What were some of the challenges that you’ve faced as the CEO of Pandora Labs and now VP for Product of Bolton Labs? How did you overcome them?
The most common would be nonperforming leaders. Those that do not perform according to Isaac’s expectations.
What he does is he has an honest conversation with them. Isaac reiterates their mission and vision, as well as the expectations. Then, he gives options that they can take because if the person isn’t a perfect fit for you, they might be a perfect fit elsewhere.
Another issue revolves around trust. For Isaac, the best way to earn trust is to trust first. He’s not saying that you shouldn’t be too trusting, rather you have to be careful with setting the right controls because in dealing with people, many things can get mixed up, many things can lead to change.
Isaac has experienced people that he trusts to leave him and do things he is not proud of. At the end of the day, it hurts him because he truly trusted these individuals. He does see these as learning experiences. They do happen, and people need to be prepared when they do.
I want to share something that I realized during my trip to Singapore. Look at airports. These places have so many checks that every person needs to pass through. I’m sure that 99.99% of the people who go through airports are civilians, tourists, and businessmen. None of them I dare say are drug dealers.
All of the checks—Security, Immigration, and all the little things that we do just to pass through airport security are not there to make the experience worse. They’re there to keep everyone safe; To keep the 0.001% that are drug dealers or any other dangerous person from boarding a single airplane.
In a company, that is what should happen. Unlike in the airport, however, the 0.001% is more common here and we need these rules and regulations to keep things in line. This means everyone is affected, so that the 0.001% will not enter, or will easily be found. This will protect the company. True leaders will accept these rules, and the minority of undesirable people will be forced out by them.
Isaac has his own set of core values that somewhat summarize the standard that he and his team members should uphold. He would ask his team to think about these things before they act while on the job.
We are Disciplined people. Because we are disciplined people, we have disciplined thoughts and we have disciplined actions.
It always starts in us. Disciplined people no longer need the rules, but this idealistic point-of-view is too good to be true.
Even Netflix, with its Netflix culture, has its own rules for some situations.
The importance of these rules, as we go back to the airport metaphor, can be seen in a few tragic events. One was the horrible incident of 9/11. In that flight, the 0.001% got through; and unfortunately, all the passengers of that plane and the vast majority of those who were within the World Trade Center died.
In business, the 0.001% can lead to your business crashing down. Nobody wants this to happen to your business, your culture, or anything really.
What kind of culture did you have in Pandora?
Pandora had a very open culture. One of our primary aspects is that logic wins. Isaac encourages a lot of people, disregarding their position to always speak their mind in a slightly filtered manner. Having that open communication where logic is upheld is key. This is because at work there can’t be any opinions.
The company must not have multiple opinions as it might derail the company from achieving its goal. Isaac welcomes ideas from his team. He always follows logic and data. So if a team member suggests a good concept or idea, If it’s logical then Isaac will find a way to integrate it into the company.
Most of the time this would lead to a bit of conflict between people. But as Patrick Lencioni mentioned in one of his books, conflict is nothing but the pursuit of truth. It’s one thing that we apply to SEO Hacker. To keep harmony and unity in the team, we have to have healthy conflict.
The problem now is that people don’t want to have healthy conflicts because they don’t trust each other. And when a team doesn’t trust each other, that’s when workplace politics begins.
You’ve mentioned earlier that you’ve cut down on social media for quite some time. What’s the reason behind this?
Isaac noticed that when he spends too much time on social media, he gets derailed. He usually loses his thought process. For him, social media is used to get in touch with other people. For social entertainment, he tries to get it elsewhere such as in sports and reading books.
What’s your advice to young entrepreneurs?
You should always keep your emotions in check. Keep your priorities clear and always have your mission in mind.
The second piece of advice is that don’t be like the entrepreneurs that go all-in on one single venture. If you see a good opportunity, go for it—but always have a spare tire. As an entrepreneur, you are the manager of your own cash flow. You have to make sure that you’re not just earning from one area. You must have two or more ventures.
You can’t rely on one startup. Having more ventures will make sure that you have a back up for when one of them falls.
You don’t want to find yourself full of regret just because you lost all your money in one of your failed startups.
For his third piece of advice, Isaac mentioned that you should not be too in love with your product. Instead, be in love with your mission.
There came a time when Isaac was so focused on developing the best possible version of his product that he lost touch of his mission. Because of this he had to realign, and restock resources since he was down over a million pesos all because he focused too much on developing his product that wasn’t sellable at the time.
He says that you should be able to look at yourself in the mirror and question your motivations. Is the product that you have still aligned with your mission, or is it something that makes you feel good about yourself?
What’s your advice to entrepreneurs that are on the same boat as you? Those who are 7 to 8 years in the runway that have a good merger offer that they’re thinking about.
Isaac considered two schools of thought. On a personal level, and at a business level.
For the company, what would it entail? You have to factor in the people within the company. For Isaac, he looks at whether or not the merger makes sense commercially and financially and whether or not it aligns with your mission.
In Isaac’s case, even though we work under a different name now, we’ve achieved our goal of making it big through our own product. Right now, there are at least a hundred clients that use our software.
On a personal level, it’s different when your single and when you’re married. Isaac was married and so he had to take into consideration what his wife thinks about the merger as well. You have to be settled on the changes that might happen. You need to be aware of the upsides and the downsides and what you’re willing to give up.
Most importantly, you have to pray about it. Just as it was stated in the proverbs: Man can roll the dice, but it’s God who decides the outcome. People must ask God if you’re choosing the right decision. and if he says that it is, then he will bring you to where you want me to be.
What are you working on right now?
Isaac has a lot of things moving in the background. One of the more notable ones is called the Malaya Corp. It started as a holdings company for his family. However, now that he was able to save enough, he is now experimenting on a few other things. One of the industries Isaac plans on penetrating is property development and the other one is product distribution and trade.
Though not active on social media, you can still find Isaac on the following: