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How to Run a Board Meeting: The Slide Deck

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my first board meeting as a CEO of a venture backed company. The response to the blog post was great and I received a few emails asking me to share more details. In that sense, I decided to put together a template of the slide deck I am using during board meetings.

The purpose of the board package slide deck is to provide a clear summary of the current state of the company including the major milestones achieved and challenges faced since the previous board meeting. CEOs should use the slide deck as the main vehicle to drive the discussions during the board meeting and it should be structured in a way that prevents unnecessary discussions that might derail from the main goals of the board meeting. In order to present the current state of the company, CEOs should give clear metrics about the main areas of the business: finances, sales, business development, product, team, marketing, etc.

While preparing for my first board meeting, I looked at different recommendations to structure the slide deck but, at the end, decided to create a specific structure that work for our investors. Even the slide deck template before might result as a good reference, I suggest you do the same and try to find the flow and structure that works for your company.

I hope this helps. Let me know your feedback.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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My First Board Meeting as CEO

board-meetingLast week I ran my first board meeting as CEO of a venture backed company. Among other things, that’s the reason why I haven’t been actively blogging in this space as the preparations for the board meeting took a considerable part of my time.

Even though I sit at the board of a few other companies and have a good experience participating in board meetings, I didn’t anticipate the intensity that takes running a board meeting as a startup CEO. In that sense, I think the experience broaden my perspective of the value that a board can play in an early stage startup and, hopefully, that will make me a better board member. In any case, I thought I’d summarize some of the lessons I learned while preparing for this board meeting.

Overprepare

I couldn’t stress this enough. As a CEO, it’s your duty to your board to be super-prepared for the board meeting. In my case, I found myself working the entire weekend putting together the board package and obsessing about every little detail. At the end, I ended putting together more than 200 pages of documentation but I think our board members got a very in-depth view of the KidoZen strategy and they were able o be very productive during the board meeting.

Deliver the Board Package a Few Days in Advance

If you have the opportunity, deliver the board package a few days in advance so that your board members have the time to review it. Even though this is a pain, understand that your board members don’t have your same level of understanding of your strategies and having the time to review of board package in advance will make them more productive during the meeting.

In my case, I didn’t have the opportunity to deliver the package with so many days in advance but, instead, we printed the entire 200 pages of documentations and delivered to each board member so it will make it easily for them to read when they were offline.

Focus on Making the Board Meeting Productive

Most board meeting are a complete waste of time. If you are not well prepared, you can find yourself getting stuck in unproductive discussions that won’t add any value to your company. Additionally, keep in mind that some of your board members can be really disruptive during the meeting. To mitigate that, you need to have a super detailed agenda and be extremely clear about your goals for the board meeting and relentlessly trying to control the agenda even if it means being strong with your board members.

Financials Matter

Presenting an accurate picture of the state of the company is a super important part of the board package. In that sense, presenting detailed information about the financials and other key performance indicators is super important to help your board members get a good understanding of the state of the company and identify the areas on which they can be helpful.

Be Honest, Disclose your Challenges and Failures

No CEO likes talking about their failures and current challenges. However, it’s important to realize that your board members are co-owners of your company and it’s their job to help you and advice with those challenges. In my case, I have a included a “Challenges Slide” in every single section of the presentation such as business development or sales to highlight the areas on which we could use a lot of help.

Have Clear Goals and Resolutions that Need to Be Approved

Resolutions are an important part of the board meeting and one on which you can end up spending way too much time. I believe it’s a good practice to highlight the resolution that will require voting in advance so that your board members can be prepared to have an intelligent discussion about it.

Have your Legal Counsel Present During the Meeting

Not a standard practice, but I find it super helpful to have your legal counsel present in the meeting to draft the minutes and assist with any legal matters. Most top-tier firms will offer you a good rate for those services event more if thy are really invested in your company. In our case, our legal counsel assigned one of his associates to participate full time in the meeting and they were extremely helpful in several discussions.

I hope this helps, I will have a follow up post about the board package soon.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Back To Work: About New Year’s Resolutions

nyeThe entire KidoZen team is back at work this week and I never seen this level of excitement. Obviously, we ended the year with a very good momentum and have super ambitious and really exciting plans for 2014. Like most people, I spent part of my holiday break reflecting about 2013 and setting the goals and plans for 2014.

During that time, I was super happy to discover that I hit over 85% of my 2013 goals, had some pleasant successes in areas I didn’t  plan for and I still manage to do a decent  job on the resolutions I didn’t accomplish. While 85% might not seem particularly impressive, my satisfaction comes from knowing that my 2013 goals were super ambitious. At the end, I believe that’s the only way to set goals.

From New Year resolutions to our monthly/weekly plans at KidoZen, I like to evaluate goals based on the following rule:

  • Accomplishing Over 90% of the Goals: Probably our goals are not ambitious enough
  • Accomplishing Between 75% to 90% of the Goals: We are doing well, let’s keep pushing to get close to 90%
  • Accomplishing Under 75% of the Goals: We are doing something wrong, time to reassess.

As always, the key to accomplish goals is to stay really focused, iterate and adapt.

In terms of my New Years Resolution, I have some super ambitious goals both personally, for my family and I can’t not even tell you about some of the crazy goals we are trying to accomplish with KidoZen. It should be fun ;)

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in entrepreneurship, leadership, startups

 

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Enterprise Software Lessons: Selling Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up

ABCEnterprise software sales are always a difficult task for a startup and something that is fundamentally different from the consumer market. Traditionally, enterprise software sales developed a reputation for being a long and bureaucratic process. However, recent technology movements such as the consumerization of IT, the popularity of open source technologies or the emergence of mobile devices have opened new avenues for products to get into the enterprise.

When thinking about selling to enterprises, there are two main models that will dictate the core of your strategy.

  • Top-Down Sales: Some products get sold directly to a decision maker like a Chief Information Officer(CIO) or Chief Marketing Officer(CMO).
  • Bottom-Up Sales: As an alternative to the top-down sales model, some technologies have the capability of getting adopted within enterprises by non-decision-makers such as developers or information workers before they make all the way to a decision maker.

While the top-down approach have been the cornerstone of enterprise software sales for decades, bottom-up models are a result of the new movements such as the consumerizaiton or IT or the democratization of software. As any new and evolutionary model, it’s very tempting for startups to try to embrace a bottom-up sales model. However, it’s important to realize that both models have very well defined strengths and weaknesses and, more importantly, they have a profound impact in the structure of your sales organization.

Top-Down Sales

This model is great for generating revenue from every single customer. Additionally, a top-down sales model is essential to land large deals that need that become strategic to your customer.

The top-down sales approach typically comes at the cost of longer sales cycles that require a well-established sales force. Additionally, achieving relevant market share with this model is extremely resource intensive as your sales force needs to be involved in every deal.

Bottom-Up Sales

The bottom-up model is great for achieving volume and spread your footprint within a wide customer base. This model does not typically require a large sales force and guarantees that your sales executives only get involved with a prospect after they have evaluated the product and are truly interested.

While achieving customer volume is great, the bottom-up sales model does not necessary conduct to revenue and might put you in a situation of supporting thousands of non-paying customers. The tech startup scene is full with stories of companies that were able to attract a massive number of non-paying customers before going out of business. More importantly, embracing a bottom-up approach requires a level of scalability that can become resource intensive for any startup.

Top-Down Does Not Mean Free

When embracing a bottom-up sales model, it’s important to realize that the model doesn’t necessarily require to offer a free entry point to the product (fermium). While fermium models makes a lot of sense as a top-down approach, there are plenty of scenarios on which enterprise software startups can charge a small nominal fee as a starting point.

Deciding whether to adopt a top-down or bottom-up sales model is essential to structure your sales organizations and customer acquisition processes. For some products, top-down and bottom-up approaches are mutually exclusive. However, technologies like Box, AWS, MongoDB have proven that you can effectively developed both sales models achieving large market share while also acquitting paying customers.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Violin Memory’s IPO Lessons: Public Markets Don’t Always Get Cool Technology

Violin Memory, one of super cool players in the flash memory storage space, had a very rough IPO last Friday. With an initial offering of $9 per share, we watched the stock dropped all day up to 22% at $7.02 per share. Since then, the stock has had ups and downs closing at $7.50 last night. This IPO was another example that, when come to highly competitive sectors, public markets care more about revenues and deal flow than about solid technology roadmap.

As a technologist, I always have a hard time reconciling innovation with public market perception. While there are no doubts about the game changing capabilities of Violin Memory technology, the fact of the matter is that solid state flash memory is a very competitive space with incumbents like Dell, HP, EMC and IBM moving in. Like any other utility technology, the expectations are that these types of technologies will be highly commoditized in the near future. The fact that other players in the space such as Fusion.io are going through a bit of a turmoil didn’t get Violin’s IPO either.

In those type of sectors, public markets tend to look for a solid path to profitability and deal pipeline to overcome some of the, sometimes unjustified fears. From that perspective, Violin Memory couldn’t present a great picture either after terminating a deal with its top reseller: HP who have helped to grow the company’s revenues by 500 in the first year. In terms of numbers, Violin posted revenue of $51.3 million in the first half of 2013, up from $30.3 million in the year-ago period. However net loss was $59.2 million in the first half of 2013, up from a net loss of $48.3 million. Not a great picture either from a public sector perspective.

Having said all that, I still feel optimistic about the future of Violin Memory. However, my perception has little to do with an empirical analysis and is more based on the fact that I have a really hard time betting against a super talented team that knows their space better than anyone else in the market. With the right support, Violin Memory will be able to innovate into new areas in the solid state flash memory space and keep differentiating itself from the competition.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Some Thoughts About Strategic Alliances

In the last few weeks we have been announcing a series of strategic alliances around our KidoZen platform. While watching the press releases I was reflecting upon the great job our team is doing finding, structuring and nurturing the right types of partnerships. This process has been a learning experience for us given that, as any new startup, we had to go through the process of figuring out which models of strategic alliances were effective for us and our partners.

Establishing effective strategic alliances is one of the hardest things on the early days of any startup. Identifying the right partners, make your technology visible to them, building and getting in motion the right partnership dynamics are some of the fundamental elements that need to be master as part of your early business development effort.

Based on our experience, there are a few lessons learned that I think might be helpful when structuring strategic alliances in startups.

Don’t Focus on the Big Guys

When thinking about strategic alliances, a lot of startups make the classic mistake to focus on the biggest players on a specific category. As tempting as partnering with a big company might be, you need to be aware of the level of effort and resources that might be required to establish those types of agreements and get the right level of attention from your potential big partner.

Instead of focusing on the big guys, we have found very effective to find the medium, boutique players on a specific category that are truly innovating in the space and devote the right resources and focus to the strategic alliance.

Have a plan to execute after the agreement is signed

A lot of business development folks think about strategic alliances mostly from the marketing perspective. Big announcements, solid press release but no real plan of how to execute after the agreement is signed. As a startup, you should spend the right time focusing on putting the dynamics in place to make the partnership effective and deliver real value to your company and your partner.

Honor the Partnership

Partnerships are only effective is both parties can benefit from it. As a startup, it’s natural to focus most of your attention on driving value to your organization but you should also put the right level of effort to honor your partnership agreement and make your partner successful even if it require sacrifices on your side.

You are Always Looking for Partners

Signing solid strategic alliance is a constant marathon, not a sprint. If you are a CEO or head of business development of a startup, you are always looking and reaching out to potential partners even if you are not equipped to get any agreements in place at the time. Building strong relationships, keeping partners up to date about your progress and vision will do wonders for your company when comes time to build solid strategic alliances.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Importance of Spending Time Together with your Team

I am working from Buenos Aires this week as part of a very intense week of product planning for our KidoZen platform. Spending time with the new team, has reaffirmed my believes about the importance of face-to-face communication.

In previous years, I didn’t devoted enough time to visit our team overseas and, instead, invested a lot of energy on implementing the right communication infrastructure to mitigate the challenges of not having the majority of the team in the same office space. While the results were great from a productivity standpoint, it became obvious that the team was missing that chemistry that builds-up when you meet people in person and share a glass of wine while discussing the company vision. Sadly, that lack of chemistry remains hidden most of the time but always surfaces when the team faces difficult decisions that can test the core of your team values. I learned that one the hard way.

With KidoZen, I made the promise of changing those dynamics and our team member in the USA and Argentina are regularly spending time together working on different product planning and strategy sessions.

What a difference that has made!

I am firm believer in distributed teams and the globalization of talent. As a company, KidoZen likes to hire the best talent regardless of the geographic location. The advances on communication technologies, the cultural evolution of most societies have lowered racial, language and religious barriers making it exponentially simpler for organizations to build distributed teams. However, there are still very tangible benefits of co-located teams.

  • Showing that you care: Getting on a plane to go visit a team member signals to everyone how much you care for the team.
  • Learning what motivates your team: Spending time with your team will help you learn their passions, motivations and goals in life which are important drivers when you are building your future together.
  • Observing how people work and analyze problems: You will get to observe your team working dynamics, how they approach problems, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
  • Building trust: In-person communication builds trust. People can look into your eyes and determine if your message is honest and strong enough to resist the difficult times.
  • Reinforce your vision: Spending time together with your team will give you a great opportunity to reinforce the company vision, goals and make your team aware of their importance in the execution of that vision.
  • Building friendships: Some of the relationships you build with your colleagues will have the opportunity to evolve into friendships. While is not always a good idea to mix friendships and work, I never run away from cultivating great friendships with amazing people. Quite the contrary, I feel blessed for having the opportunity to spend time with some many spectacular folks.

I hope some of the items above make sense. I would love to hear your thoughts about the importance of face-to-face communication in a startup. I believe that, as a CEO, is your job to put that burden upon yourself and fly everywhere to spend time with your team. I am certainly enjoying my time in Buenos Aires. I will leave you with a photo of a team dinner a few nights ago:

KidoDinner

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Fighting the Culture of Asking with a Culture of Giving

grLast week I hosted a dinner for a few folks in the tech community in FL that I thought will benefit from meeting each other. We had a wonderful time enjoying wine and discussing the technology market. When leaving, one of the attendees approached me to thank me for the invitation and she quickly expressed her surprise that I didn’t take advantage of the event to explore some new business opportunities around my new venture (KidoZen). My response to her was very simple: dinner was part my attempts to fight the “culture of asking”.

The “culture of asking” is one of the most detrimental aspects of modern business relationships. With some exceptions, of course, we constantly engage in business dynamics on which each party is constantly asking for different things for their benefit. While asking favors is part of everyday business, I find it incredibly constraining to nurture a relationship on the premises of always thinking how to benefit from it. Instead, we can really create long term relationships if we spend the time thinking how to benefit the other party without expecting anything in return. While we consider giving a fundamental element of personal relationships, its rarely part of modern business relationships.

A few years back, one of my longtime mentors advised me to devote sometime every week to think about how to help some of my business acquaintances without expecting immediate reciprocity. To this day, I have been trying to practice that regularly and couldn’t be happier with the experience.

The explanation is very simple: Giving is not only a pure way to help other people but also an incredibly effective way to build strong business relationships. Here are some of my favorite reasons while giving is more important than asking:

  • Giving makes you feel good: Spiritually, chemically, biologically…you name it…people always feel better when they give than when they ask for something.
  • Asking is short-term, giving is long-term: Giving helps people build relationships without a short–term objective in mind.
  • When you give, people feel obligated to reciprocate: As opportunistic as it sounds, when people receive a favor, a nice gesture they feel psychologically obliged to reciprocate it in the future.
  • Giving allows you to be genuine: Being genuine is one of the hardest things to achieve in a business relationship. However, there is no better setting to be completely genuine than what you are giving something without expecting anything in return.

These are some of my favorite reason why I think is important to foment a culture of giving. I would encourage to follow the advice it was once given to me and think hard about what to do every week to help some of your business relationships without expecting anything in return. However, always do it because is right and without a second agenda. You will find it incredibly rewarding.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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This is Water, This is Water

It’s been a crazy and insane week filled with exciting developments that have prevented me from blogging but I still would like to share something with you today.

Yesterday, while having coffee with a friend, we started debating the importance of awareness in our professional lives. That conversation reminded me of one of the most inspirational speeches about this topic I watched years ago. Delivered by David Foster Wallace, this brief commencement speech reminds us  about the conscious choices we can make every day :

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Stay Away from Workaholics

workaholicI find writing this post a bit ironic and I am, without a doubt, a workaholic. Between the rapid growth of KidoZen, leading the strategy side of TelIago and some third-party projects I work around 16 hours during weekdays and another 8-10 hours during the weekend. I don’t complain about it. I have the privilege to be at a point in my life on which I enjoy what I am doing more than at any other time in my career and I am convinced that it takes that kind of effort to make a difference in this highly competitive market.

Having said that, I tried very hard to not encourage that type of behavior within our team. At KidoZen, our teams work fairly regular 8-10 hour days and although, occasionally, we end up putting insane hours at the end of each release cycle, we never encourage or reward that type of behavior. At this point in my career, as I am convinced most workaholics are damaging to the team dynamics.

My reasoning here is very simple: If you are going to regularly work insane hours you need a structure to sustain that rhythm and most people don’t even think about. I can work long hours because I meticulously divide my focus during the day on different aspects that help keep me fresh. Contrary to that thinking, I found that most workaholic behaviors are completely triggered as a continuous and disproportioned response to short-term needs with little strategy or structure around it.

Here are some of the reasons why, I think, you should stay away from workaholics:

  • Workaholism is contagious: When someone regularly work insane hours to accelerate certain delivery, their colleagues feel compelled to do the same even if they are not equipped to do so
  • Competitiveness: Related to the previous point, workaholism indirectly foment a level of competitiveness within a team that can be detrimental to the long term goals of a specific project.
  • Long term performance degradation: Unless you take the time to structure a method that allows you to regularly work long hours, your performance will degrade over time as an inevitable consequence of exhaustion.
  • Burnout factor: Being burnout as a consequence of working long hours ends of affecting the overall performance and attitude of the team.
  • Short-term focus: If you are constantly burning hours focusing on short term objectives, it becomes really hard to keep thinking and contributing to the long term strategic vision of a product or company.
  • Working hard for the wrong reasons: Ultimately, I can live with workaholics as long as they are driven for the right reasons but I found out that, more often than not, you encounter people whose only objective with working long hours is not passion or motivation but a selfish desire to score some points with their management team.

Those are just some of the elements why I fundamentally try to not encourage workaholic-type behaviors within our team. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about it. More about this topic in a future post….

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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