Archive for the ‘Change Agent’ Category

MassChallenge – Another Successful Interim Assignment

21 January 2016

HQ Standard_VerticalI have been involved with MassChallenge since its inception, mentoring over a dozen companies.  Some went on to become cash prize winners, and most are still on-going concerns. I have also completed three interim assignments, helping MassChallenge itself by working on key operational initiatives. Most recently as Interim COO I implemented organizational changes so we could take the best practices from our Boston accelerator and apply them to the successful launch of MassChallenge UK, our first international in-country program. In 2015 we welcomed 90 startups to our London accelerator while spending $500k under budget. Based on what we learned in the UK, we created a “Play Book” to permit the simultaneous and efficient expansion of MassChallenge to multiple cities around the world, with three cities –- Jerusalem, Geneva, and Mexico City — added in 2016 vs. a plan for two cities. I once again will mentor companies in 2016.

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22 Ways To Make Email Not Suck

22 July 2014

--If what Alexander Graham Bell invented in 1876 was email – and if the technology invented 95 years later was the telephone – the immediacy of a telephone call would have been seen as an improvement over the delayed back-and-forth communication of email.

Most of us either misuse email ourselves, or we get buried in emails sent by others – often our boss! – who misuse email.

Here’s a collection of 22 tips others have taught. I contend that, if each of us followed all 22 tips, we’d have better communication – and we’d spend a lot less time on email each day.

Today, there are companies who claim the productivity tool they invented will allow you to eliminate email — Asana’s claim of, “Teamwork Without Email” comes to mind. Don’t believe it. Email’s here to stay. So.. (more…)

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 (more…)

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. (more…)

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 (more…)

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: (more…)

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 (more…)

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 (more…)

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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