The Dandelion Effect

Dandelion seeds blowing away in the wind.
Imagine that everyone you spend time with are Dandelion seeds and your impact will be spread forth into the world.

What’s is the Dandelion Effect? As Leaders travel through life, we build teams. We know that you can’t accomplish great things alone. So we recruit the best people we can find and then invest our time into developing their capabilities.

But great people consistently seek new challenges. So, how do you react when your team members need to move on?

Often I see managers get defensive or react negatively. Treating a formerly trusted employee with contempt as if they betrayed the organization merely by seeking to grow.

By not celebrating the transition you undermine your position with your other employees. You clearly demonstrate that you do not want what is best for them and their families.

Instead of being upset by the loss. You could frame this moment as a great accomplishment. The strategy, tactics, and skills that they developed on your team will now be carried with them into the world. This is the Dandelion Effect.

If you are dedicated to training the best practices, and working to develop a happy, fulfilling work environment, then this moment is a gift to the world.

Your disciples are going forth to spread the knowledge and have a positive influence on others. Like a dandelion seed in the wind. When they land, they will reproduce and your cultural DNA will continue forward having positive impacts beyond your personal reach.

The common dandelion is an introduced plant in North America. In the mid-1600s, European settlers brought the common dandelion (scientific name, Taraxacum officinale) to eastern America and cultivated it in their gardens for food and medicine. Since then it has spread across the continent as a weed.

Linda Kershaw, Patsy Cotterill, Sarah Wilkinson © 2002

Originally posted at: https://www.thepartnership.org/blog/bn360/celebrating-team-member-transitions/

How do you run an Early Stage Pitch event?

Pitch-In is an event designed to help founders of early stage companies. Early Stage Founders present their business idea and receive kind-but-critical feedback.

What’s the Format of a Pitch Event?

The format is fast-moving and straight forward:

  1. The host introduces the companies. They also set the expectation that audience members provide kind-but-critical feedback.
  2. Three companies run the gauntlet
    • The Founder pitches for 5 minutes
    • The Host moderates 5 minutes of Question & Answer
    • The Audience fills out a feedback form
  3. Host thanks the attendees and Founders for participating
  4. Host provides aggregated feedback to Founders

Benefits of Seed Stage Pitch Events

The event lasts an hour and provides a tremendous amount of value to the community.

  • Pitching creates initial momentum. Folks with ideas become publicly accountable as the Founder of a startup.
  • The community begin’s to understand what good startups look like. Community pattern recognition improves through exposure to more startup ideas and more founders.
  • Community-wide analytical skills develop as group members ask questions based on their specialized knowledge.
  • The event reinforces the “Give First” and “Everyone is Welcome” social mores.
  • By audience members sharing their wisdom and network with the founders, the community gains a sense of pride and ownership.

Need to see an example of a Pitch-In?

Want to see what an event feels like? Check out this edited video of our May 22nd Event featuring 3 great startups.

How should presenter’s prepare for their first pitch?

I’ve previously written about pitching your company as a first step in founding your startup. Here’s the cliff-notes to help your presenters.

  1. Recommend that they build a Lean Canvas (?) for each one of their business ideas or customer segments. This will help them to build a more insightful deck and prepare for most questions they’ll receive during the Q&A portion.
  2. Build a deck based on Guy Kawasaki’s pitch deck template. If they’ve never built a venture deck before, this will provide 80% of what they need to be successful.
  3. What about the other 20%? Practice, Practice, Practice – Schedule zoom meetings with friends in advance to knock out any technical glitches, they should run through the deck until they know it inside and out.

Where’s the feedback form for event?

A template version of the feedback form is available here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeBUklEbZJW0DdXb68arJNkvGxu-eGF1aREde630aotsOdHjg/viewform

Please feel free to copy it or share your feedback on the questions we ask in the comments of this post.

Why is the Western New York Startup Community growing?

I spent today compiling a retrospective report that summarizes the past six months. I’m left in awe of all that you have done as a startup community.

We have grown and supported each through a pandemic, the beginning of a recession, and the current social unrest. Our community has been galvanized by these stressors. We will emerge even more robust than we entered due to your contributions.

I’m unable to thank you all personally. Nor, even begin to account the ways you have individually helped one another. However, I can share some growth and activity number that represent the tip of the iceberg.

Startup Community Growth

Since January 1st, 2020 — the WNY Startup Community Slack has grown from 306 members to 1,180. That’s 386% growth! That’s 100% due to the value that you all add through your original content and replies. Combined with your invitations to join and your openhearted welcoming of new members.

Buffalo Bridge has grown from 0 to 5,991 readers, again — all because of you. Jack does Jack things, Andy curates the content that you post to the slack, we package it up and send it out. If we’re being honest — 95% of the value comes from you.

Together, we’ve organized and attended over 58 Techstars supported events. These events wouldn’t exist if community members did not volunteer their time and expertise. Additionally, fewer people would offer up their time if it wasn’t for the hundreds of you who attend. Most importantly, this number completely ignores the dozens of other events that were organized, promoted, and executed by members of this community without Techstars direct support.

Why Should We Keep Growing?

All of this activity is leading to more Startups. Convincing first time founders to move from Idea Stage to building their startup. You’re making the difference, by proving that it’s possible and connecting the support networks that enable them.

When you read this, acknowledge the work that you’ve done to build a brighter economic future for our city. The work you’ve done to strengthen our community and develop genuine friendships.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the rapid and relentless change and disruption that we’ve seen in these past six months. But I know with certainty that we will emerge a stronger and more vibrant startup community. Because of you.

Black Lives Matter

I originally posted this message on the WNYStartupCommunity.com slack. I’m reposting it here for long term visibility.

Dear Startup Community,

I’ve rewritten this message several times, it is imperfect – but at this point to say nothing is wrong.

I’ve had trouble finding the words to react to the events of the last week. From the horrible actions of Amy Cooper, to the disgusting murder of George Floyd, along with the escalation of violence by the state and its citizens, this has been a traumatic week. The fact that it has been “Business as usual” on this slack has shown a failure of leadership on my part as a community collaborator. I apologize for not addressing the realities of the world sooner.

I want to acknowledge the pain that many of us are feeling. To the African American and PoC members of our startup community: I offer my ears to listen, my heart to empathize, and my megaphone to amplify the message you need others to hear. I want to be your ally and I stand in solidarity with you.

If you believe in the fundamental principals of justice and equality as a human right. Take some time today and reach out to your African American friends and colleagues.  Ask them how they are doing and actively listen.  Through communication and vulnerable dialogue we can take steps towards healing as Americans.

Black Lives Matter!

Clark Dever

Together we can destroy the racist systems of oppression that have murdered African Americans for 400 years. It is our duty, and needs to be a foundational component of our efforts as a generation, in order to leave a better future for all the children in America.

How do you go from idea stage to having a startup?

The Idea Stage Startup Trap

I spend a lot of time talking to Idea Stage Founders about their fictional startups. Often they’re stuck thinking about their business instead of building it.

The key to initial forward momentum takes a less than 10 hours of work. In fact, I recommend you stop reading after these bullets and start right now.

  1. Fill out a Lean Canvas
  2. Build a Pitch Deck
  3. Pitch
    • To experienced Founders, just e-mail them and ask them if they’d help you with their pitch. You’ll be surprised at how accessible they are to other founders and how much help they will provide.
    • Search for early-stage pitch events. I host one called “Pitch-In.” If you can’t find any locally – start your own early stage pitch event.
    • Seek out Angel Investors or Economic Development Agencies.
  4. Rinse & Repeat until your Company exits
    • No, Really. This never stops being part of your job as a Founder – unless you bootstrap.

Pitch your Idea Stage Startup

In gardening, you can’t contain the exuberant growth of a seed in a small pot for long. If it doesn’t have room to grow, it runs, distorts in unhealthy ways, gets root bound, then dies.

The exact same thing happens to startup ideas trapped in your head. Like our fictional plant hero, your startup idea requires transplanting. The freedom to grow despite adversity leads to healthy plants that bear fruit.

Pitching your idea in public is equal to planting it in the wild. During your pitch at least one of the following will happen:

  1. The audience will spot the gaps in your plan.
  2. You will feel embarrassed about something you said, despite audience barely noticing.
  3. An expert will tell you about an “Unknown Unknown“. That is to say, a risk that you don’t know about, nor do you know it’s potential impact on your business.

Challenges like these are required to go from Idea Stage to a functioning Startup. In fact, every time you adapt and overcome a challenge to one of your ideas, the startup gets stronger.

There is Magic in Public Accountability

Standing on stage presenting a slide deck takes the idea out of your mind and makes it tangible startup. It’s a promise to the audience. You’re not lying to them – this business is real. You have transfigured an idea to an early stage startup. The audience bears witness to the artifacts, proof-of-life, you are now a Founder.

The journey of 1,000 miles has started with these first steps. Now take the next step, and the next, and the next, until your arrive at your destination.

Remember to be mindful and enjoy the journey.

Scaling Operations: Simple but not Easy

Scaling Operations for your SaaS startup by Kat Carter from Squire. Focused on the foundational elements of scaling and highlighted Kat’s knowledge. The Q&A at the end goes deeper and shares her wisdom gained from time in the trenches.

TL;DR: The three lessons that she focuses on are:

  • Priorities matter
  • Tools are more than just software
  • Communication is the key to everything

Priorities Matter when Scaling

While Scaling Operations, executive leadership teams need to set clear the priorities for the company. Clearing your schedule, turning off e-mail, and work through a framework. Determine what the goals for the company are and how each team supports them.

Now that you have your priorities, you need to stick with them. You also need to communicate them repeatedly to all your employees. Every manager should know the company’s goals and use them as a guide for their decision making. The impact of each team’s work on the company’s goals should be reinforced during team meetings. The goals and how teams contribute to their success should published company wide.

Tools are more than just software

“There’s an app for that.” Its tempting to search for software to fix your scaling issues. But often what you need to do is collect data and review your processes. Then put together reports and controls that maintain the improvements.


Bits are cheap. When you build new functionality for your software, record relevant meta-data. Do this even if you don’t have a use for that meta-data currently. In the future an “Unknown Unknown” will pop-up. When it does you’ll be in a much better place to solve it if you can run analysis on historical data.

Communication is the key to operations

Your tools and communication plan allow you to effectively respond to novel situations. Kat shared a story about a severe issue that hit Squire while she was on PTO. The issue affected a large part of their customer base. But, the teams followed processes they built resolving prior issues. They communicated cross-functionally to identifying the issue. The team resolved it, and communicated the solution to over 100 customers within 24 hours. She found out about the event the day she returned during a retrospective briefing. The issue was already closed due to an empowered team who knew how to communicate.

Leverage the most effective communication tool for the task. By investing in training materials (such as an internal CRM), Squire reduced their new hire on-boarding time by 75%. Review the problem areas of your company and see if there’s a way you can improve communication.

Scaling Operations is simple but not easy

If you want to scale operations at your startup, focus on building good tools and frameworks. Record data and analyze it to see where the bottle necks exist. Build processes and tools to help you increase workflow. Communicate priorities and changes to employees in several different formats. Share the most important messages more than once.

What’s the difference between a hack, a project, or a business?

During my PTO, I was playing around with a side-project. About 8-12 hour in, I  realized I had made a classic mistake. I was focusing on building a thing, but I hadn’t spend enough time working through a design process.  It’s easy to do, building is fun, it’s exciting, it feels tangible – but it’s a time sink.

So where should I have started?  Problem Statement, Lean Canvas, Personas, User Stories.  Do you know what you’re building? Who you’re building for? Why?  Unless you answer these fundamental questions, you’re working on a hack — not a project, not a business. After working through the tools, I have a concise understanding of what is and isn’t part of the MVP.  

This clarity may have delayed building by 4-8 hours, but it cut 20+ hours of development time out of my scope.User stories in particular helped me understand my scope and architectural needs. 

If you haven’t created User Stories before, here’s a primer:  https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/10-tips-writing-good-user-stories/ 

Equity: Three Mistakes Founders Make

Shareholders' Equity

The Equity Mistake They Make With Each Other:

If you’re founding a company with other people. All founders should vest in their stock over time. Typically, you should use a one-year cliff and 4 year vesting period. The one year cliff solves the problem where one founder drops out because of changing life conditions or lost interest. If you don’t vest into your own company, you often end up with a big chunk of equity you can’t sell or redistribute to other parties who are going to add value to the company. Secondly, they tend to split up the company equally, instead of based on people’s abilities to contribute and relative scarcity of the skill sets they provide. Fairness is setting percentage ownership based on the amount of lift each Founder provides to the company’s valuation, not splitting it equally per capita. If you’re too afraid to discuss how much value different activities, backgrounds, and networks, add to the company – you should reconsider your co-founder relationship; the conversations are only going to get harder from here.

The Equity Mistake They Make With Outsiders:

You’re not going to know everything about your business, your market, or your team. That’s OK, but you should seek out Mentors, not Advisors. Mentors give of their time and their talent freely, knowing that they will learn from their mentees. Advisors require an equity stake in the company. I’ve seen some insane term sheets offered to early-stage founders with advisory fees between 5-10% of common stock. That’s predatory, unless that’s contingent upon a huge investment, international brand recognition through celebrity influencers, or some other exception to the rule – I would run for the hills if I saw something like that. A reasonable advisory fee for an advisor/firm who is working unpaid for you in an early stage startup is somewhere between 0-1%. Founder’s Institute Founder / Advisor Standard Template lays out a great table to align close to market value.

The Ownership Mistake They Make With Insiders:

We all hear about how hard it is to be an early-stage founder. But what about the first few hires on the founding-team? They tend to get significantly less equity than founders and even later stage C-level hires, but they’re taking the risk with you because they believe in the company. You should treat your first employees like Angel Investors. They accept the biggest risks early on, so it’s only fair to provide them a multiplier on their ownership stake. They help to set and reinforce the culture of your organization and deal with all the chaos you create while thrashing around trying to find product/market fit and funding. Your first employees end up being friends and family, so treat them well.

What other distribution mistakes do you see repeatedly?

Let’s chat about it in the comments!

Last Chance to Start 2019

"This is fine" Dog riding the S.S. Ship It!
Let’s do this!

With four weeks left in 2019 it’s time to start your new years goal setting. Unless you have a bias-for-action, which you should — if you’re a founder.

Four weeks is enough time to define and test some hypothesis around the business that you’ve been noodling since January 2019. Let’s get together and turn thoughts into deeds. I’m putting together a workshop series to drive your “idea stage” startup to “early stage” before January 1st, 2020.

As a group, we’ll help you determine the Who, What, and Why of your product and provide an operational plan and the tactics you need to validate your hypothesis before the end of the year. Register to attend each week individually.

The content will build over the course of the month, you will be assigned homework in advance and the in-person time will be a group review to ask and answer questions. The goal is to create a cohort of new founders who can peer mentor each other. I will bring different experts in to cover the content from the homeworks. Want to know more? Sign-up below.

Mornings (Free coffee and breakfast, in meatspace only):
Thursday 12/5 – 7:30 am – Register for Week 1
Friday 12/13 – 7:30 am – Register for Week 2
Thursday 12/19 – 7:30 am – Register for Week 3
Thursday 12/26 – 7:30 am Register for Week 4

Can’t make mornings? Stuck in the cubicle but want to give this a try? Hit me up, if there’s enough demand we’ll create a virtual lunch and learn series.

Employee Heatmap – The Simplest and Most Effective Tool in the Management Arsenal

One of the hardest things for senior managers to maintain Situational Awareness across their entire organization. Ego and averaging often obscure the reporting up through your hierarchy.

Mid-level managers don’t ask for help because they don’t see how their team’s problems are impacting the organization as a whole. This lack of reporting or “the blame game” can hide the root causes of cross-functional problems.

Whenever I face uncertainty, I collect and visualize data to gain a deeper understanding of the problem.

Capturing Data Efficiently

Every week, managers are required to report their individual team members “stress load” in a shared google sheet. In aggregate, over-time, this Employee Heatmap data becomes immensely valuable in understanding your teams’ performance.

This quick report (~2 minutes for a team of 5) allows both you and your managers to visually see changes in employees status across your entire organization. This insight allows you both to determine where to focus your analysis and assistance as leader.

The Employee Heat Map

Spreadsheet Heatmap of Employee Stress over time.
A quick review during the weekly management meeting visually helps you determine where you need to ask questions and assist.

Download the Employee Heatmap Example.xls

What is Stress Load?

The Employee Heatmap is built on a quantitative value that we call “Stress Load”. “Stress Load” is defined as Workload + Familyload.

As a Human-First leader, I view my employees capacity as the combination of two things. The 8-hours they spend on the clock and the issues they’re facing during the 16-hours a day that I don’t pay them for.

My managers collect these data points during their monthly 1-on-1s with their direct reports. They adjust the monthly self-reported “stress load” number based on their direct observation when reporting it in the management review weekly.

What is Workload?

Workload in the Employee Heatmap is quantified on a scale of 1-10. 1 being almost completely unsaturated to the point of boredom and 10 being complete saturation at an unsustainable pace. 4-6 is the Goldilocks Zone.

Depending on your team composition, you may regularly see 6-7 . Challenging workloads tend to keep Type-A employees more engaged and therefore might not be a negative indicator. Sustained values in the 8-10 range usually indicate an underlying issue that needs attention.

I encourage my managers to restate the number and ask “What does that mean to you?”. If the self-reported number is out of the Goldilocks Zone for that employee, I instruct them to ask “Why do you feel this way?” It’s important that the direct manager understands what is driving the stress level of their employee’s workload numbers.

Qualitative reasons often drive higher workload numbers. Employees doing work that they don’t enjoy or having to work with someone they dislike is more often the culprit than being overwhelmed by volume. Managers tend to be better at recognizing tasking issues than rooting out qualitative drivers.

My astute friend Mike Canzoneri solves this problem by breaking down his version of this process into 3 values: Workload Emotional, Workload Quantity, Family Load.

What is Family Load?

Family Load is also measured on a scale of 1-10. 1 being almost completely stress-free to the point of boredom and 10 being overwhelming stress that detracts from the employees quality of life.

We respect our employees’ privacy as a cultural value at my company. Managers are instructed to not ask for the “Why?” with this number. If their employees volunteer the information, they are told to keep it in confidence. This qualitative input can help the manager to bias the monthly number appropriately for the weekly reporting as the employees life-situation continues to develop.

Long Term Value of the Employee Heatmap

Trend Analysis of Employee Heat Map
The trend, leading, and trailing, indicators all provide valuable insights on your process and people.

If you graph the data in the Employee Heatmap, you can start to determine leading and trailing indicators as well as recurring trends in your team’s functioning.

I’ve used this data to make staffing plans, deconflict teams before they were in a negative feedback loop, and change how we schedule work. It’s pound-for-pound the most powerful tool in my personal management toolbox. I highly encourage you to try it, modify it, and share the results.

Questions of the Day

What’s your favorite tool for managing your employees? Do you have any other tricks for keeping a pulse on in-direct reports?