Horowitz

Executive Teams: Structure and Strategy for Success

Earlier today, I tweeted about the new $650m investment fund established by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz.

Now, for those of you who read me regularly, you'll know that I'm a fan of both Andreessen and Horowitz (which makes it convenient that they keep starting up firms together).  From Netscape (sold to AOL) to Opsware (sold to HP) to Ning, these guys just keep doing wondrous things in the technology space.

More recently, they started actively investing by establishing their own firm, the eponymous Andreessen Horowitz (aka, a16z).  (You also want to read their blog - because it's great.)  At first, they had a $300m fund.  Now they've got the new fund.

They're also really, really clear about what they are and are not going to invest in - from which technologies (which isn't surprising) to where (which is).  Their decision is to keep it local.  No China, no anywhere else.

What's even more interesting, though, is the way they structure their work with the firms in which they invest - and that's the actual purpose of this post.

Because they work as a team.  A real team.

Andreessen gives credit for this to one of their limited partners, Michael Ovitz, who built an entertainment empire with his Creative Artists Agency.  (He also got organizationally shafted by Michael Eisner at Disney when he was brought in as President of that company.)  And, yes, I'm a long-time fan of Mr. Ovitz, too.

(Do you see a trend here?  I am invariably a fan of people who do and create and expand.  That means you, too.)

The difference between the way a16z operates and other firms is that they get all their partners involved with the companies in which they invest.  They bring in all their brain power, expertise and support to help the entrepreneurs they trust (which is why they invest in them) to succeed.

Why this is different is because in most venture firms, the approach is segregated.  Each partner has his or her own area of specialization.  That partner, with that particular specialization, works with the companies and entrepreneurs in his or her particular space.

Moreover, if you look at the players - even within the venture firms - they compete with each other.  Big time.

These are incredibly competitive players who make little to no differentiation between their competition with other firms and their competition with their own firm's other partners.  After all, there's a lot to win - and the winnings are big in everything from money to reputation to name recognition on a large scale.

It is the venture equivalent of a standard organization chart.  Finance.  Operations.  Administration.  IT.  R&D.

You get my drift.  Separate.  Apart.

Seemingly with the same purpose - and, supposedly, all working together.

But, in fact, not.  Because we all know what the reality is - even at the executive level.  The competition is fierce and, in a larger organization than a venture firm, that competition and separation manifests and replicates itself at the lower levels of those same parts of the enterprise.

And that means a direct disconnect between the strategy of the enterprise and its execution.

So, senior executives, non-executive directors and investors, this is for you.

If you're a Chief Executive, start taking a different sort of look at your executive team.  A team-based look.  Be objective.  Analyze and assess.  Determine whether they are working your (for which read, the company's) agenda or their own.

Sure, they're going to have individual goals.  That's to be expected.  But the moment those goals start manifesting themselves in ways that work against your organization and their colleagues at the executive team level, you've got a problem.

The good news is, it's a problem you can fix.

If you're a member of an executive team, take a look at your own agenda and actions.  Look, also, at how your attitude - spoken or not - is reflected at the lower levels of your organization.  What are your people focusing on?  How are they being rewarded?  How are you making your decisions about who's good and who's not?

And, finally, if you're a Non-Executive Director or investor, do your job.  Look at how well the CEO is doing in ensuring that the organization is working as a concerted, aligned entity - all with the same goal, with everyone on the same side.  If you see something that doesn't fit, start asking questions.  See how the CEO responds.  If you have evidence (not just opinions) and the CEO still doesn't respond, then it's time to look at whether the CEO is the right person for the job.

Businesses of all sizes and in all sectors don't have time, money or opportunity to waste.  A lot of that waste starts at the top - simply because the "executive team" isn't working as a team, at all.

You can do something about it.  So, do it.  Now.

Skype for Business: It's About Time.

Periodically, I read about something an organization is doing - finally - and find myself thinking:  "Oh, for goodness sake.  What took them so long?  Everybody else has known this for years!"

That was immediately my thought on reading that Skype - the VOIP provider - is finally offering its services to businesses.

As if businesses - large and small worldwide - haven't been using the service for exactly that purpose.  For years.  For free - or nearly so.

Give me a break.

The only ones who didn't seem to realize the money-making potential - and cost savings being realized by businesses - was Skype, itself.

When eBay bought Skype in 2005 - paying $2.6 billion in cash and stock - the logic of the deal was e-commerce.  After all, eBay had its online auctions and PayPal.  Skype was going to be another piece of how that machine worked.

Only it didn't - and that's on eBay and its then CEO, Meg Whitman.  Because they forgot the most important lesson of all in M&A: You have to have a plan for how what you've bought is going to make you money.  Fast and sure.  Before you buy.

Even at that time - and even using the language "e-commerce" - it was clear that Skype had money-making, business potential.  Yet, throughout the time that eBay owned Skype, the thing that never happened - at least not in a structured, profitable way - was the build-up of paid business users of the service.

As a result, eBay ended up selling Skype to a private investment group four years later (which includes Andreessen Horowitz about which I wrote a few days ago) for $1.9 billion.

That group has taken the nearly 40% of Skype's business calls and figured out how to turn that into a business.

For goodness sake.  It's about time.

I'm glad that Skype is entering the fray of business communications providers.  The market exists and is growing.  And it will continue to grow - simultaneously because of decreased travel budgets and an increased human need for face-time even if in absentia in this oh-so-technological world.

So, good luck to Skype and bravo to its investors for getting them going in a good direction.  The win for those of us who are long-time - or even new - users will be the investment in improving their already user-friendly services even more than before.

This is a good news story.  A little late in the day (not least for the eBay investors who lost money on the deal) - but good news all the same.

From Training to Profits

When Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz teamed up to form the venture firm a16z, they gave everyone a bonus:  A blog.

Andreessen (the as good as child prodigy who created Netscape - then in his adolescence, LoudCloud...and he's still a baby) started up a blog that was a good read and fun.  It's called blog.pmarca.com.  Then he took a break.

When he came back again, there was a completely different strategy for that blog.  It was an entree to the blog of his partner, Ben Horowitz (another of those Netscape/LoudCloud prodigies).  That eponymous blog (ben's blog) is a different story altogether.

For whatever reason, Horowitz decided, along with being a venture capitalist, that he was going to become a teacher - and a great one he is.

Every one of his posts has valuable information on everything from strategy to structure to pitching your plan to anything you could possibly imagine (and far more) if you're entering into the world of entrepreneurialism.

But, whether he knows it or not, almost every single post of his applies just as much in one way or another to every size organization in every industry across sectors.  Countries, too.

This time, he takes on training - why it's important and how to ensure your training programs translate to profits.  Even though he's talking start-ups, his points apply to every training program to be considered.

For my part, and as you well know if you've read my writings over the years, the points that I agree with most are upfront in his piece:

  • Training provided by outside vendors/external consultants is, more often than not, underwhelming
  • This is because, at least in part, these external providers don't know - nor do they make the real effort to know - your organization and
  • The more that management is directly involved in the training program - the so-called "cascade" system - the greater the application, speed, ROI and profitability of the training provided.
Unless you get smart - really smart - about your training programs, you're wasting your employees' time and lots of money.  You're also killing morale, which means you're working from a deficit position when you bring in the next training program - no matter how good it is.  Your people will expect the worst - again.

So be smart and be directed.  Most important, be involved.  You'll see the benefits immediately.

Just like Ben says.
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For more information about how executives and managers can drive training to profits in your organization, check out The Executive Field Guides.