An Interview with Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is an executive, entrepreneur, investor and author.

He’s also married and has three kids, including a newborn. And so on.

This helps explain why he’s doing things like  agreeing to do podcast interviews in the back seat of cabs while he’s in his hometown of NYC.

Or how he spends his spare time writing national bestselling books while he travels across the country from NYC to SF for his day job as Chief Product Officer at Adobe.

Amidst the hustle, Scott made the time to do a MIMA-exclusive interview ahead of the keynote presentation at Summit ‘18 next Monday, October 29th.

The interview has be edited for length and clarity. It’s brought to you by our partners at Antenna and iNDYPENDENTLY.

Scott on being an executive.

What experiences, or insights, do you find yourself drawing from most based on your previous experiences (Goldman Sachs, Behance, Prefer, Cheddar, Benchmark) that have allowed you make a difference at an organization with 15,000 employees?

The tension in a large business is always between two forces. Process and alignment. More people join the team and more functions are working together. It’s tempting to install process to get people to do what they're supposed to be doing. Of course, the ultimate answer is to not have process but to just have everyone be extraordinarily aligned. For startups, everyone is sitting at the table for every decision and knows why they are there. Process isn’t needed because everyone’s 100% working towards the same North Star and knows what needs to be done to get there.

In a large company, you can never have no process. But you also can't just throw process at every problem. I always try to drive more alignment toward a common vision, which allows us to remove some process, meetings and the cognitive burden that slows everyone down.

Scott on being an entrepreneur.

You are Co-Founder of a new company called, Prefer, which is focused on helping independents and soloists. Why is Prefer needed right now for solo workers?

By 2020, the workforce in America of independent professionals will be 40%. These individuals thrive off of referrals. And referrals are the most organic and natural way to grow your business. We built Prefer because there was no referral network for independent professionals.

The insight that inspired the idea was that there just needs to be a new way independent professionals can build their career and manage their business. Allow them to do their craft, without worrying about having a steady stream of clients. If they're good, that should not be a problem. Right now, the team is very much early on in our Messy Middle, and it's been fun and amazing to see them work alongside writing this book about the early and middle stages of volatility.

Scott on being an investor.

What do you believe to be the makeup of a successful business idea?

I look for something that I feel the world needs in some way. More than anything, I look for a team that isn't necessarily driven by their passion for a solution to a problem, but rather driven by their empathy for the customer suffering a problem. This is an important distinction. Most companies are founded by people who get super passionate about something. They go off and try to build it and end up being 30 degrees off of what the customer actually needed. That's why so many great ideas never achieve product market fit where there's natural growth and the product is a perfect fit for their customers.

Scott on being an author.

At what point did you decide, “I need to write a book about The Messy Middle.”?

Every great product and project is inspired by some sense of frustration. At least that's how it is in my life. I was inspired by my frustration with the creative world, how disorganized it was, the lack of attribution and how everyone's career seemed at the mercy of circumstance.

The frustration that inspired The Messy Middle happened five or six years ago, as I found myself in the startup world (Behance) working for a big company (Adobe). I was amazed by how little discussion there was around the volatility that great projects go through. I was frustrated by the obsession with starts and finishes. Everyone celebrates the new idea, whether it's in a big company or a startup. Then there's fanfare around the finish, whether it's an IPO or an acquisition or a bankruptcy. People just love talking about finishes.

But no one talks about the in between. Entrepreneurs and executives don't know how to summarize it. I wanted to understand what goes into navigating this volatility. How do we make sure we make great decisions when we're at our lows, or at our highs? And what are the liabilities at each point?

Scott on Cindy Gallop.

When we interviewed Cindy, she said, “IfWeRanTheWorld came out of my belief that the future of business is doing good and making money simultaneously. Therefore, the business model of the future is Shared Value + Shared Action = Shared Profits.”

As someone with experience as a founder of small businesses and as an executive at a multi-billion dollar company, what are your thoughts on this statement?

In this day and age, your brand is no longer yours. Your brand belongs to your customers, and your brand is ultimately what your customers are saying at any moment in time. In some ways, a brand is not owned by the company. It's now a relationship with everyone you interact with. Partners, vendors, customers and everyone else.

The values that you operate with as a company are a measure for the customers that interact with you. That's one of the reasons why customers start to care so much about the values of the brands in their life. They feel like it's a relationship -  with a partner, or someone you're married to. Shared values matter.

Once you have values aligned, you're more likely to do things together.  To take action, as Cindy suggests. That statement resonates with me. As for the profit part, I think that when you create value for people, there is a willingness to pay for it. Profit always follows great products.

Written by @craigpladson.

Scott Belsky

Thanks to our Sponsor