As a team, where you might not necessarily have lots of paths to traditional management or typical 'moving up the ladder' type activities, you tend to want to focus on what growth means to each individual. As a manager, I can provide a definition for what I think personal growth is, but it's essential to understand that it varies at a personal level for every single person on the team.
In this episode
Every company has unique needs when it comes to growth.
As a leader, it can be difficult to know what the next step is based on your company’s needs. Every company has its own context, problems and culture that uniquely affect what it needs to scale.
In episode #158, Cristina shares her experience working at Stripe and Linear, focusing on how she manages company growth, unique hiring practices, and what to do when your team presents you with problems (AKA side quests).
We also touch on work trials: what they are, how to go about executing them, and the benefits of implementing this practice within your company.
Cristina Cordova is the Chief Operating Officer at Linear. Prior to Linear, she worked at Stripe and spent 7 years growing their Partnerships organization and leading a business unit. After Stripe, she joined Notion as Head of Platform & Partnerships, where she led their growth team focused on the self-serve business.
Tune in to hear all about Cristina’s leadership journey and the lessons learned along the way!
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.
Not being vulnerable is a mistake
Hiring people straight out of school
How to respond to problems
Work trials and the hiring process
Tips for starting teams from scratch
Insight into growing a team
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Connect with Cristina on LinkedIn
- Follow Cristina on Twitter
- Subscribe to the Supermanagers TLDR newsletter
Cristina, welcome to the show.
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 03:33
Thank you for having me.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 03:33
Yeah, very excited to do this. I know you have been a leader for quite a while worked at companies like Stripe, you joined as employee number 28. So very, very early on in the stripe journey, and worked at companies like Notion, your partner at First Round Capital, you’ve been an investor and advisor companies like Canva, ADB meter today, your Chief Operating Officer at Linear and, you know, we at Fellow are very passionate Linear users are very excited to have you on. And there’s a lot of stuff that we’re going to talk about today. But I thought maybe a good place to start is to ask you about if you remember when you first started to manage or to lead a team, what were some of the very, very early mistakes that you used to make?
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 04:17
Yeah, so I think the first time I managed a team and I’ll differentiate that from like managing people, because prior to this, I had managed people in kind of different functions than the function I was in. But when I was at stripe, I started out as an individual contributor and then moved into managing a team of people working on partnerships for the business. I certainly made a lot of mistakes. As a as a first time like manager of a team. I would say probably the one that I kind of had for the longest was not being necessarily the most honest or like vulnerable about things that I was worried about or needed help solving. And I think a lot of that was because as a first time manager at that point, I I was like, very young, I was younger than every single person that I was managing. And so I kind of had this like mentality of just trying to put on a brave face and be like, Yes, I can, I can do it all, and kind of like over professionalism and some aspects to what I was doing. And I think that didn’t really bring in my team into the kinds of problems that we were facing. And in a lot of ways, they kind of didn’t know what I was thinking or didn’t know what the kind of most pressing issues were for the team. And I think that just created a lack of learning opportunities for them and not and an opportunity for them to kind of step up into some of those gaps. So that was one that I think I had for probably my first two years of managing honestly, until I kind of got over that hump and didn’t feel like I had to put on that face anymore. And then second, I’d say, being honest with myself about when I had the time to teach someone the job. So if I was going to look for someone who was maybe experienced, but not experienced in this particular role, or someone who was completely new, when I really needed someone who knew the job, and like, knew how to adapt. And I think just kind of understanding your own, like energy levels and abilities as a leader to say, Yes, I have the time and I have the patience to teach someone in this particular area. Versus now I just need someone who can do the job. And I can move on to like making the next hire or doing the next thing that I need to do. And then lastly, I would say, preparing my team for what was going to change as the company grew. So when I was at stripe in particular, it felt like we had built out a team that was like very high functioning, but like pretty small, you know, five or six people. And then all of these other teams that hadn’t grown to that point on the go to market sides, sales and marketing were like growing very, very rapidly. And for a lot of people on the team and felt like they were just like growing around us, as we kind of stayed relatively small. And I don’t think I prepared the team well to really think about our meaning and the organization. And the fact that we were always meant to kind of be a small strategic team, not a team that was going to like scale to hundreds of people with like lots of opportunities to like move into management. And it was something that I think we should have emphasized earlier, to ensure that people were like, well prepared for that versus feeling like they were kind of being left behind as the organization grew.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 07:28
I mean, everybody learns a lot of lessons, but it’s really cool to see how you’ve remembered all the lessons you’ve learned in the various stages. And so one of the ones that I wanted to maybe dig in on as a starting point is the, you know, learning who you should hire for a particular role. And you mentioned being honest with yourself on what level of skill set you needed for the role. How would you think about that today? So for example, if someone is thinking about making such a decision, what kind of advice would you give them on being able to determine if they should find someone that like really knows the job or someone that they should train? Like, which is better? And how do you think about it,
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 08:08
I would say that for the earliest stages, so like you’re making your first couple of hires in a function, I think you can take a couple of different paths, one path, and I think this is like what a lot of early stage companies do, especially in like, kind of go to market and other roles. where there isn’t necessarily like a super hard skill set that you’ll find in engineering is that you start off with someone who might be moving from one function to another. So someone who starts out, for example, in, let’s say, like customer support or customer experience, and then moves into marketing, right. So they had the experience of like really getting to know the customer, and the different personas by interacting with them on a day to day basis. And now they get to go into a role where they’re actually marketing to that customer. So they might be new to the role, but they’re not necessarily new to the company or new to the product, and they really understand the customer well. So those kinds of transitions, I think between different go to market teams can make sense if you’re hiring someone who like doesn’t necessarily have like a ton of functional experience. And then second, I would say hire someone who knows what they’re doing and has functional expertise and is I would say like a senior individual contributor. And I think that can really help you scale because if that person is ready for like the next step, if they’re ready to go from maybe being in a larger company where they were following a playbook of sorts. Now there may be ready to say, oh, I can actually like build my own playbook at this like smaller early stage company, and then go within that company over a period of time. Maybe they work as an IC for six months or a year, they might be ready for that next step to be like become a manager or to hire the next person in the function to teach and not just perform as an individual. So I think those kinds of people really help an organization scale without necessarily having to bring in like a manager or very early on. Yeah, that
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 10:05
makes a lot of sense. And when you think about the startup context, what is your opinion about just, you know, hiring people straight out of school, and then teaching them what they need to know, it sounds like maybe you had some experience with that. And that caused you to learn some of these lessons.
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 10:21
Yeah, I mean, I frankly, have never hired anyone straight out of school. Which is funny because like, I’m, I’m always shocked to think like, how did anyone hire me straight out of school? For jobs that I think traditionally, were not jobs that you would hire like a new grad for, for example. So I tend to not do it personally, unless there’s some prior experience. So for example, if there was like, an intern who worked with the team for a summer and was like exceptional, and you feel high confidence in their ability to move from beyond like being an intern to full time role, I think that can make a lot of sense. But generally, I think that I tend to prefer people who have kind of gone through the process of being in a enroll any kind of role, it could be a very different kind of role than the role that I’m hiring them for, at another company, just because I think that experience is so incredibly valuable, like, had my experience at Stripe, I probably wouldn’t have been a very effective employee at Notion like those kinds of things, I think, really add a lot of value to what you bring to the table. And so I tend to not do it, at least for the kinds of roles that I’m hiring for at an early stage. And I think once you start to get to a later stage and a company, so let’s say you have a marketing team of five to 10 people, and you’re hiring like a content writer, I think you can’t hire someone who’s straight out of school, right. And that’s just like a different phase of the business than if you’re at like the earliest stages, and you’re hiring or for a few people, I tend to kind of hold a higher bar on prior experience.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 11:55
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And one of the other things that you mentioned, and just kind of to unpack that was preparing your team for change. Now, you talked about it in the context of the team that you were wasn’t going to grow in terms of numbers, just because of the you know, the function of the team, the strategic nature of it, it was going to be less people than other parts of the company. And that makes sense for the type of the team that it was. One of the things that I feel is happening these days is a lot of companies are obviously reducing headcount, a lot of companies are not necessarily hiring all that fast. And in this sort of mark market. And so I think a lot of teams in general are staying the same size, or not necessarily growing as fast as they used to. And so this is probably something that a lot of managers are thinking about, because employees still want growth, they still want to get, you know, the title changes, or maybe the opportunities to get into management, what kind of advice would you give to other managers who are who are thinking about guiding their teams as they think about this environment and managing their expectations.
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 13:04
So I think I would start off with, like, what the goals of the business are, right? So I think we’ve historically lived in this world where you can be unprofitable for you know, a decade or two, the business can be burning lots of cash and not functioning super well, and someone will still fund the business and keep it going. But we’re in different times now. And I think that for a lot of companies, and for a lot of people individually, you have to have like a reset conversation of, you know, if we don’t get the business two, this rate of growth are we if we don’t get the business to this level of profitability, or cash flow, breakeven, like bad things are going to happen, right, we’re gonna have to do another layoff, we’re gonna have to do things that are going to be really tough. And so here’s the new set of like metrics and goals that we need to hit as a company. And we think we can do that with a team that’s here today, not necessarily by hiring lots of people to accomplish these tasks. So I think a lot of companies that are kind of going through that change need to have that reset conversation with the company. And I think it’s really easy for people to say, hey, we just did a layoff or we’re not going to be hiring anymore. For example, we’re gonna we’re gonna cut all of our new roles, to just kind of like, share that with the company, and then just kind of like, move on and keep going. But I do think it’s really important to use that as like a catalyst for the company to get people behind, like, what the focus is for business going forward. So that you don’t have individuals going up to like a line manager and saying, Hey, like, our team’s not growing like, I feel like I don’t have any opportunity to like be a manager, because they would have known right at that point, like, oh, like our CEO had this conversation with us and, and told us what was happening in the business and I know that that’s not going to be an opportunity for me, doesn’t mean that I can’t grow that I can’t figure out other paths for are learning new skills, thinking about different capabilities that I need to work on getting mentorship? Like those kinds of things. So I think as a team, where you might not necessarily have lots of path to like management, or kind of, you know, traditional moving up the ladder type activities, you tend to want to focus on, like, well, what does growth mean to that individual, like, I, as a manager can give a definition for like what I think about like personal growth is, but understanding that at a personal level for every single person on the team, and saying, Yeah, a couple of these things are not going to be things that we can do right now based on the state of the business, but like, what are the things that are outside of that, that matter to you? And really focusing on that as a, at an individual level that I think makes sense for everyone?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 15:46
Yeah, that’s great advice. And I think just to emphasize, it’s counter to well, let’s wait another two months and see what happens, even though you might know that things won’t change in two months, right. And so, yeah, it’s better to have the conversation set expectations, like you said, and if there are surprises to the upside, then that’s great, too. And like you said, there’s other ways to grow. So it doesn’t have to only be in this one specific way. So I also know that you’re thinking a lot about hiring these days, you had an interview, a first round interview that you had, and when you were talking about while you were at notion, and during their launch of their API, one of the things that you mentioned was that you always thought it was good to hire for solutions. I was wondering if you could maybe elaborate on what you meant by that.
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 16:35
Was this in the context of like, you know, people who are more like solutions oriented? That’s right. Yeah. Okay. So I guess I would say that, like, I tend to find that even early on, in my own career as an individual contributor, I tended to have this kind of ability to like spot problems, right. And I think for a lot of people, there’s like, a similar ability to say, like, hey, like this part of the team is not working well, or this metric is going down. That’s a problem. And I would go to our CEO, because I worked at early stage companies where you can do that. And you could say, Hey, this is a problem, this metric isn’t going well, this team isn’t performing well, you know, but it doesn’t really do a whole lot, right? You’re just taking those problems and giving them to someone who already has a lot of problems to kind of deal with. And so eventually, I learned that, like, it’s not good to be the person who brings the problems, I think it’s totally fine to say like, Hey, there’s something I’m seeing here. But I think you want someone who can then say, and I looked into it, and I went deep here, and I have a couple of potential solutions to this particular problem, right? And I just need someone to help me work through this potential solutions and make sure I’m making the right decision. And I think that type of behavior is the kind of behavior that I tend to reward far more often than the behavior or someone who’s just kind of pointing out problems. Because, yes, I mean, like, it’s a startup, everything’s a mess. There are problems everywhere. And I think you don’t want to look for someone who is just great at spotting problems, but someone who can actually solve them.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 18:09
And how do you find people like that? Are there questions or things that you would ask during the interview process? Or their take home tests? Like, Have you have you figured that out in people?
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 18:19
Yeah, I tend to look for like, the way I think about it is like high agency. So someone who you know, sees a problem and says, like, oh, like, I can look into that I can go fix it. And so I tend to specifically ask, like, when Have you spotted a problem like, and this could be in your function or outside of your function that you felt needed solving? And what did you do to solve it? Right? So like, a very, like situational question that is focused around a time when they’ve actually exhibited that behavior. And you find that if someone gives a lot of examples that are like, oh, a leader, or my manager asked me to go look into this, or my manager, like, you know, in terms of like how they got to that problem, they tend to be someone who is more directed by others versus like, self directed. So they spotted the problem, they went to go and find the issue. And they worked with the team in a collaborative way to help solve it. Because often with these things, it’s it’s not something that just one individual can solve. So it’s a, it’s testing for the ability to spot a problem, collaborate with others and solving it, and actually get things done.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 19:26
So that’s a really good way to put it and show if today, for example, on your team, someone does come to you and starts pointing out a bunch of problems. How might you respond to that? Yeah. So
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 19:36
I mean, I would think about it in the context of what else the team is doing. Right? So, you know, in terms of that person’s work, right? At Linear, we call these things side quests. So sometimes it’s like, oh, you’ve discovered this problem, and you’ve gone off on this leg, you know, side quest to go solve it. But is that actually the most important thing to be working on? Right? Because as I said, tons of problems in a company at a given time, so I think first, it’s a question of like, well, is this the highest priority thing that we should be working on right now? Do you need to stop all the other things that you’re doing because of this problem that just came up? Right? So I like to think about all work in the context of like a stack rank is pretty common in kind of more engineering driven organizations. It’s not that like, you can just take this piece of work and like lob it over on top of all the other work that you’ve been doing. And everything magically gets done. Instead, you have to think about it more as like, well, what’s not getting done, because you’ve decided to take on this additional problem, right? So I think at first, it’s like, is this the right thing to be even working on even like investigating? Or is it just like, not that important? So those are the kinds of questions that I would tend to ask. And then if we do think it’s actually something that’s important, then I would ask some more questions about like, oh, well, who do you think you should work with us on? You know, or is it something you can look into more deeply yourself before you pull other people into it? So like, those kinds of like probing questions versus giving my own opinions necessarily right away?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 21:00
Yeah. And you also mentioned that if someone does do it, you know, we’re in the high agency way of here’s a problem. I’ve looked into it, it’s bigger than we thought, here’s why. Here’s some solutions. Is there a way like maybe company values or team values that you acknowledge something like that? Do you do it with the person in the in the team? And in a larger context? How do you reward behavior like that?
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 21:25
Well, I think, obviously, it depends on your own kind of company, values. But I’ve always been someone who just believes in, everyone should have kind of agency over their work and make decisions that are in line with like, company values and company goals. And everyone should feel supported to have the kinds of resources that are necessary to be empowered and taking initiative, this whole, like, if you see something that’s broken, fix it. So generally, like I think it depends on on your company, right? So in some cases, when I’ve seen people really like investigate something significant that has a significant outcome from the company as a result, you know, I look at like, what are the tools and mechanisms that a company has to like, highlight really great work? So is that something where you can say, hey, like, you just did this, like really fantastic project that had a great outcome from the company, and it was completely self directed? Why don’t we talk about that at the next all hands or something like that, right? So when you do that, you’re kind of saying, let’s take this behavior that we want to reward and let’s model it and say this is model behavior for this company, and highlight it to everyone within the organization, right? So I tend to focus more on just like, how do you take that type of behavior and enable people to say, oh, yeah, that’s like something I should mimic. That’s something I should do, right? Because the kind of work that makes it to that level is the kind of work that tends to be something that everyone says like, oh, I guess I should be doing more of that if like, I want to get highlighted at all hands, or if I want to make an impact in this way.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 23:02
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Cristina Cordova (Linear) 24:46
I think early on, like most companies, you don’t necessarily have a lot of this stuff written down and it becomes something that is hard to put your finger on. So like at Stripe, it was like, Oh, this person’s stripy. You know, like, that means that they’re like exhibiting the behavior of like a good employee, right? And so it took a long time for us to say, okay, like, what does it mean to be stripy? Because we’re all using this word, but we don’t actually know how to define it, right? So eventually you start moving from like, this kind of what Stripe called like YOLO. Recruiting is just like, yeah, like we all like this person, let’s do it, Hiram, to actually coming up with like a rubric of the kinds of things that you’re looking for, for a given role. And I think there are some things that apply to like any kind of role that you might want. So, you know, collaboration, communication, high agency, like those kinds of things, noting those down and figuring out what they actually mean in the context of the company. And then how do you test for that. So you have certain kinds of interviews or parts of your interview process that should be testing for some of these things. So at Linear, I think the way that we actually test for this best is through a work trial. So everyone in the hiring process at Linear spends anywhere from like two to five days with us paid, where they work on a project that is very akin to the kind of project they would work on if they were working here full time. So for me coming on as CFO, I also did this for a week. And my project was something akin to, you know, come up with a go to market strategy for Linear both at like a high level and including tactics, right. So to do that, I have to kind of do the job before I actually have the job, right? So I’m added to all of our like Slack channels, and I spend time with like, our head of sales and our CX team and our marketers and try to better understand, like, how have we set goals? Like what are our metrics? Like? What are the things that we care about? How do we do things? What are the things we haven’t tried yet, right, and then put together a plan for how I would actually go about doing this job. And I think doing that, in the context of five days really forces someone to have like high agency, high amounts of collaboration with others pulling information out of people, and then figuring out what to work on. So it tests for a lot of these things without necessarily having to have done the job before. And it tends to be our best way to make sure that we’re making the right hires slows down the process a lot. But I also think it makes sure that we’re we’re doing it with high accuracy.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 27:18
Yeah, that’s super interesting. I mean, I’ve definitely heard of, you know, take home tests and that sort of thing, but a bit of work trial in that format. sounds super interesting. I know, for example, a lot of I guess, like investment banks, and you make companies like hire a lot of you know, interns, and then you know, from the entrance, you only select a few, how does it work for the work trials? I assume there wasn’t also five CEOs working that week at the same time, right? It’s probably has a higher success rate. And when you’re very sure, this is like the last step, just to
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 27:51
Yeah, it’s very much the last step. And yeah, I mean, I look at like investment banks, consulting firms, as companies that basically do like three month long work trials, right. Like, that’s what an internship is, it’s like a test of whether you should work here full time, right. And we tend to be pretty high confidence that someone’s going to have a successful work trial before we do it. And that just tends to be because it’s a lot of work on our part, right? Like, we have to be active in the Slack channels, meeting with the person trying to understand, you know, the kind of work that they’re doing, giving them feedback all along the way, they present to us at the end, and we’re all in we’re all like watching that presentation. So it’s not short of work on either side. But I think it also helps both sides, you know, better understand if they really want the job, or if they want this person to be doing the job.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 28:38
Yeah, that’s very interesting. And is there a does that what impact does that have on the actual interview process? Do you feel that it also allows you to shorten that, or it doesn’t have too much of an impact on the interviewing,
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 28:50
we tend to have, you know, probably around like four interviews before a work trial would take place, obviously, like my process was pretty different. But for most roles, I think you you still have some interviews to kind of really determine is the workflow warranted? Like, are we really ready to invest that time in this person to further assess them? And then the word trial is like the final part effectively?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 29:15
Yeah, thank you for explaining that. Again. It’s fascinating to me, and a very interesting way to go about it. As you know, many have said the best way to know if someone will perform well is to try and give them things that are very similar to things that they would be doing on a day to day basis. And I think the word trial is a very, very interesting way to do that. When thinking about early stage teams, and you and I were chatting about this before we hit record, just on the notion of team building, you know, at a lot of the companies that you’ve worked at, it’s been starting things from scratch are leading programs in their very early stages. And today, of course, you’re also doing that at Linear. So what are the sorts of things that you’ve learned about building teams from scratch? Uh, you know, it’s a very important part of building any team because it’s the DNA of the team, the first few hires can make all the difference. And I’m wondering what are some of the things that you’ve learned and some of the advice that maybe he would give to people who are about to hire and build a new team.
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 30:16
So I’ve tended to always kind of hire behind need, right, I tend to not be the kind of person who’s like, oh, like, we’re totally going to need a person who does this, like, you know, six, eight months from now. So let’s hire them now. And then we’ll figure out what they are going to do when they get here, right? I tend to be someone who really wants to do the job myself and better understand it. So I know exactly what to hire for, and have a good sense of like what that person if they’re like a manager or leader might have to hire for as well. And I think you can also do both in parallel. And so I tend to start right now, for example, we’re looking for a marketing leader at Linear. And we have a couple of marketers on the team today. But I’m going deep into marketing to better understand, you know, the different things that we’ve tried, where we’ve had success, where what we want to do more of what we want to do less of, and also doing the work myself. And so I think that really helps you understand what you’re looking for. Because every company is different, you know, at a company like Notion or Stripe or Linear, you might have a stronger emphasis in marketing on let’s say, brand. Or you might have a stronger emphasis on product marketing, or maybe it’s demand generation. So every role is going to be different. And so I don’t take the experience that I’ve had previously and say, Okay, there’s a playbook of like, the kind of person I want to hire, and that person will work here. And you know, let’s just hire that person. So I really think about it from like, a first principles perspective as to who’s going to be successful in this role? And what can I do to better understand the kind of work that they’re going to need to do to make that person successful after they join and make sure that we hire the person with the right skills and capabilities? So yeah, I feel like I tend to roll up my sleeves and do the work, and then better understand, really what to hire for and how to prepare the team around that person. tincher, that person sucks? Well,
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 32:09
I think that’s a really, really good way to do it. Because like you said, things are really complex. And it’s really hard to forecast the future in that way. Really? Well. I mean, that’s how you may end up in a place of under utilization of talent on the team. One of the questions I had was, is that how also worked at Stripe, you were very early at Stripe, you know, employee number 28. I don’t know how many employees they have, but probably in the 1000s. And so was it also like that at Stripe where you would hire behind the need? Or does it work differently in hyperscale? About?
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 32:43
Yeah, I think for a lot of the first hires, we were definitely behind need. I remember when clarities Johnson, our longtime CEO joined the company, she did this kind of like bottoms up analysis of like, how many people should we have? Based on the number of customers, we have the number of new inbound leads we have, etc. And I think we were like, you know, 150 200 people, and she was like, we should be at 500 people, right? So, you know, a very different perspective on like, how quickly do you grow? And how do you do that, effectively, I tend to find that in a lot of these companies. And in stripe in particular, we tended to have a lot of people who are generalists very early on, who performed kind of multiple functions at one time. So I was hired to do partnerships, but I found myself doing a little bit of marketing, a little bit of community, a little bit of sales and the job that I was hired for all at the same time, the first time I ever worked for, like, we didn’t have a data person. So I tended to be like pulling all the data and like doing our metrics, presentations, and like those kinds of things. Until we were like, we should maybe hire a data scientist who is like a little more capable of performing, you know, this role at a higher level. And so I think, for me, I tend to see a lot of these functions in the very early stages. And because I’m such a generalist, like I can do a lot of the work, and I have a lot of breadth in various areas. But at a certain point, you say, like, I think we need to hire someone who, who really knows what they’re doing in this area and has concrete skills in their particular area. So very early on at Stripe when I was doing a bunch of different things I said we need to hire a marketer, someone who really knows what they’re doing. And for stripe, that was a very difficult thing to do, because we were this like, developer oriented company. And I remember one of our founders at the time said, okay, we can hire a marketer, but I want someone who’s really like an engineer who wants to be a marketer. And I was like, ah, that’s gonna be really difficult to find right? And I don’t know if that person will be any good marketing, right? And we ended up finding someone who was a front end engineer and a former life and then ended up saying like, actually want to work on the marketing of the websites, not just build the websites, right. And she was our first marketer and sold marketer for two years plus at least Wow, two years. Yeah. So we did not hire super rapidly for a lot of these functions. And I think it was helped by, you know, people like me still kind of continuing to do a little bit of marketing here and there. And then also having like more functional experts at the same time. So when we hired a lot of these people, it wasn’t assumed that like, this is the only person in the company who can do marketing, or this is the only person in the company who can do comps, right? You can hire a functional expertise, and then pull a functional expert and then pull in other people who have maybe good skills to lend to that function and help build it up over time.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 35:41
Yeah, I think it’s the way you put it really explains it. Well, one of the things also when I was looking through your background and looking at the early days of Stripe, is it true that for the first few 100 people, I guess that worked at stripe, there weren’t that many managers or not as much managing that was happening, and it was more of a flat organization, how did it work in those early days? Yeah, so
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 36:05
it wasn’t really until we hired clarities Johnson, Around 150 200 people that we said, hey, like, there should be managers at this company. And so even though I think for a lot of people, they felt like they knew, like, if you ask them, who’s your manager, they would be like, oh, like, this person is kind of my manager, right? Like, the person who like when you have a problem, or when you have something you’re not exactly sure how to handle you can go to right. But at certain points, we had, like, you know, one person with like, 20 reports or something like that, right on the engineering team. And it was, you know, a lot for anyone to kind of handle at that stage of growth. So for a long time, we didn’t have management as part of the organization. And then you had to come up with both like, what even does management mean at this company? Right? Because at different companies, that means different things. And for some companies, it’s much more oriented around like people management, like, Are your people happy and satisfied? And like enjoying their time with the company? Right? And at other companies? It’s much more oriented around? Like, is the team performing? Well, is the team meeting expectations and goals? And then like, are we hiring people?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 37:14
Would you say that there were team leads, though, like, you know, there must have been like a, you know, Head of Marketing, even if it was one person or ahead of CES? Or, like some sort of, you know, someone who thinks of the broad strategy for that group of people? Or was it really like, whoever stepped up to whatever challenge,
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 37:34
there were times when he would be or we would hire like a very clear leader for a function, right? So it’s like, oh, let’s hire a head of comms. And like, that person is gonna hire people. And that person is the person you go to for responsibility around that function. Right. But at the same time, there wasn’t necessarily a philosophy around like, what is management? Right? So this concept around like, is this person setting the vision and the direction of their team? are they holding their team accountable for the metrics and the goals of that particular team? And is their team generally like happy and like being pushed and like in the right ways, and those kinds of things? And at different companies, that means different things? So I think for a lot of engineering management, for example, at some companies, it’s much more oriented around, like, are the engineers happy? You know? And are they like performing at, you know, the baseline that they need to, in order to be at the company. And so it’s more much more like performance management and like Team happiness oriented. But at Stripe, it was very different. It was actually much more oriented around like, is the team working on the right things? Right. So there was, I would say, like a higher emphasis on things that were historically like maybe product management oriented. And that was put into the role of, of engineering management. And we didn’t hire product managers until we were like, 250 300 people either. So that was a big shift in the company, when you start to hire a new function, and you’re trying to figure out, well, what do we peel away from these other functions to add to this new function, right? And that happens, again, when you hire like technical program managers, or when you hire product operations people and you’re trying to figure out how do these functions work with the functions that already exist? And there can be a lot of tension there in figuring those things out over time. And I think you have to focus on like, what is a given function adding? And instead of a focus on like, what is that function taking away? And I think when you add management within a company, for the first time, often you think it’s going to be taking away agency from people, right, taking away maybe transparency from what’s happening. And I think it’s really important for the company to say, actually, this manager is supposed to be telling you what’s going on in the organization highlighting things that you may not have otherwise seen or you may have missed, right? So there should be more transparency with management than there is without it. And there should be more agency right now, if you want to get something done, but you don’t know how to get it done. Your manager is someone that you can go to who can help you navigate the org to get things done, right. So I think in a lot of cases, you’re trying to kind of dispel these myths of management and why it’s needed. But I also think at different stages, it’s going to be different, like, for example, at Linear, like, I don’t have one on ones with every person who works with me. And I think that’s just because we’re at an organizational phase in the company where we’re 40 people. And I think in a lot of ways, things are better done more ad hoc, where it’s like, you can set time on my calendar whenever you want. Because that time on my calendar, right, you need something done, you need my approval on something, if you can get that done on Slack, that’s great. If you want to have a meeting about it, that’s great, too. But I’m much more like service leadership oriented, where I very much believe that assuming that like we’re holding people accountable, and that people are getting things done and are working on the right things, that I am a manager who’s in service of them, and what they need more so than the reverse.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 41:05
Yeah, this is super interesting. And thank you for going through all the different examples, I think what’s really important is that there and this is why this stuff is hard. There are just so many different ways to do things. It’s it’s company, dependent, context dependent, people dependent. I mean to do 150 people, and, you know, Stripe, very successful company, no managers, it sounds like something that shouldn’t be but you know, there was and also with Linear, like, the amount of things that you’re able to do with only 40 people is truly remarkable. And, and like you said, there’s different styles of working. And this is what I just wanted to emphasize for the audience, which is that every company is different. And there may be like, ways that most people do things. But that doesn’t mean that if you do those things that you no company will be successful, or you will be successful. It’s very highly dependent. And it’s really cool to see all the different examples. So Cristina, this has been a great conversation, we’ve talked about a lot of different things starting from, you know, when you become a manager, knowing that you don’t have to have all the answers, figuring out what kind of people to hire early on preparing your team for change, hiring, hiring for agency, the idea of side quests, paid work trials, and a bunch of different concepts as well. So the final question that we always like to end on is for all the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft, are there any final tips, tricks, or words of wisdom that you would leave them with,
Cristina Cordova (Linear) 42:34
I tend to be someone who loves to look at a lot of history, and people who have built things, you know, far before I have, and worked on products. So I tend to be like an avid listener of podcasts just like this right? To better understand how people do things and be like, more open to different ways of doing things and adjusting. But I love to also go back in history and say like, oh, like, what did like railroad barons do, like in the early days? And like, how did they build those businesses, you know, in a world that was like, very, like, ambiguous, right. And then you can also look at more modern day like success stories of like, you know, reading like Shoe Dog, and like learning about Nike in its earliest days, which was like a very competitive environment, where marketing was maybe their area of like, greatest success, or looking at the early days of Apple. So I tend to look at these things. And I think every company is in terms of like, how it’s built, how people manage, it’s a combination of things that you’ve learned at other places that you liked, and you tried to bring with you or that others tried to bring with them. And then also a combination of things that you have seen maybe from another company that maybe you weren’t there for maybe this was 30 years ago, or 50 years ago, but a company was successful in doing it, and you want to trial it out. And then also the things that you hated, right? The things that you saw at another company that you’re like, I’m never doing that, again, that was terrible. We will not do this at this company. And Linear is like probably a great example of the kind of company that said, we’re going to do things differently then the kinds of companies that we’ve been part of right, we’re not going to grow headcount linearly with the business over time. If we’re growing revenue, 3x over year, that doesn’t mean we need to grow headcount through x over year, year over year. So just thinking a little bit more like first principles oriented around like, what is the kind of company that you want to build? And also, how do you want to manage people maybe differently than you’ve been managed before, and build the kind of company that you would have always wanted to work at, even if you weren’t a leader, if you weren’t a co founder? Those kinds of things. So I tend to just look at history a lot, I guess.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 44:45
Yeah, that’s great advice and a great thing for us all to spend more time doing, Cristina, thank you so much for doing this. Thank you. And that’s it for today. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of the Supermanagers podcast. You can find the show notes and transcript at www.fellow.app/Supermanagers. If you liked the content, be sure to rate review and subscribe so you can get notified when we post the next episode. And please tell your friends and fellow managers about it. It’d be awesome if you can help us spread the word about the show. See you next time.