What Was It You Do, Exactly?

The role of CEO is notoriously hard to define. We all get the leadership bit. The enabler. The decision maker. The team creator. Pretty well all books on management deal with those areas. Fewer of them give perspective. Only time can do that.

We've had a bit of time. Time to think about what CEO task add value, at least. Let us look at what was achieved. Judge by what is, not by what could have been (now there is a great rule for life).

In 2005, the three of us – Matt, Dave who came to me and shared an idea. That was all. Well, that and a piece of paper with some words on: 4 sides, 3 colours. It said “machinimascope”, and I first read it down the pub with Matt and Dave in Clerkenwell. It was an idea, not a business, not a plan.

By June 2005, there was money. The combination of a small plan, inspired rhetoric and some blind luck had won a “Dragon's Den” funding round and the business could afford to pay salaries and create a corporate entity. OK, it was in Dave's spare bedroom, but it was still a real thing, and it employed its first two staff, plus a consultant and the Founders.

By December 2006, there was an office, and 8 staff, and an accountant and some real progress. That is when I took up the full time CEO Role.

By mid 2007 there was an alpha version of software in the hands of about 600 personally selected pioneers (god bless 'em)

By end 2007 there was a good beta version

By Spring 2008 we were planning a commercial launch

In July 2008 we went commercial, with stuff you could buy, and a product that worked (as Dave the CTO might say “modulo your definition of 'work' of course”).

Today we have over 16,500 registered users, 500 movies out there posted for people to see, 19 staff, a real business and strong commercial interest from some significant trade partners. We've raised some more money (But less than you might think).

We went from an idea down the pub to a real business in less time than my favourite garden plant takes to flower from seed. But how? What is it that a CEO does every day to make that happen? To answer that, I tried to keep a diary during September / October. I was going to track emails, but they exceeded 140 per day, every day, and I gave up. I also stopped tracking Skype and Twitter, as they were equally insane.

Those days in the office go like this:

07h30 – answer emails from USA that arrived overnight, deal with overnight postings on forums
08h30 – drive to Cambridge (about 1hr away, or 35 miles), make calls to CFO and Marketing Director (who, like me are larks, not owls)
09h30 – at desk, get my PA (Tiffany, take a bow, you are a star) to brief me on the day's plans
10h00 – cleared backlog of urgent stuff, so into first team or management meeting
                 (most staff work 10h00 to 18h00, which avoids the awful traffic in Cambridge that ends when school mums have taken their 4x4s back home)
11h00 – read into any reports, check on forums, check on videos posted, respond to customers and business development leads
13h00 – lunch (noodles if I can think of an excuse, thai if there is a management meeting over lunch, sandwich at desk if not)
14h00 – 17h00 any one of a thousand planned an interruptive tasks
17h00 – write longer reports now it is quieter
18h30 – 19h30 mental break time (watch videos, read a book, play a game and work out how they got it to look like that…)
19h30 – blog posts and catching up on Twitter, final email push
20h30 – head home, probably catching up on calls in the car
……
22h30 – 24h00 – online research, emails and Skype calls to the USA, plan the following day.

Some evenings are different – at least twice a week there are evening events, usually local, but sometimes in London (about 1hr each way)

Five days a week? This is a start up, get real. Make that 6 days a week, only the Saturday/Sunday effort is spread over the hours I can steal from my family when they are not looking or when my daughter has not hidden my 'CrackBerry' under the sofa to stop it interrupting me.

Not every week, because there are trips abroad, and start up budgets mean flying has to include a weekend to get cheaper tickets, early flights and going economy where possible. Yes, even the 13hr trip to LA last year was cattle class. This has been a reasonably quiet period, with just 5 days away from home (Stockholm)

So much for effort then. So as tracking effort was not terribly helpful, I tracked outcomes. Like this:

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Round Closed and Cash in Bank? Check and double check

We closed a round, banked the cash, and in the end we
bought in more new investors than any previous round, raised more money than
any previous round, and closed in the teeth of a credit crunch of global scale.
Despite our (rather complex) investor agreements and considerable complexity in other areas of the investment.

15,000
Registrations? Check

We have meet the target for 15,000 registrations at 30
October that I had internally forecast back in January 2008. In fact we crossed over 16,000. And they are paying us for things and they are increasingly active. We love our registered users, which is why there is a counter on our site to record them.

More Videos on YouTube? Check

We have met the internal target for 400 videos on YouTube
and it continues to grow. This was an important proof point for our business /
marketing plan and a great sense of pride for us. Moviestorm is all about enabling people to make videos. Their videos are the proof it works. They are great to watch, and tracking them is the best part of my job.

Alliances? Check

We have used NMBX and ETRE carefully to get meetings lined
up with several companies that can each get us access to over 1m people rapidly,
including media brands, video sites, VCs, MMOs and games companies. If I told you more, I would have to shoot you.

Sales and Proof of Market? Check

We have shipped to a special version of Moviestorm which over the next 12 months will go to nearly 1m people via a major public sector partner in the EU. That was my proof point for the education potential of Moviestorm. We also made a wonderful video for a large corporate client for about 25% of the cost of traditional animation, proving we can deliver digital signage and corporate video in one fell swoop. The 16,000 registrations speak for themselves in the “consumer video creation” space, of course (bless you all, again). Want to know more? Wait for the press releases. 

Grant? Check

We are well on track to get a grant application with
a small Cambridge consortium and early in 2009, as it is credit crunch time, we will look for other sources of funds (like the R&D tax credits I spend a year lobbying our wonderful government for when I was on the Board of TIGA) to make sure there is more cash in the bank than we think we need.

Costs Controlled? Check

I bit the bullet and strategically cut spend by about 25% before any real pressure built up. Internal
controls on marketing spend, travel, hardware and consultants were already well in place. Even with those controls, we still gave important pay rises to key people and made sure there was inflation matching reward for a team which has done wonders on very very small resources since 2006. (Bless them too). No company went bust with too much cash, and with the round in the bank, and costs tightened up, I am happy we are in a reasonably good place for 2008/9. (but no press releases about cost cutting from us – even if we did read Sequoia Capitals slides)

Web PR / Blog and a Good buzz in the Tech world? Check

The team and our blogging offensive had created real
traction in the tech media world. It is no longer an assumption that “no one
has heard of us”, many now have.  We have coverage on top sites (BBC, ITV,
MegaWhat, and more). My own blog now gets nearly 1,700 uniques a month and is
only 2 months old. (bless you, and the browsers that bring you all)

Made And Released My Own Video? Check

One of the team’s challenges to me (personally) was to make and release a
video. That is now on YouTube. Why? Because many of our competitors are super-technical to use and the engineering team think I am a movie-making dunce. If I can use our product, anyone can. And I can, and so can my 12 year old son. Perhaps I could have saved time and bought him some more Lego if he had made that video for me?

Financial PR and New Investor interest? Check

We have reached out to over 50 VC and investor partners in
the last three months, and have much better brand and business recognition among them.
We have requests for meetings from over 10 of them. Another 20 or more want
business plans or other materials to start their consideration. We also have great corporate advisors (signed up in the last month over a very nice dinner in Cambridge, thank you), and many other introducers talking about us. Recently, we broke through
previous resistance from some people who previously declined to talk to us, and have meetings set up with
them. Our connections at UK T&I and through the English Tech Tour, WebMission 2008, SIME, Essential MediaTech, Cambridge Tigers of Tomorrow and ETRE have all begun to pay off for Moviestorm.

Future support and new investor interest in the teeth of a credit crunch is
a pretty creditable performance.

Creative Content Released? Check

We not only released a heap of content that was blocking the
pipes, but we got a friendly party to release the first “user generated” pack –
Halloween“. We are going to be seeing a lot more content for Moviestorm in 2008/9.

Product?  Check

Big improvements to quality and process improvements make
the future development look brighter, and Moviestorm runs faster, runs on more hardware and does more things than ever before – just check the Moviestorm Dev Blog. It all needed control, cajoling and persuasion.

Customer satisfaction up? Check

The very very most wonderful bit of this particular role is that I get to spend time on the forums, on YouTube, and in private conversation with the wonderful people who use Moviestorm to create videos. Reading their thoughts and comments, and watching their videos is the only way to see where we can improve and what their experience of Moviestorm is. (Yeah, we do surveys, samples, focus testing and so on, but that is just numbers. Creative products are also about the emotional attachment, creative power and artistic value of the whole end to end experience: first touch to final render. Bet you never expected to hear an Accountant say that…) While we have lots of areas that need improvement, we are clearly improving across a wide front, and that is why spending time with customers is always time well spent.

Strategy? Check

We had 3 off-site meetings – including a whole team meeting – to set
out or strategy for 2008/9 and that is now written up and circulated. Everyone had agreed to buy in to the strategy, and we have clear and achievable targets for 2009 in place. We've spent too long making a market place for others to enjoy, and we know exactly what to do now to make Moviestorm a real success. Writing it down is how we started in 2005/6, and now we have a plan for the next couple of years.

Team work? Check

Great steps forward in internal team work – faster meetings,
better minutes, more control over costs and improved morale. That does not happen by accident. Everyone had to be involved, and the entire company got behind the process to improvement and communications. This team can rock when it wants to.

A-grade Board Papers? Check

Major improvements were made, not only to the style,
but also the workflow and the “inclusiveness” of the production process so the
Executive was aligned better before the Board meeting. Adding some pictures and simple graphs made it all faster and easier to understand. Putting a summary onto one page, and all the required actions being clearly flagged, made the Board meeting much more productive.

Secret Projects A and B? Check

Two big projects took up about 8 working days between then. One came down to me, and one came up. Both needed corporate, legal, HR, financial and teamwork skills and input, both were business critical. Project A is done and Project B is ready to go when needed. Why mention them? Because even the CEO has to respond to the Chairman and the Board and to external requests from important parties and no plan for the working week is ever going to survive contact with that reality. Everything else just has to get done as well. Some got delegated (thanks to my CFO, Giles Spear and John O'Boyle in Marketing who are both steady and wise and took up the slack), some got done typing on a laptop at 3am in a hotel room in Stockholm. But it got done.

Personal Backlog Tasks Cleared? Check

Staff share option issues dealt with. Clear plan to improve
the option scheme in hand. HR reviews held and written up. Office bandwidth
upgrade installed (though more needed soon). Legal issues, accounting and R&D tax issues
dealt with. Desk tidy. Toilets cleaned, hardware ordered, towels washed, bins emptied, and the garage mostly cleared of junk. Yes, I do those things as well, because we are start up, and that is what Start Up CEOs have to do.
And usually the CEO makes coffee for visitors.

Month in, month out, that is what a CEO does.  And, over just 2 years, that is how you can take your pub beer mat idea into a company and then through all the pain and growth until it becomes a business where there are revenues, customers and a team with smiles on their faces.

4,000 odd emails, 50 normal letters, 40 meetings, 5 days spent overseas, a dozen of presentations, hundreds of phone calls, all made possible because I was backed up by a fair team and managed to find some blind good luck.

Sometimes, just sometimes, it is great to be a CEO.

Did I mention I drink a lot of coffee?


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