Hi Duarte. You’re Infraspeak’s Chief of Staff so I’m sure you’ve heard this question before – what does your role entail?
When companies grow, the only role that goes through all departments is the CEO. Some people have a role in very wide areas, like Luís (Luís Martins, CTO) with Engineering or Rui (Rui Santos Couto, VP of Growth) in Growth but the CEO is the only one that truly integrates all of them. When companies grow to 50 or 60 people, like we did recently, the CEO stops being able to handle all of that and you need a Chief of Staff to provide additional “firepower” and offer an extension to the role.
There are always decision that need to be made exclusively by the CEO but as long as we’re both perfectly aligned, I’m comfortable making decisions knowing that I’m answering the right way or doing the right thing. I’d go as far as saying that one of the main goals of any role that runs deep in a company or through many departments, whether its product, growth or sales, is precisely to make sure that alignment exists between teams and departments, solve any disputes and mediate, even if informally, some of the more pressing matters.
Another important aspect is having full visibility over the entire company.
This allows me the freedom to work on important projects, be it for the whole company or a specific department, or to simply be a “fixer”, someone that solves a problem when there’s no quick or easy solution.
Regardless of the company structure or size, there must always be a CEO – even if it’s just for sheer representation. This makes the Chief of Staff the person running internal operations while the actual CEO deals with investors, fundraising or specific types of partnerships. From the moment some of those external parties start orbiting the company, then they become my responsibility too.
You joined Infraspeak very early and until you reached the position you’re in today, you did a bit of everything including Marketing, Finance and even Sales Development. What did you learn?
I joined Infraspeak at the end of 2016 when there was just 5 or 6 of us.
At the time, the split was: the entire team working on product, and Felipe (Felipe Ávila da Costa, CEO) doing all the business areas. We had 20 clients, we were growing and, after guaranteeing an investment round, we thought about bringing some people into the team.
Since business included sales, marketing and finance and since the idea was for me to become an extension of Felipe at the company, I ended up dedicating myself to those specific sectors, always aware that eventually, I’d have to pick one. One day, coming back from Lisbon… Felipe asked me which of the 3 areas I would choose to drop. Which of them I enjoyed the least. My answer was “Marketing”, so our next hire was a Marketing one. One year later, same story. This time, however, I said Sales Development and Performance, which lead to us hiring José Forte, who is today our Performance Marketing Manager.
The main thing I took from all of this was an in depth knowledge on Infraspeak. Back then, I knew things because I was involved in them but today, I know things because I’m the one making sure that alignment exists within the company and I can safely say it’s very hard for me to be surprised by Infraspeak since I’m so aware of all the options. know it really well! Even though I’m slightly disconnected from some departments, I still get asked things that I either remember or is somewhere hidden deep in my email.
I joined Infraspeak so that I could learn the company and its development from A to Z and even if I don’t particularly feel I’m a master in any of the areas we act on, I can discuss and have a conversation about all of them. That was one of the main goals I’ve reached.
You’re extremely competitive and you played handball at a national level (Second Division Winner). You also enjoy running and there’s a couple of half-marathons and marathons stories in there. How does this reflect on your day to day at Infraspeak?
That story on the 20Ks…the reason behind it is actually very closely related to how I am. And I only did it once! Our pre-season was particularly intense and we often ran 10K but we never thought about doing any more than that. One day my friend and I were discussing if we could run a marathon or at least half, and we both agreed we could. Our chat ended there but that got me thinking…
Next day, I wake up and I was still asking myself that, so I decided to get myself an answer for it. I left the house and I just ran. When I hit the 11K mark, I turned around. When I got back home I called my friend and said “if we want to, we can.” Now I know!
The parallel with Infraspeak’s logic is exactly that. It’s about the “why can’t I do something?” I think a lot of the time, people spend too much time planning and thinking because they’re afraid of making a mistake and here we motivate people to want, try, do and test. I’m constantly telling the analogy of the skateboard, the bicycle and the car. People always think about building a car but when they start, the first iteration doesn’t have any wheels. You might spend a month drawing it and 3 months planning it but then it all falls apart over a wrong assumption.
Even if people complain, the best thing to do is to start with the skateboard or the bicycle so you can actually go places and then take the feedback you receive to change and adapt so you can reach the version you want.
Your “entrepreneurial spirit” started at a young age. Where did it come from? Have you always gravitated towards developing your own projects or participating in startups?
I think entrepreneurship doesn’t have much to do with startups but with a way of being. You can be an entrepreneur and work in corporate. You can have a perfectly normal job and be an entrepreneur in your own life. For me, it’s about getting out there and doing things. If you have a problem at home, you might even not know how to solve it but you know it won’t stay that way.
I share that view of the world since I was very. My mother worked in a lot of different things. From accounting to businesses like her store or laundromat and this was already in her 40s. Her entrepreneurial spirit didn’t come from her businesses but from the fact that if she wanted to do something, she’d do it, even if her ambition or motivation changed over the years.
Personally, I got involved in some projects very early, even before university – some of them with José Forte (Infraspeak’s current Performance Marketing Manager). One of them was our Beach Handball team – The Kamikaze – that we created when we were just 12 or 13. To pay for tournament signups and apparel, we started our own version of outbound by walking around our city asking businesses if they would sponsor us. We even called stores! I remember getting some funding (in cash!) from a Chinese shop that had no logo so we had to draw one for them.
We ended up able to pay for signups, tournament attendance and even a trip to Algarve. The project ran for 4 more years. Every May or June…fundraising was back to our city.
In a way, Infraspeak was also born that way. Many people that currently make up our team had friends at Infraspeak so you really feel it here. We bring our friends in, not because we want to work with them but because we believe in them to do a good job, and that allows for an amazing ramp up experience.
Lastly, when it comes to remote working, how do you think Infraspeak adapted, operationally speaking, to having its entire team working online? What kind of evolution do you think the world will have to go through with this?
I think the world already realised this was possible. We had some enormous blocks when it came to digital because face to face HAD to be actually face to face. We even had clients that would only talk to us if we scheduled an actual meeting.
Suddenly, a pandemic comes and we’re told “if you want to keep working, if you want to keep making money, you have to adapt” and in my opinion, the world has adapted. Yes, physical will keep existing, of course, but the stigma associated with remote and the online, will cease to be.
A funny thing that came out of all of this was that the world evolved digitally, within 3 months, to the level corporate has been talking about for 20 years. We now see things that would simply not happen online, even at an governmental level. There was no structure to accommodate that. Three months ago a Skype call wasn’t a meeting but now it is.
For Infraspeak, even though we gave remote working some preference, there was still some tabu. If you didn’t see someone at the office for a week, you’d simply assume that person had gone on holiday. Now, once again, we’ve learned that you can’t control people like that. You need to do that based on the work and the results they provide. I think some companies will start adopting that.
There are some negative aspects. You stop being able to have an hour to “leave the office”, for instance. On the other hand, you gain flexibility and drop some of the exhaustion you get when you spend an afternoon having meetings in a row, in a room without windows.
Overall, I don’t think anybody knows how remote will influence the world but I think that at least, we’re all aware of it now. We know it’s not something reserved for companies like Facebook and Twitter. It’s for everyone.
Duarte Silva is Chief of Staff at Infraspeak. Thank you, Duarte!