- Good afternoon, everybody.
I’m Ann Harrison, I’m the Dean
of the Haas School of Business.
Welcome to today’s Dean’s Speaker Series,
which today is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Culture Center.
I’m really truly excited to introduce today’s speaker
and a Haas alum, go Bears, Mike Smith.
Mike is a proud graduate of our full-time MBA program.
He currently serves as General Partner and Co-Founder
of Footwork, an early stage venture capital firm.
Footwork was launched in April 2021 with a $175 million fund
and has since invested in eight companies.
Much of Mike’s career has been focused
on scaling consumer businesses.
Before launching Footwork, he was an early employee
at Stitch Fix and he helped grow the startup
into a public company.
He served as Stitch Fix’s President and COO all the way
from the idea to the IPO stage and beyond
where he oversaw operations, styling, client experience,
merchandise and finance.
Prior to Stitch Fix, Mike was COO at Walmart.com,
overseeing all operations for a $5 billion division,
including one of the most successful multichannel offerings
in the industry.
He currently serves on the boards of MillerKnoll,
Food52, Stitch Fix and Ulta Beauty.
As an alum, I’d like to also say a couple words
about how Mike has been an exemplar
of going beyond yourself.
Among a number of things, he’s hosted Haas students
for an entrepreneurship immersion visit
and for our executive education program,
he has taught a very successful new black venture VC program
in that program.
Mike, thank you so much for all that you do for Haas
and for taking the time to speak with us today.
We are really grateful to have you back on campus
and we really look forward to a lively
and informative discussion.
Today’s talk will be led by Jenny Chatman,
a well-known professor here and the Co-Director
of the Berkeley Culture Center.
(audience applauds) - Thank you.
Hi. - Hi.
Well, Mike, I treasure our…
I was counting how many years it is.
I think we’ve been friends for 25 years or close to it.
[Mike] That’s right.
And you were a student in my Leading People class.
[Mike] I was.
A memorable student.
[Mike] Well, I hope so
(audience laughs) in a good way, hopefully.
- Yeah, in a good way.
And to complete the cycle, your wife, Kelly,
was my daughter’s fourth grade teacher.
So we have that.
We wrote a case about you based on your unbelievable work
at Walmart.com, like the innovative site-to-store process
which you originated and did so much to make happen,
your massive success there.
It was so successful that Walmart spun back in Walmart.com
and then wouldn’t let us publish the case.
So that was good and bad in how it worked out.
You’ve inspired perhaps at this point thousands
of our MBA students by coming to class
and talking to them about your career.
And most importantly, because of your focus at Stitch Fix
in men’s, my husband is now very well dressed,
which is probably the thing that I’m most thankful for.
So let me start by thanking you for your support
of the school and for conveying to you just how proud we are
of all you’ve accomplished.
And I’m thrilled to be hosting you here today.
- Well, thank you and I will say she’s become Jenny to me,
but Professor Chatman taught me everything I think I needed
to know about leadership in your class.
And so I am grateful to be a Haas alum
and excited to be here.
- Oh, thanks.
And of course, that’s completely not true
because with students like you,
all we try to do is try not to mess up the raw material
and that maybe happened in this case.
So we’re gonna go through and ask some questions.
I’m gonna ask some questions of Mike and then about 1:10,
we’re gonna turn it over for audience questions,
so you all will have a chance to ask some questions as well.
But let me start with a really broad question,
which is for people who don’t yet know you,
if you could lay out your career a little bit
and what the stages were
since you were a student here at Haas.
- Sure, so I graduated from Haas in 1998 and I’d say
that the first six years of my career was really trying
to find my way in terms of my career lane
and what my calling was, so to speak.
And so I worked two years on Wall Street and then two years
at an early stage company that wasn’t in the bio,
but it’s a good story offline of failure
and actually learning a lot from said adventure.
And then worked in corporate development
at a software company.
And so claim to fame I think was nine years at Walmart.com
and then nine years at Stitch Fix.
And I think what I most appreciate about the journey
and the arc is just some of the leadership principles
that I felt like I learned here and certainly show up
in the leadership values of the school.
Student always I think is something I’m really…
It wasn’t codified at the time I was here, I don’t believe.
And then confidence without attitude, I think is just one
that I think is just an interesting
and important leadership principle.
And so the one thing I’d say is
that these journeys are super windey,
they are rarely up and to the right.
I joke that I literally did this at 16 years old
wrote out on a piece of paper how I was gonna go
from a 16-year-old high school student
to be a public company CEO by age 40 to 42.
I gave myself a range there.
And it just doesn’t work.
It’s just not the way these things work.
And I’m grateful that I had plenty of people
along my journey that helped me see the way.
- Yeah, I remember you telling me that
at that diner over in San Francisco.
- [Mike] Yep. Yeah.
So you were COO at Walmart.com and instrumental
in helping Walmart become digital.
You were one of the first five employees at Stitch Fix
and in both cases, you were a primary force
in scaling up the companies.
Walmart.com as I said was spun back in
and dramatically bolstered by the success
that you had created.
You took Stitch Fix public.
And so a broad question about what did you keep in mind
when growing talent at each company
and what lessons have you learned about talent management
and who you wanna bring on the bus with you?
- Yeah, a few lessons.
I’d say first and foremost, there’s so many leaders
that talk about this concept of hiring better or smarter
than yourself and I think very, very few leaders do that.
I understand academically why that’s hard to do.
It requires you to be self-aware,
to know what you’re good at, what you’re not good at
and to try to hire to gaps and frankly,
hire smarter and better than you are,
which is intimidating at times.
If you’re gonna hire someone
who’s actually smarter than you
and you give them the stage,
then your boss probably wonders why you have your job.
And I do think that that was just something
that I tried to do in my career
and really think about talent that way.
It’s interesting, there’s a very good friend in the audience
who worked in my group, but I used to talk
about how I like to hire PITAs, which are pains in the arse.
And what PITAs do when you work with them
is they drive you to be a great leader.
They really demand a lot of you, they have high expectations
for themselves and who you are as a leader
and they just don’t accept not being good at the job.
And so that’s another I think philosophy
that I had hopefully is trying to hire PITAs
because it forces you to be a great leader.
And then I think there’s a lot around intentionality
around talent development that I hopefully did,
which was have these 24 vision and value statements
that I share with my direct reports
when I start working with them.
And one of them is seeking a social contract
with people I work with.
And the goal is that here’s a very tangible example
of where I never wanna be surprised
by someone leaving the company.
I don’t ever wanna get two weeks notice as an example.
And I think what’s required
to avoid that situation is really honest conversations
about what you’re doing well, what you’re not doing well,
where do you wanna go in your career
so that you can be an enabler of where they wanna go,
even if it’s not in your current company.
And so I fortunately, I’ve had one incident
where I was surprised.
So I do really believe strongly that’s a failure
of the leader when you get surprised like that.
But it’s just something I think philosophically
that I sought when working with the folks,
the wonderful folks I’ve gotten to work with over the years.
How do you find PITAs?
They find you in some ways.
I mean, I think in some ways, you get known as someone
that is really open to hiring smarter
and better than yourself.
And then they have friends, they hang out in circles
of wanting to be challenged.
And then I think you can also find them
at great business schools, a lot of Haas folks
that I’ve worked with over the years.
And they show up really early
in an interview process, they do.
Now, there’s an element of I don’t want…
If I have seven direct reports,
I don’t want everyone being challenging all at the same time
at the same rate because that is extremely difficult.
And I make it very clear where my line is
of how much PITA I will allow
in the time that we’re allowing it.
But overall, I think they’re easy to spot.
I felt like I was one, too, to be honest.
I demanded a lot of my bosses, I had high expectations
for myself and for the company and for any leader
that I got to work with.
And so I think they self-identify in a lot of ways.
I remember that in class, actually.
[Mike] Oh wow, nice!
(Mike laughs) (audience laughs)
I do, I think that’s probably true.
- Great, so Stitch Fix goes public
and you were there a couple more years
and then you decide to leave to start Footwork.
What were your motives for making that move?
- Well, it was unusual, I would say,
in that if folks that knew me
had talked to me between call it 2012 and 2020
when I made the decision if I would ever work
in venture capital, let alone start my own firm,
they would’ve said, no way.
I had a very challenging relationship
with the ecosystem as we were trying
to raise money for Stitch Fix, it was very challenging.
Katrina Lake, the Founder and CEO of Stitch Fix,
has talked openly about this in different podcasts.
And it just wasn’t well received and frankly, our experience
with the ecosystem was rough, to say the least.
And so I think what end up happening in 2020,
a few things happened.
One, there was a lot of racial unrest
with the George Floyd murder and other things
that made me take pause and really think
about a little bit like legacy and impact and bigger things
and just what I wanna work on every day.
There was my partner, Nikhil Basu Trivedi, who reached out
and asked if I was interested in starting a firm with him
and I knew that I was very aligned in core values
and principles with Nikhil and very grateful
that he was even willing to chat with me about it.
And then I just, instead of…
I don’t know if this is a good analogy,
but I remember in different jobs that I’ve had
where I had challenges with a function
that I wasn’t responsible for where I was like,
why is that function not operating well?
And it’s the classic, well, if you think you know better,
why don’t you run it?
You’re in charge of it.
And I think there was an element
of I’ve had so much challenge with the ecosystem,
meaning not as many black and brown and women founders,
not as many black, brown and women check writers.
And certainly on the LP or the investor side,
finding the same case.
People that were investing in venture funds
not seeing enough underrepresented folks.
Instead of complaining about it,
why don’t you try to do something about it?
And so I think it was just this combination and cocktail
of wanting to have impact given what was going on
in the world, really loving most of the ecosystem
in terms of the founder perspective
and what innovation exists out
in the Bay Area in particular.
And then instead of just talking about it,
trying to do something different.
- So you started the company with Nikhil
and the two of you came together
with really different backgrounds and perspectives.
Can you talk a little bit about how that’s working
and how you make a partnership like that work?
- Yeah, we were very intentional that we wanted
to have differences in everything.
So one of our core pillars of the firm
and what we think is our differentiation,
one of the few areas of differentiation
is this operator-investor combination
being the killer combination that really helps founders
and founding teams scale themselves.
And Nikhil, for those that don’t know him,
went to Princeton, he has been an investor for 11 years.
And so he’s grown up as an investor architect
and he’s an amazing investor.
And I had never invested.
I didn’t have an angel portfolio,
I’d never been an investor.
And I think we think that those differences
actually are very, very helpful.
Nikhil is amazing at understanding product market fit
of a company and really understanding what’s required
from a metrics perspective to get to the next round.
And he’s seen so many different companies
and invested in so many different amazing companies
that have achieved amazing success,
like Farmer’s Dog and Frame.io and Imperfect Foods.
And so he has seen a range of things
and I’ve been very focused on eCommerce
in Walmart.com and Stitch Fix.
And I do think that having seen two hypergrowth companies,
one that we called a startup at Walmart.com,
but the reality was just like
when you actually don’t have to raise capital,
it’s not really a startup.
Where at Stitch Fix, we actually had
to raise capital to achieve.
And so you just have different learnings
and I think experiences
that you can bring to bear as an operator.
But we’re different on lots of different dimensions,
like he’s a lot younger than I am, he went
to a fancy school I like to make fun of in Princeton.
[Jenny] We’re fancy.
Yeah, we’re fancy, true.
A little fancy here. (audience laughs)
We have different styles.
We talk about he’s pretty intense,
I’m sometimes overly chill
and we learn that when he’s really intense
and I’m really chill,
we need to work on our partnership there
and I need to come closer to him
and he needs to come closer to me.
So it is like a marriage.
You have to work at making it work.
But we are super grateful to be in business together.
We have amazing investors that put us in business
in April of last year and it’s been a blast.
And I do think some of the core pillars and differentiation
that we thought would show up in terms of how we work
with founders has been very true and we’re excited about…
Yeah, we have a lot to prove,
but it we’re excited about our start so far.
- Yeah, so you have now seen and been part of organizations
at different stages of growth and different sizes.
So when you think about forming a culture
in a startup organization, like as you look
at a potential firm that you might invest in,
what are some of the things that you’re looking for?
- Well, I can certainly answer the question
in a few different ways.
So first, when we look at companies, we are evaluating
whether there are signs of product market fit,
whether is it a good market for their product or service
and we evaluate the founder.
And we have these three things that we basically look for,
which is hungry and humble, know your business inside
and out and if someone is a talent magnet.
I would say trying to figure out whether
they have a good culture at the existing time
that we’re trying to make this decision is a sub-bullet
underneath how we’re evaluating the founder.
But our strategy is to lead rounds,
so we try to be the biggest check and lead either a seed
or series A investment and we take board seats.
And part of the reason we do that
is because we wanna be very active in company-building
and very active in culture definition.
And I do think, we only have eight investments,
but I think all of our companies
and founders lean on us pretty heavily
for company-building and culture.
And I like that level of accountability,
both that we can drive, but also that we’re accountable
for as fiduciaries as board members.
But in the evaluation process,
we’re mostly only spending time with the founding team
and not going as deep in the company
because these processes are super fast.
The best companies are getting from talking to investors
to signing a term sheet, it could be as fast as two weeks
or as fast as a week.
And so you don’t have as much time.
But it’s super important to us
to make sure that the companies that we back
and the founders we back care deeply about these issues
and create great cultures to work in.
And I think the board seat and just the way we work
with founders helps us have a better chance
of succeeding on that.
- And so how would you define a great culture,
taking all your experience together?
- Yeah, it’s a big question
that I probably don’t have a great answer for,
other than I think cultures need to be super intentional
and you actually have to work at them.
I remember at different points at Stitch Fix,
one of my favorite people, this woman, Margo Downs,
would be asked this question in our onboarding process.
And they’re like, “What’s the culture like
“and how are you going to continue to drive it?”
And she would say, “You can’t just be a consumer
“of the culture.
“You actually have to help develop the culture
“and drive accountability of the culture.”
It can’t be passive.
I don’t think cultures can be or should be passive.
I think they’re really important to be clear.
I think that’s an important part of culture.
I think one of the things that drives me crazy is
where if the senior folks don’t live and breathe
and show up as the culture as defined,
then that’s a problem.
And one of the things that I loved about Stitch Fix
in the early days is that Katrina really wanted
to develop that culture early.
So we did a culture-defining exercise
with four full-time people at the company and six interns
because that’s how much she cared
about being clear about that.
Now, what I loved about it the most was that,
okay, now we have definition of what good looks like
in terms of what our expectations are.
And what I especially loved about it
is now we have a definition of how leaders show up
and managers show up.
And you could have language
around if we weren’t showing up that way
to be able to drive better accountability
on those dimensions.
So I think I don’t have a great answer,
but I do think it’s super important.
I think you need to be intentional, I think you have
to drive accountability to make sure
that it lives up every day.
And I do think some of the more challenging companies
are the ones that allow leaders to show up different
than what the cultural norms should be
or the way they’re defined.
- Yeah, well, and there’s actually research that shows
that startups that are intentional about their cultures,
there was actually a study done at Stanford
where when founders were intentional about culture,
faster to IPO, came out at a higher price.
There’s all kinds of financial gains as a result of that.
So that dovetails closely with what you’re saying.
[Mike] No tough ones.
Well, you’ve answered a bunch of them,
so I have to skip down here.
Ah, so you’ve mentioned in the past
that Footwork is interested in investing
in firms led by people of color and women,
perhaps people who have been less represented
in the business community.
Why is it important to you
to prioritize diversity in business?
- I think fundamentally, Nikhil and I believe
the academic work that diverse teams drive better outcomes.
And he is a British Indian immigrant, I’m African American.
Diversity across every dimension is one of the core pillars.
Diversity across every dimension
being a competitive advantage is one of our core principles
of the firm’s founding.
We do not have inputs
to saying we only wanna back underrepresented founders.
We do expect based on our core pillars
and the way we look for founders that the output is
that we have a very diverse portfolio.
And that has been true.
The N is super small, so it’s not statistically significant
with eight portfolio companies.
But we’re proud of the fact that the majority
of our investments are led by people of color or women.
So we wanted to be the output, but I think it just comes
from just truly believing what we’ve seen in operating,
what he’s seen in investing,
that diverse teams produce better results.
And we understand some of the challenges that diverse teams
as I think I learned in your class, too,
sometimes you have to move slower
because you wanna take everyone’s point of view,
but that driving, hearing all these different perspectives,
especially in the world we’re in today and trying to get
to best product, best service, you really do need to think
about more perspectives than just one narrow either gender
or race perspective to get to the best ideas.
And so we just believe that in our core.
We started the firm with that belief and the output
of our investments so far have lived up to that.
- I didn’t hear anything
after he said he learned that in my class.
- I know, I know. (Jenny laughs)
(Mike laughs) (audience laughs)
I did, though.
Thank you for that. - You’re welcome.
Thank you. - I heard it all actually.
It was accurate, you would’ve gotten an A.
- Thank you. (audience laughs)
I don’t think I got an A in your class, though.
I think I gotta go back and look.
I think it was an A-minus.
Okay, that’s what I thought, too.
I’m sorry, is there a HIPAA rule on that?
I don’t think there is, I don’t know.
I’m okay with that.
I just granted it to you, so it’s all good.
- And it was before we had codified,
questioned the status quo and just on that point,
we cultivate questioning the status quo not just
among our students, but among the faculty
and among the staff.
And I gotta tell you, it’s exhausting.
It is exhausting.
People are constantly looking for better ways
of doing things and they’re pushing ideas,
but it’s totally worth it.
It’s the way that you get the cutting edge ideas
and the best innovation.
- It is, but I do think you also have draw lines and say…
One of the phrases that probably was not the most…
It was a tough phrase, like, hey, we gotta just do our jobs.
I’m done talking about stuff,
we actually need to get it done.
And so you have to allow collaboration and different points
of view and challenge the status quo,
but if you spend all your time challenging the status quo,
it’s really hard to get things done and execute.
And in the fast-moving world of today,
you actually have to make a decision and move forward.
Happiness is not what…
Collective happiness I think is hard to achieve.
You actually need to, if you’re gonna allow diverse opinions
and allow challenge, there are gonna be people
that don’t love the final decision that you make.
But I think what’s unacceptable is not having voices heard.
And so I’ve hopefully tried to emulate allowing voices
to be heard and different points of view, but ultimately,
we make a decision and we have to go.
- Yeah, I’m gonna deviate just slightly
and ask you if you’d be willing to share
when you’ve come to some of my classes,
you’ve talked to students about some
of the failure experiences that you had.
And I remember you coining the term, pity city.
You can go to pity city, but you can’t stay there very long.
I thought that was so helpful as a metaphor.
For our students who are pushing through careers
that are unlikely to be linear,
how do you have the resilience to move to the next step
and absorb the disappointments?
I don’t know if you can give an example
and talk about how you dealt with it.
- Sure, and I think it changes.
I think the more experience you have with failure,
the more resilient you obviously get.
And you can then go back and be like, it wasn’t that bad
when I worked at a digital smell company
in the dot com bust and my boss at the next job,
every time I see him, he’s like,
“Smell-O-Vision, it’s Mike Smith from Smell-O-Vision!”
(Jenny laughs) (audience laughs)
You have to be okay with that and fail.
And I think you learn that you don’t have to…
Not only is pity city not that bad,
you can learn a lot from those failures.
So a couple things, one, that phrase,
I wrote about it recently in LinkedIn
and it had some ridiculous amount of impressions
from telling this story about getting passed over
for the CEO job at Walmart.com,
but I should give credit to where credit is due.
Marka Hansen, the former President of Gap North America,
talked about that and she’s a long-time mentor of mine
and basically said, “You can go to pity city,
“but you can’t take up residence there.”
You actually have to get over the tough thing.
So the two very tangible examples for me were going
to an early stage company, leaving Morgan Stanley,
going to an early stage company,
basically telling my parents I was leaving
this big great Wall Street job and go into this company
that was producing, creating a box
that would produce smells.
My parents thought I was, as they should, cuckoo crazy,
like, what are you doing?
You went to business school to get this fancy job
and then you’re gonna go do that.
And it was a complete failure.
It didn’t work.
It was product market fit problems,
we had culture challenges.
There were a lot of things that just didn’t work
about unfortunately the idea.
And it’s hard to get a job after you’ve worked in that.
Now, I think this is an area of the world,
it’s very special.
There’s no badge of honor that comes with it,
but there are lots of…
I think with innovation comes an okay with failing
and moving forward and the common, fail fast, fail forward.
And I was fortunate enough that I had a good network
from Haas and allowed me to get back on my feet
and get a great job the next time.
And the other one was the one I wrote about,
which is feeling like I was preparing myself
for being CEO of Walmart.com,
being told I was gonna become the MC at Walmart.com
and then not getting that job was extremely painful.
It was so hard.
But no one’s gonna feel sorry for me to go to Stitch Fix
and be employee number five
and be a really senior person there and helping build that
with Katrina and an amazing team from five people
to 10,000 people and going public in 2017,
and so all the good fortunes that have come as a result
of that experience.
And so I think it’s just a little bit of understanding
that it really is okay that it’s not linear.
I think that was hard for me in the first decade
of my career.
I just, because I had written down
exactly what jobs I was gonna have from 16 to 40 to 42,
some deviation of that was hard for me
to be like, oh, this isn’t working.
And then I think the other big learning for me was
being again fortunate to have amazing people around me
that knew me at the core, knew what I wanted
and actually supported helping me find things
that were amazing.
The reason I got the job at Walmart.com
is because I think four of the first 15 people
at Walmart.com are Haas grads, three in my cohort here.
And they were like,
hey, I know he doesn’t have retail experience,
but he’s great.
And I know he doesn’t have ops experience, but he’s amazing.
And they helped me get the job.
And it’s because of cultivating that network,
but also having people that would stick their neck out,
frankly, to help support me get to the next job.
- And I hope you all will continue
to promote your colleagues as well.
So I wanted to come back to the theme
of diversity and inclusiveness,
which seem to be core values of Footworks.
What is your position on…
I think organizations are really struggling
to figure out how to create inclusive environments.
I think there is more certainty out there
that this is a good thing, but I think there’s still a gap
in actually being able to put it into practice.
So what are some insights that you have
about inclusiveness in particular
once people have joined organizations
or setting up your entrepreneurs in a network
that enables them to be successful,
how do you make things like that happen?
- Yeah, I’d probably go to more of a bottoms-up answer to it
of giving tangible examples
of where I’ve seen companies do it well
and companies and leaders that don’t do as well.
I mean, there’s the old adage that you have two ears
and one mouth and you should use them proportionately.
And I believe that that adage
really helps drive inclusivity.
[Jenny] What was that, two years?
Two ears and one mouth
and you should use them proportionately,
just listen more than talk.
And I think if you organically people listen,
if they listen more than they talk,
it allows for more voices to be heard
and you seek out other people’s opinions
because you want to learn from them
or you feel like they have something valuable to share.
And so I look for teams and in my own operating model,
how much am I talking versus listening
and making sure that voices are heard?
This is again a very minute example, but in the world
of Zoom, if someone comes off mute but I’m talking
and I’m talking, I’m talking and someone comes off mute,
I wanna make sure that that person
actually gets their voice heard.
So many times, I just watch it.
Someone comes off mute and the person just keeps talking
and you never go back to the person that came off mute
to figure out what their perspective is.
I was in a board meeting three weeks ago
where I was getting ready to say something
and someone jumped ahead.
It wasn’t malice, it wasn’t poor intentions,
but the CEO asked later,
“Hey, Mike, did you have a point that you wanted to raise?”
That felt super inclusive to me.
I don’t think that happens most of the time.
I think people just move on.
And so I think being observant and listening
and calling on people when you feel like
they have something really important to say
‘cause you’ve heard it in a one-on-one
that you’ve had with them or you’ve heard it
in another meeting and you think they have a perspective
that’ll really help, even if they’re more junior
or they’re shy or whatever.
You don’t wanna make them uncomfortable, but you definitely,
if you know that they have a point of view
that would really advance the conversation,
just ask for them to share it.
And I think very few people do that effectively.
And I’m not trying to pretend
that I do it great all the time either,
but I do think if you have a belief
that you want the right people around the table,
you want diverse opinions, you want to hear about those,
then your behavior should match including those voices
and your actions should show that, too.
- Well, and that’s a very cultural way
of thinking about inclusiveness,
which seems like this big huge challenge,
but you’re breaking it down into the behavioral norms
that you wanna put in place
so that people regularly are listening to each other
and circling back and the rest of it, super helpful.
Okay, so we’re close to our time.
Last time question from me is what advice do you have
for our students who are gonna be graduating
in the next year or two?
What are some of the kernels
of expertise you wanna offer to them?
It’s a daunting question.
- It is a daunting question because I remember when I sat
in that seat, I definitely had a little bit of judgment
about people like me answering that question.
Like, yeah, whatever.
Do you know how hard my life is
and you think you’ve done all these great things–
[Jenny] How old is that guy anyway?
Yeah, I was a PITA in your class, remember?
So yeah, exactly. (Jenny laughs)
I think there’s probably two things that I would share.
One, I touched on.
One is I did not buy into this from 22 to mid-30s,
but this idea that your career isn’t linear
and that you should embrace the zigzags
and you should be willing to take a lateral job
in the same company to learn something new and different,
that you should be intentional about getting skill sets
that will really help you be better at the next job,
even if it feels like it’s less money
or less prestige or all of that stuff.
It’s really hard.
I didn’t do a great job of it from 22
to like I said mid-30s.
But I think if you just at your core recognize
that it’s not linear.
You talk to any successful person, not that I’m one,
but if you talk to any successful person
and almost none of them have that 16-year-old
to 40 to 42 promotion every two years career.
That’s just not the way they work.
And so the earlier you recognize that,
I think the better off you will be
and the less crazy you’ll drive yourself.
That’s one piece of advice.
The second that I can’t even tell you
how beneficial mentoring has been to me.
And I’d say it was sideways, up and down.
I would say that I mentor a lot of people
and I do learn as much from the people I mentor as I do
from the people that mentor me.
One thing that’s very underappreciated is peer mentoring.
And I talk about it any chance I get,
which is having someone that’s around the same level,
not in the same group as you that you trust enough
where you share, hey, this is what I’m good at
and here’s where I have areas of improvement
from my performance review and from what you’ve seen.
And they are so committed to you and your career
that when they’re seeing you in these forums on the things
that you’re not particularly good at, they pull you aside
after the meeting and say, hey, you weren’t great again.
They are not shy about giving you feedback on what needs
to be better and giving you specific insights
to what you could’ve done differently in that situation.
And so I’ve been a major benefactor of peer mentors
that cared so deeply about my career that they just wanted
to make sure that recent feedback after performance,
good or bad, that they gave me feedback.
And then obviously more senior mentors
that are a little bit further in their career,
but again, you have to have trust
and vulnerability with them,
I have been a huge, again, benefactor of.
And I think that one thing that I would offer
is be really surgical is the word I’d use
on terms of mentors
because I think too often people pick mentors based on title
or you wanna go into investing banking,
they’re an investment banker.
That is too narrow a way to pick a mentor.
Really evaluate what you’re good at,
what you’re not good at, seek out those
that are better at the things you’re not good at
and it has to be someone that you can build trust with.
It can’t be someone that you can’t talk about the things
that aren’t working for you.
It can’t be this transactional relationship.
It needs to be a super human, very vulnerable relationship.
And I have been extremely lucky that I have four
or five folks in my network that even today if I call
or text them today, today, they will call me back
this afternoon and be willing to talk,
regardless of where they are.
I remember one of my mentors, Carter Cast, who teaches
at Kellogg, and I think I texted him,
hey, Carter, I’d love to talk in the next couple of days.
And he was literally on the road, some major highway
with his family and yes, he asked his family for permission
if he could call me, but he wanted to make sure
that he met the need ‘cause he felt my urgency.
And I’m just lucky that I have those kinds of folks
in my life that are really willing to work.
I have to work at it and he’s gotta be willing.
But I’d say having great mentors, being a great mentor
to people, having peer mentors
and then having more senior mentors
that you’re really thoughtful that you can build trust with
is the last piece of advice I’d give.
- Well, that’s fabulous, fabulous advice.
So we have time for some question for Mike.
It looks like we have a microphone set up there
if you wanna step up to the microphone and ask a question.
[Ellen] Hello. - Hi.
Hi, thanks, Mike, this is awesome.
[Jenny] Do you wanna introduce yourself?
Oh sure, yeah, my name’s Ellen Quigg, she/hers.
My question is about I think the advice about zigzagging
and being comfortable going linearly, not linearly, sideways
in your career is great advice
and I’m curious if you would talk a little bit
about specific times you made that decision
and what you did and what you feel like you got out
of what you did there?
- It’s a very good question, thank you for asking.
So at Stitch Fix, I was Chief Operating Officer
and I was lucky enough based on the success of the company
and wanting to be on boards that I was starting
to get some public and private board offers.
And then I decided to talk to Katrina, my boss,
about a job I really wanted at Stitch Fix,
which was to launch our men’s business.
Yay! (Jenny applauds)
Yay, Russell! (Jenny laughs)
And the title was gonna be General Manager of Men’s.
So it was not a C-level title.
It was to help me get better at merchandising
because ultimately I wanted to be a CEO
and I had never done a demand gen job,
meaning I’d never worked in merchandising or marketing.
And I said I wanna do it.
Now, the reason I bring up the public
and private boards is I was in a process with a public board
and they said, the recruiter, “Why did you do that?”
And I said, ‘cause I wanna learn this.
They said, ‘You’re out of the process.”
I said, why?
They said, “Because you’re not a C-level exec anymore.”
I said, well, I still report to Katrina
and I’m on the senior team.
“Nope, it’s the COO title is why we liked you
“for this role.”
And so I knew that I was taking some risk in it.
That one was one that I had not predicted
that I’d not be able to get on a public company board,
but great, I would do that all day long
because it just broadened my skill set
and it made me I think a better president
when I got the role and was overseeing all of merchandising
because I’d helped with a team build that up.
And so I think some of that move was lucky, not intentional,
but I never thought about moves like that
as anything other than learning.
And so I had this very simple framework
up until I think I was managing a lot more people
of learning and people.
So am I gonna learn a lot and am I gonna work with a tribe
and the people that I wanna work with
and are those people who are gonna push me?
And then when I became a manager, I added impact.
So it was learning, people and impact.
And that’s still how I make decisions very simply.
But title, comp, those things, I tried not to have
as strong a vector in terms of how I made decisions.
So but that one, yeah, it’s good learning,
bad for public company boards.
Hi, my name’s Carissa, I’m an undergrad student.
I wanted to thank you first for coming out.
So I saw on the news that they’re thinking
of removing affirmative action at schools like UNC,
but this more so begs the question of I guess equality
in terms of opportunity.
So for your VC, when you’re thinking of people
that you wanna support, how do you balance the idea
of them not particularly having the resources
versus not working as hard?
So how do you make that differentiation?
- Well, if I understand the question, I don’t differentiate.
I look for people that are going to work very hard
and might have come from places
where they didn’t have as many resources as I did
or other people did.
And I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.
I think you can find amazing people
that come from different backgrounds
that will do amazing work in venture
or in an operating job or what have you.
And so I think one of the things that people,
especially I’d just say as a black man,
I have to be excellent every day.
I feel that burden and I’m happy to have that burden,
feel it all the time because I just recognize, look,
if I don’t make use of venture, if I don’t make it
in venture, then it messes up the whole…
Not the whole, it’s not like I’m the only black person
in venture, but there’s not that many of us.
Then people start to question
why should we have a diverse team,
why should we support diverse or more emerging managers?
And so I think it’s just important to be excellent
and seek people that see that as the guiding principle
of who they are, whether it’s in venture
or in an operating company.
Can I rephrase the question?
[Mike] Sure, yeah, yeah, if I missed it.
It’s more so like those that don’t have the resources,
those who are at San Jose State University
and aren’t really surrounded by opportunities like this
to see what’s out there.
How do you make sure that they get equipped
to be able to have opportunities like that?
- Well, I think there are a lot.
I think, using venture capital as an example,
I think it’s becoming less and less en vogue to only recruit
and only seek founders from fancy traditional schools.
I think there are so many people
that come from all these different places.
And so it’s incumbent upon us as investors
to go find the best founders from across a spectrum
of where they go to school.
I think when I first graduated from Haas,
I would meet venture capitalists, as an example,
that would only invest in Northern California.
They didn’t invest in…
It was a great founder in Ohio,
they didn’t spend any time there ‘cause what they said
is they didn’t wanna get on a plane and go to Ohio.
But I think that is being very much put to pass
because you see amazing companies
being built all over the place.
And you see amazing founders starting companies everywhere.
But I do think it requires the industry,
whether it’s, again, a company or the business ecosystem
or a venture to be actively looking
for those opportunities outside of their little pool.
[Carissa] Thank you.
Sure. - Thanks.
Hi, Mike. - Hi.
My name’s Aria, I’m a senior at Haas.
So I’m curious,
you’ve been in so many different environments
specifically within the corporate world
and then now you’re in VC.
What advice do you have for us, we’re about to go
into the workforce, about to go into the corporate world
in terms of navigating the corporate environment
- I think and I didn’t learn this, it took me a little bit
to learn this, too, but I think one major piece of advice
that I’d give you is understanding how
to know the difference between not performing well
at your job, performing well at your job
and performing exceptionally at your job and being clear
in defining that with your boss.
The reason that matters is because I always wanted to,
and it took me awhile to figure this out,
have very objective conversations about how I was doing
or whether I should get promoted
or whether I should make more money.
And the only way to try to get it as objective as possible
is to try to define what exceptional looks like upfront
or try to define where I’m not performing upfront,
so that I’m not surprised.
I can always tell my boss that,
yeah, I didn’t have a good day.
I didn’t have a good day.
And so I would say trying to have that conversation early
in your career and hopefully find leaders that you work for
that are aligned to that definition and trying to get
to objectivity was something I would advise you to do
‘cause then it becomes really simple.
There’s less emotion I think that goes
with the tougher conversations around promotion
and compensation if you define some of that stuff upfront.
- [Aria] Thank you very much,
appreciate it. - You’re welcome.
- Thanks, other questions?
- [Melissa] My name’s Melissa.
I’m in the full-time program.
I was curious because you talked about–
- [Assistant] Could you go the microphone
‘cause we’re streaming.
Yeah, we have a huge audience.
Hi, my name’s Melissa, I’m in the full-time MBA program.
I was curious what you’re most excited about learning
about next given that you have come into roles not because
of the title or the compensation,
but because of the learning?
- Yeah, for me, venture capital just as an industry
is amazing for that question.
What am I most excited about next?
I am excited about learning
what climate solutions might exist
to help the climate challenge that we’re in today.
I’m super excited about learning about healthcare.
I’ve never operated in healthcare.
I’ve been a consumer of healthcare,
but I’ve never worked in anything in healthcare.
But we have a bias to doing something in healthcare
at Footwork and I’m excited to learn about that.
So honestly, it feels like every day scratches that itch
of what I’m most excited about.
And I think the biggest challenge I have is trying
to narrow all the excitement that I have
for all the different opportunities that you can invest in,
rather than broaden it.
I mean, it literally is every day,
I’m learning about something new.
And so for people that are lifelong learners
or students always, it’s a perfect job honestly for that.
[Melissa] Thank you.
Sure. - Thank you.
Hi, my name’s Kira.
I’m doing part of my master’s degree here at Haas,
over from Europe actually.
And following onto that question,
I wanted to ask how do you learn?
What do you do to learn about new topics,
what are your methods, who do you talk to,
how do you go about it?
- Yeah, I’m less of a reading learner
and more of an experience learner and asking questions
and having people in the ecosystem.
So if I wanna learn about…
One of the things Nikhil and I have thesis areas,
I’m starting to learn about aging ‘cause I wanna see
if there are investment opportunities there.
And so my parents are aging and my wife’s mom is aging
and I talk to other investors that are in aging just
to understand why they invested in the space broadly
and what are the challenges.
I think for me, I’m a much better experiential learner
and listening learner than I am reading white paper learner.
And so I think clearly understanding your best mode
of learning as quickly and efficiently as you can
is important, especially in this job.
But that’s how I do is just ask a lot of questions of people
that have been in and around the space for awhile.
And I try to do that and if someone’s trying
to learn about eCommerce or operations
and they’re an experience learner, sharing perspectives
that I’ve had from having done it for awhile.
But that’s my best mode of learning.
So are these your folks who–
Well, so, yeah, there’s some.
Johnny, you have to raise your hand now.
Yeah, do you have some stories, John?
[John] Oh, I have lots.
(Mike laughs) (Jenny laughs)
- Well, John, especially John had the unfortunate,
but we drove to Walmart.com together for a number of years.
So not only did we work in the same division,
we had long commutes down.
That was a long drive, down by SFO.
Yeah, together in our…
I said our Prius because we basically shared,
co-owned this Prius together
that we got to spend time together.
But I think when we stopped commuting, I thought we signed
in blood that you couldn’t tell any stories about me.
What was said in the Prius stays in the Prius.
What’s said in the Prius,
stays in the Prius, that’s right.
- Good, well, listen, Mike, every time we get together,
I learn so much from you.
You are a really deliberate organized thinker
about everything important.
And it’s such a gift to have you in my ecosystem.
And I think you offered great insights for our students
and colleagues who came to visit today,
here and in the ether.
So I just wanna thank you.
I think Mike’s gonna stay around for a little bit
if you have follow-up questions,
but thank you for coming back to Haas.
- Well, I have to say thank you.
I live five minutes from here,
it’s because I love the ecosystem so much and super grateful
for you being my professor and you inviting me to class
and getting to stay a part
of this amazing ecosystem at BerkeleyHaas.
And just like, again, the leadership principles
that I think helped shape me
and hopefully hold me accountable
to continuing to be a good steward out there.
So thank you.
- You make us so proud, I’ll just say it again.
So thanks to Mike Smith.
- [Mike] Thanks. (audience applauds)
Thank you. - Nicely done.