Pace, Tempo, Speed, and OODA loops

“Being wrong might hurt you a bit, but being slow will kill you.” – Jeff Bezos 

Last year I read a biography of former Air Force Colonel John Boyd.  Boyd was one of the most decorated fighter pilots of all time (he flew in the Korean War).  But he was most known for changing the way people thought about warfare — he pioneered the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) — which is essentially about how to move quickly.

He realized that even underpowered planes could beat much better equipped flying machines if they got to take more actions.  Maneuverability beat velocity.  But the deciding factor was the number of actions a pilot could take in a minute. The F16 was built as an intentionally underpowered plane (it is one of the slowest fighter planes) — but it is super easy to move, has great visibility for the pilot (just one pilot unlike the very bulky F14 that was in the Top Gun movie), and is very small.

Moving fast and the ability to react and keep moving and changing is what wins wars.  The Israelis embodied Boyd’s lessons in the Six Day War.  Tempo wins.

This idea of OODA loops and Actions Per Minute will be very familiar to video game fans (where pace intensely matters). 

The OODA loop is even more important in start-ups.  Being slow WILL kill you.  Pace is very important.  Again, tempo wins.

“Good things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, or John Snow (no one actually knows who originated this quote)

This is not to underestimate thinking strategically and planning.  The bigger the organization, the more important planning is.  Big companies can only do a very small number of things … so it is really important to pick the things that they do.  

Small companies’ only advantage is that they can move fast.  So they should never give up that advantage by over-planning.  Small companies ideally should know what their true north is (5 year goal) and have very fluid quarterly plans.  Hard plans beyond a quarter are almost certainly going to be wrong.

That does not mean that planning is useless for start-ups.  It isn’t.  And as start-ups get bigger, they need to plan more.  Overplanning is bad.  So is underplanning.  But if you have smart employees that are empowered and know the true north of the organization, underplanning is much preferred to overplanning.  

The only way you can be successful while underplanning is if your employees are empowered.  What happens in some start-ups is that they both underplan and the CEO insists s/he needs to review everything.  That is the worst of all worlds because the CEO becomes the gate to getting anything done because one person can only do so much.  If the CEO needs to make all big decisions, then you need to make fewer decisions (this is where planning is so important).

At SafeGraph, I try to deliberately make as few decisions as possible.  I deem it a failure if I need to make a decision … because that means we are moving slower in that area.  That does not mean I don’t make any decisions — I do.  But those are failures I hope to improve upon in the future.  

Additionally, you don’t want the management team making all the decisions.  For instance, your VP Engineering should not be making most of the engineering decisions.  The vast majority of engineering decisions should be made by the engineers (working with product and the other internal colleagues).  Same thing with every department in the company.  And again, that does not mean that the VP Engineering makes no decisions … but ideally she is only making decisions that only she can make.  

Pace, pace, pace.

Increasing tempo is hard because it means sometimes you have to trade-off doing things right for doing things fast.  It also means you need to trade-off features on things you don’t think are as important — and it is hard to make those trade-offs while moving lightning fast.

“I feel the need for speed” – Maverick

Four Character Traits That Will Matter Far Less In a Post-COVID World

Life coach Tony Robbins is tall, good-looking, and has a deep voice — these traits will matter less in a post-COVID world

Historically, a tall, good-looking extrovert has had a better chance of success in their career than a short, stocky introvert. But post Covid-19, that’s all going to change. 

In a world where more interactions are via video, rather than in-person, past successful character traits will be less impactful. The paradigm will shift. Your internet connection speed and camera quality will matter more than your physical attributes.

Here are some historical success-contributing traits that won’t matter nearly as much post-COVID as they did before:  

1. Height won’t matter so much.

In today’s world, being tall is a competitive advantage. It’s well-known that tall people make more money than their shorter counterparts. An additional inch of height is worth about $1,000 annually. Many studies have shown that tall people have an advantage in the dating world, too, and U.S. Presidents tend to be much taller than average

Take Tony Robbins, for example. He is 6′ 7″. There’s no question that his tall stature has contributed to his mega-success as a motivational speaker and life coach. He towers over his guests at his conferences, and his deep, booming voice commands respect and admiration. 

But in a world dominated by video calls and digital conferences, your height will matter much less than it has in the past. No one can tell how tall you are on a video call. Everyone is sitting down and generally at the eye-level of their computer’s camera. Height will no longer translate.

This change matters, especially when it comes to job interviews. Your average company’s interview process is not perfect—height and physicality matter in an in-person interview just as much a candidate’s experience and qualifications. But height won’t translate as well during a video call. The competitive advantage of being tall will disappear. 

Imagine seeing Tony Robbins for the first time via video. His physical stature would not be nearly as impressive as it is in person. 

In the future, tall people will have less of an advantage than they did in the past.  One of the big winners will be women (since women, on average, are shorter than men).  

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Company Culture Is How You Are Different, Not How You Are The Same

“Culture” is what makes a company look strange to others from the outside. It’s a combination of all the quirks, traditions, and personalities that make it unique. Ultimately, culture is defined by how your company is different from all the others, not how it’s the same. 

A company’s culture should be like an Indian wedding.

If you’re American and have never experienced an Indian wedding, it will seem very strange at first. They are colorful, elaborate celebrations that can last multiple days. From choreographed dances during the Sangeet (the pre-wedding party) to the groom riding in on a horse, to the bride’s vibrant-colored Sari (there’s no white dress), they can feel otherworldly. 

The traditions are so specific at an Indian wedding that you find out quickly whether you like or dislike the cultural experience (I love it). This isn’t a comment on whether Indian weddings are better or worse than other kinds of weddings – they are just unabashedly different. 

Company cultures should be like Indian weddings. They need to have key elements that make them distinctly different from other companies. 

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Here’s Why Economic Downturns Are Good For Innovators and Bad For Everyone Else

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All the way back in 2008, I wrote a piece about why economic downturns are good for innovators and bad for pretty much everyone else. 

As we face a recession in 2020 due to COVID-19, this is still true. The pressures of an economic slowdown actually benefit certain innovative companies that had trouble getting wide-spread adoption before the recession. 

Here’s an excerpt from my article from 2008, Recessions promote breakthrough innovations:

When the economy is booming, little pressure is put on expenses. Large organizations often penalized innovators…[and] companies are ok with spending more money on the same software, the same hardware, and the same advertising mix. 

But…economic downturns force companies to reevaluate how they spend money. Companies need to cut expenditures dramatically yet are expected to have the same level of service as when times were good. This forces firms to look for alternatives to what they are doing.

Revenue pressure forces large companies to get creative. And it’s those smaller companies that are already innovating or can pivot quickly that take advantage. This was true in the Great Recession of 2008 and will be true in the recession forming in 2020. The only difference is where the innovation is taking place. 

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5 Ways To Actually Improve Your Life & Your Work During Quarantine

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There are a lot of articles out there about self-improvement during the quarantine. These can be a bit exhausting to read. You’re probably not focused on growth if you have kids at home and are just trying to manage your life and job under the new COVID-19 world order.

But, there’s still value in attempting to take up some positive habits during this bizarre time. Even if they are just in the back of your mind, they could impact your behavior. 

So, here are a few ideas if you are interested in personal and professional growth during the lockdown: 

1. Watch less news. 

TV news is worse for you than cigarettes. It is designed to get people riled up and elicit extreme emotions to keep you glued to the channel. It is not designed to help to deliver or inform the news. It is all noise and no signal. 

All daily news is bad.

The U.S. networks that deliver daily news are all bad. CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, CNBC, ABC … and even things like the Daily Show … are terrible for you. Eliminate it all. These programs are designed to get you frustrated, angry, and emotional. Just like smartphones, they are created by brilliant people to keep you addicted to the network 24/7. 

If you watch 10 hours of TV news, you will learn almost nothing. It might mildly entertain you … but you can watch a great TV show (like Breaking Bad) for entertainment.

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TV: The Honourable Woman — great show if you stuck at home

If you are looking for a great mini-series to watch and you love political thrillers (which is my personal favorite genre), go no further than The Honourable Woman.

“The Honourable Woman” (which is spelled “The Honorable Woman” in the U.S. release) is a BBC mini-series starring the amazing Maggie Gyllenhaal (who is incredible in the show). Gyllenhaal plays a member of the British House of Lords who also happens to be the daughter of a famous Israeli arms dealer.

Intrigue and incredible twists and turns accompany every episode. There is a deep plot about the Mi6, CIA, Mossad, Hamas, and more. And, of course, no one is what they seem and everyone has a deep back-story.

In the U.S., you can buy the show on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, etc.

Summation: highly recommend the “The Honourable Woman” — especially if you like political thrillers. Rating: 5/5

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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