A colleague of mine recently stepped away from his day-to-day role as a partner in a venture fund and into an interim six-month role as Executive Chair in one of our portfolio companies. It was a necessary move to stabilize what will likely be a very good company and it was a great move for him because it gave him a much deeper experience of being an operator. This will likely give him a lot more empathy for what our portfolio CEOs are going through and will also likely make him a better investor and director. One of his observations, which rings so true and so obvious yet non-obvious, is how much happens inside a company that the board never hears about and how many decisions are made that the board never sees. How you make decisions as a CEO and how you influence how your team makes decisions may be one of the greatest drivers of the ultimate success of your business.
Small decisions matter. The next hire; the selection of a law firm; the pricing of a major contract; promising a customer functionality that is not on the roadmap; changing the commission plan mid-year; shuffling the organization structure; asking the team to work the day after Thanksgiving. Each choice both reflects and influences the culture, the economics, the quality of the work, and the overall environment. It’s hard as an investor to know how such decisions will be made by the CEO, and it’s really hard to screen for future decisions, yet trying to do so is critical. As a result, many investors and board directors put much weight on understanding how decisions that are visible to them have been made, because understanding how a few visible decisions are made provides an window into all of the unseen decisions. It’s all of these small decisions that compound and either become a drag on a business or hopefully enable a company to accelerate.
When I meet CEOs of potential portfolio companies, I focus much more on decisions they have made than on experiences they have had. Understanding why they made the decisions they did in a number of scenarios provides a window into how future decisions far away from the view of an investor or director will be made, giving some indication of whether the compounding effect of those decisions will accelerate performance or not.