Jeff Fluhr: Connecting Face-to-Face
The CEO of Spreecast discusses the "fundamental alignment around integrity, working hard, and delivering."
Jeff Fluhr is the CEO of Spreecast, the social video platform that brings people together for face-to-face conversation. He was also co-founder and CEO of StubHub, which sold to Ebay for $310 million in 2007. Fluhr attended Stanford Graduate School of Business from 1999 to 2000.
In 10 words or fewer, what is the big idea behind your business?
We connect people for face-to-face conversations.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
When faced with key decisions, it is better to go to the board with a recommended course of action rather than ask the board what to do. I was a first-time CEO at StubHub and whenever I faced a big decision such as hiring or firing a senior person, doing a big deal or making a big financial or engineering commitment, I went to the board looking for input. Rather than coming to them with a recommendation and asking their opinion, I would say, “What do you think we should do?” One of my board members pulled me aside and advised me that it is the CEO’s job to run the company. He told me that I should be more opinionated about what the company should do instead of asking the board what to do. I thought about this advice and decided it was a good idea. So I started making recommendations at each meeting and nine times out of 10, the board supported my proposed course of action. Now I give this same advice to young CEOs who I meet.
What was the most difficult lesson you have learned on the job?
Learning how to give employees constructive criticism is very important and can change behavior and improve performance. It’s also really tough to do. I’ve gotten better at it over time but even now it can be uncomfortable. Before becoming CEO I had never been a manager. So I was either the lowest guy on totem pole or the CEO. I did have investors and board members who had experience so I was able to learn some of these skills from them over time.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs on how to build a great business?
Work really hard. Find great people. Test and learn, test and learn.
What inspires you? How do you come up with your best ideas?
I’m inspired by creating products that benefit consumers. I started Stubhub with Eric Baker because we realized that the secondary ticket market was inefficient and lacked consumer trust. I thought there had to be a better, safer way. So we created StubHub to bring peace of mind to the secondary ticket market.
A few years later I started Spreecast to bring face-to-face video conversation to the social media landscape. I did this because the social media world we live in lacks face-to-face interaction. For example, people use Twitter and Facebook to have text-based conversations: Tweets, status updates, comments, likes, etc. But there are many advantages to having a face-to-face conversation, including a deeper understanding of all parties involved and a more emotional connection. So I created Spreecast to bring the benefits of face-to-face live conversation to the social media landscape.
What is your greatest achievement?
Marrying my wife and building a life with her. We have three wonderful children: Max, Sophie and Charlie. I love working and building companies but it is not as meaningful or important as spending time with my family and kids and learning to be a good dad and husband.
What do you consider your biggest failure?
Figuring out the balance of work and family and personal time. It’s a struggle. I tend to be heavily weighted in two of those things and the third falls by the wayside.
What values are important to you in business?
Honesty, integrity, hard work, under promising and over delivering. It may not be sufficient but is certainly necessary. If you have that fundamental alignment around integrity, working hard and delivering, it’s a good place to start. My parents taught me that a deal is a deal and if you say you’re going to do something, you do it. They also taught me to work hard. My grandparents did not have much money as children, and they taught me that hard work is very important.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I want to be involved in creating products and services that benefit people and have a lasting, meaningful impact on consumers. I would also like to lead a charitable nonprofit initiative around issues I care about, like reducing poverty, enhancing education, spreading democracy and promoting world peace. I also want to be a good family man: husband, dad, brother and uncle.
What was your first paying job?
When I was in sixth grade, I became a distributor for a fabric toy with snaps that could be made into different animal shapes. I thought it was really cool when I was around eight years old, and when I was in sixth grade I ended up contacting the company to say I wanted to distribute their product. My mom would drive me to toy stores in the neighboring towns. Eventually the companies cut me out when they realized they could go direct. On the positive side I learned if you have a desire to do something all you need is hard work and motivation. You don’t need to be 30 with an MBA or a college degree. I also learned the hard way that if you don’t have a contract to protect you, your customers are going to do what they need to do to maximize their profit.
What is the best business book you have read?
The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick was a good read. It is also relevant since Spreecast is a social media business.
What businessperson do you most admire?
Steve Jobs. His understanding of consumer products is unbelievable. The value he created with Next, Pixar and Apple has been unmatched in terms of the impact on society.
What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Stanford?
The most valuable thing I learned was the importance of relationships. It was a great time to meet lots of interesting people who were early in their careers and have gone on to have an impact on their industries. It is great to have friends who can help you navigate through various business challenges.
What do you think is the greatest innovation in the past decade?
The iOS operating system. It is a valuable ecosystem and Apple has been the leader in innovating in the shift from desktop to mobile computing and opens up so many possibilities in geolocation, communications and social connectivity.
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