Sizing Up People

Apr 14, 2018

Many people such as venture capitalists have met and judged me and my team over the years. I’ve always found this simultaneously amusing and frustrating, because in my experience, they’re more wrong than right. I became seriously allergic to this. But then I put on their shoes and walked a few steps, and the results surprised me.

Schrodinger's Outage

Feb 10, 2018

A couple months ago we had an incident, in which a legacy recovery mechanism proved to be inadequate to our current scale. In our internal post-incident review, we asked if we should improve this seldom-used capability. I decided not to, because the plan is to completely replace the part of the platform that it serves. My judgment was that we were not likely to need it, and it would be a lot of time and effort to improve.

Shortly thereafter, we did need it again, and again experienced the same pains. Was the decision wrong?

Three Steps To Psychological Safety

Jan 29, 2018

Psychological safety is now a prominent part of the engineering leadership lexicon. It began with Google, who reported that it is the strongest predictor of team productivity. According to those reports, this one factor trumps all other reasons that a team can perform well.

It sounds good, but how do you create psychological safety within a team? My approach is based on personal experience in my closest relationships. I’ve found that in order to trust others, I must first feel acknowledged, validated, and supported. Here’s how I try to extend that benefit to others in my life.

Heavier-Than-Air Flight Is Impossible

Jun 4, 2017

When I was a child, my parents posted a yellowed, faded page from a newspaper on our refrigerator door. It was filled with little oval portraits of famous people and scientists proclaiming that heavier-than-air flight was impossible. My memory is that there were perhaps 40 of them, each with a quote and a date within a few years of the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk.

This might be one of the childhood influences that resonates most strongly in me today. There are dozens of examples of people disdainfully saying “you can’t do that” during my career.

I tried to find an image of the page I remember, but didn’t (maybe it’s impossible?), so I looked for quotes and am producing my own version of it below.

Interviewing

Apr 3, 2017

A couple of years ago, during a time of crisis in my company, I realized I’d created a mess. But the scariest thing was I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. Of all the many things I did, what, exactly, was making things go so badly? It turned out that most of my problems were caused by bad interviewing technique. I was setting every interview up for failure, and I didn’t know it.

How Venture Capitalists Have Helped Me

Feb 19, 2017

Venture capital is a competitive industry. Investors compete to win the best companies, so they pitch founders on the value they bring to their portfolio companies. When I was a new founder, their pitches didn’t resonate with me. I found it difficult to understand how they could help. A few years later, I get it; they really can add value. This is what I’ve found so far.

Leadership Behaviors

Jan 28, 2017

Leadership is, by definition, a process of transition. None of us is born to be a leader. Those who are leaders have become leaders through change, and it is a very difficult and unnatural process. A lot of this process involves learning, through repeatedly asking and answering the question, “what does a leader do?”

As a first-time CEO, I ask this question of other CEOs again and again, and write down their answers. I also find food for thought in blogs and books. As you might expect, answers from different CEOs differ a lot, but they have similarities.

Here are compilations of leadership advice from several CEOs.

Product Market Fit

Dec 31, 2016

I’ve built the right thing to do the right thing in the right way. Obviously product/market fit, right? No. I now think about product/market fit very differently than I used to.

Better Than The Golden Rule

Dec 8, 2016

The so-called Golden Rule is well recognized within Western culture, although most other cultures have similar concepts. Can you do better? I think the answer is yes, and it’s good to try.

Remembering Alan And Harry

Nov 21, 2016

Harry Weller died suddenly this week. Harry was one of the greatest venture capital investors in history. He led NEA’s investment in my company, VividCortex. Harry was an advocate and mentor to me, but he was more: in both life and death, he reminded me of Alan Rimm-Kaufman, a boss and mentor who died a handful of years ago.

The Four Types of Core Intellectual Property

Oct 8, 2016

If you ask people what their company’s core intellectual property is, my guess is most responses would focus on technical things such as trade secrets, recipes, source code, and algorithms. But I’ve come to believe this definition doesn’t encompass a company’s most valuable intellectual property at all.

Just Enough Better

Jun 4, 2016

What makes a product, project, or application become popular? People talk a lot about attributes such as stickiness, virality, addictive qualities, and gamification.

I don’t pretend to have a universal answer, but many of the successful things I’ve been involved with worked well because they were just enough better for people to care a lot.

Why I'm Not Waiting To Prioritize Diversity

Apr 18, 2016

I have a vacant board seat at VividCortex, and I’m making diversity one of my priorities as I begin to search. I’ve discussed this with a range of people over the last several months. Nearly everyone has asked me to clarify what I’m trying to achieve, and why. Some have challenged me to defend why I believe diversity is a must-have at this stage of VividCortex’s growth. In the end, it’s my job to make the call. I’ve decided that diversity is a priority (not the sole priority, but a priority) now, not later. Here’s why—and here’s how I’m following through on that decision.

The Hartman Values Profile Assessment

Mar 27, 2016

A few months ago I wrote about the DISC and Driving Forces personality assessments I’ve been using for the last couple of years, to help me be more intentional about my team interactions and hiring. This post is about another model I use too. As Michael Gorsuch tweeted, “healthy and effective teams are composed of individuals actively seeking to understand each other’s needs.” I couldn’t have said it better. I find personality assessments helpful in several ways, including assessing candidates and coaching team members.

What it's Like

Nov 10, 2015

At Velocity/OSCON 2015 in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, the conference committee approached me to ask if I’d be up for doing an Ignite talk. It was rather last-minute and I had only hours to prepare. I said yes and then tried to think of a topic. I turned to Twitter and asked, if you could have me talk for 5 minutes on any topic, what would it be? A couple of people responded that they wanted to know what founding a company was like, so I sat down in the speaker lounge at the RAI and started trying to figure out what it’s like to be a founder/CEO.

You’d think I’d know after three years, but truthfully, it’s still hard to really know what I feel.

On Focus

Jul 5, 2014

Focus is perhaps the most important attribute in an organization. In fact, my dictionary defines an organization as “an organized body of people with a particular purpose…” A focused organization recognizes and cleaves to its purpose.

The Goal

May 24, 2014

Once upon a time I managed several teams of consultants. At a certain stage of the organization’s growth, we wanted to achieve a higher billable-time utilization more easily, and we wanted more structure and process.

Cary Millsap, about whom I have written quite a bit elsewhere on this blog, suggested that I might profit from reading The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. I will let history be the judge of the outcome, but from my perspective, this was revolutionary for me. It is a clear watershed moment in my memory: I lived life one way and saw things through one lens before, and afterwards everything was different.