This Paper Trail Is Causing a $1 Trillion Drag on US Businesses by Sam Colt

Rene Lacerte, CEO and co-founder, Bill.com

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

All good things must come to an end — especially those that aren’t very good in the first place. Few decisions could have such a widely felt impact on our economy as getting rid of checks, which have been burdening businesses with excessive costs for decades. It’s time to bid them farewell.

Checks aren’t just outdated — they’re hurting the companies that use them. Every time businesses use checks to pay vendors or their employees, they incur huge untold fees. $65 per check may not sound like a burden, but given that 20 billion paper checks are used each year, the cost to U.S. businesses is more than the market caps of Apple, Facebook, and Hewlett-Packard combined. The value at stake here is greater than that of our largest publicly traded company.

The cost of executing a check goes beyond just payment fees, which averages $13 per check. On top of that you have reconcile costs ($18 per check), error handling ($5 per check), invoice fees ($11 per check), and approval ($18 per check). That adds up to a whopping $65 per check, according to RPMG.

How could checks be so expensive? Once the only ostensible way for businesses to pay their employees, technology has enabled cheaper, better options — right?

Driven by an exploding Fintech industry, the world of finance going digital — and fast. Global investment in financial technology ventures tripled to $12.21 billion in 2014 and is expected to continue climbing in the coming years. Fintech startups are emerging to complement all of the finance industry’s core services: lending, payments, credit, and investing. For example, consumers don’t have to go through stock brokers anymore to make their investments. That’s handled in an app now — and at a lower cost.

There’s little doubt that the proliferation of Fintech startups is improving the lives of consumers, but lost in this tidal wave of technology are businesses, which have an even greater need for the innovation financial software can bring. The stakes are simply higher.

In addition to improving the consumer finance experience, startups have to recognize the tremendous opportunity they have to improve the way companies process payments nationwide. The technology exists to solve this pressing issue. It’s just a matter of time until checks are viewed through a glass pane in a museum, like mechanical cash registers.

There’s no doubt that fintech startups have disrupted our lives — changing many of the ways we interact with the financial institutions we’ve become used to. While tech companies should continue to innovate the consumer experience, there’s an arguably even greater need for disruption in corporate finance. Businesses of all stripes shouldn’t be forced to incur egregious fees to accomplish simple tasks like paying employees.

Technology is often thought of as a window to a better future. But fintech can do so much more than that — it can save hundreds of billions today.

The Future Of Coding Is Here, And It Threatens To Wipe Out Everything In Its Path by Sam Colt

By Chet Kapoor, Chief Executive, Apigee

This article originally appeared in TechCrunch.

APIs — the rules governing how software programs interact with each other — not user interfaces, will upend software for years to come.

When Intel CEO Brian Krzanich doubled down on the Internet of Things at the company’s annual Developer Forum in August, he emphasized what many of us have already known — the dawn of a new era in software engineering. It’s called API-first design, and it presents a tremendous opportunity for developers who adapt — not to mention a major risk for developers (and companies) who don’t.

Intel isn’t the only heavyweight recognizing the value of APIs. IBM recently got into the world of API management with IBM Bluemix, which allows companies to discover how other developers are using their APIs and design around that feedback. Then Oracle extended its API management suite in June to capitalize on growing revenue opportunities. Other players have been stacking the deck in preparation for API-centric software development for years.

Typically, when people design new products and capabilities, they’re asked to design the UI screens and show how the user experience will look. There are plenty of reasons this approach took off with developers. Touchscreens unleashed a new generation of computing, and fundamentally changed the ways we interact with hardware.

Apple and Google have proven that ease of use is both a consumer and enterprise priority. What’s more, the emergence of Augmented and Virtual Reality platforms prove people are constantly exploring new ways to experience content. But as devices proliferate, system-to-system interactions will dominate people-to-system interactions. Systems don’t need pretty interfaces, they need well-defined contracts. They need APIs.

Just in mobile, one can think of 10 different interfaces. Then there are web, client-server and thin client — it can be overwhelming. The only way to gain control is to focus on the API layer; it’s not even worth thinking through the fragmentation of the interface layer, especially if one is providing a service. Take Netflix, for example. How can a video streaming service with such a simplistic user interface scale to more than 63 million users accessing their video library from hundreds of device types from all across the globe? Excellent APIs.

The Internet of Things (IoT) — which will soon be at the center of the tech universe, according to Business Insider Intelligence — is really driving this paradigm shift. This proliferation of devices is sealing the deal on a trend already gaining steam.

As devices have outnumbered people, the systems we use to connect them have become incredibly complex. APIs are the foundation of these connections: the mortar between our digital hardware. This complexity has set the stage for a tectonic shift away from full-stack engineering toward building pieces on top of existing layers within larger ecosystems.

Other tech giants like Apple and Google are driving the same API-centric future. The emergence of new interconnected product categories — wearables like the Apple Watch and Google’s driverless cars, to name two prominent examples — signal the growing importance of APIs in our daily lives. When the smartest people in the room get behind something new, it’s best to pay attention. This doesn’t mean computers and screens are going away, but it does signal a whole new world of opportunity for developers.

The consequences of failing to move to API-centric development are as real for individuals as they are for the companies that employ them. Developers who fail to adapt their talent around APIs run the risk of rapidly devaluing their skills and decreasing their job security.

For companies, the consequences may be magnified. Startups that fail to embrace this technological revolution could become less competitive. They could make inferior products. Some startups could wither away, altogether. Companies that don’t live on the edge of innovation will become pieces of a shrinking pie.

As we move into a more interconnected world, amazing new possibilities emerge. Developers like to consume “bite-sized” stuff. Amazon popularized this approach — they told developers what the system does and got out of the way. For tech companies, the “telling” will be handing over APIs. It’s no wonder we’ve moved toward microservices that enable best-of-breed platforms to thrive.

Connected devices, driverless cars and advanced health tech are just a handful of the new technologies API-first design will enable. For these innovations to happen, they must be built on a solid foundation. That means starting system design at the foundational layer — APIs.

The Biggest Reason Startups Fail by Sam Colt

By Peter Reinhardt, Co-founder & CEO, Segment

This article originally appeared in Fortune.

For early-stage founders, finding product-market fit should be an obsessive focus. You’re trying to answer the question: “Will people pay for what we’ve made?” And it’s not easy. At Segment, we had to do quite a bit of trial and error before we found ours.

Describing product-market fit is a bit like describing the color green. You can’t do it by pointing out all of the colors that aren’t green; you have to point to something that is green instead. While every company will have a different experience finding product-market fit, there are some common indicators you can look out for:

When you’re solving a real problem

Before you start building anything, you have to be sure that your idea solves a real problem. One reasonable discovery mechanism is to start with problems you personally face, and then talk to as many other potential customers as possible to see if they also want this problem fixed.

One of the biggest reasons startups fail is that they aren’t solving a real problem (not that they can’t actually build the solution). Legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank calls this invention risk (can it be built?) vs. market risk (does anyone care?). In most software markets, you’re dealing with market risk. This means that the odds of a team failing to find product-market fit look something like this:

● Non-technical team: approximately 15% odds of being able to build it; 60% odds of solving a real problem

● Technical team: approximately 90% odds of being able to build it; 10% odds of solving a real problem

We were a technical team. That meant we were fully capable of building the first couple of products we started the company with: a tool for students to read and annotate lecture notes, and a tool for students to alert their professors of their confusion at the exact moment it occurs during a lecture. In each of these cases, I convinced myself and my co-founders that professors really cared about students reading their lecture notes or that professors really wanted to improve their lectures (or that students even wanted to focus during lectures). But boy, was I wrong. In fact, had we hosted hour-long interviews with professors, students, and teaching assistants, diving into what they found most frustrating, we would never have built what we did. Sure, we could have kept digging until we found a problem we could solve, or, as is often the case, realized there was no real problem to fix. As engineers who had never done this before, digging into people’s problems didn’t seem like real work. But in reality, 20 hours of great interviews would’ve saved us an accrued six years of work building useless stuff.

When you suddenly see a deluge of interest

The first time we found product-market fit was during the launch of our JavaScript library, analytics.js. Our education ideas hadn’t panned out, and our other ideas weren’t panning out either. We weren’t sure analytics.js was ready for public consumption — and I was sure no one wanted it — but we decided to launch it anyway, essentially as an agree-to-disagree compromise between me and my co-founder, who thought it could be the basis of a big business. We built a landing page for the product, explained the problem it solved, and posted it on HackerNews. The response was fast and intense (Ian was right!): Thousands of people gave us their email addresses and visited our GitHub page. It was unlike anything we’d ever experienced, and humbling for me. It was a visceral feeling; we knew we had green in our sights. You never know what you might have until you test it out, so test it as soon as you can.

When your product instantly becomes mission-critical

The second time I knew we’d found product-market fit was during our release of Warehouses. Segment had some promising initial traction, and our new service collected data from mobile devices and websites. One of our customers — who was testing the very first alpha version — was using it to load data into their data warehouse. We had told them the reliability of the product would vary a lot, since it was an alpha release and the product was in its infancy. But two days after we released it, we got a call from our customer, who told us that our software was already mission-critical—they needed it for their upcoming board meeting to work on all of their recent data. If your alpha release becomes mission-critical in 48 hours, you’re on a great track toward product-market fit.

When your answer comes from the outside

Until you have proven product-market fit, the most important thing you can be doing is customer development. Most companies don’t have the volume for statistical analysis at this stage, so focusing more on the qualitative component — what customers want and or need — is far more effective. As Steve Blank famously wrote in The Four Steps to the Epiphany, the answer is not “inside the building.” You can ideate as much as you’d like, but you have to talk to customers to know if you have an idea that’s worth pursuing. By openly asking questions of your customers, or would-be customers, you can guide your product strategy in the right direction. When you interact with customers, you’re on the way to finding your green — and you’ll know it when you step on it and it blows up.

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you know you’ve found the right product-market fit?” is written by Peter Reinhardt, co-founder and CEO of Segment.

3 Things Content Marketers Should Learn From the Super Bowl by Sam Colt

By Penry Price, VP of Global Sales, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions

This article originally appeared in AdWeek.

If football players and marketers have one thing in common, it's that their biggest day of the year comes in February: the Super Bowl. And while the outcome of the game didn't ultimately matter for the brands that advertised there (sorry, Panthers), as a content marketing opportunity—a chance for brands to communicate a clear, crisp message to a massive audience—the stakes for the Super Bowl couldn't have been higher.

Ads that pull on our heartstrings or make us laugh can live in our collective memory for years. They have a much longer shelf life than your average TV spot. Super Bowl ads also serve as a barometer of what the public is feeling that year. This year's ads have leaned on uplifting, inspirational messages and self-aware humor to catch viewers' attention.

Ultimately, content marketing is about the long game. Brands that best capitalize on the Super Bowl spend a significant amount of time and money planning and refining their messages to capture your attention—and that's just the beginning. Super Bowl ads are a springboard for continuous engagement through the sales funnel. Brands want to reach you while you're watching the game as one touch point in a much longer journey.

As it has in the past, this year's Super Bowl offered plenty of marketing lessons. New advertisers and veteran sponsors alike, both consumer and enterprise companies, showed us how marketers can create all-star messaging in 2016 and beyond as content plays an increasingly large role in the sales and marketing landscapes.

Here are my three biggest marketing takeaways from Super Bowl 50:

Refine your message:  Audiences don't always notice, but there's a tremendous amount of message refining that goes into any Super Bowl ad (or any piece of content, for that matter). Testing out different messages is vital to producing the best content, which is why Avocados From Mexico spent so much time on it. The Avocados team tested four different commercials in October, some containing celebrities, before landing a spot that has an alien guide leading a tour through a museum of Earth's supposed greatest hits (including actor Scott Baio). Companies like Avocados From Mexico know that the Super Bowl is a pricey piece of a larger content strategy, so it's best to take your time
and nail the story—and the humor.

Nostalgia works: Pokemon commissioned its Super Bowl ad to commemorate its 20th anniversary, reminding fans who may now be adults about the joy they experienced playing its games. Like many Super Bowl advertisers, Pokemon released an extended cut of its ad ahead of the game. The spot encourages viewers to "Train on," a nod to developing Pokemon to maturity and strength. Signaling the start of a larger campaign, Pokemon will relaunch some of its original GameBoy games on Feb. 27, when the franchise officially turns 20. Pokemon's ad is plainly designed to remind viewers of their childhood and create positive brand associations. It's a strategy that could pay off as the company looks to a new generation of tech-savvy kids as fans.

Build momentum: SunTrust was a newcomer to Super Bowl advertising this year. The regional bank wanted to set itself apart from the humor and celebrity cameos we've come to expect with an uplifting, galvanizing message—take control of your finances. The spot kicked off an integrated campaign that will air through February and beyond. For example, SunTrust is also running a longer version of the ad online and will continue its TV advertising campaign beyond the Super Bowl. What sets SunTrust apart, beyond its extended campaign, is that the ads aren't featuring a particular product, but are intended to develop credibility around financial health.

Both consumer and enterprise Super Bowl advertisers offered plenty of valuable lessons for marketers this year, demonstrating the thought and planning that goes into the content we experience every day. While the Super Bowl is one of the greatest content opportunities in existence, it's ultimately one step in a larger process. No company can sustain momentum from a single Super Bowl spot.

Whether or not they advertised in the Super Bowl, companies big and small stand to gain from taking a closer look at the advertising bonanza that comes along every February. Like the game itself, the marketing takeaways are universal—there's something for everyone.

Above all, the Super Bowl proves that great content always pays off, whether you're kicking off or in the end zone.

Penry Price is vp of global sales for LinkedIn's Marketing Solutions business.

What My Three Years At Netflix Taught Me About Scaling A Startup by Sam Colt

By Ariel Tseitlin, Partner, Scale Venture Partners

This article originally appeared in Fast Company.

I joined Netflix at the beginning of 2011, just as the company was making the transition from operating in the data center to the public cloud. My job was to help build out Netflix's cloud platform and manage streaming operations. It was an incredible three-year experience seeing the company scale its people, culture, and technology.

In my life since then as an investor, I still apply what I learned in my time at Netflix to companies big and small. These lessons I picked up there might not save your life, but they might save your business.

1. BUILD A HIGH PERFORMANCE CULTURE

What separates winning companies from their competitors often has nothing to do with the products or services they offer but with the cultures they build around employees. Netflix's, of course, is renowned. One thing Netflix knows well is that a company's ability to execute depends hugely on culture, which comes either top-down from the founding team or through formalized process and training.

As I consider companies to invest in, one thing I look for is a culture that encourages results and healthy competition. That's a no-brainer. But less appreciated is that culture takes different forms even while emphasizing the same goals, like transparency and high performance. If I see a company that’s heavily compartmentalized or relies on a command-and-control structure, that’s a red flag.

There’s no question that companies known for strong work cultures are outperforming their peers. What’s more, when these companies unveil a new policy, others take notice. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent paternity leave, for instance, has raised the issue of work-life balance for tech and non-tech companies alike. Netflix unveiled its own unlimited paid parental leave policy last year. Issues like these have become powerful recruiting and retention tools for tech companies, which is why some of the most prominent ones are following suit.

2. PLAN FOR SUCCESS

Building something without planning for how it will work when it gets popular is one of the easiest ways to not only kill off a great product, but sometimes the company itself. During my time at Netflix, we were driven to build for scale by necessity—you knew that if something was successful it would be used by millions of people.

Imagining our products at scale influenced the way we thought about building the company as a whole. The choices you make at the beginning of development matter when you go from 50,000 to 50 million users, so planning for mass adoption from the start helps companies grow rapidly and at the same time keeps them ahead of the curve, instead of rebuilding features to handle new users.

What's more, there’s little incremental cost to building for scale. It’s easier to spend 20% more while you’re developing the core product than spending 100%–200% more once your decisions are set in stone. For developers, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure (and then some).

How your startup handles growth will ultimately determine how large it becomes. Automation and self-service tools and processes enable startups to scale efficiently instead of becoming victims of their own success.

3. MAKE MANY MISTAKES, JUST KEEP MOVING

Tech companies get upended by newer startups every day. The companies with staying power have learned how to disrupt themselves instead of letting another company push them into obsolescence. Ultimately, the best way to avoid getting disrupted is to maintain a high rate of innovation and move quickly. Mistakes are a natural consequence of speed. If you aren't screwing up, you won't find out how much faster you could be going.

Netflix made waves in 2011 when it announced plans to spin off its DVD business into a new company called Qwikster. This decision—coupled with a new pricing model—didn’t sit well with customers. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings eventually apologized for moving the company too quickly and abandoned plans for Qwikster.

The knee-jerk reaction after such a mistake would be to slow down in order to prevent future errors. But there’s no way to do that without stifling innovation, and what impressed me about Netflix was that even in the aftermath of those decisions, the rate of innovation never slowed down.

Don’t avoid mistakes at the expense of innovating as quickly as you need to. One of your competitors will come out with a better product if you don’t move fast enough—and by then, it could already be too late.

4. LOOK BEYOND THE CAP TABLE

Netflix taught me more about building a startup than I ever learned at business school. Founding a startup is a challenge like no other, but there are things you can do to make it easier and increase your odds of success. Financials aside, what sets Netflix apart from other companies that have emerged out of the latest tech boom is its dedication to employee culture and shared values, its ability to design products for mass adoption, and the energy it spends anticipating what could disrupt its business model.

These lessons aren’t specific to cloud computing—they apply to startups as a whole. As an investor, I perk up when founders mention these differentiators. They just might signal the next meteoric tech startup.

Ariel Tseitlin is a partner at Scale Venture Partners focused on investments in the cloud and security industries. He currently sits on the board of directors at Agari and CloudHealth Technologies. Previously, Ariel was director of Cloud Solutions at Netflix.

Obsessing Over AI Is the Wrong Way to Think About the Future by Sam Colt

By Anant Jhingran, CTO, Apigee

This article originally appeared in Wired.

For many of us, the concept of artificial intelligence conjures up visions of a machine-dominated world, where humans are servants to the devices they created. That’s a frightening image, inspired more by Hollywood and science fiction writers than technologists and the academic community. The truth is less sensational but far more meaningful.

We’re actually nowhere near the self-sustaining robots Isaac Asimov imagined in I, Robot. What we have instead is intelligence amplification (IA), a field with exponentially more potential to change the world in the immediate future.

The distinction between AI and IA is as simple as it is significant. AI makes machines autonomous and detached from humans; IA, in on the other hand, puts humans in control and leverages computing power to amplify our capabilities.

For a real-world example of IA, look no further than IBM’s Watson, an intelligence amplification machine that is often mistaken for AI. The feedback loop created by exposing intelligence to humans through APIs enables Watson machine to learn and improve the information it provides. The machine presents that information to humans and then learns from their decisions. Like much of IA, Watson becomes smarter by amplifying our own intelligence.

While humans have used tools to bolster their productivity for centuries, the proliferation of application programming interfaces (APIs)—the mortar connecting the bricks of our digital world— in recent years has enabled greater access to valuable information in real time. The combination of intelligent computers, intelligent software, and APIs has profound implications for our everyday lives.

Doctors, for example, stand to benefit tremendously from IA in their interactions with patients. Say you have a doctor at the Mayo Clinic making a diagnosis. The patient is relying on the doctor’s expertise—but the publication of new medical research far outpaces the doctor’s ability to consume and analyze it. That’s where IA comes in. Rather than depending on his or her finite body of knowledge, the doctor can utilize supercomputers capable of surveying vast amounts of information quickly to present decisions the doctor might not have thought of or known about.

Meanwhile, present-day robots can hardly stay upright.

This isn’t to say artificial intelligence doesn’t have a significant role to play in the evolution of intelligent computers and they way we interact with them. Researchers at MIT, the University of Toronto, and elsewhere have advanced AI’s value in performing “soft intelligence” tasks like facial identification and pattern recognition—activities that ultimately improve judgment across the entire system. However, when it comes to “hard intelligence” activities like driving a car, AI still has a lot of learning to do.

Visions of the future have distracted us from what’s possible today. While Google experiments with self-driving cars that can be derailed with a simple laser pointer, automakers around the globe have already begun introducing IA-enhanced cars that can improve safety by assisting drivers with duties like highway driving on long-distance road trips. Tesla, Volvo, and Audi have or will soon introduce “autopilot” functionality on their vehicles. Though it’s still unclear when autonomous vehicles will become affordable for most Americans — keeping them in a world of moonshots for now — IA-integrated cars are something we can advance, utilize, and benefit from today.

Of course, technology will always need moonshot ideas —they’re what makes humans great. But focusing too heavily on fully-formed artificial intelligence misses the great strides we’re making here and now with intelligence amplification that’s actually changing lives.

The future of machine collaboration we’ve fantasized about is already here, and it’s not what we’ve been taught to fear. Our machines really are here to serve us—all we have to do is embrace them.

Anant Jhingran is Chief Technology Officer of Apigee, developer of an intelligent API platform for digital business. He is the former VP and CTO of IBM’s Information Management Division and one of the early technologists behind IBM’s Watson computer.

How This Serial Entrepreneur Got Funding During a Financial Crisis by Sam Colt

By Rodney Rogers, CEO, Virtustream

This article originally appeared in Fortune.

There’s a growing consensus that shifts in the larger economy are leading to a potential downturn that will make fundraising more difficult in the coming months—and even years. Large institutional investors like Fidelity and TPG have even been marking down their private tech investments.

Founders right now are racing to raise funds before access to venture capital potentially becomes more limited. When raising capital in any kind of market, I’ve found it helpful to keep three things in context:

Opportunities exist in any macro market
In 2000, I cofounded Adjoined, an IT services firm, just after the NASDQ hit its historical high of 5,000-plus in March of 2000. In the ensuing years, it was one of the most challenging times possible to build and fund a business. In the company’s formative years, the dot-com bubble burst, the U.S. was dealing with the aftermath of the horrific events of 9/11, and subsequently fell into the recession of 2002. Even with those dire circumstances, there was a need for a new, vertical, industry-oriented IT services model focused on automating the relatively boring backend supply chain feeding the Internet—automating the plumbing behind all of those sexy new websites that actually didn’t go bust.

After a lot of hard work, Adjoined was indeed successful against the macroeconomic odds, and eventually set the bar for a private, U.S.-based IT services value creation multiple in the post-2000 era. Adjoined was recognized as the fastest-growing U.S.-based IT Services company of any size or tenure from its inception in 2000 to its final sale in 2007 to Capgemini through Kanbay. It can be done.

In late 2008, I (perhaps somewhat masochistically) decided to give it another go and cofounded Virtustream. I’ll never forget the day we did our first venture capital pitch. It was the same autumn day of 2008 that Congress failed to pass the first attempt of the Troubled Asset Relief Program bill. The DOW was down 770 points—not a great day to raise venture capital.

Despite the macro-economic climate, however, there was a massive opportunity present in the transformative potential of cloud computing—especially as it related to servicing mission-critical workloads within enterprise organizations. In March/April of 2009, the global financial system came very close to total collapse. Yes, that was a pretty harrowing time to make payroll.

In the case of Virtustream, it helped that we were able to call upon existing relationships with investors that we had worked with during our previous venture. It may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how often entrepreneurs overlook the importance of establishing lasting relationships with investors—relationships that transcend the latest bubble or downturn.

It’s also not about raising the most capital. It’s about raising quality capital from those investors who can actually help you build the business. Again, it sounds obvious, but few investors actually do this. Do as much reference work on them as they do on you.

Meet with your P&L weekly
You should never let the market dictate when you should or should not raise a funding round—that decision should always be driven by your own unique business needs.

Startups looking to raise funding need not feel an undue sense of panic about closing a round sooner rather than later, even if the market is about to turn, as many project. It’s this kind of panicked mentality that brings entrepreneurs into unenviable term sheets and overly diluted management incentive equity in the companies that they’ve built.

Regardless of the economic climate, entrepreneurs should have a clearly defined vision and clear understanding of the primary objectives and principles that will guide the way they operate their business from the outset. This refers largely to rigorous attention to financial details and a focus on managing high-performance initiatives that deliver results. If you are burning cash—something that is generally essential to getting lift in a new business—manage it very carefully and avoid excess at every turn. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to run a weekly profit and loss statement. It will force you to intimately know where your levers are to push, and your strings are to pull. If we are running ahead of income/cash relative to plan, I’ll tend to invest unplanned dollars into product development and sales capacity. If we are running short on income/cash relative to plan, we have earlier and continual visibility on where to tighten.

It’s easy for technology-focused entrepreneurs to overlook this process early in their careers. Don’t. You need to know how much you’re spending—and on what—or you’ll never be able to even realize the ambitious product vision you’ve laid out. What’s more, having a sophisticated understanding of your P&L is going to be extremely appealing to potential investors, who are always conscious of their eventual return.

There will always be some sort of bust looming
I’ve often said that being a venture-growth CEO is the opposite of being an airline pilot: hours of terror interrupted by seconds of boredom. Companies will always have to grow and acquire customers, whether valuations are exploding or not. You shouldn’t make important funding decisions based on where the market’s heading. Have the courage to stay the course. Focus on building great product, commercializing it effectively, servicing those precious customers and employees, and micro-managing your P&L. These things will drive more effective and efficient funding in the long run than any attempt at market timing.

We used this general approach at Virtustream to raise $120 million of venture capital between 2009 and 2013, and EMC acquired it for $1.2 billion.

Rodney Rogers is cofounder and CEO of Virtustream, a leading enterprise cloud software and services provider that was acquired in July 2015 by EMC for $1.2 billion. He is a successful entrepreneur and well-recognized thought leader with over 25 years of experience in the information technology services industry.

You’re doing DevOps wrong by Sam Colt

By Andy Vitus, Partner, Scale Venture Partners

This article originally appeared in TechCrunch.

Gone are the days of the quarterly product release cycle. To meet the evolving expectations of today’s end user, software must continuously adapt. As a result, hyper-automation of the software development process has become the thing on which companies, regardless of industry, compete. From fledgling startups to enterprise heavyweights, business leaders are realizing that they need to figure out how to embrace ideas like DevOps to keep up.

As an engineer and investor in the infrastructure space, I see where the breakdown happens with DevOps in theory and in practice. Progressive companies get the value of agile development, but the approach is often misguided, primarily because of the fact that DevOps comes into play too late in the game: Too often, startups only go back to layer in automation and test scripts once they’ve run into problems scaling. Enterprise giants face a similar challenge as they grapple with weaving DevOps into legacy infrastructure and processes.

It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s an old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a gallon of cure.

Baking in DevOps from the start is the key to running a lean and agile team that can scale quickly and adapt easily. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re part of an established organization that wants to make the shift, here are three guiding principles for doing DevOps right.

Account for automation and testing from day one

Building in automation and testing from the beginning is your linchpin for success. Here’s why. Taking the idea of the minimum viable product to an almost stupid degree, companies of all sizes are getting crushed by mountains of technical debt. It’s common to see companies write code for a product or service and find themselves trapped a couple of years later because they didn’t think about what would happen at scale. So they frantically hire engineers whose sole purpose is to fix what’s broken and rewrite the code base to build in automation, instead of focusing on creating new product features. Meanwhile, customers wonder why they aren’t seeing new features, and often move on to more innovative competitors.

Similarly, test-driven development is a concept that’s touted as best practice, but, in reality, very few companies actually follow this practice. People don’t test from the start for the same reason they don’t floss their teeth: It’s unpleasant. But then one day you find yourself getting a root canal. There is a common perception that building testing into the development process slows things down, because the amount of code for testing can sometimes be two or three times what is needed to build a product. I find this thinking nearsighted.

There’s an easy way to avoid this issue — build in automation and test-driven development from the very earliest phase of a company (or product). Spending the extra time up front, rather than waiting for things to break, will save you time (and a huge headache) down the line.

Get to know the new DevOps stack

The entire software development and operations process used to be (and for many companies still is) manual. Thanks to a newly defined DevOps stack, comprised of tools purpose-built to simplify and automate each step of the development and operations process, taking advantage of DevOps can actually be quite simple.

Companies like GitHub provide a repository for writing and controlling the initial source code. CircleCI and Travis CI make continuous integration easy by automating testing. Companies like JFrog provide an end-to-end solution for storing and managing binary code, allowing developers to have full control over the software release flow — from development to distribution. And then there are companies like Chef that automate the next phase of taking that data into production. Sitting above all of this are containers like Docker and Kubernetes, which accelerate delivery and enable continuous deployment.

Companies that take advantage of these tools find themselves able to make changes to software as quickly as developers can write the code, without any down time.

Decentralize IT and empower developers

In addition to the tools and moving to a mentality of building for scale, you need a leader with a strong vision and commitment to making the organizational changes required. Nike, Facebook and Netflix are great examples of DevOps success stories — largely credited to their leadership. Having an executive-level advocate — likely a CIO or VP of Engineering — who believes in a meritocracy across development, operations and testing and prioritizing agile development processes, is a key factor for success.

The CIO must be willing to challenge the status quo and change the mindset of how developers and operations teams work together. While enterprises have traditionally relied on a massive, hierarchical IT organization to oversee operations and testing, DevOps requires decentralizing IT and empowering developers to create agile, scalable and innovative teams.

Startups have an opportunity to adopt this approach from inception, but for legacy companies, the DevOps shift is happening more organically — one project or application at a time, rather than across an entire organization at once.

Embracing DevOps is essential for companies to stay nimble and competitive. But the fact of the matter is that failing to have the discipline to do it the right way is holding them back. Taking the time up-front to bake in best practices, leveraging the latest tools for innovation and a willingness to dive in and reorganize your IT organization with DevOps in mind are the keys to deriving the most value from agile development.

Research Shows the Top 3 Things Millennials Expect From Their Jobs (and Perks Are Not on the List) by Sam Colt

By Alex Rynne, Millennial Marketer, LinkedIn

This article originally appeared in Inc.

Finding great employees can be hard. Keeping great employees can be even harder, especially if you don't see the employer/employee relationship as a two-way street. Sure, your employees need to give you what you need... but you also need to give them what they need.

Since Millennials now make up a significant and growing percentage of the workforce, LinkedIn decided to research what Millennials look for from employers, surveying over 5,000 to ask why they switched jobs.

Here's what they found, fittingly written from the perspective of one of their own Millennial employees: Alexandra Rynne, a Millennial Marketer and Associate Content Marketing Manager at LinkedIn.

Here's Alexandra:

If you're a Millennial like me, chances are you aren't the only one in your office. In fact, Millennials are taking the workplace by storm -- we're projected to make up half of the workforce by 2020, according to PwC. Since we're the largest generation since the Baby Boomers, there's no doubt that Millennials will have a huge impact on our economy.

And unlike Baby Boomers, who would often stay at a job for years, two-thirds of us want to switch jobs by 2020, according to Deloitte.

Companies that want to succeed at attracting and retaining Millennials have to know and demonstrate what we're looking for in a particular job or career. One of the biggest misconceptions about Millennials is that we care too much about shiny job perks like pajama days or free concerts; in reality, we have concrete goals and desires about what we want from our employers that we weigh more heavily.

Since losing a Millennial employee can cost upwards of $15,000-25,000, companies need to rethink how they attract and retain talent. So how can companies best compete for Millennial talent?

In search of the answer, LinkedIn surveyed over 5,000 Millennials worldwide to learn why we switch jobs. Our priorities were clear: Millennials want:

  1. Advancement opportunities
  2. Competitive pay
  3. Challenging assignments

With that in mind, here's what your company can do to attract and retain Millennial talent.

Make an impression online.

We know the right job can make or break a career. That's why Millennials are studying up on prospective employers before considering a job.

Research is the second most common way we find new work behind networking,according to a Boston College study. We're checking out sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn in addition to your job postings and company landing page to learn as much as we can early on.

For companies this is a challenge and an opportunity. Your company's digital footprint -- especially its web and social properties -- will shape the impression of your company in Millennials' eyes before they've even made contact with your organization.

Companies like Unilever and Southwest Airlines understand the value of employee experience and post videos to demonstrate their commitment to building a strong corporate culture that resonates with younger folks. Nike launched a scripted seriesearlier this year to specifically reach Millennial women candidates.

Compensation

When it comes to switching jobs, Millennials rarely make the jump without a pay increase. The importance of compensation has grown, with nearly 80% of Millennials reporting a salary bump when they most recently switched jobs, according to the survey.

Of those who switched jobs, 25% are seeing their salaries increase by up to 30%.

We aren't afraid to climb the ladder, which means negotiating on compensation when we want or need to. Companies should think about compensation holistically, with an eye on base salary and a benefits package to match.

Salesforce, for example, was recently named one of the most attractive places to workbecause of the company's above-market pay.

Don't believe the perception that Millennials are only looking for job perks -- we care about salary much more.

Customize your recruiting experience.

While some factors are relevant to every job search -- say, your hours -- companies should be mindful of creating custom recruiting experiences that cater to Millennials.

Our research revealed that we look for a personalized approach during the job hunt. Custom recruiting tactics can vary widely from building a mobile-responsive website for applicants on the go to tailoring a position around a particular candidate.

Millennials also think differently about qualifications. Some of us will look at a company's social media when forming a first impression or hunting for evidence of a healthy work environment and work-life balance. Others will try to gauge how challenging their work will be and whether the company they're considering is innovative.

These experiences aren't broadly applicable, though, so companies should be thinking of the individual experience first and foremost. Microsoft, for example, isknown for its "individual adventure" approach to career development and encourages employees to forge their own path within the company.

You're being interviewed -- not the other way around.

Above all, Millennials want jobs that will advance our careers. We also want the right compensation -- competitive companies have to offer both to recruit top talent. 21% of Millennials leave their job to start in a new industry, which makes having a relevant brand all the more important.

Think about your website and social profiles differently because they might not just be how one of us discovers your company; it could be our introduction to an entire industry. When you're looking for the best talent, Millennials are interviewing you as much as you're interviewing them.

To score the best people, you have to understand how to market yourself to them -- and deliver.