Rand Fishkin & Tropical Give Advice to Startup CEO’s

From Rand’s advice to CEO’s:

I’ve also found that personally, it’s easy to spot someone who’s just in the business for the money vs. those who really care and want something great for the industry. It might be the optimism speaking, but I feel that the latter group usually produces the brightest innovations (and eventually, profit, too).

The urge to make a snarky reply is unbearable… Tropical… must… resist… impulse to… scratch itch… hippy jokes… overloading…

Not every CEO needs this, but I’ve found that in a web-based market, having watched dozens of people navigate (or try to navigate) websites has given me an extra edge in empathizing with the user and trying to understand what they need.

No disagreement here. Increasing usability is often the easiest/fastest/bestest way to quickly juice a site’s revenue.

I’m great at telling people when they’ve done a good job, but awful at criticizing any effort. In order to overcome, I’ve started hiring only those folks who have a deep, internal need for perfectionism. If you are your own harshest critic, it helps me to work around this pervasive flaw.

My nickname around the office is “H8er”. I call it “my critical eye”. Rand, where do you find these people with a deep need for perfectionism? I, ahem, haven’t found this trait much in our generation.

It’s a dictatorship. When tough decisions come up, they’re my responsibility. I’ve noticed that even with little things, when we take a company vote, dissent and discomfort abound. If you want to run a company with a pseudo-democracy, take everyone’s opinion and input, then make the decision. You need to be able to take the blame when something goes awry, and bowing to internal pressure is no excuse.

I’m impressed. Is the “team building” and “consensus” fad over yet? Good. You’re CEO for a reason: you have a higher batting average at decision-making.

I can remember dozens of times when I felt like the world was crashing down around me - that I could barely hold up another day. I think all CEOs probably need to have those experiences a few times before they start to recognize that nothing is as bad as it seems, the sun’s coming up tomorrow and time heals more than you think it could. That employee who’s struggled the last few months may indeed turn things around. The client who hasn’t paid might just need a little extra contact. The product that’s not taking off yet could, with a few tiny fixes, soar.

If you’re living in a dumpster, working on a stolen laptop online with stolen wireless, you’ve been indicted for embezzlement, and you’re trying to get a new social networking site off the ground, then, I’m sorry to tell you, things are indeed as bad as they seem. Also: employees don’t generally “turn around”. Underperformers have no place in a company that’s not publically traded, so ditch them as soon as you know. :-)

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5 comments ↓

#1 randfish on 01.22.08 at 11:12 pm

Really fair criticisms, Andy, but deep down, I still think you’re an optimist who’d give up short-term profits in exchange for a game-changing idea :)

I disagree about people. Employees CAN turn things around, and I think it’s the job of a great manager to find a fit for a talented underperformer. If you have great people doing mediocre work, that’s your responsibility to fix. If you have mediocre people doing mediocre work, that was your bad call at hiring time. Either way, taking responsibility and correcting course is required.

And yeah, you may be in a dumpster on stolen wifi, but if you want that social site to take off, you’d better convince yourself that there’s a light at the end of that tunnel or you’re not gonna make it.

BTW - For anyone who doesn’t know… Andy is the hardest (and smartest) working “lazy seo” the world has ever known :)

#2 Codswallop on 01.23.08 at 7:32 am

“My nickname around the office is “H8er”. I call it “my critical eye”. Rand, where do you find these people with a deep need for perfectionism? I, ahem, haven’t found this trait much in our generation.”

Take really good programmers and teach them internet marketing - The things they do are scary (in a good way)

#3 admin on 01.23.08 at 10:19 am

Codswallop — that’s an interesting idea.

#4 admin on 01.25.08 at 9:52 am

Good stuff here which continues the thread:

http://www.sugarrae.com/even-more-advice-for-startup-ceos/

#5 mike.tekula on 02.02.08 at 7:40 am

“I think it’s the job of a great manager to find a fit for a talented underperformer. If you have great people doing mediocre work, that’s your responsibility to fix.”

This raises the issue of talent vs. motivation and which we reward (and ought to reward) more. The bottom line is that someone can have all the talent in the world, but if they aren’t self-motivated they just aren’t going to get anything done. I know some people who I consider brilliant who just skate by because, well, they can. Would I hire these people? No. I know I’d have to constantly tend to a fire underneath their asses to get anything out of them. It’s a shame, but that’s the truth.

Now, what kind of CEO you are and what kind of company you run definitely can be a factor, but if, a few months after hiring, that new guy/gal isn’t pulling their weight…I say cull them. Trying to get them motivated might involve pointing to the sword hanging over their heads, and the end result of that, every time, will be some resentment in these people. You can’t drive a work ethic into people. Just my opinion.