BTU #67 Don Faul: A Leading Veteran in Silicon Valley (Facebook, Google, Pinterest, and more)

“There is the expectation - at least at the places where I've been fortunate to work - that growth and advancement come from a series of thoughtful mistakes. I've had to really learn in my career: being open and transparent when you make a mistake, being willing to talk about it and embrace it,  as a leader can be very hard.  I think early in my career there was this expectation that if people were looking to me to lead, that talking about any sort of mistake or misstep was a sign of weakness. When in fact I think that the best way to build trust is in fact  - with your team and with people you work with - to be open and transparent and create an environment where other people feel comfortable as well." – Don Faul

Don is the CEO at Athos, a company that offers a wearable technology that is fully integrated in workout clothing, and can track your muscle groups, heart rate, breathing level and more. They have raised over $50M in funding since their founding 4 years ago. Don started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served for five years as an Marine Corps as part of the Force Recon. After his transition out of the Marines, he went to Stanford Business School, after which he joined Google in 206 as a Manager of Online Sales and Operations. Two years later, he joined Facebook as the VP of Online Operations, and four years after that Pinterest as the Head of Operations. He serves on the Board of Nuru international, which listeners may remember from Episode #68 with Nuru’s founder, Jake Harriman.

Many people I’ve interviewed on the show have recommended I interview Don. Brad Bonney from episode #4 and Jimmy Sopko from episode #6 both credit Don as being an enormous help in their careers at AriBnB & Pinterest respectively. Don not only has an incredible background at the most famous companies in Silicon Valley, but he’s also a constant advocate for veterans and frequent mentor for those going through career transitions.

This episode is shorter than normal but it is chalked full of great advice not just for those of you thinking about a career in tech, but any veteran seeking to get the most out of their career.


Selected Links

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Show Notes

  • 1:08 - Don's background
  • 2:31 - How Don decided to leave the Marine Corps and how he decided to go to the Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • 3:50 - How Don used grit and determination to get his first role at Google, and how a veteran at Google ultimately made the difference in getting Don's resume through the door and coaching him through the interview process
  • 6:15 - Don's advice on how veterans can better tell the story of their military background, and how important (and rare it is) for a candidate to be exceptionally well prepared for an interview. He talks about anticipating what an interviewer might not know about your military background or misconceptions they may have about it, and how to address this. He also talks about how veterans can come across better by being the MOST prepared person for the interview, and by having some well crafted and practiced stories to tell in the interview.
  • 10:25 - Don's risky move from Google to Facebook, and how it was based on following a mentor, Sheryl Sandberg. He left Google much earlier than he had expected, but was excited by the team and learning opportunity
  •  13:45 - How Don followed a similar path when he left Facebook for Pinterest
  • 15:18 - After Pinterest, Don took a break before starting at Athos. After having moved from one company to another for so long, Don reflects on wanting to have taken more time in between each company to reflect.
  • 17:05 - One of the biggest mistakes that Don made since leaving the Marine Corps and what he learned from it. He talks about how he loves tech because there is the expectation that growth and advancement will come through a series of thoughtful mistakes.
  • 20:20 - Having mentored so many veterans, a few of the more common mistakes Don sees veterans make. First, vets assume that roles are off the table and not possible. The second is that veterans commonly underrepresent the skills that they bring to the table, namely leadership and responsibility. He has great advice for combatting both of these two misconceptions. Don't take anything off the table and recognize how impressive your background is.
  • 23:50 - Don's current role as CEO and how he found his way into the wearable technology space (even though he ended his time away from work sooner than he had expected). In finding Athos, Don followed advice he often gives to veterans to start their career search. He made a list of the companies who's products or services resonated with him personally. He used popular tech blogs and conversations with friends (especially with investors) to add to and help build that list. What stood out for him with Athos was the mission "to build better athletes" and help everyone get the most out of their training. It sat at the intersection of his love of technology and his love of fitness and sports. Being an early adopter of gadgets and in particular health gadgets, he found himself getting really excited each day thinking about this. The second was the mixture of 50% familiarity with a role and 50% the challenge of something new and unexpected.