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Pendo’s Erik Troan ‘95, Todd Olson Blend Leadership Styles to Improve Software Experience

On Nov. 4, Poole College of Management hosted the newest installment of the Wells Fargo Executive Leadership Series, a program created in 1992 to provide students and members of the community an opportunity to learn from emerging business leaders. This event featured Erik Troan ‘95 and Todd Olson of Pendo, a software company created in the heart of Raleigh, and was moderated by Lewis Sheats, assistant vice provost of entrepreneurship.  

Sheats, Olson and Troan on stage during the discussion.

Troan, co-founder and CTO of Pendo, and Olson, co-founder and CEO of Pendo, created the company in 2013 on a mission to improve the world’s experience with software. Pendo seeks to help companies evolve their software products for the benefit of the consumer.

Both Troan and Olson have had a knack for software and computers since a young age. Olson developed a love of coding at the age of 14 while Troan was a guinea pig student at NC State for the dual computer science and engineering program. 

Since its creation, Pendo has landed on the Forbes Cloud 100 list, the Next Billion-Dollar Startup list in 2018 and Triangle Business Journal’s Best Places to Work list in 2018. While the beginning was a little rocky, Troan and Olson have combined their differing management styles to grow Pendo across six countries with over 350 employees. 

Key Insights:

1. Focus on the customer

A big focus for Olson since beginning his career in banking is the importance of the customer. He said he remembers employees diving over desks to make the two-ring response rule set in place within the company. While no one is diving over desks now, he has applied this practice to his previous roles and as a core value of Pendo.

“We strive to get back to customers as quickly as we can,” said Olson. “We try to have all employees, even the engineers, spend a number of hours working on customer service.”

2. Build leadership as a team

Troan described the leadership style between the two as very different but complementary to one another. Both co-founders possess management traits that the other does not have, which gives a good balance to the company. Olson manages the sales aspect of the company while Troan focuses on engineering, but the two combine forces in decision-making for the company.

3. Live your core values

On the first day as a startup, Troan and Olson wrote down what they believed the core values should be for Pendo. After this first day, the values weren’t referenced for several months until the two hit a wall in management styles. 

“We decided to really live them,” said Olson. “Not put them on a wall, but talk about them in town halls. We started hiring for them, giving internal awards, and even firing based on them.”

4. Keep culture centered around people

Pendo believes that people are the core ingredients of their culture. While their core values are very important, the basis of a good company is centered around its people. This begins with the test of interviewing, which Olson and Troan still do themselves. They believe that if the founders of the company can still take time out of their day to do interviews makes people realize how much they care and how serious they take hiring. 

5. Evolve your management styles

“Managing newer generations takes a different set of management skills,” said Olson. “The way I managed 10 years ago is definitely not how I manage today.”

As Millenials are continuously entering the job market, Pendo has taken a look at how to motivate younger generations of employees. This can include retraining executives, becoming more transparent and reevaluating benefits.

6. Become the go-to person in your field

When asked about advice for future leaders, Troan said that students entering the job market should focus on becoming an expert at a certain role or skill. He believes that becoming a niche for a company is more valuable than attempting to cover multiple areas in a field. By becoming the go-to person, you make yourself more reliable and almost irreplaceable.  

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