The most accurate leadership lesson I’ve learned stemmed from Jonah Peretti when he shared that companies are a direct reflection of their founders.
Chieh Huang, the Co-founder and CEO of Boxed, represents Jonah’s insight more than any founder I know.
His unwavering commitment to positively impact each person he meets is contagious. Only minutes into our conversation, I instantly wanted to work at Boxed.
From the team’s mission to simplify bulk shopping to hiring and fundraising these are the key insights that stand out from my time with Chieh.
You are not your customer. Listen to their needs, not yours.
According to Chieh, the biggest shift in Boxed’s growth was when he stopped focusing on selling goods that he needed – protein shakes and power bars – and started listening to his customers; Mothers who wanted to skip the three hour trip to Costco.
Boxed’s head merchandiser is a mother with two children. Additionally, the team conduct focus groups to gain a deep understanding of their users needs.
Understand your market.
The most telling way to avoid obsessing over the competition is to cultivate a deep understanding of your market. The Boxed team is entirely cognizant that navigating the world of online commerce isn’t easy, and that no company has solved it yet.
With this in mind, they’re invested for the long haul and are constantly experimenting with new ways to sell household goods on mobile.
When in doubt – Remember why you started.
Not a single order was placed during the first 48 hours of Boxed’s existence. Instead of panicking, Chieh asked himself how 2013 Chieh would approach the situation.
This is what he had to say: “I can’t believe you’re doubting yourself. Things are obviously progressing well. Keep marching. What the hell are you doing even looking back?”
Fundraising is about relationships, not money.
Money enables you to go bigger. Relationships help you move further, faster.
As a founder, your highest goal should be bringing the right people around the table. Call upon advisors who are excited to help you and will answer the phone on Sunday nights when you need advice.
In the words of Frozen star Elsa, sometimes you have to Let it Go.
Your startup is and will always be your baby. However, there comes a day when you simply cannot be a part of every decision.
Chieh cites his personal shift moving from an operator to a conductor and credits his experiences at Zynga for preparing him. Led by a team of exceptional VPs, Chieh’s using the same model to operate Boxed.
“If you think you found the right person and you’re bullish on them, you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you continue to inject yourself in that process,” he shared.
Lead by example.
If you want each team member to own his or her role you have to understand what it requires. Chieh is incredibly active in Boxed operations and visits their warehouses weekly. He even spends a day there every weekend to support his team.
Establish a clear definition of what it means to be on your team.
Chieh’s ultimate goal is for every Boxed team member to feel that their role building the company is a part of their life’s work.
This is how he describes it: “Whether we push the button or ring the bell, when we’re looking at that sign it’s going to be the folks surrounding me saying that: We all built this. It is a true group effort.”
Actively invest in the individuals who work with you.
After hosting a company event at the Boxed warehouse in Atlanta, Chieh was troubled by the number of employees who couldn’t attend due to lack of transportation. He spent time thinking about what made the greatest difference in his life and decided to support his team by paying for their kids to attend college.
“I felt like it was the galvanizing moment for us as a company. People realized that ‘This guy says it all the time but he really believes in a long term vision for this company or else he wouldn’t do this.’ Walking the walk as some would say really helped solidify that feeling across the company,” he shared.
If you’d like to gain a deeper understanding of each of these insights and learn how Chieh applies them to his role as CEO tune into his 33founders episode and follow him on Twitter here.