12/14/19

Team Performance — The Multiplier Effect

The board of directors and the investors in a company rarely get an opportunity to see a team function as a system, as a whole. They may become familiar with certain subsets of the team when they are in contact with the leadership and the management, but they rarely see the entire team working together and rarely without the team knowing they are watching.

When I work with a CEO, I sometimes get a chance to be a voyeur and watch the team functioning without the team being aware of my presence. This opportunity provides a keen and unique insight.

Today, I had such an opportunity. In this instance, I came away bowled over by the quality of the performance.

Here is what I observed:

 1. As a complete process, the team operated at a high level of performance. They were demonstrably better than peer organizations.

 2. The team was visibly interdependent and worked with each other. Clearly, this was neither novel nor unique to this day.

 3. Looking at the individual team members, I would not have thought them remarkable, but as I watched them several things jumped out:

 a. The team, at the individual level, was sympatico and had a native desire to work together.

 b. Whoever had hired this team had done a fabulous job. I spent some time watching individual team members and across the board they were performers.

 c. The team work was neither forced nor snarky. It was genuine and natural.

So, I spoke to the manager of the unit and we had a very nice chat. I quizzed him as to his hiring practices.

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12/6/19

Field Expedient

As the CEO/Founder of a startup, you will develop practices that you know work. Many times, these practices will not be perfectly “normal.” They will reflect your own personal style or they will be things that you just know work.

These are what I call field expedients.

Back in the day, when I was a combat engineer officer overseas, I had a damn good sergeant who worked for me. We were blowing up old fortifications in South Korea just south of the DMZ. When we demolished them, we cut all the rebar with cutting torches, removed the concrete pieces with dozers, dug a big hole, and buried the detritus (reinforced concrete). I used to recover all the steel and send it down to Seoul.

Then, we rebuilt them — often in slightly different locations and to a substantially higher structural strength — to withstand then modern artillery.

Here’s a picture of what it looks like when 100 lbs of C4 is exploded underneath a shallow bridge abutment. The bridge abutment was in the way of our river crossing site if we had to attack into North Korea. So, me and another sergeant used scuba gear and wedged 100 lbs of C4 under it and voila!

Blasting Out Old Bridge Column

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10/25/19

Ownership v Stewardship For The CEO Class

Stewardship — huh?

It is cold in the ATX this morning — 48F, but it will be 62F this afternoon and 82F on Saturday. I may lay off the sunscreen today, but back on it on Saturday.

So, about a year and a half ago, I’m speaking with a recently exited CEO who is in that special place that drives the question, “What’s next? Is there a second act?”

Luckily for him, this question of a second actship (see what I did right there, made that word up) is not really a pressing issue as the financial outcome provides breathing room for a couple of centuries — maybe a millenium — at his current burn rate.

So, we get to discussing, “What did you really learn? What do you leave with other than money?”

We get into the discussion of ownership v stewardship.

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10/21/19

CEO Shoptalk — Trust, A Deliverable Commodity

One of those days in the ATX when you know things are going to be alright — not a cloud in the sky, Pantone blue [Pantone PMS Process Blue C/#0085ca].

So, a CEO is talking to me about trust in a global sense. We define it thusly: Trust is the reliance upon the integrity, strength, surety of a person or a thing thereby engendering confidence.

Seems to fit the bill. From a business perspective, it is one of those things that you want, but how do you manage it?

So, he says, “To get this conversation started tell me some things or people you trust.” To which I reply thusly.

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10/9/19

Bridging the Gap — Using Analytics

What do you — CEO of a company — do when you have gaps of information that cannot be bridged by analytics or anecdotal information?

Other day I am chatting with a CEO about the performance of his marketing and the quality of feedback they were getting from anecdotal information (call reports) and the traffic analytics on their website.

This particular CEO had encountered an AHA moment when they reconfigured their website to go from offering their software in the continuum of Freemium, Bronze, Silver, Gold to the opposite.

By this I mean he had gone from the least expensive/least capable package to the most expensive/most capable price to the opposite order.

OK, one more time. He went from:

Freemium – Bronze – Silver – Gold (least expensive, least capable to most expensive, most capable)

to

Gold – Silver – Bronze – Freemium. (most expensive, most capable to least expensive, least capable).

The results were staggering. He was suddenly hitting substantially higher rates of interest and sales. There is a story for another day as to how that came to be. [Do not do the same thing. There is a reason why this worked in this particular SaaS situation.]

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10/4/19

Product Positioning — May I Please Have A Hard Seltzer?

Somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind is a thought trying to break its way into your consciousness — it is repeating a mantra: Product, Price, Placement, Promotion — maybe joined by: Positioning, People, Packaging. A lot of P’s.

Image it like a Gregorian Chant coming at you like a throbbing headache.

Do you recognize the basics of marketing? Yes you do.

Product

Packaging

Price

People

Placement

Positioning

Promotion

Could there be some overlap in these subjects? Sure, but work with me on this.

Today, we talk about the positioning of a relatively new product — hard seltzer.

Hard seltzer is an emerging product with $295MM in sales last year. It is not yet an important slice of the beer, wine, and spirits market, but it suggests, and illuminates an interesting phenomenon.

You have to position your product for the audience you want to attract and appeal to. Getting out in front of the competition in an emerging market is always a big of all right, no?

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09/27/19

CEO Shoptalk — Confidence: Expecting To Win

The other day I read some screed that attempted to describe confidence in a ham-handed and poorly written manner. Reading it felt like an intellectual barbed wire enema, but it did make me think about the subject.

Tom Brady, quarterback of the National Football League New England Patriots, expects to win every time he steps on the football field.

Not only does HE expect to win, but those who play with him, the coaching staff of the team (led by Head Coach Bill Belichick), the sports punditry, the fans, and maybe the opposition — also expect him to win.

He brings that magic bit of confidence that creates this mojo — expecting to win. He has played in nine Super Bowls and has emerged with a ring from six of them.

Stop for a second: Do YOU expect to win as a CEO? Do you?

Tom Brady doesn’t expect to win only on the football field; he expects to win in life, at everything.

This doesn’t happen by accident.

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09/14/19

CEO Shoptalk — Fragility

In the early days of a startup, when you are running on pure adrenalin, co-founders are in constant contact. Every new development is shared completely, you are likely to be in close physical proximity, and the novelty of it all creates a glue that binds the co-founders together thereby provoking a level of communication that ensures the founding team is fully informed.

At the beginning you are giddy with communication.

This chaotic time builds trust and generates confidence. It is a heady and energetic time. It is the camaraderie that soldiers create on the battlefield. Co-founders are at war against the market, so that comparison is not a great leap.

But, then the company raises money or gets traction or screams, “We have product-market fit, y’all!” and the closeness that was there at the crib side of the new baby begins to change.

Roles are more distinct, there are spheres of responsibility, employees are hired, parts of jobs are delegated, board members begin to deploy their wisdom, and the pace begins to quicken.

The ability for the co-founders to attain full communication and full knowledge of what is going on is tested by the actual progress.

It is at this junction in time — almost verifiable by a watch — that the strength of a co-founding team is tested.

And, the test is this — Is the organization robust (as it relates to co-founder communication) or is it fragile?

The answer, dear reader, 104% of the time is that the relationship is hopelessly fragile. It is the normal state of affairs because it requires specific work, organization, and that most precious of all commodities in the universe — time, to beat the fragility out of your fledgling company.

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