Podcast / Conscious Capital

Codifying an Inclusive Company Culture with HashiCorp Co-founder Armon Dadgar

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Armon Dadgar, Navin Chaddha & Christopher Lochhead

It’s easy for founders to focus solely on building the product at the expense of building the company culture, especially in the early days. But as HashiCorp Co-founder & Co-CTO Armon Dadgar says, products come and go, but culture stays forever. In this episode, Armon shares his perspective on designing company culture intentionally from day one, the importance of investing in long term relationships across the business, and building organizational empathy to create a more inclusive environment.

Codifying an Inclusive Culture with HashiCorp Co-founder Armon Dadgar

Thanks for pressing play. Welcome to Conscious VC, where we have real conversations that explore how to build businesses that shape the future while making a giant difference at the same time, hosted by Navin Chaddha, managing director of Mayfield and me, podcaster and author Christopher Lochhead. On this episode, Navin and I welcome the founder and CTO of enterprise technology startup HashiCorp, Armon Dadgar is here with us. HashiCorp is an emerging leader in cloud application delivery. From the start, Armon and the team have purposely built the company and its culture around diversity, inclusion and other Conscious Capital principles. On this episode, we have a riveting conversation about how to do company building from the perspective of a young, openly gay, forward-leaning Silicon Valley entrepreneur who’s built a startup with a multi-billion dollar valuation. I think you’re going to love it, enjoy.

Well, Armon it’s great to have you. We’re very excited to have this conversation and maybe off the top, you could tell Navin and I, why you decided to make diversity and inclusion core to the company from the very beginning?

Dadgar: It’s a great question. I think it goes back to the founding of the company and at the time, when we started, we had, call it, three employees in three locations. So, from the very beginning, we started to think about, how do we be very intentional about the design of the company and not just back into our culture, back into the organization itself, because I think oftentimes the culture and the organization tends to be accidental. I don’t think people are very intentional about the design. I knew, some of the pieces would be very much different from most companies. Given three people in three locations, we said, okay, we’re going to be hyper remote, hyper distributed from the get-go. What else do we want to be intentional about?

I think ultimately really early in the company’s life, we published two documents that were foundational. One was what we call it, the Tao of HashiCorp. And that looks at, what’s the design ethos? How do we think about the products, the approach to infrastructure? The thinking behind the portfolio. And then the sister document to that was, how do we think about the company? Not the products, but the company and the culture itself, and that’s what we call the principles. If you go to our website, you’ll find both the Tao and the principles, and it outlines what I’ll call the nine core tenets for us. I won’t go into detail, but they’re basically integrity, kindness, humility, pragmatism. Those are the first four that represent, I think, the most personal pieces.

Then vision. How do we set destination, execution, communication? Beauty works better, and then reflection, the last piece. I think those nine principles really set up the foundation of how we think about who should we hire, it’s at the heart of how do we define culture fit? It, I think, served us as a guidepost as we’ve had to make tough decisions and grow the business. Maybe bring it back to your question, the way I think about diversity inclusion is it very much falls out as a natural consequence of how we’ve defined the principles and therefore, how do we define what culture and culture fit is at HashiCorp?

Chaddha: I think one of the things I would say having been involved with the company right from the get-go as a firm, these guys are building a company for the long run and we all know company building is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. Having been involved with 60 plus companies, myself, I think mission and values are the most important thing in a company’s life cycle and setting those right upfront is critical. We often talk about inside Mayfield that, hey, how do our founders not only think about building a product or think about building a company? It’s so refreshing when the HashiCorp team came in to pitch their Series A. They talked about not only the product vision, but also the company mission and values.

Dadgar: I very much like that metaphor of it’s the marathon and not the sprint. The way we always think about it is, the products are going to come and go because the market’s going to evolve, technology is going to evolve, what the customers want from us is going to evolve. What will stay is ultimately the culture. I think that the way we build the process that we run the company, go to market. Those are the pieces that I think are the really long-term things that you have to get right. Because the products… The thing that’s right today, five years from now, eight years from now, 10 years from now, is that the right product? Maybe, but maybe not.

The thing I find interesting about your point of view and Navin’s comments, frankly, we live at a time where a lot of the, if you’ll excuse the term, the entrepreneurial porn that we read is all about product, product, product, and you hear this stuff about product led growth now. So there’s this belief in Silicon Valley that the best product wins and there’s a lot of what I would describe as product bigotry. Then in concert with that, there’s a lot of this word hack everywhere. How do we growth hack this thing? To me a lot of this stuff smacks of quick fixes, get big fast, do this real fast. It’s all about speeds, get big, and it’s all around that and everything you just said wasn’t any of that. So I’m curious about this position, frankly, that both of you are talking about.

Dadgar: I’m sorry I’m laughing because I think you’re absolutely right. So much of it is… It’s become very vapid. Porn is almost the right word for it, it’s, what’s this one weird trick that will allow your company to whatever, hyperscale or hyper grow? There’s, I think, oftentimes so much more of focus on the vanity metrics of it, rather than what’s the problem you’re actually trying to solve and did you solve it? I think in many ways, I look back to even our Series A time and I laugh in my head because so many investors thought we were crazy. I think Mayfield was one of the few firms that didn’t think we were crazy, but most people were like, infrastructure? You’re going to go into the most boring, the most cold space. No one’s investing there. It’s completely dead. It’s completely boring. The problems are hard. Why would anyone in their right mind do this? You’re like, because it’s boring and the problems are hard. That’s why we’re doing.

You weren’t trying to build the next TikTok, Armon?

Dadgar: Absolutely not. Furthest thing from it.

Chaddha: I think what I would say is it’s really important for founders and entrepreneurs to follow their own true north to define their vision, to define where they want to get to, because it’s very easy anywhere in the world right now to get distracted. But to build a real company, it requires patience. It requires perseverance, but most importantly, you need to know where you’re heading and not get distracted by what A is going to say or what B is going to say, because it doesn’t matter. In the long run what matters is, did you create greatness?

Maybe let’s talk about greatness. How do you think about creating greatness at HashiCorp?

Dadgar: I think it goes back to our thinking, what are we trying to achieve in the long run? I think one set of it is obviously solving a set of very infrastructure, specific problems. But I think deeper than that is we’re establishing a set of long-term relationships with customers, we’re establishing a long-term set of relationships with partners. It’s a long-term set of relationships with our user community. It’s a long-term set of relationships with our internal employees. I think that’s really what it is. We are building these relationships, we’re saying, great. Whether it’s as a customer of ours, we’re a trusted vendor that you look to in terms of how should I think about infrastructure? How should I do my application deployment? If it’s a partner, so they say, hey, these people are going to help me. It’s going to be a true spirit of partnership. It’s not just logo exchange and not actually doing anything meaningful. From an employee perspective that they feel we’re genuinely invested in their career, that we’re invested in their growth of the company, that we want it to be a genuinely great place to work.

Then from our user community, that we’re good stewards of the open source projects, that we’re… It’s not a bait and switch, that we’re genuinely invested in growing and maintaining those open source communities. I think that’s really the bedrock of what we’re doing. That’s the longterm aspiration. The specific problem, the specific product that’s going to evolve with time. I think that’s what grounds us in those principles of, if what you really care about is these long-term relationships, you have to act with integrity. You have to approach your customers with humility. You have to be pragmatic in the day-to-day execution of what you’re doing. So you have to bring those things on the day-to-day basis. Then of course, that will be grounded in specific customer feedback of, hey, these are the problems we’re solving today and okay, great. That gets translated into the product roadmap and what we’re delivering short-term next few quarters. But I think the over the long run, this business hasn’t really changed and I think that’s the thing.

As much as we talk about product hacking and growth hacking and this and that, at the end of the day, there’s a human on the other end that saying, is HashiCorp the technology partner for me as I adopt cloud? Is HashiCorp the technology partner for me as I modernize my app delivery? That’s a question of trust. At the end of the day, it’s infrastructure software. It’s not like we’re some shiny app you download on your phone for 30 seconds and you never open it again. It’s like okay, this is… Your bank runs on this. The GM factory turns off if our software breaks. It’s a very high level of trust and you’re making a bet for 10 plus years when you engage with us.

Chaddha: It’ll be good, Armon. You guys have done a phenomenal job of building an inclusive community with purpose. I think today the community is over 35,000 strong and it’s in over 50 countries. How do you make sure to balance the open source needs versus the needs of your commercial customers? I think it’ll be good to share some of the insights you have gathered there on how you balance because you’re getting tens of millions of downloads a month. How do you balance the two and make sure everybody’s voice is heard and the business keeps marching forward?

Dadgar: It’s a super good question and it’s always a tough… It’s a tough balancing act. I think on one side of it is, we don’t see it as the dichotomy of the open source community versus, I guess, the enterprise customer. It’s more about who are the different personas. I think, the person who’s engaging us in the open-source community tends to be the end user, tends to be the practitioner. That person might still be the end user within an enterprise setting. Within the enterprise setting, yes, there’s a difference between the buyer and the user, but the user within the enterprise looks the same as the user within the open source most of the time. Maybe there’s some five, 10% that doesn’t overlap. From that perspective, I think we pay a lot of attention to, it has to be a great user experience because I think that’s how it is evolving, where it’s not driven as much top-down by a CIO saying, this is the strategy. It’s about the developer, the end user, the operator in that account saying, this is the software I want to use.

So whether they want to use it for free and that’s open source and it’s a hobby project, or they want to use it in their know their corporate setting and it’s a commercial relationship, I think it’s that notion that the practitioner is the king maker. For us, there’s a balancing act of, great, the buyer has a set of challenges around governance and cost management and compliance and things like that that we have to satisfy, so that the product works in a corporate setting, but our true north is really always the end user is that practitioner. We really stay, I think, very true to the open source community, which in the end helps us and the buyer and the user and the enterprise as well.

It’s interesting listening to you talk. I spent years at Mercury Interactive. First of all, it’s very endearing to hear you use the term application delivery, because I can remember meetings about whether or not we were going to shift from calling it software quality to application delivery. I love that that term and some of that language still exists. Anyway, that said, what’s interesting is the insight that you have as a cloud SAS vendor and as a vendor that is in the open source world.

You have a set of insights to real user behavior that legacy vendors in the old days never had, because back in the mercury days we would sell software, the customer would go and deploy it and that was it. It wasn’t until we started hosting software and ultimately becoming a saas vendor that we got those user insights and you get them from a user community that is freemium, if you will. It’s open source. So you’re getting real-time data from non-paying open source customers, as well as paying customers in addition to the data and information you’re given by the economic buyer. I’m curious as you have those two insights, what’s triggering purchasing and user behavior? How those inform the business?

Dadgar: It’s a good question. It’s been an evolution for us because I think historically, actually this is the funny thing about HashiCorp is we enable clouded option, but for a long time we built and sold desktop software. And so the irony of not –

We will not tell anyone Armon.

Dadgar: It’s an open secret at this point. The irony is not lost. We’ve been undergoing that transformation ourselves from being a desktop vendor into a saas vendor and being more of a cloud service native vendor. It’s been interesting because, I think, for us it’s been building a new muscle. I think historically we used to build open source software to release it, and then we have no idea of who’s downloading it, who’s using it? What are they using it for? Even our enterprise products used to be entirely just on-prem enterprise where it’s air gap and we don’t have visibility.

I think now with the saas side of things, it’s amazing just how much more reactive we can be to user feedback. We can launch a feature and immediately see what’s the uptake on it? Where are the sharp edges? Where is the drop-off on it? I think it has tightened our feedback cycles dramatically. It has allowed us to refine the product experiences a lot faster and it really makes me regret being a desktop software vendor, but that’s the path dependence that got us here.

Now I’m also curious, you’ve set up a scholarship fund and you seem to have a civic perspective on building the company and the culture as earlier stage company or from the beginning that is also somewhat unique. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Dadgar: Yeah. It’s been an evolution both personally and organizationally at the company. I think, from HashiCorp’s perspective for the last few years, internally we’ve run what we call the social impact fund. We take a portion of our revenue every year allocated to the social impact fund and then open it up to internal employees to basically vote on what causes we want to support. It tends to be a rotating slate of things. Sometimes it’s very much driven by some event taking place. For example, when the big wildfires were taking place, a lot of it was focused on how do we support the firefighters and the people who’ve been displaced from their homes and first responders and things like that. So sometimes it’s very cause oriented. With COVID, obviously there’s been a lot of focus on some of the COVID related causes.

Then other times when there’s less going on, it’ll be… People will support everything from ACLU to an SPLC, to Feeding America, to helping vets get coding skills and find their way into the workforce. A really broad range of things that the internal employee community supports. That’s been, I think, one great initiative in terms of how does the company take some of our revenue and give back in a way that’s much more direct than what we can necessarily do as an infrastructure vendor. That’s been through the organization. And then personally, obviously I feel so incredibly fortunate for the success HashiCorp has had that what’s been a personal question for me and my partner is how do we give back as well?

So, I think it was last year or 2019, time is a blur with COVID, that we worked with the University of Washington, which is where I went to school, to form a scholarship there for underrepresented students, for first-generation college, underrepresented minorities, people who financially can’t afford college. We really focused the scholarship on these underrepresented groups. It’s been a great partnership working with the UDub. I think there’s students right now that are attending UDub because of that scholarship. It was really a huge moment to get to meet those kids and it was deeply touching personally to know that you played a small part.

Chaddha: It’s amazing. I think, it’s ironical that how we share similar values with Armon. Armon, I don’t know if you know, we contribute 1% of our management fee and carry every year for philanthropic efforts, similar to what you were just mentioning. Helping students and the underprivileged is really, really important because I think everybody needs a chance. Somebody like me was given a chance. I’m an immigrant. I came on a scholarship and I think everybody deserves a chance whether it’s within the company or at universities. That’s why HashiCorp and a few of our companies are part of our access for all program where they’re helping getting summer interns and even students from these underrepresented colleges into employment. I think the more that can be done by companies rather than the growth hacks in helping the world, I think it’ll serve everybody well.

Amen.

Chaddha: Yeah. Armon, we had Kim Scott on a podcast of ours and she talked about biases. I know, you’re doing everything you can to make sure there’s no bias at work, any learnings or anything you can share? For example, I’ve shared in the past, when I did my first company, when I was on the bright side of the business as an entrepreneur, I was 25 and people used to complain, “Hey, where is your CEO? You have no white hair,” or, “hey, you have an accent.” That goes back in the mid ’90s. I still have one, and now I don’t have hair, forget about white hair. I don’t even have hair. Anything you faced as you were growing up, going to college and how you’re making sure what you’re doing with the social impact fund and you’re doing with the scholarship fund, how you make sure you create a just environment and give an opportunity to all.

Dadgar: No, it’s a great question. I think there’s a bunch of different programs we try and put in place. Some of it is thinking about, from a cultural standpoint, how do we define a culture that’s going to be inclusive? Because I think that’s a big starting point. I think if you have a culture that’s not inclusive, then it’s very hard even if you can bring in underrepresented folks for them to stay, because they won’t feel welcome, they won’t feel included. I think one piece of it first is you have to start with that foundation, define the culture in a way that will be open and inclusive. I think for us, we’ve been very, very explicit. The way we define culture fit is the principles of the company. If you abide by those things, that is culture fit, that is full-stop it. It’s not some small clique of old time OG folks that get to define what is and isn’t culture fit. It is open-ended if people express those principles of kindness and humility and integrity and et cetera. Great, they’re a culture fit.

I think having that be a very inclusive definition and a very clear one of this is how we define our culture as opposed to no, it’s how this set of gatekeepers defines it. I think that’s one important piece, so it doesn’t feel an old boys club. That’s one side of it. I think the other side then is thinking about how do you create different opportunities for people to come in? I think, we just this year rolled out our early career program where we started to look at either people who are college interns, people who have never worked in technology necessarily, but they’ve graduated and this would be a starting career for them, or maybe they have a non traditional education path. Some of these Lambda school type things. Looking across the board, how do we take people who maybe didn’t take a traditional pathway into technology and create opportunities for them to join, not just in product and engineering, but in marketing, in finance and et cetera, sales, across the department.

I think this year we’re going to probably have a cohort of 40 plus interns across the business, not just in engineering. I think that’s one piece of it. Then part of it then extends to start employee trainings and how do we get people interview ready? We do unconscious bias training if you’re going to be an interviewer. How do we do internal programs to help educate on your blind spots of these things?

Some of, I think, the learnings that have come out recently around… Great books like Thinking, Fast and Slow, and the fact that we have these different gears and we have these different unconscious responses and you can’t necessarily fix them, they’re biological. But how do you bring awareness to them? How do you design the process to mitigate some of those things? I think a lot of those have been a part of our thinking. Then I think to your point about sharing those stories, that’s been another piece of it where I think we’ve been open and trying to share those and build empathy.

A huge part of my husband’s research is prejudice reduction. That’s what he publishes and does his research on. I think what they’ve shown over and over again is that you have to make it lived for people. You have to bridge it and make it so that people have a shared experience. They have a shared anecdote where they can relate it to their life where they’ve felt that. A lot of that you have to be honest and have that conversation and make yourself vulnerable. I think we’ve shared those stories internally. Certainly, I’ve been in your seat where they’ve as… I think we raised our Series A when I was 22, and you go in and you’re talking to a customer and they’re like, okay, you’re a kid. Why are you here? You’re going to come tell me how I should run my company?

Is your mom going to come in and do the rest of the presentation, or how’s this going to work?

Dadgar: Yeah. They’re like, “I’ve been coding in Fortran since before you were alive.” You get that type of dismissal on one hand. I’ve been in situations where I’m openly gay where it’s been very uncomfortable. Not every part of the world feels like Silicon Valley. Sometimes you can tell there’s customer animosity, all right, as a result of that. Both my parents are immigrants from Iran. They moved here when they were 13 and didn’t speak any English. I don’t always look like a… I look like a foreigner. Sometimes that also comes up and you get commentary on it.

My view is I’ve experienced this in a number of different ways. Personally, I’m pretty open about sharing that with employees and trying to build that empathy, which is, hey, here’s how I’ve experienced it. How can we be conscious of that? Whether someone joining the company is… maybe they’re an immigrant, maybe they’re young in their career, maybe they’re old in their career. Let’s at least be conscious of those different prejudices that we might bring and try and build a process around it that’ll mitigate it.

Gay, young and middle Eastern, that’s where we start.

Dadgar: Exactly. We got the trifecta. Let me tell you, they screened me a hundred percent of the time at airport security.

Well, they screened me too, because I looked like a criminal. Maybe if you could, take Navin and I into that experience. 22 years old, Series A, openly gay middle Eastern, starting a deep technology company. What’s that like? Neither one of us have that experience.

Dadgar: I think, certainly being in Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay Area is a privilege. I think attitudes there, they’re so much more liberal than you find elsewhere. I think certainly the ones that stuck out the most were probably around age and I think some of it is well founded. I think some of it is, hey, do you have experience even working in some of these industries, let alone building a business, let alone selling to them. I think some of it you have to separate, I think, the genuine… I think that if I was an investor, I would genuinely say, okay, great. There’s a big gulf between someone who has that experience and knows what they’re doing and been there, done that versus someone who hasn’t.

Part of that is an experience question that sometimes gets tangled into an age question. You have to peel that apart a little bit. There’s some validity there. I think there is… Experience has its place as much as we… I think it’s insurance discount experience. I think there’s a lot to be said for it. I think there’s that aspect of it, but I think you’re right. I mean, it’s not lost on me that when we did our Series B, Dave McJannet had joined us. He’s significantly older than me, he has the gray hairs or maybe the white hairs now and it’s a different attitude. Nobody questions it in the same way when he’s in the room doing the fundraiser with us.

Chaddha: Yeah. I would say in Silicon Valley, I don’t think this just applies to Mayfield, it applies to other VCs too. I think people have an open mind. People want to take chances on entrepreneurs who want to change the world in which we work, live and play. Especially for Mayfield, our belief always is look at the entrepreneur because people build companies, people build products. It’s not the other way around. We love embracing the unconventional, the different and the unusual, because we believe it’s often the founders who don’t come out of central casting, they have the grit necessary to succeed against all odds. And then there’s one more solid belief we have is that great people evolve. Nobody is born as a CTO, or is born as a CEO. It’s an acquired skill, you can learn. Great people evolve and how do we help because somebody helped us. So, how do we give back? How do we help founders like Armon, Mitchell and surround them with excellence and give them the ammunition it takes and the tools to gobble greatness?

Dadgar: Yeah. I will say one thing that I really liked about Mayfield when we had the early conversation going way back now is there was a blend of different personalities and backgrounds and a diversity of experience there that was important to us, but a lot of the team brought former experience as an operator as well. I think that builds a whole lot of empathy to your point around that idea of people evolve in these roles. If you’ve ever had to be in the seat of an operator, you know that your role changes every six months. I think that brought a lot more empathy and I think they look at it through a different lens than when you talk to some partnerships where everyone is just a professional investor and has never been in an operator seat. There’s almost a bit more of an academic view to it where you’re like, okay, I can see academically how you might see it that way, but until you’ve played the part, some of that empathy might be missing.

It’s interesting you bring that up. This probably gets me into a lot of trouble with people, but I scratch my head at this idea of, quote-unquote, professional investor in the startup ecosystem. I’m not talking about at a PE firm and all that stuff, but it seems hard for me to think that an entrepreneur would want somebody who hasn’t sat in the seat. You go to a trainer, you go to somebody who’s a good athlete who’s trained to train other people and maybe has an athletic background and so forth and so on. We don’t go to a fat personal trainer who maybe read all the right books, but never did anything athletic.

Dadgar: No, that’s, I think, totally fair. It’s certainly different when you get to later stage. At that point, you almost look more of a… You’re approaching more of a private equity or a public market investor as you’re a late stage business. It’s just a math exercise. But especially when it’s that early stage investment where it’s so much about the dynamic of the team, the charisma, the vision, the… It’s just such a hyperdynamic thing. I think, having someone who’s been in that scenario, understood that you’re going to be making these decisions on a day-to-day, week-by-week basis. The company might not look the same three months from now remotely as what it looks today. It’s hard if you’re in the professional investor mode.

Now, I’m curious as we’re on this topic, as you think about building your board and building your executive team, you have this deep, personal commitment to diversity, which makes all the sense in the world to me. And as well, you have a business to run, you raised venture capital, you were trying to do a very specific set of things. You want to build a highly valuable, I assume, category, defining business. As you’re building the team, there’s this thing that we hear about well, you could optimize for diversity or you could optimize for the right backgrounds to get the right jobs done. Sometimes those two things don’t necessarily line up. How do you think about the push and pull, the dynamic tension, between wanting to have diversity, but at the same time wanting to have the best people in the spot? The worst thing that we can have is diversity for the sake of diversity, as opposed to somebody who’s seriously qualified, seriously capable, but maybe who is not a white older dude?

Dadgar: It’s a very tough balance. I think you see it, especially in a fast growing business. Every role is a role that you wanted to fill yesterday. I think you’re super sensitive to how long does it take someone to get and see, get ramped and start contributing because we have another hundred roles we need to fill after that. The way I think about it is you have to strike that right balance between being pragmatic on, okay, there’s a certain amount of time we can afford to spend on keep the search open, look for the right person. And as part of that search, let’s make sure we’re prioritizing, including some underrepresented folks as part of that pipeline, as part the interview circuit, et cetera.

And then the decision should just be based on who’s ultimately the best fit for the role. To your point, we don’t want to be making decisions just for the sake of diversity. It has to be, we’re building diversity into the process, but you’re ultimately picking the best candidate for the role. Most of the time, I’d say those things aren’t in conflict with each other. Most of the time, I think, you open a role, let’s say you get a hundred applicants. You can go through it and say, there’s really 10 qualified people on that. A handful of them are going to be from underrepresented groups. Great. You can take all 10 of those people and run them through the pipeline. Then the best candidate will hopefully rise to the top.

Then you do that in enough scale and you’re hiring will look representative of that 10 finalists. If those 10 finalists, you said 30% of them are underrepresented, then assuming you don’t have a lot of bias in your system, 30% of the people you hire, you’re matching the pipeline. That tends to be most of the roles, I think, that works now. I think what’s tough, especially when you’re in infrastructure, especially when you’re in deep infrastructure, the way we are, the pipeline doesn’t always look that. For example-

A lot of dudes in the pipeline, right?

Dadgar: Yeah. I’ll just give you one right now that we’re going through… We are trying to hire a Field CTO, West and we had 400 applications for the role, zero women. Zero. What does that tell you about the pipeline there? This is okay. Fair. That’s just the inbound. On top of that, we’ve outbound it to a curated set of folks that we knew they are in network. They’re like, hey, these folks we know are a great fit for the profile. Let’s reach out to them, see if they’re interested. At some point you’re like, okay, well, what’s the limit of what’s practical. You can run a search for some… You can do so much outbound if your pipeline in looks 400 to zero. What can I do? I can’t force people to apply for the role. I think, there’s some… I’m not saying every role is like that, but some roles just are. I think that becomes really tougher, where at some point you have to say, okay, well, pragmatically, we need to still run a set of finalists and make a decision. We can’t run the search forever. The business is waiting on that role.

I think this is the constant balance you have to play, is on the roles where it’s just a really tough situation. I think you can go and put in that extra effort of digging into your network, doing some outbound work, figuring out some ideal candidate profiles and reaching out to them. I think those we should redo. Then there’s the other roles where I think you do get a reasonable inbound pipeline and great, make sure you run a process where you include them, run them through as finalists, and make sure that you’re building a process that’s going to be equitable around it. But I think you just have to be pragmatic at the end of the day.

Chaddha: I think having seen it closely, I think Armon, Dave, Mitchell and the team are doing a great job of being conscious about the requirements and doing everything they can to get as wide a set of candidates they can. At least if you focus on that, you will see results. I wish more and more of companies we are involved with and see, essentially look at doing that because unless you try, you’re never going to get there. I think that’s where… It’s the spirit that is so important. And it’s that thinking that if you start putting some effort into it, you will see more diversity, you will see more inclusion and you will see broader representation from the URM.

Dadgar: I think, this is why we started focusing on this pretty early. I mean, I think some companies are… There can be thousands of people before they hire their first officer focused on diversity inclusion. For us, I think we were only a few hundred people when we brought in someone to focus exclusively on diversity inclusion and engagement of the internal employee cohort. I think that’s… our thinking was, if you wait until you’re 2000 people before you start working on some of this stuff, it’s going to be really hard to make any impact, really hard to make any changes, versus if you start a lot earlier and put the right foundations in place. You’re not fighting that inertia now when you’re much bigger.

It’s fascinating to hear you talk because you talk about company design and company building the way a lot of founders talk about products. It’s just interesting to me, your mindset appears to be company very first less so than product first, which I tend to hear a lot. Am I hearing what you want me to hear or how does it seem to you, Armon?

Dadgar: I think that’s a good observation. I’ll give a lot of credit to this. We actually published a blog post recently. Our chief of staff, Kevin Fisher, he was one of our very early hires employee for. And I think what’s… Again, nontraditional background, studied philosophy. Never worked in infrastructure, never worked in a deep tech space, wasn’t a developer. He was our first, I’ll call, business hire, but brings very much that attitude of the company is the product. The culture is the product, and just as a very thoughtful approach.

I think a lot of this is Kevin’s influence on helping us think more broadly than just the product of how do we think about everything from the internal reporting cadence to the culture, to the process and thinking about the company itself as a… it has a roadmap, if you will. It has a product roadmap. How do we evolve the communication systems? How do we evolve the product management systems? Et cetera, because it also needs a roadmap. It grows and it scales and at different points, its requirements change. I think that was very much some thinking he brought in that I think has resonated. It shows that… It’s a thing that we spend a lot of time thinking about.

It’s interesting because the company is often not a priority. One of the experiences I find with a lot of the newer consumer facing tech companies is they’ve just decided they don’t do support. I don’t want to pick on anybody in particular, but there are a lot that I personally have experienced and I’ve been asking people because is this something I’m missing, where they’ll sell you… I got one for Christmas. It was a workout product. I won’t say who, and they screwed the whole thing up. Well, you can’t even get them to respond to an email. When a guy like me is hitting their CEO on LinkedIn to say, “Hey, where’s my stuff? How come the stuff you sent doesn’t work and how come nobody answers the phone and how come nobody responds to the email?” It’s stunning to me how many early stage, particularly B to C, tech companies just decide we’re not doing customer support. It’s like, hey, you forgot there’s a company that needs to come behind this thing and yet you’ve put company on an equal footing.

Dadgar: Yeah. I think this goes back to that earlier point of what are you trying to do? If what you’re trying to do is a long term relationship with your customer, not responding to their email is not a good way to start.

Chaddha: I think when you’re investing at Series A, one of the things we have found is we need to partner with company builders, because if you focus on company builders, they’ll end up building the product anyways. The product is a subset of the company. It’s not the company. That’s why they’re always looking for company builders over product builders, because company builders is a superset of product building. It’s only one component, product building is only one component of the company.

Dadgar: For us, I mean, I think we thought about it even as early as when we named the company. We were very clear. We don’t want to name the company after a product, because ultimately we’re going to, A, have multiple products, but we might move on from them. You cannibalize your own product, the market moves on, et cetera. HashiCorp should exist in a way that’s longer term than the products itself. It is a super set of the products and that’s how we thought of it.

It is an interesting insight because… I’ll pick on a successful one who I admire on purpose, but Marc Benioff names his company, Salesforce.com. Well, of course it starts off in this thing called Sales Force Automation, SFA. Of course, Sales Force Automation is a fraction of what it sells today. It has, to your point, a massive product line. Sales is just a component of it and yet the company is still called Salesforce and you buy support software and analytical software and all this other stuff from it. It seems you thought about that one ahead of time.

Dadgar: Yeah. I think they’ve done a great job and I think they managed to mangle some of the sub-brands to make it all work. But I mean, I think it was just… We wanted to have that clean messaging from the very beginning that the investment is, we want HashiCorp to be the thing that… You think you’re partnering with HashiCorp and you’re investing in HashiCorp the community, and that you trust that we’re going to continue to evolve the products and add to the community.

I guess, in completion, if I was a new entrepreneur and I said, hey, I want to build a legendary high value business. I want to be in a… create a category that matters. I want to dominate that category. I want to do all those financial things and be a successful long-term company, but I want to do it in a way that is deeply principled, that is focused on conscious capital. What learnings would you share with me to help me on that journey?

Dadgar: In some sense it’s like what’s the secret to fitness, it’s diet and exercise. What’s the secret to success, it’s do the right things for the right reasons. Take a hard problem that other people don’t want to solve, solve it, rinse and repeat. And as you’re doing it, treat people as an ends and not as a means. Your customer is not a means to get to your next fundraise, they are the ends. Your employees are not a means, they are the ends. I think if you just stay grounded in that and say, we’ve solved the hard problem, then we find the next hard problem and the next hard problem and the bigger problem and you just keep going.

Then what you’re really doing is you’re… That is value creation. Solving those problems on behalf of the customers that is value creation. That’s what you’re doing. If you’re treating people well along the way, then you’re building those relationships, you’re earning their business, you’re earning their trust and those then end up being the foundation of those long term relationships. I think it’s just as easy as that. I don’t think you need any hacks. I don’t think you need any tricks. It’s just diet and exercise. No one wants to hear it. No one likes the answer, but that’s the one weird trick is, do a hard thing. Keep doing it, keep doing it for the right reasons.

I know. This is great. How radical of you not to give us advice around hacks and tricks and all that other stuff. All right, gentlemen, is there anything else you’d like to touch on before we wrap?

Chaddha: I think this is great. Really appreciate the time and lots of good learnings for all of us.

Dadgar: Yeah. Thanks so much for hosting. This was fun.

Armon, you’re an extraordinarily, inspirational, legendary entrepreneur. Thank you so much for investing this time with us.

Thanks for joining us on Conscious VC with Navin Chaddha, managing director of Mayfield and me podcaster and author, Christopher Lochhead. You can find me on the internet at lochhead.com. Conscious VC is presented by Mayfield. Visit mayfield.com today where you can learn more about the five pillars of conscious capital and much more. Thanks again for pressing play.

 

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