CEO Perspective: Achieving Smart, Fast Growth

WorkBoard CEO Deidre Paknad sat down with Marcin Kleczynski, CEO of Malwarebytes, to hear his incredible growth story and how they're using OKRs to accelerate growth.

Deidre Paknad, WorkBoard CEO: Marcin is what I think of as a phenom. He's got this amazing company — Malwarebytes — that is defending and protecting our computers and laptops and those of hundreds of millions of people — it's phenomenal. His growth story starts in his dorm room, is now a couple hundred million in revenue and he continues to lead it at a very high growth rate. What is super interesting is not only how you're leading, Marcin, but that this is your first run. And so you have such a fresh perspective with none of the baggage that many of us have about how business “should” work.

Marcin Kleczynski, Malwarebytes CEO: I barely held a job outside of this! [laughter]

But this job you're certainly holding, kudos!

So far. [laughter]

So let's start with the company story. Where did you start? What's the journey? What are the growth stages?

I started the company — actually the concept of the company — well before college. We had one of those old Dell computers everybody had under their desk back in the 2000s. And I loved video games. We came from a pretty poor family out in Chicago, and I would download these pirated video games on Kazaa. One day this thing is just happening on my computer — I think it was a purple gorilla jumping around trying to sell you crap. And my parents obviously were incredibly annoyed.

We were bootstrapped from the very beginning. I was a kid out in the Midwest, went to the University of Illinois, and ran this thing out of a dorm room to $30 million.

This is the only thing that we have of worth in the household, and I've broken it within two months of having it. So, of course, I'm the one stuck fixing it.

And that's what I did. I went online, and I found a message board full of people that I consider superheroes today, and right there and then I posted: "Here's what's happening: purple gorilla." And a woman from Belgium named Mika — I can't make this up, right? — came to my rescue and said, "here's a pamphlet of 40 pages of instructions." And I was using one of these paid antivirus companies already. They were running there in the right-hand corner, yellow color — you guys know exactly who I'm talking about — and it let the threat onto the computer, and it wouldn't fix it.

I followed the 40 pages of instructions, and the computer was clean again, but why did this happen to me? Why couldn't it fix it? Why can't we protect it? And that's what I set out to do. And that was really kind of the first inspiration of Malwarebytes.

I stuck around this community of people, of superheroes. I started building free apps for them from a For Dummies book. So that's how I learned everything. And in 2008, right as I'm heading to the University of Illinois, we launched the first version of the product called Malwarebytes. Now to go a little bit backward: my co-founder is somebody I met on this message board, and he's this 30-year-old guy out in Boston; I'm this 15-16-year-old kid out in Chicago.

Imagine telling your mom you're working with some guy on the internet building an antivirus company! We didn’t meet or even talk on the phone until the company had turned over a million dollars. And when we did meet, it was “Hey, nice to see you for the first time in five years.” And Mika has also worked for Malwarebytes for the last 10 years. I've yet to meet her.

Wow. So you got to $1 million. What did your mom and dad say?

My mom still thinks it's a school project.

So you're way over $150 million now. What were the growth stages?

It's really a slog right through the whole process. We were bootstrapped from the very beginning. I was a kid out in the Midwest – from Chicago, went to the University of Illinois, and ran this thing out of a dorm room to $30 million. My friends and the school had no idea what I was doing. Bruce — my co-founder — barely knew what we were doing [laughter].

And I ran it like it was still bootstrapped, because you take this guy from a poor family in the Midwest, drop him in where everybody's spending money hand over fist — but that's not how I operated and how I grew up.

I think the first couple of years of growth for Malwarebytes were incognito. Nobody knew what we were doing, and yet we're doing $30 million in revenue.

My favorite story from that time: I'm playing around; I'm in the dorm room — at the University of Illinois, you have to go into a dorm room your first year, and we're already doing some serious cash — and I have my computer there. I'm connected to the school network and I'm disassembling a virus with Bruce. Really fun stuff. And then I get a white page that says "you've been banned from the school network. There is suspicious activity happening on your computer. Go run one of these three of your competitors or call this number." So I call the number, and a kid no older than I shows up in the dorm room and says "Hey, I'm from IT." He sits down at my computer and runs Malwarebytes right in front of me. And so that was like “I've made it”, at least in 2009. And so that was the first stage.

In 2012 when I moved out here, we raised money from Highland Capital down the street. First Series A, really started investing that into sales and marketing. And I would say that was the next inflection point of, "Wow, we have some cash to go invest." And we did it in a pretty prudent way. And then since then it's been, you know, really formalizing the structure of the company, and I hate to say that, but it's so necessary after a certain scale. They say, things change at 100 people, 500 people and all that. It is absolutely true. And OKRs, I know we'll talk a little bit about that, have been a big part of that - but would you believe we put our first real budget in last year? And when you don't have a budget, do you know what everybody does? Spends money. And we didn't do it as a reaction. We just did it as, "Hey, wouldn't that be nice?" So you mature as you go and maybe we're a little behind on some things, and maybe ahead on some things.

So tell us what the shape of the company is now.

We're about 850 people now, and have been growing about 150 to 200 people a year the last couple of years. We're a unique business in that we do consumer and enterprise, and that is a really difficult thing to do. The whole story goes that we started as this consumer business. We charged a perpetual license. Can you believe that? Like $25 forever. And to this day we honor those licenses. So if you find one on eBay, you're really in luck. But what happened is people like you and me had a problem at home and Malwarebytes fixed it. Then we went to work, we had a similar problem and then brought Malwarebytes into work. And it's very much like the Dropbox model, which is people using the technology at home, then going to work. And so that the consumer business is bigger because it's been around for a longer time. That's well over a $100 million. And then the enterprise business is almost as large and growing. With that business we have 800 plus people distributed across the globe.

You moved through the stages to get more formal, more structured. And obviously you have a pretty deep leadership team?

I do. And one of the things I definitely recognize is the people that got you there aren't the people that are going to get you there going forward. And especially with a young entrepreneur like myself: I know my limitations, and so I have to hire around those limitations. And the people that are good startup people are not necessarily good at scale, and you know that with budget and planning and many different things.

As you moved through those stages, what were the things that you gained and what went away as you got bigger?

Yeah, I'll give you one that's just an interesting one. A funny one maybe. So up until maybe three or four years ago we did an all-team summit. So everybody all over the world would fly into a city that I revealed like weeks before this, right? And we did a planning session, and we did presentations, we did like a carnival where you go around and learn different departments and stuff like that. And then everybody goes eats and drinks and all that. And so it was a three-day party, but everybody left with a clear alignment of what we're doing, and it was super worthwhile.

And people talk about it to this day, even the new people were like, “Whoa, we're going to do that one day?” Well, when you do the cost analysis, at 500 people, at $3,000 a person, you're talking about some significant amount of money that you're investing, and it's hard to justify as to why you're doing that.

So I think that definitely hurt the culture quite a bit, even though it's that scale that is really driving that cost. So how do you replace that? I've had to just help implement culture on a daily basis. Including things like doing all hands every month so that we're still aligned. Still we did lose something there. But what you gain is redundancy. You know if somebody leaves, you can do a battlefield promotion. Much harder to do when that's your only person. So I think you start getting some redundancy and can actually scale the business a lot faster. You get more ideas into the mix. I mean there's a lot of things to gain from growing. And you can acquire companies, right?

When you're $200 million in revenue, you can find a company that's $5 million, and you have a customer base that then you can bring that technology into. So what I think we've done really well at scale is find companies that are 2 to 10 people working on something cool on these message boards.

I’ve had to just help implement culture on a daily basis.

And it's like, “Hey, you're doing some cool stuff. Do you want to do it for us?”. And we've gotten three acquisitions for less than a million dollars that are now producing $20 to $30 million for us. So to be able to find those golden nuggets at scale I think is really important.

One thing you clearly haven't lost at scale is the ability to get close to your customer, close to your market, and close to what inflects in that market. I think as you get to even bigger scale — and sort of my experience running a bigger business at IBM — you’re further away from knowing that there's a message board and being able to quickly act on it.

It's getting hard. And sometimes I have to bookmark the message board, so it's in my "things to do". I think we can never forget where we came from. Crossing the Chasm was an interesting book that I read 10 years too late, and it was a reflection of, "Oh this is why we exist?". It's finding those champions early on that helped us build the technology and being very iterative — and thinking of it as giving a tool to someone like Mika to recommend to somebody like me as a user. She'll tell me there. And so it's really important that we not lose focus on that. And that's been really tough I think.

And it doesn't get easier moving forward.

Fantastic. [laughter]

You have a phenomenal growth story. What are the set of first principles for growing the company? Do you just think about let's make great products, and it'll all resolve, or is there more method?

The answer a year ago was “yes” to that. Like, just go do cool stuff. The rest will get figured out. That proves to be incredibly hard at scale. So, to grow $100 million and then another $100 million, you're actually growing slower. Law of numbers. If you're supposed to maintain 40-50% growth over the next 10 years, that's actually harder every year. And so I think that's the hard part about growth. And so I think about it as let's go build cool stuff and let's have a plan (and we'll get a little bit into the alignment of OKRs).

At a company of 800 people, we're talking about thousands of micro-decisions happening every single day. Each of those incrementally add up to big strategic decisions. I mean, there are only 365 days in a year, and you're expected to produce 40% growth?

At 800 people, we’re talking thousands of micro decisions every single day. Each of those incrementally add up to big strategic decisions.

Do the math and things have to go really right. And so a plan is important in that context. Even today it's, "Oh boy, we're going to go do this partnership. Let's throw every resource at it." Well, can we just maybe think about it for at least five minutes, instead of doing that? It becomes more of a systematic way of investing. So we brought in a fantastic CFO and put an annual operating plan together. And while not trying to put process along every boundary here, if we have $10 million to go invest incrementally next year, where are we actually going to invest it? It's not going to be “first to the checkbook”, which has been the case before. It's going to be who's got the best idea that we all believe in.

Time is your most precious resource, and so are your people.

So it's almost that you've got to get smarter about how you grow the more you grow?

Yes. I'll give a great example of where growth has gone wrong for Malwarebytes. About six years ago, you know, we were $30 to 40 million in revenue and I had the bright idea of, let's go build a secure backup product for our customers. We have so many consumers, if we can just sell one more damn thing to them, we're going to be flowing in money, right? Bad, bad way of thinking about it. So we partnered with this company and we were just not invested in it at all. We were like, yeah, this is a great idea. What if we just build something and mold it and sell it to a customer? They're going to love it. And it wasn't the Malwarebytes way. And that thing produced $4 million in revenue but took up half our time.

So here we are. Time is your most precious resource and so are your people and it's time. And so we, we've invested all these resources, all this time into something that just didn't play out. And the hardest thing for me was to then kill it, because otherwise you're dragging it along for forever and we killed it.

Not killing it is like competing with yourself.

Yeah. So I mean that was a tough decision for us, but ultimately it was the right one for the company. We freed up all those resources to go invest in the stuff that we believed in.

We’ve invested all these resources, all this time into something that just didn’t play out. And the hardest thing for me was to then kill it.

There are quite a few people in the room making those "keep or kill" decisions. How did you think about the conversation with the developer team or the sales team who'd you invested in ramping up on go to market and thinking. How'd you communicate and navigate through that?

In our case, and this is the interesting thing I've learned in my career, all we had to do was talk to those people, and they knew it, they saw it. So I have a very interesting style where I actually meet with everybody at any time they want. Yeah maybe they'll use up my time the wrong way, but I'd rather do it than miss a golden opportunity. I just want to talk to people on the ground. We have open office, so people approach me all the time and that's kind of where the idea came from is like, "Hey, you know, there's some people talking about this. We should probably all know, it's not doing so well." And at the end of the day, you'd be surprised. The same thing with people transitions. Everybody already knew it was going to happen.

But the struggle of "keep or kill" and how to communicate it is one that's on people’s mind here. That your people already know is a real epiphany.

And your customers can tell you too! You can look at the data all day long. You can do the market analysis all day long, but go talk to your people, go talk to your customers and they'll tell you it's a hunk of junk and it shouldn't exist . And then you've got to decide how are we going to invest more or truly kill it off.

To grow $100 million and another $100 million, you’re growing slower. It gets harder every year.

Speaking of data, I know you're a fairly data-driven guy. Tell us why you look at data, what data you look at, and the cadence. How does it help you? Or are you intuition driven?

I'm so happy you think I'm data-driven — it means my PR is working! We did one of these like color things where you'd figure out what you are in terms of order of color, similar to Myers–Briggs. So I'm mostly orange and then gold. Orange is super impulsive, "want it now, need it now, no time to discuss this." And I'm equally gold, which is like "I need an agenda, we need to be organized. I have a little bit of OCD. My desk has to be clean." So imagine those two coming together and trying to figure life out. So it's like, "we need to go do this now, but you better come with an agenda. It better be organized. " And so my life is just like this constant battle of, "I want to write an email quick," but then I'm going to slow down cause I need it to be perfect. There's the orange in me: the data!

You need to act on intuition, get some data from that intuition and then iterate, iterate, iterate.

So I definitely believe that I am data-driven and looking at some patterns and trends. But I don't think the key is always the data. And I think you need to act on intuition, get some data from that intuition and iterate, iterate, iterate. And we have made mistakes just blindly following the data, right? I mean, I'll give you one classic example. If I were really trying to put a business case together 10 years ago when I started this company, I would be putting a business case together that looked like the following: This market is declining; there are a hundred competitors; nobody cares about antivirus. Do you guys care about antivirus? No, but when things hit the fan, you're calling me. The data would have told me "don't ever start an endpoint protection company."

If I just blindly followed that data, I wouldn't be here today. And yet, there's a reason those competitors are dying off. They didn’t care about their customers. They're gutting R & D for sales and marketing. The threat's evolving and they're not protecting their users, right? So again, a good example of where data may not just be the best application. Now I do actually like people around me looking at the data, and that's where the gold comes in.

Speaking of paying attention to customers and markets, your intuition on the future of the security and endpoint protection market was spot on! Bad actors everywhere.

Well, I didn't think was going to be this bad. I mean if you guys look at the market in general and look at the news every single day, I mean in just the last, I don't know, three months.

You have to pay attention to a whole bunch of external parties that are acting in nefarious ways. When you think about what's changing competitively and the dynamic security threat world, how does that affect how your company iterates on its strategic priorities?

I would say if you look at where we spend our time, it's 20% looking at our competitors and where the market is going, and 80% following the threat actors — and we've intentionally done that from the very beginning.

A little history lesson: the way a lot of these traditional antivirus companies were built is they would write signatures for every single threat that's out there. Meaning, they'd find a file on the internet, fingerprint it, and send those fingerprints out to all of you. And that world has completely changed. In 2008 to 2010, the criminals got ahold of that strategy and said, well, we're just going to morph these files on the fly. So when you and I go to the same website, we're going to get infected with something very different. So we could have followed our competitors, done all the signature writing. But here's Bruce and I — who aren't even talking on the phone cause my parents wouldn't allow it — trying to figure out a way to solve this.

And so we said, let's go just follow the threat actors on these underground forums and let's see what they're talking about. Let's see what they're actually doing. And we pissed some people off so much that they started saying expletives in the code of the viruses because they were shocked as to how could we possibly be detecting their malware before they even picked up the keyboard to write it. So to me, that produces a better product that then can get taken to the market, than looking at your market and your competitors.

Go identify the problem you're solving, not what your competitors are doing. And at the same time, the 20% spent on our competitors — one good example of that is the way our customers are buying, and the way our competitors are positioning is this managed service provider model in the SMB. So we're very, very SMB driven. So a lot of our customers are small, medium businesses. We have 25,000 of them and, because security and IT has become so complex, they are outsourcing the management of that to managed service providers. So companies that literally their bread and butter is to service a dentist shop, a muffler shop and so on. If we just kept building our technology in the way we were, we'd never get an opportunity for that. And so again, the analysis of that — looking at how our customers are buying, what our competitors are offering, and then upleveling that — was really the strategy there. But again, I think 80% of the time is spent looking at the threat actors: at the malware itself, at the attacks that happened, and going, "well, how could we have prevented that?”

Go identify the problem you’re solving, not what your competitors are doing.

Why is results alignment in your org important to you now? And it may be more important now than in the past, why?

So two years ago, the way we set goals was in a spreadsheet. And then at the end of the quarter, you'd get paid on them. And I never saw any of them. Your managers likely never saw any of them. Which is interesting... I'll table that for a second. We started working on real OKRs at the beginning of the year.

I’ve now been in at least three or four conversations a week where people talk about it as “their” OKRs.

We had our annual operating plan to align strategically, and OKRs became simply a way to drive the results in the organization. And we came up with 20 initiatives for the year, and I actually thought that was a lot. But if I think about it, those 20 initiatives were now aligned across the company. Whereas before there were probably 200 initiatives that everybody was putting in their goals and working on things that they thought were important to the business but really weren't.

Two years ago, we set goals in a spreadsheet. At the end of the quarter, you’d get paid on them. I never saw any of them; managers likely never saw any of them.

Now the objectives that inform those 20 initiatives were simple so everybody could consume it and understand it. We're going to grow, we're going to get a little more effective with how we spend our money, and we're going to take care of our people. And underneath each of those was: Grow, here's some product launches that we need to get done and nothing else matters. Under Efficiency, it's like, "Hey, we spend a lot of money on AWS. Let's go figure that part out." Right? I'm sure everybody in the room was probably on the same page there. And under People, it's "how are we gonna progress people's careers?"

While I initially I thought "20 initiatives that's so much," when you really think about the alternative: 800 people, 300 initiatives, everybody's working on their own thing, and then coming at the end of the quarter saying, "Hey, I did everything I said I was going to do." Well, none of that mattered; unfortunately, I'm really sorry to say. So that feedback does hurt. It hurts me, it hurts that person. Like if I can't proudly exemplify somebody's work, I feel like crap and they're so proud of it. But why are you working on that?

So by no means am I saying just because you did something that wasn't in the scope of our AOP or our plan, it's wrong. And we even have a competition called IdeaBytes where people come and present cool stuff they're working on. That is stuff that they spent their time working on outside of work or even during work hours. And you know, we pay pretty cool cash bonuses and all that.

The OKR session created some sense of purpose. “How am I helping the company grow?”

One of the conversations I have with people is that they'll have five objectives at the top, and they'll KRs for each one of them and they'll say wow, isn't that a lot? But your point that when you really think about an organization at any scale and you think everybody's working on something, actually it's already a lot, it’s just misaligned and opaque.

Yes and the KRs helped quantify some of this stuff, because we historically have not been outcome-driven. So if you look at our OKRs before, they were like "launch this product." Well, that's great, and I'm sure it'll be successful. But what does success actually mean? The OKR session was three hours per individual at the company. It created some sense of purpose of how you do align to the top-level goals. “How am I helping the company grow?” Well, now I can concretely say that. Before it's was like “Well I think I am, I’m doing this, I’m doing that.” So it's just the process of sitting in the room and having those conversations of, what are our goals going to be as a team? And we did team OKRs. So we didn't want to go in and say, well, if you don't hit your KRs, you're going to be let go or anything like that. Instead we said let's strive for what's best possible.

And you know, in the first quarter it was very important for me to not react. “You only hit 50% of best possible — are you serious?” But don't react. And people were ambitious. They believed they weren't going to get whacked because they set a really high goal. And that's been pretty cool.

We implemented OKRs on WorkBoard, and we've seen an acceleration of growth this year.

We implemented OKRs on WorkBoard, and frankly we've seen an acceleration of growth this year.

Tell us a little bit about what you observed and particularly that first-quarter cycle? How did it impact how you interacted with them and what you saw your leadership team interacting with each other?

I think it was before we started the process of getting the teams in a room. There was a lot of skepticism: “Oh here's just another way that they can hold us accountable. Here's just another way that I'm going to get paid or not paid.” So we really had to do a good job of not reacting and having healthy conversations that were engaging. And I remember you walking in and saying "this is going to be three hours, two hours and 50 minutes of pure agony and pain, 10 minutes of radical clarity”, and it was down to the minute.

So I said the same thing to the next level of managers. I said, “Listen, I'm an expert in this.” [laughter] “And it's going to be two hours and 50 minutes of pain and agony and 10 minutes of radical clarity."

And it just happened like that. It just happened all the way through the organization like that. And, and I actually thought that was really funny because it was a time slice. We knew exactly how long this should take. And it worked out.

And you know, there were some nonbelievers, but they came along for the ride and I think now they believe, and the second time we did the OKR reset, I thought it was really easy. In the reset the first thing we did was look at if these things still mattered. If they didn’t, cut them out. And I think that was 40 minutes. So 39 of pain, one... [laughter]

“Now there's a common language; before there were random goals that weren't aligned. And we had no visibility.”

What are some of the surprises you saw — in particular, skip level? When you looked below your leadership team, L3, L4, L5 teams, what did you see there that surprised you? Did they lean into best possible? Did they lean out?

No, I certainly think they leaned in. What was interesting to me — was people went in there and started updating on their own. There was no calendar invite sent: "figure out your KR [key results]." There was nothing like that. And in fact, I've now been in at least three or four conversations a week where people talk about it as their OKRs. “Like, oh no, that's one of our OKRs. We'll get it done. Don't worry”. We were in a retention meeting and "Hey, this lifecycle stuff — oh no, that's an OKR. We're getting it done. We're measuring it."

“I think it’s creating radical focus.”

So now there's a common language, whereas before, there were random goals that weren't aligned with anybody, in a spreadsheet that was managed locally. And maybe you submitted it as a goal at the end of the quarter. And so we had no real visibility, no way to see how that aligns to what you're doing. So the way that people are talking about it and self-updating it, and I think that's creating just radical focus. It's pretty cool.

The company is doing the best that it’s ever done, in fact accelerating growth.

What do you wish leaders in your company — your direct reports and their direct reports — either knew or better understood about growing the company and in particular where you need to grow it next?

You know I think we need to accelerate some of the changes that are happening. And again, we've had executive turnover, we've had strategic changes, we've had a lot of different changes in the company; more so probably in the last year than in the last three before that. And the company is doing the best that's ever done, in fact accelerating growth. So I'm not saying it's directly correlated, but you know, a body at rest stays at rest. And to me, we need to continue to optimize and iterate. And some of them are big, some of them are small, and sometimes it's hard to communicate that en masse to your population of people.

When we make changes, I say at the end of the message: "Guys, as a fast growing company in an awesome space like this, change is inevitable."

Is it important to set OKRs at the team level? And what about in engineering?

A couple answers to that. One - if you look at some of our KRs, they are to implement agile processes, they are to look at velocities, that kind of stuff. Two - I think yes absolutely in terms of doing team OKRs, and in this context, getting product and engineering in a room and doing team OKRs together.

Because — and I've seen this now through a couple of sessions — our engineers are not just order takers. They don't just pluck a ticket off the backlog and say I'm going to go do this. They want and are more motivated when they see, "well, I'm bringing revenue in." So those processes from a product management and engineering perspective are in my opinion too sterile.

And when you bring engineers into an OKR session, it gets people aligned and excited.

Here's a good example: we are working on (user) retention in a certain product. We got the team in a room, not just the product team, not just the engineering team. And we made it a KR to get to a retention rate. Well you may say, well, how's the engineering team going to do that? Well, to deliver and even generate ideas to doing just that. So, it just kind of creates a sense of purpose on a quarterly, on an annual basis. And it brings out a lot of creative ways to accomplish that.

And when you bring engineers into an OKR session, it gets people aligned and excited. On the growth side they they go, "we're going to drive how much million in revenue next quarter?”. They decide to shift projects forward, not just deliver to the roadmap, but deliver a month before the roadmap. That's our OKR, that's our stretch. So they're like, "heck yeah, we’re going to under promise and over deliver. The product team's not going to know what hit them."

What is the impact of OKRs on cross-functional collaboration?

Well, no team can function in a silo. And so this is driving the right conversations and interlock to happen more affirmatively, whereas before you do it maybe once for the annual operating plan and even then maybe not as well as you should. This is impacting people even down to updating their KRs. They've got to go get that information from another system, from another team. And those conversations are happening. So before, I swear they were driving goals in a silo with Engineering saying “I'm going to go deliver this product.” And then Product saying, “we're going to go deliver that product.” You look at the two and they're not aligned. Now, we’re moving in the same direction faster.

No team can function in a silo, and OKRs are driving the right conversations and interlock to happen more affirmatively.

And it starts with my objectives, and the nice thing is that you can pull them through the ranks. So if my goal is a user retention goal, then that can be shared by the team underneath me, the team underneath them and, and be systematized.

Before, Engineering was saying, “I’m going to go deliver this product.” And Product was saying, “We’re going to go deliver that product.” You look at the two and they’re not aligned.

Right. What was the impact on culture?

Well, the fact that people are talking about OKRs — that is a cultural shift of, "Hey, we want to be held accountable. We have a way to be held accountable." Before, there was no talk about team performance in the company. And I know that's a very maybe CEO-focused mindset, but teams do want to feel like they know how they're doing and standing in the company. Nobody was talking about key results progress before that. Nobody was talking about that spreadsheet that they had in their pocket that said, "here's what I'm going to go and do." They were hiding from that. This brings it front and center — this is what we're going to accomplish as a team and we fail together or we win together, and we're going to go try to win.

When I think about alignment and accountability, sometimes if you're the CEO when you're saying it, it might sound like it’s a forced march. But if you flip it on its head and say, what does it look like without alignment, without accountability from an employee's perspective, it sounds like this: "I don't know if this work matters and I don't think anybody cares anyway." That's the absence of alignment and the absence of accountability. That's not a great place to be or work. So I think they have a bit of a bad rap as labels, but I think they're so foundational.

And what's really been fun is me to go four or five levels deep and comment on a KR and people freak out like "Oh my God, this is awesome." People are like, "he looked, he looked!!"

How do you create and describe your OKRs?

Well again I'll try to answer that question in terms of how this construct came to be. So, when we set the goals, it was easy to just say, "Grow 30%, drive $10 million out of cost, and make our people happier." We could have flown with that, but we did it a little bit of a different way. We said, "grow 30% so that we can protect even more people from malware." And that's a mission statement, right? "Operate more efficiently so we can invest that money into our customers, our people and our technology,", "Make our malwarenauts better so that they can fight the enemy even better." And so on. That was step one.

And what’s really been fun is for me to go four or five levels deep and comment on a KR, and people freak out like “Oh my God, this is awesome.”

And then in the next level down, they had to come up with an impactful statement too for their objectives. It's not like you can just say, okay, then "we're going to take out 10 million in costs. Like in engineering, they said, “we're going to build the best engineering ninjas in the world”. And then here's how we're going to do it with these KRs. So they made it a little bit more fun. And I think that made it resonate through the organization instead of like this sterile KR of "80% retention," whatever it is. So I think if you can have fun from the top, it'll get funny. Do you think people have forgotten those goals? No. Because we got passionate about them. Get funny in it. Nobody will ever forget those five goals.

I think if you can have fun from the top, it’ll get funny. Do you think people have forgotten those goals? No. Because we got passionate about them. Get funny in it. Nobody will ever forget those five goals.

For most leaders, if you go to your company right now and say, “Give us the top three, five strategic initiatives”... your year started seven months ago, do you think they still remember them? Maybe if you keep talking about them, but with OKRs, you have a system that tells you right there: “Grow faster so we can protect more people”. That matters.

The next level down also had to come up with an impactful statement for their objectives.

I think of the objective as the heart and soul and the key results as the wallet, and a lot of times leaders will just put the wallet number out there. That’s de minimus as it goes down the org chart. If you put some "why" up-front and you put some fun and energy into it and let the teams author theirs, it makes for great objectives that people are passionate about.

The localization was important for sure because what I'm saying doesn't necessarily mean anything to an engineer, but if they can reframe it and localize it, as you said, for how they're going to impact the mission in their own words for their own teams, for their own purpose. It's theirs now. They own it. It's not mine. I set my objectives that they should align to.

If an engineer can reframe [my OKR] and localize it for how they're going to impact the mission in their own words for their own teams, for their own purpose — it's theirs now. They own it.

Thank you for sharing your story, Marcin.

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