Archive for the ‘integrity’ tag
Competition in the tablet space has been heating up for a while now, and it’s not just the big guys that are feeling the strain. Take the tumultuous story of OGT Mobile, for instance — they tried to make their mark on the industry by creating their own Android tablet, but just couldn’t see the project through.
I can’t blame you if you’ve never heard of OGT before, but back in April 2011 when the company revealed their Eros tablet, it made a few waves thanks to its claims of being the thinnest Android tablet in the world. The spec sheet wasn’t too shabby at the time either — it featured a 1GHz processor, what appeared to be a 7-inch screen running at 188 ppi, 3G/WiFi radios, and either 16 or 32GB of internal storage, all crammed into a frame that was 7mm thick.
Sure, the company had a long road ahead of it, but the OGT tablet had the makings of a solid device. That said, you can guess where this story is going. Thanks to some funding issues, a general sense of distaste for the versions of Android available at the time, and the speed of the market, the Eros never made it off the ground.
Earlier today, OGT CEO Alix Narcisse posted an open letter to the company’s supporters explaining why that Eros tablet never officially came to be. Here’s the juicy bit:
Last year, the tech world, saw an influx of interest in tablet PCs from a variety of companies both large and small. We were among the many companies. Tablets represent the next wave of technology and the power of mobile computing, but we had to be honest with ourselves knowing that our hardware was too advanced for the software that was available at the time. We took heed to what consumers wanted in a tablet and challenged ourselves to deliver it.
Unfortunately, with the instantaneous changes in this developing marketplace, we could not bring our tablet to market in time for your enjoyment and satisfaction. We apologize. Our integrity is exhibited in our interaction with you. This is the first step in establishing and maintaining that integrity.
Narcisse goes on to promise that the company still has plenty up its sleeves, but this is the sort of game that’s just damned hard for smaller companies to crack. Established players like Apple, Asus, Motorola, and the like are capable of iterating much faster, cramming an ever-increasing number of features into devices meant for consumers who have been conditioned to expect continuous, unyielding innovation. It’s little surprise that little guys like OGT struggle to keep up with that blistering pace, so does that mean they should stop altogether?
The short answer is no, of course not, but even an even weightier question comes to mind — how do hardware startups like OGT make a dent in a market that seems to be doing just fine without them? That answer could be worth millions, if only someone could come up with it. So far, we can surmise what that answer isn’t: it’s probably not fighting on price (Amazon and now Google have that segment well-accounted for), and shooting for mass market appeal is difficult when a brand doesn’t mean anything to people yet.
As far as Narcisse is concerned, his and other companies like it have to “create something new from something old.” Easier said than done, certainly, but here’s hoping that someone cracks that formula soon — after all, more competition pushes everyone else forward too.
Today’s guest post is written by Mike Rieman.
My seven-year-old son loves history.
Selfishly, I would like to think he picked up this love from me. It’s not unusual for us to watch a documentary on the Civil War, WWII, or Abraham Lincoln together, but I digress.
Recently, when offered the chance to attend numerous camps this summer, he jumped at the opportunity to attend the Atlanta History Center “From Pilgrim to Patriot” summer program.
When I picked him up after his first day of camp, he was giddy. He could hardly contain his excitement about reenacting the Boston Tea Party later in the week.
This got me thinking.
At a time without smartphones, televisions, radios, or Facebook, how did the Sons of Liberty rouse so many people for the Boston Tea Party?
The answer might be Samuel Adams, a statesman, philosopher, founding father and, perhaps, PR pro.
Not only did he orchestrate efforts for the Boston Tea Party, but Adams was at the forefront of supporting the Revolutionary War. Like communicators today, Adams wrote editorials, designed advertising, spearheaded speaking events, and engaged key influencers. He even created and built a brand by naming and designing the logo for the Sons of Liberty
Today, it might take teams of PR professionals to accomplish what Adams did alone. How did one man achieve so much? What could I learn from him to apply to work in PR?
In my reading, I discovered Adams possessed the following eight characteristics and traits, all applicable to the best in PR today:
- Ability to Inspire: While some historians label Adams as a “Pioneer of Propaganda,” he no doubt inspired others to act. Adams’ powers of persuasion were critical to the success of the Boston Tea Party and the Sons of Liberty.
- Great Speaking Skills: When the tea ship Dartmouth was scheduled to arrive in the Boston Harbor in 1773, Adams drafted a letter calling for a mass meeting. So many people arrived to hear Adams and others speak, the meeting had to be moved to a larger building. Adams’s brief speech provided a quick overview of the situation at hand; it was also a prearranged signal. As soon as he spoke, the insurrection was under way.
- Masterful Writing Ability: There is a proverb: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Adams was known as an excellent editor, adept at cutting, revising, and polishing. A young follower, Josiah Quincy, Jr., said of many articles, petitions, and resolutions they had been “smoothed over with the oily brush of Sam Adams.”
- Relationship-Building Expertise: Adams heavily opposed the Tea Act, so when tea ships were about to arrive, Adams and the Boston Committee of Correspondence contacted nearby committees and wasted no time rallying the troops.
- Integrity: William Gordon and Mercy Otis Warren, two historians who knew Adams, wrote of him as a man selflessly dedicated to the American Revolution. While some of Adams’ character traits are disputed by historians, his will for independence cannot be.
- Preparation and Organization: Adams was no stranger to participating in and building committees such as the Committee of Correspondence and Sons of Liberty. He always seemed one step ahead of his “competition.”
- Positive Attitude: Although not widely known, Adams was poor most of his life. He was never one to complain, however, because he felt he was doing the work he was supposed to be doing.
- Leadership Skills: During the First Continental Congress, Adams promoted colonial unity using his political skills to lobby other delegates. This is just one of many instances of Adams being able to unify large groups.
Although Adams never listed and promoted his virtues much like Benjamin Franklin did, perhaps he should have. Leadership, masterful writing, integrity, and preparation are skills communicators should hone in their work experience.
Maybe I should create Adams’ eight virtues of PR. What do you think?
Mike Rieman is an account supervisor at Cookerly Public Relations. With more than a decade of experience in public relations, newspapers, radio and television, Mike has a wealth of knowledge dealing with the media. When he’s not talking to reporters, he can be found following the University of North Carolina Tar Heels’ basketball team or spending time with his wife and two young children. You can follow him on Twitter @mikerieman.
As you know from Monday’s review of recent Overblog research, there are stark cultural differences in European bloggers and those of us in America. Perhaps the most shocking statistic from Overblog’s research is the lack of transparency in many European blogs.
According to Overblog’s survey of 5,000 U.S. and European bloggers, just 32 percent of those in Europe say they use their actual identify when blogging. That means that two-thirds of them are masking their identity online and hiding who they really are from their audience.
It seems the world of transparency is a Western Hemisphere tenet. Perhaps this has something to do with more stringent laws and respect for personal privacy in Europe, but it could also be that the maturity of corporate culture there isn’t to the point that someone blogging on their own time is not some sort of threat to company sensitivities.
My guess is that U.S. bloggers were far more secretive about who they were from the late 1990s to about 2006 or 2007, but the ubiquity of personal and professional blogging evolved to the point that most companies began to accept blogging as a personal, public activity their employees might participate in. For companies looking to Europe for blogger outreach and active social media programs, it would be smart to understand this difference in approaches.
Europe obviously doesn’t have the Federal Trade Commission standards Americans have. The question is: will they? Perhaps a better question in the short term is, “What does this mean?”
For American companies exploring Europe as an emerging market, it offers a temptation: Do you adopt a “when in Rome” attitude and take advantage of the lack of disclosure requirements and a comparatively immature marketplace to push your product to unwitting audiences and aggressive blog authors? Or, do you take the American approach and insist on disclosure and “white hat” outreach and promotional techniques to ensure the integrity of your brand?
Then there’s the more META question of integrity. Does the anonymity or masked identity of a blogger change your perception of them as a trusted resource? Certainly, there are anonymous bloggers in the U.S. as well. But is transparency just a notion the echo chamber of social media evangelists holds sacred? Do mainstream blog readers care?
As a marketer, you should want to know the answer to that, too. A perceived lack of integrity may effect whether or not you approach one blogger over another.
Regardless of the answers, the differences in U.S. and European bloggers in this area is fascinating. It has implications on how we as marketers approach blogger outreach, public relations and even advertising. Discussing the reasons for the differences and the implications of them in the marketplace will only make us all smarter
So, for you European bloggers and marketers, why the secrecy? Are there disclosure regulations in certain countries we Americans should know about? How are European social media practitioners and public relations folks approaching bloggers there and what is effective. Please share your experiences to we can all grow from the discourse.
The comments, as always, are yours.
Note: Overblog is a Social Media Explorer client.
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The effort to self police internet advertising is gaining momentum. Just recently it was discovered that Microsoft had set a ‘do not track’ setting as the default in IE 10. Fortunately, that ill-advised move was retracted but it goes to show that if the industry doesn’t do something, anyone and everyone might. That will end badly.
So the umbrella group of StopBadware has helped spawn the Ads Integrity Alliance. If you are unaware of who StopBadware is (honestly I was) here is the description from the website.
StopBadware is the only not for profit organization focused on protecting the public from badware websites. From our start as a project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, we have been led by top thinkers in the fields of security and Internet policy. From a Board of Directors that engages at the highest levels of corporate, public, and Internet policy, to a small but highly skilled staff committed to protecting the Web and its users, we bring a diversity of expertise and perspectives to our work. That work is supported by partners who demonstrate their security leadership by engaging with StopBadware—and with each other—to build a safer Web.
OK well at least it was started at Harvard which has produced some of the most productive dropouts that the tech era has ever known. That’s a relief .
With that kind of pedigree you would think that the Ads Integrity Alliance initiative would have some power players. Well it doesn’t disappoint in that regard. In a press release from yesterday we learn that it’s the heaviest of the heavyweights who are in on the ground floor of this one.
StopBadware announced today the launch of the Ads Integrity Alliance, an initiative to protect users from bad ads and maintain trust in the online advertising ecosystem. Charter members of the Alliance include Facebook, Google, Twitter, AOL, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).
Those who have the most to lose from any type of regulatory interference or other type of activity that would get in the way of effectively serving ads are in the game. It’s on, as they say.
The site rolls out in very simple language what the Alliance will attempt to accomplish.
Establish industry policy recommendations for the worst types of bad ads, such as counterfeit goods, scams, and malware.
Develop and share best practices for defining and policing of bad ads.
Share relevant trends with policymakers and law enforcement agencies.
My takeaway? This is designed to help educate and handhold those in Washington that make rash statements and ultimately dumb decisions about the online space. Well, that is no small task now, is it?
If you think this is your kind of thing to work on the site also said it is looking for a part-time program manager. Think you got what it takes? You can check it out through the news page on the site..
What do you think about this kind of self-policing effort? Good? Bad? Let’s hear you in the comments.
Pilgrim’s Partners: SponsoredReviews.com – Bloggers earn cash, Advertisers build buzz!
Google, Facebook, Twitter, AOL en het Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) hebben donderdag de Ads Integrity Alliance aangekondigd, die consumenten wil beschermen tegen oplichting, spammers en malware.
Many brands focus on being trustworthy, reliable, maintaining high quality standards, developing innovative product and service solutions, delivering outstanding customer service and being highly responsive to customer requests. These areas of foci have led to continuous improvements in customer experiences. However, they have demoted integrity, reliability, high quality, innovation, customer focus and responsiveness from differentiating benefits to “cost of entry” benefits in many industries. Never the less, some brands are still clearly superior or even singular in their delivery against one or more of these attributes/benefits. Consider Apple and innovation or Nordstrom and customer service. One of our clients continues to gain market share by being superior in customer responsiveness. Even if you aren’t the top brand in your category on one or more of these attributes/benefits, it would still behoove you to become as good as possible with at least some of them.
When we work with clients to develop brand positioning statements at our brand positioning workshops and they want to focus on “trustworthy,” “superior quality” or “innovation” as part of their brand promises, we strive to ensure that they are committed to delivering against the chosen attribute, benefit or quality in an exceptional way. For these types of attributes/benefits, it is much more important to deliver on them than it is to talk about them. Taking about something that many brands talk about just blends into marketplace noise. Actually delivering on them in a unique or superior way leads to successful differentiation.
So, by all means, strive to be trustworthy, reliable, high quality, innovative, customer-service oriented and responsive. These could and should be a part of most brands’ DNA. But if you hope to differentiate your brand on one or more of these, know that the hurdles continue to rise for these attributes/benefits and be realistic about what will be truly differentiating for your brand. Then focus on (and invest in) delivering against these attributes/benefits (much more than talking about them in marketing communications).
These additional steps can help when you decide to use these attributes/benefits to differentiate your brand:
- Build multiple proof points for them into every customer touch point through customer touch point design
- Make them core organizational values against which employees are hired, evaluated and rewarded
- Deliberately deliver them in such extraordinary ways that myths and stories are created about them, myths and stories than can go viral with little or no help from your marketing department
Sponsored By: The Brand Positioning Workshop
Cloud services are getting bigger and bigger, with media heavyweights like Amazon and Google throwing their versions into the competition. Although Google’s entry isn’t necessarily indicative of the next big thing — Buzz, anyone? — the cloud appears to be here to stay, mostly because of the safety it provides.
“The cloud has eliminated many of the worries about data integrity, security and availability,” said Ross Kimbarovsky, co-founder of crowdSPRING, a crowdsourcing marketplace. Kimbarovsky says cloud service providers “do a far better job protecting our data than we do in protecting our own data. Even the world’s most sophisticated companies would have difficulty matching the security, accuracy and availability provided by these top vendors.”
Whereas laptops can break down or get stolen, “most cloud providers have sophisticated data backups and redundancy in place,” said Frank Dale, president and CEO of Compendium, a cloud-based content marketing platform. “Solutions delivered through the cloud are updated automatically, so users always have the latest version.”
This article is one of several mediabistro.com features exclusively available to AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, you can register for as little as $55 a year and get access to these articles, discounts on seminars and workshops, and more.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
It can be rather tempting for brands and causes to shake things up by making shocking marketing messages that cause visceral reactions. Some brands have gotten great business mileage out of this approach. Others have found themselves in deep doo-doo as consumer blowback undermined their messages and integrity.
In the following pages, you will find nine examples of shocking brand messages. Five seem to work in that they garner strong reactions, but largely of a positive nature. Four had some really bad brand consequences. We’ll sum up with some conclusions on what works and what doesn’t.
WIN: MethLife ain’t pretty
Lots of agencies volunteer to do pro bono work for worthy charities. A big part of the appeal, beyond the opportunity to do good, is that PSAs offer the opportunity to do award-winning work free of the taste constraints of large companies. Nonprofits in particular gravitate toward the technique because their limited budgets and reliance on donated remnant inventory mean every exposure needs to get noticed.
These ads against methamphetamine use are a great example of how dramatization and raw empathy can get a message noticed.
The campaign has received strong media attention and significant free views on YouTube and other venues. Perhaps more importantly, it dramatizes very real possible consequences of taking the drug.
Plenty of discussion around Flickr recently, kicked off by Gizmodo’s in-depth ‘history’ of Flickr. Thomas Hawk also posted his detailed thoughts as a significant user and a outspoken critic of Flickr. All of these articles spurning plenty of comments and discussions across various social channels.
I agree with Thomas’ viewpoint that while there is plenty wrong, there is still plenty of good left in Flickr. As Mat pointed out in his article I too have seen the conversion of Flickr to an Instagram archive, but there are still plenty of dedicated, passionate photographers using the service. Like many of those folks I still see revenue generated from my photos on Flickr. That’s always a nice thing.
Moving forward my biggest concern is the integrity of my photo archive. I currently have over 26,000 images on the service and the thought of moving/losing them is tough to fathom.
I love Flickr through good times and bad. I hope they make it, I want them to make it. However, I’ll be spending time looking at alternatives.
There’s a lot of money floating around Silicon Valley right now, and it’s becoming easier and easier for entrepreneurs to get access to the capital they need to get their companies off the ground. Resources like AngelList are trying to level the playing field, and facilitate conversations between founder and investor, and the passage of the JOBS Act will alter the landscape for early-stage companies by giving them access to crowdfunding from the masses. There are even charity initiatives like the ones launched by Exec and Motion To Dismiss Cancer that give a select few access to top entrepreneurs and VCs.
At a very fundamental level, the venture capital business is being reshaped. As the Kauffman report points out, most VC funds aren’t generating more than the three to five percent return one finds in the public markets — the yield investors expect, the report finds. In fact, the report states “VC returns haven’t significantly outperformed the public market since the late ’90s”.
Speaking to a crowd at the Grind work space in New York last week, Fred Wilson addressed this ongoing shift, saying, “there’s two times as much capital in the venture capital business today than we, the professional investors who make up the venture business, can actually put to work intelligently.”
This isn’t so good for VCs, Wilson says, but it is for entrepreneurs. Of course, the fact of the matter is that the top VC firms, super angels, and angel investors have unparalleled deal flow, they see hundreds, sometimes thousands of pitches, are privy to information few outside very small circles ever get to see. They are custodians of that equally valuable currency — information. As hard as the media and others work to reveal the goings-on behind the scenes, as Chris Dixon points out, most coverage doesn’t reveal 90 percent of the relevant information. This is true not just of funding announcements in tech publications, it’s true of panels at conferences, interviews, video, and more.
Sure, there are plenty of resources where entrepreneurs can go to learn more about VCs and top entrepreneurs, where they share their inside knowledge in order to enlighten and educate. And, in terms of funding, there are incubators, company builders, accelerators, VCs, crowdfunding, and more. But, in terms of how one should build a founding team, or how one should pursue business ideas to best serve innovation — change, inspiration, product-focus — all these just become buzzwords without context. Illuminating this stuff was part of the motivation that led Mike Arrington to start TechCrunch.
In this landscape, capital is readily available, and the noise is growing — and will continue to grow. Thus, it’s becoming even more essential to understand what it is about the anatomy of startups that makes them appealing to top investors, or, what is almost more valuable, why they fail.
If Dixon is right that incumbents fail because of ineptitude or irrelevance, is the same true for startups? Questions like this have led to the overwhelming interest in the Startup Genome Project, because a group of entrepreneurs eager set out to leverage the ever-growing piles of available data produced on/by early-stage companies in an effort to answer the most relevant questions to founders: What works, and why?
They are question that every entrepreneur, investor, and member of the media are (or should be) asking. “Why?” remains the most important question, or mantra, for founders, but it’s not always asked in the proper context.
This is the reason I became fascinated with a new book, called Venture Capitalists at Work, co-written by Tarang and Sheetal Shah. Rather than present anecdotal stories, gossip, or allowing vapid buzzwords win the day, the two set out to provide entrepreneurs with real insight into how some of the top investors in the game evaluate, invest in, and mentor their startups — information that can be extremely powerful if put to use correctly.
Tarang Shah is a former VC himself, having spent 4.5 years at SoftBank Capital, and he tells us that he wanted to leverage his connections in the VC world to offer a peek into knowledge that he says has thus far really remained in a “black box.”
The book is presented in an interview format, which makes it easy to digest, and starts with a foreword from Charles River Venture Partner George Zachary before going onto pick the brains of Sequoia Capital Partner Roelof Botha, FLOODGATE Managing Partner Mike Maples, Highland Capital Partners’ Sean Dalton, Rich Wong of Accel, Tim Draper, Howard Morgan, Gus Tai, David Lee, Steve Dietz, Ann Winblad, Eric Hippeau, and many others.
These interviews set out to answer three basic questions: Why do most start-ups fail, and what you can learn from these failures? Of those that do succeed, what is their secret sauce? And what are the main ingredients that VCs identify when funding startups?
Before jumping into the characteristics that were identified most consistently among the VCs he spoke to, Shah says that it’s important to address a few common misconceptions or “myths” that one hears a lot these days. First and foremost, there’s a perception that the top reason startups fail is because they fail to raise funding, or don’t raise enough. Startup Genome holds that, in fact, the main culprit is premature (or dysfunctional) scaling — in other words, a startup’s core operational categories (product, consumer team, finances, business model) are out of sync.
Shah agrees with this, but puts it a different way: Lack of (or insufficient) funding is not the cause of failure, but a byproduct. The real root of the problem is when startups fail to hit their key performance metrics, largely because one or multiple of the categories the Startup Genome team identifies are out of sync, are mismanaged, or are not developed properly.
Secondly, Shah points out that many believe that the best entrepreneurs look for funding when they need it, and only raise the amount they need. This, he says, is a myth. In truth, the best entrepreneurs are always fundraising, and always look to raise more than they need so that they aren’t forced to raise money at inopportune times.
The third venture funding myth Tarang sets forth in the book, which is especially relevant given the popularity of the lean startup psychology, is that it’s always better to, whenever possible, build a business without raising venture capital — or to raise as little as possible. Shah says that, on a whole, there are very few high tech models that lend themselves to successful (long-term) bootstrapping in today’s highly competitive market. “The best companies use funding to scale rapidly and own the market,” he says, “it’s not a tradeoff.”
Big, Bold Ideas
So these are important to keep in mind, but, in the end, what is it that VCs are looking for? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly for how much the word “disruptive” is thrown around and overused, Shah says that VCs love big, bold, and beautiful ideas. Consensus is your enemy, and entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid of being contrarian. Often, it ends up being those risky ideas that people end up believing in the most, becoming passionate about, and with big ideas, there can be room to maneuver to overcome short-term failures.
While some VCs are market-focused and others are entrepreneur-first, obviously if you want to build a billion-dollar company, you’re going to need both. But, when it comes to the entrepreneur, the common perception is that you need to be hyper intelligent, have a big ego, be a visionary, experimental, focused, and passionate. While these are all essential to the equation, Shah says the the traits that really matter most are authenticity, integrity, and motivation.
So, take “ego,” for example. While an entrepreneur has to have enough confidence and ego to be stalwart in the belief that the current products on the market aren’t good enough, and to be confident enough to pursue unconventional ideas and solutions, it’s all about balance. One’s ego has to be in-check enough to admit weaknesses, and be able to surround one’s self with a team of people that are smarter than they are, and can leverage their strengths where you can’t.
It’s not about whether or not you’ve started eight companies: “We do not look at serial entrepreneurship as a positive trait,” says Mike Maples. “We look at authenticity and unconventional, proprietary insight as the key difference.”
What’s more, there are way too many entrepreneurs today who get caught up in the drive to make money, to become the next Instagram, lusting after that billion-dollar valuation. But that’s not what turns on venture capitalists. “The key characteristic is the desire to solve a problem for the customer. That is the driving passion, not ‘I think this is going to be a billion-dollar company and I want to hop in because I can get rich,’” says Roelof Botha. “We’re looking for people whose ideas get floated around. People who fight over the chance to work on solving a problem rather than passing the buck.”
Authenticity, Integrity, and Motivation
Money is not a sufficient motivator to overcome the ups-and-downs of the startup journey, Shah continues, instead entrepreneurs have to search for their true motivation and pursue problems that they feel genuinely passionate about. But, again, passion alone is not enough. Something that many entrepreneurs suffer from today is letting their ego take control — because they believe in their vision and their idea, they assume that the market is theirs and theirs alone.
In the media, although often guilty of revving the hype machine ourselves, we see this a lot, and it’s always a mark against. You’re never alone, unless, as Peter Thiel would say, you can adequately (and subtly) describe how you’ve created your own market. And there are few that have the brains, cojones, and creativity to do it — Stanford/Harvard MBA or not.
Part of the “authenticity,” which admittedly sounds like a buzzword, comes from experience and market analysis. But this is hard-won. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t just passionate about their idea, they have a product view that’s informed by Malcolm Gladwell’s 10K Hour Rule — they have deep experience that provides insights into the finer nuances of both the market and their target customer.
When we asked the co-founders of Lynda.com (which has made it to $70M in annual revenue without taking a dime from outside investors) what was the secret to their success, they kept coming back to the fact that it’s not about finding an exploitable, untapped niche (market opportunity), but being experts — and passionate ones at that. Putting in the time and effort required to really understand the market is what can separate the big successes from those that find themselves floundering into the deadpool.
In the rush to get funded, to scale, and ship, a lot of entrepreneurs lose sight of this, Shah says. And I am in full agreement. When Shah asked Mike Maples what made Twitter appealing for him early on — while many in the media were busy writing Twitter off — was the fact that Evan Williams had gained his “authenticity,” his experience and understanding of the market, from Blogger, informed his vision what micro-blogging could become.
Of course, the “authenticity” of one entrepreneur can’t do the job alone. The other key, as mentioned before, is a passionate disinterest (or an objectivity) that leads one to be able to surround them with the best people — to admit weaknesses and build the right team accordingly.
Shah found time and time again that one of the most overlooked parts of the process in building a company is those first 10 to 12 hires. The first handful of employees determine the “cultural DNA” of a company. While young companies without much capital may look to hire people that they can train on the job and can be molded into the right fit, Shah says that early employees need to hit the ground running, and make a difference right away.
That doesn’t mean that their functional skills have to be out-of-this world, as the key is to hire people that are right for your culture — people that have the same passion. And this is where that “integrity” is so important. Because, let’s be honest, the early stages of building a business are really tough. When no one knows your name, or your startup’s name, what convinces the best people to join and stay with you while things are tough is your character, your belief, and those you surround yourself with.
Solo co-founders just aren’t as successful as founding teams, Shah says, and those who hire co-founders that can hit the ground running tend to be the most successful. If you can reduce the dissonance inherent to a founding team by finding others that believe in the vision, personal chemistry can be worked on thereafter, if their personality and mindset is a good fit.
“I think what matters most is team culture and unit cohesion. I almost always in some ways recruit the personality type as much as functional skill,” says Rich Wong of Accel Partners in Venture Capitalists At Work. “I have a triangle in my head — functional skill, raw intelligence, personal turning radius. Smart, hard-working, and paranoid together kind of radiates raw horse power.”
Just last week, we talked about the war for top talent that’s currently being waged in the industry. It’s tough for young startups that haven’t yet closed those mega-million funding rounds to compete with the Facebooks of the world, which will always be able to offer more money, and more perks. But, if founders are willing to employ unconventional means to pursue top talent, sell the big idea for their business in an appealing and convincing way, they can win the battle for talent with creativity and by effectively wielding their integrity.
“One of the things about ‘A’ people is that they hire people smarter than themselves, and they are actively searching for people with other knowledge that they do not have,” says Howard Morgan of First Round Capital. “They are also passionate and persistent. They are willing to suffer through the setbacks which will come, and not see them as the end of the world.”
Objectivity & Adaptability
That’s why “Objectivity and adaptability” are part of those fundamental traits commonly identified in Venture Capitalists at Work as leading to success. It’s tough, but being passionately disinterested and brutally honest about everything that matters is key. In the book, Gus Tai talks about how it is essential for entrepreneurs to seek the truth, but not to be predisposed towards what they might find out. If it requires having to change direction quickly, throwing untold hours that have been spent on that one route, so be it.
This is where the final traits of the successful entrepreneur come in: Rapid iteration and pivoting. It’s essential for founding teams to operate at high RPMs, iterating on product ideas and pivoting until they find the right product-market fit. The key is always to have the big goal, the big problem in mind, and be laser focused on it, but to be flexible and willing to pivot from idea to idea until one finds the right solution. Those that fail are more often than not unwilling to let go of the original solution. The companies that have iterated and pivoted from earlier, less successful versions are too many to name, but Facebook, Chegg, Groupon, and Instagram have all done pretty well.
In talking to Shah about his experience speaking to countless founders and top investors across the U.S., that’s what struck me most. It’s that so many entrepreneurs think that when pitching VCs it’s all about the business model. That’s not to say that VCs don’t care about your business model or how you’re going to make money — far from it — it’s that they’re just as interested in how they tell the story.
For VCs, whomever is behind the business plan tells the real story. During partner meetings, when investors sit around that boardroom table, hearing entrepreneurs pitch their business, they’re just as interested in how the founder who’s responsible about the business plan demonstrates the knowledge of their customer. Investors, Shah says, want to hear about the whole bullpen — or pipeline of ideas — that founders can turn to should that original business plan fail to make the grade. They want to know that entrepreneurs have put the time and thought necessary into understanding the core problem from 5 miles up and magnified 5 times under a microscope — well enough so that they have viable alternatives.
If you sit in that pitch meeting and don’t demonstrate both a subtle and deep understanding of what your customers really need, if you can’t present a workable structure under which the business can iterate and pivot until the right solution materializes — you’re doomed. So, it’s not just about a willingness to be flexible six months from now, it’s being able to demonstrate a level of preparedness and a fullness of understanding that makes maneuverability a given from to get-go that will make you and your team appealing to investors.
Venture Capitalists at work is full of tremendous insight like this, and with analysis of more than 70 success stories of billion-dollar companies like AdMob, Bebo, Chegg, Facebook, LinkedIn, PayPal, Twitter, YouTube, etc., there are plenty of opportunities to find material that’s applicable to your business. And if that doesn’t convince you, the gushing review that sits prominently on the back cover of the book comes from Ron Conway — the Chuck Norris of venture capital.
For readers looking for more on this subject, you may also want to check out this recent guest post by Onswipe CEO Jason L. Baptiste, in which he shares an excerpt from his latest book The Ultralight Startup: Launching a Business Without Clout or Capital.
You can find Venture Capitalists at Work both in print and in eBook form here. More in the slideshow below: