“Don’t Email the Fire Department”: How Unicorn COO Jared Smith Runs Qualtrics and Still Sleeps 8 Hours

I get up at 4:45 or 5 AM each day with my mind racing” says Jared Smith, COO of Qualtrics. 

Smith believes it's vital for leaders to have untouchable time during which you won't get bothered. For Smith, that time is bright and early: 5 AM to 8 AM.

So with everything it takes to run a Unicorn company, what comes next?

My Morning Ritual: The Daily Post-It

His favorite productivity hack is his daily Post-It ritual. Every morning, he writes down 3 things that he would like to get done before he goes home on a single Post-It. And he doesn’t leave until they are done.

"If people want to take your attention away from those tasks, it’s going to delay you leaving at the end of the day, so you’ll make sure it’s worth it."

Now, one of his biggest secrets: he only checks his email twice a day, at 11 AM and 6 PM.

Talk about self-control.

One of the analogies he uses for younger team members is this: “If your house is on fire, do you email the fire department?” Smith doesn't spend his time waiting for his inbox to fill it. Instead, he's reachable anytime - if it's urgent. Most email simply isn't.

How does he sustain such a steady pace? 

He’s in bed by 9 PM, being a strong believer in coming to work recharged, and getting his full 8 hours of sleep every night.

But don't dare call him a laze-about: Smith works 7 days a week, even on parts of weekends, to keep things ticking over. This means he won't be blindsided Monday morning. 

It's All In the Family

When Smith started Qualtrics in 2002, he already had plenty of experience of growing teams. He had been instrumental in helping to scale Google from 1,800 to 26,000 employees, after all. But at Qualtrics, the traditional rule book went out the window: his co-founders were his brother and father.

Me and my brother are like ying and yang’ - describing his brother Ryan as owning the marketing side and having a ‘big engine’.

Sounds like a strong co-founding relationship, with Qualtrics' Unicorn status to prove it.

Considering the rest of the Qualtrics family, Jared describes his developers - of whom there is a spectrum. On one end are the hackers, exceptional at coding and shipping product. On the other are the architects, masterminds or code organization and structure. It's engineers that know how to create scalable products are the hardest to find. Luckily, Jared obviously hit the mark, hitting $30m in annual revenue with just 4 engineers.

When hiring your first developer, he stresses that the resume is more important than the interview, and candidates should be showcasing cultural fit by that stage, the rest of the engineering team will be dictated by him. ‘And make sure you go for the best, the first is going to get a lot of equity’. 

Watch our full interview with Qualtrics' Jared Smith at Startup Grind Europe.