Martin is the retired CEO of Interwoven, Inc. and all around peak performer striving to balance his natural competitive intensity with an evolved perspective.
At Interwoven, Martin presided over a classic dotcom startup sensation, taking the web content management software company from the basement to a successful public offering at breakneck speed, riding the wave to a $6 billion valuation at one point, and then having to abruptly shift gears to weather the economic collapse and downsize to keep the entity thriving. Interwoven was later acquired by a larger enterprise and technically still exists today—probably a one in 100 success story in the world of high flying software startups.
Martin is an understated guy quick to bestow credit to others. He avoids the spotlight and the silly excess consumption seen with many of his ilk. Only with coaxing from me did he dispense some of his fabulous leadership and peak performance insights that can help you understand how he got to the top of the most competitive economic environment on the planet by being kind, generous, open-minded, and leading a healthy, fit, and balanced lifestyle.
You’ll hear how Martin worked his way through college, reached for and thrived in jobs that were above his qualifications, and managed the disparate challenges of growing Interwoven at record pace and then quickly having to tighten the reins and get lean ‘n mean. While Martin followed the classic script of striking Silicon Valley gold and retiring to the top of the hill before reaching 50, the story takes some surprising twists and turns toward the end. As he (literally) sailed off into the sunset, Martin relates how his competitive drive got the better of him and led to disillusionment in the face of a great competitive victory. He was compelled to slow down, get off his boat, get over himself, and reflect more carefully on what it means to win in whatever game of life you are playing. Martin may suggest that he is “old news” in the age of Facebook and Google tech hotshots, but his valuable insights may get you to think differently about your role as a leader, your career aspirations, and constantly assessing and reassessing your priorities.
There are so many cool tidbits in this show, including how Lance Armstrong himself (at the height of his fame in pre-scandal Tour de France legend mode), was “intimidated” when he first met Martin, how Martin likes to hire people with an “owner, not renter” mentality, the mandatory best practices and stratification for email, telephone/voicemail, and in-person communications in the workplace, how young aspirants might best put some time in with bigger operations and avoid startup fever, how we best pace ourselves instead of romanticizing workaholism. “Be suspicious of heroism,” Martin says. Enjoy this show and pull down some memorable insights to be the best you can be in all of your competitive pursuits.
Brad helped inject wellness into the corporate culture. when he connected with Martin. [00:08:49]
How did Martin, as a young man, get up the corporate ladder? [00:18:08]
Being in sales is a very good way to start any career. [00:22:33]
What are the characteristics one looks for when interviewing a future employee? [00:26:04]
Is there a point in Martin’s career where he can look back and knowledge what he might have done differently? [00:35:02]
There is a high failure rate in start-ups. The venture capitalists take big risks. [00:38:06]
Get the experience, when you are fresh out of school, in big corporations where there are established processes. [00:47:32]
At Interwoven they survived the grass roots stage and grew rapidly until the bubble burst. [00:50:13]
Brad’s role had an impact for corporate wellness. The leader models behavior in the workplace. [00:56:29]
Pacing is a good thought in career planning. as well as athletic endeavors. [01:02:10]
Be aware of what is urgent and important. Sometimes the culture celebrates someone who overdoes something to exhaustion. [01:08:16]
Email is for exchange of facts only. Telephone is for exchange opinions. There is nothing better than an in person meeting.[01:10:55]
Open honest and direct communication, respectful and civil, is the only way the organization should function. [01:14:11]
In retirement, Martin began a “career” in competitive sailing. It taught him a good lesson. He is now more thoughtful about his auto racing hobby. [01:19:25]
“There’s an owner’s mentality and there’s a renter’s mentality.”
“In job interviews, be sure to ask the right questions.”
“It’s better to get punched in the face than get stabbed in the back.”
“Make sure you check your own intentions.”
Get Over Yourself Podcast
Speakers: Brad Kearns and Martin Brauns
Brad Kearns: Welcome to the Get Over Yourself Podcast. This is Brad Kearns.
Martin Brauns: “You’re building a company here and that’s a 10, 20, 30-year process and you’re going to need to pace yourself accordingly. Throwing in three 15-hour days in succession, maybe needed. But doing that chronically is not sustainable.”
“People construe an email or the written word in the wrong way. Just nip that stuff in the bud, and get out of your chair or pick up the phone and interact with that person.”
Brad Kearns: Here’s a quick thank you to our sponsors. They make this show possible and the tremendous production behind it – online and in audio.
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And now, onto our show.
Hi listeners, it’s Brad. I’m so excited to bring you this interview with my old friend Martin Brauns. This is take 23 of the intro recording. Just kidding, a little, but I really want to get this right because this is what Martin’s all about. He’s a very focused, peak performer. He wanted to talk over the phone for 20 minutes before we did the recording. I said, “No, that’s against the rules because we got to just let it flow. We got to get down to the real deal. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be a performance.”
But I love Martin’s mindset where he wants to be well-prepared and make sure that we convey the right message. And he was reluctant to do the podcast because he doesn’t listen to podcasts, doesn’t know what this whole medium is all about. I said, “Don’t worry, man. We’re going to sit down on the couch, we’re going to catch up.” And I think it went really well.
I hope you will get some incredible insights out of here because this is a guy who you know, you have those people in your life who make a profound impact and lasting impact on you from the way that they comport themselves. That was one of his favorite words. I had to look it up in the dictionary to learn what “comportment” meant. And it means the way you carry yourself, your mindset, your disposition, the way you treat others.
He was a great leader during this wild times of the dot-com era where his first objective was to build this company at breakneck speed because it was so competitive. And indeed, Interwoven was lauded by the Fast Company Magazine as the fastest growing software company in its category, growing at 726% for some measurement period. And then after the dot-com thing sort of slowed down, crashed, he had to preside over the same organization where they had to get lean and mean and tight and make painful cuts to wonderful staff.
So, he had this incredible roller coaster journey where he had the helm of the ship and steered this company into actually technically, still alive today. Even though they’ve gotten acquired and they no longer operate under that name. It’s basically a success story from the very competitive days of the Silicon Valley. And wow, I have such wonderful memories of those times when I was down there having him as a mentor and navigating this career change where I came from being an athlete to trying to help ordinary corporate workers be healthy and fit.
There’s so many attributes and things that I think you can learn from Martin that hopefully will come out in the interview. Advice for young people building their career and being patient and not going after the quick opportunity of the startup. But rather learning from the process of people that have more experience from you. And then just the way that he conducts his personal life, to me, since I’m kind of a loosey goosey type of personality, to see him operate with these crisp and tight and focused principles of organization, and having time and a proper pace of the day so you don’t get behind and frazzled and scattered. He never was that way.
Here he is in this crazy dot-com scene where people are sleeping under their desks and stuffing food down their face and slamming coffee and continuing to work on their code into all hours of the night. And yes, there was part of that for him that he’ll describe. But on a day-to-day work basis, you would walk by his office, the door was always open for anyone in the company to come talk to. He always had a positive and energetic spirit and was encouraging to everyone in the office. The desk was clean, there was no clutter, no paperwork. It was just all about being present in the moment. And wow, he had such a great impact on all the employees there.
So, I want to get into some of his life and leadership skills and insights that I hope you’ll enjoy. And then as we discuss his magnificent rise to the top, which so many people aspire to, down in the tech scene in Silicon Valley and you have your financial windfall, and he retired at a young age and literally sailed off into the sunset as he transitioned into intense pursuit of other types of peak performance goals, including high level amateur sailboat racing, and transitioning into recent times of automobile racing.
He was also a very accomplished ultra-endurance triathlete. Again, he’s going to get mad at me for saying that because he wasn’t one of the fast guys winning awards. But get this, his foray into the sport of triathlon, inspired by his friend Vito Bialla who’s another endurance legend. His first triathlon he ever did was the Ultraman in Hawaii, the most difficult triathlon on the face of the earth. It’s a three-day ultra-iron distance race where you’re swimming for six miles and biking for 200 and something over two days and running 52 miles on the final day.
So, this was this kind of guy where he’d just take on these challenges. But especially at the end of the show, when you hear the story of his foray into sailboat racing and the smashing success that he had, and you’re thinking that it’s just going to end happily ever after with this guy killing all the goals in life and moving through, there’s a surprising twist that I think we all can relate very powerfully to. Sort of be careful about the goals that you pursue and what they really mean to you. Be careful what you wish for in a way, and try to keep this open perspective where you’re living in the moment, you’re honoring the things that really make you happy and not just buying into the story of society and the rat race that you should do this or you should be this certain way.
Okay, I think that’s enough of a tee up for Martin. Let’s get to know him and learn about his career, his leadership insights. The great takeaway, especially if nothing else, the proper use of email, telephone and in-person communication, great stuff, and just a little glimpse of the standard he set at Interwoven to function at the highest level of an organization. Martin Brauns in Silicon Valley, enjoy the show.
Martin Brauns, retired CEO of Interwoven. Is that still your bio? A Porsche car, a racer rising up the ranks. What do we call you now?
Martin Brauns: Oh, I don’t worry so much about that anymore, Brad. But yeah, retired chairman and CEO of a company called Interwoven, which no longer exists independently. But did that for many, many years and it was a great sort of final full time job for me and I retired after that.
Brad Kearns: So, that’s how we connected back then in the dot-com days of 1999 to 2002, is when I was there.
Martin Brauns: I remember.
Brad Kearns: And we had a great run, a really fun time. You gave me a chance to do this dream that I had of corporate wellness and applying my coaching principles and the athletic background that I had. And I thought, “You know what? I need to go get a job now. I’m retired from the pro circuit. What the heck am I going to do?” And it was a memorable first encounter with you, because you were running this young startup software company of 125 employees. And I just kind of cold pitched you.
And unlike all the other cold pitches that I threw out to the exciting Silicon Valley companies, the email back from you was, “Yeah, I’ll talk to you from 11 to 11:15 on December 8th, see you then.” And it was just kind of indicative of the way that you managed your business and your life. That you’re willing to take a shot, you’re going to give this guy a shot. It’s going to be a tight time window because Martin’s a busy guy. But it went over pretty well. And I also remember from that initial meeting that you said, “Hey, let’s give it a try.”
It was so simple and straightforward and you kind of grilled me. It was a high pressure encounter, where I had to have my A-game. That was my advice from Robles, our mutual friend that kind of gave me the lead. And so, we set off on this ambition to kind of change the corporate culture at Interwoven, make it healthier and embody some of the things that were really near and dear to you. Such as keeping fit, keeping healthy, keeping balance.
So, I wanted to get you on the show because I think we got a lot to talk about that’s of real value to people who are in the management scene, and also trying to aspire to these peak performance goals. I mean, here we are, you’re at the top of the heap, man. You retired as a young guy, healthy with your wits about you. You have decisions and freedoms.
So, maybe the first thing is just to kind of go back and look at this journey that you took because I think a lot of people aspire to maybe someday rising up the corporate ladder and being a high profile person and having a wind fall event and all these great things. So, in your case, you’re always giving me this understated vibe. Where, “Oh Brad, I went San Jose State, I studied hard. I did this and did that.” But I’d love to hear you lay it out. Just kind of a memory lane here.
Martin Brauns: Oh, my. Well, first, let me just correct you Brad, because I don’t think it was entirely a cold call as I recall it. Because I knew you, I knew of you. I’d been competing in triathlons in those days. And I remember I think meeting you in the context where you were race announcing some triathlon somewhere. So, I had met you. It wasn’t entirely a cold call.
Brad Kearns: Right? You heard all my off color jokes on the mic. You’re like, “Who is this guy?”
Martin Brauns: That’s right, that’s right. It was a high stress time, a high stress environment, a high performance, very driven company culture. And it did occur to me that we weren’t in the vein now that you see at Google or Facebook or any of these unicorn type companies. We didn’t have private chefs or dry cleaning or onsite massage or any of those things.
Brad Kearns: Napping pods.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, we were still a small company as you point out. And I think you’re quite right. We were a hundred, 125 people or so when you joined. And so, we weren’t over the top nuts. But we did want to do something. I did want to do something to help folks. I had too many colleagues that were still smoking, and that bothered me. And too many folks that I could see – I was worried about them. They had some bad health habits and I thought, “What could we do to inject some wellness into the corporate culture?” And you help do that. And you also write well.
So, you also did a lot of marketing work as I recall it. You did some more conventional marketing communications work for the company that I think you did very, very well. So, it was a hybrid role as I recall it. And you did both pretty well.
Brad Kearns: It moved into the hybrid role because we started to have to tone things down a little bit as times got tough and the headcount was turning back.
Martin Brauns: Well, there was that.
Brad Kearns: But we did some fun stuff too. And one of my favorite memories of you was you guys had your big global convention, the gear up and you wanted to make a big splash and do something fun. And it was right around the time when Lance Armstrong was at the top of his game, and you guys had meetings. This was without me, but then you called me in and you said, “We’ve decided that we want Lance to be our keynote speaker for the gear up. So, go make that happen.” Because I was dealing with Lance at that time and we were trying to do a book thing, and I was connecting with his agent Billy all the time, and so you knew that I had that connection with Lance.
So, I checked in on that opportunity and it happened that it conflicted with the Olympic Games in Sydney, where he eventually won the bronze medal and the time trial and was just coming off this great Tour de France victory, so he was a hot shot. So, I had a brief exchange with his agent. He said, “Sorry dude, he’s going from Sydney back to Nice, and then training for one more race and it’s not going to happen.”
Then I went back into your office to report my exchange, however many days that took for you guys to get really excited about that term “gear up” as the name of your convention, and how perfect of a fit Lance would be. I walked in and I told you my little spiel, and you just started shaking your head back and forth like, “No, no, no. We need Lance. We’ve decided this.”
Martin Brauns: I do remember. And Lance, if I remember right, Lance did us the huge favor of essentially getting off the bike in Sydney, getting on a plane and coming to speak at that conference. And I think he was fresh off the plane when he rolled in and gave a very, very, very compelling talk to the staff and to many of our partners and distributors from around the world. That was a great event.
I remember too, he was probably disappointed because he had taken just the bronze, right?
Brad Kearns: A little.
Martin Brauns: Just the bronze.
Brad Kearns: I mean, winning the tour is a thousand times more important to a cyclist than anything in the Olympics. Same with the golf guy winning the gold medal in Rio. Like who cares? It’s just something fun to go and do. Whereas the US Open masters, British Open is way more important.
Martin Brauns: Yes. But I remember leading up to those Olympics, Lance was favorite to win. So, there may have been – he never said this to me, but there may have been some disappointment in his own mind about just coming back with the bronze. But sort of true to form, he manned up and gave a brilliant talk at that conference, probably operating on three hours sleep and he nailed it. So, yeah, that was a triumph and now that you remind me about it, thank you for making that happen.
Brad Kearns: Well, I called up Billy and I said, “Billy, you haven’t met this Martin Brauns guy yet, but he will not take no for an answer. So, we need to make this work.” And so, this exchange is how the pre-meeting of Lance who was at the top of his game and then you … like I remember Lance being a little nervous to meet you, because the way this whole thing went down was pretty heavy handed. And he put up a big number and we met it because it was so important for us. So, he was well-compensated for the thing. But I remember that exchange. Like he goes, Lance told me like, “Wow, that guy’s pretty intense man. I was kind of nervous to meet him,” and then it went so well and you guys bonded because you had those similar type of personality.
I think talking right now, we should remind the listeners, this was back in the day when he was top of the world, a cancer survivor, inspiring thousands of people all over. And I know you know the empire crumbled and all that stuff. But it really doesn’t take away from like-
Martin Brauns: Not at all.
Brad Kearns: The rousing delivery that he gave that was completely off the cuff and no note cards or PowerPoint. He just sat on a stool and he said, “Yeah man, one day, I was coughing up blood and I went to the doctor, and he said, ‘You got cancer, you’re screwed.’” And he just told the whole story straight out. And it was an unforgettable event for everyone in there.
Martin Brauns: You bet, you bet.
Brad Kearns: So, that led to a longer deal with him where he kept coming back and doing these corporate events for us, and just one of the other fun times at Interwoven.
Martin Brauns: As I recall, we were sort of a second tier sponsor of the US postal team in those days. And it was a fun thing for the employees, fun thing for the company and also the customers. We used some of those cycling events as customer appreciation events too. And so, the customers got a lot out of it. And we enjoyed our affiliation with Lance and the team. It was a good thing.
Brad Kearns: So, backing up a bit, you’re a young guy at this time, man. You’re in your early to mid-40’s running this whole show. How did you get there?
Martin Brauns: If I’m honest, Brad, as a young man, young executive, I don’t know that I had even really a clear concept of what a CEO was. And so, I can’t tell you that at the age of 21 or however young I was when I finished my MBA. I don’t know that I had a real clear conception in my mind of what a CEO was or does. And frankly, when I graduated college, the Internet in its present form didn’t even exist. So, forming a software company to manage content on something called a website, that wasn’t even a concept in those days.
Brad Kearns: You’re going to go sell something I’m guessing, that was your-
Martin Brauns: Well, in those days, so I did a lot of my career in software, but early on in computing, you’ve got to remember that it was all about hardware. Software was actually a free sort of a tool that came along with your deck minicomputer or your IBM mainframe or so forth. So, software as an industry didn’t even exist when I was studying in college.
So, the industry evolved as my own goals and aspirations evolved. Not to go way, way back, but actually I entered college as a marine biology major. I was going to be a marine biologist and I had to work my way through college. So, I had a fulltime or near full time job in a sporting goods store, working for three brothers who own this business. And they saw something in me and they kept giving me more and more and more responsibility. They put me in charge of advertising and whatnot. I was a young man. I was 17, 18-years-old and I had my first management responsibilities at a very tender age, while I was studying to become a marine biologist.
That job at – the sporting goods store was called Tri City Sporting Goods. It doesn’t exist anymore. But that job and the sort of the confidence that the Haraj brothers placed in me, caused me to rethink things. And so, I actually changed my major to business and embarked really on an international business career because my first language, as you may recall, my first language is actually German.
So, I thought bilinguals, speak German, speak English, maybe I can be a fancy jet setting international business executive. Again, no real clear vision of what that meant, but that is indeed what I did. So, I got a bachelor’s degree in business. Went on, did an MBA and took on some international sales roles that lead to bigger international sales roles that lead to an expat assignment in Japan, an expat assignment in Germany and London. So, I spent the early part of my career really in Europe and elsewhere doing international sales work.
There was a girl involved. So, there I was in Munich running a division for my then company called Wyse Technology. And Wyse I think still exists. They’re now buried somewhere in the bowels of Dell computing. But I was running the Munich operation but had started a relationship with a woman that I’m now married to – Margaret, you know Margaret. And she was here in California. So, I thought, “I want to pursue that, and I want to find a way to get back to the States.”
Brad Kearns: So, heading out there to these assignments, I suppose these were all escalating opportunities that you couldn’t turn down if you’re trying to climb.
Martin Brauns: That’s right. No, I climbed the ladder first from individual contributor to team lead or manager or whatever it might have been.
Brad Kearns: Oh, I remember that term, Martin. We’d have these career direction meetings in your office, sort of like off the record and you’d say, “Brad, you’re an individual contributor.”
Martin Brauns: Well, I meant no insult.
Brad Kearns: And people need to figure out, to work their strengths and stay away from their weaknesses, and either pursue a management track or an individual contributor track.
Martin Brauns: The world needs individual contributors and I spent the early part of my career as one.
Brad Kearns: Oh, so what was that? Like as a salesperson? Are you calling that-?
Martin Brauns: That’s right. I started as a sales person.
Brad Kearns: With no management as much as closing deals.
Martin Brauns: That’s right. And look, I liked the sales profession. I think it’s an absolutely honorable and important way to start a career and make a whole career. It is absolutely measurable and I know you’re about performance and so forth. And so, you can’t beat sales for measurable, accountable and also if you’re a gratification junkie, you get that too. Every quarter, you’ve either made your number or not. Every quarter you’re either in accelerators or not. Every year you either go to President’s club or not.
So, sales is a great career, and it gives you a lot of feedback and you have to be thick skinned and manage yourself and your own psyche well, and work hard and improving your game and you’re competing. You’re competing with your peers all the time, every quarter. For who’s on the top of the leaderboard, who’s bringing in the most revenue or the most new accounts or whatever it is. It’s being valued at that particular company.
So, I did start in sales and it was a great beginning to a career. And then eventually I did move into management and then took on sales and marketing roles and became a vice president and just climbed the ladder from there. And then of course had lots of board level interactions and CEO level interactions and started to refine sort of my own aspirations for what were perhaps the next things I wanted to do. And at some point, probably in my early 30’s, I conceived of the notion of becoming a CEO.
Brad Kearns: So, prior to that, when these opportunities came up, was this sort of reactive like, “Hey, there’s a management role open and we’re going to offer it to you because you’re a good sales guy?” And you kind of had to assess on the spot or did you have a vision in mind where you thought you might progress from individual contributor to manager?
Martin Brauns: Well, a lot of it was opportunistic and driven by one door opens. You don’t unfortunately have a menu of six items to choose from at every juncture in your career, right? Often it’s one specific opportunity or a battlefield promotion because so and so has resigned and hey, now we need a director.
So, some of it was very opportunistic, but I did have at least a notion of where I wanted to go. And to me, it was always climbing to the next rung on the corporate ladder. And was fortunate. I had some great mentors that saw something in me and gave me opportunities probably way ahead of when I was really ready for them.
But that forced me, when you’re in the deep end of the pool, that forced me to learn and up my game and work on self-improvement and dig deeper. So, I had some great mentors too, and that needs to be said. Some guys that saw something in me and helped me and mentored me and developed me and gave me stern talkings too when I needed them as well.
Brad Kearns: Well, the sporting goods guys, that’s interesting because these are those profound turning points in life where it’s just a random teenager job. But look what it did.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, I give the Haraj brothers a lot of credit for launching me frankly on my business career.
Brad Kearns: And so, the other times when you had these mentors see something in you, what did they see and how did it get brought out?
Martin Brauns: I can’t speak for them, but I think what they saw and what I often see now in younger men and women that I mentor is a mindset that is, I like to say sort of an owner’s mentality rather than a renter’s mentality. And what I mean their Brad is when you’re renting an apartment, you think about it in a certain way. I mean, you don’t probably care for it and you don’t really look after it with love and attention, right? You’re renting and you may rent it for six or seven months and then you’re on to the next thing-
Brad Kearns: The nice party at the end to blow everything out, yeah.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, exactly. So, there’s a renter’s mentality and there’s an owner’s mentality. And so, what I look for in younger people that I mentor now, is do they see themselves, do they behave like an owner in the company, irrespective of how many stock options they have and whether they’re really an owner or not, how are they operating? Are they operating the company’s best interest with the shareholders in mind, and maybe the long term view in mind? And so, I look for that. I look for an ownership mentality in the business and I’m hoping that some of my early mentors probably saw that passion and drive on behalf of the company in me.
Brad Kearns: Well, I’m also thinking of the ownership mentality with your own behavior and instead of making excuses. There’s people that either make excuses, tell stories or they take ownership and accountability for everything that happens to them.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, exactly. Ownership in that sense, sort of taking personal accountability for all your actions. That’s another meaning of the term, but I’m looking … when I say owner, I’m looking really more for a mindset about how they feel about the company. They feel like it’s my company, irrespective of whether that’s strictly true or not. They’re that driven, they’re that passionate about the company, about the company’s business, and they take it personally. They want to make that quarter because it’s their company. And that’s what I mean when I say owner mentality. And you’re right. There is also the ownership and accountability.
Brad Kearns: Probably goes hand in hand. The same people are in the same group there.
Martin Brauns: Exactly, same sort of mindset, yeah.
Brad Kearns: Is that innate you think? These people are just finding their way to these opportunities or is this something that you can develop with mentorship?
Martin Brauns: I think so. I think those who are parents would probably tell you one of the most pivotal things for the development of young people is what friends do they choose. What play groups do they have and what peers do they hang around with. And so, I think by choosing which gang you’re hanging around with at the water cooler at the company, and which peers you admire or seek to emulate, that too can be very important in your career. You know, who do you surround yourself with? The guys that are always griping and complaining and griping about management or the people that are looking hard at the root cause of the problem, worrying about the customer first and foremost and driving progress in the business?
So, where do you associate, where do you align yourself and how do you think? It’s again, that sort of ownership of your own sort of actions and your own attitudes, right?
Brad Kearns: So, going back as a teenager at the sporting goods shop, do you ever identify any times along the journey where you’re off your game or did you always have this ownership mentality and this drive and this focus to go for the next thing and perform and hit those numbers every single quarter every year?
Martin Brauns: Oh gosh, I think I was always pretty driven. Graduated high school early, I did two college degrees in five years instead of the customary six or eight. So, I always had a sense of urgency about everything I was doing and about my career. And as I admitted to you a minute ago, sometimes I got in way over my head and took on responsibilities that were two or three or four sizes too big for what I really was at the time.
Brad Kearns: You probably said, sure though that confidence where you’d talk someone into it, and they say, “This guy will wing.”
Martin Brauns: Oh, but gosh Brad, I will tell you, and I think you know this, I’ve had career failures too. Absolutely, absolutely. And gosh, I still remember one of the company I worked for right out of graduate school was closed down by the sheriff’s department for nonpayment of all things I didn’t know, right? I was an individual contributor, but came to work one day and found the sheriffs had padlocked the door and pasted a notice on the door, and that’s how I lost my first post-college job, right?
So, sure I’ve had setbacks. And I’ve actually been fired from jobs. It happens. I think the key is-
Brad Kearns: Gosh, I can’t imagine that Mark. That must be a tough feeling. I don’t know what it’s like to get fired from jobs. So, I don’t know … I’m just kidding.
Martin Brauns: Well, I’m not wishing it for you Brad. But it is depending on what you do with it, it’s really character building and useful. And if you reflect on it and think about what things were in your control, what things were out of your control, what might you do differently if confronted with the same challenges, it can be useful. In fact, these days, I still sit on some corporate boards and I help with hiring. I’m not actively working, but I keep my hand in it a bit. And when I read resumes now and look at even senior executives for some of my companies, I’m looking for failure. I’m looking for, “Mm-hmm, looks like he or she really went splat there at that point in their career,” and I ask questions about that.
I’m not so interested in whether or not the person failed, I’m interested in what they learned from it. What lessons – because let’s face it, the company we’re considering them for will have challenges and may have similar challenges, and I want to understand what sort of lessons they took from career failures or business failures or whatnot.
Brad Kearns: Well, I suppose when the interview candidate is asked that question, you’re getting your first insight to whether they’re going to BS their way out of it and blame somebody or they’re going to say, “Yeah, you know what? I was in over my head. I was four rungs above my pay grade and I thought I could do it, and I was overconfident and the Hubris took me down.” Or whatever they say.
Martin Brauns: That’s right. You’re looking for a mature and nuanced answer and one that … especially if I’m looking at a senior executive, which these days is sort of, I’m not hiring entry level people, but I’m interviewing people for vice president roles or CMO roles. And what you’re looking for is someone who outlines the nature or the business problem that gave them the challenge and talks in a sophisticated way about what they would have done differently and why, and what mistakes were made and why. That’s what you’re looking for and you’re looking for that ownership, that accountability.
When there are problems, you’re looking for senior executives that own them, that take accountability and don’t say, “Oh, well my VC investors were bad investors, or my board was incompetent.” That is a victim mentality and that’s not what you’re looking for. You’re looking for a mature ownership sort of response.
Brad Kearns: What if it’s true? And they’re telling you from the bottom of their heart that their partner was a crook or something like that.
Martin Brauns: Those things do happen. Sure, sure. That’s right. Exactly. But still in all, even in a case where the partner is a criminal-
Brad Kearns: “Oh, why did you decide to partner with that guy? What part of you was-?”
Martin Brauns: Your own judgment at some point, you have to own even that. You have to own even that to a degree. And yes, do bad random things happen? Sure, and that’s absolutely understandable. But yeah, even in a, “My partner was a crook scenario,” what could or should you have done differently? And if similar dynamics unfold in our company here, how will you handle them differently?
Brad Kearns: Yeah, so if you enjoy hearing about failures in the interviews, what about a point in your career where you can now go back and realize that you used poor judgment or you didn’t do your due diligence or something where you’re going to take some acknowledgement.
Martin Brauns: Some ownership of myself? Well, I do remember among my several failures, I did take a, a position as a chief operating officer in a young company that I won’t name, but it was a young company where the board wanted to take the company public, felt that perhaps they needed a different CEO, someone other than the founder, and wanted to cultivate that person, which all makes good sense and open this position for a chief operating officer, which ended up being me. So, I took that role and very quickly learned that I should have asked more questions.
Brad Kearns: Was this your first chief role that was so exciting that you had this chance, so you jumped at it?
Martin Brauns: That’s right. I was thrilled to get my first Chief Operating Officer.
Brad Kearns: Beware of being thrilled with a job offer peeps.
Martin Brauns: No, but do be thorough in your questions. So, yeah, it was a chance to become a CEO in a very promising company, but the onramp was going to be as Chief Operating Officer. And I had skills in that area and this was a company where my sales and marketing background was probably appropriate and so forth. But what I didn’t really understand is that this whole transition to bring in a new CEO was the board’s idea. The founder himself didn’t actually agree. So, the struggle ensued almost immediately. I came on board as chief operating officer, but the founder, CEO, really was not on board with the whole notion of a transition. So, I got into the middle of that and very quickly we decided not to work together.
Brad Kearns: Well, congratulations. I mean, this is a pattern that happens in relationships and all kinds of areas of life where you don’t extricate yourself for whatever reason. In this case, this is a big deal and a big job, but you were able to bail quickly.
Martin Brauns: Well, yeah, but in hindsight, again, taking personal accountability for that particular failure, I didn’t ask all the right questions up front. And really, it came down to whether this man really had the intent of turning over the CEO role, and it just wasn’t what he wanted to do. And he had been the full dialogue at the board level about what they wanted to do, right? They had kind of hoped that this would all innocently and happily work out, and then I’d be promoted to CEO and everyone would agree, but it hadn’t been fully baked at the board level and I wasn’t asking the right questions in that case.
Brad Kearns: Okay, so now, you’re often running from this experience, richer for it, a wiser, more trepidations, whatever.
Martin Brauns: Richer in experience, anyway.
Brad Kearns: All the other parts are not going to happen. But then, I love to tell that wonderful starting point story of how Interwoven got going because it did turn out to be a huge success. But it sounds like you applied a lot of that life experience to make a great fit this time around.
Martin Brauns: Well, the Interwoven thing was a great story and for those that don’t remember it, it was sort of the – not the beginning of the internet or the web, but it was a juncture in the development of the Internet. We’re talking the late 1990’s here, so some time ago, right?
The web was booming and growing and e-commerce was on fire. Amazon had started. This was the early days of the very big internet boom, but there was some missing pieces there, in terms of infrastructure. And one of the many things that was missing in those early days of the web was a proper, what we initially called a content management system. Sort of a infrastructure software for the building and maintenance and upkeep and archival of websites. How do you get 20 colleagues to collaborate together and put up a website and put up pricing and put up data sheets and put out press releases on the Internet, and still have a process and approval routing and what’s called workflow for getting that done in a way that isn’t chaos? Right?
How do you do that? What are the bones and what is the infrastructure for hanging together and cobbling together one of these big, maybe even multilanguage websites, right? Spanish, English, French, simultaneously content launched across all the world. That is a big job and infrastructure is needed for that. And that’s what Interwoven did we. We sort of invented that category and were the early and clear leader in that space.
Brad Kearns: So, this is like back end software that you don’t see when you’re the user of Southwest Airlines and you’re just trying to book a flight?
Martin Brauns: That’s right.
Brad Kearns: But behind the scenes, someone is updating the departure times and then working on that big project and then boom, pushing it live. That’s where you don’t want the chaos.
Martin Brauns: That’s right. And that kind of software is in use today. So, yes, everyone that is consuming a website today, somewhere behind that experience is a web content management system of some sort. And if it’s a small business, maybe one person is involved in putting in their content, but in these larger corporations, it is hundreds of white collar, typically white collar knowledge workers who are inputting content, marketing content, product content, pricing content, press release information. Public companies are putting earnings information out and other very important sorts of disclosures are made on websites nowadays. And that all happens in a content management system.
So, anyway, in the late 90’s, those didn’t exist. And Interwoven, was not founded by me. I want to be very, very clear. It was founded by a brilliant man who is a dear friend to this day by the name of Peng Ong. And Peng is living back in Singapore now. But he was the founder of the business and did a great job with the early architecture of the software. And when I met the company, it had been around for about three years, hadn’t shipped any product-
Brad Kearns: Three years? Wow.
Martin Brauns: Well it takes time to develop this software.
Brad Kearns: So, the company wasn’t even close to selling a product.
Martin Brauns: Were very close, very close. The product was late.
Brad Kearns: I mean, for the first three years, it was just development.
Martin Brauns: Development, and iterations with early customers, right? Dialogue with customers you think you want to target about how should it work? How should it feel? How should it look? “Hey, we mocked this up, would you take a look at it? Is this what you had in mind?” So, that’s the product development process. And ideally, it goes a little faster than three years, but it did in this case take about three years for them to get to a stage where they had, let’s call it a 1.0, version 1.0 of the product. And that’s when I got introduced to the company and had a bunch of meetings and dialogue with the team, and then with potential investors as well and so forth.
Brad Kearns: And there was some wheeling and dealing going on with the money coming in if Martin Brauns would join or something to that effect, right?
Martin Brauns: No, that’s not accurate. So, yeah, what needs to be said is this was a high potential company that had some challenges. The product was late, not entirely finished. They hadn’t had any revenue yet. They were running out of money, honestly. There were, however, and one in particular, my dear friend now deceased, Kathryn Gould was the founding partner of a venture capital firm, very successful venture capital firm called Foundation Capital. And she was one of the founding partners there and had been tracking this little company Interwoven and actually for some years. She got it about the need for this kind of web infrastructure. She liked enough about the team. She liked Peng Ong immensely, but she was reluctant to invest for a bunch of reasons.
One of which was there was no professional CEO in the business. So, that’s sort of when I got introduced to the company. They had started a search for a CEO and an old mentor and friend of mine from the search business had suggested that I ought to go in and see them. So, that’s how I met Peng and Kathryn in the very early days of Interwoven.
Brad Kearns: So, this tracking is that commonplace where they’re just watching these little guys operate and see if they can shine a little bit?
Martin Brauns: Good VCs do that. They meet regularly with companies that they’re interested in. They haven’t put any money down yet, but they’re tracking and they’re sort of seeing how well the company executes on the milestones they’ve talked about, and they are watching to see how the first customer implementations or two or three go. You bet. Good VCs like Kathryn do that level of, should we say kissing a frog, right? They’re going up and down Silicon Valley meeting young, often very raw, very fragile young startups and talking with these founders about what they’re doing and why and tracking them.
Brad Kearns: Well, somebody must have been putting in money from the start unless it was out of Peng’s pocket or something.
Martin Brauns: It was Peng, friends and family. Some very, very small investments. There was an early, early seed investment from an iconic firm called Draper Fisher Jurvetson. They had made a very small investment to get them going, to fund some of the early development. So, there had been a little bit of money put in, in a seed round. But it was now time to raise millions, and that wasn’t going to happen unless the company got a professional CEO that gave comfort to the investors.
Brad Kearns: So, that early seed money, are these the things that pay off to the tune of 500 times because they are taking a little bit of a chunk even though they’re giving them 100 grand or something?
Martin Brauns: Well, that’s right. That’s right. I mean, but that seed round venture capital, that’s a brave business because the odds of success are low. I mean, a lot of these seed investments get written off.
Brad Kearns: I mean, Sisson talks about this. Where he’s giving out a token to 10 companies knowing that he’ll probably fail on nine of those and it’ll eat the entire investment.
Martin Brauns: But I think it’s a little different from that. It’s not really one in 10, it’s probably more like one in 100.
Brad Kearns: So, basically we’re reading about the success stories and the Zillionaires that started and invested $10,000 in Facebook and now it’s this. So, we’re talking about a huge failure rate.
Martin Brauns: The failure rate is huge and it’s under publicized, right? Because we glamorize all these successes. But yeah, there are lots and lots, hundreds of startups that attract two or three employees. They develop some product and end up for good reasons not going forward, because the idea was bad. There is already competition there. Some larger player adds that functionality to their suite. And so, now the idea is moot. These businesses fail for all sorts of mundane and sometimes dramatic reasons. But yeah, the failures don’t get publicized enough, the failure rate is high.
Brad Kearns: So this startup, the term itself is romanticized. We’ve got the TV shows on Netflix and then the success stories of the Zillionaires that started in the dorm room doing the book face or whatever the initial name was. But to hear that level of failure is kind of surprising because you think these are the geniuses that are working in their garage day and night to build software.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, those are very rare. They should be celebrated, good for them. But there are lots and lots of failures there. And I think one of the things that especially younger people need to keep in mind, I see too often people coming right out of college and then rolling into a startup because they’re entrepreneurial, they have that urge and they go from startup to startup to startup.
Brad Kearns: Well, plus, if you’re trying to pick up chicks and you say, “I work for a startup,” you’re … I mean, what else can you say? “Oh, I’m working for Cisco right now. I’m in the warehouse.” No way, man. I’m working a startup. “Well, this guy is working a startup, hey, okay.”
Martin Brauns: Well, it’s glamorized. But again, people ought to bear in mind this high failure rate, and when I mentor younger professionals, I encourage them to consider not going right to a startup out of school. Instead, go to what we used to call a finishing school company. Go to a larger – it doesn’t have to be a mega corporation. I’m not suggesting IBM or General Motors or anything like that. But go to a larger, maybe it’s a mid-stage company or an already public company, one where there are thousands of employees and hundreds of executives. Where a young person can come in and get some mentorship and work under a vice president or a director who’s got 10 or 20 years’ experience and really do what I call a finishing school. Get their first product plan written and shot down by savvy, experienced colleagues.
Brad Kearns: Instead of your first product planner gets high fives all around with the other four guys that you’re starting up-
Martin Brauns: That’s right. The four knuckleheads who’re also 22-years-old and have never seen one before, might not be the best audience.
Brad Kearns: “Dude, this rocks. Great business plan.”
Martin Brauns: For instance, for instance. So, go somewhere where there are established processes and successes and failures and a locker room full of seasoned executives that can mentor and help you. Maybe don’t stay there forever. Don’t do your whole life in a large corporation. If you have these entrepreneurial urges, absolutely go pursue them, but get some more equipment first. Get some more experience, get a little more seasoning first and study at the knee of an experienced savvy vice president, let’s say, have a function where you can learn a thing or two and get the experience of presenting to the executive staff, maybe. Get the experience of making a boardroom presentation, but in a more structured, more mature environment where you can get some nurturing.
Brad Kearns: Real board members, not like grandma’s bridge partner, all that stuff.
Martin Brauns: Exactly.
Brad Kearns: So, the Interwoven story survive that grassroots state going for three years. They have a viable product maybe, and they’re running out of money. So, they’re kind of jumping to the next step in the journey to successful IPO, let’s say. And that is the round of funding. What do you call that?
Martin Brauns: Well, the round of funding, we needed and I think this is correct. I’d have to check my notes. But I think it was series B. I think our first round of funding before my joining the company was this small seed round. I think that was the series A, the first formal round of funding – very small. And I think we were looking to raise six or seven million with the series B if I recall correctly. And that was where I got involved with the company and Kathryn Gould at foundation capital and I agreed sort of to leap in together. And it was a great … I still remember the lunch meeting. It was a little bit right out of Central Casting as it happens.
Brad Kearns: For both of you, you mean?
Martin Brauns: For both of us. Yeah. It was the classic cocktail napkin story. We hear about this. I can tell you the name of the restaurant. We were sitting at lunch, at a little Italian place and she said, “Well, look, I’ll invest in this thing. I’ll lead the round but only if you join as CEO.” And I said, “Well, I’ll join as CEO but only if you lead the round. What’s the round going to look like?” And we got out a cocktail napkin and we sketched the outline of the financial terms for the funding round. And so, I leaped in, she leaped in. We got XL partners and other iconic venture capital firm involved in the round. I think we got Roger McNamee at Integral Capital involved in the round.
So, we filled out the round with some other investors and got the thing funded. I joined the company. We started growing the thing and a year and a half later, we took it public.
Brad Kearns: A year and a half?
Martin Brauns: A year and a half later we took it public.
Brad Kearns: That’s a race course, huh?
Martin Brauns: So, yeah, I joined in early ‘98 and by October, I think October of ’99, we took it public.
Brad Kearns: Is that a pretty fast track? Is that normal for that dot-com time?
Martin Brauns: I think that’s some sort of a speed record I would think. And I’m not suggesting that other companies try to set that sort of a pace. That was a more permissive time. Younger, smaller companies were going public in the late ‘90s that wouldn’t even be conceivable today. But we did, we went public in 1999. We grew very rapidly. At one point in time, we were the fastest growing publicly traded company in that particular year. The IPO itself I think was the number three best performing IPO of the year 1999.
So, we had some successes. The company grew very, very rapidly and well. I think at one point, our market capitalization was $6 billion or something like that. And then the Internet bubble burst. Interwoven was immune from some of the early shock waves of the Internet bubble burst thing, but we too had trouble. And IT spending – IT meaning the information technology spending budgets of all of our customers and potential customers, more importantly, were cut, cut, cut, cut.
Not only because of the Internet bubble implosion, but we also had September 11th, right around that time, and that was a big shock factor too, to corporate spending. And so, both of those whammies were difficult even for Interwoven. And we had a lot of hard work ahead of us and had to do painful layoffs and restructure the business and we went on to make a series of acquisitions that helped transform the product portfolio. And that’s really when the real work started.
Brad Kearns: Oh, mercy. I mean the real work must have started when you jumped on board with, what was it? A handful of employees and then how did that adding of the headcount go? I remember it was just frenzied, like there was no office space and you were coming up to the all hands meeting, people sharing three to a cube and saying, “I’m looking at a lease. I promise we’re about to get a building.” It was just crazy times.
Martin Brauns: It was crazy times. I came on board as employee number 28, and I think a year later we were up to 150 people and growing very rapidly. There were some weeks Brad, and you remember this, you were part of that period where we were adding 10 people a week sometimes just to try to keep up with the demand and the growth and the international scale out of the business. So yeah, there was some heady growth times and in hindsight, probably some sloppiness. The lack of process, lack of structure, headlong growth with mistakes involved for sure.
Brad Kearns: Oh, I imagine you absolutely knew that and were knowing that 10% of your hires were going to be a burst or whatever, but just it seemed like that race was always in the background. Like we have to hurry, hurry and can’t be-
Martin Brauns: That’s right. The high sense of urgency and the market was buoyant and we were capitalizing on it. And then of course, as I said, after the Internet bubble burst and there was real work to do. And some of the sloppiness that had perhaps crept in during the heady growth times, we had to clean all that up and get discipline and put process in and yes, cut very good colleagues. These were good people making real contributions, but we just didn’t have the revenue anymore to support the headcount.
So, sadly we had to let lots of very good talented people go in those days, and really lean the business out again and build it up from there. And as I recall it, we got the business turned around very, very well and delivered, I forget now, 12 or 14 successive revenue and profit growth quarters and then I retired.
Brad Kearns: So, before we get into the retirement, which is, there’s some fun stuff to talk about there. This sounds like you had completely disparate skills that were called upon. And when we were in that growth phase, I remember some of the greatest attributes you had, is you were so positive and optimistic and enthusiastic and an open and engaging with people. And it was just a great fun place to work. And you were leading that vibe of like, “Hey, let’s make this a happy, healthy workplace,” and work life balance was always talked about.
Then you kind of had this, I guess a transition in your leadership duties, where it was time to really get into these numbers and let good people go and maybe toughen up in your engagements with whoever the investors. I mean, how did that go from calling upon, it seemed like, “What are you going to do today, Martin? Oh, fire some people are hire some people?” It seemed like an incredible juxtaposition there.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, you’re sketching it as if it was a complete pivot and I wouldn’t agree with that. Yes, we stressed work-life balance in those heady, let’s call it, the pre-Internet bubble implosion. We stressed those things, but we stressed those things after too. So, I don’t think it was a 180-degree shift. But yeah, we had to really get leaner and meaner and reinvent the business in a lot of ways. So, we had to change a lot. The product portfolio had to change, the sales processes had to change, the marketing had to change.
But the focus on work life balance, I don’t think changed. We didn’t throw that out. We kept that up. And we worked hard before the Internet bubble implosion to keep up with the growth, and we worked hard after to deal with the slowing in growth. And we dealt with it as best we could with the best information we had at the time. And even then, maybe we didn’t make perfect decisions all the time, but we moved quickly with the best data we had at the time to resize and readjust and pivot the business. And we did it, in hindsight, we did it well.
Brad Kearns: Wow, that’s a great recurring theme going that you’re working hard to grow and then you’re working hard to optimize.
Martin Brauns: Shrink and regrow. Shrink and regrow, yes indeed.
Brad Kearns: And the work-life balance, since I was there and part of it and that was my job, it was the real deal. Where coming from the top, it’s so important. And we have that Arianna Huffington example that’s bantered about now with their sleep book where she’s really big on taking naps and prioritizing sleep. And so, she would leave her curtains open in the office at Huffington post, the glass walls of her office with a “Do not disturb” sign on the door, so people could walk by and see her crashed out for her afternoon nap and spreading that message that it was okay and in fact, encouraged in the workplace if the leader’s doing it.
And what was great was seeing you training for the triathlons and doing these fitness endeavors, and then having me come in there and train all willing employees to do the same thing and go participate in the triathlon that Interwoven sponsored or getting into the healthy food. And we had the healthy foods delivered and all that great stuff. And I think it really did have an impact. I’m just wondering, it doesn’t seem to have caught on, like on a large scale across corporate America yet, even though the payoff seems to be obvious.
Martin Brauns: Well, Brad, I think the payoff is obvious. And if you wanted to approach it in a financial payback sense, there’s good math behind the fact that a healthy workforce is a more productive workforce and ultimately maybe even insurance costs and healthcare costs can be reduced if you have a nonsmoking fit healthy workforce. There’s no question about that, and I think there’s good data out there on that.
But I think one of the points you make when you mentioned Arianna Huffington, and we’ll just broaden it to leaders in general, leaders and let’s say maybe aspiring leaders who are listening to this broadcast need to remember how important setting an example is in shaping the culture.
So, I never thought of the take a nap during the workday idea. That never occurred to me and it’s not something I ever did. But yeah, I was the kind of CEO who would go down later when we had proper facilities with showers and lockers and so forth, I would go down and go for a run at lunch. And all employees would (not all the employees), but mainly the employees would see me do that. And word would spread, “Hey, the boss is out going for a 45-minute jog at lunch.”
Then I would eat at my desk afterward and keep working, but it made it okay for other people to go out for a run at lunch or whatnot. And I remember I used to regularly, when I didn’t have outside meetings, I would regularly bicycle to work and folks would see that, and others emulated it. So, yeah, the leader, whether it’s Arianna Huffington with her naps or whatever it is, leaders need to be aware that they’re modeling behavior good and bad, good and bad.
So, bad practices, the leader is caught or seen doing become okay and condoned. And so, it’s just something to be very, very mindful of as a leader or aspiring leader.
Brad Kearns: What also seems to be okay or even romanticized today is this work ethic to the point of exhaustion. And to me, I questioned how this whole thing became part of culture where, I mean, we know in the endurance athletes scene … McNaughton gave this great quote on one of the Primal Endurance Podcasts. He says, “Endurance athletes are not satisfied with their training until they’ve trained to exhaustion.” And it’s spot on, where we don’t think that we’re progressing or we’re achieving our objectives until we’re fried, and get to that point.
And in the workplace, even during the heyday of Interwoven’s work-life balance and all these fun things that I do at lunchtime, like the breathing and stretching ritual, you had people that were getting in there at 9:00 AM and leaving at 2:00 AM and had no work-life balance whatsoever. And in a lot of ways, in a broader sense, this is celebrated.
Martin Brauns: Well, I think the athlete analogy is a pretty good one, Brad. And you were a vastly, vastly better athlete than I ever was, but we both know it’s about pacing. Right? And I would encourage people on the corporate side to bear in mind that this isn’t a sprint, it’s not even a half marathon.
Brad Kearns: You said that during dot-com time when we were growing as the fastest software growing company, that it isn’t a sprint. So, if it’s not a sprint then-
Martin Brauns: It’s not a sprint. For building the proper company for the long term, that should survive for 30, 40 years or longer, right? If that’s what we’re doing-
Brad Kearns: Same with the career, right?
Martin Brauns: And yes, you’re playing your career for … sadly, you’re not going to retire at age 30 or whatnot. You are probably going to have a 30 or 40-year career. And so, plan accordingly, which comes back maybe to some of the early career moves about not trying to knock the ball out of the park in your very first job, right? Build your career methodically, go to the finishing school company, pick up some extra skills. So, yeah, pacing is a good thought for not only career planning, but in the context we were … on the point we were just on about burnout. You’ve got to bear in mind too, you’re building a company here and it’s a 10, 20, 30-year process and you’re going to need to pace yourself accordingly.
Throwing in three 15-hour days in succession, maybe needed from time to time. But doing that chronically and repeatedly, it’s not sustainable. It’s not sustainable. So, yes, you have to have some work-life balance. And I am okay with employees not responding to email at 11 at night or one in the morning. I am okay with that. And I am okay with employees, for the most part, I mean if you got a critical financing under way or it’s the end of quarter and a major deal needs to get closed, then yes, you work weekends too.
But in general, I’m okay with employees not being online on weekends. That’s family time. And so, for the most part, those norms need to be respected and instilled by the leader. Again, back to the leader modeling the behavior. If the CEO is sending emails on a Sunday morning and expecting answers by Sunday afternoon, then he sets a behavior norm there and he sets a tone that has consequences, may have consequences.
Brad Kearns: Jack Welch’s book – I’m sorry to pick on him, but it was an unforgettable paragraph where he was talking about how he was totally focused on his career and was expected, and he’d show up in the office on weekends, and so everyone under him, he drove that expectation. And he said there was a lot of consequences. And then the next sentence was, “For instance, my children.” So, his children were, for instance, not my children at the start of the sentence. But, “For instance, my children. I didn’t really get to be a dad, someone else handled that.” And it was like, wow, it’s out there.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, and in hindsight, I’m sure Jack Welch perhaps regretted some of those choices. But you just got to be mindful about what tone are you setting, what example are you setting, and is it really what you want? Is it the norm of behavior that you want in the business.
Brad Kearns: And what I want to get deeper with you, it’s like you did pace yourself, you did put a high priority on your health, your fitness, your healthy eating, your sleep, all those things. Subject to some of those road trips where you were coming back pretty beat up from whatever the repeated meetings with investors or these stages of your career that were pretty tough.
Martin Brauns: True, true. There’re peak periods where you do put in the all-nighter or the 15-hour days and it wasn’t just me. The rest of the team … it was a team effort. It was absolutely a high performance team that we had there. And I remember crunch times when we had engineers pulling all-nighters and sleeping … we had a, let’s say I remember one example where we had let a key customer down and there was a bug in the software that was causing serious issues from one of our important clients. Our engineers slept under their desks to get that fixed within – I think we turned around the major fix in 48 hours, which was a Herculean effort.
So, it wasn’t just me. It was everyone in the company was, when needed, doing whatever it took.
Brad Kearns: A huge difference from the chronic pattern. Not overworking.
Martin Brauns: You can’t sustain that, you can’t sustain that.
Brad Kearns: The other thing I’ll speculate is that if you were doing that because of whatever it is, lack of personal discipline to balance your life, I’m going to speculate that you’re going to be being less productive, less effective.
Martin Brauns: Well, you’re making a great point, Brad. You got to be a little suspicious of that kind of heroism. I don’t know if you remember the little chat I used to give about quadrant two. It was actually, I think the author Stephen Covey initially coined this. But the notion of being aware of what’s urgent and important, but maybe what’s important and not yet urgent.
So, it’s important when you’re building a corporate culture or just managing a team. Celebrating heroism is done a lot, right? And it is in the American culture, and the American corporate culture, it’s celebrated. The sales guy that brings in the multimillion dollar deal on the stroke of midnight, on the last day of the quarter, he is celebrated. And rightly so, he did something material and maybe critical for the company, right? Or the software engineer that sleeps under his desk and gets that last important line of code done. That’s great.
But I think it’s important to celebrate people who plan appropriately and get their work done in a paste and measured way. Maybe that code gets written over a period of weeks.
Brad Kearns: Yeah, how did that bug happen in the first place? Was it a sloppy 2 AM-? Maybe not.
Martin Brauns: I would assert the quality of the work in the software or in the writing or whatever the work product happens to be, the quality of the output is going to be vastly better if it’s something that’s worked on. And we all know this even from school, right? The term paper you’re writing will be vastly better if you spend two weeks working on it, researching it in a measured and paced way. It’ll be vastly better than the term paper you write burning the midnight oil in a six-hour crunch the night before it’s due, right? And so, it is with the work world, right?
So, I think it’s great to celebrate heroes, is my point. That’s good. Celebrate heroes in the corporate world, but look for and watch for the folks that get the results done, but through non-heroic, well-planned paste and measured thoughtful work, right? So, I was always on the lookout for the kind of people that got the stuff done, got the great big sales deal in, and got it in way before end of quarter, way before deadline. Celebrate those people.
Brad Kearns: Love it. Alright. Another thing that I wanted to mention about the culture, because you had so many of these great tidbits that you implemented into everyone’s behavior patterns. One of them was the communication thing that stayed with me since the day you, sort of the PowerPoint slide. But also the way you delivered it, is to say – you use that leadership card once in a while where mostly you’re the engaging guy who knows if he’s the receptionist or the CEO wandering around the halls and going for a run and just being part of the team, and stressing that egalitarian workplace environment where everyone’s doors open and it goes both ways.
Then the other thing you put up there was like, this is how we’re going to operate at this company. No exceptions. And it was email was for exchange of facts only. Telephone was for exchange of opinions or something that required some nuance. And then in person was anything that was potentially contentious or needed to be hashed out.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, well, thanks for remembering. I think you’ve got it roughly right. What is forgotten, and it’s almost hilarious when you see, oh, this massive email volleys that people write-
Brad Kearns: In personal life and in professional life.
Martin Brauns: In every aspect.
Brad Kearns: How about slamming people on Twitter and all that stuff.
Martin Brauns: Exactly, yeah. And I would see it, in the corporate world, I would see these massive email volleys with 20 people copied and then the copying escalates. Now vice presidents are copied and that sort of thing. And these people are working feet or cubicles from one another and could very easily just call a quick meeting, call a quick huddle and deal with the issue.
So, yeah, we were good at being crisp about what is the appropriate communications medium and there is no substitute, no substitute for an in-person direct chat or maybe a meeting. And we had our – if you recall our rules about how meetings have agendas and how well they should be managed. But there’s nothing better than a personal meeting. If you can’t do that, pick up the phone and have a direct … even if it’s just the phone, it’s a richer interchange. You can hear the tonal inflection, you can hear the small chuckle, you can get a lot more nuance across on the phone if you can’t get together person to person. And email is really a last resort item.
We’ve all experienced it. Everybody on your broadcast knows this. We’ve all done it. No matter how many little smiley face emoticons you might put in or whatnot, people construe an email or the written word in the wrong way. Take it the wrong way, misinterpret, then they volley back and then it escalates and … just nip that stuff in the bud. Nip it in the bud and get out of your chair or pick up the phone and interact with that person, or call a meeting if it’s more complicated than multiple.
So yeah, we were big on that and the companies I’m involved with these days, I try to instill that as well, and I think it’s the way to go. Avoid, especially as you said, especially on contentious items, do not use email, do not.
Brad Kearns: So, that insight about the communication tiers was from this thing called Interwoven core values. That was part of your presentation that came up. And there was some fun stuff in there too and the little graphics and one of them was about stabbing in the back or getting punched in the face. What was that?
Martin Brauns: It’s funny that you remember that Brad. It was kind of a provocative slide, I recall it now. It was something to do with why getting punched in the face is preferable, right? And that was sort of a deliberate kind of a provocative thing to say. And so, why is getting punched in the face better? Or why is it good? It’s better to get punched in the face than it is to get stabbed in the back. And the reason I talked about that or talked about in the net provocative ways, I wanted to make clear that our company, Interwoven in this case, that our company valued open, honest and direct communications, right?
So, at the company, you might get some feedback that felt like it was never actually physical, but it might feel like a punch in the face or a sock in the gut. It might really hurt to get some direct, critical, hopefully respectful but unvarnished and maybe biting kind of criticism about something that was late or not done correctly or had some shortcomings. Direct feedback – that may actually feel painful. That’s vastly preferred to getting stabbed in the back, and hearing second hand from somebody’s friend that, “Oh, Fred was unhappy with Brad’s work on such and such project,” and you hear it around the water cooler, secondhand, thirdhand – that I call backstabbing. And that’s not allowed. That’s not permitted. That is a serious no-no in our corporate culture.
What is allowed and encouraged, in fact, is direct, open, honest, respectful feedback. So, be prepared for that. That was sort of the point of that whole slide, was be prepared for and you know, to the extent you can welcome and embrace this direct feedback because it’s vastly preferable to a stab in the back or a surprise termination or whatever else it might be, right? So, that is why a punch in the face or a sock in the gut may in fact be, is in fact, preferable to a stab in the back.
Brad Kearns: Wow, it seems like the other choice is more frequent still. There’s more stabbing in the back going on in life and in-
Martin Brauns: Right, and we all have to work together and we have to work with our colleagues to rub that out and to be direct, be respectful. If you have to give somebody some hard feedback, you’d do it in private, you’d probably do it behind closed doors. You do it in a measurable, respectful way. And it’s about the business, it’s about the business performance metric that we’re worried about or the customer that we’re worried about. It ought to be about the business and making the business better.
It should never be personal. It’s not about you Brad, you screwed up this particular aspect. But here’s what we could have done, might have done, should’ve done better for the customer, and make it about the business, make it direct, make it respectful, and deliver it frontally. Deliver it frontally rather than via backstabbing or gossip or rumor or secondhand.
Brad Kearns: So, I imagine you’re working with people that have come from all over the place in different workplace environments, and if you engage in that manner four times in a row, I imagine they’re going to start to get into that groove and be comfortable with this new approach, away from backstabbing and into this world of open, honest, direct communication.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, and gosh, I mean not to veer into politics, but in today’s day and age, this sort of leads us also into civility, maybe, right? So, I do think it can and should be open, honest and direct, but it absolutely has to be civil and it has to be respectful, and it ought to be rooted in making the business better. So, that ought to be the jumping off point for any sort of constructive direct feedback. “Here’s what we’re trying to do for the business. We all agreed we were going to take care of this customer. This didn’t go particularly well. I think these are the three things we could have tightened up here.” Be Direct and respectful and civil, right? And again, never backstabbing.
Brad Kearns: If you want Martin Brauns to come lecture at your company, I’m sorry, he’s not available, but you can play this podcast for your boss and send it anonymously through our special app.
So, we’re getting now toward your retirement. You’ve been working hard on this podcast too. I know we’ve been taking up your valuable time. But so, when that day came and it was sort of a nice story of you rose up your journey, you brought this company to public offering and then you were literally sailing off into the sunset. But then the story took a few twists and turns. But tell us about that first. You got into sailing right after you left, right?
Martin Brauns: No.
Brad Kearns: That was before?
Martin Brauns: Yeah. No, I’d been a lifelong sailor.
Brad Kearns: I mean, you got into the big … I remember you were obsessed with this boat and this big race and you were launching into another peak performance ambition right away from … and I think I’m asking the question cause feel like we dream of the life of leisure, right? And then the people who are exposed to it realize that they’re irrelevant, missing that sense of community that they got in their career or whatever they were doing. The athletes that I’ve been around, we had a difficult time transitioning into real life because what we were doing was so compelling and intense and all of a sudden, like I’m going to go sit in a cube and type addresses to send a newsletter to. It was a big transition. So, I’m wondering how that transition went for you in all ways,
Martin Brauns: Brad, the sailing thing may actually be in hindsight, may actually be something I didn’t get quite right. And here’s what I mean by that. We talked earlier about climbing the ladder and always striving for the next position, the next assignment. And that was so much of my makeup, probably still is so much of my makeup. I’ve learned now though to exercise that impulse more thoughtfully and more judiciously. Because what ended up happening was sailing for me, has actually ruined my hobby.
So, I had been a lifelong sailor. When I was in college … I don’t know if this is still the case or not, but when I went to college, you actually still had to take PE classes. I don’t know if that’s done anymore. But you had to do some number of credits, I think 10 credits in physical education. And I’d been a semi-decent athlete and was bored with the conventional stuff and I was figuring out how to fulfill my PE requirement in college. And I noticed they offered a sailing course. “Oh, that’s something I haven’t done. I’ll try that.”
So, very early, I mean I was 18 or 19-years-old in college. I learned how to sail in college, and it was a requirement to take the PE class. And I’m so glad I did because I got hooked on sailing. And in fact, as a young man, the first home I owned was a sailboat. Now that’s frowned upon. The harbors around the country are sort of cracking down on what’s called liveaboards. But as a young man, when I worked in San Francisco, I lived on my sailboat in San Francisco and it was a great, great lifestyle.
So, I had a, from a sort of early adulthood on, I had a passion for sailing, but I think I kept escalating. I kept escalating.
Brad Kearns: Imagine that, the guy who’s raising up the corporate ladder kept up the ante, man.
Martin Brauns: So, I kept buying larger and faster boats, large and faster boats.
Brad Kearns: This is during your career?
Martin Brauns: During my career.
Brad Kearns: You’re a weekend enthusiast all along.
Martin Brauns: I was very committed as we discussed, very committed to my career and working hard. But I did have this hobby that was first, just sailing, sailing with friends, sailing with my girlfriend, later wife. And that lead though to yacht racing, which is a whole different thing and a perfect way to ruin a nice hobby.
So, I did start racing competitively and bought bigger and faster boats, bigger and faster boats, bigger and faster boats. And in the end, one day, there I was on my 53-foot ocean racing sloop looking around the deck, realizing that half the guys on my boat were professionals that I had hired, and my wife was nowhere to be seen. She hadn’t gone sailing with me and over a year because the boat was too high, strong, there was too much shouting and yelling and action and drama and injuries. And we were competing at the highest amateur level. We won the St Francis Yacht Club Big Boat series multiple years in a row. In 2004, I raced in the Pacific Cup from San Francisco to Hawaii and we won not only our class, but we won the race overall.
Brad Kearns: How many days did that take?
Martin Brauns: If I recall, I could look it up for you, but I think that was an eight-day transit from San Francisco to Hawaii. If I remember, eight days, some hours and some minutes. But we won that race and we beat the second place boat by eight hours, which is a massive margin of victory in long distance yacht racing.
So, we did well, but finally I paused and I looked up and I thought, “I have ruined my hobby. This is now a corporation with a big expense and a professional boat manager and professional crew.” And I realized I wasn’t having fun anymore. Just the pure simple joy-
Brad Kearns: What was the boat you had at the San Jose State PE class that-
Martin Brauns: It was a small dinghy I won. I think it was a boat called an FJ-Flying Junior, if I remember it. Just a small one person dinghy.
Brad Kearns: That was the name of your championship yatch, wasn’t it? The Flying Junior? Oh no, I’m sorry.
Martin Brauns: No, no, no, no, no. But anyways, so I guess my point to your listeners might be striving is good. Climbing the ladder is good. Just be really thoughtful about how you’re escalating. Are you escalating up the right ladders and in the right ways, and is it really fulfilling. I mean, it’s not going to be fulfilling all the time at every moment. There will be frustrations, there will be setbacks, but are you really-
Brad Kearns: Are you really getting over yourself?
Martin Brauns: Are you getting over yourself? Are you doing it with intent? Are you being thoughtful about all these ladders that you’re climbing?
Brad Kearns: Because we have these impure influences around. I mean, if you’re going to go win the lower level race over and over, someone’s going to say, “Hey Martin, aren’t you going to go into the class A boating? You should get a big old boat.”
Martin Brauns: Exactly. And is it someone else’s idea? Is it some cultural pressure or societal pressure or the guys at the yacht club that frankly may have a selfish agenda? They may want to sail on a boat like that, so they’re encouraging you to get one, right? Or whatever it may be, make sure you check your own intentions on whatever goals you set for yourself and whatever ladders you’re going to be busily climbing. Be thoughtful about it.
So, for me, sailing was a pretty good character development lesson, when I looked around one day and realized I had ruined a perfectly good hobby.
Brad Kearns: Did you really have an epiphany one day?
Martin Brauns: I did, and I sold the boat the next week. I sold the boat the next week.
Brad Kearns: Was it during the race to Hawaii or was it just a routine?
Martin Brauns: No, it was one of the smaller regattas in San Francisco Bay.
Brad Kearns: Did you win the thing? Of course. He’s coming into Harper with a for sale – he wrote on ink on his mast.
Martin Brauns: I remembered why I started the hobby and just the pure simple joy of moving a boat through the water on wind energy alone and spending time with friends. Those are the things that I enjoyed about it. And I had corrupted it slowly, a bit like boiling a frog, right? But one day I did take notice of where I had arrived and I though, “Is this really what I want to do anymore?” And I gave it up immediately and took up some other hobbies after.
Brad Kearns: Oh, so the next you got into auto racing.
Martin Brauns: I did.
Brad Kearns: And did that differently because of your sailing experience. Were you coming in with a little more casual, fun loving approach or how did that go?
Martin Brauns: Well-
Brad Kearns: Actually I shouldn’t word it that way, because you’re behind the wheel of a powerful machine and I’m the first one to say that having these intense competitive goals and this amazing passion to do something and do it better is a really important part of life. But you have to balance that with that admonition to get over yourself, so you can still compete really hard and try to get better and do your video training and all that stuff. But we don’t want to go into that sailboat story again. So, that’s I think the challenge, the balance point to navigate.
Martin Brauns: That’s right. That’s right. And I’ve been not perfect about it, but I’ve been perhaps more thoughtful in pursuing the sports car racing as opposed to my all-in experience with the yatch racing. So, I’m racing Porsches, two different types. I’m still feeling out sort of whether I’m more a vintage racing guy. I have more classic early air cooled Porsches, or I also have one of the more modern cars. I’m thinking that through this year, and I’m going to be more thoughtful about how and sort of which series I pursue in the future. But I am enjoying the motor sports and it’s interesting in contrast to yacht racing.
Though I have a team, and I have a great team of mechanics and my air cooled car was built by a very great team. So, you have great support in these races. But when you’re out on track, it really is very pugilistic if that’s the right word. It’s very one on one. When you’re on the track, it’s just you and the other guy next to you in the corner, right? Very different from yacht racing where it is very much a team sport. My big sailboat was raced with 16 men on deck. Right? So, it’s very much a team sport.
Brad Kearns: And one woman at home.
Martin Brauns: Right, exactly, exactly. And in motor sports, it is very much more like boxing, pugilistic one-on-one. And I think I prefer that. I think I prefer that, because I spend a lot of time in team sports.
Brad Kearns: Right. I was just going to say, a lot of time in the team workplace.
Martin Brauns: In the corporate world is all team, right? And so, I quite like the one-on-one aspect of the motor sports, and I think I’ll stay with it. I’m figuring out right now what exact sort of series I want to run next year, and that’s to be determined.
Brad Kearns: But when you go away from the track, do you have that mindset developed where you’re able to let go and not let that competitive intensity takeover and spoil your enjoyment of the experience?
Martin Brauns: No Brad.
Brad Kearns: Are you stewing when you’re driving home?
Martin Brauns: I’m still competitive. The nice thing is in motor sports racing, it’s exhausting. When you’re driving home, you’re exhausted. You’re spent.
Brad Kearns: There’s a tremendous sense of satisfaction in itself that you were a participant and you used to get out there on the track.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, it’s a maximal effort mentally-
Brad Kearns: People don’t realize that about driving a car. Just thinking-
Martin Brauns: No, it’s probably … and I’ve done triathlons and all sorts of stuff.
Brad Kearns: You’ve done the Ultraman, the hardest triathlon on the planet.
Martin Brauns: Yeah, I’ve done some grueling things, but Porsche racing or car racing is intensely demanding psychically, physically, emotionally in every way. And cathartic too. So, yeah, when you’re driving home, you’re spent, you are spent. And I like that about it. And you certainly can’t be distracted behind the wheel. You are focused, you are very, very focused. And so, I find it rewarding. It’s bittersweet. There are bad days, days you crash the car. The days you don’t do well, days the car breaks down. So, there is that. But it makes the victories and the good duals on track that much more rewarding when they happen.
So, I’m going to stick with it. I’m finding it pretty satisfying and I’m just trying to figure out now sort of which of the many different cars you can run and race in, where is my niche. You have to weigh a little bit to the social aspect, which I’m starting to put more and more weight on. Which group of co-drivers do you most enjoy spending time with because it’s not just the racing. There’s a lot of time in what’s called the paddock, right? Sitting around the paddock or having a barbecue after the event. And so, which group of peer drivers do I have the most affinity with?
So, there’s a lot to weigh and I hope I’m being thoughtful about it. It’s something I’m going to be thinking about for the rest of this season, and then have a new plan for next season.
Brad Kearns: Martin Brauns, always with a new plan. Thank you so much for catching up. Fascinating story and good luck out there. Drive safely, right? On behalf of everyone listening. Take out your aggressions on the track, not on the road.
Martin Brauns: Indeed, indeed. Will do Brad. Will do. Thanks for coming over.
Brad Kearns: Thanks listeners.
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