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Bolster

Offsites in the age of COVID

I attended two offsites in the last two weeks – both great in terms of seeing people in person.  Interesting how differently they handled COVID protocols, although they were different groups with different vibes. One was a CEO conference for one of my VC’s portfolios.  There was a huge emphasis in all the pre-conference comms about COVID.  And lots of testing.  We all got mailed a very sophisticated in-house PCR test ahead of time to take and photograph/upload, complete with chemical reagents and some kind of centrifuge.  Then those of us who flew in for the event had to do an on-site rapid test before entering the opening reception and even had a side room to sit in for 15…

I’m Having a Blast at Bolster — Here’s Why

Someone asked me the other day how things are going at Bolster, the new company I started along with a bunch of long-time colleagues from Return Path last year. My visceral answer was “I’m having a blast!”  I thought about it more after and came up with five reasons why.  First, I am working with a hand-picked group of people. My co-founders, I’ve worked with for an average of 15 years – we know and trust each other tremendously. And for the most part, the same is true about our cap table. Almost everyone else at the company is also someone multiple of us have known or worked with for years. That may not last forever, but it makes things…

Why the Startup Sales Function Starts With Whiteboards

(This post was inspired by Startup CXO and was originally published by Techstars on The Line.) In most startups, one of the founders is the first salesperson — often out of necessity as much as passion. But as startups scale they add sales reps or maybe some form of a Sales Manager once there are more than a couple of reps. But how do you know when to bring on a senior sales leader? Too soon and you have a very expensive employee, too late and your sales reps are creating their own processes and approaches. As a CEO there are several telltale signs that you need to hire a CRO, for example: You wake up in the middle of…

Five Misperceptions of the CCO Role

This post was inspired by Startup CXO and was originally published by Techstars on The Line. If you’re new to the Chief Customer Officer role, we’d like to share some advice we wish we had learned earlier in our careers. There are a few common misconceptions about customers and the service organization. If you don’t realize these as misperceptions, you can spend a lot of time dealing with issues that are not real, but perceived. We have identified five of these common misperceptions, although we are sure there are more. Misperception #1: The service organization fully controls churn (customer attrition) In a lot of organizations you’ll see the service organization be measured solely on customer churn. If you really think about…

Startup Boards eBook: How to Succeed in Your First Board Role

In addition to our work on helping CEOs understand board-building best practices, which I posted about last week, I’ve spent the past several months publishing a second series of blog posts to help current and aspiring directors (really, any senior executive!) understand the behind-the-scenes details of private company board service. This second series is also now an eBook and its content will also feature in the upcoming second edition of Startup Boards that I’m collaborating on with Brad Feld and Mahendra Ramsinghani. When Bolster published the findings of our Board Benchmarking study, we revealed that 4 out of 5 seats on private company boards today are held by individuals who are white, and 86% of director seats are held by…

Startup Boards eBook: How to Build Your Board

Over the past several months, I’ve published two series of posts on the Bolster blog about Boards. The first series is designed to help CEOs better understand how to build, diversify, and scale their boards of directors. I’ll write about the second one next week. Both series of posts will feature in the second edition of Startup Boards, a book originally published in 2014 by Brad Feld and Mahendra Ramsinghani. The second edition, which is also co-authored by me, will be out late this year or early next year. As I’ve gone about building our business at Bolster, including leading several dozen board searches for companies of all sizes and stages from pre-revenue to public, I’ve noticed that there are…

Signs your critical functions aren’t scaling – three webinars

This is a topic we write about obsessively in Startup CXO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Company’s Critical Functions and Teams — in fact, it’s basically the whole point of the book! I’ll write some more specific posts here in the coming weeks that take some excerpts from the book, but Bolster is putting on three free and open webinars we’re calling our “Bolster-up Series” over the coming weeks that I want to share with everyone who reads StartupCEO.com. In this series, I’ll be doing short interviews with CEOs who we work with at Bolster on the different aspects of scaling specific functions, how they diagnosed those problems, and how they leveraged on-demand executive talent to solve those…

My new Startup Board Mantra: 1-1-1

Last week, I blogged about Bolster’s Board Benchmark survey results, which really laid bare the lack of diversity on startup boards.  There are signs that this is starting to change slowly — one big one is that of all the board searches we are running at Bolster, about ⅔ of them are open to taking on first-time directors; and almost all are committed to increasing diversity on their boards.   This is also something that I would expect to take some time to change.  Boards are small.  Independent seats aren’t necessarily easy to open up.  Seats don’t turn over often.  And they take a while to fill, as CEOs are thorough in their recruitment and selection process. My new mantra for…

The Startup Ecosystem Needs More Independent Board Members – That’s the Clearest Path to Having Better and More Diverse Boards

I love having independent directors on my Board.  They are a great third leg of the stool alongside a CEO/Founder and VCs.  They provide the same kind of pattern matching and outside point of view as VCs — but from a completely different perspective, that of an operator or industry expert.  The good ones are CEOs or CXOs who aren’t afraid to challenge you.  Equally important, they’re not afraid to challenge your VCs.  At Return Path, I always had 2 or 3 independent directors at any given time to balance out VCs, and some have become great long term friends like Scott Petry, Jeff Epstein, and Scott Weiss.  At Bolster, we’re already having a great experience with our first independent,…

OnBoards Podcast

My podcast with OnBoards is live, talking with Raza and Joe about the importance of adding independence, first-time directors, and diversity to startup boards, and how Bolster helps companies achieve that quickly and inexpensively. I’m writing a lot about Boards at the moment on the Bolster blog. We’re compiling all of those posts into a couple of eBooks. Once all of that is done, I’ll put some digests up here on StartupCEO.com as well as make the eBooks available for download. But the gist of it is that we are working hard to break the logjam of diversity on startup boards, and we’re starting to meet with some great success with our clients.

Second Verse, Same as the First…Except Way Better

Almost a year into my second journey as a startup CEO at Bolster, and I’m getting more and more questions from other CEOs about what it’s like doing a second startup after almost 20 years at the first one…and achieving pretty good scale by the end.  The short answer is, it’s the same, only it’s way better.  Here’s why. I’m more confident.  So is our whole founding team.  When Jack and I started Return Path, we were 29.  This time, we were 49 — and the average age of the founders was probably 46 or 47.  The bottom line is that we don’t know everything about the business we’re building, but we know what we’re doing in terms of building…