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Tag Archives: leadership

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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4 Key Characteristics Of A Great CTO

These days I am helping a couple of startups with their technical recruiting processes and organizing their engineering groups. One of the things that I find interesting is how much non-technical founders emphasize on hiring experienced people. While I consider experience a very important factor in a great tech executive, I don’t believe experience alone can help you build a great technical team.

A few years ago, when I was still a computer science student, I had a very interesting conversation with a very wise professor about this topic. At the time, I was evaluating offers for engineering leader at several large organizations but was second-guessing myself due to my lack of experience in the industry. During our conversation, my friend enumerated some of the factors that are required in great technical leaders:

  • Knowledge: Being extremely, and I mean extremely, knowledgeable about the technology market, ecosystem, new trends etc is key to lead a great engineering team. Experience alone certain doesn’t give you knowledge.
  • Experience: Having “been there, done that” definitely helps to recognize the patterns, techniques and processes that can be effective in specific situations.
  • Perspective: From my viewpoint, this is the most important quality of look in a tech leader and the hardest one to explain. Perspective uses knowledge to overcome the lack of experience and make effective decisions. The thing about perspective is that is almost impossible to teach, you either have it and nurture it or you don’t
  • Analytical and Organized Thinking: Finally, engineering leaders need to be able to look at problems from a very analytical perspective and organize engineering processes in models that can be effective. These challenges require very strong, organized and analytical thought process which is very hard to fund in most people.

I know these are not the only characteristics of a great engineering leader but I consider them the most important. Other aspects such as the ability to listen, team player etc are also necessary but can be coached and learned over time.

I hope that helps. What do you think? What makes a great engineering leader?

 

 
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Posted by on September 6, 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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Want to Be Creative? Be Happy!

creativity

Cognitive science has become one of my favorite non-technical subjects during the last year. For the last few months, I have been reading a ridiculous amount of books and research papers about different cognitive science subjects ranging from psychology to neurosciences. It never ceases to amaze me how a basic understanding of human’s reactions can help us to make better decisions in the business world or influence the culture of an organization. A great example of this are some fascinating studies that a good friend sent me about some of the elements that influence creativity.

Creativity is one of the most important aspects of successful entrepreneurs. The ability to make creative decisions can influence different aspects of a company ranging from a product design to the culture of an organization. However, creativity is rarely constant. Sometimes individuals can make incredibly creative decisions but that creativity seems to dissipate at times.

Influencing people’s creativity is not an easy task and certainly not one that has a magic answer. However, cognitive science teaches us that there is a very simple factor that can help to increase creativity: happiness!

Yes, you read it right. It turns out that there is a direct correlation between being happy and what psychologists call “intuitive performance”. By that fancy term, scientist refer to people’s ability of making accurate, intuitive and creative decisions. As a lot of studies prove, when in a good mood, people are more likely to make intuitive and creative decisions. Following that argument, it’s pretty clear that we can influence people’s creativity by fomenting an environment and a culture that makes them happy.

However, some other unexpected things derivate from the effects of being in a good mood. It also turns out that, while undoubtedly creative, people that are in a good become less vigilant, analytical and more prone to logical errors. A good mood, is obviously a sign that things are going in the right direction in certain aspects which makes the brain be at a “cognitive ease” state on which we are more relaxed but also less analytical or vigilant.

There you have it, happy people are more creative but can also be less analytical!

Hmmm….interesting dilemma…..

Not really!

From a company culture standpoint, I will always pick creativity and happiness every time. I am convinced is a better formula to win in the long run.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Finding the Foil in Your Story

In literature, the Foil is a character type that used to highlight the qualities of the protagonist by highlighting a strong contrast. Arguably, the most famous foil of all times is Sancho Panza, the famous Don Quixote squire who continuously contrasts with the protagonist both morally and physically and serves as a constant reminder to Don Quixote’s mission. Notice that the foil is not necessarily a negative character.

Just like in literature, missions in startups are better described and accomplished when there is a Foil in the story. In this context, a foil can be a large competitor, a situation in the current macroeconomic context of a particular industry or even a type of customer. Regardless, by presenting the characteristics of your foil you will highlight the benefits and vision of your company, product or service. It’s not that hard, if you are working on something relevant just look around and you will find many many Foils :)

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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A Startup is Like Mass “God Gets Mad if You Don’t Show Up”

Ernest Hemingway used to write every day. Obviously, the majority of his writing efforts didn’t translate into the great parts of his novels but he still attempted to write every day. The great writer used to say “Writing is like Mass. God gets mad if you don’t show up” :) In addition to his talent, I think his incredible consistency and perseverance made Hemingway one of the great writers of all time.

Tracing a parallel to the startup lifestyle we can probably say that “Startups are like Mass. God gets mad if you don’t show up” ;) Maybe this seems obvious from the outside but startup founders can agree with me that is not always that easy to show up to work when times are tough.

Perseverance, consistency and resiliency are essential elements in the success of a startup but the first step is always to show up. When times are good, you can’t afford to relax and need to keep pushing your company to the next phase. When times are difficult, you need to show up to continue leading your times through the challenging times.

Realize that most of the big success, ideas don’t come as a sudden inspiration but are rather the result of a series of experiences and efforts to take small footsteps towards the end goal. Regardless of the current status of your startup, remember that the main step to success is to ALWAYS SHOW UP!

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Is Your Market Position Defensible?

This is a hard but necessary question every founder should think hard about. We all create products that we think are fairly innovative and better than the competition. However, if you are playing in a big market, you are likely to face competitors with stronger financial resources that will be going after your same customer base. In those situations, a startup has to understand the different strategies to defend its market position. Even though you might think that you can always out-innovate your competitors, that’s can rarely be consider a strategy to defend your value proposition

Based on the characteristics of your product and market, there might be different product sustainability models that can be consider to create a defensive and solid market position

IP

IP-based sustainability is the most traditional product sustainability model. If your product provides a very unique IP that is relevant to your customers and target market, that could translate into a very solid market position that will make it hard for your competitors to capture. Contrary to what you might think, IP-based sustainability is really hard to achieve in big markets.

Strong Alliances

Establishing strong strategic alliances and partnerships could result in a very clear product sustainability strategy. A healthy partner ecosystem will not only help to improve your product market presence but it will also make it harder for your other companies to compete in the space.

Stickiness

Is your product or service is able to retain customers once they purchase it? Are they able to switch to a different solution without a significant investment? Sticky solutions with high customer retention levels are more defensible in the long term that solutions without those characteristics.

Solid Exit Strategy

Even If you are not thinking in a short term exit you need to accordingly determine the potential exit strategies for your product and company. Understanding the exit dynamic is important in case you can’t sustain your competitive advantage as a standalone company.

What do you think? What else makes the position product or startup defensible?

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Does Co-Opetition Work for a Startup?

Last week, Microsoft made making the Surface tablets generally available in several countries. This release, marks a turning point on the relationship model between Microsoft took and long term OEM partners such as Dell or HP. With Microsoft venturing into the manufacturing of their own tablet, it will start competing directly with the OEMs while, at the same time, expanding their relationship to grow the Windows 8 ecosystem. This is a classic Competition + Collaboration model known in the industry as Co-opetition.

While Co-opetition is very common in different segments of the software industry such as venture capital or private equity investment, it’s certainly not very popular in the enterprise software space. For years, we have seen enterprise software through the lenses of companies like Oracle that foment fierce, “take no prisoners” type of competition. Traditionally, the enterprise software ecosystem has drawn a very clear line between partners and competitors and combining the two was very unusual at best.

However, in recent years, the expansion and diversification of the enterprise software landscape has also changed the collaboration and competition models used by a lot of enterprise software vendors. When thinking about Co-opetition models, it’s important to notice that they can be fundamentally different from the perspective of large enterprise software company than from a startup. While well-established enterprise software vendors can implement Co-opetition mechanisms with other vendors without disrupting its fundamental business model, a startup can be banking its entire future in these type of partnerships.

While conceptually Co-opetition models might appear very compelling, there are a few elements I would recommend any startup to evaluate carefully before establishing a partnership with a competitor. Here are some of the most important ones:

What sides pull the most: Collaboration or Competition?

When entering in a partnership agreement with a competitor, you should very honestly determine which aspect of the relationship is more important to your company: collaboration or competition and if you are going to be able to separate the two. If beating your competitor carries more weight in the strategic plans of your startup then chances are that the partnership won’t be very effective.

Can you be a true partner to a competitor?

Partnerships are only effective if both sides can benefit from it. As a startup, you need to honestly determine if your company can be an effective partner to your competitor or if the relationship is only going to be conditioned to the competitive nature of both businesses.

How important is the partnership?

This might sound like a trivial question but it’s one that results difficult to answer honestly. While any partnership might result appealing as a startup, establishing a Co-opetition relationship with a competitor can result in more trouble that is worth. Is you have doubts if the partnership with a competitor is strategic to your startup, my advice would be avoid it and focus on discovering and building your core business model.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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