Ep. 7 Laela Sturdy on Decoding Digital Podcast by AppDirect

Decoding Innovation Culture: Laela Sturdy on Nurturing Ideas

TALKING WITH AN EXPERT IN HOW TO SPOT ENTREPRENEURS

45 min

Ep. 7 Laela Sturdy on Decoding Digital Podcast by AppDirect

45 min

Over the course of her career in venture capital, Laela Sturdy has met hundreds of entrepreneurs and listened to just as many startup pitches. In this episode, hear her explain which traits she sees in the most successful founders, as well as what you can do to foster an environment where your team feels comfortable taking risks that drive innovation.

“In cultures of innovation, you can't be overly prescriptive on saying, this is exactly how it's going to be. And it's very top down driven. You have to allow small teams of brilliant people to come together and you try and move as much of the bureaucracy and things out of the way as possible and let them operate.”

Quick takes on...

What Makes Entrepreneurs Different


"One of the things I really look for in entrepreneurs is what I call just this conviction in a vision. They see the future and they really believe that their product or platform or story is going to solve a really big problem. And they're excited to solve it."


How to Make Digital Transformation Succeed


"You have to find a way inside of organizations to get board-level and C-level buy-in that digital transformation is needed. You need a direct communication and path to the C-suite to make sure that you're not pushing a boulder up a hill."


What It Takes to Be a Leader


"I think to be a great leader, you have to have amazing self-awareness and you have to really invest in building that self-awareness. I don't think it's anything that necessarily comes naturally to any of us. Those that take the time, that are open enough to say, 'I'm willing to look at myself and take hard feedback'... that's what makes a great leader."


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Meet your guest, Laela Sturdy

GENERAL PARTNER, CAPITALG

Decoding Digital Podcast Spotlight Laela Sturdy

Laela Sturdy is a General Partner at CapitalG. Previously, she was a Managing Director of Sales & Business Operations at Google where she helped start, scale, and lead teams in several emerging product areas, including video and display advertising. Before Google, Laela was a consultant at Bain & Company. She is an avid basketball player and also enjoys spending time listening to live music with her spouse and kids in her hometown of San Francisco.

Episode transcript

Laela Sturdy: [0:06] In cultures of innovation, you can't be overly prescriptive on saying this is exactly how it's going to be and very top‑down driven. You have to allow small teams of brilliant people to come together, and you try and move as much of the bureaucracy and things out of the way as possible and let them operate.

Daniel Saks: [0:27] That's Laela Sturdy, founding partner of CapitalG, Google's private investment arm. Over the years, she's had a front row seat to how innovation works and knows a winning idea when she sees one.

Laela has invested in many of the hottest companies in the last decade, including Stripe, UiPath, Cloudflare, Gusto, Glassdoor, Credit Karma, and more, collectively approaching a hundred billion dollars in market value.

Today, she's going to sit down with me to demystify the traits she sees in the most successful founders, as well as what you can do to foster an environment where your team feels comfortable taking risks that drive results. This is Daniel Saks, Co‑CEO of AppDirect, and it's time to decode innovation culture.

Daniel: [1:32] Welcome to "Decoding Digital," a podcast for innovators, looking to thrive in the digital economy. I'm your host, Daniel Saks. I'll sit down with other founders, CEOs, and change makers to decode the trends that are transforming the way we work. Let's decode. Laela, so excited to having you on the podcast today and always fun to chat.

Laela: [2:00] Dan, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Daniel: [2:03] Let's start at the beginning. You went to school for biochem, but you switched to study multimedia, then business. What spurred you to follow all these different paths?

Laela: [2:14] I grew up in South Florida. I was actually born in Jamaica, then grew up in South Florida, and really liked math and science as a kid. I had some great math and science teachers and was always encouraged in that direction.

When I got to college, I continued to follow that path and got a research job in a genetics laboratory and was super involved in science. As I was moving towards graduation, I realized that the academic life or more science research wasn't really what fired me up. I started to study more economics, more philosophy. I was very interested in international relations and living in different countries.

I decided to move to Ireland and do a post‑doc. I had not done much in the way of computer science when I was an undergrad, but I was really interested in technology, so I did a master's degree in the Department of Computer Science at Trinity College in multimedia.

Laela Sturdy: [0:06] In cultures of innovation, you can't be overly prescriptive on saying this is exactly how it's going to be and very top‑down driven. You have to allow small teams of brilliant people to come together, and you try and move as much of the bureaucracy and things out of the way as possible and let them operate.

Daniel Saks: [0:27] That's Laela Sturdy, founding partner of CapitalG, Google's private investment arm. Over the years, she's had a front row seat to how innovation works and knows a winning idea when she sees one.

Laela has invested in many of the hottest companies in the last decade, including Stripe, UiPath, Cloudflare, Gusto, Glassdoor, Credit Karma, and more, collectively approaching a hundred billion dollars in market value.

Today, she's going to sit down with me to demystify the traits she sees in the most successful founders, as well as what you can do to foster an environment where your team feels comfortable taking risks that drive results. This is Daniel Saks, Co‑CEO of AppDirect, and it's time to decode innovation culture.

Daniel: [1:32] Welcome to "Decoding Digital," a podcast for innovators, looking to thrive in the digital economy. I'm your host, Daniel Saks. I'll sit down with other founders, CEOs, and change makers to decode the trends that are transforming the way we work. Let's decode. Laela, so excited to having you on the podcast today and always fun to chat.

Laela: [2:00] Dan, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Daniel: [2:03] Let's start at the beginning. You went to school for biochem, but you switched to study multimedia, then business. What spurred you to follow all these different paths?

Laela: [2:14] I grew up in South Florida. I was actually born in Jamaica, then grew up in South Florida, and really liked math and science as a kid. I had some great math and science teachers and was always encouraged in that direction.

When I got to college, I continued to follow that path and got a research job in a genetics laboratory and was super involved in science. As I was moving towards graduation, I realized that the academic life or more science research wasn't really what fired me up. I started to study more economics, more philosophy. I was very interested in international relations and living in different countries.

I decided to move to Ireland and do a post‑doc. I had not done much in the way of computer science when I was an undergrad, but I was really interested in technology, so I did a master's degree in the Department of Computer Science at Trinity College in multimedia.

I was interested, at that time ‑‑ this is back in the early 2000s. There was innovation in the web, and thinking about different applications. Mobile was just beginning to come online in a major way. I thought that was a way to begin to learn some more computer science skills and begin to think about applications and business models. That's where I first fell in love with tech and saw myself being a part of the Internet and the software revolution.

I would say my path has never been well scripted from the top down. It's been much more about being excited about learning different areas and following my heart along the way and making decisions that, when you look back linearly, don't always make a lot of sense to other people. Here we are.

Daniel: [4:14] Let's touch on that, following your heart, but really being passionate about the Internet revolution. What brought you to the Valley? Why Google?

Laela: [4:22] Starting at Trinity, as I spent a lot more time in computer science and technology. That was around the time of some of the first Internet wave and crash. I got really interested in those business models and those opportunities. I remember, I actually met Larry and Sergei.

I should have just got in their car and demanded a job or begged for a job on the way home because it was in '99 or something. Just was really interested in what was going on. I decided... I was living in, spending time in Ireland and in Kenya working at various educational non‑profits and working on issues around, actually, the digital divide and how you bring technology to under‑resourced communities.

I decided that I wanted to go to business school and try and get a job in technology. I knew that Silicon Valley... I grew up on the East Coast but I was excited about Silicon Valley and heard about it. I also played college basketball. We played Stanford when I was junior. I went to that campus. I was like, "Oh my goodness. This is so nice."

The weather in California and the gym at Stanford also had a bit of a pull, but I decided to go out west and went to business school. That got me down the path of actually deciding to join Bain for a couple of years after business school. My heart was still in tech. After two years at Bain, I joined Google and it's been an awesome ride since, being affiliated with Google and Alphabet related divisions.

Daniel: [5:55] What was that moment like in 1999 when you see these two guys, Larry and Sergey?

Laela: [5:59] Of course, no one knew it was going to be that big, but I loved the product, like everybody else. I was using Google obsessively. They had that appeal of, "Oh, my gosh, these are those little celebrities for the product that you love."

They were interesting people. They won't remember me at all from that day. I've had many meetings with them since, but they were interesting people who were curious, which I think is a lot of the commonality I've seen across some of the great innovators in technology, is that curiosity, that belief that something can really be 10, or 100, or 1,000X better and commitment to that vision over time.

I saw it in that first cocktail party conversation and have seen it many times since.

Daniel: [6:46] Let's touch on that because you just articulated one of the key themes that we believe here at "Decoding Digital," which is this idea of a persona of a digital hero. Someone who has the vision, the tenacity, the energy to be able to innovate and transform themselves to transform their businesses and beyond that, the greater environment.

Tell me about how you assess your portfolio companies, your founders, and how do you think about this concept of the digital hero?

Laela: [7:14] I love that concept. Yeah, the way I would relate to it is one of the things I really look for in entrepreneurs that we back at Capital G is what I call this conviction in a vision, which is they can see the future and see why they really believe that their product, or platform, or story is going to solve a really big problem. They're excited to solve it.

I [inaudible] investment Stripe as an example and Patrick Collison as probably one of the best examples of that. You saw in him the belief that he was going to solve an individual payments challenge. By the time he really started building Stripe, he saw so much of a bigger opportunity, which is how can you be the commerce infrastructure for the Internet.

Could see way before so many other people that so much of the world was going to be in payments and relational transactions were going to happen through the Internet. That this infrastructure component was much bigger than just payments and had so much more potential to transform the way that businesses and people connect.

I saw [inaudible] investment a company called UiPath, which is an automation company. I remember first meeting Daniel. He was so passionate about the role that technology could play in helping individuals have mundane tasks taken care of because so many of us inside of enterprises are busy reconciling data or seeing if this system connects to this system and saw the potential for a better architected technical infrastructure to unleash human creativity.

When you have these conversations with entrepreneurs, I notice it myself. When I'm feeling excited I'm like, "Yeah, that is the future." You can feel the vision in the room and the energy in the room. I think that matters so much, that conviction, painting the power of the solution that you're selling or building to solve a really important problem.

That vision, I think, is what is an incredible ingredient in driving great leadership because ultimately what people have to do to build great companies...If you're a digital hero inside of an organization, you have to get a bunch of cross‑functional people to do work, to align on a plan, to change what they would have done.

All of that comes down to leadership. I think one of the most compelling parts of that is painting a vision for why this matters and getting people to follow you.

It shows up in all different ways when an entrepreneur can communicate that vision to me as someone who would potentially invest in their company. I know that they're also going to be able to communicate that to the 10 critical hires they have to make next month and get them to choose jumping on this ship versus another one.

I love vision and conviction as being an important driving force in innovation and transformation.

Daniel: [10:27] Let's decode that for a little bit. You talk about the culture of innovation and being able to assess being in a room with the founders of Google, the founder of Stripe, the founder of UiPath. What's different about them from other companies that you may choose not to invest in or that may not materialize like they did? What's that secret sauce?

Laela: [10:47] Like everything, I never think there's an exact silver bullet. There's so many different ways you can drive great innovation. If we start with that big thing, to have a truly transformational company, you need a massive vision solving a large problem.

Then there's different ways that I've seen great companies continue to feed that innovation energy. The first is they have this vision. They can attract great people.

One of the things that Google did so well is, Larry and Sergey had a belief that small teams could do great things and gave teams a lot of autonomy early on. It's continued throughout Google's history. It meant at times that things didn't always make sense.

We had big bets on Android at the same time as Chrome, and different things that you could say, "Hey, that's maybe betting on different versions of the future or things that are potentially contradictory to one another." In cultures of innovation, you can't be overly prescriptive on saying, "This is exactly how it's going to be," and very top‑down driven.

You have to allow small teams of brilliant people to come together. You try and move as much of the bureaucracy and things out of the way as possible and let them operate, kind of the thousand‑flowers‑bloom‑type of approach to innovation. I've seen that work really well.

Another company that I'm on the board of and invested in, an amazing company, Duolingo, which many of you might be learning French, or Spanish, or something on Duolingo. Luis von Ahn who is the CEO and founder there, he's an amazing product visionary and innovator.

What I've admired and learned from him is his approach to innovation is he has a very open mind. He has encouraged that among his executive team and his leaders. Then they've built an amazing engineering infrastructure of being able to run tons of A/B tests on different product features.

They've built out this operation that can be open‑minded to what users may want, or what may add value, or what may drive retention, or different metrics. They're able to test tons of those and drive that through the innovation engine. A lot of what I've seen in innovation is an open‑minded approach and then an ability to rapid experimentation is critical versus knowing the right answer upfront.

A lot of people describe this as fail‑fast. I describe it as rapid experimentation. If you can run 100 A/B tests versus your competitor that can only run 2, there's a much better chance that you're going to come out on top.

Those are a couple of models. There's no silver bullet for one model for innovative cultures. I've seen lots of great companies be able to build them in their own unique way that works for the business.

Daniel: [13:44] You gave examples of founders who built the future that they wanted to see, had conviction in this vision, and put in mechanisms in order to support innovation and provide autonomy. The examples you gave are rapidly test.

Take a large business that's been around for 50, 100 years, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of employees. What advice do you give to a team member there to try to drive a culture of innovation where maybe their organization isn't built with the same mechanics to optimize for the risk?

Laela: [14:17] This is a very good question. It's hard. I do see some of our most innovative companies sell into these large organizations.

Google sells into these very large organizations where, for different reasons ‑‑ it tends to be true, there are exceptions ‑‑ over time as organizations get older and more entrenched and growth rates are slower, the organization becomes more solidified and overall there's a high‑risk aversion. There's a lot of times you get into more politics in innovator's dilemma.

I say that to recognize the challenge. To me, one of the most interesting things about COVID, it's a very sad and hard time for so many people and for the world. Of course, there are a few examples where technology companies, this has been a big accelerant to opportunities for them. It's provided constraints in other areas. I see COVID being one example.

There are others of accelerants towards digital transformation where, finally, for external reasons companies are feeling desperate enough that they're adopting technologies that there were previously too many big obstacles because of politics that the organization didn't want to change.

I'd say that the advice for the leaders inside of these organizations is similar to what I've talked about. It's painting a vision for what this can be, a big‑picture vision. Then, being OK to have smaller wins.

Some of the places that I've seen most success is in adopting technologies where there's quick time to value, and there's clear ROI, and using those quantitative wins to begin to gain momentum and gain credibility in the organization so that, over time, you can help...

No one can refute when those quick wins deliver business value. That helps those leaders gain even more credibility and rope internally to then make bigger bets that could take a longer time to transform. That's one idea I've seen is some leaders be able to gain momentum by the quick‑win approach.

The other one is that you have to find a way inside of organizations to get board‑level and C‑level buy‑in that digital transformation is needed. There, you need much more direct communication and path to making sure you're not pushing a boulder up a hill.

Depending on what level you are in the organization, you may or may not have the personal capital to be able to do that. That's more of the top‑down approach.

Daniel: [17:15] You talked about the digital divide. You talked about it in context to being in Ireland many years ago. How would you define the digital divide? What's the current state of it? Where do you think it's going?

Laela: [17:27] This can be defined in lots of different ways. I was working on this back in Ireland in the early 2000s. We were defining it as, basically, basic Internet access, which in lots of parts of the country then was not a reality.

Very sad to say that now as we're in 2020 in the United States dealing with the immense challenges that the coronavirus has created and one of the implications being a lot of school systems not being open.

It's heartbreaking to all of us to see how alive and well the digital divide is in this country in terms of access to devices and Internet connection for certain communities and certain kids that are in a situation where they need to access school at home and they don't have the technical infrastructure to do so.

It's actually never been more apparent how much we still need to do to ensure equity and access for all groups of people, not just those with more means. The urgency around that is all the more evident in a time like this. What could be more important than school for school‑aged kids? I think there are, even when, hopefully soon, when it happens, we can all go back to...The kids can go back to in‑person school.

There's lots of other implications of differential access to technology and technical skills that I think will be a great driver of, hopefully, more equity but could be a great cause of greater inequity in the future. That's why I think things like investing in the technical skills gap for industries and groups of people where work is changing is incredibly important.

It's not just about Internet access, but it may be about digital skills that are needed to find meaningful employment and jobs in the future. For kids, I think it's about not just access but about digital citizenship and digital skills that will enable them to make good decisions in a world where our connectedness has a lot of advantages, but also poses a lot of risks.

I think there are so many ways that the digital divide still exists in the US and elsewhere. You can tackle it at the infrastructure layer, the access layer, and the skills layer, and then everywhere in‑between. There's still a lot of work to be done.

Daniel: [20:00] That's our vision at AppDirect is to make business technology accessible globally and various stems from that vision, which is how can we enable businesses around the world to have access to the tools, really SaaS and the cloud and other recurring services, that will enable them to drive.

One example that I love to talk about, and this probably applies to a lot of elements of the digital divide, is when something is so difficult to adopt that there's cost barriers or education barriers or fragmentation barriers, it's really challenging.

When you think about universal healthcare as a concept in many countries, it's a right. I see access to technology ‑‑ particularly, business technology, or personal productivity ‑‑ in some ways, should become a universal right because that really gives people an equal playing field to compete.

Laela: [20:51] Yeah, that's a super interesting way of looking at it. First of all, just on the ease‑of‑use point, I'm with you. I have a passion for ease‑of‑use and great design and great product design being fundamental to building a great product.

For the majority of people in the world, they don't spend their days, like many of us, immersed in the latest technical trends and really thinking through the power of software and what can be done.

They're running other businesses. They're taking care of their families. They're working in lots of different industries that, over time, are going to be increasingly tech‑enabled and already are. Ease‑of‑use and building products that really can integrate into the lives of people and into their existing workflow is just a huge opportunity and needs to be a huge focus.

When I was on the operating side of Google, a lot of the products that I helped build were really trying to solve this problem ‑‑ products like AdWords Express, which was a simple product for S&Bs to be able to access the AdWords product, which was way too complex and built for really larger advertisers.

That is an area I'm really passionate about. I agree with you that if we don't find a way to solve, collectively, ease‑of‑use and to have a lot of the different parts of software more integrated, so that an individual ‑‑ who's running a non‑technical business, or retail store, or in agriculture ‑‑ needs to work on 15 different software platforms to run his or her business, that will never work.

At the same time, if they're not able to access some of that software, there will be inequities. The concept of bringing software to everyone and empowering small businesses, empowering populations globally to have access to the same technology is a really noble vision and it's important.

I'm passionate about issues of growing inequality. We really need to find ways to reverse those trends and this is one way to do it. On the bright side, there has never...The software that is available, building a company and building an application with the type of cloud infrastructure that's available, application platforms that are available. It's never been better. It's so exciting.

The potential and the building blocks for infrastructure are there. We've got to make sure everyone has access and that we make these products easy enough to use that a greater group of people can access them.

Daniel: [23:35] I want to ask you to put on Professor Laela hat. Give a three‑minute lecture on ease of use and how you, as an individual, can build products capability that are easy to use.

Laela: [23:47] One of the great trends in computing right now is the increasing prominence of visual application development platforms to basically abstract the complexity that building code used to require.

If we look even 10, 20 years ago, you had to code so much more to be able to get software, to either build the software yourself or to get software to do the things you needed it to do. I think one of the great drivers of increased ease of use is that we're seeing platforms that have abstracted some of that complexity to a visual application development platform where people can use more intuition and business logic to design applications for what they need to get done.

I'll give you an example. There's a company called Webflow, which I think a lot of the ways... If we look at web design as a category, a lot of the...This is more of the more simple web design platforms, like a Wix or something that were super‑innovative and helped and continue to help S&Bs create simple websites.

Then, if you wanted to do more complex stuff, you still had to code in WordPress. You needed quite a lot of technical skill. Webflow is a platform where you can now, through a visual interface, pull lots of different component parts to execute the end result of the website that you want to build in a much simpler way.

I'm seeing this type of trend across a bunch of different categories. People call it no code or low code. I think the idea of it is abstracting complexity and designing software in a more modular way that allows citizens to become developers, in a sense, in a way that they couldn't in the past.

That's one example. I think that's a very simple example of a trend towards ease of use. On the flip side, I would say ease of use is...You can go back to old school examples, which is when YouTube was created. There were a bunch of video platforms that did the exact same thing, but the actual video upload feature on YouTube was super‑easy. It was faster. That works. It works better so you can look...That was just one example that came to mind.

I think we can all look at tons of the companies that we know that have really great design and really great self service features that drive adoption in a way that the clunky interfaces just don't.

Daniel: [26:37] What's behind the secret that you might know about for a leader or an organization to create those simple products that are going to ultimately outperform versus the complex products that are going to eventually be commoditized by someone else?

Laela: [26:52] Like everything, I wish there was a secret sauce because if I had it I'd find it and try to replicate it everywhere. What I have found in a lot of those great companies is that it's either the founder or early employee, early team member, who had amazing design sense, honestly, and then building that into the ethos of the company very early on.

What I have almost never seen is the turning around of trends. If you're some clunky software provider, you don't turn into Apple the next day. It's just really, really hard.

I would say that it is a lot about design talent. The good news is design talent, access to great design can come from lots of different places. You don't have to have title "designer." I think collaboration software like Figma and stuff are bringing engineers, and product managers, and product marketing managers into the mix to have a more collaborative approach to design. Ultimately, it is done by talent.

Then, I think really paying attention to the right metrics where if you're the CEO or if you're the leader of the project to compare on...

I remember when we were building AdWords Express. It's simple things. Try these different sign up flows. What percent of people get through your sign up flow? Something very basic, but when you look at Stripe Checkout, a product that they have, the number...

If you have Stripe Checkout enabled on your website, the throughput of that compared to a clunky checkout flow...Just compare those numbers and you'll see that the driver is often great product design, but bringing attention to the gap in experience is only done through data.

When we invest in companies and on the companies that are on the board, we pay really close attention to things like the conversion rate, and time in product, and different usage metrics that tell you, that get at this ease of use point. The more that you can benchmark it when you...

Whatever industry you're operating in, try and think of the very best experience there and try to find out what that metric is to really understand what excellence is. Then, see how far off you are so that you're not arguing with somebody over pixels. You're saying, "Hey, I know that this checkout conversion flow...What I know is excellent is 3X what I'm achieving with my current flow. What can I do to change that?"

A lot of times, it goes back to that. It isn't great design. Like most things, come in a package, a silver bullet. It's AB tests. It's gradual. It's thinking through design principles that can flow throughout the organization. It's hard to execute. Measurement and having North Star goals becomes really important.

Daniel: [29:56] You talked about low code/no code, developer tools, design elements. All these things are going make it easier to build products. Today, there's such a scarcity of engineers and designing resources. Fast forward 10 years. Do you think having a computer science degree matters? Will there be engineers?

Laela: [30:13] I have thought quite a lot about this. I believe it's a, "Yes, and..." I think there is an incredible demand for technical resources. I think computers and computing continue to be more and more important in all industries and aspects of human life. The whole software is eating the world sort of trend I really believe to be very true.

I think there will be plenty of demand for computer science. Anyone who's going and getting their computer science degree, there will be lots of jobs and there will be lots of demand for that.

I believe the demand is so great...One stat that always sticks in my head is that there are 10X the number of knowledge workers as there are technical workers. The demand for software and custom applications, and automations, and integrations are so high that we are going to need non‑technical workers to be able to implement more technical solutions.

That made this trend in citizen development, which is the engineers, there will be plenty of work for engineers and IT specialists, but we're also going to need more of a self‑service element for lots of different parts of the organization. That's where the advent of no code and low code tools are playing a huge role.

They're enabling citizen developers to build applications or solve business use cases that historically would have required engineering or IT support and no longer will.

The good news for that is that it means for enterprises, particularly large enterprises that have a great need to invest in digital transformation in order to stay competitive, but have a real dearth of IT and engineering resources.

The other trend that's very real is that IT and engineering resources need to be invested in things like cybersecurity, and governance, and privacy to make sure that the data infrastructure and the security infrastructure is sufficient because the risks of that are so significant in the world that we're living in.

There will be plenty of jobs for engineers to work on that long backlog of requests that the more we can get these no code and low code platforms in there to enable business users without technical degrees but with business proficiency, and if you have the software designed in a way that they can use their business logic, they can use their overall understanding of processes and the specs that are needed to fulfill requirements, and they can build it themselves inside these platforms.

I'm super‑excited about this trend.

Daniel: [33:06] That could be a massive source of job creation in the future. When we think about the future of work and retooling, you could imagine millions, tens of millions of jobs being created there, right?

Laela: [33:15] There's lots of different ways that I think that jobs can be created. There's the everyone being proficient on these development platforms and being able to do their jobs better and better. Then, there's the segment slightly above, which I'd almost call the...

Somewhere between a full developer and just a knowledge worker. Someone like, if you think about people that are experts in Salesforce implementation or some of these big software platforms. I think there will be people that some of these no code and low code platforms that gain a lot of share, you'll start to see people...

If you learn how to be an expert website builder on Webflow. We're invested in a company called Unqork which is an application development platform that solves lots of enterprise use cases in financial services, insurance, public sector.

For example, their software was used, it's a no code platform. It was used to build software for marriage licenses in New York City. Then, it was used to build software for onboarding of insurance customers inside a large insurance company. It's an incredibly well‑designed platform that has a flexible data model and lots of different modules that you can bring together to build applications for a ton of use cases.

You can imagine a world where a new field of workers is trained to use the Unqork platform in lots of different and sophisticated ways. Because of the broad use of those applications, digital onboarding for insurance companies to marriage license software, you can imagine they can help bring lots of those use cases into different areas.

That will be great for job creation and for skill building in the new world.

I think we're going to see a lot of innovation in this area. That's one of the reasons, going back to our digital divide point, why I'm also passionate about the opportunities for everybody to develop these technical skills. They don't have to be hardcore coding skills. They can be proficiency in the software platforms that are going to drive a lot of the future of work.

Daniel: [35:32] Let's talk about the flip side of that. Obviously, you have some insights in the robotics automation area. Are robots going to take over our jobs in the world?

Laela: [35:42] I don't think so. Our world is increasing complexity. Take a company like UiPath. If you look inside a large enterprise, there are literally thousands of applications that enterprise customers use. These applications are not integrated with each other. They don't talk with each other.

The mundane work that a knowledge worker has to do to just get data out of one system to clean it up and speak with another system, that kind of work has increased as the applications have proliferated in all of these different functions within an organization. A lot of the great automation that companies like UiPath are doing is just connecting some of those workflows, doing the very basic stuff, and then it will enable.

The humans are still the part of the puzzle that does the critical thinking. If you're a salesperson, and you have UiPath, working in the background, taking customer data from one platform, getting information for another, triggering you when you need to take a certain action, you're the one with the brain, the critical thinking, the ideas to make things happen.

I think that some of this software can just help you be more efficient in the background to unlock real creativity and have you spent time in the right things.

Daniel: [37:12] Let's touch on that. You talked about the brain, and you've talked about leadership. One of the things that I've found on my entrepreneurial journey is that transforming yourself the way you think, the way you lead, is the only way to transform your business and get others to follow and be passionate about that vision.

Laela: [37:33] To be a great leader, you have to have a amazing self‑awareness. You have to really invest in building that self‑awareness, because I don't think it's anything that necessarily comes naturally to any of us.

Those that take the time that are open enough in their own heart or mind or whatever it is to say, "I'm willing to look at myself, take hard feedback, pay attention to what's going on around me, and begin to ask myself some of the harder questions on. What are some of the patterns that are serving me? What are some of the patterns that are not serving me? What am I strong at? What am I less good at?"

The reality that as your company and your organization that you are leading, as it keeps growing and becoming even more and more impactful, every day, the expectations for what you need to bring as a leader just get higher and higher.

I find that the ones that are able to be most self‑aware are able to both understand who are the teammates that they need to recruit to complement their areas that they're not as strong. That means both tech...Oh, maybe I need a really strong go to market leader if I'm a product visionary.

It's also, oh, maybe if I'm a person who isn't great at giving hard feedback, even though we all say, "Oh, give hard feedback," you're like, "You also have to do this certain part." Maybe that's hard for me. Maybe I'm very good at being inspirational and cheering people along, but I'm not as good at the hard feedback.

Maybe I'm incredibly creative and I can lean into risk. I have good strategic intuition, but I can't be on time for a meeting for the life of me. I don't have operational discipline. By noting those things and saying, "How do I compliment that on my team?" is so critical to building the very best organizations and having the most impact.

I think that great people who are going to get on board and be on your team, if they see a leader who is exceptional themself on these certain things but is also self‑aware of where they need help and is willing to be vulnerable about, "Hey, maybe I'm not as good at this or I'm not as good at that."

That's very attractive. Those are the kind of people you want to work with. That's what I've seen over time. The secret sauce, if there is any, is the very best companies and the very best leaders, exceptional people want to follow them. Exceptional people want to be part of their team.

I see that being driven through their own unique talents, but then a self‑awareness and an appreciation, and are willing to be vulnerable, and are willing to lock arm in arm with other people to achieve even greater things.

Daniel: [40:39] What does vulnerability mean in that context?

Laela: [40:41] A lot of times, in the business context, I think it means being authentic. Showing up with what's really going on for you. Being willing to admit mistakes and admit things that you don't know and things that you didn't do right, and then willing to do the work to dig in more on yourself and dig in more the dynamics that you bring to relationships.

It's important for all of us to keep in mind everybody has something else, you don't know what's going on in their own lives ‑‑ the notion of "be kind," you don't know what people are going through, and also the notion of never put anyone on a pedestal or look down on somebody because we all have different power dynamics and different relationships, and we all are just people.

I always try to think about any advice I can give or help as a board member, and I always try to take it in the context of who are they as people and what are they going through.

That equation, happiness is expectations minus reality, just because people are achieving amazing things, if the expectations for themselves or the companies are so high, it doesn't always mean that they're living on cloud nine.

The people that have great perspective and they really believe in what they're building, and they are willing to be authentic and real as leaders and they create great teams ‑‑ they can be a small company doing the right thing in their community, or they can be the largest software company in the world ‑‑ those are the people that are probably going to be happy and fulfilled. So that's my view on the world.

Daniel: [42:24] Amazing. What's the one last piece of advice you would give an innovator in order to achieve their vision?

Laela: [42:33] Keep learning. What's so fun about innovation and what ultimately will keep you or me or any of us in it for the long haul is that we like a little bit of uncertainty.

We like feeling a little bit out of our league, but we're going to keep digging, we're going to keep trying to understand. We're going to keep believing there's a better way to do something and that the path isn't going to be straight and up and to the right. It's going to be zig‑zagged. It's going to be hard.

There are going to be the experienced or knowledgeable or certain people that tell us this is never going to work. You have to just be driven by the belief that, in your ultimate vision, it will work at some point.

You're not going to be perfect, but you love learning and changing along the way ‑‑ learning about yourself, learning about your organization, learning about these technical trends and these massively powerful things that are driving a lot of it. If that keeps you motivated, then you can have a long career in trying to do innovative things.

Daniel: [43:44] Professor Laela, the world thanks you for sharing all of this. It was amazing. I really, really appreciate you being on the show.

Laela: [43:53] Dan, it's always a pleasure to get to catch up with you and chat. Thank you, to you and your team, for having me. I look forward to catching up again soon.

Daniel: [44:02] Amazing. Take care.

On the next episode of Decoding Digital...

Nicolaj Siggelkow: [44:12] I think tremendous opportunities await for connected strategies, but there's a huge trust issue between customers and companies. It's one thing if I order a book on Amazon. I need a certain amount of trust that this will happen. But there's something else about sharing my personal health data or my financial data.

Daniel: [44:32] Wharton School professor and author of "Connected Strategies," Nicolaj Siggelkow. Listen on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your podcast player of choice.

To learn more, visit decodingdigital.com. Until next time.

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