It’s Leadzai’s sixth anniversary and we’re marking the occasion with a special Ask Me Anything. Our April 2023 edition features one of the company’s founders — our CEO João de Sousa Aroso!
In this interview, we will explore João’s motivations for becoming an entrepreneur, as well as how he describes the spirit of Leadzai. We will also delve into his personal side, including his experiences as a parent and his favourite spots in Porto, his hometown. Let’s dive in!
Advertising and tech are industries you’ve always been connected to throughout your career. How did you become interested in them?
Tech has always been an interest of mine. Being an 80s kid, I got to experience the tech boom first-hand, and I loved being a part of that. I remember getting my first computer and always wanting to learn more about gadgets and innovations. At the time, I didn’t really think about making it my job, but it’s definitely been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember.
On the other hand, advertising fascinates me from a human behaviour standpoint. How people react to stimuli differently, considering their backgrounds, is deeply fascinating.
You are also a successful entrepreneur that has been on the board of several companies. What were your motivations in deciding to follow this career path?
My participation in different companies happened very organically. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset, and that taught me a lot — not about what it takes to succeed but, most importantly, how companies fail and what challenges that brings. At the same time, the startup market in Portugal isn’t that big, so I know a lot of other entrepreneurs trying to make it, and some of them have become my friends. If I can help them make more-informed decisions, it’s a pleasure to be invited to sit next to other talented people and help great products come to life.
This month, Leadzai celebrates its sixth anniversary. Is Leadzai today where you thought it would be in 2017?
To be honest, not in the slightest. When we created Leadzai, we envisioned a solution that would cater to small businesses worldwide and simplify the online advertising process. While that vision remains in some ways, Leadzai is now a much stronger and more solid company than I could ever have imagined.
Thanks to our partners worldwide, we produced a much more complete tool that uses cutting-edge technology and enables businesses worldwide to pay per lead only. We are a team of 60 people working daily to create a subscription-free product that enables all types of companies to make the most of the online advertising market with no added risks. I may be an optimist, but I would not have imagined such a leap.
Which are the biggest challenges of being a CEO in a tech company?
This is a tough one, but I’d say probably time management and the weight of responsibility.
As the CEO, your main task is to make sure the team has everything it needs to succeed. More often than not, this involves a lot of context-switching, which I find the most exhausting part of my day. For example, in the morning, you might review sales forecasts, and in the afternoon, discuss how a new AI technology can fundamentally improve our product. All while trying to keep a work-life balance and being present at home. Sometimes it seems the day doesn’t have enough hours, but I’m lucky to have a very supportive family and a team that helps me juggle all these responsibilities.
When it comes to responsibility, I think a lot of CEOs suffer from imposter syndrome. So although I wholeheartedly believe in Leadzai ‘s potential, I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t felt the pressure of leading a now 60-person team and being the primary decision-maker during these six years. Still, these come with the job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How would you describe Leadzai’s spirit?
We’re very much a tech company. Everyone in the team, no matter their background, is very tech-oriented and always seeks to know more about the product we’re building. Curiosity is also a big part of who we are, as we encourage everyone to be curious and not take the first answer as the only source of truth.
Ultimately, we’re here to build an innovative product that adds value to the SMEs, and we’re lucky to have a team that shares that same spirit and goes above and beyond for the best possible outcome.
In the last Ask Me Anything, Maltsev told a fun story about a Phantom of the Opera duet between you two. Are there any other fun stories from old (or new times) you would like to share with us?
I have a very eclectic taste in music. Somehow there’s a nice parallel to the context-switching of my job. After singing Phantom of the Opera, I might enthusiastically sing the latest hit from Shakira and Bizarap. Maltsev is a Russian native who dances salsa. Let’s say we somehow have a special connection in how we appreciate cultural mixes. I have so many funny stories, particularly with Maltsev. He was the third person to join the company, so we went through a lot. I will never forget the day we talked for hours about how many potential digits would exist in a CPC. That conversation became known as the Zimbabwe Dollar Discussion.
We’re 50+ and growing. Looking back, what makes you most proud?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one aspect, but probably the people I work with. From our team to our partners and clients, Leadzai is lucky to be surrounded by amazing individuals who share the same passion.
Starting a company can be a bit lonely sometimes. You work with 3 or 4 teammates and probably zero clients during the first year or two. But now, we have thousands of campaigns running, amazing partners and a team of about 60 people who all want the same thing and that for sure makes me very proud.
Besides being Leadzai’s CEO, you play another important role: being a father. How has this experience changed you?
Tremendously. I think becoming a parent is definitely my proudest moment. Since becoming a father, I’ve learned to be more efficient to free up more time to spend with my kids. It has also given me a different perspective on distinguishing between what’s important and not at all important.
I’d say that becoming a father made me a better person and, as a consequence, a better CEO.
Which is more challenging: being a father or a tech company’s CEO?
My kids are still very young, so being Leadzai’s CEO is still more challenging. Although being a father isn’t easy, I’m lucky to have a very patient wife who helps me.
Regarding the CEO role, I count on the support of 60 amazing people, but the challenges are endless. Maybe I’ll change my mind when both my kids can run!
We know you are a staunch portuense (a Porto city native). What can’t we miss when visiting Porto?
Downtown Porto: Ribeira, Aliados and Galerias de Paris are a must. They represent the city’s soul; you’ll find a different side of Portugal that you don’t get anywhere else.
Then, if you like the beach, Foz is very nice; for art, I recommend Serralves, and for food, you need to try Francesinha. My favourite is from a small place called Lokanda, surprisingly technically not in Porto.
And now, the most requested question by the team! What’s up with the barefoot shoes?
My wife likes barefoot shoes. I am smart enough to know that this means I like them too :) Jokes aside, she did indeed introduce me to barefoot shoes. When you try them, you can’t go back. They might look weird, but they’re sooo confortable.
A book: So hard to pick one. It depends on the goal — good literature, content, entertainment, etc. From a professional standpoint, The Innovators by Walter Isacson was one of the most interesting.
A film: There’s this TV Show I always go back to every couple of years: Seinfeld. There’s just something about Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld humour that ages so well with me.
A song: If I open my Apple Music (yes, I am that user), my most played of all time are:
1. Dia de Enero — Shakira
A place to visit: the world :) — but if I had to pick one, I simply loved the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
A pizza: Diavola
An ice cream flavour: Hazelnut
Thank you, João for your generosity!