Monthly Archives: October 2020

From Start-up to Scale-up: Think

Oftentimes when I speak, when it comes time for Q&A, people ask how I made my own multiple start-ups successful. While I have no “secret sauce” or recipe for assured success, I have been in high tech for long enough to get a sense for what is needed most. If I could sum it all up in one word, that word would be “think.”

Too many early-stage companies fall into the pitfall of believing that they have the next big idea without yet considering how to build the right founding team, how to bring their idea to market and where, and what will happen next when their idea has “made it.” It’s one thing to see your product in a box on a shelf. It’s another thing to be all the way on the other side of the world and in an unexpected place where you see your product being used in a way that’s mission-critical to someone else’s business success. Maybe your ideas and your product are that big, and maybe they’re not. But coming out of the gate with some Big Think is necessary while you figure that out. In this piece, I’ve sketched a rough outline of four “thinks” that I feel start-ups need to consider.

First, think up a big idea, and, once you have it, think about a big market that needs your big idea right now. Look for that idea and that place with a combination of vision, humbleness, and timing. If you start too early or too late, you miss the mark; either buyers won’t be ready for your solution, or the customers won’t be there yet. Is now the time for your solution — and where?

Second, you have to bring the right thinkers together to compose the founding team very early on, which can feel a bit like getting married without an extensive dating period. On that founding team, each member has to have appropriate roles. Right away in today’s world, that team needs to think about how things are so advanced and so fast that as you build your product, you have to think about UE, design, and security, especially, with so much being totally open and in the cloud. Importantly, your team has to think about the right foundation and architecture for scalability — otherwise, you may have a great product-market fit, but you won’t be able to grow. Strong people are needed to lead product as well as deployment earlier than you may think you need them; for a big idea, those are founding team roles. Things move that fast.

One mistake I’ve seen too many CEOs and founders make is in trying to do everything themselves. This is not a good idea at all. Wearing too many hats means that you’re thinking too broadly in places where detail may be needed, not to mention wearing yourself down — and we all know how hard it is to think creatively when there’s too much on our plate. When you bring together enough smart, thinking people in proper roles on a founding team, you end up moving your idea into being both faster and smarter.

Third, remember: product-market fit matters. Think of how everyone is using videoconferencing during this Covid-19 pandemic. A lot of companies relied on their existing solutions to be seamlessly scaled to accommodate shifting work needs. Others knew what they needed, and they knew how to find it, even if it was a new solution for their company. It may seem like a tall order for your founding team to have to create a leveraged model that is discoverable and will have virality right away, all in a time when all products are supposed to engage the user while having a low cost of customer acquisition. But, think about it: during the early spring, you witnessed the speed at which that happens.

Fourth, now, let’s assume for a moment that your company has gotten there. You have your product. You have your fit, and it’s in a big market. You have some virality building, too. Are you done? (Never!) Now is the time to think about measurement: measure, measure, and measure more, and measure all of the results in all parts of your company. How you scale is by understanding your customer, their adaption, and what your virality factors are. At my company, RingCentral, executives still gather at the beginning of every week to slice and dice customer acquisition reports that came in daily. It’s practically a religion for us in terms of how we measure adoption, churn, cost, use predictive analytics to manage our pipeline, analyze various ratios and so on.

Innovation, in a nutshell, is a Big Think task. It starts with your idea, grows with your team, fits into the market — and then, if you’ve done your job, it goes back to your team to think of measurements and scale. From day one, things will accelerate more and more, and there is no escaping that tornado. If you aren’t feeling like you’re amid a tornado, you’re probably not growing fast enough or even may be stagnating. You can’t just sell more products to get back into the game; you have to drive innovation to stay relevant. And you do that by continuing to think and to measure, never getting complacent, and surely, by keeping up.

This post also appeared on LinkedIn.

On the International Day of the Girl Child, A Hat-Tip to Inventor Hedy Lamarr

Did you know that every single day, we hold a piece of women’s history in our hands? It’s true! Believe it or not, you have iconic film star Hedy Lamarr to thank for today’s modern cellular phones.

In 1942, in-tandem with her work as an actress, Hedy Lamarr, along with her friend and science-experiment partner, composer George Antheil, patented an invention that became part of the foundation for the modern cellular phone: a frequency-hopping device that enabled the constant changing of frequencies for radio signals transmitting from ships or airplanes to torpedos. Such frequency-skipping allowed radio signals to be inviolable and aided greatly in improving the accuracy of torpedos. Born from this was today’s spread-spectrum technology that we enjoy each time we use our mobile devices.

It’s hard to believe that the U.S. Navy, to which Lamarr and Antheil had presented their design, initially refused to use this critical technology; it never saw action in World War II. However, unknown to Lamarr and Antheil, the military classified their patent application as top-secret and began using the technology in the 1950s. The patent expired long before the 1990s, when Lamarr began to receive recognition for her invention — something that is reported to have mattered to her far more than any accolades she received for her acting.

I learned about Lamarr’s role in this critical invention in the novel “The Only Woman in the Room” by Marie Benedict. Based on the incredible true story of Hedy Lamarr, Benedict’s novel highlights Lamarr’s work as a scientist whose groundbreaking invention revolutionized modern communication.

This great novel highlights something else, too, though — the manner in which Lamarr’s contribution to modern science largely was ignored for decades due to the fact that she was a woman. Time and time again, when Lamarr pressed to be heard, she was told outright that she was out of place, solely because of her gender. We know that the accomplishments of other great women were treated and obscured similarly, like NASA’s “Hidden Figures,” Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, the women who performed the calculations enabling America’s first man to launch into space. I’m left to wonder: to how many other women did this happen? What else don’t we know about the foundation on which our world has been built?

As Benedict writes in the author’s note to her book, “unless we begin to view historical women through a broader, more inclusive lens — and rewrite them back into the narrative — we will continue to view the past more restrictively than it likely was, and we risk carrying those perspectives over into the present.” As more and more historical women’s contributions to the modern age are brought to light, I couldn’t agree more.

Like Lamarr, I know what it’s like to be “the only woman in the room.” Today, on the International Day of the Girl Child, that’s far from the case. Now, women aren’t only in the room; we hold seats at the table at every S&P 500 company. And that is something worth celebrating!

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.