Build Your Team and Make It
Advises Morino at Coffee & DoughNets
Success has been ripe and sweet this year for high-tech start-ups,
according to the testimony of Coffee & DoughNets participants. Reflecting
the positive trend, heady statistics about the vibrant interaction both
face-to-face and in discussion groups online attested to the Netpreneur
Program's gangbuster inaugural year. Mario Morino rounded out the program
by leading a discussion about teambuilding and its importance to start-up
Penny Lewandowski opened the December 19th Coffee & DoughNets at the ANA
Hotel with a recap of the highlights of a year of eleven such sessions and
the consumption of approximately 2,145 doughnuts. Signs of health were
many, despite the high-calorie breakfasts: nearly 3,000 people have become
registered users of the netpreneur web site, and 1,430 have attended Coffee
& DoughNets sessions.
The Netpreneur Program has enhanced its mission of helping the region's
high-tech entrepeneurs build a community of peers by responding directly to
the input of its members. The Barter Board, ActionNet and the "Ask the
Experts" session on Public Relations have all grown straight from C&DNet
Year-end also provided a bumper-crop of success stories from attendees.
Among the highlights:
Larry Brown of Digital Now reported that Kodak has purchased 11 of the
company's film-digitizing machines, and Broderbund is going to distribute
Digital Now's digital-image software.
Hank Dearden of 3D Technologies (firstname.lastname@example.org) has begun planning
a high-tech entrepreneur's pavilion for the September '98 NetExpo
Matthew Pittinsky of Blackboard (http://www.blackboard.com) said his
company will be included in a television profile on the "technology
cluster" around DC to be aired in Japan, on a "Nightline"-like news program.
Hans Tallis of Explore Reasoning Systems (http://www.ers.com) has a new
major engagement with Emery Shipping in Portland, Ore.
Trade Compass (http://www.tradecompass.com) recently won a "VIP" award from
CommerceNet and was ranked in the Top 50 for "business excellence" by
Webmaster Magazine, according to Marketing Vice President George Atkinson.
Ann Shack reported that MapSys's online trip-planning site
(http://www.freetrip.com) is going to be featured in CompuServe's Forums.
Michael Teitelbaum of Hot Coupons (http://www.hotcoupons.com) said that
during a recent cross-promotion with nbc.com, downloads of printable
coupons provided by his company increased by 25%.
David Goldsmith said that his nonprofit organization, HandsNet
(http://www.handsnet.org), has recently partnered with New Idea Engineering
and iapps to develop a new web presence, and that HandsNet has raised $1
million this year to continue their work assisting nonprofits to get online.
Anup Ghosh, a research scientist for Reliable Software Technologies
Corporation (http://www.rstcorp.com), announced that his company won an
award from NIST for their electronic commerce security solutions.
Anita Brown, founder of Black Geeks Online (http://www.blackgeeks.com), has
been invited to address the Black Dataproccessing Association gathering in
Augusta, Ga., sharing the stage with comedian Sinbad and Godfather of Soul
Tom Graham reported that his company, At Your Office, Inc., has raised over $300,000 in venture capital
Jamie Harvey is looking forward to several deals his company, Digital
Addiction, has cut: Sega is going to put DA's games online, and the company
will be distributing one of their games on CD-ROM, a new market for them
which will include a novel based on the game.
Mario Morino updated attendees on the NBC Nightly News debut of the
Netpreneur Program. Over half of the four-minute story on high technology
entrepreneurialism, which aired on Nov. 8, featured local companies and
Netpreneur. In February, United Airlines east-bound flights will carry the
story, and CNBC will also air it in coming weeks.
Morino led a discussion about a vital aspect of company-building:
team-building. "Culture" and "communication" are the two necessary
elements to building great teams, said Morino, and small start-ups are in a
great position to define both of these to their advantage.
Morino targeted the hiring process as one of the most rushed and overlooked
in most companies. Managers must invest a considerable amount of their own
energy and time in hiring, a rarity in many businesses. "As a manager, the
most important thing you do is hire," said Morino, adding that "it's your
butt on the line, not the [human resources] person's." He said that
leaders have to commit to screening and aggressive interviewing of
candidates, and suggested going not only to references named by the
candidate but to ask for further references from the initial references.
While money is near and dear to every entrepreneur, Morino said that a good
team member contributes so much to the bottom line success of the
organization that owners shouldn't turn down a great candidate over a
salary dispute. If a candidate's asking salary seems too high, "bite the
bullet and cry once" over meeting it, and then make the offer.
The impulse to hire to fill a job, rather than to build a team, is a
typical mistake made in high-technology companies. Morino advised hiring
for attitude and values over specific skills or experience. Start-ups
should weed out the people who are risk-averse and people who are not
committed to learning and providing and receiving constructive feedback.
Participants responded strongly to this point, noting that one major
distinction between the DC area and the Silicon Valley is that DC companies
seem to hire much more to fill jobs.
Values-based hiring is the first step in the constant work of managers and
owners in reinforcing the team's cohesiveness and vitality. Communicating
values with the team and making sure that team members feel like a part of
the decisionmaking process should be second nature to a team leader.
Some speakers talked about helping older or more traditional employees buy
into the relatively egalitarian corporate culture that is de rigeur in the
technology industry. The consensus was that emphasizing the shared values
and goals of the team and minimizing the conflicts over specific management
styles or corporate structure make the best antidotes.
Penny Lewandowski capped the meeting with her own, self-deprecating
comments. Speaking as an employee, she noted that one of the hardest
things about joining a great team is no longer being the smartest person in
the office. She advised entrepreneurs that they need to help new hires
through that adjustment period and make sure they realize the implications.