S02E40: Larry Gadea, Envoy

Our guest in this 33rd podcast episode with a unicorn start-up leader is the CEO and founder of Envoy, Larry Gadea. 

Envoy is changing modern workplaces by making office life and work more meaningful, by redefining how people, places, and technology work together. Founded in 2013, the company reached unicorn status in January 2022 with a valuation of $1.4 billion. 

Larry has been a keen engineer from a very young age, writing scripts and learning about reverse engineering whilst his friends were in school. This early skill came in use when he was headhunted by Google to build software for them at the age of 17. Four years later, Larry moved to Twitter, which is where he gained the inspiration to create the original version of Envoy’s visitor management product. This same software is now used in over 20,000 offices across the world. 

Amongst the high points of Envoy’s journey, Larry also shares some of the challenges faced over the years, namely the COVID-19 pandemic which was a pivotal time for the company. “Visitor management products and COVID. Let me just tell you, not a great mix”, Larry reflects. Despite the hurdles put in its way, the company still continued to accelerate during this time by becoming even more thoughtful about the future needs of the workplace, adapting their offering and putting the spotlight on the humans behind the technology. 

Larry trusts it’s essential to surround yourself with experienced and tenacious people who are excited about scaling the business and changing the world. He acknowledges “it’s very easy to give up on something, especially in Silicon Valley” as opportunities – or recruiters – can come up unexpectedly. He claims he has been “given the gift of resilience”, and he believes this, as a founder or an entrepreneur, is one of the most important qualities he can have.  

Larry is a passionate leader, who believes the key elements of successful leadership are clearly communicating your expectations, being able and willing to admit when you have made a mistake, and consistently repeating yourself until you are told to stop. 

The interview, as usual, was co-hosted with Russell Goldsmith of the csuite podcast. Alongside Holly Justice, Senior Partner at Tyto PR 

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


Russ: [00:00:01] Thanks for downloading the 33rd in our series of episodes of the c-suite podcast that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR Agency Tyto 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 startups 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 episode is Tyto’s Senior Partner, Holly Justice. And today we are thrilled to be joined online from San Francisco by Larry Gadea, the Founder and CEO of the workplace platform Envoy. Founded in 2013, the company reached unicorn status in January 2022 with a valuation of $1.4 billion. Welcome to the show, Larry. Can we start by you giving us a bit of background to the company and also the area of business that you are seeking to disrupt? 

Larry: [00:00:54] Yeah absolutely. I mean, you’ve already done a great job in describing it. We basically build a workplace platform that’s really designed to make experiences back into the workplace, be fun and easy and just thoughtful about efficiency, about people’s experiences in the workplace. But especially these days, it’s about getting the analytics. It’s about getting all the different systems hooked up. So, we’re really excited to be front and centre on this. 

Holly: [00:01:18] And Larry, could you tell us a little bit about your personal entrepreneurial journey? So, I think you started working at Google as a teenager, then went on to Twitter. How did that journey prepare you or inspire you to launch Envoy? 

Larry: [00:01:32] I’ve always been like an engineer and at least at heart. Basically, when I was a kid, while everybody else was in school, I basically was doing this. I was at home on my computer all the time and I’d be writing like different scripts and different kinds of things. I got into like reverse engineering of software at one point. That was my version of the dark times as a teenage kid. But really, I learned a whole bunch of skill sets that eventually ended up being very useful for when Google launched this product called Google Desktop Search. I was like, ‘oh, hey, I could use this to make it search my weird WordPerfect files that I had’ because I was in Canada, and they used WordPerfect. So, I did that, Google was like, ‘Hey, wait a second, we really like this WordPerfect stuff, like you want to come build that here in addition to a bunch of other things’, I was like,’ Yeah, I would love to the problem is I’m not allowed to leave Canada yet because I’ve got this whole visa thing and I’m also 17’. They apparently did not really like the fact that I was 17 and they were like, oh no, this is a big problem. How are we supposed to import this guy? I’d done all the interviews. They were happy. One thing led to another. I somehow found a way to make that work, at least through visas and all that. So, I went to Google. I was there for about four years and then ended up leaving that. I joined Twitter when we were like 40 people or something like that. It was super tiny. I essentially brought a bunch of memcache stuff to Twitter, which at the time was much smaller. So that was fun. I was there for about three years and then I’d always been interested in kind of how things work, how companies work. What’s the background on all this stuff? Why are people doing things the way they are? I’m somebody that likes asking why a million times, people get very upset every once in a while, but like, let’s just go with it. And basically, what happened is, I noticed Google had very buttoned-up systems around their meeting rooms, around space management, around like mapping. They were very smart to say hey, this meeting rooms, no one is actually there. Let’s release that room and allow new people to book it, even though it was booked. So, they had different ways of detecting people and they had a whole visitor experience, and I was just like, wait a second, why didn’t we have any of this at Twitter? At Twitter people would just walk in, there was no security, there’s no anything. We’re very tiny at the time and I was like, I bet you when I was at Twitter, they would have been a whole software suite or whatever available, this would have been something they would have bought and then that’s where the inspiration came from. I ended up building the original version of our visitor management products. It just blew up everywhere. It’s even today, it’s 6,000-7,000 customers. And almost 20,000 workplaces around the world active with this stuff and it’s just everywhere. Then of course, there’s a whole story around COVID and then like, visitor management products and COVID. Let me just tell you, not a great mix, but we somehow found our way through that and continued growing and accelerating. So exciting times for sure. 

Russ: [00:04:22] That’s a great story, taking us from where you were to where you are now. I mentioned in my intro that the valuation just over a year ago, January 2022, where you reached $1.4 billion that came off the back of a Series C funding round where you raised a further $111 million. So, what we’re keen to understand is, where’s that money been invested to date? What are the plans in terms of future investment and also what’s the focus for like the rest of 2023 and maybe beyond for Envoy as well?  

Larry: [00:04:54] So it’s all about bringing this concept that businesses can be so much more thoughtful and efficient and effective when they have products to operate their workspaces. These days, it’s very complicated. A lot of tech people will be in this group of hey, we’re going to work from home. But a lot of companies now are just being very clear about like, hey, we’re in every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, they need to organize that and then when people come in, they need to know we have this amount of people, therefore we need this amount of parking spots, this amount of food we need this on our desks and meeting rooms and all this stuff doesn’t just magically happen. You have to have the analytics. So we have been building and just hiring and engineering and product and all that to grow this company in a way that we can be building products that our customers will use more and more, especially as companies return back from a standpoint where the ones that are more kind of they were more remote, we’re absolutely seeing trends of people starting to say, here’s our three clear days and then they go back. But then there’s this whole fact of like 60% of the world never actually left the workplace. When COVID hit, 60% of people still showed up to work. It turns out the whole world is not just tech and it’s a whole bunch of factories and warehouses and all these different kinds of businesses. So, it’s gone into building those and how do we build products that are innovative, interesting, how do we predict where people are going to be? How do we predict, like patterns around the workplace? How can we help workplaces find space with each other? And like, you know what, some companies are back, some or not. Maybe they can share with each other. And that’s really the direction that we want to go in and creating that really great experience for workplaces.  

Holly: [00:06:28] And you mentioned there, Larry, Covid and the pandemic, obviously, that had a huge impact on loads of businesses, whether they had to shift remote or they or they didn’t. You guys, at Envoy, have successfully been able to kind of change your business and adapt to support all kinds of organizations, whether they are remote or not and so I guess it feels like within there, there’s a lesson on business resilience that you’ve gone through. Is there a little bit about that lesson that you could share with us today?  

Larry: [00:06:56] Yeah, I mean, so here’s, the TLDR is that essentially what happened is the government was like, hey guys, no one’s allowed in their workplaces. You’re all going to infect each other. No one’s allowed in there. And that’s not great news for a company that sells visitor products or workplace products. That’s like at first it sounds interesting. Oh, cool. We get to be at home for a little while. Oh, this isn’t okay. This is impacting our business. And it literally was doing that and that is how, you have to act in those moments. At first, we’re like, okay, well, maybe like we can sell to that, remember that 60%, maybe we can sell to them. Maybe we can figure out in these other places. But by talking to our customers and we literally did this every single day, we had a stand up with our entire executive team who had stand-ups of their whole teams, and everybody was talking with customers and figuring out what is it that these people need and what can we be building to get ourselves out of this? Some people in the company were really excited about this. They’re like, okay we got a thing. Some people were like, yes, this is exactly we got to go, go, go, take advantage of this. Some folks were less excited. Some folks were like, listen, I got all these situations right now I’m really stressed and all that kind of thing. And adapting to a world that has changed just the way it has is not easy for anyone and not for me, not for anyone in my exec team, not for anyone in the company.  We’re 200 something people today. And it’s a lot of different things that go on with everyone. So, we always have to do our best to see like, hey, what can we do to really, like, align everyone, really get everyone focused on what we’re trying to do. And for the folks that are really in let’s like really encourage them for the folks that maybe just want remote work, that sounds fine. And there’s lots of companies out there that would want to do that, and they can do that there. But it’s like we really want to be a company that’s known for what we do and really live and breathe what we do. And these are the kinds of things that come up. There’s all these COVID policies. And yeah, it’s definitely been never a dull moment, that’s for sure. 

Holly: [00:08:52] And pandemic or out the other side of a pandemic. Over the last ten years, you guys have been at the centre of this momentum, of the change of the world of work. What are your thoughts, Larry, on the future of workplace and also, I guess, what are the essential ingredients to make work, work today? 

Larry: [00:09:11] I think one of the biggest things, especially for the companies that have not returned back, the biggest thing that they need to do is make it clear to their employees what they want. This is the number one takeaway because companies these days are saying like, oh yeah, we have these very expensive and giant offices open for everyone to be there. Use it as you’d like and then people don’t really show up and they don’t show up for all sorts of reasons. It’s because well, maybe they don’t want to do the commute maybe they’re afraid that when they arrive, there’s no one going to be there. Maybe there’s like they got to figure out food and it’s a very hard thing for a lot of employees. But these companies are making it confusing because they keep encouraging people to go back and saying how great it is. And like the CEOs go up and say, like I’ve been having so much fun meeting people. And then it’s like, well, does he want me in or what’s going on here? What’s going on there is that they do want you in and they’re just afraid to say it. And what companies need to do is literally just say it. There’s nothing that’s going to make people more happy than to know that at least I know the rules now and what we want as a company. So, I think that that’s the key thing for a lot of companies, especially tech. Just make the policies clear. It’s okay. Like I’ve yet to read an article where a company did three days mandatory, and everyone quit overnight. I’ve yet to read one single article about that, so I would just say companies just need to be honest with their people and that will solve the majority of the source problem. And then from there there’s all sorts of other pieces around like, hey, how do we make this successful? Like, how do we measure the analytics behind, how do we know? And then but I see the future as something that’s really just focused around how do we create a great employee experience in a way that’s efficient and effective and in a way these companies have to re-earn themselves again, this like going back to the office thing. Yes, they can mandate, but is it really like are people going to be comparing it against their home and saying, you know what, I’m going to find a full remote thing? People aren’t doing that on mass right now, but I think companies have a little bit of work to do, especially with all the efficiency stuff too going on. CFOs are just going to everyone. It’s like we need all the money we can get right now. Whatever is a nice to have goes and companies are looking to downsize all of their spaces. All the spaces are way more crowded now and they could use extra like some companies could use a lot of extra space. So, it now turns into, we’re not going to be signing any ten-year leases, but maybe the guys downstairs, maybe they have an extra meeting room, maybe some extra desks, maybe some event space and we can use their space. And if there was a marketplace where people could be listing these kinds of things, that would be very interesting. And that is really a direction that we do see ourselves as participating in. I think there’s lots of companies at co-working spaces that have already kind of, of course, piloted this in all sorts of cities all around the world. Wework does a great job of bringing consistency to this. And it’s just like this is the kind of stuff that I think the future is. I think it’s a lot less massive upfront capital on big bets. I think it’s people easing into things, but I think just the clarity is so so so important along the way here. 

Russ: [00:12:15] Larry, we’re going to jump around on a couple of topics as we chat. We’re going to move on to leadership because one of the questions we’re keen to find out and it’s interesting, obviously you’ve mentioned a couple of rather large companies that you’ve worked for in Google and Twitter. Are there any individuals, whether it’s at those companies that you’ve worked at or anyone in industry, that have had a real impact in your development as a leader? And if so, why? 

Larry: [00:12:39] So what’s really interesting as you work at companies and then one day you end up starting one is, as you work at companies and if you do a reasonable job at what you do, there’s going to be these people along the way that say like, Hey, if you ever start something, let me know. And especially in Silicon Valley where like the path is basically you do really well at a company, you make lots of money and then you basically need to spend all that money somewhere and you end up getting all these startups around you funded. So basically, first of all, write down all the names of those people. So, I literally have a document with every single person that said that because I heard this advice somewhere and I wrote it down and then when we started this company, I was like, hey, I got the people to reach out to get us some funding. And it’s going to be like, that’s one set of folks. But you could also see another set of folks.  And just like the ones that have already started companies, they’ve thought things, they’ve seen a lot and you want to surround yourself by those people. Now what I’ve done is I’m onboard with some of those people. So, folks like Andrew Chen from Andreessen Horowitz, Matt Murphy, Asif Hurgi, these are all folks that have been either running companies or right next to it. And basically, like you’ve got to build really great trust in your board and the people that just have seen so many other companies. And then you can be like, so is it normal that like conversations are just a complete pain every single time we do a cycle? And they’re like, yes, a complete pain is putting it mildly. If it’s only a complete pain, that means you did a really great cycle. Like that’s the kind of stuff you only get when you can just ask anybody anything. So yeah, board members are great, advisors are great. And then previous folks you knew for funding even better. 

Holly: [00:14:18] And you talked there about surrounding yourself with people that have been there, done that and been on the journey you’re going on. But in the last ten years, you’ve grown Envoy to be a hugely successful company. To have done that and led the business, I’m sure it requires some exceptional skills and also the ability to build an exceptional team around you. I’d be really interested to know what you would say your greatest strength is as a leader, and also a little bit about the strengths of the rest of the envoy management team. 

Larry: [00:14:46] Yeah, I mean, I just think the team in general, it’s like, folks who believe in what we do, folks who like are showing up to the office multiple days a week, folks who are actually thinking through how is what we’re doing relevant for the world and how can we do this better? So, I work with folks that are very experienced in what they do. They’ve been there, done that before. They also really know a lot of the pieces, like they’ve seen it in different ways. They’ve been at big companies that have been at smaller companies, and they’ve made that transition already. That helps a lot because a lot of the time when somebody goes from a really big company to a really small company and they just see like the mess that companies are, they’re like, ‘Oh no, this is really bad. How did I screw this up? I’m going to go find something else’. And then they go to something else and realize, oh, they were all just the mess. That’s just how that goes okay, cool I’m going to try to adapt now, but like that shock factor isn’t built in and most don’t discover it until they go through two or three companies. I like to surround myself by people who have seen things and people who are just resilient, despite everything. Now, maybe this is just like I was given a gift of resilience. And let me tell you, it’s a form of gift that is very tough to deal with, but it’s like resilience is not an easy thing. It’s very easy to give up on something especially Silicon Valley, literally, you could be in a bar and then when you walk out of that bar, the recruiter you somehow met there now has hired you at a different company, you’ve already agreed. It is so easy to leave and join another company. It’s so easy to just do something else. It’s so easy to just give up. And you know what? I don’t want to deal with that awkward conversation tomorrow. I will leave my entire job for that. And this happens literally all the time. So, I think the resilience is really one of the most important aspects somebody can have, especially a founder or an entrepreneur. But I think it’s like the team that you surround yourself around and them having that resilience, them wanting the future, them wanting new and exciting and to scale and to change the world honestly, it is very true in that you got to be building new things. It can’t just be about like, hey, I’m going to build my people, therefore we’re doing things that aren’t going to make the company go forward. The two need to be together. You need to be building great, big, innovative things and you need to be building the people around you. But you cannot just be building the people around you because the company will not move. Especially when you have a small company, you have to be focused on building big, new, exciting things for the world. It is so easy to get into an autopilot mode. We all do it. We’re all just trying to like control it a little bit as we keep moving that company forward. 

Russ: [00:17:19] I love what you just said there about you were given a gift of resilience. So, I’m just intrigued to know, where does that come from? Does that come from your parents, from your teachers, from your colleagues at college? Does it come from the people that you’ve worked with previously or the people that you’re working with now? Because you don’t just have that, or maybe you do, maybe you’re born with it, I don’t know.  But where do you get that resilience from?  

Larry: [00:17:44] I mean, the jury’s out on nature versus nurture on this. But I would say that it’s a lot of stuff. I mean, I mentioned I was in Canada, and I came here, but actually I was born in Romania, and I was smuggled out of there. My parents did these under the table jobs. My dad was like picking berries. My mom was like cleaning houses and they would just do this and get money under the table. It was wild because we weren’t actually allowed there and then eventually my dad got a legit job with the Canadian government and then that’s where I actually grew up. But it’s like I would argue there’s some form of resilience there. But I would also just say my early interest in engineering and computers and stuff, that really does help a lot. The engineering job is a very like self-pain kind of thing. If you’re good at what you do, you’re just like obsessed about solving a problem and it just leads you to live a life of that and you get very good about everything in that way. So that’s how I guess it has been but I’m sure that the form of nature and nurture in there.   

Russ: [00:18:52] That is a first for this podcast. We’ve never heard a story like that before, so that’s amazing. A key focus of these discussions with all our unicorn leaders is on communications and culture. So, as I said, we’re going to jump around on topics. We’re going to focus on that now. But first of all, becoming a unicorn. So, as I said, it was like January last year. Did that change the perception of the company in any way?  

Larry: [00:19:17] Yeah. I mean, you’re always going to get more attention. It’s way easier to hire, way easier to get conversations that you want, way easier for partnerships. It’s basically like a super cheat code to get what you want a lot of time, at least the conversations started. I think it’s pretty tough. It doesn’t make it easier though. It’s not like cool we’re done here. There’s a lot of companies that become unicorns. It’s like one unicorn, give me a break you need a stable of unicorns to make the headlines these days. So, there’s just the form of like, hey, it’s not done yet. We haven’t even started. And we’ve got a lot of work to do and if we’re not building new things and changing what we’re doing and changing how the world is operating, it helps a little bit don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day, you still have to get there in a merit based way where you’re creating revenues, you are providing value, customers are happy with it, you’re building more, they’re finding more value. And you have to fight for every customer. They don’t care how many unicorns are in your stable. They want to have software that’s solid, that works, that’s going to scale with them as they grow. They want to have multiple products. They want to consolidate, especially these days. They want analytics, especially these days. So, it never stops, especially somebody in our industry where it just keeps on changing every single day. That’s part of the fun. It keeps it makes it seem like a startup, like especially like a tiny tiny startup. Just because we have to change our core product literally every few months. But it seems like we’re almost pattern building here in a way that as a bigger company. We can do it. I never thought that we’d have to do these kinds of major shifts all the time, but it seems like our customers are pretty open to it. So, there’s something that’s working. 

Holly: [00:20:54] And the tech sector is a very crowded, noisy place. It can be really difficult to stand out and get cut through. What’s been the key to your strategy at Envoy to differentiate yourself in the sector? 

Larry: [00:21:06] Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, software is only software like what we’re building is only software. That means anybody can copy it and clone it and change it and like pretend it’s their own and all that kind of stuff. So, we have to walk into it knowing that and the only way to really survive in that kind of world where anybody can pick it up and start their own thing, and especially when it comes to software, build it really quickly, is you got to also build really quickly. So back in the day you could build these like crazy monopolies and all these moats and don’t get me wrong, I can define every bit of viral and network effects and all these different things, but none of those are going to help if you do not constantly keep building. So, for us, there’s lots of things all around the office. I mean, I’m just looking behind my back, literally speakers you could be doing like software to have different music being playing that somebody has on their phone. Ventilation you can maybe vote on the temperature in the thing, the windows over here, maybe you could build something to open and shut the blinds and have it be something that people can do on their own without filing a ticket. The plants maybe could literally have a thing that’s like if they haven’t been watered in some amount of days, it notifies us. So that could be a whole system around making sure you clean the ventilation thing and the plant watering like these could all be part of a system. And these are all real problems every single office has. So, it’s kind of like there’s an inherent excitement about the space and an inherent excitement about the back end logistics of it all. Maybe I have that, but it really is just very practical. None of these are like some Oh, man, that’s like the next VR on the bus. Like, it’s nothing like that. It is literally very practical problems, but a company feeling that they don’t just have to do one thing, but you’ve got to unify, you’ve got to build a platform, you got to build like a reason why companies want to consolidate around you. 

Russ: [00:22:53] I was just thinking back to one of my old offices where we always used to wonder who didn’t fill the coffee cup after they took the last one. I was just wondering if there’s something that you could do there that automatically knows who didn’t replace that.  

Larry: [00:23:08] We did a podcast series at one point. It was called Envoy Office Hacks. It’s still up there, but we haven’t recorded an episode in a couple of years. So, we went to different companies, and we asked them like, Hey, what weird office hacks have you done? What weird things did some engineer find like an Arduino or Raspberry Pi and do something wild with? And one of these companies had a little push button coffee things were like; it comes out the spout and you just get coffee. So, as you keep pushing the button and coffee comes out, it gets lighter and lighter. So, they put a scale under it that they then hooked up a Raspberry Pi. And then basically when it was at a certain level, it would notify the office manager and the office manager would come and refill it and they would only get notified when it’s about like a third left. So, this is the kind of stuff and I honestly like, you could build literally a multi-million dollar enterprise company on that concept alone. 

Russ: [00:23:57] So just focusing on the comms side of things again, I mean, at the moment we’re recording this, there is a lot of economic uncertainty. There has been in the US, over here in the UK and across Europe. How do you adjust your comms approach in order to maintain that confidence in the company, both with clients and also potential investors in the future as well?  

Larry: [00:24:20] So with customers and stuff, it’s important that you acknowledge that their company is going through everything they can do to tighten up budgets and make sure that nothing leaks, and you just have the dollars like really closely counted. And we’re doing the same thing too and it’s very important for companies to know, we’re all in on this together. Every company right now is trying to do whatever they can to keep things moving despite all the change happening around them. So that’s very important and whenever we talk with customers, that’s always really important, it’s also really important internally. So, we do a weekly all hands show and tell. It actually happened just two hours before this and basically every single week I address the company with what’s going on in the news, the kinds of things that are happening, our journalists writing interesting things again and that kind of thing. Basically, it reminds people, hey, this is what’s going on. This is my as the founder, reaction to these things. I can feel okay knowing that this guy seems to be fine about this too. So being present, being transparent, being open and communicative, even if you’re talking about the news, is actually very very helpful for folks. I do think it helps a lot. Now, you do end up saying some dumb things. The more you talk to people, it’s obvious. There’s going to be downsides to transparency there always are. That’s why a lot of people aren’t that transparent because it’s like limited communication you won’t screw up as much, but if you have a lot of communication, you will screw up, but people will be okay with it and that’s the concept. It goes back to honesty and transparency. You want to build good rapport with folks, and you can’t do that if you only talk to them once a month or once a quarter. So, you have to keep that cadence really, really going. And same with your customer. Same for your employees. Same with your roommates or spouses. You got to keep that constant communication. 

Holly: [00:26:08] And as Russ said, we’re jumping about on a few topics here, but I’d love to touch on company culture, and it would be great to hear how you would describe the culture at Envoy and ways that you have sought to nurture that.  

Larry: [00:26:21] I can literally list off our values right now, but basically, it’s about creating great experience with ourselves between each other, with our customers, with the products that we build. It’s about standing out and like building things intentionally differently. And what do we do to be different? Like what are we going to do to get ahead of things. We want to live what we do and if we’re building workplace products, we want to be in the workplace, we want to learn from it, and we should find it to be a pain, because then that means that there’s something we can fix. And it’s like this is the kind of mindset and culture that we hire for and work with and it’s a very understanding culture that people want to work with each other. They also got to move quickly, and we got to move fast. Like if we don’t, our competitors will, or the market will, or we will miss out on an opportunity to change how the world sees a certain thing. So, there’s these kinds of values that really drive how we operate our company. And communicating them, you can do it through the show and tells, you do it through just like basically whenever I do a communication to the company always started in our effort to create great experiences amongst each other and our customers. We’re going to be doing this, this week and it’s just like repeating the values really does help a lot. And for us I think just work culture that uses offices we’re in office so we make that very clear it really selects for people that want that which is kind of fun actually like if you just hire them because they’re really great at, I don’t know, some programming language, Just say for engineering, you’re going to get people that love offices and people that don’t. It’s kind of like if you just selected for only that one thing, you’re going to have a whole bunch of like conflicts. So, you got to select the kinds of folks that you believe in and you want to work with and that are excited inherently about what you do and that just makes her way more fun and exciting environment, especially when you’re together. That’s like even better. So yeah, we like working together and it’s way more fun. 

Holly: [00:28:12] Definitely. We spend enough time at work. You want to enjoy the people you spend time with. 

Larry: [00:28:16] That’s literally it. It’s like literally sunny outside right now. Here I am at the office and it’s kind of like if I’m going to be in this wonderful sunny day here in this office, and don’t get me wrong, I love our office. That plant gets watered on a regular schedule. But like, if I’m going to be spending my time here, I want to enjoy the atmosphere and I want to enjoy the people and I want to enjoy what I do. If I’m just going to be like at home and just always staring at the one little camera. And then, you know what? I don’t like this. I’m going to go to the next company yet I’m still at home, still staring at that one camera, still feeling lonely. I just don’t think this is the way to do it. So, I don’t know. We’re very opinionated on this, obviously, given that we build for workplaces, but wouldn’t have started a company around workplaces if I didn’t believe in them.  

Holly: [00:28:56] Just moving on to internal communication. So, you touched on it a few minutes ago, Larry, about the importance of those weekly all hands meetings. But I wonder if there are any other or any approaches to internal communications at Envoy that you think have worked particularly well, maybe in addition to those weekly comms? 

Larry: [00:29:15] Yeah, it just goes back to the transparency, goes back to calling things out if they’re not right or not good. If I make a mistake, I will always tell people about it and I will proactively tell people about it. We had some policy change and I told people, hey, guys, we’ll get this solved in the next 2 to 3 weeks. A month later, somebody is like, hey, just wondering an update on that policy. They didn’t mention that they asked it a month ago and I completely forgot to update everyone on it. So literally today at the Q&A, I was like, first of all, I know I said it a month ago and I know that I completely forgot, and I super apologize it happens to all of us. But here’s the policy, and we still don’t have the exact answer. But here’s what it’s going to be roughly, and here’s why it’s been a problem, why it’s been delayed. So, kind of making yourself human, I think is really important. That’s how you stand up for most people. Most people want to be the buttoned up version of themselves. So, in a world of you have to stand out, you have to basically do things that stand out. And you have to be honest, it turns out being very clear and honest and like you just speak your mind is actually pretty rare. And then you build trust and then the communication. So, we message each other, we have email, we have slack, we have all these different things and getting ahead of things is really important too, even if it is a whole bunch of people up for something that doesn’t end up happening. So that too, but yeah, that’s life!  

Russ: [00:30:29] And what about switching from internal comms to external? How do you see yourself in that role as that as the external spokesperson for the company, representative of the business? How do you view that? Is that something that you’re comfortable with? Do you enjoy it? 

Larry: [00:30:44] I think I can be a little weird at times. I’ll be excited about different products that we have; I will be excited about different things. Anything can happen to a company at any point. People can accuse companies of stuff. Companies can get a word. They always want to talk to the CEO, so I get pulled in a million different directions, empowering your people to do that and be those spokes folks help so much and in that they also have a lot of fun with it. They learn different tactics and you can discover new ways of communicating better externally. Talking to investors is also very interesting as well. That’s another massive opportunity where it’s actually really easy to stand out in a way that’s very trusting.  

Russ: [00:31:24] Is there anything that you had to learn? So, you’re starting a business. You said, you start off as coding and coming up with ideas and then suddenly you’re pitching for millions of millions of dollars. So, is there something that you had to learn along the way to be in that environment? 

Larry: [00:31:41] Yeah, I mean, everything. I would say that there’s a little bit of confidence building. And when you do something, a lot of times you build more and more confidence doing it. So I think speaking with your company, looking into the analytics every single day, seeing the things really builds up that confidence such that when you do go up there and you have that deck and you have that ability to create a narrative for them to understand why they should invest, even though blah, blah, blah, they’ll be okay with it and good with it and excited about it. And that’s really what it is. I think it’s also just being genuine. I want to go just back to that. You have more than won the battle by just walking in there and showing them a bunch of problems with their company. Like you would think that as an investor. But all they see is people only talking about the good news in their companies. Nobody admits to any kind of faults. It’s like, No, we’re perfect. We’re only growing 5% year over year. But like, we’re perfect, perfect in every way. And it’s like, guys, why are you saying you’re perfect? But your company’s financials are terrible. So, when you go in and you walk in and you say the thing and you say your learnings about it, it turns out the boards really just want to know, and your investors, which turn into your boards, these investors all just want to know that you’re seeing the problems in a company. When people only talk about good things, you almost have a case, where do they actually see the problems or are they just trying to paint the happy picture? Because most of the time they actually don’t know the problems and they’re painting a happy picture because they genuinely believe that. But it’s like you got to look for the problem. That’s how we’ve gotten our stuff. We also just look for people that are really excited about what we do. A lot of investment, especially around Silicon Valley, is around people who have a theory around a space, and they want to go after it and they’re going to work with the best. And we try to look like that when we’re pitching them. 

Holly: [00:33:25] And what would you say Larry has been your biggest communication challenge that you faced personally, and how did you overcome it?  

Larry: [00:33:32] I can be pretty blunt about things because I want to get to the point and I want to be like, okay, so here’s the bad news. Let’s deal with this. I think a lot of people don’t have the context necessary to understand a lot of news. My biggest learning is you have to remind people be like, oh, yeah, by the way, there’s some context to share here. The reason we weren’t coming in on these days is because of this other thing, and here’s why that happened. So, the context sharing is something where I think this will just catch anyone. But for me in particular, I just assumed everyone had the context for the different decisions being made here. We have slack. Although channels are open, anybody can join anything. But it’s like, no they don’t, and they do their thing because you ask them to do their thing and you push them on tight timelines. So of course, they’re going to only know their thing at that point. So why are you expecting them to have all this context? I mean, essentially what happens is you start to learn a little bit about like, wait a second Oh, that’s why that happens. Oh, maybe I should change how that works. And that communication absolutely comes from that, too. It’s like, what are you going to explain ahead of time and still try to get good at it. But every once in a while, I’ll forget something and it’s like oh no I totally didn’t mean that. I’m so sorry. 

Russ: [00:34:40] Larry, thank you so much for joining us today. We’ve got one final question that we’ve asked all our unicorn leaders on this series, and that’s if you were to go back in time and speak to your old self, what guidance would you give yourself about communications?  

Larry: [00:34:54] I mean, there’s just an unlimited amount of things I would tell myself. But literally one of them is just keep on repeating yourself all the time until people literally tell you ‘I’ve heard this about 20 times right now, you can probably stop repeating it’. That’s when you can stop repeating it. If nobody is telling you that you are too repetitive about the things that you’re saying, you’re doing it wrong. People are on their phones, they’re in the thing. They’re not listening perfectly. They’re like daydreaming. You got to repeat yourself all the time. They don’t read your Slack. They didn’t read your email. Even though they sat down next to you in that meeting, they don’t remember that moment. So, you have to repeat yourself. I would say three different channels every time. But I know that can be a tough challenge for anyone. 

Russ: I think that works at both work and at home when we’re referring to my kids, but that’s a whole different podcast. Listen, Larry, thank you so much for joining us, we’ve really enjoyed the chat today. 

Larry: Absolutely, thanks for having me. 

Russ: [00:35:51] Holly, another excellent episode. Really enjoyed chatting to Larry. Any highlights for you?  

Holly: [00:35:57] This is a series about unicorn leaders and Larry’s journey from a young child to starting his career to building the company that Envoy is today has just been one of the most fascinating journeys I think that we’ve probably got to hear about so far in the series. I think he summed it up really nicely by talking about the importance of resilience and how key that skill has been for him to get to where he is today. And there’s probably lots we can all learn about bringing resilience to our workplace and home life that I thought was fascinating to hear. 

Russ: [00:36:32] Yeah, we’re always looking for those little nuggets that we can share on social media. I think we’ve got a good few from this episode.  

Holly: [00:36:41] We sure do, yeh.  

Russ: [00:36:42] He was excellent. Listen, Holly, thank you very much as ever. That’s actually it for this latest episode in the series that we’re producing with Tyto. If you want to find out more about Envoy their website is on envoy.com. That’s actually E N V O Y dot com. We’d love to hear your comments on today’s chat. You can do that by sharing them on our Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter feeds or you can do it in the comments of the YouTube version of this podcast. Those are all linked from the top of our website at csuitepodcast.com, where 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’d 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 c-suite podcast, hit follow, or subscribe. You can also subscribe to the Without Borders podcast from our partners at Tyto. All the details for that or on their website, just head to TytoPR.com and click on the podcast link in the top nav bar. Plus, you can also download a copy of ‘Growing Without Borders, the Unicorn CEO Guide to Communications and Culture’ from the Tyto website as well. It’s an overview of the first 15 of our unicorn interviews. If you are a unicorn leader yourself and you’d like to be part of the 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 that you’ve got on any of the shows. 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.