Cloudinary and the importance of people
The software as a service company CEO says flexibility is key, as is staff’s mental health
New York — From the start of the pandemic, Itai Lahan, co-founder and CEO of Cloudinary, has had one main priority: his employees.
“We have a team of 300 right now, and it has been and always will be about the people for us,” said Lahan, whose company provides cloud-based image and video management for thousands of websites and brands. “We made a decision early on to have Cloudinary be this rock of stability and island of sanity in this sea of craziness.”
The California-based company made a conscious decision “to do our best not to part ways with any individual”, he said.
Lahan talked about leading a remote workforce. Edited are excerpts below.
What early lesson was there about the importance of people in an organisation?
When I was growing up in Israel, I studied the recorder and my teacher wanted his students to be teachers as well. When I was 13 or 14, I took on my very first students. I clearly remember learning a huge sense of responsibility and taking a lot of pride in it.
I learnt that my success is the success of my students, and that pride in seeing them grow and be successful is something I’ve kept with me to this day.
How has your business changed and adjusted during the pandemic?
Businesswise, we’re very fortunate. Cloudinary is about media, images and videos. Visual imagery is a critical component of every online business.
During the pandemic, the need for online engagement with customers only increased, but our customers’ needs were all different. Some were doing great, others had different challenges.
How are you helping your employees amid Covid-19?
We offer people the possibility of reducing their work hours if they need it, just to take the time with family. And we asked them if there was any way we could help them focus on mental health.
We now have weekly town halls. It’s one hour and not mandatory. And we’re doing a lot of work to make sure our new employees are taken care of with good online onboarding.
In the US, we had food served in the office, so we started offering a stipend. It’s $200 monthly. The amount is just added to pay cheques, so it can be spent however employees would want to.
What kind of support is most valuable to your employees now?
We’re all very unique individuals. Every person is experiencing this in a dramatically different way. We had team members that were crying to keep the office open because they needed that support. Other employees were calling for the exact opposite.
Cloudinary was always flexible: 25% of our team was working from home even before the pandemic. It was a good basis for how to navigate these waters. We already knew that this was doable.
How are you handling working from home?
I need that separation between work and home, so for me there are daily routines.
I have a 7.45am meeting with our leadership team. It gets me out of bed. I have a good cup of coffee and start the day right. If I’m wearing a Cloudinary branded shirt, I know that I’m working. It’s the small stuff.
I have a daughter and two boys. I have a lunch date with my kids at least twice a week.
For me, working is intense. You work hard, and it’s emotionally and professionally challenging. You need a break, so finish the day at a certain hour. Go rest, and go back energised in the morning.
What’s the best job advice you have received?
In Israel, there’s mandatory army service. When you’re 18 years old, you go to the army.
I was working with a commander to interview new people for a job, and I was very focused on figuring out if a person was good and a professional fit. And someone said to me, “Look, you’re so focused on the professional qualifications, but we’re hiring someone who’s going to be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with you for the next three years. So you should find someone you’re really excited to be working with.”
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