Caroline Clark

Servant leadership


As I've set out to build out a company, I've been reflecting a lot on the culture that I want to build.

I called a CEO who I respected a lot, and whose company is high growth and has a great culture. I asked him about how to build a great culture.

He replied: "Honestly? Just hire the right people. People who you want to have dinner with and respect. Culture is an amoeba. It forms from those people."

The people who you want to have dinner with and respect. It rang in my head over and over. The question became: who are the people who I want to have dinner with and respect?


I thought about the characteristics of those people.

These are it. This is also a first draft, subject to change over years of lessons, success, and failure.

1/ Humility

Humility matters a lot.

There's a distinction between intellectual, moral, and personal humility.

Intellectual humility means acknowledging what we don't know. It also means not seeing ourselves as better or worse than anyone else, and nobody else is better or worse than ourselves.

Moral humility is recognizing even when we think we are moral human beings, we are vulnerable under pressure to losing our way.

Personal humility is acting modestly and living a life that does not need to be excessive. I aspire to all three. When I worked at Atlassian, I saw those values emulated by the CEOs. I will never forget when I flew once for business, and I was excited when I was upgraded. When I sat down, I realized the CEO was on the same flight and he was in economy. We made eye contact when he passed down the aisle, and I felt a bit ashamed. I know it was just an upgrade, but I will never forget that a billionaire still flies economy. I have no doubt that their styles had a ripple effect on Atlassian's excellent culture.

2/ Excellence

Excellence means always striving for a high bar, and then resetting it. It means being laser focused on goals.

I learned this through being a varsity rower in college. We were lucky because the Princeton boathouse was the same site as the national team. I saw firsthand the sacrifices that they've made to medal at the Olympics. They trained at least twice a day, with minimal distractions. Day in, day out. For four years. Sometimes eight.

One time, it was fall of 2012.

The Olympic rowers had returned from London. I saw one of the boats talking amongst themselves. They were watching the video of their race. They critiqued and talked about the way the blades hit the water, how the stroke pacing was off, and how they should have used their power ten earlier within the race. It sounded like a horrific race, and I was concerned — did they not do well? I looked up the results. It turns out that they were the gold medalists. I never forgot that hunger and desire to look at what they've done with a critical lens — resetting the bar, constantly. There is a never ending bar.

I also saw this at Sequoia. The reason I believe it's a leading VC is because even after every successful IPO, it was still the beginning for us. We never celebrated. It was a chance to revisit what we would do better.

3/ Generosity

Generosity means giving more than you take.

In a corporate context, it means giving to your customers, teammates, and others. Of course we are in a resource constrained world, and we can't be generous all the time. I am not perfect here either, but I aspire to it. I do believe in karma and that the world returns to you what you offer.


I realize these are rather simple attributes. But hopefully they are they are reinforced through behaviors. My metric for success and hope is that in ten years someone finds this deep in my blog and thinks: "Oh yeah, Caroline is all those things...and so are the people she works with."