Daniel Dines is the co-founder and CEO of UiPath, a platform for robotic process automation. When he first started working from home he used a Mac Mini, a wireless mouse and keyboard and a big-screen TV; he’s since realized his favorite remote office setup is a simple 16-inch MacBook.
Don’t panic. In early March, a lot of the economic predictions were incredibly dire. People said missing your target by 50% would be the new normal. We did start planning right away—how would the company survive if we missed by 10%, 50%, or 60%? But any decision that involved actually letting people go, we postponed. It’s one thing to have to right-size a company when the economy is booming and you know people can find other jobs. This was different.
And as it turned out, we realized within a month or so that the business was actually faring pretty well. We did eventually have to make some cuts in areas like in-person marketing events, but we were able to minimize losses—and by that point, the overall economy was seeing some signs of recovery.
I think giving ourselves that time, combined with the fact that we already had a remote-friendly culture, really enabled us to stay focused on helping our customers—and that gave us a deeper sense of purpose, especially because many of our customers are in health care. In one case, we were able to save nurses about two hours per day. That was more rewarding than anything we could have accomplished from a financial standpoint.
I’ve been an avid reader since high school—when I read Jack London’s Martin Eden, which is about a young man struggling to be a writer, and decided I wanted to become a novelist myself. Eventually I realized I didn’t have the talent! But the love for reading stayed with me. I still read a lot of fiction, and I think it informs how I understand the world.
I also read a lot of blogs and other content from the tech industry; I began my career as an engineer and like to keep up on the trends. I start every day on Hacker News. And as a founder, I want to be as versatile as possible, so I do a lot of reading on marketing, legal and sales, too.
Hiring the right people is number one, and I think it’s something most founders struggle with. The earliest employees are usually adventurous types. They’re willing to take a risk with you. But as you reach a certain size, you have to focus more on expertise, and that’s difficult to gauge unless it’s an area you happen to have a background in.
One thing that’s helped me is asking my board members for introductions to great people in those areas—even if they’re not someone I can hire. Talking to them helps me calibrate and figure out what I want. But for me, the biggest lesson has been that culture fit comes first. I used to ask very specific questions of candidates, designed to get at how smart they were. But now, I don’t really have a script; I just want to see what kind of conversation happens naturally and whether it feels like we would work well together. It’s important to keep an open mind.
Hiring the right people is something most founders struggle with. As you reach a certain size, you have to focus on expertise, and that’s difficult to gauge unless it’s an area you happen to have a background in. I ask my board members for introductions to great people in those areas—even if they’re not someone I can hire—to help me calibrate.Daniel Dines, Co-Founder & CEO, UiPath
Getting everyone pulling in the same direction. You might think just calling an all-hands meeting and laying out the vision is enough to get people energized. But that’s not how it works. We all have different personalities and motivations, and aligning those toward a common goal is a constant, daily effort. It’s the reason being a leader is one of the toughest jobs on the planet.
What we went through last year at UiPath is a good example. We needed to change our strategy from prioritizing growth to bringing in some operational rigor—and especially for people who had been there since the early days, that was a big mindset shift. In any moment like that, the biggest risk is losing talent, and it’s critical that you explain the rationale behind decisions, not just with the executive team but everyone in the company. Founders often haven’t built those muscles.
I spent a lot of time last year just talking with people—I’d meet with 10 team members at a time. And it was a two-way conversation; it’s important to share the “why” of a change, but you also have to create an open channel so you can hear what people are worried about and what they want. Feedback keeps you humble as a leader, and it provides the checks and balances that will allow your company to survive.
I’m lazy—not in the sense that I don’t work hard, but in the sense that I’m very careful about how I spend my time. I’m a borderline introvert; I definitely need time to myself to reflect, read and think deeply. After a few days of constant meetings, I start missing the forest for the trees.
I’m usually able to avoid overscheduling thanks to the people around me. I have a world-class assistant and an excellent chief of staff who really understand the nuances of the company. And we have a lot of people on our team who are great operators, which is an underappreciated skill. I can trust them to keep things moving, and that gives me time for that deep strategic work.
In general, my strategy is to act quickly rather than waiting for more information. A decision made with little data is very likely to be wrong—but it allows you to collect more data. If we want to build a new feature, for example, it would be silly for us to think the first version will be the best. The key is to be willing to change your mind.
That said, when in doubt I always seek advice. I’m very lucky to have what might be the best board in the business—people who are not only accessible and passionate about what we’re doing, but who have a lot of pattern recognition that can help us avoid mistakes and gather better data faster. Like a lot of founders, I was a little afraid to be open with our board at first. But as I got to know them better and saw these were people with not only very high expertise but very high ethics, that created trust. Now we discuss everything—I’ve asked them for help with everything from measuring productivity to creating an expansion plan to hiring—and I encourage my leadership team to reach out to them for help, too.
I really think we’ll look back on the pandemic as a moment that changed the world for the better. For one thing, we’re becoming more attentive to viruses themselves; I hope after this is over people in the U.S. will continue wearing masks when they’re not feeling well, just like people in other countries have done for years.
I think the nature of work will shift, too. It’s a lot like what we see with UiPath—once someone realizes how much manual, repetitive work they can automate, they’re not going to go back to the harder option. Similarly, the idea is now gone that we need to have everyone in the same office in order to work well together, or that we need to travel to the other side of the world just for a meeting. We’re already creating environments that are good for on-premise and remote employees alike, and that’s going to make work much more enjoyable.
- Share your “why”s
- Ask your board for help
- Read every day