How Can You Become a 10xer?

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Many people say they want to be a 10xer, but very few people know how to become one. 

This post outlines how you can become a 10xer in your own organization and how you can identify other star employees in any business. 

What is a 10xer? 

A 10xer is someone who brings 10 times the value to their company as compared to their peers. 

They impact the business almost immediately. The organization is improved in a matter of weeks, and their peers notice very quickly that they’ve found someone special. 

Here are the 4 things you can do to become a 10xer:

1. See opportunities where others only see threats. 

The ability to understand and analyze threats to a business is important. This is especially true if it’s a large, established multi-billion dollar business that needs to focus on protecting its downside. 

Companies have entire teams focused on identifying and neutralizing potential threats. Sometimes this is necessary, but oftentimes it’s not. Many threats are not as severe as they initially seem. And if a business spends all its focus on threats, it will no longer innovate and no longer grow.

If you want to be a 10xer, you need to be the one discovering massive opportunities for growth. And the younger the business, the more time should be spent on growth vs. threats. 

This is hard because the threats are real. They are important. They could really hurt the company. And the big threats should definitely be tackled head-on. But not every threat needs to be addressed. And even those that do need to be addressed don’t need to be addressed fully.

It takes experience to discern which threats are important to mitigate and which threats are less severe. Employees with large company experience are often in “threat-mode” more than they should be. This gives you a potential advantage. 

Smart employees at start-ups often spend over 80% of their time on threats and less than 10% on opportunities. But the 10xers spend over 50% on opportunities.

That’s how you can start to become a 10xer; spend more time on finding opportunities than you do identifying threats. 

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How To Write a Great Cold Email That Will Actually Get a Response

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One of the best-kept secrets in the start-up world is that you can access almost anyone you want to with a great cold email. Well, almost anyone… see more below.   

CEOs are remarkably accessible and easy to reach. 

Most CEOs and VCs personally read every well-formed email they get, even if they don’t know the sender. This means that if you send a great cold email to your favorite CEO, chances are it will get read.

If you don’t know the CEO’s email address, it’s easy to guess. The email address of 90% of company executives follows the company’s normal email convention. If you wanted to guess the CEO of Apple’s email address, for example, you could start with [first initial]lastname@apple.com and iterate from there. 

When I was in college in the 1990s, I would send cold emails to people like Steve Jobs, then the CEO of NeXT, and Steve Ballmer (then #2 at Microsoft). Both of them would reply within hours… to a college student. And if you’re wondering, yes, I would usually send them from my berkeley.edu email address at 3 am while in the computer lab waiting for a program to compile.

But just guessing someone’s email address does not make your email worth sending. 

If you want to start a meaningful conversation with the person you’re trying to reach, you need to write a great cold email. 

There are three things you need to do to write a great cold email:

  1. Personalize and send it to the right person. 
  2. Emphasize how responding will benefit the reader. 
  3. Make it short and clear. 

That’s it. That’s all you need to do. 


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How To Find A-Players In A Downturn

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I recently wrote about why hiring is harder in a recession than it is during an economic expansion. But, just because it’s hard (it is always hard) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You should always be looking for A-Players to bring onto your team.

Hiring obvious A-Players is really hard because everyone else knows they are obvious and they will be extremely sought over (and very expensive). That doesn’t change in a recession. 

So, if you want to find the A-Players that are available, you can’t look for the obvious ones. You have to find the diamonds in the rough who don’t look like precious stones.

To find A-Players in a downturn, look for people that other people in Silicon Valley would discriminate against.

You want to find people that were passed over by other tech companies for reasons other than their talent and give them a chance. 

You can start with women and minorities. They are still very much discriminated against. Of course, few people in Silicon Valley will outwardly state that they want to discriminate against women and minorities.  And many companies even have active programs to reach out to them. You might not have an advantage in landing female and minority A-Players because there are a lot of other companies competing for this talent pool.

In addition to women and under-represented minorities, there are a lot of other categories of people who are actively discriminated against in Silicon Valley including:

  • Boomer generation (people born 1946-1964)
  • People that went to third-tier universities
  • Religious people (even slightly religious people)
  • People who are politically conservative
  • People with thick accents
  • People who are overweight
  • People who smoke cigarettes
  • People who are socially awkward

Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories.

Hire people over 55. 

Tech companies tend to be extremely biased against people with grey hair. This is especially true of older people who are seen as “past their prime” or recently part of a company that crashed and burned. It is extremely rare for a tech company to hire an individual contributor that is over 45.  And this trend is likely more pronounced during an economic downturn. 

There are plenty of people who, in 2008, ended up taking the Director-level job at Digg instead of at Facebook (even though they had job offers at both).  The ones who went to Digg are seen as past their prime and the ones that went to Facebook are living on their own private island and serving on the boards of directors of hot start-ups.  Just because the person made a wrong financial choice 12 years ago does not mean they cannot add immensely to your company.

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Is it ethical for tech start-ups to take a CARES PPP loan?

There is a lot of debate about whether it is ethical for technology companies to take a CARES PPP loan. There are a lot of good arguments on both sides.

There are a lot of venture-backed start-ups that have over 12-months cash in the bank. The question is whether is it ethical for them to take this government money. The argument is that there is a limited pool of cash and that many local businesses are struggling and need the cash more than venture-backed start-ups.

This is a very complex ethical dilemma.

Before we get into that exactly … let’s dive first into the question of whether it is ethical to take government money at all if there is someone more needy than you.

One example is QSBS tax credit. That is a significant tax rebate that is given to investors who invest in a qualified small business (including most venture-backed businesses). It is an extremely generous credit and most of the people who take advantage of it are very rich people. Is it ethical for these people to take advantage of the QSBS tax credit?

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5 Reasons Why Hiring in a Recession Is Harder Than You Think

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Hiring is always hard. And if you want to hire someone that is super talented, hiring is always really, really hard. And the stakes are high because the employees are the lifeblood of the business. They are what allows the business to compete. To improve. To grow. 

Some people think that hiring and recruiting in a recession is easier than during an economic boom. But it might actually be harder. 

Here are 5 reasons why hiring in a recession is harder than you think: 

1. A-Players are harder to find because there are more C-Players looking for jobs.

While every employee is vulnerable in a downturn, companies usually let go of their C-Players to save money.   

C-Players are the least-productive employees at the company and companies generally let them go in the first round of lay-offs.

A-Players – those employees who are 5-10x more effective than the average employee – are rarely let go during a recession. They are the company’s best employees. Management should be willing to do anything to keep them around (and if a company does lay-off their A-Players, it has made a huge error and will not thrive in the recession).  

So, with a mass exodus of C-Players from employment and about the same number of A-Players available, the talent pool gets diluted. You are going to get a lot more C-Player resumes in proportion to A-Players than you would during an economic expansion. This makes it harder to identify and hire the A-Players that are available. 

The noise goes up but the quality stays the same. 

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There’s no good way to lay-off employees in a recession, but some ways are better than others.

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A recession forces almost every business to make difficult decisions. 

Whether it’s cutting back on discretionary expenses, finding a smaller office space to work out of, or (worse case) letting go of freelancers and employees, companies must do whatever they can to survive. 

SafeGraph is in a fortunate position entering this recession (we are still hiring and were profitable in 2019). So we will not have to go through the grueling pain of letting our colleagues go (but I have been there before in past companies). However, many of the 100+ of the companies I am an investor in had to do layoffs in the last month and I wrote this piece for them.  

There is no good way to lay-off employees during an economic downturn. But some ways are better than others. 

Here are some rules and tips for those companies falling on hard times during a recession…

Never, ever, lay off your A-Players.

This may seem obvious (why would any company ask its best people to leave?), but countless companies tell their highest performing people to go. This is really, really bad.  

If a company lays off just a few A-Players, first, it loses all of their contributions. Great employees are great because they bring a lot more value than average employees. 

But there are second-order consequences too. The remaining high performers will become fearful for their job when they see A-Players let go and will start looking for work. And once your high performers are looking for jobs, they are not going to be focused on helping the company. 

A company that is experiencing hard times and distress needs all its amazing people focused on making the company better. Never lay off your A-players.

And even if your A-Players are in an area of the company that you need to lay-off (like maybe you need to cut your restaurant marketing team), keep the A-Player and move them to another team to make a contribution. 

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Here’s How Your Start-Up Can Not Only Survive the Recession But Actually Come Out Stronger

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It is April of 2020 and we’re entering a significant recession.  As they say, winter is here. 🥶

While each downturn is different, there are common ideas and practices that have been proven to work from one recession to the next. 

Here are some of my thoughts from a geezer that has scars from the crashes of 2000 and 2008.  Some of these are obvious and some are non-obvious but hopefully, they will help you manage your business successfully and grow while others merely try to survive. 

Get the CFO on your side.

The CFO has much more power in downturns than you think — do everything you can to get her on your side.  If you are selling to a company, see if you can sell to the CFO. 💸

If your product can save the company money, they are going to be much more interested in using your services. In a recession, finding cost savings becomes very attractive. If the CFO is your advocate based on the numbers, you are going to have a much easier time selling.  🤑

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For example, open-source solutions (starting with LINUX) really took off following the dot-com crash. This is because companies realized that they could replace super-expensive SUN boxes with cheaper (yet still powerful) LINUX units. Many for-profit companies benefited from this trend.

If you are a SaaS company, prioritize customers that are doing what you are doing in-house.  Often you can find companies that are paying over $1 million dollars a year to do what your software does for $60k.  And yes, your software might only do 80% of what their in-house solution does… but is that extra 20% really worth $900k+/year? Probably not. 

This is also true in the B2C world — in downturns consumers look to save money. Groupon was the breakout company of 2009 because they rallied around saving groups of people money. Sometimes capital constraints can spur innovation. 

If you can find a way to save your clients’ money and get CFOs on your side, you can grow your business during a recession. 

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The Ultimate Guide to Moderating a Virtual Discussion

How to successfully have a great online video discussion.

Lessons From McLennan Community College's Virtual Educator - Zoom Blog

I have hosted hundreds of one-conversation dinner parties over the years.   

Moderating a great discussion by video has a lot of similarities to moderating a great dinner party but there are a few key differences.  

Quiet is golden

When hosting a great dinner party, you want to make sure you are in a quiet room so everyone can hear each other.

When hosting a virtual discussion, sound quality is also very important.  You want to have a discussion with the microphone on for all participants. The conversation will be much more organic if no one needs to be on mute.  That means all the participants need to be in a quiet place or have a very good headset.  

The Best Gaming Headsets for 2020 | Reviews by Wirecutter

Best discussions are 5-12 people where they can all see each other

The best discussions have 5-12 people.  The more the people, the better the skills needed for the moderator.  

Everyone should see everyone in the discussion so it is important that you view people in “grid view” (rather than speaker view).  Another nice feature of video chat is that they usually can put the people’s names on the screen (analogous to having nameplates for good dinner discussions).

How to do online Introductions

Usually when getting people together that do not all know one another, you go around the table and everyone quickly introduces themselves.  This is a good idea for virtual meetings too but it requires more moderation as it is not clear who is next. The moderator needs to jump in (“thank you Bill.  Susan: you’re up”).

Norms for discussions are important

Just like a great dinner party, you need everyone to show up on time and be engaged and present.  For virtual discussions, everyone needs to be present and not checking Twitter or another screen while the discussion is going on.  

A good moderator needs to enforce these norms and call people out that might be straying or looking less engaged.

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Silicon Valley Meets the New Proponents of the 10th Amendment

The newest threat to innovation in the U.S. is the increasingly local technology regulations.  Small start-ups are increasingly have to work with dozens (and often hundreds) of regulators — and that means they will have to raise much more capital and slow their offerings to market.

It is now the fashion for individual states (and often counties and cities) to each institute their own and wildly different types of regulation on technology companies. The immense technology giants have the resources to deal with regulatory minutiae (in fact, they welcome the complex regulations because it further entrenches their power).  

It is not regulation, per se, that hurts innovation.  It is competing (and often contradictory regulation) that impedes regulation.  

Historically, most technology has traditionally been regulated at a federal level. 

But many markets outside of technology (from auto sales to car insurance) have been regulated by states … and some even by cities (think of zoning laws, rent controls, sales tax, and more).  

For instance, markets like insurance have traditionally been regulated at the state level; those 50 insurance regulators make innovation very difficult because firms essentially have to create 50 different products — one for each state. In addition, insurance firms have to spend a large part of their time lobbying legislatures and worrying about upcoming elections that could be a systemic risk to their business. The productivity growth for insurance therefore is much lower than one would expect with software. 

The same is true for cable companies, which were regulated at the city level and have to operate in thousands of different jurisdictions (some overlapping) within the U.S. This makes serving customers very difficult and is one of the reasons cable companies have had historically low customer satisfaction and low Net Promoter Scores. 

Another thing that comes with regulation is corruption — especially at the state and local level.  Many cities and states have endemic corruption problems because so much is riding on creating a law that benefits one company (or industry) over another.  That type of corruption is much less likely at a federal level because the stakes are bigger and thus is much more scrutinized. 

The internet is a fresh landscape where productivity growth is accelerating — partially due to the fact that most of the regulations have been federal. The tempo attracts smarter people who want to work on harder problems and not be curtailed by bureaucracy.

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Why Specific Positive Feedback is So Important.

Not all feedback is created equally.

There are two kinds of good feedback: constructive feedback & specific positive feedback. 

“Constructive feedback” occurs when you give someone feedback on how to improve on the work they’ve done. 

For example, if you’re taking a golf lesson and your instructor suggests you shift your weight a little to the left to improve your form, this is constructive feedback. 

It’s specific, targeted, timely, and helps millions of people every day. It helps to get rid of non-productive habits in favor of productive ones.

Constructive feedback (for good reason) has been the practice of choice for many great managers, coaches, parents, friends, and leaders.

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“Specific positive feedback” occurs when you explain to someone what they did well. 

Most people think this type of feedback is a pat on the back and a “great job.” But it’s more than that. It’s dissecting the WHY and HOW behind someone’s good work. 

Giving specific positive feedback is hard because you generally have to spend a lot of time with them or see many variations of their work to catch what they did well. 

For example, you might have to watch someone take 100 golf swings before they shift their weight correctly and you can point out what a great swing they had and why (even if it was by accident). 

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The New Status Game for Companies: Fewer Employees

Bezos believes that you should be able to feed your team with just two pizzas

Crazy thought experiment: Imagine a new type of company that decided to only do what it was really good at and essentially outsourced everything else.

Because revenues of private companies tend to be secret, most venture-backed companies have historically bragged about how many employees they have.  A CEO will say: “we went from 100 to 200 employees last year” as if fast employee growth is always a good thing.

But this is changing: there is a new status game brewing between companies concerning who has the fewest number of employees, centered around who is engineering greater amounts output with less staff. Indeed, the freedom to iterate quickly is status. More resources along with lower headcount means that they can dominate new markets. This is because they are tripling down on their strengths.

In the future, those who achieve the greatest results with the least number of employees will be admired above all others; the key statistic to look at is the go-forward net revenues per employee because it best encompasses the company’s leverage. What matters is each employee’s productivity and how the business itself can scale?  

This statistic doesn’t just ring true for the technology space, rather any business should be aiming to maximize that metric. By doing so, every employee feels and acts like Warren Buffet; they’re investing their capital (time and skill) into the company. Every good CEO should be spending time trying to increase their employees’ productivity, which is the strongest form of leverage the company retains.

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Exit Transparency (on SafeGraph blog)

Over at SafeGraph, I write about why “Exit Transparency” is so important for companies and employees.

Since publishing yesterday, I got a ton of inbound from other CEOs and founders talking about what they do and also asking about how we do things at SafeGraph. We still have a ways to go at SafeGraph to be great at Exit Transparency (it is very aspirational) but we have made a lot of strides to be better at it.

Exit Transparency is about starting employment with the end in mind. When the employee eventually leaves the company (as all employees eventually do), what do they want to achieve and how to they want to grow.

More at: https://www.safegraph.com/blog/why-exit-transparency-can-make-companies-stronger