Celebrating A Champion

5X NBA Champion

 

Kobe Bryant was once  asked how he dealt with the everyday criticism and hatred of others, by a fan who added the hashtag “#QuestionforGOAT.”

His answer?

“I don’t.”

You have to love that answer.

It speaks to a champion’s heart.

“Haters are a good problem to have,” Kobe once said. ” Nobody hates the good ones. They hate the great ones.”

Isn’t that the truth. Sad as it may be.

The tragic death of Kobe Bryant and eight others in a helicopter crash yesterday prompted a worldwide outpouring of shock and sadness.

Bryant, only 41, was soaring in his post basketball career, an inspiration not only to sports fans but also to mid and late career professionals who admired his entrepreneurial endeavors and his ability to reinvent himself after a legendary career with the Lakers.

Many athletes can’t make the transition after their sports careers end.

They miss the cheers and adulation and live in the past chasing the glory days.

Not Kobe.

He became an investor, entrepreneur, creator, artist and reportedly a very devoted dad.

He understood that his relentless will to win would also lead to success in business.

Based on some recent articles, it seems he was fulfilled and excited about the future. There’s no doubt that his second act was shaping up to be legendary as well.

It’s a shame that we will never get to see the next chapter.

I enjoy reading about successful people. What makes them tick? What keeps them going once they succeed? What enables them to keep trying when they fail?

The great ones are truly different. They are truly special.

They inspire us, energize us, challenge us and take us to new places.

Kobe was one of those people.

He was some kind of basketball player. Just a next level talent and competitor.

He was doing some special things as an entrepreneur too.

What a loss.

Indescribable.

Keep your loved ones close. It’s all so fragile. And can be taken away in an instant.

Passion & Belief

“You need more to eyes to see, more brains to think, and more legs to act in order to accelerate. You need additional people with their own particular windows on the world and with their additional good working relationships with others, in order to truly innovate. More people need to be able to have the latitude to initiate—not just carry out someone else’s directives.”—John P. Kotter

Want to build a great team?

You need passion and you need to believe in the mission.

Passion and belief are what move people.

Always have, always will.

And moving people is what organizational success is all about.

I’ve been thinking a lot about culture these days.

Workplace culture, community culture and national culture.

I’m not talking about music or art, but culture in the sense of what it feels like to be part of a company, an organization, a neighborhood, a city, a state and a nation.

There’s a saying that culture eats strategy for lunch and I believe it.

Heck, I’ve seen it.

But if you marry the two—a good culture with a sound strategy—you’ve got magic.

I’ve seen that too.

Culture trumps good fortune, it overcomes money issues and it will get you over just about any obstacle.

I’ve been thinking about these things in the context of a recent panel discussion I attended at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus in which CEOs and executives from four local companies Celsius, MDVIP, Vitacost/Kroger and Body Details talked about the importance of engagement, culture, flexibility and pleasant work environments and how those things grow business by attracting and keeping talent.

Of course, they also talked about Artificial Intelligence, growth strategies and automation, but the executives—representing a beverage company, a laser hair removal company, an e-commerce platform and a health care company– all talked about the importance of the human touch—of developing a brand and value proposition that cares about people.

I can speak with a bit of knowledge about Celsius, which is one of the companies in our portfolio where I work.

We are proud of the company and the team and have invested heavily—both emotionally and financially– in Celsius because we believe in the brand’s mission which is to provide products (beverages, powders and coming soon—drum roll please…. protein bars) to help people “live fit.”

It has been a long and winding road to NASDAQ and to widespread international and national distribution with more than its share of peaks and valleys. But when you believe in the mission and the team—and we always have—you don’t give up and you will find success. It may take some time, you will suffer setbacks but you will make progress and we have.

Celsius CEO John Fieldly is a young guy and I often think about the pressures that are on him as the leader of a publicly held company that does business across the globe and with some of the world’s largest retailers.

As an insider/outsider at Celsius I’ve glimpsed their culture and the team is tight-knit and passionate about the mission. You have to be because the beverage biz is incredibly competitive and crowded too. Celsius has always been able to punch above its weight because the team is bought in to the mission which is creating products that help people live healthier lives.

Vitacost has a similar mission and Marketing VP Guy Burgstahler says the company has benefitted greatly by relocating to attractive space at BRIC.

Body Details CEO Claudio Sorrentino understands that social media is ubiquitous these days so he doesn’t sweat his employees indulging as long as the work gets done. The company also has Champagne Tuesdays where for the cost of a bottle of bubbly they celebrate things large and small. It helps to build camaraderie.

Andrea Klemes, Chief Medical Officer for MDVIP, says her company lets people work from home one day a week which has boosted morale and retention. The company was started to improve the experience patients have with their doctors—and as an MDVIP client I can personally attest that it would be hard to go back to a “regular” practice once you’ve experienced the VIP experience.

I have long believed that cities have cultures and values and if they are frayed or violated you pay a heavy price.

The new city manager in Delray—George Gretsas—has a wonderful opportunity to rebuild the culture at City Hall. Employees need to be empowered, staff needs to be feel valued and the community as a whole has to feel like it’s working on building a better city if that is to occur.

You have to stop majoring in the minor for good things to happen. The community has to come first and you have to be willing to think about doing what’s right versus doing the expedient. And you have to create a culture where it feels safe for people to invest their hearts, minds, time and emotion.

Is it easy?
No.

But it’s not impossible either and this is one area of life where trying scores you points.

Make it safe to fail. Make it safe to have an idea and say it out loud.

Celebrate success. Share credit. Give credit.

Be thankful. Be kind. The little stuff matters—a whole lot.

Creating and protecting a great culture makes all the difference.

Passion and belief are what move people.

Always have, always will.

Failure Versus Success

“The only ones who fear failure are those who have never tasted it.” – Simon Sinek

Bessemer Ventures is a terrific Venture Capital firm.

They’ve had a lot of hits (Yelp, Pinterest, Linked In) and quite a few misses.

Such as not investing in Facebook.

Here’s how Bessemer explains its failure to see the potential in founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin:

“Jeremy Levine (a Bessemer partner) spent a weekend at a corporate retreat in the summer of 2004 dodging persistent Harvard undergrad Eduardo Saverin’s rabid pitch. Finally, cornered in a lunch line, Jeremy delivered some sage advice. ‘Kid, haven’t you heard of Friendster? Move on. It’s over!’”

This week, Facebook’s market cap was approaching $606 billion—that’s billion with a B ($$$$).

I don’t know how many of us are prepared to reckon so openly (and humorously) with mistakes or let alone share them with the world.

But the truth is, if we are honest, we all miss from time to time.

I recently read an article by Bill Taylor, a founder of Fast Company magazine, who suggests that to be a better leader we ought to put together a “failure resume.”

It sounds a little odd, but the point is we often learn more from our failures than our successes.

I think that’s true, but only if we are self-aware and take the time to delve into why something didn’t work. Sometimes it’s hard to examine a failure, because failing can be painful and costly both emotionally and financially.

But if we remember that success is never final and failure is hardly ever fatal, we may be encouraged to take a deeper look at ventures that didn’t quite pan out.

As an entrepreneur, I have had some hits (admittedly minor, but I’m still swinging) and many misses.

As someone who works with a phenomenally successful entrepreneur, we have also had our share of hits (some really good ones) and some misses (it happens).

As a civic entrepreneur (aka a former elected official), there are a few votes I regret but many more (fortunately) that I’m proud of. I say fortunate because unlike business, where you can usually come back to fight another day, in politics once you’ve cast your vote, you can’t get it back.

So anyway, because I like and respect Bill Taylor and have read him for years, I thought I would sit on the couch one night and take his advice. I did my “failure resume” while watching “The Bachelorette”, which some would say should be added to my failure list. So here goes…

We failed to save the old Boca News—(although we did manage keep it alive long enough to sell it).

This was a high degree of difficulty mission since the paper struggled when Knight Ridder owned it and really struggled when they sold it, leaving us without a deep pocketed corporate parent. It was a painful exercise to keep afloat until it sold, because we had to let a lot of really good people go and those faces are forever etched in my mind.

For four years, I had some successes and some misses with a brand consultancy that helped companies bring their product to market.

We got a few clients shelf space nationally, but the amount of work we were doing (relative to the fees we were generating didn’t add up). What I failed to consider was that each start-up considered their product their baby (as they should). As a result, there was never enough attention we could pay to any one client that matched their expectations. We made some money, but we pulled the plug.

My first two entrepreneurial ventures also failed despite enjoying some early success.

As a young journalist, my colleagues and I approached my parent company with an idea—could we start a sports publication that would cover everything from youth sports to adult rec leagues?

Our corporate parent, called us “intrapreneurs” because they partnered with us on our effort, providing sales,  if we produced, designed and distributed the paper which we called “Boca Raton Sportscene.”

I still think it was a good idea and readers loved it but….we were charged expenses (printing $$$) and being less than sophisticated negotiators we got killed. It was only when I eventually left to start my own—successful publishing company (finally! a win)—did I realize that we were being charged how should I say it…aggressively.

But I learned a lesson and I relished the opportunity I was given. It also stoked my desires to give it a go on my own. And so I did. But before I left, I also ghost wrote books for clients, including custom biographies—again we were profitable but if you added the time versus the compensation well let’s just say I’d be better off doing just about anything else.

Since then, there have been real estate deals, hot sauce, beverages, more newspapers, events, consulting gigs, my own book, race horses, investments in other ventures, a magazine etc. etc.

Luckily, a few ideas worked. But they were all really challenging.

That’s why I admire entrepreneurs and creatives—because it’s hard work and it’s always uncertain.

I’ve been under capitalized and well capitalized, I’ve worked with experienced people and some.. ahem… others. I’ve seen great ideas crash and burn and some ideas I thought were questionable break through. In my mind, that’s the fun of it all.

So consider a failure resume, because once you lay it out there you might realize that those failures actually led to your successes.

 

10 Signs of a Great Organization

You need a north star.

Inc. magazine recently printed 10 signs of greatness in a company.

I thought the list was spot on—and that the traits of a great company also translate to a great non-profit, school, organization or City Hall.

Here’s the Inc. list with a few comments from a guy (that would be me) who has worked and volunteered in great places, good places and horrendous places over the past 31 years.

  1. Everyone is having fun—Inc. calls fun the “ultimate entry point for greatness.” I agree. And isn’t that a great sentiment? Fun environments are freeing, creative, productive, entrepreneurial and almost always successful. Fun attracts and retains talent, investment and ideas. “Without a sense of fun and creativity, forget ever achieving any level of greatness. To be great, you have to be a beacon.”
  2. No one is pedantic—Inc.’s John Brandon believes pedantry kills all progress and creativity. “When everyone acts like they know everything, when they are slavishly devoted to rules and when they are fussy, finicky, strict and overly fastidious, then nothing good will happen,” according to the magazine. A good point—flexibility and a willingness to experiment (and fail) enables greatness to occur.
  3. Empathy Abounds—Brandon defines empathy as an ability to see another point of view. “I’m going to help you, you’re going to help me,” he writes. “That’s called teamwork.”So take a look at your organization. Is there infighting? Do people work together, or work to undermine each other? Do key organizations and partners feel supported or neglected and or put upon?
  4. Expectations are Crystal Clear to Everyone—When bosses hoard information it breeds distrust and leads to everyone shooting in the dark. When you have a north star, or “true north” as author Bill George calls it, it enables people to focus. It also allows for true accountability versus a culture of random punishment. Goals should not be a well-kept secret. Stakeholders need to know the end game in order to have buy in to the organization.
  5. Grace is Prevalent—What if you fall short of your goals? Showing grace instead of a demeaning, belittling attitude is what makes a company great. “Grace is a license to fail,” says Inc.’s Brandon. But it’s not an excuse, it’s also a license to try new things, work hard and stick around. A culture of criticism kills momentum, instills fear and kills progress. “A culture of grace, encouragement, understanding and excitement will turn any organization into a giant,” says Brandon.
  6. Roles are Clearly Defined—In dysfunctional organizations, people often don’t know what they’re doing or where they fit in the big picture. This type of culture creates organizational anxiety. Employees need to be empowered not stifled.
  7. Everyone sees and rewards hard work—When companies treat employees like cattle that need to be silenced, cowed (no pun intended) and herded you will surely fail. If hard work and success are celebrated, you will succeed and learn.
  8. Every Employee is Happy—Happy employees create dynamic environments, according to Inc. An unhappy group ensures your enterprise will sink.
  9. Mentoring is more important than performance—“Being beaten into submission by an angry boss won’t work; mentoring will,” writes Brandon. “A great company is one where the most important knowledge is handed down from one employee to the next in a way that’s built on the foundation of individual relationships.” To this I would add to beware of the narcissistic “leader” who only feels good when he disparages everyone else. How do you tell if you are dealing with a narcissist? Here’s one tell-tale sign: If it’s not their idea, they aren’t interested. Narcissists in powerful positions will topple your enterprise faster than you can read this sentence.
  10. There’s a great leader—“Behind every great company is a great leader,” says Brandon. “A great leader has an attitude that generates enthusiasm and happiness among the staff. It’s contagious.” Meanwhile, corrosive leadership destroys any and all progress or chances for success.

Strategy + Team=Success

teams

I’m a big fan of Fred Wilson.

He’s a highly regarded NYC based venture capitalist who writes a fascinating blog on investing and technology.

This time of year, he’s spending his time in board meetings planning for the upcoming year.

When you are involved in a successful enterprise, board meetings are exciting. It’s fun to talk about growth and expanding market share. But when you are in struggling enterprise, board meetings can be very challenging and often stressful.

Wilson believes the keys to success are having a strategy and building a winning team. Here’s what he has to say:

“You have to get the strategy right and you have to have a team that can execute it without your day to day involvement. The CEOs that I work with that are struggling are usually running into issues with their team and/or their strategy. And the CEOs that I work with that are doing great generally have gotten the strategy set and have built a strong executive team underneath them.

This sounds so simple. But it is not.

Most of the companies I work with didn’t really start out with a strategy. They started out with an idea that turned into a great product that found a fit with a market. And they jumped on that and used it to build a company. Most of them wake up at some point and realize that a single product in a single market is not a strategy and they need to come up with a plan to get a lot bigger and build a sustainable and defensible business. I like to think that this is one place where a good investor group can help. If we are doing our job, we push our portfolio companies to work on their long term strategy and refine it to the point where it makes sense and is executable. But an investor group cannot give a company a strategy. It has to come from the founder/CEO and a small group of senior leaders. The smaller the group that is working on strategy, the better. Strategy is not something that can be done by committee.

The second thing, building an executive team that can execute the plan without day to day involvement of the CEO, is even harder. Most of the companies I work with go through a lot of hiring mistakes on the way to building this team. Some hire too junior. Some hire too senior. Some hire bad cultural fits. Some hire people that are nothing but cultural fit. And an investor or investor group can help with this but I believe that founders/CEOs need to learn how to do this themselves and make these mistakes. The best thing an investor group can do is to help a founder/CEO to understand when they have the wrong person in the job. Or help them understand that more quickly.

These are both areas where experience is huge. The CEOs I work with who have done the job multiple times get these two things right much more quickly. But even they can take a year or two to get these right. First time CEOs often take three or four years to get these things right. But sticking with founders who are first time CEOs through this process is usually worth it because they have a connection to the initial vision and mission that a hired CEO has a hard time replicating. There is not a good rule of thumb on this issue (who should run the company). Facts and circumstances on the ground will generally determine how that should go.

 

My final point on this is that once you have the strategy and team locked down, you should step back and let the machine do its thing. I like to say that CEOs should do only three things; recruit and retain the team, build and evolve the long term strategy and communicate it effectively and broadly in the organization and externally, and make sure the company doesn’t run out of money. When those are the only things you are doing, you are doing the job right. Very few CEOs get to focus on only these three things all of the time. Things break and you have to fix them. But when the machine is working and you can step back and watch it hum, it is a thing of beauty.”

Amen.

This blog likes to focus on cities and there is a real parallel between what Wilson is talking about and building a successful community. And there are some differences.

First, strategy can be substituted for a community vision and while for business Wilson recommends a small group be involved in crafting strategy, in a city it helps if you have as many stakeholders involved as possible. It’s the job of elected leadership to prioritize, hone and drive the vision and it’s the job of city staff to implement in a timely and efficient manner.

But cities get in trouble when there is no strategy, vision or plan. And they get in trouble when egotistical leaders decide to keep their own counsel and cut themselves off from input or debate.

They also get in trouble when they decide to micromanage and delve into the day to day operations of the city. If you find that you are doing this, you need to stop. If you find that you need to do this because your staff can’t or won’t execute, you need to get new staff. But elected officials need to stay in their policymaking box (which is plenty big) and allow staff to do their jobs. Ideally, you should try to create a culture of experimentation and innovation not fear.

If staff can feel confident enough to think outside the box and solve problems legally, ethically and efficiently you will succeed. If they feel bullied, micromanaged and or afraid to make a mistake you have created a culture that will fail to solve problems or seize opportunities. Your best talent will flee, you will not be able to attract top tier talent and you will turn lemonade into a lemon.

I happen to believe in outcomes over process. That does not mean that process is not important or that you shouldn’t have a process. But it does mean that outcomes are more important— as long as you act legally, ethically and morally.

It shouldn’t take three weeks to type a basic building permit. It shouldn’t take a year to approve a mixed use development. It shouldn’t require an act of Congress or a deity to get a parking agreement and or a developer agreement. If it does, you got a problem.

Strategy and team; you need them both. One doesn’t work without the other. And if you are deficient with either or both, you have major problems and you cannot succeed.

 

 

Success: A formula

I agree.

I agree. Do you?

When communities can’t see past the next week they suffer.

When communities scratch every itch, react to every complaint and ignore what’s positive they degrade the spirit of the most important people in a city, the people who volunteer, serve, work hard, invest, dream and aspire. The people who build community.

When I speak to groups I am often asked what it takes for an elected official to succeed.

I hear how difficult the job is, how brutal  the politics can be and how complex today’s issues seem. It’s all true.

It’s a hard job.

Time consuming and at times very stressful.  And if you care about your neighbors it can be very hard to disagree with them or to say no.

But it’s not all vinegar and heartburn either.

 Public service can be a joy and immensely rewarding. And there’s nothing like local government. If you have a good idea on a Tuesday night and two colleagues agree well then… change can be made Wednesday morning. That’s the beauty of local government.

There’s also an opportunity to engage, connect and help people. And that’s powerful and very meaningful–unless of course you choose not to do any of those things.

And make no mistake, it’s a choice.

So I deeply respect and appreciate those who choose correctly and to be honest I have no use for those who don’t.

So while the job is complex and the issues difficult, the job can be made simple.

If you serve you can be certain that you won’t please everybody. That’s a guarantee. Even the “no brainer” issues will manage to set somebody off.

So the choice is clear: who do you choose to please?

Those who are engaged in activities that move your city forward or those who sit back and complain (usually about the doers)?

The choice should be easy. But you might be surprised how many politicos blow it and choose to kowtow to the squeaky wheels and disappoint, disparage and dismay those who get up every day and seek to make the community a better place.

That’s it in a nutshell.

If you want to succeed in local politics–I can’t speak for state or federal office–determine who is busy making a positive impact and do what you can to help them.

Those people are not hard to find. They serve on boards, mentor children, seek to heal those who are hurting, raise funds for good causes, work hard to advance ideas and create jobs. They aspire. Oh, how I love that word. It makes all the good in this world possible.  

Please those folks. Work hard to help them succeed. Praise and support their efforts.

As for the rest, well don’t go out of your way to anger them. (You wont have to, they wake up mad).

Listen to your critics, sometimes they have something to teach you and other times they are simply full of it.

But they do serve a purpose–they are usually wrong. Their batting average is terrible when measured against the doers in your city. Their predictions of doom and gloom rarely come true and their negativity usually doesn’t amount to much.  The worse thing you can do is empower them; that will deflate the contributors and you can kiss progress goodbye.

On the other hand, if you listen to those who aspire, who seek to do the impossible you’ll find that the word doesn’t exist.

Oh, you’ll trip a time or two, you may even get some stuff wrong but you’ll be someone whose service mattered. It’s guaranteed. Or you can squander the opportunity and fail.

It really is that simple.