How do you launch a suite of Mobile, Web, and Voice products from ideation to go live in 12 weeks?

Check out the blog post by Very, the product development partner I worked with in my previous job at Thrive Global to design, build and launch multiple Mobile, Web, and Voice-controlled products from ideation to go live in 12 weeks!

Thrive Global was created to end the stress epidemic. Founded by Arianna Huffington, the comprehensive platform tackles burnout — a widespread barrier to productivity and success. By delivering sustainable, science-based solutions, Thrive Global enhances wellbeing and performance, so that people can move from surviving to thriving.

My next chapter

This isn’t something I thought I’d be writing – if you read my recent piece on Thrive Journal, you’d know how excited I was to join Thrive Global. I’d long admired Arianna, and when we met it was immediately clear that we share so much: mission, values, a dedication to science-based approaches – along with a lot of common friends and even our foreign accents. And I wrote about the twist of fate – several twists, in fact, that it took to bring me to Thrive.

And now life has thrown me another twist, which is that I’ve just accepted a job as Chief Product & Technology Officer at The Wall Street Journal. It was an emotionally difficult decision – when I joined Thrive I felt then, and still do, that living my life by the Thrive principles and helping others do the same was my calling.

Working with the team at Thrive has been everything I thought it would be, and has only deepened my passion for the mission. And personally, it’s been especially rewarding working with Arianna. We hit it off right away and that’s only continued since. I’ve learned so much from her that I’ll take with me in my life ahead. Most of all, her incredible ability to connect warmly and authentically with everybody around her — not just about their work, but about their lives away from the office. You don’t just join the team, you become part of a family. And that’s why this was such an emotional decision.

But this role at The Wall Street Journal is no ordinary opportunity, and I certainly wouldn’t be leaving if it were. There were several considerations: this is a newly created position and represents the culmination of what I’ve been working towards my entire career. It’s also a chance to reunite with several former co-workers who have remained dear friends. In the end, after a lot of persuasion, and an opportunity too good to refuse, I decided to make the move.

I’m excited, but also sad to leave. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve built at Thrive Global. In three months we launched a media platform, a behavior change platform, an e-learning site, an e-commerce site and a number of specialty apps, including for Android, iOS, Amazon Alexa, and Chrome.

I am incredibly grateful not only for what I’ve learned but also for the friendships I’ve built and that I know will continue. And I’m especially grateful to Arianna for bringing me into Thrive and into her extended family. If I’ve learned one thing from this experience it’s that we never know what twists of fate the future may bring, but what I do know is that incorporating our Thrive principles into my daily life and my work at The Wall Street Journal will make both me and my colleagues healthier, happier and more productive.

Why I Joined Thrive Global

Sometimes in life, we reach a new starting line where we sense that everything we have experienced and done so far has been preparing us for this next step. When I met Arianna Huffington and we talked about her new venture, Thrive Global, I immediately knew I wanted Thrive to be the next chapter in my life. Before I tell you why, let me give you some background.

Background

I have had the honor to work as a CTO at great companies with exceptionally talented and effective people including some of the best software developers in the world.

Since I left The New York Times, I’ve been through a learning journey in my professional and personal life. I joined a promising startup full-time pledging 20% of my equity to charity. When the venture funding I had hoped for didn’t materialize, I transitioned to an advisory role and continue to root for their success. I co-founded a consulting business which led to a client asking me to join full-time to build their team in New York City. In a twist of fate, soon after I joined and hired some exceptional talent, the company had a change in ownership and asked us all to move to Los Angeles. While the relocation offer was compelling, I couldn’t bear the thought of being so far away from Fitz Raj, my 4-year-old son. My (now former) wife Julie and I had recently separated. If you think persuading your spouse to move the family across the country is hard, imagine trying to convince your ex-spouse. Yes, I tried because LA offers great opportunities in her line of work. No, she politely declined.

If you think persuading your spouse to move the family across the country is hard, imagine trying to convince your ex-spouse.

So, I decided to return to my consulting practice in NYC. While I was consulting, two well-known, highly-respected companies asked me to join them full-time. While I was mulling over whether to join one of them as CTO & chief product officer or to continue building my consulting business, I was invited to a party. It was there I met Arianna for the first time and we talked about Thrive. It was the professional equivalent of love at first sight.

We found numerous connections we had in common: mission, shared values, the scientific evidence based approach, former colleagues, friends, and foreign accents. Arianna had even spent some time studying at Santiniketan Visva-Bharati University in India, where my grandmother Jayanti Devi Pant had studied for her advanced degrees under Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. (My grandma was reasonably fluent in eleven languages, a family record I can only surpass if I count programming languages.)

Meeting Arianna and discussing Thrive was the professional equivalent of love at first sight.

What makes a great match? Why do we work?

When you seek to join an organization, you should look for three things:

  1. Do you support the organization’s mission?
  2. Do you have the skills, experience, and knowledge to help the organization succeed?
  3. Do you fit into the organization’s and your team’s culture?

They are three dimensions to help determine the location where you should be. In Thrive Global, my answer to all these is a strong yes, and I also found spiritual connections that transcend them.

Even before I learned about the company Thrive Global, I have passionately believed in the practical wisdom that Arianna’s works present, practice and teach. Having had my own wake up calls, I’ve worked to incorporate some of these lessons in my life and work, and I’ve championed them to colleagues, friends, and family.

Intentional Serendipity

In her book, Arianna describes coincidences as “life’s secret door to wonder”. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer referred to coincidences as “wonderful pre-established harmony.”

Soon after I decided I will not move to LA, my friend and coworker Melanie sent me a Business Insider article about Thrive Global followed by the text: (quote) “Your new job?!”

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-10-08-55-am
(published with permission from Melanie)

Two months later, I received another message from Melanie: “Hi Rajiv! So great to see you last week! I read again about [Arianna Huffington’s] new venture and thought of you. Looks so interesting and I’m sure she can use your help!” This time she included a link to an NYTimes article about Thrive.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-10-12-04-am
(published with permission from Melanie)

A few days later, an invite to a speakeasy-themed party showed up in my Inbox. What caught my cybersecurity-enthusiast brain’s attention was it said you needed a password to get in.

During our interviews at Arianna’s home, I also had conversations with her coworkers, family, and friends. She greatly values a personal connection in additional to professional experience. After all, as a CEO, she needs people she can rely on.

Like most CEOs, Arianna looks for competence, skills, experience, knowledge, and cultural fit when interviewing candidates. However, I found that for critical roles, she also looks for a spiritual kind of personal connection: Someone who shares her values, but also brings complementary traits; Someone she can trust, but who also has the courage to disagree with her. Someone who is kind at heart, but one you don’t want to mess with. I fit right in.

Working with her for four months has upheld what I had initially felt about Arianna’s leadership style. She sets a high bar, demands excellence, and does not hesitate to be direct and tough but she respects, empowers, and supports teammates who earn her trust. She respects and defers to others’ expertise. As a fellow human being and as a friend, she genuinely cares about the well-being of other people. Despite being a well-respected and well-liked celebrity CEO with power, I’ve experienced firsthand that she has both the humbleness and courage to apologize to someone in her team.

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I met Arianna on a Thursday evening. Following intense conversations about work and life and reference checks over the next three days, I started full-time at Thrive the following Monday before either side had signed any papers. Genuine trust beats legal contracts any day of the week, twice on a Sunday. Yes, my longtime employment attorney couldn’t believe it either.

I met Arianna for the first time on a Thursday evening and started as CTO at Thrive the following Monday.

I feel that I serendipitously found the job that is my calling. After all, the party where I met Arianna required the password ‘Intentional Serendipity’ to get in.

Genuine trust beats legal contracts any day of the week, twice on a Sunday.

It seemed the ancient Greek and Hindu Gods had rigged the decision in both Thrive’s and my favor. Which reminds of something Arianna said to me quoting the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”

“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” – Rumi

Besides serendipity, there are rational reasons why I feel Thrive is my calling.

5 Reasons why Thrive Global connects with me

  1. Feel – I’ve felt passionate about this mission since long before I had heard of Thrive. My family, friends, and I personally experience the problems in this world that Thrive aims to solve. I’ve always wanted to work in a job where we aim to help anyone and everyone, not a select demographic. Thrive fits the bill.
  2. Improve –  During the past year, I faced tough challenges in my personal and professional life. Thrive principles are the way for me to improve using behavior change science. Continuous personal development is necessary to be able to thrive in life and work. Application of behavioral, social, and cognitive science is necessary to bridge the knowing-doing gap.
  3. Learn directly from Arianna. She accomplished multiple great successes while facing life’s challenges and imperfections.
  4. Evangelize –  Be a public face and spokesperson for something I deeply care about: Thrive Global’s concepts and the science supporting them.
  5. Grow professionally in and beyond product, technology, and design. Master organizational culture, well-being, and productivity. Gain the most effective, science-backed skills to manage organizations, teams, and myself.

Application of behavioral, social, and cognitive science is necessary to bridge the knowing-doing gap.

As an engineer, I have a strong preference for data, and Thrive’s scientific approach with evidence based learning resonates with me.

As a technologist, I am concerned that we are more worried about recharging our devices, than recharging ourselves.

That brings me to what organizations should do to succeed. There must be a clear, well-known, and good primary reason behind every product, service, and project.

3 ‘M’s: Why we do projects at Thrive Global

  1. Mission: Thrive Global’s mission is to end the epidemic of stress and burnout by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance both well-being and performance.
  2. Money: To be successful in its mission, Thrive needs to make substantial and recurring revenues and be profitable.
  3. Marketing: To achieve the first two, Thrive needs to continuously become increasingly well-known, widely-respected, and highly influential.

All work should primarily support one of the 3 ‘M’s: mission, money, or marketing.

Where we go from here

Practicing what one preaches is often hard. I have a long way to go in my own journey and won’t pretend I have already incorporated the practice of most of the Thrive principles in my own life. If it were that simple, you wouldn’t need Thrive Global as a company. Everyone could just buy Arianna’s book and need nothing more.

There are no shortcuts to success, but there are microsteps.

In the book, Arianna writes “The second truth is that we’re all going to veer away from that place [of being centered] again and again. That’s the nature of life. […] The question is how quickly we can get back to that centered place of wisdom, harmony, and strength.”

As Confucius said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

There are no shortcuts to success, but there are microsteps.

Luke Vnenchak, VP of Engineering at BuzzFeed

Luke Vnenchak shared this recommendation for Rajiv on August 26, 2016 via LinkedIn:

One thing that stood out in working with Rajiv was his ability to mentor and coach people at all levels. He does not overlook the people side of things and took great care in developing the careers of those working for him. He was very accessible to the entire technology org and genuinely interested in what was working well on my team and others so that he could look to apply those things elsewhere rather than blindly dictating a path forward.

As Executive Director of Technology, Content Management at The New York Times, Luke reported to Rajiv.

Denise Warren, Executive Vice President, The New York Times

Denise Warren shared this recommendation for Rajiv on Aug 5, 2016 via LinkedIn:

It is with strong conviction that I recommend Rajiv Pant. During our work together over four years at the New York Times, his exemplary leadership skills directly contributed to the success of dozens of major initiatives. Rajiv and the teams he built played critical roles in the acclaimed NYTimes mobile apps, the industry leading digital subscriptions implementation and numerous innovative data-driven journalism projects. His expertise in product development, software engineering and technology operations brought our organization to the next level. He consistently displayed strong leadership and deep technical expertise. Rajiv created a culture of collaboration, high performance and productivity. When I joined Tribune Publishing as President of Digital and CEO of East Coast Publishing, I immediately knew I wanted to bring Rajiv on to lead product management, user experience design, and engineering. Not only is he an accomplished product development leader, he is a pleasure to work with on a personal level. He is consistently proven himself to be reliable, collaborative and open minded. His approachable attitude and kindness towards coworkers made him loved by the teams reporting to him as well as his stakeholders. I know many colleagues who have followed him from job to job as he brings out the best in those working with him – creating successes for all. These traits have made Rajiv well respected and a highly sought after CTO in the tech and media industries.

As Executive Vice President at The New York Times and then as President of Digital & CEO of East Coast Businesses at Tribune Publishing, Denise managed Rajiv.

How to be an effective CTO

A CTO’s job combines Culture, Technology, and Operations. Each of the three is necessary; a field of knowledge, experimentation, and learning in itself; and interdependent with the other two. To be successful as a CTO, you need to work on and continually master all three areas. If you’d like to see the responsibilities of a CTO as a picture, here is a mind map illustrating things CTOs are responsible for.

Culture

Culture, as the first part of a CTO’s job is the answer to who you are you as a team. A CTO’s role starts with the culture they develop, evolve, and lead by example.

Culture can be described as people, knowledge, and behaviors in a community connected by relationships, norms, and purpose.

The people in a CTO’s job include internal stakeholders and colleagues, engineering and product teams, partners, and external customers. As CTO, it is your job to foster constructive collaboration among them.

Regular sharing of knowledge among members and teams is essential for a culture to be developed, sustained, and evolved. As CTO, you are accountable and responsible for compiling, updating, and sharing knowledge among your teams, stakeholders, and customers.

Observed behaviors describe your culture as it really is. Talk is hollow if you and your teams don’t walk the walk. If you are in a leadership role, people observe what you do, and learn from and emulate what you do, far more than from what you say.

An article in the New York Times about Google’s findings on what makes teams effective reports: “Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather: One team may come to a consensus that avoiding disagreement is more valuable than debate; another team might develop a culture that encourages vigorous arguments and spurns groupthink. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.”

I recently participated in a week-long Design Thinking workshop hosted by Matter.vc that used various activities to reinforce the critical importance of having norms in a team. The Matter boot camp is valuable because it brings many best practices in product development from successful startups to traditional media companies wanting to embrace lean and agile product engineering. The path to mastery is to practice, test, and learn.

The path to mastery is to practice, test, and learn.

As CTO, you need to appreciate, learn, and apply cognitive science, behavioral psychology, and social science with integrity and in ethical ways to develop a culture of excellence. You must not let a mentality of us-versus-them take root between technology staffers and other parts of the company. Remind yourself and your team members that your allegiance to your whole organization is not less than that to your department or team.

For example, if as CTO, you are resentful of the marketing department and you mock the Chief Marketing Officer and her team, then your team will absorb this poisonous behavior from you. If you disparage your boss behind her back while pretending to be loyal in front of her, your team will learn to do the same to you. If you put the needs and desires of the technology organization ahead of those of the overall organization, then the teams that report in to you are going to act similarly towards your overall technology team. To be a good corporate citizen and team player with your peers is not only the right thing to do, but is also in your self-interest.

A mistake that CTOs sometimes make is that they organize their team and prioritize their work based too much on what they think is best for the company mainly from the perspective of technology.

A mistake that CTOs sometimes make is that they organize their team and prioritize their work based too much on what they think is best for the company mainly from the perspective of technology. This results in their stakeholders not seeing eye to eye with the tech team, and stakeholders complain that “things here take forever to get done.” Whenever you hear something like “work takes ages to complete,” there is a deeper problem underneath: The real problem is that engineering and stakeholders are not on the same page about priorities and are not communicating sufficiently with each other about value, progress, problems, and risks.

You can implement the most suitable rapid development practices (e.g. continuous delivery, agile, and lean startup methodologies) and use the best modern techniques, tools, and technologies (e.g. microservices, machine learning, and magic :-)  ), that deliver projects with great speed, scalability, and success, but if you and your stakeholders are not in sync, things will be perceived as too slow, stubborn, and substandard.

Without a good culture, technologies and products decay and operations fail because people do not do the right things towards the shared mission.

Technology

Technology, as the core part of a CTO’s job, is the answer to what you do as a team.

Technology includes engineering, architecture, data, infrastructure, scalability, reliability, trust, security, privacy, and other ingredients. The specific areas of technology in a CTO’s purview vary based on the organization, its scale, and condition. Here is an example of an organizational structure that worked well for a smaller media company and another that helped a larger media company be successful.

Even though most CTO’s job duties do not include writing code yourself, to be a credible CTO, you need to not only know how to write good software code, but you should also enjoy doing it as a hobby. You must have a passion for many areas of technology combined with a perpetual desire to keep learning as technologies progress.

As CTO, you are the head coach, mentor, and guide to the technology staff. You preside and govern, not dictate or micromanage. You are not a middleman requiring every communication, decision, or solution to go through you. You are sincerely interested, engaged and involved in the work your teams do but you are not an obstacle. You are a connector who links the technology staff with other members of the organization.  You remember that you have two ears and two eyes but only one mouth, so you listen and observe more than you talk. You respect the makers and the managers who report in to you because you are both their teacher and their student.

Without good technology, operations are inefficient and have trouble overcoming roadblocks, resulting in undesirably slow progress and heavy costs. With good technology, there is a strong sense of pride and that helps develop a culture of excellence where recruiting, retention, and productivity flourish.

Operations

Operations, as the integrating part of a CTO’s job, is the answer to how you do your job as a team.

Operations can be described as how and how well things get done and are delivered. Operations span how resources (including costs) are allocated and managed, how processes and systems work, and how trade-offs should be made. They involve managing the portfolio of projects, products, and services; prioritization; and decommissioning and letting go of products and projects.

Any team that does product development, infrastructure engineering, or provision of services needs to be operationally effective. For this, you and your team need to track progress, record data, measure results, report results, compile lessons learned, and implement improvements. Continuously.

Operations are critical to every organization’s success. This is where the rubber hits the road. You can have a wonderful culture and innovative technologies, but if you don’t get projects done successfully, you won’t have the other two for long.

To put the above in context, I am sharing some tips from my recent talk at the Fastly 2016 Summit.

5 Lessons I learned as a CTO in major media companies

To succeed as a CTO or head of engineering, you need to work with the APIs of your fellow human beings

1. Instead of trying to be salesperson, be a friend

  • It is better to win people over, than to sell them your idea
    • Don’t push your solution. Draw others to your solution
    • Don’t pander either. Win over
  • Don’t make B.S. claims about future benefits of the project. Instead, emphasize the purpose and passion
  • Don’t try to falsely attach your infrastructure project to a product development the business has asked for. Present it on its own merit
  • Don’t spend your time as a technologist writing a business justification. Partner with a finance or business analyst to do that
  • Empathize with your business colleagues and help them empathize with you

2. Speak to the heart, not just to the brain

  • Go beyond making a rational business case. Generate excitement about the engineering work
    • Getting true buy-in requires evoking emotion and passion
    • Identify an external enemy
  • Share your genuine fears about potential losses resulting from getting hacked or systems crashing.
    • We are all averse to losses
  • Make it “our” project instead of “my” project. Request business stakeholders to talk about the project to their colleagues’ stakeholders, and bosses. Encourage them to include it in their presentations.
    • By doing this, they make a public commitment to it

3. Leverage reciprocity

  • Deliver successes to the business to build credibility first
    • Before you pitch a major infrastructure project
    • As a new employee, don’t use up your honeymoon credits on a project whose benefits to your stakeholders aren’t as clear
  • When your colleagues ask for something that you don’t value as much, be open minded to them
    • Your colleagues will reciprocate by embracing your ideas if you embrace theirs

4. Don’t be a “middleman.” Be a connector

  • If you are a CTO or senior manager, it is in your interest that your business colleagues know, appreciate, and have direct connections with your teammates
    • Their expertise supports and complements yours
    • They bring additional credibility
    • You make a stronger case as a team

Invite business colleagues to select gatherings of the product engineering teams

5. Regularly discuss your projects and their value with your colleagues

  • Never assume that your business colleagues won’t understand or appreciate technical stuff. Be a translator
  • A critical part of your job as a technologist is to regularly describe what you do and its value to your colleagues
  • …and vice versa. Take an interest in what they do

Where to go from here

So you are about to or have just started as a CTO or other technology leadership position. What’s a practical way to proceed? Here is a template for a 90 Day Plan for a CTO in a New Job.


This article is mirrored at LinkedIn.

Rajiv Pant is managing partner at Solutions at Scale, a technology leadership and management consulting firm that advises established companies and startups. Prior to this, as CTO at The New York Times, he led the development of numerous acclaimed products during his four year tenure. His leadership experience includes Conde Nast, Reddit, and Cox Media Group. Rajiv was honored as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Malu Menezes, Executive Director of Technology, The New York Times

Malu Menezes shared this recommendation for Rajiv on June 24, 2016 via LinkedIn:

I worked with Rajiv at the New York Times while he was VP of Engineering and then CTO.
I was really impressed with his accomplishments during this period – brought with him key executives and placed them in the right positions to modernize the NYTimes Technology organization faster than I ever thought possible. I am incredibly proud of the company the New York Times has become and honored to have witnessed first hand this transformation. I cannot recommend Rajiv enough as a Technology Executive.

As Executive Director of Technology at The New York Times, Malu reported to Rajiv.

Joe Adamo, VP, Digital Technology at Tribune Publishing Company

Joe Adamo shared this recommendation for Rajiv on June 23, 2016 via LinkedIn:

I was fortunate enough to work with Rajiv for the past year.

He’s a highly intelligent individual, an inspiring leader, and a brilliant technologist. He’s able to understand and provide recommendations on correcting complex technical & organizational issues quickly.

He was a great addition to the team, and it was a pleasure working with him.

As VP, Digital Technology at Tribune Publishing Company, Joe reported to Rajiv.

Megan Garvey, Deputy Managing Editor at Los Angeles Times

Megan Garvey shared this recommendation for Rajiv on Jun 15, 2016 via LinkedIn:

Rajiv is a sharp manager who does his homework before making decisions. He was able to assess a complicated technological infrastructure and get things changed for the better quickly. He listened, acted and brought in top-notch engineers to help us, cutting through years of delayed requests. He understood newsroom culture, recognizing and supporting good ideas that came out of the newsroom. He was a great partner and it was a pleasure to work with him.

As Deputy Managing Editor at Los Angeles Times, Megan worked with Rajiv.

Paul Smurl, COO & President at Some Spider LLC

Paul Smurl shared this recommendation for Rajiv on May 31, 2016
via LinkedIn:

I worked with Rajiv at The New York Times for five years and then recruited him away to join a start-up as CTO and Chief Product Officer. He is a student of the latest technologies, a master of group dynamics and motivation, and beloved by his teams. Among many examples at NYT, he arrived during the paywall implementation and dove in immediately. He deftly juggled team conflicts, technical quagmires and epic expectations. We could not have launched on time or on budget without him. At Some Spider, he was instrumental in putting the original plan together, overseeing a major CMS migration, and making introductions to potential investors. And he continues to act as an advisor to us today.

As COO & President at Some Spider, LLC, Paul worked with Rajiv. Previously, Paul was Head of Product at The New York Times.