Engineering & Design Driven Goals: A Conversation With Michael Abbott

Many high tech companies have trouble choosing between an emphasis on solid engineering concerns, and ambitious design objectives. Going too far in either direction can unbalance an organization, leading to products that are either stagnant and obscure or buggy and broken. The ideal situation is an environment where neither engineering nor design is neglected as an organization grows.

Michael Abbott recently had an intimate fireside chat with a group of up and coming industry professionals where he discussed some of the pitfalls associated with focusing too much on one set of goals. Abbot is an expert on enterprise infrastructure for high tech companies, who is well known for overseeing the scaling of Twitter’s team from 45 employees to 400 in just two years time.

Abbott was quick to point out that both perspectives are important in the development of a well-rounded company. Engineering will make sure that your product works well, scales, and functions properly. Meanwhile the product design can ensure that what you are building fits a broad need, and will do so in a way that will please the user.

Because both goals are valid, it’s easy for an organization to lose perspective and start going down the rabbit hole one way or another. If a company relies too heavily on its engineers to lead, then they can end up with obscure products that work well, but lack a market fit or fail inspire the user. On the other hand design centric companies are always chasing after the next “shiny new thing” and end up sacrificing functionality and quality in those pursuits.

The way to avoid this is to ensure that engineering understands or is involved product vision, so that they can add their technical input to new ideas and help build a successful product. You also need product design collaborating with engineering to ensure that the final outcome is viable and user friendly.

Finding the perfect balance between engineering and design goals can be difficult for high tech companies. However, both perspectives offer valuable insights, and failing to acknowledge one in favor of the other can lead to your company developing dangerous tunnel vision - this can be avoided by maintaining open communication and having a strong product vision.

Value Worth Investing In: A Conversation With Michael Abbott

When a venture capitalist firm evaluates a company to determine its potential they look at a variety of factors. Some of those are hard figures which can demonstrate the on the book value of the enterprise. However the intangible elements - personality, philosophy, focus, and drive - are the real metrics which can make a difference when calculating whether a business is worthy of investment.

A group of up and coming industry professionals recently had a chance to discuss this topic with Mike Abbott in an intimate fireside chat. An entrepreneur and leader in the world of technology, Mike has been involved in the development of high performance products at Palm, Microsoft, and Twitter, and is currently managing investments for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He was able to share some valuable insights into what VC’s are really looking for.

In some cases, ostensibly solid, profitable businesses are not the best choices for venture capitalist investments. It’s a problem of qualitative versus quantitative analysis. Some companies look good on paper, but they don’t have the potential for high profit returns that other innovative organizations have. It’s also difficult to evaluate a startup based entirely on numbers since cash flow is often dictated by who they are negotiating with at any given moment.

One of the things that Abbott stressed was the importance of the people involved in the start up. Venture capitalists are trying to see the big picture, and when they look at a company they are evaluating whether it can be a meaningful, stand alone business. The goals and philosophies of those involved will determine the focus of the organization, which will in turn establish the potential impact it can have on its industry.

A common mistake that companies make is skewing equity too sharply towards the owners. If the initial team fueling the startup has no share in the organization, then there will be no employee retention if they are acquired. From a venture capitalist's point of view that removes the majority of the potential profitability from the organization.

Venture capitalist firms use a variety of metrics to determine the viability of a company for investment. Some of these involve hard numbers, but often the philosophy, focus, and personality of the people involved are paramount to their fluctuating finances. The most important thing is that the business has a viable goal, with a talented team that will be able to achieve success.

Riviera regularly hosts fireside chats with some of the leading minds in tech. Recently a group of up and coming industry professionals had the chance to sit down with Michael Abbott of KPCB - this is the third of a series of posts recapping key insight.

Internal Promotions & External Hires: A Conversation With Michael Abbott

When you’re building a company you generally want to try and promote from within existing ranks. This helps to create a sense of good will among your employees, while also leading to the development of stronger, more cohesive teams. However there will be times when the best person to fill a management position will be someone from outside the company. In those cases you should take steps to try and smooth the transition process, and help to integrate the new hire into your organization.

Recently a small group of rising industry professionals had a chance to discuss hiring strategies with Michael Abbott in an intimate fireside chat. A renowned expert on enterprise infrastructure, Mr. Abbott was able to successfully oversee the growth of Twitter from 45 employees to 400 in less than two years time. When the topic of external hires came up, he was kind enough to share some of his wisdom on the subject.

The first thing that he stressed is that internal promotions are almost always preferable to outside hiring for management positions. It’s much easier for the leader, and it creates a better corporate culture by rewarding employees who have invested their time in the company. Of course situations like the one he handled at Twitter do arise when an organization has to rapidly scale its teams, precipitating the need for outside hires.

One of the most important things you can do when filling a management position with a new person is to try and bring them on as a member of the team for at least a few months before hand. This will greatly increase their chance of success by allowing them to get a sense of the group’s dynamic, and meet the other members on equal footing. Once acclimated they can then more naturally take on a leadership role.

He also stressed the necessity of creating a work environment that encourages people to take the steps necessary for them to be considered for promotions. You should create opportunities for your employees to stand out and take on more responsibility. The best companies will be merit based, rewarding for results rather than hours logged, or relationships formed with those higher up. In this way you will make it easier for quality leaders to emerge from within existing ranks.

In general, it is better to promote current employees to management positions than it is to bring in outside hires. This leads to the creation of stronger, more cohesive teams, while promoting a corporate culture that shows rewards for those who have invested time and effort in the company. When hiring someone new for a leadership role is unavoidable, you’ll have better results by bringing them on as a team contributor for a few months before promoting them.

Riviera regularly hosts fireside chats with some of the leading minds in tech. Recently a group of up and coming industry professionals had the chance to sit down with Michael Abbott of KPCB - this is the second of a series of posts recapping key insight.

The Pace Of Growth: A Conversation With Michael Abbott

Growth is the goal of every business, but if it happens too quickly it can be a bad thing. Companies that are forced to hire a large number of employees over a short period of time often end up with under skilled people in key positions. There are ways to manage rapid team increases, but the ideal situation is to have enough time to place the best possible candidate into each role, so that your organization has a firm foundation from the very beginning.

An intimate group of up and coming industry professionals recently had the chance to sit down with Michael Abbott and discuss some of these issues. Abbott is an expert at rapid team scaling who is well known for his efforts at Twitter where he oversaw the expansion of their company from 45 employees up to over 400 in a period of two years.

In their talk, Abbott stressed that the best possible candidates are not always going to be randomly looking for a job when you need to fill multiple positions. With a startup you want to try and limit employee acquisition to a maximum of 15% - 20% growth per month. Anything beyond that can put undue stress on the company and lead to weaknesses in its structure.

When rapid growth is unavoidable there are some things that you can do to ease the operation. Getting a solid, regimented system in place is one of the keys to this. You need a rigorous interview process that will act like a gauntlet, both testing, and challenging potential employees. You should also try to identify candidates who are not only talented, but who also have a loyal team of talented people that they can bring with them.

Another thing to focus on is reducing the amount of time it takes for an employee to go from being hired, to becoming productive. Having a training program can streamline this process to some extent. Mentor programs can also help guide new employees as they navigate your organization. At the same time this gives you a chance to evaluate potential future leaders by noting those people who voluntarily and successfully take on mentoring roles.

Growth is a good thing for a company but it has to come at a pace that is healthy and measured. In extreme cases where rapid expansion it is unavoidable, implementing a regimental recruitment and interviewing process can help to avoid some potential pitfalls. It’s also important to have a system that quickly enables new employees to start contributing to the organization in a meaningful way.

Riviera regularly hosts fireside chats with some of the leading minds in tech. Recently a group of up and coming industry professionals had the chance to sit down with Michael Abbott of KPCB - this is the first of a series of posts recapping key insight.

Michael Abbott On The Fine Art Of Firing

Riviera Partners recently invited a group of up and coming industry directors to an intimate fireside chat with Michael Abbott about the crucial components needed to build a winning engineering culture. We covered some key takeaways from Michael Abbott’s insight in a three part series, and feature part two below:

Read the full article here…

Hiring Wisdom From Kleiner Perkins’ Michael Abbott

Riviera Partners recently invited a group of up and coming industry directors to an intimate fireside chat with Michael Abbott about the crucial components needed to build a winning engineering culture. We covered some key takeaways from Michael Abbott's insight in a three part series, and feature part one below:

Read the full article here...