On Leadership, Teams, Success & Happiness

Posted on Jan 28, 2011 | 97 comments

On Leadership, Teams, Success & Happiness

Lately the topic of leadership & teams has been coming up a lot in my daily life.  Some investors are team focused, others market focused, others seems to look for product / market fit.  I’m in the team centric sphere so every investment decision I make first & foremost centers on this plane.  Only then can I even care about product, market or their nebulous “fit.”

It’s my belief that through exceptional leadership you attract great teams that do more than the sum of the parts.  Nearly every company faces its crisis moments and only through the inspiration, focus and dedication of the leadership can you motivate teams to dig in deep and come out the other side stronger.

I made an investment in a company with deep domain knowledge.  Collectively (the founders & investors) agreed that it would be sensible to recruit a CEO to lead the next phase of the company so that the main founder could stay focused on the product where he excels and is passionate.  Initially the conversation initiated by the founder focused around the need to have somebody with deep domain knowledge.  I argued for the opposite.

“What I care about first and foremost is a great leader.  I want somebody who can inspire you to produce great products but not know your trade better than you do.  I’m looking for somebody who can sell, but not better than our head of sales.  I’m looking for somebody who is good at planning but doesn’t try to do the work of the VP Finance.

I want somebody that sets a stretch plan we can achieve, gets consensus amongst the team to shoot for certain goals and the path to achieve success.  I want somebody that can deal with partners, interest future investors and keep everybody calm in moments of set-backs.  If they’re from the industry – that’s a nice to have. But I want to be sure they’re not stuck with legacy thinking.”

He is still not sure. His body language says, “how can somebody who hasn’t done what I do at the level I have be my leader?”

“Imagine you were a Phd wireless chip designer out of UCSD and then Qualcomm. You do a startup and decide you want somebody to step in and run the company so you can focus on technical excellence.

You want somebody who can do handset deals in the US, Europe & Asia.  You want somebody who can raise $15 million to build out your R&D, business development and sales organizations.  You want somebody who can lead teams on three continents.  Are you looking for a Phd wireless chip designer?”

Leaders are intelligent, for sure.  They often are very good at getting information out of people, helping create a framework for making decisions and pushing for support amongst the organization from those that back the decision and those that do not.  So yes, I want to hire somebody with really high IQ and EQ but not somebody who is more knowledgeable at your specific skill set than you are.

What prepares us to become great leaders?  Is it book smarts?  Nah, of course not.  It’s street smarts.  And experience.  This has been a much debated topic in the public recently.  Amy Chua, a Yale professor, wrote a book about raising children the “Chinese Mother” way.  She was strict & focused.  Her words on things her daughters were never allowed to do:

“attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.”

I suspect it was a self-fulfilling prophecy because with a militant mom like that I suppose not too many other mothers were exactly clamoring to have sleep overs.

The big irony is that my wife is out this evening with her girlfriend.  Her two boys are having a sleep over with my two boys.  I’m alone to run the sleep-over MANCAVE!!! We built a fort, played Wii, ate pizza, wrestled and now they’re watching “Despicable Me” for 90 minutes while I’m typing this.  Bad, bad Mark.  I must be churning out Neanderthals.

Oh, and my second-grade son decided to try out for the school basketball team this year.  His choice.  I blew out of work early today to be there to root him on.

Afterward I took him for Pinkberry frozen yogurt with chocolate crisps on top both to be able to hang out with him before he’s too old and thinks I’m a dork (Unfortunately, it’s already starting to come out). We ordered a mini size because it was 4pm and I didn’t want him to ruin his appetite … too much.  And I made him promise not to tell him mom that we had a sneeky Pinkberry. (Sorry, Tania!)

I value rule breaking.  It’s part of my ethos.  I grew up adopting the motto “question authority.”  I debated everybody, I made teachers prove their claims, I talked smack to bullies.  Somehow I always learned how far to push things with teachers, bullies and parents to have them love me and be frustrated with me.  I would talk smack but if I thought I was about to get punched I would defuse the situation – sometimes with humor.

I learned that I wasn’t the strongest kid in class but wasn’t a wimp either.  I figured out the pecking order and I found ways to build allies with other strong people.  I only got my ass kicked twice in front of others.  Once was in a stadium with the whole school watching but my best friend ran out of the crowd and beat the guy back.  It was magic.  I had some loyal friends.  I later took a beating defending him.

Where am I going with all this?

I am a strong believer that leadership and team development comes from these daily interactions.  As a child you push boundaries and figure out right from wrong.  Sometimes you get smacked.  You learn that people form factions and rivalries.  The toughest or coolest kids in class often like somebody who is willing to stand up to them – but not cross them.  Important to learn this from a young age.

I’m a big believer that these skills are the more valuable ones you learn in life.  I honestly believe I learned more by rising up the ranks and becoming the president of my fraternity than I did in the class room reading about supply & demand curves in economics.  I’ll write that post one day – it is a very interesting story.

What I learned was how to work with teams.  I learned how to recruit people to join us and not another group, to build consensus amongst a group of strong personalities, to empower others, to get people to take action, to quash those that needlessly work against you and to build partnerships with other Greek organizations.  It was an extension of my previous 19 years of learning.

And that is what I think Amy Chua doesn’t understand.

If you click on no other links in this blog please read this one by David Brooks about why Amy Chua is a wimp and not a hard ass mom.  I’ll give you the slightly shortened money quotes:

“I believe she’s coddling her children. She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session.

Yet mastering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement. Most people work in groups. We do this because groups are much more efficient at solving problems than individuals.

Researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon found that groups have a high collective intelligence when members of a group are good at reading each others’ emotions — when they take turns speaking, when the inputs from each member are managed fluidly

Participating in a well-functioning group is really hard. It requires the ability to trust people outside your kinship circle, read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings to the room can and cannot fit together.

This skill set is not taught formally, but it is imparted through arduous experiences. These are exactly the kinds of difficult experiences Chua shelters her children from by making them rush home to hit the homework table”

Bingo.  These are the skills I look for in entrepreneurs and leaders.  It is the very fabric of what I believe forms the entrepreneur DNA.

How do we measure success?  What results must you have in order to raise venture capital or garner good press coverage that helps drive customer acquisition (and also more funding!)?

I meet entrepreneurs all the time who tell me one of the following things:

  • “I’ve had trouble raising money.  Investors want to see more traction.  This frustrates me.  I thought you were supposed to be VCs?  You know, ‘venture’ capitalists?  How come you guys only invest when you have proof of success?” or;
  • “I don’t have enough money to hire my team yet.  They’re waiting on the sidelines, ready to join as soon as I raise some money.  We’re not moving fast enough.  I can’t get traction with people and I can’t get people without money and I can’t get money without traction.  It’s one big cluster fuck of a recursive loop!”

OK, they don’t say it in those words.  That’s my cheeky Friday night spin.  But it’s essentially what they mean.

But here’s the thing.  VCs fund people all the time with no traction.  They fund people with no customers.  They even fund people with no product.  They just aren’t funding you.  Dig deeper.  Understand why.  Be reflective.  Be honest.

So here was my conversation this week.  It was a hard one to have because it’s a founder that I really want to see succeed and I know has the magic dust to succeed.  But not without a team.

Me: “I love your market.  I loved it 18 months ago.  I love the design of your product.  I wasn’t convinced about your go-to-market strategy back then, your new one is much better. Not perfect, but much better.  You’ve tried to raise money for a long time. Why do you think you haven’t succeeded?”

Founder: “I just didn’t have the right product focus. Now I do.”

Me: “Well you’ve met with other VCs recently. What are they telling you?”

Founder: “That they love my idea but they just need to see us get a little bit more traction.  We need to sign up a few more customers and prove we can make money.”

Me: “And do you believe that?”

Founder: “Yes. They seemed to really like us. We just haven’t proven enough.”

Me: “Really?  I funded a team with a product concept but no live product.  It was called Pose. They now have $1.6 million, a live product that was featured in iTunes and has gotten rave reviews.  But I met them with a prototype only.  And I’m not the only one who is wiling to fund at an earlier stage than you.  You have been around nearly 2 years.  You have beautifully executed software.  I think you’re missing something.

We’ve met three times over 18 months and you still have no team.  You have a part-time lead architect, a part-time developer and a part-time community manager.  You need to attend meetings with somebody else on your team.  I think you’re wonderful at product & marketing – you’ve proven that.  But I don’t believe you’re the complete package on your own.  In fact, the fact that you don’t have a team suggests to me that you have some deficiencies we need to address.  A partner might really help you get through that.”

Founder: “Wait a second. How can I hire a team without any money? That’s my problem. I need somebody to support me and I know the rest will happen.”

Me: “The fact that you haven’t brought on a team IS the problem.  You have no “mo.” Founders don’t like it when I say this but it’s a frequent conversation.  For every person who comes in here talking about the team they’re going to hire, there are 3 others out there that DID hire people.  They didn’t have money.  They had inspiration.  They had Chutzpah.  They had the blind confidence that everything was just going to work out and the leadership to convince others of that fact.

Hiring a team is a data point. Even investors who don’t internalize this I’m certain it is baked into their decision making.  Real entrepreneurs are able to attract others to their calling.  They can get people who want to work with them – work FOR them.  Sometimes they even bring on people that are above them. Some real entrepreneurs recognize their own limitations as CEO.  There are multiple answers and I don’t know which is for you.  But I do know that until you prove you can do that it’s going to be awfully tough to raise money.”

I had this conversation with Scot Richardson, the founder of LaughStub, 2 years ago.  He took this as a challenge and had a CTO in one week.  One.  He had funding in 4-6 weeks and raised a large round a year later.  I wrote him a check personally (not from the fund).  I backed him because he showed me he had what it took to make it happen and I give big respect to that.  He signed up the two biggest comedy clubs in the US and is on a tear.  He’s a star.  I wasn’t sure whether he was an entrepreneur.  Now I am.

And finally I couldn’t close without talking about happiness.

I’m a group person. I’m needy that way.  I’ve always been part of teams. Where they don’t exist I create them.  It’s for me.  It’s the place to get my group energy.  And there is scientific evidence that being part of a group increases happiness and well being.

Again, from my favorite OpEd columnist David Brooks in a wonderful piece about happiness:

“Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. One of the key findings is that worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.

the relationship between happiness and income is complicated, and after a point, tenuous.  Winning the lottery doesn’t seem to produce lasting gains in well-being. People aren’t happiest during the years when they are winning the most promotions.

The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others.

Joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income.

Economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important.”

You see? Now you can feel better about the entrepreneur’s salary – at least you’re part of a deeply bonded group! 😉

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Good four! What book? Add a link so others can find it!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    The weird thing, Paige, is that I saw you only a few months ago and when I left I thought, “Man, Paige is natural leader but the company feels like it's at PowerPoint presentation stage.”

    Two weeks ago I had lunch with Zao. I was really impressed with his product vision. Then I thought it was at the “product design stage.”

    Then I met your sales team this week and thought. Eff me. Paige is really bringing together an amazing team here.

    I can't wait to see where it all goes. And how many more people you can bring down from San Fran 😉

  • benaltieri

    Awesome read Mark. I especially liked your response to Amy Chua and the piece on loner entrepreneurs. And I just watched Despicable Me with my five year old son last week. I look forward to reading your post on your team leadership experience building via your rise through the ranks in your fraternity.
    Cheers, – Ben

  • http://twitter.com/mobilesymmetry Jim Patterson

    Great article, as always. And, it's very telling that you put Lombardi as your photo (he would have been a priest had he not been a great football coach and never played a day of pro football – there's a spiritual element, a mission, to his leadership).

    – Leaders separate team practice from team performance.
    – Leaders work every member on the field to achieve greatness (“How would you hande this?” is a great instructional tool).
    – And leaders learn from loss and admit mistakes.
    – Leaders also have faith in themselves, their team, their mission – it's the only way you can look into a risky future. Faith is what fills the gap between reality and vision.
    – Leaders are willing to swallow their pride and perform unconventional tasks to achieve greater results.

    I would also argue that every leader also is comfortable being a follower – they can think like a team member and don't always need to be at the wheel.

    My 2 cents. Good article. Couldn't agree more with your PhD comment…

  • http://www.clubvisiontv.com/ Doug Wulff

    I challenge my kids with reverse humor to build intellect. For example – unscripted – I was having dinner at my Mom’s and asked my boy (8yrs), ‘What did I do when you read your first sentence before kindergarten?’

    He replied, ‘Daddy spanked me.’ Nice.

    Is this a good time to mention I requested you on AngelList :)

  • http://analytikainc.com/blog/ John R. Sedivy

    You really made some excellent points about leadership. I agree with your example that money is not the issue with the founder in question. True we all have a monetary drive, but an authentic, coherent team will maintain its cohesion regardless of financial circumstance. I imagine that if a founder cannot recruit a team without funding, adding money will only scale and amplify the problem. Behind every great entrepreneur is an even better team.

    Your other example is interesting in that the founder who wanted to hire the CEO with product expertise may not understand their own limitation or suffer from a “not like me” syndrome, which appears from time-to-time with individuals with deep technical expertise. Your founder should be capable of teaching the non-technical CEO the product specifics, but he likely cannot teach a technical expert how to be a great CEO which will take his business to the next level.

  • http://www.mitultiwari.net Mitul

    Great post Mark! One question: what do you do when you people you are trying to convince to join have their own ideas of how to execute the vision? And their ides of execution is different from your own ideas of execution, and they are convinced that their ideas are better?

  • http://www.howardlindzon.com howardlindzon

    loved this mark. i have two mancaves. i am raising my kids the toronto way.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Jim. I do spend a surprising amount of time thinking about the image I want for every post. I thought to myself – who embodies leadership the most? There are many. My mind went straight to Vince Lombardi & John Wooden. With the Packers heading to the Superbowl I had to give him the nod 😉

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    This is something I've thought a lot about since hearing Seth Sternberg speak about it – we tend to hire people like ourselves. That's clearly a mistake.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I want them to have their own ideas because they'll have to lead. I only want to be the sparring partner.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. Awesome. I'm in San Diego very soon. Let's hang out.

  • http://twitter.com/AskAtma Angel Consultant

    Great piece Mark. I am going to be giving a class to entrepreneurs in a couple weeks on team building and I am going to quote from this article.


  • http://MainStStark.com Jeff 'SKI' Kinsey

    Love it. Reminds me of what Dan Hanlon and Martha Stewart call the “A” Team, but with a VC's vantage point. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sutpen

    I have been reading your blog for a long time and really like it,
    although it is not much help for me right now (I am one of those PhDs…).
    One thing that is slightly unsettling for me though is that you only get VERY appreciative comments.
    I would expect that there would be more Mark Susters in the crowd, saying

    “No F#$%^ing Way!! You are wrong Mr Suster!!!”

    I have been thinking about this for a long time, but your comments on your natural need for and proficiency with team building
    may be the answer to this puzzle.
    My guess is that you are building a team here – over the blogosphere, and possibly not intentionally.
    This is an amazing talent, but it's not entirely a good thing if you are trying to build a team that can make balanced decisions on its own.

  • http://analytikainc.com/blog/ John R. Sedivy

    Definitely, given the impact on hiring too many people like ourselves you would think there would be greater awareness of this issue. Recently I have found much written about the danger of succumbing to “not built here” but not much on “not like me.” Is Seth Sternberg's presentation available online? If so, do you happen to have the link handy?

  • John Mcnicol


    Really enjoyed your article!

    It also reinforced why I value Twitter much more than Facebook. Twitter allows mere mortals learn from the vast experience of others building knowledge and more community in my opinion than FB. I would argue that Twitter is undervalued!

    Thanks again

    John McNicol


  • http://twitter.com/david_putnam David Putnam

    That will come after a season or two of coaching ball movement and dribbling skills…a growth spurt where he is foot taller than the other boys doesn't hurt either :-)

  • SteveD-

    Hi Mark, One of the things I love about your posts is the fact that you always provide ideas and suggestions that are “actionable.” I was fortunate to be present when Howard Lindzon spoke at Brant Cooper’s SD Tech Founders meeting at UCSD this week and, in addition to the fact that he was very entertaining, he provided valuable, actionable suggestions. Just like you. The main take-away for me from this post – aside from the leadership “framework” you’ve outlined and the great suggestions pointed out in the comments by your readers – ties back to your Lombardi illustration. “What I learned was how to work with teams. I learned how to recruit people to join us and not another group, to build consensus amongst a group of strong personalities, to empower others, to get people to take action, to quash those that needlessly work against you and to build partnerships…” You are, to me, describing how you learned to be a coach and that’s exactly the kind of leader that I aspire to be. A leader needs to be a coach and I think that pretty much describes you. Thanks for being a great coach.

  • http://crowdbooster.com/ Ricky Yean

    I agree that sheer market knowledge can take you pretty far as a leader, especially in organizations where the culture looks to the leader for strong guidance at every step of the way or celebrates uber smart people. If you are the smartest one, yeah you can “lead.” But going back to Mark's point, these organizations might not be giving the kind of leader Mark is describing enough credit. The kind of leader that is self-confident enough to understand that she needs to surround herself with people more capable than her and let them develop the domain authority is key to the organization's overall growth. If it's all on the leader, once the leader falters, falls short, or makes a mistake, the entire organization goes down with him.

  • http://reecepacheco.com reecepacheco

    Between this post and some other recent interviews I've done, I've been reflecting on what got me to where I am and what makes me tick…

    While I held leadership roles in sports, school, etc. all my life, I realized what really sets me apart is my childhood growing up in the family restaurant business – and the ensuing bartending career through college and bootstrapping startup mode.

    Being in a real life service role truly pushes you through multiple iterations/repetitions with people – whether you want them or not. It's a great way to learn how to handle a wide array of personalities and steer the conversation/interaction/team in the direction you want.

  • http://aweber9.blogspot.com aweber9

    Terrific article!

    If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling On Happiness (http://amzn.to/ePbJUX ). It's a highly readable inquiry into why humans do such a bad job understanding what will make us happy or unhappy.

    In a similar vein, I also recommend this article on vacations and happiness from the Boston Globe: The Best Vacation Ever' (http://bit.ly/eg8jKL )

  • http://twitter.com/rachelcogar Rachel Cogar

    Agreed. Thanks for sharing this from a VC's perspective. Collins' Good to Great would agree with you regarding teams and leadership. Our PRSA Charlotte 2011 Marketing Forecast said the same thing – invest in really smart people 😉

  • http://twitter.com/chrisyeh chrisyeh

    Scot should consider himself very lucky that you were willing to have such an honest conversation with him. So many founders I talk with lament either investor caution or their inability to make market progress without funding. My answer is always the same–it's your job as an entrepreneur to do what others cannot. If it were as simple as following a handbook, everyone could do it.

    I talk with folks all the time who have fancy MBAs and other pedigrees, but don't get stuff done. Then there's guys like the entrepreneurs I met who graduated from Sonoma State, and from in the middle of nowhere, managed to build a business with hundreds of paying customers and healthy expansion plans.

    Entrepreneurs get things done. You can judge them by their accomplishments.

  • http://www.startupboyo.com/ RichardF

    Great piece Mark. For anyone interested in reading a fantastic book on inspiring leadership then I'd recommend “South: the story of Shackleton's 1914-1917 expedition” – (the kindle edition is free) He and his team really faced crisis moments! It's heavy going at times because of the detail and when it was written but well worth it imo.

  • willlucas

    Thank you for this blog. It answered some questions I've been trying to get solved!

  • http://techiemania.com John Rampton

    Great post, although I feel that VC's are a lot more critical that what you have written about…

  • http://twitter.com/LaughStub LaughStub

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the kind words in the post. It really means a lot. Also congrats on your blog readership, wow. I got messages from people in China, New York, Ohio, San Francisco, and several in LA regarding being mentioned in the post. I knew we had both gone to UCSD, didn't know that we had the same major and were both presidents of our fraternities. We'll have to discuss.

    I couldn't agree more that running an organization taught me far more then the classroom ever did. And I absolutely agree that dealing with the social dynamics of a group of peers at a sleepover is far more important then learning piano. To me, being a CEO has 2 key components.. having a compelling vision and being able to think through the game dynamics / business strategy that you need to execute and excelling at group dynamics/leadership and maximizing both group and individual potential by motivating and creating a company culture.

    And yes I did find a CTO in a week and got my first check in about 3 weeks after you pushed me off the proverbial cliff, but finding Nasi Peretz (my CTO/Co-founder) was as much the business gods shining on me then it was some inspirational speech I gave to get someone to work for free. I was out at events almost every night looking for a CTO and seeking out advice from people like yourself, but I think meeting someone as amazing to work with as Nasi was half dumb luck, half good judgement to choose him, and half chutzpah to start putting his salary on my credit card. (yes that makes 3 halves, but sometimes that's what it takes to make it.) My simple point is just that leadership also involves finding the right people that fit with you and your vision. It's not always about convincing people but about finding people and connecting with them. I suspect I could be an effective leader in many situations, but doing so with people I really like in an organization that I'm passionate about certainly help. If you bring in an outside CEO without domain expertise, I believe it can work if that person gets along well with the founder and has passion for what the company is doing, even if it's new to them. I see this in sports all the time where a coach is a good coach but a bad fit for the situation.

    Lastly, I love that you end on thoughts about happiness as it is my core value in life and very intertwined with this topic. I think that people are at their best when they are doing what they love and fulfilling a personal destiny. The best way to set yourself up to be a great leader is to do something that you love. If that's being a CEO and founder like myself, then do it with an idea that you love and that you'll fight for, that'll you'll stick to during tough times, that you'll work late on every night. It's a lot easier to convince someone to join you and help you achieve your dream then it is to sell them on the idea of following the heard to do another Groupon knockoff.

    Anyway, as always, great reading.
    Scot Richardson

  • Megan

    Thank you for this… So often we can't get to the bottom of WHY…. Investors are complicated, but you have showed me through this article that it is not complicated. It is a matter of preseverance and figuring out the most difficult obstacles! Thanks! I have a renewed spirit!

  • http://www.thenetworkgarden.com hypermark

    Great piece, Mark. It's both a kick in the gut and cathartic to realize that I have more than once been that guy, with not enough of chutzpah to sell new hires early in the voyage to join me on the boat, so as to pursue our respective destiny working together. Live and learn.

  • Graig Tony92
  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com Donna Brewington White

    Thanks for the rich words, Mark. Could only read one blog post on this slammed day — glad it was this one.

    Recently read a quote that I loved tweeted by Fred Wilson — I think spoken by Scott Heiferman:

    “Starting a company is not DIY. It is DIO. Do it ourselves. Teams win.”

    I believe this wholeheartedly. Partly, why I do what I do.

    P.S. Your kids seem to have a ton of fun.

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    Your observation, Sirach, (with which I agree) reminds me of something that a very successful, wealthy UK entrepreneur said to me once while we were playing “arrows” (darts) on a team in a British Pub many years ago.

    He said that my biggest problem was likely to be that I was “edjumicated” (over educated in Brit' parlance). His explanation was that he had never been taught to evaluate pros/cons of an opportunity formally; he had learned from street smarts having never formally graduated from high school, dropping out at 15. Hence he went more with his gut intuition about risk which meant that he ventured into some openings that others – meaning people like me who were “edjumicated” – would never have risked because we “knew” how to evaluate the risk which made us blind to the potential. Though he had experienced a few “well-that-did-not work” failures, to him they were just part of his “education” that ultimately led him to having the success he eventually realised.

    While I think his example was extreme, and certainly there are enough examples all around of people who have never had opportunity for “real schooling” or who had schooling until getting into college and then bailed who still went on to create great business success: Fortunately, either in spite of, or because of his, assertions, at least in my own case his prediction has proven wrong but this path has not been simple, direct or easy and I better understand from where he was coming with his opinion.

    Nonetheless, on both sides of the Pond, I have seen a number of brilliant (savant) PhD's and well versed MBA's flounder in their respective efforts to build business from an idea: What Mark has described here would seem to embrace the happy medium with the greatest potential for a successful outcome even if the first attempt or two fails.

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    Schmidt and Google is a classic example of “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink”. Perhaps another example of that would be when the Apple board chopped Jobs in favor of bringing in Sculley? That did not work well either, did it?

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    Ehrenbrav: I agree with Mark: What is your book? Since Mark has invited you to do this, please add link or at least give us the name of your book.

  • Adrian_Meli

    Mark, one of the best posts I have read in a long time. You covered a lot of ground on life and the VC community and enjoyed your thoughts. I found your comments on an ideal CEO most interesting as it is counterintuitive for a lot of people. The idea of reporting to someone who is not your equal in what you might view as the most important aspect of a business initially sounds off, but the way you presented it is very compelling. This is exactly the kind of advice start-ups go to VCs for…look forward to hearing the frat story. – Adrian Meli

  • DanielMckee

    Great article! I have always had these instincts and not known why. It is the only way things make sense to me. It is very inspiring to read your thought process. I also agree that it is not just team but is product too. Icing is not what makes cake delicious or we would just eat icing and cake alone is not as delicious as cake with icing. In many cases there isn't a product (just yet) in that perfect balance.

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    Between Fred Wilson's “MBA Mondays” and the “Bothsidesofthetable” insightful articles from Mark Suster, why would anyone nowadays “waste” money on getting an official MBA when they could use that money instead to invest in birthing their ideas, growing them by reference to these blogs …. and, if you must have more, then read Peter Drucker, Tom Peters and attend an Eric Ries presentation on “Lean Startup” amongst other resources now readily available to all?

    My point is that there is now so much excellent material now easily available here on the web with following @msuster and @fredwilson, amongst others, being great starting points for relevant education/how-to guidance. What an amazing era we are now living within.

    To paraphrase Winston Churchill's famous saying: “Never in the annuls of human history has some much excellent information been disseminated so widely and freely by so few for so many!”

  • DanielMckee

    Great article! I have always had these instincts and not known why. It is the only way things make sense to me. It is very inspiring to read your thought process. I also agree that it is not just team but is product too. Icing is not what makes cake delicious or we would just eat icing and cake alone is not as delicious as cake with icing. In many cases there isn't a product (just yet) in that perfect balance.

  • http://twitter.com/julian_jippidy Julian

    Damn good article! Very much appreciate the excellent read, Mark! I love this little tidbit: “The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others”! Priceless! I've always been a big advocate of sports, especially a team-centric sport such as basketball wherein the group is so small that everyone is held accountable and every individual's contribution is magnified. When it comes to learning about people and how to interact within a group dynamic full of different personalities all hugely dependent on one another for team success, there is no better teacher than the competition of basketball. I'll be sharing this with my team for sure!

  • http://www.idyeah.com Vishal Mehta

    Very well articulated, Mark. I'm painfully reminded of few decisions that I've been afraid to take, and few personal weaknesses that I expect to miraculously overcome. I know I'm almost out of resources, but I've never been more ready for having a team. Thanks for this feature.

  • http://technbiz.blogspot.com paramendra

    The last line is the best.

  • Paul

    Hi Mark,

    First thanks for the post and insight. Very useful. I have one question and one comment.

    In a speech you gave at Columbia, you said that founders don't need a team around them as that can and often leads to conflict as they drift apart or have different visions and suggested you have a preference for such founders as opposed to the typical Silicon Valley model (this was surprising to me). How should one reconcile that view with the thoughts above?

    Prof. Amy Chua's book has gotten a lot of publicity and doesn't need more on your blog but there may be value in it to you, your VC peers and your readers. Though I’ve never met or spoken to her and have yet to read her latest book, I've read one of her two other books and some of her law review articles years ago and can make the connection that some reading that WSJ excerpt can't. The excerpt’s title gave an explicit view of ethnic superiority and the article sounded like “Mommy Dearest” (I’m dating myself, here)—both emotionally provocative views in our society but both accepted in many places in the world. I’m trying not to commit the same sin here, but David Brooks’s article was attacking a strawman—but that’s beside the point.

    In essence however Chua’s relaying the immigrant story in America; especially that of the ethnic minority experience. It’s been said that 2nd generation America-born children (i.e. the grandchildren of those first landing on US soil) are usually well assimilated in the American lifestyles and values. The grandparents often came from societies where it was socially and economically bipolar, where education was usually the main or sole determining factor of one’s fate and they bring those ideas to the US. Since the first US-born children got socially and economically rewarded, they carry much of those values and still hold strong views (positive of negative depending on the group’s upward mobility) about their ethnic group. The grandchildren though are best integrated into broader society and that “social rough-edge” has worn off but the socially rewarded values persist.

    Chua is not the first to note the ethnic minority success experience. Gladwell’s “Outliers” conveys the pressure of Jewish mothers on their children; Nassim Taleb has argued that the story of some small ethnic-religious groups succeeding has more to do with their no-choice-but-pull-up-by-bootstraps circumstances than many acknowledge; Michael Lewis’s “New New Thing” (an overall poor book IMO) gives a little insight into one person’s journey from an Indian village to Silicon Valley; and even FA Hayek asserts the same as Taleb’s argument in “The Road to Serfdom” (which many people who swear by that book and its author overlook the meaning of that passage).

    Having lived in the UK, you may have noticed a disproportionate number of startups founded and / or led by ethnic minorities (e.g. this was glaring when I saw Cambridge’s biotech community, which is greatly important to the university). Looking around the Valley or LA, this is not unique.

    The relevance of Chua’s story (and those of others similar) to VCs is that by understanding the immigrant experience (especially ethnic minorities since many of them have startups from restaurants to bodegas to dry cleaners to biotechs, etc.), VCs stand a better chance of appreciating the psyche of their prospective investees and how to interact with them. This is not about “diversity” for that feel-good, Hollywood story sake or Freudian psychoanalysis or the tick-the-race-boxes RFP process so I can get the pension funds off my back. This is still about the bucks.

    Before casting aside Chua’s views just from an excerpt as many have done, it would have been more useful if one explained how she got to her views and what those views possibly mean. In light of the typical US PhD student’s profile and the efforts being made by some nations to bring back home their talent (e.g. Medvedev visiting the Valley; Sarkozy pleading for his Frenchmen to return from the UK, etc.), this effort to understand ethnic immigrants may also be important for the United States’s competitiveness. It’s not 1950s anymore in the US and we, as well as nearly every corner of the world, are richer for it.

  • Paul

    Hey Mark,

    By the way, one last point on this subject of finding opportunities by casting a wider “ethnic net”.

    Over ten years ago, I was at a special sits fund where we made an investment into a small bank focusing on certain immigrants run by a 30-something guy. Fresh out of B-School (and probably foolishly arrogant as hell), I thought it was “quaint” and pedestrian compared to the future dot.bombs going public (I dismissed those too having studied bankruptcy during b-school to plan for the aftermath).

    That bank now public is SoCal’s East West Bancorp, Inc.—a $20bn bank in assets up from $1bn in about a decade. As you said about Harvey Mackay, there’s a lot of dough to be made in the mundane.

    Pulling up its IPO prospectus, I see this: “Management believes the Bank's customers benefit from its understanding of Asian markets and cultures…Management believes that this approach, combined with the extensive ties of its management and Board of Directors to the growing Asian and ethnic Chinese communities, provides the Bank with an advantage in competing for customers in its market area.”

    Years later, I learned Warren Buffett too had made a tidy profit decades ago investing in these so-called “ethnic banks” that many on the Eastern seaboard had overlooked or dismissed. How could their investors and managers make so much money? The banks’ depositors are usually happy to just find an alternative to their mattresses (literally) even with no interest earned and heavy fees; the customers tend to be big savers; and they want a place to bank where they feel comfortable. Their customers also start small businesses with potentially high returns (a la Harvey Mackay) and often have an aversion to heavy indebtedness depending on their culture values (e.g. the head of the UK arm of one of the largest Indian banks told me last year how hard it is for him to grow his loan book because his depositors are so averse to debt and the cultural source of this).

    Are these sexy businesses for the cocktail party circuit? No, but their owners may have distributed the wine their drinking and catered the hor d'oeuvres for the party and staffed it.

    Anyway, it's a thought to casting a wider net.

  • http://twitter.com/AndySack Andy Sack

    Excellent post. Let me know if you and your son come to Seattle — we'll have a sleep over, stay up late and break some rules.

  • Harrywood

    Hi msuster, I have a eCommerce plan about Chinese Elderly Market , how can I send the plan to you ? My email is harrywood3@hotmail.com , Waiting for your contact. Thanks.

  • jmaddog

    thank you for your insight and willingness to share with others. I am an entrepreneur with two
    business's which I am building simultaneously, which has numerous challenges, but the love of the work and support from my team keeps me going, even when there are only vapors in the tank. Thanks for keeping some of us more aware of the importance of delegation…