Feb. 24, 2021

Founder as a first time manager - what are the major challenges? By Simon Gong

Founder as a first time manager - what are the major challenges? By Simon Gong

Simon Gong, Senior Manager, Capacity Engineering & Analysis at Facebook talks about startup founders being the first time team managers. We spoke about the major problems that they face as team managers, how they can prepare themselves for what's coming up and how to solve some of the issues that appear on your manager's path.


Simon's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/simongong/

Book on being the first time manager. 

Transcript

So, let's kick it off by you giving us some background on yourself and on your position at Facebook. Sure, I didn't Simon young.
So at Facebook,
I'm the manager supporting some of our capacity,

our capacity planning programs,
and prior to this works at Box Twitter,
and some other companies,
mostly around the same type of infrastructure, optimization infrastructure,
efficiency,
space,
engineering.

Nice a lot of very smart words that I don't really understand, but let's jump straight into the topic that I should understand, and talk a little bit about how you interact with the start world while working at Facebook.

So 1st question is how frequently do you get invitations to join the company in terms of go founder advisor just seen on board or as an angel investor.

Yeah, I would say every, once in a while, um, you know, it's certainly not as often as, you know, once a month or anything like that. Maybe a couple of times a year.

And it kind of runs that range, you know, sometimes it's advice or something like that. I think very rarely have I had anyone directly just asked me for to invest.

So, I would say, that's probably a little more, right? All right, this is just shocking content. For me, to be honest, I thought I was more like, on a weekly basis. Both of those things happen on the weekly basis but not.

So,
can you tell us about those situations when you actually do get asked to directly invest,

or to give some advice some support that how does it usually happen to people just reach out to you on LinkedIn or do a ping me on email or do they tried to find a warm introduction to you.

Yeah, obviously a question that I definitely would say, you know, I don't know how much of this is just my personal experience. So maybe it happens a lot to other people.

For me, it's usually starts with kind of advice, you know, it's usually on LinkedIn, you know, it'll be something like, hey, we're, we're doing something like your background seems to be pretty relevant to this. You have some time to chat.

Um, and, you know, sometimes it ends up being a sales call, but I think most people don't I'll do that because I think that's probably not a great way to start a sales call, but usually, you know, they want to

talk about something with me.

They want to show me something and they want to either demo it to me or they want to talk about how it might fit in with kind of what I do for my job or my company.

Advice based got it. And do you usually take your time to do those calls with those founders?

Oh, yeah, I'll usually take some time to do it. You know, I really believe in kind of helping people out and paying it forward and also learn a lot from these things.

And it's always interesting to get some perspective in the industry kind of what's going on and what people are thinking about. So, yeah, I'll take time to do that unless it's sounding like a sales call, right? Yeah, I mean, you are taking time to participate on the podcast so I appreciate that.

And founder should appreciate that too. So, speaking of appreciation, my personal advice is always to reach out to people like yourself to potential advisors when you're just reaching out to someone knowledgeable in the field asking for advice is to offer something back.

Have has that ever happened to you. So someone's reaching out to you asking for your advice and in return offer an X Y, Z has that happened.

No, no, that'd be cool.

People did that I guess really,

there's,

there's not really any mention of that,

you know,

every once in a while,

people will say,

like,

oh,

you know,

potentially,

it's like,

maybe like some sort of paid advisory position or something like that.

But I would say it's, it's pretty rare and I think, to be honest, for me, it wouldn't really, necessarily be that compelling.

Um, it's more about, like, hey, is this something interesting that I'd like to learn? And, you know, they're.

You know, seem like a nice person and then, you know, I probably just being kind of just help them out and it helps me too. So.

Right. That's true. Those calls to help. Sometimes. That's very accurate. So, what about your colleagues? So, have you heard stories of someone on your team being heavily involved in the startup

world being, like, advisor for 20 companies, or? It's not really common.
Yeah, I would say it's not.

Uncommon, I think to be advising some companies, I would say, at least as far as I know like, something like 20 would be a lot, I don't know of anyone that was an exaggeration, but a few here. And there. I think it's pretty common.

I also think it's fairly common people to be invested to invest a little in in some companies I'm hearing there as well. So I think, yeah, I would say that's probably fairly common.

Right. Nice got it. So, let's talk about so you are in the management position, and let's see how that can be applied to the start world. So.

1st question is going to be about start founders, being usually the 1st time manager of their own company, their own teams. So looking at those startups, you know, talking to those start founders, would you see what major mistake you see them making?

Yeah, ask her a question.

You know, I think 1 thing that I see that seems to work well, is when people try to learn about management and treat it as, like, a scale, just like a technical skill and kind of recognizing that.

Maybe if they haven't done it before. But that's something that they should work on and that there's real benefits and it's a real real scale that requires real studying and real practice. And I think there can be a lot of benefits to doing that.

So I would say my biggest piece of advice for that is just read up on it. There's a ton of management books, and try to find some good mentors.

Because I really think making that jump from very skilled, kind of engineer are individual contributor to leading a team. And especially as a startup founder where it can be very cross functional team. It's actually kind of a hard thing to do.

And if it's your 1st time where you're getting things done through a team, rather than your own personal effort.

Um, it can, it can be a bit of an adjustment to really kind of get the best out of people and get people really invest in your company because you not really their successful be your success.

Right. That's very true. Any any particular books you would recommend.

Yeah, there's a really good ones that I called the manager's path. I think that's a pretty good 1. and another 1 I personally really like is called drive.

It's about kind of what really motivates people kind of science of motivation.

Um, and I think that really, um, underlies a lot of, um, kind of other good kind of management principles.

Perfect, I'll make sure to leave links to both of those books and the description of this episode. So if someone listening to this is about to become 1st, time manager definitely, definitely take a look at from my experience. Books are.

Best place, probably to learn for me, especially even better than advice. But but it's just because I.

When I talk to you, personally, it doesn't seem to be like, person doesn't seem to be as knowledgeable as the book when we're on there, but it is just how it works the reason why they wrote a book about it. Yeah, right. Right. Great. Great, great, great.

So, how bout start founders who are trying to hire someone from a big company like Google, Facebook, Amazon.

You call it, so those start founders, they're trying to hire someone as a CO founder or bring on the team as a CO founder. Someone from those big companies. Have you seen that happening? How did it work out?

Yeah, I've definitely seen that happen. I think it's, you know, it's probably pretty tough.

I think my advice there would be, you know, just kind of do your homework and think about what would be compelling in terms of the value proposition to have that person join your company. In most cases.

It's going to be a very significant compensation heads, and it's probably be a significant risk to them. Right? Because your company could go any direction. Whereas if 1 of these companies, it's probably pretty comfortable.

So, but, you know, that being said, the flip side is a lot of these companies.

You know, people had been there for a long time. They might be looking for a new challenge. Um, so I think, you know, a startup, especially if it's a fairly senior role, I think, where you can really appeal to folks.

Like, that is giving them a lot of autonomy, a very interesting problem. Basically, a large leadership role.

Something like, that can be compelling, because the flip side is if you've been working at 1 of these companies for a long time, money may not be your primary motivator anymore as long as it's okay. And some of these other things might start to be a lot more important.

Right that's true. So, by the way here is a topic that would love to discuss, because I think I read about it on a separate for founders where founder said that he launched multiple companies in the past and 1 of the most recent ones went bankrupt.

And he realized that he didn't have any money to bootstrap his next 1 and he started to look for an actual job. And he realized that he didn't actually have, like, 1 particular really good skill. He knew everything about everything.

But nothing about 1 thing. So, have you seen that happening? How would you recommend them dealing with this stuff?

Yeah, I can say just as a hiring manager, like, I've definitely seen candidates like that where they're not a hyper specialist in 1 thing.

And especially if they've had a lot of sharp experience, and then founder a CO founder,

a lot of places where I would say to that is having that broad range of skills is itself a skill and it's about finding the right fit.

Um, the role and a company that values having that broad range of experience. So I would

recommend some areas. That could be a good fit. Might be things like product management.

Um, could be a good 1 or maybe technical program management. These are some areas where I've worked with some people who have been kind of like the serial founder.

Nice. That's actually pretty encouraging advice. You earlier, you mentioned that, you know, 1 of the appealing 1 of the ways to appeal to those senior manager sets.

Big companies is offering them new challenge and autonomy and all that stuff. But have you seen a lot of situation where people from Facebook or Google or other companies have actually quit their jobs?

Those big companies with great salaries and joy starts, or? That's not really common.
Um, yeah, I mean, I, I would say it's not common, but I also wouldn't say it's like, Super around either.

I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of okay if I were a founder, what I do, I'm going to look for people who have actually, you know, maybe if you look on LinkedIn or something, look for people have been there a long time.

Because I think 1, way to look at it is, I think I've been there for a long time. They're really comfortable. Like, they're not going to leave but the other way you could look at it is, hey, if they've been there for a long time.

Maybe, they're really ready for a new challenge. So I would probably focus on those folks rather than someone who's only been there for a short, 10 year.

Right, I think I agree with your point of view, because I think in 21st century working in 1 place for longer than I know 5, 7 years that's already too much. So very good point here. Very accurate point.

So let's go back to the very beginning of our conversation, where we're discussed about people offering you to invest in their starts. So how do those things usually go?

So, let's say start founder reaches out to you says, I see that you're working at Facebook on this position. So I think that my solution might appeal to you. Would you like to invest? Is that.

Now, how it works.

I have not experienced that, but, you know, I don't know if that's if other people do I can tell you, maybe 1 specific story that led to me making an investment in a company for.

So the way it started out was their, their product was basically kind of a platform to connect kind of more senior engineering leaders with maybe more like new managers folks looking for kind of that type of mentorship.

And that's how they initially reached out. To me. They describe the product to me to describe that I'd be a good fit and yeah, that was interesting. And kind of, I guess, maybe to your point about.

Um, what do I get out of it you know, that the return on it was kind of obvious as I get exposure to different companies and how they operate and different people's problems, which makes me a better manager.

So, I think that 1 was a pretty good kind of, um.

Um, mutual benefit type of so, and they never asked me for money or anything like that. It was just, hey, just contribute your time please. And that was pretty easy to do. They didn't ask for too much right off the bat.

And then, as I worked more with them, it was just kind of organic for me to get more involved. You know, they had the participating some other conferences and things like that. And I think it just kind of naturally evolved that way.

And towards the end, when they were trying to raise more money.

It was pretty natural for me to want to participate because at that point, I was already kind of invested in the company's success. I liked all the people. I like their mission. I really understood it and I was I was bought in at that point.

So, I think then the investment was really a consequence of what happened before and not something that was pitched to me, right off the bat. Right? I think angel investors very rarely do this stuff. So.

That sounds very natural there again. So nice nice work.

Those founders who did this by the way, those founders who reached out to initially, did they offer some sort of compensation may be informed so shares of the company in return for your time or was it just, you know.

Your official our advisor, your compensation is being an advisor in our company? Yeah. For this was more just as a participant. I guess this was a little bit unique because their, their product was management a mentorship.

Engineering management mentorship specifically. So, um, it was kind of like, yeah, they want us some advice on the product, but it was also for me as a participant. So, in this case, it wasn't like that.

But there is another example of a company that approached me that has to be an advisor and it was kind of it was more how you described. It was kind of upfront like, hey, here's our product. Here's where we are. Here's where we think you can help us.

Um, and, uh, you know, let's have a chat and make sure it's a good fit.

Um, and then up front there is, you know, hey, Here's how much time to come in and we're looking for you. Here's exactly what you what we would like, for your help with. Here's how, you know, the kind of the expectation and we'll compensate you in this way for it.

Is that something you want to do? So that was probably a more straightforward.

Approach yeah, that that's fine for for a that was fine for me too.

Got it. All right so.

Back to the investing, because it's fun reading radio. Everything here is circle around fundraising for startups. So.

I know that some big companies so I know that pretty much I think every single big company that I know they do have something like an angel groups made of their employees that invest individually. And sometimes they even create a pool of money that invests as an actual fund.

So do you, 1st of all you do have that Facebook right? I'm not.

Confusing yeah, you know, I'm sure it's there. Yeah. I'm also pretty new Facebook, so I probably couldn't speak to that, but yeah, I'm sure it's there. It exists. And I think probably a lot of companies have it.

Generally, what I've seen is, you know, a lot of these groups, it's like, kind of.

You know, people who, um.

You know, maybe where they're Pre and, you know, are apparently senior and have like, a lot of money. So I think some of the groups I've seen. So, maybe I'm just not rich enough to be in 1 of these groups.

Once you get there. I'll circle back with you. Yeah. Perfect. So, yeah, just to summarize the whole thing.

So you think in general people, if there was big companies, the are pretty interesting and startup world, but not actively looking for opportunities there. Right?

Yeah, I would say that's probably generally true. You know, I think I think people people do look at kind of smaller companies, because I think, you know, at a certain, I think that's always kind of a little bit of a crossroads.

It's like, hey, do I stay.
You know, at this big company with all of the benefits of that.

I jumped to a smaller company where I can take on more responsibility generally in a more senior role.

And try to build something new and with all of the kind of downside would be, you know, the risk.

The lower up front pay right? All that kind of stuff or do or do I kind of stick around doing doing what I was doing? So I, I think.

You know, especially if been somewhere for a while, there are people are probably more interested than you.

Then it might seem they would be depends on the person. Right? Some people are more risk averse to others. And another tip I can have is if you're trying to recruit folks like, this is, you know, look at their look at their resume. Look at their LinkedIn.

If they've kind of been in 1.

Level for a long time, right they've been a manager for 5 years if they've been a senior manager for 7 years or something like that.

Um, you know, at those levels, taking that next step in seniority, there has to be a reason to have it at the company, right? Like, you don't just get promoted to be a director, because you've already got well, right there has to be an opening.

And if someone is there, you know, most people, if they made at that level, they generally want to go to the next level. And if the opportunities exist at that company.

Um, if you come in and you're like, hey, like, when engineering for me, that would be probably something that might be compelling.

Great that is.

Very accurate from, from my perspective, who does not work at Facebook I did talk to a few people there. So that does seem to be very accurate really? On point. So, here, on this point, we're moving on to the.

Most likely the last question of these episodes, I think it's going to be a last question on today's but we'll see. So, the question is, is going to be the call to action. So, Simon, what is the 1 thing that you want to start to do? As soon as the episode is over?

I would say, maybe just look at some profiles and figure out what you want to accomplish, you know. Do you want advice from someone? Do you want to get money?

Do you want to hire someone and just take the 1st step just send some messages reach out to people and my big big piece of advice,

there's don't be shy to reach out,

but try to keep it more conversational in the beginning and don't immediately asking for money would be my advice.

That's very accurate advice. And that is.

Part of the problem that founders do have I get like, I know 4 or 5 messages every single day on LinkedIn saying, like, hey, here's our company. I see that we're working funds.

When I take our paycheck, I'm, like, come on at least at least give me give me some time, but yeah, that is very accurate. Founders. Do feel like those shortcuts exist. Those shortcuts do not exist. So good advice.

I way to put it and while I was talking about that, I remembered about the question I wanted to ask. So for startup founders who are listening to these podcasts correlation to this particular episode.

Who, which 1, which 1 of them should reach out to you asking for advice for investments. So. Basically, rephrase my question who should reach out to you for help.

You know, if you're anywhere in kind of the infrastructure optimization or capacity or performance space, always under chat with folks working on that stuff.

And if you're interested in kind of general management advice or anything like that, feel free to reach out to them happy to help.

Perfect put in my notes. So, in case, if I run into someone like that, I'll make sure to send them your way. Perfect. On this note, we'll wrap it up.

I'll make sure to leave all the links that Simon mentioned in the dripping of his episode and all those links are going to be hosted to book specifically. I don't think I have to leave a link to because.

Over half of the percent over half of the completion of the plan do have so, yeah, we'll look.

Just speak to this to those 2 books and, of course, LinkedIn, Simon, so if you want to talk to him directly, definitely ping him right there and yeah, let's give me my call to action. Check out to the scripture says episodes.

Useful books and a link to Simons Linton, and as usually have a good.