October 8, 2012
Reflections on the Last Three Weeks at HBS:
Over the weekend, I took some time to reflect on my last three weeks at HBS and the key lessons I’ve learned. This post is a follow-up to “What I Learned: Week 3 at HBS.”
As an entrepreneur, I continue to be really glad I’m at HBS. From classmates and through the HBS case methodology and out-of-class simulations I’m learning a lot that I’ll be able to take with me into to the next company–particularly about leadership and organizational behavior.
Here’s more color on what I’ve been up to the last three weeks and what HBS is teaching this tech entrepreneur so far…
A Journey Back in Time to iContact in Q4 2010
This time, I’ll begin with a story.
It was October 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina. I had been the CEO of iContact since 2003. I had recently turned 26. I was definitely learning as I went along. The firm at the time had around 250 employees and 60,000 customers. We had just closed on a $40 million round of financing that August from PE firm JMI Equity. We faced, perhaps, our greatest strategic choice yet and the stakes were higher than ever before.
To continue our growth–should we:
- Launch a free version of our product to reach a lot more users (and eventually more paying customers) as a competitor had shown to be possible;
- Develop a social media marketing product to enable us to serve our core small business customers more fully;
- Move upmarket into serving larger customers;
- Some combination of all three.
All the information needed to make the right call was at my fingertips. But what was the right strategic choice?
I spent weeks agonizing over the decision and looking at the internal, customer, and market data from every angle to make up my mind. Then, I kicked off a month long process to bring my executive team in on the planning process. Then, we went through a five month operational process to implement the decision.
Wait a second–did you catch that? I spent a month making up my mind and then I brought my executive team into the process? What was I thinking?
Strategic Mistakes I Wouldn’t Have Made Had I Attended HBS Before iContact
I made (at least) three critical mistakes in the above strategic planning process.
- I brought in my executive team after I had spent a month making up my mind on the decision. I didn’t bring them in on the process early enough and I didn’t properly incorporate the information they had into the process. By the time I brought them in–the bias-toward-action get things done entrepreneur in my blood was ready to act and implement. But from their vantage we hadn’t even discussed the key strategic decision yet.
- I didn’t create a process under which needed information could be freely brought to the table.
- I still thought my job as CEO was to fix the problem rather than develop my team to fix the problem.
One of the key “HBS takeaways” from the last few weeks for me has been that to continue to grow beyond initial success, an entrepreneurial founder CEO must change their very nature and slow down to:
- Create effective processes for disciplined information sharing.
- Give up as many operational roles in the company as possible.
- Bring the senior team in early on during strategy formation.
The Key Difference Between a Start-up CEO and a Later Stage CEO
As I’ve reflected this weekend on the last three weeks of classes, I’ve crystallized some thoughts I’ve been having recently regarding the key difference between the CEO of a start-up and the CEO of a larger company.
As CEO of a large profitable company, if you do nothing, a lot continues to happen just fine–for quite some time anyway. Larger profitable companies have an infinite number of months of operating funds on hand (as long as they stay profitable).
As CEO of a start-up, if you do nothing initially, you never go anywhere. And once you’re burning through cash, if you do nothing, you go out of business. In general, start-ups are burning through cash every month and struggling to survive.
Start-ups may only have 2-9 months of cash on hand (sometimes less!). Start-ups often have a short timeframe until they will be either forced to generate more revenue than expenses, raise another dilutive round of capital, or go out of business. And so, if you’re leading a start-up, generally you have to act. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right now.
The big mountain in front of you will only be moved through the will of a determined, focused, and fast moving leader. You think as you go. You develop a great deal of self-reliance. You intimately understand the customer problem you’re solving because you live it daily. You have a clear vision. And you just make it happen through sheer determination and persistence.
The Chief Everything Officer vs. the Chief Empowerment Officer
In the first year of a start-up, the title “CEO” stands for Chief Everything Officer. You’re often the chief janitor, chief recruiter, chief marketer, chief spreadsheet maker, chief evangelist, and sometimes even the chief engineer. If there’s a problem–solve it. If there’s an issue–fix it. The mantra is: Do. It. Now.
The very reason why so few start-up founders can successfully scale as a leader beyond 50 employees is simply this–start-up founders too often don’t get the training or mentoring they need to go from the perspective of “I’ll fix it” to “I’ll develop my team to fix it.”
After your firm reaches 100 employees, “CEO” stops standing for Chief Everything Officer.
After 100 employees, “CEO” begins to stand for Chief Empowerment Officer. Your job is not to do everything. Your job is not to solve most problems yourself. Your job is to develop your team and empower your team to solve problems.
While fixing the problem yourself and micromanaging the solution is often quicker in the short term, micromanaging actually makes the company slower to solve problems in the mid-term and long-term.
Why? Because micromanaging inserts a bottleneck (you) in the process and fails to develop critical team problem solving skills. This reality seems obvious. But, too often the start-up entrepreneur who actually makes it to 100 employees feels like they’ve succeeded against all odds and so they should just continue doing what got them there.
What is the Job of the Later Stage Venture-Backed CEO?
So, what is the job of the later stage CEO (post-100 employees)? Here’s my take:
- Recruiting and leading the senior team and holding them accountable to pre-defined quantitative goals.
- Guiding the team in developing a cohesive and focused business and product strategy with clear market positioning.
- Intimately understanding the needs of customers and market trends.
- Raising capital and managing resource allocation.
- Guiding and building the culture of the organization.
- Managing investor, board, and analyst relationships.
None of these six job requirements say, “fix operational problems yourself” or “set strategy yourself.” Yet too often–this is what Founder CEOs continue to do way too long into their tenure.
Start-up Genes and Cruise Ship Captains
So why is it that the successful “start-up CEO gene” negatively correlates with the successful “large company CEO gene?” Why must this lesson on micromanagement and process be learned eventually by nearly every start-up CEO as they mature?
This phenomenon occurs, I believe, because the key trait that leads to success as a start-up CEO (which is a relentless bias toward action and focus on rapid implementation and incremental improvement) is often the exact trait that causes that same person to become impatient with the processes necessary to prudently make the right decisions and run the company when it grows larger–at least without the right mentorship and training.
Sometimes the swiftest speed boat racers (entrepreneurs) end up sinking the cruise ship (the large company) by trying to turn it too fast and too frequently. Larger ships require coordinated plans and defined processes to properly turn their direction. Speed boat racers rarely enjoy “process” and “planning” and often have this “success bias” that makes them think what’s worked so far will continue to work.
However, if the entrepreneur is going to build something that long outlives them and makes the impact on the world they hope for, it’s either time to learn to manage a large organization or bring in someone who can.
As HBS Professor Noam Wasserman has noted in his research on Founder-CEO succession, “While the Founder-CEO’s skills were a good ‘ﬁt’ for the contingencies faced by the company before, enabling the company to reach its critical milestones, those skills are usually much less important now that the company faces radically different contingencies (Organization Science, March-April 2003).”
While an outside professional CEO often doesn’t have the same passion for the business as the original founder(s), disaster can occur if the unprepared entrepreneurial CEO keeps the helm too long without the right guidance and mentoring.
I Learned The Micromanagement Lesson – Yet I Clung On to Strategy
As CEO at iContact for nine years, over time I “half learned” this lesson regarding not being a micromanager.
We had built a wonderful and experienced seven person Senior Leadership Team including an CFO, CTO, CMO, Chief Architect, SVP Sales, SVP Support, and VP HR. In every case, I was fortunate to have hired people much more experienced than myself. I let Tim run finance, Ralph run tech, Kevin run sales, etc.
I had learned the key lesson around 2005 that my job as CEO was to hire people more experienced than me and hold them accountable to clearly pre-defined results, not to process. Thus I could step back and the company grew–from $3M in sales in 2006 to $48M in sales in 2011.
While I gave up the individual departmental operational responsibilities (and benefited greatly from having done so), what I never truly gave up at iContact was strategy. This ultimately, was one of the practices that prevented us from succeeding further and reaching a greater potential.
We would have these quarterly and annual strategy retreat sessions–but too often they turned into me guiding the team toward what I thought the right path was instead of the other way around.
Strategy is Really About Choice and Focus
By the end of 2011 at iContact I finally came to understand the value of process and integrated thinking in the setting of corporate strategy. I brought a bit of a more structured process into how we thought through 2012 strategy, asking each team member to prepare position papers on what they would do if they were CEO.
By then, however, the market had become more competitive, the path we had embarked on for 2011 hadn’t worked as well as we hoped, and we had fewer good options to choose from. Ultimately, we chose to sell the company to Vocus in February 2012 to gain liquidity and access greater distribution channels.
So which of the four choices did we choose in 2011 at iContact?
Strangely, #4. We did all three of the above listed options! We launched a free version, launched a social media product, and positioned upmarket.
If had taken HBS Professor Michael Porter’s strategy class back then I would have known that strategy is about choice. A “do everything in one year” strategy rarely works. While things turned out okay–in hindsight I believe if we would have focused on executing one of those key moves in 2011 extremely well instead of attempting all three we may have been better off.
How HBS Has Taught the Key “Micromanagement Lesson” Three Times In The Last Three Weeks
It really wasn’t until the past three weeks as HBS has consciously taught this “micromanagement lesson” three times that these learnings above have truly cemented in my brain. I have to say, learning through experiential cases and team simulations at HBS is a lot less costly than learning on the job!
Over the past three weeks, HBS has attempted to teach us this oh so important lesson of how to bring the best out of a team at least three times…
1. During the Everest Simulation – We were put on a team of five and given the task of reaching the top of Mt. Everest in a computer simulation. We were given the roles of leader, marathoner, doctor, photographer, and environmentalist. I was the environmentalist. While I’ll leave out the details in order to not spoil any surprise for future classes, suffice it to say the simulation was very effective at teaching the importance of the leader creating a process to share information.
2. During the Shad Simulation on Building Circuit Boards -
HBS split the entire first year class into around 75 teams of 12 students. Each team had a leader designated and was in charge of creating an assembly line process to build three different types of circuit boards – economy, deluxe, and imperial. We learned not only how to organize our labor for maximum efficiency of output in a timed contest, but more importantly how to create a process to share information effectively within a team of twelve very smart people.
3. During the Wolfgang Keller Konigsbrau Case in LEAD class -
This case chronicles the path of Wolfgang Keller, General Manager of a Ukrainian Premium Beer Brewery, as he figures out what to do with his head of sales and marketing, Dmitri Brodsky. While I won’t describe the case in much more detail, suffice it to say that Wolfgang was the classic micromanager and hadn’t yet learned the lesson to hold his team members responsible for results rather than process.
It was the class discussion however with our LEAD Professor Lakshmi Ramarajan that left me with the best takeaway of my time so far at HBS. She told us, paraphrasing, “There are two types of leaders. Those who solve the problem and those who develop people who solve the problem.”
I was so glad to hear HBS reinforce these two key business lessons time and again:
- Build and develop a team to scale yourself.
- Teams which have a good process of information sharing (combined with smart people in the room) generally get much better results than those in which the leader does not create such a process and whose team members keep key information in silos.
What I’d Do Differently Now
Summarizing my key leadership lessons at HBS so far, here’s a comparison of what I thought prior to coming here and what would I have done instead had I already been through the first six weeks of HBS…
What I Thought Pre-HBS
What I Probably Should Have Done — Incorporating HBS Lessons
I thought my job was to analyze the internal, customer, and market data and come up with a viewpoint relating to company strategy, then to lead my team to seeing it the way I did and have them build the operating plan to implement the strategy. I would often spend weeks analyzing data and only once I had come to a pretty firm perspective, hold a quarterly strategy retreat. Unfortunately the retreat was generally held after I had already made up my mind and thus I missed incorporating critical pieces of information that may have helped us make better decisions.
Instead of brining the full executive team together for 1-2 days per quarter, I should have brought together a small committee of the key members of the senior team to discuss strategy at least monthly in shorter meetings as part of the input and analysis phase. Instead of analyzing quickly at the last minute and then rushing to implement an all-of-the above strategy, I should have forced us to clearly choose and communicate our target audience and differentiation factor and built up a year long program focused just on moving toward that well-defined and well thought-through market position. My bias toward action got the best of me.
I didn’t create a process under which needed information could be freely brought to the table.
I should have created a process under which needed information related to strategic decisions could be freely brought to the table and one through the painful work to create an agreed upon accounting costing system to better calculate the profitability of our two major customer segments (like in the case of Kanthal the Swedish manufacturer).
Developing Your Team
I still thought my job as CEO was to fix the strategic problem rather than develop my team to fix the strategic problem.
While I did give up almost all operational control to the six departmental heads, I still retained strategic control. I spent too much time cerebrally “in my own head” reviewing data and figures and not enough time pushing the team (who had a lot more experience than I did) on what they would do strategically.
Why Does Learning How to Lead Larger Organizations Matter to a Tech Entrepreneur?
What HBS is effectively teaching me are the key leadership lessons and analytical frameworks necessary to be the CEO of a 10,000 person company. There are so many differences between leading a 100 person company and a 10,000 person company.
HBS seems to be pretty good at preparing leaders to run large organizations. As of May 2012, 40 of the Fortune 500 CEOs were HBS graduates, three times the next school, Wharton, with 13.
But tech entrepreneurs rarely build organizations that get beyond 1000 employees, right? Look at Instagram, who sold to Facebook for around $750M (after pre-close stock price fluctuations) with only 13 employees. One can probably list out most of the tech companies that grew beyond 1000 employees in the last 10 years (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Salesforce, Tesla).
So why does learning the experiential lessons behind leading a larger organization matter to me as a tech entrepreneur? Three main reasons.
- Next time I build a company I want to be able to scale with the firm as a leader fully as it grows–hopefully well beyond 300 employees.
- Someday I hope to be a great investor–investing in companies that are building renewable technologies, synthetic biology technologies, and information technologies that are making a huge positive impact in the world. To be a great investor a number of your firms will ultimately need to scale well beyond a few hundred employees–and I want to have the background to be able to guide them every step of the way from start-up to well beyond their IPO.
- Third, someday I’d love to work in public service and hopefully be able to make a positive difference leading parts of government with lots of team members.
How HBS Evolves The Thinking Process
Through the case method and the new analytical frameworks provided, HBS changes the process behind how you think through problems and their solutions. HBS rewires the neurological structure of your thought. At times I can “feel” two concepts being connected in a new way inside my brain during class.
HBS has no doubt helped me already in becoming more analytical and giving me better frameworks to think through tough decisions. Ultimately as a CEO of a big company–while you may be making minor decisions daily you’re really in charge of making just 1-2 big decisions each year. Getting these two annual big decisions right (and then creating the right plan to execute on them fully) is what HBS is helping me prepare for.
While having a bias toward taking action remains one of the most important traits for the start-up entrepreneur–once you have the company operating sustainably and have an executive team in place (say beyond the first 3 years and ~100 employees) the priorities must shift toward analyzing problems fully and with defined processes.
At the later stage it is critically important to take the time to really analyze the internal, customer, and market data with your team, listen to what they are seeing in their departments and in the market, and taking the time to implement one key focus that brings together the strategic, operational, and financial plans. HBS is really good at teaching these type of analytical and team thinking processes.
Will I forget my proclivity toward having a relentless focus and intense bias toward action in the early stages of new start-ups in the future? Absolutely not. But now, if I can get a company beyond a couple hundred employees again, I’ll have much better tools and frameworks to build upon for long-term growth.
But Can HBS Teach Consultants and Bankers to Be Entrepreneurs?
All this exposition regarding how HBS is teaching an entrepreneur to be more analytical begs the question–if HBS is so good at teaching entrepreneurs to become more seasoned CEOs, can they teach management consultants and bankers to be good early-stage entrepreneurs?
Running with the from earlier metaphor, if HBS can teach speed boat racers to slow down and become deft cruise ship captains, can they teach cruise ship captains to speed up and become adept speed boat racers?
Well, in store for first-years like me in the Spring is a required class called “The Entrepreneurial Manager” as well as a requirement to start a small business in a module called FIELD 3. I am looking forward to seeing how HBS chooses to teach the key principles of entrepreneurship to those from larger firm backgrounds.
What is the key lesson that I hope HBS gets across to MBA students wanting to found their own businesses?
In my experience, the key lesson for the aspiring entrepreneur to learn is to not get stuck in analysis paralysis and to take action every single day toward building something that customers desire while rapidly experimenting and incrementally improving as you get feedback. I’ve found that action, constant refinement, persistence, and a deep-rooted passion for creating a change in the world that doesn’t yet exist are the keys to the early stage of entrepreneurship.
Is a Shorter Program Available?
So what can you do if you’re an entrepreneur who wants to learn how to scale yourself as a leader but don’t have two years to invest in an MBA? You may wish to check out the HBS Owner/President Management Program (OMP), General Management Program (GMP), or Advanced Management Program (AMP).
You get the same professors and get to develop a lot of the same intuition and analytical frameworks in a shorter timeframe (though you’ll miss a lot of the lifelong relationships built on campus).
Key Learnings For Me Over The Last 3 Weeks
Here were my major take-a-ways over the last three weeks:
- Leadership – A key part of the leader’s role is to define a process to get information out onto the table.
- Leadership - The leader shapes how the team works by managing its work process and thought process to come to better decisions.
- Leadership – The transparency of information and individual incentive structures is key.
- Marketing – How to use the Six M’s framework to establish clear objectives in advance of a messaging campaign.
- Finance – How to calculate the present value of a set of cashflows via the formula Present Value = Cashflows / (1+Discount Rate)^Time Periods) and choose an appropriate discount rate. Calculating net present value is helpful when comparing the values of various projects in today’s money based on the key concept that money today is worth more than money tomorrow.
- Finance - How to convert GAAP net income into free cash flow via the formula Free Cash Flow = EBIAT – CAPEX + Depreciation – Change in Net Working Capital. This process is helpful in converting GAAP net incomes into the actual amount of cash that is available per period (month, quarter, year) to those considering purchasing a stake in the business.
- Technology & Operations Management - How to optimize the output of a complex production process.
Here are the cases we’ve read the last three weeks with a one-liner on each as well as the non-case classes. I write just a sentence on each so as to not reveal any significant analysis. If you’d like to read some of the cases yourself check out HBR Publishing.
- Healthymagination at GE Healthcare – Which new products in the R&D pipeline should the GE Healthcare CEO choose to commercialize based on GE’s desire to increase access, increase quality, or decrease cost by at least 15%?
- Electric Vehicles - Plugging in the Consumer Class - How can makers of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVS), plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), and electric-vehicles (EVs) best position and advertise their products?
- Population Services International - Will Balbir Pasha Help Fight AIDS? – How can a non-profit working with sex workers in India launch an effective ad campaign to make a major impact in the use of condoms?
- Pepsi: Lipton-Brisk – How can Pepsi utilize a Superbowl ad for Brisk to re-position Brisk for male millennials?
- Sephora Direct: Investing in Social Media, Video, and Mobile – How should the head of Sephora’s marketing allocate her budget across in-store kiosks, social media, produced video, user generated video, an IOS app, and an iPad app?
- Nike Football: World Cup 2010 – How can Nike beat Adidas using social media leading up to the 2010 World Cup?
Technology & Operations Management (TOM)
- Process Simulator – An exercise using a factory simulation program to develop intuition around what occurs when you introduce variability of machine output into a production process.
- Toyota Motor Manufacturing – How does a Toyota plant in Kentucky handle an issue with seat quality within their assembly line process?
- Building Circuit Board Chips Simulation – In teams of 12 we built an assembly line process to manufacture electrical circuit boards and then competed against other teams to produce the most chips with the least inventory left over and maximize cashflow from “operations.”
Leadership & Organizational Behavior (LEAD)
- Everest Leadership Simulation – Create a process for effective information sharing and lead your team successfully to the top of Mt. Everest without being rescued.
- Rob Parson at Morgan Stanley – How can a rebellious yet high-performing employee be groomed after tiring of a manager who doesn’t give him the immediate feedback he needs to improve?
- Karen Leary at Merrill Lynch – How can a branch leader create optimal performance conditions for a Taiwanese wealth manager who does things a bit differently than usual?
- Heidi Rozen at Softbank Venture Capital – The story of a highly effective networker in Silicon Valley.
- Wolfgang Keller at Konigsbrau Beer Brewery – The story of a micromanager who tries to solves problems himself rather than building his team to solve problems.
Financial Reporting & Control (FRC)
- Boston Chicken – Discusses the mid-1990s accounting practices of Boston Chicken (now Boston Market), particularly those related to accounting for the risk of default on self-provided loans to unprofitable franchises.
- Kanthal – Swedish manufacturer of electrical resistance tools for heating. Discusses how to create a corporate information system for calculating profitability on a per customer, per product, and per order basis and how to get move customers from being unprofitable to profitable.
- Subprime Crisis and Fair Value Accounting – What happened in the 2008 financial crisis, specifically related to the fair value accounting of Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and Mortgage Backed Securities (MBSs)
- CEMEX – Patrimonio Hoy Microfinance Scheme – Comparing the net present value to CEMEX and their customer of a way of financing cement purchasing to alternative options
- Ocean Carriers (Discounted Cash Flow) – Calculating discounted cash flow (DCF) of investing in building a ship that the firm would lease.
- Ecosecurities – International Carbon Finance – Understanding carbon trading markets and calculating net present value on a Chinese ventilation air methane project.
- State of South Carolina (Capital Markets) – Learning about capital markets and how to calculate mean return, standard deviation, covariance, and correlation.
Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD)
- Negotiations Day – A team exercise in which we negotiated the terms of the sale of our firm with another team representing the other party. This was an absolutely wonderful exercise and brought back lots of memories of January 2012 for me doing this at iContact. I led the sale negotiations for our team and ultimately failed due to coming across as too aggressive, which caused the other team to run the clock down and give us an ultimatum offer we couldn’t accept. I learned to be firm and clear but to also be cordial .
- Global Immersion Dinner – Ghana – We had dinner together with our group of ~55 who will be going to Ghana in January for 8 days for a company consulting project. As part of FIELD 2, HBS is sending all 919 first-year students to one of ten global countries in small consulting teams.
Outside of Class
The last three weeks have also included a number of out-of-class activities.
- Nexus Summit on Global Youth Philanthropy – Two weekends ago I gave a talk at the Nexus Summit on Global Youth Philanthropy on “The Big Picture – How Our Generation Will Create a Better World.”
- UN Foundation/Mashable Social Good Summit – Attended day two of the conference during the same weekend in New York. Spent time with friends Elizabeth Gore, Aaron Sherinian, and Diana Walker from the UN Foundation, Sergio Fernandez de Cordova and Angela Mwanza from the UN Foundation Global Entrepreneur Council, Brian Forde from the White House, and Kathryn Minshew of The Daily Muse.
- Ray Dalio Presentation – The head of the hedge fund Bridgewater gave a talk on his macroeconomic theories, investment philosophy, and the right amount of quantitative easing and money supply.
- Harvard Start-up Scramble – Stephen Douglass from Babson asked me to judge at the Harvard Start-up Scramble. 14 teams presented after working for 40 hours over the weekend to refine their ideas and pitches.
- Section F Retreat - Last weekend we ventured to West Dover, Vermont to bond as a section of 90 and get to know each other. Led by sectionmate Mike Liu, a team of four of us recreated “Gangham Style” for the section talent show with the help of a chicken, a gorilla, a shark, and a handful of horse stick carriers.
- Renewables Dinner – I hosted 18 HBS first years who have been working in clean tech for dinner along with an MIT graduate engineering student Tiitian Palazzi and the COO of SolidEnergy Systems Jim McQuade (HBS ‘11). I’m becoming more and more interested in nanotech, solar, synthentic biofuels, and battery storage start-ups and the general question of “How do we innovate our way toward a carbon neutral world within 30 years?”
- Start-up Work in the Harvard iLab – 3x per week Skypes with the team in San Francisco working on the new start-up. I am working on the new company from the Harvard iLab on the HBS campus each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon and am loving the environment. At Harvard you used to get kicked out for using university resources to start a business. At the iLab, you get kicked out if you’re working on school work. I love it!
As you may be able to tell by now, I love keeping busy.
That’s all for now. I hope you’re enjoying the reflections and writing.
Feel free to leave comments below.
All the best,
June 30, 2011
I came to Cairo five days ago not knowing what to expect. I leave knowing there are world-class tech entrepreneurs here in Egypt.
In April, I learned I had been selected as one of six American entrepreneurs who would be mentors for a USAID/State Department program backed by the Danish and Egyptian governments to mentor tech entrepreneurs here in Cairo. I learned about the program from Scott Gerber of the non-profit Young Entrepreneur Council.
The six American entrepreneurs were:
- Jeff Hoffman, Co-founder, Former CEO of Priceline.com
- Scott Gerber, Founder, Young Entrepreneur Council
- Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit
- Shama Kabani, CEO of Marketing Zen
- Kevin Langle, Global Chairman, Entrepreneurs Organization
- Ryan Allis, CEO iContact
We were joined by four entrepreneurs from Denmark:
- Thomas Madsen-Mygdal, Podio
- Natasha Friis Saxberg, Gignal
- Kamran Jamshidi, Marketing Lion
- Alex Farcet, Startup Bootcamp
Together, we worked with nineteen teams young Egyptian tech entrepreneurs age 18-30 on Sunday-Wednesday to help them refine their business models and pitches in preparations for the final pitch competition on Thursday. It was extraordinarily impressive to see the immense improvement in the pitches as each day passed.
On Thursday we held the final pitch session. Each team presented for 8 minutes followed by 2 minutes of Q&A. We served as the judges, scoring each team across five category. After four hours of final pitches, the four winners were announced:
- Crowdit -A digital collaborative storytelling platform that is using real-time pictures, video, and social media reports to reinvent the way stories are told and shared online. Their first project will be called 18 Days in Egypt and provide a 360 view of the Egyptian Revolution told through the eyes of the people of Europe.
- SuperMama.me – The iVillage of the Middle East. Creating a community of mothers designed to connect and empower the women of the Middle East / North Africa region.
- Inkezny (RescueMe) – An iPhone app that enables travelers to make emergency calls (Police / Ambulance / Fire ) in any location they are traveling in the world without having to know the local emergency phone number, as well as seeing GPS directions to and phone numbers for the nearest hospitals, and posting a panic notification with location to a users social networks.
- Bey2ollak – An iPhone app that provides live user-generated reports of traffic conditions on the streets of Cairo. They already have 50,000 users shortly after launch and are working on expanding their application globally.
In addition to these four winners, I also really liked
- Balooshy – A location-based ad network for mobile content.
- Tabshora – A 37-signals like tool enabling designers to easily get feedback on design comps from customers.
- OfferQ – A social network for daily deals.
Across the board, the quality of the teams was high, nearly akin to what you might see at a Y Combinator or TechStars in the USA.
The Winners to Intern at iContact
Two of the winning teams will be coming to North Carolina in October for a three week internship at iContact. We are very excited to host them.
They will have a chance to observe every area at iContact including marketing, customer service, sales, finance, and technology. They will also have a chance to meet with investors in both North Carolina and New York City.
The other two teams will have the chance to attend the three-month Startup Bootcamp in Denmark in September, October, and November.
Creation of an Investment Fund for Egyptian Tech Entrepreneurs
On Wednesday night, we all had the opportunity to have dinner at the residence of the Danish Ambassador to Egypt.
While there, we met Hany Al Sanbaty, an Egyptian venture capitalist who runs Sawari Ventures and�Flat6 Labs, an incubator and fund that is launching in Egypt in July.
We were so impressed by the quality of the Egyptian tech entrepreneurs. We wanted to do something tangible and meaningful to show our belief in that these businesses would succeed.
After discussing, members of the American and Danish delegations came together that evening to create a $100,000 pool of committed angel investment funds (which has since grown larger) to invest in the Egyptian tech companies that will come out of the Flat6 Labs incubator in the coming months. The excitement on both sides was palpable when we announced this commitment the next day at the finals. It was clear that we believed in these Egyptian entrepreneurs and were willing to back them with more than words.
And so, after a wonderful celebratory dinner cruise for all participants on the Nile earlier tonight, now I am in the Cairo airport heading back home to the USA.
Tonight, I leave Egypt inspired. And I leave immensely impressed by what Egyptian youth can accomplish, whether it is in eighteen days in the Spring or five days in the Summer.
June 4, 2011
“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” – William Ross
This list of things to to before I die was inspired by the awesome list of Amber Rae.
- Build a company that changes the world.
- Build an investment fund that invests in companies creating jobs in emerging markets.
- Be part of creating a world in which every human being has access to the basic human needs of food, water, shelter, basic medicine, and basic education.
- Be part of creating a carbon neutral world.
- Build a company from start-up that makes it into the Fortune 500.
- Get a graduate degree in business from HBS.
- Get a graduate degree in public policy from HKS.
- Write a book on how to change the world, live passionately, and build an awesome business that makes a difference.
- Build an investment portfolio of companies in the developing world that gets compounded above market returns while creating lots of jobs.
- Someday work in public service for the U.S. Government.
- Someday live on another continent.
- Create over 1 million jobs during my lifetime through the companies I lead and invest in.
- Spend 6 months traveling the world.
- Visit 100 countries and every continent by age 50 (inspired by http://chrisguillebeau.com/places-ive-been/), up to 23 so far.
- Dance in 100 countries and post a 5 minute compilation video of it (#thanksfortheinspiration Matt!).
- Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and reach Uhuru Peak.
- Drive the length of New Zealand’s highway 6.
- Drive the length of the Carretera Austral in Chile.
- Go ATVing in the Gobi Desert.
- Go wind surfing and hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro.
- Do yoga in Bali.
- Inspire others to reach their full human potential
- Ride an Ostrich in South Africa.
- Speak in front of 10,000 people at once during a presentation (up to 1,500 so far!).
- Give a TED talk.
- Attend the World Economic Forum in Davos.
- Be a guest on The Daily Show.
- Meditate with Deepak Chopra.
- See a Cirque du Soleil show (can’t believe I haven’t done this yet!).
- Participate in a freestyle rap battle in NYC.
- Join a hip hop dance crew in NYC.
- Be a guest DJ at a night club.
- Do all the things on my NYC Bucket List (below)
- Perform improv on stage at SecondCity Chicago.
- Play trampoline dodge ball.
- Create and bury a time capsule for my kids to dig up 20 years later.
- Be a mentor at The Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, CO and be part of Unreasonable at Sea.
- Go to the Dialog Retreat.
- Talk philosophy with Eben Pagan and Nick Beim in NYC.
- Win a scavenger hunt in another country.
- Meet the love of my life.
- Get married to the love of my life and be a great partner.
- Be a great father.
- Watch every Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks movie ever made with my children.
- Join the UN Foundation Board of Directors.
- Go to Burning Man
Get a picture with Ban Ki Moon Build a company to $100 million in all-time sales Join the UN Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council Publish a book on entrepreneurship Chair Nourish.org, a non-profit that works to reduce global poverty Invest in a company in East Africa Live with two Kenyan marathoners Speak in front of 1000 people Build a certified B Corp Build a company with an integrated corporate social responsibility (CSR) program Attend the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship Graduate from the EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program Attend Summit Series Attend a StartingBloc Institute Attend Opportunity Collaboration Attend a Renaissance Weekend in Charleston and Aspen Jump out of an airplane to raise money for Tanzanian microfinance Hip hop dance with kids in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya Hike with the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda Ride a camel in Giza Hike through the Picos de Europa Win a scavenger hunt in Washington D.C. Go ziplining in Nicaragua and Whistler Visit India and China Mentor tech entrepreneurs in Egypt Give a TEDx talk
- Attend the Singularity University Executive Education Program (went April 11-15, 2012!)
A Major Life Goal
One of my major life goals is to see a world exist in our lifetime which there is no extreme poverty. In 1800, 99% of the world lived on under $2 per day in constant 2011 dollars. Today, 39% of the world lives on under $2 per day. We are making progress across every major human development KPI (like life expectancy, infant mortality, per capita income, and % under $2/day) and we have the opportunity to actually end extreme poverty in our lifetime such that every human being has access to opportunity and basic human needs. This is exciting to me!
In my lifetime, I hope to be a leader in this movement and work through business, entrepreneurship, investing, writing, and public service to make a difference. I see that our generation has the opportunity to advance human society to the point that every human being has sufficient access to wealth and opportunity to address their basic human needs.
Countries Visited So Far–The Path to 100 Countries By Age 50
- 1984: United States
- 1984: United Kingdom
- 1991: Germany
- 1991: France
- 1991: Italy
- 1991: Austria
- 1991: Netherlands
- 1994: Bahamas
- 1994: Costa Rica
- 1994: Jamaica
- 2000: Belize
- 2000: Spain
- 2000: Mexico
- 2008: China
- 2008: India
- 2008: United Arab Emirates
- 2008: Uganda
- 2008: Kenya
- 2009: Ethiopia
- 2010: Turkey
- 2010: Burundi
- 2011: Rwanda
- 2011: Egypt
NYC Things to Do Before I Die List
One city is so amazing it deserves its own list. Here’s my current New York City bucket list!
- Go on a biking tours of Manhattan and Brooklyn! - http://www.bikethebigapple.com/calendar.php
- Do a free tour of the NYC Federal Reserve - http://www.ny.frb.org/aboutthefed/ny_tours.html.
- Go on a walking tour of Wall Street - http://www.nycgo.com/venues/wall-street-walks
- See a taping of The Late Show, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report
- Take a Helicopter Tour - http://www.libertyhelicopter.com/tours.php?tour=nyny
- See a free outdoor movie in the Summer - http://www.nycgo.com/articles/free-outdoor-movies-in-nyc
- Kayak on the Hudson - http://www.downtownboathouse.org/Pier40.html
- Go on a tour of the hidden tunnels of Brooklyn – Climb down a manhole and discover a world down-under on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn - http://www.brooklynrail.net/bhra_events.html
- Go on a NYC Scavenger hunt - http://watsonadventures.com/schedule.html
- Go on “The Ride” tourbus show - http://www.citysightsny.com/tourpage.php?item=TRP
Visit the Central Park Zoo and make lots of animal noises. Take the Staten Island Ferry See Fuerza Bruta See the Broadway Musicals Wicked, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Chicago Visit the Statue of Liberty Go to the top of the Empire State Building Tour the UN Go to the Top of the Rock Observatory deck to look over Central Park Have drinks at the Salon De Ning rooftop at the Peninsula See New Year’s Eve in Times Square See live music at Rockwood Music Hall in LES Visit the Met Eat at Eataly Go on a Hudson River dinner cruise Citysights all around town double decker tour Visit the 230 Fifth and Salon de Ning Rooftop Bars See my brother perform in an improv show
And now for some cool inspiration by way of the Holstee company manifesto. Pretty cool right…
April 20, 2010
Weddings have been missed. Births have been missed. Babies have been conceived that otherwise would not have been. Lifelong friendships have formed. Serendipitous first romantic connections have blossomed in Hyde Park. Lovers have connected via Skype and Gmail video chat.
Yes, there will be a movie. And no, I still do not know how to pronounce that darn volcano’s name. No one does.
UK Airspace Closed Since Thursday
It’s 5pm GMT on Tuesday 20th of April 2010. I’m writing on a Eurostar train from London to Paris that will soon go under the ocean. I’m trying to get back to work at iContact in Durham, NC and to a loving girlfriend Jess in Chapel Hill.
UK airspace has been closed since Thursday mid-day. My flight home on Sunday was canceled. I had been stuck in London for three days, prior to deciding to stop waiting and head south.
A Plan to Escape
By Monday at noon I had a plan. I had booked a Hertz rental car at London Heathrow and would pick up Nathaniel Whittemore of Change.org and two other friends from the Skoll World Forum who were stranded here and drive down for a Friday flight in Madrid. The rental was expensive, but it was something that felt both adventurous and productive, two words that are too rarely aligned.
But then, in the hotel lobby the news came on saying the UK airspace would open. The newsflash scroller said airspace would open at 1800 hours. The lobby erupted with cheers.
My new 42 year old friend, fellow American business-traveler gone-astray Chris, and I jumped in a cab across the street to Heathrow Terminal 3 thinking we might as well go jump in line. He had been stuck since Thursday was trying somehow, someway to meet up with his wife, 9 year old son, and 7 year old daughter who left Boston today for his annual family vacation.
By the time we got back to the hotel with hopes dashed the newsflash scroller had corrected itself, by adding the word ‘tomorrow.’ But alas, there was hope for an opened Heathrow.
So I canceled the rental car and took take my chances staying put. I didn’t really want to learn how to drive on the left side of the road in the UK, anyway. Or for that matter, learn how to drive on the right side of the road in France and Spain with a right-sided steering wheel, regardless of the amount of liability insurance. Back to Plan C it was.
Excitement Until the Fiery Volcano Recast its Ash
After a serendipitous dinner with a new friend and Skoll delegate Darlene from Ikatu, who is setting up for-profit socially responsible businesses in Ghana to scalably employ disadvantaged youth after eighteen years at QVC, I prepared for bed excited at the possibility of going home.
Last night at midnight. I had a confirmed seat on a flight from Heathrow direct to Raleigh leaving tonight (Tuesday) at 8pm and had received the cherished official American Airlines text message telling me so. All was looking promising.
I forwent the mini-van to Madrid option that an entrepreneurial Skoll delegate had arranged to depart from our hotel at 5am and the Skoll Foundation canceled their rented coach service to Madrid intended to rescue their foundation members and stranded guests. All was looking rosy, and most went to bed happy.
But then, around 1am news spread on Twitter via the creatively coined #ashtag hastag that the volcano had started erupting again. By the 3am NATS update suddenly instead of preparing opening up Tuesday the situation was “dynamic and variable” which seemed to be governmental double-speak for “you’re probably screwed.”
And so the volcano started erupting again in the middle of the night, keeping London shut down for the sixth straight day.
Send in the Navy
British airspace, closed since Thursday, did open for a brief respite this morning in the North of the United Kingdom where a few lucky passengers slipped out. Plenty of planes coming from mainland Europe were flying overhead today as UK airspace was open for planes that flew above 20,000 feet. Unfortunately NATS did not allow planes on the ground to take off.
While the British government had sent in the HMS Albion to rescue stranded British tourists, partly due to political pressure stemming from an upcoming election that remains a toss up, they didn’t seem to be able to do much to get folks out of the UK.
The Queen Mary 2 cruise ship back to New York was fully booked up, the trains were full, the ferries were full, and the French train workers were on strike. Wonderful.
And thus I woke up, for the third morning in a row in a hotel adjoining Heathrow, anxiously awaiting news from the London Volcanic Ash Advisory Service (yes, really) and NATS as to whether they would allow London airports to open.
By noon the answer was a clear no.
After receiving the dreaded flight canceled text message, it was decision time.
And so, rather than waiting for an indefinite period of time, at least until Thursday, for a flight from Heathrow, here I am on a Eurostar train to Paris (the coach seats were all taken so here I am in first class anything for the first time in my life and hopefully the last).
Tomorrow, I have a flight booked to the Dominican Republic and then on to Miami Wednesday night and to RDU Thursday. Today, Paris is open. Tomorrow, we shall see. C’est la vie.
If Paris does not work out, then there is always a bus to Madrid. I have a backup refundable flight booked Friday from Madrid direct to Miami. It may prove difficult to get to Madrid from Paris with the French train workers on strike, but I’ll find a way.
I’m currently working on Plan F, hoping it sticks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Plan F before, for anything.
Plan A: London to Raleigh by plane leaving Sunday
Plan B: London to Raleigh by plane leaving Monday
Plan C: London to Raleigh by plane leaving Tuesday
Plan D: London to Madrid (in rental car) to Raleigh (by plane) via Ecuador and New York, leaving Thursday
Plan E: London to Madrid (in mini-van) to Raleigh (by plane) via Miami, leaving Friday
Plan F: London to Paris (on the Eurostar train) to Raleigh (by plane) via Dominican Republic and Miami, leaving Wednesday
Plan G: London to Paris (on the Eurostar train) to Madrid (by bus) to Raleigh (by plane), via Miami, leaving Friday
Who would have thought going to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic via Paris would ever be the best option home to NC from London?!
I am sharing a Holiday Inn room tonight by Paris Charles de Gaulle airport with my new friend and fellow traveler from Boston, Chris, who is trying his best to get back to his family as soon as he can.
I’m enjoying the adventure and getting lots of work done.
Who We Should Not Forget As We Tell This Story
As the stories of the inconvenienced well-off are told, we musn’t forget those who are truly suffering tonight.
People like me, business travelers with an EA, who can afford hotels, are doing just fine and can relax and enjoy. I am not in the majority, however. Most here are tourists and families who are stuck and cannot easily afford the $2000 or $3000 extra cost per person to get home per person in any reasonable time frame.
I particularly have sympathy in this uniquely ambiguous situation for those who have truly been hurt financially or otherwise by this situation.
From the family sleeping in the Heathrow arrivals section, waiting now six days for their connecting flight, who cannot afford the jacked-up hotel rates (what was once 29 pounds is now 79, what was once 139 pounds is now 200) to the Kenyan farmer who now has nothing but wilted flowers or a rotten crop that must be tossed or turned into cow-feed, families have been economically devastated due to the decision to close the airspace, some say unnecessarily.
There is a tremendous economic story here, and tremendous economic pressure to open up the air.
Further, I hope that the attention this volcanic incident is getting, with primarily middle-class and weathly Westerners “stranded” in nice hotels and having an extended European vacation (even if it is an expensive and unplanned one), will not detract from the ongoing much greater crisis in Haiti where there are 750,000 real human refugees who still to this day, 100 days on, are lacking shelter, clean water, and medical care.
As this story unfolds, I hope the global media does not lose touch with the much greater human story happening to folks who may not have as much resources. In our story, we should at least arc back to the other major natural activities of 2010 in this watershed year for strange natural behavior.
When You’re Stuck in a Trap Eat Cheese
The best line of the week was from Peter Greenberg at CBS speaking at TEDxVolcano, “When your stuck in a trap, eat the cheese.”
‘Tis the adventure of globalized commerce disrupted by a fiery Mother Nature.
So here I am in France. The train is now temporarily stuck due to a “problem on the tracks.” Perhaps some brie is called for.
UPDATE 12:53am: I made it to the hotel in Paris by the airport. UK airspace opened as of 9:34pm GMT Tuesday. The flight from Paris to the Dominican Republic is looking good for tomorrow. After waiting in line to see if we could get on an earlier flight and the only option being an outrageous $8000 business class ticket to Miami in the morning. We’re getting up at 6:30am to attempt to fly standby on anything to the U.S.
April 18, 2010
I’m stuck in London for a few days due to the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption in Iceland.
I’m looking outside my hotel window at a calm Heathrow airport. It’s filled with parked planes, but nothing and no one is moving. All of the UK and much of European airspace is closed.
Here’s a concerning part–the last time the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 1821 the eruption lasted for two years. Oh my! This volcano could affect European air travel for quite some time. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said airlines are losing about £130m per day in revenues.
Fortunately the forecast is calling for a storm toward the end of this week that should make it safe to fly again, at least for a time.
I’ve looked into taking the 7 day Southampton to New York cruise home (people are actually considering this!) or getting a ferry to Bilbao, Spain and then a train to Lisbon, which is currently open for most flights, but it would take at least three days to even get to Lisbon from London at the moment as the ferry services are mostly booked up.
So I’m going to get comfortable and get some work done. It looks like iContact’s European headquarters will be opening tomorrow .
In the meantime I’m attending TEDxVolcano tonight in London which looks fun! A few hundred entrepreneurial attendees of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship and OxfordJam remain stranded as volcano refugees–so Nathaniel Whittemore has in 24 hours organized this event to bring us back together in true entrepreneurial fashion.
Also entrepreneurial is a ‘rescue mission’ set up by a local TV host here who is taking Britons stranded in France back to the UK by boat.
Some here are suggesting the UK, French, and US militaries need to get some transatlantic boat services running to get people stranded on both sides of the oceans home and back to work and their families. A lot of people here would take a guaranteed 7 day return at this point.
Anyone have any creative ideas on how to get back to North Carolina?