What Programming Language Should I Use to Build a Startup?

Often entrepreneurs ask me 'What technology should I build my startup on?' There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It's a decision every company makes for itself, depending on what it's trying to build and the skills of its cofounders. Nonetheless, there are a few rules that one should adhere to. We discuss them in this blog post.

Incident Response Policy

What happens in your company when a production incident occurs? Usually in a typical startup, you will see engineers running around frantically trying to resolve the problem. However, as soon as the incident is resolved, they forget about it and go back to their usual business. A good incident response policy can help bring order into chaos. We provide a sample template in this blog post.

Why Software Deadlines Never Make Sense

We discuss why software deadlines usually don't make sense.

Analyzing Front-End Performance With Just a Browser

We discuss a number of freely available online tools which can be used to analyze bottlenecks in your website.

Why Smaller Businesses Can't Ignore Security and How They Can Achieve It On a Budget

In this article, we show that security is both important and achievable for smaller companies without breaking a bank.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

'Spheres and Pyramids' : an analogy for leadership

In his book 'It worked for me : in life and leadership', Colin Powell uses a great analogy of how most organizations can be viewed as spheres and pyramids.

He writes:
"Most organizations are like pyramids, with the leaders at the top and everybody else on descending layers down to the bottom, where the heaviest physical work normally takes place and where people start out. Now imagine each person in that organization to be a sphere. On the lowest level of the pyramid, each sphere is tiny, but it’s capable of growing. Everything outside the pyramid is the environment in which the organization lives.

Over time people ascend within the pyramid from layer to ever higher and narrower layers. As they gain experience and show ability, their spheres grow bigger and bigger until they hit the middle walls of the pyramid. During this process, hopefully, they develop into leaders. Once that thing happens, the only way to keep growing and rising is to expand outside the pyramid. Rising leaders begin to learn about the world outside the narrow confines of the pyramid, the world in which the pyramid exists.   […]

At the top [of the pyramid], most of your time is devoted to the external environment […].
Your job is to seek opportunities, identify risks, obtain resources, and serve as the lead spokesman for the needs, aspirations and purposes of all the services."

I found it to be a great analogy for startups. 

As an individual contributor, your success mostly depends on you doing a great job on your own.  As you start rising in the organization, your success depends more and more on how you interact with others, how you inspire your team, how you get other team's managers to buy into your idea.  So, the job of a leader isn't to 'lead by example' and show an individual contributor how you can do it better than him.  But instead 'teach', 'set clear milestones', and 'hold people accountable'.  By the time that you become a Director or VP in an organization, you spend most of your time dealing with people outside the organization (investors, analysts, customers, etc.) vs internally.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

In order to lead more effectively and be more productive, try expressing appreciation to others

A great snippet from 'Manage your energy, not your time' article by HBR,

"When people are able to take more control of their emotions, they can improve the quality of their energy, regardless of the external pressures they’re facing. To do this, they first must become more aware of how they feel at various points during the workday and of the impact these emotions have on their effectiveness. Most people realize that they tend to perform best when they’re feeling positive energy. What they find surprising is that they’re not able to perform well or to lead effectively when they’re feeling any other way."
"A powerful ritual that fuels positive emotions is expressing appreciation to others, a practice that seems to be as beneficial to the giver as to the receiver. It can take the form of a handwritten note, an e-mail, a call, or a conversation—and the more detailed and specific, the higher the impact. As with all rituals, setting aside a particular time to do it vastly increases the chances of success. Ben Jenkins, vice chairman and president of the General Bank at Wachovia in Charlotte, North Carolina, built his appreciation ritual into time set aside for mentoring. He began scheduling lunches or dinners regularly with people who worked for him. Previously, the only sit-downs he’d had with his direct reports were to hear monthly reports on their numbers or to give them yearly performance reviews. Now, over meals, he makes it a priority to recognize their accomplishments and also to talk with them about their lives and their aspirations rather than their immediate work responsibilities."

Friday, July 3, 2015

A good question & answer by Mark Zuckerberg (about founders as CEOs and Twitter)

A great question by Om Malik: 
The question I would have asked Mark Zuckerberg if I was attending the townhall he recently hosted: how much do you think Twitter's problems are driven by the fact that Wall Street (and other investors) judge a CEO differently from a strong founder. For a while Facebook strategy was questioned by short-term oriented investment community but it was the founder (aka) you who stayed the course. Actually it be great to hear from Mark about importance of founders as leaders.

Mark Zuckerberg I can answer that :

I don't think there's anything that makes founders intrinsically better at running companies than non-founder CEOs. There are plenty of good leaders who are both.

That said, there are certain structural advantages that founders may have that can make their jobs easier than those of non-founder CEOs -- including extra social capital within a company and control of company governance.

As you suggest, running a company involves making a lot of tradeoffs between various short and long term interests. The more power you have as a CEO, the easier it is for you to do what you think is right and ignore people pushing for shorter term interests. 

The social capital and moral authority that comes from being the founder and having built many of the company's key products means that on balance people trust you more and give you the benefit of the doubt more when you make tough calls. Fewer people complain and take your time to manage. Fewer people quit and slow your execution. Everything is easier with social capital. 

Similarly, if you have control of the company -- like I do at Facebook and an increasing number of founders do -- then it is very difficult for investors to fire you. This means you don't need to worry about losing your job over a couple of bad quarters or controversial short term decisions, and that makes it easier for you to make the decisions you think are correct as well. 

These pressures compound over time. If you have to make short term tradeoffs because activist investors are pressuring your board for quick financial results and you might get fired otherwise, then the compromises you make will just make it harder and harder to deliver the results you want and execute your mission over time. This eventually catches up to you unless you manage everything carefully. On the other hand, if you have the space to make controversial but good long term bets -- like buying Instagram -- that provides an accelerating tailwind that makes executing your mission easier over time. 

These are clear advantages that founders may have, but they don't guarantee success. At the end of the day, you still need a clear vision and willingness to do what you think is right because there will always be plenty of forces pushing you to make worse tradeoffs regardless of your structure. There are many non-founders CEOs who are excellent at this as well as founders, and there are plenty of founders who are terrible at this despite these advantages.

There's one last thing I'd add, which is that I think people focus too much on the single CEO role and not enough on the broader team. No one builds something by themselves. We could not have built Facebook without our core team. This is not just about the founder or CEO but about the strength of the whole team.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A good team exercise for building trust

Trust is at the foundation of highly efficient teams in companies. If team members have no trust towards one another, they will not be able to openly debate problems. And if they are not able to debate problems, then good decisions will not be made (since everyone will follower the leader without any critical thinking).

There is a very good exercise that helps build trust and understanding among team members. During a team meeting, ask each person to answer four questions:

1. In 30 seconds, describe what you are working on.
2. Where did you grow up?
3. How many kids were in your family?
4. What was the most difficult challenge that you had to overcome in childhood?

At the end of this exercise, you will be surprised about things you didn't know about people you may have been working with for a long time. And it will help you to trust them and work with them better.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

True Sense of Urgency

A good definition of true urgency from a book by John Kotter. Too many companies get it all wrong, by creating a false urgency with fake deadlines, and frantic meetings.

Power of Nudges

A great excerpt from a recent book by Laszlo Bock "Insights from inside Google: Work Rules!"
It reminds us that creating a healthy competition between teams or individuals can be a very effective way to motivate people to excel:

[In Google], one leadership team had developed a reputation for discord, with some members refusing to partner with one another and even undermining one another by withholding resources or information. "Performance management" didn't work [...]. "Coaching" didn't work [...].

What did work was creating a quarterly survey of just two questions: 
1) In the last quarter, this person helped me when I reached out to him/her.
2) In the last quarter, this person involved me when I could have been helpful to, or was impacted by his/her team's work.
Every member of the team rated each other member, and the anonymous ranking and results were shared with everyone. People knew where they fell in the ranking, but didn't know where anyone else fell. The two most obstreperous people, of course ranked near the bottom, and were dismayed by it. [...] Though not strictly a nudge, this was in line with work showing the power of social comparisons.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Business Strategy Powerpoint Templates

Came across a great website with lots of free templates on business strategy:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Seed vs Series A financing milestones

I thought that this was a very good way to visualize milestone requirements to get Seed round vs Series A round financings :

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My pet peeve interview question "How stable is your company?"

During my tenure at several startups 'Gilt Groupe', 'Cinchcast', and my own startup 'SecurityScorecard' - I often come across candidates from larger companies.    One of my pet peeve questions is when they ask me 'How stable is your company? How do I know you won't lose my job in 2 months?'

While it's reasonable for a job applicant to expect a stable well-paying job,   the question usually indicates to me that the person is clueless about startups, and shouldn't be working there.

There is no such thing as job stability anymore - look at big investment banks on Wall Street, most of them lay off 15% of their underperformers every year;  or even more than that when they fail to meet investor expectations.     We've seen huge companies like Enron or Tyco lay off thousands of hard-working employees, because of mismanagement and fraud.

At the same time, we all know stories of 3 people working in a garage, becoming millionaires because they were passionate about what they did, and worked to succeed against all odds.

How do you know the small company is stable? You don't.   If you underperform, you'll be fired. If the company loses money, then you'll lose your job.
But if you are really good - you will easily find another job, and will gain invaluable experience about what went wrong in a business that you worked at.

Just my 2 cents.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

We just cared more

Nice quote from Mark Zuckerberg that's very pertinent to every entrepreneur:

....When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it.

The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.