From The Trenches: Interview with Rob Smith, CEO, Founder at Team Huddle

From The Trenches: Interview with Rob Smith, CEO, Founder at Team Huddle

COVID-19 has forced many organizations to adopt an entirely new way of working. Traditional structures are being flipped upside down as firms attempt to embrace the physical limitations imposed by the pandemic.

The companies that will thrive in this environment will be those that offer solutions tailored towards remote workforces, agile teams, and distributed company models. Tools for team collaboration, video conferencing, scheduling (and more) may become essential parts of your organization’s operations if you want them to survive moving forward into a world where employees can’t just walk across the hall anymore when they need something or have questions!

The use of remote tools has grown in popularity among businesses. Because they help to increase productivity and collaboration among dispersed staff, many organizations have chosen to use them. There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to these tools, and picking the best one might be tough at times.

Enter Team Huddle’s ScheduleIQ, which facilitates team collaboration and productivity across all work environments, including remote and hybrid. Team Huddle’s first product, ScheduleIQ, is a free tool for individual knowledge workers and organizations, allowing any business to create as many accounts as they want and use them at no cost. The company has no intention of restricting the use of the product at this time.

ScheduleIQ is fully compatible with Google and Microsoft calendar applications, allowing you to schedule meetings by taking into account the calendars of all participants before sharing a link that allows participants to choose their preferred time slots. The meeting is automatically added to the participants’ calendars when the chosen time has been confirmed.

Meet Rob Smith, CEO, Founder at Team Huddle

Offering your flagship product for free appears to be too good to be true. So, I connect with Rob Smith, CEO, Founder at Team Huddle, to get more clarity on the company’s business model and its strategy for execution.

LA Startups (LAS): Tell us a good story about how you personally started – maybe one of your early struggles and how you overcame that challenge? A ‘From the Trenches’ type of story that you may not have thought you would survive.

From The Trenches: Interview with Rob Smith, CEO, Founder at Team HuddleRob Smith (RS):  Maybe I’m taking “from the trenches” too literally here, but I started my first “real” startup in 2003 when I was a student at The American University of Beirut in Lebanon. Backed by a professor, BlackSmith Studios (BSS) offered marketing services and VFX for TV, film, and architecture, and it grew rapidly in the Lebanese capital. By late 2005, we were opening our second studio and had even set up a training institute to teach young graduates, furthering our growth.

Then 2006 happened. A war broke out between Hezbollah and Israel, sending the country into complete turmoil. This resulted in the deaths of 1,300 Lebanese, destroyed road and electric infrastructure, and severe damage to one of our offices, wrecking our electric generators. No internet and electricity meant we could not fulfill our contractual obligations with companies in Europe and North America, which made up 100% of our clients at the time. I was forced to lay off pretty much everyone. Sad times for a kid in his very early 20s! 

I could have easily given up on BSS, but I didn’t. I moved the company to London and Bahrain, starting from scratch all over again. Fast forward a couple of years and BlackSmith Studios was an award-winning highly-recognized studio working on world-class VFX and marketing projects. 

LAS:  What’s the first job you had, that’s not on your resume, and what did you learn from that experience?

(RS):  I started a small beach water sports business (mostly sea-kayaks) in my teens. As a beach lifeguard, this was something I could do while at my “day job” in the summer. Over three summers, I grew this small rinky-dink operation into a fairly legitimate business, and frankly, learned all the business fundamentals I have put into practice since.

LAS:  Tell us about the inspiration behind Team Huddle?

(RS):  Speaking specifically of inspiration, I went through a two-week stretch of hands-down terrible meetings at a company I was consulting as a CxO, and it was torturous. It got me thinking about how bad the meeting problem has always been and still is. My background as a serial entrepreneur and consultant gave me wide exposure to various industries and companies, which helped validate that meetings are broken and expensive in most companies, regardless of industry or size. Not only did that experience confirm to me that I hated consulting, but that fixing ineffective meetings would become our core mission at Team Huddle. A year and a half later, here we are!

LAS:  What problem are you trying to solve?

(RS):  Meetings because they still suck.

The vast majority of meetings I’ve been invited to are either boring, poorly timed, badly organized, repetitive, unnecessary, or have the wrong people present. The worst meetings do all of the above. Additionally, work-life balance and meetings go hand in hand. Meeting overload (currently aka “Zoom Fatigue”) is one of the leading causes of burnout and unproductive workplaces. Team Huddle’s mission is simple: Make meetings better and improve work-life balance for all. 

Fundamentally, good meetings take a lot of work to get right. Scheduling, agendas, presentations, time management, meeting notes, etc. You really have to get it all right for a meeting to be considered a success.

We’re trying to condense the hours of work it takes to execute a good meeting into less than a minute. Easy, right?

LAS:  Tell us why you are so passionate about Huddle.

(RS):  Anyone that knows me understands my deep passion for many things: entrepreneurship, motorcycles, travel, food, photography, and film to name a few. But seeing so many workplaces as an interim CxO has given me a unique perspective on how much a good work environment and positive meeting culture can affect productivity, well-being, and employee retention.

I know that technology is at a stage where it can make work life better, but now it’s about building the right tools that will improve people’s work lives. That’s what gets me excited about waking up each morning and getting to work!

LAS:  What is ScheduleIQ?

(RS):  ScheduleIQ is our first product, which we’re giving away for free. It’s an AI-powered scheduler that finds the best time for any meeting. Unlike alternatives, ScheduleIQ is not about simply finding a time that is available between a group of people. Instead, we use best practices, your preferences, and intelligence about the events on your calendar to determine when it’s best for you to have a meeting or discussion.

Based on your calendar load, ScheduleIQ assigns you a unique ScheduleScore that assesses your work-life balance. A burnout meter indicates how likely you are to be over-extended based on poorly planned meetings. Additionally, the score allows people to track their work-life balance progress in real-time and compare their schedules to others. 

In short, got three meetings back to back? We’ll try to give you an hour or two to recuperate. Like your meetings clustered together in the morning? We’ll block out the afternoon for “real work.” No meeting Fridays? Simply turn off meetings on Friday and that’s done. ScheduleIQ is a technology that advocates for your best scheduling interests, optimizing your work-life balance.

From The Trenches- Interview with Rob Smith, CEO, Founder at Team Huddle - ScheduleIQ

LAS:   Are your products/services designed with a specific target audience and positioning in mind? Who are they and why?

(RS):  ScheduleIQ is for anyone who has meetings that are unproductive or scheduled poorly, which I think is likely all of us. Our users range from the corporate executive to the knowledge worker across all sectors. We believe that better scheduling can streamline our lives more and create new ways to use our time more effectively, in whatever way we want. That’s why we’ve made ScheduleIQ free for all users so that everyone can have access to a tech solution that advocates for their time and wellbeing.

LAS:   Describe how you would assess the competition?

(RS):  For our ScheduleIQ product, Calendly is probably our biggest competitor. With that being said, they operate more like a booking system, ideal for a dental office or car wash, while we’re focused on acting more like a personal assistant for people struggling to manage their own schedules. 

LAS:  How do you make sure you have the right people in the right jobs?

(RS):  Trust. My co-founders and early employees are people I trust. With one exception, everyone on the current team I’ve worked with for five or more years. Over that time span, I’ve gotten to know them both as employees and close friends. That means I know I can depend on them to deliver when needed.

Moving forward, we won’t always be able to hire from our network, and we’ve spoken about finding people not only with the right skills, but also the right personality. What good is it to have someone talented, but who can’t communicate well with others? I’ve seen companies fall apart from one talented, but toxic hire.

Also, passion; To change the way people meet and work, you need to really care about the human beings utilizing our technology daily. This is something that we know we can’t teach, so we look for it on day one. 

LAS:  What are common things founders overlook?

(RS):  So many things, as I’m sure I’m going to look back in five years and say, “I wish I had paid more attention to X.” But having done this three times before launching Team Huddle, I’ve learned a few things about where to focus my energy in the early days.

The first is that you have limited time each day, so focus on difference makers (e.g. is that font change really going to have a massive impact?). Pick and choose your battles and focus on things that only you can do. If you have co-founders, trust them to deliver on their parts. Spreading your attention too thin is the number one reason founders burn out.

Second, it’s all about people. Focus on your people. Explain why you’re taking path A over path B. In the early days, employees are probably taking a pay cut to work with you. Keep them engaged on the mission and give them a seat at the table. You will need to make final decisions, but communicating with team members is essential.

Lastly, don’t get emotionally attached to any early decisions. Startups are more nimble than large companies, and that’s an advantage that can be negated by over-committing to a decision. Look at data frequently, be brave and make course corrections when the data says you should. Abandoning a path early is better than wasting two months “trying to make it work” when the data is clear.

LAS:  What personality do traits make a good leader? Especially in times of crisis.

(RS):  Good communication skills are key to any leader, but especially in times of crisis. When time is of the essence and you only get one stab at a solution, being clear and consistent on communication is vital. Great leaders are able to transmit a lot of information using simple language and limited jargon. This leads to less confusion and enough guidance on a direction to enable other team members to formulate a plan.

Good leaders that communicate effectively don’t dictate to other members how to do their jobs, but more what needs to be done and why. Assuming your team is solid, founders should trust each team member to do their part in steering the ship in the appropriate direction.

LAS:  If you were able to go back in time 10 years, what would you tell yourself about leadership that you didn’t know then?

(RS):  “Trust the people around you. If you don’t, you need new people.”

LAS:   Describe your proudest achievement?

(RS):  That’s a tough question. I have a lot of things I’m proud of, but in the business world, I’ve tried my best to support everyone I’ve worked with, in the past. I maintain strong relationships with my former colleagues and teammates and think I’ve helped everyone I could, even when it was to transition out of my company. Truly helping people grow isn’t always about hiring, sometimes it’s about helping them find their best fit elsewhere and simply being supportive.

LAS:   What Big Piece of Advice would you give to new entrepreneurs who are looking to start a startup?

(RS):  Startups are not for everyone. If you’ve never worked for an early-stage startup, get a job at one before starting one yourself. It might seem like you’re putting your idea or dream on hold, but you’re much more likely to succeed if you know what you’re getting into before diving in. 

This is especially true if you’ve only worked in the corporate world. People from that space are usually very smart and qualified but lack the high-stress do-everything-with-nothing mentality that entrepreneurs require in the early days.

I know I’m a hypocrite having jumped into my first startup while in college, but my advice still stands!

LAS:   Finally, what’s next for Team Huddle?

(RS):  World domination. Always world domination. Joking aside, we’re focused on making meetings better and improving work-life balance for all. 

Product-wise, we’re rolling out a super exciting AI-powered tool next month with the aim of democratizing tech-powered personal assistants for everyone, even assistants. Down the line, we also plan to release more features that streamline the meeting process, including meeting format templates, role assignments, automated agendas, time and content trackers, and collaborative note-taking.

To stay up-to-date with all our exciting updates, visit its ScheduleIQ site or follow Huddle on Twitter and LinkedIn!

Good luck Rob and Team Huddle!


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