Leveraging The Endowment Effect
Why individuals or teams that think their projects are the most important, can be excellent and incredibly damaging at a growing company

February 11, 2018
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter | My Favorite Books

In business, the endowment effect means that someone thinks that his or her work, project, or deadline is what’s most important and must be resourced and prioritized as such. This is often discussed as a detriment, because it’s seen as erroneously overly-valuing or inflating the significance of work, by those tasked with it--the implication being that, to those who don’t own the work in question, it’s moderately important at best, maybe even inconsequential.


This is wrong-headed and is actually a straw man, concealing a much more fundamental issue. The work being done is only trivial if there is either lack of oversight or poor communication and alignment of company objectives.


Previously, I’ve laid the task of ensuring that people are moving in the same direction squarely on the shoulders of excellent operators. This accounts for the oversight necessary to leverage the prime advantages of the endowment effect. If a great leader (or team of leaders) is directing the daily activity at a company, getting buy-in and making clear why what’s being done is what needs to be done, people believing that their work is of the utmost importance, is true.


In this setting, people will be inspired to hold themselves to high standards because, why would anyone ever do a really haphazard or crappy job at something wildly important? Want to be a first-rate leader? Ensure your people and teams are doing the most important work consistently, and the endowment effect will undoubtedly amplify the output (if you’ve hired the right people, of course).


I’ve also made the case for centering corporate alignment around a mission, values, and clear company goals. In support of the above (or in exchange for the above if you’ve hired an entire company of smart creatives and operators), continuously communicating and making known what the most important goals for the company are, will exploit the shiny side of the endowment effect.


To be abundantly clear, by communicate, I mean that this should be in the most direct, unambiguous, loud, and varied way possible. Do you have ten different vehicles for people to share information at your company? For this critical information, repeat it on every one of those ten mediums. It’s not the doing that’s hard, it’s understanding the scope of the issue and committing to it.


There you have it. Everyone’s work is absolutely the most important thing that’s being done at the company. Do this well and watch how many magnitudes greater the results are, and build an excellent company on the back of that.


On Building Credibility
Being credible at any stage, but especially as a startup

January 8, 2018
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Credibility manifests itself in different ways, whether in reference to a person or an entity, with values that are shared or unshared, and any sort of historical context or existing relationships between the parties. Webster’s defines credibility as--I’m kidding, I’m only kidding! Read on, discerning reader, read on.


What happened when I pretended as though I was going to define credibility? Did you roll your eyes? Did you stop reading, give me a thumbs down, or close your laptop? Losing credibility through lazy writing (or lazy anything) isn’t so different than the myriad of ways one can lose credibility as a company, a leader, or a peer.


Let’s start with being credible as a company, internally. You should have a mission, values, and goals so early on, and at such a fledgling stage, that it’s almost embarrassing to admit it (though those who know, will applaud you for doing so, be it intentionally or by happenstance).


How do you function in any credible way as a company without a clear mission? Why do you exist?! That should be a profoundly fundamental question for a company (even if only a glimmer in a founder’s eye) to insist upon knowing and sharing. Your reason for being will enhance your credibility by clarifying the loftiness of your aspirations, and will help provide answers when roads start to diverge, things get messy, and hard questions arise.


How do you act, speak, make decisions, and know what is most important above all else, if you don’t have values? What kind of organization are you going to build? What type of experience, personality, and characteristics are you going to bring out in yourself, seek in your earliest hires, and interview for when scaling? Your values will hold your entire internal organization accountable, I would argue, even if “accountability” isn’t one of your values.


How do you make any decisions or know if anyone is executing in the right direction, if you don’t have agreed upon goals? When I say “goals”, I mean it in the most expansive way possible. Think of a revenue goal--that’s it. Think of an exit goal--that’s it. Think of a product goal--that’s it. It’s absolutely anything and everything that can be tracked, measured, or accounted for. That means it can also be tended to or it can be left unattended, and what does a company with unattended or unknown goals look like? Probably a lot of things, but not credible.


While we’re thinking at the company level, let’s discuss credibility from the outside looking in. Who looks at your company and decides if you’re credible or not? Potential customers, investors, candidates, press and news organizations, decision makers, influencers, end users, and so on. Do those cohorts seem important enough to ensure that it’s made apparent that you’re a credible company? I think so.


So, how do you deliver on credibility to those outside of your company? Read the paragraphs above that focus on how to build credibility inside your company, then shine a bright light on the activities that you execute on that live up to those things. Make it known--your company is unmistakably that.


This is an easy one, if you get it right from inside the organization, it will permeate all else. Another way to say that is that it’s absolutely impossible, if you fail to deliver on creating a credible internal organization.


Lastly, how about as an individual who’s part of a team within the company (even if you’re an individual contributor, you’re still part of the team that is the entire org)? Decide what these things are for yourself, make them obvious, and live by them. If your mission, values, and goals don’t match an organization’s, and you don’t think you can change that, don’t join.


Decide what your reason for existing is, what your mission, values, and goals as a person are. In my opinion, you can have different sets of these things for different areas of your life--to share an easy example, have one set for yourself as a friend and family member and another set for yourself as a business owner. Just know, if you segment, worlds will collide, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.


Knowing these things, and then living them day in and day out, will build your credibility (the all-encompassing “your”, whether a person or entity). Credibility will secure opportunity and set forth a path of not-easy-but-well-earned growth and success.


Now go forth and build credibility.


What is Operations at a Startup?
Or, what does a COO, VP, or Head of Operations do at a growing company?

December 28, 2018
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Given my idiosyncratic background, having touched a lot of different business functions (product, project management, marketing, people or the dreaded “human resources”, recruiting, talent management, sales, partnerships, client success) and operated as a director, manager, founder, president, and department head in various sectors (wellness, press and media relations, artificial intelligence, saas, healthcare, design and marketing), I get asked all the time, “what does operations do?”.


The truth is, this means many different things in many different companies. To try and put “what operations means to me” in context, I went through the exacting task of parenthetically citing various departments and verticals--it wasn’t just to start this post with an inexcusably lengthy paragraph. Below are my takeaways from nearly two decades of being entrenched in, and frenetically building, startups.


To be effective, Operations should have the most detailed insight into what’s happening day-to-day; what people are focused on, working toward, and how those things align with short and long term initiatives and goals. This clarity will allow Ops to set up teams and individuals for success. The story can go sweet or sour very quickly--ultimately, the team you build is the company you build.


In a resource and expertise starved environment, hell bent on non-linear growth, Ops absolutely must take what’s most important from zero to one and then hand it off to, or hire, someone more qualified.


Knowing what needs to be done (properly prioritizing) and leveraging individual's horsepower to get those things to a fledgling state, will provide real world improvements to the organization while buying time to get the right person into that role. A note to those with egos that are larger than their standards, once you get that “right person” in the door, they had better tell you why your current efforts are pretty lackluster-at-best and how they’re going to make incredible changes right away.


A few things Ops must be: 
-Excellent at handling what’s around the corner and having resources dedicated to strategic initiatives that can provide outsized growth (this is only slightly different from the paragraph above, but nuance rules the day). 
-Well positioned to drive internal mandates and provide the “startup within a startup” culture. 
-Constantly fixing and improving things (“things” is intentionally vague, because those with the know-how don’t need that ambiguity erased).


A few things that Ops must relentlessly drive and insist on: 
-Have high standards and take the steps necessary to know what “great” looks like in areas where you’re operating, need to be operating, or are questioning current operations. If you find people or entire teams operating with a system that tolerates subpar standards, you must address it (unless you want to work at a mediocre company, doing mediocre things, ending in a whimper and not a bang). 
-Facilitate (or force) communication that gives the right people the complete information they need. This also helps reduce politics within an organization. As you likely know, one of the key drivers of politics in an organization is information asymmetry.


These are thoughts from the front lines--having engaged for many years, in many different ways, and still learning. Now go ask someone who works in a warehouse, or at a subscription-box startup, or at a factory that manufactures widgets what a COO, VP, Head of Operations does, and they’ll tell you something just as lengthy, but completely different.


Welcome to the weird world of Operations.




New Parents: Failing at Everything

February 26, 2018
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

For expecting parents there are a slew of classes, books, and videos that are ubiquitous and, more-or-less, make us feel like we’re preparing for what lies ahead. Admittedly, when we were expecting our baby boy, the only reading I did was a courteous skim of something my partner forwarded me. We were bookends of two extremes--she read it all, I did not.


But, I know enough about what’s out there to say this. There’s nothing that prepares new parents for the feeling that they’re failing at everything. As you probably know by now, I write about my own personal experience so, as usual, I’ll be attributing my experience to all of humankind, with the vast assumption that what I’m experiencing is pervasive (insert sheepish grin).


There’s so much joy and affection that comes with a new baby--and I was ready for that. Neverending sleepless nights and piles of diapers, laundry, bills--I’m very comfortable with those things. Giggles, tears, winces, new teeth, first steps, cuddles, and hair pulls--all expected, even without reading a book.


Aside from all of these things and, from what I can tell, what you’ll read in most pregnancy books, you’re going to feel like you’re failing--on all fronts.


I’m a very ambitious, sometimes perfectionist, always quick to get in the middle of something I don’t know very well and figure it out, love my work kind of guy. In the past what this has meant is endless hours of joyous toil.


Another thing that this used to mean, is that I could always put in more time. When I supplanted myself front and center in the middle of something I didn’t have the experience to solve, I could always put in more hours and figure it out. Up against a hard deadline? I could pull an all-nighter and brute force my way through it.


These things become more and more impossible as a new parent. There's no such thing as “extra time”. What used to be your down time is now work, baby, bathing, feeding, laundry, dishes, playtime, pickup, dropoff, doctor, etc, etc. Usually there’s just nowhere to pull extra time from.


What does this mean? Well, sometimes it means that you’re consumed by work and feel like a bad, neglectful parent. More often than not (for me at least), it means you’re waist deep in baby time, baby prep, or baby fallout, and feel like a slacker. Like you’re the only one not doing everything you can do for your company and the work that you enjoy.


So, parents and parents-to-be of the world, this is not a post that’s offering an answer--but it is an acknowledgement. Having ambitious career goals and holding yourself to (sometimes impossible) high standards is hard. Having a baby and trying to be everything that that little one needs and wants is rewarding, but exhaustively challenging. If this sounds like you, when you’re making the list of things to prepare for, don’t forget to mentally prepare for all of the insecurities that you’re about to encounter.


That said, this is the most gratifying and inspiring moment in most of our lives--embrace it (he says to himself...over and over and over).


If you have any thoughts, comments, suggestions, or questions, feel free to email me.


Lessons Learned From A Young Leader and Founder

December 23, 2017
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

With a decade of hindsight since my first role as a leader at a very successful startup, I've been thinking a lot lately about the mistakes I made and challenges I faced.


The points below are specific to my experience, but hopefully have broad applications. In an effort to keep this from becoming ten thousand words, I've tried to simplify my points and certain details. As always, if you want to discuss your company or specific situation in greater detail, feel free to email me directly.


Don't get cocky At twenty-five, I was in charge of overseeing the development and launch (from an empty building of concrete slabs) of the largest upscale fitness club in the Chicago area. Not only ordering equipment, drawing and revising floor plans, but hiring hundreds of people that I would oversee.


Looking back, I think my ego grew as a result of a couple of things. First of all, I had been given a lot of power and assumed that that must be because I was the smartest, hardest working, most agile and creative person at the company. Of course, that's an absurd assumption, and in the subsequent years I've found myself over-correcting to the point of unnecessary self-doubt and over-analysis (more on this in a future post).


Second, I had little-to-no training. I was the only one at the new location with experience at the company. I had been a keynote speaker at the national IHRSA conference a year prior and gained a lot of recognition, but I was always aware that I was piecing things together as I went along. My self-importance was certainly a reaction to the deep awareness of my lack of experience, mixed with a strong desire for success and recognition.


Let your coworkers and employees do what they do best (read, better than you) I saw my leadership role purely as a top down relationship. Over time I've learned and experienced, time and time again, that just because I'm someone's boss, doesn't mean I'm better than they are at anything. Businesses and startups are immensely challenging. As a leader, discover what your employees are great at and do whatever you can to make it exceedingly easy for them to execute flawlessly.


Have hard conversations as often as they're needed and always sooner than later I was the master at avoiding difficult conversations. My aforementioned arrogance didn't lead to any healthy, productive, difficult conversations. Over the years I've learned that issues become big because they're allowed to (almost always), not because they started off that way. Being upfront and transparent, as soon as you see an issue arising, will benefit your company, your employees, and your culture.


There are paragraphs and paragraphs of additional points I could list; things that I was utterly abysmal at and what I'd do differently today. What I've chosen to write about are the few things that stand out as having had the greatest negative impact during my first foray into a leadership position.


Thankfully I've had time and opportunity to grow and improve and I'll be forever grateful to everyone who has contributed to helping me get to where I am today. I'm incredibly thankful. Thanks for reading, email me if there's something I might be able to help you with.




Got Hired At A Startup? Begin By Learning

September 23, 2017
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Startup people are productive go-getters that know how to scrape and grind their way to making things happen. In nearly all situations, this is an awe-inspiring attribute to have. If you’re this type of person, or you hire these types of people, there’s one time that I’d watch out for these tendencies: being newly hired into a senior(ish) role.


Taking some time to learn as many aspects of the business, operations, organization, processes, and people as possible is exceedingly important for new leadership joining a startup. The problem with taking the time to learn these things is that it feels like you’re holding back. Like having your foot on the break when you want to just press the pedal to the floor. Basically, it feels like you’re coasting and not crushing it immediately.

While this can feel underproductive, I’d ask that you look at it from a logical perspective. How can you really make the most impact? Figure out what’s working and what’s not, and implement improvements. How will you identify what needs fixing? You’ll witness it or participate in it and ask smart questions. How will you find the time to shadow and get in the trenches? You’ll make this a priority, knowing that what will follow this period of watching and learning will be an accelerated and on-point analysis and improvement plan with real knowledge and data points supporting it.

My suggestions: hit the pause button, learn everything you can, take great notes and highlight areas for improvement, prioritize what needs to be fixed, layout a gameplan, share that with others, take feedback and tweak, go crush it!

If you’d like to dig in deeper and figure out how to make this work for yourself, your business, or your team, feel free to email me directly!




Startup Leaders: Early-Stage Must-Haves

August 23, 2017
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

With all that goes into getting a startup up and running, it’s easy to miss some important aspects. Below are a few things to make sure you have, and are ready to deliver on; especially as you start to staff up.


Strategy

Unless you’re self-funding (or at least self-seeding) this is likely something you’ll need to have before approaching investors anyway. But, equally as important as having a strategy that’s known and agreed upon by the founders and leadership, is sharing that strategy with your staff. Not only will this automatically improve a sense of buy-in and awareness, but it’ll help reduce the very common feeling of “everything’s changing really fast and I don’t understand why.” Even sharing a simplified version, such as a roadmap, will accomplish this in most situations.


Gather Data

I see this mistake all the time. It’s imperative that you gather data from every engagement, interaction, response, rejection, etc from the very beginning. If you’ve based assumptions on converting 1% of a $100bn industry as part of your strategy for becoming profitable, you need to know why only 0.3% are currently converting (or 10% for that matter). The easiest time to gather in depth insights for analysis is early on; you just have to make sure it’s a priority for everyone. Over time you’ll see what data sets are most useful and which aren’t. But, early on, you should capture it all.


Learn & Tweak

As a very obvious tie in to the point above, this is also your best opportunity to learn and tweak. Consider assigning ownership over small but critical areas of the business to early-stage staff. Let them hyper-engage with that element and report their findings (or, even better, provide useful insights and suggestions on how to improve) to leadership. This is also where having shared your strategy will come in handy. Staff can often identify how well something is working currently but, if they know what’s coming six months down the road, they can flag things that might break or bottleneck before it happens.


Engagement

As mentioned above, give ownership to your early-stage employees. Yes, this will often come naturally, but it can also be misguided, unintentionally repetitive, or less-than-useful. Engaging with your staff to find out what they have insights into and how they can best direct that information, will ensure that everyone’s on the same page. Additionally, micro-engaging with your customers is most feasible during early stages. I know this might seem counterintuitive because as you grow you’ll likely have a larger customer success team, marketing team, etc. But, if you’re fully bought into learning and tweaking, and gathering data, these early consumer-based engagements are the most powerful. And, with a smaller staff, the results of these interactions are much more likely to make it to the leadership and not just live and die with the frontline or middle-management employees.


Share Wins

Finally, share every single win you have, big or small. Did you meet a huge player in your sector at a conference? Let people know about it. Did you get your first reorder? Share it with the world! Especially during early stages (but likely for a long time) there are far more hurdles to climb than seamless downhill stretches. Help keep energy and motivation high by over-amping wins. Soon enough something will catch fire, so don’t worry about your staff getting complacent or thinking it’s just smooth sailing ahead. The hyper-vigilance that is pervasive at a startup can lead to burnout and unnecessary worry. Combat those more destructive tendencies by shouting out every little win along the way.


This is a good place to start, but it is just a start. If you’d like to discuss your startup, organization, or team in more detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to see if I can help!




Startup Leaders: Get These Things Right For Your Staff

August 16, 2017
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

It’s easy to chalk certain things up to being at a startup. With everyone being stretched for time and resources, leadership often misuses the concept of “that just comes with the territory” to shirk certain responsibilities. It’s imperative that leaders get certain fundamentals right and make small, consistent, incremental improvements.


(as a note here: you’d never accept your staff not doing their job well because they’re “at a startup, and you know how it goes sometimes,” right?!)


Here are a few areas where I see this happen most frequently:


Communication & Engagement

To me, at its most barebones sense, this means tell your staff the truth and listen more than you speak. Too often, the uncertainty of the startup world leaves staff feeling like their manager is stringing them along and/or not listening to what they’re saying. If you’re a leader, trying to bolster your working relationship with your staff, I have two recommendations (these should suffice for most situations).

  1. Wait to even allude to upcoming changes or plans until you have solid confirmation and the “go-ahead” from whomever you need to sign-off on your plan or pitch. Throwing out a half-baked, little-to-no-detail idea is what’s going to lead to more questions than answers, increase staff’s sense of instability, and feed that “being strung along” feeling. Having details, descriptions, a timeline, and structure, will allow for a smooth roll-out with clear expectations and action items for everyone involved.

  2. If your staff is uneasy or upset about something you cannot change (often title, compensation, that sort of thing) just be upfront and let them know it’s not within your power to change those things. I know there’s a pervasive idea out there that middle management needs to “own” certain realities and policies, which is fine. But, when someone asks to negotiate, or why their title isn’t XYZ, and their manager isn’t the one who makes those decisions, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to pretend that that’s not the case. Transparency is a hot buzzword these days and is often used to make people feel good, but without a lot of reality behind it. Transparency means being open and honest, which is what I’d suggest you do in these situations. Truthfully explain why things are the way they are and what can or cannot be done. Having a clear, honest picture and lay-of-the-land will help your staff feel more secure that they can make decisions by knowing the full reality.

Mission & Values

Don’t have a company mission and values? You should. Your mission will help draw the right staff to you and will inspire consumers to use your product or service. Values will help your employees know what to prioritize in any given day, week, year, interaction, etc. It will also guide them toward what to do in uncertain situations. Values should be clear and actionable enough for an employee to answer, “here’s a hypothetical situation; based on our values, what should you do?”.


Review your mission and values frequently. If your path or initiatives are out-of-whack with either, you should change your mission/values or change how you’re operating. Few things are as frustrating or confusing as day-to-day operations not reflecting the company’s mission and values. This is one of those things that’s completely within your control, and you should get this right on an ongoing basis.


Payroll

This should be obvious, but pay your people on time and correctly. Make sure you know who is ultimately responsible for processing payroll (especially new hires) and how to quickly and efficiently fix any errors that pop up. The last thing you want your staff wondering or worrying about is if they’re going to be paid.


This is only the beginning. If you’d like to discuss your startup, organization, or team in more detail, email me directly. I’m happy to see if I can help!





Startups: The Case For Keeping Things Simple

August 9, 2017
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Yes, this blog is very simple and that’s on purpose. Decluttering and getting back to fundamentals is a theme in my life; and I impart that on this blog very intentionally.


What you'll find below is not a framework for avoiding difficult or complex situations. You will, however, find suggestions for making the complicated seem simple to your internal operations, staff, and overall organization.


In a growing startup, you have a few things completely within your control; and a ton of things not within your control. I see this mistake way too often: as a startup grows, it willingly infuses unnecessary internal complexity where it doesn’t have to. The end product is a labyrinth of external forces and circumstances, trying to be solved and navigated by an equally confusing and convoluted internal ecosystem.


I see this most often as startups scale, and begin to flesh out and fill in their org charts. Setting aside the ins-and-outs of hiring and incentivizing, the maze that often becomes early-stage orgs is damaging to those who are shuffled around within them, those who have to operate cross-functionally, and even to those placed at the helm.


I would beg you to consider, as you need to re-org, hire above existing leadership, etc, do it in a way that is fully transparent, and place the utmost importance on open communication. Provide ample opportunity for questions and clarification. And, for the love of all that is good, disseminate a logical and straightforward chart to help clarify any blind spots or unknowns.


Another area to be uber-aware of introducing unnecessary complexity is upon launching new partnerships, products, or offerings. Often, keeping these things close-to-the-vest is driven by startup hubris (ie leadership thinking they’ve connected all the dots already). Startups are small. Even if you’re 500 or 1000 employees strong, the environment is rife with chatter and people will soon have a small glimpse of what’s coming down the pike.


You should be as forthcoming as possible with future partnerships, products, and offerings. Not only will you be able to tell the story the way you want to, but you’ll empower your staff to shed light on areas that those close to the scoping and launch might’ve overlooked. No matter how involved or smart you are, you’re always missing something (I’m sorry if that bursts your bubble).


Remember, simplicity doesn’t mean you’ll never encounter internal complexities. As I mentioned early on, get the fundamentals right (communication, transparency, not half-baked ideas) and you’ll save yourself, your staff, and your company from a lot of self-inflicted hardships.


As to not turn this into a 10,000 word diatribe, I’ll leave it at that. Fairly general but common examples, plucked from the real world.


If you’d like to discuss your startup, small business, or organization in more detail, feel free to email me!





The Startup Environment: It’s A Real Thing

August 2, 2017
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

I’ve interviewed, hired, and onboarded hundreds of startup employees. During the interview process, whenever I’m asked, “what should I know about XYZ company?”, I always tell them to be sure they truly want to work at a startup.


One person’s baggage is another person’s opportunity. To me, being a part of a startup equates to bathing in opportunity. But to those who are better suited to larger, more legacy-style companies, startups come with a lot of baggage.


If you’re like me, the thought of having a very loose title and job description, with things constantly being thrown at you outside of those boundaries, is exciting, empowering, and provides a sense of ownership and inclusion. But, many in the job-seeking community are accustomed to (and prefer) knowing exactly what their specific job entails, what their coworker’s job entails, and that there is little-to-no bleed-over or grey areas.


When you’re talking to prospective hires, be sure to explain the realities surrounding the startup environment and what it might mean for them. If you’re looking to enter the startup world as an employee, be ready for a lot of ambiguity, lack of resources, having to be scrappy and accomplish more with less.


Startups aren’t for everybody. Above all else, be sure you hire people who have the horsepower, work ethic, and mindset for your startup. Job-seekers: ask specific, thoughtful questions and be sure to do your homework to find out as much as you can about the startup and the experience of its employees.


If you want to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to dialogue and see if I can help!




In The Startup World, Luck Is Earned

July 26, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

As I have an ever-growing number of conversations with early-to-mid-stage Founders and CEOs, there’s an obvious pattern that’s emerging. Somewhere along the way, while telling the story of their startup, something gets chalked up to “catching a lucky break.” While I see value in the humility behind these statements, I think it’s important to realize that a lot was accomplished in order to allow “luck” to play a role.

In a startup, you should never discount or distrust something you perceive as “luck” or “a lucky break.” Even more-so than well-established businesses, if you’ve had the opportunity to experience so called “luck”, you did several things to kick off the chain of events leading up to it.

With the perspective of someone looking from the outside in, there’s so much that startups accomplish through sheer brute force. Throwing a bunch of blood, sweat, and tears (because capital and bodies are harder to come by) can accomplish a lot; and it’s more apparent how something was achieved when it was done by unmitigated force of will.

The lack of having to engage in exerting super-human force to make something happen, is often misconstrued and dismissed as luck. But, consider all of the planning, implementation, revising, iterating, and reworking that preceded your good fortune. Make no mistake, anything that happens to your startup that’s disguised as luck, is actually the confluence of a myriad of smart decisions, integrations, and a lot of hard work.

If you’d like to discuss how to build, grow, and operationalize your business in a strategic and viable way, feel free to email me. I’m happy to dialogue and see if I can help!





Startup Hubris: Don’t Fall Prey To It

July 19, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Luckily, there are a ton of innovative, humble, open-minded startup founders and leaders out there. However, I’ve also encountered my fair share of, what I call, “startup hubris”; when you see it, you know it. It spreads throughout the organization and typically radiates from one or more early-influencers. Once startup hubris takes hold, it’s hard to get rid of. There’s often a series of decisions that can be seen (sometimes even predicted) as a result of it.

 

Startup hubris often manifests itself as:

  • Frequent hiring and firing (or quitting)

    • This is often a basic inability to onboard, train, and incorporate a new hire into your organization.

    • Further evidenced by habitual changes, compounding an already ever-evolving environment, without reasonable and consistent forethought, transparency, or communication.

  • Lack of people development

    • Yes, I understand hiring above existing staff and bringing in people with experience is often needed, but that doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) replace slowly but surely developing staff who already have the startup drive, and believe in and understand your organization.

  • A small clique of (typically mid-to-high-level) leaders who are fairly sheltered and unaware

    • There’s probably always a chance of this happening, but hubris will emphatically encourage it. Watch out for a group of C-Suites, VPs, Directors, etc, who have little awareness or regard for what’s really going on with the vast majority people at the company. They can’t see beyond what they tell themselves and each other. This will surely feed a myriad of unfortunate decisions, and drive down morale and mobility.

  • Rationalizing decisions by, “it’s ok, it’ll suck for a while, but we’ll survive.”

    • This is the one that will eventually break something (in my opinion). There are only so many times you can stop and start, hire and fire, abandon something you only ever gave a fledgling chance to, etc. Assuming you and your organization can fight back from anything, has its merits; but when it’s the result of systemic hubris, there will eventually be very bad consequences.

    • Notice, this point feeds into many of the points above. Be vigilant to this symptom above all.

 

There you have it, a brief description of what startup hubris is and how it often manifests itself.

 

If you’d like to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to dialogue and see if I can help!




Startups: Prioritize Turning Your Customers Into Evangelists

July 13, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

It always blows my mind when I’m talking to a startup (or business in any growth stage for that matter) and they have no idea what their Net Promoter Score (NPS) is. Your Net Promoter Score is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend your company's products or services to others. It’s used as a proxy for gauging the customer's overall satisfaction with a company's product or service and the customer's loyalty to the brand.


Not only will your NPS provide you with valuable insights into what your customers love, hate, and feel agnostic about, but it’ll provide insight into what you can do to move the needle in the right direction, and give them a reason to love you and recommend you. When done well, the survey you use to generate your NPS will provide you with a set of data points that you can integrate into your company strategy and vision. Once you have it, it’s up to you to make sure that you’re taking this feedback into consideration as you grow and iterate.


I received an email today from a service that I’ve used for over a decade, offering me cash to refer friends. I immediately deleted the email. I put up with this service, but it’s really outdated and disappointing; with seemingly no plans to improve. The only reason I still use them is because it would be a profound task to transition elsewhere, which isn’t a priority for me right now.


In this case, the cash for the referral is completely moot. They could offer me whatever they wanted and I wouldn’t bite; I value my reputation and relationships too much to sell them out for a measly credit.


This is an important lesson. It’s not what you offer people to recommend you, it’s whether or not they would even participate; and that’s up to you.


Another example: I love Zingerman’s, and will gladly recommend them to anyone who enjoys unique, tasty food stuffs. They don’t offer me anything to recruit or recommend people to them, but I’m happy to because I trust that anyone who tries them will love them. I could, of course, be wrong. Everyone doesn’t love everything. But I know I’d never have someone say, “This is absolutely horrible, why would you ever tell me to try this?”, which is exactly what I fear about the other service.

 

My suggestion is that you get together a good survey and figure out your NPS. Mesh the info you get back from your customers (members, clients) with your business initiatives, needs, and wants; tweak and adjust where you see value.

 

What’s your customer acquisition cost from a referral? Little to nothing. It’s one of the most important levers you can pull early on.

 

If you want to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to dialogue and see if I can help!




What Incentivizes Your Startup Staff (it’s not really free beer and ping pong)

July 10, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

It’s easy to get caught up in the (by now cliche?) norms of startup life. The standing desks and open-office layout abound in a variety of snacks, catered lunches, breakout spaces, beer, cold brew on tap, and the list goes on.

 

I would never promote getting rid of these perks; I think they’re important. What I would say is, don’t overlook the true meaning behind why your staff comes to work at a startup, because it’s despite all of these cool-kid bonuses; not because of them.

 

These are some of the things that really drive your staff to work hard, long hours, to solve unforgivingly difficult problems and challenges.

 

  • There are far more challenges than solutions.

    • Startup staff is chock-full of overachievers who want to tackle disruption and innovation in antiquated or non-existent industries. Be transparent and communicative about the obstacles ahead. Your crew will be energized coming up with, and being a part of, solutions.

    • Don’t forget about the victories along the way. Sometimes they’re small, but always acknowledge (or celebrate) them!

  • You take chances on people and allow them to prove themselves.

    • Granted, this may not be fully startup-centric, but there is a distinct bend toward bringing on visionaries with great drive and less experience, over lengthy resumes and decades of industry entrenchment.

    • Grow your people (this is wildly important; probably the most important). People who join startups want to experience and learn. Provide them with leaders that can keep them motivated through variety, development, and exposure to new and challenging experiences. Yes, this is hard and time consuming, but your business will flourish on the sweat, creativity, and acumen of those you’ve cultivated, and who want to be a part of building something great.

  • You value individualism while promoting collaboration.

    • Archaic, often meaningless protocol is abandoned for freedom of dress and expression. In startups (by and large) gone are the days of suits and ties, pant suits and blouses; and that’s awesome. Hoodies vs suits is a real thing and, in my experience, it helps bridge the gap between these seemingly disparate factions (i.e., it promotes collaboration in an easy-to-do way).

    • Use of space, stock option grants, and more grey areas than black and white lines in job descriptions, promotes a feeling of ownership and valued opinion. This is important to startup staff, as it provides opportunity for ample mobility and buy-in within your growing organization; both future and real-time.

 

Remember, you employ and lead inspired, entrepreneurial, inquisitive, creators. Tap into that and you’ll truly have something special. The beer and cold brew will tap itself.

 

These are a few short points engulfed in endless possibilities for truly engaging your staff. If you want to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to dialogue and see if I can help!




Startups: Hire Top Down or Bottom Up, Just Make a Smart Decision

July 5, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Lately I’ve noticed a lot startups that seem to be haphazardly seeking their next hire. Don’t get me wrong, the positions they’re trying to fill make a lot of sense, but the strategy and logic behind who to hire when seems to be vacant or skewed.

 

This seems to happen for a few reasons:

  • Casting a wide net to see what the talent pool and level of interest looks like.

  • Assuming they (read: Founder, CEO, etc) can fill the shoes of whatever hire they don’t find first.

  • Being cautious with capital (ie, defaulting to small salaries over large salaries).

 

Early org and hiring decisions carry a disproportionate amount of weight, obviously. As you enter into these commitments, consider a few things:

  • Of the people who are currently at the company, what are their skills?

    • Early on you should hire around existing skills or fill blind-spots that exist.

    • For example, if you choose to hire a CTO over a COO (replace with: Engineer over Ops Manager), the existing members of the team should have significant operational skills and experience, with a distinct lack of tech chops.

  • Of the talent available to you, will a high-level hire make a larger impact now or later?

    • If you need an MVP to even have a product or service to offer, maybe you should hire a C-Suite, VP, or Director and use freelancers/consultants to build their vision.

    • If you have something to sell already, maybe the more pressing need is to hire a Business Lead and look to bring in someone above that person when it’s time start planning/launching the next phase of the business.

  • Is there a way to structure compensation to attract and hire the right person?

    • There are a lot of ways to structure a comp deal. Don’t limit yourself to thinking someone needs $250k to get on board. Maybe the right person would be happy with more stock options to offset salary.

    • If you’re willing to part with stock options over cash for salaries, seeking a Cofounder, Board Member, or Advisor that will cover areas where you lack experience or understanding might be a great option.

    • Also, consider that a Director of Sales can pick up some of the workload (especially at a startup) of an SDR or Account Executive. It might be more salary-savvy to have one Director of Sales plus one Account Executive, than to have three or four Account Execs to get the same amount of work done.

 

This merely scratches the surface of what levers you can pull to make things work best for you and your company. The important thing is that you make a decision for the right reasons and start building your startup’s organization in a way that makes sense now and for the future.

 

If you want to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to dialogue and see if I can help!



Startup Leaders: Your Team’s Job Isn’t To Make Your Job Easier...Yet

June 29, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

In a startup, you need every bit of horsepower you can get; but few know how to harness that from their staff. I promise you, your people are hungry to achieve great things, they just have to be shown how.

I know a lot of folks who work at startups; I have for over a decade. So many times I hear about the staff being disappointed and frustrated by a lack of meaningful communication, inclusion, and understanding. They feel as though they’re constantly barked orders at, like they’re in some unidentified race that they’re not clued into. This environment reminds me of that stupid 1980’s slogan, “he who dies with the most toys wins.” I really hate that saying.


In these scenarios, mutual respect and the building-up of individuals in order to make a stronger team, is abandoned for the easy, short-term win of getting the furthest the fastest. But this will never be the path to long-term success, and will leave your staff feeling excluded, marginalized, talked down to, and exasperated.

Some could chalk this up to startup hubris, inexperience, or lack of caring. I think, more often than not, it’s that the manager doesn’t understand the natural and logical order of the manager-report relationship. Instead of squeezing, hounding, and micromanaging, managers should be seeking to understand how their individual team members work, how that feeds into the overall organization, and start to work with them to align those things.


To some, the difference here will seem slight, but if you’ve ever participated in it, it’s enormous. The change managers need to make is from dictating every little aspect of how someone functions, and do the harder work to meet them where they're at and foster growth, comprehension, and understanding, through consistent, relevant, measurable steps.


I once sat in on a “training session” where a program director went line-by-line through a script with a new sales agent. The director was irritatingly condescending as he was smirking and giggling in response to how the agent was reading the script. To further the embarrassment, he’d ask nonsensical questions about why the agent is speaking in a certain way; questions that even left me wondering what he was trying to get at.


He was attempting to change his direct report’s innate tone, inflection, and cadence. Instead of offering any sort of conceptual framework for his vision for these calls, he painstakingly went through this bizarre line-by-line reading with the agent. To him, this was a "tactic", aimed achieving a specific result.


So, what was the result? The agent was completely frustrated and was more confused than when he started the training session. The director thought that the agent just wasn’t up to par and couldn’t be easily honed or worked with. I had to unlock my clenched jaw and come to terms with what I had just witnessed; an epic, unadulterated failure of leadership, communication, mutual respect, understanding, and collaboration. Truth be told, it wasn't that the agent couldn't handle the job but, from what I saw that day, the director seemed to lack the skills to properly fulfill his role.


What I’ve always said and done, and what I’d plead with any leader to do, is to do what you can to make your staff’s job easier first. Your main goal, every day, should be to make their job as easy as it can be. Of course that doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to make it easy, but do what you can to move the needle in that direction. Working hard doesn’t mean that it is hard, it means that everyone is pulling their weight in the same direction with passion, vigor, and a sense of purpose.


If there are things that you can do to make the minute-by-minute execution of your team easier, you must do it! If this requires skills, tools, or resources you can’t provide, allow your staff to pitch in. You should always strive to build together; there’s no need to build alone.


One day, after many months or years of making your staff’s job easier, you’ll stop and notice that somewhere along the way, the tables turned. Your team now makes your job easier, every second of every day.


I believe the best measure of managerial success is that your team can operate 100% independent of you, and absolutely crush it. If that scares you and you feel that your value would be lost if this were the case, you need to reassess your priorities.


When you reach this point, you’re still necessary for guidance, mentorship, collaboration, and support. Your team no longer needs you to do the job, but they need you as their leader.


If you want to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to dialogue and see if I can help!




Meaningless Buzzwords Are Killing (what could be) Your Startup’s Culture


June 27, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Here's how you can turn company values into a living organism, thriving in an ecosystem that is functional and makes sense.

The crux of the problem: It's not them, it's you

A collaborative, team environment sounds nice and is a great buzzword for People, HR, and Recruiting teams to throw out to staff and candidates. But, more often than not, the reality far from lives up to the cliche. When this happens, not only has an opportunity to build something meaningful been squandered, but the fallout will likely leave your staff feeling unrest, mistrust, and a lack of drive.


My inner dialogue started crafting this article from the negative (as you can tell from the title!). Instead of focusing on what most organizations, departments, and leaders don’t do well, I’ll briefly mention a few things that are absolutely mission-critical if you want to turn a platitude into a reality.


Talk about the things you’d like-to-have, do the things that are must-haves

If you put together slide decks, send out emails, or speak in front of your organization in order to relay your vision for culture, transparency, and collaboration, that’s great! But you can’t just communicate the information and then leave it up to the staff to put your values and vision into practice.


Building community takes nurturing and effort from a leader who has a daily presence (ie, if you're a C-suite, VP, Director, etc, have your managers and team leads directly operationalize this, while you provide support and oversight). Remember, you’re essentially asking your staff to care about each other’s well being, to align together and foster practices that move many bodies in a singular direction; the direction of your company’s goals and mission.


So what else should we do after communicating the vision
Like anything else in your business, if you want something to succeed, it will require action! As an example, I’m a big fan of values; not just at a company level, but at a department level. Having team members work together in small groups to agree on values and what they mean to their specific role, and then bringing all of those ideas together at the department level in order to finalize those values, is a great way to get buy-in.


Remember: your mission should rally people to want to achieve your company goals, values feed the mission, actions breathe life into the values, getting buy-in will allow individual contributors to take appropriate actions. And, always, the continued vigilance of a leader who is present, is essential.


But what about the individuals that make up the team

Once you’ve taught the team how to think, what to shoot for, and how to achieve it, you can further deepen the connection by tying in the individual contributions of each member of the team. A great way to accomplish this is to reiterate to each person (one-on-one) what the collective, agreed upon values and actions of the team are. Then ask that person to take some time to review their role, trajectory, and goals, and come up with daily/weekly actions that they can take in order to contribute to live the team’s values.


Make this work for your team/organization

Yes, this is vastly generalized and is a singular example in a world of infinite complexity and detail. But, if you can spend some time and energy moving the needle in the direction of living, actionable values, it will turn your “culture” buzzword into a lifeforce, that you don’t have to over-index on, because it’s palpable.


If you want to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to dialogue and see if I can help!