Last month, Lucy Reid took a big step. Well, more of a gigantic leap. On September 1, 2000, she left her career at Wells Fargo & Co. for the top spot at an Internet company one seven-hundredth the size, taking the reins of Bigstep.com from former CEO and cofounder Andrew Beebe. At Wells Fargo, Reid oversaw roughly 3000 employees; at Bigstep, she is CEO to 150. Well Fargo generates more than $1 billion in revenue per quarter and $250 million in profit. Bigstep, a-year-and-a-half-old company that provides tools and space for small businesses to start their own Web sites, brings in roughly a million per quarter and has yet to make a profit.
Reid is unfazed by the difference in scale. "I really wanted to lead a team, to have marketing, strategy, technology — everything under my control," she says. "Unless you're CEO, you don't have everything at your fingertips."
Reid may come to Bigstep from an old-economy behemoth, but she's no startup rookie. She arrived at Wells Fargo five and a half years ago to run an internal grassroots department targeting direct marketing and direct services to small businesses. "We had a pretty nice office, but other than that, it was the same rough-and-tumble world — the have-an-idea-in-November-and-launch-it-in-February environment." A few weeks after the switch, Fast Company caught up with Reid to gauge her transition, to examine how Wells Fargo prepared her for a new work life, and to report on her future plans for Bigstep.
How did you choose Bigstep?
When you work for a big corporation, everything is known. At the beginning of my search, I didn't even know any of the venture firms. These startups live in a different world. A friend who's a recruiter advised me to find something I love and people I want to work with, and then worry about who's funding the company and its market opportunity. She was right. Bigstep's values and commitment to the small-business community sold me.
How did you ease the transition from being one CEO to another?
Before coming on, I spoke to everyone at a special meeting. The next day I came back, spent a day in smaller meetings, and had a brown-bag lunch with my new coworkers. That evening, Andrew and I cooked barbecue for all the employees. By the time I actually took over, people had already seen me around quite a bit.
For the first week of my tenure, Andrew ran the meetings and set the agendas, and I shadowed him. The second week, I started running the meetings. I've taken over the new employee lunches, and I've started holding CEO lunches once a week too, so I can eventually sit down with the whole team. That'll take four months, but that's my plan.
What tips would you offer to an outsider taking over a young company?
I like to collect everybody's ideas. Bigstep is too big for this, but in an organization of 30 people or fewer, I would meet with every single person and ask these five questions:
- What's going well?
- What's going wrong?
- What do you want to do personally with your career?
- What are the things you need to learn to keep your career moving?
- What's the one thing that I should absolutely keep or absolutely change?
People will tell you everything you need to know. It's your job to hash out the priorities.
It's also important for a new leader to communicate her vision clearly. At Bigstep, I stood up in the first meeting and said, "I'm going to concentrate on the user experience and on employee learning." But then you have to follow through. For example, I now require every member of the management team to spend at least two hours a month talking with customers. If that works, we'll expand the policy.
Now that you are CEO, where will Bigstep begin moving?
Andrew and his team hunkered down over the summer and mapped out a corporate plan. It needs some work, but it's a good agenda. My greatest challenge will be to make that plan happen.
In order to execute the plan, I must put it on a schedule — I have to lay out a simple, integrated plan that says, "This is going to happen in the next three months." You can chunk out the big themes that way — during these three months, we focus on the product; during the following three months, we focus on marketing and sales; then, we debug and rethink our architecture, etc. I have found that you must think creatively, too, because if Plan A doesn't work, you must be able to execute Plan B fast.
Have you lost anything in the transition to Bigstep?
Wells Fargo has an enormous number of resources — analytical reports and thousands of coworkers whom you can ask thousands of questions. At Wells Fargo, I was also considered pretty good with technology, but I've got a lot of learning to do here.
Bigstep is a much more interactive environment. It's looser. I can catch people for five minutes, think things through with them, and make decisions on the fly. That translates into a more relaxed dress code, and a more relaxed environment. I'm a very frank person, and this is a frank environment. I can abandon my carefulness here, and that is a joy.
Contact Lucy Reid via email (Lucy@bigstep.net).