C-suite career advice: Lucas Funes, Webee

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? "If you’re in management or at the c-level, the skill set changes across departments...”


Name: Lucas Funes

Company: Webee

Job Title: CEO and founder

Location: Sunnyvale, CA

Lucas Funes started Webee to give enterprises the tools to easily combine data and insights in a new way that provides a live, 360-degree view of the operations they are monitoring. Powered by AI, Webee’s no-code, end-to-end IoT toolset allows simple connectivity through sensors and devices. Prior to co-founding Webee, Funes was selected among 77 Latino entrepreneurs from across the United States to be a part of the third cohort of the Stanford Latino Entrepreneur Leaders Program (SLELP), a program jointly developed by Stanford faculty and the Latino Business Action Network (LBAN) that focuses on helping Latino business owners scale their businesses. Leveraging an educational background steeped in innovative technology, electronics and telecommunications, he also co-founded two companies focused around streamlining business operations.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Sometimes you need to press the gas pedal, but at times it’s also important to take a step back and press the brakes. It’s like an F1 race. If you press the brakes too late, you crash.  This was an important takeaway for me from Stanford’s Jerry Porras, during a course I took while participating in the Stanford Latino Entrepreneur Leaders Program (SLELP). The program is jointly developed by Stanford faculty and the Latino Business Action Network (LBAN) and focuses on helping Latino business owners scale their businesses.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst piece of advice I received is that we needed to hire people fast and raise more money quickly. We weren’t ready and were reaching beyond the means of what the organisation could do at the time. If you’re not ready to scale, don’t do it. I believe this is a common mistake startups run into, especially at early stages. Another issue is over-valuation. Putting a high value on a company early on may prove problematic a couple years later.

We knew we were ready to step up hiring and bring on investors because we started feeling the pull from customers instead of a push. We realised it was time to hire a team to meet customer needs and accommodate the growth of the business.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? If they start a career by building a startup or working in tech, they should genuinely focus on doing what they love and be passionate about what they are building. This passion will fuel long-term ambition and equip them with the resilience and emotional fortitude they need to keep pushing the envelope.

If someone is working as part of a team, they should focus on trying to find a role where they can really do what they love and bring value to the company.

In relaying this advice, I consider my own trajectory. When I was two-and-a-half years old, I broke a lamp, then tried to fix it and got electrocuted. From then on out I became fixated on why the lamp needed cables in the first place and the idea of wireless objects. When I was 15, I built a wireless system to connect alarms in my house. That passion for IT continued into my early career, where I focused on software development, electronics, and cloud-based software.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I did. I was lucky enough to love the idea of technology from the start. I was born in Argentina and my father brought home an old computer with cassettes to load software. I became interested in the idea of programming, and one of the first programming languages I learned was Logo.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I started programming and realised I wanted to learn more. When I was 16 or 17 years old I was hired by a software company to build databases. Before that, I had worked at a small shop that fixed TVs and cassette tapes.

I loved playing guitar in my teen years, so I set out to build a sound studio recorder where I recorded music on chrome cassettes. You could say that paved the way for my IT roles later down the line.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? I think there’s an assumption that people who work in tech aren’t very well-rounded. Most of us have a number of interests outside of tech and are not sitting in front of our computers all day long. We have other passions. For example, I enjoy kite surfing and, as I mentioned earlier, playing music.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? People interested in a c-level position need to focus on strengthening their management and communication skills. It’s important to be disciplined and organised, but not so disciplined that it is perceived as bureaucratic. And while it may sound counterintuitive, work isn’t just about the execution of tasks or completion of projects. Executives need to develop emotional intelligence so they can empathise with their employees and see things from different points of view.

Don’t just prioritise feedback from senior team members. Junior team members often have great ideas, especially those who are working in the trenches.

Speak less and listen more. Be thoughtful about hiring and you will hire well.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I’m an inventor. Therefore, I see my career as finding a path to grow Webee and create new innovations that will better help the planet. This will be accomplished through a focus on technologies that enable global sustainability and eliminate food waste. In reducing waste, we’re also committed to delivering food to people who need it – wasted food helps no one.

We focus on this mission in everything we do and every minute we spend innovating our technology.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Yes, but achieving that balance is sometimes very difficult.

I’m fortunate in that the work we do is a passion of mine. Working is enjoyable, so it doesn’t often feel like a burden. But it can certainly get tiring, especially as we navigate growing pains. When I start to get particularly drained, I make sure to take time to rest, visit the beach to surf, and play music.

Realistically, I could do a better job of striking a work-life balance on a day-to-day basis. Fortunately, we have an amazing team at Webee. It’s a team I trust and rely on.

In the beginning, I mentioned that it’s sometimes better to press the brakes than push the gas pedal. I think this mantra goes along with the notion of striking a work-life balance.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I would have moved to Silicon Valley earlier. In 2008 I had the opportunity to work in the Valley, but instead of staying I opted to move back to Argentina. It could have accelerated my career and the company’s trajectory. But I then remind myself it may not have been the right timing to get Webee off the ground.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I believe the combination of both makes a difference. There is something called the ‘Startup Weekend,’ which consists of an event running Friday to Sunday that gives people a chance to collaborate on building things. It’s a real adrenaline rush. A degree gives you the foundation upon which to build knowledge, so in my mind the combination of both is ideal.

While it depends on the role, I tend to consider candidates who have both bootcamp experience and CS degrees. In some cases, we are looking for employees to push the limits and be ready to move fast. In other instances, we want employees who are a bit more methodical and still agile.

How important are specific certifications? As my own career has been through several iterations, my mindset about this has evolved. In the beginning I thought achieving certifications was key but came to the conclusion they weren’t always integral to a company or person’s success. That’s not to say programs or career certifications aren’t helpful. They can be because they equip people with foundational knowledge. But certification courses need to be combined with real-world experience. They’re not enough on their own.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates?  First, I look for candidates with communication skills. By this, I mean candidates who demonstrate they will listen to their team members and can verbalise their own needs in a clear, precise manner. We want people who are willing to speak up and who don’t expect others to read their minds.

In the past, we hired people who were great on paper, but didn’t have the desired communication skills – that’s a challenge. It’s important team members actively listen to one another, respect different viewpoints and work together find solutions.

I also look for people with an innovative spirit. I’m interested in hiring people who want to push the limits, create, and innovate. Along these lines, they need to be comfortable with failure. When people are afraid to fail, they can’t innovate.

On that note, you also can’t have a team that only consists of innovators. It’s important to strike a balance between innovators and pragmatists.

Lastly, I like to hire people who are open to breaking down barriers and shattering the status quo. I love people who believe in the impossible. There is always a way. And in the journey towards finding a way, there are often opportunities to further innovate – you’d be surprised at what incredible things can happen with this type of mindset.

What would put you off a candidate? I’m put off by candidates who need everything to be perfect and employees who need a definitive answer for everything, all the time. In the startup world, this is impossible. Candidates who aren’t strong communicators are also problematic, as are those who don’t acknowledge they have room for improvement or who aren’t willing to take feedback.

I’m also not interested in candidates who are unsure of why they want to join Webee and are just generally indecisive.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? A common mistake candidates make is overselling themselves and their knowledge. I’ve had candidates who have emphasised how senior they are but when they’re asked follow-up questions, they’re unable to answer them. There’s nothing wrong with being honest and humble.

I’ve also interviewed candidates who are candid, but there is such a thing as being too candid.

Another mistake is to not have an idea about why you want to join the company in the first place. As I mentioned previously, I’ve interviewed candidates who don’t really understand Webee or the company mission and don’t have an answer about why they want to join.

Candidates would also do well to emphasise how they can bring value to the company or help the company grow versus fixating on what the company can do for them.

Lastly, don’t be a robot. Be yourself! There’s no need to follow a script.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? If you’re in management or at the c-level, the skill set changes across departments. What might work well in management may not work in a different position. But, from an overall big picture, I believe you need both technical skills and business skills. Successful teams are almost always composed of technical employees and employees with a business mindset.

I also see skill sets that are undervalued - specifically, marketing and communications skills. The marketing and communications teams are critical for success, because they connect the dots between the sales and operations teams.

It takes time to develop professional skill sets. You might have an excellent manager who has mastered that level but needs a few years to transition into a director or VP role. Sometimes, you have employees who aren’t able to make that jump. Webee recognises this, and it’s one of the reasons why we offer a coaching program which encourages career development or transitions inside our organisation. For example, in the past we’ve had employees who joined as developers and later moved into different, non-engineering roles.