Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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Jul
11

How Much Should I Look for in My Seed Round?

I often run across early stage companies in a real quandary about how much money to take in their first round of funding. That is, the round just beyond the Ramen noodle eating, avoid starvation round that is usually funded out of your own pocket. The round that really gets things going once you’ve established a team and product viability. The advice they often get – build a spreadsheet outlining fixed and variable costs over the next year or more. Estimate headcount, salaries, rent, capital equipment needs, etc. and, voila, you’ll have your number. That’s fine, of course, but the spreadsheet should be the end result of the planning process, not the process itself. In my experience, there are certain high-level guidelines that should be used to determine how much money should be taken.

Using these, you’ll ultimately have the data you need to plug into a spreadsheet and generate a cash flow estimate – one used for planning AND tracking cash flow – based on the high-level needs of the company and with an eye to future investment rounds.

My thoughts here hold true whether you’re pricing your round or, for the most part, if you’re doing a convertible note. I should also state that this post looks at the question primarily from the entrepreneur’s point of view, although is certainly aligned with the thinking of investors as well. As always, your mileage may vary. This is my opinion and it’s worth exactly what you’re paying to read it . . .

  • Take enough money to securely get you to a step up in valuation. I’m not talking about some marginal increase, but a real increase in valuation – double, triple or maybe even more. What creates that? Usually the achievement of some significant milestone. It’s great if that’s revenue or profit, but a large number of active users or even a major product release are good milestones to increase the perceived value of your company. It depends on what you’re doing. A web service is going to have different metrics than an enterprise software company which will have different  metrics from a hardware company, for example.
  • Take enough money to move quickly, but assume that you will not move as fast as you think you can. Don’t starve the company. Make sure you take enough money so that when you look back over any preceding month of operation you don’t say, “I could have done so much more with $X more.” Additionally, take into account that things will not always go as well as you’d like and, while you’re moving fast, you need to leave some space for stumbling on your way. Map it out as you see it, then add a dash of conservatism.
  • Take enough money to hire the key team members you need – that’s where your leverage is. Never, ever rob yourself of great human resources. Success begins and ends with the level of people you add to the team.
  • Valuation is less important than you think it is. Yeah, this is a hard one to buy into. If your valuation sucks, make sure you’re following the previous guidelines, swallow hard and take the same amount – the amount you actually need. If you are truly uncomfortable with how much of the company you’re trading for cash, go out and look for an investor who will give you a better valuation – but don’t try to do your startup on the skinny, it’s already going to be hard enough to succeed. Keep in mind that your odds of succeeding are not highly correlated with the amount of stock you retain.
  • Leave yourself some runway to close the next round. Many young companies forget this when planning for the uses and needs for cash. It’s unlikely that you’ll have someone at your door ready to write a check the day you run out of money. You wouldn’t want to hand over such leverage to someone anyway. Make sure you have enough money to fund you through the time and effort to get the next round closed – at least 90 days. 120 to be safe.

No, it’s not a science. In the end, the most important part is to get the money you need and to get moving. Time is your biggest competition and it works tirelessly 24/7 to kick your ass. Try not to get caught in abstract notions about valuation. Do a sensitivity analysis, it’s likely to be less important than you subjectively think it is. That’s not to say it’s unimportant, but you should think about what the valuation being offered really means in terms of what you take away from the company given various scenarios. Ask yourself what it is you want to achieve, personally. If the valuation doesn’t seem right after that, move on and find someone else to invest. Otherwise, take the money you need and start executing. And don’t forget the spreadsheet. It really is a good tool.

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 July 11th, 2010  
 Will  
 Startups  
   
 9 Comments
Jun
20

Still a Father, But Not a “Daddy” Any More

When recently watching a father play with his small child, it occurred to me that while I’ll always be a father and hope to remain a “dad,” I’m not a “daddy” any more and I kinda miss that. My kids will turn 20 and 18 this year. They’re adults. They rely on me still, of course, but don’t really need me. No more seeking protection by my side; arms thrown skyward indicating a need to be picked up or climbing into bed between my wife and me during a thunderstorm. Their love remains unconditional, but it’s much less overt and obvious than it used to be. They have real, established lives that don’t involve me and, in some sense are more important than the decreasing portion of their lives they share with their father.

Nothing too sad, here. This is how happy and successful lives as parents work. I’m really, really lucky. My kids have grown in to terrific people and I have a blast spending time with them. I love them and I’m tremendously proud of both of them. My relationship with them is different now, but in its own way, it’s just as rewarding as it was at any time of our lives together. I’m going to work at remaining “dad” to them and relish every minute of it. Someday – hopefully a while from now – the need I have to be “daddy” will be fulfilled when I become a grandparent (yikes!).

For all of you that are still “daddies,” have a blast on Daddy’s Day today. Personally, I’m going to enjoy my Dad’s Day.

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 June 20th, 2010  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 3 Comments
Jun
15

The 2010 Pan-Mass Challenge

Pan-Mass Challenge The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (Pan-Mass Challenge or just PMC) is a charitable, 180 mile, 2-day bike ride across the state of Massachusetts that raises money for cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund.  The ride was the first fundraising bike-a-thon in the country, starting in 1980.  Since then, over 55,000 riders and 33,000 support volunteers have made it one of the largest and most successful athletic charitable events in the world, raising $270M for cancer research.  Last year, 100% of the $30M raised was given to the charity (making up 50% of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue) made up of donations from over 200,000 individual contributions.  This year’s ride will take place on August 7th and 8th with over 5,000 riders and almost 3,000 support volunteers (yeah, it’s big) along its several routes.  This year represents my seventh time participating in this great event.

Last year I rode on a special route, 342 miles across Italy. This year I’m being a bit less ambitious and am doing one of the standard PMC routes without leaving the country or even the state. Unlike previous years, where I’d have about 1,500 miles of training under my belt by mid-June, a knee problem has kept me off the bike almost entirely for the last nine months. I’ve only ridden about 100 miles at this point. That’s gonna make the PMC a bit of a challenge this year and it might mean a lot of time in the saddle during the ride. I feel some bond with the effort, though, and want to make the best of it.

Last year, my aunt died of cancer and my mother, a cancer survivor several times over passed away. Earlier this year, my wife’s aunt died of cancer as well. Sadly, my story is not all that different from many others’ – most of us have been touched by the horrible disease.

While I think of myself as a generous donor to many causes, sometimes I need a kick in the pants to remind myself to write a check.  If you’re like me, please feel free to treat this as your gentle nudge.  While I’d appreciate your support and donation for my ride this year, supporting me isn’t what’s important.  If you’re financially able, supporting a worthy cause like cancer care and research and a great organization like the Jimmy Fund is.  So, sponsorship of my ride is less important than sponsorship of these organizations and efforts – financially or otherwise.

If you’re interested in donating to Dana Farber and this seems like a reasonable way of doing it, you can do it online at this web page or click on the PMC logo to the left.  My PMC Gift ID is: wh0028 if you access the PMC web site another way. Of course, you can make the donation directly to Dana Farber or to the PMC.

No obligation and donations can be made anonymously, if you prefer.  Thanks for even reading this far and if you choose to donate, thanks in advance for your support.

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 June 15th, 2010  
 Will  
 Cycling  
   
 4 Comments
Jun
09

The Role of the Independent Director

For the purposes of this post, I’m referring to a member of the board of directors of a company that does:

  • Offer uninfluenced (by money, power or competition) opinions regarding the company’s strategy, tactics and overall execution decisions.
  • Bring related wisdom gained through experience in the market, product, service, management or company structure.
  • Actively stay informed about what the company is doing, how it’s doing it and how well things are going.
  • Make themselves available to the CEO when needed.
  • Make decisions that are in the best interest of the company, not necessarily in its board or its management team (when these differ).
  • Show up at the vast majority of board meetings. This should state all of them, but stuff happens.

The independent director does not:

  • Have any conflicts of interest with the company, including board participation in a competing company.
  • Own a substantial percentage of the company (through any means including investment) that may cause a bias in decision-making.
  • Have a job inside the company.

That’s actually the simplistic list, biased toward the role of the independent director in a small, private company or startup. The list for public company directors is much longer, more detailed and has a lot of legalese associated with it to cover the asses of the respective company and director.

I’ve been a director of 16 different companies so far in my life. I think I was a good director on most of those boards and I knew that I sucked on at least a couple of them. Several of the companies were publicly traded, but the vast majority were private, venture-backed companies. On those boards, I was (and still am at three companies) usually the only “independent” director. I put quotes around independent because I’m not sure that it’s possible to completely follow the rules I laid out above. As a board member of a small company, I usually get stock options or restricted stock in payment for my services and in larger or publicly traded companies, I get compensated with cash as well. Sometimes, I’m also a small investor in the company. Does that influence my decisions? Well, yes, sometimes it does. I hope and believe that when that happens, though, I’m still working in the best interest of the shareholders – the group that the board works for in the first place.

The boards of small, venture-backed companies actually vary little these days in my experience. There is usually one insider, almost always the CEO (sometimes, there are two – a founder and a CEO when the CEO is not a member of the founding team); one or more VCs; and one or more mutually agreed upon outsiders (sometimes there is more than one, but it’s hard to find qualified directors – in my experience having only one is the norm).

Like all directors, the independent director should help guide the company by taking a participative role in strategy setting; help the management team make high-level financial decisions; contribute to the setting of overall direction; determine compensation when appropriate; ask loads of probing questions; and advise the CEO when asked as well as, as needed, when not asked.

Most board-level decisions are made with reasonable thought and discussion. They are rarely . . . rarely a result of a non-unanimous vote (they are, obviously, always the result of a vote, it’s just usually unanimous). That doesn’t mean that disagreements don’t occur, it just means that reasonable people have a desire to work through things and to try and find consensus – before they vote on it. This is where the independent director has another, somewhat unique role on a board. That of the mediator or synthesizer of the parochial opinions of the insiders. That is, those that are employed by or heavily invested in the company. Often, this means bridging the gap between the management team and the investors of the company. Once in a while, it even means trying to find common ground between investors.

As an independent director, I find myself assuming this role a few times a year when things aren’t going well inside companies and once in a while when things are going according to plan or better. It’s time consuming because no party wants an arbiter. They just want it their way. At times, I feel like the Secretary of State working with Middle East factions. You get the idea. It’s enjoyable and frustrating. When it works out – which it almost always does because all parties want it to – it’s a lot of fun. The process isn’t always pretty, though.

As a CEO, I really appreciated the independent directors that sat on my boards. Even when their energy was directed at talking me off the ledge (i.e. I was wrong and needed to be shown the path), someone stepping in, holding my hand and offering me a different light to see the situation with was a huge help. I really valued having the person and role on my board. Similarly, I knew the independent director was working with other insiders to try to find common ground when he/she felt that the management team was in the right.

So, there are two lessons here. For those interested in being an independent director, be forewarned, you have a unique role to fill in addition to the normal directorship role. It’s an opportunity and responsibility in my opinion. For CEOs, recognizing the value that an independent director brings to the table should help you recruit the right person to fill that role and to, perhaps, think through the value of such a person on your board when it is being established.

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 June 9th, 2010  
 Will  
 Boards  
   
 6 Comments
Jun
02

Angel Investing

After yesterday’s phenomenal Angel Boot Camp in Cambridge (MA), I’ve been thinking about a long overdue post on the topic. I did my first angel investment in 1994 and I’m now in the process of wrapping up my 31st (individually, that is, not as part of a fund) – it’s also my third in the past six months. I’ve probably done about 30 more as a limited partner in seed funds and incubators along the way as well. All in, that probably makes me a second tier angel investor, at least in terms of deals done. Third tier if you count the “super angels” who have knocked off hundreds of deals in shorter periods of time. That said, I was recently “voted” as one of Boston’s best angel investors – I think that say’s more about Boston’s investment community than it does about me, I’m afraid.

I invest because I have a blast doing it. It’s about 75% of the fun of running the company yourself with only 5% of the stress. I get to meet smart, energetic people with great visions and boundless energy. It keeps my head in the game, and when I can add value (in addition to money) to help a startup weave it’s way through product, market and management mine fields, I avoid feeling like the least productive member of society for yet one more day.

The difference between a second tier investor like me and the first tier guys (other than brains and talent), is that the first tier investors actually work at finding investments. I’m, dangerously (see below), more passive about it, reacting to the investment opportunities that come to me. I get to see my fair share of of potential deals, but by selecting from a smaller set I not only miss loads of opportunities, but my comparative perspective is likely skewed – the best companies I see may be among the worst potential investments out there.

Fortunately, I’ve been moderately successful with this type of investing. A little over one third of my investments have provided reasonable returns over time with a few big successes doing most of the financial heaving lifting for my “fund.” While my 300 foot yacht with accessory submarine and helicopter remains on the wish list for affordability reasons, I haven’t had much trouble putting food on the table.

While I don’t have any absolutes when it comes to investing, I do have some guidelines that I loosely attempt to adhere to, at least when they’re convenient. Some of them are general and are similar to those used by many angel investors. Others are more personal and, for one reason or another, I’ve picked up over time as a result of my investment experiences.

The general guidelines:

  • “Drill more holes” – I once heard the CEO of Shell Oil speaking with analysts at a conference. When asked how Shell was going to diversify in the coming year, the CEO responded with the statement, “we’re going to drill more holes.” Investing in many companies is the only way to balance the risks of markets, teams and competition. Maintain a relatively large portfolio.
  • Invest in stuff you understand – bright shining objects attract attention (“we have the basis for a cure for cancer”), but the more you know, the less shiny things often look. If you can’t judge the team, market and product relatively thoroughly, it’s probably not a wise investment.
  • Keep some powder dry for subsequent rounds – while the best return in a successful investment comes from investing earlier, holding some cash back to see how the company does and to play alongside any institutional money that comes into the company mitigates some risk and ensures you’re playing on the same terms as the rest of the investors.
  • Everything looks good during the honeymoon – don’t make assumptions that problems you see will go away or that things, in general will get magically better. They won’t. While making an investment, you’re probably seeing the company in its best light. Things will likely get worse before they get better.

My Personal Guidelines:

  • I don’t like convertible debt – the investor takes on an inordinate amount of risk with a convertible note which he/she is generally not compensated for. Think about a note holder who waits 18 months before a conversion is triggered with an equity investment at a higher valuation. For a small percentage (8-10%), the “investor” takes all the risk in funding the company without participating in most of the potential uptick in valuation. Some strange debt instruments are being created now to fill this and other holes, but for all their complexity, the company should just do a seed round.
  • Team over idea – Ideas are cool, but quality teams are cooler. A great team can make a mediocre idea soar or morph the idea into a better one over time. Often, mediocre teams struggle to create success even starting with a great idea. I have to believe that the team can knock the ball out of the park. Only then do I consider the idea itself. As a corollary to this, I need to trust the CEO. Surprisingly, I find this to be a real issue from time to time.
  • There has to be a grownup involved – for all the energy, drive, brains and talent in most startups, there’s often a dearth of wisdom. Someone needs to be involved to provide it and be a sounding board for the startup team. This person or these people, should be on the company’s Board of Directors (check out Every Company Needs a Board of Directors – Startups Too). They can come from inside or outside of the investor group (inside preferable). If I’m the best qualified person for the job, I’ll step up. Usually, though, it’s someone else involved.
  • I hate leading a round – someone has to be in charge of representing the investors in the seed round. Negotiating the fine points of the deal, working with lawyers, getting everything signed, communicating every step of the way, etc. I hate doing it, but once in a while, I draw the short straw. I like investing along side seed or angel funds as a result. They’re pros and do it all the time. It’s not even heavy lifting for them. Most importantly, they’ll do all the herding of the investment cats required. It’s often a real pain in the ass.
  • You can’t and don’t even want to try to tie up every loose end – as much as you’d like everything in the investment to be taken care of, completely thought out and totally bulletproof, it ain’t gonna happen. Stuff is going to change along the way anyway.  The investor and founding team need to feel like they will make adjustments together as warranted.
  • Friend’s before business – this is a personal rule of mine that have broken more than once. Fortunately, it’s never backfired on me. I take both my friendships and my involvement with companies seriously. As such, the potential for conflict is high if I mix them – things never go the way you plan. There are always going to be situations in which the investor needs to support either the company or the management team. Can you support the company over your friend? Your friend over the company? Why even put yourself in that position?

This is hardly a definitive list of any kind, of course, but hopefully it’s a starting point for anyone wanting to get involved in angel investing and for anyone looking for an angel investment. Keep in mind that none of these guidelines have anything to do with the actually business criteria used in selecting an investment. I’ll leave that for another post.

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 June 2nd, 2010  
 Will  
 Investing, Startups  
   
 17 Comments
May
31

Sucking Wind

Today I did my first ride since last October when my knee went out on me. I’ve seen three doctors about my knee problem and all three say “surgery,” although none can tell me exactly what’s wrong with it. So, eschewing Western medicine, I sought out Eastern help through acupuncture, tensiology and whatever other voodoo I could find someone to throw at me (I know, bad attitudes don’t help, but some of this stuff really requires a huge leap faith – bigger than I can make sometimes . . . ). Nothing. Nada. I still can’t descend a set of stairs without pain. Totally sucks.

Having sat on my ass for seven long months, I thought I’d give the knee a try. Thankfully, I’m not compelled to take a hacksaw to my lower thigh at this point. There was some pain, but it is manageable with ice and a few dozen Advil. The three margaritas before and during dinner are helping a lot as well.

While focusing on my knee, I completely forgot how my body would deal with my prolonged absence from the saddle. It wasn’t pretty. I huffed and puffed up hills and my speed . . . well let’s just say I was able to move fast enough to avoid falling over. Thank God the ride was flat.

Ride-5-31-10 

I was giving it everything I had to average 16.2 mph for the measly 12 mile ride today. Usually by this time of year, I would have 1,000 miles or so under my belt and my average ride would be about 35 miles. This year it’s now 12.2. The ride I look forward to the most all year, the Pan-Mass Challenge, is in eight short weeks. If my knee holds out, I might be able to get enough training in to do reasonably well. We’ll see. In the mean time, I’m gonna keep trying until I can’t ride any more. That may be tomorrow, but I hope not.

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 May 31st, 2010  
 Will  
 Cycling  
   
 7 Comments
May
04

Another Possible Reason for Toyota’s Problems – The Rest of Us

In the June issue of Car and Driver magazine, Aaron Robinson has a different cut on the Toyota unintended acceleration problem (can’t find it online yet). He states that in the great scheme of things, maybe it’s not a problem at all; maybe faster-moving Toyotas will keep them from blocking the left lane so the rest of us non-Toyota driving public can get somewhere at a reasonable speed.

While I would normally be thinking about Subarus in this regard, Robinson certainly has a point. He states of the stereotypical Toyota driver:

“. . . that they’re generally the slowest, most nervous drivers and that they were sent here to act as human restrictor plates on the speed of society’s activity.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is a gross generalization which is unfair, as all generalizations are, blah, blah, blah. Keep in mind, while I might share this perspective, I’m just quotin’ here.

Robinson does have some remorse for his point of view and he worries that bad wishes toward a line of Camrys and Priuses blocking the express lane (aka, the left lane) on major roads in the US might actually be the cause of the problem.

“After all, nobody has yet proven that the amalgamated desire of everybody else on the road to rid the left lane of lumbering Toyotas and Lexuses isn’t having some kind of telekinetic effect on their throttles.”

Although, if this were true, I would have increased the speed of half the car brands on the planet by now . . .

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 May 4th, 2010  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 6 Comments
Apr
27

The Vic Braden Tennis College

Last week, my wife and I spent time relearning the game of tennis at the Vic Braden Tennis College in St. George, Utah. I say relearning because the Vic Braden school is less about improving your current game than it is about changing your strokes and strategy to Vic’s way of thinking. That sounds bad, but it isn’t – at least not in my opinion. Vic is a psychologist by training, but he’s spent most of is life playing, coaching and studying professional and amateur tennis. He has researched the game and how it’s played (including using detailed slow motion photography, wireframe analysis and motion capture) thoroughly over the years and has loads of logical reasoning behind his way of playing it. While the changes he encourages are major for most people, they make a lot of sense and are somehow, easier to adopt because of it.

Vic, himself, videotapes each player several times during the session and then meets with small groups to explain what can be totally changed improved. At the end of the session, more taping is done to see what, if any, improvements were made. While Vic was very nice, my changes were almost imperceptible. Yeah, I gotta lot of work to do. 10,000 more balls for each stroke type and I may finally get it.

Vic is over 80 now and has a head full of tennis memories, fact and figures. He knows and works with all of today’s greats as he did with tennis legends in the past. He can tell stories about Roger Federer and Rod Laver and discuss details of their strengths and weaknesses as well what made them both different, but great champions. Braden is a complete crack-up too. He had us all laughing within minutes of our first meeting.

The Vic Braden Tennis College has other locations as well. We chose St. George so that we could spend some time hiking with friends in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks too.  The area is phenomenally gorgeous if you have the time and, more importantly, the energy to explore after Vic kicks the crap out of you.

If you’re a 5.0+ tennis player, you may not want your game entirely disassembled. If you’re playing below that level and feel like you plateaued years ago, this type of game upheaval may be just right for you. It’s a lot of fun and the instructors are very patient. I know, I tested them.

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 April 27th, 2010  
 Will  
 Sports  
   
 1 Comment
Apr
15

Yet Another iPad Review

Here at 2-Speed labs, I made an executive decision to forgo an acquisition of Apple’s latest uber-gadget, the iPad. The decision was made because of the product’s strange and questionable position in the computing spectrum between a phone and a laptop and because I always question whether an acquisition of yet another closed product from Apple is good for me or the world. Like I have any influence . . .

The argument on both counts was removed when I was given an iPad by the cool folks at AccuRev as a parting gift – I’m leaving the board there after five years. Thanks AccuRev, it was a very thoughtful gesture.

Like any gadget guy worth his salt, I have been playing with the device constantly since I got it 48 hours ago. While it’s position among the array of computing devices I have is still in question, the massive array of apps available out of the chute in combination with a slick piece of hardware make it, at the very least, a functional and cool toy. But I’m thinking that it’s more than that. Here’s the summary.

Cons:

  • It’s heavier than I would have expected, I can’t imagine reading a book on it. It would be uncomfortable to hold aloft very long. Additionally, the back is sorta slippery and the iPad easily slips from one’s grip if not held tightly.
  • Many (most) apps available are formatted for the smaller screen of the iPhone/iPod Touch. This is not an issue for some, but others don’t work well on the larger screen. The apps can pixel-replicated to the larger size, but they don’t look good. This should be resolved over time.
  • The keyboard layout is less than ideal. This is, of course, a preference thing, but like all things Apple, you get it with their preferences not yours. The apostrophe, for example is not on the main QWERTY keyboard page. That’s OK for texting, but not OK when entering longer text. I am typing this post on the iPad and it’s a bit painful.
  • The battery isn’t replaceable and there’s no Flash support. Duh, it’s an Apple product.
  • The glossy display makes reading text somewhat of a challenge in some lighting situations. The Kindle and Nook get this right – a matte screen is better for reading text.
  • Pros:

  • I’m surprised this isn’t mentioned more often – the battery life on this thing is simply amazing. I watched 3 hour long videos and did some web browsing and email and only used 10% of the battery (as reported by the device). Subsequent usage indicates that this level of consumption remains consistent.
  • The screen is 3 bears size. Not too large and not too small. Just right. Big enough to get a great view of media and small enough to be a reasonable size for convenience.
  • Most apps made for the iPad do a great job using the additional screen space (over what the iPhone offers). Many compromises made for size are abandoned leaving smartly laid out and functional applications.
  • Photos and video on the device are fantastic. Good screen size, lots of storage and a high resolution and glossy display make the visual experience a winner.
  • I think that the iPad is going to fill two roles for me. The first is as a way to show off my photos and to view videos when traveling and such – the media role. The second will be as a convenient device for reading email, checking blogs, perusing feeds and web browsing – the time vampire role. I can see using it when watching TV or just hanging around away from my desk. Is it necessary? Totally not. A laptop can do all that stuff. Would I buy one now knowing what I now know? Nope. It’s still not differentiated enough from a small laptop to make it worth the money. Since I already have one though, the combination of it’s convenience and it’s virtually infinite battery life make it pretty fun to use untethered and I’m gonna keep playing. Another Apple victim.

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     April 15th, 2010  
     Will  
     Gadgets  
       
     4 Comments
    Mar
    31

    Hiring: Learning From the Behavior of Crowds

    There are no simple ways to determine if you’re hiring the right person for a job and, in my experience, complex approaches to hiring fail almost as frequently as winging it.  OK, that’s a little extreme, but you get my point. Those who have used regimented hiring methodologies created by behavioral scientists and organizational behavior experts know what I’m talkin’ about. Nothing is better than simply laying down a few basic guidelines, understanding what you’re really looking for, knowing what’s important to you and listening to your gut to maximize your chances of hiring a good person.

    The problem is, what if your gut isn’t experienced enough to help you with your decision? You can be logical about it, for sure. You can ask all the right questions, you can have everyone on the team interview, you can even have a checklist to make sure that the candidate meets all the criteria you set out. But how do you know he or she is the right person?

    As with most things interpersonal, I think it’s a combination of many factors, many of them barely perceptible. Combined, they make up what our gut feel is. The way someone acts, how they greet you, the amount they talk, the number and kind of questions they ask. I’ve been thinking about the behaviors I look for when hiring and have been noticing something interesting when going out to coffee or a meal with a candidate (which I recommend – it can take them out of their comfort zone). It’s about how they move through crowds.

    I lump people’s movement through crowds into four categories:

    1. Those that dive into holes in traffic as soon as any opportunity opens up
    2. Those that wait to see what people around them do
    3. Those that need to plot out their next few moves before making the jump
    4. Those who plow into the crowd without thinking or caring about the people they bowl over

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s a major amount of generalization going on here and there are usually roles for each type of person in some organization. The question to ask: is what each of these behaviors represents correct for what you’re looking for right now in your organization?

    The last group includes people that don’t have the desire or good sense to be part of the crowd or an integral piece of the action. They think about themselves only and likely do the same when they’re at their jobs as well. Sometimes, behavior like this is a positive, but for the most part, these people are just assholes.

    The people in the third group put optimization ahead of speed (no, they are not synonymous). Strong process skills are terrific and can add great value to a team. In heavy traffic or with big workloads, however, these people can often get paralyzed though.

    The second group is the most problematic for me. These people usually aren’t particularly aggressive or driven – attributes of almost anyone I like to hire. On the other hand, there are clear places for such people.  Think customer-facing roles.

    The first group represents the crowd behavior I like to see. Aggressive without being an asshole about it. These are people who can keep the noise going on around them in their peripheral vision in order to get things done. They move quickly, but not recklessly. For these people, moving forward is often the most important thing on their mind.

    OK, I’m biased. The real point here is that people’s behavior – in this case, how they work in a crowd – is strongly indicative of how they will work when they’re your employee. Notice the small stuff like this and you’ll get that gut feel you need to hire the right person.

    Can anyone else you know use this information? Please share . . .
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     March 31st, 2010  
     Will  
     Management  
       
     4 Comments