James Carville, Bill Clinton’s chief strategist when Clinton ran for president in 1992 famously described their pitch to voters in one simple phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton and Carville’s relentless focus on the economy. Clinton’s opponent, President George Bush, didn’t focus on the economy and he paid the price, losing to Clinton.
If you just substitute team for economy, then you can mirror Carville’s single minded focus and win. Say it with me, “It’s the team, stupid.”
When you’re building a tech company, you need to relentlessly focus on your team to innovate and win.
It doesn’t matter what else you do. You will not be able innovate unless you have a team capable of innovating.
So, your job as CEO is to put everything in place to build and nurture a team capable of consistently innovating. The first piece is obvious:
You need to recruit a team capable of developing innovative products.
Again, say it with me, “It’s the team, stupid.”
Your first job as CEO is to recruit, recruit, and then recruit some more. You obviously want to hire great technical talent.
In addition, you should be looking for people that have the ability to come up with innovative product ideas. Sometimes these people will be your engineers, other times these people will be your technical marketing people. But always be on the lookout for innovators because they’re hard to find.
You need to put your team in an environment to consistently innovate.
My favorite meeting was our monthly “Crazy Idea Meeting.”
Once a month on Friday, at around 1:30 PM, we had the Crazy Idea Meeting. Jeroen, our VP Engineering, and Adolfo, our VP Marketing who was also very strong technically, were always in attendance.
The average revenue of a single Analog IC product was $500,000 per year. We had a goal of growing our company to at least $100 million per year in revenue, so we had to become an idea machine if we were going to succeed.
In short, the Crazy Idea Meeting was our lifeblood.
The concept of the meeting was very simple:
Anyone in the company who had an idea for a new product could present the idea to the team.
Ideas came from a range of likely to unlikely sources. Test engineers, design engineers, applications engineers, and sales engineers all regularly presented ideas.
We had a simple rule that every idea would be heard, and any person presenting the idea would get feedback:
- Sometimes we suggested that the presenter get more data on an idea, or…
- Sometimes we asked for more information on the market for the product, or…
- Sometimes we debated the idea and came up with a better idea, or…
- Sometimes the presenter had a breakthrough idea that was 100X better than anything else on the market, or…
- Sometimes the presenter had an idea that opened up a whole new market category, or…
- Sometimes the idea was just not a good idea
The Crazy Idea Meeting was structured chaos and it worked!
We had more ideas than engineers to develop the ideas, and that’s what you want. The idea for any successful company is maximizing your limiting resource. And, in our case, that was our design engineers.
We needed to get the best return on our design engineers time as possible. The Crazy Idea Meeting was our structure for getting the most out of our design engineering talent.
The crazy ideas that went on to be big sellers sometimes had very humble beginnings, but they all had one thing in common.
I can remember some of our best and biggest sellers started as one sentence, “I have an idea for X.” That would lead to a debate and discussion about that idea and where it might fit.
Very quickly, the great ideas rose to the top. And from that one sentence beginning, a multi-million dollar product family would be born. It was great fun.
The real key to the success of the Crazy Idea Meeting was a culture of openness.
You can have all the idea meetings you want, but they will fail without an open culture. You need your creative people to feel safe presenting ideas because many of the ideas are going to be bad.
And all it takes is making fun of one person for their very bad idea, and you lose the open culture that allows for a successful crazy idea meeting.