This summer I read the page proof version of Scott Belsky’s new book The Messy Middle. It is excellent and is now out and available. I bought 100 copies and am sending them out to every CEO in our portfolio. If you are a CEO of a fast-growing company, I strongly recommend it.
The letter I sent out to the CEOs in our portfolio (with the book) follows:
Since you are a member of the Foundry Group Book of the Almost Every Month Club (bet you didn’t know that was part of the deal when we invested), enclosed is a copy of The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky.
It’s outstanding. Many of you are either in the messy middle or aspire to be (whether you realize it or not.) And, if you don’t aspire to be in the messy middle, but hope to one day be a large company, you may as well deal with the reality that you’ll enjoy time in the messy middle.
Scott was the founder of Behance, a company funded by USV and a bunch of seed/angel investors, that was acquired by Adobe. Scott then served a tour of duty at Adobe, left to spend some time at Benchmark, but then went back to Adobe and is now Adobe’s Chief Product Officer. He’s also had a great track record of angel investments, so he’s been around a bunch of different blocks multiple times.
Rather than read from start to finish, take a look at the Table of Contents while holding a pen and circle the sub-chapters that are interesting to you. There are a lot of them, they are short, and almost all are highly relevant. But, start with the ones that call out to you as a way to get into the book more deeply.
And, if you find something particularly relevant to you, mention it, with an example (if you are brave enough to name names) and put it up on the CEO list.
Scott – thanks for putting so much energy into this book.
Complexify is such a delicious, underused word. I’ve been using it a lot lately, hopefully with great effect on people who are on the receiving end.
CEOs and founders struggle with this all the time (as do I). They are executing on a strategy and a plan. A new idea or opportunity comes up. It’s interesting and/or exciting. Energy gets spent against it. Momentum appears. While some people on the team raise issues, suddenly the idea/opportunity starts taking on a life of its own. Things get more complex.
Eventually, there’s a reset. The core of what is going on is good – there’s just a bunch of complicated crap happening that is distracting everyone and undermining the goodness in the business. So, the CEO and the leadership team go on a mission to simplify things. This takes a while, usually involves killing some projects, and often results in some people leaving the company. These aren’t big restructuring exercises but rather focused simplification exercises. The end result is often a much stronger business, with more focus, faster growth, and better economics, especially EBITDA.
This happens regularly in the best companies that are scaling. In my view, it’s a key part of the job of a CEO who is working “on the company” a majority of her time, rather than simply working “in the company.” It’s particularly powerful when a company starts to see its growth rate decline (it’s still growing, but at a slower pace than before) or a company is spending too much money relative to its growth rate.
Six months (or twelve months) later the simplification effort is complete. The company is performing much better. EBITDA has dramatically improved (or the negative EBITDA has gotten a lot smaller.) Growth is happening in an economically justified way. The product is improving faster. Customers are happier. Everyone around the team is enthusiastic.
And then a new idea or opportunity appears. Energy starts being spent against it. Momentum appears. You get where this is going.
I call this complexifying, a word I rarely see in the entrepreneurship literature. Maybe it’ll start creeping in now. All I know is that I’m using it a lot these days.
I’m participating in an event at CU Boulder (sponsored by Silicon Flatirons) on 10/18/18 called Community, Creativity, and #GiveFirst.
#GiveFirst: A New Philosophy for Business in The Era of Entrepreneurship is the name of an upcoming book of mine. It’s also the mantra of Techstars.
In addition to a few of the usual cast of characters (me, Brad Bernthal, Jason Mendelson, Nicole Glaros) and some CU folks, a number of interesting people are joining us including Sam Zell, Stephanie Copeland, AnnaLee (Anno) Saxenian, Brian Broughman, Sonali Shah, and Krista Marks.
The first panel is titled #GiveFirst and is a moderated chat between me and Sam Zell. I promise it won’t be dull.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, already view #GiveFirst (which I first talked about in my book Startup Communities in the section “Give Before You Get”) as part of your life, or just want to engage in a stimulating SIlicon Flatirons sponsored afternoon, come join us.