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Monthly Archives: October 2007

We have all heard this scenario before (or some variation of it): “If so and so got hit by a bus, we would have no one to replace him/her or no one else knows how to do X or Y.” This is a BAD situation to be in from all angles, but it is not always avoidable. Whether you are at a large company or a small company (it is much more likely that you cannot avoid it at a small company, so you are off the hook on this one), you should go to whatever lengths needed to ensure that everyone knows the job of the person to the right and to the left of them (this is metaphorically speaking of course, but you get the picture).

When you are in the throws of a major release and one of your key players is out sick, on travel or vacation, the last thing you can afford is for progress to stop. You may have a customer that is waiting for their product, you may be in the midst of a major system upgrade, or you may be launching the public beta product (the lifeline of your company), and anything short of missing the deadline by a minute is unacceptable. Companies should take a page out of any sports team’s playbook, they have second and third stringers for a reason. Imagine the situation where Tony Romo was injured and Wade Phillips said well it looks like we are going to have to postpone the game this weekend since Romo can’t play. That would not go over too well with the NFL or the fans. The backup QB would be put in and the game would go on (they may loose depending on who they are playing, but they would play the game).

So why then do those rules not apply in the business world? In most cases they do, but when they do not, it is just simply unacceptable. Employees are a company’s best assets, but when you put all that responsibility and trust in one person and they for whatever reason are not there, then his or her backup should step in and take over. If not, you have a problem on your hands and you better fix it sooner than later.

For the record, I am not a Dallas Cowboys fan, Tony Romo’s name just popped into my head and I ran with it.

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So, DC Startup Weekend has come and gone, we are all recovering in one way shape or form. Good news is that we were successful, we launched a “dirty” alpha release at 11:57, a whole 2 minutes ahead of schedule. It is safe to say, that by 12:02 (with champagne bottles popped and poured), we encountered our first crash. Thanks to our stellar dev team, we were back up and running in no time. The product is called HolaNeighbor, so head on over and check it out.

The weekend could not have been a success without all of the fantastic people that came out dedicated their time and skills to make this product a reality. Thanks to Andrew Hyde for coming up with the concept of Startup Weekend and coming to DC and assisting us through the process, and thanks to Micah Baldwin for his relentless blogging efforts throughout the entire weekend (not that anyone is counting, but he did shatter the previous blogging record from the Boston Startup Weekend). A special thanks also goes out to Brian Williams and Andy Rankin of Viget Labs, they were gracious enough to host the weekend at their new digs, and we escaped the weekend without damaging the place too badly.

There were lessons learned throughout the weekend, and they all were good. Bringing 70+ brilliant people together for 2.5 days could be a recipe for disaster, but it was not. We set the tone for the weekend that it was all ab out community first and company second, and everyone stuck with it. Rarely was their conflict, and when there was, it was resolved quickly (wit the exception of Friday night, but that was not conflict, it was more of a search for clarity). Everyone stuck with it, and was determined to launch a product. Every team was amazing and delivered on their promises. We kept a white board with all of our milestones and deliverables, and we met everyone of them on time. The dev team carried the weight on their shoulders, and they delivered ahead of schedule.

Now that it is over, and I have had time to reflect, it was an amazing experience, I made a lot of new friends and we did something that not everyone can do. Thanks to everyone that came out and made it a reality, it is because of you that we were successful.

Once upon a time (early on in my career) a co-worker of mine and I were having a discussion on leaders and managers and what the differences between the two were. Now, my co-worker had a military background (well, he went to VMI), so his explanation may sound a bit skewed towards the military, but for the most part, it carries over into the business world as well (it should, considering we were working at UUNet at the time and he was dead on in his explanation).

His explanation was very simple; the difference he said, was that a manager always does things the right way and a leader always does the right thing. I thought about it for a second, and then it hit me, it totally made sense. Now I am not advocating breaking rules and not following processes, they are there for a reason. However, there are certain times that although following the rules and processes is the right way to do things, the net result may not be the right thing. There are times when you need to cast aside the rules and processes and do what is in the best interest of the team, product, company, whatever it is.

Leaders are able to recognize when this needs to happen and they can react to it. They have a sense for knowing when things need to bend, when doing the right thing means breaking the rules, as long as the net result is the right thing. This is not to say that managers do not do this, because after all, managers are looked at as leaders (at least in my experiences in the business world), but not all managers are leaders (and that is OK). My belief is that leaders are born and not made, that you either have it or you do not, but I am not convinced that it cannot be learned through experiences. There are times where someone rises to the occasion and leads, when prior to that they had been a contributor. Sometimes it takes a certain situation to bring out the leader in you.

So the next time you are in a situation where you may question doing things the right way or doing the right thing, what will you do?

So after months of planning, over 165 people signing up, the DC Startup Weekend is almost upon us. The final details are being ironed out, location, times, etc. but have no fear, it will go off without a hitch (at least that is the plan). We are starting this Friday night and will finish Sunday night, 11:59 pm come hell or high water.
We are going to be live streaming the event via ustream.tv, so if you are interested in keeping up to date on what we are doing, you will be able to watch the stream. You can watch it here on this blog, as well as ustream.tv and also at the DC Startup Weekend blog.

We will also be blogging the event throughout the weekend, and you can follow along at the DC Startup Weekend blog as well. If you have not signed up, it is not to late. If not, stayed tuned to find out what we come up with, it should be exciting times.