(Find Keith on LinkedIn)
I am a founder and US Partner at ADV (http://accelerated.ventures) – a UK Venture Company. I was born and raised in the UK and have lived in Palo Alto since 1997 with my wife Gené and our 3 boys.
Previously I was founder and a partner at Archimedes Labs (http://archimedeslabs.com) in Palo Alto, California.
I have worked with Governments, including China and the US, Investors, boards, partners, customers; advertisers and their agencies, bankers; membership based organizations and Institutions and ecosystem stakeholders. I have served on many boards. I have managed small teams of 2 or 3 and larger teams of over 300.
I have founded or co-founded many companies myself since the early 1980s. Some were successfully sold, others IPO’d and of course some failed.
Two of my companies were Unicorns – valued by others at more than $1 billion (EasyNet and RealNames).
I have always focused on the point at which change is happening. In the 1980’s networking and databases (cScape). In the 1994-1998 period, Internet Access (EasyNet and Cyberia). From 1998-2010 – Web Services and Content (RealNames and TechCrunch), Mobile Consumer Applications (chat.center and Archimedes Labs).
Above all else, I have been privileged to work with great people whilst doing what I love – making change a positive experience.
All startups have to go through a “second birth”, from founder-oriented to process-oriented after receiving the first funding round, and it’s no news that most founding teams gets replaced with new management chosen by their VCs. What are the key skills both a founder and the company must develop to thrive and survive the growth-stage?
Founder “survival” should not be a goal. That said, it is quite rare for an investor to seek the removal of a founder. Most hired managers are significantly more risky than a motivated founder.
As a founder many times, they key skill one needs to survive is to be able to lead the organization in discovering and executing against the next phase of the organizations life. Another way of saying it is to stay relevant as the terrain around you changes.
Startups are very challenging through all stages. No single skill is sufficient to be a good leader. Technical skills, product skills, story telling skills, management skills and many others are required. Above all, building and motivating a team is a key skill.
Leadership is a unique thing, different to management or execution. A great leader will build great management and execution without ever stopping being a leader.
How do you retain and grow your top performers? Just equity and financial incentives, or other aspects like culture, respect, emotional incentives?
Belief is the only thing that binds top performers to a mission and vision. Belief comes from two sources, a compelling vision and great execution. No amount of salary or equity can compensate for the absence of those two.
What are the biggest tension points you have with the top performers? Things like compensation? Disagreement on roles and tasks? Others?
A top performing manager will always challenge everything insofar as the strategy or tactics are incomplete or imperfect. That means always. In that sense tension is a constant, and a requirement of being a top performer. The absence of tension is akin to passivity or lack of leadership. Most great CEOs want top performers who contribute to thinking as well as execution. That implies tension.
It’s no news starting a company is an emotionally intense process. Rejection. Stress. Burnout. Conflicts. What techniques do you use to manage yourself and keep high output with a long-term view?
The key is to have a very clear view of the “end game” one is striving towards, and a constant re-appraisal of how to get there. If one does that then the short term challenges are all learning experiences that are part of figuring it out. So it is clarity of thought and a belief that the end game is achievable, combined with very rapid learning from the market and the ability to adjust the journey based upon that. If you do that then you wake up every day looking forward to what comes.
What makes a good board member to you? What are some common pitfalls board members make and what are some attitudes that make them valuable assets to you?
A good board member is really a combination of a coach, a parent, a headmaster and a friend. The journey is never in a straight line, and so at every moment there is a need to digest and iterate. There are both logical and emotional elements to that and a good Board member understands that.
Common mistakes are across a spectrum. Some board members are very hands off and simply monitor. Others are too hands on and try to own strategy or tactics. The key is to empower and enable leadership.
Key Lessons from Keith
- As a board member, combine the logical and emotional. A good board member is not only an advisor, but a mentor, a “big brother”. In order to optimize the feedback you give founders, strike the balance between hands-off and hands-on and combine the logical with the emotional component;
- As a founder, leading and keeping the organization is the top trait. There are many skills a founder can have – product, coding, market analysis, operational – but at the end of the day, all of these can be delegated or complemented. What can’t is the capability to lead and keep a motivated team;