By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
Silicon Valley veteran Narinder Singh survived the dot-com crash at a startup before founding his own services company, Appirio, in 2006.
Singh led Appirio to a successful exit in just over 10 years. Along the way, he cemented business learnings that can apply to leaders across industries.
In a recent episode of “The Grow Wire Podcast,” Singh explains the facets of his and Appirio’s success: A team with a common vision, the ability to practice what you preach, dedication to learning, willingness to pivot and knowledge that you don’t have all the answers.
If experience is the best teacher, then Narinder Singh was taught by some of the best.
A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Singh moved to Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom. He worked for startup “darling” Open Methods and global technology companies Accenture and SAP before founding services company Appirio in 2006. His career provides insights into entrepreneurship and strategies for making it in Silicon Valley and beyond.
Singh shared takeaways from his career on a recent episode of “The Grow Wire Podcast.” Launch this video to hear his thoughts in full, or skip to the time stamps noted below.
Build teams around a common vision.
Appirio’s co-founders had prior shared work experience, so they respected each other’s skill sets. More importantly, they were united around a vision for the company’s future.
“We had a shared sense of values that we wanted to reinforce, and a few things that we knew we wanted to change,” said Singh (19:50 in the video above).
The co-founders bonded over a desire to create services and products for a revolutionary technology, which was then referred to as “on-demand computing.” Today it’s known as “the cloud.”
The team agreed cloud computing was undergoing a fundamental shift, and they saw an opportunity for the ecosystem of cloud services to change. Together, they committed to developing products that would capitalize on the trend.
Practice what you preach.
Singh had Appirio run their entire system on the cloud, following the advice they gave to their customers. Even as the company grew, the majority of the team remained remote workers. Working in the cloud not only allowed Apprio to stay authentic in their values and market positioning but also benefited their organization.
"It transformed how we implemented a culture in a virtual company," said Singh (22:22).
Be open to pivots.
Singh's team started as a product-focused cloud company, but the services side of the business quickly gained traction. As services revenue increased, Appirio focused more on that segment. Instead of trying to follow the original product assumption, the company pivoted, benefiting greatly by responding to market needs.
Even within a growing organization like Appirio, leaders must develop teams with authentic connections to the product and industry. They let the market be the ultimate decision-maker.
Learn throughout your career, but remember there’s no substitute for your own thinking.
Singh has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern, an executive MBA from Wharton and a master’s degree in translational medicine from Berkeley. This dedication to learning has fueled his career and provided a unique, high-level skill set with which to approach problems.
However, Singh recognizes that independent thinking is critical to overall success. Great leaders have the confidence to trust their intuitions.
Don’t assume you have all the answers.
Even with his experience, Singh doesn’t pretend to know everything about business and technology.
“The lessons that worked for me, may not work for you,” he said (30:35).
His point is that every situation in business is different. While there are guidelines and data points you should reference when making decisions, each choice must be handled on a case-by-case basis.
The path to startup success--in Silicon Valley and beyond--is rarely a straight line. A business is a growing, complex entity, and it's impossible to have all the answers.
Singh’s career suggests that vision, flexibility and constant learning will help you on your journey.
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