This week our class hosted our first guest speaker for the semester. Jen Baird, serial entrepreneur, currently CEO of Accio Energy & former founder & CEO of Accuri Cytometers.
Jen got her interest in being an entrepreneur when interning for a VC firm. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a psychology degree & from Kellogg School of Management with her MBA, she worked in consulting for over half a dozen years. After consulting she took the leap into carving her own path, a route that was quite challenging for her. When she co-founded Accuri Cytometers she was at the start of a 5 year journey creating, launching & scaling a product & team. She grew the company from 2 to 80 employees, raised close to $30M in capital, launched a European subsidiary, & approached profitability. Jen claims to really excel at is the people part of the organization (which I would argue is the most important part!). She claims “companies are built of people. They are the building blocks”. This makes sense given her psychology degree & operational experience building & leading teams. She clearly has learned a lot from her experiences.
What really stood out to me about Jen is that she knows herself well, exudes passion, is very personable, & is quite confident. In particular, this is what I learned from listening to Jen & reflecting on her discussion:
“Power of focus is what you choose NOT to do”
On any given day my to do list could be pages long, but really do I need to be doing all those things? Where is my time best spent? I have been attuned to this lately & the way Jen described “choosing NOT to do something” caught my attention as a different way of thinking about prioritization. Another piece of advice she had was to check in every 6 months to see what else can be delegated or eliminated. Otherwise I become a restraint (similar to how I felt at Iorio’s – stifling our growth).
There are aspects of us that are similar.
Jen’s open style of management mirrors my open book philosophy & values based management style. A few things we both advocate: all hands meetings, open door policy, building trust & communication. She also mentioned that she likes to share details & has learned that sometimes it’s better to not share too much. Something I’m working on also.
I still have questions I’d like to ask Jen, & I will ask her:
- How do you decide which business opportunities to pursue? Why Accuri?
- Challenges you faced as female? How did you overcome them?
- Where do you learn? (books, people, etc)
Following Jen’s talk Tom discussed management styles. The key thing I took away after this lecture is that knowing who you are you are is a continual process/discovery that never ends. In particular he asked: Who are you? What is your impact on people? What are your values? What does success look like for you? We need to figure out who we are. It is hard enough to be ourselves, let alone someone else. If we don’t know who we are it’s difficult to hire people around us to make us better. Tom recommended developing a vision for yourself. Know what you’re good at & what you’re not good at. How best to do this? I’m still figuring that out. I do know that spending time with myself, in silence, thinking & reflecting has helped me.
He also emphasized the importance of trust. To earn the trust of others (e.g. board of directors, customers, employees) you must first trust yourself. If you don’t trust yourself, it will show, & others won’t trust you. A great book I read that goes into detail about trust is “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey.
We also questioned “what is the role of the CEO?” 50-75% of the time she/he is working with people. From time to time GreatLakesVC shares his Weisdom with me & he once told me that the job of a CEO is to make everyone else better at what they do. To achieve the most in a resource constrained organization, the CEO should be controlling about the company vision & values because every employee should know the story of the company & exactly what the company is trying to accomplish. The danger of being controlling is slowing down progress & not empowering people to the fullest. The more someone wants control, the more things need to go through that person, & it slows things down (exhibit ME/Iorio’s). It is really important to get the message right for the first people you hire & make the culture & values clear. This way, when you stop hiring people, the people who are hiring people get the message right & hire based on the culture & values of the company. Recently at Iorio’s we saw a great example of congruency without our organization. One of our team members created a series of “Iorio’s Ten Commandments” to be a way to share the ground rules & operations of the business. The result – a set of guidelines that scream Iorio’s culture as we created it. The fact that we didn’t write them…& that they are so spot on to our culture & values is a huge testament to our ability to create congruency in our business.
MEL aka Venture Gal