Etienne de Bruin is a visionary community builder, successful startup founder, and accomplished author. Overcoming personal struggles and adversity, he has channeled his experience into creating an emotionally intelligent community for CTOs called 7CTOs, now with 300 members globally. In addition to leading this thriving community, Etienne penned the impactful book, CTO Excellence in 100 Days, where he articulates the essence of heart-centered leadership and empathetic networking. With his sights set firmly on the future, Etienne – along with host Barry O’Reilly – is also co-founder of Nobody Studios, an innovative venture studio with the audacious ambition of launching 100 companies over the next five years. In this episode of the Unlearn Podcast, Etienne joins Barry to share his journey of self-discovery and discuss the importance of having a compelling ‘why’, the challenges and opportunities of building a successful startup, as well as insights from his book.

From Suffering to Service

Etienne opens up about his early struggles, touching on a particularly dark phase of depression. He was able to find the “seed of a greater purpose” in the “crucible of suffering.” He shares an anecdote, saying, “I was sitting in a hot tub, looking at the mountains, and I had a sudden realization of privilege… It motivated me to find ways to solve inequality issues creatively.” This realization prompted him to establish an emotionally intelligent community for CTOs. [Listen from 4:20]

Now boasting 300 members worldwide, this community is a testament to his vision. As Barry notes, “In the face of adversity, you created a solution that not only helped you but many others.” Eitenne shares his insights about emotional intelligence and the role it plays in building and nurturing communities, stating “The heart of a community lies in emotional intelligence. Without it, communities disintegrate.” It’s clear that this belief underpins the success of his community. [Listen from 14:55]

Etienne de Bruin discusses heart-centered leadership, empathetic networking, a compelling 'why', and startup challenges/opportunities.


Behind the Scene of CTO Excellence in 100 Days

Etienne’s journey didn’t stop there. He recounts his experience writing the book CTO Excellence in 100 Days, a practical guide focusing on heart-centered leadership and empathetic networking. In it, he aims to support new and existing CTOs to better integrate within their organization and form stronger relationships. It is a blueprint for leaders who want to effect meaningful change in their organizations. Quoting from his book, Etienne emphasizes, “In the first 100 days, a leader must focus not on showcasing technical prowess, but understanding what the company needs.” This phase sets the tone and style of their leadership. [Listen from 21:55]

(Listen to Lessons Learned from Building our Venture Studio, Nobody Studios with Mark McNally)

Becoming a Sponge Leads to Success

Discussing lessons in leadership and technological excellence, Etienne underlines the importance of pacing and being receptive to learning. Leaders should not rush to show all their cards at once but should instead display patience, taking the time to understand their team, the organization, and the challenges it faces. They should also ensure they gradually make their mark, avoiding an overwhelming influx of changes that could cause disarray and discomfort. As he puts it, “We must transition from being a showcase of knowledge to becoming a sponge, absorbing information from others around us.” Barry echoes this sentiment, adding, “Knowledge isn’t just about speaking; it’s about listening and absorbing.” This may involve setting aside their own ego or technical inclinations and adopting new approaches or solutions that align with the organization’s requirements. [Listen from 29:15]

(Listen to Designing a Career Strategy with Sarah Doody)

Trust is a Process

Etienne and Barry discuss the role of trust in leadership. Etienne shares his understanding, stating, “You can’t build trust or get people to back you up with short-term wow moments.” His belief is that trust cannot be established or maintained through sporadic acts of brilliance or grand gestures; rather, it is earned through consistent behavior, dependability, and authenticity over time. A leader’s actions must match their words in order to earn credibility, and eventually, trust. “Trust is about aligning what you say with what you do, consistently.” He suggests that leaders who demonstrate transparency, honesty, and consistency are more likely to earn the trust and respect of their teams. Barry adds, “Trust is not a one-time event; it’s built and maintained through ongoing interactions, actions, and reactions. It’s about being dependable, even when things get tough.” [Listen from 32:15]

Looking Ahead

Etienne shares his aspiration to spark a revolution in the way we validate business ideas. Through Nobody Studios, he aims to foster a conducive ecosystem for startups, making it faster, more accessible, and less risky for entrepreneurs to transform their ideas into reality. Etienne’s future plans include writing more books for CTOs and developing an organization called “Every Dev” for developers at every stage of their career. [Listen from 35:05]