Would your people work for free?

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This may or may not be a hypothetical test for you regarding leadership, vision, purpose, and passion.

I recently watched a video with Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren. He described the early days of the innovative music service. The most interesting piece for the audience was that before their Series B round of investment Pandora employees were not paid. They worked for free. For two years.

In the presentation Tim wanted to move on and describe the success but the audience kept coming back to this item. They couldn’t believe it. What I found most interesting was when someone asked Tim to reproduce the speech he gave that convinced employees to make that kind of commitment.

He tried but in recalling the time he said that while he certainly gave speeches the most important part was the individual conversations with each person.

Why did people stay? Tim was able to articulate the significant, purposeful vision for the idea. An interesting point – they didn’t yet know the vision of the product which is why they weren’t making any money.

They weren’t sure if they would make it. However, the product, the technology was so groundbreaking and the purpose so powerful that it motivated people to sacrifice in order to get it out there.

Pandora codifies music in order to identify related music. The purpose was to bring great music and musicians out of the shadows and into our earbuds.

The people knew they had magic in their hands and wanted to see it through. They were building something important, with purpose.

What are you building?

Wil Schroter, a serial entrepreneur and now CEO of startups.co, and I spent a lot of time together when he was writing his first book. The key takeaway from Wil for me was his conscious attention to keep everyone’s eye on the possibilities. Enough to attract the best talent when traditional salaries aren’t possible. Creating an environment where a blank computer screen is motivating and creating something important was the thing, not your salary or if you had a window in your office.

Selling the dream. It may seem a bit shady and it can be of course. That’s not what we’re talking about. Rather, a leader with pure intentions and an ability to share the possibility of the future is what builds something from nothing.

Do you do that?

We’re working with a large company client as we build our software product Constituent Hub. Nothing to something. Our team, their team, we’re all working on an anticipation of what’s possible in the future. It’s risky. We’re all motivated by what is possible and the value that will exist. We work in the present and live in the future. This isn’t typical for companies with over 14,000 employees but great leadership gets it.

That’s the lesson these successful entrepreneurs are teaching us. And key is that you don’t have to be an entrepreneur specifically, those are just the easiest examples. Let’s work on using this skill when leading in traditional companies. It really boils down to great leadership.

Tim from Pandora somehow secured that Series B investment of $9M. That day he called a meeting and the team thought another motivational speech was coming and Tim distributed $2M in back pay.

It doesn’t always work out and during the building process it’s uncomfortable, but there is something to be said for passion guiding your life. You tend to not spend all week hoping Friday gets here.

To do this week: Sit down with people. Why are they here? Do they understand why you’re here? Are they the right people for your vision?

Let me know how it’s goes. Click the “comments” box below to participate in an on-going discussion via LinkedIn.

Jim Canterucci

I don't know everything. But I want to. The focus of our firm, Transition Management Advisors, is to develop leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes.

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On November 11, 2018
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