“Founders should go beyond vision to passion” – Matt Blumberg, Author, Startup CEO


Matt Blumberg (@MattBlumberg) is the co-founder, CEO and chairman of email solutions provider Return Path. He is the author of the recently released book Startup CEO. Matt joins us in this exclusive interview on founder vision, CEO strategy, management approaches.How was your book received? What were some of the unusual responses and reactions you got?

So far, so good! I’ve had 12 reviews on Amazon, and only one was negative. That person said the book was too basic, which I wasn’t expecting, but makes sense for some readers. I asked the reviewer to tell me some topics he thought would be more interesting for a second edition and never heard back.

How should innovators strike that delicate balance between ‘Stick to your vision’ and ‘Adapt to a changed world’?

As an entrepreneur, you have to learn how to ignore the word “no” a certain number of times…but you also have to begin to appreciate that when *everyone* says no, they might be more right than you.

How should the startup founding team ‘manage’ their story in situations where there is in-fighting between the team?

Every company needs a strong CEO once the company gets out of the founding stage. If none emerges, the founding team should hire one. If one of the founders becomes CEO, then the other founders need to respect the authority of the office of CEO, while at the same time the CEO needs to respect the views and legacy of the other founders as it makes sense.

What role does knowledge management (KM) play in a startup as it scales up from informal tacit flows of knowledge to globalised online flows?

KM as a specific function inside the company becomes key especially after a company crosses around 400-500 people. But managing knowledge, and being intentional about communication, must happen sooner, and the more distributed you are geographically the more important this is.

Should a startup itself become like an investor and create investment funds for other startups?

Almost never. Startups should partner with other startups, not become venture investors. That’s a poor use of a startup balance sheet. Larger companies may do so, e.g. Intel, which is a $50B+ public company.

Are companies also creating boards of their customers, and not just boards of directors and advisors?

Customer Advisory Boards are great if you can figure out how to use them. But these are for advice and product/service/experience feedback, not for corporate governance.

What opportunities and management challenges do you see for micro-multinational startups, e.g. founding team itself is in two different countries?

It’s not a lot different than we were when we started with offices in New York and San Francisco, later New York and Denver. You have to get on a plane a lot. You have to invest in *high quality* videoconference (e.g., not just Skype). And you have to think about whether that’s the best way to start a business, because while there are some benefits to it, you pay a penalty as well.

What are the different kinds of challenges faced by founders of social businesses and NGOs as they scale up?

I’m really not close to either of these spaces, but the funding challenges are clearly different as are available talent at different price points. But the concept of proving a model that works and figuring out how to scale it up cuts across time and industries.

What is your parting message to the startups and aspiring entrepreneurs in our audience?

The most important thing about founding a company isn’t just having vision; it’s having a passion for turning that vision into reality. If you don’t have that, then you should ask others to found companies on your vision and give you some founders’ stock in them. If you are partway there, found a company and bring in co-founders early who can help you turn the vision into reality.

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