Second Time is a Charm: Interview with New Relic CEO Lew Cirne – Part 4

Part 4 and Conclusion of a 4-part Interview

By Rob Kornblum | Interviews

Sep 13
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Part 4 of 4: Conclusion

The following is Part 4 of a 4 part interview that I did with Lew Cirne, founder and CEO of software powerhouse New Relic, Inc. Lew is a successful serial entrepreneur and New Relic is his second big hit.

Rob Kornblum: Yeah. You talked a little bit about your family, and I don’t want to get too deep into it, but what were those conversations like both inside your head and with your spouse in terms of ‘Hey, I’m going to do another startup.’

And how do you manage the demands of startup life and family together?

Lew Cirne: Yeah, well this is also where Wily was very good to me too. I was the CTO at the time, when [Removed per Lew’s request- family issues that needed Lew’s attention] and they were very on and off, but there were one or two times when I needed to take time away from the office and be home for three or four weeks during one period of time.

That helped me I think. I learned quite a bit in that. I learned that the company doesn’t depend on 110% of every hour of every day of me spent to survive, in fact that’s a bad way to scale as a leader. The company survived just fine when I had to take care of some important personal matters.

So, being thoughtful about how to allocate my time that helped me I think be more effective with how I allocated my time, having gone through that at Wily a couple of times.

And even at New Relic, I remember we’re Series A funded, we have ten people in the company, we’ve got the launch, we declared the launch day at a conference- that day won’t move, it’s a sixty days away, and Kirsten is seeing a specialist doctor in rural Texas. And I’m like, working out of a Marriott, running the company out of a little Marriott hotel room while [dealing with personal stuff].

But we had the [launch] dates, it all just kind of worked.

And, man, there is another point I wanted to kind of bring into it.

Yeah, that’s the silver lining to going through these things. It did kind of help me to scale and prioritize a little better. And that’s served the company well in a way.

Rob Kornblum: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And it sounds like you make time every day for the family, obviously, in terms of getting home and being there for dinner. Do you plug back in in the evenings?

Lew Cirne: On and off, I love my job so sometimes I can’t resist jumping back on email after bedtime, something like that, sometimes I feel a little behind.

Rob Kornblum: Yeah?

Lew Cirne: I travel a lot less. This is funny, on the eve of like, this has been the longest trip I’ve done in the history of my time with New Relic. I’m going on a ten day trip starting tomorrow. Ten or eleven day trip, but at Wily I lived on the road.

Rob Kornblum: Because of enterprise?

Lew Cirne: It was enterprise, I was doing customer calls quite a bit.

And so, with a young daughter and just wanting to be at home, I try not to do any trip for more than a couple nights and try not to do it more than once a month.

But, you know, that comes in waves.

But, yeah, oh and my wife has been a partner in all of this. When I started New Relic she was like very encouraging. ‘Lew, when you’re working on this idea you’re like happier, you’re more energized, this is good for the family, it’s good for you.’ She was kicking me out of the house and getting back to work, too.

Construct your ideal job with the constraint that presumably you’re in a leadership position in the company…identify the key strategic gaps and place the top priority to find the very best people that can complement what you don’t want to spend your time on. And be very, very thoughtful about that. – Lew Cirne

Rob Kornblum:
That’s great. And it sounds like this time around the bounds are pretty well set, so, that really works.

Lew Cirne: Yeah, I think, about as well set as they ought to be. You know. Never flawlessly easy.

Rob Kornblum: What other kind of takeaways, certainly, board management? Board composition can change I think as you get a little bit more understanding of where and how you want to communicate with a board and how you want them to help you. How did you set the board differently, and work with the board differently this time around?

Lew Cirne: I think I’m blessed to have a remarkably healthy and productive board dynamic. And I think the best way to describe it is that it’s very open and trusting.

Comes back to a self-awareness thing. I feel no need to manage my board, or to try to appeal or be someone I’m not, and I have seen situations where CEOs are really saying ‘Let’s rehearse what we’re going to say in the board meeting, let’s make sure we appear like we have our act together.’

Where I think the best board meetings and typically they are the board meetings at New Relic are far more open dialogue. You know, here’s what we’re thinking and here’s what we’re wrestling with, and bring them in.

And I think good board members have very good BS meter and know when they’re being played or pitched or whatever, right? Managed?

And the thing is, if I’m just like managing the message of the board, I think that filters throughout the whole company.

My directs are managing the message to me and making sure that their directs don’t like leak something up that they don’t want me to hear. And before you know it the only people who know what the hell is going on in the company are on the front lines and they have no trust in senior management because there’s all this bullshit going upstream, so, right?

It all starts with the CEO having a very open, trusting relationship with the board where they feel like they are seeing the whole picture. And I think that’s easier when you’re a little more mature and you’ve got the right kind of relationship with your board.

Rob Kornblum: Yeah, for sure. Is that similar or different than your Wily experience?

Lew Cirne: Oh, my Wily experience, I mean I felt overwhelmed imposter syndrome you know, you’ve got these tier 1 world class VCs in the room and they are wonderful people and they never, it was my insecurity, it was not them that made me feel that way.

But I still felt like ‘Jeez, do I really belong here? I’m the founder but I’m getting away with it’ kind of thing, it was very much imposter syndrome stuff.

And you know people will struggle with that forever, but now partially I selected my board in a way that I wanted to have people that I deeply respected but that I didn’t feel at all overwhelmed by. And people that could help but that would be there as collaborators not as people I felt this overwhelming desire to impress at all costs, like the father you could never impress kind of thing.

I felt a bit that way I think with my last board.


Rob Kornblum: Yeah, I understand it entirely. So I’m going to let you go. I have one last question.

If you had someone who you had worked with in the past, maybe Apple, maybe Wily, who was starting their first company, let’s just say in their 40s, what other advice would you give them that we haven’t covered on this call?

Lew Cirne: We kind of touched on it, but I think it’s about think deeply on what, imagine your perfect Monday, imagine your perfect role, construct your perfect role.

Think about a pie chart of how you allocate your time where you felt it was the most effective and the most enjoyable for you. The job you would never, ever want to leave.

And don’t at all think about what the company needs, just construct your ideal job with the constraint that presumably you’re in a leadership position in the company.

Then, identify the key strategic gaps and place the top priority to find the very best people that can complement what you don’t want to spend your time on. And be very, very thoughtful about that.

And if you can hire two or three people that you fully trust, that feel like it’s a partnership, it’s like we together are going to build a company, you’re going to love your job you’re going to have a much more, better chance of success with the company.


Rob Kornblum: That’s great. Okay. Well I appreciate so much your time and I hope you have a great trip.

Lew Cirne: Awesome, well thanks very much!

Rob Kornblum: Alright, Lew, have a good trip and I wish you the best of luck! If you need anything, I see lots of New Relic T-shirts here in Cambridge, so.

Lew Cirne: Awesome, awesome, thanks very much for your time and good luck with the book.

Rob Kornblum: Alright, thanks a lot, take care.

–End of Interview–

 Note from the Editor: Check out New Relic’s software analytics SaaS products and see what a mid-life entrepreneur can build.

<<Back to Part 3 of the Lew Cirne Interview

About the Author

Rob loves helping entrepreneurs and start-up founders boost their chance of success via simple growth strategies. He's a 25-year start-up veteran, serial entrepreneur, and former venture capitalist.

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