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://twitter.com/romanreyhani Roman Reyhani

    Great article Mark – it's something to chew on for the weekend. I liked what you wrote about leadership: it's very true that the CEO needs to understand how each department does it's work, but shouldn't necessarily be the expert in that field. That's what the phd's are for.

  • http://twitter.com/rrohan189 rrohan189

    Loved this Mark. Thank you.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Or better yet super smart people who decided not to get their Phd's 😉

  • Dan Levin

    Great stuff Mark. I'm not sure why, but I've always had a good ability to get people to work for “free”, maybe it's something about growing up poor. Here is the process that I use and have had success with:

    1. Sell the dream. No one wants to work a 9-5. You'd be amazed how many young talented people out there will work free for you PT for the chance to be a part of something that could be HUGE someday. When you talk to people, let them know from the beginning where you see your company going and what their role will look like when you get there. Make sure they understand what's in it for them when you become the next Twitter.

    2. Let them know there is no such thing as FREE work. I don't believe in people doing me or my company “favors” by giving free work. Once they think they are doing you a favor, the balance of power is all out of whack. If they don't see a fair exchange in value for the free work they are giving, then don't be afraid to walk away. I usually let people know in the first interview that if money is their first priority, then this is the wrong place for them.

    3. Be Patient and NEVER desperate. I pulled a guy away from a high paying job at a Fortune 500 company to come work full time for free for my startup. It took nearly a year until he officially left his full time gig, but I knew I would eventually get him on board. This is an extreme case and I know most startups don't have a year to wait. but I use this example to illustrate the importance of being patient and not seeming desperate even when you are.

    Hope this helps a few entrepreneurs out there!

  • http://twitter.com/romanreyhani Roman Reyhani

    Yes! Gotta have those super smart people!

  • Rajat

    I agree with most of these points, although I doubt the stats quoted in some of those columns. Seems more like the columnists picked the studies whose conclusion they already agreed with to support their points (ie socializing after work produces happiness….seems like a bizarre conclusion to anyone who truly enjoys his work).

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Awesome advice. Number 1 is a given – if you can't “sell the dream” nobody will follow your lead.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    As with any “opinion” column it will always be skewed by the person who chooses what data to present. That's for sure. Same in any television news where they decide which footage to run or a magazine that shapes perception by which picture they print with the story. Same with this blog.

    That said, I strongly believe that as social beings most of us draw huge satisfaction from the energy of others. “Socializing after work” is a proxy for the banter & camaraderie of hanging out with your peers. At my first company this created the fabric of the company. We worked late & hard but often went out.

    As you get older “socializing after work” becomes less prevalent because you have families. This satisfaction gets replaced by dinner parties on a less frequent basis. We also join book clubs, sports teams, religious organizations, political groups or whatever else piques our interests. I would argue that we do this largely to find the happiness of groups.

  • http://www.nosnivelling.com daveschappell

    Best article on team-building and selling I've ever read. I've thought these things, but never crystallized them (about other startups, and TeachStreet, as well). Really enjoyed “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”, among others — I feel like that's something I figured out playing baseball (B-team and A-team, before school ball even started) — I was never the best, by a long shot, but somewhere along the lines, I figured out how to play the life game. As I get older, I realize those skills are really the rare ones… when to push… when to give… when to lead.

  • http://www.janrenner.com/ Jan Renner

    Love Brooks also. He in one of the speakers at TED next month…promoting the new book. Some great nuggets in that New Yorker piece. “Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.”

  • http://twitter.com/kaydenh Kayden Horwitz

    So spot on. Refining my social intelligence is 80% of why I pay to go to college. Building groups and factions is a big skill. Learning how people act and react from emotions and social structure is bigger. Thanks for the insight.

  • http://twitter.com/startupstalker startupstalker

    I think I reson

  • http://twitter.com/davidsmuts David Smuts

    It's coincidental that I read this post of yours as I'm writing an article for young Entrepreneurs entitled “VCs Invest in Products NOT People”…, controversial I know (helps generate interest).

    I agree with everything you say about Teams and Leadership here and am really encouraged by your unconventional attitude and approach in this regard, I would be doing it exactly the same way as you if I was a VC. But you got to admit Mark, this is not the norm amongst the VC creed. It's Product first, Team second by and large. If it were Team first then VCs wouldn't wait to see a product proven viable before committing themselves. Your approach and that of a handful of others in backing Teams first is different and deemed “Risky” by your peers.

    Certainly in Europe it is very much Product oriented investments by VCs. Not to say they don't want a strong team, they most certainly do. But it's a bonus rather than a pre-requisite for them. They'll disagree with me on this point, but I'm right. After all, they feel they can always bring in the right leadership at a later date, however they must have a viable product from the onset.

    Angel investing does tend to favour Team over Product a bit more and perhaps the examples you give of backing Teams (without proven Products) fall into that category?

    If I were making an investment decision it would definitely be Team first. If there's no good Team in place then I'm not interested. Then I'd look at the Product, if the market was exciting, the product at a stage of polished demonstration, then I would consider investing. I wouldn't necessarily insist on the product being proven viable first though. Why wait for that, when you're going to then be competing with more investors on less favourable terms? The secret is pick the right Team, with the right Vision and Product and get in there EARLY!!!!! if not First!

  • http://www.gooddisruptivechange.com Susan Alexander

    Mark ~

    A very well reasoned and written post, as always. Your insight into what's actually worked in team building is invaluable. How good that you tie in the all-important topic of happiness. The Brooks piece is quite good, but it scratches the surface – if you really want to delve in, have a look at the book that's the closest thing I knows of to a blueprint for happiness:

    Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi http://amzn.to/gMbSm2
    “The best moments usually occur when a person's mind or body is is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult ….”

    A couple of other books that might interest you and your readers, both by the very awesome Edward (Ned) Hallowell:

    Connect http://amzn.to/h6ajcB
    Shine, Using Brain Science To Get The Best From Your People http://amzn.to/hdMUwQ.

    Since you're a parent, be sure not to miss Hallowell's The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness http://amzn.to/fngD6V It's the best parenting book I've ever read – I apply its principles every day.

    Much of the foregoing is what I blog about: http://bit.ly/gUXbE2.

    Thanks, Mark, for a yet another great post!

    Susan Alexander

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you.

    re: basketball – exactly what I was thinking. I was watching my son on the court and starting to see which kids were directing traffic, which were silently getting open, which were aggressive and which were lost in the sauce. I remember those days as a kid, too.

    I think the broader idea is that encouraging team sports, team activities and friendships are some of the most valuable leadership lessons we can pass on and often people don't recognize this.

    At Andersen Consulting I used to tell my development teams, “if you spend 15% less time programming and put that time into hanging out with your clients in the end you'll build a better product and have more acceptance of the end product.” This was a hard lesson for some. I think it embodies the “customer development” philosophies of today yet I still see many startup teams that put all their extra time into more output at the office.

    Sorry to miss you this weekend. Maybe a call in the next 2 weeks to plan this Seattle trip?

  • http://twitter.com/Sirachm Sirach Mendes

    Mark, this article was awesome !

    Liked the Happiness part and yes its more important for founder to get people and understand their hopes, dreams, triggers to bring out the best and create a team. Easier said than done – specially when team tends to lose hope in the goal – thats where the greatest learning comes from turning the tide / direction and convincing your team to Bounce back and not give up.

    I remember a conversation I had with a UK business colleague – on what he said when i inquired would doing an MBA be good choice.
    He said ' You work in a start up – that is the greatest learning ever ! There are 2 reasons to do an MBA – 1 ) to Pull the parachute and find new industry to land in (cause your confused)
    2) To Network with the Best Minds and form a team to challenge the Status quo

    I always believe in the latter and feel education system is where we learn the pecking order and how to work around it – such skills are golden in real life ( not the book smarts who avoid social contact and focus too much on the handbook)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Brooks is awesome. He's one of the true political thinkers that can stay reasonably non-partisan.

  • http://twitter.com/ckukahiko Chad Kukahiko

    unbelievable article, mark. really. definitely one of the most timely, for our little team at least. thanks for your generosity, honestly and insight – as always. definitely sharing this one with the whole team. i think this alone might fuel them for months! =)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    As I mentioned: some VCs are team, some are product, some are product/market fit. The latter to me is a hedge saying, “I want to see real user numbers in order to be excited.” In a market like this the latter category certainly has to pay up to get in on the deal.

    There are a small band of VCs who are people, first. I know that both True Ventures and First Round Capital in the US are. I've seen it first hand.

    As for me? I hate the idea of going into an investment expecting to blow out the founding team.

  • http://www.nosnivelling.com daveschappell

    It's actually next weekend that I'm down in LA, in case that was miscommunication — I arrive on Friday at ~10:30am, am swinging by Hulu for lunch, and then am open in the afternoon. Or, I could hop on the phone this weekend, or anytime M-R (R=Thursday, in Arthur Andersen syntax) — have a run this morning, and then some meetings until 2pm, but open after that today. Tungle me (daveschappell)!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Paige = non conformist, action-oriented, self confident leader. And by self confident I mean – not pretending to be the smartest guy in the room. I'm impressed with whom he has surrounded himself.

    Zao = thoughtful, smart and not egotistical.

    They are both as awesome as the TWiVC interview they did. I watched the whole thing.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks for the links! And thank you for the private emails. I have read and will process. Just crazy on the work front right now.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I prefer startup education to MBA education.

  • JoeYevoli

    I'm trying to convince a friend to drop his job and start a company right now. Not to come work for me, but because I believe that becoming an entrepreneur has been the most satisfying decision I've ever made. He's got a great idea brewing and I just want him to have the courage to just go after it.

    I've learned more doing this than I would have learned in 15 years at my old job. Not just about business, but about myself, personally.

    You're absolutely right about team. I think I have what it takes to get ahead when I need to, and that I'm talented enough to learn what I need to learn in any particular field. But, I'd be nowhere without the team I work with.

    I think my friend has what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and to get a great team behind him. I'll definitely be passing this article along to him. I'm meeting with him next week. Hopefully I have what it takes to inspire him.

    Thanks for the post, Mark. Great stuff!

  • http://twitter.com/ianrosenwach Ian Rosenwach

    Great post, thanks! One counterpoint regarding Leadership and Domain Knowledge…

    One of the roles of the leader is to inspire and motivate. That may be more difficult when the leader is not well-respected and deeply knowledgeable about the market where the company operations. Employees want to feel confident that their CEO is steering the ship in the right direction.

    Also, people may think, “What is this person doing as CEO when they have less market knowledge than me? That makes no sense.” Ultimately this could lead to lower confidence and good will towards the CEO. In the worst case, an adverse impact on culture as well as performance.

    Maybe this is more of a big company problem than a startup problem…

  • http://davidfishman.tumblr.com/ David Fishman

    Great post + very inspirational. Every aspiring entrepreneur can benefit from these life lessons and anecdotal information.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    It's a hard thing. When you're an entrepreneur you want it for everybody. But I've learned over the years that many people ultimately don't actually enjoy it the way you & I do.

  • http://daleallyn.com Dale Allyn

    The School of Hard Knocks provides an excellent and very practical degree if one pays attention in class. :)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Agree to disagree. I think great leaders can inspire without being the person who did the detailed task at hand. Eric Schmidt seemed to have some issues at Google but I don't think you can use that as the example. Larry & Sergey seemed to never WANT a CEO. Seems it was forced on them. And they never really gave up power. If you haven't read “Googled” you should.

  • http://twitter.com/ianrosenwach Ian Rosenwach

    I'm not disagreeing. I agree great leaders can inspire without being the person who did the detailed task at hand.

    But some market knowledge is helpful. Eric Schmidt didn't really know search before Google. If that impacted his ability to lead…debatable.

  • Kylepearson

    Mark, have you seen entrepreneurs change their leadership characteristics over time? Or are they pretty much the same leader today as they will be tomorrow? For example, I grew up with role models that are moderately-risk averse (not like Ms Chua, but still like to play it safe), so I am naturally a bit more introverted and cerebral when it comes to decision making.

    As I have grown I realize that while I don't want to be reckless, I need to be willing to take bigger chances to achieve bigger goals. Any advice on stepping out of one's comfort zone?

    And yes, I know that comment sounds like a Radio Call-in. Deal with it. :)

  • SL

    Excellent article. I think startups are lucky to be starting with fresh management and staff, you're literally creating the company culture on-the-fly.
    I've been thinking a lot lately about leadership and success as I apply to an MBA and start a web app company. I always believe in making interactions personal. When I was a CSR I always made an effort to remember 1 personal thing about every customer. I think the same applies to internal relationships and motivation. In a large company how excited does the mail guy get if the CEO members to ask how his vacation last week was? Or if a new employee is asked how their first week went. Make it personal and people will be personally motivated to ensure the company is successful. On the one caveat that you have to genuinely care, you can't fake this stuff.

    I'm trying to find some time to write my thoughts I have on the management of tech companies as they grow. This has been highlighted both by Yahoo's declining and Google's changes. If its of value I can post a link here.

  • Jerry Flanagan

    It's almost as though this post was written just for our startup and the stage (filling out our management team) we find ourselves at today. Having always been an athlete as a young man and experiencing the bonds created by competition, especially when your team is a winner, was one of the main reasons that entrepreneurship has always appealed to me. That and a desire, like the lone artist, to create something out of nothing. Bringing together a team of like-minded, creative and hard working people that share the same desire to make a contribution to the same goals is the real fun of it all and reminds me too of the bonds shared by soldiers on the battlefield. For some reason, the pain and suffering that accompanies that commitment is outweighed by the brotherhood that arises out of working together from a set of shared principles for a common goal. I view business and entrepreneurship as an extension of the team and battlefield experience that has the potential to enhance our humanity (e.g. Gates and Buffett's Billionaire Challenge) or, if spoiled by fear and greed, can destroy our humanity (e.g. the banking crisis). Great post.

  • http://twitter.com/rkillgo Russell Killgo

    Mark, I really like how you always make a point to state that every posting you make on your blog is just a data point to be stirred in with everything else. Being an entrepreneur is a daily learning process and I feel like a child that's just learning to talk. I have been listening all this time and am almost ready to announce to the world “I'm here, now listen to me.” I very much appreciate all of your responses to me and I do my best to not just read them, but to understand them and why you responded the way you did. I have a son in 3rd grade and adore every minute I get to spend with him. We watched Despicable Me the other night and I believe one of the great lines as to a child's happiness comes from that movie, “It's so FLUFFFFFY!” — Russell

  • http://twitter.com/lisahickey lisahickey

    I love how you interweave the qualities of leaders, teams and even happiness. (yes, work can be the source of joy – but more often because of the connections you make and insights you share. And the confidence that comes with mastering the day to day interactions that lead to leadership skills.)
    And I especially love your raw honesty in this:

    “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.”

    (And I can say this now, after having been through the process, learning from what when wrong, course-correcting to get there.)

    The tangible way give to solve that – get a team in place – ties in all that you said above. Start leading others, no matter what stage you’re in. The best way – no, the only way – to be viewed as a leader is to actually lead. In today’s world, it is easier than ever to give people things that aren’t money in return for helping you. Equity, connections, press, networking, knowledge are all things you can give away in return for teams of people to help move you forward. A VC I know says she looks for management teams that “truly believe in the numbers they are presenting.” If you believe in those, you can convince others of the value of what you are doing.

  • http://twitter.com/ronsamuelson Ron Samuelson

    Wow, great post Mark! Being in a family business, I sure know about legacy. But as we continue build out our new venture and build our team, this gets me pumped and inspired. Great stuff. And I have a son in 2nd grade playing b-ball too so it all relates – thanks for this post.

  • petegrif

    ” I blew out of work early today to be there to route him on.”

    'root' him on, not 'route'

    [root or, sometimes, root] Show IPA
    –verb (used without object)
    to encourage a team or contestant by cheering or applauding enthusiastically.
    to lend moral support: The whole group will be rooting for him.

  • petegrif


    this article makes much the same (good) point about the significance of getting the sharp corners knocked off you by interactions in the real world.

  • Ehrenbrav

    Great piece. In my book, the essential four tasks a startup leader must perform are:

    1. Set the vision and long term strategy of the company.
    2. Locate, recruit, hire and retain the best talent possible, then delegate, trust and supervise.
    3. Motivate the team.
    4. Make sure you don't run out of money :)

    I think doing each of these things is essential. Certainly not sufficient for success (after all, where would luck play a role?), but a leader grounded in these four points has a good foundation.

  • JoeYevoli

    Ha, yea true. I gotta remember it's not for everyone.

  • paige craig

    Thanks for the @BetterWorks shout out Mark! Appreciate the props regarding our team – everyone here is kickass and I'm awed by the talented folks who've joined our family. We've all worked together equally to create a pretty awesome company and a novel platform that we believe will fundamentally improve this country's small & medium businesses (and perhaps the enterprise as well…) and the happiness, welfare and productivity of every company's unique team. We're pretty psyched to be working together and I still wake up every day thinking how lucky we are to be working together.

  • http://twitter.com/iCrowdApps Ted Kao

    Great article, as an asian american who spent most of my life here in the US, I think the a good combination of teaching both hard work and fantastic social skills is truly the path to success, especially as the world get more connected (at least digitally anyway!). Love the lesson on team building. This is VERY relevant to us now as we try to move forward and scale faster. Its primarily a “sales” process to potential recruits on who we are and why we matter. Also love the post by Dan, will try to use the recruiting process that he uses as well

  • Tumin

    An excellent post, Mark. It's a good read to kick start my Chinese New Year in couple days. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster


    re: introverted – there is nothing wrong with this at all. Many great leaders are introverts.
    re: being risk averse – that can be a problem for entrepreneurs. It depends on the level of risk aversion, obviously. Many people hit malaise in decision making. If I were looking to develop anywhere it would be speeding up decision making.

    I recommend reading “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell if you haven't read it.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    sure. links are welcome. thanks for asking.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    thanks. as somebody not from a military background, I still imagine and value the leadership lessons they must get. I'd view somebody with the right kind of military background is a very positive light

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    LOL. Great movie, huh?

    re: data point – I know that what I say is right … for me. But maybe not for everybody. So I always like to make that clear. Sometimes in private meetings I can be more proscriptive and occasionally I'm down-right stubborn about my POV – like when I tell people to put their bio up front in a presentation to investors – but mostly I'm just a data point.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    The reason I try to be so blunt in feedback is that I know most people aren't so people walk around not truly seeing their deficiency – and therefore can't fix it.

    re: gettings teams in place – spot on.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Now if only I could teach him to drive to the hoop rather than hanging outside the key! 😉

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    re: typo – thank you for catching it. Always appreciate it.

    re: dictionary reference – I promise I know the difference. I just type fast, proof read quickly and was trying to get the article done before the boys finished the movie.