I start my workday laser-focused on completing the top three items on my to-do list, prioritized by two filters: what moves the needle, and which positive outcomes I can control.
Kristen Koh Goldstein is the CEO of Scalus and Chairwoman of BackOps. Kristen has more than 20 years of experience in tech and on Wall Street, including at Goldman Sachs and as the founder and chairwoman of BackOps. Scalus is the software that was formed to solve the communication, collaboration, and workflow needs of that remote workforce but ranges much farther in its application. Together, Kristen’s projects are changing the face of tech and SMB operations.
In her current role as CEO for Scalus, Kristen is helping define and execute Scalus’ mission of inclusive collaboration for the modern workforce. Prior to Scalus and BackOps, Kristen was an investment analyst for Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse covering the software industry. She was also the CFO of Loyalty Lab (now Tibco) and Director Finance of Epinions (now eBay), where she developed a deep expertise in financial operations. Kristen, a mother of three, was motivated to start BackOps not only to create flexible work schedules for moms, but also to provide affordable back office services to SMBs.
Where did the idea for Scalus come from?
It started as the result of the challenges we were experiencing with another startup, a labor marketplace that was essentially a B2B version of TaskRabbit. It’s called BackOps, and it helps businesses outsource back-office operations such as accounting, payroll and bookkeeping. As BackOps grew, we realized that it was hard for us to see where our process bottlenecks happened, what was causing delays in work and who was responsible for delays. No existing collaboration tools sufficiently solved our pain. We knew that every company hits this same issue as they scale up, so we built our own solution, which later evolved into the appropriately-named Scalus.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start out every day by making breakfast with my kids Jack, Athena, and Rex. Then I start my workday laser-focused on completing the top three items on my to-do list, prioritized by two filters: what moves the needle, and which positive outcomes I can control. I delegate as much as I can—I focus on the Why, and delegate the How and What to trusted team members. I’ve been told more than once that I prioritize a task list like a man, meaning top-down, rather than bottom-up. I keep in mind the saying: “Big thinkers talk about ideas, average thinkers talk about events, small thinkers talk about people.”
How do you bring ideas to life?
I take a problem-solving approach in order to ground ideas in reality and start to build them as solutions. First I articulate the problem, then frame it. Next I come up with three options for solving it. The next step is to get the team on board. To do this, I spend 80% of my time articulating the ‘why’, and only 20% on the ‘what.’ This technique helps others internalize the solution and own it for themselves, so that they’re empowered to execute against the plan instead of feeling like they’re fighting the whole time.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The democratization of work—that is the power of technology to get everyone from around the world working on all levels of projects at all times. It’s incredible to see how many traditional office problems technology is solving. The gender gap is dissipating, as is the generational gap. Technology-enabled workplaces more merit on the skills and ability of a worker than their background or social status, making it a great equalizer.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have a lot of respect for the people I work with, and I make sure to hire the best people I can find. That said, conflict is inevitable in any work situation, and when that happens, I am able to detach human behavior from the underlying people to isolate the factors that drive both desirable and undesirable behavior in others to increase the former and decrease the latter. That way, we keep communication logical and aren’t overwhelmed by the heat of the situation which clouds the true root cause of issues – the perceived cause is often the effect of a deeper root cause that is hard to get to when emotions are flaring. Every conflict eventually simmers down, and I want to be able to sustain the high level of trust and respect we’ve cultivated. Keeping the underlying person separate from the situation and emotions involved will do that.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
In high school, I did telemarketing in the evenings. I did it because it paid better than other jobs, but soon realized that the money wasn’t worth what seemed to be a sacrifice of personal integrity. We weren’t being honest about what we were selling, and I couldn’t live with that kind of environment.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have learned to code. I discovered programming as a senior in college when it was too late to change majors. I was fascinated by the dualism of creativity within structured thinking. After college, I ended up on Wall Street where financial modeling allowed me to create an environment of structured thinking.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Hire people slowly. Make sure they gel well with your team and have the precise skills you need in order to help build the company and make it thrive. Trust the person and treat them well—and if things start going downhill, fire them quickly. Don’t drag it out.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I focused on solving a compelling problem, even though it wasn’t sexy. Too many people today build their businesses into one-trick ponies in search of a market. Being a scrappy immigrant, I wasn’t afraid of focusing on a problem that wasn’t glamorous.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I hired people quickly, in a rush to scale up, and then took a long time to fire them. That churn did damage to the business that could have been avoided by doing the opposite: hiring slow and firing fast.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A community site that gives moms visibility into after-school activities. It would be like Nextdoor (a private social community for neighborhoods) meets Care.com (where you find a caregiver) meets Reso (a site that lets you book kids’ activities). That way, parents could coordinate, even on the fly, and give their kids the best possible after-school experience. For example, I could put out a message: “I have an opportunity to get a music teacher, who is in?” And other parents would reply.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I gave it to an employee to get educational credits to learn a new skill.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I’m not going to lie: I love our product, Scalus. As people go about their day, we can all see who is responsible for what, and exactly what has to happen next. It’s a constant source of truth for company health. Being an introvert, I marvel at how extroverts can broadcast their activity feed all day long and feel like a champ. I like that an app does this for me so that I don’t feel like I am bragging or blaming. I also like Slack, because it makes everything we do immediate and visible.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Socrates. I believe in the Socratic Method because it helps distil the truth of how teams function and businesses succeed.
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