What I Learned About the CEO’s Role in a Fast-moving Tech Company

Just two years ago, Innoviz was created by the shared vision of four co-founders who identified a huge and important problem that we believed could only be solved by the best engineers in the world. We knew that the “solution” was less of an end-point and more of an on-going process, but we took on the challenge anyway, with the belief that we had the ingenuity and perseverance to get the job done. Today, the company has over 150 employees, we’ve received $82 million in funding, and we just announced a major design win in the autonomous vehicle industry — with BMW selecting our LiDAR technology and computer vision software for series production of its autonomous vehicles.

So much has happened so quickly that it’s sometimes difficult to step back and soak it all in. But in those rare moments when I find the chance to reflect on the last two years, I realize that the seeds of culture we planted early on reaped rewards that have paid tremendous dividends over time.

Tech CEOs — and start-up CEOs in particular — face a torrent of challenges that leaders of more established companies do not. Things tend to move so fast in the world of technology that you sometimes don’t even realize the magnitude of your decisions until months, or even years, later. I was very fortunate to have excellent mentors and a stellar team around me, but even then I had to learn some lessons the hard way.

So to help other technology leaders in their journeys, here are the 9 most valuable lessons I’ve learned about being the CEO of a fast-moving technology company. I skipped the obvious ones of choosing the right partners, investors and market.

  1. Ready, Set, Go.Time is the most expensive resource. Before you run into execution, spend enough time to make sure you are really solving the problem. Good decisions are right decisions made earlier.
  2. Empower your employees and management team. Give your employees the power to follow the career trajectory that is dear to their hearts, making them feel fulfilled professionally. Do this one thing and you are guaranteed to get the best effort and output from every single person who works for the company. Empower your managers to make difficult but important decisions on their own. When you only hire top talent people, you don’t need to manage them — just make sure they are aligned with your expectations.
  3. Take risks — and manage them. As the head of a start-up company, I have an obligation to take risks in order to aim high and achieve our ambitious goals. But taking risks is the easy part. Any start-up can take risks. Successful start-ups also learn to manage those risks through a deliberate process that includes a well thought-out contingency plan.
  4. Encourage respectful debate. Debate is necessary to find the answers most startups seek, but it must be done in a way that each party shows great respect for the other side and actually listens to what they have to say. This starts by defining a culture in which people aren’t afraid to speak their minds.
  5. Refuse to fail. One of the most common sayings around our office is “Failure isn’t an option.” We run into “dead-ends” from time to time, but I believe that what we are doing is mission critical to autonomous driving. If LiDARs don’t get to the required standards of performance, safety, reliability and cost, there won’t be autonomous cars at mass production. We believe that our team is a key enabler to achieving mass commercialization, so we are charging ahead while refusing to fail.
  6. Invest in HR.Before you have a product, the only thing you have are people. Your employees are the reason to believe that your customers might think you can achieve your vision. Your team is the face of the company, so it’s important to invest in your Human Resources and Recruiting departments so that they can help you find the best talent available. The HR is the bridge between the needs of the company and of people and it needs to make sure that equity of good is always left large enough for any tough time that might come up.
  7. Keep your eyes on the road ahead. It is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day operations of running a startup. But a good CEO must always look to the future and envision where the company will be a year or two (or five or ten) from now. If your company has reached its goal before you set a new, higher goal, it means you didn’t manage correctly. True innovation is only achieved by continually raising the bar to achieve the impossible.
  8. Lead by example. How many times has this advice been proffered? That’s because it is perhaps the most important thing a leader can do. Your own deeds manifest the work culture. If you want to create a culture of respect, curiosity, perseverance, trust and teamwork, you must embrace these qualities yourself.
  9. Aim high, but expect lows. There will probably numerous occasions during the lifespan of your company that you think to yourself, “There’s no way out, it’s over.” If you don’t hit that point, you are probably aiming too low. So it’s important to set your sights high, and just expect that in order to get there, you’ll have to get through some low points, but have the trust and belief that you will prevail. .

Tech CEO’s have their work cut out for them. Nothing comes easy, and there will most assuredly be missteps along the way. But by following these nine rules, their chances of success become much brighter.

About the Author:

Omer Keilaf has spent over 19 years driving cutting edge technologies from inception to commercialization. Before founding Innoviz, Omer led the system and product definition efforts at ConsumerPhysics, building the world’s first handheld molecular sensor for mobile devices. Previous roles include leading the system architecture and engineering teams at bTendo (acquired by ST Micro) and Anobit (acquired by Apple). Omer spent 7 years in the elite technological unit of the Intelligence Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served in leading and critical roles involving large scale technological systems. He holds a BSc and MSc in Electrical Engineering and an MBA, all from Tel Aviv University.