Mentor Interview: Ned Hayes

Updated: Sep 30


Ned Hayes, Upnotch Mentor is the CEO of SnowShoe and a strategic leader in growth markets including cloud services, machine learning, identity, biometrics, data security, and regulatory compliance. He has launched 3 companies and led 5.


What is your superpower & why?


My superpower is being able to bring the best out of people and being able to identify other people's superpowers. Being able to help someone see that they're really capable of greatness, and nurturing that capability so that they can either lead a team, drive strategy or create a billion-dollar business. I think my superpower is really finding other people's superpowers.


Have you ever had a mentor?


Absolutely, I really value my relationships with my mentors.


Tell me a little bit about your mentors - who they are or what topics do you like to cover with them?


My mentors are people who have faced the same struggles and the same issues in building a business that I have faced and are further down the path. I'm able to ask them what's coming ahead. It's been enormously meaningful to have them kind of report from the future.


Tell me about a time a mentor has helped you accomplish a specific goal.


My mentors have been enormously helpful in helping me understand the complexity of situations when I might not first perceive everything that's happening there. For example, some years ago, I had a difficult employee situation. My instinct was to immediately solve it without actually drilling into or understanding what was going on with the employee. My mentor helped me to see that there could be other sides to the situation and helped me to actually find a way to work with that employee to retain them. I found it very helpful when a mentor is able to help me see additional information.


Can you describe a time when a mentor pushed you further than you thought was possible?


One of my mentors is Washington Technology Association's head Michael Schutzler. When I first went to Michael with an early idea for a company that I co-founded, he went over the information I had and said, “Why are you sitting around waiting for this, this is fundable, go out there and raise some money.” He really pushed me to see the possibilities and to see that we had actually accomplished much more than I thought we had done at that point in time. So the fact that he was able to see what the next step was, and to push me out of the starting gate helped me to get that company off the ground.


Any advice that your mentor has given you that you would like to share with us today?


One of my mentors many years ago gave me the piece of advice of not knowing everything, asking the dumb questions asking the questions that maybe you think you already know the answer to, but allowing employees to fill in gaps. What was surprising about that learning was that I began to realize that even if I had put my hands around a problem an employee might have approached it from a different angle, or might have information I had not considered. I was able to step back from micromanaging. I learned a lot about the great wealth of information and knowledge and insight that my employees could offer if I only allowed them to do that.


What is the weirdest, funniest, strangest thing you have ever asked your mentor?


One of my mentors used to work for Paul Allen. I had an occasion to present to Paul Allen so I asked my mentor in advance what I should look out for. He told me to look out for when Paul Allen got bored. That was his advice. The funny thing about it was that I was actually asking for business advice and he just gave me personal advice. “Don't bore him”. It was humorous. because when I did present to Paul, he immediately got bored with two other people in the room and told them to shut up and said, “Ned, what do you have to show me?” So I knew I had to deliver.


What would you tell your mentors, if they were listening right now?


I’d tell my mentors that I'm grateful for them all the time. Their insight and their ability to really listen, and to provide their wisdom to me has been invaluable. Whenever possible, I tell them how grateful I am for their advice and their coaching over the years. And hopefully, I can pass on some of that insight to additional people who I've helped along the path.


What makes a great mentee in your opinion?


People who come to a mentor seeking clear, distinct answers to every problem are probably not asking the right questions. Most people who are seeking a mentor, want someone to help them deal with ambiguity, to deal with questions that are not so clear, to deal with situations that don't have cut and dried answers. I think having a conversation about complexity and having a conversation about a variety of good choices or a variety of bad choices, is a really helpful conversation to have with your mentor.


Why do you mentor?


I love mentoring because I see the best in people and sometimes I'm able to tell them how great they are. I love being able to draw the best out and say, “Look, here's what you're capable of here. Here's what's possible. And here's where you're going to go next.” It's surprising to me how fast people can go when you just add a little bit of fuel to their engine.


One thing that I think is incredibly important is that we often live in a place of privilege. And I think it's vital that tech diversifies. We don't have enough women leaders, we don't have enough black and Native American and Hispanic leaders in tech. I think it's absolutely critical that we mentor more people into those leadership positions so that we can have a more diverse tech economy and a more successful tech economy. Studies demonstrate that if we diversify, the bottom line actually goes up and teams are more successful.


What topics do you like to mentor on?


I have some expertise in startup innovation and team formation. I love to help other people understand how to form effective teams, seek funding and be able to grow their team and their technology base. Take their idea from a lab into a fully-fledged company and a product to market. If you're looking for assistance with building out a team, getting funding for an idea, or developing a product, I'm probably a really good fit for you.


Tell me about a time when you helped a mentee solve a big challenge.


For several years, I've been mentoring a young woman who started as a technical developer at Intel. She was frustrated after a couple of years with her team not being effectively managed. I was able to help her see that her insight into what should be done in management meant that she actually had some skills in software engineering management. I was able to help her see her own strengths and help her step into a management role. She's now a senior engineering leader at Intel. I think that if she had just stayed in a place of frustration, she wouldn't be realizing the benefits of all of her gifts. She was surprised that she was able to manage people because she said, “I don't have an MBA, I don't have any training.” So I told her, “Yes, but you have innate skills, and you have the ability to take your team to the next level.”


What does success mean to you?


Success to me means being able to deliver your product off the page and into the hands of people and hopefully make their lives better through the use of the product. Success for me is not necessarily measured monetarily, it is not measured with some sort of fancy car or something like that. Instead, it's measured with what kind of impact you had on people's lives.


Any advice that you can give to a person on success? How to achieve it?


Defining success is difficult in our economy because we too often measure success on capitalistic principles. We think that money matters. And often success can be seen much more through individual impact on people's lives. For example, people who develop vaccines are, in my mind, much more successful than people who are billionaires. People who are able to give back to humanity, I consider to be the pinnacle of success. I've encouraged my mentees to seek a metric for success that can't be measured monetarily, because that can be much more satisfying, and much more meaningful to be able to understand your success. If you measure it by monetary principles only, it's shallow, and that can disappear really quickly but no one can ever take away the impact that you had on an individual's life.


When did you know you achieved career success?


My career has been an interesting one, because I never expected to have a financially successful tech career. I've often stepped away from technology and done other things. I left a good job at Microsoft in order to go pursue graduate studies in philosophy. I took some time off to write a novel, which was a national bestseller. I have several times stepped back and said, “Is this really what I consider success?”. So for me, each time around, I'm reconsidering, I'm stepping back. I'm rethinking where I am going next and what I want to do next. Success for me is really grounded in impact on people, but especially on people I really care about impact on my family and impact on my loved ones.


What's the secret behind your success?


I think my secret to success has been really seeking the success of the people around me, whether that's my team or my direct reports. Whether it's a broader team that is influenced by me, the more that I can make my people successful, the more successful I feel. Through my own actions, I'm able to see other people take actions that perhaps were inspired to some extent by me.


Describe a time when you had a breakdown that led to a success or a breakthrough.


I had taken a new role at a small company in Seattle and the CEO laid off the entire product management division and I was very angry about this. I needed my next role. I knew that if I went out to interviews with the anger that I was carrying that would not come across well to future hiring managers. What I did was, I went in my backyard and I dug a pond. By the end of a week, I had a really nice koi pond and I wasn't angry anymore. I was able to go on interviews and then I actually approached the CEO who had laid me off and sought funding for my next venture from him. He was the first investor to say yes. That setback led to positive outcomes, but partially because I was aware of where I was coming from and what I needed to do to move forward and I still have fish in that pond.


Any embarrassing moments early in your career when you were thinking, “Oh, no, this might be it.”?


One of my most embarrassing moments was when I was presenting to John Warnock the co-founder of Adobe. I was all prepared. I was talking in front of the room and then I turned around to point at something and everybody cracked up. I turned back and John Warnock said, “You have a new baby, don't you?” And I did. My daughter at that point in time was three or four months old. I picked her up in the morning and it turned out I had a baby spit-up stain right on my jacket. So that was an embarrassing moment, and very memorable.



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