Monthly Archives: June 2014

Holding A Position Within Your Startup, From Start To Outcome

Not long ago, a story had appeared in the media about a startup founder whose company was acquired. The startup’s team was brought on board at the new company, but the founder wasn’t. It brings up a common potential challenge for many entrepreneurs, as well as co-founders, and early stage employees — where and how to maintain a position as the company scales, receives funding, or sees an acquisition. While in the instance referenced above, the founder was a woman, it’s not an uncommon issue for male founders, too. While it is impossible to know what will really happen in the event of a major business milestone, such as growth, funding or acquisition, there are some things that can help entrepreneurs and executives maintain their position.

Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming that just because a business was their idea, or that they launched the company, that their long-term value is an automatic. But, unfortunately, it’s not always the case. There are many instances where a board might vote out a founder of a funded company, or where a founder might become too myopic with part of the business while letting others on the team take a greater part of the reigns. Often, it isn’t done with intention on anyone’s part — but can often be realized when it’s too late.

Many say the answer is to avoid co-founders, investors, or partners, it’s often not the cause or the issue. Though every situation and every company is unique, there are a few key practices to keep in mind and maintain diligence about at every stage of the business.

1. Grow With The Business – The early days of any company is often limited to a small, intimate group of people where the founder wears many hats and has his or her hand in everything. As the company scales and more team is added, many are relieved to let go of some of the duties — but that doesn’t mean you should let go of your involvement and interaction in everything. I don’t mean micromanage your team, but playing an active role in all areas of the company can be a critical piece. Staying engaged and involved in the business, maintaining leadership and input in strategic areas can help maintain value and position within the company.

2. Stay Flexible – Many founders are passionate about their business and ideas. But while this is an asset to the company, if it limits your flexibility to adapt, grow or evolve with the company it can potentially weaken your value and position. You don’t want to be so flexible that the company or leadership lacks focus, but if you’re unwilling to explore or learn about a department or function you’re not particularly familiar with, or play an active part in something that is outside of your comfort or skill zone, you can dilute your place in the business. You may not be the one doing the coding in development, or handling the spreadsheets in accounting, but scale with the business.

3. Stay Involved And Informed — Staying present, involved and active in the company goes beyond just the walls of your building or solely among your team. It includes within the industry, market and among your customers as well — including maintaining a pulse on industry trends, new innovations, companies, ideas, and technologies in the market as well. Many founders gain business success or launch ideas because they’re experts in their industry or field, only to let that go by the wayside later in business. It can be a challenge to keep present/relevant, ahead of the curve and in the know in your industry, but doing so can help keep your stance within your business.

4. Keep A Positive Attitude — The rigors of early stage business, particularly among team and partners, can take a toll on everybody. But it is important to keep your attitude and approach in check in this aspect to maintain a solid stance in your business. Many let relatively small issues grate on them, hold onto grudges or negative feelings, over or under-address issues to the detriment of their own work. By first expecting there to be tension from time to time, knowing when and how to pick and fight battles, and developing communication skills in addressing issues, you can maintain a greater value in your company, long after it hits its major milestones in its business.

 

Managing The Product Development Lifecycle

As seasoned engineers and executives know, developing a technology product doesn’t begin and end with the product team. Creating a website, app, hardware or software product involves an intensive effort on the part of multiple departments within an organization, with the project manager or team at the helm. Even with years of experience, executives leading the creation, updates, scale or management of a technology product can endure dozens of scenarios that can delay the effort, and in some cases, significantly increase costs.

Below are a few personal lessons learned on the frontlines:

1. Put discovery as the focus first. It can be easy to assume that a project will go as planned, even with the estimate of issues or problems baked into project timeline. CEOs and executive team members may put the pressure on for hard dates and deliverables during initial discussions and scope of the project. But do not make any conclusions until you’ve taken a thorough assessment of every element you might be faced with. This can mean asking questions about priorities and trade off given constraints such as budget, time and resource availability. Find out all you can from every corner of the organization. Then, set your course.

2. Be clear on what’s possible. Once you’ve worked through the variables of the project, it’s time to get clear on what is and isn’t possible. This might sound like a ‘no brainer’ for most executives, but we’ve all felt pressure to set ambitious goals. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high in product development, providing that you’re honest about what is possible. Set realistic, attainable goals. This goes beyond what you think is possible for your team, to what is realistic for every department in the company which requires clear internal communications between teams. While you can’t speak for the leadership in marketing or business development, asking questions as noted above and factoring them into what is possible in terms of the product’s development can be important.

3. Identify and alert teams of anticipated delays immediately. Product development is a bit like a train in that whatever the engine does, the cars will ultimately do as well. Never take potential issues or red flags lightly — and cascade these issues or potential delays to the entire team immediately. It’s a good practice to stay true even when you’re not 100% sure something might go wrong. Measurable and frequent milestones are necessary along the way. Alerting the CEO or other leaders in the company of the potential issue doesn’t mean the process will be derailed, but rather adjusted. This will help everyone from all sides of the company to be more agile and prepared which keeps things running smoothly and on budget whether issues and delays arrive or not.

It’s also important to remember that great products come from great teams, and great teams are created by good leadership. Be prepared to ready and support your team. This is demonstrated through small and large gestures, from buying pizzas when everyone’s working late, to ensuring that you set the pace, professionalism and process by example.

Data In A Device Agnostic World

My early roots in technology business began in data. Shortly after completing studies at UC Berkeley, I joined a startup called Ingres, which was founded by data science  pioneer Michael Stonebraker and several professors. The power and potential of managing data back in these early days of the industry was both great and exciting, and led to a revolution of business processes in many industries. But it is no match to what data can do today, and more importantly, what it can and will do in the near future.

Currently, this is widely centered on mobile devices — smart phones, tablets and readers. But as the era of the Internet of Things (IoT) approaches, data and its potential will not be limited to mobile devices alone. It will exist and be available across the entire spectrum of where connection to the Internet is possible, from vehicles such as cars and trucks, to appliances, lighting, and a broad range of other products. When you think about data in this context, of where and how it can be harnessed, the awesome potential and opportunity for positive change is beyond measure.

Imagine a world where data can be leveraged to let you know when you’ve run out of milk and even order it for you from the store. Or, tell you the last time you’ve made spaghetti for dinner. We’ve already seen the power of data in products like Nest, where information about how you heat your home might help you conserve use and save money. When you think about the data world from this perspective, you realize that the most exciting era of the industry is ahead of us.

To stay in the game tomorrow, data companies and startups need to look far beyond what the IoT implies in today’s technological vernacular. It won’t be enough to simply create technologies to harness data on smart phones, readers or tablets as many companies are focused on today, but in everything that can be used to connect to the Internet – regardless of what it might be. By the Internet’s design this can be virtually anything and everything you can imagine, and then many things that may never come to mind.

It will also mean that data won’t just be about consumers, or have value in consumer products, services and business. Companies in the data category will find potential opportunity in dozens of industries, including those that fall within the B-to-B market. With this forward-thinking perspective, data won’t just be used for applications like ad targeting, but leveraged for fine tuning products, services, and business practices in a way the forefathers of the data business could have only dreamt of.