Category

Leadership

Zoomsites

(Written by both my Bolster co-founder Cathy Hawley and me) I’ve attended two remote conferences, which Cathy dubbed “Zoomsites” — one here at Bolster and the Foundry Group CEO Summit.  Both hold interesting lessons for how these kinds of events can work well. We founded Bolster two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and our founding team had not met in person after 6 months of working together. Now, luckily, we’ve all worked together for many years, so we have a lot of trust built up, and have a very strong operating system which includes full team daily standups. Still, nothing beats face-to-face interaction. If you’ve ever founded a startup, you know how impactful it can be to work side by…

Grit

I was honored this week to be in a small group “fireside chat” with Angela Duckworth, author of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, and to meet her and ask a question. I want to hit on one theme here from the book and dialog, but I’ll start by sharing a 2×2 matrix (remember, I’m an ex-consultant, I think in frameworks) that we’ve used at home with our kids periodically. For the most part, we use it to talk to them about why they should work harder on math homework, but it’s had other use cases as well. Hopefully it makes sense on the face of it… …but essentially the framework teaches that if you are talented…

The Nachos Don’t Have Enough Beef in Them!

(This is an excerpt from Chapter 23 of Startup CEO, “Collecting Data,” in which I write about the importance of observing and learning from customers and friends of the firm, as well as employees.) Here’s a story for you that happened 10+ years ago. I’m sitting at the bar of Sam Snead’s Tavern in Port St. Lucie, Florida, having dinner solo while I wait for my friend Karl to arrive. I ask the bartender where he’s from, since he has an accent. Nice conversation about how life is rough in Belfast and thank goodness for the American dream. I ask him what to order for dinner and tell him a couple of menu items I’m contemplating. He says, “I don’t…

Feedback Overload and Confusion – a Guide for Commenting on Employee Surveys

We run a massive employee survey every year or so called The Loop, which is powered by Culture Amp.  We are big fans of Culture Amp, as they provide not only a great survey tool but benchmarks of relevant peer companies so our results can be placed in external context as well as internal context. The survey is anonymous and only really rolled up to large employee groups (big teams, departments, offices, etc.), and we take the results very seriously.  Every year we run it, we create an Organization Development Plan out of the results that steers a lot of the work of our Leadership team and People team for the coming year. I just read every single comment that…

Knowing When to Ask for Help in Your Startup

I had a great networking meeting yesterday along with Tami Forman, the CEO of our non-profit affiliate Path Forward, and Joanne Wilson, my board co-chair.  It was a meeting that Joanne set up that the three of us had been talking about for over a year.  Joanne made a great comment as we were debriefing in the elevator after the meeting that is the foundation of this post.  Tami and I shaped her comment into this metaphor: Finding wood to help start a fire is different from pouring gasoline on a fire As an entrepreneur, you need to constantly be asking for help and networking.  Those meetings will shape your business in ways that you can never predict.  They’ll shape…

When in Doubt, Apply a Framework (but be sure to keep them fresh!)

I’ve always been a big believer in the consistent application frameworks for business thinking and decision-making.  Frameworks are just a great starting point to spark conversation and organize thinking, especially when you’re faced with a new situation.  Last year, I read Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, and he had this great line that reminded me of the power of frameworks and that it extends far beyond business decision-making: When you put your value set together with your analysis of how the Machine works and your understanding of how it is affecting people and culture in different contexts, you have a worldview that you can then apply to…

Agile Everywhere, Part II

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about the Agile methodology on this blog. For those of you who are regular readers, you may remember a post I wrote about our Agile Everywhere initiative— where all Return Path teams were tasked with implementing agile practices. A little over a year later, I want to update you on our agile journey–where we are now and how we got there.  My colleague Cathy Hawley (our head of People) will write a more detailed series of guest posts  for those of you who want to get more details of our transformation process. Before we started our Agile Everywhere initiative, only our product and engineering teams were using agile. The rest of the organization…

The Value and Limitations of Pattern Recognition

My father-in-law, who is a doctor by training but now a health care executive, was recently talking about an unusual medical condition that someone in the family was fighting.  He had a wonderful expression he said docs use from time to time: When you hear hoof beats, it’s probably horses. But you never know when it might be a zebra. With experience (and presumably some mental wiring) comes the ability to recognize patterns.  It’s one of those things that doesn’t happen, no matter how smart you are, without the passage of time and seeing different scenarios play out in the wild.  It’s one of the big things that I’ve found that VC investors as Board members, and independent directors, bring…

Delegating Decision-Making

My dad (one of my main CEO/entrepreneur role models) and I team-teach a business school class in entrepreneurial leadership every year at USD where a friend of his is the professor.  Sometimes I go in person, usually I just do it by video.  We did this a few weeks ago, and my dad talked through a decision-making framework that I’d never heard him mention before. I sketched it out and really like it and am already using it internally, so I thought I would share it here as well: To walk through it, delegating decision-making to someone on your team can be as simple as understanding where a decision falls along two different spectrums.  On the vertical axis is “How familiar…

A Two Week Vacation is More Than Twice As Good As a One Week Vacation

I’ve said this for years, but as I sit on the train commuting into work after a week off relaxing with my family for my Dad’s 75th birthday (or as he prefers to call it, the 46th anniversary of his 29th birthday), I feel particularly inclined to write it up! I love my job, so I almost never mind going to work. But I also love being on vacation and traveling with my family and try to do as much of it as I can. Years ago before we had kids and became tethered to school and sports schedules, we used to take at least one full two week vacation, completely unplugged, at least once a year. I miss that!…

What kind of team do you run? Of Generalists and Specialists…

A friend of mine just left his job as CEO of a growth stage company to become CFO of a Fortune 500 company.  That’s a big deal…and also a big change.  When I was talking to him about the move, he said the following to me: Some executive teams are like baseball teams.  You play shortstop, and you bat 8th.  That’s just what you do.  The team needs one of those because the sport is structured that way.  The CEO of my new company likes to run his executive team as a basketball team.  Everyone has a position, but everyone also has to be capable of doing everything on the court well – shooting, blocking, rebounding, passing – and is expected to go…