What is the purpose of this article?
- Share my critical learnings from my three day attendance at Collision 2022 in June 2022. Collision was a North American startup conference with 35,000+attendees, ranging from pre-revenue founders to large established companies, and investors ranging from angel investors to multi-billion dollar funds.
- These learnings may be from a single person or a composite from many people. In many cases, I’m quoting directly.
- I believe that these learnings apply to any size company.
- The learnings in this article are only a tiny subset of my 45 pages of notes.
You may download a PDF of this article from: Critical learnings from Collision 2022
What are the critical learnings in this article?
Partners of investment funds said that there is always money available, they are continuing investments in new companies and portfolio companies
- The key criterion is that companies are solving urgent problems for customers.
- Companies must cut costs asap if they are: not solving problems for urgent customers, losing customers, spending too much to get customers, targeting customers who provide declining profits, etc.
Don’t spend any money on advertising or scaling your company until you have customers who are crying in happiness because they have your solution. Customers should be coming to you.
You need to be constantly talking to your customers, regardless of what stage your company is at. You need to ask them what they’re doing in the 15 minutes before and after they use your solution.
Every company is a data company
- What do you know about your customers and users that no-one else knows?
- This unique knowledge drives: your solution, the customer/user experience you create, your marketing and sales approach.
What did the CEO do when the business customers’ urgent problems changed, resulting in 60% of customers leaving and CEO terminating 1/3 of the staff?
- The CEO talked with every business customer to understand their new urgent problems and needs
- Using this new knowledge, the CEO then changed the solution, the customer support processes, marketing and sales approaches.
- The result was a hockey stick revenue growth curve.
How did a startup, working from their kitchen table, get their very first sale, to a company with a $15.7 billion market cap?
- Solve an urgent problem that is causing pain every single day.
- Enable the customer to get a 10X performance improvement rather than an incremental 30% improvement.
- Know more than anyone else about the problem, and how the customer can solve it.
- Build strong internal relationships with the customer.
- Take extreme accountability for customer results.
I asked one successful founder (well past the startup stage) “What should an investor do if the startup doesn’t want to talk to customers and users? How can the investor persuade the startup?” The founder had a two word answer” “Don’t invest”.
The early stage CEO advisor compensation must be 100% equity based. The advisor must have faith in the CEO.
The CEO and investor(s) must have a commonly understood set of expectations for each other. Expectations change over time.
- The CEO must have a job description for the investor.
- There are major differences among: lead investor vs major investor vs smaller investors to fill-out the round.
How did a startup founder get 450,000 users in 10,000 businesses in two years with zero spending on customer acquisition?
- Solve an urgent problem.
- The user can easily understand the value proposition.
- It’s easy for the user to get value quickly – ideally in 0 (ZERO) seconds.
- CEO and developers spend 10% of every single day talking to customers and users.
- Be obsessed with tracking by customer segment: Acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referrals.
The fundraising skillset is different from the sales skillset.
One startup raised funds with no product or solution – absolutely nothing. Except, 400 letters from companies stating they’d buy when the solution was available.
Some seed stage VC funds (targeting startups with 2-12 people) are taking a different approach with what is done with the yearly 2% fund compensation fee.
- The cash going into partner pockets is being reduced with cash being spent on people to support portfolio companies e.g. providing part-time Chief People Officer, having an on call CFO, helping to structure interviews and surveys, helping to put in place customer metrics such as Net Promotor Score. Two such funds are Primary Venture Partners and First Round Capital. These funds believe that spending to maximize the long-term 20% performance compensation results in the startups, investors, and partners all making more money in the long-term.
- A partner from one of those funds told me one-on-one that investors considering investment into VC funds should ask how the yearly 2% compensation fee is distributed, and how much goes into partner pockets vs helping portfolio companies.
Some startups said investors should provide a flying squad to help portfolio companies. This flying squad should do actual work (e.g. HR) and not just provide advice.
What are my summary observations after over 40 presentations as well as one-on-one discussions?
- At Collision, successful investment funds and startups of all size talked a lot about customer/user problems, and customers/users getting value from having problems and needs addressed. g. startup founder who got 400 letters from customers wanting to buy, before spending one cent on building/creating a product solution.
- Prior to Collision, many of the companies I meet, ranging from pre-revenue to long-term established, talk a lot about their solution. Many of the startups I’ve met first build something and then hope to find customers that have a problem their solution addresses.
What are your next steps?
- Document your process for understanding customers, including facts, analysis, resulting business changes. Have a third party review and challenge you process, facts, analysis, and resulting business changes.
- The above critical learnings reflect a number of different scenarios. Compare how your company leadership has responded to these scenarios in the past and would respond in the future.
What further reading should you do?
Do you understand your customers?
Is your company planning to fail?
ou may download a PDF of this article from: Elite talent – what is the purpose
What are the critical learnings in this article?
- Elite talent and elite company performance are rare.
- Beating the competition requires talent that is better than the competition.
What is the value and need for elite talent?
In today’s competitive business environment, there is unlimited capital for companies that have major competitive differentiation. This requires competitively differentiated talent
What are the characteristics of the elite talent that can create and transform companies?
#1 Leading strategy firm (when hiring MBAs) and global early stage investment funds (when assessing startup founders) are looking for the same type of talent”.
- Ability to quickly learn and unlearn: paradigms, frameworks, methodologies, data, facts, knowledge. The founders of the majority of unicorns (startups which achieved a $1 billion valuation) had no previous domain experience.1 Roche paid $1.9 billion US for Flatiron Health, a cancer electronic records company. The Flatiron founders (Nad Turner and Zach Weinberg ) had no background in cancer. They came from advertising. 2
- Fast and deep analytical skills.
- Fluid intelligence: the capacity to think speedily and reason flexibly in order to solve new problems without relying on past experience and accumulated knowledge. For example, successful startup founders, identify problems and needs that have not been well addressed before and create solutions that have never existed before
- Curiosity – the passion to learn about the world around them and not be silo focused. This broader ecosystem knowledge provides a context for their deep ecosystem knowledge.
#2 Early stage investment funds also look for:
- The drive and ability to deeply understand customers and users – their problems, issues, emotions, and what influences behaviours.
- Perseverance: passion and energy to overcome all odds and difficulties to achieve goals. For example, Airbnb was short of cash in the early days. To make money they sold Cap’n McCains and Obama O’s cereal during the Obama McCain presidential run. The following is a link to the current Airbnb site which still contains the original advertising. (https://www.airbnb.ca/obamaos)
- Values, morals, and integrity: Warren Buffett supposedly said “..looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
Business performance follows the power law distribution, not a bell curve.
If you want your company to enable your customers to achieve 10 times more value than the competition, some of your key talent must be 10 times better than the competition’s talent.
- The distribution of company economic profit follows a power law. McKinsey’s study of 2,393 large corporations from 2010 to 2014 showed that the bulk of the economic profit was made bay a small number of companies e.g. the top 20% earned 90% of the total economic profit with the top 2% earning more than the next 8%. 60% of the companies earned little economic profit.3
- People performance follows a power law distribution, and not a bell curve. Top 1% of workers generate 10 times average output .4
- Half of all senior hires fail within 18 months.5
How do you recruit elite talent?
- The best predictor of how someone will perform in a job is a work sample test (29%) 6 For example, when recruiting board directors, they should serve for one year as a board observer, to enable assessing them.
- The two second best predictors are: are tests of general cognitive ability (26%); 7 and structured interviews (behavioural (tell me about a time) and situational (what would you do if) (26%). 8
- Four interviews predict whether to hire someone with 86% confidence and each additional interviewer adds 1% confidence. 9 This assumes that you are clear on what value the role provides, the specific characteristics of people who can deliver that value, and do a combination of work sample and structured interviews.
Can your company be competitively differentiated without a competitively differentiated board of directors?
Some people believe that a company can succeed in spite of the board of directors.
What if the board:
- Appoints the wrong CEO?
- Has poor decision making regarding major transactions (e.g. M&A), plans, and policies?
- Demonstrates poor values, morals, and ethics to employees and other members of the companies ecosystem?
A poor board can certainly impact your company’s success. However, I have seen cases where an extraordinary CEO has enough influence, persuasion, and guidance to overcome a poor board. I can recall one partner from a major private equity firm saying that with one board seat, he can turn the company around.
What are the implications for your company below the board and C-suite level?
- With the right processes, technology, and development programs, your average employees can enable your customers to achieve more value than the competition. What’s key is hiring people at all level who have the potential to learn and unlearn.
- When Google first built their Human Resources team, 1/3 of hires came from traditional HR background, 1/3 from top tier strategy consultants (because good at figuring out problems), 1/3 deeply analytic, with at least a masters degree in analytical fields (physics to organizational psychology).10 Google took the approach building HR practices with ongoing fact-based analysis rather that commonly accepted best practices. Many best practices are actually myths rather than facts.
What are your next steps?
- Document the past performance of the company, including economic profit, and impact on key ecosystem members such as customers.
- Outline the future scenarios for your company.
- Define the required skills, knowledge, experience, networks, values, morals, and ethics required by each board director and C-Suite member to enable success in the future scenarios.
- Assess your board and C-Suite relative to the above requirements.
- Assess your competition’s board and C-Suite relative to the above requirements.
- Identify: improvements to be made to existing directors and C-Suite, members to exit, and members to appoint.
1 Ali Tamaseb, Super Founders, New York, New York , Hatchette Book Group, 2021, 49
2 Ibid., 53
3 Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit, “Strategy to beat the odds”, McKinsey Quarterly February 2018, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/strategy-to-beat-the-odds)
4 Laszio Bock, Work Rules (New York: Hatchette Book Group, 2015), 182
5 Ibid., 294
6 Ibid., 91
7 Ibid., 91
8 Ibid., 91
9 Ibid., 103
10 Ibid., 361