Feb 2 2023

When to Hire a Chief Customer Officer

(Post 1 of 4 in the series of Scaling CCOs)

Very few startups start life with a Chief Customer Officer, even though customers are the lifeblood of every startup; instead, you’ll likely start your customer service organization with a “jack of all trades” account manager position. You’ll have one person who handles all customer issues from basic support all the way through to true customer success. Sometimes these functions will be handled by the product team but most often they are handled by a customer service team.  Specialized roles and multiple teams (e.g, support vs. professional services) with their own managers can emerge quickly in the life of a startup and these roles will usually come before a full-time CCO, unless one of the company’s founders happens to be playing that role.

But you won’t be able to scale effectively (or quickly) with a hodge-podge of customer support roles and there are some telltale signs that will let you know you need to bring in a CCO. For example, you’ll know it’s time to hire a CCO when you realize you’ve never measured customer satisfaction. You don’t have any metrics at all — no Net Promoter Score, no basic customer satisfaction measures, no product engagement levels…nothing. You’re just hoping for the best, and hope is not a strategy. Another sign that you need to hire a CCO is if you are spending too much of your own time putting out customer fires rather than thinking about how to make customers more successful by using your product.

A second telltale sign will come from your board, if you have one. If your board asks you which of your customer segments has the highest margin, or has the most opportunity, and you don’t have a great answer and aren’t sure how to get to one then it’s time to consider hiring your first CCO. Of course, you don’t have to wait for a board member to ask that question and if you want to be proactive you can create a list of questions that a board member might ask and see whether or not you can answer them. If you can’t, or if it takes a ton of time to track down the answers, you’re probably ready for a CCO.

The search for a CCO can be long and time-consuming and in a future post I’ll talk about what “great” looks like for a CCO, but if you’re at the point where you need a CCO but don’t have the money or time to bring in an executive, a fractional CCO is a great option. A fractional CCO can work well if you have a relatively contained or small customer success/account management organization, but it is already very diverse in its sub-functions (support, account management, success, professional services) and none of the team leaders of those teams have the range of experience to orchestrate the handoffs and synergies across the sub-functions. A CCO touches nearly every part of the organization, from sales, to product, to marketing and this person needs to be a collaborator, a champion for customers, and a strategic thinker that understands consumer trends and demographics. A fractional executive CCO can bring a lot of skills to a startup and help to grow both the customer organization and the individuals in it, including mentoring those in the Customer organization who can become eventual leaders, or helping to reorganize the Customer organization for greater efficiency, or even help interview, vet, and find their replacement.

If you’re a startup and you have potential to scale but seem to be spending a lot of time and energy working on customer issues—without being able to actually move forward—a Chief Customer Officer should be a role you’d want to fill as soon as possible. Almost nothing takes down more companies than poor customer support. 

You can find this post on the Bolster Blog here

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Jan 26 2023

5 Things Successful Founder Operators do Differently

I am fortunate in my current job to spend a lot of time talking to other founders and CEOs. I mentor and coach them, my company and I help counsel them on executive and board searches, and I spend time with them at conferences and seminars. Even when I am giving them advice, I always take time to learn what they’re doing, what works, and what doesn’t work. I’ve noticed a consistent set of behaviors and practices common among the successful founder operators – the ones who go on to lead their companies through multiple chapters of growth and sometimes never hire the “seasoned operator” to come in and take over. 

#1 – They are students of the game. It’s easy to get mired in the day to day details of building a business from scratch. The best founders are the ones who take time to watch, read, and learn. They want to see what other entrepreneurs do and they ask probing questions about what works and doesn’t work. They read blog posts, articles, and books. They listen to podcasts and constantly try to apply learnings to their company. They seek out coaches and mentors. 

#2 – They have positive and regular (and sometimes extreme) personal habits. It’s easy to get sucked into working all the time when you’re building a business from scratch and counting every penny and every minute. However, observing how successful CEOs manage their time shows that either very early mornings or very late nights are pretty common, and not in the way you might think. A 4:30 or 5 am alarm for regular exercise, or drawing a hard line around “no work after 6” means the leader is committed to personal time to stay fresh, and connect with friends and family. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

#3 – They know how to leverage themselves. It’s easy as a founder to think you’re the only person who can get something done. Delegation is hard, and it often involves investing more time to train someone else how to do something than doing it yourself. The best founders figure out how to squeeze every minute out of the day by remembering that building a startup is a team sport and that building up the team around them is the key to their own productivity. 

#4 – They have great work hygiene. It’s easy to not respond to emails or texts or Slack messages because they’re not the most important thing you have going on. It’s easy to not send a Thank You note after a meeting or take time to connect with a colleague on a human level. The best founders are the ones who know the power of their own words, the power of their own presence, and who find the time to inject that power into others’ lives.

#5 – They have a recurring belief in creative destruction. It’s easy to create a new company because there’s a need in the market to disrupt incumbents. Creative destruction is central to the story of entrepreneurs everywhere. It’s very hard to apply that same creative destruction mentality to your own work. The best founder operators are the ones who are not just capable of tearing down an industry…but are equally capable and enthusiastic about tearing down their own product, their own team, and their own business processes in order to build them back up. MVPs are often too “M” and need to be replaced and upgraded consistently over time.

None of these practices is the path of least resistance—they require extra effort. I’m not sure what the cause and effect is here. A weak founder with bad product market fit and an untrusting attitude towards employees can’t just start waking up early and reading a lot and magically become successful. But on the margin, enough correlation leads me to believe that there’s something in the combination of these practices that leads to the competitive edge, the informed intuition, the vision, and the ability to motivate the people around them that are common in successful founder operators. 

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Jan 19 2023

How To Engage With The CMO

(Post 4 of 4 in the series on Scaling CMOs – other posts are, When to Hire your First Chief Marketing Officer, What Does Great Look like in a Chief Marketing Officer and Signs your Chief Marketing Officer isn’t Scaling)

Similar to interactions with all CXOs, you’ll have to capitalize on your moments but there are a few ways I’ve typically spent the most time or gotten the most value out of CMOs over the years.

 One of the key ways to engage with the CMO is to include them in meetings with the rest of the go-to-market (GTM) executives as a group, not in a silo.  While of course I have always had 1:1 meetings with my CMO, I find that the most valuable conversations are the ones with the GTM group as a group, talking about shared objectives and the underlying drivers and coordination points to get there. You might say, “Well, Matt, that’s true of all the GTM executives,” but I disagree. It’s even more important to have the CMO in the same room as the other GTM roles like Sales, Account Management, and Partnerships because marketing needs to be on the leading edge of GTM, not just a function working in a silo at the direction of the other GTM leaders. A lot of what happens in the GTM meetings is nuanced and since Marketing has to somehow make everything tangible, the earlier they hear about it and can start thinking about it the better off the whole company is.

On the other end of the spectrum, I find it very useful to create a thinking session with the CMO, where we take time away from the day-to-day to do deep dives on strategic topics like the company’s positioning, voice, or brand.  Sometimes I like to do these in the context of reading a relevant marketing book or business journal article, or after reading something I ran across on the internet, or something I learned at a conference—something that piqued my interest. Sometimes I don’t have a perspective or an idea, but the thinking session is valuable either way.  I find that the most creative thinking and ideas happen in some of these longer form, unstructured conversations. These sessions are not limited to ideas, positioning, or branding because even the quantitative part of marketing involves a lot of creativity. So, the thinking session can be wide open in terms of agenda, but it needs to be scheduled and done, otherwise all these ideas just ramble around and we don’t make as much progress.

Finally, a lot of my engagement with the CMO is actually a continuation of a longer relationship, before they become the CMO.  Let me explain what I mean. For years, we went through CMOs at Return Path at the same clip as other companies: every 1-2 years we’d make a change and bring in the new flavor-of-the-month CMO and we had a pattern of hiring them from the outside.  Over time, though, we realized that we would be much better served by having more continuity in marketing by investing in our own people and promoting them from within.  The last few CMOs we had at Return Path were all promoted into the role — so I got to know them pretty extensively ahead of time. I was not only thrilled to give them a shot at the top job, but I was in a great place to understand their strengths and weaknesses coming into the role so I could most effectively mentor them.  Of course, you can say the same thing for the other functional departments, but marketing is more acute based on the average tenure of CMOs.

(You can find this post on the Bolster blog here).

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Jan 12 2023

The myth of the “playbook” in executive hiring, and how to work around it

I help mentor CEOs on executive hiring all the time. One common refrain I hear when we’re talking about requirements for the job is about something I like to call The Mythical Playbook. If I only had the exec with the right playbook, thinks the hiring CEO, all my problems in that executive’s area would be magically solved.

I once hired a senior executive with that same mentality. They had the pedigree. They had taken a similar SaaS company in an adjacent space from $50mm to $250mm in revenue in a sub-group within their functional area. They had killer references who said they were ready to graduate to the C-level job. They had The Playbook! 

Suffice to say, things did not go as planned. I ignored an early sign of trouble, at my own peril. The exec came to me with a new org chart for the department, one with 45 people on it instead of the 20-25 who were currently there. I believed the department was understaffed but was surprised to see the magnitude of the ask. When I pushed back in general, the response I got was “I plan to overspend and overdeliver.” Hmm, ok. I don’t mind that, although a more detailed plan might be useful.  

Then I pushed back on a specific hire, pointing to a box in the org chart with a title that didn’t make sense to me. The response I got was “Yeah, I’m not entirely sure what that person does either, but I know I need that, trust me.” Yikes. 

There are two reasons why The Playbook is mythical. 

The first reason there’s no such thing as a Playbook for executives is that every situation is different. No two companies are identical in terms of offering or culture or structure. Even within the same industry, no two competitive landscapes are the same at different points in time. If life as a senior executive were as simple as following a Playbook, people would make a zillion dollars off publishing Playbooks, and senior executive jobs would be easier to do, and no one would get fired from them.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t value in analogous experience. There is! But when hiring an executive, you’re not solely looking for someone who claims to know all the answers based on previous experience. That is a recipe for blindly following a pattern that might or might not exist. The value in the analogous experience is in knowing what things worked, sure, but more importantly in knowing when they worked, why they worked, under what conditions they worked, what alternatives were considered, and what things fell apart on the road to success. A Playbook is only useful if it can be applied thoughtfully and flexibly to new situations.

The second reason there’s no such thing as a Playbook when it comes to hiring executives is that the person who might have written the Playbook is actually not available for your job. Most CEOs start a search by saying, “I want to hire the person who took XYZ Famous Company from where I am today to 10x where I am today.” The problem with that is simple. That person is no longer available to you. They have made a ton of money, and they have moved beyond your job in their career progression. What you want is the person who worked for that person, or even one more layer down…or the person who that person WAS before they took the job at XYZ Famous Company. Those people are much harder to find. And when you find them, they don’t have the Playbook. They may have seen a couple chapters of it, but that’s about all.

In the end, the department I referenced above was more successful, but not because of adherence to the new exec’s entire Playbook. The Playbook got the department out over its skis – we overspent, but we did not overdeliver. The new exec ended up leaving the company before they could implement a lot, and that person’s successor ended up refocusing and rightsizing the department. That said, the best thing the department got out of the exec with the Playbook was their successor, which was huge — one element of a strong exec’s Playbook is how to build a machine as opposed to just playing whack-a-mole and solving problems haphazardly.

(Note – I am using the singular they in this and in other posts now, as Brad. Mahendra, and I chose to do in Startup Boards. I don’t love it, but it seems to be becoming the standard for gender neutral writing, plus it helps mask identities as well when I write posts like this.)

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Jan 5 2023

Book Short: Must-Read for CXOs

Lead Upwards: How Startup Joiners Can Impact New Ventures, Build Amazing Careers, and Inspire Great Teams, by Sarah E. Brown, is an amazing book – and one that fits really well with our Startup Revolution series, in particular our book Startup CXO.

I kept thinking as I was reading it that it was the other side of the proverbial coin…that Startup CXO was about the details of each executive job in a company…but Sarah’s book is about the things common to ALL executive jobs – how to get them, how to succeed at them, essentially how to BE an executive. I read it front to back in a single day one weekend and loved it.

Some of the most insightful moments in her book are:

  • Why big company executives who join startups often struggle
  • How to get promoted by proactively doing the next job – act “as if” – while still excelling at your current job
  • The importance of managing to the CEO’s preferred work style (personally…I’d debate this – I think CEO’s should manage to their CXOs’ work styles or at least make it a two-way street, but her point is very valid!)
  • Why executives shouldn’t just up and quit with “two weeks’ notice” but that executives also need to be mentally prepared to be shown the door when they resign
  • The importance of getting your hands dirty and not being “above” doing the work of your team
  • Mastering the art of data-driven storytelling

Sarah quotes a number of CEOs throughout the book who I know and respect, from Nick Mehta at Gainsight to Mindy Lauck at Broadly. It was fun to read the book and see a number of very familiar names in it along the way.

Sarah and I did an interesting format – sort of a “dueling fireside chat” about our respective books on a webinar last fall. We had a fantastic conversation that could have gone on for hours. If you’re an executive – or an aspiring executive – you should go read her book.

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Dec 22 2022

My end of year routine (Taking Stock, Part III)

I have an end of year work routine that’s a pull-up and self-assessment. I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve written about its evolution in Part I and Part II of this series.

I’ve always taken a few minutes at this time of the year to ask myself these four questions:

  • Am I having fun at work?
  • Am I learning and growing as a professional?
  • Is my work financially rewarding enough, either in the short-term or in the long-term?
  • Am I having the impact I want to have on the world?

If I answer at least 2.5 of these questions as yes, I feel like things are on track. If I am below that, or even at 2.5 sometimes, it’s time for a rethink of what I’m doing or how I’m doing it.

I was having lunch with my friend Bryton, the CEO of Aquabyte, a few weeks back, and that conversation spurred on a 5th question, which I’ll now add to my end of year routine:

  • Am I excited about what I’m doing?

I’ve realized now that I’m over two years into the journey at Bolster that there’s a significant value in being really into the subject matter of the business. I thought I was at Return Path…but now I realize that I wasn’t nearly as excited about what I was doing as I could have been. Our work at Bolster of helping founders be more successful is more personally meaningful to me than solving email deliverability challenges. That work had real impact on the world…but I just wasn’t into it as much.

And that makes a big difference in answering the general question of “Am I on track?” at the end of the year. I’ll skip next week and see you all in 2023. Happy New Year and Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Dec 15 2022

Signs Your CMO Isn’t Scaling

(This is the third post in the series… The first one When to Hire your first CMO is here, and What does Great Look Like in a CMO is here).

 In Startup CXO I wrote that I always think that the French Fry Theory can be applied to many things, usually other food items. The French Fry Theory is the idea that you always have room to eat one more fry and in my case I always do. But the same idea applies to marketing because you can always do “one more thing.” One more press release. One more piece of collateral. One more page on the corporate web site. One more newsletter. Trade show. Webinar. Research study. Ad. Search engine placement. Vendor. System. Speech. Take your pick.

The world we operate in is so dynamic that marketing (when done well) is nearly impossible to ever feel like you’re completely on top of and it’s near impossible to get closure. There’s always more to be done, and the trick to doing it well is knowing when to say “no” as much as when to charge into something. In my experience, CMOs who aren’t scaling well past the startup stage are the ones who typically do one or all of the following.

First, they’re stuck in “french fry mode” and treat all tasks like french fries. They focus on task execution (eating the next fry) and can’t pull up to think about whether they’re doing the right thing (should they be ordering another plate of fries?) and they are simply not scaling. If your CMO is constantly putting out fires that’s a sign that they may be too task-oriented and not strategic enough.

 Another sign that your CMO isn’t scaling is if they report on activity as opposed to outcomes. This is related to my prior point.  When all the world is a task list, then report-outs are just volumes of tasks but tasks are not the same as productivity or results.  I’m not sure why marketing ended up like this, but it’s frequently the only function in the company that spends time producing beautiful reports on all the stuff they do.  It probably comes from years of working with agencies who report like that to justify client spend.  Regardless, can you imagine seeing reports on activity instead of outcomes from other departments? Do you really need the report from the CFO that talks about how many collections calls the team made as opposed to reporting on bad debt? Or a report from the CRO talking about how many meetings a rep had with no mention of pipeline or closes – seriously?  No thank you.  CMOs who can’t link activity to outcome with a focus on outcome are not scaling with the job and for all you know they may be rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

A final sign that your CMO isn’t scaling is if they spend disproportionate amounts of time on creative or agency work.  That’s the glamorous and fun part of marketing, for sure.  Having made TV commercials as a head of marketing when I was at MovieFone, I can attest to that.  But even if you’re a big B2C marketer with a lot of agency and creative spend, while you should be supervising that work, spending all your time on it is a sign that you’re not interested in all the other, well, french fries.

Marketing is becoming increasingly complex and differentiated, and it can easily be a service center as opposed to a strategic function. I don’t think that’s ideal, but that may be how a company decides to run it. But even if it is a service function your CMO needs to able to create space in their day for thinking and analysis, they need to be strategic, and they need to be able to stop doing “one more thing.”

( You can find this post on the Bolster Blog here)

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Dec 8 2022

The quest for diversity in Tech leadership is stalling. Here’s why.

There’s been a growing cry for tech companies to add diversity to their leadership teams and boards, and for good reason. Those two groups are the most influential decision making bodies inside companies, and it’s been well documented that diverse teams, however you define diversity — diversity of demographics, thoughts, professional experience, lived experience — make better decisions. 

Gender, racial, and ethnic representation in executive teams and in board rooms are not new topics.  There’s been a steady drumbeat of them over the last decade, punctuated by some big newsworthy moments like the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and the tragic murder of George Floyd.  

It’s also true that in people-focused organizations, and most tech companies claim to be just that, it’s beneficial to have different types of leaders in terms of role modeling and visibility across the company. As one younger woman on my team years ago said, “if you can see it…you can be it!”

My company Bolster is a platform for CEOs to efficiently build out their executive teams and boards. But while nearly every search starts with a diversity requirement, many don’t end that way. 

Here’s why, and here’s what can be done about it. 

For boards, the “why” is straightforward. Board searches are almost never a priority for CEOs. They’re viewed as optional. Bolster’s Board Benchmark study in 2021 indicated that only a third of private companies have independent directors at all;even later stage private companies only have independent directors two-thirds of the time. That same study indicated that 80% of companies had open Board seats. The comparable longitudinal study in 2022 indicated that the overwhelming majority of those open board seats were still open. 

Independent directors are usually the key to diversity, as the overwhelming majority of founders and VCs are still white and male. It takes a lot of time and effort to recruit and hire and onboard new directors, and in the world of important versus urgent, it will always be merely important. Without prioritizing hiring independents, board diversity may be a lofty goal, but it’s also an empty promise. I wrote about my Rule of 1s here and in Startup Boards – I wish more CEOs and VCs took the practice of independent boards and board diversity seriously. The silver lining here is that when CEOs do end up prioritizing a search for an independent director, they are increasingly open to diverse directors, even if those people have less experience than they might want. That openness to directors who may never have been on a corporate board (but who are board-ready), who may be a CXO instead of a CEO, is key. Of the several dozen independent directors Bolster has helped match to companies in the past year, almost 70% of them are from demographic populations that are historically underrepresented in the boardroom.

Diversity is stalling for Senior Executive hiring for the opposite reason. Exec hires are usually urgent enough that CEOs prioritize them. And they frequently start their searches by talking about the importance of diversity. But Senior Executives are much more often hired for their resume than for competency or potential. Almost all executive searches start with some variation of this line, which I’m lifting directly from a prior post: “I want to hire the person who took XYZ Famous Company from where I am today to 10x where I am today.” The problem with that is simple. That person is no longer available to be hired. They have made a ton of money, and they have moved beyond that job in their career progression. So inevitably, the search moves on to look for the person who worked for that person, or even one more layer down…or the person who that person WAS before they took the job at XYZ Famous Company. Those people may or may not be easy to find or available, but they feel less risky. In the somewhat insular world of tech, those candidates are also far less likely to be diverse in background, experience, thought, or, yes, demographics.

Running a comprehensive executive search based on competencies, cultural fit, scale experience, and general industry or analogous industry experience is much harder. It takes time, patience, digging deeper to surface overlooked candidates or to check references, and probably a little more risk taking on the part of CEOs. And while CEOs may be willing to take some risk on a first-time independent director, fewer are willing to take a comparable level of risk on an unproven or less known executive hire. 

For some CEOs, the answer is just to take more risk — or more to the point, recognize that any senior hire carries risk along a number of dimensions, so there’s no reason to prioritize your narrow view of resume pedigree over any critical vector. For others, the answer may be to bring the focus of diversity in senior hires to “second level” leaders like Managers, Directors, or VPs, where the perceived risk is lower, and the willingness to invest in training and mentorship is higher. Those people in turn can be promoted over time into more senior positions. 

Not every executive or board hire has to be demographically diverse. Not every executive team or board has to have individual quotas for different identity groups, and diversity has many flavors to it. But without doing the work, tech CEOs will continue to bemoan the lack of diversity in their leadership ranks, and miss out on the benefits of diverse leadership, while not taking ownership for those efforts stalling.

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Dec 1 2022

What Does Great Look Like in a CMO?

(This is the second post in the series… the first one When to Hire your first Chief Marketing Officer is here).

Whether you have someone in your company that can level up to greatness or you need to bring in a CMO, the characteristics and skills of a great CMO you should aspire to include some of the following.

A great CMO understands that the marketing budget starts with drivers and business results and works backwards in a modular way to spend, not the other way around. Yes, they will get some resources but rather than spend that money to fill in the gaps on their team to make the Marketing function strong or powerful, they’ll look at the business needs and drivers. They understand what the business needs to achieve — the sales plan — then what the funnel looks like. With that information a great CMO will then know what marketing levers they can pull to both optimize the funnel and make sure the funnel is full.  So, they build the plan in a modular way. By doing that, if the budget needs to be trimmed, they can ask the right questions and easily trim. If you start the other way—if you start by looking at the budget and filling gaps and needs, you can get into a situation where you’re looking for ways to keep people busy, shifting them to where they’re needed but where they might not have skills to make an immediate impact, or you’re always scrambling to keep up with developments in sales and the funnel that you didn’t see. A great CMO will always start with the drivers and business needs and be conservative with resources and a modular approach helps to do that.

A second characteristic of a great CMO is that they make spend decisions based on a deep understanding of data, not on a hunch or because “that’s what’s always worked.”   Even in traditional B2C businesses that make heavy use of traditional non-addressable media (like print, outdoor, radio, and TV) – even in those businesses, today everything can be tested and measured to some degree.  A strong CMO is one who starts every answer with “let’s look at the data,”and if the data doesn’t exist, they’ll create metrics and measures to approximate an answer.

A great CMO will behave like a CEO in terms of being able to orchestrate the different pieces and parts of their organization.  Just as a CEO has to manage a litany of disparate functions, so too do CMOs have to manage a litany of disparate channels, they have to manage up and down the organization, and sideways, too.  Gone are the days when CMOs were either “brand or direct” or “online or offline.”  Today, the average CMO has to be able to manage 20+ different channels.  The level of complexity and number of points of failure for the job has exploded.  A great CMO handles this with the fluidity that the CEO handles moving from a Sales Pipeline meeting to a Product Roadmapping exercise. 

The final characteristic of a great CMO is that they get away from their ivory tower–they spend time in-market and in-product, not just time looking at data, budgets, and reports.  Given all the responsibilities around multi-channel orchestration, systems, budgeting, and execution in general, it can be very easy for a CMO to operate 100% from behind the desk.  The great ones want — need — to be out in the field, attending sales calls, partner meetings, events, serving as executive sponsor on some key accounts; in general, collecting primary data on the company’s products and brand.

 A great CMO can be cultivated from within your company and it’s not necessary to look outside, but regardless of how you get a CMO, the great ones will have the characteristics and traits listed here.

(You can find this post on the Bolster Blog here)

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Nov 17 2022

Book Short: It’s All About Creative Destruction

I was excited to read Launchpad Republic: America’s Entrepreneurial Edge and Why It Matters, by Howard Wolk and John Landry the minute Brad sent it to me. I love American history, I love entrepreneurship, and I’m deeply concerned about the health of our country right now. I have to say…on all fronts, the book did not disappoint!

The authors make several points, but the one that sets the tone for the book is that like our country’s origins and culture in general, entrepreneurship is itself rebellious. It’s about upstarts challenging the status quo in some way or other with a better way to do something, or with a new thing. The balance between protecting private property rights and allowing for entrepreneurs to fail and to disrupt incumbent leaders is what makes America unique, especially compared to the way European business culture has traditionally operated (consensus-oriented) and the way China operates (authoritarian).

I loved how the authors wove a number of business history vignettes together with relevant thru lines. Business in Colonial times and how Alexander Hamilton thought about national finances may seem dusty and distant, but not when you see the direct connection to John D. Rockefeller, IBM, GE, Microsoft, or Wendy Kopp.

The book was also a good reminder that some of the principles that have made America great and exceptional also underly our successful business culture, things like limited government, checks and balances within government and between government and the private sector, and decentralized finance.

Without being overly political, the authors also get into how our political and entrepreneurial system can and hopefully will tackle some of today’s more complex issues, from climate change to income inequality to stakeholder capitalism.

At the heart of all of it is the notion that entrepreneurs’ creativity drive America forward and are a leading force for making our country and our economy durable and resilient. As a career entrepreneur, and one who is now in the business of helping other entrepreneurs be more successful, this resonated. If you’re a student of American history…or a student of entrepreneurship, this is a great read. If you’re both, it’s a must read.

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Nov 9 2022

When to Hire a Chief Marketing Officer

(Post 1 of 4 in the series of Scaling CMOs)

Unlike some of the other teams in a startup, the marketing function often has a few people carrying out various tasks and you’ll find that there is at least a medium sized and quite busy marketing department—even at the earliest startup stages. You could operate this way for quite some time and it’s common to have a marketing team with multiple mid-level leaders well before there is a seasoned leader at the helm.  One of those leaders may be a VP of Marketing and, depending on the nature of the company, that VP is likely someone with a specialized area of focus within marketing (brand, digital, event, etc.) who has some working knowledge of the other areas.

You might be able to keep going with a VP of Marketing for quite some time, but you’ll know it’s time to hire a CMO when you run into a series of problems or challenges that ought to be easy to get done. For example, if you begin to think that no one in your company but you knows how to orchestrate a successful product launch it might be time to hire a CMO. A successful product launch requires cross-functional and cross-team effort and if you don’t have a broadly skilled Marketing manager, you’ll end up doing a lot of the work yourself. It doesn’t have to be a product launch that is the motivating factor, though, because it could be any situation where you find that you are spending too much of your own time managing smaller pieces of marketing because your marketing leader isn’t experienced enough across all of the function’s many sub-disciplines. So, the first sign that you need to hire a CMO is if you’re basically doing the CMO job as the CEO.

Another telltale sign that you need to hire a CMO could stem from your inability to answer simple questions from your board, like “How would you spend an extra $2mm in marketing if you had it?” Or, “What would you cut if you had to reduce your marketing spend by 50%?” These are the scenarios that a CMO spends a lot of time thinking about and they’ll have a whole slew of answers and ways to get to the next level, or ways to be more efficient with the marketing dollars they do have. If it’s a struggle for you to cobble together a good answer, or if you don’t know how to get to an answer on questions like these, it’s time to hire a CMO.

A fractional CMO can make a big impact in your company immediately and that might be the way to go if you have a generalist marketing manager or director who has strategic inclinations but not enough experience operating as a strategic executive. A fractional CMO would be able to mentor the person who just needs a little more supervision to “level up.” On the other hand, if you have a few junior leaders of marketing sub-functions, none of whom is experienced enough to coordinate activities across groups, but you don’t have enough complexity or scale for a full-time CMO, a fractional executive can come in to help with coordination and put some processes in place until you need a full-time CMO. 

Marketing is the key function in building your brand, reaching out to customers, and creating higher levels of engagement, and while there are tactical aspects that can be handled with competent managers of various sub-functions, you’ll need to think about hiring a Chief Marketing Officer when lots of coordination is required and you find yourself driving a lot of it.

You can find this post on the Bolster Blog here)

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