How Do You Build a Young Company? Four Perspectives

Situation: An early stage company is positioning itself for growth. The CEO believes that they need to adopt a new model to grow. She is focused on a new channel – an affiliate model using the web. How do you build a young company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Introducing a new product to a new market is very difficult, especially for an early stage business that is still establishing itself. Shifting from direct sales to ancillary services presents a new challenge and a new demographic. In addition, in your market there are low barriers to entry so it may be too early to diversify. You are more likely to be successful marketing to your core.
  • Evaluate and decide whether there is growth in your core business. If so, stick with your core plan. If not, then you either must change or decide that your core market is not what you thought it would be.
  • You offer a valuable, important service. The issue is branding and a clear vision of what you want to be. Start by identifying your revenue stream. Then assess ways that you can move from one-time sales to an annuity revenue stream without major adjustments to your model.
  • Is it feasible to build a revenue share model for ancillary services with your core business partners? Here are the steps:
    • Develop a model.
    • Talk to both your business partners and customers – test the concept. See how they respond.
    • There are two things to look for: does it turn out that that the model is easy to sell and implement, with little effort or distraction from our core business, or does it compliment your core business. If either or both is the case, you may want to pursue it.

What Incentives Do You Offer Your #2? Six Thoughts

Situation: A CEO’s “Number 2” is returning from maternity leave. He sees a role for her helping him grow the business and wants to give her an incentive for taking on that role. What is an appropriate incentive? What incentives do you offer your #2?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Remember, first, that your #2 is a person with a new baby. Remember what it was like when you and your wife had your first child. How did your priorities change? How did your wife’s priorities change?
  • Never make her choose between child and job – you will lose. Offer her lots of flexibility. For example, allow her flexibility in hours to accommodate the needs of her child. This will mean a lot to her.
  • Find out what is important to her – what does she see as her role and goals. Be sensitive to the possibility that the birth of her first baby may have changed her priorities.
  • Here’s the message: “You’re valuable and I want you on my team. I appreciate your responsibilities with a newborn. How can we make this work for both of us?” Build a role around this – not an incentive program.
  • Many Silicon Valley and other urban families need two incomes. Work out something that works for her.
  • Have a Plan B in case it turns out that her priorities no longer align with yours.

How Can You Monetize Marketing Alliances? Six Thoughts

Situation:  A company works primarily with early stage/rapidly growing companies. To extend their service offering, they have alliances with corporations which are interested in these companies as sources of innovation. The alliances have helped them to gain new customers, but the CEO is curious whether he can gain additional revenue from these alliances. How can you monetize marketing alliances?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Match making is a valuable resource – regardless of where your company is located or the customers that you serve. Companies are less likely to pay for something that they perceive as having received free in the past, but are more than willing to pay for options that will enhance both their top and bottom lines.
  • Look at ways that you can make your services more valuable to your current corporate alliance partners. How can you help them make more revenue, or enhance their bottom lines through a win-win revenue-sharing relationship?
  • Become a match maker and get a fee. Offer your alliance partners opportunities that are more intimate than speed dating. Make sure that you are playing both a key introductory and ongoing role.
  • Use speed dating to match companies and funding sources. Invite investment bankers or private equity firms. Charge a 1-2% match fee if they do a deal.
  • Simplify your model. Who is your real audience – who is the constituency that you can best serve?
  • The most valuable deals and matches are those that offer ongoing revenue opportunities to your alliance partners. This is where you can offer them the most important value – a value for which they will pay.

How Do You Join a Not-for-Profit Board? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A CEO wants to build network of highly placed contacts. One method that she is considering is joining a not-for-profit Board. What are good organizations? Is it reasonable to expect a quid pro quo? How do you join a not-for-profit Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Do your homework. Find out what the most influential Boards are in your community. For example, the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce is very active and includes in its membership many very well connected people.
  • Influential groups and boards will vary by community. In Silicon Valley, the Silicon Valley Association of Start-up Entrepreneurs (SVASE) is a good organization to consider. This and other Angel groups know small companies that need help. Others include the Sand Hill Angels and the Asian-American Multi-Technology Association. In other communities Chambers of Commerce or similar organizations are the movers and shakers.
  • Don’t count out Rotary, Lions, and similar organizations. All these organizations are struggling to recruit new members and some have movers and shakers.
  • Rather than thinking about the meetings, volunteer to join a committee. For example, volunteer to join the Finance Committee. Once the members get to know you, you may be invited to join the Board.
  • Raise money for an organization, this will bring invitations to join the Boards of other organizations.
  • Follow your passions in selecting an organization, you will be more enthusiastic.
  • It is reasonable to expect a quid pro quo? Yes, if you make a significant contribution and demonstrate your competence.

How Do You Work with a Resistant Employee? Five Points

Situation: A CEO feels overworked, fatigued and ready to retire! The core problem is a long-term employee who is constantly resisting the CEO’s the company’s strategic direction. How can the CEO alleviate this situation? How do you work with a resistant employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If this individual is valuable, try to work with him first.
    • Can you give him a different focus – another role within the company for which his talents are suited and where he will make a significant contribution?
    • For a change like this to be effective it must be offered and accepted with the condition that this becomes his focus and not your strategic leadership of the company.
  • How is it best to have this conversation?
    • First, clearly state the direction of the company.
    • Then ask a question: What do you want to be doing for the next 5 years?
    • You may be surprised by the response to the question. It may lead you to a win-win solution; or it may become clear that this individual needs to be doing something else.
  • Conduct the discussion in two stages – but without a lot of time between these two discussions.
    • “You are valuable but things have to change. I prefer that you remain as part of the team, but on the strategic front you have a choice – are you on board or not?”
    • If after consideration the answer is that he is not on-board then you must let him go.
  • Don’t blindside this person. Think of a Resurrection versus a Come to Jesus Meeting.
  • If it turns out that you must get rid of this person you will wonder: why you didn’t do this 6 months ago.

How Do You Optimize a Financing Pitch? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company is drafting a pitch for their next round of funding. They want to reach both current and a new set of investors and highlight the improvements that they’ve made since their last round of funding. How do you optimize a financing pitch?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Work on a quick demo of the site. This is critical for a software company. The site must clearly and quickly show what differentiates you.
  • When you sit down with potential investors, start your pitch with a catchy statement, e.g., “We’ve all heard about ‘pay it forwards’. I want to talk to you about ‘Job-It Forward’.”
  • Start the presentation with an overview and a simple illustrative explanation so that the audience instantly gets what you are doing. For example, “we’re about generating social capital and here’s an example of how we do this.”
  • Be careful not to drown your audience in detail. Limit yourself to 3 bullets per page. Use graphics rather than words as much as possible. Most people can only absorb a limited amount of verbal information, but they remember pictures.
  • If you’ve already started talking to potential investors, what are your results? What feedback have you received to date? Analyze this and adjust your presentation and pitch accordingly.
  • Can you show a potential funder ROI? For example, if you give us $X, we will generate $Y in terms of return. You want to demonstrate IMPACT! Those who will support you want to see the advantage of investing in you vs. other options available to them.
  • Include a slide showing sources and uses of money spent to date. Show how you will use the money that you wish to raise.

Can You Effectively Manage Your Team’s Emotions? Six Ideas

Situation: A CEO recently attended a workshop on awareness of employees’ emotions. The message was that to effectively lead, the leader must be aware of both their own and their team’s emotions, and effectively address these in all communications. How have others acknowledged employee emotions? Can you effectively manage your team’s emotions?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • All companies have both cultures and ways in which employees and managers interact. These are either intentional or accidental.
  • It is important to develop a competency model for any company – skills and behaviors that reinforce company culture and guide both hiring decisions and personnel evaluations. Behaviors should be defined by competencies, including both technical and soft competencies.
  • Once a company competency model is established, position descriptions will be variations of the company competency model.
  • A competency model will help you to script candidate interviews. This works whether you use a panel or individual interview format. Questions should address past behavior in specific situations that the individual has experienced. Provide each interviewer with a set of questions that will help the interviewer understand how the candidate expresses soft competencies. Post-interview, get together and discuss how each candidate’s responses compare with the company model.
  • Supplement your interview results with a psychometric test which scores and effectively measure the key soft competencies expressed in your culture. Pair the psychometric test with cognitive testing to assess a candidate’s technical competency.
  • Use similar questions for employee evaluations or coaching situations. The difference will be that in the case of current employees, you will want to have the employee refer to situations and behaviors experienced at work or working with customers or company partners.

Special thanks to Maynard Brusman of Working Resources for leading this discussion.

How Does Your Company Award Bonuses? Eight Considerations

Situation:  A company has lost six people since the beginning of year – about 7% of employees. Currently the company doesn’t pay bonuses but increases salaries annually. The CEO has been considering creating a bonus pool, distributed based on performance points earned during the year, and including a component for employee longevity. How does your company award bonuses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There is fierce completion for good software engineers. You will lose people unless you focus on culture and pay bonuses of some sort.
  • Based on reasons that people left you need to start developing and enhancing your company culture.
  • Don’t kid yourself. You already have a company culture. Hire a consultant to help you identify it so that you are developing it along lines that you desire instead of by accident.
  • Make it clear that bonuses are not entitlements but are earned. There should be clear guidance as to bonus criteria.
  • Check out the following YouTube – “RSA Animate – The surprising truth about what motivates us” to see what motivates knowledge workers who are expected to develop creative solutions. The bottom line is that it is more than money!
  • An effective bonus program must have a bias toward performance – the metric is key. Be careful about the way you create metrics and incentives and be wary of unintended consequences.
  • Pay special attention to the quality and skills of your 1st and 2nd line managers.
  • Besides bonus, equity and culture – plan for 10% attrition. In your industry, this may be the norm.

How Do You Hire Your First Employee? Seven Suggestions

Situation:  The CEO of an early stage company has identified a person to help her as an assistant. This will be her first real employee. Prior hires have been contractors who have been paid on revenue generated. This individual’s salary will be an expense without clear association to revenue. What guidelines do you suggest as she makes this hire? How do you hire your first employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Create a cash flow projection to make sure that you have the cash to afford an employee.
  • If you consistently expect 40+ hours of work from this individual, consider a salaried position which will give both of you more flexibility.
  • Paychex currently handles your payroll and benefits. Work with them to make sure that all labor law compliance issues are covered. Also, consider hiring a labor law consultant to help you avoid minefields.
  • Do a background check even if you have known this individual for a long time.
  • Consider working with a professional employment organization that can provide back-office HR support for you.
  • An employee handbook is unnecessary at this point. However, think through how you will want to handle issues that may come up including vacation, benefits and paid/unpaid leave like bereavement leave. Document these for inclusion in a future employee handbook.
  • Under the current health care law employers with less than fifty employees are not required to provide health benefits without paying a penalty. This may change as the law continues to evolve.

What Impact Will Rising Interest Rates Have on Business?

Situation: A CEO notes that the national debt has nearly doubled over the last 8 years and the Fed is talking about raising interest rates. It’s not clear what impact the debt, or rising interest rates will have. Has this impacted your business and how are you coping? What impact will rising interest rates have on business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Impact on business and customers.
    • The prospect of either rising interest rates or taxes increases uncertainty – customers are taking longer to make purchase, expansion and other decisions.
    • Companies are not spending the cash that they have out of concern over possible future expenses or the possibility of a downturn. Large companies have trillions of dollars of cash on hand. Some of this is held off-shore because of the tax consequences of repatriating the funds.
    • Lack of consumer demand holds back investment in production expansion.
    • Feeling of loss of control.
    • More concentration of wealth in fewer hands.
  • Other impacts
    • More people, old and young, are opting out of the business economy.
  • What are you doing to cope?
    • More involved in collections to keep this under control.
    • Delayed payments from big customers are part of the problem – conservative financial management.
    • Manage liquidity and cash – cash is king!
    • Adjust lifestyle and delay purchases – for example buy smaller cars.
    • Scrutinize contract terms – especially AR.
    • Scrutinize our business model. For example look at subscription models or Great Game of Business models.
    • Utilize those who are normally unemployable but trainable for repetitive task jobs. They work hard and produce good work.