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If The Shoe Fits: Founder Love Is Blind

Friday, April 14th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn 1405 Chaucer enlightened us that “love is blind” and it’s been proven through both scientific and anecdotal evidence ever since.

In past centuries this referred to romantic partners and kids, but, as with most things, that, too, has changed in the Twenty-first Century.

Now researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have gone a step further.

(From the abstract) Here we tested the hypothesis that entrepreneurs’ emotional experience and brain responses toward their own firm resemble those of parents toward their own children.

Surprise, surprise — the results show that they are the same.

Anyone who has been around entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, won’t be surprised.

In my experience the more life experience founders have the more open they are to hearing critism about their startup baby.

However, that statement comes with a caveat.

It’s not just age or experiences that makes the difference, but the kind of experience — specifically raising kids.

Travis Kalanick may be 40, but he hasn’t been responsible for the shaping of a successful human being.

Mark Zukerberg may be raising kids, but they aren’t old enough to know how they’ll turn out, let alone what they will do along the way.

Just as parents believe their kid wouldn’t bully/drink/drug/cheat/steal, founders notoriously won’t listen to criticism of their vision/business model/culture/management.

Some, not all — obviously — but the number seems to be growing

It will be interesting to see if young, data enamored entrepreneurs will embrace this research.

Those whose kids are in their teens or older don’t need data, they have, or are getting, experience.

Image credit: HikingArtist

The Necessity Of Fools

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/francescaromanacorreale/8162774877/

Yesterday’s Golden Oldie provided links to a variety of fools, most of which you can do without.

That said, there is one variety of fool that every company should have — and that is the wise fool, as described in King Lear.

Cloaked in the form of discourteous comments or unfiltered remarks, King Lear’s fool was able to express the thoughts that others were reluctant to express. Through the mask of comedy, he would remind the monarch of his own folly and humanity. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “every despot must have one disloyal subject to keep him sane.

Look around; does your company have at least one fool? Or, better yet, one fool in each department?

As Manfred Kets De Vries, the Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development & Organizational Change at INSEAD, points out.

All in all, fools are honest and loyal protectors, who allow society to reflect on and laugh at its own complex power relations. They can act as our “conscience” by helping us question our perceptions of wisdom and truth and their relationship to everyday experience. Through humor and frank communication, the “fool” and the “king” or “queen” engage in a form of deep play that deals with fundamental issues of human nature, such as control, rivalry, passivity, and action.

As such, fools contribute to group cohesion and an atmosphere of trust by providing an opportunity to humorously and critically review our values and judgments as the powerful socio-cultural structures of power pull, push, and shape our identity.

And, beyond all that, fools are a repository of wisdom — based on strong critical thinking coupled with extensive experience — which makes them excellent role models and a great source from which to learn.

Finally, whether a boss can hire, let alone keep, a fool is an accurate reflection of their MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) and a good indicator of the prevailing culture.

Flickr image credit: Francesca Romana Correale

If the Shoe Fits: Who Do You Ask?

Friday, February 17th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mHow many members of your team have been “bloodied in combat?”

How many have worked successfully through multiple economic (upturns/downturns) realities?

Who would you ask if you needed dynamic (question/discuss), as opposed to static (online postings), advice of “the been there/done that” variety to

  • land a candidate;
  • sell in a recession;
  • tweak/kill a marketing campaign;
  • beat the competition; or
  • Layoff a team member?

Don’t ask me; I’ve answered this question multiple times in varied forms.

Instead, ask millennial Tom Goodwin.

Maybe you’ll listen to him.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Golden Oldies: The Story Behind a Great Interview Question

Monday, October 24th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back at more than 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’ve written a lot over the years about hiring, but it’s a subject that never gets old. We’re going to be looking at the subject again this week and I thought this Golden Oldie would be a good way to kick off the conversation.

Read other Golden Oldies here

https://www.flickr.com/photos/warrenski/4300670672Michael Cascio, a former executive at the National Geographic Channel, A&E and Animal Planet, who now runs M&C Media, has a favorite interview question.

Early on he asks, “What did you do in the summers during college and high school?”

Not a question most candidates are expecting, but one that stems from Cascio’s personal experience.

He worked two summers as a janitor at the Wolf Trap event venue while he was getting his MBA.

You might not expect that would be a defining experience for a “middle-class college kid headed for a white-collar life,” but it was.

Cascio says it was in that job that he learned the basics of a great career and it was his janitorial boss who gave him the best career advice.

The basics:

You have to show up every day, and on time. You have to appreciate everyone who works around you. You should acknowledge — and learn to deal with — the pecking order in the working world. You have to exert yourself in ways you may not have learned in school. And you often have to do things that have nothing — and everything — to do with your career and your life ahead.

The best advice:

“Never turn down a chance to take on more responsibility.”

The point is that it’s not just about what candidates have done, but what they learned from the experience that matters—no matter what it was.

Flickr image credit: warrenski

Entrepreneurs: Words of Encouragement

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

kg_charles-harris

I only have time for a quick note before my plane lands, but I wanted to share two quotes that have helped me keep going in rough times.

The first is something we all know from our own experience, but it always helps to hear it from “names” who have already pushed through and succeeded.

Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe. — Sumner Redstone

The second is something that every entrepreneur will swear to, although it would be nice to have summer vacation as we did while actually in school.

There is no education like adversity. –Benjamin Disraeli

Judging from these words of wisdom, I will be phenomenally well educated by the time Quarrio is a huge success.

Plane’s landing; back to work.

The Ultimate Hack

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fryandtricky/4010900364/

A colleague commented that he feared tackling a major project he had never done before. He said the challenge was exciting, but it was still scary.

I told him to think about all the stuff he does now that at some point he hadn’t done before.

This is just one more new thing that would soon become old.

Old and comfortable.

It’s how one gains experience and, occasionally, wisdom.

I reminded him that anyone who figures out how to do something the second time without doing it the first, could sell the hack and be a billionaire.

Flickr image credit: fry_theonly

Entrepreneurs: How NOT to Close a Company

Thursday, July 14th, 2016
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/11/17/baverman/18965353/

Move Loot’s co-founders

Last month Zach Ware, managing partner of VTF Capital and founder of Shift, talked about the right and wrong way to close a company.

“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.”

Obviously, the founders of Move Loot weren’t listening.

They not only shafted their people,

The mood at the all-hands meeting was tense, and employees asked management to give them the heads up if things were going badly. They were told that the cuts were the move they needed, the person said of the meeting. “Three weeks later is when the hammer dropped on everyone else,” they said.

They shafted their customers

Customers have accused Move Loot on Twitter of taking their money and failing to deliver items. Other sellers remain frustrated that the marketplace closed with no warning, leaving them in a lurch when trying to move out. The phone number that it had given out on Twitter for customer support now has a voicemail saying that phone support is no longer available.

As for their investors, I have no sympathy for them. Who gives four kids, with little-to-none business, let alone operational, experience combined, $22 million dollars with no built in accountability?

Founders owe it to all their stakeholders to be responsible.

If you recall, the three most successful startups in the world, Apple, Google and Facebook, all brought in seasoned management talent in order to give the founders time to gather experience and learn.

Contrary to Silicon Valley’s attitude, running a company takes skill; it isn’t learned from a book, but from experience, as opposed to throwing it at the wall to see what sticks.

Or in Valley lingo, ‘move fast and break things’.

But, as some ex employees point out,

 “At some point you realize how expensive it is if you break things every day. There has to be a little discipline.”

Of course, that would involve not only taking responsibility, but acting responsibly, too.

I heard a great line on a Bones rerun.

There’s a major difference between an entrepreneur and a con artist: an entrepreneur believes in the dreams he’s selling.

But then, so do pathological liars.

Image credit: Move Loot (via USA Today)

Entrepreneurs: Riot Games: Against Prevailing Wisdom

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chris-yunker/5689436382

When Riot Games was founded in 2006 by Brandon Beck, and Marc Merrill it was done out of frustration. They wanted a game that would embrace fans desire to engage in that game, rather than being forced to dump it for a new version.

League of Legends was launched three years later; it was launched ignoring prevailing wisdom about how to make a game pay, i.e., no hardware, free download, players couldn’t buy extra power or skill for their avatars and time to grow organically.

“People told us when we started that if you don’t charge up front, or if you’re not selling extra power or stats, it won’t work,” Mr. Merrill said. “But that fails to account for the coolness factor. If you’re really into cars, you don’t mind spending $50,000 to soup up your Honda. That’s the player we’re tapping into.”

Riot now has 1500 employees and is on target to break the billion dollar revenue mark.

The company says there are now 67 million active monthly players around the world, and in August alone this crowd spent $122 million, according to SuperData.

Riot Games doesn’t have advertising on its site; it focuses totally on its users believing that if they are happy revenues will come.

“Whenever I talk to executives at Riot, it’s like a mantra: ‘Revenue is second, the player experience is first,’ ” said Joost van Dreunen, chief executive of SuperData. “The paradox is that by putting revenue second, League will be one of the very few games to bring in $1 billion in 2014.”

Moreover, although it isn’t paying off immediately, Riot Games is working diligently to build LoL into a major e-sports presence.

Dozens of those players are now in Seoul, at the fourth world championship. On Oct. 19, the finals will be held in a stadium built for soccer’s World Cup, with 40,000 fans expected and many times that number watching online. Last year, Riot Games says, 32 million people around the world saw a South Korean team win the Summoner’s Cup, along with a grand prize of $1 million, in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That’s an audience larger than the one that tuned in to the last game of the N.B.A. finals that year.

And while most of Riot Games’ 1500 employees are in Santa Monica, the bulk of its players are in Asia.

Sometimes it pays not to listen to the experts.

Flickr image credit: Chris Yunker

The Story Behind a Great Interview Question

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/warrenski/4300670672

Michael Cascio, a former executive at the National Geographic Channel, A&E and Animal Planet, who now runs M&C Media, has a favorite interview question.

Early on he asks, “What did you do in the summers during college and high school?”

Not a question most candidates are expecting, but one that stems from Cascio’s personal experience.

He worked two summers as a janitor at the Wolf Trap event venue while he was getting his MBA.

You might not expect that would be a defining experience for a “middle-class college kid headed for a white-collar life,” but it was.

Cascio says it was in that job that he learned the basics of a great career and it was his janitorial boss who gave him the best career advice.

The basics:

You have to show up every day, and on time. You have to appreciate everyone who works around you. You should acknowledge — and learn to deal with — the pecking order in the working world. You have to exert yourself in ways you may not have learned in school. And you often have to do things that have nothing — and everything — to do with your career and your life ahead.

The best advice:

“Never turn down a chance to take on more responsibility.”

The point is that it’s not just about what candidates have done, but what they learned from the experience that matters—no matter what it was.

Flickr image credit: warrenski

Harley Davidson: Against the Tide

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gonmi/8719381711/

Harley-Davidson is my hero.

Not because I’m a motorcycle nut, but because they do everything I believe makes a company successful—not to mention all the stuff about which I know nothing.

What I do know is that Harley proves there is more than one way to skin a cat.

They didn’t outsource manufacturing; they didn’t bust their union; they didn’t dump people for robots—in fact, there are no robots on the main assembly line.

They did redesign production to take advantage of the knowledge inherent in line workers with an average tenure of 18 years.

There are around 1,200 different configurations, and a new bike starts its way through the production line every 80 seconds. Virtually each one is unique, and workers have no idea what’s coming 80 seconds later. Surprisingly, robots can’t adjust on the fly like that.

They did spread 150 problem-solvers through the 5-6 man production teams that hand-build each bike.

Every time a new bike came down the line, it took a few extra shoves to push it into place. In fact, it took an extra 1.2 seconds. But Dettinger, who had spent some 20 years at the York plant, knew that every second counted. With 400 motorcycles built each shift, on two shifts a day, an extra 1.2 seconds per bike added up to 2,200 lost bikes annually. Millions could be lost in revenue. Maybe it wasn’t such a small problem.

Each problem-solver has the same core mission: “to monitor his small section of the production line and search for better ways to make motorcycles.”

For decades, management and economists have driven a mantra that to prosper manufacturing in the US meant no unions, low wages and no benefits.

At Harley, costs have fallen by $100 million and the stock is trading around $62 (it was around ten in January 2009).

Most importantly, from a customer’s viewpoint, what used to be an 18 month wait from order to pick-up is now two weeks.

Harley went against the tide and the results are proof that the “experts” aren’t always right.

Flickr image credit: Gonmi

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