Easier said than done, but Lucid’s blueprint shines light on what’s behind their current success.
This article was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine.
Business advice, what does it really mean?
This is a question I’ve asked myself many times in the last few years, astounded by a seemingly endless stream of Forbes’ lists promising the 12 most effective ways to grow your company. Nobody reads these, right? Or if people do read them, nobody believes them, right? RIGHT? One of the most interesting parts of my job is being able to speak with CEOs of successful companies within Utah and be able to ask them this question: What do you think enabled the growth of your company?
Now, let’s note the difference between “a company” and “your company” because even the most successful businesses are going to have things that employees want changed. There isn’t a measure of correct guidelines that apply to every company — do these certain things and you will grow — so it falls to company founders to determine what is most important to them, then act. This can vary company to company, but having core principles is the starting point. In the same way that there’s a million different ways to lose weight — some people are going to strap an electronic apparatus around their midsection and zap themselves into oblivion during Judge Judy episodes, others are going to eat greens and bike in the mountains — there’s a million different ways to grow a company. So learn what you can from everybody around you, take the individual principles that best apply to you, and start building.
Karl Sun worked for Google back in the days when that name wasn’t synonymous with global domination. Coming aboard a company of less than 500 people — which is by no means small, but also nowhere near the 60,000+ that currently work for Google — Sun was able to observe a lot of things that pertain to growing a business, eventually using that knowledge to start Google’s China office. Eventually he left Google and settled down in Utah, meeting a young college student named Ben Dilts and starting Lucid Software in 2010. Though this was his first go-round building from the ground up, Sun (as CEO) has been able to help lift Lucid to lofty heights by applying many Google-inspired practices to create a company of 100+ employees, fresh off a $36 million Series B round that inspired some of the world’s brightest minds to collaborate on a Lucidpress-enhanced poem.
So what does he see as the key factor in Lucid’s growth?
“Having great people around you is the fundamental key to success for a startup,” said Sun. “I modeled our philosophy here based on Google and what I saw there. When I interviewed at Google and joined, it was 500 people. Larry Page (Google co-founder) had only recently stopped interviewing every single person who got hired. He stopped around 300 or so because it became untenable. The reason I joined Google and the reason I think Google has had the level of success it’s had is because of the awesome people it was able to attract. I joined even though I didn’t know much about Google at the time because I was super impressed by the people I met during my interview, both on the legal team where I was interviewing and on the product and engineering teams, who were the guys I would be working with. That’s a philosophy I tried to carry over here. Having great people around makes it easier to get things done, you get more things done, and you have more fun doing it.”
I get that this sounds like very basic advice, and maybe it is, but it’s also a business commandment that many times goes unheeded. Growth isn’t the simple act of just hiring more employees, it’s the act of hiring employees who are best equipped to help your company grow. You feel me? This is very hard to do as an early-stage company — convincing talented people to take a giant leap with a startup is not the easiest value proposition to sell — but it’s also what Sun feels is the most important thing Lucid has been built upon. Just as he was impressed by the people he interviewed with at Google, Sun hired talented people from the get-go that he hoped would leave people feeling the same way about Lucid.
“At the very beginning, when it’s two or three people, it’s pretty hard to hire amazing people because it’s a big risk for someone to take that chance,” said Sun. “If you really focus and do that well, once you’ve got a dozen great people it makes it easier to hire the thirteenth great person, they see the quality of the team. I think we were really focused early and that has paid off in spades later on. Hopefully, we’ve got a little bit of a reputation for being a great place to go start a career, grow a career, and that’s helped us attract more talented people over the years.”
As a company grows, the duty of a CEO shifts. In the early days, CEOs wear every hat — marketing, sales, product, finance, you name it. This becomes less of a duty as time goes on because employees are hired to do these exact jobs, freeing up the CEO to more clearly define their focus.
In Sun’s case, Lucid’s rise has allowed him to concentrate even more on the act of hiring. It’s something he’s very passionate about and it’s why he still interviews every person that comes aboard Lucid. Even as the company size has grown into triple digits, Sun is still very deliberate regarding the process of team-building.
“Team is the most important thing that I care about and quite frankly, for us at Lucid it’s the thing that makes me the most proud,” said Sun. “I’m proud we’ve built the company to where it is, that we have the customers and revenue where it is, but for me, having been able to assemble this great team of people is what makes me most proud and gives me confidence that we can continue to grow and figure out how to solve the challenges that we face.”
This process is getting put to the test, and quickly. Lucid plans on producing 339 more jobs over the next five years, aided by a post-performance tax credit from GOED (the Governor’s Office of Economic Development). That’s a lot of interviews for Sun and an exciting announcement from Lucid, another boost in the arm for Utah’s rapidly expanding tech scene. When it’s all said and done, Lucid will have close to 500 employees, the same amount that Google had when Sun was originally hired. IT’S THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.
Alongside his dedication to filling Lucid with talented employees, Sun has also shown an affinity for building a business in Utah, obviously apparent in the wake of creating 339 more jobs inside the state. Utah rises as its companies rise, so the more great people Karl Sun continues to surround himself with, the better. Hire away, Karl, hire away.
“When we first raised a seed round, this was over five years ago, we raised it all from angels and investors from the Bay Area,” said Sun. “Some of them wanted us to move out there, some people said they would only invest if we moved out there, but we decided we wanted to be here. In part because of personal reasons — Ben was in school, my family was here — but more than that, it was because we thought this would be a great place to build a company. I think it’s proven to be true. There’s a great pool of talent here. There’s a great balance between lifestyle and talent, ability to get things done….The Bay Area is great, it will always be the heart and soul of the tech industry, but there’s so much noise sometimes. It’s just easier to focus when you’re here. I think you see that in a lot of the companies here, it’s a lot of real companies building real businesses — maybe less on the flashy, sexy, consumer internet side — but a lot of viable, growing businesses with customers and revenue.”
*We profiled Lucid two years ago as they began to make their push to challenge Microsoft and Adobe. *You can read that entire profile here.