Posts from management

Tech Jobs For All Who Want Them

The tech sector is the fastest growing sector of the economy in NYC and around the US and around the world. The tech sector offers high paying jobs and a growing number of them.

But, as we all know, the tech sector lacks the gender and racial diversity that would allow everyone to benefit from this growing sector of the economy. Most of the studies that have looked at the lack of diversity point to a skills gap standing in the way.

So last year Tech:NYC (where I am co-chair) and a few large employers (Google, Verizon, Bloomberg LP) and the Robin Hood Learning and Technology Fund commissioned a study of the skills training programs in NYC to see where there are gaps and what must be done to close them so that tech jobs are available to everyone in NYC who wants one.

This report was done by the Center for an Urban Future and was released yesterday. You can read it here.

What the report reveals is that NYC has a rich and expanding ecosystem of tech skills training opportunities, including K-12 and adult education. But, as we all know, the quality is uneven and so are the outcomes.

The report makes twelve recommendations which are detailed here. They are:

1. Make a significant new public investment in expanding and improving New York City’s tech education and training ecosystem. 

2. Set clear and ambitious goals to greatly expand the pipeline of New Yorkers into technology careers. 

3. Prioritize long-term investments in K–12 computing education. 

4. Scale up tech training with a focus on programs that develop in-depth, career-ready skills. 

5. Build the pipeline of educators and facilitators serving both K–12 and career readiness efforts. 

6. Close the geographic gaps in tech education and skills-building programs. 

7. New York City’s tech sector should play a larger role in developing, recruiting, and retaining diverse talent. 

8. Increase access to tech apprenticeships and paid STEM internships through industry partnerships, CS4All, and the city’s current Summer Youth Employment Program. 

9. Expand efforts to market STEM programs to underrepresented students and their families. 

10. Develop and fund links from the numerous computer literacy and basic digital skills-building programs to the in-depth programs that can lead to employment. 

11. Expand the number of bridge programs to provide crucial new on-ramps to further tech education and training for New Yorkers with fundamental skills needs. 

12. Develop major new supports for the non-tuition costs of adult workforce training. 

I participated on the advisory board of this study and support all of these recommendations. Elected officials and policy makers in NYC (and really everywhere) should read and heed these recommendations.

The tech sector faces many headwinds in society right now for a host of reasons. Not all of them can be solved by an employee base that mirrors the planet. But many of them can be and we need to work to get there.

I want to thank the Center For An Urban Future, Tech:NYC, Robin Hood Learning and Technology Fund, Google, Verizon, and Bloomberg LP for giving us a roadmap on how to get there.

#economics#employment#enterprise#entrepreneurship#hacking education#hacking government#management#NYC#policy#Politics

Stack Today, Stack Tomorrow

Our portfolio company Stack Overflow (which I like to call Stack) is an Internet Treasure. My friend Mark Pincus introduced me to the concept of an Internet Treasure many years ago and I am a fan of the notion.

In my view, an Internet Treasure is a service on the Internet that is wide open, gets better when more people use it, and solves a need that many/all of us have. Wikipedia is an Internet Treasure. Quizlet is an Internet Treasure. Reddit is an Internet Treasure. And Stack is an Internet Treasure. There are many more out there but you get the idea.

Stack has a new leader and his name is Prashanth Chandrasekar. Prashanth wrote a “State of the Company” post yesterday on the Stack blog and I would like to highlight a few sections from it.

First, this is what an Internet Treasure looks like by the numbers:

Across Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network, we saw around 10 billion page views from 100+ million unique visitors over the course of 2019.

In 2019, Stack Overflow added over 2.8 million answers and 2.6 million new questions, with over 1.7 million new users joining the community. There are now over 18 million questions and 27 million answers on Stack Overflow, and over 150,000 people sign up for a Stack Overflow account each month, 12 years after we started.

Every day, users answer thousands of questions on topics like cloud technology, container orchestration, and machine learning. There is an ever growing trove of knowledge on Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure.

Our community members and volunteer moderators handled almost two million flags to keep inaccurate, abusive, unwelcoming, or inappropriate content off the site and in line with our updated Code of Conduct.

Hundreds of thousands of engineers leveraged the power of Stack Overflow for Teams to better collaborate and ship products faster.

Over 40,000 jobs were posted on Stack Overflow Jobs in 2019. We now have over 1,000,000 searchable profiles of developers who are interested in being contacted about a job on Stack Overflow Talent.

Almost a million developers found new and useful tools after seeing a company advertise on one of our sites. 

New leaders don’t want to sit still. They arrive, take measure of the people and the business, and then make big plans.

And this is how Prashanth is thinking about the future of Stack:

1/ Continue to invest in the community, insure that the Code Of Conduct evolves to mantain the trust and safety of the community, and broaden the number of developers who fully engage in a the community.

2/ Continue improve and invest in Stack Overflow For Teams which allows organizations to use the same tool for internal knowledge sharing as they use for external knowledge sharing

3/ Expand the Advertising and Talent offerings to offer developers easy access to new tools and new career opportunities.

4/ Build and expand the team so that the Company can be responsive to the needs of developers and move quickly to adapt as the developer ecosystem changes.

5/ Stay true to the mission of supporting the needs of developers and technical workers and help them succeed in their jobs and develop their careers.

I am excited to see Stack flourish under Prashanth’s new leadership. That’s what we should want for all of our Internet Treasures.

#management#Web/Tech

Grinding

It is tempting to search for the one magic move that will make everything better. A new VP of Sales. A new database layer in your tech stack. A new brand for your company. Moving everything to the cloud. More capital in the business.

But it is rarely one thing that a business needs to succeed. It is often a little bit of everything.

Back in the early days of Twitter, we could not keep the website and API up. We would hire advisors and they would recommend something new and we would try it and we would still go down. It was terribly frustrating and threatened the business.

During this period of instability, Twitter purchased a search engine called Summize. Summize was a small team of engineers, most of whom had come out of AOL.

After we cut the deal to acquire Summize, I asked Jack Dorsey, who was running Twitter at the time, how we planned to integrate the Summize team. He looked at me and said “we are not going to integrate them, they are going to integrate us.” And Jack made Greg Pass, Summize’s engineering leader, Twitter’s engineering leader.

It was interesting to watch Greg and the Summize team tackle the “fail whale.” Instead of searching for a magic solution, they instrumented the entire system and just started rebuilding every part that was about to break.

It was a slow and steady approach. It took time. But within six months (or thereabouts), we had a much more stable system. And after about a year of this approach, we had mostly said goodbye to the fail whale.

Grinding isn’t very satisfying. It is hard to stand up in front of everyone and say “we are going to fix things around here bit by bit with a lot of hard work.” Big flashy moves are an easier sell most of the time. But they don’t work nearly as well and are prone to complete and abject failure.

If given a choice between a flashy operator or a grinder, I will take a grinder every time. It is a much higher percentage bet. It requires faith and patience and the results are sometimes hard to see. But if you look at the results from grinding it out over a long enough time frame, you can see the power of that approach.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management

Cash Management In Startups

When I was in my mid-20s and had just gotten a job in venture capital, I read a piece on Alan Shugart, the larger than life founder of Seagate, one of the most successful disk drive companies. Alan was quoted as saying that “cash is more important than your mother.” That got my attention because mothers are really important.

Over the years, I have learned what Alan meant. Cash is everything in a startup. It is the fuel that keeps the car running. And startups fail largely because they run out of cash.

I was working with one of our portfolio companies yesterday on a cash forecasting model, a practice that I strongly recommend and appreciate greatly.

Forecasting cash is more art than science, particularly in a growing company where there are all sorts of unpredictable things (revenue, infrastructure costs, hiring pace, receivables, etc).

But like all practices, it is about the practice. You have to engage in cash forecasting, you have to engage in it regularly, you have to adapt to changing conditions on the ground, and you have to internalize the puts and takes and their impact on operations.

When a company gets mature in their business operations, has repeatable revenues, and has a strong balance sheet, you can run the business based on an annual plan or a semi-annual plan.

But early on in a company’s life, you are going to have to operate on an ever changing plan. If the revenues are coming in more slowly, you hire more slowly. If you want to wait another six months to raise more capital, you have to buy that time with changes to the operating model.

That is the back and forth between cash management/forecasting and operating. They go hand in hand.

It all starts with a cash forecasting model. It looks like a forward-looking profit and loss statement. But you do it on a cash basis. And you include balance sheet items like security deposits, equipment purchases, etc in it. Think of it as forecasting your checking account over the next year.

Once you have that, you need to engage in updating the model regularly and it is ideal to do that as a team, or at least with parts of the team, in the room. That makes it abundantly clear to everyone how operational decisions impact cash and runway.

I like a weekly cadence to this process and I like it to happen with the key senior leaders in the room. That may feel like wasting people’s time. But cash is more important than your mother in a startup, so managing it is never a waste of time.

#entrepreneurship#management

No Shenanigans

I was talking to a friend today about company values and how important they are but also how lame so many of them are.

I told him that some of my favorite company values come from our former portfolio company Twilio (which in the spirit of full disclosure I am still a large shareholder of).

Twilio’s founder and CEO Jeff Lawson gave a great talk on company values at USV a few years ago and explained how he approached them. This blog post (and audio post) is about a similar talk he gave at First Round.

Twilio’s company values are shown below:

My favorite of them is “No Shenanigans” which translates to “Be thoughtful. Always deal in an honest, direct, and transparent way.”

It is such a great value. It is memorable. It is broadly applicable. It is interpretable. And I can imagine team members running their decisions against it and getting a helpful result that guides them.

That is what company values are all about at the end of the day – helping people make decisions that everyone in the company will be proud of and supportive of.

Like most things that are incredibly valuable, values are not easy to get right, but they are worth investing a lot of time and energy in.

#entrepreneurship#management

Priorities

It is planning season when management teams work to develop the roadmap for the coming year.

The truth is that it is hard to do more than two or three big things at a time, no matter how large you are.

So it is important to put all of the things that the business needs or wants to do on the table and have a vigorous debate about them and then pick a few priorities to focus on.

Saying no to things that you really want to do is the telltale sign of a good planning process. Saying yes to too many things is the telltale sign of a poor planning process.

What makes this process particularly hard is that there are often a few things that the business has to do and there is no way to delay them. These must do efforts can often crowd out the should do projects and that leads to a lack of forward progress.

The lens through which I evaluate plans is as follows. First there should be a few well defined priorities. I like two or three but four can work. Five starts to be a problem. At least one and possibly two should be must do things the existing business requires and cannot be put off. And there should be at least one big new effort that will move the business forward.

Planning is so important. When you get the plan right, execution becomes so much easier. I have found that poor execution is most often a function of poor planning and trying to do too much without clear priorities. Even the strongest operators struggle in a situation like that.

#management

What You Do Is Who You Are

This past summer I read a proof of Ben Horowitz’s new book, What You Do Is Who You Are, and I even blogged about it here without naming the book.

What You Do is about culture, how you make it, how you keep it, and how the big decisions you make and how you explain them set the culture in your organization.

To explain this Ben tells the story of four different cultures that were set by strong leaders:

– the leader of the only successful slave revolt, Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture

– the Samurai, who ruled Japan for seven hundred years and shaped modern Japanese culture

– Genghis Khan, who built the world’s largest empire

– Shaka Senghor, a man convicted of murder who ran the most formidable prison gang in the yard and ultimately transformed prison culture.

https://www.amazon.com/What-You-Do-Who-Are/dp/0062871331/

These stories really make it clear how you set and keep your culture. You will come away from this book with a clear understanding of how your actions will set the culture in your company.

I read Ben’s interview with Connie Loizos and I like what he said here about why he wrote the book:

First, it was the thing that I had the most difficult time with as a CEO. People would say, ‘Ben, pay attention to culture, it really is the key.’ But when you were like, ‘Okay, great, how do i do that?’ it was like, ‘Um, maybe you should have a meeting about it.’ Nobody could convey: what it was, how you dealt with it, how you designed it. So I felt like I was missing a piece of my own education.
Also, when I look at the work I do now, it’s the most important thing. What I say to people at the firm is that nobody 10 or 20 or 30 years from now is going to remember what deals we’ve won or lost or what the returns were on this or that. You’re going to remember what it felt like to work here and to do business with us and what kind of imprint we put on the world. And that’s our culture. That’s our behavior. We can’t have any drift from that. And I think that’s true for every company.

So if you leading your company and you are thinking “ok, great, how do I do that?”, then go get this book and read it. I think you will come away with a much better understanding of what culture is all about.

#entrepreneurship#management

Principles Over Profit

I was pleased to see NBA Commissioner Adam Silver say this with respect to the controversy over Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of the protest movement in Hong Kong:

The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say. We simply could not operate that way.

The NBA faces the potential of a backlash in China that could impact the league’s business interests there.

That could reduce the profits of the league and players and owners.

But the NBA is putting principles over profits here and that is a good thing.

We have faced this issue a number of times over the years at USV and we have tried to do the same.

We have also been on boards of companies that have faced this issue over the years and we have advocated for this approach.

It is not an easy choice. Companies have employees to pay, families to feed, and customers to serve. And principles are not always shared by everyone and the lines are not always clear

But one thing is for sure. The search for profits can lead a founder, a CEO, a team, a Board, and a Company to forget their principles and that is never a good thing.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management

Why Positive Cashflow Matters

Venture backed companies have a strange relationship to positive cashflow. Because they have financial backers who can and do finance losses, they tend to operate in the red for a long time.

In the early days it makes sense to burn cash. If you do not have revenues, you can’t generate cash. And if you can’t grow your revenues without investing out ahead of income, then you also need to be able to operate in the red.

But I have often felt that this muscle memory of investing for growth at the expense of profits can become, and does become, a habit that is hard to break.

If you have positive cashflow, you can control the timing and terms of your capital raises.

If you have positive cashflow, you can buy back your stock if any comes into the market at prices that you and your Board feels is below fair value.

If you have positive cashflow, you can borrow against it to purchase other companies or finance capital requirements.

If you have positive cash flow you can offer cash incentive compensation in lieu of ever more expensive equity compensation.

I could go on, but I suspect you get the point. Positive cash flow puts you on control versus the capital markets.

And that is a very valauble position to be in and one that a number of high flying tech companies probably wish they were in right now.

#entrepreneurship#management