Notes From Panel Discussion

by Wayne Willis on January 28, 2012

At the Hackers and Founders event profiled here, there were two speaking events -- a panel discussion and a "fireside chat" with Ben Horowitz.  These are the note from the first panel

The participants were:

  • John Berkeley (LinkedIn bio)is a polished business person – CEO, EIR, exec at Oracle now SVP of Product at Responsys.  He said, in answer to “What did you learn that you think everyone should learn … or what do you wish to learn?” he said, “public speaking.  Every exec at Oracle has to go thru the course, which I didn’t think necessary.  But I learned a lot and I use those presentation skills all the time.”
  • Manish Patel (LinkedIn bio) is an investor now with strong technical and business (and artistic!  see his New Yorker cartoons) background, including senior product leadership posts at Google.  His answer to the same question was “learn to draw.  Drawing a picture is a great way to communicate an idea.”  Manish gave some great examples of how product management decisions benefit from both the technical insights (he has a strong CS background) and clear marketing (“business”) insights.
  • Cheryl Kellond (LinkedIn bio) is a vivacious “40-year-old mom who runs triathlons” – who parlayed her executive experience at eTrade, Yahoo and Adobe to found Bia-sport.  Her team described her as “a high-fiber cereal with magical marshmallow surprises.”  She was very charismatic … also funny and smart.
  • Elad Gil (LinkedIn bio) is currently Director of Corporate Strategy at Twitter after selling his startup, Mixer Labs to them.  He’s a “product guy” who’s worked on products and launches with Plaxo, Google and others – and been a McKinsey consultant for a short time.  He characterized his Phd in Molecular Biology as pretty much a waste of time.

The moderator asked about what skill set was more important in a startup – geeks or suits?  Cheryl was voluble about how everyone, even the lowliest engineer, needed to deeply understand the customer and the market.  (She made an overweight, young, male engineer go run a 10k appealing primarily to women … so he’d understand the women making up their market.)

Manish thought “diversity” was a positive and everyone agreed that having some tensions and “fighting” is good (so long as you can resolve things and not break trust).  If teams don’t fight a bit, that means they don’t really care.  Elad and Manish both thought asking rank and file people about the company’s goals, mission and reason-for-being was very informative – and they liked to do that as part of due diligence.

Everyone agreed that MBAs are more useful “later” in the development of a startup … when sales and product and organization are more needed.

There were some war stories about massive wars between Engineering and Marketing over the features and direction of product development.  Elad observed that sometimes people are hired from companies that had those fights … and sometimes they bring that baggage with them.

[That remark reminded me of a meme that got oft repeated on blogs recently: “Everyone has baggage from past relationships, but the person who really matters is the one that will stand there and help you unpack.”]

If you want to see the actual presention, here it is:

The panel made some other good points and trenchant observations, and told a few good stories to reinforce the points they made.  (Cheryl was particularly good at that.)   And had the evening stopped there, it would have been successful, but then it went on to Ben Horowitz.

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