Sarah Hodges

About Sarah Hodges

Sarah Hodges is the co-founder of She is also the Vice President of People and Places at Pluralsight, the world’s leading online training company for technical and creative professionals, and is an advisor to Flybridge Capital in Boston. Hodges previously led Strategy and Operations at Smarterer (acquired by Pluralsight), led Marketing at RunKeeper (acquired by Asics), and led Marketing Analytics at Carbonite (CARB).

3 Things You Can Do When You Don’t Have Time for Coaching

This post first appeared on BostInno.

“When we started our company, we were scrappy and lean. We hired a bunch of people in their early 20s with tons of hustle. Now we’re growing like crazy, and they’re in over their heads. It’s really not their fault – they’ve taken on more responsibility, we want to help them grow, but no one has the time for coaching.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with startups.

We invest so much time and energy in staying ahead of the market by developing new product features. Yet over and over again, we lag in developing our people. We wait until the pain is acute, when attrition skyrockets and people start leaving for better opportunities, or employee engagement and happiness hit rock bottom. Remember who builds those product features – people.

One thing’s for sure: employees often feel the pain before their leaders do. A Deloitte study of millennials noted that among employees who are likely to leave their employers within the next two years, 71 percent are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed. SHRM reports that the direct replacement costs of employee turnover can run as high as 50% – 60% of an employee’s annual salary, with total costs ranging from 90% to 200% of annual salary. That’s a whole lotta Benjamins.

When the reality finally hits us in the face like a bucket of cold ice water, managers get all the love. We double-down on sending managers to workshops and conferences and investing in coaches – but what about individual contributors? Plenty of employees deliberately choose an individual contributor path (HubSpot’s Pamela Vaughan wrote a great article about this). Others are high performers on the road to future management roles. They’re not managers, but they are leaders. And they’re critical to a company’s success.

Boston startups are starting to take note. Companies and programs like EMERGE are stepping up to shine a light on the importance of developing our city’s next-generation of leaders. I’m a co-founder of; at the last Emerge event, I heard from a handful of Boston’s best tech recruiters and leaders.

HubSpot’s Katie Burke shared her perspective: “One of the most critical steps in retaining top talent in Boston is ensuring that rising stars in the tech community receive the training, support and network they need to grow personally and professionally in their careers.” They’re not alone.

Loren Boyce, Director of Talent at Yesware echoed the focus on investing in personal development for individual contributors, “We are all-in when it comes to providing resources and experiences that help our employees reach their professional potential.”

What can you and your company do to develop these leaders? Here are three tips:

Start a Conversation

The first step to developing individual contributors is understanding how they want to grow. Let your team members know that you want to support their personal development. Set up a 1:1 to talk through their personal goals, and together, consider the resources you can help provide. This might mean connecting them with mentorship opportunities or investing in skills training. You won’t know until you ask.


Experts go back and forth on the science and applicability of the various personality tests that dominate leadership development conversations. My perspective is that if they help you better understand something about yourself – your strengths, and the way you operate – it’s a win for everyone. 16Personalities provides a simple and free personality test based on the Myer-Briggs approach. Encourage your team members to learn from the insight that resonates for them…and don’t stress about the areas that don’t.

Organize a Leadership Lunch & Learn

Consider how many individual contributors you could reach with solid leadership advice if you leveraged your internal team to set up a weekly or monthly Leadership Lunch & Learn. Invite respected leaders from inside your company to share leadership advice and tips that helped them through their own careers.

Close your eyes. Think about all the individual contributors in your company. Consider what you could achieve if they truly had the coaching they need to fulfill their leadership potential. Now envision them walking out the door because you don’t have time to support them. Scary, right?

One Mighty OGSM: The Key to Leadership Success

When we launched, our central focus was on creating a hub for entrepreneurs  to learn from Boston’s top experts, and it’s been exciting to see this vision take flight. But over the course of the past year, we’ve talked to founders and startup team members in Boston who are searching for more; they’re hungry for in-depth leadership guidance, to help their teams navigate the challenges of organizational growth.



I’m thrilled to announce that Dana Artz is joining the team as the Executive Director, to oversee a series of new initiatives that foster professional development, through hands-on leadership workshops. Dana brings deep operational expertise and a passion for team-building to, and each of the new sessions she’s spearheading will remain true to our core commitment to connecting startups with top notch expertise.

The leadership workshop series kicks off on July 16th, with a half-day session for a small group of Boston startups, led by Dave Balter, CEO of BzzAgent and Exec Chair of Smarterer, around the OGSM (Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Measures) leadership framework.


From large companies like P&G, Tesco and dunnhumby, to local Boston startups like Promoboxx and Uber Sense and more, teams have embraced the OGSM  framework for over 50 years, as an exercise for creating alignment.

Dave BalterDave Balter has religiously used the tool in his own companies with great success, and over 10,000 people have viewed his SlideShare presentation about how to craft a transformative OGSM plan. Now it’s your turn to get in on the action.

This hands-on workshop geared toward startup CEOs will lead you and key stakeholders form your team to a clear articulation of your company’s objectives and goals for the next quarter, the strategies you’ll use to achieve them, and how you’ll measure success. You’ll leave empowered to take action, having renewed an understanding of your central aim.

During a private coaching session with Balter, Promoboxx CEO, Ben Carcio, learned just how powerful the OGSM framework can be. Carcio noted, “I used to just OGSM by myself, but found it was much better to OGSM with the rest of my team…The OGSM exercise initially showed that our team needed to be better aligned, but by the end of the process we had a clear vision and specific tactics to get us there. I highly recommend it for any growing start-up.”

Six startups will have the opportunity to learn how to use the OGSM as a dynamic benchmark for success, and an ongoing source of inspiration for your team. Ready to get in on the action?

ogsm CTA and SVB team up to teach you how to fill your piggy bank (for free!)

When we launched our campus last year, Dan Allred and Tuan Pham from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) immediately stepped up to chat about how they could work with to support the startup ecosystem. We’ve been huge fans for awhile, so we were incredibly excited about the opportunity to collaborate. Dan kicked off a series of free classes around the financial resources every entrepreneur needs, and we were blown away by the response; collectively, the classes drew in hundreds of entrepreneurs eager for guidance.

Today we’re thrilled to announce that we’re teaming up with Dan, Smith Anderson, and the entire SVB team to provide free classes around financial fundamentals to the Boston startup community for the next year!

Finance Baby

It’s an understatement to say that we’re pretty pumped about this. The first thing Dave Balter and I did when we started was craft a financial model and hire an accountant. This stuff isn’t always sexy, but it will make or break your biz.

Here’s the scoop on how this new program will work:

I had the chance to connect with Dan about why SVB is so pumped about helping out the community. In his words, “SVB is committed to innovators, and we are impressed with the imagination and new life that is bringing to entrepreneurial education. We taught a few classes in 2012 and saw firsthand how we could combine our knowledge and network with’s culture and community to have a real impact on Boston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. We’re excited to step up our level of involvement and to partner with as they continue to innovate.”

Well, we’re pretty excited too! Sign up for Back to Basics: Financial Fundamentals, or apply for a 1:1 session today.

We Got Schooled: 2012 Year in Review

Get out the cake and make a wish…we’re celebrating our first birthday on May 8, 2013!

It sure has been a wild ride this year. We’ve had a truly incredibly time learning alongside all the amazing people building Boston’s top companies, and we wanted to take a minute to reflect on all the folks who helped us along the way. Take a peek at our story!

Riffing Rob Go: Avoiding the Trough of Sorrow

Riff with Rob
Back in February, we kicked off a new series, Riffing with Rob Go, to give you direct access to one of NextView Ventures’ founding partners, Rob Go. We’re inviting the entire Boston startup ecosystem to hit him with your best shot—ask Rob the burning questions you want answers to!

Check out Rob’s responses to two of the first questions we received below:

What are some common-sense tips for startups as they seek to avoid the “Trough of Sorrow” that Brian Balfour has blogged about? That is – running out of cash, letting staff go, facing potential failure. What can founders do in advance to make the trough as shallow as possible?

[Rob Go] This is a great question! There really aren’t many easy answers – honestly, most startups face some sort of trough of sorrow. Even Mailbox (which just got acquired by DropBox for likely a big number) I’m sure faced a trough of sorry when they shifted resources away from their original product (behind which their raised their seed round) and pursued what could have been yet another email client. The trough I’m sure happens even for every successful companies.

That said, I have a couple basic tips of advice:

1. Know that the trough is coming. Sometimes, just knowing that hard times are ahead allows you to get yourself and your team ready to push through. These troughs tend to happen at somewhat predictable points. First, the first time products hit the market and it’s clear you don’t have 100% product market fit. Second, when you do have PMF, but growth starts to stall. Third, when you have PMF and growth, and you find yourself needing to really build a repeatable business model. Fourth, when major team members start vesting serious chunks of their equity and start finding themselves unmotivated or lured by other companies. etc etc. Be aware that these milestones are ahead of you and be prepared!

2. Don’t fool yourself for too long. The challenging points I mentioned above happen to nearly every company. The trough is worse when you have less time and resources to deal with these problems. You don’t want to fool yourself into thinking your product is great, or just one or two features away from success until you have 3 months of cash left and it’s clear that things aren’t working. Be brutally honest with yourself. The best trick I’ve heard (which is actually really hard to do) is to talk to customers, but to do it from the perspective of a skeptic. If you are in the pre-product launch stage and want to ask random people what they think of your idea or product, don’t say “hi, I”m the founder of XYC company, can you tell me what you think of this product?”. Say instead “hey, a good friend of mine is thinking about quitting his job and starting this company. I think it’s a pretty risky move, but I said I’d help him get feedback from potential users. Do you mind having a look? I just don’t get it… but maybe I’m missing something?”. By positioning a question like that, you are way more likely to hear the negative feedback, and probably the honest feedback vs. the sugar-coated feedback of someone not wanting to crush your dreams. Find ways to get realistic feedback so you know sooner not later that trouble is brewing.

3. Find good financing partners. You want to find financing partners who help you in the situations described above, don’t become yet another impediment. When you are going to be dealing with growth and business model scaling issues, it’s nice to have big VC’s that are committed to your company because they can write you one more check if it’s just taking a bit longer to figure stuff out. If you are still really early and aren’t sure exactly how big your venture could become, you might not want to take money from big VC’s who could kill you with signal risk, but instead finance your company with angels who can help you navigate a plan-B type funding path if things are going well but it looks like your opportunity isn’t as big as you hoped. Which leads us to our second question:

Two friends and I are building a company part-time. We all have full-time jobs elsewhere, but hope to work for our company full-time by the end of 2013. We want to bootstrap as much as possible and believe we can because we should be profitable by summer (not a lot of profit, but some). Our desire to bootstrap may be a good thing because we don’t believe our industry is one where we could have a huge exit and potentially attract investors before we get there. So here is my question: should a company that wants to bootstrap apply for an incubator/accelerator? Is it possible to take seed money and not go for the Series A, etc, and just earn revenue? If we never want to exit and plan to own and run the company forever, would anyone invest any money at all? 

[Rob Go] Sounds like you are being very realistic about the company you are building and smart about thinking through your financing options.

On the accelerator question, it depends on the accellerator. I find that accelerators that are run more by ex operators (and in many cases, operators who have been successful without huge sums of VC money) are pretty good at helping companies that might not go the VC route. Usually, accelerators do build a portfolio of companies, some of which are kind of binary, others that might be smaller but more straightforwad businesses. Also, many companies that come out of accellerators are funded by angels who would be happy with a non VC outcome that happens through capital efficient financing (and potentially faster).

Now, I will say that all investors in a company will hope to see some liquidity from their investment at some point. Hopefully, anyone investing in an early stage private company knows that that liquidity will not come for at least 5-years+. But if you think you are building your company in a way that it mgiht never go public or get sold, then you probably want to have some concept of how investors will get their money out in a reasonable amount of time with relatively little headache. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to do a royalty based financing, where some percent of revenues goes back to investors. John Landry has been a proponent of this for certain companies.

Another option is the investor put-option, where the investor at some point as the right to sell a portion of their holdings at a pre-determined multiple. The third is some sort of dividend structure. Whatever approach you pursue, do more research and talk to your lawyer and fellow entrepreneurs about the pros and cons of each approach. As an investor who focuses on companies with GOLAZO potential, I rarely contemplate these sorts of structures, but I do respect the fact that different types of companies can be financed differently. And for many investors, this kind of company can be quite attractive!

What do you want to know? Rob Go’s all ears! Submit a question to Riffing with Rob Go today.