Anthony Bucci

I’m a founder, CEO, brand builder, investor, tech geek, family man and juggernaut. I’m most known for RevZilla. Expect a bit of storytelling, inspiration and insight as my different roles and perspective continue to evolve. I won’t settle and neither should you.

  • In the war for VC content marketing supremacy, I have to believe First Round Capital is operating near the front of the pack. Between their videos and written word juggernaut, First Round Review, it’s a strong offering.

    From the outside, the VC game looks like a competition of value-add. It’s a service business. FRC is building their brand by giving something away for free (content) to “sell” something related (money), among other things.

    As famed Apple marketer Regis McKenna once said, “The best marketing is education.” I obviously approve.

    I was second screening a few nights ago, on Youtube with the Eagles game on in the background and I stumbled upon this recent FRC upload. It’s a 25-minute talk from their CEO Summit focused on Company Growth Frameworks, given by former Facebooker, Twitterer and current President and head of Growth at Wealthfront, Andy Johns.

    Here are a few things that jumped out at me that make this worth the watch.

    Growth Framework – Andy discusses how to systematically construct the growth framework for any business, using Amazon as an obvious example. It’s something many of us do implicitly, but it was insightful in the way he walked through what most of us would call the “levers”. This goes beyond Conversion Rate, Traffic and Avg. Ticket, although they are expectedly present in the middle of the chain.

    Magic Moment – Beyond marketing channels, he speaks to the “Magic Moment” that wows the customer, creates a real impression and sets the hook for a potential future relationship. For RevZilla, this is when the customer says, “I can’t believe the knowledge, service level and seamlessness of shopping here. How do they do this?” as they compare it to their other eCom experiences. For goPuff, it’s when the customer says, “I placed my order, went to the bathroom and the driver was here when I came out? How does this exist in the world? Game changer.” For Five Below, I’d imagine it’s when a mom and kid walk in and kid says, “All this stuff is awesome” and then mom says, “Umm, all this stuff is awesome”. The point is there has to be something more than memorable for the customer, if you want a chance at making a real impression and your marketing dollars affecting more than a single transaction.

    Value Creation – Andy also speaks to the fact that the business has to create value for the consumer. I’d describe that by saving them time, offering a solution, creating a source of joy, relieving pain, etc. This is about value creation for the customer beyond the transactional of what they need in that moment. Why is the product or service indispensable? Why does the customer actually need the business in their life?

    Testing – This is a loaded topic in so many situations with both junior and senior people often having inappropriate expectations of methodologies and results. There is great insight in this section on the big company compounding approach vs smaller company curveball tossing. He also speaks to the push and pull of “test everything” vs “build what we know is right” cultures in which balance is usually the best dynamic – because you know, the left and right brain people always get along, right?

    Evaluating the Growth Leadership Hire –  In one of the last notables, he talks about the patterns, experience and skill that comprise a great growth leader, coupled with the fact that these hires need to be empathetic product execs at heart, not the run and gun growth hacker archetypes. This is a nice wrapper around the last two points and a great bookend.

    The Eagles won, but I was even happier to make it a more robust use of my time. Thanks for the free milk, FRC.

     

  • I was recently asked, “How do you approach the conversation of innovation within a company when you are a board member vs the CEO?”

    First I think I have to start with the board member distinction as it’s a meaningful one. I usually describe the board role to be more like “grandparenting” versus the “parenting” role of an operator.  When you are the CEO, you are the parent of the org. You are hands-on and accountable for the totality of results. It’s your team, your baby, your strategy, albeit with a lot of extra helpful hands on the wheel. You are appointed and held accountable by the board of directors.

    As a board member, you are a grandparent of the org. Your value-add, beyond that of governance, is not to pull operational levers or to try to do the parents’ job, but to share your stories (hopefully not the same ones all the time), which can highlight perspective and experience so that the actual parents (CEO, ELT, etc.) can make better and more informed decisions. You hope they potentially avoid some of the less obvious pitfalls that you may be able to inform them of, but you acknowledge that the decisions are theirs. You hopefully also acknowledge (realize) your business is or was different from theirs.

     

    Relating to the topic of innovation itself, I think this is still very straightforward. It’s still an exercise in creating new value for the company and I still approach the framework in the same way as I would as a CEO. I would ensure the following questions are addressed in a constructive way although, from experience, the process is usually not this structured:

    1. Customer Insights and Value Map – Do we know enough about the customer to invest our innovation dollars in places for more certain return or the most efficient payback period? If no, can we invest more to learn more? If yes, have we ranked the macro roadmap by a matrix of 1) resource and time needs, 2) value realized or risk mitigated, and 3) time period before we realize the impact of our work? This is a shorter lens conversation with hopefully the lightest lifts with the biggest impacts and shortest payback periods bubbling up. I’d also probably call it an investment framework vs an innovation framework, but these insights are useful to 2 and 3 below, as well.
    2. Saturation – Where are we on the saturation time curve with our current products or services? Do we need to invest in innovation in places which will augment or displace our current revenue streams in the medium to long term? Are current revenue streams becoming more efficient or deleveraging? Many times it’s hard to place a couple new bets each year with 2-to-3-year payback periods, but the best and most robust companies get over the pain of the investment window and make the new investments happen to ensure their businesses are not focused solely on incremental wins. Many do not, especially if they are held hostage by quarterly guidance or current underperformance. As a side note, at RevZilla we continually expanded our offering structurally with new products and segments in the market, but on my watch, we never had to dramatically change our model outside of spinning up our own vertical brand(s).
    3. Disruption – The last question I ask is the silver bullet question or the silver bullet question in reverse. “What’s the silver bullet or innovation that would kill us?” If there is a clear picture of what actually could be disruptive to the current model, a great conversation is a debate about the pros and cons of disrupting ourselves before someone else does. The other way you could view this would be to ensure your industry is not at a strategic inflection point a la Andy Grove’s book, Only the Paranoid Survive. If you had a silver bullet you should know which company to fire at.  If you don’t obviously know the competitor to shoot, your industry may be changing around you faster than you are keeping up. You have to watch for that as well.

    Essentially, the three questions are: “What do we know about our customer and our potential short wins and how have we prioritized them?” “What should we do about saturation and the medium term?” And “What can kill us and should we kill ourselves?”

    The best board conversations on innovation and beyond focus on questions driven by strategic “whats” with a dash of “why” sprinkled in.

    As a board member, I’m hoping to help illustrate a more complete equation for the management team in a way, again, that can augment or further inform their thinking. I’m hoping we ask hard “what should we do” questions, share experiences and review all intellectual capital in the room.

    I’m not, however, advocating for generating consensus or making strategic choices for the CEO.

    Someone once told me, “Smart people typically make the same choices, so long as they are looking at the same facts.”

    Great board work should offer a better chance to expose the most useful facts for everyone to debate.  Hopefully, the best decisions can then be made by the operator(s) who are accountable.

     

  • The Last 10%

    Lately, I have talked about “the last 10%” in a bunch of conversations and interviews. Most notably I referenced it while speaking about B2C competing with Amazon and the mass market.

    This is a nugget I loved when I first heard it and I’ve kept it part of my decision-making framework for some time. Generally I think about “the last 10%” as the things that are left after “the first 90%” of things that everyone does, get done.

    I also think about the concept in terms of customers and customer experience, but believe it can be applied more broadly.

    I wanted to expound upon it a bit here, channeling my inner Seth Godin in doing so:

    The last 10% are usually the things toughest to scale.

    The last 10% are the things a company can do when it truly understands its customers, market and their respective needs.

    The last 10% usually centers on service, nuance or originality.

    The last 10% can only be identified if you’re really listening.

    The last 10% is what Amazon can’t / won’t do because they serve everyone with every widget instead of participating in-market and more narrowly with segments of users.

    The last 10% are the things that the outsiders, spreadsheet-ers, short-sighted, mass market or uninformed may call “diminishing returns”.

    The last 10% are the things that amaze your customers because they can’t believe you actually do them.

    The last 10% are the things that show you care consistently and will go the extra mile.

    The last 10% are the things that are still supposed to happen, even when no one is looking.

    The last 10% comes from proprietary insights or “secrets” that your customer may tell you but most likely only show you with their actions (data).

    The last 10% focuses on value creation, not value extraction.

    The last 10% improves your CAC: LTV over time, but probably not tomorrow.

    The last 10% is like compound interest.

    The last 10% is the magic that will make your customers vote with their credit cards, love you, stay loyal and tell their friends.

    The last 10% is how you build a brand or a cause, not just a business.

    The last 10% is what separates the truly remarkable from the merely great.

    The last 10% of things are very hard, but pay off in the long run.

    PS –  You could change a few words here and this entire post could be about people. Specifically, how great managers manage and great leaders lead. Maybe I’ll do that next week.

     

  • I find myself talking management and ops a lot. I talk about it here, a lot. Some of it you have to learn on the job and some you can quickly digest and adapt (steal) from other places.

    This is my management quick reference guide from some of my favorites. I send this list (crash course) out often and wanted to clean it up and share here with a bit of texture.

    Whether you’re just starting out, in the middle of your management or exec journey or you have lots of battle scars, there is something on this list that will make you better.

    At some point, I’ll pull these out into individual posts and highlight the best nuggets, but for now, why wait? Add them to your war chest or quick reference manual.

    Videos 

    How to Operate: Keith Rabois – One of my all time favorites
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fQHLK1aIBs

    How to Manage with Ben Horowitz
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVhTvQXfibU

    The entire How to Start a Startup Class Playlist is amazing. There are 20 videos on various topics, roughly 45 minutes long each. What the hell did founders do before the internet?

    These are high leverage, easy watches.

    MBA Mondays

    I’ve been reading Fred Wilson (avc.com) for the better part of a decade, if not longer. He used to insightfully post on a meaty topic every Monday until, after a few years, he exhausted his list. He continues to be one of my fave VC reads on the internet and the usefulness of his posts, like the “X / Y Axis of Giving Feedback” and “Asking an Employee to Leave the Company“,  will live on probably forever. They all helped me a ton as I was trying to stay ahead of the demands of fast growth, high change management.

    Full MBA Mondays List Here

    Books

    Traction  – Once when I was in the messy middle of trying to evolve my management framework from startup to grown up, someone said to me, “You’ll eventually figure it out, but remember, there is no paint by number system”. I believed that, and went about amalgamating nuggets from a multitude of sources until a fellow founder / CEO, Dan Roitman, put Traction on my radar.

    Vision, mission, values. Strategy, goals and ops. Alignment, frameworks and outcomes. It’s a comprehensive mix of theory and tactics for managing a high performance team and company. Read it cover to cover or hunt, peck and steal from it. I wish I found it in 2009. The Level 10 meeting chapter is especially useful if you want to start with a useful tactical pillar and work outward. #middleout

    Get the Traction Book 

    Principles – Ray Dalio – I’ve written about this before. This is the management bible from one of the best. It looks like a bible and should sit on every CEO’s nightstand to read from and prayed with often. I have a friend who runs a huge agency who actually does just that. Don’t be offended by my referencing the church of Dalio. It’s that good.

    His story is fascinating in the first third. The second third, Life Principles, should be read by every single high school or college age kid at the beginning of their journey. I give it out as all grad gifts at this point. The last third is Work Principles, which he puts forth as a reference guide, but it’s as compelling as it is useful.

    Get Ray Dalio’s Principles

    (BONUS) The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Remember Horowitz from the Video section? I call this book a bonus, because it’s great for two things but not necessarily the essential read if you have hit the other stuff.

    This book is great for expanding your exec toolkit and crafting a more nuanced managerial playbook. It’s also great if you are reporting to an executive and you’d like to maximize your ability to manage up. That said, there is an adversarial tone to his approach and I’m of the opinion that you can be just as effective, wartime or not, with a constructive communication and leadership style – so long as people are listening.

    If you are on the fence about THTAHT and have the bandwidth. Read it.

    Get The Hard Thing About Hard Things

    This isn’t the first list like this, and it won’t be the last.  My friend Tom, an excellent executive, mentor and RevZilla board member, once told me, “Remember, you don’t have to be bad to be better”. Even if you know a lot, you can always improve.

     

  • $1 to Spend

    I used to say that if I only had $1 to spend on my business, I’d spend it on customer experience, vs marketing. I actually think I stole that from Tony Hsieh of Zappos about a decade ago – and it held up for a long time.

    The thought process was “Why pay for more customers to enter into a suboptimal funnel when you could spend to make that funnel better for them, and in turn have a better chance to make them love you for the long term?”

    The point was to compete on value-added service for the consumer and have that layer become your company’s differentiation when compared to more commoditized approaches (mass retail, Amazon, etc.). Build your brand and defensibility around an amazing experience.

    Recently, I was asked that question again and while I still hold what I’ve previously said (or stolen) to be true, I gave a slightly different answer in these later innings of the consumer web.

    Today, I’d spend that dollar on learning about my customer. I’m less focused on WHAT we are improving for the customer than I am about learning WHY the customers are doing things and what they are trying to accomplish.

    It’s a move upstream. What are the customers’ needs, wants and pain and what’s driving them?

    Those are the non-obvious proprietary insights or “customer secrets” that you can use to build a product, service, brand, experience and/or company that are compelling and defensible. That data is more valuable than something incrementally more sexy or useful to meet their needs today. That data is the foundation of your moat for tomorrow and beyond.

    Your company is only as good as what it knows about its customers that no one else knows. In this age of measurability on nearly all fronts, the company that spends the time to piece together the less obvious story lines is the company that will own the customer. With proper execution and a continued customer obsession, that company should win.

    Steve Jobs was famous for giving customers things that they didn’t know they needed. He was a tastemaker, product builder and artist who also (like all who are successful) happened to have great timing. He also flopped on the Mac, the Lisa, NeXT and so many other projects that he “birthed”. We should all eliminate as many guesses as we can. Jobs’ hit rate was rough, and he was the legend.

    Listen to your customers’ words, but more importantly measure, observe and mine their actions. Only then can you begin to own the relationship with them by building what they need and, hopefully, monetizing their trust and attention for the long haul.

  • Speaking in Tongues

    Yesterday CNBC tapped me to join a conversation on eCom defensibility in the age of Amazon on the show Fortt Knox. A bit of an oxymoron, but fun to wax on nonetheless.

    I was joined by Jon Fortt, Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig and Nadia Shouraboura a former Amazon exec and biz founder in her own right. The conversation was focused appropriately on customer value creation. I found it amusing that Nadia tried to insert Amazon as a force for good / friend of the retailer, but managed to take a deep breath and let it slide 😉

    Always fun to do something new and if you didn’t pick up the reference, Speaking in Tongues is one of my fav’ Talking Heads albums – and if I wasn’t before, I guess I’m a non-moto talking head now too. #dadjokes

     

     

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