5 Questions for a CEO: Devon Wijesinghe, Insightpool

by jeffhilimire on February 14, 2014

sexydevonLast week I wrote my first 5 Questions for a CEO post and I really enjoyed the process so I thought I’d keep the ball rolling. This week I reached out to my friend, Devon Wijesinghe, who runs a terrific company called Insightpool.

Describe Insightpool and why its going to change the world.

Insightpool is a social engagement optimization company. What we are doing is ground breaking because we help companies make sense of social data and get the right people to share a brands message organically. The world we live in is changing where no longer are impersonal ads going to get anyone’s attention, but if the right brand reaches out to the right people in the right way on social media….the viral effect is incredible and helps rapidly drive their bottom line.

What’s your schedule like on a day-to-day basis? How do you stay productive with all the responsibilities a CEO has?

I think it’s actually kind of funny when everyone thinks that a CEO’s job is to be super busy and running around out of breath. Some days are absolutely like that, but a real CEO’s job is to constantly see the bigger picture and constantly re-allocate resources as needed and work with everyone to give them what they need to succeed. I completely understand really small companies where the CEO is doing everything. He’s the jack of all trades but that never scales and that will always be a small company. So I guess this is all an excuse to really just say I’m actually lazy. There are certain things that only a CEO can be involved in whether it be investor issues, partner discussions, escalating customer issues, and executive hiring and coaching. Almost everything else they should do is butt out of if they want to grow a big company.

I’ll start in the morning by just getting a status check on what’s current. What’s our customer’s biggest issues that we can help them with? What the performance of everything we are doing for them. That’s absolutely paramount to me. We are fanatical about making sure we take care of them. Then I’ll literally just walk around and see what everyone is working on. It is absolutely not abnormal for me to just walk behind someone at their desk and start asking them questions about what they are doing. I don’t micromanage….I’m literally curious and want to connect the dots to our bigger picture.

Then almost everyday I have a standing lunch that rotates with a senior team member, going through their progress and also anything they want to talk about..their team, their concerns, their pride on issues..everything. Most of the time…I just push them to do more by giving them more. Hire more, spend more, achieve more. Then I will start working on our strategic relationships with our data providers, investors, and other partners. Then I’ll just walk around some more. I’m famous for just walking up to someone and asking them to take a walk with me…

I burn up laps around the Tech Village. This is to get a creative energy going and I start unleashing a barrage of ideas on the person walking with me that they tell me is stupid or is a great idea…if it’s a great idea the expectation is that by the time we are done with the walk and back at the office we’ve already come up with the plan on how to implement. Ideas are nothing without execution…and we are all about execution.

We work pretty late and we are famous for our wet bar so after 6:30 or so I might grab a cocktail and then start working on our financial model..where we are to that, what are the trigger points to improve on…and then about 7pm I start downloading all of my coaching thoughts on all the team members. If I popped in to a sales call I might send suggestions on what my thoughts were there, if I went in to a product meeting I’ll send an idea or provide some advice on how to make a new person more productive. After that…I look at the next day’s activities so I am prepared and go home.

I’ve witnessed how great your team is and how they all seem to march to the same beat. What advice do you have for new startups on how to achieve that kind of team unity?

This is by far the biggest thing I am proud of. The simple answer is that we do not consider ourselves co-workers…we consider ourselves family. I truly and deeply care about each person I work with. I hear a lot about people saying they have a work environment with a great culture…they can work from home, they can wear whatever they want to work, they can use pogo sticks as transportation, etc. I think all that is good and grand but it means absolutely nothing if people don’t care about each other.

We likely take this to the extreme level, but I’m fine with that. We also provide equity to everyone that works with us and so they take their job seriously and perform like an owner. Being family in every essence of the word means that there is an expectation that you perform because of how proud everyone is of Insightpool and the responsibility that comes with. It also means that there is absolutely no holds barred discussions where people get in each other’s face, challenge ideas, and push hard for progress. What might seem abrasive at times to the outside world..is really not, because everyone at the end of the day really cares about each other. I foster that in everything we do.

We have zero line between professional and home life and don’t believe in balance…we believe in blend. Everyone always questions me on how that actually scales. I instill this in my direct reports, they do it to theirs and we immediately cut people that don’t embody our sense of winning, our hatred of losing, and our intense emotion of backing each other up…period. We went from 3 people to close to 30 in a little over a year…and we’ll keep growing, and I look forward to having more people that bleed blue (our company color).

You’re an extremely well networked CEO. What are the keys to building a robust network?

I think a lot of people say this about me and are always curious how I’ve done this at my age. Even though I’m 30…I’ve been in the tech entrepreneurial game for more than 10 years. So what seems like some kind of fast magic to have the relationships I do with people…it’s not. I have always tried to consistently surround myself with people that are way smarter and better than me in lots of areas and learn from them. By doing this and sincerely caring about those people, over time eventually you are introduced to others that are in their inner circle and your relationships continue to build.

When someone introduces me to someone else I am very cognizant that the introduction came from a 10 or 20 year relationship and know that every interaction I have with that person will reflect on who made the introduction for me. I’m absolutely not interested in having the most ‘linkedin’ connections or being one of those people that knows ‘everyone’ and goes to networking events. Time is very precious and I only wish to have deep relationships and not superficial ones. Everyone understands that about me and respects that and are therefore comfortable introducing me to their extremely sought after but rarely given friends in their rolodex. One of my best friends Adam Ghetti, a fellow Atlanta tech entrepreneur said it best…”It’s not who you know….it’s how you know, who you know”.

Finish this sentence: When I’m 50, I plan to be…

I plan to keep pushing the limits. One of my investors and friend of mine, Steve Chamberlain, is 60. He is with me on a trip to LA right now…and he is in his element. His connections are still incredible and there is a fusion of the old school and new school. What we do keeps him young, current and excited. I really like to be the guy in the driver’s seat…but by the time I’m 50 I think it will be fun to be a very involved investor too. Being around younger, hungry, and intelligent people and trying to make their dreams come by adding in some of my experience will be awesome.

Bonus question: Why Atlanta?

Atlanta is great for some things and lacks in others. I think it has not been connected enough..and it does not have enough of a powerful set of people that push the city forward. Everyone sold a company and retired…lots of people say ‘there’s nothing wrong with that’. I think there is…and it shows a real impotence of an entrepreneur to sell their company and not get back in gear for another one. Unless you are too old or have health issues…you have no excuse. Guys like Tom Noonan, Alan Dabierre, David Cummings, Reggie Bradford and a few others are a powerful set of people that keep going. I never took any time off after I sold my last company and hope to one day aspire to some of Atlanta’s greats. I will die trying….but what can be accomplished for a city and the people that you can help along the way is amazing.

I truly feel that Atlanta is now poised for a renaissance shift in repeat entrepreneurs. So many folks are now starting to immediately get going again after their exits…including you Jeff. It’s not cool to sit around and do nothing anymore. The assets that we have here whether it be the cost to start a company, ability to hire great talent, all the Fortune 500 companies that could be customers here..there are so many things that make Atlanta the next major hub for the tech world. Why I am still here in this city is because I want to be a part of this major shift. I want to lead and support it, and am proud to call Atlanta home. I can’t wait for the new culture of our city to take effect and watch our city rise to stardom against the odds.

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