Women on Board!

By , May 27, 2015 10:09 pm

Gender diversity has been quite the hot topic in Silicon Valley. After Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, there appears to be a steady stream of talks, conferences and news stories about this topic. At our company, Equilar,  we are building a product that allows a company to assess their Board of Directors. One of the factors is gender diversity. Even with all this attention only 19% of Board members in US companies are women.

Aaron Dhir's book

Aaron Dhir’s book

Recently I attended a talk at the Stanford Law School entitled “Where are the Women: Strategies for Increasing Board Diversity“. The conversation included the Aaron A Dihr, the author of the book “Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity” and Deborah Rhode, a professor at the Stanford Law School. These are the notes and thought that me and one of my colleagues took away from the discussion.

Spoiler Alert: Trying to force gender diversity is extremely difficult. Similar to socio-economic movements like racial equality, it’ll take decades to radically change. In fact, it may take a new generation of workers to fully implement true equality.

At the current rate of adoption on corporate boards in the USA, it will take about 70 years to achieve a 50/50 split. hardly encouraging.

 

The Way in Norway:

One on of the interesting anecdotes was the state of corporate law in Norway, where companies are required to have 40% female board members or risk dissolution. Aaron used Norway as a case study in many of his discussion. Could forcing gender diversity by law enact change? In the early days of the law’s passage there were companies desperately trying to get women, any women, onto their boards. This gave rise to a few not so nice terms like “Trophy Directors aka Trophy Wives” and “Golden Skirts”. Even then, the women hired were those that would most likely vote with the rest of the board. So diversity didn’t really change the vote, but it did re-distribute power. Over time, the women started to engage more and challenge the status quo. Sixteen countries now have a quota, but the USA lags still.

Stanford Law School hosts a talk about gender diversity

Stanford Law School hosts a talk about gender diversity

Interesting Anecdotes and Jokes:

Deborah indicated that women are thought to be more adverse to risk. If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, they might still be around today!

Much research has been done, but has not proven that diverse boards will perform better financially. This has been one of the key problems facing this movement.

There are only 2.8% women in the Fortune 500 boards. Why? Some reason offered are:

  1. Not enough qualified candidates
  2. Women are just not as interested
  3. Interested but not being selected.

Culturally we expect men to be better leaders. There’s an unconscious bias to look in socially similar networks. These happen to be closed networks. We need to look outside the traditional CEO/CFO titles for candidates.

The funny thing is that in a recent survey, 79% of respondents say that past CEO’s are not good board members because CEO are used to pushing to get their way. They are not as open-minded.

In a survey of the Fortune 500, less than 50% even talk about diversity in their proxies. When they did, they talked about diversity in experiences and not gender. Surprisingly one of the most well known and progressive companies, Amazon, openly says that they do not think about gender diversity at all. This surprised Dr. Rhode.

What can we do?

We as a society expect more of the BOD since the 2008 meltdown. Diversity will be a slow trickle down effect. If shareholders can force diversity disclosures on the ballot and the SEC can demand disclosure, that would be a beginning.

Another idea is to have tenure limits to force board refreshes at a set interval. As we pass through a few generations of BOD members, new thinking will emerge.

As we look for members for a BOD, look outside the traditional past CEO/CFO roles. Look to lawyers, accountants, academics and people who have been on non-profit boards. This will grow the available pool and will invariably include more women.

Look to examples of success in diversity. Surprisingly the NFL and Military are great leaders in this area. They have more than tripled the % of women coaches and generals in the past 10 years.

Not surprisingly, one of the goals of our upcoming product offering is to unveil relationships and broaden the pool of candidates for board members. During our Summit in June, all will be revealed!

The Power of a Mission

By , May 13, 2015 8:07 pm

Often times I am reminded that a job is so much more than something to do or a way to  make money. In order to really be passionate about what you do, you need to believe in your mission. In fact a recent story came out about how some of the nations best computer scientists (yes out of Stanford), normally do NOT take the job that pays the best. ( Why new Stanford Grads Turn Down $150K salaries) They want a mission. An ideal that they believe in.

Recently our company was working on a Mission Statement. That seemed so cliche and it was so difficult to get agreement, but we did. Here’s our mission:

Equilar Logo

“To empower, engage and enable executives throughout the world”

Ok, sounds aspirational, but why should our employees care? This post is my interpretation of our mission and why it’s important.

The Realization

The largest public companies in the USA are our customers. The data and the analysis that we provide are used to make sure that they can attract and retain the best management. These companies and their management have a disproportionate effect on their communities, the environment and the lives of their employees. We (a group of 100+) people sitting in Redwood City, CA are creating the intelligence being used to make these management hiring decisions. The right CEO makes sure their companies give back to the community. They get compensated based on their performance. We help to inform these critical decisions.

An Epiphany

When I was about 25 years old and a Systems Engineer for a company called Borland, we were meeting with the largest corporations in the world and explaining to them how they should roll out their desktop application strategy. They were moving from a Mainframe/dumb terminal type environment into the new world of desktop computers.

I remember sitting at a huge conference room at Coca Cola world HQ in Atlanta, waiting for their senior executives to arrive. One by one, the executives and their assistants made their way to the large mahogany table that was polished to a mirror shine. After a brief introduction from my manager, he turned to me and told the assembled group, “And now Song is going to explain how you can modernize your operations with desktop applications.”

I realized that no other industry in the world would an assembled group from a Fortune 10 company executives sit still to listen to the advice of a 25 year old kid! That was a great empowering feeling. I realized that I liked technology! I’ve been at it ever since.

So What?

When I learned what we were doing at Equilar, I had a distinct feeling of Deja vu. Here were are, a small company in Silicon Valley effecting the destiny of some of the world’s largest corporations! We help them create the best management staff and boards by making sure the compensation and incentives align with company goals. Many of our employees are right out of college. It reminds me of that moment in my career when I had the Epiphany.

So, take our mission to heart and realize that like a “butterfly effect“, we can make the world a better place with the product that we deliver!

Goody bag to enforce mission statement!

Goody bag to enforce mission statement!

If you are not an Equilar employee, check out our Career Listings!

 

Tech in Motion – Our First Meetup

By , April 10, 2015 1:03 am

Equilar sponsored a Tech in Motion Meetup at the SP2 restaurant in San Jose, CA. It was a first for us as our HR department has embarked on a mission to get the Equilar brand out into the Silicon Valley tech scene. Silicon Valley is one of the most vibrant economies and it attracts all types of people. Whether you want to learn tech, get into a startup or make a career change, a meetup is a fantastic place to network and meet other like minded individuals. Our company was there to recruit!

Cross promoting the meetup on LinkedIN mobile.

Cross promoting the meetup on LinkedIN mobile.

During the days leading up to the event, we sent out tweets and posts on Facebook and LinkedIN. We watched as the RSVP list grew to 164 people! I had high hopes for this event. Later at the event, I was told by the event organizer that some of their larger events can grow to as many as 500 people. It’s a sure sign that these things are working.

The Venue – SP2 Communal Restaurant

Deep in downtown San Jose, this restaurant is very spacious with a great patio and a nice room in the back where this event was held. It looks like this part of downtown is under some serious renovation. When I Googled Mapped the location, there was an empty parking lot across the street from the restaurant. Now there’s a multi-story building being built in the area across the street where the parking lot used to be!

Our company had premium billing at the event. As you walked through the patio into the restaurant, you are drawn to the room just past the bar where the Tech in Motion event was being held. Here’s what it looks like as you approach.

Entering the Tech in Motion Event.

Entering the Tech in Motion Event, 6:06pm it’s just beginning.

Now note the girl in the red jacket behind the sign. She’s actually talking to Megan, our SR. HR person at Equilar. Our table was right behind the sign. You had to walk right past it as you entered the venue.  From the inside you can get a better idea of what the setup looked like. Here’s the view from inside the room looking towards the entrance. See the red coat girl?

Megan (in black) talking to the girl in the red jacket.

Megan (in black) talking to the girl in the red jacket.

The People I Met:

Once I walked into the room and grab a beer, I started talking to people. People from all walks of life and all kinds of interests. There was a guy who just moved from Indiana. He wanted to break into Tech and was trying to figure out how to get going. I met an engineer who was a one man startup. He was launching his on demand video chat service and looking for a partner. A few people showed off the apps that they had written on their phones and wanted to know what we were looking for in the two positions described (Engineering Lead & Automation QE). Then there was a more mature gentleman who had spent 10 years creating online training and was looking for a new venue for his skills. A great surprise was an old friend who had moved to Australia was in town! He had dropped by the event and surprised me. What a small world! Then, of course, there were lots of recruiters!

The companies represented were equally varied. I met 2 people who were Googlers working on open source projects that were soon to be monetized. Unfortunately they were not looking for a new job. I met hardware engineers designing systems for cars. One of these people worked with Mercedes Benz and was investigating human/car interactions. A professor at Carnegie Mellon was in the crowd as well as a QA Manager that looked like “Pit Bull”, the singer.

After a few brewskies I realized how busy the room had become. I just moved from group to group shamelessly asking people what they did, who they worked for and if they were looking for a new challenge! Hey, when you have to work a crowd and only have about 30 seconds with each person, there’s no time to waste!

At about 8pm, the room was buzzing!

At about 8pm, the room was buzzing!

It looked like there was at least 75-100 people in the room at any given time. I would occasionally look over at the Equilar table (you can see our vertical sign – left of center in the picture above) and see how Megan was doing. She was just as busy as I was and sent a few people my way. She was all smiles and chatting up a storm telling people about our company and the positions that were available. Every once in a while if I noticed someone was taking too much of her time, I’d go over and run interference. You have to watch out for your team member!

Megan talks to a guy inquiring about our job postings.

Megan talks to a guy inquiring about our job postings.

It was surprising how fast the time passed. The event was scheduled to go from 6-8pm. I was talking to another attendee when I noticed that Megan was beginning to break down Equilar table. I took a quick glance at my watch and realized that it was close to 8:30pm.

I helped to pack up the table and take the boxes to Megan’s car.

When I returned to the venue, there were still at least 15-20 people milling about.

By this time I was getting a bit hungry and decided to stroll downtown and find a place to eat. I found a nice gastro-pub and had a nice dinner as I pondered what I had learned in our first ever meetup sponsorship.

Tonight, a lot of people got to know what kinds of services our company provides. We talked to as many people as we could in the time we had. An even greater number of people got to see the new Equilar logo and branding. Even if they didn’t find out what we did, they will begin to recognize our name and brand when it inevitably comes up again.

Do MeetUps Work?

The HR goal of gradually getting the Equilar brand into the minds of a new cross section of tech professionals had been achieved. I’ll have to follow up with the several people I met at the event.

On my way home, I noticed 2 LinkedIn requests to connect appear on my phone  from people I had met. While I was writing this post, I was sent the resume of a Automation QA Engineer I met this evening who is currently contracting on a project at Google. Yup, meetups work.

Overall, it was a great time. I really encourage you to goto a Meetup in your area. It’s a fantastic way to experience the pulse of the people who make up the tech scene. And you never know, you my find your next startup partner or company employee!

The Right Way to Deliver Software

By , April 7, 2015 10:31 pm

This evening I attended a Tech talk at Box.net’s HQ in Los Altos. Not only is Box a great product, they will be our neighbor in Redwood City soon as they build their new HQ by the Caltrain station.

Driving up to Box HQ

Driving up to Box HQ

The topic of the evening was near and dear to my heart. “The Right Way to Deliver Software”. The speaker was Jocelyn Goldfein. She led the engineering team at Facebook that created news feeds and photo and then headed up their pivot to mobile. She was an early engineer at VMWare so she understands enterprise software sales. She was a CS geek at Stanford. So I figured she’d be someone I could learn from!

Box’s Office:

I parked underground and then walked up to their version of the “Lair”, which is what we call our common space in Equilar’s offices. It’s where we hang out, have lunches and coffee, and do company meetings. Box’s Lair had a cool tablet wall that was interactive.

Interactive tablet wall

Now their Lair was a little larger than ours. Here’s the view of the space from stage left. There were some nice moleskine notebooks on the table and a buffet at the right as you came in.

A Nice Industrial Chic place for a meeting.

A Nice Industrial Chic place for a meeting.

The Presentation:

First, here’s a spoiler. There is no panacea for creating software there are tons of dependencies to consider. Everything is a tradeoff and you have to understand the market you serve and the product you are trying to deliver. This is where experience and understanding comes in .

Jocelyn kicks off the presentation

Jocelyn kicks off the presentation

It’s all a TradeOff:

You have to prioritize and decide what is most important to you. In this slide she lists some pretty high level items.

  • Features – this one is self explanatory I think.
  • User Experience – wonky or slick and modern?
  • Performance – how fast must it respond?
  • Reliability – are we talking five 9’s or is it ok to have intermittent outages?
  • Breath of Platforms – she was referencing the Facebook mobile app here.
  • Schedule Predictability (“Ships on Time”) – believe it or not, this isn’t so important in FB’s case.

The last one was particularly interesting to me. Facebook (Web) ships 9 times a week! Twice daily and once on Tuesdays. Since they test and iterate so much, there isn’t a set feature release target.

Things that factor into a product release.

Things that factor into a product release.

Underlying Principles:

Cost is dictated by the tech stack. If you are deploying on your own hardware or data center, it doesn’t cost so much to get your application to the customer. If you are deliver a mobile app, there are a lot of steps before it gets into the hands of your customer. This takes time and time is money. What about the environment stack? It costs a lot to test multiple platforms and hardware configurations. This is one of the things we love about web apps.

Benefits is dictated by the business model. If you sell a high dollar product, then you must have a more reliable and predictable release cycle. It also better be available at all times. Surprisingly, the more consumer and free it is, the UX becomes more important for retention.

Cost of a Mistake:

This was a very interesting concept. Depending on the product you are creating, the cost of doing something wrong can vary widely. Let me explain the diagram. The vertical axis is “Enterprise $$$” on the bottom and a “Free / Ad Supported” product at the top. On the horizontal axis we have an “operating system” (think Windows or VMWare) on the left and “Web” based app on the right.

Beware if you are in the bottom left!

Beware if you are in the bottom left!

If you have an enterprise based OS to sell (think Windows or VMWare), your release cycles are long and having to do it over because of a mistake could cost you 100X the cost of shipping it right once. On the extreme opposite is a free web app. If you screw it up, many folks won’t go crazy, users will not lose money and doing it again only cost 1X. Then we have the two other quadrants at 10X. My company’s products fall in the lower right quadrant at this time. Because of this we cannot just release whenever we want, but we must test and have a pretty predictable cycle. This of course implies increase cost as compared to a quick web based startup.

Another way to look at the diagram is to compare it to a release process. The star in the middle is a reminder that no matter what you do, you must beta test.

Length of release processes

Length of release processes

The FaceBook Mobile Transition – a Culture Shift:

Facebook started in mobile creating a completely web based application. They thought that this would give them the fastest release cycle at the lowest cost. They soon realized that the best experience could only be achieved if they went with a native mobile application.  It took them years to make the transition because of a culture divide. Web(HTML5) developers went fast and iterated often. They could get feedback in hours and release again. There was not release cycle set in stone.

Initially they thought that going to native would be the same. Bad mistake. A cycle in mobile took 8 weeks from creation to final delivery to the user and then acting on the feedback received. It was a culture shock to the mobile team. In fact, most members couldn’t make the transition. Facebook hired new developers and had a few “acqui-hires” instead. It was a hard lesson. Each group thought the other group did things wrong. If you need to make a radical shift, be ready to change the team.

In the end, the “North Star” was focusing on what the users need and not what the employees needed. The focus on the best thing for the user dictated how and what was built.

Now What? 

So how do you apply the things learned. Jocelyn wrapped it up with a few key takeaways.

Take Aways

Take Aways

  • Understand your priorities before you optimize the release process.
  • If you have to pivot, be prepared to address culture issues.
  • Take advice with a grain of salt. Each product is a little different. It’s not one size fits all.
  • Hire for experience? Conclusion was that this is important if you know exactly what you are going to do. Otherwise, hire for the right DNA that fits with your company.
  • Onboard thoughtfully – know what culture and processes will be needed and train early.

The best people are those who are malleable and do not have absolute dogmas. You need people who are willing to learn and change. These are the best hires.

Here’s my favorite quote of the night.

“All adult learning comes from pain.”

What you say? The premise is that when you are a child everything is new and you just accept it and learn. As you grow up, you start to gain opinions and internalize data and experiences. Everything starts to get measured against that. The only thing that can really change your attitude and what you have learned is if it was painful when you didn’t change.

Oh, and it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t post a food picture. Box served us Chicken, sauteed vegetables and rice. I washed it down with and Indian Ale.

04_Food

One of the things I love about the valley is that there are so many great people, places and opportunities to learn. I really encourage you to find the meetups in your area and network! You get free food, meet new friends and sometime even learn a thing or two!

And speaking of meetups, our company (Equilar.com) is sponsoring a meetup on April 9th in San Jose California. Here’s a link below to all the details. I’ll be there so come find me if you are in the area.

Tech in Motion: Social Tech Mixer

 

Creative Confidence with David Kelly

By , March 12, 2015 11:31 pm

David Kelly is the founder of IDEO and the Stanford D School. Today I had the opportunity to hear him speak on the topic of Creativity; how to foster it and how can we all unleash our creative selves. This post is a collection of notes, anecdotes and stories from the evening. I found that his ideas can not only help us better ourselves, but can also serve as guidelines to help us manage others.

The evening began with 3 songs from the Talisman A-Capella group. Their songs were amazing, with roots from South Africa, and served as a great display of creativity. This was followed up by a quick intro from the Mayor of Redwood City, before the keynote speaker.

The Major introduces David Kelly while Talisman prepare for their last number.

The Mayor introduces David Kelly while Talisman prepare for their last number.

Creative Confidence
Why aren’t people more creative? People are often categorized as reserved or analytical. For example, Engineers or Mathematicians, tend to value predictability and structure. Everyone is creative but they need to the overcome the fear of criticism and get a sense that they can do what they want without being judged. One of the most wonderful things is to see a person realize they are creative. It can be highly emotional for some. Mr. Kelly loved that spark he saw when people realized what they could do. This is why he has been pushing design and creativity even though he is a mechanical engineer by trade.

How Can I Be More Creative?
You need to try new stuff. Take risks. Do not be afraid of failure. In fact, David doesn’t like or believe in the word “Failure”. When something doesn’t go right, you learn from it. Advancing your learning is a “small success” not a failure. People are wildly creative, they just need permission and support.

Innovation – 3 important points
There are three (3) important parts to something truly innovative.
1) Feasibility – the technology must exist to make it possible.
2) Viability – you must be able to make money or otherwise sustain a business with the product.
3) Delivery – the team and mechanism exists to actually get it into people’s hands.

But there is one thing you cannot ignore. “Human Centeredness”. Will people actually like using it? For example, the Segueway was a technical marvel and could be sold at profit, but people look like dorks using it. No wonder it failed!

Human Viability
The greatest success of IDEO is that they have empathy for people. If you want to affect how people use things, you really need to get out and talk to them! A bunch of people sitting around a conference table with their laptops can’t really figure out what people in the real world want. It takes time to get out there and meet with people, but the payoff is huge.

Ex: IDEO was asked to rethink a vending machine. Vending machines have terrible UX. I mean, why does the can of soda come out at the bottom? You have to bend over to get your soda. Whoa is you if you are female and wearing a skirt! The engineers naturally were trying to use gravity to deliver the pop. Put that doesn’t help the customer! You need to look at things through new eyes. There’s a saying that “Fish don’t know they are wet.”

David Kelly gives an entertaining talk on Creative Confidence

David Kelly (right) gives an entertaining talk on Creative Confidence


Structure vs. Creativity
These two things are not enemies. Sure it’s great to take in all ideas and try new things, but when you provide structure people can focus. Constraint is good in this case and you can build structure around it. People will think very differently if you tell them build something for $100 vs $10. David does not believe in initial planning. Teams need to dive right in and get messy. Figure out the real problem before you build a plan and follow it. You may be solving for the wrong thing.

Diversity the #1 Ingredient
IDEO loves to get people with wildly varying views to look at a problem. A lawyer, artist and a teacher will not think alike. A man and a woman will not think alike. Unique mashups of people will lead to great discovery.

An audience member asked how we can help women speak up. Many women notice problems and issues, but

How did this screen design happen?

How did this screen design happen?

just don’t know how to be heard or put their idea in action. In response to this question he offered this little story.

Ex: Shell hired IDEO to figure out why people were having so much trouble with their gas pumps. Men would swipe their credit cards and enter their zipcode. When nothing happened, they would swipe again. After a few tries, they left in frustration. Women on the other hand would go ask the station attendant why the machine didn’t work. He would tell them that they needed to press the “Enter” button after entering the zipcode and it would work! It was this that led to the instructions “Enter zipcode and press Enter“.

Taking Action to Be Creative
What can you do to be more creative?

  • Frame new ideas as an experiment. Let people know that you want to try something new but if it doesn’t work, we can go back to doing it the old way. This mindset works wonders as people are less afraid because they know that there’s a safety net.
  • Take action! Thinking about it gets nothing done. Go out there and try something. If it doesn’t work out, course correct. Don’t try to plan everything out.
  • Use Mind Maps. Start with an idea and ask “Why?” Take the resultant answer and ask “Why?” After a few levels of this, you’ll get to the essence of the issue.
  • Develop a “Yes and…” culture. People need to be encouraged to try things and learn from mistakes.

At this point he offered a little levity in the form of a joke. Some types of people may never really change. David is a Mechanical Engineer and offered this example:
How can you tell a introverted engineer from an extroverted engineer?
The introverted engineer will look down at their feet as they are talking to you.
The extroverted engineer will look at your feet while talking to you.

Audience Questions
Q: Besides the word “Failure”, what other words do you dislike?
A: Can’t. Don’t answer a suggestion or idea from others with the words “You can’t…” Instead, add to their idea and help them push their thinking to the next level. Say something like, “That’s a good idea, but have you considered…”

Q: What industries are ripe for creative change?
A: Healthcare and governments. We need to start small (Singapore) and find out what works. Then scale it out!

Q: What your favorite failure?
A: A beautiful phone I created that got into the Museum of Modern Art. But it wasn’t viable. By the time it got to the retail channel, it was so expensive that no one wanted it. I have 4,000 phones sitting around in my garage. At least I got in to the Museum of Art.

Q: What’s your favorite gadget?
A: For this century? It’s the car. For the today? It’s the drones!

Q: Being creative is great, but you can’t continue ideating forever right?
A: This is why you must have constraints. Sometimes it’s time and money.

And finally, my favorite quote from the session when someone asked what is going to happen in the future:

The Future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.

I really enjoyed the talk and it gave me a lot to think about. Whether it’s helping my team at work, improving myself or encouraging my kids; fostering creativity is a great thing.

If this post has peaked your interest, you can view a bunch of videos of David Kelly’s talks on YouTube!

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