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If the Shoe Fits: Cards Against Humanity’s Great Super Bowl Ad

Friday, February 10th, 2017

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

If you don’t live in the Midwest you probably missed one of the best, not to mention apropos, super Bowl ads shown.

The ad was from Cards Against Humanity and they listed the reasons it failed on their blog.

  • We wasted time with establishment thinking.
  • Overconfidence in the model.
  • Bad luck.
  • Failure to trust our customers.
  • We were asking the wrong questions.
  • Our ad failed to connect with young people.
  • We were too early.
  • We didn’t add music.
  • We didn’t add music.

How many times have you heard founders say similar things?

Yup, it reads like a generic laundry list of the reasons “why startups fail.”

And they end the post with a fervent Valley paean to failure.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAt Cards Against Humanity, we believe that you can only become a master by trying and failing. In this way, failure is life’s greatest teacher; failure is actually success. At Cards Against Humanity, we fail all the time. We are veterans of failure. And constant failure, plus unlimited capital, is what led us to greatness.

Now you know why this post is called “if the shoe fits”…

Image credit: HikingArtist    
Video credit: Business Insider

If The Shoe Fits: Hypocrisy And Greed In Startup Land

Friday, January 27th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mTuesday I cited a post by Scott Belsky on Medium talking about how employees are often conned (my word) by founders, especially unicorns, when it comes to the wealth that is supposed to flow from their ISO.

As pithy as the post was, some of the comments were even pithier. I especially like this one from  colorfulfool (21st comment)

If profitability were proportional to hypocrisy, there would be no failed startups in the Valley.

Not just true, but succinctly and elegantly stated.

Founders love to talk about the importance of transparency, trust and authenticity.

However, their stock plans and pitfalls thereof exhibit such a high degree of opaqueness and caveat emptor that they kick a hole the size of Texas in the fabric of the founders’ authenticity.

Another prevalent piece of hypocrisy is “change the world.”

Do you really believe that another dating app or being able to evaluate a new restaurant or a better way to buy your groceries will change the world?

While they may impact one’s personal world, they certainly don’t have the impact of something like Mine Kafon.

What is proportional to the Valley’s hypocrisy is its sheer greed.

Actually, when I stop to think about it, the greed probably exceeds even the hypocrisy.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Founder Riddles

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

How are founders like pandas?

panda

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

If the Shoe Fits: Rollercoasters and Responsibility

Friday, September 9th, 2016

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

Last week KG shared a quote from Marc Andreessen.

“First and foremost, a start-up puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You flip rapidly from day-to-day – one where you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again. 

Over and over and over. 

And I’m talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs. There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything you are doing. The level of stress that you’re under generally will magnify things to incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude. 

Sound like fun?”

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIt’s likely Marc wrote this with founders in mind, but it applies to all employees, as well as those whose lives are connected in whatever way — spouses, kids, relatives, friends, etc.

Actually, it is worse for them, because they rarely have a full picture of what’s going on.

Sometimes that’s good; workers need to concentrate on their work.

But they also need to know when difficulties arise; they need to know if their job may be going south.

They need honesty and transparency from the person they’ve chosen to follow and whose vision they are working to make real.

It’s part of the social contract Matt wrote about a few years ago.

It’s Zach Ware’s focus about what to do when a startup needs to close.

It’s what the founders of Shift and WrkRiot chose not to do — to the total detriment of the people who trusted them.

It’s my recommendation regarding bad news.

It’s on you because it’s your rollercoaster, your responsibility to do the safety checks and your job to notify people before it jumps the track.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: the Wrongest Way to Close a Company

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn June we learned the right way to close a company and last month we got a lesson in the wrong way to do it.

Right, wrong; what’s left?

(Allegedly) crooked.

How crooked?

Penny Kim is a marketing professional who relocated from Dallas in July to work for WrkRiot (formerly known as 1for.one and apparently also known as JobSonic) for $135,000 a year plus equity and a $10,000 signing bonus for relocation expenses,

It ended with her dismissal in August after she filed a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement over failure to properly pay her

If you wonder whether she’s just another disgruntled employee, she’s not.

Not when the CEO gives everyone faked documentation of wage payment.

“Thursday, August 4th was D-Day … That afternoon in the office, Michael emailed each employee a personalized PDF receipt of a Wells Fargo wire transfer with the message: ‘Here is the receipt. It has been calculated for the taxes on your semi-monthly salary and signing bonus. The money is arriving either today or tomorrow. I am sorry about the delay.'”

But the receipts were fake.

Al Brown, former CTO and one of the founders, confirmed much of her account, even the most outrageous accusation: The CEO she dubbed “Michael,” whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as Isaac Choi, gave employees fake receipts for money wire transfers to convince them the company had paid their back wages when in fact it hadn’t.

Not even a good fake, since the photoshopped receipts said 2014.

Even after that two employees lent the company an additional $65K.

All told, Choi burned through $695,000 (his own initial $400,000, Brown’s $230,000 and the borrowed $65,000) in less than a year.

A comment on Hacker News should serve as a bona fide caveat emptor for everyone in the global startup world, not just in Silicon Valley.

“Welcome to the club. It’s pretty much a rite of passage here to spend some time with a psychopath VC, a completely self absorbed CTO with a rich investor dad that fuels his fantasies, or an idiotic CEO with an ego problem, and to pay the price for it (just time if you’re lucky, time+money if you’re not).”

This isn’t a warning not to join, just a note to do so with your eyes open.

There’s a reason it’s called “due diligence” and it’s as much for employees as it is for founders and investors.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: What’s in a Name?

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Over the years, founders have asked my for my opinion and ideas on naming their company and/or product.

They ask, but they rarely listen.

Especially if they already have an idea — which they are usually in love with.

They aren’t looking for ideas, let alone an opinion that differs from what  they already think.

They are looking for agreement and validation.

Of course, I’m not an expert and don’t present myself as such.

That said, common sense and past flubs say that product names need to be relevant — to the product, the market and especially to the target country/language/culture.

Additionally, they need to be easy to remember and spell — particularly “created” words.

Lean methodology recommends MVPs for market validation and the same should apply to naming.

Proof of the importance of listening to market input is demonstrated by CB Insights’ CEO/Co-Founder Anand Sanwal, who recently told the story not only of how the company got its name, but also its logo.

When we started the company, we called ourselves ChubbyBrain.  We were always focused on private company data but we were trying to be hip and startup’y (or that is what we’d like to believe)

Anand says their wake-up call came from a potential client.

We love the product and the data and what you guys are doing.  But we can’t buy a product called ChubbyBrain.

Wow. Talk about wake-up call; more like revelry played five inches from your ear.

You can see how the logo changed, too, from this

chubbybrain-logo-worst-logo-ever

To its current incarnation.

Amazing what you happens when you listen to the people who will actually pay you.

Image credit: CB Insights

If the Shoe Fits: Prequel to How to Delegate

Friday, August 12th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI constantly field question from founders about delegating, which actually means ‘how do I let go’?

But before tackling that question, there is a more fundamental question that you need to think through first.

There is no right answer to the question, because the answer rests on a psychological difference between entrepreneurs that has nothing to do with investment, revenue or even number of employees.

  • It’s the ability to trust others and not believing that you know best.
  • It’s the difference between making yourself central to every action and decision within the company or taking time to hire well, delegate and then get out of the way, so people can do their jobs.
  • It’s the difference between being self-employed — even if you have 80 employees and $50 M revenue — and creating a self-sustaining entity that will keep going without you.
  • Simply put, it’s the difference between holding on and letting go.

The way you choose is by being ruthlessly honest with yourself about how best you function; not how other people think you should function.

And if you don’t like your choice then change it by changing your MAP.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Are You Dimpatient?

Friday, August 5th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI saw a new Snickers’ commercial and thought how relevant it was to the startup world — founders, employees and candidates.

In case you haven’t seen it, here it is.

Dimpatient.

Great word. No question what it means and so apropos to the situation.

Most bosses have interviewed a fair number of dimpatient candidates in the course of their careers.

Of course, candidates have been interviewed by a goodly number of dimpatient founders, managers and team members.

And that’s not counting how many founders have presented to dimpatient investors and been forced to interact with dimpatient advisors.

Or, worse yet, because they have no one to blame but the selves, hired dimpatient contractors.

Dimpatience is already rampant throughout the tech world and spreading rapidly to other fields.

Too bad Snickers®adv can’t actually curtail the epidemic.

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

And if you’re looking for inspiration, information, guidance or solutions click over and browse the August Leadership Development Carnival. You can’t go wrong.

YouTube credit: SnickersBrand
Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Ben Landers Shares a Lesson Learned

Friday, July 29th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the course of my work with startups I’ve found there are three main reasons for serious screwups.

  1. Founder ego
  2. Speed (cramming 20 hours of work into 12 hours day after day almost guarantees a few (or more) blunders)
  3. Tight budget (leads to cutting corners)

It was number 3 that tripped up Ben Landers, president and CEO of Blue Corona Inc.

Landers made a minor change in a form job offer letter, but didn’t have it reviewed by their lawyer.

“I took a boilerplate job offer letter and updated it—I thought—for Blue Corona,” (…) He considered running the letter by an attorney, but at the time it didn’t seem worth the expense for the struggling startup. “We had no money back then. Zero. We were losing money in fact,” recalls Landers, who launched the Gaithersburg, Md.-headquartered startup in 2007.

It’s hard when your company is running on fumes, let alone negative fumes, not to see legal advice as a luxury and take a pass.

But it proved a very costly mistake.

Changing the language of the job offer letter relating to commissions amounted to the addition of one bullet point, he notes. In the end, Blue Corona paid its former employee between $10,000 and $12,000, probably 10 to 15 times what it would have cost to have an attorney update the job offer letter, estimates Landers.

Funding, and money in general, have gotten tighter, so it’s tempting to skip checking with a lawyer, accountant or other service pro.

But it’s smarter to count Landers as your avatar and what happened to him as a lesson learned and a bullet dodged.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Golden Oldies: Entrepreneurs: Limitations

Monday, July 25th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over 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.

CEOs, their words, actions, and egos, have been fodder for academics, coaches, consultants, pundits, the media and numerous others for decades. I’ve never believed that stardom (at any level) travels well. I wrote this three years ago and since then I believe that egos have gotten bigger even faster than CEO skills have shrunk. Read other Golden Oldies here.

superheroIn a celebrity-driven culture and considering the hype around global startup salvation, you might start believing that founders are, indeed, some kind of superhero, different from the rest of us, and worthy of adoration.

But you would be wrong.

“Throughout history, narcissists have always emerged to inspire people and to shape the future. The ones who lead companies to greatness are those who can recognize their own limitations.” –Michael Maccoby (2000 Harvard Business Review article about the pros and cons of narcissistic leaders.)

A Fortune article, with heavy input from Zachary First, managing director of The Drucker Institute, does a good job kicking holes in the idea.

Star CEOs grow dangerous when they see their success as destiny, their place at the head of the pack as the only path possible, rendering all of their choices justified. The best leaders might enjoy the red carpet, that’s fine, as long as they understand that being the best fit for the CEO job is a relative status — relative to the needs of the rest of the people in an organization at a specific moment in time.

And fame, no matter how great it may feel, does not equal infallibility.

Steve Jobs is considered a star CEO, but it’s questionable whether he would be if he hadn’t brought in John Sculley, been dumped and then come back.

While it’s not good to believe you’re the smartest person in the room it is far worse to actually be the smartest.

There are many things you can do if you want to stay grounded; here are the basics.

  • Hire people who are smarter than yourself;
  • encourage feedback and don’t dismiss it;
  • listen and hear what you’d rather not;
  • build a culture with sans fear where the messenger is never killed; and
  • don’t believe your own hype or drink your own Kool-aid.

And above all, stay aware.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for KG’s take on leadership strength, vulnerability — and asking questions.

Flickr image credit: Cory Doctorow

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