Showing posts from 2017

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. …

Marking Time

As I leave Reed Group to start a new adventure, I find myself wondering: how do you measure 7 ½ years of work and life together?

I could measure it in accomplishments, I suppose: We built 4 SaaS products and showed the absence management market how technology could be a differentiator.We grew a software business from the ground up that now serves 1500 employers, 10 MM employees, and counting. In the process, we went from the chaos of a first release by “those IT guys” to a professional technology organization with over 300 people worldwide.We grew a small family business from 225 people to the 2000-employee-strong international company that it is today That all looks great on a resume (or a LinkedIn profile), but it’s unsatisfying to me. Here’s how I really want to measure my time since 2009: in the moments and personal milestone we shared. There are the hundreds of people who joined our technology team over the years, and while some left (hey, it’s a hot market), I’m proudest of thos…