What Phil Libin learned from Dick Costolo, Steve Ballmer, and Jerry Yang

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on September 13, 2013

From The News Desk

It's lonely at the top and even CEOs need advice sometimes. At PandoMonthly Sarah Lacy asked Evernote's Phil Libin what he has learned from three of the more high profile CEOs he's mingled with -- Twitter's Dick Costolo, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, and Yahoo's Jerry Yang. Here's what he said:

Dick Costolo

Costolo and Libin have talked a lot about how to manage company culture when you scale a business. Libin was concerned about preserving startup culture at Evernote, but Costolo gave him an unexpected response. "You can't preserve the culture, if you try to preserve it then you're locking it into place, it starts to stagnate," Libin said Costolo told him. Costolo explained that the CEO's job is not to preserve the culture, it's to evolve it intentionally in a certain direction.

Steve Ballmer

Ballmer once told Libin an anecdote that stuck with Libin for life. "He said, 'You only know a hundred people in your life, more or less,'" Libin said. "There's a hundred people in your life who you keep going back to and you do stuff with over and over again." The reason that's significant is because at some point a person's roster is full. They can meet other people, but new contacts won't break into the inner circle of people they turn to for advice, work, or socializing.

Libin then said that Ballmer cautioned him. "You probably burn through the first thirty before you know it. You're probably out of college and you've met great friends but then you've lost touch," Libin said. "That's fine, but you've just burned through a third of your lifelong allotment of important people you're going to know." Libin then told the audience to be mindful of the friends you're churning through, the people you spend your time with, and how you treat them because, "they're going to be your business partners again and again, investors again and again, people that you call."

Jerry Yang

Jerry Yang once told Libin he was running a cult. "And I'm like, 'I'm not running a cult.' And he's like, 'Yeah you are. You're running a cult, and you have to admit it to yourself. Maybe you're the world's most benign cult, but it's a cult,'" Libin said. The cult-reference lead into a lesson. Yang explained that Libin should look for the true believers in the Evernote cult, the staff members who understand the mission and buy into it.

Yang's followup advice was a little surprising: don't automatically promote the believers. Reason being, those are the people who spread the culture, positivity, and advice to everyone else. "If what you do is when you like someone you immediately promote them, then you get this bubble around yourself," Libin said. "Then you don't know what's going on and all of the people thinking like you are talking to you. It becomes a self enforcing bubble and everyone else in the organization is rudderless."

[Image via Thinkstock]