The Value of Leadership

healthcare-fail

I recently read an article about the resurgence and recovery of Heathcare.gov. It is long but I highly suggest you make the time to look it over.

Steven Brill’s piece highlighted how shocked the President and his administration were when the website broke, while also providing in-depth coverage of the actions that were taken to save it.

The number one thing that stood out was the lack of leadership leading up to the launch of the initial failed product. Nobody was completely in charge. Nobody was there to fill in the gaps or rally the troops when necessary. Some may say this is a product of government contracting but it is more likely the product of bad leadership.

The President and his administration brought in some of the best tech minds to identify and fix the problems. This team was led by Todd Park (White House CTO) and full of leaders at Google, Twitter, and other tech giants. After reading the story, it becomes apparent that Park and others exhibited a no-nonsense style of leadership that drove the team to accomplish great work in a ridiculously short amount of time.

Leadership is an acquired trait. The effect it can have on teams, projects, and results is mind-blowing. Take time to learn from the best. Study what works and what doesn’t work. Develop your own style. Most importantly, never fall victim to the fear of failure that comes when you step up to lead a group of people.

Technology is great but humans are the most important asset you have. Lead them to accomplish the impossible.

The Rise of Mobile Gaming

The figures never lie, and according to some recent research, mobile games are on the up! With tons of high growth and large exits in the space, more and more attention is being brought to the world of whales.

The modern smartphone can be attributed for much of this evolution. Every year the phones are getting faster and faster, which increases usage dramatically. All of this has led to the “boom” in online gaming at sites like Gaming Club ( http://www.gamingclub.com/au/online-roulette).

Take a look at this infographic and let me know what you think!

jackpot

Google, Nest, and the Connected Home

google-nest

The tech industry is buzzing with interest and excitement over the recent announcement that Google will acquire Nest for $3.2 billion. At first glance many people are unsure of the fit between the two companies. There are also plenty of people who are worried about Google’s newfound access to even more personal data.

This deal is an overall positive in my opinion. The most interesting trend is that hardware is making a resurgence. So many people have claimed that “Software is eating the world” but there is still plenty of disruption left in hardware. If Google is out buying this product companies, I expect to see more and more of them popping up.

The second trend is that Google is entering the smart home space. Most people have identified home automation and energy conservation as a large area for innovation. The running joke is that every entrepreneur who has a huge exit eventually tries to build a home automation system! It goes without saying that having large, impactful players like Google involved only improves the likelihood of progress.

The last trend is really just a huge win for Google. Tony Fadell was the man behind numerous iterations of the iPod and iPhone (with Jonathan Ive). The Nest team is packed full of former Apple engineers and product managers. Adding these magicians to the Google family will prove to be extremely beneficial in the future as more hardware innovation is sought.

Overall this deal is exciting and may prove to be the deal of 2014 (a bit early to tell obviously). The real impact won’t be known for a decade or so but I’m never one to bet against Google, Nest, or the Connected Home.

 

Photo: technobuffalo.com

Why You Should Stop Pretending To Be So Important

please-help

I’ve been spending a lot of time helping founders and startups over the past couple of weeks. This week I spoke with 18 founders and answered questions, gave advice, or just lent an ear while they vented about problems. I won’t receive a single thing for my time, nor am I looking for anything. This isn’t said to brag but rather to share what I think the right thing to do is.

It has been shocking all week to see how appreciative these founders have been. Last night, one founder thanked me numerous times for “lending a few minutes of time.” While it is always nice to hear thank you, this trend is somewhat alarming.

As I started to pry deeper into why people were so thankful, I realized that too many people are being selfish with their time. Numerous founders explained that they have reached out to experienced entrepreneurs, corporate executives, fellow alumni, and investors, without much luck. The two most common responses they have received (informal poll) are “I’m too busy” or no response at all.

ABSURD!

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done – nobody is important enough to ignore someone asking for help. Each of needs help at some point in our career. Word spreads quickly about the individuals who fall into the “a-hole” category by not responding. Avoid being the newest member. It will probably ruin your reputation for a long time.

The cowardly answer of “I’m too busy” is almost as bad. Again, nobody is important enough to be too busy to help an entrepreneur. If you think you’re one of these individuals, I suggest you find the time. Take a shorter lunch break. Wake up 30 minutes earlier. Fall asleep an hour later. Take a phone call as you drive to work. Do something. Don’t take the easy way out.

The short story is that everyone in a startup ecosystem should lend a hand (or ear) when called upon. You never know how helpful you can be. I’m all for providing limitations (30 minute phone call, 10 minute meeting, etc) but don’t completely drop the ball.

Remember, karma is a bitch!

 

Photo credit: prosperitycoalition.org

Startup Ideas for 2014

2014

At the beginning of every year I try to predict the industries or verticals that are susceptible to disruption in the next 12 months. Sometimes I’m right. Sometimes I’m wrong. Every time its still fun.

If you’re interested in working on one of these ideas, let me know. I’d love to talk through the problems and solutions for each prediction. You probably can teach me a thing or two as well!

I originally made this list on a Raleigh-based startup, Avelist’s new platform.

1. Media and publishing – someone has to figure out a 2.0 model

2. Subscription products – think Dollar Shave Club and Birchbox

3. Same day delivery – Ebay/Google/Amazon are players but a startup can win

4. Real estate – much has stayed the same for 30-40 years

5. Wearable tech – Smart watches, Google Glass, etc are just the beginning

6. Bitcoin – This is probably much, much bigger than any of us understand yet

7. Education – Kids need to be taught differently to prepare for next 100 years

8. Energy – Lots of big stuff happening here, essential to future of existence

9. Sports – Personal favorite. Can we get a damn sensor on the football goal line?!

10. Finance – College is expensive. People are broke. Someone build a solution.

11. Space – No clue about this one other than I’ll pay to meet aliens :)

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

How The US Army Made Me An Entrepreneur

Credit: entrepreneur.com

Credit: entrepreneur.com

This post is a reprint of the WRAL TechWire article titled, “Inside a deal: Why vet sold DigaForce – and how Army made him an entrepreneur.” Unfortunately the article was originally published behind the content paywall (more on that later). I am reproducing the article here with Rick Smith’s permission. I hope it can inspire other military vets to make the leap into the startup game. If you’re considering it, I’d love to hear from you!

Raleigh, N.C. — What Anthony Pompliano will do for his next gig now that he has sold his social media intelligence firm DigaForce to Strategic Link Partners isn’t clear at this point. But on another, he is quite clear: Serving in the U.S. Army – including the excruciatingly dangerous and nerve-wracking search for IEDs across the killing fields of Iraq – helped make the son of a technology executive an entrepreneur.

“The military had a huge part in making me into an entrepreneur,” Pompliano explained Thursday after news about the sale of his company broke.

Wait a minute: Taking orders in the Army develops entrepreneurial skills?

Well, says the young man who served as a sergeant and combat engineer, much thinking about the armed forces is wrong.

“Contrary to popular belief, service members are required to be resourceful and entrepreneurial on a daily basis,” he explains.

“Many times I was given a mission objective with very little guidance. It was up to me and my team to accomplish the mission how we saw fit.”

“Running a startup is very much the same. Do a lot with very little and in a quick time frame.” Pompliano reached the rank of sergeant. Here’s how the Army defines a SGT’s role:

SERGEANT (SGT)

Typically commands a squad (9 to 10 soldiers). Considered to have the greatest impact on Soldiers because SGTs oversee them in their daily tasks. In short, SGTs set an example and the standard for Privates to look up to, and live up to.

What better management teacher than being responsible for the lives of others?

Pompliano visited WRAL’s headquarters a few months ago and talked candidly about his Iraq experiences – along with other business. Searching for improvised explosive devices was never, ever easy. And IEDs killed many Americans, NATO allies as well as Iraqis – and Afghans. He calls those searches “combat missions involving route clearance and cordon and searches.”

One mistake – boom, you and your buddies were dead.

The six-year veteran who spent 13 months in Iraq in 2008-9 says many of the men and women battle-scarred in the never-ending war on terror are now turning their attention to business and using their battlefield experiences.

“More and more veterans are becoming entrepreneurs,” he says. “After Vietnam, an unusually high-rate of CEO’s were vets. I expect to see this trend reappear in the next 5 to 15 years.”

Called to Serve as a Patriot

Devotion to duty and self-sacrifice are just two of the many reasons why a lot of corporate executives want to hire veterans. Pompliano was called to serve by what happened on 9-11-01.

“No one will ever forget where they were on September 11, 2001. I was in 8th grade, sitting in the cafeteria, when the principal told the school what had happened. We were too young to fully grasp what terrorism was, but we knew that someone had come to our country and tried to kill people,” he wrote in his personal blog called Pomp Logic.

“Little did I know, thousands of people would end up dying before the day was over. These terrorists were radicals who were hell-bent on destroying the country that I lived in. Once I got home, my parents explained the situation more in depth to me. I did a lot of growing up that day.

“Four years later, as a 17 year old high school graduate, I knew what I wanted to do. I walked into a US Army recruiting office and asked “What can I do to help?” The man sitting across the desk responded with something that I will never forget, “Son, if you want to help us, we can find something for you to do.” That’s all I needed to hear.

“Almost 7 years to the exact date of walking into that office, I took my uniform off for the last time. I had been blessed with the opportunity to serve with the infantry, combat engineers, and military intelligence. I had the eye-opening experience of serving on Active Duty and in the Reserves. The Army took me around the world, let me see some amazing places, and helped me mature in ways I could have never imagined.”

Son of an Entrepreneur

Anthony’s name strikes some in the Triangle technology community as a familiar one. It should. His father ran a tech company in the Triangle called P4.

“I was not involved,” the younger Pompliano explains. “We share the same name but he goes by Tony and I go by Anthony. Blame the Italian heritage!”

His father is now involved with another firm, Anexio, which Anthony describes as a “great company” that is “on an acquisition spree.”

New Mission?

Pompliano chose to become an entrepreneur in the Triangle with a bet placed on social intelligence: Turning all that Facebook, Twitter and who-knows-what-else people want to share about themselves into “actionable intelligence” for companies became the hub of what he called a “social intelligence company.”

So why sell the company to Joan Myers and Strategic Link Partners?

“We have worked with SLP in the past and our visions/goals aligned,” he says. “Their team is one of the best in the industry and we can obtain market dominance at a much faster pace by combining forces. All aspects of this deal made sense for both parties.”

But Pompliano is not stepping away. He plans an ongoing role. Why?

“We still have a mission to fulfill.”

Pompliano declined to answer a number of questions about DigaForce’s “secret sauce” technology and all the controversy about social media monitoring taking place these days (as clearly documented by Edward Snowden).

“Due to the nature of the deal and the industry with which SLP operates, I can’t comment,” he says.

DigaForce did appear to be en route to landing funding, having applied for and reached the semifinal round for a grant from economic development group NC IDEA. That could have been worth as much as $50,000. But as the reviews continued in the fall, Pompliano says the SLP deal came together.

“We were selected as a semi-finalist for the NC IDEA grant and felt we had a great chance to win,” he says. “Once we knew the acquisition was going to come to fruition (before finalists were announced), I worked with the NC IDEA team to retract our application with total transparency.

“As an entrepreneur, I like to think we would have won the grant if we hadn’t retracted the application.”

Pompliano also had touted DigaForce to potential investors, and he says money is available.

“Funding is one piece of the puzzle,” Pompliano explains. “Everything about entrepreneurship is hard. People who get hung up on funding are doomed from the beginning. There is plenty of money in the Triangle. If you have a compelling value proposition, investors will open their check books. Not being funded is not an excuse for failing.”

So what comes next?

“Not sure right now,” he says. “I’ve been spending my time helping other entrepreneurs (and) startups in the Triangle.”

A Personal Note

Readers of technology blogs in the Triangle are probably aware that Pompliano is not a supporter of WRAL TechWire’s decision to implement a premium content (“paywall”) plan last year. In fact, he launched a petition against it. And in a Twitter post on Thursday he lamented the fact that the first story to appear about the deal was, in fact, behind that paywall.

Anthony and I have talked about the Insider strategy, as we call it, and have been unable to come to an understanding. However, he graciously agreed to talk about the sale of his venture and his own experiences as an entrepreneur. So for that, The Skinny says “Thanks.”

Also, thanks to Anthony and all you other veterans who put your lives on the line so we at home can remain free. We are forever in our debt, just as our nation is to all the men and women who from the founding have been brave enough to respond to the call of duty.

 

 

DigaForce Is Being Acquired

slp2

The year of 2013 was very exciting and rewarding for me.  Throughout the year I learned many lessons and gained invaluable experience as an entrepreneur, son, brother, and significant other. Today I am happy to kick off 2014 by announcing some awesome news.

DigaForce is being acquired by Strategic Link Partners (SLP). Click here to read the article from Triangle Business Journal. This awesome opportunity came together at the end of 2013 and was the product of an on-going relationship with the team at SLP. We ultimately decided to join forces because we believe that numerous advantages exist as a result of our combined efforts.

This news wouldn’t be possible without the help of so many people. First I want to thank my co-founder, Matt Cotter. His passion and effort was a major contributor to our success. I pride myself on being results-driven and Matt consistently held me to that standard. There were many late nights that provided for great memories.

DigaForce was blessed to have a number of close friends who helped out at different times throughout the process, including Eric Martindale, Vance Fitzgerald, Tyler Cross, and Ana Echeverri. Their selflessness was greatly appreciated and I look forward to helping them in the future. We were also fortunate to have some great mentors along the way, including Burr Sutter, Brian Marks, Bill Spruill, David Gardner, Alex Osadzinski, Scott Moody, and Jonathan Hornby.

Lastly, I have to say “THANK YOU” to the Triangle startup community. Although it is hard to measure (and name everyone), there were countless times when we received help or publicity that proved beneficial. It takes a village to raise a child and this community played the parent role well. I look forward to spending time with more entrepreneurs and investors in the coming months. It’s time that I start trying to return the favor to anyone and everyone who is willing to put up with me!

Enough about 2013. It is a new year and time for new challenges. I’m excited to figure out what the future holds. As always, if I can help anyone, please reach out and lets talk!