Category Archives: ENABLING A CULTURE OF HIGH-FIVES.

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Blitzscaling 12: Nirav Tolia on Growing Nextdoor and the Path to Monetization

This is my tenth blog on the notes and my interpretations on the Blitzscaling sessions. In the fall of 2015, Reid Hoffman began taking session called Technology-Enabled Blitzscaling at Stanford University.Blitzscaling is what you do when you need to grow really, really quickly. It’s the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale. And its also about why organization culture is important for Blitzscaling Because when you’re growing an organization very fast, you have to make people accountable to each other on a horizontal or peer-to-peer basis, and not just vertically and top-down through the hierarchy.

Session 2 notes can be found here. Session 3 notes can be found here. Session 4 notes can be found here.Session 5 notes can be found here.Session 6 I haven’t covered. Session 7 notes can be found here. Session 8 notes can be found here. Session 9 notes can be found here. Session 10 notes here.  Session 11 notes here

Nirav Tolia is  the Co-Founder and CEO of Nextdoor. In session 12, Nirav shared his insights into building Nextdoor and his insights on how to grow fast. Here are the session notes and my interpretations on the insights shared.

  1. The median time required to take your start-up to do break even, take it public has increased from 5 years to more than 7 yo 10 years(Stanford Research).
  2. The faster your product/app moves in ranking in app store, the faster it comes down. So slow, steady growth and consistency is still the success formula.
  3. Before scaling your way, do the manual dirty work yourself. This is to validate if what you are going to offer will work or not in offline mode. If it works in offline mode, then put in resources & money to automate the things.
  4. Initially, focus on the quality of your product that solves a problem. Then focus on scaling your product & then sales. Google calls this toothbrush test, which means “Can you create a product which people use at least once a day”.
  5.  Your interpretation & intuition about ‘what is working & what is not’ may be wrong. But if you can define the metrics to challenge your intuition, then you may find the correct path.
  6. Think of your start-up as treadmill where every morning you have to wake up & run on it. You won’t get any credit for the miles covered and remember that you have to run on it again every morning. And if you are not feeling like running a particular morning, and if this starts happening more, than its a serious problem.
  7. If you read the newspaper’s (especially English ones) today, you don’t know what is happening around you in your local communities. The best way to do that is crowdsourcing that news from people living in the local community. That’s what Nextdoor is helping local communities to achieve.
  8. You build user growth, then usage engagement and then revenue scale in that order. But user growth, user engagement & monetization, each of these problems are unique in their own nature & equally difficult. And the way to solve this problem is to divide this problem into stages. That’s the path Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, & Whatsapp has taken.
  9. Five management objectives to focus on at any given point of time. Review these objectives quarterly or annually depending on the stage in which your company is. A framework to implement this is OKR. At qilo, we help organisations by implementing this.
    1. Growth
    2. Engagement
    3. Monetization
    4. Infrastructure
    5. People
  10. As you start to scale , have more and more people in your organisation, you have to start thinking about your people, the various career paths they will have and organisation structure to maximise people performance.
  11. Hire a great HR leader for your growing organisation. Because HR will eventually help you to execute those big goals backwards.
  12. It’s all about your people that will help you move the mountains. CEO’s job is to tell why people should move this mountain.
  13. Your title doesn’t make you leader or entrepreneur; your team and your people do.
  14. Get your mentor who has been there and done that. Ignore theory consultants who throw our jargon’s.
  15. Be extremely cautious about every penny going out of your company while you are on the path of earning revenue.
  16. The basic difference between Google and Facebook is demand fulfilment and demand generation.Google follow’s demand fulfilment model where you come up and search say “digital camera”. And it shows ads related to that. Whereas Facebook follows demand generation, where you see ads of “digital camera” which your friends have shown interested in. This will help you identify which platform suits you for digital marketing.

From 1855 to 2017, leaders still face same issue: performance accountability

1855 was an interesting year. This was the year when for the first time someone thought seriously about how to bring execution closer to organizational priorities, measuring employee progress on those priorities and enhance overall employees effectiveness. If you talk to any of the CEO’s or business leaders, they will be stating the same kind of challenges. The credit for seeding the initial idea of enhancing people effectiveness goes to Daniel McCallum, a railroad engineer at the New York & Erie Railroad Company.

Daniel Craig McCallum was a Scottish-born American engineer known as one of the early pioneers of management.

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Daniel McCallum. Image credit: Wikipedia

He set down a set of general principles of management and is credited for having developed the first modern organizational chart. The of the major problems faced by then large railroad companies like “New York & Erie Railroad” was the rising cost of operations compare to smaller companies. He wrote a letter to highlight this issue to his higher-ups and CEOs. And he presumed that the root cause of this problem was people performance issues and inefficient internal organization.

McCallum’s letter outlined five key challenges posed as questions. Read them carefully, and you will realize that they still hold true even today.

  • How do you get a group of people to work together to common business priorities & goals?
  • How do you give people the right amount of responsibility?
  • How do you make sure the job gets done?
  • How do you know how things are going?
  • How do you do all this with respect for others?
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Lithographic drawing of McCullam’s Patent Timber Bridge, 1852. Image credit: Wikipedia

Because of his constant focus on enhancing execution excellence, McCallum retired as General Manager controlling over 5000 people.

Take a pause now and think about the questions McCallum has highlighted 161 years back. These questions were asked more than a century ago before Peter Ducker started helping organizations understand management science. The astonishing bit? Even after 161 years and three industrial revolutions later, McCallum’s questions are still valid and relevant for today’s corporate world. The need of the hour is to answer these questions for your organization and find up an appropriate solution to avoid losing the market share to small companies and start-up’s, or the repercussions could be huge.

While you process the story of Mr. McCallum, here’s another interesting story, this time about Andy Grove, known as the ‘guy who taught Silicon Valley how to do Business’. Grove was Intel’s former CEO and mentored business superstars, the likes of Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison. He was among the first business leaders to implement the MBO (Management By Objectives) model – a management model popularized by inimitable Peter Drucker.

Andy Grove, with his team (1978). . Image credit: Wikipedia
Andy Grove, with his team (1978). . Image credit: Wikipedia

At Intel, Grove and team later gave birth to OKR (Objectives and Key Results), which according to Grove had two important components.

  • What do I want to achieve? (The Objective)
  • How will I pace myself to see if I am getting there to achieve that? (a set of Key Results)

OKR which over the years has been adopted by leading organizations across the world such as Google, Uber, Sears Holdings, Vox Media, Zynga, etc, helps in creating a culture of high performance that is focused on results. The core concept in OKR is to align the organization with the CEO’s priorities. OKR is very different from traditional goal setting frameworks which lately are showing signs of aging. Adopting OKRs enables organization, teams, and individuals to:

Work together for common business priorities & goals.
Helps in ensuring that the job gets done and done well
Enables you see in real time the progress people make while achieving their targets.
The bottom line is, every thoughtful business leader, be it McCallum or Ducker or Grove are able to re-invent the processes to enable better performance in their people. They were able to identify new ways to make people accountable for their own performance. Organizations that don’t focus on building or re-inventing themselves to leverage people power will always lose the battle to their competitors.

Originally published at: People Matters , India’s leading HR focused media company

Blitzscaling 09: Reid Hoffman and Allen Blue on Why and How They Scaled LinkedIn

This is my seventh blog on the notes and my interpretations on the Blitzscaling sessions. In the fall of 2015, Reid Hoffman began taking session called Technology-Enabled Blitzscaling at Stanford University.Blitzscaling is what you do when you need to grow really, really quickly. It’s the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale. And its also about why organization culture is important for Blitzscaling Because when you’re growing an organization very fast, you have to make people accountable to each other on a horizontal or peer-to-peer basis, and not just vertically and top-down through the hierarchy.

Session 2 notes can be found here. Session 3 notes can be found here. Session 4 notes can be found here.Session 5 notes can be found here.Session 6 I haven’t covered. Session 7 notes can be found here. Session 8 notes can be found here

In session 9, Reid Hoffman and Allen Blue shared the insights on how they scaled Linkedin.Here are the session notes and my interpretations on the insights shared.

  1. The key thing about establishing an organization culture or creating a distinctive one to identify what kind of people will not fit into your culture.
  2. Most elite organisation are able to establish this very early. For example:- Google was able to identify that folks from top degree colleges with highest CGPA will fit in the collegial culture which Larry and Sergey want to create. Now what works for Google will not work for your organisation. You have to identify what kind of culture you want to create.
  3. Part of establishing a unique culture is to answer questions on
    1. How you will communicate internally and externally
    2. how you will develop your leaders
    3. how you do decision making in the company
  4. The entire Blitzscaling sessions are divided into 3 parts addressing 3 stages of start-up called as Family, then Tribe and the Village:
    1. Family: – It’s about identifying a non-obvious market opportunity where you have a unique insight or strength or approach to capture market share. And then building your initial team to build the initial offering to address that market.
    2. Tribe: – Execute and iteratively improve a plan which gets you to achieve a market share.
    3.  Village: – In this stage, you are now able to identify, plan and execute the core business that you will be able to scale up and take it globally. 
  5. The goal of the core business is to
    1. Create continued growth
    2. Generate growing revenue
    3. Build competitive advantage
    4. Grow strategic assets for later opportunities.
  6. From time to time in company lifecycle, founder’s need to communicate the same language which people can follow while they are doing their day to day jobs.
  7. When your organisation is growing from 15 to 50 to 500, as founder’s you will not be the part of each and every conversation in your company. But as founders, you have to make sure that those conversations are aligned with big picture/directions and priorities you have decided.
  8. Communicate about your (a) mission (b) vision (c) competitive advantage (d) strategic objectives (e) business model (f) operating priorities with your companies on the continues basis. But especially when you are moving from family to tribe to village
  9. All the above communications should be simple, clear & easily repeatable. If you will be able to crack this, you will be able to create an effective organisation.
  10.  At the family stage and somewhat at initial stages of tribe stage, you hire generalist. But as you grow to become a full-fledged tribe or village, you have to hire specialist.
  11. A good generalist is someone who can come and pick up skills & things without founders doing many interventions.
  12. Specialist have good analytical skills and problem-solving skills with respect to specific area of business
  13. Tips on hiring and managing talent
    1. Fire fast low performers
    2. When hiring look for the long term probability of the guy who will be able to evolve as a company goes from family to tribe to village.
    3. “Given a chance, will you hire a person again? ” – Answer this question if you have difficulty in firing your low performer or even co-founder.If answer is no, fire ASAP.  But always make sure to remain humble & human while you are parting away.
  14. Following is the screenshot of Linkedin product plan. During the family stage, you have to get just one thing right. But when you are moving to tribe and village stage, you have to get many things right at the same time. To achieve this, you need an altogether a different approach for the execution and people who will execute that plan.
  15. Look at the below metrics. It shows the kind of analytics and number crunching successful companies do to move fast. CEO’s and senior folks of the company see these numbers on daily basis
  16. When you move to village stage, as a founder you have to answer few fundamental questions about:
    1. Are you the right CEO for this stage?
    2. What is the core mission, culture, and values to enable rapid distribution scaling?
    3. How to fire the right HR guy that can support the hyper growth?
    4. Who are those key executives required to support execution in critical areas?
    5. How to develop robust reporting to allow you and your senior team to learn about where execution is going and how that can support in creating future plans?
  17. Embed communicating about your core values & culture in your hiring & onboarding processes. Or you will end up being a culture less company
  18. Here are the Linkedin culture & value details. When your sales head links those values and organisation culture, that’s where it will give you the competitive advantage.
  19. As a founder, put down points why people should join your company. And make this communication visible internally & externally. At qilo, we have taken an alternative approach, where in all JD’s we put in “Why you should not join us”. Here are the points from latest JDWhy you should NOT join us
    • If you don’t put in efforts in identifying and/or pursuing your passions in life
    • If you cannot put in extended working works to achieve WOW results for the customers.
    • You don’t believe in taking ownership and accountability of assigned work.
    • If you are NOT a good self- learner.
    • You don’t know how to crack jokes 🙂
  20. Getting your technical, HR and operational process in place is essential to make the large team work together properly. And keep optimising these processes to improve efficiency.

Keep watching this blog for more notes and awesome articles. I personally feel this session has given me a very good level of understanding what I should be focusing on as one of the co-founders of qilo. Hope you have enjoyed this post too.

Building Organizations to Scale: Session by Hari T.N, HR Head Big Basket

Attended a wonderful session by Hari T.N, HR Head at Big Basket on “Building Organizations to Scale” in SME Talent Week by People Matters

Here are the notes from the session. He discussed 5 tenants that can help in “Building Organizations to Scale”.

Hari T

Tenant 1) Create a high-performance culture .

Culture is very important in high growth startup. Culture is about the belief of a group of people. These group of people may be running nations, companies or departments or teams within the departments.Culture can result in high growth and does impact the top and bottom lines.How to create Creating a high-performance

Focusing on organization culture can result in high growth and does impact the top and bottom lines.How to create Creating a high-performance culture :-
a) As an organization, you should have a sense of urgency. This means we should have less and less follow-up’s
b) Employees should be accountable. Accountability comes when you make people accountable for the outcome, not for the transaction.
c) Conducting insightful reviews and make feedback as part of the day to day work
d) Communicate often where you are going. Most companies and leaders fail to communicate effectively internally.

Tenant 2) Roles must outgrow people in start-up.

Tenant 3) As you scale in your Start-up journey, understand that each phase comes with its own challenge. While you address these challenges, you have to keep your focus on organization development.He shared an excellent article on this topic (https://hbr.org/1998/05/evolution-and-revolution-as-organizations-grow)

Tenant 4) Role of the founders keep changing. Between the founders the right kind of balance is required for disrupting and stabilizers.

Tenant 5) Focus on right candidate hiring and always hire A players. This applies at all the levels. Avoid hiring wrong candidates in the sense of urgency.

Deconstructing Employee Engagement

A lot has been written and spoken about employee engagement. Everyone knows how important is this for innovation ,success and growth but not many people are clear, what is takes to create a culture of performance.

Employee Engagement is as complex as a human brain — It has Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology and Social Psychology

Engagement first starts at an individual level, what is that I am too looking for and what is that I am doing, then it moves to a relative state — what others are doing and what do they get… and so on

Behavior’s, attitudes and perception are as volatile as the stock market and at one instance I believe you and at another I do not .

So how to address the problem ?

There is no formula, but if you dig deep you realise it’s not that complicated. If you as an organisation believe in;

  • Transparency — Do what you say and walk the talk
  • Admitting Mistakes — Where you went wrong
  • Communicate , communicate & communicate — Kill the perception or an imaginary devil
  • Show Purpose & Vision — Show where you are headed to and why you are doing what you are
  • Participate — Ensure people participate in the journey, show them the larger picture
  • Involve Employees — In decision-making
  • Don’t kill creativity — There are no SOPs for innovation , encourage people to do creative thinks — Ideas happen when the mind is free
  • Coach — Turn you managers into coaches, respect is earned not commanded

Remember if you ask an employee to dig the earth , they will dig a hole. If you ask them that we are constructing a canal, helping water reach million of thirsty people — they will dig passionately , purposefully , creatively and most importantly timely

Manager matters

“You will leave your job because of bad manager”, this is what you hear most of the time in job world. And that’s 200% correct too. Manager matter in your initial career life . Its very critical to work under a manager or boss from whom you can learn :-

  1. How you can improve core skill of your domain
  2. Personal management
  3. How to communicate well
  4. How to manage teams

And this is what exactly billionaire founder of Alibaba ,  Jack ma suggests. Watch this video and listener carefully for at least 1 min.

If you are not working under a manager who is not self motivated, who is not aspirational towards his career, who is not passionate about what he is doing, who is not able to manage himself well…change your manager or change your job.But what are the traits of a good manager:-

  1. He personally takes interest in your career development.
  2. He treats every team member equally.
  3. He manages the execution well and knows what needs to be done. And who can do what.
  4. He pushes you and pushes you very hard. This is where most of the time reportee’s get dis-engaged with manager. Believe me a manager who pushes hard is the one interested in getting things delivered fast. And that’s how knowingly or unknowingly you will improve you skills or ability to manage yourself.
  5. He accept your mistakes and encourages you to improve.

And at the end as a reportee if you can contribute towards your managers career success, you will also succeed.