Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Fardad Zabetian explains KUDO’s purpose
- How KUDO helps clients solve their language communication problems
- What drove Fardad to launch KUDO?
- Fardad explains how to be an accessible CEO, talks about its benefits and challenges, and shares his advice on executing OKRs
- KUDO's company culture and the challenges of maintaining it that Fardad
- How Fardad's mantra of “everything is possible” plays into his company culture
In this episode…
What does it mean to be an accessible CEO? How can business leaders use this concept to build better teams and companies?
Business leaders need to be organized and set boundaries but still be accessible to their employees, executive teams, business partners, clients, and remain engaged with their business networks. They also need to have well-defined OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), efficient systems and processes for running the company, and good communication strategies.
In this episode of the Skunkworks Podcast, Eric Bourget interviews Fardad Zabetian, the Co-founder and CEO of KUDO, about what it means to be an accessible CEO. Fardad talks about his “everything is possible” mantra, shares his advice on executing OKRs, and discusses the benefits and challenges of being an accessible CEO.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Sponsor for this episode...
HalfSerious is a design and technology skunkworks studio founded by Eric Bourget, the podcast host. They work with management teams to create proprietary software platforms that unlock or accelerate value creation.
They collaborate with visionary SaaS founders to bring innovation back to their companies. Plus, they turn non-technical companies into tech-enabled businesses and help experienced companies re-platform old systems to catch up with today's expectations for experience and performance.
Welcome to Skunkworks, where each episode we speak with CEOs of established SaaS companies about strategies for keeping innovation fresh.
Eric Bourget 0:22
Hello, everyone, Eric here, I'm the host of the Skunkworks Podcast a show where we collect stories from experienced business leaders with the intention, quite frankly, of simply helping and inspiring others along their journey. Before we begin, this episode is brought to you by HalfSerious. It's a design and technology company that I founded, where we help companies become, oh, sorry, service companies become tech-enabled businesses. My guest today, is none other than Fardad, the CEO of KUDO. Fardad, thank you so much for being here.
Fardad Zabetian 0:51
Thanks for having me Eric.
Eric Bourget 0:53
All right. So you are the opposite of me in the sense that every all the research that I've done on you, tells me that you are someone that is very discipline, right that sort of knows your code, and I want to get into that. But first, I would love to know a little bit more about KUDO. But mostly what do you personally find really interesting about that company.
Fardad Zabetian 1:16
Thank you. Thanks for hosting me, Eric. KUDO is language as a service path. What we do at KUDO we make every business or give every business a superpower which is being able to communicate with the global teams, partners customers, without any language challenge. So we're giving access to reach to global market, global workforce, as well as partners for businesses that they want to reach to wider and more diverse clientele and being able to capture those market early on in their journey. Okay. We are serious a startup, we started the company in 2017 spent about two years developing the product and the platform went live enough 2018 2019 We had our very first year experiencing product market fit, generating initial success 2020 We as any startup, we were about a team of 14-15 people March 1, pandemic happened. Many people wanted a solution to be able to communicate without language barrier and we really accelerated our journey. Today I'm happy to share we are about team of 180 people have a lot of great logos on our portfolio, being able to really building bridges and making sure people are communicating online effectively clearly with their international audience.
Eric Bourget 3:15
Alright, just to make it a little bit clearer. Can you can you give me an example of a problem of a specific problem of a client and how they're using KUDO to solve that problem?
Fardad Zabetian 3:27
So think about Eric. Yeah. Want to reach out to an audience? I heard you're, you're based in Montreal, right? So let's say you want to have your podcast bilingual, English, French, or maybe you want to reach out to Portuguese audience in Brazil as well. Or Spanish audience in 18 countries that speak Spanish now, out and about. So how can Eric, schedule this podcast live in four languages? You need to remember four letters K u, d, or KUDO. We schedule a meeting for you. You basically you scheduled a meeting yourself you book, create the sessions, you have access to our 4000 qualified interpreters based on your language needs 24/7. It's a self serve platform. So we have a marketplace, which is the supply of really professional, vetted interpreters. And also the platform that you can use KUDO platform or integrate zoom Microsoft Teams hopping, you name it different video or event platform. Got it? So that's really how it works.
Eric Bourget 4:38
Okay. Very cool. And what made you decide to launch that? What's the what's the background story?
Fardad Zabetian 4:45
A very, very long story. I've been in this business for about 20 years. Oh, there's a third company. And in the previous two companies I've been solving the same problem language barrier barrier. For many in person meetings, so when you think about like u n type meetings that people are coming together, very structure, very moderated meeting a lot of infrastructure resources in place real estate, that people they come together for constant every day communication. So that has been my prior activities for two decades. And I've been very successful in that. So the reason I moved from California to New York was 10 years ago, we got awarded to renovate the UN, but urine is one of many customers that I've personally contributed to the technology side. Now, the idea came up how I can create a product that is much easier to use and more accessible. And being able to expand the market beyond this traditional user of language interpretation, and bring it to businesses. So businesses, they can benefit from it for a product that has been very cumbersome to use, but also very difficult to organize and schedule. So going back to the example, how could Eric, find a qualified interpreter in Portuguese? What are the ways to engage with that interpreter? And what platform you can use to really have a very seamless frictionless experience for your audience. So these are the things that we're solving. And with very much laser focus to expand the market for many first timers using our product. And that has been the experience in the last two and a half years.
Eric Bourget 6:52
Okay. Very cool, very exciting, very interesting and complex problem to solve. So let's, let's get into the deep of this conversation. I know a lot of I mean, I know some entrepreneurs that have had a little bit of the same sort of trajectory that you have, where you start off in your four employees, or 14, and you just have lunch with everyone, and you're super accessible, and they meet you at the coffee machine all the time. And then from one day to the next year, 180 employees, and now you're you're not accessible, or it's it's much more difficult to kind of figure out how to get to talk to you, and then yet, you have this reputation for for a CEO that's very accessible. Zero inbox means that someone sends you something, that answer, you know, I'm assuming that that means that they get an answer on that day. So I have two questions here. Why do you feel that that's important? And then how the hell did you manage to actually get that to work?
Fardad Zabetian 7:54
Yeah, that's a there was not like a special time of my career path that I decided that I want to be accessible, right. So this just happened organically. And I have to say, I have to admit very frankly, that there are many advantages to be accessible. But also there are disadvantages. There are many challenges, that you're always accessible. And I acknowledged that. So being accessible, really make it possible for people to reach out to you and get your ideas, get your feedback, get your comments. How to do it is is really being organized. Yeah. Having a very clear objectives every day, every week, every month, having your OKR as a CEO, like what are my objectives this month, this quarter, having everything on your calendar, so I have two young kids, a lot of birthday parties, a lot of activities, a lot of vaccine number one, vaccine number two, Dentist Visit all of that in addition to your own schedule, right, so right. Think about like 180 Plus team members today at KUDO. But at the same time, the downside is that you getting into the weeds too often and maybe not necessarily not the best use of your time. So it's being aware of sometimes saying no, while you're always accessible, but like blocking time, there's people that don't book time with you or giving food independence to your team, being able for them to trust their instinct and make decisions and not necessarily constantly having your feedback in in throughout the process. So This is a challenge, I have to say. And the only way to overcome this challenge is just being aware, acknowledging that not necessarily always being accessible is a good thing.
Eric Bourget 10:15
Hey, can I ask Can I ask a question too? Because I don't want to forget the you mentioned OKR. I'm very interested in OKRs. I have a bad implementation of OKRs. Right now. And so I'm trying to get better at it. I'm going to assume that because you're executing OKRs really well, whenever you have a question, it's going to be or conversation with anyone, it's going to be very focused, because you're probably going to be talking about something specific about a key result that they're supposed to be delivering this, you know, this month or something like that. It's so it's not, you're not getting into sort of pie in the sky conversations with people or wouldn't it be nice if we did XYZ, the conversations are kind of are tightly focused.
Fardad Zabetian 10:58
On Thursdays, I have my one on ones. So today is my one on one day. And this is my break time right now. We're having this podcast. So this once a month, we're looking at my one on ones looking at OKRs, where we are in the quarter where we are in the month, but not necessarily going into just the surface of the numbers. What are the things we're doing behind those numbers? What are the things we've tried? What are the things that we can try further, where we see success, where we see push backs and be very creative about, right so and that's going to be dedicated once a month, on Thursdays within my schedule to do it. So. But okay, R is also very new for our organization, very new meaning we are on the third or fourth quarter having basically quarterly OKRs. And I have to say it's a it's an adjustment for everybody. It's an adjustment for me for the team, how to communicate this on a on our monthly All hands to the entire company, visibility for everybody, transparency for everybody. But also going back and constantly developing those objectives. And whether this objective that we said, really represent the success of the department, or we need to go back and further assess that for every every quarter. So this is a it's constant work. I'm very, very fortunate. I have a great business partner, my chief of staff who is really helping me helping the company up in the exec team on this, Eric.
Eric Bourget 12:57
Got it. Okay, so I think I'm starting to understand. So the accessibility part is not like, hey, my doors always open come in. And we'll just talk, right, it's more of a, I'm carving up some specific time where we're going to talk about your objectives, we're going to talk about the key results, or you're supposed to be deliver in this one on one format, so that there's you someone has something to tell you. They know, they don't have to barge in, they know that they have a one on one on Thursday. So they'll just earmark it or put a post it on their desk or something and then and then they'll bring it up to you. So they it forces them to also be structured about about the way that they bring these conversations over to you.
Fardad Zabetian 13:41
That's correct. So being accessible, I would categorize it in like three buckets, right one is being accessible to your direct reports to my exec team, right. So that is a updates, discussions guidance that is happening on a once a week. Cadence. Then there are ongoing challenges that come up throughout the reach that of course, we use Slack. So basically getting on a quick call Sltack. We are in different time zones, different countries. So that's always a challenge. I have a couple of our executive team that are based in New York, but many of them are in different states or different countries right. Now, then being accessible to the rest of the company when it comes to new product new go to market strategy, new partnership, right that is not directly with throughout my direct report, departmental kind of approach across departments. functions like there is the whole world crisis right now with, you know, Russian invasion Ukraine, and how can we do something together all happening over the weekend, getting on a call being available to our Ukrainian based team. And so these are kind of an ongoing
Eric Bourget 15:21
ad hoc type of staff Hall, right.
Fardad Zabetian 15:26
The other one being accessible to your, for your peers, which is not necessarily direct internal Kudo employees, but could have partners could a client's KUDO? My peers, my mentors, my investors, my board members, right. So how can I be accessible to them? Not necessarily all related to the business that we're doing at KUDO. But a partner, hey, I'm looking at this opportunity to build a partnership with another tech company. Do you have any advice for that? How quickly can I get back to that person? How can I set some standards? This is my response time. So next time I come to you, I also expect a whatsapp return or a 24 hour response time. So you kind of really informally unofficially, set boundaries, rules of engagement with your peers, which are net Forge. Right? Whether it's your friendship, whether it's your partner, business partner, or whether your team members.
Eric Bourget 16:36
Yeah, I really like that. I think I'd like to do like a slight segue because I think we're walking right into the culture conversation. Because you and I, before we started recording had a quick conversation on culture. And one thing that I that I think we both agreed with, is that, you know, you could do a lot of over things like defining these things as values and stuff like that. But ultimately, culture is a lot more organic. And as a CEO, you probably have less control over that culture that you sometimes you you wish you did, like do you see? I'm kind of seeing a, a natural connection between everything that you just described, and the culture at KUDO. What do you think?
Fardad Zabetian 17:16
So KUDO is my third company. And I can admit that as a founder, as a CEO, you have some level of control on planting the roots of what you're building, who you want to be around you who really think that really believe in this vision and measure mission. And then at some point there are a lot of internal and external factors that are not necessarily CEO has full control over or a founder has full control over what you can do as a CEO is really how to interpret those and apply those external factors into day to day kind of activities or adjust the core values and really adopt and optimize overall the synergy amongst all the team members in the company. So, for example, amongst these three businesses, that I started, there are 70% similarities about us being very entrepreneurial, making decisions very independent, as far as kind of a day to day activities. Very multilingual, multicultural, that has been that applies to all three companies. But when it comes to like a hardware company, software company, service company, there are a lot of other things like like engineering culture, how really build an engineering culture within a multilingual multicultural business, but also have the software mindset software engineering mindset, that has been a big challenge for us. Because we are operating in different time zones, different countries, you have different parts. So I do a lot of interviews, job interviews, for candidates. And for I think until like employee number 80-90 I interviewed everybody, but then start really putting a lot of good systems in place and having very great and robust the people ops team that okay, if these two people, they confirm the culture. I'm totally on board with that. Right. So I'm not a big fan, I don't love it when candidates that come to me, Hey, what is your company culture? Come on, you should have done your study already, prior to this interview, from our website, from our videos to understand what the culture is, I mean, a good question would be how do you think about this? specifics about the culture? How do you think I would fit in? Or how your company culture would support this initiative versus that initiative? That would be a more meaningful question in my Yeah,
Eric Bourget 20:50
yeah. The first question is a lazy.
Fardad Zabetian 20:53
Yeah. Because now when you go to every company's website, you look at a few pages, if you company pictures group in pictures, LinkedIn profile, you should already know what the company's culture is.
Eric Bourget 21:03
Yeah, I will say though, I've heard stories of people going on interviews, and then there is an official, you know, publicized culture. And then when you're in a room, one on one with the other person is like, Hey, so, you know, you say that you're about transparency, like, is that true, or whatever. And you can see sometimes people squirm in their seats. Like, that's what we that's what we're trying to get to, but we're not completely there yet, and stuff like that. So that's, that's,
Fardad Zabetian 21:32
that's a great question to ask. And, you know, can you give me an example, I see that your companies is a transparent company, based on what I've learned? Can you give me an example? Of right, your personal experience? That would be a great question.
Eric Bourget 21:47
Yeah. All right. Last question, because I told you this was going to be short, short storytelling. Last question is you have a reputation of being a very everything is possible type of guy. How does that play into a very structured, okay, our culture, like, everything is possible. But right now, we're working on this, right. So everything possible just makes it sound like, let's question everything all the time. First. And that's like the opposite of rolling out OKRs? Yeah.
Fardad Zabetian 22:19
So I think you really want it's a challenge, right? When you are building an exact team, when you're building a team, building it, you need to really think about, I'm putting a you know, a soccer team together, I need your offense, you need your midfield, you need your, you know, goalkeeper, you need everybody within that team to really make it a successful team. This goes back to have a very optimistic, realistic, pessimistic try within all these ideas that come in in front of us on the table. So you really need to have a very good team around you to be able to say no, to many of these great initiatives that you fail, they're great, and they are great. But every every quarter, we get together, and we try to drop a few things, our plans and draw,
Eric Bourget 23:31
like plans and things saying well not do that
Fardad Zabetian 23:33
Yes. Because because we really believe that the space that we're in, there are a lot of exciting things that you can do. But you cannot do all of them at the same time. So being able to say no, and prioritize and put pause on some of those items is a very, very hard thing to do. But it's the thing that we should do. And and as you know, you know, startups, they don't fail, because lack of ideas is because of lack of focus. So yeah, that's what I would say, as far as being optimistic and having a can do attitude, versus a little bit of holding back and be realistic about what can I do within this timeline with the resources that I have? And let me do that, instead of pick up another thing.
Eric Bourget 24:29
So it sounds like that sentence was just incomplete. Right? So it's like, everything is possible. If we focus on a few things and make them great. I love it. Hey, Fardad, thank you so much. Because I really want to say thank you because you did not shy away from being like not sugarcoating this thing. Like yes, I'm accessible but not in any way. Yes, everything is possible, but you need to focus I I really love how balanced you're you're sort of My position is on this and that's, that's why I enjoy so much talking to experienced leaders because, you know, you've been through this it's not your first rodeo, you understand the difference between like this big ideal and the reality of actually implementing that and, and leading on it. So really, really, very appreciative of, of your authenticity. Thank you so much.
Fardad Zabetian 25:21
Thank you very much for having me. And I want to just comment on what you do I, one of the areas that I really enjoy is being able to share some of these lessons learned with with with those who are brave and and and basically picking up an idea and want to start a business and really have dreams. So I always love to hang out with people with big hopes and dreams. So thank you for having me.
Eric Bourget 25:59
Alright, have a good one Fardad.
Thanks for listening to Skunkworks. We'll see you again next time. And be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.