In an era when many founders are looking to build their companies virtually overnight and get rich quick, Tristan Walker is a rarity. The 36-year-old founder and CEO of Walker & Company wants to build a business that will truly stand the test of time. That's why he makes every decision with legacy in mind.
"Some people just want to get rich, which is fine," Walker said during an Inc. webinar on Wednesday. "Some people want to see their vision brought to fruition, which is also fine. For me, it was clear. I didn't do this for the money. It was to be around 150 years from now."
Walker's company, which created Bevel, a grooming line designed for African-American men, and Form, a personalized hair care line for women, was founded in Palo Alto, California but recently moved to Atlanta. In 2018, Walker sold the business to Procter & Gamble, and remains CEO.
Here are some highlights of Walker's conversation with Inc. editor-at-large Tom Foster.
The dangers of VC funding
Walker's career includes a stint in business development at the social check-in app Foursquare and as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz, a tech-focused venture capital firm. Even though he raised $33 million for his company, he isn't so sure that courting VCs ought to be on every founder's to-do list.
"I hate fund raising," he says. "If I had my druthers I'd never do it again." One reason for that: Most VCs want you to grow and exit--fast. One way or another, you'll have to return that money (or more) to your investors. That's a problem, especially for someone who wants to be around for a long time. "Most of the mistakes I've made as CEO were a function of having raised that money," Walker said.
"Be thoughtful about whether you need the money," he added. "Venture capital isn't the gospel."
Values above all
When he began envisioning Walker & Company, Walker came up with six personal values he wanted to use as a foundation: courage, inspiration, respect, judgment, wellness, and loyalty. "I wanted to ensure I had a framework of objectivity to guide my decisions," he said. "I'm not 100 percent there but we have a framework."
In coming up with those values, Walker was careful to conceive them in a way that was "colorless" and "genderless," ensuring that everyone could relate--and aspire--to them. "These are things we can all identify with," he says.
As he makes hiring decisions for his growing team, Walker said, he uses these six qualities as his guide. He finds them way more useful than hiring for culture, which may help in finding a good golfing partner or someone who can be fun in meetings, but which does not support the longer-term goals of the company.
"I will always hire a potential jerk who shares my values above a nice person who doesn't," Walker said. "If our values don't match, there's no level of management that will change that."
How Covid-19 might change companies
Like a lot of CEOs, Walker is looking at the current climate--with many employees working from home and centralized offices feeling less and less necessary--and is trying to imagine what's next. He is, for example, weighing what might happen if and when companies no longer have expectations that employees will go out for happy hour drinks, or even share many interests. In other words, he asked, "Will Covid-19 start a crop of culture-less companies?"