Sunset at DoubleM Systems (, Del Mar, California

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Musk on being CEO

A recent news story it claimed that Elon Musk was hoping that Apple would buy Tesla when it was in dire straits, but Musk's condition was that he would become CEO of acquirer Apple, whose.CEO Tim Cook told him what he could do with that idea. 

Here's a recent tweet on that topic:

We all know Elon Musk is smart. What's his take on being CEO? 

"I don't want to be CEO of anything."

I gotta love it. This is some advanced thinking. And it was something I realized about 30 years ago when I got burned out on being CEO of a bootstrapped, fast growing software company that I started with absolutely nothing... no co-founder, no savings, no credit cards, no car... Getting started was easy enough, but after the business settles down to an operational routine after a few years, and the stress of all-or-nothing roll of the dice existence, what I realized is that the true secret of entrepreneurship is to recruit CEOs. The elemental fulcrum of success in business is to Recruit CEOs.

That's not exactly what Musk says, but that is certainly what he implies. 

Being a CEO is the easiest job to get, and the toughest to keep.

To get the job, just start something. And we all know that startups have a 90% failure rate, so the odds of keeping your high-pressure low pay CEO job are about as good as an ice cube in August. 

The problem is caused by the fact that as the business grows, the snowplow effect begins to manifest. The business starts running the management. Inherent friction increases. Joy turns to Fear. Not a happy place. 

The antidote is to Recruit CEOs who are better at operational skills than they are at startup skills. You, the founder, can more easily and freely and joyfully contribute most effectively by elevating yourself to Chairman of the Board and Recruit a CEO.  Be like Musk.

Full disclosure: I hired two different CEOs to take my place at TeleMagic, and they were both short timers. So it's a tough job to fill. 

Finding an operational CEO is really difficult. They are much different than what is needed for a startup CEO. And few successful startup CEOs can evolve into successful operational CEOs.

It's a high stress, low pay, 24/7, high turnover, thankless and lonely job.

Of course there are the few outliers like Musk, Jobs, etc who make it look easy, but the vast majority of CEOs are treading water, fearing death. They need help. Most CEOs never get the help they need and suffer in solitude until everything falls apart. Many find help in the community of other CEOs in groups like Vistage, YPO, Ycombinator, etc. 

Others recruit an executive coach. Their best day will come when their coach suggests they Recruit a CEO.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Pitch Deck: What Investors Want

Are you getting your point across? Probably not.

That is one of the most popular lines in any movie ever made, because it represents one of the most challenging things for a human being: to communicate effectively, so that the other person gets what you mean, and wants to do what you are asking.

The problem with communication is 
the illusion it has been achieved.
GB Shaw

You know what you mean when you say certain words, but how do you know that the person you are talking to is understanding what you mean? Unfortunately, you can never know what another person is thinking, but you can improve the odds that they will get your point if you follow a few simple rules.

Users spend most of their time on other sites. 
This means that users prefer your site to work 
the same way as all the other sites they already know.
Jakob's Law of Internet User Experience

This applies absolutely to pitch decks. 

VCs get tons of pitch decks.
They need to get through them in a hurry.
Anything out of the ordinary is going to slow them down.

So, over the years of dealing with pitch decks, a standard has been created and this standard will work in your favor.


The standard has been published by Ycombinator,
the accelerator that has worked with 2000+ startups
now worth over 100 billion dollars.
They should know, right?

Click Here for the Ycombinator seed pitch deck template.

It worked for AirBnB, and YouTube, and a bunch of others.
How can you argue with that?

Be creative with your product, your marketing, your recruiting...
but when it comes to raising money, go with what works.

Remember this Law:

Ninety percent of everything is garbage.
Sturgeon's Law

Investors expect to see garbage because that's what they usually get from startups. They see a lot of startups trying to be clever. Avoid cleverness when communicating with people who have the money you want. Show them you understand what they want to see.

For that, we need only to turn to one of the most famous quotes of all time: Occam's Razor.

Simpler explanations are, other things being equal,
generally better than more complex ones.

Among competing hypotheses,
the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.

Pitch Deck Checklists: 
     Pitch Deck Building Blocks

Wednesday, June 9, 2021


What's old is new again. The original and still the best book on the subject of how to get people to do things without thinking, and many times live to regret it. This is a classic, and can be read more than once with ease.

What you are looking at is the cover of the new, expanded edition, published just a couple of weeks ago. 

You can't play the game if you don't know the rules.
Here's the rules.

And, as a special bonus, click below for an interview with the author on the podcast Freakonomics.

How to Get Anyone to Do Anything

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

TeleMagic Story, Interview by Lenny McCline

Raw. Unfiltered. Candid. Spontaneous.

A college student needed to interview a founder/CEO for a business class project. He wanted to know the TeleMagic story from my perspective... what it's really like to start a software business with no money, no loans, no investment, no credit cards, no car, and no product... and have it all turn out a lot better than expected!
There are a few revelations in here that have never before been made public.
Imagine the challenge: straight-A college student Lenny McCline , only 19, taking his first class in business seeking answers from a man FOUR TIMES HIS AGE, a 6x startup entrepreneur, and mentor to a hundred plus other business founders over the past 60 years.
What questions would you have asked? Ask them in the comments!
Imagine my challenge to be able to communicate in such a way as to teach timeless principles rather than tactics and do it with limited time and in one sitting.
Lenny did a great job. What do you think?

-------------------- details:
The event was 4pm Friday, May 28, 2021 using Google Workspace video meeting, and is uncut and not retouched in any way.
The video recording is only talking heads, no slides or other visuals, so you can treat it as an audio for listening to while driving, walking, etc.
I made the video recording so that Lenny would have it to reference when writing his paper, so it was intended to have an audience of one, but put it up on YouTube so that it might be helpful to others.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Pygmalion Effect in Management


“Some managers always treat their subordinates in a way that leads to superior performance. But most…unintentionally treat their subordinates in a way that leads to lower performance than they are capable of achieving. The way managers treat their subordinates is subtly influenced by what they expect of them. If manager’s expectations are high, productivity is likely to be excellent. If their expectations are low, productivity is likely to be poor. It is as though there were a law that caused subordinates’ performance to rise or fall to meet managers’ expectations.”

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Focus: Basecamp gets it, and then doesn't

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!  

(Robert Burns)

Below the dotted line is the post from April 25, about how Basecamp was focusing on work instead of politics. I thought that was great, but then the Basecamp world spun out of control, and the whole story, so far, can be read about at this link, from The Verge, a couple of days later. It's a great example of how things can get completely sideways in a hurry. They lost a third of their team members almost overnight. Yikes!

What lessons can we learn from these unexpected consequences?  For starters, Basecamp's management wanted to sharpen focus on company business by solely taking away from the non-business activities of the team. This creates negative energy. It would have been better to sharpen focus by rewarding the activities they wanted to encourage. 

-----------------------------  (the original post below)

Focus is everything in a startup. There's too little time and too much to do, so it's absolutely imperative to do only the stuff that really matters and skip the rest. I like to think of it as a Plate-Spinning Act. But there's always new stuff that pops up masquerading as "important" and of course with limited time, something else has to suffer. 

Basecamp released a post today that addresses how they are eliminating some initiatives that crept into their list of important stuff and that they are now eliminating to focus on the really important stuff.

Click here for the full post, but the following is the heart of their new policies, from Jason Fried, founder/CEO:

1. No more societal and political discussions at Basecamp. Today's social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant. You shouldn't have to wonder if staying out of it means you're complicit, or wading into it means you're a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It's become too much. It's a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It's not healthy, it hasn't served us well. And we're done with it at Basecamp.

2. No more paternalistic benefits. For years we've offered a fitness benefit, a wellness allowance, a farmer's market share, and continuing education allowances. They felt good at the time, but we've had a change of heart. It's none of our business what you do outside of work, and it's not Basecamp's place to encourage certain behaviors — regardless of good intention. By providing funds for certain things, we're getting too deep into nudging people's personal, individual choices. So we've ended these benefits, and, as compensation, paid every employee the full cash value of the benefits for this year. In addition, we recently introduced a 10% profit sharing plan to provide direct compensation that people can spend on whatever they'd like, privately, without company involvement or judgement.

3. No more committees. For nearly all of our 21 year existence, we were proudly committee-free. No big working groups making big decisions, or putting forward formalized, groupthink recommendations. No bureaucracy. But recently, a few sprung up. No longer. We're turning things back over to the person (or people) who were distinctly hired to make those decisions. The responsibility for DEI work returns to Andrea, our head of People Ops. The responsibility for negotiating use restrictions and moral quandaries returns to me and David. A long-standing group of managers called "Small Council" will disband — when we need advice or counsel we'll ask individuals with direct relevant experience rather than a pre-defined group at large. Back to basics, back to individual responsibility, back to work.

4. No more lingering or dwelling on past decisions. We've become a bit too precious with decision making over the last few years. Either by wallowing in indecisiveness, worrying ourselves into overthinking things, taking on a defensive posture and assuming the worst outcome is the likely outcome, putting too much energy into something that only needed a quick fix, inadvertently derailing projects when casual suggestions are taken as essential imperatives, or rehashing decisions in different forums or mediums. It's time to get back to making calls, explaining why once, and moving on.

5. No more 360 reviews. Employee performance reviews used to be straightforward. A meeting with your manager or team lead, direct feedback, and recommendations for improvement. Then a few years ago we made it hard. Worse, really. We introduced 360s, which required peers to provide feedback on peers. The problem is, peer feedback is often positive and reassuring, which is fun to read but not very useful. Assigning peer surveys started to feel like assigning busy work. Manager/employee feedback should be flowing pretty freely back and forth throughout the year. No need to add performative paperwork on top of that natural interaction. So we're done with 360s, too.

6. No forgetting what we do here. We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company. Our impact is contained to what we do and how we do it. We write business books, blog a ton, speak regularly, we open source software, we give back an inordinate amount to our industry given our size. And we're damn proud of it. Our work, plus that kind of giving, should occupy our full attention. We don't have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another with time or treasure. These are all important topics, but they're not our topics at work — they're not what we collectively do here. Employees are free to take up whatever cause they want, support whatever movements they'd like, and speak out on whatever horrible injustices are being perpetrated on this group or that (and, unfortunately, there are far too many to choose from). But that's their business, not ours. We're in the business of making software, and a few tangential things that touch that edge. We're responsible for ourselves. That's more than enough for us.


MM: I love the idea of profit sharing to get the entire team to focus on the one thing that really matters: the bottom line, profits, without which the company will surely cease to be.  

Regarding the Plate-Spinning Act mentioned in the first paragraph, if you watch the video all the way through to the finale, you almost surely get the impression that everything would come crashing down if there were just one more plate added to the mix. Imagine running your business that way! Obviously that is a recipe for ultimate failure and debilitating stress. Choose wisely!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Wisdom of Habits


You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become!

Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.

Imagine changing just one word: You don't "have" to. You get to.

Never miss twice. If I miss one day, I try to get back into it as quickly as possible.

Until you work as hard as those you admire, don't explain away their success as luck.

source: Atomic Habits, via Michael McGill @mcgillmd921

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Twitter wisdom


I'm not building a bank account, I'm building a business.

The bank account is just a side effect.

Wise words on twitter this morning.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Building a better Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The best advice I've seen on building a better MVP.

From Menlo Ventures. Read the entire story here


It’s commonly believed that the top two reasons startups fail is because “there’s no market need” and “they ran out of cash.”

These reasons, however, (and many more listed) are mental gymnastics to avoid a plain truth: startups fail when they don’t build a simple solution to a problem many people have.

Many startups fall into the trap of building toward a “mission” rather than a minimum viable product (MVP).

Your mission is your baby. It’s the North Star that got your people on board and inspires them daily. However, solely focusing on your mission is the same as being unfocused.

Read the entire story here