All posts by Carlos Eduardo

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On trust, founder fall-outs, and 6 steps to getting things back on track

Originally published on Venturebeat – Aug 22, 2014

Relationships are built on trust, and they require work to keep alive and well.

In his book The Trust Edge, David Horsager outlines the eight pillars he believes enable trust to occur within a relationship. The eight pillars are clarity, compassion, character, competency, commitment, connection, contribution, and consistency. Should any one of these start faltering, a relationship can quickly start falling apart and possibly lead to permanent damage.

In the craziness that is an early-stage startup, where founder roles are sometimes ambiguous to start with (even more so with leading co-founders), it’s no surprise that many of the reasons for companies falling apart are related to founder disputes and loss of trust between co-founders.

Note: On this post, the focus is not about whether companies that have a clear CEO are better off than those that are joint efforts from the start. Company organizational structure in the very early days is a very fluid thing and perhaps the subject of another blog post entirely.

So what can you pro-actively do?

1. Create a culture around a set of shared values and live by them. Shared values and a strong brand built on them make decision-making easier, since you have a “constitution” that everyone agrees with, upon which to base your choices.

2. Define roles and responsibilities clearly so things don’t fall between the cracks, and make sure that everyone feels confident that each role has gone to the person most competent to handle it. One organizational model you might find useful to help outline this process is called the Responsibility Assignment Matrix (I prefer the one called RASCI), whereby you assign people responsibility for an item, but you allow others to be consulted, informed, and supported, and perhaps you allow someone else to be accountable as well.

3. Make each other accountable for your individual parts that contribute to the group’s goals — some people like to have standup meetings before the start of the day in front of the team to highlight what they are working on.

4. Communicate often, even if at times it can be difficult to do so. Although naturally lots of the topics of conversation will stem from work-related matters, lots of stress can also come from areas that are outside of work. By taking time during the week to just catch up, you can sometimes learn about external reasons for people’s reactions. Although this won’t excuse them, sometimes the awareness of an issue can lead to a meaningful discussion on how to jointly deal with it.

Also, keep in mind that as the company grows and requires new types of work, personal founder circumstances can change and can affect the amount of effort required by a one of the co-founder’s roles. This change can further amplify any latent issues, so communicate frequently to make sure you address these items quickly.

5. Have a plan should things fail between founders. If failure between founders leads to you having to part ways, it will be easier for everyone if you have a pre-agreed way of dealing with equity splits and intellectual property ownership. As a starting point, feel free to use the Founder’s Collaboration Agreement to deal with some of these issues.

6. If things do go sour, take action swiftly to reinstate trust or to re-organize internally as necessary.

If trust is breached, and things do go downhill between two co-founders, you need to align intentions. Ask yourselves whether you are open to the following options as outcomes.

Option 1 – complete reconciliation and re-establishment of trust between founders

Re-establishing trust is not easy. It takes courage to admit faults and failures and to apologize for them with a serious intent of not doing it again.

Because re-building trust can take time, both parties have to feel a desire and have the energy to address the issues that led to the breach of trust and then to come up with functional resolutions (a starting point would be the six actions outlined above) to not have them occur again. However, If one of the parties is offended beyond redemption, then it’s best to consider the alternatives below.

Option 2 – one founder takes the leadership hat and the other(s) a more operationally defined role
Option 3 – the founders jointly agree to bring a new leader into the organization
Option 4 – the offending (or offended) founder leaves the company
Option 5 – the founders jointly agree to shut the company down

The last option, of course, is the least preferred one, but at least it is clear to all parties what the final option is when discussions start off. I have also omitted any kind of legal intervention action by other shareholders from the above list, not because they are not possible legally (depends on what your shareholders agreement states), but because they are best not done unless the founders are on board.

In conclusion, maintaining trust takes work, but by investing in it early and over time, you guarantee a far more functional and collaborative working relationship between all founding parties.

 

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Economic Incentives for Change

I was having a coffee chat with a friend of mine recently about how some environmental changes aren’t happening fast enough because the motivations to do so are perhaps not as aligned with short-term public & commercial benefit. It was one of those fun conversations where lots of ideas were thrown around.

One that came up, however, while we were on the subject of how to improve the climatogolical decline we are suffering, was on how to help reduce carbon emissions from airplanes.

During our discussion, we figured that if we could reduce fuel consumption on airplanes, that would be a great place to start for slowing down climate change. Armed with the knowledge that hybrid airplanes are under development, we discussed: what if you could incentivize the faster development and use of hybrid airplanes that would consume less fuel, and make their adoption attractive to leading airlines?

The economic incentive idea, perhaps completely nuts, was as follows:

Some large airports have hours where they are not allowed to operate because of how they affect the noise of the neighborhoods where airplanes fly over. If these airports, with the permission of collaborating local authority or government, were to auction off, right now, the rights for airplanes to land on the airport during those off-hours, provided that the take-off and landing and flight through an agreed circumference & altitude from airport was done entirely silently through electric engines, and even if once they cleared the minimum circumference/altitude, they switched back to regular fuel power. We figured that by only having to be electric during this critical time, we would make it easier for this innovation to come faster because by not having to be fully electric, battery size and required stored energy could be reduced to only that which is necessary for approach, landing, and takeoff.

That change would allow many airlines to increase flight capacity on those airports without having to wait for the airport to build additional runways or violate noise & pollution levels (the airport authority would benefit financially as well, of course). Although this program would start ’now’, it would slowly become mandatory over time by steadily increasing the hours of operation where only hybrid planes could land and take off, that way, in the future, legacy fuel-only airplanes could still land/takeoff, but would be restricted to only a few hours a day of operation once the program was well underway.

The net effect, should this work, would be that the airlines (hopefully) through the economic incentive of being able to double revenues for arrivals and departures to specific high-margin city airports, would buy more of these airplanes, but also that engine & fuselage manufacturers would come up with creative ways to retrofit these types of hybrid solutions to existing fleets for them to take advantage of the economic benefits afforded by this program.

Since likely no one from the airline industry will read this (or will they?) the takeaway from the chat, for me at least, was to think creatively about how to take insurmountable problems and and create behavioural change through economic incentives that play into the interests of all parties.

Disclaimer Neither my friend nor I are specialists in the airline industry or have any connection with it. This blog post is just an example of crafting economic incentives for change. I don’t know if this idea is even legally or technically possible, or if there are any other limitations other than noise in allowing this to be approved by airport regulatory agencies. I further appreciate that if it were not possible for local authorities to make the necessary change in expansion of hours, then this idea would likely not work, but then, again, we’d just brainstorm up another one!

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On the Pebble Steel and the wearables market in general – Dated July 26rd, 2014

I’ve never put a date on a blog post title before, but I expect to look back on this post 5 years from now and laugh at how much I got right or how much I got wrong, either way, I do believe 100% that we are in the very beginnings of a very exciting time, as were the words of Tank in the Matrix when talking about Neo.

On killer “use cases”

About two weeks ago, we hosted a hackathon at Seedcamp on life-logging, and explored different ways people could quantify their lives either through apps directly (using the hardware on your phone to track, ala ‘Moves’) or wearables hardware that is tracking and providing information in a way that can feedback into an app (Android Wear, Pebble, Fitbit, Jawbone, Shine, etc).

My conclusion after the event is that we still don’t know how this sector will play out and what the ‘killer use case’ will be for the mass market.

However, if I take myself as an early adopter, I can clearly say that I’ve found ‘a’ killer use case’ which is to migrate notifications off the phone screen and onto my wrist, the way a watch moved time from the pocket watch to the wrist. 

This transition from phone to wrist alone has been quite liberating allowing me to have my phone charging in a different room and never lose track of messages (FB, Whatsapp, Telegram, SMS, calendars, etc) or calls during the time it is charging. Socially, it also allows me to leave my phone unattended because I don’t need to worry that I will not hear the call or message or feel the vibration amidst the noise of wherever I may be. Lastly, viewing messages is less disruptive and far faster than taking phone out of pocket, typing in unlock code, swiping and going into the app with the actual message. 

As such, I believe while we still have a lot of room for improvement, wearables will slowly become part of our passive consciousness (you feel notifications and react by type) vs. the current active engagement model (people in a room all looking at their phone).

So what about the current crop of devices? 

Well.. lets start with what I have.. a Pebble Steel

On my wrist, I currently have a Pebble Steel. I love it. Why do I love it?

1) It has a good enough battery life of 5-7 days (arguably ‘amazing’ relative to its competitors 1-2 days)
2) It is visible in every condition, bright sunlight or night.
3) It is simple & doesn’t try to be a gadget-laden watch with everything in it and failing at all.
4) It relies on hardware buttons to take input. This is important because you can take action without looking at the screen (you memorize what buttons do what and you can turn off an alarm or reject a call without having to touch the right part of the screen).
5) It has a rich ecosystem of apps – although some of the apps are completely over-extending what I think smartwatches should be/do.
6) It is ‘rugged’ – you can actually swim with it and get it dirty in a way that the current generation of competitors cannot.

As for Android Wear devices, for sure the Moto360 looks amazing, but it’s just ‘too much’. I don’t want poor battery life or to have to talk to ANY of my gadgets (I can’t imagine giving my watch commands in the notoriously quiet of conversation British public transportation system, for example. awkward.)… I take that back, when they hit sentience, then ok I might (because we can have a chat or something), but until then, manual input over touch is preferred as is waterproofing that allows you to enjoy life!

What could improve?

Well…. for one, design will always be an evolution. On the hardware side, the Pebble Steel is not bad, but its non-standard strap connector is a nuisance, its asymmetrical logo placement is less the pretty, and its screen could improve its resolution so that curved fonts didn’t look pixelated (although its not ‘bad’, just not ‘great’). Any improvements in battery life would be appreciated, but frankly, charging once a week or at worst every 5 days is no bother.

On tje software side, the Pebble App and App store could really use a speed bump when scrolling through apps, a better method of curation than just ‘search’ which usually shows very little, and better integration with the devices/apps it supports (although, can’t blame Pebble, it’s an iOS or Android issue).

How do I see this playing out in the future?

I see the major electronic hardware players (Apple/Samsung) coming out with some compelling products that track many things (health, other hardware bits, cars, etc) and provide you with quite a bit of data. However, I see the old-school Swiss manufacturers partnering with the likes of Pebble or other smartwatch platform to create an ecosystem of apps running on hardware that still allows a group of people to have the heirloom that the watch has become.

It is an exciting time indeed.

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Brand Tourism & Attention to Details

As a hobby, one thing I love to do when I travel is visit commercial establishments (be it coffee shops, stores, services, etc) that have excellent brand consistency. I call this ‘brand tourism’.

What I mean by brand consistency is where you get a feeling, as a customer, that every detail is thought through to reflect the values and vision of the founders. The more attention to detail, the more I enjoy the brand tourism experience.

This attention to detail typically includes how products are created/selected, how customer service is, and how people experience your product or service (packaging or locale).

To give you two visual examples of places in San Fran that I really enjoy for their visual attention to detail and store brand consistency, check out these two photo stories I made –

Taylor Stitch – A clothing store that has a very San Fran Hipster feel to it. – http://stories.iconografi.co/taylor-stitch

Four Barrel Coffee – Although these days the experience is perhaps slipping according to a few due to the popularity it has, its decor and how they hire staff has been very good. – http://stories.iconografi.co/four-barrel-coffee

I’ve chosen to share physical locations as examples (vs. apps) because they can set a good example upon which to base software products. Around San Fran there are several other really good example.. The Mission Workshop bags store and Triple Aught Design store to name a few others.

So, as you think about building out your website, imagery, icons, etc, ask yourself, am I making my brand consistent across all aspects and details of what I do?