March 19

3 min read

“I Would Tell People To Ask 'Why' More Often.”

Every week we send the same list of questions to a different founder from companies of all sizes. Each week we get new answers, insights, perspectives, and tips on how we all can shine a bit brighter.

Sanj Sanampudi

Co-Founder and CEO of Concert

Sanj Sanampudi is the Co-founder and CEO of Concert, a software that helps companies commission smarter through design and reporting that drives better performance. Concert is backed by RTP Ventures, Techstars Ventures and Zelkova Ventures and has raised 2.3M so far. Sanj lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two daughters, dog, and tasteful art in the living room.

Meet the Founder

1. What is a daily habit you love doing?

I stop by a local coffee shop on my way to work. It gives me a chance to reset after the chaos of making breakfast for my family and getting everyone ready for their day! The coffee shop has a punch card (a small but very effective incentive) for free coffee, which I irrationally save for rainy days.

2. What piece of advice would you give yourself when you started? What advice would you ignore?

I would tell myself to ask “why” more often. Everyone has an opinion about everything – your business, your go-to-market, equity distribution, the sweater you wear on a panel.  It’s pretty easy to shut that feedback down and say, “well, that person’s just an idiot.” But, rarely do people say things to just be an idiot. I try to challenge myself and say their feelings and opinions are totally valid, and ask: why would they say that? why would they feel this way? This helps me split the person from the context or situation, and I usually can find a gem that I would have otherwise missed.

So with that background, I wouldn’t ignore any advice, but instead really carefully ask myself if it applies to my situation and context. Success is idiosyncratic, so what works for someone else probably won’t be my way to success.

3. What piece of content (book/podcast/Ted Talk) is your favorite or has influenced your life?

My brother died very suddenly when I was about a year into starting “Concert.”  In the months after, I could tell I viewed the world differently and wondered if something had changed permanently in my brain. I saw a Ted Talk by Dr. Zoe Donaldson, called “Lost in Loss: A Window into the Grieving Brain” which confirmed my suspicion. I quickly fell into a rabbit hole of internet research. There’s a whole body of research that covers how different situations can activate different neural systems, how those systems can be more intentionally activated, and how those systems can get people to perform at their best. 

This research is used extensively in academia and athletics, but strangely hasn’t been applied to a work context, so our company’s view has changed from “Commissions processes are tedious and annoying” to “Bad commissions processes are causing people to perform poorly.”

4. What is the most valuable investment (time, money or energy etc.) that you’ve ever made?

My therapist is the best friend money can buy. To be honest, I never thought I’d be a person who went to therapy, let alone be a person who sort of likes it. I prided myself on being very rational and even-tempered. 

Overall, I’ve found starting a company to be pretty isolating. There’s an air of confidence that seems to be an important part of being a startup founder, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for insecurities or doubt. Moreover, even when you talk about daily wins, it’s really boring to someone else. “I changed the word platform to software on my website!” “And…?” – This isn’t “How I Built This.” The daily grind is a ton of really small things that accumulate.

My therapist has helped me see how these small things built up and helped me articulate a more-clear, super-exciting point of view on the business. He also helped me more intentionally listen to feedback, and split the person from the context.

5. Is there a quote, mantra or message you live your life by and that you resonate with? It can be someone else’s as well.

I recently read Switch, after avoiding it forever because it was so popular with the enlightened-entrepreneur-bro, but there’s a line from the book, something like, “when you build people up, they build the strength to act.” Everything from my research on the neuroscience and psychology of performance says that this is spot on. 

I also think of the movie Mean Girls pretty frequently, specifically the moment when Regina says “Still half true.” I actively look for opportunities to say “Still half true.”

6. What helps you stay motivated on good and hard days?

Caffeine. I have a disgusting caffeine habit. I got my dad’s coffee problem (like 4 cups a day) and my mom’s soda problem (a can a day, two if it’s a rough day). I’ve been working on maintaining some perspective. There will always be good days and bad days. All I can do is recognize them for what they are and focus on how I respond to the situation.

7. What are you passionate about other than managing your own company? 

I like to cook, drink a glass of good wine (or a few glasses of bad wine,) listen to pop music, and tiger-parent a three-year-old and two-month-old (more tummy time!). I’d like to watch more TV, but I can’t find the time so I just read recaps of my favorite shows instead (major efficiency hack).

8. What purchase have you made in the past 6 months that has positively impacted your life?

We recently purchased some new art for an empty wall in our living room, and it’s totally changed how we think about and use the space now. Now I get why UI matters.

9. Share a failure you have experienced and what you learned from it.

The biggest mistake I’ve made at Concert (so far) has been letting a bad hire linger on for way too long. It’s part of why I’ve learned to ask myself “why”. If I paused for a second and thought “why would he say that?” or “why is he so worried about this one thing?”, I would’ve realized that this wasn’t a situation where that employee would be successful. I think a lot more about “can this person be successful here?” when I hire. I’m sure I’ll still get it wrong, but I’m not afraid of that, because I know I can course-correct faster.

10. If you could have anyone in the world answer these questions who would it be and why?

I’d have my wife answer this. I had a moment last night when I was like, “wait, you like {some gross food like Miracle Whip}?” So, I feel like I don’t even know who she is anymore. In all honesty, in the last 5 years, we got married, moved to Africa, moved back to NY, had two kids, experienced loss and grief, and are investing in Concert. Of course, we’ve changed because of the big things, but there are also the small daily things that are easier to lose sight of. I think It’s good to step back and say, “Who are you now?”

More Founders Column Answers

אני חושבת שכל אחד מאיתנו צריך לחשוב לאן הוא הולך כשנגמר לו הדלק, ולדעת לחזור לשם כל פעם שהוא צריך.

מאי פיאמנטה,

Vee מנכ״לית ומייסדת

״כדי להצליח בתור מנהיג, אתה צריך להיות מחובר לחברה ולערכים שלה ולהיות מלא תשוקה כלפי החזון שלה

שמעון אלקבץ,

מנכ"ל ומייסד

Meet the Founder