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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

The awkward truth behind my "viral" LinkedIn post

Recently my LinkedIn post went "viral."

It's funny, I actually left out the most important point: This whole "churn" thing was a side project.

Isn't that weird? Why would a company not prioritise a $100M project?

(If you work in a big company, you might see where this is going, but...)

It was a side project because my boss didn't think of it. And neither did his boss.

The 3 types of bosses

A wise woman once told me there are 3 types of bosses:

  1. A sh*t shield

  2. A sh*t funnel

  3. A sh*t fan

Over my career, I got to sample all three types, but the “funnels” were the worst. Funnels would come to me with big projects they wanted me to work on, and sometimes those projects didn’t make sense. I was closer to the business and the customers, and I knew they were bad ideas. I hated this. I hate wasting time on pointless things.

Initially, I'd push back. But now that I think about the situation, what did I expect? Was my funnel boss really going to go back to his boss and say, "Matt says your idea is stupid and you don’t understand our customers, and we should do XYZ instead"? 😂

Not in a million years. You don’t get to be a VP in a big company by "speaking truth to power." In fact, quite the opposite!

Anyways, back to the churn thing...

Despite my naivete and political ineptitude, I eventually managed to amass enough rank and credibility to carve out a bit of space for my team to work on their own ideas, and the $100M project was one of them.

Of course, when we started thinking about churn, I had no idea how big it would be. It started as a question. And you can’t sell questions up the ranks in a corporation. You can’t build questions into your forecasts. And that’s a shame, because the boldest things humans ever do start with questions.

So what's the lesson here?

Big companies can afford to do all kinds of things, but startups cannot waste time on random pet projects. They need to find their big growth levers and apply relentless focus.

How do you find these big levers? In my LinkedIn post, I talked about how Ben studied customer data, and his intern, Michael, dissected every minute customer interaction. Big growth levers are hidden in masses of data and customer insight, and they will be found by curious people who spend a lot of time with data and customers. (Not financial models, decks or strategy offsites.)

So what can you do, as a leader, to focus your team on the most impactful work? Start by asking great questions (like these) rather than telling people what to do. Actually, Steve Jobs says it best:

"It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

I hope this helps!

P.S. In fairness, I had many bosses in my time at PayPal, and some of them were incredibly brilliant mentors. I also write about their insights as well, just not this week.

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