Mohit Lad is co-founder and CEO at ThousandEyes, a company that provides a Google Maps view of the Internet and helps businesses understand and improve their digital experience. In college, he lived in a co-op and worked in the kitchen, which led him to not only adopt a vegetarian diet but also launch a grassroots vegetarian menu that was quickly embraced by all 400+ residents.
To let the unimportant things go. As a founder, you start out making every decision—down to which coffee machine to buy. It can be hard to let other people start handling anything when you used to do it all yourself. When it’s something truly essential for scaling ThousandEyes, like company culture, I never do let go. But for something like choosing and designing an office, I make a conscious effort to focus on what’s actually important to me. I might tell my team I want a space with lots of light, but let go of things like the style of chair I wouldn’t choose or a wall color I don’t like.
The other thing I lean on daily is actively putting myself in other people’s shoes. Whenever I engage with a team member, I take a few minutes first and really try to imagine what it’s like to be them. Sometimes, it changes my mind. I realize my expectations weren’t reasonable because I hadn’t fully internalized their experience. But it also makes me genuinely excited when good things happen for them. “I’m happy for you” becomes a real feeling, not just something to say.
You will surprise yourself with how quickly you learn. When you start a company for the first time, everything is new and intimidating. You need to get smarter about every aspect of your business—meeting with customers, running operations, doing your taxes. That may lead you to spend a lot of money or equity on advisors, only to find out a month later that you don’t really need them anymore. It’s not that they have no value. It’s that we almost always underestimate how much we can figure out on our own.
In general, I try to make sure every hire is someone who can do the job better than I could. It’s easy to focus on filling near-term gaps when you think about building your team. But you really need to hire for tomorrow, not today. That may mean getting someone who isn’t as hands-on as you’d like in the moment. But they’ll help you build a much stronger organization going forward.
I try to always make it home for dinner with my family. Last year, my wife and kids spent three months in India so the kids could experience preschool there. I only saw them once a month for a week, and that time away really highlighted how fast they grow and how much I was missing. So when they got back, I started making a conscious effort to eat together every evening, with no calls or distractions. I even park in a lot that closes at 7 p.m. because it forces me to leave by then. And when I’m traveling, I still try to do video calls every night.
What great looks like. It’s scary not knowing whether we’re making the best possible use of our potential and opportunity as a company. I wish I had a Magic 8 Ball that could tell me if the plan we have is the absolute best we can do or if there’s more room to push.
Because we’re building a new category, there’s really no one to chase and model after, even if we wanted to. But even in the places where I can find parallels, we still need to apply it to our world and define what great should look like. This is where a strong board is helpful and we are fortunate to have that. When I was working on my PhD, I avoided reading reference material before I started a project because I didn’t want it to color my thinking. Instead, I’d start from a whiteboard perspective and try to think of ways I would solve a problem. Once I got a feel for my approach, I’d look to see whether other people had done relevant work along those lines. But only after I’d mapped out my own solution.
I tend not to read many books on startups and businesses, though right now I have Trillion Dollar Coach in my travel bag. Mostly, all I’m reading are kids’ books. It’s especially fun because my kids speak Chinese with their mom, who’s from Taiwan, but they know I can’t really read Chinese—so they keep asking me to read picture books in Chinese. I take it as a challenge and make up crazy stories based on the pictures alone, which they love and it keeps my brain engaged.
It doesn’t always work, of course. Once, I was reading a story that started out with these baby goats playing with their mom. But then it looked like their mom was opening up a wolf’s stomach and putting her babies inside. As I was making up an excuse for the mom doing that, something along the lines of, “A snowstorm was coming and mommy goat decided that the wolf’s stomach would be a fur coat.” I started wondering what kind of horrible story I was reading to my kids! Eventually, I realized that unlike most of their other Chinese books, this one was written in the traditional direction, from right to left, and that in the early part of the book the mom was actually rescuing her babies from a wolf who had eaten them—the classic The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats. The kids were really having a good laugh, but I hope they don’t repeat my stories in school.
In the early days at ThousandEyes, my co-founder Ricardo wanted to include a web chat option for our customers in the product, and I was totally against it. That chat reminded me of consumer rather than enterprise and I thought it would make us look like one of those clueless travel sites where the chat bot asks, “Can I help you book a trip?” He was responsible for product, though, so it was ultimately his decision—and it ended up being one of the best things we’ve done. Now most of our customers use chat, and it’s become a differentiator for us.
Because Ricardo was absolutely right, we didn’t have to make a change in that case. But there have been plenty of times where we did have to pivot. You make the best decision you can based on instinct—and hopefully on data, if you have it—but you can’t get married to it. Our philosophy is that we’ll always make mistakes. Just don’t make the same one twice.
From a personal standpoint, I think time with your family is most important and should never be traded off if you can possibly avoid it. But from a business standpoint, I’d say long flights. When you’re on a plane for 10 hours, there’s only so much people-watching you can do without being creepy. So I end up thinking hard about ThousandEyes—our employees, our culture. Because I’m forced out of the tactical, day-to-day execution, I get a lot more long-term, strategic thinking done.
I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon whenever we fundraise. When you have to go explain your business to someone new, you’re forced to step back from assumptions, find data to support your arguments and ask yourself tough questions. We’ve even considered going through that same process every year, even when we’re not fundraising. The exercise itself teaches us so much about how to talk and think about our business.
- Put yourself in others' shoes
- Don't underestimate yourself
- Define your own "great"