10 Leadership Lessons from Waze CEO Noam Bardin
What he's learned in the more than 10 years he's spent building Waze.
For many years prior to the pandemic, I had the privilege of interviewing tech founders and CEOs on stage before an audience of entrepreneurs and investors as part of my Startups Uncensored monthly event in southern California. I revived this fireside chat series to a virtual audience during quarantine with the C-suite leaders of Mattel, Zoom Video, Chipotle and Qualtrics, and I recently partnered with Entrepreneur to host a new series entitled “If I Knew Then Leadership Lessons.” In this series, I host virtual sit downs with the CEOs of global brands to talk about the hard-won life lessons and practical career advice they picked up along their journey to the top.
I was thrilled to kick off this new series with Waze CEO Noam Bardin. We discussed how the startup grew to become a global phenomenon, his vision for the benefits of carpooling as autonomous cars inch closer to reality, a few of the biggest lessons he learned early on and some of the painful processes that accompany otherwise welcome growth for a startup.
Named as one of Business Insider’s 100 Stars of Silicon Valley, Bardin has been CEO of Waze since March 2009, building the company to become one of the world's most talked-about startups through its acquisition by Google in June 2013. He continues to lead the global Waze team within Google to help Wazers around the world enjoy faster, safer drives, including the recent launch of Waze Carpool to enable drivers and riders to work together to end traffic. Prior to Waze, Bardin co-founded international VoIP service provider Deltathree, where he served in a variety of senior leadership positions for 10 years.
Below are 10 key takeaways from the deeply informative conversation I had with this impassioned advocate for change in the way we use automobiles to make our lives easier:
1. People want to do the right thing, but sometimes they’re lazy
It’s important to find a balance. When Waze began, it faced this challenge, as its basic map was not very sophisticated. It counted on user involvement to deepen and develop the map. Making that process frictionless and fun for users helped encourage participation.
2. Early adopters are not always helpful in determining needs for the mainstream audience
Finding early adopters is a difficult but achievable process. Crossing the chasm from early adopters to a mainstream audience is where things get hard for a product designer, as early adopters may be passionate about certain features that will not be the same group of features that a majority of users will be looking for.
3. It often takes as much work to fail as it does to succeed
The amount of work you do at a failed company is often the same amount of work you do for a successful company. That’s why it’s crucially important that you enjoy what you’re doing, even if you fail.
4. As an entrepreneur, you will often have to choose between two equally great ideas
You need to know how to choose in a situation where both options are brilliant and worthwhile, and that requires extreme clarity of your mission. If you have your mission clarity, and if all your employees know what stage of that mission you’re in, it can be a valuable tool. It makes it easier to say no to ideas that might be valuable but aren’t right for that moment.
5. During the process of growth, you might have to say goodbye to people who helped build your company
There’s often no choice, and it's because you can’t run a big corporation based on the infrastructure of a 20-person startup. Some folks may rise to the challenge while some may be more successful in a smaller organization.
6. You have time in your twenties to experiment with jobs and find your passions
Don’t worry as much about career trajectory in that early phase. Focus on the moment instead of where you’ll be 20 years from now.
7. Customers will use carpooling for different reasons than they did in the pre-COVID world
Bardin says Waze’s business has begun to bounce back after the changes due to COVID-19, but now passengers are more likely to need short trips, casual drives and errands than they do commutes to work.
8. Self-driving cars are the biggest engineering challenge of this generation, and it’s going to take a while before we’re there
That technology has to be all-or-nothing, 100 percent. Autonomous cars, which often will have just one human being in them when on the roads, will inevitably lead to even more traffic. Carpooling will continue to be a remedy.
9. Encouraging carpooling is both a social and community problem involving — on a basic level — making people get along
The social interaction in a carpool can be a benefit, too. Waze wants to be the company that knows how to maximize carpooling. Ride sharing is about people who are out doing their jobs as drivers; carpooling is using people who are already driving anyway.
10. Carpooling will have social benefits
Waze wants to focus on carpooling for long commutes as that's where the cost benefit is dramatic, at about a quarter of the cost of ride sharing. Carpool commute groups will be formed from people in the same area going in the same direction every day, and a sense of community will grow among those groups as they begin to look out for each other.
Noam Bardin’s vision for the future of Waze carpooling will make you a believer that driving trends will change drastically with the introduction of self-driving cars, even for cars that are still being driven by people. I recommend watching the full one-hour webinar. For every tip I shared above, there are five more you won’t want to miss out on hearing.
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