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Life lessons and leadership with Mike Maheu
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Life lessons and leadership with Mike Maheu, GM and co-founder of Venue.sh

Venue.sh
Venue.sh
22nd April, 2024
Life lessons and leadership with Mike Maheu, GM and co-founder of Venue.sh
Venue.sh
Venue.sh
22nd April, 2024

With over 25 years of experience in the technology sector, Mike has seen it all, and has the skills a leader needs to navigate changes and challenges.

Mike Maheu : GM, Co-founder, Venue.sh
At Venue.sh, we are on a mission to revolutionise software development. But we also believe that software should focus on people, and retain the human connection that makes great ideas work.
To that end, we’re excited to launch a new series of interviews with leadership across the Venue.sh team. Each article will provide insights into how our folks lead, what their passions are, their communication styles, and offer a little insight into the stories and experiences that led them to where they are today.
Kicking off our series is a name that needs no introduction - Mike Maheu. As the General Manager and co-founder of Venue.sh, Mike has been instrumental in shaping the company's journey. With over 25 years of experience in the technology sector, Mike has seen it all, and has great insights into what works, what doesn’t, and the skills a leader should have to navigate those challenges.

It’s great to have you with us today. Could you begin by describing your leadership style?

If I had to put a label on it, I'd probably say: transformational. I like to concentrate on the big picture while still having a focus on developing a team that I can rely on and structuring it in a way that they can be transformational and keep an eye on the big picture.
In today’s technological world, we need a team and leader who is both flexible and agile, especially when your team is launching a new product.
The team dynamic aspect is so important, especially when it comes to both empowerment and trust. We need to both empower the team to make decisions, while trusting those decisions are best for the organisation, our fellow team members and our clients.
I make sure upfront that they are aligned with my views and visions of how things should work, and then empower the team to be dynamic, work fast, take action and be able to shift gears to move in different directions as needed.
I'm not a micro-manager or someone who is constantly hands-on. I like the team to divide and conquer, so putting in place the right people with the right personalities and the right experience is very important for me as a leader. That enables me to spend time with individuals while still keeping an eye on the bigger picture.

You mentioned the bigger picture. I'm curious how you define that, especially with Venue.sh. You're building a team and a company that sits within a larger organisation [The Adaptavist Group]. How do you think about the big picture?

That's actually probably one of the trickiest things that I have to do.
We're building a very complex product that sits in a complex and deep tech market. In some cases, it’s hard to explain what it is – it does things that most people have little understanding of. We’re also only in the middle of our second year, so the big picture is still evolving, as is the product, who we're helping and how we're helping them.
When we get stuck or I feel we start losing focus of our core objectives, I remind the team what those original objectives are. That way, we can always circle back and make sure we're not just changing direction every day, every month or even every quarter.
That can be challenging because I want to take everyone's ideas into consideration while still making sure that the product is where it should be going, and that we're actually providing value to our customers.
So, there's a little bit of a dance, a little bit of a back and forth.
And then there's this other part: The Adaptavist Group (the parent company of Venue.sh) where I spend a lot of my time integrating with the larger group, from more of a business perspective.
I work with Simon (The Adaptavist Group CEO), and other executives within the group to make sure that our business unit is aligning with the global vision of the group. I want to make sure the executive team is aware of what events we're doing and who within Venue.sh should be representing us in certain areas.

You are building a SaaS (Software as a Service) company. With your years of experience in leadership, have you noticed any differences in leading a company that's trying to bring a product to market versus bringing a service to market?

Yeah, it’s definitely different.
I started as a developer, and then a development manager, and then director of engineering and development with a large insurance company. For a while, I ran a staff augmentation shop for Java developers where I would place Java developers in different companies on different contracts. While I held different roles, they were always focused on engineering or development. So, there’s continuity, because those roles were technical in nature.
From there, I moved into consulting and services, which was where I have been focused for the last two decades. In that setting, you're building the business around a fee-for-service. It's a supply and demand thing. We hire experts with specialties in different technologies and the solutions that we're consulting around. Then, we’re figuring out how many contractors we need to create solutions for our customers to solve their challenges.
It’s totally different with Venue.sh.
We're still solving a problem. But it's more about managing the development, the coding, the architecture, the security, SOC 2 (security compliance) and ISO certifications, and all these other things that come along with a product or SaaS solution.
And the team is more engineering oriented than consulting, so there's a different mentality for sure, and a different way to manage it.
It’s a different business model, too.
On a strictly services approach, the more consultants you have out billing, the more money you make.
With Venue.sh, we're building something that has the potential to scale enormously from a revenue and a customer solution perspective, with a much smaller group of people.

One thing I’ve noticed from talking with you is that ‘people’ seem to be at the foundation of your leadership style and principles.

I've always been very team-focused: individual personalities, team dynamics. I’ve learned from experience, even when I was a developer, that if you're with the wrong team, there's friction, and that’s just demoralising.
If you have to work – love your work. Do something great and be excited about what you're doing and what you're building.
If you're not, then what's the point?
With Venue.sh, we're starting from nothing, and we’ve mostly grown organically. I wouldn’t just say, “Oh, we need this kind of a resource or this type of a role,” as I identified gaps in the company. I think about the type of person first, and then I try to align a role to that person, and consider how that fits within the team. So, there's definitely a lot of thought that goes into that.
And the other thing is the product itself and the team that we have being passionate about the product – about helping solve our customers’ issues. I don’t want them to think of themselves as just engineers or managers, but evangelists.

What's one thing that has impressed you lately?

That's a good question. It's tough these days to find things that impress as you get older…
That said, I'm impressed by the people and the next generation. I think they're just going to be even better than we were. I'm struck by how much common sense younger generations have in the tech industry.
When I was coming up, I was always trying to learn as much as I could. I wanted to be the best. As a Java developer, I loved computers so much that I was doing things not just at work, but in my off-hours and things that were outside of just being a developer. Before the advent of the cloud, I was learning about Linux and different operating systems, and tinkering around with Raspberry Pis.
That's what I look for in folks today – that they have their finger on the pulse of what's happening. They're aware of what's happening in the tech business, whether it's AI or something else, and simultaneously possess that core common sense.

How did you first get into technology, and what was your path to entering the sector?

My fascination with technology began with an Atari 1200 computer and tech magazines. In college, I majored in biology and medical sciences, but my interest in technology deepened while living with a roommate studying Physics at Florida State University. Through him, I got a programming gig with Mainline, a mainframe company. They delivered towering IBM computers to our house, and from there I was hooked.
In the late 1990s, I realised the tech industry was becoming mainstream. I started hearing people talking about visual basic programmers, and generally understanding more of the tech sphere. I decided to leave my job at a hospital and pursue a tech career instead. I landed a help desk job at Strategic Technologies, supporting laptops and pharmaceutical software.
A turning point was reading an article about Marc Fleury, creator of JBoss, working from his home. I aspired to a similar lifestyle, and aimed to become a proficient programmer to achieve this.
Florida State University was hiring Java programmers, and I knew some people there. I convinced Rick Dugger, the managing director of a computer department at FSU, that I'd be their best Java programmer in three months. He offered me a job, and we moved back to Tallahassee. There, working with PhDs, I honed my programming skills and later spoke at a Java conference for universities.

When you think about the ideal business or technology or communications leader, what comes to mind?

I’m going to keep it general as he’s not necessarily someone that I look up to, but there’s this individual whose company is an incredible accomplishment. He didn't build the company to IPO (Initial Public Offering), but to create an amazing business. And that approach is what I’m focused on with Venue.sh.
I'm trying to build a business.
Venue.sh should be a place for people to come and do great things from a technology perspective, and to be a part of that team – the people – to grow the business. Our focus is on making it a great place to work and delivering genuine value to our customers.
I think back to all those years of experience, all the pain points that I've had as a developer, a manager, and as a leader. All these different roles and people, the struggles we've seen, with all of our consulting customers, the big enterprise companies that struggle to deliver code to production in the way that they want, in the time that they want, with less risk and fewer bugs.
I’m about helping those customers, which is why I started consulting in the first place. I want to help companies and have fun doing it. It's all about the developer experience from my perspective. And that's what we’re trying to build with Venue.sh.
I also think about David Heinemeier Hansson, the founder of Basecamp and creator of Ruby on Rails. Ruby on Rails took off because it was super quick and an intuitive language based on Ruby, even though it wasn’t considered an enterprise language at first.
David then wrote a book (he’s written a few other books) called 'Rework', about distributed work teams. It's about building a business that lasts forever–a forever business, and having that family feel, trust, and being able to work remotely.
I appreciate his perspective, his business achievements, and the ideas he's shared in his books

Great, thank you for your time today!

Connect with Mike on LinkedIn.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
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