Category Archives: Founder Essentials

Let’s talk about “good leader”!

 

The last few weeks I’ve been reading many articles about leadership and sharing them and my ideas with you.

Leadership and culture within companies are a relatively new focus among Russian business and I find them fascinating. My friend Miki writes about them for her company and sometimes we have very interesting conversations.

We had one the other night and I think you will find it interesting, too. I’ve italicized Miki’s words and left mine in plain type, so it won’t be confusing.

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Andy Warhol’s  Red Lenin and Mao

Do people there talk much about leadership?

Yes, we talk about that, but ideas about company culture and its importance are fairly new. Culture was ignored because we thought it was less important for a company then R&D, selling or production. I think Russians never got that it all goes together.

What is your impression of the stuff you have read from the US?

Sometimes I think you guys talk about culture too much and too meticulously. Russians mostly don’t like to talk about culture and leadership. We aren’t used to talking about culture because we are
just starting to recognize its importance.

What do you personally think of the idea of leadership?

Hmm, that’s complicated :) I think that it’s rocket science to be the perfect leader
and to build the right culture in a company. I think it’s mostly depends on your personal
human qualities, but doesn’t depend on economic situation and on the country where you work.

Do you think a person can learn leadership better in school or from doing it and analyzing after?

If you are a strong person with a strategic and analytic mind you still need to learn how to communicate with people, how to take responsibility and how to build the company’s culture in order to be a leader.

You could analyze the experience of great leaders and start to do stuff to get your own experience and analyze that. Mistakes are not bad, as long as you notice, acknowledge and analyze them. Also, it’s good to accept advice from someone more experienced than you, as long as their values are similar to yours.

I think I’m writing very obvious things)) I don’t have any real experience.

Do you think there is such a thing as a “perfect leader”?

I think it’s not about being strong and forcing people; it’s about to be smart enough to be different and flexible if it’s needed.

Leading is getting people to do what you want them to do willingly, but so is manipulation. I think it’s defined as negative, because it’s always used that way. Do you think a good leader must be a good person?

Yes; I don’t think a good leader forces at all, I think he gets the ability to inspire people to follow him. A really good leader is smart enough to listen employee’s opinion and find compromises. He is not strict, he is flexible, he is not egoistic, he always can change his mind if finds out someone’s opinion is more reasonable.

My own opinion is that the actions come and are described as leadership after the fact.

I agree with that. There is a quote from Spinoza (I think) that freedom is a necessity only after you have had it. I believe that a good leader is a flexible person who is able to inspire some people to follow and finds ways to convince the rest without using force.

I agree that culture is a reflection of a leader’s values, but nothing you’ve said has changed my mind. I just don’t believe that leadership is inherently good, “…history tells us that people are more than willing to be shaped in socially unacceptable directions—think Jeff Skilling or Hitler. Of course, if the leader crashes and burns, his constituents will claim that they were led astray unwillingly and/or had no idea what their leader was up to.”

When you or anyone talks about a “good leader” they are referring to someone whose values they share. Founders bring their values, which become the basis of the company culture, but that doesn’t mean the culture is good. I have seen horrible cultures in very successful companies. What is the culture at NTR?

Good, there is a company culture with values which are similar to mine.

And what are your leaders like?

I like Nick’s style. He works hard to build good culture in our company.

So what kind of leader is he? What makes him good?

He is smart and he inspires people and never forces stuff in a bad way (not too strict or manipulating); employees have opportunities to think differently. I always have a chance to argue something he says and defend my own points.

You have asked me, now it is my turn. How would you describe a good leader.

That’s easy; my ideal of a leader was described by Lao Tzu way back in the 6th Century BC. You can read it here.

I would love to continue this discussion by hearing what you think about leadership. What is your “good leader” definition?  And any other thoughts you have. Miki and I promise to respond.

Bad News Everyone

You can’t lead wearing rose-colored glasses.

That means talking about bad along with the good.

We live in world of crisis. And whether people are looking globally, or just locally, they would need to be six feet under not to have noticed.

Here are a few examples, in case you’ve been traveling off-planet recently.

  •        The Russian economy has been in a deep and painful recession for the last 18 months. Our national economy is down 6% second quarter 2016 compared to 2015.
  •        Dozens of tech companies are laying off.
  •       Official unemployment stands at 4.9, but the government numbers are notoriously low, since it only counts those actively looking (millions have given up).

Bad news, be it internal, regarding products and process, or external, with regards to your markets or the general macro-economic trends, will happen. Period.

But many leaders don’t like receiving bad news, which is really stupid.

Start with internal bad news.

According to Darrell Bracken, C.E.O. of Logitech, “The most dangerous thing is to be sitting in an office and nobody’s telling you what’s wrong.”

If you don’t know what’s wrong it can’t be fixed.

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OpenTable’s CEO Christa Quarles, whose team was wasting time trying to make everything perfect before showing her, passionately believes news should be “early, often, ugly,” which allows for faster course correction.

But that only works if your company culture is built on the precept that the messenger won’t be killed, which is also the basis for innovation, especially if it disrupts anything.

Avoiding external bad news is even stupider.

Why?

First, because companies put enormous effort put into hiring the smartest people possible, so expecting them to be dumb and not notice the economy or how the company is doing is downright idiotic.

Second, because what you don’t address will give rise to rumors that are far worse than the actual news — particularly when it comes to layoffs.

This is also the time when age plays against many founders, because they have little-to-no experience communicating any kind of bad news.

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While there are dozens of approaches to communicating bad news, a good place to start is with Miki’s six basic steps.

Finally, the one sure thing about bad news — you can’t make it go away by ignoring it.

But you can make it worse.

Vision

 

I have my second job in the music band named Wkhore.  If you are curious, you can see and follow us hereThat’s me up front singing .  As a frontwoman and a leader I’m the first who thinks about future of the band.  I have my  vision. 

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That’s  why this issue is particularly important for me.

Late last year we touched on the importance of vision and what how to turn a vision into reality.

As Eric Ries and all Lean Startup practitioners will tell you “forming a clear vision for your startup is perhaps the most important early thing an entrepreneur can do” — emphasis on clear.

Vision provides guidance to the organization by articulating not only what its product is supposed to achieve, but also sets its values and the environment in which it will happen.

Fred Wilson wrote: A big vision is critical for a big success. You have to know where you want to be in a decade or more. That’s where the long roadmap comes in. … it all starts with a plan. I know companies that are great at communicating but don’t really have a coherent plan. All the communicating in the world won’t help them.

So figure out where you are taking your company. Answer the basic question on everyone’s mind, “what are we doing?” and you will be on a path to building a loyal, hardworking, and motivated team”

But none of these skills will help if, in fact, you are pointed in the wrong direction.

That’s why founders who excel are also great listeners — and not just to those who agree with them.

The greatest danger of vision happens when it is the property of one person; one person who will do anything to sell the vision — anything except share and modify it.

That is why every founder needs to follow the lead of the Romans. When Roman generals rode through the streets for their victory parade they were required to have a person in the chariot who kept repeating “Remember, you are not a god.”

Leadership. Motivation

 

There are thousands of articles and entire books on motivation, but for this blog I always look for stuff that is clear and simple and can be used by founders and bosses at any level.

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image source 

I was introduced to Wally Bock’s blog by a colleague and have found his approach to leadership actions a good fit to my criteria.

In his post, Wally identifies in 8 basic things you need to do to keep your people motivated. They sound simple, but providing them consistently requires focus and effort from you.

Guest post from Wally Bock.

One last time: how do you motivate people?

Apr 07, 2016 03:00 pm | Wally Bock

Continue reading Leadership. Motivation

Leadership. Intro.

Hey everyone, I’m back!

Remember I said I was going on vacation? What I didn’t mention was that it was an unwired vacation.

I was high in the mountains, with friends and no internet access. We played, sang, talked and I had time alone to think and dream. As Miki said in her post, it truly was magical. Take a look!

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I came back refreshed and recharged and ready for all the new tasks and projects my boss gave me. Now I can see that my company needs me and I truly make a difference.

Leaving the constant noise gave me time to think and one of the things I found myself thinking about was how entwined leadership and management need to be for a startup to be truly successful.

I agree with Miki that Warren Bennis’ ideas are out of date — if they were ever in. They don’t play well when combined with today’s knowledge workers.

I wondered if “experts” thought that, too, and decided to provide you with solid information to help you become a stronger entrepreneur and a better boss at whatever level.

So the upcoming new series is about the leadership and management. Not just high-level, but how-to’s on specific actions you need to perform. We’ll cover only one topic a week, so you will be able to save and use the series as a reference to help you through the challenges you will face.

Some of the topics we’ll cover are delegation, the pros and cons of ego, visions, culture and structure sans bureaucracy.

What I really hope is that you will write me and suggest the specific topics you want covered or issues you are struggling with. (Easy and safe to ask, because you will stay anonymous.) Write me at ykazantseva@sinergo.ru.

I also hope that you will take a few minutes to add your approaches/solutions when the topic is one you have faced.

Win a T-shirt: Share the changes you have seen

As a recent thirty-something who spent her career as a journalist before joining NTR tech is new to me. that means I don’t have the historical references that help make sense of current happenings.

But journalists are great at asking questions, so I asked a few people what changes they’ve seen in tech. And I’d like to hear about the changes you have seen. Share them in comments to enter the drawing for an NTR T-shirt.

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 Dean Wiltse, CEO at FoodLogiQ

A lot happened on the US economy. 2 periods of market collapse and in 2001 was financial global boom. Dot.com and then 2008 the World Economy Crisis. So in between and before it was really isolated artificial economy and business itself had really focused on survivor. I think those of us who have managed business through those periods realised that we always be like there is no tomorrow.

The benefit is the education level has changed and the perception of business has changed. The people of the US realised that education outside is that good or better in many cases especially in technology. And we realised that outside Us we can also find people who appreciate a good job and work ethic. And we started to use outsourcing

I think any time past 2008 is good time for starting business. Now is more difficult to start a new company with a new idea. It’s always about business model

It is said that the only thing that you can always count on is that things will change; this is especially true in the startup world.

Martin Zwilling

Founder & CEO, Startup Professionals, Inc.

I’m seeing a real resurgence of entrepreneurial spirit, and more startup activity than ever before since the recent recession.

In my perspective, the primary change has been a huge decline in the “cost of entry” to be an entrepreneur. For example, 25 years ago, it would cost up to $1 million for software development and hardware to establish a new e-commerce web site. Now, due to powerful tools and templates, you can set up a new e-commerce site for a few hundred dollars or less.

Jeremy Boudinet

Director of Marketing at Ambition

  1. For entrepreneurs, access to venture capital has greatly increased.
  2. Technology has enabled the democratization of entrepreneurship – it’s much easier and cheaper to launch a startup now than it was 25 years ago.
  3.  There’s a true startup ecosystem – tons more experienced talent, networking and mentorship groups, etc. Also make it easier.

Bottom line: It’s 1000x easier to launch a startup now than it was 25 years ago.

With that said, it’s still incredibly, insanely difficult and competitive, but the barrier to entry is as low as it’s ever been.

Nick Mikhaylovsky,

Co-founder/President, NTR Lab

The word “startup” did not exist in Russia before 2006. We used the word “business” to speak about startups. In 2006 other entrepreneurs brought the word “startup” from the Valley.  A full understanding that this is a special type of businesses came in 2012. In 2006 was also heard that there are venture capital firms. It was all like a myth: someone somewhere gives you a lot of money for your business.

There are 3 major categories in which startups have changed. They are market, technology and people. In the market came the realization of what a startup is and the knowledge of the infrastructure with accelerators and venture firms, that has spread its their effect all over the world. The technology changed a lot, especially with the advent of the cloud; development costs plummeted, which meant it was far easier to do a software startup.

15 years ago, most startups failed  because they could not work out what they wanted to develop. Now technology in general has evolved greatly.

The high level of technology in general has led to the fact that startups don’t fail because they are unable to develop the technology. There are no startups failing due to technology. The most  frequent  reason now is that they are unable to develop and support the business model.

Start-ups that are founded in hard times, such as now, are more likely to be successful. Because, first of all, there is less competition and, secondly, in any downturn large corporations are investing in technology companies. Now is not the crisis; now is the correction

Be sure to share the changes you’ve seen below for a chance to win an NTR T-shirt.

All you wanted to know about outsource

Even if you have the talent to do it all, it’s unlikely that you have the time or the energy.

That is why there are dozens of startups that will do it for you — driving, shopping, cleaning, etc.

When you use those services you are outsourcing; actually, you’ve been outsourcing some things forever — think dry cleaning.

Business outsourcing is done for the same reasons and works the same way.

Outsourcing simply means having others do the work.

Hand delete Hire word on blackboard with chalk for business outsourcing concept

image source: here

All kind of  jobs can be outsourced by companies seeking ways to supplement staff, reduce costs or save time or energy. There are  many other reasons to use someone’s help for your business.

And those ‘others’ can be local, domestic or overseas.

Putting solid effort into your project at the beginning will help make your project successful and that starts with finding the right vendor (individual or company), which includes performing in-depth due diligence no matter who refers them.

Whether you hire an individual or a company, it will be the quality and clarity of your communications that make or break the project.

All human interaction results in some kind of relationship and the success of each relationship is grounded in good communications. This is especially true when you reach outside your employee framework to get something done.

We queried Silo members, mostly entrepreneurs, and the response was unequivocal:  effective communications is an absolute requirement and it is the responsibility of the person doing the hiring to see that it happens. If parameters, expectations, delivery dates, budget, etc., are not clearly stated, understood and monitored, the likelihood of a less-than-stellar outcome is also the responsibility of the hiring person.

Beyond saving time and money, outsourcing, whether local or global, is a way to stretch all your resources.

It allows you to do more with less, which has been and always will be the smartest move for startups and SMB.

I sincerely hope this series will help you see outsourcing as another business tool that you can use with confidence.

Outsourcing: Finding the Right Vendor

As we said at the start of this series, outsourcing simply means hiring outsiders to perform tasks that would be done internally if the time and/or talent were available.  

Outsourcing often goes against the grain, since most founders believe that no one can do it as well/better than they can, so your first act is to put your ego in the closet until further notice.

Your outsourcing success will be based on the effort you expend finding the right partner, not the cheapest, and the strength of your communications.

The cost, complexity, scope and deadlines are your most important criteria when deciding whether you want the work done locally, domestically or off-shore.

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image credit: here

Finding vendors, whether individuals or companies, to do whatever work you want done is easy; identifying the right one to hire is the difficult part. This is even more critical when outsourcing technical product development (software or hardware).

Start by asking trusted advisors (as opposed to your drinking buddies), preferably those who have outsourced themselves. It’s good to ask your network, just remember to consider the source of the recommendation along with the rec itself.

There are dozens of sites, such as Upwork (was Elance), CraigsList and Outsource.com, where you can browse the talent, but be sure to read the comments, too.

Obviously, you need to develop a detailed description of the skills and experience you need, just as you would if hiring in-house.

And, just as obviously, you need to do more than check their Yelp rating.

Time spent reference checking and actually speaking to previous clients can be the difference between a brilliant match and a mediocre one, because along with the technical skills for whatever the project, the human interaction needs to be positive, too. The last thing you need is arrogance that doesn’t listen or a contact who won’t ask questions to clarify something.

Once you identify a vendor you like, query your network to see if anyone has used them and talk to them (the same for other references) — it’s amazing what you can find out in a conversation as opposed to a text or bunch of yes/no questions.

The effort to successfully outsource is much like a marriage — finding the right partner and completing the courtship are the easy parts; the real work starts when the contract is signed.

Here are more resources to help you do it right.

 

How much money?

I just read an interesting article on Business Insider.

 Yossi Vardi, a well-known Israeli investor, warned startups to be careful raising too much capital early, because it makes you “cash flow negative from the outset.”

Sam Altman, president of top startup incubator Y Combinator, said something similar a year ago. His point was that raising money at very high valuations, especially early on in seed rounds, leads to high burn rates and messes up the culture — “Frugality is sometimes incredibly important for startups.”

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Image source: here

That reminded me of the 40% rule for SAAS companies that I read about on Fred Wilson’s blog.

So, how much should you raise?

Although one size doesn’t fit all, a good rule of thumb is raise only  as much money as your company needs to achieve major proof-points/milestones and practice frugality to keep a low cash burn rate, which impresses investors.

Don’t be tempted to raise as much money as you can. This is not a good idea from a financial strategy standpoint. Less capital gives you greater ownership over your company. It also forces you to take your time before scaling, which is a good thing.

You don’t need to raise a lot of money to be successful. Your capital efficiency (that is, raising  what you need and no more) is a more telling indicator of your startup’s success than high valuation.

And be sure to read  The Risks of Raising Too Much Money Too Soon by AJ Agrawal, CEO of Alumnify for even more insight.

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Final virality

Our “going viral series”  has been running for two weeks, with real stories from real entrepreneurs about what going viral means to them and what is the secret weapon that helped them go viral. We asked two questions:

  1. What is your secret sauce to getting something to go viral?
  2. What did you do to get your product/service noticed when you launched?

We received some terrific responses. Like Jeremy Boudinet’s answer.

Here are four more responses that are very different, but each contributes to understanding that the viral thing everyone is chasing is unique to each startup.

Martin Zwilling   Founder & CEO, Startup Professionals, Inc.

  1. I found the key to going viral was to have an inspirational message, and get it published on one or more high volume platforms, like Forbes online or Entrepreneur online.
  2. I’m a big fan of social media, but I didn’t get noticed until I started writing a blog every day and promoting it on Twitter.

 

Kathryn Royster  Director of Marketing | HouseLens.com

  1. What is your secret sauce to getting something to go viral?

To be honest, we don’t think much about “going viral.” It’s not something that can be engineered, and it almost never happens to anyone. What we do focus on is content marketing through social media (both organic and paid reach), email, and blogging. Those are all very low-cost ways to reach a massive audience, which is as close to going viral as 99.9% of marketers will ever get.

The key is to put out quality content, have patience, and focus on building a quality audience. Take our Facebook page, for instance. We’ve built our audience literally from nothing over a period of about 2 years, and it consists almost 100% of our target demographic. As a result, our organic reach and engagement are 10-15x what similar pages get. We’ve taken the same approach across all our platforms, and it’s helped to fuel sustained 2x growth for the business. You don’t get those kinds of results by buying leads.

At a more granular level, we do find that we get the best results from content that is narrowly focused, taps into something “buzzy” in the industry, and/or has a personal side to it. For instance, drones are a hot topic in real estate right now, so our content about drones gets a lot of shares. Our customers also love behind-the-scenes photos from our office, or videos that introduce them to members of the HouseLens team. They like to see the human side of the business.

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        2. What did you do to get your product/service noticed when you launched?

Our initial growth was primarily by word-of-mouth and pounding the pavement. To really take things to the next level, however, we had to implement an intentional, organized marketing program. Right now, we focus primarily on three areas: content marketing (see above), our website, and trade shows. We invested last year in a quality website that really showcases all our content. That boosted our SEO and online conversions in a big way. For trade shows, we focus on the industry’s major national events – that’s where we get the highest-quality traffic and biggest ROI. We get more exposure overall, plus we make strategic connections at those events.

 

Damiano Ramazzotti  Founder at Talent Garden

Question 1.

I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer this, since our services do not rely at the moment in viral mechanics (hopefully they will in the future), but on direct sales. What I can say though is that we changed the product itself from its inception, so to require little or no critical mass to work.

We set out to make a social network and in a sense we still do. Nevertheless, by making our key initial value proposition that of a platform that helps the mapping, engagement, and management of communities (nonprofit, coworking, alumni, etc.)

We were able to create an offering that only requires the existing members of a community, and not the fact that many others are present this way we use a service that is an integral part of our value proposition, to offer a service that requires no critical mass, but that at the same time allows us to acquire many many users from the organization that we invite onto the social platform.

Question 2.

We relied extensively on the network we had built previously, and we are still promoting mostly privately both for our social solution and white label services.

In one word, rather than trying to be viral, a startup can simply find ways to embed in its value proposition services that allow it to acquire many users without effort.

Anatoliy Sklyarov CMO at NTR Lab

1.“Content is king” – this well-known fact is the key to making your information viral.

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Image Credit: Social Climber

In other words, in order to create information that is shared, liked, cited, discussed on forums/bars/clubs, gets a million views on youtube, etc., you must penetrate your target audience’s (TA) heads and see what is there.

You need to understand the way your TA lives — their fears, dreams, needs. To the best of your ability you should try to walk in their footsteps, feel what they feel, try to become one of them. Only then will you have access their hearts and that is what converts into likes, shares, social noise, views, etc.

Another important issue of viral content strategy is not what you say, but how you say it. It’s like a joke that can be very funny itself, but the way someone tells it can spoil everything.

In our particular case I mean the way you present your content should be natural, not scenic, i.e., you should speak the way your TA speaks.

One more important thing about virality is its potential to be “notorious” or “infamous.” Definitely avoid content with negative connotations as the final effect can be frustrating: your audience may watch you, hear you, even write about you, but they will not buy from you.

One giant caveat, no matter how great your content is, it will never be shared/viewed until someone pays attention to it.

The best tools for this purpose are news aggregators (Google News), social networks (Facebook, Twitter), video hosting sites (Youtube) etc.

Even if you create top viral content, if it doesn’t reach social media influencers there is a little chance that people will see it.

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A lot of successful bloggers and social media experts recommend using a 60:40 ratio where 60% is time spent on content creation and 40%  is time spent to tell the world about it. Continue reading Final virality