The 5 Harsh Truths of Being a Manager

Being a manager is hard. It’s an entirely different set of skills than what you learned as an individual contributor and good resources are few and far between.  Most companies, especially if they’re startups, have no leadership training, so you’re often on your own. Making matters worse, you often have more bad examples of management around you than good ones.

So what’s an aspiring great manager to do? It starts with understanding the harsh truths of the role and then getting the right help.

The Harsh Truths of Being a Manager

1) Leadership is service to your team.

When you become a manager, it’s no longer about you. You are judged based on how your team performs, not how you produce. The most important thing you can do is motivate your team and focus them on their most important tasks.

This is a hard mentality to set when you are used to only having to worry about yourself. However, if you shift your mindset to that of serving your team, you’ll find it a lot easier.

Service to your team means . . .

  • . . . removing blockers for your team so they can get things done.
  • . . . listening to problems and helping address them quickly.
  • . . . shielding your team from distractions.
  • . . . accepting responsibility if something goes wrong.
  • . . . showering credit and praise on your team when something goes right.

There’s a special kind of satisfaction that you get when you see your team excited after conquering a major challenge that you rallied them to complete.

2) Your best people are easiest to take for granted and most devastating if they leave.

You don’t have to work for long to recognize A players. They’re hard working, always learning and produce great results in their field. As a manager it’s easy to take these stars for granted while you’re fire fighting and dealing with struggling team members. Unfortunately, taking them for granted means that you may not realize they’re unhappy until they have another job offer and it’s too late.

To retain your team, you should never take anyone for granted or go too long without talking with them. One on ones are the most powerful tool in a manager’s arsenal to avoid this grave misstep, so start them today if you haven’t already. You can also use the Management by Walking Around approach to also accomplish some of this, although the privacy of a one on one will give deeper insights.

You need to challenge your best people regularly, create opportunities for them to grow, praise them, and give them work that excites them. These things will change over time, which is why you need to regularly talk with them and not wait for them to come to you. You also need to listen carefully as they are often your front line for detecting problems early; fixing problems while they’re small helps you avoid constantly triaging major problems that consume all your time.

3) Your team members are more than just cogs in your machine.

Even at a big company, 9-to-5 job your team members are still giving you one third of their current life by working for you. If you’re part of a startup, it’s often significantly more time. Appreciate this as well as the fact that there are things that happen outside their work hours that are important to them.

Members of your team are complete human beings. They have a family, hopes, dreams, hobbies and passions.  When you show you care about them as a complete person, it makes them more engaged with their work and more trusting in you. It will vary from person to person, but there is usually something personal that can lead to work “resentment” as Marissa Mayer calls it. And on the positive side, giving a small thoughtful gift based on their interests will be remembered long after an Amazon gift card or cash bonus.

When someone is extra excited, they often want to share it. When they’re upset, they may need someone to confide in or understand what they’re dealing with. We’re all human and sometimes things outside work (cancer, death in the family, bad breakups, etc) affect us no matter how hard we try.  Being there for your team members and recognizing when they need some help (time off, extension on a project or just someone to listen) will pay massive dividends in retaining and motivating your team.

4) Your example sets the tone for your team.

One of the most fascinating things I have observed in my career is how a company takes on the personality of their founders and leaders. For better and worse, you’ll see nuances in how people communicate, deal with good and bad news, and react to customers, clients and team members based on the example set by leaders.

Are you excited about your mission? Are you motivated each day? Do you show patience or are you quick to judge? Are you the first one in the office each day or the first to leave? When you are a manager or leader, the spotlight is on you and everyone is watching. If you watch carefully, you will notice people picking up on your behaviors and often mirroring many of them. You will also see how even something as simple as a sigh or negative body language by you can take the wind out of the sails of an excited team member.

Self-awareness is one of the hardest, but most important, skills you can develop as a manager. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and pay attention to how your actions impact those around you. The more your team is picking up good behaviors from you, the higher they will perform.

5) A lack of consistency and follow through kills your credibility.

When a leader says one thing and does another or is perceived as playing favorites, they lose credibility quickly. Without credibility, a team will not be inspired to follow them nor perform at a high level.

So on top of all the above challenges, you have the need to be consistent in everything you do so as not to be perceived as a hypocrite. Of course, the challenge is that with all you have going on as a manager, it’s very easy to not be consistent. You may not mean to, but when things get busy and stressful, it’s easy to be forgetful.

This is the harsh truth I struggle with the most. Even knowing so well the above lessons, reading regularly and seeking the advice of mentors, it is still very hard not to slip up and fail to follow through or be consistent. Even the best leaders I’ve spoken to have to constantly work on this one.

How are you supposed to avoid all these harsh truths without any help?

There are apps to help you ship code, track projects, analyze your customers and manage your sales process. And yet, there’s nothing to specifically help managers like you motivate, engage and support your team.

Bloated HR tools like Success Factors are not the answer and were not built with a manager in mind.

I’ve developed a system that has helped me motivate and retain team members for my startup, Greenhorn Connect, and as product manager at KISSmetrics. I’ve learned these techniques from talking to great leaders at startups and publicly traded companies, as well as reading many books on the subject. If you’d like to learn more, sign up for Lighthouse:


align box Being a manager is tough. If you want help staying on top of what matters to your team and to follow best practices of great leaders of past and present, sign up for Lighthouse.

You can learn more at GetLighthouse.com.


Special thanks to Justin Jackson, Alex McClafferty, Rich Rines and Thomas Schranz for helping with this post.

Why you should read 100 books

When I was fresh out of college with a internship at E Ink (maker’s of the display screen for the Amazon Kindle) I emailed the founder and then CEO, Russ Wilcox, to see if he would meet with me to give me some advice on entrepreneurship. Lucky for me, he was willing to schedule a meeting before my internship ended. You can read the full story here, but one of the best pieces of advice he gave me during our meeting was simple, yet powerful: Read 100 Books.

At the time it almost didn’t make sense and led to more questions than answers. What books? Why that many? How fast? By when?

I remember frantically writing down a bunch of book titles he started mentioning and then he stopped me and said the important thing was that they were on a diverse set of topics with different viewpoints instead of any specific books. He suggested trying to read 5-10 on categories like sales, marketing, leadership, negotiation, etc.

Mission Accomplished.

5 Years and 4 months after that conversation, I’ve finally hit the number and now looking back, I realize it’s one of the most important pieces of advice I ever received. I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t read as much as I have. Reading 100 books has done all the following for me:

  • Helped me better understand the responsibilities of coworkers (especially important as a product manager and startup founder).
  • Being comfortable in a conversation on just about any subject due to what I’ve read.
  • Rapidly improved my skills in key work responsibilities helping me accelerate my career and avoid costly mistakes.
  • Met other great people who also read regularly.
  • Given me the confidence and framework to help me learn anything.

If you’re reading this, I encourage you to also read 100 books. But realize it’s not about the number, but a routine of reading regularly that will serve you well throughout life.

Here’s my quick advice on how to make it happen and make the most of it:

1) Read what you can apply immediately.

I’ve managed to read a wide variety of books that have helped in my career and I’ve always chosen books based on what my current challenges and interests are. This has helped me apply concepts I pick up as I read a book, usually over the span of 2-4 weeks, depending on the length.

When I was moving to SF to run product at KISSmetrics, I started out with a great book on Product Management, then dove into a few books on design, before finding myself diving into sales, marketing, leadership and strategy books depending on what was happening at work and my personal life. Every time, I found great ways to build on what I read in my life around me which has helped tremendously with retention and understanding.

2) Get good recommendations.

Not all books are created equal. In fact, most books are pretty terrible, especially business books. There are gems out there though, so it really pays off to ask others who read what the *best* books are they’ve read on a subject. This has saved me tons of time on books that aren’t worth my time. This is why I made a list reviewing of all the books I’ve read  and some of my all time favorite books for entrepreneurs here. You’ll also occasionally find posts about books that CEOs like Jeff Bezos has his leaders read, which are usually great.

3) Build a routine of reading.

I read on public transportation. First it was riding the T in Boston and now MUNI around SF. I love this for so many reasons:

  • It gives you something to look forward to even when a bus commute might be lengthy.
  • A book won’t get stolen like your cell phone might be when you have it out as you play Angry Birds/check Facebook, etc.
  • It gives you bite size chunks of reading as most rides are 10-30 minutes…just enough for a chapter or two.
  • A book is a great way to get just a little bit more personal space on a crowded bus.
  • It’s a great warm up and cool down to your work day if you read during your commute.

If that’s not an option for you, build a routine around it in some other way. Maybe it’s 20 minutes before you go to bed, while you eat breakfast or perhaps audio books while you drive to work. It is the routine of always reading something that will carry you through that many books over the years.

4) Carry your book around with you.

Nothing sparks a conversation like someone noticing what you’re reading. Often those that notice read a lot too, which is a great way to make friends and you can get more recommendations for books from them. This also means that if a friend is running late, you always have a productive way to fill the time.  I brought Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” with me to Bootstrap Live and ended up talking with Andrew Warner and the guy next to me about how much we all loved it.

5) Write all over your books.

Despite working in technology, I still prefer physical books in my hand. I underline, I highlight and dog ear all my books. Something about it helps me with retention of what I read. Even if you prefer to read on a tablet or Kindle, be sure to take notes and challenge yourself to think about how to apply what you’re reading. It helps a lot to review books you’ve read before when you have that subject come up. It’s amazing to me how often past events line up as examples (or counter-examples) of something I’m reading. I’m always sure to take a moment to consider it and write it down in the book.

6) Always make progress.

Life doesn’t always go as hoped or planned. There are times of frustration and stagnancy both personally and professionally in all our lives.  I’ve found one of the best things for me is knowing that no matter what is happening in my life I’m always learning because of what I’m reading. I can always look back and see progress there.

It has also helped that when I’ve had down times, if I read something related to it like a book on happiness or successfully navigating your 20s, I’m actually being proactive about the problem and getting advice from someone great who took the time to research and write a book about the subject.

Remember, this is not a race. The point of reading all these books is to absorb all the ideas and skills shared in the books, not race to the end.

I’ve heard some people like to skim books and think that doing things like reading the opening and closing paragraphs of a chapter and reading headlines in the chapter is enough. They’re either reading the wrong books or missing out on some deep lessons.

As a wise man once said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” It is the journey to 100 books that I both enjoyed and grew tremendously from…not the milestone of specifically 100 that matters to me; I haven’t stopped reading and won’t anytime soon. My Amazon Wishlist is longer than ever (please suggest the best books you’ve read in the comments!) and I can’t wait to learn through more great books for the rest of my life.

Founders: You don’t own your employees

[Ed. note: This is in response to a post by David Hauser entitled, “The Startup Side Project Bubble” which you can read here: http://buff.ly/10Lw9ek]

So many founders forget something simple: You do not own your employees.

They are human beings with their own passions, interests and lives. You have a vision of a reality you want to create. After much labor and hard work to get it off the ground, either funding or your own revenue allows you to hire help. Those people are choosing to devote a significant portion of their lives to your cause to help make it possible. Take a moment to appreciate that. 

In David’s post he argues that employees having side projects is bad for them and his business. This is so backwards.

First, telling someone what they should and shouldn’t do in their free time is a tremendous insult to them and their personal judgment.  It’s also incredibly short-sighted.

You want employees with side projects.

Especially for the creators at a startup (ie- the people that design and build your product), there is tremendous benefit to them having side projects. A few of those benefits are:

  • Experimentation. An outlet to experiment with new technologies before suggesting the company use them; no amount of research compares to having used a new framework and being able to provide first person accounts of the tradeoffs.
  • Independence. A place where they can make all the decisions (for better and worse) versus the negotiations that often happen in a company. You can also call this their creative release.
  • Mastery. The ability to further hone skills in a self-directed fashion, getting them to the 10,000 hours to mastery faster than standard work hours alone would provide.
  • Relief. Providing some variety in their life’s work can help avoid the burnout that comes from only working on one thing for too long.
  • Focus. Motivating them to get their work done efficiently because they don’t have every hour of the day to work on it. The saying goes, “If you want something done, ask a busy person” for a reason.
  • Contribute. The ability to help the greater tech community through contributions to open source projects, which wouldn’t exist without many people having side projects.
  • Network. They’ll often work with people outside their day job on these side projects, which will grow their learning and network. It might even provide the next recruit when you need more help at your startup.

And I’m sure there are others.

Great employees are a package deal.

In the early days of a startup, you want athletes, which are often entrepreneurs themselves.  Later, you want specialists who have deep expertise in their skills. By their nature the same skills you value each day in either group’s work for you also lends itself to having these side projects: In early employees that means a breadth of knowledge, while later, the depth of knowledge that comes from side projects is what makes many great later stage startup employees.

I would not be running product at KISSmetrics if I had only put my head down and worked on my past jobs (I wouldn’t even be in tech now most likely…I have a degree in Electrical Engineering). The skills that are core to my job came from side projects like Greenhorn Connect, taking the time to learn new skills in my free time and reading voraciously. Every founder wants to hire people with passion for their craft and a wide range or depth of skills.  This is a package deal.

“Why don’t you quit your job already?”

Taking a step back and looking at David’s argument, it seems centered around the idea that if an employee has a side project, they should quit their job immediately and start a company. While they should definitely quit their job if they’re ready to make a run at it as a business, they may not do that right away because of a few reasons:

  • Funding. They lack the personal funds and see the foolishness in fundraising when they don’t even know whether an idea has legs whatsoever.  Not all side projects have clear paths to revenue/bootstrapping either.
  • Motivation. Many side projects are for fun and passion. Sometimes those become businesses worthy of full time attention, but usually they are just an enjoyable thing to do with only part of their time.
  • Stability. Depending on what else is happening in their life, it may not be the time to start a company. If they’re getting married, just moved to a new city or a close family member is on their deathbed, they may not want the upheaval of launching a startup on top of that.

None of these reasons prevent a person from being a valuable contributor to your startup. In fact, someone may work for your company and add tremendous value you’d otherwise never receive.

This is a seller’s market.

If you have hard to find skills like design, product management or engineering, it’s a great time to be a startup employee. Companies must compete for you. With salaries skyrocketing, it takes more than money to attract talent. Having a good culture, treating people well and supporting them as individuals become important factors as well.

David’s views may work for him, but I caution other founders from adopting his cynical attitude towards those with side projects. The potential gains far outweigh any losses in hours David seems so concerned with and run the risk of turning off potential great team members.

11 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

On Amazon.com there are…

…over 2,000,000 books on “Business”

…over 750,000 books on “Technology”

…over 500,000 books on “Design”

…over 81,000 books on “Leadership”

…over 7,500 books on “Startups”

…and most of them suck. 

So even if you want to commit to reading books to make yourself a better entrepreneur, what are you to do?

Over the last 3 years, I’ve read over 60 books on a variety of subjects to try to better my own entrepreneur knowledge base (see the sidebar on the right for the full list).  Every book came from at least one recommendation from a friend, a tweet from an expert or a blog post explaining why it’s great. Because of this, very few of the books I’ve read would fit in the “waste of time” category most of those 3 million or so books on Amazon fit into. A lot of my friends have asked for what I think are the essential books I’d recommend, so here’s that list.

11 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Category: Leadership

Why You Should Read This: There is no book more successful people I know have read than this one. 

Being a leader is not easy. No matter how natural a great leader makes it look, it takes a lot of work to learn how to build relationships and inspire others on a regular basis. How to Win Friends and Influence People will teach you what you need to succeed.

Most importantly, the book is specific, it’s actionable and filled with solid example stories to help emphasize the rules. I’ve re-read this book at least 5 times and every time I learn something I could improve.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Category: Inspirational

Why You Should Read This: This book explains all those strange feelings you have that make you want to throw away a cushy life, a nice salary and the life you’re “supposed to follow” and live the uncertainty of the startup life.

It won’t teach you how to incorporate your business or market your product. It will teach you how to make sense the of the journey you’ll go on if you follow your heart.

Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston

Category: Startups

Why You Should Read This: The journey in building a startup is far from glamorous. As many have written before, over night successes are usually years of pain in the making.

Founders at Work captures this essence with stories of entrepreneurs anyone in the web and mobile startup space will recognize. It’s a great primer to understand how dark some of the dark days can get in a startup and how the best persevered.

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Patrick Vlaskovits & Brant Cooper

Category: Lean Startups

Why You Should Read This: Want to stop guessing and start actually figuring out what your customers/users actually want? Want to not waste your time, money, energy and life on a startup no one cares about? There’s tons of blog posts, books and other content out there on Lean Startups, but nothing distills it down to its core concepts and action items like Patrick & Brant’s book does.

This book will get you 80% of the way there on understanding and taking action on Lean Startup methodology and you can read this book in an afternoon. It’s such an easy and important read, you should have everyone in any role at your startup read it in my opinion.

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

Category: Culture, Leadership

Why You Should Read This: You can only get people to do things they want to do.  If you force them to do it, they won’t do great work and will quit the first chance they get. Chip and Dan explain how you can inspire your team and get them to accomplish major goals even when things look bleak.

They introduce the concept of the Elephant and the Rider which is an invaluable metaphor for the human pysche in both your employees and your own life.

The Master Switch by Tim Wu

Category: Technology

Why You Should Read This: “Every age thinks it’s the modern age, but this one really is.”  Dating back to the days of Western Union telegrams in the late 1800s, The Master Switch discusses what happens when a new technology emerges and disrupts the status quo. Without fail, it always involves the existing players fighting to hold back the technology until they’re crushed.

You may think that all of this has only happened more recently in the age of computers, but this is a battle that has repeated itself for generations.  In particular, you’ll find that Twitter is surprisingly similar to AT&T when Alexander Graham Belle built his early empire. Instead of APIs and shutting down developers though, AT&T literally cut phone lines and physically attacked rival, small phone companies. This book will help put into perspective what happens during these cycles of disruption.

The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller

Category: Psychology

Why You Should Read This: Not that long ago, our world was driven by a purely tribal culture. Lives were simple and our evolutionary habits were driven towards survival. Today, those same instincts still exist, but they’re in a foreign world where many actually do us a disservice at worst or at least make us less predictable than you’d expect.

You should understand your customer better than they understand themselves. This book will help you understand people in ways you wouldn’t expect. You can’t put a price on the insights it can give you as you position your product and design it effectively.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

Category: Design

Why You Should Read This: Many of my design friends have recommended this as the seminal book on design. Upon reading it, I can see why. The book focuses on explaining what great design really means with a lot of great examples with images.

Everyone today is focused on simplicity, but the real word that matters is intuitive. Norman asserts that the functionality of a product should be obvious based on the design of the product. While all of his examples are physical items like stoves and door handles, it’s easy to see how it should impact the layout of your site.  After reading this book, you will never look at doors the same way again.

Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, et al

Category: Leadership

Why You Should Read This: Ever have a discussion devolve into a shouting match? Ever have a debate where you realized you and your opponent were actually in agreement? Do you wish you could get someone to open up to you, but they’re being icey cold? Crucial Conversations does exactly what the title suggests: it teaches you how to handle the tough, important conversations.

As entrepreneurs, we’re confronted with difficult conversations every step of the way from investors to cofounders, partners to employees. Then you go home and have to try to maintain a relationship with a spouse, significant other or roommate. This is a skillset you can’t afford not to have…unless you love stress, tension and resentment towards you.

Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan

Category: Leadership, Culture

Why You Should Read This: Making a great culture at your company is one of the hardest things to do at your startup, especially as it grows. Even harder is finding a decent book that actually helps you build that culture.

Tribal Leadership will help you understand how every person is doing in your company and how to raise their game to become a greater contributor and part of a truly great team.

When I joined KISSmetrics, I strongly encouraged Hiten, our CEO to read it and he loved it so much he got copies for the entire team and had us spend significant time discussing it.  Since then, the whole company has had discussions on the stages we’ve all been in and we can see the impact positive actions have had.

What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro

Category: Psychology

Why You Should Read This: There is a language every human speaks that most people not only cannot understand, but they don’t even realize they’re speaking: body language.

Being able to read body language is huge for any entrepreneur as it gives them a leg up on negotiations, reading their employees for warning signs (or positive signs) and better detecting when something is shady.  This book is written by an ex-FBI agent who did this for a living and it does not disappoint.

I cannot put a price on what I learned from this book as I’ve seen it show when a CEO has lost their staff, when coworkers aren’t buying into something I’m sharing and reading when a person is truly interested in me and my ideas.  Don’t spend another day missing both the obvious and subtle signals people are sending you. Most are involuntary, which means they’ll be more truthful than the words coming out of their mouths.

I believe these books will give you a well-rounded view of the skills you need as an entrepreneur and in their category, they’re the best.

What books do you recommend most?

The Social Network – Review, etc…

{Note: Do I need a SPOILER alert?  I wouldn’t think for a movie like this but who knows…don’t read on if discussing the movie would ruin it for you?}

I just saw the Social Network and was quite impressed.  It’s very well done story that weaves the lawsuits by the Winklevosses (the Harvard rowers that came to Zuck to make something similar to Facebook) and Eduardo Saverin (his initial business co-founder) into the backstory of Facebook’s early growth from Harvard exclusive site to over a million users.

First…a few things it missed:

1) Fundraising…

They only vaguely touched on it, and basically they suddenly had money, possibly after a stunt of Sean Parker getting Zuckerberg to give the middle finger to an investor.  There was no mention of trying to raise in Boston, which at least around here people talk as if he did.

2) Concept of time…

It was really hard to tell how long went by for Facebook between launching at Harvard and having 1 million users. The movie made it feel like it happened in under a year….and amazingly I just checked and Quora answers it was actually 10 months: http://www.quora.com/How-long-did-it-take-Facebook-to-reach-one-million-users So while maybe it was accurate, it wasn’t easy to track other than knowing there was a summer when they moved to the valley.

3) The move to the Valley…

This movie made it seem like it was totally inevitable and that Mark thought it was the only place to be (possibly partially motivated by Sean Parker).  I’m wondering how much that was the case.  I guess we’ll have to wait for Zuck’s autobiography, but even then…I wonder if he’d have rose-colored glasses at that point.

———————————————————————-

So at the root of the story you have 4 key characters: Zuck, Eduardo, the Winklevosses (yeah, they’re one person or 2 halves…your choice) and Sean Parker.  Despite people freaking out about Zuck being painted poorly in this, I’d argue he did fine comparably… a bit of character noting:

Eduardo Saverin

Oh poor Eduardo. He puts up some early cash and tries to be the “good business guy.”  Unfortunately, he comes off as clueless and worthless to the company.  And it’s not for failing of Zuck trying; he repeatedly asks him to join him in the Valley, where he could have done some good. But instead, he was trying to convince advertisers, which wouldn’t hit Facebook until November 2007.  He seemed totally unqualified to be the business cofounder and also unwilling to do what it actually took to be a good cofounder to Zuck and so it’s hard for me to feel bad for him.   Given his settlement is undisclosed, I’d bet he got a bunch of shares back (note Wikipedia says he has 5%, which still makes him a billionaire).  Meanwhile, his absence in the Valley opened the door for Sean Parker…

Sean Parker

Leach. Social parasite.  Delusional.  All words it seems like would be appropriate for Parker.  Given I’d always heard that Shawn Fanning (of Northeastern!) founded Napster I was a bit surprised to hear his name associated. I tried Googling and while he’s credited, I couldn’t find much of an origin story as to how Sean joined (But I did find this *awesome* post by Don Dodge about Napster).  In the Social Network, he comes off as a party animal who wins the favor of Zuck and gives a few intros while also bringing trouble (his cocaine incident at the end of the movie, it turns out, was also when he was dismissed from the company…but not until after he had 7% of the company).  I find it hard to believe that he accidentally was in the neighborhood with Zuck and instead planned that and the subsequent partying that led Zuck to an opportunity to invite him into the house.  With Eduardo gone, it gave a leach the opportunity to move in.

I’m sure his intros helped and I bet he gave some good feedback from his past startup experiences, but you have to take the bad with the good…and at least in the movie Sean is painted as someone not to be associated with (I wonder how that intern felt about her cocaine charge…).

The Winklevosses

Ah, the essence of Harvard elitism.  Born with a silver spoon.  Gifted athletes.  Powerful families.  Great stature and an expectation that they deserve more and that the powers will protect them.  They had an idea for a site for Harvard. And they got $63 Million.  Must be nice.  I don’t know how you justify it, but I’m guessing Zuck must have done at least a few stupid things when he first “agreed” to work with them that gave them a shred of a case.  I also suspect that Zuck was willing to settle to get rid of the distraction; an underrated portion of this is the fact that Zuck was so committed to his team and even said so flatly to the lawyer as he emphasized part of his mind was on Facebook and not just on his questioning.  As if they hadn’t already hit the genetic lottery being 6’3″ and Olympic-level rowers from a rich and powerful family, they got the $63 million.  Disgusting….but maybe that’s because I’m an entrepreneur.

Mark Zuckerberg

Ah, the best for last.  Mark comes off slightly bitter, a little bit Gen Y entitled and a bit of an invincibility complex (he didn’t seem to think anyone could touch him).   He obviously didn’t treat the poor BU girl he degraded on his blog very well and overally seemed a bit cold to most.  I don’t think he’s the first (and certainly not the last) slightly socially awkward, resentful of the jocks/cool kids, dorky kid who is cold and calculating.  He’s just the first to be the public-facing founder of a startup that had a story interesting enough to justify a book and a movie.

In the end, he built Facebook. Did he lead on the Winklevosses? It appears that way, but he did it because he wanted to beat those elitist houses he didn’t think he’d be able to get into.  I’m sure he knew those guys might be able launch a Harvard site better than him because of their connections, so he strung them along to buy time to launch his version.  As we say in the startup community constantly…it’s about execution and these guys could never be bothered to really build something.

Meanwhile…Mark gave Eduardo every opportunity to be a part of it and he just couldn’t figure it out that he needed to come to the Valley.  He was hung up on making money and apparently had no concept of getting investment to cover costs before they figured out how to make money.  This of course opened the door for Sean Parker to weasel his way in, which had its obvious benefits and drawbacks.

Sometimes you learn more from success than failure and often it’s hard to explain why something succeeded except to combine a little serendipity and good timing. Despite these warts being dramatized and put into film, I believe they all played an important part in making Facebook what it is today.  Startups are a contact sport, so expect to get a little mud on you if you put your hat in the game.

Book Review: 10 Powerful Personas By Kevin Vogelsang

Ever wonder what makes a leader great?  Ever spend time thinking about what the strengths are in your personality or how you might be able to become more like great people around you? Kevin Vogelsang has and he’s written a book to help you answer those questions.  In his just released book “10 Powerful Personas, Kevin examines key attributes of 10 different qualities found in leaders. I learned a lot from the book and I’d like to share a few of the lessons here:

1) Leaders come from everywhere

One of the most interesting things about Kevin’s book is the balance in people he uses as examples of different leaders.  He uses everyone from General Patton to his football coach to his mother as examples of the different powerful personas to great effect.  Because of his wide variety of examples, it made me think about who around me, both famous and friend, that exhibited the traits he describes; it was an excellent reminder that you can really learn from anyone around you if you simply raise your awareness and look for it.

<Click here to read the other reasons at GreenhornConnect.com>

Book Review: Mastering the VC Game by Jeff Bussgang

As a young entrepreneur, it’s not easy to understand how venture capital really works. There are tons of horror stories that spread through the community like urban legends and phrases like “Term sheets” and “Down Rounds” can sound foreign.  Amidst all of these questions is an aura of uncertainty about how the whole system really works. Fortunately, there’s Jeff Bussgang’s book, Mastering the VC Game to help.

This book should be a must read for any young entrepreneur who thinks they may ever want funding. It’s that good. Here’s a few reasons I love the book:

It Answers My Questions:

For a long time, I’ve had a million different questions about how it all works from start to finish and why certain aspects of the investment process are they way they are.  In Mastering the VC Game, Jeff breaks it all down in simple terms that have immeasurably raised my understanding how it all works. He’s also fair to both entrepreneurs and VCs alike, in explaining on how varying motivations can lead to all those conflicts and horror stores we hear about.

Thanks to this book, I now have a basic framework and understanding to build off of should I ever pursue funding.  I thought I was going to have to go to a ton of events about funding to understand venture financing, but this book is much clearer than putting together piecemeal information from events.

Read the other reasons at Greenhorn Connect…

Why you may not want to talk to panelists after events…

As I’ve been out in the community going to events and spreading the word about Greenhorn Connect, I’ve seen my share of panel discussions.  One lesson I’ve learned from all those panels is that regardless of how the panel itself went or if you think you have a great idea, question or thought to share with a panelist, you generally don’t gain much by approaching panelists after events.

Every conversation with a panelist has generally gone the same. They’re tired. They just want to go home/run and catch their plane/get a drink.  They’ve heard a million pitches thanks to all the other panels they’ve been on and so they’re usually on autopilot in the conversation trying to just find the quickest way to the exit.  I totally understand this and respect this.

So what do I recommend you do instead?  If you have a great thought…make sure you share it during the Q&A. If you didn’t get to…use it as a conversation topic with other members of the audience. Anyone who doesn’t run up to approach the panelist is also likely to be more interested in making meaningful networking connections and share good conversation.

Please don’t take this as a jab at panelists. In fact, this is more of a recognition of the difficulties of being a panelist. It is rightfully tiring to be on a panel and usually if you’re part of the panel, it’s because you’re an influential/important person in the area of discussion, which likely means you’re insanely busy.  I also know that many people are dying to talk to you just so they can say they did or to dump their pitch on you or push their business card down your throat.  I never want to be that person and so I generally now make it a rule not to bother approaching panelists I don’t already know well.  I’d rather talk to a few more of the people in the audience that obviously shared my interest in the topic of the panel and make those meaningful connections that won’t just lead to the awkward “I’ll contact you in a month or two” and “sorry, I forgot my business cards” kind of discussions.

**Disclaimer #1** If you have something exceptionally relevant to discuss with a panelist and this is the only chance you’ll ever have to talk to them, then by all means, approach them. I think in general though, you’re better off working through your network to get an introduction to the person; this qualifies you and gives more context than “another eager audience member that wants to give me their card…”

**Disclaimer #2** If I’m ever on a panel, please don’t think this post means I don’t want to talk to you. Just realize that you should have more to say than “you should hear my pitch” or  “I’d like to meet you.”  Is there something related to what I’m working on or something I talked about in the panel that’s particularly relevant to what you’re doing or a question you have?

Book Review: Gary V’s Crush It

If entrepreneurship was a team and we had a big game coming up, I have no doubt that Gary V would lead the pep rally and carry the spirit stick.  If you need a book to jump start your passion for entrepreneurship, to remind you why you do what you do and give you some tips to better succeed at what you are passionately pursuing, then Crush It is is the book for you.

When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t sure I was going to buy into it. It felt like sort of fluff.  But Gary V’s enthusiasm is contagious. Before long I was really feeling charged up about his beliefs in pursuing your passions and thinking about how I’m already doing it and how I can do more.

Compared to some more academic entrepreneurial books, this is a quick, easy read (142 pages), but it still is filled with great ideas and concepts.  After feeling like Chris Brogan’s Trust Agents was a bit verbose, I was very happy to breeze through this book. Gary hit on a lot of great points and covered a reasonable number of topics, but never dwelled on any idea too long.

If you’re looking for a quick read to get you pumped up to pursue your life’s passion AND have a method for actually making money on that passion, this is well worth the time to read this book.  If you don’t like overly casual/conversational books, you may want to steer clear of this one.  If I had to boil the book down to one principle, I’d say that it’s “Discover your life’s passion and create interesting content about that in the form you want, then be patient and get paid.”

Next Book: Steve Blank’s 4 Steps to the Epiphany

On Deck: Open to recommendations…

In the hole: Open to recommendations…

Startup Weekend Report: Friday

I should be asleep right now….but I’m too excited about my team and our idea to sleep right now. I’m also inspired to share the experience for those of you that can’t make it:

Friday was a really fun night.  Pizza, beer and good networking started off the night.  After a healthy hour of that , we all sat down for some introductions by the founder and some key people in the audience.  Marc Nager, the organizer of the event, went through all the great sponsors (yes, Greenhorn is one…but the help I gave is nothing compared to the amazing donations by Microsoft, Sun,  and some others) and talked a little about how the event would go.  Then, he introduced us all to Shawn Broderick of TechStars and gave awesome State official, Jason Schupbach, a chance to speak. Jason was kind enough to give a plug to Greenhorn Connect as the resource hub for local entrepreneurs.  A lot of people approached me at the next open portion of the event, specifically because of what he said, so thanks, Jason! After all those intros, we got into the ideas…

It started with about 20 people raising their hands saying they wanted to pitch ideas, but by the end, 31 ideas were pitched.  We had everything from a yard/garage sale app to a meeting scheduling tool to plug in to emails to a custom, crowd-sourced label maker for alchohol to a video game, that according to the presenter, gets you “high”.  After all those pitches, we had to narrow it down, so we were given 30 minutes to go talk to those that pitched before “voting.”

In true entrepreneur fashion, we voted with our proverbial “wallets.”  Marc gave us each $2 we could put in any envelope(s) we chose (each idea had an envelope).  Money was then tallied and given to the pitchers.  With the money in hand they were congratulated for getting “your first investment.”  People were then instructed to find their team.  I started out talking to a team that had a couple of my friends and fellow Darties on it that was related closely to the interests of Greenhorn.  However, the lure of the idea that really stood out as the only one totally meeting my criteria was too much and I jumped over to work with them.

My criteria for picking the company to work with was very simple:
A) Clear way to make money from the start
B) An idea that could be broken down enough to create a nice demo/alpha in the weekend

So the idea that worked best for that I felt was the Media Release Date Aggregate. Their pitch was simple, yet brilliant: We all have favorite movies, artists and authors whose release of their work we anticipate greatly. It’s a chore to manage and stay aware of when those are coming out (I currently manually input them in a special google calendar, which is tedious).  So, their solution is a site that pulls it all together in one place. You just mark what you’re interested in and they let you know when it’s out.  Revenue can come from 2 great channels: 1) big studios and labels can promote their items on the site to targeted customers and 2) Users will be given links to buy their movie tickets, go to amazon and buy the book/cd, etc (landing a sweet referral fee).  Appreciating the simplicity and definitely being a potential customer has me sold.

Our team was on fire as soon as we met; we formed a team quickly and ran off to chat and eventually took over a white board and started ironing a lot out in just a little time.  We  have a great spread of talent too…4 developers, 3 business/social media people and a lawyer.  I can’t wait to see what we do.  As I write this, I just got a sample home page mock up from one of the developers. That’s when you know you have a great idea…you can’t help yourself but pour in ideas.

I’ll try to tweet out a few things as we progress tomorrow and write a report tomorrow night, so stay tuned. You can follow my tweets @GreenhornBoston and @Evanish.