Reading Time: ~ 8 min.
A few good links before we jump into the goodness:
- Open source Clubhouse. Clerihew. Atlanta + AirBNB. Prototyping.
- Leading w/o managing. Relentless optimism. Commenting, making.
- Calvin & Hobbes search engine. Vetocracy. Why I left Google.
- Bezos in 23 letters. I’m not a super-fan of Elon but I do love this.
- Healing powers of community. More Clubhouse. Community
- Eventually, inevitably, there won’t be a difference. Organized lightning.
- Comm marketing framework. BTC @ $100. Not bad product advice.
- Chief Community Officer == New Chief Marketing Officer? No.
- Experience websites? What. 3rd acts. Product analytics.
- People, process, product, and then profit. Furry Lisa. Mark.
To infinity & community,
In yesterday’s issue I shared a link to Ben and Marc’s candid chat on leadership, technology, culture, and a handful of other fascinating and true stories of what it’s like being a startup founder.
Absolutely riveting. In fact, this is the 4th time I’ve listened to it in the last few days and the reason I’ve done this is because I feel as if they are speaking directly to me; they deeply empathize with what it’s like being an early-stage founder, especially one with the additional pressures of family and venture capital!
They. Fucking. Know.
Hell, I even bought every book they mentioned on the show that I didn’t already have:
And as digital and distant mentors it’s been nothing-short of therapeutic to hear them talk honestly about real shit. And I wanted to share some of my notes with you all, as you know I do.
You should, of course, listen to the original but here are my personal notes and reflections from two men that I admire from afar.
The open by taking questions and answers from the community.
Layoffs break trust, how does Ben view long-term traumatic impact of this period on organization and leadership?
When you’re the CEO and founder, people are nice to you and you’re the boss; you can take that too far and they may not actually like you as much as you believe.
When you lay people off you break trust which breaks communication. Trust is the essential ingredient of any organization; trust is highly relate to communication. If I trust you entirely then I barely have to talk to you. And if I don’t trust you at all then you can talk to me all day long and I won’t listen to what you have to say.
When you lay people off, the first job is to restore trust. In fact, if the layoffs don’t break your company, your inability to re-establish trust might be the company or community’s downfall.
Why this matters in COVID is because you can hire / fire and join / leave a company by just “logging off” from one company and “logging into” another. This creates a new, fundamental dynamic for relationship-building within a larger organization and culture.
It is now possible, post-COVID, to build a company and startup in entirely different ways. COVID has given leaders a “get out of jail free” card for resetting and restructuring the organization — might as well use it.
- Trust is everything in a community and organization. Anything that breaks it must be fixed or re-established.
- COVID has been a forcing function and a rare opportunity to “reset” the business and culture in many different ways; use it as a justifiable excuse to attack or think through things differently.
- Leaders and CEO can’t “hide from the future” — you have to understand how to create a competitive advantage for yourself, your biz, and your community. Work-from-home is changing everything.
- The way we think about loyalty has changed; career development has changed and the way that employees and community members think through their commitment to the brand and company.
- When you fire or quit pre-COVID, it used to be “a thing” but now it’s not because of Zoom and work-from-home. How do you make sure you can build-in community and relationship strength from the get-go? Perhaps a better and more solid onboarding / training plan into the organization because of the increased fluidity of employees.
What is one thing that First-Time Founders always miss?
First-time founders don’t know what they are supposed to do but they feel as if they are supposed to know what they are supposed to do. Consequently, they aren’t getting the help they really need and they are aren’t asking.
First-time founders almost always mess up executive hiring and adding folks into the leadership team without knowing what those roles actually mean and do (I know what this is like).
Some folks are capable enough of being a solo-founder but Marc would never want to do that. It’s harder because you’re “living in your head” and you don’t have that natural “sounding board” that you get from your cofounders.
Most startups and new projects start where you don’t know much about your cofounder, really. You don’t have context about who they are and how they behave when there’s a lot of pressure. This is where the problems really begin (and possibly end).
Ben shares a quote via Bushido:
In ordinary times, matters of character cannot be determined. But when something happens, all is revealed.Ben Horowitz
- Most startup failures (1000 to 1 according to Marc) it is (almost) always founder relationships!
- Founder vesting (re-vesting and refreshing stock options) are important if you’re running a venture-backed company as you grow / scale through the rounds. The emotional “weight” of cofounders who have left but still own a large chunk of the company can be very tough.
- Tread very carefully if you’re going to solofound a company or if you’re going to cofound a company! Think and talk through ownership, how things will run and operate, and find ways to test-drive your partner in tough situations. Don’t avoid the important convos!
Is there any observable difference between founders who have 10X vs 1000X?
The founders have a few common characteristics:
- Unlimited determination
- Extreme courage
You have to be willing to walk away from a ton of money, over and over and over again. For the second, you have to be willing to go through a ton of hardship and pain and heartache to survive.
You have to calibrate a rare combination and balance between control and scale. The “output of the company is the output of the CEO” is what Marc says. You have to be okay with things being “broken” in your organization and yet you have to be “urgent” to get those things fixed.
- Obsess over the details but find ways to delegate out both the task and the responsibility.
- Know that if you want to go for a bigger outcome, you’ll have to spend more time on the project.
How do you think about neuro-atypical founders? Like autism, ADHD, etc?
Ben’s daughter is on the spectrum so he’s given this quite a bit of thought. There are a distribution of nervous systems and there are norms and divergent characteristics.
At a16z, they don’t rule anyone out who may have these challenges but they have to be “functional” and be able to run a company. On a personal note, I am on the spectrum and have a number of disorders that make life extremely difficult at times.
But, I have found ways (and systems) to not just survive but also thrive! I can have a growing and healthy family (with 3 kids!) and a marriage that is deepening, despite the growing challenges of life and the startup. So grateful for folks who have “bet on me” over the years and haven’t overlooked me because of these characteristics.
Views on content creation (text, audio, video) and how the world is changing based on these new types?
For Marc, oral cultures are social and emotional in-nature, family and tribal-centric and about establishing very strong bounds (inherently religious) and pass through generational lines. This might be called “pre-rational” in one sense. Then the Printing Press changed things.
Music is a classic expression of “oral culture” via encoding history through lyrics, poems, and “dense information packing” through the formats. For Marc, he thinks we are headed back into a more oral culture.
For Ben, he quotes Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message.” Music is cultural transmission. The thing that musicians are after are “the feeling”; and how one creates or anchors a new feeling (in themselves or their audience).
As a consequence, it drives and represents the culture of the time.
- Anything that is memorable is powerful. It’s what ultimately survives the test of time, especially if they are simple.
- Take note of the changes of the medium (shorter forms, faster movements into emotion and sentiment) as well as the relationship on friends and connections.
How do you structure your days to avoid burnout?
Ben: I avoid burnout.
But, for Ben, it’s all about routine. He starts his day thinking about what the day is going to bring and not in email or correspondence. Ben goes through his calendar and asks himself a simple question: “Why am I excited about this (meeting)?” and if he’s not, he cancels it.
For Marc, he’s borrowed from Arnold Schwarzenegger, and you can read his larger essay here.
You really have to up-level and figure out what’s important. I usually take a good hour to look at what I’ve been doing. It’s basically figuring out the threshold for “yes” versus “no”.
I try to revise that about once a year. Also about once a year, I rewrite my personal plan. I just write from scratch what I’m actually trying to do and my goals and then line up the activities that are below that.Marc Andreessen
Do you believe in “gut instinct” and give examples?
For Ben, he definitely believes that gut instinct exists and it’s very useful. A lot of it comes down to synthesizing a ton of information from many different places and it accumulates in your nervous system as a feeling. When Ben had things broken in your company he would get physically ill; he would just know it in his gut.
I can personally attest to this as well; I just knew that something was wrong and it’s oftentimes hard to communicate or articulate why. But, finding partners that can be trusted, despite the ability to justify it (outside of a gut feeling) is rare and important.
For Marc, you’re talking to people all the time and you composite a judgement from all of that information; the summation. People start in this place and they move from making decisions based on 1,000 pieces of information and now they are making the same decisions based on 10, so this is something to notice and work against actively.
- You have to make sure that you maintain the foundation of information throughout your entire tenure in a project, community, or business.
- Maintaining customer interviews throughout your entire process is very important and can keep you on-track with what’s really happening.
- Staying close to your community / customers is everything.
How does one “future proof” oneself, especially in college?
Ben: You need to learn how to think and becoming more sophisticated about many more topics. College is a great place to meet and interface with a ton of different cultures and perspectives; take advantage of that!
Marc: The intersection of computer science and every other industry has already happened. Take advantage of any computer science classes because these skills can be applied in every field in the future. It’s not just about coding; it’s about how to think about the world from a technological perspective and learning skills that are oftentimes associated with it.
Code can take theoretical concepts into real-world things, but code is just one very, very small part of it.
How does one have a great partnership / cofounder relationship?
Marc: You have to want the partnership more than you want to be
right”. That’s the most important.
Ben: You need folks who like you but don’t like you enough to not hurt your feelings. You need to be able to tell challenge one another on real things, “core” things without the relationship imploding or coming apart. If this is true, then, you know the relationship is truly valuable because it’s making the business better (and you better in the process).
Mutual respect, all the things. There is, of course, more to the podcast but you’ll have to listen to it yourself! Finally, here are the books mentioned in the chat:
Have a great week folks!