From Google to TaskRabbit
This week’s featured interviewee is Stacy Brown-Philpot. Stacy had a distinguished career in operations at Google before stepping up to become COO of TaskRabbit. Stacy shares some great advice on the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone, lessons learned from working abroad, and important things to consider if you’re considering making the move from a big company to a fast-growing startup company.
Name: Stacy Brown-Philpot
Role: COO, TaskRabbit
Grew up in: Detroit, Michigan
Favorite Book(s): I don’t really have one. I like reading fiction. I believe that great leaders are great storytellers so reading fiction helps me improve my storytelling. Shantaram is a great read for this purpose.
How did you get into the world of technology?
My path to technology really started when I decided to go to Stanford for business school. While at Goldman Sachs in 1999, I was fascinated by the valuation and excitement around the technology deals I worked on. My curiosity of what Silicon Valley was all about made the decision to go to Stanford very easy. While at Stanford, I was drawn to the pace, creativity, and innovation you find at tech firms.
After spending a number of years in finance and accounting, I felt I had found the industry that truly excited me. People were building things that mattered and fundamentally changed the way we think, act, and do. With the choice of going into VC or operations, I chose operations. I wanted to build on the front lines and work alongside others to solve hard, challenging problems. Because of my finance background, it took a couple of steps for me to find a line role in a tech company. I wasn’t technical enough to be a product manager or engineer, so had to navigate the business side of technology.
First, I worked in business development at a small startup call Wily Technology before joining Google in 2003. At Google, I started in finance and then later transitioned to sales operations where I spent the last decade of my career.
Great mentors see potential AND give you the opportunity to realize it. They also give you the hard feedback when you screw up because they want you to be better.
Who has been your most important professional mentor and why?
Sheryl Sandberg (currently COO of Facebook). Great mentors see potential AND give you the opportunity to realize it. They also give you the hard feedback when you screw up because they want you to be better. I worked closely with Sheryl in finance at Google and she gave me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and into my first big operational role. It was in that role that I discovered my true passion for building, scaling and leading teams. I made a ton of mistakes along the way but her feedback helped me learn.
What has been the most meaningful professional experience you’ve had and why?
In 2009, I moved to Hyderabad, India to lead the online sales and operations team for Google. I had managed global teams already but living and conducting business in another country provided a rich cultural and professional experience that is unparalleled. I learned how to adapt my leadership style and truly immerse myself in the culture in order to be effective. I learned that with increasing responsibility there is increasing accountability and that working toward a common goal can yield amazing results. I now seek to find the uniqueness of every individual on my team and help him or her work toward realizing their full potential knowing that this is what will lead to our overall company success.
What is the most difficult professional or personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?
I made the decision to move to India without my husband, which was not very popular among my family and many friends because it seemed like I was choosing my career over my family. Chris did not feel that way and not only supported me but made sacrifices (read: long haul flights to India) to make sure that our relationship remained strong. I am very proud to say that we have now been married for 14 years, have a wonderful daughter and are still going strong.
Being who you are helps you align your values with those of your coworkers and the company. It is only then that optimal results are achieved.
What are three pieces of advice do you have for young people of color who are looking to get into technology?
- Take risks. You cannot succeed in tech if you are afraid to fail. The most successful leaders in technology started out doing the opposite of what everyone thinks they should do.
- Relationships matter. The tech industry moves fast and survives on the rapid exchange of information. Building your network and surrounding yourself with a diverse set of smart thinkers helps you make better, faster decisions.
- Be comfortable with YOU. My best employees bring their whole selves to work every day. Being who you are helps you align your values with those of your coworkers and the company. It is only then that optimal results are achieved.
What are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned in going from a big company from Google to a smaller company like TaskRabbit?
- The pace is much faster. You often have to make decisions with a lot less certainty in a short amount of time. This is where intuition and judgment matters more than anything else.
- Learning to manage my emotional energy. At a startup, the highs are really high and the lows are really low. And as an executive your job is to absorb it all, celebrate successes, learn from failures, and keep the team moving forward.
- Everything still takes longer than you think and there are always surprises. It is expected at a big company that things take longer because of bureaucracy, politics, and other coordination costs. But things also take longer at startups because market dynamics change so fast and what you thought was the easiest path from point a to b suddenly becomes very difficult because new information was introduced. To manage this, I make sure I understand a) what is in my control and what is not and b) what are the biggest levers for our business so that when one of those is impacted I can react quickly.
I would not be good at my job if there wasn’t alignment with who I am as a person.
What advice do you have for people considering executive roles in startups?
I always advise people considering a career move to choose to go to something not move away from what you are already doing. In the case of startups, go because you want that experience and not because you are not happy in your current role. At the executive level it is also important to align your personal values with that of the company and the founding team. I play a critical role in shaping the culture at TaskRabbit and ultimately our success. I would not be good at my job if there wasn’t alignment with who I am as a person. Finally, get ready to do the work. As an executive at a large company I could depend on my team for a lot. Now, I have to work alongside my team, roll up my sleeves, identify product bugs, talk to unhappy users, change the toilet paper in the bathroom, etc. It’s part of the experience and I love it!
Who is one person you follow on social media who you think others should follow?
Michelle Obama, role model and inspiration for all women.