Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Book Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Practical. Insightful. Honest. I was highly impressed by Ben Horowitz‘s book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers.” This is a must-read for anyone interested in the business world – startup or not.

Ben does an excellent job of not just describing a series of events and points of recommendation but of illustrating the emotion behind the same. He does so in a very realistic fashion, as well. Reading the book, I felt as if I was experiencing a fraction of this emotion, appreciating both elated and dark moments. With his recommendations, Ben was not afraid to show both sides of an argument. His examples were not hypothetical or academic, but built on real experience, making the read much more enjoyable.

On top of the content value, Ben is also donating 100% of the book earnings to the American Jewish World Service.

I strongly recommend this book.

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Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Building a Corporate Culture

IMG_1249MasterCard opened an office in Manhattan this year. It’s not a bad space for a reinventing tech company. Right now we are in a temporary space which offers terrific views of downtown and both sides of the island (see pictures courtesy of my iPhone). The office is software and “innovation” focused – the teams in this office are working on cutting edge and/or high priority products and platforms, identical in mission to the final office that is scheduled to open before the end of the year.

One of the neat things about helping open a new space is that I have the opportunity to help shape the culture of the office. It is a unique opportunity normally reserved for organization founders or early members/employees. It is slightly different from a startup in that we are not just creating something from scratch or from previous experiences – we are creating a branch of an existing corporate culture. So how have we begun to do this? Two simple changes have made a significant difference:

IMG_1273The permanent space is open desk style, but even our temporary space is more open and clustered. This has lead to more conversations among employees in the office, which has helped break down any barriers that may have existed between technology and product teams. Collaboration has greatly increased among employees, even for projects not included in core responsibilities.

The office dress code is startup casual, though we certainly have some stragglers from headquarters who work in dress pants. For the most part, casual dress has lead to a less stressful environment. My hypothesis is that employees are more efficient if they are as comfortable as possible in their work environment. Anecdotally, the results in the office seem to support this.

We are in phase one of this cultural transformation, and I will certainly be writing more about it as we continue to build this office. Any tips or tricks to building a great work culture? Tweet at me with #culture, and let me know!

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Entrepreneurship, Leadership

The Key to Startup Success?

A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought the key to a successful startup was. Even though I’m involved in the entrepreneurship community and have heard many others speak on this topic, I wanted to make sure I gave him a thoughtful answer. I kept thinking of everything I’ve learned over my number of years engaged in entrepreneurship from both an operator and facilitator standpoint: Business Model Canvas, Learn Canvas, the importance of customer development, user experience design, etc. The one thing that kept sticking in my mind, however, is the need for great people. What I mean by this is leaders who have complementary skills with the ability to productively work in concert to accomplish a goal. There are several important parts of this definition:

Leaders – individuals who can inspire and enable the success of others. This includes the recruiting, training, and retaining of employees and cofounders.

Complimentary Skills – See previous post.

Productively Work in Concert – This doesn’t mean that founders have to cover favorite bands at the local coffee shop every night, but teams should have compatible working styles.

To Accomplish a Goal – Your end goal will change along the journey but whatever it changes to, the team must still work together to reach it.

Want your startup to have the best chance of success? Have the best team possible. You need only read the latest startup news in your favorite tech publications to see the impact this can have. By the way, this doesn’t just apply to the startup world: in any size corporation, the most fundamentally important asset is great people. Tweet at me with #startuphire, and tell me whether you agree or disagree!

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Community, Entrepreneurship

Other Side of the Island: Startup Weekend New Jersey

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I didn’t have to do much traveling to facilitate Startup Weekend New Jersey, but the amount of energy here would have certainly made a longer trip worth it. There were some great pitches on Friday night, and I’m excited to see these teams progress over this weekend and beyond. One in particular (that shall go nameless since they are still developing) is an app that, if developed, I would use immediately and every single day.

The space where this event is being held is very dynamic. If you’re a New Jersey company looking for coworking space, I definitely recommend checking out JuiceTank. Private, semi-private, and open space is available (with parking!!).

Startup Weekend is an organization that is focused on building entrepreneurship communities around the world. Now, we can add New Jersey to that long list. Looking forward to Sunday night pitches!

Be sure to follow the action on Twitter, or tweet at me directly.

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Community, Entrepreneurship

A Facilitator’s Journey: Startup Weekend Lancaster

That was quite the drive. But after hours of road time through the back hills of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I have arrived at the small city of Lancaster. As preparation to facilitate the Startup Weekend event this weekend, I learned how to correctly pronounce the city’s name. This is one of the smallest events I have been to with less than 40 people attending. The experience is great, just the same, though. Friday night pitches were creative, and I heard some fantastic ideas: everything from 3D printed coffee-top designs to a ride sharing app.

As of the time of this writing, the teams have coalesced into four (maybe five) teams, and are working hard to flush out their ideas and start some software and customer development. I am continuously impressed by the level of passion individuals bring to their work at Startup Weekend events, even if the idea isn’t originally theirs. Can’t wait for Sunday night presentations!

Follow some of the action on Twitter, and be sure to tweet at me with #startups. Go teams!

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Entrepreneurship

Which Corporate Life to Live

I have had a diverse set of work experiences in my professional life. I’ve done everything from individual consultant work, to startup work, to working in a small organization, to now working at a relatively large organization. From my perspective, here are a few culture benefits and disadvantages to each:

Consultant Work

Advantages: Responsible for yourself, work on your own schedule, only work on your interests

Disadvantages: Lonesome, not necessarily considered “part of the team,” terms are dictated to you, no traditional corporate benefits, no stable paycheck

Startup Work

Advantages: Your work matters ALOT, you are probably doing something you are passionate about, you will learn ALOT, potentially large financial upside

Disadvantages: Not many professional development opportunities outside your core job, your job is your life, no/little paycheck until (if) the business grows

Small Organization

Advantages: Stable paycheck, (usually) local impact, (usually) set work schedule, family of colleagues

Disadvantages: Few advancement opportunities, family of colleagues isn’t likely to change

Large Organization

Advantages: Stable paycheck, good benefits, (potentially) global impact, (usually) set work schedule, advancement/development opportunities

Disadvantages: Bureaucracy, segmented responsibility

The nice thing about careers is that they are not static. The real opportunity is for you to experience different types of organizations throughout your career, and choose the type of organization that best fits your lifestyle.

Tweet at me with #BOptions, and let me know what should be added or changed!

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