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 wild.  It’s one of the big things that I’ve found that VC investors as Board members, and independent directors, bring to the Board room.  Good CEOs and senior executives will bring it to their jobs.  Good lawyers, doctors, and accountants will bring it to their professions.  If X, Y, and Z, then I am fairly certain of P, D, and Q.  Good pattern recognition allows you to make better decisions, short circuit lengthy processes, avoid mistakes, and much better understand risks.  The value of it is literally priceless.  Good pattern recognition in our business has accelerated all kinds of operational […]


June 12, 2017

Why You Won’t See Us Trash Talk Our Competition

We’ve been in business at Return Path for almost 18 years now.  We’ve seen a number of competitors come and go across a bunch of different related businesses that we’ve been in.  One of the things I’ve noticed and never quite understood is that many of our competitors expend a lot of time and energy publicly trash talking us in the market.  Sometimes this takes the form of calling us or our products out by name in a presentation at a conference; other times it takes the form of a blog post; other times it’s just in sales calls.  It’s […]


May 18, 2017

Being a CEO is Like Playing a Game of Hearts

Hearts was one of my favorite card games in college.  I remember staying up deep into the night regularly with my roommates playing it.  I recently taught our kids how to play and have been playing with them more regularly of late…and I was reminded how much I enjoy the game.  No metaphor or simile is perfect, and this one isn’t either, but it occurred to me the other night that being a CEO is a little bit like playing a game of Hearts. First and foremost, you have to play the hand that you’re dealt.  No matter how proactive […]


April 17, 2017

A Two Week Vacation is More Than Twice As Good As a One Week Vacation

I’ve said this for years, but as I sit on the train commuting into work after a week off relaxing with my family for my Dad’s 75th birthday (or as he prefers to call it, the 46th anniversary of his 29th birthday), I feel particularly inclined to write it up! I love my job, so I almost never mind going to work. But I also love being on vacation and traveling with my family and try to do as much of it as I can. Years ago before we had kids and became tethered to school and sports schedules, we […]


April 6, 2017

What kind of team do you run? Of Generalists and Specialists…

A friend of mine just left his job as CEO of a growth stage company to become CFO of a Fortune 500 company.  That’s a big deal…and also a big change.  When I was talking to him about the move, he said the following to me: Some executive teams are like baseball teams.  You play shortstop, and you bat 8th.  That’s just what you do.  The team needs one of those because the sport is structured that way.  The CEO of my new company likes to run his executive team as a basketball team.  Everyone has a position, but everyone also has […]


March 30, 2017

Everything is Data, Part II – Get Those Expenses In

Everything is Data, Part II – Get Those Expenses In My friend and former colleague Angela Baldonero (used to run our People Team at Return Path, now is COO of super cool startup Procurify), used to say about her job as head of HR, “Everything is Data.”  She guest blogged about that principle on OnlyOnce years ago here , and she particularly cited this theory when talking about the recruiting and hiring process. I’ve thought about this principle a lot over the years, and I’ve occasionally come up with other examples where I think peripheral data can inform whether or not […]


February 16, 2017

Reboot – Where do a company’s Values come from, and where do they go?

I’ve written a lot over the years about Return Path’s Core Values (summary post with lots of links to other posts here).  And I’ve also written and believe strongly that there’s a big difference between values, which are pretty unchanging, and culture, which can evolve a lot over time.  But I had a couple conversations recently that led me to think more philosophically about a company’s values. The first conversation was at a recent dinner for a group of us working on fundraising for my upcoming 25th reunion from Princeton.  Our guest speaker was a fellow alumnus who I’ve gotten to know […]


February 9, 2017

Book Short: Why Wait?

A Sense of Urgency, by John Kotter, is a solid book – not his best, but worth a read and happily short, as most business books should be.  I originally was going to hold off on writing this post until I had more time, but the subject matter alone made me think that was a mistake and that I should write it while it’s fresh in my mind.  <g> The three tools to fight complacency are the organizing framework for the book — bring the outside in, behave with urgency every day, and turn crises into opportunities — are all good thoughts, and […]


February 2, 2017

Book Short – A Smattering of Good Ideas that further my Reboot path

Book Short – A Smattering of Good Ideas that further my Reboot path Ram Charan’s The Attacker’s Advantage was not his best work, but it was worth the read.  It had a cohesive thesis and a smattering of good ideas in it, but it felt much more like the work of a management consultant than some of his better books like Know How (review, buy), Confronting Reality (review, buy), Execution (review, buy), What the CEO Wants You to Know ( buy), and my favorite of his that I refer people to all the time, The Leadership Pipeline (review, buy). Charan’s framework for […]


January 12, 2017

Reboot – Back to Basics

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m rebooting my work self this year, and this quarter in particular.  One of the things I am doing is getting back to basics on a few fronts. Over the holiday break, as I was contemplating a reboot, I emailed a handful of people with whom I’ve worked closely over the years, but for the most part people with whom I no longer work day in day out, to ask them a few questions.  The questions were fairly backward looking: 1.       When I was at my best, what were my personal habits or routines […]


October 20, 2016

You, Too, Can Take Six Weeks Off

You, Too, Can Take Six Weeks Off Note:  I have been really quite on OnlyOnce for a few months, I realize.  It’s been a busy stretch at work and at home.  I keep a steady backlog of blog topics to write about, and finally today I’ve grabbed a couple minutes on a flight to knock one out.  We’ll see if this starts me back on a more steady diet of blogging – I miss it! I’ve written in the past about our sabbatical policy at Return Path, from what it is (here) to how much I enjoyed my own (here), […]