Daniel Kraft – CEO and President of Sitrion

One of our investors told me once, “Anything you need to do yourself suggests that you don’t have the right people.” So my focus is to empower my people and not optimize my personal output. Being available and approachable for my team is key.

Daniel Kraft serves as the CEO of Sitrion, a software company with the vision to make work better. Daniel is leading Sitrion’s transition from a market leader in social collaboration to a global company that provides mobile technology to more than 5 million users to improve their engagement, innovation, and productivity at work.

Prior to Sitrion, Daniel founded ifridge, a consulting and networking organization that supports founders in growing their businesses past their initial success by adding structure, strategy, and processes. Daniel has served as the senior vice president of strategy at OpenText, the CEO at Red Dot, and a leader of the software focus at Commerzbank Securities, where he helped dozens of companies go public, secure funding, and participate in mergers and acquisitions activities. He has worked and lived in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Daniel is passionate about innovation in the workplace, with a particular interest in employee engagement and productivity, a mobile work style, and the integration of work and life. He is a public speaker on various topics, including employee engagement and productivity, and he was featured on TEDx. Daniel holds a degree in business and engineering and participated in multiple executive education sessions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.

He is married and has five children.

Where did the idea for Sitrion come from?

Our vision is to make work better. We help employees get their jobs done better every day. We simply love to work, and in a complex world, we enable you to stay connected, be engaged, make smart decisions, and ultimately be productive. The idea is based on our 10 years of experience working with large organizations, when we learned that there’s a big gap between how people would like to work and the infrastructure and culture that companies are able to provide them.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a typical day, but a good day allows me to connect with many employees and help them connect their work with our strategy. They work on incredible innovations, and I like to provide them with all the encouragement, information, and context they need. The other big focus is staying in touch with our customers with the right mix of executives and people who drive our projects. I like to keep parts of the day unplanned to stay flexible for the things that have impact versus those that are simply scheduled.

How do you bring ideas to life?

This process largely depends on the idea. Our core business is innovation, and we’re never short of ideas. The key is to deploy our finite resources to support the right ideas. It helps to have great people around you, both the ones who get excited about new ideas and those who remind you to stay focused.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The way we are able to work independent of time and space really excites me. I have five kids, and spending time with them is important to me. Ten years ago, I was required to be in the office or on business trips most of the time. Today, I take video calls in my backyard, then take my kids to school. This isn’t only enabled by the technology, but also by the willingness to accept an imperfect environment. I recall a video session with a partner where a kid suddenly walked through the picture. We had to laugh because we both had kids in the room, and we joked about how we might (and hopefully will) be the last generation with a separation between work and life.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

As the CEO, I focus on strategy and building a team, not my personal productivity. By nature, that often requires creative ideas, detours, and time to let something develop. One of our investors told me once, “Anything you need to do yourself suggests that you don’t have the right people.” So my focus is to empower my people and not optimize my personal output. Being available and approachable for my team is key.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

None of my previous jobs were really bad. I had times when politics and hierarchy meant more than the work I provided, especially as a young person, and that was a real pain. I would hope that I learned to provide an open and success-oriented work environment. I try really hard to not mistake hierarchy with structure. You need structure to be successful; I’m not sure you need much hierarchy.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Compromise less. I am a consensus-driven person. I like people to agree, and this often requires compromises. While that can be a good thing, it slows you down, and you miss opportunities. If you have an idea you believe in, don’t allow anything to stop you, even the risk of failing. It took me many years to realize that, and I probably could have been where I am today 10 years ago.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

You never know enough, so you need to dedicate time to learning. This can include listening to your team, taking a class, or reading about management approaches. Many CEOs think they need to do more. I’ve learned that it’s more about understanding than doing. When is the right moment to invest? When is the right time to cut costs? Which product is really going to fly? The only way to stay on top of this is to constantly tap into the brains of others and leverage their knowledge.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Sometimes, it was about seizing the opportunity with the best possible execution by having sales, marketing, product, and customer care work hand in hand. Sometimes, it was about focusing on the right opportunity and not getting distracted by all the other great things we could have done. Overall, you need to achieve alignment with your team and your strategy. You can only win if your team is supporting your cause.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Empower the right person. The biggest pain to me — not necessarily failure — is having a great person on my team and failing to empower her or him. When you start with an idea, you get so consumed by it that you sometimes forget to let go and have others take over.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Travel bags. I travel often, and there are no good bags available for people in the tech industry. Even if you’re willing to spend a lot of money (e.g., a TUMI bag), you get a horrible piece that was designed for the ’80s, when people carried paper folders on business trips. Today’s leaders aren’t looking for branded status symbols; we’re looking for a practical tool that is made responsibly and aligns with the tools we use. I’ve had the concept in my drawer for years, and I’m happy to share it.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

It was actually $150 on a longboard for my son. He really wanted to have this cool board, but he only had a little money saved. I offered to pay 50 percent if he managed to find the other half. He focused on that goal, stopped wasting his money, and even took on extra work to achieve his goal.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

That list is endless. I find the Tesla app very useful, especially in the winter and summer to either heat or cool my car. I take a lot of personal notes in Evernote. Fitbit helps me to stay active and keeps me focused on my health. I use Google Hangouts daily with my management team, and my family is obsessed with WhatsApp. Needless to say, I run my business via my Sitrion ONE mobile app.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

We went through a major repositioning with my company, and “Value Proposition Design” by Alexander Osterwalder helped me keep track of all the elements. Combine this with “The Startup Owner’s Manual” by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, and you have a great set of tools. These are not books to simply read; rather, they create a toolbox that helps illustrate the different elements of matching market demand with your offering.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

That has changed over the years, and it’s a patchwork of ideas, suggestions, and advice. One of my early bosses wrote me a birthday note that said, “Always keep fighting,” which I still have today. Reading AVC by Fred Wilson is always worth the time, as is Feld Thoughts by Brad Feld. I also like the personal posts by Rand Fishkin on Moz.

In general, I care more for themes than people, like early childhood education, sustainable energy, or being a great dad. I would encourage everybody to escape the small Facebook bubble by reading stuff based on what you care about, not stuff based on who you already know.


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