Backseat Drivers

It seems we have come full circle with the first assignment of control versus wealth. Self-funding keeps us in the driver’s seat without any back seat drivers, but for how long? How much of a cushion should you have? In personal finance, it is suggested to have at least six months of reserve for life events like job loss. When the bank I worked for downsized, I was unemployed for six months. I do not know if that is the norm because there have been many unable to recover from the job loss of the primary bread winner for longer periods. But in business, “As Professor Bill Sahlman points out, in startups, money buys time: time to experiment, to collect, and evaluate data about what worked and what did not, and to adjust the strategy and operations based on what was learned.” (Wasserman, 2012, p. 252) What does that time frame look like for your business? What is your financial strategy that will allow you to leave your current position or cause you to have to go back into to the place you dreamed to be out of for good?

I recall one of the childcare services that provided daycare for my daughter. The owner could not afford to commitment her time to building the business and therefore she went back to her full-time position at the hospital. She had a promising business, but when she was not part of the day-to-day operations, I saw a change in the service that was being provided. She had placed unqualified workers in charge and the responsibility was too much. I have seen too many times where management gives too much responsibility to an inexperienced and untrained employee and they fail. This failure creates a no win for both the client and the business owner. Of course I found another childcare provider and the business eventually closed. A business cannot run on hope, dreams and potential. She had the potential for a sound childcare service. But potential means you have not accomplished anything. It is incremental accomplishments that prove the real business owner’s success.

Consider your investment options early in the planning. Forecasting the outcomes, good and bad, will help bring a realistic picture into view whichever outcome. Wasserman points to three types of investors: family and friends, angel investors, and venture capitalist. Do you “play with fire”, potentially “run off” other investors, or give up some control? (p. 256)

I am in total agreement that family and friends should not be the first route. It speaks desperation even though it may be convenient. Then you move from close to home to a distance with an angel investor who will provide funding that will cultivate the ground for a venture capitalist. Is the angel investor a band-aid or true stitch that will heal a wound to full recovery? These are the real questions to consider because a venture capitalist will expect control and a return on the investment. The beauty securing a venture capitalist is that your start-up displays “high-potential.” (p. 267) You hit the jackpot with “financial, social and human capital at the expense of economic and control rights”, but your new partner might take the wheel. (p. 278) Control will be transferred and you need to decide early if it is worth it so you can prepare to manage it later.

“Unfortunately the vast majority of businesses do not qualify for venture capital funding. VC firms are very choosy about the businesses they invest in – according to the U.S. Small Business Administration less than .1% of businesses are funded by venture capital. Of the few that are able to obtain VC funding, almost all are firms that are past the startup stage and can demonstrate a viable product or service. .” (Ward, 2016) So we are back to the beginning with your money or that of an angel investor. Make your money count longer through assessment and investment before you take you first step vehicle.

Ward, Susan. (201, August 16). What Is a Venture Capitalist? What Every Start-Up Needs to Know About Venture Capitalists. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Wasserman, Noam. (2012) The Founder’s Dilemmas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Stick and Stay

Leaders can create loyalty among A-Players through vision, value and reward.

Vision is not just for the company but for the people. Knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses and who can and cannot move to the next phase is part of the vision. “Forward thinking” from a leader is like spinach to Popeye A-Player. (p. 192) A strong leader needs to be able to make projections as to the direction and growth of the organization and where each A-Player fits into the big picture to keep them energized.

Habakkuk 2:2 states, “Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.” (Blue Letter Bible) The leader must deliver the vision, goals strategy or next phase in a way that A-Players are motivated and can articulate it to others that will cause synergy. When people can see the end, they have a visual to follow-through for a successful outcome. Accomplishment is a beautiful thing! I remember when our bank hit a billion in assets. The company had a billion-dollar-bash for all employees and stakeholders. It was a great feeling to be a part of the landmark goal for our regional bank in that five year period of time. Every employee felt valued.

Where the A-Player takes ownership is also the place where the A-Player visualizes their value to help bring the vision pass. “Á-players don’t want to be taken for granted.” (Herrenkohl, 2010, p. 198) A synergistic culture creates a place for everyone to be an important part of the process. From the courier to the Chief Financial Officer, each person’s value should be expressed by senior management. It takes human capital to make it happen. A-Players should not be made into this elite group of untouchables, but they should be tangible to the worker bees. Value must be openly expressed and rewarded at every level.

Rewards are a result of measurable results. Measurable results also play a major role in the advancement of the company and the people. Goals that result in positive outcomes, gives A-Players a ladder for success. Incremental accomplishments add value not only in position but in dollars. These increments also allow for evaluation and change if necessary to reach the desired goal. I see it like a road map. There are landmarks along the way to let you know that you have made right turns or when you need to take an alternative route due to an unexpected change. A-Players are resourceful and flexible when there is a detour that causes a different route, yet yielding the same end results. Rewards in pay, recognition and promotion are incentives for them to stick and stay.

Habbakuk. (n.d.) In Blue Letter Bible Online. Retrieved from .

Herrenkohl, Eric. (2010) How to Hire A-Players. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Hiring Dilemmas

Who to Hire? When to Hire? How to Hire? These are all questions to ponder when starting a company. Do you acquire, lure, steal or merely invite these new team members to come play in your sandbox? We have been studying roles, relationships and risks involved with a new start-up. We have looked into the eyes of our own truth to determine if we are in it for the money or to be King or Queen of the sandbox. We have had to take a long hard look at family and friends, long term acquaintances, or newbies in the neighborhood coming to our playground.

It seems easy to go with the people we know, but Wasserman believes your comfort zone is a like “playing-with-fire”. (2012, p.216) “Teams whose members have prior personal relationships may be less likely to discuss sensitive issues and may also face major damage to those relationships if things go sour in the startup.” (p. 217) I was asked to be a part of team for a non-profit organization, where I was very close to the CEO. When she asked me to be the Chair of the Board, I declined. She asked me to step in until they could find someone because I was the most qualified. I told her that the person that eats at her dining room table is not the same person that would lead the board. Needless to say I resigned because I could not fulfill the role as Chair without damaging the relationship. I was qualified for the role, but not at the expense of hurting her. I respected her too much and I did not agree with the way the company was run. I resigned before there was a crash and burn. And I can say that our relationship is not the same for me.

When I was a hiring manager at the bank, I would seek out referrals first when needing to fill a position. I would rather have a first-hand account from someone tangible than from a cold call on a reference list. My concerns were more about work ethics. As we have discussed before, the technicalities can be taught. I have invited a new-hire into the sandbox and then wanted to tell them they can’t play anymore. I recall thinking that I wanted the person on the resume. Letting people go or reassigning them to another branch was never easy. People tend to think, what is wrong with me or am I not good enough. My regional manager would send employees to my branch to determine a valid termination. That sucked for me. I was always the bad guy. But I was the one to get the proper documentation in order to dismiss them according to policy. Therefore, my sandbox always had turnover.

Finding a balancing between the right people, the right time, and at the right cost is an act that takes maturity. Learning and growing in a new startup is part of becoming successful. I believe accessing risk is a key component of finding balance. Who can you afford to let go or bring on the team? As the Founder, you have to decide the degree of risk and make decisions that can be most favorable for the company whether the sandbox is full of friends from the neighborhood or full of strangers from around the way.

Wasserman, Noam. (2012) The Founder’s Dilemmas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Born or Made?

Leaders? What do you think? Are leaders born or made? Psychology Today points to the fact that they are “mostly made” to a tune of two-thirds to one-third. (Riggio, 2009) Riggio goes on to say, “To expect that a person would be born with all of the tools needed to lead just doesn’t make sense based on what we know about the complexity of social groups and processes.” (2009)

I grew up on a farm. I remember getting up early, planting crops, harvest time and fresh vegetables. I didn’t mind getting dirty. I recall running freely in the fields and going to sleep with the sounds of the crickets in summertime. Never once did I think I would be found in leadership roles as an adult. I learned how to work hard and do things right to yield favorable results. But college taught me how to work smart. I was taught that I didn’t have to work that hard anymore for favorable results.

I agree with Herrenkohl when he says “…there are skills that you can teach (technical knowledge, product knowledge, understanding of a particular client) and skills you can’t (motivation, leadership, commitment, the ability to sell and the desire to achieve).” (2010, p.99) However, I believe the skills you can’t teach can be cultivated, but it hinges on how a person internalizes or whole heartedly receives the change. People can be motivated by money, success and achievement, or helping others. If you place a person in a leadership role and give the tools and resources to succeed, they can become transformed by the positives of the assignment or the role. Recognition and praise by peers and feeling valued can move a non-motivated person to another place of being engaged. A favorable environment can bring life-changing results.

The average person is not lazy, ignorant or hopeless. They just need to be around the right person or people to believe in them. Everyone has a gift. Everyone has that something they do well. For some, they capitalize on it and for others they bury it. So the two-thirds of being made a leader gives access to everyone! It is not something that only a certain number of people have. They have a 66% chance to succeed as a leader.

“When it comes to hiring, more employers are going beyond standard questions such as asking candidates to list their biggest strengths and weaknesses.” (Picchi, 2015) Even more, “Employers are looking to test a candidate’s critical thinking skills, as well as how they problem-solve on the spot and how they handle an unexpected challenge.” (Picchi, 2015) According to Glassdoor, questions ranged from, “What’s your favorite Disney Princess?” to “Describe the color yellow to somebody who’s blind.” (Picchi, 2015) The questions were position specific.

When hiring, I look at more for character traits and not so much skill details. They had to have the skills in order to be chosen for an interview. As long a one is willing to learn, new skills can be taught. I look at personality traits that are complimentary and a good fit with other employees. I look for the person and not the position. The resume will tell me if the person can perform the job, but the interview gives me insight on who the person is. I recall reading an article a couple of years ago about what kind of questions millionaire CEO’s asked. One question was if you were and animal, what would you be? The CEO asked that question to get insight on the personality of the interviewee. What type of animal would you be?

Herrenkohl, Eric. (2010)How to Hire A-Players. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Picchi, Aimee. (2015, March 18). MoneyWatch. Top 10 weird job interview questions. Retrieved October 2, 2016 from

Riggio, Ronald E. (2009, March 18). Leaders: Born or Made?. Retrieved October 2, 2016 from

Role Dilemmas: Stay in your lane

I chuckled to myself when I started reading Wasserman’s chapter on Role Dilemmas: Positions and Decision Making. My mind ran backwards to when my ex-husband, Larry, and I owned a Recording Studio and Sound Production Company. I realized that I had a manager instead of a marriage. We got married for the business and tried to disguise it as matrimony. I was the writer and Larry was the producer. We were partners, but he was really the CEO. The company name MooreHouse Productions, bore his name, which became my married name. I was the CFO. I remember selling my second car to invest in the first CD. I believed that my financial and creative input was just as valuable as his leadership and production input.

Wasserman states that team assignment of top positions quantitatively boils down to three factors: commitment, idea origin and capital (human, social, and financial). (121) I contributed the financial capital. Larry weighed in heavily for the social capital. We both gained human capital as we grew the company. The original idea was his and we both were commitment to his vision of making music. Even as I write it out, it seemed pretty equal. I made decisions about money and he made decisions about music. We had clear roles. The problem was that I wanted to change lanes. There were times he made decisions that were contrary to the financial plan and advice, but he didn’t want the financial role. He could just decide not to follow the plan. And yes it was quite frustrating. My changing of lanes didn’t have cost value. As a writer there was some musical instrumentation that I would hear and relay that sound or instrument when presenting a song. This type of input was welcome. But if I did not do that up front, it appeared that I had no musical input. I remember plenty of disagreements about staying in my lane as a writer and that I was not the producer.

We had control versus wealth dilemmas. We tended to lean on the control side, which Wasserman points to less stability; whereas wealth motivation brings more harmony because founders are making decisions for the greater good of the company. (141) He was correct, we wanted the same outcome, we just began to speak a different language and since he was the husband and it bore his name, he had the final say.

Avoiding conflicts became inevitable for the company and for the marriage. When I look back, there are many things that should have been handled differently on both sides, but the truth is we butted heads like the rams on the insurance commericial. Dissolution was inescapable as well. Separation of duties and respecting those decisions are necessary, but it’s not always easy to stay in your lane when you believe that you have just as much input because of your output.

Wasserman, Noam. (2012) The Founder’s Dilemmas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Steal or Save, The A Game

I worked for a regional bank that did exactly what Eric Herrenkohl suggests, “Hire A-Players.” This bank was founded by a previous CEO of a regional bank and he hired the best of the best in the city. His executive team consisted of the brightest and the best talent that money could buy. “The success of your company depends entirely upon your ability to attract and hire great people.” (James) Yes they were given padded salaries, but they were worth it because they took one man’s vision and made it a billion-dollar bank within 5 years. That was definitely “exponential impact.”(Herrenkohl, 4) There was such an explicit level of loyalty amongst the initial team. The CEO hand-picked them from his social network. These were the people that he could trust with his life which was the company. I heard a gentleman say in a seminar that real leaders build people, not buildings. I believe this statement to be true. I would also add that great leaders have the ability to be successful at both. This bank offered me an opportunity to actually dive into my field of study in college (corporate communications) with the ability to shape the culture of the bank. It was like living a dream. Even my salary exceeded the average for this region. It was made possible because this CEO wanted to be the best regional bank on this coast. He positioned people to make that happen. We grew faster than what had been forecasted by building and acquiring other banks.

You may wonder why I say steal or save. It’s easy for a person to be lured to the competitor when they are being offered and impressive compensation package and what appears to be a dream career. At that time, retail banking employees were told that would not have sales goals and benchmarks that would stretch them beyond their comfort zone. All they had to do was bring their portfolio with them. People don’t bank with buildings, they bank with people. If you hire the best people and they bring their loyal customers, you create a win-win all day long. “Talent begets talent. Merely hiring one A-player begins to create an environment where other A-players want to work.” (Herrenkohl, 11) We were a magnet for seasoned talent and the beauty of it all was that over three-fourths or the people were from extensions of social networks. Many of my employees were people that I had previously worked with at other banks. Whenever there was a job opening, I would call them first. I can remember a couple of them were not ready to leave with my initial call. But eventually, they called me. Our bank was able to save them and offer a way of escape from their current situation. I am so glad that it was not always based on money, but instead on reputation, autonomy, respect and freedoms that were not offer by their current employer.

It was by far the best part of my banking career; a career that ended with us being acquired when the housing market crashed. Ironically, the iceberg investment that caused our titanic to sink came from an outsider who was acquired in one of our acquisitions. He was not a part of the original team. But as we have learned from Noam Wasserman there are often tradeoffs between wealth and control. Our CEO chose to be “Rich” instead of “King” and the kingdom crumbled.

James, Geoff. (2013, October 22). Hiring: 6 Secrets to Attracting Top Talent. Retrieved September 19, 2016 from

Herrenkohl, Eric. (2010) How to Hire A-Players. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Wasserman, Noam. (2012) The Founder’s Dilemmas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Benefits and Risks of Homogenous Teams

“A homogeneous team would include people who are as similar as possible, with similar points of view, learning abilities and life experiences.” (Jones) These types of teams create tangible benefits as well as tangible losses. One major benefit is being able to pull a team together quickly. In The Founders Dilemma, Wassermam states, “For a founder scrambling to meet the challenges of a growing startup, choosing cofounders from among people with whom he or she probably has important things in common is often the quickest and easiest solution.” (91) When you take a look at your network of social resources, there are many qualified candidates that would appear to make great partners. Like mindedness can provide a wealth of knowledge and experience. A founder would have confidence for entering into a successful partnership from this group formation. Not only is there common ground and history between the founding group, but there also should be a “common language”. (92) A common language allows individuals to place homogenous teams in a world of their own. You will have apple to apple language instead of apple to pear talks. A pear is a fruit that hangs from a tree like an apple, but the taste and texture are different. I would even suggest that they could anticipate each other’s thoughts because they process information in a similar manor.  Jones believes “the comprehension of verbal and nonverbal communication among this type of group allows for fewer misunderstandings and prejudices.” Trust is easily developed from this partnership because of the common ground of mutual understandings.

Unfortunately, this utopia of like minds can come with disadvantages and risks. Wasserman states, “Conversely, homogeneous teams tend to have overlapping human capital, making it more likely that the team will have redundant strengths and be missing critical skills. “ (93) Everyone having the same skill set can create long term hindrances. Diversity amongst the founders is important for synergy. The collaboration of expertise is greater than one part. Homogeneous teams contribute to one part of the whole, which can create long term issues in concept execution. Disadvantages all include “groupthink, decisions that do not respond to changes and contingencies and no innovative ideas.”(managetheworld)

There is a reason that comfort zones become uncomfortable if you are contemplating a start-up. Your immediate circle of human capital is a comfortable and very familiar place, but as your company evolves into the vision, this easy place unfolds to an intersection of hard decisions. Personal relationships will be challenged unless there is a clear plan with boundaries from the outset. It is better to have these conversations before all parties say yes, than months down the road and you have to make decisions where they will no longer be a part of the venture.

Jones, Louise. “Homogeneous Vs. Heterogeneous Teams.” Retrieved September 19, 2016, from

Homogenous vs. Heterogeneous team. (July, 9, 2011). Retrieved September 18, 2016, from

Wasserman, Noam. (2012) The Founder’s Dilemmas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Along the Way

Just think about the number of people you have communed with over the span of your career(s). It actually started on the playground when we were young. It’s funny I watched my daughter one day go up to some kids on a playground and say “Hi my name is Erica would you like to play.” I saw two things: She was allowing strangers into her personal space and she showed the character of a leader. She didn’t say can I play with you -the follower route, but inviting them to play with her said “follow me”. Our friendships in high    school and college create lifelong relationships that extend as we explore our career path. Our playground folly evolves into networking; collecting a box full of business cards to pick from at a later date to become a bridge to solve a future problem. We now enter the realm of social capital, which research shows translates into financial capital. In The Founder’s Dilemmas, Noah Wasserman relates “…building connections with potential employees, customers, advisors, and investors…” to a “deep reservoir of resources” that gave one founder a huge advantage for his start-up. (47) This advantage converts friends and colleagues into sustainable investments. The best deals are not made in board rooms, but instead on the golf course, at dinner, or over a drink (i.e. informal settings). Business is not just business, but it is personal. These informal settings are less stressful and more engaging instead of combative and overall just a relaxed good time.

I think back to when I was in banking and the relationships that were formed at our social events carry their weight in gold. Even though I am in academia now, I can still reconnect with this sector of social capital for support. Wikipedia defines social capital as “…a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central, transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation…. Social capital has been used to explain the improved performance of diverse groups, the growth of entrepreneurial firms, superior managerial performance, enhanced supply chain relations, the value derived from strategic alliances, and the evolution of communities.” When I see evolution of communities, I think isn’t that what business and industry do; make bigger, better and faster products and services. Human and social capital is at the heart of progress with reciprocal exchanges.

The Saguaro Seminar, Harvard Kennedy School states, “The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”].” Relationships are based on honesty, loyalty and trust. These same values turn a handshake into and inked deal. I agree with Wasserman in the quote above when he made the statement based upon age and experience of the entrepreneur. The people we meet and relationships we make along the way will prove to be a valuable resource when we step out into our place of entrepreneurship.

Putnam, D. Robert. Harvard Kennedy School,The Saguaro Seminar Civil Engagement in America (1997-2000). About Social Capital. Retrieved from

Social Capital. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 11, 2016, from

Wasserman, Noam. (2012) The Founder’s Dilemmas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

For Money or Merit

When a person decides to step out of their comfort zones of stability and step into the uncertainties of entrepreneurship where time and chance rule, they need to establish one underlying motivator. Will you embrace wealth or control? In his book The Founder’s Dilemma, Noam Wasserman suggests that when founders must make a decision between profit or control, they must first identify their motivation. (Wasserman, 13) Societal motivations range from changing the world to changing your world. What is the driving force behind your out into; out of your current status into your new standing? Is it job dissatisfaction, upward mobility, financial and creative freedom, or pursuit of passion and making a difference? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but an answer must be chosen to avoid costly delays and derailments.

Lahle Wolfe contrasts those driven by passion and money in her blog Thinking of Starting a Business? Are You Money-Motivated or Passion Driven?. She states, “If your motivation is to start a business doing something you are passionate about with the goal of turning into a full-time living, you are likely to suffer from fewer emotional setbacks and entrepreneur burnout when you find out it takes time to build independent wealth. You will be more patient with yourself and your business as it grows, and, will make better business decisions.” In contrast, “Business owners that are exclusively motivated by money often have unreasonable expectations of getting rich quick. When monetary goals are your only important goals, you will miss out on the many other rewards of being self-employed including sense of accomplishment, purpose, and the rewards of knowing you are doing something worthwhile with your life.”

One blogger felt it was impossible to have both. (Perfect Shot Range) But many court the thought of having a lucrative business with total control. However, in order to bring balance to their creative endeavor, the scale will need to be tipped in one direction or the other. Wasserman states, “A founder who knows whether wealth or control is his or her primary motivation will have an easier time making decisions and can make consistent decisions that increase the chances of reaching the desired outcome-Rich or King.” (Wasserman, 14-15) His Wealth-versus-Control Dilemmas chart gives the perspective founder a clear view of the trade-offs of the two, ending with the blunt reality that value is diminished by maintaining control and control is jeopardized by building financial value. (17)

We cannot speak of wealth and control without looking through the lens of power. Those who possess wealth, sit on the throne of power. “…wealth can be seen as a ‘resource’ that is very useful in exercising power.” (Domhoff) This power rears its head in the political, social and economic arenas. Let’s look at media mogul, Oprah Winfrey. If an author receives a favorable book review from her, it is guaranteed to be a million dollar best seller. She endorses Barack Obama as the presidential candidate in 2008. Rachel Ray and Dr. Phil gained spin-off TV series from Oprah exposure or what’s known as the Oprah Effect. But when Oprah wanted to maintain control and launched her OWN Network, there was a crash and some burning.  The New York Times reported only relative success as a result of layoffs in the second year and intense scrutiny from the industry because of her celebrity status. She admitted to prematurely launching the network and aggressive projections contributed to the growing pains in its infancy stage. But time and chance, by the way of partnerships has proven fruitful for the media mogul. (NYT) Oprah’s choice of control shifted her wealth, but recovery is sweet.


Brett. (2014, September 2). Reflections on Wealth vs. Control. Retrieved September 2, 2016, from

Domhoff, G. William. (2013, February). Who Rules America? Wealth, Income, and Power. Retrieved from

Stelter, Brian. “Winfrey’s Channel Is Set to Break Through.” The New York Times, January 17, 2013. Accessed September 3, 2016.

Wasserman, Noam. (2012) The Founder’s Dilemmas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wolfe, Lahle. (2015, September 28). Thinking of Starting a Business? Are You Money-Motivated or Passion Driven? Reasonable Wealth Expectations Begin With The Right Motives. Retrieved September 2, 2016, from

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