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Posted On March 28th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

More chiefs than you can shake a stick at

Your startup must have a few chiefs already: chief executive officer, chief technology officer, chief marketing officer…and maybe now you’re considering hiring a Chief of Staff which is a role that’s becoming popular in larger startups. (See our recent blog on this trend.)

But it turns out there is a veritable explosion of chiefs out there: everything from Chief Customer Officer to Chief Wonk to Chief Algorithms Officer. After a quick tour through LinkedIn, we found a bunch of noteworthy titles listed below. Title inflation? Hard to say. But as a watcher of trends, both good and bad, we caution all startup teams to go easy on handing out the title “chief” (primarily because higher equity expectations come with that title).

Taking a bit of editorial license here: remember that too many chiefs in the kitchen spoil the MVP…

Chief Revenue Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimhyman/

Chief Algorithms Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ecolson/

Chief Innovation Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mdkail/

Chief Data Scientist

https://www.linkedin.com/in/linderek/

Chief People Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sulovegren/

Chief Network Architect

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-behl-a981471/

Chief Product Officer

ht/tps://www.linkedin.com/in/sunilpotti

Chief Evangelist

https://www.linkedin.com/in/guykawasaki/

Chief Culture and Talent Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/apricejr1/

Chief Customer Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/coachlillie/

Chief Wonk

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lance-topping-1973b6/

And they’re hiring:

Chief Merchandising Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/281696313/

Chief Impact Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/268895902/

 

 

 

 

Posted On March 21st, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

New terminology seeping into the mainstream

Incidental collection: in case you missed this tantalizing term brought to you by the House Intelligence Committee hearings, when the NSA wire-taps a foreigner or U.S. citizen suspected of terrorist activities, they can sometimes collect other communications. That’s NSA-speak now entering the mainstream.

Explainable AI: a field of research that, according to the Wall Street Journal, can explain in natural language how a machine learning model arrives at a logical decision.

Filter bubble: According to the New York Times, “the filter bubble describes the tendency of social networks like Facebook and Twitter to lock users into personalized feedback loops, each with its own news sources, cultural touchstones and political inclinations.”

Echo boomer: Census data indicates that there are more 26-year-olds in the U.S. than people of any other age. Like the baby boomer generation, the economic, retail and labor force of that large number of our population are expected to “echo” the influence of the prior, very large baby boomer generation.

Gaymoji: No explanation required. But if you must, check out this New York Times profile.

Posted On March 14th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

It’s COO and COS season in startup-land

Most of the 45+ startups that we work with start with two technical founders, one of whom has the experience and desire to be a CEO, the other wants to be the CTO. Both of them are outward-facing in some way, either in a Sales mode (the CEO) or an SE role (the CTO). Which means they get around to managing the company in their spare time.

To balance that “outside” focus of the co-founders, many teams in startup-land are recognizing the need for adding an “inside guy” to the team. That third leader is operational in nature, focusing on critical components like finance, HR, systems, strategic planning and training. In the past, that person was not equal to the top two dogs (CEO and CTO), but that role—and its importance—is changing.

COO for growth

Recently, a couple of high-flying startups have announced plans to hire a COO. First, there’s Dave McClure, CEO of 500 Startups announcing plans to hire a COO in order to support growth plans. Although the skills and division of labor have not been described, this article on Quora provides a long list of the attributes of a successful COO. That COO is made from a position of strength and augments an already-positive situation.

COO for cleanup and discipline

Then there’s Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who is hiring a COO in the wake of allegations of sexism, sexual harassment and a public tirade by the CEO himself. And just a month ago, Uber was accused of taking advantage of the airport protests that erupted during the immigration bans. Although no plans have yet been announced by Uber about the division of labor between Kalanick and the new COO, the hope is that new discipline brought in by the COO will help button up and repair the company’s image, starting with the CEO.

Chief of Staffs for planning, systems and more

Another option—and this is more frequently being adopted by mature startups—is to hire a Chief of Staff, rather than a COO. Similar to a COO, the COS has a mostly internal focus but a wide-ranging charter to help accelerate growth and efficiency. See this interesting article that describes the popularity and role of Chief of Staff at startups. For more reading about COOs at startups, check out this cool article on Medium from 2015, including a nifty list of related articles on the topic.

Posted On March 7th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

How much time do you really have to pitch your startup?

In the process of researching our book, The Ultimate Startup Guide, we interviewed a wide range of VCs—some of whom we’ve worked with before, some of whom we knew only by
reputation. As we collated our notes by topic, there were a couple of back-to-basics takeaways that stood out.

The first had to do with the nature of the relationship you’re trying to cultivate.

The second had to do with how much time you really have to pitch.

Every single startup founder and VC partner stressed the long-term nature of the VC-startup relationship and likened it to a marriage (or family in some cases). The idea is that you’re in this relationship together for the long haul, so choose selectively. Founders will mistakenly focus on valuation or the term sheet and the brand name of the firm ignoring components like the stature of the individual partner within the firm, their capacity, domain expertise, individual track record and their potential to build rapport with you. This isn’t a marriage solely for economic gain.

You’re getting hitched

This is a marriage you are entering “soberly and advisedly” where the capacity of the partner to build trust and to guide and mentor you, the startup founder, is hugely valuable and not to be underestimated.

And you’re going to be in bed, so to speak, with your VC investor for a long time. As this Forbes article pointed out, according to the National Venture Capital Association, the median time to IPO exit since first funding for VC-backed startups was 3.1 years in 2000, and 7.4 years in 2013.

The second takeaway has to do with how much time you really have to communicate your new idea. The reality is that even though many VCs leave their laptops and phones outside the door (to show the startup that they have their undivided attention), they have their pad of paper…and they are human. More importantly, most VCs will cop to having some form of ADHD: they’ve got all their current portfolio companies as well as the ones they’ve recently met with that they’re considering funding. And they probably have three more meetings after yours. So there are a lot of places their mind can go while they nod at Slide 28 of your presentation.

Plan on just 10 minutes, even if you’re booked for an hour

Therefore, even though the meeting you’ve booked is 60 minutes long, you should plan on 10 minutes of attention. (Sequoia partner Aaref Hilaly advises founders here to plan to hook your audience in the first 5 minutes of the meeting.) The point is that you need to engage quickly and powerfully and leave plenty of time for discussion. Pro tips:

  1. Make the meeting more a conversation than a pitch. Check in with the VC early in the presentation (as early as the 5-minute mark) to ensure engagement.
  2. Lead with the opportunity for the VC—not the dreaded ‘About Us’ or ‘Market Share’ slides. Why should they invest—what’s in it for them?
  3. Plan on bringing your product to life with visuals, screen shots, maybe a mini demo.
  4. After you’ve established that the market opportunity is Trumpian “yuge”, keep the detailed market metrics in the appendix.

For more insights into the “pitch and ask”, take a look at The Ultimate Startup Guide, available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and more. And here’s a review of our book that appeared last month in Inc.

 

Posted On February 27th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

No-nonsense tradeshow tips for every startup team

If you’re a startup planning to devote some of your precious marketing budget (and human resources) to a tradeshow, we offer these tips:

  1. Make sure the booth team knows the business goals. It sounds so basic, but if your goals for the tradeshow include a specific # of leads per day or a specific # of demos or off-floor briefings, make sure the entire team knows precisely what the goals are so that all of their efforts and time can be dedicated accordingly. (And let them know you expect them to report on their results to the entire company upon their return! No pressure….)
  1. Better to go to a tradeshow to speak at. Whether it’s a keynote address, a breakout session or participation in a panel discussion, plan ahead to leverage the speaker tracks at a show to demonstrate your authority. And repurpose that speaker content from the show: a blog post, an annotated PPT on Slideshare, perhaps a recording of your talk.
  1. Script the booth staff. The team you’re sending will probably include a mix of veterans and newbies. It’s not uncommon for a startup to have to pull engineers away from their computers to staff a show. Therefore, invest in training your team on what the key messages are to enable each and every person staffing your booth, regardless of their title, to stick to the script of what your product or service does and why the customer should care. A team delivering a consistent message can help build the image of a professional organization and brand.
  1. Run your own event. In addition to staffing your booth during show hours, are you having off-floor meetings with customers? Partners? Media? Analysts? Is there an invitation-only customer dinner? Have you dedicated staff to track the conversations on social media during the show, so you can join the conversation? Engaged teams can respond to opportunities on Twitter during the show and create opportunities on the fly for private demos, exec meetings, etc.
  1. Trade leads with other exhibitors, especially complementary vendors or partners. An experienced tradeshow captain who is connected, can swap leads with another non-competitive exhibitor at the show. The swap may not double the leads you come home with, but it could significantly increase the leads you collect for nurturing, post-show.
  1. Sleuth out the competition. Make sure your tradeshow team has scouted the competitors during the show and has a plan to bring home valuable information about the competitors’ messages, materials, claims, demos, etc.
  1. Celebrate your returning team. When your tradeshow team returns, give them the spotlight to report on their results as well as their insights into customer concerns, and strategies employed by the competition, etc.
  1. Can you leverage a show without a booth? Yes, you can! There are shows that lend themselves to lots of off-floor briefings, meetings with the media and with partners. All it takes is planning. And if you’re sending a team to a show that your company is not exhibiting at, they should still have goals to meet and report on to the company.
  1. Have a response plan in place before the show starts. Do you have a follow up plan to nurture leads from the show? Is there content from the show to incorporate in the email response, post show? Perhaps there’s a blog post on the top questions from customers? Or the results of a survey conducted in the booth?
  1. Measure, measure, measure. Just because you went to the show last year doesn’t mean you should go again this year. Shows can have a high program and human cost. Startups have to be ruthless about measuring the ROI on tradeshows to ensure they really make sense in your marketing program mix.

Posted On February 22nd, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Two-word descriptions you’ve probably never heard before

Barista robots: an automated coffee shop called CafeX in San Francisco (of course) is now using robots as baristas.

Artisanal infographics: the always popular, chart- and icon-heavy infographic is a popular marketing tools for brands around the globe. But instead of using data visualization tools or highend graphic design software to create them, some designers are pursuing the hand-crafted look. In other words, don’t throw out that napkin that captured your original genius. It might just work as an “artisanal infographic”

Live chilling: the new way to hang out for the so-called Generation Z, ages early teens to early 20’s, is using live chat applications (Facebook Messenger, etc.) to communicate with a group of friends without ever leaving the house.

Posted On February 7th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

When should your startup focus on diversity?

When should your startup focus on diversity?

How much should diversity figure into any startup’s mindset and business plan? This used to be a conundrum for founders and their backers: on the one hand, they could, to borrow from Spike Lee, ‘do the right thing’. On the other hand, they’re in business—and they’re now not just beholden to friends and families but to the VCs who just bankrolled their startup.

But whether the above conundrum was real or imagined, it’s in the past. Studies tell us that diversity is good business. It turns out that doing the right thing literally pays off because businesses with diverse teams make better decisions, according to survey data. Not only do diverse teams lead to better decisions and greater success, but companies that put women in leadership positions are more profitable. Why? Because different backgrounds and ways of thinking lead to better outcomes. Women and people of color bring different ways of thinking that improve problem-solving which can foster an environment where new ideas can prevail.

Diversity doesn’t just happen. It takes planning as well as a certain pragmatism. Which is part of the reason why we see established companies like Salesforce, Apple, Google and Facebook, and now private companies like Slack, publishing their “diversity stats”.

But how can founders of an early-stage company make diversity a reality when they are hanging on for dear life and trying to overcome the 75% mortality rate of startups?

The answer is it starts with the definition of diversity. “Diversity” these days is focused almost exclusively on gender. Which is how it should be, given how much talent has sat on the sidelines as the Nerds sat in their technology tree houses that had everything except a ‘No Girlz Aloud’ sign on it. But, for a company to be truly diverse—and to leverage that diversity into success—a broader definition (and a sequence of phases) to building diversity is required.

Phase one: A diversity of founders

The vast majority of founders of tech companies are engineers—not the most social or outgoing group on the planet. As one of our founders remarked: “How can you tell if an engineer is an extrovert? He’s the one who looks at your shoes, rather than his own, when he talks to you.”

As founders look to their core team—and VCs look to fund them—our strong advice is that there needs to be an outward-facing person (generally in the CEO role) and an inward-facing person (usually the CTO or product architect.) This diversity and complement of talents and focus is essential to early success for a startup.

Phase two: expand your core founding team with misfits and oddballs

If your startup is funded at the seed-round or Series A stage (or even bootstrapped like an early Atlassian), the goal of building a team that’s ethnically and gender-diverse should really be a longer-term goal, like profitability. In the early days, startup founders should seek out misfits and oddballs. It’s a given that your startup will struggle in the talent wars against companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook that can offer richer compensation packages. So in the beginning, early-stage startups should think about seeking out candidates who “think outside the box” (and are risk takers on compensation) to bring a diversity of thinking to the team, regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

One of the nouveau practices among corporate HR policies today is the idea of blind hiring. The effort to diminish the influence of a job applicant’s resume and to focus instead on their talents is in vogue to try to rule out bias and to foster more diversity in hiring. We would go a step further and recommend that startups seek out candidates with non-traditional career tracks who attended non-elite schools as well as job applicants with quirky personalities. To advance your disruptive solutions, a few disruptive-thinking employees (especially in the beginning stages) might just help you retain the new and creative thinking you need to achieve your goals.

Phase three: institute “the Rooney Rule” after the second year of life. Once you have (1) hired your founding team; (2) put your product in the hands of early customers, and (3) focused your team on customer development, re-think who you want at a manager level in your company. Now is the time to focus on building gender and ethnic diversity, not before. To support that goal, mandate that every short list of finalists for a position that manages a team include female candidates and candidates of color, aka The Rooney Rule. Be like Slack and make it an HR policy.

Part of phase three includes seeking out an equal blend of experienced employees and newbies. The only way to ensure you have a team that knows how to build and manage an operation at scale is to hire employees that can bring first-hand experience of best practices and processes at a large company. For many startups, this is an aspect of diversity not to be overlooked. In other words, startup experience is great, but if that’s the only experience a candidate brings, pass.

Decide up front who gets to be work remotely and who must be on site. To state the obvious, making your “virtual” policy explicitly in the beginning will help your team vet the right people for the right roles (which is part of building a successful and diverse team.)

Phase four: celebrate diverse cultures to make “going global” an early reality. Startups like Snowflake Computing (Sutter Hill, Redpoint) and Sumo Logic (Greylock, Sutter Hill) were founded by immigrants who, from day one, embraced their collective heritage of different cultures and ethnicities. The founders and their early hires reinforced diversity by sharing their own cultures and histories at internal company celebrations, office décor and even in company blogs.

Posted On January 30th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

We use new words, the best words in Silicon Valley

The frightful five: That’s the behemoth tech giants that dominate globally: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Alphabet (Google) and Microsoft.Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 6.32.53 PM

Mini-IPO: When a hot robot startup raised a small amount of money, and from an uncommon source, it was called a mini IPO.

“The Pipeline Effect” When companies put women on boards, more women make it into leadership roles at that company.

Phygital: a blend of physical and digital marketing has been dubbed “phygital” and (puhleeze) let’s see if this one sticks.

“The adjacent possible” A new mathematical model that describes how innovation arises is described in an article published January 13, 2017 in The Technology Review as “The adjacent possible is all those things—ideas, words, songs, molecules, genomes, technologies and so on—that are one step away from what actually exists. It connects the actual realization of a particular phenomenon and the space of unexplored possibilities.”

 

Posted On January 24th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Walking in Another’s Shoes: Sales/Marketing Integration

Sales and Marketing may not be from Mars and Venus—or descended from the Hatfield and McCoys—but they aren’t natural allies, either. Sales carries the burden of a quota, screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-7-22-38-pmand when that quota isn’t attained, Sales will sometimes look for someone to blame. Maybe it’s the product (we’ve over-promised performance, ease of use or implementation, or we’ve mistakenly omitted key features), but more often it’s Marketing (our messaging is wrong; our claims are unsupported on the website; we don’t have enough leads—and the ones we do have are for shit).Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 5.27.57 PM

Without sounding too much like Dr. Phil, the solution to this gap is ‘empathy.’ And the CEO has to steer Marketing towards being the one to take the first step in building an integrated sales and marketing plan. An easy first step is to have every person in Marketing listen in on an Inside Sales call. Or better yet, move their desk to the middle of the Inside Sales bullpen so that they can let these calls wash over them, even if they’re only hearing half of the conversation. And, when geography and budgets permit, have everyone in the company—nerds included—go out on a sales call.

Insist Upon Weekly Sales & Marketing Meetings

The next step is organizational: have someone from Marketing sit in on the weekly Sales meetings. Or better yet, have a regular meeting between the Sales and Marketing principals, with representatives from the lower ranks of each department participating and presenting (and listening) where appropriate. Make the content of that meeting both qualitative and quantitative. What can Sales report, fresh from their latest customer interactions and pitches, and what does the data-driven Marketing team report?

Once Marketing takes the initiative, it’s up to Sales to reciprocate. Sales needs to recognize how important, for example, reference accounts are—for the website, for PR (you can’t do a launch without customers that the press and analysts can contact) and for sales collateral (case studies). And if referenceable accounts aren’t part of a sales person’s quota and goals, they should be.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 9.04.47 PMMeasuring the Cost of Customer Acquisition

Thanks to digital marketing systems like marketing automation tools, CRM, as well as a myriad of website tracking tools that help measure conversions of inbound traffic to your website , Marketing can now see both the quality of the leads it generates and what Sales is doing with them. This kind of collaboration between Marketing and Sales, fostered and modeled by the CEO, will enable your startup to answer the essential question: “what is the customer acquisition cost?”

Understanding Marketing Contribution to Sales

We’ve never met a startup that has modeled Marketing contribution to Sales. Startup CEOs will say instead that they want their Sales team to be much more productive, and that they want those productivity gains to be derived in part by having the right marketing programs and content to build market awareness for their company and customer preference for their solution.

Does all of this mean that the lion will suddenly lie down with the lamb? Nope. But it gives each party a solid understanding of the other’s jobs and pressures, which is a great start.

Posted On January 17th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Delegation: a much-needed startup CEO skill

Most startup CEOs are like those guys you know who built their own house: they have a wide range of impressive skills and an accompanying high level of confidence. screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-9-37-22-pmWhich can make them great founders and lousy leaders at the same time.

One of the hardest skills for a startup CEO to acquire is the ability to delegate. And it’s understandable why it’s problematic. When it’s your company and you’ve done everything at the start—perhaps including writing the initial website—it’s tough to watch someone with less knowledge about the company or technology try to do something that you could do more quickly, and probably, better.

But the inability to delegate is a one-way ticket to dual destinations: failure (for your company) and the fun house (for you). The key is: how to learn to delegate without seeing your product or company degrade during the process.

Applying “Successive Approximation” as a Training Tactic

The key is the old psychology term: ‘successive approximation’. If it’s a task that can be shared, do it the first time with your successor. Then do a little less the next time and the time after that, until the little bird can fly on its own. If it can’t be shared, then monitor it more tightly (daily, if necessary) so that it doesn’t get too far off track.

Many startups with a great idea or early market success stall out because of their inability to scale. Sometimes it’s the product/technology that can’t scale—or the ability of Sales and Product to support wider success. But just as often, it can be due to the inability of your talent to scale. Which means you never learned that most critical management skill: delegation