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How do you CEO? / Kim Teo @ Mr Yum
A learning journey of how startup CEOs work.
Over the past 6 six months, I've interviewed 15 CEOs to learn how to do my job better.
It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my own professional development and I hated the idea of keeping all the insights to myself. They all kindly agreed to share our candid conversations so that we can all learn from each other.
This is the final interview in the series.
The next post will be a full recap of the insights from the interviews 💜
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#16 Kim Teo / CEO @ Mr Yum
How do you CEO?
I just wing it.
I’m trying to figure out what my own role is. Mr Yum is 4 years old. It changes every 6 months, and each is so different to the previous 6 months. As the company changes, the role of the CEO evolves. I try to figure out what the role is that I have to play in that timeframe.
Sometimes, I am a war-time, sometimes a peace-time CEO.
Sometimes a hype person, sometimes a reality check.
That changes my key messages, strategic reaction, my attitude and my behaviour.
How you say something is more important than what you say.
People read your body language, urgency and vibe. They feed off your mood.
I behave how I want the team to feel.
How did your job change over time?
When we were at an earlier stage, it was easier to make decisions very quickly. You’re making decisions to get traction rather than figure out all the risks and collateral damage.
In the early stages, there are way fewer one-door decisions.
With only 100 customers, you can call them all if something goes wrong.
Now, I vary my approach, I either push things very fast or pull things to a really slow pace. Whilst being articulate about the rationale and the decision-making.
For example - different regions run at different speeds.
In the US we’re a startup, in a scaleup. The team on the ground has to make decisions to change the speed in a week, not a month.
2021 and the early part of 2022 were frothy, it was easier to raise capital and we milked that. In that mode, you can take more risks, because the markets are fuelling the crazy.
This year has been a total shift and what matters now is capital efficiency. So, I have to change my mode too. Slow down on things that are not aligned with that. The mission doesn’t change, the vision doesn’t change, but the path to get there changes. We just need to be a bit more patient.
What’s your to-do list as a CEO?
We often ask ourselves in the leadership team - what is each one of our superpowers?
In your 20s, you want to get good at everything, especially your weaknesses.
In your 30s, you build an appreciation for what you’re not good at. Find the thing you are good at and triple down on that.
I ask my team - what is the most important thing I can do for you and the business?
The answer is pretty consistent - “seeing around corners”.
I have an intuition of what is an opportunity that we cannot miss,
and risk that will really fuck us up.
And that’s my job.
To keep us from falling over, so we can seize the opportunities as they arise.
This can be anything - product, customer, positioning (brand), ecosystem change and the competitive landscape changing around us. These things typically involve a view of external factors. There are people in the company who are focused on our internal operations and they are incredible at it.
How do you set strategy?
We have had the same consistent vision for the better part of 2 years since we started capital raising. It gives you a lot of clarity on what to say Yes and No to.
We have a blueprint document that outlines the vision which we shared recently.
Teams operate on different horizons.
Some people get really excited about the long term, some really scared.
Three years ago our mission sounded ridiculous, but now it is less ridiculous.
We have three strategic pillars for the year.
Each team contributes to all three pillars.
Winning an international market
Our products are better together - our emphasis is on being a multi-product company.
We can scale in a leveraged, exponential way (efficiency, tech automation, grow without headcount)
All of these are very 2023-specific.
We HAVE to hit these goals, they are not moonshot ideas.
How did you come up with the strategic pillars?
We got some advice that one of the signs of a company growing up is when the exec team is coming up with strategy rather than the founders.
We took that on board with an in-person workshop. The team put up what we need to focus on and we grouped the suggestions into themes. It became very clear that these are our three pillars.
Adrian and I wrote our own version of what we thought the pillars should be ahead of time, but it all landed in the exact same place.
How did you deliver the strategy to the team?
It has been a repetitive process. They have to be embedded in everyone’s day-to-day.
You need to wake up in the morning and think about the pillars. If you don’t it is not meaningful enough. How do we repeat them and make them memorable?
We first did it in a big All-Hands presentation.
Of course, it didn’t totally sink in.
Then we moved into what that means for each team and the teams started building out goals and plans against the pillars. This way it started to take on a life of its own.
How do you set goals?
We have our strategic pillars, they have some numbers, but not too many as we’ve found it’s more important for them to be memorable.
Team members also set their own learning & development goals, outside of business performance metrics.
We have found OKRs overcomplicate things, it feels hard.
We don’t have OKRs, we did it twice, and they sucked (for us).
It is a framework that many struggle with.
The people who love it have adopted it.
We have ended up being inundated with dozens of goals (or key results).
The other is the fixation on metrics and numbers.
If you are trying to come up with a new metric - chances are it wasn’t important before, so why does it matter now?
That’s where we got stuck. We spent too much time on metrics, and baselines and reported against so many KRs that felt like an overkill.
I’m an intuitive leader.
I don’t wake up in the morning looking at dashboards.
The assumption with dashboards is that what happened in the past will happen again in the future - so they aren’t always the best guide to what’s next.
We’re trying to make sure each team has one key KPI, rather than having a split focus.
Customer Success - revenue retention
Sales - new revenue creation
We are about to kick off EOY reviews - and we’re trying to make sure quiet achievers get noticed, even if they work remotely, and that we have enough data to ensure it’s not a popularity contest.
Ultimately, what I come back to is “what would we do if that person left?:
That does guide pay reviews.
We should be paying each person what you’re not willing to lose them on.
We want to avoid counter-offers and tend not to do this because the person with a counteroffer has probably already decided to leave.
How do you communicate sensitive information?
When we did redundancies it was very structured.
We planned it down to the minute but that's not a normal use case.
Typically, we start with the exec team.
When anyone leaves, we then mention it on the whole company call, if it is someone senior they address the whole company.
We follow up with a slack message, in case they don’t see or watch the recording.
How do you run your meetings?
Tasty Bites - All-Hands
We have a whole company “tasty bites” meeting.
It is a 45 mins meeting - founders do updates, and pump through all functions in the company. Different team members speak on behalf of their functions too so it’s very participative.
Every fortnight someone different in the company hosts it.
They put a shitload of effort into hosting it. It’s hilarious. People get very creative.
Last week we had someone hosting it who lives in South Africa. He asked every speaker for their favourite snack. He had all these South African snacks in front of him and said which one it is most closely related to, covered the history of the food and enjoyed it in front of 150 people.
It is mostly a hype meeting, with lots of shout-outs, and we hardly ever deliver hard news there.
I suck at them.
I speak to my team whenever we need to. We are busy but we find time for each other.
I find it difficult to have to wait for a whole week to chat about something important.
I don’t want teams to feel like they have to bundle 8 questions before talking to me.
With my team overseas, I try to make sure we do 1:1s more religiously.
I’m trying to adapt my approach to the other person too. If they like a structured 1:1, we can do that. If they prefer a couple of topics and discussions, we can do that too.
What advice do you have for other CEOs?
I find it really valuable to build a business with friends. Startups are so hard.
So, genuinely build friendships with the people who you are building a company with.
When we get to see out our vision, we’ll look fondly back at Mr Yum because of all the relationships we’ve built.