# Thursday, April 14, 2016

You need more than hope and good intentions if your startup relies on viral growth. You need data and metrics to drive decision making.

Going viral isn’t an exact science, but data plays an important role in gauging how successful your customer acquisition efforts will be. Focus on the virality coefficient before all other metrics. It shows the impact of each product choice on growth. The formula, developed by David Skok, illustrates how each new feature impacts your customer base.



 

Virality-dependent businesses need to craft their strategy, and every decision they make, around the virality coefficient to be successful..

Otherwise, you’ll sound like these businesses.


(Not) Finding Growth

 

A number of companies have pitched me by saying they will “go viral” and attract users when it’s obvious that they have no believable plans to make it a reality. Many don’t even have share buttons on their apps!

One company made it so difficult to share their app with others that I never used it again. That’s a virality coefficient of -1. Clearly, their focus wandered.

Let me explain what that means.

 

The Virality Coefficient Explained

 

There are four variables used to determine the virality coefficient:

 

  • Initial customers (custs)

  • Number of invites sent out (i)

  • The Conversation rate of customers (conv%)

  • The number of days it takes to complete a full Viral Cycle (ct)

Combine these factors to calculate it using this spreadsheet.

 

Virality in Action

 

Let’s say you have ten users and send them ten invites each (100 total invites). With a 20% conversion rate, you’ll finish with a total of 30 customers after the first campaign. Using the sheet I linked to previously, that gives you a virality coefficient of two. Invites * the conversion rate or rather 100 * .2 = 2.

For the next campaign, send out 10 invites to the 20 new users (200 total invites). Assuming there’s no churn or change in the virality coefficient, a 20% conversion rate will bring in 40 new users for a total of 70 users.

Look at the below chart to see just how much of impact each campaign can have. Due to its compounding effects, even small changes in your virality coefficient will have massive impacts on your business.


 

Cycle 1

Cycle 2

Cycle 3

Cycle 4

Cycle 5

Cycle 6

Cycle 7

Cycle 8

Cycle 9

Cycle 10

Starting Customers

10

30

70

150

310

630

1,270

2,550

5,110

10,230

Invites Sent

100

200

400

800

1,600

3,200

6,400

12,800

25,600

51,200

Conversions to New Customers

20

40

80

160

320

640

1,280

2,560

5,120

10,240

Total Customers

30

70

150

310

630

1,270

2,550

5,110

10,230

20,470

There needs to be a coefficient of at least one for there to be growth. Anything less means you’re churning customers.

 

Crafting a Plan

 

To determine which feature to develop in your product backlog, sort the features based on the predicted increase in the virality coefficient. The backlog should look something like this chart.

 

Feature

Increase of Virality

Share Button

2

Social Login

1.8

Cool Feature

1.5

Photo Sharing

1.4

Logout

1


You need a virality business plan to map out exactly how you’re going to acquire new customers. The plan should determine what features to prioritize, what incentives there are for users to share, and what level of engagement you want to focus on. Don’t forget to determine which promotion channels to use too.

Determining what makes user acquisition work might seem like an art, but using the virality coefficient can change that. Use your data to drive the decision-making process. Even a small increase could mean (hundreds of) thousands of new customers over time.

posted on Thursday, April 14, 2016 5:03:21 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Going on a trip to Silicon Valley with your MBA program or government incubator? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that those weeklong Silicon Valley immersion programs are anything other than startup tourism. Spending a week visiting Facebook and Uber and attending talks and events, while interesting and potentially educational, will not teach you what it's like to build a startup.

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Sure, you might make some connections and come closer to figuring out what you really want to do for a living. But if you really want to benefit from a trip to Silicon Valley, you are better off reaching out to one of the several early-stage startups here and asking whether you can intern for a few weeks.

You’ll Understand How Startups Work


While immersion programs are designed to introduce you to the world of startups, they don’t go far enough when it comes to actually shining a light on the intricacies of Silicon Valley. Sure you can see the free food at Twitter, swimming pool at Google, and the hiking trail at Facebook, but that is like visiting Disneyland and thinking it is reality.


By reaching out to a startup instead and interning there, you will develop real relationships and potentially kickstart a career. You will understand how startups work behind the scenes, and you’ll be influenced by their way of doing business. Actual work experience is going to look a lot better on your résumé than spending a week hardly scratching the surface of the startup world.


Think of it like studying abroad. There are two ways to go about it. One is to study at a university where the classes are taught in English, you have no homework, and you can hop around to a bunch of different countries every weekend. You get a broad overview of another culture, but no lasting and profound understanding of it.


On the other hand, you could spend a year in another country, live with a host family, and learn the language. You’ll struggle and it will be challenging, but in the end you’ll have an in-depth understanding of that culture, and how it differs from yours. At the end, you’ll belong to two cultures, rather than just one.


It’s up to you, but I’d take the latter experience over the former any day.

You’ll Gain Unique Insights


When you attend a weeklong immersion program, you’ll get a light taste of what you could expect should you move to Silicon Valley at some point in the future.


But by interning with a company out there—and living and working in the environment itself—you’ll gain unique insights that you can’t get anywhere else. You need to experience them on your own, organically.

How to Find Startups to Work For


You might be wondering how you can actually get hired? Maybe you don’t have startup experience yet. Maybe you’re a developer who wants to work for Google, but you’ve only been coding for a year and you just don’t have the necessary expertise.


Head on over toAngelList, the best place to learn about which companies are hiring out in Silicon Valley. AngelList connects startups with jobseekers interested in working for them. The site provides you a clear view as to what you can expect should you land a gig (e.g., salary and equity is disclosed up front).


The best part? By sending out one application, you can apply to over 40,000 jobs in one fell swoop. Talk about efficiency.

How to Get a Startup to Hire You


Don’t think any startups will take you? Don’t be so hard on yourself.


Pitch attractive would-be employers a short project that utilizes your skills. For example, if you’re a communications major, offer to come in for two weeks to consult and intern with them for free, in exchange for a reference. Most startups don’t have any communications or PR plan, and are happy to take free labor.


Are you a political science major? Offer to come and do an analysis on the effects new policy or the upcoming elections will have on them. Think no startups care about this? Just ask Uber what they think.


If you don’t have any “practical” skills whatsoever? Offer to clean the coffee machines and work your way up.

Maximize Your Trip to Silicon Valley


Those weeklong programs aren’t the worst thing in the world. I’ve even hosted them before at my office in Palo Alto. But the payoff is much higher if you actually immerse yourself in the experience for an extended amount of time.


Remember, if you’re part of one of these programs, your trip doesn’t have to end once a week is up. Stay a little bit longer. You won’t regret it.

 

posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 10:58:37 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Wednesday, March 2, 2016

In the early days of your startup, you might have heard you should have a hacker, a hustler, and a hipster on the founding team. That makes a lot of sense in the initial stages of your company due to the experimental nature of the business. Remember what Steve Blank says: a startup is not a “real” business but rather “an experiment searching for a business model.”

Once you start to move out of the coffee shop and build your initial team, you’ll have to make some careful hiring decisions. I’ve seen founders hiring for new “formal” positions right out of the gate when all they need are operators to validate the business and find product market fit. Instead of finding your next VP of whatever or Chief whatever Officer, you should have no titles until you have paying customers and a product market fit.

I advise all the founding team to call themselves “product” on slide decks and email signature (if you do that sort of thing). Early stage team members should not be going to conferences and don’t need business cards, so the title doesn’t matter.

Here are a few other ways to manage the early stage hiring processes, and run your startup more effectively.

Maintain Equilibrium

Last year, I wrote a piece called “The Holy Trinity of Product Development.” I argued that it’s important to maintain balance in a company. Often, a startup’s first hires (besides the founders), tend to skew either to the technology side (we need 5 developers!), or the marketing side.

Generally, if the founding team is more marketing-minded, they overhire engineers, and vice-versa. Instead, a company should be customer-centric. To achieve this “holy grail,” the company needs both technology and marketing expertise.

Be Well-Rounded

In another article, “Why CTOs Should Know Accounting,” I suggested that CTOs also need to understand the business side of your company. It’s important for all of the high-level employees in a company to be able to converse with the rest of the employees.

Just like the CEO of a company should be able to at least pronounce the word “kanban,” (con-ban not can-ban) and know the difference between Java and JavaScript, a CTO should be relatively familiar with balance sheets, income and cash flow, annual statements, and budgets.

How to Hire

I’d argue that it’s better not to even bother with interviews. Rather, have coffee first. Discuss why they want to work at such an early stage company and review their skills there.


If that goes well, then have the potential employee give a presentation to the entire team. It can be on any topic (Was “The Force Awakens a remake or not?” is a perfect choice), and it gives the team a feel for the candidate’s analytical skills, seriousness about the position, and ability to do something different, while it also provides a unique experience for the candidate.


If the person is successful on their hiring presentation, I’d suggest the “can we have a beer with them” final check. This one’s really complicated – take them out for a beer with the team (or another social engagement if team members don’t drink). Get to know them on a personal level. When companies scale to be over 25 people, it is much harder to do this with the whole company, but each functional area (marketing/sales, tech, backoffice) can do it with their group and a select few members from other functional groups to join.

Avoid Founder Disputes

Early stage companies sometimes have no cash and bring on someone as a “co-founder” with little to no pay. It’s also crucial that you do your best to avoid founder disputes. I wrote a piece on this called “Dynamic Founder Agreements,” but I’ll give you a short summary. I described this agreement like a typical IF/THEN/ELSE.

IF:

The CTO works full-time and performs all of coding and technical duties of V1, his equity is 50% vestedover 4 years, 1 year cliff.

ELSEIF:


The CTO works part time, is disengaged, or we need to hire developers sooner than expected, his vested equity is reduced by half and he forfeits his unvested equity. Loses board seat.


ENDIF:


The CTO has to leave the company because he needs a job or a family emergency:  if the CTO built V1 then the buyout is a one time payout of $50,000 USD cash or 2% vested equity, if the CTO did not build V1, the buyout is 0.5% vested equity. Loses board seat.


While you might not avoid all disputes, this agreement will go a long way.

Hiring for Bigger Companies

Once your company grows and matures, deliberately hire slow. "Scale" and "move fast" does not mean "hire crazy fast." Rather, hire for a role only when it is obvious the company is suffering without it.


There is a Silicon Valley secret that dictates that “you make a decision to join a company ONLY if they are resource-constrained. Once they have enough people, time to move on.” The idea behind this secret is that creativity needs constraints. Translation: if your plan calls for ten people, see what you can do with five.


Use these tips when building out your initial team. Don’t fall into the hiring trap.


posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 12:30:27 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Saturday, January 30, 2016

There has been an explosion of hardware startups over the past few years led by the Maker Movement and startup programs like Hax (where I’m an advisor). I’ve seen and worked with well over 100 hardware companies in the past five years. In that time, I have observed that hardware startups think differently than software startups. They shouldn’t. All hardware companies are software companies. The sooner they realize it, the sooner they’ll become successful.


Photo by flickr user chefranden


Look at today’s most successful hardware companies. Apple and Tesla build amazing, innovative hardware. And at its heart, a Tesla is an iPad on wheels.

It’s okay if you don’t believe me. But I just upgraded to version 7.1 of their software, which includes self-parking and summon features. It means my car self-drives in parking lots. It’s not even software in disguise. It’s just software. They didn’t send me any new hardware, just an update over WiFi.

Software isn’t Second Priority

It’s tied for first. Obviously a hardware company needs an amazing design and has to worry about manufacturing. The economics of a hardware startup are different. But a great hardware solution needs great software.

If you were going to build the connected camera (as if your iPhone didn’t suffice), designing and engineering a perfect, beautiful camera wouldn’t be enough. People want to frame their pictures, or share them online. Your camera has to have a user-friendly social element or you’ve missed the boat. And if you don’t want to design your own social software, it needs to integrate deeply with Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

People, including me, are spoiled. We expect a great software experience wherever we go. If you’re building an IoT product, it’s not enough to connect something to the internet. Users need utility from your software too.


Software can never be an afterthought.


This area is where hardware companies miss out. If they don’t prioritize software, they’ll be unsuccessful. I saw this happen with a company in the pet space. After their successful Kickstarter campaign, they delivered an awesome hardware solution with so-so software. Once they upgraded their software and then built an app that augmented the experience, they were able to draw in new users to their hardware as well as keep the existing customers who purchased their hardware more engaged. Lastly, the additional software opened up way more monetization opportunities besides the hardware. (Nobody besides Apple makes money on hardware.) Only once the company realized that software was the key ingredient did their hardware solution become successful.

What Separates Leaders from Followers

Most fitness trackers do the same thing. They count steps, measure progress, and suggest goals. But if you use a tracking device, I’ll bet it’s a Fitbit.

It should be. Fitbit has the best solution for helping you stay fit and lose weight. It’s simple to compete against your friends (and yourself) as you work towards fitness goals. I find myself walking more so I can catch up with my competitive friends. I take particular pleasure (and taunt them) when I beat my friends on the the leaderboard.


Products are supposed to get a particular job done. The job isn’t to count steps, or else there’d be little distinction between the trackers. Fitbit has invested time, energy, and resources into building a data analytics solution to solve the real job: helping people lose weight. And why are they so successful? Because they invested in software that accompanies their hardware.

In my experience, I’ve never invested in a hardware company. I’ve only invested in hardware or IoT companies that are software or big data companies in disguise. It’s a massive differentiator.

Hardware’s Maturation

Consider this: Intel, a global hardware leader, has more software developers than Facebook. Intel is a software company that happens to produce hardware.

If it’s good enough for world-shaking market leaders, it’s good enough for your hardware startup. Go become a software company as well.

posted on Saturday, January 30, 2016 10:58:51 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Internet of Things changes everything.

That’s one of the least hyperbolic statements I can make. Existing businesses will be disrupted and their business models will be changed forever. In fact, IoT and the Lean Hardware movement are already a driving force behind why The Nature of the Firm is no longer a tenable thesis.

Let’s talk about why that’s the case.

 

Meet The Connected Dishwasher

Put yourself in the shoes of Philips, consumer products manufacturer. Philips makes dishwashers. One day, they’re going to throw a sensor and wifi chip into the newest dishwasher model and call it a “smart” appliance.

We’ll have the thing we never knew we needed: the connected dishwasher. (But trust me, I will buy one.)

It’s not so simple though. Philips can’t put some chips into an appliance and call the project complete. They need to design an app that consumers could conceivably use. Then, they need an API so that Smart Things or some other home automation software can control it.

Philips was a consumer hardware manufacturer. But with the connected dishwasher, is it still?? Or is it a software company? Is it an App and API company? Of course not. Philips will continue to build appliances and outsource that kind of work to someone else.

But there’s more work left. The dishwasher needs to communicate to the power grid if it’s going to be “smart” and cycle at the most opportune times. Does that make Philips a data communication company?

And what happens when the dishwasher needs servicing? Luckily, its sensors can determine when repairs are needed before something breaks. The dishwasher “calls” a service provider and tells them what part it needs. Or better yet, a technician could log in remotely and fix the problem with software. No in-person visit required.

Philips is now solving problems the same way Tesla “repairs” my car! Doesn’t that strike you as a big leap for a consumer appliance company?

Dishwasher-as-a-Service

I say “DaaS” only partly tongue-in-cheek.

Because when Philips walks down this path, it will transform how the company does business. Its existing models aren’t compatible with its business needs. The dishwasher company will become a service company.

Not only that, but Philips isn’t competing against its old peers anymore. The company enters a field where it doesn’t have any core competencies: home automation.

The consumer isn’t buying a dishwasher. In their mind, they’re buying another home smart device, no different from a new Beats Pill in their mind. Besides every other consumer appliance manufacturer, Philips now has to compete with Apple, Bose, and Samsung for the same top of mind and share-of-wallet.

The other dishwasher companies don’t seem like a big threat anymore.

Where Do We Go Now?

History repeats.

Today, we’re in a mobile-focused world. Before that, it was the web. Then PC, and then Mainframe. Right now, people think IoT is geeky. They believe it can change “infrastructure,” whatever infrastructure means to them. But what they don’t realize is that IoT is probably the driving force of the next era of computing. We already have more IoT sensors connected to the internet than people In the next five years, the number of sensors will outnumber people by a factor of 10.

Philips and companies like them will have their business models disrupted. They’ll walk down new paths, completely unprepared for the risks that they’ve introduced.

But that’s where the massive opportunities lay. Startups can fill the gap. Investors can finance them. Someone will profit from the demise of the Old Guard.

The next era is coming, and it will either be the IoT era or an era driven by it.

Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities.

 

--

Photo from: https://pixabay.com/en/network-iot-internet-of-things-782707/

posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2015 11:26:37 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Thursday, December 10, 2015

A few years ago I was sitting in a classroom at the London School of Economics debating unemployment with my nobel prize winning professor. The conversation was centered around another LSE nobel prize winner, Ronald Coase, who in 1937 observed in his scholarly paper, The Nature of the Firm, that firms exist in order to reduce transaction costs and take advantage of economies of scale. Barring external forces, firms will tend to grow larger and larger over time. This is the fundamental economic framework powering the world economy since the industrial revolution, driving corporate behaviors such as: corporate structure, the rise of M&A, and 20th century management theory.


Global workforce
















A few weeks later, Ronald Coase at 101 years old, would go on a podcast and declare his 80 year old nobel winning thesis obsolete. No longer do you need to scale the size of a firm just to obtain efficiency, with modern technology and today’s demographics, you can capture the same value with much smaller firms. Companies will still grow to be larger over time, however, they won’t grow as large as they have in the past.

Since then I have been thinking deeply about what has broken down Coase’s theory which was the fundamental underpinning of the world economy since the Industrial Revolution. After several years of reflection on this, I have come up with four forces:

  • The rise of the freelancer economy

  • Millennials’ behaviors and impact

  • IoT and lean hardware

  • SaaS economics and the democratization of IT

The Rise of the Freelancer Economy

According to a report by Intuit, by 2020 approximately 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be working as freelancers. Another study predicts 50% by 2025. As more members of the workforce decide to freelance, the number of marketplaces to facilitate them will proliferate. In the past you would hire the reputation of a Brand. Tomorrow freelancers will build a reputation on a marketplace and the marketplaces will build a brand.

This trend will lead to more commodity based and strategic outsourcing. Commodity based outsourcing will consist of outsourcing HR, legal, accounting/finance, manufacturing, and software development. Strategic based outsourcing via the freelancer economy will outsource product development, design, and even management.

Millennials’ Behaviors and Impact

By 2020, Millennials will consist of 20% of the workforce, and by 2025, 75%.  Millennials were born mobile and digital; their behaviors will change the way companies interact with their customers as well as how companies interact with their employees. Everything changes from preferred methods of communications (messaging) to marketing (social media) to commerce (mobile first). Traditional management models start to break down with Millennials managing Millennials and selling to Millennials.

IoT and Lean Hardware

At the same time the Millennials are taking over the workforce, we will have 26 billion IoT sensors in production and connected to the internet by 2020. Cheap sensors and widespread availability lead to more big data driven analysis about everything from the lighting in your office, self-driving cars, the temperature of your home, to how your dishwasher runs. Abundant sensors combined with cheaper and small batch manufacturing will drastically change business models, pushing them to be more service oriented. Robotics and AI will eliminate most unskilled jobs, driving employment to be more skilled and knowledge based.

SaaS Economics and the Democratization of IT

While the move to the cloud has already begun, over the next few years, it will be massive. The economics of SaaS software has shifted the decision making power to the line worker from the management and IT. Since you can swiftly deploy cloud-based software within your organization with a free trial, cheap monthly credit card payment, and no physical installation, employees are now making the purchasing decisions, not the IT department. This is breaking down siloed data, enabling remote/distributed teams, and creating more capital efficient companies.

The Next 10 Years

As we enter the post-Industrial era, the dynamics of the firm and the workforce are going to change radically. As the forces that are breaking down Coase’s model only grow stronger, many companies are remaining stagnant. The success of a company no longer depends on growing larger, but now depends on being the optimal size in order to fend off the disruptive smaller companies. Google figured this out when it broke the company into smaller pieces and formed the parent holding company, Alphabet.

The larger this gap between big and optimal sized companies grows, the less chance there is of survival for companies trying to grow by growing bigger, opening up great opportunities for disruptive startup companies. Even more interesting is that this transformation will happen in the next ten years. How tomorrow works is radically different than it is today.

posted on Thursday, December 10, 2015 1:36:30 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, November 23, 2015

 No one talks about how important it is for your CTO to learn the business side of things. That needs to change. If you’re a co-founder or senior executive at a startup or growth stage company, you need to be more than just an expert in your area.I know that’s asking a lot. Becoming an expert is a massive task. But it’s not enough. Each senior leader needs to be familiar with engineering, marketing, sales, and accounting if you want to maximize your chance for success.

 This concept has been popularized for non-technical founders for some time, through efforts like Mayor Bloomberg’s Learn to Code and Business Week’s magnum opus What is Code. But I’ll wager if you’re a CEO, you suck at social media. You probably don’t understand it, even though it’s the future of customer engagement. That needs to change. And this change needs to extend beyond giving non-technical founders technical skills. We need to help CTOs get business savvy.

 Image by Flickr user foam 

 

Perform a Self Assessment

 

If you had to take over any of your company’s functional roles (marketing, sales, etc.) for a short period, would you be able to lead effectively? If the answer’s yes, great. Proceed. But if not, you’ve identified a major need.

Things happen, and you need to prepare for contingencies. Not only that, how can you screen and hire the right person if you can’t speak the same language?

Non-technical CEO’s should code so they can:

  • Understand how the sausage gets made

  • Talk to their team with the right vocabulary (i.e. Agile, Scrum, and Kanban)  

If you’re the CTO, don’t you want to be relevant in business meetings? You won’t be as strong in marketing as your CMO, but you can add value and influence decisions.

If you outsource business decisions to your non-technical co-founder, there will be consequences. Best case scenario? You disengage from the business side.

Worst case: your disengagement leaves your CEO to feel lonely and stressed. And then one day, you wake up to a phone call from that person saying, “Hey, we’re out of money.”

Don’t let that happen to you.

Jump into the Business Side

 I love founding teams comprised of engineers because:

 

  • Less technical risk

  • Solve their own problems

  • Shared background with me


I’ve been a CTO many times in my career, and I’ve exited multiple companies. But heading back to grab my MBA still made me a better CTO.


I don’t think all developers should get an MBA even though, unlike many of my peers, I think there’s value in one. Instead, I’d suggest creating your self-study MBA.

Design Your Personal MBA

Here are my suggestions for a practical education that will make you a better leader in every functional area.

Accounting

 All techies should read The Essentials of Finance and Accounting for Nonfinancial Managers by Edward Fields (who was my Accounting professor in business school).

It’s not exactly A Song of Ice and Fire, but you shouldn’t want to put this book down. You’ll get familiar with:

 

  • Balance sheets

  • Income statements

  • Cash flow statements

  • Budgets and forecasts

  • Annual statements

I know. It’s dry. But the book is so necessary.

If you want to supplement it, take an online accounting and finance crash-course like this one at Udemy.

Marketing

 Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. The book was published over two decades ago, but it’s still essential. Learn from real world case-studies.

And remember this lesson: if people don’t read your website or emails, they’ll never buy your stuff.

To improve your copywriting, try the great Gary Halbert’s Boron Letters.

Sales

 Sales makes the world go round. Here are two great books:

 

And finally, for our non-developer friends who’ve stuck through this:

Engineering

 Read the Bloomberg article What Is Code that I mentioned before. It’s an interactive history lesson that walks through everything developer and even delves a little into philosophy.

At the very least, you should get familiar with HTML & CSS so you don’t need to bother your developers on trivial tasks. Brush up over at Codecademy.

 Take Action

 You’re never going to be an expert in all of these roles. But at a minimum, you need to be conversational.

Have a bias for action and carve some time out for learning. Let me know how it goes.


posted on Monday, November 23, 2015 4:08:30 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Thursday, October 22, 2015

I recently recommended a friend for a PM job at a hot Silicon Valley startup run by another friend. The startup recently raised a big Series A and was looking to scale. I know the risk of linking up two friends in an employment scenario, however, my friend was more than qualified for this job and my founder friend really needed the position filled.  

Hiring

 

While my friend was more than qualified, interviewed well, and the team loved him, etc, the founder decided to pass on my friend. The reason:  another candidate with the same skills and experience came along that they hired. The difference between the hired candidate and my friend? The candidate that was hired had the same PM experience but all at big companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google. My friend has spend his entire career at startups.

My question is: was this the right move? If you had the choice between nearly two identical candidates and one had all their experience at big successful companies and one had their experience at successful startups, isn’t it safe to choose the candidate that worked at the bigger companies? 

Put yourself in the founder’s shoes. You just raised a big Series A. You are being pressured by your investors to “go big or go home.” You have aspirations to be a big company. This is Silicon Valley, shouldn’t you hire the absolute best talent we can find? Shouldn’t you hire people who worked at Facebook and Amazon since you want your company to be big like them one day? 

PMs that only worked at companies such as Facebook and Amazon are super qualified PMs. Huge plus. They also know next to nothing about building a startup. Huge negative. People from larger companies bring the bigger company process, procedure, and culture with them. This leads to premature scaling of your business. The problem is that your startup is not a smaller version of a bigger company. As Steve Blank says, a startup is an experiment looking for a business model, not a smaller version of a larger company. Facebook as over 10,000 employees and billions in profits.  My friend’s company has less than 15 employees and no profits. Hire people comfortable working in that environment, who know how to bring a company from 15 people to 150 people. When your startup has 1000 employees and is super profitable you should start to hire PMs from Facebook. In between, you have to hire people who can not only do the job, but also help you grow the business, shape the culture, and constantly evolve the process. 

I made this mistake several times at my past startups. At one startup we realized that we needed an HR manager. Since we had plans to “go big” we wanted to hire an HR manager who came from a big company. Big mistake. We were a team of 12 but all of a sudden we were doing 360 reviews and had to fill out a form in order to take a day off. At another startup we wanted to enter the “enterprise” space, so we hired some “enterprise” software people from a large enterprise software company and gave them fancy titles. The problem is that people who work as executives at big companies usually don’t roll up their sleeves and build a product. Nor do they know how to scale a company, they know how to keep a big company big, but don’t know how to build a big company. In addition they wanted to fly business class and have personal assistants, things that did not jive with our startup culture.

Avoid premature scaling at your company and hire not only the candidates with the best skill set, but also with experience in working at and building a startup. Later on when you are bigger and more mature should you hire the people with bigger company experience. 

posted on Thursday, October 22, 2015 2:37:22 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback