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Archive for March, 2016

Entrepreneurs: CB Insights

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

CB Insights

Founders, closely follow those they wish to emulate, “names” they trust, peers, competitors, etc., mostly from the viewpoint of the media or their own self-generated content (blogs, articles, etc.)

In other words, content developed for either the entrepreneurial community or general public.

Whereas CB Insights was created to provide information to industry.

So in 2010, they launched CB Insights to use data, algorithms and predictive analytics to help customers answer questions about “what’s next?”

  • What company is our next customer? Investment? Acquisition?
  • What’s the next big industry we should position ourselves in?
  • What are our competitors up to and what is likely their next move?

And while it’s doubtful you could afford a subscription, or that it even would pay to have one, its newsletter is a goldmine of information — plus it’s well-written and an enjoyable read.

I reached out to Anand Sanwal, CB Insights’ CEO / Co-Founder / Customer Service with the following questions.

Your About page states that CB is revenue-funded. Why did you make the decision not to seek funding?

We were revenue-funded for our first 5.75 years but did take $10M of funding in November 2015. More on that here

What special challenges did you find and how did you overcome them?

In the beginning, it was figuring out how to get our name out there since nobody had ever heard of us.  We started doing data-driven content to stand out and this worked.  It’s been our secret weapon.

Other than that, there are the perennial challenges of recruiting, building a great product and selling. These challenges are not unique to us. They just keep changing as the organization grows.

Regarding Lesson 1 of the CB Insights Quantitative Venture Capital Class, are there more lessons? If yes, are they also free and is there a tag/link that accesses them all?

There are several. They are here, here and here(Be sure to use these links! Ed.)

How useful is your content to entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurs waste inordinate amounts of time doing diligence on investors and markets, and so it’s very useful to them. Knowing who the most active investors are in a space or who has the highest follow-on rate saves them a lot of time.  

The alternative is Googling around doing lots of data janitor work.  Based on feedback/emails we get in response to our newsletter, founders have been very appreciate of us cutting through the noise with data.

Is there a best way for them to utilize it?

We’re an institutionally oriented product with a nearly $40,000 per year average price so the best way for them to use us is to subscribe to our free newsletter, follow us on Twitter (@asanwal)  and read our research blog. 

Our target customer is not founders/entrepreneurs.

Any other comments or advice that you think would be useful to founders?

I read a great quote (not sure who said this) to “never take advice from someone who doesn’t have to live with the consequences” so take this as my disclaimer.  

Everyone’s situation is different and so there are no absolutes.

But if I had to offer any advice to founders, it is to sell, sell, sell. We did it to some extent, but I wish we’d done it more aggressively because the best type of funding is from customers.  It shows your product is something they want and is the ultimate validation of what you’re doing.  Too many folks mistake raising money from investors and giving away equity as validation. It may not be.

I highly recommend CB Insights; what you’ll learn will provide high ROI for the time you spend. –Miki

Gen. George S. Patton On Leadership

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016


Gen. George S. Patton, who commanded the US’s 7th Army in Europe and the Mediterranean during World War II, is one of the most loved and respected soldiers in US history.

Patton was tough, irascible, inspiring and considered a guru on the subject of leadership.

After reading a list of brilliant, succinct, one-liners on leadership, taken from the 1995 book “Patton’s One-Minute Messages” by Charles M. Province, I picked seven to share, with appropriate (if sometimes irreverent) commentary.

“No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.” Even if it’s a Herman Miller design, so get up, get out and walk around.

  • “Do everything you ask of those you command.” Especially since no boss does a lot of commanding these days.
  • “No one is thinking if everyone is thinking alike.” The only thing that may benefit from hiring yes-people is your ego and that’s only in the very short-term.
  • “Never make a decision too early or too late.” That said, worst of all is no decision at all.
  • “Know what you know, and know what you don’t know.” Now learn to admit it.
  • “Success is how you bounce on the bottom.” I can personally swear to the accuracy of this having bounced several times in my life.
  • “Any man who thinks he’s indispensable, ain’t.” This is my all-time favorite. It’s similar to one my first boss used when a team member got a little too cocky, “Nobody can be duplicated, but anybody can be replaced.”

You can learn a lot from Patton as long as you remember that he was a great leader not because of his skill for soundbites, but because he always walked his talk.

Image credit: National Archives

Ducks in a Row: the High Value of Consistency

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016


An interesting article in the Washington Post focuses on a study that shows people are less stressed if their boss is consistently unfair than if she is unfair one minute and fair the next.

“Intuitively, you would think the more fairness you get, the better,” said Fadel Matta, a researcher at Michigan State University and the lead author of the paper, in an interview. “But that’s not what we demonstrated. It’s better if supervisors are a consistent jerk than if they’re fair sometimes and not fair other times. People want to know what they can expect when they come into work.”

Reading that reminded me of something I wrote back in 2009.

The action is inconsistency and the primary effect is fear. Secondary effects include intimidation and insecurity. (…) It’s not knowing that really gets to people—even more than expected abuse. (…) That fear grows exponentially once it takes root and distrust typically increases at the same rate.

As far back in history as you care to go, no matter the circumstances — work, personal, relationship, religious — inconsistency has always been a negative.

What also seems to be a constant, in this case in the workplace, is the inability for bosses’ opinions of themselves to accurately reflect their employees’ take on the same subject — although the disconnect does embody a kind of consistency.

In short, when evaluating your own actions for consistency don’t ask yourself, your boss, or your peer.

Ask the people who actually experience you every day of their lives.

Ask your team.

Flickr image credit: Susanne Nilsson

Golden Oldies: Out of the box is about choice

Monday, March 28th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Do you spend any time reading archives from sources you like? I don’t mean stuff that’s a few months old or even a couple of years. I mean thought pieces dating back 5, 10, 15 years ago or even more, especially those focused on what bosses need to do to motivate, retain and get the best from their teams. The problem is not in the content, nor how pertinent it is. The problem is that it’s still applicable, which means bosses haven’t changed much, if at all over all that time — but the workforce has. Here’s an example of what I mean.  Read other Golden Oldies here.

My post yesterday brought an interesting question from Dan L. in Boston. He said, “Why in the world would any manager do anything that would reduce the options available to identify a solution needed in his/her group, especially a CEO?”

So, I paraphrased five reasons that I’ve actually heard, in one form or another, from top managers who talked about being out of the box, but really wanted to stay in it.

  • Think outside—as long as it doesn’t make me uncomfortable.
  • Don’t challenge the status quo in a manner that scares me.
  • Be creative within parameters I can understand.
  • If you want to breach the box, do it my way.
  • We’ve never done it that way.

At first, Dan was incredulous, then he really thought about what’s behind each of the five reasons, and he understood what anybody who really listens to the thoughts behind people’s words comes to know.

Out of the box is about change, and change is scary—for everybody.

But it’s not about being scared, it’s about how you choose to handle it.

That’s right, choose.

Your responses, your choice.

Think about it this weekend.

Then, when you get to the office Monday and one of your people has a great idea that scares the dickens out of you, consciously choose how you respond—knowing that no matter how you choose the ripples of that choice will spread and impact not only your future, but also the future of your people and your company.

If the Shoe Fits: Is This You?

Friday, March 25th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAre you really a more competent leader than the woman founder who you beat out for funding or do you just think you are?

Research says it’s the latter, i.e., all in your mind.

Results show that when all leadership contexts are considered, men and women do not differ in perceived leadership effectiveness. Yet, when other-ratings only are examined, women are rated as significantly more effective than men. In contrast, when self-ratings only are examined, men rate themselves as significantly more effective than women rate themselves.
From the abstract of a paper by Samantha C. Paustian‐Underdahl (number 5 on the list; the full text is available upon free registration)

Are you the reason this question keeps coming up on Quora?

Is it true that software development has no future once you get to a certain age such as 40, and one should pursue to steer his development career towards management?

Do you pride yourself on being part of the bro culture? Do you agree, publicly or privately, with what White_N_Nerdy wrote on Reddit?

“I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

If, in the deepest, most private place in your mind, your response is ‘yes’, then consider that the women you degrade and perceive as troll bait are someone’s sister, mother, aunt or cousin.

And that somewhere/somewhen someone will do the same to your sister, mother, aunt or cousin.

And someday, when you hold your newborn daughter or son, know that this world you helped build is the world they, too, will eventually face.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: 5 Items to Make You Think

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

What would you do?

You are driving down the road in your car on a wild, stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop and you see three people waiting for the bus:

1. An old lady who looks as if she is about to die.
2. An old friend who once saved your life.
3. The perfect partner you have been dreaming about.

Knowing that there can only be one passenger in your car, whom would you choose? (answer at the end of this post)

How carefully do you hire?

Your assets go home every evening…and your hiring mistakes re-appear every morning.CNI Recruiting via KG (a quote, not a recommendation.)

Did you know…Apollo to the moon via the woman who wrote the code.

Margaret Hamilton

Code not only written by a woman, but written by hand. – Wikipedia via KG (can you write code, or anything else, by hand?)

Do you know the ins and outs of thin slicing? You should.

Within moments of meeting you, people decide all sorts of things about you, from status to intelligence to conscientiousness. Career experts say it takes just three seconds for someone to determine whether they like you and want to do business with you.

Magic Johnson, who is as successful in business as he was in basketball, offered some astute insights at the Upfront Summit.

“You have to look like America looks, and right now the tech space doesn’t look like America.” It’s not just about finding businesses that target minorities or underserved communities, but realizing that the demographic shift also means a shift in power.


And here’s the solution: The old lady of course! After helping the old lady into the car, you can give your keys to your friend, and wait with your perfect partner for the bus.  –from Lateral Puzzles via the CBI Blog (more on CBI next Thursday)

Marvin Ellison’s Winning Way

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

http://www.blackpast.org/aah/ellison-marvin-1966The following points are from a profile of Marvin Ellison, CEO of JC Penney and author of its successful turnaround strategy.

He is also the guy credited with Home Depot’s turnaround after Bob Nardelli’s  disastrous run as CEO.

Ellison’s attitude and approach is the 180 degree opposite of Nardelli’s imperial, top down, command and control management style.

I was at Home Depot last weekend and in conversation with two employees who were solving a problem for me, which they did brilliantly.

I mentioned how different shopping there was now compared to during Nardelli’s reign. It turned out they had both worked at HD during that time and a couple of the stories they told were beyond belief.

If you think I’m exaggerating, or are too young to remember him, note that Nardelli is number 17 on Portfolio’s Worst American CEOs of All Time.

How different is Ellison?

The following four Ellison quotes clearly illustrate his approach.

Beyond explaining his leadership skill the quotes are solid cornerstones on which to build your own approach.

“I’m trying to understand the culture and customer. In retail, understanding those two things is essential.”

“…listening to people about what we need to do;”

“There will be change, but not for the sake of change.”

“There’s nothing more instructive than asking store employees for their opinions. I have no problem doing it.”

Hat tip to Wally Bock for pointing me to this article.

Image credit: BlackPast.org

Ducks in a Row: Psychological Safety

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/28208534@N07/6129796947/Is your team psychologically safe?

As a boss, no matter the level, it’s your responsibility to foster a psychologically safe culture for your team.

First, you need to know that it’s a relatively simple concept.

Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.[1] In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It is also the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics and team learning research.

But not that simple to implement.

It’s also something that is highly unlikely to happen by accident.

If you are interested in the concept why not learn from Google as they set out to build the perfect team.

Flickr image credit: JC

Golden Oldies: The Value of Thinking

Monday, March 21st, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.  

It’s been three years since I wrote this, but crowdthinking has increased geometrically, while independent thinking, let alone deep thinking, has decreased in proportion. You have only to consider the questions on Quora and the crowd’s actions/reactions at any political rally to see just how bad it’s become. Read other Golden Oldies here


What do you think?

Do you think?

Or perhaps the question is ‘how do you think’ around the clutter and the noise.

“Nobody can think anymore because they’re constantly interrupted,” said Leslie Perlow, a Harvard Business School professor and author of “Sleeping With Your Smartphone.” “Technology has enabled this expectation that we always be on.” Workers fear the repercussions that could result if they are unavailable, she said.

Of course, there is the alternative of ‘why bother thinking’ when one can just ask and receive crowdsourced thoughts on any subject imaginable; from where/what to eat to raising your kids to how/when to die.

But what happens to the crowd when everybody stops bothering to think?

At that point the old saying, everyone has a right to be stupid, but some just abuse the privilege, kicks in with a vengeance.

Rather than joining the crowd, take time to think; you may be one of the few left who do.

Flickr image credit: Alyssa L. Miller

If the Shoe Fits: The Need to Reflect

Friday, March 18th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mStartup life, especially for founders, is notoriously fast-paced, with thinking time devoted to product development, funding, growth, funding, user acquisition, funding, hiring, funding, etc.

Add to that the need/desire to interact with family and friends, compulsion to keep up with social media and daily chores, such as eating, sleeping, bathing, etc. and many will say that carving out time for quiet reflection is a nonstarter.

That said, no thinking entrepreneur questions the enormous value of attending Steve Blanks annual Lean LaunchPad class — since it offers far more than any accelerator.

It’s the difference between buying fish and learning to fish — the latter provides a lifetime of value, while the former is short-lived.

Blank and his cohorts added a week to the course this year and the reason is of paramount importance — even to those not in the startup world.

This year we made a small but substantive addition to way we teach the class, adding a week for reflection. The results have made the class massively better. (…)

We realized that we had been so focused in packing content and work into the class, we failed to give the students time to step back and think about what they actually learned.

So this year we made a change. We turned the next to last week of the class into a reflection week.  Our goal—to have the students extract the insights and meaning from the work they had done in the previous seven weeks.

Reflection — (in this context) a fixing of the thoughts on something; careful consideration

Back in 2011William W. George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, found that making time for self-reflection was critical for anyone aspiring to a leadership role.

Before anyone takes on a leadership role, they should ask themselves, “Why do I want to lead?” and “What’s the purpose of my leadership?”

The kind of thinking/reflecting recommended by both Blank and George can’t be done while scanning email, texting, listening to music or any of the myriad of distractions that constantly bombard you.

You need to set aside the time, turn off your devices and give yourself time to reflect and even do some deep thinking.

You and your organization will both benefit.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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