Tag Archives: startup

Vision, Execution and Communication, what makes entrepreneurial founders, great CEO’s

It is often said that the most important things a startup founder and CEO needs to focus on is setting the vision and communicating it effectively, hiring the right people and making sure there’s enough money in the bank.

In the early stages though, the vision is less clear for a company for many founders. What’s more clear (to most entrepreneurs) I assume is the problem they are trying to solve. Or, in many cases the solution they are trying to build.

If you over index on good or excellent execution but have not a clear, well thought out vision, the market, investors and employees will give you time and room to develop. Case in point, it was not always clear what Twitter’s vision was to most people (and probably is still not clear).

So, if you have a great, compelling vision for the future of how the industry (like Marc Benioff did with Salesforce.com), then it does make it easier to grow, fund and scale the company, but if you dont, I wont sweat it.

There are many forms of communication, but the 3 I am focusing on are public speaking, written communication and articulation in a personal setting.

Not surprisingly, if you are afraid of public speaking (which apparently is the 2nd most feared thing for most people after death), the market does give you some leeway. There are many entrepreneurs and senior executives who I know, personally, who are poor public speakers and are not at all charismatic. That usually does not seem to stunt their progress though.

If you are not great at written communication, (which can easily be fixed BTW, with practice), the world is not going to end. It does help, but you only have to keep in mind that over 80% of successful founders in the unicorn list have trouble writing something meaningful even with the 140 character limit that Twitter proposes.

If however you can’t articulate the problem you are trying to solve in 1-1 situations or answer the difficult questions about why your company exists, what it does and how it will solve a problem, then potential co-founders, employees, investors and customers will not give you much leeway.

There are certain situations when even poor articulation (which I have seen multiple times when folks come to pitch their product to us) is something we accept and assume we can help with.

That situation is when someone has executed very well. Whether it is building a compelling product, getting early customers, growing user base or raising funding rounds, doing beats telling 95% of the time.

From time to time, we (potential employees, customers or investors) get enamored by a good story, articulated by a charismatic, passionate and visionary founder, and it may happen more than in exceptions than the rule.

The thing is though, you can’t argue with execution at the partner meeting or at the customer review or when you are talking to your friends about a company you want to join.

Either they did what they did or did not – either they got users and growth or not. They have customers or they dont. They have a product that users like or they dont.

They executed or they did not.

Which is why, even if you being told you dont have a great vision or that you are poor at telling your story or you have bad communication skills, take heart.

If you out-execute and show the proof in the pudding, by numbers, metrics and growth, the market and the participants will let you get away with your “weaknesses” or perceived faults in vision or communication.

Before you know it, your startup is now a “big” bureaucracy with “approvals” for everything

Often when I meet wannabe entrepreneurs at events, I ask the question, why they are willing to give up their relatively easy job, with good pay to take up the roller coaster world of starting their own company. About 20% or so of the folks I meet at these events work at another startup (typically < 3 years old, about 20-50 people). I think of most of these companies as startups as well, so I am curious as to why, after seeing all that happens in an early stage startup, they want to start their own company.

Sometimes it is because they want to be their own boss, or they see the success of the founders, who they claim have little intelligence, but still managed to start their own company and be moderately successful. At other times, I hear the burning itch to start and solve a problem or other times it is because they always wanted to start one, but were not able to because of other constraints.

Every so often I will get a person who was the 1st or among the first 10 employees of a startup. They will reminisce about the “early” days of the startup they are working at and talk about how everything was simple and easy during those days and how bureaucratic their 50-100+ person startup had become.

When I press further about the “bureaucracy” and what makes things slow and inefficient, the word that always comes up is “approvals”.

“Approvals” are the tool misguided managers use to make themselves feel important.

If you are a person that needs to feel important so you can “approve” things, you dont have enough work to do.

Approvals are used by big companies to kill any ounce of individual responsibility and trust. They also kill the very initial set of values and culture that you might set out to build your company’s foundations on.

Approvals send one of many messages:

1. I did not hire the right person so I have to ensure they “stick” to the rules of the company that HR has arbitrarily come up with.

2. We have hired way too many people who dont have enough work to do, so they have to be around to “approve” things.

3. We need policies and procedures for everything since we dont trust the folks we hired to use their judgement.

Notice that the common word in these (and most other) examples is “hiring”.

Approvals are the child of poor hiring and recruitment.

You can cop out and say it is a HR problem. It is not actually.

As a founder, it is your responsibility to ensure that the vision and culture of the company are consistent with the ethos you started it out with.

The first 10 employees are indicative of the zeal you brought to the table, which convinced them to join a high risk startup at such an early stage.

If these first 10 and many other employees feel that the company is “approval” heavy and requires big company (productivity killing and sans accountability) procedures, then you have something wrong with your hiring, not with your HR policies.

Remember this, if a manager in your company feels so important to want to “approve” everything anyone does in his organization, he has practically no work and likely a heightened sense of importance.

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.