Thursday, September 17, 2015

KAIST -- How Korean B2B Startups can Go-To-Market in the US?

After meeting several Korean delegations asking for advice on Korean startups going global in the US, I shared some suggestions at the KAIST luncheon this week.  Basically, a Korean startup needs 1) a great product, 2) passionate CEO personally committed to the US GTM (as evidenced by frequent travels to the US) and 3) a disruption.

We are seeing a major disruption in B2B GTM in the US due to the cloud and digital marketing.

Below is the presentation.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Always have a vision"

As I reread Marc Benioff’s description of the Larry Ellison Playbook (see prior post), I thought more about his statement:  "Always have a vision."

What exactly is vision?  Why is it so important?  What makes something a good vision?

According to Jack Welch (former CEO of GE), "Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion."

What exactly is vision?  Marc Benioff defines vision as – What do you want the company to be?  

Why is it so important?  The right vision does three things:  1) it creates one future point for the company, 2) it aligns everyone within the company, and 3) it inspires everyone.  I find that a company can achieve amazing things when focused on a single destination with everyone aligned and inspired toward that destination.  I also find that the importance of this single vision grows exponentially with the number of employees.

What makes something a good vision?
-- Said in 10 words or less.  So, it is easy for everyone to memorize.  For example, Salesforce's original vision was 12 words:  "Rapidly create a world-class internet company/site for sales force automation."
-- Fully endorsed by the CEO, executive team and board.
-- Is inspirational and achievable

Related to developing a vision, I copied below a few paragraphs from Bates Communications on How Leaders Develop and Communicate a Vision:

"There is actually nothing mystical about vision.  A vision is a picture of what an organization could and should be.  

A hallmark of great leaders is that their vision includes big ideas.  Big ideas get people excited.  Nobody wants to do something small.  Leaders want to feel motivated about coming to work, because whey they do matters.

Some examples of big ideas that most of us are familiar with are Martin Luther King's 'I have a Dream' speech and President JFK's vision for the space program, 'We choose to go to the moon... not because it is easy, but because it is hard.'

Great business leaders also know how to paint a vivid picture of the future.  They make it look easy. However, most of them have worked hard to develop and articulate their powerful thoughts."

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Successful New Product Introduction

Surprisingly, new product introductions by established companies are never easy, even though the established company has numerous customers, a great brand, great sales and marketing, and great product management and engineering.

The challenge is getting two strong teams to work together and pass the product baton at the right time.  Otherwise, it resembles the US 4x100m relay team dropping the baton at the Beijing Olympics, as shown in the picture above.  Each runner is world class, but they obviously did not work well as a team.

A growing company typically has a strong Product team with a proven track record of developing what the customer wants, and a strong GTM team with a proven track record of selling.  So, when a new product introduction struggles (and most struggle), each blames the other – sales can’t or won’t sell, or It is not the right product.

The common answer is for each team to lobby top management to “force the other team to just do this.”  For example, top management may try to push sales through a carrot and stick.  Another answer is to appoint a person or team to solve this problem, such as a mini-GM or sales overlay team.

Regardless of the answer, the relay race metaphor helps -- where each team passes the product baton when the receiving team can succeed.  More specifically,
1)      Product management/engineering must find Product Market Fit (just like a startup) – in other words, at least XX happy and referenceable customers of the new product that should excite the rank and file sales people.  Exciting management and the product team is not enough.  Picking the right XX customers is critical, since it drives the product.
2)      Based on those XX, marketing can build confidence by promoting those XX internally and externally (frankly, internal promotion to excite the sales team is more important than external promotion).  It is important to close the next XX quickly to build momentum and confidence – and more importantly to develop a replicable sales process. 
3)      With confidence and an easy, replicable sales and onboarding process, the sales machine can start cranking. 

Basically, a new product introduction for an established company resembles finding Product Market Fit in an early stage startup, except for the internal dynamics. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

CTO vs VP Engineering

I have been thinking how to answer the question raised in my prior blog post on technical debt -- the tradeoff between development speed/cost today vs development speed/cost tomorrow.  In particular, what is the right organizational answer to that question.

I soon realized that this is just one example of a fundamental business organizational challenge:  It is generally difficult (but not impossible) for one person to deliver both short term and long term results.  As a result, we typically see:

Short term Long term
Product VP Eng CTO

This framework helps divide the roles of the VP Engineering and CTO, as shown below:

Short Term (VP Eng)
Long Term (CTO)

Deliver Product (Execution)

Right Technical Vision/Roadmap


New Releases
People Management
Program Management

New Technologies/Roadmap


Minimal time



Manager (plan/schedule, risk mitigation, recruit, communicate, motivate)
Technologist (Architect, strong technically)
Strategic thinker
Good writer

Many differentiate the two roles based on management vs technology, such as Elaine ChenMark Suster, and Fred Wilson.  That distinction helps clarify the different skill sets for the two roles.  I tried to differentiate them based on business goals.

In earlier stage companies, long term can be an unaffordable luxury.  There, CTO's clearly focus on the short term -- and even write code.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Technical Debt -- the tradeoff between Dev Speed & Cost Today vs Dev Speed & Cost Tomorrow

The words “Technical Debt” can bring chills to a board meeting.  They are usually raised by a new VP Engineering to highlight problems created by the prior engineering regime.  Everyone wonders – How large is the debt?  Will the debt burden kill the company?  As a result, the words remind me of the grim reaper.

Every startup creates technical debt by rushing the delivery of features today in order to find Product Market Fit and then accelerate early growth – as fast and cheaply as possible.  Not creating technical debt at this stage means that the company overinvested in engineering.  So, some technical debt is good!

So, I have been wondering what technical debt is bad?  In other words, how can I categorize technical debt into good and bad.

The answer depends on the technical debt’s impact on tomorrow’s development cost and speed.  For example, if technical debt can be eliminated by rewriting the code (i) for the same amount of time as it took to write the original code (ie, comparable development cost) and (ii) without impacting the development speed of other features, then the technical debt is irrelevant from a business standpoint.  The cost of an engineer is significantly lower after the startup has achieved Product Market Fit and is accelerating early growth.

In contrast, an architectural issue could be very expensive to fix and significantly slow down future feature development.  “[A] common example is where less modular design in the first release due to time constraints affects subsequent releases. Additional functionality could not be added later without doing extensive refactoring. This refactoring impacted future timelines and introduced additional bugs.”  This quote is from A Field Study of Technical Debt, by Neil Ernst,  who surveyed 1831 participants, primarily software engineers and architects.  I recommend reading the article

This insight led to the following table – What is the Technical Debt’s impact on development tomorrow, whether in future development cost or development speed:

Tech Debt’s Impact on Development Tomorrow

Code rework
No impact
Huge delay
Development Speed

In conclusion, it helps to understand the future business impact of technical debt, since all startups will create technical debt.