The Critical Shift: Claire Lew
By: Tom Cullen / July 17, 2017
We’re on a mission to find the point in people’s lives where things shifted to launch them toward success. We interview successful people and share their stories to find their critical shifts. Our hope is that through these interviews, we find commonalities that will help us all shift upward toward greater success.
There are a few special people in the world who are successful and smart but equally humble and kind. When we started The Critical Shift, I wanted to talk to as many of those type of people as possible.
One of the first people I knew we had to talk to was Claire. She has all the qualities of a great leader, but also is a genuinely great person. I love the reactions I get when I ask someone if they know Claire. If they know her, they always get a big smile and always say something like: “I love Claire, she is amazing”.
She runs a company that helps CEO’s be better leaders. To be able to do that at such a young age means you have to be special. And Claire is.
Adjusting to New Environments
Growing up, Claire moved all over the country as her dad looked for the perfect opportunity. He just never seemed happy with his job. With all this moving, she was always the new kid in school. She felt like she was always introducing herself and trying to make new friends. As terrifying as it was, Claire now is seeing some benefits.
“I look back and don’t have regrets from this experience since I am a huge introvert. I had to train myself to be comfortable walking into a room not knowing a single person. It really helps now.”
Critical Shift #1
Growing up, Claire was the typical definition of success. She got straight A’s, was the captain of her sports teams, and was always at the top. When she started in college at Northwestern she continued as the overachiever that she always was.
After a very bureaucratic student government meeting her Freshman year, she met Neal Sales-Griffin and Mike McGee.They met up afterwords and within a few minutes, Neal looked at Claire and asked: “What are you passionate about?”. That was a tough question she’d never thought about. She realized that everything she was trying to achieve was driven by a quest to please others. For the first time, she took the time to think about what she was passionate about.
She knew she loved solving problems, leadership, and just helping people. She quickly noticed that none of these passions were in the Econ classes that she was taking. She found her outlet by continuing to meet up with Neal and Mike and a few others to talk about businesses they could start. As she learned more about starting a business, she realized that entrepreneurship was exactly what she was passionate about. Even though she had offers from a lot of top companies, Claire graduated from college and turned them all down to dive into entrepreneurship with that group. They had decided to start a coding bootcamp which was unheard of at the time. Helping start Code Academy (which later changed its name to Starter League) was an intensive, amazing experience where Claire felt she learned a lot… but also grueling and started to take a toll on her. Claire, Neal and Mike all realized that she was starting to get burnt out, and wasn’t as passionate about the company as she should be. So she left the company, and decided to take some time off.
Critical Shift #2
Claire put her entrepreneurship dreams on hold and went to work for a 6 person e-commerce company. She was doing marketing, sales, partnership operations, and even a little design work. It wasn’t too long before she started noticing that she couldn’t talk openly to her boss. She couldn’t give helpful feedback. Claire started researching management and feedback. She wanted to know how to fix her situation. In her research she realized that the atmosphere a CEO created was imperative to having a culture of open feedback. In her current company, the ability to have that open environment just wasn’t there.
“I started researching the topic and realized that giving feedback to management was a very common problem. It turns out that it doesn’t matter how great of a CEO a person is, it’s just hard to generate that open and honest environment.”
Claire had saved up a bit of money and decided to head back into the entrepreneurship world to solve this problem. Her goal was to help businesses understand how employees feel about their company and help cultivate a more open culture.
Claire had become friends with Neal and Mike again and she turned back to her old crew to talk about her ideas. Once they heard about what she was working on, their eyes lit up. Now that Code Academy (now Starter League) was really growing, they were having the same issues that she was describing. The timing couldn’t have been better as Neal and Mike had become close friends with Jason Fried and the team at Basecamp. Jason was really interested in what she was doing and became Claire’s first customer. As she ran her program on Basecamp she learned that they were working on some software to solve the same problems. They quickly joined forces and Claire became the CEO of Know Your Company.
Bringing it full circle, Claire is helping companies avoid the problems that caused her dad to be constantly searching for a better job.
Not surprisingly, Claire’s family really shaped who she is and is a big reason for her success. She doesn’t talk a lot about her Grandfather, but I think it’s important to know who Claire really is. Rising from poverty, he became a four-star general in the Korean army and eventually became an ambassador to the US. Although they haven’t spent a lot of time together, it’s clear that he has had an impact on her life. One story that really floored me was a very powerful gift he has left for his family. Once Claire got to Northwestern, she found out that he created a college fund for his grandchildren and family. The only requirement is that once you are able to, you pay back into the fund so it continues to help the next generation pay for their college. The idea behind this is selfless, pure, kind, but also wise and unifying. This story embodies who Claire is and where she came from. It’s clear that things like this have affected Claire in so many positive ways.
The Greatest Gift
I believe in you. You can do it.
When was the last time someone said “I believe in you” to you? It’s such a powerful sentence. Since before Claire can remember, her parents repeated those sentences to her as often as possible. They have never wavered. Claire is super sharp, but as a woman of color and a typical person just growing up, doubts in her ability sometimes creep in. Her family and parents have always jumped in to tell her: “Whatever you want to do, you can do it. We believe in you.” They said it so much that eventually she believed it. It’s clearly done wonders for her confidence and from the outside, it might be the greatest gift her parents have given her.
- Open, honest communication with your team
- Kind people win friends
- I believe in YOU. You can do it!
Medium: Claire Lew
Personal Website: https://knowyourcompany.com/
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