Tuesday, November 17, 2015
I’ve loved being a technology CEO. It’s been 20 years, and the CEO journey has taken me from pride to humility, from exhaustion to exhilaration, from courage to fear and often all in the same day. It’s a fantastic job and a huge responsibility and I’m honored to have been trusted with the job not once but twice and in two very different markets. I’ve worked with talented executives, loyal investors, and customers who’ve become friends over the years.
And I’ve also always been incredibly conscious of the role I play in making it possible for other women to be high tech CEOs by simply showing it can be done in a world which is so biased against us.
But it’s time for me to step back. This has been a tough decision – and those of you who know me well will know what kind of war has been going on in my brain for the last 6 months – I’m not without ego after all! But I am very conscious that over the last 20 years I’ve traded so much as I focused on my career. Of course, my challenges are every working person’s challenges. Enough time with my children, supporting aging and dying parents, not enough sleep, not enough personal time. But I’ve become so much more aware of time passing since my mother died and now my father is 84 and far away and so I’ve decided to make different choices with my time. I feel very fortunate that I have that choice.
It’s hard, but balance is a myth if you are CEO (as I blogged in 2007). Every company deserves a CEO who is on 24/7. One who lives and breathes every aspect of the company, the future of every employee and the success of every customer. That’s just what it takes to succeed.
We’ve built a fabulous technology platform at FirstRain and one we’re proud of. It’s used by some of the biggest companies in the world and our customer engagements just keep getting deeper. I am truly delighted that YY Lee is going to take over from me as CEO - she has been with me every step of our 10+ year journey together at FirstRain. But more than that, she’s worked with me on and off across 3 companies over the last 23 years and I know she more than has what it takes to lead FirstRain through the next stage of growth. I could not be prouder of her. And I’ll be there to help her and the Rainmakers. I’ll stay involved as an active chair, work on strategy and continue to do the part of my job I love the most: working closely with our large customers.
And with the rest of my time? I very much enjoy my public company board work, and of course I’ll keep on coaching entrepreneurs and women (which I love to do), and being a feminist and a blogger. But more importantly I’ll spend more time with my father in England and with my family.
It’s not all perfectly clear to me but I’ll figure it out as I go along. I’ve been an obsessed CEO for so long now I can’t imagine too far ahead yet. But I’m sure I’ll work it out.
Friday, November 6, 2015
My latest post in Inc.
Have you ever listened carefully to the language your leaders use when they talk about their plans and accomplishments? It can be very revealing, if you listen to the subtlety of their speech. There are leaders who are all about themselves and there are leaders who are all about their team, or their dream, and these two types of leaders sound entirely different from each other.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a group of executives from a large company and I was struck by how often they used “I” in their speech. These leaders even took personal credit and responsibility for accomplishments made by their respective companies, simply inserting “I” or “my” into their statements. Two different people said “my shareholders,” and “I have set expectations at XYZ.” Both executives implied that they were “the man” (and neither were the CEO!). Revealing isn’t it? For example, there is a huge difference in how you think about a business unit or project leader based on whether they say “my customers” or “our customers.” “My customers” sounds ego-driven and possessive, yet “our customers” sounds supportive and amplifies that the leader has a team behind her. Or consider “my strategy” vs. “our strategy” – there is a different set of implications between the two.
So here are five things to watch out for when using “I” in your speech:
1. Give your team all the credit.
When a project goes well, you win a customer or hire a great person; giving credit to your team for the win will earn you their loyalty. In this case, deflecting the attention away from yourself and shining the spotlight on the team doing the real work, will not go unnoticed. Saying, “The R&D team truly raised our quality over the last six months,” or saying, “Julie went above and beyond to help our customer,” will be so much more appreciated by your team and over time they will become loyal to you knowing you are going to make sure they are given credit where credit is due.
2. The future is shared.
You don’t own the future and you certainly can’t create it without your team. You can create a strong sense of shared destiny if you use “we” or “our” for your future plans. Try saying something along the lines of, “We are planning a new, magical set of features which we will release in beta this June,” or, “We are committed to turning a profit by the end of the year.” Your team will know they are part of your vision for the future.
3. No one admires a boaster.
It’s so transparent, and yet so many mediocre leaders do this: they boast about their accomplishments, name drop, remind you about their education, and some even feel a need to tell you how smart or important they are. It’s boring and it means nothing to the listener, so don’t do it. The only exception is when someone specifically asks you to tell your story. Otherwise keep your mouth shut and win their support based on the merit of your ideas and your work.
4. Don’t cross the line by over sharing.
Yes, a certain amount of sharing is OK, it makes you human. However, “I did this and I did that” again and again gets boring fast. If someone asks you how your weekend was, a short, amusing answer should suffice. I find this one hard because I enjoy sharing and I enjoy entertaining, but I am learning to keep it short. It is very easy to cross the line between the level of detail that is office-appropriate and what can be shared at a later time with friends.
5. A leader should take all of the blame.
This is one of the few places that the word “I” should be used. Don’t be too proud to admit that “I made an error in judgment when I hired Joe,” or “I misjudged the rate at which the market was going to change,” etc. When there is a major problem, you want to take as much responsibility for it as you can. In private you may vent to a friend that so-and-so dropped the ball and you’re paying the price for it, but never in public, never in front of your team. A good leader doesn’t make excuses.
The exception to the rule here is when a very visible leader, such as a large company CEO needs to share vision. “I believe” is powerful and can be inspiring when your deeply held belief helps your team to see the future, or fills them with a sense of optimism about the path you are going to take together. “We believe” feels weaker. So when visioning, go ahead and say I, but when talking about your operations and your projects say we.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Life is about death, as a dear friend said to me this week. Certainly if you are a Buddhist. But even if you are not, every day is sweet because our days are numbered, and we will all die.
And it's just because life is about death that we need to make sure we live! Which for me means experience. Rich, fascinating, delicious experience. Experience such as can be found in Naples - where the locals say "Vedi Napoli e poi muori" or "See Naples and Die".
So next week I am headed to Neapolis, literally the "new city" of the Greeks (because when it was founded by the Greeks in 2nd century BC it was replacing the old city of Cumae, just to the West, which had been founded 600 years earlier). And it's been continuously occupied since then...meaning it's been Greek, and Roman, and Byzantine, and Norman, and Angevin, and Bourbon, and Fascist, and then pummeled by the Allies, and now recovering... and I am skipping a few rulers in between.
The resulting city and it's surroundings are a feast for the soul. Whether you love the terracotta red wall art of Pompeii, or the almost vulgar decorations of baroque churches, or the visual beauty of the art in the Capodimonte. Whether you are a lover of pizza (the margherita pizza was invented there for Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1889 - see the red, white and green!), or fish so fresh it looks you in the eye before they cook it, or volcanic red wine or the sweetest tomatoes. Whether you enjoy hot water springs or cool autumn Amalfi beaches. It's glorious and inspiring, poor and dangerous, and one of the most stimulating places you can explore.
So, in preparing to die one day, Naples is a must, and this time I'm spending a week in the area (rather than the 3 days I've given it in the past).
Goethe said it well - and he, and the scandalous fashionista Lady Hamilton, made Naples a must stop on the Grand Tour for the young elite gentlemen of English society wanting to get a classical education (and it's reassuring to know they would often also get educated in the ways of women and wine on the way). I'm following in the footsteps of the poet Virgil, the great Lord Nelson, Caravaggio and thousands more. It's going to be fun following their ghosts.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
What do you think of when you hear the word epicure? Food, right?
But you'd be wrong. Yes that's the modern use of the word, but long before epicurean meant food, or a website you use to research your favorite recipe (www.epicurious.com), Epicureanism was a school of Greek philosophy - and one that is pretty attractive!
The philosopher Epicurus founded his school in his garden in Athens in the 4th century BC. His philosophy was based on the belief that our purpose is to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by peace, freedom from fear, the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. His students were called the Garden People (that sounds good right there) and the focus was on pleasure (but not too much because too much leads to pain) and on friendship.
Sounds to good to be true, perhaps? Of course. The school of thought was soon opposed by men to whom happiness was not the end in mind. Justice, religion, politics and power are stronger forces than happiness. Epicurus' teachings were opposed by Cicero, and the Roman Senate, and eventually by the Christians, and so the word Epicurean was abused as the more Stoic values became fashionable.
To be epicurean began to mean to be indulgent, to be devoted to sensual pleasure, good food and comfort, with the negative connotation of self indulgence which was not part of the original philosophy of the simple life.
But to me it is marvelous that a word that originally was about living a happy life based on friendship and freedom from fear is now associated with food. It's the logical derivative. After all, where is the center of happiness typically in a home? It's the kitchen table. It's the community formed around the preparation of food, the sharing of food, the discussion of food. Food plays the glue in many family and friend relationships. There is so much more joy and pleasure in the sharing of the food than in the food itself. So food... happiness... friendship are all intermingled.
As I finish a delicious salad, sitting on a lawn chair by the beach on the big island of Hawaii, I think about how luxurious and sensuous the experience is. Taste on the lip, sun and wind on the skin, a stimulating history book in my hand, the absence of fear. My friends waiting for me back at the house. I am convinced. Yes, I am an Epicurean.
Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times
Monday, October 12, 2015
A friend sent me a NY Times article this weekend titled "What Really Keeps Women Out of Tech" and I was struck by how different the current experience of young women is from when I read Maths at Cambridge in 1979.
Yes, then it was unusual. Less than 5% of the Maths class were women in my year. But beyond that it never felt hostile. I never felt like I didn't belong, or Maths was too hard for girls, or I shouldn't be doing it. And when I graduated I needed a job and Texas Instruments was willing to teach me how to program so I leapt in with both feet, learned how to touch type, and then learned how to write code. I admit, I was the only girl on the team, and I looked in envy at the TI Dallas software team that had plenty of women in it, and in leadership, but I never felt I did not belong.
The big difference between then, when girls majoring in CS in college was at it's peak and now, when the number has dropped precipitously, is captured in the article:
"The researchers also found that cultural stereotypes about computer scientists strongly influenced young women’s desire to take classes in the field. At a young age, girls already hold stereotypes of computer scientists as socially isolated young men whose genius is the result of genetics rather than hard work. Given that many girls are indoctrinated to believe that they should be feminine and modest about their abilities, as well as brought up to assume that girls are not innately gifted at science or math, it is not surprising that so few can see themselves as successful computer scientists."
I simply don't remember the stereotype of the nerdy young man when I was coming up. CS was not cool, it was not a way to make money back then. To make money you'd go into finance and investment banking. I was the only one of my peer group who went into industry or, as one person said to me at the time in an attempt to put me down, "trade".
But I can see it now. From Big Bang Theory to HBO's Silicon Valley (which is so true I simply don't find it funny) the young, white, male, nerdy, non-showering, stereotype is alive and strong. And we have to change that. Another reason the new film The Martian is so good. It is gender balanced, in both technology and leadership roles; and it follows Gravity which was of similar balance and quality. Something aspiring young female nerds can look up to.
Friday, October 9, 2015
Published in Inc on Oct 5, 2015
At long last, the world is paying attention to the issue of gender
diversity. In May 2014, top tech companies started reporting the dismal
numbers of women in their workforces. When these statistics were
released to the public, a spotlight shone on this disparity, sparking a
conversation on the need for gender equality amongst corporate America.
While this conversation has been discussed at length in the media and exhausted by panels at conferences all over the world, the fact remains that little change has actually occurred. We have a long way to go. As a new report from Lean In and McKinsey shows, we are more than 100 years away from gender equality in the C-Suite. To top it off, NY Times reports, the modern workplace is "toxic" and "the ranks of those women still thin significantly as they rise toward the top, from more than 50 percent at entry level to 10 to 20 percent in senior management."
It might have taken 100 years for women to be able to vote in the U.S., but it shouldn't take 100 more years before we achieve gender equality at the office. If you want your company to benefit from the economic advantage of a diverse team, there are five actions you can implement at your own company to grow the number of women on your team. Here are some actions you can take now to act locally and change the number of women on your team.
1. Women attract other women.
Do you have at least one, preferably two, of your operational leaders who are women? "Operational" is an important distinction. There are plenty of teams where the HR person is a woman, or the communications person (occupying the pink ghetto), but when you start looking for R&D leaders or P&L managers, the number of women thins out drastically.
What few people realize is, if you have women in technology and operational leadership they will attract other women. Women want to see other women ahead of them in the company they are joining so they have positive proof that they can get ahead in that company. Likewise, if there are no women for your younger employees to look up to, you will lose them over time. Before you say you can't find them, determine going in that you will interview both women and men for your open positions. In your interview process you will find highly qualified women and you will hire them. These highly skilled women will be magnets for other women considering your team and open your talent pool up significantly.
2. True, not fake, flexibility.
Many teams talk flexibility and yet the subtle competition and mindset of one-upping each other that some teams exhibit can make working flexible hours feel unsafe for many women. True flexibility means actively respecting every employee's wish to get their job done where and when it works for them. If you can establish a culture where it's completely acceptable to call into a meeting if you need to be home or use video to hold one-on-ones to support a teammate that needs to leave early (rather than look down on it), you can keep women (and men) on your team who have to juggle their home responsibilities with their job. But you have to be proactive and out spoken about your support for flexibility (provided people get their jobs done of course). Passive support is not enough.
3. Talk about diversity openly.
It takes courage to talk openly about your belief on diversity. Many of your team will agree with you, but some will not, and not everyone will tell you. I have found that a few men will complain to each other and be passive aggressive on the issue, but you still need to speak out so the women and other minorities on your team hear you. There is enough evidence now that diversity creates better financial results and better products. It makes no sense to omit 50% or more of the potential talent from your workforce. By having the courage to speak out, be consistent and be fair you will keep more women on your team and improve your company in the process.
4. Invest in your women.
Many fields are hostile to women, especially technology. Facebook's Mary Lou Jepson is just the latest in the long line of women to speak out about it. Knowing that the workplace can be toxic or hostile, one way you can be better than your competition at keeping and growing women is your willingness to invest. Send women to female career oriented conferences like the Grace Hopper Conference or the 3% Conference. Support them forming Lean In circles. Speak openly about your wish to see them invest in staying with their chosen field and find ways to grow within their field rather than dropping out or moving to a more female friendly industry.
5. Hire a few good men.
There are many men today who believe strongly in the need for gender diversity. Their motivations are varied. Sometimes they have daughters and want their daughters to have every opportunity. Sometimes it's "just right." Other times it is understanding the need to hire the best and the brightest and not wanting to miss out on half the talent. Whatever the reason, these male allies are important in the quest for gender diversity.
Bring men into your team who want to work on a diverse team. Find men who don't tolerate prejudice towards women and will support the advancement of the women on your team. Make a conscious effort to support these men when they work hard to bring women onto the team and identify unconscious bias in the people around them.
It's time. The dearth of women at the top of companies is not just a pipeline problem that stems from companies not proactively working to improve their culture for women. We need to address the culture that causes 50% of women to drop out of tech within 10 years of graduation because it's hostile. They don't stop working, they just leave tech. However, you can change the outcome for your team if you work hard to bring women in and to keep them; your company will be stronger for it.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
As readers of my blog know, I have had a high pressure career while being married to a man who also has a career, and raising two children. That's the backdrop to something my father said to me last weekend which stopped me in my tracks.
Talking about a woman we know whose husband is divorcing her, my father said "Well you got away with murder!"
Wow. Talk about judgement from your Dad. Now it's important to note my father is absolutely one of the good guys. He's always been very supportive of my career and proud of my accomplishments, but even he carries the unconscious bias about women working.
When I was a new CEO, working hard, with two young children, my parents would often say "poor Bret" - feeling sorry for my husband that I was not taking enough care of him. They would feel bad for me that I was working so hard, and my mother many times said she wondered if she had done the right thing raising my sister and I to be so independent because the result was that we had stressful careers. I know she'd do it all over again because she believed strongly in women's equality and I learned to ignore all the comments eventually because I knew they understood really. But when my father said I got away with murder I had to think again.
What exactly did I get away with? Staying married. Being in a partnership with a great guy. Raising two amazing children who are now powerful, fully functioning adults who I adore, and who adore me? Keeping my health despite a few trip ups along the way? Finding amazing young women to partner with in raising our children? Choosing to work with like-minded business partners in my own companies? Having a handful of friends to lean on when my schedule got too crazy? Raising dogs and cats together in peace?
And yet I know I have been silently judged by many people far more seriously than my father's quip. Men in the workplace asking me if I would come back to work after my pregnancy, asking why was I working with young children at home. Asking me if I feel guilty, asking me what my husband thinks about my working, asking me if I could manage both children and my career. I have experiences a mile long - I could write a book but it wouldn't change anything.
Maybe I did get away with murder. But maybe not. Maybe I lead a rich and rewarding life surrounded by great people who help and support me, and whom I help and support back. And, after a good debate last weekend, my father says he agrees with me.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
I love my job and I love meeting 90% of the people I have the privilege to meet, but sometimes, just sometimes, I have to spend professional time with someone whom I have a hard time respecting. Of course I don't let on, and of course I am professional and respectful, but I have to find ways to manage myself through my reaction to the behavior.
What is the behavior I have to manage my head around you may ask?
What I find really hard is the person who has to be the smartest person in the room, and makes sure you and everyone else reflects that back to him/her. The person who is so sure they have the answers they don't listen. Who talks over people more junior than them. Who is dismissive of other people they consider lower in the power structure. Who posture to make a point, instead of just being open and direct.
I've seen this behavior by execs to people on their teams (sometimes in front of me when I am the vendor). I've seen it towards my employees, and sometimes to me because I am selling, or because I am female, or because I threaten them in some way. I've seen it in groups which should be peers but where one person thinks he's better/senior/more experienced/smarter and so throws his weight around. In board meetings, on panels, at dinner parties.
So it happens. You've seen it. But enough of the negative. How to deal?
I am inspired by Caravaggio in this circumstance. Caravaggio was commissioned by Tibero Cerasi to paint two paintings for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome in 1600. One of the conversion of St Paul, the other of the Crucifixion of St Peter. At the same time Cerasi commissioned Caravaggio's competitor Carracci (a conventional Baroque painter, and Caravaggio's contemporary) to paint the altar piece.
The first versions Caravaggio painted were rejected by Cerasi (only one is known to survive and it is glorious), and the history hints to their rejection being maybe motivated by Cardinal Sannessio's desire to take them into his private collection. But whatever the reason, the net result was Caravaggio had to paint two more, and this time he chose to paint them in rich, high drama, and to send a message.
Meanwhile, Carracci painted the altar piece and the Assumption of the Virgin takes center stage of the Cerisi chapel. The Assumption is a beautiful, classically baroque painting in romantic pinks and blues replete with cherub angels, but it's no match for Caravaggio's stunning, dramatic flanking paintings.
So how did Caravaggio make a point of his opinion of his competitor Carracci? He painted a horse's ass pointed towards the Carracci painting!
Here's the chapel. The Assumption is in the middle above the altar.
You can see the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Way to Damascus is on the right. The horse's backside is directed squarely at the Carracci painting. And it's been expressing Caravaggio's opinion for 415 years.
This is a truly glorious, extraordinary painting. It is Caravaggio at the top of his game, changing the world of painting forever. It has incredible depth, drama and detail and the horse is alive!
So when I have to play the game and be respectful and polite to someone I don't respect I think about this painting, and how Caravaggio had the last laugh, and remind myself not to take any of this too seriously.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
A little something to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II being the longest reigning English monarch today.
Here she is with my Grandfather, Sir Ambrose Flux Dundas, visiting the Isle of Man where he was Lieutenant Governor early on in her reign.
But just as importantly - there is my lovely mother, so young and pretty (on the right), greeting Prince Philip with my Grandmother, Lady Mary Dundas.
We still have the agenda for her visit, plus the table seating plan and the menu. Mummy sat with the Queen and used to tell us she had beautiful table manners, except that she would squash peas onto her fork. That, however, did not make it OK for us to do the same!
Friday, August 28, 2015
most people, it's not easy to talk about money. It can be difficult,
nerve-racking and even fear-inducing. However, being able to talk about
money will directly influence how much you make and the opportunities
you get. We don't (yet) live in a world where your pay is solely based
on your competency; which means you have to be assertive and find
positive, constructive ways to engage in a discussion with your boss.
For those of you who are uncomfortable with the subject of compensation,
here are five non-confrontational ways to talk with your boss about how
much money you make and ways you can make more:
Check your bonus
Once you get into management most companies provide some level of variable component to your pay. It may be based on your performance (such as MBOs), the company's performance or both. Nevertheless, bonuses are typically set as a percentage of your base pay.
It is entirely reasonable for you to ask about the bonus percentages for different jobs at your company: What percentage does a manager get? A director? A project lead? Are the bonuses consistently applied by level or are there ways to earn a higher bonus percentage? Asking these questions will give you an understanding of the levels you have available to increase your variable pay. Additionally, asking these questions allows you to understand if your variable is set fairly relative to your peers, and it puts your manager on notice that you are paying attention.
Some people put their hand up for a bigger job before they are ready. Some wait until they are more than ready. Guess who gets ahead faster?
Building your confidence to raise your hand early and ask for a bigger responsibility before you are perfectly ready makes you more valuable to your company. As a leader, it's great to have team members who will jump on challenges and volunteer, even if they are a stretch. Stretching yourself and taking risk will lead to you more opportunities and you'll be rewarded earlier and more often than your peers who hang back. Asking you manager for more challenging projects and for promotion opportunities will naturally lead you into a discussion about your pay and how you can grow it.
Understand the bias in the system
The debate continues to rage about the pay gap between men and women (women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, in full time work) and a recent study shows the gender pay gap is even greater when it comes to incentive pay.
It's such an active discussion that if you are in a minority (or even if you are not) it is OK to ask about the company's approach to understanding and correcting gender or racial bias in their pay practices. Ask if they have run an audit on pay differences and if they have a plan of action to correct any existing gaps (which you can be sure exists).
Some companies, like GoDaddy and Salesforce, say they are aggressively going after this issue and plan to remove the gender-based pay gap over the next few years. It's a fair conversation for you to have with your boss and HR, provided you stay positive and don't play the victim.
"You get what you negotiate, not what you deserve." This is the motivation behind the thousands of self-help books and classes on negotiation, and it's true. That said, when it comes to your pay, it really helps to come from a positive perspective.
Approach your conversation with your manager from a perspective that you know you are contributing but you want to contribute more and in doing so, make more money. Let her know you want to negotiate, but don't focus on how you are paid relative to others, instead focus on your impact and ways you can advance the company as well as your own career. Asking for more responsibility naturally leads to more pay over time.
Pick your timing
Timing is everything. Be smart about when you open up the conversation. Don't do it when your boss is about to go on vacation. Don't do it when she is slammed with preparing a presentation to the board. Don't do it around quarter end or a project deadline. Find a time when your boss can listen with both ears, when you can bring up your questions in a relaxed atmosphere, and then go for it!
My Inc post - August 14
is it is that prevents us from speaking truth to those in power: Fear
of punishment? Fear of attack? Fear of being noticed? There are many
reasons we don't deal in the truth, but great teams, whether a small
company leadership, a public company board, or a political team, learn
to speak and deal in the truth.
Knowing the truth about whatever situation you are in, or the problem you are solving, is absolutely critical, and yet so often people can't overcome their own barriers to tell those above them the honest truth. From my experience, here are five reasons that people don't speak up and some ways you can conquer these concerns for yourself:
- "I can't get to her"--If you've ever tried to reach a senior executive at a large company, you know how hard it can be to steal a few minutes of their day. They have layers of people protecting them and their time: a chief of staff, a fierce admin and a busy schedule that seems to create walls of unavailability. However, the best executives will make themselves available if you bring value. Some of these executives answer emails, sometimes they eat lunch in the cafeteria, and if you explain what you want to talk about in serious terms, their admin will make time for you. Be persistent and when you get your 15 minutes, be sure that you bring a solution or suggestion for improvement, as well as the problem you believe they need to know about. As a CEO there is nothing more frustrating than someone bringing me a problem, dumping it on my lap and having no part in helping me solve it. I'd still prefer to know, but it is certainly easier to hear a problem when it comes with a proposed solution.
- "It's not my place" -It's a self-limiter to believe that just because someone is in power above you in the organization chart that they are in some way better than you, or superior to you. Everyone has a role to play in the organization, and as human beings, everyone is equal. Some jobs carry a greater span of decision-making than others and a wider range of responsibility, but no one is "better" than anyone else. It's true that in some company cultures executives start to believe that they are better and look down on people they don't consider their "peers," but they are weaker for it and I can tell you from experience that when they are looking for a job later they forget that they once thought you were beneath them. Remember, you have a place and a voice; your perspective is valuable to power and you have a responsibility to share it.
- "He won't like it"--Some people don't like to hear bad news. They would rather you wrap everything in the positive, especially if they are conflict averse. You need to be aware of your audience's personality to figure out how to deliver a tough message, but don't be fearful. Fear will only prevent you from getting to the real problems and finding solutions. People don't get fired or shut out for telling the truth. If you are constructive and are doing a quality job, you will not be fired for expressing your opinion on a situation (and if you do, go and work for a better leader). Good leaders want to hear the truth, even if it's painful to hear. So, speak up! Have confidence in yourself and don't worry about whether the power player you are speaking with will "like" your message.
- "She should already know" - It's a myth than people in power have all the information. In an ideal world, they do, but in a fast-paced business, there is no way that your leaders knows everything. You can be sure leaders are talking with customers, sales people, your manufacturing leads and your engineers to try and getting the information they need to make the right decisions, but they never know everything. If you know something that you think they should know, tell them. If they were already aware of your concern, you just confirmed it. If they were unaware of your concern, you were able to bring value and help them be better leaders.
- "He shuts me down"--Getting shut down is the one obstacle I find the hardest to overcome. This is the person who raises his/her voice, gets aggressive and bullies to intimidate a speaker into silence. It's important to remember when someone does this to you that it's a tactic that has been learned because it can be effective. I have particularly seen men use this on women, but I have also seen men do it to other men. This often happens when someone raises a controversial point, particularly if she is "pushy," and a man will get angry as a way to shut down the conversation. If this happens to you, remember that others in the room probably do not respect this behavior. However, most people will not run to the aid of the person who spoke up, because they don't want to draw the anger in their direction. When you speak up and someone attacks you with anger, don't back down if you believe in the truth you are speaking. Stay calm and stick to your guns. You might be surprised to know that many people in the room agree with you.
One of the biggest reasons people don't speak up is not about their
leadership, or fear, it's about being liked. I've always been outspoken
and I am very conscious about speaking truth to power, but not everyone
likes it. I have found that some people admire me for it, and when I
leave a team (a company, or a board) those people will thank me for my
contribution. But others think of me as too aggressive and
controversial. For those people, it's a relief when I leave the group.
It's hard not to care when people don't like you, but not everyone will
like you, so get used to it.
Finally, I realized I can't please all the people, all the time. It's most important to be authentic, stop worrying and speak the truth. You will find that when you do, the people--the power - that matters will thank you for it.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Turning 50 five years ago seemed like a big deal at the time. When I wrote the post Fifty is Just a Number Isn't It? in July 2010 I was musing on the minefield that the fifties looked like to me, and the challenges of aging, without having a clue what was actually going to happen and what it was going to feel like.
Now, turning 55, navigating my way through the minefield, I find myself wondering if I am halfway there - and if so halfway to what?
Maybe it's halfway to 40 from 50. After all, the internet tells me "60 is the new 40". Life expectancy is going up, we're healthier than we have ever been, and so why should you not be running your first marathon at 60? Retirement age is going up and so there is no reason not to enjoy working until your late 60s now.
It's more than halfway to the end, I think. When I plug my age and habits in to various life expectancy tools like Deadline and Living to 100 the answer always comes out the same... 92. So in that case I'm 59% of the way there, just a little more than half way. And of course these tools all tell me the same thing. Reduce stress, exercise more, and drink less. Hah!
Maybe it's halfway to acceptance. Accepting the death of my loved ones. No, I don't think I'll ever accept that. Accepting the tragedy of a loved one who wants to die, but she has Alzheimers and keeps on living and is miserable. Managing the strain that puts on my husband and our marriage. Definitely striving for acceptance on that one and gradually getting there.
I hope it's halfway through my marriage. If the online tools (which are worth what I paid for them which was zero) are right and I live to 92 I will be married for 70 years (since Bret is an athlete I believe he will live longer than me). We've been married 33 years so we are not even halfway! Of course he may think about that and say "yikes, time for a new wife!" but here's hoping not. We've built a happy life together and while we are as different as chalk and cheese it works and we love each other.
It's all the way to having adult children. Wow, what a joy that is! Charming, lovely adults who are delightful to be around and finally do dishes and cook. Hopefully it's still a way to grandchildren though! I hope we're waiting another 10 years for that pleasure.
I'm always halfway to being the perfect weight and physical fitness. I suspect that is a road I'll travel forever. Although I do get fitter every year because every year I care more about being healthy.
And it's definitely halfway to true friendship. My friendships have gone through stages of pleasure, competition, shared challenges (little kids, work), craziness (going to extremes to escape) but, at 55, they are moving into a phase of deep trust. Time has taught me that I have a very few real friends, but they are marvelous. They are accepting, supportive, and joyful even at the worst of times. They just get better with age.
And I'm grateful for all of it. Every day above the dirt is a good day.
My latest published in Inc today.
If you are a leader, you are a performer. You may not be conscious of it, but you are, and people are watching you. Your followers (remember the definition of a leader is that someone is following) trigger off you, your mood, your actions and every word you say. This means that you need to be a performer and an actor to carry your followers with you consistently and you need to do it in a way that is authentic and trustworthy--an interesting balancing act! Here are five ways in which you need to be a star actor as the leader:
- You need to be positive. No matter how you feel inside, to lead you need to see the positive and find a way through the maze. Some days it is easy because you feel positive, but on the days when you can't see how to win, or you are exhausted, you need to get so good at personal transformation that your team cannot tell. If you lose faith, they lose faith. If you feel tired, they feel tired. On those hard days, you have to put yourself into character, step out onto the boards and act positive.
- You need to carry the crowd. As a leader, you are the one in front creating the passion and drive for your group. Being able to project an idea with conviction and charisma is critical to bringing a large group of people with you. Now, you do not have to be as good as Richard Burton playing Mark Anthony in the classic film Cleopatra, but learning some of Marc Benioff's skills of whipping up a crowd will help you lead and carry your ideas into your audience.
- You need to stay on message. The bigger the company or group you lead, the more you need to be consistent and stick to the strategy message and brand. Whether you are in front of your team, on social media or being interviewed on TV, you must repeat your key messages over and over, and over again (sometimes until you are sick of the sound of your own voice!). Only after several reminders will your audience truly absorb and believe what you are saying, but you cannot afford to let it sound rehearsed. Whether it is the first time you say your spiel or the 27th time, it needs to sound as enthusiastic as the first time you ever said it.
- You need to select your cast. No one wants to be on stage with someone without talent, and as the leader, you are the director. You have to decide whom to put on stage and who gets the lead role. Maybe you are the lead actor, or maybe your star is your CTO or your top sales girl. As the director, you need to know how to cater to your audience and when to take a back seat. At the end of the day, you are responsible for who is on your team and who is in the performance with you.
- You need to pay attention to your body. How you stand, how you sit, how you hold your hands (don't fidget)--these things subconsciously influence how people see you. Hold yourself confidently, stand up straight because someone is assessing how you feel and how much you believe in what you are saying (or selling) based on your stance. Learn confidence poses like the Wonder Women: stand tall, legs in a wide stance, hands on your hips.
you are in a leadership position, remember that people are always
watching you. Grab your script, learn it inside and out, smack on a
smile, be consistent, hold a rigorous audition to get the best cast
possible and have strong body awareness. Remember, even the best know
how to "act as if" or "fake it 'til you make it" as they learn to lead.
By the way, there is a group of kids who probably understand this concept better than you or I ever will. The All Stars Project transforms the lives of poor youth using the power of performance. A kid growing up poor in a violent neighborhood who has never dressed formally or stepped inside an office can learn to show up on time, dress professionally, give you a strong handshake and look you in the eye. This group of kids are able to gain the confidence to change their lives by performing in talent shows and practicing improv. The same applies to you as a future leader.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Uber and terrorism. Not two things I would have thought about together until today.
Under normal circumstances I'm a happy, relatively frequent, Uber user. I grab taxis for short trips around NY but when I know my ride is going to be 10 minutes or more I'll whip out the app and make the request. The car shocks are usually better and I am less likely to arrive at my destination green to the gills than I do from riding with the average New York cabbie.
So today started out as a normal Uber experience headed to JFK Airport. Make the request, 5 minute wait, the driver arrives... but he's very young... maybe I should have stopped and thought then. A few blocks driving down a crowded NY street and my driver pulls over and turns off the engine. He then said he needed to go and get money from his brother for the toll. He got out, took his phone but left the car keys and took off out of sight.
Now I am a polite customer. I tip well and often chat amiably with my drivers. I want to support them making a living.
But when the driver leaves how long is a polite period to wait for him to come back? Will he come back? It's coming up to July 4, the terror risk is high, the SWAT teams are already on the NY streets, and here I am sitting in an abandoned car at a busy intersection! And it's an SUV so lots of room to pack explosives. Of course my brain went into analysis mode - an interesting problem I think - Jack Bauer would know what to do. Stay, go, call 911, find and dismantle the bomb with my nailfile? A few seconds into my internal debate and I decided if the car was going to explode I probably couldn't get away anyway, and it would be a quick death, so I decided to give the kid 5 minutes.
But I couldn't just sit there, so I tweeted the question and got a prompt answer from Uber support
@pennyherscher That's not okay, Penny. Please get in touch via the in-app Support function so we can follow up with you.— Uber Support (@Uber_Support) July 2, 2015
That didn't help! Despite trying every screen I could not see where to send Support in-app in the Uber app. Clearly a usability issue in a crisis!
At 4 minutes I got smart and decided English politeness be damned... and got out of the car. I lifted my case out of the trunk and began walking determinedly away - towards my driver running back with a $20 bill. He begged me to get back in and clearly I'm a sucker.
Needless to say, when we got to JFK I gave him a piece of my mind in no uncertain terms. Leaving your passenger alone in the car for 5 minutes was very uncool.
Reflecting back, the whole experience will make me think twice about using Uber again. My driver was not the person registered with Uber but in the traffic melee getting to the car I didn't stop to check that it was the same guy. His car was the right color but looking back on it now, not the right type. But I was not used to being concerned about my safety so I did not think to check carefully. Silly really. There are enough Uber assault cases now that I should. And why do I assume it's safe to get into an unlicensed stranger's car in New York during a terrorism alert?
The bottom line is my experience changes my view of the Uber brand and the service. Do I really want to use a service where now I feel I have to check the details when the driver arrives before I get in the car? Though it's clearly easy for the driver to not be the driver Uber has on file. And do I want the stress of refusing the car if it's not the right driver with the unleasantness that could go with it? Probably not. Until the next time I can't get a cab.
Monday, June 29, 2015
So many times, I've been asked, "how did you balance your career and
kids?" Many young people want to hear that I found the answer to balance
and hope I have the formula, but I don't. Unless you have a fairy
godmother who can guarantee early success in the next big thing, then
you are going to need to work hard to get ahead, make a great living and
have a strong career. In my experience, there are no short cuts and
there is no such thing as "balance."
We live in a competitive, global world, connected 24/7. Understanding the implications of that is half the battle:
1. It's a competitive world (part 1). Yes, the person sitting next to you wants your job. Or they want to get promoted ahead of you. You are competing, whether it is visible to you or not, and it has always been this way. The ambitious ones among you know that getting a promotion is very competitive. Unless you are computer scientist (in which case there are more jobs than people), you need to work hard to hold your job and advance, and you need to be better than the person next to you. When opportunity knocks in the form of a new project, or a request from your boss, do not say, "that's not my job" or "I'm trying to keep balance in my life"--instead, grab it with both hands and show your boss that you are ambitious and that you understand your hard work and smart results will be rewarded.
2. You can lean on your partner. This one is probably easier for many men reading this than women, since women typically spend twice as much time doing housework every day as men. However, whether you are male or female, learning how to lean on your partner as you push your career ahead is critical because you are going to need time to work. Everyone in the household needs to step up and learn how to cook and clean the kitchen! For many women that means learning to give up control and letting their partner take an equal role in running the household. The good news is that a natural shift of equal responsibility in the home is happening as millennials are twice as likely to have dual income families. This younger generation knows better than their parents do that a happy, functioning, two-income household means sharing the work! Of course, if you are single, you are probably trying to find the time to date, which can be a challenge and interfere with everyday chores.
3. Your business is global. Unless you are an hourly worker it is likely that your job is increasingly around the clock. This is the side effect of globalization as you bring together teams from around the world to solve problems and meetings happen at 11 p.m., 1 a.m., or 5 a.m. Sometimes this can feel grim, and yet it is actually an opportunity to spend more time with your family. Unlike 20 years ago when I would have to stay in the office to be connected, I can now go home, work out, have dinner with my family and then login to work from my home office.
4. It's a competitive world (part 2). Not only are you competing in your global workplace, your company is also competing in a global world. It is very likely your company has competitors in China or India with employees who are driven to improve their economic status in the world and for their families with their time and dedication. To use the old cliche "a rising tide floats all boats"--you want your company to be the rising tide so you and your teammates can grow your careers. Your global competitor is willing to sacrifice balance in their lives to get ahead and so should you.
5. Kids are resilient. This one was a hard lesson for me to learn and my guilt was the enemy, but I did learn. In my experience, kids do better when they learn to be independent and they are incredibly resilient if they are loved unconditionally. Yes, you want to be at their games so they know you care and so you can share your pride with them, but I don't think the phenomenon of the helicopter parent is good for kids. They will be stronger and more competitive adults if they have learned independence and they will have a better understanding of what it takes to compete when their turn comes.
6. Life is not fair. It just isn't. You need to make your own luck. For 99 percent of us that means hard work.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Books are magical. They take me into other worlds, and increasingly into the mysteries of the past, in a way that transports me and consumes my mind. But I find I am facing a dilemma - digital or paper? ephemeral or tactile?
When I say digital I am talking about the Kindle - but both the actual Amazon kindle device and the Kindle app on my iPad and iPhone. I switch back and forth - the Kindle device when outside in the sun, the iPad when on a plane.
Back and forth... the pros and cons:
+ Digital has the weight advantage. In my suitcase, or in my briefcase, I can "carry" the 4-5 books I have on the go at any point in time in one device. I need to travel with my iPad for work, and to catch up on TV shows, and of course I always have my iPhone. But then, if I am traveling on vacation where I will be in the sun I end up taking all three devices...
- Paper has the memory advantage. I'm relieved to learn this is not just for me (I assumed it was because I learned to read with paper books) - and now we know that "Reading in print helps with comprehension" brilliantly described here. It's the tactile experience, the thickness and feel of the book as you progress through, the ability to flip back a few pages to remind yourself. We are, in the end, tactile beings. I find I have a really hard time remembering the details I read electronically. I can remember from a paper book - I remember the visual of the information on the page - and I can also retain when I listen (I love Audible). But not when reading on a screen.
+ In line reference makes the digital experience richer. Because I read 100% history books I am always wanting to look up references: locations, the etymology of words, people... and when reading a paper book I find myself picking up my phone to find reference information. When reading on my iPad I can find the reference in line.
- Paper books don't have email in them. A big challenge with the iPad is my email is live. It's too tempting to quickly check, even when on vacation or trying to relax on a long flight. This is an advantage of the Kindle device on a beach. But I still have to make myself leave my phone in my beach bag and not take it out!
- Paper books are more relaxing. I can read a paper book all day. 9am to 7pm no problem (if I can step off the work grid for that long - a much bigger challenge). Any electronic device, in the end, is tiring to read. Especially late at night.
So in the end I am giving in. I'll end up buying both paper and electronic for the books I want to travel with, but I find my reading pleasure is in my old fashioned books, especially hardback copies. And, as you can see here, my stack is totally fascinating - or if you're one of my kids "that's boring Mom - you're obsessed!"
The stack by my bedside
Monday, June 22, 2015
See the Ken doll? He was sent to me as the "Ultimate CMO" - "Every CEO's dream come true" in a fancy box designed to get me to take a meeting and learn about a marketing service.
Blue eyes, blond hair and khakis - what a silicon valley stereotype! He is male and so he wears "winged oxfords" and an "untucked dress shirt" and his box says "all CMOs contain nuts". He came in a box from a marketing agency who claim they are category creators. A small firm run by three men with excellent marketing pedigree. But they named the agency Play Bigger - focusing on size perhaps? (my team checked, Ken is actually anatomically androgynous)
Of course this was the joke of the office when it came in given who we are and the gender diversity we have at the top of the company (and we suspect they sent the doll as a lead generation gag without looking us up first). But they achieved their goal with me which was to get me to react. I sent Play Bigger an email sharing my lack of appreciation for the male stereotyping and they asked me for a meeting which I accepted, much to the infuriation of my head of marketing.
But in the end they failed. They booked a time to call me on Friday - and did not call. Even clever, and tasteless marketing campaigns need to follow through with the warm lead or they were just a waste of money.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
So you're the new CEO of your own company. You're living the dream! You've thought through the pros and cons of being a CEO and you've got your first round of venture capital funding.
This means you also have a board to manage, which can be a minefield for you. So how to navigate the minefield? To begin, you must create a well-organized board meeting. Use my Top 10 tips to run a board meeting as a starting point but once you have the logistics down, it's all about your behavior and leadership in the room.
One of the most common mistakes I see with new CEOs is thinking they need the board's approval. You don't. Your job is to figure out the strategy, what to do and to make good decisions so that your company grows. A board's job is to support and advise you. Sometimes board members get confused about this and they will believe that they are there to make decisions; however, beyond hiring a new CEO or deciding whether to put more money in, they don't have that power. If you take their advice and it's wrong, they'll still fire you, so the decisions, ultimately, lie with you.
The board needs you because you are the leader, the one who hired your team, the one who holds the strategy and the one with the customer relationships, so replacing you is a major risk for the company (not to mention a major time sink for the board members). The board will judge you on the quality of your decisions, whether or not you follow their advice. If the board loses confidence in you then they will replace you, but up until that moment you are in the driver's seat and they are there to help you. This is not permission to be arrogant or disrespectful, but understanding this dynamic will help you be a better, more confident CEO. What you need most of all is to gather all of the input and perspective you can from your board, but not decisions.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to ensure your behavior in your board meeting maximizes the result:
1. Are you unconsciously seeking your board's approval? For example, what do you say when an investor tells you to do something that you believe is wrong? If you are seeking their approval, you will probably validate the idea "that's a great idea," but if you are seeking input, then you'll acknowledge the idea instead by a comment such as "thank you for your input, let me think about it." Develop a stable of respectful responses that tell your board that you heard them, it's good input, but you'll still need to decide.
2. If you are female--is your behavior serious enough? If you giggle, fidget, run your hand through your hair or exhibit any of the "girlish" characteristics, you will be judged and taken less seriously. Unfair, but true. So learn to sit still, don't fidget, lean forward, take notes (but in a considered way), lower your voice and dress carefully. Imagine how a strong male CEO whom you respect would sit in the meeting- are you conveying the same level of gravitas?
3. Where do you sit? Don't sit at the front of the room, eagerly presenting all the slides to your teachers. Sit in the middle, or at the head of the table, and host your staff as they present their materials. Sit yourself between the power players, not in service to them.
4. What is your communication between meetings? Again, you are running the company and while some level of update is appropriate between meetings, a running commentary is not. Think about what impression you want to create. The more you communicate the details, the more you invite your board to weigh in with their opinions. Be thoughtful about what, and when, you communicate. You want to be thorough, but that is why there is a board packet. Assume your board members can read.
5. Have you properly prepped your team? It's worth having a prep meeting with your team to talk through the agenda and what you want to get out of the meeting. Manage their presentations to be crisp and brief (three slides is a good rule of thumb). Use their time wisely and excuse them before the long debates begin, because they have real work to do.
Your board is there to help you. They are not your friends or your teachers. They are investors and representatives of the shareholders who only want you to maximize their return. Up until the time that your company is profitable and/or public, you need their support. Always keep in mind, you are running the company, not the board. It's worth remembering that in 99 percent of the cases, the board needs you to lead the company more than you need them. If that is not the case for you, then you may be in the wrong job.
Respectfully remember that up until the minute they fire you, your board needs you more than you need them. Remind yourself of this and you will keep your head in the right place during board meetings.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Of course we've all been agog at the Ellen Pao trial. Silicon Valley loves nothing more than to talk about itself. The self-obsession goes hand in hand with ego, intellect and ambition.
But an unexpected side effect of the discussion of the blow-by-blow of the trial is now, for a while, everyone will be looking for covert sexism. And nowhere better to find it than cougar night at the Rosewood hotel in Menlo Park.
This is not a new phenomenon. I blogged about it in 2011 after spending an amused Thursday evening there people watching. Even back then the VC, wanna-be, hooker dynamic was in full force.
Now, it's out in the mainstream press. New York Magazine no less, reported on "Where Silicon Valley Looks for Love in the Era of Ellen Pao". The crowd in question at the Madera bar, sitting outside in the fading sun and rising moon, is a mix of older (white and Asian) men, older women, younger women, and, just sometimes, ordinary people wanting a cocktail with a friend.
And this latter case is how I usually observe "Cougar Night". The Rosewood is on my way home. It's the only high quality bar on the 280 corridor (indicating a market opportunity I suspect). It has very good bartenders who can make a mean Basil Grey Goose Martini (except on Thursdays when they take it off the menu because it takes too long to make - so you have to know to ask for it). And by Thursday I am often in the mood to relax, meet a friend and have a martini on my way home.
It was one such Thursday a few months ago that I saw just how efficient the scene is at the Rosewood. Three middle aged men (one white, two Asian) sitting in one of the large outside booths. The waiter comes up and introduces them to three women who were about 30. Each had long hair, each had a skirt that would not have made it past the nuns at my middle school (i.e. only an inch or two below the crotch) and two had plenty of back skin showing. Initially they sit together, but within 5 minutes they had moved around so they were each paired with one of the men. It was like a dance. The toss of the hair, the hand on the thigh, the eye contact.
I watched in admiration. The oldest profession is alive and well preying on the equity-rich customers who are hoping to not only benefit from the greatest wealth creation of our time, but also find some love at the same time.
My friend chastised me when I said I wanted to take photos to document the dance. She was sure we'd get thrown out and not be allowed back, and the location is just too convenient for us to blot our copy book with the management. So I behaved (unlike the time she and I were asked to leave a restaurant in Rome for being too noisy) but watched in fascination and amusement. The girls were good!
Rest assured, dear reader, Silicon Valley may seem like a dry, stuffy place filled with male nerds, but it's not. There are actually plenty of interesting, professional tech women hanging out in the Rosewood on Thursday nights (because, after all, the drinks are good), but they're the ones smiling, watching the dance.
Monday, March 2, 2015
7. Swim to think:
"Monday morning I am recharged and ready to go. Up early, grind the beans, and make a French press of Illy coffee while talking with our dogs and checking my email. Then, I drive to a dawn swim for 45 mins. Swimming outside (all year round in California) and watching the sun come up as I swim makes me see the world as new and full of possibilities. And I do some of my best thinking doing laps. Quick shower, into the office, and I'm pumped to talk with my staff about the challenges of the week."--Penny Herscher, president and CEO at FirstRain
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Posted in Inc
Being in the role of CEO can be terrific. You're it. You've gained the power to put your brilliant idea into practice. You're synonymous with the company for your customers, your employees and your investors. Your family is proud of you. You feel like the sky's the limit.
And yet, the role is a double-edged sword. If your company is a big public company, you can possibly be looking at $10, $20, $30M+ a year. Or very easily get fired. If it's one of the handful of $1B unicorns coming out of Silicon Valley, then this time around it's likely more money than you ever dreamed of. But for most CEOs, the truth is not in the extremes. It's in the middle.
So before you decide to be the CEO of the company you want to create, here are a few Pros and Cons to consider first:
1. Pro: You decide the strategy and what's important. When you are CEO you are ultimately responsible for the strategy: What to build? How to get to market? Where to focus? You get to put your ideas into action and test if they work. Then, when they do succeed, the sense of satisfaction is unbeatable. If you are the technical founder, and command the respect of those people around you, you also won't have to hear much disagreement. People are following you because they believe in your vision and your strategy.
Con: You'll work harder than you have ever worked in your life. It's true not all CEOs are working on overdrive but when you're trying to get a company off the ground, there are always more mission critical things you need to do that require more hours than there are in the actual day. Look forward to the necessary red-eye flight you need to take to close a deal. The time pressure will seem worse than your college finals did and prepare for this pace to go on for years. Keeping physically fit with exercise will become a requirement just to survive the exhausting workload.
2. Pro: It's an ego trip. It's hard to be CEO unless you have a serious ego. Not that you have to be a jerk, but exuding confidence will ensure that people can look to you to lead them. In that sense, then yes, it's an ego trip. Which means that, if you are already seriously thinking of becoming the CEO of your startup, then you probably have that necessary ego to both embrace and enjoy it.
Con: You'll be lonelier than you've ever been in your life. That cliche "the buck stops with you" is absolutely true when you are CEO. There is no one to turn to if you have to make a hard decision. Your board is there to give you advice, but they are not going to tell you what to do. Your team is there to provide counsel and debate with you but in the end, they'll look to you to make the difficult decisions. And there's no one you can talk to. It's unfair to burden your friends and family with these work related stresses. It's you and the wall (or in my case the dog) talking it out sometimes.
3. Pro: You get to hire your team. When you are CEO you get to hand pick your team. You choose the structure of the organization, and hand pick the key people you want to build the company with. You choose the skills, the personality, the experience--and they will seem to become as close to you as your family. Building teams is a wonderful experience--and the best trait of a successful company comes down to the talent.
Con: You're the one who has to let people go. It's hard to consistently hire great talent which means sometimes you'll make mistakes. You'll hire a VP of Sales who looks and sounds good, but can't build out a team themselves (think of Yahoo's spectacular failure recently hiring and then firing of Henrique de Castro). There may also be a time when you may really like an employee but who struggles to consistently perform. When you are the CEO there is no ducking the responsibility of firing the people who have to go, and striving to do it with respect and kindness is an art form.
4. Pro: Customers rely on you to solve their problems. Most great ideas come from trying to solve a problem for someone. In the enterprise world, you're most likely solving a business problem for another company. You could be putting a critical process in the cloud, so it's more cost effective, or automating a solution for a time consuming technology problem. It's a rewarding feeling to know you helped customer's solve problems and improve their overall business--and of course make money for both of you in the end.
Con: Customers can jerk you around. A former CEO of a software company with $1B in revenue once told me he quit, in the end, because of some of his customers. They'd hold deals until the last day of the quarter, and then force him to drive the price down to get the deal done. After 10 years of building his company and providing solutions for countless customers, he was overwhelmed with the lack of respect his customer's gave to his business. As you'll find, this is not always the case and there will be times you are providing value to your customer but professional patience and just 'sucking it up' will still be required.
5. Pro: You set the culture for your company. Many people spend 8-10 hours a day at work. And all this time should be joyful. Why work for a company, if the culture is not enjoyable? So as CEO, one of the most important responsibilities you have is to set the right culture of the company with the actions you do every day and not just what you say. Great CEOs, like Reed Hastings of Netflix, make this the centerpiece of their leadership. They focus on the areas they believe create a successful company and a positive environment to work, which in turn assists in better recruitment, and increasing their impact with the community.
Con: It's your company. Well, is that a pro, or a con? You'll find it depends on the day. Some days you're so proud of the solutions your team provides that you could burst. But this will not be every day, definitely not every day.
So, if you want to be the CEO of your company then brace yourself. It's a wonderful experience, and can be a thrilling ride, but it's a roller coaster with many ups and downs. If you get them alone, even the greatest CEOs will tell you that.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Published in Inc January 8, 2015
So you want to create something fabulous and new. You want to innovate and
create a breakthrough no one has thought of before. Well, you probably
have a list of ingredients you need: a few computers, some smart people,
project funding... but there is one critical ingredient you need which
can't be measured but will have a huge impact on your success. That
ingredient is Trust.
Trust allows your team to move fast, fail fast and create. It's a simple but true fact so often neglected inside companies. Two simple issues that can be an advantage in a culture of trust and a huge liability in a culture of politics and mistrust: 1) how long it takes to make a decision 2) the quality and stickiness of the decision.
1. In Development. Think about agile development for example. One of the 12 key principles to be mindful of is, "Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done". If managers don't trust the technical team to get it right they will slow down the development process and inject themselves into decisions that need to be made by the engineers, often resulting is lower quality decisions, or decisions that get made and then unmade. Begin by hiring great people and most importantly trust them.
2. In Planning. How often do executives posture in the annual financial planning process and ask for more resources than they need, on the premise it's a political negotiation? Blustering, ego-driven demands! If, instead, you have a team who truly trust each other then the dynamic will be quite different. Team members will have the freedom to advocate for projects and priorities, regardless of who gets the resources to get the project done. Too many times I've seen people equate headcount and budget with success--but in a trust based environment the focus is on the team's end result, regardless of where each person sits in the organization.
3. In Hiring. As your team beings to grow, the talent you hire will have the single greatest impact on your potential for success. The hiring decision needs to be open, transparent and filled with honest assessment -setting up an initial hiring process that counts on trust. An example of this process can include: a hiring manager assigns an interviewing team, everyone meets the candidate and then the team assembles for a "round table." At the round table everyone is required to express their opinions is an open, constructive way, but maintaining the premise that all input is OK, both good and bad. The process moves more efficiently towards productive results due to trust from the hiring manager truly wanting the team's input, and that the team working towards getting the manager to the best decision. Without trust, you see posturing, cronyism and manipulation of the process. Unfortunately, I've worked in companies where senior executives bring in friends with no interviewing process whatsoever. Now that's a recipe for others to trust--not!
4. In Time. While running a young, growing company or a highly innovative team you will most likely be making hundreds of decisions a day. Risky decisions with limited input. And truthfully you know you won't get them all right (although you do have to get the majority right). If you are working with a team who you trust, and who trust you, you can move that decision process quicker. You can be transparent, share your thought process and quickly poll for advice. When you make a mistake, your team has your back. In a political environment where information is power, decisions take much longer because it's not shared so openly. In a nutshell, trust allows a team to identify problems quickly and without fear--no baggage, no personal positioning. It's incredibly efficient.
Trust takes time to build, which is why people who work well together often stay together from company to company.
5. In Fun. Unless you are a master manipulator and play office politics for sport, teams that trust one another are just more fun to work in. Having that professional comfort allows for more laughter, more shared wins and more support when the going is tough. Given how much time you are going to spend working with one another, why not invest the time and effort to build trust so that work is fun?
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
My first bi-weekly column in Inc today!
Like people, VCs come in all styles, so here are 5 characteristics to consider as you interview potential investors.
you want to raise venture capital to fund your new company and your
great idea, plan out your vetting process first, because all VCs are not
the same. Some are really helpful, but some are horrible and damaging
to your company.
Pick someone who has the same Vision and Values as you. You are
(hopefully) in your venture because you believe you can change the world
(if you are doing it to get rich, stop now, because you don't get rich
in the startup world by trying to get rich, you get rich by building
something) and it's very important your investors want you to change the
world too. There are many tough moments of truth when building a
company, and none more so than when you get an offer for your company
before you think you are ready--before you have built the strategy and
value that you believe is possible. That moment is when you find out
whether your investor truly shared your vision on how to change the
world or was just telling you she did.
2. Pick a partner who can do heavy lifting for you when you need it. Great venture partnerships have a rich, deep network to help you recruit, develop partnerships, find initial customers, manage sticky HR issues and even find office space. Andreessen Horowitz are changing the game with the amount of help they give their ventures. They have teams of people to help you: recruiters, sales people, marketing people and they'll get you started with office space. Ben Horowitz' book, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things," is packed with advice on building a company and is a good example of the type of advice you can get from a great VC who's built their own company in the past.
3. Avoid the money-based VC who's motivated by running a portfolio--often former investment bankers. Find someone who walks the talk and truly builds great companies. If you can, find a VC who has been doing it for more than 10 years and who has a great track record--and interview their CEOs--or find one who's been a CEO, built a good company and taken it public. When you work with someone from a leading firm like Benchmark, Oak, Sutter Hill, Sequoia, Greylock or the new kids on the block, Andreessen Horowitz (and they've been a CEO or a VC for many years), you get access to a level of wisdom and advice that you simply won't get from the a small firm with relatively inexperienced investors.
4. Don't get greedy. Yes, valuation and how much of your company you need to give away is important. But it is just as important that you get great advice and that your management team and employees make money too when you are successful. If you get greedy and aim for the highest valuation, a couple of bad things can happen. First, you can end up with investors who don't have the experience you need (one of my friends has a Saudi Prince as an investor--very difficult to get alignment on strategy), but second, you can find yourself in a situation with such a high preference and threshold valuation on your company that unless you are the next Facebook, only your investors will make money when you sell (and maybe not even them). There are many hot startups in San Francisco today who will face this problem when they try to get to liquidity. A great VC will coach you through this and not be greedy either.
5. Pick someone you enjoy being with. Building a company is an intense, emotional experience. Most companies take many years to mature and if you are going to meet with your board every month for 5 years, and at dinners and strategy discussions in between, it certainly makes the journey more fun if you enjoy interacting with them.
Of course, in the end, you do need to get funded and you may need to take what you can get, but if you have the chance to be selective, the right investor is more important than the highest valuation because you'll build a better company and change the world (and make more money for you, your team and your investors along the way).