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Being vulnerable and impatient at Amazon prepared me to lead Vimeo

After a major business pivot, the video platform named then 33-year-old Anjali Sud CEO last year. Two lessons from her Amazon days readied her for the role.

Being vulnerable and impatient at Amazon prepared me to lead Vimeo
[Photo: Avel Chuklanov/Unsplash]

I got my dream job last summer. At 33 years old, I was promoted to CEO of Vimeo, the online video platform I first joined in 2014. While I started at Vimeo leading a team of five marketers, I now found myself in charge of 400 and responsible for empowering a global community of over 80 million creators.

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Looking back, there’s no doubt that my path to the C-suite was paved with serendipity. But not all of it was luck. On the way, I learned a few important lessons–including that vulnerability, and a little impatience, can be real assets for aspiring leaders.

Vulnerability is a strength . . .

I spent several years at Amazon before moving to Vimeo. Within my first few months at the e-commerce giant, I moved into a role overseeing the toy category for one of Amazon’s subsidiaries. I was asked to manage a team of buyers who’d each been in the industry for years. Meanwhile, I was fresh out of grad school, and my background in investment banking included zero buying, operating, or management experience. I certainly didn’t know a thing about toys, let alone how to build a successful toy business.

So I decided to be honest about what I didn’t know. In my first meeting with my new team, I acknowledged their experience and my lack of it. I made it clear I had to earn their trust. Then I followed through by doing the following:

  1. I asked questions and listened first before committing to a path.
  2. I “walked a mile in their shoes” in order to learn the ins and outs of the toy industry.
  3. When I had to make tough decisions, I took responsibility for the consequences and learned from my mistakes.

The result was that my team and I developed a strong rapport and complementary working dynamic that allowed us to grow the business and exceed our goals. The experience taught me the value of showing vulnerability–and that it’s possible to be an effective leader, even when you show up without the same depth of domain expertise as your team. I wasn’t always comfortable being vulnerable at work: As a woman in investment banking, I’d come from a culture where acknowledging mistakes or uncertainty was typically perceived as a sign of weakness. But I’ve since learned that practicing vulnerability is a sign of strength, and an incredibly powerful leadership tool.

. . . and impatience can be a virtue

After a year working as a toy buyer for Amazon, I was presented with an opportunity to transfer to a product role outside my group. My goal had always been to develop a diverse general management skill set, so I jumped at the chance. And while I’d only spent a year as a buyer, my business was doing well, the team was autonomous, and my learning curve had plateaued since those first months on the job. I felt ready for a new challenge.

My group felt differently, though. My transfer wasn’t approved, and I was advised to be more patient. I was reminded that it was our team’s philosophy to spend several years mastering a function before exploring something else. I understood that perspective; it was completely fair. But the truth was that I was impatient. I was itching to jump into a role that would push me the same way I’d been pushed a year earlier. And I was okay not mastering the toy-buying function if it meant I could get broader exposure to other aspects of e-commerce. So I decided to part ways with the toy team and move to a startup recently acquired by Amazon that had a different philosophy. It was there that I tried my hand at multiple functions, and ultimately had the opportunity to lead marketing for its flagship brand.

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I’ve learned it’s crucial to be deeply self-aware about what motivates you, and then to seek out opportunities that align with your goals, on your timeline. One of the reasons I came to Vimeo was that it has a track record of placing leaders in unfamiliar positions, and it felt like a place where I could be proudly ambitious without worrying about being perceived as “too aggressive.” This culture, I found, really motivates me.

Putting it into practice

These two lessons–about practicing vulnerability and a healthy dose of impatience–helped me to become CEO. While at Vimeo, I realized that my view of our long-term strategy differed with our existing plans. I didn’t want to wait for others to adopt my perspective; the market was moving too fast and I feared we’d miss an opportunity. Instead, I found informal ways to test my strategy and prove early results, by launching new products and eventually carving out a small team to focus fully on the creator side of our platform. Since that meant working with many functions I’d never led before (like product, engineering, and support), I knew I needed to be honest about what I didn’t know and trust my teams’ expertise in order to get us where I believed we could go.

Sure, I had to put in hours and work for which there was no guarantee I’d get recognized, but that experience also gave me the best leadership training of my career. And in the end, Vimeo pivoted from investing in original content ourselves toward building tools for creators to succeed with their own videos. And our parent company IAC made me CEO. I couldn’t have predicted that I’d be in this position even a few years ago. But I can safely say that whatever happens in the future, I will remain unapologetically impatient, confidently vulnerable, and ready to forge my own path.

Every day at Vimeo, I see examples of our team members doing the same: pitching big ideas, taking risks, being honest about their blind spots, and going for it. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But to them and to anyone out there who’s hungry for more, I say this: Never stop striving.


Anjali Sud is the CEO of Vimeo.

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