Design MBA

Leveling Up as a Founding Designer - Jared Erondu (VP of Design at Lattice)

Episode Summary

My guest today is Jared Erondu is a design & product leader, investor, and advisor. He's currently the GM of Performance and VP of Design at Lattice. Interview Video: In this episode, we discuss the following: - Why I'm interviewing Jared Erondu - How has interviewing design leaders helped Jared in his design career? - How to keep in touch with people you meet throughout your career? - Why Jared Erondu joined Lattice? - How to evaluate different career opportunities? - Why people matter the most when dealing with early stage companies? - What if you get a career decision wrong as a designer? - Scaling the design team at Lattice - What is the design culture like at Lattice? - Does a founding designer have to become a design leader? - How to hire designers who are more senior and experienced than you? - How to mentor direct reports more senior than you? - How does Jared level up as Head of Design? For show notes, guest bio, and more, please visit:

Episode Notes

Jared Erondu is a design & product leader, investor, and advisor. He's currently the GM of Performance and VP of Design at Lattice. Before Lattice, Jared led design at Teespring and was an early designer at both Obvious Corp and Omada Health. He's also founded two companies and consulted for others like Y Combinator, MIT Media Lab, Google, Front, and Greylock Partners. In his spare time, he likes to spin up projects that help further knowledge sharing in the design community, most notably Playbook and High Resolution. 




Episode Transcription

Namaste and welcome. I am Jayneil Dalal and you are listening to the design MBA which is a real-life MBA program for designers. You will learn how to launch a side hustle and level up your design careers from the interviews rock star designers. 


Jayneil Dalal:  Folks, whether you're watching this video or you're listening to the podcast, thank you so much for tuning in. I'm doing something different today. Usually what I do is I usually start the interview with usually talking about the guest bio or reading that but this time, I'm going to do something a little bit different. What I'm going to do different this time is I'm going to share with you why I'm so excited to interview with Jared. So, I first came across Jared’s work in the form of High Resolution Media which is a series of interviews with some of the top design leaders in the industry at the time and that's when I first got to know about Jared. And since then, I've kept following his work and his career trajectory. And since then, he's done a lot of amazing things that was just a start. Since then, he's actually started two companies. He's consulted with a lot of the heavyweights, think about Y Combinator, MIT Media Labs, Google, Front, Greylock Partners to all the way now where he's basically the GM of Performance and VP of Design at Lattice where he supports an incredible group of people and spans multiple disciplines talking about brand, product, content design, research, product management, engineering, data, and operations. 


And you might be thinking what is Lattice. Well, Lattice is a high growth startup that builds B2B products that helps companies align, grow, and support their employees. And not only that, Jared is also an investor. So, when I was looking at all these things, I was like “Oh my God! I need to get in touch with Jared.” So, I actually sent him a cold email. Trust me cold emailing works. And I persistently followed up. He is a busy man. And when we got on the prep call, we both agreed that “Hey, something exciting to talk about and share from his journey is going to be how does a founding designer, if they join us, sort of how do they level up, what does that trajectory look like?” So, today, if you're tuning in, that's pretty much what we're going to be talking about.


So, Jared, thank you so much for coming on the show.


Jared Erondu:  Yeah, thank you for having me. Excited to chat with you.


Jayneil:  Oh my God! I got to go back in time. So, one of the things I'm curious about is ever since I watched all those High Resolution interviews that you all did, you and Bobby, a lot of the topics that both of you were asking, I mean, at the time, if I may, you were a little bit advanced like you were not doing all of those things at the same time like some of the topics about design management and so many things that you all covered. There's a wide variety of topics that not necessarily you were doing in your role at the time. So, what I'm curious about is how have those learnings from those interviews helped you now in your career?


Jared:  It's a great question. So, yeah, when Bobby and I started High Resolution, I had just left my role at Teespring where I was a design director spanning across Product Design and a little bit Brand Design and Bobby was at the time or right before we started recording, Head of Digital Design at WeWork. So, we both have had experiences building teams, managing folks, supporting teams, I mean, trying to level up our impact within organizations but when we started the series, we intentionally went after people who were doing it at a whole other level, right? And the impetus behind that was kind of threefold. One, there was just a genuine curiosity between the two of us like just wanting to learn from people who've done it at the highest levels. Another one was a recognition we had that in our times building teams in our previous roles, when we were especially coming across people new to the industry, there was this belief or this fear rather that they were not being fully equipped with the best ways to describe the impact they can have, therefore maximizing the roles that they were able to get at organizations, right? And then a third impetus was that we saw a lot of companies understanding that design was something worth investing in but not knowing how much to invest in it or how to really realize its full impact, right? So, we knew that the questions we wanted to ask our guests were going to be a mixture of things that we were just curious about like things that we wish we knew going in but also things that we knew that new grad or someone one year into their career would wish that they could have the answer to and equally that a CEO of an organization, I’d call, like 500 who has their Head of Design and a team, the questions that they would likely be asking to know what to talk about with their Head of Design in the next one-on-one, right? So, that was kind of the driving force behind the questions that we asked ultimately the guests that we pursued for the series.


Jayneil:  And as part of those interviews you also, I'm assuming, built some sort of bond, relationship with all those guests.


Jared:  Yeah.


Jayneil:  And something I'm curious about is have you been able to reach out to those guests like let's say you interviewed, just throwing an example, like Katie Dale, right? Then she's gone on to become a very famous design leader. And then now that you are in a position of design leadership, were you're able to, like let's, say reach out to them or any of them and ask questions or advice? Has that helped you in that way?


Jared:  Yeah, it's actually been an amazing side effect. It wasn't a goal of the series but it ended up being a benefit. High Resolution as a brand has actually helped me and, I'm sure, Bobby even recruit because there were designers who knew me by way of that series. And then when I would reach out about Lattice, they would make the connection and be like “Oh okay,” you know, like “Let's chat” but to your specific question, yes, there were a lot of guests. We had 24. And I probably touched base with all 24 at some points since then but … You mentioned Katie, for example. Katie and I definitely have kept in contact and Katie has actually been very helpful for me when I've gone through certain inflection points in in my role at Lattice where I am able to confide in her or ask her perspective on design instructions and things like that because I know that she's kind of like navigated those things. Judy Wert who runs Wert & Co., we actually reached out to her to even help when we were hiring our design leaders into the organization when I started and I was just like “Hey, you know, now I want to work with you directly.” So, it's been great. It's been great being able to keep in contact with some of those folks and really have the value that they provided for me personally extend beyond the series which ended at this point over five years ago.


Jayneil:  So, this is more of a personal question. I also interview a lot of cool people including you on the design MBA podcast. Now, one of the challenges I've had is an organic way to keep in touch with them because I want to be mindful of your few times. I can't just feel like “Merry Christmas, Jared” like you get from your realtor or someone like that, that postcard. So, that's been a challenge for me as well like how do I keep in touch with everyone because not all the times everything that I do would be related to what you are working on or is relevant to you. So … I don't know … would love to hear your thoughts like, let's say, if me and you chatted and then two years later, I just randomly ping to you, would that help than … compared to me just being a random person given the fact that we have chatted a little bit?


Jared:  Yeah, I think that … it's an interesting question because I was actually chatting with a friend about this recently, not in the context of Hi Res but just in the age we live in, people have likely orders of magnitude more connections than the generation of our grandparents where you think about someone who lived 80 to 100 years ago, their connections were probably limited to their town, right? And then maybe some of the people who knew the people they knew and that was basically it, right? Then when higher education became normalized, it kind of extended our network, if you will, by people that you went to school with whether they're your classmates or people one or two years ahead or behind you but you think about today now, especially in a remote world, we have infinitely more connections, we have things LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram. It's a lot, right? And therefore, it's hard to actually keep in touch or keep up to tabs with all the people you know. And then it also comes into the particular situation we're talking about where there might be an imbalance incentive to keep the connection, maybe there's like “Oh, I really, really liked this person for this reason and I think that they can help me in these ways. So, I want to keep tabs with that but I also recognize that maybe they're not getting something from me. So, are they going to respond?” and all that. And the thing that's helped me most is just to stop thinking about it. I didn't want to over complicate it for myself but I'd reach out to folks and just be like “Hey, how are things going?” and I was genuinely just curious or if I hadn’t asked, I stopped trying to make the mistake of pretending to be curious about their life and I would just make my ask immediately, right? And sometimes they respond, sometimes they don't and I don't read into it at all because people have their different … people have their lives, right? I think in the cases of people like Katie, I knew Katie before High Resolution. So, there was already a pre-existing relationship there that if anything just got amplified by way of us being able to work on a project like that together. There were people who I kind of knew like Christy Tillman where that kind of gave us a foundation for our friendship but even Christy, she and I had not spoken since High Resolution until three weeks ago, right? And then we just happened to catch up over a Twitter exchange we had and we were both like “Wow! We haven't spoken in half a decade” but it felt like … it felt we were picking up right from there. So, it's … I'm meandering a bit but this is all to say that I think that it is hard to maintain relationships, whether there's a balance or not, but I think that if we don't overthink it and we just kind of … if you want a genuine friendship, saying so, or if you just want something from the other person, saying so, and however they receive it is their prerogative.


Jayneil:  Oh my God! In this current predicament that I'm in, this advice of yours, I'm going to remember but right now I can tell you it's extremely helpful to me and comforting.


Jared:  That's good to hear. That's good to hear. And then to make it personal, if you reach out to me, I'll respond. I strive to respond timely. Sometimes I don't but I ultimately do. I ultimately do respond to people, yeah.


Jayneil:  So, what set of events, I'm curious to know, has led you to joining Lattice?


Jared:  Yeah. So, before Lattice … so, I joined Lattice full time in 2017 but in 2014, early 2014, I joined a startup called Teespring and Teespring is where I met Jack Alton and Eric Costello who would eventually go on to found Lattice. So, Eric was Teespring’s like founding engineer. Jack was … I think he actually invested in Teespring and joined as our Head of Business Development. And Eric and I obviously naturally got to work together a lot because he was the designer, I was their first full-time designer. So, we worked … we worked fairly closely. Jack I kind of just knew on the other side of the office but eventually we got to work together when Teespring struck its first partnership with the NFL and him running Business Development, there was a lot of overlap between product design and graphics and materials that we needed to make. So, that kind of accelerated … it gave us more touch points to kind of get to know each other and the friendship began to spark there. So, eventually I decided to leave Teespring. It had grown pretty rapidly. I think, when I joined, we were around 20 or 30 people full time. when I left, we were, depending on how you calculated, somewhere between 400 and 700 people. The variance is basically we had a distribution facility in Hebron, Kentucky, that I think staffed 200 people. So, they were not technical but if you count the full head count, it was over 500 people. So, it's really, really rapid growth and I learned a lot about what it's like to be on a “rocket ship”. At the time, I don't think Teespring was a YC company. I don't think YC had experienced at exit yet … like an IPO, not an exit … but for all intents and purposes, it seemed we were on that trajectory, right? So, from the outside, everyone was like “Whoa! This company is just growing X percent month over month” and inside you're just feeling all the stuff that happens when you're working in a company that grows that quickly, right? And I learned a lot of what to do, also things what not to do, right? And at some point, I decided to leave. A couple week after that, Jack reached out and said that he and Eric were also getting ready to leave and that they wanted to start a company and they wanted to … you know, there was an initial idea that they were exploring but when he circled back a few weeks later, they kind of honed in on goal setting. They wanted to build a product that can help companies align the people within their organization. And the motivation behind that was after experiencing how hard that can get when you have a fast-growing company like Teespring, right? So, it was kind of solving our own problem, right? So, I was immediately interested for two reasons. One, I knew Jack and Eric. I really, really loved working with them. And then two, I knew the problem, right? I had felt it firsthand but the conundrum was part of me leaving Teespring was to kind of just chill out for a bit, right? I had not … I had been constantly moving since I moved to San Francisco. I wanted to kind of take a break. And then there was a part of me that also wanted to start my own company but I really wanted to work with them. So, like “You know what? Let's kind of like strike about the middle. I'll contract and help you all out nights and weekends, right?” So, nights and weekends, I remember in the early days, we would go over to Jack's Place because he had a white board or Jack and Eric would come over to my place. I think Jack has these photos of me at my desk where they're both sitting right next to me almost the creative director photo, right? And that kind of what I thought would be like a, call it three-month arrangement. I blinked and it was a year and a half, right? And what actually happened towards the last four or five months of that year and a half was High Resolution. So, High Resolution, I was like “I really want to do this. So, let me kind of pause my contract with you all for a couple months. And when I'm done, then we can really have a clear-eyed conversation about do I want to join or do I help you all hire someone” because that's also, considering that and talking to different people, to be Lattice’s Head of Design. At some point after High Resolution, I let a couple months go by. I thought about it a lot. I considered Lattice, I considered starting a company. Playbook, my side project, we were considering raising funding for and going full time on. And I also considered joining a Feng company. There was one in particular that you know. I had spoken to them a lot. Funny enough, it was partially motivated by one of the High Resolution guests, right? So, I was considering those three routes. And the framework that really helped me decide, and Bobby my co-host is the one who gave it to me, was people, purpose, and pay, and really understanding how I wanted to rank those things for my next opportunity and what those things meant to me and how each opportunity stacked up against those things, right? So, I ranked it by people, purpose, and pay literally in that order and Lattice checked all … Lattice checked the first two boxes. The third was more potential, obviously. And coming in as a founding employee, your salary is not going to be what it is if you're joining a Feng but I saw a lot of opportunity there but the purpose and the people were really, really strong for me, right? So, ultimately that's what made me decide to join and that was about five and a half years ago.


Jayneil:  And a quick question there. So, if you're using that framework people, person – people, purpose, and pay, yeah. So, what if you have a company or an opportunity that checks all of these three boxes but then do you have to have them in the specific order? What if you have a place that meets your purpose and meets the people check mark and also meets the pay but it may not be the order you're thinking about like maybe you want the pay to be the first, maybe you want people to be second and your purpose to be a third? It has all those potential but maybe not in the order you're thinking about.


Jared:  Sure. So, that's why I think that the first step is ranking them for yourself because I find that to be very Illuminating and helps you make really tough decisions when you're faced with multiple options that at the surface level all seem equally viable. It doesn't necessarily mean that it will help you select one thing but it will help you eliminate some things, right? So, I was choosing between three things and this framework helped me eliminate the Feng company right off the bat and it really came down to starting my own thing or joining something that was just started, right? The people one was my number one because earlier in my career, purpose was number one. I still consider myself a mission-driven person. I love believing in the mission and really trying to solve a problem that I would be proud to say I helped solve or contribute towards solving but the first … the second company I co-founded over a decade at this point, the purpose was really, really strong. The people wasn't, right? My co-founders, I had two co-founders. One, I had a pretty good relationship with. The other, I kind of did off the bat and there were some probably bi-directional flags, honestly. I'm not going to (inaudible) myself out to be a hero but when we fast forward it a year, I think that those flags began to create fractures in our relationship and ultimately things did not pan out. And my one of my biggest takeaways from that experience was that people matter a lot, right? And in fact, when you're dealing with an early stage company, it's probably the most important thing because the purpose itself May shift, right? And in the case of Lattice, it did shift. The company I joined, it's not the company where we are right now, right? When I joined it was like “Hey, we're trying to build …” or when I started working on it was like “Hey, we're trying to build tools to help align organizations.” Yes, that is very much still part of our mission but it's a fourth of our mission now, right? There are so many other things that we do today that were not even in our purview back then, right? And now we are an HR tech company. We did not think of ourselves as an HR company at the very beginning, right? So, had I banked on just purpose entirely, the purpose actually would have shifted a bit over time, right? So, what I prioritized was the people. And I knew Jack and Eric. I knew them. I knew what they stood for. I knew what they valued. I also believed in their ability to be effective co-founders, right? I was curious about their relationship with each other after knowing how important it is for the co-founder relationship to be strong, right? So, I know the root of your question here is what if you have three things … you have the three things and multiple companies check the box or a company checks the box but not necessarily in your order. My advice here is to strive to find something that is within the order that you have designated for yourself. And if you do that work and you still end up in a situation where you have multiple companies that all check it in the order, just kind of give it a really scrutinized assessment. There's a chance that there is one that stands out above the fold. And if not, I actually think that the company you choose to join is an example of a two-way door decision, right? Like the cost of … like if you're looking at two or three companies that all seem great and all kind of … at some point, it's diminishing return. Join one and learn, right? The worst thing that will happen is you learn. The best thing is you learn, you make money and you stay there for a long time. 


Jayneil:  I think that's really humbling to hear that despite following this framework, there could be a chance that things could go wrong but the fact is that you still learn and then you keep moving on and using those lessons because that's what I took away from what you shared about your previous part of the journey where you started companies and you learned from it. It may not have panned out the way you wanted but you took those learnings with you along this journey.


Jared:  Yes. Yeah, it's one of the things I love most about our industry where the worst-case scenario for most decisions that you can make in the tech industry is learn. And that's not true of many industries. In medicine, the worst thing is you can accidentally kill someone, right?


Jayneil:  Yes.


Jared:  In law, you can accidentally have someone incarcerated who should not be, right? Obviously, there are things you can do in tech that could really harm people but if we're localizing it to your decisions as it pertains to your career, the worst thing you can do is learn and the best thing you can do is make strong relationships and make financial security, right? That's why I think that … again, the point I'll reiterate here is if you follow this framework or any sort of or form of framework and you arrive at more than one clear option, just pick one and you'll learn at the very least.


Jayneil:  Love it. So, now you're at Lattice. You're working there as a founding designer. At what point did you get the conviction that “Hey, you know what? I think I can become the Head of Design here. I think that's what I want.”


Jared:  Yeah. So, it was my role from the beginning. So, I kind of saw Lattice as an opportunity to learn but also apply some of the learnings I had from Teespring, right? When I joined Teespring, we were behind on design hiring. So, my job quickly became hiring. I think within the first six months, Teespring went from a team of just me to a team of six because I just had to go like my first hire was six weeks in. And I think that there are things that I was proud of looking back on that experience but there was a massive long list of things that I would do differently. So, when I joined Lattice full time, the role was that of Head of Design and the expectation was to help us launch our next set of 0-to-1 products and then ultimately to begin scaling the team. The scaling of the team part came later because we had a good product development engine running such that we didn't need a lot of people really, really quickly, right? Teespring was behind on hiring. We were kind of like … we were fine. So, my first hire came about eight, nine months into the job. My second and third came probably within two years within the job. And then since then, we've scaled the organization, design is around 40 to 50 now. And then the performance org is probably somewhere between 50 and 100 or so.


Jayneil:  So, let me get that straight. So, you're saying that the total amount of designers at Lattice right now is 40 to 50 or maybe more?


Jared:  Yes, yeah.


Jayneil:  That is amazing. Oh my God! Wow!


Jared:  Yes, it was a lot of hire but it was fun. It was fun and I definitely enjoyed the experience and I'm constantly blown away by just the amazing talent on the team. We have a number of rituals where we try our best to bring the whole design team together across all the different disciplines. And it's a great group of people. I'm not egotistical. So, I won't go as far as to say we're the best design team in the world but if someone said that about us, I won't correct them, yeah.


Jayneil:  How would you … so, on that note, I'm kind of curious, how would you describe the Lattice design culture, if you were a person?


Jared:  That's a great question. So, I'll just spit out the adjectives that are coming top of mind for me. So, one is empathetic. And I know we use the word ‘empathy’ a lot in tech but I genuinely believe that this is one of the most empathetic group of people that I've ever personally worked with, not even just design team, just teams in general. And I actually find it to be a strategic advantage for our space, right? You keep in mind we're an HR tech company, right? And when people hear the word ‘HR’, they don't typically associate it with fun, innovative, cool software, right? They associate it with things that are …


Jayneil:  Salary negotiations …


Jared:  Exactly. Neglected, frustrating etc. etc. And I think part of that is because the HR tech ecosystem, in my opinion, lacks a lot of empathy, right? It's very opportunistic where it's like “Okay, if I can literally technically support this workflow for you, I can make tens of millions or hundreds of millions of ARR. So, I'm going to do the bare minimum and move on to the next thing,” I being the HR tech ecosystem, right? But the people who join Lattice and who join Lattice design tend to be motivated by really, really, really wanting to make people have good experiences at work. And what that then necessitates is understanding that you as a designer at Lattice are one of the personas of the people you need to build for but not the only persona, right? And that necessitates empathy to one as well as necessitates self-awareness and then it necessitates empathy to then act on that self-awareness, right? To be able to know that if you're trying to help a company facilitate a very thoughtful engagement survey or help a company facilitate a performance view that actually helps employees understand where they can grow and develop, that it necessitates understanding admins and HR professionals of which you are not one, right? Or understanding the needs of executives or department heads or HRBPs, right? And we have that in our DNA. And I really, really admire that about the team and I think it's actually one of the reasons why … obviously, there are many ways in which our products can get better but it's one of the reasons why our products are considered best in class for the HR space, right? Another word that comes to mind … or two, they kind of go in tandem here, is ‘adaptable iterative’. Anytime a designer joins our team, we have a welcome to Design 101 and one of my precursor slides says “Change is the only constant,” right? And it kind of serves as a kind of segue into this diatribe that I tend to go on about how the culture of our design team that likely helped to motivate the individual to want to join is the result of adaptability and iteration, right? We respond to the needs of the business. We respond to the needs of the team. When we create processes, they're not there indefinitely. We're always asking ourselves “Could this be better? Could this be deprecated? Could this be evolved?”, right? And that kind of leads in or blends into my next adjective which is out of (inaudible), ‘ownership’, right? I think the reason why our culture is as rich as it is, is because I decentralized the ownership of it, right? I don't consider myself the sole owner of our design team culture. Every design member is a co-owner. And a lot of the things, a lot of the rituals and stuff that we’re even publicly known for were not of my creation. It's a designer who's like “Okay. Well, given this business goal and given this team goal, I think we can try this thing, right?” So, those are some that come to mind. One or two more that I would say is collaborative and I mean that in the sense of really seeing ourselves as one of many disciplines that benefit the customer as opposed to the only. I think that designers and design teams can sometimes fall into the trap of believing we're the only ones who care, right? And what that means is that we tend to isolate ourselves, we tend to not like things like design critiques and reviews because there's cross-functional people in the room who don't get it and all that stuff, right? But we try and hammer home this point that “Hey, design, we serve a critical function but we're one of many, right? We need our engineering partners, we need our data partners, we need our research partners, our product partners etc.” So, I think that is something I would use to describe us. And the last one is ‘funny’ or ‘fun’, right? The memes that this team creates are just like world-class, right? I think if we just spun up a Twitter that just spat out the memes that are created by this team, it'd probably be one of the most followed comedy Twitter accounts there is. Those are some things that I'd say about team.


Jayneil:  Well, you’ve got such an amazing team. Just everyone who joins a startup as a founding designer have to follow your path and become a design leader or can they just stay as an IC if they were the founding designer of that startup?


Jared:  That's a good question. So, my answer is no and I'm happy the answer is no. I think it always should have been no but I think, frankly, it was likely yes up until probably a decade or five years ago. We are very, very big believers of this at Lattice given that we're in the HR space that leadership … management is a form of leadership but not all leadership necessitates management, right? And you can contribute to a business through the work or through the people who do the work. And therefore, if you are joining a company as a founding employee, the real question you're asking yourself is “How do I continue to level up my impact and leadership?” And then the next question becomes “Well, what tends to give you energy? Is it supporting people or is it diving in head first into very nebulous problems?” I don't think these things are 100% exclusive. Most people fall somewhere on the spectrum but everyone has a skew. And that skew is really what should illuminate your answer as far as whether you want to pursue running a team and supporting one versus contributing as a member of one, right? I think the Head of Design title, especially when you're the only designer of the company, ends up being a trap in that regard. I get it. I get why we use it but I'm not the biggest fan of it because I think it kind of like … it removes all that critical thinking. You just kind of assume “All right. Well, I got to start hiring people now,” right? And maybe the answer is yes but more often than not the answer is no. I didn't hire anyone at Lattice for a year because we didn't need to. So, it's interesting. I have seen … I've seen sadly less examples of founding designers who never step into management roles but I have seen a few and they all worked out, in my opinion. One that comes to mind is Tim Van Damme at Abstract where he joined as a Founding Principal and he knows himself. I'm not going to speak for Tim. You should probably interview Tim. He knows himself. He knows what his motivations are. And that looked from the outside like amazing, right? The dude is amazing at crafts, he's amazing at his process and I imagine the acceleration he had Abstract in that role is probably orders of magnitude more impact and if you just felt the need to start building a team because that's what the archetype suggested, right? So, that's kind of my thought on it. I think that the question is really “How do I want to level up my impact?” and then “What gives me energy?” and then you pursue that path. And if that path necessitates you not managing people, that's not a failure. That's clarity, right? And then you go find or you work with your founder to go find that person because then the impact you're now able to have is unlocked and then the team that then needs to be built will be built in the right way.


Jayneil:  Yeah. That's such a humbling thing. Two things that come to mind is … one is there is a chance that a founding designer may not have been managed by a great leader before like they haven't seen … like you saw what was good stuff, what was things not to do at Teespring, so you had that previous experience of being managed by other people working with other great leaders. So, first thing that comes to mind is a lot of the founding designers may not have been you're managed by other great leaders. And the second thing is just a humbling part about “Hey, I'm going to step aside for somebody else to take care of the design practice.” And I think it requires a lot of humility as well accepting that.


Jared:  It does but, again, humility is the right word but it does imply a thing that I still want to root out which is that you failed in some way, right? It's kind of “Oh, I realize it's not me. So …” And it's like you realizing it's not you is not necessarily a sign of inadequacy. It's a sign of clarity, right? There are people who, the best way they can have business impact is to do the work and then there are people who, the best way they can have impact is to help people who do the work. And if you are one or the other but find yourself doing the opposite, you're actually hindering your own growth and hindering the success of the business. Someone who should be managing but is actually trying to do the work is having less impact. Someone who should be doing the work but is managing is having less impact. And the sad part is that the latter scenario, more people are actually being affected because it's not even just you impacting the business the best thing. You're actually hindering the ability of the people who you are “supporting” from doing the best thing for the business as well, right? So, that's why I use the word ‘clarity’ because it's “How can I best have impact?” and then you do that thing, right? I think that the reason why there's still this element of inadequacy is because as an industry, we've not yet fully set up the IC track, right? I know we have staff and principal and in engineering it goes as high as distinguished which is like a VP level IC. I think engineering has gotten way further at this than design, which is to be expected. It's a much older practice and discipline but I think there's more work for us to do here, right? But if we're talking in the context of a founding employee, then the organization is small enough that you still have the impact to form the company's philosophies around these, things, right? And if you are given the opportunity to hire and scale the team but that is actually not what you want to do, then don't do it because you're actually … you're actually making a decision in that moment that you are going to be the kind of company that does not allow for IC leadership because you yourself said no to the IC leadership path. And then you will just kind of like cascade that indefinitely through the design organization as it continues to grow.


Jayneil:  The difficult part there what you said is like … it's hit me so hard that you need to have clarity. Some people have impact by helping other people do the work or some people have more impact by actually doing the work themselves.


Jared:  Yes.


Jayneil:  In a vacuum, it sounds obviously a very easy choice to make that “Hey, I know what are my strengths, what are my weaknesses” but when you kind of work in reality, there's a lot of influence bias from social media, surroundings, co-workers. And even if you know … and this is speaking from personal experience … even if I know sometimes in my career that “Hey, I should … I'm better off doing this,” sometimes I've noticed a pull or just a draw of just like what … I’m losing sight of the word … but basically what the narrative one thinks is. So, sometimes it could be that “Hey, the narrative around helping other people do the work, meaning design leadership is more powerful, more glamorous. So, let me just do that instead of doing something that I'm really good at which is just doing the work.” So, how do you deal with that like just thinking without the influence of outside factors and just figuring out what is that impact?


Jared:  Yeah. So, within Lattice, we thought very heavily about our IC track and we established a level of staff and senior staff and principal a few years ago now and we have people at all of those levels. And one of my big priorities, and it's a priority for all of design leadership at Lattice, is to make sure that we're not just creating a level but creating the forums for the people who occupy those levels to have the kind of impact that we say they can have, right? I don't think we're perfect. I think there's a lot of work to be … that is yet to be done but I am proud of the progress we've made there so that … because I'm hyper aware that the folks who are in those levels are also experiencing the biases and what tends to get recognized or celebrated on Twitter or LinkedIn and stuff like that, you know. It's actually one of the reasons why Bobby and I, we've had many ideas for season two of High Resolution but one of the ones that keeps coming back, top of mind for me, is what would it look to do the IC version of what we did for season one, right? Because for season one, we went and spoke to heads of design, VPs of design, GMs, etc., right? What happens if you go find those principals tucked away in corner of companies that you never hear about them publicly but the work and the impact they're having within businesses, that would be awe inspiring to people who know that that's what they want to do but are feeling all the pulls of the world internally and externally to go the other path. So, yeah … so, we're trying within our company, we have our tracks, we have our forums, right? We try to make sure that any forum that exists for a manager that there's a parallel forum for ICs, right? Because what tends to happen with organizations that say that they have the two tracks is that managers get to hear information first, right? Managers meet on a weekly basis, right? All the things that just remind you that “Hmm, do I actually have the same opportunity?”, right? So, we're just trying to identify what all those things are and either like parallelize them or … sorry … mirror them or kill some of them on the management side that are probably unnecessary and just lead to bureaucracy.


Jayneil:  Love that. You're a young fellow. I mean, you're … you're pretty young. And I'm assuming that as you grew the design team, you've had to hire maybe folks who are senior than you, older than you. How do you tackle that situation? For any founding designer, we have to hire folks who are very senior than them, right? Way more experienced than them but yet they are the head of design and this person that they're bringing on with maybe years more experience from them is going to be reporting to them. How did you personally tackle that situation?


Jared:  Yeah. So, early in my career, I definitely experienced this a lot. I definitely experienced ageism. It's a lot less so now. It's mostly faded for the most part. What has helped is really perfecting or aspiring to perfect the art of hiring. And I think that underappreciated skill in hiring is just active listening. I think what active listening results in is that you tend to glean things about candidates that other companies have not gleaned and just a mere recognition of them tends to just immediately set you apart. And then what compounds that thing is how you then shape the opportunity to meet those things that you learned by way of just listening really acutely. It's been mentioned to me many times in hiring folks of different levels of seniority, they're like “Okay, I feel understood. I feel like you get me. I feel like this role is actually pulling at the thing that I really want in my next opportunity” and stuff like that, right? I mean, I think that's helped. I think another thing that's helped is just like sometimes naming it like sometimes I'm interviewing someone where like on paper it's like Yeah, you could be my boss-boss.” And in those situations, I think, a failure mode is trying to fake like that's not true, right? But what actually helps is just naming it, right? It's like “Yeah, I know. I know that you could do my job,” right? “And here's how I want to approach that if you were to join.” What I tend to tell people when they ask me “How are you going to work with me,” “Well, I'm going to treat you like a partner. I'm going to protect you from your blind spots,” right? And there tends to be a belief from the candidate by this point that when I say that second part that it's true because what they begin to understand … what they've begun to understand about me by this point is that I'm very perceptive. I will perceive those things. I will talk to you about them. And then I won't forget them, right? And then when I see you leaning into it, I will call you out on it privately so that you don't trip over yourself, right? And that by itself is very, very, very helpful for leaders no matter their level of seniority, just knowing that there's someone there who's in their corner, who will catch them before they trip over their own leg no matter how fast they're capable of running, right? Another thing that I tell folks is that “One of the highest impact things I can do for you is help you align your efforts with the business where you are at a level of seniority that I don't need to tell you what to do, right? You know what should get done, right? But by way of my role and what I'm privy to, I will have context that will help you best prioritize.” And that is effective because you would rather your manager or the person who's supporting you do that then let you go down one or two or three months or quarters doing a thing that ultimately falls flat, right? And then if all those things are going, then I just get out of your way, right? I just enable you to do your work and have impact, right? For some people, this resonates. For some people, they're like “Okay, cool. So, what I'm basically hearing is that this is going to be easy.” I'm like “Yeah, easy is cool, right?” And then for some people, if they … if all that is true and they're aware of all that and there's still something that just bugs them about the situation, then that's fine. I get it, right? I can't control people. So, that's generally how I've approached it and I think it's worked because I'm just being open about it, talking to them about it and then we go from there.


Jayneil:  I love the part where you said that for a lot of folks who are way more senior on paper than you have, way more experience, you're like “I don't need to tell you what to do. You already know what to do.” So, normally in this kind of situation, what does your role become? Do you have to coach them or do you have to point them to other coaches? What does mentorship look in this direction because they kind of already know what to do?


Jared:  Yeah. So, no matter someone's level of seniority, everyone can always grow, everyone can always be coached. And over time, I think every manager goes through this journey where when you start supporting people, you feel that you have to be the one that teaches them everything they don't know, right? And over time, you realize your learnings is simply one of many tools by which you can grow people on your team, right? A lot of the other tools are a mix of internal and external. Maybe they're people within the organization and then what you're … the tool that you're leveraging there is that of like connection, right? It's like “Okay, you're trying to grow this thing, this person. This org is really, really good at this thing. So, let me connect you with that person,” right? And that is valuable, right? Sometimes it's external where it's like “Hey, let me connect you with this coach. So, let me connect you with this L&D thing or whatnot right.” So, it's really just expanding your toolkit by expanding your developing people toolkit from just the things you know to other things that you can pull on to help them ultimately grow. And I think that it's very rare that you come across someone where there is not something in that toolkit that you can leverage, right? So, at that point, it's really around quick identification of what tool is best used for that individual, right? So, yeah, that's generally my thoughts on that. And when I look at my team right now, there are folks who … there's something I'm directly coaching them on whether it's because I have experience there or I just know how they learn, so I'm able to translate … I'm able to translate what they need to focus on to them in a way that they best will understand it, right? There's someone on my team who recently pinged me and said “Hey, I actually want to learn a little bit more about this and this.” And I was reading it and I'm like “You probably know more about it than me. So, I'm going to go find you someone,” right? I'm like … one of the best things I bring to the table as a result of just the projects I've done and the kind of career I've had is that I have a very, very extensive network, right? So, I'm like “Oh, you should talk to Katie” or “You should talk to Judy” or “You should talk to so-and-so,” right? And we haven't done that yet. I'm still figuring out what the thing is so I can identify who the person should be but I expect that to be very valuable to him.


Jayneil:  The hard part for me in this interview is that I know, I suppose, I have to listen to you in real time but then some of the nuggets you head out, I cannot help but think about situations I've seen but I'm like “Stop. Listen. Be in the present.” So, I'm trying very hard not to think about how can I apply all the advice you're giving. That's why if I just go brain freeze for a second, it's like …


Jared:  Yeah. No problem. Yeah, yeah.


Jayneil:  So, you're at a very high growth startup where things are changing every day, the business is growing rapidly and you have to level up your skill set to match pace of the business. And where does Jared go to level up? How does Jared level up?


Jared:  Yeah. So, earlier in my career, it was very organic. I just kind of stumbled across the right things at the right times to learn. There wasn't really any rhyme or reason to what I did what I did … why I did what I did to learn but a few years ago, I started trying to reflect on it and see if there were patterns that I could identify so that I can be more intentional about my own growth and development. And it sent me down this rabbit hole of learning how you learn. And what I mean by that is that there are archetypes for learning models like how people best choir and internalize information but it's still good to do that own internal work for yourself to figure out “How do I best learn?” Some people learn by just being spoken at. Some people learn by doing. Some people learn by … even the auditory or even the medium input might have variants where like video versus audio versus reading. Some people learn by mimicking, right? And I have … I'm a mixed kind of learner but what I realized about myself was that I do a lot of my thinking deeply in my head and I need to rubber duck. And what I mean by that is I need to call someone and just talk at them and I tend to pace around, right? So, when I look at my Apple Health app, I usually hit at least a mile a day even if I don't step outside because I'm just pacing. It's pretty wild but I guess it's good, right? I get my steps in. But some of the concrete things that I really started to lean into is creating a support system. And I actually think this one is agnostic of how people learn. I think the only thing that can block someone from this one is ego. And this is identifying or recognizing that there's no such thing as a single person that should be your mentor. You should rather have almost like … a board of directors is a term that I've seen people use recently, right? It's recognizing that “Okay, for my job or for my career, there's four or five things that are very important to me to learn or continue to grow at. Who are the best people I know at those things?”, right? And what I tend to do is not go after the people I know but rather ask the people I know who they know, right? Because I feel people tend to overestimate the value of their first-degree network and underestimate the value of their second-degree network. The people who know the people, you don't know just the amount of amazing stuff and knowledge that's out there, right? So, I'll ask someone who I think could be a mentor for a particular thing, who they go to and then I ask them … because it's just like I'm just asking for connections. And it's nothing about the individual. It's just like … it's actually, if anything, it's in … it's me saying that “I think of you so high in this regard that I value the people who you consider to be high in this regard,” right? I'm not just going to ask someone randomly who's the best person at this, right? And I've kind of formed my board of directors around that. I don't call them that but there's four or five people who, any major decision I'm making for my team or even my career, I tend to talk to them before I make it, right? And it's not to get the answer. It's just kind of to rubber duck, right? Just talk at them but they are different … they are different kinds of rubber ducks. They're going to … they're going to respond to different … to specific parts of what I'm saying and it kind of helps me flesh out my full thinking and that I can do my deep thinking and process. Another thing that I've invested in as a coach. So, I have a career coach, well more of a work coach but career … I guess those terms are interchangeable at this point. And we meet once or twice a month. And I cannot overstate the value of having someone that and understanding how to distinguish a career coach from your board of directors because board of directors, those are mentors. And your relationship with mentors is very distinct than your relationship with a coach, right? So, those are really the three things like learning how I learn, learning how I internalize information. I'm a very fast processor. So, any medium that allows me to consume a lot quickly, I will do. And what I found is that YouTube is actually extremely effective for that for me. I'm also the kind of person who learns by trying something at a very low stakes scenario. So, even when I started getting into startup investing, I started very, very low stakes. I wasn't directly investing. I was cutting really, really small tracks into SPVs where I'm not the person appearing on the cap table, I'm one of many, right? And then just trying to learn and then iterate and learn the term to learn due diligence and then over time, I dove in, right? Whereas there are people who don't do it that way. There are people who are like “I need to read five books on the topic and then I'll just go all in,” right? And then there are people like “I don't even do that. I just go all in.” And I'm neither of those people, right? So, just knowing that about myself helps me, right? So, I'd say that's a trifecta – learn how you learn, build that board of directors, that support system for yourself. And part of that is not undervaluing the value of the group intelligence of your second-degree network. And then find a coach. And I understand it like the third most, one, there's cost implications for that, right? It's not cheap but if you think of it from the lens of an investment, it pays dividends, right? If you're down to buy a share of Tesla, okay, spend that money on one hour with a coach right and you'll probably get a higher … you'll probably get a higher year-over-year appreciation if you go that route. So, yeah …


Jayneil:  Phenomenal, phenomenal insight, Jared. Just want to say thank you so much, so much for just coming on the show and sharing your insights.


Jared:  Yeah. Yeah, this was fun.


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