Finding Your Operating Cadence at Plaid

As the son of a symphony conductor, Zach Perret learned the importance of structure and rhythm from an early age. In this episode of Uniquely Led, he shares how this childhood lesson helped him develop a strong operating cadence as CEO & co-founder at Plaid. Zach also reveals the top three traits he looks for when hiring leaders — and argues that some of your best advice can come from sending cold emails.

Zach Perret: It’s one of the things that I really love about this kind of Silicon Valley, or broader technology community, is that there’s a lot of just paying it forward and giving advice and being willing to help someone that comes to you asking for help.

Jack Altman: Hi, I am Jack Altman, the CEO and co-founder here at Lattice, and welcome to Uniquely Led where we sit down with incredible leaders to talk about their unique management styles and how it impacts culture. Today, I am really grateful to be sitting down with Zach Perret, the co-founder and CEO of Plaid, a FinTech platform that powers connections between consumers and financial institutions. It’s an incredible company. He’s a great leader, and so grateful to have him. Zach, thank you so much for being here today.

Zach Perret: Thank you so much for having me.

Jack Altman: We’re going to cover a lot of ground across the board in terms of leadership and company building, but before we get into it, I’d love to hear in your own words, sort of how you think about your own leadership style or maybe something that you particularly value that you think is sort of distinct from the most common leadership trends.

Zach Perret: One of the interesting aspects of leaders, and frankly, the company that we’ve built at Plaid is this mesh of high degree of humility in the things we do and the people that we hire, a high degree of ambition alongside that, which those two don’t always go together. And then this amazing sense of urgency and sense of mission that pervades the things that we do, the actions that we’re trying to generate, the way that we interact with each other, and then the way that we frankly push each other to all collectively focus on this huge mission to help consumers live better financial lives, but also do so in a way that generates a lot of kindness within the culture and generates a lot of kind of collaboration within the culture, generates a lot of kind of excitement and fun within the culture. But I think that those three aspects of humility, ambition, and then urgency and pairing those three is probably a pretty good way to summarize our culture and the people that we tend to hire.

Jack Altman: One of the first things I want to talk to you about is the role of company strategy. I think this is always important. I think Plaid plays in a particularly dynamic marketplace. But no matter the company, it’s one of the most important roles of a CEO to build a company’s strategy. So can you talk a little bit about how you go about creating the overall strategy for Plaid?

Zach Perret: Plaid is a unique company in a lot of senses. When we were first founding Plaid, the lore amongst VCs was that they should go find companies in really big markets that were trying to come in and do things in a really disruptive way. And in the earliest phases of founding Plaid, we realized that we were in a market that we believed would be big, but at the time was not really big. And so we didn’t have all of that many corollaries to go and say, hey, we’re going to do things in the way that they do it over there, or we’re going to go seal market share from this really big incumbent. And so very early on, we realized that the strategy we had to develop was one of market creation, one of ecosystem development, one of kind of creating something in a space where predecessors had sort of existed, but certainly not in the way or with the thesis that we had. And we had to create a market that went from being a relatively small market at the beginning to now being this massive and incredibly quickly growing market.

And that wasn’t just due to the work that we did, that was due to many extrinsic factors, but we had to come up with a lot of kind of interesting and forward-looking strategies in the early days. The way that I tend to think about it, I used to think the strategies were really complex. You needed to write a lot, really long documents. I certainly have written probably hundreds or thousands of pages of documents that are too complex and too long to ever be useful to anyone. But more recently, we started to focus on just creating this concept of a cascaded strategy that lives up and down the organization.

So for me, when people ask, what is the strategy, or how could I write a strategy? It’s pretty straightforward for us. It’s basically, what is the outcome? How are we going to measure success against that outcome? What are the things that we’re going to do in order to achieve that outcome? How do we know when we’ve gotten there? And then you, what are the risks and what are the outstanding questions? And we really have this kind of like five or six question template that we use. We do a three year strategy at the company level, which exists over kind of obviously a three year horizon, then we refresh it every year. We then have business units that have a one year strategy. We then that have product teams that have a one year or a six month strategy. And it really cascades up and down. And for us, this has been a really clarifying point in a really helpful way to orient the organization towards kind of being able to continue to iterate and execute at scale.

Jack Altman: When you’re thinking three years out, what goes into figuring out what that looks like? To what extent are you thinking quietly by yourself? Are you talking to customers? How do you figure out where the world’s going?

Zach Perret: It’s mostly guesswork, right? No. I don’t think there’s a science to it. I was talking to a friend the other day who worked at Plaid, and when they were trying to say kind of, what’s the three year outcome that we expect, they’re like, “Well, what if I’m wrong? What if I don’t know? What if it’s too big? What if it’s too small?” At the end of the day, the way that we tend to think about it is just choose an outcome that you think should exist in three years. All right, great. And go test that, see if it feels rational. Does it feel like it’s big enough? Does it feel like it’s small enough? And if it works, then put it on paper and go try to vigorously execute against it, because the reality is any three year strategy that anyone writes is 100% going to be wrong. But as long as it’s directionally correct, you’ll end up iterating and landing in a much better place.

But from our side, the way that we tend to do it is it’s an internal set of discussions. What do we each think is going to happen? Where do we disagree with each other? Through those disagreements we usually learn quite a lot. We’ll bring in external speakers sometimes to give their input. We have a lot of bottoms-up input from the individuals on our team who have these big, audacious, really crazy, big, bold ideas, which are really, really helpful to stretch us. But at the end of the day, what matters is the directionality much more than the specific endpoint that you define, especially on a long term time horizon at the startup.

Jack Altman: When you’re thinking about your strategy, are you more trying to imagine where the world’s going to be and then you try to sort of fit into that picture? Or are you imagining Plaid influencing where the world is going and you’re sort of like driving that broader outcome, too?

Zach Perret: I’m not sure if one comes before the other. Generally the way that I would think about it is what do we expect the world to be like in a few years in the future? What role can we play in creating the world that we expect to exist? And then importantly, how can we change that world? How can we make it better? How can we make it faster? How can we achieve it in less time than we might think? So it probably starts outside in, and then a lot of iteration once you’ve realized that you can actually play a role in creating that future that you’re trying to push towards.

Jack Altman: One other recursive question I have around this topic is, to what extent do company strategy and people strategy relate? And I guess in particular what I’m curious to hear about is, do you think, okay, this is the team we have, this is our culture and our DNA, and therefore this is the strategy that makes most sense? Or do you think in the abstract, this is what’s best for a company in our market, and then I’m going to go and build the people strategy to have the team to execute on that?

Zach Perret: The best management books, I read a lot of books, but one of the best management books that I’ve read is Good to Great. And in that book, the core premises start with the people first and then everything else follows. So having a strategy without having the right people on the bus inevitably leads to failure, but having the right people on the bus with only an okay strategy, generally leads to success. And certainly the okay strategy can be iterated on until you have a perfect strategy. So I very much agree with that principal of start with the people, focus on hiring, focus on bringing in amazing people. And then yes, of course, along the way to do your best to get the strategy right. But focus first on getting the great people on the bus.

And then from our perspective, we tend to do a lot of working backwards. So start with the outcome that we’re trying to generate and then figure out the inputs and the things that we need to do in order to get there. And so what that might mean is we might say, hey, here’s the outcome we’re trying to generate and in order to get there we need to have a new leader in X place. And that means that we put all of our focus on getting the new leader in that given place. And only then do we try to go execute on that strategy. I do think that this concept of people first, like really having the right people, having the right leaders on the team is crucial to getting the outcomes that you want.

Jack Altman: Something you told me recently is that your dad was a symphony conductor, which is cool. But what I thought was interesting was you told me about that when I was asking you about sort of like how you run the company from like a cadence or an operating rhythm perspective, which I thought was an interesting first thing that you thought of. Can you share a little bit about what that connection was?

Zach Perret: So my dad is a symphony conductor. I grew up in this small town in North Carolina, and there was always music everywhere. My dad’s a symphony conductor, my mom was a singer. And at some point, my dad, in addition to conducting the orchestra and doing lessons, he started this kind of consulting business on the side that was called Orchestrating Change. And what he did was he went and worked with companies to explain how an orchestra works together, how a score is structured such that there’s a given rhythm, there’s a given kind of timing sequence that’s expected, and everyone kind of fits in amongst that score in order to generate this amazing artistic outcome.

And at the time I think I was eight or nine. I was kind of surprised, because my parents were artists, I was like, you would be working in the corporate world, why would you be doing that? What does this consulting thing, what does it really mean? And Orchestrating Change is just kind of a ridiculous name, so I probably made a lot of jokes with my dad about this. But it’s funny because it’s really come full circle. And now you start to see the importance of cadence in building a business, the importance of kind of building what’s the operating system or the operating cadence within the organization. And so for us, we’ve actually done all lot of this.

So I talked a little bit about this concept of cascading strategies. So a three year strategy that’s refreshed once a year, then we have annual strategies for kind of different organizational units, then we have team strategies and they all kind of cascade. Then we have this series of both check-ins and report out timeframes. So, a review for each of our functional areas, a review for each of our business areas, metrics that come out each week, and kind of certain types of reviews that come out every two weeks or four weeks or eight weeks.

And what I’ve found is one of the hardest things in product development, especially, is kind of moving with urgency when there isn’t a specific extrinsic factor. And for example, oftentimes there are very clear extrinsic of factor. So a customer will come to you and say, “We really need to launch this feature by this date. And if your product is not ready to help me launch this feature by this date, then you’re out.” All right, that’s a great extrinsic factor. It’s easy to sprint to that outcome. Or perhaps a competitor entered your market and you have to be very cognizant that they’re winning customers and you need to catch up and you’re kind of sprinting really quickly.

And so there are obviously these extrinsic factors that create urgency. But when you’re thinking about building products internally, that there might not be an external deadline that you have to create or that necessarily exists, and you have to end up creating it. And I find that cadence is the best way to create a high level of urgency, a high level of throughput, a high level of output throughout the organization, without necessarily having that extrinsic factor that is forcing your hand. So we talk a lot about this. We think a lot about this. Like how do we create the right structures, levels of strategy, and then kind of cadence to generate outcomes.

Jack Altman: How do you decide when to apply urgency? Because, obviously, it’s a marathon to some extent and these outside factors do create that natural urgency, but I think that’s something that so many of us struggle with, which is like, yeah, it’d be great if everything was done tomorrow, but you can’t run a company like that. How do you establish the right pace for running this marathon? And how do you choose when you’re going to create harsh deadlines and when you’re going to let people take a beat?

Zach Perret: I’m not sure that it’s a question of creating urgency versus not creating urgency. I think a lot of startups feel a lot of urgency. One of our core principles is act with urgency, for example. And so there is a lot of that within Plaid. I think you have to balance that with rigorous thinking and rigorous decision making. So where is urgency bad? Urgency is bad where you are whiplashing because you’re trying one thing and trying a new thing, or because you don’t have a clear strategy, or because you don’t know exactly where you’re going, or you’re doing something that is not going to hit the goal in the long term, it’s too short term oriented. And so, we’ve put in place a lot of structures or kind of cultural encouragements that allow people to think a little bit longer horizon and make sure that urgency doesn’t come at the cost of long term outcomes. But yeah, I’m probably not the best one to ask about how and when to inject urgency. We tend to inject a lot of it in a lot of things.

Jack Altman: All urgency all the time. That’s great. I think as long as a company is sort of aligned with itself, I think all these different sorts of cultural choices can work great.

Zach Perret: We have a set of cultural principles. I always joke, we have seven cultural principles, they’re not in any order, except that impact is always first. So impact is one of our principles, and everything that we do is oriented around what’s the impact that we create? How do we measure the impact? How do we understand the impact that we’re creating for our customers or our ecosystem or their end users? And so in a lot of senses, this concept of impact, especially long term impact, orients a lot of the things we do and certain creates a sense of urgency in many places.

Jack Altman: So I want to ask you a question about how you balance sort of the top-down need for strategy, which drives your whole operating rhythm with something I know that’s very important to you, which is sort of the kind of power to the individual. I’ve noticed that for a company as large as Plaid, you still have a bit of a hacker mentality. Like I’ll notice that you take on projects yourself. You like to get involved in real details of things still, which I know is even part of your culture. So I guess, how do you strike the balance between needing to drive alignment and needing to have a process throughout a company, but also wanting people to innovate and to be thoughtful on their own, and how does that show up in your culture?

Zach Perret: So speaking personally, this is actually one of the hardest things that I have to deal with. So I like making things, I like doing things, I like getting really involved, talking to the customer, figuring out how we can deploy something, how we can iterate on it. And for a long time, I was actually really frustrated where I felt like my entire life was about building organizations or just hiring people or figuring out big philosophical concepts or doing press. Doing press is a little bit draining on me, if I’m honest. But a few things changed over the years. First is, when we thought about kind of doing things at the company level, we structured it in a way that is about creating an envelope. So most people, if you say, “Hey, what do you want to go build?” They’ll say, “Well, why am I building something?” Or, “What’s the goal?” Or, “What’s the outcome that you’re trying to generate?”

And so I view that our job is leaders is to create the envelope. So set the strategy, hey, we’re going in this direction, here are the outcomes that we want to generate, but not tell people exactly how to do it. So say, “Hey, we’re trying to achieve this metric. And we believe that these kinds of things are important in trying to achieve that metric, but how you do it, that’s up to you.” And so we have this concept of top-down strategy, and bottoms-up goals. So the strategy, the big picture is set top-down and it kind of cascades down through the different organizational units, but the goals themselves are developed bottoms-up. So they’re developed by the team that’s actually building the product or the individuals that are actually writing the code. Indeed, a lot of the sprint plans for example, are built by the individuals themselves and then cascades up to the product manager who’s trying to figure out exactly how the pieces of the product fit together in order to achieve the goals.

And so for us, we really like this concept of bottoms-up ideation. And then when we do long range thinking, when we do multi-year planning, we actually have a lot of individuals that I send out this email once a year when we’re doing annual goals saying, hey, does anyone have input? Anything that you want to send me, just send it to me, I’ll read it all. And so we hope that that can kind of marry this kind of tops-down strategy and directionality with the bottoms-up execution and making sure that everyone feels like they have skin in the game. And frankly, some of the best ideas come from the places you absolutely don’t expect them. So we try to… try to marry those two.

But one of the other things that I was just saying, or that you were just saying, is this concept of hacker mentality. For a long time, that was actually one of our company values, one of our hiring values and one of the things that we looked for all the time, but our business is in financial services, we interface with a lot of banks and the word hacker to developers, to people in Silicon Valley mean one very clear, very specific thing, and to bankers, it means a totally, very clear, very specific thing. And it is very different. And so we ended up having to pull that back. But in many senses, this concept of kind of individually executing, getting to an outcome, like hacking your way to the outcome that you want definitely pervades a lot of parts of our culture.

Jack Altman: Great value, but doesn’t work for that industry, I suppose.

Zach Perret: Indeed. Yes.

Jack Altman: So talk to me a little bit about learning, which I think for any of us going through a startup in any role is critical because one of the things I’ve certainly observed is every year, honestly, every even six months, the job completely changes, the company completely changes. So the only way to grow is to learn. And I guess starting with you, because I know it’s something you hear about every company, but starting with you, how do you learn? Like what was the way that you learned early on? How do you learn now? What has gone into that for you on a personal level?

Zach Perret: I’ve had so much fun learning how to build companies. It’s been a really fascinating almost decade now in learning how to do it. My background before starting Plaid, I studied physics and chemistry and I spent a bunch of time at a lab, and it was so much fun and I loved that in undergrad. And then I came out and I somehow ended up in a consulting world for about a year and then started a company. So I had basically no background. I had never studied business. I didn’t know almost anything about economics or how businesses worked or management or any of those things. I really appreciate all the people along the way that have both taught me and then dealt with my lack of understanding, but it was something that someone told me relatively early on, they basically said, “Look, Zach, you can learn almost anything if you just focus on learning it.” And for me that has really pervaded the past decade.

In the earliest phases of the company, I spent a lot of time trying to kind of read things about how big companies worked and then applying them to our 3, 4, 5 person company. And one day my co-founder actually pulled me aside. He goes, “Look, Zach, we’re not Amazon. We can’t do that.” And it is a light bulb moment, which is why am I reading books about companies that don’t actually teach me anything that I need to know right now? So how do I go figure out the things that I need to know as a very small startup. And so then I kind of shifted that focus, and it was all about talking to other companies. Talking to companies that were 10 people when we were five, talking to companies that were a 100 people when we were 20, and learning it that way. I mean, there’s a lot of great videos online, of course, of people talking about starting startups and their experiences and so on and so forth. And so that became my focus.

And then as we got bigger, all of the books started to apply again because you’re at a company of a couple 100 people. It turns out that performance reviews and how you think about performance reviews and talking to each other and giving each other feedback, all of that stuff becomes really, really important yet again. And so these days I do a lot of reading, and still all talking to a lot of people. I actually find that one of the most important things that I did early on, and I got lucky that someone recommended doing it, is just sending cold emails and asking people for advice. So sending a cold email to someone and saying, hey, I was really impressed by the way that you solved that problem when you were in this situation of your career. Can I talk to you for five minutes because I have a similar problem. And shockingly people will respond to your emails quite a lot and give you advice on how to solve things.

And it’s one of the things that I really love about this kind of Silicon Valley, or broader technology community, is that there’s a lot of just paying it forward and giving advice and being willing to help someone that comes to you asking for help.

Jack Altman: What have you needed to change most in your own sort of way of being or learning over the last few years? I’m curious if there have been any notable leaps or changes that stand out to you as something you’re really grateful you learned.

Zach Perret: One of the things early on is just coming to every challenge and every problem with humility and realizing that in most cases, the founder is not the best at almost anything in the business. One of our execs at the company frequently tells me, he says, “Zach, do things that only you can do.” What I realized is that there’re very few things that only I can do. And realistically, if I’m doing something, I should probably be hiring someone to do it for me. I joke that my job is somewhere between 50% and a 100% about repeating myself and just talking about the same thing over and over and over again. And then every now and then figuring out the new thing that I need to talk about over and over and over again.

And maybe that is the only thing that truly only I can do, because if I find myself too deep in too deep in the product, well, that probably means that for that specific area of the product, I need to hire someone in order to lead that instead of me. I think I’ll find it very hard to ever only do those kinds of things. I think I always get sucked into how do we build the next product? How do we reach the next horizon? How do we solve the next customer problem? So I’ll always orient there, but just that realization that if I’m doing something, there’s a good chance that there’s someone out there in the universe that I could be hiring to do that for me, much better than I could myself. And then framing the challenge myself as, all right, now I have to go find that person in order to do this instead of me actually doing it.

Jack Altman: But besides sort of like setting the strategy and then repeating yourself, the other thing you mentioned there that you have to do is hire people. And you also mentioned that you have to hire people who are going to be way better than you at what you’re doing. So I’m curious, how do you learn how to do that? Let’s say you need to hire a CFO or a chief architect or some role where somebody’s going to do something at a level where you really don’t don’t know how to do it, you don’t even necessarily know what good looks like. How do you go about educating yourself to even be in a position to make the sorts of hires that you need?

Zach Perret: I’m not sure who I’m copying here, but I’m inevitably copying someone. I’m sure I heard someone say this one day. The way that I tend to do it is send a cold email to the 25 best people that you’ve ever heard of in that job. So you’re hiring a CFO, send a cold email to every great CFO you’ve ever heard of saying, “Hi, I’m Zach, I run this company and we’re just kicking off a CFO search. Is there any chance that you’d be willing to spend 10 minutes on the phone with me telling me what makes a CFO great at their job or how you would hire one if you were in my shoes?” And chances are 10 of those 25 will get back to you saying, “Sure, I’ve got 10 minutes for it.”

And for us, the way that we think about leadership breeding is it’s all about building a prepared mind, getting yourself, and then getting your interview panel to a state where you have a prepared mind, because chances are the first candidate you meet won’t be right, and you’ll end up having to meet tons and tons of candidates along the way. But if you’ve prepared yourself, you’ve prepared your company, you’ve prepared the interview panel to understand what good looks like and what bad looks like, to understand who are the archetypes that you want to replicate and who the archetypes that you don’t want to replicate, then it’ll be much faster when you actually do find that really, really great candidate.

And the interesting thing is, through all these reach outs, oftentimes people will say, “Well, I don’t have the time to talk to you, or I do have the time to talk to you, and by the way, you should also talk to my friend because they’re looking for a new role.” So you end up generating a lot of referrals through this process as well. And then, once I think I’ve achieved the prepared mind state and I’ve talked to enough people internally, and sometimes we even bring these external people to talk to our team about what great looks like and what they should be looking for, then we’ll start to actually go out and execute the interview process.

And then actually I like to do all the first rounds for leadership recruiting, for anyone that’s reporting to me, which means that the filter is necessarily very tight on who you reach out to. You really only reach out to excellent people if you know that you’re going to have to do a full hour, if not an hour and a half long conversation on the other side of it. But it’s been a fun process of recruiting. I’ve actually, I initially dreaded recruiting in the earliest phases and I’ve learned to really love it and it’s become a really, really fun thing for me to do. And frankly, I just feel so honored that a lot of excellent people are willing to spend the time with you. I always love to learn from the people that we’re interviewing. It’s been a fun evolution towards doing quite a lot of exec recruiting these days.

Jack Altman: So I guess talking more about hiring, not just for you, but for everybody. You mentioned that you’ve got a particularly strong view on the role of managers in hiring, where I think so many companies get to a stage where we need to make hires and we sort of get to a point where we think, okay, well then we need this many recruiters. You described something a little bit different to me. Can you talk about how you think about the role of management and hiring.

Zach Perret: In the earliest phases of starting Plaid, I was 23, my co-founder was 22. We had no appreciable network. We didn’t know any people in Silicon Valley. We were both kind of technical enough to be able to build things and had gotten this early stage product off the ground. And it was actually funny. We closed our seed round, and it was two of us and an intern who then went back to college. And so it was just two of us and we just rented this office, so we were sitting in this huge empty room saying, oh my gosh, how are we going to fill this room? We need to hire people. We know we need to build this company. We see the demands coming in from our customers. Like, how are we going to actually do this? But we had no way to do it.

So in the earliest phases, we got very, very good at cold outreach, just totally cold outreach. Not only were we doing it ourselves, so figuring out how to email people directly, meeting them, interviewing them and then asking them if they had any friends that we could also interview, but we actually built some software to go through and scrape LinkedIn and actually automatically email people. And then we basically took this bit of software and we copied Yesware to make it do follow ups, and then we had automatic scheduling that plugged into the calendar. And now there are some really great companies that do this as a service and they are good software companies, companies like Gem and Top Funnel and so on and so forth. But we’d initially built our own command line version of this and just did it at massive scale and got a lot of reps in, in interviewing people.

But one of the things that we loved about the process is that sourcing teaches you so much about the market itself. And that’s one of the things that we’ve kept as a part of our culture. So for everyone that’s hiring, we expect every hiring manager to actually be sourcing themselves, so sending direct cold outreach to people that they think they want to interview, mining their networks, actively being in the market. And then of course, there’re recruiters alongside them that are helping them do that, helping them scale it up. But we create this very strong co-ownership model where the hiring manager themselves is responsible for their pipeline. And then the recruiter’s also co-responsible for that pipeline. But if a hiring manager were to say, well, I don’t have enough recruiting resources, that’s actually not an excuse anymore because you now have all the tools to build your own pipeline. You have all the tools to get people in and hire people.

And so it’s ended up leading to this, what I’d say, very like execution-oriented recruiting culture, where we really push the hiring managers to get down at the lowest level and actually really do the job and feel what the market feels like themselves. And I think that helps you build a better, again, prepared mind to understand exactly who’s great out there and are your role is going to work, are you going to be able to hire people, are you going to be able to identify the relevant companies to recruit from? But it’s been a really fun process. And I still, actually, I joke with a lot of our recruiters because they get these big, big mass-sourcing outbounds that I’ll do. And they say, “Oh yeah, Zach, you must have been watching a movie tonight,” because I will just sit and watch a movie and kind of source away during it.

Jack Altman: It’s such a great idea because I think the sort of natural state of affairs for an early startup is that everyone of course is doing their own recruiting. You don’t start with recruiters. And I think that leads to a great sort of highly aligned high bar of talent, but so many companies then slip into just leaning on recruiting in sort of the same way that a lot of sales teams end up leaning exclusively on inbound and don’t do outbound. I think there’s something very powerful about that.

Zach Perret: Yeah. There’s this joke that we made a lot within Plaid, which is, when people say I’m too busy to recruit, it’s kind of like saying I’m too hungry to eat, which just that doesn’t compute. So if you’re too busy to recruit, that means you should be recruiting more. So, we definitely push people in that direction.

Jack Altman: It’s totally true. And that’s an easy one because it’s like the urgent thing in front of you gets in the way of the long-term important thing that you need to do. I definitely empathize with that situation and I’ve felt it myself, but you’re of course, right. If you’re too busy, you need to spend more time on recruiting. I guess my last question on this topic is, when you’re doing your own hiring, how do you get there? What are you prioritizing? Is it about the skills? Is it the values? Are you looking to see them gel with people on your team? Like what is that thing that you most click into to determine whether someone is the right fit for you when you’re hiring for a role?

Zach Perret: So this goes back to something that we were talking about a little bit earlier, which is the concept of growth. We have a number of sayings in our recruiting team, and one of them is, hire first slope and not why intercept. So it doesn’t matter necessarily how much experience someone comes in with, or it doesn’t matter exactly what their background looks like on paper, so as long as you see their trajectory, the speed of growth, the speed with which they are improving and getting better.

One of our… Again, I talk about our principles a lot, again, one of my jobs is repeating myself, one of our principles is grow, comment together. And the punctuation is actually important, because the principle itself is about first, it’s an imperative. So the first imperative is to grow. Grow quickly. You yourself are responsible for your own growth. We look for people to hire that are taking responsibility for their own growth. And then comment together. So you have a support system, you have a set of people around you, we have a company around you to help you grow. And if you need resources, just ask and we’ll find a way to get you those resources. And so in our interview process, that’s actually one of the key things that we screen for, which is kind of trajectory or speed of growth of the candidate.

Jack Altman: Do you determine that through interviews, or do you do that with references? How do you determine slope on somebody when you’re not getting to spend years with them?

Zach Perret: All of the above. So oftentimes some of the questions that are really clear here are talking through a person’s progression, so kind of how they’ve achieved things throughout their career. Oftentimes it’s hard to do because they might not have that much experience in their past, and it’s hard to tell. And the kinds of questions that I really like to ask here are, what is the thing that you’re the most proud of and how did you achieve it? And then if you had to do double that, how would you do it? I ask a lot of questions around, great, you completed this project at your past employer. If you were the CEO of the company, how would you have done that project at twice the pace? How would you have pushed it to go twice as big?

And then oftentimes they’ll have this mentality of, either they can say, “Right, well, I know what I would’ve done more because I could’ve grown this thing faster,” or they’ll not sort of have as great of an answer. And then of course, references. So tend to ask the very specific question of, is this person in the top 10% of people that you’ve seen in terms of growth, in terms of their trajectory, or are they not? And that generally leads to some pretty good responses.

Jack Altman: Those are great tips. All right. Well, Zach, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Learned so much from you from everything from strategy to building teams, to the way that you think about your values. So this was great. Thank you so much again for spending time with us.

Zach Perret: Thank you for having me.

Listen to the Podcast
Uniquely Led with Jack Altman

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.