Louis Bidou

FOUNDERS' TIME MANAGEMENT

At Sketchfab and for a couple months, we were used to leverage Fridays late-afternoon to share best practices about personal and teams organization. Goal was to basically bounce ideas to work smarter.

Alban, co-founder & CEO, learnt a bunch of things during Sketchfab early days at Techstars. And he once shared with us a framework to help startup founders organize their time. The idea is to evaluate how important and urgent each task is before diving in.

If it’s important and urgent, you should do it yourself on the spot. If it’s important, but not urgent, do it, but later. If it isn’t important but time sensitive, make sure someone else takes care of it shortly. And if it’s neither important nor urgent, simply forget about it. Don’t do it.

An very actionable way to move forward when things pile up. For founders, but also anyone else working in a small team.

[SUMMARY] THE AVERAGE AGE OF A SUCCESSFUL STARTUP FOUNDER IS 45

A group of MIT researchers looked at the age of successful U.S. entrepreneurs in the recent years.

Studying new businesses, narrowing it down to those with a high-tech startup profile, and including many more industries than just consumer-facing IT, they found that the average age of their founders, by the time they started their venture, was in the early forties. Not the young-graduate-wearing-hoodie profile we may have in mind.

They show that older entrepreneurs have a significant higher success-rate, and that professional background plays a critical role. “Relative to founders with no relevant experience, those with at least three years of prior work experience in the same narrow industry as their startup were 85% more likely to launch a highly successful startup.”

This actually bounces on a previous observation at one of Firstmark Capital event with their portfolio companies' founders and early employees. I was surprised to not see any founder in their early or even late twenties. All looked at least in their thirties, if not older.

Starting young can of course work just as well. But looks like there may not actually be a deadly countdown to absolutely start our company before 30.

Source: https://hbr.org/2018/07/research-the-average-age-of-a-successful-startup-founder-is-45

THE BEST PITCH EVER

Consider a brand new private company about to launch, and whose pitch is to offer a package of several services to make your daily life easier, better and cheaper. In exchange of paying a yearly subscription, you will benefit from a bunch of services with amazing discounts, or even sometimes for free. You can not choose to pick only a service or another, as you basically pay for the whole package. Among many services the company plans to offer, here are a few.

The company's pitch includes providing its customers with a year-long access to cheap transportation: networks of subways and buses in all cities that run, if not 24/7, long enough for you not to be obliged to rely on taxi or private drivers services at all. You can almost sell your car, as the new venture plans to offer cheap train lines across the country as well. You can use these transportation services to go working in the morning, meeting your friend who lives at the other end of the city at night, or to go on vacation surfing a thousand kilometers away from your place. This will work anytime on weekdays and weekends, for super cheap.

The same company will offer utility services. As part of the subscription you will pay for, you will benefit from a reliable and continual access to electricity and gas, at your place but also everywhere you are, anytime. When you go back home from this friend’s place after a warm dinner cooked with the electricity his place is equipped with thanks to the same private company, lighting will follow you on your way back home so that you will never have to walk in the dark.

It is safer, and safety is another service this new venture will grant you. Within the same plan, you will take advantage of a 24/7 security service that will make sure your probability to be assaulted is as low as it could be, and if this unfortunate event happens, you will just have to call a direct phone number to ask its guys to come and provide free assistance, anytime, even on Christmas Eve. If a fire or gas leak starts at your place, you will call another phone number, and specialists will come within 10 minutes to help your family out, for free again.

Within the same yearly plan, your children will have the possibility to benefit from free and quality education, from the first year of kindergarten to university. The company will provide people enrolled in its programs with world-wide recognized degrees, maximizing your children chances to get a pretty decent job. And in case they do not succeed in finding a job, the company will commit to provide an insurance. They will receive a basic monthly allowance and free advices to get back on track.

If life gets harder, you will have the possibility to move in a new apartment at a ridiculous price. As part of the same yearly subscription, you will enjoy going to the doctor anytime for free, be paid back for the medicines you need to buy, and even have access to the best health specialists to treat your cancer for free. And if one day you have to suit someone, or defend yourself in court, the company will put you in touch with a lawyer who will help you out, for free again.

This new venture looks great! And it looks even nicer when you know that it will undertake generous corporate social responsibility initiatives. The company will integrate into its business model to be compliant with ethical standards, the spirit of the law and international norms. On top of that, every few years, all the customers will be entitled to vote and choose its CEO. Pretty neat.

The only thing you have to do is to subscribe to its yearly plan. To make things even easier, the venture will accept you pay-as-you-go or at the end of the year. And to make it even more fair, your invoice will be calculated as a portion of your earnings of the previous year. Even though you will of course pay with real money going out of your bank account, the currency will then be more an amount of efforts than an amount of money. All customers will pay almost the same portion of efforts to have access to the exact same services. Thus, you will pay just the right amount.

I would buy that, definitely. Luckily, this organization exists already, and has been existing and improving for centuries. It is called the State. It provides people with everything described above, and even more: maintaining healthy international relationships, defining standards to protect our environment, boosting research and innovation, supporting national industry and agriculture, preserving and spreading cultural heritage, promoting tourism, defining guidelines for spatial planning, not forgetting people with handicaps...

All this in exchange of a fair amount of effort. Definitely one of the best service I have been subscribing to so far.

HIRE SMARTER THAN OURSELVES ALSO WORKS FOR INTERNS

I have been discussing with many friends and entrepreneurs looking for interns to help them every day. They have very few money and may be tempted to hire the first person applying, with the excuse that his/her tasks will not be of high added value. But I don't think it is a reason to complete our teams with average performers.

Execution is the key challenge startups are facing. We need people who are able to get things done smartly, and who do it fast, or at least faster than others. Yes, we may have to pay a premium compared to the average intern compensation to attract those serious people, but I do think it is worth it.

Let me share with you a story I have been told a few months ago. A growing New York based startup, which raised a Series A round with one of the major VC fund on the East Coast, has been hiring apparently-good interns for months. Even if investors urged the team to switch to hire experienced people on key positions, passionate interns kept up joining. Finally, the investors admitted they have never seen a team attracting such reliable interns. The founders paid special attention not to hire the first student applying, but really looked for a good fit. It paid and continues, to a certain extent, to pay off.

Of course, it's tough to build a growing and sustainable machine with team members in the context of an internship, but I believe we actually can get the ball rolling pretty fast with passionate people in their 20s jumping on our projects.

TREAT PEOPLE AS IF THEY WERE WHAT THEY OUGHT TO BE...

... and you help them to become what they are capable of being. Here, Goethe may have given one of the best advice to people hiring young professionals.

I had the chance to discuss with a top-executive at SoundCloud to have his feedback on what would be the smartest professional move of a soon-to-be graduate interested in innovative projects but not ready yet to launch his/her own startup. His advices were clear: “Go in a company where you learn, where you develop a framework of thinking, and where you are treated as a real professional.” Go be treated as what you are capable of being.

That's the beauty of growing startups today. If you have the chance to find a project you love and a team you believe in and admire, there is a fairly honest probability you will learn a lot. Join this transparent company in which you can work closely with experienced people, benefit from leadership vacuums, and make a name for yourself.

There is no such is as being treated as what you ought to be.

THE ANSWER IS AND, NOT OR

My friend Nicolas and I had the chance to meet a Managing Director at The Boston Consulting Group to talk about business models cultural institutions could find on their digital content. The bottom line of his answers was all about AND, nothing about OR.

Will virtual cultural experiences shut down museums? His answer was no, simply as the digitization and the move to free music did not empty concert halls. It's not digital music or concerts, it's digital music and concerts. Same for universities. MOOC's did not move students interests from regular curricula to online classes. Yes, traditional methods are disrupted, but both coexist.

Even if this “AND not OR” way to understand changes and disruptions may sound conservative, I think there is actually a lot to learn from it both on a business and a personal point of view. It's a less passionate and more realistic way to figure out how something is going from point A to point B.

[SUMMARY] CEO'S FOUR DUTIES, BRIAN HALLIGAN

Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, illustrates leaders' duties with the image of a bus trip: set direction, pick up people and make sure there is enough gas in the tank.

First, set direction, or define the strategy. It has to be clear and shared enough to inspire people to join the trip and help you en route. They need to be excited about it. Second, choose the right people to pick up, and know when to let some hop off along the way. Also pay a lot of attention to retain them as the trip goes. Third, make sure there is cash in the bank to get to the destination. And I'd had a fourth one: get the ball rolling. Make sure you help people achieving their mission.

Decision making evolves as a startup grows, but those duties seem to be the bottom-line of every successful leaders.

Source: https://hbr.org/2016/03/how-decision-making-evolves-as-a-startup-grows

[SUMMARY] SIDE PROJECTS, FRED WILSON

Fred Wilson reminds that side projects were a meaningful part of the innovation ecosystem in the early 2000s. Now people are moving away from them toward doing a startup, which is not always a good thing.

A reason may be that today the effort to build and launch something that can reach broad adoption is harder. You now have to develop your solution for many devices and OS while you could focus on desktop web back in 2003/2004. It is also much easier to quit your job and get some seed funding.

To USV's partner, there was something great about the ability to experiment with an idea before committing to it. When it didn’t work, it didn’t work. No need to pivot to save face or get investors whole. Just shut it down and start thinking about another idea.

Experimentation is critical and we should have lots of it. But a full-time commitment matched with a significant amount of money from day one is not ideal in many cases. Side projects have an important role to play in the innovation economy.

Source: http://avc.com/2016/03/side-projects/

HIRE THE BEST AND PROJECT THEM

I recently worked on a paper on L'OREAL talent acquisition practices, and realized they actually have a very lean, opportunistic and individualized approach: hiring the best fast, and projecting them inside the Group.

“Today, it’s mostly you who choose your company, not the other way round. I’m not fighting against Danone, Nestle, Dior or Chanel anymore. I’m now fighting against Google, Microsoft, BlaBlaCar, or Uber.” That's what Frédérique Scavennec, VP of Global Talent Acquisition, told me when I asked her about the main HR challenge L'OREAL was facing.

I'll blog later about the key competencies on which L'OREAL is hiring, but except for positions requiring very specific skills such as finance or IT, they do not have any job descriptions. They do a lot of exploration starting from the person: they discover a talent, and then try to find a good position for him/her, acting as what they describe as a “business driver” who anticipates business needs. So very early in the process, it’s all about projecting a profile somewhere inside the Group. On top of that, to Scavennec, “if you want to move walls, you move walls.” For high potentials they are afraid to lose, they always find a solution. It’s a continuous “ping-pong game” between L'OREAL and the collaborator to define where they go together.

If HR can be lean in a 80,000-people organization, I am sure lean startups can organize HR.