When Quibi launched in early 2020, the leadership team had already faced their share of problems, particularly when CEO Meg Whitman and Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg struggled to get along. Their similarly strong-minded, assertive personalities made it difficult to balance power at the top.
The relatively unheard of mobile short-form video platform suddenly became one of the most well-funded media startups in history and people excitedly awaited its launch. However, its user adoption in the first couple of months fell short of the original projections. The Wall Street Journal reported that it may not even reach 30% of its projected first-year subscriber goal, despite the free 3-months Quibi offered to early users. While some of this difficulty can be attributed to the sudden cultural shift brought on by COVID-19, a significant amount is likely due to several internal struggles the company has faced thus far - particularly the tense relationship seen early on between CEO Meg Whitman and Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Their similarly strong-minded, assertive personalities made it difficult to balance power at the top. The lack of cohesion and unity within Quibi’s two primary leaders has contributed to many of its early startup troubles.
Why personality matters
Personality plays a large role in how we each approach the world and has likely impacted Quibi’s leadership struggle.
Our company, Crystal, builds software that predicts anyone’s personality. Our AI can analyze text online (e.g. a LinkedIn profile) and accurately identify someone’s behaviors, motivations, and communication style. There are 16 core personality types in the model, and each one brings unique strengths and blindspots to the table. While no personality type is better or worse than another, each type has traits that can affect how they approach different jobs, situations, and people.
Using Crystal, we analyzed Whitman’s and Katzenberg’s LinkedIn profiles, and our AI identified their personalities: Whitman is likely a Skeptic (Cd), while Katzenberg seems to be a Driver (Di). The competing similarities and differences between their personalities have led the two to develop a tense relationship that seems to be weighing Quibi down.
Strengths that helped them
As an analytical Skeptic, Meg Whitman tends to ask tough questions and dive into the details of things like functionality, financing, etc. Her strengths and experience as a top CEO, at companies like eBay and Hewlett-Packard, made her seemingly perfect for taking on the role at Quibi.
Jeffrey Katzenberg’s strengths as an innovative Driver also helped him thrive at companies like Disney and led to him co-founding DreamWorks SKG (which would later become DreamWorks Animation) with fellow Hollywood big-names, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. He was even described by one Quibi executive in a Wall Street Journal article as having natural “creative acumen, salesmanship, and prodigious work ethic”.
Similarities that hurt them
At first thought, many of their strengths seem complimentary: Whitman is thorough, while Katzenberg is big-picture-focused; Whitman tends to be risk-averse, while Katzenberg is often comfortable with risk; Whitman takes time to make a decision, while Katzenberg thinks on his feet. However, there are a couple of major similarities between the two that lead them to compete, even though they’re on the same team.
For example, both have a desire to maintain control and make decisions independently. Because they are each in a position of power at the company, Whitman and Katzenberg each have the authority to make major decisions - but the power can only really belong to one of them. For a while, Katzenberg seemed to steamroll over Whitman’s suggestions, which placed a major strain on the entire dynamic of the company’s leadership team. Without an example of healthy collaboration at the top, how were others at Quibi supposed to feel comfortable working together and trusting in their team?
Differences that disconnect them
Although the relationship between the two seemed to ease when they talked through their power inequality and Katzenberg relinquished some of the control, there are still some personality differences that have the potential to strain their relationship.
For example, Katzenberg tends to take a more exploratory approach to problem-solving than Whitman, who is likely to fall back on solutions that have proven effective for her in the past. If Quibi continues to face situations that challenge the team and force them to make changes, there will likely be tension between the two company leaders and their approaches to problem-solving.
Issues may also develop in relation to how Whitman and Katzenberg choose to approach Quibi’s public relations. While Katzenberg may prefer to be more of an open-book leader who enjoys chatting with the press, Whitman is likely to prefer keeping things private and under wraps.
What’s next for Quibi?
While Quibi’s slow start may not directly be the fault of the leadership team, their lack of unity likely played a part. However, if Katzenberg and Whitman can make a conscious effort to balance their strengths and similarities, they can help push Quibi through the difficult first phase and begin to reach the major goals they’ve set for themselves and the future of mobile entertainment.
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