Saturday, April 04, 2015

Be a Wingman

As I was watching this morning's television news sports reporter interview a few of the boys from a local high school lacrosse team, I found myself thinking, "how poised are these kids?"  Sure, they're a little camera shy, and they used the word "awesome" a bit too much, but what was truly impressive was the praise they deflected towards their teammates.  

Now, you see this all the time with athletes at all levels, so much so, that I have to believe that it has become a core component of the coaching curriculum.

It got me thinking about the crossover to all teams in life, and in particular how it relates to the vibe and overall enjoyment at work.  Work is at its best, similar to sports teams, when everyone takes pride in what they do and everyone knows that they can depend on their team members. But what makes a team truly special is when there's personal glue.

Personal glue is the bond of caring.  When a team has chemistry it binds together via a set of shared values and experiences, shaped through overcoming obstacles with the positive reinforcement of "winning".   As a result, personal bonds emerge and the team starts to take on its own identity.  There is no greater way to reinforce that identity than to pass accolades on to teammates.

It cements the glue.  And even though every team member is special and critical in their own right, the team wins and is much more likely to continue on that track.   Now we have a virtuous cycle, a self reinforcing, annealing, winning machine.

In another word, "fun"

So, to get the "fun" engine running, be a wingman.  Pass on some of those accolades.  Celebrate the wins.  Build the glue.   

Watching those lacrosse kids almost made me jealous.  They're part of something bigger than each of them individually, and they're having so much fun. Then I remembered,  I'm in the same boat with an amazing team of my own, its my kids, it's my crew @roundpegg,  it's the great peeps @awesomeboulder.

Find your over awesome.  Start by being a great wingman.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Anna Karenina review

Anna Karenina, Vol 1 of 2Anna Karenina, Vol 1 of 2 by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tolstoy is a master of emotional nuance and the human spirit. I found some of the chapters on Levin and his farm to be tedious but outside of that was a brilliant read. The inner demons that haunt people in relationships whether between Levin and Kitty or Anna and Vronsky are so intriguing. I found myself thinking how crazy the characters become, but know, under certain circumstances, I've been in exactly the same place. When love and the overt struggle for power interplay, magic and tragedy can and often do happen. I also enjoyed the steeple chase as allegory of Anna's downfall.

Yes! This is a "must read" for any literary enthusiast.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Pay Attention

Your best employees are crushing it for you.  The number one, two, and three things that drive them are feeling successful in their job, making you proud of the awesome work they're doing,  and feeling like they're making a difference.  If you listen, you'll find out what it is they need.

 Marina Shifrin gives us a flat out brilliant example of not doing this.  In her viral video on quitting her job (and doing Kanye West's "Gone" some dance justice) she explains the thing that was vitally important in doing her best, that quality is important, especially when your name is stamped all over it.
Just listen.  You'll be surprised at what a difference it can make.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

(26) Startups: How to Communicate Traction... by Brendan Baker - Quora

My co-founder at RoundPegg brought this to my attention the other day.

If your company plans to be or is venture backed, it's a gem. Venture Capitalists are looking for traction and momentum. Companies exhibiting exponential progress are much more likely to be funded or further funded than companies experiencing linear growth.

Figure out what to measure, drive it, measure it.

(26) Startups: How to Communicate Traction... by Brendan Baker - Quora:

"4) Choose Your Y Axis

Broadly, I find traction most convincing in the following order:
- Profitability
- Revenues
- Active users
- Registered users
- Engagement
- Partnerships/clients
- Traffic"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Monday, January 04, 2010

Eight Rules for Internal Meetings

Time goes by so fast when you're in a startup. There is always too much to do and when you look around for someone to assign a task to you usually end up doing it yourself (thinking they already have too much to do too). So time is of the essence. With that in mind let's tick off my top 8 rules for internal meetings:

  1. Don't - don't meet unless you need to. This sounds like a no brainer but happens more often than you would think. Sometimes you need to get together to get on the same page but most times an email suffices.
  2. Agendify - know what you want to accomplish going in and work towards an agreed upon result.
  3. Moderate - some people will take meetings off track from the planned agenda. Politely interrupt, acknowledge their concern, move it back on track.
  4. Pare - who really needs to be there? Reduce the size of the meeting to the essential people needed to make a decision. More people = more time waste.
  5. Summarize - when you've reached a conclusion, summarize it and move on.
  6. Time Block - consistently have meetings in the same time block. Pick mornings or afternoons or schedule even tighter. "we will only have meetings between 1-4 on Tuesdays or Thursdays" This forces people to use the time efficiently and gives them a known productive block when meetings will not take place.
  7. Start - start the meetings on time whether everyone has shown or not. This gets everyone in the habit of showing up on time. I have been super guilty of this in the past. It isn't good for anyone. If this is you, just acknowledge that you're time challenged and make an extra effort to get moving earlier. This shows respect for everyone there and starts the meeting on solid footing.
  8. Cookies! - absolutely! If you're running the meeting you should always bring cookies.

... for completeness, here are a few other posts that cover the subject.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Alternative 18 countdown for 2009

I've listed SiriusXm's top 18 requested songs for their Alt radio station 2009. I starred the ones I prefer (one star = good, two stars = great, three stars = buy it right now. Just having dined at Cyrus outside of Napa, I'm going with the Michelin Guide stars rating system :).

As a side note, and even though none of them made it on this list are the Scots. There've been a number of really good Scottish bands to emerge lately and these three I like in particular. The entire Midnight Organ Fight lp from Frightened Rabbit is a well written emotional roller coaster with beautifully haunted arrangements.

Frightened Rabbit - The Modern Leper**
They Promised Us Jetpacks - Quiet Little Voices*

other tasting notes - Ike Reilly must surely be the least known brilliant song writer out there. Hard Luck Stories just came out in 2009 and is fairly good but in the three star category are both "Salesmen and Racists" and "We Belong to the Staggering Evening." I don't know of any other artist who can quite cut to the quick of this beautiful mess we call life.

Also, if you get the chance to see Wilco in concert, don't pass it up. I saw them last minute at Red Rocks outside of Denver this year. Red Rocks is a magical venue anyway, but together with Wilco was out of this world. I believe the encore set was longer than the main set. No one wanted to leave.

Enjoy and happy listening in 2010!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sweat Equity as Alternative Funding Model

In an earlier blog post I argued that the funding model for software startups is fundamentally changing. This is hardly an argument and more of an observation of the expense side going down for IT startups and legacy funds largely still caught in their bubble investment models.

There is a LOT of talk in the entrepreneur and VC community about the survivability of this model especially regarding the ability to raise more funds in the coming year. And with that, how many VC's will go into hibernation, change models (i.e. lower raise from largely non-institutional money focusing on companies requiring less capital or switch focus to industries with larger capital requirements), or quietly close their doors.

Seth Levine has an interesting article firing back at the Business Week article on How Venture Capital Lost it's Way. Here's another from Fred Wilson earlier this year on the math of venture capital. And Above the Crowd with his post on Asset Allocation and Venture Capital.

In the face of these facts the early stage software and software as a service (SaaS) early stage ecosystem remains healthy. Companies are figuring out how to generate cash flow earlier, get by with less and raise less, and in increasing numbers are eschewing venture capital paths altogether. Angels have stepped in to fill a larger role in seed stage investment but so too have the entrepreneurs and developer communities.

Contract developers are a lot like angel investors with the exception that they're throwing development skills instead of money in alongside the founders. Their "yes/no" analysis is a mix of knowledge of the founders (friends), attractiveness of the problem/solution (skills), and recognition of the market (money - or Net Present Value - NPV). There's a mix of people who've been through the bubble(s), heavy in skills and slightly jaded on the NPV calc. And there are the people who haven't been through the bubble, are anxious to make their mark and want to believe but are much more pragmatic than similar folks in the heady bubble days.

Both of these groups are willing to work for some amount of equity, and depending on the friendship card and personal cash flow needs, some requirement of cash. After all, food doesn't find its way to the table on it's own. This enables you to get your product built without having to hire someone full time and at a discounted rate. I must admit that I've put in a hell of a lot of time on my recent project to get it off the ground doing a large chunk of the development, but I've also managed to get the entire beta launched in the very low five figure range.

As a side note, I think it's infinitely useful to go back and read

37 Signals
Getting Real

I've put together a few of these agreements and they're all fairly similar. Please add a comment if you would like a sample version of one and I'll send it to you. And if your needs are greater, I'll refer you to friend and former Cooley attorney Michael Stack who has helped with some of these agreements in the past.

The mechanism is essentially this:

  • Agree upon a discounted rate per hour that will be paid out in cash
  • Agree upon a bonus compensation that involves granting a set number of shares per hour that feels fair. You might be able to back into this number by giving a nod to what the company might be worth if someone priced a round. So let's say you think the company could be worth $1M pre-money and there are $1M shares outstanding. After the discounted rate, the developer is willing to take in a bonus of 50 shares per hour worked.
  • Create an agreement that contains both the discounted rate, bonus stock rate, and expectations, ceilings on hours, IP protection.
  • 1099 the contractor for the discounted rate plus the bonus stock at the current stock value (which at a very early stage could be as low as .01/share)
  • Downside to be aware of is a larger pool of shareholders in your company and some additional dilution.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

First Things First - Creating the Pitch Deck

At the very beginning stages of a company, even if that company is merely an idea jotted on a coffee stained napkin, the first real step to moving forward is to create a pitch deck. The long and short of company creation, fund raising, and selling is that you need a way to explain what you do in simple straightforward language. This will obviously take various forms depending on the audience. Get started with an investor presentation. Taking the perspective of an investor will force you to answer the hard questions of why someone else would believe in your ingenious world-changing idea enough to give you their money.

Guy Kawasaki broke this exercise out into 10 slides in his book "The Art of the Start" published back in 2001. His 10/20/30 rule holds up.

The people you are pitching to have limited attention spans and have heard 100 business plans in the last 60 days. Guys advice on the 10 slides follow. They don't have to strictly follow this order but the order is good. The biggest one I would consider swapping is "Team." If your team is a very strong component (and it is a primary reason people will invest) then stick it up front, perhaps right after your solution slide.

Ten slides. Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting—and venture capitalists are very normal. (The only difference between you and venture capitalist is that he is getting paid to gamble with someone else’s money). If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business. The ten topics that a venture capitalist cares about are:

  1. Problem
  2. Your solution
  3. Business model
  4. Underlying magic/technology
  5. Marketing and sales
  6. Competition
  7. Team
  8. Projections and milestones
  9. Status and timeline
  10. Summary and call to action

Read more:

After you've collected your ideas, pitch it. Pitch it to your close business mentors and associates, pitch it to your girlfriend, spouse, people in your target market. Pitch, rinse, and repeat.

And when you're ready to take the presentation to the next level to put a finer point on it, check out Presentation Zen. Thanks Catherine for turning me onto it.

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