Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

ExpertCEO.com: A Safe Place For Lonely CEOs

Posted by Tom Foremski - November 10, 2008

200811101152.jpgIt's lonely at the top and that's why ExpertCEO was created, a place where CEOs can help each other succeed.

Founded in late 2007 by Ken Ross, a former venture capitalist, it recently emerged from private beta in October with 600 members and growth of 30 per cent per month.

200811101153.jpg"It is tough at the top. CEOs want to be able to interact with their peers," says Ken Ross. "That's why we vet every applicant to make sure that they are who they say they are."

About 50 percent of applicants don't get in. The rejects are primarily people trying to join so that they can market their services to the CEOs--keeping the site spam-free is very important, says Mr Ross.

While ExpertCEO was inspired by Facebook don't call it a social network. You cannot become someone's "friend" and there are many features of Facebook and other social networks that won't ever be a part of ExpertCEO. The goal is to become an important resource for CEOs and to build up a large repository of knowledge.

Members tend to check in about once or twice per week and most subscribe to a weekly digest email that keeps them current on topics such as the future of SAAS; and effective communication with offshore development teams.

A question about creative ways to hire software developers yielded answers such as partnering with local universities:

At any given time we have 4 to 6 college students here for 3 months on 3 months off (at school). They become productive amazingly fast. It is a great way to:

- find talent before competitors do

- really "try before you buy"

- lower the cost of recruiting

- lower the average overall salary

- get good developers before they develop bad habits elsewhere.

If you can get to the profs, that is preferable over just the career office. The career office will try to limit your access.

"Some questions get a lot more attention than you would think," says Mr Ross. "For example, one CEO asked about taking business cards with him and that brought up a lot of issues around intellectual property."

Many of the questions and answers are placed anonymously in order to encourage discussion and to make sure a potentially embarrassing question won't come back to haunt the member.

The only persons that aren't CEOs are members of panels of experts, which include venture capitalists, accountants, lawyers, and academics. "We've found that is good to have many different points of view," says Mr Ross. "And those experts have to use their real names."

The only place where members have to use their names is in comments in the resource directory. "We'd like this to become a Yelp-type resource where members can evaluate professional services. If you have something bad to say it is only fair that you should use your real name. And if it is a really horrible experience then you should pick up the phone."

About 60 percent of members are in tech and 50 percent are in Northern California. And so far, everyone has been well behaved. "We haven't had to bar anyone."

What's next? Mr Ross says that his team might launch similar sites for CFOs and other C-level executives. And also host offline events. "We have a long list of things we'd like to do."

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Please see Ken Ross blog: The Expert CEO

Recent post: What Keeps CEOs Awake at Night? « The Expert CEO

What Keeps CEOs Awake at Night?

A lot has been written about the financial crisis, and even more about what companies should do. The layoffs have begun; discretionary spending is being slashed, as plans are getting revised with an eye on cash conservation , and those with liquid resources are eagerly identifying potentially opportunistic acquisitions.

I attended the Venture Beat event on October 29 where these tactics were discussed at length by investors and by entrepreneurs. This kind of talk is very focused on process and doesn’t really convey the intense emotional issues that confront a CEO having to manage in this difficult environment.

Last week, we at ExpertCEO decided to try and put a human face on these discussions, so we polled our members to find out “what keeps them awake at night.” Not surprisingly, “running out of cash” was the number one response with 56% of respondents indicating that this was their worst fear.

Why is this so scary? Because the results that could ensue are far greater than simply the financial impact on the company. Many CEOs have spent years building a company and have a large percentage of their net worth, not to mention identity, tied up in it. The employees of these companies have families, mortgages, tuitions and careers that will be directly affected by these decisions. Running out of cash results in cascade of events–a complex process of laying off respected people who rely on employment to meet their obligations, letting down customers who may depend on a company or its product, and possibly acrimonious negotiations with investors, landlords, lawyers, etc.
Here are the results of the poll:

What keeps you up at night (check all that apply)

My own job security (4%)
Laying off employees/poor morale (34%)
Missing the sales forecast (43%)
Running out of cash (67%)
Competition (15%)
Nothing, I sleep like a baby (14%)
Other (16%)

Which of these concerns you the most

My own job security (7%)
Laying off employees/poor morale (10%)
Missing the sales forecast (18%)
Running out of cash (56%)
Competition (4%)
Other (5%)

Conclusions: The fact that so many CEOs are worried about running out of cash (and missing their sales forecast which is related) indicates the state of mind of our CEO member community. It also confirms their likely actions – cost reductions, layoffs, deferred purchases; with the resultant impact on the economy. This poll is just another piece of corroborating evidence of the financial crisis.

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