Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Food as a perk - or a practicality

Fascinating scuttlebutt on Google today - Google says no more dinners. In the valley Google has long been known as a place to go and eat. In the main buildings, like Silicon Graphics before it, the halls are filled with toys, free food and drinks, everything a hardworking engineer could want to keep him/her at work. And the meals are undeniably good. [ -- although having spent a lot of time there visiting customers when it was SGI I always get a shiver of a ghost when I am in the main buildings.]

So I can imagine that if Google has said they are no longer providing dinner for anyone except the engineers that would cause a rumbling of complaint. Seems like an odd decision to me to only feed one group so maybe it's just rumor and not fact, but it begs the question does it make business sense to feed your employees at night?

I think it does if you have projects you need everyone to work on. Imagine you have an R&D project that needs to get done in less time than you have. As the employer you ask the team to work long hours to get it done, and that means working into the evening. If you don't provide dinner the employees have to go out to eat (you can't code on an empty stomach) and it's hard at night to make that take less than an hour. Plus you'll lose some percentage because they'll go home to eat and not come back.

It's better for everyone if you just provide a healthy meal so the team can stay focused. At Simplex we offered dinner every night M-Th, with sign up, and we routinely had 20+ people staying. We were developing very complex algorithms and a great deal of code, and the team liked to work into the evening to break the back of problems. Dinner was essential to keep momentum going.

But before you start any perk like that you have to think through how you are going to take it away if you need to. So it's important it is a benefit tied to goals, not an entitlement. The challenge Google has is the combination of an entitlement culture combined with a very young employee base who don't know the norms - that Google will eventually revert back to.

We sometimes provide dinner in our sales office in New York on evenings when we are calling customers - 5-7pm is a great window to get people on the phone. However, there is little risk it will become an entitlement there - the food is just too good a stone's throw from the office.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hedgehogging

Have you ever been curious about the world of the professional investors, particularly hedge fund managers, and wanted to read a book to explain it to you - that - most importantly - did not put you to sleep?

If so then read Hedgehogging by Barton Biggs. It's a compelling read, excellent summer beach reading material that through anecdotes and straightforward explanations gives you a voyeurs sense of the high pressure life of the people who run money.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What sales needs to do

As my regular readers will have figured out by now, we hold a sales "kickoff" at the beginning of every quarter. It's a pretty standard agenda:

- how the last quarter went - good and bad - by rep
- what the targets are for the new quarter
- guest speaker - someone inspiring - this time Keith McCullough from Research Edge
- what's coming from the product and marketing in the next 90 days
- sales process review and training
- celebrate!

This quarter I took the opportunity to talk with the team on how we are going to get to the next level of growth. Our client count is climbing well, we've got a trained team, and now it's all about focus and top line growth. So I talked about three areas that seemed profound to me when I was preparing, but once the words were coming out of my mouth I realized how basic and universal they are.

For a sales people to beat quota (which is, after all, where the money is) s/he really has to do three things very well.

1. Know the product really well. Work with it, know it to a level where you can demo it, configure it and engage customers in the information you are finding. Understand what it means to systematically use the web for investment research.

2. Know your customers really well. Understand their business, their challenges, their every day tasks. Study them and their market - understand their internal politics and how they make decisions - understand the nuances in research needs between CFO and CMO, between a value-based hedge fund and a long-only investment advisor.

3. Work hard in a disciplined sales process. Use the systems and tools, aggressively build pipeline to 3X your quarterly quota. Bottom line: sales success comes from discipline and hard work not luck.

.... so my message was discipline and focus in each of the three areas.

The sales team was pumped up after kickoff this time - although I don't think it was anything I said! I think it was excitement about the new product releases over the next 60 days which will make the service even more compelling and useful to our customers.

Monday, August 11, 2008

ARS Fraud?!

Back on line after a much needed week in Maui...

I wrote about the risk and impact of auction rate securities back in February and how young VC backed firms who had put their precious cash into ARS were suffering. By March Merrill, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley were being sued.

Now finally the SEC is getting involved and has "issued a formal order of investigation into whether various provisions of the federal securities laws have been violated over the sale of ARSs" and is responding to various subpoenas from state agencies.

Small comfort to the companies who faced a liquidity crunch as a result of listening to an ARS pitch.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The FirstRain Amazing Aquabike Team!

Saturday August 2 was the big day of the Vineman Aquabike and our team was ready.

The day started out well. A cool morning down on the beach and most of us were there to see T1 and Valerie off on the swim for the full distance (2.4 miles). There was steam coming off the river and some smoking fast swimmers. Then the rest of us went off to the gun for the half distance at 8:10am. The water was perfect, not too cold, sweet and narrow so you couldn't get lost.

Leaving the water we all jogged up to the changing area, quickly changed into our riding clothes (all at different times because some were much faster in the water than others, and some changing more modestly than others!), handed our bags off to our noisy, cheering supporting crew, ran our bikes up the short hill and took off on the rise (56 miles for the halves, 112 miles for the full).

The ride was hilly and very beautiful. Mostly vineyards, in and out of shade, up and down short hills except for two long hauls, one shallow and one steep (the infamous Chalk Hill), and for one 5 miles stretch a serious, hot headwind. There were 3 rest stops on the way at miles 18, 29 and 40 with water, Gatorade, bananas and clif bars and the FirstRain support team were positioned along the route with noisy cowbells and networked together by cell so they could keep track of everyone's progress, including YY who was stationed on Chalk Hill to encourage everyone to stay in and finish. And it was over 95 degrees by noon so it got Hot.

All but two of the team finished which was a fantastic achievement. Dave came in first at 4:06 which was great to see given that he had trained so seriously. Valerie was a superstar and finished the full ironman distance - Ana and I stayed to cheer her in to the finish and were suitably impressed.


But nothing is ever simple. I was tracked down for a phone call at mile 40 because my son had been taken to hospital with dehydration. He just needed an IV, although the team members who stopped with me and I lost considerable time there getting him authorized in over the phone. My head was definitely not in the race after that, but we decided to push on and finish, which we did, and he's fine now and learned a hard lesson about needing to drink water in the heat.

Finally we all met for dinner with spouses, friends and the support team for a raucous, carb intensive dinner in a local restaurant. YY had decided on the award recipients, cheesy titles like the "least modest transition" and "queen of the mountain" but also "superstar" and "speed racer" for our fastest members and everyone got a statuette of one kind or another.

All in all it was a fantastic experience for everyone involved. And I raised over $10,000 for CCPY - thank you to everyone who sponsored me and thank you to the 5 kids who came up to encourage me to finish. I told them if I could finish that race then they can finish high school.

I am so proud of the FirstRain team for doing the race and taking on a challenge none of us would have thought possible a year ago. Congratulations!!!




Eugene - a fearless competitor preparing for the swim

T2 transitioning from swim to bike and handing his bag to the support crew

Dave (our winner) on Chalk Hill - looking good....
Me, Valerie (center) and Ana after cheering Valerie through the finish line

The competitors at our awards dinner in a local restaurant

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