Hello everyone, welcome to the first episode of How to Who: The Secret of Success. My name is Holland Walker and I’m the program manager of this podcast and today, I’m joined by Giri Devanur who after today will be the primary host of the podcast but today we’re going to get to know him a little bit better and I’ll be the one asking the questions, so you can get to see what how to who is going to be all about. Hi Giri, so tell me a little bit about you and your background.
Giri Devanur (0:31 to 1:17)
Holland thank you for interviewing me today. It was a great introduction. so a quick little bit about myself. I’m originally from India, a small town called Chikkamagaluru, which is very close to Bangalore. Grew up in a small town, did my Computer Engineering from The University of Mysore then I came to the US in 1991. I’ve been a technology entrepreneur since 1997 I built a 1000+ people company then I moved back to India I attempted a large company then came back to US did my masters in Columbia University and then I created a company which went on to go to Nasdaq and last year plus I’ve been working on reAlpha.
Holland Walker (1:18 to 1:22)
Awesome so tell me about your passions. What are you passionate about?
Giri Devanur (2:13 to 4:00)
That is an interesting question. I’m passionate about many things. Reading is my biggest passion I read at least one book a week in an ongoing process because every day you get to learn something new. Second one is I’m a very keen student of geopolitics I love what is happening around the world that I’m passionate about. Teaching is one of my other passions and I tried to teach as much as I can because teaching is the best way to learn as they say. And then once in a while I also play golf.
Holland Walker (2:06 to 2:11)
Golf awesome okay so what is the biggest challenge as being the CEO of your own company reAlpha?
Giri Devanur (2:13 to 4:00)
Yeah. I’ve been a CEO for a long time. In the all the companies that I’ve founded or managed the single biggest challenge is how do we hire the right people. That’s like the number one challenge across all companies and it is not only my challenge, literally every leader and start up founder I know are facing that challenge how do you get the right people. Today in the US we have a very unique situation there are 10000000 plus jobs and there are only 7000000 people who have applied for unemployment, that means not only new jobs what everyone plus 3 more million jobs are there, so when you have such a skewed demand supply situation how do you hire the right people? In reAlpha we are facing the same challenge like everybody else but let me take another minute and talk about one of the statements that I even used in my previous book Nothing to Nasdaq.
It’s a statement by Marc Andreessen, who was the founder of Netscape in the good old days now he is the founder of a large VC fund in Silicon Valley called Andreessen Horowitz. He had made a statement that one good programmer is equal to 30 average programmers. While running reAlpha I realised it is not 1 to 30, it is 1 to 100 and it is not in just programming it’s in every field. If you have a great person in one area, one professional, that’s as good as having an average of 100 people so that has been the big interesting issue for me.
Holland Walker (4:01 to 4:06)
Throughout the years, through your many experiences, what has been the most important thing that you’ve learnt?
Giri Devanur (4:07 to 4:50)
The biggest thing that I learnt over the number of years is about team building. How do you build a team of passionate people? How do you create an environment? A culture of people moving fast, taking risks. Those are the things that I am learning on a daily basis. See nobody can become a master, there is no mastery. You can’t say I’ve learnt everything about it. The day you say I learnt everything about it, you’re done. So the quest is, how do you attract the right kind of people? How do we retain, how do you train them, and motivate them to do inspirational stuff.
Holland Walker (4:51 to 4:57)
So, tell me what how to who means? What, where did you come up with this phrase? So our audience cannot better understand it.
Giri Devanur (4:58 to 6:49)
So this was a kind of a bit of self-discovery. Before reAlpha, I had not realised how powerful this statement would be too. I knew that hiring people was the biggest challenge in all the companies that I worked on, but I had not understood the prominence of this problem. So I’m an engineer and, like a lot of engineers and startup founders, entrepreneurs etc.
and most leaders when we are thrown an opportunity or a challenge in front of us, whether it’s opportunity or challenge, both of them, the first question at a subconscious level that comes up is, how do I solve this problem? or how do I handle this opportunity, right? So I was curious to figure out why does that happen? So we had this one young colleague Bhargav and last year, we were walking in New York and he mentioned that, “If we can overcome this, how problem instead of how if we can figure the right who, magically solutions will appear both for opportunities as well as challenges.”
That is when I realised, Oh! it’s about How to Who. So if we can overcome from trying to do it yourself to finding the best who that is the biggest transformation that can happen. And I believe that is the secret of success. Whether it is at an individual level, as a manager, or a leader or a startup founder to running a large company. Doesn’t matter. If you figure out who is the right person to handle that, it solve all problems, that is the secret of success.
Holland Walker (6:49 to 6:54)
So you definitely see lots of areas for improvement. What issues do you see what issue with today’s most common hiring practises?
Giri Devanur (6:54 to 7:47)
As I mentioned to you, there are in US 10 million open jobs and just seven million people looking for jobs, that’s a huge challenge. In a country like India, like in Bangalore, where I have lived for half of my life. Same challenges, way too many jobs and not enough qualified people that you can hire. So what has happened is in the hiring process, we have given a lot of attention to What is the resume? How does the resume look like and there is this 14 seconds syndrome, Wherein when you meet somebody your subconscious mind decides whether to hire or not and that subconscious bias that comes in is the biggest obstacle in hiring process today.
Holland Walker (7:47 to 7:53)
And do you think this is something that is only applicable in the business world or just companies all around?
Giri Devanur (7:54 to 8:53)
Oh, it’s not just like at an organisation level. Organizations can be a sports team, it can be a company, it can be a start-up, it can be a non-profit organisation or even at individual level as a person, should like try and figure out let’s say you want to learn swimming? Should you go and jump into the water yourself or get a coach to do it right? And the better the coach the learning is faster, the better etc. How to who applies not only to organisations, it’s also to individuals. So let’s say, you want to accomplish something, you want to master something at that time, the fastest way to learn is to identify the right kind of coach, right kind of thought leader, who can guide you and give the shortcuts that are necessary to accelerate the entire learning process.
Holland Walker (8:53 to 9:02)
So do you think there’s an existing business that has succeeded because of its people, or have gone down this track of success based on your people?
Giri Devanur (9:03 to 9:59)
Many organisations, right? For example Oakland A’s, the celebrated book and movie Moneyball is about, how do you attract those kind of people, right? That is one angle. The second angle is from an organisation level perspective. The founder of WhatsApp, which is used by billions of people around the world. They were a people 40 people, team handling 2 billion consumers right? How do you ensure that? So from a pure technology perspective, SpaceX is another example. How do you launch rockets in the shortest possible time? And now I know Elon Musk has set a goal that they want to launch every 30 days and then eventually his vision is to have three rocket launches a day. How do you achieve that if you don’t attract the right kind of people, right?
Holland Walker (9:59 to 10:06)
Do you have any examples of companies that didn’t succeed because of their people or struggled in this area?
Giri Devanur (10:07 to 12:47)
A combination of things, I’ll give you some examples that are in the recent times, right? So let’s take a look at 2008. In 2008, at the beginning of 2008 Nokia as a phone company had almost 80 plus per cent market share.
Blackberry was considered as the like smartphone. Today where is Nokia? Where is blackberry right? Five years after iPhone launched, Nokia CEO was on a television interview and actually had tears in his eyes he called it as a man on the burning platform or something like that wherein you are on a platform in the middle of the ocean and fire happens. What are you going to do? If we jump into the water you die If you stand on the platform, you’re going to die. So Nokia CEO, he made a statement. We didn’t do anything wrong but we still failed. How do you fail in a business when you control 80 90% of the market share? That happened because their leadership team didn’t anticipate that a disruptor is coming and they didn’t move fast enough and that would probably one of the most classic examples in the recent times. But, there are many industries. Oh there is a interesting statistic 80% of the fortune 500 companies over the last 40 years have gone away. In the business world. You would have heard of a book called Good to Great written by Jim Collins. It was a celebrated book, just a came back and it was considered an all-time classic etc. But if you go back and look at that book today, it has great principles nothing against the principles of the book per se. But the examples which are considered as greatest companies, All of them are gone bankrupt. So is it a question of solving the how problem or were they solving the who problem? The management teams and leadership teams, did not realise that disruption is coming and they didn’t act on it.
So if you don’t act on a technology disruption you become history, right?
Holland Walker (12:47 to 12:50)
So getting into how we solve the who problem, why did you want to start this podcast?
Giri Devanur (12:50 to 13:47)
So again, as I mentioned to you earlier, one of my passions is to teach, but I’ve learnt long back, the fastest way to learn is to meet the experts in those areas.
So the idea of this podcast is to bring in experts in hiring, managing, leading so those are the kind of experts that we will be interviewing next few months. And then distil it down, So that our viewers who are going to be new startup founders, leaders, people who want to create their own companies or people who want to emerge as leaders in their companies. How do we tell them that don’t worry too much about the how part, worry about the who part? That is the core purpose of t’Is podcast.
Holland Walker (13:48 to 13:50)
What are your long-term goals? What are you hoping to achieve through the podcast?
Giri Devanur (13:50 to 14:07)
Can we create a community of people who can share lessons? that is the core purpose of getting onto it and then bringing in real experts and then helping probably a million people around the world to figure out this secret.
Holland Walker (14:08 to 14:10)
So what kind of content can our audience look forward to?
Giri Devanur (14:11 to 15:00)
This will be a long-form content, wherein conversations like this will happen. We are planning to bring in leaders from a variety of walks of life and then what we want to make sure is how do we help our viewers through multiple methods of distribution of the content?
From a video on the web, YouTube kind of situation, podcast, we’ll create tweet threads, and probably small shorter videos for the attention deficit generation, which is tiktok generation, how do we help them learn these things so that they come into the long-form content.
Holland Walker (15:00 to 15:08)
All right, so we’ve learnt a little bit about you and your experiences if Netflix wanted a TV series on your life. What do you think the title would be?
Giri Devanur (15:09 to 15:41)
Very interesting question. Probably would be the title of my previous book. The first book that I wrote Nothing to NASDAQ on how one can fail dramatically I failed in a large 1.2 billion dollar kind of project, and then with a bit of hard work and luck and figuring out the right kind of who how one can bounce back. That would be the theme of the story, nothing to Nasdaq.
Holland Walker (15:42 to 15:48)
Do you have a favourite quote or phrase about company culture, teamwork, or any kind of phrase that you look like to live by?
Giri Devanur (15:49 to 16:30)
So when we worked with a bunch of younger folks, including you to define our culture of reAlpha, one of the statements that became our number one, culture statement was: ask who, not how. I think it is such a powerful statement. It eliminates the bias and the ego that one has oh, how do I solve the problem? Versus Oh, who is the best person in our team who can solve the problem, or handle a big opportunity? and that is stuck in my head. Ask who not how.
Holland Walker (16:31 to 16:34)
All right, so do you have a favourite movie? And why?
Giri Devanur (16:35 to 17:40)
My favourite movie is 12 angry men. I don’t know if you have seen it. So that story is very impressive for me, for many reasons. One is it’s a black and white classic. I don’t know, it was probably made in 60s or 70s. The core theme is how 12 people who were angry and they want to punish somebody just because of race or religion or whatever that mistake they find before even analysing, they wanted to just go punish them to death or whatever. But there was this one guy in the jury who through persuasion and over the course of time convinces everybody to switch their opinion through negotiation, persuasion subtle ways and challenging them and that is my favourite movie.
Holland Walker (17:41 to 17:47)
How do you see professional relationships evolving? And how can we tackle this who problem when we’ve gone remote?
Giri Devanur (17:48 to 19:27)
So this crisis of last year, health crisis, upset everything. Everybody had different kinds of plans which led to the disarray around the world, right? It did so much damage to the whole world in terms of, a lot of people lost their lives in and loved ones, dear ones, they lost lives. That is the tragic part. But what it also did was bring up humanity. The global scientific community never had collaborated the way it worked in 2020 to come up with the fastest possible ways to test, finding vaccines and making sure that it is available to the whole world. That is the positive side.
Apart from that, for me, what I observed was the coming together of the whole world. Talented professionals coming together working on projects that was almost impossible. For example, in reAlpha, we have what 16 countries’ people working on and 58 countries’ Investors looking at us. This would have never happened if it was not a forced transformation that happened, going to digital, I’m sure there are hundreds of stories about digital health. We found two companies to invest in different parts of the world, one in Nepal and another one in Brazil that we would have never looked at had not been this crisis.
Holland Walker (19:28 to 19:23)
So looking a little bit into the future. Who are some of the thought leaders that you’re planning to interview?
Giri Devanur (19:33 to 20:11)
I’m looking at interviewing sports coaches because I believe that sports teach a lot, especially team behaviour etc. Maybe basketball or football or cricket, those kinds of team coaches. Number two is business leaders who are well, accomplished people good at hiring at scale, what kind of people that you bring in, which is the who part of it, non-profit leaders, some of them who have done extraordinary stuff in that area. So, those are the kind of people that we would interview in the due course of time.
Holland Walker (20:11 to 20:19)
And do you think this will just be a podcast or can we see this kind of conversation throughout other forms of social media as well?
Giri Devanur (20:20 to 20:44)
Yeah. And as I mentioned we are going to be looking at probably podcast, video, Facebook, maybe Instagram, TikTok and creating a tweet thread, maybe a book.
So those are the different aspects that we would want to use this conversation to reach a much larger audience.
Holland Walker (20:45 to 20:51)
Awesome. Really exciting. So for our last question, if you had the chance to interview any person, past or present, who would you want it to be?
Giri Devanur (20:56 to 22:48)
Probably would be Elon Musk. I took a little time to think about it. I was thinking of two different names. One was Elon Musk the other one was Satoshi. Two different reasons, the innovations that Elon Musk is leading, whether it is Tesla as a car or solar initiatives that is on SpaceX, boring. I was in Vegas, a few weeks back, I went in that boring company tunnel project. It’s a new level of thinking and obviously neural links, I believe that in our lifetime, we will be able to dump all our memories onto a chip and then that can live forever. Wonderful concept, right? So he would be the number one but, I’m going to give you a bonus of Satoshi. Nobody knows who he is. If I had an opportunity to interview him, I would be super excited for the simple reason that when I read the Bitcoin white paper in 2010, I was fascinated because of the technology implications.
I did not realise how it is going to disrupt from a financial aspect and an unknown guy, creating a trillion-dollar cryptocurrency market, and he has remained unknown, even today. Even though there is this one Australian guy, who claims he is the Satoshi. But I don’t know whether it’s him or there is a real one.
But if we ever find the real one, I would love to interview him.
Holland Walker (22:48 to 22:51)
If you could only ask one question to him. What would you ask him?
Giri Devanur (22:52 to 23:32)
Why did you do it? That would be the single question. The second one, which is probably more pertinent to this podcast, is how did you overcome the human bias of how to who? I am sure enough Elon Musk is an engineer. And I am almost convinced that the Satoshi guy, whoever he is, is also an engineer. For being an engineer, to transition from the How question to who is an extremely difficult challenge. I want to learn it myself during this course of podcasts, and by talking to people.