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If The Shoe Fits: The Self-Made Talent Shortage

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mQuick. Off the top of your head, what are the chances you’d hire a 65 year-old Black man for a senior management role in your startup?

Unlikely — or flat-out ‘no’?

Next question.

How well could you handle traveling from the Bay Area to Detroit to Toronto back to the Bay Area and then to New York, London and Columbus, Ohio, back to the Bay Are for one night, then to Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong for ten days, with a side trip to Seattle?

That was the recent schedule of the 65 year-old Black guy you probably didn’t hire.

Tough schedule, jumping around all those times zones; think it would dent your 20/30-something system more than the 70+ hour week you brag about?

The guy you didn’t hire is John Thompson, but that’s OK, he already has a job.

He’s CEO of Virtual Instruments, one of several startups he invested in after he retired from his ten year stint as CEO of Symantec, which came after his mandatory retirement from IBM after 28 years.

That little age bias you have would also preclude your hiring Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown (62), Qualys CEO Philippe Courtot (70), Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison (73), Netflix’s Reed Hastings (56) and dozens, if not hundreds, of others.

The interesting (hilarious? ironic?) part is that if you were using most recruiting filtering tools, human or software, their resumes would probably be screened out.

Now just think how much larger your pool of exceptional talent would be if you brought yours and your organization’s biases/assumptions/prejudices under control.

What talent shortage?

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Guys’ Fault / Guys’ Responsibility

Friday, September 8th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf you’re a guy and have a daughter/niece/sister/mom/female friend this post is for you.

If you’re a bro this post is especially for you.

You’ve all heard the stories of women who weren’t taken seriously as founders and couldn’t get funding.

You’ve heard it as anecdotal evidence, directly from women founders, and from those around them.

In fact, there’s finally enough data-driven proof that the fact can no longer be denied or blamed off on something else.

https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/19/in-2017-only-17-of-startups-have-a-female-founder/

It’s not just investors; but suppliers, partners, and vendors who ignore/condescend/etc., when the other party is female.

Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer experienced all these problems when they launched Witchsy last year.

So they took a time-honored approach.

Having noticed that the mostly male artists, developers, and designers they were working with took their sweet time to respond to requests and were often slightly rude and condescending in email— “They’d say things like ‘Listen, girls…,’” Dwyer tells Quartz—they decided to bring in a male co-founder named Keith Mann to make communication easier.

Pre-Keith, Dwyer explains, “it was very clear no one took us seriously and everybody thought we were just idiots.” When “Keith” contacted collaborators, Gazin says, “they’d be like ‘Okay, bro, yeah, let’s brainstorm!’”

Keith only lasted six months, but, by then, being Keith had taught them to stop being communicating “like a girl.”

Neither the approach nor the result is unique; women have been obscuring their sex to get ahead for centuries. But…

In era that touts gender equality, even school-age children are still absorbing warped messages about the sexes. A recent study published in the journal Science revealed that by the time most girls are six, they believe that only males can be geniuses.

That means by the time a female hits first grade she’s already convinced she’s second best.

And that’s on you.

Image credit: HikingArtist and TechCrunch

If The Shoe Fits: Parse.ly Finds Enough

Friday, August 25th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI’ve been working with startups since the 1980s; long before many of the current crop of entrepreneurs were born.

Back then, startups were focused on raising enough.

Enough was the minimal amount needed to develop their product start selling it — with the tightly focused goal of building a viable, sustainable business with strong financials and profit.

An old fashioned idea in an era where founders are lauded for their fund-raising skills and their companies are valued accordingly.

However, the idea of enough is gaining supporters.

The most recent is Sachin Kamdar, CEO of Parse.ly.

Kamdar needed to raise $5 million and couldn’t, in spite of strong financials and substantial growth.

Why?

They didn’t want enough money.

While they wanted 5 million, the VCs said they weren’t thinking big enough and offered 25 million and, eventually, 40 million.

What’s really going on here?

As has been noted by many entrepreneurs, and even some investors, VCs don’t offer what’s best for your company.

They offer what is best for their company.

Because they are awash with money, then need to deploy it. They’re limited by how many companies they can work with, so their preference is to make larger investments in fewer companies.

From studying the data, this much is clear: VCs are cash-rich right now, and it’s affecting startups. It pushes companies to raise more money than they actually need. Their viewpoint is, if VCs focus on writing bigger check sizes to companies that have a conceivable path to $100M in annual revenue, then they can put their capital to work “efficiently”. But that efficiency is self-defeating: writing bigger check sizes doesn’t, in itself, put that capital efficiently to work. It might, instead, breed company inefficiency.

VCs also don’t really care who succeeds; they only need one or two 10X successes for their fund to succeed.

In the end, Kamdar turned to his board for advice and found the solution, instead.

Our existing investors knew our business better than anyone. They understood how we were able to scale revenue and product on a lean budget. While they’d seen other SaaS companies come and go since our 2013 Series A, Parse.ly maintained rapid growth. And as it turned out, not only was there enough money to meet $5M in financing, most all of our past investors wanted to double-down. As a result, we ended up raising $6.8M.

A good outcome for Parse.ly and the data they uncovered means a better one for you.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Tech R People

Friday, August 18th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe top stories currently engaging the tech world and spilling over to the real world are the Google memo and Uber.

A major underlying point of the memo is how unnecessary soft skills, such as empathy are in tech, which has been soundly refuted.  

Tech is an umbrella term embraced by a wide range of industries; hence there is fintech, medtech, legaltech, etc.

The inclusion of the word indicates that companies within that industry, frequently startups, are revamping/revolutionizing the business using various kinds of technology.

But none of it happens in a vacuum.

No matter how large or small or how disruptive — from Uber to a solitary founder — they are still part of a larger community.

Consider Uber.

It’s ideal because it is a perfect microcosm of a disruptive startup, with the machinations, interactions and effects on its industry and society in general, since it includes all the elements — positive and negative.

Founders take note.

Uber’s storyline hasn’t moved in a straight line, nor will it in the future, because it involves people.

Companies are people.

Societies are people.

People are messy.

Technology is not an end in itself, but a means to many ends.

One way or another, all those ends are people.

Successfully navigating people requires empathy (keyword: successfully).

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Travis Kalanick And Spin

Friday, August 11th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mArrogance seems to be a constant, whether in the cowboy heroes of yesterday or the “leader heroes” of today. Or perhaps we should say “unhero.”

Travis Kalanick is a true unhero and a good, if overused, example of above and beyond arrogance.

He publicly claimed he would be “Steve Jobs-ing” his dismissal and would return as CEO.

He still claims this in spite of a statement from Uber co-founder and director Garrett Camp, who says Kalanick will not return as CEO.

His “Steve Jobs-ing” comment refers to Jobs being forced out, but ignores the full story of how Jobs came back and what he did in the meantime (founded another company that Apple ended up acquiring).

What Jobs did NOT do was hire an advisory company that specialized in “CEO & Leadership positioning.”

“Through our close relationships with the world’s leading editors, reporters, producers, and hosts at top-tier print, online, and broadcast outlets, we develop and execute strategic, results-driven media engagement programs for CEOs that leverage traditional and social media platforms.”

More prosaically, it’s called spin.

In public relations and politics, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against some organization or public figure. … “spin” often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics.

In short, spin alleviates the necessity of actually changing.

All Kalanick needs to do is write a check, probably a sizable one, and Teneo, the company he hired, will sell the “new” Kalanick to the world.

All hail personal growth and authenticity — the myths of Silicon Valley — along with meritocracy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you are interested in authentic personal growth be sure to check out this month’s Leadership Development Carnival.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Plato’s Soft Success

Friday, August 4th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mEngineers constantly channel Wernher von Braun, “One good test is worth a thousand expert opinions,” preferring AB tests and data points to anecdotal evidence or everyday been there/done that experience.

This is a serious problem for most founders who are

  • engineers, and
  • inexperienced (AKA, young).

Tests, no matter how good, and data points fail miserably when it comes to hiring people, let alone managing them.

Proof of this comes from no less a data embracer than Google, which scrapped an algorithm that was supposed to predict successful hires, its famed brain teaser questions and rigid responses to recruiter questions.

Such was the experience of Quang Hoang and his two partners when they started Birdly, which pivoted three times before finding a solid product/market fit.

…the tumult alienated most of Birdly’s employees, who quit. Hoang attributes the turnover to his own inexperience as a manager.

We, along the way, made many mistakes in management,” Hoang tells Business Insider. “We lost many great developers.” 

Enter Plato, a new name and a new team, focused on providing techies with soft skill mentoring.

The idea, says, Hoang is that an engineer’s education is focused heavily on “hard skills” around programming and systems design. The rest has to be learned. And for programmers-turned-leaders, it’s often the “soft skills,” like management and leadership, that need the most attention.

To people such as myself, who for decades have been involved in teaching and honing those skills in managers across all fields, not just tech, it’s more of a ‘duh’ factor.

But that’s OK; just don’t call it “thought leadership.”

Most great management concepts and skills aren’t decades old, they’re centuries old, constantly updated using language that will resonate with the current target audience.

Probably one of the best pieces of leadership/management advice comes from Lao Tzu and dates to the fourth or fifth century BC; I’ve quoted it multiple times over the last ten plus years.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.
The next best,
the people honor and praise.
The next,
the people fear;
and the next,
the people hate…
When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”
To lead the people, walk behind them.

Difficult advice to follow in a world of personal brands and excessively large egos.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: You And Your Market

Friday, July 28th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYou could be a

  • charismatic, visionary leader;
  • talented manager;
  • brilliant developer;
  • fine storyteller; and
  • able to raise multiple, large investment rounds.

You could still fail.

Why?

For the same reason nearly half of startups fail.

42% of startups fail because of no market need according to CB Insights.

Peter Drucker says it best.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Another Silicon Valley Myth

Friday, July 21st, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you believe that Silicon Valley is the best (only?) place to start a company? That there is some almost magical ingredient that isn’t duplicated anywhere else?

Many people do and more did back in 2010.

Demis Hassabis, co-founder of high-flying DeepMind didn’t believe the myth.

“I was born in London and I’m a proud born and bred Londoner. I obviously visited Silicon Valley and knew people out there and also I’d been to MIT and Harvard and seen the East Coast. There is this view over there that these kind of deep technology companies can only be created in Silicon Valley. Certainly back in 2010 that was definitely the prevailing view. I felt that that just wasn’t true.”

Investor Peter Thiel was one of the true believers.

“At that time he’d never invested outside of the US, maybe not even outside of the West Coast. He felt the power of Silicon Valley was sort of mythical, that you couldn’t create a successful big technology company anywhere else. Eventually we convinced him that there were good reasons to be in London.”

Hassabis convinced Thiel to invest; Google acquired it for $400 million, and DeepMind is still making AI history.

One of the major reasons Hassabis wanted to stay in London was the availability of incredible talent.

“One of the things was I thought it [staying in London] was going to be a competitive advantage in terms of talent acquisition,” said Hassabis. He went on to claim that there weren’t that many intellectually stimulating jobs for physics PhDs out of Cambridge at the time that didn’t want to work for a hedge fund in the city.

Unlike Silicon Valley which, in addition to its normal talent shortage, suffers a severe talent crunch in whatever tech is hottest.

Silicon Valley may be a great place to start a company if you are connected, but for the majority who aren’t there are plenty of locations that are just as good, if not better.

Of course, that depends on whether your goal is to found a company valued for funds raised, which is best done in Silicon Valley, or to found a company that is valued on actual revenue, which can be done anywhere.

In fact, for the latter, anywhere could even be preferable to Silicon Valley.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Power, Control And Insecure Male Egos

Friday, July 14th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAssuming you don’t live in a different galaxy, you’ve followed the aftermath at Uber, since Susan Fowler posted her experiences there.

You just saw the co-founder of Binary Capital resign after women founders claimed harassment and a woman who works at Tesla called the factory a “predator zone.”

So many women coming forward has led to headlines that the Silicon Valley old boy power elite is being toppled.

Ha! Not going to happen in my lifetime — and probably not in yours.

Especially when the bias is so ingrained that even the funding questions, including from women, carry that bias, as do professors of both sexes on college admission evaluations.

And consider this comment on a NYT article.

Laura Castaneda
WA July 1, 2017
These women do themselves a disservice by choosing to appear bare legged, in shorts and casual clothing for this article. Rather, all three ought to have posed in business professional clothing. Women say they want to be accepted as professionals and peers while simultaneously choosing to participate in age old ways of competing: showing some skin. They have even chosen to do it for this article which is about the very acts photos like these encourage. Women who want to be treated equally should hide their sexuality (skin) in the business setting. It’s always been accepted that women who stoop to short skirts and low cut blouses at work are not to be taken seriously. What has changed to make that untrue today, exactly? Magical thinking?

What skin? One woman has on cutoffs? Her partners are in jeans and a skirt (no stockings) and all have on T-shirts. Typical Silicon Valley startup garb.

The comment reminds me of the ageless rape defense: dressed like that she was asking for it.

An op-ed piece in Bloomberg makes a telling point.

But do the people with the least power have to shoulder responsibility for weeding out misconduct by people with the most?

Ryan Pew, who writes Ryan’s Journal here on Thursday, is a former Marine and a millennial father of three girls. I asked him what he thought.

As a father of girls, by my very nature I want them to succeed without their gender being an issue. I understand the differences between the sexes but do see us as equal. However I have also seen how, as a man, you see other men who believe otherwise and are not afraid of speaking to a woman a certain way. One of these posts talks about how one of the VC’s was pushing alcohol and then used that as leverage when he tried his moves. Sounds very frat boy to me. 

Hey, Ryan, it IS frat-boy, AKA, bro culture.

What I’ve never understood, and I’ve asked directly, is why these jerks think what they do is “NBD, business as usual,” but condemn anyone who treats their wife/mother/daughter/friend/etc. the same way.

One more thing. For some phenomenal satire on the subject out Sarah Cooper on Medium, especially Why Do All These Women Keep Accusing Me of Sexual Harassment?

Hi. My name is Brad. You may not have heard of me before, but don’t worry, I’m rich. (…)  Obviously I’m a smart guy, but one thing I can’t for the life of me understand is: why do all these women keep accusing me of sexual harassment? (…) And yeah, I use my position of power to get laid, but who wouldn’t?  (…)  Do I want them to fuck me? Sure I do. Will it affect whether or not I fund their company? Yes, it will. Does that mean I don’t respect them? No! Well yes. But it’s not personal, it’s business.

From ‘77 to ‘97 I was a tech recruiter and can’t count the times I was hit on by VCs and managers. I’m here to tell you that harassment isn’t about sex any more than rape is.

It’s about power, control, money, and insecure male egos that are terrified of women who dare.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: A Golden Product For A Golden Market

Friday, July 7th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLooking for a product idea?

One that has a targeted market of 100 million, with proven disposable income?

Saturday Night Live has a suggestion, but, since Jeff Bezos is aging, Amazon will probably beat you to it.

Image credit: HikingArtist, video: SNL

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