I’m now a Quoraian, hear me ROAR!!!


Wow the past few months have seriously flown by… so many places to be and so little time. It sure does help my trips are to Istanbul, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Dublin, and many other fun cities!

Fear not, even though I haven’t posted on my blog I am still writing occasionally. Here’s something I wrote on Quora yesterday (1) as a response to the following question:

“Why do new entrepreneurs feel that they cannot make it without participating in an accelerator program? Isn’t being an entrepreneur about succeeding against all odds?”

Check out my answer here, and if you likey feel free to upvote: http://buff.ly/1tbWtuy

(1) Yes it took some badgering from Cami who leads SBC’s social media… guess I owe her a thanks 🙂

The experience of NO

Leon London

Over the span of 30 minutes this morning I was rejected twice.

My friends know this isn’t a unique experience for me. I’m not ashamed to ask for what I want, and I typically don’t mind being rejected. I get it – avocado can’t be added to every meal. But I’ll sure ask to see if it’s possible.

The key phrase is I ‘typically’ don’t mind hearing the word NO. There are a few exceptions… mainly when the NO is based on protocol I don’t agree with.

As you might guess, my morning rejections were based on protocols. However both had polar opposite different outcomes.

Rejection 1

The UK government believes everyone is a money launderer until proven innocent (1) and requires UK tax payers to provide a certified ID. Their guidance (2) first suggests a bank for ID certification, so this morning I stopped by my trusty (cough) bank HSBC (3).

In I walk on this sunny morning and within seconds the HSBC greeter relates they don’t certify IDs – ‘it’s a policy’

Undeterred, I explain I’m a 5-year customer and can answer all necessary security questions. Nope, it’s a HSBC policy she repeats, and then comments that her bank Lloyds (4) does certify IDs. I understand she doesn’t have power to override policy in this situation and ask for a manager.

After a few minutes over walks a nice woman who repeats HSBC policy of not certifying IDs. She’s the manager of course, and her extra insight for rejecting me is to prevent money laundering.

This sets me off a little – THE WHOLE REASON for this certified ID is to prevent money laundering. However, no manner of reasoning break this bank manager’s policy today – it’s a lost cause.

Rejection 2

So off I continued on my way to work, into the tube, past Prince Harry (5), and then a stop at my favourite quick breakfast spot Leon.

I often stop at Leon for my favourite egg, salmon, and avocado pot (6), and at £2.95 it’s a steal. I love my morning Leon pot, but they don’t quite fill me up. I’ve always wondered… could another egg be added to this pot, and if so would this indeed fill me up.

Without much consideration I indeed asked for that extra egg in my pot. Boy would a 2-egg pot be wonderful – twice the fun! To my surprise the friendly till clerk says he can add an egg, for the additional charge of £1.95.

I do some quick math, and although the egg is likely the least expensive item in the pot it would raise the total price substantially. I counter offer £1.05 with this cheap egg rationale to bring my total cost to €4.00 – surely a reasonable price for a two egg salmon avocado pot.

This is when my second rejection happens, although the till clerk is friendly he won’t break the till pricing protocol. So I pay and we go our separate ways.

The difference of NO’s

I’ve now had two policy-based rejections in quick succession, both which annoyed me for being inflexible. But while the first at HSBC really ticked me off, the second at Leon didn’t bother me much – it was worth a shot after all.

As I finished my pot the till clerk gave me a smile and asked if enjoyed it. I indeed did – “Yep, I have one often and will come back again.”

He then stuck out what I initially perceived as a shake attempt hand, but quickly noticed a red loyalty card being offered. This was not a normal loyalty card – this one was FULLY STAMPED and provided a free meal!

“Next time please have that two egg pot on us” the till clerk said and waved goodbye.

Seize the moment

Wow, what a nice guy, leveraging his loyalty card stamp power to compensate for what I perceived as an unfair policy.

In business school what this clerk just pulled was the ‘make my day’ approach to customer service. Something Zappos (7) is often commended for using.

Continuing my short walk to work I thought about how easily HSBC could have changed my negative rejection experience to positive. A few simple steps could have been:

1) Sharing my frustration by mentioning their policy was very strict
2) Offering to complete a customer feedback form stating my dissatisfaction with the policy
3) Directing me to the closest alternative for obtaining a certified ID
4) Walking with me to the ID certification while asking how to improve my experience with HSBC (8)

A little bit extra

On one hand it’s so easy to make a customer feel like they’re special. It typically costs very little and takes no more than a few minutes.

But personally engaging with customers requires quick thinking in an often monotonous, transaction based role that’s compensated based on productivity.

My takeaway from this rejection-filled morning: going the extra step is always the right choice. Whether it’s customer service, helping a colleague, or following up with mentors – a little bit extra goes a long way. (9)

Have you gone the extra step recently with success? I’d love to hear about it in the comments 🙂

(1) Makes sense when the worlds billionaires use London as their playground

(2) https://www.gov.uk/certifying-a-document

(3) I’ve passionately hated HSBC since the second I opened my account. The switching costs of banks in the UK is unbelievable… but that’s for another post

(4) Funny how someone working for a bank doesn’t bank there…

(5) What, you don’t see Harry on your way to work? http://buff.ly/1oLCJ2r

(6) http://leonrestaurants.co.uk/menu/breakfast/menu-item/smoked-salmon-avocado-pot

(7) http://www.businessinsider.com/zappos-customer-service-crm-2012-1

(8) I know, unlikely – but sure wouldn’t have been that difficult and would have gained a lifelong proponent

(9) Maybe there’s a business opportunity here? A 1-click ‘little bit extra’ that sends a random by considerate out-of-the blue followups like a box of chocolate, balloons, a gift card, etc to anyone in your contact list?

Time to update your old school expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately and how much they impact our lives. Expectations are a funny thing. They’re rarely front and center in our daily thoughts, but lingering in the subconscious – like an invisible hand guiding our paths (1).

What hit me this morning is expectations can last a really long time… a lifetime if you may.

If parents ensure their child’s chores are completed, the expectation to complete tasks is instilled at a young age. Alternatively if parents set few rules and their children run amok (2), following expectations set outside the home such as appropriate classroom behavior (or later, laws) may be a struggle.

Both positive and negative expectations are likely to follow a child for many years and surely impact a person’s future.

What are expectations

What I’ve now come to realize is someone’s personality and their perceived expectations have a close relationship. Both guide what makes us tick. And both of course impact the way we behave.

It’s interesting to consider that expectations are typically:

A) Set by someone else
B) Undefined
…and because of these
C) Rarely challenged

I didn’t realize until making this list how much influence the expectations of others have on us from an early age. I’m also slightly concerned that I haven’t taken time to define these early expectations, or considered they may need challenging.

Defining expectations

I’ll refrain from sharing an enormous master list of the expectations placed on me since birth, although I do think this would be an interesting exercise. Simply creating an expectations list would surely lend a better understanding of my actions and personality.

I would however like to think more deeply about a few categories of expectations surrounding the work environment:

Employment – most roles start with a bulleted list of activities or results an employee is expected to achieve. V2.0 is setting quarterly KPIs, and V3.0 is OKRs (3). These role activity bullets and associated metrics are typically the extent of employer expectation setting. But aren’t they missing something? What if both an employee and employer specifically listed all expectations they had for each other? I’d guess half of each list would be previously unknown to the other party (4).

Partnerships – In my experience most partnerships fail to deliver the expected outcomes, even though partnership outcomes and KPIs are typically discussed early in the relationship. Maybe what’s missing is an honest discussion about each party’s expectations? I’d guess the outcome of both partners listing their expectations would have the same result of employees doing so – many revealed that were previously unknown.

Rethinking expectations

The core concept that’s still rolling around in my head is that a person’s perceived expectations rarely change. They’re the 500 lb gorilla we’re burdened with carrying, even if the expectation is no longer valid.

Take my wife for example. She was raised in a loving household that expected her to look out for the happiness of others. This upbringing won her the ‘nicest person award’ of our senior class, and to this day she’s a ‘peace-maker’ with an extremely high EQ (5). Probably the best upbringing someone could ask for, resulting in a person who I (and almost everyone she meets) love to be around.

But in some situations it’s not possible to make everyone happy – for example during negotiations or when making tough decisions I’ve seen her and many others struggle to balance the early expectation of delivering happiness when aligning multiple parties around a single outcome. This can weigh on someone and even diminish their own happiness.

There are many similar examples where I hypothesise an expectation is A) set by someone else, B) undefined in a person’s subconscious, and as a result C) the expectation remains unchallenged

Challenge expectations

I could imagine the below 4 steps as a method to consider the difficulties we face and expectations placed upon us:

1) List the past expectations correlated with a difficulty
2) List the reasoning you or someone else used to create the expectation
3) Consider when the expectation was set and how applicable it is to your current life
4) If the initial expectation circumstances have changed, challenge and realign

I’m guessing initially most expectations have some validity, yet over time our situation changes while our behavior remains static. This leaves a need to realign the expectations placed on us (both internally and externally) on a frequent basis.

So what have I discovered? Nothing I didn’t already know 🙂 Circumstances change, and setting aside time to step back and ‘take stock’ is an important aspect of learning and growing as a person.

Remember to stay lean and always challenge the status quo.

(1) Similar to the invisible hand in economics, which describes the self regulating behavior of a marketplace

(2) Yep, I’m pulling out British slang on your ass – don’t run amok!

(3) Ah yes, the new best practice of OKRs – originally created by John Doerr for Google that has taken the tech world by storm. Not familiar? This video is worth watching

(4) It’s worth testing this assumption – I’ll likely make this list with one of my employees next week and report back on how it goes

(5) Emotional intelligence



72 hours to Poland


Don’t judge a book…

As I get older (1) I find myself judging others more harshly… especially during a first conversation. Which is funny, because throughout my life I’ve prided myself on being open-minded and leaving a positive first impression.

Recently with just a few negative signals I have a greater tendency to A) consider the person a moron, and B) try to promptly exit the conversation.

Surely this combination of being quick to both judge and exit hasn’t ingratiated me to some, but subconsciously the time/effort savings outweighs a long and boring discussion.

If I break down my first interactions over the past year they would broadly result in the distribution below (2):

Dislike to like spectrum

The Switcheroo

Something strange has been happening recently. If I interact a second time with someone I initially strongly dislike, I tend to be completely wrong and end up strongly liking them…

Strong dislike to like

Late last year I met a US VC at a European tech conference. Long story short I considered him to be a typical arrogant American and I ended up actively hating his guts.

A few months later I met the same US VC again, spent some 1-1 time getting to know him and his perspective, and ended up strongly liking the guy.

The same thing happened twice recently with people I’ve met in London – a strongly negative first impression, months later a chance second interaction, and now I not only respect the person – but both have becoming good friends!

I hope I hate them?

My complete love/hate flip-flops have occurred often enough that I (strangely) now look forward to a strong initial dislike. Yes some people are jerks I’ll never enjoy. Yet if a high percentage of strong dislikes are likely to convert into good friends, to me that’s a good investment of time.

These thoughts leave me wondering:

1) Is there a correlation between my flip flops and the relationship advice “the more you love someone the greater they can hurt you?”

2) What are ways I can improve my ability to defer judgement and quickly understand someone’s perspective?

3) How does the time between first and second meetings affect my flip flopping?

4) Of my initial strong dislikes, how many also dislike me? And is their feeling toward me correlated with me flip flopping?

Overall the lessons I need to remind myself often are to keep an open mind, continue meeting LOTS of interesting people, and make every attempt to understand the perspective of others.

If you have any advice or tactics on the above, I’m all ears!

(1) I’m 31, so not that old

(2) Despite my increase in harshly judging, I’m lucky to have a positive outlook that still results in a positive impression of 95% of the people I meet.

Blogging for the big picture

Startupbootcamp global team

(above – the Startupbootcamp Global team!)

I’m just back from 2 days of startup CEOs sharing and learning from each other during Startupbootcamp’s alumni CEO gathering in Berlin.Movie A Dog’s Purpose (2017)

It was a great time. Founders Centric led my favorite session about ‘growth hacking’ – which I realized is simply clever ways to gain users without paying for marketing.

The tip from this session that stuck in my mind wasn’t growth hacking specific – it was that growth hacking only works if you find a repeatable process to execute. For example, when creating content (blogs, videos, etc.) Jordan from Founders Centric suggested:

A) Separate ideation and creation into different events
B) Set aside designated times for each activity

Where’s the big picture?

Since joining Startupbootcamp early 2013, I’ve committed most of my waking hours to building the organization. Any free time goes to a combination of being with Tara, exercising, and RumRatings.

Last week I talked with a Startupbootcamp board member about my performance. His feedback was I’ve been executing well and now need to think more strategically about where Startupbootcamp is heading.

For me (and I expect most of us) finding time to reflect and plan is difficult. Since moving to London 4 years ago the only times I can recall thinking about the bigger picture is when I’m blogging.

It’s all about commitment

So I’m doing some growth hacking myself and now twice a week scheduling time in my calendar for blogging – specifically 9am Monday and Friday mornings.

If you can believe it, there are 84 notes piled up in my Evernote folder ‘Blog posts I should write’ – so the content creation part shouldn’t be difficult. When I run out I’ll need to set aside ideation time as well, but for now it’s straight to the writing.

I’m excited to see if writing 8 blog posts this month changes my perspective and strategic mind frame. I know one person asked for automatic emails of my blog posts – so to that person… if you don’t get an email every Monday and Friday for the next month, a swift kick in the ass would be helpful! 🙂

The open job spec

For years I’ve held a core believe that job seekers should apply to a variety of positions, even if they aren’t necessarily “qualified” for them. This isn’t to say a recent grad is ready to become a fortune 500 CEO, but in my opinion most job specs are more malleable than they appear.

From discussing this “malleable job spec” rationale over the years, I’ve observed some are hesitant to apply because of a literal interpretation of the job spec’s wording. They view each bullet point in a desired qualifications list as mandatory – and would be embarrassed if a recruiter thinks of them as silly for attempting to score such a prestigious position.

Reading a post today by recruiter Paul Blumenfeld on VC Jeff Bussgang’s blog helped substantiate my ‘apply often’ hypothesis by saying that “Companies aren’t always clear on what they’re looking for until the right candidate walks through the door”. He goes on to suggest a few methods to alleviate the risk of missing the perfect candidate – including being more open minded and hiring winners who fit the company culture.

The problem is that many potential candidates will still never apply because they interpret the job post literally. Even if the “must-haves” are limited, they’re typically followed by “nice-to-haves” along with a list of position tasks that may dissuade great applicants.

I have a simple suggestion to solve this problem… simply state that great people should apply, regardless if they fit the qualifications exactly. I envision a simple statement like the following would alleviate the concerns of many:

Don’t fit the job spec perfectly but have unique skills that enable you to become a killer (job title)? We don’t hire great backgrounds, we hire great people. If you have a passion for joining an amazing team and becoming the world’s best (job title), we’d love to hear from you!

Including this type of statement would no doubt increases a recruiter’s initial vetting workload, but also has the potential to attract a perfect candidate who isn’t an optimal job spec match.

Has anyone seen a job posting with a similar statement? If so, I’d love to see it – please share it in the comments!

No trust, no sale


Selling is often considered an art form. It takes no less than the most fine-tuned of inter-personal skills and a precise focus on value.

But value is in the eye of a beholder, and to truly sell (I’m told) requires the innate skill to first empathize with a customer’s needs… and then at the perfect moment deliver an optimal solution to their largest problem.

Sales mastery in action

I’ve been lucky enough to witness sales mastery on a few occasions. It was indeed like watching an artist, with a few commonalities:

  • First the groundwork is laid, maybe an initial joke leading quickly to a personal connection
  • Next a mutual commiseration of shared problems and struggles
  • Then the soft touch of a potential solution, delivered ever so delicately at the opportune time
  • And lastly, the close. With the swiftness of a cheetah that somehow leaves the antelope feeling like it won

The ruin of a sale

Someone tried to sell me something today – and it felt all wrong. It simply wasn’t an enjoyable experience.

This bugged me because I was the perfect customer. In fact, not only did I deeply identify with the problem, I had sought out my own solution – which the service I was being sold solved perfectly!. To top it of, the service was FREE and delivered to me on a silver plate.

What was my deal? I had a problem that I unsuccessfully tried to solve myself but couldn’t, and someone was offering me a perfect free solution.

So why did I walk away feeling like a snake charmer just tried to scam me?

Because there was no trust. No groundwork was laid – it was straight to the sell.

The art of trust

Many sales acronyms exist. There’s DIPADA, DMAIC, among others. They’re mostly similar: Identify the problem, present a tailored solution, and close the deal. Some include smaller interim steps such as identifying the key stakeholder and creating time sensitivity – but the main topics remain the same.

What typically isn’t included in a sales process? BUILDING TRUST. Yet developing trust through a true customer connection is the most important element of selling.

Unsurprisingly how to quickly develop a trusting relationship is the most difficult step to teach. Much like delivering a pick-up line… it’s largely an innate ability.

It may involve a simple friendly smile, sharing a story, or keeping a promise. While the tactics may differ, the results are the same.

One of my heros Rand puts it well:

“Best way to sell something:
Don’t sell anything.
Earn the awareness, respect, and trust of those who might buy.”

So the next time you’re selling (we’re all selling something), think for a moment about the personal connection you’ll need to make to build a sale. Without laying the groundwork of trust, you risk coming across as an insincere salesperson to even your most opportune customer.

The interaction of academia and business


I recently met well known author and professor John Mullins – who not only accepted my blind lunch invitation, but was nice enough to invite me to the LBS faculty dining room (best lunch I’ve had this year).

After sharing our backgrounds, the conversation moved to John’s recent research surrounding startup funding and the value of relying on customers for initial cash as validation – opposed to raising angel/VC funds (that’s for a separate post).

I walked away not only with a full belly, but pondering the intake criteria of many startup accelerators and how the industry views initial funding as a ‘proof in the pudding’ milestone.

It really is amazing how one conversation can completely alter your thoughts from a daily task list to the highest strategic objectives of an industry.

It’s hard to believe I didn’t realize until just now how valuable a research-based academic conversation can be… and this is coming from someone with an academic as a best buddy!Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Everyone needs a regular change of perspective, and I for one will be seeking them out much more often. Not only with academics, but people who are generally interesting and willing to disagree with me. But if they do happen to be academics, then hopefully more posh lunches are in my future!

What’s up with mentorship?

I’m a big fan of Bob Cringely’s blog – he’s been a writer in the Valley for years and witnessed the manic rise first hand. Bob recently wrote a post spurred by a student commenting on the lack of mentorship in their home country of Russia.

I rarely write blog comments, but this time felt obliged to share a few mentor/mentee thoughts since Startupbootcamp’s mentorship program is a front-of-mind topic in my daily life.

(my comment posted 14 Sept ’13)

Thanks for the post Bob, I’m a big fan of your blog.

As someone who runs operations for a large startup accelerator group, I’m in essence in the business of connecting startups with mentor’s (and investors, partners, etc). Here’s a few quick things that came to mind from your post:

1) The Russian student’s comment about mentorship being unknown in Russia is closer to the norm globally than you’d think. The US is truly unique from a mentorship standpoint. I’ve found mentorship does exist in Europe and Japan, but far less the US. I’ve had direct experience with mentorship being a completely new concept in many regions – Middle East, Africa, SE Asia. In fact how to tailor our mentor-driven accelerator model to markets outside the US/EU is something I consider on a daily basis.

2) Mentees must seek out mentors, but mentors need to be receptive. There’s no formal application process required – simply seeking advice and asking questions is the key. I wonder how many times the Russian student has sought advice of someone older and wiser? It’s hard to believe if they did their questions were completely dismissed. Human nature is typically more helpful than not.

My guess is a mentor had never directly come to this student with an offer to help, yet the student didn’t realize it’s their prerogative to approach first. Odds are the most successful Russians have mentors because they sought them out, yet proportionately fewer mentor/mentee relationships exist than in the US/EU so the ‘mentorship culture’ has not formed.

3) In my experience mentees have a common trait of considering advice but not necessarily taking it. No mentor wants a mentee who agrees with them all the time… hero worship works for an hour but doesn’t form a relationship. The mentees I enjoy being around not only consider my advice, but have smart responses that make me think. This is why I personally mentor – because I can learn something as well as help someone.