An Interview with Charlene Li – Founder of Altimeter Group

Scaling / May 14, 2012 / Admin

Charlene Li is the co-author of the bestseller “Groundswell”, author of the New York Times bestseller “Open Leadership”, and Founder of Altimeter Group

1. What inspired you to start your own business?

I honestly sort of fell into it. I loved working at my previous company but had outgrown it, so struck out on my own. At first, it was just me, hanging out my shingle — then I quickly realized that I missed working and collaborating with people. But I also realized that there was a marketplace opportunity to approach the business of technology research differently.

2. What was one of the biggest set backs you had to overcome? And what did you learn from it?

By far was bringing on the wrong people too quickly. I brought on partners who could grow the business quickly, but didn’t necessarily share the same vision or values as me. I’ve learned that you pay a steep and painful price when you compromise on compatibility. As a result, we now have as a first screen a match with our culture. If a person doesn’t pass that initial test, they won’t get further in the interview process.

3. How did you grow your company? In other words, what major factors led to your company’s growth?

To the point above, we brought on people who were go-getters. We came out of the gate with people who knew how to use social media and content to gain traction in the marketplace — and who were also hungry to make a big impact.

4. What is your biggest challenge in balancing work with your personal life?

I don’t believe there is such a thing as balance. Rather, it’s a series of less than optimal compromises that I make between work, family, and personal passions. So I lurch from one compromise to another. The biggest challenge is being comfortable with the choices and explaining why I make them. For example, my children have asked me if going on a business trip means that a client is more important than they are in my life. And I explain to them that to be a whole person, I want and need to invest in my business, and sometimes it means being away from them. Not pursuing this would mean that I would be less whole, and that would make me less able to be a great mom to them if I was not happy with myself.

5. What are three pieces of advice you would provide to start-ups/small business that are trying to grow their businesses?

Note that all three of these pieces of advice have to do with people, not the mechanics of funding or product development. As long as you have the right people on your team — and you know how to work together well, through thick and thin — you can and will accomplish great things.

1. Hire carefully. The first few hires of your business set the tone for you going forward.

2. Establish governance. This is especially important if you have partners, who are also likely your friends. Be very clear how you will make decisions, and make sure that there is ONE person in charge.

3.  Develop and live your values. You may not think you have time to do this, but it’s essential. The exercise will highlight where there are similarities and differences. Some differences are fine, but you need to have enough common ground on starting point values to be able to get through the tough times. And the purpose of values isn’t something that you put on a wall — it’s what you turn to when you need to have tough discussions and decisions. Make sure your values are meaningful to you and your business, and you’ll be able to live them every day.

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