Shazam and Monetate CEOs Talk Scaling

By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship

At our recent Alumni Dinner in Philadelphia, Rich Riley W’96, CEO of Shazam and Lucnida Duncalfe C’85/WG’91, CEO of Monetate, sat down and opened up about what it’s really like to scale a company. If you were in the room, you got to hear what Rich Riley thinks Marissa Mayer should do with Yahoo… But even if you couldn’t be there, here are some fascinating insights from these two tremendous entrepreneurs:

Alumni Dinner 600 x 450

Riley on hiring:

One of the realities for me is that I spent almost 14 years at Yahoo, and my group had thousands of employees. Yahoo had a lot of structure, so jobs were somewhat well defined. Then I come to a place like Shazam, and I want to hire somebody to run revenue, and I’ve got to remember: this guy’s got to figure that out. This is not like, “Here’s the playbook, go run these plays, and try to do 10% better than the last guy.” It’s like, go figure it out. And then the other thing is, can they adapt to your environment? Can they adapt to a real start-up, where it’s a lot of highs and a lot of lows, and a lot of uncertainty, a lot of stuff moving?

Duncalfe on hiring:

You’ve got to be really high horse power. You just have to be really smart. And part of that is because you’re going to have to figure it out, and you’re going to have to figure it out smart. Second of all, you have to really lean in, bring in someone who is going to take the ball and run, doesn’t wait for instructions, can figure things out themselves. And the third would be the soft skills. The people stuff: Can you collaborate with others? Can you influence? Can you communicate well? Those are the foundations.

Duncalfe on culture:

We instituted a process where we have a dozen people who are trained to be “fit” interviewers. They interview every new hire. We pick them really carefully, because they are the type of people who we want the future to be like. And this is the way we control the folks who come in, because people are the raw material you end up making culture out of. I think that you have to be really intentional about it. Write down values, vision, mission, all that stuff—then hire to it, and be really specific.

Riley on founders:

My experience is that I sold my company [] to Yahoo when I was 25, so I was at Yahoo for pretty much its whole early history. And I watched Jerry Yang [Yahoo’s founder] really get it right in terms of, “Okay this is not for me,” and he moved into a strategy role, and let the company scale and brought in professional management. So I share that just because I think founders are hugely important to companies, and even in Shazam I’ve sort of reeled the founders back in, because I think they are so important to the culture. There’s just nothing like a founder, from my perspective.

But I think it’s also important for a founder to be constantly reassessing: What are you world class at? What are you best in company at? And the things that are not you, you’ve got to hire for. If it turns out there’s nothing you’re best at, well, then you go into more of a mascot role, for lack of a better word. But chances are you’re really good at something like product vision, and then the challenge is how to set it up so you can do that, but bring in others to do the actual managing, and scaling, and that kind of stuff.

I think if you’re not constantly reevaluating your own skills and strengths, you can get in trouble, because it’s very unrealistic to think that you’re going to be the best person to scale across all functions. Or at least it happens very rarely. You’ve got to know yourself.

Duncalfe on Philadelphia:

I think there are some real advantages to being in Philly, especially in the early years in a company’s life cycle. There is tremendous talent here, and if you are a differentiated employer, you can hire folks who aren’t lazy, and you don’t have to do all of this sharp elbows stuff you have to do in the Valley. They’re much easier to hold on to, the prices are more reasonable, you can have a sense of camaraderie. You can be the big fish in a small pond, and it’s very powerful—until you grow out of it. I will also say that Philly is absolutely, I believe, on the upswing. So compared now versus like ’95 when I started here, it is just completely different. It is so much better.