The Leadership Game Plan: How Does Peloton’s, Graham Stanton, Visualizes Failure? Unavoidable.
Leading a company is an epic journey which is seasoned in failure, and the crucible of combat lounges on how a leader manages that failure. You will undoubtedly fail, but when that loss occurs how will you learn from the mistake?” I spent the better part of my entrepreneurial journey running away from failure and my level of success, or lack thereof, was limited.
As a leader, you must become comfortable with failing your way to success. How? Whenever you are starting a new business, product or service always begin the conversation with, “This might not work.” Seth Godin, the author of The Icarus Deception, believes that this little statement is the core of all important projects. Godin believes this statement forces you to push beyond your comfort zone.
Is this how Graham Stanton, co-founder, and president of Peloton Cycle, visualizes failure? I want you to take a few minutes to read through my interview with Stanton and pay particular attention to the 5th question. I am hoping that it resets your thinking, to look at failure as an opportunity and not the end.
As a leader how do you address the "fault lines" within the team?
Most of the time, everyone is earnestly working toward the same goals, and "fault lines" often come from simple misunderstandings or, occasionally, come from differing management or communication styles. At Peloton, we have plenty of both cases, and that was as true when we were four people in a cramped office as it is now that we're a rapidly growing 300-person company. Presumably, it will still be the case when we're 3,000 people.
The key to the Peloton team's success has been for us to have respect for all points of view and to build and maintain a culture that values diversity of opinion. Ultimately, the company values competence and collaboration, and occasional, vigorous debate is healthy and even encouraged.
How do you build a multicultural team to ensure the company is set up for success?
There are two main approaches that we use at Peloton. The first is that we have a dedicated recruiting team searches wide to make hires at all levels, rather than primarily relying on our own personal and professional networks. The second is by valuing competence over conformity. This has helped yield a diversity of backgrounds and also a diversity of thought. When we're trying to bring high energy fitness classes to consumers from all over the world, it's critical that we have a wide variety of perspectives to draw from within our own team.
Short-term thinking pays the bills but how do you better incorporate long-term thinking into your decision-making process?
This one has been a little easier for Peloton. We're about 2.5 years into generating revenue, but we know we're still barely at the beginning in terms of what Peloton can achieve. While there are 200,000 people whose lives are genuinely better for being Peloton riders, we believe that number should be 10 or 100 times higher. Everything we do is to make that happen.
So it's easy to spend a little extra money now if we know it will improve our chances of getting to where we know we can go.
The harder part is foregoing short term revenue in order not to jeopardize the long term. At times in the past, we have been tempted to use "cheesy" marketing tactics that have been proven to work in the fitness industry of days past. But instead of taking the easy path to quick sales, we put in the hard work to understand and pay respect to our customers. And we're glad we did, as it made us the company we are today.
How do you adjusting your thinking in ways that compensate for your blind spots?
The first step is becoming aware of blind spots, and on the Peloton team, we rely on each other to think differently and to point out blind spots in each other's thinking. This is the main reason why diversity of thought is an asset for the company. While we each have our individual blind spots, it's unlikely for anything to be missed by the team as a whole.
The adjustment comes from not getting too attached to any idea or assumption about the state of affairs. And that adjustment is also easier to make when its necessity is abundantly clear to others on the team.
Do you consider failure as normal, positive and a source of opportunity?
If you aim high, failure to some extent is going to be unavoidable, and a total lack of failure only shows a lack of ambition. Failure is always an opportunity to learn from.
However, there are many instances where failure really is not an option. When Peloton launched, we took pre-order deposits from hundreds of people before we built our first bike. For months, we were sitting on people's money, and we needed to finish the design of the bike, get manufacturing processes in place, and get the software to a point where it was functional and didn't crash all the time. If we had failed in any one of these, it's likely there wouldn't be a Peloton today.
How does the availability of re-usable infrastructure, like APIs or payment platforms, help your company?
Reusable software infrastructure has been critical for every stage of our development. We've used Amazon Web Services from the beginning, so we've never needed to manage our own servers. This was critical at the beginning when we didn't have an operations team, and it's critical now so that we can scale seamlessly with our rapid growth.
Other tools have also been invaluable. For instance, Stripe handles all of our payments. We found that, versus more traditional payment solution, Stripe was simple to implement and saved both our engineering and accounting team considerable time, effort, and expense.