James Greaves

Europe Is Suffering an Ethical Crisis, not a Migrant Crisis

James GreavesComment

There are DEAD PEOPLE washing up on the shores of European beaches, including children, and the overwhelming response from the great British people, the most enlightened people on the planet, is "that's a shame. Pity we can't do anything about it."

I am here to tell you, your moral apathy is eroding everything that made you great. It's not a flood of immigrants into the British Isles that will destroy everything you hold dear, it's a flood of selfishness, pride and a failure to act that will erode you from the inside out.

You are worried about losing jobs and money to "economic invaders", but you are stealing from yourselves the only things that are of any worth: your character, and your integrity.

I am sick to my stomach over what I have seen in England these last two weeks. I don't mean sickened by what is happening in the Mediterranean, or on train lines throughout the continent, or on barbed wire fences in Calais, but by the state of the hearts of the great British people. I flat out don't want to write this. But I am amazed that no one else I know is saying it. So call me a hypocrite, call me self righteous, call me anything you like, but listen.

Where is your moral outrage England? Are you so morally bankrupt? Are you so deadened to everything real by your meaningless, selfish, money-obsessed lifestyles that you forgot how to feel and you forgot how to act? Did you forget how to share your table with a stranger? Did you forget how to leave your couch and your Sky TV to look for someone who is lost? Where is your charity? Where is your compassion? Where is your action?

I don't know the reasons for everything that is going on in the Middle East. Whether it was European, or American, or Russian intervention in the region, whether it was religious bigotry or sectarianism, or economic opportunism, that has caused this. None of that matters. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 3 years, I have a masters degree in Finance and economics, and I coach senior executives of some of the worlds biggest companies. I could write pages about how most of what you understand about the situation is wrong. But who cares. What do I know. I don't care why the situation IS, and I don't know the solution. The only thing that matters is how YOU, individually, personally, respond to the tug on your own heart.

I have been amazed how right the UK has shifted in the last several years I have been gone. I almost don't recognize the place. It's an ugly place, and your bigotry is ugly. Your selfishness is beneath you. Your apathy is alarming. England is turning into an ugly country full of small minded petty people. It's almost unrecognizable. I dislike it immensely.

Below are the arguments that I have heard almost non stop over the last two weeks, from all the people I love, justifying your inaction. I don't know the truth of any of these. I don't care. But I do know that when you say any of the following you are ugly. These sentiments distort your soul and make you unrecognizable from the people I know and love. You have demeaned yourself if you have said any of the following:

  • I can't help
  • There's not enough room here
  • These people should just stay where they are
  • I don't know what the solution is, but someone else can deal with it
  • Let the Greeks and the Turks handle it, they are closest
  • Let the Germans and the Saudis and the Qataris handle it, they are the richest
  • These people will erode our culture, our way of life
  • These people are criminals, they have no regard for EU policy
  • These people are economic opportunists, they are coming here to steal our jobs
  • I don't want anyone else in this country
  • I don't want to share
  • I don't want to help
  • They brought it on themselves
  • They never should have gotten into their boats
  • They deserve it
  • They are not like us

Really, England. This is all you have? Is your selfishness blinding you so fully that you are incapable of looking for solutions? Why do you spend all day long tweeting and talking and posting your excuses, instead of sharing solutions? Are you so powerless?

If you are a Jew, think of the widow of Zarepath, who took in Elisha when she only had one meal left for her and her son, and they were ready to lay down and die:

"11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.
12 And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.
13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bringit unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
14 For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.
15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days."

If you are Christian, think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, given by Jesus, as written in Luke:

27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

If you are a Christian who is also a Mormon, then think of the words of King Benjamin:

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I havenot, but if I had I would give.
25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.

If you are a Buddhist, think of the words of the Dalai Lama, who said:

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.

And finally, ff you are a Fascist, think of the words of Hitler, who said:

Truly, this earth is a trophy cup for the industrious man. And this rightly so, in the service of natural selection. He who does not possess the force to secure his Lebensraum in this world, and, if necessary, to enlarge it, does not deserve to possess the necessities of life. He must step aside and allow stronger peoples to pass him by.

Everything You Need to Know about Feedback

James GreavesComment

Would you like me to tell you that you are bad at dealing with people because you don't listen, and that's why people don't trust you?

Would you like me to tell you that the presentation you just gave to your bosses' boss made you look ridiculous because it meandered, had no point, and you were wearing a hideous article of clothing?

Would you like me to tell you that you have a spider on your back?

What's the difference between these three things?

Recently I was meeting with the executive team of an amazing company where they told me they all did 360 evaluations regularly for each other, and they did them themselves. They also told me they had such good relationships with each other that they could "tell each other anything, any time," and that they regularly did.

What an awesome company! Wouldn't you love to work in a place like that? Except it was complete and utter rubbish. The CEO and his team really believed it, yet just a cursory inspection of the team and their dynamics highlighted disfunction caused by lack of self awareness, including political maneuvering, murky accountabilities, and some personal behaviors that should flat out not exist in a senior management team.

I don't blame them. But think that assertion through: we have such a good relationship we can tell each other anything. Is that ever true? After 12 years of marriage I believe I have a pretty good relationship with my wife, but can I tell her anything? Would I really tell her that the sweater she spent 10 hours knitting me for Christmas was ugly? Would I tell her that her relationship with our children suffers because she's too controlling? Would I tell her she's not as good looking as her best friend? (None of these things are true, by the way.)

What do I need to tell her? What does she deserve? What does she need?

Feedback is dangerous because it's powerful. It's the atomic bomb of our vernacular. Have you ever yelled out a hurtful truth to a loved one in the height of an argument just because you knew it would cut them in half?

The more true something is, the more it hurts. The more negative it is, the more it hurts. The more unknown it is, the more it hurts. Very true, very negative, very unknown feedback can rock your whole world. Very unknown, very good feedback can leave you smiling for days.

We all pick what we share, to whom we share it, and when we share it. All are carefully planned to reduce risk. Emotional risk to you and the person you are giving feedback to.

Think about all the times you have shared benign feedback for your friend with all his other friends. Why did you do that? Because you want him to hear it, but you don't have the fortitude to tell him to his face. So telling someone else 1. removes the burden from you (you have shared your insight, now you can relax), and 2. raises the hope that perhaps someone else will tell him. (Or by the mere fact that now everyone else knows it, he will somehow cotton on: which by the way is one of the most hurtful ways to give feedback ever.)

Think about the time you have shared a little bit of innocuous feedback to your significant other and they have flown off the handle. Or a time you gave the smallest compliment to someone and they lit up. Timing is everything. How you share it, is far more important that what you share. Also, think about the people you are prepared to hear feedback from. It's almost impossible to hear constructive criticism from someone you despise. Love and trust are vital. Respect is vital.

Maybe we hold back sometimes because we don't have the genuine love and trust we need. Without deep human connections, it's difficult to have the positive impact you need.

Bottom line is, we all deserve much more feedback. It's only through feedback that we can learn and grow. We get feedback from the world around us all the time: we can read the invisible threads of unspoken feedback, perceptions and the outcomes of our actions (which can take decades). But human to human feedback is the panacea. It's what life is all about.

Think of the last person who gave you feedback that changed your life. You loved that person. Guaranteed. But what came first, the feedback or the love?

How to Scale Culture

James GreavesComment

One of the stock questions VCs ask when they do a deal, and one that is often not answered well, is "how are you going to scale your culture?"

I have never met a founder who wasn't passionate about the culture they wanted to build at their startup. Some are even guilty of waxing lyrical about it before their product is to market. That's OK. I get it. I've felt the same excitement. Entrepreneurs by nature have boldly rejected the status quo and turgid dealings of the modern corporation. It's in our DNA to do something different, something crazy. Give everyone stock, invert that pyramid, free lunches for everyone, build a new kind of -ocracy. Awesome.

So, you want to establish a culture, you want to build it, scale it, embed it, and be studied by future generations of Ivy League MBAs. Cool. How do you do it?

A: You use the levers available to you. Which, by the way, are different for different size companies. When there are 3 of you, you can go out to pizza every night and get a pretty good fix on culture. When there's 3,000 of you in 15 countries ... well, you're going to want to do something else.

1. The Start-Up: 2 – 50 people

A small band of tightly aligned people, united by a passion and vision, desperate to succeed

  • What Makes it Unique: Everyone knows each other, so everything is done as a team and there are few formal processes. You'll never hear "how do I request leave for May?", "check with HR, fill out this form, and have it signed by your department head." No! You walk across the office and ask the CEO. Also, because the product is still evolving, so are roles. There’s not enough scale to specialize or money to hire true vertical experts in every vertical, so people wear multiple hats. This is often called the scrappy band of generalists stage.
  • Available Culture Levers: Because of this, the culture is driven by the nerve center of the operation, the founders and the leadership team (which are usually the same). They have the passion, they have the master plan, and they are the lifeblood of the company. Everyone is counting on the founders ability to set the strategy, raise the next round, and keep the company afloat, so everyone is motivated to align to their way of doing things (culture). The leadership team dynamics are the most important piece of the culture at this stage, and are usually held together by friendship. Next come the employees: when you're hiring with limited funds and brand you often take what you can. You screen for technical skills. It's also vital to screen for passion at this stage. Passion is what will keep your company vibrant and get it through. Never hire a very qualified person who is not also super passionate. Lastly, culture is best changed informally: so get he company out of the office, and do the right things while in the office that keep the passion alive. Note that fun does not always equal passion (a mistake I have often seen).

2. The Darling: 51 – 200 people

A growing band of people united by opportunity, often scaling rapidly

  • What Makes it Unique: To get past 50 people the company has found a level of success and is now attracting more interest from the market, VCs and talent. It now has the money and the need to start to specialize roles. As the product is much more mature, roles and the strategy are also better defined. The emphasis between tinkering and scaling has tipped toward scaling. The company starts to embed processes in every area because they are useful, but it's still not the heartbeat of the company. Because of the early stage culture of relationships, and the fact that with under 200 people everyone still sorta-knows everyone else, things are done interpersonally. In other words, there is an employee handbook, but you still know the exact right person to go to with your specific question, and it's usually better to just ask. Because you are scaling so fast, the founders and leadership team can't spend the same 1-1 time with people that they used to. 
  • Available Culture Levers: Companies at this stage focus on hiring, onboarding, and smart right perks. Beef up your hiring process to weed out mercenaries, job hoppers, and startup wannabes (those who love the idea of a startup, but can't deal with the reality). Hiring should still be based on competence, but also cultural alignment now instead of passion. So it's important to articulate what your culture really is, which may be different from what you thought it was or what you wanted it to be. (Which may be a good thing. If it aint broke.) The culture is still set from the top, but there are now many more people shaping it. Concentrate on training the growing manager population to understand and champion the culture, this should be done informally. As a CEO, keep your door open to everyone, but concentrate your efforts on the new culture nodes: heads of new departments and high potentials. Layer committed but under-skilled early employees, and part ways with skilled but misaligned employees.

3. The Company: 201 – 1,000 people

A larger organization that despite its best efforts may be starting to trend toward other companies out there

  • What Makes it Unique: Two hundred people is a major tipping point. Up to now inter-personal relationships have been the nerves that have tied the company together, supported by light process. After about 200 people the company is becoming so large that people don’t know each other any more, and it’s growing so fast they can’t keep up with all the new faces even if they wanted to. The light processes that were established previously start to pick up the strain, and may not all be fit for purpose. At this stage faceless policies and process must replace custom human judgment in a multitude of small day-to-day decisions. Culture is created by people and process. When there were 50 people, you could be very selective about your people and culture, but as you get larger, if you don't have a strong fix on your culture and methods, you'll get the same kind of people as everyone else, manage them the same way, and therefore start to trend towards the same culture as everyone else.
  • Available Culture Levers:  The larger you get the clearer you have to be about what your culture is, and you will have to focus in more and more tightly on the levers you pull. As a startup you could do informal activities, hire the best people, develop everyone, and have consistent mindsets and visions across the company. Now you have to chose (although the more executive engagement have, the more you can do). Will you focus on hiring very specific people in a very expensive, detailed way, or awesome perks that reinforce your vision (how long can you maintain free lunches?). Will you sacrifice growth for your stand on quality people? Where are you prepared to make your stand? At this stage you must ensure all your people processes pull together to reinforce the culture; it's no good hiring great people if they are not onboarded well or are sent to bad managers. The executive team must all be clear on the culture and live it, and the culture must become part of the daily conversation, or it will fade into meaningless posters on the wall. Nobody in a leadership position should be able to say one thing and do another: which is why you must be so clear on what you will tolerate, because your non-negotiables will cost people their jobs. Culture is felt bottom up, but is always driven top down.

4. The Corporation: 1,001+ people

A large company, now with clear divisions, regions and functions

  • What Makes it Unique: As the company grows ever larger it must split into manageable chunks, and by 1,000 people you have enough for 5 two-hundred people units. Divisions start to appear and management multiplies. Strong managers of regions and functions become ever more specialized and can become increasingly disconnected from the whole, even becoming CEOs of their own sub-companies. This creates silos, multiplies politics, and establishes sub cultures. The rah-rah rhetoric used to inspire people so well in the early days, can now become divisive: people start to say stuff like "we're the London team, we're much better than the Paris team" or "congratulations on being in sales, the most important part of the company." This becomes even worse when divisions are given special dispensation based on their results or politics: where some rules, unofficially, no longer apply to them, and everyone knows it.
  • Available Culture Levers: At this stage you must spend time to reinforce executive alignment through individual and team interventions. Where once you could handle this internally, you may consider finding expert outside advisors to support you. The nodes where the breaks occur are your leaders; they establish silos through self interest, misalignment and/or mismanagement. You should ensure to increase corporate level people initiatives and internal communications that have the highest level engagement (i.e. not run by the comms team in isolation). Ensure all process that touch people are building the culture you want, and continue to use HR as a strategic weapon to fight in areas specific to your  strategy and vision, not merely an administrative shield.


What stage are you at? What have you seen work?

Why You Should Ditch QWERTY for Dvorak (Unless You're a Pansy)

James Greaves1 Comment

A couple of years ago I thought it would be a great idea to ditch the qwerty keyboard and use something a little more ergonomic and productive. It was the most frustrating thing I have ever inflicted on myself. I am here to tell you that you should do it too, unless you are a namby-pamby, then you should just stick with what you know.

My newly built Dvorak keyboard

My newly built Dvorak keyboard


Anyone who has ever typed with a mechanical typewriter will recall that if you typed too fast (or mashed all the keys at once—just for fun), the little metal arms inside with letters on them would bunch up at the ribbon and lock together. Innovative minds found a solution for this: the qwerty keyboard, which basically took all the keys that you use the most in the English language, and scattered them as far away from each other as possible. Job done.

This made a keyboard layout efficient for the mechanical age because it reduced down time, but it had no bearing on typing in the digital age. Some people noticed this, one of them being a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, named August Dvorak, who came up with a new layout based on efficiency for digital typing. We call this the Dvorak keyboard.

Dr Dvorak reckoned it was best to put the keys you use most on the home row, those you use next-most on the top, and those you use least-most on the bottom, because it's easier to reach up than down. He also figured it would be best to put all the vowels on one hand and consonant on the other because it's easier to alternate between hands than fingers when typing at speed. With a few other tweaks the result is a keyboard that is more comfortable because you have to stretch less, and quicker for typing.

This amazing innovation was then promptly and widely ignored. (Although, to be fair, early Apple enthusiasts and employees were big fans.)

The Experiment

I learned about Dvorak while using the Google machine to find out why my hands hurt after about an hour of typing. I thought the Dvorak solution was cool and made a lot of sense, but I also figured if it was awesome then someone I knew would be using it. They weren't. So I ignored it.

But a question kept eating away at me:

Why does the whole English speaking world use a system designed for inefficiency?

Oh, and there was also a second part as well, which drove me to distraction:

Regardless of what the rest of the English speaking world is doing, why am I using a system designed for inefficiency?

What was my excuse for not changing? Is the new system faster? Studies showed, yes. Is the new system more comfortable? Studies also showed, yes. What's my problem? Perhaps I'm just not cut out for doing new things.

So I did the math. If I could get a 10% increase in speed what would that be worth? I figured I would be typing for at least another 10 years (It could be 50, but let's use 10 and assume I die young or voice recognition gets so good I can completely ditch the keyboard in a decade). I had plateaud at around 60 WPM for the last few years, and I type for about 10-20 hours a week for 50 weeks a year. That's roughly 1.8 million words a year, or 18 million words in a decade. A 10% increase in speed would reduce my typing by at least an hour a week or 62.5 working days every decade. This was all worst case, and also did not take into account the comfort factor of the new approach—if it existed—which could be an added upside as well. Could I learn to type in less than 500 hours? I believed I could, and frankly, the challenge mocked me.

Pulling all the keys off the keyboard of my new MacBook was the scariest part of the whole endeavor. But there are no half solutions around here.

Pulling all the keys off the keyboard of my new MacBook was the scariest part of the whole endeavor. But there are no half solutions around here.

Challenge Accepted

The first week after the switch was the worst. I kept typing nonsense, or hunting and pecking for letters. I found my fat fingers in the way of the letters so I couldn't see what was going on, and I had to keep removing my hands from the keyboard to study the keys. Responding to simple emails took tens of minutes. (Luckily I was running my own company at the time, so nobody noticed.) It was excruciating.

Day one was annoying but also novel. My typing speed went down to 4 WPM. I dare you to type that slowly for an hour when you need to say something and see how your mental health holds out. Day two was worse emotionally. I got to 6 WPM. By day three I knew I was nuts, but I had been through so much pain already I refused to turn back. Plus I'd taken an hour to move all my keys around. I figured I would have it down in a week.

It took me 74 days to rebreak the 60 WPM threshold. After the first week, days 40-50 were the worst because my typing speed became erratic, with my speed up one day, then down the next. I never knew if I would be able to do it or not. Progress, it seemed, was not lineara fact I knew intellectually, but hadn't seen in such stark, annoying, application before. 

My Typing Speed

The Results

By day 90 I peaked at 79 WPM, and in reality, I now type in the 70-75 area most days, that's a 25% increase in speed. I also no longer have to take breaks to rub the back of my fingers where they used to get quite sore. So for 3 months of pain, I anticipate I'll save between 156 and 308 working days in the next decade, or over a year. (Or likely I'll just type more, but that's another issue.)

All in all, it has been a success. I've proved again I can do hard things. I now have a computer that no one else can use (unless you have memorized qwerty or learned Dvorak—both a small group).

The only real downside is most phones don't have a Dvorak option (my IPhone does not), and most shortcuts are optomized for qwerty (ctrl-C, -X, -V for example).

Last thought. What's my main takeaway: question everything and make your life awesome. Even if it didn't work, I'd rather have known than not ever tried.

When do you plan to switch to Dvorak?

Reflections on a Failure

James GreavesComment

In my last post I urged all three of my readers to be more honest in how they talk about their failures in entrepreneurship. I have been quite frank in the past on this, but here's another for the record:

In 2011 I went to consult a great little company with a huge vision, www.alltegra.com, where I was privileged to later serve as CEO. Alltegra was a gutsy upstart with a huge vision. Its founding team were passionately driven to roll up an underserved market where both consumers and vendors were (and still are) horrendously disconnected: home maintenance. Except, they had so many ideas, they were struggling to execute.

Alltegra aimed to provide 1. all home trades in one place, 2. a new model for home maintenance, and 3. innovative technology. It was a big vision.

Alltegra aimed to provide 1. all home trades in one place, 2. a new model for home maintenance, and 3. innovative technology. It was a big vision.

The first priority was to clarify what we were trying to achieve. What type of company were we, and what was the pain we were really addressing? It was clear all of us hated the lack of relationship between homeowners and home maintenance professionals. It's a gap that doesn't need to be there and makes both sides suffer financially and emotionally. In my opinion, it's one of the most broken relationships of any industry. Could we remove it with a new approach: with new technology and a new business model?

The next step was to simplify the product to something that could be tested, and use lean methodologies to isolate and validate our assumptions. The product was an convoluted mess. We used all the feedback we had to date and some gut assumptions to create a much more simple product, which we then took to market in the most cost-effective way possible to test.

As we started to gain traction we needed to build the team. As CEO, once the strategy was taking root, talent and fundraising consumed me. In this stage I learned valuable lessons about hiring the right person for the job in terms of culture and approach. Stuff I was taught in business school took on tangible meaning in the real world: Hard skills, basic competence, are the first filter for any new hire, but the real test was whether the individual could self-motivate and maintain a flexible, passionate drive for execution according to our vision. I found that most people love the idea of working for a startup, but few understand the reality and have the fortitude to push the boundaries without a safety net. We burned through more people than we should have.

Next step was to grow exponentially by using the lessons we had learned to date to scale what we had nailed....except this is where the wheels came off the bus.

I closed the business after 18 months. Consumer tests, although broadly positive, also showed that our cost of acquisition was too high for our available funding. In other words, it was too expensive to sign people up and we didn't have enough runway to get to the next level.

This could have been for many reasons, but I believe this was caused by the kind of team that we hired—basically we ended up with too many operations and product people and not enough customer people. What this meant was that as we grew work went into swelling the product features rather than pushing it out and refining. Complexity magnified as more and more great ideas were added that the client would probably want, while fewer and fewer were cut or refined through direct interaction and field testing. The sale became more and more complicated, required more time, and cost more money.

It was clear we were heading in the wrong direction and we didn’t have the runway with the current team to turn it around, so I pulled the plug. That was the hardest call of all. But it was the right call.

A Call to Measure Startup Failure

James GreavesComment

Now with added Jordan

I have failed.

When I started my first real company in 2004 I was terrified I'd ever have to say those words. At the time the financial risk of venturing out on my own wasn't so hard to swallow; my net worth, after all, wasn't much higher than three suitcases of worn clothes. But the reputational risk felt off the charts. What would people think if I tried and failed, I thought. This terrified me. (Although, seeing how I dressed in those days, it seems absurd that I would so concerned about my image.)

Nine out of ten articles you will read about startups will be about success. Yes, there is a growing body of literature of failure and a growing understanding of the value of failure in startups (as long as you iterate properly!), buh failure is still generally misunderstood. Maybe because there is just so much failure out there —it's all around us—while success is much rarer. Maybe it's because it hurts so much it's hard to remove the stigma.

(As an aside, the fact that we spend more than 90% of our time talking about the 10% —or 0.1% — of cases has mislead many a would-be entrepreneur and broken many hearts. After all, what nascent entrepreneur doesn't think they have started the next Facebook or SnapChat?)

It's a well known fact that America likes winners. It backs winners. It doesn't want to look at losers, despite quotes from Michael Jordan that make failure appear acceptable, even sexy.

It's a well known fact that America likes winners. It backs winners. It doesn't want to look at losers, despite quotes from Michael Jordan that make failure appear acceptable, even sexy.

I'm also dubious of failure reflection pieces, or postmortems, that succinctly present the lesson learned. I wonder if the losers really can comprehend exactly why they failed, because not all failures are created equal. If I played Novak Djokovic in tennis, for example, we would certainly be able to point to two or three things in my game that could be improved. But how close was I to really winning? If I improved those three things, another three hundred would present themselves.

Not only that, but my understanding of the mechanics for tennis are limited, so I have poor tools to deconstruct what happened. I also have the handicap of being in the middle of the game, where it's hard to see exactly what I am doing (or what I'm not).

You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.
— Michael Jordan

What's the solution? I'm not sure. Destigmatizing failure is a good first step. Being able to honestly and maturely reflect and change is one of the most powerful tools in an entrepreneur's arsenal. (Because at the end of the day. The only excuse you have for failure is yourself.) Yes, quotes from Michael Jordan are inspiring. Overcoming insurmountable odds is tremendously exciting, but only if you win in the end. MJ showed us how deeply he believed in this vision by how he acted, and honestly, I am in awe of him, but who really wants to talk about his time playing baseball?

Coaching and mentoring are huge. We're all well aware that every successful sports personality has a coach. So do most executives. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs by their nature can't afford such an extravagance. I guess boards, VCs and angels are the best we can hope for, and many of these are excellent.

Over the last decade tremendous work has been done in the science of entrepreneurship. Let's keep the debate going with honesty and respect.

I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.
— Michael Jordan

What Should You Focus on in 2015 (or any other year)?

James GreavesComment

So it's time to set some new years resolutions, or at the very least, sit back down at your desk, try to remember where you left off, and plan something coherent. Where do you start? What should you focus on?

There is a simple formula to follow that will get you where you want to go that will make sure you have the results you need, the brand to go with it, and all the opportunity you could ever wish for in your life. I have seen this recipe work hundreds of times:

1. Deliver. Deliver your numbers. Deliver you day job. Get the right results. Whatever people need from you, make sure they get it, because if they don't you don't have a platform to do anything else. If you're not doing this yet, this should be your number one focus for the next 3-6 months. Nail EVERYTHING that is expected of you, (and make sure you can exit gracefully from anything that shouldn't be expected from you well before it comes due.) When good noise starts to percolate around you, then you are ready for the next step.

2. Build the Machine. Automate as much as possible in step 1 to make sure you are ready to take advantage of the good opportunities that have started to come your way with increasing regularity. This will also enable you to deliver more, further expanding your impact and brand, and will give you headspace to move on to step three. Your exposure will grow exponentially as people everywhere start to talk about you and hold you up as the model employee, and your ability to control resources will increase because you will be more trusted. Use your increased leverage to greatly benefit the organization and you become one of the chosen few.

3. Innovate. When the first two steps are complete, you now have the platform to do whatever you want. This is where you get to use your experience, relational capital, and position to really make a difference. Now you get to change everything that you have seen is broken and move the company and your career into a completely new trajectory. If you can get to this step, the world is your oyster. Just make sure the first two steps remain in full swing.

This simple recipe DBI, Deliver-Build-Innovate, is so powerful, but often people get things backwards, hoping that if they can just innovate now, then they will gain a voice, a seat at the table, and will be seen as a superstar, regardless of anything else that is (or isn't) going on around them.

I bet that anyone who has rapidly risen through the ranks at your company cracked this code. Who have you seen do this? When have you been able to do it?

Start each day with delivery, then build, and if you have time, you can innovate. What's on your DBI plan today?

The Call to be a Hero

James GreavesComment

Just a quick thought. How are you being a hero?

There is something very compelling about a good hero. In the "literature" (ok, who am I kidding, in the comic books), there are two things that make a hero: 1. a life event, the gifting of power (this is what makes you "super") and 2. a call to action (a reason to use your superness, often a proportionate villain).

So, what are you doing to be super?

1. Where does your power come from? I would argue that it comes from passion, from vision, from ability learned over time (because of passion and vision), and, importantly, from your ethics: Honesty creates power, so do lies. (The only issue I have here with the comics is that too often becoming super is passive, fatalist. The freak accident. The accident of birth. Most superheroes do not develop their abilities, but are gifted them. You on the other hand, must grow yours.)

2. What is your call to action? Have you seen something around you that has to change, be it a relationship, a cause, a startup venture. Did you shy away from the challenge or did you stand up tall? It takes courage to be a hero because you have to step out of your comfort zone. Perhaps in this we have a good definition of heroism: anyone willing to step out of their comfort zone to address a worthy cause.

I dare you to be a hero.


What it Feels Like to Fall 12 Stories onto Boulders

James GreavesComment

On August 30th 2014, while canyoneering with friends in Zion's National Park, I fell approximately 120 feet onto a pocket of boulders and lived. Not only that, but I hiked out of that remote spot and was back at work within 24 hours with not even a fracture to show for it.

OK, 127 Hours it was not, but I am profoundly grateful for the experienceand the outcome. Here's why I fell and how I lived.

Me, five minutes before embarking on the last rappel of the Behunin slot canyon in Zion's National Park. Two stages totalling 270ft.

Me, five minutes before embarking on the last rappel of the Behunin slot canyon in Zion's National Park. Two stages totalling 270ft.

We were rappelling the final stages of Behunin Canyon, a 12 hour technical slot canyon that descends approximately 2,000 feet through 6.8 miles of the park. It was my ninth major rappel of the journey and certainly the most memorable.

The last rappel is the longest of the day, 170 feet in the final stage, most of it from an overhang so you find yourself dangling free 10 feet from the red rock wall. About 30 to 40 feet down, as I reached the overhang and my feet came clear of the wall, my hands were too hot to hold the rope, which picks up a lot of heat from friction. I used my right hand to lock me off and waited for something to cool, but in the direct afternoon sun, nothing was cooling. I knew my strength wouldn't hold me there forever, and I had to release some rope and try a very slow descent. But I knew the rope was too hot for me to hold it if I started to move.

Since that day I have learned several ways to deal with such a situation. You can double the rope up before you leave so you have more friction. You can grab the rope with your other hand and pull it under you and  back up onto your lap so you are sitting on it, and use both hands to lower yourself gradually. You can have someone belay you and arrest your descent from the bottom. (Which we did, but I was first on this leg.) There's also a number of clips and gadgets that can help. But on this day I was completely alone, hanging 120 feet from safety, exhausted, and completely out of ideas.

The fact that I had to try something that I knew would probably kill me (move), was the second-to-worst moment of the descent. It's at times like these that you suddenly feel utterly vulnerable. As I saw it I had two options: 1. Hang there until my hand weakened and I lost grip and fell. 2. Try to release some rope and inch closer to the ground. So, I released a tiny amount rope and it immediately burned my hands through my thinning gloves, which caused my hands to release without my consent and sent me into free fall.

As I fell I tried with all my might to grab the rope to slow me, but I hit the ground very hard—so fast in fact that I was sure I was a dead man. I was 100% sure I was going to die. Time slows in any accident, and for the first 10 milliseconds of impact with the rocks below I realized I was going to live (having thought on the way down that death would be pretty instantaneous and now finding it was not). With this new clarity I spent the next 10 milliseconds of the impact believing I was about to break every bone downward of my collar.

All in all, the trip down felt a lot like a car accident, like driving into a brick wall at full speed. It both lasted a very long time but was extremely quick. I also cannot report having any moments of clarity or visions or flashbacks of any kind. To be true, half my attention was on grabbing the rope, and the other half was watching the ground rush up to meet me.

Fast forward the next bit, where I lay on the ground and screamed in pain for quite some time. Although I did not break anything I had massive bruises all across my glutes, back, and legs as well as severe friction burns on both my hands. It took us an hour to hike out of there, and I was massively supported by the great guys I was with, Jesse, Matt, Chris, and Annie, who offered to carry me but ended up letting me lean on them most of the way. They report that the first thing I said (after all that screaming), is "I'm alive!" I may have laughed maniacally too.

So, how did I survive. What was my trick?

No idea. I should probably be dead.

On the other hand, I have a huge list things I did wrong, including wearing the wrong gloves, going first when I was already exhausted, not being prepared for the technical challenge ahead, shutting down my mind in fear when I felt vulnerable, and using the wrong gear, to name a few.

People asked me what it was like to nearly die. I'm not really sure. I've had a few near-death experiences, but the point is they are "near" death and death is kind of binary. Either you are dead or you are not, like a light is on or it's not. (There's no in-between almost on that is a fundamentally different experience.) I know what it feels to fall 120 feet and to have your body slow down time so you can experience a relative couple of minutes worth of time. Short answer, not nice.

Also, I would say that near death experiences have to be much better than near life experiences.

Choose Where to Have Impact

James GreavesComment

You want to grow your brand, you want more opportunities, you want to be in the inner circle where the action is, and you want to call the shots. Fine. But first you must learn where to have impact, and to do that you must produce results.

Are You Getting The Right Stuff Done?

In the early 60s Mr Herzberg posited Motivation-Hygiene theory, or Two-Factor theory, to explain how you can motivate staff, and despite not being perfect, it's a useful way to look at where you should focus your impact. Herzberg suggested there wasn't just one lever to make employees happy (i.e. pay), but two: the hygiene lever and the motivator lever. It looked a bit like this:

Hygeine Factors Motivation Factors
If you don't do these things your employees will not be happy. But doing more doesn't really inspire them further. This stuff is just expected. This is how you get your employees excited. If you don't do these things your employees won't be disheartened, but if you do they will be stoked.
i.e. A clean working environment free of distractions i.e. Yearly team offsites in Cancun

Because these are separate scales, Herzberg said it's possible for employees to be both disgruntled and happy at the same time. But note that it's really hard to focus on being super motivated when the hygiene factors aren't even in place. As in, I love the trips to Cancun, but I'm really worried about the spreading mould in the corner of my office and I don't really want to come into work anymore. (Herzberg used different examples, probably.)

We can use this same model to review your impact in your current role. Because there's not just one lever to have impact, but two and they should be treated very differently.

Hygeine Factors Motivation Factors
If you don't do these things your boss and peers will not be happy. But doing more doesn't really inspire them. This stuff is just expected. This is how you get your boss and peers excited. If you don't do these things no one will notice, but if you do they will be stoked.
i.e. deliver 100% of the project on time and on budget i.e. deliver 100% of the project ahead of time and under budget

Before you focus on anything else, you have to take care of the list of things in your job description, the hygiene factors. No one is going to be excited that your project came in early and under budget if you only delivered 50% and annoyed everyone in the process. But importantly, no one will celebrate with you when you do what you were hired to do, so don't draw any attention to the fact you are doing your job, or people will question how high a bar you have really set yourself. But start here and don't move on until you have achieved 100%, because NOT doing anything here will get you fired.

Once you have the hygeine factors covered, you can start to work on the motivator factors. This is what you want your network raving about, so feel free to draw attention to this. This is where you go above and beyond the call of duty. It's also where you get to play, where you get to build a brand over and above the safe pair of hands that you are. Don't take on extra projects unless you have the basics down cold, or you will be overextended and overexposed.

Putting It Into Practice:

So, with this in mind, when was the last time you evaluated what you are working on? When did you last ask your stakeholders what is expected (either formally or informally)? Being clear on this can teach you where you need to focus your time this week, and where you should be building your brand.

Focus on the core, take on everything that is expected of you and don't drop anything, ever. When you have that solid chose carefully where you want to have additional impact. Because you get to chose the extra credit, so chose wisely.