Career, Generous, On Writing, Startup, Uncategorized

When you get a chance to go back to a great team, jump at the opportunity!

courtesy of  

Have you ever been on a great team?

I mean the kind of team that people and alumni talk about years later. I’m talking about a team that produces results, leads the market, and is the kind of team that spawns other great teams. It’s hard to produce these kinds of results once, so it’s all the more remarkable when the same team produces another high-performing team (and highly correlated to success in the new venture)

In my career, I have been on great teams, and also participated in not-so-great teams.

Here are a few things that great teams do that mediocre teams do not do:

Great Teams Focus Their Efforts

In a startup (or really inside any company) there is always too much to do and almost always not enough time and resources to do it. Great teams build a culture where people focus on the next best thing they can do to improve the company, and make it easy for people to work together to gain results. For example, when you cut a lightly used feature and take the time to improve an existing feature, you are lowering the surface area of your product and helping the whole team to feel better about the quality of your software.

Mediocre teams work on many projects at once and never ship. On these teams, someone always claims credit for doing the work instead of giving kudos to another team member to congratulate them on a job well done. Mediocre teams endlessly add features without taking the time to ask customers whether the existing features meet their needs.

Great Teams Identify and Amplify Team Strengths

On a great team, it’s easy to find specialists. They are busy doing what they do best – not struggling at tasks they do the worst – and producing strong results. Some of the specialists have a specialty of getting other people to make decisions, push themselves to do new things, or to reduce the overall quantity of work to produce higher quality work. Great teams form around individuals who have strengths the whole team can use. These teams ask “how can I help?” to each other rather than saying “I’m too busy – can you ask someone else?”

On a mediocre team, it’s hard to determine what anyone does well, because everyone is meeting with each other in the same meetings. There is no time for work during the work day, because no one comes prepared to discuss items at meetings, and people spend the meeting time multitasking and doing the work they could not complete in their previous meetings. Mediocre teams leach away the strength of their individual specialists by creating an environment where no one knows how to make a decision and where no one feels empowered to ask for that decision.

Great Teams Are Resilient

Having a great team does not isolate you from conflict. Great teams are effective at meeting conflict head-on, discussing the problem, finding a solution, and then moving forward either by “disagreeing and committing” or by genuine consensus. These teams are resilient because during times of trouble team members lean on each other’s strengths and find solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

Mediocre teams fall apart or descend into chaos during stressful situations. There are few things more disappointing than thinking you’re on a great team, encountering a stressful situation, and then realizing your team is rather mediocre. Instead of the support you get from a great team, on a mediocre team it ends up being every person for themselves.

Great teams are hard to find.

I recently joined the team at Kustomer because this is a great team solving a hard problem in an important market – CRM for support customers – and I wanted to be part of that effort. So far, working at Kustomer feels similar to the atmosphere I shared with some of the team members when we worked together at Assistly. We work hard, we play hard, and we are building a business centered on our customers. But what makes a team great?

Great teams sometimes form by themselves and sometimes are made. People know a great team when they experience it. Great teams do not last forever, because culture is hard. When you get the band back together, it doesn’t always work. But when it does, it’s amazing.

Kustomer is a great team. We are crushing it. That doesn’t mean we’re always right – it means we are going after a great market with proven technology expertise, deep domain expertise, and a kick-ass attitude.

Career, Customer Service, Generous, Innovation, Product Thoughts, Productivity

What I learned from Big Omaha: Change Yourself, and Change the World

photo by SiliconPrairieNews

Just Get Going

When I sat down to write my takeaways from the Big Omaha conference I attended this week, I struggled with finding a focus. And then I realized that the two key things that I learned from the speakers and from my fellow attendees made it easy. First – as Shervin Pishevar put it in his inspiring talk, always ask for what you want, because you can “go from 100% no to the potential of 100% yes.” And second, just get going – because as many of the talks showed, you don’t have to know everything you’re going to know until you do it. (And even then, you don’t have to figure it all out.)

Always Ask

So, my ask for you is that if you want to know more about my thoughts for any of these talks, go ahead and ask me on Twitter or in email – I’d love to share more than what I can write here in a few words. And second, here goes 😉 The speakers were amazing and I’d like to point out a few that were particularly inspiring to me.

photo by Silicon Prairie News

Ben Huh presented a rousing beginning to the conference by reminding all of us how absurd it seems to ask a VC (or anyone): “I would like to start a media company by buying a cat picture web site.” Ben – the CEO of Cheezburger Networks – shared a vision for entrepreneurship based on a simple, but audacious goal: ask people to be happier for 5 minutes a day. The fact that it might happen due to silly pictures of cats is beside the point. There are academics and writers who have written a lot about this idea as it relates to GDP and improvement of economies on a large scale by measuring happiness, and I’m glad Ben is doing his part.

Photo by Silicon Prairie News

Shervin Pishevar was another standout speaker for me. His message to surround yourself with value creators and that “life should be about the collection of experiences, not materials” might seem out of line with the goals of a successful businessperson and venture capitalist. But if you view the role of entrepreneurs to innovate and fundamentally change society, then money and success are the means to a larger end: giving value and giving back. Shervin’s new project, “One Percent of Nothing,” is a drive to encourage people starting businesses to contribute one percent of their earnings to charity while those businesses are nascent, which can build tremendous wealth for charity and society as those businesses grow. (And made me think I’d love to participate for my next business.)

Photo by Silicon Prairie News

Finally, Bo Fishback‘s story of how Zaarly came to be was the most raw and the most promising and scary at the same time. Bo’s nine weeks into founding a company for which he and his co-founders left their jobs on the expectation that they might be participating in one of the greatest flops or the greatest success stories of all entrepreneurial time – and they don’t know yet. Bo was candid about all of the careful rules he’s learned while at the Kaufman Foundation and how in his new business, they’re currently ignoring them – because it’s all moving just too fast. This doesn’t mean his past experience went to waste – it means he’s learning in real time how to make the best decisions he can with the best information he has at the time.

Change Yourself, then Change the World

If you ever want to take two ideas away from Big Omaha about being an enterpreneur – and really, being an innovative person – you should first change yourself, then change the world.

Here are six ways you can change yourself:

  • Start Something. It doesn’t matter whether it’s big or small
  • Lose Fear or Just Fight It. None of the successful people I met have forgotten how to fear – they just got comfortable with having it around all of the time.
  • Fail Fast. Once you start something, it’s a lot easier to find out whether or not it’s going to catch on.
  • Get UP. When you fail (because you will sometimes), measure yourself by how you get up.
  • Give Back. There are many ways to give back to your friends, your family, and your community. Pick one and do it.
  • Be Generous. Whether it seems like nothing or something to you, it means something to someone else. Connect and give.

And here are three big ways you can change the world:

  1. Find Inefficiencies and Natural Monopolies. They are out there, and many times no one has suggested something better.
  2. Disrupt inefficiency with simplicity and service. Simpler (to the user) is better.
  3. Know your data. Measure based on fulfilling needs, then wants.

And if you want someone to know about what you’re doing, start (a little) controversy – thanks @Pud, and by the way – it’s not easy. So make sure you have fun. (And p.s. thank you Shane Mac for demanding that I attend, and to Jeff Slobotski, Dusty Davidson, and the rest of the Silicon Prairie News crew for putting on a fantastic conference.)

On Writing, Photography

Why I love working in Seattle

Pioneer square

Originally uploaded by gregmeyer

Working in the city of Seattle in the Pioneer Square area is a bit gritty. It’s nothing like gliding to work in the gleaming eastside office towers of Bellevue, pulling into the parking garage, and going up 16 floors of a LEED certified building. Instead, it’s a bus ride filled with people of all walks of life, a walk from the bus stop through a vibrant area of the city, and a reminder that a 100 year old building can be useful again in a web 2.0 (3.0?) world. It’s a bit of a romantic notion, and I love it.

Cities have been around for thousands of years because there is a certain critical mass required by (and inspired by) trade, commerce, and people. Even in the age of the Internet, it’s a great reminder to walk around in the downtown core of a city and see that location does matter. You can surf the internet from anywhere, but you can’t always walk around the corner and find a great restaurant or a place to hang out or see people who aren’t just like you alongside people who might be just like you.

I love the city, even when it’s a bit grungy and smelly. Pioneer Square reminds me that the industrial core of Seattle has come back to life with the information industry of the 21st century, and I’m glad to be a part of that (it also helps on the days when it’s sunny.) Working in other parts of the city might have been an easier commute, but now I feel like I’m part of the neighborhood.