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If the Shoe Fits: the Edge of Non-tech Founders

Friday, August 21st, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFounders who can’t code are often brushed off as bringing little to the table in comparison to their often tech co-founder.

Which is really stupid, considering that the majority of moving parts in any company aren’t technical.

Steve Jobs once said, “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Additionally, it’s all the items that are labeled “business” — finance, marketing, design, sales, customer service and more — that make investors write checks.

Which is why non-tech executives are brought in by investors.

That’s something worth keeping squarely in mind.

The coolest tech leaves investors cold without a healthy market

Your friends and other techie’s care about the technology.

Investors care about the market.

‘Market’ translates to customers.

‘Customers’ translates to revenue.

Great code not does a market make; it is a tool used to make something that fills a market need.


Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks In A Row: A Train Wreck Named Marissa

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015


Talk to any boss looking to turn around a company or just one team and you’ll probably hear a reference to Steve Jobs.

Using the same reference, Nicholas Carlson traces What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs and as most people know it didn’t turn out well.

It’s a fascinating article and well worth the time to read it, whether for enlightenment or as a cautionary tale.

It’s a story of expectations, ego, bad judgment insensitivity, and excessive micromanagement.

In some ways Mayer reminds me of Robert Nardelli, who came out of GE and fell on his face (more than once).

Both made their mark in other companies (Google and GE), but success didn’t travel well.

You see it happen over and over when people start believing in their wunderkind status and media hype.


Now for great tips on good leadership check out this month’s Leadership Development Carnival.

Image credit: Susanne Nilsson

Ducks in a Row: the Difference Between Winning and Losing

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014


What separates success and failure for new CEOs?

Some crash and burn, like Robert Nardelli and Apple retail chief Ron Johnson when he moved to Penney.

Others flourish.

Since becoming CEO at Microsoft, Satya Nadella has made revolutionary changes in both products and culture that would/could never have happened under the old regime and the stock is up 53%.

The world said that Apple under Tim Cook would be mediocre or even fail; it was assumed that no one could follow Steve Jobs. But in the three years April since Cook took the reins Apple split 7:1 and more than doubled its stock price.

What do these pairs have in common?


Nardelli and Johnson were both outsiders who lacked interest or understanding of the existing culture. Both tried to use brute force to radically overhaul the existing culture and both failed miserably.

Nadella and Cook were both insiders; Cook was with Apple 13 years, while Nadella had 24 at Microsoft, and so far both are succeeding brilliantly.

Does this mean CEO jobs should always go to insiders?

Absolutely not.

Does it mean that changing the culture is a bad idea?

Absolutely not.

Lou Gerstner was an outsider who radically changed the culture at IBM.

And he sums the lesson up best.

“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

Flickr image credit: Jeffrey

Entrepreneurs: the Magic of Urgency

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


Steve Jobs is an icon and a beacon to entrepreneurs around the globe, although not as a management role model.

Many have weighed in on what made Jobs so great, but in a recent talk Malcolm Gladwell focused on a trait that anyone, in any field and any position can cultivate and become great at.
It’s not a trait that’s inborn nor does it require any special abilities.

It’s what Jobs had in abundance; it’s what drove him.

It’s what you can have, too.

What is this magical trait?

“Urgency,” Gladwell declared, characterizes Jobs and other immortal entrepreneurs. (…)  “The difference isn’t resources,” Gladwell said. “It’s attitude.”

Cultivate urgency.

Own it.

Flickr image credit: Pati Morris

Entrepreneurs: Modifying Your Vision

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

https://twitter.com/SamsungMobilePH/status/509404624655503360What makes a hit a hit?

When you’re ridding a comet of popularity and constantly need to release a new, better version does it make sense to take a step back and garner outside to better understand why your product is hot?

Or are you confident enough in your vision that you feel it’s unnecessary?

Would it surprise you to know that the success of the iPhone was due to the very feature Steve Jobs belittled in his competitors?


People became blackberry addicts because they could do more on the larger screen.

The iPhone’s screen was substantially larger than Nokia.

Can you even imagine surfing the Net, watching videos or streaming a movie to a phone with a screen like these?


In hindsight, it’s not weird that Jobs might have been wrong about consumer preference for screen sizes in the four years following his death. Rather, it’s weird that he didn’t acknowledge that the iPhone’s (relatively) big screen size was actually driving its popularity while he was alive.

The iPhone is arguably one of Jobs’ greatest hits, yet he never really understood why—because the ‘why’ clashed with his vision.

To acknowledge something you need to be aware of it.

And no matter how good you are at seeing around corners, you may need to modify your own vision to respond accurately to what your market craves.

Image credits: @Samsung Mobile PH and Jorge Barrios via Wikimedia Commons

The Hypocrites of Tech

Monday, September 15th, 2014

4744202563_f23be1cbb0_mSince it was first announced, iPad commercials have shown kids using them and millions of parents took to them to keep their kids entertained.

One major exception was Steve Jobs, the guru of consumer technology (his kids read hardcopy books).

“They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

Jobs wasn’t alone.

Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, Alex Constantinople, the chief executive of the OutCast Agency, Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium and Lesley Gold, founder and chief executive of the SutherlandGold Group all limit or say no to technology for their kids.

“That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” –Chris Anderson

Limited or outright banned, technology is handled differently by those in tech when it comes to their kids.

Although some non-tech parents I know give smartphones to children as young as 8, many who work in tech wait until their child is 14. While these teenagers can make calls and text, they are not given a data plan until 16. But there is one rule that is universal among the tech parents I polled.

“This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,” Mr. Anderson said.

In the light of new research, barring electronic screens from the bedroom has taken on new urgency and not just for kids.

The blue light from personal electronic devices has also been linked to serious physical and mental health problems.

(My sister’s doctor warned her months ago, but it took the article to make her stop.)

What the tech world sees is no different from what other people see on the news, but they pay more attention.

Not that any of this will change the ads or overall marketing of tech—it will keep targeting kids—hook them early they’re yours for life—and encouraging people of all ages to use their screens when it’s dark.

So much for the vaunted tech values of authenticity and transparency.

Actually, taking a step back, tech’s attitude seems more in tune with politicians’ attitude—more of a do as I say, not as I do approach.

Flickr image credit: Ernest McGray, Jr.

If the Shoe Fits: Does the Description Fit Your Startup?

Friday, August 1st, 2014

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 entrepreneurs since the 1980s.

Sadly, the mindset has changed significantly—and not for the better.

I’m not the only one who feels that way.

German designer Hartmut Esslinger, who met Steve Jobs in 1982 and told him “Apple’s products were incredibly ugly and wasteful in production,” puts it this way.

“There is a bubble where greed meets hype and fake: Too many want to get rich instead of doing something meaningful for mankind, something for progress, to improve life.”

“Greed meets hype and fake;” what a perfect description of so many apps with billion-plus valuations.

The question you need to ask yourself is, “does it fit mine?”

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: It’s About Culture, Stupid

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014


Lou Gerstner (IBM) says it best, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

Dick Clark (Merk), Rex Tillerson (ExxonMobil), Robert Iger (Disney) and Steve Jobs (Pixar) all agree, as do a host of other bosses.

There’s no getting around it—everything comes down to culture.

The millions of dollars spent developing strategy provide no value unless the strategy is implemented.

“I wouldn’t say that their strategies are useless, but if they added a separate ‘people’ process on the strategy process they would be a lot more effective.” That process is execution, which many consultants and academics have largely ignored because it is seen as merely tedious detail.

Culture embodies more than a company’s values; it embodies the company’s ability to execute.

Too many bosses treat building culture also as tedious detail—exciting to visualize and discuss, but procrastinating the hard work required to create and sustain it.

Bosses who ignore the tedious details jeopardize their careers and put their companies at risk.

Flickr image credit: Max Klingensmith

Ducks in a Row: Once Again Old is New

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014


I find it amusing how frequently I read something that is presented as totally new when, in fact, it was done decade(s) previously.

In this case, it was the agreement not to poach each others engineers, supposedly masterminded by Steve Jobs.

Just how far Silicon Valley will go to remove such risks is at the heart of a class-action lawsuit that accuses industry executives of agreeing between 2005 and 2009 not to poach one another’s employees.

The last time I remember this happening was in the late Seventies/early Eighties by the HR organizations in a group of semiconductor firms, including National Semiconductor, AMD and Intel, among others I can’t remember.

The story was broken by a gossipy semiconductor-focused newsletter to which everyone in the Valley subscribed, shared and denied reading. (Sadly, I can’t remember the name, although it was published by an individual who lived near Santa Cruz.)

Word was that being caught reading the newsletter could get you fired.

When the information surfaced it was the EEOC that fined the companies involved.

It was a stupid corporate move then and just as stupid now, but back then the workers affected didn’t do anything; how times have changed.

Flickr image credit: Harold Heindell Tejada

 Entrepreneurs: You and Henry Ford

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Henry_ford_1919When you think about great entrepreneurs who comes to mind?

Not Steve Jobs if you limit entrepreneurs to those who invent something brand new; he didn’t invent technology; he took what was there, infused it with brilliant design and then convinced us we couldn’t live without it.

Bill Gates? Larry Page and Sergey Brin? Larry Ellison? Mark Zukerberg?

But could you build a powerful company culture off just their quotes 100 years from now?

Actually, will entrepreneurs even remember them in the Twenty-second Century?

But a century later you can do it off of Henry Ford quotes and it would be not only sustainable, but socially responsible.

Consider this small sample

  • There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible. Ford practiced what he preached, too.
  • Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right. This may be true for all of us, but it is especially true for entrepreneurs.
  • Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. Overseeing each of these stages is a perfect description of a founder’s primary responsibility.
  • Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. This isn’t to say that you should be blind to them, but keeping your focus on the goal allows you to overcome them by not losing track of what’s really important.
  • A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large. Tony Hsieh has proved this in spades, as has Jeff Bezos. The difference is that Hsieh also practices the first principle above; while Bezos has ignored it.
  • Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. The first half of the sentence has been proven over and over, but it is the second half that determines whether the effort is successful.

Parts of Ford make a great role model, while other parts should be treated as poison, which, in the long-run, merely proves Ford mortal.

(Find more Ford quotes here.)

Image credit: Wikipedia

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