Career Thoughts

– When have you enjoyed your work the most? What are/were the
Well, I’ve been kind of lucky these last dozen years or so. I will say that
until 1988, I was a year-a-job kind of guy. Just kept ripcording out of
things that I couldn’t see make sense. But I got lucky with Microsoft and
now Ignition. What were the circumstances, well they varied, but I would say
that there were five aspects. Interestingly, enough, these are the same
criteria we use now when we analyze new venture capital investments. I’m not
sure what that means, except that maybe I can’t get out of a rut πŸ™‚
1. Domain. Is this an area where I could understand things better than the
next person. There is always a competitive market and I’m kind of a believer
in the idea that you should be really great going into something. Having
just been skiing, this is kind of like doing stuff that you are an expert
in. With Microsoft, it was about being a technical guy, but also doing the
business school thing. Kind of unique combination at that time for the
technology business.
2. The Market: Customers and Competition. Is it favorable. That is high
growth. I’m kind of a believer in the idea that even if you are really
great, it doesn’t matter, if the situation isn’t high growth. Growth really
makes things much easier. Whether it be very fast growth in non-profit
donations, the market for low-cost enterprise servers. Usually, there are
two factors, lots of eager customers and low or beatable competition. The
punch line here is that it means there is high growth and high-profits. Now
in the non-profit world there aren’t profits per se, but lets just say there
are lots of non-profitable (e.g., they can’t cover costs) kinds of places.
3. The Company: Product and the Play. Well, the motto here is have fun
working with great people with offerings that you can love. That is where,
there is a unique enough play on your part (a la Sun Tzu) where you know how
where you are working can ultimately prevail. I’ve done the best where there
is a product or offering where I can just really have a passion for.
4. The People. I’ve certainly changed jobs just because I thought the people
were yucky. A corollary for this, is finding a place where I thought folks
were smarter than me by a lot. Not just people that I can learn from, but
the smartest people you can find. Here I kind of thing that there is a
progression. Early in life, you can move, you can change jobs, you don’t
have many connections. Later in life, hopefully, you develop these, but you
also develop a certain ability to choose your situation. Thus, for me, it
was go to the Bay Area, then to New York, then back to the Bay Area, then to
LA, then to Seattle. Now, in Seattle, it’s been pick the right people to
work with. The second aspect is knowing how you uniquely are going to win in
the particular job that you are given. Best advice I ever got was from Ken
Kelley who told me, “know the three reasons why you are the perfect person
for the job and the three reasons why the organization is the perfect place
for you.” Ideally, something that is about changing the world. There is this
kind of hackneyed thing about finding folks with the right values, but I
think there is something to it (btw, I find most value statement kind of
well, value free, if interested, here are mine: a) change the world with
what you do, b) have fun working with great people, c) be the absolute at
what you do and d) work with integrity and honesty without short cuts.
5. The Reward. Well, this is all about what’s the game plan. Jeff Raikes
once told me that, “every really great person has a plan and can tell you
how what they are doing fits into it.” For me, this boils down to finding
the place where the learning curve is the steepest. Reed Koch, another sage
in all of this, put it this way, “find a job that is hard, but not too hard.
Something where your special magic is going to be highly valued. But not
something impossible.”
– How have you worked with supervisors who don’t believe in you, or who are
otherwise disposed to overshadow you?
You bet, but I have to admit, my main goal had been to get the heck out of
there. That’s the year-a-job thing I get into. Although I know there are
many people who manage well in these circumstances, it hasn’t been me. I’m a
big believer in the fact that most people should take the jobs that they
accept. It makes no sense to work for a person you know is going to destroy
you. Fact is most managers aren’t that great, so why not go for the really
exceptional ones. That being said, no one is perfect, so for me, I try to
find situations where early in a career, it is clear to me how I can shine.
Later, its about finding positions where you are valuable and you can do
things your superiors can’t. I have to admit I’m kind of competitive and it
is all about being unique. At least in the circles I’ve run in. I’m a big
believer in the fact that a job can be magic and it makes me sad to see
folks die a little death every day by compromising what they believe in.
Particularly early in a career or when you don’t have to.
– How do you make the most out of a relationship with a supervisor?
Good question. First rule that I’ve had is, think like they do. What do they
want, what should the organization want. One little exercise I run a lot is,
“what would I do if I were running the place?” and then ask, “OK, given
that, where should I be to get that done.” For me, I’ve been lucky not to
really work for a person, but to work for the organization. The mission, the
dream. Second rule, is to think of your supervisor as someone who works for
you. What would you ask them to do. I’m kind of a believer in a good defense
is a good offense. Now, I’ve been super lucky, the folks I’ve worked with,
have been good enough (or maybe I’ve been picky enough?) that I can say, hey
Brad or hey Jim, I think we need to do X, Y or Z, and they say, I agree,
when are you going to get it done? For me, this last rule is about staying
above the fray. I sometimes imagine myself surfing along. Knowing that if I
sink down a little I’m just going to get hammered.
– How have you created opportunities that stimulate you or grow your
See above, but the main way, is decide: a) is this the right place for me,
if not, then find a place htat is and b) if I’m going to work here, then
what’s the most valuable thing that someone should be doing and then get
myself right there.
– What have you discovered is key to a successful working life?
Luck and I’m afraid making tradeoffs. I’m afraid to say it, but I do believe
that luck begats luck. That is, if you are lucky enough to find something
good, then you’ll do well. This puts you on the hot list, so you can find
the next greater, bigger thing. Second thing, is the plain, at least in my
jobs, that if you put more work, you tend to get more done. Getting more
things done in a unit of time is a combination IMHO of working smart and of
working more.
– What role have mentors played for you?
Hmmm. Depends on what the term means. Certainly, there has been no one who
out of the goodness of their heart has said, we’ll just make things happen
for you. OTOH, it is very true that if it weren’t for certain people who
came to believe in me, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. I think of these
folks more like allies and helpers as long as I delivered the goods. So,
there are no coattails IMHO. There is certainly true to the Jon Reingold
truism that, “your boss can be a tugboat or an anchor.” Now that I’ve done a
few things, I can see that there are certain folks that just seem to rise
above the rest, but also that everyone needs a champion. It is unlikely
you’ll never take a spill and having someone fight for you is important.
– How do you work with supervisors who are less talented than you are or
think smaller than you do?
Well. Let’s see. I don’t try to think about people as less and more
talented. As I said before, first goal if it is not going to work for me, is
look for the ripcord before it is too late. I’ve typically found that if you
think your boss is “less talented,” he or she is probably thinking about
what to do with you in the same light. Main thing for me has been to
determine: a) is this irretrievable then rotate to a new group or out of the
company, b) if not, then think like they do and figure out how to make them
successful. It is amazing to me how many people feel that the boss
relationship is somehow special. To me, it’s just like selling a donor or
winning a sales or convincing a customer.
– All of you are men. Why do you suppose there are fewer successful women?
(don’t worry about being pc) From your dude perspective, what challenges,
if any, do you think are unique to women and what advice might you offer?
Well, this is sure a loaded question πŸ™‚ Let’s just say, that I’m not sure
I’m qualified to take a woman’s POV on this. OTOH, as an Asian-American and
at one point, the only Asian in the US exec staff at a F500 company, I can
say that there are unique challenges. I once did a pretty funny deck for the
Chinese Microsoft engineers (CHIME) about the challenges of making it to VP.
Don’t recall many of the details, but there are certainly cultural, social
and gender differences. Harder to overcome, but definitely there.
– How do you promote your work in a competitive environment?
Another kind of loaded question. To me, the instant, I find someone talking
about promoting their work, I wonder what the issues are. I tend to think of
things in a stack rank (hard not to do, since I was part of one six months
for 12 years :-). Let’s just say, that at the high level, knowing how you
are going to be the top stack ranked person in a group, really depends on
the starting point. What makes you different from the other folks. How do
you get into a group where the measures of success are going to be tilted in
your favor (so for instance, if you are great at long term relationships,
don’t join a group where it is all about the brand new 3 month quotas). If
you are already in the race with the culture/values of the firm in your
favor, that’s about 80% of the battle IMHO. Then, comes making sure that you
stay on top of the opinion polls. That’s quite a game and worth a day long
discussion. Suffice to say that I’ve been in jobs, where literally every
hour, I’d think about the key email or conversations to have and strategize
for hours with my real board of directors, how to position and get things
– Can you describe a time when your work was difficult or draining, and how
you got through that?
I think everyone has those times. Your question could be about two things:
a) how you imagine surviving through it and b) how to actually get the job
done. Actually, I love the head rush of doing something way too hard. I
guess I’d answer (a) by saying, I get through it by knowing that it is a
sprint to the top of the hill and knowing where the spot to cruise is going
to be. Whether it is market share or hitting some major objective (like
raising another round of funding in my current job). Also, typically, most
jobs seem to have a certain rhythm and if things are going well, taking
advantage of that is something I love to do. If I feel behind, for instance,
December is a great time to accelerate through while others are taking
holidays. If things are going well, then that’s a good time to accelerate
and then coast into the holidays. For (b), to get through a difficult time,
I mainly drop my action item list down to the bare essentials and just get
them done. We used to call it shutting down interrupts. Most jobs only
require that you get 5 things done a day (think about it), so just get those
five done and don’t worry about the rest. You asked for an example, here’s
one, I took over Microsoft’s high-end Windows marketing back in 1994.
Everything literally had to change and the day I took the job literally, the
guy was yelling at me in front of about 100 people. In that case, getting
through it was about realizing that I wasn’t going to be sleeping for the
next two years and getting ready for battle. Well, about 15 pounds heavier
and 700 18-hour-days later, it was done. That 2 week vacation in Australia
was never sweeter!
– Can you share a success story, and what the elements were that created
that success?
There are so many sotries. I think I laid one out above. And, many elements.
You’d almost have to hear each individual one. To give another example, a
work in progress really, there is the current project Ignition. This has
been about the right high-level strategy. Start a venture firm in an area we
know a lot about (domain: technology), have relatively low competition and
high demand (market: everyone needs venture money and most firms have pulled
back), find the really great people (these are the absolute best people I’ve
ever worked with) and run like hell.
– Where do you see yourself going, or want to go, over the next five to ten
years? (including personal growth goals)
Great questions, I guess you probably mean mainly work goals, so I’ll give
them to you. I tend to like to have a longist term BHAG (big hairy a** goal)
and a specific one year, one month and weekly goal (hey, I’m a little
crazy!). So, here they are: a) 10 years. Be part of the venture capital
firm in North America, b) 5 years. master being a venture capital guy and
create some really great companies. For the shorter term, here’s a flavor:
2000 – Figure out how to start a business
2001 – learn how to raise money and talk with our “bosses” the limited
partners who give us money
2002 – learn how to make an investment relationship work by finding good
companies and how to work with the folks managing and within our little
2003 – learn how to find folks who want to buy companies and sell some of
– Anything else you’d like to share?
What a great set of questions!

I’m Rich & Co.

Welcome to Tongfamily, our cozy corner of the internet dedicated to all things technology and interesting. Here, we invite you to join us on a journey of tips, tricks, and traps. Let’s get geeky!

Let’s connect