is founder and CEO of The Trade Desk
, Inc., a demand-side platform that powers the media campaigns of the world’s most advanced buyers in digital advertising. In 2015, Ernst & Young named Jeff and co-founder Dave Pickles Entrepreneurs of the Year
in the Greater Los Angeles region and recently Glassdoor named The Trade Desk #20 on its Best Places to Work
list for small and medium businesses. In 2016, Jeff took The Trade Desk public, making it one of the most valuable companies in the advertising technology arena. I recently sat down for breakfast with Jeff to explore his ideas on productivity.
Q: Do you experience meeting overload – how do you handle it? What tools and tricks do you use to make meetings more productive?
Jeff: Yes, I experience meeting over-load. I could sit in meetings for 14 hours a day if I didn’t look at my calendar defensively. There is a balance here, though. If you aren’t getting invited to a lot of meetings that may be a sign of you being abrasive. Also, I have a bias to action so people invite me to meetings where they want decisions and actions. Given the demand on my time, I tell people to tell me what they want to accomplish before the meeting. People need a chance to prepare based on the goals of the meeting.
If we identify a long-term problem, then I ask if we have sufficiently described the roles and responsibilities that enable that long-term action.
Q: That sounds great, so what do you after the meeting is held?
Jeff: Once the meeting is held every meeting needs to end with actions and assignments. That is part of our culture. If we have a short term problem, there are action items coming out of the meeting. If we identify a long-term problem, then I ask if we have sufficiently described the roles and responsibilities that enable that long-term action. If you haven’t properly described the roles and responsibilities that means more meetings and discussions because no one knows who really owns the task. You want to have the right input and also avoid too much bureaucracy. That long-term lens is what execs often miss when they just dictate action items.
Q: When you think about the most effective executives what productivity attributes stick out the most from them?
Jeff: It all boils down to time. People think in terms of money way too often when they should be thinking more about their time and how they use it. When you are an early stage company, you are liberal with your time. As more opportunity presents itself you have to become really good at time management. It all comes down to how you choose to assign your time.
Q: How do you balance your time between short-term problems and other important problems that might take longer to solve?
Jeff: You have to be careful about your allocation of time spent on short-term problems versus long term problems. Some highly productive people sometimes forget about Covey’s 2×2 Matrix which assigns items to: Urgent, Non-urgent, Important and Not-important quadrants. Most people oscillate between urgent fires, neglecting the important-but-not-urgent quadrant which often needs attention. You need to delegate some of those fires so you can still focus on the right long-term things that are important but not necessarily urgent. The most productive people do this. They have the courage to focus on the right problems and are the most deliberate on how they spend their time.
There is is a tug of war that happens in productive people. Their bias towards action makes them want to do everything themselves – but that doesn’t scale and creates bottlenecks.
Q: How do you make sure your team has a tendency to take things to completion and what are some of the best traits in yourself and surrounding team that helps them complete things that matter?
Jeff: I am a big believer that my job is to share the vision. First I figure out how we measure if we are achieving that vision. Then I give the team what they need to be successful. Finally, the focus is on holding the team accountable.There is is a tug of war that happens in productive people. Their bias towards action makes them want to do everything themselves – but that doesn’t scale and creates bottlenecks. You have to hold people accountable to producing excellent results but simultaneously push them to delegate so that they can scale.
Q: What are the productivity habits that most improve your workday?
Jeff: I spend a good amount of time crafting my schedule. Much of my time is pre-scheduled in meetings. To make sure that time is well spent I need to guide the prioritization of this time. Even with the most amazing Executive Assistant in the world, you need to guide him or her with your sense of priority and you might need to do this multiple times in a day to make sure that less important items don’t occupy your calendar. Fifteen minutes of triage a day looking at priorities goes a long way towards a more productive schedule. If we need to, we can assign tasks to the right people. To do this right, the triage has to be principled and it has to clarify your priorities for your Executive Assistant. That way she or he will know how to apply your priorities in the future.
Once you have the right people, you need to give people the freedom to learn and execute.
Q: What haven’t I asked that would help us unlock your real secrets around being productive?
Jeff: The secret to creating the highest level of productivity boils down to three things:
- Establishing a clear vision. Being super tactical isn’t going to get you to that goal. Legend has it that the famous architect, Christopher Wren, who built St. Paul’s cathedral in London, came across a bricklayer and asked what he was doing. “I’m laying bricks, can’t you see?” He walked a little further and asked a second bricklayer, “What are you doing?” to which the brick layer replied, “I’m building a wall.” Moving on to the next bricklayer, he once again asked, “What are YOU doing?” to which the third bricklayer replied, “I’m building a cathedral for the glory of God!” The bricklayers may have been doing exactly the same thing but one approach is far more effective in motivating than the other.
- Hire for productivity: The majority of our ambition is determined by our upbringing and chemistry and those are hard to change. Because of this, you have to hire productive people. Without that, you’ve limited your chances of success. Hire the right people who have grit, commitment, and ambition rather than hiring people for pedigree.
- Build an organization that learns. Once you have the right people, you need to give people the freedom to learn and execute. How do you build an organization that balances excellence but understands that a learning, innovating organization will make mistakes? A company that makes no mistakes is counterproductive. If you have that you probably have created an environment of fear. Your company won’t be moving fast enough if you aren’t making mistakes. Another company comfortable with mistakes will kill you. The opposite is also true. You can’t want everyone to consistently make mistakes. For example, an engineer shipped code that should have been properly checked but it wasn’t. That mistake cost us $1M. That person could have been fired. Instead, we had the conversation and used that as an opportunity to learn. After we spent time learning from that mistake, what are the odds that this mistake will happen again? It took 8 months to get someone up to speed – you don’t immediately fire someone when you can use that opportunity to learn instead. We can’t afford to fire people for every mistake and we can’t afford to do the same mistake multiple times. Getting the right balance between between these two tensions is one of the keys to productivity.