Company: Evite, Inc.
Unofficial Title: Chief Inspiration Officer
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Education: BA in Public Policy, Brown University; MBA, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Marital Status: Single
Years in Silicon Valley: 7
Work Week: 110 – 120 hours a week
Email Received Each Day: 120 – 130
Phone Messages a Day: 6 or 7
Hours of Sleep a Night: about 5
Last Visit to the Grocery Store: December 1999
Power Source: 3 – 4 Diet Cokes a day
Office Wear: Jeans that have been washed and ironed in the “not-too-distant past.”
Travel Schedule: Scant. “Most of the business we need to do takes place in the Valley.”
In January 1999, Evite was a four-man team crammed in a 100-square-foot “broom closet”– – an incubator cozy enough to make the obligatory garage feel as spacious as Herman Miller workspace. Josh Silverman had just signed on as the company’s CEO, and was embarking on 12 months of startup frenzy that began with this challenge: Transform the Evite business model from online calendaring to Web-enabled activity planning. Armed with his best-laid business plan, a shrewd ability to raise capital, years of management experience, and caseloads of caffeine, the CEO plowed headlong into the grueling startup battle. The funding madness, jumpstarted by an $800,000 bridge loan, began in late March. By the year’s end, the Evite team had raised $38 million in its first two rounds of venture financing.
Life refuses to slow down for Silverman, who says he plans to take the company public in the next 12 months. He juggles countless projects and meetings every day. (Last count: 73 employees, all located in a considerably larger office in San Francisco.) In addition to developing and evangelizing the company vision, Silverman acts as a constant resource to Evite leaders, helps recruit talented folks, and tells the Evite story to the public. He does it, in part, by operating a 20-hour workday six days a week. (Sunday is a half-day.)
Every morning, Silverman wakes up at 7 a.m., powers through an oversized helping of the industry’s Wheaties — Business 2.0, Fast Company, the Industry Standard, and the Red Herring — and then drives to the office. “The second I sit in my car I start talking on the phone,” Josh says. “I’ve learned how to drive with my elbows, so I’m able to check my Palm Pilot for phone numbers and dial my cell at the same time. The challenging part is leaving one hand for shifting gears.”
His commute time is 14 minutes; his driving record: flawless. He begins work at 8 a.m., when he walks down the street to Starbucks for the day’s first meeting with a senior manager. Until 8 p.m., he’s booked solid in meetings. After dark, Silverman begins to read email until running off to a networking function or recruitment dinner. Four out of five nights a week, Silverman attends an engagement, and usually returns to his unread email in bed. He hits his pillow by 2 a.m., if he’s lucky.
Fast Company tracked down Silverman for the following interview, sucking wind to keep up with the 31-year-old CEO as he offered his thoughts on life at Silicon Valley speed.
What’s the speed of life really like in Silicon Valley?
Unreal. It hasn’t been faster anywhere. At an Internet company in any given week, you’re making several decisions that will change the course of the company. These are the kind of decisions that you recall years later and say, “Yep, that had a pivotal impact on the organization.” In another industry, in another time, CEOs were presented with a big decision every month or two. But in the Valley, tough choices are weekly occurrences.
How hard are people really working?
The expectation to work harder is truer here than anywhere. This place is a company town. It is the Internet. Washington, D.C. is to politics what Silicon Valley is to the Net. That means we live and work on Internet time.
How do you process time?
You lose sight of what’s important unless you keep your eyes at least a month ahead. What’s the value of focusing on today? I think it’s reactive management. It’s letting other people manage me. I was in that mode for awhile, but I realized that responding to hundreds of emails each day allowed people to set my agenda and stymied my efforts to manage time according to the company’s priorities.
How do you handle stress?
Pressure gives perspective. Once you get used to the idea that new competitors regularly launch, you can take comfort in another fact: Rivals come and go. Tuesday’s weight-of-the-world decision will be dwarfed by the heft of Thursday’s decision, so just wait!
Why does your work matter given the pace of life today?
I feel good about our mission because we’re trying to get people to spend more time together — not online, but offline. Email and chat-room discussions pull people further apart. We want to give people the tools to manage face-to-face communication. Consider this: The reason I don’t see my friends on Friday night isn’t because I can’t possibly break away from work at 9 p.m. God knows I can. What I can’t do is spend time on Tuesday and Wednesday calling around to coordinate plans for Friday night.
From your perspective, are companies in Silicon Valley built to flip or built to last?
This town used to be about building lasting companies to conceive great technology to market. It used to be about real zealots who had a meaningful product. It used to be about sustainability. Some argue that now it’s about making a quick buck. To some extent that’s true, but there’s still plenty of religion here. Case in point: my company. People are here because they love what we’re building, and because they stand behind our mission. And Evite is here for the long run.
Sure there are companies built to flip, but I don’t know if you ever build a great company that way — one that really inspires people. You can’t get great people on your team unless you inspire them. It’s got to be more than just the money.
What’s one big lesson you’ve learned as a CEO of a Valley startup?
Stay focused. It’s so easy to lose clarity in today’s environment, and to get swayed by the industry’s flavor of the week. A quote over my desk reads, “If you make a decision, the whole world conspires to make it true.” We decided early on that Evite represents a whole new market. That resolute decision was the first step in taking real action on a single vision — something larger than any one of us.
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