Welcome to Cold Call, where we zing a question to our favorite CEOs, entrepreneurs, VCs, and tech evangelists to see how they answer — and how you'd respond. Joining us today are Mint.com founder Aaron Patzer and Digg CEO Matt Williams.
Some of the best known executives are fictional, from Jack Donaghy to Miranda Priestly to Don Draper. The way they run their companies can offer lessons and inspiration beyond the boilerplate in a Donald Trump-approved business 101 handbook. Take Mr. Burns, from The Simpsons. Try to think of another exec who runs an empire with as much of an iron fist. (Steve Jobs, anyone?) Is he the the archetypal Machiavellian ruler, or just another a-hole boss not worth emulating?
Who is your favorite fictional exec? What lessons have you gleaned from that character? In what ways, if any, have those lessons applied to your business?
Scrooge McDuck is the ultimate saver and investor. He holds a diversified portfolio of companies, real estate, and most importantly, hard currency (gold) instead of fiat (paper) dollars.
Rather than spend recklessly, he's known for going out of his way to save a dollar or two: walking vs. taking a taxi, or denying Huey, Louie and Dewey their allowance if their chores are done poorly. This is definitely the way to run and grow a startup when cash is king: pay low salaries (at Mint we paid 1/3 the market rate for the first 6 months, then half the market rate for the next 6 months), cut costs, focus on cash flow, and pay contractors based on performance.
Accounts receivable are nothing—it's money in the bank (particularly gold coins you can swim through) that matters.
While I can't claim true Trekkie status, my favorite fictional exec would have to be Captain Kirk. He embodies numerous character traits worth emulating as an executive. No coincidence that his ship is called the Enterprise.
Building the right team is perhaps the most important job of any leader, regardless of situation. Kirk chooses a range of strong crew members who not only have skills that complement one another, but who also help to fill gaps in his own knowledge. He delegates well, knows his crew's limits, and challenges them accordingly.
Kirk jumps into the fight personally and is not afraid to sacrifice himself for his ship, crew, or mission. As an executive, rolling up your sleeves and submerging yourself in a given issue or crisis is often the best way to stay connected to the customer, partner, or your own team.
Similarly, Kirk has a bias for action. He leans into situations instead of sitting back, and he makes confident choices with as much data as he's able to gather in the moment. Indecision is perhaps one of the worst traits for an executive to have. When faced with a tough decision, it’s important to always press forward (or to boldly go) as Kirk does.
Most of all, Kirk is always learning from adventure. He risks the unknown and is often humbled by his discoveries. Having come from a family of entrepreneurs, I too am an explorer and adventurer. Working at Digg, I am part of a social news industry defined by daily innovation. I appreciate the humility required to lead a business into unpredictable, constantly shifting frontiers.
Agree with Aaron or Matt? Who is your favorite fictional executive? Leave your answer in the comments below, or reply via twitter with the hashtag #coldcall. We'll highlight the best in next week's edition.