Categories
Life Startups

The trade-off of management roles

Over 10 years ago, when I started my professional career, working as an individual contributor, I couldn’t wait to become a manager. It sounded so cool – to have a team, to lead, to create strategy, run meetings, build agendas. Little did I know of the downsides of being in one of those fancy management roles.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a manager, and all the great things that come with the role – team, impact, benefits, comp, learning, status (in random order). It’s what I’m great at and will continue to practice it as long as I can build teams or teams invite me to lead them towards greener pastures.

Starting out as individual contributor

Coming back to my younger days, when I was IC-ing, I took something for granted that I soon saw going away as I rose in ranks. People saw me as one of them, and treated me openly and freely. I would get invited to every party and every going out group. I would hang out with the cool people and be able to rant about our managers (yeah, we did that, I know all team members at some point rant about their managers).

Manager roles in the US

That went on for the longest of times. When I moved to the US, I joined a tech startup as their Growth Manager. I helped them grow the team and recruit a lot of the people in the San Francisco office. As we grew, both the company and I felt the need to specialize and I went to focus on Marketing only, becoming Director. That’s when things started to change. Since I was hanging out with the founders, the VPs and Directors, I was no longer part of the group. I had become management and people started treating me like one.

When I moved on to another company, again, I started with more of an IC role. In a few months, however, I had recruited my team and had become Director again. Same story, there was the management layer which kind of hung out together, and shared stories. Everyone else had their own separate group. Sometimes I would get invited to the other group, but it was not the same as 2009.

It’s little things like who hangs out with you at the lunch table or goes out to get coffee with you that change, too. The otherwise rowdy table might quiet down a little when you want to join. Or people might not even want to sit with you in case you start asking about customers, projects stuff related to their day-to-day.

When you’re a manager, you also can’t just party like everyone else. We set examples of what the company culture should be. If we party until dawn at company events, or overcharge corporate cards, this sends the wrong message to everyone else. Sure, you’re not going to be as cool as the life of the party, but it’s easier to lead if you haven’t lost face the night before.

I’m not even going to talk about romantic relationships at work as a manager. There’s no such thing as a no-consequences one.

Loneliness, career growth, support

This part of management is rarely talked about. It’s a lonelier journey, as you get higher and higher in roles and responsibilities. Some people get there and are surprised by the fact that everyone seems to be gone suddenly. I know I was. Some even get depressed or anxious about it, and I can understand why. I think we have to talk about it more openly. We have to embrace that what leaders in organizations are doing is hard, both professionally and personally. And there’s often little support for it.

I’m lucky to be married to someone who understands this and whom I can talk to about my professional life. Not everyone is. Life at the top comes at a cost, and work social interaction is one of them.

For me, I found my groups outside of work, too.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Categories
Life Startups

Retrospectives, these powerful tools for growth

At the end of last year, I did two massive retrospectives for Romanian IT (2019, and since inception) and a personal one (private).

For the personal retrospective, it was the second time in a row when I did it. The first time I did it, at the end of 2018, it was super hard, and it felt like a huge chore. This time it felt a bit easier, and I had more of a put together process to lean on.

The 3 retrospectives I did got me thinking about the power they give you, as the person performing them.

Journey to finding retrospectives

There’s a ton of literature on journaling, on making lists, following up and looking back on quarters, years, months, days, whatever works. Unfortunately, for the longest of time, I thought that was mostly self help bullshit and avoided it like the plague.

It was only when I started running teams in a business setting that I discovered that Agile/Scrum can be applied for Marketing and PR, and that was my gateway to retrospectives. If you run sprints, at the end of them, usually, people spend time looking at what worked, what didn’t and what can be improved in general. This is how you spot overloads, missed goals, successes and opportunities for growth.

Back then, I didn’t pay it enough attention to formalize the process in writing, but I stuck to it religiously. I took it with me in every team that I build moving forward, in the past 3 companies. It allowed our work to focus on the right goals. It also allowed us to spot communication issues early, adjust and improve.

Seeing the power of looking back

Fast-forward back to present day. I didn’t expect what the 3 retrospectives would give me. If you read my previous piece on the imposter syndrome, you know that’s a struggle for me. I also have a few strategies for it. Retrospectives turned out to be one of them.

See, if you’re like me, you moving fast, with little time to look back. There’s very little time to look back and celebrate success or be grateful. Retrospectives give you that and more – if you take the time and go through every day, and every thing that you did, and allow yourself to relive those moments, at the end of it you might find that you did do all that you set out. And more than that.

That’s an incredibly empowering feeling, and it’s remarkably easy to do now, thanks to Google Calendar.

Try going through it 12 months ago and move forward. It’ll surprise with you what you’ll find in there!

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Categories
Politics Startups Venture Capital

“I’m sorry I’m not rich enough to try to get rich”: Accredited Investor status in the US

I’m getting ready to invest my first real money into a company and a team I believe in a lot. I’ve dabbled in venture capital with Republic and with ICOs, but up until now my tickets have been small, like money you would spend on a trip or a nicer dinner.

I wanted to share my learnings from this process and show, in simple words, that non-accredited investors can get in on early stage ventures.

For those who don’t know, the US is probably one of the most protective countries when it comes to capital and investment. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates very strictly what investors and entrepreneurs can and can’t do when it comes to raising money, offering investment opportunities and funding.

Here’s the Investopedia definition of an accredited investor:

An accredited investor is a person or a business entity who is allowed to deal in securities that may not be registered with financial authorities. They are entitled to such privileged access if they satisfy one (or more) requirements regarding income, net worth, asset size, governance status or professional experience. The term is used by the SEC to refer to investors who are financially sophisticated and have a reduced need for the protection provided by regulatory disclosure filings. 

Sometimes, these regulations feel like they are too strict.

For example, if you’re a high earning individual, with ample savings, a diversified portfolio of assets – stock, SAFE notes, real estate, REITs, private equity via JOBS act, that’s not enough to be qualified as an accredited investor.

To become accredited, you have to do one of the following:

  • have an income of more than $200,000/year (single) or $300,000 (married, filing jointly) for two years in a row
  • have a net worth of over $1M (excluding your primary residence)

While I understand some people might need to be protected from themselves, and be stopped from investing in scams / con artists, I can’t understand why the thresholds are so strict. If you make $190,000 / $290,000 or are worth $900,000, you still don’t qualify, even though by all means you can be as sophisticated, or even more sophisticated than someone who, for example, inherited most of their net worth that’s over $1M. That’s not really fair, is it?

Fortunately, the JOBS Act, more specifically Rule 506(b), allows companies to raise money from non-accredited investors, under special conditions, and with, in my opinion, normal disclosures, per the SEC:

If non-accredited investors are participating in the offering, the company conducting the offering:

– must give any non-accredited investors disclosure documents that generally contain the same type of information as provided in registered offerings

– must give any non-accredited investors financial statement information specified in Rule 506 and

– should be available to answer questions from prospective purchasers who are non-accredited investors

Lawyers and inexperienced entrepreneurs will be reluctant to include non-accredited investors in funding rounds, but you can push back using these facts. The website I linked under the Rule 506(b) has more information on the type of offerings that companies can put forward and accept non-accredited investors on their cap table. It’s not impossible now, it’s just hard (still) to understand the rules.

So next time you want to invest and you get push back, instead of saying I’m sorry I’m not rich enough, refer people to the JOBS Act and the Rule 506(b). This way you can access early stage ventures and potentially make 100x returns. Or you can lose all your money, since early stage investing is extremely risky. But at least you have the freedom to choose.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Categories
Business Models Startups Strategy

Robinhood Cash Management – daily tap, tap, go program

I don’t usually post about referral programs, but this one has to be the best I’ve seen in a while. Remember those early mobile games where to you had to frantically tap your screen to get more points or win the game? Guess what, product managers and UX designers at Robinhood did, too.

They launched the Cash management waitlist where you tap to go up in line. You can only tap for about 1,000 times per day, it seems. Pretty crazy, right?

Here’s what they did.

They launched Cash management, an added feature to Robinhood Financial LLC brokerage accounts. The Annual Percentage Yield (APY) paid by Sutton Bank is 2.05% as of October 8, 2019, and can be changed at any time. If you’re interested, use my signup link and we’ll both get rewarded.

Previously, they tried this thing before with savings accounts, but regulators shut them down, since they didn’t ask for approval beforehand. Hopefully this time it’s more legit!

Don’t forget to tap daily after you sign up!

Categories
Startups Strategy Venture Capital

Take the meeting after doing due diligence for VC expertise

I wrote an extensive article on how to choose the right VC as a founder after a few very direct and intense experiences and significant research. Recently, I have been advising a few founders and one of the most important topic they bring up is raising money. They have to go out and talk to VCs all the time, if they want their startups to grow. Sure, they could build and scale organically, and kudos to the ones that do, but for deep tech, more often than not, you need deep investments.

The first rule of VC meetings as a founder should be: don’t meet everyone who wants to meet with you. It’s the same as reaching out to VCs, not all of them will want to talk to you. And that’s ok.

Let’s say you are in the fortunate position where VCs reach out to you and ask for meetings. This is the way I would structure the due diligence process from the founder/CEO perspective:

  • Does the VC have experience investing in the market(s) I’m building for or with customers I want to have?
  • Does the VC have successful exists or meaningful M&A activity?
  • Does the VC have partners that have specific, hands-on industry knowledge that can benefit my business? (n.b. hands-on can mean operator, but it can mean a good track record as a VC in that space)
  • If you are deep tech, does the VC have deep technical expertise – like for NLP, blockchain, biotech, self-driving cars, manufacturing etc.
  • Is the person who reached out / who I’m supposed to be meeting the right person in the VC to meet?
  • Does that person have deep experience in my space – industry and technology?
  • Do they agree to take a 15-30 min phone call to discuss their questions?
  • Do they ask the right questions during that call that reflect industry and tech expertise?

If even one of these is a no, then you would be better off passing the call. They might be fishing in the wrong pond or just gathering market intelligence. It won’t likely lead to you getting investment from them.

If this is useful, please share with your founder peers.

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Categories
Startups

The value of an MBA, from a graduate perspective

Every now and then, there’s an article out there that goes viral about how MBAs are losing their shine. This time it was Harvard Business School that got 4.5% less applicants

With this type of news, you’ll see a plethora of experts, consultants and self-help gurus, along with all the self-made people on LinkedIn and elsewhere proclaim that, alas, the MBA is a waste of money. Then the comments follow, with some testimonies of how worthless the degree is, sometimes coming from people who never took a class after graduating from university. What I find interesting about them is the fact that they try to transfer their own experience and generalize. 

I’ll do the exact opposite. I’ll share why the MBA was a valuable experience for someone that was born in a 150,000 people town in northwestern Romania and is now working in San Francisco on one of the most important problems of humanity – identity. 

Program: Hult International Business School – Executive MBA – London Campus, graduated in 2014, US degree

This is what I wrote in one of the LinkedIn threads, as a comment. For me it was a huge boost, all the way into high tech, both in the UK and the US, after being born and raised in Eastern Europe with no tech background. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, it’s going to be a waste of time and money. If you do, it’ll be the best investment you’ll ever make. Still pays dividends.

I majored in international business, with a focus on marketplaces. I commuted for 2 years from Bucharest, Romania to London. The MBA helped me grow outside of Romania and after about 1 year landed a Country Manager position in London in FinTech. Then, a year later, I moved to the United States and became the Growth Manager (Marketing and BD) for an Artificial Intelligence company.

The MBA gave me huge confidence boosts, exposed me to 120 different people from 36 different nationalities, some of which had more experience than I had in years.

It created lifelong friendships – just visited a former colleague in Barcelona for a mini-reunion and his b-day.

It also taught me to think bigger and trust my skills knowledge in a way it would have taken me years to do without it. Sure, the knowhow is great, I understand how to analyze a company, how to invest. But the human factor definitely plays more of a central role than other parts.

All in all, totally worth it.

p.s. I’m reading this book by Robert Heller – The Unlikely Governor: An American Immigrant’s Journey from Wartime Germany to the Federal Reserve Board. Very connected to my story, minus the war. We’re privileged to live in peaceful times (in some parts of the world)

Categories
Recruiting Startups

Diversity in Silicon Valley

Before I moved here, the image I had about Silicon Valley was all about technology, new groundbreaking ideas, products and services and so many startups popping up everyday. Additionally, everyone was  talking about the “war for talent” and all the efforts companies are putting into having a more diverse workforce.

Following some basic reasoning, I thought there would be many opportunities for me as a recruiter. Of course, in my naivete, I completely forgot I was a woman from Romania. And so I was taken by surprise by a closed bro culture. Get a taste of it over here and here. I quickly learned how important networking and intros are – particularly for getting a job.

For the first few interviews the so-called feedback was the same – “you haven’t been for long enough in the Bay Area”. I was so lucky to get this type of constructive feedback that anyone can only hope for; it was clearly something I can improve and build on.

I found a community(?) called The Expat Woman – the name is self-explanatory. They organize events on career change, moving to the Bay Area. I thought it was exactly what I needed – to meet other women who are going through the same thing as I was, see what challenges they had and learn from them and how they managed to overcome those challenges.

The event was boldly called Careers in Tech: Recruiter Panel, Career Fair and Mixer. I already knew there was no way in hell so many things could go as planned and make a good coherent event but I went anyway with an open mind; I was in my “let’s explore” mood.

The setup of the room had no space for networking, everyone was sitting down quietly in their chairs, waiting for class to start – sorry – the event. I’m not even going to go into the organizing of the event, kudos for the ones who tried.

The main thing that bothered me was that all the panelists were American white male. At an event organized by The Expat Woman. Which was supposed to help WOMEN deal with the closed bro network.

Initially I thought – Wow, some insider information! from the bros themselves. But that was not the case.

The moderator started the discussion by proudly saying that only 20% of jobs are advertised. After the first few questions I started drifting off. I guess I’m allergic to BS. To put it simply it was an entire event where networking was mansplained.

The question of diversity somehow came up – all the panelists admitted they don’t do much in that direction. But they also proudly said they reject over 50% of their candidates based on “culture fit”. When asked how do they test for culture fit, well the answers started to go in another direction, gracefully avoiding the question.

At the same time, this notion of war for talent still exists. Still, some people in hiring management positions believe that all the good ones are taken and the ones who applied are not good enough to be reviewed – the way is aggressive sourcing and poaching employees from competitors. 

I left the event feeling frustrated because a) it was not what the event promised, b) there was no added value for me, c) it confirmed all the things I didn’t want to believe were true (bias on all levels). But most importantly, I felt conflicted. How can I ever be a “culture fit” in this type of environment? Do I even want to be a “culture fit”? I’m a recruiter, does that mean I should be like them to get a job around here? 

My main takeaway was – If I would have been born here, a boy and also white, everything would have been so much easier! How do I implement this in my day-to-day life as a woman in the Bay Area? Good question.

Since I obviously cannot be any of the above (nor want to), the only thing I decided to do is to stay away from these companies who show this type of toxic culture. I know that narrows the list of eligible companies but at least now I know for sure what I am not willing to compromise – and that is my identity.

We as recruiters, as candidates, as hiring managers, we have a lot of work to do, like maybe using the best talent to keep your startup alive and make those millions, not only promise them to investors. Stop thinking that person doesn’t look, think or feel like you. That’s a good thing!

It’s time to grow up, Silicon Valley!

 

If you have any similar situations you’d like to share, get in touch on Twitter @helenofpanda.

 

Categories
Startups

Key takeaways from my 1st AI Webinar

igitalgenius

  • Hosted by Ruben @ Microsoft (Bucuresti), with
    Titus, Growth Manager @ DigitalGenius — Human+AI for Customer Service (San Francisco) & Cosmin — Data Science & Machine Learning developer, CEO of Clusterr.io (Timisoara)
  • Artificial Intelligence = “(…) the study of methods for making computers behave intelligently. Roughly speaking, a computer is intelligent to the extent that it does the right thing rather than the wrong thing. (…) AI includes tasks such as learning, reasoning, planning, perception, language understanding, and robotics.”
  • AI is not new, it has been around since 1955, with the first definition being proposed by Arthur Samuel
  • Machine Learning = “(…) the branch of AI that explores ways to get computers to improve their performance based on experience” — same source as AI
  • Examples of practical applications of Artificial Intelligence: playing board games and card games, answering simple questions, assembling complex objects, translating text from one language to another, recognizing speech, recognizing many kinds of objects in images, and driving a car under most “normal” driving conditions, fraudulent credit-card transactions or evaluating credit applications.
  • We’re now at the point where we have good enough data, good enough computing power (GPUs) & good enough algorithms to be able to produce usable neural networks and practical applications

Read the rest here, including the part where I talk about DigitalGenius & deep learning as a practical application of Artificial Intelligence for Customer Service

Categories
Startups Strategy

Artificial Intelligence – the Hottest Topic of 2017

ai20172017 has just started and already there’s a lot of voices in the market placing Artificial Intelligence at the top of predictions and reports from Forrester Research, Gartner, Tractica and venture capitalists alike.

In one GeekWire piece, three of the five venture capitalists quoted about 2017 trends mentioned AI on their list. That’s remarkable for an industry that has not yet reached maturity but has demonstrated it is ready for widespread adoption. 2017 is likely to be the year we see significant uptake in practical applications for artificial intelligence.

We are after all in a perfect storm of data, computing power and algorithms that fuel these applications both at startup and at corporate level. And I’m not talking about the all knowing AI, but something way more practical:

The promise of artificial intelligence is ubiquitous and often portrayed in Hollywood as a calculating robo-nemesis, disguised as a friend or personal assistant (just see Her, exMachina, and Westworld). Yet, there are few areas better suited for an AI-powered transformation than enterprise & business functions.

Mikhail Naumov, President & CSO at DigitalGenius – Human+AI Customer Service

As a bonus, Udemy is offering their AI/ML course at a 95% discount, an easy way to get in on the machine learning growth wave.

Categories
Digital Events Startups

Save the Date – Top 5 2017 Growth Conferences

We’re running out of 2016 and if you haven’t done it yet, it’s a good time to put some dates in the calendar for your personal development. Being a great growth manager means you have to be on top of your game with both marketing, business development, management and operations. And that’s beyond your company’s industry.

growth-managers

Every year, things evolve very fast, so even if you keep up with the news, you need to get a boost by going to at least 5 events. This will not only give you an edge when it comes to info and case studies, but it is also a great way to network with peers and develop professional relationships with likeminded individuals.

Startup Grind – Global Conference

WHEN – February 21-22
WHERE – Silicon Valley – Fox Theater | Redwood City

“These are our people” – Sam Altman, Y Combinator, plus with 3,000 founders and investors, more than 40 keynote and fireside sessions, and over 50 exhibiting startups, this is Startup Grind’s largest event ever.

GrowCo

WHEN – May 8-10
WHERE – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Join like-minded entrepreneurs, business leaders, bestselling authors and headliners straight out of the pages of Inc., for three days of ideas, inspiration and insights, networking and learning, and proven strategies to help your company grow and thrive.

Traction Conference

WHEN – May 31 – June 1
WHERE – Vancouver, Canada

Traction brings founders and growth experts from tech unicorns including LinkedIn, Dropbox, Pinterest, Zillow, Hootsuite, Marketo, Groupon, HubSpot, AngelList and more to teach startups distribution strategies and tactics to get, keep and grow customers and revenue at scale.

CONTENT MARKETING WORLD CONFERENCE AND EXPO

WHEN – September 5-8
WHERE – Cleveland, Ohio USA, Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland

Over 80 sessions and workshops presented by the leading brand marketers from around the world covering strategy, integration, measurement

TechCrunch Disrupt 2017

WHEN – September
WHERE – San Francisco, California

It is the world’s leading authority in debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies and discussing what’s top of mind for the tech industry’s key innovators.

As 2017 kicks in and more conferences are announced, I’ll update this list with dates and places, so keep an eye out for this post.

What’s your shortlist for 2017?

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