Episode 8

Zach Perret

Season 1

The Power of Positivity with Zach Perret

In this episode, our host, Katelin Holloway talks with Zach Perret, co-Founder of Plaid, about the metrics he pays attention to, why he loves recruiting, and why Plaid embraces positivity. This podcast is brought to you by Lattice.

“In so many senses, our principals help define the way that we think about culture upstream, but the real manifestation of a culture is who the people are that you've hired and how you enable those people."

Welcome to ALL HANDS by Lattice, where we believe that People Strategy IS Business Strategy. I’m your host -- Katelin Holloway. For the last decade, I’ve been a People & Culture executive at some of the internet’s most beloved startups, but my fascination with building true people-first cultures started many, many years ago. From film to tech (and a few interesting layovers in between), the one common denominator remains: I am most passionate about enabling people through belonging to create beautiful, innovative products.

On All Hands, I talk with CEOs and other c-level leaders about how being a "people first" company is a strategic advantage. Join us while we chat with these top leaders about how a “people first” approach isn’t just good for people -- it’s good for business too.

[Music fades out]

Today we’re chatting with Zach Perret, CoFounder and CEO of Plaid. Plaid, the financial tech platform that powers connections between consumers and financial institutions,  was acquired by VISA in early 2020 for a measly $5.3 billion dollars. 

Zach and his co-founder William Hockey’s journey is your classic tech startup tale. They made the 30 Under 30 list and quietly took their spot on the critical software lists for every major finance app - from Venmo to Robinhood. And, after 8 years, the pair decided that joining forces with VISA was the best way to get Plaid into more developers' hands -- and democratize financial services for the world.

I first read about Plaid back in 2016 when they raised their Series B. Christopher Dawe of Goldman Sachs led the round and drew parallels between the product, the founders, and the company culture: low-key, behind the scenes and focused on operating. Whenever an investor talks about a company’s culture in their fundraising announcement, I start paying attention. A few years later, Zach hired a people executive I admire very much -- McKenna Quint -- to lead their people teams. Together, Zach, William, and McKenna, have taken the team from the comfort of their SOMA loft into the big, wide world of corporate finance. Here to tell the story behind the story, is Zach Perret.

Katelin Holloway:  Zach, I'm really glad you could join us today.

Zach Perret:  Thank you so much for having me.

Katelin Holloway: All right. Would you mind starting out by giving us a bit of background on yourself please?

Zach Perret:  Sure. Um, so, uh, I have the unique pleasure of having started a company and, uh, I've gotten to work on that company for the majority of my professional career. Um, we've been working on Plaid [00:04:00] since 2012. prior to that, I spent a very brief amount of time working in consulting.

Uh, I worked at Bain and Company where I learned a lot. And I think that I owe a huge amount to the firm for, for teaching me so much. However, I did not like the job whatsoever. Consulting, uh, is a fascinating field in which you get to learn a lot about businesses except you don't get to operate them.

Um, and so I knew after that that I wanted to jump into, uh, into entrepreneurship. Um, prior to consulting, I spent a lot of time working in a physics lab, uh, and doing a lot of programming for laser system controllers, which was how I first learned, learned to code.

Katelin Holloway: Wow.

Zach Perret: Nothing that I had done before prepared me whatsoever for starting Plaid, other than kind of learning, kind of the basics of business fundamentals.

Katelin Holloway:  That's so funny. So how did Plaid actually come to be?

Zach Perret:  So prior to Plaid [00:05:00] um, my co founder William and I had recognized that in financial services, and there were a bunch of products built by banks that required people to mostly walk into bank branches and talk to bankers. However, there were very few digital financial products at the time.

So when we first started thinking about building a company in financial services, um, we were based in New York. Uh, we had an office that was, or office is really a stretch here. It was two desks in someone else's office, we were in this office that was just off of Union Square, and in Union Square, uh, kind of frequently, were these Occupy Wall Street rallies, and so you would walk past people kind of carrying signs and shouting stuff. You walk in the office and then you start thinking about, how can I build something in financial services?
And in those days particularly back in 2012 before FinTech was even a field, when someone thought about things that they need to do in the [00:06:00] financial lives it was predominantly walking into a bank branch, talking to a banker, asking them for something.

However, consumers were really frustrated because they didn't believe that banks had their best interests in mind.  and so when we set off, even before building Plaid, um, we started building consumer financial services applications. Think of these like really bad versions of budgeting applications, a bad version of Mint.

Cause our products were never all that great, but we ended up building six of these products all focused on helping consumers analyze their spending in one way or another. Um, better understand how they were using their money, so on and so forth. And while we enjoyed it a great deal, we realized that none of these consumer products were any good, frankly, because the infrastructure wasn't there to build great consumer products.

The concept of interfacing, uh, with a bank account just was not something that anyone had really thought about before. Um, certainly not in the sense of building a tech enabled kind of set of APIs for developers. And so we, um, we set out [00:07:00] to basically build the backend that we'd needed with the belief that, um, there would be others like us that wanted to build a really great consumer products and financial services.

In one sense we had a strong theory and, uh, we definitely executed while focusing on that theory. However, we got so lucky in, uh, happening to kind of land in this FinTech market that is, that has grown beyond what we could have possibly expected at the beginning.

Katelin Holloway:  So what is Plaid's mission and vision?  I've heard you talk before about wanting to democratize a FinTech. Is that something that you still stand by?

Zach Perret:  Yes. Uh, so the core thesis of the company is to make money easier for everyone. and I realized that saying those words, they sound really high level, kind of hand wavy, and it's a bit strange for a B2B company to talk about making money easier for everyone. You know, we don't directly serve consumers. But truly the thesis for us is that we want to create an ecosystem of financial products. We want to build [00:08:00] the infrastructure to enable an ecosystem of financial products and all of those financial products hopefully, uh, have the goal of helping the consumer do one or two or maybe many things better in their financial lives.

So if you think back to, uh, kind of, uh, a decade ago, if you needed to get a loan, let's say you needed to get a $5,000 loan. You had to walk into a bank branch and talk to a banker, fast forward, uh, one of our customer's lending club, they did a lot of amazing things, but one of the best things that they did was they put the loan on the internet at scale.

Um, so instead of walking into a bank branch, you could go to lending club and, and get a loan. Um, fast forward some more years and now we're in a world in which there are hundreds of different online lenders  and all of them are competing for you based on, uh, kind of the price of the loan or the quality of service and the quality of communication and so forth.

And so we see our role as Plaid as the enabler of that ecosystem. So we're building the infrastructure that lending clubs and many of the other lending companies online [00:09:00] are you using in order to qualify the consumer, in order to set up the loan, in order to make the entire process simpler and work really well on the web.That's the infrastructure that we build.

And so we talk about this concept of democratizing financial services, that is again, building an ecosystem of many financial applications. But ultimately, the way that we measure ourselves is based on consumer outcomes. So the consumers are using the products that we power and they're getting greater financial value out of those products, then we consider that to be a success.

[Music up]

This isn't just about making sure that all of the parts of a company are running smoothly -- people want to see their product out in the world. When they can see the impact their work is having on others it really gives employees a sense of purpose.

[Music fades out]

Zach Perret:  We have this set of seven principles for Plaid that help govern culture. And the first principle is impact. You know, as we were developing these principles, um, this one was just so obvious to us because, uh, what we're talking about day in and day out is, how are we creating the impact on consumers? How are we creating impact on customers? How are we creating impact on the banks? How are we able to measure the impact of the work that we're doing?

And one of the wonderful things about Plaid is that you can, you can do some work on one part of the product and because so many customers are using it on such massive scale, you can actually pretty quickly see the metrics start to change based on the work that you did.

And so, uh, our goal is to make it such, that it kind of every OKR, every bit of work that we're focused on doing, and you can draw a direct line between that bit of work and the impact that you're having on consumers at the other end of the chain.

Katelin Holloway: That's really interesting. How do you actually measure that internally? Do you [00:11:00] have a dashboard or, you know, how are your employees connecting with the impact?

Zach Perret: Yeah. We have tons of dashboards. Um, we are big believers in tracking the metrics that we want to improve, so there are dashboards everywhere.

So there's, there's daily metrics, there's weekly metrics, there’s, uh, monthly and quarterly metrics and those all kind of ladder up to our annual goals. And so we are, uh, maniacal about ensuring that if we say that we care about impact, very maniacal about measuring the impact that we're creating.

Katelin Holloway: I don't think there's anything wrong with being maniacal about impact at all. Now, talk to me about your team. So, so let's go back in time again, back to those New York days  on Union Square and the Occupy Wall Street signs. Were you actually recruiting a team at that time, or was it just you and William?

Zach Perret: It was just two of us at that time. And you know, along the way, we were so fortunate to hire this wonderful intern, Michael, who, he joined us when it was two of us really in [00:12:00] this kind of shared office space where we were kind of squatting, but we moved out to San Francisco and it was three of us at the time. And, Michael is fantastic. He ended up coming back to Plaid, but at some point he had to go back to school. And so we went from three people thinking that we were making progress back to two people. So we kind of took a step backwards in team,  but fortunately that was about the time that we ended up closing our seed rounds.
We were able to make a set of really fantastic early hires and, uh, you know, the first thing that they started to do is look through the code base and say, Oh, that's Zach’s code. It's not very good. We're just going to go ahead and delete that. Uh, so they certainly, uh, on day one started improving the quality of the product [00:13:00] and, uh, keeping us really humble.

Katelin Holloway: That's excellent. I remember at Reddit, when we celebrated the last line of code that Spez, you know, Steve Huffman, our CEO had written there, there was a big, it was a very joyous occasion for him. Um, I think that's the true case of, you know, hire people that are smarter than you and let them, get out of their way. Right. Let them do the work that they're really good at and get out of their way.

Zach Perret: Always

Katelin Holloway: That's funny. So, so now take us to today. How many employees does Plaid currently have?

Zach Perret: We are just a little bit north of 500 predominantly in San Francisco. The headquarters in San Francisco, very large New York office, a large and growing Salt Lake city office.
Um, we also have offices in London and Amsterdam, and then a handful of folks that are elsewhere out there in the world.

Katelin Holloway: Got it. Now let's talk about your, your people team and your approach to people. At what stage in the game did you decide that you needed a head of people or somebody to sit and strategically partner with you? Not just compliance, not just recruiting, but somebody that really cared about the cultural [00:14:00] development of your team?

Zach Perret: So for us, people has always been an incredibly important function to the company. I'm a big believer that people is the highest leverage function that exists in an organization and I kind of disagree with the way that some of business books are written, um, where people is just kind of like a thing that you do more as an afterthought.  I actually hearkened back to the days where really early on, uh, in companies where the Chief People Officer was like basically the COO of the company because they're creating so much leverage across the entire company, and the way that we always thought about people was that it was a very crucial thing to do.  for better or worse, though, that meant that I was deeply involved in people all the time, hiring a lot of wonderful folks around me that are much better at the individual pieces of the puzzle than I am.

[00:15:00] but we didn't actually end up hiring our Head of People until a little bit over a year ago, uh, which is when McKenna joined us and we've built out a great recruiting function, uh, with great recruiting leaders. We've built out the great people function with, with good people leaders. We had a great office function with office leaders, but we hadn't pulled it all together in one person for a long time.

Part of that was intentional. Myself and William, we really wanted to have our hands on the work that we were doing. William and I have been deeply involved in recruiting since day one. We built recruiting software to make our own recruiting more efficient. At hackathons we kind of, we kind of create our own recruiting tools.

Even to this day, I still spend at least a quarter of my time recruiting. And the odd thing is whenever I interview recruiters, which I still like to do, and they sometimes still let me do, I love sourcing. So I love to do sourcing strategies with recruiters. All of this is to say there was a reason that we didn't hire a Head of People for a long time.

It's because both we had a really high, high [00:16:00] bar for who we wanted to hire. And frankly, we wanted to be very hands on. I couldn't be happier with where we've ended up. I will say I kind of wish we'd made the hire about a year before, so I waited a little too long.

Katelin Holloway: So now talk to me about your actual  search for this Head of People. What were some of the qualities or characteristics you knew you wanted in this person before you actually found the one?

Zach Perret: So this was actually a hard search for us.

Katelin Holloway: Yeah.

Zach Perret: We learned a ton in talking to people that were career HR people or career recruiters, but what we realized is that we wanted someone that was an operator that had switched into people or that had done people maybe early career, and then become an operator and was excited to go [00:17:00] back. The key thing here is that we wanted people that came first to people challenges as thinking about, how do I build a great business and then, how do I solve the people challenges in order to enable building the great business?

There's always this, this interesting back and forth between, are we optimizing for the happiness of employees, which is crucially important, or we are optimizing for the outcomes of the business?  and whenever I ask these questions in interviews, in my opinion, the correct answer is both, but they have to be balanced at, at equal weight.

Um, we can't just optimize for people's happiness at the cost of the business. We can't optimize for the business and the cost to people's happiness, because ultimately our team is the thing that makes us a successful company. But it definitely took us a long time to find someone that had the right mix of, kind of analytical, uh, focus and, uh, active work in building a business, analyzing businesses, so on and so forth. Um, and then, uh, could have the really strong people skills in order to succeed.

Katelin Holloway: Now, after meeting McKenna, how soon did you realize or, or recognize that she would be the one to do that for you?

Zach Perret: Yeah, it was actually interesting. It took us a long time to get her to respond to us. Uh, I think I sent her like 10 emails or something like that. Maybe not 10, um, but it was, it was a few, too many emails, to be totally comfortable. But you know, I'd heard really good things and have had good references so forth.  but again, I was doing my own sourcing in the search process, and eventually she said, sure, I'll come chat with you. Um, though, to be clear, I'm not interested in the job, but I'll give you some good feedback.

Um, and upon meeting her, it was, it was clear that she had this right mix [00:19:00] of kind of analytical rigor, uh, operational experience in that, uh, ability to really execute well in the people function. I will say a big part of the exec search is creating a prepared mind so that when you find a good candidate, you recognize it as a great candidate.

And we've been fortunate to be able to interview a number of people throughout the search, many of which were amazing at certain aspects of the role, but didn't all pull it together.  and so,  I felt like when we finally tried with the kind of, we had to prepare, we were able to move pretty quickly.

Katelin Holloway: You know full disclosure, I am friends with McKenna, and I remember her going through this decision making process. But the first time I actually saw her after she had started, and you know, she'd gotten to know the team a little bit, was her onstage accepting an award for best places to work, and McKenna being McKenna invited up, oh God, I don't know, five, six, seven people up on stage with her, um, to accept the award, uh, because she had just started. And I, just, the joy I saw on [00:20:00] her face and the pride that I saw in her colleagues, uh, definitely made me know that she landed in the right place. And I knew that you all were building something pretty incredible.

Zach Perret: Yeah, all of the good things that happen in Plaid's people function were certainly her and all of the bad things were certainly the legacy that I left before she started.

Katelin Holloway: Well, like we said before, right. Hire the people, uh, that can do the job really well and then get out of their way. So let's dive a little bit deeper on your culture. So what are some of the core differentiators between your culture and others?

Zach Perret: So I think one of the favorite things about Plaid culture is just again, relentless focus on outcomes. Through that focus on outcomes there is a great deal of humility built in. That for a long time was one of our most crucial, uh, kind of hiring characteristics is that, we were looking for humility.

We were looking for people that would come to problems um, recognizing that yes, you might have a hypothesis, and hypotheses are crucial in order to get anything [00:23:00] done. And however, we're always open to feedback and constantly iterating. We have a set of seven core principals. Um, uh, these are similar to values.

but the way that we think about these principles is that they are guideposts to our culture and their inputs. They help us figure out who to hire. They help us figure out kind of how we make key decisions. They're  informational. Whenever someone wants to learn about Plaid, we can say, well, here, let's look, let's go through our principals. in so many senses, our principals help define the way that we think about culture upstream, but the real manifestation of a culture is who the people are that you've hired and how you enable those people.

Katelin Holloway: Right.

Zach Perret: So on the principal side and a few of them that I really gravitate towards, one of them is make it better. So the constant focus on improving, always finding ways to kind of make it better for customers.

Another one is grow comma together. Um, and this one is, uh, you know, actually the punctuation is quite intentional, uh, as you might imagine. So the first is it's an imperative, so your imperative is to grow, uh, but second, it's we grow together. So, um, we as a group are all responsible for each other's growth. And, and this really speaks to kind of the level of feedback and kind of, um, I would say like positive and empathetic, uh, feedback that we give to people over time and then also just frankly, the, the humility to recognize that each of us has a huge amount of room to grow on all the things that we do.

And then the last one that I'll touch on is, is embrace openness and positivity. For us, this principle actually clicked for me after I was out doing a road show, um, visiting a bunch of our customers and a bunch of our bank partners and I had been visiting this bank and it was just kind of walking around to the bullpen, the floor where [00:25:00] everyone was working and you just look at faces and people just weren't happy,  and then I walked back into the Plaid office in New York and looked around and people were just happy. They were enjoying working there. They were enjoying what they were doing. Um, and so for us, we said, "Hey, like we just have to write this down because ultimately this is an important part of the culture that we have. People are excited about the work that they're doing."
So, the goal is to embrace openness. It's not to - uh embrace openness and positivity. It's not to be positive all the time. Things sometimes aren't great. Um, but it's to come to challenges with optimism and we've found that it really does describe a lot of the way that we interact with each other.

[Music up]

One of the trends I’ve been seeing is this shift -- not out of values, but new ways of talking about them. Some people are calling it a “code of conduct.” Some are calling it “rules of citizenship.”
I think it's fascinating to see what different founders are gravitating towards and how they're bringing them to life. Because at the end of the day, it's about how you use them. They're designed to be a tool to enable your processes and your frameworks and ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction.

[Music fades out]

Katelin Holloway: Now you have some very exciting news that you've recently shared. Do you want to talk to us about that?

Zach Perret: Yeah. So, uh, early on in, uh, in 2020, we announced that, uh, Plaid had signed paperwork to be acquired by Visa. We are incredibly excited about, the future, uh, of a Plaid and Visa combination.

For us, we think that this is kind of a doubling down or re-investment in the mission and the vision of Plaid. Um, it's important to note that the transaction, it's not about synergies, it’s not about cost savings. It's not about anything other than continuing to grow Plaid in the way that Plaid was growing before. The kind of tagline for it is, Visa accelerates Plaid. Um, and we couldn't be more excited about, the future that we are looking forward to creating very soon.

Katelin Holloway: Well, first of all, congratulations. I think that that's a massive accomplishment. I'm sure you and your team must be very proud and are excited about what that potential future holds.

Zach Perret: We consider it a, a milestone, an important milestone. Um, one that, you know, we're all very proud of achieving, but just a milestone. Uh, the best way to think of it is that, you know, we’ve closed the first chapter on platinum. We’re on the second, and that second chapter is going to be even more exciting. We really are just getting started.

Katelin Holloway: I think that's exactly the right way to look at it. I had the privilege of working at Pixar Animation Studios before the Disney acquisition, um, but it was right shortly after I started that, that actually came to be. The way the company approached it had a very lasting impact on me, um, as an employee and ultimately professionally, because they had to articulate and talk about themselves in a way that they hadn't before.

Um, so when you are your own entity, you talk amongst yourselves, you create an echo chamber around your culture, around what you stand for, your mission, your vision, et cetera. But trying to, um, explain that externally and ultimately to a partner was a fascinating, almost behavioral, um, study that I had a front row seat to. So talk to me about how you all are preparing for this cultural shift and transition. What parts do you want to retain? What parts are you excited to grow and evolve?

Zach Perret: So going forward, one of the things that I say to to Plaids when they start, I always talk with them in their first week or two. And, uh, is that you kind of welcome to Plaid, you're now an owner of the company, um, and you're an owner of the culture, and it now becomes your responsibility to create the culture that you want to create.
I'm a big believer that with every change that you make to a business and every person that you hire, you have forever changed your culture. And our job as leaders is to be kind of the editors to keep things on track, um, but not to try to dictate exactly what people are doing or how the culture is going to be, rather just to empower them and kind of guide towards a set of principles, perhaps that helps make sure that we're pointed in the right direction. Starting to work with Visa is going to be another one of those steps. So the culture is going to change forever without a doubt but I think it's going to be a really positive change.

Um, we've come to it with a lot of openness and positivity and we've gotten to [00:33:00] learn from some really amazing leaders that Visa has so far, and I'm inspired and excited to get to work with them more closely. I think we're going to learn a lot and hopefully can bring many elements of the Visa culture to Plaid, but it is worth noting it's going to be Plaid's culture. We're continuing to operate as an independent unit within Visa. And the Plaid culture that you saw before the close, is going to be probably very similar to the Plaid culture that you see after the close. And that said, I'm really hopeful that we can bring in some of the important elements, uh, and continue to evolve the culture.

Katelin Holloway: That's excellent. So now let's add another layer to this beautiful onion that we're unwrapping here. So Plaid came to be, it grew into a beautiful thing. It continues to grow. It is now being accelerated by Visa, and then boom, global pandemic hits. Oh, and let's add an extra one, uh, McKenna, your Head of People goes out on maternity [00:34:00] leave with her first child.

So, so here you are with this company who's just made this massive announcement, a team that is excited and ready to start this new chapter, and suddenly overnight shelter-in-place is called, and your people need to work from home. Potentially some people are ill. Talk to me about how COVID has shifted, if at all, the work and the way you operate.

Zach Perret: So first, I'll touch on your point about McKenna going on maternity, as you know, knowing that she was incredibly prepared and, uh, actually, uh, had a fantastic maternity plan in place so, um, that did work quite well. We certainly missed her while she was out, but the execution and operations went on without too much of a hitch.

So COVID was was fascinating in the early days. It's still fascinating. It's you know, a time of intense fear from the [00:35:00] broader population. Uh, it's a time of intense change for our customers and frankly it's a very hard time for certain subsegments of financial services more broadly, um, both on the consumer side and on the business side.

The financial impact on consumers and particularly small businesses across the States is something that we probably won't even be able to quantify for years to come. But when we look back, it's going to be something that we say that was one of the most massive shocks to both supply and demand side, um, that we've ever seen potentially.

And so as we went into kind of the COVID reaction process we sent out a set of principles that we were going to use as we were, as you were going through this.  first one was, uh, team first. So the health of our team, the health of our employees, the most important thing that we can do.

Um, we actually were relatively early in recommending work from home and then relatively early and also mandating work from home. Um, [00:36:00] we were so fortunate to be a business in which, you know, despite many short term changes and people having to juggle kids and pets and so forth, um, we were able to operate at, you know, 95, a hundred percent, maybe even beyond a hundred percent efficiency uh, while working from home. So we felt really fortunate to be in that situation.

First and foremost was ensuring that we have kind of our team taken care of. And second, then it becomes a deep focus on our customers. So how can we help our customers get through this really tough time? We have customers, some of which are doing fantastically well during COVID.

Uh, so, uh, brokerage, for example, uh, investment applications, cryptocurrency applications, everyone was buying stocks or selling stocks. And so they did pretty well. On the other end of the spectrum, we had a handful of customers that were getting really hurt. Small business lending, for example, before the PPP was rolled out, small business lending was basically, uh, not moving at all, but a lot of kind of consumer programs not moving so much.

And so the second focus is on, how do we [00:37:00] create an ecosystem where customers can continue to grow? We're there to support them. We're there to talk them through it. We're giving the best practices, we're giving the resources they need to continue, and then beyond that, um, we went through, uh, what we call a Defcon, uh, scenario planning exercise.
Um, and so it was basically saying, uh, you know, in the first week of recognizing what's going on with COVID. What are three scenarios? So what is an expected, a better, and then a worst case? And then define the signals that tell you when you're in what case, define the outcomes that you expected, and define the actions that you take in each of these cases. And so it really quickly, within probably two or three days, we had a set of Defcon levels.

Katelin Holloway: Now, how has this impacted your internal communication strategies or, or the way you were operating before? Has this changed the way you do all hands? Has it shifted the way um, you [00:39:00] mentioned before that you're very dashboard and metric heavy. Has it changed anything or were you kind of nailing the transparency and openness before?

Zach Perret: Oh man, it's, it changes everything and suddenly the ability to have a conversation with someone is gone. You have to do it over a video call or a phone call or a Slack, and so what that means is you have to learn completely how to do communication again. We went from having some teams that operated primarily remotely, so having the entire company that operated primarily remotely.
And so you do all of the things that make sense, which means you do more documentation, you do more kind of proactive updates and so forth.  I think for us what was a little bit difficult is that we went from a culture and a company that was very bottoms up driven. So at the top we set the strategy.

My job is to set the strategy, set the mission, ensure that everyone understands it, and then ensure that we're monitoring and building the right KPIs and metrics to track against our execution. However, the ideas for the execution, they don't come from me and I don't want them to come from me. I want them to come from [00:40:00] everyone else. But having a very bottoms up driven culture that goes through a shock, um, it means that the bottoms up nature of that kind of doesn't work as well. And so for a short amount of time, you have to go into a much more tops down mode where we're resetting expectations, we're resetting everything.

And so for us, what that meant was a lot of kind of investment in All Hands, a lot of investment in kind of re-updating our strategy. Re-updating on a short term strategy and making sure that all of our leads were on board with where we were going, what was happening next. And then we can hand hand the reins back to the individuals that are really the ones that are doing all of the important work at Plaid.   I will say though, moving fully to zoom for All Hands has been an upgrade.

Katelin Holloway: Really?

Zach Perret: Yes, we've always been doing these, uh, multi-office distributed All Hands. We would hand the mic back and forth between offices and it was a little bit difficult from an AV setup and now it's just seamless, and we do music. Our All Hands are really fun these days.

Katelin Holloway: That's awesome to hear. That was actually my next question. What do you plan to take from this kind of the dark times in back when the light is here again with us? So what things or discoveries have you made through his dramatic shift with COVID that you really want to make sure that you preserve on the backend?

Zach Perret: There's a lot of things that we're thinking about. I don't think we have a strong answer on that yet. For me personally, it's been a huge learning , to understand how to operate a company at scale remotely and, you know, I still respect and have had the fortunate [00:42:00] opportunity to ask questions of a lot of people that have been doing remote full time as a big company for awhile and you know, it is a special thing. So, uh, I'm, I'm guessing we're going to see many more companies be fully remote going forward.

Katelin Holloway: I think so too. I think it's going to be very, very interesting. Um, and also impact the way we support our employees. So, you know, being an inclusive leader in a remote scenario or remote environment also has its unique challenges and opportunities. Um, has this impacted any of your benefits or the way you support your employees?

Zach Perret: We definitely did do a kind of a handful of, of short term programs, helping make sure people have the tools and resources they need to work effectively from home.
So, you know, the from home stipend and so on and so forth. I think the biggest change that we've seen though is this concept of time and time management. We have a lot of folks that it's two parents with two kids and they will hand off kind of taking care of the kids for certain times of the day.

Um, and from our perspective, that's totally fine. First and then, uh, we actually want to build in an environment that they can work efficiently to that. And so whether that means, you know, finding certain synchronous hours where you can kind of do management, work closer to team, be available, real time conversation, and then allowing the rest of the work to become asynchronous and kind of work, uh, early evenings, late at night, whenever that has to happen.

One of my favorite things though, has actually just been seeing people's kids on zoom calls. Our head of engineering was[00:44:00] one of the, uh, particular people who, uh, had the pleasure of taking care of his, quite young son all morning and so his son would just sit on his lap, enjoying all of our staff meeting. And it was fun to have him as an additional participant. And I will honestly, once we get back to the office, I will miss having that kind of thing.

Katelin Holloway: I hear the joke all the time or the memes that, you know, we're all BBC dad now, that the kid running in the back door. Um, and in fact, I'm surprised that hasn't happened to me since we've been chatting.

Zach Perret: It's very rare that the entire world experiences the same thing at the same time. And, um, globally in kind of late March, early April, globally, everyone had the same situation. They were working from home. They're figuring out how to deal with it and so forth. and through that process  there's a lot of commonality created. Um, and also, frankly, there's a lot of availability created. So as I was doing zooms with these other people, it was so fascinating to get to learn just a little bit more about what their life looks like and how it actually builds a much deeper, kind of more emotional bond with people. Um, and so I, I really do in some sense, appreciate the silver lining of this crisis for that.

Katelin Holloway: I think so too. I, that is certainly one thing that I've heard echoed a lot between all of the different leaders I've had the pleasure of talking to.

We're going to move into the rapid fire question section. Um, and then [00:46:00] we'll wrap it up. So the rapid fire questions, um, I'm going to start with three that are relatively easy. Um, I want you to answer them as quickly as possible. Don't overthink it, none of that. Are you ready?

Zach Perret: Sure, let's go.

Katelin Holloway: Okay. First question is a hot dog a sandwich?

Zach Perret: No

Katelin Holloway: Zoom or phone call?

Zach Perret: I prefer Zoom.

Katelin Holloway: Best LaCroix flavor?

Zach Perret: I like plain, normal LaCroix with just the bubbles, but I do love LaCroix. Or Topo Chico.

Katelin Holloway: Excellent. Okay. That was just a warmup. Now we're going to have a few more that are maybe easy, maybe not so easy. Okay  First question. Company culture, family or sports team?

Zach Perret: It's somewhere between the two. I leave a little bit more towards sports team, but, uh, there are many elements of a family that needs to be pulled in.

Katelin Holloway: I like it. Number two. What is your favorite interview question [00:47:00] and why?

Zach Perret: I have a lot of these, I do a lot of interviews. The question that I’m probably asked the most frequently is who is the most impressive person that you've hired and what made them so impressive and particularly an asset to managers? Because I'd like to understand, could they identify and then help cultivate talent uh, for the folks that they're hiring. I also tend to ask people to teach me things a lot. And so one of the things I look for is people being incredible at something. Uh, you know, being best in the world or just very, very good at one particular thing. And that could be something that has to do with work, it could be something that has nothing to do with work. So I'd like to ask, what is that thing for people? And then when they tell me, I asked them to teach me about it because I think you learn so much by having someone teach you something. Um, are they a good communicator or are they clear about it? Are they able to handle dumb questions, so on and so forth. P lus then you get to learn about all of this interesting stuff.

Katelin Holloway: I like that, I always love the double question. [00:48:00] So, okay. So I'm going to turn it back on you. What would you teach me? What is something you think you're really great at?

Zach Perret: Oh, man. Well, I'm the first to admit they're extremely few things that I'm really, really great at. But, uh, I have been trying to learn to surf recently. Um, one of the great benefits of the lockdown is that though the beaches are, or the beach parking lots are closed, the beaches are actually opened in much of California.

So I've been learning to surf so I can actually do the beginner surf lesson really well. I'm not more advanced than the beginner surf lesson, but I could  do the beginner stuff lesson pretty well.

Katelin Holloway: Okay, so last and arguably the most important question, at the end of the day, how has a people-first strategy been a strategic advantage for Plaid?

Zach Perret: For us we couldn't accomplish anything that we would want to accomplish without an amazing set of people that were compliant. I talked about this a lot within the company, but for us, we pride ourselves on execution and individual execution with that. And so my, my big belief is that, uh, the [00:52:00] manager's job is basically to enable the people on their team and then get the heck out of the way.

Um, and really the most important thing that you can do at a company is to be the expert, to be the one that's doing the thing. Um, and so a lot of the way that we think a lot of our people practices are built on top of this concept of how do we find amazing individuals that are gonna execute and then let them do the thing that the best in the world.
and for us it's worked well so far. Um, and to be honest, you know, it is really, uh, thanks to the individuals on the team that we owe all of the things that we accomplished so far.

Katelin Holloway: I love it. I am so excited for your next chapter. I'm so excited to watch this acceleration and partnership with Visa, and I am so grateful that you chose to spend some of this time with us and I cannot wait to see what you all build next. So thank you so much for joining us today, Zach.


Katelin Holloway VO:

And to you, the listener! 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 Pod People: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert [AH-liza], and Samantha Gattsek [GATT-sic]. Special thanks to Annette Cardwell. Learn more about how Lattice can help your business stay people focused at Lattice DOT com or find us on Twitter @LatticeHQ. Don’t forget to subscribe to All Hands, wherever you get your podcasts.

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About the Guest

podcast guest

Zach Perret

Zach Perret is CEO and co-founder of Plaid, the technology platform powering the future of money. After realizing how difficult it was to build a personal finance application, Zach and his co-founder William Hockey started Plaid in 2013 to give developers easy and secure access to a financial data network capable of powering any digital financial service. To date, one in four people with a US bank account have used Plaid to connect to a financial application.

‍Prior to founding Plaid, Zach was a consultant for Bain and graduated with degrees in Physics and Chemistry from Duke University.

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