Reggie Aggarwal is the CEO and founder of Cvent, a provider of event-management technology. He led the company from a two-person startup to an 850-person company that has helped manage 350,000 events in 50 countries.
Describe your leadership philosophy.
I’m a passionate leader and am always ready to roll up my sleeves and work in the trenches to get the job done.
It’s not enough to have a strong vision for your company — you also have to communicate it clearly and often to your employees and instill in them a genuine sense that they are a substantial part of executing that vision. I believe strongly in the people I hire, so I expect a lot from them. I push them to their fullest potential because I know what they’re capable of.
Cvent went from a startup nearing bankruptcy to a successful company of 800-plus employees. What was the key component in your strategy to keeping the business alive, and how could other entrepreneurs learn from your story?
One of the key things that pulled Cvent through those hard times was our management team. When the dot-com bubble burst, Cvent felt it hard. We were forced to cut 80% of our staff, and I was facing corporate and personal bankruptcy. We were at a fork in the road: Either quit and cut our losses or fight for our success. I asked my management team if they’d stand by me, and they did. With a strong, committed team, you can accomplish anything.
During the next three years, we barely slept. I was making sales calls, and my chief financial officer, a Harvard Business School graduate, was our bill collector. We focused on delivering a strong product and exceptional customer service. During challenging times, it’s best to get back to the basics, and everything else will follow. We created a culture of customer obsession by listening to and translating client feedback into our products. We received customer loyalty in return and have been able to continuously turn clients into long-term customers.
Lastly, and I can’t say this enough, we hired great people. Building a quality team is one of the most important things an entrepreneur can do. Make sure you select bright people whose career goals align with your vision for the company, then give them in-depth training on your products and services.
You mentioned recently at the Digital East conference that you actively participate in hiring for your company. How do you handle the demands of hiring staff members with your other duties?
I believe the basis of a successful company is good DNA. I spend about 50% of my time interviewing prospective employees, mentoring current ones and grooming my leadership team, and I’ve worked to build a culture of intrapreneurship — encouraging my employees to bring their ideas to life in the safety of our already-established environment.
I pursue top talent like my success depends on it — because it does. I find super-bright people, tell them what I want and then get out of the way. Then, I can have the confidence to know that tasks are being handled expertly when I’m not around, which allows me to focus my time on other duties and strategic initiatives. As Cvent continues to grow, I’ve found it’s important to empower my senior executives to continue crafting a culture of innovation, because creativity is one leadership competency that any company cannot go without.
If a recent college graduate came to you and said that one day he wanted your job, what advice would you give him?
First, I wouldn’t recommend starting a company out of college. For every Mark Zuckerberg, there are millions of failed entrepreneurs.
Second, you might think that as an entrepreneur, you’ll have several chances at success, but the reality is that most entrepreneurs end up trying only once because they’ve put all of their time, money and energy into that first opportunity. I’m a man of statistics, and statistically, 80% of small businesses go under within their first five years. So, you really need to optimize that one chance at success. For the first five years of your career, learn on someone else’s dime. Make your mistakes at an established company, find out its best practices and take note of its management styles. Once you’ve seen what it takes to run a successful company, you’ll be much better prepared to start your own.
Lastly, becoming an entrepreneur is not a decision to be taken lightly. It’s a grind. The road to success can be a lengthy one, so if you’re jumping in, make sure it’s for the long haul. All too often, we underestimate the amount of time things will take, so make sure you have a 15-year plan. If you’re successful before that, it’s a bonus.