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Archive for June, 2016

To Be — or Not

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

We live in a time of peril.

Not from the outside, but from within.

Politicians pander to our fears.

Trolls threaten, bully and abuse freely and anonymously.

Speech is free only if you are one of “us” and not one of “them.”

Hate and bigotry thrive.

Fear runs rampant.

What should/can you do?

Live the words of a true thought leader.

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Image credit: Quotation Box

Ducks in a Row: Pundit Poop from Graham and Kalanick

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

http://www.flickr.com/photos/spacepleb/249761636/

Background:

  • Austin passed a law requiring fingerprint-based criminal checks;
  • Uber and Lyft spent $8 million on a referendum to repeal it; and
  • lost on May 8.
  • On May 15 Paul Graham tweeted

    I will go out on a limb and say Austin has zero chance of being a serious startup hub without Uber and Lyft. (I am an investor in neither.)

Essentially, Graham, a man devoted to innovation and startups, discounted any possible innovation in ride-sharing beyond the current scenario.

(Keep in mind that this is the same guy who claimed that London’s not a startup hub because some establishments still enforce a dress code.)

Little did Graham know just how weak that limb was.

Contrary to his expectations, Austin did not reel in shock, wallow in grief or stay home.

Arcade City Austin / Request a Ride is a Facebook group that has grown rapidly in the weeks following Uber’s and Lyft’s departures. The group, which requires approval to join, is currently populated by more than 33,000 members who use the group to find rides to and from their destinations.

Beyond that effort, there is Zipcar, getme, Fare, Fasten, Wingz, zTrip, RideAustin and InstaRyde riding into town (if not already there) and all willingly complying with the required fingerprint background check.

All this should bring a note of caution to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s stated plan to avoid going public as long as possible.

“So I say we are going to IPO as late as humanly possible. It’ll be one day before my employees and significant others come to my office with pitchforks and torches. We will IPO the day before that. Do you get it?”

Amazing arrogance.

  • Graham discounts the world, the people in it and innovation itself.
  • Kalanick plans Uber’s IPO with no consideration of the economy, competitors or the speed at which things change.

Graham’s words have already come back to bite him; Kalanick’s probably will, too.

Flickr image credit: Dave Gough

Golden Oldies: Verbal Avoidance

Monday, June 13th, 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.

I wrote Verbal Avoidance in 2011, not because it was new, but because it was so prevalent — and since them it’s gotten more so in spite of all the talk about honesty and authenticity. Read other Golden Oldies here

1211065_danger_help_need_peace_and_silenceThere’s a bad habit I see sweeping through companies. It’s not really new, but it has gotten much worse in recent years.

This particular habit used to be more the province of arguing couples, relationship counselors and divorce courts.

Always more of a guy thing, I now find it on the rise among women.

I call it “verbal avoidance” and it is irritating to say the least.

It occurs when something happens, or is supposed to happen, and person A needs to communicate that to person B.

And doesn’t.

A doesn’t because

  • what happened is going to upset B and A either doesn’t want to be the messenger, since messengers are sometimes killed or deal with the fallout if/when B gets upset.
  • B is waiting for A to notify him of good news, but B doesn’t have the information yet, so rather than saying that, he doesn’t call.

Of course there are dozens of variations, but they all boil down to the same thing—A does not communicate with B as expected.

When B does reach A, A offers a variety of reasons why the contact didn’t happen, but reasons don’t excuse anything.

B feels frustrated/disappointed/disgusted/angry/betrayed.

Verbal avoidance for any reason breaks trust.

And trust is the basis for any kind of relationship, whether at work, at home or in the world at large.

Silence isn’t always golden.

Stock.xchng image credit: Sigurd Decroos

If the Shoe Fits: Freemium for Enterprise Doesn’t Pay

Friday, June 10th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf you doubt those words, just take a look at the difference between Egnyte, and Box and Dropbox.

Founded in 2007, Egnyte never offered free anything, has taken only $62.5 million (nearly half of that in 2013) in funding and says it will be profitable by year-end.

Box and Dropbox are not even close, with their millions of over-hyped, flavor-of-the-last-few-years hypergrowth users who pay nothing.

Nada.

Consumers used to pay, too, when the service was viable enough.

Angie’s List started in 1995 as a paid subscription service and boasted a 73% renewal rate in 2015.

In 2008 the mantra of hypergrowth exploded, driven by the the fremium model, but converting free users to paid turned out not be all that easy.

Many companies are now trying to sell their multi-million consumer products to corporations and are learning, to their chagrin, that corporations don’t care about freemium, let alone the media hype that drives consumer adoption.

Matt Weeks spelled it out perfectly in a guest post on NTR’s blog that’s well worth your time.

…hypergrowth without a hope of unit economics that lead to profitability has always been a fool’s errand (…) at some point there must be a path to profitable and repeatable unit economics.

Put more simply, the real goal of your startup is sustainable profit.

And there’s always Marc Andreessen’s advice, which really rules out the ‘free’ in freemium.

Marc Andreessen has two words of advice for startups: Raise prices. (…) The No. 1 thing — just the theme and we see it everywhere — the No. 1 theme with our companies have when they get really struggling is they are not charging enough for their product. It has become absolutely conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley that the way to succeed is to price your product as low as possible under the theory that if it’s low-priced everybody can buy it and that’s how you get the volume.”

Don’t bemoan it; own it.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: the Silly Side of Paul Graham

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

http://www.paulgraham.com/images.html via w:en:Image:Paulgraham_240x320.jpg

I’m not sure what I dislike most about Paul Graham; his arrogance, narrow-mindedness (previous link) or his misogynist mindset .

I suppose his latest comments fit the arrogance category, but I’m inclined to add a just-plain-silly category instead.

It all started with Sam Altman’s shoes, which weren’t allowed at the Ritz in London.

Shallow though this test may seem, it shows London’s not a startup hub yet. No hotel in SF could afford this rule.

— Paul Graham (@paulg) (read the thread.)

So, according to Graham, in order to be a good place for startups, a city/all businesses must drop any standards and just accept whatever.

Of course, this is the same guy who said that a city can’t be serious about startups if it doesn’t have Uber and Lyft.

Hmmm, does that mean Silicon Valley wasn’t a startup hub prior to 2009?

As I said — silly.

Image credit: Sarah Harlin via Wikipedia

Where’s the ‘I’ in Team?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

KG’s schedule has gotten so bad that he sends no-words-needed images in lieu of written posts.

Either way he really nails the subject, as with today’s offering.

I in team

It’s not the first time we’ve addressed that issue; in 2010 I posted about what happens when that ‘I’ rears it’s ugly head.

Ducks in a Row: Bosses Different as Night and Day

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/15708236@N07/2708299113/

Edicts by Steve Ballmer and tweets by David Sacks do not a culture change.

Changing culture doesn’t happen overnight and takes a lot of damn hard work.

But it can be done.

And for CEOs willing to take the time and do the work, the payoff is ginormous to the 10th power and goes well beyond money — for the company, the employees, stakeholders and last, but certainly not least, for themselves.

Just ask Satya Nadella or Lou Gerstner, who turned around IBM and said it best.

“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

On a funny, or should I say ironic, side note.

As I looked through past posts and articles I realized how similar in name Nadella is to his complete cultural and managerial opposite, [Robert] Nardelli.

Separated by two letters and a mental chasm that dwarfs the Grand Canyon.

Flickr image credit: jphilipg

Golden Oldies: Real Email Can Be as Bad for Your Company’s Health as Spam

Monday, June 6th, 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.

Although the focus was elsewhere, Friday’s post mentioned that Zirtual CEO Maren Kate Donovan chose to notify her 400 employees that they were and laid off by email. Definitely not good management. Way back in 2002 I wrote that you can’t mange by email; in 2016 I’d add text, Twitter and all social media to that list. Some things you just need to do face-to-face.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Hooray, I’m vindicated! And in Business Week, no less.

The article (now a 404 error), about the importance of reducing email reliance and encouraging face-to-face meetings, is a must read for every manager who is looking to boost productivity, spark innovation, and improve retention of both employees and customers.

Recognition of the problems and misunderstandings email causes is finally gaining a higher profile and being researched and documented by top academics and consultants.

My November 27th post contains a link to an article on the dangers inherent in how one choose to sign-off at the end of an email.

Google “dangers of email” and you’ll get back nearly five million results.

As to my vindication? Here’s an article I wrote for a client’s company newsletter in 2002.

You Can’t Manage By Email

Email. Some people can’t live without it and others refuse to live with it. The debate as to whether it’s a blessing or a curse may rage on, but one thing is for sure: You can not manage by email.

As a manager it is your responsibility to encourage, motivate, challenge, and develop every person on your team. No matter your style, you must be teacher, mentor, coach, cheer leader, and fan for each individual for whom you are responsible! (Hey, you wanted to be a manager, remember?) That said, it should be obvious that these functions aren’t particularly email friendly, any more than they were memo friendly in the dark ages before email. Further, even those that seem as if they should work are dependent on writing skills that are beyond most people’s ability.

Now, don’t get defensive. Look back at email you’ve received from just one person with whom you are close and count how many times

  • you asked for clarification;
  • you found that actions predicated on your interpretation were either awkward, or downright incorrect; or
  • your understanding of what was written left you questioning/confused/annoyed/angered/ hurt/etc., which was not the intended effect.

If that’s the batting average of someone you know well, how much more likely are misunderstandings to happen between two people who not only aren’t peers, but where one possesses substantial leverage over the other? (By definition, managers have leverage, whether or not they use it.)

Email is good for such things as

  • quick alerts (The meeting starts in 10 minutes.);
  • a public thank you (Thanks, Lucy, you gave a terrific presentation today!); and
  • simple, clearly worded instructions (Please collect everybody’s project notes and be prepared to discuss them with me at 10 AM tomorrow in conference room A.)

Although there are rare occasions where it works, in most instances using email to manage (encourage, motivate, challenge, and develop) is similar to driving blindfolded—you’re going to have an accident. Lower productivity and higher turnover are the results of management accidents, and neither is likely to give your career a boost!

To succeed at management you need to recognize some basic facts:

  • You are managing people (AKA, wetware), not androids (software) so you must lead, not program, them.
  • Living entities respond best to personal interaction, so spend the time willingly.

Your people do not interfere with doing your job, they are your job, so nurture them and they, in turn, will guarantee your success!

If the Shoe Fits: Zach Ware Extends the Social Contract

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn 2011 serial entrepreneur Matt Weeks described what he calls the “startup social contract”. In it he talks about the tradeoff of salary for equity and that the basic premise is that the employees have the company’s back, the company has theirs and what happens if it is violated.

If the workers and/or the exec team come to disrespect, disbelieve or ignore this social contract, the company is lost.

Zach Ware, managing partner of VTF Capital, adds another dimension to what it means to have your people’s back and it’s crucial information as funding tightens.

“There is absolutely no reason for a company to shut down overnight. That’s a result of a selfish set of decisions a founder made.”

Ware spells it out by comparing what he did in his own startup, Shift vs. what Maren Kate Donovan, when she shut down Zirtual and laid off 400 people by email.

To start with,  Donavon claimed her CFO gave her incorrect numbers (he denies it) and that she was pitching to the last minute.

“The reason we couldn’t give more notice was that up until the 11th hour, I did everything I could to raise more money and right the ship.”

In actuality she bet 400 other people’s lives on a roll of the funding dice and then took the coward’s way out using email.

Ware finds her reasoning specious.

“Every founder should have a real-time understanding of their business. It doesn’t matter who does it. You have to know it. You have to know your horizons,”

Choosing to not only be a founder, but also CEO, means that, when all is said and done, the buck stops with you. Period.

No reasons, no excuses.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Change the World — or Yourself?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/inspiyr/9670184989/The entrepreneurial mantra that weaves through every startup vision and recruitment effort focuses on how X product/service will change the world.

This particular passion applies whether it’s a cure for cancer, a big data application, a new messaging app, social network or dating app.

How does one truly change the world?

Or is it a phrase with no real meaning?

Even if one does change it does the change make the world better?

Better by what yardstick and whose standards?

Change isn’t always a positive.

What is your responsibility if you do change it?

In his graduation speech at USC, Larry Ellison said, “You will change the world and the world will change you.”

For better or worse, change is the only true constant.

Flickr image credit: Inspiyr.com

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