Anjali Sud is CEO of Vimeo, the world’s largest ad-free video platform. Speaking in a fireside chat at the Women in Strategy Summit, New York 2018, she discussed what she has learned about leadership and strategy over the course of her career.
Here are some of the key insights she had to share.
The role of competition
The online video platform market is an intensely competitive space, and Vimeo is up against some of the world’s best-funded technology companies in the world - most obviously, YouTube, who have 76.67% market share of the total. Vimeo is well ahead of the ad-free competition though, coming second in terms of total market share with 15.78%, and they are constantly eating into YouTube’s audience. However, with new entrants to the market every day, retaining this position is a constant battle.
Sud explained that this competition is a good thing for the digital ecosystem in general and helps to keep the team at Vimeo on their toes. “Competition keeps us focused on always finding new ways to add value to customers,” she said. “It can also be highly motivating and illuminate blind spots in our own strategy.”
However, while competition is healthy, Vimeo has also found that collaboration can prove fruitful, even leading them to introduce a recent partnership with their key competitor, YouTube. Sud explained that one of her first jobs at Vimeo was to define a very clear mission - to empower the creators that are at the heart of everything they do. She noted that, “We are focused on empowering creators, so the biggest part of our strategy process is to understand the main problems creators have today and how can we help them access solutions.” To achieve this, a partnership with YouTube was the logical step:
“We have been competing with YouTube for over a decade, but we've recently launched tools for our creators to help them get distribution on YouTube. We decided to become friends with YouTube as this was solving a problem that our creators had."
Diversity in the workplace
Sud explained that she is interested in how diversity can fuel better decision-making. While there is more work to be done, they have recently hired a dedicated leader of diversity and inclusion to lead these efforts.
The focus is two-fold. Firstly, recruitment. They have experimented with blind resume reviews and such initiatives are great, but these efforts also require a significant investment in both dollars and time. Vimeo reduces this by making the talent come to them, so rather than going out to every campus and exhausting huge resources, female engineers at Vimeo host other people and help them learn. They provide a service that benefits both parties.
The other focus is on helping women move into the top tier positions. She said, "I think the biggest opportunity is career paths of people already at Vimeo. Many talented women at junior level but less so between the middle Associate and Director of Engineering." Sud is bringing in more transparency on how to get promoted, compensation bands, and more transparency around how they make decisions. They now share every promotion and why it took place. She also changed the process and structure to make more equitable and fair. Now, every promotion is reviewed by the entire executive team to calibrate.
“We try to give everyone a voice,” she explains.
The importance of engaging the community
Sud also explained that for Vimeo it is important to listen to the community. Vimeo conducts an annual survey to solicit ideas for big strategic initiatives, in which people can email in and have the opportunity to pitch at their weekly executive meeting. They also engage with their global community of creators, who come from every country, gender, and ethnicity and act as a great resource for them to tap into. “We make sure to speak to them a lot to understand and solve their problems for the future"
Hackathons are a great way of bringing this community together. Vimeo is a tech company, so regularly conduct hackathons, which encourages employees to take three days off split into teams. They can then build and create something together Vimeo hasn’t done before.
“I make it a goal that we do not create something we’d use ourselves," she said. "The point is to think about problems and over the years it has given us some great ideas.”
An example of this was in a hackathon that took place two years ago, where one team built a live streaming concept. This idea resonated and recently came to fruition when Vimeo acquired a live streaming company for themselves called Livestream.
While Sud says her focus is usually on how the company achieves organic growth through building its own products, it would have taken years to build the technology if not for access to customers and speed to market that Livestream acquisition has given them.
How to drive change in a big business
Sud joined Vimeo as director of marketing and within 3-4 years had moved up to run 400 person company.
While she admits that being in the ‘right place at the right time’ is a factor in her rise, her advice for those aspiring to a similar career path is, "Don’t ask for permission. If I'd have waited, I wouldn't have got there”
“When I started as Marketing Director, I wanted to focus on creators, but the business was focused on other things so I just started to do it. I worked on a creator-focused plan under the radar. Then, when we started investing, revenue accelerated quickly. I waited until the strategy started to deliver results and then advocated hard for it."
When Sud stepped into CEO role 9 months ago, she put in place a new strategy with new vision, goals, and reorganized accordingly.
A guiding leadership principle for her is to, “Rip off the band-aid. By the time it gets to you, it’s already gone through so many other teams that you have to move fast and decisively."
She has also learned to not be dogmatically philosophical about how to achieve a business outcome, but to be totally dogmatic about where we want to get to. “The market is so fast moving you have to be flexible. But what doesn’t change is our overall mission.”
Finally, she says, "be a nice person people want to work with because I’m now the leader of my peers." You have to earn trust, align with their values, and you can earn it every day with how you interact with them.