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Entrepreneurs: Motivational ‘Duh’

Thursday, December 1st, 2016


Tuesday I commented on the ‘duh’ factor in relation to Amazon finally eliminated forced ranking reviews, AKA, rank and yank, recognizing that they did nothing to foster teamwork or improve retention.

Like I said, “duh.”

Today we have Facebook offering up another duh moment.

Facebook is trying to accommodate millennials and its younger predecessor by talking to each worker and figuring out how their individual skills can be used to make a more personalized career path, not something more traditional and cookie cutter-like.

Definitely duh.

I defy you to think of anyone who works at any job and any level who doesn’t prefer this approach.

Take a look at what turns on/off the so-called silver-tsunami  of Gen X and Boomers.

Millennials may walk faster than Gen X and Boomers when they don’t like the culture, but that, too, will change as they take on more responsibilities, such as kids, mortgages and aging parents

Whenever I hear how different the needs of millennials are compared to previous generations I’m reminded of these words from Socrates.

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

Give it a rest.

You hire individuals and need to manage them as such.

So put away the cookie cutter and provide everyone, no matter their age, with an environment in which to grow and flourish and the tools needed to do it.

That’s your job in a nutshell.

Flickr image credit: David

Entrepreneurs: Reality vs. Wishful thinking

Thursday, November 17th, 2016


For years I’ve interacted with entrepreneurs from the US and other countries. And while they have many traits in common, there is one that never ceases to amaze me — their approach to their users.

Maybe ‘approach’ is the wrong word; perhaps attitude or interpretation or wishful thinking is closer.

Your users are who they are, not who you want them to be.

That means it doesn’t matter if you/your friends/peers think it’s cool.

Or that you/your friends/peers like the style/fashion/etc.

That’s why Lean Methodology says to get out of your office, your comfort zone, and talk to your market.

Actually, rather than talking, you should listen to your market.

Truly listen.

Hear what they are really saying, instead of hearing what you want to hear.

Doing the latter has sunk many a startup.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for a look at some of them.

Image credit: Ky

Entrepreneurs: Therese Tucker Builds a Unicorn

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

http://www.calfund.org/about-ccf/board-of-directors/therese-tucker/On October 28 one glass ceiling was shattered.

Therese Tucker just broke a glass ceiling as the first woman founder/CEO to lead a venture-capital-backed Los Angeles startup to an initial public offering, according to The Los Angeles Times’ Paresh Dave.

Not just a woman, but a woman of a certain age, 55, who built her company, BlackLine, over the last 15 years the hard way.

“I funded the company up until 2013, and there were some very difficult times,” she said. “I ended up putting in everything that I had into it. First the nest egg from my options from my previous company. But then I drained my bank accounts and my 401(k). I told my kids, had I been able to access their college savings funds, I probably would have taken that, too. I second-mortgaged my house. I maxed out my credit cards. I begged from friends to cover payroll.
It was difficult and humiliating and scary. I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be a woman in my 40s who’s bankrupt and starting over,'” she said of the years through about 2005.

That’s grit — the thing everyone is talking about.

BlackLine went public $2 above the target price and soared from there.

On Friday morning, the shares opened at $24.52, a 44% pop. The stock was trading at around $23.31 midday, giving the company a $1.15 billion market cap.

The result of that $2 increase meant raising $46 million more than than the $100 million planned.

Tucker didn’t build BlackLine by raising round after round of funding in an easy money environment—she bootstrapped it.

She did, however, jump on a still unproven new technology/business model.

The turning point happened in 2007, when the idea of cloud computing was very new. She and her team decided to quit making old-fashioned software and sell the service exclusively through the cloud.

And that was true grit.

Congratulations, Therese Tucker.

One Ceiling Down and a few more to go.

This post is dedicated to every woman of every age who has put herself at risk to follow her dreams — whether as an entrepreneur or something else.

Image credit: California Community Foundation

Entrepreneurs: Hate The Plan, Love The Planning

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/46183897@N00/3241184277/Planning isn’t most founders’ favorite thing.

Mainly because plans are made and remade over and over again, so why plan at all if it’s going to keep changing?

Because the most valuable part is the act of planning, not the result of it.

Planning forces you to think in depth—an often painful process that most of us would rather avoid.

For example, it is impossible to plan an upcoming product launch without considering all the things that could go wrong simultaneously with defining the steps to take and the results you seek.

The discussion (even if it’s with yourself) engendered by stating that you are going to do A forces you to consider what will happen if A doesn’t accomplish what you want or what to do if doing A becomes impossible for whatever reason (time, money, manpower, etc.)

It is plan-the-verb, as opposed to plan-the-noun, that distinguishes the winners from the also-rans and it is the verb that keeps you ahead of the competition.

Just as importantly, it’s plan-the-verb that should be pushed down throughout your organization.

This is accomplished by giving the goal to the next level down and asking them to plan how they will achieve it.

They, in turn, should create multiple goals from it and pass those down to their direct reports and so on down the organizational ladder all the way to the lowest level.

At each handoff the goal is divided again and again and each person has to plan how to achieve their part with the help of their group.

Always plan in pencil, because plan-the-noun needs to be a living organism that grows and changes, just as a tree bends in the wind to avoid breaking.

The benefits of this process are enormous.

Embedding plan-the-verb in your company’s culture means it to become a core competency.

That gives your company the ability to react far more swiftly as the waves and eddies within your industry and the economy in general constantly change your market.

Plan-the-verb boosts initiative, encourages taking responsibility and speeds professional growth, providing you with a stronger in-house bench from which to grow.

It is always detrimental to value the noun—plan, leader, manager—more than the verb—plan, lead, manage.

But these days it can be devastating.

Image credit: Robert Nunnally

Entrepreneurs: Tracy Kidder’s A Truck Full of Money

Thursday, October 27th, 2016


I read Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer winning Soul of a New Machine, when it came out 30 years ago and still remember it. He is a superb researcher and writer and an excellent storyteller. This is one book I definitely plan to read (it’s on order from my library).

SNM is a story of hardware, namely the computer that emerged from Data General’s skunkworks, and it’s still worth reading; I highly recommend it.

30 years later Kidder wanted to do something similar only focused on software and asked serial entrepreneur and Kayak founder Paul English, whom he knew, for help.

The book Kidder ended up writing is quite different from the one he set out to do.

The book that emerges, A Truck Full of Money: One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success, may disappoint those looking for a nuts-and-bolts breakdown of coding or of Kayak’s innovations in user interface. But it will reward readers open to its philosophic nature and collage-like structure. It is at once a portrait of a precocious programmer and entrepreneur, and of his team of life-long collaborators; a meditation on mania and the peculiar mindset behind computer coding; and a look at men driven to create and build, make a lot of money, and then give it all away.

SNM provided a fascinating backstory to the philosophy, people and intangibles of tech and it seems Kidder has done that again.

It’s a somewhat rare, in-depth look at the humanity that exists in the tech world.

I sincerely hope A Truck Full of Money wins Kidder another Pulitzer.

And that you enjoy it.

Entrepreneurs: Tien Tzuo on Learning from Marc Benioff

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/9289616655/Founders have a new, or should I say, back to the future, attitude regarding the success of their companies.

It can be summed up in one word: revenue.

While there are great examples and plenty of advice on generating revenue, as opposed to just growing users, I think these four lessons that Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, the eleventh hire at Salesforce.Com and its first CMO, learned from Marc Benioff are worth keeping front and center in your mind (details are at the link.).

  • Pitching is Listening.
  • Run towards big ideas, not away.
  • Never lose sight of your first principles.
  • Tear Up the Master Plan.

Based on my experience, founders, especially younger founders, will have the most trouble with the first and the third in the list.

Pitching is Listening: whether driven by passion, nervousness or fear, most founders want to push their vision, their product, their ideas to potential customers.

Marc is always testing his ideas, testing his strategy, testing his vision.  Marc is always in a mindset to listen, to observe, to understand, and it’s this discipline that allows him to always be in touch with the marketplace. It’s easy for people in his position to get disconnected and fall prey to myopic thinking.

Never lose sight of your first principles: it takes thought and a solid knowledge of oneself to identify core principles. Unfortunately, taking the time and spending the energy on such an ostensibly esoteric goal seems to happen less and less these days.

Try searching “invest in yourself” and you’ll find that most talk about adding skills, exploring/developing your creativity and maximizing physical and mental health.

That’s all good, but if you truly want to invest in yourself then set aside time to know yourself, i.e., your values and basic principles; the intangibles that make you you.

Image credit: Howard Lake

Entrepreneurs: What Leadership Looks Like

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

KG emailed me this cartoon and asked what I thought.

leader-bossI responded that I had a better image of leadership, only mine was drawn with words.

I’ve shared them here before, but a reminder never hurts.

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.

–Lao Tzu

Now that’s what I consider a beautiful image.

Image credit: Anonymous via the Internet

If the Shoe Fits: Lessons From MailChimp

Friday, October 7th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLast Friday I compared valuation based on investment vs. revenue with AppLovin as my example.

Put another way, it’s the difference between focusing on outside money and inside money, AKA, revenue.

“One of the problems with raising money is it teaches you bad habits from the start,” said Jason Fried, the co-founder of the software company Basecamp, who has written frequently on the perversions of the venture capital industry. “If you’re an entrepreneur and you have a bunch of money in the bank, you get good at spending money.”
But if companies are forced to generate revenue from the beginning, “what you get really good at is making money,” Mr. Fried said. “And that’s a much better habit for a business to work on early on, to survive on their own rather than be dependent on money people.”

That’s the approach embraced by 16 year-old MailChimp, with 2015 revenue of $280 million and will top $400 million this year.

As a private company, MailChimp has long kept its business metrics secret, but founder Ben Chestnut wants to publicize its numbers now to show the road less traveled: If you want to run a successful tech company, you don’t have to follow the path of “Silicon Valley.” You can simply start a business, run it to serve your customers, and forget about outside investors and growth at any cost.

Chestnut also doesn’t have a Silicon Valley ego, as demonstrated when defining the company’s values

I asked all of our managers and senior managers to help me out with them, and we came up with three: creativity, humility and independence.

and hiring.

I’m looking for that philosophy because I want someone to push me and make me better. I want people who are smarter than me, and who will push and fight for something they believe in while also respecting the values and unique nature of the company. We have to be creative in pushing our boundaries, but sticking to our values.

There is an interesting thread I find running through founders who bootstrap and build their companies by focusing on generating revenue, as opposed to fundraising and hypergrowth.

Both types have vision, focus, drive and grit, but, based on reading, those building their companies on internal money don’t seem to have the same need for validation — not of their vision, but of themselves.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Founder Riddles

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

How are founders like pandas?


Where can you go that is crazy different and extreme?

swingOK. Break’s over.

Now click for some of the best leadership advice available that will help you move closer to that swing.

Image credit: YesEmails.com

Entrepreneurs: KG, Quarrio and the Salesforce Incubator

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

KG Charles-Harris is a serial entrepreneur whose current startup, Quarrio, is involved in big data using AI.

As longtime readers know, KG writes here whenever he has time, which he hasn’t had much of lately. His most recent post on leadership was a two-parter (you can read it here and here in case you missed it).

Today, I need to share some great news about KG and his startup Quarrio. (KG would be writing this, but he’s sick.)

Quarrio is a business intelligence product built on top of Salesforces’ platform.

What we do is Business Intelligence for Salesforce. How we do it is quite a bit different. With Quarrio we make it simple to analyze Salesforce by using conversations. We help you understand what’s happening to your opportunities, leads, accounts – just about anything in Salesforce — by simply having conversations.

Simply put, you ask questions in plain English and immediately answers in plain English, along with graphs, charts, etc., if apropos.

That ability will be a little slice of heaven for anyone who needs to get information from the dashboard.

Now for the great news.

Salesforce opened a new incubator today.

The new space, called the Salesforce Incubator, finally opened on Wednesday. Located in San Francisco’s SOMA district, where a lot of startups open shop these days, Salesforce Incubator will house 14 startups for the next 5 months for free.

And Quarrio is one of the chosen!


“Freemium” isn’t a winning strategy for enterprise software, as Dropbox can attest.

In general, incubators are useful, but, for an enterprise startup using Salesforce’s platform, the focus, connections and access of the Salesforce incubator are unparalleled.

Obviously, it will be an intense five months.

Image credit: Salesforce

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