After She Trusted Her Instincts and Pursued a Different Strategy, She Became CEO of Vimeo
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In this series, Open Every Door, Entrepreneur staff writer Nina Zipkin shares her conversations with leaders about understanding what you have to offer, navigating the obstacles that will block your path, identifying opportunity and creating it for yourself and for others.
When you see the potential for something at your business that others may not, it can be frustrating. But rather than just letting that feeling go, Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud, 34, says to invest your energy in it anyway, even if you’re not sure what the results will be.
A few years into her tenure at Vimeo, where she served as the VP, head of global marketing, and SVP, general manager, Sud says she started noticing a shift in the company’s focus to the viewers of the video platform, instead of creators.
“I found myself in a situation where what I was really passionate about and believed in was a different side of the business where there weren’t a lot of resources and attention,” Sud recalls to Entrepreneur.
Instead of resigning herself to a strategy that didn’t make sense to her, she decided to dedicate some of her time to realizing her vision. She gained support from others in the company and informally helped various teams launch different products that would better serve creators.
But there was a chance her efforts could backfire.
“I was conceivably risking my ability to have a long-term role at the company,” Sud says. “Of course, the other thing that was at stake was that we could fail. If it was a failure, I would have put in all that effort and energy to something that didn’t work."
But the gamble paid off, and she was given the keys to that side of the business. Eventually, this effort paved the way for Sud to become the company’s CEO last summer. Today, she oversees a staff of 400 people, and Vimeo has 70 million members in more than 150 countries.
She says the process was a significant lesson in learning to follow your instincts. “Sometimes you don’t need to wait for formal ownership. If you believe in something, find a way to prove your point," Sud says. "If you can prove it with real numbers, that is even better. Finding ways to influence and make an impact informally can sometimes be a successful way of advocating for yourself.”
Sud shared her insights about why showing vulnerability is a sign of strength and how to empower others around you to lead.
What personal traits or strategies do you rely on to create opportunity for yourself and others?
One is impatience. If you believe in something, you don’t want to wait. You want to see it through and you want to do it as quickly as you can. Don’t let the current strategy or constraints keep you from doing things that you think are right for your business. That impatience and ability to flip the script and do things differently is something I look for when in people.
Another trait is transparency: If you’re able to be honest and open when you see something that others might not be seeing. As a leader it's great to have that transparency and confidence to be able to say this is what I think, even if it might be uncomfortable or at odds with what other people think.
When you experience a setback, what do you do to keep going?
I ask myself: Why does this matter in the grand scheme of things? How is this going to create a future where any creator can make the work they want on Vimeo, and bringing it back to that. Another way that I can get unstuck is talking to our users. When you can put a human face and a story behind the work that you’re doing, it helps you break through [the times when you’re sitting] looking at a spreadsheet or having a tough meeting. It gives you that extra motivation to remind you this is why you are doing what you’re doing.
How can you be your own best advocate?
Be as strategic about your career as you are about running a business. If you’re a product person, for example, be as dedicated to building your career as you are to to building a product. That means thinking about it from the perspective of: What is my goal? What do I want to achieve? What are the company’s needs? How can I play a role? Be pretty deliberate at looking not just one step out but two or three to say, "I know what my boss and their boss are trying to achieve -- what do I need to do to be indispensable to them? How can I fill in the gaps to help them do more? How can I be sure after I’ve done that, that they know that is the value that I am bringing?"
Was there a blind spot that you had about leadership and opportunity you worked to change within yourself?
The biggest was the importance of letting go. Giving others the room to lead and learning to step away -- and frankly get out of the way. Because I have moved up through Vimeo over the years, I had a lot of institutional knowledge and was involved in the details. I was used to being the doer. But then as the business scaled, and I scaled in my role and in my career, I learned you have to be careful, because in doing that you’re not empowering others and you're removing a sense of accountability and ownership for others. I’ve learned that it's my job to set a clear vision and leave it to other people to execute it. It took me a couple of mistakes and missteps along the way to understand that.
Has there been a counterintuitive or surprising way you've opened doors for yourself?
I grew up with this sense that leaders show strength. Something counterintuitive that I have observed is that showing vulnerability as a leader can often be a sign of strength. Earlier my career, I don’t think I would have been comfortable openly owning my mistakes or being vocally self-critical about areas where I messed up. I’ve found that as my career has progressed, showing that I am self-aware about my shortcomings, that I know what I don’t know, and being the first one to say, this one is on me. I have found that has been a sign of strength.