Learnings with Alain Benzaken
Alain Benzaken: So what I learned was a couple of things from now on, I will say, is one: executive teams matter incredibly. And I’ve been on some very successful ones and it’s just easy. The success comes quickly and if things don’t work, you change into that.
Alain Benzaken: And two, that was also a problem of timing as well. I think there’s recently an article about startups, what’s the biggest indicator of success or failure in startups.
Alain Benzaken: And it turns out timing is important. If you get in too early, even before Priceline I was at Prodigy, which was one of the first online services. This was pre-internet.
Alain Benzaken: We were way too early and then AOL came and had, not necessarily better service but they had better marketing and eventually beat us. So that’s probably a bunch of learnings I’ve had over the years: timing, executive team, and your points of marketing.
Alain Benzaken: I had a really good mentor when I was at Priceline, he was an executive who’s CTO. It’s very hard in technology to sort of stay in touch with the code and stand the code while also managing and understanding the business side of stuff.
Alain Benzaken: Because when you’re in the code and you see the challenge, it’s easy. But when you stop coding, it becomes a little hard and you don’t know exactly what’s going on, you’re really relying on your team to give you the information that you need because you kind of start to lose touch with the technology.
Alain Benzaken: So it’s important to have a sense, and this is what he was really good at and that’s what I learned more than anything else from him, a sense of where to know where the soft spots are in any sort of project or any big endeavor that you’re working on with your team.
Alain Benzaken: It was a skill that, I won’t say it’s black science but it was a skill that he had where he would like, “I bring the big project plan on that, everything is good.” And he’d be like, “How are you going to do this one thing?”
Alain Benzaken: It would always be the one thing that was like, “God damn it, I don’t really know how I’m going to do that.” And that’s a skill that I’ve worked really hard at achieving.
Alain Benzaken: Some of the stuff, you know it’s going to get done, you know it’s going to get done but in any project and any situation, there’s always one thing that they don’t want to tell you is the part they haven’t quite figured out yet.
Alain Benzaken: And so, that’s a skill that you learn over time and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some important mentors. And I’ve seen that in different areas, not just in technology, I saw it in finance. Same thing at Priceline we had a guy that would point at rooms of spreadsheets and would point point at one number and go, “How are you going to get to that number?” And make people squirm every time. It was unbelievable, I never saw anything like it.
Alain Benzaken: And that’s a skill you gain over time, that’s experience. So that’s important to me. I think mentorship in general is important because it helps you achieve faster, basically.
Alain Benzaken: Working with someone who’s already been there, who’s already done that. As you know, we do triathlon training and having mentors in sports, actually growing up, although I was a pretty good athlete but I didn’t train very effectively. And I was okay, I was average.
Alain Benzaken: But I really learned the importance of mentors in terms of getting you to where you need to be faster. And it’s really just like a shortcut and so when you have them, you have to take advantage of them.
Alain Benzaken: So it’s a great importance so I try to be a mentor to my technology leaders as well but I’m still learning from a lot of others.