Category Archives: Learning

How to be a better manager – providing feedback to your direct reports and employees

There are 3 types of behaviors when it comes to managers giving feedback to the people that work for them.

1. I’ll give you no feedback - little praise, no criticism until the year-end when I have to do reviews.

2. I’ll give you unvarnished feedback immediately when I hear something from others you work with or from my own interactions. As it happens, often and early.

3. I’ll watch the interactions, notice behaviors and patterns and give you feedback every so often - weekly, monthly, quarterly and avoid “the last thing I heard syndrome”.

It is obvious that #3 is the best way you can be a manager. Feedback is very important to employees. They want to know what they are doing well and what they need to improve. As a manager you are at one of the best positions to tell them that. After all most people spend more interaction time with their managers and peers than their spouse (which is unfortunate, but true).

The rule of thumb to follow to give feedback as a manager is to watch for “lines not dots“. I love that phrase from Mark Suster.

Ideally you have the chance to talk to, watch and get feedback about an employee over a good period of time (ideally a month, but I have seen folks do it over a week or even over a quarter) and then make sense of the patterns.

The first kind of manager is absolutely useless, but tragically more folks like those exist in the corporate and startup world that we’d like to admit. This kind of manager is obsessed with “results” alone to provide no developmental feedback to their employees. If numbers are good, they will let employees get away with murder (figuratively) but if they are bad, then everything is suspect.

The second kind is sightly better, but not by much. They give raw, unvarnished, ball-by-ball, running commentary on the employee’s actions – from others, from their own interactions and from random folks as well. The reason it is useless is because they dont help detect patterns – they only remember the “last” thing someone said and repeat that. So, if there was something about an employee not responding to one email, that one person said, on time, this type of manager would rake your coals over that, even if that’s not the usual pattern of that employee.

The third type of manager is the evolved one. They listen, keep notes and keep both anecdotes and feedback for the employee in a file or in email so when the monthly or quarterly review period comes, they can provide both data and concrete examples.

These types of managers will be the most appreciated in your startup. They “invest in the lines and not the dots”. They look for patterns and observe behavior over a period of time, instead of giving conflicting feedback over even a small period, and unwilling to understand the behavior of the employee.

It takes a lot of effort to be that type of manager. They are very valued because they invest in their employees.

The trick I use to keep track is send myself emails with the Subject line having the name of my direct report. I have filters setup for the name as well. Every so often (I do it monthly) I will go and review all the emails I sent to myself about that employee and look to summarize the feedback. Then I also keep not of the anecdotes so I can help them recall behavior and suggest some corrective action if it needs to happen or kudos if that’s in the order.

What is the hack you use to help provide feedback to your employees?

Size and speed – the two most important aspects of your market, to get #venturefunding for #startups

I spoke to an entrepreneur yesterday who is focused on the health and HR markets – two of the toughest markets to target. Health has so many regulations to work with and HR has so little budget. So, take both of them together and unless you have a “head on fire” situation – aka compliance problem, they are very difficult to sell to.

Most, but not all venture investors care deeply about the market you startup is targeting. Here’s a rule of thumb – larger the market, more likely a VC is going to care about your company and to be willing to invest. Billion dollar markets are important to VC’s, and preferably large billion dollar markets. You need to do both a top-down and a bottom-up market analysis to show them that it is a large market. If it is less than a significant size, then I’d advice you not to go pitch VC’s.

In many cases, you wont know the size of the market. It could be small ($100 Million or less) or you just dont know how to position it as a big thing. Most venture investors will take a meeting, but end up not telling you that the market is too small, but tell them to “keep updated”, or “you are too early for us” or “we need to see more traction”.

When you dont know the size of the market or you know that the market is small, then I’d advice you not to go to venture investors. It does not serve your cause and wastes their time.

The second most important reason to get a venture investor on board is if the market is expected to become large “quickly”. While size of market is rather objective, the speed of the market is largely subjective. Which is why venture investors will rely on other “experts”, who understand and know the market well to help them “do due diligence”. If the market is expected to rapidly grow, it makes sense to invest as a VC. Else, your company wont grow quickly and things get difficult.

Many venture investors will also tell you that they invest in entrepreneurs. They tend to focus less on themes and more on the expertise, background, success, knowledge and execution potential of the entrepreneur teams.

Taking a risk on the team is normal for a venture investor, but taking a market risk is rather dumb. If they dont (that’s the problem to a large extent, which is “their” view of the market, not yours) view the market as large or moving quickly then be prepared to have a lot of “meetings with VC’s” resulting in zero follow on meetings or investment.

How to solve the immigration problem for startups and income inequality problem for older Americans with one solution

Americans have 2 problems that are high on the list right now. Income inequality and Immigration.

So there are two alternative solutions:

1. Every year, Forbes publishes the best places for Americans to retire.

This is for the many folks who have made okay money but are not wealthy or ultra high net worth individuals.

So, in effect America is trying to export its retirees.

This is a small number right now, in the thousands. This solves the problem of healthcare for the old and also helps the older folk’s money go farther.

2. For the immigration problem we have solutions as well.

This is a slightly larger number, 65,000 each year. This solves the problem of new talent for companies and also helps young aspirants get a better shot at a better life.

Every year, America also imports new fresh talent.

Think of this like a balance sheet. Immigration imbalance occurs constantly. Right now America does not export as many retirees as it imports immigrants.

Which is why many folks are up in arms about raising the # of allocated H1B visas to foreign legal immigrants.

The reason we get so many immigrants is because it is attractive to be in America.

The reason many retirees don’t leave is because it is not attractive yet to live outside America.

Why is not so attractive to live outside the United States right now?

First, there’s a standard of living issue – access to quality services is just not as good abroad as it is in America,

Second, there is living away from friends and family, and finally

Third, there’s fear of the unknown.

Most older Americans move to Florida or a state in the south so they can get better weather and pay fewer taxes anyway. So, the living away from family is something they are quite used to and they actually end up making new friends.

If we help some of the countries in the “top places to retire” help to build better services, such as transport, healthcare and support, then they become more attractive.

To solve the fear of the unknown, I think the best solution is to educate older Americans on these countries and their culture, unique offerings, weather, etc.

Finally if we eliminate double taxation for Americans going abroad or “suspend” tax filing and payment when they spend, say, more than 80% of their time in their “retirement” country, then you make retiring abroad, more attractive.

That should increase the number of people leaving annually to say about 50K from the current 5K and help “keep the distribution even in the people import/export balance sheet”.

What do you think?

A #contrarian’s field guide to New Year Resolutions

TLDR; This field guide helps you set new year resolutions and help you achieve them by using both a top-down and bottom-up approach towards managing your energy and hence managing your time better.

To achieve you new year’s resolutions, I propose 3 steps:

1. Top down prioritization.

2. Bottoms-up audit.

3. Planning and scheduling your energy.

You have to both do a top-down prioritization and a bottoms-up audit towards goal setting, because the top-down alone will tell you what you want to do, and the bottoms-up will tell you what you are doing right now. The planning will help you then figure out where you are wasting your time and energy and where you need to focus it instead.

Lets do the top-down first.

There are 9 categories of goals people have as individuals according to me.

1. Relationships: The need and desire to be connected as humans with friends, family and other people at large. Examples include, getting married, making new friends, or spending more time with your siblings for example.

2. Career and Work: When you are a student it will be around “what you want to be when you grow up”, but it is pretty much the same as an adult. Work goals include promotions, improving communication – public speaking for e.g. etc. Starting a new business falls into this bucket.

3. Intellectual: These are for you to learn. Many people like to learn new languages, read books and expand their mind as part of this category.

4. Health: Keeping your body fit enough and in shape to be able to achieve what you think you can. Losing weight is the most common goal in this category followed by promising to quit smoking.

5. Financial: Making enough wealth to be able to afford the things you’d like to have as part of your life. You might have other goals in this

6. Spiritual: The quest to find your inner self, and the meaning of life, the universe, god, etc. The most frequent goal in this category is to find your inner peace.

7. Interests & Hobbies: Travel, learning a musical instrument etc. fall into this category. Going to an exotic place for vacation is the most frequent goal in this category followed by learning a new musical instrument.

8. Giving back and Social Goodness: These are for individuals who want to give back and help the less privileged. Most people volunteer at charities or non-profits / NGO’s to help them in any way possible.

9. Self improvement: These are to better yourself as an individual, making time to grow as a person (not intellectually, but emotionally). E.g. I will not get angry with my kids, or will not blame someone else for my problems. The quest to be a better person drives this category of resolutions OR the willingness to correct a character flaw.

Now that we have a comprehensive category list, I suspect you can add your own resolution – such as “I will be a nicer person” or “I will meditate more”, which will fall into one of these buckets.

After you put your resolution into the bucket, write it down – both the resolution and your category.

P.S. here’s a contrarian tip – NEVER have more than one goal. More on that later.

The reason I think you should start with categories, is that it will help you focus on managing your energy not your time.

Then the second task is for you to do a time audit for a week. This is the bottom up approach. The best way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with 1/2 hour slots from the time you wake up to the time you sleep.

Then put what you are doing in that 1/2 hour slot for 1 week. This includes time to bathe, eat, work, etc.

The next step is to categorize the time audit items into your categories above as well.

It is okay to put sleeping into health category. If you listen to podcast or listen to music during your commute then put it in the health or interests or hobbies category.

Then take the categories you have and add up the time per category.

Plot the category and time spent on a pie chart.

Most people are absolutely shocked when they do this exercise at this point. They find that 25-35% of their time is truly “wasted” – they dont do anything else when the sleep – which is why many successful people apparently sleep less – god bless them, but I cant. Or they are spending time bathing or eating, etc.

So you have a top down priority and a bottom up use of your time.

Step 3, is planning and scheduling: The planning should help you find a way now to schedule time on your calendar for the one new year’s resolution or goal you set.

You can do the scheduling on your calendar by alternative or better time management.

If something is a priority for you, then you better spend more time on it than anything else.

My rule of thumb is that you need to spend at least 35% of your time on the one New Year’s resolution you set for yourself. If you are unable to do that, then prepare to fail.

If you find many other things taking up your time, deprioritize them and manage your calendar like a manic and NEVER let other things “creep” in.

Please let me know if this works for you, but remember you have to do the top-down and bottoms-up part (which might take you a week if you dont know your calendar yet.

When private emails are made public, everyone loses

There are 2 news items that came up consistently yesterday in my facebook feed. One was the tweet that Evan, the CEO of Snapchat shared, in which he showed the private email exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and himself.

Snapchat tweet

Evan Tweet

This was a private email sent from Mark to Evan, which he made public.

Another one was from the founder of Zomato, Deepinder who also shared a private email (now deleted) from Satyan of Times of India.

Some thoughts:

First I always assume that every email I send, will be made public. So I write like I am speaking to the person in a public forum.

That said, I am disappointed that they chose to make the emails public. I think a paraphrase would have sufficed.

Second, I am actually glad that both Mark and Satyan reached out instead of the other way around. Shows that both these folks are aggressive, not willing to wait for things to come to them, even though the run large, established businesses.

Finally even if they did choose to make their emails public, it would have been better to have gotten approval from the sender before doing so.

What do you think? Are emails sent from one person to another private or available for everyone else to view?

A most poignant story of why the world is round and not flat

This story made me cry. Not tears of sorrow, but tears of goodness. There is a lot of that in this world.

I want to tell this story, because I want more people to know about the way the world works and why you have to pay it forward. I have asked all 3 of the folks who are part of this story to see if I could share their real names and organizations. Have not heard back yet.

A few years ago, a young man, about 21-22 years of age, from the not-so-upscale, Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, wanted to do something. Not anything in particular, but something. Inspired by a story he read online about the lack of education resources for the poorest of the poor, in India, he thought about making a trip here to find out how he could help.

His sister (older, married) and family were understandably apprehensive. India is not the most comfortable place for a young person. Still, they supported his trip to India to “find out what’s going on”.

Upon his arrival, the young man met lots of people, hung out at the not-so-desirable parts of Delhi and learned first-hand, about the children of migrant workers, day laborers & the underemployed and their inability to have a basic education. Knowing how poorly staffed government school were, these parents chose to have their kids with them during the day. Most of the kids ended up “helping” the parents at work.

He decided to start a low-cost school to educate them.

Think about that. A low-cost school in Delhi taught and run by a young man from San Francisco.

Fast-forward a couple of years, the school’s running, growing, albeit slowly and our young man matures into a school administrator, and runs his non-profit in India, making few trips to San Francisco during holidays and life moments. During this time, our young man, has grown a staff of 12, trained a few local teachers and helped make a difference in over 200 children’s lives.

One of the teachers, a rather exceptional young woman herself, after a year and a half of being at the school, leaves after she’s married and our protagonist does not end up keeping in touch with her after that.

Last year, his sister’s daughter was diagnosed with Autism.

Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped.

Autistic kids are expensive to educate in the US. They need a personal trainer, coach and therapist (or one of them) to help grow the child’s confidence.

Our young man’s sister was unable to afford the resources to put her daughter in therapy, but US laws for learning disabilities (I dont know the details, but have been told this) ensure that if your child has a disability and wants help to learn, a good amount of money will be provided to help the child do so.

Unable to afford a therapist, she apparently put an ad on craigslist seeking help. She gets no response for weeks. Our protagonist meets her and the family on one of his trips to San Francisco and posts his anguish on a social networking site.

After 3 days, the young woman he helped, become a teacher in Delhi, calls him (after 3+ years of not being in touch at all) in San Francisco. She offers to meet him for coffee and suggests she could find a way to help. She also just “wanted to catch up” and explain the mysterious lack of communication.

Turns out this young woman, married wrong, went through a divorce and was picking up the pieces. She had a job to keep food on the table, but that was it.

She offered to tutor and be the child’s therapist – for free. She has been doing that for 6 months now.

So there you have it. A young man, from San Francisco, making a difference in Delhi. And a young woman from Delhi, making a difference in San Francisco.

I met the young man at an entrepreneur event a few weeks ago and then upon his insistence, met the woman in San Francisco a few weeks ago as well.

They are both normal, young, 23-25 year old kids. They are though, a lot wiser and more awesome than I will ever be.

The world is round. It is not flat, Mr. Friedman. What goes around, comes around, twice as much and twice as fast.

Among the Indian elite (and I am as much a part of of the elite), the world remains full of opportunities thanks to “globalization”. The rest of the world depends on these two and other such young minds to uplift us.

The world is round, Mr. Friedman. It is round.

The pretender and the contender wear the same clothes

In the last year I have talked to over 800 entrepreneurs. About 200+ were discussions over 15 minutes. That roughly equates to about 1/2 my work time. This time was split between listening and learning from them and the rest was spent sharing some “gyaan“. For what it was worth, most of them were very nice to me and politely nodded when I dispensed my 2 minutes of “framework advice”.

What I have learned is that it is very hard to give an answer that’s cogent, well thought out and precise. In an era where there are enough advisors, mentors and other folks giving lots of advice, there’s a cottage industry sprung up around trying to “help” entrepreneurs and “grow” the ecosystem.

Here’s the challenge for us as entrepreneurs. The pretender and the contender both wear the same clothes, speak the same language and likely use the same words. We have to discern who’s who.

So what’s the framework to use to determine who you should listen to and who you should ignore?

There are enough folks suggesting that peer learning is the way to go. After all, what better than someone “like you” who has just been through the same path before. The pros of peer learning are usually – practical advice, “here’s what I did and it worked for me” and knowledge dished out without airs and graces. The cons are lack of context, the inability to give you a framework to think and providing answers to questions that you might never encounter.

There are other folks suggesting that “successful entrepreneurs” should provide you with the right advice. Meaning, folks who have seen relative measure of success and would be likely able to share more refined nuances of their journey. The pros are well thought out arguments, balanced perspective on what works and does not. The cons are that success comes over a long period of time. The things that worked a few years ago are rarely going to work as effectively.

Still others say the best advice is from “failed” entrepreneurs. They can possibly tell you everything you should not do, but not all the things you most likely should do. The pros are that you get to really understand that the rose colored glasses that are worn tend to be tinted anyway. The cons? – What should you do? Opposite of all the things the failed entrepreneur did?

At the end of the day it will become obvious that to have some modicum of success, you will have to blaze your own trail. Else someone who has done the “exact” same thing that you did, will likely “clean up” before him, leaving nothing but crumbs for others to “feast” on.

The only way to know who the pretender is and who the player is to watch them in action.

Which is why I highly recommend that you work with the advisor and mentor for a few weeks or a month before you actually bring them on board. For the first month, if they truly believe in what you are doing, they would offer their time for free, then you can overcompensate them for their work post that effort.