How to Kick-off the Year Right

start_the_new_year_off_rightLast week, I wrote about how I spent the last few weeks of December working through our strategic plan for FY2015. As I started the new year, I felt prepared and confident about the road ahead. But when you run a company, it’s not good enough for YOU to understand the plan. Your most important job is making sure ALL of your employees and contractors understand the plan too.

To kick-off the year right, I think there are four things that you have to do:

1) Preview your plan with a few employees: When you kick-off the year, you want to make sure that you have a few people in the room that have heard part of the story ahead of time. Choose a couple of people from your organization, and tell them a little about the plan. In my case, I made sure that the Executive Team was all on the same page, and I spoke ahead of time with a few other people. You don’t need to provide all of the details in these meetings. Just share enough so that the important pieces aren’t a total surprise to everyone in the room. This will go a long way towards helping you build consensus and momentum among the whole team.

2) Hold a kick-off meeting: At Punchbowl, I hold kickoff meetings for each quarter. But none is more important than the fiscal year kickoff. I spend several weeks preparing for our yearly kickoff meeting, and I think about the kinds of questions that I might be asked. The kick-off meeting is important to me as a leader, and I know that employees value it too. Consider this feedback I got recently from an employee, “Our quarterly meetings are one of my favorite things about working at Punchbowl. After working for a company where the priorities were never articulated, and I never understood the motivation behind any major decisions, this time we spend together as a team, getting on the same page, is something I really value.”

3) Set the company bonus: Once you communicate the strategy for the year, I believe it’s important to set a bonus for employees that aligns with your strategy. At Punchbowl, we offer a cash bonus of 10% of your base salary based on achieving the goals. I split the bonus between the quarterly priorities (50%) and year-long goals (50%). For each quarter, there are 3 business priorities and 3 product priorities. That’s a total of 24 priorities for the year. In addition, we set out ambitious objectives based on our company’s strategy. This methodology helps align what employees do everyday with their bonus, and also ensures that employees succeed when the company succeeds.

4) Ask for feedback: The last part of your kick-off plan is to ask your team for feedback about the kick-off meeting and strategy. Include questions like “What did you think of the kick-off meeting? Are you clear on our fiscal year strategy? Why or why not?” and “What components of our strategy are you most/least excited about?” You’ll find that certain people who don’t have much to say in a group setting have a lot to say over email. And you’ll also see commonalities among what people think. Finally, it’s an opportunity to learn what parts of your strategy still need to be emphasized in future team meetings.

SWAMI SAYS: As a small company CEO, it’s critical to kick-off the year right. If you follow my plan, you will have everything you need to get your team on the same page and be successful for the year. As I write this post, it’s still early January — so it’s not too late to kick-off the year right. There’s nothing else on your plate that’s more important.


The book that changed my life

Several years ago, I took a day off from my job at Bose Corporation. Actually, it was a “mental health” day — one of those days where I just couldn’t deal with going to the office, sitting in my pathetic cubicle, and working on something that I didn’t think really mattered. I needed a day to contemplate where my career was headed, and what I should do next.

I spent the day wandering around, and later in the afternoon I found myself at the Natick Library. I spent a few hours meandering among the books, and that’s when I saw the book that forever changed my life. “What Should I Do with My Life” by Po Bronson. The title of the book seemed to be speaking right at me, begging me to pick it up. So I did. (more…)

Show me the money!

During my weekend blog reading, I came across a post on TechCrunch with the headline “David Hornick: Why Real Entrepreneurs Aren’t in it for the Money.” (part of the TechCrunch TV series). In the interview, David speaks about what motivates entrepreneurs. In the video he claims that real entrepreneurs aren’t in it for the money.  He says (paraphrased) “Entrepreneurship, if it’s successful, then everybody gets rich — and it turns out that is true. That’s a beautiful byproduct of entrepreneurship but the people that you wanna work with that’s not their motivation.”

I call bullshit. (more…)

Top 10 reasons TechCrunch became successful

This morning, I saw the breaking news that AOL has acquired the blog TechCrunch. I’ve known Mike Arrington & his team for the better part of four years, and I’m really happy for them. He and his writers have been very helpful to Punchbowl, and their coverage of our site has always been fair. TechCrunch covered Punchbowl when we launched the very first version of our party planning app, later covered our Design Studio online invitations, and also wrote about our free eCards. I’m grateful and humbled for all of the coverage from TechCrunch over the years.

In my eyes, TechCrunch is a story of how to do a start-up right. So I thought I would provide my readers with a quick list on why I believe that TechCrunch ended up being a success. These are my raw thoughts, so apologies if I missed some critical reasons… (more…)

Why are we here?

I’ve done countless presentations in my career of all different types. For years, I taught classes on 3-D graphics and animation, later I presented regularly to the executive management at Adobe Systems and Bose Corporation, and more recently I’ve pitched investors and partners on why they should invest or partner with Punchbowl. After all of these presentations, you would think that I would have it down. Well, far from it. I still have much to learn. (more…)

Don’t give up

I’ve had a very difficult, but rewarding week. It’s been one of the hardest weeks of my career. I wrote the below post many months ago, but I was thinking about it a lot this week. 

A start-up is not for those with a weak resolve. Just like the March college basketball tournament (March Madness), what separates the winners from the losers is that winners figure out how to “survive and advance.” The key in my opinion: perseverance. So don’t give up.  (more…)