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Thanksgiving Prelude

November 26th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

Remember; Thanksgiving food has NO calories—so give thanks!

turkey-ham

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I’ll see you all on Monday.

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Ducks in a Row: More Bad Uber Culture

November 25th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rob_moments/8667400783

Uber’s culture is on view in the news and it hasn’t been pretty.

Current news is focused on the privacy scandal, the compensation and pricing rage of a few weeks ago has fallen off the front page as have the overly-aggressive driver recruiting and efforts to sabotage a competitor’s fundraising while Uber’s pushing subprime loans to its drivers seems to be totally eclipsed.

Many users are deleting their accounts

To Imran Malek, an engineer at DataXu in Boston, it signals a winner-takes-all culture that justifies any behavior so long as everyone is getting rich. “If investors choose to value you for billions, you are untouchable.

VC Mark Suster wrote a spirited defense of Uber, although I don’t consider it as unbiased as he claims.

He claims that most of Uber’s actions fall in the category of ‘business as usual’, with the exception of employees accessing the so-called god view that tracks users’ movements.

I will tell you that if I were Uber this is the one thing I would plug up immediately and enforcing swift punishment for violations. If the public doesn’t trust you with basic confidentiality as a service you’re toast.

All of the articles offer multiple source links for those of you who want an in-depth picture.

A company’s culture provides an insider’s look at it’s values; a quote from Lisa Abeyta, founder of a tech company in Albuquerque, sums it up nicely,

“There is a difference between being competitive and being dirty. It is bad-boy, jerk culture. And I can’t celebrate that.”

Flickr image credit: Robert Payne

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Surviving Family-Get-Together Season

November 24th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/14065508649

Thursday is the opening of family-get-together season; a time of high stress for many, i.e., a time of battles, large and small.

This is also the time of year that the media trots out dozens of therapists, coaches, etc., to advise on how to handle family get-togethers.

But I think they miss the point.

Connecting for a better relationship isn’t the aim when Uncle Harry drinks too much and starts on his standard rant of what’s wrong with today’s society, etc., etc, etc.

What’s needed are hardcore negotiating skills.

And who better to share them in time for the start of family-get-together season than real hostage negotiators who handle potentially violent confrontations for a living?

I have often wondered, How might a hostage negotiator help the average American family get through Thanksgiving? (…)  Surely these are matters for professionals who’ve received months of intensive training in crisis intervention?

Perfect.

Read the article, practice on a like-minded friend between now and Thursday and you’ll have the skills to handle everything Uncle Harry, cousin Rebecca or anyone else might throw your way.

Flickr image credit: Tambako The Jaguar

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If the Shoe Fits: Building a Bad Culture (a true story)

November 21st, 2014 by Miki Saxon

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_m“Culture eats strategy for breakfast/lunch/dinner” has become the byword among the startup community and for good reason.

Culture is what attracts talent; it’s why they stay and when it changes it’s why they leave.

Of course, that refers to good culture.

Many founders buy into prevailing myths, such as programmers live to program and allow 80+ hour weeks to become the norm.

The founder who got trounced on Quora is a good example of problematic values.

  1. He calls himself a CEO, but “manages a startup” with one employee.
  2. His employee is a new dad and always leaves between 6-7pm, but he also indicates that the work is getting done.
  3. He says “it’s hard for a startup that the commitment lasts for work hours only,” but gives no indication that there is founder or any kind of equity on the table.
  4. He disregarded the negative feedback and defended his concerns, basically saying ‘you’re all wrong and the problem isn’t me’.

He ignored the research that shows productivity takes a nosedive after 40 hours.

 …employees simply become much less efficient: due to stress, fatigue, and other factors, their maximum efficiency during any given work day may become substantially less than what it was during normal working hours.

I’ve know thousands of programmers over the years and not one has ever claimed that the code written after 12+ hours was particularly usable and code done during all-nighters often wasn’t even salvageable.

Much worse, and predictive of serious problems to come, was his refusal to entertain the idea that he was wrong.  

I especially appreciated the response from Drew Austin, Co-Founder of Augmate, who took time to explain how he had been there/almost done that and thanked his lead engineer for helping him change.

**Special thanks to our lead engineer Alex. If it wasn’t for his patience and ability to communicate, I would have been the one writing this question, instead of responding to it.*

I hope you take time to read the whole thread; it’s a crash course in how to build a great culture.

Because great cultures pay off in real money.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: Fundraising—is More Better?

November 20th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/4986290249

How much money are you trying to raise?

Are you more focused on funding or on growing your business?

Do you read about huge valuations and the resulting funding and find yourself green with envy?

According to Ron Conway, founder of SV Angel, …it’s always good to bootstrap for as long as possible, meaning it’s better to not take money from a venture capitalist or angel investor; startups should strive to be self-sustaining at first.

When fundraising it’s important to know what you really need as opposed to what you can get.

Ego trips, too, play a role in fundraising. After all, think of the bragging rights and the media frenzy that come with large investments.

But raising funds means giving up equity as Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder of PeoplePerHour.com and SuperTasker.com in London and New York, learned the hard way.

…venture capitalists expected his company to grow five times in 12 months. Though he viewed his firm as having a healthy, sustainable growth rate, it didn’t meet those expectations, and he was forced to hire an expensive and large management team. Eventually, Thrasyvoulou regained control of his company, but he reminds other entrepreneurs that “sanity is more important than vanity.”

Of primary importance for all founders is to remember that what goes up always comes down—especially the economy.

That means not just careful fundraising, but careful spending; it’s far smarter to bank the money than to spend it on plush startup living.

Read the article and learn from those who can say, been there/done that. It’s not the same as listening to them on-stage, but it’s a lot less expensive.

Flickr image credit: Howard Lake

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Bottom Line Rocket Science

November 19th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/6126129360

What do SAS; Warby Parker and Toms Shoes; FullContact; Petagonia have in common?

Flexibility, AKA work/life balance.

I’ve written about all of them and for the same reason—they get it.

They get that people are their most valuable asset; they get that replacing them costs far more than the cost of an ad; they get that top talent is looking for more than a fat paycheck.

Lisa Horn, who tracks workplace policies for the Society for Human Resource Management, which represents more than 200,000 members from the HR departments of companies around the world, said many businesses, which, since the Great Recession, have forced employees do more with less, are facing new realities: Millennials who value time for both work and life, and fierce competition for the most highly skilled employees who can easily jump ship for something better. “Already 87 percent of employees say flexibility and balance is important or very important in their next job. So it would behoove companies to adopt these strategies for competitive advantage.”

Companies that get it thrive and not just in the short term.

SAS has been doing it successfully since 1976; so much so that Google’s very own Larry Page and Sergy Brin visited to learn SAS’ approach.

Family-owned Patagonia has doubled in size and tripled in profits since 2008; it has 2,000 employees around the globe and minimal turnover.

A comment from TSD (10/24/2014 5:38) on the Petagonia article sums it up nicely.

I never have figured out why treating your workers well is such a hard concept for so many businesses. I work harder and faster and better when I’m happy and not terrified. Granted, I’ve never owned a business, but it seems pretty simple. Miserable workers will not be productive.

It’s not rocket science—or maybe it is.

Flickr image credit: Steve Jurvetson

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Ducks in a Row: Why Align Objectives and Resources?

November 18th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/8036523186

Ever head the old French proverb, ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’?

Ever since the advent of modern business, managers have faced the same conundrum, i.e., how do you accomplish your objectives when your resources (human or other) are continually reduced or the objectives are significantly expanded, but the staff isn’t.

Walmart is the most recent poster child for this approach and it is especially obvious in the fresh grocery section.

“Labor hours have been cut so thin, that they don’t have the people to do many activities,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, a retail consultant. “The fact that they don’t do some of these things every day, every shift, shows what a complete breakdown Walmart has in staffing and training.”

Walmart continually sends out detailed memos of work that needs to be done daily, such as discounting older meat and eggs, testing/filtering deli oil and watering plants, but adds a rider that practically guarantees managers inability to perform.

At the same time, the memo warns managers not to exceed the weekly hours assigned to their stores. It tells managers to examine whether they are assigning employees too many hours or overtime beyond what the company had budgeted.

Walmart’s employment numbers are misleading, too, since it would require an additional 200,000 workers to have kept pace with its square footage growth.

There are thousands of companies, large and small, consumer, enterprise and startup that play the same game; Walmart is just one of the most visible.

The basic point is simple and should be embedded in your cultural DNA.

When objectives change resources, human and otherwise, need to change (whether increase or decrease) with them.

Flickr image credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

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Tail-End or New Beginning?

November 17th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

Pew-privacy-graphEveryone I know use smartphones; they are on Facebook; most are active on multiple social media platforms; they shop online and live on Google offerings.

And they tease me unmercifully and call me a ‘privacy nut’ (emphasis on nut) because I don’t indulge.

They find it hilarious that I see little difference between the Feds tracking us and Google scanning mail or Facebook manipulating its newsfeed.

But it turns out the main difference between me and 80-90% of the population is that I’ve already rebelled by choosing not to participate.

And nearly everyone who was asked said that they have now lost the ability to control their own data online, with 91% either agreeing, or strongly agreeing, they can’t control how companies collect and use their personal information, while 88% said they thought that it would be hard to remove inaccurate information from the Internet. (…) social media users have a lot of concern about these things. 80% said they had some concerns about third parties, such as advertisers, getting their data, while 70% said that they had concerns about the government accessing their data. And 81% said they don’t feel secure sharing information on social networks and 64% of those surveyed also said that they want the government to do more to regulate advertising.

I wouldn’t hold my breath.

We all know that Congress will never do anything, let alone provide the kind of privacy protection that Europeans enjoy and Google kicked Disconnect out of the Android app shop.

But the worms may turn, so perhaps, as opposed to being a trailing-end holdout, I’m on the bleeding edge of a new trend.

Image credit: Pew Research via Vator.

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If the Shoe Fits: Banking Culture

November 14th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf you work, no matter the industry, company size or the level, you’ve been hearing a lot about the importance of culture, especially over the last 10 years or so, most recently from investors.

Bosses know that ignoring culture puts them at peril, but the lesson is just sinking in for many founders.

Culture is a lot more than foosball tables, fancy food and kegs on Friday.

Culture is the values and ethics of the founders made understandable to all.

Sustainable culture is like a tripod, with customers, investors, and employees comprising each leg.

Founders often tend to focus on two of the legs — investors and customers — leaving the third leg to get along more or less on its own.

The problem is that when you over-favor one leg it will get too long; ignore another leg and it will shrink, but the end result is the same—the tripod tips over.

Simply put, concentrating excessively on one leg or another won’t assure success.

Worse, the third leg, employees, is often the shortest, scrawniest, and weakest leg of the tripod.

However, hip perks and a great ‘cool’ factor doesn’t always convert to loyalty and loyalty is bankable.

Founders who doubt loyalty’s bankability should read Frederick Reichheld, who’s written numerous books on the economic effects of loyalty, and shown in carefully researched studies that a 5% improvement in retention translates to a 25%-100% gain in earnings. (Loyalty Rules).

Loyalty happens because people like and trust what the company says it believes in and which is embodied in its culture.

In other words, good culture pays!

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: Talking about the Down Stuff

November 13th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikecogh/15128166879

As any founder knows, the course of business isn’t smooth and even the most successful startups hit bumps along the way.

Your people know it, too.

In fact, they often foresee trouble more clearly than you’d like and are quick to act — walking next door to another startup. And they do this whether their information is accurate or not.

That means you need to learn how much, when and how to communicate to your team, but keep in mind that there are no absolute answers, because it depends on the specific subject and situation.

That said, there are general guidelines that will help you with the question.

  • How much to share? You should discuss with one or more trusted advisors who have substantial experience rather than with peers.
  • When to share? Most crucial is to talk to your people before the rumors start. Rumors are like genies, once out of the bottle they are impossible to put back. Worse, in addition to growing with every telling and spreading through the company, they tend to spread throughout the entire venture ecosystem.
  • How to share? Clearly, honestly, no games, no half truths. You hired smart people and they’ll see right through anything else.

Unfortunately, many founders tend to clamp down, say nothing, run scared, freeze, bluster, or some combination thereof.

There are very few things that are guaranteed in a startup, but watching your people walk out the door because you hunkered down, shut up, and hoped no on would notice is one of them.

Flickr image credit: Michael Coghlan

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