Episode 6

Elias Torres and Dena Upton

Season 2

How to Put People Before Product with Drift's Elias Torres and Dena Upton

In this episode Katelin sits down with Drift’s co-founder and CTO Elias Torres, as well as their Chief People Officer, Dena Upton. Elias and Dena give great insight into how founders and people leaders can work together effectively. Dena talks about why it’s so important to build out in the open, and Elias explains how he’s had to embrace working remotely during COVID.


"Give whatever it is that you're working on oxygen and sunlight, and the best people to give you feedback on that is your teammates and why not share something with them, because they might pick something out that you might not have noticed before you get it out into the world. And so that trust is constantly back and forth throughout the organization."

Katelin: Welcome back to season two of All Hands brought to you by Lattice. I'm your host, Katelin Holloway. If you were with us last season, you know we focused on sitting down with C-level execs to chat about how people's strategy is good business strategy, but this season we're doubling down. We're not only talking to CEOs and founders, but a wide range of people, leaders, from heads of people to chief diversity and inclusion officers to really get into some of their core practices, principles and beliefs when it comes to putting your people first.

Today we have not one, but two very special guests with us, Elias Torres and Dena Upton of Drift. Elias is the co-founder and CTO at Drift, formerly holding leadership roles at HubSpot, Performable and IBM. He's a technologist who understands that people are at the heart of all products. Also, joining us today is Drift's Chief People Officer, Dena. With over 20 years of experience in HR, she believes in enabling all people to reach their potential and wakes up every day thinking about what she can do to deliver on this intent. Elias, Dena, welcome to All Hands.

Dena: Thanks for having us.

Elias: Thank you for having us.

Katelin: We are absolutely thrilled to have you both on the show.

Elias: First time CTO on an HR podcast. I'm thrilled.

Katelin: You know what though? That's what really is going to set this one apart.

Elias: I agree.

Katelin: It's a real treat when we get both a founder and a head of people together on the show. So to get things started, though, I would love to begin our conversation with some very quick introductions. Elias, you have a pretty impressive background. You've had a lovely run as a tech leader and your story leading up to today is incredibly rich. Can you please share with us a little bit about your journey and what eventually drove you to start Drift?

Elias: Absolutely. Thank you for having me here. The words that I use to describe my journey is that I use the phrase, The American Dream. Really I came in 1993 to the United States as an immigrant Latino. And it started truly from the bottom, my first job to support and help. My mother was... We were cleaning offices, we were taking the garbage out and while I was going to high school and then applied for college, and many, many, many years later, fast forward to a wonderful world of technology that has really embraced me and that I have found people that have helped me all the way through it. They believed in me, they gave me a chance, they gave me the opportunity and they gave me the room to go for it, has allowed me to become an entrepreneur and to be in a position where I can create companies, I can create jobs and really share that same opportunity to everybody at the company. 

And I think that's what I would say led me to start Drift because I realized what an amazing opportunity we have to create space for people to grow their careers and achieve great things. It's the most rewarding part of my journey. How many people their lives have changed that I've seen it over and over? It's maybe over 1,000 people that I could see, hire them fresh out of college, for example, and they go on becoming vice presidents, leaders, founders, entrepreneurs, investors. And I don't know what else that could be that is better than helping people achieve their highest potential.

Katelin: I agree. It's one of the most rewarding parts of the job. And I know so many people look up to you, and I know this sounds silly to say, but your humility really shines through. I think that the authenticity that you bring to your work and to the role, and then extending that opportunity to others and knowing how important that is to you really has set you apart as a tech leader here in our industry. So thank you for that.

Let's talk to your other half here for a second. Dena, you have quite an impressive background yourself. You have a lovely run in HR. And being a people leader myself for many years, I know how many people also look up to you. I will ask you the same question, can you please give us a little bit more color into your background and what brought you to Drift?

Dena: Absolutely. So I started my journey as an engineer. So I did C++ coding, so I'll date myself, but that's how I started my journey. And then was introduced to the people function through a founder in San Francisco at a startup and caught the bug that way. So I say I have serious FOMO. So the people function and being in that central function suits me. But I met Elias in the process. I worked with our CFO at Drift at my prior company, he had introduced me to both Elias and David. And what we're trying to do at Drift is inspirational. And Elias's energy and David's energy was contagious. And so I'm really excited about what we're trying to build at Drift. And I think it's one of the things that we're going to talk about, about building an equitable company and working closely with two founders that are inspirational is why I'm here.

Katelin: I feel like it was meant to be. And I love that you also have a technical background. And so we have a people leader with a technical background, and we have a technical leader who cares about people. This feels like a match made in culture heaven. Very, very quickly though, another question that I often ask our guests on this show, is there anything else about your identity that you'd like to share with our listeners before we get started?

Dena: Yeah, I am a mother of three. So I have a 16 year old, a 14 year old and a 12 year old. They love Drift just as much as I do. So that keeps me busy. I'm also an avid runner, so there's some tidbits about me.

Katelin: Excellent. Thank you. I appreciate that. Elias, anything you would like to add on about your identity?

Elias: I guess I'll carry on, on the parenthood. I'm a father of three, just have a recent 18 year old daughter. She's going to study computer science and design. She was going to study design and surprised with computer science, I think. And I just smiled when she said then she accepted to start at Northeastern. I'm really, really excited, proud of her.

Katelin: Congratulations.

Elias: And I have two young boys after that, 16 and 14. And part of what I would say my identity has become is that I just realized that I have a responsibility to the Latino community, right into underrepresented people to be their voice and to say and speak up things that they don't feel comfortable in the industry. And now I'm at a point where I think that, that's more important than me saying the correct thing. And I have to take the risk and speak up and defend them and show them and share my learnings and share opportunities with them. So I think that, that's really what motivates me, not just at Drift, but beyond Drift.

Katelin: This question makes me so happy. It really just adds a little bit of extra texture and color to the incredible folks that come on the show. And I think that it really sets the groundwork for other parts of our conversation as we talk about how we build culture within companies. So much of what we bring as leaders to our companies is reflected in that. Our companies helped shape us and we helped shape our companies through our lived experiences and through our identities. So now, because we have the two of you, I would love to learn a little bit more about your dynamic. So the two of you together. Elias, we'll start with you. I would love to learn more about your relationship with Dena. What does an every day experience look like with the two of you? How do you prefer to best partner?

Elias: So the dynamics between David and I are like this, David says that together if either of us just ran the company alone, David says, "If I made decisions, it would take me forever to make decisions," that's David, "But if you made all the decisions, we would run off the cliff," because he's says I'm just so fast. So that's it. And so together we balance, because I either speed him up or he slows me down. Dena is faster than I am. Dena is faster.

Dena: I did not expect that.

Elias: Absolutely. She leaves me [crosstalk 00:08:56]

Dena: I get myself into trouble sometimes though.

Elias: So we flip and I become the patient one. And I'm like, "Dena, we're going to take a deep breath and we're going to sleep on this." But I love that. I really appreciate it. The only one I have patience for us is David, but I couldn't work with someone in people that would want to do things and take forever. This is a fast moving space.

Dena: And Elias knows, especially right now, talent is you have to move quickly on some of these decisions.

Elias: It's something that we do. I've learned that the hard way, even before now. It's like Paul English mentor of mine taught me early days of HubSpot that the hiring process should only take seven days, from the moment you hear a name to the moment you have an offer in front of them. I've learned that on some roles, it's taken me longer than that. It's taken me a year to hire someone and I have to be more patient, but it's about speed and doing the due diligence, doing the proper work, doing the proper research, but the same is with people's decisions and actions. Right now, we're at a very, very unique times, never been seen before, in my opinion. I saw 1999, I saw 2000, I saw 2008, I saw at the beginning of the pandemic. I've seen tough times, but now we're in a unique time where there's just so much tiredness from the pandemic that people have been disconnected, isolated, don't feel they belong to the community. 

There's a lot of companies hiring just focusing on money as people need help, trying to figure out how to make the best decisions for their families, for their careers. And if we don't act quickly, people could make their own decision if you're not there to be able to work that through that with them.

Dena: Yeah, it's true. One of the things, Katelin, that we've been fortunate with both David and Elias, is their involvement in the people operations. So recruiting is just top of mind right now, because we're hiring and it's so competitive. But I could call Elias at 10:30 at night and say, "So this candidate really needs to talk to you," he'd be on the phone in a minute. So they care about talent and bringing the right talent into the organization. And individuals have a lot of choices right now. So they're looking for those organizations that are authentic and really set the stage for what you're going to do when you get into the organization. And talking to a founder helps cement that for our people. So I feel fortunate that Elias places such a priority in talent and attracting talent. It makes my job a lot easier.

Katelin: And it sounds like it allows you to run even faster. So knowing that you're a runner, this actually is making a lot of sense now to me. See, it's all coming together. I think that being in technology, we are really the tip of the spear in trying to sort through and understand what's happening economically, what's happening from an innovation standpoint and how we're helping push our industry forward and have that accountability. So thank you both for your work in that. 

Going back to the two of you and some of the bits and pieces of the fabric of your culture, it sounds like you have a really great dynamic. I can see it, I can feel it, but let's chat a little bit about how you're actually putting this into practice. So not only are you moving fast with your people decisions because the environment is changing and moving very, very quickly and evolving around us, but let's talk about maybe some of your core principles. So Elias, I hear you have eight leadership principles. Can you talk a little bit about those? I'm curious to learn about how they were developed, maybe how they've changed over time. Anything you'd like to share with us about that?

Elias: Yeah. Absolutely. I'll give you the honest answer behind the scenes, because this is for people leaders. But the truth is that the founders have a tremendous amount of responsibility in setting the culture. It really starts from us. And so the way that we would do it is by explaining, like David and I are opposite personalities, but at our core, we have a major overlap in the way that we work, in the way that we make decision, in our values. And really the principles is an externalization of that, because what we're trying to do at the beginning is like we were trying to instill in people our way of working.

For example, I remember at Performable I was on the phone with a customer, we're about 10 people. And I was on the phone with this customer and I'm helping them through fix all this stuff. And I hung up and I had someone next to me and I said something bad about the customer. I said, "This customer doesn't get it." And that was the last time that I said that. David jumped on me and said, "Never say that again, the customer is number one." And I was just being like, "Oh, an engineer, I understood better." And that lesson just hit me and I would never forget it. I can tell you the desk where we were sitting in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and we had desks facing each other. I had this person, works at HubSpot, today he was interviewing that day for the company. And I said, then he goes, "You have a customer, you have someone interviewing, that's not how it works."

And so I learned that lesson that day. And from that day I serve the customers. And I'm a customer service person. My first job at IBM, I was at the help desk support. And so I'm not shy to it, but I made a comment, I made a big mistake that I said I would never repeat. And now I share that lesson. So that reveals itself into principle number one at Drift, which is put the customer at the center of everything that you do. And so, instead of trying to explain that story, that way necessarily, it's a little bit intense, we decoded them and we put them in writing and not just words, but we put them into actionable sentence with verbs. And we created these cards where we created paragraphs and questions for people to understand them better. And the idea was to separate them from us and then becoming their own identity, which are the Drift leadership principles that everybody can see them, because we wanted to separate them from our persona. 

So that's my advice for founders. You don't want to always be like something... Is always a struggle in a company. Well, this is what DC says, this is what ET says. And that is just so hard to get rid of. And so the principles, what was the intent? And so we have eight principles that have stood the test of time, because we worked at four companies together. We knew them really well. We knew that we wanted them. They haven't needed any changes, they don't need too much expansion on the sentences, they could be ambiguous, they could be a lot of questions, people weaponize them sometimes, but we believe in them and we will add more, but I don't think we have had to change it. And so it's something that we definitely encourage people.

And you also have to do it at the right time. I think sometimes companies try to do it at the beginning. We tried to do it at the beginning of Drift and we didn't know each other yet. We didn't know. We wanted to see what kind of people we're attracting and then see how we what we could put and write down. It makes a big difference. People really know that we mean them and they feel them when they join the company.

Katelin: I've talked to so many different leaders and so many different people leaders over the course of this podcast. And really talking about principles and values is a fascinating topic, because not any one group has done it the same way. And yet obviously if they're on our podcast, they're doing something right. And so I think it's really interesting to hear the note particularly about using verbs. I think is a really poignant one. And so making sure that things are actionable, that people know what these things look like live action between us dynamically that live and breathe in our organization, not just that sticker on your laptop.

Elias: And we thought about every one of them, for example. So it's like put the customer at the center of everything, right?

Katelin: Right.

Elias: Stay scrappy. People tend to stop being scrappy as the company grows. So are there on purpose that you remember to not stop being scrappy. And that's not just frugal, but it's really about being resourceful, which comes from our immigrant roots of not needing everything well funded or set up, we're always going to be competing with larger, larger competitors. The biggest companies in the world will never have the same magnitude of resources. And so we can do more with less. And so deliver daily results, be a curious learning machine. You have to be into learning. And so every one of those, we carefully chose each for people to meditate on it and realize and take it to heart. And we recommend people to think about one and say how are they going to grow that year on that area, because we can all grow in every one of those.

Katelin: Weaving your principles and your values into performance management is also a trend that we see of some of the, not only the top performing companies that are producing out sized results, but from the companies that people love. There is a very, very clear connection and a very tangible connection between those that live and breathe their values and communicate them effectively, but also gives the tools and the developmental tools to help people live those better every single day. I know that, that a lot of this lives and starts, and the ideation is at the leadership level. But now Dena, I know that one of the principles is practice extreme ownership. I know that you believe in this very, very much. The way I understand it is that you want all employees to feel like an owner of the company and so much. So the way I understand it is that you actually share out board meeting notes and you record and share your executive meetings. You seem to be way ahead of this whole hashtag building public trend, but so why is it so important to Drift?

Dena: As Elias mentioned, we spend a lot of time bringing talent into the organization, talent density. And finding the right people at Drift that will thrive in those leadership principles that Elias just talked to are really important to us. But we also trust the team that's here with information about our customers about annual recurring revenue, about product launches. So we practice extreme transparency. And with that, you create owners in the company. So you're trusting them with information. They're going to trust you and work really hard. And so we do, we share our board meeting notes, we share our executive meeting details. We start and end the week. We put our arms around the week with our employees with what we call Monday metrics on Monday and Friday show and tell. And that's a time for us to come together as an organization and talk about what's working and what's not working.

And so when you do that, you establish individuals that understand your business. So they can talk to your customers intelligently about what's happening in your business. So there isn't an excuse for anyone across Drift to not have an overarching knowledge of what's happening at the high level metrics across the business. So it's that idea of extreme transparency. And then you have individuals that really own problems and are problem solvers and want to solve problems, because they have confidence in the information that we're sharing with them. And it's a big circle. They'll refer more talented people to Drift and they'll treat their customers in the way that we're treating them. So that's what I mean and that's why that leadership principle is so important for us.

Katelin: It's like a context flywheel, right?

Dena: But there's so many organizations that are scared to share information. And you wonder why. Give whatever it is that you're working on oxygen and sunlight, and the best people to give you feedback on that is your teammates, your colleagues, and why not share something with them because they might pick something out that you might not have noticed before you get it out into the world. And so that trust is constantly back and forth throughout the organization. And Elias in DC set the stage for that, what we do is we call Friday show and tell, we bring the whole organization together. We also have an ask leaders anything, what's on your mind? There's no bad question. What can we talk about? When we were in the midst of COVID, we were talking about what was happening across the business, what's happening with our team, and we were incredibly transparent about what we were working through.

Katelin: How many people big is your organization at this point?

Dena: We're close to 500.

Katelin: That's a fun size. You can really get some big things done with 500 folks. Elias is pulling his hair out [crosstalk 00:21:51].

Elias: Speak for yourself. Yeah.

Dena: We're in the messy middle right now.

Elias: A mentor of mine told me that there's people for three phases of the company, especially leaders. Phase one, which are those the passionate people that come and create, find that product market fit and get a company off to hyper growth. And this phase two leaders that would prepare a company for IPO. And then phase three is post IPO. And what we've seen and what we keep supporting Dena is to keep building the team. We're at a stage where you got to keep finding the talent and increasing the density of people that know how to support people at this scale. And so we comes in training, could be onboarding, it could be business partners recruiting, and that's something that Dena's team has been growing and we're seeing the benefits of that. It's a huge difference from when we were in phase one to now, we're in phase two, what those people and their impact is in every one of those areas.

Katelin: Dena, I was going to ask you the question, you've been with Drift now for a handful of years. I'm curious for all that has remained the same, meaning your principles and the things that you've been able to scale together. What has changed? What is different for you and your team?

Dena: This year has been a constant transformation, I guess, is the right word. So our adaptability to what's happening outside of our walls has been incredibly important. I think the ability for our organization to be agile as we were working through the pandemic and then working through all the social injustice components that happened outside of Drift, I think that's what's been different. I didn't anticipate that. I don't think anyone else anticipated that, but when you have a leadership team that really cares about the wellbeing of the organization and the wellbeing of their families, you can migrate those things together. I knew that walking in, when I told you that it was really a contagious conversation when I talked to Elias about joining Drift, you get tested during these situations. And so I have a really supportive executive team that people issues and people challenges and recruiting challenges, it's not just on my shoulders, it's on their shoulders as well. And so I knew that, that was going to happen, but seeing it happen has been the biggest thing that has been refreshing for me.

Katelin: I appreciate that very much on behalf of all people leaders, how important it is to have not only the buy-in. Buy-in is one thing from your leadership team, but real partnership is very different.

Dena: Working with two underrepresented minority founders, DE&I has been on the agenda of many organizations, but it is who Elias is, it is who DC is, it's in their DNA, that's who they are. And so that agenda has been important to them when we were four people. And so I do feel the efforts that we put in place around DE&I are authentic and genuine, because it's how David and Elias think. And so I'm grateful for their leadership in that area and then their ability to lead the organization in that way. So we've been lucky.

Katelin: Elias, you've already shared a little bit about why this is so important to you. Dena, I love that you've pointed out that, that it's been that way from day zero for the organization, and it's only grown this. And when I say this, I mean this commitment to building all of those components of DE&I into things. Can we talk a little bit more about the shift that COVID also brought with us about in-office culture? Elias, what I've heard is that you have felt very strongly about having an in-office culture in the early years of your career in building companies. And I'm curious, what or how were you together able to adapt to this remote work culture during COVID?

Elias: I hated it. By May, I was losing my mind. But I think the way that we adapted was, because number one, top priority was the wellbeing of our communities and we had to all do our part. We were hesitating, but there was a moment where it's like, this is real everybody. There was not even a time for a fire drill, we just basically sent everybody home. And we said, "Don't come back, maybe we come back in a couple of weeks." At the beginning, it was great, because we got to do this because that's what our communities are asking us, that's what our team, that's what our company needs from us. And so I was doing well. But then I did realize that it was too extreme. And for me being an extrovert person where I draw my energy from people and where I can give more to them when I give my whole self to them in-person with the ups and downs with the extremes and with the highs and the lows, that's who I am. People get less of that energy, and they wear out and they burn out.

And so I was hating it, but I've come around. I think David and I, when we first started Drift, we had this major discussion and David is a big binary person. He's like, "We're either in office or we're all remote." And so we debated that heavily and we chose to go in-office. And it was extreme, I would say. There was part of our culture, some people loved it, and then some people were hating it. They felt like we were like, "Oh, we can only do work in office." And so that was a big evolution for us personally, because we had no true way of trying it out, because we were in hyper growth. And it was complicated. And David and I were stuck on how do we transition and how do we open it up?

But the pandemic forced our hand, made us go through that one way door. We saw that it was absolutely doable and our company has gone through major, major areas of transformation throughout the whole company in our evolution as a team, as a company, as a service in our customers. And so now we've 100% bought it. It can be done, but I do not believe that being 100% remote and never seeing anyone worked for us as human beings, no matter what personality type. And so what we have adopted is digital first policy where we will respect first the digital option. And we want to perform as much as we can of all of our operations remotely, but evolve and figure it out. I don't want to call it hybrid. I agree with David 100%, hybrid does not work, it's messy. It's just cop out when people say, "Oh, we'll do a hybrid." And it's like, no, it's not hybrid, it's like you have to be one or the other, whether you choose to accept it. 

However, what we do have to figure out is how do we spend time together based on our needs, our location, our families, our lives, and how do we blend that in with the emotional needs or the personal needs or the communication? So how do we build stronger relationships with the team that is distributed throughout the world, not only United States, but the world? And so that's the journey that we're in. And I don't want us to claim that, oh, we figure out digital first, we're in the midst of that. We're 100% in alignment.

Katelin: I'm glad to hear that you all are evolving together through it. I think it's interesting to say that, that hybrid is a cop out. I'm trying to process that out.

Elias: Sorry, I don't holdback.

Katelin: This is the real conversation, because no one has said it that way. And the thing that occurred to me first and foremost was through my people leader lens, which is whether you are digital first or in office or the cop out hybrid, it's going to impact every single thing your team does. It touches literally every part of your work and your team's work. And so let's get the real, real from you. We got it from Elias. What has this biggest experience been like for you? And how do you feel about the great cop out?

Dena: Well, I think Elias is right. I think that the foundation of it is really important. So the reason why we went to a digital first model is because we wanted to set a foundation on equity. We wanted to make sure that anyone at Drift, if you're in quote unquote "headquarters," which we don't have that idea of headquarters anymore, but if you're in the Boston office or if you're in Texas or you're in Albuquerque, wherever you are, you have an equal opportunity for advancement. So the problem with hybrid models is as hard as you try, it's always the person that's sitting next to you that gets the next big assignment or you see somebody in the office and you convey something that happened in a meeting just earlier before. 

And so I think this mindset idea of digital first for all of our people leaders is really important. You've got teams spread out all over the place. Now for us, spread out all over the globe, how you onboard them, how you teach them, how you train them, how you give them opportunities, how you advance them, it's about outcomes, not desk time or FaceTime. And I think that idea is really important to solidify. And Elias is right, we're on that journey right now. Teams want to see each other. And so we're digital first, we're remote first, but we're not remote only and we're not digital only. 

So we're trying to figure out the cadence of how we get teams together, because I do think human interaction and people interaction is really important, but you don't need it every single day. That's the piece that we are. And you have to teach people leaders about how to do it. It's harder. Digital first is harder. It requires preparation, it requires more formalized communication, more formalized mentorship. You have to think about it. You can't just bump into somebody as you did before. So it's harder, but I think for us, it's worth the investment.

Elias: I'll add a little bit there. I think that our approach is going to be people be more conversational, come to the spaces, use them as you need them. We don't want to come up with decrease of like Wednesdays, you have to be in the office or you choose one day a week, you choose three days a week, you choose five days a week. We're saying to people use the spaces as you see fit, but respect people that are not in the office, always be inclusive, do not make it a routine to make the meetings in-person. And think about ways that you can make sure that what you're doing is open for everybody to participate. That's really the basis of it. People have so many questions. And instead of forcing that transition, we're just basically letting people feel comfortable.

First of all, we have zero mandatory in-person events for 2021. We want to make sure that everybody understands that meetings are optional, but for the people that seek them and want them to figure out how to try them and experiment with it. So those are the things that we're doing. I think that really, we see companies that are doing a very fast turn on the exit. They were digital first and they're going like, "Oh no, you're coming back to the office." I know a lot of companies doing that. And now, that's my biggest shift. I'm doing the opposite. It's like, I'm never going to go back to that. And I'm learning myself how to take advantage of that and model it and be with the family. We spent some time in the Florida office with Florida people and with my family, because they were able to do remote learning. I come here, I can see David.

I find ways to fill my cup. And I want to acknowledge that and show to people that it can be done. And we need to learn how to adapt and build relationships outside of work. We want to really support the whole selves of our employees and really respect mental health and not just be like, "Just work, work, come here. That's the routine." But we want people to build a much more complete lives that just revolve about going and coming to work yet have the joy of building great relationships with people at work and help and grow together and accomplish the mission together, which is to build the new face of corporate America to our diversity. And so we want to keep supporting that, but we've got to keep it focused on the vision and the mission and not on the details of how many days you were at the office.

Katelin: Are you ready for rapid fire? Don't overthink it. Have you ever actually drifted in a car like Fast and the Furious style?

Elias: I have, many times, many times, many times. Yeah, pendulum turns, everything. Yeah, absolutely.

Katelin: [crosstalk 00:34:29]. Okay. Dena, you take this one. What items sitting on your desk right now in front of you sparks joy and why?

Dena: My picture of my husband. He's a great partner.

Katelin: I love that. Okay. Elias, what is your favorite productivity hack right now and why?

Elias: Oh my God! Productivity hack? Kim. Kim is my EA and she is my best hack ever.

Katelin: Shout out to Kim. I love it. Okay. A few more. These aren't going to be as easy, but I'd still would like you to please think quickly about them. So Elias, company culture, family or sports team.

Elias: I like both. That's the Drift way. We sports team because we have to produce, we have to win. And family, for the people that want to feel like family, I want to treat them like family. Not everybody wants to.

Katelin: I love that. Excellent caveat. Dena, one practical thing that leaders or HR teams can do today to create a more inclusive workspace.

Dena: Listen.

Katelin: For both of you, and let's answer one at a time here, when was the last time you were deeply proud of something you have accomplished?

Dena: I'm deeply proud of the acceleration that we've had on the recruiting side at Drift. I think we've built a really great recruiting team. And we're now seeing the benefits of that.

Katelin: Excellent. Elias.

Elias: Yesterday, I had two conversations with people at Drift, people early in their careers. One of them, we talked about their future, their families and I got to share a lot of what I've experienced and help them make a decision to stay at Drift. And they're so excited and thankful that we were able to spend that time. And so that to me is like when someone chooses to continue partnering with you and working, it's the most. I couldn't be prouder than that moment, because it's like that person chose to work with us out of all of the other options out there. And that means the world to me. 

The other one, I was talking to an engineer. I tried to skip levels and jump in and talk to people, this person who is seeking for feedback, is seeking for growth and maturity. And he goes, "I need more actionable feedback. I need help." And the time that we spent together, he was so appreciative. And he was saying, "What I'm looking for is that people tell me that my work is impactful on their lives." And I said, "That's the same reason why I'm having this conversation with you." And so those are the moments that make it, because every other moment as an entrepreneur is just an up and down rollercoaster. So those are the good ones you remember.

Katelin: One last and final question for both of you before we wrap it up. This one does not need to be rapid fire. But what advice would you give to founders and people leaders out there trying to make sense of this particular moment in history? How can they use this as an opportunity to build a better organization into the next chapter?

Dena: For me, I would say keep a beginner's mindset. I think that's really important, because we get stuck in our old ways, especially as we're migrating what's happening. Approach things from a new perspective.

Elias: Yeah, it depends. A little bit more context on that question, for what stage, what founder, first time, second time, third time. I could go on and on. I think one of them is that, as founders, you have to be authentic, you have to be real. There's just no better way. Just people spot the bullshit so quickly. The other one is, gosh, he's going to learn how to ask for help in all these issues, just because there's so many people out there that want to help to have a lot more experience. And I don't think founders use that help that is available to them, to advisors, to board members, to people in the communities, and instead just bang their head against the wall just trying to figure this out. 

It's like this stuff just repeats over and over and over. This is why I always say the wrong thing. I don't know what the word is, basic, simple. We're not that complicated of human beings. Human beings, we're not. It's like we want just some simple, basic things. And so you don't do them, people lose faith and people want to go seek it somewhere else. And so I think that if you don't go and if you don't understand those basic things, which is purpose, recognition, love, family, be heard, people looking to make an impact, just a lot of that stuff just starts around there, and if you don't pay attention to those things, you're never going to understand this people business. And so I would say to founders, you go back to the basics and figure that out.

Katelin: And if you don't understand people, you cannot understand products. We'll bring it full circle.

Elias: Yeah, absolutely. We'll build teams first.

Katelin: Teams first, products follow.

Elias: Yeah.

Katelin: Thank you so very much for being with us here today. Thank you for leading authentically. It is so what the world needs right now. So thank you both of you very much for being here.

Dena: Thank you.

Elias: Thank you.


Thanks so much for joining me on this week's episode of All Hands, brought to you by Lattice. I'm your host Katelin Holloway. This episode was produced by Lattice in partnership with Pod people, Rachel King, Madison Lesby, Samantha Gatwick, and mastering done by Erica Juan. Learn more about how Lattice can help your business stay people focused at lattice.com or find us on Twitter at LatticeHQ. Don't forget to subscribe to All Hands, wherever you get your podcasts. Join us next time.

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About the Guest

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Elias Torres and Dena Upton

Dena Upton is the Chief People Officer at Drift, where she leads the people operations team, responsible for the company's talent development, operations, recruitment and retention. Prior to Drift, Dena served as VP, People and Talent at LogMeIn.

Elias Torres is the co-founder and CTO of Drift. Torres previously served as the VP of Engineering at HubSpot and helped grow their revenue to $100 million after the acquisition of his previous company Performable. Prior to Performable, Elias served as VP of Engineering at Lookery and spent the first 10 years of his career as an engineer at IBM.

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