I attended a meetup recently with a Q&A session with George Azih CEO of LeaseQuery, a company that has grown from 5 to 50 employees in the last year. His company is solving a real pain-point. In fact, what his tool provides addresses a mandate by upcoming financial reporting regulations — specifically, lease accounting.

Having spent several years growing the business largely alone, he de-risked much of the business by proving traction. The company has been able to grow at rocket-pace all while still being bootstrapped. Nice.
A couple points that he attributes to the company’s success so far:
  • The product is a SaaS application that helps companies comply with new accounting regulations around lease accounting. Read: This is a MUST-have.
  • He has a strong leadership team that he regards as the three legs of a stool – he runs product and has two partners, Chris and Brendan, running sales and engineering, respectively.
  • The company sells and collects 3-year commitments upfront. This reduces the risk of vendor change after one year (and two). Instead of providing discounts, the company assures customers their price will be locked with continual product improvement.
  • His primary role as CEO is now removing impediments from the team. He enables his team to do their best work.
  • The real impetus for George to focus on the product/ company after 3 years as a side-gig was a stress-induced illness.
  • Building the business slowly also helped George become a deep expert in this area of accounting. He shared his knowledge via blog posts to build credibility with his target audience.
  • The CEO’s number one tip is how bad things can actually be good… and conversely, good things can be bad. Read: do your best with what you’ve got.

Not to take away from the great leadership and team in place executing, but it’s powerful to see how a MUST-have product can help a company grow.

I’ve always been a Microsoft fan even with their Vista debacle. It’s been sad to see for many years Microsoft lose its position as a dominant company losing market share for… complacency.
But, I’ve been impressed the last several years as Microsoft has re-emerged as an innovative company. So innovative that several developers and engineers I know have shifted from Apple’s ecosystem to Microsoft’s recently. Microsoft’s re-emergence from several lackluster years have been spearheaded by Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s 3rd CEO who took the reins of the Redmond corp in February 2014.
I recently read Satya’s book Hit Refresh to learn about the CEO and hear how he has steered Microsoft’s ship into a bright future. Again, I’ve been impressed with the corporation’s recent changes going against its long-gone dogmatic approach from software licensing to hardware.
The book is a deep dive into how Satya views Microsoft’s role in the world. This book was written just several years into his tenure. He shares how most CEO leadership books are written after their tenures, but Satya wanted to be open to his company’s employees and shareholders during the process. As the book implies, the approach is welcome and “refreshing”.
A few take-aways:
  • Satya is very open in the book about his family, and how his family has influenced how he envisions Microsoft’s purpose in the world – its WHY as Simon Sinek would put it. He opens up about the impact of his son, Zain, who is severely disabled. At one of his son’s appointments, Satya describes being in wonder of how Microsoft products were used everywhere in the hospital. It was at that moment he realized the importance and impact his company has in the world helping others.
  • One of the first tasks Satya did when he took over the helm as CEO was to re-engage people. He reached out and spoke to as many Microsoft employees as possible and Microsoft’s partners and customers. If you hadn’t guessed by now, culture is so important to the Microsoft CEO.
  • I believe one of the greatest results of Satya’s work and connection to his employees has been building adaptability and agility to the organization. For many years, Microsoft laid stagnant in innovation choosing to stick to its licensing deals and keeping its products away from other ecosystems. Satya saw the larger opportunity with the cloud and changed the company’s many product roadmaps – shifting to subscription-based programs, focus on enabling others with its software no matter the platform (i.e. building new partnerships with Apple, its fiercest competitor).
  • Satya’s bet on the future is largely in three areas: mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. The latter, I still don’t understand. Satya has certainly invested more and more resources into these areas – seeing firsthand the implications of not being a leader in mobile when Apple and Google did. Now, he’s pursuing leadership.

This is not a traditional “self-improvement” book I’ve enjoyed in the past. Instead, this book helps highlight a now-CEO. All this being good fodder for me to continually think about as I continue to lead my company.

One of the reasons I joined the current startup I’m at was to learn from a successful CEO/ founding team – to be mentored. So far, I’ve appreciated every moment.
It’s fascinating to me how he thinks. He’s highly successful with prior startups; so, to say his mindset is different from mine would be an understatement. In fact, we’ve approached many things from completely different perspectives.
Some observations and disparities in viewpoints:
  • Him: time and money (big). Me: test and money (small). Oftentimes, he thinks in time first, money second. He recognizes time is a resource we don’t get back. Meanwhile, time is also money. Recently, we debated about testing messaging. As I thought about testing variants for efficacy that may take time, he thought about burn rate. Specifically, how much time and money will have been spent for an effective test? He would rather test quickly and burn through a list, for example, and then get another list later, not go through 4 weeks of burn before finding something that works.
  • Him: Get results now, and get efficiency later. Me: Get results soon, and get efficiency later. To the point above, my CEO is acutely aware that we may have to freestyle a bit now which may be inefficient. However, he’s cognizant of what he needs now to show success. If we find success now, we can build out the right strategy to be more efficient and scale.
  • Him: top-down numbers. Me: Bottom-up numbers/ approach. Having boot-strapped my startups in the past, I think “organic”, bottom-up like acquisition. I think about acquiring a handful of customers through highly tailored approaches. I think about piecing together the grander message for marketing. My CEO thinks about conversions. He thinks about the math of filling the pipe with XX number of cold leads converting to YY leads converting to ZZ opportunities converting to AA customers. He thinks about what he can do now, how much more resources to commit to yield customers at the bottom. Then, refine the approach for scale.
  • Him: Get on the plane. Me: I’ll try to get them on the phone. That is, we need to learn as much as possible as fast as possible and keep everyone happy. From bootstrapping, I’m reticent to spend $100 on a customer (even if that fits in fine for our cost of acquisition). Again, I’m thinking about money, but from a “small pockets” perspective. For my CEO, I can spend what’s needed now (including hopping on a plane) to meet with prospects or working with an early customer to ensure we get the most out of our customers (beyond revenue). 
  • Him: Everyone pays. Me: Friends and family five-finger discount (free). Friends or not, if they find value, they’ll pay. I was always under the impression of giving a handful of friendlies free use of the product in exchange of learning. For my CEO, he wants to test if even his connections value our service enough to pay for it. That’s pretty important. Getting things free is great, and using it can be great. But that doesn’t tell you if you’ve created a product of VALUE.
  • Him: Your time is valuable. Me: I can discount my time. Same as the first couple points and the “finding value” bullet preceding, my CEO ensures contractors and the like get paid. When I was starting out, I offered to work for free as a trial to see if this relationship would be worthwhile. He was adamant on paying. It sets expectations. Free can discount effort. Don’t discount your value.

It’s been a fun ride, and I will continue learning from him. I haven’t set up explicit “mentoring” or “coaching” sessions. Instead, I’ve just taken so many mental notes on his approach to… everything. It’s fascinating, and I know this experience will pay off in the long-run. Heck, they’re paying off today.

Source: http://ak8.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/1256950/preview/stock-footage-man-in-brown-suit-stand-on-beach-and-rises-hands-then-walked-and-immersed-sea-water-and-swam-at.jpg
I’ve been heads down trying to get this new startup I’ve got going that for one of the first times in a while, my mind was drawing a blank as to what I should post about. I’m not quite where I want to be for the startup to post anything about it, yet, so I’ll curb that. Instead, I did read an article recently about the CEO of MongoDB, Max Schireson stepping down.
MongoDB is one of the hot techs out there right now. When you think up-and-coming and leading edge tech, it’s right there at the top with a recent valuation of $1B according to the article on Business Insider – Why This CEO Happily Just Quit The Best Job He’s Ever Had.
Schireson cites his crazy travel schedule considering he and his family lives in Palo Alto while the company is headquartered in New York. He’s on course to break 300,000 miles this year! (As a former frequent flyer (Delta Diamond, for the win) and now sparse traveler, ah, I want that.) Anyways, he’s leaving the post and stepping into a Vice Chairman role.
His blog post describes more of the situation, and based on some questions and lifestyle choices of those around me are playing out, I wanted to share some take-aways…
  • For Max Schireson and many, family comes first.As a young consultant but always a “family man”, I used to ask the more senior consultants how they felt about traveling during the rapid growth years of their young kids.
  • Not always about money, especially “now”. When you’re good at what you do and you know people, you’ll likely always have opportunities that will pay you. Money’s not really the problem. For me right now, my focus is less on money and more on entrepreneurship and building a startup that will have lasting impressions. If things really do slip for me, I know I can pull the ripcord and parachute to “security”.
  • Some/ most people won’t understand why, but you only need a select few to know why. That is, MongoDB is growing by leaps and bounds. They’ve raised some serious capital and have a hotly rising valuation. Schireson’s step down from CEO will impact him not just on the bottom line, but also from professional development, etc. perspectives. Most people will see it that way. But to those who matter, they’ll understand and support him on his decision and transition (and beyond).
  • If you’re running a company, you need “all-in” leaders to make the most of the opportunities. Maybe you need to mitigate some risks at the beginning, but once that’s rolling, you need to plunge headfirst to make the decisions and adjustments (pivots?) necessary to the business to be successful. It’s like raising a baby!
  • Plenty of bias and judging between men and women executives. The start of the Business Insider article talks about Schireson’s experience of questions asked of him vs. his female executive counterparts regarding “personal interests” vs “family-work balance”.
  • Behind every great business leader, is a great partner. I remember watching a video of the trials and tribulations Elon Musk endured during the formative years of both Tesla and Space X (see his 60 Minutes interview). However, he also had a great partner at home in his wife to take care of the “Personal Business”. Looking at those around me like at Body Boss, Don (our Head of Development/ Lead Developer/ Make Sh!t Happen Officer) worked some crazy hours after his full-time gig, and was supporting a newborn. His wife was a huge, HUGE partner of not just him, but for Body Boss because of her support.

So in the end, Schireson’s making the decision that he and his family feel is best. It’s been a great run at the helm of MongoDB, but it also doesn’t mean his role in shaping the company future stops and that he just stops moving forward professionally. Instead, now, he can move forward in the capacities he views as most critical to his greater LIFE – his family.
What are your thoughts about stepping down or away from seemingly highly lucrative positions? Schireson obviously holds his family as the main pillar of his life. What would you say is yours right now?