Yesterday, we had a special guest in the Redfin office as a part of our 2015 REDx series; Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz. Sarah took on the CEO position from Rand Fishkin after he had a public bout with depression and needed to step back to take care of himself. He remains at the company as the Wizard of Moz. Sarah joined Moz as the eighth employee in 2007 as General Counsel and she became COO about six months later. She jokes this is because she came to meetings with a binder that was color coded, so was clearly the most qualified for the job.
Moz makes Internet marketing software and has grown over the years to now service 33,000 paying customers with $39 million in software revenue. Sarah says that the company is grounded in a set of values known internally as TAGFEE. TAGFEE stands for transparent, authentic, generous, fun, empathetic and exceptional. The effort to create and communicate the company’s values was spurred by a board member, and at first Sarah thought the work was insignificant. “We have real problems to solve here,” she was thinking. But, she now touts these values as something that has kept the company afloat through the years and the many bumps in the road.
Another theme that came from the chat is that keeping clients happy is hard work. At Moz, they ask, “is this going to serve 80% of our customers really well?” If the answer is no, they don’t do it. If the answer is yes, they still don’t usually have time to do it, but they have a long list of these items that they are striving to deliver.
Her advice to those that want to lead a company one day is to constantly learn – she writes down words in meetings that she doesn’t know and Googles them later, and she reads a ton of books. And, constant problem solving – if you don’t enjoy solving problems, being a CEO is probably not the best role for you. Lastly, surround yourself with people who see and bring out your strengths.
“Rand chose me as CEO; I wasn’t vying for the job,” Bird said. When Fishkin first approached her about taking the role of CEO, she was worried she wasn’t qualified. “The imposter syndrome is something everyone – especially a lot of women – have to overcome,” she said. Fortunately Fishkin convinced her of her strengths and capabilities. Now, she is frequently invited to speak at conferences and is often asked about issues related to women in the workplace, which at first irked her a little bit. “No one wants to be ‘the female CEO’; they just want to be the CEO,” she said. But soon she realized that it’s important for women to see other women at the top. “If I can inspire one person, it’s worth it,” Bird said. She’s now happy to speak at events, and feels bad when she has to decline due to time constraints.
On behalf of everyone at Redfin, we’d like to thank Sarah for her time and candid conversation!