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Popforms Leader Of The Week is a brand new feature on our blog, where we highlight an outstanding leader and share their insights on leadership, career, and being awesome at your job.


Dan Shapiro

Dan Shapiro is the creator of Robot Turtles, the bestselling board game in Kickstarter history. He’s worked at Google, Microsoft, and Realnetworks, and founded two-and-a-half companies: Ontela, Sparkbuy, and now Robot Turtles LLC.

What’s your job title?

As of two days ago I’m Chief Turtle Officer at Robot Turtles, LLC. The day before that I was an employee at Google.

What do you actually do every day?

I’m still figuring that out! I took a leave of absence a few months ago to recharge myself and work on something that was just pure fun – making a board game with my twin four-year-olds (just turned five). I put it on Kickstarter, hoping to raise $25,000. I raised $631,000. So I’m going to spend the next few months making sure I can successfully ship 24 tons of cardboard to 65 countries in time for the holidays.

Then, I’m going to write a book about startup CEOs, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time now.

In ten words or less, what is your leadership philosophy?

Hire up.

If you don’t feel like you’re lucky to have someone working for you, then you shouldn’t have them work for you. Recruit people who you feel are not just capable, but wonderful for their positions. Not only are they going to be great, but they’re going to sense your respect and admiration, and that will make them even greater.

What company besides your own has an amazing culture? What do you like about it?

I admire Google for being generous.  I admire Amazon for being lean and hyper-efficient.

I admire for being open. I admire Apple for keeping secrets.

I admire Facebook for growing fast.  I admire WordPress for growing slowly.

Culture is about balance and tradeoffs.  What’s right for one company may not be right for another.  I wouldn’t characterize any culture as good for everybody.

What are the key qualities (in order of importance) that you look for in a great hire?

1) Ability to do their job well

2) Ability to help others do their jobs well

But the second one is part of the first one, so it’s really just the one.  As a related point, my preferred interview style is to present the actual problem(s) that we are hiring them to solve, and then asking them how they would solve it.  If I don’t know what problems I expect them to solve, then why am I hiring them?

If you had to give career advice to yourself 10 years ago, what would you say?

You’re not going to figure this out for five more years, but the four most important words in your life are going to be “How can I help?”

What was the last thing that inspired you?

My 5-year-old daughter told me that she was upset that she didn’t get to do her job today at school.  That job was feeding the fish.  We discussed it, and she explained that she had a responsibility to do her job.  If she couldn’t do her job, she felt like she wasn’t important, and that people didn’t care if she was there.

I think she had a greater connection to her feelings about work than just about any grownup I know.

Any favorite books or articles related to career and business?

Influence, by Cialdini.  I dare you to read it and not change the way you do business.  (Also, it’s better written than most fiction – genuinely interesting and fun to read)

What is the best team gift that you’ve received or given?

I don’t know, but I’ll tell you the best lesson I got from a team gift.  It was a note that said, “Dan, when you give the team a remote control car and a men’s T-shirt, you send a message to everyone about the importance of women in our company culture.”

It was like a slap in the face. A much needed slap in the face. From then on, team morale investments were always planned with a senior woman and man participating in the decision.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

“Dan, you’re acting like a senior executive.”

Context is important here.

“Dan, you’re not getting work done.  I need you to do X, Y, and Z.  I know you can do XYZ because I’ve seen you do it.  You’re very good at it. But you’re not doing XYZ.  Instead, you’re teaching people how to do XYZ. You’re strategizing about XYZ. You’re figuring out how to optimize XYZ.  You’re acting like a senior executive in charge of XYZ. But I don’t need a senior executive in charge of XYZ. I just need someone who can do XYZ.”

So what he was saying was, “Dan, you’re failing at your job”.  What I heard was, “Dan, you should be a senior executive.”

That was a semi-delusional interpretation of events but ultimately it got me thinking about what I wanted from my life, my career, and my time every day.

More Dan Shapiro:

Where do you live/work?

Greenlake, Seattle, WA

What’s the best place for people to learn more about you?

Where can people connect with you?

@danshapiro on Twitter


Tags: leader of the week, leadership, success,

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