It might seem that launching a business would be easier the second time around, but the opposite is true.iStockPhoto

Some time ago I met with a partner from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a renowned Silicon Valley venture capital firm. She was kind enough to offer me mentorship; we discussed what makes a start-up successful and what attributes she looks for in a founder.

She showed me some research they’d done comparing first-time founders with founders who’d successfully exited from a previous venture. All had been backed by Kleiner Perkins. “Which group do you think were more successful?” she asked.

“Experienced founders are much more likely to succeed,” I replied. “They have proven skills and resilience.”

“That’s what we expected, but we were wrong,” she said. “It turned out that our first-timers have a much higher strike rate. And when they succeed, the companies they build are much bigger.”When we dug into why this might be, she described a theory called “second-time founder syndrome”.

Rebekah Campbell built a successful music management company in her 20s.

Looking back at my recent entrepreneurial endeavours, I see that I too was afflicted with this condition – although I didn’t realise it at the time. In my 20s, I built a successful music company managing the careers of 11 artists, including Evermore, Matt Corby, Lisa Mitchell and George.

When I decided to launch a tech start-up I was confident I’d succeed: I knew how to build a team. I hired someone to carry out market research and another to sell to my first customers. I found an agency to build the technology and a graduate intern to answer all the support inquiries. I put together a PowerPoint presentation and raised my first round of angel investment.

The first version of my concept didn’t take off. I pivoted our approach and tried again. Still not enough traction – but the costs were mounting. Looking back, the mistakes seem obvious. Now, as I prepare to embark on my next adventure, I’ll heed that advice from my friend at Kleiner Perkins: “Always be a first-time founder”. Here’s how.

 

Campbell grew Evermore's fan base by booking lunchtime concerts in high schools across NSW.

1. Do the groundwork

I thought I was an expert in building companies and that I could apply this expertise to a new business. I was wrong. A founder needs to be an expert in their own customers, not in starting a business. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg knew nothing about raising an angel investment round, but he knew a lot about how university students wanted to connect. By paying someone else to research the market for my business, I missed learning valuable insights.

My next business is in a new area again. This time I’ve allocated a whole year to learning the industry, taking a postgraduate university course to get the same training as the customers I’m looking to serve, and I’m also working in the field. I won’t design our solution until I’m sure the value proposition is right.

2. Hustle

Evermore was my music company’s first client. No one knew or cared about my company or the band. We couldn’t get a gig at a local pub. We had to fight to be noticed. Using the Yellow Pages, I phoned high schools across NSW offering Evermore to play at lunchtime. We’d charge students a gold coin donation and they’d get a CD single of the band. For 10 months we traipsed across the state playing in school halls. We’d stay in backpacker hostels and pay with bags of coins we’d collected from the kids.

Working town by town, we started to build a fan base. When I managed to get the CD single sales to count in the ARIA chart, the band’s song started climbing. Radio stations noticed and started playing Evermore. When the band’s album came out a year later it sold more than 100,000 copies. But by the time I launched my second company I’d forgotten the struggle. I thought I’d launch a product and people would just buy it.

Most successful businesses build granularly at first. The Airbnb founders talk about how they personally photographed the first thousand or so listed properties; Yelp held restaurant meet-ups to build groundswell. Almost every large company talks about how much work went into developing a following. First-time founders are prepared to hustle.

3. Stay close to the customers

In my first business, I was the only employee. When someone had a complaint or suggestion, it came to me. In my second business, I recruited interns to be the initial point of contact. They would welcome new customers and respond to support inquiries. I thought this would be efficient, but the cost was huge. I missed out on valuable feedback that would have helped me improve our product.

As a second-time and now third-time founder, it feels that launching a business should become easier, but the opposite is true. Recall what led to success the first time. Stick to the basics, consider abandoning your support network, and be prepared to sign up customers one by one. 

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Each rejection will be easier than the last. valentinrussanov

The word “no” can be hard to hear.

Earlier in the year, I was managing several business opportunities, all at various stages of negotiation, and noticed a disturbing trend. While I was very good at opening doors and establishing relationships, I wasn’t so good at closing the deal. I could not push the conversation to a point where a decision would have to be made. I physically felt sick at the possibility of hearing “no” and procrastinated. I suggested next steps and more meetings, preferring to cling to “maybe” than risk a “no”.

As a result, nothing happened. I rarely heard “yes”, for I always left prospective partners with “maybe” as an option. A wise mentor observed, “No one will say yes today when they think they can say yes next week.” I trace my fear of rejection to when I was nine years old and I had my first crush on a boy. Cameron was a year older, had stick-out ears, two shortened fingers from an accident in woodwork and a huge gap in his front teeth. I didn’t care: he was charismatic, popular, and made us all laugh. I was in love.

I didn’t know how best to express my feelings at this tender age, so I wrote a letter. “Dear Cameron, I think you’re cute. Will you go around with me? Love Becky.” That afternoon I skipped up to him after school and handed him the note. Next morning as I walked into class, everyone turned; lines of nine-year-olds pointing and laughing. Cameron stood at the noticeboard grinning widely. He had pinned up my note for all to see.

I shrivelled up, humiliated

This is the first time I remember making a social request and getting “no” in response. Only recently have I realised how much this and other early experiences of “no” continue to influence aspects of my life, including business. The thought of “no” still strikes fear into my heart: a fear that stops me from achieving. Unless I could overcome my fear, I’d never close the important business deals I needed to reach my career goals. I decided to tackle the challenge.

Here are some of my strategies:

1. Eliminate time-wasters

I had a huge number of deals on the go and added more each week as I obtained more introductions. I didn’t want to lose any prospective partners but realised that for every deal I lost, I would have more time to focus on the few that signed up. One or two significant partners mean so much more than a list of prospects.

2. Practise closing

I read an excellent book, Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury, and spoke to several friends, all expert closers, for advice. I learnt all the techniques, such as what questions to ask when. I used the scarcity principle and set deadlines for a response. Next, I poured concrete down my nerves and held the hard conversations. At first it was terrifying. Every “no” stabbed me in the heart. I hated those emails. But each rejection was easier than the last and eventually I toughened up.

3. No doesn’t always mean no

If I really want something, I’ll go after it: “no” is but a step towards a “yes”. I’d wanted someone to join our advisory board for years, yet had never pressured him for a decision. But as the business progressed, I needed an answer. He called me into his office and said, “Sorry, but I’m a no.” For a couple of days I was disappointed. The following Monday, I had new information: we’d achieved something that I knew would appeal to him. I invited him out to coffee and again asked him to become an adviser. At first, he appeared perplexed – had we not held this conversation last week? I ignored his puzzlement and continued. At the end of our meeting, we were back to “maybe” and weeks later achieved a “yes”. A “yes” is so much more satisfying when it follows a “no”.

As children, we are open about what we want. We’re happy to reject other people’s requests and we accept that we may not always have our own way. I didn’t think twice about giving Cameron a note outlining what I wanted. But when he said, “No” so publicly, I was hurt. Next time, I thought, I will be more circumspect. I expect many of us have similar “no” traumas from our youth. Rejection hurts, so we learn to avoid putting ourselves in the position where we could hear it and strive to avoid hurting others by saying it to them. As a result, we don’t make direct requests or give direct responses. We leave things hanging in the world of “maybe”, which wastes time. I have learnt that “no” is a powerful word that should be pursued, not feared.

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Lying is the No.1 reason businesses fail.

Recently I caught up with Peter, an Angel investor in Hey You.  Peter does life well: he's a successful businessman with a string of hit ventures who lives with his young family between his New Zealand beach house and yacht in the Mediterranean.  He follows Buddhist teachings and his demeanour is that of a Zen rocket scientist. I asked him, "What's the secret?"  He leaned back in his chair and grinned. "The one secret to success in business and in life is to never ever tell a lie."

What?  I was expecting "dream big", "focus", "never give up" or some such truism.  I knew that lying was bad and telling the truth was good; we learn that as children. But the secret to success?  Peter nodded and reiterated: "Absolute honesty is the key to ultimate power." I took little notice of his advice because I consider myself an honest person.  I never tell lies; well, hardly ever.

Enhancing the truth

The following week, I pitched to a prospective client. As I rounded up one of our company metrics to make it look better, I heard Peter's voice ringing in my ear. This wasn't technically lying, just enhancing the truth. I was stricken with unease; had I made a fatal mistake?  Would I miss out on the deal because I lied? I wanted to understand more about Peter's philosophy so I called him up. "Why is lying so bad? Is this a superstitious karmic idea or something else?"

Peter invests in lots of start-ups. He said, "Every time an entrepreneur gives me a pitch, I wait until the end and ask them, 'Where's the lie in what you just told me?' And there always is one. Once we know what it is we can work together to solve the problem. Most entrepreneurs never address the lies they tell. Their businesses collapse because they don't discuss and solve what they knew was wrong."

After speaking to Peter, I began to notice my daily dishonesties: glossing over small problems, exaggerating success and underplaying failures. Sometimes I'm not as transparent as I know I should be and I felt a tinge of panic. Am I the only one According to a study by the University of Massachusetts, 60 per cent of adults can't have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once;  31 per cent of people lie on their resumes; 40 per cent lie to their doctor and a whopping 90 per cent lie on their online dating profile. People commonly lie to shift blame, save face, avoid confrontation, get their way, be nice and appear more likable.

Waste of time and resources

At home, most small lies are harmless, but honesty is vital at work. Every six weeks, our team debates the features that our development team should build next. Each department has a list of priorities and shares the impact they expect each development path might have on the business. If someone exaggerated a problem or over-reached on an opportunity, we wouldn't know. We could spend precious time and resources on the wrong thing.

Peter maintains that lying is the No.1 reason businesses fail. The problem is not a moral one: telling lies derails progress by plucking you out of the present and preventing you from dealing with exactly what is going on in your world. Every time you tell an untruth, you create a false reality and start living in it. "If you know the right path and choose another, you lose control of the situation. Rather than tackling the problem head on, you now need to manage the fallout from the lie," he says.

In my gut I knew we wouldn't land the deal I pitched for, and we didn't. As soon as I exaggerated the metric, I started thinking about what I'd need to do to make it true. I was distracted and found it difficult to be creative and present.

The challenge

Since my meeting with Peter, I've focused on being completely honest and transparent. Every time I've wanted to round up when I really should round down, or underplay a problem, I've stopped myself. At first I felt vulnerable – would people accept things exactly as they are? After a while, things started to change. I felt lighter and more stable. My team became more transparent too: people flagged problems upfront, and with all the information at hand we've addressed every issue immediately.

Truth and its relationship to peace, creativity and success have played on my mind recently. If you've read this article and thought, "That's not me, I always tell the truth," then you may be lying to yourself. I challenge you: for two weeks, try being honest and transparent about everything. I'm confident you'll find it both difficult and worthwhile. And it will make a difference to your business.

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Rebekah Campbell, founder of Hey You, an app to order and pay at cafes and restaurants.

I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve led businesses solo and have been at the centre of every meeting I’ve taken since I launched my first company at the age of 22. I joined forces 18 months ago with a male co-founder: he’s charismatic, charming and attracts attention. And, for the first time in my career, I found myself taking a back seat. My strength has always been my ability to get stuff done, while my co-founder is great at building relationships. Almost all our meetings are with men, so I’d sit back while my co-founder established rapport by opening with a discussion about sport or which school everyone attended.

With nothing to say, I’d wait in silent frustration. Meetings would often drift between casual conversation and business: I wasn’t able to achieve my objective because I didn’t drive the discussion. I suspected people looked to my co-founder for leadership because he was male, but more likely because he spoke early, connected with other attendees and deported himself like a leader.

Charm and command

I suspect many of us struggle in situations like this. I knew what I wanted from each meeting but found myself uncertain when or how to interrupt. The folk with the loudest voices got all the airtime. I knew I had important contributions and felt that others were dodging the tough topics. I wanted to speak up but didn’t know how to push my agenda without coming across as aggressive.

I took my dilemma to a mentor, a senior executive in the banking industry. He’s an impressive character with a strong presence, one I have observed in meetings. He may not say much, but people look to him for leadership. He has an uncanny ability to charm and command attention simultaneously. He’ll ask direct questions up front and always gets what he wants. Over coffee, we discussed my discomfort when sharing meetings with my co-founder, whose charisma debarred me from controlling the room. I averred this was because I’m a woman and all other attendees were guys. Were I a man, people would look to me rather than him. But at heart, I knew the problem wasn’t my gender or co-founder. It was me.

I remarked to my mentor, “I’d like to learn to be more like you. Every time I see you in a meeting, you own the room. You come across as a natural leader.” I expected a list of tips for controlling meetings, but his comment surprised and inspired me. He gazed across the café table, head tilted, disappointed, as if I had asked a supremely stupid question. “Rebekah. You have to own the room. You must know that. If you don’t own the room, you’ll never get anywhere. Even if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it doesn’t matter. Every meeting. Own the room.” That was it. No tips. Just an instruction to own the room or give up.

Into practice

The next day, I was in a meeting with our partners at Westpac: 12 male executives, my co-founder and me. I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation outlining what I’d like to cover, knew exactly what I wanted and who in the room could give it to me. The first 10 minutes passed as normal. Then, with my mentor’s words ringing in my ears, I decided to take control. I asked the person at the head of the table if he’d mind switching seats. He agreed, and I announced my presentation. My first slide outlined our objectives for the meeting and the decisions we needed to make that day. Sure, my entrance to the meeting was clunky, but I now owned the room.

From that point on, I ran the agenda, made direct requests of those I knew could make decisions, agreed on follow-ups, made notes and distributed them afterwards. I haven’t looked back since. I make sure I write down my objectives before every meeting so I’m clear what the outcome should be. I always sit at the head of the table and try to make the opening statement, outlining the reason for the meeting and the outcome I’d like to achieve. It works.

Working on it

Perhaps I can come across as rude. Maybe some folk think I’m an inexperienced know-it-all. I’m aware people often think I’m aggressive. None of this makes me comfortable – in fact it makes me very uncomfortable. But the alternative doesn’t work. I am sure as I mature, I’ll develop a style that owns the room, achieves my objectives and is charming. I’m working on it. For now, I’ll settle on owning the room, getting stuff done and making my business a success. As my mentor said, “If you don’t own the room, you’ll never get anywhere.”

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Obviously, it’s no fun to get fired. But it’s also no fun to be the one doing the firing.

I have heard it said that the stress of terminating someone’s employment can reduce your lifespan. I certainly know that I’ve awakened in a sweat the night before I have to have “the conversation” with someone. Or worse, I have put off the conversation and let the frustration and anticipation build for months. But no matter how bad it seems, it’s even worse for those being dismissed. The news you are about to deliver is likely to stick with your former employees forever; it will affect their sense of self worth and confidence in moving forward with their careers. Their colleagues and friends all know that someone assessed their value to the team and found it lacking. And after the humiliation at work, they have to go home and tell their families.

We’ve all heard the mantra “hire slow, fire fast.” As I’ve written in my previous posts, I’ve made lots of recruitment mistakes, but one thing I’ve always been good at is knowing when to let people go. I recognize that when someone doesn’t work out, it’s my fault for hiring them, and I try to make the process as pleasant as possible. I don’t want people running around saying what a nasty person I am, and I do feel responsible.

When entrepreneurs get together, we always seem to talk about how, if, and when to fire people. It amazes me how poorly most leaders handle the situation. They either procrastinate and hope people change (they never do), or they let them go in a way that leaves them feeling upset and confused. Getting this wrong can have disastrous consequences for your business. A friend has a media agency in California. He hired too many people too quickly and ended up with office politics and unproductive employees. He made a bold move by letting 40 percent of the team go at the same time. He called them into his office one by one, outlined why it wasn’t working and asked them to pack their things and leave immediately.

The employees gathered at a bar that afternoon to commiserate. They were angry and hurt. Alcohol-fueled tensions exploded, and they plotted revenge. Several contacted friends in the press and made sexual harassment allegations against the company. My friend’s reputation took a battering, clients jumped ship, and it took months before he could get the business back on track. He could have avoided this by hiring the right number of the right people, and if some didn’t work out, he could have let them go with more empathy. At my first company, I made all of the classic mistakes, including at least 20 hiring errors. That meant it gave me a lot of opportunities to practice what I have learned about letting people go with dignity.

I have gotten better. I’m not aware of anyone leaving Posse feeling disgruntled, and almost all of our former employees remain supportive of the company, come to our events and continue to advocate for the product. This is never an easy process, but here is some of what I’ve learned:

1. Let them save face

Whenever I sit down with people, I make it as obvious as I can what’s about to come. I ask them how they think their role is working out. I never make it about their personal contribution; it’s always about the role and how it fits into the organization. I lead them toward seeing that, in a small company like ours, their role isn’t quite what we need. I ask them what they enjoy working on and where they see themselves going in the future.

By this time, they know they’re about to be let go. I try to make sure they don’t feel as if it’s because they’ve failed, and I focus on getting them to think about what they would rather be doing. I think Posse is a great place to work, but we all have our own career dreams. You may think it’s dishonest not to be upfront and tell them exactly why they haven’t worked out. But by the time we reach this point, we will already have had several conversations about what’s not working and how they can improve. This conversation is about making a tough moment easier and helping ensure they have the confidence to move on with their life.

Once I had a senior employee who wasn’t right for Posse. I could see he was cracking with the workload and felt frustrated with the lack of clear role-definitions that he had been used to in more corporate roles. When I sat down with him, it was obvious he was exhausted. “Is this really what you want to be doing?” I asked. After a 10-minute conversation about his actual dream job (not here!), he decided to quit. He also asked if he could leave straight away and not work out his notice. This was a fantastic result. He felt happy and saved face with his colleagues, and I avoided the appearance of being a mean boss who just fired a member of the family, which always affects the remaining team. And we saved the four weeks notice I had expected to pay.

2. Don’t procrastinate

I remember the first few times I thought about letting someone go in my first business. I contemplated the decision for months, hoping things would improve. I put new reporting processes in place, tried new management techniques and wound up frustrated, procrastinating over what I knew deep down had to happen.

Other employees would be affected too. There’s nothing more demotivating for a team than to have people not pulling their weight and spreading negativity — and a boss who won’t do anything about it. In the lead-up to the big event, I would toss and turn in bed imagining how the conversation would go, how would I word it. When the day finally arrived, I’d be so burned out and angry that I’d fumble my words.

I’ve discovered that when I think someone won’t work out, they won’t. I can recognize when I’ve made a recruitment mistake within the first three months, and I’ll let them go within a week of the realization. I’ve found that the longer I leave it, the more they bond with the team and the worse the impact. It gives the person and the company the opportunity to move on.

3. Stick to any agreements. When in doubt, be generous

All of our employment agreements have probationary periods of three months. If the person is let go in that time, we pay one week’s notice. It’s important that there be no doubt about what the person should be paid. If there’s ever a question, I err on the generous side. It’s not good to look stingy, and I’ve learned that it’s important to do whatever I can to make the person leaving as happy as possible.

4. Be clear about what happens next and help them as much as you can

At the end of our conversation, I lay out the next steps. They’ll usually agree to go back to the office and hand over anything important to another team member, and we agree on how to explain the departure. They always finish up that day – it never works to have someone serve out their notice. We then talk about their plan to find another job. I ask if they’d like introductions to my contacts, and I offer to write them a glowing (but honest) reference. I wouldn’t write anything that’s untrue, but it’s always possible to find positive attributes to fill out the letter and help the person find a more appropriate job.

5. Announce it to the team together and let them say goodbye

We go back to the office and call the team together for the announcement. We almost always paint it as the employee’s decision. I just stand there while the person explains. I thank them for their contributions, and we all go out for a drink. The drinks are usually a bit awkward, but it’s important to let the remaining team members grieve. They’ll all go out and drink together anyway, and I’d rather be there than not. Letting someone go is one of the toughest and most important things entrepreneurs have to do. We know that the business will succeed or fail on the strength of the team, and a team is only as strong as its weakest member.

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The Posse team in Manila. Credit Posse.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the issues I’d encountered while building an outsourced office in another country. We’ve now expanded to a team of 14 in Manila, and we recruited everyone there using processes similar to those we use at home. I’ve worked out of the office there and have come to know each employee. We hold regular team lunches at our Manila office, and the whole company meets once a week by video conference. As a result, I had the impression that we were building a strong company culture across both offices.

Carlo Parungao, for example, is a big friendly guy in his early 20s who is a member of our Manila team. He researches and enters the details of all the new shops that users feed into Posse, and at our video meeting each Monday, he reports on the previous week’s achievements with a massive smile: “Hello Miss Rebekah. This week I researched 680 new stores, 40 more than last week.” This last Monday, however, Carlo wasn’t at the meeting. Our office manager in Manila, Jenny Muncal, told us that he was on bereavement leave for a week because his brother, who had been suffering from leukemia, had died.

I know something about leukemia: Two years ago, a member of our team in  Sydney had been stricken with it. He had spent four months in the hospital and a few more in and out of chemotherapy. One year after his diagnosis he’d made a full recovery, and he took a year off to travel the world. We all followed his adventures on Facebook. I researched the condition at the time and learned that some kinds of leukemia have a survival rate of better than 70 percent. Carlo’s brother died because his family couldn’t afford treatment.

When Jenny told me the news, I was angry. If one of our colleagues in our Sydney office or our New York office had a brother with leukemia, we would have rallied and supported the person in any way we could. I had been striving to build a company culture where that closeness would extend across both teams. And yet we hadn’t even known what Carlo was enduring. I wished we could have helped in some way, and I thought about what I might have done. Could we have raised money on his behalf? I felt I’d failed as a leader and as a person. Our company culture should have supported Carlo when he needed us. This led to bigger questions. Most of us don’t accept that one of our fellow citizens should die because of their inability to pay when a life-saving treatment is available. We feel a responsibility to our family first, then our friends and the wider community.

But when we build teams in countries with economic circumstances and standards of living different from our own, what is our responsibility to those employees and their families? What is our responsibility to the communities they live in? As entrepreneurs, we face some difficult questions. What is a fair amount to pay someone who lives in a much poorer country? What standard of living do we want for our teams and their families and communities? How far does our care extend? Then we have to balance this with our obligations to our shareholders to keep costs down and productivity up, a serious issue for start-ups like ours with limited cash and time.

I don’t have the answers, but I think these are important questions. By building a second team in Manila, we’ve succeeded in employing more people and moving much faster than we would have had we done everything in Sydney and New York. I think we’ve done a good job of creating a strong company culture there; their work is exceptional, and the team members certainly seem passionate about their jobs at Posse. But I’m sure we can do more. We’re probably among the first generation of entrepreneurs to face these questions. Sure, outsourcing has existed for a while, but at big companies, the person in charge is likely to be disconnected from the lives of individual employees. By contrast, I know each of our Manila team members – I hired them and I speak to them every week.

It’s still novel for early-stage companies like ours to operate with a second team in a lower-cost country. The approach brings opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors who can develop businesses faster and at lower costs, and for an overseas work force that can learn the process of building and introducing global products. It’s a growing trend, and it means we are training an army of entrepreneurs in these countries, some of whom are already competing with us on the global stage. Today’s cost savings may lead to a worldwide equalizing of opportunity. Building and leading a team in a less prosperous country has taught me volumes. I’ve been fortunate to meet ambitious young people like Carlo, and in the future I plan to do a better job of developing closer ties across multiple countries.

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In a start-up, there’s always too much to do and not enough time or money to do it. There are never enough people to fix what’s broken and never enough resources to develop the next strategic phase. For the first 12 months of Posse, I felt as if I was swimming as hard as I could, trying to avoid drowning. But I knew that if we were going to succeed I had to develop a rhythm to our development.

Then I read an article in the Harvard Business Review about the “closed management loop.” Briefly, here’s the loop: Strategize, develop targets, plan operations, carry out, monitor, learn, test and start all over again. The article suggests that companies go through the process, which you can find in any systems development textbook (although the texts disagree on details). I’m sure the one-year cycle works for big companies with resources, but I wondered if it could be modified for cash-starved start-ups so they can learn faster.

We needed to run and test our strategy at regular intervals. We all work around the clock, and with so many competing priorities, I had to bring order to the chaos to maintain focus and measure our progress. I introduced the concept of closed-loop management systems at our team off site last year, and since then we’ve spun through a strategy iteration cycle every four months.

We start the cycle with an off-site meeting of the full team. We all go to a beach house for a few days to discuss what we’ve learned from the last few months, what concerns we have and what ideas we can bring to improving our strategy. We look at what our competitors are doing, reviewing the ideas they have that work and the features that distinguish our product from theirs. Within each cycle, we have four monthly development and marketing “sprints” — a defined list of work for the month that we commit to completing. If we all reach our goals, we go out to lunch to celebrate at the end of the month. No one wants to let down the team.

Now, as I write it down, the system sounds more formal than it feels. The benefits are that we all agree on a clear path from strategy through plan to execution, and we can focus on this plan for a set period, knowing that it may change in the next cycle. We also recognize that success will ultimately come from advancing through the process, not necessarily by having a perfect strategy every time. The goal is to sustain enthusiasm when people are working hard, often late at night and on weekends, to release a product they will probably have to redo repeatedly until it’s right.

Followers of Lean Startup methodology will recognize this principle as the “feedback loop.” It makes sense, but is very hard to execute. Those who have been reading my posts will know that I’m no expert, and I’m still learning as I go, but here are a few things I’ve figured out about making the feedback loop spin effectively.

1. Get the team to buy into the process

I take our team away for a few days every four months in between cycles. This creates a clear end to one phase and starts the next one. It gives everyone a chance to reflect on progress, feel good about our achievements, review our metrics, dream up ideas, ramp up for the next cycle and bond as a team. Two weeks ago, I took our team of nine to the country for three days, and the whole exercise cost just over $2,000. We rented a house and we cooked and shopped together for groceries and drinks. We played board games until late at night, rode horses on the last day and returned bubbling with ideas.

2. Listen to everyone and take time to think

As a founder, I’m naturally optimistic and believe we’re building a successful company. I’ve learned to balance this optimism by testing our ideas with users — not just the big ones but every feature. For a technology company like Posse, this means making mock-ups of designs through which people can click. How do they see a new feature working, and what would they use it for? I also have a number of advisers, and I discuss all of our plans with them — looking especially for pessimists who can pick holes in my strategy. The process can be painful, and at first, I felt it was unnecessary, because I was so sure of being on the right track. Now I always discover insights that lead to better approaches.

After I’ve listened to as many people as possible, I sneak away and spend time thinking by myself. This may entail an overseas trip by myself, or a series of walks. It feels as though everyone’s ideas float around in my head for a while, and the change of scenery helps catalyze a logical path. Through this process, I build a strategy. Then I take it back to the team and test the ideas. If the strategy is good, everyone gets excited; if it’s bad, everyone argues, and I know it needs work.

3. Face problems head on

One of my mentors in the music business gave me a great piece of advice: “If you think there’s a problem, there’s a problem.” As an entrepreneur, you live and breathe the company and can sense when something isn’t working. When we first introduced our retail application, we were successful at selling it to shops, but I sensed it wouldn’t resonate with shoppers. Knowing we needed both shops and shoppers on the platform for Posse to be successful, we ran a few tests that indicated I was right. We restarted the development process, spent three months redesigning the strategy and introduced our new product. As a result, we succeeded in showing some traction before the money ran out. Many start-ups that I’ve seen fail knew of the fatal flaw that killed them long before they died.

4. Move fast

With limited time and resources, we have only a certain number of spins to fix the product. We’re not quite there ourselves, although our user engagement metrics suggest that we’re getting closer. Our chances of success rise as we accelerate the execution and testing of a new product.

5. Be disciplined

It’s natural to react to every small problem, fix every bug and make countless incremental improvements. That’s what we did last year, and weeks passed without any major advances. As a team, we’ve learned to focus on fixing the big things rather than making sure everything is perfect.

We’re at the start of another four-month loop now. Our strategy has fermented for the last month and was uncorked at our latest off site. This week, we’ll break the work down into four monthly sprints. Our two main objectives are to build our user base and to get our shop owners more engaged. In four months, we will assess what worked and what didn’t and set our new objectives — and then we will start all over again.

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In recent posts, I have written about my attempts to get better at pitching for investment capital in general and closing deals in particular. A related issue that I’d like to address is my body language and what it says about me.

I have long been plagued by self-doubt. I have found myself discussing major deals with senior executives of large companies and thinking, “What am I doing here? My business is tiny, I am unimportant, and it will only be a matter of time before I’m found out.” I know that I’m a strong presenter and can woo an audience, but I’ve often wondered if there is something that gives me away and accounts for my struggling to close deals.

MIT Media Lab recently released a study of business pitches and sales calls (the study can be found in “The Charisma Myth“). Without hearing any of the content of the meetings, the researchers predicted the outcome of negotiations with 87 percent accuracy just by reading the presenter’s interactions.

The obvious implication is that my internal dialogue of self-criticism while presenting must affect my body language and tone of voice. When my thoughts were calling me a small fry, my body language betrayed the same thought. It didn’t matter what came out of my mouth.

First, I tried to fix what was going on in my head. I read up on impostor syndrome, which has been said to affect 70 to 80 percent of business people (it’s even higher for women). A study of Harvard Business School students found that three quarters of them imagined they were accepted to the school only because of  a failure in the admissions process. I was comforted to discover that I’m not alone, but it didn’t help me solve my problem.

Recently, I’ve been out on the fundraising trail looking to raise several million dollars – our largest round yet. I’ve been meeting with a different class of investors, brokers and large venture firms. I knew I needed to step up my game, and I decided that if I couldn’t change my internal thoughts then I should at least work on concealing them better. I researched body language and tried some simple tricks, and the results were astonishing. Here’s what I did.

1. V is for victory

Psychologists have written a lot about the physiological impact of spreading yourself out in a powerful posture. It’s what animals do to exert dominance.

In Amy Cuddy’s brilliant TED talk, she shows that holding our bodies in expansive high power poses — hands above head, shoulders back — for two minutes increases our testosterone, which is linked to power and self-esteem, and decreases our cortisol, which is linked to stress. She showed in a trial that job candidates who stood in a high power pose for two minutes before their interviews were 80 percent more likely to be hired than those who sat in contracted positions (hunched shoulders, chin tucked down).

I decided to test the theory before my investor meetings. I’m a little reluctant to share this story out of embarrassment, but it did have a major effect on me, so here goes. I started arriving early for each meeting so that I could visit the restroom beforehand. I stood in front of the mirror for at least two minutes in a victory pose (hands above my head in a V shape). During the meeting, if I caught myself hunching over, even a little bit, I made sure that I sat up straight and took up as much space at the table as possible.

This is the opposite of my natural instinct, but it worked. Instantly, I felt more confident, assertive and powerful.

2. Give a strong handshake

Every meeting starts with a handshake. I hadn’t given much thought to the process, but I did notice when something was off. Sometimes the other person gripped too hard or too softly; sometimes the hand was extended palm facing down, forcing me to take the submissive position; sometimes — and this is my pet peeve — people don’t dry their hands properly after visiting the restroom. Also, as a woman, I find it difficult to know how often you need to meet someone before you progress from a handshake to a kiss on the cheek. Is there a rule for that?

I’m careful to avoid obvious mistakes but have never focused on my regular handshake. It was something that just happened at the beginning and end of each meeting, a strange ritual but an important one. Recently I did a corporate performance course where we practiced shaking hands and introducing ourselves with our full names. At first, I found it awkward to say my first and last names while also shaking hands, but as I practiced, I became more comfortable. It was a powerful exercise, and I’m now more confident that I’m making the right first impression.

3. Sit at the head of the table

When I arrive at a meeting, I’m usually seated in a boardroom by the receptionist before the investors arrive, which means I can decide where I sit. I used to sit along the side of the table facing the window — until one day a bunch of investors all commented on where I sat. They said they could tell a great deal about entrepreneurs by where they choose to sit in a room.

More recently, I’ve started sitting at the head of the table. I choose this seat because in meetings with large groups, it gives me the best opportunity to make eye contact and build rapport with everyone in the group. It also helps in a purely practical way. When I demonstrate the product, everyone can see my computer. I also think that taking the head of the table sends the message that I’m leading this meeting.

4. Know how to make an exit

At the end of each meeting, I try to make a strong exit. I smile, make eye contact, shake hands warmly, and thank them. I’ve discussed with other entrepreneurs how to leave investor meetings, and some suggested that I try to leave the investors thinking I don’t care whether I hear from them or not. That’s not my style. I’ve learned that being authentic is my priority. I have to be myself. I want to come across as someone they would look forward to dealing with again.

In recent weeks, I’ve focused on making these body language changes in every pitch meeting. At first I felt uncomfortable, as if I were pretending to be someone else, but I stuck with it. After two weeks, I noticed that I’d started thinking differently; negative thoughts and feelings of inadequacy started to fade. I can now say they’re gone altogether. I had expected that shifting my body language would help conceal my thoughts, but I didn’t realize the degree to which it would change my feelings about myself.

Right now, stand up and lift your arms into a victory pose. Hold it for two minutes. Feel the difference? Our minds change our behavior, and our behavior acts on the mind, shaping our outcomes. Will my changed body language lead to a successful close of our funding round? I will let you know right here.

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As a non-techie, I was daunted by the task of starting a technology company, Posse. I had an ambitious idea to build a social network that connects customers and retailers but I didn’t know what a line of code looked like, let alone what language we should use or how to tell a good engineer from a bad one. Like many entrepreneurs, I had a vision but no clue how to execute it.

When I started meeting potential investors they all asked the same question, “How are you going to build this?” Even though they liked my story, they wouldn’t invest because they didn’t think I had the experience to pull it off. Everyone suggested that I find a technical co-founder who would be responsible for the product. I looked but couldn’t find the right person and so I muddled on. Three years later, I can report that as a non-technical solo founder I must have made every mistake possible in building my product. But I’ve learned a huge amount in the process and now have a thriving team of 12 engineers and a solid platform.

I still think it is possible for non-technical founders to build technology companies. They just have to recognize that it’s going to be a tough and frustrating journey. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

1. Trust your vision

My first effort to build Posse was with a local development shop. I told them what I wanted the platform to do and they designed and built it. They all had fancy resumes and had worked on high profile websites. When they showed me the first round of designs, I was worried. I felt that buttons were in strange places and huge amounts of prime screen space were being wasted. It didn’t make sense to me, and it wasn’t what I had envisioned.

At the meeting, however, I felt intimidated – these guys knew what they were doing, and I had no experience. So I didn’t speak up. They went ahead and built the website using their designs — and it didn’t work. As soon as we launched, we ran user tests that indicated that people were struggling to understand the point of the product. And even if they did understand, they couldn’t figure out which buttons to press and when. It was an expensive disaster.

Through this process, I learned that the only person who really cares about my product is me. It was my vision and my responsibility to ensure that it worked as intended. Since then, I’ve been involved in every aspect of our product design: When something doesn’t make sense to me, I have found that it usually doesn’t make sense to users either. We still make mistakes but now I own our mistakes.

2. Get advice

After I raised my first round of financing, I could afford to hire my own team. Since I wasn’t sure how to build a development team, I focused on hiring one person to lead it and let him recruit everyone else. The problem was, how would I know I had the right person to lead? Within a few months, we had a team of four. Development seemed slow and our live site was littered with bugs. Our team didn’t seem driven; they all finished work each day at 5:30. I remember watching “The Social Network” and admiring the passion and intelligence of the group of young engineers. My team didn’t look like that.

Then, at a start-up conference, I spotted Lars Rasmussen, the well known engineer who created Google Maps. I bowled up to him and sold him the Posse story. I outlined my challenges as a non-technical founder and asked for help. Within a week, he’d interviewed our team, reviewed our processes and introduced me to a lead engineer at Google who later joined as our chief technology officer. Lars joined our board, invested in the company and has since played a pivotal role in recruiting our engineers and overseeing product design. And with Lars involved, investors stopped asking me to find a technical co-founder.

3. Focus on design

One of the hardest parts of building a product is getting the user experience right, and I’ve learned that the only thing harder than finding the right head of engineering is finding the right lead designer. We’ve been through three. I know that I’m sometimes guilty of being a control freak, and I have often found myself micromanaging the lead designer: “Shouldn’t this be larger?” Or, “Why aren’t the action buttons the same color?” It’s frustrating for everyone, including me.

Our current senior designer, Anna, joined our team as an intern. She was so talented that I immediately hired her full-time, and within five months, she had replaced our lead designer. Every day she delights me with her creativity and ability, and I no longer feel the need to micromanage. I know her ideas are better than mine. I trust her.

4. Set non-negotiable deadlines

It’s an unwritten law of nature that development always takes longer than predicted. Because I’m a non-techie boss, my engineers know that I don’t understand how much time they will need to complete a task, a deficiency that I’m sure they sometimes exploit and that I find incredibly frustrating.

I’ve learned that team motivation is the prime determinant of development speed. I’ve also discovered that nothing is more motivating than a high profile, non-negotiable deadline. Engineers are excited and nervous when they know that crowds of people will see and use their work at a big event, on a specific date. Our team performed brilliantly in the month leading up to our launch at the South by Southwest festival; they worked day and night. Now I look for major events that we can all work toward every three months. It’s a great way to keep everyone pointing in the same direction and working fast.

5. Don’t be afraid to scrap mistakes

Our team always has lots of great ideas, and it’s impossible to know which ones will help Posse take off. I often get excited and press to build new features before we’ve completed and tested our current priorities. In our team, there are developers whose instinct is to press on, working quickly, trying different options and selecting the best — and there are others who believe in finishing each task to a high level of quality. I don’t think there is one right answer; good start-up development is always a balance of speed, testing, and quality. I have learned to focus on the most important things first and to test everything. And I’m not afraid to scrap a feature or redesign a process if it proves unsatisfactory.

When I speak to other founders, even the most successful ones say that the hardest part of their start-up journey was building the right product. Great platforms like AirBNB or Twitter make providing a seamless user experience look easy. But I try to remember that these companies spent years developing before they took off. I’m pretty sure their early iterations weren’t so wonderful.

Above all, my advice is to find one golden technical adviser who can give you advice. For me, that was Lars. If he hadn’t come on board, we wouldn’t exist.

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‘If an injury is to be done to a man, it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.’ — Niccolo Machiavelli

I like to think of myself as, well, nice. But two years ago the fallout from a battle I had with a board director almost killed my company, and the experience transformed how I perceive myself in relation to others. I concluded that the need to be nice had limited my progress in business.

Back in school, I was the good girl who enjoyed her role as teacher’s favorite. When I started my first business in 2001, I acted in much the same way: Little Miss Perfect who worked hard to ensure that clients, colleagues and partners all liked her. I thrived on positive feedback and placed everyone’s interests ahead of my own. I suspect that this need for praise and harmony is more prevalent in women; it feels like the way my instincts are wired. I have seen lots of men in business, some of whom mentor me, take a different approach. It sometimes seems as if they will stop at nothing to win, almost regardless of whom they may hurt in the process. When I have been inclined to back off and avoid a confrontation, my mentors have been ready to fight it out all the way to court. To me, that style of doing business seemed the stuff of TV fantasy, like an episode of “House of Cards.” But I could never be like that.

Then, in 2012, my start-up, Posse, got into trouble. I had raised a round of funding a year earlier but made a couple of hiring mistakes, and our product hadn’t taken off the way we had hoped. In a few months, I knew we would run out of money. Our board consisted of a few directors who were not all that engaged, and one who represented a group of shareholders and took his responsibility seriously. This director could see the likelihood that the company would fail soon. Perhaps he wanted to make sure no one would blame him when it did, but whatever the reason, he turned on me. As the shareholders’ representative, he held the right to veto pretty much everything – capital raising, expenditures, important hires. Rather than work with me, he tried to discredit me with the other directors and the shareholders.

Impending failure brings out the best and the worst in people; in my case, it brought out a part of me I never knew existed. I was so riddled with stress I remember one night when I found myself curled up in the fetal position in bed, sweating, unable to sleep and so exhausted I couldn’t get up either. I was fearful that I would lose other people’s money, and I was confused about why the director was being so mean. Why didn’t he like me? Couldn’t he see I was trying my best? I felt ill and an hour later found myself with my head over the toilet bowl. That night, the world of Miss Nice ended. The moment I hit rock bottom, another emotion started to bubble beneath the surface: anger. I had never experienced this before, and it was exactly what I needed. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but I could sense my anger growing into resolve; I would do whatever it took to save the business.

I called a mentor and explained my situation. He asked me whether I had heard of the Golden Rule. I replied that I had not. He said, “In business, the Golden Rule is, the person with the gold makes the rules.” He advised me to focus my energy on raising capital, and then I could dictate what happened next. He also suggested that I read “The Prince” by Machiavelli. I booked a flight to Silicon Valley. When the director vetoed both the budget for the trip and the use of my time, I used my airline points and took vacation leave. I was incredibly lucky, because on my first day there I met Bill Tai, an angel investor famous for having backed Twitter, Yammer and many other companies.

I told him of our first attempt to build Posse — what had worked, what hadn’t, and our plan for the future — and he liked the story. We hit it off, and he agreed to invest on the spot. He introduced me to some of his investor friends and within a week I had raised close to $1 million. When it came to negotiating the term sheet with the new investor group, I explained my hostile board situation. We discussed the board makeup that would give Posse the best chance of succeeding, and the new investors concluded that it shouldn’t include any of the existing members. They also saw the risk in giving one shareholder representative veto power over company decisions, so their term sheet included conditions that it be removed and a new board appointed.

I flew home and, term sheet in hand, called a board meeting. We were three months from running out of cash; I’d raised a million dollars but accepting the offer meant that the director and his shareholder group would lose their veto rights and the entire board would step down. Directors, of course, have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of shareholders. The group didn’t like my deal but couldn’t let the company run out of money either. I considered retaining the board members and trying to keep everyone happy. I wanted the director to see the error of his ways and like me again for saving the company. But I chose a path that left some people upset and perhaps a bit embarrassed.

I knew that to protect the business I had to make sure the director would never be in a position of power again. It was a tense meeting. But it worked. The directors accepted the terms, and something changed in me. I remember walking out feeling like a different person. I had sacked my board, and they were angry — but I didn’t care. Had I become one of the ruthless Machiavellian businesspeople you read about? Had the friendly person I’d known myself to be vanished forever? Two years on, I recognize that the experience transformed the way I see myself. I can see how the constant need to be nice meant putting everyone else’s interests before my own. What mattered was my own integrity — knowing that I am investing every available ounce of energy into doing the right thing by the business. I can sleep at night no matter what happens, which is more important than being liked.

Today, I am eternally grateful to my difficult director for provoking this experience. I’m sure I’ll be more successful because of it.

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