Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.
There aren't many billion dollar software companies that didn't raise venture capital funds.
But AppLovin CEO Adam Foroughi isn't like many people. Foroughi's colleagues tell me he's king of multitasking, organizing, and productivity. Not yet 40, he and his wife are raising five children under the age of 9 without any extra help. Foroughi doesn't even have a personal assistant at AppLovin, and he manages his inbox himself.
He and his wife maintain "running dates" three to four times a week to help keep their relationship and bodies healthy.
Foroughi almost sold his startup to a Chinese company for $1.4 billion, but the deal was blocked by the United States Committee on Foreign Investment, following the administration's reluctance to approve Chinese deals. But sometimes blessings come in disguise, and AppLovin is now worth $2 billion and on a path to go public in the next 12 to 18 months.
Foroughi has some unconventional views on entrepreneurship and productivity, but with AppLovin employee retention at four to five years on average, he's doing something right. Here are some of the most interesting insights and pieces of advice he shared with me:
1. Trade office politics for execution.
Foroughi strives to maintain a meritocratic operating culture of "just get stuff done," no matter how much his company grows or scales. Rather than striving for perfection out of the gate, he and his team optimize for execution and results through ongoing iterations.
"People shouldn't keep making the same mistakes multiple times, but it's fine the first time," says Foroughi.
He has no patience for office politics, and says, "I don't care if the lowest or highest person on a team has an idea; just execute. I don't care if [their idea] bugs people, as long as it gets results."
2. Have fewer meetings, so you can focus on what really matters.
Since Foroughi is obsessed with productivity, I was curious about what his meetings look like. His philosophy is simple but also brutally honest. He told me, "the meeting has to have value for me personally to be in it or I'm going to walk out." He believes his employees should only attend meetings where they can contribute value, and that all meetings should have a clearly defined purpose, or they shouldn't be taking place. According to Foroughi, AppLovin employees spend more time interviewing new hires than in meetings.
Foroughi says having kids forced him to put things into perspective with time management. While some CEO's calendars are filled with business dinners, it takes a lot to get Foroughi to miss dinner with his family. "A work dinner must be really impactful or I won't take it. So there's a really high bar, because I will rarely miss time at home with my family for that," says Foroughi.
3. Find growing markets in which to solve a burning problem.
While some sales consultants tell startup founders to "nail a niche," Foroughi firmly believes entrepreneurs need to look for fast-growing markets and try to solve a problem there. Of course, big problems in big markets are even better, and Foroughi recommends trying to "build something that addresses that problem at scale, and then just hire the right people."
4. You don't need venture capital to hire great people.
Early on, Foroughi felt it was important to raise venture capital from top investors, because that would be a signal to early employees that they should join the company. However, Foroughi was unable to raise funds early on, and ended up bootstrapping AppLovin until he could get funds from private equity. What he found was that with a good business model and the right mix of company culture and leadership, he could still attract the talent he wanted--and for less dilution.
5. Don't hire for pedigree.
AppLovin tries to hire fast but precisely. Typical interviews are often analytical, but also stress if they are truly a match for that particular role or not. Foroughi believes that while many people may be qualified to do a job, if their personal and professional goals don't match the role, you still shouldn't hire them. "We don't want people trying to get stepping-stone jobs to some other end goal, whether they know it or not. We're looking for people who want to do something big in their lives that align with what we're trying to do at AppLovin," says Foroughi.
Foroughi particularly seeks hires that are self-motivated and intellectually curious, but also those who have gone above and beyond what's typical. For example, he says if he's hiring someone from Stanford or Harvard, he doesn't want someone who "had an easy path," but rather "worked full-time to support themselves through school." In fact, some of his top employees in the leadership team didn't graduate high school, but are far more productive and results-oriented than the average individual.
6. It's OK if employees eventually outgrow your company.
AppLovin also recently implemented a special program for employees who have worked at least four years to get six months pay to figure out what they want to do instead. This program is especially geared to entrepreneurial AppLovin employees who may be interested in starting their own business. Foroughi says a couple of startups are already forming, and that these alumni also get access to AppLovin resources and the executive team for advice on starting a business.
"This program is really about entrepreneurship versus taking an equity stake," explained AppLovin chief marketing officer, Katie Jansen.
Foroughi wants to make sure his employees are continuously learning and growing. He believes if they've reached a point where they're not, they should have the company's support to do something bigger and better.