So What’s Next? Part 1: My Search Criteria

Now that the cat is out of the bag on my departure from TrueCar, lot’s of folks have been asking what’s next for me professionally.  So I thought I would share my process and how I’m thinking about what I want to do next in a series of posts.  I actually began this process several months ago, it’s been a challenging journey with emotional highs and lows but has also been rewarding having met some incredible people and re-connected with others.

Bottom line, there are a number of potential paths to take and criteria to examine – company size, role, geography, my risk appetite, work/life balance – and there are pros and cons to each of the many combinations.  The good news for me?  I’m not ready to make a decision and I’m in no hurry.  And I’ve been blessed with a unique opportunity to have a professional transition at the exact time that my child is born and I plan on taking advantage of simply being a dad and staring at my son for a few months.  I’m extremely thankful for that opportunity.

So how am I going about my search for the next big thing?  There are really two high-level components to the process.  First, being clear about my search criteria and second, executing a process for uncovering opportunities and ultimately choosing one.  I’ll talk about the first component in this post – my ideal search criteria.  Important to note that “ideal” implies a willingness to compromise and evaluate tradeoffs, which in turn requires that criteria are ranked in priority importance.  Here are mine, in order:

  1. I’m not going to start my own company from scratch.  So, I’m looking to partner with a Founder or Founding team.
  2. Chemistry with and complementary skills to the Founder(s) is an A-1 priority.  Alignment on strategy, roles, values, culture, team building among others is important.
  3. I have a strict “No Asshole” rule.  Meaning I won’t work for one, I won’t be one and I won’t participate in a culture that rewards being one.  It’s toxic and threatens both morale and productivity.
  4. I’m looking for an early stage, venture-backed business post Series A.  As opposed to a pure garage startup with limited traction and no funding.
  5. I want to build a company with balance – work / life / pursuits.  I have enough experience to know that working 80-hour weeks just because your “supposed to” in a startup is bunk.  A culture of work hard, smart and leaving some juice for personal pursuits is far more productive.  I’m also not suggesting that clocking a 40-hour week is the right answer either.  You work harder in a startup, period.  But balance is possible.
  6. I’m considering four geographies.  Boulder, Austin, Bay Area and Los Angeles.
  7. I don’t care about industry vertical, but…
  8. I want to focus on a huge industry with a large addressable market.  Even better if the industry is fragmented with limited established brands.  But it needs to be a big idea.
  9. I’m targeting CEO roles, but will consider COO roles.  This is really a function of the experience/strengths of the Founder, back to chemistry.
  10. I want to build a company that solves a real problem and helps people in some meaningful way.
So, have I narrowed myself out of sufficient considerable opportunities?  Maybe, but that’s why its important to create and priority rank a list of criteria, so I fully understand the tradeoffs to be made and which of them can be compromised to create a broader set and volume of opportunities.
These are, at a minimum, guideposts for targeting companies, roles and geographies.  In Part 2, I’ll talk about the process of uncovering, narrowing and choosing which roles to pursue.
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Thank You TrueCar

As I wrote in a previous post, there are several “life events” happening for me simultaneously.  Last week it was the birth of my first child and this week a professional transition – my last week of employment with TrueCar.  As I reflect on the past 3.5 years, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have learned so much about building a company from the ground up.  Most important however, I’m thankful to have worked with an amazingly talented team of people – product specialists, statisticians and analysts, engineers and technologists, finance and accounting gurus, lawyers, PR and marketing wizards and the list goes on.  The original leadership team in particular deserves and has my deepest gratitude – Damon, Chris, Mike and Jesse – who took a risk in joining our startup and did so because they all shared a vision for building a business that had the potential for changing a huge industry.  And we did it!

While I’m excited to move on and tackle another challenge, it will be difficult to replicate the quality and cohesiveness of the team we built at TrueCar.  Building a leadership team of the best, who can also function at a high level together, is really hard to do.  It’s not just about intellect and job skills, its about personality, values and cultural fit as well.  A startup is by definition chaotic, ambiguous, uncertain, stressful and requires more time away from family than a normal “job”.  It can also be incredibly rewarding and energizing.  Its not for everyone, in fact its not for most.  But it was right for these guys and for the functional teams they built.

Finally, special thanks to Scott for giving me the opportunity to join him in building the business.  Eternally grateful.

Are You Working in a Performance Based Culture?

Or in a culture that rewards based on popularity or some other subjective measures?

I’ve had several vastly different experiences in organizations that preached “we are building a Performance Based Culture (PBC)” and generally I don’t think there’s any confusion or lack of understanding about what it is.  The problem, and where I’ve seen it break down, is a poor execution by 1) not putting in place the key ingredients to enable employees to truly understand how their actions will be measured and rewarded and 2) inconsistent and subjective evaluations by leadership.  This last point is the cultural kiss of death for having employees believe that true performance will be rewarded.  Just because you are told you work in a PBC by a C-level executive doesn’t mean you do.  So for startups, why is an explicit transition and focus on building a real PBC important?

Most successful startups go through a few phases of growth that inevitably leads to varying degrees of erosion of the talent level as the team grows, particularly if the team grows quickly and can’t hire staff fast enough.  At the early stages, the right way to hire is to be ruthless about hiring only the best – test everyone extensively in specific skills, intellect, skills flexibility and cultural fit.  Individual performance metrics are less important as everyone is hunkered down to build the product and achieve product/market fit.  And, everyone on the team in the early days has to be a star, their work is too important and is seen and experienced daily by everyone else.  An explicit focus on PBC is not necessary, it simply already exists.  However, over time the organization passes through two important phases that require changes in leadership both of the business and of people.

  1. Rapid scale in employees.  For hyper-growth companies at roughly 20-25 employees (and urgently going to 50 or more), it becomes impossible for the “entire team” to interview every candidate and hiring velocity becomes a gating factor to progress.  Thus compromises tend to be made, B & C level talent sneaks in and because the company is growing so fast, its requires a heroic effort to instill a culture of “firing fast” for mediocre performance.  The result, you end up with some “hangers-on” employees that are not horrible at what they do, but they certainly are not leaders and innovators that will propel the company forward.
  2. Different skills required to scale the business – particularly on the leadership team.  In the best run organizations, this is the time that a more disciplined approach to managing the business takes hold – putting processes in place, tracking and reporting on metrics that drive success, and explicitly preaching and building a Performance Based Culture (PBC) for evaluating and rewarding employees.
So what’s the big deal, seems easy enough right?  I think much of it IS easy – determining organizational goals, defining the desired behaviors, creating individual goals – takes work but not an overwhelming challenge.  The hard part is constantly communicating and coaching employees, supporting their achievement of individual goals, eliminating fear and making reward, hiring and firing decisions that are absolutely consistent with the preaching and the promise, decisions must be objective.  Leadership can’t on the one hand preach rewards and advancement based on objective performance and then exhibit subjective, special treatment or “inner circle” mentality based on a popularity contest.  Everyone will see it, eyes will roll and faith in any sort of real PBC will be lost.
Bottom line, if you are a leader in a startup that is growing rapidly and in need of a more explicit focus on performance management, here’s an oversimplified formula that’s worked for me:
  1. Be clear about what drives success for the business, then create a handful of metrics, measure them, share them, post them – make sure everyone has clarity if we do x, then we achieve y.
  2. With success metrics clear, ensure everyone has actionable individual goals that tie directly to the organizational metrics.  This can be tricky for non-executives.  Every individual goal should roll up into the organizational metrics, directly or indirectly (Some goals should reinforce desired behaviors, not just quantified metrics).
  3. Provide frequent feedback, encourage dialogue and make course corrections.  This should be an ongoing topic of discussion every week as part of a broader check in with direct reports, especially in the early days of implementation.
  4. Be timely.  Don’t let half the quarter expire before individual goals are in place.  It shows a lack of commitment.  How can evaluations be objective if goals are undefined for half the period?
  5. And most important, lead by example, evaluate your staff objectively.  No inner circles, no boys/girls club, no rewarding big talkers, no overly subjective evaluations.  Even with the best intentions this can go awry simply because you may not have a full view of your employee’s performance if they work closely with others.  Important to actively seek out performance feedback from those with the best understanding of performance.  Put in the effort to get it right, you may be fooled by a lack of information on someone’s performance, but everyone else in the organization won’t be.

A Week of Firsts

At 42 years old, I didn’t think so many “first” new experiences could possibly be packed into a single week.  That was before the remarkable experience of childbirth.  Renee and I welcomed our son Jack Robert Taylor into the world last Saturday, July 16.

Look at that hair!

Now that we are a week post-delivery, I thought I would share a few firsts in my life as experienced during the week.  I’m sure there are many more to come!

  • First time experiencing the miracle of childbirth.  And it is a miracle.  I was doing great helping Renee through the birthing process, really holding it together until I saw Jack’s head, then the rest of his body enter our world.  Then I lost it.  Remarkably emotional and never to be forgotten experience.  And made even more special by having my Mom and Aunt join us for the birth.
  • First time driving 20mph in a 30mph zone.  Seriously, I’ve got a bit of a lead foot and can’t remember the last time I drove the speed limit.  The drive from the hospital to our house was terrifying.  It was old lady driving at its best.
  • First time experiencing true sleep deprivation.  Now I’m a guy that needs his beauty sleep and while I’m losing some sleep, I’m actually sleeping like a King compared to Renee who is up constantly feeding.  We’ve worked out a system that in short has made our days highly efficient.  The next step?  Finding some time for each other.
  • First time there’s someone utterly dependent on me for survival.  I’ve become instantly unselfish.  There is no other way now.  It’s cool.
  • First time I felt relieved to the point of giddy by someone else taking a poop.  To be clear, the first few days are tense when the baby is losing weight and is not pooping and so when it finally came it was the best laugh Renee and I had since the birth.  Now we just laugh every time he poops because it sounds like a volcanic eruption and it scares him.  I’m laughing right now thinking about it.
  • First time I put my wife’s appointments on MY calendar.  Everything must be planned and synched between us.  If she can’t take our ESP machine (Eating, Sleeping, Pooping), then I need to care for him.
And finally,
  • First time I realized my life is really different now.  Friday night our neighbors were having a huge, blowout bash and there was a moment when Renee and I were on the couch, she was holding Jack and I was trying to figure out if the explosion I heard was Jack soiling his diaper.  Sticking my nose in his leg opening didn’t do it, so I stuck my finger in his diaper and got a creamy chocolate surprise.  So there I am, baby poo on my finger, looking at Renee and listening to the trance music and revelling next door.  I said, “Well, our lives sure changed overnight, heh?”.  It was good for another gut-busting laugh.
All you parents, what other “firsts” did I miss?

Renee on the Eve of Baby G

Renee on the Eve of Baby G. Inducing at 6am tomorrow. http://ow.ly/i/elOY

Refreshingly Human Reaction

For those of you that have followed this year’s Tour de France coverage, there was a spectacular crash on Stage 9 yesterday caused by one of the media support vehicles that swerved into one of the riders going 40 mph.  The driver was clearly at fault, attempting to pass the riders after being instructed not to, then visibly swerving directly into the riders once the road began to narrow during the pass.  There were two riders affected, the actual rider hit by the vehicle (Juan Antonio Flecha) and the rider behind Flecha (Johnny Hoogerland) who was hurled into the air upside down and directly into a barbed wire fence… again, going 40 mph.  Remarkably, both of these riders managed to remount their bikes and finish the stage, despite Hoogerland’s shorts being completely ripped from his body and blood gushing down his legs for the remaining hour or so of racing.

Hoogerland got the worst of it from an injury standpoint with 33 stitches, but both of these men were in a 9-rider breakaway and each had a chance for a stage win in this year’s Tour.  You have to understand that winning even one stage of the Tour de France can make your career as a rider, so the emotional turmoil from having that opportunity taken from you must be hard to bear.  Not to mention the mental trauma associated with such a horrific accident where there was no warning and no rider fault.  To make matters worse, Hoogerland is the leader in the King of the Mountains classification (wearing the Polka Dot Jersey) which he will likely not be able to defend.  Hoogerland’s podium appearance after the stage shows his physical and emotional distress.

It was widely speculated yesterday that there would be legal consequences for the media company and driver that failed to obey instructions, then caused such a consequential accident.  Hoogerland’s Tour is likely over, certainly any success in the balance of the race has evaporated.  Yet his team manager announced today that the driver had taken ownership of his mistake, apologized and that Hoogerland had accepted his apology.  There would be no legal action taken.  Matter closed.

Some may think that this sort of risk simply comes with the territory in one of the most dangerous competitive sports in existence.  Well, sure, but the argument “that’s the risk you take” rarely stops individuals from threatening or taking legal action in other situations, personal or professional.  And certainly not when there is neglect involved and the act is caught on tape.  We live in a culture where a hot coffee spill gets you $640,000 in cold, hard cash.

I find Hoogerland’s reaction commendable.  It’s refreshing to see human compassion, forgiveness and calmer heads ruling every once in awhile.

What do you think?

What’s Up G?

The waiting game is brutal, we are now 2 days past Baby G’s due date which normally might not be so bad, but we’ve been told for the past 6 weeks that “this baby is coming early”.  The OB/GYN said this morning that the earliest they would induce labor would be next Tuesday, putting us in week 42.  So at least we know worst case.  And we want to meet him!  The Nana’s have traveled from far and wide and are waiting here with us.  Renee has been handling everything amazingly well – including daily trail hikes, stairmaster and bumpy car rides to “encourage” the little guy to start his journey.  So what’s up G?  Let’s get this train rolling!

As for me, its been hard to get motivated to write, work, read, job search, think, exercise, you name it.   The Tour de France has been a great distractor and reason to procrastinate as it is every year for me.  This year’s Tour is particularly engaging and unpredictable.

I’ll probably continue to be off the grid for awhile with regards to any professional posts unless something comes along that I just can’t help reacting to!

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