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.

  • Last year, I read Annie Duke’s latest book, “Thinking in Bets“, and liked it so much I gave it to all my close friends as a holiday gift. It’s a life book as much as it is a biz book.

    If you are not familiar with Annie, she was for years the winningest female in the World Series of Poker and, since retiring from playing in 2012, now works with UPENN doing research around Decision Science.

    The book isn’t a poker book and doesn’t even over-index on poker stories. It’s a collection of research and anecdotes surrounding common mistakes in how we all make decisions and evaluate their outcomes.

    I took a handful of things from the read, but two really stuck with me. The first one being the ability to clearly recognize and hopefully avoid “resulting” when I can.

    Resulting is the common trap in which we erroneously offer credit or blame based on the outcomes of the decisions that were made. People tend to falsely believe that all necessary information was known and/or static when decisions were being made. When stated that plainly, it is easy to see the inherent issue.

    Most if not all complex decisions rely on incomplete or uncertain information as well as some elements that are changing. All needed information typically can’t be known or may evolve, for any number of reasons, over time.

    Annie encourages us to ignore outcomes and instead evaluate the decision-making process based on what we know and can control. That could include our process, research, thoroughness or the evaluation of multiple orders of consequences leading to an outcome. It might also include speculation about what is unknown or the assignment of probabilistic values to the elements which could change.

    Excellent decision makers can be unlucky and people who wing it can get it right here and there. The point is to ensure credit or blame is placed appropriately based on the quality of the process for deciding and evaluating the expected outcome. In other words, we should put the greatest value (and potential incentive) toward consistent and excellent forecasting.

    My second major takeaway is the “Credibility Score”, which I’m not sure is her words or if I’m paraphrasing at this point. If “Resulting” is a macro framework which can be used often, I consider Credibility Score the micro framework which can be used daily.

    Tons of research (internet) shows that people will overvalue information which is shared by another person (or the media). Another bucket of research (internet) shows that people want to be helpful because 1) many are inherently good and 2) because it makes them feel good. Unfortunately, a third bucket of research (internet) shows that in an effort to be helpful and feel good lots of people will just make crap up on the fly instead appropriately saying “I don’t know” when they are out of their depth.

    Most of us are guilty of listening to others more than we should. It’s easy at times. It’s even easier when it’s an opinion from your boss, spouse, parent, friend, board member, investor, co-worker, etc. who you respect.

    We’re also all guilty of confidently suggesting things in a friend, family or business setting when we should really be saying, “I’m not sure”, “I haven’t actually done that”, “I don’t know”, “This is just my hunch” or “Let me find out more and get back to you”.

    Being on either side of the ball can create real problems for you, the people you care about or that you are accountable to.

    Taking all of that into account, these days I try to affix a credibility score to the information I share or receive from others. When on the receiving end, I ask “On a scale of 1-10, how certain are you?” Followed typically by a “Why did you score it a #?” I’ve even seen people back off their original number when I ask them to back it up. Very useful.

    On the giving end, I try to proactively offer a, “Remember I’m an N out of 10 confidence level on this because I have/haven’t done X amount of it.” I try to be religious about this when speaking from the adviser, board independent or CEO coach seat.

    I don’t want people I care about to undervalue or much more importantly, overvalue my advice in their decision-making process. Instead of just a rough “Remember, it’s just my opinion”, I want to offer a more useful numeric or contextual score.

    I have to believe that the skeptics out there have a built-in credibility scoring mechanism. For those like me who tend to be more optimistic in their approach, the credibility score is a great check and balance on a potential blind-spot.

    These two people patterns are so simple and easily understood and yet they cause issues in so many places well beyond the office. Once you can spot them, however, they are not that tough to work around via a little extra diligence and/or some checking of the ego.

    If you want more of Mrs. Duke and are being lazy, she popped up on the a16z podcast this spring and frolicked further in these weeds for a solid hour. It’s a great listen.

    Thanks for retraining my brain a bit, Annie. Useful to say the least.


  • I was recently speaking with a founder I’m advising and we ended up in a discussion about sorting and ranking company opportunities.

    I mentioned to him that, in some cases, I have used what I came to know as the “RIT” framework. It’s a framework which allows an individual numeric score to be assigned to the resources, impact and time (RIT) attributes of any potential initiative which then supports a total score. That total score can then be used to order the full list by relative business value, granted everything on the list was scored using the same scale.

    Bryan Eisenberg was the first person to share this framework with me during an A/B testing discussion over breakfast circa 2012. Anecdotally, I heard that the RIT framework evolved out of Dell in the 2000s, but I don’t know if that’s true.

    I do find RIT to be overkill for short lists or lists of items which could be accomplished by a person or team in a day or two. However, as lists grow longer more complex and persistent (e.g. company initiatives, feature requests, backlogs, bug queues) the RIT scale can help quickly focus the conversation and bubble the right priorities to the top. It’s especially useful when the lists are full of initiatives which are larger, mutually exclusive, budget-intensive and cross-functional.

    Here is how RIT works:

    Resources, Impact and Time basics

    Each letter (R, I and T) gets a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. 1 is the lowest value score and 5 is highest value score. It’s inexact, and is a rough number score. As you work your way through your list, hopefully with your team or other stakeholders, you will probably create some loose rules about how you think about assigning the numbers, especially 2, 3 and 4. You might have to go back and rescore some of the early items after you have done a handful and you establish a bit more context for your decision making within the data set. The RIT scoring decisions should become relative to the list being scored and can change across lists, department or functions. I will give some examples later. 

    Also, more than one item can have the same score(s) assigned. It’s not a forced ranking system in which once a 5 is used, it can’t be used again. After R, I and T get assigned their number for each initiative, you then multiply the three numbers to get that item’s total score and relative value to the other previously scored initiatives. The best possible score is a 125 (R5 x I5 x T5) and the worst is a 1 (R1 x I1 x T1). Most actual scores land somewhere in the middle.

    That’s RIT at a high level but there is obviously additional nuance. Read on for further definition.

    R – Resources

    This is the amount of resources, typically money and time, it will take to accomplish the initiative at hand. As an example, I used to say an example R5 is one person working on their own, taking a day or two with limited budgetary needs. Easy lift. Conversely, some example R1s could be a cross-functional team working for 6 months or a project only the CEO can do herself in a month or a $250,000 system implementation. These are long, heavy or expensive lifts.  Another example of an R2 that baselines off the previous examples could be a cross-functional team working on something for 3 months or the company spending $100,000 on a new tool. Less costly than an R1, but still relatively heavy lifts. See the difference in my scale between and R1 and R2? Remember, resources in this context are both time and money. My point (I’ve made a few times) is that the score is relative to the other types of things that are on the list you are scoring. The lightest lifts taking the shortest time to complete should get a 4 or 5 while the biggest investments taking the longest time with the most people involved should get the lowest numbers. Again, 2s, 3s and 4s are more nuanced judgment calls compared to what you are doing for the other R decisions. You will get better as you go.

    I – Impact

    This is the impact on the business, usually measured via financial gain or risk mitigation.  How far will this initiative move the needle in relation to the other items we’re stacking it against? How much risk does this mitigate compared to the others? 1 is the smallest impact and 5 is the largest impact, in relative terms. Also, depending on what function the initiatives reside within, the impact can certainly be measured for other non-financial KPIs, like employee engagement or brand reputation. I’d still argue those outputs can ultimately be rolled up to support the top or bottom line, however.

    As mentioned above, remember, you are calibrating your list as you go.  Different teams may calibrate their lists differently, but the items on any single list need to be scored using the same rough scale. Some hypothetical examples from an executive-level list might be an I1 for $1M in revenue impact with an I5 being $50,000,000 in revenue. If this was the A/B testing backlog, you might divide those values by 10x when the product team scores their list. Alternatively, if the list happened to be internal counsel’s, an I1 could be insulating against $100,000 of single-state tax compliance exposure or an I5 could be ensuring that customer data privacy statutes are adhered to, avoiding $1M+ in fines. 

    T – Time

    This is the tricky one, but only because it’s named poorly. “Time” is this context is NOT time to complete. Time to complete is covered under Resources (R) above. Time (T) is the time for the business to realize the impact of the work or, said differently, the “payback period”. T1, the heaviest lift, could be more than 3 years for something like a new product line, innovation or revenue stream development. Conversely, a T5 might be instantly valuable, potentially impacting customers, staff, costs or revenue streams immediately. A good example of a T1 might be an R&D initiative while a T5 could be a Shopping Cart Conversion optimization for an eCom business.

    (Side note – For simplicity, I should call this framework RIP and use Payback Period (P) instead of Time (T). I don’t know why it wasn’t named that way from the beginning. It would be less confusing. I could have just changed the damn name of the post and framework before you read all this, so I guess I’m guilty as well for propagating the confusion. I didn’t want to seem like I ripped off someone else’s work because, you know, I’m sure a wide swath of engineers from Dell in the ’00s subscribe via RSS. #sarcasm)

    Completion and Examples:

    Now that each initiative has a number score for each RIT letter, the numbers are multiplied to create the final score. The final score should nicely order your list while also demonstrating greater disparity between the weaker and more valuable opportunities. If the RIT numbers were simply added, there would be less score dispersion and the final list would be harder to scan at a glance. It also makes sense that things on the same lists could very well be exponentially more valuable than each other.

    Here are a handful of scored examples with supporting KPIs from a fictional product feature list that most of us in B2C can relate to:

    • 100 – R5I4T5 – Implement a new banner on the site to highlight “Free 2 day shipping on all orders” to boost conversion
    • 60 – R3I4T5 – Implement One-Click Buy functionality utilizing Apple Pay, Paypal or Venmo, where applicable to boost conversion
    • 50 – R2I5T5 –  Implement a new shopping cart process, working with creative, merchandising and digital product (conversion, avg ticket)
    • 32 – R2I4T4  – Implement a new loyalty program, working with finance and marketing departments (churn, frequency, LTV)
    • 24 – R2I4T3 – Implement new project management system across design, project management and digital product departments (speed to market, efficiency)

    Conclusion

    Just imagine long sad lists of 50+ features, bugs, initiatives or projects living in spreadsheets and/or PM tools with limited context around how they are arranged and the value they could provide. How useful are those backlogs to the teams or to their managers? How easy are they to revisit? How easy are they to be gut checked for value or degree of difficulty at a glance? Can decisions of what got prioritized be supported objectively and simply in a postmortem?

    Now think of those same sad, sometimes messy lists ordered by business value using a contextually useful scoring framework which has been collaboratively debated and applied by the team that is responsible for the list and its potential completion. 

    That’s a much happier list and a much happier team by way of the highest value items getting prioritized more easily. That should yield happier customers and, in turn, “happier” company performance overall.

     

  • Last October I participated in Philadelphia Magazine’s 7th Annual ThinkFest.

    The footage was previously lost, but has now luckily been found, so this post gets to come out of the drafts folder (which currently contains 74 others).

    Philly Mag approached me to do a “Fireside Chat” with the CEO of Wawa, Chris Gheysens. I’ve done lots of panels and “talks,” but never a fireside, and Chris and I didn’t know each other previously.

    I also quickly called shenanigans on Philly Mag to see if they purposefully put us together hoping for some convenience store slug-fest on stage. goPuff and Wawa, our respective current affiliations, are direct competitors, albeit at different stages of company life. They believably denied my allegation so I warmly accepted their invite.

    Here is the 30-minute discussion in which we talk Wawa, building companies in Philly, and leadership, all with a side order of Breakfast Sizzli. 

    Chris is savvy and knowledgeable with a high EQ. No surprise from the “Lead Goose”.

    In the green room he said, “Go easy on me, OK?” To which I replied, “I’m not here for a ‘gotcha.’ If anything, I’m empathetic to the challenge of sitting in the top seat.” Being a great CEO is as exhausting as it is fulfilling, regardless of your company’s size.

    I’m actually used to being in the other chair, riffing off the panel moderator and answering questions about my background directly. It was interesting and a lot more prep to be the one hoping to both contribute and guide the conversation. Sitting on a panel usually requires prep of a 15-min conf call, tops. For this I researched Chris, and Wawa, talked to their PR person and even briefly chatted with Chris during the week prior. We cut our chat short to save it for the stage.

    I also did some googling on nailing a fireside chat vs a panel. Coupled with my experience, here were my takeaways on the format:

    • The internet says to let the audience know the “arc” of the conversation before you dive in to help set things up. I did that, along with telling Chris the first question I was going to ask after we intro’d ourselves. Easy setup ice breaker for me as well as to put him at ease.
    • A fireside should be more conversational, where both parties are sharing (60/40) vs one party interviewing the other (90/10). Interviews are fine, but a real conversation is much better.
    • I didn’t write out a lot of questions. I listed a few topics and spent the time putting them in a logical order. My prep fit on the top third of a printed page and consisted of about 10 words like: Snapshot, Philly’s Role, Current Customer? Future Customer? Innovation, etc.
    • The internet says quality follow-up questions are everything. Drilling down into interesting subtopics and then actually discussing them while also listening and guiding the conversation is the real skill. If you can do all that while being present – boom.
    • I believe the fireside format is better than an interview or panel. It’s a more natural and conversational way for both parties to share while creating a more spontaneous “window” for the audience. It’s also lighter prep all around.

    Thanks for tapping me, PhillyMag, and thanks for putting on such an interesting event. Also, thanks for being a good sport, Chris Gheysens. #cowtailsFTW

    Also thanks to my bud David Lipson at PhillyMag for texting me 48 hours prior to the event, “Hey man, you’re going first to kick off the day. Be sure to bring the energy! No pressure!” Yeah. Thanks.

    I woke up at 4 am, day of, and reviewed and revised my notes for the eighth time. I have a tendency to over-prepare. What’s new…

    ps – I got busy this Spring and my posting frequency took a beating. I need to work on that. So many drafts in the queue…

  • Three Deal Questions

    I recently spoke with a founder who was considering the recapitalization or sale of his business. He knew I was once in a similar position of evaluating the cost / benefit of an inorganically fueled future compared to a continued independent path.

    For a potential partner to be excited to join the journey, regardless of the nature of the deal, it’s obvious that leadership must be able to provide compelling and confident answers to questions about the future prospects of the organization. An investor or acquirer, at any stage, needs to be able to get comfortable at a foundational level or the rest is moot.

    RevZilla had more than one legitimate suitor during my years at the helm, but in the time leading up to our ultimate deal with Cycle Gear and their parent, things had never before been that serious or diligenced to that degree. We’d also not seen the amount of continued inbound interest by outside parties ranging from family offices to PE to a strategic partner or two.

    Like many moments in a growing startup, I was now in an even deeper part of the pool, having to learn to tread different waters. The concept of being out of my depth of experience was not new. That happened all the time due to growth and constant change. The difference this time was what was at stake. Most times messing it up was akin to swallowing some water but still making it safely to the side of the pool. On this occasion, getting it wrong could potentially mean drowning. (So much pool analogy, sorry.)

    I also was never a  “deal guy” and don’t consider it one of my primary strengths (I’ve written about that here). I do, however, have friends who have done lots of deals from both sides of the table. They have invested, raised money, bought companies or sold them. They have all managed to make it through the process of maintaining negotiating leverage while vetting a potential partner and constructing a viable future partnership.

    It’s a dance, it’s nuanced and it’s different on a number of fronts, depending on who’s around the table. My hunch, however, was that like many things, certain patterns repeat.

    Being fully aware of the stakes and my lack of experience in the arena, I used my “ask the audience” and was very thankful that so many people were willing to offer me guidance at different stages. Hopefully, these folks would keep me from drowning.

    They were invaluable. We constructed a deal. I didn’t drown – although my CFO and I were sucking wind at the end of it all. (Thanks again DB, BS, DS, BW, DA, TV, JLM, BM, KD, JK)

    One particular call with my friend Brock stuck with me and yielded nuggets worth sharing here.

    First, Brock is the man. Second, he is a good human on all fronts. Third, he is the 60-years-of-experience executive who’s actually only 46. His view of the foundational elements needed to support getting a deal done were clear, memorable and simple.

    He crystalized his thoughts into the three questions that have to be answered every time – the same three I told the founder I spoke to recently – citing Brock in the bibliography, of course.

    1. Is this business unique? – This is the “moat” question. There may be many businesses in the space all doing well and all competing to capture the market, but what makes this business defensible and uniquely differentiated? Why do customers care today? Why will they care in the future? What’s the cost of switching? What makes it sticky? Why can’t your competitors just knock you off? Warren B would ask you about your durable competitive advantage. You need better than a good answer. “Me too” can be smelled from a mile away and it always stings the nostrils.
    2. What is the compelling future vision? – The story needs to credibly demonstrate the ability to grow top and bottom line via a thoughtful organic, structural or inorganic roadmap. How will you invest, time, resources and capital along the way to drive growth and eventually a path to profitability?  Avoid the hand-wavy stuff and try to focus on natural extensions of your customers, products, services and their associated revenue streams. Insight into levels of investment, risk and potential payback periods are always helpful, as well. Again, no hand-wavy. No BS.
    3. Can they trust you? – A deck is not a dog and pony show. A pitch doesn’t happen atop a soapbox on the boardwalk. You are not the Slapchop guy (thankfully). Whether startup, growth stage or mature business, in most cases the team’s credibility and motivation are as important as everything else. To establish a baseline of trust, call out real challenges. Use reasonable estimates. Show the numbers. Highlight threats and competition who may be executing better than you in certain places. Mention current risks and problems while most importantly offering thoughtful solutions. The great investors, partners and/or buyers are smart. You want them to be smart. Smart is a win on all sides. Don’t hope they miss it; lead with it and address it. Answer it before you make them ask it. Earn the benefit of the doubt. It’s paramount for setting the right expectations for later, but more importantly, it will build the credibility necessary to have a chance at any “later” existing at all.

    These themes are talked about in so many places. There is an obviousness to them. They are simple and easy to remember. I have found it very useful to commit them to memory.

    And while there are always many other things that need to be highlighted in the story, whenever I see a deck, hear a pitch – or build either myself – I’m usually focusing on answering these three questions before anything else.

    #tacos #fettucini #linguine #martini #bikini

     

  • Pathing and Pizza Parties

    The best talent can go wherever they want. They have options.

    They also have needs, because the best talent normally has lots of drive and at minimum a loose plan of what they want their career and life to be.

    As a leader and/or manager, it’s our job to learn about a person’s needs and help create a path to facilitate work that not only aligns with the goals of the organization but also with each person’s growth and learning goals.

    My people-focused KPI was “A-player voluntary turnover” with a goal of zero percent. That means we never wanted someone excellent to make the choice to leave the company. Ever.

    Note that an all-in turnover % of zero was not the target. If the company is managing effectively and holding people accountable, there should always be some turnover. It’s usually involuntary, meaning you asked people to leave, and a low % or you are hiring carelessly.

    Companies are not families bound by blood forever, they are teams. And on a team, the folks who are not willing to do the work to level up their skills to meet the needs of the role will have to have their position changed, at best, or be asked to leave the team, at worst.

    The superstars, however, are yours to lose. They can play on whatever team they want because everyone needs them. Many times they can or want to play in changing roles as well.  Remember, they play for much more than the paycheck.

    They come to work for learning, leveling up, the joy of working with other great people and the satisfaction of solving challenges that are meaningful. The paycheck needs to be fair, but maxing the short term comp is almost never the primary driver. Those are the outputs.

    The inputs are their time, energy, focus and the opportunity cost of focusing solely on your company or set of challenges.

    Even when you as the manager spend the appropriate amount of time listening and learning about what they need and doing the hard work of aligning a person’s goals with the company’s goals over time, you will still, unfortunately, lose some of them.

    This normally happens when the next step for the employee’s growth, learning or desired experience can’t be delivered by the company, role or the manager. Many times, if the company or department is not creating opportunity, growing or changing quickly, great talent will find themselves frustrated around the 2- or 3-year mark if their role can’t evolve any further. More often, great talent may find themselves reporting to a manager who can’t make them better, isn’t actively pathing them or may be sitting in the role that the talent may want (or deserve) next. A ton of research (google it) shows people leave managers much more often than they leave companies, and I’d agree from experience. It only takes a few months of ignoring someone’s needs for them to potentially get restless.

    Either way, great talent will give notice and it’s usually months, not weeks. In hindsight, many times they’ve also let you see it coming by subtly dropping hints along the way. The superstars usually have a high EQ and self-awareness. They also care about doing their best in all aspects, including finishing strong, while leaving the role and the team better than they found it. That last bit will make you miss them, even more, when they are gone.

    I have worked in environments where once someone says they need to continue their career climb somewhere else, even when handled appropriately, the leadership takes it personally and people feel ostracized in their final weeks, ending their run as a de facto enemy of the state or feeling like a traitor. That’s so wrong and selfish on the part of leadership and it makes me angry.

    If a talented person spends 2 to 3 years of their career investing their time into making your company or team better, when they decide it’s time for them to transition, the leaders should say “thank you” and backup their gratitude with their actions – after trying to get them to stay (probably a few times), of course.

    To reinforce my appreciation, I used to throw a pizza party during a person’s final weekly company-wide meeting and offer words of encouragement, a hug and a thank you to make sure that the team knew we valued and celebrated their contribution. It was a goofy, but personal, many times emotional and very much us. (We even had Chuck. E. Cheese come hand-deliver terrible pizzas one time.)

    Not everyone who left got that pizza party, but it was usually clear to the broader team when a body of work had earned someone the pizzas. The folks who got the party were a showcase for what a great teammate looked like and reinforced how we not only appreciated their talent but also recognized the privilege of them sharing a meaningful slice of their career with us. (See what I did there?)

    If reading this makes you think of certain people on your team, do everything you can to give them a path that meets their needs and the company needs while you still can. It’s your job to figure out what that actually looks like and everyone has different skill, ambitions and communication styles. That’s the only way to keep your best for any meaningful amount of time.

    And, if and when it’s time for them to tackle challenges that you or your company can’t offer, make sure you thank them genuinely and act accordingly – whatever that means to you and your culture. They deserve it.

    The privilege to work with them was yours. How you handle their exit is also a reflection of your values and leadership to the team that remains.

     

    ps – The links are probably only amusing to me, but this post almost got so damn serious 😐

  • Lee Anne Fischl was my Executive Assistant and then Chief of Staff at RevZilla from 2011 through my operational departure in 2017. She was a force multiplier who added tremendous value to my work, other team members’ work and the company at large. She has since taken a new role as the right hand of another executive leader, but still works with me here and there. She also graciously offers her time and insight to other execs and EAs in an effort to help them unlock higher levels of productivity together.

    This picture is missing Lee Anne’s notepad, which never left her side and never lost a todo

    She was open to the idea of me making some editor’s note-style comments inline, which illustrate my perspective from the other side of the table. Read them as you go, or read her portion first and then go back and read my italicized comments. 

    Guest Post By Lee Anne Fischl

    Over the years, I have read many articles with tips for CEOs and leaders on how to be more productive and how to work smarter. The one thing that is missing from 99% of these articles is hiring a killer right-hand person and working with them in a way that maximizes their impact. Anthony and I turned our working style into an art form and it did more to accelerate his workflow and increase his bandwidth than any other productivity hack I have ever read about.

    I once sat down and figured out that I was taking about two full days of work off Anthony’s plate each week. And I am not talking about scheduling meetings and booking travel – I am talking about operational Co-founder/CEO work that was foundational to running a successful business. I am talking about prepping important work so that he could step in only at the point that decisions needed to be made or strategies formulated. I am talking about meetings that were taken off his schedule and put onto mine. I am talking about taking the outline of an idea he had and doing a proof-of-concept and fleshing out the process before passing the work back over to him. My work also allowed him to easily launch into his most valuable focus work more regularly by reducing or eliminating time spent filtering, prioritizing and prepping the daily frayed edge of things on his plate.

    The way we worked allowed him to focus on the most important, most meaningful tasks in the most efficient way every day. It allowed him to increase his reach and expedite his workflow so he accomplished more while still feeling responsive to his direct reports and the business. And while we did a lot of juggling, only a very few balls were dropped in our years working together.

    AB – First, someone like Lee Anne is a game changer as soon as you can afford them. Lee Anne was RevZilla employee 26 in 2011 and she took a step back in compensation to work with us because we seemed like a mix of fun, upside and challenge. We were at about a $17M run rate and growing quickly at the time of hire, but the truth is if I had known the value she would bring, I could have brought her in as much as 18 months sooner. Lee Anne started as my EA focusing 50% on calendar and email and a mixed bag of operational stuff. Once we developed deeper trust and her knowledge of me and the business matured (~12-18 months), her role and impact changed as she was able to grow into an extension of me. Her title ultimately became Chief of Staff and we even brought in a part-time junior person for Lee Anne to delegate to as her cycles became very valuable in their own right.

    What did it take? A real commitment on Anthony’s part to letting me behind the curtain, relinquishing control and spending time with me daily. It did not happen overnight. We had the advantage of building our process over the years as RevZilla grew, but I believe a working style like ours can be achieved in months if you dive in at the deep end and both parties commit.

    Some things he enthusiastically threw on my plate but sometimes I had to pry his hands off the steering wheel one finger at a time.  He also had to be ok when things were not 100% the way he would have done them. 85% and done beats 100% and languishing every time. A good example is the relationship with our PR firm. Anthony chose them but I took over the bi-weekly meetings and handled most decisions. I was also able to jump on quick response opportunities in a way Anthony could not, given his schedule. When a segment is needed for the evening news, you need decisions immediately..

    AB – I let Lee Anne see everything, warts and all. When she started the goal was for her to be fully behind the curtain. I set out to find someone as trustworthy as they were detail-oriented and committed to the role.  I felt a bit embarrassed here and there when something private came in, but I accepted it as a small price to pay for the leverage Lee Anne created. She recouped founder bandwidth — in my eyes the most valuable company asset.

    So, if you’re convinced you want to take this approach, how do you start? Job one is to choose the right person.

    Traits to look for

    Look for a person who likes being behind the scenes. Someone who thrives on the thrill of your success and prefers staying in the background to starring in their own rodeo is the #1 requirement for this job. Anthony sometimes referred to me as a project manager where he was my only project and that is a great analogy.

    Find someone with the life experience you need, not just experience in the job title you pick for the role. What is most important to you? Organization? Intelligence? Creative thinking? Operational experience? It doesn’t matter where they earned their stripes as long as they possess the experience and qualities you need. Look for skills and accomplishments, not title history. A smart person with the right qualities can learn your business regardless of what their past titles were. I know this is hard when you get 500 resumes, but right-hand kinds of people have had all sorts of titles, from the community volunteer to the poorly regarded Administrative Assistant to the newly popular Chief of Staff to a variety of managerial titles. And if your candidate has the skills and the values you need, don’t worry about the “stage of life” part so much – I am a pretty straight-laced suburban mother type who is 20 years older than Anthony and yet we are perfectly suited to work together because we intersect on core values surrounding work and people.  

    AB – I initially didn’t hire Lee Anne after her interview although I thought she had excellent experience. I thought our life stage mismatch, coupled with our often colorful language (tech can be profane), would not allow either of us to be comfortable. I mistakenly hired another person who let us down after a month, only to quickly circle back to Lee Anne. Lee Anne and I lined up on work ethic, attitude and value system, which covered the big bases. She also relishes the challenge of figuring things out on any level. We were pleasantly surprised to discover we had similar interests, but that was a bonus we figured out later.

    You also need someone who is not afraid of you, your direct reports or outside business people you deal with. Yes, the relationship is boss to direct report, but if your right-hand is afraid to say “I think you are wrong and here is what you need to consider,” they are not the right person. And if they don’t have the gumption to deal firmly but nicely with people from all levels of your world, they will never be able to represent you and move your agenda forward. It is a fine balance – it is like a good teacher the kids love but who can control the classroom with a glance. Some people have it and some people don’t.

    AB – This speaks to the level of an excellent EA+ / Chief of Staff vs other scopes of support. Lee Anne fought for the greater good regularly. She was not scared to challenge me or carefully manage others’ expectations. I always valued and respected her for it.

    Trust is crucial and the only way to determine if the candidate is worthy of your trust is to interview carefully. It is easy to find out if they have dealt with confidential information before – but did it stay confidential? When you ask them to describe the kinds of information they have handled in the past, do they stay high level or do they tell you details that would make you uncomfortable if they were your own? Do they release details when pressed or if they have an ax to grind? Are they a bit too chatty? Some people are good with secrets and some are not. And it is not just about keeping their mouth shut. You need someone who can deal with sensitive information and topics in a mature way because there will be days where never-to-be-repeated issues will need to be met head-on and they will be the first line of defense. Skip reference checking at your own peril.

    AB – Over 6+ years together, we were sued, flamed, almost bought, and ransomed for Bitcoin collectively more than once. Lee Anne saw the emails before I did and never flinched or let on to anyone. 

    A lifelong learner is another must have. Especially if you are picking someone who is changing industries. I am a reader. I read business books, articles and blogs. You want someone who is always considering new ideas and new ways of doing things. Someone who will always experiment with the way things are done to optimize workflow and operations. This is hugely important if you don’t want your business to stagnate. One of the worst statements in the world is “this is the way we have always done it”. I was also a student of Anthony Bucci. I read every email he wrote or received. I also read every book, article or blog Anthony read (and mostly I still do). Many times I could see what was coming down the pike and what was influencing his thoughts and that allowed me to be in step with him without explanation on his part.

    AB – Many times LAF was able to offer a counterpoint or a staff-level perspective to help balance my approach to something new that could have unintentionally imparted a level unproductive disruption to the team. Sometimes she just flat out headed me off at #badidea pass. LPT: Even award-winning workplaces will never need to find an elephant rental guy.

    What you need to do to ensure success

    You can have success with three easy steps! (Easy for me to say, that is . . .)

    Step one. Let your right-hand behind the curtain or you will never get beyond a task-based relationship. If you want someone who can see around corners and relieve some of the decision-making, you need to share 98% of what crosses your desk and good chunks of what crosses your mind. Allow access to all your email. Bring them to meetings and let them sit in on phone calls. Share your goals for the business and your personal goals for the year, quarter, week and day. Explain your thoughts and actions so they can learn to think like you and understand your processes and preferences. Initially, it will be a huge brain dump over time but it will morph into a manageable maintenance level.

    Step two. Talk regularly and spend time together in the office. Not email. Not texts. There IS time for this to happen – scheduled meetings, bringing them along on the drive to get lunch, phone calls as you commute, while you are working out, stopping by every time you pass your right-hand’s desk. Once a week, Anthony and I sat down for an hour of face-to-face conversation (and the occasional debate) where I set the agenda and we discussed the business, our thoughts on any given topic and questions were raised and answered. Other than that, we grabbed minutes where we could but always touched base however briefly every morning and every end of the day. We were trying for 15 minutes morning and night, but sometimes that had to be tossed. That being said, there was not a day that I did not know what Anthony’s top priorities were for the day and he did not know mine. Talking allowed us to calibrate priorities constantly.

    AB – The things you are delegating to your person are important, they are just not as important as the things you hope to use the recouped bandwidth for. Regular time to quickly chat, prioritize and keep your right-hand person moving is both the magic ingredient and sometimes the hardest time to focus on. The weekly one-on-ones are easy, but give your person the ability to hound, grab you between meetings, drive you somewhere so you can talk and, when all else fails, ask to interrupt you to quickly powwow. The 15 minutes a day was the hardest to find when I was in the flow of other things. I agreed it was super valuable, so I delegated to her the ability to ensure we found that daily time, painful as it was in some cases.

    Step three. Put the weight of your position behind this person. Let people know that when they are dealing with your right-hand they are dealing with you. This is a hurdle you will need to clear. Anthony initially got quite a bit of pushback when he added me to the mix, but people got on board as things that were languishing were accomplished and questions were answered on the spot or in a timely manner.  Your power, responsibly wielded by your right-hand, is a valuable tool.

    I will end by mentioning two articles I have seen over the years that addressed my role and showed a good understanding of the value it can play in a company. They are worth checking out. One is from the Harvard Business Review and the other was from First Round Capital. They do a good job advocating for a right-hand person as an accelerator and wise business investment. I hope all you Anthonys have the opportunity to work with a Lee Anne and every Lee Anne has the opportunity to work with an Anthony. It can be a real game changer.

    Final commentary from Anthony:

    People (including my wife!) were initially concerned about a gatekeeper or assistant principal feel to having a support person. There can be a stigma around having an EA. Concerns about the gatekeeper controlling access evaporated nearly immediately. Concerns about the “assistant principal” were typically from folks who were more close-minded toward changes in relationship dynamics, but usually, because they were less secure in their roles, in general. I spent time explaining that the position is an extension of me through the lens of a facilitator to ensure that things kept moving and I could be in two places at once. The most effective people quickly realized that Lee Anne was the best starting place to ensure the quickest resolution to an issue or need in real time.

    Some people still complained about her sitting in a meeting instead of me, but when I asked for examples on “How did she overstep her boundaries? How did she undermine you? Did she challenge your authority at all? What was missing or jarringly different without me?” I typically got crickets. The pattern was that people were being nostalgic or sometimes missing some opportunities to “manage up”. Those who were confident and optimizing for company outcomes spoke up when they felt less connected to me, but always saw the improved speed of communication and support from the change as a net positive. My wife grew to love that she could call Lee Anne to get me at any time, again. Long gone were the days where calling the batphone was a sure thing.

    After six years with me, Lee Anne had become an indispensable contributor in how I ran my desk AND the company. She touched and improved so many things and helped so many senior people be more productive and have more successful interactions with me. Company presentations, management presentations, feedback loops with senior staff, executive operations, a real-time lifeline for my wife and family.

    I also personally liked that over time there became an extra level of accountability to someone I respected who was working so hard, so close to me. Previously, I would have a list of priorities and I was only accountable to myself for completing them. I’m human and I’ll occasionally procrastinate on important stuff that I don’t like doing, just like the next person. Fewer procrastinatables fell through my cracks as I now had more time and a person who felt like another partner behind the curtain who I just couldn’t let down. I know that sounds funny, but it was a real feeling as we jointly managed three todo lists: my list, her list and the macro company list.

    I could go on an on, but the two articles Lee Anne mentioned above are excellent. My favorite concept from them likens running a company to tap dancing on stage every day. It also says a great EA makes sure you are always good enough to get a standing ovation. So true.

    There are many reasons founders, CEOs and execs give for not wanting to work with someone in a support role. I probably have a great rebuttal for all of them. I openly scoff when I hear, “I don’t work with anyone administratively. I don’t see the value”. Regardless of their reasoning, I think it’s short-sighted.  An exec’s job is predicated on delegating everything delegatable to leave larger chunks of pristine time to think, strategize and work on the shortest list of the most important things that actually will move the business forward. How can you make an argument against buying back time?

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