HBR on Corporate Culture Design

I had a chance to work for companies with very different corporate cultures. In my experience culture does not just happen. Instead, it should be deliberately designed and reinforced. So I found this Harvard Business Review article relevant and insightful:

Think carefully about each of these four elements:

  • Incentives are a basic element of doing good work. People should be paid fairly and competitively for their roles, and increases in compensation should be a predictable process. In addition to pay, the culture should work to reward results generated versus hours worked. Employees shouldn’t feel anxious about how visible they are in the office or on projects, and strict timekeeping can create a sense of mistrust between teams and management. Lastly, and this is something we care about a lot, good failure should not result in career suicide.
  • Context and rules will determine what rituals and processes allow people to do great work. If initiative is punished instead of rewarded, people will feel less compelled to push new ideas internally. The ability to make quick judgment calls and move decisions forward will outpace any lengthy or cumbersome internal approvals process. The same goes for autonomy and flexibility—do you trust your teams to lead while you get out of the way? Are teams allowed to participate in flexible work options that encourage their productivity? Your teams need the right tools and resources to do their job—are they spending more time fighting for what they need? If access to those resources is limited, individuals will be less inclined to take part in initiatives with so many blockers in front of them.
  • People are the core of a great organization and the processes and systems you use to hire, promote, and reward them can be both enablers and blockers. Bob Sutton’s famous “no asshole rule” is an important factor when hiring people for your company, especially if they’re “star performers”. Sutton believes that star performers who are demeaning can wreak havoc on organizations. You just can’t compromise your business on people like that.
  • Leadership has to play a role in the culture if the whole organization is to transform. And leading by example is a pivotal component of management enablers (and blockers: leadership can lead by poor example as well, of course). If leadership exhibits the behaviors expected of teams and individuals, then people in the organization will follow suit.

Guide to the Real Silicon Valley

Steve Blank, our UC Berkeley professor, wrote an awesome “Guide to the Real Silicon Valley”. I recommend it to everyone who is planning to visit and even to those already living in The Bay. I’m quoting an excerpt here:

For the ultimate startup experience: talk yourself into carrying someone’s bags as they give a pitch to a VC. Be a fly on the wall and soak it in.

If you’re trying to get a real feel of the culture: apply and interview for jobs in three Silicon Valley companies even if you don’t want any of them. The interview will teach your more about Silicon Valley company culture and the valley than any tour.

Meet some locals in tech: attend at least three tech-oriented Meetups or Plancast events in the Valley or San Francisco (Meetup is a deep list. Search for “startup” meetup’s in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Santa Clara.)

Go to the best events: Check out the meetups from iOS Developers and Hackers and Founders and 106Miles and Ideakick and Startup Grind. Catch a monthly hackathon. Subscribe to StartupDigest Silicon Valley edition before you visit.

Cowork with a startup: Find a real 3–10 person startup, working from a small crammed co-working space and sit with them for an afternoon. Offer to code for free. San Francisco has many co-working spaces (shared offices for startups). They’re great to get a feel of what it’s like to start when there’s just a few founders and you don’t have your own garage. Visit Founders Den, Sandbox Suites, Citizenspace, pariSoma Innovation, the Hub,NextSpace, RocketSpace, Startup House, The Hatchery, PeopleBrowsrDolores Labs and DogPatch Labs. Check out here for more SF sites

See where hackers hang out: Driving down the valley see Studio G in Redwood City, Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, the Plug & Play Tech Centerin Sunnyvale, Semantic Seed in San Jose. Check out this site for the latest updates on co-working spaces.

Rub shoulders with the makers: Head to an event at Blackbox.vc or Galvanize. See if there’s a Startup Weekend or SVForum event going on in the Bay Area. I’m serious — talk yourself into a job.

Powr of You Co-Founder about a personal data start-up | Fresh Show, Ep. 4

For those who enjoyed the first three episodes of the Fresh interviews with early-stage tech entrepreneurs, here is the fourth episode with Powr of You Co-Founder on building a personal data start-up:

Audio version:

Please let us know what you think in the comments or give us some anonymous feedback.

 

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Wefinance Co-Founder on building a P2P social lending platform | Fresh Show, Ep. 3

For those who enjoyed the first two episodes of the Fresh interviews with early-stage tech entrepreneurs, here is the third episode with Wefinance Co-Founder about building a P2P social lending platform:

Audio version:

Please let us know what you think in the comments or give us some anonymous feedback.

 

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If you liked the first episode, here are several ways to subscribe to updates:

Pick what works best for you or a combination.

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“How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt notes

How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt, despite being quite self-congratulatory and maybe even prone to confirmation bias, is full of inspirational ideas and bids of practical wisdom to learn from. I took a few (ok, quite a few) notes on smart creatives, decision making, hiring, innovation, strategy, career, management and even managing email.

On smart creatives:

“And who, exactly, is this smart creative? A smart creative has deep technical knowledge in how to use the tools of her trade and plenty of hands-on experience. In our industry, that means she is most likely a computer scientist, or at least understands the tenets and structure of the systems behind the magic you see on your screens every day. But in other industries she may be a doctor, designer, scientist, filmmaker, engineer, chef, or mathematician. She is an expert in doing. She doesn’t just design concepts, she builds prototypes. She is analytically smart. She is comfortable with data and can use it to make decisions. She also understands its fallacies and is wary of endless analysis. Let data decide, she believes, but don’t let it take over.

She is business smart. She sees a direct line from technical expertise to product excellence to business success, and understands the value of all three. She is competitive smart. Her stock-in-trade starts with innovation, but it also includes a lot of work. She is driven to be great, and that doesn’t happen 9-to-5. She is user smart. No matter the industry, she understands her “get it right the next time around. She is self-directed creative. She doesn’t wait to be told what to do and sometimes ignores direction if she doesn’t agree with it. She takes action based on her own initiative, which is considerable.

She is open creative. She freely collaborates, and judges ideas and analyses on their merits and not their provenance. If she were into needlepoint, she would sew a pillow that said, “If I give you a penny, then you’re a penny richer and I’m a penny poorer, but if I give you an idea, then you will have a new idea but I’ll have it too.” Then she would figure out a way to make the pillow fly around the room and shoot lasers.

She is thorough creative. She is always on and can recite the details, not because she studies and memorizes, but because she knows them. They are her details. She is communicative creative. She is funny and expresses herself with flair and even charisma, either one-to-one or one-to-many.”

 

HIPPOs:

“Hippopotamuses are among the deadliest animals, faster than you think and capable of crushing (or biting in half) any enemy in their path. Hippos are dangerous in companies too, where they take the form of the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion. When it comes to the quality of decision-making, pay level is intrinsically irrelevant and experience is valuable only if it is used to frame a winning argument. Unfortunately, in most companies experience is the winning argument. We call these places “tenurocracies,” because power derives from tenure, not merit. It reminds us of our favorite quote from Jim Barksdale, erstwhile CEO of Netscape: “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”

When you stop listening to the hippos, you start creating a meritocracy, which our colleague Shona Brown concisely describes as a place where “it is the quality of the idea that matters, not who suggests it.” Sounds easy, but of course it isn’t. Creating a meritocracy requires equal participation by both the hippo, who could rule the day by fiat, and the brave smart creative, who risks getting trampled as she stands up for quality and merit.”

 

On technical insights as a driver of innovation:

“Bet on technical insights, not market research. Product leaders create product plans, but those product plans often (usually!) lack the most important component: What is the technical insight upon which those new features, products, or platforms will be built? A technical insight is a new way of applying technology or design that either drives down the cost or increases the functions and usability of the product by a significant factor. The result is something that is better than the competition in a fundamental way. The improvement is often obvious; it doesn’t take a lot of marketing for customers to figure out that this product is different from everything else.

For example, at that time Google was experimenting in applying some of our expertise from online advertising to other advertising markets, including print, radio, and TV. These were clever efforts, supported by smart people, but they lacked that fundamental technical insight that would shift the cost-performance curve non-incrementally and provide significant differentiation. All three ultimately failed. And when we look back at other Google products that didn’t make it (iGoogle, Desktop, Notebook, Sidewiki, Knol, Health, even the popular Reader), they all either lacked underlying technical insights from the outset, or the insights upon which they were based became dated as the Internet evolved.”

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How to Start a Startup Stanford class materials

Free, open to everyone and highly educational Stanford class “How to Start a Startup” has just ended. But all the materials, including talks by star speakers, such as Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, Ben Horowitz, Sam Altman, Brian Chesky and others are going to be available online. For quick reference, here is the complete collection of all course materials:

Lectures

Date Speaker Topic
9/23/14 Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator
Dustin Moskovitz, Cofounder, Facebook, Cofounder, Asana, Cofounder, Good Ventures
Welcome, and Ideas, Products, Teams and Execution Part I
Why to Start a Startup
9/25/14 Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator Ideas, Products, Teams and Execution Part II
9/30/14 Paul Graham, Founder, Y Combinator Before the Startup
10/2/14 Adora Cheung, Founder, Homejoy Building Product, Talking to Users, and Growing
10/7/14 Peter Thiel, Founder, Paypal, Founder, Palantir, and Founder, Founders Fund Competition is For Losers

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Good vs Bad PM by Ben Horowitz

There was a mention in the “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” of “Good Product Manager – Bad Product Manager” document written by Ben Horowitz himself during his tenure as Opsware CEO. So I’ve decided to look it up. In my experience as a brand manager in consumer goods companies, characteristics and behaviors that make a good PM in tech are very consistent with those that make a good brand manager in CPG or even a general manager in general.

Here is the full version found on khoslaventures.com worth looking at:

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How Can a Startup with 5M Users Fail

This an article to forward to all those who share a simplistic philosophies of “Build It and They Will Come” or “Money does not matter, only great product and getting a lot of users matter”.

This Startup Had Over 5 Million Users And A Great Product. Then It Folded.” on Fast Company:

Consider Springpad, a startup founded in 2008 and once considered an Evernote rival. That wasn’t enough. The company failed to develop a monetization strategy–and despite their best efforts (and rumored acquisitions by Amazon and Google), things just didn’t turn around in time.

“We built a heck of a product. But we didn’t build the business.”

“We ran out of money, that’s basically the end of the story. It was a timing problem.”

How Can an Entrepreneur Move to the US

To respond to this question Funders and Founders designed an infographic that is a reasonable starting place for an online research:

coming-to-america-visas-infographic

In reality, of course, everything is much more complicated. For instance, the picture mixes EB petitions that allow one to become a permanent resident right away with temporary visas. E-2 visa does not work for Russia, thank the politicians. Getting an H1B entails a serious risk because of the caps, especially if you do not already have a degree from a top American university. The majority of visas do not allow a spouse to work. There are lots of other details as well, the immigration law is probably #1 thing that I dislike about the US. But overall it is a good summary of the situation. There is also a bill for Startup Visa, but it does not seem to be become a reality any time soon.