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Liad Agmon on how to get lucky – Startup Iceland 2014

This was one of the funniest talks in the history of Startup Iceland. Liad has a flare for delivery and timing. I am pretty sure he would have been a great stand-up comedian. He used to write jokes for scripts while he was in school. Of course there is a fantastic lesson in the talk about how to get lucky… no, no I mean with being an Entrepreneur and how to get your business up and going. Hint, persistence and having an open mind is the key. Listen to the talk, you will see what I mean.

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Leadership and Courage

CaptainkirkAs I wrote in my previous blog post, I have been glued to the book “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” and watched the following video where Mark Suster interviews Ben Horowitz in Startup Grind. It is a great interview and I would highly encourage everyone who is a startup founder, CEO or investor to watch it.

One of the things that Ben talks about which I very strongly subscribe to in Startup Founders is the ability of Leadership and Courage. It seems a little touchy feely thing but IMHO this is the most important trait, technical skills you can learn, management skills again can be learnt, leadership skills not that obvious and it takes a lot of practice and mentoring and the more you get to do it the more it demands of you. I have written a lot about Leadership because I believe very strongly that Leadership is the X Factor of Entrepreneurship and if you can couple that with Courage to take bold decision and “Go where no-one has gone before” you have Captain Kirk like leadership. Remember that Courage is not absence of fear, but it is action to do the right thing despite fear. I have walked the path of startup founders in the last 5 years, I seen a lot of challenges that faces a startup and the teams that comprise a startup. The one single thread that keeps everything together is the trait of Leadership and Courage. Cultivate those traits, become obsessed with it and learn everything there is to learn about it, if you are an Entrepreneur or a Startup Founder.

Many of us included yours truly believed that courage is going into battle, but it is far from it. Courage is having the self awareness to ask for input from your friends and co-founder and your team. Courage is being vulnerable to the team with the notion that you don’t have all the answers. Courage is confronting your co-founder or Startup founder when she is going off the rails to give feedback and bring her back to reality. Courage is raising a red flag when whole team is telling lies and courage is raising the mirror and showing the entire team when politics starts trumping hard work, diligence and doing the right thing. These are hard things to do in a team environment. You need to factor the maturity, experience and the leadership capacity within the team to really push the agenda. Once again, I feel validated that my emphasis on leadership around building a leadership culture at all levels in the teams that I work with is the right principle. It may not seem obvious but it always pays rich dividends.

I am starting to watch the entire Star Trek Series starting from the first episode, as I believe Captain Kirk personifies a certain aspect of leadership and courage that is needed in a Startup Founder and Entrepreneur.

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The Hard Thing About Hard Things

the_hard_thing_about_hard_things__building_a_business_when_there_are_no_easy_answers__ben_horowitz__9780062273208__amazon-com__booksIf you have not seen the recommendation by Brad Feld and Fred Wilson to get the book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers” by Ben Horowitz. Here are some exerpts that should motivate you to read the book. I have referred to Ben’s blog a number of times in my blog posts. I think Ben writes from his heart and it shows. I am about halfway through the book and I have to say I am hooked and I keep thinking about the book despite all the other things that I doing.

I have to say the best chapter in the book so far has been Chapter 5 – Take Care of the People, the products, and the profits – in that order. This chapter really resonated with me as I have been given feedback that I spend too much time taking care of the people, it was great to get some validation for my beliefs. There is a reason why I write a lot more about Leadership and Team Development in this blog because I feel we seem to have forgotten that a Company or a Startup or a Service is nothing but a collection of people and if the empathy, their dreams, trust, relationship and love is lost between the team member all other things fail. Here is an excerpt from the book

My old boss Jim Barksdale was fond of saying, “We take care of the people, the products, and the profits – in that order.” It’s a simple saying, but it’s deep. “Taking care of the people” is the most difficult of the three by far and if you don’t do it, the other two won’t matter. Taking care of the people means that your company is a good place to work. Most workplaces are far from good. As organizations grow large, important work go unnoticed, the hardest workers can get passed over by the best politicians, and bureaucratic processes can choke out the creativity and remove all the joy.

When everything went wrong from the dot-com crash to NASDAQ threatening to delist the company, the thing that saved us were the techniques developed in this chapter. If your company is a good place to work, you too may live long enough to find your glory.

Are you intrigued to read the rest of the chapter? I was and I am reading it as I type this. Go and get the book! it would be the best thing you did.

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Servant Leader

Chanakya_artistic_depiction

Chanakya

I have been deeply influenced by the work of Dr.Stephen Covey and Dr.Scott Peck. There is one common theme that both of them refer to about leadership and that is the philosophy and model of a Servant Leader. The philosophy of Servant Leader is timeless going all the way to the early writings of Chanakya in 4th Century BC in his book Arthashastra:

“the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]” “the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”

I try very hard everyday to live by this model. I believe life is short and we should not waste it being self centred. We need to find a vision, mission and team that we should serve. I had written about how I had made it my mission to help Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders. Becoming a servant to the Mission, the Team and the cause is hard work. The individual is required to subordinate the personal ego needs to put the mission and cause before it is easier said than done. How do we inspire ourselves to graciously step up to the need of the hour? What makes one step above and beyond their personal needs to do what is right? I think we all need to ponder that. I believe aligning oneself to leadership philosophies like Servant Leadership is the right way to approach being a leader of a team or a cause. By no means I have mastered or even close to understanding this, it is never a goal it is the journey and the experiences during that journey that matters.  I believe everyone can be a Servant Leader, but the choice to be one has to come from the inside. I have written again about how Leadership is a choice and not a position. No one appointed Mahatma Gandhi as the leader of India Freedom Movement or Martin Luther King as the leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement or every other leader that I have written about. No-one else is in Control You are…

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Leadership Reboot

ceo-bootcamp-2014-twitter

I have mentioned it before I am rookie CEO. The leadership challenges of creating, building and scaling a company are not easy things to do. There is a reason majority of the startups fail, the reasons for failure are plenty. I have learnt in the last 6 years that success or failure of a startup has got a lot to do with the Leadership and the Team. Remember things don’t give up, people give up. The biggest challenge of a Leader is to see the path when everything is not that obvious and the whole environment looks like it is going to crumble and fall. A Leaders role is to serve, show and believe in the potential of his team so they start believing it in themselves that they will ride through the challenges. A lot of these things are easier said than done, so I believe everyone should invest in themselves to learn everyday on how to be a Leader. When Jerry Colona, one of my favorite blogger, executive coach and former VC announced last year that he was planning an exclusive CEO event called Leadership Reboot, I jumped on it to apply and I got selected but due to some personal matters I could not make it. The organizing team was generous to roll over my application to this year and I got the news last night that I have been selected as one of the CEOs who will participate in the event… I could not help but scream out with excitement. It is a fantastic learning opportunity and to connect with people who are walking the same road as I have been the past 18 months.

The role of a CEO is hard, lonely and creates a lot of monsters in your head. I cannot imagine how many times that I have tried to figure this out myself. I wrote about Leadership and  being a CEO, based on the blog posts by Ben Horowitz, reading about it is one thing but actually sharing, listening and understanding from your peers without the distractions of the day to day minutia is a valuable investment. I plan to blog this week about the role of CEO, I have learnt a bunch of lessons and I also found out from the organizing team of Leadership Reboot that they are planning an event in June this year in Tuscany, Italy… watch this space for more details of the event. I am really excited to get this opportunity to learn. Rest assured I will blog about the experience and share any and all learnings from this experience.

I encourage any and every CEO to take time to invest in yourself, it is a valuable life lesson of Sharpening the Saw.

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Team Engagement and Leadership

TinyPulse Happiness metricI have been on the road for the past 2 weeks related to my role as CEO of GreenQloud. We had a number of initiatives and the company is on a nice growth trajectory. We are starting to get great customer engagement and team engagement. The team has grown to 27 people from 11 a year back. While I was on the road got a chance to meet with Forest Key, the CEO and Co-Founder of Buuteeq, the company that my partners and I invested in 2011. It has been fascinating to see the growth of this team. Buuteeq now employs about 106 people and doing really well in terms of growth of customers, revenue and all the key metrics that drives the company. I was very happy to see that we are investing in the right kind of team culture and things that we believe in. While I was talking to Forest, I asked him how has he and his leadership team managed to build a great culture at the workplace and maintain the super aggressive growth in the number of employees and his answer was very simple… Team Engagement and a tool. He pointed me to Tiny Pulse, a simple tool that he and his leadership team use to engage with their team members. It is such a simple tool but brings a very high level of engagement as well as allows to get direct feedback on a regular basis from all the team members.

The important thing is to act on those feedback items and I congratulated Forest on really driving the engagement and growth of the company. I am pretty sure we will do well with this investment. If you are in the growth path as buuteeq or greenqloud, I highly recommend using Tiny Pulse, I was quite impressed with the philosophy behind the company, it is based on the book by Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness. We are strong believers in that philosophy at GreenQloud … so it was easy for me to institute the same with the team.

How do you achieve your goals?

English: Albert Einstein, official 1921 Nobel ...

English: Albert Einstein, official 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics photograph.

I have been blogging since 2004, not as active as I have been since 2011. I believe blogging or writing is an extremely positive and leverage activity. I used to take notes in school and I have always wondered why do we take notes, because what is being taught in the class is in the books and other reference material. Doing some digging I found out that writing is a neuromuscular activity that enhances your focus. Even more positive aspect of blogging and writing about goals and ideas, helps you focus on those goals and ideas subconsciously.  I actually have done this exercise and it has paved really positive results for me. I would encourage anyone to start a blog, you don’t have to make it public but have one and document your journey. There are some psychological studies where the difference between keeping a diary vs. journals have been studies and the conclusion is that diary keeping is not such a positive activity. I don’t want to go into the psychology of this, but just putting down what you are thinking and trying to clarify your thought and getting your network to validate what you are writing about is an upward spiral of personal development in communication and leadership. Startup Iceland Blog was started by me because I wanted to learn about Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Building an Antifragile and Sustainable Startup Ecosystem in Iceland. I have written about this before as well, if you want to learn something teach it and then your whole perspective changes and learning becomes a lot more fun and memorable.

My colleagues at GreenQloud were going through a lot of their old business plans and write ups while we were preparing to move the office and we came across a writeup that they had done about their vision. They were surprised how many of the things that they had written about they had accomplished. I was not surprised. I am not a big fan of writing business plans but the process of planning and taking notes on your thinking is a very important exercise. With the Lean Startup and Business Model Canvas methods, you can focus on the most important things while you startup but what is more important is to write about your vision, where do you want to go with whatever you are planning to do. How are you going to execute on that vision? what resources do you need and how do you envision the path. These are important things to imagine. It was Einstein who said that “Imagination is more important than Knowledge”, I think I know why he said that, our knowledge of things are limited where as we can imagine a whole lot of things. Entrepreneurship is about bringing all of that together, your imagination, your discipline to execute and your perseverance to follow through and not quit seasoned with a dash of luck. For those who have walked this path it becomes a lot clearer, it is not the path is any easier but the habit of doing it makes it so.

If you don’t have a blog, start one. Every company has to have a blog and allow everyone in your team to write about what they do in the blog.  It could be as simple as writing about How to use your service or product. It will lead to great benefits.

Leadership and being CEO

PandoMonthly - June 2012 - Sarah Lacy intervie...

PandoMonthly – June 2012 – Sarah Lacy interviews Ben Horowitz (Photo credit: thekenyeung)

Instead of writing about what it means to be a Leader, I am just going to link to a bunch of posts that I read about the challenges of being a CEO. The classic one is “The Struggle” by Ben Horowitz, and I found a number of gems in this category in his blog. If you have not read my post about the Struggle, you should. When your startup goes through a metamorphosis of growing up there is always growing pains, there is politics and the team culture challenges. Building a world class team is hard, if this was easy or simple everyone would do it. I have been really digging deep into figuring out what makes teams tick and come together. I guess it is as different as we are as people.

  1. What is the most difficult CEO skill? Managing Your Own Psychology
  2. How to minimize politics in your company?
  3. Making yourself a CEO
  4. Lead Bullets
  5. Peace time CEO/War time CEO

All this being said, what a CEO will be measured on is quite simple actually:

Let’s not bullshit each other —- the most important characteristic of any CEO is to be a moneymaker. It is not particularly dignified to say it that bluntly but you can sugar coat whatever you want and it all comes down to “can you ring the bell?

—  The mighty comment blogger JLM in a comment to this post: A VC: What A CEO Does

Why we dont have more Women in Leadership

Image representing Sheryl Sandberg as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

I have written about why this is the best and by far the most exciting time to be a women in technology or for that matter in any leadership role. I have been reading Sheryl Sandberg‘s book “Lean In“. I have to say that it has been a disappointing experience to get women to take a seat at the table or to jump on a opportunity. I think context is in order, as CEO of GreenQloud one of my jobs is to hire world class people to build a world class team. In my opinion, a balanced team is more effective so I have been searching to get more women to join Team GreenQloud. Here is my experience so far… we have made 3 offers to women and all of them have rejected our offer. One of the women was still in school who was interested in what we do, I offered her to spend whatever time she could with Team GreenQloud, we would train her in what we do and when she feels that she is ready to join the team I said we could discuss the role, compensation etc the usual stuff. What do you think happened? she showed up for 2 weeks, then quit. Ok, understandable, she got another opportunity. We got requests from 2 more women who wanted to join us for Summer jobs, we made an offer to both of them to join… guess what? both of them turned it down! I am curious to learn the reasons for their decisions because I very strongly emphasized that we will train them and give them all the opportunity to take on challenging roles and tasks within GreenQloud. But they decided not to participate. I am not complaining, just stating facts. Despite my pep talk that they should not be scared about technology and we are motivated to make them part of Team GreenQloud, they still did not take it. This is not the end of my effort to get more women to join GreenQloud. We are going to make a concerted effort to get more women to join GreenQloud.

I am curious and want to understand why this is so, then I bumped into a TED lecture by Sheryl Sandberg and there it was obvious and clear as is in the book. Here is the lecture by Sheryl:

So, if you a women ready to jump into an exciting Startup company in Iceland and you are not afraid of technology, contact me bala at greenqloud dot com. We want to hear from you and we want you to take a seat at the table. I don’t believe we will win without having the talent, intuition and intelligence of women in our team.

Volunteering your Heart and your Mind

University of South Carolina playing football ...

Louisiana State University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been part of the recruiting process from very early on in my professional career. I started working for Ernst & Young in 1999 and every year a recruiting team went back to Louisiana State University (LSU Geaux Tigers!) and we were one of the many companies that were recruiting talented students. It was a fantastic learning experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We always recruited someone for their potential and not always for their “skill set”. Potential, Attitude and Team Dynamics were the main attributes that we looked for, the strategy was if we got those attributes right the individual should be able to learn any skill. I still think that strategy works. I believe that the opportunity to be part of a team in its own right is rewarding, but there are several attributes that we all can cultivate and bring to the table. I am also a strong believer that we cannot manage people, we can only manage things, everyone has the ability to lead starting with ourselves. While we go into the recruiting process, the elephant always in the room is the Compensation, Benefits, Stock Option etc, I think they are all very important, but I also strongly feel that all those things are for people to just show up, in order to be part of a winning team and to build a winning team every team member needs to Volunteer their Hearts and their Minds. Nobody can force anyone to be motivated, we need to create an environment that fosters self motivation.

So what is this environment? I have some thoughts, I believe if you can create an environment where everyone in the team has the freedom to express their ideas and are allowed to execute those that are in the strategic interest of the team and there is team camaraderie where everyone steps in to help anyone who is struggling is a good start. I think the saying from the Three MusketeersOne for all and All for One” is an attribute of a winning team. And the leadership is not a position but more an attribute of the contribution one makes to the the team. I currently play the role of a CEO of GreenQloud and I model my leadership style based on a philosophy and concept of a Servant Leadership. I am at the service of every team member, I am my team’s servant. I do not take the definition of a servant lightly, it is the most noble of roles, it takes a lot of courage, love and respect to be a loyal servant. I have always believed it is a humbling attribute that inspires each and everyone of us and I believe it takes more courage and leadership to be humble. It easy to be a master with a whip, because all you need to do is crack the whip and some will respond and most will not. I have never believed fear of someone can be a Motivator in anything especially in an environment where everyone needs to volunteer their Hearts and Mind to survive and to Win.