Confessions of a Successful Entrepreneur: Dan Rodrigues

10 02 2016

Kareo 2The other night I was asked by a colleague who had a question from a reporter at INC Magazine what are some success tips for entrepreneurs and additionally what are some tips when you run into trouble.   I have written about tips for budding entrepreneurs in my blog on The Business of Business in the past and have written on behalf of the TechCoastAngels as well.

Serendipitously, the day after I wrote my comments to the reporter, I had the opportunity to listen to an interview by Andrew Bermudez of Digsy (www.getdigsy.com, www.meetup.com/OCfounders), of Dan Rodrigues, CEO and founder of Kareo (www.kareo.com).   Dan’s company, Kareo, has raised more than $100 million and is the fastest and largest growing company in Orange County, CA.  His company provides a cloud-based platform for independent medical practices and currently has more than 35000 providers served by more than 500 employees.

I want to share Dan’s perspective on how he grew his company and the road he had to travel.  Let’s lay out the journey in three chapters: Genesis and Euphoria; Reality of Funding and Growth: and the Path to Success.   And in each chapter there are lessons to be learned and tips for the entrepreneur.

Genesis and Euphoria

After Dan sold his first company, Scour, he started a software development consulting business.  During this time, he worked on a project for a client in the healthcare space. Through this project, he learned about healthcare IT.  Yet he also applied his knowledge of the consumer, gained from his stints at Vizeo and Real Networks, to the business.   He took the knowledge and the project and built the beginnings of Kareo and the first customer was the company for whom the original project was designed.

Lessons  learned:

  1. An inquisitive mind can yield interesting insights into new ideas. In this case, Dan used an inductive process to define the requirement to serve one customer and used that platform as a base of expansion to other similarly situated companies.  Entrepreneurs can take a custom project and move it to a generalized solution which might give you an immediate customer base.
  2. Integrate different perspectives to develop your business. Dan leveraged his prior experience in a different market space and was able to apply that knowledge to make Kareo different than other software companies in the same space. In a later chapter, Dan directed Kareo to be an online provider of SaaS services to this market.
  3. Build relationships as they will be valuable for funding as well as support and resources. Dan was able to use past relationships built over time to get to VCs on Sand Hill Road and High Net Worth individuals to help provide the initial funding.

Reality of Funding and Growth

Initially, Dan bootstrapped Kareo and now with some funding and the opportunity to gain more, the business seemed off to a solid start. And while you might read about Dan’s story thinking that it was all wine and roses, the truth is that Dan had some tough days early on with Kareo. In 2008, Dan received a difficult call from an investor who was unable to deliver a promised next round of funding. With no time to find another investor and significant bills to pay, Dan made a very tough decision. He reduced the company from 35 employees to 7, and found a new path for Kareo. During the entire year after, Dan did not take a salary as CEO so that others could be paid.  The goal was now survival and the focus was getting customers, reducing product expenditures, and finding more efficient ways to support existing customers to reduce cash burn.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Never take anything for granted. An investor can change his mind and funding may no longer a certainty.  The business environment might change too and entrepreneurs need to be fast, fluid, and flexible.
  2. Spend wisely and carefully. Kareo built a company and moved into expensive office space.  How many of the readers can relate to the euphoria of getting funded and spending lavishly with those funds?  I know I have been in companies that did not spend wisely and had to retrench.
  3. Learn the way to manage the business in the most efficient manner.
    1. Develop good solid cash management and make that a core competency
    2. Build a support infrastructure in synch with the services your company provides and find ways, at least initially for minimizing spending on infrastructure. Try to build a solid online help solution, provide excellent documentation, a good knowledge base.  But also have an additional second layer of support if needed.  Train people to do double duty.
  4. Learn to sell online. Other software in the healthcare market was sold through VARS.  Selling online gave Kareo an edge and reduced the cost of acquisition.

Path to Success

With revenue ramping to $3 million, and cash flow positive, Kareo was on the path to success.  During this phase, the goal was to grow the business through disciplined growth using the lessons learned during the prior chapter.   Over time, Kareo started adding back employees, expanding its product set, and increasing sales.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Maintain the discipline of cash management. Remember the lessons from when growth and cash flow were hard to come by.
  2. Define metrics for success. Share these metrics with your team and manage them religiously. Metrics used by Kareo included cost/customer, payback on margin, return on cost of customer acquisition, churn rate, and lifetime value of a customer.  Note: these are very similar to other SaaS and technical service companies that use subscription services as their business model.
  3. Hire the right talent. It is difficult in some ways for a small company to recruit good technical talent in Orange County vs. in San Jose.  There is frankly more talent there by virtue of the number of companies in the tech space.  Don’t let that be a daunting task.  Dan created a culture in Kareo and a solid reputation of being a progressive company which attracted talented individuals.  On the flip side, retention might be easier in OC and probably is for Kareo given their culture, the fact that the smaller company can provide a solid platform for growth of its employees, and Dan’s vision and leadership style.

According to Dan, when the company had fewer than 50 people it was easy to attract a great talent pool because of the excitement.  When the company had between 50-200 people, Kareo started to compete for talent as employees looked for other exciting opportunities or felt they had the ability to move out on their own.  After growth to 200 employees, Kareo had established its reputation and talented individuals wanted to work there.

Lessons learned:

  1. Recruit a top level executive team. Building the team is critical to any company and is especially true for start-ups and growing companies.  Some of the executives were recruited from outside of Orange County and complemented those from the OC.
  2. Find leaders who know others and can attract talent and capital. This makes it easier to sustain growth.
  3. Change the culture with changes in the business. Dan indicated that culture changes at different stages of growth.  When you have between 1-10 people you are in survival mode.  As his company grew, it felt more like a family.  At a certain point as additional employees were on-boarded and new geographic locations were opened, the culture changed because not everyone knew each other nor worked with each other on continual basis.
  4. The company is a platform for growth for its employees. Reinforce and support educating employees, building their skills, and adding to an employee’s competencies.  I know many executives who don’t want to invest in employees because they are fearful of losing them to competitors.   I personally believe Dan’s approach is the better one and creates a culture and brand that ensures talent will stay with Kareo.

Dan was asked what he would do differently if he could do it over again.   After reflecting Dan accepted that there were mistakes and missed opportunities.  So let’s frame them.

Additional tips and lessons:

  1. Build a business first and a product second. This means don’t normally chase individual customer requests and spend money on unique features and services for different customers.
  2. You need to keep the lights on even if the product stands still for a while.
    1. Under invest in the product and invest in the business side. From my viewpoint, this is a difficult lesson for many engineer-founders.  Therefore make sure you have a good solid business partner as the ying to your yang.
  3. Companies need to be agile and reorganize at transition points and at changing stages of growth.
  4. Companies need the right advisors and investors. While the CEO is focused on growth and getting the product into the market, advisors and investors have the opportunity to look forward and may see minefields ahead.  The CEO needs to heed them.

On behalf of TechCoastAngels, Andrew Bermudez, and Dan Rodrigues, I trust you find this blog and its contents useful for entrepreneurs in their own quest for success.  Please share and forward to others.

Let’s work together to build a strong entrepreneurial eco-system in Orange County.   And if you want to talk further feel free to contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net.  Hope to see you at our March 10 event on celebrating entrepreneurship at the Segerstrom (www.techcoastangelscelebration.com.)





Celebrating Entrepreneurship

10 01 2016

EntrepreneurshipI was sitting at lunch with a few of my friends and thinking about the start of the New Year.  Of course, we all made resolutions to eat better, exercise more, and to enjoy life by having more balance and more fun. As we start this New Year, we wish people success and prosperity.

Wishing and hoping are not strategies for success.   A clear purpose and course of action properly executed is essential.  I mentioned TechCoastAngels’ upcoming conference on Celebration of Entrepreneurship (www.techcoastangelscelebration.com)  in March, 2016 at the Segerstrom in Orange County.   As a member of TechCoastAngels, entrepreneurship and start-ups are part of my daily life.  But why should this be important to everyone, particularly entrepreneurs and others in the entrepreneurial eco-system?   And is it entrepreneurship only that is critical or should corporate venture, i.e. internally generated new products and business funded by larger corporations, be considered critical as well?

First, entrepreneurship in the OC is happening.  While not at the scale of Silicon Valley, the OC/LA area and the San Diego area are pretty high on the list of both VC and angel funded companies.    Here are some examples.  In the OC, we have accelerators/incubators (for example KF, FastStart Studios, EvoNexus, Octane); University supported entrepreneur programs (Chapman’s Leatherby Center and UCI), angel groups (TechCoastAngels, Kieretsu), and a newly formed Institute for Innovation aka The Cove at the tech campus of the University of California at Irvine.   Clearly,  the infrastructure is in place for the entrepreneurial companies to flourish.

While invention and innovation are sometimes accorded to startups and venture investment, there is another area which cannot be shortchanged.   Corporate Venture, those companies funded by corporations who have accepted a strategy of growing by new products and services, is also rampant in the OC.  Witness the growth of Broadcom which focused on internal investments in wireless and mobility technologies.  Or Vizio, which has migrated from a big screen TV company to a broader consumer platform.    Or Edwards Life Sciences which continues to innovate in the medical device field.   And there are countless others.

Between innovation through start-ups and innovation from existing companies, Orange County has the pieces in place to become a hub of innovation.    From what we have seen, medical device, social media, software, and consumer services are being developed by many young entrepreneurs still in college and supported by the college community, yet there is a new group of “older generation” entrepreneurs that are also getting into the act by developing products and services.    Many of these new entrepreneurs are driven by the economy to strike out on their own after leaving corporate life.   Grandpad, a hardware and software platform funded in part by TechCoastAngels, is led by Scott Lien who left the corporate world to focus on helping seniors use technology in a more personal manner.   Parcel Pending, founded by Lori Torres, is focusing on automating the package delivery system and has traction in several geographic markets.  It’s another company funded by angel money in the OC.

Innovation and the ability to grow business are critical for the long term success of our national and local economy.   At our upcoming event you will be able to hear about how ideas were generated, ways companies have been able to grow, and hear from entrepreneurs and investors alike in how to build their companies or portfolios.  If you are an investor, it will be an eye opening venue for networking and hearing the investment pitches from more than X outstanding new companies. If you are an entrepreneur, perhaps the conference and discussions during the conference will spark some new ideas or help gel some of your thoughts on your existing business.

For others who might attend, consider this.   Entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship  are exciting.  You are never too old to feel the urge to create something new.   Innovation is infectious and fun.  Sure, it is very challenging and sometimes gut wrenching but as they say, the glory goes to those that try.  In that vein, I want to leave you with this inspirational poem called “if you think you can” by Walter Wintle, which epitomizes the ethos of the entrepreneur or intrapreneur.

If you think you are beaten, you are,
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you like to win, but you think you can’t,
It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,
For out in the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow’s will.
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are,
You’ve got to think high to rise,
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man.
But soon or late the man who wins,
Is the man who thinks he can.

And maybe you, too will be the founder of a Unicorn or be an investor in a unicorn company and have a private island next door to Larry Ellison.   Hope to see you at the Segerstrom in March.





What Makes a Company Great

21 12 2015

Company cultureI was at a very interesting meeting hosted by Brett Olinger and Susan Howington, founder, Power Connections on Dec. 16, 2015.   There were about a dozen high level executives around the table with titles ranging from VP to COO to CMO to CEO.  Susan got us together to talk about business issues and she asked a relatively simple question: What makes a company great? And the subordinate theme of what kind of company would you want to work for or build?

As a tech executive and one involved in the entrepreneurial eco-system in southern California, I would have imagined that I would hear about things such as the latest and greatest technology that captures people’s hearts and minds.  Or maybe I was hoping to hear about the great opportunities for career advancement or companies doing social good.

I did not hear of specific industries, technologies, functions, unique characteristics of the leaders or anything that you might glean from an employee survey.  Remember the ones commenting have been and are successful executives.   After listening intently – and contributing as well- I captured their thoughts into three areas:  Culture, Leadership, and Customer Focus.   And I have to admit that is probably the order of importance because to me, culture is a platform upon which to build and enact leadership and a customer philosophy.  As you read the following, just ask yourself about the companies for which you worked.  What made them good?  Why did you like coming to work?  What drove your passion?  What made these companies great for you?

Culture

Culture was the number one item.  Culture was a necessary but not sufficient condition for making a company great.  Think about Tony Hsieh of Zappos.  He has instilled a clear culture in that company that focuses on the customer.  Do what is right for the customer. Certainly his vision and bent is the customer.  But without a cultural underpinning, Zappos would not be as successful as it has been.

Culture is also unique to a company.  It is hard to duplicate and is normally set by the CEO.  Think about other companies that are successful and have a truly unique culture.  Think about Disney and the culture about Imagineering.  Think about Intel and the culture of innovation.  Think about 3M and their culture that they encourage people to invest their time on new ideas.  Without a culture of innovation and support for innovators, many companies may not achieve success.

We discussed other components of culture as well.  Those components included telling it like it is……. but respectfully and constructively.  (As an aside, I can certainly relate to this coming from Brooklyn, NY and have seen direct cultures like New York and oblique cultures like I have seen in the Mid-west.)  Another element was pushing employees to the next level, i.e. making them believe they can succeed and giving them opportunities to succeed.   In the process of encouraging people, the culture must also accept failure (fast failure is preferred) and must set up a reward system for those that are successful.

Culture is also critical as the underpinning of being customer focused.   Think about a company that is just focused on the bottom line versus a company that is trying to help a customer and wanting them to be happy.  Think about your experience with Zappos.  Or if you have web service or webhosting from 1and1, think about the great customer service you have received from them.  Was it easy to talk with the company and its reps?  When they talked with you did you believe that you were the only person in the world on their mind or did you feel that you were imposing by asking them a question?   We heard a story this morning about how Steve Wynn chose people to work for him.  Applicants were told to go to another part of the building and when they got there, Steve was sitting behind a desk, rose to greet the applicant and wanted to see their reaction.  If they were friendly and responsive, they were hired.  True?  I am not sure but it makes a good story.

Leadership

We all know that leadership is critical.  Leadership starts with the CEO and filters down to people in the organization.   The leader sets the culture.  When I was head of marketing at US Cellular, our founding CEO, Don Nelson, was a great leader.  He selected an eclectic group of people, set the objectives and measured results meticulously and religiously.  But what distinguished him was his willingness to listen to his people, set and change vision and set a clear direction for the company.  The result, during my tenure was that the company grew fourfold in revenue in only five years.

Think back to the CEOs and possibly mentors you have had in your career.  What has distinguished them?   This morning, the executives around the table believed that not only did the CEO establish and set the culture for the company, in essence being the chief culture officer, but also set a clear and compelling vision for the company.  As the Cheshire Cat said, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  Leaders know where they are going.

Coupled with the vision is the ability to articulate the clarity and alignment of the messages across the entire company, and in my humble opinion, do it in a personal way.   As companies grow, become more complex, and are geographically disbursed, having a common vision and alignment of messages are critical to ensure everyone is marching in the same direction.   In this case organizations become both effective in generating profits (the end game for most) and efficient in doing so.

The group believed that a great company has a servant-leader.  A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. By focusing on people first, it empowers employees to be successful.  It also has a mentoring quality enabling employees to trust the leader such that when these employees are pushed to success by the leader, they trust that their best interests, and in turn the company’s, are aligned.    To be a true servant leader, two other elements must ring true.  The leader must be authentic and must be transparent.  There should be no hidden motive or ego at play.

 Customer Focus

As a businessman and marketing executive, I have written extensively and talked about customer focus.  The customer, the one who buys your company’s products and services, must be foremost in your mind.  Companies who are customer focused truly understand the behavioral drivers of the customer and why they buy your products and services.

The executives at our meeting believed that great companies connect with the customer.  These connections may come from a better user interface, or the way they train their front line people to interact with customers.    We bandied about the concept of Customer Experience Officer because customers, who are not happy, not satisfied, become disloyal.   And, all of us recognized that retention of customers is critical to a company’s success.  Further if you connect with the customer and relate to the customer, if a company makes a mistake there are positive “chits” that have accrued over time and forgiveness by the customer of any faux pas is normally granted.

Note that customer focus relies on a specific culture.  Again, think back to Zappos or think about any experience you have had at a retail store or an online store.  Systems are critical to help achieve customer focus but in reality it is the people, those front line sales people and customer support people that guarantee that the customer is important. Most of us go to Starbucks to get coffee.   Think about your experience.  They ask your name and if you visit the same store more than a few times, the baristas and others will get to know you.  How do you feel?  Pretty loyal I would assume.

Starbucks, Zappos, US Cellular and other companies have realized something very critical.  The people who interact with the customers ARE the brand.  Leadership sets the vision and a customer centric culture is established.  Yet customer focus is executed by the people.   All of us agreed that great companies are those that have this passion for the customer, exercised by supporting a customer first philosophy on the front line.

Going back to the original question posed by Susan Howington of What makes a company great, it comes down to three areas:  culture, leadership, and customer focus.   All three are interrelated.  In short, great companies balance the needs of customers, employees, and owners.  What companies would you want to work for?  What makes a company great in your mind?  Let’s continue the dialog.

For more thoughts and ideas, feel free to contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net  or visit us at www.clevelpartners.net.  I will also guarantee that if you write or call me, I will pick up the phone and talk with you.  Why?  Because we, too, love our customers and we have implemented a culture in our company of helping and sharing.





The New 7Ps of Marketing: Disregard at Your Own Risk!

7 12 2015

Marketing CloudI was reading an article in the recent Forbes online CMO Network by Kimberly Whitler entitled: What are the top predictions for marketers heading into 2016?   Ms. Whitler surveyed some experts, including CEOs, Presidents/GMs, CMOs, authors and executive recruiters.  In a different but recent article, Forbes CMO also ranked the top 50 CMOs.  To me, I would have rather heard their predictions.

I always enjoy reading “predictions” because they keep me on my toes- maybe I missed something- and makes me challenge what I believe are the upcoming trends.  As a businessman and marketer I certainly don’t want to be caught short.

I found the article very interesting and certain worthy of consideration.  I feel after reading the comments that each person is looking at the “elephant” from their unique vantage point.  And frankly, I am not sure they are predictions or wishful thinking based on the viewpoints of the interviewee. Nevertheless, they are certainly food for thought.

From a holistic view, my prediction – or wishful thinking – is that marketers need to start with the customer and realize that marketing has become multi-channel and multi-dimensional.   The smart CMO must orchestrate the new marketing mix. That means they need to simplify messages sent to consumers through whatever channel is relevant to them i.e. digital, small screen, large screen, Point-of-Purchase.  And they need to determine which is most relevant for the target personas.   Moreover, the smart marketer should consider all the tools in his/her toolbox and select those tools that are most effective for getting the right message and INTERACTION with the customer.

When I put this together, i find that the old model of 4P’s is antiquated.  I believe the new prediction is that good CMOs are now considering 7Ps in a holistic view: the original 4 (product including product/service development, price, promotion, placement (digital or traditional), and the new three consisting of process (including customer engagement, referral and loyalty), people as brand messengers at point of purchase or via customer care, and personalization (through technology).

The “traditional” 4Ps of marketing are well known.    In the day, marketing was about creating demand, and to a large degree it still is today.  But the focus was on selling a product to meet a need.   In general, promotion was based on advertising push.  The marketer’s mantra was to shout out the virtues of the product by mass advertising. To some who read the history books, the “soaps” on TV were called that because the consumer goods manufacturers such as Tide, All, and Fab were sponsoring and advertising on the TV shows aimed at the housewives and other stay at home folks.

Pricing was simple.  Manufacturer’s set price and used a price point philosophy of good, better, best. Placement represented where the consumer could buy the product i.e. at the neighborhood store or a mass retailer or even door-to-door sales and home delivery.

Because of technology such as the internet, and the movement away from a manufacturing to a service company, even the original 4 P’s have changed.

FROM                             TO

Product         –>       Solution

Promotion    –>       Information

Price               –>       Value

Place               –>       Access

 

Consumers and businesses want solutions to their problems and want to understand how the product/service will perform.  Due to the internet, both as catalogs of information and online reviews that are omnipresent through a myriad of sources, information has replaced pure promotion.   Certainly consumers and businesses want to find the right product at the right price, yet price by itself has been replaced by value with the value add sometimes being generated by service agreements and extended warranties.  And primarily due to the internet, place (distribution) has increased to a multi-channel access.  Think about the changes from the 1990s when e-commerce was first getting started to today.  Consumers and businesses now have electronic exchanges and other online venues from which to buy goods and services.   And now, coming full circle, we see Amazon opened its first brick and mortar store in Seattle.

Now let’s add the new three elements to the marketing mix.  First is the element of PEOPLE.    When I was head of marketing at US Cellular, we changed our brand and positioned our company using the tag line “the way people talked around here.”   Why did we do that?  In part, we recognized from our research in the late 90s and early 2000s that customers in our market wanted something more than what other cellcos offered.  We were not going to be the most technologically advanced (although our network and engineering were superb), nor were we going to cover the most customers in the country.  What our customers wanted was a relationship with our company, represented by our front line sales and customer service people.  They wanted a company they could trust.  At that point, we realized that people were the brand messengers and in our touchpoint marketing system, represented a way to affect the relationship and alter the buying habits of our consumers.  And it worked.  Our retention rate i.e. loyalty, was the best in the in the business.

The second new element is PROCESS. Many companies loathe the word process because they feel it is bureaucratic.  To me, process is the mechanism for repeatability. We want processes to help the customer in building its relationship with the company and also empower the employees to do their job to satisfy the customer.  Clearly, it is a tricky balance!   The processes today – mostly enabled by technology- relate to tools that help the company serve the customer.    There is a dizzying array of tools that the marketer has to understand and use.  See Marketing Technology Landscape by Scott Brinker or some of the Lumascapes by Luma Partners.  Some of these tools include ways to mass customize a product or service to the customer needs.  Witness the new companies entering the market to build relationships with consumers and business buyers.  There are processes enabled by digital and web technologies that enable social engagement and the marketers use these new tools to build and maintain relationships with their customers.   This improves value through new services and interactive engagement in the eyes of the buyer.

The final area is PERSONALIZATION. Several of the interviewees pointed out that understanding the customers’ persona is critical to segmentation.  Once you understand who they are, the company has to satisfy their unique requirements.  I have always been a fan of mass customization (read Joe Pines original work) or macro-niching as I use to call it 5 years before mass customization became vogue.   Personalization is easy today with technology.  You can see it when you buy a car.  Go into a BMW or Jaguar dealer in their store or online and the system will build the car for you.  Buy a house from Toll Brothers and you get a platform and options to tailor the house to your needs.   Go on the web and find a case for your smart phone and you can easily customize it with your school logo and colors.   Consumers want to feel special and that ensures a solid on-going relationship with their customers.

Traditional and Social Media MarketingMarketing has changed and will continue to evolve over the next several years.  Clearly there will be a natural bonding between the CIO and CMO as marketing technology has become more important in defining the marketing mix.  While Ms. Whitler did not ask my prediction for 2016, I will share it with my readers.    I predict that marketing will be more about the customer and the great marketer will find the right combination of the 7 elements to build and sustain relationships with that customer.  At least I hope so.

I would be glad to continue the dialog or share additional thought.  Feel free to visit us on our web at www.clevelpartners.net or contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartnes.net.





Lessons from THE INTERN

5 10 2015
The Intern

The INTERN

I don’t normally do movie reviews; in fact, I have never done them and this won’t be the traditional movie review.   However, I wanted to write something about a movie I saw Saturday nite called The Intern, with Robert Di Niro cast as a 70 year old retired executive who took up the role of an intern to a young female CEO of an e-commerce start-up.

I enjoyed this movie for several reasons.  First, it takes place in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, NY, not too far from where I grew up.  I resonate with things New York City.  Second, the context of the movie is an e-commerce start-up run by a young 30s woman who founded the company and is the CEO.  I can relate to that because I am an angel investor with TechCoastAngels and I have heard pitches from similarly situated women (and men) and have been a coach and mentor to these types of companies and even worked for a few of these companies.  Third, The Intern is a senior citizen and is recruited to the firm when they thought that hiring senior interns was the right thing to do.  I can relate to that character as a former executive and on the “wrong” side of 50.  Di Niro feels he can have fun in the job and has the passion and energy to help out.   I can relate to that as well.

Other than relating to the movie, the location, and the characters, I found a few take-aways from a business perspective.

  1. Everyone should find their passion. Age is not an issue for sharing passion, having energy, or smarts.  Witness Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, or Sam Walton when he was driving around in his F-150 visiting stores in person across the country, or Arthur Blank, or countless others who have a vision and desire to make a difference.
  2. It is hard to manage two families- a business family and a home family. Startups are like children and need to be nourished. It is tiring and taxing to manage the business and the people at work, and then go home to switch gears and be a husband or wife or parent.
  3. Leaders have to learn to delegate and not take on everything themselves. In the movie, Anne Hathaway, the founder/CEO tried to do everything herself and that caused part of the stress and almost caused her to lose her company and her family. A few months ago, I wrote a blog on two words that can help an entrepreneur (or other businessperson) achieve success.  Those two words are FOCUS and PODFU.  The CEO needs to focus on what is important and then plan, organize, delegate, and follow-up (that’s the PODFU) to ensure things are on target.
  4. Age is a state of mind to a large degree. I have seen young executives who have no vision nor energy nor the passion and drive to succeed. I have seen young executives who don’t fit the culture of a company whereas some of the “middle-people” felt right at home.  And interestingly, I have seen a senior generation fit in to a younger culture because each group was willing to learn and listen.  Why?  It’s what you bring to the table.
  5. Context and experience cannot be taught but can be applied. In The Intern, years of management experience by Di Niro’s character proved helpful.  And so did his affable, approachable and helpful nature.   He even taught the younger generation what it meant to be a gentleman. Remember your handkerchief.  As Di Niro said in the movie, he is everyone’s “uncle” yet his expertise from his prior career coupled with his character helped the young CEO cope with the stresses of her business and family.

I enjoyed The Intern as a good way to spend a couple of hours and highly recommend it. It probably had more meaning to me given the premise of the movie, where it took place, and the start-up environment.  Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 59.   I gave it nine pizza slices out of a possible 10.

Let me know what you think and feel free to write to me at dfriedman@prodigy.net or at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net.





The 7 Attributes of a Highly Successful Start-up CEO.

11 08 2015

I met Kirsten Mangers several years ago after she successfully sold her startup, Webvisible.   And over the years I have gained a strong appreciation for her abilities and most important, her style.   Kirsten is the founder of ChickLabs, an incubator that focuses on helping primarily women entrepreneurs.  She is also the CEO of Immunogum, a start-up in Newport, CA and one in which TechCoastAngels invested.entrepreneurial CEO

I was invited to a meeting at an entrepreneurial office called the VINE which is off the UC Irvine campus because I am an angel investor with TCA and one who works with startup CEOS in my consulting practice.   The key- and only- speaker, though, was Kirsten and she shared her thoughts on what makes a successful start-up CEO with a large cadre of young aspiring entrepreneurs.

I thought I would share some of those thoughts with my readers.  Clearly, the CEO is THE most important role in a company.  She is the quarterback of the business.  I want to point out, as well, that angel investors are looking at the CEO, his/her characteristics, trustworthiness, and credibility as a critical and sometimes the most important decision factor in making an investment.

Here are Kirsten’s Magnificent Seven attributes and roles for an entrepreneurial CEO.

  1. Chief sales person. Selling is required whether it is for sales of the company’s products or selling the business idea to investors. Pure and simple, it is the number one attribute.  If a CEO cannot get comfortable selling then he/she needs to find a strong complement or a replacement CEO.
  2. Culture Maven. The culture of a company attracts and retains great people.   Think about the culture of Google or Apple and you get somewhat different impressions.   But culture will help you succeed and be one of the differentiators to also-rans.
  3. Chief Strategist. As Louis Carroll said in Alice and Wonderland:  “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”  CEOs need to set the direction and if necessary make the decisions to pivot the company.  Early startups will go through false starts and pivoting will be essential.
  4. Teacher, tutor, and mentor. Kirsten claimed to be a whiteboard fanatic.  Where there is a whiteboard, she could share ideas and interact with the staff on a regular basis and even get others to critique, comment, and debate those ideas.   This goes along with the concept that the CEO needs to be a visible leader and wander about with the team.
  5. You have to challenge yourself and others even with ideas that seem outrageous.   Why?  You stay fresh and there may be a kernel of insight into the new idea or someone else may see another path to success buried in that idea. Someone may say: that’s crazy but what if we did this?  Challenging prevailing wisdom and valuing the diversity of though among people is critical to engage your team.
  6. Chief Reporter and Scribe. This is the issue of transparency.   The CEO of a start-up needs to create an environment where everyone on the team feels that they understand and can contribute to the business’s success.   With normally smallish teams and fewer people, such discussions keep the team engaged and motivated.  I have personally witnessed employees banding together to find solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
  7. Chief Recruiter. To be successful, a strong team needs to be assembled and nurtured.  As Kirsten said, it all starts with people and finding the best people is the biggest challenge.  When she interviews someone, she has asked some interesting questions to probe the character, drive, and attitudes of the recruit.   One question I like is: if you were on a three hour flight and could sit next to one person, who would that person be and why?   From this answer you can determine motivation and quest for learning, both of which are critical in a start-up

These sage words of wisdom from Kirsten will help the aspiring entrepreneur be successful and potentially be as successful as Kirsten.

Let me know your thoughts.

david





Successful Management in Two Words.

3 04 2015

Rudyard Kipling in his poem, “IF,” (see http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/1757720) said:  “If you can keep you head about you while all about you are losing theirs…… then you will be a Man, my son!”

Management

I was talking with one of my mentees today regarding his question of how to stay on top of projects and tasks and making sure he doesn’t get overwhelmed, i.e. keeping his head about himself.  Clearly there is a relationship and an opportunity to quote Kipling.  My mentee is a student who is working with a team to develop a new product/service and is doing this through the Center for Entrepreneurship at Chapman University where I am a lead mentor.    Since I have many more years of experience, I shared some of my learnings and some of the tools I have used and developed.

I was taught in my early career about good management by a disciple of the late Harold Geneen who was the architect of the rise of ITT Corporation as a successful conglomerate. Over time, I developed my own spin and teach this and consult with others who want a simple powerful system to implement.  The basic principle is simply stated in two words:  FOCUS and PODFU.

Focus is pretty simple.  Make sure you know the two or three most important things to do.  Simple to say yet sometimes hard to do.   In fact, as an executive you should be even more myopic and focus on the ONE key thing that needs to get done.  When that is complete move on to the next item.   The reality is that you cannot get overwhelmed by trying to tackle too many tasks at one time.  This also entails discipline and priority setting.

Second, as a young entrepreneur, my mentee is working with other young entrepreneurs and has to learn leadership and management.  Leadership means that he needs to convey his vision and excite the team so they can be engaged and successful. Management means the ability to ensure what needs to get done, gets done and gets done on time.  And this is where PODFU comes in. The acronym is Plan, Organize, Delegate, and Follow-up. It sounds so simple yet is also surprising how many fail at this.

I suggested a few tools that he can use in his regularly scheduled project meetings.  This tool can be repurposed for operational and dashboard reviews as well. The tool is shown in the following Excel spreadsheet with the listed columns.

PODFU Chart

In the example there are four main objectives and supporting tasks to be completed by a variety of people.  In this case my mentee is trying to get a new product/service into the market and this template displays the format and the kinds of activities he and his team might undertake.  (Note:  this is notational only and not representative of his project.)  There is clarity in the metrics to determine if the milestone/task was complete, a time period, a person accountable (if you use the RACI system, the is the “A” in RACI), and a color chart indicating if the task is on target (GREEN), potentially may miss date (YELLOW), or will miss or has missed the due date (RED.)

In each meeting, those tasks due at the meeting date and ones that are due at the next meeting date are discussed. If the task is “green” then there is little reason to discuss it unless there is something that must be brought to the attention of the team.  If the task is yellow, the comments should summarize what will be done to get back on target.  If the task is red, the discussion might go deeper- we call this a deep dive- to see how we can complete the task and if the completion affects other tasks, how might the team get back on schedule.

Of course, there is more to managing and leadership than just a chart.  Yet this template presents a very powerful way to manage using only these two words:   FOCUS and PODFU.  This system can help managers be successful.

If you or your company wants to explore how this tool can be adapted to your unique needs, please contact me at dfriedman@prodigy.net, visit my LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/in/davidfriedman, or call me at 949 439-4503.