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Liviu Tanase on How To Navigate Uncertainty.

Liviu Tanase is the founder and CEO of ZeroBounce and a serial entrepreneur of more than 18 years. In this interview, he shares insights with The Industry Leaders about how to navigate uncertainty as a business leader.

Could you please share a bit about yourself, your background, and the journey that has led you to become an entrepreneur? What makes your perspective unique on the subject of leadership and navigating uncertainty?

Technology and business have always fascinated me. I got my start early, before turning 18, selling computers offline. It was exciting and it gave me confidence about the possibilities ahead of me. It felt like anything was possible – and I still feel that way. I founded more companies in my home country of Romania, but I started wondering about the United States. I could see myself in California and felt like I belonged there from the moment I arrived. It’s a mecca for technology people! In 2015, some like-minded creative people and I started to dream about the ideal email validation software. We understood how valuable email addresses really are, and that there must be a way to separate and save all of the good data from the bad. That’s how ZeroBounce started. We’ve helped so many individuals and businesses reach the inbox and that mission still excites me. Along this long, winding road I have met every kind of person there is. I’ve learned that if you can’t find out what every person needs, you’ll never be a good leader. You’ve got to select the right people and the thing some leaders don’t see is how important nurturing your flock is. There’s been uncertainty at every turn. From personal things, like what will my experience as an American be like? Will the things I’ve learned in my home country translate to the United States? There’s also uncertainty any time a company grows. Will we be able to serve new groups of customers in new industries? And every time we launch a tool or feature we have uncertainty. What I always keep in mind is that the biggest mistake you could ever make is not venturing into uncharted waters just because things seem to be going well. That’s called stagnation. I like to keep the image of a raft moving through roaring rapids in my mind. What I don’t want to do is wade in a murky pond.

You and your business have presumably faced some interesting challenges and changes over the years. Can you describe a key moment when you felt uncertainty was at its peak?

There’s always nervousness when you’re starting a new company - and we felt it as we were getting ready to launch ZeroBounce. Every now and then someone will say something that makes you question direction. There were many avenues to take and I’ve had many ideas for innovations or improvements on a variety of technologies. When we launched it felt how I imagined a gambler must feel when the dice are still in the air. Exciting? Yes, but at the same time more than a bit nerve-wracking. The way I overcame this was by reminding myself that I’d had experience launching other companies. Also, I knew that an excellent product will succeed if it’s built by competent people and if it’s marketed properly. My leadership approach is to move forward both personally and as the captain. We assume as if failure was not a possibility. If you focus on reasons you’ll fail, you and the team will start veering in that direction. If you focus on how you will exceed expectations, failure feels like it isn’t even in the realm of being realistic. My team doesn’t think of “if we’ll fail.” We think about what ways we can win even bigger than first imagined.

From your experience, what are the core principles or values that guide a leader during uncertain times?

One of the main principles is thoroughness. “Good enough” isn’t good enough at all. I like to lead by example, and that’s another core principle. One of the concepts I like to personally adhere to is to “aim small, miss small.” It’s amazingly effective. If you focus on a smaller target, you may not exactly nail it, but you’re still going to hit your overall goal. Aiming for a precise target is one of the ways you accomplish thoroughness or a high quality standard. The other core principle is to do far more than you say. Talk is dirt cheap, but it takes movement to see success. Whenever I’m thinking about emailing someone on our team or a partner, I always think if it’s possible for me to change the message from “I just did this” instead of “here’s my plan.” Do it rather than say it.

How do you cultivate a culture of resilience and adaptability within your team? Can you share a practical example where this culture made a significant difference?

I’ve come to believe there is a cornerstone to resilience and adaptability to whatever your team is facing that few talk about. Not complaining. Nothing can demotivate a team and color any interaction quite like whining. Most obstacles that we are disheartened by seem trivial once they’re overcome. For instance, we were all frustrated to learn that we moved too fast on our development of some new services. We knew it the moment we realized it was necessary to redo things. With that said, I’m proud to report that there was no complaining or at least it was minimal. Nobody made up excuses. The team quickly understood we all needed to get back to work because they're all driven by the same ambition: to make the best product possible. The sooner you spring into action, the faster you’ll be celebrating your wins.

Many aspiring leaders struggle with the fear of failure, especially when the path ahead is unclear. What strategies or mental frameworks have you developed to overcome this fear and embrace uncertainty as an opportunity?

The best strategy for anytime you feel even the slightest doubt is action. Dwelling on doubts and fears is the quickest way to amplify those worries. I always remember the Adventures of Lewis and Clark and so many other accounts of and about explorers. If you don’t face the unknown, you’ll never get anywhere new. If it seems like I think about a lot of inspirational metaphors and historical examples, you’re right. Aside from action, I like to encourage a spirit of curiosity. When we wonder about the possibilities, we’re more likely to think creatively about the options ahead of us. I try to remember that you can be fearless and cautious at the same time. Risks are fine, but careless risks should be avoided at all costs.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes leaders make during uncertain times? Can you offer a real-life example where recognizing and avoiding such a mistake led to success?

We live in a time where it’s very easy to post information that may or may not be true. As your company becomes more prominent you can’t avoid being a part of the public conversation. That’s something that’s almost always a positive. However, it’s also inevitable that competitors and other individuals will spread inaccurate information that could potentially be hurtful. A common mistake is to panic. Let’s say a competitor writes something libelous. The truth always endures. There was a time when someone wrote something untruthful about us. A few people in the heat of the moment wanted to jump right in. My take on it was that we knew it wasn’t true and that other people would know that it wasn’t. I wanted us to approach the issue calmly and thoughtfully. In the end everything was fine. Could you imagine if we had allowed our emotions to take over?

Looking towards the future, how do you plan to continue evolving your leadership style to meet new uncertainties and challenges? What advice would you give to others looking to do the same?

If you’re going to be a leader, you need peers. I don’t have that much time for socializing, but it’s important to get some of it while you can. As my company continues to grow, I have to evolve along with it. Every so often I like a good game of chess. As much of a mental challenge as it is, thinking games relax me. In between games or moves, I’ll ask for honest feedback. My requests for feedback almost always have to do with personal evolution and the changes of my company as a whole. My advice to others looking to do the same is to find peers you trust and respect. Ask them for honest assessments of not only how you’re doing, but also your goals. Sometimes we’re so fixated on achieving our short and long-term goals that we lose sight of fine-tuning them. It’s not just our progress that needs to be assessed, but also what we seek to achieve. Sometimes this is as simple as upping the ante of what we’re shooting for.

You've clearly demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow through experience. Are there any books, mentors, or resources that have particularly influenced your leadership style? How would you recommend others to approach their leadership development journey?

It’s not a matter of what books I recommend, it’s the process of reading and sifting out the good from the bad. You should always be reading something. That’s something I’ve noticed with all successful people, they’re always eager to learn from the next book. If I’m asked to name a specific book, I always mention "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey, which is a famous work. Another book that I consider required reading is "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. The principle there is so important to keep in mind: good is the enemy of great. Good is not good enough. You must be great. If people want to keep evolving on their leadership and development journey, it’s crucial to get consistent and continuous education. I never consider a course or training as work. It’s exciting and it keeps me on my toes. Anytime one of our people wants to get some additional education or training, we encourage and support them to make it a reality.

For those who want to learn more about your leadership philosophy or explore the products and services offered by your company, what's the best way to connect with you or find out more about your work?


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