Thomas Clayton has a long history of experimentation and venture with startups.
While an undergrad at Haas, he launched one of the first order-by-web DVD businesses. In all, he’s started five companies, ranging from networking software to high-end audio equipment.
Not every venture has been a success for Clayton—he vividly recalls that the Internet and DVDs were too new for that business to succeed—but he has never been afraid to take risks, always learning from the experience.
“The stakes have gotten bigger, and I’ve worked in very different industries and functions, but the theme has always been entrepreneurship,” says Clayton. He previously worked as the CEO of mobile-messaging company Bubbly and general manager of the mobile business at BEA Systems.
Clayton is now vice president of international operations at Houzz, a platform for home remodeling, improvement, and design, where he’s expanding the company’s global community in dozens of countries.
For Clayton, the draw is the chance to build something.
“To see a company grow on a global scale is exhilarating,” he says. “Nothing is better than looking back and seeing what you built.”
Clayton also inspires new entrepreneurs, helping them find that same pride in creation. Team building, he says, is a skill he came to understand and appreciate at Haas. He’s proud that, while CEO of Bubbly, he mentored 28 of his employees who went on to found their own startups.
“If someone told me they were leaving to work at a nine-to-five or for a competitor, I’d try to talk them out of it. But someone leaving to start their own business, I’d 100 percent support that. I love seeing the same light in their eyes,” he says.
“In general, I see myself more as a team captain than a coach,” he says. “I like to lead from the front, not from the sidelines. I always have to have some skin in the game myself.” —MR
VP, International Operations, Houzz
Palo Alto, Calif.