Jonathan Harris, CEO of Molekule
I spoke with Jonathan Harris, the new CEO of Molekule, a leader in reinventing air purification. Harris brings more than 30 years of hardware and software experience to Molekule, after leading sales at consumer companies like Jawbone, GoPro and Roku.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Let’s start with your first 100 days at Molekule. What met your initial expectations? What was different than what you were expecting?
We had a strong leadership team here with great backgrounds and lots of scientists. We had an effective brand team in place, as well. What we needed to add was the ability to drive growth. Fortunately, with my background, I was able to help fill that void very quickly. I accelerated our direct-to-consumer business as well as creating a new focus on our B2B side. Not only is this product important in your home, but it’s just as important where you work, where you eat, where your kids go to school, and so on.
Molekule is on a mission to provide clean indoor air to everyone, everywhere. It’s exciting to be in a mission-based business, especially in this time when we have COVID and smoke from the wildfires affecting our air. We’re learning so much about air quality and how it impacts our lives.
I know you’ve brought in many senior executives in the last several months, primarily focused on business development and sales. How are you ensuring that the rest of the organization can deal with the tremendous growth that you’re experiencing?
Communication. We have monthly all-hands meetings. I’ve been in front of the entire organization at least 10 times since I came on board. I’m sharing what’s happening, and what we need to do. I’ve also met with the extended leadership team a few times to set a strategy and start driving the vision into the future. We have to answer questions such as, “How do we sustain this growth? How do we continue this expansion?” If you’re not planning, trouble can ensue.
What’s next for Molekule?
Our products can provide clean air for people around the world – we shouldn’t just be selling this product in the United States and Canada. How do we give everyone the opportunity to experience Molekule?
Today we’re sold in the US, Korea, India and Japan. I believe that there’s a massive opportunity throughout Europe and the Middle East, and then we can grow throughout Asia.
During your time at GoPro, you saw a lot of hypergrowth and some mistakes – and now at Molekule you are experiencing hypergrowth. What did you learn and how will you apply it?
GoPro went from $19 million to a billion dollars in revenue during a four- year period. We grew so fast that we didn’t always invest in the right people or the proper infrastructure to get us to the next level. Some people were able to come along for that ride, but we had to bring in a lot of new people. Unfortunately, we weren’t spending as much time as we needed to spend with them.
So that’s where I want to spend my time now – with our leadership. I want to invest time in educating them and preparing them to be a billion-dollar business. As we grow, we need to become more strategic. We want to make sure that the team that we have today understands how their roles will evolve. The company will change. We want to have the infrastructure to support that growth.
Culture is so important. We do everything now – from training to onboarding new employees – with a focus on maintaining our culture.
You are creating internal strategies to support your external growth. You’ve talked about communications as being one area where organizations frequently fail. What else?
I remind people to finish something before they move on to the next thing.
A former boss of mine called it “capping pyramids.” The most important part of the entire pyramid is that capstone. It’s a different type of material and much stronger because when the rain hits, it sheds the water.
I use that analogy with people. Put that last 5% of effort into the job to make sure that what you’re working on will last and succeed. There’s a reason why the pyramids have stood for 4,000 years.
Good analogy. You prioritized bringing the leadership team together and ensuring that everybody was clear on the priorities going forward. Were you able to do that face-to-face?
We were able to get everybody together which was great. We have offices in San Francisco and Florida, so we met recently in the middle, just outside of Denver.
It was excellent because I had some ideas about where I wanted the company to go, but I also wanted to learn from the others who have been here. I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing the key leaders and listening to people.
We came together as a team and I shared my observations of both what I saw was working in the organization, and what wasn’t.
One of the things that I said was, “We need to have fewer meetings and spend more time getting things done. We need to drive this business, not let it drive us.” I can’t tell you how many people thanked me for saying that.
We needed a strategy adjustment. We also talked about a road map to move forward. Where do we need to be? How do we differentiate ourselves from our competition?
As you grow, are you mostly remote first now, or are you trying to hire in those two office centers you mentioned?
Silicon Valley has this mentality that you can only find the best people in the Valley. I’ve learned through the pandemic that there are brilliant, amazing people all over the place and we want the best people, no matter where they are. We might find somebody in Europe who perfectly fits our needs.
Although we have concentrations of employees in two markets, if we find a great person somewhere else, we’re going to hire him or her. For example, we just hired our senior vice president of software, who is in Atlanta. He’s managing teams all over the world.
Let’s talk about you. The tagline for my consulting business is up to the right – if you think about a two-by-two matrix, that’s the place you want to be. Were there moments when you could see that your career was pivoting in that direction?
I was very fortunate. I worked under Bud Colligan at Macromedia in the early days when the company had about 75 people. He was a fantastic leader and built an incredible culture. I was there for several years and learned a lot and moved up through the ranks quickly.
It was a hyper-growth company as well. Then I bounced around searching for that type of culture again. I found myself in some exciting cultures and in some not-so-interesting ones.
That changed when I joined Jawbone. It was a completely different space. I’d been working with the big tech companies. Now I was selling to the carriers, the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world. I’d never done that.
AT&T is organized by regional presidents, and the first summer I was at Jawbone I met with all of them. I interviewed them to understand their business, what was working, what was not working, and how they were incented. I said to myself, “Wow. I can have a conversation with any of these C-level people. It’s up to me to learn from these people and drive the business accordingly.”
That was a big “aha” moment, a big confidence booster for me.
That’s key for someone with the sales trajectory that you had in your career. It sounds like being part of a mission-based business is also important to you.
This is a weird one, but the reason I joined a mission-based business during our hyper-growth at GoPro, was that my wife was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.
She’s doing well now. That experience taught me two things: first, make sure that every single moment matters. It’s not just days. It’s actual moments. Secondly, try to do good for others.
I got into a mission-based business because I didn’t want to sell gadgets anymore. I wanted to provide products and services that can help people lead better lives and bring my experience, knowledge, background and energy to that.
I’m proud of what we’re doing at Molekule. I’m humbled to be part of this organization and what we’re bringing to the market.
Not only is it fun because we’re moving up and to the right, but it’s fun because we are delivering on a great mission which is providing clean air for everyone, everywhere.
I’m a consultant, coach, board advisor and author, and I advise senior leaders and their teams on thriving in hyper-growth. I combine my leadership experience as employee
I’m a consultant, coach, board advisor and author, and I advise senior leaders and their teams on thriving in hyper-growth. I combine my leadership experience as employee #104 in the then fast-growing company in American history (Compaq) with two decades of consulting to rapidly create high performance organizations. I’ve worked with Fortune 500 clients including Aetna, AWS, Pfizer, and JPMorganChase, as well as many Inc. 5000 startups.