May 1, 2019

OnlyOnce, Part XX

I realize I haven’t posted much lately.  As you may know, the title of this blog, OnlyOnce, comes from a blog post written by my friend and board member Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures entitled You Are Only a First-Time CEO Once, which he wrote back in 2003 or 2004.  That inspired me to create a blog for entrepreneurs and leaders.  I’ve written close to 1,000 posts over the years, and the book became the impetus for a book that another friend and board member Brad Feld from Foundry Group encouraged me to write and helped me get published called Startup CEO:  A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business back in 2013. Today is a special day in my entrepreneurial journey and in the life of the company that I started back in 1999 (last century!), Return Path, as we announce that Return Path has entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by an exciting new company called Validity.  Press release is here. Over almost 20 years, we’ve built Return Path into one of the largest and (I think) most respected companies in the email industry.  We’ve had a culture of innovation that has led to some […]


July 26, 2018

Sometimes a Good Loss is Better than a Bad Win

I just said this to a fellow little league coach, and it’s certainly true for baseball.  I’ve coached games with sloppy and/or blowout wins in the past.  You take the W and move on, but it’s hard to say “good game” at the end of it and feel like you played a good game.  And I’ve coached games where we played our hearts out and made amazing plays on offense and defense…and just came up short by a run.  You are sad about the L, but at least you left it all out on the field. Is that statement true […]


July 3, 2018

Response to the Journal

(This post is running concurrently on the Return Path blog.) It is now widely understood that the Internet runs on data. I first blogged about this in 2004—14 years ago!— here.  People have come to expect a robust—and free!—online experience. Whether it’s a shopping app or a social media platform like Instagram, these free experiences provide a valuable service. And like most businesses, the companies that provide these experiences need to make money somehow. Consumers are coming to understand and appreciate that the real cost of a “free” internet lies in advertising and data collection. Today, the Wall Street Journal ran an article […]


June 28, 2018

Feedback Overload and Confusion – a Guide for Commenting on Employee Surveys

We run a massive employee survey every year or so called The Loop, which is powered by Culture Amp.  We are big fans of Culture Amp, as they provide not only a great survey tool but benchmarks of relevant peer companies so our results can be placed in external context as well as internal context. The survey is anonymous and only really rolled up to large employee groups (big teams, departments, offices, etc.), and we take the results very seriously.  Every year we run it, we create an Organization Development Plan out of the results that steers a lot of […]


April 19, 2018

There’s a word or two missing from the English language

In my personal life, I have acquaintances, I have friends, and I have good/close friends. In my work life, I have colleagues – the professional equivalent of acquaintances. But what comes after that professionally?  We spend over half our waking life at work.  Of course we are going to build important relationships.  Some of them will cross over to personal and become legitimate “friends” or “good friends.” I always feel some sense of honor when a colleague introduces me to someone as a true friend. But for those that don’t cross that chasm – for those who are truly just professional […]


March 8, 2018

You Don’t Know How to Drive a Car Because You Know How to Read a Map

I was having breakfast with the CEO of another SaaS company the other day, as I often do to network.  He was telling me about his experience working with his company’s new Private Equity owner. There are always a mix of pros and cons that come with any particular shareholder, Board member, or owners, of course.  In his case, my fellow CEO was bemoaning the 29-year old associate who acted like a know-it-all in every Board meeting.  Lots of CEOs have been there.  There’s a lot of value you can get from an associate or VP-level person at an investor who is […]


February 22, 2018

No One Will Ever Thank You for Keeping Prices Low

I was in a Board meeting last week (not Return Path’s), when one of my fellow directors came out with this gem:  “No one will ever thank us for keeping our prices low.” When I first heard this, as is the case with most great quotes, I was drawn to its wit and simplicity. But then I started thinking – is it true?  My mind first went to retail.  Having a reputation as being a low-cost provider can be in and of itself effective marketing – if that reputation is strong enough and your selection is wide enough, at least […]


November 16, 2017

Deals are not done until they are done

We were excited to close the sale of our Consumer Insights business last week to Edison, as I blogged about last week on the Return Path blog.  But it brought back to mind the great Yogi Berra quote that “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.” We’ve done lots of deals over our 18 year existence.  Something like 12 or 13 acquisitions and 5 spin-offs or divestitures.  And a very large number of equity and debt financings. We’ve also had four deals that didn’t get done.  One was an acquisition we were going to make that we pulled away from during due […]


November 2, 2017

How Venture Capital Firms Work, for Entrepreneurs and Startups

A couple of months ago, I was doing an internal lunch & learn for senior managers, and the topic came up as to “how do our VC firms work?”  In the spirit of deeply understanding our customers’ businesses in order to better serve them, I thought the same would be true of our investors and Board members – that educating our team on the inner workings and economics of our investors would lead to greater empathy of one of our other key stakeholders. So with no small amount of help from my long-time investor and director Brad Feld and his colleague […]


October 5, 2017

When in Doubt, Apply a Framework (but be sure to keep them fresh!)

I’ve always been a big believer in the consistent application frameworks for business thinking and decision-making.  Frameworks are just a great starting point to spark conversation and organize thinking, especially when you’re faced with a new situation.  Last year, I read Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, and he had this great line that reminded me of the power of frameworks and that it extends far beyond business decision-making: When you put your value set together with your analysis of how the Machine works and your understanding of […]


August 10, 2017

The Value and Limitations of Pattern Recognition

My father-in-law, who is a doctor by training but now a health care executive, was recently talking about an unusual medical condition that someone in the family was fighting.  He had a wonderful expression he said docs use from time to time: When you hear hoof beats, it’s probably horses. But you never know when it might be a zebra. With experience (and presumably some mental wiring) comes the ability to recognize patterns.  It’s one of those things that doesn’t happen, no matter how smart you are, without the passage of time and seeing different scenarios play out in the […]