Date archives "June 2015"

The Week in Review #25: The Difference Between Culture & Values

Saying something and doing something are two very different things. Take Enron for example. The company had a 62 page manual on their code of ethics. They had aspiring values such as integrity, respect and excellence. Yet, everything they did within the company was completely the opposite. Defining values for your business is just part of the equation. The true test is how those values are manifested in the day to day operations of the company. Employees will make decisions based on the culture before identifying with the organizations core values. There in lies the over arching difference between the two.

A polar opposite to Enron is a company called Zappos. For the first 6 years of operation they did not have formal core values. It was actually the employees at the company that pushed to outline them based on their stellar culture. The company not only outlined their core values, they built a slew of reinforcing structures. This included training programs, paying people to quit and their own culture book.

Ultimately, the success of any company depends on the people. Having the right values and culture in place is usually a precursor to achieving great things.

The Difference Between Culture and Values This article inspired this week’s post. It is a very well written piece outlining the differences between culture and values. Brad Feld who is another great VC and blogger wrote a response on his own experience with this topic. It is also a great read.

How to Prepare For Any Accelerator Interview While this article is positioned to help entrepreneurs with their pitch at accelerators, it is generally good advice for pitching. The author breaks down the common mistakes made and what makes good pitches.

How Companies Can Avoid the Innovator’s Dilemma Disruption and business models is what is discussed in this article. It is a long read with several great case studies ranging from P&G, Facebook and Netflix. The primary take away is a set of rules that companies can adopt to avoid disruption.

The Art of Waiting I could relate deeply with this article. As entrepreneurs we are always in a rush to get to our destination. The only problem is that reaching it usually takes a lot longer than expected. With a mix of bad direction, delays and unforeseen disasters; everything takes longer. Learning how to wait it out is a key skill that every entrepreneur needs to have in their arsenal.

How Startups Should Get Their First 1000 Customers Customer acquisition is the life blood of every business. Knowing how to acquire your customer is key to your success. Dan Martell outlines the vital elements that your strategy needs to include.

Lessons from the front lines: building Fetchnotes This article is from the founder’s perspective after his company was acquired. This is a long yet very enjoyable and insightful read. Topics range from product development, managing cash, raising funding, marketing, people and most importantly being a founder. Take the time to sit back and read this post in it’s entirety.

The Inside Story on How SurveyMonkey Cracked the International Market SurveyMonkey has enjoyed phenomenal success expanding it’s product. However operating in new market’s isn’t as simple as just opening an office and hiring some people. This post outlines in great detail about their international strategy. What worked and what didn’t. Lots of great lessons to be learned.

Have a great week everyone!

Book Review: Beyond Measure

Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work. The premise of this Ted Talk was intriguing. The speaker mentioned several studies I wanted to learn more about. I promptly bought her book and enjoyed reading it. The book revolves around research on teams and working together. The future of work is going to be heavily reliant on collaboration. With a large majority of individuals working as contractors, we are going to have to leverage on each other’s skill sets to achieve large goals. This change reduces our dependencies on superstars and increases the need for people with the right attitude.

The book focused heavily on how companies were able to leverage their entire workforce to achieve remarkable results. A good example would be of Apple. Often the success of the company is attributed to the genius of Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. However, the author showcases how everyone at the company plays a key role in making beautiful and user friendly products.

My main takeaway from the book was how the future is dependent on our abilities to unlock the ideas within each of us. While machines can replace the manual work done by humans, it is our ideas which are going to propel us forward. Creating a culture within our companies and even our lives to foster and nurture the growth of these ideas is key to our success.

Listed below are some of my notes and highlights while reading the book:

1. The paradox of organizational culture lies in the fact that, while it makes a big difference, it is comprised of small actions, habits and choices.

2. The quality of connectedness and the flow of ideas is a great indicator of how healthy a workplace is.

3. A simple exercise to build trust and openness within colleagues starts with being honest about who we are. Two people sit down face to face and they take turns asking each other a non-trivial question. For example ‘what is it you most want from life?’ ‘What do you fear?’. One person listens intently for 5 minutes and then trades places and answers the same question.

4. In truly creative debate, self-interest is always a liability, but selfness is power.

5. Ensuring dialogue requires information, great questions and diversity on your teams.

6. Questions are the heart and soul of constructive conflict. They open up the exploration, bring in new information and re-frame debate.

7. “If you can’t talk about mistakes, you learn nothing. If anything, it convinces you that you’re perfect – which is dangerous. If you can own up to mistakes, then others can, too. And that’s how you learn. It’s how the whole organization learns.”

8. Mutual reliance and an underlying sense of connectedness is what builds trust.

9. Creativity requires a climate of safety, but without social capital, no one will risk the fresh thought, the unpredictable idea, the testing question.

10. Helpful teams prevent problems before they arise and they won’t let colleagues become isolated or cut off.

11. We need to make it a habit to listen actively. Look out for people who are constantly interrupting other’s to get their points across.

12. For teams to have break through ideas they need quiet time. Moments when they can completely detach themselves from endless notifications and alerts. It is in within these moments that sparks of creativity and genius are created.

13. Get team members to sit in on different functional group meetings. Isolating people to only their expertise limits innovation and growth within teams and people.

14. The Pygmalion effect argued that it is is expectations, more than innate ability, that influence outcomes. Never mind who’s gifted, who’s talented. Expect great things and you are more likely to get them.

15. Performance management system that stack rank people kill your corporate culture. The real challenge has to be how can we motivate people across our company.

16. The best managers take an interest in the lives and careers of their direct reports. They help puzzle out problems, not by giving answers but by asking the right questions.

17. Respect flows from capability, not position. Once you work from the simple assumption that everyone counts, everyone contributes more.

18. What small change made a big impact on your work? On your culture?

The Week in Review #24: Forgetting Super Chickens at Work

As entrepreneurs, a large majority of us aspire to be superstars. It starts when we enter school and the teacher gives out stars to the best students. The cycle repeats itself endlessly as we move up the ladder. In our quest to reach the top, collateral damage is a necessary evil. We delude ourselves into thinking that this is the only way to reach the success we desire. However nothing could be further from the truth. These isolated examples of success cloak the larger picture. Research has shown, superstar status achieved at all cost is transient in nature. It is only when we focus on bringing out the best in others, is when we find the best in ourselves. This advice is contrarian to most that is given to ambitious entrepreneurs and individuals.

This week’s topic is around a brilliant Ted talk I watched this week by Margaret Heffernan. She shares her research behind what makes the best teams and companies. On the surface it would seem that having a team of all-stars is the best way to have a strong team. However the research suggests otherwise. She found that teams that had a high degree of empathy towards one another, far out performed those with a focus on individual stars. These teams had stronger communication and were far more likely to come up with innovative solutions.

As the world becomes smaller, the need for collaboration is key to our success. We need to change our focus of solely wanting to become superstars. By realizing everybody has value, we unlock the energy and momentum needed to achieve the extraordinary.

Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work (Video) This week’s top pick is a Ted video on how to create high performing teams. The speaker shares great insights with the use of vivid examples and stories. She shares the top three things that the best teams have in common and how we can build similar teams ourselves.

Good Work Isn’t Enough This article follows a similar theme to the highlighted video. Doing good work without having the right attitude is not sustainable. The best opportunities go to people who have great attitudes. This all comes down to how they work with others and their own disposition.

Why Successful People Focus on the Bottom End of the Funnel This article builds on the theme of doing good work. It is more tactical in nature and discusses specific strategies to achieve excellence. It all boils down to being proactive, starting with an end in mind and putting the first things first.

Isn’t LeBron Amazing? This article shows the flip side of the argument being discussed this week. Lebron James is one of the most valuable sports players in the world. His impact on joining a particular team is massive. To the degree that the success or failure is completely dependent on his shoulders. This extreme example shows that hiring a superstar on your team has a major impact. However, there are several trade offs when you become overly reliant on a single person.

Overpriced Seth Godin talks about the value of assets in this article. We can apply a similar analogy to talent as well. Scouts are used in sports to look for the best undiscovered talent. All these teams make bets on people and their potential. Once a player’s worth has been validated, the market value adjusts itself.

Talent Hunt: Lessons learned about finding the right people This article breaks down 6 strategies you can use in finding talent for your business. The tactics shared in this post differ from the usual advice of finding talent. Recruiting top talent for your business is critical to your success. We have to do everything we can to ensure we keep our pipeline full.

Recruiting – The 3rd Crucial Startup Skill Wrapping up this week is one of the most comprehensive reads of recruiting. David Skok’s blog is a goldmine for information on running a startup. This post provides a complete overview of a recruitment process that every company should build. This is a must read for any business owner.

Have a great week ahead!

The Week in Review #23: In the Future, Employees Won’t Exist

The future of work excites me. Technology is rapidly breaking down barriers and changing perspectives. Millions of people wake up every morning and decide what they will work on today. Platforms like Upwork and Uber have freed them from the traditional concept of being an employee. They decide when to work, how much they would like to work and most importantly whom they would like to work with. While this is reality for only a select few people today, this is what the future is going to look like. This will require a fundamental shift in how companies attract, recruit and retain the people who work for them. The balance of power will now solely be with the individual. Companies will have to pay far more attention towards defining who they are and what they stand for.

For the individual, honing on your craft is now more important that ever before. What you do, how you do it and what makes you remarkable matters. In a sea of people all of whom could do the same job faster or cheaper, why would someone pick you? As these changes slowly permeate throughout our world, there will be a lot of disruption. The average companies and people will rally hard to maintain the status quo. A place where they can hide behind the covers, just chugging along. However, revolutions do not work that way. Just like the industrial revolution changed our world forever, we are on the brink of a similar event.

In the Future, Employees Won’t Exist This article talks about the rise of the on demand economy. The article mentions many platform that are enabling people to choose how and when they work. In the next 5 years nearly 40% of the workforce is projected to be contractors. This will radically change how organizations work and structure themselves.

The Freelance Economy This article follows a similar theme to the one above. It is based on a company called WorkMarket which aggregates knowledge workers and helps companies manage them. The most interesting part of this article is actually found in the comments. There is a very lively debate around this change and what it truly means for everyone of us.

What’s one thing you’ve learned at Harvard Business School that blew your mind? I learned a lot from this article. It breaks down the first 10 classes you take as part of your HBS curriculum. There is a single lesson from each class which breaks down the class in greater detail. For anyone who is interested in the inner workings of an organization this is a great read.

43 lessons growing from $0 to $1+ million in revenue, twice This article is full of useful gems. The author shows with clear examples how he was able to break the $1+ million revenue mark with two products. Key pieces of advice include charging straight away and what price levels you need to break. If you are a SaaS based business this has to become a book marked resource.

Performance Data and the ‘Babe Ruth’ Effect in Venture Capital Many people do not exactly get the economics behind a venture capital fund. This article provides some great insights into key aspects like the power law and other important aspects of how a fund operates. Understanding the workings of venture capital is important for any entrepreneur.

On writing Writing well is a skill I am working on this year. The internet is awash with advice for up and coming writers. Paulo Cohelo is a true master of this art. This article on writing was a very enjoyable and insightful read. This quote stood out for me “Above all else, the writer has to be a good reader.” If you want to get serious about your writing skills, I would definitely recommend this article.

Customer Interviews: So you’ve decided to take your startup seriously Customer validation is a critical component of starting a new venture. If you want to build something customers want, you need to speak with them first. Running a customer interview well is a challenging exercise. This article provides a great break down of how to run one well and what to look out for.

Have a great week ahead!

The Week in Review #22: Let me not die while I am still alive

In a past newsletter I wrote about the passing of David Goldberg. Earlier this week his wife Sheryl Sandberg wrote a very moving piece about her husband. The line which stood out the most was the headline of this post. Dealing with the loss of a close family member is always very difficult. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose your spouse. Throughout the entire piece you can see someone who is struggling intensely, yet doing her best to keep it together. Far too often we get caught up in the details of our lives and lose sight of the bigger picture. I know there have been several moments when I have been guilty of doing that. It is in these moments that we really aren’t living, just holding on until we get to the next goal.

Unfortunately, it takes getting the rug pulled out from under us to snap us out of this trance. All of us have the ability to make the necessary changes before that happens. The first step in doing that is to become aware of where we are today. Often our goals and priorities blind side us from paying attention to what truly matters. By taking control of our lives we give ourselves the best opportunity to enjoy the present for what it is.

Let me not die while I am still alive A moving piece by Sheryl Sandberg on the passing of her husband. The post talks about dealing with grief, gratitude and having the courage to moving forward. There is great advice on how to interact with people who have experienced tragedy in their lives.

The 9 Box Matrix Talent Model How would you categorize all the employees that work at your company? This post introduces us to a helpful 9 box model that can be used to answer that question. It provides employees with context as to where they are and how they can level themselves up.

The Organization is Broken The next 20 years is going to fundamentally change the way all of us work. With the current rate of technological advancements, robots are going to be taking over a large range of jobs. This post includes a deep dive into these patterns and where we are bound to see the largest changes.

Why A Values Fit Matters More Than A Culture Fit What are your organizations core values? This is a question that is usually very difficult for most people to answer. Very little thought is given to values in a majority of businesses. Yet, they form a critical foundation that is key to building a sustainable organization. This post talks about the importance of values and references some key examples.

The unproject culture (PDF) This is a fascinating presentation on project management. I specifically enjoyed the part where the author talks about the methodologies used by Spotify. If you are an entrepreneur or a project manager you should definitely review this presentation.

How to validate a startup idea? This post provides a great break down on how to assess whether a business has legs. The author used an actual example which made it more tangible. There are several great takeaways here for startup founders who are just getting started.

Wishing everyone a great week ahead!