CEO: Claire Lew
Company Description: Software that helps you learn something new and important about your company every week.
Company Site: https://knowyourcompany.com/
Date of Interview: November 2014
Claire Lew is the CEO of Know Your Company. Claire and I talked for a good 20 minutes before I even asked her a real question. Turns out we both feel strongly about open communication and the impact it has on creating successful people and companies. She’s encouraging, warm and sincere – about her passions, about her story, and about yours too.
On finding her mission:
“I’ve always thought there was an interesting disconnect between how we talk about and enjoy our work and how much time we spend doing it. My dad was working ALL the time. He’d say one thing (always replying ‘It’s fine.’), but wasn’t REALLY being honest about it.”
When she was 13, she bought a book called What Do I Want To Do With My Life? by Po Bronson, and when it was time to choose a major in college she decided to study Learning and Organizational Change at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Post graduation, Claire wanted to continue exploring her career path and joined a small e-commerce company. There she met the problems that she is dedicated to solving today. “I learned a lot, but I had a lot of frustration. The reason I was so unhappy was because I had all these ideas and suggestions but I couldn’t’ voice them and couldn’t give that feedback.” So she decided to quit her job and had a new purpose.
“I wanted to solve this problem. However long it takes. It’ll be my life’s work.”
On starting her own consulting business:
She decided to start her own consulting practice to help companies solve these issues. After she quit her job, she further researched the problem and then decided she needed a first client to do a case study. She went to Code Academy (now known as Starter League, and got their support to be her first pro-bono client. She came up with a methodology and process, interviewed each employee confidentially and presented her assessment. It was so successful and well received, that she was inspired to do it for other companies.
“It was really powerful”.
On becoming CEO of Know Your Company:
Through the Starter League, she was introduced to Jason Fried, the founder of 37signals (creators of Basecamp). Coincidentally, 37signals had recently built an internal product to do what Claire was doing because Jason wanted to get better feedback from his employees. 37signals became her first paying client for her consulting services.
After wrapping up at 37signals, Claire continued to try and grow her consulting company. The biggest challenge was making the sales. “I didn’t have years of experience, clients and degrees. Someone would have to take a chance on me. I had a lot of people who said yes and they were interested in signing up but the sales process takes a really really long time. After a couple of months none of my sales had closed yet and I was starting to run out of money.” To make ends meet, she started working part-time as a restaurant hostess. She wanted to keep pushing forward, but was also getting worried.
As fate would have it, Jason sent her an e-mail asking to catch up. They met up and he gave her the update on Know Your Company, the internal product that they had launched. In the few months since launch, they had 100+ companies sign-up. At this point, 37signals needed to make a decision on whether to cap the customers or to spin the product off as a separate company. He was hoping she would take over the spin-off.
“It totally caught me out of left field. I was trying to come up with reasons not to do it! I get to work on a problem that I’m totally obsessed with and I consider it to be my life’s passion. I get to do it with a product that is already successful, that has existing customers and is already making money. But I also get to have complete ownership of it and do it with the people I respect the most in the industry.”
This all happened in the fall of 2013. They worked on transitions, and Claire has been CEO since January 2014.
On what they don’t tell you:
“I’m surprised at how good at it I’ve become.”
“Starting out – you have impostor syndrome. I was essentially given a company. Was this going to work? Am I going to make it? A little confidence and self belief goes a long way. You’ll find out that you are actually pretty good at s***. You’re a lot better than you think you are!”
“It feels right. It’s hard, but it feels right. I’ve never been happier in my life. This is the happiest I’ve ever been. I got my dream job at 25. I feel super blessed.”
Currently, Know Your Company has only 2 full-time employees, and a few part-time contractors. Claire is looking to grow the company slowly. “I want to build the company for the long haul.” Check out her honest and open thoughts on her blog.