Startup People

What makes someone a really good employee for a startup?

I was at a company culture outing a few years ago (small startup) and some people said they wanted to work there because they wanted to be part of a rocket ship. They thought the previous experience of the leadership team was such that the company would obviously be part of a huge new success story. This really freaked me out at the time.

Every startup is exactly like a rocket ship, except that there is no place to sit, no engine, no wings, no navigation and no idea how rockets work. In other words, it’s just a dream, a vision of the future. It’s not a rocket ship at all. You don’t want to hire people who want to be on the ship. You want to hire people who want to BUILD the ship, because it doesn’t exist yet.

Imagine you build half a ship and start flying it into space and then realize that you completely forgot oxygen masks and everyone is going to die in moments. You want people who can build an oxygen system out of random parts, while flying a thousand miles an hour. You want people who climb out on the wing and jerry-rig a new kind of engine just because it is needed at the time. You want people who think quickly, collaborate together and figure it out. You don’t want the people who manage a large organization effectively. You don’t want solid B+ workers. Each person needs to be the A-Team, with a specialty and a mentality of working through problems.

We all know these sorts of people. They create systems from scratch. They find the one vendor who can unlock a huge use case. It’s not scalable at all and won’t survive the long-term growth, but it gets the job done in the short run. A startup needs these people desperately. You don’t break out of orbit without them.

Of course, as you grow and get into orbit, you need a completely different set of people. We all are perfect people if you just adjust the situation and timing. Are you in the right position at the right time?

Great Team or Great Players

I often hear people say they want to work at a company because they are led by a great team. What they usually mean is that the team is comprised of people who were successful before, or at least they were at successful companies. The same goes for venture capital investments. They often will invest in a great leadership team, but what they really mean is that the pedigrees of the leadership has been associated with previous success.

In contrast, a true “great team” is a group of people who work well together. They are aligned in spirit with diverse points of views and multiply each others efforts. There is chemistry, trust, and camaraderie. A great team working in unison will usually beat a group of great players.

Last year, I read The Boys in the Boat. (Good book) The subject was about crewman during World War II; (people rowing in a boat – see picture).

The key element that inspired me is the description of how winning speed is attained. Speed did NOT come from the number of strokes per minute. You could beat a team with almost half the strokes per minute if your strokes were in true unison. In other words, it was the asynchronization of strokes, the little inconsistencies between rowers that created drag. When everyone was in true alignment, the boat would “lift out of the water” and the rowers felt like they were rowing in pure air.

That’s what working on a well functioning team feels like. It’s bliss. Not everyone has experienced the joy of being a part of a team that works like that. I have had a few years out of the last 30 that felt that way and I think I only achieved maybe 75% of true team enlightenment. (Maybe less)

The last two years have taught me a great deal about alignment, communication and how team conflicts can be detrimental to the overall success of the company and certainly to my own happiness.

My advice to VC and other people evaluating companies is to ignore the pedigrees of the team and instead look for the following signs of a great team:

  • Do the department heads think they are on the team they manage or are they on the e-team? You shouldn’t be both, otherwise you are neither. In other words, Is the e-team a bonded team or a collection of department heads?
  • Is there easy and active collaboration between department individual contributors or is each objective owned by one department and not collaborative?
  • Are the arguments about merits of the ideas or about word-smithing and consensus? Are there healthy discussions or is everyone trying to get along or hiding animosity?
  • Is there clear awareness of the big objectives or does everyone have their own marching orders that are separate from other people?
  • Do people get excited working and even talking with each other?

Alot of these things are hard to determine by just one or two interviews. I suggest taking multiple people to lunch and trying to get their view outside of the office. I imagine most companies are not working like the Boys in the Boat, but you don’t need to have an Olympic level team to succeed. You just need to be better than your competition.

I won’t beat this to death, but at this point in my life, I am trying to focus on teamwork and surround myself with people who “get me” and whom I want to interact with at work.

One last metaphor. Great rock bands aren’t made of the best players of every instrument. They are not the sum of their parts. They make great music because of the chemistry between the players. No chemistry, no great music. Same goes for any team.

I’ll end with a quote (that may never have actually been said) from one of the great teams in history.

Pete Best is a great drummer, but Ringo…Ringo is a great Beatle. – John Lennon

Microsoft Office 365 or Google G Suite

For a business, I think Office 365 is a better choice than GSuite.

Office 365 G Suite
Rich Desktop Apps Nope
Online Web Apps Same
Separate identify Confused with my personal gmail
Microsoft Teams (for Chat) Need to buy Slack
Skype for Video Need Slack or other
SharePoint (Wiki) Need to buy Confluence
Works on Mobile Same
Calendar is great Calendar sucks
$13/user/month $10-$25/user/month
1TB Storage Same

First, I can’t stand the Google business calendar. I really hate it. I miss meetings all the time because it has to rely on the browser to notify me. With a desktop app, you get more functionality and still can use the online version whenever you want. Outlook Web Access used to be terrible, it is true. But these days it works great.

I understand that the BRAND of Google is better than the brand of Microsoft. I get that. However, that doesn’t mean the actual product is better. I have been using G Suite for the past 2 years and I have hated it almost the entire time. I miss Office. It is just better in almost every way.

I like Slack, but it’s not integrated with the rest of my personal stack. I like Confluence, but its not integrated into anything else. Microsoft Teams and SharePoint are solid products.

There are sheeple out there who refuse to give Office a chance. I beg them, please, please, please…give Office a chance.

Side note: I am presenting at Stanford tonight. It’s a guest lecture kind of thing. I love Stanford. If I could design the campus of my dreams, it would be Stanford.

Moving on from Engagio & MarTech

After 9 years of Marketo and 2 years of Engagio, I am moving on to a non-martech product. Engagio has a great future ahead of it and as a shareholder, I fully expect them to go public and be worth billions of dollars.

I think I have built a good product foundation at Engagio that hopefully will serve them well for years to come. I have made great friends there that hopefully will stay in touch with me.

As for Marketing, I have appreciated all of you and how wonderful it is to design products for you. There are so many moments of pride and awe in my relationship with marketing departments around the world and specifically the Bay Area. Some marketing shout-outs: (in order I met them)

  • To Kelly Abner, my first marketing guinea pig. He made Marketo a workable product more than any other human being. His feedback was golden.
  • To Jon Miller who taught me how thought leadership can build a billion dollar brand.
  • To Jen Erale and Jodi Florence, the two first marketers I ever taught Marketo to.
  • To Emily Salus who created the hardest problems to solve, but made the product better.
  • To Maria Pergolino who taught me what inbound marketing was and how to run an event. She is a force of nature.
  • To Jason Miller who invented content marketing before my eyes. Incredibly creativity oozes from him.
  • To Heather Watkins and Liz Courter who were the best customer marketers I have known.
  • To Sandra Freeman who is the best field/event marketing person in the world – She took care of me at every Summit and I thank her for every memory.
  • To Jeff Cowan who will always be the “voice of god” at any event in my mind.
  • To Davis Lee – creative services counts as marketing damnit! (Nathan Brauer, you count too)
  • To Josh Hill who wrote a 800 page book on Marketo and inspired Docs.marketo.com
  • To Joelle Kaufman the best CMO (and general executive) I have ever met.
  • To Jason Seeba who continues to be the model for creativity and excellence in marketing.
  • To Kristen Malkovich who was the inspiration for Engagio Playmaker and Scout.
  • To Jessica Cross who said “Thank you for my career” and made my heart melt. This means more to me than you know and I will carry it with me forever.
  • To Grant Grigorian who trusted me to take his baby and rename it Dash.
  • To everyone I forgot to mention. I know there are tons of you.

It’s a sad moment, but I am excited to build a new thing. I’ll give more detail on that later.

I don’t know what the future will hold and how our paths may cross in the future. All I can hope is that each of us is inspired by the people we work with and continue to move the world forward.

Love, Glen

Grinding

There are particular kinds of games where you have to spend alot of time doing simple things to get your level up. An example is killing a million squirrels in the forest so you can buy the sword to go after a dragon in a cave. This technique is called grinding.

Some games specialize in this kind of play. The psychology is pretty interesting. It clearly hits a part of my brain that is difficult to shut off. I feel like I can’t stop grinding. Madden NFL Mobile has a serious grinding mentality. I find myself needing to do it at night before I go to sleep. I know that reading a book is better for me, but I think I have some DNA that predisposes to grinding.

I think I grind in real life too. Creating Docs.marketo.com took 3 years of grinding. Designing and building a product is also a grind. You add one feature at a time to build a whole over the course of years.

Another example of this is the Primitive Technology video series. I love watching these videos. They calm the inner part of my soul. This guy is in the woods and builds things with his hands, rocks, water and trees.

To build something great you have to build a series of little things first. Being a great professional in any job means doing the same thing. It means grinding towards that future. Build up your assets one piece at a time.

When people talk about grit, I think of that as the ability to grind. I think they are two sides of the same coin.

What ruins grinding is when you perceive other people succeeding without it. Maybe they “knew the right person” or maybe they were better looking or maybe they just got lucky. I have heard plenty of stories of people making millions without contributing towards that success. One guy joined Marketo a few weeks before all the stock was fast-forwarded and vested and paid out. He made millions and quit a few weeks later. Totally lucky and unfair, but such is life.

I could dwell on this, but it would only make me unhappy. Rather, I should focus on the grind in front of me. Build something great, keep building. I don’t think of grinding as unpleasant. It actually makes me feel focused. I am moving the ball forward each day.

An ABM Adventure

I am Head of Product for Engagio, a SaaS application with lots of features and users who use them. (Is there any other type of SaaS application?)

Warning: This blog post throws data around the web with total abandon and gets confusing. You have been warned.

My Mission: To activate and spur usage in the system.

First Step: Usage Tracking
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. (Thanks, Avinash for that lesson over 10 years ago.) We use Pendo for application usage tracking and other stuff. We spent a few weeks tagging every feature in the app and rolling up those features so we can have usage charts like this:

Users –> Contacts
The next step was to get users from the application into Salesforce. This required some engineering help (Thanks, Shaun and Abhishek!). We had some issues with parsing Full Name into First and Last Name. Plus we ended up with some duplicates before we tweaked the system to get it just right. Finally, all users were automatically created in Salesforce as contacts.

Segmentation
I wanted to focus on the group of people that I would have the most success with. I thought the Sales users with some usage in one part of the product but not the other would perfect. However, I didn’t have everything I needed to do that. We used a series of partners, ClearBit, UpWork, LinkedIn, and their user profile to create a field called Best Title.

By using Marketo, we automatically had those contacts sync down to the marketing automation system. I used a smart campaign to use all of those possible titles to create one field called Best Title. Then I used the Marketo Segmentation tool to group different titles into departments. Sales, Marketing, Ops, Executives, etc. I still have some that defy interpretation. However, I had my department segment.

Usage Fields
We created several different fields in Salesforce/Marketo called Pendo (Feature) Usage 7d.  I chose 7 days as a decent measurement of activity, but I imagine we will need 14 or 30 days in the future. I also created definitions for Alive (Normal Use), Dead (No Use) and Life Support (Minimal Use).

Last Mile for the Data
Finally, we figured out how to pump the usage data from Pendo into Salesforce which would sync down to Marketo. I could then make smart lists of the different segment/usage patterns and craft a report that had roles and usage in a matrix. Also, I could pick the particular segment I wanted. (Sales users with one product use, but not another.)

Taking Action
I didn’t just want to send a mail blast to these users. What would be the point? You can’t spur action with a generic message. It has to be specific. This is where we come full circle back into Engagio. I created a Play to reach out to this segment. It wasn’t super complicated.

  • Step 1: A personalized email
  • Step 2: Wait for a week and check their usage
  • Step 3: LinkedIn connection request

By setting up a trigger, I could have this play automatically kicked off and give me tasks to do. The email looked/felt/was totally hand-written, but the system lets me scale that effort to reach more people easier. Plus, it kept track of who I reached out to so I could follow up without needing to create a bunch of tasks in my calendar.

Results
I just got started with this initiative, but so far I have a 50% reply rate. Not click rate or open rate. This is a REPLY!  Most of the replies have indicated that they were unaware of the feature. I follow up with each person to see how we can get them aware. Plus, I am working with our onboarding team to make sure we focus on awareness in the product rollout.

Account Based Journeys
Everyone knows Top of Funnel. This is going on a journey from never having heard of a product to closing the sale. You can break this down into funnels like Aware, MQA (Marketing Qualified Account), SQA (Sales Qualified Account), Opportunity, Closed-Won. In addition, there are other journeys such as:

  • Onboarding
  • Healthy Usage
  • Advocacy
  • Renewal
  • Up-sell/Cross-sell

Each journey involves coordination/orchestration, communication (phone, email, direct mail), sales and messaging. Each journey does their job in a slightly different way, although they all share common characteristics. The one I was working on was Healthy Usage. I was using Sales, Marketing and Product functionality. I consider these systems to reside in the same “cloud”. Data should move fluidly from one system to the next.

I think this little adventure is hard for people to wrap their heads around, but the results are important. I believe Marketers need to wrap their heads around projects like this if they want to expand their career horizons and become more strategic. Hopefully, you found it useful and entertaining.

Sphere of Influence, Control, Concern

An interesting way to frame an employee is by spheres, specifically three of them:

  • Sphere of Control is the stuff you can decide on your own. This is people you manage and project you do the work personally.
  • Sphere of Influence is stuff that you can guide through collaboration or subtle techniques. Your friendly co-worker is part of your sphere of influence.
  • Sphere of Concern is stuff you care about but you have no way to influence it. This might be happenings in other departments in which you don’t have strong connections.

Let’s take a look at some different circle widths and how they change things.

The Influencer
These are the best people in an organization. They don’t control a whole lot, but they influence a ton of things. Product Managers usually have little managerial control, but work with many people in the company. In general, you want people like this. However, they can get very unhappy if their sphere of influence diminishes. I used to be a person like this at Marketo. I had the ear of many of my fellow co-workers. Unfortunately, under one of my less favorite bosses, my influence slowly melted away. (long frustrating story) That left me in the state of the next archetype.

The Complainer
I became the complainer because I had this little tiny sphere of control, not much smaller than my sphere if influence. Most people hate to be in this position, and I certainly did. The problem with this diagram is that the sphere of concern is enormous, but the person can’t do anything about it.

The Individual Contributor
See how much better this is? They have the same influence and control as above, but they have a much smaller sphere of concern. They are happy because their world is smaller and their ability to influence their sphere of concern is “proportional”. That’s a key insight here. Proportionality is the key to success and happiness. Don’t let your sphere widths get out of whack.

The Group Manager
Of course, you can give someone more power, more control by promoting them and giving them many people to manage. If they have a circle like the following then I would propose they should care more about the other areas of the company.

The Perfect Balance
The best situation is when you balance out people’s aspirations of concern and their influence and control. You generally want people to be influential, but not at the cost of their own areas or their sanity.

Is this blog post the most wisdom filled block of text I ever wrote? Probably not, but they can’t all be zingers. I need to keep it balanced!