I recently had the pleasure of meeting Melissa Lombard at Gary Hoover's open house for the iSchool (U.T. Austin's Information School, a top-ranked program for it's kind in the nation). Gary is one of my favorite people in Austin, and he is generously serving as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the iSchool after doing so a few years ago for McCombs (U.T. Austin's Business School). He invited "friends of Gary" to attend and Melissa was there with her husband. Melissa told me about her 5-year project to have coffee with 260 strangers and live this mantra:
Two days ago I had the honor of keynoting at the First Round Capital CEO Summit in San Francisco. The event was held at the Jewish Contemporary Museum. During my speech, I promised to put my notes up on my blog and so here they are.
My talk was about the 7 lessons I've learned on the journey from founder to CEO. First Round Capital invested in us when Bazaarvoice was under 10 people; they came in alongside Austin Ventures - where I am now a Venture Partner - in our Series A. First Round has been an incredible partner in our journey from startup to public company. Personally, I think they are the best first round investor in the U.S. with the portfolio to show for it. Josh Kopelman, a fellow Wharton grad, is especially strong and he has helped me many times along the way.
I started off my talk emphasizing that the journey matters most in your transformation from founder to CEO. It is both a beautiful journey and also at times a gut-wrenching one. As Kirk Dando, my CEO coach of four years, says, "the path to heaven goes through the road to hell". This couldn't be more true. You aren't born knowing how to either found a company or be a CEO. You aren't born knowing how emotional this journey can be. But it is a journey that I've cherished and, in my opinion, the most profound journey that one can take in a career. It is a journey that led to me being recognized as Austin's best CEO for the large company category last year. This doesn't mean I have done everything right or that I don't make mistakes (hopefully less of them are repeat mistakes).
I often get asked by entrepreneurs, "what is the most important thing that I can do to build a great culture?". My answer, "recruiting". Recruiting has to be a top-three priority for any CEO, for any size organization. But as a startup, it is the difference between life and death.
When Brant and I started Bazaarvoice, we wanted to get the team right from the beginning. We were obessive about that, and it paid huge dividends later on. If there was ever a secret to Bazaarvoice's success in those early days, both culturally and performance wise, it was that we obsessed about recruiting and also constantly debated how we would create a great culture (more on this second point in a later post). Brant and I came up with a process for recruiting that was so obvious in hindsight but yet is so rarely done.