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Lessons from the Top: Adesto’s CEO Speaks to MBA Students

A couple of times a year, MBA students from INSEAD – a top-ranking graduate business school with campuses in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East – visit Adesto. The agenda? To hear from Adesto’s CEO, Narbeh Derhacobian, about his experiences in business – and to pick up a few pointers on starting and growing companies.

The most recent visit – with about 30 students in attendance – kicked off with Narbeh giving a disclaimer that the views he would share are his own and come from the point of view of a highly-competitive, change-oriented co-founder of a startup.

The key takeaways from the meeting were Narbeh’s thoughts on what it takes to survive the many surprises in the life of a startup – navigating through the change and emerging intact with a growth-oriented business.

First, the Team. This is the most crucial factor for success. Narbeh points out that if you give a great idea to a lousy team, nothing will come out of it. Conversely, regardless of whether the idea is great or not, a strong team will make something valuable out of it. Of course, it’s not about great individuals: team dynamics and communications are critical. And integrity is also key, since trust is the foundation of communication.

Conviction is just as important. From the start of the company onward, Narbeh points out, “you will be punched multiple times. You must believe in what you are doing when you start a company so that you can survive those punches.”

Perseverance goes hand in hand with conviction. On this point, Narbeh quoted Winston Churchill: “If you are going through hell, just keep going.” This will get you where you need to be.

Attitude is another important attribute, this time illustrated by American football player Jack Lambert (displaying a toothless snarl). According to a Wikipedia article, Lambert was named by The Sports List in 2004 as the toughest football player of all time. Narbeh points out that attitude must start at the top and permeate the organization.

Commitment is also critical. Commitment to delivering – whether it’s a project, the revenue, the shareholder value, or some other commitment, to succeed you must deliver it.

According to Narbeh, “if you wrap integrity, conviction, perseverance, attitude and commitment around a solid team, unless an asteroid is about to hit the earth, you have the recipe for success.”

A little bit of luck never hurts either.

As time goes on in a company, Narbeh points out that the CEO needs to be able to step back and trust the stellar team that he or she has assembled. Since he has an engineering background, especially early on at Adesto, he would often feel like jumping in to solve technical issues. He’s since then learned to trust, encourage people to take initiative, and to foster an environment of trust.

He also encourages his team to be “comfortably uncomfortable.”

“An organization is like a muscle,” he says. “If you are too comfortable, it’s time to change. But don’t overstress it.”

Today, one of the things that Narbeh makes sure to do is periodically remind folks of how far they’ve already come. “If you do a quick look back to see your amazing progress, it can push you forward toward the future,” he says.

Looking at how far Adesto has come from a three-person team with no product and no customers in 2005 to the 250+ employees, 5,000+ customers and broad offering of IoT products we have today, it seems that Narbeh has the right recipe. But don’t worry, we’re not too comfortable.