24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2013
Saddly, I was disappointed in this book. Considering I read just about every book that had the name of Brad Feld associated with somehow (and still looking forward to more of Mr. Feld's books), I was really looking forward to reading this book. Although its detailed and well explained, apart from small sections here and there, the book lacks substance. First, the section on boards is way too long and the author goes into much details about hiring and managing a board. In addition, the author assumes that practically all companies have VC's which exercise great power over them. However, many companies, even some relatively large ones do not have boards and many do not have VC's either. The author seems to have tried to create a list of things to do as a CEO, from hiring people, managing your calendar and your time to travelling, but most of the information is much too basic for anyone which has previously held a managing position. While reading, I felt that the book always wanted to take off and provide great insight for newly appointed CEO's but fell flat at each chapter. I barely managed to finish reading it. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that I was looking for a source inspiration to help scale a business, not management 101. This book is probably good for young people fresh out of college that create a new start-up but if you are already in a managing position, especially if you ever worked and lived the corporate life and need advice to become a CEO, even for a start-up, this book is probably not for you as some of the info is so basic that it would be best reserved for junior analysts when they join companies.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2013
Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business is a monumental book that comes from the heart of Matt Blumberg. You can tell by the author's self-effacing and genuine style that he had the reader in mind, as he pours it all for you. It doesn't get more authentic than that.
Matt draws on the depth of his 360 degrees of experience, having founded Return Path in 1999, and grown it to over 400 employees, across 12 global offices, and $100+ million in revenues.
This isn't just a startup CEO's book. It's a book that will specifically resonate with any first-time CEO who is about to scale their company, and hasn't done it before. That was Matt's experience, which he sporadically chronicled on his blog, Only Once ([...] but the book isn't about his blog.
Founder-to-CEO transitions are tricky. Every founder assumes they will become a successful CEO one day, but that's not the case in reality, especially if you're a CEO for the first time. Compound the typical risks of startup failures with the risk of CEO transition failures, and the percentage of successful founders that end-up being CEOs, and leading a successful startup dwindles down.
That's where this book comes in. It is the book Matt wished someone had given him on his first day as a CEO of Return Path, 14 years ago. But this isn't a book you will skim over. I thought I could do that, but I couldn't. This is a book with close to 400 pages, so you will need to read it diligently, and "return" to it often.
The book is organized into 5 parts: Story Telling, Building the Company's Human Capital, Execution, Building and Leading a Board of Directors, and Managing Yourself so You can Manager Others.
This is not a prescription book that tells you there is only one way to do this or that. Matt goes beneath the perceived simplicity or glamor of a CEO's job, as he dives-in with original thoughts on 47 topics such as creating the company's operating system, collecting data, managing in tough times, driving alignment, learning the lessons, competition, failure, decision-making, working with a coach, the importance of peer groups, staying fresh, taking stock of the year, and even tips for traveling. They all share the common context of managing and growing a startup, from 25 to over 400 employees.
The book doesn't cover management and leadership in the traditional sense, but it resembles a pretty good self-awareness confession with high dosages of wisdom sprinkled along the way, and it paints the reality of a Startup CEO's life: it is filled with ambiguity and uncertainty, but it demands discipline and guts to get the job done.
I liked the importance given to "Story Telling" in Part I, because your vision and strategy are the rudder for your company. "Stories have a main character (the customer or user) and a supporting cast (investors, employees, partners, competitors). They have a beginning (the problem), middle (the product), and an end (the solution). Stories take a jumble of facts (profit-and-loss statements, customer surveys, market realities) and give them meaning."
It sounds whimsical, but it is good to keep a simple picture of how everything ties together.
The dream is part of the idea, and Matt chatters the myth that the founder or CEO always has the best ideas, as he recounts two real cases of very successful products at Return Path that originated from other employees, not him.
The CEO needs to become a "functional supervisor", says Matt. That's probably one of the biggest shifts from founder to CEO. Your people are your most important resource, so you need to spend a big part of your time with them.
"First, Perfect the Model. Before you can think about the trade-off between growth and profitability, you have to get your business model right. Not just on your first Lean Canvas, but on your second, and your third. Get out of the startup phase and into the revenue phase. During this phase, you have to focus on neither growth nor profitability, but rather on frugality, on staying alive until you get to the point where you're ready to start scaling your business."
The above paragraph comes early in the book, and I like it a lot because I've echoed the same thing; basically to let go of Lean as soon as growth and revenue are in sight.
Regarding the challenges of managing remote offices and employees, versus keeping them in one place as long as possible, here is some wisdom from the book: "It's just as important to be close to your customers as it is to be close to your colleagues." So obvious, yet so important.
On innovation; "If you don't give your team permission to fail, you're not giving them permission to innovate." Yes, you need to continue thinking like a hungry startup, even if you have 400 employees.
On going global and preserving the company's culture; "Beware of diverging cultures. It's not just important to have a strong company culture; it's important to have just one."
Then, there is some drama as Matt takes us back to 2001 when he was still a fresh CEO, and they had just merged with another company. Fred Wilson who is on his Board suggested that Matt works with a coach, Marc Maltz from Triad Consulting because Fred felt that Matt could be "doing a better job in a few areas". Matt grudgingly agreed, thinking he didn't have a lot to learn, "the arrogance of youth" he admits. That particular relationship proved to be of critical importance, because Matt later acknowledged that Marc became one of his most valuable assets and advisers, even giving him credit as "one of a few reasons Return Path is still in business!"
One piece of advice given by Marc stuck with Matt: "The biggest risk for a CEO is to lose sight of the boundary between yourself and the role you fill."
Peppered throughout the book are short takeaways from external voices, each narrating their own perspective on the Startup CEO's job. These passages are well pointed, and include advice from Fred Wilson and Brad Feld (both on his Board), his executive assistant of 8 years, his CTO, and a slew of other key staff and outside experts.
Startup CEO is a wonderful book that alternates between story telling, lessons and best practices. It does a great job at letting you fill-in your particular context for your own take-away.
For a startup CEO, founder or co-founder with management responsibilities, it is up to you to take initiative on educating yourself so you can grow-up either by learning, by doing, by getting coached, or by getting supported in a peer group. And Matt shows you how he did it that way. Matt had the good fortune of relying on a good caliber of mentors, coaches, and venture capitalists that supported him, but his message is that you too, can carve your own luck and be inspired by how he did it.
As a side effect of the book, you get an inside look into Return Path and its culture, and it comes out as a pretty likeable company.
As a startup CEO, you will see yourself in the book, and you will relate to the stories Matt tells. This is a must-read for any startup founder or CEO who is about to scale from 25 employees and upward. Even if you haven't hit your product/market fit or growth curve tipping points yet, it's not premature to find out what will happen when you do.
As a founder, and especially a first time CEO or senior executive, you could ignore this book at your own peril.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2013
Full disclosure: I am not a tech entrepreneur.
However, as a fellow Founder/CEO, there are a few books that I read over and over again. They are timeless classics, apply to any industry and really force me to think through our current strategy, operations, and tactics every time I read them.
Startup CEO will be the latest addition to that list.
This book is THE manual for starting, running and scaling a business. Keep it around for reference because every single possible situation is in this book. Not only is your current situation guaranteed to be in Startup CEO, but, more importantly, there are practical examples of how to deal with it.
That's the book, but equally as important is the author. Matt is definitely one of the most liked and respected CEOs in the country. His employees, peers, board members and customers love him. Fortune Magazine ranked Return Path as the 11th best medium-sized workplace to work in the entire country.
If you had Matt on your board, you would get all of this great experience and advice firsthand. However, the second-best option is to grab this book, choose the chapter that best applies to your current situation, and read it.
Matt will personally guide you to being a better leader.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I could not put the book down, the last week I was suppose to be on vacation but I was itching to get back to work (I know I know it is bad behavior, but the book was really that exciting) obviously I felt like Matt was talking to me throughout the book. I could relate to everything. A wonderful read for every startup founder, first time CEO or even all leaders, Matt shows how to organize and execute around priorities, how to define priorities as a CEO. I have read my share of getting organized, leadership and startup books. But this was so in tune to what I am personally going through it was uncanny, thank you Brad Feld for connecting the dots :) I would recommend it to everyone. Great book Matt! it is going to a become a classic.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Often, the art and science of how to be the CEO of a startup gets overlooked in the rush and haste to working day-to-day, dealing with all the fires and challenges. Startup CEO details the HOW of being the CEO. It's an important guide in approaching the CEO role in a strategic manner. Matt is not telling you what to do. This isn't a book about checklists, but he's giving very helpful insight in how to think about the job of being CEO -- the best kind of startup advice. This is learning how to fish, not being given a fish.
The book is well laid out, from starting the company to dealing with the surprise issues that come up and the unexpected priority changes as a company grows (believe me, there are many). Matt's been a startup CEO for a long time (since 1999) and survived 2 recessions and many changes to his company. His approach is solid yet at times unconventional, but all stem from his real life experiences and looking at problem-solving in his company through a fresh perspective, leaving no conventional wisdom unchecked.
Even if you are not a CEO in a startup, I would recommend reading this book. You might want to be one someday.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2013
Because I teach entrepreneurship, I get so many books on entrepreneurship that I am now very cynical when I see a new one. After practicing this subject and teaching it now for decades, the books are usually either trite, stuff that has already been said before or not really useful. This book was none of those. In fact, there were times when I was reading it that I actually stood up and cheered at what the author (Matt Blumberg) had written. It is amazing how much he has captured in the book. I especially liked the parts on "FIG WASP 879" and the discussion with regard to culture in a company and why it is so important -- and what you can do about it as the CEO.
This book is incredibly ambitious which is what makes it so impressive but at times, is also the weakness of the book. There are some things that are missing because of the impossibly broad scope of the book (e.g., when you have to release someone, you sure better get a "full release" legal document signed before you give them any severance). That being said, what has been captured is amazingly comprehensive and tremendously valuable which is what makes this such a great reference book for startup CEOs. It is also thought provoking for the the areas that you have not faced yet.
So in summary, if you are serious about running a startup, get this book, read it and keep it on your desk as a reference. It will prove invaluable.