This Founder Shares the One Trait He Looks for in Every Hire

Lead with empathy for others and leave your ego at the door.
This Founder Shares the One Trait He Looks for in Every Hire

Bastian Lehmann, co-founder and chief executive officer of Postmates Inc.

Image credit: Bloomberg | Getty Images
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Editor’s Note: Entrepreneur’s “20 Questions” series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.

In a world of smartphones, convenience is everything.

When Postmates, an on-demand delivery service, launched in San Francisco in 2011, CEO Bastian Lehmann and his co-founders Sean Plaice and Sam Street saw a void in the availability of fast, efficient and cost-effective local delivery.

Lehmann was first inspired to start Postmates in 2005 when he moved from Munich to London and had forgotten to move his snowboard from his place in Munich to his parents' house, which was in Berlin.

 

After looking into various shipping options, he thought it would be interesting if there was a was a way to apply the concept of ride-sharing to shipping things. Lehmann says that the idea wasn't able to be  realized until smartphones were introduced.

The company began as an app-delivery system for everything from flowers to furniture in the Bay Area, but today, the company has a presence in 26 states, from Arizona to Wisconsin.  

In the last six years, the company has built of a base a base of more than 4,000 business partnerships including, Etsy, Starbucks, Walgreens and Apple.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Business Partnerships

Postmates makes more than 1 million deliveries a month from local businesses all over the country. Recently, Postmates launched its own $9.99/month membership program that provides users with free delivery on orders over $25, with no additional service fees. The company has raised more than  $278 million to date.

We caught up the German-born Lehmann and asked him 20 questions to figure out what makes him tick.

1. How do you start your day?
My best friend picks me up at 6:15 in the morning.Then we play basketball, lift some weights and get to the office by 9:15. My first meeting is my chief of staff, where we go over the schedule for the day. I do this five times a week. It’s super important for me. I grew up borderline hyperactive as a child, so a routine is important for my body and my mind. It levels me for the day, allows me to be smarter, and I don’t have as much anxiety, because exercise helps with that.

2. How do you end your day?
I go home and usually have dinner with my fiance. After that I’ll go through a bunch of emails, and maybe read a bit or watch something on the TV. It’s important to [slow down] and try to reflect a bit on the day. I often let my mind wander or meditate for a few minutes in the evenings. It is important for me to let the day pass by one more time. This process allows me to reflect on decisions and clear my mind before I go to bed.

 

3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
The Art of Innovation by Peter Kelley and Jonathan Littman. Peter and his brother David are the founders of a design firm called IDEO. The book is about how IDEO creates and builds teams of people that come from all sorts of different backgrounds and successfully work together to solve problems and create beautiful products. They talk about how IDEO is obsessed with hiring people that have a broad understanding of multiple disciplines but expertise in one or two. They call them T-shaped people. Because of the empathy they can understand what it takes to work in a given field, with no ego involved. We try to use that philosophy at Postmates.

4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I recommend it, because it’s a great story of adolescence and a great example of powerful storytelling. As the founder of  a company, it is important to understand what powerful storytelling is.

5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
With our teams we constantly try to question our assumptions. We don’t ever want to wake up and find that the world has changed around us. The best way to do that is to question everything, stay ahead of things and understand change.

 

6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a movie director. Stanley Kubrick is my absolute favorite. I think what a director does, and how you give life to an idea is related to building a company. I want to be the guy that makes things work out.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
One thing I try to do is help the people that want to do more. I want to help them realize that when they are at Postmates.

The worst boss I ever had told me that I couldn’t do that. He was weak and afraid someone was more hungry than him. When I saw someone trying hard, and they gave it everything they had, that someone would not give them guidance and help them succeed

8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
Tom Kelley from IDEO. He has done a remarkable job there. When it comes to accomplishing what you want to achieve, Steve Jobs, even though it’s a cliche. As for imagination, Stanley Kubrick, but not his management style

 

9. What’s a trip that changed you?
Iceland. You see nature that is so raw. You feel like you’re on a young continent. I found that very inspiring, just being there. Iceland feels like a different world. The nature had a very humbling effect on me, everything feels very pure there.

10. What inspires you?
My mom does. She is such a strong woman. She has dealt with her life and raised my brother and me in a remarkable way. Courage is something that drives me and inspires me when I see that in people. Friendship inspires me and being exposed to beautiful things, whether it’s on a hike or in a gallery.

11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
My first business idea was a reverse option platform -- to buy up electronics and the price would constantly fall, low enough that people would start to buy. We bootstrapped, and it was not very successful.

 

12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
I was in the army in Germany -- at the time, after school, you still had compulsory service, either the army or civil service. What I learned during that time is where my personal limits are. If you think you’re tired, you can go a lot further. You can endure a lot more cold that you assume. The most interesting thing is finding your real limits versus your comfortable limits.

13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
You have to treat people with the highest level of respect. Being humble, treating other how you like to be treated is the best advice.

14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
To be like someone else. I see that happening a lot in college when everyone has to fit into one thing. It’s totally okay to have a different playbook. Just listen to your heart and try to find what you want to do and the people that support you. That’s the answer.

 

15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
I go to the gym every morning. It is the opposite of what I do in evening. In the mornings I like to prepare for the day. Channeling my energy into sports leaves just the right amount of energy and passion for work.

16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I use Clear; it’s a to-do list app. I also send myself emails. But I’m not really good at organizing time, so it helps me have a chief of staff to work with and to get things done. My advice is to figure out what you’re strong at and what you’re not. Having a team that does that [fills in the gaps] has freed up a lot of my time to spend more time doing the things I love.

17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
You can only be at your best if you have something that grounds you. It can be friends, a partner, a hobby, just something else that you do. It’s so important that one finds a balance.

Related: 3 Keys to a Smooth Work-Life Balance

18. How do you prevent burnout?
When I feel that I’m running on low flames, spending time by myself sets my compass straight. Personal reflection is so important.

19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
You have to do something completely different. Do something you love, go outside, walk around. If you’re not getting anything done, you may as well spend an hour outside the office.

20. What are you learning now?
I’m learning right now to really work with a large group of people. While they all have the company in mind, they also have personal goals for their personal lives and careers. I find it fascinating to discover that and help people succeed in both.

One of the questions I ask in every interview is how can the company help them develop on a personal level? I think it’s a duty that we have. Someone who wants to work here for four years can take things from the company and those lessons can help him achieve goals and dreams in the future.

Edition: April 2017

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