Julia leads global operations for Starlink at SpaceX. She is a new transplant to Los Angeles after spending 7 years in San Francisco. Julia is a prolific angel investor, with investments in over 35 companies.
Prior to SpaceX, Julia worked at Opendoor where she led operations teams and helped scale the company from 10 employees to 1,000+. Julia began her career at Bain & Company.
0:34 Who is Julia?
3:04 Julia’s definition of ops
3:45 How ops differs depending on the organization
5:17 How Julia joined Opendoor
6:23 Julia’s expectations when she first joined Opendoor
7:19 Ops as a competitive moat
7:55 Tools used to scale Opendoor, including building out internal tools
11:11 How the team at Opendoor came up with various processes day 1
13:20 How did Opendoor know when to scale
14:17 Being Head of Seller Experiences at Opendoor
15:50 KPIs that Julia measured
17:31 Scaling out Phoenix as it’s GM (Opendoor’s first market)
21:01 Communicating processes and managing a team
23:51 Questions Julia asked her in the field team
25:09 Pitfalls made as GM of Phoenix
29:15 How to keep communication in sync as teams grow
30:19 Lessons learned from other companies; especially All Hands
30:55 Keeping cultural cohesive as a company scales
34:09 Being the Chief of Staff to the CEO
36:08 How ops and workflows differ as a Chief of Staff vs. Julia’s earlier roles at Opendoor
39:14 Focus vs. going after adjacent markets
41:14 Julia’s experience building out the Trade-ins product at Opendoor
43:39 General career advice for people interested in ops
44:48 Bike Frontier
45:38 How to reach Julia (@juliadewahl)
[Apologies for spelling mistakes as the transcript is machine generated]
Derrick: [00:00:32] We’re excited to have you! Just to kick things off. Who is Julia? What is your story?
Julia: [00:00:39] Oh, that's a great question to get started with a big one growing up. I was a kid who liked a lot of things and I think that has. Stayed true to me to this day. So I was into sports. I was into music when I got to college, I decided to become a history major.
And for me that was, it felt like something foundational to just understanding the world. So in history, but also again, took a breath of classes. And when I left college, I actually lived in India for a year and worked on a couple of startup ideas. Did a little bit of my own with documentary filmmaking.
And just wanting to explore the world a bit. And after coming home from that, I was like, okay, well you get a real job. And let me do something that also feels like it has some of that breadth to it. And I joinedBain. Results. It has that both qualitative and quantitative elements. And I thought it would be just good prep for anything I wanted to do later on.
I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do yet. And that was great training. I lived in Boston for a little bit, started in the headquarters there, but looking around, I noticed that a lot of the most interesting and ambitious people I knew were moving out to the Bay area. To work in startups.And I said that that looks really interesting to me.
Let me get myself out there, transferred with Bain to SanFrancisco. And within six months I was gone. That was in 2014. I first heard about Opendoor. I been there and worked there for four and a half years. I'm super excited to talk about operations at Opendoor today. And since leaving about a year ago, I'd been Angel investing and working on a project of my own.
Derrick: [00:02:17] And so being a sous chef at Elkhorn Ranch was a part of that experience?
Julia: [00:02:23] Yeah, actually I was a good time and I moved out to Montana for a couple months. Before working at Bain after India, I have from you, Montana is a beautiful place. I like to cook and I wanted to get some more actual, real world experience cooking. And it was one of the time I lived with a whole bunchof other young people.
It was in the middle of a beautiful kind of national forest area. And horseback rode a bunch of my days off and it's good. It's a good chapter.
Derrick: [00:02:55] Thanks for the context. So you are very well known in the Valley for being amazing at operations and scaling companies, as well as being an angel investor.
And so what, in your opinion, like what does operations mean? Because its work is thrown a lot in Silicon Valley and no one really has a definitive answer to what operations makes.
Julia: [00:03:17] Yeah, it can mean a lot of different things depending on what type of company you're working at. I think that's one of the reasons why it is a little bit of anebulous term.
I think of it as anything that is keeping the business running is operations. And ideally you're doing that efficiently. You're doing that consistently with high quality. And so that's what goes into doing operations at a startup.
Derrick: [00:03:40] How do you think operations is different in the various different types of organizations?
Opendoor is probably very different than Salesforce in terms of operations, right?
Julia: [00:03:51] Yeah, absolutely. Opendoor operations, I think was really critical to the business because we truly were buying and selling homes, which are physical assets. And so operations is a big part of the business. We had customer ops.
So sales and support that was talking customers. We had kind of transaction operations. So all of the paperwork and kind of brokerages title work that needs to get done when people are transacting real estate, I'm going to feel operations team. That was the people on the ground. We're actually taking care of repairs and signage at our homes.
And then we had pricing operations where we had a team of people who. Would actually take a closer look on some of the qualitative elements of homes to supplement the algorithms. We were using the price homes, but there were multiple operational teams, but that is, that's not true of every sort of company in the Valley and have software yeah.
Companies that are primarily a software product online. It doesn't require anything really happening in the real world. There's no sign that needs to be put up in front of the house. And so in that context, operations. Usually means what are the supporting behind the scenes, things that need to get done to keep the, keep the business going.
So it usually things that are not product design.
Derrick: [00:05:10] Is one of the reasons why you joined Opendoor, because it was much more in the real world and quote, unquote ops heavy, actually. How did you come to join an Opendoor? How'd you find about how I found out about this company you joined? I think three months into incorporation, right?
Julia: [00:05:23] Yeah.Yeah, I know. I didn't join to explicitly work in operations. I heard about the company via tech crunch. I read a piece about their first round of funding in the summer of 2014. I knew I wanted to leave Bain for a startup. And so it was just looking around for what early stage companies were working on.
What I thought were interesting things. And when I saw it, this, I just thought there was, there's really something here. I thought this could be a really huge business and no one had really innovated in real estate, beyond Zillow, which had started a decade earlier. It's a huge market. It looked like a great team.
There were some great investors on board. And so I, in that way I stumbled into it. I definitely knew that I wasn't going to be on the technical side of things. So I was going to be roughly in that sort of generalist ops, generalist skillset type of role. And it just so happened that opposite Opendoor ended up being actually quite good intensive.
Derrick: [00:06:23] Was that the expectation from the start that when you first joined, I was going to be obviously ops intensive because you're buying and selling homes. But was it even harder and more ops heavy, but then people assumed.
Julia: [00:06:33] It was actually, I think people, many people Eric included the CEO of, or had worked at primarily software companies and in tech and in the Valley.
Yeah. That have limited experience. So the actual real world repairing homes, putting up signs, things like that. So operations was almost a bigger part than is I think at the very beginning. But we ended up putting together a really phenomenal ops team. And I think we leaned into that being a core competency of our business.
And even as we've seen a couple of people get into this space, Zillow included launching their offering. I do think we are still the best at operations and that's been really important to both delivering a great customer experience, but also remaining competitive.
Derrick: [00:07:19] Yeah, totally. It sounds like that's a huge competitive moat to be able to know the ins and outs of that business and to be operationally competitive.
Julia: [00:07:29] Totally.And I think that when you can combine operations teams with that, Technology mindset. You'd figure out ways to leverage tools, to build systems, to, to find a way to bring technology, to, to make for up more skeletal, more efficient system and not just rely on people running in mountains. And so I think that's what operation operates is that up North, it was quite interesting.
Derrick: [00:07:54] What were some of these technologies? And how do they come in throughout your experience at Opendoor? Cause I'm assuming on day one, a lot of the technologies were not either built out or fully scoped out. And so what were these technologies that you were using as the company scaled and yeah. Like what how'd you find them?
Julia: [00:08:13] Sure. A lot of what we take for granted, I think our day to day life in terms of even things like. Google docs using a spreadsheet or something, a sauna we all know about a sauna. It was actually not something necessarily that, that the real estate professionals were necessarily using. And so even just a suite of off the shelf, really basic productivity tools for what we use early on.
So we built out a first template for. You know how to buy a house in a sauna with a checklist. We said, okay, here's what you need to do every time. It's write that out. Or same thing with spreadsheets, we communicated in Slack, we collaborate in docs and we use that to start. And then as we scaled, we did start out to build, we did build our own internal tools.
And so that ended up, we did eventually bring in an engineering team, eventually a product manager there. And we said, okay, let's.Deeply think about this system. We're creating, talking to a customer, inspecting their house, purchasing that house, repairing that house, putting it back on the market and building something that we could really leverage across multiple markets across dozens of homes a day.
And that really did become a quite technology driven. Very interesting.
Derrick: [00:09:22] What were some of the advantages as well as disadvantages as Opendoor moved away from more of the off the shelf tools and more into internal tools.
Julia: [00:09:32] Oh, it's a painful transition. And when you go and you say, Hey, a team of engineers, we'd love it, helping us build some systems here for our operations.
There is a lot of communication that needs to happen in terms of trying to get these two sort of disparate worlds together to say, okay, we understand the problem here and we understand what we might need to go build. And so that just is a communication process. We did a lot of kind off low chart building.
We. And I think I learned the mindset of, okay, what are the like bite sized chunks of pieces? We use pivotal tracker, what is, what are the pieces we needed to get done this week to start to build towards a tool that we could use often they weren't left a lot, like checklists, like smart checklists that would use some of the data or the names of roles that we had put in our database so that we knew that a particular role could take on a, B and C tasks once this other dependency happened.
As we built that out together. And what's difficult though, is you, once you put something in code like that, and that it's like the engineering team's great. We finished that. Oh, actually we need to do things a little bit differently. Processes evolve. You learn about edge cases. You want to change protocol once you.
Have realized that something isn't working that well. Yeah.And so things get a little bit, yeah, it can get outdated rather quickly. And so that was actually one of the challenging parts about working with the engineering team is, is knowing when to engage them. When you felt like the processes had settled down a little bit and you were actually ready to put, to,to build something around that probably wasn't going to change for a little while.
Derrick: [00:11:11] Interesting. Yeah. So it sounds like processes are oftentimes ever-changing, especially, probably let's go back to the very early days of Opendoor, right?So September of 2014, it sounds like you eventually, there was this checklist on how to buy a house, how to close a house, how to go through that financing process.
But on day one, how did the team come about to these processes? Because I'm assuming it was just like, we have an idea that we want to buy a house and sell a house and then everything else was piecing together a process to help the company scale. But that process didn't really exist.
Julia: [00:11:43] They one, yeah, there was a lot of asking questions.
So I. Went out to kind of people worked in real estate, too.We knew we needed a title agency to work with and our title agent there. And he was curious and was just such a godsend to me. I asked her so many questions about what were all the pieces that needed to get done and for us to buy a house. And then it was just keeping a working draft of what was that checklist and.
If we realized we had missed something, or if we want to do something differently than we had previously, we would just be editing. And so having a live working doc that was easily editable as we went was really important. And that's why having some of those flexible tools early on and was this doc shared across the entire organization.
Well, the organization was very small, then probably two or three ops people imagine keeping it in a Google spreadsheet. It was pretty easy. Everyone can see it, people can edit it. And yeah, the team stayed quite small for the first year of Opendoor. Each one of us, probably four people on the ops team by.
Six to nine months in, we each kind of just took an area of the business and operated it ourselves. So I was working, I was the one thinking of the phone, talking to our first customers. And that's how I wasable to really understand and what was coming up for customers, what should be in our playbook, where we should tweak our process.
And then once it did come to the point where we needed more people on board, in order to handle the volume we were getting. As I hired in people, I can point to this playbook that was work in progress, help train people towards a kind of a unified standard of how we wanted to handle certain situations.
Derrick: [00:13:20] And how'd you figure out at what point it was okay to start scaling. At what point you had this playbook, plus a 50% of the way, figure it out and pay to start hiring people so that they too can be a part of this process and help scale out even more.
Julia: [00:13:35] I give Eric and the founders, a lot of credit. They were kind of like, we are going big here.
Everyone likes strapping. There's no, are you ready for this? Cause it's happening. As soon as we felt like we had some product market fit, we'd run this through with several customers. It felt like people were excited about what we were bringing to the market. Then it was like, great. Let's lean into this.
Let's start sending out direct mail. Let's play around with some Facebook ads. And we really started getting that interests. And so then it was just like handle that volume yourself while simultaneously building out the process, getting your job descriptions written and starting to do interviews.So it was a lot of that, like doing everything at the same time.
It's the whole building, the plane while you fly it.Interesting.
Derrick: [00:14:17] So your first big role out Opendoor, they're all big, but the first big one was ahead of seller experience, right?
Julia: [00:14:23] Yeah.
Derrick: [00:14:26] What were the playbooks that you also came up with for maybe first off? What is the role? And then second off, what are the processes for that role?
Julia: [00:14:34] So I was responsible for the experience that a home seller would have selling their home to Opendoor and that included every customer touch point along the way, initially customers would land on our offer page. They would answer some questions about their home. Then they would request an offer from us.
Then they would receive that offer. And that's where this, the team I was managing. The customer experience team was responsible for being on point to Publix, walk them through the offer, help customers understand what Opendoor did. And then if they did want to move forward with the offer and coordinating the inspection, that would happen at their house.
So that was an in person experience. Then getting their inspection results back. And then if they decided they did want to move towards close. I'm working with the title company, figuring out the close date, the wire instructions, all of that to finalize the purchase. And so that was the sort of scope of it.
And there was, there was both that the kind of sale of element to let's convert people who are, who, who liked their offer to working with us, not going and getting a realtor. And then there was a more transaction management piece of let's make sure we have a smooth inspection process. Let's make sure everything goes smoothly with all the paperwork they need to sign and all that.
Derrick: [00:15:49] So the KPIs, there were essentially time to close as well as just the conversion rates.
Julia: [00:15:55] The second one. Absolutely. I think conversion is one of those really critical metrics early on in a company because you want to understand, are, do people want this product? Are they willing to pay for it? We saw really high conversion early on, which was a really strong signal that we'd had some kindof product market fit.
The other one you said is time to close. We actually want to allow that to be totally in the hands of the customer. It was one of the big value props of the Opendoor product that you, as the customer can choose. When you want to close, we don't care if it's in three days or 60 days, you choose, and we will let you line it up with your next home purchase.
And that was so important to people because they're in the real world with a realtor and whoever else was buying their house, they were not, not necessarily in control of that close date.
Derrick: [00:16:37] Interesting. What happened when a one corner case has popped up too?
Julia: [00:16:41] Oh, corner cases. Oh man. There were all sorts of them.
I think. There's always a tension between trying to give that individual customer with their individual situation, the attention that they want and make them feel like we've got they're back, even though they have a weird situation coming up, but at the same time, you can't be at the mercy of all of these different types of educators.
So. We would have people and had someone who wanted to sell their car with their homes. No, I'm sorry. We're not buying cars. And so you have to reign into it a little bit, but when educators were coming up and there was a little bit of a pattern of them, we would say, okay, and just saying, let's process that and figure out how to maybe proactively give customers information that they were they'd been asking about previously or work them into the process in some way.
Derrick: [00:17:30] And so you were in that role for about a year and a half. And then you do your next role at Opendoor was being the GM of Phoenix. And I think Phoenix was the first market for Opendoor.
Julia: [00:17:41] Yeah, that's right. Yeah. It's funny. You, it, it was almost like it was so organized. There was one role and then the next one, but the reality is, is so much muddier, right?
You're like, Working on a bunch of different things. You can mostly work on seller experience and then a tank. We have seven employees down in Phoenix. We really should get someone down there to oversee the whole thing.And we're rapidly scaling. Hey Julie, could you move down to Phoenix for a bit?Okay, great.
Let's actually establish this general manager role. What is that role? What do we want it to be? It's always a bit more chaotic than its eems. I think when you look at someone's LinkedIn profile, for example, but the general was great. That's when we first basically had a bit of a matrix going on. I think you'll see this in a lot of organizations where you'll have functional roles and then you'll have maybe market or geography based roles.
And the two, two leaders there, let's say of a pricing team and. The Phoenix GM needs to work together on pricing policy. For example, same thing goes for, I'd been leading the customer experience team for bet. Now it's down in Phoenix, I'm Phoenix with another head of the function of customer experience.
So we needed to work together. And in the very early days, we actually, when you say, who does the tie go to? If you're, if there's really a disagreement, we had to go to the functional lead in the beginning because we said these functions still are. Really early in their development. I want to make sure that it's not just the Phoenix GM, who's having the final say over everything.
When these functions still need to be evolving. But later on with Opendoor, we actually ended up switching that where the GM actually had a bit more control because of the processes in each of those functions for we're a lot more set.
Derrick: [00:19:18] How are the different function has as well as GMs communicating in terms of day to day and communicating the information from the field back to HQ function has, can take that into account for the overall process that they're they have in their minds and whatnot.
Julia: [00:19:33] Yeah. Since there is so much going on, In early days in scaling a couple of things I think are really important to nail down, to just give some structure to the whole thing. One is great set of dashboards. So having a really dialogue, what are the most important metrics we're looking at? And then complimentary would, that is what we would call red flag reports.
So if something was going off with one of those homes or customers, we would have some way of getting an indicator of that. For example,If you had a home sitting on the market for a long period of time in the very beginning, there was, there was actually home that we forgot about for awhile.It never gotten listed like literally the time it's never went up.
And if you didn't have a good way of the process or our flag for, Hey, this house has been sitting there and hasn't been listed yet. So getting a lot of those dashboards and, and those red flag reports that I was really critical. And then second. Is establishing a cadence for meeting and reviewing these metrics together and saying, how's this one doing this one.
Isn't doing well. What's the root cause here let's have a kind of five whys discussion. They get on belie get to those root causes, talk about solutions and have a bit of a brainstorm around that. But those two things are really important to us early on.
Derrick: [00:20:47] And then in terms of these red flag reports and also with dashboard, I think so much of it probably depended on the phone in Phoenix being communicative and writing down what has happened to market and communicating that into the overall company database.
And so. I think for a lot of organizations, there might be processes, but there's not really good cadence for tracking or for recording what's happening. It sounds like Opendoor was very much the opposite of where everything got recorded. Everything went into a dashboard. Everything was very.Communicate across the organization.
Julia: [00:21:20] I think we did do a good job of trying to said, Hey, what are our top line metrics? Let's get these dashboards set up, but there is still stuff that comes up that's quite qualitative and is experienced firsthand by those frontline operators. And there needs to be open lines of communication between those people and kind of people at HQ that are working in data science or in management roles or something else.
An interesting example of this with Opendoor. Is floor layouts and kind of floor plans of homes. So we noticed there were some home sthat were just sitting on the market, not selling, causing Opendoor money. And we also simultaneously have been hearing from the field ops team. Gosh, there's some really weird layouts, like really bizarre floor plans.
I feel like these things would sit on the market a long time if they were listed. So then the market with a realtor and it was like, Ooh, let's connect. Those two things. Turns out we had acquired a few homes with like bizarre, terrible floor plans and they were sitting on the market and we had no way of knowing that, that wasn't in our algorithms, that wasn't an unprocessed in any way.
And the insights were actually really important too, to take from the people who are on the front lines. Communicate those discuss those and make sure that there was like a fully, like a coordinated flywheel to say it and let them incorporate that into the way we run our pressing algorithms or other pieces of our process, employees communicating these, these nuances and what they're observing the field back into the overall system.
Julia: [00:22:51] Yeah, absolutely. I think this is a big responsibility. You have a GM is to actually be in the weeds constantly with the various teams. It's also, whoever's the team leader, the team manager there. I think it needs to be responsible for cultivating that type of communication. Asking those types of questions.
We often, when I was running a team meeting with the customer experience team, for example, I want it to have open-ended what's coming up.What's worrying you. What problems are you seeing? And then listening. And saying, huh? That seems like a trend. Oh, someone else is seeing the same thing. Oh, someone else thinks, okay, there's a discussion and it's on that team manager or that GM to say, wow, this seems like something that I need togo raise with an entirely different team.
For example, the pricing team, good data science there talking to the frontline operators very frequently. So. It's my responsibility to bring these two people together with these two groups together, since it seems like there's an issue here and we can with two heads together, come up with a better solution than either one alone.
Derrick: [00:23:51] Were there any questions then you kept on asking to the front line operators while you're in Phoenix?
Julia: [00:23:59] Keeping them open-ended is I think really the best way to do it, to say again, what's coming up, what's concerning to you. Um, what's working well and what's not working well. And then you might be surprised, but you hear it.
There's sometimes you have your own blind spots, unless you're doing that role every day. You're probably missing something.
Derrick: [00:24:17] And so I think those open ended questions. What was the most bizarre? I guess again, going back to edge cases, just in terms of stories you're hiding, wha twas the most bizarre edge case for Phoenix that you came across?
Julia: [00:24:31] Oh, gosh, there was the person who tried to sell their car. To me who got angry, actually that my offer to them was not taking into account their car.And they were insulted by how low the offer was.
Sadly, there was also things like, Oh, it was like a, one of these like big SUV is like a tough Chevy Tahoe or something. These big glasses, they were there. Sadly, something like a math. Dan, we came across. You get some edge cases too, when people are like, Ooh, sell online, don't have to have anyone see my home.
It's actually, we are going to come inspect your home. And this is a kind of a problematic house for us. All sorts of bizarre things.
Derrick: [00:25:09] Knowing everything now about scaling and processes and operations. What pitfalls did you make while you were the GM of Phoenix that you would avoid now?
Julia: [00:25:20] Yeah, I think we underestimated in training.
I'm sorry. Under invested in training. We. When you're moving quickly, you're hiring people quickly human data training. Hey, look at these tools here. Let's go shadow this person okay. For the races. In someways, it's not enough to really allow that person to build the intuition and really deeply understand why you have created this set of protocols.
As an example, here, we had. A team, a field team of field operators that would do estimations on what repairs are required in the home. And as you can imagine, that is subject to all sorts of subjective perspectives on whether or not you should replace carpet if there's a hole in the carpet.And so we really tried to dial that in to the point where.
I remember one of our guidelines was if the hole in the carpet is bigger than the size of a quarter, we'll replace the carpet. And so we had to just dial that, like the quarter thing into everyone's head, and obviously it was in the playbook as well, but be really clear so that we knew we were delivering a consistency every time with every single home.
And so I think a pitfall to avoid is under investing in training.
Derrick: [00:26:35] It sounds like even while there were folks who were training, there was a playbook that they were executing against and probably over time, just because of human intuition, human nature, people probably did not check on that.Playbook has often, and sometimes after maybe a week or a month, people just execute it against what's in their mind. And so whenever this playbook changed, how are they being able to communicate to the field team that like, Hey, now instead of being a quarter is actually two points.
Julia: [00:27:07] Yeah, no, it's a fantastic question. So again, this goes back to. One of the critical parts to, I think managing an operations team well is having a very purposeful and well-run weekly team meeting and a couple of things need to come up in that meeting.
One is any changes to protocol or any changes such as, Hey, the product team is launching this new landing page that says these new, different things. So we should think we need to talk through how we're going to change talking to our customers. So one's coming from the product team and then. A second to that is doing and spending some time as a team, actually going through the day to day process.
And so an example of this is with our field ops team for a very long time, we would spend part of that team meeting, actually taking a house, going into the inspection report and together as a team saying, okay, here's the carpet? Here's the whole. What are we going to do about this one and collectively doing the process together?
And it sounds so like rudimentary or elementary to do that, but. You it's actually almost a way to keep training people, right? It's like continuing education on what are our protocols. And then you do realize that asa group, if something comes up well, we don't really have a good protocol for that or a process for that.
Or we don't, it doesn't feel like this process is really working for us. You have the team there and you can all discuss, you can get multiple perspectives on it. And right then and there you can say, Hey, we're going to update our. Our protocol here, we're going to change it to the two quarters or whatever it is.
So that's actually, that was a sort of an underestimated, I think, technique or process to go through with a team meeting.
Derrick: [00:28:43] When you first Phoenix, the Phoenix market, it sounds like the team was a sizeof seven, right?
Julia: [00:28:48] How did it change throughout that year? Where did it end up and what, how didt he roles change and also in connection with meetings, how did the meeting setups change?
Because I'm assuming the team increased in size. And so there might've been more chances for communication gaps.
Julia: [00:29:04] Yeah, absolutely. One of the things. That I did when I was down in Phoenix, as theGM set up a Phoenix, only all hands. And as we grew, we got up to about 65people during the time I was there. Uh, we had now sub-teams there.
So it wasn't just everyone kind of individual contributors, flat board. You had. Now managers of managers within a Phoenix team, and people want to feel connected to the higher purpose here. What's Opendoor’s, mission.And how are we doing as a Phoenix team? And what's going on the pricing teamI'm on the field ops team and vice versa, and just getting to know each other.
That's definitely one of the transitions that the Phoenix team made. It's also the transition that the Opendoor team made over and over again, you go from. 25 to 50, that feels different from 50 to 200. That feels really different from 200 to 700, that feels really different. And we constantly are reevaluating.
Hey, are our meetings working? Our communication methods working. There's probably, they're probably actually not working by definition.If you go from 50 to 200, so what do we need to do differently? Can we go look to some other companies for examples of what to do better at a larger scale?And so there was a lot of, of looking around too and saying, what else should we be trying.
Derrick: [00:30:19] Interesting. What were some of those companies that you found admirable that you could learn things from?
Julia: [00:30:24] No, a lot of it was Eric. Our CEO was, was ultimately responsible for how do we scale communications out as we look to places like what was Airbnb doing?People, people adore that company. And the employees really adore that company.
Their CEO is such a fantastic storyteller. So what were they doing at their all hands? And so we would we'd figure out, Hey, tell us about how you run your. You're all his programming or your onboarding program, your week long, new hires, onboarding process. So we would just go around and ask different companies about how they were doing things from a cultural perspective. It's hard to keep culture cohesive. If you have an HQ going from50 to 200 people, I'm assuming that the. Cultural being cohesive becomes much harder when not only is there an HQ growing at best scale, but also all these different local field operations that are also growing at their own massive rates.
Derrick: And so, so how'd you think about keeping culture cohesive, like on the Opendoor culture while still having these local teams?
Julia: [00:31:27] Yeah, it's a, it's a challenging one. One of the things I think we may have underestimated in a little bit, but when we did do it was powerful is getting managers together to say, Hey, how are you doing your team meetings?
How are you incorporating cultural values? And getting managers aligned because they're ultimately bringing that out to their teams as well. And then second to that is Eric really tried to have our cultural values show up in our audience. So the language around what those words, physical openness was one of our cultural values.
So how can we show where employees were being open, where we were being open with customers? So I think just trying to make sure that was top of mind and being discussed was part of our hiring process was part of our onboarding process and was part of a performance review is actually later on as we got a little more organized.
Derrick: [00:32:16] Are there any tidbits that you can share from the all hands may sounds like there was a very specific structure to them and it sounds like that was actually very core to Opendoors scaling.
Julia: [00:32:25] Yeah, yeah, absolutely. We did all hands every other week, usually on a Friday. Either right before lunch or after lunch. And it was a really, it was a time to get the company together, to check in to how a little bit of that like feeling and we'd start off. We always play music to comfort everyone up.
We would, we would have had an in person gathering. Wow. The think about that during COVID right now, but like everyone together packed in the room, usually the cafeteria, and then we would do things like review our metrics. Like, Hey, we hit our growth goals for the month or we are, our NPS goal is actually suffering.
We did a root cause analysis. Here's what's going on. So a lot of that, like real talk about the numbers and then we would usually have a few product demos. So Hey, this new feature shifts. Or this here's this new actually, we really tried to focus on operational stuff to, Hey, here's an operational process and here's how it works.
And the data sciences is, has made progress in their pricing algorithm and here's, here's the result of it. And they're giving people exposure to what was happening on other teams and also celebrating things that had shifts, new stuff that was coming out. And then finally, we made sure that we had a customer story involved in every all hands.
And I love that because if you're not on the customer experience team, you're probably very rarely talking to her, even listening into a customer conversation. And so that was always fun. We would share a lot of funny or positive ones, but also some pain we messed up here, or this is a tough one and here's what we need.
Here's what the company should know about how the experience is going. Someone who's working in the open bar
Derrick: [00:34:09] Yeah. Keeping the customer top of mind is definitely key. And I think having done an all hands, the role after being the GM of Phoenix, you are the chief of staff to the CEO at Opendoor. How did that role come about?
Was it also, as you mentioned earlier, non-organic or was it more of a organic transition?
Julia: [00:34:27] Yeah, we were about probably almost 200 people. When Eric, our CEO came over tome and said, Hey, I got a lot on my plate. There's a lot going on. And we were going to be quadrupling the company. And the next year I would love for you to come on as the chief of staff and.
I would like to work on all of our internal operations. So things like let's get a new hire onboarding week set up. Let's actually get an all hands program. We're happy with. Let's figure out how to hire an executive team. So all of that type of stuff, and it just was the need, the company at the time. So I joined in that role and worked on a lot of those.
Internal ops projects and just standing up a lot of what I think would allow the company to scale to that like much bigger, bigger size, a lot of communications work there. And also there were some gaps on the executive team at that time gaps in communications gaps in our head and people, we were just bringing on a COO.
And since I knew so much about city operations, I worked al ot with him to get him onboarded and set up for success. There. And then I also started working on small projects here and there ultimately led me to help with the accurate open listings, which is another company, the space that was actually more focused on the online buying experience.
Or is really excelling in that online selling experience. So they were very complimentary. And then working on that, we're working on that acquisition and then thinking about what product would be useful for customers who want us to both sell with Opendoor and buy with open listings, which became our trade in product.
Was that a natural transition into me focusing on the traded product, building that and growing that over the last year that I was at Opendoor.
Derrick: [00:36:08] It sounds like, correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like the different ops processes that you were a part of being the chief of staff was different fromPhoenix, as well as the seller experience initially, because they were, I guess they were much more broad being the chief of staff.
And also it sounds like some of them are much more internal facing versus external facing.
Julia: [00:36:28] Absolutely.The cheapest sacral for me at least was very focused on. The internal ops, but basically setting up the company itself for success. The employees, we did things like set up or amp survey, uh, you know, pulse check on the company, engagement, score the word.
I worked a lot on having a single source of truth on metrics. Believe it or not there was. Some people setting up their own metric severy year on pricing. And then some other people looking at some other dashboard, it was like, Oh, we need a single source of truth. So just doing some of those cross functional initiatives, getting performance reviews up and running a lot of those internal operations pieces.
Derrick: [00:37:08] Interesting. Are there any big learning that you can share with everyone in terms of. You know what it was like being chief of staff and how that role has.
Julia: [00:37:14] Yeah. It's different at every company. And I have talked to a lot of people about the chief of staff role and I think the most important thing to make sure one would do when entering into this role is, were they clear about the scope of the role?
It's easy for it to just be a generic supporting role and not like a. Just driven, get things done, like move through projects type of role. And so what Eric and I set up was kind of a 30, 60, 90 day when I plan, when I joined and we said, okay, within 30 days, we're going to have, Eric's going to have a weekly email set up where he sends it out, uh, once a week with his personal thoughts.
And it's going to have our source of truth metrics at the top. By 60 days, we're going to have an all hands program that's running every two weeks and we're going to. Productize it and build the checklist for what needs to go into one of those by 90 days. And we're going to have CultureAmp survey. Like we really tried to make it an impactful role.
And that said, I really missed operating when I was cheap. I couldn't wait to get back to it. If I were to only have done. One of the two, I would absolutely choose being an operating role. I think there's just no experience like it in terms of learning how to build a business, to, to sell to customers.
That was a big part of customer experience and yeah, it's just like very hands on.
Derrick: [00:38:37] So that's why you eventually decided to become the GM of the trade-ins program.It sounds like you discovered that process or that a lot of business, if you will, while being chief of staff and you decided to, to help scale on that team.
Julia: [00:38:49] Yeah, exactly. Although once again, it was Eric saying, Hey, I think it'd be great togo run this program. You want to go do that? And I said, absolutely. There's a lot of what is the, what is the most impactful like I can be doing for the company? Where is their need? And I think oftentimes in fast growing startups, it's just, Hey, we need someone over here and we need someone over there and you just can't do it.
Derrick: [00:39:13] And how'd you think about early on Opendoors still only a six year old company, which is crazy to think about because it's growing so fast, but early on, right? I think there is this trade off between focusing in on one or two core products, but also seeing what's adjacent. So how did Opendoor make that? I guess that trade off between, okay. Our core is buying and selling, but also trade ins is super interesting. So we should also devote some resources there as well.
Julia: [00:39:42] That's a good question. Early on. We'd found that we really had product market fit for an online selling experience. And we said, great, let's run with that.
And so that was the North star for the first two, three years. Is we really just focused on that? We did build out our buying experiences because naturally there were two sides of that equation, right?When we acquired a home, we need to tell us to resell it. But we knew that we had this like. Lightening in a bottle seller experienced, offered.
And to this day, that is, that's what we think of as the core product of Opendoor. There is a, there's a broader ecosystem. Again, the buyer product, the trade in product. Um, we now do mortgages and there's even a few adjacent services you might call it that you can layer in to someone's real estate transaction.
But I think if you have something great focus on that double down on it, bring it to as many people as possible. And that's mostly the strategy that we deployed.
Derrick: [00:40:40] It sounds like the, the selling experience was, is still core to Opendoor and all these other adjacencies are basically supporting and just growing that core selling experience.
But now that we, now that someone sold their house to us, we have to do something with it. And so all of these other products emerge out of that.
Julia: [00:40:57] So yes, to some degree that's true. I think seller experience just like. Even more different than a typical selling experience than our buyer experiences.And so it just really shines as our it's what it's, what Opendoor is really known for more than I think are on Nutanix.
Derrick: [00:41:14] What was unique about the other trade-ins. I guess being the leader of that organization versus the prior three experiences?
Julia: [00:41:22] It, wasn't very different. It's very different to set up a new product. Once a company is bigger, more established, the other products are much more mature.So. There was a lot of cross functional work to be done of making sure, first of all, validating the people wanted this concept.
The thinking here was that when someone is selling a house, they're very optical. So buying a house. So they're doing these two things anyway. And so why not bring that together into one seamless experience and help people line up those two close dates, make sure that they don't have to be in a hotel in between our.
Something like that wanted to first make sure that was good.It be a winning product. And then go out there and talk with the seller to talk with the buyer team, talk with the mortgages team and say, how can we bring this? Bring this as a, for anyone who you discover is not just selling if you're on the seller team, but also buying.
And how do you introduce them to the trader product? So that it's not, it doesn't feel it's cannibalizing. The seller team's work, but actually is leveling up that customer's experience. It's a tricky line to walk.There was a lot of zero to one, which I thought was fun. I really enjoy that work. Where if you go over to the seller, the buyer team, there was a lot more optimizing or later product work going on, where again, the trades, it was like nothing had been done here before.
So it was building it from scratch in that sense.
Derrick: [00:42:46] It sounds like you're really into creating processes from scratch, like going from zero to one. For all the listeners out there from a career advice perspective, how would you say somewhat of what type of personality do you think stretch really well in terms of figuring out new processes versus helping skill out existing processes?
Julia: [00:43:12] Going zero to one is often chaotic. And so the can people who are excited about and can handle that uncertainty and the lack of structure are very well suited to work early stage. If you're someone who likes having things a little more organized and then going in and optimizing things or making improvements to things, then you're probably better suited to a later stage environment.
Derrick: [00:43:38] And then how, what general career advice would you have for someone who's interested in career and operations?
Julia: [00:43:45] I would say don't be afraid to hop in. Any role, you can get your hands on, whether it's customer experience, whether it's more of a traditional, like field operations type role and get in there.
And I would say approach it with that systems, mindset and say, okay, what needs to go? It's done here. How can I leverage technology? How can I build a repeatable process? How can I. Write down the script of what I'm saying to people repeatedly. And by doing that, I think you'll a actually be able to deliver better quality more consistently.
You'll do it more efficiently. And you'll probably also become a leader in that organization because operational leaders need to constantly be thinking like that in order to be part of a scaling organization in order to lead teams who everyone on that team is also delivering quality, consistent output.
So I would say don't worry too much about what the role is, but go in doing the systems mindset. And I think you'll see great things from that.
Derrick: [00:44:43] That's great advice. Yeah. To close things off. Here's a call. Can you tell us about by Frontier?
Julia: [00:44:50] Absolutely. Yeah. This is a fun little side project I'm working on right now.
I'd love to cycle and I just wasn't finding a brand, but I loved in the cycling space that I felt was. A little more modern and not too competitive or serious. So I am starting a little cycling line, apparel line, fall Frontier, and we are currently in the manufacturing process. I'm getting samples back from our factory in Portugal, and I'm working to get that launched and live in the next few months.
Derrick: [00:45:22] And how can people find out more about that?
Julia: [00:45:24] It's bikefrontier.com.com.
Derrick: [00:45:27] Cool. We'll have that on our, in our notes as well. Julia, thank you so much for the time. This has been awesome. Thank you for sharing all the learning. If people want to reach out and learn more about your experiences or with any questions, how can I do that?
Julia: [00:45:38] Yeah, find me on Twitter. It's actually @JuliaDeWahl, just my name and Derrick.Awesome. I really enjoyed this conversation.
Derrick: [00:45:46] Awesome. Thank you so much.