Updated: Sep 25
May's first job was as a CEO. She started her first company at the age of 20. She recently raised 12.5 Million dollars and is now on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Sounds easy, right :-) Here's how:
This interview was long overdue, but May Piamenta is one busy lady, so we caught up just as she returned from her tennis practice - she has time for that too. I follow May for some time, and I have behind-the-scenes access as she works closely with my husband, so I can tell you she's as real as it gets. She's warm, kind, diligent, a fantastic listener, and talking to her is a lesson in a growth mindset.
First job, CEO
No one knows how to be a CEO, but May's first job was as a CEO. She credits this for being spontaneous and opportunistic, which led her to great places.
Almost 40 employees work at the nearly two-year-old company May heads, Vee, and she says that her role as a CEO is to keep a growth mindset and learn; "I am keen to learn, I ask for feedback all the time. Continuous learning is very different from what you are taught to do when you grow up. When you are little, you are taught to think that you need to learn to become an expert, and this implies that once you are an expert, you give answers and don't ask questions, but I genuinely believe that if you don't learn, you waste your time."
Hire people with a Learning Mindset
May recalls, "When we were getting started, we hired people that knew everything, had vast experience, and it ended up being wrong for Vee. From my experience, at least when one gets started, it's best to hire people that know 70% of their role. This potential gap allows them to flex, learn, adjust well and grow with the company".
May had to learn everything from scratch. "I started a company without knowing things like how to do a QBR, what are KPIs or OKR, how to pay salaries. To learn, I met with many founders, and every founder I met, I asked for their time, and I asked this question "What now?" Founders were happy to share their learning and experience on what I should be solving for now vs. later".
Mentoring as a way of life
May walks the talk. She has 5 hours per week dedicated to meeting other CEOs for a one-on-one consultation and knowledge sharing. She also set up her own KPI to assign three mentors from her network for each Vee exec team member. "I just know that without my mentors showing me the road, I would have never been successful."
Surround yourself with great people
"Hire, work with, raise from... great people. Don't settle" May is proud of her group of forty employees and focuses much of her efforts to build a company with a great culture. She is also very proud of the zero attrition at her company during times of #greatresignation. She does it by setting a theme for every month, and this theme helps Vee employees build culture and focus their cultural activities. This month they were practicing talking about strengths.
"We did an exercise where we took a blank sheet of paper, and each employee needed to write three strengths they believe they had, and other employees added what they thought their strengths were as well. This way, each employee now has a visible list of their strengths."
They did this exercise because people focus too much on their weaknesses vs. their strengths. Yes, she believes awareness of weaknesses and working on them is important. Still, our strengths are powerful forces that bring solutions, creativity, and participation that we often forget to celebrate.
Focus on your strengths. It's a magical cure.
"When I first started Vee, many people were focusing on my age and the fact I was a CEO at 22. That's natural, and I'd probably react this way too, but once I embraced it, it stopped taking over the room, and people started seeing that I didn't see it as a limitation but as an advantage. At the age of 22, I have nothing but to make this company a success and give my all to it. As a strength, people buy into it, buy into my mission to make it a success, and are happy to join me. With that said, I am investing in them to make them, not just me, better, and Vee will grow alongside and thanks to their personal growth. "