10/9/21

The Three Year Itch, The Second Scale

If you are a startup that has survived for three years, have a substantial gross revenue, are EBITDA positive, are GAAP earnings profitable, and have an attractive annual growth rate — CONGRATULATIONS.

You are a top 1-5% startup company and now you face the Three Year Itch or the Second Scale issue.

The problem is this —

 1. You are as busy as a one legged man in an ass kicking contest. Everybody is working their butt off. You can feel the effort in the air. Taste it. You are proud, but exhausted.

 2. Noting the above, you feel the need to add hands and person hours to the organization — maybe, just to relieve the perceived burden currently. Belay that thought.

In your exhaustion, you are struggling to figure out how. Perfectly normal, sorry.

 3. You want to grow — double in sales in the next 2-3 years [in my mind, you are in the $10MM range headed to $25MM in Year 3 of the New Plan (meaning Year 6 from founding)].

 4. You are clearly a powerful entrepreneur, but you have no idea how to handle the next three years — you had no idea how to form a company and take it to market, but you seem to have knocked it out of the park, so do not fret.

 5. You are going to do this thing. Why not do it under control? Continue reading

01/4/21

The $10MM Gross Revenue Reality Check

If you are a startup, I hope one day soon you get to $10,000,000 in gross revenue. If you do, I have some thoughts for you.

A caveat first — there are a great number of exceptions to what I am going to share with you, so do not fall prey to missing the difference of your situation or embracing every word I say, but there are reasons big and small as to why I hold these views.

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12/30/20

Rebuilding Your Website

If you are a successful web based business there is a phenomenon that occurs with regularity at the end of your second year of operations — the necessity to rebuild your website from the ground up.

If you are not successful, you are out of business by then. Sorry.

You wake up and realize the following:

 1. In your rush to launch back two years ago, you did not have the opportunity to develop a website as good as you wanted.

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03/9/20

CEO Shoptalk — Staffing

The subject of how companies staff their businesses, manage their employees, and administer the employer-employee relationship has been lingering in my mind for some considerable time. Today, I will try to put some order to it. Staffing.

At the core of every business is people. It starts with the founder(s) and then grows. A company cannot grow without being a capable employer, but little is said as to the system by which that happens.

Allow me to jump ahead. Assume:

 1. You are a founder/CEO who now has some semblance of a product, are struggling with product-market fit, have raised a bit of capital, and will have to hire people to drive and scale the business.

 2. Assume, in the alternative, you are a founder/CEO who has more than 50 employees, plenty of money in the bank, have achieved product-market fit, have 1,000 customers, and are now ready to really scale.

I use these two examples because I hope the logic is universal.

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11/24/19

CEO Shoptalk — Balance, Intensity

Lovely sunny day in the ATX. Ahh, on Earth as it is in Texas!

As a young, first time CEO, you may hear a lot about work-life balance. It is a worthy subject and suggests that there is some balance beam wherein work sits calmly on the left and life sits serenely on the right and it is your job to find the delicate balance between these two extremes, or, worse still, to create that balance. Good luck with that.

To which notion your Big Red Car says: Poppycock!

First, go look at my qualifier — “. . . young, first time CEO.” I am talking to you and not the serial 5X entrepreneur, who not only can achieve such balance in his/her life, but can teach the subject.

I am speaking to you if you are that young, first time CEO — slightly confused by the novelty of it all, a bit perplexed by the complexity, willing to work your way out of a jam, and with a fire in your belly that can weld titanium.

For you, go all in. Take the leap. Burn the boats. Get the tattoo. Feed the monster. Just do it.

The intensity that a young person — let’s say 22-35 — brings to an entrepreneurial, startup endeavor is similar to what I experienced in the Army upon graduation from Virginia Military Institute last century.

The last vestiges of the Vietnam War were still about (the US Embassy in Saigon would be stormed and taken in early May 1975). It was a time in which the Army was working 24/7/365 and nobody was feeling sorry for themselves or complaining. It was what was done.

Similarly, I want to urge you as a young, first time CEO to operate on a equivalent war time footing.

There are a few caveats:

 1. Exercise regularly to counter the stress.

 2. Eat right. Eat well. Drive your energy from your food.

 3. Get a physical and adhere to the doctor’s admonitions. Tell him you are an entrepreneur and that you are working some incredible hours. [Maybe he will want to invest some of his healthcare bonanza in your fledgling startup. JK]

 4. Have a written plan. Please have a written Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values, and be receptive to developing a Culture.

A written plan ensures that you strike a square blow on the nail that is your business. An angled blow, a disorganized blow — bends the nail, requires remedial work, and results in a weakened nail when next you get ready to strike it. For all that is good and holy, have a written plan.

 5. Take regular cleansing vacations — not to Bali — wherein you disconnect from everything digital. Do it for at last 2 days, twice a year.

 6. Celebrate your birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and those of your parents. If you have a beloved, then get them in the mix.

 7. Go to church and learn to pray. This will turn out to be very soothing and calming. It is a skill, like learning to code.

 8. Get a CEO coach, a mentor, a gray haired eminence. This is a relief valve, and it is always helpful to have someone tell you, “Sorry, that’s normal” when the butterflies turn to condors and try to claw their way out of your acid pool of a stomach on THOSE days. Sorry. It is normal.

 9. Spend ten minutes a day writing in a diary. This will document something very important — the journey. You will look back after a year and say, “Holy smokes was I that freakin’ naive. Did I really get that much stuff done?”

If you will only do those nine things, then you can work like a whirling dervish and say, “Work balance, be damned!”

You can’t do it forever, but you can while you’re young and a first time CEO. While you’re learning your craft.

Then, guess what? You learn your craft, you become an experienced CEO and the world is all milk and honey. Unfortunately, you turn out to be lactose intolerant and it never really gets “easy” but you learn to do it.

Be well, amigo.

But, hey,  what the Hell do I really known anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Have a great week.

10/8/19

Chaos >>> Order

If you are a founder, entrepreneur, startup CEO then you are familiar with the notion of transforming chaos into order. [OK, let me say — “I hope you are.” However, we both know it is not as well ingrained as we might hope.]

If you are an “aspirin” startup — meaning the raison d’etre of your love child is to reduce the pain of mankind, the chaos is the pain and the order is the pain free — or lessened pain — environment that results thereafter.

If you are a “vitamin” startup — meaning the raison d’etre of your little bastard is to improve the quality of life, the chaos is the inferior quality of the before and the order is the higher quality plane of the after.

There is a decided “before” v “after” transformation.

Bit extreme, but it makes my point. Guy lost a lot of weight? What a magical transformation. I imagine he feels a lot better. Took those bad eating habits and created some order, no?

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08/18/19

CEO Shoptalk — The Founder’s Tale

In the life of the successful startup is a slightly disorganized story of its founding. It is a powerful story. It provides a keen insight into the who, what, when, why, where, how of the company. It is a story of creation. Only one person can tell it with an authentic voice.

It is a tale told best by the founder, hence the name: The Founder’s Tale.

It is a story that is the glue that binds people to the company and makes them want to follow the leadership. If you want to lead a pride of lions, then you have to tell the story of how you formed a pride.

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07/12/19

CEO Shoptalk — The List of Horribles

Nice day in the ATX. Nice day to talk about the List or Horribles.

The List of Horribles is something which a CEO of a startup or small business WILL encounter along the way to the finish line (pay window). These things — not all, but some — will happen.

“Come on, Big Red Car, really?” you say in that skeptical voice of yours, the one your mom used to call your “whiny” voice.

“Yes, dear reader, dear CEO, many of them will happen.”

Here is you (female CEO?) dealing with the List of Horribles. The guy with the helmet head is a Venture Capitalist finalizing the negotiations of a down round.

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