Xoom's John Kunze: 'We, Not Me'

Today Xoom announced the closing of its merger with PayPal.  This also marks the closing of a personal chapter in my own life, as my role as a director of the company comes to an end.  

Xoom has been a great way to conclude the venture capitalist chapter of my life.  It has been an amazing journey. I first met the Xoom entrepreneurs 9 years ago and led a venture round in the company. Back then the company had 20 people and had just started generating revenue with on-line money remittances.

Then, Xoom's business started to take off.  There was a public offering in 2013 (see the Times Square billboard above), and a merger with PayPal announced this past summer (more here).  In the past 12 months, Xoom's 1.5 million active customers sent approximately $7.1 billion.  Yes...over $7 billion has flowed through Xoom's network to people in 40 countries, such as Mexico, India, Philippines, China and Brazil. 

This post is a shout-out to John Kunze, Xoom's CEO, with whom I've had the privilege to work for these past nine years. 

If you know John, you would immediately realize John is not the kind of guy who wants a post written about him.  If there is one word that best sums up John, it is this: humble.

John is a very effective leader, and so, I wanted to pass along four leadership nuggets observed from seeing him in action these years:

The "Why" in the Mission:  Xoom has a very personal mission of delivering global on-line money remittances.  John often introduces the company, as "We put chicken on the table for Mom back home."  Yes, that is "What" Xoom does.  But for John, he has made this into a bigger mission of "Why" Xoom does what it does.  Note that Simon Sinek has an amazing Ted Talk on the power of Why.  He asserts that the best leaders can explain why their companies exist. I think John is a great example of this. 

IMO, if you're an entrepreneur, ask yourself this: "Am I explaining why my company exists rather than just what we do?"

"We," Not "Me":   John is a "We" leader.  In group discussions, internal memos and board packages, the team talks about what they are doing as "We."  The concept of "I" has been purged from the collective culture.  There is no "I did this"," I deserve this," "I should get the credit."  There is a discernible difference on how much more powerfully a "We" culture gets everyone together.  You can feel the difference. 

Just Say "No":   It is easier to say "Yes" than to say "No".   A pivotal moment in the company occurred a few years back when John (with his team)  decided to say "No" and discontinue one of their product lines. The reclaimed energy was redirected back into the company, creating increased focus. 

Our human tendency is to spread ourselves too thin, to dabble, as we get excited about new initiatives.  We all yearn to be tinkerers.  Much has been written about the Google and Facebook product innovation experiments: just let ideas spark, put a few people on it, and see what happens.  Yes, that can work in some cultures.  But many, many more start-up cultures might benefit from the discipline of saying "No" more often.

Try this out in your next team meeting, what is one thing you could eliminate and just say "No"?

Time: Your Most Valuable Asset.   Of course, you know this one...we all know this one.  But what are you doing to manage your time better?  John runs Xoom to a clock.  Actually there are many clocks, one in each conference room, all displaying the time in BIG numbers visible to all.  When time becomes front and center, available as a metric, it becomes a tool in your leadership toolkit.  Let's agree upfront to run our meetings on time.  Guess what happens?  Meetings run on time.   Imagine what you could accomplish with the hours and weeks of productivity saved.

The weeks and months ahead for Xoom are exciting ones as the company's employees will be integrating with PayPal.  I wish John and everyone at Xoom the best of luck with this next phase.

And, a heart-felt thank you to John for all you have done for Xoom, and for all those customers whom you helped to put meals on their tables back home.  It truly has been a pleasure to work with you.

I miss you all already.

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Entrepreneurs Are Jedis

(Working on my light saber skills just before the talk....)

(Working on my light saber skills just before the talk....)

What an exhilarating and fun experience!

I recently spoke at unConference 2015, and I’m grateful to Sara Fraim, Danielle Duplin, Jay Batson, and so many others for hosting an incredible conference.

My talk was on “Jedi Mind Tricks.” I had a light saber, a Jedi cloak, and blared the Star Wars theme song as the audience entered the room.  Jo Tango also handed out Star Wars stickers and small light sabers to our Jedi knights. It was a fun hour!

I have long believed that entrepreneurship requires special traits. As a former VC, and now, executive coach, I’ve seen this: the best entrepreneurs have incredible mental fortitude and big hearts. They are, in fact, Jedis.

Here’s why:

When you start a company, you literally are the underdog. You are David going against Goliath. You are the challenger taking on an incumbent, who outnumbers you and has better weaponry. You are building new products in categories that have never before existed. You are challenging the status quo.   

The odds are against you.  It is a long journey. Many VCs will say no. Your family and friends may doubt your judgment, question your perseverance. The Empire is too strong. 

You need to adopt a warrior mindset. You need to get ready for battle.

The best companies create strong, committed, and Mission-driven teams. Many things have to fall into place to destroy the Death Star. One person alone simply cannot do it.

Your team members come in unusual shapes and forms. In Chewbacca, R2D2, and Han Solo, you have a Wookie, a robot, and a smuggler. Somehow, from this melange of personalities, you will inspire them to work together with an unwavering belief in fighting for the cause.  

Over time, you will learn to forget the “resume" and "packaging” of the people around you. You increasingly will only hire people who share your mission and core values.  And once you have on-boarded them, you will need to empower them wholeheartedly.  Luke puts 100% trust in R2D2 to watch his back while on the mission to bring down the Death Star.

I think all of us have two inner voices: the Inner Saboteur and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke Skywalker is tempted again and again to join The Dark Side. He struggles time and time again with self-confidence.  Luke's dark-side voice sounds something like: "I am not strong enough...I am an orphan from a tiny dirt-farm in the outskirts of the Empire...who am I to be a savior of the galaxy?" 

We all have this inner voice that foments doubt, uncertainty, and fear. I call it the “Inner Saboteur.” We often say horrible and nasty things to ourselves.  It is a voice that limits us and keeps us small.

We instead need to consciously work on The Light Side. We need to learn to listen to the Obi-Wan Kenobi voice saying “Use The Force.” And, when we push aside our targeting computers in our X-Wing fighter, when we turn up the volume on the Force, we will find that great things will happen.  

We can destroy the Death Star. We can do the impossible. I have a fear of public speaking, and so, my talk was a huge personal accomplishment for me.  I had to use the Jedi Mind Trick on myself, as I meditated just before the talk and silenced my own dark-side fears.  A thank you to all the brave entrepreneurs who joined the session. 

I'll be blogging more in the weeks to come about Jedi-Entrepreneurs. Stay tuned... and May the Force be with you.

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