Entrepreneurial by Decree

Entrepreneurial-ship is not something that can be dictated, especially when your corp structure is incompatible. Saying it, doesn't make it so.

The Dude back for another round. Recently, the Dude was told by his manager (our VP/GM) that we need to be more “entrepreneurial”. After scratching my head, looking at our 3 big initiatives (tangential product extensions, new market opportunities we are targeting, and a really cool cloud based technology to extend our dominance in our market) I had to ask, “What do you mean?”

The answer flabbergasted the Dude. Some groundwork. The Dude works for Dysfunctosoft. The overall organization is roughly $1.3B a year in revenue. Our division is ~ $100M a year of that, a pretty nice slice. But we are not the “core” technology. This is both good and bad (as well as a little bit ugly).

The good:

We are #1 in our market pretty much across segments. We are realizing 8.6% growth in revenue, and an astonishing 16+% growth in license sales. For a legacy technology, and a mature market, we are doing well. One product, our main product, is about $75M of that total. That is the product that the Dude manages. We are given some leeway by the corporation since we are profitable, we have consistently the highest customer sat ratings, and we pull through a large fraction of our revenue to the corporate bottom line.

The Bad:

Many of the natural extensions of our product, and indeed where we want to go, have some overlap with projects and products in the Core group. Some of the core projects have been released, and done poorly, or target the wrong market problem. Some classic product marketing and product management failures to capture the needs and business problems to solve. Or they are tied to a boat anchor product that is expensive to deploy, hard to maintain, and in general a downside to the adoption (I mean, if you wanted to have a really cool IM technology that was safe, secure, and reliable, all you had to do was buy and deploy SAP ERPsup1/sup first, it might not be a market success. Yep, you might with the SAP empowered vertical. But you would miss all the market outside that ecosystem.

The Ugly:

You have a core product team, and then supporting business units. They have some stand alone products, some technologies leveraged in the core products, and even some parts that are being OEM’d by some other companies. You also have “portfolio” products. These aren’t directly related to your core. They stand alone. The often came connected to acquisitions that were strategic (to get a specific technology). They are not spun out, because they are greatly helpful to the bottom line profitability. But they are more of a distraction. Naturally, these are lead by GM’s with Ego issues. They want to be completely independent and do what they want for their business. But often that overlaps. So there is a constant political struggle, and an internal messaging battle. Lots of pissing matches, confusion for the organizations that have to execute, and in general posturing.

Looping it back:

Where does this leave the Dude? Well, when his boss said “Be more Entrepreneurial” he was conflating two key things. One, that he really wants another mainstream product to be released. He wants us to slow, or halt, development on our principal product. He wants the Dude to abandon his instinct to protect the product’s market position, market segments, and the growth of said business, and to chase some pretty butterflies. These are all things that the market leader should not do.

Two, he wants the development, QA, and product management team to “work harder, work more”. He seems to think that being entrepreneurial means working from 8:00 AM until 9:00PM every day. He thinks it means that salaried people, who don’t have a bonus program, and who don’t have equity (stock options) will gladly live up to Sandy Lerner’s “commitment” levelsup2/sup of 75 hours a week. The truth is, the Dude does put in 60+ hours a week, including > 12 hours every weekend, all for a meager “base salary

With all that, we have three great projects underway, two to be launched in conjunction with the next major release of our principal product, we have a team of developers who are excited and completely engaged, delivering amazing work.

But we are not meeting our GM’s concept of entrepreneurial. Sigh.


1 - The SAP ERP example was a complete fabrication. We are not aligned with the SAP product portfolio.

2 - Sandy Lerner was one of the founders of Cisco. When I worked there, we learned the origin story of Cisco, and one of the quotes that stuck was that a “committed” employee was spending about 75 hours a week working. Of course, that was pre IPO, and all were looking for a payout for their efforts.

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