Wednesday, July 14, 2010

CEO Archetypes #2 The Harold and Kumar Duos

Ok, sometime it is Kumar and Brooks IV, and sometimes it is Kumar and  Kumar, and one start-up I worked with was founded by Harold and Harold and Harold and Harold.  But you know what I am getting at...the multinational team of founders.  

I suppose most folks think Larry and Sergey first.   I have worked with Mikael and Steve; Charles and Russ; Kai and Howard; Balaji and Milan; Kevin and Bob; David and Vince (not exactly immigrants, but they know why they are included here); Duke and too many names to mention; Steven and Abhay.....

Of course, I always first think of Andy and Vinod. They added the two boys from Michigan to the team as well, but Andy and Vinod were, for me, the original Harold and Kumar.
What is it about a team of founders that includes an immigrant or a very new citizen that makes things happen?  And what is it about these guys that they would rather do things by committee than declare the leader straight away?

My experience tells me that one of the guys will be a technologist and one is a marketeer or finance guy.   These buddy teams rarely include women, but occasionally you will see Harold's or Kumar's  girlfriend on the payroll in a marketing or HR role.  

Often, not always, but often these are young people.  College roommates or colleagues in their first jobs that come together with a great idea.  They live and invent for a time on junk food and their own dime and then go get a bunch of VC's to salivate over what they have built on a shoestring.  Ah, maybe that is the key...immigrant teams seem to understand the shoestring, bootstrap days really well.  A common theme among this archetype, is doing more with less.

The immigrant founder also does not seem embarrassed by their full embrace of the American dream or by their desire to make money.  

The boys who came here on student visa's and then moved over to the H1b and Green cards, do so with clear goals in mind...invent something people will buy and then sell the crap out of it.  They may also want to build a big long-term company...but that is secondary to providing a product that fills a need.  That may be part of their genius as well, they understand creating products that solve real problems.

The only glitch to full realization of the capitalist mentality is a pervasive sentimentality about their founding team.  Some cultures that have contributed extraordinary talent to US technology, hold loyalty as a profound value.  Some also do not come at people problems as directly as their American born counterparts. So, when you couple a reticence to confront a people issue with profound loyalty, you can end up with companies that have some "founder baggage" hanging around in made up jobs, or worse an executive sitting in a role that has long ago outgrown them...with no one willing to confront the issue.  Don't get me wrong, I love the loyalty value.  We could use more of it in US business.  But as an Irish Immigrant once told me, "sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind."  Letting your buddy hang on to a job in which he is failing does not seem like a great way to express friendship.

Conversely, I do not see loyalty/fanaticism about product architectures you find in some other company cultures.  Immigrant teams seem much more adaptable.  They are willing to listen to their customers  and be flexible.  They want to sell a product, not prove they are right, so they are philosophical about product decisions.   
People get loyalty, ideas get improved.

Role clarity is also a US value that is not as obvious to these duos, trios and quartets.  Immigrant founded start-ups have more "Office of the CEO" designations than any other archetype I have encountered.  The "Office of the CEO" is where two or more of these talented young men act in concert as co-CEO's and run the company by committee.  Even if they do christen one of them as CEO, it is often with limited decision making powers; requiring consensus by the founding group.  (Some cultures do not default to the individual as frequently as we do in the US.   Apparently not every culture in the world deifies John Galt.)  This can be a wonderful way to run a small company.  The team lives and dies by the decisions they make together, no one person is the single point of integration and communication is constant.  But, eventually some VC  who has read Ayn Rand, comes along and makes the team pick a leader.  It looks better on an organization chart if one person is the uber-leader.  And, in the American business culture, we like accountability to be clear.  We need it to know who to fire when things go wrong.

I love the Harold and Kumar teams.  I love their focus and their
commitment.  They seem more ashamed of failure than the US centric
teams.  One Harold came to me in a start-up I was working with not long
ago and said, "This has to succeed.  My father sent me to the United
States to become a physician.  I spent the tuition for that education
starting this company.  We will not fail.  I could never regain my
father's respect if we did, so we will not fail!"  That is motivation.
And that company has succeeded. 

High tech as an industry learned 30 years ago that the world was it's source of
supply of customers, components and talent.  The flags of many nations
hang over every important invention since the dawn of the age of
information.  I cherish these immigrant teams that build so much value in
the America economy and contribute so mightily to the American reputation for
invention.   

My next CEO Archetype is the "Thomas Crown."  

Soon.

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