Post by Sarah Milstein & Eric Ries, co-hosts for The Lean Startup Conference
At this year’s Lean Startup Conference, we seek to answer the difficult questions you face as an entrepreneur. To give you a sense of how we’ll do that, we’re introducing you to three of our speakers—all of whom are appearing for the first time at The Lean Startup Conference, and all of whom have advice you can put to work today. Note that summer sale pricing for the conference ends on Monday night, so register now for the best deal possible.
Herewith, our introductions.
Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz. Frankly, Ben doesn’t need a ton of introduction. A well-known startup innovator, he’s co-founder of the leading VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and author of a new book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building A Business When There Are No Easy Answers, which brims with unusually direct, useful advice for new and seasoned entrepreneurs alike.
Among the questions we’re seeking to address at this year’s conference is: What does the culture of a high-performance, high-growth team look like? In his book and on his blog, Ben tackles that question. We particularly like this post, Hiring Executives: If You’ve Never Done the Job, How Do You Hire Somebody Good?, in which he guides new entrepreneurs of growing companies through one of the more vexing challenges you’ll face, what he calls making “the lonely decision.” He starts with sharply observed pitfalls and offers specific steps you can take to avoid them, staring with a process for defining what you need in a new hire and then moving on to this step:
Write down the strengths you want and the weaknesses that you are willing to tolerate. The firs step is to write down what you want. In order to ensure completeness, I find it useful to include criteria from the following sub-divisions when hiring executives:Ben then gives more detail on how to turn the criteria into a real hire. At the conference, Eric will dive deep in an interview with Ben, asking him hard questions about hiring during growth and other shoals of entrepreneurship.
- Will the executive be world class at running the function?
- Is the executive outstanding operationally?
- Will the executive make a major contribution to the strategic direction of the company This is the “are they smart enough?” criteria.
- Will the executive be an effective member of the team? Effective is the key word. It’s possible for an executive to be well liked and totally ineffective with respect to the other members of the team. It’s also possible for an executive to be highly effective and profoundly influential while being totally despised. The latter is far better.
- These functions do not carry equal weight for all positions. Make sure that you balance them appropriately. Generally, operational excellence is far more important for a VP of Engineering or a VP of Sales than for a VP of Marketing or CFO.
Melissa Bell, Vox.com. We’re really pleased to have Melissa join us. Vox.com has been one of the most closely watched media launches of the year, and as its Senior Product Manager and Executive Editor, Melissa was responsible for leading a lot of its success. One of our questions for this year’s conference is: How can we get products to market faster? So we were particularly intrigued when we learned that Melissa and her team took just nine weeks to develop the high-profile site; other Vox Media properties had taken eight months to roll out.
As explained in this post from Michael Lovitt, Vox’s VP of Engineering, Melissa and her team expedited their launch by sacrificing perfection and focusing their goals narrowly. Instead of spending months fine-tuning the website before presenting it to the world, they chose to “fail fast and iterate.” That phrase gets tossed around a lot these days, putting it in danger of losing its meaning. But Melissa backed it up with real processes, and rather than calling the unveiling of the site a “launch,” she instead wound up referring to it as a “deploy, the first of many.”
The team also worked with an ethos that would trust their MVP, which had two foundational pieces. Michael explains:
In order to meet our expectations for what a new Vox Media site must be, we would focus on two big things: the important early and foundational branding and visual design work; and a new, still-to-be-figured-out product feature for helping readers understand the news. By limiting the new big things to only those two, we could free ourselves to throw all of our creative energy into them, and do them well, and rely on the work done by our past selves to carry the rest of the site.
Once everyone agreed to this plan, in every conversation about scope and the prioritization of site features, we were able to stay grounded by our shared sense of what was important to get right for launch, and what could wait for now.
At The Lean Startup Conference, we’ll learn more from Melissa about how her team hewed to its early goals, what worked in developing the site, what she’d do differently next time, and how they’re tackling the site’s current growth and new challenges.
Seppo Helava, Nonsense Industry. We’re proud that The Lean Startup Conference brings you not only high-profile speakers and leaders from high-growth companies you already know about, but also excellent presenters you aren’t yet aware of. Indeed, we consider it our job to find relatively unknown people with great advice and experience to share. Seppo is one such speaker.
An accomplished game developer and company founder, Seppo has worked hard to figure out how to keep employees invested and productive—particularly in an environment where you’re running lots of experiments that don’t lead to profitable products. His application to speak at this year’s conference addressed this question: How can we keep up team morale when experiments invalidate a lot of our ideas? and he hooked up with his deep understanding of the problem and tangible ways to maintain co-workers’ enthusiasm.
Seppo laid out clearly something we all see pretty often: when you constantly test your ideas, you find that a lot of them don’t fly, and so you have to throw out work all the time. He went to talk about the natural attachment that employees feel to their projects, particularly those they’ve polished carefully, and the resulting struggle to move on, even when those projects aren’t proving out. That dynamic generates a fear of experimentation—the opposite of what you want on your team.
At the conference, Seppo will talk about how his company now works to answer a question, rather than develop a product for presentation. He’ll discuss not only their approach in terms of training, teamwork and communication, but how’s it’s played out over a period of refinement.
To see these speakers and a slew of other entrepreneurs with incredible lesson to share, register today for The Lean Startup Conference. Prices go up on Monday night!
PS. The second and final round of our call for proposals closes on Wednesday night. If you have advice or experience to share, consider applying!