A shortened, better edited and with nicer pictures version of this post first appeared on TechCrunch. But if you want it in it’s full V1 glory read on …
You’ve never been a CEO but might like to be one some day. But how? Nobody sees you as a CEO since you’ve never been one? I wrote this conundrum and the need to take charge of how the market define your skills in my much-read blog post on “personal branding.” If you don’t create the message about yourself, the market will. And if you want to be a CEO one day you need the messaging to reflect that.
The strange thing is that once you’ve been a CEO even one time the market will see always see you as a CEO but nobody really wants to give a new-comer chance.
Of course you could start your own company. For many people that’s the right answer. As I talked about in “Is it Time to Learn or Time to Earn” – overwhelmingly the best economics go to those that start successful companies. But not everybody has the right skills to build a highly successful and valuable startup from scratch. In fact, I would argue that most people don’t.
The decision tree for being a startup CEO begins with whether you can sustain 12-18 months of little or no salary while you define your market, do research, build v1 of your product, raise seed funding, attract your initial team, get your first customers and test whether you have initial product / market fit or enough momentum to be able to raise a large round of capital.
Five-and-a-half years ago I first met Chamillionaire at a tech conference in LA. I saw him on stage at the event talking about how he used social media to engage audiences. This was 2009 and his understanding of audience engagement was far beyond anything I was hearing from most people at that time.
I reached out after the event to learn more. We started hanging out a bit and discussing technology and entrepreneurship. What Cham rarely tells people – he’s both private and humble – is that he started making some small co-investments with me in tech firms starting with Maker Studios where he was one of the earliest investors.
After seeing Chamillionaire interact with several entrepreneurs both at events and as an investor I started introducing him to startups in an advisory capacity. It always started the same way – a founder would ask for an intro because they figured he could help with promotion. And after one meeting they started asking for his advice about marketing, customer engagement, product design, monetization – whatever.
I recently wrote a post talking about how some VCs meddle in operating company decisions or some executive teams are too reliant on VCs to jump in and make hard calls for them.
Fred Wilson also wrote on a similar topic in his usual more succinct manner, with a great quote being:
“One thing I know for sure is that those who advise and invest in startups cannot and should not meddle in the day to day decision making. It’s harmful and hurtful to the startup and those that lead it. So operating at a higher level, helping to set the framework for decision making and then sitting down and watching the game be played, is certainly the way to go.”
Of course I agree with this. In practice it can be a fine line between sparring partner / coach and stepping over the line to brute-force persuasion. And you can easily err the other way of not weighing in forcefully enough. I see this in cases where sometimes board members don’t want to take on the “Pottery Barn Rule” that if you break it, you fix it.
Many of the articles I’ve read about him over the last several years have a listing of his biggest successes – mostly Uber – and a tinge of cynicism about his close connections with celebrities or self promotion. Not this one. I’m going to write a pure admiration piece. A “hats off” (see what I did there?) story about big bets and equally grand huevos. And also a “thank you.”
I first met Shervin (does he need a last name?) in 2009. We attended a fbFund demo day (which I rarely do but it was put on by my long-time buddy Dave McClure – who hadn’t yet started 500Startups – and Sheryl Sandberg who was much more of a mere mortal back then). FB was becoming big but nowhere near the juggernaut it would become.
Phone calls. Millennials are allergic to them. I have this conversation Sofa King often that I’m sure each reader who has met me will think I’m talking specifically about you. I’m not. Well, I am. But not only you.
Email is efficient. You can crank out asynchronous thoughts, orders, questions, commands and comments. I email often. I always follow important emails with a call. There is a reason.
Phone calls are effective. You can convey meaning and emotion. You can listen for responses. You can detect how your messages are received and pick up sarcasm, skepticism, anger, frustration, happiness and sorrow. You CANNOT do this on email. Or IM. Or text. Or Twitter. Text is often tone deaf. Mostly when it’s is short form.
Of course in-person is best for true relationship development but that’s not always practical.
A very common experience …
One person emails some thoughts. Another gets angered and responds. The true intent of both is lost and the time makes each person’s anger grow and fester. And anger leads to more email, which ends in a flame war. I have seen this time and again and of course I’m prey to it as well.