“You’ll totally hit it off.”
My wife, our baby daughter and I moved to Singapore on the last day of 2012. Two weeks later I met a Singapore-based entrepreneur named Usman Sheikh, described by the friend who introduced us as a fellow talent obsessive with legit startup chops. “You should meet him, you’ll totally hit it off.”
Sure enough, over the next 9 years, as I went from figuring out Singapore, to joining Uber, to joining Netflix, Usman and I met up regularly to talk shop, trade notes and support one another. Most of our conversations were about talent. About jobs, recruiting, team-building; the management and leadership challenges we were facing; the startups and technology we were so passionate about.
Usman has a complementary background to mine. I've worked for different tech startups and high-growth companies, but he's founded several. I've worked in recruiting and HR roles; Usman's background encompasses team-building, but also remote work, product, design and operations.
Our Own TalentStory
Given the shared passions and complementary skills, we came close to starting a software company together in 2016, while I was still at Uber. But Netflix was just about to expand into Asia, and I had the chance to be a part of that story. With a young daughter and a son in diapers at home, joining Netflix and forgoing the startup felt like the right decision. (And it was).
So instead, we continued our meetups.
I always arrived to those coffees and lunches with my mind racing, preoccupied by the challenges of the growth at Uber or at Netflix, depending on the year. Which made catching up with Usman a dose of fresh perspective and learning. He generously, patiently kept me apprised of the trends and tech that were swirling around us. I’d try to reciprocate with stories and lessons from what I was doing on the inside of a high-growth company.
Then we’d pay the bill, clap each other on the back, and agree: it’s a complex, exciting world out there!
Usman would go back to building his business. I’d go back to my team; always with more enthusiasm and excitement about what was happening around me. Always with more perspective than I’d had the day before. Stimulated, curious, inspired.
Now or never
Over the ensuing five years I spent at Netflix in Asia, between 2016 and 2021, our offices, headcount and subscribers all exploded. Getting to help grow a new set of diverse consumer markets from scratch — and figure out what a unique and empowering corporate culture would look like on the other side of the world — was one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever been a part of. Just the thought of leaving Netflix, was hard.
And yet, in those same years, things had also evolved at home. The kids were now out of diapers, and my wife, who’d taken time off during the early Netflix years, had since gone back to work, and was at a company she was enjoying. I began to think about the kind of impact I wanted to have, and to wonder how many more chances I'd have to start something of my own.
So by 2020, the conversations with Usman shifted sharply from our usual note-trading to: “Can we find a way to finally work together, and what’s your timing like?” 2021 wound up being that timing, and I left Netflix in March to focus on what to create.
What, pray tell, to build?
As a team, Usman and I shared a passion and curiosity for all things talent and work, and an interesting mix of experience. But how to best put that to use? What would allow for the type of impact we wanted to have at this point in our careers, and lives?
I threw myself into two fantastic “cohort-based” courses, one on writing online, another on community-building; skills I knew I’d need to learn, regardless of what we wound up doing. And Usman and I threw ourselves into defining what we would offer.
Those weeks and months of exploration and learning were intense, different and fun. They also led to two conclusions:
First, the world of work was changing even faster than I had realized. More profoundly than I could appreciate from my corporate perch.
Second, people want to talk about the work complexity around them. On Twitter, on LinkedIn, in Clubhouse rooms, but also within Netflix, the appetite – the need – for people to connect about what they're experiencing at work is off the charts.
They want to talk about Covid itself, yes; but also about navigating remote work, Zoom fatigue, vaccination statuses, inclusion, mental health – you name it. The last two years, especially, have all been so hard, and have come at us so fast.
TalentStories: the missing conversation about work
What we wanted to start was now clear: a sorely missing conversation about work. At a time when that conversation, and the learnings to be had from it, are more needed than ever.
How do we think about our jobs; about our careers and our impact? What can we expect to take from work, as a crucial source of meaning and fulfilment? How can we thrive against the backdrop of so much external change? Shoot, what do we need to know?
In many ways, TalentStories is an extension of the conversation I've gotten to have with Usman for many years. But it’s the chance for us to enrich and enhance that conversation – via the stories, perspectives and lessons of others. It's the chance to share those struggles, wins and learnings much more widely.
We want to serve as the same, perspective-enhancing presence I enjoyed from Usman, during my time at Uber and Netflix. The one that gets you to pick your head up; piques your curiosity, drops some insight, and leaves you thinking just a little bit more about what it is you do; why you do it; how you can do it better.
Is that a tall order? It is, absolutely. But this is work we're talking about, so the stakes are real, and they’re only getting bigger. Which makes the upside to be had from insight, perspective and support just as real.
Besides, it’s worth asking what the alternative is. To go as is? To wing it on our own, and hope for the best?
Perhaps. But does pretending that we can keep doing the same thing, while the world changes radically around us – or right behind us – sound like a great strategy?
Come join us on the journey.