Inner Game of the Startup CEO: mastering the secret challenges no one talks about (SxSW 2014)

Elite athletes must focus on more than physical training to win. Startup CEOs also have an inner game to master on the way to success.

The many hidden challenges to being a startup CEO aren’t talked about enough.

Among other things, you face repeated rejection; suffer failures small and large; complete overwhelm; deep self-doubt (if not outright depression); face seemingly impossible dilemmas, decisions and circumstances; and struggle with difficult relationships. At times you feel completely alone, like you’re the only one with these problems, and that there is no one you can talk to. You ask more than once, “am I crazy, or is this normal?”

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Why startup teams resist hiring a new leader, and what to do about it

angry mob

I’ve run across this situation with startup CxO coaching clients three times in the past week, so it felt like a good time to write about it…

Here is the scenario: You realize that you need to hire a more experienced leader for an existing team, and there is lots of resistance to making the hire: the team doesn’t see the value in bringing on someone more senior, they think it will ruin their existing freewheeling culture, or they are confused that you want to replace a leader who is well-liked (but not performing well).

Here is the deal: they often don’t know what a great leader would look, sound, or feel like, or what they would contribute to the team. Early hires tolerate uncertainty & chaos well, and value a lack of structure. To them, you are “ruining” a great thing. They have heard (or lived) the horror stories of bad managers, so they value strong individual contributors who can organize people around them reasonably well, and who primarily represent the core values & beliefs of the team. You, on the other hand, are looking for a solid people manager who will provide some more structure, accountability, & mentoring, who will contribute to a broader strategy and to the exec team, can act more autonomously, and who will balance the demands of the business with the needs of the team.

You’ve announced that the hire is underway, you’ve written a job description, and you’re bringing in candidates. The team interviews possible leaders, and because they can’t actually envision what a more skilled/senior leader would look like, they screen for what they would look for in a peer (ability to do the hands-on job of senior individual contributor is usually what they look for), and overlook the qualities that would make them a great leader: people skills, ability to lead a team in making a decision, planning, accountability, and collaboration with peers to solve complex company-wide problems. The post-interview meetings devolve into arguments about what you’re looking for, and you start questioning your sanity, especially if you haven’t hired for this role before. You feel like you’re totally wasting your time talking to the team that’s arguing about this, and you wonder if the drama will ever end…

The assumption that most drives people nuts about this one is that they dearly want it to be a collaborative process; they value getting the input & buy-in from those around them, and they can’t understand why the team won’t fall in line and help with the hire.

I can think of at least two paths to follow, both with pros and cons…

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Congratulations WordPress!

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Happy ten year anniversary!

As users of WordPress, we’re celebrating tonight at Blackbird Bar in San Francisco, one of many celebrations around the world.

Cheers!

6 Keys to Happiness When Your Startup is Acquired

Acquisitions aren’t easy, but they don’t have to be miserable. Here’s a guide for anyone at a company being acquired (most applies to acquirers as well).

Last week James Home and Marcy Swenson hosted a core conversation at SXSW on How to Be Acquired and Stay Happy. Wonderful smart people generously participated, sharing their experiences of what worked and didn’t in both sides of dozens of acquisitions of tech startups. (In a future post, we’ll summarize the unique issues for founders and the executive team leading up to acquisition.) With the market shift in startup exits from IPOs to acquisitions, learning to do it well and happily is important to anyone at a startup.

Interestingly, the entire conversation focused not on business integration or strategy but on human integration. We think the strategy may be less important than the people and how they run with it.

Here are the six keys… Continue reading

How to Be Acquired and Stay Happy (Startup Happiness at SxSW 2012)

We’re proud to have both been asked to lead sessions at SxSW 2012, and look forward to seeing you in Austin starting tomorrow! Dale had to decline his panel this year due to scheduling snafus, but Marcy’s looks like it will be standing room only again (like 2011′s Agile Self-Development)…

Come and share your happy acquisition success stories!

Often company acquisitions that seem like a great idea result in disappointment, a mass exodus, the technology being tossed aside, and hard feelings on both sides. But every once in a while, an acquisition results in the team feeling like they got a big win, not just financially, but that it moved their product and careers forward in a way that would have taken them much longer otherwise.

How to Be Acquired and Stay Happy: Marcy and friend James Home, Product Designer, Google (through its acquisition of MetaWeb), lead a Core Conversation about acquisition success stories.  The goal is to draw out what worked well, and provide those looking to be acquired with some guidelines to what to watch for and how to pull it off happily.

Get there early to get a seat and join the conversation; we look forward to seeing you in Austin this week!

Friday, March 9, 3:30-4:30pm, Courtyard Marriott, Rio Grande Ballroom

#sxsw #StayHappy

Why values? because otherwise, it’s all about money

“Values are the foot you leave on the floor when you pivot.” – Eric Ries

This was Eric Ries’ response earlier this month, when I asked him if he had any thoughts about company values. I love the mental picture this creates; of a team with one foot planted so solidly in their values that they can use that as an anchor when making a decision about where to go next when they realize that customers don’t love their product, or when their business model isn’t working.

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The Happy Movie (and why startup folks should see it)

Director Roko Belic with Marcy and Dale

We don’t usually blog about movies, but wanted to recommend The Happy Movie (playing in San Francisco at the Roxie theater through the end of next week, free screening tomorrow night). We met Academy Award nominated director Roko Belic, who spent five years journeying around the world researching the question “what makes people happy?”

The movie looks in on people around the world (Calcutta, Okinawa, Lousiana, Bhutan, and more!), and demonstrates by example and through research that the people who are the happiest are not the people who are focused on external motivations (money, fame & social status), but rather internal motivations (relationships, community, helping others). The movie did an especially good job of highlighting how powerful it is to have a tight-knit family or group of friends.

It also points out that the happiest people are the highest functioning.  In other words, make sure you’re happy to make sure you’re performing at your best.

Startup founders who are able to continue putting value on intrinsic motivations (relationships, community, and helping others) are more able to weather the fickle storms of fame and fortune, and remain happy throughout the process, regardless of whether their company somedays files for an IPO, closes its doors, or anywhere in between.

The movie is worth seeing; hope you like it, and would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy – A Documentary Trailer from Wadi Rum Films on Vimeo.