Communicating with your team during rapid growth with Nir Polak at Exabeam

Every leader thinks about how to improve the process of communicating with your team. The word and the tone of our communication have so much to do with how we interact together. Teams that communicate well will outperform those that don’t. Today I am talking Nir Polak, the CEO of Exabeam. Exabeam was #12 on the Inc 5000 list in 2018. They had a 14,032% growth rate in the three years prior. Exabeam develops security intelligence products to help companies of all sizes protect their information. Communicating with your team must be a big part of any leader’s role. Discover how you can improve the process of communicating with your team in this interview Nir.

Don't miss an episode. Subscribe to Growth Think Tank.

Nir Polak: The Transcript

Target Audience: Nir is the Co-Founder and CEO of Exabeam, Inc. Nir has 13 years experience in information security, including executive experience setting company strategy, driving execution, building new products and bringing them to market. While at Imperva, Nir set the company product strategy and launched and managed a worldwide services organization.

Share the LOVE and TWEET about this episode.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Nir Polak: [00:00]
To me, culture fit is so key. I spend most of my time hiring exact looking at culture. The biggest thing for me is trust. Sometimes I’m going to hire people that have a chip on the shoulder or they need to prove something, but I can trust them. They will work really, really hard and they’ll be open with you if you have to be able to have some sort of fabric with the working relationship that you can rely on and mine is trust.

Gene Hammett: [00:31]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs. The fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow? Well, welcome to the growth think tank. This podcast is really for you. If you want to lead fast growth, you want to be a part of fast growth and you want to keep abreast of everything it takes to sustain growth and to expand yourself as a leader. Today, we have a very special conversation where we talk about the intricacies of the evolution of culture, how culture must continuously change as the company grows, things require attention and you must be proactive about that. This is what I believe. This is what I see with my clients and today we have a very special guest.

Gene Hammett: [01:25]
We have the CEO, founder of Exabeam. Exabeam is in the IT technology space and security space. They really are a leader in their market, but beyond that, they are number 12 on the INC list. They did over 14000% growth in three years and they had over 18 million in revenue and they’ve continued to grow past that. We give you some of the details in the interview, but what I liked most about this conversation was near just sharing with us about, you know, the importance of culture and how important that is as the company evolves and changes. And I hadn’t thought about this as much as he has obviously, but he’s currently in the midst of working on another evolution of culture and it really has excited to bring with you the details from our conversation. I really think that you’ll find, if you value your employees then you will love this interview.

Gene Hammett: [02:19]
Thanks for tuning in here to grow. Think tank. Really excited about sharing this with you and before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that, it’s got a so you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episodes. When you subscribed to grow think tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing. But you can, you can tune in to the date that means the most to you.

Gene Hammett: [03:02]
Hi Nir, how are you?

Nir Polak: [03:04]
I’m good, how are you?

Gene Hammett: [03:06]
Well, I’m excited to talk to you because having, a chance to connect with you about, you know, what it takes to not only grow but also sustain growth over a period of time with a culture that really does support the growth of the company is what I love to do. So tell us a little bit about Exabeam and your role there.

Nir Polak: [03:29]
Okay. So we are about almost six years old. We started in 2013, um, and we’ve been on hypergrowth since we are close to about 400 employees right now worldwide. Iit’s kind of our second gig or you know, we had a prior company. It was part of the group that’s a company called Imperva. Gotten longer or larger. It took a longer time to get there. So here it’s much more condensed in time and kind of the growth trajectory is just higher. We’re just enjoying the ride.

Gene Hammett: [04:06]
Well, I want to just highlight some of the growth numbers here and I know this is last year’s numbers, but you are number 12 on the inc list. You were 14000%, which most people would go. You know, I can’t even fathom 14000%. That’s right at about 18.8 million last year’s revenues. You know, have you continued growth this past year?

Nir Polak: [04:31]
Yes, we have gross. If it’s stopping, it’s not slowing down. It’s sometimes kind of, you feel like you’re on a rocket ship and it’s just growing and growing and sometimes in a rocket ship there’s a lot of Gforce coming to you and it’s a lot of pressure that puts on you. And the question for us is how do we remove as much as we can and the g force and the pressure, some of it is kind of inevitable. Some of it, you know, it’s things that you can kind of work on. I think that for us because we’re trying to follow a very, very big problem, we play in up in the market, call it that security management, whole type of billion-dollar market. We’re fighting very big behemoth fighting, replacing them in very big logos and most of the time we have to spend, it’s not what to do, it’s what not to do and it’s all the equilibrium of how do I move as much friction as I can, but still kind of keep the trajectory of growth and then how do I make sure that I have enough fuel and that’s the people and kind of a processes to be able to continue to push forward.

Nir Polak: [05:37]
It’s for us, it’s not about the opportunity, it’s all about what you would call the execution.

Gene Hammett: [05:43]
When you think about, you know, leading a fast-growing company, I know that culture is very important to you, but why do you think growth is so important? Because some people would say, you know, you could just double or triple or even for some people 10x in a year and you’re thinking, well what? Why do you grow so fast?

Nir Polak: [06:04]
Because you know, if you don’t, you may die. Because you’re fighting [inaudible] I’m talking about it. That’ll get into this kind of very kind of catastrophic kind of like, but it’s, the idea is that when you’re going after a very big market, you have to be relevant. In order to relevant, you need to be able to capture market share. And in every market, there’s what’s called a tech refresh, which means that the old regime is getting replaced by a new regime. And timing is very important. You need to become relevant as quickly as possible and the only way to be relevant as getting that market share, which means growth. That’s kind of, you know, it’s the bigger the market in essence, the more that’s the opportunity. Cause I think about that as kind of that we need blue waters, you have to play in. And the quick or the tech refresh in the timing taking place determines, you know, the velocity that you need in order to capture that blue water.

Gene Hammett: [07:08]
Well, I want to center our conversation on, you’d mentioned how important execution is. An execution is no longer you sitting at the keyboard, probably writing code and, and thinking through these things. You’re hiring smart people to do the work for the company as a whole and to create this, this new opportunity and create the growth. So, you know, when you were first starting out, how much emphasis do you put on culture as you were growing the company?

Nir Polak: [07:38]
We did a lot. So I remember we were five people. We decided that we need to define our culture. Who are we? You know, and it really comes from the founders. And we kind of sat together and kind of like said this is our belief. This is who we are. This is, you know, the baby we want to create. And we articulated it and we put it on paper and we put it on the website. And, but then you need to remind people of the culture and you also have to test people against the culture. And you have to be true to it. You have to take action if things don’t fit your culture. And we did it very, very early on. And since then for all, every, all hands I have every time we bring in new hires, it’s all around presenting the culture. Also when we bring in kind of talent acquisition recruits, you need to be able to test the people, you know, will they fit this culture. And that’s kind of, you just need to explain the world, this is our belief, this is who we are and this is how we act. And if you do not fit within this, you’re not going to be successful within the organization.

Gene Hammett: [08:47]
Give me an idea of some of the things that you had put in that belief in that first iteration of the company that defined who you are.

Nir Polak: [08:55]
Yeah, so a good easily you can go to a website to kind of see it, but the first is we work together and win together. That’s one thing. And this is something I took from the army. Also the prior company, I spent a lot of years in the army and you kind of create camaraderie and the reason you create camaraderie is that you want people to rely on each other. When you go into the battle of, or companies like a war, you go to multiple battles along the way and some battles, evil wins. Some of them you will lose. And the most telling about a group is how do they react when they lose it. We may lose a very big deal. We have met, tried to put our best foot forward. We use the wrong tactics. We had maybe issues with the product. It can be so many different things and build the right relationship.

Nir Polak: [09:40]
Who knows what it is, there are issues. What we’re going to be tested on is the way we react when things don’t go well. And to me, you know what, you need to build camaraderie and trust amongst the people to be able to say, how do we react when things go the wrong way? And that comes with finger-pointing and there’s a very fine line between doing a root cause analysis and figuring out like a post-mortem, how do we become better versus just throwing blame. So this is kind of what we’ve worked on, figuring out what was the root cause, what did to do wrong? Very in a very, I would say, vulnerable way. You know, it means that I need, and we have a lot of our exact, we sit on these execs meetings and we all say about what our teams are, what we did wrong.

Nir Polak: [10:29]
And we have to be vulnerable to that because we need to trust that the other people in the, you know, in that room are okay with that when you taking accountability and responsibility. And that’s kind of all about creative comradery and how we win together, work together. Another one is kind of no ego mentality. I think that it’s very hard especially in the valley, you know, you bring in a lot of successful people. How do you find people that don’t think that don’t get their better with, from anybody else? and no ego policy is I think really important. And you will find that apple from time to time where, you know, they’ve gone through the crack, they fell through the cracks and it becomes how do you react to that, you know, can you show the world and by that your people that you are, you know, being true to your culture and pushing out people that you know are bad apples.

Gene Hammett: [11:24]
You had talked before about, you know, the evolution of a fast-growing company. You know, you said, you’ve been in Miranda about five or six years, right? That there are certain places where culture has to be redefined. How do you know that culture has to be redefined? Like what do you, what do you feeling or sensing inside the leadership?

Nir Polak: [11:46]
Yeah, you start getting burned here or there. I’ll give you an example. One is we have a very transparent culture, very open communication. We talk about everything and we present all the financials and all the numbers and everything. We give heads up on different strategic moves that we’re doing. It was kind of like, as kind of the company grows, you know, you have a lot of people that feel less connected to corporate or to the organization, because they’re remote or because they’re new, you know, a company car, you’re, when you’re going to real quick from moving to being a toddler, being a teenager can be a matter of a year. Right? And you’re bringing in people that can grow the company further so they can take it from being a teenager to an adult and they’re meeting the folk. They’re already been here that have been kind of like, you know, the early regime kind of reminiscing on, when they were at top. So when you have a situation when it comes to Oh, communications, you may find yourself, you know, giving him, you know, to the market about future roadmap or giving hints to the market about your financials and we’re bound. Anything like that. We, so you have to be selective on what you share and what you don’t. When you have a company that’s, you know, could be…

I wanted to break in here for a second because you’re talked about transparency. Now you may have a very different understanding of how transparency work inside your company. Hubspot is a unique company that grew very fast before they became a publicly-traded company. Now you know, as a publicly-traded company you have certain restrictions that are put on you by the SEC and all the governing bodies of these publicly traded companies around financials, around secrets and strategies and all this stuff. And you must be a designated insider. Well, transparency meant so much to Hubspot that they really wanted to create the kind of communication and trust that allow people to be transparent. So they went through the whole process of making every employee a designated insider, no, I share this with you because they value transparency to the point of they were willing to go beyond normal measures and really pushed the boundaries of what transparency is. So my question to you is how are you treating transparency inside your company? Do you still have a conversation for this group over here? Maybe it’s the leadership team and then you have another conversation or another version of the truth that you give to a broader set of teams or externally to the world. I know we have to draw lines and boundaries around transparency, but the question is your idea of transparency growing your company? Now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett: [14:35]
So when you talk about the triggers of this and that, and maybe we should start with this, what, you know, why do you believe that culture has to change over time? Because many people believe it’s a foundational element. And I know not everything changes, but why do you believe that culture changes as the company grow?

Nir Polak: [14:56]
Because for every company, when you start small, it’s very family, very, you know, correct. And warm and then we grow. It becomes more and more corporate. There’s, there are foundations that don’t have to change. But they’re all kind of like nuances to those foundations. You know, you still need to try to maximize what you can say to your team so they feel inclusive and everything that happened, you’re not just talking about positive. So it’s kind of the good, the bad, the ugly kind of a perspective. But when you’re talking about futures, for example, you could ask me about the roadmap and I’m not going to share my roadmap with you, you know, process that all the time. And because I don’t want the world to know what I’m working on, or you can try to ask me about my financials and I wouldn’t share it with you.

Nir Polak: [15:40]
Because you’re not part of the circle of trust. So there are multiple elements, there are multiple elements to these things and as you grow, you have to be kind of selective that I’m not going to share everything you know, blindly. I am going to try to maximize what we do. Sometimes I’ll compliance, I think we talked about a company, you mentioned a company that even when they went public continue to share all their financials, their employees have everyone sign as being an insider. And it’s a big, big kind of like who are you I think for the employees to take and for the corporate to take, but for us, you know, and once you become public, you can’t share a more your trajectory in your financials with the employee. They just can’t because you know, if they see that they become insights and there can be insider trading. So that’s an interesting selective you’re saying from this point on, you know, according to socks and yes, cc I will not share financials will go only with a close team, which is my insiders. That’s just a typical kind of what your culture has changed. You use still and now you don’t.

Gene Hammett: [16:50]
Well, I appreciate you sharing that with me. I know some of the things that you do to reinforce the culture and you put a lot of emphasis on communication. You have a tool that you use on your, you have retreats twice a year. Is that about right?

Nir Polak: [17:05]
Yup. Yup.

Gene Hammett: [17:06]
Who do you invite to those retreats?

Nir Polak: [17:08]
There are two types of retreats. There’s kind of like my direct report, which is one, and there’s one that is broader management. So one layer below, think about it that way. And I’m an exercise I do is an exercise I kind of learned from, from the army which is, it’s kind of like a three 60, but it’s a bit more completed than that. You go and you ask every team to rank their communication with everybody else. So they are in the center and they put everybody else. How are they doing? And it gets green. Great amber. Some issues red, you know, we’ve used it, we have a problem and when they have kind of like, either is either it’s amber or red, they have to explain what are the issues and what do they think would be plausible solutions.

Nir Polak: [18:03]
And by doing that sort of, I send it to each one of the teams and them kind of aggregate it into a heat map so everybody can kind of see what everybody else has said about them. And then you can really see the hotspots, you know, where you do have indications that we have to work on. It’s just a way for us to bubble it up. Uh, talk about our issues. You know you want to talk about the bad things, you want to have a medium to do it, you want to fix it. And that’s my way. So it’s been up until that working well.

Gene Hammett: [18:36]
You call this the communication heat map? right?

Nir Polak: [18:39]
The situation should be, that’s what it is.

Gene Hammett: [18:41]
How does it give you an insight into improving communication amongst the team?

Nir Polak: [18:48]
Because I think sometimes people don’t talk about the problem. They make the relationship very cordial, kind of very corporate. He likes, and you’ll have to create enough truck that goes back to the camaraderie, back to the open communication where we feel comfortable to talk about what’s wrong. If we don’t, we’re not going to fix it. So that’s just a way to kind of force it. You know, everybody’s going to be open and you’ll have to be open because they’re going to say something about you. And if you feel that it’s not, well, you’ll have to, you know, you’ll see it. And that just allows me to find hotspots. That’s why the heat map and then have open communication about what do we do about it.

Gene Hammett: [19:29]
When you think about the mistakes of your leadership going forward, and again, I invite you to be as open as you can with me, but what’s something you’ve learned about fast growth that you wish you would’ve known? Looking back,

Nir Polak: [19:43]
There’s multiple to that. There’s always the question in my hiring and exec too early. Um, and you know, we’ve had that, um, and that means that you know, you’ll have failures and repercussions that come from that. What I’ve learned in the hypergrowth is every mistake or you know, creates a very big ripple effect. You know, the faster the growth, you know, it can even a small sense can have very big aftermath. And that’s Kinda why I think it’s really hard and such kind of rarefied air because in order for you to continue to do that, you kind of has to be almost perfect. Because every small hit to this missile that’s kind of given the g force is either slowing it down or changing its course. And that’s you know, it’s something that you have to be, the time to fix mistakes is crucial, crucial, crucial. And you make a mistake. And the question is how open are you to kind of like, you know, the moment you get a hunch at something’s wrong, how much time does it take you to fix it? And it’s hard. It is not easy at all. I think we’ve had ripple effects and you know it’s hard.

Gene Hammett: [21:07]
Nir is this one of the reasons why one of the common principles of fast-growth companies is they make decisions very fast. They’re able to see a problem and really stop it before it gets to be too great. Whereas some companies like the kind of ponder and delay and you know, and committee i’s the process. But a fast-growing company is able to just like really move with nimble.

Nir Polak: [21:32]
Yes. And fail fast. That’s the key.

Gene Hammett: [21:35]
No, I do know that a lot of fast-growth companies have a different relationship with failure. So I want to, you know, kind of give you a chance to talk about like, you don’t avoid failure. You, you probably embrace it. Would you agree to that?

Nir Polak: [21:49]
Yes. The question is how do you react to it or how does your org react to that failure? And how do, what do you learn from it? Um, you know, how do you make sure you’re not repeating your mistakes

Gene Hammett: [22:04]
When you think about, you know, taking what you’ve learned about failure and having conversations with your, uh, your leadership team, getting them to accept that, you know, failure is not something we’re avoiding. We have to fail forward. We have to, you know, as we innovate by definition, we’re doing things that no one’s ever done.

Nir Polak: [22:27]
You’re right that’s all okay. But think about when you’re, when you’re becoming a teenager now you’re not a toddler anymore and not everybody is so close to decision making. And they see you come up with an idea, try to do it, and very quickly decided that was a bad idea and fail it. They feel that the company is, they feel that they were sent into combat and you retreat them where it quickly and they’re not used to that because the culture they came from. Isn’t that? Yeah. And now that that’s kind of like it goes back you know, how do you make sure that, you know, as you’re changing your behaviors for the culture of people who acknowledge why decisions are being made. And it’s very, very hard because it happens all the time. You have these fail fast all the time.

Nir Polak: [23:19]
And you’re sending troops in and they feel bought into what you’re sending them to do and you still only tell them even before they got to, you know, it’s kind of their first day. You’re saying no to a bad idea of referring back. It’s hard. It’s very hard because if they you call it leading it from the trenches, but you, because there are so many small groups there, the decision was made back in kind of headquarters and hard for them to recognize why did you fail? So you need to have a way to have a leader within a kind of in that trenches that can convey that message to that Swat team. You just sent them on a mission that you know why?

Let’s stop right there for a second. Failure. What is your relationship to failure? How do you see failure inside your organization? I know fast-growing companies are making fast decisions. They’re willing to fail, they’re willing to let employees take ownership and fail forward and as long as they have the capability to identify those failures quickly and often, and then they reiterate they re-cast the next step and they move forward. They just iterate on that over and over and over. Failing fast is not a bad thing and failure is certainly not bad because as you’re innovating, as you’re pushing the boundaries within your company and doing things, it’s people have never done. You’re bound to fail. If you’re playing so safe that you don’t fail and you don’t allow people or empower them to fail forward, then you won’t have this pace of growth or innovation that you need to sustain this growth. This is my take on it. This is my view. I work with companies just on this very subject of how do you lead this kind of innovation inside of companies. I’d love to talk to you about yours, but now back to the interview with Nir.

Gene Hammett: [25:12]
Well, I appreciate you sharing your insights on fast growth. One last question I have for you is you’ve got new managers coming on board all the time and leaders. What’s one piece of advice you give new leaders of fast-growth companies?

Nir Polak: [25:27]
To me, culture fit is so key. I spend most of my time hiring execs, looking at culture. The biggest thing for me is trust. Sometimes I’m going to hire people. In fact, have a chip on the shoulder or they need to prove something, but I can trust them. They will work really, really hard and they will be open with me. If you have to be able to have some sort of fabric with a working relationship that you can rely on and mine is trust. You know we have a lot of competent people but I need to trust you because I am not going to micromanage you. I’m sending you and you’re going to be self-sufficient and you’re going to know what to do. I just need to know that you will be trustworthy to talk about the good but also the bad and you’re not going to hide things and you’re not going to manage up and it’s hard

Gene Hammett: [26:20]
Nir, thank you for being here on the podcast. Thank you for sharing your insights and I really excited about you being here with your expertise in growth.

Nir Polak: [26:31]
Thank you. Thanks so much.

Gene Hammett: [26:33]
Wow, what a fantastic interview. Really love some of the things that he was talking about. I’m learning as I go here because I have been interviewing so many people, but there’s so much to this conversation of growth. Hopefully, you’re enjoying Growth Think Tank and you’re willing to share this with someone that you think would be perfect for this. I would love for you to reach out to me, give a rating review on iTunes or whatever platform you listened to let us know what you do. That’s the best thing you can do so that we can share the podcast with the right people. As always, lead with courage and I’ll talk to you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


GTT featuring Nir Polak



And lastly, please leave a rating and review for the Leaders in the Trenches on iTunes (or Stitcher) – it will help us in many ways, but it also inspires us to keep doing what we are doing here. Thank you in advance!

If you want more from us check out more interviews:

Transformational Leadership
Productivity Tips
Best Selling Author Interviews