Why I lead

Why do leaders lead? For some, it could be for the money, power, or notoriety.

For me and probably many others, the reason for being a leader is the ability to positively affect the careers – and therefore the lives – of others. That’s what gets me out of bed every day, ready to face the challenges of being a leader.

I got this text recently. Her message made it all worth it. I’ll probably find years of motivation from this:

Heartwarming

There’s a concept in leadership doctrine called “servant leadership”. I’m intrigued by this idea because it seems to orient leadership towards unlocking the potential of those who are being led. Maybe it’s just another way of saying “be a great coach”.

When the startup that I co-founded had ultimately failed, it was a crushing blow. I knew that my own career was going to be fine, and perhaps even enhanced by this experience. But what tore at me was the idea that I had failed my employees and their hopes and dreams. Some lashed out at me in anger, which is understandable. But others remained engaged, and sought out my advice after we all parted ways. It’s been a joy to stay in touch with them, helping them along their journeys.

What I didn’t expect from my startup experience is that other companies that subsequently entered the same market space sought me out for advice. I think it’s pretty cool that those founders had the intellectual curiosity to approach me for my perspective, because they could have written me off as having failed and therefore not having something to offer them. So I’ve talked to every one of those who have asked.

For me leadership boils down to being a great coach and being generous with one’s time for advice and counsel. When that positively impacts someone else’s life, it’s magical.

“100% of my female friends have been sexually assaulted”

A female colleague told me this recently while we were discussing the Brett Kavanaugh nomination process. I was incredulous. “You’re certain it’s 100%?”, I asked. “Absolutely”, she replied.

It doesn’t stop there.

I went to a candlelight vigil for Dr. Ford a couple weeks ago (an aside: I was there because I wanted her claim investigated fully, not because I had judged her claim in advance). A friend I was with said she knew that 50% of her friends had been assaulted. We both surmised the percentage was higher because some of her friends presumably hadn’t revealed their truths.

I had dinner recently with another woman who related her own story of assault. And she knew many, many female friends with similar experiences.

There is very real damage to being a victim. The emotional trauma often begets physical damage in turn. Any other condition that caused such damage, at such a widespread rate, would be considered an epidemic. What is the appropriate response here?

The most pernicious aspect of sexual assault is that it happens in so many cases without witnesses. And surely women choose to not disclose their victimization, and especially decline to pursue justice, because their claims are not believed or taken seriously.

Perhaps the way forward relates to the Harvey Weinstein phenomenon. In the court of public opinion, certainty about his behavior increased with the number of accusers. It’s the pattern of behavior, not the provability of any one incident (or even victim), that gave credence to the accusations.

What I hope is that women are emboldened to tell their stories. And that all of us take those claims seriously in terms of acknowledging the epidemic and our obligation to act.

If you think I am exhibiting bias toward the victims, you would be right. The shame and stigma of being a victim today means that anybody who makes a public claim does so with expected negative consequences. They know they will have their reputations challenged. For example, Dr. Ford, who lives in my neighborhood, fled her home after receiving death threats. One day, a news helicopter hovered over her house. A victim’s courage is unto itself a reason to take their claims seriously.

I say all of this despite the fact that I was falsely accused of being an assaulter.

Recently, I rode in an Uber Pool along with two other passengers. In the back seat, alongside me, was a young woman. Three days after the ride, I was contacted by an Uber employee investigating a claim that I inappropriately touched this young woman, was asked by her to stop, and continued to do so.

I told the investigator that this was a serious claim indeed and that Uber was right to take it seriously. I strenuously denied the allegation. I asked if they had interviewed the driver yet, and suggested that he would verify that no conversation at all occurred between any of the passengers. I was banking on the contradiction between the accuser’s story and the driver’s as a basis of discrediting the claim itself. It also happens to be the case that I’ve used Uber since its beginning years ago and had an extremely high passenger rating without incident.

Ultimately, Uber dismissed the claim and reinstated my suspended account.

All of this got me wondering about the complex nature of the situation for Uber, for me and for the accuser. What was Uber’s policy to adjudicate this issue? Were they to apply a legal standard of (my) presumed innocence? If not, then what criteria to judge the merits of the claim? Would the accuser have any other recourse, such as the legal system? Under what circumstances would my identity be revealed? A subpoena? Etc.

Despite this incident, I believe that the bias of victims’ illegitimacy remains. To deal with this epidemic, we need victims to come forward. And we need others to say that it’s needed, it’s ok, and that we take their claims seriously.

On Dr. King: “The arc of the moral universe…”

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice” – MLK

It’s MLK Day today. I celebrated by reading some of his quotes and watching David Letterman interview Barack Obama and John Lewis.

At times like these, the many gains since the 1960’s seem lost. Instead of an African-American president signifying the permanence of a new era of equality, we find ourselves regressing.

Or, to be more precise, the face of hatred for equality has revealed itself again. Only this time that face is aided and abetted by our President.

My friend put it well. At no point has she and her family been more civically engaged. Their understanding of government and their involvement in civic discourse has never been higher. I could say the same for my family. This engagement can, and must, lead to a counter-reaction to the forces of inequality and ignorance around us.

Today is a day to remind ourselves of the principles that make our country great and that must be defended by us as citizens:

  • we are a nation of immigrants, from which our unique strengths are derived
  • our diversity must be matched by equality in every way: across ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender
  • tolerance and empathy will prevail over intolerance and ignorance

It is both a blessing and a curse that I’ve never felt more connected to Dr. King than right now. May his spirit guide us forward.

Why I work at McAfee (and you should too?)

Last week, I spent 2 days with our CEO Chris Young and his leadership team, talking about where we want to go in the next 3 years.

Chris kicked off the meeting with a recap of our 5 core values, our mission and our employee pledge, all designed to protect the world in our online lives.  You can read Chris’ public letter about McAfee’s future here.

This clarity of purpose makes it easy for me to know the “what” and the “how” of my work in support of our goals. This hasn’t been the case at many companies I’ve worked for in the past, so I don’t take it for granted. Perhaps you’ve experienced the same challenge in your past.

I had the pleasure of working with Chris before, and also with my boss who leads our consumer business.  And several other former colleagues who I respect and know are here, too.

So, I’m here because of the clarity of our purpose and because I work with people I trust and respect. Maybe McAfee would be a great place for you too? We’re hiring….

R.I.P. Bluenose Analytics

My startup Bluenose is no longer.

After 4+ years of trying, it just didn’t work out. We ran out of money and couldn’t attract more investment.

There are many, many people to thank for their support along the way. My wife, my co-founder, investors, friends, employees, mentors, customers, etc. “It takes a village” to birth a startup, irrespective of the outcome.

There are also many, many people to apologize to. As CEO, the ultimate accountability for success and failure resides with me.  I’m sorry to my investors for losing their money.  I’m sorry to my employees present and past for letting you down; you saw Bluenose as a vehicle to realize a personal objective and you probably didn’t. I’m sorry to our customers for not giving you a solution that fully met your needs.

You might ask “why did Bluenose fail”? That’s a question I’ve asked myself almost daily for this entire journey.  It’s tempting to explain it all away with a few neat bullet points.  I’m pretty sure the root cause is some combination of internal mistakes of mine and external market conditions.

Perhaps the better question is “what did you learn?”  That might take a book to write given all the things I’ve learned.  A few things a startup will teach you:

  • things you didn’t know about yourself. The extreme nature of the situation (risk, uncertainty) will reveal you in many ways
  • things you didn’t know about others. You’ll become a student of human nature as you watch others react to those same extreme conditions
  • the need for focus in the face of extremely scarce resources

I expect that I’ll write more about this experience later. Perhaps for my own catharsis. Perhaps to help others learn from my experience. For now, it’s too early. The wounds are too fresh. And it’s time to find something next to do.

My top 107 albums

Close-up image of vintage player pickup and black long-play record.Time for something fun given the serious nature of our nation’s current events.

Over on Facebook, there was a recent meme asking to list your Top 10 records. For many music fans, this is nearly impossible.

So, I’m taking a stab at my Top 107 instead.

Some ground rules:

  • I tried to avoid greatest hits albums, but a few were too good to pass up.
  • Rather than quibble with the best album by an artist, sometimes I suggest others too
  • Add yours to the comments!

Here goes….loosely grouped by genre but in no particular order.

  1. The Clash, London Calling. Between this and Sandinista, a super-nova of creativity and experimentation made in a 2-year period.
  2. The Clash, Sandinista
  3. Buzzcocks, Singles Going Steady
  4. Stranglers, IV
  5. Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks
  6. Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette
  7. The Jam, Sound Effects
  8. Gang of Four, Entertainment! Punk. Funk. Political. Not easily ignored.
  9. Joy Division, Closer. Toss-up with Unknown Pleasures.
  10. The Fall, Hex Enduction Hour. Or choose from many others.
  11. New Order, Movement.
  12. Kate Bush, Hounds of Love
  13. Talking Heads, Fear of Music
  14. Comsat Angels, Waiting for a Miracle
  15. U2, War. Or Joshua Tree or Boy. Take your pick.
  16. Ultravox, Vienna
  17. Mission of Burma, Vs.
  18. Mission of Burma, Signals, Calls and Marches
  19. Joe Jackson, Look Sharp!
  20. The Cure, Disintegration
  21. The The, Soul Mining. One guy, one bedroom.
  22. Ramones, Ramones
  23. Ramones, Rocket to Russia
  24. Magazine, Real Life
  25. Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model
  26. Dream Syndicate, Medicine Show
  27. Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes
  28. Echo & The Bunnymen, Heaven Up Here. Or several others through Ocean Rain. Take your pick.
  29. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue.  Duh. The more you know about how this was recorded, the more brilliant it seems.
  30. John Coltrane, Giant Steps
  31. John Coltrane, My Favorite Things
  32. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Keystone 3. Art with the Marsalis brothers at the pinnacle of his comeback / bebop renaissance
  33. Art Blakey, Free for All. Manic energy.
  34. Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um
  35. Dave Holland Quintet, Prime Directive. Or many others.
  36. Ella Fitzgerald. Where to start?
  37. Wayne Shorter, Adam’s Apple
  38. The Bad Plus, For All I Care. Jazz covers of rock songs, amazing use of atonality, mismatched keys, varied tempos. Their work with Joshua Redman also tremendous.
  39. The Specials, The Specials
  40. Burning Spear, Man in the Hills. And others.
  41. Bob Marley, Kaya
  42. Bob Marley, Exodus
  43. Peter Tosh, Equal Rights
  44. UB40, Signing Off
  45. Antonin Dvorak, Symphony #9 / New World
  46. Arvo Part, Passio. And many others.
  47. Henryk Gorecki, Symphony #3, Opus 36, Dawn Upshaw version. Pure, beautiful anguish.
  48. Eroica Trio, Pasion. Exactly as it says; passionate classical string trio. the opposite of dull.
  49. J.S. Bach / Glenn Gould, Goldberg Variations. Gould’s tour de force.
  50. Hilliard Ensemble. Where to start?
  51. The Band, Music from Big Pink. Or greatest hits.
  52. The Blasters, The Blasters
  53. Brandi Carlile, The Story
  54. Bryan Ferry, Boys & Girls
  55. Bryan Ferry, Bete Noir
  56. Roxy Music, Flesh and Blood
  57. Coldplay, Parachutes
  58. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, So Far
  59. Damien Jurado, Caught in the Trees
  60. David Bowie, Station to Station. Or many others from the 70’s.
  61. David Gray, White Ladder
  62. Dire Straits, Communique. Or Dire Straits. Or others.
  63. The Doors, LA Woman
  64. Explosions in the Sky, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
  65. Fela Kuti, Unnecessary Begging
  66. Fever Ray, Fever Ray. Recorded deep in the woods of Sweden, in solitude. Otherworldly.
  67. Fleet Foxes, Sun Giant. Harmonies that would make CSNY proud.
  68. Florence & The Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. How is she not a bigger star?
  69. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
  70. Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls
  71. James Brown, 20 All-Time Greatest Hits. Or sift through 30 other records from the nuggets.
  72. Japan, Gentlemen Take Polaroids
  73. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free. Or Southeastern, take your pick. His best might be to come.
  74. Jose Gonzalez, In Our Nature
  75. Massive Attack, Mezzanine
  76. Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther. Probably because the song Roscoe is so frickin’ good.
  77. Midnight Oil, Diesel and Dust. Or several others around that time.
  78. Peter Gabriel, So
  79. Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi
  80. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon.
  81. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake. Amazing that my favorite album is the one she made around Year 20 of her career.
  82. Portishead, Dummy. Ahead of its time.
  83. R.E.M, Reckoning. Or many others.
  84. Santana, Greatest Hits. Or one of first three albums.
  85. The Smiths, The Smiths. Or several others.
  86. Steely Dan, The Royal Scam. Cynical, dark, fits our times.  Oh yeah, and impeccable musicianship. Or, Aja, Pretzel Logic.
  87. Stevie Wonder, Innervisions. Or, Songs in the Key of Life.
  88. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Or, Damn the Torpedoes.
  89. The Wipers, The Circle
  90. Chris Isaak, Heart Shaped World
  91. Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed. Or, Sticky Fingers.
  92. Sinead O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Reminds me that musicians are often the best political activists.
  93. The Tragically Hip, Fully Completely. Or, Up to Here.
  94. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Or, Sweet Old World.
  95. Wilco, Wilco
  96. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  97. K.D. Lang, Ingenue
  98. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone. Or, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, or Blacklisted.
  99. Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls
  100. Allison Moorer, The Duel
  101. Howlin’ Wolf, Real Folk Blues
  102. Neil Young, Harvest
  103. Joni Mitchell, Court & Spark
  104. Allman Brothers, Idlewild South
  105. Jimi Hendrix Experience, Smash Hits
  106. The Who, Quadrophenia. The studio double set.
  107. The Who, Who’s Next

Father’s Day 2016: in memoriam of Dave Y.

Santa Cruz mountains to the Pacific
Santa Cruz mountains to the Pacific

I’ve written a couple blogs before on Father’s Day in memory of my own dad, here and here.  But today I’m writing about another father, whose recent death hit me hard.

Dave Yeung (DY) passed away a couple weeks ago. I didn’t know him well, but every time I met him I felt his warmth and generosity.  I added him to my mental list of “guys I should invest time in getting to know better”.  But that lost opportunity alone might not explain my sadness.

His death was a reminder of the many things that it means to be a dad.

Dave left behind two children under 10, and a wife.  Dave had a 20-year career at HP and was a major breadwinner in his household.  Dave died in his mid-40’s of cancer, after being a life-long athlete including competitive bike racing.  His loss leaves a huge void in his family.

Dave’s loss makes me sad for the struggles his family will face as a result.

Dave’s loss makes me worry about my role as a dad, husband and provider. Can I be the same role model as him?  What would happen to my family if I passed?

Yesterday was Dave’s memorial service.  Hundreds of people showed up.  Over a dozen stood up and said kind words about Dave.  One speaker said Dave was his best friend.  After two others had just said the same.  He then joked that there were probably 20 people present who felt the same way.

Hiking ninja
Hiking ninja

After yesterday’s service, I took Clive on a beautiful hike in the Santa Cruz mountains.  It was life affirming.

I reminded myself that these were the things I should be doing with my son. Teaching him the beauty of nature.  The habit of exercise.  The opportunity to have meaningful conversations.

What started as a sad day ended on a happier note.  Dave reminded me to strive to live life to the fullest. To be the dad we all need to be.

Inspired by the “Pay It Forward” people

6510934443_8bd2942b79_bI caught up with Randy Womack yesterday.  He’s one of those “pay it forward” people.  As in, helpful for the sake of being helpful.  No strings attached.  Just wanting to see people succeed in life and realize their dreams.

He’s not the only one who’s been so kind to me.  There’s Wayne Willis, too.  And Kent Godfrey.  And John Keenan.  And Nate Williams #1 (I have a couple Nate Williams in my life).  And too many others to recall and give credit here.

I get so inspired when I meet these people.  Their positive energy is like a drug.  Not only do I feel freshly motivated to work on my own startup, but it reminds me of the effect I might have on others when paying it forward in turn.  I’ve tried to be helpful to others in the past couple years.  Hopefully folks like Kathleen and Matt caught the fever too.

But yesterday’s meeting was a reminder: you can’t do enough of it. Pay on, my friends.  Pay on.

A big day for Bluenose Analytics

Today we had the pleasure to announce our investors in my startup Bluenose Analytics. You can read about the $10m funding here.

It’s been over a year since we got started, beginning with customer research, then initial $2m in seed funding, then team building, then beta testing (still going) and most recently another $8m raised in a Series A round.  All the while, we were operating in “quiet mode” without disclosing most of what we were up to.

This mode has its advantages, but it’s awfully hard to keep quiet on the great progress you’re making when you’ve attracted two of the very best investors in our space.

Is it time to declare victory?  Not yet; it’s the “end of the beginning”.  But my co-founder and I now have the chance to realize our vision thanks to the resources we’ve been given.

This is an accomplishment that many, many startups don’t reach, so more than anything today is a day to be thankful.

Why I started Bluenose

Why take the risk of starting a software company?

I could answer this question with something trite, like “I want to save the world from crappy products”. But the reality is a bit more nuanced.  I’ve had 3 formative experiences in the last 12 years that convinced me there was a big problem worth solving with a packaged application.

Frictionless Commerce

At Frictionless, we built a SaaS company from pre-revenue to its sale to SAP in 2006. One of the most interesting things we did was to share adoption and usage data with the sponsoring executives of our customers during account reviews.  It wasn’t pretty; we wrote SQL queries to extract usage metrics for each customer. We made charts and graphs in Excel, then pasted them into Powerpoint decks. But the data didn’t lie. And it provoked all sorts of healthy conversations about the expectation gap between executive vision and actual user adoption. This experience made me an early believer in usage data and its healthy effect on customer relationship management.

RSA, the Security Division of EMC

My flagship product was a security appliance that was distributed to four corners of the world across many thousands of units and customers. The product was getting “long in the tooth” (my kind words) and we experienced availability issues at an increasing rate. The problem is that we didn’t have any data about the use of the product in customers’ environments.  This lack of data inhibited our ability to spot root cause drivers across our customer base. And it was made worse by the growing variety of customers by size and use cases. There was no “archetype” customer that we could build and test for.

Another challenge was to depict the health of my product line during each quarter’s internal business review. Was the average selling price the same in Germany via the re-seller channel as it was in Brazil via direct sales? Was our customer renewal rate the same across every geography, customer tier, customer vertical and distribution channel? Of course not.

We struggled to de-construct the global business to spot the outliers that inevitably exist. For both the sake of spotting things to fix and finding the most successful segments in order to replicate the winning formulas.

AVG

AVG is a provider of freemium security and related products to consumers and small businesses. Most of its revenue comes via online distribution. When I arrived, I had a team member inventory all of the customer data sets we had; reducing churn and increasing cross-sell of our newly expanded product suite were strategic imperatives for me. I was certain the data held the clues. What I found was a lot of data, but living in silos. Marketing had lots of clickstream data from the website. Engineering had lots of product usage data from constantly tuning the anti-virus product’s protection algorithms. We also had a huge self-care community online. And an e-commerce system.

I spent 2 years building an internal analytics team, starting with hiring. Then we collated all of this data into some emerging technologies with which we had little experience (“Hadoop”, “Datameer”, etc.). Then we started producing basic reports and metrics out of it. Then we built some early statistical models to discover relationships in the data. 2 years later and we were still scratching the surface in terms of understanding the user behaviors that drove churn and cross-sell, and how to operationalize the findings.  There had to be a better way.

What’s in common across these experiences?

Each experience was the same in several ways:

  • important data about our customers was locked in many silos
  • the effort to overcome that was expensive, time consuming and required real executive commitment
  • as a company, we lacked key insights about who our best customers were
  • we were trying to improve business metrics that everybody cares about: customer retention, Lifetime Value, ARPU, customer success and customer advocacy

Ultimately, it was these common themes that led me to believe this was a widespread issue for companies, and that a packaged solution could be the answer.