Thejo Kote | Crain's San Francisco

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Thejo Kote

Background:  

Automatic connects a car to the Internet through an adapter plugged into the car's port, allowing drivers to access data in their vehicle's onboard computer via the Automatic app. The device also allows users to connect their car to many other apps, which can help locate a parked car, expense a business trip or even coach teens on safe driving.

The Mistake:

We had a specific challenge selling into the automotive industry. We were facing an existential threat to our business: the lack of sales and revenue. My coworkers and I were very technical engineers, but we had to sell that product into the industry and generate that revenue. 

We had been trying for a long time, and we couldn’t make that happen. The problem was getting deals done. It was pretty tough. My co-founder and I didn’t have background and experience in selling. 

I was looking around to bring more help and we found somebody who had a fantastic vision, background and connection in the industry. Somehow, my gut told me he might not be the right fit. I went ahead with it anyway. 

I pushed to bring him into the team although my gut told me it might not be the best fit. I wanted to make the problem of selling what we were building to be someone else’s job; ultimately that was a bad idea.   

It ended up as a catastrophic failure, because the person didn’t work hard and he ended up causing so much trouble down the line. There were many causes of conflict: our personalities, our attitudes and the fact that there was a huge power dynamic given my lack of experience and this person’s deep experience.   

He was with the company for six to eight weeks. It imploded really quickly. He ended up leaving. 

In the early stages, you can’t outsource the solution to the hardest problem.

The Lesson:

I take away two lessons. One, being able to trust your gut when it comes to working with people. I’ve done that religiously since then. Starting a company or startup is intense. You have to feel comfortable going on that journey with someone, otherwise you shouldn’t do it. I‘ve followed that since and it’s worked out.   

The other is, in the early stages, you can’t outsource the solution to the hardest problem you are facing to someone else. The approach we were trying was to take our existential threat and make it someone else’s problem. That never works. If something is really, really important to the company as a whole, ultimately I have to deal with it. 

 Follow Thejo Kote on Twitter at @thejo.

Pictured: Thejo Kote. Photo courtesy of Automatic.