Leadership in Uncertain Times, Part III: Advice From the LA Tech Scene

by Built In Staff
March 24, 2020
la skyline coronavirus
Shutterstock

Running a company is difficult enough when things are going well. In the midst of a global crisis, it’s harder. Much harder. 

Welcome to Part III of our series on leadership in the era of COVID-19. To better understand how tech companies across the city are responding to the moment, we went directly to the source. What follows are one-on-one interviews with five tech leaders about their unique hurdles and solutions, as well as general thoughts on the role tech can play in bolstering relief efforts. 

 

 

“Find good information.” That’s the mantra CREXi CEO Michael DeGiorgio is living by, and he recommends other leaders do the same. The real estate tech leader is leaning on expertise from within his own company, as well as outside experts, to weather this storm — and he was kind enough to share a bit of it with us here. 

 

As a leader, people are looking to you for answers. Where are you finding the support you need? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

I’m hugely inspired by our team at CREXi, by how committed they are to their work and how fearlessly they’ve adapted to these unforeseen circumstances. I’m also grateful for the entrepreneurs, investors, podcasters and thought leaders who are pushing smart ways of managing the unknown and sharing researched, vetted information with their audiences.

To my fellow leaders: Stay present and level-headed. Source information from reputable sources and be proactive in demonstrating clear, reliable leadership to your team. We will get through this, together — the power of human beings to mobilize collectively against a problem has helped us overcome some of the most significant shifts in history.

 

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

Luckily, our business model allows the majority of our workforce to work from home, and our team has been wonderfully proactive in creating a cohesive continuity plan. We will carefully adjust our strategic planning for the year. For example, we are moving away from event marketing and shifting support to digital efforts. 

 

Beyond your team, what advice do you have for the LA tech community at large right now? 

Our connectedness is a virtue, and luckily technology now connects people more than ever in human history. The tech community is a family of innovators and creatives. I strongly believe in — and am already inspired by — how this community has come together and adapted to current circumstances.

Our company and the broader commercial real estate industry believe in the power of relationships. Long-term relationships with your customers matter, so do what you can to be understanding and gracious as we weather this storm together. 

 

ForwardLine Financial’s CEO Steve Carlson is preparing his company for change at every level. That includes creating new options for customers — all of them small businesses, many with hard months ahead — as well as employees, who are now working from home. Here’s how he’s managing it all.   

 

As a leader, people are looking to you for answers. Where are you finding the support you need? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, I’m consulting with industry leaders and other fintech CEOs. I’m also tracking advice from the CDC, WHO and local public health authorities to implement policies that are in the best interests of the health and well-being of our employees and customers. I’m also having candid conversations with friends and family in other parts of the country to understand how the current situation is impacting their daily life in different ways.

 

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?
 
Like most people, our team members are most concerned about staying healthy and keeping the people they love healthy. They are also concerned about the overall well-being and financial health of our small businesses customers across America.

Community is more important than ever, and I’m constantly reminding my team to do what’s best for them and for our customers. To address health concerns, we’ve moved to a remote-working environment across our workforce. I’ve also empowered our team to work with customers to develop new options to help them during this challenging time.

 

Beyond your team, what advice do you have for the LA tech community at large right now? 

During times of uncertainty, it is imperative for us to make business decisions that are in the best interest of the community. As a tech community, now is the time for all of us to support our customers and constituents by showing empathy and compassion.

 

Elizabeth Gonzalez
Head of People

GoGuardian is among a growing number of edtech startups stepping up to support school districts as they navigate an entirely new at-home education model. Here’s what Elizabeth Gonzales, GoGuardian’s Head of People, had to share about leadership in the midst of uncertainty — and how she thinks tech companies can help. 

 

As a leader, people are looking to you for answers. Where are you finding the support you need? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

GoGuardian is mission- and values-driven. We’re in edtech, and schools are our customers. All we have to do to stay motivated is look at the challenges our teachers and administrators are facing as they shift to remote schooling. We’re doing all we can to help them navigate the change. It’s been incredibly rewarding work for us as a company.

 

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

I anticipate that our biggest challenges will be human. We’re paying close attention to the impact of isolation on everyone’s mental health, and attempting to get in front of it by keeping our community strong. Whether that’s by sharing pictures of our home workspaces, holding social meetings that are not about work or starting all meetings with a mindfulness check.

 

Beyond your team, what advice do you have for the LA tech community at large right now? 

There are a number of university research teams trying to find ways to fight COVID-19 right now. They’re crunching massive amounts of data and putting out the call to distributed computing networks to help handle the volume. Distributed computing is a technological solution that allows these large chunks of data to be split up into smaller packets that can be sent out to any computer that is registered as part of the distributed network. I think the tech community is in a really unique position to support these research institutions in joining the COVID-19 fight.

 

Ordermark’s Alex Canter is being honest about the challenges of COVID-19 and hopes other tech leaders will do the same. The CEO, whose company partners closely with restaurants — including many affected by current containment efforts — shared a bit about how he’s pushing forward in a time of major change.   

 

As a leader, people are looking to you for answers. Where are you finding the support you need? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

We are very fortunate to be both a Foundry Group and Techstars portfolio company, which means we have an immense network of thoughtful entrepreneurs and executives to tap into in times like these. I draw a great deal of insight and inspiration from this community, as well as from our other investors. I’m also fortunate to have tremendous collaborators and mentors among my executive team. We’re working closely together, and in constant communication, to provide support to one another and arrive at decisions together as a team. 

 

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?
 
We’re anticipating a whole range of concerns. Everything from adapting to a fully distributed workforce, to massive changes in the marketplace and having to scale faster than planned. In addition to using Slack and Zoom for communication within our company, we’re also polling team members to better understand how they’re adapting to this new reality. We’re also doing our best to anticipate the needs of our customers and preparing for changes to supply chains and other issues that may occur. 

 

Beyond your team, what advice do you have for the LA tech community at large right now? 

I think it’s very important to be honest with each other and with our teams. We’re experiencing something that’s unprecedented in modern times. This isn’t a time to deny the seriousness of the situation or to put on a game face. I would tell others to be real — with your teams, with your friends and family and with yourself. 

If you wake up feeling worried about the future, express that worry. Others are feeling the same way. But later in the day when you’re feeling optimistic about the world and your business, share that too. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We can’t fake it or muscle our way through it. We need to deal with new situations as they arise and be okay with making mistakes and not having all the answers.

 

Mario Portugal 
Director of Human Resources & Head of Recruitment 

At a time when so many in tech are working fully remote for the first time, Mario Portugal of the Glendale-based artificial intelligence company Beyond Limits is optimistic. As the company’s head of people, here’s how Mario is leading through change and the resources he’s using to weather the storm. 

 

As a leader, people are looking to you for answers. Where are you finding the support you need? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

I have been fortunate in my career to have mentors and peers who I can reach out to for support, especially in times like these with so many uncertainties and unknowns. We work so hard to be mindful and thoughtful about our organizations that we sometimes forget we need the same reassurance. It’s been so beneficial to know that I’m not facing these challenges alone.

I would also say that I have been a part of remote teams for years, and I know it is possible to have high-performing remote teams. You can still create a culture of camaraderie and positive team dynamics. But it all starts with your attitude as a leader. It’s okay not to have all the answers immediately — it actually humanizes us. Most teams will appreciate the honesty.

 

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

We’re tracking concerns about the future of our business and how this could impact our teams and their families. We also know there are some worries about working remotely. To deal with all this, we’ve put in place a high communication plan. Our executive team meets virtually every morning to discuss the business priorities and give each department an opportunity to share any issues, concerns and wins (it’s important not to forget the wins!) they might have. 

Managers are also running daily team meetings so that teams can come together and talk live, as well as weekly one-on-one meetings with every member of their teams so they can touch base and hear out any concerns. We’ve put in place company-wide calls every week to give folks a chance to hear from the leadership team on steps we’re taking to ensure the success of the business.

 

Beyond your team, what advice do you have for the LA tech community at large right now? 

I believe it’s important for us all to understand that this is a different way of working for everyone and that we are all facing the same issues. We are in a state of constant change and will be for some time. The sooner we can accept the fact that this will be our new normal, the sooner we can start adjusting our work styles. We will continue to learn. Technology will keep advancing. We will get through this and come out stronger at the other end. 

 

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