Michael Scharff is the CEO of Evolv, an autonomous website experience optimisation platform.
Econsultancy spoke to him to find out how he goes about his day, the skills needed for his role, how he measures success, and which websites and apps have impressed him lately.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I’m the CEO, which means I do a little bit of everything. I view my role as being an enabler for the team — my goal is to set the vision for Evolv and eliminate as many barriers as possible so our employees can create value for our customers, investors, and shareholders.
To help make that happen, I involve myself in hiring the right people, managing investor relations, engaging with our clients, and seeking out investors so we can keep growing. I’m also the guy who comes in every morning and makes sure there’s a pot of coffee brewing.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Officially, I report to the board of directors. Unofficially, I report to the team here and I support them however I can. It helps that I sit in the office alongside everyone else. No one has a private office, including me.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
In a leadership role, I’d say probably the most important skill to have is communication — the ability to engage with people to understand their challenges, and then to articulate your vision and help shape how people think.
I’ve always believed in being as transparent, honest, and direct as possible, which is why I encourage everyone, regardless of department or level within the organization, to listen, communicate, and share their expertise with anyone who will listen.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I like to get in early, listening to audiobooks on my way to the office to help clear my mind. Once I’m in the office, my days vary quite a bit. Every week, we hold a management meeting with the leaders of each functional group, and I’m also engaged in one-on-ones with a lot of members of the team because it’s important for me to understand how things are going and where people might need help.
Additionally, I spend a lot of time on customer-facing work: meeting with clients to understand their usage of the product and working with the sales and marketing teams to craft strategies and messaging.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Very little sucks about my job. I’ve been working since I was 21 years old, and this is honestly the greatest job I’ve had yet, by far. I wake up everyday feeling excited, energized, and enthusiastic, but also scared and nervous; some days I feel like I’ve gone past my level of competency and don’t know what I’m doing. I love that unlike in large companies that have lots of structure and processes, I have the opportunity at Evolv to help shape a culture in which people feel excited to work together everyday.
Of course, no job is perfect. I’d say dealing with investors and raising funds, while incredibly important, isn’t the most fun job, especially when investors express skepticism about what you’re doing.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
My goal is simple: I want to build a company for the long term, one that’s sustainable and stable. Investors often ask me what kind of outcome I want for the company, but I think it’s crucial to spend your time and energy first and foremost on building a product that adds value for customers and helps them achieve their goals. The outcome is the result of that work.
We’re not the first SaaS business, and we certainly won’t be the last. As a newly-formed company, we’re still in the early stages of formalizing our reporting, but the metrics in this space are pretty standard — revenue growth, client growth, net churn, CAC ratios, etc. What I really want to start measuring are our net promoter score (NPS) and internal employee engagement, because I think those are good ways to determine if we’re meeting our goals.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
I try to be relatively nimble and use the tools that work. I’ve been a Microsoft Office user forever, but I’m now trying to pivot toward Google apps like Docs, Sheets, and Slides. The communication apps I have on my home screen run the gamut, from WhatsApp and iMessage to Viber and Facebook Messenger. At Evolv, we use Slack, Zoom, Confluence, and Salesforce, among others.
Which websites and apps have impressed you lately?
I like clean, simple interfaces. Apple has always had beautifully designed products and a website that’s engaging with a logical, clean content flow. I also love the imagery that Tesla and Lyft use on their websites. I actually prefer using Lyft to Uber.
Also in terms of apps, I really dig Google News, Axios, and Medium for the ways they help me get the news that I want and present it in a very readable manner. Expensify is the easiest expense tool I’ve ever used. And Lemonade Insurance has probably one of the best user engagement models I’ve seen in a really long time, with a great chatbot and simple messaging.
What advice would you give a marketer just starting out?
Learn all you can about the business you’re in and the problems you’re trying to solve from a customer perspective. Orienting yourself around the business’s customer and improving the customer experience is vital to turning customers into advocates and doing your most important work.