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Archive for October, 2015

If the Shoe Fits: Revenue Makes It Real

Friday, October 30th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYou build an app that is greeted with raves.

You have 15 million installs and counting.

You have 36 talented, motivated employees.

You raise 35 million dollars from top investors, including Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

What’s your next step?

You shut it down before you run out of money.


Because you can’t identify a viable business model.

In short, you can’t figure out a way to generate revenue.

That’s what just happened to Everything.me.

The startup had seasoned founders and did everything right.

The investors were smart, savvy and experienced.

But one thing slipped by everyone’s radar.

No clear, or even murky, path to revenue.

Not profit.

You can live without profits, but you die without revenue.

Lesson learned: no vision/business plan is complete without a viable way to make money.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Star Creation

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015


Monday we considered the idea that a team can have too much talent, i.e., stars.

Bosses claim they hire stars because they are the rocket that drives a team further, faster.

I think many do it because they are lazy.

As Wally Bock puts it, “We live in a world of microwavable answers and quick fixes” — and bosses see stars as quick fixes.

Which, if you will excuse the bluntness, is really stupid for two reasons.

The so-called slow fix takes more effort, but provides far greater ROI.

And you, personally, do much better, and have more fun, with fewer regrets, building your own team of stars — usually the only things lacking in this approach are egos, prima donnas and drama.

A slightly offbeat story illustrates the kind of stars that can result­­­.

Faculty from Bard College coach a debate team from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security lockup.

They recently beat the national and world champion Harvard team. They have also beaten the University of Vermont and West Point teams.

They are home-grown stars, since it’s doubtful that a world-class team of debaters were all incarcerated at the same facility.

The point of all this is that if you want to be known as a great boss, then be the coach who builds an extraordinary team, as opposed to being the one who hires shooting stars.

Flickr image credit: Michael Pollack

Ducks in a Row: Lars Dalgaard on Being Human

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/eiriknewth/474679387/This great leadership information from Lars Dalgaard, general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, is applicable to every boss, whether startup or Fortune 50.

The biggest thing in my life is really daring to be human, and that’s the approach I take to the working world. We could all be so much more human, but we don’t allow ourselves to do it. I think it’s because we’ve been brought up thinking that when you’re in a business role, if you show any emotion, then that’s the opposite of being tough.

The funny thing is that you’re actually a stronger leader and more trustworthy if you’re able to be vulnerable and you’re able to show your real personality. It’s a trust multiplier, and people really will want to work for you and be on a mission together with you.

Dalgaard’s approach is the opposite of so many of today’s bosses, who act as if every day is a tough mudder experience.

To them, being vulnerable is the same as being weak — and weak loses.

Worse, by acting on that belief they, in turn, force the attitude on their people.

The end result often turns a workplace into a warplace, with X% of your people trying to out-tough each other and the rest running for cover.

So give them, and yourself, a break by recognizing that you’ll go further, and have more fun getting there, by being, and showing, that you are human.

Flickr image credit: BK

Talent, Talent, Too Much Talent

Monday, October 26th, 2015


Stars. Everyone wants to hire stars.

Sports teams buy them for astronomical salaries.

Companies use salaries, stock, sign-on bonuses and anything else they can.

Beyond bragging rights, stars are supposed to goose innovation, boost productivity and all kinds of good stuff.

But do they?

In 2010 the Miami Heat bought LeBron James and Chris Bosh to add to the triple the star power of Dwayne Wade — and had a terrible season.

What happened?

Stars want to be stars.

When individual interests take precedence over what is best for the collective, group performance declines. It no longer functions as a cohesive whole. (…) For chickens [another example], businessmen, and basketball players alike, high-levels of performance comes with high-levels of competitive spirit. These status conflicts drive performance down.

Down, not up.

You can still hire brilliant individual contributors if you are willing to put in the time and effort to make them a team.

It takes work, because they won’t become one left to their own devices.

Just remember that all teams aren’t created equal, so be sure your team plays basketball and not baseball.

Bill Simmons referred to baseball as “an individual sport masquerading as a team sport.”

President Barack Obama referred to basketball as “the quintessential team sport

Flickr image credit: Kentucky National Guard

If the Shoe Fits: Who are you?

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mHow would you respond to what works best?

Do you agree with Carlos Brito, Brazilian chief of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV?

“If you want the best out of people you have to put pressure on them all the time.”

Or are you more like Shamsheer Vayalil, founder and managing director of VPS Healthcare, founded in 2007; today it has 650 physicians and 7,500 employees and serves some 2 million patients a year?

I was a good listener. I would listen to people. I would accept that I didn’t have any experience. So I hired the best people on the job.

If you’ve read much of what I write you’ll know I support Shamsheer’s attitude far more than Brito.

As do Marc Benioff and Jeff Bezos.

Different approaches, both yielding success.

Either way the message is clear: the best CEOs in the world listen more, whether it’s to customers, employees, or business partners — and doing so can go a long way.

Yet another reason to make sure you know yourself.

Flickr Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Funding and Values

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015


Sanity is waxing, while funding craziness is waning

This means you will be working even harder than you have been to move your vision forward.

With money getting tighter does that mean you should grab whatever funding available?

Short answer, NO — getting in bed with an investor should signal a long-term relationship, not a hook-up.

Longer answer, NO because…

All angels and seed investors are not created equal and it’s not the difference in money.

It’s the difference in MAP.

Money is only part of what you want from an investor.

Active interest, mentoring and contacts are what your investors should bring.

These are especially important with early-stage investors.

Just as important is a synergy between your values and the values of your initial investors, since values are what underlie your startup’s culture.

For example, if your values include a focus fairness, diversity and social give-back a la Salesforce and your investor’s values are strictly focused on minimizing costs to increase profits the relationship will be rocky, to say the least.

How do you know?

Smart founders do lots of due diligence and talking with founders of previously funded startups, whether they succeeded or failed.

Yes, it’s hard to say ‘no’ when the money is on the table.

But easier if you remember that while refusing funding may slow you down, taking it from the wrong person can kill you.

Flickr image credit: Michael Lehet

A Vision or a Dream?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015


I wrote the following in 2008 and, based on a number of recent questions/conversations I think it’s time to post it again, with some light editing.

The Vision Thing

Whether you head a company, run a department, or lead a team, you are responsible for that ‘vision thing’ as it applies to those subordinate to you.

It’s your responsibility to clearly identify (if you are the CEO/Prez/Owner) or articulate (at all other levels) the goals of the company.

Then it’s up to you to involve your people, working with them to turn those goals into specific actions for which they are responsible.

Most people are vaguely aware that work isn’t done in a vacuum, but often individuals, teams, or even departments, fail to truly understand the domino effect created by allowing their schedule to slip.

You can minimize this problem, and improve the quality of your workforce, by making certain that they understand how their own goals, their colleagues, those of the company and its customers and vendors interact.

The biggest rewards at all levels (using whatever incentives are available) should go to those who understand the company’s goals, and ethically do whatever is necessary to achieve them—especially when they put the company’s goals ahead of their own.

None of this is rocket science. 

It’s simple enough.

No matter your level, if you’re the boss communicating the vision to your team and aligning their actions with it is your responsibility.

Otherwise, the vision becomes a dream.

Image credit: Wordle

Ducks in a Row: An (Almost) Foolproof Formula for Success

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015


Is there an eternal answer to the eternal question of ‘what should be learned/done to make oneself promotable’?


The answer was recently expounded upon by Xin Li, a Staff Software Engineer At Google, in response to a question posed on Quora.

I work at Google Mountain View.  Here, if your base salary is around 200K, you are most likely a Staff Software Engineer.  The defining characteristics at that level are:

  1. Go beyond being a technical expert to also being a domain expert.  You need to know what should be done, rather than just how things can be done.
  2. Be an owner.  The buck stops with you.  If something goes wrong with your part of the product, it’s ultimately your responsibility, even if the mistake wasn’t made by you.
  3. Work for your people, rather than have your people work for you.  That is be the one to volunteer to take on the tasks others don’t want to do.  Your job is to make your people look good.  Give them the opportunity to grow professionally, and support them where they need it, and clear obstacles for them, so they can be at their best.
  4. Be a leader and a consensus driver.  Real world problems don’t have cookie cutter solutions, and not everyone will agree on what the right solution is. You need to have a vision, work across teams, and bring people together, resolve differences.
  5. And of course you still need technical chops.  You need to be good at technical system design.  Be able to create an architecture that is as complicated as it needs to be, but no more, and no less.  It needs to serve the requirements of today, while robust enough to be extensible a few years down the road.

If you want to get to this salary level as a software engineer, I think the requirements are fairly similar everywhere.  As you can see, these requirements have less to do with any particular language you may or may not choose.  Focus on delivering value for your employer, and the rest will follow.

Xin Li’s response specifically addressed a software career path, but is universally applicable.

“Focus on delivering value for your employer, and the rest will follow.”

That’s as close to a guaranteed formula to drive success in any career that I’ve ever seen.

Best of all, it’s never too late to start.

Flickr image credit: Chad Sparkes

How Well Do You Hear?

Monday, October 19th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/caninest/4394678079/Bosses at all levels waste their human resources every day.

How? By only listening to those at X level or higher.

Common sense should tell you 

  • Nobody suddenly develops a brain as a result of being promoted.
  • If they were good enough to promote then they should have been good enough to listen to in their previous positions.
  • If they can’t contribute in the position for which they were hired, why hire them at all?
  • Even new grads hired for their potential need to be heard; they are like eggs and like eggs they must be cared for if they are to hatch.

Bosses afflicted by “positional deafness” often experience high turnover and lament the lack of loyalty, especially in “more junior workers.”

But the term ‘junior’ is very subjective; for some managers it refers to those with just a couple of years of experience, for others it’s a level within the company and for still others it’s relative, with the baseline how long it took them to finally be heard by their boss.

How do you know if you suffer from positional deafness?

Simple; just consider the sources of your input over the last quarter and what you did with it.

Better yet, ask the people you trust to tell you the truth, not the ones who tell you what you want to hear.

Flickr image credit: Caninest

If the Shoe Fits: a Lesson Learned

Friday, October 16th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBrainteaser interview questions. Google was famous for them.

So they must be a good idea because Google only does smart stuff — right?


According to Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations, they are worthless in terms of predicting how someone will do on the job.

In fact, many of them were banned more than a year ago.

The lesson here is that following the leader — even a leader like Google — isn’t necessarily the smart way to go.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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