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Today’s “founder hint of the day” is to create an email address called firstname.lastname@example.org and have it automatically forward to all the founders of your company.
I interact with a ton of companies every day. For the ones we have a direct investment in via Foundry Group, I know each of the founder’s names (although with 40 companies, at age 45 – almost 46, there are moments where I have to sit quietly and think hard to remember them.) For the TechStars companies, especially early in each cycle, I have trouble remembering everyone’s names until I’ve met them. And for many other companies I have an indirect investment in (via a VC fund I’m an investor in) or that I’m simply interacting with, I often can’t remember all of the founders names.
Ok – that was my own little justification. But your justification is that as a young company, you want anyone interested in you to be able to reach you. While email@example.com is theoretically useful, in my experience very few people actually use it because they have no idea where it actually goes. On the other hand, firstname.lastname@example.org goes to the founders. Bingo.
We’ve been using this at TechStars for a number of years and it’s awesome. I’ve set up my own email groups for many other companies, but this morning while I was doing it for another one I realized that they should just do it. Sure – there’s a point at which the company is big enough where you probably don’t want to have this list go to all the founders, or there are founders that leave, or something else comes up, but when you are just getting started, be obsessed with all the communication coming your way and make it easy to get it.
I had two similar experiences last week where I heard from employees of two different companies that I’m on the board of. In each case, a senior exec said something like “I heard the board wants us to do blah.”
I was in each board meeting and the board most definitely did not say “we want the company to do blah.” Rather, in each case there was a discussion about the topic in question. In one of the cases consensus was reached quickly; in the other there was a robust discussion since two of the board members disagreed and the CEO wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. Ultimately in that case as well there was consensus.
In each case I asked the executive what he’d heard back from the CEO. I got two versions of “the board had a discussion, there was a lot of disagreement, but the board wanted us to do blah.” I then asked, as non-politically as I could, “Do you think CEO wants to do that?” In both cases, the answer was “I’m not sure, but he knows the board wants that.”
I think this is a brutal communication mistake on the part of each of the CEOs. I’ve seen this many times over the past sixteen years since I stopped being a CEO and started being a board member. In each case the CEO is abdicating some responsibility for the decision. In the worst situation, the CEO is blaming the board for a decision and ultimately setting up a very negative context if the decision is an incorrect one – as in “see – I didn’t want to do this but the board did – so it’s not my fault.”
I’ve come to believe that the only real operating decision that a board makes is to fire the CEO. Sure, the board – and individual board members – are often involved in many operational decisions, but the ultimate decision is (and should be) the CEO’s. If the CEO is not in a position to be the ultimate decision maker, he shouldn’t be the CEO. And if board members don’t trust the CEO to make the decision, they should take one of two actions available to them – leave the board or replace the CEO.
In one of the cases, I asked the executive “if I told you the CEO was strongly in favor of the decision, would that impact you.” The response was a simple one: “yes – I’d be much more motivated to make sure we did it right.” I smiled and reinforced that the CEO was in fact supportive, which I think was a relief (and motivator) to this particular executive.
In my leadership experience, people really value when a leader takes responsibility for a decision, even if it turns out to be an incorrect one. CEO’s – don’t be the guy who says “the board made me do it.”