Completed 15th Interim CEO Gig in 14 Years

9 April 2014

CSM LogoAs with all of 15 interim gigs, the success we had over the last year when I was Interim CEO at Cambridge Sound Management is due to the people.   As my first boss said, “Success in business is all about the people.” Hire good people. Train them. Motivate them. Empower them.

I’ve found this to be true no matter what industry I’ve been in and no matter what size the company.

CSM is the number one sound masking company in the world. It’s main product line, QtPro is based on patented technology and is used by over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies to protect speech privacy and to Read the rest of this entry »

16 Ways to Reduce Email Time AND Increase Email Efficiency

20 January 2014

Email sign in a jail.To get yourself out  of Email Jail — to stop being buried by email — you need to achieve two goals: 1. Reduce the number of emails you send and receive. 2. Maximize the efficiency of the emails you do send and receive. Here are 16 techniques others have taught me to achieve these two goals.

Each seems simple, but putting them all in practice together can get you out of “Email Jail.”

Tip:  You may want to pass this on to your boss and tell them that they really need to act on one or two of these!

1. Manage People Via Email:  Don’t. Don’t manage people via email. That’s not why it was invented, and it doesn’t work well for that task. It’s mail; it’s not magic. Rather, manage people by using time-proven techniques (Mutually agree goals. Expect and Inspect. One-on-one, in-person meetings. Etc.)

2. Have Goals – not Email – Drive Your Day:  Do not let email drive your day. Your personal and organization goals should drive your day. A great technique: Do NOT start your day by Read the rest of this entry »

Eileen Desmond Pieri Eulogy

31 December 2013

Comptometer     I was lucky to be asked to write the eulogy for my mom’s funeral on December 30th — exactly 51 years to the day after my dad’s funeral.   But it wasn’t my work – rather it was the collective work of many people, whose help I appreciate. In case you’re interested, here it is…

There’s an expression, “You only die if no one remembers you.” Based on the many heartfelt stories we’ve received, it’s clear that if ever there is someone who will be remembered, it is Eileen.

Today, let’s remember Eileen with numbers.

As many of you know, Eileen was always good with numbers. Well into her 97th year mom could still rattle off all sorts of numbers such as the World War II dog tags of our dad and her brother. Right out of high school, Eileen became a master at running one of the precursors to the modern computer, a machine called a Comptometer. She was so good at it the bosses gave her some of the toughest calculations to do, often with businessmen in suits and smoking cigarettes hovering over her shoulder waiting until Read the rest of this entry »

Four Cases When Hiring an Interim CEO Makes Sense — Even for a Young Startup!

10 October 2012

Number 4

I’ve done 10 interim CEO / interim COO gigs during the last 10 years.  In my view, there are four cases when hiring an interim CEO make sense:

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  1. For The First 3 – 18 Months of a Startup: As detailed in this post (which in turn was prompted by a post from Flybridge Capital Partners venture capitalist Michael Greeley’s) there are times when hiring an interim CEO at the formation of a startup makes sense.  Adding the experience of a senior, successful entrepreneur to the passion and vision of the founding entrepreneurs can increase the likelihood of the venture’s success.  (This is the role I played at Ember Corporation.)
  2. Helping a Founding CEO: Often, later in a startup’s life, a founding CEO can use help.  Rather than terminating the founder and “throwing the baby out with the bath water,” a better solution might be to bring in an interim COO to counsel the founder, and – in many cases – to actually Read the rest of this entry »

My First Task as Interim President: Cleaning the Kitchen!

8 October 2012

In an earlier post I discussed the consistent process I take the first week of each interim CEO / COO assignment.  As noted, though my process is consistent across companies, the resultant actions taken are often quite different from company to company.  My strangest -– but in hindsight maybe my most effective –- first action was as interim COO at a $20+ million, unprofitable software company: The first thing I did was clean the company kitchen!

Little did I know that -– before the last clean mug was in the strainer -– word traveled to the company’s remote offices in London, Dubai, and Perth that there was a new kid on the block and he was taking no prisoners.  Unknown to me at the time, the foundation for a rapid turnaround was in place.

Arriving 45 minutes early that first day -– it’s amazing what you find out about a company arriving 45 minutes early on the first day –- the only employees in the office were four individual contributors having coffee in the company kitchen; a ridiculously extravagant kitchen any TopChef chef would die for.

I was told that the only available coffee cups were in the pile that filled the sink -– a pile of dirty dishes, it was noted, that was indicative of two of the company’s problems. Read the rest of this entry »

One Way a Founding CEO Can Survive Their VC

7 October 2012

SurvivorMany (most?) founding CEOs don’t survive their VCs.  As Galen Moore states in his Mass High Tech piece, “Venture capital investors are notorious for investing in a startup, then replacing its founder with a more-seasoned CEO from their network.”  Galen highlights four founding CEOs that have survived, though the article is a bit light on specifics as to how each achieved their success.

Here’s one way: In the last decade, I’ve seen first-hand a number of companies where a founding, first-time CEO heads the VCs off at the pass by bringing in a seasoned COO, on an interim basis, to help them through a rough patch.

It’s true that half of my ten interim assignments have been as CEO, where the VCs wanted to replace a founding CEO.  In each case I was asked to take over from a fired founding CEO and “right the ship” before an executive search for an industry-specific CEO could be undertaken.

But the other five interim assignments have been as COO, where the founding CEO themselves decided Read the rest of this entry »

Founding CEOs; How Not to Get Fired by Your VC

15 October 2011

When I was signing up for this year’s unConference, I was reminded how last year’s event was great because of the impromptu breakout sessions where it was fair game to discuss controversial subjects.  I wish every founding CEO could have been at last year’s session titled, “How founding CEOs can transition from visionary to leader.”  Though that was the title, it was clear from the get-go that this session was really about, “How founding CEOs can avoid getting fired before they ever make that transition from visionary to leader.”  Eric Paley and Katie Rae, the session leaders, did a great job covering this controversial subject, focusing on solutions to this common problem.

For the last decade, I have been “up close and personal” with the subject of founding CEOs getting fired.  As interim CEO at a half dozen companies I bridged the gap after a founding CEO was let go by his investors.  And as interim COO at another half dozen companies I helped the founding CEO endure the pressures of their job.  (As one founding CEO said when he called asking for help, “Des, I’m one Board meeting away from getting fired.  Can you give me a hand?”)

In last year’s unConference session, people had many reasons why founding CEOs get fired “early and often.”  The reasons that resonated with me are: Read the rest of this entry »

Google Ventures & August Capital announce they are funding my current company, RelayRides.

15 December 2010

Since summer, I’ve been interim COO at RelayRides, the world’s first neighbor-to-neighbor carsharing service.  I work for founding CEO Shelby Clark.  Yesterday we announced funding from August Capital and Google Ventures.

RelayRides is an innovative twist on the traditional carsharing model, ala Zipcar.  I believe our business model will have an important impact on the young and rapidly growing $12.5B global carsharing industry. Adding neighbor-to-neighbor carsharing to a community with traditional carsharing is one of those instances when one plus one equals more than two, as detailed here.

RelayRides is a perfect example of Collaborative Consumption. Rather than putting new cars on the road like other carsharing services, RelayRides goes the eco-friendly route by leveraging existing, often idle autos.  Neighbors help each other.  Car owners recover some of the costs of owning an expensive asset while they simultaneously provide a new, convenient transportation option for their neighbors in need of a car.

After operating in Cambridge for six months, Tuesday we launched our second city, San Francisco, generating a slew of great press.

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Question: When is someone who works less hours the better employee?

9 October 2010

Answer:  When they focus on efficiency, not time.

I advise young founding CEOs, either in my role as interim COO or as a “CEO Coach.”  A common issue they raise is their frustration with an employee who does not work incredibly long hours.  I struggled with this until I recalled that, when I was their age, I felt the same way!  I’ve been managing since I was 23 and, for about a decade, I too was impressed with an employee who worked the longest hours.

But then I hired Chris Pooley and he taught me that Read the rest of this entry »

The secret to a successful startup? A great idea being worked on by people with three characteristics you’ll not find on a resume

11 September 2010

Through the MassChallenge Mentoring Program, I’ve been spending three hours each week advising RelayRides, a company with a great idea – peer-to-peer car sharing – that’s smack in the middle of a strong new movement, Collaborative Consumption as written about in The Economist and by Leigh Buchanan in Inc, Clive Thompson in Wired, and Jenna Wortham in The New York Times.

Late on Tuesday, the founder, Shelby Clark said, “Instead of just advising me, why don’t you just join us to accelerate our growth?” After a handshake agreement, I started that day as part-time interim COO.  By 9 PM I was reminded that what it takes to turn a great idea into a successful company is Read the rest of this entry »


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