Posts from management

Six Months Later

In early June, I wrote this post explaining that I and we need to do more to reduce the inequality issues for Black people in tech, venture capital, and startups.

I think MLK day is a good time to talk about what has happened since that post.

We have identified a number of areas where we must do better:

  • Increase the number of Black founders we back
  • Increase the number of Black team members at USV
  • Increase the number of Black VCs we work with and support
  • Increase the number of Black board members in our portfolio
  • Increase the number of Black leaders in our portfolio
  • Increase the number of Black employees in our portfolio
  • Increase the number of Black engineers in our portfolio
  • Increase the number of Black investors in our funds
  • Increase the number of Black college graduates going into tech, venture capital, and startups
  • Create pathways for Black students to study STEM and find their way into careers in tech, venture capital, and startups

We have ongoing projects, workstreams, investments, and efforts in each and every one of these areas and we have made tangible progress in almost all of them.

I believe that the inequity issues are so severe and deeply rooted that it will take a concerted effort over a number of years to truly erase them.

But we are making progress and if we keep at it, across many dimensions, we can get where we need to go. Roughly 15% of Americans are Black. Until we can look around the room and see at least one Black person for every six in the meeting, we haven’t done enough. Today is a good day to remind ourselves of that and recommit to the work that needs to happen.

#employment#entrepreneurship#management#VC & Technology

The Work-Life Balance Revolution

Yesterday, I had a gap in the middle of the day. So the Gotham Gal and I took an hour-long walk with our dog Ollie. It cleared my head and when I got back to work, I was full of energy and clarity.

I’ve been working exclusively from home since the end of November 2019 when we left NYC to go to LA. It has been a stretch of incredible productivity for me.

I am not arguing against going back to the office. As I’ve said in many posts recently, I can’t wait to go back to the office. But I am sure that many of us have had the same experience that I have had working from home during the pandemic. It has its advantages.

And in that realization exists the possibility that we are on the cusp on a revolution in how many of us can find work life balance going forward.

My friend Tom wrote this post last week suggesting that a husband and wife can now work a total of 50 hours a week between them and have two full-time jobs and raise a family. This part sums up the idea pretty well:

Why do I think 25 hours/ week is the equivalent of a 50-hour week (counting commuting)?

Given a nine-to five schedule with an hour for lunch, the 40 hour work week was only 35 to begin with.

As an ex-CEO, I think that at least ten hours of each workweek go to socialization, surfing the internet, checking with the spouse or checking up on the children, chatting on smartphones etc. (Mary thinks only five).

Meetings and travel to meetings waste a huge amount of time and money. One reason that Zooming appears not to have reduced productivity is that many of the meetings weren’t productive to begin with.

Office space and often parking are expenses to the employer but they are not income to the worker. If office space and all its attendant costs can be drastically reduced, employers can afford to pay more dollars in salary for the same productivity.

Commuting expense including perhaps even the second car, daycare, clothing and dry-cleaning bills, and paid before and after school activities whose purpose is to supervise school age kids are all expenses which go away when parents can work from home. Even if the WFH employee has less gross taxable income, he or she will have more cash at the end of each month.

https://blog.tomevslin.com/2021/01/newnormal-the-50-hour-family-work-week.html

Even if Tom is off by a bit with his math, he makes a terrific point. Companies can ask for less of a family’s time, pay them more, and get the same amount of work done using the techniques we have perfected during the pandemic.

I realize that not all jobs lend themselves to this approach. But maybe more than you think. Take doctors. We used to have to go see doctors in their offices. Now with digital health services like those offered by our portfolio companies Brave and Nurx, the doctors are seeing the patients from their homes (or wherever they are).

Teaching is another occupation that presents a lot of opportunity to rethink time and location. Many teachers have been learning how to help their students master new things from their kitchen counters over the last year.

I want to say it again. I am not suggesting that we won’t be going to offices anymore. I am not saying doctors won’t have offices anymore. I am not saying teachers won’t be in classrooms anymore.

What I am saying is that we can and should be asking how much of our work time needs to be in person, face to face, and how much can be virtual. And I am certain that we will be asking that. In our year-end reviews at USV, we heard again and again from our team that they wanted to ask those questions. They should. Commuting and business travel are not the necessities they were last century.

And, naturally, this coming work-life balance revolution presents tremendous opportunities for new products, services, and companies. We have been seeing many of them crop up over the last year and have invested in a few of them.

From bad comes good. This pandemic and all of the things that have come with it has been awful. But I believe it will unleash all sorts of new behaviors and businesses that will be for the better. If you squint, you can see them coming.

#climate crisis#economics#employment#enterprise#entrepreneurship#Family#hacking education#health care#management#VC & Technology

Cliff Vesting

It is very typical that options and RSUs that are issued to new employees upon joining a company will have “one year cliff vesting.” This means that the first year of vesting into your options or RSUs will not happen until you have completed one entire year. After that vesting usually happens quarterly or monthly.

I am a fan of cliff vesting because if either the employee or the company made a mistake and the employment ends quickly, no equity has been spent on it.

But there are a couple of caveats that come with cliff vesting that I think should be understood by everyone.

The first is that while the letter of the agreement will say that the first year of vesting is not earned until the anniversary of the grant, if employment is terminated by the employer for anything other than cause within a few weeks or even months of the first anniversary, some accommodation should be made for the vesting upon termination. It is hard to put this in writing for a whole host of reasons, but best practice is for the employer to make some adjustment if the termination is close to the cliff vesting date.

The second point is that many companies include a cliff vesting provision in retention grants. These are grants that existing employees get to supplement the sign-on grant and help with longer-term retention. I do not believe it is appropriate to put cliff vesting into retention grants. The very fact that an employee is getting a retention grant suggests that the match has been a good one for both the employee and the employer and that the cliff provision is not necessary.

Many companies, particularly younger companies without experienced and sophisticated HR organizations, don’t understand these nuances and don’t factor them into their equity compensation programs. That is a mistake and it harms both the employees and the employer because a fair and equitable equity compensation program is of great value to a company.

#entrepreneurship#management

Bolster Your Management Team And Board

I have had the great pleasure of working with Matt Blumberg and the senior leadership team of USV’s former portfolio company Return Path (which was sold in 2019) for much of the last twenty years. Matt and many members of his leadership team got the band back together early this year and started a new company called Bolster in partnership with Silicon Valley Bank and the early-stage VC firm High Alpha. A few months later, USV joined that investor group along with our friends at Costanoa.

Matt is a great CEO and has even written a book about leading and growing a company called Startup CEO. Their new company Bolster is all about scaling and building a great management team for your startup. The Bolster team believes that scaling a high growth company means that you need to adapt, grow, and supplement your management team continuously along the way. And a big part of doing that is accessing “fractional talent” which means people that don’t work for your company full-time and permanently. All of this is outlined in the Bolster Founding Manifesto which explains why they started this company.

Fractional talent can be a fantastic independent board member, fractional talent can be a CFO mentor for your VP Finance that you want to grow into a great CFO, fractional talent can be a VP Product that can cover for your VP Product while they are on family leave, fractional talent can be a part time Chief Revenue Officer that you want to “date before you get married”, fractional talent can be a part time Head Of Insights that will allow you to understand if you need a full-time Head Of Insights. I could go on and on because there is no end in sight for the various ways a CEO can leverage fractional talent to make their company and their management team better.

Bolster came out of stealth and into a beta period today and is opening up its marketplace to companies that want to access fractional talent and to executives who want to work at high growth companies in interim, fractional, advisory, or board roles. Bolster also will allow venture capital firms and startup investors to participate in its platform as super users. If you are any of the above and want to engage with the Bolster network, you can sign up here. The full marketplace will launch soon.

We have already introduced Bolster to a bunch of USV portfolio companies and the enthusiasm for this model is really high. I love the idea of USV investing in a company that can help our portfolio companies do things better. We have done that before with Twilio, MongoDB, Carta, Sift, and a host of other companies. It’s a double whammy and it pays off in so many ways.

#entrepreneurship#management

Pay and Precedent

We are finally in an era where an equal role comes with equal pay. This is a very good thing but it comes with some hard lessons. One of them is about pay and precedent.

You cannot make a hire and a compensation commitment without thinking very deeply about the precedent you are setting.

Let’s say your company is now fifty people and you can see that you will need to be a hundred and fifty people in a couple years. You decide it’s time to build a proper senior leadership team. And you want to start with a CTO. That first “C level” hire will set a precedent for what you should be prepared to pay (in cash and in equity) for all of your C level hires. You do not have to pay every C level executive the exact same amount but they need to be in a band and I would argue that they need to be in a tight band. And there needs to be a strong rationale for the compensation for each role.

Let’s say you are bringing on your first independent director and that person is so great and you want to give them a very generous equity grant. You can do that but you should know that you ar setting a precedent for what the next independent director will get.

Let’s say you want to bring on a mentor and advisor for your VP Finance to help her “level up” to a CFO. That advisor will want and should get some equity compensation. What you do for that advisor will set a precedent for all other advisors you bring on.

Many times I hear founders say “this is good enough for now and we can fix it later.” But fixing compensation issues later can be very hard and sometimes impossible, particularly if your company significantly increases in value between the problem you want to fix and when you need to fix it.

These are some of the most painful errors you can make in a startup. It is very important to be thoughtful, diligent, and precise in your compensation decisions and approach and you have to start early in a company’s life. Getting a strong and experienced head of people onboard early on will help you avoid these issues. And trust me, you want to avoid them.

#entrepreneurship#management

Reviewing The CEO'S Performance

The CEO is an interesting case when it comes to performance reviews. They manage an entire company and they specifically manage the senior leadership team. They do not have a single reporting supervisor. They report to a Board. And that Board may, like the team they manage, have differing views on their performance.

Also, some executives are strong at managing down but weak at managing up. And the reverse is often true, where an exec is great at managing up but weak at managing down.

A failure mode I have seen in CEO reviews is when a Board thinks a CEO is doing well but they are not and that CEO gets a strong review. I’ve seen the opposite when a CEO manages up poorly but down well and they receive a weak review from the Board.

Given all of that, this is what I have learned to do.

1/ Schedule a CEO review cycle with a regular frequency and stick to it.

2/ Review compensation at the same time that performance is reviewed. If performance is reviewed more than once a year it is fine to only review compensation on the annual review cycle. Do not review compensation without doing a performance review at the same time.

3/ Have a third party (a CEO coach or some other skilled facilitator) interview all of the CEO’s direct reports and all of the Board members.

4/ I like to have the facilitator interview the direct reports first and provide that data to the Board prior to interviewing the Board members. This ensures that the CEO’s performance inside the Company informs and colors the Board members’ feedback. This is the best way I have learned to mitigate the “manage up well, manage down poorly” issue.

5/ The third-party facilitator compiles a review report and shares it with one or more Board members. If there is a Board Chair, she should be part of this part of the process.

6/ The Chair and possibly one other Board member (the Comp Chair if there is one) meet with the CEO, go over the performance review in detail, and then address compensation in light of the review.

This is a time intensive process and must be done thoroughly and with care. The stronger and more experienced the third party facilitator is, the better. You cannot skimp on this work. It might be the single most important thing a Board does on an annual basis.

Feedback is so important to ensure that a leader develops in the role and functions at a high level. In my experience, CEO feedback is often an afterthought because no single person owns the responsibility. If there is a Board Chair, she owns this. But otherwise, it can be a shared responsibility that falls through the cracks.

As Board members, we can’t let that happen. We owe it to the CEOs we work with to give them clear, regular, and accurate feedback. And this process (above) works well to do that.

#management

Working Virtually

Many of us have been working from home or some other remote location for over three months now. We have learned a fair bit about this approach to work and we have more to learn in the coming months. I don’t think we will be done with remote work until the pandemic is over.

It has taught me three conflicting things:

1/ I can be a lot more productive working remotely than many of us believed before the pandemic

2/ Those with kids at home don’t experience the same productivity boost

3/ I can’t wait to be back working together in person

On the first point, I am able to get a lot more done in a day working remotely than I am able to do in the office. I now regularly do days with ten to twelve meetings/calls/videos. I don’t think I was able to do that in the office.

I have also found it easier to find time for work that requires a lot of focus (writing/modeling/analyzing/etc).

And I’ve been much better at keeping my inbox and other communications up to date and current.

And I can do all of that while making time to go biking, do yoga, meditate, etc.

It is a revelation to me how productive I can be working remotely, particularly when our entire team is doing the same.

All of that said, my friends and colleagues with kids at home have not experienced the same productivity boost. They get some of the benefits of working from home, but they also face distractions, double duty, and more. If we cannot reopen schools in the fall, it is going to be a very challenging time for parents.

It is also the case that I miss the feeling of being together with my colleagues. Today we will spend four to five hours on Zoom in our weekly team meeting. It is way more enjoyable doing it in person around our conference table.

Reconciling these conflicting realizations will be the key to what happens when the pandemic ends. I am certain that we will all want to retain some of the convenience and productivity that comes with working remotely. But I am equally certain that we will want to work together again.

#Current Affairs#management

Board Diversity

This is a topic of great importance and one that we in the tech/startup sector have not done a good job with. We wait until a company is ready to go public and then address it. While that is better than nothing, it is not good enough.

The board diversity problem is a symptom of a much broader problem around lack of diversity in founders that get funded and lack of diversity in VC firms. Most startup boards are made up of a few founders and a few VCs. No wonder you have no diversity on the board.

Here are some suggestions for addressing this situation. I am working on this in my portfolio and USV is working on this in our broader portfolio. We are not control investors so this is a process of advocacy and persistence. This post is a part of that effort.

1/ When a startup board is created, there should be two independent seats on it. Day one. I know that will mean that founders will be unable to control their boards early on but these “independent seats” can be nominated by the founders to allay those concerns. And founders should put diverse people (gender, race, life experience, etc) into these independent seats.

2/ VCs should accept observer seats instead of board seats when they invest in companies. Boards don’t need three or four VCs on them. One is often enough. Two maximum. Instead VCs should negotiate for an observer right and the ability to nominate an independent director. And they should nominate diverse people for those seats.

3/ There should be term limits on board seats. Nobody and no investor should have the right to sit on a board forever. I could argue that in some situations, the founder might be the exception to this statement. That does not mean a valued board member should step down. That valued board member can always be asked to serve another term. What term limits do is raise the question about whether a person is the ideal board member for the company for the next few years. Often the answer is no.

4/ We need more resources like The Board List, Athena Alliance, and ELC to surface great board candidates. One of the many problems with boards that aren’t diverse is that they are not well connected to diverse candidates.

5/ We must commit to addressing this issue and make it a priority. Board development in general is not a high priority for founders. They are rightly focused on their company, their products, their customers, and enormous challenges of building a business from scratch. But boards are important. They need to be a priority and a diverse board is a better board for everyone. So we need to increase our efforts here.

Ten years ago the the tech/startup/venture industries started to make gender balance a priority in management teams, boards, and the venture capital industry. While we are not where we need to be, we have made good progress. We can do the same with diversity across the board. We can use the same approaches and the same persistent approach to the issue.

I am committed to making this a priority with the founders and companies I work with and I hope that all of you will too.

#entrepreneurship#management#VC & Technology

Leading Virtually

Most (all?) of our portfolio companies have been working remotely for over three months now. So have we at USV.

The initial experience with remote work has been mostly positive. The typical comment has been “we are doing a lot better than I expected.” Productivity is up in some places, down in some places, but overall our portfolio companies have adapted to the remote work model quickly and well.

But three months in with no end in sight is starting to wear on companies and I am sensing that the challenges are mounting. The trio of crises we are experiencing; a public health crisis, an economic crisis, and a racial injustice crisis, has everyone on edge and overwhelmed.

Leading a company in this time is very hard. My job mostly entails talking to our portfolio company leaders and I am hearing that they are yearning to be able to walk the halls, look people in the eyes, stand in front of the team, and talk to them face to face. But that is not happening any time soon.

So leadership in this moment means giving everyone a sense of belonging, letting them know they are being heard and that they are valued, and doing that via Zoom, Slack, email, and other software tools. This is uncharted territory for most leaders.

Here are a few things I am hearing that are working for some:

  • More frequent short checkins with the entire team
  • One on ones with people you don’t normally do one on ones with (skip one or two or three levels)
  • Leaning harder on the leadership team to help lead the company
  • Giving more time off to the team (shorter days, shorter weeks)
  • Celebrating more (birthdays, anniversaries, accomplishments, ship dates, etc)
  • Being yourself

I am curious to hear from all of you on what else is working in this challenging time. Please reply below with the “Discuss On Twitter” button and share with me and everyone else. And if you’d like to see everyone’s suggestions, you can click on the “View Discussions” button.

#Current Affairs#management

Leadership Has A Price

We’ve been watching the ESPN series The Last Dance along with something like 6mm other fans who are watching it right now. It is a reminder of how dominant Michael Jordan was in the 90s and what a special player he was.

I woke up thinking about the last three minutes of episode 7 which dropped last night.

Michael is asked if his intensity has come at the expense of being perceived as a
“nice guy.”

He gets pretty emotional and says “Winning has a price and leadership has a price. I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled, I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. I earned that right.” … “Once you joined the team, you lived at a certain standard that I played the game. I would not take anything less.” … “One thing about Michael Jordan is that he never asked anyone to do anything that he didn’t do.”

It’s a great piece of television and captures the essence of the man, how competitive he is, and how emotional he is about it all.

It also captures the burden of leadership and what is required to get everyone to commit to each other and be the best that they can be. Leadership is not being liked. Leadership is being respected and followed.

And the last three minutes of episode 7 capture that so well.

#management