Bob Meese: The Importance of Focusing on the People in Your Company


In season 1 of Fast Frontiers, I sat down with Bob Meese, and we discussed how vital it is to focus on the people in your company. Bob is the chief revenue officer at Duolingo, the world’s most popular way to learn a language. At Duolingo, Bob is responsible for driving the company’s revenue growth, but as he will be the first to tell you: that all begins with hiring—and leading—the right team, one that is in it to win it.


Before joining the ranks at Duolingo, Bob spent eight years with Google, as the Head of Games Business Development for Google Play. Bob considers this an instrumental season in his life, both professionally and personally, and happily shares some of the invaluable lessons that he learned aboard the awe-inspiring frigate that is the USS Google.


Among the myriad lessons and tools that Bob admitted to taking away from his time at Google is the hiring process. According to Bob, Google simply nails it: “Google has managed to get hiring right for sure, where it is an amazingly impressive group of people, but also there’s the culture within the company that’s well known too.” He added, “It’s not just people who are amazing [and] impressive, but people you want to spend time with and who are generally nice people as well… to such that the group dynamic is positive and additive rather than being like hyper-competitive.”


In fact, it’s exactly this emphasis, placed on the undeniable importance of people, that Bob thinks is the key ingredient to Google’s magic recipe. But Bob was quick to also admit that Google’s method of never compromising or settling for second best when it comes to bringing in their ideal candidate—one who will perfectly gel with the rest of the team and match the company’s mantra—is not always the easy choice or path of least resistance: “Sometimes, it means having the role go unfilled, or having just the process of bringing new people on go more slowly than you like, but it’s worth waiting to get the right people into the right seats.”


Speaking of finding great people, Bob, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, discussed why it is such a great place to have a company, especially considering its numerous draws that attract new residents. These include a great quality of life, greater affordability (especially when compared to Silicon Valley), and a thriving community atmosphere.


Bob explained that 80% or more of Duolingo’s employees are presently in Pittsburgh, presenting a core demographic of people who are “amazingly smart, amazingly impressive, and diverse in a lot of other ways too.” He revealed a little bit about his own game plan when it comes to hiring practices.


Skillset, of course, is a top priority: “As we think about hiring into Pittsburgh, it’s super important that we’re hiring people who have grown up outside of the United States, or people with just different backgrounds [and] different language skills, too. That’s a really important part.”


But Bob also knows that mentoring and cultivating a thriving corporate culture as one whole, super-strong entity is equally—if not more—vital. “For the core people that we’re bringing in, a lot of them are still pretty early in their career, where they’ve done some impressive things, but they probably aren’t prepared for a crazy hyperscale growth,” Bob pointed out. “Helping people connect [with] very high-level company goals and objectives [is] super important. Then, the other part is basically [helping groom them to improve and optimize] habits or routines on a daily basis.”


Bob added: “We hire people who are really young and impressive—[getting] them for the first bunch of years of their career, but we really encourage a lot of entrepreneurship in terms of risk-taking of new features, new products within the company.”


To hear more about how Bob views the role of mentorship as a necessity, the impressive ecosystem that Pittsburgh has fostered in recent years, and beyond, head over to listen to the full podcast.