Notes on Leadership [This blog post was originally published on TechCrunch on March 14, 2010.] At Andreessen Horowitz, we favor founders running the company. The reasons are many (and will be the topic of a future blog post). Most people define leadership in the same way that Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously defined pornography when he said: “I know it when I see it.” A better definition comes from former Secretary of State Colin Powell who said: “You have achieved excellence as a leader when people will follow you anywhere if only out of curiosity.” So what makes people want to follow a leader? The ability to articulate the visionThe right kind of ambitionThe ability to achieve the vision Let’s take these in order. The ability to articulate the vision—The Steve Jobs Attribute Can the leader articulate a vision that’s interesting, dynamic, and compelling? The right kind of ambition—The Bill Campbell Attribute Ability to achieve the vision—The Andy Grove Attribute So, are great leaders born or made?
How to Lead I wanted to share my approach to leadership that I’ve refined over the past few years, especially in the last six months since I joined MeUndies. It incorporates a lot of best practices shared by leaders I’m inspired by: Brian Chesky, Tristan Walker, Keith Rabois, Ben Horowitz, among others. Triaging: Survey the Scene, Prioritize, and Take Action At first, everything is going to feel like a mess. The concept of editing is the best metaphor for leading a company: Simplify and Focus Use red ink to simplify. Ask Clarifying Questions First Principles Thinking: Rather than reasoning by analogy or prior experience, break problem down to most fundamental truths to reexamine whether a better solution might be possible.Probe, play devil’s advocate, and uncover your team’s thought process and action steps taken.Clarity allows the team to act with conviction. Allocate Resources Allocate resources from areas of lower productivity/output to areas of higher productivity/output. Ensure Consistency Delegate
Making Yourself a CEO She got a big booty so I call her Big Booty.—2 Chainz, Birthday Song The other day, a friend of mine asked me whether CEOs were born or made. I said, “That’s kind of like asking if Jolly Ranchers are grown or made. After thinking further, I realized that most people actually assume the opposite—CEOs are born not made. In athletics, some things like becoming a sprinter can be learned relatively quickly because they take a natural motion and refine it. Being CEO requires lots of unnatural motion. In fact, even the most basic CEO building blocks will feel unnatural at first. Giving feedback turns out to be the unnatural atomic building block atop which the unnatural skill set of management gets built. The Shit Sandwich A popular and sometimes effective technique for feedback beginners is something that experienced managers call The Shit Sandwich. The shit sandwich can work well with junior employees, but has the following challenges: It tends to be overly formal. The Keys Be authentic.
Little Things “I have seen far too many people who upon recognizing today’s gap try very hard to determine what decision has to be made to close it. But today’s gap represents a failure of planning some time in the past.”- Andy Grove When you run a company, big things stay on your mind. Will we make the quarter? The Catch 22 is that if you attempt to act on those “big things,” you will usually do big damage. If you are worried about the quarter, you might thing that it’s a good idea to call your head of sales twice a day to get the status. These excuses will then cause a new set of problems. While it’s correct to worry about the big issues, you must resist the urge to act on them directly. Similarly, if you are deeply worried about engineering throughput, lamenting that your engineers don’t work as hard as other companies that you’ve heard about will achieve very little other than making your engineers think they are the “B” team. This is true for almost anything in your company.
Here’s How to Cancel a Meeting the Right Way I wrote a version of this post four years ago but given the hectic nature of today’s tech markets I thought it was worth revisiting and updating. Canceling meetings is a part of modern day life. I seem to get so over programmed that if I ever want to have a “break-out” unplanned trip somewhere I seem to have to reschedule meetings. Not fun, but a reality. People reschedule meetings with me on a regular basis, too. If done correctly I never have any problem with it at all. When you do need to reschedule a meeting make sure to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Let me give you an example. The meeting was set for Wednesday, May 8th at 11am. As the day approached I noticed that there was a conference in LA that I wanted to attend. I wrote directly to his assistant asking why he had cancelled and made it clear that I had not attended a conference in town due to my having accepted this meeting. They were stuck at the same conference that I had wanted to attend. And I meant it. 1. 2. 3.
Google's Eric Schmidt has these 9 rules for emailing Communication in the Internet Century usually means using email, and email, despite being remarkably useful and powerful, often inspires momentous dread in otherwise optimistic, happy humans. Here are our personal rules for mitigating that sense of foreboding: Cover of 'How Google Works,' by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg How Google Works 1. 2. 3. When you open a new message, you have a few options: Read enough of it to realize that you don’t need to read it, read it and act right away, read it and act later, or read it later (worth reading but not urgent and too long to read at the moment). If you do this well, then your inbox becomes a to‑do list of only the complex issues, things that require deeper thought (label these emails “take action,” or in Gmail mark them as starred), with a few “to read” items that you can take care of later. To make sure that the bloat doesn’t simply transfer from your inbox to your “take action” folder, you must clean out the action items every day. 4.
Why Entrepreneurs Should Be Respected More Than Loved One of the vivid memories I have from being a startup CEO is the feeling that most people in your company have a look in their eyes that like they can do your job as well as you. How hard could it be? You just assign out tasks to all of us. In the early days the CEO is the jack-of-all-trades, doer-of-all, famously the “chief janitor” or coffee maker. This is when your job function truly starts to match the definition of “leader” because that’s exactly what your role is. Leadership is actually quite difficult. If you hire truly talented people you end up definitionally with a lot of competitive peers who will inevitably jockey for resources and control. Marketing of course often feels the opposite. And then there’s product management. Engineering? Ahhh. The job of a CEO is both “strategy” (what should we collectively as a group be working on) and “alignment” (making sure there is no white space between departments – that everybody is pulling in the same direction).
End of the year startup checklist I call the last working week in December Board Week because it’s packed with board meetings. These board meetings are often the most important of the year. By virtue of their place on the calendar, everyone in the room is thinking more strategically, less tactically. I’ve assembled a checklist below of top 5 things I’ve seen founders do in and around the end of the year that position their companies for success in the next year. An annual post-mortem. For startups, founders and VCs, the end of the year is a good time for introspection, evaluation and communication. How things get done I’ve heard a lot of different theories about how things get done. I’m interested in this topic, so I pay attention and see how the theories hold up. Here’s the best one: a combination of focus and personal connections. It seems very accurate. Most early-stage startup founders do a bad job of getting the company to focus on just two or three critical priorities—they chase whatever shiny new object appears that day. The Y Combinator version of focus is “write code and talk to users”. On the personal relationships part, most people eventually realize it’s hard to do really good things by yourself—most of them just require too much work. I make it a point to meet and help as many smart people as I can; besides being fun and interesting, this is important to getting things done. It’s easy to not spend enough time on personal relationships—it seems in conflict with focus. When you combine extreme focus and great teams, magic happens.
DIY vs Delegate I am a bad delegator and very much a do it yourselfer (DIY). It’s one of the many reasons I am certain I’d make a terrible CEO. CEOs must delegate. At scale, they should only do three things; set the vision and strategy and continuously communicate it, recruit and retain the very best people, and keep the company funded. But when you start a company, you (and your cofounders) have to do everything yourself. I like it when I see a founder team that is resourceful, has range, and can do a lot of this stuff themselves. But at some point they need to start delegating this stuff. Knowing when it is the right time to start handing things off and hiring is an art not a science. One suggestion I frequently make is to find a “utility infielder” for your first business hire. Doing a startup is an evolution from DIY to Delegate.
Startup Founders Should Flip Burgers This is part of my ongoing series Startup Advice. This is a story of one of the risks of venture capital. When you’re an early-stage startup that hasn’t raised any institutional money you end up doing almost every job function of the company yourself. When I founded my first company along with Brian Moran (whose idea it was) I had no real experience running startups. My company had raised a seed round of capital in late 1999 even before either of us were full time in the company (ominous side note: on the way to pitch our seed investor, Delta Partners, a man walking right in front of me died of a massive heart attack making me late to the meeting. The expectations of our company having raised $16.5 million were enormous. One the one hand I feel great because we went out and built software that solved an industry problem. On the other hand, I had never had to do the detailed work to get an intuitive feel for what customers wanted or how to train and service them.