Tag: leadership

May 31 2018

In The End She Was Vulnerable To Facts

I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup last week on my Q2 vacation. In my post talking about the various books I read, I wrote the following about it.

“Every entrepreneur and VC should read this book. John Carreyrou has done something important here. Maybe this book will finally put a nail in the phrase “fake it till you make it”, but I doubt it. The amount of lying, disingenuousness, blatant and unjustified self-promotion, and downright deceit that exists in entrepreneurship right now is at a local maximum. This always happens when entrepreneurship gets trendy. Carreyrou just wrote a long warning for entrepreneurs and VCs.”

This morning, Amy emailed me a link to an article by Matthew Herper titled Elizabeth Holmes’ Superpower. He strongly recommends Carreyrou’s book and talks about his coverage of Theranos and how he was snowed over the years, partly through his interactions directly with Holmes. In contrast, Holmes never talked to Carreyrou, leaving Herper to reflect:

“Holmes never did talk to Carreyrou, leaving her greatest weapon, her weird charisma, holstered. Now his portrayal of her, put together from other people’s recollections, will define her in the public memory, especially if the planned movie starring Jennifer Lawrence gets made. For those of us she did talk to, at least to me, the book presents a humbling puzzle. Why was what seems so visible now invisible when Holmes was in the room?”

While this is all complicated stuff, Herper’s self-reflection is helpful. At a meta-level, it’s just another example of the challenge of promotion vs. substance. Or, aspiration goals vs. what’s actually going on. Or fantasy vs. reality. Or what you hope to create being articulated as what you have created.

Entrepreneurship is incredibly difficult. Among other challenges a founder has is balancing the vision of what is being created compared to what exists today. At the very beginning of the journey, this is easy because it’s obvious that it is all aspirational. But, as things progress, the substance of what has been created so far starts to matter, especially as the founder needs to raise more money to continue to fund the aspiration goals.

The best founders that I’ve worked with combine a mix of their aspirational goals with a real grounding in the current reality of where the business is. They know that their aspirational goals are goals – not current reality. And they know that there isn’t a straight line to the goals. If they use their reality distortion field as a charismatic founder, it’s to motivate their team to build something, not deceive investors or customers into believing it has been built.

Because, after all, in the end, we are all vulnerable to facts.

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Apr 22 2018

Book: A Higher Loyalty

I finished James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership last night. Everyone who thinks or cares about leadership should read it and allow themselves to process it at a meta-level.

I don’t know James Comey and other than seeing his name, photos, opinions, interviews, criticisms, and analysis of him all week, have never really thought much about him. I noticed him during the 2016 election around the Hillary Clinton investigation – both when he announced it, ended it, re-opened it again, and closed it again. I noticed when he was fired and thought everything around it was odd.

I’ve never studied the FBI, know anyone who works there, or have really thought much about its relationship to the rest of the Executive Branch (or the government in general), other than knowing that it is part of the Executive Branch and that the director of the FBI reports to the Attorney General. Beyond than that, most of what I know about the FBI I’ve learned from fictional movies and TV shows, which I know is as accurate as the Fast and Furious movies.

My sense, from all the attention around the book in the last few weeks, was that this would be an important book. I didn’t know how it would be important, but the combination of the extremely aggressive criticism of Comey, the endless ad-hominem attacks on him, the promotion of the revelations that the book held, and a latent curiosity that I had around the dynamics of the director of the FBI before and after the most recent election, caused me to pre-order the book.

I’m going to use the reaction people had to Emily Chang’s book Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley to frame my view of Comey’s book. When I wrote the post Book: Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley I was simply writing about my reactions and thoughts after reading the book. Over the few weeks following my post, I had several conversations with men, all who I respect, about the book. In most of these conversations, I was surprised that they had a different, and generally negative, reaction to the book from me. When I pressed on why they had the reaction they had, it always came back to an excerpt that was published before the book was released and the ensuing controversy around the event and whether or not it happened as Emily portrayed it in the book. When I asked the question, “Did you read the book or just the excerpt” each one answered some version of “I’ve only read the excerpt.”

The remarkable thing about some of the criticism about Comey and his book was that it occurred before the book was released. The attacks – both substantive and ad-hominem, have been amplified to a volume of 11.

Comey starts the book off strong by acknowledging his own weaknesses and goals for the book. He asserts that he is focused on defining and describing ethical leadership, using his own experiences as support for the ideas of what he believes (and I agree) is a powerful and important leadership approach. While the book uses the format of a memoir, I think he did an excellent job of putting the reader in the moment of the decisions he had to make, how and why he made them, and the legal context in which he made them. As a result, the notion of ethical leadership gets developed and defined throughout the book.

The criticism of the book that I keep seeing focuses on Comey. It talks about his self-absorption, his need for personal absolution, his inability to see things from a perspective other than “his truth”, and a plethora of other weaknesses, including using his personal descriptions of the people he was talking to at various points in the book.

This is why I encourage you to read the book and reflect on it at a meta-level. There are different ways to be a successful leader. Truth and empathy are powerful, and key traits, of many of the great leaders I know and respect. For these leaders, loyalty is earned rather than demanded. Comey casts himself as this type of leader, but also acknowledges mistakes, misjudgments, and conflicts along his journey. This is another powerful message – leaders are imperfect. And, when you reflect on the various anecdotes Comey describes, from his perspective, one can see this very clearly in all of the leaders he describes his interactions with.

As I need a break from current reality, Sunday’s book will be science fiction …

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Oct 25 2017

Scott Dorsey’s Attributes of Great SaaS Leaders

A few weeks ago I was in Atlanta for Techstars Atlanta Demo Day and the Venture Atlanta Conference. I had a great time and it’s fun to see the vibrancy of the Atlanta startup community. My brother Daniel came with me and we had dinner with our cousin Kenny, who lives in Atlanta, so we got some nice, quiet, emotionally intimate family time.

My favorite keynote at Venture Atlanta was from Scott Dorsey. While our paths have intersected for more than a decade and I knew him from a distance, I’ve gotten to know Scott pretty well over the past year. I put him in the awesome category.

If you don’t know Scott, he was the co-founder and CEO of ExactTarget (2000) – one of the original SaaS companies. ExactTarget went public in 2012 and was acquired by Salesforce.com in 2013 for $2.5 billion and became the core of the current Salesforce Marketing Cloud. He was on the Salesforce.com leadership team until he left to start High Alpha in 2015.

If you are doing something SaaS related and you don’t know or follow what Scott says, you should.

At Venture Atlanta, part of his keynote was a riff on the Attributes of Great SaaS Leaders. While the web is peppered with SaaS metrics and the state of SaaS, there’s a dearth of CEO-centric qualitative information. While Scott’s attributes could be for any leader, they are particularly relevant to SaaS CEOs given the dynamic of how high-growth SaaS companies – and great leadership teams – need to work to scale.

His five attributes, which he went deeper on individually in the keynote, reflect his personality and leadership style.

1. Start with the end in mind
2. Are always learning
3. Value team and culture above everything
4. Are both optimistic and never satisfied
5. Give back!

For those of you that are Simon Sinek fans, starting with the end in mind is analogous to starting with your Why. Are always learning is the essence of being a leader in a super high growth rapidly changing world which most SaaS companies operate in. Valuing team and culture above everything is easy to say, but extremely hard to do, especially when your VCs are pressuring you to perform at a certain financial level for rational, or irrational, reasons. Are both optimistic and never satisfied is interestingly similar to Andy Grove’s “only the paranoid survive” while at the same time having a completely different tone.

If you know me, it won’t surprise you that I almost jumped out of my seat at the event and did a happy dance when Scott started talking about Give back! I know I need to train him to say “Give First”, but it’s the same concept. Scott was a leader here, with the creation of the ExactTarget Foundation (now Nextech) in 2011. Nextech works to elevate technical, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills of K-12 students, inspiring and enabling young people from all backgrounds to pursue careers in technology, so he’s been ahead of the curve on the importance of computer science and technical skills in K-12, something which is a big part of addressing many of the social and educational gaps in our country.

Indianapolis’ startup community, like Atlanta’s, is thriving. There’s no question in my mind that Scott’s leadership has contributed to this in a meaningful way.

All of this comes back to the idea that as a leader you should play a very long game. Scott does this brilliantly and it’s been hugely educational and inspiring to me to get to know him.

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Nov 27 2016

John Lilly On The Role of Simplicity and Messaging

Yesterday I talked briefly about taking a break from media. However, I wasn’t precise, as the one thing I read each week is the New York Times Sunday paper. When Amy and I lived in Boston we started reading it every Sunday morning and continued whenever we travelled. Several years ago I started having it delivered to our house on Sunday morning and it is a delightful Sunday morning ritual for us.

Some Sundays I read it quickly – other Sundays I savor it. I generally spend most of my time in The New York Times Book Review, Sunday Business, Sunday Review, and The New York Times Magazine. I turn all the other pages, only stopping when I find a headline that interests me. For example, I learned today from “Jogging the Brain” that running increases neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells, which is good for recovering from a night of too much drinking. I’m not drinking alcohol right now so this doesn’t apply, but it reminded me of something that I know from experience for some day in the future when I drink too much.

One of my favorite sections is the Sunday Business Corner Office by Adam Bryant. I read them all and almost always learn something or have an idea reinforced. I also learn about people I often know – either directly or by one degree of separation.

Today’s Corner Office is with John Lilly, a partner at Greylock Partners, is titled Simplify the Message, and Repeat OftenI’ve only met John once in person (for breakfast at the Hotel Gansevoort in NY) but have long followed him on Twitter and occasionally exchanged messages with him. From this near distance, I respect his thinking a lot.

Under the question “Early leadership lessons for you?” he reinforced something I strongly agree with.

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

I think it’s worth repeating.

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

Did you see what I did there?

When we raised the first Foundry Group fund in 2007 we took over 100 first meetings. We told our story several hundred times. As part of it was a slide called “Strategy.” I still repeat the elements of that slide regularly, a decade later, as our core strategy has not changed. Sure – we’ve modified the implementation of parts of the strategy, and learned from what has worked and what hasn’t worked, but the fundamental strategy is unchanged.

When I wrote Startup Communities in 2012, I came up with a concept I call The Boulder Thesis. I have described it in similar language over 1,000 times in various talks and interviews I’ve given since then. If you want the three minute version, just watch the video below.

While I’ve learned a lot about startup communities over the past four years, my fundamental thesis has not changed. When I come out with the book Startup Communities – The Next Generation (or whatever I end up calling it) in 2018, it’ll incorporate all of these new ideas and things I’ve learned, but will be built on a simple message that I expect I’ll say another thousand times.

I regularly see leaders change what they say because they get bored of saying the same thing over and over again. It’s not that they vary a few words, or change examples, but they change the message. As John says so clearly,

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

Enough said, for now.

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Nov 10 2016

Help Make Pioneer In Skirts A Reality

One of my core values is diversity of everything.

I’ve been involved deeply in several organizations, such as National Center for Women and Information Technology, that have been focused on increasing gender diversity in computer science and entrepreneurship. More recently, I’ve expanded my lens a lot to include many other dimensions of diversity. The mission of the Techstars Foundation, which is improving diversity in tech entrepreneurship, is an example of that.

One thing that I learned from my work with NCWIT is the power of examples. So, Amy and I have been supporting independent filmmakers for a few years. The first film we helped fund was CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap. Then, following the leadership of Joanne Wilson, we helped fund Dream, Girl which you can watch for free on their website until November 14th.

Recently, a group of us have been helping a young filmmaker, Ashley Maria, who is on her own personal journey to find out why careers are much more complicated and difficult when a woman tries to have one.

Pioneers in Skirts focuses on cultural and personal setbacks women still face in our society when they pursue a career. The film focuses on hot social topics that women encounter – like the mommy penalty and unconscious biases we find in our culture, the need for mentorship, sponsors, and men to advocate for their female co-workers, and how to nip the problem in the bud during adolescence.

Pioneers in Skirts is currently in post-production aiming for an early 2017 premiere in festivals and then VOD, Streaming and Television. Ashley and team need a little more funding to get things done so if you are inclined to support an ambitious young female filmmaker working on what Amy and I think is an important film, go to her support page and make a donation to the effort.

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May 5 2016

Your Wall Is Dingy

As I procrastinate from going for a run this morning, I started writing a post titled The Pro-Rata Gap Myth. After two paragraphs, I got tired of writing it and hit the “this is bullshit” wall – it’s too complicated to explain a myth that I’m not sure even matters.

So I deleted the post and decided to tell a story instead. This is a story I roll out occasionally with CEOs to help them explain how their words can easily be misinterpreted by their teams, especially as the teams get bigger. But it’s also a way that CEOs misinterpret what their investors or board members (or chairperson) is saying. And it creates endless organizational waste and misalignment when the CEO / investor / board member / leader isn’t clear about what she is saying and who her audience is.

Between 1996 and 2002 I was co-chairman of Interliant, a company I co-founded with three other people. Interliant bought about 25 companies during its relatively short life, helped create the ASP business (the pre-cursor to the SaaS world we know and love today), went public, and then blew up post-Internet bubble and ultimately went bankrupt before being acquired, partly because we created a capital structure (through raising a bunch of debt) that was fatally flawed, ultimately wiping out all the equity value.

While I learned a ton of finance lessons from the experience, I also learned a lot a leadership lessons. Your wall is dingy is one of them.

We had just acquired a company (I don’t remember which one or in which city) sometime in 2000. I was visiting the company post acquisition and wandering down the main hallway with the founder of the company we had just acquired. We were having a causal conversation and I offhandedly said “wow – your wall is dingy.” We kept walking, I did a Q&A thing with the founder and the company, and then went out to a mellow company lunch celebration type thing.

I had other stuff to do in the city so I stayed overnight and came back in early to have some meetings at the company the next day. As I was wandering down the same hall, I saw that there was a crew already in the office painting the wall with a fresh coat of paint. I got my coffee, wandered over to the founder’s office (he was also already in early), and asked why there was someone in the office painting the wall?

Founder: “You told me the wall needed to be painted.”

Brad: “I did?”

Founder: “It was while we were walking down the hall. We were talking about the new car I was thinking about buying and you said that the wall was dingy.”

Brad: “Oh yeah – that was said out of admiration for how frugal you are. You were telling me how this is the first new car you will have, since all of your other cars have been used cars. I admire how thrifty and scrappy you’ve been and thought I was paying you a compliment.”

Founder: “Shit, I thought you were unhappy with how low rent our offices are and were commenting that we needed to make things a lot nicer.”

Brad: “Double shit. I was saying the opposite. Part of the reason you’ve been so profitable is that you don’t waste money on your offices. This is part of what we love about your company. And it’s part of why we were willing to stretch in the deal – we knew you know how to make money and that you value every dollar.”

We eventually both started laughing. It was a good bonding moment. Fortunately, it was just paint and didn’t cost that much, although it was one of 27,393 incremental expenses that helped sink Interliant, especially in a time when rent was skyrocketing and everyone needed fancier and fancier offices because, well, because everyone else had fancier offices.

Ever since that moment I’ve been a lot more tuned into what I say. I still talk the way I did then – plainly and with whatever is on my mind – but I try to add the reason so that I’m not misinterpreted. If I could teleport myself back to that hallway in 2000, I’d say “Wow – your wall is dingy, and I love it, because it reminds me how frugal you are.”

As a leader your words matter. It’s not that you have to necessarily choose them carefully, but make sure you explain them and try to confirm that they are understood.

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Aug 20 2015

Vanishing Mediary

I love the phrase vanishing mediary. This is what I aspire to be. It’s the opposite of a visible intermediary.

In our ego-fueled world, many people want to be front and center. Leaders are told to lead from the front, even if all they do is get up on a white horse and exit stage left as soon as the battle starts. We all know the leaders who are more about themselves than about the organizations and the people they lead. Many of us interact with this type of leader on a daily basis and, while it can be invigorating for a while when things are going well and there are bright lights shining all around you and celebrations around every corner, it’s often complete and total misery when things get tough.

The media wants hero stories. It also wants goat stories. The most glorious media story arc is rags to riches to rags with redemption back to riches. None of this is new – it’s been going on since the beginning of time. Just look at the covers of magazines going back 100 years. And I find it completely boring and tedious.

I can’t remember who first shared the word vanishing mediary with me (if it was you, please tell me so I can update this post) but I instantly loved it. It’s the notion of a leader who helps get things started and gets out of the way. She’s available if needed, and continues to lead by example, but doesn’t need to be front and center on a daily basis. When needed, especially when things are difficult, complicated, or a mess, she shows up, does her thing, and then gets out of the way again.

When I reflect on how I like to lead, it’s very consistent with the notion of a vanishing mediary. As an investor, as long as I support the CEO, I work for her. If I’m not needed, I hang out in the background and offer thoughts and data without emotion when I encounter things. If suddenly I’m needed for something, or get an assignment from the CEO or anyone else on the leadership team, I get after it. If there’s a crisis, I’m there every day for the CEO for whatever she needs.

My role with Techstars is similar. While I have some visibility as a co-founder, I offer it up to David Cohen, David Brown, Mark Solon, and the rest of the Techstars leadership team to use however they want. If they need me, I’m there. If they don’t, that’s cool. I’m a resource that can appear on a moments notice and provide any kind of leadership they need but I don’t have to be front and center.

Great startup communities work the same way. Whenever someone introduces me as the leader of …, the king of …, or the creator of the Boulder Startup Community, I cringe and go into a rant about how I’m not that. I’m just one of the many leaders in the Boulder Startup Community. I’ve helped create a number of things that contribute to it and I play an active role in it. But, like many others, including serial creators like Andrew Hyde (Startup Weekend, Ignite, TEDx Boulder, Startup Week, now at Techstars) I am most happy when I can hand something off that I created to someone else to take it to the next level (Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado is a great example of this – thanks to my co-founder Ryan Martens and my partner Seth Levine for providing leadership that has made it what it is today.)

In the 1990s, I ended up being a chairman or co-chairman of a bunch of companies, including two that went public. Today, even though I’m asked, I don’t want to hold the title of chairman for anything (there are a few exceptions – all non-profits). I don’t want to be at the top of the organizational hierarchy. I can play a strong leadership role through my actions, rather than by a title that anoints me.

Most of all, I want to provide leadership through doing. And I think I can best do that by being a vanishing mediary.  And, I recognize that mediary isn’t a well defined word, or may not even be an official word, so hopefully we’ll get an urban dictionary definition of vanishing mediary soon.

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Dec 29 2014

Identify Leaders By Giving People Assignments

As the Boulder Startup Community evolved, I started to become inundated with people who wanted to get involved. Some of these were locals while others where people looking to move to Boulder, or who had recently moved here. Some where people known to me while others were new relationships. As the momentum, size, impact, and reach of the Boulder Startup Community grew, I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of requests I was getting to get together, meet, explore ways to work together, and just generally share food and drink in the quest for figuring out ways to work together.

A while ago I came up with an approach where I could separate leaders from doers from everyone else. I’ve been applying this approach to the Boulder Startup Community, and a number of other things I’m involved in, since then and offer it to you as a simple, yet elegant way to triage an overwhelming amount of inbound requests to figure out who is really going to make shit happen.

The trick: I identify leaders by giving people assignments.

Here’s how it works. I’m going to use a really simple example. Recognize that the range of inbound is all over the place, from a wide range of people, with very different degrees of experience. The initial interactions can be complex and my assignments vary dramatically, but with a goal of intersecting (a) what the person is asking for and (b) a result that will be interesting to me in some way.

So, for a simple case (and assignment), assume that I get an email like the following:

“Brad, I’m new to Boulder and very excited about getting involved in the Startup Community. I moved here from New York and have a deep background in devops, being an entrepreneur, and various meditation techniques. I’d love to get together for a cup of coffee to see how I can get involved in things going on in Boulder. My resume is attached.”

I quickly respond with an assignment. It will be something that will take the person less than 30 minutes to do and require no specific knowledge on their part. For example, my response might be:

“Welcome to Boulder. Unfortunately I don’t have time for coffee in the next few weeks, but I’d be happy to get you plugged in to some of the local entrepreneurs who might be relevant to you. Can you look through our portfolio and tell me who you’d like to get introduced to?”

I never hear back from 50% of the people. I kid you not. It doesn’t matter whether it’s email or someone coming up to me at a public event. I give them a simple assignment, with an easy way to focus what I’m going to do for them so it’s more useful from their frame of reference, and then I never hear back from them again.

This is a very good thing. It reduces my workload of this kind of stuff immediately by half and filtered out people who weren’t going to follow through.

25% (half of the remaining 50%) send me an email something like:

“I took a look at your website and am very interested in VictorOps and Techstars. My last company used pagers for tech support and I really want to do something better than that and VictorOps looks interesting. I’ve got a lot of experience mentoring entrepreneurs, so I’d like to figure out if I can become part of Techstars.”

I categorize this person as a doer. They responded directly to the assignment. I respond by making some introductions with context – usually double opt-in, but not always depending on the level of relevance. Quickly, the person becomes plugged into a few other nodes in the Startup Community and their journey has begun.

The last 25% is amazing. They blow my mind. Their response is something like:

“Brad, thanks for pushing me to be more precise. I realized I didn’t need you to make the intro for me, so I’ve gotten together with Todd Vernon at VictorOps, Nicole Glaros at Techstars, and Ari Newman at Bullet Time Ventures. It looks like there might be a nice fit with Todd’s company and we are exploring a way to work together. Nicole explained to me that there was a very long waiting list of mentors for the next program so the most effective thing I could do is find one of the older Techstars companies and help them out. I’m already talking to the guys from Sphero (which I know you are on the board of) since I have a lot of gaming experience. And, given my previous network management company experience, Ari hooked me up with the Distill Network guys. I hope you don’t mind if I write periodically and follow up with what I’m up to. By the way, I tried out FullContact for Gmail per your blog post and so far it’s working great.”

This person is a leader. They simply went out and did shit. They made it happen. They followed up. They did things that had a potential positive impact on my world. They didn’t ask me for more, but offered up plenty, which makes me want to do more for them.

Remember, these are simple examples. I categorize the responses three ways:

  1. 50% of the people vanish
  2. 25% of the people do the assignment
  3. 25% of the people make shit happen well beyond what the assignment was

The folks who capture my attention and energy going forward are the ones in category 3. The leaders.

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Dec 15 2014

Jerry Colonna and Rand Fishkin Discuss Depression and Entrepreneurship

Jerry Colonna spent a few hours with me and Amy on Saturday at our house. Jerry is one of our closest friends on this planet so any time we get time with him is a treasure for us. It was a cold-ish, snowy, gloomy Colorado early winter day. Amy and I were pretty off-balance due to my blood clot so it was especially nice to be with him as he always helps rebalance us.

We talked some about his new company Reboot. I’m a huge supporter of Jerry’s work – recommending many of the CEOs we work with to him, or his associates, for coaching. I attended a recent CEO Bootcamp as a special guest and it was amazing – I recommend it to every CEO.

Jerry mentioned that the recent Reboot podcasts were doing great and really fun. I noticed this morning that the podcast he did with Rand Fishkin, another close friend, titled #7 Depression and Entrepreneurship – With Jerry Colonna and Rand Fishkin, came out today. So I read the transcript (I can read a lot faster than I can list) and thought it was dynamite.

As usual, Jerry goes deep and intimate – very quickly. So does Rand – total, extreme, full transparency. Enjoy!

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Oct 24 2014

Victims and Leaders

In a recent board meeting, at a particularly challenging part of the conversation, I did a retrospective of the past five years as a lead up to making a point. I prefaced it by saying “I need you to take a leader approach, not a victim approach.” I realized no one knew that I meant by this, so I told a quick story, which I first heard from Jeremy Bloom, the CEO of Integrate, retired pro-football player, retired Olympic skier, and someone I adore.

Jeremy’s summary is:

“I’ve learned that there are two types of people: leaders and victims. Leaders are those who see a complex problem and figure out a way either individually or collectively to solve it. These are the people who build successful businesses, become C-Level execs and start their own companies. Victims look at problems and instantly blame everyone else when they can’t solve it. They are the finger-pointers and can rarely admit when they make mistakes. I’ve seen firsthand in football and business how victims can bring down the morale of an entire team. It’s impossible to build anything with a victim mentality.”

In the longer version of the story, he talked about his experience on the Philadelphia Eagles (amazing talent, victim mentality) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (mediocre talent, leader mentality.) He also has a great cross-over line from his experience in athletics to being an entrepreneur:

“My journey in athletics provided me with numerous lessons I apply every day in business. In athletics, for every gold medal that I won I failed 1000 more times. I became conditioned to handle the emotional swings. Possessing the mental ability to stay even keeled during the highs and lows is one of the most important skills one can possess to increase the likelihood of long term success. Any entrepreneur will tell you that there are days when they are 100% confident that they are going to change the world and other days when they aren’t sure if the company will be around in a few months. Managing the emotional swings in business comes easier to me because of my experience in athletics.”

The retrospective with the company was powerful. The company is a real company with significant revenue and over 100 employees. They’ve had numerous challenges along the way, including many disappointments with larger partners who have behaved in ways that could easily cause anyone to be cynical and take a victim approach to the world, as in “we are a victim of the capriciousness and bad behavior of our much larger strategic partner.”

The core of the company is strong. The team, especially the leadership team, is dynamite. The customer base is incredible. The technology and products are very deep. The optimistic view (the leader view) of their prospects is strong. The pessimistic view (the victim view) is one of fatigue and frustration, especially of broken promises of others.

I led with the punchline. The business was profitable in Q3. It was cash flow positive after debt service. The Q4 pipeline is solid. The new product family looks great and is off to a strong start, even though it’s early in the cycle. The broad market for their new product line is exploding. The leadership team is dynamite and very, very tight knit. The employees are smart, committed, and a good mix of long-timers and relatively new folks.

We talked for a while. One of my comments was “Fuck your historical big company partners – you know how they are wired and what their behavior is going to be. Don’t depend on them and don’t worry about them. Work with them in a collaborative, friendly way, but don’t count on them. Be a leader and create your destiny, rather than be a victim to whatever their whims are.”

As I was going through my emails this morning catching up after a long day, I was pondering the tone of entrepreneurs I work closely with, most of whom behave like leaders almost all the time. This is in comparison to a lot of other entrepreneurs I interact with but don’t work with, some who behave like leaders but a surprising numbers who behave like victims. And then I pondered this in the context of my interactions with VCs and co-investors, where again I realized that there is a lot of victim mentality in the mix.

Are you a leader or a victim?

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