Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff is interviewed by Madrona Venture Labs Partner Shauna Causey. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)
Doing an on-stage interview in front of 200 people from the Seattle startup community on Thursday afternoon was probably one of the more relaxing moments this week for Spencer Rascoff.
It’s been a stressful past couple of days for the Zillow Group CEO, whose online real estate company saw its market value drop by $2 billion after its quarterly earnings report disappointed investors and sent shares falling by more than 20 percent.
So when Rascoff was asked about the highs and lows of a company journey at the Madrona Venture Labs event, the longtime Zillow executive talked about his experience this week.
“Leadership is about how you respond to those situations,” he said. “What separates long-term successful companies from those that are not is how employees overall respond.”
Rascoff said he received several emails from employees across various ranks at Zillow who wanted to show their support for the company’s long-term mission in light of Wall Street’s reaction.
“That speaks to the culture of the company,” he said. “It means a lot to me, actually, and it really moved me quite a bit.”
Rascoff has been through similar dire situations as a leader, including layoffs, which he called “the worst” and in a different category than stock declines. Zillow laid off a third of its employees after the housing crisis in 2008 and Hotwire, a travel company Rascoff co-founded, also went through a round of deep job cuts.
“The way that companies soldier through challenges is by sticking together and reorienting and refocusing on the mission,” Rascoff said.
In fact, sometimes hardships can be a “blessing in disguise,” he said. “They force you to focus and they are a wake-up call.”
Rascoff said the hardest part about being a CEO or leader is making sure you’re conscious of what you’re saying and how you’re presenting yourself in different situations, whether it’s a boardroom huddle with executives about budget cuts or an all-hands meeting with thousands of employees.
“I’m never fibbing or lying, but there is definitely a different level of communication, competence, and transparency that you’re bringing into different settings,” he said. “That was hard for me to grok as we grew from 300 employees to 4,000 in seven years.”
Here are some other quick takeaways from Rascoff’s fireside chat:
On his servant leadership philosophy
Rascoff was just 23 years old when he took …read more