Molly Graham

COO at Quip and Advisor to Premise. Can sing row row row your boat backwards.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 13, 2015

Discussion

Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
Hi! I'm Molly. I'm currently the Chief Operating Officer at Quip where I joined pre-launch, helped build our go-to-market, and have been learning from our customers ever since. Prior to that I spent 4.5 years at Facebook where I worked in (not kidding) HR, Recruiting, Mobile, Business Development, Operations, Marketing, and Product Management. I helped articulate Facebook's hacker brand, helped build our performance management and compensation systems, launched our early employee engagement surveys, rewrote our values once or twice, and led a couple of crazy projects in mobile from 2010-2012. Fun facts: I am also a whitewater kayaker and rafter on the weekends. I tried to regurgitate some of what I have learned in these three articles but feel free to ask me anything! A Counterintuitive System for Startup Compensation 80% of Your Culture is Your Founder 'Give Away Your Legos' and Other Commandments for Scaling Start Ups
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
OK @molly_g, I'm going to ask some questions I know the answers to that I think the others would find super interesting. 🙀 You did not plan to go into a career in tech - you started down another path. Can you tell us how that's shaped who you are and what you learned from your experiences outside of tech?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@corleyh Ha! Ok fair. I think my family thought I was going to go into development and live in Africa for a long time after college. My first job out of school was actually leading wilderness trips around the world for a company called NOLS. True fact: I have gone 52 days without showering. Leading NOLS trips was incredibly valuable to everything I have done since for many reasons. The next job I got was at a non-profit called the Council on Foreign Relations and the woman who hired me told me that she responded to my email because my resume said I could do CPR. She said she thought it meant I could handle stress well! I got my job at Google because CFR (the non-profit) was a Google Book Search partner and after a 45 minute meeting with our book search partner, he said "have you ever thought about working at Google?" Moments like this also defined my time at Facebook. For example I was originally hired in Communications but then I had lunch with Chris Cox who was running HR at the time and he said "do you want to come work with me to figure out how to turn these values we wrote six months ago into reality as we scale?". One of my biggest lessons has been that careers are 50% luck and 50% saying yes to a great opportunity when it punches you in the face. I have made MANY decisions that everyone in my family and many of my friends thought was absolutely crazy, and because I knew how to listen to my gut and decide what was right for me (see answer above), the "crazy" decisions have always ended up being right for me... Also - leading wilderness trips where the answer to the question "is anyone going to die if we make this decision" was occasionally yes, has really helped me manage stress in the tech world where the answer is always (always) no.
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@molly_g @corleyh But let me know if there's another story you wanted me to tell :)
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
@molly_g @corleyh 🙈 That was perfect! I think those experiences paint a picture of who you are, and the fact that you have a great, unique perspective. It also illustrates that people can do other things in their career - they don't have to wake-up working in tech. In fact, there are some amazing life experiences to be had in all corners of the world doing all sorts of interesting things!
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
Hi @molly_g! Thanks for joining us today! You've had such an incredible and interesting journey. As you reflect on all of the roles and things that you've done - can you share one of your defining moments, and how has it shaped the way you approach your role at Quip?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@corleyh As we've discovered, your journey is more interesting than mine :) Defining moments! There have been many. Deciding to leave Google and go to Facebook was very definitive for me. I had a number of options at Google that sounded very impressive, and at the time, Facebook was very much not a sure bet -- in 2008 (hard to remember) most people thought FB was just a site for college kids or that it was going to be bought by MSFT (funny now, but real). I'm embarrassed to say that even I didn't fully understand what Facebook was doing in the world when I was offered a job there. And I was confused about the decision for many reasons. Someone said to me: "you have the answer inside you, you just have to listen for it." And I was sitting outside, drinking a beer and my gut just said "I want to go work with Elliot Schrage and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook." (Elliot was my manager at Google and Sheryl was a mentor.) The answer was suddenly very clear and 100% about people. That advice -- to wait for the moment when your gut or your heart makes itself VERY clear -- about hard decisions has served me very well through every single hard complicated emotional decision that I have made since. The other thing that is defining about that decision is that it ended up being so completely the right decision for me that it taught me that you should ALWAYS follow wonderful people that you want to learn from more than almost anything else in your career. I have been so lucky to get to learn from many many amazing people. And I came to Quip for many reasons but a very significant one is that we have (VERY humbly put) the best team in the world :)
Jeff Needles@jsneedles · Data @ Houseparty & Maker of Things
@molly_g Hey Molly thanks for doing this! Curious about your philosophy on performance management... Specifically what do you think is the point at which a company should introduce it? Also, what's your favorite board game of all time? 🤓
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@jsneedles Current favorite board game is easy - ticket to ride. All time? Whew that's hard.
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@molly_g @jsneedles On performance management - I could talk for hours but the short version is I don't like the word because I think it means a lot of things but two very big ones that are very different: 1) How do we help people grow and learn and get better at their jobs? And relatedly, how do we build a culture where people give each other feedback? 2) How do we make sure we are fairly compensating people for their contributions to the company? I like to separate those two. As a start up I would aggressively be working on 1 all the time. It is the only way you will build a long term sustainable company. 2 is what people are usually talking about. I think you can implement a light weight once a year review of everyones comp and that should last through about 100 people (maybe less). I don't think it needs to involve more than the founding team for that time. Once you get a bit bigger, you can involve more managers, but I would avoid heavy weight systems and process. Again - much longer conversation but I would add process little by little rather than putting in something heavy weight when you're 50 people.
Andrew Lee@_andrewlee · CEO, Esper
@molly_g given your experience with Facebook as it was really taking off, I'm wondering whether there are certain unknown indicators that you could tell when things were going well or not going well. For example, 2008 was a "serious year" (the year when Mark wore dress shirts and ties)... that could have turned out poorly, but it seems to have brought the company together. Any small anecdotes or indicators you could tell when something was right or needed fixing? Oh and two off-topic questions: 1) What are the best rapids you've rafted or want to raft? e.g. Patagonia 2) Luke Skywalker - good or bad in the new movie?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@_andrewlee That's a really interesting question. The answer is yes, you could tell when things were off kilter at Facebook. Usually it was when we were debating a decision that a lot of the company disagreed with. I'm trying to think how I knew when those moments were.... I think a number of us just spent a lot of time listening to all corners of the company. When you get bigger, you can't know everyone so you end up needing to connect with people who effectively represent a bunch of people at the company. Some people call them "culture carriers". Anyway - when ALL of them were saying the same thing, we always knew that it was time for Mark to do a Q&A with the company (or Sheryl or whoever depending on what the issue was). Ultimately I walked away from FB with the sentence "culture is a conversation". I believe that pretty strongly. To me, it means a couple things: 1) you have to listen to the company to learn what is going on and to a certain extent who you really are 2) the conversation evolves over time 3) you (as the founder, leader, etc) are a huge part of that conversation. CEOs and founders have to see contributing to that conversation but more importantly shaping it as a HUGE part of their job once the company has more than about 30 people. Hope that answers the question!
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@_andrewlee Oh best rapids! Hard choice! There was an amazing river I kayaked in Chile called the Fui (sp?) that was absolutely stunning and another in Equador that I would botch the name of that I tried to spell it... Both changed my paddling career because they were so awesome.
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@_andrewlee Dodging your question about Luke Skywalker :)
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
Ok my friends - have to run! I will try and come back later today and answer the rest.
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
Hi @molly_g thanks so much for joining us today. I would love to hear what were your biggest takeaways from working at FB for 4.5 years and how you took those takeaways to Quip?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@harrystebbings Holy cow - that will take longer than an hour. Do you mean about growing and scaling companies or about managing people or about me personally?
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@molly_g Thanks for being here today 🙌 During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@ems_hodge Great questions! One of the things you should know about me is that I love (sometimes to a fault) doing things I'm scared of and am not sure I can do. It has defined all my job choices since I discovered how much I love it. I am a risk-led person... SO I suppose challenge is a part of every day or every year and job for me. I probably discovered my love of risk and challenge when I decided to move from HR to mobile at Facebook. I literally knew nothing about mobile -- the space, the products, etc. and for some reason, someone asked me to come work on some of Facebook's longer term mobile initiatives. It was terrifying. I remember 6-8 months after I started, I realized that I had gone from knowing nothing to actually being an expert and being able to teach others about the mobile industry and how it works. I remember a meeting with Mark Z where my team and I educated him at a pretty deep level about how people purchase and use mobile phones in most countries around the world (hint: the US is abnormal) -- post paid versus pre paid plans and all that -- and it was so fun to realize how far I had come. Anyway... the list of mistakes and challenges overcome in my career is pretty long so that's just one example!
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
@molly_g Do you find changing careers/departments invigorating or terrifying (or a bit of both)? Any tips for starting fresh in a new department?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@russfrushtick Both. But I love the bothness. I have taught myself to let myself have all the emotions -- terror, insecurity, doubt, anger, frustration -- that come with a HUGE learning curve, but to not do anything about them (unless they last for longer than 2 weeks). I have learned to love the rollercoaster and the massive insecurity phase of big learning because I have now seen enough times the results of what happens on the other side and how far forward I have been projected by "jumping off the learning cliff" which is what I call them.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@molly_g who are some people you have looked up to in your career? Have you had any mentors and how did they help you?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@ems_hodge I have SO MANY mentors. I actually call them friends (your buddy Corley Hughes is one of them). I look up to and learn from almost all my friends for many reasons. There is SUCH a long list of people that have been important to helping me learn and grow that it is would actually be impossible to list them all out BUT you asked about people I look up to... There are many but I have always admired people who can both lead big complex organizations, do important work that makes the world better, and retain their humanity and their ability to connect with people at a very deep, authentic level. The two people who I probably admire most for that in my life and that I aspire to be like are my father, Don Graham, and a woman named Patty Stoneseifer who was at MSFT for many years, was the first CEO of the Gates Foundation, and now runs an amazing non-profit in DC called Martha's Table. If I can be half the leaders that the two of them have been in their careers, I would be so lucky.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@molly_g Can you sing other songs backwards or exclusively row your boat?
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
@bentossell @molly_g Vids or it didn't happen. I didn't make the rules, the internet did.
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@bentossell haha - true story that in third grade I was bored in Math class and wrote down the song backwards and taught myself it. It is, in fact, the only song I can sing backwards BUT it works in a round just like it does if you sing it forward. It's my party trick...
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@andrewmettinger @bentossell hahahaha - you wish! Nope - you have to come rafting with me to hear it. I like to actually be rowing a boat backwards when I sing it these days.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@molly_g @andrewmettinger we can arrange that! I really want to hear it. I keep trying to think of how it would sound, but end up signing it normally :(
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@bentossell I'm across the street from you guys, so I'll come over some time and teach you all. It can be the new product hunt theme song...
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
How did you transition from HR at Facebook into all of those other roles (if I understand your career path correctly)? What advice do you have for young professionals, especially women, starting off their careers at tech companies?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@alexcartaz All of those transitions were 50% luck based on being in the right place at the right time, and 50% saying yes to a big opportunity when it was offered to me even if it was vague or seemed stupid or crazy or whatever. I optimize aggressively for how much I will get to learn in a given role or project and NOT for whether something is a good "career decision". Giving myself a tiny bit more credit on the luck front (and because you asked for advice), I think the two best things I have done have been to always focus on being the most useful (and I use that word a lot) person in the room (and never ever worry about who gets the credit) and to proactively build relationships with people that I think are wonderful REGARDLESS of how "important" they are. It has led many many interesting places.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
What did you like most about Facebook? What do you like most about Quip?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@alexcartaz I loved how fast Facebook learns as a company. It is one of the hidden secrets behind how successful it is. It never stayed still or got comfortable with success. Part of that is who Mark is as a person -- he relentlessly focuses on learning and making himself better. The company is a reflection of that. It's how we went from having virtually no mobile advertising business to having one of the biggest in the world in more or less 1-2 years. Most companies can make shifts that big as quickly as Facebook did. I love many many things about Quip. I love the team I get to work with every day, and I love working with our customers and watching the product make them happy and more efficient. I think the thing I love the most about what we are building as a company at Quip is how efficient and impactful our team is. We take a lot of pride in building a team of extremely high performers that defy expectations of how much a small team can get done.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
What advice do you have for any undergraduates who want to work at Facebook or a tech startup?
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Do you listen to any podcasts? If so, which ones do you like the most? =)
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@alexcartaz Planet Money! It's the best!!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
"Can sing row row row your boat backwards." We should have done this LIVE chat on video. 😊 What's your biggest surprise working at Facebook for 4.5 years? Any funny stories about Zuck you can share?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@rrhoover Many that can be shared in person :)
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@rrhoover The surprise question is a good one. I think I never ceased to be amazed by Mark and Sheryl. People underestimate many things about both of them individually but also about their partnership. Mark is the fastest learner that I have ever met, and he sees learning as the most important part of his job, which is part of what has enabled him to go from a 19 year old in a dorm room to the CEO he is now. Sheryl is the best manager I've ever met and I learned more about running organizations and teams from her than I thought possible. Her partnership with Mark is also remarkable for many reasons but part of it is that they really emphasize each others strengths and make room for each other. People underestimate how hard it is for two people that are as strong as the two of them to do that. They have worked very very hard on it.
Tom Limongello@tomlimongello · CEO of Truffle
Hey Molly! How do you look at user retention and engagement in a utility startup like Quip? If people aren't using it everyday, how do you measure the value of their participation and how important is it for a current user to bring in other users?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@tomlimongello We look at active users in many different ways -- MAU, WAU, DAU. We often take the first day of use out of our activity stats to look at the "real" active numbers. We also look at the leading indicators of activity like editing, messaging and sharing. We have a lot of ways of thinking about the ratios of those things that tell us how healthy a given company or team is.
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hi Molly! How do you think about online education/schools? What do you think is the element missing that will make them grow exponentially?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@theo_dimarhos Whew. I wish I was smarter about online education. I have a lot of opinions about education in general and the fact that we should be focusing more on experiential education rather than book learning in schools but there are so many people that are much smarter than me about this!
Susan CK@sueck · entrepreneur, growth lover
a) Does the world realize how awesome you are? b) You claim the team at Quip is the best in the world. How do you hire people?
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
What attracted you to Quip?
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@katesegrin I knew I wanted to learn what it meant to build something from nothing, which I knew nothing about. I got some advice from someone much smarter than me. He said - the Valley divides itself into pre-traction companies and post-traction companies. Post-traction companies are going to be successful, it's just a question of how successful. Post-traction companies are the Pinterests and Airbnb's of the world. Pre-traction companies are the companies that are fighting for their lives. They are fighting to be the next Stripe, Pinterest, Airbnb, but they are very far from a sure thing. His advice was that if you wanted to go to a pre-traction company "the only thing that matters is the team." He said, I'm not sure I would even evaluate the idea. I'd just go find the best team you possibly can. And again, SO HUMBLY, I would say that Quip has the best team in the world :)
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
@molly_g @katesegrin I'm dying to meet this team now! Even though I'm convinced the squad at Product Hunt could seriously give y'all a run for your money 😉
Molly Graham@molly_g · COO, Quip
@katesegrin No doubt! You all are so fun to watch as the team and the product grows.