No, I'm the best," but also, "No, it's all my fault." It's a tornado, but it's a good tornado, and everybody wins as a result as long as you're on a great mission.

Sam Kothari (48:19): That's really helpful. It's funny, honestly, I think one of the things I've been struggling with is we're restructuring our sales team internally, and I think I got, like Frank Slootman, the Snowflake CEO, everyone has this thing of fire fast, Ben Horowitz wrote The Hard Thing about How Things Fire Fast. Don't compromise on talent. And it's hard. It's so hard in the moment.

Larry Gadea (48:38): Yeah, yeah. I'd like to see the numbers on these people, too. Are they actually doing that? There's also a thing that you kind of tell yourself, and it helps you do the thing a little bit more, but you're also not doing it. It's like, "Do the thing fast." Well, more like less than a little bit better than slow, is what it turns out to be. But you still need to say that kind of stuff, and it's like repeating the same message. In order for people to get something, you have to keep telling them, literally until they tell you that, "Please stop telling me this. You've told me about a hundred times." It's very rare I get that from anyone about anything, and that's just a sign that I'm not repeating things enough. Repetition is a great way of looking at this, too. You know all the best practices, but you repeat them as if you know what you're talking about. But yeah, it's a lot.

Sam Kothari (49:29): No, for sure. And then the last question, I guess, is usually our closing question. If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the start of your career, what would that be? Honestly, your career started a lot earlier than most people, at 17, as a professional with Google. Going back to your 17-year-old self joining Google and the incredible culture that existed at that time, what do you wish you knew when you were 17 and starting your career?

Larry Gadea (49:57): It's such a tough one. Go back in time and keep Google great. It was a wonderful place. There's ball pits everywhere. There's weird sleeping chairs. It's all these happy people, and these days it doesn't seem as happy anymore. I really liked it. It was so inspirational at the time, and there's amazing people everywhere. There probably still are some of those folks, and I love everyone there, but no, if I could go back in time, I don't know if I would do all this again. It's a lot. Wow- whee. There's so much learning all the time, but I don't know, that's being rational. If you're irrational, you're going to be like, "No, I want it because it needs to exist," and then you literally are going to go through the worst of the world just so you can make that happen, but that's just what being human is and admitting to everything is also very important. Otherwise, you're going to not make better decisions. So keep at it, that's it. And I guess I am still doing it, although... whoo!

Sam Kothari (50:59): Thanks, Larry. Hey, look. They're all the questions we have. Is there anything else you wanted to cover off? I'd love for people to hear a bit more about where they can find you, whether it's on Twitter or email, like if you've got job openings in Envoy, if there's anything we can do and the audience can give back to support you in your mission.

Larry Gadea (51:16): Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So of course. We have a bright, colourful website. It's for everyone, not just the buyer. And then I'm on Twitter, as well, I had database access to be able to pull that one off, three-character minimum normally. And then it's just those are the main places. I mean, I'm on LinkedIn and stuff, but don't add me unless you know me. And then also, I don't understand what's up with people and adding random people on LinkedIn. Do people accept this stuff? It's just because they want the number to go up? What exactly is the reason? Because you can also buy about 10,000 followers on these... anyways, so you can find me in all those places. I'll have terrible jokes on Twitter.

Larry Gadea (51:59): We're hiring, of course. We're supposed to be like 500 people by the end of this year, so we need all the help that we can get and people that are really passionate about workplaces. Yes, you will be in the workplace more than most companies with this, but you're going to do it for a good cause, which is to help everybody else have an easier time back and in a safe and happy way. So yeah, we're always hiring. Please feel free to reach out on any of those channels. [email protected] if you want to send me an email that goes through three layers of filters.

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