Image for post
Image for post
Image courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/86530412@N02/11469888065

Most companies have executed on defensive plans to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. Playing defense is about two primary things:

  • Reduce burn and extend runway. This includes taking a microscope (and then a hatchet) to every cost line item on the income statement: lowering headcount costs through some combination of salary cuts, RIFs and furloughs; renegotiating.supplier and real estate contracts; reducing unnecessary outlays, and other similar measures. Headcount is the biggest opex line item for most companies, so that’s where most companies naturally tend to focus focus, though it’s worth emphasizing that you should never, ever lay off your A-players.
  • Increase cash balance: Raising capital through a combination of equity and debt, though (of course) only a subset of companies will have this option available to them. …

The other day, I was meeting with the CEO at a company I advise. Our goal for the meeting was to review his executive team to identify potential gaps.

The CEO pulled up the list of his C-level executives and started walking me through it. I stopped him abruptly.

“What about Kent?” I asked.

“Ah, Kent,” he said, with just the slightest hesitation. “We had to let Kent go.”

“But, but, …” I stammered. “You just hired him three months ago! He was your prized hire, the one whose hiring you trumpeted in an email to the board and advisors. …


Yesterday, one of my portfolio companies died.

They haven’t formally dissolved the company yet, but that step is merely a formality. The other events foreshadowing company death are firmly in motion: employees are actively interviewing (many had offers within a week, this being Silicon Valley circa 2019), investors have already told their CPAs to write off the investment, the landlord has been informed, etc.

Two years ago, when I invested in their seed round, the company was full of promise. The two founders were strong technologists with a product bent; both had worked together at their previous employer; they had validated their idea by interviewing decision makers at 100+ companies to determine that yes, there was a clear pain point here and yes, enterprises were willing to pay for a solution; the company’s solution had the two magic letters — A and I — (or the other two equally seductive letters — M and L), and it was real technology, not just made up BS. …


Image for post
Image for post

CEOs wear several hats — strategic, operational, financial. In One On One, Ben Horowitz makes a profound statement:

“Perhaps the CEO’s most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company.”

My goal for this post is to dig deeper into the communication architecture that Ben refers to: why it matters in the first place, and what its constituent components are. (Ben — if you read this, would love your thoughts on whether I’m missing something!)

Why communication architecture matters

A good communication architecture enables information to flow across the company (up and down, side to side) without impediment. It ensures that every person understands the organization’s strategy and priorities (and their own role in it); that people can easily access the information they need to do their job well; that people understand how to make and communicate decisions; problems are surfaced to leaders efficiently. …


I got this email recently from a CEO:

Hey Gokul, I want to start a biweekly newsletter to the entire co. I read your blog post on all hands. Was super helpful. Do you have any guidance or examples on how to best structure a regular written update?

In a previous post, I talked about a company’s communication architecture being the CEO’s most important operational responsibility.

Spurred by the CEO’s request and following up on the earlier post, I’d like to deep dive into a specific element of a company’s communication architecture: a weekly or fortnightly email from the CEO to the entire organization. Most CEOs send emails to their organization on a one-off basis — for instance, to announce an acquisition. …


CEOs wear several hats — strategic, operational, financial. In One On One, Ben Horowitz makes a profound statement: “Perhaps the CEO’s most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company.”

My goal for this post is to dig deeper into the communication architecture that Ben refers to: why it matters in the first place, and what its constituent components are. (Ben — if you read this, would love your thoughts on whether I’m missing something!)

Why communication architecture matters

A good communication architecture enables information to flow across the company (up and down, side to side) without impediment. It ensures that every person understands the organization’s strategy and priorities (and their own role in it); that people can easily access the information they need to do their job well; that people understand how to make and communicate decisions; problems are surfaced to leaders efficiently. …


A common question I get from students or folks early in their career (or sometimes, even mid-career) is some variant of: “How should I choose a company to work for?”

Over the years, I’ve given this question some thought. Hindsight being 20/20, I’ve also looked back at why I decided to join Google, Facebook and Square. All three companies have been successful by almost any metric.

So what did I uncover? My assertion is that you need to evaluate a company through the dual lenses of Purpose and Leader/Purpose Fit.

  1. Purpose: Every company has a purpose, a raison d’etre, a reason why it was created, why they exist in the first place. The right company for you is a company whose purpose inspires and motivates you. Remember, when you join a company, it’s something that you have to wake up every single day and go in to work to. The right company for you is a company whose purpose makes you want to you to jump out of bed every single day, full of excitement for what lies ahead. The right company for you is a company whose purpose makes you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself. For me, personally, I’ve realized that I get excited about working at companies that seek to transform the daily lives of people in a fundamental way.

“My biggest regret is that our first customer was $1M ACV*,” my friend lamented over coffee the other day. “I wish I could take it back.”

“Why? What do you mean?” I asked, perplexed. He is the CEO of a company that recently raised a Series C from great investors, is growing rapidly, has strong customer retention and a top-notch leadership team. I was — to put it mildly — taken aback.

“Ever since that first customer, our product, go-to-market, our support model have all been pulled in one direction — high-end enterprise,” he said. “Our first $1M ACV customer forced us to get on the elephant hunting treadmill, and we’ve never been able to get off it. …


What’s the second most important metric for every company?

Let’s start by clarifying the most important metric for every company.

It is the North Star Metric (NSM), which Sean Ellis elegantly defines as the “single metric that best captures the core value that your product delivers to customers.” Facebook’s NSM is Daily Active Users (DAUs), which captures value delivered to users; Square’s NSM is Gross Processing Volume (GPV), which captures value delivered to sellers; AirBnB’s NSM is Nights Booked, which (since AirBnB is a marketplace) captures value delivered to both hosts and guests.

The North Star Metric is necessary and essential for a company to align its strategy, plans and people around. When company leaders set internal goals or talk publicly about the company’s growth, they do so in terms of the NSM. …


Most CEOs are an urgent breed.

Every CEO I know laments how they need to instill a stronger sense of urgency in their company around every single thing, to get things done faster.

However, there is one very important thing they should have zero urgency around.

In fact, they should try to delay it as much as possible; ideally, forever.

I’m talking about titles. Specifically, Director-level and higher (Senior Director, VP, SVP) titles.

I’m talking about building a company of several thousand people where not one person is a Director, Senior Director, VP, SVP or EVP.

I’m talking about building a culture where scope and impact — not titles — are recognized and celebrated. …

About

Gokul Rajaram

curious optimist. quizbowl coach. dad and husband. caviar lead @ doordash. previously square, facebook and google.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store