A couple weeks ago, I left my business development job at Google to join itBit, a Bitcoin exchange, as COO. I’m incredibly excited about this move, and a lot of friends have matched my enthusiasm with support for the move. But there are also a few puzzled faces.
I can understand why some people would think I’m crazy. As one of the giants of the technology industry, Google is an incredibly successful company, and I spent the past year at Google working with some of the smartest, most hardworking and determined people I’ve ever met. Every process has been refined and optimized for the desired results. For me, it was a master class in business execution. The dreams and visions of Larry and Sergey are being realized by tens of thousands of employees. The scale of Google is truly amazing to behold, and I learned so much from seeing how a large, fast growing and successful company operates.
And of course, there were the perks. I worked in huge, beautiful offices with endless buffets of great food, I was home every day by a reasonable hour, and the brand recognition went a long way (especially with my in-laws).
So why would I possibly leave all of that? Well in a way, Google was so massive and inspiring that I had to leave. I learned how to think really big, and it made me want to work on something that was also world-changing, but where I could personally have even more impact.
In my eyes, Bitcoin is that opportunity.
I’ve been interested in Bitcoin for several years. I agree with what has now become a common analogy: Bitcoin feels like what the Internet felt like in 1994. It’s a transformative technology that is often misunderstood, but has unlimited potential to change how the world works and how we understand the basic concepts of money and value.
At the heart of the Bitcoin universe, and any financial system, are exchanges. A digital currency still needs to interact with fiat currency in order to bridge the physical and digital worlds. itBit is an exchange that is regulatorily compliant, institutional-grade, and built for the long-term. As an investor through my seed fund Liberty City Ventures, I’ve had a front seat to the show, getting to see how itBit has steadily made progress as it has grown and developed. It also afforded me the opportunity to get involved in a more meaningful way. As an entrepreneur and startup guy at heart, I leaped at the chance.
So as itBit founder and Liberty City Ventures partner Chad Cascarilla has joined the ranks as CEO, I’m joining as COO to focus on our internal operations and ensure that we’re operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. As I’ve worked with Chad over the years, I’ve found him to be an operator with both incredible vision and tremendous smarts. (He’s the benchmark of intelligence that I measure everyone else in the world. “Sure that guy is smart. But is he Chad-smart?” The answer is always no. No one is.) I trust him implicitly and think he’s got the exact right mix of experience working in traditional finance, Bitcoin and startups to take itBit to the next level. I couldn’t be more proud to work alongside him.
As I move back into a startup role, I can look back fondly at my time at Google. I gained new skills, insights, and had a chance to see how the best operate at scale. I’m taking those lessons to help scale up itBit with a renewed vision for what we can become.
The proper way to ask for introductions
Over the last few years, I’ve requested and taken a ton of introductions & meetings. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and seen a lot of mistakes being made – Here are some tips I’ve picked up from various people and blogs along the way.
- Do your research, don’t be lazy
Before you even request an introduction – make sure you’ve done your research. If you’re raising money for your mobile startup, don’t ask for introductions to any and all investors. Research the ones that are interested in mobile startups and then request introductions to those investors.
Also, read David Cohen’s blog post “Asking for Introductions“. The lazy way to ask for introductions puts the work of making connections on the person doing you the favor.
- Double opt-in introductions
Double opt-in introductions means you ask both parties for permission to introduce them to the other. (Read Fred Wilson’s post about this subject: http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2009/11/the-double-optin-introduction.html) Being introduced to someone without consent puts everyone in an awkward and uncomfortable situation. The person who didn’t give consent will be annoyed and the person being introduced is automatically viewed in a more negative light.
- Get the right person to make the introduction
I often run into people who are desperate to be viewed as “connectors.” It’s easy to spot these people – they’re constantly dropping names and constantly offering to introduce you to various people. You’re better off not getting an introduction than having these people be your first contact with a potential business partner/investor, etc. It’s the equivalent of all the men/women your aunt keeps introducing you to – these suitors are always immediately viewed with a skeptical eye.
- Be accommodating
If you’re the one asking for the meeting, be accommodating. This might seem obvious, but people fail this one all the time. “Hey ___, I’d love to get your feedback on my new startup – can you stop by my office in Harlem at 8am – thanks!”
- Give opportunities to back out
When asking for a meeting, give people a graceful way to say no. For example: “Hey __, I know you’ve been busy with your product redesign, but do you have some time this week to chat about my new startup? If you’re swamped and this week isn’t good for you, I can ping you in a month or so when things cool down”. People have a hard time saying no. If they begrudgingly meet with you, its not likely they’ll be very helpful or be super excited to help you.
- Don’t be deceptive
A few months ago, I turned down a meeting with someone looking for product feedback. Later that month, he emailed me saying that he had a potential client opportunity he wanted to discuss. When we met, it turned out there was no potential client opportunity – he just wanted to talk about his product and get feedback. I’m not sure what he was expecting, but I was annoyed – and not very helpful. Be clear about your intentions when asking for meetings.
Onboarding new employees properly saves time and money
I recently had conversation with a classmate of mine about onboarding new employees that made me realize that not everyone follows the same steps. In fact, this is one area where I think bigger companies do a much better jobs than the typically startup. Most onboarding processes stop at equipment, HR and the first day. Institutionalizing a process that extends deep into an employee’s tenure is the proper way to do it.
Why is this necessary? A properly onboarded employee can be effective much sooner and reduce the time and stress from other employees. It saves time, money and headache to setup a proper process and stick to it.
Here’s my process:
- Trigger onboarding process –Once an employee is hired, it triggers a predetermined onboarding process. I’ve setup email groups for larger organizations, but typically its 3-4 employees that have a specific set of responsibilities they need to execute. For example: HR/Admin (Add employee to payroll, setup benefits, get legal documents signed), Tech (Purchase equipment, setup email, assign usernames/passwords), Hiring manager (setup training plan and schedule, role specific tasks). Setting up an established process with roles eliminates any question of responsibilities and makes for a smooth process.
- Introduce the new employee –No matter how small the company, a new employee should always be introduced to the entire company via email then in person. The purpose of sending an introduction email is twofold. First, it is the one opportunity to clearly communicate the new person’s roles and responsibilities. Too often new people join a company and you find employees asking, who’s that – or unsure about the role he/she plays within the company. Second, the email serves as a great way to give the team a detailed background on who is joining the team (experience, accolades, skills). When the employee arrives for his/her first week, make sure he/she gets a chance to meet all employees (if the company size permits). Third, sending this email will make the new employee feel more welcomed and make your current employees feel good that a great new employee is joining the company.
- Kickoff meetings– Upon arrival, the first meeting I have is a detail history of the company’s history. I’ve found that going over the history of the company is super helpful because it gives a ton of context into why things (products, processes, dynamics) are the way they are. Next, I review a detailed org chart and go over everyone’s official and unofficial roles and insight into their work styles. I also make sure to explain how each person/department interacts with each other. Explaining this to a new employee significantly cuts down on having them figure it out on their own.
- Additional training –The next series of meetings are tedious, but necessary. They include product/service overview, overview of clients, product roadmap, marketing/pr efforts, etc. These should be predetermined and standardized for each company. In the following weeks/months, I try to have the employee spend some time with each department head to learn more about their role/dept and further establish a working rapport.
This is my process – It reduces the time employees spend getting up to speed, which translates to less wasted time for everyone!
Image credit: CC by Zach Copley