October 10, 2016

I couldn't have said it better...

From CBInsights newsletter (highly recommended) this morning, there was a mention of an excellent article that starts with the premise that some gurus' advice is either mere platitude, or seriously flawed, and the primary reason is that so many of them have no true experience experience with the topic of the advice.

The article title is "How to Call Bulls**t on a Guru or Expert" and you can read it here.

"Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who have found it."  (Andre Gide)

Beware of gurus in general.  Healthy skepticism is your friend. Seek advice from those who have experience, of course, but you must make your own decisions.

August 5, 2016

Caution: Startup Ahead™

Caution: Startup Ahead™

My morning email blizzard offered me a collection of startup reading materials worth thousands for less than a hundred bucks. But wait, there's more...  A bonus of a month or two of a couple of web services worth hundreds more.

Putting aside for the moment what something is worth, my first thought about the offer was that it was like reading about smallpox, and actually having smallpox. 

Is it an exaggeration to compare doing a startup to having smallpox?  Tough to find someone who has done both to test that hypothesis. I've done a few startups, and actually doing it is a lot different than reading about doing it.

There are severe physical and emotional experiences that will accompany virtually all startups. I could go into a long list, but it would be depressing.

Most startup people have heard that the odds of success in a startup are very dim, but logic escapes them and they have an entrepreneurial spasm that causes years of frustration and stress. If they are lucky. And if they are like most startup people, they will crash and burn after wiping out their savings and a few friends and family members' investments as well. They will be burnt out shells of their former selves and reduced to working for a living like the rest of the burned out shells who who have been crushed by reality.

That's the downside. There is an upside, of course, but it is like Shangri-La, a place we have heard of, but precious few have entered such a place. The lucky few usually move out of the neighborhood and we never see them again.

One way I like to think positively about doing a startup is that's it's like a small boy's ambivalence with wanting to pet a big dog, but at the same time, the dog is bigger than he is, so there is some primal fear offsetting the big fluffy huggability.

Another way is the ambivalence of wanting to look under the bed to be sure there is no monster under there, and the very fearful possibility he may come face to face with the monster.

This fear of the unknown is what keeps us alive, and it sure keeps a lot of people from actually doing a startup. It is that great unknown gulf between Knowing and Doing. Once set sail from the safe port of Knowing, it is a dark and turbulent sea of Doing. We can wander there eternally if we survive at all.

If set sail we must on such a sea, we will be best served by knowing why we are doing this, and where we are going, how long we expect to be gone, what supplies we need... you know, like a business plan!


Stay tuned for more on that later.
Until then...

Think Straight

This is the first of the 10 Principles for Managing a Young, Growing Business and the absolute first thing to be done before doing what Elon Musk describes as "eating glass and staring into the abyss of Death".  He was being only slightly more dark than Reid Hoffman's description as "like jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down."

Are you ready to leap into the pit where few have survived, and the few who have are quite disinclined to return?

If that's what you are committed to doing, after all the warnings, then we should talk...

July 27, 2016

Ideal Startup Board Meetings

One of the most painful experiences of being an advisor to startups is suffering through the monthly Board of Advisors meeting.  Most startup CEOs have no experience with board meetings, and if they do, they learned how to do them from someone else who had no idea how to do them right.

The whole concept of a Board of Advisors meeting is formal two-way communication among top level team members (the startup management and the advisors), for the purpose of moving the startup forward according to the Plan.  This includes decision making, and strategic discussions.
Startups make many mistakes when having board meetings.  Here are the top 3 mistakes startups make with Board of Advisor meetings:

1.  Not having board meetings.
2.  Canceling, postponing, rescheduling due to an imagined crisis or shiny object du jour.
3.  Lack of preparation.

When the rare startup has finally overcome mistakes 1 and 2, they almost never deal with mistake number 3.  So let's deal with it now.  What does proper preparation look like?

Getting back to the purpose of the meeting: two-way communication. Management (CEO) responsibility is to communicate to the advisors the current state of the startup.  This is done in the form of reports on the various key aspects of the business.  These may include, in no particular order:
  a. Financial (Profit and Loss Statement, Balance Sheet, Source and Use of Funds, etc),
  b. Sales (various sales reports including source of the sale, by salesperson, by customer, new vs. repeat, by product, competitive losses, etc),
  c. Personnel (new hires by job function, salary, terminations, quits and reasons, etc.),
  d. Legal (status of lawsuits, patent and copyright, privacy, stock options, etc),
  e. Technology (status of programming projects showing priorities, challenges, deadlines, etc)
  f. Key Ratios (performance indicators such as sales vs. target, average age of receivables, headcount vs. target, and many others that are specific to the type of business)
  g. Executive Summary (state of the company and issues to be addressed, decisions to be made, etc)
  h.  etc, etc, etc...

But so much more important than sharing information on recent performance, which is essentially looking in the rear view mirror, the management team should be looking forward and discussing strategic plans. This is the area where the outside advisors are of the most help. Management should choose, let's say, no more than 3 very important plans, and list them in advance in the board info packet.

Much could be said about each item on the list, but for now let's just address the format of how this information is communicated.  Most startups are surprisingly Old School, and use paper as the form of reports that are distributed at the meeting.  This is a huge mistake.

The most effective way to get the best from your Board of Advisors is to distribute these reports well in advance of the meetings (at least 2 days, preferably more) so that your advisors will have plenty of time to review them before the meeting, to ask for clarification or more information, and to have the time to think clearly and do research, etc.  The worst thing you can do is to surprise advisors with reports in the meeting itself and waste everyone's time by going line-by-line through all the reports.  I can not stress strongly enough how unproductive this is.

The best solution I have heard for effective reporting is this post by Brad Feld.  Highly recommended.

After the board meeting it is essential to close the loop with follow up notes on Action Items (Who does What, by When) and suggestions for improvement for future meetings.

For more on effective board meetings, read Brad Feld's new book "Startup Boards: Getting the most out of your board of directors".

Mark Suster, VC and entrepreneur, did a good job of defining how board meetings should be run to stay in control. Read it Here.

July 26, 2016

Best Advice for Business and Life

Try this experiment: Make the image below your smartphone wallpaper, lock screen. Then, each time you start up your phone, read a few lines, let it sink in, and start being that person. See how fast your business and life improve...

July 4, 2016


Complaining about a problem 
without proposing a solution
is called Whining.

Theodore Roosevelt

July 3, 2016

Deck advice

It's the language of business and yet everybody hates PowerPoint decks.

Consider these tips I recently shared with a client:

     The first thing I look for in a deck is the structure (table of contents). Without that I know it's going to be work trying to figure out what it's all about, so start with the structure. I want to know as quickly as possible Why I want to invest more time with this deck, I weigh the work/reward ratio with this deck. If it looks like Much Work, Little Reward, then it goes in the Later file, and sadly may never be seen again.

The basic structure:
  1. Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. 
  2. Tell 'em. 
  3. Tell 'em what you told 'em.
Make it easy
     Make it easy for your audience. Keep it short. People are busy. Life is short. The longer it is, the more work you assign to someone. Short slides with short phrases, big print. You want your audience to look forward to each slide and feel refreshed with each one, not burdened with dense blocks of text.
     Page numbers on all slides except first.

Get to the point
     Powerful opening: move quickly from big picture, big idea, to big conclusion.
     Get to the bottom line message fast.
     Call to action.

June 17, 2016

The DoubleM Hierarchy of Content

Here's the introductory story:

A friend stopped by this afternoon, and philosophy happened, as it is customary for us to do.

In considering the Meaning of Life, we got into the exercise of looking back on one's life, and looking forward to the balance of one's life and summing it all up by choosing the words one would want on their tombstone.

How would you write your epitaph?  Try it in a maximum of 12 words. It's an interesting exercise to consider your entire life, being, personality, hopes, dreams, and ambitions, achievements...  in only 12 words or less.

I took a shot at it and came up with something like: "He Lived Life On His Terms, One Perfect Day At A Time" without thinking about it at all, and it just happened to be 12 words exactly. But about an hour later I started changing things, of course. The first 6 words seemed to be too self-centered, so I improved it to be "A Giver, Who Lived One Perfect Day At A Time."  And only 10 words, so much more economical to carve into stone.  There's a win-win! But wait, there's more: "Loved Helping Others Succeed. Planning New Adventures To The End."

The exercise continues for a lifetime, as we evolve and refine our raison d'etre.  Maybe you would prefer humor, such as "I Knew This Would Happen" or, as the comedy legend W.C. Fields is said to have wanted on his grave: "I'd Rather Be Here Than In Philadelphia." I was born and raised in Philadelphia, so I can relate to his thinking.

Why 12 words?  Why not 10 or 20?  Is there some ideal number of words for an epitaph? Should it be written in the third person or the first person (He vs. I)? There's a lot to think about when you try to condense a life into a few words.

But it's easier than a vanity license plate! In California you get a maximum of 7 letters and/or numbers, and of course it must be Unique! I like getting a new license plate every once in a while, after I get inspired by some new project. Here's the latest one. DBLM.COM is the URL to this blog, for now, but I like changing things a lot, so the plate could change anytime.

Learn more about the DoubleM Audi at 

Is it weird that I have a collection of old vanity plates? Probably. But I figure that getting a new license plate is cheaper than getting a new car.

An epitaph, to me as an entrepreneur, is really a subset of an Elevator Story, which is a subset of an Executive Summary, which is a subset of a Pitch Deck, which is a subset of a website, which is a subset of a Business Plan. Each is a bit of copy/content of different lengths, starting with the shortest, most focused elements, and increasing in length as needed to get the customer/investor/new team member, whoever, to say YES.

The DoubleM Hierarchy of Content:

Logo - Small visual identity for your brand
Company Name - short, descriptive, memorable, ties in with logo, same as product name
Vanity Plate - 7 letters/numbers, available in most states, via online DMV
Epitaph - 12 words max. Looking back, how does this fit into how you want to be remembered?
Tag Line - short phrase describing the business
Value Proposition - brief description of why you bring value to the customer/user
Elevator Story - 30 - 60 seconds
Executive Summary - 1 page
Sales Presentation - pitch scripted, slide presentation, 10 slides minimum, 10 - 20 minutes, +Q/A
Business Plan - a collection of projections and requirements, for marketing, sales, personnel, distribution, legal, financial...
Web presence (site/blog/store) - buy, request info, FAQs, support, news...

The more clearly, congruently, and persuasively you can write each level of the hierarchy, the more likely you will succeed, all other things being equal.

These elements of content should be continuously improving as your business evolves. Try to move through the hierarchy in order, from top to bottom. You want to get something down for each one so that each element is developed from the preceding one.

June 14, 2016

Who you want on your board

One of my favorite VCs, Fred Wilson out of NYC, addressed this issue of who you want on your board. Here's his post and below because it is just so important.  

While Fred speaks to the issue of "who" should be on your board, he just naturally assumes the most important thing: that you even have a board in the first place. If you are really serious about building a first class company, you will have a board. You will understand the importance of building your company from the top down.

You will have a Board of Directors because you have significant shares in your company in the hands of investors, advisors, employees, etc.

Or, you will have a Board of Advisors, because you own all, or almost all, of the stock in your company, but you know the value of having regular meetings with really smart people who are focused on helping you, watching your blind spots, and who have experience doing what you need done.

Here's Fred's post:

Who You Want On Your Board

One of the guys who taught me the venture capital business used to say "success is in inverse proportion to the number of VCs you have on your board." He was right. For a few reasons. First of all, most VCs get on your board by virtue of financing rounds you do. If you do a lot of financing rounds, you will collect enough VCs on your board to field a basketball team. And that sucks. And it means you had to raise too much money too. All of which are bad things.
But there is another reason and it became perfectly clear to me on Tuesday when I had back to back board meetings.
The first meeting was almost a celebration. The company had put together a phenomenal year in 2012 and there wasn't much to be concerned about. But the best question asked of management in the entire meeting was asked by an independent director who happens to be a CEO of a company that is five times bigger than our portfolio company. In the midst of the "celebration" he brought everyone back to reality and got folks to think about what we could be doing better. It was a great board moment.
The second meeting was even more interesting. The CEO was seeking advice on some important strategic questions. And this board has two investors and three very experienced operating executives on it. And one of the investors (not me) has deep operating experience. So you had essentially four very experienced operating executives plus me giving the CEO advice. It was a great meeting. I walked out thinking "that is the way a board should be constructed."
If I could construct the perfect Board for the companies I am invested in, it would be the CEO, me, and three CEOs who have built and/or run one or more tech companies of scale. If you have a very experienced VC on your board, you really don't need more of them. But you can never have enough peers on your board who have been where you are before. That is invaluable.

May 27, 2016

Poverty, Pivots, and Perseverance

My recent favorite startup story is featured on the Startup Podcast, Season 3, episodes 1 and 2.  It's about a couple of just-out-of-college kids who start out with a totally dumb idea that goes through a couple of pivots over 5 years, and eventually cashes in for a billion dollars doing something that almost everyone would think is another dumb idea.

Check it out: scroll down to Season 3, episodes 1 and 2.  A great story that clearly illustrates the value of the pivot and perseverance.

The link: https://gimletmedia.com/show/startup/episodes/