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Software’s Move Into The Cloud, With Dai Vu

Google has been building the Cloud Marketplace to become more advantageous through its comprehensive user experience, making software deployment way easier for developers and end users alike. J.R. Lowry talks to the man behind this incredible undertaking: Dai Vu, Managing Director of Google’s Cloud Marketplace. He shares how they handle the rapid growth of Google Cloud, particularly now that it has reached more than 1,000 solution partners and 3,000 solution listings. Dai also talks about his situational and collaborative leadership style, detailing how he sets a vision for his team, focuses on employee wellbeing, and gives importance to taking frequent breaks.

 

Check out the full series of “Career Sessions, Career Lessons” podcasts here or visit pathwise.io/podcast/. A full written transcript of this episode is also available at https://pathwise.io/podcasts/dai-vu/

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Software’s Move Into The Cloud, With Dai Vu

Managing Director, Cloud Marketplace, Google

In this episode, my guest is Dai Vu who is a tech industry veteran. Dai has worked for Google in a variety of roles for almost ten years and previously spent time at IBM, Microsoft, and SAP. He is also an Advisory Board Member for CapitalG, the independent growth fund of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. His experience base spans general management, product management, go-to-market areas, strategy, and business development. He has a proven track record of bringing disruptive solutions to market and building new businesses.

Earlier in his career, Dai worked in management consulting, spending time at McKinsey where he and I met, and then later at Boston Consulting Group. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from RPI, a Master’s degree in Computer Science from UPenn, and an MBA from UPenn’s Wharton School. He lives in the Bay Area.

Dai, welcome. Thanks for being on the show with me.

Thanks for having me on your show.

Talk about your role at Google.

My role is I am part of Google Cloud, which is a very sizable business. It’s a $34 billion annualized revenue run rate. I’m part of the go-to-market and business organization. I run an area of the business called Google Cloud Marketplace. Think of that as a modern distribution channel for our software and solution partners. Think of companies like Palo Alto Networks, Databricks, MongoDB, Confluent, Commercetools, and many others.

What we want to do with the marketplace is become the primary online distribution channel, providing a universal catalog for our end customers to discover, try, buy, deploy, and use solutions that run on or with Google Cloud. What’s really exciting is that we’re transforming how software is being bought and sold by modernizing the end-to-end procurement process. Think of online discovery, simplified purchasing, and very efficient deployment of these third-party solutions that run on Google Cloud.

The catalog solutions include SaaS or Software As A Service, APIs, databases, Kubernetes Apps, virtual machines, infrastructure solutions like security, commercial data sets, developer tools, operating systems, business and vertical apps, and much more. My team’s primary charter is to grow the ecosystem business, a new marketplace. I manage teams that are responsible for partner and platform strategy, business development, category management, P&L management, go-to-market programs, onboarding, enablement with partners, various partner co-sell initiatives, so our field sellers and the partners co-sell together, and partner engineering.

I’ve been in this role for over two years. Previously within Google Cloud, I spent four years in the cloud product group, an area of the business called the Application Modernization Platform. This is around scaling our modern apps and development platform, including bootstrapping some of the things we’re doing with multi-cloud. That’s my role.

To make sure I understand it and for the benefit of our audience, too, you’ve got this ecosystem of software providers that are running on Google Cloud. How much do you do to facilitate integration among them? 

I have a partner engineering and a partner onboarding team. We have different models where we work with the partners to integrate into our platform. This includes things like billing integration. For example, an end customer who chooses to procure a software provider through a Google Cloud Marketplace will have an integrated bill. Think of it as an additional line item on their Google Cloud bill.

There are other things to improve the overall experience. One of the concepts we have is 1st party equals 3rd party. If you’re an end customer who wants to purchase a database, we want to make sure that your end-to-end experience in terms of search, try, discover, and deploy is indistinguishable, whether it’s our 1st party service, like our own managed database service, or if it’s a 3rd party solution partner.

It makes a ton of sense. It’s taking the consumer app store construct a bit further. It applies to enterprise software in your case. It also gives a wrapper and an umbrella that you’re providing around other software providers to make the whole experience hang together better like a lot of the things that you mentioned earlier. 

I’m glad you mentioned the App Store because it’s easy to draw parallels between the two. You’re right. There is a very similar concept, but in many ways, it’s different when you think about the business model. The way we make money on cloud marketplaces, there’s certainly a rev share. We take a cut of the gross transaction value, so the dollars that get transacted on the marketplace. To be clear, it’s nowhere near the rev share that you might see on, let’s say, an Apple Store.

What it comes down to is that these solutions run on Google Cloud, but you can think of it as a way for us to drive stickiness and consumption in terms of our services, whether it is database, compute, storage, or higher layer services like data and AI, that allows the partners to benefit. It is because they’re leveraging a lot of the capabilities and services we have on Google Cloud. From an end customer’s perspective, the fact that you have a thriving ecosystem that runs on Google Cloud enables them to embrace Google Cloud in general as well.

CSCL 84 | Cloud Marketplace

Dai Vu: The fact that end customers can work in a thriving ecosystem that runs on Google Cloud enables them to embrace Google Cloud in general.

 

For a company that’s buying cloud services and cloud-based platforms, you can go multi-cloud but it’s expensive. I know you’ve got a couple of three very big competitors out there. Ultimately, what you’re trying to do is make your cloud solution more advantageous overall with a more comprehensive user experience, if you will, for the people who are deploying software into your cloud. That’s with the developers as well as the consumers of those platforms to make it work more seamlessly for everybody. That’s what I’m taking away from what you’re saying.

In fact, if you think about it in a traditional IT stack, a lot of the things that are core infrastructure, whether it be compute or storage, a lot of times, those are very difficult to differentiate. The more that you can create stickiness with either higher layer services like data and AI but also the apps that are made available on our cloud, that’s how you create that stickiness within customers.

Rev share is part of what you’re doing in the consumption of cloud services. How do you otherwise measure the success of what you’re trying to do as a company in the cloud?

There are a couple of things. Number one is you have to take a step back and say that Google Cloud in general is a growth engine for Google. If you look historically, our digital advertising business is at a pretty massive scale. It represents a very high percentage of our top-line revenue. Understandably for a business of that size, the growth has slowed. It’s in the low teens if you will. Cloud has a $34 billion annualized run rate. In our earnings not long ago, we grew at 22% year over year. The quarter before that is 28%. Certainly, driving growth for Alphabet and Google overall is a primary measure that we have.

The second thing is profitability. I’ve been in Cloud for close to six years in 2023. We have our third consecutive quarter of profitability. It took us a little bit of a while. With the capital investments in terms of building the regions and the data center, you can imagine. With people, it took a little bit of time to reach profitability. Since we’ve established it, we continue to build on top of that.

The third area I touched on earlier is value-added services. Another way we measure the effectiveness of the cloud is to what extent can we have customers adopt services that are more at the higher layers. Think of, in the old days, the atomic unit of consumption of cloud. It would be very resource-based, meaning it’s a core compute hour, terabyte per month, or something along those lines. We want to shift that conversation to services, microservices, applications, AI models, data, and warehousing.

To the extent that we’re successful in terms of driving that conversation and shifting it to more around automated, services, and applications, that establishes us among the cloud providers in addition to basic business results like revenue. Other customer measures that we pay quite attention to are NPS, Net Promoter Score, and customer CSAT which we measure on a regular basis.

The last thing is maybe I’ll mention specifically Cloud Marketplace because that’s my area. The thing that I measure on is what is the gross transaction value. We want more revenue flowing through our marketplaces because we think we have a very strong value proposition for both the partners and the end customers. In fact, if you look at the H1 of 2023, we grew at 140% year over year in terms of the gross transaction value. That’s much larger than the overall Google Cloud growth overall.

We have other metrics. If you look at our co-sell bookings, when we have our frontline sellers selling with our solution part sellers, those bookings growth in H1 of 2023 grew about 200% year over year. That’s certainly a success we’ve had on the partner side. On the end customer side, another interesting metric that we measure is the number of customers who are spending more than $1 million in our marketplace. That has increased by 6X.

You’re seeing great acceleration not only with the depth of adoption but also the share of what I call the cloud committed spend. That’s how much they put and committed to spend on Google Cloud. There is a higher percentage of that across our customers. We have data that reinforces that once customers start to use cloud marketplaces, they expand their usage considerably.

There is a great acceleration not only with the depth of cloud technology adoption but also the share of cloud committed spend. Click To Tweet

Maybe the last area that I measure is around selection and scale. We’re a storefront so we want to stock the shelves with high-quality solution listings. In 2022, we’ve added hundreds of new partners and new solution listings that improve the selection and scale. If you look at it, the number of partners with paid listings on marketplaces increased by 10X over four years. We have over 1,000 solution partners and 3,000 solution listings. It creates very attractive and highly curated runs of Google Cloud selection for our end customers.

The scale of growth is amazing. I’d worked for a company before this job that was a 200-and-something-year-old company that was roughly $12 billion in revenue. You have a business that didn’t exist decades ago that’s a $34 billion business. The speed of growth is mind-blowing in the tech sector. You guys are certainly a phenomenal example of how fast a company can grow.

It certainly makes it very exciting because we’re like a startup. The superfast growth gets everybody energized and charged around what they’re driving. Seeing the business results is very important. It also potentially has its challenges, too, because, in some ways, a lot of the processes in supporting infrastructure may not be fully in place for a company at this scale.

CSCL 84 | Cloud Marketplace

Dai Vu: The superfast growth of the Cloud Marketplace gets everybody within Google energized and charged around what they are driving, especially after seeing the business results they are getting.

 

If you look at Marketplace specifically because it’s exacerbated because our growth is even 4 to 5X the growth of overall cloud, we’re like a mainstream business, but sometimes, we’re not fully supported like a mainstream business. This certainly creates some operational scaling challenges with my team, but at least for now, they’ve embraced it.

You have to be willing to live with that kind of ambiguity and all of that when you’re growing as fast as you are and are simultaneously as big as you are. It takes a special kind of person to work and succeed in those environments, I would imagine. You were in Google’s ad business before moving into the cloud. What were you doing during that part of your time with Google?

I was a product management leader for a portfolio of products and solutions that covered a broad area. Let me give the broad area and maybe give a couple of examples. It was in the core ads. It enabled service delivery, product operation, sales operation, activity management, workflow management, business intelligence, data ingestion, and customer experience. I had a team of about fifteen product managers. I worked closely with about 200 software engineers to build this portfolio of products.

Let me give you a couple of examples of the products I managed. One was a product that was the core data transfer engine. If you think of the data from a third-party ecosystem that feeds into Google that we ingest to drive specific ads, think of it as shopping as an example. It is all the product skew image information that gets ingested on a daily basis. We had a product platform that supported those feeds across 300 different product teams.

Another example of a product that I had was a partner portal. Think of it as an external framework that enabled our ecosystem partners to engage across different product areas like Google News, Google Podcasts, Google Play, hotel pricing ads, retail build, and hardware portal. Even though it was in the core ads business, you can see a little bit of a common theme where I managed a lot more on both the ecosystem side. I was also supporting infrastructure, if you will, to generate and support those businesses with those partners.

You were at SAP before that. What was it that drew you over to Google?

I had a great time at SAP. I was there for two years. I sat in a corporate business development and strategic partnership. It sat in the office of the CEO. Bill McDermott who is the CEO of ServiceNow was the CEO at SAP at that time. SAP was in the middle of a pretty massive transformation. They were trying to move from more of a legacy apps company that charges maintenance fees to a very large install base. They were trying to shift to cloud. They were trying to be a platform company. It was a very different business model. How did they work with partners? It was a pretty massive change in terms of culture, the rate of innovation, and how they sell, so it was a great experience.

When Google reached out to me, I was certainly drawn to them because Google at that time and still is, is one of the most desirable places to work. I was an extensive user of their consumer products like Maps, Earth, Gmail, Calendar, and Docs. I always had this perception that they were very focused on the user, products, and innovation. They use some of these terms, “Focus on the user. All else will follow.” They recruit top talent, smart and motivated people. There was the opportunity to work in an environment where you can push yourselves and be inspired by the folks that you work with.

There was this perception that Google was doing some very interesting things to change the world. How can you not like their core mission statement around organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible? Once Google reached out, I certainly had to listen. The specific roles, you have to find, but one discussion led to another. Here I am many years later.

This is the longest you’ve worked in any place so far in your career, right?

Yeah. To be clear, I’ve had three different roles. I’ve been here nine years. If I look at those other stops, I spent 5 years at Microsoft, 3 years at IBM, 3 years at McKinsey where we worked together, 2 years at SAP, and 2 years at BCG. I haven’t found a need to look outside because I’ve had an opportunity to do different roles and continue to learn and develop amazing people. I’ve had the opportunity to have roles where I’m continuing to build things, build new businesses, and scale new businesses, which is my passion.

There’s nothing wrong with that. People are moving companies more often than they did a generation ago. Some people move more frequently than others. Others are very happy staying where they are. Sometimes, you may be somebody who tends to pursue opportunities, and then you find a place that feels like it really works for you and you end up staying there longer. It’s all good. It’s the way that everything has evolved relative to a generation ago.

My longest stint will probably be eleven years, which I had in two different places. I have been in this job for two years. We have a decent number of people who worked for our firm for 25 to 30 years. I look at them with admiration and think, “That will never be me.” It’s different strokes for different folks. Let’s talk a little bit about you and leadership. You’re a leader in a strategically important business for Google and you had important roles elsewhere. How would you describe your leadership style?

I subscribe to the more situational leadership style because I’m pretty adaptive. It’s dependent on the business context, the readiness of the organization and the teams, and what’s the business objective there. That being said, I do find myself being put into these build-the-business and scale-the-business type roles.

If I had to say there are specific leadership styles that I tend to gravitate to, certainly one is what I consider more the transformational agenda. How do we encourage team members to look at things and do things differently? I do believe in different stages of growth. There are some things that worked well to a certain point of inflection and we need to look at doing things differently. That’s one piece.

I tend to be also a very collaborative leader. That means I take inputs from my direct team but also across organizational boundaries. Even though I’m ultimately the decision-maker on things, I need to make sure that I have input from different team members. I have the data to consider different viewpoints. I am making sure that the team feels empowered and that they’re part of the decision-making process.

With the way I operate, I also tend to be very fast-moving. I’m setting a high bar with my team with high-quality outputs, meeting aggressive, audacious business goals, and ensuring that the team drives to that. Those are some of the characteristics I drive from a leadership standpoint. I emphasize that I tend to be adaptive depending on both the business context as well as the team context.

Do you feel like your style has changed a lot since your early days as an emerging leader?

Definitely. We go through these different experiences we learn. For example, if I had to think back to my first leadership role leaving McKinsey when I was at IBM, I tried to manage that team like a McKinsey team. You can imagine that didn’t go too well. In a consulting firm where people tend to be a little bit more homogenous or the behaviors, skills, and expectations are a little bit more consistent across team members, that’s not the case in a typical company. I had to learn quite a bit.

The other thing is when you start, you feel that you can do everything. You can take on a challenge. You could do it all yourself. You have all the answers and do everything. Part of the evolution that I’ve seen over the years is as a leader, your goal is not to have all the answers. It’s to make sure that you’re spending time listening. You’re talking and making sure you’re gathering input. It is okay to say what you don’t know, reach out, and ask for help.

It’s the same thing on the execution model. The way to get things done is through scaled execution through your teams and also some cross-functional team members. Those were probably the initial things that I had to adjust quite a bit in my early years in leadership. It was knowing that you can do more through this model as opposed to taking everything on.

When you manage a small team, you’ll often have a player-coach model. You can pitch in much more directly when needed. You hit a point where you may be managing a group of 100 or more than 100 where you can’t possibly know everything. You can’t possibly do every role. At that point, it really shifts to, “How do I help everybody else be successful in what they’re trying to get done and make sure that they know what we as an organization need to get from them?” That’s a big shift that you have to go through as you get into bigger organizations.

Exactly. I’m with you. Going back to our discussion on leadership, it comes down to how you are driving business outcomes. You are driving influence at an organizational team level to drive the results. There are different ways to do different things, but you learn along the way that different techniques work in certain situations.

Are there particular topics that you really try to focus your time on as a leader?

I’ll be honest. One of the things that I’ve been doing a lot is thinking about how we set a vision for the team. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but I find that a lot more than earlier in my career, the demands of knowing where we’re headed as a team, as a company, as an organization, and what we need to achieve is very important. I have put a lot of effort in terms of establishing a vision, revising it, sharing it, and getting input from different stakeholders who we interact with. What I find is you have to repeat it multiple times.

Even when I feel that I have a set of vision and I’ve communicated different forms, often, I get feedback like, “I want to know where we’re headed.” It is trying different techniques and communication channels to really land that vision. To be clear, when I say, “That vision,” it is giving people purpose. It’s being able to dream big and be audacious in terms of where you want to be 3 to 5 years from now.

I also find it helps land your annual plan. If you’re planning for the next year around resources and priorities, having that anchor for 3 to 5 years out makes it very consistent with what things you want to achieve next year because it aligns with what you want to do from a 3 to 5-year perspective. That’s one area that I focused on quite a bit.

The other things that I really focus on, and I began to focus on this in the last couple of years, are employee well-being and experience. It’s not just about achieving results. With the things with the pandemic and the tech industry in general, we’re having some challenges with hiring and layoffs. One of the challenges we see is resourcing is a little bit more cautious, but our expectations and business results don’t change.

We almost have to do more with less. We are making sure that we drive to those results and that we are focusing on a healthy team dynamic. There’s a sense that we’re achieving success together. When I think about the experiences and the sum of all the interactions the employee has with the organization, whether it’s a new employee onboarding, what are their daily activities, and how do they interact with senior leaders? We are looking at that end-to-end. That’s another area.

Maybe the last area I focus on is innovation. It is how do we think about differentiation and innovation? We have to stay ahead of the competition. In the cloud space, we’re in this situation where, unlike the rest of Google, we’re not the market leader. We are number three. The model of chasing the leader and doing exactly what they do in a more resource-constrained environment in a non-differentiated way is not going to win in the marketplace. Looking at areas where we can drive innovation, focus on differentiation, and take some risks are the things that I focus on with the team.

What do you look for when you hire people in your organization?

A couple of things come to mind. Number one is I am the believer that I probably put less emphasis on direct domain experience. The other signals, like your core ability to do problem-solving or your core cognitive ability, your capacity to learn, your willingness to take on new challenges and try different things, and your general interest and passion in either the role or the specific areas, those things show through more than if you bring, “I did this role at AWS or Azure.” That is more important. I do test that quite a bit. I say those things. The other piece is culture and fit and making sure that there’s a good dynamic. Often, I get to an offer stage with a candidate. What I do is I have some informal discussions that I have with some peers to make sure that there’s a good rapport, culture, and fit with the team.

Some of the things you mentioned a minute ago around looking for people who have a desire to learn and a passion for the business, how do you test for that when you’re in the middle of the hiring process?

It is almost like going back to a little bit of our consulting interview techniques. I do give case studies. With the case studies, I try two different ways. One is I’ll give a case study specifically on something I pick up on the resume. It’s a variation of, “How would you think about this?” and we walk through a case. The other is I give it in an area that is related but not something they have direct experience in. Their ability to tackle that and structure the problem, think through these edge cases, and be a little data-driven are the types of things that I look for in a typical case study. On the capacity to learn, that might be a more behavioral-type question. We are looking at patterns about how they’ve taken on different challenges or tried to reinvent themselves or expand their skills.

This might be a little bit of a bias, but I do find that people tend to be in the same role, same functional area, same company, or same domain area. It can get a little bit too comfortable for them. If they’re not always putting themselves in a position where they’re uncomfortable, they’re having to learn, and they’re having to adjust, these are the types of patterns I like to see in their experiences. That comes up in some of the interview discussions.

CSCL 84 | Cloud Marketplace

Dai Vu: People who tend to be in the same role, functional area, company, or domain get a little bit too comfortable in what they do that they do not learn, adjust, or grow anymore.

 

Who has inspired you as a leader over the course of your career thus far?

I have to start with my parents. As a little background, and I don’t know if I ever discussed it with you, my family came over with the Fall of Saigon in 1974. I was three years old at that time. My father was a colonel in the Vietnamese Army and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. She didn’t speak a word of English. We were put in a situation where we came here with nothing. I had older sisters and a younger brother.

The fact that my parents had a very supportive and almost servant leadership approach to how they raised my brothers and sisters, I learned quite a bit from them. It was all about sacrifice and setting their children up for success. In their minds, they had phase 1 of their life, which was in Vietnam, and then phase 2, which was hard setting their children up for success here in the US. I’d have to start with them because they’ve inspired me quite a bit in terms of what they’ve done. Other people have inspired me. One is certainly my wife. I celebrated my 25th anniversary in 2023.

Congratulations.

Thank you. She has a very similar approach and story in terms of what she’s done with our children. She’s been a stay-at-home mom for about 23 years. She started her career as a software developer. After we had our first child, she stayed at home and has been there. She’s very focused on the community. She’s focused on raising our children. She’s focused on personal impact, taking ownership, and responsibility. She’s setting our children up for success. She has inspired me quite a bit in terms of empathy, what you can control and have an impact on other people, and then contributing to the community at large. She’s another one.

Maybe a general leader that I have attached to quite a bit is Kevin Ichhpurani who is the VP of Google Cloud for Ecosystem. He’s my VP. This is my second stint working for him. I worked with him at SAP. He leads Google Cloud ecosystem organizations. Think of all of our partnerships. The reason why he’s been a big inspiration is because he is 100% high motor. He is constantly high energy. The fact that he has such credibility and trust with not only our ecosystem partners but also sales leaders and senior leaders. He’s always trying to bridge the collaboration across organizations.

With the ecosystem, a lot of times, you’re sitting in the middle of sales because you want to drive business results and deals, but you also have to deal with products. A lot of what we do is integrations with our product teams, but also in case of 1st party versus 3rd party, how do you position yourself in the market and you have good alignment with the product teams and make sure that you work together? The fact that he is a strong people person and collaborator and is so high energy with internal and external stakeholders has been very inspirational for me. That’s why I worked for him a second time.

When you go to work for somebody, you’re a repeat customer, so to speak. There’s a lot about them and the working relationship that you have. You mentioned his high motor a minute ago. You’re in this hypergrowth business. I’m sure it comes with a heavy dose of demand. Would you describe yourself as having a high level of self-discipline to be able to keep up with that pace?

To be quite candid, I’m okay at this, figuring out self-discipline and keeping up. The demands of the job do make it very challenging. I’ve probably been better in the past about making sure that I do the right things to have the right level of balance and I’m always functioning at a high level. In the past, the thing that I tried to do was take frequent breaks during the day as much as possible. It is to the extent that you can grab or steal ten minutes between meetings and make sure you can energize and refocus. Otherwise, you find yourself at the end of the day where you’re back-to-back meetings with ten meetings emotionally and mentally exhausted. Taking frequent breaks is one.

Another thing I do is make time. I carve out to focus on decisions. It’s carving out time on the calendar where you are really looking at things like, “I need to make this critical decision.” You need to have very focused decision-making so you can crowd out some of the noise and escalations that only hit you throughout the day. It is carving out time to make those critical decisions. It could be for the business, the team, or whatever it may be.

Carve out time on your calendar when making critical decisions. You have to focus on your decision-making process to crowd out some of the noise and escalations that hit you throughout the day. Click To Tweet

The other piece I would do is I am getting a little bit better and making sure that I manage the load. On any given day, I might have 100 things I have to go work on and 20 of them are P0 or P negative 1 in priority. It has to be done. From a capacity standpoint, probably I can only do 5 things out of that 20. It is being disciplined around, “What do I need to do today that’s critical?” I’m always constantly making those trade-offs with the demands and setting expectations with the different stakeholders. Those are some of the things that I try to do given the fast-paced environment and the workload.

It’s a constant triage. Was it Warren Buffet that said, “Write down the 25 things that are most important to you, cross off numbers 6 through 25, go focus on the first 5, and then make a list again.” You talk about 100. You can’t be doing 100 things. You do have to zero in on what are the most important things to be working on this day, this week, and this month, and make sure that you commit the appropriate time to them. For other things, you have to rely on other people or rely on doing a less perfect job with them.

With experience, you come a little bit better in terms of judgment, being able to make that trade-off decision every single day, and not having complete information. You start to get pretty good at it.

We both had the benefit of a management consulting background where you’re operating for a limited time. You have to make inference-based decisions. You come up with the best answer you can in the time that’s been afforded. It teaches you to operate with incomplete information to form opinions based on that. That’s a skillset certainly that has benefited me a lot over the course of my career. It’s the ability to be comfortable with not having a perfect set of facts to make a decision and getting on with life anyway. 

I agree.

Do you have a morning routine or anything like that?

I do. I wake up very early, typically around 5:00 AM. What I do is because I’m most alert at that time and I have a lot of energy, I do a couple of things. One is I do try to minimize the urge to deal with what I call these incoming torpedoes and checking email. There is something like 1 of these 100 things that I told you I had to deal with every day. That’s a nagging thing that does require a very focused thought. I usually try to hit off 1 or 2 of those in the morning. That could be a document, a communication response via email, or I review some docs. There are a couple of things that I do to make sure I hit out.

The other thing is I do try to plan out the day a little bit. This goes back to this trade-off decision. Once everyone is online at 8:30, it’s a free-for-all. To be able to do that early in a very quiet time and figure out, “Here are the critical things I need to complete,” is very important. Maybe the last thing I do every day, and this is something I picked up several years ago and picked it up again after the pandemic, is I ride my bike to work every day. It’s a little bit more than a six-mile bike ride. I go at a brisk pace, so I get to work in about 18 or 19 minutes.

That whole routine and consistency helped prepare me for the day. I try to stick to it. I’ve been pretty good about it. For the most part, that is my primary form of exercise in a very practical way. I don’t spend going to a gym, working out, and coming back. I find that difficult to manage my schedule. eighteen minutes there and eighteen minutes back is my exercise for the day.

What advice would you give a rising leader on how to balance it all?

A couple of things. Number one is you have to know your limitations. You have to be comfortable with what you can and cannot do and what you do or do not know and reach out for help. Early in my career, there was a tendency that if you reach out for help, ask for assistance, or ask questions to clarify, it was showing some form of weakness. In reality, being comfortable in understanding where you need help and where you can loop in for clarification goes a long way.

Number two is to do whatever it takes in terms of creating that quiet time or being able to recharge your batteries. If you’re into exercising, taking walks, or spending time with your children, getting into that habit and forcing yourself to be able to have that downtime is also critical. If you get in this mode of constantly running fast, at some point, you’re going to be mentally exhausted. You won’t be operating at your top.

Maybe the last thing I would say is to constantly ask yourself why you’re doing it and whether you are learning and enjoying your job. I almost take a little bit of a retrospective every once in a while to make sure about what gets you up and what gets you excited. Are you doing things that make a difference? What’s important to you? If it’s not, then it’s time to maybe reassess. If you don’t do that, what you could find yourself is you’re doing the same thing. You could be miserable and it is four years later. Taking the time and having that retrospective of what motivates you and whether you are happy, learning, and being challenged is also something I would encourage folks to do.

What have you focused on developing in terms of your skillset and your style over the course of your career thus far?

Number one is communications is an area that I continue to focus on. As you get broader responsibilities, the forums in which you communicate, whether it’s a presentation, talking at an all-hands, or communicating to stakeholders, the stakes are a little bit higher in terms of what you say, how you say it, and your body language. It is really focusing on communication. Sometimes, you have to drive that communication and message through multiple channels and figure out the best way to do that. That’s one area.

The other area is around being a little bit more intentional and decisive in terms of decision-making. I tend to be a little bit more of a collaborative leader, maybe a democratic style, where I want to get inputs from folks and make folks feel that they’re part of the decision-making process and they’re providing input. That works out well in many cases, but then sometimes, there are situations that require faster decision-making. The value that you get for deliberating may not be as high as the time that you’re using. Sometimes, the team wants more decisive guidance on things. Finding those situations with fast-decision making is important.

Maybe the last thing that I would want to continue to work on is improving my ability to motivate others and focus on how I inspire, how I get them to stretch themselves, and how they feel that they have a sense that I’m focused on their development. They can stretch themselves. I’m recognizing their accomplishments. This feeds itself. That’s another area that I’ve made significant progress on but an area that I continue to want to work on.

Is there anything that you think back and wish somebody had told you earlier in your career journey that you know now? Are there any last lessons you’d want our audience to take away from the discussion?

I think of a couple of things. One is the importance of a professional network. Maybe mid-career, I started to focus on that a little bit. It’s so incredibly important because if I look at some of the opportunities like SAP and Google, they were ex-colleagues who introduced me to these opportunities.  It’s human nature that people want to work with people they know are strong and have advocates. It may not always be a career or job opportunity, but having that professional network that you can lean on either for advice in tough times or opening doors for you becomes incredibly important. That was something that I wish I had focused on a little bit earlier in my career. Nonetheless, I’ve benefited from that.

CSCL 84 | Cloud Marketplace

Dai Vu: It is natural for people to want to work with those they know are strong and have advocates. Therefore, having a professional network you can lean on during tough times is incredibly important.

 

The other piece is you and I have seen this with our consulting experience. It is where a lot of folks graduate from college and have a very multi-year plan around how they want their career to develop. It is like, “I’m going to be a consultant or a business analyst. I’m going to work here for two years and then I’m going to business school. I have to start applying on this date. I’m going to work in this particular industry.” People plan out things so much.

In my career, I’ve been a little bit more opportunistic in terms of the opportunity. The way I’ve done it is more around learning and expanding my scope, responsibilities, and domain areas. I’ve had some consistent things. I’ve worked primarily in tech, more specifically enterprise tech, but I’ve had different roles. I’ve been a management consultant. I’ve been a product manager. I’ve been in business development. I’ve been in more marketing-type roles, too. The fact that I’ve been able to embrace, learn, adapt, and take on different challenges has helped me in my career.

I’m at a point now where I’m in more of a traditional general management-type role where I’m primarily responsible for driving business results. In some ways, I feel like it’s made sense throughout my career. I’ve had these old diversified experiences. I’ve gotten to a point where I feel that I have broad scope and responsibility, but it wasn’t because I planned it all out. It was because I focused on learning, adapting, and acquiring new skills. That has helped me. There are different ways to get to where you want to go, but you don’t have to have it all planned out because frankly, nothing ever goes as planned.

You don’t need to have everything planned out because nothing ever goes as planned. Click To Tweet

It’s a little bit of what you talked about with your day earlier. Once everybody is online, it’s a free-for-all. Thanks for doing this. I appreciate it. It’s good to catch up with you and hear a bit about what you’re doing at Google. I appreciate you making time for this.

Thank you. It was a lot of fun. I look forward to staying connected.

I want to thank Dai for joining me to discuss his work on Google Cloud, his thoughts on leadership, his broader career journey, and what he has learned along the way. If you’re ready to take control of your career, you can visit PathWise.io. If you’d like more regular career insights, you can become a member. It’s free. You can also sign up on the website for our newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Thanks. Have a great day.

 

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About Dai Vu

CSCL 84 | Cloud MarketplaceDai Vu is a Tech Industry veteran. Dai has worked for Google in a variety of roles for almost 10 years and previously spent time at IBM, Microsoft, and SAP. He is also an Advisory Board member for CapitalG, the independent growth fund of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. His experience base spans general management, product management, go-to-market areas, strategy, and business development. He has a proven track record of bringing disruptive solutions to market and building new businesses.

Earlier in his career, Dai worked in management consulting, spending time at McKinsey – where we met – and then later at Boston Consulting Group. He has a Bachelors’ degree in Electrical Engineering from RPI, a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from UPenn, and an MBA from UPenn’s Wharton School. He and his family live in the Bay Area.

 

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