Episode 7

Upstart just went public - CEO Dave Girouard shares why it isn't a typical success story

Today's episode is with Dave Girouard, the CEO and co-founder of Upstart, an AI-powered lending platform that recently went public. First Round invested in Upstart's seed round back in 2012, so we were thrilled to chat with Dave about his lessons from this 8-year company building journey. In addition to sharing his management philosophy and what he learned as a Google exec, Dave digs into the initial idea, their business model pivot, and the fundraising challenges the Upstart team faced while they were quietly building in a space people were skeptical of.

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Transcript

Dave Girouard: [00:00:00] A lot to get a team motivated and moving forward without a tremendous amount of external validation, especially when you have slack channels inside the company. And it's like X company just raised money at Y billion dollars, or this company just did this or that. And. Just companies, just for whatever reason, much bigger at making an impression on the world than we were.

I still remember the most piercing feedback we got because it was very helpful, but one of the partners had written and these guys seem pretty smart, but there are no pied Pipers. So I just don't know if they're going to gather enough following. And it was kind of like, oh, is so damn true. And frankly, it was a struggle to get the team going forward in saying, don't worry.

We're not a unicorn. Don't worry about uniform. Doesn't really mean anything. We're not measured by how much money we raised. We actually think it's a good thing. We haven't raised that much money. So these are the kinds of things I'm getting them TJF questions every week. And you just have to sustain the belief that you're building something really good.

The world just doesn't quite get it yet.

Brett Berson: [00:01:07] Welcome to in depth, a new show that surfaces tactical advice, bounders and startup leaders need to grow their teams, their companies, and themselves. I'm Brooke Berson, a partner at first round. And we're a venture capital firm that helps startups, like notion, roadblocks, Uber, and square tackle company building firsts through over 400 interviews on the review.

We've shared standout company, building advice, the kind that comes from those willing to skip the talking points and go deeper into not just what to do, but how to do it with our new podcast. In-depth you can listen into these deeper conversations every single week. Learn more and subscribe today@firstround.com.

We've got a special episode of in-depth, which is why you're hearing from me, even though it's not Thursday. Yet last week, upstart celebrated a successful IPO notching, a major milestone on their eight year company building journey. Today I'm excited to be joined by upstarts co-founder and CEO, Dave Gerard, to unpack all the lessons he learned along the way.

Aside from the timeliness, given that Dave's fresh off of taking a company public, this episode is doubly special for us here at first round, as we invested in upstart seed round, we're so grateful. We had the chance to partner with this incredible team from day zero. Before we dive into our conversation, I wanted to share some context on what Dave's achieved and how our relationship has developed over the years.

If you're not familiar, upstart has built an incredible AI powered lending platform, which they leveraged to partner with banks in order to expand access to affordable credit. But when we first met Dave and his co founders, back in 2012, they were working on an idea that was different, but still in this realm of rethinking consumer lending, given that folks who don't have great credit scores are often excluded.

They had a radical idea to combine a non-fire AI based model with an income share agreement approach, which was sort of like a crowdfunding or Kickstarter for people alternative. After our seed investment and their launch, while there were some signs of success, the ISA model wasn't landing as Dave touches on in this episode, the upstart team ended up pivoting to a direct lending model.

This pivot complicated their fundraising prospects. Dave struggled to pull together the next round of capital, but given our conviction and Dave and what he was building, we had first round made a somewhat off model move to deepen our partnership by stepping up to lead their series. After this pivot, things started to take off despite resistance to this idea and the ups and downs of FinTech companies.

Over the years, upstart has proven that they can underwrite consumers far more efficiently and accurately than traditional lenders. On a personal note, I've come to admire Dave, a great deal. Over the years, for starters, he's been an incredibly generous and active member of the first round community.

Sharing his wisdom at events, we've hosted an articles he's written for the first round review, like as classic speed as habit, we'll put links in the show notes, if you haven't read them yet. But Dave is also one of the most tenacious and focused founders we've ever backed his story, both fits and breaks.

Silicon valley norms and interesting ways. On one hand, he's a tech veteran with a deep background at Google and to apple. He's also built upstart here in the bay area. And given the recent IPO has had success at doing that. But in some ways, both Dave and upstart don't really fit the typical Silicon valley mold.

As he says, he looks less the part of visionary founder and more like the responsible CEO who investors bring in to replace the founder. When things go off the rails, he was 46 years old when he started upstart along with Anna and Paul, his 20 year old co-founder whose parents are younger than Davis.

This trio of co-founders was a somewhat random pairing, but one that stayed together from founding through IPO, which is just so unusual. It's also not the kind of startup that was grabbing headlines or carving out a sexy brand. As David Mets, they struggled with fundraising have largely spent the past eight years, quietly building in a space.

People have been skeptical of in today. This conversation, Dave and I cover a lot of ground. He gives us an insight, look at how the business was built and what other startups can learn from his early days, from how they pulled off their pivot, to how he generated internal excitement over the years, to why, as he puts it, he sucked at fundraising.

We also get into his thoughts on management and the CEO role, including assembling an executive team, what he learned and needed to unlearn from Google and the mental models that help him manage his own psychology as a founder. I think it's such a unique chance to learn directly from a founder who literally just took his company public.

So I hope you enjoy the episode and now conversation with Dave. Thanks for coming on the podcast, Dave. Great to be here. I thought a great, interesting place to start in the upstart journey is how you approached and what you learned from the incredibly successful pivot. And I think what's particularly unique about what you all did was there are certain companies that kind of restart, so like Odo into Twitter, but in some ways there are smaller number of companies that really kind of take the unique thing that they created and kind of turn it 20 or 30 degrees and then have a lot of success with that.

And so I thought a fun place to start might be to kind of go back in time and maybe talk about the founding of the company and maybe why you think it ultimately worked and kind of what you were thinking at the time when you chose to sort of ultimately land on the upstart model that we know today. 

Dave Girouard: [00:07:02] We started in 2012 with this product that came to be called income share agreements.

And for what it's worth, we created that name that has lived on beyond that business of ours. It was the founding idea of the company. And we got off to a pretty quick start. We were making progress. We were proving our hypothesis. We were feeling optimistic in the very early days, and we always felt that it was going to maybe start scaling next month or the month after.

And the interesting thing I found always was, there's kind of these stories in Silicon valley, and you don't know which story applies to you. There was the Airbnb story and the story about Airbnb at that time, which was already pretty successful was they landed on this business model and it wasn't working and they just kept kind of turning the knobs and fixing it and shining it.

And then finally it worked, it was taking the photos in the apartments in New York. So the Airbnb version was like, stick with it, man. Just keep shining it and fixing it. And the other one was the PayPal story, which is like, oh, they had eight business models within a year until they found one that works.

And the lesson there is like, just keep iterating and trying different things until you find something that works. So we didn't know whether we were Airbnb or PayPal or something else. So we had to kind of read the tea leaves. Was this a bear down and get it done thing, or this is a bad idea. We need to try something else.

Thing for a long time, we were on the Airbnb model. We were like, look, we just need to fix this thing. It's a great idea. People love it. It's just not scaling. But ultimately we came to the conclusion just really saying, look, I don't think those next two knobs were going to turn are going to suddenly be the magic.

We have a few months of cash left, you know? So ultimately we did go to the pivot. As you say, bribe it, wasn't a throw everything away and start over. It really was kind of like step from this. Thing. We were trying to create in the world to something closely related, which in the end was a consumer loan.

But we went from trying to create a new market whiteboard to stepping into a incredibly crowded competitive market, which is a completely different dynamic. But as it turned out a much better one for us, 

Brett Berson: [00:08:57] if we were to go back and listen to the founding team or watch the founding team go from, we're going to buy a off all the rough edges to get to product market fit to, we are going to pivot.

This is the direction we're going to go. Can you share more about what that actually looked like from a process perspective? 

Dave Girouard: [00:09:15] Say, look, we're going to try to shave off this edge or that edge to try to make it feel a little more mainstream. Without abandoning the original concept. I had a lot of conversations with my board about it, the sharpest memory, I have that because, you know, frankly, our core issue was it just wasn't scaling.

It was working at a small level, but it wasn't scaling. And there was no signs that it was going to a very poignant board meeting. I remember in fact, Josh Kaufman from first round was there. He's in Philadelphia. So he was on the video. But I remember him distinctly saying to me, I remember you telling me there were going to be hordes at the gate for this product.

I don't sense that there's horns at the gate. Are there hordes at the gate that I said, Josh, there are no hoards of the gate. It was just an admission that we were showing numbers and this and that. And just talk away around the fact that we hadn't quite figured it out yet. And I just said, look, we have six months of cash left.

I think we need to make a radical move because I don't think we're going to discover anything in the next few months to change our trajectory here. It was that moment of just admitting to Josh and the rest of the board. We just didn't have the answer and maybe it was time to try something else. And fortunately it was a glove save.

It worked incredibly well. We were a small team. We were probably a dozen people then. And within hours of that coffee with my co-founders, we were taking action. We were making it happen. I mean, there were some subtleties to figure out and we did put a big hedge in there, but in any case, we moved very quickly and in a few months later, the business had pivoted complete.

Brett Berson: [00:10:44] And so when you were thinking about which direction to pivot, was it intuitively obvious, there was only one other direction to go, or did you start to flesh out a multitude of directions and then landed of the options? This made the most sense 

Dave Girouard: [00:10:57] one direction, which was to go from this income share agreement to a straightforward.

Loan product. The real issue was we didn't know whether we had a foot to stand on in the lending market, a few other already big companies and winners. And we were coming out with some really different data science, but we, at that time had no idea whether that would be enough sustainable differentiation against some very well-established companies at the time.

And the truth is we had to decide what to do with this thing we had already built. The part I'm semi ashamed of is we went through a period where we decided to keep both. We still so love the original idea that we were going to say, look, when a consumer comes to us, they can get either an income share agreement or alone.

And we spent a few months. Building that. And of course, having both at the same time means there was a lot of energy that went into trying to make them coexist. When we launched the loan product, the interest and volume of that was so dramatic that three days later we end of life, the ISA product. And it was literally a week after we put a blog post out saying, Hey, we got both now.

And then seven days later turns out we're getting rid of that income share agreement. That was the hedge. That was the thing where we didn't quite burn the boats in the end. It would have saved some time, but we got where we needed to. It all happened within a period of just a few months. Unfortunately the loan product just started taking off right away.

And that really saved the day. 

Brett Berson: [00:12:22] And when you were working to ship the new direction loan product, how would you describe your conviction or the psychology of the founding team? Was it, Hey, we got six months. Let's try to make the most of it. Maybe this'll work or were you tremendously convicted in the new direction and we're sort of running full force towards it.

Dave Girouard: [00:12:40] I think we were convicted and confident. I don't have any recollection that this was like hail Mary desperate, last shot. Before we all go look for jobs, it was a high wire act in terms of restructuring the company and in all the legal issues around having a loan product, a bank partnership, we had to establish, but I remember just.

Fast fast activity. And over a Christmas holiday, I remember talking to 20 different banks about which one might want to work with us and just smiling and dialing. And it just happened with intensity. I think we felt confident through it. We had this moment where we had a little Christmas get together at a ski house and debating how to go forward on this.

And we hadn't quite figured out what we wanted to do, and it was just time for everyone to go to sleep. And everyone just sort of turned the lights out to go to sleep. And we ended up having this conversation that struck up in the complete darkness that ended up being the defining moment where we said, we're doing this, we're doing this tomorrow.

And we're going, and it was just for some weird circumstance of the way this evening played out that we were literally standing around in total darkness, uh, deciding the fate of the company. 

Brett Berson: [00:13:43] Another area to explore in some of the early days before starting upstart, you spent a decent chunk of your career at Google.

And I'm curious what you found in the Google experience that helped you in building upstart and maybe what are the things that you found that either held you back or you have to relearn there's many people that have been at Google that have gone on and built really wonderful companies. I think it's a smaller list of people who have really spent time at Google and become an executive and then left and started something from scratch.

And you obviously did an amazing job at that. And so I'm curious how you think about what you learned, the way you were shaped by Google, the way that Google approach things. What are the things that translated and what are the things you had to relearn. 

Dave Girouard: [00:14:31] I'm not the youngest founder in the valleys I had been around for quite a while.

Even when I went to Google, I had been an apple a long time, even the priest, Steve jobs era, if you can believe that when I got to Google, I had a fair bit of experience and thought I knew what startups were about and how to do this and that. And Larry and Sergei were just so out there in terms of just questioning and challenging, every assumption you had about how the world is supposed to work, it was just mind boggling.

Honestly, particularly in the earlier days, everything you learned about how to do a product roadmap, how to specify the requirements, how to listen to customers, you could just tear up the playbook because Larry and Sergei just didn't make any sense to them. They had complete confidence in their intuition and their ability to ask questions and just do things entirely differently.

That's the magic of why Google is Google. So certainly during my time at Google, I just absorbed that. It took me a while because now it's easier. If you're 22 and showing up at Google and you just go, damn, this is amazing. This is how it works. I was 30 something or other for me, it was like, wow, I need to unlearn a bunch of things.

It didn't take me long. I was there early enough and long enough that I really began to just appreciate the genius of Larry and Sergei and the idea of starting with first principles on things, questioning things, not really accepting anything as the way something should be done or is done. You have freedom, particularly as founders to go with your gut when I decided to leave Google.

And I think back to your point, Brett is I guess when you get to a certain level of Google and Google is really successful and you can make a lot of money being a senior executive Google, that's just be honest. All the reasons to stay are there. And I just think not enough people are willing to walk away fat and take the leap.

Honestly, I made enough money at Google that I had the freedom to do it without putting my entire lifestyle at risk, if you will. So to be honest, I don't pat myself on the back other than to say I'd done well enough for enough years there that I could do it again without feeling like I was taking a giant financial risk.

Of course I was walking away from a lot. Somebody said something to me once, which was. To look at your life in landscape mode and it's something I've really taken to it. It sort of means each big part of your life. You can just think of going from left to right. And it's a period of time and it means something to you.

It's an experience you have, but at some point, no matter what it is, you put a bow on it and you go to the next one because this is a linear game and you only have so much time. For me, ultimately, Google was amazing. That's a start. What became Google cloud and build it for quite a while. But ultimately I thought another five, 10 years here could be incredible.

It would be great. Certainly would be lucrative, but I only live once. And is this the last great thing I'm going to do with myself? Being someone who built a career in Silicon valley? The idea I had never started my own company. I was at that time 45 years old and had never started a company. It was an experience, frankly, I wanted, I had done reasonably well at Google and built a pretty successful part of the company there.

And I didn't know whether it was me or whether it was Google and the Google  was so strong. Then you could argue that a monkey could have built what I built there because the company had so much strength to it. So of course I questioned that myself. Could I build something awesome? Could I build something with a billion dollars in revenue or more than that?

About the Google pixie dust around me. And that was just part of the motivation. 

Brett Berson: [00:17:48] What are the lessons or insights that you took from Google that you found quite helpful, building upstart, and then maybe some of the ones you had to shake off. You mentioned one, the idea of first principles thinking and constantly questioning.

Why is something done the way it is? Are there parts of the toolkit that you built in those eight plus years at Google that you found were hugely helpful in building upstart? 

Dave Girouard: [00:18:13] Well, company and myself included were naturally very deferential to what Larry and Sergei thought that was the magic. Those guys were just pushing everybody.

When I left Google, I had to invert that and think like, now, frankly, I need to be the Larry and Sergei. I can't be deferential to anybody. I need to have strength of mind and opinion that I'm not exactly Larry and Sergei. I'm a different person. And I would not try to compare myself to them, but I also number founder and I need to have.

That sort of strength of will, in opinion, even if my views on the world might be different than theirs, or like Google in many ways with a bunch of ex Google people at upstart. So certainly we inherited some of the DNA and on the practices and you would definitely kind of hear the echoes of Google at our company, but it's different too.

I think Google had this thing always, which was the engineers were running the show. There was these things that were almost like everyone else is there to support the engineers. And I can remember Larry speaking to a very large sales team once at one of these sales conferences or something. And Larry gets up there and he says, I really want to thank you all because you all go out and collect the money.

And it was the funniest moment. I think I've ever experienced where he was trying to be. Respectful and supportive of the sales team at Google and upstart. We aren't that way at all. We are a very complicated multi-functional cross-functional business, and I don't feel like there's any part of the company that feels any more elite or more important than any other.

It really takes all parts coming together. So that's the part I think that I left behind. If you will. 

Brett Berson: [00:19:48] One of the things you mentioned was in the way in which you think about decisions, where you get feedback is sort of quite different being in and around Silicon valley for so long, working with different founders.

What was surprising about the experience or maybe unexpected for you? Yeah, 

Dave Girouard: [00:20:06] one thing I'll say about being a founder relative to being a Google exec is for me, they were much more alike than dissimilar. When I left Google, I had maybe a thousand people that worked for me, some of them direct or indirect, but it was a very large team.

I had responsibility for. And with upstart, I had zero literally until I ranked my co-founders to join me, it was a team of me. So that was definitely an oddball thing. But once upstart was five or six people, it was surprisingly not different. And that sounds really strange, but we had to figure out what, what to do next.

We had to make decisions. We had to figure out how to build something. We have to be resourceful and Enbrel. I had a Google trying to build this enterprise app stuff. It felt the same way. I had some different problems to solve and I had people to convince to support us and this and that. But yeah, in many ways it is remarkably similar when I was at Google.

So I remember just to give you an example, we had this Google search appliance. If you remember this thing before there was even Google apps, we sold this yellow box. And when I got there, we decided to make a cheap and cheerful version of it. We ended up calling the Google mini. And that product was only going to be a few thousand dollars and you couldn't have salespeople selling it the way we did the bigger thing.

We had no idea how to sell it online. Despite all the Google ad words in this giant advertising business, none of that commerce technology or payments technology was available to us. We literally put the Google mini in the t-shirt store, which was really a little e-commerce site hosted by this tiny company, somewhere in Missouri funniest thing in the world.

But you could buy a lava lamp. You could buy a Google t-shirt or you could buy a Google mini. And it was literally how we made that product. So it wasn't like Google felt like I was working for general electric or something. We had to be just as creative and innovative there. It's not so different. The beauty of being at Google is you don't have to raise money.

You don't have to deal with the board of directors. But other than that, the day-to-day for me in many ways is miraculously similar. 

Brett Berson: [00:22:04] One of the many special things about upstart is that the co-founding team has seen the company from day zero through a successful public offering. What you tend to see is the founding CEO make it through the founding team, doesn't stay intact.

And so obviously there was something special that happened, any sort of thoughts or reflections on why that's worked so well and how you ended up teaming up. 

Dave Girouard: [00:22:28] When I was thinking about the idea of upstarting well, before I had even decided to leave Google, I was talking to all sorts of friends, some people at Google, some friends elsewhere about both.

Did I want to do it? And by chance, would you ever consider joining me in doing this and man, the number of people that said it sounds interesting, but no thank you. And this wasn't raising money. This was just finding someone to jump on board and think about doing this with me. Definitely went through this period of, wow.

Am I the only one that thinks this is cool? So I basically decided to leave Google without any co-founders. I announced I was leaving. I had actually incorporated the company and knew what I wanted to do, but I was by myself because I couldn't really in the role I was in really go out there and look too hard.

I was running a large team at Google, so I left right when I left, I just by happenstance, got introduced to Paul, who ended up being my co-founder. I was 46 at the time. And Paul was 20. And he was this kid in New York who was building something similar to what I was thinking about, what that story. I discovered it that day, I'm older than his parents.

He's 20 years old. Peter teal won the under 20 and he's telling me his parents came from China, this and that. And I'm like, how old are they? God, I'm older than your parents. As I was leaving Google, Anna who worked in my team at Google literally came by a conference room to say goodbye to me. She was like, oh, I loved working for you.

I really didn't know her that well, honestly. And she said, what are you going to do? And I explained that I have this idea. Two weeks later, it was Paul, Anna and I sitting in a conference room at Google ventures. To answer your question. First of all, politically different people. I mean, we really couldn't be any different.

One advantage we had is I really assembled the team and I was the one that had a lot of experience and had gotten the company seed funded and started pretty clear that I was the CEO. I was going to run the show and we were never debating our questioning that it was really clear what roles we would play.

I mean, Paul was the data science guru and the technology guy and Anna was a super strong operational person. We just kind of knew the role we would play. If you sort of fast forward eight, nine years, all the way through an IPO, like how did it last. It's a lot of luck, frankly, because we happen to be people who, as different as we were, we're just appreciative and accommodating of each other just enough to sort of make it all work.

It's not to say we don't rub each other the wrong way, but we're very complimentary. Anna will always think of things that I'll forget to do. And Paul will have a true north seek the truth approach that I will sometimes waffle around a bit. And I'm the execution guy. I'm always like, why aren't we doing this?

I'm the one who's probably always probing us to push forward and do different things and reconsider like the pivot itself. So we've kind of just evolved to have roles and as different as we are. It just added up nicely. It added up to what amounts to a well-balanced company. I can't say we plan that.

Obviously we didn't think too hard through it before we decided to work together because we hardly knew each other. And that's why I say this just in the end, a huge amount of luck to at all. 

Brett Berson: [00:25:29] The fact that you didn't have some long courtship, you kind of attribute more to luck, or was there a feeling that you were, the others were looking for or gravitated to, and that instantly made sense.

You love it for a site. 

Dave Girouard: [00:25:43] Considering I had pitched this idea to probably two dozen. And these were the first two that just went, wow. Yes. This makes a lot of sense. Maybe it's not luck in that sense, but I was just very fortunate to meet Paul. We got on the phone one day, had similar ideas of companies we wanted to start.

Paul literally just emailed me his model, which he had built than an Excel macro. And he emailed it to me and I just thought, wow, this guy is really trusting me. In any case. He decides to fly out and spent half a day with me in a conference room at Google ventures. Actually that was on a Friday. He flew home to New York and he was back together with me on Monday.

It all happened super quickly and it certainly could have gone all wrong. I mean, if you were a betting person at that time, you would have had to bet that this'll never work out. These three people just coming together on the spot deciding to build this company. But here we are. 

Brett Berson: [00:26:37] Such a cool story and yeah, I think anybody betting would have bet against the, and probably been right.

Most cases. Are there any rituals you have as a founding team in terms of the way you would get together sync with one another or run the company? 

Dave Girouard: [00:26:52] Nothing too fancy. Honestly, we would, I always get out and just have the three of us at the coffee shop. I had mentioned earlier or doing walks and very regularly without specific agendas and not trying to cover things that are too in the weeds, but just really trying to get a sense of where everybody is and how we're feeling.

And what's important. And what's worrying us, I'd say that's first and foremost is just this very regular. Check-in where we're not trying to go through a laundry list of things. We're really trying to get a sense of how we're all feeling about it. What's going on right now? What are we fearful of? What of the things we think the company could be missing or exposed on if you will.

And to this day we do that even during COVID, but we even wore masks and went for walks for a long time, just to keep it going is it's very central to just the company, always feeling in tune. 

Brett Berson: [00:27:44] Switching gears a little bit. Looking back at the last nine years of company building post pivot, how would you summarize why the company worked or the, the insights or bets that it panned out?

And I'm really interested in this, particularly because the category you've been building in, when you started to get in seven plus years ago, there was a lot of momentum and excitement. And then there's been a huge trough of despair with a lot of companies that didn't work. A lot of companies that hit a wall.

And you obviously from day one had a very opinionated point of view. And that has obviously panned out. I'm curious, when you think about fundamentally, why it worked. 

Dave Girouard: [00:28:22] We had a core thesis of how to build something better than in the category that we started on very early. And I'd like to say, we operated with blinders and we always flew under the radar, frankly.

And I'll be honest, like that was oftentimes just annoying. I just felt like we were some sort of sideshow to these big brands and big personalities, but we had a real strong theory of what would be a dramatically better product. And we knew it would take quite some time to prove that out. And we were ready and willing to do it under the radar with a real keen sense of what the true north was.

And I think all three founders contributed a lot to that. I have to give a lot of credit of the core of that to my co-founder Paul, because he just really, for someone so young and just great maturity about how to help us make the right decisions and think through. The questions of what's next and just a sort of truth seeking brilliant mind that can look far into the future and just really help us navigate that.

And it eventually worked. But to be honest, we went through times when it wasn't worth talking to upstart because the winners had already won. And then when the world figured out the winners hadn't won, it wasn't really worth talking to upstart because this industry looked like a disaster. Frankly, if we look too far to the outside world for validation of what we're doing, and that can be the press, that could be just the Silicon valley community, it could be the investor community.

We never really got what I would just consider strong validation from any of it. It was strongly internal conviction inside the company that we were onto something very good. It's just that the world hadn't quite figured it out yet. And I think we felt that way for years. 

Brett Berson: [00:30:04] Was there anything you did to enable you to go through such a period of time of being misunderstood or maybe just couldn't get the attention.

And I would assume that's a little bit odd because last, nearly 10 years you were at Google, which is the opposite, at least up until recently, it was certainly the darling of investors and press and everything else. And then you kind of go on this building, this wonky company that isn't particularly sexy.

You didn't do that for six months. You were focused and dedicated for year after year after year. Do you think it's the DNA of the founding team to be that relentless? Or is there a framework or way that you saw the world that gave you the energy or the fortitude to continue on? 

Dave Girouard: [00:30:49] It takes a lot to get a team motivated and moving forward without a tremendous amount of external validation.

Especially when you have slack channels inside the company. And it's like X company just raised money at Y billion dollars, or this company just did this or that. And just companies just for whatever reason, much bigger at making an impression on the world than we were. Another funny story is one of the earlier rounds of funding.

We were raising Paul and I went to first round. First round was already an investor. And Josh had offered that we could go present in front of the partnership just as a practice and he'll give us all the feedback will help us. This must probably would have been our series B or something like that call.

And I go do this dog and pony show in front of the first round partners up in San Francisco. I still remember the most piercing feedback we got because it was very helpful, but one of the partners had written, yeah, these guys seem pretty smart, but there are no pied Pipers. So I just don't know if they're going to gather enough of a following.

And it was kind of like, oh, that is so damn true. I think we just didn't have any crazy enough. And if you met him, me, I didn't look like a of, and valley founder. I look like the CEO you bring in when the founder goes off the rails and Paul is brilliant as he was, was so understated. You could ask the venture community.

Most of whom said no to us multiple times, but I just don't think we seemed like the prototypical founders. We seem just not crazy enough to really create something giant. That sounds really strange, but I feel like that's been the personality of the company is just really a down to earth. And frankly, it was a struggle to get the team going forward in saying, don't worry.

We're not a unicorn. Don't worry about unicorn. Doesn't really mean anything. We're not measured by how much money we've raised. We actually think it's a good thing. We haven't raised that much money. So these are the kinds of things I'm getting in TJF questions every week. And you just have to sustain the belief that you're building something really good.

The world just doesn't quite get it yet. 

Brett Berson: [00:32:43] And so, is that the way that you got this group of people to stay engaged and excited over such a long period of time without a lot of external validation, that sort of the tone that you said, and just continued to drive that narrative? Or were there sort of other pieces to it?

Dave Girouard: [00:32:59] think for sure, sort of a selection process where as the years go by, the people who joined upstart stated upstart were the ones who themselves didn't necessarily require the external validation. They were motivated by the mission and the simplicity of what we were trying to accomplish. And maybe just being able to actually see the progress internally and knowing we were onto something.

Very good. So I think if you are someone who really just wanted to be a shining star in Silicon valley and in the headlines and this and that, you probably either never would have joined us. We wouldn't stay in Paris. 

Brett Berson: [00:33:33] We were talking about why you ultimately think upstart worked, particularly when so many other related.

Or similar types of businesses. Didn't can you share a little bit specifically onto the bets that you made? Obviously a big part of it was the way that you thought about leveraging software at the core of the company where I feel like so many others in adjacent spaces, didn't do that. Any other lessons you can unpack for why the company has worked 

Dave Girouard: [00:34:02] sitting here at a moment in time and it sort of worked to date, but without doubt, it's always a work in process and I'm not here to wave a victory flag whatsoever.

I'm only here to say we're glad to be where we are and we have a long way to go. I think at the core of it, there was. A combination of humility, but also confidence that we were doing something different in that we were becoming a company that was fundamentally different than others in our space.

Others who we might compete with everybody thinks lending and money is the ultimate commodity, but we really had a belief that no, no, no, no, no. There's actually a way to do this, to build what amounts to is a dramatically better product. And nobody else seems to even believe it's true. It was just that observation turns into a conviction combined with the humility to not get entirely fixated on any particular piece of the answer.

A lot of flexibility to just say the few things we just hold true and we marched forward on them and everything else we're going to be super flexible about. And again, keeping those sort of blinders on to not getting distracted by the shiny star or what others are doing in the industry. And just believing in this central thesis we have about what we're trying to accomplish.

Brett Berson: [00:35:14] How would you describe the central thesis or explain the central thesis? 

Dave Girouard: [00:35:19] You know, this world of lending or lending technology? I think the whole world just came to this conclusion that in effect it's kind of a commodity. Anybody can lend, if you have money to lend and you use some basic analytics and what have you, you can lend.

And if you do it well, you'll make some profits. If you don't, you'll probably lose money, but it's just a thing. And for whatever reason, people just didn't seem to believe that you could apply very, very modern cloud computing and data science to this thing. And create a dramatically better product. It's a little crazy.

If people understand autonomous cars, if you're sort of a tech nerd, you kind of know what's going on there, what the software is, it's training and how it works and the evolution and the Google Waymo versus you can sort of see that. But those same people who would probably believe that in a moment would just say, yeah, is your model really going to be any better?

It's almost like everything they learned about computer science and the potential of software. When they looked at a lending related business, they threw out the window and said, nah, that's just a human instinct business. There's nothing that all the software and data in the world's going to do to make a world of difference in that.

That's literally what I feel like is the way the industry to this day still thinks about it. And we came at it saying, no, no, no, no. We're going to create something and not something that's a little bit better. That's something that's like way better, like a hundred percent better. And it's going to be for reasons that you all know about.

Lots of data and lots of fancy math and cloud computing, putting it all together into this very powerful thing yet, as quickly as it could be believed in other areas, it just was viewed as antithetical in lending. I still just remember a particular venture capitalist who would always write lending models are dead.

Lending is just a feature of another business. You gotta be a e-commerce company who wants to do loans to your customers or square can do it because they have this other business so they can mentor their small businesses, but it's not really a thing you can't differentiate. So it's just an add on to what your real businesses.

And literally, in my view, that's the thesis of the entire industry. To this day. We are a counter thesis to the entire FinTech industry when it comes to lending. As far 

Brett Berson: [00:37:26] as I know any theories as to why that is. 

Dave Girouard: [00:37:30] Lending is very challenging to prove a point for a lot of reasons. I've always said to our teams, the arc of justice in lending Islam, because you can fake it for a long time.

There's not always perfect apples to apples comparisons. So you can raise a lot of money. You can make loans to people if they don't work out, nobody needs to know as long as you raise your next round, even if they work. Okay. It's just hard to know. One of the times I remember we were racing around and we met with some late stage venture firm and we had done our best to show how this stuff is really different to this partner who had come to visit us.

And he loved it. He was bought in. And he basically called us two days later and said, my partner said no frigging way. He couldn't translate it to his partners in a way that they would believe it. And so there was just this fundamental thing that everybody's numbers seem to look pretty good. Everybody seems to feel like, oh, we're better than FICO or whatever the claim is, but none of it ever seems to hold water.

And there's just been decades. I think of snake oil salesman, if you will, that hadn't really built something different, but marketed as such and the world was tired of that. Hearing that someone had built a better mouse trap when in fact it was the same old mouse trap. So we were a little bit, I think I'm a victim of that.

Brett Berson: [00:38:45] We'd love to switch and talk in a little bit more detail about how you run the company. How do you think about your job as CEO? How that's changed over time? One of my favorite stories about you, I don't know if you remember this, but we have all of these dinners that are opportunities to bring CEOs that we partnered with together.

And there are these really awesome evenings where people get to learn from one another. And when we first partnered, you joined and you had a bunch of different peers and you would share ideas. And then as you kind of continue to scale the business, you came to one or two dinners where you were generous with your time to sort of share with CEO's that were at five or 10 person companies kind of starting the journey over again.

And the topic of capital raising came up, someone was talking about negotiating multiple term sheets, and you were like, whoa, I've raised a lot of capital, but this misnomer about every round everybody's throwing capital at you and you have many term sheets. There are many times that there was nothing to negotiate because the term sheet alone was a victory.

And so my question wasn't negotiating terms, it was will the capital bed, will the partner be able to wire you've had this interesting journey over the last nine years in raising capital. And I'm just curious, anything sort of come to mind or lessons learned or things that you screwed up or did well along the way.

Dave Girouard: [00:39:55] Without question. It was the hardest part of building upstart. And I sucked at it just to be clear, the only time it was easy to raise money when I was still at Google or leaving Google. And I raised a seed round. That was the last time it was easy. And it does amuse me. When I read these a blog posts from some startup founders who says, Hey, let me tell you how to choose your investors.

I like to interview them and get to know them for months and have them go through some exercises with me to so I could understand how they might behave under certain circuits. Like this is the kind of things you read in Silicon beach. Are you out of your mind? There's like 0.01% of founders out there that have this problem of so many term sheets coming out them.

And how do I choose the right investor? Let me help out the other 99.9% take the damn money. You got it. One of my early investors, David widen from Cosla said to me, you know, he thinks there's a strong inverted relationship between being good at building companies. And being good at raising money. He said, you're good at building companies.

You're probably not very good at raising money is totally true. I just sucked at it. And I probably still to this day, I'm not very good at it. Maybe I didn't enjoy it, and those are all related, but it was always a struggle. And it was a struggle, as I said earlier, because either the winner was declared elsewhere in a category or the category sucks and who would want to put money into this category.

And it was the least fun part of my job. And if I had to do it over, I have to be honest. I probably still suck at it in many ways. Honestly, we probably repeatedly raised less money than we intended or expected to. And that ended up being a real strength of the company because we just got really good at building the company without throwing money at problems.

And in the end, what was a weakness raising money and not getting tons of term sheets or preempted rounds. We always had to build on a really thin bank account, if you will, and ended up being a super strength of the company. 

Brett Berson: [00:41:53] Can you share a little bit about how you approach the role of CEO? Do you have a specific philosophy or way in which you think about the job?

Dave Girouard: [00:42:03] I do. I think every CEO comes to the job. There's probably many flavors I tend to like to simplify into two flavors. My philosophy is management by exception. The other philosophy is maybe a  buy, take your pick Elon Musk or Steve jobs, where you are in the middle of everything. And nothing goes without you, your imprints on every decision, every bit of the company everywhere.

And you make sure it goes well. And by the way, I don't mean to say that remotely negative between apple and Tesla, two of the most successful companies in history, Larry and Sergei in very different styles were like that to a Google. I've had this view that I'm trying to build this thing. Upstart. That's going to be around far after I'm gone.

And my mind works in a way that says, what is this company? What does it look and feel like in two years in how do I move it from here to there? I feel like decisions should be made as down in the company as they can. I should be doing things that only the CEO can do. If I have to do people's jobs for them, I I'm always asking why that is.

If I have to make a decision that I think somebody on my staff should be able to make is making me wonder why that is. And it doesn't mean I'm looking to just kick back and read tech crunch or the first round review. Hey, reading, 

Brett Berson: [00:43:16] the first round review is work. It's growing your skills as a CEO, but continue on.

Dave Girouard: [00:43:21] Of course, the point being is I always think about how the company is operating. It's like I'm observing an engine in motion and I want to say. Did that happen the way it's supposed to happen? If somebody brings a problem to me, I'm always anxious to solve it, of course, but I'm always going, like, how did this problem come to be?

And how did it come to me? And should it have come to me? Somebody came to me just a few weeks back and said, Hey, I'd like to put some money towards X. And I don't know if Upstart's really up for putting money towards X, but I think we should put money towards X and Dave can. And I was like, I don't want to prove this.

There's plenty of others. The people that can say yes to this, you don't need to ask me for me. The management by exception construct is really I'm trying to build this engine that just runs really well. It requires incredible talent at the executive level. And it requires good direction and coordination.

Um, and it always has to grow and mature and get better at what it does. So it's not that I'm not busy, but at the same time, I do want to build something where it will go far beyond me. I want the people that work for me to feel stretched and be in a place where any of them could probably take my role in the company.

Really wouldn't miss a beat. That's my approach generally is I care a lot about what the company is doing and where it's going. And if I don't like something that we're doing, trust me, I can be very difficult. So I, I'm not passive in any sense. It's just that my ideal scenario is I have amazing staff.

They're doing the right things. I'm helping, I'm advising, I'm judging. I'm occasionally breaking a tie, but ultimately the company is a well-oiled machine that knows how to do what it does. And that's sort of my core approach. 

Brett Berson: [00:44:56] Can you talk more about what that means? Like how you choose what you should be doing.

You talked about the role of helping advising. Can you make that a little bit more tangible? Like if I were to look at the week that you are playing the role of the CEO in the way that you envision this role, what is that type of work? What are the types of things that are in your domain? Cause I think you gave some great examples of things that aren't.

Dave Girouard: [00:45:17] One good example would be, I'm always observing what's going on across the company. And there are areas where I feel like it's humming and I are areas where I feel like we're spluttering or not on top of something, or maybe I just don't have enough visibility to it. So one of the most important things I will just do as part of this is just probe and ask questions.

I think of it as like, if the company is working really well, everybody is very active and maybe a little bit stressed and a little bit nervous. And if parts of the company are overly stressed and overly nervous, I want to help them out of that. If another part of the company. It's under stressed and not really pushing hard.

I want to probe about that and say, what are they trying to do? And it comes down to this thing where I have this idea of what the company should look and feel like a couple of years from now. And I'm just trying to get from here there, and in a perfect scenario, your exec staff and your, your leadership team are taking you there.

But of course that's not the real world. The real world is something different. And so I'm looking for the places where we aren't doing what we could be doing. We aren't pushing as hard as we could. We aren't getting the most. Out of our efforts or our team. I like to, as a CEO, almost take a clean slate once in a while and just say, okay, things are fine.

Let me just clean slate and think, what should I be focused on another exercise I do regularly. It's a mental exercise. I invented myself and I've kept it to myself. So for what it's worth, I like to think if tomorrow my board got together and they fired me, they said, Dave, thank you for playing. You're done.

We are recruiting a new CEO for upstart. And they went out and, and may found the very best CEO in the world. One that would just make me look like a fool. And they brought her in and she started at upstart. What would she do differently than what I'm doing? And I think about that for awhile. And then I go, why the hell?

Aren't you doing those things? And so it's just this weird game I play with myself of like recognizing I'm doing some things. Okay. I'm probably not doing some other things. Okay. But I can be lulled into a place of feeling okay. About myself. 

Brett Berson: [00:47:16] If you think about that lever of mental game or exercise, if you think back six months, a year, two years, do you remember anything that you realized that person would be doing that you weren't and then you went and did it?

Dave Girouard: [00:47:29] I certainly tried though. It always comes down to the same thing, which is I'm a raging introvert and invariably, where I have failed and maybe it's related to the fundraising and all that is, I'm an introvert. I don't pick up that phone. I don't build the network and the relationships like I should be able to, I'm tremendously jealous of people who are good at building, just networks of colleagues and friends.

And I have very close. Tight-knit friends, but I'm frankly terrible at building the more extended looser relationships that so many people in the valley and everywhere are just so much better than me at. And it usually comes down to that. I go, oh my God, why haven't I picked up the phone and called these 10 people and figured out what we could be doing with them or trying to hire that person?

Or what have the things that an extrovert would do. I tend to fall down on it. 

Brett Berson: [00:48:22] Another concept that you were just sharing is this sort of act of thinking about what the company should look and feel like a couple years from now, and then kind of helping the company along that journey. Do you do that in a structured way or is there a way in which you go about doing that to get that level of clarity and fidelity, or is it an intuitive process that just kind of clicks for you?

It's like a vision in your head. This is what upstart needs to be in two years. 

Dave Girouard: [00:48:48] It is definitely not a process. It's not quantified. It is like looking at a bunch of photographs on a wall. It's just these very simple ideas of what the company feels like. What are the people feel like? What does the company feel like?

How does the world perceive us? And it literally is like a bunch of Kodachrome old-school pictures on a wall that you just have little glimpses of. So it's nothing that thoughtful and imagine a place where all of a sudden our brand is really big and what that feels like and what it would be different from where we are today or a place where we're in six categories, not one or two.

And we're, we're a global company, not an American company and whatever those things are. I don't even write them down. It is just in many ways in my head that there's this direction and this path that we're on. And if we're successful in being on that path for two years, you would just look naturally, look and feel completely different.

And that's just formed in terms of these sort of simple images in my head. And then every day is just disappointing because we're not that, and every day is a little bit like trying to figure out how to get from here to there. And of course the vision is not for right. It's not a crystal clear thing.

It's, it's a directional thing. And it's a, it's a mood that you just have a sense of what this could be. If everything, according to your dreams went right. And then just trying to close the gap. Sometimes you may just go, you know what, we're not going to get there without a different person leading this function or that function, or without this type of relationship that we don't have today.

So sometimes it does crystallize into a specific thing, but it's a very nebulous concept. To me, it's just a sense of like a little hazy notion of what we could be like just a few years down the road. 

Brett Berson: [00:50:21] Other things you were talking about in terms of your management philosophy management, by exception, one of the few things that you need is incredible talent at the executive level.

Can you share a little bit about. What incredible executive talent means to you and maybe some of the mistakes or things that you've learned. I think that this is an incredibly underexplored area in terms of the role of a founder and CEO, and is screwed up so many times. And ultimately, I totally agree with you that once you get to some level of scale and enormous percentage of your success and impact as a CEO is the executive team you hire, manage and motivate.

Dave Girouard: [00:51:01] There's no thing I can think of as a CEO, that you do more important than assembling the team around you. Not even close as far as I can tell it is extraordinarily difficult. Honestly, I've come to the conclusion, just chatting with Paul and my co-founders, that when you're making an executive hire, if you get it right, 50% of the time, you're doing pretty well.

And that sounds terrible. But hiring executives into growing businesses is extremely hard. And sometimes for the very best efforts where you really think you did all the right things. It just doesn't work. And that's one of the most difficult things as CEOs to deal with. It's just the reality. You have to go through this process where you are building a strong team.

You're always going to have some parts that are stronger than others. You're going to get to decision points where you just need to strengthen a part of your team. You're going to go through some painful processes to maybe move somebody else out or whatever it is. You may go through a six month or nine month recruiting process and then discover after all that it didn't work out.

So it is one of the most difficult parts of the job, for sure. 

Brett Berson: [00:52:09] What have you found in terms of ways in which to assess talent that might increase the odds that you hire the right person, or let's say you're hiring a CFO or chief marketing officer, and I'm looking at the way at your sort of interview process and what you're doing and why you're doing it.

Can you share a little bit about that overall process and maybe why it's designed that way? 

Dave Girouard: [00:52:33] My first thought is that the interview process isn't particularly helpful. It's helpful in the sense of you have to come to the conclusion. If you're hiring an executive, that this is a person you want to spend a lot of time with that you just intuitively feel like you can work well with and succeed, but doesn't mean they're like you or similar, or they have any, if you come out of a process with somebody and you're just ready to spend a lot more time with them, that's a good sign in terms of whether they're going to be a success and how strong they are.

Interviews are just terrible for that. I'm fairly convinced. There's just people who are extremely good at interviewing. And even if you are very talented and thoughtful about how you structure interviews, what questions you asked, what truth you're seeking. And I definitely have some of those, at least in my mind, tricks and approaches, honestly, what they've done to date and the success that they've seen to date the variety of things to date.

This is far better. Predictor of someone, what they're going to do in your situation. That's just my own experience. I don't claim to be an expert in this at all. And there's probably people that think that's, this is the backwards answer, but I feel like if there's anything I learned more from about a candidate it's references, it's from people they worked with who really were close enough to them to know.

I don't think references as the last checkbox in the hiring process makes any sense whatsoever, because frankly you've usually made your decision by then, and you're just sort of making yourself feel good that you double-check something 

Brett Berson: [00:54:00] terms of references. Are there specific things you do on a reference call that increases the odds that you get truth versus a lot of the BS that people share, given that most people are not incented or incentivized to give a negative reference.

Dave Girouard: [00:54:15] If you're going to do a reference, ask yourself a basic question, this person who I'm about to get a reference from where does their loyalty lie. And clearly, if it's somebody you don't know who the candidate introduced you to, there's an easy answer to that question. Their loyalty is to the candidate.

Now it's not to say this has become a, that's a worthless reference. It's just important as a starting point to say, let's make sure we understand where the loyalty of this reference lies. Having said that, I think you can get a lot of useful information out of almost anybody, even someone who raves about somebody who you have no history with.

They just got introduced by the candidate and just will say nothing bad about them. You can learn things. And the trick I found to doing that is to. Ask neutral questions, ask questions for which neither answer paints a better picture. You might say, for example, we're thinking about a couple of different roles for Sally.

And one of them was really working a little bit by herself, more in an analytic role. It takes a lot of brain power, a lot of creativity. It's a little more of a individual type role. The other one is really more team-oriented where you have to work really well with. Like, you can see how you asked this question and then you're going to learn something in that answer.

They're going to say, well things Sally's really, probably better working in that sort of analytic individual style role more. And then there's a thread you can pull on. You're not necessarily trying to find out that this person's terrible or awful, or they're good at this, but you're just trying to paint the picture and see what you don't see by asking neutral questions.

You'll force the hand of the reference to reveal something in a way that's necessarily bad, but it's just informative. Most people don't want to lie. I know when I've given references for people, sometimes people who I had mixed opinions about what I've always said is, look, I'm not going to lie in this reference, but if they don't ask the right questions, that's their problem.

So sometimes you'd have to be a little blunt and say things like, would you hire this person without question again? If the person says, yes, no matter what I would hire this person again. Great. That's a good answer. Why haven't you? I think you can seek and get to the truth. And if you just think hard about the loyalty that person has and how to really start to drive some information 

Brett Berson: [00:56:22] in terms of the topics of the executive team.

Can you briefly talk about how you run the executive team? What's the cadence that you've 

Dave Girouard: [00:56:29] landed on? This is not an area I claim to have magic. Other than to say we have weekly staff meetings. I don't like to be militant about them. We aren't checking on lots of projects. We operate in a little diffused sense of we're a business where the pieces of the company have to really work in harmony.

The executive staff, when it comes together is really talking about the machine as a whole, what parts of the machine are working and what parts are not working that does come down a little, each sharing what's going on in the area. I mean, we don't belabor that, but it is kind of important to know for each exec staff member, like what is their big issues that they're.

Wrestling with or struggling with, but in the end it always comes back to the machine. I feel like the relationship between the staff members matters a lot. I tend to like to share what my CFO Sanjay calls the UBR the unstructured boss rambling because you start every exec staff meeting with that. But I do try to share a top of mind, like here's the things that I'm observing and thinking and worried about.

And more often than not, I can introduce one or two ideas that have been in my head that are news to some of them like, wow, maybe that would be a problem. I tend to be thinking a little down the road and things that if one else hasn't quite centered on that, something that could be a problem. And I'll sort of turn on the burner on low on that problem.

And just say, I've been thinking about this thing that I just feel like could become a problem for us. And a month later I might say, I really think this could be a problem for us and we better start to come up with a plan. And so that's kind of the role I play. Oftentimes it's just observing or thinking about something that is probably not yet on the horizon for others.

Brett Berson: [00:57:58] Chief worrier. 

Dave Girouard: [00:58:00] Yeah, chief worrier. And just slowly again, bringing it into focus for the company as something that we need to address. 

Brett Berson: [00:58:07] The last thing I just wanted to hit on, I'm curious, are there books or concepts that have had an out-sized impact on the way that you run your company or aha. Things that you've read that have unlocked or changed the way that you thought about your role or the way that you've built the company?

Dave Girouard: [00:58:25] I love to read autobiography or fees of lots of people, definitely founders and business people, things like that. But also just people who have been an extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I love to dig into the world of someone who's been in positions, much more difficult than what I would ever find myself in.

As a startup founder, one book I just will call out. I'm not a self-help book kind of guy at all. I swear. I just I've not read almost any of them, or I just don't find it appealing. It's probably 30 years ago that I read seven habits of highly effective people, which is Stephen Covey. And this would have been the very early nineties.

I literally must have given away 10 copies of that book. And I must've read it 10 times myself because it was so. Thoughtful and impactful. And just in terms of how to live your life, how to think about your values and what you prioritize and what can go wrong if you sort of get the formula wrong. And I just found that book to be so enlightening now, I haven't picked it up in probably decades.

I don't know how it will survive into 2020, but for me it was probably the most impactful book of my life. 

Brett Berson: [00:59:30] Who are the people that have had the biggest impact on you as a founder and CEO, and anything specifically that you've picked up from any of them 

Dave Girouard: [00:59:40] there's benefit few. And sometimes it's people that are very different from me in a lot of ways where I can just learn something.

The first one I was in a small company before I was at Google culture garage, which is not a company to remember that much about. But in any case, a CEO is a guy named Paul LIGO. And the thing I remember more than anything is I went from apple to there and I interviewed with Paul for some kind of like product manager job.

And I can remember five minutes into the interview. I sort of knew I could trust the guy with my life. It would just strike me forever. What was it about this guy that just made you in a matter of minutes, feel that sort of connection and trust. And I wish I had that. I don't claim to have it, but it always strikes me like that sort of ability in a person is just remarkable.

The other two I'll call out in very different ways. Two of my bosses at Google for years, my first boss was a guy named oatmeal Kordestani who was the first real business person at Google and just an amazing guy. And I can always remember when I was having the worst day at Google, trying to get Google to care about this.

Enterprise cloud stuff before it was really what it is today. And it was a tough battle a lot of times. And I just remember every time I would meet with a Mead, I just came out feeling a thousand percent better. He wasn't even paying attention to my business. It was so small and immaterial to the company, but he just knew how to make me feel better about what I was doing.

And that sort of like uplifting spirit was just something. I was like, that is something I need to have, or I wish I could have. My other boss for most of the time was Natasha Rora. It's actually a very different personality type. He's a little less warm and fuzzy, but an incredible executive at getting things done and executing and performing at an extraordinary level.

And to his credit, he just made things happen in work. And he broke glass. Sometimes he was tough on people, but at the same time, he knew how to get things done. And he was okay to almost sacrifice himself. He wasn't there to make friends. He had a willingness to not need to be loved every minute. And I respect that.

I don't know if that's exactly the model I aspire to, but there's just a lot to learn from it. And somehow you see these different personality types who all are tremendously successful, and you have to think about what's the right blend for you as a person. And where can you really strengthen yourself?

And all three of those are the people that I think about a lot. 

Brett Berson: [01:01:58] If you take any one of those, how did you translate what you felt or what you observed into a way that you might behave or was it less implementable than that? 

Dave Girouard: [01:02:13] You have certain instincts in any particular situation, your truth comes out where you just get angry about this, or you go despondent or quiet or whatever it is.

The art of being a CEO is being able to get outside yourself and see yourself before it happens. And oftentimes I'll think about as I head into a one-on-one with somebody and I am angry about something or whatever it is. And I'll think about how would he have handled this, or how would she have handled that somebody who is my boss or mentor or something in the past.

And I'll just have a moment of reflection that just saves that moment. That's the best I can do is just to keep things in my mind in trying to always a little bit, create some distance from myself in a way that I can be a little bit of a neutral observer and prevent myself from doing things. That can be destructive or just not very helpful to a particular situation.

It doesn't always work. Sometimes the emotion takes over and your instinct comes out and you are who you are. But I think every thoughtful leader can do their best to manage themselves first and really try to bring out the best in them and realize that there's always an alternative approach to any situation.

Brett Berson: [01:03:16] That's a great place to end. Thank you so, so much for spending this time with 

Dave Girouard: [01:03:20] us, Dave, it's been great bread. Thank you.