Leaders and Executives

I saw the news that Phil Libin has stepped up to Chairman and the Board of Evernote has hired Chris O’Neill to be CEO. I don’t know much about Evernote, I don’t use their product, but I admire the company and I like the idea of a founder leading a company without being its Chief Executive Officer. There are many examples of this working. The most well known is Larry Ellison’s role at Oracle. Larry doesn’t run the business on a day to day basis but his influence is felt deeply in that company. Another great example of this relationship is Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn.

Leadership is different than management. I have said that many times before on this blog and I will say it again. I believe it to be true. Leading is charisma, strength, communication, vision, listening, calm, connecting, trust, faith, and belief. Management is recruiting, retaining, delegating, deciding, communicating, and above all executing. Many CEOs do both for their companies. But getting leadership from the founder and management from a great executive is a model that can work really well.

The key to making this work is having the founder totally bought into the split roles and totally bought into the person who is going to be the executive and provide day to day management to the Company. In the leadership role the founder must step back and allow the executive to manage the business. They need to step in when leadership is required. That is usually when hard decisions are required and the founder’s instinct can be incredibly valuable.

A really good Board can help the founder and the executive figure out when management is required and when the founder’s leadership is required. But the Board cannot babysit this relationship. It has to work and be functional between the two people. If it is not, then someone has to go and that is usually the executive. That is because a founder’s leadership is hard to replace. A strong manager and executive is not easy to find but that talent exists in many places in the market and is not inexorably tied to the company because of the founding relationship.

If a founder can find their manager/executive inside of their company, that is ideal. Because going with a known relationship vs a brand new relationship produces a higher likelihood of success. But you don’t have to do this. Jeff Weiner was hired from outside of LinkedIn. And, I believe Chris O’Neill was hired from outside of Evernote. Both approaches can and do work. But if you have a strong manager/executive inside of your company, I would strongly suggest trying that. It is lower risk.

I have also seen a fair bit of talent churn out after the founder steps up to Chairman, particularly in the senior team. That’s a reason that many founders are nervous about doing this. My advice is to go ahead and do it. The first year of any new CEO’s tenure is going to be super hard and will require rebuilding the senior team, no matter what. But that can be healthy for a business too.

I admire Phil Libin’s conviction that he is not the right CEO for the next stage of Evernote. And I would encourage him to stay deeply involved in the company, providing the kind of leadership that only a founder can provide. And by supporting his chosen CEO who will need it in spades. I wish them both success in this transition.

Fundraising Tip: Don’t Send The Same Email To Two Partners At The Same VC Firm

Over the weekend I got an email from an entrepreneur wanting to come pitch his startup to USV. He copied my partner Andy on the email.

I immediately thought “I’m going to let Andy reply to this one.” But a couple days later the email still was sitting there in my inbox unreplied to. So then I thought “Andy is probably waiting for me to reply to this.”

Finally I shot Andy an email and we compared notes on it and then I replied to the email.

But it doesn’t always work out like that. I’ve seen a similar situation end with neither partner replying to the email and it goes unresponded to.

I call this situation email hot potato and entrepreneurs should avoid it by sending an email to only one partner at a VC firm, not two or more.

A good alternative is to send an email to one partner and copying an analyst at the firm as well. The analysts are the most diligent people in a VC firm about staying on top of inbound deal flow and they will often step in and reply to an email that a partner has missed or forgotten about.

The important thing here is to avoid confusing who has the responsibility to reply to the email by putting multiple responsible parties on it. While it would seem that it would increase the likelihood of getting a reply, it actually reduces it.

The No Hands Syndrome

Last week I saw this tweet from Dan Primack who covers the VC sector for Fortune:

I replied to it and I also mentioned it in a comment thread here at AVC recently.

Here’s what I can’t reconcile.

Bitcoin/Blockchain is one of the fastest growing sectors in startupland. Here’s a chart from VC Tom Tunguzblog.

fastest_growing_investment_categories

I know that measuring something using y/y growth rates can be misleading because of the small numbers involved. But Bitcoin is the fastest growing area in startup investing over the past three years.

And yet not one VC in a room full of them (90 of them) raised their hands when asked how many would invest in a bitcoin startup.

Maybe the distinction is bitcoin vs blockchain. I understand that. But bitcoin and blockchain are joined at the hip. You don’t get one without the other. So I’m still scratching my head.

But I do know one thing. When not one hand goes up in a room full of VCs, go there. It is going to be profitable.

Video Of The Week: Watching Videogames

I had a conversation with my son yesterday about watching games vs playing games. He told me he doesn’t watch a lot of videogame play on the web, but he has friends who are really into watching others play videogames.

Of course, this is not new. Amazon bought Twitch.tv for almost a billion dollars a year ago. And more and more people are watching others play videogames instead of or in addition to playing them.

Here’s an example of why:

Feature Friday: In App Advocacy

Web and mobile companies have been using their consumer facing apps to advocate for policies that they care about for a while now. Back in the PIPA/SOPA wars, Wikipedia, Tumblr, and a number of other high traffic apps went black and made a big impact on that debate.

Yesterday Uber added a De Blasio mode in NYC to their rider app.

no cars see why

Which takes the rider to this screen:

de blasio's uber

It will be interesting to see what impact this in app advocacy will have on the Uber debate in NYC.

The Mayor and his administration want a temporary hiatus on additional Uber drivers on the roads in NYC while they complete a congestion study to see what impact the massive influx of Ubers on the roads in NYC are having on traffic.

Uber is fighting this as hard as they can and using in app advocacy as one of their tools to amplify the political pressure.

While this is a smart move on Uber’s part, I am not sure it will work because the constituency that elected Mayor De Blasio is more of the subway rider crowd than the Uber crowd.

But NYC politics are complicated and Uber is working the system hard. And using in app advocacy to further their cause.

Bitcoin Trends In The First Half of 2015

Our portfolio company Coinbase published a “Bitcoin Trends” blog post yesterday. It’s a quick and interesting read.

Here are my two favorite charts from it:

I’ve said this before and I will say it again, the exchange price of Bitcoin is not the most important number to look at. The things to look at are transaction volume on the network and developer adoption. On these two metrics, Bitcoin seems to be doing quite well.

Getting Knocked Down

I recently had breakfast with a friend who is an entrepreneur. He had a really rough start to 2015. His business had a tough year in 2014 and he realized at the start of 2015 that if he didn’t make some big changes to the team and operating structure and costs he was going to hit the wall. He sort of did hit the wall to be honest.

He cut out a layer of management, he cut costs across his entire operation, he got back involved in his product and operations, he worked harder and longer than he has ever worked, including when he started the company.

And the result of all of those changes and work is that his business is now on much better footing and he has learned a lot about what the business needs to go forward and grow from here.

After he told me all of this, I told him that I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur who didn’t get knocked down in the ring at least once or twice. I told him that you can read all you want and get all the advice and coaching that is available and you still will not learn the hard lessons that one has to learn to become best in class at what you do. I’ve come to the conclusion that you have to learn some things the hard way to really learn them well.

At the end of the breakfast, I congratulated him. Not so much on getting through a rough spot in his business, but for getting knocked down and getting back up and winning the round. Because that is what you have to do to get better in life and in business.

The Gig Economy

Warning: This post touches politics. The comments will likely be incendiary and polarizing. Don’t go into the comments if you don’t want to be annoyed or irritated.

Many in the tech industry are taking these comments by Hillary Clinton yesterday as an ‘attack on Uber and the tech sector':

Meanwhile, many Americans are making extra money renting out a small room, designing websites, selling products they design themselves at home, or even driving their own car. This on-demand, or so-called gig economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation.

But it is also raising hard questions about work-place protections and what a good job will look like in the future.

The first example is Airbnb, the second example is oDesk, the third example is Etsy, and the fourth example is Uber.

My view on these comments is that Hillary is right. These companies are creating exciting new economies and unleashing innovation. And she is also right that these companies raise questions about work place protections and what a good job will look like in the future.

We should not be afraid of this discussion. We should embrace it and have it.

Can you be a freelance worker if you don’t own the data about your work and earnings history and be able to take it with you when you leave a platform or export it to a third party for optimization? Can you be a freelance worker if you are indentured to your employer because they loaned you the money to purchase the asset you are using to earn your income? I think the answer to both is obviously no. But there are companies who argue that it is yes.

Let’s have that argument. It is important and it is also a good idea to have a President who understands where the economy is headed and the significance of the policy issues raised by all of this.

I also really liked what she had to say about women and the workforce. The entire transcript of her remarks is here.

Founder Led Businesses

I’ve written about this issue a number of times on AVC. There are some advantages to having a non-founder run the business, but over the long run it seems that founder led businesses are the best businesses.

This rant about Apple by Bob Lefsetz is a fun read and regular readers will know that I am mostly in Bob’s camp on this issue.

The ending is great.

There’s a fiction that corporations rule in America.

The truth is it’s all about individuals. Sure, a group can effectuate the vision, but it always comes from one person, maybe a team of two, certainly not a committee.

Jeff Bezos is Amazon.

Mark Zuckerberg is Facebook.

Larry and Sergey are Google.

Daniel Ek is Spotify

Evan Spiegel is Snapchat.

Who is Apple?