Real Leaders

If You Want to Succeed Leave Your Ego at the Door

Dave DuPont

Dave DuPont is the CEO of TeamSnap. Founded in 2009 and headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, TeamSnap has taken the organization of youth, recreational and competitive sports into the 21st century.

Eleven million coaches, administrators, players and parents use TeamSnap’s web and smartphone apps to sign up, schedule, communicate and coordinate their team or club for the season ahead. In 2015, they were awarded Outside Magazine’s “Best Company to Work For” and named “Best Company Culture” by Entrepreneur Magazine. With their millions of users and a steep revenue-growth trajectory, they are leaders in their industry. Led by a humble and determined leader, CEO Dave DuPont (pictured above), their success has as much to do with solid leadership as it has with letting go of ego.

Tell me a little about your company: what’s unique or distinct about TeamSnap?

Basically, our people. We started out with a core group, that had a certain outlook and set of values. We’ve managed to retain this group as we’ve grown and reinforce the values as we recruit new people who mirror them, and quite frankly, eliminating those who didn’t. It’s resulted in an organization that is for the most part very smart, and mission-aligned. Around 70% of our employees work from home, which means we have to be very communicative, and although this has resulted in many introverts, we have to develop effective communication within a dispersed team.

We have smart people who are very capable with good communication skills and we consciously strive to ensure the work environment is without big egos. One of our values is: “Big ideas, tiny egos.” We have no prima donnas.

What do you do that helps stamp out the egos?

I make a point of de-emphasizing where an idea came from. In many organizations, employees take a lot of pride in stating, “I started this” or, “This is my idea.” What we care more about is that great ideas get developed and that we execute them. Where they come from doesn’t matter. We solicit ideas all the time from all levels, but it does become harder as you grow.

We pride ourselves on being very pragmatic and will experiment with different angles. We try not to hammer people for championing unsuccessful efforts because as I constantly say, “If you don’t fall, you’re not skiing hard enough.”

All of us help with customer support. In the early days, we did this because we didn’t have enough people, but now we do it because it gives everyone a better appreciation for what support does and a better connection to our products and customers.

Another example is our diverse approach to work. We don’t care where you’re based, we don’t care when you work, as long as you can work with your colleagues and get the work done. One of our customers contacted us and said, “Love your products. I’ve worked in IT before and would love to help out 5 to 10 hours a week. I’m a stay-at-home mom. Can we work something out?” She now heads-up a support team of 10 part-time moms and four of those moms have gone on to full-time positions in other parts of the company.

Adopting an analytical approach also helps eliminate ego. We’re in a data-driven industry and we’ve always tried to use data to make decisions. This eliminates a lot of personal opinions and provides a lot of humility as the data informs you, rather than an individual. It also made me realize that I knew nothing about consumers and that we needed to test, refine, and then test again.

Tell me about your background, and why the ‘no ego’ approach is so important to you?

Everyone is a prisoner of their history. I had the good fortune to work in companies where there was a lack of ego and I saw the benefits. My childhood upbringing within a military environment also taught me about teamwork. I was maybe 17 years old before I began to think of civilians as normal people. When I got out into the world, I realized the benefits of freedom, creativity and the more positive aspects of a less authoritarian structure. I was constantly getting into trouble in school and naturally resisted methodologies being imposed on me. I met people later in life who taught me that whatever everyone else is doing, you should do something different. This was less about rebellion and more about innovation.

If you have a big ego, you want to accomplish big things, but I’m smart enough to realize that trying to do everything alone can actually prevent me from reaching my lofty goals.

How would you define a great leader?

Someone who motivates and inspires his team to do great things. One who can assemble a great team and help them extract the most from themselves. Importantly, it’s someone who gets great satisfaction from the accomplishment of the team, not himself, and strives for the greater good of the organization as a whole. Nobody likes the king of the hill, everybody wants to knock him off, your goal is ultimately to make everybody feel like a king (or queen).

There are an infinite number of things to focus on as a leader. Where do you put your focus?

My people and how I communicate with them. But there’s a conflict. On one hand, I tend to be very task-oriented and want to get things done. On the other, I need to strengthen relationships and keep channels of communication open. My approach is to make time for both of them. I also spend a lot of time making sure everyone’s on the same page. At most large organizations, people put together finely-honed presentations and spend a lot of time on them. I have found that being engaged with our vision and mission long before the press release or presentation is even written is critical to aligning with our message.

I want to see bullet points on a whiteboard or a hand-drawn sketch before anyone does any work. I want to see early ideas in rough format first. If I get in early, then I can disappear shortly after and leave the team to get on with it.

What are some of your weaknesses as a leader?

Many times one’s weaknesses are just the flip-side of your strengths. I’m very transparent and people know how I feel. This can be negative if you’re not thinking positive thoughts about an individual or situation. One way to get things done is by being impatient, but one of our major values is respect. I want to hear from everyone, and it’s okay if ideas are half-baked. Airtime for the sake of airtime, however, is just wasting time.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your life as a leader?

Humility. The one thing I wish someone had taught me in business is that nobody can do it alone. It’s ultimately your team that will be successful, not you, so make sure you assemble the best team you can – that works with you, not for you. Your people will make you successful.


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