"The most important factor in allowing Game Changers to thrive is trust."
Tien Tzuo is the founder and CEO of Zuora (NYSE: ZUO). As early as 2007, Tzuo began to evangelize the shift to subscription-based business models, coining the phrase “Subscription Economy.” Since then, Tzuo has spent 10 years building an award-winning subscription management platform to support this new economy and power any subscription business.
Before Zuora, Tzuo was one of the “original forces” at Salesforce, joining as employee number 11. In his 9 years at Salesforce, Tzuo built its original billing system, later serving as chief marketing officer and chief strategy officer.
Tzuo holds a BS in electrical engineering from Cornell and an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He is the author of the book “SUBSCRIBED: Why the Subscription Model Will be Your Company’s Future – and What to Do About It.”
You have to be aware of where the business is, at any given time.
The first thing to consider before hiring a Game Changer is that there are different types of people who need to contribute different things at each stage of the journey.
In the very early stages of a new SaaS business, you’re either a Developer or you’re not a Developer. The former do the development work, and the latter do everything else. So in the very early stages of a business, a Game Changer is a jack of all trades, rather than a specialist. At the beginning of the startup journey, everyone in the company needs to have a shared experience so that they’re aligned.
Ultimately, we are an unfinished house. Any new employee is going to have to go in and try to live in that unfinished house. They’ll walk into the bathroom and see that there’s no shower; they either complain about it, or they join in and start building. Once the business grows, different skill sets come out in different people. Functional experience has to be wound up with skill and collaboration. When those three things come together, that’s when Game Changers start to emerge.
It’s about creating an environment for people to thrive.
You have to create an environment where people can thrive. In this way, you can nurture Game Changers rather than just hiring people who are already Game Changers.
Sometimes you aren’t sure who’ll thrive – it’s often 50/50 as to whether they’ll be a Game Changer, once they’re into the job and working. We try to interview with the idea that people are never good enough and should always be learning. You have to always want to grow.
When you really boil it down, though, startup companies must create loyalty. Everyone is going to want a great job that gives them personal satisfaction. Employees have to feel that the challenge is worth it, so the organization has to be mission driven and provide opportunity for personal growth and development for everyone.
There are a number of questions that every employee needs to ask themselves: “Am I enjoying being with the people around me?”, “Do I have a voice here?”, “I’m frustrated… is it positive frustration or negative?”. You have to create an environment that allows people to answer these kinds of questions for themselves.
Leave the ‘big ideas’ to everyone else.
If you’re a founder who believes you know everything – it won’t work. The leader plays a huge part in alignment, but at Zuora the best ideas don’t ever come from me. I create alignment and prioritisation but leave the big ideas to everyone else.
I didn’t even come up with the company culture, which we call “ZEO” which means that everyone in the business is the “CEO” of their own career at Zuora. The ZEO culture underlines everything we do at Zuora. We’re all aligned behind the mission and we want people to be empowered to fulfil their career trajectories.. But I didn’t come up with this concept and vision; I just got everyone on board with it.
The most important factor in allowing Game Changers to thrive is trust.
At Zuora – and in early stage businesses in general – we talk a lot about innovation, striving for the next big thing, having a sense of empowerment, and approaching things with entrepreneurial spirit. We are always trying to do something new, that’s never been done before, and that’s really, really hard.
Over the years I’ve spoken to a lot of entrepreneur-Founders, so I often find myself in the situation f trying to reflect on my own experience to help them out. The thing I’ve noticed is that everyone hits at least one pivotal moment at which they need to evolve; at some point they will come unstuck and be in a real struggle. There’s the point at which your business hits a point of scale where the culture starts to break.
I didn’t have the right vocabulary for describing the culture in the business at the beginning, so it’s something I’ve had to work hard at and think about a lot so that I could build a great culture at Zuora. After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve realized that trust is at the core of our company culture — and it’s this same trust that enables Game Changers to have impact.
Trust is built at the time when things go wrong. When you hit significant problems and handle them well as a team or an individual contributor, that’s when you build trust.
Trust develops when people work through difficult situations. You have to have a culture of not avoiding tough issues and of mutual respect. You have to create, an environment in which people feel like they can speak up.
If you can trust Game Changers to do their job, that’ll have a hugely positive impact on your business.