S02E19: Zeb Evans, ClickUp

New episode of our series of interviews with unicorn leaders on Without Borders. This time our guest is Zeb Evans, founder and CEO of ClickUp.

Created in 2017, ClickUp is a customisable workplace productivity platform that has experienced tremendous growth in a brief period of time. In June 2020, the startup raised a Series A and in December 2020 it raised $100 million in Series B funding, reaching a valuation of over $1 billion. In this interview, Zeb explains how challenging it is to manage a company that has grown from 60 to 600 employees in just a few months and highlights the importance of hiring employees who match the company’s culture. For Zeb, the ideal ClickUp employee is someone who is optimistic and wants to grow.

Our guest acknowledges that he is not a natural communicator and has learned the secrets of communication as he has progressed in his career, but that the most key thing to communicate successfully is to be authentic, really believe in what you are doing and get the passion across. He also points out that, simple as it sounds, the biggest communication mistake leaders make is assuming that people know what they are thinking. According to Zeb, it is necessary to over communicate and continually repeat the core messages and vision of the company in order for them to resonate, whether with employees or with any audience.

Zeb also recounts his meeting with Richard Branson, whom he considers his biggest entrepreneurial idol, and tells us the two main lessons he learned after several hours of talking about how to be a successful entrepreneur.

The interview, as usual, was co-hosted with Russell Goldsmith of the csuite podcast.

We have distilled the most valuable, actionable insights from our first 15 interviews with leaders of unicorn companies and bottled them in our book ‘Growing without borders: The unicorn CEO guide to communication and culture’. You can download it here.


Russell: [00:00:00] Thanks for downloading the 18th in our series of episodes of the csuite podcast that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR agency Tyto, around and their own Without Borders podcast, where we are interviewing leaders of unicorn companies to find out about the key issues, pain points and challenges that start-ups face and how they can address them with a strategic approach to marketing and communications. My name is Russell Goldsmith and my co-host for this series of interviews is Tyto’s founder, Brendon Craigie. And today, we are thrilled to be joined on the line from San Diego by Zeb Evans, Founder and CEO of the customizable workplace productivity platform ClickUp. Founded in 2017, ClickUp raised $100m in a Series B funding round in December 2020, reaching a $1bn valuation. Welcome to the show Zeb, we’d love to start by hearing your company’s origin story and perhaps you can give us a little bit more detail on what a customizable workplace productivity platform offers your clients.

Zeb: [00:00:57] For sure, thanks for having me, Russell and Brendon. So, the back story on ClickUp and it also explains kind of what it is and what the premise behind it is, is that I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was born, and so I’ve always been creating businesses. In college I went to school for a year and a half, and I actually built a kind of a social media automations platform before that stuff existed where you could automate your tweets ahead of time and automate actions that you were performing manually and actually added reporting before the API existed to do that. And so, I built that, largely myself when I learned how to code on the side. And that’s where my dance with project management software started. So, we started with Basecamp when it was just myself. And then at the end of that company’s lifecycle, we were about 70 people and we still had Basecamp, but we also had Jira for engineering, we had Asana for lists, we had Trello for boards, we had approvals software, we had Evernote, we had Google Sheets, we had Google Docs, we had to-do lists for personal reminders. We had Slack and Skype. So, it was this mess of productivity applications. It was literally fifteen of them and they’re named productivity applications. So, they should be saving you time or they should be making you more productive. And I could not help but feel I was always less productive by using so many different applications and so long story short, we created ClickUp as an internal tool to solve those problems when I was going to work on something completely different, a Craigslist competitor. And through that journey of really just four or five weeks, we realized that there was much more to do in this industry and this mission and that our mission for saving ourselves time and making ourselves more productive is much better served as a world mission of making everybody more productive and saving people time. And so that’s largely what ClickUp still is today. It’s a platform where you can replace all of your workplace productivity software with one where you can work with your teams on projects, tasks, docs, goals and keep everybody aligned and on the same page.

Brendon: [00:02:49] It’s pretty exciting. I love the tagline as well around the ‘One app to rule them all’. It kind of really says it all. I’m just thinking, obviously, about those early days, were there any decisions that you made that looking back in hindsight, have proven to be vital for the success of the business?

Zeb: [00:03:06] Early on, we always wanted to be unopinionated in the way that we build software. So generally speaking, a few years ago, the consensus, at least in Silicon Valley, was do one thing and do it well and also focus on a vertical, focus on a market, a niche. And we never wanted to do that because our premise, our whole mission was replacing all of those several pieces of software and our thesis was that you have to use so many different pieces of software because they’re inflexible, because they’re so opinionated in the way that you work and because they’ve taken that philosophy of just do one thing and do it well. So, you have that 15 pieces of software. And so that was the biggest, I think, decision that we made early on, and we relentlessly stayed with it. It is to build very flexible software that works from teams two to 2000 and to be able to break down those barriers of different departments. Usually, you have different software for engineering versus marketing versus creative versus operations and HR you have applicant tracking. And so, again, it was always, always, always our main focus was building unopinionated software that worked for everybody. And that’s what we relentlessly focused on early on.

Brendon: [00:04:06] You obviously have this very clear promise that you make to people on your website about saving a day every week, I think it’s a guarantee that you offer. How does how does the platform do that? Is it as simple as just consolidating all of those different things into one app, how do you manage to achieve that? And how did you arrive at that number?

Zeb: [00:04:26] So, the general philosophy behind it, it is replacing several applications naturally is much more efficient than switching and context switching. You don’t know where to find things. You don’t know what people are working on. You don’t know where to put things and you certainly don’t know priority of tasks. And so, we found when you have one platform, one single source of truth for all of your work rather than several of them, there’s this natural time efficiency that is safe. This number is based on surveys that we send to customers before and after using ClickUp. But we’re actually doing a really cool, more in-depth survey now, we’ve got an outside firm doing it for real quantitative analysis to really get down into the minutes of time that’s saved, it’s not easy to measure, but this is self-admitted data that we have from our own customers. From another perspective, it’s much more efficient, not only when you’re using one platform, which when you have a platform that’s flexible for the way that you work. So instead of for you to accommodate the platform, meaning you have to change the way that you work, change your workflows in order to adapt to the way the software works, it’s the opposite with ClickUp. It’s you come to us and the software works for the way that you want for work. And so that also has this natural time efficiency associated with it, which is our main mission is saving people time.

Brendon: [00:05:39] And if I could just ask a follow up on that, because I run a PR agency, so as you can imagine, we have a myriad of these different tools to ourselves. And then obviously we kind of work with clients who also have a myriad of different tools. If you’re looking to consolidate some of those tools into ClickUp, what would you say is the low hanging fruit? What things do you think ClickUp most easily, consolidates and replaces?

Zeb: [00:06:07] All of your project management software for sure that’s the day one or day zero thing that customers and users usually come to us with. It is usually you have to use more than one product management software. So that’s the easiest part to get started. What we end up seeing is either adoption from the top of the funnel for things like docs, knowledge bases, wikis, goals, time tracking, workload management software, resource management software… Sometimes those are the entry points into our software, but a lot of times that’s the ecosystem that you start replacing. So, you start replacing project management software, then you branch into docs, then you branch into goals and then you branch into resource management and people management. And then there’s a plethora of tools if you use them for something like an agency, I imagine you use time tracking and time sheets and things of that nature. And so, we replace those things as well. So, we don’t we don’t necessarily want people replacing everything day one, that can be very challenging. And when you’re a really small company, it’s not practical to experience change management like that. So, we always coach on replace one thing, one thing at a time. And I think that’s usually the best way to go.

Russell: [00:07:09] Zeb, I mentioned at the top of the show the $100m series B got you to unicorn status. That came quite soon after the $35m you’d previously raised in the series A funding round. Obviously, investors are keen to find winners in this productivity software space. But what do you think makes you stand out from the crowd?

Zeb: [00:07:27] I think from the beginning that whole thesis around building very unopinionated software has done us well in this industry. When you look at the industry right now, you have very opinionated solutions, things like Jira, things like Asana. But then you also have no opinion software, right? Which is essentially no code software. So, if you think of Notion or Airtable, maybe Coda also can be classified there. And so, you have these polar opposites of the spectrum whereas we capture everything in between, our opinion is that you’re using our software for work. And so, we provide a bunch of really efficient work tools that can save you time and make you more productive and connect your team. Whereas on the no code software, you have to try and build those things. And what we have seen is that isn’t efficient, and customers don’t actually like doing that. It’s really cool for personal use and maybe a couple of people on the team side, but it just doesn’t practically scale with a company, and it certainly doesn’t replace the rest of your software. It may replace your doc software, but not everything else. And so, I think that’s a huge differentiator between us, is that we can actually replace your doc software, we also can replace your very opinionated project management software. We also can replace your OKR software and your time tracking software and all of that stuff in one. And so even today, when you look at and actually lots of our customers replaced Slack and Microsoft Teams with ClickUp, although we’ll be having more of those real more, I think, meaty features in the next few months. And so, when you look at the ecosystem today, we’re the only platform that has all those four pillars of work – task, docs, goals and chat in one place – and that’s the fundamental difference between us and the other players.

Russell: [00:09:01] Ok, and what about, you know, given the theme of this series of interviews that we’re doing, once you achieve that unicorn status, did it change the perception of the business in any way?

Zeb: [00:09:11] You know, I think raising in general, there’s a couple of good things that can come with it and I wouldn’t raise just to do these things, but certainly hiring and that halo effect happens where you’re able to at least attract more top tier talent. I think there is an argument to be made both ways. You can build a very sustainable business without raising. I don’t necessarily advocate for it, especially if you’re not in a very competitive industry. If you’re in a very competitive industry, you kind of need to if there’s other competitors that are raising around you. And I think that forced our hand a little bit. But, yeah, I mean, hiring, I think is one of the biggest things that I discounted before raising is you just have access to better talent, and you do have that attractiveness from candidates, especially the classic Silicon Valley candidates that the leaders there that care about signalling that care about those growth metrics and care about those investors that are going to take big bets on you.

Brendon: [00:10:03] Obviously, for all of us, it’s been a different kind of period with the rise of remote work, and I’m imagining that that’s been a big driver for your business. Just out of curiosity, how have the past 18 months been for you as a business leader, working potentially more remotely and then, what impact it had on your business?

Zeb: [00:10:23] Fortunately, we build software that helps people stay connected remote or in office. And so, we’ve been pretty well set up with the foundation since day one for working remotely, we even prior to Covid, we’re about 50 percent remote today where we’re roughly 60 percent remote. So, we’re very similar pre and post covid as to at least our own internal operations. And we’ve always been very flexible with remote work. So, it’s certainly you lose that connection. I think that the hardest thing to scale remotely is culture and connection. And that’s what we focus on more than work and more than knowing people. If you’re hiring the right people, they’re going to get the work done regardless of if they’re working at home or if they’re working in the office. Now, there are certain roles that we believe and that we’ve heard from our employees that are more important to be in office, things like creative roles. It’s really hard being creative on a Zoom call, that’s the reality. And so, we’ve seen those employees want to really get back to the office, whereas engineering, as I think you probably assume most of them actually prefer working remotely, they prefer kind of being heads down in the zone. And so, we just firmly believe everyone’s different. And that’s what we’re accommodating for post Covid.

Brendon: [00:11:32] I think that makes a lot of sense. I guess it’s been a little bit of time since you had that big raise. What’s kind of the priorities for the second half of 2021?

Zeb: [00:11:41] We’re about seventy five percent of the way there on our vision for what ClickUp is and so I think this next six months or so we’ll be close to realizing that full vision. There’s a couple of big pieces of the ecosystem that we don’t have today and that we will have over the next few months. One of them I can mention is virtual whiteboarding, that’s a big piece of the productivity ecosystem that is very complementary to our software today. And so we see the vision for the future of, again, all of your work in one place and this one app we naturally have to be able to capture that market share, but also more so we think that it saves people time putting that instead of having to go back and forth between your whiteboarding software and ClickUp and copying and pasting tasks and keeping everybody on different pages, we can have that same efficiency gain and the same saving people time gain from putting your virtual whiteboarding solution in there. So that’s just one of those things among a few others that we’ll be releasing towards the later stage of the year. And also, we’ve been largely, our company has grown very, very, very quickly. We grew from roughly 60 to six hundred or so employees in a year. And so, during that, some things break down and one of those things was hiring engineering. Our engineering team is small and mighty today, much smaller than I think people would think on the outside. And so, we’re playing a little bit catch up there and making sure that we stay ahead on the engineering side, hiring a lot more engineers and having that maintainability and focus on reliability and quality in addition to shipping features.

Russell: [00:13:07] Are you able to share how many people you’ve got in the team and what you’re aim to grow to is?

Zeb: [00:13:13] Yeah, on the engineering side, you’ve got about 40 people on the engineering team and so at a traditional kind of tech company, you’d really want closer to 50 percent in R&D, whereas we’re roughly 10 percent. If you add in product, there we’re 15, 20 percent, but we’re still objectively behind in hiring targets there.

Brendon: [00:13:31] I caught one of your interviews before, and it was interesting listening to some of your philosophies and around, maybe having more engineers doesn’t necessarily mean more output. I’m assuming, because people can tread on their toes and hold things back. I thought that was it’s kind of interesting.

Zeb: [00:13:50] Yeah, I will say so early on, I think you should try to get by with as little engineers as possible. The reality is, if you had and we did, we had one person owning the whole backend infrastructure. Now, the downside to that, the risk of that is that you have one person in the whole backend of the infrastructure. If you lose that person, you could be screwed in many ways. So, you’re taking a bet, but maybe if you have two people there, they’re going to have extreme ownership of everything. They’ll be much more committed. But also, it’s so much more efficient having one person own it all, at least early on and then on the frontend side even we only had a couple of engineers there at first. Now, this is really, really, really early on. But you actually can move much quicker when you have somebody that knows the entire system from start to finish and they built the entire system. That doesn’t scale indefinitely, obviously, and so at a certain point, you do have to hire more engineers. But I would not advocate for going out and starting a software company, raising a bunch of money, and hiring 20 engineers right off the bat. It’s going to be slower than a small four- or five-person team, much slower than a four- or five-person team. The difference is, once you start scaling, once you start growing, you do have to build those teams back and put people in the pods and have infrastructure teams and DevOps teams. And so don’t get me wrong, you have to scale it at some point. But certainly early on, as few engineers as possible is much better.

Brendon: [00:15:08] Yeah, I thought that was really interesting. So obviously one of the big themes for this podcast is talking about communications and culture, I picked up on a few things that you’ve said in the past around culture. And obviously I think, that’s something that’s very important to you. But what’s been your approach to building awareness of the business and differentiating yourself in, I think from what you kind of have pointed out, is a very competitive space?

Zeb: [00:15:32] We’ve always focused on organic. And we had to from the beginning, we were bootstrapped. We were bootstrapped much longer than any of our competitors, really. We bootstrapped to really extreme profitability a year or so ago when we first raised. And so, when we did that and I advocate for doing that, as long as you can and raise as little funds as possible if you’re not able to bootstrap because you will have an extreme focus on the product, extreme focus on the customer, things that matter rather than just trying to build teams as fast as you can. There’s a time and place for that. But that’s after your product market fit. I think, on the organic side, to get back to your first question is if you can build an organic engine around you, then you don’t necessarily need paid marketing upfront. And so that’s what we were focused on. And you have to punch up, your branding has to appear much larger than you are early on. So, I can’t advocate enough for it, it’s hard because design is subjective. But there are people that are exceptional and those are the one percent or less of designers honestly, that are exceptional designers and design leaders. You’ve got to find one of those people and he or her has to be able to make your brand appear much larger than you are. I think that is a huge key that a lot of people missed and early on, it matters more than anything. And if you can do that and you can also acquire customers organically, then you can punch up and you can start getting into an industry that largely is made up of huge competitors. And that’s what we did at the end of the day.

Brendon: [00:16:58] I agree. I think that makes a lot of sense. In terms of culture, you’ve talked about the fact that your business is growing at an incredible speed, going from 60 to 600 people. How do you build a culture that you can be proud of when you’re moving that quickly, how do you ensure that the culture is growing in a way that you want it to grow?

Zeb: [00:17:19] It’s something that I worried about a lot. I worried about a year ago when we started scaling because everybody talks about how culture’s going to break down, you can’t scale forever. Today we’ve been able to scale it, I think largely because if you if you make the right hires, then they hire the right people also. So as long as you know what your culture is and I think culture can be overused in many senses for people that just want to create a culture, to create a culture, you’ve got to really understand what your culture is. And you don’t want to just make something up to make it up. We’ve always been optimistic people that want to grow. That’s our single sentence that distils us. And we look for those two things, we look for optimism and we look for growth. And it sounds simple, sounds dumb. But those two things are very common factors that all employees at ClickUp have. And it makes for a really great environment to work in. And it also makes for one that you can have fun with people. You can joke with people. You have a bunch of laughs. We do every single day. But we’re also very serious when it comes to our work, probably more serious than other companies, but we’re also more playful than other companies at the same time. And so, if you can have those two, they really balance each other out. And we’ve been able to scale that so far. And I hope we’ll be able to scale that indefinitely. We also have every month I have a core values talk where we talk about our core values. We actually just had one this morning right before this, and we changed a couple of our core values. We re-evaluate them every quarter based on where we are and we’ll make little changes, but also make big changes. And so those types of things keep culture and core values front of mind for people. We also have core value awards every month. So, we recognize the top several people in the company that we’re exhibiting our core values. We give them more equity in the company. We give them a raise and we give them recognition in front of everybody to that. So, we celebrate our scaling our culture.

Russell: [00:19:03] Are those talks with the whole company?

Zeb: [00:19:05] Yeah, they’re all hands.

Russell: [00:19:06] Because it leads quite nicely onto, you know, one of the questions we wanted to ask about internal comms, because as you’re growing, you’ve got this need to still talk one on one with individuals. You’ve got different parts of the company in the teams. You’ve then got the entire team that you want to talk to. And I’m guessing they’re getting more and more geographically spread. And also, obviously, we’ve talked about remote working, particularly over the course since the pandemic. So how are you managing all that?

Zeb: [00:19:34] Yes, internal comms is challenging, it’s something that I think you always, at least what we did was we didn’t hold it on the high on a pedestal. We actually didn’t really think about internal comms at first. Now, you’re naturally doing a lot of it, but you don’t think of it as a function, you don’t think of it as like a niche that you have to have. And once we started doing that, I think employees felt much more connected, especially I think what drove us to start doing that is Covid where we knew that we needed to create that connection with people. So just to give some examples, and we definitely do an all hands every Tuesday with the entire company and every single person is on that call. We try to be flexible with time zones. If you can’t make it, then that’s the exception and you can watch it async, but at least everybody watches it. We also do coffee breaks every day where the whole company, if you want to or if you don’t have a meeting, you come in and you can jump in a Zoom break out room and get to talk to people. We do biweekly random kind of meetings with people. So, you’ll be meeting with somebody random in your department just to get to know them, because largely you haven’t gotten one on one face time with a lot of people. On the leadership side we do skip level meetings. I think that some of the best internal comms that you’re going to get is skip level meetings, people that, it’s not necessarily to look for problems and your direct report, that person is reporting to you, but you largely get a different story from somebody that’s telling you versus what they’re what they’re telling their manager. So, skip level meetings have been huge for us also and just understanding how people are feeling and that communications.

Russell: [00:21:01] And what about your role as an external spokesperson and representative of the business? Is that something you enjoy doing? I mean, obviously, we appreciate you coming on to this podcast today. But I mean, I’m guessing you having to do more and more of that. How do you view that? And is there anything that you’ve learned along the way?

Zeb: [00:21:17] I mean, it’s always going to be super important, I think, especially when you’re in an industry like ours, like where it’s a very competitive industry. You have to have some differentiation. I think externally is the easiest way to do that. So, it’s not just me, but it’s the branding, it’s the content that we create, it’s that organic content, that organic following, that community. A lot of that stuff plays into this. And certainly, you need somebody that is the spokesperson for that. And I fortunately have always had this vision to what we’re doing. And I also I’m the product person, I am CEO during the day, but my nights and weekends are head of product. And so, I’m very, very obsessed with our product and obsessed with our customers and creating the best possible user experience that we can create. And so, I think that that largely benefits us for me being that natural spokesperson and the representative of the business.

Brendon: [00:22:08] And I mean, I think you come across obviously very passionate and authentic, so I think that’s very powerful. Have you always been a natural communicator, or have you had moments where you’ve had to take stock and think about how you might become even better?

Zeb: [00:22:22] Communications, I think, in general has been learned for me. I think I would be more on the introvert side and more on the shy side if you if you saw me as a kid and growing up. And so, I have thrown myself into these positions and you grow from it, you learn from it and it becomes more comfortable as you do it more. Naturally, it sounds so easy. It’s such a simple thing, but that is the truth. It just becomes easier as you’re doing it more. I also will say, it’s much easier when you are being authentic, when you’re talking about stuff that you truly believe in and not just thinking about talking points or reading things from your PR people. It’s much more powerful and it’s much easier to do when it’s real. And so, I largely think that communication to be exceptional, especially as like that spokesperson, you’ve got to really believe in what you’re doing and largely be able to get that passion across.

Brendon: [00:23:09] And along the way, what would you say, I mean it doesn’t necessarily have to be with ClickUp, but what’s been the biggest communications challenge you’ve personally experienced and how did you overcome it?

Zeb: [00:23:20] There’s always challenges with, I think early on, especially communicating your vision and really, like it’s in your head. And by the way, your vision doesn’t have to be just the CEO or just the founder that’s doing this. I mean, you can have a vision if you’re an architect, if you’re a principal architect, if you’re an engineer, if you’re a marketing person, all of those things go into vision. I think people always assume that everyone knows what’s inside of their head when they don’t. And that’s been a big learning lesson for me is, early on and probably still a little bit too much is I assume everyone knows our vision. Everyone knows exactly what I’m thinking in my head, and everyone is on the same page there. You can never assume that. And I think one of the biggest lessons I learned also is just repeat yourself, repeat yourself over and over and over again. It doesn’t matter if you repeat yourself, that’s OK to repeat. Even if it’s the same employee that you’re talking to, just reiterating that makes it real. And the reality is you can never remember how many times you’ve told somebody something. So, if you repeat it, there’s no downside to doing that. You’re going to be able to get your vision across much more. And again, that goes for everyone, not just the founders of the company. If you have creative vision or marketing vision, you should continue reiterating that and repeating it as much as possible to drill it in.

Brendon: [00:24:30] Yeah, I definitely second that one. And maybe putting sort of communications to one side for a minute. Have you made any big mistakes along your entrepreneurial journey that you look back on, that you had to had to tidy up, or not?

Zeb: [00:24:46] I mean, totally. Yeah. I think it’s very cliche to talk about mistakes and failure and stuff like that. But I mean, look, I do firmly believe everything happens for a reason. And when you fail, you just you learn from it, and you move on. And so, while I don’t necessarily have regrets about the failures, because if I had changed something, I wouldn’t be in the same position today, like literally you would have changed your path completely if you hadn’t made that mistake. I think there are certainly some things, some lessons that I learned a little bit later. I think just recently in ClickUp, some things you don’t focus on when you’re building a business are more of the boring things like legal, HR… Those types of things are very important and it’s killing business. And so, I think that’s a big lesson that we learned is we need that. And fortunately, we built those teams now. But we didn’t have them early on. I think management, finding great managers as you’re scaling also. I mean, you cannot hire people yourself when you scale. You have to find other people that are great at hiring and that you trust to hire in order to scale. That was a huge lesson for me and a huge mistake early on, I was still trying to hire everybody, and that simply didn’t work. I mean, yeah, I’ve got thousands of those failure stories and those mistakes stories. But again, it’s something where you just got to continue to keep it on.

Russell: [00:26:00] Zeb, I’ve got to ask you this. I should just explain. We’re recording this and towards the end of July and we’re connected on LinkedIn, which we did before setting up this interview. And then last weekend on my LinkedIn feed, I see this picture of you sat with Richard Branson and you saying you’ve just spent the previous few days with him. You described him as your most influential entrepreneur idol. Come on. I’ve got to ask, tell us what you were discussing over those few days, if possible.

Zeb: [00:26:30] You know, the first couple of questions I asked him was and by the way, we were supposed to just very, very brief meeting and meeting me and several other people, several other guests there. And I asked him a couple of questions at first and he said, he looked at me… the first question I asked him was how do you hire people specifically leaders? Like, what do you look for on leaders? And he just looked at me and he was like, I need to go talk to other people now. And I was like, I was too hard out the gate. Well, then he came back, and we literally sat there. We talked for six hours, six hours straight. We just talked. And so, there was when we connected and made a really great relationship honestly. So, he certainly answered the hiring question and he really answered it more culturally, like hire the right people for your culture, which is very important because you can hire and you’re going to hear this as you grow companies is “you need to hire experienced people” or “hire experienced people”. It’s true to some extent but you don’t just hire for the experience. You’ve got to hire people that also match your culture. Otherwise, it’s going to be a misfit in the company. The other question I ask, I’ve been a serial entrepreneur, he’s a serial entrepreneur, how do you know when it’s right to focus your time on other things and how can you focus your time on other things? And his answer was like, Zeb, you have to figure out how not to work. And whatever you’re doing, always a goal should be figuring out how not to do it and so do it and then figure out how not to do it. And so that was really good advice for me, because I think especially as a founder and as an entrepreneur, you always try to do everything. And even as you scale, you know, there’s lots of things that I could let go off right now. But I learned so many lessons from him, he’s just as genuine in person as you would imagine.

Russell: [00:28:11] I might have to steal some of your questions for our future podcasts, but, why did you say he was such an influence on you? What was it? I mean, because quite often people say never meet your heroes kind of thing. What was it that stood out for him that was such an influence?

Zeb: [00:28:25] There’s a lot of examples of really exceptional entrepreneurs. Everybody looks up to people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. And these people largely did business right. They created exceptional businesses and have a huge, huge, huge shift in the world of changing the world. As cliche as it sounds, they did that. Richard Branson certainly did that, unarguably did that. But he also is an example of doing everything else right. He has an amazing family, Holly and Sam his kids are incredible. So amazing family. But also, he treats employees right, they have some of the highest employee satisfaction ratings of any businesses. When you look at airlines, look at train companies, all of the stuff that he’s in, extremely high satisfaction rates and NPS from employees, but also from customers. They treat customers right. Virgin experiences are next to none, the best customer experience that you’ll have, let’s say, in an airline or let’s say when they had their stores, you always have that exceptional customer experience. And he’s been able to have fun, he’s been able to create joy and really, really have fun and what he’s doing and broadcast to the world that. So, it doesn’t have to be all about business. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent of your time dedicated to work. You need to have some balance. Now, it changes as you go. I’m not right now in work life balance mode, but I will be sometime in the future. And it’s a great example of somebody like Branson that did that well.

Russell: [00:29:51] Well, thanks for sharing that with us. Listen, we’ve got one final question for you. And we’ve asked all our unicorn leaders this in this series. If you would go back in time and speak to your old self, what guidance would you give about communications and what steps would you encourage yourself to take in order for you and your business to excel in communications?

Zeb: [00:30:10] I think it goes back to just repeating yourself. That’s probably the best guidance I would give myself early on. Instead of saying something one time, even in front of ten people, and assuming that a year later those 10 people still know that. Don’t assume and just completely repeat, repeat, repeat, especially in your vision, especially in your core values, things like urgency is huge for us. And so, we always drive that home. I mean, communications at the end of the day is exactly what people think. You don’t know what somebody else thinks until they communicate that to you. It seems so simple, but that means that if you really want somebody to know what you’re thinking, you’ve got to over communicate. You’ve got to repeat yourself.

Russell: [00:30:49] Zeb Evans, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. It’s been absolutely brilliant. Really appreciate it.

Zeb: [00:30:54] Thanks for having me, guys.

Russell: [00:30:57] Wow, Brendon, he’s so passionate and talks so quickly, what did you think on what Zeb had to say?

Brendon: [00:31:02] Yeah, like say you can’t help but really get excited about his business, because given all of that passion, I think two things I really took away from that, which really resonated with me. The first one was the importance of repeating what is important to you in your business and going over and over things even when you think you’ve already said it too much because people have such noisy lives that if you want employees to carry a message for you, it’s really crucial that you repeat yourself over and over again to the point that actually you start driving yourself mad. So that really resonates with me. And then the other point, which I thought was interesting, is just how at the beginning it’s really important to ClickUp that they built the brand and the business around organic interest in the business. And in order to do that, it’s crucial that your brand and your communications is set up in such a way that it stands out, so your identity stands out, your messages stand out, because if you do that, then those things, they travel, they’re like torpedo’s gliding through the water as opposed to something much less fast and sleek. So, I think those two things I thought really resonated with me and are valuable lessons for any leader.

Russell: [00:32:23] Now, before we finish off this episode, I need to ask you about the eBook that Tyto has launched off the back of this series that we’ve been recording together, which is about 18 months now I think we’ve been going. Tell us a little bit more about what you’ve put together then.

Brendon: [00:32:40] Well, I mean, I guess it builds on the general inspiration behind this series, which is that we wanted to give something back to the tech industry, which obviously is we’re partners in with the industry in terms of doing public relations and communications. And one of the gaps that we identified was that founders and leaders within the tech sector have incredible support networks around them. But one of the gaps is there’s not really a great deal out there for aspiring leaders in terms of how they can hone their communication skills in such a way to hopefully fast track their careers and become even greater leaders. And so, I guess that was the inspiration behind the podcast series that we’re doing together. And then off the back of the first 15 interviews we’ve done, that have been really positively received, we realise that not everyone necessarily has time for all these podcasts. So, what we’ve done is we’ve consolidated the greatest hits, the best of those podcasts into an eBook which we’re calling ‘Growing without borders: the unicorn’s CEO guide to communication and culture’. And that really for anyone, any leader or aspiring leader that wants to really pick up the greatest hits of communications and cultural advice from these 15 incredible leaders that we’ve interviewed, this is the place to go to. And then down the track, as we conduct more of these interviews, we’ll have the second edition.

Russell: [00:34:07] And that’s available, I assume, on the website?

Brendon: [00:34:09] Correct, yes.

Russell: [00:34:10] Fantastic. I look forward to that. That’s going to be it’s going to be very interesting to read back and see some of those highlights. For now, that’s it for this latest episode. So just a reminder, if you want to find out more about ClickUp, then their website is clickup.com. Obviously, we’d love to hear any comments that you’ve got on today’s conversation. You can share them on our Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter feeds or in the comments of the YouTube version of this podcast. And those are all linked from the top of the website at csuitepodcast.com. You’ll also find all our previous shows and supporting show notes plus links to where you can follow us for automatic downloads of each episode via the likes of Spotify and Apple. And if you like what you heard, please do give us a positive rating and review. We’re of course, available on all podcast apps, just search for the csuite podcast and hit follow or subscribe. And of course, you can subscribe to the Without Borders podcast from our partners at Tyto. All the details for that are on the website. So just head to tytopr.com, click on the podcast link in the top nav bar. And obviously, as Brendon just mentioned, you can download your copy of ‘Growing without borders: the unicorn CEO guide to communication and culture’. And you can get that from the website, too. If you are a unicorn leader yourself and you’d like to be part of this series, please do get in touch via the contact form on the website at csuitepodcast.com, plus of course, anyone can get in touch with any feedback you may have. And finally, if you want to reach me, you can do that via Twitter using @RussGoldsmith, or you can find me on LinkedIn. But for now, thanks for listening and goodbye. 

Without Borders PR Podcast by Tyto

Tyto brings you Without Borders, a regular dose of inspiration for passionate communicators, courageous creatives and entrepreneurial business brains. Expect candid chats with the wisest old hands, bleeding edge innovators and left field thinkers and doers.