A few weeks ago, two non-executive members of the Kahuna team gave presentations at prestigious conferences on opposite sides of the country. I had to take a step back to recognize how special this moment was in Kahuna’s history.
We hired an amazing executive team, which one of my mentors Scott Weiss called a “deep bench.” Every single one of them could walk into a VC’s office with an idea and walk out with funding. These are award-winning folks with amazing pedigrees. We expect them to keynote conferences and be recognized as the amazing leaders they are.
What makes me beam with pride is seeing other Kahuna team members shine. Doug Roberge, Director of Strategic Services, gave an absolutely killer presentation at the Mobile Ventures Summit about the value of owning your communication channels. He fully belonged on a stage that was filled with amazing marketing leaders from Chobani, the NBA, Pinterest, and Under Armour.
Ben Salzman, Director of Business, led a fireside chat with Overstock’s Director of Mobile Jeremy Johnson at the Mobile Shopping Summit. The feedback from attendees was that it was the best talk of the conference. The insights from that conversation can be applied to any retailer and it will increase mobile revenue tomorrow.
When we started Kahuna in 2012, I was scrappy to get as much attention as I could. I wanted to be on every single panel, speak with every reporter and get Kahuna’s name out there as much as humanly possible.
The attention is nice. As a kid who grew up in Palo Alto without athletic abilities, I knew my dreams of professional sports was a fantasy, so I focused on becoming a CEO early on. But the best CEO’s are the first to tell you that big funding announcements or speaking engagements aren’t about ego, they’re about helping evolve an industry, generating customer interest and growing the business as quickly as possible.
I’m never going to stop caring about growing Kahuna, but as it gets larger, my focus has to evolve. One great talk in front of the right people can change an entire career. These are vital chances to help your people level-up their careers. CEOs have a duty to grow the careers of the people who work for them.
With many other companies, it doesn’t happen—even if the company is wildly successful. As a CEO, it’s your responsibility to make sure your people grow and shine. This requires investment and empowerment. Investing means you have the right infrastructure in place for people to shine. This includes getting the right tools, courses, processes and paying for people to attend conferences.
Empowering your employees is much harder to get right, but every CEO has to make this a priority at some point. It all starts with trust. CEOs have to trust the people they hire and your people have to trust you have their backs. It’s especially tough if you’re a startup CEO, because the early days are spent making sure the lights stay on. It’s so easy to put employee development on the back burner.
But you have to empower your people sooner, rather than later. It’s literally the difference between having a million dollar business and a billion dollar business. That’s why we focus so much on The Kahuna Way. We still have a ton of work to do in this area but seeing Doug and Ben give amazing presentations tells me we’re on the right track. The Kahuna team isn’t done rocking and rolling, as eight team members will be speaking at conferences, meetups or learning sessions over the next few weeks.
Kahuna is a team of all-stars, and I am grateful to have amazing people at every level and in every org. A deep bench isn’t about building a great executive team, it is about building a great team, top to bottom. I am proud to call each and every member at Kahuna a partner, and excited to see them all develop into industry leaders and innovators.