Rich Barton knows a thing or two about building a company. He spun travel giant Expedia out of Microsoft and went on to co-found real estate information company Zillow and job information company Glassdoor, among others.
So what has he learned along the way? Barton and Zillow’s Chief Business Officer Greg Schwartz sat down for a chat on that topic at the recent Zillow Premier Agent Forum in Las Vegas. Schwartz opened the conversation by explaining that, when he is stressed out and needs to make a big decision, he plops down on Barton’s couch to talk things through in a sort of executive therapy session.
For Barton, this kind of interaction is one of many ways that he counsels people to become great leaders. Another is to put them in a position to succeed and then get out of the way. That is why, Barton says, he can justify going surfing all the time. He can’t take a call while he is riding a wave, so it leaves the people at the office to figure out situations and grow on their own.
Here are some of Barton’s other insights on building great teams and companies:
No assholes and no scumbags: “I’ve got another rule: no assholes, no scumbags. I recently appended no scumbags because the stuff over the last couple weeks. I didn’t realize how pervasive scumbaggery was. Maybe I did, and I just wasn’t paying attention. But no assholes was my thing before. No matter how smart somebody is, no matter how many sales they’re making, no matter how talented the engineer is, or salesperson, if they are an asshole or a scumbag they have no place in your organization, and they have no place in my organization.”
Groom others to become successful leaders: “I am a great believer in helping people fulfill their potential, making space for great leaders to emerge underneath me and coach them into greatness, I draw huge jollies from doing that. If you can get yourself to the point where you are just as happy with the success of somebody who is working for you as you would be if you’d have that success yourself and you can bask in the glow by standing next to that greatness, then you can get leverage. You can train up awesome people to work for you and with you as a team. Personally I derive a lot of jollies, a lot of happiness, from being a part of a team that wins against a really big audacious goal, and I don’t have to necessarily be the person out front all the time.”
Have a purpose for your company: “People want to work on something big and important, something that’s meaningful. When you work on meaningful stuff and you can communicate to other people why that is, you an get them excited about working with you.”
Schwartz, a 10-year Zillow executive who was interviewed by Barton right after he got off a plane to Seattle, has a few maxims of his own. For Schwartz, one of his rules is to “scale thyself.” He explained, “If you want to grow, you have to figure out how to take the things you are doing today and give them to someone else, so you can do the next most important thing.”