Please join us tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM Pacific for the (final in this form — see below) SaaS Product Power Breakfast with Skilljar cofounder and CEO, Sandi Lin, discussing why product managers make great founders and the potential pitfalls they should look out for along the way.
Skilljar, founded in Seattle in 2013, is a fully distributed, ~150-person company that provides a customer education platform to over 400 customers that’s raised $50M+ in venture capital from top investors including Techstars Seattle, Trilogy, Mayfield, Shasta, and Insight Partners.
Sandi is well, a dynamo, with an impressive academic background (two engineering degrees from MIT and a Stanford MBA) matched by equally impressive work experience (~4 years in consulting followed by ~4 years at Amazon in product management followed by co-founding and leading Skilljar). Our prep call was a whirlwind; it should be a great episode.
Among others, we’ll address these five questions with Sandi:
Why do product managers make great founders?
How has your product planning process evolved from founder to startup to scaleup stages?
As CEO with a product background, how do you interact with your product team now? Has it been challenging to pull back?
You used to work at Amazon. What are key similarities and differences in product management from a large company to a startup?
What have you found as your blind spots as a former Product Manager?
The End of This Format; The Start of a New One
I should note that this will be our last episode in this current form. While we are pleased with the success of the podcast version of the SaaS Product Power Breakfast, the live rooms have several drawbacks we’d like to address:
The platform. While we started the series on Clubhouse as a deliberate way to participate in the evolution of a new app, I believe the platform has technical limitations for what we’re doing and, moreover, is in general trouble. We’d like to try something else.
The name. While Thomas is in Germany and I am in Silicon Valley, we nevertheless decided to call the series a “power breakfast.” That instantly posed timezone challenges for the live events (e.g., Thomas has a “power breakfast” over a beer at 5:00 pm) and didn’t translate well into the podcast. Moreover, we have strong international audience that should only grow with the recent announcement that I’m joining Balderton Capital as an EIR. So the name was a fail and that’s on me. We need a new one.
The timing. I’m not sure how to fix this one, but 8:00 AM Pacific isn’t a great time for a live event. The West Coast is just starting work, the East Coast in their last meetings before lunch, the UK is getting ready for a pint, and continental Europe finishing up before heading home for dinner. With Thomas and I separated by 9 time zones, maybe the best answer is no live event at all. Just a podcast. We’re deliberating.
The duration. While an hour is a relatively short Clubhouse room, it’s a relatively long podcast. We should take a lesson from Harry Stebbings of The 20 Minute VC and work towards a shorter format. Who knows, maybe it will be The 21 Minute Product Leader. (Think: ours goes up to 11)
To those who’ve attended the live rooms and/or listened to the podcast, we thank you. Thomas and I will be back in several weeks with a new name, a new platform, and a new format.
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be joining Balderton Capital on a part-time basis to work with the firm and its portfolio companies on topics related to enterprise software, strategy, go-to-market, marketing, and SaaS metrics. You know, my usual stuff. In addition, I expect to do some more VC-style work such as helping with diligence, sourcing, best practice sharing, thought leadership, portfolio-company events, and maybe even expressing the odd opinion on how to best message and position the (already well positioned) firm. Once a marketer, always a marketer.
The Why Behind the Move
So why did I decide to do this?
The people. I’ve been highly impressed with everyone I’ve met at Balderton and believe they have built one of the top VC firms in Europe. In particular, this opportunity gives me the chance to work again with my old boss, Business Objects founder and Balderton managing partner, Bernard Liautaud. Without singing his praises to excess, let’s just say that there aren’t many people in the world who have founded an enterprise software company, took it to $1B+ in revenues, then co-founded a second company (Dashlane), turned that company into a unicorn, and followed all that with a highly successful second career in venture capital. It’s enough to make you feel like an underachiever.
The work. I very much enjoy doing all the things that Balderton wants (see below) and relish the opportunity to do my two absolutely favorite things: teaching and learning. I’ll spend time sharing what I’ve learned over the past 30 years in enterprise software all while simultaneously learning a ton from the Balderton team and their portfolio company executives. As Steve Jobs said: “learn continuously, there’s always one more thing to learn.” The best way to learn is to surround yourself with great people and challenge each other.
The chance to help European companies. With nine years experience at Business Objects (five of those based in Paris), nearly five years serving on the board of Paris-based Nuxeo, and my fairly recent appointment to the board of Tallinn-based (Estonia) Scoro, I have significant experience in both Silicon Valley and in Europe, enjoy bridging between the two, and have always been interested in the challenges faced by European companies launching and growing in the US and other global markets. And if helping those companies involves the occasional trip to a farmhouse in Oxfordshire or the Luberon, well that’s just a sacrifice that I’m prepared to make.
What is an EIR Anyway? Typically, Entrepreneur-in-Residence
EIR typically stands for entrepreneur-in-residence, a pretty varied role itself, but one whose core is this: the entrepreneur-in-residence wants to return to an operating role and works on a mid-term basis at a VC firm, helping with what needs to be done while watching the deal flow and hoping to find an appropriate company (possibly in formation) that they can either join as a co-founder or as an executive, often CEO. Sometimes startup CEOs (particularly non-founders) think of this type of EIR as “CEOs-in-waiting” and approach them cautiously as a result. This is not the kind of EIR role that I’ll be doing.
The Other Kind of EIR: Executive-in-Residence
The less common use of EIR is as an acronym for executive-in-residence. This is what I’ll be doing and the premise is different. An executive in residence typically is an experienced C-level executive who is looking to “stay in the game” but who is not seeking a full-time operational or venture capital role. They’re typically looking:
To keep working, but not with heavy demands of a startup C-level executive
To get exposure to the inside of venture capital (often after having worked at VC-backed startups for decades)
To give back to entrepreneurs and startup executives by sharing their hard-won lessons
To find prospective companies for ongoing advisory or board roles
To find investment opportunities either through the VC funds themselves and/or through co-investment opportunities alongside them.
Basically, if the entrepreneur-in-residence is looking for their next gig and wants to spend 6-18 months looking at high-quality deal flow to find it, the executive-in-residence is looking to stay active, give back to the startup community, and find a few high-quality board or advisory roles in the process. I have several friends, including Max Schireson at Battery, who do executive-in-residence roles and quite enjoy the depth and variety of the assignment.
What, Where, and How Much?
I expect the work to fall into two buckets, composed of the following:
Advising portfolio companies on strategy, go-to-market, marketing, planning, and SaaS metrics as well as on more CEO-specific subjects like board management and organizational development.
Supporting Balderton on diligence, sourcing, best practice sharing, thought leadership, portfolio-company events, and marketing.
In terms of location, part of the point is to bridge between Silicon Valley and Europe, so I will continue to be based here in Silicon Valley, but I do expect — as Covid hopefully gets back in control — to build up to periodic trips to Europe.
Regarding time and commitment, this is a part-time engagement. While I expect it to be my largest single engagement, I also expect to have more than enough time to keep working with my existing advisory and board companies, and even take on a few more as those invariably ebb and flow over time.
I am very excited to be starting this new role. My only regret is joining after the Patagonia branded vest ban. Hopefully, Balderton has an XXL left over.
A corporate lawyer friend once told me to think about director protections as a triangle with three legs :
D&O insurance, which stands for directors and officers insurance (and with which most people are familiar)
Indemnification agreements (with which some people are familiar)
Charter provisions (with which it seems almost nobody is familiar)
Why does this matter? If you want to attract strong, experienced individuals to your board of directors, they are going to ask your company to provide reasonable and standard protections from potential liability associated with that work  . The same holds true for corporate executive officers, though they are often less aware of the exposure.
And, by the way, as a founder/CEO you should want to protect yourself.
My goals for this post are to:
Put this topic on your radar, framed not just as “D&O insurance” but the “whole package” of director protections (i.e., the “triangle”)
Share what I’ve learned as a brief introduction and provide links to more authoritative posts (e.g., from law firms)
Remind you to seek legal counsel in addressing director and officer protections because the topic gets complicated fast, as the embedded links below demonstrate.
Most startups purchase some sort of D&O insurance fairly early in their evolution; VCs often require it. Per this The Hartford post, “D&O insurance protects the personal assets of corporate directors and officers, and their spouses, in the event they are personally sued by employees, vendors, competitors, investors, customers, or other parties, for actual or alleged wrongful acts in managing a company.”
Per this site, startups typically purchase between $1M and $3M in coverage and the median annual cost of a policy is $3,800 for companies having raised <$5M, $9,600 for those having raised between $5M and $20M, and $17,000 for those having raised >$20M.
To indemnify another party is to compensate that party for losses that that party has incurred or will incur as related to a specified incident.
So, in our context, indemnification means that if a director is sued as a result of their work with the company that the company will compensate them for any losses they sustain as a result.
An indemnification agreement is a contract that specifies that, provided the director meets a minimum standard of conduct (e.g., acted in good faith, acted in a manner reasonably believed to be in the company’s best interests, had no reasonable cause to believe they were acting illegally), the company will defend the director against the cost of certain claims, including legal fees, litigation awards, and settlement costs . For an example, see this model indemnification agreement from The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) , which provides a detailed introduction in its preface as well as detailed in-line comments.
As with all things legal, the devil’s in the detail on indemnification agreements. Some of the bigger issues include:
Advancing expenses. There’s paying your costs at the end of the process and then there’s paying them along the way. To understand the need, imagine a case that costs $250K to defend over four years.
Specific circumstances. In the indemnification mandatory or permitted? Does it apply to all claims or only certain types? What are the procedures and default presumptions to determine if the director is entitled to indemnification on any given case?
Duration. Is the indemnification only for active directors? What if a director no longer serves on the board, but is sued in a claim related to work done in the past when they were active?
Choice of counsel. If the company’s paying, does it get to pick the law firm? What if the director wants to hire the most expensive firm in town?
Pathological cases. I’m not 100% sure about this one, but I love corner cases so — what if the company is suing the director? Does it have to indemnify them in that case as well?
When it comes startups, it’s important to remember the Achilles’ heel of indemnification: an indemnification agreement is only as good as the company’s ability to pay. In situations where a startup goes “cash out” (as in, out of cash), that ability is zero. Hence the need for the full triangle of director protections, including D&O insurance.
The last leg of our triangle is Charter provisions. A corporate Charter, also known as a company’s Articles of Incorporation, is a document that establishes the existence of a corporation, is filed with the government, and that lays out the major components of a company including its objectives, structure, and planned operations.
Apparently, a certain amount of indemnification is automatically provided by statute (in some states) and the “fullest indemnification allowed by law” language supplements that where necessary, allowing any specific indemnification agreements to kick in . I know this point is technical, but I also know that the corporate lawyers with whom I’ve worked emphasize that D&O alone is not enough, you need to look at the whole triangle of director protections — and that Charter provisions are one leg of that triangle.
I hope you enjoyed this rather in-depth primer and that I successfully put this issue on your radar. If you’re unsure about where your company stands on director (and officer) protection, you should give your lawyers a call. I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.
List of Best Links I Found
I did a lot of web surfing to support this post. Many of the pieces I found were not focused on a given subtopic, but the whole thing. That’s good to the extent my primary argument is “look at the whole package,” but it was bad for my hyperlinking because it was, e.g., hard to find articles that discussed indemnification agreements without also discussing charter provisions. Ergo, I recommend using control-F to scan through these articles if you are looking for one specific topic of interest. In rough order of accessibility:
 I am not a lawyer; just a business person doing his best to try and figure things out and share what I’ve learned along the way. See my FAQ and the blog’s license agreement for additional disclaimers as well.
 The NCVA provides a great collection of model legal documents, including a voting agreement, a term sheet, a stock purchase agreement, and many others.
 I am at/beyond my legal depth here. All I know is you should ask your lawyer what needs to in the Charter to provide for maximum director protection. See the Skadden Arps two-part series linked above for more detail on this specific topic.
A few days ago, Steve Pockross released a new episode of his Yes, And Marketing podcast on which he interviews a series of “eclectic and enlivening” marketers where “your weird shower thoughts and disparate liberal arts references take a road trip.” I was last week’s featured guest, and I don’t think the episode fails to deliver on its rather unusual promise.
The importance of rigorous definitions in messaging, and how you can use them to turn gray messages into black-and-white messages.
Walking the benefits stack by repeatedly asking “so what?” and not being afraid to do so.
Never forgetting the kiss, i.e., the ultimate benefit from the point of view of the customer, in your marketing.
Thanks to Steve for having me, to Crispin Read for referring me (his episode is well worth a listen), and to all of you who find the time to listen. While I’ve been doing a lot of podcast interviews of late, like the Grateful Dead, I promise that each show is different. And this one’s a barn burner.
I’m Dave Kellogg, advisor, director, consultant, angel investor, and blogger focused on enterprise software startups. I am an executive-in-residence (EIR) at Balderton Capital and principal of my own eponymous consulting business.
I bring an uncommon perspective to startup challenges having 10 years’ experience at each of the CEO, CMO, and independent director levels across 10+ companies ranging in size from zero to over $1B in revenues.
From 2012 to 2018, I was CEO of cloud EPM vendor Host Analytics, where we quintupled ARR while halving customer acquisition costs in a competitive market, ultimately selling the company in a private equity transaction.
Previously, I was SVP/GM of the $500M Service Cloud business at Salesforce; CEO of NoSQL database provider MarkLogic, which we grew from zero to $80M over 6 years; and CMO at Business Objects for nearly a decade as we grew from $30M to over $1B in revenues. I started my career in technical and product marketing positions at Ingres and Versant.
I love disruption, startups, and Silicon Valley and have had the pleasure of working in varied capacities with companies including Bluecore, Cyral, FloQast, GainSight, MongoDB, Recorded Future, and Tableau.
I previously sat on the boards of Granular (agtech, acquired by DuPont), Aster Data (big data, acquired by Teradata), and Nuxeo (content services, acquired by Hyland), and Profisee (MDM, exited to Pamlico).
I periodically speak to strategy and entrepreneurship classes at the Haas School of Business (UC Berkeley) and Hautes Études Commerciales de Paris (HEC).