C-suite career advice: Matthew Tillman, Haveninc.com

What tips would the c-suite give to the next generation?

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Name: Matthew Tillman

Company: Haveninc.com

Job Title: CEO & Founder

Location: Singapore


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?

I started my career in technology in the mid-90’s as a brash, self-taught programmer at the age of 17 so Axl Rose was a bigger influence than Peter Drucker. For more than half of my life I’ve had the luxury of receiving advice from successful entrepreneurs, investors, and colleagues who’ve had years of training at top universities. What I’ve learned from them would fill volumes. However, there is one piece of advice from Howard Schultz which has become my mantra, “you’re in the people business.” Once you understand what this means, it transforms the way you think about everything.


What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?

Of all the advice I’ve received, the “bad” advice has almost always been in service of the giver. I believe that there’s no such thing as bad advice simply advice that’s good for the giver or advice that’s good for the receiver. One example founders hear all the time from investors, “you should let my friend invest, he’d be really helpful”. Perhaps that’s true but it’s without question in service of the advisor.


What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?

Technology is an interesting category in that it cuts across every facet of business and humanity. The list of why people get into tech is as long as its many applications. Whether it be financial gain or something more altruistic, the ability to create businesses which are impossible to build without technology has served me best. Entrepreneurs tend to be an optimistic lot so the most important piece of advice I can offer is to spend time only on that which serves your purpose. Early in your career you’ll want to meet everyone, go to every VC filled meetup, grab coffee with every founder, and pitch every investor. Paraphrasing Thoreau, “the value of anything is the amount of life you pay for it.”


What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?

For someone thinking about founding a company, just do it. There’s no such thing as magic timing, only experiments that haven’t been run and success unachieved.

There are millions of bullet points for this but here are my top-five: 


  1. Evaluate the opportunity inside and out. Make sure you understand the types of people running the company and their vision. It’s still shocks me the number of C-level execs that apply without having done their homework.
  2. Don’t trust the marketing and PR from a company. Learn their goals and strategy for achieving those goals as quickly as possible. Be proactive because the answers are rarely offered for free.
  3. As a manager, be relentlessly unsatisfied with your team. Every team can be better and it’s your responsibility to make certain yours is the best.
  4. Recognize what motivates the people around you in life and in business. Live in service of helping those most important to you achieve their goals.
  5. Read something beyond business books. The worst parties are collections of people discussing the latest biography of a famous entrepreneur. History, philosophy, classic literature, it doesn’t matter. Read something beyond stories of the success of others.


Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?

I was asked by a young entrepreneur filled with the insecurity of pre-funding status how we choose investors at Haven: “don’t let anyone ride for free.” The startup game is surrounded with beggars and hangers-on much like the music and movie industry. There are many tales of the “advisor who helps us expand into new markets” or “has many VC contacts” not working out. Evaluate every participant-board member, employee, and partner-in service of your vision as if they were an employee.