Sandi Lin left Amazon five years ago to launch her own startup, but her experience at the retail and cloud behemoth made a lasting impact.
Lin is CEO and co-founder of Skilljar, a Seattle-based company that helps companies provide customer-training and certification programs — essentially helping businesses teach other businesses how to use their products.
She saw the need for this sort of service in her one of her roles at Amazon, managing onboarding for sellers. That included helping vendors register online and learn how to manage their shipments to Amazon warehouses and track their inventory. It was a series of complex processes and sellers were supposed to operate in a very self-service way, Lin said.
“It’s really hard to explain all of these things,” Lin said. “It was a problem I knew and I identified with.”
In 2013, Lin co-founded Skilljar, originally called Everpath, with two former Amazon colleagues. The company, which was part of the Techstars Seattle accelerator, was initially focused on creating a platform for online instruction for smaller businesses. They pivoted when larger customers approached them, looking for help with their training needs.
In March the company raised $16.5 million in venture funding from Trilogy Equity Partners, Mayfield and Shasta Ventures, bringing total funding to more than $20 million. With the most recent cash infusion, Skilljar is trying to roughly triple its employee count to 100 by the end of 2018.
Again, Lin’s four-year tenure at Amazon is coming in handy. At a company with famously rigorous hiring practices, she was an Amazon “bar raiser” — a sort of uber interviewer that also offers a decisive vote in the hiring process. It honed her hiring skills and ability to select the best candidates.
“At a startup,” said Lin, “talent’s really the only asset you have.”
While she was a fit for Amazon, Lin’s passion for learning propeled her into the startup space. She enjoys helping customers succeed and says it’s rewarding creating a workplace where employees are happy. But it’s hard work, and as CEO of a rapidly growing company her responsibilities are always shifting and providing new challenges to tackle.
“I love and hate that I have a new job every three months,” Lin said.
We caught up with Lin for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: The Skilljar office at 3rd and Virginia in downtown Seattle.
Computer types: Macbook Air laptop, 13”
Mobile devices: iPhone 6s with extra battery case (handy for travel and conference days)
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: For work, I live in Google Apps, Evernote, HubSpot and Lever, our recruiting software. For play, I use Overcast to manage podcasts, OneBusAway, Fitbit, Caviar, Instacart and Pokemon Go (I’m a Level 40 player).
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I’m not the most organized in my physical space. Although I’d like to think I’m anti-clutter, my desk is admittedly a hodgepodge of device cords, snacks and random papers.
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? I like Randi Zuckerberg’s “Pick Three” concept for entrepreneurs. The general idea is to prioritize three of work, sleep, family, fitness or friends.
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? Instagram. I mostly follow cute animals and so it’s a quick pick-me-up to look at my feed! I use LinkedIn for work, but I don’t monitor it for social networking purposes. I actually stopped using Facebook a couple years ago after realizing it wasn’t adding much to my life.
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Typically 20-30 at any given time. I aspire to Inbox Zero. When the backlog gets above 30, it’s a signal that I’m not prioritizing appropriately, or there are placeholder tasks that I just need to grind out.
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? At least 50. We are hiring like crazy right now, particularly in sales, so between hiring and onboarding new “Skillets,” life is pretty full! I probably have 4-5 candidate meetings every day now. If you’re a seller looking to grow your career with a great startup, drop me a line!
How do you run meetings? To be honest, I don’t run most of the meetings I attend. I have a great team who I prefer to drive the agenda. That being said, I respond best to written materials and structured decisions, such as outlining tenets, decision criteria, relevant data analysis, discussion of alternatives and recommendations.
Everyday work uniform? I alternate between two extremes: high-end designer brands (through Rent the Runway Unlimited) or jeans and a random t-shirt I probably got at a conference. Rent the Runway has really saved my bacon since I don’t like to shop or own things, but am often expected to look nice as part of my job.
How do you make time for family? I’m single, so I have more flexibility in my schedule than many entrepreneurs do. Most of my family is in the Bay Area. We FaceTime daily and I’m usually there once a month for work or holidays.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Exercise. I love jogging through the Arboretum on weekends listening to music.
What are you listening to? Podcasts! I’m a fan of “The Daily,” “My Favorite Murder” and “Stuff You Should Know.” I also have the “Hamilton” soundtrack on repeat.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? I don’t surf online. Too much stuff to get done for work.
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? I just finished Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant. I’m a voracious reader and particularly like military history, biographies and journalistic nonfiction.
Night owl or early riser? Definitely an early riser. Sleep is very important to me; I’m usually in bed by 10 p.m. at the latest and up by 6 or 6:30 a.m.
Where do you get your best ideas? My approach is to absorb as much data and inputs as I can, then synthesize and come to a decision or conclusion. Usually my best ideas come from talking to many people and hearing multiple points of view. For example, the idea for Skilljar arose out of hundreds of customer conversations and seeing patterns for unmet needs. I don’t consider myself a naturally creative person, but I do absorb information very well.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Can I pick three? On the tech side, I’m constantly learning from Glenn Kelman, who has taken two companies public in very different verticals (enterprise software and consumer real estate with Redfin). Second, I always learn something new from Stuart Sloan, who worked his way into the CEO role at Schuck’s Auto Supply and later QFC, and still bikes to work every day. Finally, I admire Serena Williams tremendously as an athlete, businesswoman and mother. I would love to see how she juggles it all!