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 »

Could grads from Northeastern be better entrepreneurs than grads from Harvard or MIT?

26 August 2010

Having just sat through the final presentations of ten entrepreneurial teams graduating from Dean Paul Zavracky’s yearlong I-Cubator program at Northeastern University’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship, I have to ask: Are these NU grads better suited to be entrepreneurs than the grads from Harvard’s HBS Business School or MIT’s Sloan Entrepreneurship Center?

I’ve seen the hard work – and focused energy — of prior grads from this NU program, such as Jason Evanish, who started Greenhorn Connect and who is an early team member of Laura Fitton’s Twitter startup, oneforty.  This year, I’ve met more folks from the program in my role as mentor to one of the NU teams, NueBuild, whose founding members Ben Youtz and Peter Wiederspahn developed a patented, energy efficient, modular, low cost, home construction system.  I am providing hands-on mentoring to the founding team, as well as helping their efforts to enter their first target market, China.

Seeing ten Northeastern teams up close this week, I am left with the view that they might just be more practical, more hands-on, and more interdisciplinary-aware than the typical grads from those other business schools.  What’s your view?

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Report: 8 Cases When VC’s / Boards Should Hire An Interim CEO

25 February 2010

The Economist recently reported that venture capitalists and boards of directors of European companies are far ahead of their US counterparts in understanding when it makes sense to hire an interim CEO.  Now, a new report out of the UK – which has perhaps the most sophisticated interim management services in the world – details eight cases when a board should consider putting in an interim CEO.

I’ve listed them below, but first three other key points from the report:

  1. Interim CEOs are not consultants; rather, they are hands-on workers.
  2. Interim CEOs are not potential employees; the good ones do interim work as a way of life (and not as a “filler” until a poor economy improves.)
  3. Interim CEOs can be taken into the confidence of a board (as an interim person has the advantage of impartiality.)

The report also talks about why younger and younger executives are turning to interim management as a way to achieve a more flexible and rewarding career.  While delivering significant benefits to the client, interim managers provide themselves with Read the rest of this entry »

The Economist: “Why Many USA Companies Now Hire Interim CEOs.”

30 December 2009

The Economist has a great article about the type of work I’ve been doing for ten years, Interim CEO. The piece addresses why many American companies are now adopting a practice that originated in Europe, and why so many top-notch execs are enjoying these temporary CEO jobs.

The Economist postulates that “interim executives may be the wave of the future in all rich countries, as these countries evolve from what Peter Drucker called a ‘society of organizations’ into a ‘society of networks.’”

Why Companies Do It

The article details three reasons why a company might choose to Read the rest of this entry »

I am thankful for Tom Poole, My First Boss. One Man, Four Lessons, An Immeasurable Impact.

22 November 2009

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my first boss, Tom Poole, who died a year ago.  A quiet, unassuming Down Maine’r, as a young man Tom left the Pine Tree State first to fight for our country and then to make his mark on the business world.  In his retirement, he returned each summer to his cottage in northern Maine.

Tom taught me four lessons — about hiring, making unpopular decisions, buying a cottage (in Maine!), and taking vacations — that have had an immeasurable impact on my life and, by association, the lives of many around me.  Each lesson has its own story which, Read the rest of this entry »

Building on Michael Greeley’s Idea for Senior Successful Serial Entrepreneurs Joining Startups

31 October 2009

StartupI agree with venture capitalist Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital Partners who recently stated that building companies demands great passion, vision and intelligence but “it also helps to have done it before.”  He goes on to say that what the marketplace really needs are “senior successful serial entrepreneurs” to serve on the next generation of entrepreneurs’ boards, to open up their rolodexes, and to share what worked and what didn’t work. He ends by noting that, “such mentorship is difficult to find.”

I would like to build on that suggestion; rather than having these serial entrepreneurs simply serve on boards, I suggest that in some cases they should actually serve as the startup’s interim CEO while the company is getting off the ground.

Every startup has a myriad of details and actions that need to be done. Rather than having a board member who simply advises, “You need to do this; and you need to do that,” in many cases the startup would be better served by Read the rest of this entry »

Three Reasons Interim Management Works

6 June 2009

Brass number 3In an earlier post, I give my view on the six things it takes to be a good interim executive.  In another, I discuss the four cases when, in my view, a business should consider interim executive management.  Today I was asked, “Why does interim management work?”  Here’s what I said.

No Ulterior Motive: For the interim executive, it’s never about “What’s in it for me?”  Or, “What’s the impact on my bonus/options/future job.”  Rather, it’s always about, “What’s best for the company?  What’s the best way to fix this up so I can move on?”

Key Players Engage: It’s never me that turns a place around.  Rather it’s key players – many of them junior managers or individual contributors – who are the ones who make the biggest impact.  (In this post I talk about how, in the first week on each assignment, I figure out who those key players are.)

Prior Knowledge: I never cease to be amazed how often I’ll use something that someone taught me, often a long time ago and / or often in a seemingly very different circumstance.  This prior knowledge from so many varied situations is key.

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My 1st Interim Assignment a Decade Ago, E Ink, Was Just Successfully Sold.

2 June 2009

Kindle2My very first interim assignment a decade ago was at E Ink, the maker of Amazon’s Kindle. I am pleased to see the company was successfully sold and will remain in Boston. Congratulations to Russ Wilcox and the great team at E Ink

Here’s what I say about E Ink in my resume:

“Reporting to the CEO, Jim Iuliano in an interim role as General Manager of a 22-person group within a 100-person Atlas Venture funded company that originated out of MIT.  Was charged with determining why divisional revenue targets had not been achieved.  Although I possessed no prior knowledge of the product space (electronic, centrally controlled signage) or the target markets (retailers and consumer package goods companies), within weeks determined that success could not be immediately achieved with the current product in the existing markets.  Created and managed four SWAT teams which rapidly conducted exhaustive research to find a new market opportunity for the Company’s technologies, the Ink-In-Motion line which is still in use today.  Currently, E Ink’s technology is the display in the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader wireless reading devices.  Eink was sold for over $215 million.”

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What Makes a Good CEO? You May Be Surprised.

27 May 2009

DullDavid Brooks’ NY Times Op-Ed piece, “In Praise of Dullness” provides data from numerous studies as to what does – and does not – make a good CEO.  He reports that traits that are NOT associated with being an effective CEO include many things that seem counterintuitive, including: strong people skills, being a good listener, a good team builder, an enthusiastic colleague, a great communicator.   He contends that warm, flexible, team-oriented and empathetic people are less likely to thrive as CEOs. 

Rather Brooks reports that organized, dogged, anal-retentive, and slightly boring people are more likely to thrive as CEOs!  Studies show that traits which correlate well with CEO success include emotional stability and conscientiousness; being dependable, making plans, and following through on those plans.  He concludes with, “The CEOs that are most likely to succeed are Read the rest of this entry »

“Tell me again, Des, why we’re cleaning the office before the client visits tomorrow?”

11 May 2009

Mr. CleanWe have an important potential client visiting tomorrow so I’ve lassoed the troops and we just cleaned the office.  One of the younger guys asked, “Des, this company will be buying our technology, not our office space.  So tell me again why we’re cleaning the office before they arrive.”  To which one of the other guys said, “Tell them your story Des.”  Here goes. 

My first job out of school was working for a large computer company. A few years into the gig, I had an assignment on the New England District staff, one of five guys working for the District manager who managed two dozen Branches.

One of our tasks was for the District Manager and his staff to go to each branch once a year and do an all-day review of everything:  sales forecasts, accounts receivable, quality of service, installations, inventory etc.  The first time I did one of these reviews, when we arrived at the office, I headed straight for the conference room for the presentations to begin.

But the boss said, “No, Des, we start in the back room at the loading dock, Read the rest of this entry »


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