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If The Shoe Fits: Yea vs. Nay

Friday, May 19th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBill “Badger Bill” Whyte, founder of W.S. Badger, with $16 million in revenue and 100 employees, is an excellent role model for any entrepreneur who wants to grow and run a successful, socially responsible business that treats its people fairly. His thoughts on the subject are succinct and simple.

“You can be financially successful and be a big jerk, or you can be financially successful and be a contributor to making the world better. I know which way I’d like Badger to move.”

Other great founder role models include Anand Sanwal of CB Insights and Marc Benioff of Salesforce, among many others.

However, if you are looking instead for a role model that represents the worst of Silicon Valley look no further than Evan Spiegel.

Spiegel’s boundless arrogance was on full show in the company’s first earnings call with analysts.

During the event, many analysts’ questions about the company were dismissed by Mr. Spiegel. None of the executives made a particularly impassioned case for why the business would be a success over the long term.

But what else would you expect from founders who already dumped much of their stock?

Spiegel, his co-founder Bobby Murphy and Snap’s largest venture investor, Benchmark, sold significant amounts of their stock when the company went public

Along with the current $2.2 billion loss is the whistleblower lawsuit claiming the pre-IPO metrics were inflated.

Malcolm Berko provided the best comment I’ve seen regarding all those who ignored the warnings in the prospectus, bought the stock, and are complaining.

When greed succeeds, everyone smiles. When greed fails, everyone wails.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Agility and You

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mbp_/2098427009/

I am not a lover of trendy terms, no matter how hilarious Dilbert makes them, and I’ve found they turn off a lot of people — from workers to bosses.

One of the newest to hit the trendy list is “agile” in all its various forms.

What became trendy agile was born 15 years ago.

The term originated in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development in 2001. It was a specific approach in a specific sector, but soon its core principles – moving quickly to build a minimum viable product, using iterative development to improve it on the go, with testing and feedback built in at every stage rather than just at the end.

Just how ubiquitous has agile become? It was used by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon last fall in a memo to employees to describe the future (and justify layoffs).

“Our customers are changing. Retail is changing and we must change,” McMillon wrote in the memo obtained by The Associated Press. “We need to become a more agile company that can easily adapt to shifting customer demand.”

Many companies talk about becoming agile and a large number of them think a quick and easy means to that end is to lay off the older and bring in the younger.

They couldn’t me more wrong. It’s not age that makes one agile, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff isn’t young, it’s MAP.

Your MAP is responsible for how you lead, as well as the values that underpin your company’s culture.

If your MAP isn’t agile, or willing to change to become so, there is little hope that your company (or department or team) will be agile.

Hat tip to Wally Bock for pointing me to this article.

Flickr image credit: Martin Pool

Ducks in a Row: Marc Benioff on How to Run a Company

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/15192444615/

By any measure Mark Benioff  runs a successful, highly profitable company.

Moreover, he runs one of the most socially responsible companies in the world.

This BI interview with Benioff captures in a short read how Salesforce is a perfect example of a founder who incorporated his values into his company.

His socially conscious approach began when he launched Salesforce as a startup;  long before it was profitable.

I view that as a critical part of my business. That’s why when I started Salesforce, on day 1, we put 1% of our equity, 1% of our product, and 1% of our time into Salesforce.org.

Where other CEOs talk, wring their hands and use media time to bemoan the problems, Benioff fixes them.

Gender pay disparity is a good example.

When he saw proof that women were being paid less he made changes to eliminate the disparity and did it without whining or handwringing.

Two women, one our head of HR and one who ran our women’s group said, “Hey, we’re paying women less than men at Salesforce.” I didn’t believe it at the time, when we actually looked at the information we were actually paying women $3 million less than we were paying men for the same amount of work, and so we made an adjustment to how we pay women.

When asked how other companies handle the issue he furnished not only the how, but also the why it doesn’t happen.

Every company has an HR system, every company knows their salaries, that’s obviously how they pay people, and all a CEO has to do is push a button and look at, “Do I pay women the same as men?” Most CEOs are afraid to push that button.

Furthermore, Benioff  sees an attitude from a few academics in the 1970s as responsible for much of today’s inequality, — in short, he doesn’t believe that that a company’s primary purpose is to maximize shareholder value.

I believe that for business, which is where I can speak, we have to shift from shareholder maximization to stakeholder maximization.

Salesforce has been ranked as one of the top innovative companies year after year for a very simple reason.

They can’t look to me for all the answers. I don’t have them, and that’s not our culture. They are coming to me with their ideas and their visions. It’s not my role to be the only visionary in town.

All in all, Marc Benioff is a superb role model, whether your company is large, small or just starting up.

Flickr image credit: TechCrunch

Mark Benioff’s Solution to Information Overload

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/5310317688/Everyone complains about information overload.

Playwright Richard Forman has a term for it.

“Pancake people – spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button”.

Psychologist and behavioral neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of the upcoming book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, recommends retraining your brain.

“Our brains are equipped to deal with the world the way it was many thousands of years ago when we were hunter-gatherers. Back then the amount of information that was coming at us was much less and it came at us much more slowly.”

But Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff has a much simpler solution.

“I deleted my Facebook account completely. I found it was just overwhelming me. I’m only on Twitter, I’m on SalesforceOne, which is my internal one for work, I’m on email, and that’s it. And I’m limited to that. I’m trying not to take on more stuff. I was with a friend this weekend, he’s got his Twitter, his Facebook, he has his Snapchat, he’s got all these – too much.”

Of course, part of the overload is work-related, but it’s amazing how much is pure trivia driven by FoMO and/or the need to impress by sounding knowledgeable about a twist in Game of Thrones.

You are the only person who can evaluate just how necessary your various information streams are sooner rather than later.

Because even the smallest stream adds to the river in which it is oh, so easy to drown.

Then you need gather your courage, follow Benioff’s lead and shut down the unnecessary streams.

Your sanity will thank you.

Flickr image credit: Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter

Entrepreneurs: Who to Interview

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonphillips/3540693888/

I try to be polite, but sometimes it’s difficult.

Sometimes I just need to shut up in order to avoid telling my host that I think he is the stupidest person I’ve been around lately.

“Clay” was talking to a group of new entrepreneurs; going on at length about how brilliant he is at hiring talent for his company.

He said that knew when he should interview someone just by hearing a few basic facts, like education and general experience; no need for detailed specifics.

When he finally stopped bragging and patting himself on the back just one guy had the temerity to disagree, saying that wasn’t enough information to make such company success-critical decisions.

Clay turned and asked me to do four thumbnail sketches of candidates I knew and he would prove it was enough.

Here are the four profiles I provided.

  1. BSBA, some programming in college; started in customer service and worked his way up through the executive ranks.
  2. Some college; 12 years of programming and management experience.
  3. Harvard MBA w/ 25 years progressively more responsible positions in consulting, sales and management.
  4. MIT BS; more than 40 years programming experience in a broad array of technologies. Strong entrepreneurial bent; excellent manager.

Clay laughed and said he wasn’t surprised I included mostly “oldies,” since I was one of them.

He went on to say that he would pass on 1,3 and 4, because they probably wouldn’t fit into the fast pace of a startup. The second was a possibility, although he didn’t sound particularly aggressive.

Poor Clay, his investors won’t be pleased; he just passed on

  1. Marc Benioff (52)
  2. Sheryl Sandberg (47), and
  3. Ray Kurzweil (68)

He did think number 2 was a possibility, although not a strong one.

But Mark Zukerberg (32) probably wouldn’t fit in.

Flickr image credit: Jon Phillips

Entrepreneurs: Are You the Future or the Past?

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/9716784497/

This post is for all the fact-loving, data-crunching guys who keep claiming that tech is a merit-based ecosystem where anyone with a good idea who is willing to bust their tail 80 hours a week will succeed.

If you are one of them you probably aren’t aware that March is Women’s History Month; a time to celebrate women’s accomplishments, especially in tech, since they are why you have a company/job.

How excited would you be if it took 10 years for your most important metric to double?

That’s what you see for founding teams with at least one woman — from 7.7% in 2006 to 17.5% today.

Whoopee.

It’s much worse for all-female founding teams — their funding dropped from 22.8 in 2014 percent to 18.9 percent now.

That totally sucks.

And it’s far worse when you add color to the equation.

What’s it going to take for this to change?

More female angels and VCs — happening very slowly.

More angels and VCs of color — a distant dream.

But more importantly, and hopefully sooner, more successful, entitled white guys will digest the numbers and decide it’s just plain wrong.

 Are you/will you be one of them?

BTW
Happy St Paddy’s Day to all my Irish and Irish wannabe readers!

http://free-extras.com/images/leprechaun_with_pot_of_gold-13323.htm

Image credit: TechCrunch/flickr and Free-extras

Entrepreneurs: Time to Do More with Less

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

I do brand outreach for my long-term associate NTR Lab, which includes working with Yana (always a pleasure) on its blog. Today’s post originally appeared there on January 28.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and investor Bill Gurley, among many others, believe that 2016 is the year that many unicorns will morph into unicorpses as valuations tumble amidst tightening money.

So does that make 2016 a bad year to start your company? No, in fact, just the opposite.

According to Jason Calacanis, angel investor and founder of Inside.com “Great companies are like great captains; they make take advantage of smooth sailing times like now, but are not afraid of rough seas that eventually show up.”

Jeff Grabow, EY Americas venture capital leader says, “If you talk to venture capitalists, they’ll all tell you the best time to start a company is in a downturn.”

And Mike Abbott, general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, made a great point when he said, “We’ll stop seeing particular folks starting a company for the sake of starting a company, because they see it as this romantic endeavor.”

But it was CB Insights CEO Anand Sanwal who said it best, “While it’s ‘fun’ in a schadenfreud’y way to claim some absurd number of unicorns will falter in 2016, it misses out on the fact that 2016’s climate may force many of these unicorns to become RABBITs.”

Rabbit? Who wants to be a rabbit? You should. Being a rabbit is much like Andrew Wilkinson’s horse that we mentioned last week.

rabbit

Image credit CB Insights via Business Insider

 The biggest difference going forward means that your valuation will be based on real revenue as opposed to funding rounds — more like Apple / less like Uber.

You’ll learn to do more with less and will stretch not only your dollars, but also your pennies. And your team will learn along with you.

For those of you who haven’t experienced a tighter economy or worked through a real downturn the actual experience can be off-putting, if not downright frightening.

Click for a cornucopia of ideas and resources to do more with less.

Image credit CB Insights via Business Insider

If the Shoe Fits: Invest in Yourself

Friday, November 20th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mSince 1996 founder/CEO Kevin Plank built Under Armour into a real billion dollar company that went in 2005.

Real because that billion dollars is revenue, i.e., money paid to the company in return for its products.

In other words, sales, as opposed to a great story told to investors so they will fund yet another round raising valuation, but not value.

During his talk at the iConic conference, Plank cited two serious misconceptions rampant among today’s founders.

1. Raising money at high valuations is equivalent to a successful business

2. Going public is a way for founders to cash out and ease up on intensity

His thoughts echo what Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said at the Fortune Global Forum.

“They are being drawn in by these venture capitalists and private equity to take these huge amounts of money at these huge valuations. They cash out early, they buy these penthouses in the sky and then all of a sudden they’re trapped. They can’t go public because their last valuation would be higher than their public valuation.”

And Benihof sees value in an IPO that has nothing to do with losing intensity.

“Public markets are great for CEOs. You have to answer to the public market. You have to listen. You have to pay attention.”

Plank also offers a solution for cheap capital to fund growth.

“I think that the cheapest capital in the world is probably sitting in your inventory racks or the product you are trying to sell because, No. 1, it doesn’t require a board seat and doesn’t have an opinion to weigh in on what you are trying to do with your business. So use that as your capital. Go sell what you have, and go raise money.”

Granted, it’s a mundane solution, with no glitz and is unlikely to garner headlines in techland, but it works.

Kind of like getting your medical or law degree without student loans.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Informed Choice

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/danmoyle/11715566974/

Wally Bock recently compared high flying CEOs to Icarus and provided three classic examples.

In case you’ve forgotten, Icarus’ wings melted when he flew too near the sun.

Icarus’s father warns him first of complacency and then of hubris, asking that he fly neither too low nor too high, so the sea’s dampness would not clog his wings or the sun’s heat melt them.

Unfortunately, both traits often find a home in founder MAP.

Hubris: extreme pride or self-confidence… Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

Sound like anyone you know or have read about lately?

Complacency seems more unlikely in a hard charging founder.

While Wikipedia considers it synonymous with contentment, Merriam-Webster provides a more accurate and commonly accepted definition.

Complacency: self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies; an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction

That probably brings a number of people to mind.

The synonyms listed will surely clarify any questions you have, but what’s most interesting are the antonyms: humbleness, humility, modesty.

But here’s the real kicker. A new study finds that the most effective leaders by several different measures are those exhibiting the antonyms.

As you might expect, leaders who overestimated their own competence were the least effective. But the surprising finding was that leaders who underestimated their own competence were the most effective. Likewise, leaders who underestimated themselves had the most engaged employees.

Now you not only have a choice, you have enough information for it to be an informed choice.

Flickr image credit: Dan Moyle

If the Shoe Fits: Who are you?

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mHow would you respond to what works best?

Do you agree with Carlos Brito, Brazilian chief of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV?

“If you want the best out of people you have to put pressure on them all the time.”

Or are you more like Shamsheer Vayalil, founder and managing director of VPS Healthcare, founded in 2007; today it has 650 physicians and 7,500 employees and serves some 2 million patients a year?

I was a good listener. I would listen to people. I would accept that I didn’t have any experience. So I hired the best people on the job.

If you’ve read much of what I write you’ll know I support Shamsheer’s attitude far more than Brito.

As do Marc Benioff and Jeff Bezos.

Different approaches, both yielding success.

Either way the message is clear: the best CEOs in the world listen more, whether it’s to customers, employees, or business partners — and doing so can go a long way.

Yet another reason to make sure you know yourself.

Flickr Image credit: HikingArtist

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