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 Jason Mendelson, whose book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist I contributed to in a very small way by writing a series of sidebars called “The Entrepreneur’s Perspective” (that process led to my writing Startup CEO), I pulled together this presentation available on Slideshare entitled How Venture Capital Firms Work and Why You Should Care. I redacted our cap table and pictures of our VCs, but otherwise, feel free to use it with your own management team, or even your whole company.


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 […]


September 21, 2017

Book Shorts: Summer Reading

I read a ton of books.  I usually blog about business books, at least the good ones.  I almost never blog about fiction or non-business/non-fiction books, but I had a good “what did you read this summer” conversation the other night with my CEO Forum, so I thought I’d post super quick snippets about my summer reading list, none of which was business-related. If you have kids, don’t read Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s Option B:  Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy unless you’re prepared to cry or at least be choked up.  A lot.  It is a tough story to […]


August 31, 2017

Agile Everywhere, Part II

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about the Agile methodology on this blog. For those of you who are regular readers, you may remember a post I wrote about our Agile Everywhere initiative— where all Return Path teams were tasked with implementing agile practices. A little over a year later, I want to update you on our agile journey–where we are now and how we got there.  My colleague Cathy Hawley (our head of People) will write a more detailed series of guest posts  for those of you who want to get more details of our transformation process. Before […]


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 […]


July 27, 2017

Normal People, Doing Wonderful Things

  All three of our kids were at sleep-away camp for the past month, which was a first for us.  A great, but weird, first!  Our time “off” was bracketed by the absolutely amazing story of Come From Away.  One of the first nights after the kids left, we saw the show on Broadway (Broadway show web site here, Wikipedia entry about the musical and story synopsis here).  Then the last night before they came home, we saw Tom Brokaw’s ~45 minute documentary, entitled Operation Yellow Ribbon, which you can get to here or below. Come From Away is an amazing […]


July 13, 2017

The Gift of Feedback, Part V

I’ve posted a lot over the years about feedback in all forms, but in particular how much I benefit from my 360 reviews and any form of “upward” feedback.  I’ve also posted about running a 360 process for/with your Board, modeled on Bill Campbell’s formula from Intuit. I have a lot of institutional investors in our cap table at Return Path.  I was struck this week by two emails that landed in my inbox literally adjacent to each other.  One was from one of our institutional investors, sharing guidelines and timetables for doing CEO reviews across its portfolio.  The other […]


June 29, 2017

Delegating Decision-Making

My dad (one of my main CEO/entrepreneur role models) and I team-teach a business school class in entrepreneurial leadership every year at USD where a friend of his is the professor.  Sometimes I go in person, usually I just do it by video.  We did this a few weeks ago, and my dad talked through a decision-making framework that I’d never heard him mention before. I sketched it out and really like it and am already using it internally, so I thought I would share it here as well: To walk through it, delegating decision-making to someone on your team can […]


June 15, 2017

Don’t Confuse Sucking Down with Servant Leadership

I love the concept of Servant Leadership.  From the source, the definition is: While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to […]


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 […]


June 1, 2017

Company of Origin

Most psychologists, and lots of executive coaches, end up talking to their clients about their “Family of Origin” as a means of more deeply understanding the origins of their clients’ motivations, fears, hopes, and dreams.  Presumably they do this in service of helping their clients gain self-awareness around those things to be more effective in their personal or professional lives. A smattering of highly-ranked search results on the term yields snippets like these for its definition: One’s family of origin—the family one grew up in, as opposed to the people one currently lives with—is the place that people typically learn […]