“Never fire anybody alone.”
Bob Metcalfe (@BobMetcalfe) is an MIT-Harvard-trained engineer-entrepreneur who became an Internet pioneer in 1970, invented Ethernet in 1973, and founded 3Com Corporation in 1979. About 1.2B Ethernet ports were shipped last year — 400M wired and 800M wireless (Wi-Fi).
3Com went public in 1984, peaked at $5.7B in annual sales in 1999, and after 30 years became part of HP last year. Bob was a publisher-pundit for IDG-InfoWorld for about 10 years and a venture capitalist for about 10 years with Polaris Venture Partners, where he continues as a Venture Partner.
Bob is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a recipient of the National Medal of Technology.
In this conversation, we talk about everything from how he toasts when drinking with friends, how he learned to recruit and fire, what he does to scale businesses, different approaches to talent evaluation, critical decisions and mistakes made, and much more. Please enjoy!
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Want to hear another conversation with a fascinating polymath? Listen to this episode with Kevin Kelly, in which we discuss population implosions, The Long Now Foundation, organizational methods for learning, and much more? — Listen to them here (stream below or right-click to download part 1 | part 2 | part 3):
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
Selected Links from the Episode
- Connect with Bob Metcalfe:
- May 22, 1973: Enter Ethernet by Randy Alfred, Wired
- Luminiferous Aether
- Texas Instruments SILENT 700 Series, Vintage Volts
- ARPANET and the Origins of the Internet
- Network Packet
- Metcalfe’s Law
- Toy Story
- Network Effect
- Metcalfe’s Law After 40 Years of Ethernet by Bob Metcalfe, Computer
- Even Facebook Can’t Help You Have More Than 150 Real Friends by Abby Ohlheiser, The Washington Post
- What’s the Origin Of “Ahoy?”, The Straight Dope
- [Buffalo Bill’s] by E.E. Cummings
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Timothy Ferriss
- The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
- Enthusiasm: the Secret to Happiness by Bob Metcalfe, Maine Boats
- The Eisenhower Matrix
- New Kid In Town by The Eagles
- Robert Metcalfe Gets His National Medal of Technology and Innovation
- Have I lived in Austin long enough to call myself an Austinite? [09:09]
- What has Bob learned from tennis that applies elsewhere? [10:20]
- What makes a good competitor? [12:48]
- Has Bob always had the drive to compete, or was it something that developed over time? [15:30]
- On playing doubles. [16:11]
- How much time and energy did Bob spend developing strengths versus fixing weaknesses? [16:59]
- What happened on May 22nd, 1973? [17:52]
- How did the name “ethernet” come about? [18:47]
- Why was ethernet’s conception such a game changer almost overnight? [20:07]
- What led to Bob’s interest in electronic networks — and the roots of his animosity toward Harvard University? [21:49]
- What is Metcalfe’s Law and when did it enter the picture? [28:54]
- Why did Bob name his networking company 3Com, and what compelled him — as an engineer — to start a company in the first place? [34:21]
- How did Bob get good enough at sales and marketing to take 3Com from zero to a million per month in revenue? [37:26]
- Bob explains how operating ranges work. [42:41]
- Why does Bob believe you should “never fire anybody alone?” [44:03]
- Bob’s advice for anyone in the difficult position of having to fire or reassign somebody. [48:21]
- Why does Bob consider “recruiting” a more accurate use of language for a company than “hiring?” [50:24]
- What’s Bob’s playbook for effective recruitment? [52:15]
- When recruiting at 3Com, how did Bob make his company attractive to candidates who had other options? [55:25]
- The building blocks of credibility. [58:31]
- Bob talks about Steve Jobs, a wedding, a flat tire, and high standards. [1:05:07]
- “You are not obligated to change your mind just because you lose an argument.” -Butler Lampson [1:09:11]
- A moment of gratitude from Steve Jobs. [1:11:03]
- Common misunderstandings about Metcalfe’s Law and the network effect. [1:13:30]
- On Facebook as “the Metcalfe’s Law company” that leverages the network effect. [1:17:10]
- Bob talks about Dunbar’s Number and the limitations of close friendship. [1:19:00]
- What is Bob’s go-to toast when he’s having a drink with friends? [1:24:16]
- Bob talks about his summer camp and recites an E.E. Cummings poem he brings out when a friend passes away. [1:26:30]
- Books most frequently gifted. [1:30:51]
- As someone who admits a tendency to overcommit, how does Bob cope with feeling overwhelmed? [1:35:09]
- How does Bob prioritize his commitments? [1:36:10]
- The disadvantages of having a personal assistant. [1:38:24]
- The disadvantages of answering email. [1:39:44]
- What Bob has done to regain footing during tough times — like when Harvard rejected his PhD thesis. [1:40:57]
- How di Bob overcome being rejected as CEO of his own company. [1:48:00]
- What advice would Bob give to someone who faces similar adversity? [1:52:42]
- For contrast, Bob shares one of his life’s high points. [1:57:39]
- Parting thoughts on the American dream, capitalism, and our society’s perception of startups. [2:01:59]
- George Gilder
- Steve Jobs
- Bill Hewlett
- Dave Packard
- Robert Noyce
- Bill Krause
- Bob Finocchio
- John Sculley
- Marleen McDaniel
- Debra Engel
- Kyle Maynard
- Bill Gates
- Butler Lampson
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Sheryl Sandberg
- Robin Dunbar
- Alexander Graham Bell
- Thomas Edison
- E.E. Cummings
- Ayn Rand
- Dagny Taggart
- Howard Roark
- Richard Dawkins
- Charles Darwin
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Robert Scoble
- J.D. Souther
- Bob Taylor
- Dick Kramlich
- Robyn Metcalfe
- George W. Bush
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