December 1, 2016

Stop it!

“I know it was your idea, but it was my idea to use your idea.” 

The benefit of stopping certain negative behaviors can be far greater than all the positive ones combined. The following bad habits create challenges in interactions with others. CEOs often wrongly attribute their successes to these habits.

Promoting my value

Adding too much value:  Needing to add our two cents to every discussion.

Claiming credit that we do not deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contributions to any success.

Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

Starting with "No," "But," or "However": These negative qualifiers say to everyone, "I'm right, You're wrong."

Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.

Overusing emotions

Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.

Negativity: "Let me explain why that won't work": The need to share our negative thoughts even when we were not asked.

Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past.

Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

Empowering the Ego

An excessive need to be Me: Reframing faults as virtues because they're who we are.

Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.

Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we're wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations - when it matters, when it doesn't, and when it's totally beside the point.

Telling the world how smart you are: The need to show people we're smarter than they think we are.

Upholding boundaries

Withholding information:  Refusing to share information with others to maintain an advantage over them.

Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.

Not listening: Passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.

Failing to express gratitude:  Bad manners, plain and simple.

Punishing the messenger: Attacking the innocent who are only trying to help.

Adapted from a post by Marshall Goldsmith ("To help others develop, start with yourself.")

October 31, 2016

Effective Board Meetings

Board meetings. Jean de La Rochebrochard shares advice on how to run effective board meetings.  Kima Ventures

Some of the suggestions seem to be too much work, and too much to cover in the time allowed, but there are a couple of good takeaways in here.

Now think about your meetings with your advisor/mentor. Why, and how, should they be any different?

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.

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, vs. 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.