Archive for October, 2008

Halloween

Friday, October 31st, 2008

My apologies to the trick-or-treaters on our road between 6 and 7pm tonight, who were disappointed to get no candy from our house. Let me explain.

We live on a relatively short cul-de-sac, with 22 houses and dozens of small kids. For the past few years, most of the parents and kids would trick-or-treat on the street together, with the parents at the upcoming house running ahead to be there to answer the door. While we were all out, we’d leave our trays of candy outside the front door with a sign, in case anyone came by and we missed them. At least 12 of the houses had trays loaded with candy in front of them at some point.

This year, a couple of high-school kids caught on, and almost every single tray on the street was emptied while we were out. As we were all returning from the far end of the street, I overheard another family complain “another house with nobody home and no candy!” I felt terrible as I ran in the back and headed to answer the door, where our tray was completely empty. My 3-year-old was not to happy with me grabbing a handful of her candy to hand out – I had to make a couple hasty promises that I’m sure I’ll regret. Later I raided the kitchen for raisin snack packs to fill the tray, and while most kids were good-natured about it, I’m sure a few won’t be back next year because they didn’t get candy.

Mostly, I’m ticked off. I brag that I live in a neighborhood where the neighbors all know each other and look out for each other, and we can more-or-less leave the door unlocked. When something like this happens, as small as it is, it reminds me that the real world isn’t like that. Bummer.

The Interview’s Second Hour

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

I have a simple tip for executive hires: you don’t learn anything meaningful about them in the first hour of the interview.

I was explaining this from a panel I was on at an Endeavor event in San Francisco. Endeavor is a fantastic organization promoting entrepreneurship around the world, and there was a roomful of successful entrepreneurs from Argentina, Chile, Turkey, and others. My friend Jason Green is involved, and had invited me to be on the panel.

One of the main topics we discussed was hiring and building a great team. We talked about much of the conventional wisdom – hire slow, fire fast, for example – but also added our own twists. Mine was that you really don’t learn anything meaningful in the first hour unless they’re completely incompetent.

Any executive with competence can tell the story of their career in the first hour in way that makes them look great. Why they left this job, what great opportunity they saw in this other company despite the fact that it failed miserably, etc. These are all interesting, but rarely tell the whole story. This is why it takes the second – and subsequent – hours to get the real story. Even for the most frank and straightforward people, the very act of interviewing often cements the story in its most flattering light. So, time is one factor – you can’t short-circuit the time it takes to make a good hire, there are no shortcuts.

The other is relationship building, and any advice around this would need to take into account your personal style. I do use one other technique here that may work for others, and that is to disarm the question of “what are your weaknesses” with an indirect question. Take someone they have worked for recently, and ask the question like this: “what would your former boss say were your weaknesses?” And if they still balk, ask if they had a performance review, and what personal challenges they were working on. If that doesn’t work, you may want to gut-check to see if you think they are really being frank with you. Nobody likes to talk about their weaknesses, but this sometimes makes it easier.

Some of these ideas I learned at Woodside Fund, where they perform the Org Chart Process for CEO hires, although I have added my own twists. I still make hiring mistakes, but I think these techniques have helped me make fewer.

Rolling with the punches

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Sometimes as an entrepreneur you just gotta roll with the punches. Last week I had a week-long trip to NYC, Philly, and DC to visit customers and prospects. The morning I was to get on the plane, I woke up with the whole left side of my face throbbing. I managed to get in to my dentist first thing, who discovered an abscessed (infected) wisdom tooth. I spent the whole week on amoxycillin and vicodin, napping between meetings in Bryant Park. Frequent caffeine injections ensured I had energy for presentations, and I managed to power through with reasonable success.

Friday night, on my cross-country flight home in the very back row (the one that doesn’t recline), my legs started itching. I thought it was just travel pains, but it turns out I’m newly allergic to penicillin. Fortunately, the infection was mostly gone at this point, so I survived the weekend on vicodin. Monday morning at 7:30am I had the tooth pulled, and switched to a regime of cipro and ibuprofen. Fortunately the swelling went down quickly, and I started to attack the mountain of work that piled up over the last 10 days.

Then my Macbook froze. Hmm – that never happens. Oh well, reboot. Hmm. Nothing happening. Then a folder appears with a blinking question mark. Uh oh. Looks like another day’s productivity shot. Good thing I bought a $350 desktop machine for web surfing – I can still get a lot of things done. And I use FolderShare to make sure all my key documents are synchronized across my laptop and home machine. But I still had to make an appointment with the Genius Bar to get the hard disk replaced (it was shot). Then I had to go back and pick it up. Now I have to re-install all my apps. There was a time when I would have really looked forward to this task, but right now? Ugh.

And don’t even get me started on all the people forwarding the Sequoia presentation and asking me if I have 2 years of cash in the bank.

It’s been a tough couple weeks, but I’m rolling. Keeping a positive attitude. The important things, family and overall business, are doing well. Things are looking up.