Nine Unseen Qualities That Make Leaders Exceptional

Good leaders look good on paper. Great leaders look great in person; their actions show their value.

Yet some leaders go even farther. And they’re even more successful not because of what you see them do… but because of what you don’t see them do.

Where the best leaders are concerned, what you see is far from all you get:

1. They forgive… and they forget.

When an employee makes a mistake — especially a major mistake — it’s easy to forever judge that employee by that one mistake. (I know. I’ve done it.)

But one mistake, or one weakness, is just one part of a whole person. A rare few people are able to step back, set aside that mistake, and continue to see the whole employee. They are also able to forget that mistake, because they know that viewing any employee through the lens of one incident may forever impact how they treat that employee.

And they know the employee will be able to tell.

To forgive may be divine, but to forget can be even more divine.

2. They transform company goals into each employee’s personal goal.

Good leaders inspire their employees to achieve company goals.

Truly great leaders make their employees feel that what they do will benefit them as much as it does the company. After all, whom will you work harder for: a company, or yourself?

Whether they get professional development, an opportunity to grow, a chance to shine, a chance to flex their favorite business muscles, employees who feel a sense of personal purpose almost always outperform employees who feel a sense of company purpose.

And they have a lot more fun doing it.

Truly outstanding leaders know their employees well enough to tap the personal, not just the professional.

3. They look past the action to find the emotion and motivation.

Sometimes employees make mistakes. Sometimes they simply do the wrong thing. Sometimes they take over projects or roles without approval or justification. Sometimes they jockey for position, play political games, or ignore company objectives in pursuit of personal goals.

When that happens, it’s easy to assume that employee doesn’t listen or doesn’t care. But almost always there’s a deeper reason: he feel stifled, he may feel he has no control, he may feel marginalized or frustrated — or maybe he is just trying to find a sense of meaning in his work that pay rates and titles can never provide.

Effective bosses deal with actions. Great bosses search for the underlying issues that, when overcome, lead to much bigger changes for the better.

4. They support without seeking credit.

A customer is upset. A vendor feels shortchanged. A coworker is frustrated. Whatever the issue, good bosses support their employees. They know that to do otherwise undermines the employee’s credibility and possibly authority.

Afterword, most bosses will say to the employee, “Listen, I took up for you, but…”

Great leaders don’t say anything. They feel supporting their employees — even if that shines a negative spotlight on themselves — is the right thing to do and is therefore unremarkable.

Even though we all know it isn’t.

5. They make fewer public decisions.

When a decision needs to be made, most of the time the best person to make that decision isn’t the boss. Most of the time the best person is the employee closest to the issue.

Decisiveness is a quality of a good leader. Great leaders are sometimes decisive in a different way: they decide they aren’t the right person to make the decision and then decide who is the right person.

They do that not because they want to avoid making those decisions… but because they know they shouldn’t make those decisions.

6. They don’t see control as a reward.

Many people desperately want to be in charge so they can finally call the shots. A truly great leader doesn’t care about control and as a result isn’t seen to exercise control.

Even though she does – just in the best possible way.

7. They allow employees to learn their own lessons.

It’s easy for a leader to debrief an employee and turn a teachable moment into a lesson learned. It’s a lot harder to let employees learn their own lessons, even though the lessons we learn on our own are the lessons we remember forever.

Great leaders don’t scold or dictate; they work together with an employee to figure out what happened and what to do to correct the mistake. They help find a better way, not a disciplinary way.

Why? Great employees don’t need to be scolded or reprimanded. They know what they did wrong.

Sometimes staying silent is the best way to ensure they remember.

8. They let employees have the ideas.

Years ago I worked in manufacturing and my boss sent me to help move the production control offices. It was basically manual labor, but for two days it put me in a position to watch and hear and learn a lot about how the plant’s production flow was controlled.

I found it fascinating and later I asked my boss if I could be trained to fill in as a production clerk. Those two days sparked a lifelong interest in productivity and process improvement.

Years later he admitted he sent me to help move their furniture. “I knew you’d go in there with your eyes wide open,” he said, “and once you got a little taste I knew you’d love it.”

Great leaders see the potential in their employees and find ways to let them have the ideas… even though the outcome may have been what they intended all along.

9. They always go home feeling they could have done better.

Leadership is like a smorgasbord of insecurity. Leaders worry about employees and customers and results. You name it – they worry about it.

That’s why great leaders go home every day feeling they could have done things a little better or smarter. They wish they had treated employees with a little more sensitivity or empathy.

Most importantly, they always go home feeling they could have done more to fulfill the trust their employees place in them.

And that’s why, although you can’t see it, when they walk in the door every day… truly great leaders make a silent commitment to do their jobs even better than they did yesterday.

And then they do.


Productivity Hacks: Aligning Your Time and Priorities

This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers share their secrets to being more productive. See all their #productivityhacks here.

There are two components of productivity – doing the right things and doing those things efficiently. For me, it all starts on Sunday. I block a few minutes every Sunday to lay out what I want to accomplish in the upcoming week. My goals for the week always map back to the major goals I want to accomplish for the year. It doesn’t take a long time to do this – often just 15 minutes. But that little bit of pre-planning drives much of how I spend my time during the week. It makes sure I am focused on the important things that help drive our business, and be thoughtful with my time.

Exercise is next. I exercise most days. I find that it gives me much more energy during the day, it clears my mind, and it allows quality time for thinking and reflecting. I typically start my day at 5:45am with a run or other cardio training. I start early so I’m done and ready to go when my kids come down for breakfast.

When I’m not traveling, I take the kids to school. I’ve learned to use commute time as efficiently as possible. After dropping off the kids, my commute to the office is around 30 minutes. I virtually always schedule calls during this time (don’t worry, I use a hands-free set in my car). If you think about it, time spent commuting, whether driving to the office, in lines at the airport, or on airplanes, is often time wasted. I try diligently to preplan those times to make the most use of them. In fact, I spend time in the security lines at airports reading articles I’ve saved using Pocket – a great browser plug-in/app to save web content to read later. Before devices could be used during airplane taxi time, I always made sure to have enough reading content to use that time efficiently.

Once in the office, I tightly manage my to-do list. I am a big user of Toodledo. (And pay up for the premium edition – the subtasks, etc. are well worth it.) It’s a great web-based task management system with great Android and iPhone apps. I personally like 2Do for Android and iOS. It syncs flawlessly with Toodledo. I go so far as to estimate time required for each to do. Otherwise, I can find myself with 10 hours of to dos and 1 hour of free time during the day to do them. As such, I default to 30 minute meetings. For some reason, the “standard” meeting is scheduled for an hour. Let’s be honest, most topics, unless really complex, can be handled in a half hour. Plus, this encourages people to get to the meat, and skip non-essential topics.

I also almost always bring my lunch to work. I find that it’s more efficient for me to bring lunch and eat at my desk. I typically clean out emails or make calls while eating . . . . not sure I should admit that. I would rather have a half hour meeting with someone (rather than going to lunch), and then have a quick bite at my desk. I also tend to avoid work dinners. Before having kids, I often had work-related dinner or drinks. It was a good time to do things in a more casual environment. However, now I tend to avoid them. Dinners can take several hours, and the trade off doesn’t make sense for me. I find that breakfasts are much more efficient. They’re generally shorter, since people have places to go after the meal, and just as effective.

I try to avoid multi-tasking. People who know me will laugh. I am more productive when I don’t multi-task, but I have to admit that I still slip – it’s just so easy to discretely clean our a few emails during a meeting. But I also know that I am not as productive in the meeting, and the emails I send aren’t as thoughtful as they should be. I’m working on single-tasking!

I also use evening time wisely. I try to leave the office by 5:30 p.m. (I usually schedule a call while driving home). Once home, I help my wife with dinner and the kids with homework. We’re generally done by 7 p.m. After that, I like to relax in the evening as much as anyone else. My wife and I like to either read or watch one TV show. That said, I generally find there’s usually enough time to get an hour or so worth of email done after the kids go to bed. But I’m always HBT (horizontal by ten).

Speaking of TV, when traveling I avoid TV. TV can be a huge time sink. I haven’t turned on a TV in a hotel room in at least two years. I’d rather use that time to clean out email or do other work-related activities. This way when I’m home, especially on weekends, I can focus on spending that time with my family. Actually, whether that means attending soccer games, chess matches, or just hanging around the house together, I reserve most of my time on the weekend for my family. I may take a few hours on Saturday and Sunday to catch up on emails and a work project here and there, but that’s it. My golf game has definitely suffered these last few years, but I figure in a few more years when my kids are older I can pick it back up. I’d rather spend the time with them now when they’re young and at home, than regret it later. The truth, while my work is a top priority, my family is my first priority. I’m able to make time for them because I’m careful about managing my time during the day at work and when I travel.

If you want to maximize your productivity, I’d say start with analyzing how you’re spending your time. Whether it’s at work or at home, or on the weekend, you need an accurate assessment of what you’re spending your time on before you can improve it. You can’t plan without data. I recently started to track my time, so I have a reasonably good sense of how much time various activities take. I’ve found it to be very helpful for planning. I personally use Toggl, a free on-line service for tracking time. They also have iOS and Android apps.

Then, write down the things you wish to accomplish, both personally and professionally. Follow that with the tangible tasks that need to happen in order to enable you to accomplish those goals. From there, clear your schedule and fill in time for the things you want to accomplish first before scheduling other items. Good luck!

10 Things Extraordinary Bosses Give Employees

Good bosses care about getting important things done. Exceptional bosses care about their people.
Good bosses have strong organizational skills. Good bosses have solid decision-making skills. Good bosses get important things done.

Exceptional bosses do all of the above–and more. Sure, they care about their company and customers, their vendors and suppliers. But most importantly, they care to an exceptional degree about the people who work for them.

That’s why extraordinary bosses give every employee:

1. Autonomy and independence.

Great organizations are built on optimizing processes and procedures. Still, every task doesn’t deserve a best practice or a micro-managed approach. (I’m looking at you, manufacturing.)

Engagement and satisfaction are largely based on autonomy and independence. I care when it’s “mine.” I care when I’m in charge and feel empowered to do what’s right.

Plus, freedom breeds innovation: Even heavily process-oriented positions have room for different approaches. (Still looking at you, manufacturing.)

Whenever possible, give your employees the autonomy and independence to work the way they work best. When you do, they almost always find ways to do their jobs better than you imagined possible.

2. Clear expectations.

While every job should include some degree of independence, every job does also need basic expectations for how specific situations should be handled.

Criticize an employee for offering a discount to an irate customer today even though yesterday that was standard practice and you make that employee’s job impossible.  Few things are more stressful than not knowing what is expected from one day to the next.

When an exceptional boss changes a standard or guideline, she communicates those changes first–and when that is not possible, she takes the time to explain why she made the decision she made, and what she expects in the future.

3. Meaningful objectives.

Almost everyone is competitive; often the best employees are extremely competitive–especially with themselves. Meaningful targets can create a sense of purpose and add a little meaning to even the most repetitive tasks.

Plus, goals are fun. Without a meaningful goal to shoot for, work is just work.

No one likes work.

4. A true sense of purpose.

Everyone likes to feel a part of something bigger. Everyone loves to feel that sense of teamwork and esprit de corps that turns a group of individuals into a real team.

The best missions involve making a real impact on the lives of the customers you serve. Let employees know what you want to achieve for your business, for your customers, and even your community. And if you can, let them create a few missions of their own.

Feeling a true purpose starts with knowing what to care about and, more importantly, why to care.

5. Opportunities to provide significant input.

Engaged employees have ideas; take away opportunities for them to make suggestions, or instantly disregard their ideas without consideration, and they immediately disengage.

That’s why exceptional bosses make it incredibly easy for employees to offer suggestions. They ask leading questions. They probe gently. They help employees feel comfortable proposing new ways to get things done. When an idea isn’t feasible, they always take the time to explain why.

Great bosses know that employees who make suggestions care about the company, so they ensure those employees know their input is valued–and appreciated.

6. A real sense of connection.

Every employee works for a paycheck (otherwise they would do volunteer work), but every employee wants to work for more than a paycheck: They want to work with and for people they respect and admire–and with and for people who respect and admire them.

That’s why a kind word, a quick discussion about family, an informal conversation to ask if an employee needs any help–those moments are much more important than group meetings or formal evaluations.

A true sense of connection is personal. That’s why exceptional bosses show they see and appreciate the person, not just the worker.

7. Reliable consistency.

Most people don’t mind a boss who is strict, demanding, and quick to offer (not always positive) feedback, as long as he or she treats every employee fairly.

(Great bosses treat each employee differently but they also treat every employee fairly. There’s a big difference.)

Exceptional bosses know the key to showing employees they are consistent and fair is communication: The more employees understand why a decision was made, the less likely they are to assume unfair treatment or favoritism.

8. Private criticism.

No employee is perfect. Every employee needs constructive feedback. Every employee deserves constructive feedback. Good bosses give that feedback.

Great bosses always do it in private.

9. Public praise.

Every employee–even a relatively poor performer–does something well. Every employee deserves praise and appreciation. It’s easy to recognize some of your best employees because they’re consistently doing awesome things.  (Maybe consistent recognition is a reason they’re your best employees? Something to think about.)

You might have to work hard to find reasons to recognize an employee who simply meets standards, but that’s okay: A few words of recognition–especially public recognition–may be the nudge an average performer needs to start becoming a great performer.

10. A chance for a meaningful future.

Every job should have the potential to lead to greater things. Exceptional bosses take the time to develop employees for the job they someday hope to land, even if that job is with another company.

How can you know what an employee hopes to do someday? Ask.

Employees will only care about your business after you first show you care about them. One of the best ways is to show that while you certainly have hopes for your company’s future, you also have hopes for your employees’ futures.

The Start-Up Vortex of Doom


Trying to get off the ground before the money runs out.

Starting a tech company is expensive. That’s why those who start one — unless they can do everything themselves, including designing, coding and selling — must accept fund-raising as an early goal.

Every day we read about budding entrepreneurs who raise millions of dollars to start something. Often, we never hear of them again. A handful resurface when the company sells for a fortune, but most trip and fall into the start-up vortex of doom, spinning to an almost certain and painful death. Companies don’t send out press releases when they die, so the vortex isn’t well known. But as someone who has spent the last eight months trapped in it, I know I’m lucky to have escaped to tell the tale.

Three years ago, at home in Sydney, I hatched an idea for a tech company called Posse, a “social search engine” that helps users get recommendations for products, places and services from their friends. I drew up a plan for the product and showed it to a web development agency for a cost estimate. The agency’s answer was that it would cost plenty. So I created a PowerPoint deck and started pitching investors. With an idea but no track record, I thought angel investors might be the way to go. I pitched more than 700 times, and one full year after I started, I finished my first round with $1.5 million from 23 individual investors.

Next came the team, a product, and in no time we were parting with $100,000 a month in expenses — engineers don’t come cheap! And after 10 months, we were still finding our feet. I made a couple of hiring mistakes, the product didn’t work right, and we needed to raise more money. We were now entering the vortex.

The second round was tougher to raise than the first. We had made progress but didn’t have exploding user numbers. I discovered that it’s much easier to raise money for a vision than for a product. With a big vision, investors dream of what might be. When the product appears, no longer a vision, investors see what it doesn’t do more than what it does do — or what it might do.

With a start-up, everything must fit together for the product to fly. We needed the right team and the right strategy, and we needed to execute. Some companies require several iterations to get it right, and that can take years.

I moved from Sydney to New York and spent 70 percent of my time raising money, a process that compromised our priorities. Investors wanted to see growth when we needed to focus on engagement — getting people to return to use Posse again. I’ve caught myself pushing growth to impress investors, when both the team and I knew it was inappropriate. The team became disheartened, and since I was on the road raising money, I wasn’t around to motivate them. They became less productive, and everything slowed down just when investors were demanding progress. As this dragged on, team members left, which made things even more depressing. I was exhausted and started to lose faith.

Many companies fail at this stage. It’s the death spiral that almost killed my business and at times seemed like it might kill me as well. The things I have learned about avoiding and surviving that spiral, as I’ve built my company, will be the topics of my posts on this blog. To get started, here are a few discoveries I have made along the way.

Avoid the Vortex

Entrepreneurs are optimists. I started with a plan, budgeted costs and believed my idea would fly. I would raise enough money for the first year, and I thought that by then I’d have enough traction to raise my next investment round at a higher valuation. This is how entrepreneurs think when starting out, but the number of companies who actually do this in the first year is tiny. Even successes like AirBNB, Twitter and Pinterest needed several years and many pivots to get it right. If I had it to do over, I would raise more money right upfront, when everyone is still excited about the vision. And I would give myself at least two years runway, giving us time to make mistakes and focus on the right things without distraction.

Raise Money Before You Need It

When we were spending $100,000 a month, I knew just how much time we had left, and four months before it ran out, I started trying to raise money again. As we compromised priorities and team members left, my energy collapsed. It’s almost impossible to raise money in this situation. I remember one day in particular. On a hot New York summer afternoon, I was sitting in my co-working space at the Alley in Midtown. Paralyzed by stress, I couldn’t do a thing. I summoned my last fragment of energy, walked to Central Park, sat on the grass and cried. I knew I was approaching the very bottom of the vortex. I was spinning fast; one slip and it would all be over.

Focus on Breaking Even

It’s sexy to focus on growth; we often hear of sky-high offers for companies with no revenue but lots of users. Yet thousands of companies have both users and growth — just not steep enough growth to raise money or be bought by Facebook. Next time I start a tech company, I’ll pick an idea capable of generating revenue from Day 1, then I’ll expand that revenue so we break even as quickly as possible. I might seek investment to accelerate growth — but I won’t fall into the trap of needing it.

Learn to Live With Discomfort

Early on my founder journey, I recognized I would need to figure out how to handle stress. I started reading about Buddhism and found comfort in its teachings: that everything is temporary, that suffering is a part of life. Uncertainty and suffering are part of running any business. I took up yoga and learned to meditate, yet I survived the year by recognizing that my path was of my own choosing. That day in Central Park, I got a glimpse of failure. To my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t about to die, after all. Since then, I’ve been more willing to accept the uncertainty.

At 4.58 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning, I got the email I needed: confirmation that the funding round I’d been working on all year had closed. The last investor had said yes. That day, I slept, watched TV and went for a walk in the park, enjoying my first adrenaline-free day for months!

What got me through the year was tenacity. Half an hour after my breakdown in Central Park, I dusted the twigs and dirt off my skirt and marched down Lexington Avenue to another pitch. Like 99 percent of my meetings with investors, it ended with their saying no — but it didn’t matter. The only way out of that vortex is to keep going.

Rebekah Campbell is chief executive of Posse. You can follow her onTwitter.

VC ‘Startup Secrets’ Revealed

Entrepreneurs are in a position to make a significant impact on the world, but they’re also faced with intense challenges that aren’t typically encountered in any other situation. Over the course of my career, I have confronted and seen many roadblocks that can arise on an entrepreneur’s path.

As a teen, I taught myself programming and built a variety of applications, from stock and bond portfolio management to retail and inventory control – learning with each success, and more importantly, each failure. Later, as an entrepreneur and VC, together with some great co-founders and teams, we founded and built companies that were acquired by some of the world’s largest technology corporations or went public and became leaders themselves.

Much of what I’ve learned during this multi-decade-long adventure I’m sharing openly as some simple “Startup Secrets” and Case Examples to frame discussion with the goal of helping entrepreneurs to avoid common pitfalls.

Here are ten to get you going.

Startup Secret #1: Don’t Be Afraid To Say “No” More Than “Yes.”

As a startup, you will be defined as much (or more) by what you say “No” to as what you say “Yes” to. Perhaps the single most important Startup Secret is to find your focal point. As an entrepreneur, you are naturally inclined to be ambitious, and to want to tackle any and all challenges. However, as you build your company, focus in on domains, segments, problems and other areas where you can specifically and uniquely differentiate yourself from the competition and gain repeatable traction. Don’t fall into the trap of being all things to all people: doing so can delay, distract or even lead to failure for your enterprise.

Startup Secret #2: Recognize what is right “4U”

As you work to position your startup and develop your Value Proposition, focus on addressing what I like to call the 4Us:

  • Is the problem Unworkable? Does your solution fix a broken business process where there are real, measurable consequences to inaction? Will someone get fired if the issue is not addressed?
  • Is fixing the problem Unavoidable? For example, is it driven by a mandate with implications associated with governance or regulatory control?
  • Is the problem Urgent? Is it one of the top three priorities for spend?
  • Is the problem Underserved? Is there a conspicuous absence of valid solutions to the problem you’re looking to solve?

To bring this to life, in a recent Startup Secrets workshop on value proposition, we featured a storage company whose ability to address the 4Us has propelled them to the top of their industry. The company explained how they uniquely addressed each of the 4Us:

  • Unworkable – There was no way to solve the problem with conventional storage architectures
  • Unavoidable – Every enterprise with data to be accessed and protected creates the problem
  • Urgent – Consuming the majority of storage budgets in an environment of constrained IT resources
  • Underserved – Big players have a concrete dis-incentive to tackle in a way that serves the customer

Startup Secret #3: Think in 3D

Once you have determined the problem your venture is solving, define your solution. The most immediate question to ask is: What is your compelling breakthrough?A useful approach is to think of 3Ds: What unique combination of Discontinuous innovation, Defensible technology, and Disruptive business model are you bringing to bear, and what makes it truly compelling?

  • Discontinuous innovations offer transformative benefits over the status quo by looking at a problem differently.
  • Defensible technology offers intellectual property, for example, that can be protected to create a barrier to entry and an unfair competitive advantage.
  • Disruptive business models cause an “innovators’ dilemma” and/or yield value and cost rewards that help catalyze the growth of a business.

A fascinating example of 3D impact is around Google and how it changed the game for Microsoft. Years ago, Microsoft was dominant. However, through a disruptive business model, simple (defensible) technology and innovative applications, Google has (and continues to) significantly cut into Microsoft’s business. Examples of Google’s 3D impact in action include Google Docs versus Microsoft Office and the disruptions of the phone business from Blackberry to iPhone to Android.

”Faster, cheaper and better” is likely a temporary advantage that is easily overcome by a competitor with deep pockets, but building an innovative business model can be a game changer.

Startup Secret #4: Look for non-disruptive disruptions

Evaluate the potential for success using the Gain/Pain ratio, which involves measuring the gain you deliver a customer versus the pain and cost for a customer to adopt, as illustrated in the diagram below. As an investor, I look for non-disruptive disruptions: technologies that offer game-changing benefits without requiring major modifications to existing processes or environments. Simply put: disruptive innovation should not be disruptive to adopt.

Non-disruptive is critical because whatever gain you deliver will be discounted by the pain of adopting your solution PLUS the inertia of vendor risk that every startup levies by the virtue of being small and unknown. A successful venture delivers an order of magnitude improvement over the status quo. If you can’t deliver a 10x promise, customers will typically default to “do nothing” rather than risk working with a startup or risk changing their current configurations.

Through Startup Secrets, I’ve created many case examples for startups that have experienced great success employing the Gain/Pain ratio methodology. From mobile app management leaders’ offerings to the largest web discussion platform, the Gain/Pain ratio can prove useful across a broad spectrum of industries.

Startup Secret #5: Focus on a Blatant, Critical Need. Ask: “Is it BLAC and White?”

Ideally, you want to be in the position of addressing problems that are BLAtant and Critical (especially for B2B), as those problems are far more acute than ones that are latent and aspirational. Blatant and critical problems stand in the way of business. They put careers and reputations at risk. Latent problems are unacknowledged, which means they often require costly missionary selling. Aspirational problems are optional, which is often the hardest place for a startup to sell.

Companies that view their value proposition through a “BLAC and White” lens are able to accelerate growth considerably. In fact, the same storage startup I referenced in Secret #2 did just that. They addressed blatant and critical storage issues tied to geometric data growth, unmet recovery times and the unwieldiness of petabyte-scale “Big Data.” The company addressed a white space that called for a solution that would address the “root cause” of the copy data problem. The result? Customers have embraced the new concept and the company has been on an upward trajectory ever since.

Startup Secret #6: If you are going to pick a fight, pick a BIG fight

Big problems can lead to big opportunities. It often requires just as much work to go after a small market. Significantly painful problems are the source of great opportunity for entrepreneurs and have the potential to turn into really valuable solutions. They may not be easy to solve but often lead to true innovation. Some examples of big fights to pick can be found here.

The key is to look around, get in front of a mega-trend and then look to solve a related major problem or issue in order to fully leverage that trend.

Startup Secret #7: Focus on your Minimum Viable Segment (MVS)

I find too many entrepreneurs who follow the lean methodology stuck in a product spin and become consumed with their Minimum Viable Product. While I often hear about the importance of product/market fit, I don’t believe enough consideration is given to the market side of this equation. While the MVP is critical, it’s missing its dance partner, what I call theMinimum Viable Segment (MVS).

Supporting Startup Secret #1, don’t be afraid to say no, MVS is about focusing on a market segment of potential customers that have the same needs into which you can repeatedly sell. Defining and focusing on your MVS is vital because without it, potential users who have divergent needs will quickly pull your MVP in many different directions. In addition, since securing strong reference customers is critical in the early days of your Go to Marketactivities, you want them to reference each other, and they can’t if they don’t have the same needs.

In fact, one of the companies in my portfolio, Demandware, placed a significant emphasis on segmentation to find its initial customers. They remained true to the guiding principal of starting small within a niche before getting big within that market. With a goal of delivering with distinction, they focused on segments within segments, including high-growth retailers and brands within the segments luxury, home and lifestyle. Aligning the efforts of their sales and marketing teams behind that focus, they started with one brand; then that brand ambassador would talk to friends. Endorsements grew within retail segments and then beyond. Focusing on their MVS has today enabled them to break through the two billion dollar valuation mark.

Startup Secret #8: Hire for CQ (Cultural Quality)… do QC (Quality Control)

Ideas are worth very little without people to execute them, a culture to guide the selection of talent and a big, bold vision to attract and unify the team. Human capital is what separates good companies from great ones – which is why establishing a strong culture to attract and retain the right people, while unifying them behind an inspiring vision, is essential to any significant venture.

When evaluating a potential new hire for CQ, you need to ask yourself: does this person naturally align with your cultural values, work ethic and style of working? As part of this process, you should feel comfortable with (or better yet, inspired by) their passions, beliefs and aspirations.

There are specific interview questions designed to help you assess CQ, which you can findhere. The result of being mindful of CQ? A hire who will be additive to the culture you’ve worked hard to establish and who will have a positive impact on company morale and success.

A great example of culture fueling success is that of Amazon: the company’s physical manifestation of thrift underscores its approach to business. In fact, Jeff Bezos and the “door desk” came to symbolize Amazon’s frugal culture, which has been at the core of the company’s success.

Startup Secret #9: Hire 3As (Attitude, Aptitude and Ability) and 3+s (+Aware, +Authentic, +Athlete)

We all want to hire ‘A’ players – and this can be accomplished by looking at three important ‘A’s:

  • Ability – Does the person have the right balance of IQ and Experience, Knowledge and Skills (EKS) required for the job?
  • Aptitude – Being able to rapidly adapt and learn new skills and knowledge.
  • Attitude – Pursuing breakout opportunities requires the right attitude toward things like problem solving, persistence, and participation in a team.

Taking things a step further, most want to extend the notion of A players to look for A+ players. These attributes can vary based on role, but the three A+ traits I look for are: Athletes who are Self-Aware and truly Authentic:

  • Athletes often triumph over experience and possess the agility to adopt to change.
  • Self-Aware people areeasy to work with, are open about their self-professed strengths and weaknesses, work well with others and are amenable to mentoring and coaching.
  • Authentic people are genuine in all they do and demonstrate a sincere passion for their roles.

Startup Secret #10:Incomplete stand outs are better than complete stand ups!

Many entrepreneurs think they need to have all answers, when, in fact, they don’t – especially when they seek funding. The nature of venture capital is high-risk. Part of that risk is not knowing the answers before you start. As VCs, we’re fine with the unknown, as long as people have the self-awareness and conviction to work through challenges as they arise. In fact, we expect there to be many gaps in thinking, in a variety of areas ranging from team strategy to business model during a company’s early stages.

Overall, it’s easy to start a company, but hard to start a business. From capital constraints to sales challenges, one needs to be able to accept that not having all of the pieces at the onset is okay, and these elements can be built out as you grow, as long as you have a clear roadmap and unifying culture.

It is probably apparent from this article that VCs like me love companies in their formative stage: they enable us to really collaborate with the entrepreneurs and get to know them as the business comes together. That said, even at that inception stage, there are some fundamental requirements VCs DO look for:

  • A uniquely qualified person to back
  • A great idea or insight into solving a significant problem or addressing a clear opportunity
  • The beginning of a long-term vision

To learn more read about making a perfect pitch here and see the slides below:

These ten Startup Secrets, while hopefully helpful, are not designed to be prescriptive. In your unique situation, they may not apply. Listen to your market and learn from it as you engage your stakeholders, but don’t forget that, as a founder, YOU are instrumental to your venture’s success. Congratulations on being an entrepreneur and the best of luck in finding your unique path to success.

Content from this column was originally published in PandoDaily.

In addition to being a partner at North Bridge Venture Partners, Michael Skok, in conjunction with the Harvard i-Lab, created the Startup Secrets series to provide entrepreneurs with the insights he wishes he had known when starting out. Follow him @mjskok.

Photo: iStockPhoto

Are you always present?


One evening, not too long ago, I was chatting with my daughter after dinner. My laptop was open and I stole a glance at the screen, responding to an email or two while she spoke. She said something and I responded, “Uh, huh.”

Suddenly, she asked in a very matter of fact voice: “Is that the sound that parents make when they are not really paying attention, or do you agree with what I am saying?”

I stopped in my tracks and gave a feeble response, sheepishly acknowledging that I wasn’t really paying attention to her.

Embedded in that innocent interaction that probably gets enacted nightly in many households is one of the most profound lessons of leadership:


“Being present” means being respectful of the other person’s presence, their ideas, their voice.

It emphasizes the meritocracy of ideas.

It prevents the superciliousness expressed via the mindless tapping on keyboards and smartphone screens — even as we pretend to listen to the arguments and presentations that took somebody countless hours to prepare.


Leaders lead by example. If you are finding your teams constantly distracted, ask yourself if you are always present.

Lets face it: multitasking only sounds great in theory. So, put away that electronic device the next time you decide to spend quality time with somebody. The only quality time is being fully present.

Reference :

Want to be a Compassionate Leader? Call Your Mom!

“Son, you have lost weight and look a bit weak. You should eat more. Here, let me fix you something.”

“Mom, I’m fine, just a bit tired from my trip. How about you fix me a great breakfast in the morning?”

Mom relents, I go to bed.

It is 2 am. I have just gotten off a long international flight and am visiting my mom while on a business trip to Mumbai. This is déjà vu. My mom tries to fatten me up in three days to make up for the 362 days in the year when she does not get to feed me. I try not to remind her that I am 44 years old and quite capable of taking care of myself…

The next day, I am at the LinkedIn office in Mumbai. A lady in her 50’s stops me hesitantly as I walk past the kitchen. “This is my son’s resume,” she says. “He’s a very smart boy. Can you please do something for him?” Her face is both hopeful and a bit scared. She’s fearful that I might not react well to her solicitation and cause a black mark on her employment record, but her desire to help her son is too great.

I look at the resume, fully expecting a new college grad’s resume. It is not easy to find a job in India; youth unemployment is in double digits. But I am surprised. Her son seems to have a good track record as an accountant and is currently employed at a multinational.

“Your son is doing well. You should not worry about him.”

“But his salary is very low; perhaps you can help him find a better job?”

Her eyes are hopeful. “Ok, let me see what I can do.” She lights up. I bring the resume back to my desk and make a note to follow up.

Mothers care.

Mothers always think about their children’s well-being. They want us to eat more, have a better career.

Mothers don’t expect anything in return.

Compassionate leaders do the same.

Compassion is the most important quality in a leader.

Compassion creates lasting employee loyalty, a bi-directional compact based on mutual trust and well-being. You can’t buy that with more money or stock options.

Go ahead. Pick up the phone.

Reference :