Anjali Sud is the CEO of Vimeo, a software platform that helps businesses manage, share, and create videos. In her recent conversation with Jack Altman as part of Lattice’s new video series featuring industry leaders, Uniquely Led, Sud talked about her unconventional background and why that has allowed her to succeed as a leader, the importance of always explaining the ‘why,’ and how she always tries to hire people who are better than her.

A Non-Linear Path to CEO

Not all CEOs have the same path to leadership, but Sud admitted hers was probably more unique than others. She didn’t build Vimeo from scratch — or even have a product or technology background — before stepping into her now executive role. Instead, her past jobs included investment banking and being a toy buyer at Amazon. She started at Vimeo as the Director of Marketing, in a position she calls “squarely in middle management.” Just three years later, she was promoted to CEO because she championed a strategy that would rethink Vimeo’s business model: shifting the company from a consumer video viewing destination to an enterprise SaaS company that builds video tools for businesses.

Sud believes that her unconventional background is what has enabled her to put Vimeo on its path to success. On one hand, not being a founder gave her enough distance from historical precedence to make tough decisions. On the other hand, as an internal promotion, she had deep, firsthand insights into how the company worked, which let her hit the ground running with a new vision and mission from day one as CEO.

Spotting the Trend

Sud’s new strategy wasn’t an overnight revelation, and she’s quick to admit that she wasn't the only one who saw what she was seeing. Her ability to pull together the different pieces into a comprehensive strategy that could be clearly communicated to both internal and external teams is what made her stand out. Sud’s marketing background, as well as her experience understanding the perspective of customers, also helped. It was this focus on the data, and understanding Vimeo users and the video industry in general, that revealed that while the original user base was made up of filmmakers and creative professionals, increasingly, businesses were organically coming to the platform to upload short marketing videos to reach their employees and customers. 

“The data’s never going to just give you an answer. And similarly, just being gut- and instinct-driven is never going to just get you to the right place,” Sud said. “It’s absolutely a symphony of the two.” 

Sud also spends several hours a week talking to different video startups, getting to know their founders, and hearing about what excites them. Tapping into this resource is a valuable and underutilized signal, she said, especially in an industry that is going through rapid change and transformation.

Putting a New Strategy into Play

Of course, a good strategy without follow-through execution doesn’t go very far. Armed with a new strategy, Sud had to chart a new company path for both users and employees alike. In shifting from an entertainment destination to an enterprise software company, Vimeo had to build a company culture that had the same level of passion for helping businesses as it had for storytellers and filmmakers. 

Vimeo invested in consumer insights and business intelligence, invited target customers to speak at town halls, and hired people who came from the business space to bring in additional expertise. Several years later, Vimeo is still helping people unlock the emotive power of video — no matter what the message or who the messenger is — but they are now a platform where both creatives and businesses can find success. “The marriage of the two is what makes Vimeo special and unique,” said Sud.

To get internal teams on board, Sud explained that it’s not good enough to just tell employees the overall strategy because “it’s not enough to have a headliner.” Spending extra time upfront to explain what led to a decision — whether it’s industry signals or user data — can make a big difference in the long run. 

“You have to give people that context if you really want them to imbibe the strategy and be the right stewards of the strategy,” she noted. “So I think sometimes a mistake is when leaders don't take the time to give employees context and just expect folks to...take the headline thing and run with it. And I just don't think that's going to be the reality of the future of work, especially in tech.”

Sud’s additional challenge was implementing this new strategy in a company that was growing quickly in scale and size. The contextual framing is important here to make sure everyone is growing in the same direction and understands the objectives, why they were chosen, and how the company is tracking against them. Vimeo has invested a lot in developing consistent frameworks to talk about what’s working and what’s not, as well as designing OKRs that can be implemented top-down and bottom-up by all teams. 

Sud opens every meeting with the same one-page summary of Vimeo’s strategy to reinforce key messages. Her marketing background is again useful here in communicating nuanced concepts in a substantive way, while also having them be simple and repeatable. The key is having a balance of very clear, top-level company goals and then being very intentional and thoughtful in designing and rolling those out so they directly translate to every person within the organization. Sud said this is a journey they haven’t quite mastered, but it’s one they try to continuously improve.

A Good Leader Is an Authentic Leader

Sud’s unwavering dedication to not just explaining the ‘what,’ but also the ‘why,’ is one of the things that distinguishes her as a leader. “You can't always share all the information and all the context, but I really, really try to,” she said.

On a related note, honesty and authenticity are also key. Sud doesn’t filter herself, whether it’s in a meeting or a town hall, and she isn’t afraid to speak up if she thinks the company can do something differently or better. She hopes that by setting that example, she can normalize having hard conversations and foster a culture where people aren’t afraid to speak up.

Sud has a lot of energy (sometimes “an overwhelming level of energy,” she admitted), and that’s how she shows up at work. “It's just very deeply ingrained in how I interact, and actually, pre-Vimeo, it was hard for me because in so many parts of my career, I was trying to tamp it down a little bit,” she recalled. “And now I'm just allowed to be as...high-energy as I really am.” 

At times in her past, Sud said she felt like she had to adapt her behavior, how she spoke, and even how she dressed to “look like a CEO or leader.” At Vimeo, that doesn’t apply, and she can be authentically herself. “I've really tried to just embrace ‘me’ in this role,” she said. “I believe that leadership takes many different forms and there [are] a lot of different styles, and ultimately it's about empowering people and delivering positive outcomes.”

Finally, Sud understands that good leaders have to be adaptable — especially in industries that are evolving, where there’s no playbook or well-defined market yet. “I always say [about] the way we organize, the way we design culture, the way we design processes — the only thing that's sacred is that we will always adjust based on what's right for the business and for our users,” she said. “If you take the time to always be looking at that and explain why you're making an adjustment, I think people — at least, I know the Vimeo team has — proven to be incredibly flexible and adaptable.” And adaptability as an organization can be a real competitive advantage.

Building a Successful Business Depends on Empowering a Successful Team First

No CEO operates alone on an island, and Sud has surrounded herself with a strong leadership team. “Bring in people who are better than you — like scarily better than you — and be self-aware about what you don't know, and then create a culture where they can actually be successful because they are empowered to make decisions,” she said. 

Sud recognized that since she wasn’t a founder and didn’t have a product or technology background, she needed to bring in people with those skills to complement her own, and give them a seat at the table. For example, within her first two months as CEO, Vimeo acquired a company called Livestream, which had 10 years of helping businesses with livestream events. The founder of Livestream is now the President and CPO at Vimeo [Mark Kornfilt], and many of the other founders of acquired companies are not only still at the company, but have also had their roles expanded.

Sud also makes sure that people at the most senior level of the company aren’t afraid to speak up and say what they think. “They're not going to...follow the marching orders, and I actually think that's super important if you want to avoid blind spots, because the blind spots amplify the bigger you get.”

This hiring mentality doesn’t just apply to executives, either. At all levels of the business, Sud said it’s important to build by hiring people with the right experience and then, more importantly, giving them the ability to influence the company. Her tip for business success is based on People success: “I think in both recruiting and managing, bring in incredible people [and] give them the space and create that sort of partnership-like mentality, because...that's how you will ultimately drive better decisions,” she said. “And that's always going to be best for the business and the team.”

To hear more about Sud’s path to leadership and how she’s helped Vimeo achieve success, watch the full episode here.