If you start with the “best people,” the best for what you're doing and your values and your culture, that's going to have the biggest compound effect on your success downstream.

In this episode

Rob Khazzam’s tenure on Uber’s first international launch team provided invaluable lessons that continue to shape his leadership as CEO of Float.

At Uber, Rob experienced an environment marked by an unwavering focus on talent, a bias for action, and relentless execution. Amidst the intense and fast-paced environment, Rob also recognized the importance of being willing to think really big and go for it.

Rob Khazzam is the CEO and Co-Founder of Float, a revolutionary fintech company helping companies simplify spending through a corporate card and spend management software. Prior to becoming a founder, Rob worked at Uber for 5 years in international expansion and general management in Eastern Europe and Canada. 

In episode 4 of season 2, Rob shares his journey of intense growth from launching Uber in different countries to founding and leading Float. He emphasizes the importance of communication, organization, and reflection in becoming a better manager. Rob also discusses the culture at Float, focusing on values such as talent density, risk tolerance, urgency, customer obsession, and a culture of learning and growth. He shares his insights on hiring excellent talent and the importance of resilience and passion. Rob encourages leaders to stop coddling their teams and instead lead with transparency and context.

Tune in to hear all about Rob’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.


Going from private equity to Uber


How to know when to seize the rocket ship


Accountability and focus: key drivers at Uber


The problem with unproductive meetings


Organizational growth and improved management


Building a culture of talent and customer obsession at Float


Hiring for culture and continuous growth at Float


The importance of risk tolerance in startups

Resources mentioned in this episode:


Rob, welcome to the show.

Rob Khazzam [00:03:10]
Thanks for having me.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:03:11]
Yeah, super excited to do this. I was just telling you before we hit record that we at fellow are very happy customers afloat and that I was going to hijack the call and give you customer feedback, but obviously we won’t do that. We’ll talk about all sorts of leadership and management lessons. But one place that I thought that we could start is talking about the early days. I know you started life in private equity, and then you were very early at Uber, and you kind of had this very fast career track in the world of Uber. So I’d love for you to maybe just kind of give us your background there. What happened? What role did you start at and what did kind of your career trajectory look like?

Rob Khazzam [00:03:52]
Yeah, sure. So I worked for five years, as you mentioned, in private equity investing. So very different job. I was a CFA and very intense in financial analysis and industry due diligence. But in 2014, I was 28, and I had this sort of epiphany that I was really passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. It was something I cared a lot about as a teen and sort of had lost sight of. And I ended up joining Uber. I was interviewing for a bunch of different startups, but lucky enough, and just sort of, as luck would have it, ended up joining Uber.

Rob Khazzam [00:04:22]
I joined on this international launch team. And so they had this really, it was very intense. Back in 2014, Uber was a very different company. It was still small. It was only in 60 cities. And they had a team of launchers. And so they had, I think, 25 international launchers. And the job description was, you’re going to get sent all over the world and you’re going to go places where Uber doesn’t exist and you’re going to launch Uber there alone.

Rob Khazzam [00:04:46]
That was the job description. And so I had the opportunity, when I joined, to go to Eastern Europe. I was sent there after two weeks, basically of quote unquote, training. And I was on my own in eastern Europe really for kind of the next, well, actually, really the next four years. But as a launcher, the next year, year and a half, I launched the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and my career path sort of evolved from there. I had success with launch, and the businesses that we launched grew. And so my manager decided to make me a senior launcher and oversee other launchers in the region. And then about nine months later I became a general manager, leading other general managers.

Rob Khazzam [00:05:31]
I got to lead central Europe, which was a cluster of countries about, I think it was four or five. And then a year later I got promoted again to lead what the broader region was, which was ten countries and at that point grown to 40 cities. That was the career path for me in eastern Europe. And then I came back to Canada my last year and a half at Uber and led the canadian ride sharing business, which was a much bigger business, much more mature, an opportunity I never would have had if not for going to eastern Europe, launching those businesses, growing with them and learning how to adapt and keep up and scale as a leader.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:06:04]
Trey, thats amazing. When you were signing up for this, did you know that your first job would be to go to different city in Europe, maybe one that you’d never visited before? Definitely didn’t speak the language. Did you know that that was part of the job or did you find out after?

Rob Khazzam [00:06:19]
Definitely. Oh, you did. No, I mean, they were very intentional. Uber had a whole range of jobs that you could apply for. There were very few launchers. Uber was almost 1000 people, 800 people when I joined. There’s only 25 launchers. So they knew and they were really intentional in the interview process of saying, look, we’re stoked you’re excited about this, but we’re serious about this.

Rob Khazzam [00:06:39]
You’re actually going to be sent all over the world. You’re not going to have a say in where you go. You can’t say, well, I don’t want to go to Egypt next. I want to go to Brazil. You can’t do that. And you’re going to be all in seven days a week, 365 days a year. There’s no going home. There’s no, end of the day.

Rob Khazzam [00:06:55]
You leave the 1455 market street, the office in San Francisco, work late and then head home. You’re alone in Romania for four months. Were very intentional about that. And I remember when I passed the interviews and the cases, they sort of said, look, I remember the hiring manager, John Boo. He sort of said, this is sort of like where you need to really convey that you’re ready to commit. If you do this, you’re going to meet me in two weeks somewhere in the world, and you need to pack up your stuff. You’re not going to have an apartment. You’re going to be traveling with a carry on bag.

Rob Khazzam [00:07:26]
Are you ready to leave Canada and get on a plane? For literally the next two years. And that was, I’m glad they did that. It was a good tactic, I think, because a lot of people can turn out of a role like that the first, maybe six to eight weeks.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:07:39]
Yeah. And so what drew you to that position? Was it the travel? Was it the crazy growth?

Rob Khazzam [00:07:45]
To be honest, at the time, I wasn’t drawn to it. I mean, when I met Uber, I was trying to move to New York and join a startup. That was the outcome I was looking for. And as luck would have it, they wouldn’t hire me in New York to be an operations manager. That was the job I was applying for, and that was a well established role. There was like, I think, eight or nine operations managers already for the New York office. And I knew someone on the launch team, and he told me about the job and I said, this is extreme, but I had great mentorship, and I think that’s a really important part of career growth at all stages. And I had a mentor, a cousin who is a very senior executive, very early at Google, and he said, uber is one of the fastest growing companies of all time.

Rob Khazzam [00:08:28]
This is not any old startup. This is not like, oh, you know, I want to work for this startup. Maybe it’ll have this outcome. Like, this is like a Google, this is one of those companies. And he said something I never forgot. I called him, it would have been late April 2014, and I said, I got the offer. This is really intense. I’m really nervous about this.

Rob Khazzam [00:08:48]
I’m not that young, and I don’t know, I’m nervous personally in my personal life, moving around. How will I have relationships with people? I got married and all these things. And he said, look, when you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, like a place like Uber, you don’t get focused on your title, your role, where you’re going to sit on the rocket ship. Just get on and you’ll figure it out. And he sort of said, if it doesn’t work out, you’ll leave and you’ll have something to fall back on. But if it does work out, you might have a one or two or three year crazy time period, but your career and your life will change forever. And you have to swing at those opportunities which are few and far between and often present themselves when you’re not exactly ready or looking for it. And that was a great lesson that I try to not forget.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:09:32]
Yeah, I mean, it is. Yeah, great lesson. And it looks like it really shaped things going forward. I have to ask you, so what are some of the biggest lessons and observations that you took from your time there.

Rob Khazzam [00:09:44]
Yeah, there was ton. That experience changed my life forever and would not be who I am today without the people I worked with and what I learned from them, the great leaders I worked for and just what Uber represented, like, a willingness to think really big and go for it. And it changed everything. So much of the way I think about building businesses is informed by some of what I saw at Uber. A lot of what I saw, the things that stand out to me that are hallmarks of the culture that I joined there. One is just an extraordinarily high focus on talent. So we’re not just filling jobs, we’re literally putting together the best team in the world. That’s what we’re doing.

Rob Khazzam [00:10:24]
And I’ll never forget recruiting for a general manager role where one of my boss at the time, I introduced him to this person. He did the presentation, he presented to me and my boss, and my boss said, so what did you think? And I said, yeah, it was pretty good. Look, it’s really hard to hire in the Czech Republic. This is probably the best person we’ll find. But, like, yeah, it’s pretty solid middle down the road. And it seemed fine to me. And my boss pulled me aside and said, what do you think we’re doing here? And he really just stared into my eyes. It felt like an eternity.

Rob Khazzam [00:10:57]
And I was like, well, we’re running an interview process. And he’s like, you think that Uber should hire someone who’s just okay? Do you think there’s other companies that want to win this market? Do you think there’s a massive opportunity in front of us? Do you think what we’re doing is really hard? And I said, yeah. I said, and you want to not work with the best? Okay, is that your bar? And it was a rhetorical thing, and I’m framing it as very confrontational. He was a very supportive boss, but that taught me something. And he said, don’t ever bring someone like that in here again. When you make a hire, you are telling the company as a manager that this is the best person in the world for this job. Don’t ever lower your bar again. And that was an amazing example of the kind of bar that they had.

Rob Khazzam [00:11:38]
So working with outstanding people two is, I think, just insane bias for action and urgency. Uber was almost to a fault, not that strategic. In my first year or two, they were just like, just go and get it done. And there’s a saying, done is better than perfect. Get it done. Get the launch off the ground. It’s not going to be perfect. Guess what? Being first matters more.

Rob Khazzam [00:12:03]
Get going. Speed and urgency permeated not just the launchers, but everyone, like legal, product, finance, HR. Oh, we have an offer out. A candidate’s ready to join. HR worked the weekend and the evening to get the offer out. That was just the pace, and I really loved that. And I think the last thing I would say that really stands out to me was real intense execution chops. Uber was very good at hiring.

Rob Khazzam [00:12:31]
Yes. Very smart people, but also people who are very capable at project management, like, oh, you’re going to go to the Czech Republic and you’re going to launch in four weeks. Where’s the project list? 125 things? When are they getting checked off? And as an example of that culture, when I started at Uber, the first thing we did at the first launch that I was there for was we did a daily stand up. And every single team that I built at Uber did a daily stand up. And at 09:00 a.m. We stood up. It didn’t matter if you were the general manager, the marketing manager, junior, senior, whatever, in the little office that we were in. This is, I think, in Frankfurt, Germany, at the time.

Rob Khazzam [00:13:09]
09:00 a.m. Stand up. You go around in a circle. What am I getting done today? What are my sort of, what’s my kill list? What are the things that I’m going to get done today that I’m committing to? So I can’t say for three weeks. I’m working on the launch strategy. Well, that’s vague. Today I will complete the search for the office, and I will complete signing a lease period. And then at the end of the day, we did another stand up and said, what did I get done today? And it was something always has to get done.

Rob Khazzam [00:13:39]
So you can’t just work on a strategy for six weeks. What are you going to finish today? And that was extremely powerful.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:13:46]
So, I mean, this is super interesting. One of the things I want to dig in on is this urgency and bias to action that the team had. What were some ways that that was reinforced throughout the company, or how did it materialize? How do you get an entire company to behave that way? Especially because some roles are going to have deadlines and it’s going to be obvious you have to do something by a certain date. There’s externalities involved. But how do you make that? I mean, just talking about that example, you gave finance team working over the weekend to be able to get an offer out first thing Monday. Morning versus whats wrong with Monday afternoon?

Rob Khazzam [00:14:23]
Yeah, well, Uber was an all in company, so no one said this explicitly, but no one cared. In my job as a launcher, there were no hours. There was no weekday weekend. I mean, I lived in Romania, Im launching Uber in Romania. It doesnt matter if its Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. Or Saturday at 05:00 p.m. Thats what Im doing now. I didnt have a life.

Rob Khazzam [00:14:42]
I didnt have anything else to do. Maybe it was easier, but I think that attitude was people were literally changing the world. So is that more important than something else I could be doing? And obviously that doesn’t scale right as a company matures, that that can be problematic. But I think that was when I joined the initial premise. The things that stand out to me are mantras like done is better than perfect finishing. If you have five things to do this week, getting 40% of each of them done throughout the week and being 40% progress completion for each, you didn’t get anything done. Nothing has actually crossed off your list. And so I think it was that attitude of done is better than perfect.

Rob Khazzam [00:15:20]
This concept of daily stand ups for teams to hold each other accountable and measuring the inputs as opposed to the outputs. And I’ll give you an example of that. You say, okay, we want to add 10,000 supply hours to the Czech Republic over the next month. You go, okay, well, the first week you could feel good and not necessarily achieve anything because it’s like, well, we have to have 10,000 suppliers at the end of the month. But you work backwards and say, well, to have 10,000 suppliers at the end of the month, I need to activate this many drivers. To activate this many drivers, I need to get this many signups. To get this many signups means I need to get some irons in the fire well, today. So you can very quickly go, the outcome and the goal is 10,000 supply hours at the end of the month.

Rob Khazzam [00:16:02]
The goal this week is we must run four events for drivers in these areas of the city, and we must get this many signups or else we literally have no chance of hitting the end of the month goal. The key to that, though, is you figure out if you’re on track or off track earlier rather than waiting to the end. That I think was very powerful. And then I think the last one, which I’m a big fan of, we’re evolving it and lengthening it now at float is shrinking the measurement of time. So most businesses think in terms of quarters, Uber thought in terms of weeks. So we used to say, what are your trips per week? If you launched Prague, you’re trying to hit 100,000 trips per week. Forget about the quarter, forget about the month. We were measuring our results and planning for the week ahead.

Rob Khazzam [00:16:50]
We were trying to influence our metrics, not for the month, but for the week ahead. And that led to a tremendous amount of bias, fraction and urgency, because Sunday night you see the results from the last, the last week and you go, okay, this week is here. What are we doing this week to move the needle?

Aydin Mirzaee [00:17:05]
Yeah, I love it. And so when you have a goal like 10,000, I guess, supply hours per month, as you mentioned, what happens if, what was the culture of accountability? If someone didn’t meet it? Or maybe it was 9000 instead of 10,000. And how seriously was that taken? When a goal is set, how serious is the team about the goal? And if the goal is not met, what would happen?

Rob Khazzam [00:17:30]
Yeah, I think Uber had such a strong accountability. Uber only hired people that wanted a goal, that wanted to own it, that weren’t deeply accountable. So I think a lot of businesses, you really need to create and hold people accountable. My experience at Uber was like, I mean, I don’t remember many people in those early days that needed to be held accountable. In fact, if anything, people were. They were so accountable that you’d have to say, like, it’s okay, it’s all right, and send them home sometimes. So I think that what it was really about that they were focused on and we really leaned into, in terms of coaching and managing people was, are you doing everything you can and are you learning? So I launched Prague, Prague, and as an example, Warsaw were two cities launched at the same time, near similar times. Warsaw took off.

Rob Khazzam [00:18:16]
It just took off for a whole variety of reasons. The team was better there and the market was also easier. There was a bunch of factors that were, or externalities that I would say were a factor. And the thing in Prague for us was always, and with the team, there was just like, do you have a plan when you miss a result? Are you presenting an analysis on. Here’s why we missed the results. Here are the three things that we’re doing now to get back on track. I never saw anyone at Uber get exited or terminated for performance because they didn’t perform in and of itself. I saw people exited because they didn’t perform.

Rob Khazzam [00:18:50]
And more importantly, they didn’t take accountability and they weren’t constantly going, and here’s how we get back on track. And that was part of the game at Uber, because we had markets getting shut down, we had regulatory challenges. Our actual operational results were often impacted by things that we fully couldn’t control. But it was always, okay, the government’s on the verge of shutting you down. Supply is tight. Here we have these challenges. Let’s go through the battle plan to get back on track. And if people felt confident and energy from the local team or the people accountable, I was like, let’s back these people.

Rob Khazzam [00:19:23]
And then obviously over a longer period of time, you took one year, two years, three years. Managers and leaders were rewarding people that are having success, and they had a very tight calibration and performance review process. And so that sort of stuff took care of itself. I got more of a mandate in Eastern Europe because what I was doing, I think, was hopefully working. And they recognized that I had to hang on for dear life to scale myself with the business. But they saw me focusing on it and being self aware, and that was really important, obviously in a hypergrowth place like that.

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Aydin Mirzaee [00:20:56]
Yeah, love it. And so I guess part of this entire process was you went from being a launcher, really on the ground, experiencing things, and to very quickly, it sounds like in a period of less than 24 months, managing a very large team. So talk to us about that. What were some of the lessons learned? What were some of the mistakes made? What were the painful realizations or the big aha moments and learning how to lead a team in that way.

Rob Khazzam [00:21:23]
Yeah, well, ill start with a premise of anyone listening. I think it can be this is a daunting subject, which is like management. Youre never done. Im not sure im a good manager. Like, I think. I think this whole journey is one of vulnerability and its so much of your success and growth, I found, comes from making mistakes once, then twice, and then the third time going, okay, now I know how to do this and you have to just go through that. I don’t think you can read about it. I think you actually, as a manager, have to make mistakes to succeed later.

Rob Khazzam [00:21:51]
Yeah, like a lot of lessons. So I mean, I made every mistake in the book and I think there was different, there’s sort of different scales as a manager. So with that first team, I was sent to Eastern Europe. I never managed anyone, I never hired anyone, I never managed anyone, never terminated anyone. And that first team in Prague, I made every rookie mistake. So I hired too quickly. I didn’t deeply interview and due diligence the candidates. I operated with bias because I really wanted to close the role.

Rob Khazzam [00:22:21]
So the moment someone half decent came along, I like brought them in. And then when they joined, I didn’t set clear expectations for them. I wasn’t that comfortable of saying, here are my expectations of you. That felt very weird and uncomfortable for me to say, even. And I wasn’t comfortable with that. I wasn’t confident enough and I avoided it. And all those things came back to bite me. So I hired the wrong people.

Rob Khazzam [00:22:43]
They didn’t have success because they didn’t have the right skills and the right values to fit in our culture. I wasn’t clear with them about my expectations and so no matter how hard they worked, they never were that clear on what success would look like. I wasn’t very effective at coaching them and that culminated in me having to let that team go. And that was another painful lesson of, oh, this didn’t work out. It’s mostly my fault. Now I have to go confront this, let these people go and rehire all over again. And dealing with that and having to work through that was a great lesson. It was hard at the time, but it made me better.

Rob Khazzam [00:23:21]
And when we did the next launch in Budapest, I did a better job of hiring. I saw, okay, resilience matters. I need to look for resilience when I interview. Setting expectations matters, having a weekly meeting where we talk about what we’re going to do for the week and creating communication, sharing and context sharing and goals are important things that I need to write down. And that was a really important lesson. And that took me through my first managerial experiences. And then it grew from there, you know, as the business scaled, I had more people reporting to me, so now I needed to get better at juggling. So now I have 18 people reporting to me in a bunch of different countries and a bunch of different subject matter, you start to get better at organization.

Rob Khazzam [00:24:05]
What time of week do I meet with certain people? How do we do reporting in a way that doesn’t stifle people, but ensures that you’re informed enough as a manager to coach and to direct the team where needed. And then I started managing managers, and the general managers that I had in each of the countries had their own team, so they were now the frontline manager with their teams. I was the organizational leader for the region. And then my role shifted more to mission vision, alignment of resources. So now my general managers are running teams. They need resources, and we need resources in the region to succeed. Now I’m spending more time influencing people outside of my organization at Uber to drive successful outcomes. So we have Pa and pr needs.

Rob Khazzam [00:24:53]
I’m influencing people in San Francisco and Amsterdam to convey the opportunity in our region and what we need to be successful. Now we have functional teams. Now I have general managers reporting to me. We have a legal team, a finance team. I have two chiefs of staff or strategic strategy and planning people. And these people are supporting the core businesses. Now I’m creating a bigger one team mentality across functions. And we have offsites and I’m sending emails and I’m communicating context and holding people accountable.

Rob Khazzam [00:25:27]
Even that don’t report to me. They’re dotted line reports, but who collectively serve the mission. So our recruiting team that sits in Amsterdam supports our recruiting needs. Now I’m including them and bringing them along in what we’re doing. And those were the ways that it sort of elevated along the way, and it happened in a very short time period.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:25:45]
And what was the process in terms of learning? Was it just intensive reflection as you gain experiences, really questioning why things went a certain way or what worked well and didn’t and just rapid iteration through this process or did you have coaches or mentors or.

Rob Khazzam [00:26:00]

Aydin Mirzaee [00:26:01]
How’d you make it happen?

Rob Khazzam [00:26:02]
It was really hard looking back, because one of the things I’ve always felt, especially about management and leadership, are people say, you learn by doing, you actually, in my experience, don’t learn by doing. If all you do is do, you learn by doing and then reflecting, and that means you have enough space to say, we just did a kickoff and we spent a day with his team and x, y and z happened. Now I have some time to think what worked, what didnt. And the hard thing, to be honest, at Uber during that time period was I didnt have any time. I was in meetings, my work days were I worked from 09:00 a.m. Till 10:11 p.m. Every night. I worked six days a week.

Rob Khazzam [00:26:48]
I traveled four or five times a week. And so I just didnt have to be honest. I don’t think I, in the end, I grew. But at the time, I didn’t have enough space for reflection. I was just too reactive. And that was one of the biggest lessons that I learned was creating space to think. So even as little as before my day starts, I’m going to plan my day. I have nine things I need to do today.

Rob Khazzam [00:27:13]
I can only do four. What order do I want to do them in, and am I going to actually create space to do them? So, like there’s a point in time all managers find are you sitting one to one s all day? Well, stop complaining about the fact that you’re in one to ones all day. Do something about it. If you don’t want to be in one to ones all day, change your meeting cadence. And that, for me, allowed me to start to take a step back and think more. And that was something that I really try to apply now to my job at float because it’s very hard to grow as a leader and manager if you don’t have space to think. So those were some of my reflections. I was also fortunate to have great mentors at Uber.

Rob Khazzam [00:27:50]
I had five different managers over five years. Sounds like a nightmare. A lot of people don’t like switching managers. It was great. They didn’t have a lot of time to coach me. Candidly, by the end, my managers at Uber were very senior people, generally too senior for me, frankly, to even be working for. And so I got 25 minutes every two weeks with them. And that was in itself a challenge.

Rob Khazzam [00:28:11]
But the benefit I gained from working with them wasn’t their, frankly, direct coaching, it was actually just watching them operate. So I have some great memories of seeing some of the leaders I worked for run in all hands, or run an off site, or have a difficult conversation, or manage a hard conversation with Travis Kalanick. And it was through observing them that I learned the most.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:28:35]
I would say, yeah, thanks for recounting all the different lessons learned. Sounds like a lot of this stuff probably also applied at float. So maybe before we jump into float, give us the elevator pitch, what is float all about? And then maybe we can talk about your journey as starting as founder and being CEO and how that’s kind of evolved over the. I think it’s about three years that.

Rob Khazzam [00:29:01]
Three years?

Aydin Mirzaee [00:29:02]
Yeah, three years since you guys launched yeah.

Rob Khazzam [00:29:05]
And I feel like I think any founder entrepreneur who’s doing something that anyone is using and is working at all is just, if you get to come to work all day and work on stuff you’re excited about, I think you’re very lucky. So I feel super privileged to be doing it. Floats mission is to simplify spending for companies and teams. We believe that the process of accessing capital, spending money, reconciling payments in businesses, is broken. And we’ve built a great platform to simplify that experience, to automate away the painful experiences like expense reports and invoice collection and receipt collection, and put more money and time back into the amazing finance teams and companies that we serve that are hopefully going to spend that focusing on their growth and their mission. And I met my co founders about three and a half years ago. They were already actually in the first version, or building a version of what was then known at the time as Journal, maybe to bring it back to the lesson I shared when I met Uber, when I met my co founders, it wasn’t what I was looking for, and I was looking for a later stage opportunity and a more established thing, not as risky. And then I met them and I was like, well, these guys are brilliant, and this seems like a really exciting opportunity, and I’m really passionate about business spending because I was on the road with Uber for years doing it, and it was terrible.

Rob Khazzam [00:30:25]
And I came home and I was like, oh, this is the wrong timing for me personally. But, boy, when you get slapped in the face with opportunity and you see it there, don’t complain and whine about the timing, just go do it. That was for me, jumping in with them. We started working together formally in, I want to say, March of 2021. We launched the product to the market officially in April or May. And now, three years later, we’re very fortunate. We still have a ton to do. We haven’t scratched the surface, but we’re fortunate to have many great customers, including yourself and a team of almost 90 people in outfloat.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:31:00]
Yeah, that’s awesome. And so let’s talk about the maybe. Let’s start with the culture at float. So you’ve had to seen probably a lot of companies through your time in private equity, spent some intensive time at Uber. Now seeing all these things, you have the opportunity to build something from scratch. So what does the culture look like at float? What kind of values do you guys have? And, yeah, what is the operating cadence at float?

Rob Khazzam [00:31:24]
Yeah, well, a lot of our culture, for sure, is informed by my experiences at Uber. The good elements of Uber that I took away my own beliefs as an employee. Well, I’m the CEO, but I’m also an employee. I worked for Uber, but we thought a lot about what empowers employees and supercharges them to do their best work and attracts them to a company like float. And so our culture is one focused on talent density. We have very, very intense focus on how do we acquire and put together a mass of people who, regardless of their job titles and roles, are objectively the best people you have ever worked within your career, period. That is one of the most important things for us at float, which is regardless of what we’re doing. Do you come into this company and work with people who are bar raisers? And you do that for two reasons.

Rob Khazzam [00:32:14]
One, it’s the highest leverage way to build a business. If you start with the best people, quote unquote the best for what you’re doing and your values and your culture, that’s going to have the biggest compound effect on your success downstream. And then two is it’s actually a great recruiting tool. It’s a real compounder. When great people see great people, they want to go work there. And we all know running a startup, it’s hard to hire great people. And so you can’t just compete on compensation, you got to compete on the experience. And so that’s why that’s so important.

Rob Khazzam [00:32:44]
Two is urgency, speed, and biased action. No surprise, given everything we’ve talked about. I probably won’t speak about that one too much, but I think that I’m a big believer in the importance of speed in startups. And I think bias fraction fits directly into that. Customer obsession is huge and I’ve studied a lot of different companies. Amazon is a company I really admire and I’ve always looked up to. Uber was great at customer obsession as well. But customers have to be at the forefront of what we’re doing.

Rob Khazzam [00:33:11]
And I think more deeply what we try to convey to our team is when we’re building for our customers, we always have to remember to start with a customer experience and work backwards from that instead of getting fixated on, well, it’s the product team or the ops team or the support team, and we have this process and we need to get customers to go through it. No, no, we exist. And the only reason we have jobs is because customers choose to use our product and one day they may not if we don’t stay competitive. And that’s a big part of who we are. This idea of building backwards and customer obsession, and one that I like to highlight. And we have several more, but maybe the last one I’ll highlight specifically that I think is really important is a culture of learning and growing. And if I reflect back on what I just shared with you about my own managerial experience, there was a lot of growth in there. And I have this sort of thing I always say to people, which is, we’re always just the latest version of ourselves.

Rob Khazzam [00:34:11]
And it doesn’t matter how old you are, how long you’ve been working, you’re a work in progress. And you have an opportunity today to be better than you were yesterday. And tomorrow you’ll have an opportunity to be better than you are today. And going through the experiences you go through today gives you the opportunity to learn and grow and be better tomorrow. And so learning and growing is critical, because in every startup, you encounter this challenge, which is whatever you did today or this year is probably not going to work next year. Toby talks about this at Shopify. We all have to be 40% better each year, because if the business takes off, we have to scale with the business. And so it’s actually like a true business imperative.

Rob Khazzam [00:34:53]
But I think more deeply for talent and people that want to grow in their careers, you have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to surround yourself with people that are really good, that you can learn from, and you really need to be humble, and you need to have a certain level of self awareness, because if you believe you’re done and your growth is like you’ve gotten to the promised land, your growth’s over. And so one of the things we look for in all floaters, we look for a tight personality. We look for people that have a winning. We like winners. We like people that are ambitious, that have had success in their career, but have not had so much success that they think they’re that awesome. There’s got to be a degree of humility, or else they probably won’t scale with a company. And I think that that, for me, is a really important element of who we are.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:35:41]
Yeah. Thank you for recounting all of the different values. And I know there’s more. But one thing that I did want to dig in on is you talked a lot about talent density, being able to hire the best in the world for that position. And for you, given the values, the stage of the company, the role, what have you learned about what excelnt looks like? How do you teach that to everybody else? I assume. I don’t know if you’re still involved in all the interviews in the company, but I imagine that every interview. Oh, are you still okay, great. So maybe you play the role of bar raiser a little bit there, too.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:36:13]
But what do you look for? Like, how do you know if someone is truly great? And having done this for a while, what would you say your hit rate is? How often are you able to get it right?

Rob Khazzam [00:36:26]
I’ll start by saying, I don’t know that there’s a monolithic definition. And I think that the obnoxious thing someone might take away from this is, I only want the best or a players hire a players. Well, who defines what an a player is? I dont think the answer is the same for all companies. An a player for Bell or Rogers or Google or Amazon might be different from one company to the other. So I focus on what were looking for. And what I like to look for are, first and foremost, is our culture. So we have cultural values. Theyre written down.

Rob Khazzam [00:36:56]
And I expect our team and myself to be very intentional in saying, if you want to build a customer obsessed company, then when you hire people, you need to see customer obsession in them. And so it starts by just modeling out what are your cultural values and then testing people for them. So I’ll give you an example. In learning and growing, if you want to find people that are capable of being coached and are capable of growing, well, we interview to see people that have grown a lot in their career. Have they been promoted? Have they done hard things? Have they shown a track record of learning new skills, including hobbies we look for, like, did people teach themselves a language? Do they do woodworking? Do they have interests outside of work? Do they have capacity for growth? And more importantly, have they actualized that growth in one form or another? And I think that that’s something that we look for. And then similarly, on the personality side, how does that person feel about being coached? You can ask someone a question, whats the most difficult feedback you’ve received? Or even, for example, what do you think you did not do well in your last job and could do better? Some people get really squirmy about that and they cant come up with an answer, or they start to go down a path of saying, well, I wasn’t put in the right position, and then theres a group of people that run towards that, and right away they’re like, oh, here are the three things that I’m working on now that I got great feedback from my manager and my peers on. I really want to get better at that. That’s the kind of person that we really look for.

Rob Khazzam [00:38:24]
So I think it’s about those values. One of the things we definitely look for, and I think is a real pitfall as you hire for startups, is risk tolerance. I made the comment earlier in the interview about Uber with me and saying, you sure you want to do this? This is what this means. And I think a lot of startups, one of the things that we miss when we recruit, quote unquote great people is great is also stage appropriate. So if you’re interviewing someone, I’m going to pick on McKinsey. If someone’s been at McKinsey for ten years and you’re interviewing them to be one of the first ten employees in your company, it is possible that they might have success. But I would say the odds are stacked against you and you need to think about is this person going to be comfortable with a level of ambiguity? Are they going to be comfortable with a level of risk? And what is it about them and their experiences that suggests they’d be good at that? And so what I like to look for are, have they started side businesses? Have they done anything risky in their life? Did they transfer schools? Did they try something they had never done? Have they encountered adversity? Or did they graduate top of the class, get into the next program, top of the class, feeder program, into this program, and then straight into McKinsey. Again, nothing against management consultants, but if you never experienced adversity or you haven’t worked in an environment that is really risky, that’s not always a great sign when you’re hiring an early stage team.

Rob Khazzam [00:39:52]
And then there’s practical considerations like taking a 50% pay cut. So I think that those are some of the things that I look for. And then I think the last thing I would say, which is really important, is passion. Why is this person interviewing with me? Why do they want to come to float? And if we accept and know that what we’re doing is exciting and special, but also really hard, like really hard. Building a company is so hard. And there’s sacrifices, there are ups and downs. The number of times you cry in a startup, I cry at a startup. It’s hard, it’s stressful, you care, it’s scary, all the things.

Rob Khazzam [00:40:36]
What rational person would go through all of that if they werent really passionate about the mission and the opportunity? And I think that if you dont see a real genuine passion for the craft and the work, my observation is its more likely that someone will probably give up when the going gets tough, because you can always find a higher paying job where you work less and you don’t have this ambiguity, and a rational person might choose to do that. And I think that that’s why I love looking for passion.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:41:11]
Yeah, I mean, again, it’s very interesting. Like, every time you do this, you get to see what works out. And turns out resilience is a very strong thing to look for. You look for that in the next hire, and every time you do this, you get a bit better. I also wanted to just that sound bite of we’re always the latest version of ourselves. And I think that definitely rings true. So, Rob, we’ve talked about a lot of different things. You walked us through some awesome stories from your time at Uber.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:41:37]
The lessons you learned, how you built culture at float, building the best team in the world and focusing on recruiting. And now there’s a few kind of rapid response questions that I’d love to get your take on. And so one of them is, what would you wish that managers or leaders everywhere would stop doing?

Rob Khazzam [00:42:00]
Believe it or not, my answer is coddling. One of the things that I’m personally a big believer in is that as a leader, your job is not to insulate your people from the realities of the business. So if you’re under a bunch of pricing pressure, or you have a competitive threat, or you need to raise financing, there’s a sense sometimes that leaders have. I’ve had it as well, which is like, let’s not scare the team, let’s focus them on a bunch of things, and that hopefully contribute to fixing that problem. But I’m a big believer in leading with transparency and telling people what’s going on in the business so that they can focus on delivering the things that matter most. And as a leader, not as a manager, but as a leader, I found as companies scale and startups go through ups and downs, it’s tempting to want to shape an internal narrative. So there’s the board reality, the CEO or company reality, and then there’s the internal narrative, which is like, we need to keep people feeling good, because otherwise they might leave. And so there’s a lot of messaging, and it’s very theatrical.

Rob Khazzam [00:43:08]
I’ve made this mistake as well. Uber made this mistake big time, in my opinion, in the last two, three years I was there. And it just leads to two concurrent realities existing, where you have what the employees are aware of and believe, and then what managers and leaders are contending with. And I think it’s unhealthy for teams. I think it doesn’t lead to great success. And I think it doesn’t put talent and your employees in a position to operate with the most context possible to do the best work. And that’s why I’m a big fan of Netflix. No rules rules.

Rob Khazzam [00:43:39]
Because it’s all about leading with context.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:43:41]
Yeah, that’s really good advice. So Rob, great conversation. So many insights. The question we always like to end on is for all the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft. Any final tips, tricks, or words of wisdom you would leave them with?

Rob Khazzam [00:43:56]
It’s hard to say. I feel like I should have a rapid answer here. Take time for reflection. That would be number one, journaling. I never thought I’d say this. Journaling and reflection at the end of the week, what worked well with my people? What didn’t? Why did this conversation go well or not go well? Even an hour of that will completely improve your ability to synthesize what matters and get better next week.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:44:21]
That’s great advice and a great place to end it. Rob, thank you so much for doing this.

Rob Khazzam [00:44:25]
Thanks a lot for having me. This was fun.

Aydin Mirzaee [00:44:27]
And that’s it for today. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of the Super Managers podcast. You can find the show notes and transcript at If you like 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 could help us spread the word about the show. See you next time.

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