S2 E88 — Convincing Family, Friends, Fools and Angels

We flew into Manhattan, digitally videoed almost all of their software engineers, surfaced their “core foundational story” and crafted a marketing and advertising campaign for the CEO, and the internal story to keep and retain the brains in the fold.

“5”  Steve Howey, 42:The brilliant solution will be simple, but it’s not always so easy to think like that. What would an outsider see? A child? Ask the naive questions that your sophisticated mind often skips.” Cancer

Hi and welcome to Friday’s Episode 88 in Season 2 of  “My Pandemic Year Natural Experiment” on this 31st day of July in the summer of 2020.  

“The Tau of Steves: What You Don’t Know Could Fill a Book”

Table of Contents

Season One and Two are a two-year examination of how bits of wisdom changed during the “normal” pre-pandemic and then in this unfolding pandemic year.

Previously in Season Two, the Pandemic Year

S2 E87Start Ups Aren’t For Everyone. Are They a Better or Worse Fit for You?; S2 E86How To Avoid a Disastrous Career Like Mine; S2 E85How to Up the Odds in Your Favor

Related from Season One, the Normal Year

S1 E88Who’s Marc Maron and What’s da Vinci got to do with him?; S1 E87 — Pipe Bombs Destroy Vacation Bliss; S1 E86Day 86 of My 1-Year Natural Experiment; S1 E85What happens when the fear subsides?


This is a continuation of “Volume Two Manuscript — WorkFit” a work-in-progress.

In a previous episode I summarized everything you need to know about four basic organizations to stack the odds in your favor when shopping around for your next job opportunity.  

Oh, what disaster to avoid (unlike me) in your next career move. 

Now we’re building on each of the 16 talent profiles and how they can take advantage of opportunities in stages of organizational growth from Start Up to Maturity and from Decline to Reinvention.

Five Major Stages of Growth for Organizations

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

Start Ups

Their founders are often described as a maniac on a mission. In the very beginning they grow organically through loose collaborations. Innovation leads to an IPO or acquisition by a larger company like Google or Amazon or other more mature players in the space. 

What they develop, independently, usually dramatically speeds up a standard process, or eliminates major steps, or in some radical way revolutionizes business-as-usual.

30. Venture Guidance

As a Systematic-Professional advisor I prepped potential startup entrepreneurs seeking investments from a group of entrepreneurs and former executives who agreed to pledge $50,000 each as seed or A-series funding.  Presenting with a deck of 10 slides, after being coached individually, they stood and delivered to a group of us role playing the sharks and throwing them curve balls challenging their assumptions.

Wannabe Entrepreneurs Seeking Angels 

I’d meet each person with a great idea, hear them out, conduct a preliminary in take against the criteria for receiving our free services provided by a budget from The Small Business Association.  

Instead of qualifying for a business loan at a vetted SBA bank affiliate that they’d have to pay back, we were there to vet their idea against evolving criteria provided to us by Tech Coast Angels — a group of entrepreneurs and former executives who agree to pledge $50,000 each as seed or A-series funding.  

In my own career I had failed so many times at start-ups that I could pick apart most of their plans and presentations almost instantaneously.  But, that didn’t mean I wasn’t a sucker for ideas I felt would be sure hits.  Even after I left the SBA program I continued to meet and mentor some of “my” entrepreneurs.

Individual Tech Coast Angels investors rarely got their money back on my clients.  

Our game plan was to divide the amount you needed by $50,000 increments and then you knew how many of those investors you needed to convince. Two for $100,000 or 20 for $1 million.

If our wannabes “graduated” from our “harassment” they submitted an application for an invitation to the next Tech Coast Angel meeting of all investors.  If they passed their initial screening, then they were invited to present to the large group. And, if lucky, to other Angel investors in the region until they collected enough $50,000 commitments.

Before Shark Tank

One of the mentors I invited to participate in The Executive to Executive MBA mentoring program provided a service just like Shark Tank, but way before. His proposition was for a founder to present to his group , get evaluated on strengths and weaknesses, work on the weaknesses with advisors within the network and pitch again.

Part of his value proposition, besides providing billable hours for advisors in their network, was introductions to investors who favored their model of vetting startup ideas.  

The Angels usually recouped their investments when the venture capitalists invested with hundreds of millions or they made their money when a startup was acquired by a larger company or registered for an initial public offering (IPO) on one of the stock exchanges.

But to be honest, the statistics rang true.  Most start ups fail within the first 5 years, but that’s after tapping into friends, family and fools and maxing out all of their credit cards and taking out second mortgages.  If one of my clients didn’t secure Angel Funding, then the game was over.  They never jumped the chasm to land on emerging growth. 

27. Knowledge Management — Brand Company

At Think!City and again as Systematic-Professional consultants, we crashed our models together — learning and development, knowledge creation, media production, internet communities, strategy, advertising and marketing. 

We worked together in a highly creative environment within a corrugated metal building designed by a local architecture firm in Laguna Beach, on a curve in Laguna Canyon Road.

Start Up Talent Culture

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

From our studio we continued internal and external branding with clients ranging from startups to Fortune 100.  I fell headlong into sharing new knowledge that springs out of new innovations.

We pioneered a way of capturing the essence of a brand on digital video, searched through audio tracks for the touch points and reused portions of the interviews for orienting new coders hired at accelerated rates. 

Start Up #1

One of our clients, Interworld, was so new their CEO, a 101 Breakpoint Inventor,  just didn’t know how to talk about what they did.  So, we flew into Manhattan, digitally videoed almost all of their software engineers, surface their “core foundational story” and crafted a marketing and advertising campaign for the CEO, and the internal story inside to keep and retain the brains in the fold.

The CEO was able to coherently sell Interworld’s story to potential investors and customer within an advertising campaign framed by their brand.

Before engaging the 103 Commercial Innovators and 105 Marketing Athletes in our process Interworld’s turnover rate hit 90%. But, because they had told us what their core foundational story was, they fervently believed in that mission they defined and the vision we fedback to them.  And, they voluntarily stopped taking the two or three daily recruiter calls from Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

Interworld loved our work. 

Start Up #2

A technology opportunity emerged quickly which focused primarily on retail investors throwing money at an e-commerce platform that addressed Amazon’s bookselling initial business.  They saw the writing on the wall. The business model customized each “brick and mortar” business and took them online with the same look and feel of the store. 

As each new company signed on, the company with the platform, Online Retail Partners, learned new stuff, and developed newer bells and whistles they then shared with their “investment partners”.

The retailers knew their business, but didn’t understand technology.  So they invested in a company that did.  And as Online Retail Partners grew out, the new and legacy retail investors would share in the rewards. 

Warren of Incubating Start Ups

So, up on the 11th floor of a dingy gray building with only one operating elevator and noise chugging steam heaters sat a warren of start-up companies squirreled off into sections of large and small rooms — basically large enough to fit in tables with chairs facing each other and a lot of digital screens and yards and yards of cables.  

Online Retail Partners was one of them. We arrived to surface their business model like we did at Interworld.  The CEO laid out several problems for our help.  He said they worked on Internet-time — ever accelerating time-to-market like we faced at Proxima creating 2-way “meeting room tools”; they couldn’t afford any stinking time away from their pace to go to no stinking training; they “popped” retail businesses online in 75 to 90 days in a slow quarter; they needed to hire and assimilate 100 new employees and …

When we met them they had a core team of 5 or 6 geniuses — 103 Commercial Innovators and 105 Marketing Athletes — who learned how to finish each other’s sentences.  Everything worked like butter.  Nothing bad happened, until they began to break up the foundational team as they took on new partners and spread them out among them.  

Chaos But In a Good Way

New hires told us they would see people walking around between the shared couches and conversation areas in the incubator, back to one or two other tabled rooms, but had no idea which one of them was the team lead on a project they were hired into.

To us it just seemed like a ferris wheel spinning faster and faster until somebody launches out into space.

Crazy creative Dave and I interviewed those first geniuses and recording those on digital video with B-roll footage to capture the early warehouse environment with exposed pipes — kinda like where we worked in the corrugated metal building in the bend of Laguna Canyon Road.  

No Time For This

First of all they couldn’t agree on how many product development steps it took from new idea to finished product — in their case a password and access to their customers online environment.  We interviewed them separately, then held a group session where in an old school way had them draw their product development process on butcher paper taped to a wall

A new hire came up to me and said that was the single best thing that happened to him in the first 30 days — watching them convince each other what their process should be — as he was sitting off in the conversation pit looking on.  

He told me as we were breaking down the lights, that when we identified who we interviewed, asked for their phone and email he found out who his boss was and finally knew what he should be working on in “Phase 1”.

Team Follows the Leader to the Next Company

The CEO, who came from Staples of all places, body-snatched the original team almost intact from one of Amazon’s competitors and gave them complete freedom in founding the company.  And the technology team’s leader —  a 101 Breakpoint Inventor —   absolutely walked on water all the others said, so his personality, reputation and competence provided enough “stickiness” in the beginning.  But the second and third wave of new hires didn’t know him or about him.

So, as they grew, turnover accelerated.

Stickiness and Accelerated Time-to-Mastery

Our challenge was to accelerate each new team member’s time-to-mastery, without drawing too much away from everyone’s concentration on shortening product cycles, and without sending them to orientation off-sites for a week like we did in the old days.

Crazy Dave and I knew from our experiences with “Strategic Safari Tools” and technology innovation challenges circulating the new knowledge innovation teams “throw off” as emerging best practices was critical to their survival as they tried to scale and grow.

We focused on those emerging best practices.  We drew out the product development phases, using our digital video we briefly explained what happened in of them from my interview with each expert, using just the first frame of their picture we captioned them with their email and phone number.

It became embarrassingly easy to find each other quickly and efficiently. And solved the eternal problem with best practices for as long as I can remember.

In the old world, when you finished a project the leader was to see to it a best practice was written up — what the situation and context demanded, something about surprises, what worked well and what didn’t, and maybe a question about “if you had it to do again, what would you have done differently?”

Product geniuses didn’t have the time to write something up.  They raced around attending to first-time problems and gnarly solutions.

Knowledge Leakage

We used to call it knowledge leakage.  It just evaporated. But the issue was composing something in writing. 

If you wanted me to write up a best practice about what we’ve covered here it would be a chore.  

It’s so much easier for you to interview me,  to pull it out of an expert and capture it.  As you interview them, they’re given the opportunity to unspool.

They’re replaying it for the first time from beginning to end and re-discovering what they learned, but hadn’t thought of before.  It could be the real lesson.

We Slowed Them Down Until …

I found a software tool that scanned down through the audio tracks of video and logged in time codes and content automatically.  They provided an editor tool and a search function so we could very quickly zero in on all the instances that “Phase Five” appears in that hour of tape.

We didn’t all have to be in the studio at the same time.

That was the real pinch point in our behind the scenes magic.  With ORP or Interworld, or 18Global, or even Zany Brainy we couldn’t slow them down and the way we did business originally did just that

Our Systematic-Professional practice offered digital asset management — that just-in-time, just enough capability delivered to any creative team member’s desktop.

We Practiced What We Preached

Our Verage searchable knowledge base allowed us to view the entire 1-hour digital video, a smaller section of the video or little snippets within a clip.   If someone rolled onto our production team without having traveled to Ireland, Australia or Dallas they could view everything to get up to speed with the client.


Why are these talent profiles magnetized to Start Ups?  Usually the “Maniac on a Mission” aka 101 Breakpoint Inventor thrives on the highest degrees of Independence, Speed and Disruptive Innovation. 

As founders they bet it all on the line — “Go Big of Go Home!”  Usually they’ve cultivated a loose team of co-conspirators who may not entirely grasp the expansiveness of vision, 

16 Talent Profiles by Organization Type

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

but as one 103 Commercial Innovator told us, “Whenever Ian calls, we know to drop everything and join him.”  They know the new venture, base on past adventures, promises to be one-of-a-kind that they will regret if they don’t hop on board the train leaving the station — destination unknown.  Wherever founders take them the market, industry or themselves will never be the same.

Start Up Culture Attracting Three Talent Profiles

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

The early team can’t all share founders need for disruption and speed at the same highest degree.  To bring the vision to life and launch it into the marketplace some team players need medium degrees independence, disruptive innovation and speed to function aka 103 Commercial Innovators without unnecessarily challenging what the founders see that they can’t yet. Part of what they’re able to bring to the table is a translation function.  Figuring out how to define and deliver a proof of concept, a rapid prototype — something that is more tangible even for the rest of the team.  They’re always on the lookout for commercializing early applications of the vision, figuring out strategies for licensing their intellectual property and setting up joint R&D projects to fill in missing pieces and technologies. 

The first two usually hang out in Paradoxy-Moron organizations and can stay and grow as that organization matures through growth stages and reaches maturity. But finding a home in another start up, as serial entrepreneurs often do, they’re joined by folks, 105 Marketing Athletes who value speed (high) and affiliation (medium), but interject a focus on new knowledge creation.  They plug the holes in knowledge leakage that cutting edge processes produce by capturing it and sharing it and protecting it as proprietary processes almost as much as intellectual property.


Random ones that make me want change my sign.

Today’s Holiday Birthday: 

 Life always gets more interesting when you follow that whisper of curiosity. Your interests and skills evolve. You’ll take risks and gather up the freedoms available to you on the other side. You’ll be applauded in a familiar group and accepted into an elite one. You’ll win with someone you feel driven to impress.

The whisper of curiosity — I love that turn of phrase.  This ain’t my legitimate Holiday Birthday, but it certainly applies to how I’ve led my career and original research which I’m trying to stuff into this here “Volume Two Manuscript — WorkFit” my work-in-progress.

“3”  Steve McQueen (1930 – 1980): “The point will be just to show up and see what you discover. If you can lower your expectation or, better yet, go in totally without one, you’ll be primed for a stellar day.” Aries 

Go in?  With this pandemic I hardly go out.  I pine for a stellar day, but I’m not seeing the signs of one yet, but it’s still early.

“5”  Steve Howey, 42:The brilliant solution will be simple, but it’s not always so easy to think like that. What would an outsider see? A child? Ask the naive questions that your sophisticated mind often skips.” Cancer

So often I had to ask myself that question and asked my clients similar sets of questions to move over, under, or around seemingly insurmountable barriers.

What’s Going On

Literally Bottled and Set Adrift from KnowWhere Atoll 

    • @knowlabs followers of one or more of my 35 digital magazines organically grew from 4427 to 4516.




    • Saw the movie, didn’t realize that one of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly — his detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch book series and Amazon Prime series — also wrote, “The Lincoln Lawyer” which I just finished. Gotta tell you I can’t not see his lead character (Mickey Haller, Bosch’s half brother) as anyone else but Matthew McConaughey. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by: Holiday Mathis – Creators Syndicate


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