Keeping A Cool Head with Dataiku’s Founder & CEO Florian Douetteau
Effective Leadership Series
Florian Douetteau is the Founder and CEO of Dataiku, a platform for the deployment of data science and machine learning in the enterprise. He leads a team of over 300 to augment the potential of big data to each and every Dataiku customer. FirstMark is a proud investor in Dataiku.
Can you tell the story of a moment that changed your approach to management forever?
At some point in my career, the company I was in hit a violent roadblock, and we had to massively scale down all the teams, nearly two-thirds of the company. It was a situation where even the HR function was being torn off. So for part of the team, I had to figure out what to do and how.
The impact that this had on some of the employee’s lives, the difficulty to share and work on this situation, made me realize that whatever energy you put into management, and people development, you are at the end of the day also dependant on the business conditions and luck.
What’re you working on now?
Right now, Dataiku is on the path to growing to 500 people in the next 12 months. There are distinct challenges in the growth process, like a constant onboarding and re-structuring, but one that struck me lately was the fact that we are starting to build a “Real Company.”
A real company is the opposite of a venture or a startup. As the company becomes a real company, it starts having its purpose and will independent from the will of its founders, or any shareholders, temporary or not. The company begins to have a mind of its own, and self-embodiment of the mission.
A real company starts to become something that you don’t want to control.
It goes beyond the fact of having a mission statement, and company values painted on the wall that leader use to drive specific behavior: it starts to become something that you don’t want to control. Part of my job is to coach and manage the building of this “real company,” as if it were a real person: give it feedback and grow its skills.
I realize that I could almost say the same things about my two teenage kids, which now, come to think of it, is pretty frightening!
What are the most important daily or weekly habits that you’ve developed as a leader?
I have a few specific habits I use to maintain a cadence.
First, I try to get back to inbox zero daily. Effectively, I use my email as a single, giant daily to-do list. Inbox zero is a good discipline, and I feel that keeping it helps to keep in pace with the business. It’s especially true at Dataiku, which operates in an international setting. A one-day lag can quickly become a two-work-day delay because of the timezone difference.
On a weekly basis, I maintain a list of tasks to work on, that typically require more “focus”, like an hour of interruptible work. I try to free up at least two or three “non-meeting” half-days to tackle those and try to finish them up calmly during the weekend.
I don’t have a list of “long terms” tasks. As a leader, I don’t have time for long terms tasks, and I should be realistic about acknowledging that. Anything intense or long-term should be part of the global company to-do list instead of mine.
How do you handle delegation? What and when do you choose to delegate and how’d you become comfortable with it?
Delegating is critical in a fast-growing company.
Delegation is effective when a manager steps in and she doesn’t have to think about politics, or what she’s entitled to do or not—she just needs to feel in power.
However, I similarly believe that as a leader, one must be able to synchronize and correct. To achieve that, I typically alternate between giving lots of autonomy and digging more deeply into specific subjects to understand the particular and the roadblocks. This requires a lot of goodwill and trust within the organization, and it might even be confusing in certain settings, but it’s something that every manager should try to do.
Hopefully, it fosters a culture of open communication and debate, as well as creating a sense that the organization should always reassess itself.
What’s one unique hiring tip you’d share with a first-time manager?
1. Trust your instinct, and whatever happens, if something does not check out, don’t rush to hire, you are never in a hurry.
2. Sometimes you may interview people that look smart and get what you’re organization or team is trying to achieve, and you feel a natural flow of trust with them. Maybe their CV, profile, or technical skills don’t match what you were interviewing for, but it does not matter: hire these people. They might prove to be the person that transforms your organization and “makes things work.”
3. Be prepared to fail at hiring. This one is important. Your very first month of hiring may turn out very poorly. You might have this moment where you wonder “why the heck did I hire this person? What was I thinking?” Maybe every manager needs to go through a poor hiring decision at least once before realizing what hiring truly means.
To finish, I’ll repeat and emphasize my first tip, which is, in fact, the most important piece of hiring advice I can share: you are not in a hurry.
Early in your career, before you assumed leadership roles, what was one quality you appreciated in a great manager?
The one quality I value most in a manager is a cool head; it’s those people who, no matter what happens, keep their nerves, never make it personal, and never troll. Life is too short for that.
It’s easy to misinterpret calm for a lack of passion or a lack of empathy, but early in my career I was lucky to work with people that were incredibly passionate and caring while being calm, and in a sense, it enabled them to detach from the pressure of leadership.
Working with managers who had this quality encouraged me to take responsibility for myself. Who knows? Another environment could have disgusted me, and I would have been focusing my life on doing things solo as opposed to building teams.