Cat Chen is the Founder & CEO of Skylar. They’re creating a new world of fragrance by using clean, conscious ingredients to craft beautiful, innovative and hypoallergenic scents for yourself and your home. Prior to founding Skylar, Cat was the Vice President of Operations at The Honest Company, a clean baby and household products brand, where she led a team of over 500 people and helped to grow the company from the very beginning to over $300 million in revenue through 4 years of hyper-growth. FirstMark is a proud investor in Skylar.


What was your first management role and what did you learn from it?

I started managing people about ten years ago at Activision Blizzard in 2009. I managed three direct reports as the senior manager of sales planning. I went from everybody’s peer to becoming their manager. What I learned through that process was that it’s not necessarily always knowing more than the rest because chances are there are people on your team who are experts in areas you’re not.

I learned very early that it’s important to respect people and listen to them regardless of their title. Managing people doesn’t mean just telling them what to do, it means helping them succeed and providing guidance when and where they need it most.


Early in your career, before you assumed leadership roles, what was one quality you appreciated in a great manager?

A great manager gives you high-level guidance and vision without micromanagement.

One of my managers at Bain had a great quality that I still remember to this day. At the start of every project, he’d send the entire team ten strategic questions to think about and keep in mind as we went through the process. This simple action was extremely helpful because it kept me focused on the big picture at all times. Because he had given me this guidance up front, he didn’t need to micromanage people along the way.

That is the perfect balance that I appreciate, try to emulate, and strive for in my management style today.


How does that balance change depending on the employee’s level of experience?

Take, for example, department heads who have ample experience. I can stay higher level with them and really ask questions that are oriented around how they measure the success of the team, how they enable people, or what key metrics they think we need to be looking at.

Whereas if I’m dealing with someone more junior, I need to adjust the level up or down accordingly. But what I’ve learned is that even at the most junior level, you shouldn’t underestimate their ambition and power.

So, to the extent that you feel they are capable of pushing themselves one level up, it’s beneficial for you to engage them more strategically. This is motivating because people hate tactical checklists or being told to do mundane tasks even though every job has some component of those within it. At the end of the day, it’s just as important to know the why of what you’re doing every day.

Read the full piece on FirstMark’s Medium here.