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Monday, April 30, 2012


A friend recently sent me some slides for an upcoming presentation.  Included in the presentation was a slide titled, “Founder’s Disease.”  He defined Founder’s Disease as the “Lack of Timely Decision Making, in a Thoughtful and Logical Manner.”  He further indicated that the result of the disease is “the Singular Cause of Delays, Wasted Effort and Needless Expenditures in Product Development.”

Founders sometimes are not familiar with the processes involved in developing their products and often, they lack the experience to price or manage the development process.  They may have identified an experienced team, but the ability of managing or in trusting the team has not developed enough to rely on the team.  This is often the case when founders that have never been in an operating role in a business.

Founders come with a wide range of experiences.  Nearly all founders are highly educated and smart and they have the entrepreneurial spirit.  Being smart and having latched onto a technology they love does not equip them to manage a company.  This is one of the reasons that having great advisors and a good Board of Directors is important.  The founders can gain from experiences of others and implement the correct strategies.  Lack of experience is also the reason that investors may elect to replace the founder post investment.

 Unfortunately, having all the tools does not lead to using them correctly.  Picking out the wrong tool, or being bogged-down in the decision process, slows progress.  Founders being smart can result in them believing they have the answers or in engaging in extended analysis but no decisions.  They forget that the ability to make decisive decisions in a timely manner saves money and eliminates confusions.  They remain highly focused on making the right decision but not on ending the process with a decision.

The ability to make these decisions also complicates their negotiations.  Founders forget that having specific goals and needs are part of the process.  Negotiations should not resemble the process of “trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.”    Negotiation strategies seeking the endpoint of lowest price without a working relationship can result in a bad result.  Similarly, negotiating with no real idea of what the result should be, makes for a bad relationship in the end.

As a founder, you should develop strategy and confirm the strategy with your advisors.  Ensure there is logic and business in the decisions and that it makes good sense.  Trying to proceed any other way is like trying to play chess with a Professional Ranked player.  You will likely loose in the end!

Watch out for Founder’s Disease!  Make solid decisions with help from the right members of your team.  Remember that you have a team of people and getting their input may help you save or make money. 

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Interpretation Please!

Managers with employees often have relationships that seem strange.  This assumes the manager is aware of the fact the staff are acting in a manner that suggest problems.  Actually, as a manager, it is common to be stuck on what your needs and goals are and miss all the signals emanating from the staff.

Take for example a strained relationship where the employee thinks you are like Scrooge.  It is very unlikely anyone on your team will bring this to your attention by a direct statement because people feel that providing negative input can result in loss of their job.  When the team is having problems, they may start to show signs, but you have to be aware of them.  One of the signs might be “passive resistance.”  As a boss, you might interpret passive resistance as the person just not performing the job.  They may be telling you they have a problem by saying they will tackle the job, but then go so slow that you would have been better doing it yourself.

Another indication might be that when you walk through the building, people are not visible.  They may be taking cover because they have problems being around you.  They recognize your interactions with them are so negative they would like to fade into the background.  Possibly, they are coming in late or working hours that lessen the interactions.  Maybe they are taking extended leave beyond what seems normal. 

Your skills must include an interpretive set that helps to evaluate the people you work with.  They do not have to love you, but they should respect and feel they can work with you.  When you miss their indicators, you leave the relationships to chance.  Developing these skills is something that takes time, but will help you in the end. 

Take an example of a work place where office workers come in and quit to take other jobs in less than a year creating a high turnover of employees.  One or two workers departing may not raise your antennae but if this happens repeatedly over several years, you may want to review the issues and determine if it is YOU.  The boss dictates the activities to perform but never establishes a real relationship with the team.   Always working with a demanding boss that underpays you is not a motivational experience.  Scrooge sometimes had a better relationship with Bob Cratchit than some bosses have with their team.

A poor attitude toward the team evolves over time and can eventually creep into the way you behave with your potential partners.  Approaching partners with a “hand full of give me” and offering nothing in return does not lead to a great relationship.  You need your business partners just as you need your team.  None of them are your slaves or furniture there for your abuse.  They are people and want to be treated with respect and to be recognized.

In short, if things seem to be going strangely around you, perhaps you need to say, “Interpreter Please.” This may be someone you trust in the organization or as a mentor that will help you take a close look and understand better what is taking place.  Waiting for the sky to fall is not the way to run the business and morale will suffer.  Remember, there is no I in TEAM.  Treat them as if you need them.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Micro WHAT?

Entrepreneurs often were managers in a prior position.  They had specific duties relating to a narrow field like product development, business development, or some other unique function.  This was the case with me.  I ran a major research program during my early years and later was involved in business development.  Yes, I did micromanage my team early on, so I am telling you to do something I did not do well in my early years. TRUST YOUR TEAM!

Interestingly, one of the issues that new managers miss is that when they take on broader roles in the company, they tend to help the certain teams too much and ignore others.  Those getting the help are in areas the new manager knows the most about and they tend to stay away from those areas they know the least about.  A pattern can emerge if you are not careful and that is one of micromanaging a select team and not managing the rest of the company.   This leads to all kinds of problems with the team and their morale.

Interacting with new CEOs is always enlightening.  You see a remake of your life years ago.  For example, the micromanaging issue is one that you can advise on, but you know that once upon a time you did it too.  You can alert the CEO but you cannot make them change overnight.  

It is so easy to make the team disenchanted when they have you are watching them around the clock on every issue and they feel you will override their decisions.  Likewise, those not receiving any interactions think you do not care and tend to slack off their duties.  This has a tendency to be a NO WIN for all concerned.

You need a great team working for the startup and want them to work as a team.  You spend significant time and resources trying to recruit them to the early stage company, which they see as risky.  Doing a great job on recruiting is half the battle.  The other half is with your ability to provide objectives and monitor their progress.  It is fine to interact when they need help, but try to hold back when they do not.  Have regular meetings to get reporting on tasks and milestone completion.  You can try to spot problem points and provide suggestions.  This is a balancing act, but if you do not do it right you will move too far to the right or left. 

Your team is the company’s greatest asset with the product being second most important.  Learning to manage your team without over managing or under managing them is a task worthy of your learning.  If they are great, learn to trust them to deliver.  They may deliver in a different way than you would have but who cares.  Ask a simple question, did they do what was expected? How they did it may be much less important.  Maybe you will find they did the job differently but in a manner that was better for the company in general.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Am a What?

I once had a boss that would provide input to questions in a highly political manner.  His advice often allowed for multiple interpretations depending on the mood you were in that day.  It became difficult to follow the directions, but he was skilled and a good manager.  The difficulty was in communication to the staff not in the quality of the directions, assuming you figured out what they were.  Eventually, I learned to interrogate the boss to clarify and narrow down on the actions or suggestions.  I may have appeared as more aggressive, but it was necessary.

In running a company, I always had to keep expenses down as well as hold on to equity and not distribute it like candy.  This was my fiduciary duty.  Employees always wanted higher pay or more options.  For me, finding balance was not easy.  Giving out too much would not be good management, giving out too little make me look cheap.  Bet you can guess how I managed things.  I learned to use the political speak of my former boss to keep people in check.  So what if I was cheap and unclear!

Working with contractors and keeping fees low was also part of duties.  Never mind that contractors learned that fee reductions resulted in lower level people working on the assigned tasks.  The company paid lower fees.  So what if it took longer to get tasks done or that they were not to the desired standards.  At least it appeared to cost less, sort of.  Guess I never took into account the fact that quality and overruns may have evened out the lost capital for the contractors.

The above partly applies to me, but it covers so many entrepreneurs in startups, I wanted to stress the point without naming names.  In your startup, do you provide clear definitive instructions?  Do you hold a quarter so tight the “Eagle Screams?”  There is a balance and you need to find it early in the company’s development.  Your employees are discussing you and your management style, or maybe complaining about you and your style.  Maybe you have a complete lack of style!

Do not be surprised when one day someone says you are an ASS; they most likely have been calling you that behind your back for a long time.  You may respond, “I Am a What?”  Realize that how you present yourself to others will define how everyone believes you will behave.  You may be the greatest person and care about all those you work with, but failing to act that way will cause partners or employees to eventually desire to work elsewhere.  You need their best work and you need dedication!

Try striking balance in your business dealings.  You want your partners and employees to perform with enthusiasm and deliver quality.  You want them to be advocates of the company, not seek other places to work.  How you behave around all those you meet or work with will send a clear message.  Make sure it is the message you want delivered.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Win Twice Maybe Even Thrice

Negotiating can have positive and negative aspects.  Discussions often focus on what each party gets and whether they believe it is enough.  When parties are too far apart, the discussions stall and people believe they are so disadvantaged that they want to walk away, or worse, they decide to take negative actions that harm both parties.  It is extremely important to read the tealeaves and head this type of event off before it goes too far. 

The ability to recognize whether discussions are moving toward an impasse is not too easy.  Sometimes you will have to look several steps ahead much like playing chess.  Chess is a game that requires considering multiple moves at level one followed by the potential for subsequent moves including possible opponent countermoves.  The great players can see several moves in advance as well as predict the countermoves of the opponents.  The same is true for military actions.  Great generals are always assessing the landscape, strengths, moves, countermoves and plan actions in an effort to win; just like in chess.  It is your ability to consider all the options and countermoves in a negotiation that can help you see a stall coming.

One of the best ways to increase the benefit and prevent a stall is seeking a Win-Win.  This concept described in the books on negotiations.  A Win-Win is exactly as it sounds; both parties come out of the negotiations feeling that they won something important to them.  The parties feel good about what the accomplishment and believe they can work together in the future. 

Getting to a Win-Win sometimes works by seeing the issues from both prospective, yours and the other sides.  Adjusting the parameters of a deal to address the key issues of each party and describing how the proposal works for you and for them.  Modification of deal parameters with mutual input seeking this type of resolution often makes for a lasting arrangement with minimal conflict later.

One of the ways to manage expectations of financial benefit is to seek ways to increase the size of the benefit such that what each party receives is larger. This means working on a way to increase the total value of a fixed percentage; i.e. would you rather have 10% of $1M or 10% of $1B.  Seeking a way to improve the payout can really help turn the discussion to something that leaves both parties excited.

The one factor that is always fun and leaves everyone pleased is winning 2 times, or 3 times.  This means that you complete a deal to find a second level expected or unexpected benefit. Take for example a case of negotiating a sale of a company at a fixed price.  Both parties are happy with the deal but discover a third buyer may be approached which increases the payout to the original two parties.  The option may have never been considered, but as part of the discussion, it circumstances took it to a reality.  Another case it two companies completing a deal sending out a press release.  Enthusiasm from the release led investors or customers to bid up the company valuations or dramatically increase sales. 

Seeking a Win-Win is a great way to go if you can move the discussions that way.  Actively seek the “Win Twice or Even Thrice” opportunities will just make you that much happier!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ask These 3 Questions?

Starting a company will come with many stresses and strains over a prolonged time.  Even well run companies have issues that arise and the issues may start or add to conflicts or problems.  One of the things you can do to ensure your potential success is to build a great team.  Building relationships and fostering team spirit may be the things that can help get through the tough spots.  Keep in mind that the team members have differences in their ability to tolerate stresses, react to activities, and interpret situations.  As the team leader, it will be your responsibility to help foster the team spirit and guide them through the tough spots.

Over the years, three questions have emerged to the top of my list when giving advice to friends, team members, and the leaders.  Keep in mind that during the great times as well as the difficult ones all individuals need to retain their motivations.  It is very hard to go to work each day and perform to the optimal standards once people become disenchanted.  It is also difficult if some of the infighting starts or disagreements develop.  Money, salary, recognition and other factors can move the situations to become more stressful.

Ask yourself three questions when you are deciding to join, stay or leave any business or job.  These may apply to all sizes of businesses and not just to startups.  The advice applies to entrepreneurs and every member of the team.  It may be hard to make the decisions, but the advice can serve as a guide to help in the process.  The questions are valid to ask, but your level of financial resources will have some bearing on your ability to stick with the business.  Regardless of whether you are an employee or the leader, these questions relate to you, hence they go both ways.  Your answers to these questions may help you determine whether sticking out the tough times is worth the effort.

Do you like the business?  I have become a strong advocate of advising people to work with businesses they feel strongly about.  Being motivated by what you are doing and finding it enjoyable it important to your desire to perform well.  Hating what you do every day will eventually lead to a loss of drive.  Your performance may suffer and the company may not derive the expected benefit from your work. Consider a position change in the company or leaving the company.

Do you like the people?  Going to work you will be seeing some of the same people every day.  A company with multiple locations may even have your boss at a remote location but you still interact regularly with this person.  People you work are the ones you will rely on as the team tackles difficult problems.  If you do not feel the connections, dislike them, or do not believe you can work with them in a proper manner, your work and the team’s effort will eventually suffer.  The leader should attempt to foster relationship building when possible, making sure the team work and play well together.

Do you trust the people?  Trust is a most critical characteristic of any relationship be it personal or business.  Partners need to know they can trust each other and agreements reached will be honored.  Employees need to feel they are respected and will not be taken advantage of.  The employees also want to feel their work receives the credit it deserves and others do not take the credit improperly.  Most any of aspect of personal and business relationships are built on trust for the relationships to last.  As a leader, help see that trust becomes part of the company building efforts.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How Good is Your WAG?

Early in startups, management devotes extended time and effort planning for budgets, timings, and goals.  Corporate presentations will contain key areas that you wish to communicate in an investor pitch.  Eventually, you may add a positive spin to some portion of the data or answer to a questions to try to gain a more enthusiastic response.   Presidents do it all the time.  Just watch TV and you will see the Spin-Doctors going to work.  We always tend to reinvent or create a story that is more easily understood or better explains events that took place in history.  This tendency to revise history to explain events is a topic covered in several books.

One of the more interesting problems comes when you are asked questions and you are unsure of the answers. Sometimes CEOs will create a response on the spot and it will not have been fully thought out.  Standing there with everyone looking at you waiting for a response can be unpleasant when you feel unsure of answers.  It at this moment you use one of your lifelines and use a WAG for the answer.  Yes, it does happen and most people in the right situation will do it!

A CFO first introduced me to the WAG about 10 years ago.  We were making a corporate presentation to potential investors.  One of the group asked an unusual and unexpected financial question.  As a team, we were quite analytical and most of our financial issues were well thought out.  We were prepared to answer key questions and had practiced the responses.    The unusual question was interesting.  Clearly, I was caught off guard and unsure how to answer.  Then my CFO came to the rescue and offered a response.  It sounded great and I thought I was off the hook.  The investor then asked how the answer was derived and the CFO said, “It’s a WAG.”  I did not know what that meant at the time and just thought it was a financial term. 

I guess I was not the only one in the room that did not understand this new term.  Another person in the room said, “What is a WAG?”  Then in a very serious tone, the CFO says, “Wild ASS Guess.”  The tension was broken and we engaged in a dialogue to address points around the financial issue.  If the WAG had been too far out of line, we may have been asked to exit rather than continue to talk.

The point is that when you are asked really difficult questions that you are not prepared for, you may decide to GUESS.  It is possible to get into trouble at this point.  Investors are trying to learn facts.  Leaving them with information that is not accurate is WRONG and can lead to legal problems!  If you are guessing, you need to make sure they understand the answer cannot be taken as fact.  One alternative is to say, “we need to review this question and will get back to you with an accurate response.”  It is OK to not have all the answers it is NOT OK to leave behind misleading information.  Just make sure if you offer a WAG it is identified properly and has some measure of creditability.   Then follow up with more solid information when you have worked through the problem. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Two Sided Coin

I have wonder often what people see that is different from what I see.   Clearly, we are looking at exactly the same thing and the language as written could not be any plainer.  Yet, for some reason people react differently or interpret what they see differently.

Over the last few weeks, I was traveling through an airport going through security.  The signs at the start of the line cannot be any clearer.  They even have pictures of what you can and cannot take through security.  If that is not enough, the TSA agent is shouting out instructions that spell out the info.  Even if you missed all of that, between the check in process providing information and the regular discussion on the news, you would think even the most unsophisticated traveler knows the info. Wrong!

Buying great wines is costly and getting it home safely is important.  However, I fail to see where the instructions at the security line allow a traveler the right to take 5 bottles of wine in the carry-on luggage.  They apparently read some of the instructions since the cosmetics and other items are neatly displayed in bags ready to go through the x-ray scanner.  What did they see that told them they could take 5 bottles of wine through in a suitcase?  Why did they seem surprised when the TSA agent took them to the ticket counter to check the bag and tell them to go back through security again?  Oddly enough, the same line with the wine travelers had a younger adult that pulled a completely filled 2 liter water bottle out of a bag.  The person took the bottle out and asked if it could go through the security screen.  At least the person asked, but I thought the instructions were clearer than that.

Simple day-to-day activities and written statements often mean different things to different people.  They may be wrong in an interpretation, but they have a different one.  How does this relate to your startup?  Even simple agreements that are short and apparently clear can have different interpretations to different people.  It always seems strange but a person seeing a glass half-empty or half-full but not both.  It is always important to keep these differences in mind because working through the differences can lead to success or failure.  There are always two sides to every story even in business! This can occur in written documents, people’s personalities, and approaches to problems.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon