It was an honor on Saturday to be the commencement speaker for the Class of 2015 MSTC (Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization) graduates at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the graduates, Rainya Mosher was kind enough to summarize her takeaways from my speech in her blog post and the full text of the speech follows:
Today is my 43rd birthday. As I think about the last year, my good friend and CEO coach, Kirk Dando, comes to mind. On page 141 of his excellent book Predictive Leadership, Kirk writes:
December 5th marked my second year of blogging personally (I had previously been a corporate blogger for 7 years at Bazaarvoice as our CEO). I began blogging primarily as a service to entrepreneurs - a form of giving back to the community that I believe is the greatest force for change. If you are wondering why my blog is named Lucky7, it is as a tribute to my amazing mother, who passed away two years ago. Myfirst Lucky7 post on December 5, 2012 was a revisit of my manifesto written to the Bootstrap Austin community on March 15, 2005, months prior to starting Bazaarvoice. Much has changed in the nine years since and it wasn't unusual at all for Austin startups to raise seed capital vs. bootstrapping in 2014.
To: The Bazaarvoice team, both past and present
Dear Friends (for I consider each of you to be just that),
My most sincere thanks to each of you for some of the most memorable, fascinating, and uplifting days of my life over the course of the last decade.
As my time on the Bazaarvoice Board of Directors draws to a close today, I look back on what we achieved together since this company was created over nine years ago with a combination of pride and humility. Pride because together, we built something from the ground up that revolutionized how transparently commerce would be conducted. And we did it incredibly well, expanding all over the world and winning the trust of thousands of clients and many partners. Humility because I will never take for granted the great privilege it has been to lead, to serve, to learn from all of you, and to be part of our outstanding culture.
In life and in one’s career, there are periods that shine for one reason or another and for me, the most transformational period has been my Bazaarvoice years. And that’s because of all of you. What we created together is one of a kind. The effort and skill it took amazes me. The devotion and care you brought to your work, the spirit of inspiration I saw thriving around me, and the eagerness to take a big risk on a new idea will inspire me for the rest of my life. I mean that with all of my heart.
One has to look forward as well as back though, and as deeply as I have loved my time serving with you, I have confidence that Bazaarvoice has many great days that lie ahead. The same spirit of ingenuity that drove us at the beginning still churns today. The excellence of our team is unquestionable. The soul of Bazaarvoice is very much intact and the heart beats strong.
I plan to continue watching, applauding, and taking great pride in your successes as one of our largest shareholders and a most loyal fan. But most of all, I will remain grateful to all of you, every day of my life. The love of a founder never dies.
There is no more effective selling tool in a company’s organization than the company’s CEO. However, this tool is not used nearly as often or effectively as it should be. And that is because of the CEO themselves.
CEOs must adopt the regular practice of selflessly serving the rest of the organization. They must realize that their selling megaphone is larger than any other. This is not because they are better than anyone else in the organization. Everyone in the organization is just playing their role to their best ability. It is because the CEO possesses the company’s highest executive title, and the title signals several important distinctions:
I'm shocked that more startups, including their Boards and investors, don't thoroughly check references. That is the subject of this post, and I hope by the end of it you will agree with me that to not check references is both irresponsible - and dangerous.
When I started Coremetrics in 1999, Accel Partners wanted to invest in our Series A alongside Highland Capital Partners. We had already chosen Highland as our lead. We were really impressed with Keith Benjamin in particular and he was joining our Board of Directors (unfortunately Keith passed away in a tragic accident in 2008 as I wrote about in this Bazaarvoice blog post; I think about him often - he was an incredible friend and eCommerce and Wall Street visionary). Accel put forward Arthur Patterson, the co-founder of Accel and a venture capitalist since 1973, to join our Board of Directors alongside me, Keith, and Bong Suh (our independent Director, and a really terrific mentor). As I had done with Keith, I insisted on checking Arthur's references. Most people at Accel were surprised, and I think they thought I was naive at the time - I was a 26-year old CEO and they probably chalked it up to inexperience. And when I called his references, some of them expressed a lot of surprise that I had the moxy to do so. But those references turned out to be very helpful to me, specifically how to best work with him as a business partner. I believe Arthur had more respect for me as a result of being one of the first entrepreneurs to check his references. I couldn't see any other alternative - I deeply loved the business and I wanted to make sure that we fielded the best team possible, and that included our investors and our Board of Directors.
Last Monday, I had the honor of keynoting the Texas MBA Class of 2015 Orientation. This is the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin's largest class to date - I believe around 270 students. Around 80 spouses were also present. Tina Mabley, Assistant Dean of the Full-time MBA Program, introduced me. She introduced me as the Vice Chairman and Co-founder of Bazaarvoice and also as the incoming Entrepreneur-in-Residence at McCombs, a position I'm glad to begin in September. My grandfather, James Mann Hurt, taught at U.T. Austin for his entire career and I'm proud to follow in his footsteps. I promised the students I would post my speech, complete with links, and that is what follows here:
Spurred on by my recent Lucky7 post on how capital efficient Bazaarvoice was on its path to IPO, two friends sent me great posts this week on entrepreneurship and risk. And I guess it seems appropriate that I'm writing this post from Edinburgh, Scotland here at TED Global. Edinburgh is, after all, one of the birthplaces of capitalism. Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, and other prominent figures were born here. And speaking of capitalism, the former Prime Minister of Greece and the poster child for the European economic crisis, George Papandreou's, TED Global talk is already live. I found his talk sobering and, for all the controversy surrounding him, it felt rawly authentic to me.
I'm frequently asked what blogs I follow. The truth is: not many. But if I had a new business I would most certainly be reading Andy Sernovitz's blog, Damn I Wish I'd Thought of That!, every week.
I've been lucky to work with Andy since the beginning of Bazaarvoice and he's been a great Advisory Board member for us over the years. He founded WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association a few months before Brant Barton and I founded Bazaarvoice. The founding of WOMMA and reading The Cluetrain Manifesto led me to think of the name "Bazaarvoice", which I explain in this Lucky7 post on naming your company. We gave away his brilliant book, Word of Mouth Marketing, at our first two Bazaarvoice client Summits. You can see our first two Summit t-shirts in this Lucky7 post. Andy helped us educate our clients on word of mouth marketing and was part of the inspiration around our "School of C2C Marketing".
In December of last year, I wrote a Lucky7 post about our capital efficiency at Bazaarvoice on the way to IPO.
Quoting from my post:
As I pointed out in my "Bootstrap or VC?" post, we raised around $24 million and had around $12 million left in the bank when we went public. You can build a better culture if you are capital efficient, and also have a bigger economic ripple effect. I'll write more on that some other time, but for now I'm proud we were able to scale 75% more efficiently, on average, on our own path to IPO.
This week, PandoDaily had an in-depth memo written by Ben Sesser, a serial entrepreneur, and sent to me by a friend and new startup CEO in Silicon Valley. It was written for this year's Y Combinator class and the topic was how hot SaaS (Software as a Service) is right now (therefore attracting more entrepreneurs and capital to fund them) but also how hard it is to execute on. Ben analyzed recent SaaS IPOs, including Bazaarvoice, to make his point. As our co-founder and CEO from inception through IPO, follow-on offering, and two acquisitions (PowerReviews and Longboard Media) and now as our Vice Chairman of the Board, I was proud to see him include the stats on Bazaarvoice compared to other recent SaaS IPOs. Here are three of the charts he included: