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How Stripe Scaled - Notes from Office Hours with Claire Hughes Johnson

A few weeks ago, Office Hours at Redpoint welcomed Claire Hughes-Johnson, former COO at Stripe and VP at Google. Claire’s operational experience is one-of-a-kind, and the conversation focused on scaling startups.

I remember joining Google in 2005. In the halls, I heard colleagues say great things about how terrific a leader Claire is. When I read Elad Gil’s High Growth Handbook and saw Claire’s unauthorized guide on how to work with her, I knew we needed to have her on the show.

Here are my notes and the full transcript is here

On Manager Guides: the manager guides stemmed from Google, where Claire ran the Great Manager Awards. One year, Claire moderated a panel during which a recipient mentioned this idea, following the example of Urs Hölzle, who had done the same. Claire replicated it at Stripe. These guides were voluntary: each manager elected to do it. Manager guides worked particularly well across regions and across cultures as a way of building rapport quickly during high growth.

On aligning a company: Today, Stripe operates with quarterly OKRs but it used to operate with a 6 month goal planning process. Goal frameworks ensure that the priorities of the leadership team coalesce the priorities of the rest of the organization. The particular framework isn’t important. Rather, the clarity of the goals and the repetition in their communication create internal alignment.

On metrics: Early in Stripe’s history, the company tracked output metrics in dashboards. Those dashboards predated goals. When the leadership team shifted to set goals, they asked managers to track input metrics (leading indicators), operational metrics, and strategic metrics. Strategic metrics are the numbers that move over quarters or years, eg, share of global payment volume.

On internal meetings: Stripe asked teams to create strategy documents to describe why they exist - what’s the team’s mission and strategy? Who are the customers (internal or external)? These documents are called charters. Those charters created a sequence of business reviews, which started with written memos. The color, the narrative of how the team was doing was the most valuable part of these documents. The cadence for each team changed depending on the state of that team.

Those are some of the many highlights from the session. Claire’s experience on the leadership team of two of the greatest startup successes has given her a panoply of lessons and insights on how to scale.

Claire is writing a book about management due to publish next year. Given everything I learned during our session, I’m certain it will become a classic.