You Have to Give to Succeed

Giving is a way of life in my family.  I've talked before about how we make this a priority in our lives and our finances, and we try to make it a part of our everyday lives as well.  For years, when anyone left the house for the day, they would leave with the words "Be a blessing!" in their ears.  We want to be more than good people; we want to be a blessing to the world, and every part of my personal life is tuned toward that purpose.

Work?  Not so much.  Putting other people first at home is one thing, but doing it at work always seemed to be the fast track to a career in doormats and punching bags.  When your boss has Sun Tzu's  The Art of War on his desk, maybe graceful capitulation isn't the best strategy.  So I learned to keep my generosity at home and to be more strategic in my dealings at work.

I had a certain image in my mind of what a "giver" looked like: nice, soft, beaten down, carrying some girl's books to school while she walked arm…

When to hire a CxO

In my last article, I told you that you don't need a CTO yet, and I received some interesting responses.       In one discussion, someone pointed out that this doesn't just apply to CTOs but could really include any C-level position that the founding team doesn't already have covered.  I agree: I chose to write about the CTO role because it's closer to my experience, so I end up discussing this function with startup teams, but you could just as easily say, "Don't hire a CFO yet."  As this person pointed out, you need to take care of the functions that are covered by these roles, but you don't need to create the titles until they're absolutely necessary.

So let's assume you took my advice (because you really should).  The logical next question is: when should I hire a CxO?  The actual timing varies by your company and situation, but here are some pointers to tell you when the time is right.

When the hat gets too big "We all wear a lot of …

Startups: You Don't Need a CTO (Yet)

"My technical co-founder just quit," she says, "and he took all of the product code with him.  Now I have to negotiate to get my product back."

"I had to fire my CTO last week," he says, swirling the coffee in his mug and looking around the coffee shop.  "The entire engineering team quit within a few days, so now I'm just hoping nothing breaks before I can hire some people to review the code and learn how it all works."

I hear stories like this all the time from the startups that I work with and from other startup mentors.  Companies who are just starting to get traction are suddenly paralyzed by a loss of technical leadership and lose precious time, money, and reputation strength as they rebuild.  The cause: hiring a CTO too early.

Every software company needs technical leadership, and it can seem especially critical in the early stages, but do you need a CTO right out of the gate?  Tradition (and perhaps investors) would say so, but experie…

Feeding the Elephant: Building for Enterprise Customers

In my last post, I told you how to identify the real customers of your software. Now let's talk about what you do if that customer is a large enterprise.

Many development teams think that if they worked for a “real” product company, then they would build a cool product, with features that they knew everyone would want, and the world would beat a path to their door.  “Real products predict what the market will want, they build it, and then everyone buys it,” they say.  “Better yet, they disrupt the market by building things that no one even knew they needed!  Why aren’t we doing that?”

Personally, I can think of one company that worked this way: Apple.  And even Apple had the Lisa, an expensive mistake that illustrated the high risks of the “artistic savant” approach to product development.  All other development teams have to actually talk to some customers, figure out what they need, and build it.  To make things more complicated, the voices of those customers vary widely depend…

Building for Your Customers

“Be more customer-focused.”
It’s the mandate of every product development team. We have customer advisory boards, customer relationship managers, customer support, and “voice of the customer” panels in our scrum-of-scrums. But do we really know who the customer is, or how we can best serve them? After two decades of building software products, I’m afraid that the majority of the time the answer is “No.”
Whether you’re building enterprise software or a mass-market consumer product, you need to understand your customer before you can build the best product for them, and to do that, you need to ask yourself a few questions: Do we know who our customer is?Do we really know what they need?Are we meeting those needs in the best possible way? Who is our customer, really? When you make commercial software, it’s easy to forget who will be using it, to confuse your user and your buyer. This is especially easy in enterprise software, where a few large customers often gain a disproportionately lou…

"The Power of Intentional Giving" - Ignite Boulder 32

On May 18, I was privileged to speak for the fourth time at Ignite Boulder, on a topic that’s near to my heart: giving. Specifically, intentional giving, which means making caring for others a priority and a discipline in your life.  Here's the video of that talk.

The Power of Intentional Giving

Civil war in Syria! Tornadoes in Texas! Hate crimes in Mississippi!  This isn’t cable news: it’s a tour through my mailbox on any given week.  Oxfam, the Red Cross, the ACLU, they all want a piece of me; more accurately, a piece of my wallet.
If you’ve given to a charity, you’re familiar with this pattern: something happens in the world, and you immediately receive crisis-driven pleas for money.  Fire in the mountains?  Give to the Red Cross!  Trump signs an executive order? Oxfam needs money.  Trump goes golfing?  Give to the Mar-a-Lago Caddy Rescue Fund!
Now, all of these are good causes, but let’s be honest: these life-and-death pitches are a pretty cynical way to ask for money.  And if you give, do you have any idea who you helped? Did you make the world a better place, or did you just assuage your guilt over not being one of those tortured faces on the web site?
What if there were a better way?  
About a year ago, we heard that a friend, who I’ll call “Donna,” was losing her sight. …