Hello, everyone! Thank you for the overwhelming response to the Turing Distinguished Leader Series. Please see our other interviews conducted for this series. See: Henrik Hussfelt, Director of Engineering at Proxy. Please also enjoy: Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab. Let us know what you think!
This time around, I’m conversing with Kelly Graziadei, founder and general partner at f7 Ventures. Kelly has over 20 years of experience in high-growth tech companies. f7 Ventures have managed and developed thousands of people across dozens of teams worldwide and scaled user growth to over a billion. In the discussion below, Kelly shares insights into managing globally distributed teams.
Welcome to Turing’s Distinguished Leader Series. Today, we have an exciting guest, Kelly, who was a senior exec at Facebook. Kelly now has her own venture firm, f7 Ventures. She is also an early Turing investor. Thank you for joining us today, Kelly.
So, could you tell us a bit of your story, what you did at Facebook, and how that led to f7?
Absolutely. So I’ve essentially been an operator for about 20 years, from companies the size of three people to 300,000. I’ve primarily built and led go-to-market teams over that period.
Going all the way back, I can take it old school to AltaVista in the early days. Then I joined Overture through the acquisition from Yahoo. After that, I joined Facebook in 2010. And there are several interesting stories about my journey to Facebook. But one that I would share is that I essentially had a job offer on the product side and a job offer on the sales side.
I ultimately chose the latter and built out what was the mid-market channel. So in a few short years, grew that to 150 people and a billion dollars in revenue. So it was an incredibly high-growth, fast-paced environment. I ultimately chose that because I’ve always cared a lot about people in teams. This focus has been a hallmark of my career, and I love that we’re connecting on this topic today.
After my time on the mid-market side, I made my way back to product and ran the product marketing team globally for monetization. And I had teams in all four regions and managed a globally distributed team. After about eight years of Facebook, I finally decided that it was time to leave. I had the itch to go back to something smaller. When I joined Facebook, there were about 750 people. When I left, it was 40,000 plus strong, so the company had a truly dramatic growth.
And from there, I went and did an EIR at Foundation Capital. That’s where Jonathan and I met. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do next: “Did I want to start a company? Did I want to go the investor path?” So finally, I married those two things and did both by starting a venture firm with six other ex-Facebook leaders and operators. It’s awesome.
And at Facebook, did you work with Sheryl Sandberg?
Yes, absolutely. Sheryl’s fantastic. There are so many learnings from my time at Facebook. I think Sheryl continues to be a significant influence on the Facebook culture, particularly when it comes to being thoughtful about managing people and navigating your career. I took away many lessons from working with her.
And speaking of which, I think one significant shift in this last year and a half has been the adoption of distributed teams, right? People are now comfortable with the idea of distributed teams. What was your experience with the same during your Facebook days? And now, you get to experience distributed teams through a different lens, which is the f7 portfolio companies getting started today.
So are there any lessons that you have for founders thinking about distributed teams based on your experience from Facebook and the f7 portfolio companies?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think there are several lessons in terms of managing distributed global teams. If I think of the first two tools in the toolset, I would say you need respect and empathy. And you need to slow down to understand those things.
When I moved over to the product side of things at Yahoo, I had led some global teams, but I’ll just stick to Facebook specifically. There, I went from running a US-based team to stepping into a global role.
Here, you need to keep some basics in mind—things like time zones, for example. Everyone needs to feel respected. They should not think that that one team should always have the team meeting at midnight.
You need to rotate so that each time zone has to flex and give at different times. I think you also have to just be thoughtful around reading the room and reading language differences. If someone’s quieter, allow them to take the floor and be heard.
The other thing is being very clear in terms of goals and communication, including rolling things out clearly, using written and spoken communication for elaboration.
Doing this at Facebook, we had groups and what would become the Facebook Workplace, which was a great way to facilitate that. Having a good set of tools that can help people communicate synchronously in real-time is essential.
That makes sense. And one of the things I consistently hear from founders building companies today is that it’s tough to onboard people the right way to a team. Particularly if you’ve started a company in the last year and a half, how do you ensure that they get integrated into the team the right way? How do you ensure that people develop the right relationships within their group and inside the broader organization when everybody’s globally distributed?
Do you have any advice for founders thinking about company building today and how they could be intentional about ensuring that the right relationships get built inside the company?
Yeah, that’s a great question. The words that you said that jump out at me are ‘being intentional.’ And I think that’s one of the challenges for an early-stage company. You’re moving fast as a founder, and you have a whole bunch of competing priorities in terms of how to build a fast-moving company.
But what should be on that priority list is being intentional about the culture from the very start. Letting negative culture run away from you at the beginning can be incredibly damaging.
So it’s essential to be thoughtful about that upfront. As a founder, you need to model a lot of that behavior. So how are you prioritizing one-on-one conversations, facilitating connections between people, creating those forums for different individuals to share their work and experience, or learn from one another?
Facilitating those connections where you have different individuals working together is essential. I think there’s nothing more bonding than a shared experience or working towards a shared goal. But again, the most important is being intentional about those things and doing it from day one.
The other thing I would add is to think of moments where people can get together in person. It doesn’t need to be all the time. But just a couple of days of people getting together can last you 12 months or longer. Having some of that personal interaction and bonding smoothens out the ‘long-distance relationships,’ if you will.
When you look at the f7 portfolio and the companies you’re investing in today, how do those founders think about an office at the seed stage?
I think—most if not all—are remote and remote first.
Some had an office at the beginning of the pandemic and then decided to go all remote. It’s a notable change from a couple of years ago. Today, so many founders are thinking about: “How do I build a remote-first team? How do I help people feel connected to the top-line goals?”
The other thing I see for founders is being more thoughtful and formal about their communication at an earlier stage.
That is equally important even with a small team: “What’s the all-hands? What’s the email that you’re sending out? How are you doing one-on-ones?” So I think it’s vital to think of that and not just hope it unfolds as it should.
How do your portfolio companies think about what they will do post-pandemic? For example, do your founders see themselves coming back to an office, or do they envision staying remote, or do you see a hybrid structure?
Yes, I think we’ll see companies staying remote for a while. A few are thinking about hybrid solutions. So I imagine we’ll see more flexible workspaces with people moving into shared spaces.
When I joined Facebook, I lived like an hour and a half from the office. I spent over three hours a day in my car. That’s not a world I would want to go back to.
At least six or 12 months ago, I heard a little bit of chatter that there would still be the headquarters, but people that want to work remotely would have more flexibility. There’s an interesting conversation happening about some of the downsides of that model. It creates a hierarchy or a two-party system. I think we’ll see more companies that decide to go all-remote and all-distributed. This way, you don’t create that hierarchy of people in the office vs. out of the office.
The remote vs. hybrid team structure is something that we think about a lot on the f7 side. We invest in three sectors. One of those is the future of work. So much of the infrastructure we used to lean on for work is changing. I think we’re going to see some exciting changes to support a distributed model.
Yeah! Mental health is one area that f7 focuses on, which we never thought would be a vital core benefit. At Turing, we are evaluating subscriptions to some mindfulness mental health services for our team and the broader Turing developer network. Because when you work from home, loneliness and isolation are significant factors.
Absolutely. And along with that, we also focus on connected communities, which is a bit of what you’re describing. We’re also challenging how and where we form communities because the traditional office-based ways no longer happen. So we need to focus on mechanisms that help people create and feel those meaningful connections.
And what are some interesting categories that you’ve seen emerge in the last year and a half as the world has shifted to distributed teams? It sounds like mental health, and emphasis on that is one such area.
You mentioned connected communities. Are there any other categories that you think we’ll see a lot of innovation in as the future of the office moves to the cloud, for lack of a better word?
Yes. I think this will be an extension of remote work, distributed teams—just the gig economy in general.
What we’ve seen is an overall labor shortage. So people are looking for more flexible options. Not only working remotely but working on their schedule and time. So I think we will see that infrastructure around the gig economy, creator economy, and passion economy.
Another area around the future of work that we’re passionate about is reskilling. The percentage of people that need new job training or reskilling as our jobs and environment change is pretty dramatic.
And there’s a company called Flockjay that does this specific to sales, and it’s just been fascinating. For example, some people who had an average income of 30k to 35k before Flockjay, have an average income of 75k to 85k after using it.
There’s also a company called Read.CV that I’m super excited about. They’re the LinkedIn for this new generation gig economy. And where LinkedIn may be a little bit more reliant on things like labels, Read.CV provides a much more dynamic way to represent your work via projects, writing, or speaking. And so we feel like it represents how people work now.
That’s super interesting, Kelly! The reskilling piece is interesting because it matches what we see. So we recently conducted a survey with our developers at Turing. One of our questions was: “What could we build for you to make the Turing platform more useful?”
And right at the top was: “help with upskilling.” And right now, we are focussing on what I would call horizontal and vertical reskilling and upskilling.
Horizontally, we want to give people feedback based on their profile that if they pick up this XYZ skill, they’ll become more valuable in the industry. And then we want to help them acquire that skill either in partnership or doing some things ourselves. So that’s horizontal upskilling, where we help them up-level in some of these adjacent areas.
The vertical upskilling that we think about is that Turing internally has an engineering ladder similar to Facebook. We have IC3, IC5. We have tech leads and tech lead managers. So we ask ourselves, what can we do to accelerate a developer’s growth from IC3 to IC4 and so on. And, interestingly, reskilling is something that comes up in a variety of contexts. People want that growth.
And it’s so fascinating because if you think about where people get that growth or education, you think about a university setting or a job setting.
Now, we’re at a place where tenure in a job is decreasing. Our people are doing more gig economy type work, so we need to think: “Okay, where does that development happen? Who’s going to be responsible for that development?”. So I think we already see some innovations there, and we’ll continue to see them.
Yep. And in that sense, Kelly, in the last year and a half, have you seen any interesting new tools emerge that have made it easier to operate a remote-first team that either you’ve invested in or you’ve witnessed f7 companies adopt? Any new tools that make it easier than ever to work as a distributed team?
I would say, on the one hand, simplicity in certain cases wins out.
One of the challenges right now is the various channels that people are trying to manage, from Slack to WhatsApp, email, text, and Messenger. Personally speaking, I’ll be like: “Wait, someone reached out to me, and I need to check like six different channels to track that.” I don’t know if there’s a solution. This problem is all the more reason why companies need to figure out what tools people should be using.
That makes sense! Are there any best practices that you would recommend tactically, operationally for founders in building and managing a distributed team in today’s world -both based on your Facebook experience and from what your portfolio companies do? And could you highlight the pitfalls to avoid when managing a distributed team?
Yes. So from what I’d said earlier, being intentional is important. You go from a team that’s been two, three, four people, and then all of a sudden, you have 15- 20 people. How you operate as a company is different from three people to even 15 people. So I think it’s vital to get ahead of that and map out your communication plan.
This practice can feel awkward as a new founder: “Oh, that feels overly formal. Am I doing an all-hands with 15 people?” But you can call it something different or whatnot. So yeah, mapping out those touchpoints is essential.
I strongly suggest prioritizing one-on-ones first as a founder and a manager of a team. Helping connect the dots for others and getting to know one another is essential. It’s crucial to create a culture where the leaders own the entire team’s success, not just their function or their corner of the world. They should bring a group of people together to say: “Collectively, we own the success of this.”
And, of course, they should discuss the KPIs they’re trying to hit and empower people to bring their ideas and give them freedom and flexibility as to how they do that. When you create that ownership mentality, it helps generate respect for one another. It creates more cohesion. It forces people to talk about and understand one another’s priorities.
Lastly, getting people together and creating shared experiences and connections that breed long-term trust is helpful.
That’s super helpful, Kelly. And speaking of one-on-ones and how important they are, what’s your advice on how to have an effective one-on-one in this fully distributed world?
It’s interesting. I feel like through my operator career; I’ve experimented with the one-on-one in many different ways. There are some basics. Be consistent with the one-on-ones. Don’t change everybody’s time when things get crazy because then people start to feel like they’re not a priority.
Try to get away from a one-on-one that’s simply an update that you could share through email. And one of the things I’d do was ask my team members to send me the update in emails before the one-on-one. And my commitment is that I will read it before the one-on-one, and then we can spend the time on critical topics.
The other thing I would do is to set aside一outside of the one-on-one一some dedicated time just for a career development conversation. Just to check in and see how things are going. So I think setting aside time for those types of conversations is important in a fast-paced environment. It also helps people feel valued.
And what’s your cadence for one-on-ones, and what’s the duration that you typically have?
Yeah, so I would typically do weekly one-on-ones in 30 minutes.
Where did you learn to manage distributed teams? How do you get high performance from a distributed team?
Yeah, it’s tough. I feel like I learned from making mistakes and getting feedback from my team. I think the first shift, when you’re switching from an individual contributor to a manager, is the trickiest. Before the shift, how you were valued was based on your output as an individual contributor.
One of the mistakes people make when they pivot to being a manager is they’re still doing things as individual contributors. Management is like this extra thing on the side.
This mind-shift of managing is the most important job of the jobs on your list. And that’s how you have the most impact in the organization. That’s how you get the most scale. And then, you need to prioritize activities you need to do as a manager. The one-on-one is the first thing that gets canceled when things are busy. Don’t do that. That needs to be one of your top priorities.
Ask yourself: “How have you set goals for the team? Have you enrolled people in that goal-setting process?”
As a manager, you can be like: “Great! I set the goals for our team. I sent them all out.” But here, you didn’t ask anybody on the team for their opinion or feedback. So it’s vital to have those conversations with your team. Listening and understanding what’s important to them, being clear on the priorities, getting feedback, enrolling people along the way, making sure they feel respected and heard is the way to go.
I think there can also be this fine line. One of the pitfalls for me is that I probably over-rotate sometimes. It’s also a fine line to say: “Okay, great. Thank you. I heard you. I’m going to come back and let you know what I’ve decided and how we’re moving forward by tonight.” So listening doesn’t mean consensus一that’s another important thing in all of it.
You do learn on the job. Be reflective. Talk to other managers and ask them how they made the transition and if there were any tools or things that were useful for them?
And were there any books, podcasts, mentors who impacted how you think about managing?
Ooh. Good question. This book called the ‘30, 60, 90-day Plan’ can be valuable when you’re making a job transition. There’s one called ‘Essentialism’ which I like. It’s about prioritization and doing what’s most important.
Thank you, Kelly. I wonder if there’s a way to fast-track people to become excellent managers in an engineering sense and in a more general management sense. I guess larger companies have internal programs for management training and so on.
They do. I think there’s a company called Rising Team, which is essentially around managing more effectively, but I think there’s also a learning component around that. So I expect we’ll see more in that space.
Hopefully, what’s positive about that is that it will make some of that material and tools more accessible. In contrast, sometimes, you had to wait until someone deemed you ready for management within a company setting. I think these tools will help people who care about leadership and managing teams do that more readily.
Sounds good, Kelly. So in the last year and a half, the one thing that has changed is founders can fundraise from anywhere, and remote fundraising is a thing. Turing has raised about $52 million so far. And out of that, more than $40 million were raised remotely over Zoom. So I guess now I officially raised a lot more remotely than in person. So is it true that to build a big company today, it doesn’t matter if your base is in Silicon Valley? Or would you say that Silicon Valley still has inherent advantages?
In terms of founders that you back, do you see more people coming from outside Silicon Valley, or has that been no significant shift?
I think there may be a definition of Silicon Valley that isn’t specific to location. But, I think there’s still something powerful in terms of the Silicon Valley network.
But what we’re seeing is that it’s becoming more distributed. People are moving to various places, whether Austin or Miami or New York, or wherever that may be. But I think some of those networks and relationships are still really important.
You probably experienced this on the fundraising side, but it’s still very much a business of who did you work with that somebody else knows that can say: “Jonathan’s fantastic. You have to invest in Turing, and he’s going to build a fantastic, incredible business, and he’s thoughtful.” And so, it’s still something that relies heavily on those recommendations and trusted relationships.
But I think that will hopefully expand over time. And again, it’s less about the place, and it’s more about the sort of ethos and network of who you’ve worked with within tech. And it’s not because you had coffee with them in Palo Alto. It’s about how you’ve gotten to know each other or work together in different ways.
What we’re experiencing enables us to expand and establish those networks beyond Silicon Valley faster than ever before.
And the million-dollar question. What is your default going to be post-pandemic? Would it be a Zoom meeting for a first-time founder, or would it be an in-person meeting?
Oh, good question. I mean, there are pros and cons to both. The great news about Zoom is you can do many meetings in a day, but at the same time, with in-person meetings, you get more richness in terms of the relationship. So maybe the first meetings are on Zoom and the second meetings are in-person.
That sounds great. So Kelly, could you talk a little bit about f7 and what areas you invest in, and where people can go to learn more?
Absolutely. Thank you for asking. So for f7, we’re focused on pre-seed and seed-stage companies. We typically look for super scrappy founders, so we usually invest post MVP pre-revenue. So there are three sectors that we’re focused on that we’re doubling down, particularly with the events of the past 18 months.
‘Future of Work’ is one with a particular focus on the worker and the trends we’ve discussed. The second is ‘Mental and Physical Health,’ and then the third is ‘Connected Communities.’ So those are our primary focus areas.
And then, if you want to learn more, you could visit f7ventures.com. Find us on Twitter @F7 Ventures. Don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s something we can be helpful with. One of our big motivations for doing this was to take our depth of operational experience and translate that in a way that hopefully is helpful to early-stage founders.
We’ve all built and scaled in fast-paced environments. We’ve also made a lot of mistakes. And so, we’re motivated to be trusted partners. You don’t have to posture your position, and we’ll also roll up our sleeves and help when things are great and when problems arise. So that’s a big part of what we do.
Awesome. Thank you, Kelly. And for everyone reading this, I can personally vouch for all that Kelly has mentioned here. Kelly’s been a phenomenal partner and investor as we’ve grown Turing.
Kelly and her team can help you scale and build a big company from her experience helping scale this relatively small company that you might not have heard of: Facebook.
Thank you, Kelly, for being on Turing’s Distinguished Leader Series. And this will be super helpful for all the companies building on Turing and many companies building outside of Turing. If you’re building outside of Turing, you should build on Turing.
Absolutely. It has been so good to connect, as always!
Image Credit: Provided by the author; created by unklyak; www.freepik.com