Summary of Episode
#36: Shellye Archambeau chats with Annaka and Ethan about her path to becoming a CEO and leader in Silicon Valley. Shellye discusses the importance of being intentional with your decisions and how to find mentors. Shelley’s new book Unapologetically Ambitious.
Shellye Archambeau serves on the boards of Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies, and Okta. She previously served as the CEO of MetricStream, a software company focused on risk management and compliance. Her book, Unapologetically Ambitious was chosen by Fortune magazine as the business book of the year.
Podcast Episode Notes
Improving the odds of success [1:31]
Shellye’s story to becoming a CEO [3:51]
How Shellye’s first job in sales gave her skills to use today [8:02]
Jumping onto the current of power [11:02]
How Shellye evaluates risk [15:34]
During downturns, cash gives companies flexibility, and it is important that leaders model the behavior they wish to see [17:38]
As a founder or CEO you should be making mistakes [23:48]
Leaders should prioritize creating more leaders [24:24]
Finding mentors is important. Ask for help! Most people are willing to help others [29:19]
As the mentee, you own the relationship and need to close the loop [37:02]
Act with confidence and break away from imposter syndrome [40:31]
Falling in love with your product is dangerous [46:26]
How to implement advice from a book by creating a structure [49:22]
Courage is the most important factor for businesses and corporations [52:30]
Shellye’s biggest piece of advice — be vulnerable [55:14]
Full Interview Transcript
Annaka: Hey everyone and welcome to Startup Savants, a podcast brought to you by TRUiC. I’m Annaka.
Ethan: And I’m Ethan.
Annaka: If you’re a returning listener, welcome back! And, if you’re new, this podcast is about the stories behind startups, the founders who run them, and the problems they are solving. But today, we are doing something a little different.
This episode we are joined by Shellye Archambeau, author of Unapologetically Ambitious.
Annaka: Shellye shared her strategy on how she “adopts” mentors, and how you cannot grow as a company without you, the founder, growing with it.
Ethan: Shellye’s story is all about making a plan, being intentional, and doing whatever it takes to make it happen. For a guy who has a plan almost all the way to the end of this sentence, this was a huge lesson for me.
Speaking of lessons, if you’re interested in learning, check out startupsavant.com! It’s jam-packed with free guides, tools, and resources that founders need to make those intentional plans – so that one day, they too, can fulfill their dreams.
But until then, let’s hop right into this special episode with the author of Unapologetically Ambitious, Shellye Archambeau.
Annaka: Alright. Let's start with your book, Unapologetically Ambitious. What is it about and why was it important for you to write this book?
Shellye Archambeau: The book is really about how to get what you want out of life, professionally and personally, by improving your odds every step of the way. And I wrote the book because early on, I tried to be really accessible. There aren't many black women in technology doing the things that I've done, and therefore I wanted people to be able to touch me. If they touch me, they realize, "Hey, I'm a real person. If I can do it, you can do it."
Shellye Archambeau: But as I got more and more responsibility, I couldn't actually meet with everybody. I still responded to email, texts, whatever. But I said, you know what? When I get to phase two, I'm going to write it down. I'm going to write down what worked, what didn't and talk about it. Not from do this, do this, do this from your job, but really how to make life work. And that's why I wrote the book because I just wanted to share what I never saw, which was a book that really talked about life holistically, had to climb a ladder, do what you want to do, but also have a life that you want.
Annaka: Gotcha. And it's written from your experience, so these are lived things that you can point to and say, "This happened here and this happened here and this is how I kind of overcame it." What would you say is the biggest takeaway that you want readers to have when they finish your book?
Shellye Archambeau: I wanted them to walk away with the perspective that if they're intentional about what they want to do, if they set goals and really be intentional about the steps they take to get there, that they really can improve their odds. A lot of people set goals, and some people think about plans for their goals, but very few people make decisions every day consistent with what they're actually trying to do. And that's where the power lies. So I wanted people to take away, "I don't have to do everything Shelley did." That was not the objective. The objective was just to share that if you are intentional and strategic about each step, you can actually improve your odds and get what you want ultimately.
Annaka: Yeah. The setting of intentions is a really good nugget for me. That makes sense in my very type-A brain. And I know this is going to be a very open-ended question and you have an extensive career history, but can you walk us through your career and how you got to where you are today?
Shellye Archambeau: Oh goodness. So-
Annaka: I know.
Shellye Archambeau: It really started out in... I’ll do an abridged version, but it really started out in high school. It was really in high school that I decided that I wanted to be a CEO. Not because I knew what a CEO was, frankly, but because I had a guidance counselor who told me that the fact that I liked working in clubs and leading clubs, that clubs were like business. And I said, "Oh, okay, well, I like to lead clubs. So I'll go lead a business." And when I looked up, those people were called CEOs. So I said, "I'm going to go be a CEO." Audacious and ignorant, I had no clue what that really meant. But I did know that I needed to do some research to figure it out.
And so that's what I did when I looked around, "Gosh, the CEOs." I mean, I didn't see women, I didn't see people of color. And they came from strong backgrounds and I figured, you know what? Odds are against me, so I've got to get great credentials. So I went to Wharton. I wanted to be in tech because it was a growing industry. And I heard along the way that those industries have the best opportunities. So I decided to join IBM. And the research showed that every CEO of IBM started out in sales. So despite the fact that people thought I was crazy coming out of Wharton and going to sell computers, that's what I did, because I figured that was a path to power.
And I rose through my sales career into management, general management, vice president, running multi-billion dollar divisions at IBM, then got to the point where my boss reported to the CEO and I wasn't really getting all the signs that told me that I was really going to have an opportunity to compete for the CEO role. So I worked my way to Silicon Valley. I left IBM, very tough decision, to become President of blockbuster.com. Believe it or not, back in the late 90s.
Shellye Archambeau: Then Blockbuster was a behemoth everywhere. I mean, there's a Blockbuster within three miles, almost 80% of Americans. And unfortunately Blockbuster didn't really have the vision for where things were going. And so, I decided, you know what I need to get where everything is really happening and that was Silicon Valley. So I moved to Silicon Valley to take the chief marketing officer at VP of sales roles at two public companies before I ultimately went after my CEO role at what became MetricStream. And I ran that for 15 years before passing the CEO Arbitron.
Annaka: And then here we are today.
Shellye Archambeau: That's right.
Ethan: So a lot of this, well, all of this is in the book and people should most definitely go read the book, there's so much. I mean, it's infectious. The book is titled, Unapologetically Ambitious and it should be titled Infectiously Ambitious just because, I mean, I finished reading it and I was fired up. And I'm like, I've got to go do something with all this energy I've got. I probably am not going to be the next CEO in three days of this particular company, but we'll see where it takes me. But I want to ask, why was it crazy for when you said you were going to go sales at IBM from Wharton? Why was that crazy?
Shellye Archambeau: Because people coming out of Wharton aspired for first time jobs to be investment bankers or international financial analysts or P&G project managers. Those were the sexy, cool jobs, right? Consultants and all those things. And I'm going to go sell? I mean, carry a bag and actually sell computers? You don't need a Wharton degree for that, right? That was kind of the view. So that's why it was crazy. And it's funny, I tell people who counsel came out of Wharton and think about it and they go, "I don't know anybody else that actually went to do that kind of a job." That's what really made it crazy.
Ethan: Well, you did it and it moved you closer, one step... That's what I feel like the entire book is about is like, you've had this goal since high school and everything you've done just takes you one step closer.
Shellye Archambeau: Exactly.
Ethan: And that's how you eat an elephant, one bite at a time.
Shellye Archambeau: That's absolutely right. That's why you break all your goals down into steps. And I'll also tell you a secret here, Ethan, the sales job selling for several years with IBM, I still use today more the skills that I learned as a salesperson than probably any other job I've held.
Ethan: So tell us more about that. I mean, do you see a sales job as being the perfect first job for anyone or just for specific people? Or is there something that is better at this point?
Shellye Archambeau: Personally, I think it's the best first job for anyone. And the reason is, and I don't care if it's a part-time job selling something while you're in school or a full-time job when you come out of school. But what sales does for you is you learn so much. The first thing you learn is courage because you can't sell anything unless you ask for the order. And that takes courage, so that's one.
Two, you learn that no doesn't mean no. No just means something's not right. So either timing's not right, funding's not right, the value proposition's not right, the decision making... Something is not right. So getting a no is great because it gives you a chance to then find out what's wrong, why not? So much better to ask for what it is that you want and get a no, so that you can follow up on it than not know what it is that's actually holding you back, so that you learn forever.
And then you learn how to power in rooms, how to read people, you learn how to connect and build trust and confidence. You learn how to actually communicate and package what it is that you're trying to sell, right? In a way in which people will understand and appreciate it. Well, though everything I just said, we do in all of our jobs all the time. So learning it early, I think it just gives you a big head start.
Ethan: So sales is just the best skills acquisition model or location or place or position for people that want to do great things?
Shellye Archambeau: I believe so. I'm totally biased, I absolutely believe so.
Ethan: Well, I think that's excellent advice. So sales was your first job at IBM, but throughout your time at IBM, one of the things that you mentioned that you did was find out how the power flows through the company in order to move yourself closer to what your final goal was of being the CEO. Can you give us the definition of the flow of power?
Shellye Archambeau: Absolutely, you're right. I call that flow of power the current, and what I mean by that, are there certain roles and jobs that just seemed to set you up for the right set of jobs? So for instance, I wanted to be a CEO. So when I looked at, okay, who's CEO? What were their jobs? Et cetera. It became really clear that one of the key sets of skills or experiences you had to have was managing a P&L, profit loss, right? A business unit. So, okay, what were the business units and looking to see which ones, what divisions did they actually come from? Which business units did they actually run? Staying close to how the company makes money tends to be a current or power of flow.
But every company is different. You might be in a pharmaceutical company and that company might actually come through, I don't know, research or every company is different. But what you want to do is to look to see how are people moving through the company. People who become directors and vice presidents and general managers and presidents and whatever, what are their roles? What organizations are they in? And when you look, you tend to find a current where 70% of the people have done it through this kind of path. Well, to me, I call that the current. It doesn't mean you can't get there without being on the current, you can, but I find if you actually get onto the current of power, you can move farther more quickly than if you're outside of the current. Just like when you're rowing a boat.
Ethan: Right. Or if you're actively swimming against the current.
Shellye Archambeau: Right.
Ethan: We are all our own worst enemies at the time and tend to get in our own ways. This isn't a podcast about me, though. So, all right. I'm going to ask you to do a little bit of translation for us. Most of these early experiences, especially with IBM, were in the context of being in a large organization, but most of our listeners are founders and CEOs of smaller, but quickly scaling companies. So I know you've been the CEO of many different sizes of company and you've done so many different things. So in your experience, how would you see, or how would you tell an entrepreneur of a scale company, how to identify the flow to achieve that success or to move into that position that they would like to move themselves into?
Shellye Archambeau: When you're a founder of a business, the flow you're trying to find is not the flow within your company, but you're trying to find the flow within the target industry or segment in which you are operating. And so the key there is to really spend time understanding who your target market is. Who are they? What do they like? Where do they spend time? What are the different periodicals, podcasts? Where do they get their information? What kinds of backgrounds do they come from? And the reason you want to know all that is, it'll tell you where you need to position yourself to actually get into the current.
I'll give you an example. When we were getting MetricStream going, we were starting a new space because you could say, "Well, gosh, that's great. But what if I'm starting something as new?" Well, we were doing the same thing. We called it comprehensive compliance and risk. Well, nobody was out there searching for a comprehensive compliance and risk application when we came out in the early 2000s, right? So they're not going to find us.
Shellye Archambeau: So therefore we did research to figure out, where are the compliance officers, the chief risk officers, where do they spend their time? What are they looking for? And we launched a website called complianceonline.com. And what we did with that website was we put a ton of content up there, made it very easy to find, did all kinds of tagging. And next thing we knew people were actually coming to our site and we could find them because they basically raised their hand, right?
Shellye Archambeau: So you can find the current by understanding your target market better than anybody else and putting yourself in their way, putting yourself where they go, where they spend time, where they are looking for information. So the current works, whether it's an established one within your company, because it's a big company or in a startup looking for the current within that industry segment that you're targeting.
Ethan: Awesome. So let's move back to your career specifically. When you decided to leave IBM, it had been about 15 years, you had worked for IBM for 15 years, and that was a pretty big risk or at least that's what it looked like at the time, I'm sure. A big risk to leave this company that you had been with for so long to move into a smaller company, to take a higher position. How did you validate that the risk was worth taking?
Shellye Archambeau: So the way I look at risks or I ask myself, "Okay, if I take the risk, what's the best that can happen? What's likely to happen? And then what's the worst that could happen?" And for each of them, I try to decide whether or not it's worth it. So first, what's the best that could happen. All right, it puts me absolutely on track for where I'm trying to go with CEO, et cetera. Well, what's likely to happen. Well, I'll at least gain skills and experience even if it doesn't catapult me the way I want it to, then I'll be able to leverage going forward. And what's the worst that can happen, and can I live with it? So the worst that could happen if I took left IBM and took a new job, is that I failed at that job. And then I'd have to look for a new job.
Well, could I live with it? Yeah. I mean I had 15 years of experience, I could find a job. It may not be the perfect thing, but I could pay my bills, right? So it wasn't like I was going to suddenly end up in the poor house. So if I can live with the risk and the reward puts me where I want to be career-wise, then I'm going to take the risk. One of the things that I find is that risk and opportunity are two sides of the same coin. If you don't take risks, you just won't get the opportunities. So getting comfortable taking risk is such an important skill, especially for founders.
Ethan: So your goal was to be a CEO, that was your goal since high school. So you left IBM to chase that goal. And when you finally reached it, it wasn't the smoothest of sailing. I mean, you guided your company and your team through the 2008 recession. We all know that that was a huge mess. I think we might be looking to try that again here in the United States and maybe across the world. So talking about that specifically, how do you recommend other founders look to navigate the uncertainty of these times financially, I suppose?
Shellye Archambeau: Yes. So whenever you're facing an uncertain time, cash becomes so very important because so many companies go out of business. Not because they don't have a good product, not because they don't have a good idea, not because they don't have great customer prospects, it's because they flat out run out of money. So cash, cash, cash, when you're in this space of a downturn, frankly just uncertainty so that you have some flexibility when you need it, so that's number one.
Number two, even though things can look terrible, what I've found is that things are never as bad as they appear, and they're also never as good as they appear. So realize it's just a situation you have to deal with. And as the leader, you want to make sure that you stay pretty calm, which is why it's important to remind yourself of that because the rest of the company is looking to you to determine how they should feel. And if you're panicked, then the whole company gets panicked, right? If you're excited and think everything is great and you start to get arrogant, well, the whole company gets arrogant and then your customers aren't treated right, things aren't right. So as a leader, you have to model the behavior that you want to see. So my biggest advice is number one, got to manage the cash. And number two, you as a leader have to remember that you are the leader and you have to model the behavior you want to see as you're going through challenging times.
Annaka: I mean, I love all of that advice, especially the manage your money part, because I still am horrible at that in my 30s. And I want to return real quick to what you had mentioned at the beginning, talking about intention in goal setting. For me, intention and risk are two words that don't go together in my brain at all. So I'm wondering if you can expand more on what you mean by intention and how people can go about setting and defining those intentions when they're taking risks.
Shellye Archambeau: Absolutely. So I mean, when I say intention and risk, intention is doing something for a reason and the reason is something in the future that you are trying to achieve to create, to impact. So that's doing something with intention. The risk piece comes in that you can do something, you can intentionally take a risk. So let me give you an example. I was with and this is one, let's see startup founders. So here we are at MetricStream and we're trying to create at corporate conference, where our senior executive customers will come. Not just all people, but senior people will come. Well, in order to get senior people to come you've got to really have a big carrot, right? Now we're still a startup, we don't have a lot of money. And so what we decided was we're going to put on a conference and we're going to pay and get a name brand person. All right, now this is a big risk because I'm getting ready to put out a bunch of money, we get Colin Powell, all right?
Shellye Archambeau: Colin was not cheap.
Shellye Archambeau: So we get Colin Powell and then it's one of those things where you bite your nails, because it's like, "The customers better show up." And so it's a huge risk because if it didn't, then that was the lot of money to flush down the toilet. But we didn't have a lot of money. The good news is it kicked off our GRC Summit, we called it, in the right way because it then became a place that yes, people came and senior people came, but then when they left they all got pictures with Colin Powell, they did this. So guess what? The word of mouth for next year, we grew the next year by 30% and I didn't have to have a Colin Powell name, still had good names, but I could come down. You know what I'm saying? So intention, we had an intention, we did this for a reason, but did we take a risk to do it? Absolutely did.
Shellye Archambeau: Go hand in hand.
Annaka: And I know you went into this, if you're okay with the worst case scenario and that being how you judge, should I go for it or should I not? What happens when the risk doesn't pan out?
Shellye Archambeau: Well, that happens. So here I'll give you another one. Here again, we're going after this governance and risk and ultimately became known as governance, risk and compliance. Thank God. It became a space in the market. But we decided that we were really trying to get higher levels of potential clients. So we said, "You know what, let's start a consulting arm." Because then if you consult with people, then you build trust, you build knowledge. Then you can bring your products in, et cetera." So we did. We made some hires, we created some content, we created a whole consulting thing. Failed. Why does it fail? Because we're a product company.
So people see that first, even if you have great consultants, if they're part of your product company, they're not going to see that as an independent, et cetera. So did it fail? Yeah, it failed. Did we lose? Did we waste money on that? Yes, we did. But now did it take the company down? No. What's the worst that can happen, right? It didn't tank the whole company.
Shellye Archambeau: Did it cause us to have bigger losses than we had hoped? The answer is yes, but we made it through it. So it works on both sides.
Annaka: Yeah. And I bet that it taught you a lot more about what is... I don't want to say scope, but maybe a learning opportunity is to like, "Okay, this, we tried this. If we are going to try this again, we have to really evaluate the approach and maybe we'll swing back this way and try something else."
Shellye Archambeau: Exactly. We learned it was better to partner, partner with companies that we're already consulting. And frankly, if you're a founder, a startup CEO, you should be making mistakes. If you're not making mistakes, then frankly you're not taking big enough bets. So the key is, once you make a mistake, acknowledge it, fix it and move on. Don't let it linger and hang and everything else, you can't afford that. But yeah, if you're not making mistakes, then you're just not pushing yourself enough.
Annaka: Yeah. Okay. So I'm a person that cannot make a decision without 45 people weighing in on it. When you're making those huge decisions for your company, who are you going to for feedback?
Shellye Archambeau: It depends upon the decision, but it really comes down to people within the organization and frankly, people outside of the organization. I think it's important to have a set of people who are independent, aren't drinking the Kool-Aid of your company, that you can bounce ideas off of and that's really important. But the other thing is, as a leader, you also don't want to be making all the decisions. If you're making all the decisions, you're doing it wrong. You want to make decisions when the team can't, right? Or when it appears that the team either has a wrong set of assumptions or something, that's leading them in a direction that you just fundamentally do not agree with. But in general, if you're making all the decisions, then you're doing something wrong because the number one job of a leader is to build and create more leaders, and you can't create leaders if you're making all the decisions. And if you can't create more leaders, then you can't scale the company because you become the bottleneck to growth.
Shellye Archambeau: So you've got to make sure that you're creating leaders and you're allowing and letting your people make decisions.
Ethan: So let's double click on that because that's one of the hardest things that a very early stage founder and some even further stage founders have the hardest time with is letting go of the tasks that you know you could do better on your own, but that you're wasting the opportunity to empower somebody else to learn how to do that. Or you're just wasting your time because maybe that is now a lower level obligation that somebody else could be taken care of. So how does a founder, how does anybody that is running any sort of operation take themself out of that situation, get in the right mindset and be able to properly delegate those tasks to other people on the team?
Shellye Archambeau: Yeah. One of the things that I started doing, because you're right, it is hard, Ethan. One of the things I started doing was looking back at my calendar each quarter, I look back at my calendar and say, "Now how did I spend my time?" And then ask myself, "Is that how I should be spending my time?"
If you're not spending a good chunk of your time on strategy, on building external relationships and connections tied to the success of your company and your business, then you're not doing your job. And so what happens is you shouldn't have enough time to do all of those detailed work if you're indeed leading and managing your people properly, meaning holding one-on-one setting objectives, making sure are you speaking, are you doing right, et cetera, and doing the external stuff, you shouldn't have time to do it. So if you are doing it, that means when you go back and reflect on it, there are things that you are not doing. So I find the best way to do it is that way, look at how am I spending my time? Is this the way I should be spending my time?
Ethan: So then let's say I go back in my calendar and look at the last week and say, "I spent a lot of time doing tasks that I could have been passing off to these people." What's the method? What gets me there? What gets me to let go? I mean, is it just like grin and bear it? Or I mean, I know it's different for each different task, but what's the best way to hand those things down when you just can't let it go?
Shellye Archambeau: Right. The best thing to remind yourself of is your company will not scale, flat out. Your company will not scale if you can't create and develop other people to be able to do the things that you are currently doing, flat out. So as long as you like a small company and a small team, then fine, keep doing it. But if what you're trying to do is to really scale, then you've got to let go. And if you're really having trouble, then go get a coach or a mentor, somebody who could be sitting on your shoulder to say, "Hey, you're not supposed to be doing that."
Shellye Archambeau: So whatever help you need to allow you to let go, you need to go get, because you're not only letting yourself down, but you're letting the entire company down when you're doing things that you have no business doing.
Ethan: So you set me up perfectly for the next line of questions that I wanted to ask. You mentioned mentors and before we talk about mentors, let's just talk about asking for help in general. What's your thought on asking for help?
Shellye Archambeau: I believe that asking for help is a strength, it is not a weakness. One of the things I like to say is, "There is no one on this planet that has done anything of significance all by themselves. No one." So don't think you're going to be the first one to do it, therefore ask for help. I find if you ask for help, it does a number of things. One, most people have asked in the right way are actually willing to be helpful. That's number one.
Number two, asking for help shows that you are vulnerable. People relate to people who are vulnerable, right? Asking for help shows, "Hey, I'm not perfect. I don't know everything. I'm just like you." It allows people to relate to you. So it brings that value. And then third, you actually get help, which means you're actually able to take advantage of what you're getting and improve things. So that's the third, big reason to ask for help. So asking for help is a strength, it is not a weakness and we should ask for help everywhere when we need it.
Ethan: So let's jump into mentorship then. So let's do this the easiest way. I want a mentor. In fact, I would like you to be my mentor. How do I ask, what do I need to do to make that happen?
Shellye Archambeau: Right. So, first of all, what I find is don't actually ask somebody to be your mentor.
Ethan: Darn, I already messed up.
Shellye Archambeau: The first step, first steps off. I really learned this whole perspective around mentoring as a result of an experience when I was at IBM. Do you mind if I share it real quick? Because I think-
Ethan: I would love that more than anything else.
Shellye Archambeau: Puts it in context. So I'm at IBM, I'm probably, I don't know, four or five years into my career. And IBM decides that they want high potential people to have mentors. And they ask us who do we want our mentors to be? And so I said, okay, there was this guy. He was a couple levels above me, his name was Roland Harris, I knew him. I thought he liked me. So put his name down. Well, several days later I get a call, "Shellye." "Hi, Rowland." "Shellye, you put my name down to be your mentor." And I'm like, "Gosh, Roland. Yeah, I thought you liked me?" And he said, "Shellye, you've got me, go get somebody else." And I was like, "What?" Because I never had a conversation with Roland about being my mentor, but he already considered himself a mentor.
So this whole mentor-mentee thing, it doesn't have to be formal was the number one learning.
Number two, he told me to go get another one. I can have as many as I want. So I adopted mentors all over the place throughout the rest of my career. So that's why I tell people, don't ask people because when you ask them, it gives them the opportunity to say no, right?
Shellye Archambeau: You don't want to know, so don't ask.
Shellye Archambeau: Just start treating them like a mentor and start easy, even you wouldn't come to me and say, "Oh Shellye, do you have a second? What should I do with my career?" I mean, that's not a second, right? That I have no clue. I don't know you well enough, that doesn't get you anywhere. But what you could do is say, "Hey Shellye, you just wrote a book. I'm thinking about writing a book, what would be your two pieces of advice?" Those will probably be top of mind things because I just did it, he knows. So I can answer without even investing. Now here's the key, when you ask for that advice, take it.
Shellye Archambeau: Take it and then report back. "Shellye, thanks so much for the advice. I now have my first drafted, blah, blah, blah." Whatever it might be, right? Now why do you do that? Because I may not even remember the conversation, all right? I'm running, I'm moving fast. I got asked a question that I didn't have to think about, but by saying thank you, it's like, "Oh wait, wow, I really had an impact on Ethan." It makes me feel good. They won't remember what you say, they won't remember what you do, but they'll remember how you made them feel, right?
Shellye Archambeau: And so saying thank you creates that feeling. And that starts this relationship and odds become higher, then if you ask another question, I'll actually answer it because I know I'm making an impact, versus if you never report back and I don't know what happened, when you ask another question, I'm like, why am I wasting my time, Right? Because I don't know if you're using this or not.
Ethan: Right. Absolutely. So, tactical question here. If I meet someone who I feel as though is a person who is influential or could answer questions that I have, but I don't have any of those questions right at this moment, or I don't necessarily feel as though I could provide them any value right at this moment, how do I keep in touch with that person to keep that relationship on a low simmer until I'm able to come at them with the question that I really want answered, but also without driving them insane in the meantime?
Shellye Archambeau: Yeah. So you have to find something that creates a memory or connection. If I shake your hand, "Hi Ethan." "Hi, Shellye, nice to meet you." And I leave and there was nothing else that happened. It's really hard when two years later you reach out and say, "I shook your hand." So come up with something. You have to come either some context in which we're meeting, it could be at a conference, it could be whatever. So I could say maybe somebody spoke or maybe you've read something. There's got to be some reason why you actually think you want to stay connected to me. So use that reason to come up with something, right? That something might be, "Oh, you just spoke on X, Y, Z. And my company's thinking about that for our next whatever version, iteration and whatever, not now, but in the future, right? Really appreciated your thoughts. Would you mind in the future if I just send you something about what we're doing."
I mean, come up with something that creates a connection. And then when you leave them, try within the next six months, if you've got their contact information, send them an article that might be of interest or I mean something, right? This is all about just staying just a little simmer to your point until you actually need them, but try to do it in a way which your value added. So you're not so much always pulling, but you're offering them something.
Ethan: So that offering value thing, I'm sure that you've had about six million free coffees offered to you over the past 20 years. And your brain is probably picked clean of all of the questions that people just want to ask you with those generic asks like, "Can I buy you a coffee and pick your brain?" So I'm sure since you've been a mentor to so many people, whether named or unnamed as a mentor, what's the benefit that you get out of those relationships?
Shellye Archambeau: For me personally, it's the intrinsic feeling that I'm actually making a difference and having impact for someone, which is why closing the loop is so important. It feels good to know that your advice, your perspective, your intro, whatever it might be, actually made a difference in someone's life, career, company, whatever. So frankly, at this stage is that intrinsic piece that means the most to me.
Ethan: So you may have already answered this question, but I'll ask it anyway, just for good luck. How can the mentor and the mentee, and I guess look at this from the mentee's point of view, how can they get the most out of that relationship?
Shellye Archambeau: So from a mentee standpoint, just remember you own the relationship, not the mentor. And the best way to get the most out of it once you've established the relationship and you've got to a cadence in a conversation is to be respectful of the mentor's time. Which means, if I reach out to say, "Ethan, do you have 15 minutes?" Tell them why you need the 15 minutes. "Do you have 15 minutes of working on a real strategic challenge with blah, blah, blah, blah, blah?" Whatever it might be. And time bounded, be on time. You set the introduction and the calendar invite, you do the work around it to make it easy for the mentor. Give them a chance to think about the topic before you actually get together as an example. And then, like I said, it's closing the loop. So all of the weight really sits with the mentee because it's the mentee that's getting the most value. Yes, I get intrinsic, but the mentee is actually getting the most value, and therefore they're the ones that own the relationship.
Annaka: I think those of us that have been in remote work settings have all gotten the message, "Hey, do you have a sec?" And you're like, "About what? Before I reply to this, what do you need?" Because I could be setting myself up for a real easy question or it's going to be half a day's worth of frustration.
So to your point, say what you need, ask the right people, give them some context. And I feel like it greases the wheels a little bit more.
Shellye Archambeau: Exactly.
Annaka: All right. So one of the major themes that I connected with in your book was the dreaded imposter syndrome, which I don't feel like we had a name for that until the last couple years. Maybe we just all felt it and didn't really talk about it. But how did that manifest itself in your career?
Shellye Archambeau: I have suffered from imposter syndrome my entire life, entire life. I still do from time to time, which is absolutely ridiculous. But let me make sure we're on the same page, Annaka, in terms of what that actually means. So imposter syndrome is that little voice. It's that little voice that when you're getting ready to face something new, a new job, you're asked to speak, you join a new group, whatever it means, that little voice that says, "What makes you think you are capable of doing this? Wait till they figure out you don't know as much as they think you know."
It's that little voice that is basically reverberating in your brain, all of your worst fears, concerns, self-doubt the whole bit. And it's so freaking loud, that voice. That's imposter syndrome.
Now in writing my book, one of the things I learned through research is that most people suffer from imposter syndrome at some point or another, right? Women, more so than men and actually women of color the most. But frankly, if just about everybody is suffering from it, it means it's not you, right? It's kind of in the air, it's like television.
Shellye Archambeau: It comes across the airwaves, you watch something, you get scared. What do you do? You turn the thing off. That voice in your head, turn the thing off. It's not real, it's just in the air. And if that doesn't work, remember the only times you really feel it is when you are facing something new. Well, guess what? They wouldn't be giving you the new opportunity if they didn't believe in you. So if you can't believe in yourself, believe them, right? And then if that doesn't work, fake the confidence. Act like you know what you're doing because eventually if you really think about it, you always figure it out. You always figure it out.
So give yourself the benefit of the doubt, assume you're going to figure it out and just act with confidence. And if that doesn't work, then it's like call on cheerleaders, get your posse around you and tell them, "Listen, I can't do it." And give them a chance to give you that cheerleader, right? "Shellye, you got this, you can do this." "Come on, Ethan." We all need people in our lives that rally us forward, which is why you have cheerleaders. That's why football players get in a huddle at one, two, three go, it's to give each other the cite that we can do this. We all need help and support. So if you can't make it through yourself, then get help to help you make it through.
Annaka: Yeah, everyone needs good cheerleaders.
Ethan: We do.
Annaka: And so, those of y'all that know me, no, I have an ego the size of Texas. But for people that are lacking the confidence or are feeling insecure in their workplace, how did they fake it? Just put a big old smile on and add a little swagger in?
Shellye Archambeau: It's two things. So the first is depending on what you're facing, sometimes just practicing can actually do it, right? I don't know, maybe you have to stand in front of group and give a short speech and, oh gosh, you're getting all the nerves of the stomach and the whole bit. Well, literally standing in front of a mirror or something and just practicing can actually help calm your overall nerves. So practice is one.
Two is, imagine yourself doing it. I mean, literally you close your eyes and you imagine yourself getting to do whatever it is that you have to do, lead a team, whatever it might be. But all of those things help you feel the emotion before the emotion actually hits you for real. And that helps believe it or not, but it really does help. So I think about it as just the shoulders back and I talk to myself. Listen, I said, I suffered from it even to this day. I remember when I was appointed to the Board of Directors for Verizon and I'm getting ready to walk into the Verizon board meeting. And here you have to understand I'd already served on public boards for almost 10 years, right? I've been a CEO for a decade. I mean, this wasn't like it's a brand new thing, but now it's a Fortune 15 company, right?
Shellye Archambeau: So you're ready to walk in, and I look and I'm like, "Oh my God, that's the Former Head of the SCC. That's the former secretary of transportation. That's the CEO of Walgreens." That's like, "Oh my God, am I really going to be able to hold my own in this room? Am I going to..." That voice, right?
Shellye Archambeau: Just slap myself, "Shellye, get over it. Okay, get over it. Really put your shoulders back. You're going to figure this out. Walk in." I mean, literally whatever it takes, whether it's talking to yourself or not, just keep moving forward, do not let imposter syndrome win. Do not let it slow you down, do not let it stop you from doing what you really want to do. And if you feel like it's stopping you, go get help.
Annaka: Yeah. Also, therapy is a great thing for anyone listening. I don't know, we have the cheerleaders and everything like that. But if it's the constant negative self-talk and you're having real trouble, a therapist or a counselor is epic. They will be like, "Oh, here you need a toolbox for that? Here you go. Here's everything you'll ever need." But in your experience working with startups, is this something you see as common among founders and leaders?
Shellye Archambeau: Oh, absolutely. Imposter syndrome, yes.
Shellye Archambeau: I hear from people that a lot of folks suffer from it from time to time, absolutely. And some more frequently than others.
Annaka: Yeah. I'm in my mid 30s, I never feel like we heard about it a whole lot, and then all of a sudden it's everywhere and everyone is feeling the imposter syndrome. And so, how do you differentiate between this just self-doubt, this is imposter syndrome, this is that nagging little voice. Or when maybe you need to change course a little bit. Maybe this self-doubt is actually there for a reason. Is there a difference between the two?
Shellye Archambeau: There is a difference between the two, if you end up in a situation where you really are over your head, and over your head meaning the responsibilities that you have are ones that you just don't know how to meet or meet consistently at the level, then I call that being over your head, so that absolutely can happen. In terms of telling the difference, imposter syndrome is when you have that doubt that's nagging at you, that you just don't belong, that you're really shouldn't be here the whole bit, but it typically is not manifested in terms of actually doing things.
When you actually get the role, get the job, get whatever it might be, you can do it. It's just as you're getting ready to take it on, or as you're getting started, you're feeling this doubt. But if you're actually in something and you're literally don't know how to do it, how to get it done, where to go for help, whatever it might be, then you might be over your head. So that's how I see it as different.
Annaka: Yeah. And hopefully, if you are making the wrong decision your really good friends that will tell you-
Shellye Archambeau: Absolutely.
Annaka: Like, please this is how I start a lot of my friendships is like, "Okay, if I'm going to do something stupid, please for the love of God, tell me that I'm being dumb."
And another thing that you had mentioned in your questionnaire before we actually got on the call with you. You mentioned that one of the most common roadblocks you see founders running into is falling in love with their product. What's the danger in, I mean, I'm a founder, I have this product. I love it, it's great. I made it, it's like my baby. What's the danger of that, of falling in love with it?
Shellye Archambeau: So the danger of falling in love with your product is really similar, use the analogy of baby. It's really similar to falling in love with your baby, right? I mean, you have a baby and you know your baby is perfect. You know your baby is beautiful. And people might come over and start making little criticisms or something and they don't think your baby's so pretty. And you're like, "Wait, you just haven't seen her in the right light. Let us tickle it a little bit. Look how she gurgles, right?"
Shellye Archambeau: I mean, so bottom line is it doesn't matter what people say, you are not listening because you know your baby is perfect. Well, when you're a founder of a product and I'll use that in a broad sense, when I say product you're offering, it's almost the same thing. You've put your heart and soul into this product. It is perfect. "Well, what do you mean it's not? Oh, no, you just don't understand how to use it. Oh no, you just haven't spent enough time going through the steps. Oh no, you just haven't thought about it right." We have all these excuses because we're trying to reinforce that the product is perfect. No, when you fall in love with your product, it really tends to shut your mind and your eyes to external choices. And that is the death of a product.
You don't want to fall in love with your product. What you want to do is fall in love with your target market because when you fall in love with your target market, you want to make sure they have everything they need. Everything they need. "Oh, is there a way to make this easier? Is there a way to make this more usable? Would this be better?" If you're focused on falling in love with your target market, then all of the energies that you bring in your company will be all about how do I satisfy them the best? And when you do that, then you win.
Ethan: I'm going to make part of that last statement my ringtone, because I want to hear that just every single day. And I get 12 to 30,000 junk phone calls a day, so that would be very helpful to me. The people out there that don't think customer first, you're headed the wrong direction. I mean, there's no way that you can create the thing that is the exact thing that needs to be created if you're thinking of your own benefits first. You've got to think about that customer. The customer is the lifeblood of your company. And so, it's really nice to just hear somebody lay that out so plain, thank you for that.
Shellye Archambeau: Very welcome.
Ethan: Okay. I want to ask you a book question and this is maybe something just personal. Maybe I'm the only person who's ever experienced this problem, but I just don't believe that. So the question is, how should readers implement advice that they get from a book? And then let me give you a little bit of context.
So books are about 260 pages and they're the highlight reel. But for most of our lives, we could write 260 pages for every single day that we're here, that we're doing the things that we're doing. So when I'm reading this book and I see, oh, here's a piece of advice I want to implement, and it's going to take me three years to do this thing right, how do I manage the in-between time of when... Here's the highlight reel, I'm moving. In real life I can't just move from highlight reel to highlight reel. How do I manage that in-between time? How do I implement the advice all the time, as opposed to just waiting from highlight to highlight?
Shellye Archambeau: That's a really good question. And this really comes to discipline. So if you're not very disciplined, which many of us are not, but if you're not real disciplined, then create a structure for yourself to help. And that structure can be as simple as, I don't know, let's say the advice you're trying to take is to actually... Well, actually I'll use my own as I was coming up in leadership. I wasn't as good about just walking around. I had so many things I was trying to do, went for meetings, went from this, but just the free walk around swing by people's desks, do that kind of thing when people were all in-person, I wasn't great at that. So I'll literally, on my calendar I had a recurring thing that was like once a week, make sure to walk around literally, walk around time.
So figure out what works for you in terms of making the advice or the behavior change or whatever it is you're trying to do, come real for you and put some things in place. It might be telling somebody else, okay, if you haven't seen... For instance, if I attend meetings and I don't ask questions and I need to ask questions, well, maybe it's a colleague who's in that same meeting that you tell and say, "Hey, Ethan, if I'm not asking a question, you start glaring at me. And if I don't ask a question for the meetings about to answer, tee me up for once." Say, "Shellye, do you have an opinion on that? So force me."
So you can pull others to help you with the behavior change that you're trying to make. But the key is don't just read something, say, "Oh yeah, I want to do that." And then not actually have a way to do it. We are creatures of habit. We are creatures of habit, so unless we make conscious intentional right steps to actually change behavior, it's not going to change.
Ethan: So it's like setting up your environment so that you almost don't have a choice to not do the thing that you want to do?
Shellye Archambeau: Right.
Ethan: Does that sum it up in that way?
Shellye Archambeau: That's what I do, yes.
Ethan: Awesome. All right, here's a fun one. If you had to choose just one thing and summarize it in just one word. What is the thing that plays the biggest role in a company's success?
Shellye Archambeau: Courage.
Ethan: Tell me why?
Shellye Archambeau: Corporations, the term corporation and the legal entity corporation it was created so people could come together to take shared risk. That's the only thing you need in a company, so you could take shared risk. So if you were leading a company, your job is to have the courage to take the right risks. If you aren't, you aren't going to grow, you're not going to launch a new product, you're not going to expand into new markets, you're not... All those things require risk taking. And therefore it requires courage to be able to do things in a way that will actually generate returns. Returns for yourself, your employees and your shareholders. So to me, it's all about courage.
Ethan: Sweet. All right. So what's your goal now? You've held the highest positions within a ton of different companies. Companies that lots of people have heard of, you've achieved what most people would call success. And we can toss some quotes around that because everybody gets to define that for themselves. But what is at this point, the life that you're trying to build for yourself?
Shellye Archambeau: I'm in what I refer to as my phase two. And phase two for me is all about impact and inspiration, so that's the filter I use. If I'm not impacting or inspiring someone or something, then I'm just not going to do it. And the reason those are so important to me is I want to inspire and impact people in such a way that they can achieve and do what they want out of life. I tell you, it really irritates me how many people don't get to the point where they're able to contribute to their full capability, to the full capability. I mean, just imagine most people only get to half or maybe two thirds, but if this whole country, if everybody could actually contribute to their full capability, it would be amazing.
Ethan: Oh my gosh, yeah.
Annaka: What's the stat, like humans only use X percent, or is it 10%?
Annaka: 10% of their available brain space.
Shellye Archambeau: Yeah.
Annaka: That kind of freaks me out. And I don't think I want to know what a 100% of my brain feels like.
Ethan: You know what? I want every listener out there to go and do it, go do the thing.
Ethan: Because, Shellye needs you to do it.
Shellye Archambeau: That's right.
Ethan: We're here to support her and she's supporting you and go do the thing.
Annaka: Yeah, go do it. We're all feeling all jazzed up. Okay. What is your number one piece of advice for entrepreneurs?
Shellye Archambeau: It's to be vulnerable. When we're all of a sudden in the CEO seat, in the founder seat, it's easy to think that we're supposed to know all the answers and have all the words of wisdom and to be as perfect and strong and whatever as we can. And frankly, when we do that, what we tell people is, we're unapproachable that we don't really listen, that we kind of know it all. So we don't really need them. And that's just the opposite. It's just the opposite, you need everyone in your company because there's no way you can know everything that's going on internally and/or externally.
So by being vulnerable, you let people know that, Hey, you're accessible, right? You're approachable. They can relate to you. And therefore they become comfortable and they will actually share and communicate what's working, but most importantly what's not, right? So I find that to truly achieve all of your ambitions you need to be vulnerable so that others want to come along with you and are rooting for you and want to help you versus just doing a job.
Annaka: Yeah, I agree with that. It's like the push versus pull thing. If you're dragging people along behind you, they're just going because applying the pressure. But if they actually actively want to assist you, they're going to be pushing you along.
Shellye Archambeau: Absolutely.
Annaka: Yep, I get 10 bucks for that.
Ethan: All right, Shellye, what's next for you and Unapologetically Ambitious?
Shellye Archambeau: Oh goodness. Well, I actually have, which is pretty cool, but my Paperback is coming out next week on the 26th.
Ethan: Oh, right.
Shellye Archambeau: Yeah. So Unapologetically Ambitious and Paperback. And what's cool about the Paperback is I actually included a personal planning guide. So for every chapter there's a set of questions just to think about in terms of helping you shape, how you can actually take some of the lessons learned and apply it to you and your life. So that's, that I'm excited about. And then the other thing is I'm just working on how to provide mentoring advice at scale. The whole issue with mentor-mentee is there just aren't enough mentors. If everybody wanted a mentor, there just aren't enough, the math doesn't work. So are there ways to provide value that you get from mentorship, but in a way that's a bit more scalable. So spending time on that too.
Ethan: Do I hear a new company?
Shellye Archambeau: So we'll see whether it's a company or whatever, but yeah, something.
Ethan: All right. One last question. How can our listeners connect with you online?
Shellye Archambeau: The best way to connect with me is LinkedIn. I'm very active on LinkedIn, Instagram. If you want to send me something or reach out shelleye.com and it's a Shelleye with a Y-E, very unusual spelling. S-H-E-L-L-Y-E.com. So there's lots of ways to connect. I do monthly Ask Me Anything, so if you sign up for my YouTube channel, you can join and literally, I just spend an hour and whatever questions come in, I just answer and try to provide feedback, support, et cetera. So I'm pretty easy to engage with.
Annaka: No kidding, yeah.
Ethan: Well, thank you so much. We're going to put all of those links to the YouTube, to the LinkedIn, to everything else, to the new book into the show notes. And that is where all of you lovely listeners can go find that good stuff. But that is going to be it for today's episode of the Startup Savants Podcast. Thanks for joining us on this special of the most special episodes of the Pod.
Shellye Archambeau: Thank you.
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