Tim Campos: From Facebook CIO to Start-up Co-Founder Part 1

Episode 89

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Imagine accepting the CIO job at Facebook right as the social media network was about to take off. Now imagine that your first task is to fix a complex calendar system that is causing headaches throughout the company and, oh by the way, if you can’t do it you’re fired. That was the scenario Tim Campos (LinkedIn | Twitter) found himself in but don’t worry because, spoiler alert, he was able to figure it out. 

On this special two-part episode of IT Visionaries, Tim joins us to share that story and so much more, including how he lept from Facebook into his own start-up, Woven, what it means to be a CIO, the importance of integration and mentorship, and even a few stories about Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. 

This is part one of Tim’s interview. Stay tuned for part two next week.

Key Takeaways:

Tim’s Background — (1:40)

As a kid, Tim enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked and then try to put them back together, including the computers his dad would bring home. His love of technology grew from there and he followed his passion into the field of software engineering. 

Joining Facebook — (4:40)

Tim had been a CIO prior to joining Facebook in 2010. But when he was interviewing at Facebook, he was in the middle of taking some time off and in the middle of possibly launching his own start-up with some friends. They were all taking an entrepreneurial class and actually studying Facebook when Tim was called in for an interview. The interview process went well and Tim was offered the role of CIO. 

When he took the job, Tim’s main goal was making every part and person in the company more productive. And at Facebook, that didn’t mean buying the latest software or using some new tool on the market, it meant completely reinventing how a process was done or how a system was built and making it unique to Facebook. At the time Facebook was still relatively small with 1,400 employees and an IT department of maybe 40 people. Tim expected the company to grow, so he had to manage that as well. 

“We were in an entrepreneurial class and studying Facebook and I got the opportunity to interview at Facebook. I figured I wasn’t that serious about going back and doing another CIO gig, but it was interesting for me to have an opportunity to go in and see the company from the inside out. And I kind of fell in love with it….It was clear to me this was a company that was going to go someplace, but it was also fun and intense and full of just ridiculously smart people. And I was drawn to that.”

“When I came to Facebook, even though I was a very technical CIO, a big part of how I approached the role was asking what is the business problem for me to solve at Facebook? And my job at the company was productivity. It was let’s go and figure out ways to make software engineers more productive, salespeople, more productive, recruiters more productive. Basically any large scale function and ultimately any employee, how do we cut the work out of their work and make it not only more efficient for them, but also more enjoyable? And to do that at a company like Facebook was not about going and buying other people’s software. The company had already done a lot of that by the time I got there. And so, we weren’t going to become more productive by implementing a CRM because we had a CRM or by implementing an ERP because we had an ERP, we were going to come become more productive by changing what it means to sell or changing what it means to recruit.”

“The best way to protect the culture is not to have any more people than you have to have. And the only way to do that is to have a productive culture. And so, like I said, we had to build a bunch of tools in order to do that and a lot of that technology was really amazing technology. We’re talking about things that could be used for data migration, for next-generation reporting tools, next-generation CRM technology. Some really sophisticated recruiting technology and calendaring technology.”

The job of a CIO — (11:15)

Today, CIOs are more and more frequently ascending to the role of CEO at some point, and that is in part because CIOs are so deeply involved in all parts of the business. Tim explains that as the CIO and head of the technology department, you are naturally going to be involved in what every other department is doing because every department needs IT. But as CIO you need to go a step deeper and truly understand how each department works so that you can build what that team needs to the exact specifications that will yield the highest productivity. 

“Everything that a corporation does that involves technology, therefore, involves their technology department. So you have to be a general manager. I’d have to understand how does sales sell. How does HR recruit? How do they manage their workforce? How does the engineering organization build the product? How does the operations team run the site? How does the facilities department build new facilities? How does the security department provide security for the workforce? All of these things are things my team would have to be experts in. So I’d have to have a general knowledge of them in order to be effective. And so while it doesn’t make me an expert in every single one of those areas, it absolutely gives me the most global purview that anybody would have at the company with the exception of maybe the CFO and definitely the CEO.”

Identifying a problem with calendar systems — (14:00)

One of Tim’s first jobs while at Facebook was to fix and manage some of the basic infrastructures that weren’t working right. That included the calendaring system, which Mark Zuckerburg mandated be fixed immediately. To do that Tim says he had to get into the guts of how the calendar system was built and run and he couldn’t believe how bad it was. Facebook had found ways to integrate so many things, yet the calendar was integrated with nothing. Tim wanted to know why the calendar was used only to set a date and time. He saw an opportunity to include so much more in a calendar including a meeting agenda, action items, a summary after the fact, a history or whether the meeting had been rescheduled, etc. Eventually, he took those opportunities and the idea to integrate everything and he turned it into his own start-up, Woven. 

Calendars and the interface people use for calendaring was ancient technology, unchanged for years. Tim was ready to disrupt that space. With Woven, he wanted to create a calendar that was connected with everything else in your life and take the hassle out of scheduling. Rather than simply creating a digital version of something from the analog world, Tim thought that there was an opportunity to build something better and more practical.

“A couple of other admins who basically read me the riot act on how bad the calendar was for them and how it was causing just no end of problems. It was really affecting their ability to do their jobs. And I had to fix it. It was my job and I had a week to do it. And if I didn’t figure it out in a week that I was done. And it was a hard problem to fix.”

“I had to get into just the inner guts of how calendars are built and run. And as a software engineer, I was horrified. I was like, oh my God, how can a piece of technology used by so many people be so bad? And the more I learned about it, the more I realized why and why it wasn’t changing. And that created this motivation to do stuff with it.”

“Time is the most valuable asset that we have. It’s the most critical choice that we make every day, is how are we going to spend our time?”

“Why is it hard to schedule? Well, I want to meet with you, you want to meet with me. But we don’t know when we both can meet and our calendars don’t talk to each other. So we have to revert to human beings translating what’s in the calendar into English or whatever language you want to use to say, ‘Hey, how about next Thursday at 4:00 PM? Or how about Friday after five o’clock?’ It’s incredibly inefficient. Why can’t the calendars talk to each other? And that’s just the beginning of the problem. It’s also a question of why is it that the information that goes along with these meetings included? You sent me a long list of questions and stuff to be prepared for that’s ultimately related to this consumption of time, but it’s in a separate place.”

“What was the calendar when it existed in paper form? It was a paper diary that would basically tell you what is it that you were doing that day. And that’s what the calendar does really, really well. Where am I going next? What is my meeting? How do I dial into it? That’s what the calendar is designed for. But when you get into planning, right? Planning wasn’t something that you really did very effectively using that paper. You’d have an admin to coordinate all your events and things like that or follow-ups or the action items that come from events. These didn’t have paper analog at the time, so they never got represented in how we build the calendar until today. And this is the reason why we call Woven. Woven is what we’re trying to do — weave all this stuff together with your time so that you have a much better representation of what it is that you’re doing.”

How do you justify the need for Woven to leadership — (34:25)

Every organization has specific needs, priorities, and goals either on the product or revenue side. The CIO knows all these and can also tell you what would make the organization more productive in meeting all those priorities and goals. The simplest justification is that time is money and saving time means that your human resources are allocated in other areas and your employees are able to focus on their actual jobs. Tim says they are further adding value by building purpose-built applications for business functions in the enterprise that will have a proven ROI.

“Woven is built for individuals, teams, and organizations where time is money. Time is the most valuable asset that that organization has. And the amount of money that one needs to spend on a product like Woven or any kind of productivity software in relation to the value of the employees that you’re trying to get efficiencies for, it’s a very, very good ROI.”

The importance of integration — (37:40)

In the past, integration was all about file formats and making sure you could move one file to another place and have it work seamlessly. Today, because the world of technology is so much more complex and there are different clouds, apps and other software people are using constantly, integrating between all those technologies is a huge challenge. 

“The technology landscape is ripe for a solution like this today because 10 years ago, integration was all about file format exchange.”

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Tim Campos has gone from Facebook CIO to start-up founder currently working on solving a problem that has been plaguing everyone for decades: the calendar.

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