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Tim Salau’s greatest gift to the world is hope. And a ton of energy.
He’s the founder of Guide and Big Black Tea, and he is here to make the world a better place.
“Being a founder is hard”
Tim shares a lot of the ups and downs of founder life. In just two years, Guide has already made several pivots, and Big Black Tea wasn’t even the main idea to start with.
He opened up about his salary ($0), and what drives him to keep going. Tim knows that even in the toughest days, he loves what he’s doing because he’s in control of his future.
Salaried vs. contract workers
Tim gave a lot of insight for us on how CEOs can think about hiring in the new digital age.
You’ll need to work with a lot of people from different core competencies. Some of them it’s best to engage as consultants or contract workers. Some of them are short-term hires of 2-3 years. Tim says there are very few roles that he considered people as “lifers” for.
Towards a better future
Tim gave us a picture of what the future could look like, both a utopian and dystopian view.
He says, “For me, a utopian future is when we realize that people, workers, consumers, whatever you want to consider them, they need to have more control over their careers.” Tim’s big on flexibility and getting people to take charge of their careers.
“I think we’re going to start seeing an era where you know, we are working in the digital workplace but also in the consumer space, where people are going to start to have more time because they have more understanding of who they are, of what they can do, right, and how they can grow. That excites me. That really excites me a lot.”
Overall, Tim is a bringer of hope. He sparks joy and confidence in everyone he interacts with!
Tim on Twitter (get ready for a firehose)
Welcome back to The Digital Workplace podcast. We got an awesome guest today. We have “Mr. Future of Work”, Tim Salau. How are you doing, Tim?
Doing well man. Just happy to be alive, bro.
It’s a great day to be alive, man. You are the CEO, Co-founder of Guide. It’s great to have you on the show and get to hear your experience.
Oh, man, thank you so much for inviting me to top it up with you Neil and talk about one of our favorite subjects, the digital workplace.
Yes. The digital workplace. I don’t think I’ve ever interacted with somebody who’s more energetic about life than you, though. You bring a lot of cool stuff. So, I shouldn’t have to do this, but we always do a capture question to prove your humanity. So, your question is, when do you feel the most like a kid?
Oh man, that’s such a great question bro. I have to be honest with you. When I’m journaling man, I’m a creative person dude. I’m a creative CEO. I’m not a stuffy corporate CEO. In fact, you know, I have a team of five people but we’re really more like a creative studio/adventure studio than more than any enterprise tech company which some people in the media would consider us. But dude, when I’m journaling and just crafting out ideas and big things, that’s when I feel most alive. You know, seeing our products come out to market and actually people using them, that always brings me the most joy.
That’s cool. Yeah, if I think about feeling like a kid again, it’s definitely like waking up, you know, we were talking about where we live. I live in Indiana, you’re out on the West Coast. And so, for me, waking up in the morning, looking outside and seeing snow on the ground, is like just transforming you back to being six, seven years old. It’s just a magical feeling.
Dude, it’s such a magical feeling. You know, in Houston right now, Texas, where actually I was raised, it is snowing like crazy which is literally global warming. Because there it does not snow like that. But there was one point when I was a child and it snowed and I was like, wow, you must be living in Winter Wonderland or something.
Yeah. That’s true. Cool. Well, we’re talking about the digital workplace, but I’m going to get your ideas about a couple of things. What’s kind of behind you? You call yourself Mr. Future of Work. You are Mr. Future of Work. What’s behind your focus on that and how does that play into the companies you’re starting?
Neil, I’ve been talking about the future of work for almost five years now, and before COVID-19. And for us, at Guide, you know, initially Guide, we were a life skills training app for high school students when we launched in 2019. Yeah, in March of 2019, and that’s actually when we were founded. And then last year due to COVID, we actually had to pivot the business to enterprise. Enter the business to focusing on bite-sized video training for remote teams in July 2020, that’s when we launched. And then, last year was so crazy man. And because we were so close to our customers and we were just, I’m talking to our customers every single day man. We realized that so many people in our community are struggling with their health and their wellness and their mental health. And we launched a huge tea brand that has been making mad waves, in October 2020 of last year. And that has just been game changing for us and our brand. And most recently, we were featured in Forbes Next 1000 Companies who are going to be changing the world. So, we’ve just been really grateful for all of the buzz that we’ve been getting.
And that’s Big Black Tea, right?
Yep. Big Black Tea. Yep. Yep. Yep.
Love it, man.
I’ve seen something like black and bold as a coffee brand that’s out too. There’s a lot of good stuff out there coming up.
Yeah, a lot, a lot. I think e-commerce and what’s happening in the CPG space, huge man. Everything’s going to be online. People will be ordering everything from online and I think we’re just part of that trend going on.
Alright. Now I know you said you made this transition from helping high schoolers to go into enterprises and you made it sound like it was the easiest thing in the world. But tell us about that transition. That’s a very different audience there.
Yeah man. You know I have to say man, being a founder is tough. A lot of people don’t know that. Initially we started with that market because at the time we felt as if life skills training app was the product that made sense to our company and our culture, and the world needed it. They needed it. And that was before COVID times, right. But when COVID happened, we had to pivot because education has changed. It’s no longer about being in the classroom. It’s about being decentralized. And with Guide, you know, a lot of organizations are reaching out to us saying, ‘Hey, we could use Guide for remote learning in the classroom or within our workplace for onboarding and training’. So, we’re essentially building that product that fits into the future of where education is going, and where the future of work is now.
So, do you still consider yourself an educational product?
You know when we talk about holistically, Guide as a brand, we’re a lifestyle brand, right? Because the ideal thing about us is that we think in experiences, we just don’t think in products. We think about, like, what are we doing to unlock experiences for our customers. So holistically, ideally, we’re seeing customers drink our tea and create courses on our platform and learn our platform. That’s ideally what we want. Because it’s showing that they understand our vision, they understand our brand. So, you know, on the software as a service side, yes, Guide is a bite-sized video training enterprise technology platform. Holistically as a company, we believe that we’re more than just a tech company. We’re an experience company.
Yeah. Cool. Well, tell us about your company. How many employees you got? What’s the structure of the company like?
Yeah. We only have five people on team Guide. We are a small bunch but super, super lean, but high impact team. In fact, we’re remote first team. So, we literally live this digital workplace lifestyle man. We’re active on Slack. The way we work is quite interesting because a lot of people will probably look at how we work and be like, dude, I’ve never worked in a company like this in my life. But it works with us and it’s all embodied in our day one mindset.
Yeah. Well, what does Mr. Future of Work use as a tech stack for his company? You talked about Slack. What are the other tools that you use to kind of bring everyone together?
We try to keep it as simple as possible. Slack is number one, obviously. It’s kind of like the ‘go to’ for every workplace nowadays. Shoutout to Salesforce for buying Slack. We also use Google Calendar and Google Hangouts. And I used to use Zoom for our video conferences and stuff. But I’m like, dude, for a whole year of COVID, you get tired of Zoom man. I was like, let’s just integrate with Google again, because it’s kind of like a seamless transition between using the Calendar and Google Hangouts. And then for me, personally, I actually use an email inbox tool called Front, which is amazing. It integrates with all my other emails and they have all of these nice integrations with Shopify and other platforms. And that allows me to just keep abreast of all the emails I have coming in every single day.
Yeah, that makes sense. You mentioned Google Calendar. And I feel like the deeper we get into talking about digital workplaces, the more important I think calendars are. For the most part, I feel when the digital workplace, so to speak, was first introduced, in the sense of, for the average worker comes to the office. And the big thing they got was, aside from spreadsheets and your Microsoft Word, you got an email account, and that was like the big thing. And so, you started your day checking your email. And I think we got used to that, just thinking, okay, that just comes through. And then now we’ve kind of pivoted a little bit to now, okay, now we sit down, we check our Slack messages. That’s kind of how we start the day. But we’ve really lost it if we don’t have control over our time, have control over our days, as they go. And if you can really structure your days well and make sure that everything lives and breathes through that, I think that’s a great, great place to start.
300%. 300% man. In fact, there’s this new email calendar app, I don’t know if you’ve seen it. It’s called Vim. And essentially, it just helps you. And Superhuman. Superhuman is another email apps tool. But Vim is a really interesting calendar app because it helps you schedule meetings and do everything faster. It’s interesting. Look into it. There’s a waitlist for it. But there’s so many products now that are popping up in this future workspace that are really going to, I think, change the way we live and work in the next few years. I’ve actually invested in a few companies. I’m in the space. I’m really excited about it. One of them is Nimo Planet and they’re definitely going to be a digital workplace company, in the sense of, they’re building the iPhone for your eyes which will allow B2B, B2C consumers to be able to do portable work wherever. And I think that’s going to be huge. It’s companies and technology like that, that are truly going to define the next era of innovation in my opinion.
Yeah, yeah, for sure. We had Nash Ahmed on from Undock and that was a great experience. Because the more you see where things are going, unless you have that time element to the things and the calendar element to it, it’s got to be built into these digital workplaces that are out there so that people can get a feel for it. Even just the other day, we were supposed to have these Friday conversations. I’m supposed to have one later today, but I went on vacation and I forgot to send an invite to one of the guys who was going to be there. And so, I sent him an email yesterday just saying, hey, are you ready for this? He said, hey, it didn’t go to my calendar, so I can’t. I missed it. I’m not going to be there because I already scheduled something else there. Because I live the same way. If something doesn’t show up on my calendar, it doesn’t exist, like it didn’t happen.
Somebody would tell you that. And shoutout to Nash. I love Nash. @nashtheory on Twitter. He’s such a great guy. And shoutout to Undock. Undock is in fact an amazing product. Using it I’m like, oh my god, so much of what’s in this product that which calendar would integrate in its product. It’s so good man.
Yeah yeah. Excited to see what comes out of there. Cool. So, let’s talk about, as companies are building, they’re thinking about the future of work. You’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I want you to tell me one hope you have. Let’s go like utopian dystopian. When you look at the future of work, what’s like the best-case scenario? What’s one thing you’re super excited about that’s going to be great for everybody?
Neil, I love that question. It’s a question that’s really close to my heart because I’ve been living in this future for quite some time now. We’ve been building Guide. Our brand has been in operations for the last three years now. We were founded in 2019. And we’ve been in this motion of building products for last two years, but we’ve been really out here around the future of work for quite some time. For me, a utopian future is when we realize that people, workers, consumers, whatever you want to consider them, they need to have more control over their careers. We need to start urging people to build a career portfolio, whether it be doing podcasts like Neil that are called The Digital Workplace, or, you know, working a nine to five job but doesn’t feel like a nine to five job, right? It can be from ten to three, right? Give them that optionality, give them that flexibility in their workplace.
And we don’t just talk about this future at Guide, we live it. There are some people that work within our company right now who actually have full time jobs, but they’re working at a full-time capacity within our organization, but they also have equity in the company, right? That’s flexibility man. I think that’s building a career portfolio. We don’t believe that we have to create organizations where everyone has to be salaried, because in fact, that’s actually not a good thing. We want to be able to construct an organization that we kind of consider that flows, right? Where people have a sense to show their creative best, but there’s optionality in how they work, right? They don’t necessarily have to work from nine to five. They can work from five to three or they can work only on the weekends, right? Because some people are just more productive and innovative on the weekends. So, for me, that’s the ideal scenario. We can get to a point where we got people drinking the Kool-Aid and saying, ‘Hey, look, the future of work isn’t about me telling you what to do as a boss or as a team leader. It’s about you telling me how you want to craft that career, how you want to craft your role, and then me allowing you to run with it and empower you in the process’.
Yeah, that’s wonderful. I mean, agency over your life, agency over your work life is something. That’s one of our big themes about the future. We feel like along with being human focused, having a respect for time, being intentional, you got to give people that option. I want to explore this idea about Salaried versus Non-Salaried people with you a little bit more because I think it’s something people are throwing around in their heads. I think for the most part, you still think, alright, I’m going to build a team. I’ve got to give somebody a full-time salary role to bring them on. But what are some of the other options you’ve experimented with, and you’ve seen work?
Dude Neil, it’s interesting, right? Because every company is different given the stage of its lifecycle as a company. We’re a venture backed company. I led our pre-seed. I led our seed as well. We have a few partners that we raise capital from. But our burn rate is incredibly low. Our people are incredibly happy. We haven’t let anyone go. Here’s the thing. When I think about bringing on people within our company, I always think from the sense of, well, there’s a few financial instruments we can use. One is cash and saying, okay, let’s bring people in on a salary. Another is equity, which is probably the most powerful financial income in the world. And those are the two really most important financial instruments. I will tell you, for me, even as a CEO, I don’t even get paid, right? Like I take money from our company as I need to and sometimes it’s really to reinvest that in our people, or fundamentally invest that in the business, right. But I don’t need a salary because I own the company.
And more importantly, we really believe our people are our most important asset. But, I think that when any founder or any business owner forms a business, they should think about, are you forming a business that is only about, how do I say this, that’s people oriented? Or is it just about the money, right? I got this like our people believe in our purpose, they believe in our mission. I mean, we are the only future of work, future of work-life company out there that owns a tea brand called Big Black Tea and the software as a service company called Guide. You know, it’s not easy doing the work that we do. If anything, we’re more like a creative shop. We do it for the purpose of it and to see the smile on our customers face.
But fundamentally, when I first started the company, you know, no one was getting paid a salary. Me and my co-founder, we literally say, hey, let’s do this. Let’s keep with it. Let’s continue, persevere, and you know, one day we’re going to see amazing things from it. We still don’t get paid a salary. We are just building. And I think for me, I always tell people our stories, because it’s not really about the money when you’re building something of purpose. It’s fundamentally about, do you believe in the long term? And are you bringing in partners early on in your journey, right? In our operating model at Guide, we actually believe in operating just like any small business but delivering high impact. So over time, you know, we are going to bring in some people and pay them cash. But we also think about, are we incentivizing our people in a sense where they feel as if they’re long-term partners versus just short-term partners.
And one of the things or mistakes I see a lot of organizations make early on is that they think that they need to hire everyone on a salary, when the reality is that if you really think about the core competencies of your organization and just like the future of flexible work, there’s so many experts that you can hire on contract, on a rotation, or recurrence. And the core competencies of your organization, you want to hire people for that. Like you want to hire people to bring them in, to fill those core competencies that you need, or you lack, or you want to strengthen. So that’s what I often see about organizational design. But I often see that a lot of early-stage CEOs and founders, just business owners, don’t think about their organizations in that light.
Yeah, I think that that’s fantastic. I’m glad that you’re one of those people on the forefront that’s experimenting with these options because we need to think more about that. Even I’m in a situation now where I’m thinking, okay, I need some work done. But I don’t really need a full-time person to do that forever. And even like you said that ‘long term or short-term’ orientation. So, there are some people that I want to have on board and just like, we’re getting married like we’re in this for the long term. And there’s some people like, hey, let’s do some cool work together. Maybe it’ll last a year, or maybe it’ll last two-three years, something like that. But then we can all move on after that. And I think, expanding on those options in our mind that as soon as you realize, okay, I have a need but doesn’t mean I’m stuck with this person, or I want to offer this person a forever lifetime experience. I think that’s an important switch CEOs need to make.
Yeah, 100% Neil. And I’m of the belief man. I’m one of those CEOs and founders where I don’t believe you need to be in an organization for like, 7, 10, 15 years. That’s not cool man. I do not believe that. In fact, even myself, like, for me, I’m the Executive Chair, I’m the CEO of Guide. This is my lifetime company, right? This is the company I have to lead because I’m the founder. But I would never wish that on any of my team that come here, because that’s not their journey. That’s my journey. And I think I often have to authentically tell people this because I’ve worked in companies, such as Microsoft and Facebook, where, you know, you see a lot of license, which is good. There are companies that were designed like that in the past, and you know, people do get those golden handcuffs. But I, when I’m thinking about just the future of work, and then now, I talk to a lot of people who are interested in working with a company for 10 years. They’re just new to a company, growing, doing their best work, and then going to that next part of their journey. And at Guide, we really believe in, you know, we’re a growth organization. It’s like, you come in here, work for as long as you want, kill it here, but grow with us and then we’ll support you, whether it be internally you want to elevate, or you want to go beyond Guide and do something even better. We are a platform for you and that philosophy has actually really allowed us to stand out in the market.
Yeah, I think that that’s great. And that differentiation of saying, ‘I don’t expect you to work here forever. I want you to come here. I want you to have a great time. I want you to have a great experience and I want you to see what’s next’. And maybe you have an offer for them in three years that’s going to be something they’re going to want to take on again but maybe you won’t. And I think that’s a great healthy way to look at it.
Yeah, exactly. That’s our mindset.
Yeah, cool. Alright, let’s shift. We talked about the good side. I know you’re a positive guy, so I hate to do this to you. But give me the dystopian version. Where is a bad version if we don’t make the change that we need to make now? Where does that leave us with the future of work?
Yeah, I think dystopian viewpoint, if we don’t make the change that we need to make now, I can see more people, and because I’m a humanitarian so I always think from a people perspective, I can see more workplaces and companies that are devoid of purpose and aren’t actually delivering values, value-based products and are completely losing out on the social impact component because we don’t create an ideal utopia. And essentially, what that looks like within an organization to be more descriptive here, is that you know people go to work and it feels like a slave job, man. It feels like drudgery. They’re not motivated. They’re not inspired. They have the golden handcuffs, but they don’t have any purpose in the work that they’re doing. You know, there’s high churn rates within these organizations. I mean not only because they lack diversity inclusion, but also because they lack purpose, they lack fun, they lack excitement, they lack the diversity in building a career portfolio. And I have to tell you, when I talk to people, I talk even with our customers, I talk to our customers who tell me, “I’m working in that kind of organization, Tim. But you know, we’re so grateful for your brand. We’re so grateful for your company, your product, because you give us hope. You inspire us to find some Zen with Big Black Tea, or to learn and grow.” And for us, I think that’s why we exist. That’s why we build products.
But we are so adamant about partnering with other organizations and showing them look, if you want to create a successful organization like Guide, all you have to do is treat your people like leaders, right? And embrace dynamic leadership. In fact, I have a book coming out on that this year later on. And it really goes through the depths of that. But if the dystopia is going to be that, it scares me. Because I don’t want to see it, but time and time again, I’m reading the news. And I’m like, company X is doing this. Company X isn’t allowing remote workers to leave, to travel, or they’re not going to pay everyone in an equal range. And I’m like, what in the world? That’s stupid. Like, you know, think about the times we’re living in. So, you know, I don’t want the future to look like that. But I’m doing everything I can to make sure it doesn’t.
Yeah. And just that inspiration I think is so powerful. Like you said, not just for you, for your employees and the people you’re working with, for your customers, to kind of create that reverse infection, where you’re trying to get people to think beyond that, and just really, open up, wake up their eyes. Because in a lot of ways, we’re just marching forward, and we’re going so much faster and faster and faster. And if we don’t have that purpose behind what we’re doing, if we don’t have a meaning behind it and escape that drudgery, we can get to drudgery a lot faster than we used to be able to, but it’s not really helping us. I think that that’s a great thing that we need to step back and think about and do stuff that we enjoy doing and that brings us happiness, man.
Yeah, let me ask you Neil. What would be your utopian vision for the future of work?
Man, I like what you’re saying. For me, so, we’ve had people come in and talk about four-day workweeks, reducing the pressure on things. I’m a believer in things like a universal basic income. And I think that growing that to a sense where money becomes a little bit irrelevant and we’re all doing stuff still, we’re all enjoying the work that we’re doing. But doing it for the sake of doing it. And because it’s helping people and because we kind of get off this addiction towards just more growth, growth, growth, growth, profit, profit, profit, and build something that really genuinely helps things. I mean, I’m inspired by what I see with founders. But just knowing that a lot of those founders are, it’s just kind of perpetuating, are just trying to do a lot of fast growth all at the same time.
So yeah, I think there’s a lot of things we can do just transactionally in the meantime about how we collaborate better, how we can be better leaders. But the big picture for me is like ‘Hey, we got to take care of humans and we got to understand ourselves better.’ I imagine a world where we are only scratching the surface about what we know about ourselves, about how our bodies work, how we work together in community, about what we learn about the world around us, because we’ve been so busy. We got to work, I got to get to my job, I can’t take time to learn about that kind of stuff.
It’s so true. You know one of the things I’ve been studying recently that’s really been piquing my interest is this era of augmentation, that we’re going to be seeing in terms of, we’re already tethered to our devices, we’re tethered to the products that we love to a degree. And I think, you know, one of the big trends that I’m seeing is the convergence between augmented reality and mobile. And you know, in the future, you are right. I definitely see us being able to know ourselves some more in depth. And especially you think about all of the wearables that we’re using now to get analytics on just our health and wellness roughly, like the pelotons, the Apple watches.
And I think, thinking about the AI systems that are all there throughout a part of our life, I think we’re going to start seeing an era where you know, we are working in the digital workplace but also in the consumer space, where people are going to start to have more time because they have more understanding of who they are, of what they can do, right, and how they can grow. That excites me. That really excites me a lot. And I think to your point, you know, if we can get universal basic income done, that will be game changing for the world. I think it’s already incorporated in other parts of the world. And I think in the US, it makes sense. It makes sense. I don’t know how the government would want to do it, but definitely I could see it as being something that creates a new definition of what it means to live. And it can help a lot of people who are in poverty and they need someone to have their backs in our government.
Yeah. And I love the idea of just creating that floor for people just to say, hey, look, you’re going to be fine. You’re going to be taken care of, one way or the other. And we want people to thrive. We want people to be healthy. And so, yeah, I think the future work has got to be equitable for other people who it hasn’t been for. It’s been too much of a zero-sum game for a long time. It’s just ‘take as much as you can and don’t leave anything for the rest of us.’ So yeah, there you go. You got me on my soul so, yeah. Tim, this has been great. I feel like we can go on for a long time talking about a lot of the topics and we definitely will bring you on to some of our space bar discussions where we get other CEOs in the same room and things. But what’s the final message you want to leave with our audience right now?
Don’t give up on your future. Don’t give up on your future. Even if you’re not building the future of work. Look, if you want to build a company, if you want to live a good life, the greatest thing you can do is start a business that just changes the game. Start a business or do things like starting a podcast like Neil is doing. Just don’t give up on your future. I’ve met too many people in my lifetime, and just in my life, in my journeys as a traveler and as a learner of this world, who give up too easily on futures. And I think one of my philosophies is, ‘Operate in the present day on what you can do to build a better future’, right?
I remember when we started Guide, which was literally two years ago, right. But I remember when I first founded our company, when I first started doing this work, I didn’t think it would be what it is today. But I just kept on doing it for years and years and years. And now we’re seeing kind of the rewards of our compounding interest, that is, us being a part of Forbes Next 1000, and really like having a huge community of people who believe in us and in me as a leader. So, for me, I always tell people, “You’re not going to achieve that end state in one day, but you have to start on day one and then build up on that.” So, please don’t give up on your future. You can definitely do it.
Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Mr. Future of Work for being on this show. We will include all the links to your brands that you are a part of and your social media following. I love following you on Twitter, man. You got so much cool stuff there.
Oh, thanks Neil.
That’s cool. Alright, well, thanks a lot, Tim, for being on the show and we look forward to seeing you again soon.
Peace. Thanks, y’all.
Tim’s life purpose is to strengthen the bonds people share through compassionate action.
Tim “Mr. Future of Work” Salau, is the CEO, Co-Founder, and Executive Chairman of Guide, the experience group and collective that owns Big Black Tea, a direct-to-consumer tea brand and our keystone product, Guide, a SaaS Learning & Talent development platform.
He’s an author, venture investor, builder capitalist, accomplished international keynote speaker, product leader, tech leader, and the only Nigerian-African American activist and global authority leading and shaping the discussion on the Future of Work, leadership, and innovation.
In 2017, he founded The Guide Group, a global movement of 300,000+ business leaders and professionals focused on helping every member lead a fulfilling career.
Through his life’s work and global platform, he’s directly impacting a magnitude of 150M+ people.
Tim inspires millions of professionals and business leaders, daily, to embrace change, and thrive in the future of work.