July 4, 2016

Complaining


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:

Structure
     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/

May 25, 2016

Management vs. Leadership


Management 
is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do.

Leadership 
is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.

Steve Jobs

April 26, 2016

Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion.
You must set yourself on fire.

Elizabeth Holmes



Update: June 1, 2015

From $4.5 Billion To Nothing: Forbes Revises Estimated Net Worth Of Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes

April 18, 2016

After the Coach is gone, the lessons remain



Bill Campbell, the coach and/or board member at Intuit, Apple, Google,  Amazon, passed away today, but his lessons are still available to us:

Wikipedia

Fireside chat with Ben Horowitz, YouTube video

Podcast interview with Randy Komisar, SoundCloud

Brad Smith, Intuit CEO, YouTube video

He set the bar for coaches at a high mark.


April 12, 2016

How Frequent should coaching sessions be?



The elemental question is whether you even engage the services of a coach, and the answer is that there are no medal winners without coaches.

To answer the subject question, I'm a pragmatist, so the answer is whatever works for you...

One client calls every couple of years, and if that's OK with him, then it's OK with me, but I think he could achieve his goals a lot faster with more frequent sessions. Another client calls on a very irregular basis, sometimes a couple of times a month, then not at all for 6-9 months. That's the worst, if you ask me. I think consistency is of the utmost importance. Building a rhythm is essential.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have had clients who could not be helped even if the meetings were weekly, or even daily, because they could not take the actions that were needed.  For one reason or another, they just had other priorities than to do what needed to be done (and what they agreed to do) in order to achieve their stated goals.

"Actions express priorities" 

Gandhi

The frequency that seems to work best is either bi-weekly or monthly.  Monthly works OK for people in slow moving businesses.  Bi-weekly (every other week) works best for people in faster moving situations such as startups. Bi-weekly give the client enough time to work on their priorities, make changes, and get feedback, but it's not so long as to get too far off track.

In between bi-weekly meetings there are usually a few emails, documents, or phone calls to ask questions, clarify points, and touch base on urgent developments. 

The best results I have found are with one 1-1 coaching session per month, coupled with one board of advisors meeting per month, for a total of two meetings, but in different formats. 

The real question is: how fast do you want to achieve your goals?  How motivated are you?