Thilo Semmelbauer: Two experiences worth mentioning when I started Weight Watchers online business, there was no revenue. It grew to a peak of about 400 million in revenue with, probably more importantly, millions of users. Many of them satisfied and some of them having had significant life changes, which was very gratifying.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Shutterstock is probably one of the things I’m most proud of in my career and during my time there, it grew from 50 million to 350 million in revenue over the course of five years.
Dave Carvajal: Yeah, and there was an IPO in there as well.
Thilo Semmelbauer: There was an IPO, which was I think a great confirmation for this sort of staying power in the company and the impact that it has on the industry.
Thilo Semmelbauer: It starts with a plan. You have to know where you’re going. Whether you get there through sheer insight or analysis and strategic thinking, you have to have a plan.
Thilo Semmelbauer: And then secondly, you have to build a team around you who gets bought into the plan and shares that with you. And often, finding those people, selecting them, that’s hard and that’s a lot of fun. It’s a part of what I spend a lot of my time on.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Often, the best people for those jobs aren’t the ones who’ve done it before. It’s sometimes the people who really want that as a next step in their career and they have a lot to learn. So that process of building the team is super exciting and it’s, at the end of the day, the most important thing.
Thilo Semmelbauer: I think finally, when you have a plan and a team, it’s about being nimble on your feet. It’s about testing, learning, evolving, pivoting, and solving problems every day.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Well, failure is a long topic. I’ve had my fair share of those. I think one category of failures is such interesting to talk about, it happened a couple of times in my career.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Once at Motorola in the 90’s when I launched a product that worked technically but nobody bought it. There’s no market for it, pre-cursor of what came later as smartphones but way too early for its time.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Sometimes you could have a great plan and you can have great people and great execution and you still don’t get any sales.
Thilo Semmelbauer: It happened to me also in ’99 when I was working with Sotheby’s to launch their online auction business. Now, many years later, the stuff is largely working. But at the time, again, the site, the capabilities were there, the dealers were lined up and the business just wasn’t there, It was timing.
Thilo Semmelbauer: So I think failures of timing are interesting failures. I think that they’re just to be expected. It’s something that I really look out for now and in my recent jobs.
Thilo Semmelbauer: I think we try to be more careful about selecting to be part of things that were the time is right because that’s an important element of success and hard to control, except to select or deselect.
Thilo Semmelbauer: I think other failures have come from external events. I mean, one of the best things that ever happened to Shutterstock was when hurricane Sandy hit. And we were at a downtown office, right by the stock exchange. The office was flooded as what’s most of downtown, everybody knows what happened. And we had to scramble and find other space in midtown and people had makeshift offices in Brooklyn, in New Jersey.
Thilo Semmelbauer: And it was a failure of lack of preparedness at the end of the day because we didn’t anticipate something like that and the tech team was scrambling to put services in the Cloud.
Thilo Semmelbauer: It all worked, we never missed a beat in terms of serving customers and having the website running and even moving our projects forward, but during something like that, you really learn about the people on the team and who gets creative and figures out a way through that hardship and who kind of checks out and doesn’t show up for work.
Thilo Semmelbauer: It’s a very interesting learning experience so I think crisis can actually be very helpful for a company.
Thilo Semmelbauer: I think another failure, kind of on a personal level, I think earlier in my career, I probably was too afraid of failure. I think what was drilled into me in school as an engineering-oriented person and analyst.
Thilo Semmelbauer: I’ve viewed my success as getting to the right answer and not making mistakes. And I think it took me a while in my career to get comfortable with, failures as a necessary part, hopefully, small failures as a necessary part of the creative and building process.