Why is “Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh” worth 10 minutes of your routine?
A review for the bible for the startup ecosystem players
How does it start?
Some coffee table discussions over the newest trendy music, budding influencers, funny tweets and growth can sometimes, somehow lead to spontaneously ordering a book off Amazon.
A book that I never thought would change how I think about not just high-growth, high impact entrepreneurship but also about personal management style, storytelling and self-discovery — Blitzcsaling.
In Blitzscaling, authors Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh look at “The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies,” as the book’s subtitle states is a no-nonsense supplement to what was taught in Stanford classrooms about what it took for Amazons and Googles of the world to reach where they are. This is a masterplan plan to get you from failures, mistakes and struggles to surprise your competition and become a market leader at lightning speed.
To support his arguments, Hoffman often refers to his Masters of Scale podcast. As a startup founder and current partner in venture capital firm Greylock Partners, he is well-equipped to find the best people to talk openly about their experiences blitzscaling their companies. And just because you’re blitzscaling doesn’t mean you can skip the basics of setting up your business.
Here are a few key lessons that can help you transform from an ordinary person into a world-class leader.
- Prioritisation —In a startup there are always fires burning. The key in this stage is to know which fires are important to fix and which ones can keep burning. You have to focus on the things which are the most critical only. For example analytics, dashboards, and data management will not matter at all if no one cares about your product. Getting people to care about your product is much more important than metrics Make a step by step plan on what takes priority over what. Paypal infamously in its early days prioritised network building via referrals over sales support calls. The team knew that neglecting sales support is a problem in long run but in the present time getting a million people to love them was more important. The most important consideration for blitzscaling is when to scale. It doesn’t make sense at all to have an idea and jump straight into scaling. You know your job better than anyone else, do not let anyone elses’ timeline define your task list — prioritise, delegate and grow in sync.
- Developing a strong sense of culture — Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo and formerly of Google shares her interaction with Brett Taylor, CTO of Facebook on the difference between working at Google vs. Facebook. His response was — he couldn’t really articulate the differences, but both companies had a very strong culture. If you were at Google, even if you took away all of the logo’s and all of the company info — you would still know you were at Google. Same thing with Facebook. This helps us understand that there isn't a bad culture or good culture, but there is a weak and strong culture. If you want a strong culture build a shared mission, cultivate the way things are done and share your beliefs. Brian Chesky from Airbnb writes an email every Sunday night to the whole company to substitute his previous personal engagements with employees. This isn’t a tactical email but something more thought-provoking. One of the things with scale is you need to continue to repeat things. Culture at scale is all about repetition — repeating over and over again the things that matter.
- How, when and what to communicate — One area that goes through the most changes in the communication process. As companies grow through blitzscaling they have to shift from informal in personal conversations to more formal broadcasts. Pattrick Collinson, the Co-Founder of Stripe shares that the transformation towards formal communication is unnatural but a part of rationalisation. He further adds that there is also a strong significant shift from sharing all of the information by default to deciding on what is shareable and what is not. For example, the new people weren't there for all the tortured discussions in the past. Some things can be premature conversations while others can be dead discussions from the past, the fine line to communication has to be balanced frequently so that everyone gets the presented message loud and clear without feeling secluded or alone.
- Storytelling — The book opens up with Airbnb at a critical moment, when foreign copycats had started to knock off Airbnb in Europe and with Europeans using the copycat services they were doomed to fail. Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky was faced with two options: Play ball with the Samwers by giving them a 25 per cent stake in his company. Or blitz scale. Raise tons of capital and fight them in their own market. Risky, but Airbnb prevailed. The first few paragraphs of the writer were exciting and informational at the same time. It explained all about blitzscaling and its’ problems in an easy, comprehensive way while making sure that the reader reads ahead. One important thing I picked up while reading blitzscaling is that a good case study or story is like a joke, if you have to explain it, the premise is just not good enough.
- Having a bigger vision —Airbnb's CEO and Founder explains this in his case study very thoughtfully. He mentions that when he spent months living in multiple Airbnb homes he was sending a metaphorical message to the team that working at Airbnb is not just a job, it’s a mission. What you are doing is not a “job” but a “calling”. It is not about just designing a screen, sending customer notifications or discussing website content — it's’ about building a mission, creating a better new world and this is only possible if you are living what you are building. It is easy to make vision boards and paint your walls with values and life goals but at the end of the day, if you are not living your values and not reevaluating and going back to why you started what is the point?
- Compassionate adjustments— The authors have spent a significant amount of time and effort explaining the different stages of scaling up from family to the nation and certain things changes like direct interactions with the CEO, increase in the number of colleagues, movement from generalists to specialist, international expansion and likes. There is also a caveat on how companies and people have trouble adjusting to these new changes but they know that these changes are mandatory for the greater good and take these with a pinch of salt. Even personally, sometimes we have to be compassionate and empathetic about the changes that we go through to align ourselves with the greater good.
One small miss in this almost perfect book is that indeed there’s a lot of retrospective analysis, and it is useful to see how companies took massive risks and became massively successful. But the history of the dot-com era is littered with corpses and dead domain names and it would have been great to look at the companies and names that took similar risks and efforts but failed terribly.
To reiterate, if you are looking for a warm, fuzzy, light read for this holiday season to live your dream startup life vicariously then this might not be it but if you are looking for what it took for global giants to become global giants then this is a must-read.