life milestones and employment

March 5th, 2015 § Comments Off § permalink

recently at a job interview i was caught by surprise facing a question: “how do you treat pregnancy in your company?

of course i understand where this came from, specially given that the candidate was coming from a completely different, conservative work environment, but it was still so far out of my world view that i needed two days to parse it completely.

so here’s the short answer i should have given then: “pregnancy is just another life milestone, and we are proud to enable and help our employees through any of them.” we have had a lot of our employees get first or second child, but even more often they start working with us before graduation, and the company has to put in some effort to get them over the finish line.

one of our core values in the company is personal growth. this means we feel good if our people grow, even if it has nothing to do with the company. flip side is, that we strive to enable them to grow within the company as well. we like to work with each individually to understand their ambitions and do everything we can to present them challenges that are aligned with where they want to develop.

sometimes that also means the employee leaves the company, because we can’t match their ambition. when that happens, it’s a very sad but honest moment, where the only one benefiting is the employee – they gain the freedom to pursue their dreams.

unfortunately not many people in slovenia understand that and want to cling to their jobs no matter what. we are not interested in them. we only wish to employ acomplished individuals who will leave us if we are not good enough for them anymore.

all these are just different angles of the same thing – respecting the pregnancy is the same as respecting one’s education, respecting their individual aspirations. it’s all just about respecting their freedom as a human being, and acknowledging that the employer is not in any position of power anymore. we are all partners in one stage of life.

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

product is a whole

December 22nd, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

unique ability of product people is their imagination that allows them to see the whole product even before any of the parts are built or even designed. that’s what we call product vision.

if you have product vision, you can communicate it, you can rally the troops behind you, you can fundraise, you can architect the solution, you can design and build the product. if you don’t have the vision, you can still do all these things, but you will never end up with any meaningful results.

but let’s go a step further, and claim that ‘a product’ is always a compound of parts, yet it behaves as a separate entity. a product is a whole, that is greater than the sum of its parts. users like or hate the product and their experience with it, not it’s components. that’s why a product with all same or even worse components, but slightly better product marketing, usually wins, because it communicates the vision better, which enables the users to identify with it better.

because the product is a whole it’s really important to communicate the whole. especially while still in the process of building it. when i work on products, be it in my job, or for hobby, if i work alone or with a team, i always try to keep the product at “some stage of completeness”. this means that natural milestones of development could be described as ‘mini mvps’ – functional end-to-end experiences with rough edges are much easier to demo, than polished sub-components.

engineers sometimes complain that this type of simultaneous development is inefficient, because they need to switch contexts a lot. arguably, you loose some engineering speed of parts, but gain significantly in communication and understanding of the whole.

Do ask for forgiveness instead of permission

December 18th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

working in a fast-paced environment requires special kind of trust in a team.

the mantra “dont ask for permission, ask for forgiveness” speaks and relies on this trust. if team mates can’t forgive you for trying to do the right thing on your own, than you have bigger issues.

however, there is a flip side that is completely ignored – you do have to ask for forgiveness! if you just do something out of the ordinary, you most probably knew you will need forgiveness, and if you wait until others discover it and ask you about it, you are actually just being arrogant.

MVP is not a shortcut

December 15th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

product development has been totally dominated in past few years by the ‘lean methodology’, preaching that we should all focus on less features, more iterations and a lot of customer interviews. all good and well, but i have also seen a lot of misunderstandings of this approach, leading to dysfunctional teams and products.

I believe the most problematic concept of all is the MVP – minimum viable product. everyone is pretty sure they know what MVP is, and yet, they continue to deliver either dysfunctional prototypes, or confusing ‘betas’.

sometimes, what people call the ‘lean mvp’ is actually just an excuse for sloppy design and coding. these i hate the most, and explain the fallacy with an engineering comparison:

MVP of a bridge is not made of two ropes, connected with occasional rotten wood planks that happened to be lying around. this lethal construction would serve only as a practical illustration of a concept, a sketch on the napkin, not even demo-ware yet.

MVP of a bridge is a healthy trunk carefully mounted over the river. you can use it to cross the river; you might have to learn how to walk it, but you can be sure it will carry your weight.

designing and building MVP is not a shortcut, it should take notable time and effort to do it.

business haiku (efficient emails)

December 11th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

English: Graffiti found on the back of a busin...

English: Graffiti found on the back of a business in Austin,TX. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

in today’s world, ‘working closely’ often means exchanging emails most of the time, which causes lot’s of people challenges trying to survive overwhelming amounts of it and managing all those communications. i have had the pleasure of working closely with some of the smartest business people on the planet, and one in particular – fred wilson. he always responds promptly to emails, almost regardless of the time of the day. and even if he doesn’t respond, you can be sure he reads it, but simply has no response to make (yet).

after observing his style for a while, i realized his emails follow a pretty rigid form. i’m not sure if even he is aware of it, but I believe he would agree nevertheless. let’s look at an example and dissect it. this email was sent years ago to john battelle:

John

please meet Bostjan, co-founder and CEO of Zemanta

he’s returning to the US shortly and will be on the west coast in early June

maybe he can swing by Federated and spend some time with you

one notices several key elements:

  • short, simple sentences. very rarely will there be a paragraph in his messages. if it can’t be summarized to a simple point, it’s better discussed.
  • no decorations – only essence and actions. everything else is a waste of recipients time.
  • one conclusion. not two, or one and a half – one email means one message to be acted upon.
  • three sentences form a haiku – he rarely uses one or two sentences, or more than three.

so a very efficient email to a board member should have three sentences, clearly separated, where each communicates one part of the message. for instance:

  • status – theory – action point to verify
  • context – action proposed – estimate of costs
  • three is also just enough to follow one of the ancient patterns of making an argument, syllogisms, so you have 16 more patterns to follow.

after i realized this pattern, i started using it more and more as well. it makes your thoughts and communication sharper, which some people find offensive or rude. incidentally they are usually the ones drowning in unread emails.

best questions i ever got

December 8th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

here is a list of questions, i feel every entrepreneur should be able to answer anytime without thinking. i have received them over and over again, in many different situations, by very different people.

these questions describe the essence of entrepreneurship. i ask them myself every day.

  • what keeps you up at night
  • how many employees you have
  • elevator pitch
  • which transaction you sit on
  • how much cash do you have
  • how much you spend every month
  • who would take over if you got hit by a bus / who do you trust
  • how many users do you have
  • which little part of the world you’re trying to improve

happy to discuss any of them in more detail, vote for them in comments ;)

sizing slovenian markets, everything is 10M potential

December 1st, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

lots of entrepreneurs in slovenia want to work with slovenian market first. nothing wrong with that, as long as you do your homework. marketing and go-to-market in slovenia must be very different than it would be in a larger society.

most important excersise of the go-to-market is always the sizing. and sizing a small market is particularly tricky – usually at least one of the important numbers is large enough to give you some slack, but in slovenia you must be careful.

i use a rule of thumb to quickly asses two variables:

  1. number of potential customers that would be interested in the given product / service; based on how many people are receptive of the problem the product / service is solving
  2. appropriate / expected pricing of the product / service, which is essentially what the disposable income of the population is – how much can your target customers spend without causing themselves existential threat

in slovenia, i believe that we have rule of tens.

for luxury items, this means:

  • 1000 people can afford to spend 10.000 eur
  • 100 people can spend 100.000 eur
  • 10 people can spend 1M eur

and for everyone else:

  • 10.000 people can spend 1.000 eur
  • 100.000 people can spend 100 eur
  • 1M people can spend 10 eur

so you have to know your potential appeal with the product, and then cross check with the pricing you had in mind, to see if your customers can afford it at all.

then you take those targets, and start devising detailed operational plan of activities that will get your product / service in front of those exact 10/100/1000/10.000/100.000/1M people.

and then you can come raise funds to execute the plan. ;)

angel stage valuation

November 20th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

at a networking event recently a startup founder walked up to me and in a very shy manner asked if silicon gardens knows how to set valuation of his company. this burning question was preventing him from starting to fundraise, and with all honesty, it’s a great question that founders for unknown reasons don’t want to ask out loud.

my answer roughly consisted of three parts:

  • if you are pitching angels, that means your company is very early, probably doesn’t have market validations and years of financials that you need if you want scientific fair valuation.
  • because of that, you need to ask the angels / investors, how they can help you achieving your next milestone, which could be anything – develop prototype, go to market, expand to new market… and the help can mean many things, besides the capital – expertise, network, operations,…
  • then you ask yourself how much is that help worth to you, and compare with what the angel expects. more often than not, you realize that the deal is in your favor
  • keep in mind that there are some thresholds – minimum stake to make investor feel involved in the company is often 5%, max that you might want to consider is 30%, otherwise you’ll have problems with cap table in future rounds of financing.

very basic question, but important nonetheless. founders, don’t be afraid to ask basic questions. ever.

anything to add to the answer dear readers?

the clash of generations

November 17th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

i work with a lot of startups and startup organizations in slovenia and abroad. not long ago, a group of entrepreneurs even visited the president, who wants to help.
we were a diverse group, and first surprise was, that each of us had completelly different set of operational challenges that made it hard for him to develop their startup in slovenia and thus create more jobs.

  • some were having hard time raising funding from foreign investors because our legislation is exotic, continental, written in slovene, not simple for business and because not a single global law firm has presence in slovenia.
  • some where having hard time getting bank loans, not because their business plan would be shady, but for procedural reasons like not having 3 or 5 years of balance sheets to provide – because the startup is younger than that of course
  • some weren’t receiving responses from government institutions responsible for their fields when they asked for clarifications on legislation, increasing the risks of operating the business
  • most are having problems employing foreign high-skilled workers, because getting the visa is lengthy, because immigration office doesn’t speak anything but slovene, and because work taxes are so high, that workers receive less net salary than anywhere else in europe
  • some struggle because they want to issue stock options to employees, a concept that doesn’t exist in our system and thus requires a lot of improvisation, and where tax implications are not clear at all
  • some serial entrepreneurs complain that the capital they made in the past and paid capital gains tax for, should they reinvest it into new business, that will create new jobs, will get taxed again. and again. and again.

this is an example list of ‘small’ issues that we identified, and while it looks huge and diverse set of problems, everything boils down to two fundamental facts:

  1. previous generation and it’s institutions, that are currently leading the society, do not understand specifics and differences of our generation’s institutions. all those problems are essentially simple misunderstandings, that would improve if we talked more about them.
  2. but we don’t need them to understand, it’s easier to just move away. young ambitious person in a globalized world can choose from hundreds of work environments with different characteristics, and all these ecosystems are essentially on the market for talented entrepreneurs to come and make societies better. Slovenia doesn’t act as if it’s in the market for young people.

these two facts combined result in unprecedented void between the leading and the coming, which has no rational reason to cure. it’s unprecedented, because only now the borders are gone and people and businesses are more free to move around then every. young people have no rational reason to stick around in an environment that calls them “the lost generation”, their energy is more efficiently spent elsewhere.

new york is a fabulous example of government that extended their hand and proactively works with new generations to form policies to make new york better for them. and when i say proactively, i mean all the f**ing time. one month after i moved to new york five years ago, i received a call from the NYCEDC, asking when could their head visit me for a chat on my experience with establishing the business there and how they can help. i told him many things, including that for a european the streets feel dirty. the director of a public agency was performing a on-the-site customer interview, not because i am so important, but because that’s what he does – he knows the people who will shape the future of the city better than anyone else.

in slovenia however, we have 200k public servants who can’t be bothered to think about such everyday details. and we have 20k people who left because they weren’t heard when it was time.

dublin web summit 2014

November 13th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

 

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

coming home from the web summit early this year, watching the closing remarks and announcing the winners ceremony on the tv’s around the dublin airport. paddy looks great, relaxed as ever, as he announces the cto of coca-cola, who announces their programme of support for entrepreneurs.

the web summit and the founders conference are amazing achievements by paddy & the team. they started 4 years ago, bringing 500 tech entrepreneurs into dublin for a get-together. this year, they brought 20.000. in the years in between, they had the most amazing lineup of speakers and participants, like elon musk, bono and mark.

so far, nothing new, everyone knows this is happening. even some slovenian vc’s were noticed in the crowd this year. what struck me when i saw paddy on TV with the guy from coke was, that paddy has probably the most impressive rolodex on the planet. his personallity and his vision and lots of hard work have given him access not just to PA’s of most influential and smartest leaders in the world, but even more importantly, for these events to work, he had to invest time to really understand each of their motivations and goals and visions and activities.

i expect paddy to have better understanding of where the global business is going than the nsa.

let’s meditate about this for a second, and repeat the logic – in just four years, he got best of the best to speak on his stage and support his cause. he didn’t bribe them. he trully got them on his side, with charm and with facts. he knows these people and organizations they represent personally. that’s power.

and what does he do with this power?

he organizes a party.

let’s meditate on that – yes, a f**ing party. a 4-days long pub crawl on the streets of dublin. an excuse for 20k of most productive people on the planet to get away from their routines of changing the world and … get drunk!

a lot of good comes out of these parties of course:

  • taxi drivers and airliners and hotelliers and pubs benefit directly. of course they also sponsor the event
  • participants get some rest / action and recharge their batteries
  • participants get their annual dose of brainwashing about changing the world and how awesome they are for it
  • the speakers and the corporations feel good about connecting with the community and giving back to the community, without noticing that they were actually kept far away from the actual audience, in separate hotels and lounges
  • the startups participating in competitions feel good about the hard work and energy they put into presenting themselves for one of the four days in one of the five startup halls with 500 startups each, and pitching those two vc associates that stopped by their 70cm of booth space.

obviously, this is a good thing. great thing even. getting 20k people on a remote island means you are doing something right for the planet. but i can’t help but ask myself, is there anything better that could be done with all that power?

every society needs connectors, people who facilitate connections between individual players, because of their unique abilities to make personal connections with various and diverse actors, accumulating social capital, and converting it into trust between the introduced parties.

one of the ways you can do this, is by throwing a party, and hope that the right people will connect by pure luck. completelly different approach is performing surgical strikes with direct introductions. in between these two is the third way – playing a good host – organizing the party, and intruducing the ones that showed up between eachother.

after this year, i feel that we only had the party, and absolutely nothing else good from paddy. i wish he would spend his time connecting the best startups with the right brand executives. the planet would be better off.

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