David Cancel (Drift): What I Learned in 2020

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This is a podcast episode titled, David Cancel (Drift): What I Learned in 2020. The summary for this episode is: <p>David Cancel read 50 books in 2020, and he reveals his absolute favorites on this episode of BUILD. Tune in to hear which popular book influenced Drift’s approach to company culture, and which author is helping David plan for life after COVID-19. David Cancel is best known for being a serial founder and product visionary from his track record with Drift, HubSpot, and beyond.</p>
How many books did David Cancel read in 2020?
00:43 MIN
Returning to the love of reading
01:48 MIN
Favorite books of 2020
00:50 MIN
How to decide what to read next
01:04 MIN
How to be impactful with your time
01:13 MIN
The four key takeaways from Reed Hasting's No Rules Rules
02:18 MIN
Being selective with who you hire
04:30 MIN
What it means to remove controls
03:40 MIN
How to be radically candid
02:37 MIN
Unpacking Drift's company culture
03:35 MIN
What will work look like post COVID-19?
03:28 MIN
Scott Galloway's Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity
02:59 MIN

Black Bartlett: Welcome back to the BUILD podcast. I'm Blake Bartlett, a Partner at OpenView. We're here to help software founders and operators identify and unpack sustainable growth strategies in the ever- changing world of SaaS. Today, we hear from David Cancel, co- founder and CEO of Drift. You're probably familiar with David from his reputation as a product visionary and a serial founder. But what you may not know about David is that he's a voracious reader. In fact, despite all of the challenges of running a hyper- growth startup in the middle of a pandemic, he still managed to read more than 50 books in 2020. In today's episode of BUILD, we unpack how David approaches reading as a busy founder, his top five book recommendations from 2020, and a deep dive into the book No Rules Rules about Netflix's famous culture and how it's influenced Drift's own company culture. All of that and more on this episode of BUILD. So, let's dive in with David Cancel. Well, Hey David, thanks for joining us here today on the BUILD podcast. It's great to have you on the show.

David Cancel: I'm excited to be on, Blake. I love this podcast.

Black Bartlett: We're going to talk today about one of your favorite topics, which I know from following you on social media, and I'm sure many others do as well, but you're an avid reader. And so we're going to dive into some of your favorite books today.

David Cancel: I'm excited. I can talk books forever. So, I'm excited to finally have a podcast dedicated to books.

Black Bartlett: So, how many books did you read last year?

David Cancel: It was almost impossible to count because I read over so many different formats, digital audio, and of course hardcover books and paperbacks, so I'm estimating, which is not accurate, somewhere between 50 and 65 books.

Black Bartlett: Oh, wow. And is that pretty typical in a given year? Or, was COVID giving you more time to do that?

David Cancel: Actually, and weirdly enough, I found less time to read during all this. I think with all the changes that we've been going through as a business, and all of us just in life, there was just so much dedicated to other stuff. I think I've been producing a lot of video, whether it's asynchronous or synchronous video, this year, which has consumed a ton of time, but I think I've read less during COVID, unfortunately.

Black Bartlett: So, have you always been an avid reader, or was there a point kind of in your journey where you decided to become one?

David Cancel: I was an avid reader as a kid. And then I think during my school time it kind of, I would say, got beat out of me somehow. And I think my reading went from that focus on reading stuff that I love to reading stuff that I had to, not knowing why I had to read it, and kind of being taught to read it in a kind of linear fashion, reading from the beginning to the end and memorizing everything in between. And that kind of killed my love for it, and I kind of came back to it probably five or six years into my career.

Black Bartlett: And what was the shift for you? Was it kind of just saying," Hey, I'm going to read what I want to read and read in a different style versus kind of what everybody says I'm supposed to," or what kind of unlocked it for you?

David Cancel: A few things. I think the thing that got me back to reading was I had started my first company, I was kind of trying to figure it out on my own. And so much of what we take for granted today in podcasts and video and on the internet was not there, was not accessible. There was no Google, commercially, there was no easy way to find information. And so I was tired of failing and making all my mistakes on my own and wanted to learn from someone else's mistakes, and so I started to pick up more and more books and that got me back in. And then I think that the next thing that was super critical was that I started to read, really focus on trying to get one lesson out of the thing that I was reading. And so I gave myself permission to read a chapter at a time, maybe revisit a book later, put it away if I wasn't interested in it, and kind of more go from book to book and sometimes reading several books at the same time. And that really reignited my love for reading.

Black Bartlett: So, it's kind of the foraging or sort of an in- parallel sort of processing and foraging across multiple different books versus the start to finish, serial, read one book and then move on to the next. So, that that's a good hack, I like that one.

David Cancel: Yeah. It was super important for me, and I think it's super important for kind of the times that we live in now. So, we've gone from a world where there was a prize to and there was value to kind of memorization and remembering facts and reading in a certain way and reading for that, to a world that that can be found easily and that can be produced by machines. And so, really, our jobs now are more about connecting the dots. And I kind of see what I do every day kind of paralleled in the way that I started to read it and noticing that if I read multiple books at once, I could start connecting the dots between the same patterns represented in pretty different ways across those books.

Black Bartlett: So, let's jump into some specifics here. Now, you just published a couple of weeks back an article in Inc. Magazine about your top five recommended reads right now. So, what are those top five books right now?

David Cancel: So, I'll just run them down and then we can dive into them. So, the first one is, it's a timely book, it's a book called Post Corona, it's called From A Crisis to Opportunity. It's by Scott Galloway, who's a professor at NYU and has a pretty great podcast, and you can follow him along online, also an entrepreneur. The second book is No Rules Rules, and it's Netflix in the Culture of Reinvention. And it's written by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer. The third is the autobiography, Andrew Carnegie, and The Gospel of Wealth, both by Andrew Carnegie. And that was really going back in history and revisiting someone that we could learn from. The fourth is Hell Yeah or No: What's Worth Doing by Derek Sivers. And the fifth was revisiting this book called The Dip, and it's a little book that teaches you when to quit and when to stick, and that's by Seth Godin.

Black Bartlett: And how do you decide, personally, what you're going to read next? Or add to the stack of things you're concurrently reading at one time, maybe?

David Cancel: I'm a kind of a hoarder when it comes to books. One thing that I kind of figured out as well is that if someone were to recommend a book, if someone I trusted recommended a book, I would just buy it immediately, no questions asked. I used to really consider and spend a lot of time selecting books and I was kind of spending too much time doing that. And instead, as soon as someone I trust recommends a book, if I haven't read it, if I find it interesting, I buy it. So, I always have a stack, stacks and stacks of books, laying around surrounding me, which is my dream. And so I kind of peruse along those, kind of like in the old days inside a library, and select ones that kind of jump out at me. And I think the trap that I was falling into there was spending too much time kind of trying to filter on the front end, really when most of these books are$ 5 to$ 15. And if I could get one lesson out of a book,$ 15 would be well spent.

Black Bartlett: I actually learned about another book from you a while back, which was the Tao of Charlie Munger. And I just find that Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett are just, obviously, extremely interesting and successful individuals, but they both kind of have this philosophy of, you should kind of just sit around on your ass and do nothing all day. They're just sitting around reading; they're not sitting around in meetings and doing email all day. They're reading the paper, they're reading everything they get their hands on, they're reading all of the public materials from every company that they can find. They're reading every book that they can imagine. And, what do you know? That turns into making better decisions, versus just being busy, busy, busy, back- to- back all day. And so you're kind of just describing something similar of being surrounded by books, sort of finding what you can find in one versus the other, and that really being sort of, in itself, it can be something that unlocks productivity, even though you're not kind of" working" in the moment.

David Cancel: Yeah. I think that's a super important topic you bring up. And I think that was one of the biggest things that, kind of, I learned during most of this pandemic, we're still in it, but most of this pandemic was that, as I said, I started to read less, but I started to give myself more time just to synthesize, just as they would say, to sit around on their butts. But for me it was, it was doing something active. It was walking, it was doing something. And just not focus on trying to be productive, just trying to focus on synthesis. But what I came away from that thinking was that, wait, I spent so many years of my life kind of chasing productivity. But I don't want to be more productive. I don't want to squeeze more things into a single day. I don't want another hack for a to- do list. I don't want to become the most productive person of every minute. What I want to do is to have the highest impact. And what I want to do is to find the few high- leverage bets that's that I can make, and of course, most of them will fail, but high- leverage bets that I can make, spend all my time on that. And so I think that's parallel to a lot of the things we hear from Lunger and Buffett. Even though I had read that, and many, many times, it wasn't until being forced into the situation during the pandemic that I started to live it.

Black Bartlett: So, diving into one of the specific books on your recommendation list, No Rules Rules, and this is about Netflix and Netflix's culture, I want to dive into this one. So, maybe first question, and we talked about it at the high level kind of in general, but for this book specifically, why did you decide to read this one?

David Cancel: The easy answer is that it just came out, so it was something that they just published recently. But it's also a story that I've been following for a very, very long time. And a very long time. Back at my time at HubSpot, I got to know the Head of People back then who was helping us out, Patty Accord, at Netflix. And so I had heard all these stories about the culture inside of Netflix and we were trying to learn from her. And this was right around the time that Reed Hastings published his culture deck, which has become famous or infamous or both at this point, and it was kind of the basis of a culture deck that we created at HubSpot, that Dharma created back at HubSpot, that has been key for them. And so I was remembering those memories and I had spent more time with Patty Accord during my time at Drift in the early days, again, trying to dive into culture. And as this book was being published, I was reflecting on the culture that we have created so far at Drift and how that's changed from the early days to today as we scale the company and what may be missing or what we may need to go back to from the early days and where we may need to change going forward. And so it was just the right book at the right time for something that I had been thinking about.

Black Bartlett: Yeah. And I know that culture deck, it's the 125- page + deck. It's the worst designed deck I think anybody's ever seen, the original one. It just goes to show that design versus content, sometimes content is what matters, and it's amazing. And Sheryl Sandberg said that she thinks that's one of the most important documents that's ever come out of Silicon Valley, and so the way that people have sort of loved that thing on Slide Share and everywhere else is impressive. And I certainly have as well. And so, getting some of the more color and the stories behind it through the book has been awesome. So, the book points to and kind of distills some of that culture deck and some of those ideas down into four main principles. What are those four principles?

David Cancel: So, the principles that he focuses on are removing controls, radical candor, the global implications of culture. And I may have missed one, one on transparency.

Black Bartlett: And there's also one that they point to around talent density, as well.

David Cancel: That's right, talent density. You're right, I missed that.

Black Bartlett: Yeah. And I think that they're all really interesting in the sense that they kind of stand alone, but as I was going through the book again, and as I was kind of thinking and prepping for our conversation today, I was realizing that they all sort of reinforce one another as well. It's pretty cool. And so I guess, maybe unpacking each of those, in talent density, what was the gist of that and how'd you think about talent density after reading?

David Cancel: Yeah. Again, remember my frame, and it's important everyone has their own frame, so that's your current context. And my current context was thinking about," All right, what can we learn from this for my own company?" And what was different in the beginning versus now is, I think it's an important thing as you think about scaling your company, I would say, in the early days my company was closer, was more akin to, a Netflix/ Amazon type culture and pretty high- velocity, pretty sharp- elbow, really focused on learning and performance. And then I'd say, over time, I'd say in the last year or two, we've come closer to the other end of the spectrum, more Google or more HubSpot- like culture. And so I was trying to figure out, are we going in the right direction? Do we need to stay true to what we were in the beginning? And one of the most important things that Reed talks about in the book is this talent density thing. And this was kind of the core of how we thought about things at Drift in the early days, and still think about it these days, and it was really about surrounding yourself by the most exceptional people you can. And I think Charlie Lunger, to go back to that reference, talks about this a lot, about that you will become kind of the average of the people that you surround yourself with. And I think that's been one of the most important life lessons and business lessons that I've ever learned. And it's something that we all roll our eyes at at some point because we've heard it so much, but many of us never remember to live it. And so talent density is really, you have to find the best of the best of the best. And that will breed, you know, success breeds success. And one of the things that Reed talked about in the original culture deck, and then later in the book, that really scared people was this idea that if you were a really good performer, that that would get you a severance check and there wouldn't be time for you at Netflix and that they only wanted the greats, the best of the best, and how they thought about this idea of keepers and who they absolutely needed to keep. And in the book he talks about how they didn't always have that clarity around this, and it was really when they had to lay off a third of their company that really forced them to think about this. And one thing that they observed was, even though that was a very painful decision for them, that it became a happier, more productive place post that layoff than it was before.

Black Bartlett: Yeah. It was an interesting story that they, I think that was kind of during the initial. com bubble burst. Because of that, understandably, they had to kind of go into what they viewed as being in a hibernation mode, sort of," Let's do the riff, let's do everything," maybe some things that some people did in 2020 due to COVID. And they kind of thought," Well, hopefully we can survive this." And then, exactly as you mentioned, something unexpected happened that was positive, and that with fewer people and after sort of a big round of layoffs, everybody got more productive and they started doing more. And it was kind of undergirding this idea of average performers versus superstar performers, and fewer, better people can really sort of get to better answers and better results. So, it was an interesting story, an interesting example. How has that influenced the idea of talent density? You mentioned a little bit of it, how culture in past organizations you've been a part of and then at Drift has evolved, how has this idea of talent density influenced you as a CEO?

David Cancel: Well, it's one that, in the early days, you go through these stages and in each stage you have a different context. But from the early days, we would think about this and spend a lot of time really being super selective on who we hired. And we, myself and my co- founder Elias, would interview every single person that would join the company. That's changed over time. We're over 400 people now. We interview almost every person here. But I think, as I read this, it reminded me that we needed to go back to that. Because we've gotten closer to what most companies do, which is to really focus on hiring at scale, and, really, you lose some of that, that ability to hire only the best and focus on only the best, when you start to focus on just filling job roles that you have, filling needs that you have, as you need to scale. And as we learn in the story of Netflix, you can be more productive with fewer people. And so that's something that I'm trying to instill in the hiring leaders here at Drift, to really focus on this idea of hiring the best, and always looking at their team and trying to figure out how we can all be involved in the hiring process and make sure that we keep this culture of excellence going.

Black Bartlett: Yeah. And talent density then moves into the next big principle that they pointed to in the book, which is removing controls. And they dovetail together, because if you're hiring superstar people, chances are superstar people want the freedom and the ability to run and to be creative. They want autonomy and authority and decision- making power and all of those things, not micromanagement. And so they started to realize this, that instead of managing through controls and managing through rules and policies and all of these different things and trying to sort of modify people's behavior, actually, if you remove a lot of that stuff, it ends up leading to better results. And so what did you take away from that, and what are your thoughts on this idea of removing controls?

David Cancel: I'd say this is one that I've struggled with the actual implementations. But I think that just, for me, was that the idea here was that we're all adults and so we shouldn't have as many processes and policies in place in order to be successful. And I think the most important three words in the deck for me was this idea of freedom and responsibility, which is how he describes this. And back, probably for over a decade now, I've said something pretty similar, which is autonomy and accountability. And my version of it, which is similar, was that everyone always wants more autonomy. They want more and more autonomy in deciding the things that they work on, the priority, how they do it. But they often forget that it has to be almost like a perfect balance, it has to be like a seesaw, and that on the other end of autonomy is accountability. And you need those two things working together. And as they say at Netflix, it's freedom and responsibility. And often, people will forget about the responsibility or the accountability piece and just want the freedom, AKA the autonomy, but the way I would say it is that autonomy without accountability is just anarchy. That isn't a system; you need both to kind of balance themselves out. And so, they have examples in here of how they developed this vacation policy where you didn't have to track days and you had unlimited vacations. And we implemented that at HubSpot as well, and that was successful there. But we implemented it at Drift in the early days, and it wasn't successful for us. So, in the first year or two, we had an unlimited policy, which we went away from, and what we found was that a third of the company had taken over 60 vacation days per year. But the hardest part about that was that we weren't doing a good job. Ultimately, it was a management issue, but nobody knew when people were gone. They were gone inaudible projects were inaudible and it really wasn't working for us we couldn't figure out why it had worked in the past at the past company but not here, and so we went to a standard policy. And then this year, in 2021, we are going back to an unlimited policy. But I found the book so valuable because in the book he actually describes exactly why it can go wrong, exactly what to do in order to implement it. And back in the day, we only had the deck to go from. And we didn't know, there were a whole bunch of cascading things and how you had to manage the teams. And you also had to have the responsibilities within the managers of those teams to be able to set their own smaller policies within their team of how this could work or not within their group. And those were things that, at least at Drift in the early days, we didn't implement. We just said unlimited vacation policy and we never trained, never managed, never did anything to make that successful. And so now we've learned that inaudible the book inaudible can help people who are making that transition.

Black Bartlett: Yeah. That idea of freedom and responsibility, or autonomy and accountability, is super important. A lot easier said than done, to find a balance between those two things, but I think a lot of people can have more of a natural orientation towards one versus the other. And exactly kind of as the book points to, and what we're talking about here, is that there's a happy medium and a balance of both. Again, not easy to determine that balance, but it is a balance nonetheless. So, that's talent density and then removing controls. So, hire the best people you can find, fewer better people. Then, remove controls. Give them the freedom to run, but still have this idea of accountability or responsibility. And then the next piece is radical candor, all about communication and feedback and those kinds of things. So, what was the gist of this one in the book and in the culture deck?

David Cancel: I love this one. By the way, there is a book called Radical Candor, which is another great book that I would recommend, but we'll stick to the five here. But this section stresses transparency and always assuming best intent. We've been pretty big on this at Drift from day one. And we insist that people show their work, because no one should be working in a silo. And we believe that this allows for quick and efficient feedback. So, for us, we started this as kind of an engineering practice years ago where we would always kind of gear the teams around rituals that would put them in a place where they would have to share their work with the rest of the company. And the more we did that, the more autonomy that they got. So, the more accountability we had, which is showing our work, the more autonomy we got. And so that was a tool that we were using within the team. But also, this doesn't mean you always have to accept someone's radical candor. So, one of our leadership principles at Drift is this idea of" seek feedback but not consensus." So, we ask for feedback, we receive it, and we always assume this idea of" best intent." But, ultimately, you can have 400 + people directing what you do, so you need to be able to internalize that and take that and assume everyone's giving you the best intent. But it doesn't mean that everyone will be able to direct what you're doing. But I think there was some really great stories in the book around this kind of idea of radical candor which, again, Patty Accord, who used to run People at Netflix, talks a lot about, and I would recommend everyone check out some of her YouTube talks and podcasts on the topic.

Black Bartlett: Yeah. And I think a lot of times when people talk about transparent communication, it's focused on the giving of communication and the providing of feedback. Just as important to have the receiving piece of it, and I know that Netflix talks just as much about that. And they have to two core principles there: one is, I think they call it being appreciative which, meaning, you appreciate the fact that it took courage for the person to give you that feedback and you don't respond negatively or reactively or defensively; you receive it. But then the next piece is" accept or discard." It is on the recipient's onus to decide whether he or she wants to accept the feedback and do something about it, or say," Thank you very much. I hear where you're from. But I'm going to make a different decision." And so that, again, reinforces the idea of autonomy.

David Cancel: Mm- hmm(affirmative). It is amazing how simple these four kind of principles are but how, you said in the beginning, that they reinforce one another. And if you've ever tried to create similar values, principles, et cetera, for yourself, for your company, for your group, you'll see how actually difficult this is. And that's probably why the deck originally, and now the book, became so popular in Silicon Valley and around the world.

Black Bartlett: Now, the big thing, and to bring up another book, a few years back, a lot of people read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, And obviously it's a great story and lots of stuff to glean from it. But as a leadership lesson, I think some people took the wrong lesson away, which was," All right. Well, if it worked for him, it worked for me. I can be a jerk. I can berate people and say,'It's not good enough yet,'" and people developed this Messiah complex that they're the next Steve jobs. And I think, again, that was obviously the wrong message. And so bringing up this idea of radical candor and transparent feedback and tell people what you think and what you feel all the time and it's sort of your responsibility to do that, how do you have that kind of culture without sort of creating license for people to be jerks?

David Cancel: Yeah. I think, for us, it's been important to have this next leadership principle that we have, which is this idea of creating a culture of respect and trust. And we needed that alongside the first leadership principle of seeking feedback, not the consensus, to kind of, again, balance things out. And that's really helped us out here, having those two on opposite on the opposite ends kind of balancing each other. Part of radical candor is, as you said, feeling comfortable saying," I didn't like how you gave that feedback." And there's a great story in the book about that. It's about understanding and asking people how do they like to receive feedback, how do they best like to work. One of the things that I've leaned into over the years is understanding different personality types and how people communicate, because what you learn is that so much in miscommunication, especially around radical candor like this and transparent feedback, is not assuming best intent but not inaudible understanding the way someone may need to be communicated to. And so it's really important to take into account each individual's own desire and own preference and own needs for how they need to be communicated to. And when you're giving this feedback, if your intent, of course, is positive and not just getting something off your chest, which they advise against in the book.

Black Bartlett: Yeah. There's a difference between providing radical candor and transparent feedback and just venting or getting something off your chest because you're frustrated. It's not the same thing, even though people think that it is. So, that's a good point. So, that kind of rounds us out on our third and brings us to our fourth big pillar from the book, which was the global implications of culture. And I know Netflix started to see this as they moved from being a single office to being multi- office and especially international. And so what were some of the aspects of this that stood out to you?

David Cancel: This is an important one that we're just starting to learn at our stage here at Drift, but it's probably self- explanatory, but it's how the culture needs to shift as you expand globally. So, each culture has a different expectation, different norms. It's almost like what I referenced earlier, which is when you're giving feedback and when you're building teams, you have to consider each person's personality type and how they like to be communicated to, how they need to be communicated to. So, that's understanding where they're coming from, their context. And this global implication of culture was really understanding this at a little bit of a macro scale, understanding how different cultures and different regions that you go into have different expectations, different norms. I think in the book they talk about, at one point, giving a talk somewhere and asking questions, and that in that culture that wasn't positive, having a free- for- all Q& A, because only certain people were comfortable asking questions. Instead, that person suggested that maybe they think about it in a different way and proactively ask different groups within the audience to ask questions. And that helped the person who was speaking, but also the audience kind of participate and understand and kind of meet that culture where they were. And so even now as we expand into the UK, we have to think about things as small as how we tell jokes, British humor versus American humor, and really understanding the needs of all those groups and ensuring that we're being respectful of those norms.

Black Bartlett: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So, rounding it out on Netflix, one other thing that I know I heard Reed Hastings say recently was that he was dying to get back into the office and that they do have very much an in- office culture. And so, where are you guys on that? Are you dying to get back into the office as well? Have you gone full remote? Are you excited for a hybrid environment one day in the future?

David Cancel: You don't know how much energy this has consumed, kind of thinking about this. And it's so funny that you're asking me about this today because right before we started recording this podcast, I was recording an internal video announcement for the company that we're going to release next week which is to update everyone on what we're going to do when it comes to making a decision on this or how we go forward. And so what we've told the company so far is that we were going to be remote until June of 2021 and that before that we would make a decision on which way we were going to go. And this is a funny one for me because I've had remote companies, I've had hybrid companies, and I've had mostly in- office companies, and when we were starting Drift, I made a decision that we would be an in- office company. And the thing that I wanted to avoid was that I didn't want to have a hybrid company. I had a hybrid company in the past, and what I found was that it was hard for it to be an equitable environment, meaning that if we had offices and people were having hallway conversations and having lunch and social gatherings, all of these things, and you had remote people as well, they always felt less than second- class because there was context that they were always missing, no matter how diligent you were about sharing some stuff inaudible putting stuff back into chat or email or your document systems, whatever, they always felt left out. And I didn't like that environment. And that was not only from conversations, but they felt left out from promotions, they felt left out from a cultural standpoint, and I wanted to avoid that. So, we started with a very in- office culture. From a personality standpoint, I am the happiest person being remote. I actually don't love being in an office. My partner and co- founder loves being in an office, and so he gets his energy. He's the extrovert, I'm the introvert. But we created this culture around offices. And then, a little over 10 months ago now, like everyone else, we went to a fully remote environment. And I think we learned a lot from that. We learned that there were certain things that we thought were impossible remotely that weren't impossible. And one of them was that I didn't think I could hire the most senior person or senior type people in the company without ever meeting them, without having face- to- face, without just getting to know them in that way. And we hired our CRO, Todd Barnett, back in April of 2020 and we hired him 100% remotely. No one's ever met him, he's never been to one of our offices. He, so far, has hired four VPs in the same way who report to him. And we've hired countless other people within the company, probably 100 during the COVID pandemic, totally remotely. And so that really broke the last thing that really kept me from thinking that we could go fully remote. And so I don't want to announce what we're going to do with the company yet, because my company doesn't know, but I think most of us have figured out now that we can do, at least in the types of work with most of us in SaaS software and tech who probably are listening to this, we can do most of our work if not all of it remotely.

Black Bartlett: And this is all getting into the post- corona period. So, that's a great time to bring up, my last question for you in closing here is, another book on your list was Post Corona. And I haven't read this one, but we're all dying for and hoping for and praying daily for post- corona to come as fast as possible. So, what did you take away from that book, and what sort of pieces of that book are you most hopeful for?

David Cancel: Well, if you listen to Scott Kelly's podcast, you'll likely know that during the last 10 months he's been talking a lot about life after what COVID will look like. And I think the two of us agree on something fundamental, that the world, as I see it, has suffered this collective trauma. And so, we've gone through this massive traumatic event. And if we look back at history and we think about the times in history when we have gone through, either locally or globally, massive traumatic events, they take a long, long time to unwind. And this is something that I've talked to my company about because there was so much talk about," When do we go back? When do things go back to normal? When can we go back to the office?" And my view had been," Well, that world, we've gone through a one- way door," to use a Bezos kind of idea, this idea of one- way doors versus two- way doors. We've gone through a door that we can never go back to, that whatever version comes next is not going to be that version because we've suffered this traumatic experience at a global scale. And even if you look back in history and you look at people who have gone through different traumas, whether they're much bigger or smaller, whatever, but even something like here in America people who went through the Depression. And it was even after coming out of that, even after having money, having endless access to food, those people, that generation, was never the same. It was hard to unwind that. And I think some portion of us will not go back to this old way, no matter how much things change. But the good news is, and this is what I agree with Scott in this book, is that there's this wealth of opportunity that's coming. Because one of the things that I talk to entrepreneurs a lot about is that what you want to do is to try to find when massive behavior changes happen, usually led by some sort of trend or mega- trend, as I think about it, and then really think about what opportunities does that open up for you to create a new product, to re- segment the markets you go into, to recreate your products. Because one of the things that's impossible is to get someone to change their behavior. And so, most entrepreneurs will work on ideas and have this thought that it's easy to change behavior. I'm on the other end inaudible but with something like this pandemic, we've had massive behavior change from everything that we're doing, talking about whether we go back to our offices or not, to doing this podcast in the way that we're doing it right now. We've had massive behavior change. That means that there's massive opportunities for everyone listening to this to rethink the markets that they're going into, rethink the products that they're creating, to really address all of this new need that has emerged from all of this behavior change.

Black Bartlett: I think it makes a lot of sense to me, and it's great because my prior question about when are you going back into the office, is it going to be hybrid, is it going to be remote only, that's mostly what people think about and talk about when it comes to what's the post- COVID world going to look like. It's this very zoomed- in, singular sort of thing about the future of work. And it's important but, like you said, everything is affected by the current global pandemic. Whether it's industries or whether it's just things in your personal life, what are the future of friendships and socializing? What is the future of entertainment? All of these things are kind of... There's a ton of change, but also a ton of opportunity for new innovation and new things, kind of like a new Datto release of earth in some ways, right?

David Cancel: Totally. Absolutely. Even in our business within even different segments it's totally changed things. I'd say in our enterprise segment, it's kind of fast- forwarded us 10 years along the adoption curve. 10 years have been fast- forwarded, because all these enterprise companies, the biggest in the world who thought they could never sell, never market anything without being in person, without hopping on a plane, without having in- person events, have had to adjust to that reality overnight, 100% of them, across the world. There isn't a company that hasn't. And so, some of that will change in the future, but they've all been forced into this acceptance, or this learning, that it is possible that they can do things in this way. And that's true for our kids in the way that they're being taught and the way that they're learning now. That's true for friendships, as you say, that's true for dating, that's true for kind of every aspect of our life, and so everything has been recast.

Black Bartlett: Where there is disruption, there is also opportunity. I think that's a great and hopeful place for us to leave the podcast for now. So, thanks for joining us here on the show and having a conversation. This has been great, David.

David Cancel: Well, thanks for having me, Blake. And I'm excited to chat with you anytime, especially about books.

Black Bartlett: Thanks for listening to this episode of BUILD. If you like what you've heard, leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and subscribe to stay up to date with all the new episodes. Follow me, Blake Bartlett, on LinkedIn to join in on the conversation and let me know what you think about the show. Join me this season on BUILD as we look into the brilliant minds scaling Slack, Notion, Atlassian, and more to discover what it takes to build an awesome product and achieve hyper- growth across every stage of maturity, from seed to IPO and beyond. Now, if you're ready, let's build this together. See you next time here on BUILD.


David Cancel read 50 books in 2020, and he reveals his absolute favorites on this episode of BUILD. Tune in to hear which popular book influenced Drift’s approach to company culture, and which author is helping David plan for life after COVID-19. David Cancel is best known for being a serial founder and product visionary from his track record with Drift, HubSpot, and beyond.

Key Takeaways:

[1:35] David talks about the books he read in 2020.

[2:27] When did David become an avid reader?

[4:20] Reading currently vs. in the past.

[5:10] David talks about his top five recommended reads.

[6:20] How does David decide what to read next?

[9:33] David shares why he recommended No Rules Rule: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention

[11:38] David talks about the four principles stated in No Rules Rule

[12:20] David shares his perspective on regards to the concept of talent density.

[15:31] How the idea of talent density influenced David as a CEO?

[17:37] Managing through removing controls.

[21:20] David shares what radical candor means to him.

[25:03] How can a radical candor culture be sustained without allowing people to be jerks?

[26:49] David talks about the different aspects of the global implications of culture.

[29:01] David talks about which point his company is at in regards to coming back to the office.

[32:40] David talks about his takeaways from Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity

Today's Host

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Blake Bartlett

|Partner at OpenView

Today's Guests

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David Cancel

|CEO of Drift